Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Tantrums: They Aren't Just for Toddlers!

I worked with a client last week who was at the end of her proverbial rope.  She had been patiently (sort of) waiting for her 70 lb. dog to move from adolescence to adulthood.  She figured if she could just get him to the age of 2 years, she'd be working with a calm, rational dog, willing to do what she asked him to do.  She has plans for this dog, wanting to do competitive obedience and agility, and maybe rally as well. She's always done activities like this with her dogs and it's actually how we met 10 years ago with her previous dog, an always compliant gentleman.  Her new dog?  Same breed, same breeder, in fact, but he's far from compliant.  He's "hell on wheels," as my grandmother would say.  He really does seem to relish challenging his owner (and me).  Any time he doesn't get his way, he resorts to throwing a tantrum.  Yes, a tantrum, much like an over-tired toddler in the grocery store, only he weighs 70 lbs.!  He spins and jumps, vaulting off of my client, trying to grab the leash out of her hands, grabbing anything he can find on the ground, and then eventually flopping into a down and refusing to move.  This happens in many different situations, including right in the middle of the street if he decides he doesn't want to go the direction she's leading him.  Fun times. He's, quite literally, stopped traffic in their neighborhood.  My client is mortified by her dog's behavior and frustrated that he's not grown out of this; he's been having these exact same tantrums since he was a puppy, they are just more dramatic (and dangerous) now. 

Just as with a human child having a tantrum, you can't give in to them, and you can't give them attention for the behavior. As frustrating as it is, you have to shut down and ignore your dog throwing a tantrum because giving them any kind of attention for it just encourages them to use this strategy again.  In order to keep my client safe, I've asked her to stand on her dog's leash so he can't jump on her and/or grab the leash from her hands.  Standing on the leash forces him into a sit or down, given his size.  I've encouraged her to talk to people passing by her, or bring out her phone and pretend to look at something on it.  Basically, she ignores her dog until he lets up on his behavior and begins to move out of the tantrum.  For her dog, this usually means that he gives a big "harumph," a dramatic yawn, and then he'll try to get her to look at him.  Once he does this, she unceremoniously picks up his leash and starts walking the direction she wanted to go in the first place.  His current record is three tantrums in one block, but since that day, his tantrums have become less frequent overall, shorter in duration, and not so many in a row.  That's progress. He's still throwing tantrums, but we are making headway.  So why is he doing this in the first place?

This is a very headstrong dog.  He knows he's big and he's figured out that he's stronger than his owner, though honestly, I've seen him do the same behavior with her husband who is a whopping 6 foot 4 inch man who used to play football for Stanford! No dog likes to have their goals thwarted, but some are more likely to react negatively than to capitulate and do what their owners ask of them.  For this particular dog, I could pretty much pinpoint where it all began.  His first tantrum was at a class meant to prepare dogs for competitive obedience.  He balked getting out of the car there and shut down during much of the class. The instructor dragged him out of the car and pushed the owner to do the exercises in class saying that he'd "get the hang of it if she just kept at it." Well, not only did he not get the hang of it, he outright hated that class, those exercises, and that instructor.  Again, I understand that dog owners have every right to choose the classes, sports, and activities that they are interested in doing with their dogs.  If your dog resists those activities, however, is afraid or overwhelmed, or shows a lack of interest, you need to take a look at whether there is something that you (and they!) would enjoy more.  I'm not saying give in to your dog, I'm just saying choose something you both can enjoy.  And it may even be the case that they will enjoy that original activity, you just need to stop for a bit, let them mature or even find a new class/new instructor and start again.

As you've probably figured out if you've read along this far, tantrums are all about control AND about anxiety.  You have to keep yourself under threshold as well as your dog.  You can't push them too hard or they'll shut down/resist.  What you can do is work on your own behavior; stay calm, resist the urge to yell or punish them, and show them that all that drama isn't going to get them what they want.  I've got another session with my client next week.  We're meeting at a new class setting, this time it's introductory agility with a different instructor, so we'll see how it goes.  I've done some parkour with this dog, just for fun, so I think he'll really enjoy agility.  Fingers crossed that we can find an activity he enjoys and that his owner enjoys as well.

