Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Over It!

 I received a call from a client the day after Christmas.  She said she'd had it.  Being locked in her house for 9 months with her spouse, her kids, two cats, and a puppy and she said she felt like she was ready to snap!  She wanted to know why everything was her responsibility and if there was anything to be done to get them all back on track.  At this point, her cats weren't getting along (one had started marking again) and the puppy was back to being mouthy and counter surfing (and trash can diving!) all of the time.  She said if it wasn't for the pandemic and the fact that no one can go anywhere non-essential here in California, she'd have escaped with her girlfriends to an island far away from it all by this point!  

I get it. I really do.  I'm tired of sheltering in place too.  I miss my pet assisted therapy visits with Desi.  I miss going to the beach with Ozzie and Westley. I miss vacations and flying to Southern California to see friends and family. While I have enjoyed all of our family time, I, too, long to be free! I am extremely fortunate that all three dogs get along well together and have not had any lasting behavior problems during this pandemic.  So, what can my client, and others like her, do to get back on track?

First, prioritize the problems.  The cat urinating in the house was my first priority.  He needs an appointment with the vet to make sure that this is a behavior problem and not indicative of a physical issue. He is an older cat who is sensitive to stress; in the past, he has started marking when the kids weren't getting along with one another!  Now it's the case that he and the other cat aren't getting along, but that could have a physical basis too given that the peeing cat isn't as playful with his feline friend, nor are they grooming each other as much. Until she can get the cat in to see the vet, she is going to separate the cats to reduce their stress.  The cat who is urinating inappropriately is in a room away from the other animals, with two litterboxes, two cat trees, fresh water, and plenty of toys.  The other cat still has the rest of the house. Once we know whether this issue is behavioral or physical, we can begin supervising time between the two cats and hopefully resolve any lingering issues. 

As for the the mouthy puppy doing all of the counter surfing and trashcan diving, I said it was time to address this problem head-on.  The puppy was something her kids and husband wanted, not her (she's a self proclaimed cat person!).  They need to step up and enforce the crate nap times during the day so that he doesn't get sleep deprived and out of control.  Much of his mouthy behavior and zooming around the house stealing things off the counter and table can be rectified by enforcing crate naps, time in his x-pen, and making sure he gets his daily walks, training sessions, and interactive toy time. If the kids won't step up and do these things, then the pup may be better off in another household where people can coordinate his care better.  My client indicated that if she even mentioned re-homing the puppy, her kids would go crazy!  Well then, they need to take a more proactive role in his care!  A lot of work goes into raising a puppy and everyone needs to be on board with what that care will look like. They all needed to put in more time working on tasks such as "leave it" and "drop it" with this puppy; while we had taught him these commands and dished out rewards for his doing so during my appointment with them a few months ago, no one had continued to work on these behaviors and thus the puppy was back to surfing and trash can diving for attention and stimulation .Setting up a family schedule where all tasks are assigned for the day (or the week) and those tasks rotate so that each family member takes an active role in each of the component parts.  Thus, no one is always in charge of feeding or walking or picking up poop.  Everyone rotates in on those tasks.  While it's fine to ask mom for help, she shouldn't be the one doing everything. My client felt that setting up the schedule would likely work for her family and we talked about some potential consequences for both the puppy and for the kids if they fail to keep up.  

It is really important for all of us to remember that this pandemic won't last forever.  We all need to begin preparing ourselves and our pets for the inevitable end of sheltering in place, returning to school, work, etc.  We need to remind our pets that it is okay to be alone.  This means leaving your dog alone for periods of time everyday.  That time might be in their crates for naps if you have a puppy, or it could simply be working in one room while your dog naps in another.  If your dog follows you around all day long, assign periods of time during the day when you will ignore him.  They need to learn that attention 24/7 isn't sustainable, nor is it healthy.  If it's a nice day, give your dog a bone to chew on outdoors.  If not, maybe a bully stick or an interactive toy will keep them occupied and self-contained.  You will need to build up the amount of time they can be left alone.  Our pets shouldn't come to expect that someone will always be home with them.  Load everyone in the car when you head to the grocery store, even when only one person actually goes inside to shop!  If you are really worried about what your pets are doing in your absence, set up a camera so you can watch them from your phone.  Now is the time to figure out if they can be left alone and for how long.  Once you know that, you can build from there.  

Finally, cut yourself some slack.  This pandemic has been rough on everyone.  Relationships have been put to the test and adding in a new pet can be stressful under the best of circumstances. Being honest with family members about what's working and what isn't, not placing blame or responsibility on just one person, are the keys to success.  We all need to work together to get through this.  As couples, as families, and as communities.

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

Ozzie and Desi get a dental chew every afternoon.  They are good about not bugging me while I'm working, but they WILL let me know if it's 3 p.m. and they've still not gotten their snack yet!

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

A Beautiful Walk is in the Eye of the Beholder!

 I met with a client, socially distanced of course, who is immune compromised.  Because of this, she rarely leaves her home.  She has hired a dog walker for her adolescent dog during the week and her adult children rotate walking the dog for her on the weekends.  So what's my role? I'm there to to work with the dog on manners, as well as guide the owner through the pitfalls of doggie adolescence as her dog does have some anxiety as well. One of the things that makes this dog most anxious is other dogs she sees on leash.  She jumps, spins, barks, whines and pulls to get to other dogs. Her over-the-top behavior has resulted in more than one on-leash altercation with another dog, so now she has ambivalence about seeing other leashed dogs when she's on a walk.  The dog walker likes to use a pinch collar on the dog to correct the pulling, the owner's daughter like to use an easy-walk harness while her son likes a body harness as he walks and runs with the dog.  The owner wasn't sure if it was okay to be using all of these different types of systems to walk her dog and if there was one "best route to go" long term so as not to increase her dog's anxiety or confuse her, but to make sure the dog was safe on her walks.  I love that she asked me this question!

