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!"