Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Gotta Walk the Dog!

I've had several people ask this week about when I will be teaching another dog walking class.  It's a class I enjoy teaching as there are immediate rewards to be had, but usually people don't want to take the class when the weather is cruddy, so I figured we'd be waiting until Spring, but I was wrong!  Looks like there will be enough people interested to do the class in January.  I, for one, can't wait, and here's why.

There are always a certain number of people who take the dog walking class because they are frustrated with their dogs' on leash behavior.  There will be other people, however, who are afraid that something they are doing is wrong and causing their walks to be anything but fruitful. There will be a few people who take it just because they've always wanted to walk as a group, but never had the opportunity. And all of those folks are welcome!

Oftentimes, a big part of the problem is about expectations.  Dogs like to go on walks so that they can relieve themselves and explore their world.  They aren't as interested in how far the walk takes them, but on the journey itself.  And sniffing. It's all about the sniffing.  Every.Single.Step. Of. The. Way. Sniffing not only brings dogs joy, but it helps them relieve tension.  Dogs who sniff all the time during their walks, however, are frustrating for owners who want to, well, walk.  So, changing the expectations of the humans so they embrace the sniffing and the joy their dogs get from it helps to improve the quality of their walks.

There will, of course, be leash pulling dogs and dogs that drag behind their owners. And dogs that bark at other dogs.  Those are all fixable problems and worth exploring in a group environment. It does you no good to walk your dog, alone, super late at night to avoid all encounters, instead of dealing with the problem head-on.

When I teach a leash walking class, it isn't about the perfect "heel," or dogs trotting by their owner's side, making constant eye contact, per se. Sure, there will be some of that, especially when you need to be able to pass obstacles in your path, you need your dog's attention.  For the most part, however, it will be about teaching the dog AND the owner, how to be good walking partners.    Once again, it's all about good relationships between people and their dogs.

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.  And I hope to see you in that dog walking class in January!

Desi's favorite part about walking in town is 
all the people he can charm into petting him..and the sniffs.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

How Much Sleep Does My Dog Need?

I received a message from a client regarding her adolescent dog.  They had flown together for the first time over the Thanksgiving holiday.  While it was a short trip, her dog experienced some anxiety during the trip as evidenced by her panting on both flights. By the time they got home, her dog was exhausted and slept from the moment they got home.  The next day? She was still resting up from their adventure.  This is a really active dog, so seeing her need that much sleep was a bit of a surprise to the owner! So, how much sleep do our dogs actually need?

While adult dog sleep 12-14 hours a day, on average, puppies need 18-20 hours of sleep each day for their growth and development...and your sanity. Just as with humans, there will be times when your dog needs even more sleep than that average, like my client's dog above.  Obviously, sick pets sleep more as do the elderly.  We often take for granted the idea that our pets need sleep (I mean they sleep all the time, right?)  and they need for us to help them get the best sleep possible.  Here's what I mean by that:

For a puppy, you need to enforce nap times; like toddlers, they will often fight naps, and that's when you really know they need them!  Puppies need to nap in a crate so that they are forced to rest.  Adult dogs may appear to just nap anywhere, but providing them with quiet and safe napping areas is particularly important during the holidays. If your adult dogs crate, make sure their crates are situated in such a way to maximize snoozing and stress relief for the dogs using them.  Even if your dogs just use dog beds for resting, make sure visitors to your home understand that when the dogs are resting there, let them be; they are like phones on their recharging stations!

It's often difficult during the holidays to keep your pets on their regular schedule.  As much as possible, however, you really should try.  Feed them, walk them, play with them, etc. as you would any other time of the year. If you have guests in your home, remember your dogs actually live there year round.  Their comfort and safety is important too!

Don't neglect rest for yourself this hectic holiday season.  I got a cute message from my daughter telling me she was supposed to be studying for finals, but her sweet collie had other ideas, snuggling up to her until they both ended up taking a nap.  Smart dog.  She'll be better rested for studying after a quick nap to recharge HER battery.

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

My daughter's collie, Westley, definitely knows the value of a good nap.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Who's Training Who?

Since that conference last month, I've been thinking a lot about how dogs learn. It's not that I didn't think about it before, it's just that there is so much great new research going on that it's got my brain spinning with ideas.  And that article I posted yesterday about how scientists need to listen to dog trainers really brought it all home for me.

There are lots of ways that dogs learn.  They learn by being taught. They learn by passive observation.  And they can learn by imitation.  What they do in any given situation isn't so much determined by their age, their breed, etc., but by what's worked for them before.  So, a dog who has been taught to perform complicated behaviors for a sport like canine freestyle, for example, will pick up on a new behavior quicker, perhaps, than the dog who has only been taught new behaviors in the more traditional sense. It doesn't mean that the dog taught more traditionally can't learn new ways to behave or perform tasks, because they certainly can.  I just think that performance dog has been primed to learn new behaviors.

One of my favorite ways to learn about dogs is just by sitting and watching them.  Whether it's watching my own dogs, or watching yours during our classes together or during our one-on-one appointments, dogs are so fascinating.  Seeing them "get it" when we show them an alternate behavior that makes them feel less anxious, for example, makes my heart happy.  And seeing Desi watch Ozzie do something completely inappropriate like climb up on a chair at the table and help himself to a prime spot, cracks me up.  Desi's response?  Well, I can do that too, and he'll shove his way in between two chairs and make himself a spot at the table as well. Observational learning at its funniest!

Have you tried imitation with your dog?  Do what your dog does, and what do they do?  Does your dog bow if you bow?  If you jump in the air, do they do the same? My favorite thing is to suddenly notice something on the ground.  As soon as I take an interest in that random spot on the floor, I have two dogs right there with me looking to see what it could be. The best though is when Ozzie realizes I was just joking around. He'll usually back up and bark at me as if to say, "Hey!  Quit fooling around. There's nothing there worth all that attention!"  Desi is much more patient. He'll usually just nudge my hand and turn the situation around into a petting session for himself.  Smart dog.

So, who's training who?  Did I train my dogs to look where I was looking or did Desi train me to pet him?  Or both?  And does it really matter?  We have much to learn from dogs, probably more than they have to learn from us given that they are much better observers overall than we are.  

As always, if you are having trouble with your pets, you know where to find me.

The expression on Ozzie's face when I ask him if he's "ready to work!"

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Being Thankful for the Little Things

I got off the phone with a client yesterday who spent the first 10 minutes telling me about all of the things she "hated" about her dog.  She used that word, "hate." She hated that he jumped on people. That he yanked on the leash. That he chased squirrels and ducks.  That he got on her furniture.  That he didn't take treats nicely.  And that he vomited on long car rides.  She was getting ready to take him with her to a friend's house for the Thanksgiving holiday and she wanted immediate help.

Given that no one can change that many behaviors in a couple of hours, I thought it best to approach this situation differently.  I asked her to tell me all of the things she loved about her dog.  That gave her pause.  So, I suggested the following:  Don't you love the way he looks forward to you picking him up from daycare? Don't you love the way he nudges your hand for attention? Don't you love how happy he is to go for a walk?  Don't you love how nicely he gets along with other dogs?  Now she could see where I was headed with this.  While she was frustrated, she needed to see all of the good things about her dog as well.  His list of positive attributes far outweighed his negative ones and at this point, his owner was ready to have a rational discussion about what could be done in the short term to help with her immediate issues as they would effect her holiday plans this week.