First off, it's okay for different people to use different tools when walking a dog, even if they are walking the same dog.  While one person might need a head halter, for example, to feel comfortable walking a dog, someone else might feel that a harness works good enough.  What works for any given person on a walk with a dog must take several factors into consideration.  The age of the person walking the dog, their strength and comfort level with walking a dog, their past experiences with dog walking, and their relationship with this particular dog.  Thus, while a dog walker might feel comfortable with a dog on a flat collar and leash, that same dog may need a harness with its owner if they are older, have trouble controlling the dog, etc.  Walking the dog on more than one system will not confuse the dog at all.  They know who they are walking with!  The key is finding the right tool for each person, the one that they are most comfortable with using, and then acclimating the dog to that tool and letting them know what your expectations for their behavior on walks actually is.

Another thing to keep in mind is that circumstances change.  While you may have been able to walk your puppy on a flat collar and leash, you may need to change to a front hooking harness when that dog is an adolescent, and maybe even move on to a head halter when they reach 18 months to 2 years of age.  It's nice to have a "dog walking tool box" filled with different collars (flat, martingale, choke chain, etc.), different harnesses (front hook, back hook, loop behind the legs, and head halter), and different length leashes (4 foot, 6 foot, and 15-25 foot for practicing recall).  That way, you will always have what you need to walk the dog you are dealing with on any given day.

When Ozzie was young, he was a hard-core puller.  He was fearful and would panic and spin in circles around me and then pull me over!  We had to move from a flat collar and leash to a Thunderleash style harness for a while until I got his anxiety under control.  He's now back on a flat collar and 6 foot leash.  We used to walk our Labrador on a head halter as she would pull hard on anything else, including a pinch collar. And our Pug walked on a body harness that hooked on his back.  For smaller dogs, body harnesses are safer than collars as they are gentler on their necks and tracheas if they pull a lot on leash.  Every dog is different and you don't want to get stuck on just one type of collar or harness.  You need to be flexible and figure out what works best for you if you are the person walking the dog.  And if you use dog walkers for your dog, let them tell you what they need to safely walk your dog for you.  

Finally, remember that while you don't want your dog to pull you down the street, nor do you want to be dragging him along, you do need to seek that middle ground. He doesn't need to heel all the time; give him some leash to sniff and explore.  Try to make the leash a bit slack so he doesn't feel tension while he's sniffing and exploring.  Use the leash to guide your dog, not yank him along.  Talk to your dogs, tell them when it's safe to sniff and tell them when they need to move along.  Use treats to make yourself more important than anything else out there on that walk.  And have fun!  Walking your dog is great exercise and a good chance to bond with your canine companion.

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

Here's my niece when she was a little girl, with my first collie, Cooper, on a flat collar (hidden under all that floof!) and our Labrador, Cinderella, on her head halter!

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The Darker Side of Acquiring a New Dog

I had a Zoom meeting with a couple who acquired their new dog from a shelter out of state.  They were so excited to get this young dog; they paid the shelter fee, paid to fly themselves and the dog home, and were looking forward to years of love and companionship.  What they got, however, was something very different.  This dog began behaving aggressively toward the owners during the first week.  They made adjustments in their own behavior with regard to resources the dog might guard, how they leashed him, etc.  Still, he would lay between them on the couch or bed, receiving attention, and suddenly stiffen, growl, snap and bite them.  He would seem fine one minute and then bite the next.  At first the bites were inhibited and seemed to be about resources,  but his last bite was completely unprovoked and left punctures and necessitated a trip to the doctor.  When they contacted the shelter to find out more information on the dog, they found out that the person who dropped the dog off gave a fake phone number/address and the veterinarian named on the record had no clue who this dog was.  Given how quickly this dog became aggressive without provocation, it seems likely he was surrendered because of that behavior.  Now this poor couple is trying to figure out how to get him safely back to the shelter out of state.  When we talked, I let them know that the shelter might just adopt him out again; he's a really cute, purebred dog.  He'll be a moneymaker for the shelter or a rescue group if they choose to ignore his bite history (which they shouldn't).  This dog should be humanely euthanized so he is no longer a risk to himself or others.  My clients are devastated, but may choose to have him euthanized here because they don't want anyone else to go through the trauma and heartbreak they just did. So, why am I telling you this?

This pandemic has led to thousands of people seeking puppies and dogs to add to their homes.  Most felt that the best time to acquire a new four-legged companion was when everyone was home and sheltering in place.  The problem with this logic is that everyone and his brother were looking for dogs at the same time.  The best breeders I know have long waiting lists and had long waiting lists pre-COVID.  Their waiting lists now are even longer, some with lists running a couple of years out.  The unfortunate result of this is that many prospective dog owners got a bit desperate and disheartened and turned to puppy brokers (who get their puppies from puppy mills and backyard breeders) and less reputable sources to acquire their dogs.  Many looking to rescue, ended up getting their dogs from shelters and rescue groups out of state and even out of the country!  The result of this is we are now seeing a lot of puppies and dogs with significant medical and behavioral issues.  One of my clients had to euthanize her German Shepherd puppy because he had multiple organ failure at the tender age of 4 months old!  She'd had him exactly 4 weeks, during which time he'd been sick and hospitalized and she'd spent a small fortune trying to save him. Another client put down a hefty deposit on a Goldendoodle puppy that his family had chosen from photos and videos.  When it came time to ship the puppy, it turns out that those photos and videos weren't of available puppies, but puppies belonging to some other breeder. Now he can't get his phone calls returned and likely won't see his money either.  Plus, his kids aren't getting their puppy.  There is also the client who picked a male puppy using the guidelines I'd suggested for their family, only to be shipped a female puppy with significant medical and behavioral issues.  The breeder's response to their query as to why they received this puppy and not the one they'd chosen and put down a deposit on?  She said that she knew what was best for her puppies and the fact that they had a lot of resources here in California would be best for this puppy as they could afford to care for it.  I was shocked.  Now we have "breeders" deciding who can and can't afford extensive care?! Unbelievable.

