Friday, December 22, 2017

Upcoming Celebration!

I love a good party and I think January is the perfect time to celebrate! I am going into my 27th year in business as an Animal Behaviorist and I want us to celebrate together! So, I am inviting friends on social media, all of the clients who have worked with me, both one-on-one and in classes and seminars through Molly's AdobeDogs Dog Training...EVERYONE to come and join me. Here are the details on this event:

When: Saturday, January 20, 2018, 10 a.m. to noon
Where: 347 First Street, Los Altos, CA

Snacks and coffee will be provided for the humans, Auntie Julie Dog Cookies and water for the dogs!

Just for fun, I will be doing 10 minute "New Year, New You" appointments with you and your dog. These appointments are free, but you will want to sign up in advance to guarantee a time slot. You will have the opportunity to tell me about your challenges and your goals for your dog, and I will share some of my insights with you to get you started on the path to success!

My friend, and branding photographer, Ashly McHatton, will be on hand as well to capture this event on film. I have asked her to take pictures of attendees and their dogs and she said YES!  These pictures will be free, but definitely let me know if you and your dog will be coming so she can plan her time accordingly.

Molly Hughes, owner of Molly's AdobeDogs, will also be on hand to talk about upcoming classes and seminars and what types of training opportunities you'd like made available to you in 2018. AdobeDogs is all about having the best community canine and taking classes and seminars is a great way to reach your goals.

If you'd like to take part in the "New Year, New You" appointments, have your photo taken by a professional photographer, and talk about your dogs' needs in 2018, then join us!  You can RSVP to this blog posting, through Facebook or Instagram, via email, or by calling or texting my office. Here are all the links to those ways to RSVP:
(925) 818-3938

Looking forward to an amazing 2018 with all of you! Go ahead...what are you waiting for? Your dog wants to go!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Holiday Donations: Where to Give!

Tis the season for making donations to your favorite charities. There are so many different charities and relief efforts around the world vying for your dollars, that it is very difficult to choose where to give. Donating your time or supplies to your local animal shelter is a terrific place to start, but often people are looking to donate to larger/national animal organizations as well.

Unfortunately, not all charities are created equal and that is certainly true among charities which devote themselves to animals and animal-related causes. While this list is not all-inclusive, it represents a handful of charities ranked by, a watchdog group that ranks charities based on which ones really put your donations to good work, and which ones are simply using donations to pay operating fees, salaries, etc. So, which animal-related charities got high marks? Here are just a few:

Animal Welfare Institute, Washington, D.C.
PetSmart Charities, Phoenix, AZ
Animal Rescue, Inc.,New Freedom, PA
African Wildlife Foundation, Washington, D.C.
Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, Smithtown, N.Y.

Do you have a favorite animal-related charity? Please share it. And Happy Holidays to all!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Holiday Mayhem!

I don't know about you, but I just came to the realization this week that the holidays are creeping up on us fast! Thanksgiving is just a week away, Hanukkah is in a month, and Christmas is two weeks after that. Are you ready? I'm not just talking about the planning of food for events, purchasing gifts, holiday cards, etc. I'm talking about preparing your pets. Are they ready for this? There will be changes to their daily schedules, re-arranged furniture, an increased number and variety of visitors to your home, perhaps some rambunctious kids even, and there will definitely be some amazing food involved. If we add in the physical hazards of the season as well such as strings of lights, candles, tinsel, holiday plants, etc. you can see why I am already worried!

Pets exhibit their stress in several ways. They may become overly hyper, barking excessively, jumping up on people and furniture, and getting into everything. However, some pets become more withdrawn, hiding under beds or in closets, refusing to eat, and wishing that all the commotion was over with. Often our pets respond differently during the holidays because we ourselves are acting differently. From November through January, our routines change, reflecting our holiday commitments, and turning our pets' worlds upside down.

While not always easy, we should all try to maintain our pets' usual routines as much as possible. Focus on feeding and walking them at the same times, checking the water bowl frequently, make sure litter boxes are clean, and most importantly make sure that we have provided quiet places of refuge for our pets to retreat if they need to escape the craziness of the season.

The holidays can definitely be hectic, but they really are a wonderful time to reconnect with family and friends. Don't forget to spend quality time with your pets as well, and do keep in mind how stress-reducing their company can be. Just spending time with your pets reduces your blood pressure (and theirs), improves your moods, and and enhances each other's well-being. Now, what could be a greater holiday gift than that?

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Time to Visit Your Vet? No Problem!

I had a great conversation with my dogs' veterinarian. We were discussing how dogs behave in the vet hospital setting. So many dogs are acutely uncomfortable when they are there, to the point of excessively panting, barking, whining, and even displaying aggression. There is, however, something you can do to help your dog be less anxious when visiting the vet's office. First, let's look at why your pets are anxious there, so that we can better figure out how to alleviate that anxiety.

Most animals become anxious at the vet's office for very obvious reasons. They are there because they don't feel well. Even we behave more anxiously when we don't feel well. But even if your pet feels well, they may still be anxious from the moment they enter the vet hospital door because many vet hospitals smell to them like other anxious pets and anxious owners!  So what can veterinarians do to alleviate this? They can make their hospitals more inviting and less sterile in appearance. That helps the humans behave less anxiously. They can use DAP (Dog Appeasing Pheromones) and Feliway plug ins, as well as soothing area sprays to reduce anxiety in both their canine and feline patients, and their owners. Scheduling appointments so that the waiting room isn't over-crowded also helps diminish stress, as does moving clients and their pets into and out of exam rooms efficiently.

But what can you, the pet parent, do to reduce your pet's anxiety? First off, visit your vet's office often so that it isn't a strange, scary place for them. My vet suggests visiting her office between 12 and 2 p.m. when they don't schedule regular appointments. That way, anxious pets can visit the waiting room, exam room, etc. without worry of interfering with the flow of regular patients in her practice. Work with your pet first in the parking lot, and then work with them as you move toward the vet hospital, and finally move indoors. Reinforce calm behaviors, encourage sniffing, use treats if you can as well to reinforce behaviors you like such as not pulling on the leash, not barking or whining, etc. Many animals will perform self-soothing techniques as well such as yawning, scratching, and shaking it off. These are all good things and give you indicators of how your pet is feeling. The one thing you don't want to do is to tell your anxious pet that it is okay when they are feeling anxious; this just reinforces their anxiety. Instead, wait for calm behaviors and reward those.

If your pet is aggressive at the vet's office, either toward other animals or toward the veterinary staff, don't hold back that information. Let people know what you are dealing with so that everyone working with you and your pet stay safe. It might mean bringing your animal to the vet in a crate, teaching them to wear a humane muzzle, etc. There is a terrific new handling technique that may help as well to soothe and calm your dog. If you'd like more information, please just ask!

In the meantime, let me know how your pet is at the vet's office. While I think it would be great if they loved going there, I think it is perfectly fine to set a more reasonable goal of having them tolerate their visits there without fear or unnecessary discomfort.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Why Boredom is Bad

Money isn't the root of all evil, boredom is. Boredom is defined as feeling weary as a result of repetitive, uninteresting activities or pursuits. Boredom isn't just a people issue. It's a real concern for animals as well, and certainly true for our dogs. Bored dogs get into trouble.

