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!