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me. 

Ozzie has been known to throw a tantrum or two in his life.  For him, these episodes were clearly associated with anxiety.  He felt overwhelmed and couldn't fathom moving past what bothered him. If I tried to move him through it, he'd resist and throw a tantrum, jumping, spinning, and trying to bolt.  Over time, we worked through this and he now knows how to ask for needed space when he's anxious, versus throwing a tantrum.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Advice for You & Your (New) Dog

While many a new dog owner is fairly patient with that 8 week old puppy they bought that has toileting mistakes in the house, whines in the crate, chews on the furniture, and won't sleep through the night, often the same cannot be said for dog owners acquiring a new dog who isn't a puppy.  A lot of dogs coming out of shelters are adolescents, and same goes for a lot of the rescue groups.  Why? Because adolescence is fraught with challenges and pitfalls and many a dog owner gives up during this developmental time period.  Even if you adopt a senior dog, however, you need to expect some challenges when you bring them into your home and as they make that transition.

Just because a dog is labeled as "housetrained" doesn't mean that they won't have accidents.  He or she, regardless of their age, is new to your home.  They need to learn your schedule, as well as the schedule you are imposing on them.  Maybe they used to free feed, but you feed them twice a day. That will change when they need to relieve themselves.  Or maybe they previously lived completely outdoors, toileting whenever and wherever they wanted, and you live in an apartment where all bathroom trips are planned as they have to get into an elevator and go down four floors to get to the bathroom area. Expect accidents and don't get mad.  If you want to decrease the number of accidents overall, crate train your new dog, or use an exercise pen to confine them when you can't watch them.  At a minimum you will be limiting where the mistakes will happen.  Plus, most dogs don't want to toilet where they are resting/sleeping and will go to great lengths not to toilet in their crate or x-pen, which helps you as well. Tether your new dog to you when you are home.  They most certainly are not going to toilet on your feet, so if they start pulling away from you, take that as a sign that they need to relieve themselves.  Tethering has the added benefit of helping you build a bond with your new dog.  That's a win-win.

While most newly adopted dogs go through a "honeymoon phase," where they are pretty well-mannered overall as they learn the ropes and get the lay of the land in your home, that isn't true for all new adoptees.  Some have some serious growing pains, reverting to behaviors that are more often seen in puppies and may have been why you chose NOT to get a puppy in the first place. Be patient.  They will definitely move out of this phase faster than a developing puppy would. In the meantime, go ahead and treat them as if they were indeed a puppy: Crate train them, enforce naps, walk them on a schedule, do multiple short training sessions each day, and judiciously use redirection and time outs as needed. 

It's likely that the name assigned to them at the shelter or in rescue isn't the last name that they were called, but even if it is, don't expect them to come to you every time reliably just because you used that name.  Or maybe you want to change their name. Either way, you will need to work on recall and making coming to you a positive thing. I meet so many newly adopted dogs who don't want to come when they are called. From their body language, it's clear to me that they've either been punished for coming slowly, or they assume coming to you will be the end of all the fun.  It's your job to teach them how valuable and fun it is to come every time that they are asked!  Keep treats on you at all times and reinforce every come indoors, even if it's slow.  Outside, keep your new dog on a leash or long line so that you don't lose them, don't have to chase them, and can work on recall with the added distractions that the outdoors inherently brings to training.

Just because you adopted an adult dog doesn't mean that they don't need mental stimulation.  Yes, puppies need a lot of mental stimulation, but honestly, so do adult and senior dogs.  Figure out what works for your new dog and add that into their daily routine. Start with something simple like a Kong and work your way up to snuffle mats and interactive brain games and toys.  If you have a really destructive young dog on your hands, consider some of those more indestructible brain toys from Starmark and Busy Buddy.  Talk to your vet as well about whether real bones, either from the butcher shop or the precut, stuffed, sterile ones available online and in pet stores from "Red Barn," could work to curb the voracious chewing demands of your new dog.