First off, she needs to keep him on leash at all times so she can stand on his leash when he greets people, thus keeping him from jumping up.  She has to use the head halter we had already trained him to wear that helped greatly with the pulling as well as the chasing of squirrels and ducks.  She had quit using the head halter because she didn't keep it with the leash by the door, so just got out of the habit of using it.  By keeping him on leash, she could easily keep him off of furniture.  I suggested a portable crate and a nice dog bed to take with them on their trip for alternate nap spots.  Treats were to be given in a closed hand to discourage snapping and he was to be reminded to do a couple of "touch" behaviors before being given any treat as that got him thinking rather than simply reacting. Finally, I suggested not feeding him before they left for their road trip and instead giving him a couple of ginger snaps cookies to settle his stomach. She also needed to use his car harness and belt him into place so he stayed facing forward.  Rolling down his window would help as well.

Now she had some strategies to get her through this trip to her friend's house for Thanksgiving.  Plus, she had a much better appreciation of all of her dog's positive attributes and behaviors, no longer so focused on the negative.  And we set up an appointment to meet in person when she got back so we could "check in" and see how those basic solutions were working for both her and her dog.

So, I am thankful for clients who listen and their pets who appreciate my help. I am thankful for the opportunity to help pet owners and educate them about why animals think and behave the way they do.  Most of all, I am thankful for my family and friends who have supported me all these years even though my jeans are often dirty, I frequently have peanut butter in my hair, and I always smell like dog saliva and chicken jerky. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

I am thankful for these four: my daughter, Jessica, and our collie collective!

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Thinking About Behavior Change

Almost every client I work with is interested in changing the behavior of their pet.  When you are thinking about changing your pet's behavior, however, you need to think very carefully about why they are behaving that way in the first place.  Love this quote from Dr. Susan Friedman:

"Changing behaviour is not something you do casually because that behaviour has value to the animal or it wouldn't be doing it." 

I spoke with a client this week who described her dog suddenly becoming avoidant of the dog park.  Previously, this dog loved the dog park and would hop out of the car happily and head for the park on her own.  Now, the dog doesn't want to get out of the car and needs a leash to even approach the park. Once there, she won't take treats or play with her ball, and she shakes anxiously until they leave the park.  Obviously, my client is concerned.  She wants to know what is wrong with her dog and she is sad herself as now they don't see their dog park friends any more. They can go to other parks without any issue, so it isn't that she doesn't want to go to a park anymore.  It's just this park that they've been going to several times a week for years. 

In this example, the dog's fear of this particular park has value for the dog.  Something obviously happened there from her point of view and she wants to avoid that park to protect herself (and possibly her owner as well). Perhaps she heard a noise or saw something and that's where her anxiety comes from. Nonetheless, her anxiety is real and must be addressed.  Making her "cowboy up" and go the park in an effort to show her that there is no reason to be anxious is not the solution.  Instead, they need to leave this park behind for a while, putting it and whatever the dog thinks happened there, behind them.  I suggested having some of their friends meet them at other parks so that it can be determined if her dog's fear has something to do with one of her dog friends, or if it is really just the park itself. After a couple of months, they can return to the original park and see if the anxiety still exists, or if time has made that particular memory fade.  If her avoidance is rooted in a sound or smell, for example, it is likely those things would no longer be an issue. If, however, her avoidance was built on something she simply felt inside of herself, then she is likely to still be scared and not want to visit that park. Her owner needs to be ready for that possibility as their days of visiting that park and hanging out with their friends there may be over.

And if this anxiety blooms, and her dog becomes even more anxious across other situations, then we need to address that as well.  It may not be the park at all, but symptomatic of something bigger going on inside of her dog's head.  If that's the case, I will be sending them to see their vet for a full workup to make sure there isn't some physical reason for the behavior change. If she checks out physically, then the task becomes figuring out how best to address her fear and anxiety before it takes over, changing her (and her owner's) quality of life.

Behavior is adaptive.  What we do, and what our animals do, has purpose.  Before you seek to change their behavior, try to understand why they chose that behavior in the first place.  That bit of insight may be just what it takes to help you better understand the mind and motivation of your beloved companion animal.

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

My sweet granddog, Westley, is scared of garbage trucks.  Just hearing them rumble from miles away causes him to retreat.  While we continue to work with him on desensitization to garbage trucks, the bottom line is that he perceives them as scary; they're big, noisy, and threatening.  Walking him at times of day and away from areas being serviced by garbage trucks is the key to helping him feel safe and comfortable on his walks. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Stress and Your Dog

A common theme of the conference I recently attended was stress.  We heard about stress in the shelter environment, stress in the home, and even stress in utero; that is puppies born to stressed mothers are inherently different than those whose mothers aren't subjected to stress. Stress can be good, it can be tolerable, and it can be toxic.  We need to understand the differences between these three types of stress and their effects on the bodies and the brains of our beloved companion dogs.

Good stress is basically just a challenging experience that is rewarding for your dog in the long run.  So, if your dog competes in agility or dock diving, for example, they are under stress while competing, but if they get a rush from that challenge, then that ultimately is good stress.

Tolerable stress is a negative experience that your dog is able to adjust to and move beyond with the aid of social support. Events that result in tolerable stress are still inherently distressing, but the effects are transient. Thus, for most of our dogs, a trip to the vet falls in the category of tolerable stress.

Toxic stress is also a negative experience, but it is one from which an animal is unable to escape or cope. It isn't the stressor itself necessarily that matters here, it is the animal's inability to cope with that stressor that is the crux of the matter.  For many shelter dogs, confined to cement cages and subjected to constant noise and tension is a form of toxic stress.While acute stress can be beneficial to an animal and help them learn to cope, chronic or toxic stress can have a serious negative impact on health and well-being.  Toxic stress leads to physiological changes and changes in the brain in ways that are long-lasting.

Puppies born to stressed mothers grow up to be dogs who are hyper-responsive to stress, with increased anxiety and a higher incidence of depression.  Their negative reactions last longer meaning they lack the coping mechanisms to move through their stress. Literally, these puppies are sensitized to stress having long-term repercussions making them vulnerable to anxiety based issues as adolescents and in adulthood.  And these changes can last forever.

Many of my clients share their homes with rescue dogs.  Often these dogs have poor coping strategies and suffer from a variety of behavioral problems rooted in anxiety.  It is likely that many of them had stressed mothers.  Others were raised as singleton puppies and/or in shelter environments will little enrichment or opportunity to gain the social experiences necessary to develop coping strategies and build resilience. By the time these puppies and dogs find their way to my clients' homes, they are already behind the eight ball, so to speak. Their brains and bodies are different and accommodations will need to be made in order to help them succeed and thrive to the best of their abilities.

While this all may seem quite depressing, it is just an overview or foundation from which we can build our strategy for helping these dogs who suffer from toxic stress.  I definitely have some ideas on that front!

For now, if your pet is experiencing a behavior problem, you know where to find me.

This sweet little one was raised by her mother and with all of her siblings in a rich social environment filled with the sights and sounds of normal family life. She is well-adjusted and displays appropriate coping mechanisms in response to transient stressors in her environment such as strange noises...and the occasional correction of the resident adult female dog in her new home!

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

What is ASMR ?

So the internet is abuzz and the topic is ASMR, or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response.  Basically, this is a tingling feeling someone might get that is triggered  by a certain sound they find soothing, relaxing, or appealing. There are literally videos going viral for their ASMR properties for large populations of people.  My daughter told me that I'm kind of a weirdo because for me, the sound of her puppy chewing his veggies makes me tingly-happy.  That "crunch crunch crunch" to me is soothing.  Go figure.  So what did she do?  She sent me a half dozen videos of her puppy catching (and not catching!) baby carrots and apple pieces and crunch crunch crunching them on camera for me.  I am literally blissed out.  But you know me.  I'm a dog nut.