I have had more than one client argue with me on this point saying, "My dog has a million toys, a yard to play in, etc. How in the world can you say he is bored?!" My response is to say that is exactly why he is bored and then give a human example of the woman standing in front of a closet full of beautiful clothes lamenting, "I have nothing to wear!" Doing the same activities day in and day out, always seeing the same toys on the floor, in the basket, and around the yard, leads to a lack of interest in those things and the search for new stimulation. And it is certainly the case that the mall is full of enticing store windows for the woman who needs something new to wear!

So, how do you deal with bored dogs? You need to get creative. It isn't expensive to treat boredom, but it does require work. Start by picking up all of your dog's toys....yes, all of them. Put them in a box in a closet. Now, select out a couple of those toys that your dog hasn't had any interest in of late, and start a game with him. A few hours later, pick those up and put them away, choose something else to bring out. Maybe it's time for a bone or an edible "toy" such as a Nutrident Bone, bully stick, etc. Experiment even with the edibles you give your dog. If you gave a bone today, then tomorrow give your dog a homemade pupsicle. Or if you used a Kong one day, then the next day give a Busy Buddy toy, or one from Starmark. I have a dozen interactive toys for my dogs from the Busy Buddy company and Starmark that I rotate in with bones, bully sticks, and frozen treats. Dogs do not have object permanence so if you put toys away, or change the edibles you provide for their enrichment, they think whatever you are giving them is new and exciting. Toy rotation makes the toys last longer too! You are basically creating novelty for your dogs by rotating their toys and chewing options so that no two days in a row are the same. In addition, you will want to observe your dogs and "feed" their needs. For example, if you have a puppy and he is chewing on your wood furniture, that is a pup looking for something hard to chew on, with a bit of give, something like a bully stick. Or, if you think your puppy is teething, how about a rope toy soaked in water and then frozen for a maximum gum soothing chewing option?

Treating boredom does not have to break the bank. I love buying new toys and treat games for my dogs and consider it to be a job-related expense, however that may not be the case for everyone. Rotating the toys you already have, adding a few new ones on occasion, and getting creative with boxes, egg cartons, or making your own treats is the key to creating novelty and keeping your pets brains engaged, stimulated, and out of the bored zone.

The collies chewing on "Dogswell Boundless Chew Bones!"

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Kids Say The Darndest Things!

I do so enjoy working with kids. This summer, I had the opportunity to do three different visits with kids in animal-themed summer camps. The kids ranged in age from 5 to about 9 years of age.  At the end of each of my presentations, I told the kids that they could ask me any burning, animal behavior related questions they had. And they had some doozies. After each camp, I made a point of jotting down some of the fun, entertaining, and amazing questions the kids asked me. Here are just a few of my favorites to give you a chuckle today. And if you have kids, see what their answers are!

1. Why does my dog scoot scoot his butt on my mom's favorite rug? (I have to say, this question came up twice this summer and both times there was a lot of nodding...and giggling)

So, dogs scoot like this when they have an issue with their anal sacs. The sacs may be full, inflamed, or impacted meaning the dog is unable to empty the sacs by themselves when they go to the bathroom, so they scoot on the floor to try to do it that way. You can certainly encourage your dog to scoot around outside, rather than in the house, as if they do get those anal sacs to empty, it will be stinky!  And if they keep doing it, take them to your veterinarian for a check up.

2.  How come dogs don't like cats? (I got this one twice as well and both times it started spirited discussions from kids whose dogs and cats are buddies)

Dogs and cats can certainly be friendly with each other.  In fact, many people raise their dogs and cats together and they get along quite well, even playing and sleeping together. Even if you see a dog chasing a cat, that doesn't necessarily mean that the dog doesn't like cats. Dogs respond to movement by chasing. That's why they chase squirrels too, and run after each other.  It is often the case that if a cat doesn't run, the dog will walk up and start sniffing them socially.

3.  How come some dogs don't have tails?

All dogs have tails, it's just that some of them have very short, stubby tails that are incredibly close to their rear ends. These dogs with stubby, almost non-existent tails are built that way because having a tail would have gotten in the way of the original job they were bred to do. So, for example, French Bulldogs have a very short nub of a tail. Since all bulldogs were originally used for bull-baiting, not having a tail meant the bull couldn't get a hold of the dog that way and hurt them.

4.  How come dogs sniff other dogs pee?  (Another one of my favorites for the number of giggles from the kids, and sighs from the grownups)

Dogs can tell an awful lot about other dogs from the way that their urine smells and tastes!  They "sample" the urine, using their tongues to push it up against a special organ back where their noses join their mouths. The vomeronasal organ is a dog's chemical analyzer and they will often make a funny face as they are processing the smells. It is called a flehmen response. And they aren't the only animals that have them!

5.  How comes dogs don't talk? (This is one of my favorites!)

I always say that if dogs could talk, we'd all be in trouble!  Quite literally, dogs cannot form words because they lack the ability to use their tongues and lips to form words the way that we do, and their brains are built for more important tasks such as processing smells and sounds. However, dogs are very good imitators and there are certainly dogs that can make sounds, modifying their pitch, tone, and volume in a way that makes it sound like they are saying certain words. Dogs do, however, have the capacity to learn words and more than one language and respond to those words accordingly.

Given how easy it is these days for kids to just "Google" anything they want to know, I find it refreshing that they are still willing to raise their hands and ask questions...and learn from real people and the real world around them.

Flehmen face in a zebra!

Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Nose Knows

Dogs have 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses and the portion of their brains expressly devoted to the analysis and processing of things they smell is 40 times greater than our own. No wonder they are always sniffing the ground, the air...and other places we won't mention. It is certainly the case that early humans relied on the canines around them, not just for their keen hearing, but also for their wonderful sense of smell. Dogs can definitely smell danger on the horizon just as easily as they can smell a box of snacks in a closed cupboard.

Humans do use their sense of smell too, we just aren't as good at it as dogs are. The whole world of aromatherapy, using essential oils extracted from plants to enhance our physical and psychological well-being, relies on humans tapping into the part of their brain that processes smell. Lavender is a flowering plant in the mint family, and well known to have calming, anti-anxiety properties for humans. Lavender can be used to treat insomnia and as a natural form of stress relief. Research shows that the scent of lavender increases the time that humans spend in deep sleep!

Dogs are mammals just like us. They, too, can benefit from the use of lavender in their daily lives. Not only can it have a calming effect on dogs, it can also be used as a natural insect repellent. While lavender is not poisonous, it still could be dangerous if eaten in quantity or if you or your dog are allergic to it, so testing it with your dog first is a must. So, how can you use lavender in your dog's life?

Lavender is the most famous of the essential oils due to its subtle, relaxing aroma. Applying lavender oil to a piece of cardboard inserted into your dog's bed will be soothing and aid relaxation. Lavender oil can be put onto their collars or on a bandanna around their necks to soothe as well as deter insects. Lavender sprays can be purchased or homemade and then sprayed on your dog's bedding, in and around their crate, and in your bedroom as well. While there are lavender diffusers and candles as well, caution should be taken with these as they can be easily knocked over by curious canine noses!

I like to use a lavender spray ("Buddy Splash Lavender and Mint Spritzer") on my collies before they do their pet assisted therapy visits. Not only does the spray make them smell divine, it relaxes them for their visits and relaxes the people petting them!

Let me know in the comments if you have ever tried lavender, or another essential oil,  for your dog. And if you'd like to learn more about the canine nose, pick up a copy of Alexandra Horowitz's book, "Being a Dog: Following the Dog Into a World of Smell."

Saturday, September 23, 2017

What did you say?