I think it goes without saying that most newly adopted dogs need some work on their leash skills. Some of them have clearly never been walked before, while others have been walked, but by someone who never let them sniff or explore, so they resort to dragging you everywhere to try to get in as many sniffs as they can before they are yanked away. Again, pretend that they are puppies. Walk them on a leash inside your house first.  Use treats to lure them into calmer, more controlled leash manners. Continue to work indoors or in your own yard until you can get a modicum of control and focus on you, thus making those walks outdoors in busy public spaces less challenging. 

Finally, do set a schedule and stick to it.  Dogs love schedules and predictability.  It's the not knowing that makes them anxious.  Having a predictable schedule means your new dog will learn when they are being fed, when they will be walked and trained, and when they will be given the opportunity to relieve themselves.  Take them out often until you figure out what their body clock naturally does, but still know that there will be mistakes.  Just be patient, as every new puppy owner will tell you, it does get better.

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

I know I've shared this old photo before, but I can't resist sharing it again. This is Shadow, the dog I rescued when I was in college.  It took her 3 months to come out from under an end table except to relieve herself, but she eventually blossomed and became my devoted companion, as you can see here.  She would run alongside my bike all the way to campus and lay under my chair in class, never making a peep.  We went an entire quarter once before the professor even knew there was a dog attending his advanced genetics class!

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Get Off My Lawn!

I don't know if it's true in your neighborhood as well, but a lot of folks around here have put up signs telling dog owners to keep their dogs off of the lawns/away from landscaping.  Honestly, I get it.  Between the ill-mannered dog owners who don't pick up behind their dogs, and dogs whose urine burns the grass and plants, keeping an attractive yard can be challenging. One of my neighbors with these "keep off signs" has a dog himself who he toilets out on that lawn.  When we made eye contact last week, as I crossed the street with my dogs to give his dog space, he seemed to feel the need to explain himself, saying "My lawn, my rules, and when other dogs pee here or walk on the lawn, my dog starts barking and peeing in the house by my front window!" I waved and moved on, but this got me thinking about territoriality in dogs and how we live here in suburbia has affected the way dogs communicate.

Dogs behind windows and in their fenced yards have every right to bark when you walk past or walk on their home turf.  Hopefully, if that same dog is out in front of their house in an unfenced space, they are on leash as that same dog who charges the fence or window when you walk by, might feel compelled to charge at you without a leash (or fence) to stop them. As the owner of three collies, I know all about territorial barking.  While Desi doesn't bark much anymore (except to tell me that I'm late with his meals), Ozzie and Henley do bark.  While it's true that they "own the fence" they are barking at, it's also true that the neighbors on the other side of that fence own their side of the fence as well. As a responsible dog owner, it is my job to go out and call my dogs off of that shared fence when they bark. I do let them give a couple of barks because, again, I recognize that they are just doing their job of telling me that there is someone there, but they do need to stop and come indoors when told to do so. If they don't, there will be consequences.  What are the consequences?  Ozzie doesn't test me anymore, Henley on the other hand, tests me daily.  If he doesn't immediately come in behind Ozzie, I'll leash him, bring him inside, and give him a time out. Same goes for barking at the front window or front door.  They can bark, but they need to quiet when told. And if your dog is toileting on my front lawn, or if you've let them wander on that flexi-lead all the way up to the plants under my front window, then yes, I'm going to let them bark you and your dog off that space!  Dog owner etiquette implies that you, at a minimum, keep your dog on a leash at the border of other people's property.  Just one more reason to hate those flexi-leads!

