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