I am right in the middle of an amazing online course for my business. One of my favorite modules from the course covered verbal and non-verbal communication. While it is important for me to be able to understand what my clients are telling me about their pets, it is also incredibly important for me to hear the things they aren't saying....and to listen to what their pets "tell" me as well.

I am a student of behavior and a keen observer. I have counted the number of times captive ungulates scratched or licked; I have spent countless hours observing the social interactions of captive primates; I collected data for my own research on cheetahs and snow leopards; and for more than 25 years, I've watched domestic animals who live with people. It's not to say that I am some kind of weird voyeur, watching people or animals in an overly clinical or stalker sort of way!  Rather, I believe we have much to learn from observing animals....and we have much to learn from watching each other as well. My mother used to tell me that I was an excellent listener, able to truly hear what others were saying without planning out what I was going to say in response. While I feel that this was a lovely thing to say, it got me to thinking about the "why." Why do I like to listen and observe? And, more importantly, how can that help my clients and their pets? Which really just gets us back to verbal and non-verbal communication.

Animals do speak, their language is just different than ours. And isn't it amazing that those same animals will make an effort to learn our language in order to interact with us?  Fascinating. I know a dog who understands five languages!  He came from Korea, lived with a family who spoke French, ended up living in a home with a family who spoke Spanish, Portuguese, and English. Not only was this dog a world traveler, he was multi-lingual. But what he was best at was observing human behavior and responding accordingly. There are many facets to human body language that are universal and this dog recognized that for sure. When I met this dog, I was there to help ease his transition into his new (and hopefully last!) home environment. Through mutual observation, this dog and I discovered that we had something in common; I liked to walk around looking at the ground, and so did he. We both also liked bacon. So, as I began walking around, looking at the ground, and periodically dropping bacon, we had a "dialogue" and a relationship to build on. My job was to take that foundation and help his new owners build on it, using their body language and watching his. Those non-verbal cues are so important, and sometimes we just need help reading and understanding them in order to find common ground.

If you would like to learn more about canine body language and non-verbal communication in animals, please let me know. New seminars are in the works and I love customizing them to the topics that interest you the most.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Happiness and Success

"Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful." --Dr. Albert Schweitzer

This quote really resonates with me. I love what I do. Helping people understand their pets is very important to me. Providing a balanced approach to that understanding with an emphasis on the pet's well-being is the key. For you to enjoy your pets and for them to be happy and thrive, that's my mission. For me, success is measured by the number of happy clients and pets I have in my life.

Achieving happiness does take effort. Pets with behavior problems do effect your quality of life, as well as theirs. Sometimes the solution is straightforward, but more often than not, the path is less clear. Knowing when to ask for help is key; don't wait until one behavior problem becomes several, or until you have become too frustrated to seek guidance.

That path to success and happiness with your pets can be achieved in many ways. Perhaps you would enjoy a class or seminar. Maybe you need a phone consultation to get you back on the right track. It might also be the case that you need one-on-one coaching to achieve your goals. And if you don't know what kind of help you need, just ask!

Understanding animal behavior is my passion. Helping you to better understand your pet's behavioral needs is my goal. Reaching our goals that's success.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

It Does Take Work...But It's Worth It

My mom used to say that anything worth having, is worth working for. I like to think that this is true for many things, but definitely the case with having a well-mannered community canine.

When I was teaching my most recent leash walking class, we talked about why you need to practice (a lot). It won't be perfect the first may never be perfect, in fact. However, working with your dog to hone their skills and better understand your expectations and the constraints placed upon them (and you!) in the environment, is really the key. And one dog owner's definition of "perfect" may not be your definition. Perfect is defined by you and always in context. Many people have incredibly well behaved dogs at home, but the second they try to take those same dogs into public places, it turns into a three-ring circus. Which brings me back to the idea of practicing. You have to actually visualize your goal and then get creative as you find ways to help your dog do just that.

For example, if your goal is to sit with your dog in the outdoor seating area of your favorite restaurant and have a nice lunch, they you have to break that goal down into smaller, more manageable pieces. Start out by taking your dog on a walk through the area of town where the restaurant is located. Did you have to load your dog into and out of a car to get there? That's another piece of the training puzzle. Once you can walk that area of town, stop and hang out near the restaurant. Maybe they have benches near by where you can sit briefly, or a wall out front to lean against for a few minutes to get your dog used to just "hanging out" quietly there. Give your dog treats for being calm, work on your sits, downs, and stays there.  On your next visit, bring your water bottle with you. Do all of the previous steps, and add in drinking some water and sharing it with your dog. Is your dog enjoying all of this? If so, you are probably ready to find a table and have a quick bite to eat. Next time, you can aim to stay longer, maybe inviting a friend along. Work up to having that friend bring their dog too!

I know that for some dogs, those steps outlined briefly above are just too daunting. If your dog is anxious, easily distracted, or simply just young and inexperienced, you may need to break up those steps even more, or extend the amount of time you practice each step before moving on to the next one.  And that's okay. Success is defined by you and your dog. And you should be having fun along the way, enjoying your time with your canine companion.

"Success is a journey, not a destination." Ben Sweetland

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Post Script on Leash Walking Class

I just have to give a shout out to the wonderful dog owners who took my recent leash walking class, offered through AdobeDogs Dog Training in Los Altos. We really had a great time in the last class, in spite of Saturday's warmer-than-normal temperature!

For me, being able to "learn as you go" has a lot of merit. We could have just talked about how to walk with your dog in busy places, how to hold the leash properly, what to do if there's a crowd or an off leash dog, etc. We could have covered all of that in the classroom, but doing so would have kept us all from really seeing how the things we talked about actually work in the real world. I could talk all day about keeping a loose leash, letting your dog sniff, and enjoying your time together, but really doing just that makes a huge difference.

Walking as a group gave everyone in class a sense of security; we all had each other's backs, watching for traffic, pointing out dropped food, and stopping to let the dogs sniff. We even worked together to move past an off leash dog on a sidewalk in town!  We stopped and sat down to talk about our walk a couple of times, and more than one owner was amazed that their dog was happy to do so!

For me, our last walk as a class was particularly special as I brought one of my collies along as well. Desi is a social butterfly, but our walks are usually just he and I with my other collie, Ozzie. Occasionally, we have another family member along, but mostly it's just us. I think Desi enjoyed the change of pace, walking with some new people and dogs, and checking out downtown Los Altos. And, more importantly, the people in class got to see that I handle my dog the same way I tell them to handle theirs. I let Desi sniff, I talk to him about what we are doing, I have him sit before crossing the street, and I encourage people to approach and engage him. We don't interact with unfamiliar dogs when he is on leash and he doesn't go looking for that either. Desi knows a good walk when he is on one, and now these other dogs and their owners do too.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

All Work and No Play...

Beginning in September, I will be teaching one of my very favorite classes...the seminar on Dog Play Behavior!

My graduate research was on play behavior, so it is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. I love teaching people about the importance of play, while also teaching them how to read canine body language and look for warning signs that play has gotten too rough, or isn't play at all.

It is critical for dogs to learn what is acceptable and appropriate in terms of play. It is absolutely true that older well-socialized dogs with great play skills can help guide younger dogs, and it is okay for older dogs to tell off puppies who get too rambunctious. Knock it off means knock it off and puppies have to learn this!

Dog play is reciprocal or consensual, meaning everyone is having a good time. Learning canine body language helps humans to learn what that good time looks like and how to help their dogs have success. While it is certainly possible for dogs to misread the cues they are given by other dogs, it isn't generally the case. But people often misread the cues and I can help with that!