My daughter lives in Los Angeles. In her neighborhood, everyone "curbs" their dogs, meaning the dogs toilet on the city owned urban plantings or in the street.  I've seen this in San Francisco as well.  Sometimes, I do curb my dogs when walking in my own neighborhood, so that I can be respectful of the folks who don't want dogs on their lawn/plants/etc. For myself, I'm okay with dogs sniffing and relieving themselves on my lawn as long as their owners keep them at the sidewalk adjacent plantings AND pick up behind them.  I also let my own dogs re-mark those areas when we leave the house as I know it's important to them to do so. It's their territory and anyone who tries to lay claim to it otherwise, needs that reminder.

What I really feel like this all boils down to is this:  Be a good neighbor AND be a responsible dog owner.  Respect your neighbors' rights to be in their backyard without your dog barking incessantly at them.  Respect that some of your neighbors are proud of their lawns and landscaping and don't want your dog marking/toileting there.  When you are walking, keep your dog's leash at 8 feet or shorter so that they don't inadvertently wander further into someone else's yard.  Be mindful of those dogs barking at you in the window and give them space.  While I feel for my neighbor whose dog is marking in the house in response to dogs going past their house, that's something he should get a handle on, but since I wasn't asked to help, I'll keep my mouth shut, and move across the street to, at a minimum, reduce the pressure that my dogs put on his dog.  It's all about being neighborly.

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

This is an old picture, but I love it nonetheless. This is Desi and Ozzie with their friend, Stella, in front of her house.  Desi and Ozzie were always invited onto their property to run around, have snacks, and yes, leave their mark.  Stella never minded as I always had treats for her too.  We miss Stella as she passed away a couple of years ago, though the neighbors have a new Labrador puppy to love and Ozzie and Westley enjoy romping with her as well.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Walking More Than One Dog!

I've had numerous people send me photographs and videos of dog walkers and dog owners walking three or more dogs at a time!  Every person sending me these photos/videos has the same question:  Is it safe to walk multiple dogs at the same time like this?  Clearly in some of the photos/videos, the answer is a resounding NO, but it truly isn't that simple. Let's talk a bit more in depth about the pros and cons of walking multiple dogs.

First off, you already know that I have three dogs myself, plus my daughter's dog when she's here visiting.  I've never attempted walking all four dogs, by myself, at the same time, and will never do so. I don't believe it would be safe for me nor enjoyable for them.  Desi is almost 13 years old and as a senior dog, he walks very slowly and only a couple of blocks on each of his walks.  That's enjoyable for him.  Because of that, Desi is walked by himself.  I have walked Ozzie, Westley, and Henley together, but I did so at an off peak walking time (really early in the morning) to minimize heat for all three dogs and to minimize encounters with other people and dogs.  Did I do this because I have concerns about my dogs around others?  No. I did it because I didn't want to have to wrangle an excited puppy and two well-behaved adult dogs just trying to do a walk if there are other people and dogs out walking too.  I have walked two dogs together many times, whether that's Ozzie and Westley or Ozzie and Henley.  Though I will tell you Ozzie prefers walking with Westley, or alone, to having to walk with his annoying little brother!  I feel comfortable handling two dog leashes as my collies are well-behaved on leash and can be easily navigated in traffic, around pedestrians, and around other dogs. If I didn't feel comfortable doing so, I would simply walk each dog separately.

No, I don't use a splitter leash to walk two dogs; I always have each dog on their own leash, with the leashes being the same length to make handling easier for me. I've never liked splitters as they inhibit each individual dog's ability to make their own choices with regard to sniffing, stopping to toilet, etc. I'm not saying that you can't choose to use a splitter for your two dogs, I'm just saying think about that choice from your dog's point of view. If your dogs simply walk/trot together, rarely stopping to sniff or toilet, then maybe a splitter is a good choice for you. I just think they aren't good choices for dogs in general. Splitters were created for human comfort and convenience, not the dogs!

