Wednesday, May 29, 2019

When Your Work Goes to the Dogs!

When you work from home, every day is “Bring Your Dog to Work Day!” My office d├ęcor includes two large, plush dog beds and a big container of treats for when my collies are quiet while I am on the phone. For the rest of the working population, however, June 21st is National Bring Your Dog to Work Day. What began 20 years ago as a fun way for dog owning employees to celebrate their love for their dogs, has now become a much sought after workplace benefit for many potential employees, particularly among millennials joining the work force. It is indeed the case that many employers are considering allowing dogs in the workplace on a regular basis in order to improve company morale, reduce stress, and increase productivity. They may even use the fact that they have a dog friendly work environment as a hiring tactic!

For businesses, allowing employees to bring their dogs to work can result in less missed hours and days off for employees that must return home to feed/walk/toilet their dogs during the work day. Fewer absences and employees that are happy to stay and work longer hours are a bonus for employers. In addition, the presence of dogs in the workplace encourages interaction and engagement between employees who might not otherwise socialize; dogs are natural ice breakers, bringing people together from different departments. Dogs in the workplace can help reduce employee stress and provide needed relief during tense meetings or encounters. Right now, 8% of U.S. workplaces allow dogs. According to a 2017 study reported in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, the feeling of social support is key to whether people with serious mental illness return to work or remain employed. Some familiar companies that currently allow dogs in the work place are Amazon, Nestle-Purina, Google, WorkDay, Zynga, Zoosk, Etsy, Bissel, and Clif Bars, just to name a few.

But what is the potential downside to dogs in the workplace for employers? The biggest risk is legal or insurance issues surrounding aggressive incidents involving dogs on the work premises. An aggressive dog who hurts another dog, hurts another employee, or hurts a customer is a liability for the employer. Thus, most employers that allow their employees to bring dogs to work with them do have requirements that the dogs be free of issues in aggression or fear and any dog who does not behave appropriately must be removed and not return, for safety reasons.

Having dogs in the workplace certainly doesn't work for everyone. People who don't like dogs or are afraid of them will not want to work in that environment or patronize that business. Some employees may be allergic to dogs; it is estimated that 3 in 10 people are allergic to furred animals. While there are a few dog breeds that have hair rather than fur, the majority are furred thus creating an uncomfortable situation for allergy sufferers. Add in that dogs bark and said barking could occur when someone in the office is on an important phone call, and you have one more reason to reconsider dogs at work. While all dog-friendly employers require dogs to be house-trained before coming to work with their owners, occasional accidents may happen leading to property damage for employers. And, finally, it is often argued that the biggest benefit of dogs in the workplace is afforded to the dog owners themselves; everyone else may receive some benefit, but it will be minimal compared to the human attached to that dog.

Have I piqued your interest?  Want to learn more about how to train your dog to join you at work?  Or want help figuring out if the work place is a good environment for your dog? Join my upcoming two session seminar where we will look at what it takes to be a 9-5 workplace canine and how you can get your dog ready to celebrate "Take Your Dog to Work Day!" on Friday June 21st!  Here's the link to the class:

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

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

When Dogs Growl

During a recent pet assisted therapy class, I had a new volunteer ask me what she should do when her dog occasionally growls at other dogs.  My immediate response was to say, "listen to your dog!"  Growling is just one of the many ways a dog can signal increasing discomfort.  Your response (or the other dog's response) to that growl will likely determine whether your dog feels the need to escalate their behavior at this point, or whether they can shake it off and move on.  What you don't want to do when your dog growls is admonish or punish them. If you punish away this signal, your dog may just snap or bite instead.  At least if you hear your dog growl, you have a chance to recognize their anxiety and potentially alter the situation to make them less stressed.  How about a couple of examples?

Let's say, as with the dog in class, that you have a small dog who growls when larger dogs get in his face when on leash. That same dog turns and moves away when off leash, but will growl and then snap if the big dog persists.  In this case, the growl is appropriate. The smaller dog is telling he bigger dog on leash,"Hey!  You're in my space and you're making me anxious! Back off!" The larger dog *should* respond by backing off in appeasement.  At the very least, the bigger dog's owner should apologize for the rude dog and move them away.

But what if that little dog is on the owner's lap and growls at a passing dog that doesn't even glance at the little guy? In this example, the little dog is guarding his owner's lap and should be placed on the floor when he growls.  He needs to understand that the human is not pleased with the guarding behavior and that such behavior will result in the dog not being allowed on the human's lap. By the same token, if your dog growls at YOU when you walk past him chewing on a bone, or eating from his bowl, or while laying on his bed, those are also examples of resource guarding that you need to address.  Again, you don't want to punish your dog for growling as that was a clear signal to you that you needed to hear. However, you don't have to just live with a dog who growls at you and guards resources.  Get the help you need!