If you love to watch dogs play, want to learn more about canine body language, or you are just interested in learning more about dog behavior, please join me for this fun seminar. You can sign up for the class at Part of the class involves recording and decoding videos of dog play, so here is a link to one of my favorites, featuring my boys and a blankie ;)

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

In My Opinion

So....there's a picture that's been circulating quite a bit on social media. It's a poodle who has been trimmed and dyed to look like a giraffe. Some of the pictures were mislabeling him as a zebra which I found infinitely entertaining given that there is a huge difference between zebras and giraffes. But I digress.

It seems that comments on the photos/videos fell into one of two camps. People who found it goofy and entertaining and those who found it offensive and demeaning. I had a conversation not too long ago with a friend in the show dog community who reported that an acquaintance who dyed her show dog's coat for a fun day event, received similar derision from other dog owners.

I have to be honest...putting bandannas on dogs, dressing them in clothes or costumes, goofy hats and sunglasses doesn't bother me at all. UNLESS it bothers the dog wearing said items. If a dog shows anxiety or fear, he shouldn't be made to wear those items as the discomfort could lead to him bolting to escape them, behaving aggressively, etc. I myself have put any number of scarves and costumes on my dogs. But not all of my dogs. My first rough coat collie LOVED dressing up. I think it was because he took part in dress up games with my daughter as a puppy, but he truly loved it. He would wear ANYTHING, tail wagging, head held high. Same with my pug. He loved hats and capes. Now, our Labrador was a different story. A bandanna on her made her freeze in place. So, we never put anything on her. Period.

So, back to that Giraffe-Poodle. If you watch the video, he looks pretty darn happy and carefree. Truly I don't see any sign of anxiety in that video. My guess is that he's getting a great deal of attention for his odd hairdo and he enjoys that attention immensely. Dogs don't feel embarrassment, so it's not like he will feel bad walking on the street when other dogs see him. I will say, however, that I think my dogs might give him a wide berth simply because he doesn't really look like a dog anymore!  I know, however, that if he approached them like any other dog, my dogs would likely chalk it up to a bad haircut and run around and play with him.

Hair grows out. Dye can be washed out or grows out as well. Bad haircuts happen daily. Is it cruel? I don't think so, as long as the dye is safe for animals. Is it okay to do it? I think this is a decision best made by the owner of the dog. They know their dog. Bottom line: I don't think it's okay to bash someone for a goofy haircut, costume, etc. on their dog. We are all entitled to our own opinions, but bashing someone you don't know is hurtful. And we all know right now that the one thing we need is more kindness in our world. And a sense of humor always.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

What's In A Name?

Just this week alone, I have read a half dozen articles which basically came to the conclusion that using terms like "reactive," "triggered," "conflicted," and "under-socialized" do dogs, and their owners,  a disservice because these labels mask or sanitize what the underlying problem really is....aggression, according to these authors.

I found this fascinating. My mom was a high school teacher for over 30 years and she would routinely talk about the concept of "teacher speak." You know what I mean. "Johnny is a spirited young man." Translation: Johnny can't keep his butt in the chair during class. Or, my favorite: "Susan is a real people-person." Translation: Susan never stops talking to the other kids around her in class.

So, knowing this made me wonder if what these authors were saying was true. Have veterinarians, animal behaviorists, and dog trainers gotten to the point where we are using euphemisms to soften the blow with our clients whose pets have behavior problems? My conclusion, not really. I know, myself, that I choose my words carefully when advising my clients. I know that coming right out in the first 5 minutes and telling them that their pet is a physical and psychological mess isn't going to help their pet, nor make the pet owner want to work with me through the issues at hand. I think using terms like "reactive" or "under-socialized" are helpful. People know what those terms mean as they are relatable from a human perspective. I certainly don't tell someone that their dog is simply reactive or under-socialized; I may tell them that as I am also telling them about how being reactive or under-socialized can lead to aggression. For me, they aren't labels, but descriptors; they simply help to clarify what I am seeing. So, it isn't just aggression, for example, but aggression toward unfamiliar dogs as a result of never being around other dogs after leaving the breeder's home (i.e. under-socialized).

I like to build relationships with my clients. To build a good rapport means they need to like me, find my advice useful AND workable, and feel that I am helping their pet. It's about listening to what my clients tell me (and what they don't), observing their pets, and giving the best possible advice that I can with an eye to building and maintaining relationships. I always put my clients first. I love animals, but I also know that not every animal is in the right situation for them to blossom and thrive. I don't tell my clients what they want to hear; I tell them what they NEED to hear. I sincerely hope that when I do, they always see that it comes from a place of compassion and a desire to help them.

So, call them over-used terms or labels, if you like. I, however, will continue to use them if it helps my clients to better understand the underlying motivation and basis for the behaviors their pets are exhibiting.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

End Of The Summer!

This time of year, it's all about heading back to school with your new backpack, colored folders, organizers, and planners. I always loved the beginning of a new school year and selecting a new lunch box! The start of a new school year can be a time of sadness and anxiety, however, for your dogs who have enjoyed the chaos (and extra treats) of having those kids home for two months. It's become kind of a tradition that I teach two classes for AdobeDogs Dog Training as the kids head back to school.

The first, is a Kids & Dogs class where only kids are allowed to attend, no grownups. Kids come with their dogs and we play games, teach the dogs tricks, and generally have a great time laughing and playing together. Everyone gets to show off at the last class where the whole family is invited to attend and watch our shenanigans.

The second, is Save Your Pup From the "Summer's Over Blues!" This is a two week, seminar-style class where I address how to get your dog or puppy back on track after a summer spent with everyone home. We address barking and boredom and how to determine if your pet just has separation distress, or if you are dealing with a dog who has separation anxiety.

If either (or both!) of these classes sound like something you or your kids would enjoy, please visit to sign up. I would love to see you there!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Those Nagging Behavior Problems

Today I had a woman ask me about her daughter's dog, a lovely 3 year old Labrador Retriever who still submissively urinates when greeting people and jumps up on everyone. This dog is over 100 lbs, so weight is an issue as well. All of these problems are fixable; we can work on the submissive urination and jumping up. Some diet changes, including exchanging fruits and veggies for high calorie treats, and increasing this dog's exercise are also needed. Is this the kind of thing I might be able to help with, she asked? Of course!

While I do spend the majority of my time treating "serious" behavior problems...i.e. aggression, anxiety, phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder, etc., that doesn't mean that I don't treat those nagging behavior problems as well. In fact, it is often the case, that those seemingly straightforward, yet irritating behavior problems like barking, jumping up on people, and house training issues truly effect the human-animal bond in more insidious ways than those serious problems do.

Truly, I really enjoy those little, nagging behavior problems! They are easily solved, creating relief for the pet owners and more joy in life for the pets. I can feel satisfaction in a job that is completed, something I don't always feel when dealing with aggression, or fear, or serious anxiety cases where we will be dealing with the issues long term.

The woman I was telling you about was actually a bit embarrassed to be asking me about her daughter's dog. She felt like it might be a case that was "beneath me." On the contrary, there is no behavior problem I am unwilling to address and try to help with. While we all enjoy a challenge in our professional lives, being able to help someone with a seemingly small, irritating issue, can be quite rewarding as well.