If you are walking one or more dogs with any behavioral concerns (aggression toward people or other dogs, reactivity on leash, fear of strangers or other dogs, excessive pulling on leash, etc.), then walk those dogs individually.  You need to give your dog with behavioral concerns all of your focus and attention; you can't be trying to manage two or more dogs if one or more of them have issues when on leash. I've had many clients tell me that they simply don't have time to walk their dogs separately, even when they have dogs who are clearly anxious on leash. My response is always the same: Better to walk each of those dogs a shorter distance/shorter period of time than to try to walk them together and risk an incident. Plus, I've treated many dogs over the years who got frustrated on leash and lashed out (redirected aggression) at the other dog they were walking with or at the owner holding the leashes! It's more productive for you and your dog(s) to take a short walk together that is successful, meaning free of reactivity, aggression, and anxiety, than it is to try to walk your pack of dogs together in a misguided effort to save time.

Now, let's talk about those dog walkers who walk 5, 8, or even 10 dogs at a time.  When I see this, it makes me very uncomfortable. All it would take is one dog going rogue and the entire situation will go sideways really fast. I know several professional dog walkers who state that they heavily screen the dogs in their care and only do multi-dog walks and hikes with those who can do this safely and successfully.  My response to that is always that behavior, by its very nature, is unpredictable.  And just because you know and trust the behavior of the dogs in your care doesn't mean that other dogs (and people) you encounter when out in public spaces are trustworthy or reliable.  I know for myself that I would not feel comfortable using a dog walker who walked multiple dogs at the same time with any one of my dogs in the mix. Feels like a liability situation for the dog walker too.  What if a skirmish breaks out and you lose control of one of the leashes? A dog escapes your pack?  Redirected aggression occurs toward one of the dogs in your care, or toward you?  Maybe I'm just assuming the worst, but I only bring up these scenarios because they've happened before with my clients' dogs on pack walks, so those clients can't be alone in their experiences.

I guess it's all about comfort level. If you feel comfortable walking your 3 (or more) dogs together at one time, then that's your prerogative. Just know that if any one of those dogs is experiencing issues in anxiety, that peaceful, time-saving, multi-dog walk could go sideways really fast.  I'm a "better safe than sorry"' kind of person.

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me. 

Here's a picture from one of my multi-dog walks when Henley was still really small. I would not feel comfortable walking these three dogs alone now as Henley is almost 45 lbs. and I definitely need more than one (or two hands!) to allow three herding dogs the space they need to sniff and explore on our walks.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

It's Going To Be Okay!

I met with a client last week who was feeling very overwhelmed.  We'd met once before when her dog was an adolescent and didn't like coming when he was called and loved to pull her down the street to meet everybody. We worked on a long line to get his recall back on track and changed the leash and collar she was using to something that gave her more control over her 60 lb. dog on walks.  When she did her follow up, things were going well; they'd been able to phase out the long line as he was now happily coming when called and her walks were much more peaceful.  Fast forward to 9 months later and a frantic call from the same owner where she told me her dog had just bitten someone on the hand when they reached to pet him. No warning. No growl. Just a quick bite, that didn't break skin, but terrified her nonetheless. Turns out he's been lunging and growling at men (and some women too) he sees on walks for a while now, and she'd been steering clear of interactions.  This bite happened when she let down her guard so her dog could meet this man's dog.  The dogs were fine, but when the man stretched out his hand toward my client's dog, that's when the bite happened. This left her wondering how could she ever trust her dog again?

A truly unfortunate situation on so many levels.  This young male dog has become more and more territorial over the last 9 months, and while his owner didn't love that he now barks and lunges near her front door if anyone comes on the porch, she could understand that he was protecting her house, and she didn't connect this behavior to what was happening on their walks.  As a single mother, she appreciated that he guarded the house.  But even his front door behavior has gotten to the point where she has to leash him in order to control him there, even with people he knows.  And that bite?  It happened right on their street to a man walking his dog there who doesn't live on the street.  When she takes him for hikes on the local trails, he has no trouble passing people or other dogs, same for walks she does with friends in other neighborhoods.  This dog's territory includes not just his house and yard, but his immediate neighborhood as well.  I observed him on leash and he's clearly "on duty."  He doesn't stop to sniff much, preferring to keep his head up and watchful as he, quite literally, patrols the neighborhood.  I had my work cut out for me, but I did have a plan.