If you are getting the feeling that I'm really aggravated and annoyed by all of this, you are right.  I hate seeing prospective dog owners get taken for a ride.  I hate that there are unsavory characters out there breeding dogs simply for profit, without any concern for ethical breeding practices, health guarantees, genetic testing, etc.  I know there isn't an easy solution to this problem other than to remind prospective dog owners not to impulse buy.  Do the research.  Expect to be interviewed and interview them as well. Ask for references and follow up on those.  While it's fine to research breeds you might like on the AKC website, just being a breeder listed on there doesn't make them "the best." Joining social media groups that center on the breed you are interested in is a great way to network and find out what the care and keeping of that breed entails from people who are doing it.  Asking where they got their dogs and networking that way is fine too, just don't expect to get a dog within a few weeks to months. It's going to take longer and the disreputable folks in those groups can smell desperation a mile away. 

Acquiring a dog is a long term investment; you will be investing time, energy, and money into helping your dog be the best that he can be.  You need to start with a good hand, so to speak.  If the deck is stacked against you before your puppy even arrives, it's a recipe for failure.  My plan is to continue to coach prospective owners on what to look for in breeders, rescue groups, and shelters.  I will continue to encourage them to use science and not just emotion to pick their dogs.  There is a reason that I do breed counseling sessions with people; you can choose a dog scientifically, using my questionnaires that ferret out what you are truly looking for in a canine companion so that the choice you make is sound.  Even choosing between a male and female puppy can have impact, and birth order of the puppies is important too.  Looking at breeders who use systems like "Puppy Culture" is definitely a plus, but there are plenty of conscientious breeders who use other systems and produce lovely, well-adjusted, healthy dogs. 

These pandemic dogs are an interesting cohort.  Scientists will be studying them for years to come.  They are dogs who live with their people 24/7 as folks work from home; they are dogs who have never been left alone, ever; they have been walked in neighborhoods where people cross the street to avoid one another; and they've been far less socialized with other dogs with the absence puppy and dog training classes.  How these dogs turn out in the long run remains to be seen. I remain hopeful that dogs are as resilient as I've always known them to be and that these pandemic pooches will teach us all about unwavering love, companionship, and the bonds that tie us together. 

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

A pandemic puppy I met a few months ago!

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Solutions for Strained Relationships!

 I spoke with a client early in the week.  Well, actually, she spoke and I listened. You see, she and her husband of 42 years have been locked down together since March.  They aren't getting along so well and neither are their pets (two dogs and a cat).  After spilling all the details, she sheepishly said, "This is all confidential, right? I just told you more than I've even told my kids!" I laughed and said that indeed, her thoughts and concerns were safe with me and while I won't even begin to try to deal with tense human relationships, I am more than happy to dive right into the relationship stress occurring among her pets.  Funny thing though. I'm pretty sure if she and her husband can gain some perspective and cut each other a bit of slack, that will take the pressure not only off of their relationship, but the one with and among their pets as well.  You see, I think in this household (and probably in a lot of households) the current drama between the two dogs and the cat are simply a reflection of the obvious strain with the two humans being locked down together 24/7 during a global pandemic.  If you or someone you know is having similar issues, here are my thoughts on turning those strained relationships around to get back on an even keel:

1. Exercise: Turns out that these two people hadn't been getting much exercise because their kids told them it wasn't safe to do so.  I'm no expert, but I know how important exercise is not only to physical health, but psychological well-being. I suggested masks and face shields if that would ease her kids' minds, and walking really early in the day before most folks are even up and about.  They can walk together, or they can walk separately, but they need to take the two dogs with them. Those dogs need to get out of the house and out of the yard too!

2.  Play:  Games keep human minds active and engaged, same for our pets.  I suggested getting a flirt pole to play with the dogs one-on-one in the yard.  That way, the dogs can get exercise at home too.  I suggested a kids wading pool filled with clean dirt or sand where treats like carrots could be buried for the dogs to find.  

3.  Puzzles:  You all already know how much I love puzzle toys for cats and dogs.  For the cat in this house, I suggested some cubbies and shelves on a wall for the cat to move around well above the dogs.  This poor cat had been trying to get to her window perch for weeks and been unable to do so as one dog would block her and then chase her away.  The vertical spaces that only she can use mean she'll easily be able to get to her window perch and that will take all the fun out of blocking that space and chasing her. For the dog who has been chasing the cat, that flirt pole will do wonders.  Both dogs were gobbling their food, so I suggested putting their food into puzzle toys that they had to work at to get the food out.  One dog can do the toy inside while the other is outside to insure the dogs aren't squabbling over the puzzles. 

4.  Alone time:  Everyone needs some alone time, dogs and cats are no exception.  Crate trained dogs can be put in their crates to rest during the day, or they can simply be confined to a room with a cushy spot to nap.  Cats need access to spaces that dogs can't get to, so putting up a gate in the doorway to the study means that my client's cat can get into that room, lay on the couch or computer keyboard, get to her favorite scratching post, and use her litter box in peace and without canine interference. 

5.  Let the pets sort it out:  Other than protecting the cat from being chased, I asked the owner to let the animals sort out most of their issues without intervening.  Her two dogs weren't fighting per se; what they were doing is squabbling.  Both would want the same toy and inevitably one of the dogs would growl and snap and then take off with the toy to hide behind the couch.  Given that the response to this by the other dog was to find something else to do, I didn't see any problem here really.  They sorted out the problem on their own and there were no lasting implications.  There had been one doorway skirmish when both dogs tried to go through the sliding door at the same time and snapped at each other. What happened?  Nothing.  They snapped, shook it off, and went off to sniff separate areas of the yard.  Honestly, the dogs seemed to be doing better with their "tiffs" than the humans!