The take home message? I am here to help. No problem is too big, or too small. If it is effecting your relationship with your pet, then let me know!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Staying Cool in Triple Digit Heat

Anyone who knows me, knows I keep Rough Coat Collies. I love them. I love their long noses, fluffy tails, and thick, luxurious coats. Keeping them cool in California during the summer can be a challenge, but it is doable. So, if you, too, have a heavy-coated dog, keep this in mind:

First off, don't shave your dog. Shaving a long-coated dog actually makes it harder for them to stay cool. Dogs with heavy coats shake and fluff up their coats, trapping air in between the layers which cools them. If you shave them, they will overheat faster.

Do get a kids' wading pool and put cool water in it. Encourage your dog to stand in the pool. Cooling their feet helps to cool their whole body quickly. You can also put water on their heads to cool them quickly.

Most people keep one water bowl...I keep three! Having multiple water bowls means if one is empty or the water has gotten warm, there are others to choose from.

Walk your dog early in the morning or late in the evening so that they don't burn their feet. When the air temperature is 95', the grass is 105' in the sunshine, the cement is 124' and the blacktop is a whopping 140'! Where I live, daytime air temperatures often are in the triple digits meaning walks are completely out of the question for all of us!

Offer treats that keep your dogs cool. You can make your dogs popsicles using broth or liquid yogurt as a base and adding fruit or veggies to make it even more fun. Use cut up bully sticks or carrots for the popsicle "stick" and your dogs will have a blast.

While air conditioning is great, adding fans is even better at spreading around the cool air. I use both ceiling cans and floor fans to keep the collies cool.

Cooling collars and cooling pads on their beds rounds out the routine. And I frequently find collies on the cool tiles in the bathroom or the hard wood floor in the kitchen.

Older dogs, puppies, and those dogs who are sick or immune compromised will need even more help staying cool during the summer.

So, when the temperatures hit the triple digits here, I will be sitting by the fan eating popsicles with my collies. Stay cool everyone!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

But What Would YOU Do?

I get asked that question a lot....but what would you do if it was your dog/cat? I try to be upfront with people and let them know that what I might choose to do...or what their family/well meaning friends/neighbors/co-workers tell them do...should be taken with a grain of salt. As my grandmother used to say, "opinions are like noses...everyone has one." No one can make that decision for you. You are the one whose pet is effecting your life. You have to decide if modifying *your* behavior, changing the way you confine your pet, signing your dog up for daycare, or whatever the solution might be, will truly work for you, your family, and your budget. Telling someone with a barking dog that they "should" put a bark collar on the dog, crate train it, send it to daycare, etc. is not really all that helpful. I like to help people look at the bigger picture; we need to find out WHY the dog is barking in order to come up with the best possible solution. And I understand that you may not like my solution. Or it may not work fast enough to appease your neighbors. I get that...I really do. However, I simply won't just tell you what you want to hear. That's not in your best interest or the best interest of your dog. While I sympathize with you having trouble in your multi-cat household with spraying and cats not using the litter box, I don't have an instant remedy. We will need to help your cats reduce the social pressure that is leading to the marking behavior. While it will definitely help to add more litter boxes, that won't "fix" the problem.

Behavior problems are frustrating, complicated, often expensive, and potentially damaging to the human-animal bond. I sympathize as I have dealt with behavior problems in my own home. I would never recommend that you do something that I would be unwilling to do myself. However, I can't make your decisions for you. I will guide you and provide the best possible choices for you and your pets. Always.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Pool Safety for Dogs

Two summers ago, one of my collies, Desi, was staying with a friend who has a pool in her backyard. I don't think Desi had ever seen a pool before (he came to me as a retired show dog from Pennsylvania), but I never would have thought that the pool posed a risk to him as he is always careful about where he steps. So, when he inadvertently tried to walk on water and ended up in the pool, my quick-thinking friend hopped in and guided him out of the water. He was definitely flustered and quite put out about being wet all of the sudden. I just thank my lucky stars that she was standing right there when he fell in. Instead of a funny story we laugh about now, it could have been deadly.

Every year, more than 5000 pets die from drowning in swimming pools, spas, etc. The worst part about this statistic is that these deaths are completely avoidable. Fencing around a pool is the safest way to keep animals out of the water. However, many pool owners don't like the fencing because it isn't aesthetically pleasing. There are pool covers that are durable enough that they can be walked on safely. But, again, the cover will only work if it is on the pool. Probably the best option if you have an unfenced pool in your yard is to teach your dog to swim. This is a can't just toss them into the pool and hope for the best! Start with a life vest and ease them into the water. Stay with them and guide them around the pool. Do a lot of short sessions with the vest on in the pool. Show your dog where the exit points are several times. For added safety, purchase a ramp that can be mounted to the side(s) of your pool. These ramps float on top of the water, are quite visible, and have holes in them that a dog can grab a hold of and gain purchase to climb out of the pool.

Some dogs will graduate out of wearing a life vest around a swimming pool while others should truly wear one anytime they are near water. The brachycephalic dog breeds (think bulldogs) are heavily boned and can sink rather than swim, quickly taking water into their lungs due to the truncated shape of their noses. And, more importantly, any dog can panic, swim around frantically, and then sink, drowning from exhaustion.

Just this week alone, I have worked with two families who have unfenced, backyard pools. We worked on teaching the dogs where the edges of the pool were, where the stairs are located, etc. Always wearing a life vest and going into the pool with the dogs so that they learn not to be scared of the water, but respectful. If you own a boat, or plan to take your dog with you anyplace where there is water, practicing water safety and teaching them to wear a life vest is a must. Even dogs who are built for swimming and love it should wear a vest in deep water, heavy currents, or if they will be in the water for an extended period of time. Always better safe than sorry.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Gotta Walk The Dog

You gotta walk your dog.  I am sure you hear this all the time. But what does that really mean? Are you supposed to walk a certain distance, a certain number of minutes, with an eye to meeting a specific number of new people? Does walking the dog include stops to sniff and use the bathroom, or does it mean moving along without sniffing?  And where is your dog supposed to walk? By your side all the time? Some of the time? Walking the dog just got more complicated!

First off, how often (how many times a day/week etc.) you walk your dog depends on the breed, age, and health status of your dog. While a young, healthy dog of most any breed will enjoy walking a couple times a day for 30 minutes or more, a brachycephalic dog (think Pug, English Bulldog, etc. with those short, snuffly noses) may not be able to do two 30 minute walks a day in the middle of the summer when it it too hot for them to breathe. And while an Italian Greyhound might also enjoy those twice daily walks, walking in the winter when it is quite chilly outside will likely require a jacket, at a minimum, and maybe even foot coverings, depending on where you live. To further muddy the waters, if you have to walk your dog in order to toilet them because you don't have a yard for them to use (or they won't go to the bathroom in your yard!), this means you will be walking a lot more often than twice daily!

While walking puppies and young dogs is about exercise AND meeting friendly, new people, you will have to pick and choose where you walk them with an eye to health and safety. Puppies and young dogs who haven't been fully vaccinated DO need to go out for walks, they just don't need to walk as far and should be walking in places where they will meet lots of new people, NOT lots of unknown dogs. Take your puppies with you to coffee, out to lunch, over to Home Depot to shop for supplies. Avoid the dog park, pet supply stores, etc. where you might run into dogs of questionable social skills or vaccine history. Short walks in your neighborhood with a friendly, healthy, well-behaved adult dog is good for your puppy. Five mile hikes are not.