This got me to thinking about dogs, however, and the sounds that trigger them. The good sounds, not the ones that trigger them in a negative way. And wondering if there are certain sounds that give them an ASMR reaction too? And could supplying these "good" sound triggers purposefully for your dog elicit a reduction in their anxiety?  The short answer is YES! The long answer is that a lot more research is needed, but you can start your own research now.

First, you need to figure out what sounds your dog finds relaxing.  These are the sounds that elicit stretching, bowing, happy lip-licking, and for some dogs a little moaning and groaning or happy chomping sounds right before they nod off.  For most dogs, the sound of a plastic bag opening, the refrigerator door opening, the rustle of a food wrapper, etc. elicits a happy response, but they are alert, not necessarily relaxed.  For others, even the sound of a knife slicing something on a cutting board will get that happy response.  Others show these responses to music, white noise, fans, etc.  That is they are happily alert to the sound and then wind down and relax in its presence. Basically, trying to find your dog's ASMR means being a good observer and watching their responses to different sounds and stimuli.

We know that for people, watching and listening to these ASMR videos can reduce their anxiety and help treat their depression.  I find that hopeful as finding creative ways to reduce anxiety in dogs is part of my job.  So, if you find a piece of music, or a certain sound that induces relaxation in your pet, calming and soothing them, maybe even making them happily nod off, please share it with me.

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

One of the videos of my daughter's puppy, Westley, eating his veggies. 
 ASMR for me all the way!

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

When Your Dog Gets Carsick

I received an email from a client whose adolescent dog is still getting carsick, even on very short car rides.  She is starting to get quite concerned that the dog won't grow out of this behavior and she'll spend her life dreading car rides.  For my client, the amount of drool this dog can generate, plus the vomit, makes for a very unpleasant and stressful experience for everyone involved.

Car sickness is just one type of motion sickness.  While many puppies and young dogs suffer to some extent from car sickness, most will outgrow it by their first birthday when the area of their inner ear associated with balance is fully developed.  Some dogs, however, don't outgrow it until closer to their second birthday, and then there are some dogs, who like some people, just get sick every time they ride in the car. There are things you can do to try to ease their discomfort, but not every technique works for every dog/situation.

Start by having your dog only ride in the car with an empty stomach.  Only drive a short distance and build up to longer rides.  Don't use the A/C, instead roll down the windows.  Make sure your dog is facing forward, either in a crate or using a dog safety harness. Stop frequently and let your dog walk around; this helps them get their "sea legs," so to speak. If your dog begins drooling even before getting in the car because they are anticipating getting sick, try just getting into the car, rolling down the windows, etc. but not going anywhere.  Once they can sit in the car without anxiety, build up to turning the car on, and then going a short distance such as just around the block.

If you must take your carsick dog a long distance, being prepared will help.  Benadryl works for some dogs to make them drowsy and thus calmer, sleeping off their nausea. For other dogs, Benadryl won't work, but CBD oil or CBD treats will, so that's worth a try.  For example, when Ozzie was a puppy and got sick in the car, I discovered that giving him a couple ginger snaps cookies about 30 minutes before a car ride (the Nabisco ones you find at the grocery store!) was sufficient to control his nausea.

Finally, having to bathe your dog after every car ride is no fun.  You can try putting a bib on them to soak up the drool. There are even plastic bibs that come with a "spill pocket" on the front that can work to catch drool and vomit (Ozzie had one of those!).  Some people just put a t-shirt on their dogs to soak up the saliva.  There are carseat covers that are easy to clean and are actually made to cover the seats and protect them from kids that get carsick!

Because dogs that get carsick begin to associate car rides with feeling crappy, you will have to put in some time desensitizing your dog to the car in order to eventually make car rides less of a stressor.  For Ozzie, short car rides facing forward with walks built in, ginger snaps, a plastic bib, and time to outgrow his motion sickness, were what it took.  Now, he loves car rides and can go any distance without an issue.

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

Ozzie loves a good car adventure now, but got very carsick as a puppy.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Who You Gonna Call?!

Did I just make you start singing the "Ghostbusters" theme song?! And why am I even asking you this question?

Earlier this week, I spoke with a client that I have known for close to 15 years.  She and her partner and their pets have worked with me several times during the years I have had the pleasure of their acquaintance.  When something weird/bad/strange happens with their pets, they know who to call. They call me.  We laughed about how some folks might consult the internet (Doctor Google!), or rely on the information they saw on TV, but these folks go to "a trusted source" for their animal behavior questions.  And I so appreciate that they do!

Whether your question is about your own health and well-being, or that of your beloved pets, consulting the internet may not be the best strategy. Oftentimes the answers you find there may be too simplistic at best, and dangerous at worst.  Sometimes the answers you find will be misleading or seem counter-intuitive.  And sometimes the answers you get may seem utterly ridiculous!  I've often joked that I never want to google any of my aches or pains because I'm sure I'll discover that I have some exotic disease for which there is no known cure, rather than simply realizing that my current pain is probably the result of lifting two chunky collie dogs up and down off of the grooming table.

While I love the internet as much as the next person, and I definitely use it to locate resources for myself and my clients, I don't rely on it for diagnostics.  Knowing when you need assistance is the first step, finding out who can help you best is the next one.  And if you are in doubt about what your pet might need, ask your veterinarian first.  You always want to rule out medical causes for changes in behavior first anyway.  Once you've done that, however, you are ready to move forward and consult with an animal behavior specialist.  Plus, your vet can help you decide who it is that you might need. Do you need a veterinary behaviorist?  A certified animal behaviorist like myself? Or does your pet need a really competent dog trainer?  The internet can't help you make those fine-tuning decisions; it can, however, help you locate someone in your area once you know who you are really looking for to help your pet.

I love being a resource for my clients.  I've had clients move out of the area (and out of the country!) who said I would be one of the people they missed the most.  While I am flattered and pleased to be on that list of folks they will miss, I also remind them that a move out of the area doesn't mean we can't still consult, if needed. I happily provide email, phone, and video consults all around the world!  And if the problem is something that can't be addressed other than in person, I am happy to help my clients find the right resource wherever they are located.  Peace of mind from a trusted source and no need to dive too deep into the unknown on the internet!

As always, if you are having a problem with your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.  And now you know that we can "talk" in many different ways no matter where you are located!

My office assistant, Desi, and I are just a phone call or email away!
And he loves being available on the video consultations too!

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Thoughts on Misbehavior

I spoke earlier this week with a woman who is very frustrated with her dog.  He pees AND poops in her house!  According to her, this happens all the time and may just be the end of her marriage as her husband has had it with the dog's misbehavior.  She thinks the dog is mad at her and this is how he shows his displeasure. She did take the dog to the vet's office for a check up; nothing medical going on and that's where she got my contact information.

Come to find out that this dog is new to this home; he's been there just two months, and this is his fourth home.  This new home environment is huge (more than 7000 square feet) and also has a toddler in residence.  During my phone conversation with the owner,we were interrupted by said toddler a half dozen times!  When I asked where the dog was while we were talking on the phone and her toddler was running in and out of the room, and the owner didn't know.  So, why am I telling you all of this?  Oh, yeah, misbehavior.

Misbehavior, by definition, means bad behavior.  Toileting is obviously in and of itself not bad behavior. Toileting in this house MIGHT BE, depending on the house.  If this dog had been taught in one of its previous homes to toilet inside on pee pads,for example, then the fact that he toilets now indoors isn't all that surprising, nor is it misbehavior. If we think about the large home space available now, add in the lack of supervision, and a toddler who by all accounts terrorizes the dog, then we have a recipe for disaster.  And a dog who toilets inappropriately.We need to address the underlying reason this dog is toileting in the house, not just talk about the behavior itself.