6.  Control the resources:  All of the animals in this home are allowed on the furniture.  The problem with this is that her husband doesn't like that one of the dogs grumbles at him if he sits near his wife.  The wife admitted that she found this hilarious and didn't see a problem with it. I reminded her that if the dog were growling at her, she wouldn't think it was so funny. Plus, the growling dog was upsetting the other dog who then chased the cat, and then everyone was upset.  I suggested that she get the grumbling dog off of the couch when her husband came to sit down.  Once he was seated, the dog could be invited back up; if he growled though, he was off the couch for the rest of the night.  Humans must be in control of the resources and their use, not the pets.  And no one should be using a pet as a means of getting back at another person. 

The bottom line is this:  Tension between humans can create tension between our pets as well.  You don't have to jump right in and break up every negative interaction though.  Let it play out and see if it's serious or just some minor altercation that your pets can sort out on their own. I'm not advocating for letting dogs fight until someone gets hurt, or allowing dogs to torment a cat.  On the contrary, what I'm suggesting is relying on pets that share space to sort out their conflicts without intervening unless necessary. Oftentimes when humans intervene, we make it worse.  We make a bully feel empowered, or inadvertently add to the fear and anxiety of a nervous pet.  Better to see if they can resolve their issues on their own but still under our watchful eye.

So, remember to get plenty of exercise, rest and recharge when you need to.  Play everyday and challenge your brain with a puzzle.  Drink plenty of water and keep an eye on diet as food should be enriching, not a crutch.  And this is advice for you and your pets.  We are all social living creatures after all. 

As always, if you are having a problem with your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

Ozzie will always be my couch buddy, even if he is a bit weird with the licking ;)

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Are You Thinking About a Second Dog?

 I have had several calls and emails this week from people who are either getting, or thinking about getting, a second dog for their home.  A few of these brave, dog-loving souls actually got their first puppy at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and are feeling like adding a second puppy to their family over the holidays!  This got me to thinking about the challenges we face in multi-dog households, both those where there is a young, resident dog when the new puppy arrives, and those where there is an older dog in residence when the newcomer joins the family.  So, let's talk about multi-dog households.

First off, the only reason to add a second canine family member is because you, the humans, want to do so.  Never feel like you need to add a second dog for the benefit of your first dog.  While dogs are indeed social creatures, and many do enjoy playing with other dogs, there is no reason that they can't get in their desired amount of socializing and play with other dogs at daycare, playdates, and the dog park.  The truth of the matter is this...dogs don't necessarily like to share their resources with other dogs.  If you add a second dog to your family, your first dog will be competing with that newcomer for your time, your attention, the treats, toys, etc.  While you may feel that you have enough love to go around (and plenty of treats and toys!), your resident dog may feel otherwise.  For dogs it really isn't about being equitable or fair; it's about garnering resources for themselves.  Dogs are competitive, it's a fact.  So, if you are adding a second dog, be ready to deal with those two dogs competing for your love and your attention.  

There are definitely things you can do to make this new situation get off to a good start.  First, crate train your new arrival.  Crate training means your resident dog will get breaks throughout the day while your puppy naps, and at night.  These breaks are good for recharging batteries and for getting a bit of extra attention for being such patient older dog "sibling."  Don't hesitate to put your puppy in a crate or x-pen for a time out if he or she is relentlessly pursuing your resident dog; while most dogs are quite patient with puppies, they will get fed up if their warnings aren't being heeded. And some dogs will put up with a ridiculous amount of hassling by a puppy and can really use your help to get a break in the action. And do let your resident dogs correct those puppies; puppies need to learn boundaries and that's part of your resident dog's role in the raising of this new puppy.  Remember to feed your resident dog first, give them the treats first, and attend to them first as is their due as the first dog in your home.  Puppies take a lot of time and resources to raise, but you certainly don't want to neglect the needs and desires of your first dog.

It is also important to really think about the specifics of the second dog you are adding to your home.  If your resident dog is female, then best to add a male as your second dog. It isn't that two females (or two males, for that matter) can't get along, it just means you are hedging your bets.  Two dogs of the same sex will be more competitive with one another as the resources they consider most valuable will be the same. Thus, male dogs tend to be more concerned with their territory, and thus might feel extra competitive toward another male on their home turf.  Female dogs are more concerned with their tangible resources and thus two female dogs might get into a squabble over the best spot to lay on your bed.

If your resident dog is quite a bit older than your newcomer, the addition of a puppy might indeed perk them up a bit, but it will also be a lot of work for them to compete on that level.  Be sure to give your older dog access to areas the younger dog can't go so that your older dog can safely and comfortably rest without disturbance.  Even if you have an older puppy and you're adding a younger puppy, that older puppy will still need some alone time with you to work on training, expectations, and boundaries that are age appropriate to the their needs as well.

Which brings us to my next point.  If you will have two dogs within the 12-18 month range of age in your home at the same time, you must train them separately as well as together.  They need to train together so that they learn to work under distractions.  They need to train separately to make sure they know their own names, what the tasks you are asking them to do actually mean, etc. Observational learning is a big component of learning in dogs, and you want to make sure that what your new puppy observes and imitates is what you want to have happening long term!

And if you have a resident cat and you're thinking about adding a dog, keep the following in mind.  While it is the case that, for the most part, dogs and cats can get along and coexist successfully in the same household, there is a small percentage of cases where they simply do not get along, regardless of what you do. It definitely works better if that cat is in the house first before the dog arrives.  And research shows that kittens and young cats are more accepting of puppies than are older cats. Obviously, if you have a rambunctious puppy constantly chasing an older cat, this is a relationship being built on anxiety and contention. Put your energy into making your older cat feel more comfortable with the new dog by confining the dog or keeping him on leash more thus allowing your cat more control over the "getting to know you" process.  And if your cat is food motivated, don't hesitate to break out the good snacks to reinforce coexistence with the new dog.  Cats should also be provided with plenty of vertical escape routes to get away from the dog.

Finally, just because your resident dog is super-playful at playdates etc. doesn't mean he wants to play 24/7 at home with a new puppy.  As dogs move through adolescence to adulthood, play becomes less important. In fact, adult dogs rarely engage in play with dogs they don't already know and the play they do engage in is short in duration.  Thus even a 3-7 year old, active young dog will be less than thrilled to have to babysit and entertain a puppy under a year of age day in and day out.