While teaching your dog to heel is an important skill and one worth pursuing, it isn't the be all/end all. Having a nice walking companion is. I like to see people teach their puppies to heel with the "invisible leash" method. This means using their voice, body language, and tasty treats to encourage walking near them without a leash attached to their collar at all. If you can get your pup to stay with you without a leash, in a room full of new people and other puppies, you will certainly be able to get them to stay with you when the leash is attached! Teaching your dog to heel is useful when passing others on the sidewalk or in enclosed spaces, simply having them stay near you will work for most everywhere else. As long as I am not being dragged down the street (or conversely, dragging my dog!), I am happy. I let my dogs sniff, look around, and use the bathroom. I do bring treats with me even though I have adult dogs. Learning opportunities don't stop just because your dog is no longer a puppy.

Walking should be an enjoyable experience for you and your dog. While it is about exercise for you both, it is, more importantly, about spending quality time together. Focus less on how many minutes you walk or how far you go; make your walks with your canine companions about smelling the flowers, enjoying the view, and feeling blessed to be in each other's company.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

To Rescue, Or Not...The Age Old Question

I get asked at least once a day to explain the pros and cons of going through a shelter, rescue group, or a breeder for the next canine companion. My answer is always the depends on your situation and your experience. While most people think that they want to go to the shelter and save an animal, that isn't always the right choice to make. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but many of the animals at the shelter aren't suitable to homes with kids. Homes with elderly people. Homes without yards. Homes where the owners work 8-10 hour days. And the list goes on. Most of the animals in the shelter have no history or what is known about them is limited. It is very difficult to tell a prospective new owner what an animal might be like once it is outside of the shelter environment. Given this fact, rescue groups have proliferated; some are breed specific, some size specific, while others take only young dogs...or senior dogs. Rescue groups often will have additional information to provide on their animals based on the experiences of the people fostering the dog.

I have been accused of being against shelters and rescue organizations and that simply isn't true. What I am FOR is helping pet owners find the right animal for their particular situation. While a client "without children or grandchildren, living alone, and with lots of dog experience who works from home" might be able to take on a dog with significant issues and successfully help that dog make the transition to a healthy home environment, that certainly isn't true of all of my clients. In fact, many of my clients feel the emotional tug of "saving an animal" and choose a dog from a shelter based solely on the way the animal looks, hunched up in the back of a cage. They feel sorry for the animal and are sure that love is all it will take to help that animal blossom. I truly wish that were the case. However, more likely than not, that dog hunched up in the back of the cage may be so under-socialized that putting him into your busy family will cause him more anxiety and stress. While most dogs avoid confrontation, some will respond to stress by lashing out and behaving aggressively. This puts you, your kids, and your visitors at risk.

So, does this mean I think everyone should opt to get their next furred family member from a reputable breeder? Not necessarily, but I wouldn't summarily rule it out as so many people do. Breeders are not bad people. They are not the reason why there is an animal over-population problem. That is pure propaganda. Reputable breeders are interested in the welfare of their particular breed. They don't over-breed; they don't cross-breed (there are no "reputable breeders" of any designer dogs, as far as I'm concerned); and they don't ignore health or temperament issues when breeding their animals. They interview prospective new owners, ask for references on YOU, and offer you health guarantees. You may have to wait longer to get an animal from a breeder, but that is a good thing. It means you aren't making a snap decision or one based solely on emotion. You are choosing and being chosen based on research, due diligence, and forethought. Your chances are very good that you will get exactly what you were looking for and what you paid for.

No animal is free. Even that puppy that your grandparents got for you out of a box in front of the grocery store when you were a kid wasn't free. You do get to choose how much you want to spend at the outset on a new furred family member, but the bottom line is that they will all cost you money. For some people, spending more at the outset and getting their pet from a breeder is the wise choice. Please don't judge someone for doing so. We all need to feel free to make the choice that best suits our individual situation. As always, if you need guidance in taking that next step, let me know. I am always here to help.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Bark Bark Bark!

Dogs bark, that's a given. Some bark all the time, others rarely. Some bark only when someone is on their home turf, ringing the doorbell, knocking on the door, delivering mail, etc. For some dogs, it is other animals that set them off; the squirrel on the fence, the birds in the tree, the dog on the other side of the fence or the dreaded cat next door. I've met dogs who bark at the television and those that bark at the beeping microwave!  The one thing to keep in mind with respect to barking is can be controlled. Just as you can teach a dog to bark on command, you can also teach them to quiet.

When your dog barks, find out why. Go outside, go to the window, etc. Don't just holler at them to be quiet...find out what it is that is triggering them to bark. Acknowledge whatever it is and THEN ask for the quiet. For many dogs, once they see that you've validated what they've discovered, they stop barking. If, however, they don't stop barking once you've acknowledged them, then you must assign a consequence for them NOT heeding your request. The consequences assigned are NOT for barking  per se. Not only can we not completely get rid of dog barking, we really don't want to; dogs are here to alert us and that's a good thing. The consequences are there because the dog did not listen to what you told them to do. Just as you expect a "sit" when you ask for it, so it is with "quiet." So, what is an appropriate consequence for not quieting when asked? I am a big fan of time outs. Put your dog in their crate, in the laundry room, etc. and have them remain there for 3-5 minutes, or longer if they persist in barking. This will not make their crate (or the laundry room, for that matter) a negative. You are not grabbing your dog, swatting them, and shoving them into the crate or laundry room; you simply put them there without any fanfare at all. The idea here is to use social shunning (time away from you and their world) as a means of getting more compliant, attentive behavior from your dog.

It is also important to interrupt your dog's barking with something other than the word "Come!" You don't want that command associated with anything negative, so calling them to come inside when they are barking in the yard will, by definition, make coming when called a negative for the dog. Instead, whistle, clap your hands, stomp your feet, or squeak a toy. When you have your dog's attention, use their name and ask for the quiet or redirect them to a toy, bone, etc. so that they have something else to do. Interrupting barking when it first occurs means it will be easier to redirect your dog to something else. The longer you let the barking persist before you interrupt it, the harder it is to get the dog to stop.

So, while I agree that it is a real pain to get up at 3 a.m. to find out why your dog is barking, it is in your best interest to do so. It could be an opossum in your yard; but it could also be your teenage son trying to sneak in the house after curfew or a burglar breaking into your car in the driveway. Dogs consider all of these scenarios worth your attention. Barking dogs are just doing their jobs. It is our job to make sure that they don't become a nuisance to the rest of the neighborhood.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Pet Parades & Community Events

Sunday, May 20, 2017 is the 70th annual Pet Parade in Los Altos, California. I have attended this event many times and participated in it as well with my first collie, Cooper. We always joked that Cooper loved a good parade...and he really did. He was excited to go, loved all the people, noise, and activity. He didn't mind the costumes, banners, balloons (full of air or popped!), or the droves of unfamiliar pets in attendance. He didn't care about food on the ground...or in the hand of a passerby. I always felt completely comfortable taking Cooper to these events and having him participate. He was truly in his element. Since this amazing canine companion passed away, I have not taken a dog to the annual Pet Parade. Why, you may ask, since I have two other collies now, one of whom is a direct descendant of the original Lassie, and the other one regularly participates in pet assisted therapy visits, am I not attending these events?  The answer is quite simply this...a parade isn't for every animal. Just as not every human is happy to attend such a raucous event, neither is every dog. My dogs are great companions and Desi is very good on his pet assisted therapy visits whether they involve nursing homes, 500 high school students, or a child reading to him at the library. A parade is a different animal all together...pun intended.

