Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Reality of Rescues

I get several calls a week from people who have "rescue dogs" that need help, which, of course, I am happy to do.  However, I like to make sure that we are all on the same page with regard to these dogs and understanding where the behavior problems they are seeing come from.  Let me explain.

Just because a dog comes through the shelter or a rescue group does not necessarily mean that said dog was subjected to physical abuse, emotional abuse, or both.  It doesn't even necessarily mean that they were neglected.  What it means is that they were fortunate enough to end up in a shelter or rescue group who invested in their future.  Assuming that dogs that come through rescue or from a shelter have been abused in some way actually does a disservice to those dogs!  The biggest misconception I hear is that a particular dog "must have been abused because he is behaving aggressively."  The reality, however, is that aggression isn't the typical response of a dog who has been abused. Rather, dogs who have been subjected to abuse tend to be on the fearful side, shrinking away from contact, and behaving apathetically to interactions with humans.  They don't lash out, they retreat into a corner or into themselves.  With consistency, patience, and predictable outcomes, these dogs can blossom into individuals who aren't afraid and seek attention rather than avoiding it.  On the contrary, dogs who behave aggressively are the least likely to have come from situations involving abuse. Does that surprise you?  Want to know where their aggression comes from?

It comes from lack of socialization.  With other dogs, with people, and often both. It comes from their genetics.  One or both of their parents were aggressive too and passed that trait along to them. Jumping to the conclusion that an aggressive dog must have been abused and therefore deserves extra special attention and extra resources to "recover" is a fallacy. Aggression isn't a curable problem.  It's not like teaching a dog not to jump up or not to pull on leash.  Yes, aggressive dogs are anxious dogs, but most people aren't equipped to deal with aggression long term because it IS risky.  There is liability involved.  It may sound inordinately harsh, but I'd much rather see shelters, rescues, and my clients investing their time, money, expertise, and love in all of those other dogs who are free of issues in aggression.

I also know that sometimes prospective pet owners aren't given the full story. They aren't told about the aggression or it is glossed over.  Or they are told that the pet was abused, thus pulling at the heartstrings of that prospective new owner, when there is no evidence to support a claim of abuse whatsoever.  I think humans inherently want to "fix" these dogs and think that showering a dog with love and attention will reverse the aggression.  I am here to tell you not only will it not fix the aggression, it might make it worse, and your heart will be broken in the process.

Finally, while it may just be semantics, I think it does a disservice to a dog to be continually referred to as a rescue throughout their life when, in fact, said dog has been with their owners since they were puppies, for several months to years, etc.  Once you adopt that puppy or dog from a shelter or rescue, he is now your newest family member. Celebrate and welcome them into your family by introducing them that way!

As always, if you are having trouble with your pets, including aggression, please don't hesitate to ask for help. That's why I am here.

These two cuties are just waiting for a human to love and invest in them.  No fear.  No aggressive posturing.  Just curiosity, trust, and a willingness to engage!

Thursday, February 21, 2019

It's The Little Things

It really is the little things that get to you. I have had more than one client reach out this week about something they described as "small but still annoying."  Even if a problem seems small, if it is effecting your relationship with your dog, then it's still a problem worth addressing.  What is also important to remember is that while something may be small and annoying today, it could spiral into a bigger issue if not dealt with in a timely manner.  I'll give you an example.

I met a dog last week who has never liked going to the vet.  Even as a puppy, he would be visibly anxious while there, but he was never aggressive.  His owners figured all dogs were anxious at the vet's office and didn't think of it much beyond a problem that is "small but annoying."  Fast forward to the same dog who is now 5 years old and not only fearful at the vet's office, he's now behaving aggressively. I got a call from the owner AND from the veterinarian.  Now this dog needs to be sedated in advance of appointments and muzzled for safety.  If we had addressed the anxiety when it first started, this story might have had a much different conclusion.  As it is, my plan is to work on some desensitization with handling for this dog, some relaxation techniques for both him and the owner, and build back to a stable relationship with the veterinarian and her staff.  This will take a lot longer to do now that the dog has been "pushed" to the point of aggression, but I am willing to work on it, as are the owners.