I started with the front door behavior.  While it is totally fine and expected for a dog to bark when someone approaches their home, it isn't fine for them to continue barking, or escalate to jumping on the windows or doors, once you've told them "enough" or "quiet."  There needs to be a consequence for not listening to you.  Keep a leash by the front door, or put a short leash or tab on your dog's collar so that you can lead your dog away from the door and to a quiet place for a time out, whenever they don't listen. Once your dog gets to the point where they stop barking when asked, you'll still want to leash them at the front door, or teach them to sit off to the side using the "place" command so that you can deal with whomever or whatever is going on on your front doorstep.  If your dog tries to dart out the door or gets up from their "stay in place," once again, lead them to their time out area. We are not punishing them for barking or being territorial as that could lead them to escalate beyond those behaviors.  We are simply saying you can be territorial but when I tell you it's all good, you have to listen to me. We were able to enlist the help of a couple of neighbors, having them ring the doorbell and/or knock, and we worked with her dog to help him understand what we expected of him.  This is a smart dog and he got the new routine quite quickly.  The best part?  He actually looked visibly relieved and much happier when he understood what we wanted from him.  We quite literally took the pressure off of him!

When working with a dog who is this territorial. I like to encourage owners to step outside of THEIR comfort zone and change up their walking routine.  Walking at off peak times and off peak locations, in this case, just other neighborhoods away from this dog's home turf, will reduce a great deal of pressure for this owner and for her dog.  We drove him a few blocks away to walk and he was a completely different dog; sniffing, exploring, wagging his tail, completely consumed by all the new smells.  He walked right by other dogs and other people without anything more than a casual glance. Such a relief for his owner!

None of this erases the fact that this young dog bit someone.  This means his owner now has scienter, the legal knowledge that she owns an aggressive dog.  She will need to actively control his interactions with other people, particularly men as that seems to be the group of humans most triggering for her dog. She needs to say, "No, you may not pet or approach my dog. It isn't safe for you to do so." Again, off of home turf, this dog is not actively approaching anyone, not trying to engage strangers, etc. He isn't "gunning" for trouble, but he sure as heck won't back down either if challenged.  Ultimately, this owner may need to muzzle train her dog, just to make it even more obvious he needs space AND to protect from any future bites, but she's not there yet.  She needs to see if she can make better choices about the situations she puts her dog into. This dog will be very easy to muzzle train as he's easily handled and very food motivated. I went over how to do it as I think it's a good exercise for this dog to learn to wear a muzzle even if he never gets to the point where he needs to wear one regularly.

My client hasn't heard a word from the man who was bitten.  She gave him her contact information, but he literally said it was his fault for reaching toward the dog and since the bite didn't break skin, he was fine.  I let her know that he does have up to a year to pursue action against her, but it sounds like he's taking some responsibility for his poor choice of actions.  I know I've talked about it a million times, but it clearly bears repeating.  Humans do not have carte blanche rights to pet other people's dogs.  Even if they aren't a service dog, that isn't your dog.  And if you ask to pet the dog, it's okay for the dog owner to tell you no, you can't.  Don't get offended.  Just because a dog is out in public doesn't make him or her public domain.  And if someone says yes, you can pet their dog, then please don't be an idiot and extend your hand to the dog.  That's not how to greet a dog.  Drop your hands to your sides and let the dog sniff you; if it's a smaller dog let them sniff your shoes.  If they still show interest, reach down and briefly rub them under the chin or across the chest.  Then STOP.  If they are still interested, they'll let you know by nudging your hand, licking your hand, or resuming sniffing. Many dogs walk away or turn away after this initial brief interaction and that's fine too. Let the dog determine the length of the interaction. Do not pat the dog on the butt, pat them on the head, reach over their back, boop their nose, stare in their eyes, or pet their ears.  Be respectful.  And, most importantly, even if the owner says yes, you can pet their dog, if their dog approaches you, sniffs and walks away, the dog has made their decision.  Accept it.