If you intend to bring your pet to an event like this parade, you really need to evaluate whether doing so is in your pet's best interest. You cannot assume that just because they are good with people and walk nicely on leash that they will do well at a parade. That goes for taking your dog to the 4th of July fireworks festivities, outdoor music festivals, etc. These kind of events can be very stressful for our dogs. Unless you are absolutely sure that this is your pet's cup of tea, err on the side of caution and don't take them. The risks are high if you make an error; your dog could become over-stimulated and feel overwhelmed to the point where they engage in a behavior you have never dealt with before. They may scramble on leash, behave erratically trying to get away, they may bark/growl, and they may even snap or bite. So how do you know if your dog would enjoy something like this? If they are good on leash, walking through town on a hot, busy weekend afternoon, without grabbing at food, etc., then perhaps it is worth trying the parade....just not the whole parade. Go at the beginning, or show up toward the end. Gradually expose them to these types of events. That way, if they don't like it, you haven't pushed them too far. If they do enjoy it, you can attend the event for longer next time. Gives you both something to look forward to fondly.

In conclusion, not every collie is meant for a parade. And even Lassie had to prepare for her big public events!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Traveling With Your Pet In Tow

For many people, traveling with their pets sounds like a blissful, reasonable, fun solution to the age old issue of what to do with said animals when you are planning a vacation. Certainly, there are destinations and road trips that can be designed with your pets in mind. It is also the case that there are trips you may be planning where it is in your pets' best interest to be left out of the festivities. Weddings and graduations, for example, while family affairs, are often held in venues that cannot accommodate pets. Or the couple getting married/grads simply doesn't want any members of the furred or feathered set in attendance. Even if the events you are planning to attend allow you to bring your pets, you do need to be duly prepared. I think taking pets on a trip requires even more planning and equipment than traveling with my kids did when they were small!  I dug around and found this list of what I would need to bring if I were traveling with my dogs:

1. Crates....even though my dogs ride in the car with safety harnesses, crates are required for hotel rooms so that they are safely confined.
2. Dog beds...providing their own bedding means my dogs will feel "at home" wherever we roam.
3. Food and water food and their own water. It is definitely the case that all water is not created equal. You may be traveling to a place where the water is different from home and that can create stomach issues.
4. Toys of all kinds...something for every possible occasion...squeaky toys, fetch toys, interactive toys to keep them busy in their crates, etc.
5. Treats...I need treats for the interactive toys and treats for reinforcing good behavior.
6. X-pen...I have big dogs. An exercise pen means they can be confined outdoors but still have space to spread out and enjoy themselves.
7. Pop up Sunshade...I have collies. Those luxurious coats get warm in the spring and summer, so a sunshade is a must. For them and for me. Better throw in the beach umbrella while I am at it.
8. Towels...dirty paws are a given. Don't want to use someone else's towels to dry those sandy feet.
9. Back up leashes and collars, just in case. All tags should be checked to make sure they are secure on the collars.
10. A file with their vaccine information, microchip information, home vet's phone number, and phone numbers for vets and emergency vets in the places I will be traveling.
11. All the other things I forgot to put on this list.

When I look at this list, it always makes me so happy that I have a great pet-sitter to watch my dogs in my home while I am on vacation. My dogs get to stay in the comfort and safety of their home environment, and I don't have to worry about them (as much). Plus, I have more room for my stuff in the car ;)

If you really want to plan a trip with your pet's fun in mind, check out for great ideas.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Kids, Dogs, & Dog Bites

This week, a reality TV star's son was hospitalized following a dog bite. Her four year old was bitten so severely, he required surgery. While this sounds horrible (and it is), it is important to remember that this is not a rare occurrence. Children get bit all the time and often the injuries require medical attention. My hope is that her talking about her son's injuries will bring the issue to the forefront. Children should never be left unsupervised with dogs and their interactions with unfamiliar dogs on the street, at the park, etc. need to be monitored and guided.

The number of times I have witnessed kids running up to unfamiliar dogs, grabbing them for a hug and/or kiss, is staggering. Where are the parents/caregivers when this happens? While I don't disagree that dog owners can and should help educate children about how to engage their dogs, it is up to the parents first and foremost to work on this behavior. Just as you have a conversation with your kids about talking to strangers, looking both ways before crossing the street, etc., you should also be talking to them about what to do if approached by a dog or when approaching a dog.

And for children growing up in homes with dogs: You have to teach your dogs to respect those kids and vice versa. Dogs need to know that they have safe places to retreat to when they need a break; kids need those safe places as well. Dogs in their crates or on their dog beds should be left alone. Kids playing in their room should not have to put up with a dog in their personal space either. Parents need to monitor their kids' behavior with the family dog(s) and those dogs need to be watched as well. Punishing a dog that curls its lip or growls is NOT the answer. That lip curl or growl may be the only thing standing between your child getting bit or not. Instead, heed that warning from the dog and look to see what you and your child can do to avoid triggering the dog again. Maybe your child tried to hug the dog. Dogs don't inherently enjoy hugs. Some can learn to tolerate them, but most dogs see this as uncomfortable. And if you have a dog who guards their resources, you the adult, need to be in control of those resources and make sure your kids don't get between the dog and what he/she covets.

Dog bites happen. Here are the stats: The odds that a dog bite victim will be a child are 3 to 1. Severe injuries are highest for kids ages 4-9. The child's face is the most frequent site for the injuries. Dog bites result in 350,000 visits to the emergency room every year. Those statistics are sobering. We all must be vigilant and educate our children about respect for animals. We must also insure that our dogs are well-suited to environments where children are present BEFORE we put our dogs into those situations.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Home Alone Dogs

One of the most common behavior problems I see and treat is separation anxiety. One of the first steps, however, involves determining if the dog is really suffering from separation anxiety. Many of the behaviors people associate with separation anxiety are also those seen in dogs who are simply bored/under-stimulated. In addition, if the dog is a new addition to your home, the anxiety you are seeing could be transient, a by-product of the move to a new home environment with new rules, schedules, etc. Once the dog acclimates to its new home, the anxiety dissipates. This doesn't mean there aren't things an owner can do to make the transition easier, it just means that what they are seeing isn't separation anxiety and thus should not be treated as such.  So, how do you know if your pet is truly suffering from separation anxiety? That's where a certified animal behaviorist comes in. By collecting a detailed history on the dog and their behavior, a behaviorist can help you determine what is actually going on and how best to proceed with a treatment game plan. If it truly is a case of separation anxiety, then here is what you might expect in terms of treatment:

First, drug therapy and never leaving your dog alone are truly at the core of the solution. This is because one of the first steps in treating the problem is removing the dog from situations that cause the anxiety. For a lot of dogs with separation anxiety, I recommend daycare since at daycare (versus a dog walker, for example), they can interact with new humans and other dogs and be crated or confined only under supervision, and barking and destructive behavior are curbed and/or redirected, if they are occurring. This is so helpful to the process even if someone is home a lot of the time; it's important for the dogs to experience separation from the owner and have that go well. And for many dog owners with intense work schedules, daycare is the key to success.