Maybe just one more example.

I have another client whose dog has been jumping up on people since he was a puppy.  Everyone thought it was cute then, he often got picked up when he did it, in fact.  Fast forward to now where he is 50 lbs, too big to pick up, but he still tries to jump in your arms, and he recently knocked an elderly neighbor right over onto the ground when he bounded into her.  She broke her hip and the dog's owners are mortified.  How did this happen?  By not addressing that small yet annoying problem of a dog who persists in jumping up on people, this is what can happen.

So, the moral of the story is this: No problem is too small. If it bothers you, your family, your veterinarian, your groomer, or your neighbors, it's worth dealing with head on and dealing with before it becomes a much bigger issue.

As always, if you have questions, I am here to help.

Even a little dog jumping up
 (especially with wet feet!) can be annoying

Thursday, February 14, 2019


Accountability.  Meeting or exceeding expectations.  Reliable. Approachable. Good listener.  These are words or phrases that I, and probably many of you, like to hear in reference to ourselves.  But I hear dog owners use those same words with reference to their canine companions.  He isn't what I thought he'd be.  I am disappointed with his unreliable recall. When people approach him he barks and jumps up.  When I say stay, he just walks away and doesn't listen to me.  But, see, here's the thing.  WE need to hold ourselves responsible and accountable first.  Did you research this breed?  Did you ask questions of the foster?  Did you work on recall before letting the dog off leash?  Did you teach your dog the consequences for NOT coming, NOT quieting when asked, etc.? If not, then it isn't your dog who isn't meeting expectations, it's you.

I always have loved the fact that Karen Pryor titled one of her books, "Don't Shoot the Dog." Seriously. It's not just his fault.  Accountability.  Understanding how dogs think and behave in a general sense is good, but learning how YOUR dog thinks is even more important.  Be a good observer and watch your dog.  Some dogs need you to stay right with them when they are working. Others want some space.  Some need to understand "NO!" just as much, if not more so than "YES!" Consequences are important for all of us and that includes your dog.  Don't be afraid to admonish bad or inappropriate behavior.  Ignoring the barking or jumping won't make it go away, that's for sure.

Lots of talk out there about how you should  never punish your kids or your dogs.  Lots of different definitions of punishment too.  A time out is punishment. Snappy-traps on the counter to stop counter surfing is punishment.  Taking away your kid's car keys/video game time/etc. are all forms of punishment.  I realize that just talking about punishment makes some people very uncomfortable.  That's a good thing though. It means it's time to talk about these topics and explore our discomfort.  Our dogs, and our kids, really need us to be reliable, accountable, guardians.  Dishing out consequences doesn't make you a bad parent or a bad dog owner.

As always, if you have questions, please don't hesitate to ask.  Progress is made with these kinds of hard conversations.

Ozzie demonstrating good listening off leash.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Let's Talk About Crate Training!

Yesterday, a client called because she was at her wit's end with her new puppy.  The puppy is 5 months old and hates her crate!  She cries, whines, digs, drools, and won't settle down at all.  They've moved the crate from room to room, covered the crate, tried feeding her all her meals in it, and nothing seems to be working.  They've trained her to go into her crate on command, which she will do readily, but she doesn't want to stay in there, and she certainly won't sleep in there through the night.  This wonderful, sleep-deprived client indicated she would do whatever I said...gut it out, change crates, etc., they just need a solution and fast.

Most puppies, and even a lot of adult dogs, can fairly easily be trained to accept and even enjoy a crate.  Once they view it as their den, or safe haven, they will enjoy going in there, even on their own, when they wish to rest and be left alone.  This puppy, however, came to her new home via crate on an airplane, complete with a long layover.  She had been raised with other puppies and dogs in a large barn situation and never been confined before that long plane ride to her new home.  Is it any wonder she hated the crate?

