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 same...it 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 this....it 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 bowls...plus 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 www.petfriendlytravel.com for great ideas.