Here is a general outline for the treatment of separation anxiety:

1. Never leave the dog home alone (even briefly until he has been taught calming techniques)
2. Crate train and/or x-pen train to build confidence when you are home (this helps curb the drooling, pacing, and destruction that so often occurs)
3. De-couple your departure cues (e.g. dress like you are leaving for work, but stay home; wear your pj's and leave the house for a few minutes)
4. Only give attention to the dog when he is calm and deferential (any anxious behavior is to be ignored).
5. Increase his mental AND physical exercise everyday
6. Drug therapy (I usually recommend having a conversation with your veterinarian about your options, and starting with either Clomicalm, Elavil, or Prozac). Sometimes Xanax is needed if there is a panic component to the behavior as well. There are also some holistic options as well that may be worth exploring in conjunction with more traditional options.

I understand that this all sounds incredibly overwhelming and frustrating. While separation anxiety is a completely treatable behavior problem, it is one of the more complicated as it requires diligence, patience, and time to correct. If your dog is experiencing anxiety when you leave the house, let me know. I would be happy to help!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Selecting Your Next Canine Companion!

One of my favorite services for clients is helping them choose their next canine companion. I have a comprehensive questionnaire that I give to all family members and utilize their answers to determine the best breeds to fit their needs. Occasionally, I have even found that particular families are better suited to a stuffed dog or battery-operated toy dog as their expectations and desires for a dog don't fit with real dog ownership! It is a fun process....often the breeds that work best for people are breeds that they hadn't even considered. Designer dogs, lists of popular dog breeds, dogs represented in commercials and marketing frequently skew the mindset of prospective dog owners. It is always important to keep an open mind and understand that while you LOVE Border Collies, you may not be able to actually LIVE with one. In addition, people often don't think about the less obvious differences between choosing a male or female dog. Or the benefits of choosing an adult dog over a puppy. These are all issues I address and help families to sort out BEFORE they commit to the addition of a new family member.

How did you choose your dog? Did you choose based on his/her breed? Did you choose to acquire a dog through rescue? Was your dog a puppy or an adult when you got him/her?

And if you are looking to add a pet to your home, let me know. I'd be happy to help you find a good fit using a more scientific approach to that very important decision.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Looking Ahead!

I am looking forward to a new seminar class I will be teaching this month. I will be teaching dog owners about shaping behaviors and then showing them how to shape behaviors that will allow their canine companions to actually help them with basic tasks!  Sound like fun?

At the heart of this seminar is my desire to try to teach people something new....while shaping is certainly not a new concept, most pet owners don't give it much thought. They teach their dogs to sit, lie down, go to their bed, walk nicely on a leash, etc., but don't really think about *how* they are teaching their dogs to do these behaviors reliably. By shaping behaviors...rewarding successive approximations to your ultimate goal, you can actually get your pets to perform more complicated (and useful) tasks. For example, using shaping, you can get your dog to not just pick up a toy and bring it to you, but pick up that toy and put it away!  Not just to jump up, but jump up and turn on a light switch (or turn it off) for you. Dogs with a basic foundation of behaviors can learn to string those behaviors together in a novel sequence, thus learning a brand new behavioral outcome which we can reward. They can go from picking up toys to picking up laundry and putting it in the washing machine. Are you intrigued? Join me...just visit for class details and to sign up. Hope to see you there!

Friday, March 31, 2017

Dealing With Aggression

I am seeing two clients tomorrow dealing with aggression. Both clients have dogs who have bitten people. These cases are sad....for the dogs and for the people. Dogs who bite once, bite again if triggered. Figuring out the triggers and if they can be managed is the key. Dogs who have bitten their owners are particularly difficult to work with. How do you attempt to fix a relationship that is broken?  Especially when the owner is asking, "I do everything for my dog...why would she bite me? What did I do wrong?" It seems so natural for people to assume that they did something wrong when the truth of the matter is this....they didn't do anything to provoke the dog. Some dogs simply have lower thresholds, lack bite inhibition, were improperly socialized to people, etc. And when I tell people that dogs have a choice with respect to biting. They CHOOSE TO BITE. Many dogs experience the same triggers day in and day out and NEVER CHOOSE TO BITE. It is a choice though. A choice that can have very serious consequences for us all.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Let's Talk!

Communication is so important. Communication with each other and with our companion animals. While English may be a second (or third!) language for your pets, it remains important to be clear with what you want and expect. Perhaps an example will help!

I once taught a puppy class where I had an older, ex-military gentleman attending with his beautiful German Shepherd puppy, Max. As I was talking about clear communication, getting and keeping a puppy's attention, etc. and demonstrating this with a little Retriever mix in the class,  this man started shaking his head. Never one to shy away from a question, I asked what was going through his head. He told me he wanted to use all hand signals, did not want to use treats, and had no intention of "making an ass out of himself." When I asked that he show me what he meant, he did, and to say it was less than successful is probably not much of a surprise. I began clapping my hands and using my silly/happy/let's play voice, and called Max to me. Max whipped around from where he was sniffing another puppy, began wagging his whole body, and trotted my way. I petted him and told him what a fabulous puppy he truly was!  Then I gave him a hand signal for sit, he complied, and I gave him a yummy little treat. When the class broke out in applause, I knew they understood. Max's dad? He smiled and said "OK...I'll try. But I am still not making that silly voice." Mission accomplished.

What Max's dad learned that evening was that when it comes to communicating with your dog, no one thing will work every time. For puppies, you need to step up your game. But even with adult dogs...if they are distracted or otherwise engaged, you have to be bigger, better, and more interesting if you want them to listen to you. Get their attention focused on you by whistling, clapping, stomping your feet. When they look at you, mark it with a "Yes!" and then ask them for what you want. Or try something fun...when they look your way, take off at a trot, look back over your shoulder and say, "you coming too?" Not too many dogs can resist chasing after an owner who might be off on a fun adventure. Hand signals are great, but only if your dog can see them. Don't waste your breath (or the value of any commands) if your dog isn't looking at you. If he isn't looking at you, he isn't listening to you. And, yes, never doubt the value of a well-timed, yummy treat. I always carry some with me as I never know when I might need them.

Communication is about information exchange. Listen to what your pets are telling you. Be clear with them as to what you want. Have fun doing it...and don't forget the treats. We all like to get paid every now and then.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

An Oldie But Goodie...Nature versus Nurture

One of my favorite authors, is also one of my favorite speakers and he's a professor at Stanford to boot. His name is Robert M. Sapolsky and if you've never read any of his books, you really should. Particularly, if you have an interest in behavioral evolution. His books are not overly science-y, but they do include research amid fascinating anecdotes as he is a fan of using humor to keep his readers engaged.  I loved "Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers" and "A Primate's Memoir: A Neuroscientist's Unconventional Life Among the Baboons."

His new book coming out in May is titled, "Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst." This time around, he is trying to help us better understand our own contradictory behavior with an eye to aggression and competition. When he addresses genetic influences on behavior he suggests that we, "don't ask what a gene does; ask what it does in a particular context." I found this to be worth thinking about with respect to dogs as well with all this talk about breed-specific legislation. So, the fact that bully breeds were bred initially to be fearless when bull-baiting (thus their genetics) means that was what worked in that context. Now, these breeds are existing in a different context, families and home environments. We need to think about how those genetics have been and can continue to be altered to fit their current situation. It shouldn't be about banning any particular breed, but about selecting out those individual dogs whose disposition, temperament, and behavior don't fit with family life.

As Sapolsky states, "You don't have to choose between being scientific and being compassionate." By using a more scientific approach to the issue of dog aggression and the safety of the general public, we will ultimately be a more compassionate and caring society with dogs whose behavior is adaptive and helps them to thrive in our world, regardless of their breed.