Your success with adding a second dog to your home will depend on a number of factors including the age, sex, temperament, breed, and training of your resident dog.  While adding a second dog is a bit more complex, it isn't impossible to do.  I myself like living in a multidog household and have for more than 30 years. I work with my dogs as individuals on their training and they each have activities that they do with me all on their own.  They share dog beds, toys and water bowls without issue and yes, they do vie for my attention daily.  I make sure they both get what they need.  Do I think Desi was excited about getting a puppy when we got Ozzie? Not in the least, but he and Ozzie are friendly and have an amicable relationship.  Do I think that either Desi or Ozzie were thrilled when my daughter got her young smooth collie? Not at all.  They definitely saw him as a competitor as was evidenced by all the pushing, shoving and grumbling that went on in order to establish rules with the young smoothie.  But now Ozzie and Westley are buddies that enjoy running and playing together.  Desi doesn't enjoy those activities at all and simply removes himself if it gets too rowdy. 

Just remember to take the introduction of your new puppy to your resident dog slowly.  Introduce them on neutral ground if you are worried about your resident dog being territorial on meeting. You can put the puppy in her crate or in an x-pen in a common room and let your resident dog move around that crate and pen at their leisure and comfort level to learn about the new arrival.  This also allows your new puppy to get their bearings and learn to trust your resident dog and you to make sure that this new relationship gets off to a great start.

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

The three amigos and all of their toys!

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Baby It's Cold Outside!

 A client called me over the weekend concerned about his little Chihuahua mix.  She's 10 months old and has a very short coat.  He was worried that she might be getting cold on their early morning and evening walks.  Given that this is a confident, happy-go-lucky little dog,  I asked him if she was shivering on their walks, hesitant to leave the house, etc. He said she had started shivering in the mornings on their walks and seemed to like it if he picked her up and tucked her inside his coat.  I told him that if we combined that behavior with her burrowing under the covers on his bed at night not wanting to get up, I'd think it is safe to say she's chilly!  Dogs with very short coats and those with hair rather than fur, particularly small dogs, can get cold in cooler weather.  Older dogs also don't thermoregulate as well, and puppies will get colder faster than adult dogs.  And walking in snow or ice presents other complications for most dogs. So what can you do?

Some dogs will let you put a sweater or coat on them to keep in the heat on their walks.  Most will resist at first, but then be resigned to wearing the garment (and even perk up) once they realize that the coat/sweater keeps them toasty warm.  There are also dogs who will resist putting on a sweater or coat with gusto, trying to escape, roll or rub the coat off, and even growl or snap at the person trying to put the coat on them.  Even if your dog gets chilly, if they resist your help, back off.  You can try taking the garment with you on the walk, waiting until they are cold, and then seeing if they will let you put it on them at that time.  As with anything new, pairing the coat or sweater with yummy treats can help.  It is also important to ensure that the garment fits them properly.  Coats and sweaters should fit, not slide all over.  They shouldn't cover the tail or block them from toileting properly.  Most dogs hate hats or anything over their faces, so go for coats and sweaters without hoods if that is the case.  Their comfort should be your first priority; function before fashion!

My rough coat collies most certainly do not get cold in the winter; they love cooler weather and perk up as the weather turns chilly, much preferring that to the triple digit summer heat.  I do put raincoats on my collies, however, as I hate trying to get them dry after we walk in the rain.  They don't mind the raincoats at all and have gotten so much positive attention for them that they now strut around the neighborhood in them rather proudly.  My daughter's smooth coat collie does get cold in the winter, but he loves sweaters and coats and will actually nose his coats on the rack by the door if he feels the cool air as we are heading out for a walk and haven't put one on him yet.

So, back to the client. I suggested trying a coat or sweater on her to see if she would allow it.  Turns out she hates clothing.  As soon as he put the sweater on her, she ran off, hopped up on the bed, snarled at his other dog and bit him on the ear! So, no sweaters or coats for her.  For now, my client will need to adjust his walking times to when it is a bit warmer, and then spend some time desensitizing this little dog to wearing something to keep her warmer. He must do so, however, away from the other dog so redirected aggression doesn't happen again. 

Just as with costumes at Halloween, dogs need to have the ability to choose NOT to wear the garments we've selected for them. If they don't like getting dressed up, please don't make them do it.  Same goes for booties on their feet.  You have to train a dog to wear something on their feet, otherwise those booties can cause more discomfort than they are worth.  While booties could help your dog in the snow, you might just as easily be able to get by with musher's wax on their feet which is more easily tolerated. 

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

Adolescent Ozzie wearing his custom-made raincoat!

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Your Aging Dog

 Desi turned 10 years old in October.  This was a milestone for him and for me as I've never had a collie live long enough to make it to double digits.  While Desi has always struck me as an old soul (super mellow, very self contained), watching him actually age has been bittersweet.  His hearing isn't as good as it used to be, though he can still hear the cheese drawer open if there aren't any other noises going on.  He was never a fast walker, but now I would describe his pace as a slow amble. His face is turning white and he even has a few gray hairs on his previously all black head. Naps have always been his favorite past-time (after snacking, of course), but he spends most of his days napping now, moving from spot to spot around the house.  He is most active and spunky in the morning when he trots around, tail held high, barking at me to get a move on with his breakfast.  We have a routine that we go through when he takes his medication for his arthritis.  Desi loves routines.  If it's 2 p.m. and I haven't gotten out the dog bones, he lets me know.  And he always knows when it is 5 p.m. At night time, however, I really notice Desi's age.  He is slow to rouse when I wake him up to move him into our bedroom to sleep; it often takes him a minute to gather his thoughts and head to the back of the house.  He loves his bedtime snack and tucks himself right in and falls back to sleep. 