I suggested treating the dog as if he were a new puppy. By keeping the dog on leash, in his crate, or in an x-pen, she will know where the dog is and she can listen for cues that he has to use the bathroom. If she feeds him two meals a day rather than free-feeding him, she will have a better idea of when he needs to go to the bathroom. Keeping him on leash, in a crate, or in an x-pen also means that she will know when her toddler isn't treating the dog properly and that can be corrected. Obviously, we also discussed how to go about cleaning up all of those previous messes and what to tell her husband we are doing to take action on this issue.

The bottom line:  this example of "misbehavior," isn't really about misbehavior at all. The inappropriate toileting was just a symptom of a much bigger issue.  My hope is that this owner will do all of the things we discussed, even though she is a bit overwhelmed caring for a dog and a toddler.  I did tell her that this dog will need some retraining if he was indeed taught previously to toilet indoors.  We will cross that bridge the next time we talk.  In the meantime, I am crossing my fingers that this all works out. I'd hate to see this nice dog get moved to a fifth new home.

As always, if you have questions regarding your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

Westley loves his crate and crating him certainly 
helped with his house training as a puppy.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Exciting News!

I had the opportunity this morning to be interviewed for a podcast called, "Play With Fire." While I have known Ashly McHatton, the host, for several years, being asked to share my story and my passion for animals with her audience is really exciting.  I've done all sorts of interviews over the years, but this was one I was really looking forward to doing.  As many of you know, I'm in the process of writing a book about my life as an animal behaviorist. I was thrilled to be able to talk about some of these stories and the path I took to get here. I'll let everyone know when my interview goes live, but for now I encourage you to check out the other interviews that are available to listen to on Apple podcasts and Spotify.  All of the interviewees have interesting stories; they will inspire you, make you think, and help you find what fires your passion professionally, personally, or both. Whether you are a creative type, an entrepreneur, an athlete, or none of the above, there is something in this podcast for everyone.

Here are the links:

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

For the Love of Dogs

I just got back from spending a week in Irvine helping my daughter, Jessica, move into her new apartment.  Among the myriad things she took with her to college, she took her one year old smooth collie, Westley. Those of you who follow me on Instagram, or follow Desi on Facebook, know that Westley has been a breath of fresh air around here for the last three months.  He immediately learned the routine, and provided Ozzie with a much needed playmate.  Don't get me wrong...Desi is a doll, he just doesn't want to play all the time like Ozzie does.  Ozzie and Westley played together, slept near one another, etc.  Ozzie missed Westley (and vice versa) when Jessica would take Westley to visit her dad for just a few days over the summer. Now that Westley is gone for good until the Christmas holidays, Ozzie is downright depressed.  He misses his buddy and I'm pretty sure his little buddy misses him too.

Jessica is doing her part to make sure Westley still sees other dogs.  She is walking him twice daily, taking him to the park and to the beach, and letting him meet nice dogs that live in their apartment complex. She's even reached out to a So Cal group of collie owners and found someone with two rough collies that Westley can play with. Plus, she found a neighbor whose daughter has a smooth collie for Westley to meet soon!

This is all good for Westley, but what am I supposed to do for Ozzie?  I most certainly am not getting a third dog.  I'm pretty sure my spouse would draw the line in the sand if I did that. But Ozzie does need someone to play with.  Looks like I am going to have to start having play dates again at my house for him.  I may even start taking him more places with me just so he can get out and about more as he loves going anywhere I go.  He's such a sweet, sensitive dog, I worry that he will miss Westley too much and then be a total lunatic when Jess brings him back over the holidays. I guess we will just have to play that by ear.  In the meantime, Ozzie will be camped out under my chair and underfoot.  Hoping this bout of depression passes quickly as he's too big to be a lap dog. Although he'd probably be willing to argue otherwise.

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

Westley looks pretty content.  Hoping he's dreaming about his buddy, Ozzie, 
and the mischief they can get into over the holidays!

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

How Long Is Too Long?

I have just started working with a client who has multiple dogs.  She's been experiencing aggression among the dogs on and off for over a year.  One dog has resource guarding aggression, one is aggressive toward the cat, and all three have gotten into it with each other more than once.  I finally got her to admit that one of the dogs (the cat chaser) has actually bitten her as well. When I asked her why she had waited this long to reach out for help, her answer really floored me.

She figured with enough love, the problems would resolve on their own.

I was rendered speechless (for anyone that knows me, you know that's hard to do!).  I asked her if she'd at least consulted with her veterinarian about the problems.  She said no, that she'd just now approached her vet who quickly handed her my card and sent her my way. At this point, she was obviously embarrassed that she had waited so long to seek help.  I know how hard it is to admit that you have a problem with one or more of your beloved furred or feathered family members. The longer you wait to get help, however, the worse the situation can become. If dogs cannot resolve their issues that are resulting in aggression quickly on their own, then you definitely need help. While it is certainly the case that dogs in multi-dog households will get into it with each other on occasion, these occurrences are rare and sorted out quickly without bloodshed or lasting drama.  Sometimes though the problems are bigger; two dogs who are equally matched, both resource conscious, and neither willing to capitulate, for example. And the dog who constantly harasses the cat isn't just going to stop on its own.  Even dogs who get swatted by the cat may continue to chase and grab the cat, causing injury. In some households, separate territories must be established to get some peace among the animal inhabitants. For others, however, even separate territories causes anxiety for the animals and the humans. When that's the case, it is often best to think about the greater good and consider re- homing one or more of the animals involved.  And, unfortunately, the longer you wait to sort it all out, the more likely you will have to make those hard choices in the end.

As for my client, we have set up separate territories for now.  The dog who starts most of the fights and chases the cat is by himself. The other two dogs and the cat are in a different part of the house.  I have a feeling, based on my observations, that removing the cat chaser from the dynamic will be all it takes to get some peace among the remaining two dogs and the cat, but only time will tell. If that is indeed the case, then my client will have a tough decision to make. She will need to decide whether to keep him separate from the others long term, or whether to re-home him.

As always, if you need help with your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

These goofballs get along amazingly well.  Three male collies, all under one roof...mine!

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Why Did My Dog Eat the Couch?!

This was the question a client asked me recently.  Apparently, her new dog had not only taken up residence on the couch, but he was methodically tearing a hole in one of the cushions.  Another client complained that her dog got into every wastebasket in the house that he could find, eating whatever (gross) thing he could find there.  He'd already been to the vet's office once to get his stomach pumped.  Both owners made sure I knew that their dogs had plenty of toys to chew on.  So, why were they getting into trouble?

First off, you can have all the toys in the world, and your dogs will still get into trouble.  Dogs are terminal toddlers.  They bore easily and if left unsupervised will eat your couch and surf the trash.  I'm not saying you have to live with a couch eater/trash panda, I'm just saying that I understand why those dogs do it.  So, what's my solution to this dilemma?  It's actually quite simple.

First of all, pick up all of those toys and put them in a box in the closet.  Every day, bring out a few toys for your dog to play with. This maintains their interest in the toys because they seem new or novel.  You should only have about 5-6 toys out at a time, cycling through the toys every day.  Second, any time you aren't there to supervise your dog, they should be either confined in their crate or x-pen, out in the yard if that's a safe space, or on leash, resting quietly at your side.  Dogs who are in their crates or tethered to their owners get into a lot less trouble. And those young dogs really need that enforced crate time to rest and nap so that they don't engage in the witching hour zoomies every evening! Third, any dog who gets onto a piece of furniture and immediately starts chewing on it should have their furniture privileges revoked until further notice.  It's not safe for them to be up there, and couches aren't easily replaced if this is a persistent problem. Instead, teach them to lay quietly on a dog bed and chew on a toy or bone. Definitely go for one of the tough beds that are a bit more indestructible, but you still need to watch them there as well.