I truly hope that this is the first and last bite for my client's dog, but unfortunately, statistics don't support that outcome.  The majority of dogs who bite, bite again.  What keeps some dogs from biting again?  Good management, consistent consequences, and realistic expectations. What leads to more bites?  Sticking your head in the sand, ignoring your dog's aggressive behavior until it escalates and/or punishing the behavior hoping that will make it go away. Don't try to explain away a lunge, a growl, or a bite.  Those behaviors happened for a reason. Your dog felt overwhelmed, anxious, or both.  We need to dive into that, figure out why they're anxious, and then work to determine what management strategies will work best for you and for your dog.  Eyes wide open, no excuses.

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me. 

This border collie has a very intense gaze and stiff posture. I would never approach this dog unsolicited.  I would allow this dog to decide if it wanted to engage me.  This is a working dog, and I respect that. You should too.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

You Are Not a Bad Pet Parent!

I worked with a lovely client this week who started our appointment by saying, "I'm such a terrible pet parent!"  Why did she think this?  She thought this for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the horrible things her family had been telling her and the random advice she'd been receiving (unsolicited) from strangers.  I stopped her right there and told her not only was she not a terrible pet parent, she was actually terrific.  Why?  Because she recognized that her dog had a problem AND she sought help from a qualified professional.  She's not the first pet owner I've worked with who felt that they weren't doing right by their four-legged companions.  

Here's the thing.  While it's true that the average adult dog needs roughly 90 minutes of exercise each day, that doesn't mean that the same dog will suffer if she lives with an owner who is only able to get her 60 total minutes of exercise.  The bottom line is this:  Dogs need exercise, both physical and mental.  Balance between the two is important for brain and body health.  And while smaller dogs may need less physical exercise each day than their larger compatriots, they do still need that mental exercise.  And mental exercise doesn't have to break the bank.  While those cool interactive toys you can buy for your dogs provide wonderful mental stimulation, so do boxes and egg cartons with treats hidden inside, towels with kibble wrapped up in the loops, and ice cubes with carrots and apples frozen inside. Just because you are budget conscious with regard to your pet doesn't make you a bad pet parent.

Yes, dogs and cats need to eat, but that doesn't mean you have to buy the most expensive pet food available.  Unless your pet has a specific ailment that requires a limited ingredient/prescription diet, then you have lots of options.  The pet food manufacturers have spent millions of dollars creating all kinds of pet foods, many aimed at the idiosyncrasies of human consumers. Just because you prefer to eat grain free doesn't mean your pet needs to.  Instead, choose a diet that you can afford and that your pet enjoys.  Pet food doesn't need to break the bank, and feeding Costco brand dog food, for example, doesn't make you a bad pet parent.  My childhood dog ate Purina Dog Chow from the grocery store, topped with canned Alpo. He lived to be 17 years old. Go figure.  

I've been teased many times about the sheer number of dog toys I have at my house. I've even been accused of "spoiling" my dogs.  But here's the thing:  most of the toys were gifts from family, from friends, and from grateful clients.  I do buy my dogs toys, usually because I want to see if this newest craze item is worth the hype as my adult collies are picky.  However, just because my dogs have 60 toys doesn't mean a dog with fewer than that is deprived or has a bad owner.  Any number of toys will be appreciated by your dogs.  The key is to rotate daily those toys you do have, keeping all of the toys out of sight and bringing out a couple each day to capitalize on the novelty effect and generate interest in what you've given them.

What I'm trying to say here is give yourself some grace.  Whether you are dealing with a pet with a significant behavior problem you are trying to address, or you are simply on a budget and have to watch your spending, neither of those things makes you a bad pet parent. Our pets provide us with unconditional love and support in spite of their behavior problems and our limited budgets.  They honestly don't care if the neighbor's dog has a nicer bed than they do or gets a more expensive dog food.  What they do care about is quality time.  Spending quality time with your pets is what they crave and what they deserve, whether that means laying at your feet while you work from home, riding around in the car with you while you run errands, or taking them on a mental health hike.  They just want to be with you and the fact that you let them makes you a great pet parent in my book.  You are enough.