My observations of Desi are quite similar to the stories my clients tell me about their aging dogs.  While I have a few clients whose dogs have remained super-active, most have slowed down and seem to be enjoying their "golden years." I talk so much here about puppies and adolescent dogs, it seemed like it was really time to give senior dogs (dogs over 9 years of age) their due.  While senior dogs often make themselves so easy to care for that you almost don't give it much thought, you really should.  Keeping your senior dog's mind (and body) active and engaged is incredibly important to their continued health and well-being.

Senior dogs still need their walks; they may need the walks shortened, but they still need to sniff and explore their world.  Let them take their time and really enjoy those sniffs.  Play with your senior dogs.  While many may not be able to physically handle a strenuous game of fetch, most enjoy a brief game of tug or short distance fetch.  Dental disease can be a large problem in senior dogs, so make sure you are brushing their teeth and providing them with appropriate chewing options that can clean their teeth and provide oral stimulation.  Desi doesn't enjoy hard bones any more, but he loves his CET Veggiedent Chews and gets one everyday  They help clean his teeth and give him a fun, age-appropriate chewing option.  Senior dogs often need a diet change too.  Because they've slowed down, it is easy for senior dogs to put on weight.  Add in joint pain, disc disease, and arthritis and you have a sedentary dog who is heavy and making those issues more pronounced.  A diet formulated for senior dogs, rich in antioxidants and good fats, but lower in calories, is often the perfect solution.  Desi is actually on the dental diet from Hill's Science Diet as that helps to keep his teeth in the best condition as well.  Joint supplements like Glucosamine with Chondroitin help a lot of senior dogs, but may not be enough if their pain is significant or widespread.  Consult your veterinarian to discuss the different options available for pain management.  While many humans may think of arthritis as a natural outcome of the aging process in dogs, it certainly doesn't have to be something your dog just lives with.  Arthritis is treatable and should be for your dog's comfort and peace of mind.

Senior dogs still need mental exercise.  Just as we might give a senior human family member a book of crossword puzzles or sudoku to keep their mind active, senior dogs need a similar challenge.  Continue to use interactive feeding toys like those from Kong, Busy Buddy, Starmark, and Outward Hound to keep your senior dog's mind engaged.  Desi enjoys his toys from all of these companies, as well as his snuffle mat and an occasional egg carton filled with goodies!

Some senior dogs develop fairly pronounced anxiety.  It may manifest as separation anxiety, noise sensitivity, twilighters (evening agitation), or anxiety related to health issues such as diminishing vision, or hearing loss. For some dogs, just as for some people, senility can become a problem with aging.  While it isn't a given that a dog will become mentally impaired, it is possible.  Oftentimes the first signs are a lapse in house training, wandering aimlessly around the house, and a disruption of their normal sleep pattern.  If you see any of these signs in your older dog, get them in to see your veterinarian for an evaluation and blood work.  Once other issues like pain have been ruled out as a cause for the behavior change, you can then treat those problems with supplements or even a drug called Anipryl.  Pfizer, the manufacturer of Anipryl, has a quiz on their webiste that dog owners can take to determine if senility may be occurring in their pet. You can complete the quiz and then share with your veterinarian during your senior pet's appointment.  Senior pets need regular veterinary appointments that include exams and blood work to stay on top of physical changes associated with the aging process.

I love senior dogs and cats.  They may move a bit slower but their overall calm behavior is such a nice change from the frantic pace I see in the puppies and adolescent dogs I am working with daily.   And I love that my clients reach out for help through all of the stages in their pets' lives.  I am truly blessed.

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

My beautiful 10 year old collie, Desi.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Adolescent Dogs: The Sequel

 As many of you know, I've been spending a lot of my time working with puppies and their families and I love it!  As of now, several of these dogs have transitioned from being puppies into being adolescents and those changes have seemingly occurred overnight (or from one week to the next).  I know I've talked about adolescence before, but I think it's time to revisit some of the behaviors exhibited by adolescent dogs, the frustration their behavior can create, and how we might ease the pressure and all survive this normal (yet incredibly irritating, in some cases) period of time.

Beginning around 8 months of age (for some dogs a bit sooner, and for others a bit later), all dogs enter adolescence.  Adolescence can continue well after their first birthday for some dogs, extending until 2 years of age for many, in fact. Just like human adolescence, this developmental period is characterized by defiance, willful disobedience, inattention, deliberately contrary behavior, destructive tendencies, and even food related quirks.  That sweet puppy who came every time they were called, sat before being asked, could easily be occupied with a chew toy, now runs the other way when called, turns his head and ignores your requests, chews on furniture and destroys TV remotes. The puppy who loved to eat his meals now, apparently, prefers eating trash and backpack zippers, turning up his nose at mealtimes.  Don't despair as this is is all quite normal. Building confidence and independence is a good thing.  We just need to remind these dogs who is in charge of the resources, what our expectations are for them, and what the consequences will be if they choose not to comply.

Just because your older puppy appears to be house trained, doesn't mean you should give them full access to your house.  Accidents may still occur and being left unsupervised often leads to these dogs chewing on furniture, curtains, door moldings, and room decor.  Too much freedom, combined with boredom, will definitely lead to disaster.  Continue to confine your older puppies either to their crates, exercise pens, or the rooms they've been using that have been safely puppy-proofed all along.  Continue daily toy rotation, making sure to include hard things to chew on so they won't be so attracted to those door moldings and chair legs.  I love those sterile, stuffed bones from Red Barn Brand.  They are safe and made in the USA.  Those bones can be lifesavers for young dogs who need a chewing outlet.

Don't let your adolescent dogs off leash unless they are in a fenced area and you have the time to work on getting them back to you if they resist.  If you don't have the time to work on that, then don't let them off leash.  Work with your adolescent dogs on a long line; using a 15, 20, or 30 foot leash to work on recall is a good daily exercise for your dogs.  Hook on the long line and let them follow their noses away from you.  Once they are good and distracted, call them back using an upbeat tone of voice and have extremely yummy treats on hand to reward them when they finally get to you.  Don't despair if they don't come racing toward you; they are adolescent dogs, after all.  If you have to give a tug on the leash to get them coming toward you, that's fine, just don't get frustrated.  If you get frustrated you will lose this game for sure!  And it is a game to your adolescent dog, so remember that too.  The more fun you make this exercise, the more likely they will be to play along.  If you are worried that your dog won't get enough exercise if they can't safely be off leash, again put them on that long line and use a flirt pole lure toy to exercise them efficiently. 

