Wednesday, January 23, 2019

From Frustrated to Fabulous!

Training your dog can be frustrating.  Maybe you have a puppy and you are frustrated with house training. It seems like every time you take that puppy outside, he chases leaves, and the second you bring him indoors, he poops on the carpet.  Or maybe you have a young dog who pulls on leash from the second you hook it on, dragging you out the door and down the block. Or perhaps you have a middle-aged dog who just won't stop barking in the yard, or an elderly dog who has to be coaxed to do anything at all.  I hear you.  All of these scenarios are frustrating and yet I see them all as opportunities.  Opportunities to switch it up, try something different, look at the problem from a different point of view with, potentially, a less-frustrating outcome.

In classes, I feel like I am always telling people not to "marry" themselves to any one training tool.  While you may love your dog's behavior when you walk him on a head halter now, that doesn't mean that this will necessarily be the magic tool for pleasant walks for the rest of the dog's life.  Conversely, if you need to use a choke chain or a pinch collar to gain control, that's okay too. It's likely you won't have to use it forever either.  Pet owners need to be flexible and open to trying to new things.  Throwing up your hands and declaring that your dog will "never walk nicely on a leash" doesn't help anything, least of all your relationship with your dog. Instead, try something new. If you have been using a front hook harness, why not try a Thunderleash or a head halter instead?

And for that barking dog.  Why is your dog barking?  If this is nuisance barking, that's one thing.  But maybe there is something there.  First you have to identify WHY your dog is barking, then apply a consequence.  Yelling at the dog isn't going to work.  Now, you are barking too! Instead, find out why the dog is barking and respond accordingly. Nuisance barking?  Redirect and if that doesn't work a time out.  Barking at the neighbors, squirrels, trucks going by?  Acknowledge their vigilance, ask for the quiet, and then redirect.  If barking persists, it's time out time.

Oftentimes, when you look at the situation from your dog's point of view, the solution becomes much more obvious.  We all need to let go of preconceived notions of how dogs *should* behave and think about how the dog in front of us *does* behave.  Reward the good stuff, stop emphasizing all the bad stuff, and take a new approach to find the solution that works for you and your dog.

As always, if you need help strategizing, I am here for you.

Ozzie and Desi hard at work for a cookie they don't usually get!

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Why Would a Dog Eat Rocks?

Unfortunately, I have met more than one dog who ate rocks.  I've also met dogs that eat socks and underwear, Lego's, and an entire pack of highlighter pens!  Why in the world would a dog purposefully eat something that is so obviously (to us) inedible?

The technical term for this behavior is Pica.  There is no one cause for the behavior and often there seems to be little reason a dog (or cat) exhibits the behavior. Meaning, it isn't because you were always taking rocks out of your puppy's mouth, so now he swallows them instead of relinquishing them to you. For some dogs and cats, however, there is a medical reason behind their behavior.  Taking your pet to the vet's office for a complete exam is the best place to start. Once you have ruled out nutritional deficiencies and medical conditions like diabetes, for example, then it is time to explore the problem as behavioral in origin. Oftentimes, this behavior is about boredom or anxiety so treating that is the place to start. First and foremost, however, you must try to control your pet's access to whatever it is that they ingest inappropriately. So, if it's rocks in your yard, get rid of the rocks. If it's socks on the floor, get those socks picked up and put away where the dog can't reach them.  Lego's should be played with on a table out of reach as should those highlighter pens, for example.

So what do you do if the rocks and other inedible objects your dog loves are the ones he finds on your daily walks?  You can try to teach the "leave it" and "drop it" commands and trade for yummy edible treats, but for many dogs that isn't enough.  They will just quickly swallow the rock and then go for the treat you are offering.  For dogs like this, muzzle training is a must.  Having your dog learn to wear a humane, basket-style muzzle means you can walk him safely and without that overwhelming anxiety on your part.  You can redirect him from rocks to the treats you have in your hand, knowing full well that he won't be able to pick up the rock and swallow it. Obviously, you still want to avoid walking in areas where rocks are evident! Over time, you may be able to discontinue using the muzzle, but for many owners it just provides a level of insurance that their dog won't return to the potentially deadly behavior.

If your dog is ingesting inedible objects inside your home, it's time to think about boundaries and boredom busters.  The dog should be confined to an x-pen or crate anytime they can't be watched.  If doing that creates anxiety, then muzzle train your dog indoors as well.  Boredom busters like the addition of interactive toys, feeders on a timer, etc.  are helpful in redirecting a bored dog.  Adding in real bones may help as well if your dog was seeking out rocks in order to find something hard to chew on. Conversely, if your dog loves socks and underwear, you will need to explore soft-style toy options that are too large to be swallowed and tough enough not to be torn apart and then swallowed.

