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!