Many destructive dogs aren't just bored, they are anxious.  You need to figure out why they are anxious.  Are they not getting enough mental and physical exercise?  If so, interactive toys at mealtimes and adding in an another walk (or two) with a dog walker or doggie daycare may be in order. If the chewing dog is new to your home, it may be the case that the newness of the situation is the root cause of the anxiety.  Recent rescues need structure, rules, and a schedule that they can predict and understand in order to be less anxious and therefore less destructive.

My client is ordering a new couch for her living room. I'm hoping she takes my advice to heart before it arrives!  As always, if your pet is experiencing a behavior problem, you know where to find me.

Westley loves laying on the couch. And rearranging the pillows to suit himself.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

112 Days Until Christmas!

Only 112 days left until Christmas! So, why am I even telling you that?   It's never too early to start thinking about the behavior of your dogs as it relates to the holidays.  Does your dog charge the front door? Bark at guests? Jump up for attention? Sniff crotches? Invite themselves into people's backpacks and bags? Surf the counters and tables? Beg for food? Behave nervously with guests or unfamiliar people? Afraid of kids in Halloween costumes?

If any of these scenarios (or more than one!) sound familiar, then it's time to get started so that your dogs will be under your control and better behaved when the holidays arrive.  Too many dog owners wait until the holidays and holiday stress are upon them to try to get a handle on nuisance behaviors.  Sure, if your dog is crate trained, you can simply put him in his crate when you have guests or parties.  This doesn't, however, address the underlying issues that are leading you to take the path of least resistance.  Instead, teach your dog the way you want him to behave now so that he will understand what you want him to do.  Just as you've taught your dog to sit, stay, come, etc., you must teach him to not jump, stay back from counters and tables, and refrain from nosing into people's personal spaces. Obviously, if your dog is afraid of kids in costumes, then crating them with something fun to chew on is much preferred to trying to desensitize them to unsuspecting children on Halloween.  However, for most of the other issues listed above, a ready solution is at hand.

For example, if your dog jumps up on people for attention.  Stop giving them attention for jumping up.  Period.  Don't admonish them.  Don't try to correct them verbally, because you've done that before. Instead, block them with your knee, turn around, and walk away. Remove yourself completely.  Same goes for dogs that paw for attention or nudge hard, possibly knocking food or beverages out of people's hands.  When they paw or nudge, get up and walk away.  They WANT your attention, so if you remove yourself, they aren't getting what they wanted.  The moment the light bulb goes on above their furry little heads and they sit instead of jumping up, pawing, or nudging, then acknowledge them for a job well done. And you have to practice good behavior every single day.  You really do have to take your dog to restaurants and teach them how to behave with wait staff or people passing your table.  Same goes at home.  Have people sit in chairs with food on low tables, or sit on the floor with plates on their laps and practice with your dog so they know how to behave.  Your goal should be to only have to default to putting them in their crates IF there is a possibility of your dog responding aggressively.  If your dog has resource guarding aggression, for example, then having them around unattended or loosely controlled plates of food is too much of a temptation and a big risk for you.  Same for dogs who don't like kids or are afraid of costumes; there is no reason for these dogs to be going to the door each time a trick-or-treater arrives at your door in a Halloween costume.

If you need help prepping your dogs for the holidays, just let me know. You know where to find me.

Ozzie loves "people food," but he knows better than to take food off of the table or off of someone's plate. He will, however, do his best to convince you to share.  Frankly, who could resist?

Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Skittish Dog

Last week, my blog post addressed living with an anxious dog and when to seek help.  I received a lot of great feedback on that post, including someone with specific interest in what to do for a skittish dog.  Given that I referred to one of my own dogs, Ozzie, in my post as suffering from situational anxiety, this actually gives me a good lead in to a discussion on skittish dogs.

By definition, a skittish animal is one who is excitable or easily scared or startled.  Ozzie, for example, is a rock when it comes to sounds and noises inside and outside our house. A few barks, we tell him quiet, and it's back to business as usual.  While he does get excited when he sees cats or squirrels, he can be redirected.  Ozzie's kryptonite?  Skateboards and scooters. He HATES them.  He used to have full-blown panic attacks and bolt when he saw them.  With a great deal of behavior modification and a special handling technique, he is now to the point where he is vigilant when it comes to scooters and skateboards, but he doesn't panic.  Would I describe Ozzie as skittish?  Not all the time, no.  But he is certainly scared of those wheeled contraptions and the people who use them!

Oftentimes, dog owners describing their dogs as skittish are those that are dealing with a recent rescue.  It certainly isn't unusual to see a skittish recent rescue; they are new to you, new to your home, still learning the rules, etc.  If there was ever a reason for a dog to be easily scared or startled, not knowing what to expect in their new world is a good one!  Many recent rescue dogs are noise sensitive, easily sent over their comfort threshold by the sound of garbage trucks, motorcycles, honking horns, loud voices, etc.  These noises can cause skittish dogs to freeze, shake, whine, pant, etc., all obvious outward manifestations of their anxiety.  So what can you do for your skittish dog?

First and foremost, take them out in spite of their fears.  If they will take treats, bring treats. If they are really anxious, however, they won't be able to take even the highest value treats when they are scared. Slowly desensitize them by moving closer to those triggers.  Encourage sniffing as exploring their environments is a great way to learn the area, distract them from what scares them, and actually makes the walk more enjoyable overall from the dog's point of view. Use praise to reinforce even a modicum of calm behavior or self-control in the face of what makes them skittish.  For the recent rescue dog, once they settle in to their new routines, and learn the sights and sounds of their neighborhoods, the skittish behavior recedes and they become inquisitive and engaged.  If you've been working with your recent rescue dog for 6-8 weeks and they are still showing signs of fear or anxiety, appearing skittish with new situations, people, noises, etc., then it's time to take your training to the next level.  I can teach you the handling technique I use with Ozzie that has made all the difference in the world in resetting his brain when he becomes anxious.

While there is certainly a fearful or timid personality type when it comes to dogs, being skittish is often a transient state of being that can be corrected with time, desensitization, positive reinforcement, and patience. However, if those are not enough, you know where to find me.

The beach...Ozzie's happy place. And mine.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Living With an Anxious Dog

I see a lot of anxious dogs every day.  Some belong to neighbors and other people I see when I am out walking with my own dogs or running errands.  Many belong to my clients. Living day in and day out with an anxious dog can be stressful, frustrating, and maddening at times.  I've had clients question whether they were the right fit for their anxious dogs; that is, would the dog be better off (i.e. less anxious) living with someone else. When your dog seems anxious no matter what you do, I can easily see why you might question your fitness to be their caretaker.  So, what can and should you be doing for your anxious dog?

First off, don't take it personally.  While it is the case that anxious people can make their dogs anxious as well, there are a whole lot of dogs out there living with profoundly anxious people, helping them cope and adjust every day, who never display any anxiety themselves.  More likely than not, anxious dogs are a product of their genetics and/or early environmental influences.  Anxious parents can create anxious offspring.  It behooves breeders not to breed anxious dogs thereby potentially perpetuating the problem in future litters of puppies. In addition, puppies who experience fearful situations during critical periods in their development may manifest their anxiety into adulthood. For example, a puppy who was startled by firecrackers on the 4th of July may mature into an adult dog who is anxious with all loud noises.

Second, recognize your dog's anxiety, but don't reinforce it.  If you lavish an anxious dog with attention, you can make them even more upset. And punishment will only make it worse as well.  If instead, you take your anxious dog aside to a place where they feel safe, and stay with them until they calm down, you are helping them to cope.  If you know what triggers your dog, you can avoid those situations in an effort to keep your dog's stress level manageable.