Rather than feeding your adolescent dog in a bowl, try feeding them using an interactive feeding toy. In a pinch, just spread their kibble on a cookie sheet or spread around in your fenced yard for them to forage and find.  If you want to use a bowl, use a slow feeder bowl to challenge them. If your adolescent dog is acting finicky about their meals, allot a period of time for the meals and simply pick up what they don't eat.  They will eat when they are hungry, so don't give in and "spice up" their food with snacks and sauces or think about changing their food. Frequent food changes can actually contribute to finicky eating more than it curbs it.

Short training sessions are still the key to dealing with the inattention and active disobedience so often seen in adolescent dogs.  Really short sessions, like 3-5 minutes total a couple of times a day work the best for most adolescents.  Don't just focus on "boring" behaviors they already know; add in new tricks or ask for longer stays, several sits and downs in a row (aka puppy pushups), or mental games like picking one particular toy out of a pile of toys, finding the treat under a cup (the shell game), etc.

Make sure all the humans understand the importance of being vigilant with adolescent dogs in the house.  Close doors and gates.  Don't leave backpacks, purses, etc. within their reach.  Put away shoes and socks.  Don't leave a plate of cookies within their reach as they will definitely be tempted!  Do work on leave it and drop it (again) even if you've already taught those commands.  

And finally, be consistent with the consequences.  If your adolescent dog is defying you, give them a time out.  If they don't come when called, ignore them until they do (social shunning).  Make sure they get those all important naps in their crates every day.  Let them sniff on their walks.  If you use daycare or dogwalkers, find out what kind of shenanigans your adolescent dog is doing there so you can stay on top of them.  Remember just like with adolescent humans, your dogs will grow out of this phase and move on to being young adult dogs.  While working with adolescent dogs can be challenging, it is well worth the effort as you will end up with a nice, well-adjusted, well-mannered adult dog that you can be proud to call family.

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

Adolescent Ozzie napping in an x-pen amid his toys.  Better to chew on these toys than my dining room furniture which he was known to do, even when we were sitting right there with him!

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

An Attitude of Gratitude

 I received two thank you notes this week from clients and they were so unexpected, and yet so appreciated!  I make it my goal to help each and every pet owner who reaches out to me for help and I can see when my suggestions and treatment plans are working, but it still gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling when someone tells me how much they (and their pets!) learned from me. 

The truth of the matter is this: I am constantly learning from my clients and their pets.  Sometimes I'm reminded of why patience is important (lol!) but more often than not, I can see how a little empathy and compassion can go a long way in helping pet owners better understand the behavior of their four-legged family members. Those clients who tell me that they understand anxiety because they are working through their own issues in anxiety.  The clients who tell me that anti-anxiety medication has helped them and wonder if it will help their pets as well.  The clients who tell me they just want their animals to be happy and have a good quality of life.  These are the people who bring me great joy and fulfillment when we work together.

If you and I have worked together, I just want to say again that I appreciate you and the trust you put in me to help you and your pet.  If you'd like to share something that we worked on together or something I suggested that made a difference for you and your pet, I'd love to hear it.  As many of you know, I'm working on a book about my life as an animal behaviorist and I would like to include some of the specific methods and treatment protocols I have used that have made a difference in the lives of the pet owners I've worked with.  

These are strange times we are living in.  We can't hug one another and we have to stand 6 feet apart and stay masked. We need to protect one another from this deadly virus while still supporting each other along the way.  I will continue to find creative ways to help pet owners and hope that you will continue to seek out my assistance and encouragement as you navigate pet ownership during a pandemic.

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

My sweet Rottweiler friend, Bella. I am grateful to her family for allowing 
me to continue to be part of her life and theirs.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

It's Puppy Play Time!

 If you saw my social media posts yesterday, you already know that I'm gearing up to start a round of "Pandemic Puppy Socialization Classes" in November at Club K-9.  I'm thrilled to be able to do this and Club K-9 is the perfect location.  Classes can be held outdoors in a very large, fully fenced, pristinely maintained space.  By keeping class size to six puppies total, I can ensure that I am able to give each puppy individual attention and answer questions as they come up. I will be limiting the humans in attendance to one human per puppy.  While I have always enjoyed having families come to puppy classes, this time around, keeping everyone safe is my top priority.  All human participants will be signing a COVID-19 waiver indicating that they and all family members are free of symptoms and have not been exposed to anyone with the virus prior to beginning the class.  All of the puppies attending the class will have had a minimum of two DA2PP vaccines and the Bordetella vaccine. We will be requiring that all human participants wear masks during class and hand sanitizer will be available before entering the training space and all humans must remain at least six feet apart during class. The big question on everyone's mind, though, seems to be, what can you still do in a puppy class during a pandemic?  So, here's my plan:

As I've always done when I teach puppy classes, the emphasis will be on supervised socialization opportunities, combined with basic behavior training. I like to approach any class I teach as a learning opportunity for people to understand more about animal behavior, dog body language, and play behavior, so class attendees can expect that.  While I will certainly be talking about crate training, house training, basic leash manners, etc., I think puppy owners need an overview of fear stages, how to address boredom, and how to help their puppies be independent during a time when most of us are home all the time and never leaving our dogs alone. I truly think that will be one of the most important takeaways from this pandemic puppies class--the importance of having these puppies be able to be happy when they are alone; not anxious, destructive, or bored.

Because these classes will be small, there will be ample opportunity to get questions answered and determine who might need additional help outside the class environment.  In addition, there will likely be some puppies in class who can benefit from doggie daycare at some point in time when their humans return to work, and Club K-9 has a wonderful daycare program geared toward puppies and adolescent dogs.  