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me. 

Here's Henley napping on my legs.  Quality time for both of us.

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Back to School!

As kids all over are getting ready to head back to school, I'm getting ready to start another round of puppy classes.  I'm ever hopeful that the weather will cooperate and these classes won't be too hot for the puppies (and their people!) who are enrolled. I did have one puppy owner reach out to me for more information, on a referral to my classes by her veterinarian. Her main question was, quite simply, "Why do we need to take puppy classes at all?  We've had dogs before!" This is actually a great question and one everyone should ask before enrolling in classes.  You see, while I love teaching my puppy classes, I know that puppy classes aren't for every puppy. I also know that it doesn't matter how many dogs you've had over the years, this puppy will be different, even if it's the same breed you always own.  And most importantly, I know that the science behind puppy development is changing all the time which means training methods are going to be different now than they were even 5-10 years ago. While I know not everyone is as science-minded as me, I do think that my love of scientific research and learning means that the information I bring to my students in class is the most current and based on actual studies done on developing puppies, and not based on something I saw on TV or read on some random website on the internet.  I won't shove the science down your throat, but if you ask me why I do something a certain way or why I don't do something a certain way, I'm going to give you an answer that's rooted in research.  Here are a few examples:

So, why do I do two to three short play sessions in every class and why do the playgroups change weekly?  I do this so that puppies get a chance to meet one another, but in small enough groups not to get overwhelmed.  Shorter play sessions, whether in class or on your own at a playdate, are a must. Puppies go through fear stages during their first year of life, so keeping play sessions short, and rotating participants, creates a more stimulating, but still safe, learning environment.

Why do I have puppies doing tricks in class instead of regular obedience?  I do this for two reasons.  First, because most people taking my classes have taught sit, down, and come, but don't know where to go from there. Second, because tricks are fun for people and for dogs, and if you are having fun, you're more likely to do the work.  The added bonus is that every trick I teach in class has a real-world application.  For example, teaching a dog to roll over is cute.  But teaching a dog to lay down, then flop on its side, and then roll over has value because now your veterinarian (or their staff) can examine your puppy's abdomen and legs with ease. 

Why don't I teach puppies to heel?  I don't teach a strict heel because the puppies in my class are still very young, for the most part. While I'll work with the older puppies on the foundation for heel, I want the owners of the younger puppies in particular to work on just getting their puppies to enjoy walking on a leash without zig-zagging or slamming on the brakes.  Frankly, heeling is boring for dogs, so I keep it to a minimum.  I'm not saying I let people get dragged around by their puppies, or vice versa, but I don't feel like puppies need to be in a strict heel.  We work more on moving with their owners, around cones and other obstacles, with a loose leash.  I like that much better and so do the puppies!

While I try to screen out fearful puppies beforehand, every once in a while, I'll get one in class. I try to give them a chance to acclimate just in case they are simply slower to warm up, but if they are truly afraid, that will inhibit their ability to learn and make gathering in a group setting a negative experience.  Some dogs, like some people, are introverts who learn better in a non-classroom/group environment. For those puppies I suggest one-on-one work first, and then they can try a class again in a few months when their puppies have gained some confidence. Any even if those puppies are too shy to ever take a puppy class, that's okay too. There are plenty of other ways to learn, grow, and thrive in the absence of group instruction.

So, if you or someone you love has a puppy right now, and they are located in the San Francisco Bay Area, send them my way.  For those of you out of the area asking about virtual attendance for my classes, I'm working on that!  I'd love to be able to use Zoom to get my classes to you in the near future.

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

Henley doesn't know it yet, but he'll be attending this round of puppy classes.  
He loves other dogs and he loves to learn, so I'm hoping he enjoys the experience
 as much as I'll enjoy having him there with me. And Ozzie and Desi will enjoy the break!