While I do feel that crate training is a plus with a puppy, particularly when using it to help house train them, I also know that they aren't right for every puppy.  I think this puppy needs to continue to eat her meals in her crate, as well as have her bones and treats there.  I think that, over time, she can even learn to enjoy her naps in it. However, I think her night time plan needs a revamp.  Instead of the crate, I asked the client to place a cozy dog bed near her side of the bed.  The dog bed should be placed in such a way that when the pup is tethered to the nightstand, she can't leave her dog bed area.  The tether can be attached to a body harness for more comfort.  If the puppy cries to go outside, the owner will hear her, but not being restricted to a crate per se, should help them all sleep through the night.

I think it's important for us all to remember that the cookie cutter approach to crate training isn't going to work for every puppy or dog.  Instead, each animal must be looked at as an individual and have their temperament, age, breed, early upbringing, etc. taken into consideration when deciding on what type of crate to use, where to place the crate, how long they should be in there, and whether they should be crate trained at all. Some dogs will do better with an x-pen than a crate. Others will do better in the laundry room or kitchen than with an x-pen.  You will want to explore all of your options and not feel like a failure if crate training doesn't work for you and your puppy. Yes, it IS easier to house train a puppy who is crate trained, but it is also the case that many of us house trained puppies for years and years before the notion of crate training ever came into favor!  Crates are just a tool that you can use.  You have lots of choices, so don't feel bad if at first you don't succeed.  Perseverance pays off in the long run.  Some pups cry the first night in the crate and are happy as clams from then on.  Go figure.

As always, if you are having trouble crate training your puppy, you know where to find me.

Ozzie has never been a fan of crates either, but he will go when asked, 
especially if there is a yummy snack involved and crate time is kept to a minimum!

Friday, February 1, 2019

Planning For the Future

Years ago, I did extended dog care for an elderly client with a young Yorkie.  My client was in and out of the hospital, and I always cared for her little dog in her absence.  At one point, my client asked if I would take care of her dog in the event that she passed away.  She felt that her family wouldn't care for the dog the way that I did and this was really weighing on her mind.  At the time, I had just one dog and one cat, and I lived alone.  I told her I would be honored to care for her dog should something happen to her. This gave her such peace of mind and was so simple for me to do. Her little dog lived with us for weeks at a time as it was!  The best part of this story? She ended up outliving her little dog by almost five years!

From the moment I agreed to care for that little Yorkie, I got to thinking about who would care for my animals should something happen to me. My mom wasn't really an "animal person," but when I asked her, she said she would take my dog in a heart beat because she was so fond of her and she was well behaved. Whew.  My cousin said she would take my cat, so I was all set. I, too, felt an overwhelming relief that my pets would be cared for if something happened to me.  Each time I have added a new dog to my home, I think about what would be best for them if something happened to me.  Now I am blessed with kids and a spouse who love my animals as much as I do, so there is little worry that my pets would have any lapse in their care.  For many of my clients, however, that isn't always the case. 

If you have pets, it is important to plan for their future without you, should something happen.  Confirm that family or friends will take care of your animals and let them know how you want your animals cared for in your absence.  More than once, I have seen a pet end up at the shelter or passed around because a well-meaning friend or family member indicated that they would care for an animal, but when the time came, they just couldn't do it.  Encourage your family and friends to be honest with you. If they can't step into that role of caretaker for your pets, better to know now so that you can make other arrangements.  Make sure your decisions are in writing and kept up to date if you add new animals to your home, or as your animals pass away. 

I realize this isn't an easy topic or one anybody really wants to think about. However, if you get this all settled in advance, you will have less to worry about as time marches it always does.

Shadow, a sweet Border Collie mix, would have lived with
 my mom had something happened to me