Third, acknowledge that you may need help.  If your dog is anxious all the time, even in their own home and without any obvious triggers, it's time to get some professional help. Your first stop is your veterinarian's office.  There are several medical conditions that can manifest as behavioral changes.  So, if the anxiety had a sudden onset without any recognizable trigger, it's time for a check up to rule out medical problems. If your vet gives your dog a clean bill of health, then it is time to pursue treatment of the anxiety using a combination of behavioral modification, handling techniques, and maybe even drug therapy.  Don't just jump to the conclusion that your dog needs Prozac. While some anxious dogs certainly do benefit from that drug, there are many who don't need it.  Their anxiety can be managed and lessened by other, less invasive means.  The bottom line too is that more often than not, drug therapy alone is not enough to resolve the anxiety; dogs, like people, need to change their behavior as well to get relief.

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

My sweet collie, Ozzie, suffers from situational anxiety.  
Knowing his triggers is the key and behavioral modification 
has made all the difference in the world for his quality of life and ours.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Stay Safe Out There

Last week, I had dinner with a friend who works in the medical field.  She had treated a patient who came it with a horrendous wound on her arm.  The woman was walking her dog when two large, off leash dogs, rushed her and attacked her dog.  Without thinking, she reached in to grab a collar and both of the unfamiliar dogs grabbed her arm, one at the elbow and the other at the wrist.  They tore through flesh and muscle, damaging her ulnar artery, the main source of oxygenated blood to the hand and fingers.  She will survive her wounds, but there will be skin grafts in her future and permanent damage to her arm resulting in limited mobility.  So, why am I telling you this horrific tale?  Because she isn't the first person I've heard of to reach into a dog fight and get hurt.  I realize that this is human nature, a knee jerk reaction, so to speak, to want to stop a dog fight and protect our canine companions.  Doing so, however, can be incredibly dangerous.  You need to know what your other options are to protect yourself and your dog.

While most consider the "wheelbarrow method" to be the safest, most effective way to break up a dog fight, it won't do you much good if you are walking by yourself when the dog fight occurs, or if there are more than two dogs involved. With this method, two people each grab the back legs of one of the dogs and pull them up and backwards.  This throws the dogs off balance and causes them to release their hold.  Watch the dog's head as they may try to swing around and grab you!  Continue to pull the dogs away until you have created enough distance to feel safe letting go, re-grabbing the leash, etc. So, what should you do if you are alone or if multiple dogs are involved?

The one thing you shouldn't do is scream.  This will just exhaust you and potentially escalate the aggression.  The only time to yell is if there is a chance to attract other humans to your cause to help you break up the fight using the wheelbarrow method outlined above. If there is a hose nearby, you can try blasting the dogs.  Some dogs will respond to water, others will just continue to fight. And if you are out on a trail or walk with your dog, there is unlikely to be a hose available, and this is why I prefer deterrent methods.

If you are a trail walker, carry a walking stick with you.  The stick can be waved at an approaching aggressive dog to back them off.  If need be, the stick can be thrust into the side of the aggressor's mouth thus forcing him to let go of your dog as he bites down on the stick.  Don't be tempted to hit the aggressor with the stick; this has the potential to increase their aggression and have it directed toward you, instead of your dog.  You can also carry an air horn with you at all times.  Small enough to fit in a fanny pack, an air horn, by design, is loud and intrusive.  Blast the air horn once to see if just the noise is enough to stop the fight. If not, hold the air horn as close as safely possible to the aggressor's head and blast.  You may damage their ear drum, but you will disorient them and stop the fight.  While I know some of my clients carry mace on their walks, keep in mind that mace can cause permanent damage.  While it is certainly true that you were carrying the mace to protect yourself and your dog, the other dog's owner can sue you for property damage if mace blinds their dog etc.  Air horns cause no permanent damage and are therefore my deterrent of choice.

And what if the fight occurs inside your house?  Do not assume that you won't get bit just because the two dogs are your own.  When dogs are fighting, they aren't thinking about you. Mistakes will be made and you could get bit just as badly as the woman described above.  While water might work, that could make for a lot of clean up later. You can try throwing a blanket over one of the dogs and once disoriented, grabbing for those back legs to pull one dog away.  Again, however, an air horn may be your best bet.  And in a pinch, grab an umbrella and open it up right at the dogs.  Most dogs are wary of umbrellas, so it's worth trying.

While you may feel compelled to try to pull your leashed dog out of a fight, you really shouldn't.  Drop the leash to give your dog a chance to fight back and/or escape.  In addition, pulling dogs by their leashes during a fight often results in more physical damage to the dogs.

Bottom line: dog fights are serious.  While you want to protect your dog, you need to protect yourself as well.  Prepare in advance so that you won't be caught off guard.  An air horn is roughly $5 and thus an easy, inexpensive way to potentially protect your dog and yourself.  As always, if you have any questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

Close up of a dog fight depicted in a famous painting
 from Flemish Baroque painter, Peter Paul Rubens (c 1600)

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

The Endless Summer

If you have school-aged kids at home, it may feel like an endless summer!  However, for many parents, August means it is time to ramp up and get ready for a new school year.  Whether you have an adult dog or a puppy at home, they've likely enjoyed having those kids around for the extra attention and frequently dropped snacks! So for your dogs, the kids heading back to school may be a sad occasion, or at least a bit confusing. It is even possible that your dogs may suffer from separation distress or even separation anxiety when everyone returns to school and work.  Because of this possibility, I will be teaching an extended seminar on identifying and dealing with separation anxiety, separation distress, and boredom.  Whether you would like to know what to do when you are gone for just a few hours, or what to do when you are gone all day, I will be making suggestions on how to keep your dogs content and constructively occupied in your absence.  Examples of interactive toys and games will be shared with the class and there will be time for discussion and individual problem solving.  Here is the class sign up link:

Hope to see you there!

As always, if you have questions regarding your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

My daughter's puppy, Westley, is now 11 months old and can be
 left out of his crate for some of his daily naps without worry. As you can see, 
he is not anxious about this at all!

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

On Bad (human) Behavior

Recently, a dear friend of mine, and one of my favorite dog trainers, was not just treated poorly by a client's significant other, she was bullied.  He used words and positioned his body in such a way that she felt threatened and belittled.  This happened in a training environment, as well as over the phone and via text.  I saw the text messages and they are chilling.  The messages and subterfuge were, by design, aimed at making her feel unsafe.  This is a woman who is very good at what she does and treats her clients and their pets with respect and kindness. Similar situations have happened before to myself and to other females I know who work with animals and their humans. This is simply not okay.

While removing toxic clients from your classes, databases, businesses, etc. can (and should) be done, it doesn't necessarily stop them from being a nuisance at best, and downright scary at worst. While we want to be able to help all of the clients who reach out to us, it has become readily apparent over the years that some don't want help so much as they want to argue, make inflammatory statements, etc. Not really sure what they get out of this, but I do know that they cause a great deal of discomfort for their family members present during these altercations, and they frighten away other class participants who don't want themselves or their pets exposed to such unnecessary bad behavior.

It goes without saying that dog trainers, veterinarians, animal behaviorists, etc. all want to help animals.  To do so, we have to help their people.  When people treat any of us with disrespect, not only can we not help them, their pets suffer.

No one should feel unsafe or belittled in their work environment.  When someone is self-employed, the ability to report such transgressions becomes more difficult.  I often worry that clients with spouses who behave this way toward me or toward their pets, are also being subjected to the same abuse themselves.  This is literally the stuff that keeps me awake at night.

