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.