With cats, Pica often manifests as a cat that eats fabric or sucks on fabric until holes are created.  Cats may also ingest threads or string.  Obviously, muzzling a cat isn't a feasible solution. Instead, the cat's access in your home must be limited to areas where they can't ingest fabric, even if that means confinement to one very small area.  Better to outfit that small area with toys, climbing apparatus, etc. to mentally engage your cat than to give him free rein knowing he might ingest something potentially fatal.

If you think your pet has swallowed something inedible, watch them closely.  If they try to eat or drink and end up vomiting, exhibit discomfort, lethargy, or inappetence, then they may have a blockage caused by that foreign object. While a small rock or gravel might pass somewhat easily through their digestive tract, a large stone will not. And if you know your dog has consumed several objects or something like a sock, or you find holes in a blanket that your cat sleeps on, a trip to the vet is a must before that potential blockage becomes an even bigger issue. Pica is definitely one of those situations where prevention is the biggest piece of the cure.  Don't give your pet the opportunity to manifest the behavior.  Do give them other, more appropriate options.

As always, if you are having trouble with Pica in your pet, please don't hesitate to reach out to me for further assistance in getting back on track.

Like most puppies, Freddie liked to pick up leaves on our walks, 
but was easily redirected to treats instead.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Distractions & Procrastination

I love the holidays and I love my holiday decorations.  What I don't love is taking them all down in January.  This isn't about being sad that the holidays are over or that my college kids have returned to school. No, it's much more basic than that.  I truly hate taking everything down, putting it all away, hauling the boxes back into the garage, and then cleaning house afterward.  Blech.  No fun at all.

And then I remember my faithful assistants.  My two collies.  They are there every step of the way, often underfoot, ready to help if a box needs sniffing, if I drop an ornament on the floor, or more importantly if I need just a bit more dog hair stuck in the box sealing tape.  With all of this help, it might take me a week to get everything put away.  I don't really care though.  To have them underfoot is a gift.  I can't imagine my world without dogs in it.  And these two make me laugh.  Best helpers ever.

Do you have canine or feline assistants as well?

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

New Year's Resolutions

I have never been the person to make New Year's resolutions.  It always seemed like too much pressure.  What if I don't get any of those things done? What if I mess them up royally?  What if half way through the year, I change my mind?  You see where I am going with this, I am sure.  I prefer to set short term goals for myself that are reasonable and attainable. And more importantly, changeable!

When it comes to setting goals for my pets, that's a bit easier.  I always strive to make sure their diets are healthy, their coats well-groomed, and most importantly, their minds and bodies exercised daily.  I love trying new interactive toys for my two collies.  Trying new toys means they get a new brain-buster and I get the added benefit of learning whether said toys might be good to recommend to clients.  I call that a win-win!

Their favorite interactive toy of 2018 was the Bob-a-Lot from Starmark.  Their least favorite was the Pickle Pocket, also from Starmark.  They loved to chase the bobble toy around with their long noses and Ozzie, in particular, liked trying to adjust the treat dispensing door on his own.  The pickle was problematic for two reasons, I think. First, the material it is made out of is sort of sticky, so it stuck to their collie ruffs.  Second, their long noses didn't seem to work well at digging those treats out of the zig-zaggy pockets. I discovered, however, that the pickle toy was great for Freddie, the Goldendoodle puppy who stayed with us for a week. Not only did it not get stuck in his fluff, his face was just perfect for smooshing into the pocket to retrieve the treats.  So, while the pickle wasn't a hit with the collies, it certainly was a hit with a puppy.

When choosing interactive toys for your pets, I think their age is really the least important factor So, while some of the companies selling the toys label them based on pet age, better to look at the difficulty level when choosing a toy.  For example, I met a puppy this week who was already working on Level 4 toys making him an over-achiever for sure!  The puppy level toys were too easy for him and he was bored in 3 seconds or less. Yet Desi, my older collie, loves the puppy level toys and will happily push and pull on them for the rewards.

Bottom line, don't neglect your pet's mental exercise.  When the weather is really cruddy, a few interactive toys during the day can help wear your pets out and save you from tromping around in the rain or snow.  Let me know if your pets have a favorite interactive toy as well.

The favorite! The Bob-a-Lot from Starmark

The Pickle Pocket from Starmark was not a hit!