Be good to one another.  Be good to the people who are trying to help you and your pets.  And if you need help with your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Dogs Vs Wildlife, Final Score: Wildlife 1, Dogs 0

Last week, I met with a client whose dog had a run-in with a squirrel.  The dog ended up with a bite wound near her eye that went down to the occipital bone.  The squirrel hobbled off to die in the bushes.  The whole incident was very distressing (and costly!) for the owner, but what could she really do?  Don't all dogs chase squirrels?  While I would have to agree that most dogs will give chase to squirrels, it isn't all that often that they actually catch one!  And squirrels aren't the only wildlife your dog may encounter.  How many of you have had your dog sprayed by a skunk?  Chased by a flock of geese?  Even more frightening, are the encounters with coyotes or mountain lions.  It used to be quite rare that you would see either of those animals in suburbia, but now, it has become terrifyingly commonplace.  There are more and more stories of people walking down busy streets and encountering coyotes, where before it might just have been hikers on trails seeing them.  There are reports of coyotes grabbing leashed dogs and taking off, as well as those looking like they want to play with off leash dogs, only to lure them away to eat them.  And mountain lions are coming down to drink out of people's swimming pools and pick off easy-to-catch backyard pets. How can we make sure our pets are safe?

First, let's deal with those pesky squirrels.  If you have fruit trees or vegetable gardens, you will need to protect them from these pests.  Remove fruit when ripe and clear out rotting fruit from the ground.  Put up netting to protect your veggies.  Motion activated sprinklers in your garden can help keep wildlife out of there, as well as dogs who might be going there to dig. If your dogs or cats chase squirrels, put bells on their collars.  This will make stealthy stalking a thing of the past and make it more likely that the wildlife retreat before getting caught.  And it goes without saying that leashed dogs may want to chase squirrels or geese, but they can't.

For walks or hikes in areas where you might encounter wildlife like coyotes and mountain lions (or if they frequent your property or yard!), I suggest carrying an air horn or having it readily accessible at home.  Air horns like the kind you use on a boat or the ones used to celebrate at parties and events are perfect for startling away wildlife.  They will shock your unsuspecting pets and neighbors too, but it will be worth the shock if you are able to scare off that coyote or mountain lion in the process. Plus, if you ARE out on a hike, blasting that air horn will alert other hikers in the area to your distress, so they can literally be lifesavers.

And it goes without saying: don't let your dogs play with coyotes.  The coyotes aren't really playing.  They are using play to lure your dog away from you.  Your dog will not be invited to lunch.  They will be lunch.  A harsh reality, but one we need to be cognizant of now that humans have encroached on every native habitat making it difficult for wildlife to coexist with us. It's just a fact and the sooner we comes to terms with it, the safer our pets will be.

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

Ozzie and Desi's arch-nemesis!

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

What "No" Really Means To Your Dog

When my dad was a kid, he had a dog named No-No.  You heard that right. No-No. How did a collie mix get that name? Well, they tried several other names (Sarge, Bailey, Scout, etc.), but all the dog ever heard was "NO NO NO!"  So, they just named him No-No.

At this point you might be asking yourself why I am telling you this story.  I am telling you this because people often say "NO!" to their dogs.  So many "NO's!" that the dog may start to think that the word is part of their actual call name. Saying "NO" to your dog doesn't really tell them what is wrong with what they are doing.  They may stop what they are doing for a moment in response to just the tone of your voice, but do they repeat the behavior you wanted them to stop?  Most people answer this question with a resounding and frustrated "YES!"

If you want a dog to stop doing something, you need to show them WHY they shouldn't be doing that  in the first place AND what they actually should be doing instead.  If your dog is barking at people walking by the house, you need to acknowledge them for a job well done and then ask for a quiet.  When they persist in barking, then there needs to be a consequence for not responding to the quiet command.  A time out is the appropriate outcome for a dog who doesn't quiet when asked.  Just hollering "NO!" at a barking dog will only result in a dog who barks more.  You're yelling, why shouldn't they?

I know that it is easy to just yell "NO!" at your dog.  Sometimes it is even quite satisfying. I'm just hoping that the next time you do so, you'll think about what it really is that you want from your dog, and find a way to ask for that and show them how to have success. Because, honestly, isn't "YES!" more fun to say than "NO!"?

Ozzie and Desi working on NOT barking at a cat on their daily walk.  
Quiet dogs who sit and watch their owner get snacks.  
Dogs who bark, don't. It's that simple. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Garbage Truck Monsters!

Tuesdays are tough for Westley, my daughter's smooth coat collie puppy.  Tuesdays are trash day and those big, noisy, monsters are all over our neighborhood for several hours and they really bother him.  If he's in the yard and hears them, he races inside looking for Ozzie.  If he's out on a walk, he freezes first and then frantically tries to get away.  Poor guy.  When Ozzie was his age, garbage trucks were his kryptonite too, along with bikes, skateboards, and scooters.  So, what's my point in telling you all of this?  This is all very normal behavior for a puppy this age.  Puppies go through fear stages and Westley is going through the one that often occurs in late adolescence. Puppies can get through these fear stages and come out confident and capable, but many do need a bit of assistance from their humans.

First and foremost, the humans need to understand that the puppies are truly scared.  Telling them to "cowboy up" and dragging them toward and through what scares them isn't the solution.  Neither is avoiding what scares them.  Rather, you need to expose them to the scary stuff, acknowledge that it's scary and help them work through their anxiety.  This might mean stepping off to the side and holding your puppy.  Or, it might mean standing on their leash.  It might mean that you need to bring really good treats with you to desensitize your pup to the scary things and countercondition them so they start to view those things as not so bad because good things happen too.  There are handling techniques that you can use as well to help reset your scared puppy when they get overwhelmed.  No one method or plan, however, will work for every puppy.  You may need to experiment and you definitely need to not get frustrated.

Some puppies move through these fear stages quickly, while others seem to get stuck there.  Westley has shown fear with regard to garbage trucks the whole time he has been here.  Of course, the trucks only come on Tuesdays, so we only get to work on the behavior once a week.  He was actually a bit better today, willing to take treats and be redirected, which was definitely progress.  For Ozzie and his fear of wheeled objects? It took months of work to get him past his fears.  He still notices scooters, bikes, and skateboards to this day, but he is less concerned overall, unless they try to share the sidewalk with him!

If you have a puppy who is displaying fear, don't panic!  It could be a fear stage and that's something you will want to work through together as a team.  As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

Westley seeking refuge Tuesday morning behind his protector, Ozzie. 
 All the garbage truck noise literally wore him out, as you can see.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Summer's Here and the Time is Right!

So, did I make you start singing "Dancing in the Streets?!" If I did, you took the cue I offered.  If not, that's okay too.  That cue didn't work for you.  So, what's my point?  Well, cues, of course.

When it comes to teaching your dog what to do (and frankly, what not to do), you have to give them cues as to what you are looking for.  Some of these cues might be verbal (telling a dog to sit in order to get fed, for example), they could involve hand signals (patting your legs to get your dog to come to you, for example), or a combination of the two.  Many of the cues we use with our dogs, however, are not that straightforward.  The fact that our dogs follow along with our wishes much of the time, in spite of our miscues is frankly amazing.  An obvious one that comes to my mind is the dog owner whose dog goes to jump on someone, so they grab the collar and yank the dog away or yank back on the leash.  That collar grab and leash yank are cues to the dog, that tell them, "Hey!  Don't go near that person!"  Now, I know that you were just trying to keep your dog from jumping up, but did you even realize that you were cuing your dog that the person was not to be approached? Probably not the cue you wanted to give them at all!  If instead, you were to stand on your dog's leash for greetings, they would learn that jumping up just isn't possible and default to either a standing wiggle or a sit for attention which is likely what you wanted in the first place.