And by all means remember that there are many different growls.  You can even hear dogs growl while they are playing with each other, playing with you, and while playing alone with their toys!  Not all growls are the same, nor do they all signal danger.  Remember, too, that while you know what your dog means with their growl, not everyone you meet will understand that.  So, in the example of a dog doing pet assisted therapy, those growls are risky.  A lot of the people we visit when doing pet therapy work don't have much dog experience, so any kind of growl is bad from their point of view. Thus, in that realm, I ask owners of dogs who growl to take note of the situation and make adjustments right then and there to ease tensions.  If a dog growls on the owner's lap, then they can't be on the owner's lap during visits. If they growl when rushed by other dogs, then the other dogs on the team need a lesson in polite social distances.  Again, I'm not telling the volunteers whose dogs growl that they need to punish their dogs or that they can't participate in pet assisted therapy. What I AM saying is that they need to listen to their dogs and adjust THEIR own behavior to help their dogs be more comfortable and not need to growl to make their discomfort known.  Oftentimes, owners inadvertently put their dogs into situations that lead to anxiety and growling.  We need to address that problem first and foremost to keep our pet assisted therapy visits safe.

Bottom line? Not all growls mean aggression.  Some growls can easily be extinguished with a few changes to the human handler's behavior. However, if you are dealing with escalating aggression, and your dog's growl quickly moves to a lunge/snap/or bite, seek help.  As always, you know where to find me.

Little dogs often feel threatened when bigger dogs
 get in their faces, particularly when on leash.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Make Your Summer Plans Now!

It always happens this time of year.  From now through September, I will receive endless queries about what to do with the family pets while the humans are on vacation. I always try to be helpful with my suggestions, but frankly, people who are leaving in a week for a month long trip and have yet to figure out what to do with their animals are very frustrating to me!  There are all sorts of options out there IF you plan ahead.  If you leave your decision to the last minute, you are likely to be out of luck, or to only find limited choices available. There also seems to be a great deal of negativity out there with regard to boarding facilities.  That is, many dog owners seem to think that traditional boarding situations are archaic and not appropriate for any dog, which simply isn't true.  So, with that in mind, here are my thoughts on your different options for your pet's care while you are away.

Boarding facilities come in many forms. There are facilities where the animals are housed in cages or runs for the duration of their stay. There are others where the dogs are taken out of their cages or runs for exercise in a fenced area alone or in small groups. There are others where dogs are grouped daily for exercise or interaction, much like doggie daycare. There are even facilities that allow multiple dogs to board in the same area, thus allowing dogs that live together at home to stay together while away from home.  Which of these scenarios would work best depends on the needs of your particular pet.  If your dog doesn't get along with other dogs, then boarding and exercise alone are a must, for example.  If your dog is a social butterfly, then boarding where there is an emphasis on group play with supervision is a better option. If your pet is aggressive toward people, then they may need to stay in an area with minimal interaction for their safety and the safety of their caregivers.  If you have a pet with medical needs, you can still choose to board them. You should plan, however, on additional fees being charged for that service.  And if your pet has a lot of medical concerns you may prefer to board them at your veterinarian's office, if that is an option available.

For some animals, the best option while you are away is a board and train type facility where they can receive additional training in problem areas while you are gone, in addition to having a place to stay.  Not all board and train facilities are created equal, however, so you will need to do your homework well in advance to insure that the choice you make is in your pet's best interest.

Many pet owners really want one-on-one care for their pets when they are away, but don't feel comfortable inviting a stranger into their home to house-sit.  If that is the case, there are certainly pet sitters out there who provide pet care in their own homes.  These sitters book up fast as they can only accommodate so many pet guests at any given time.  Expect to be interviewed and have your pets assessed for suitability in the homes of these pet sitters. It is likely that your pet will not be their only guest, however, so if your pet doesn't get along with others, then be sure to state that clearly so additional arrangements can be made.

If you feel comfortable having someone stay in your home to care for your pets, this is often a good choice from your pets' point of view. They get to stay in their own environment with all of their familiar things.  Be sure to leave the pet sitter specifics about your pet's daily life so that they can mirror those activities as closely as possible.  If your pet suffers from separation anxiety, be sure to let the sitter know this as you don't want them leaving your pet alone for extended periods of time thus increasing the stress.  If your pet gets nervous with strangers, however, then a pet sitter in your home might not be a good option unless you can choose a sitter that your pet already knows and is comfortable being with in your absence.

Multiple pets, any pets with special needs, geriatric pets, and those with behavior problems will require extra attention and that extra attention will come at an additional expense to you.  You have to plan for this and understand that not every boarding facility, pet sitter, or house sitter is equipped to deal with medical issues, behavior problems like aggression, or an elderly incontinent pet, for example.

It's my habit to plan out where my dogs will go FIRST, and then plan my vacation around that.  I have a select few people that I like to leave my dogs with and/or have in my home to care for them. It has been the case, more than once, that I've changed plans because I couldn't arrange for their care in a way I felt comfortable with.  That's just part of pet guardianship!  I was picky when it came to the babysitters/caregivers for my children. I am no less picky when it comes to my dogs.