If you point, snap your fingers, clap, or whistle for your dog, those are all cues too.  Just make sure you are tying those cues to the behaviors you are looking to increase in frequency or decrease in frequency, as the case may be.  Just remember that if you are using a cue that brings your dog to you, you don't want to punish them when they get there. Doing so teaches the dog that coming to you isn't fun.

It is truly amazing to me that dogs figure out what we want at all!  They watch us very carefully, listen to what we say, look at our hands, feet, and faces for additional cues.  They are canine detectives, devoted to figuring out what we want them to do and how that aligns with their own desires.  A relationship indeed.

As always, if you have questions about your dog's behavior, you know where to find me.

Westley is just 10 months old and learning to wait before diving into his food bowl. 
Notice him watching Jessica's hands?  See how his ears are forward? 
He's waiting for all the cues that it is time to eat!

Thursday, June 20, 2019

I'm Officially a Grandma!

Yep, you read that right.  I am a proud Grandma to my first granddog, an almost 10 month old smooth collie named Westley.  He belongs to my daughter, Jessica, and is her first dog of her very own.  Exciting times!  Several people have asked me if there are things I tell my family members that I don't tell my clients with respect to behavior, training, etc. I always find that so funny! Like I'm keeping the "good stuff" for the folks I'm related to and keeping it from everyone else.  That's not me at all!  Jessica is getting the same advice, instruction, and guidance that I've provided to my clients with puppies over the years.  My hope is that she will find it all helpful and encouraging as she moves forward with her new dog and all of their new adventures. 

So, in lieu of an informational blog post this week, I'm just gonna spam everyone with cute pictures of my granddog.  Sorry not sorry ;)

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Hot Diggity Dog!

Got a call today from a woman who was furious because her dog was digging so much that her backyard looked like the surface of the moon!  She'd never had a dog that dug before, so the first step was talking about why dogs dig.

All dogs have the potential to be diggers as digging can be quite adaptive.  If a dog is hot, for example, they may dig a hole in the cool dirt to lay in.  If a dog is cold, they may dig a hole to bury themselves in to retain heat.  If a dog has a prized resource such as a bone, and they want to save that treat for later, they may dig a hole to bury it.  And a lot of dogs dig because they see or hear something below the surface and want to get at it (moles, gophers, etc).

Of course, it goes without saying, that there are dogs that dig because they are bored.  Maybe they saw you digging and planting in an area so they figure that's what must be done there!  Maybe they could hear the neighbors next door in their yard, so they are digging under the fence to escape to the great beyond and greener pastures.

So, the first step then in dealing with a digging dog is to determine why they are digging.  In the case of the client mentioned above, she had a young male terrier.  Terriers definitely have a breed predisposition toward digging!  Add to it the fact that this dog owner has had an ongoing problem with burrowing pests in her yard, and now you know why her yard looks like a lunar landscape!  While she thought she'd taken care of the moles, her dog knew better.  I observed him cocking his head, staring at the ground, moving from spot to spot, and then digging. Just because the owner hadn't seen any telltale mounds of uprooted dirt in her yard of late didn't mean the pesky moles were gone.  Now, she needs to bring in a professional exterminator who uses deterrents that are safe in a yard with dogs.  I also suggested that she embrace who her dog truly avid digger!

If you have a dog that likes to dig, let em dig!  You can't make them stop digging without creating undue anxiety. Instead, provide them with a digging area.  Choose a spot in your yard where it is okay to dig. Or build them a sandbox for digging.  Or, you can even use a plastic kids wading pool filled with dirt, sand, etc. Bury interesting items in this approved digging area; carrots, dog cookies, and bones will work.  Make sure your dog sees you burying those treasures.  Refresh the treasures regularly and make sure the substrate remains good for digging. So, if the dirt gets too hard to dig, add water or change the dirt.  You don't want your dog switching his digging from the approved area to your well-watered and tended garden!

You most certainly can put up barriers to your beloved gardens to keep your dogs from digging there. Just remember, however, that they still want to dig and need to dig, so give them an area where it is safe and okay to do so. If they get in your garden, redirect them to their own digging area.  And if you are using sand in your digging area, remember to cover it at night so the neighborhood cats don't use it as an outdoor litterbox!

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

Ozzie investigating a spot in our yard where moles have been digging...again!

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

If You Take a Dog to a Festival...

On Sunday, my son and I took the collies for a pet assisted therapy visit to a senior living facility.  The weekend before, I took Ozzie to a local kite festival.  I love taking my dogs with me whenever I can.  I think it's good for them to get out of their own backyard, and I think it's good for the public to see well-mannered dogs out and about.  I know I've talked about this more than once, but I feel compelled to talk about it yet again.

I would not take my dogs on these outings if I didn't think that they enjoyed them.  If either dog had not wanted to go on the therapy visit today, that dog could have stayed home.  As it was, they were both dancing around happily waiting for their special leashes they wear on their visits.  And last week at the kite festival, I watched Ozzie to see if he was getting tired, bored, or anxious.  He wasn't at all, so we stayed and watched the festivities.  It was interesting to note, however, that there were people at the festival whose dogs were clearly anxious about being there.  It's one thing to want to go to those types of events yourself, it's a whole other level of responsibility to take your dogs to them.  Dog owners need to make sure their dogs are ready for crowds, noise, strangers touching them uninvited, etc.  It's a fact that dogs who attend festivals will get approached and they will get touched whether you want that or not. If you don't want that, or your dog can't handle that, then don't bring them.  I KNOW people should ask if they can touch your dog, but frankly, they won't always do that and you need to be prepared.

Now, on a pet assisted therapy visit, it's expected that the pets attending like to be touched. A lot.  I find that while Ozzie has learned to enjoy these visits, he's game for about 30-45 minutes of this kind of intense attention from strangers and then he's ready to go, while Desi could stay much longer, especially if we are some place that is air conditioned!  I know my dogs. If a visit will run longer than 45 minutes, Ozzie and I just head out when he's done and he walks around outside sniffing until Desi is done with his visit.  I don't push my dogs, so they trust me.

It really was a pleasure doing that visit with both dogs and my son.  With Taylor being a senior now in high school, I know his free time is becoming less and less. Plus, I am certain there will come a time when he can think of better things to do than hang out with his mom.  However, he's always loved doing pet assisted therapy work and he does love his dogs, so I feel blessed. And I could see the pride in his face when people asked about the dogs and told him how beautiful they were, how soft, how well groomed and well-behaved, etc.  I always want my dogs to represent their breed well and be good ambassadors.  But, I know my dogs reflect back on me too as a dog owner and as an animal behaviorist.  Thus, I am cognizant of their likes and dislikes and I don't push them to perform.  I want them to enjoy our outings together.  Frankly, I think they like all of the extra attention. And I know they love going out to lunch afterward for a special treat.

With more and more businesses and venues allowing dogs on their premises, it falls to us dog owners to know our limitations and those of our dogs.  If your dog can't sit or lay quietly for an hour, don't take them to a busy restaurant.  If they pull on leash and jump on people, don't take them to a crowded street fair.  Be fair to the people around you. Don't let your dog block the sidewalk, push up against other people's tables, etc. I hate when people allow their children to disrupt other guests' experiences in restaurants, and it's just as annoying when it's their dogs that do it.  It doesn't have to be that way.  Practice makes perfect. Start out with short outings and quiet venues and build up to bigger things.  Take notes along the way of what your dog is good at and what needs work.  Finally, be honest with yourself. You can have a perfectly lovely dog that just isn't suitable for taking out in public and that's okay too.

As always, if you have any questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

Ozzie and Desi keeping an eye on things 
from our table in the shade at Mel's Diner in Walnut Creek,
 after our pet assisted therapy visit!