Here's hoping that all of your summer vacation plans come together seamlessly!  As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Understanding Your Dog

This morning, I was speaking with a new client and she said something that I found so insightful. I loved that she was able to see this so clearly and know it was a problem worth exploring with me.  Definitely a conversation worth sharing with all of you as well.

She has a young dog that she is showing in conformation.  At home, the dog is happy and content.  She feels the dog enjoys her daily walks and enjoys training.  However, when they get to a dog show, or anywhere really that isn't their home or neighborhood, the dog is anxious and sad. When she looks at video from the ring, all she sees is a very unhappy, often frightened, dog.  She has decided to quit showing this dog until we can help her "find her joy." And, yes, she has ruled out medical causes for her dog's behavior.  This dog is not in physical pain, nor is she physically ill. She is afraid and panics when in big, public places.  If she were a person we would say she has agoraphobia.  We might even label her expression as depressed. Because she is a dog, however, people seem to hesitate to use these these terms for fear of being told they are "anthropomorphizing" or "humanizing" an animal. Why is that?

Dogs are mammals.  We are mammals. To think that we are the only mammals in the animal kingdom to feel emotions like joy, happiness, depression, or fear is very narrow-minded.  In fact, there are studies which show that other animals besides mammals experience these emotions and more. Having an emotional life and emotional awareness helps individuals make connections with others necessary for their survival. If you want to get "science-y" about it, break it down this way.  Emotions are fueled by hormones and neurotransmitters, and those are not limited to humans, but found in all other vertebrates, and many invertebrates as well. While it may be difficult to test and prove that a dog feels guilt or that a rat enjoys being tickled, it does not mean that those emotions don't exist for those animals, nor does it make those emotions any less important to their well-being. Maybe the fault lies with our inability to accurately assess/measure those emotions in anyone but ourselves.

So, back to the dog.  We are going to treat the fear and depression using a combination of drug therapy and behavior modification.  We are going to help this dog overcome her fear of crowds and large spaces and see if she can ultimately enjoy being out in public. Her owner is less concerned with her returning to the show ring, and more concerned with her being a happy, well-rounded dog who can enjoy being out and about.  She doesn't want her dog to be anxious and afraid any more.  Neither do I.  The bottom line is this: we need to show some empathy and some compassion.  Understanding how much our animals are just like us is the first step.  Realizing how much we have in common with other animals keeps us humble and helps us stay connected to our world.

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

We have more in common with dogs than you might think!

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Choosing a Leash for your Dog

I just got off the phone with a client I've known for years.  She was feeling frustrated with her new puppy.  Her previous dog lived to be 15 years old and it's hard work going from a senior dog to a puppy!  Right now, she's feeling most stressed out and aggravated with leash walking.  She had been so looking forward to taking her new pup for his daily walks until she snapped on her old dog's leash and the trouble started.

She used to walk her senior dog on a cute, 6 foot, polka-dotted leash that matched her collar.  There was never any leash tension as her sweet old girl sniffed and explored, always within about 2-3 feet of my client.  Bliss, right?  Well, the new puppy immediately started chewing on the leash, yanking it right out of her hand!  And he took off like a rocket to the end of that 6 foot leash, before gasping and then darting in a different direction.  He also ran around her legs, wrapping the leash as he went.  She is at her wit's end and she says they didn't even made it a block!

First of all, she needs to get a new leash.  That cute polka-dotted leash has too many memories for her.  And if her new pup tears it up (which he probably will!), then, I know, she will be devastated.  Retiring that leash is the first step.  I do like using a 6 foot leash on puppies because it does give them some room to explore; I always feel that a 4 foot leash gets taut really fast with a puppy.  And she needs to start working on leash walking in her house and around her yard first, before heading back out again into the big world beyond.

Puppies do need to sniff and explore safely on leash.  They need to learn how to be called off of things they should avoid.  They also need to learn to walk WITH their owners.  Not necessarily in a strict heel, per se, but more like a nice stroll with a friend.  All of this can be taught to a puppy.  What you don't want to do is make leash walking negative by constantly yanking on your puppy's neck.  You also don't want to be too lax and put your puppy on a retractable leash. Those leashes are dangerous and they most certainly do not teach nice leash walking skills.  Puppies need more room to explore than a 2 foot street lead provides, and again, for example, while a 4 foot leash is great for pet assisted therapy visits and other tight spaces, they aren't great for casual walks.  And those 20 foot, 30 foot, and 40 foot lunge lines? Those aren't for teaching leash walking at all; those are best used for teaching recall.

I suggested my client consider an older puppies class as she'd get to work on the leash walking there.  I think it would help her to see that she's not alone AND it would help her work on leash walking in a structured environment.  From my point of view, leash walking classes, whether for puppies or dogs of any age really, are so valuable.  Most of us have forgotten that walking our dogs is a relationship.  The goal is not the destination but enjoying the journey.  Put away your phone.  Watch your dog.  See his nose in the air and down on the ground?  He's enjoying himself. And honestly, you should too.

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

Ozzie, as a puppy, walking Desi on too short of a leash!