The bottom line is this: While I've been able to work one-on-one with a number of new puppy owners during this pandemic, doing so isn't something that can or does work for every puppy out there.  Some owners just prefer classes and I felt it was time to try to teach one and see how successful it can be, despite the obvious limitations due to COVID-19.  Obviously, puppies and their owners can't wait until this is all over to socialize, learn, and grow.  It just means that folks like myself and the staff at Club  K-9 just need to get a bit more creative.

If you are interested in puppy classes, please let me know asap and I'll get you onto the list for the November class.  As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

Looking forward to cuties like this in my puppy class!

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Is My Dog Dumb or Should I Be the One Wearing the Dunce Cap?

 Two of my clients asked me this same question.  Both have adolescent rescue dogs that are driving them crazy!  One dog claws at doors and gates, trying to shove through them, demand barks, surfs the low tables, and steals stuff, not wanting to give it up.  The other dog HATES the crate and fights being in there, barking and screaming at the top of her lungs. If she's not in her crate though, she races around the room, literally climbs the walls and furniture knocking things over, biting like an alligator at hands/feet/arms that try to intervene to stop her from hurting herself.  She, too, surfs surfaces, steals items, and can't be trusted alone for a second.  Both owners were worried their dogs might be intellectually challenged and one thought her dog might even be deaf!  For the record, neither dog is intellectually challenged and neither is deaf.  They do, however, have selective hearing.  Not uncommon for an adolescent dog!

Training an adolescent dog is all about the 3 P's; patience, persistence/perseverance, and positivity. If you get frustrated, give up before you've given the dog a chance to see that the rules you've established are in place for a reason, or routinely punish the dog, you'll lose them. It will indeed appear that they are unable to learn.  Adolescent dogs, much like adolescent humans, need rules, structure, and a firm no-nonsense approach for best success.  Here's what I told my clients to do and hopefully this will work for you too if you are at your wit's end with an adolescent dog!

1. Take a step back.  Adolescent dogs may seem older and more self-sufficient, but they are still young and can easily get into trouble.  They should be crated or confined if they can't be supervised.  Don't leave them alone in the yard until they can use the yard properly (no jumping fences, digging inappropriately, eating plants, etc.) If your adolescent dog balks at the crate, consider a bigger crate, an exercise pen, or an outdoor run instead.  And if that fails, tether them to you using the leash.  

2.  Keep them busy:  A busy dog is a happy, tired dog.  Don't feed adolescent dogs in a bowl.  Make them work for their meals using interactive feeding toys like those from Busy Buddy, Starmark, Outward Hound, or Kong. If you like giving your dogs bones, a midday bone to chew on in their crate or x-pen will keep them happy and out of trouble.

3.  Go for a walk:  Adolescent dogs really shouldn't skip their walks.  Even if you are busy, you need the break too. Take your adolescent dogs for frequent, short walks with an emphasis on sniffing and exploring.

4.  Don't forget those naps:  Adolescent dogs still need naps.  If your dog is not hunkering down for a couple of really solid naps every day (one of my client's dogs surely wasn't!), then MAKE THEM NAP.  Put them in their crate or x-pen in a room alone, turn on a fan, white noise machine or music, and let them be. They may fuss at first, but once they settle into that nap, they'll be much easier to control later on in the day.

5.  Fun training sessions are best:  Frequent, short, fun training sessions are the key to keeping an adolescent dog's attention.  Don't be too repetitive or you'll lose them as well.  Trick training is designed with the adolescent dog in mind.  Even if they don't get the trick the first time you work on it, that's okay.  You can try that trick again another day. Remember trick training capitalizes on basic "good manners" type behaviors put on a command.  So, while pawing at people for attention is a no-no, offering a paw when someone says "Shake!" is good behavior.  Likewise, leave it and drop it don't have to be boring/negative commands.  If you teach drop it with toys and leave it with varying treats, you get a dog who likes to play "Let's Make a Deal!"  They'll pick stuff up and head your way to see if you'll play trade with them.  Playing trade is MUCH preferred to chasing them around to give something up or having them swallow something they shouldn't because they don't want you reaching into their mouths to retrieve it.

6.  Let them know when they've screwed up:  I'm not saying don't tell them that they've made a mistake when they jump the gate, knock over a table, or steal the remote.  Definitely let them know that's not okay at all.  BUT...don't be a jerk about it.  Screaming at them, yanking them by their collar, or swatting them isn't going to make them not do those things.  They'll just do them when they think they can get away with it.  DO admonish them ("GRR.  THAT'S NOT OKAY!") and show them what they should have been doing.  The gate jumper and table tipper need a time out in their crate.  The remote control thief needs a quick "drop it" lesson.

7. When in doubt, redirect:  Some adolescent dogs like to test their owners by upping the stakes with bad behavior.  You go to have them drop something and they freeze, give you a hard stare and growl.  Now what are you supposed to do?  Don't panic.  Go find something they really like and see if they will trade with you. You aren't bribing them or rewarding bad behavior by working on a mutually beneficial trade.  Once you have the item in your possession, give that item some thought.  What was the draw for stealing it and not wanting to give it up?  Was it that someone left the item where it was just too tempting for the dog?  That's a people problem!  Was it that the dog was bored?  Left unsupervised?  Those are people problems too.  See #2 above. 

8.  Don't be afraid to ask for help when you need a break:  When you've had enough, it's time to hand off that adolescent dog to someone else for a few minutes, a few hours, or a few days to give you a break and help with the overwhelming frustration you feel.  Enlist the help of family members and friends in the short term, and consider doggie daycare for longer term solutions.  For a lot of adolescent dogs, even one day a week at daycare is enough for them to blow off excess energy and engage in supervised play with other dogs.

9. Remember adolescence doesn't last forever: While it may seem like it does, it really doesn't. Depending on the breed of dog you have, adolescence ends by 2 years of age.  This doesn't mean that aggravating behaviors can't persist beyond that age because they most certainly do. It just means the underlying motivation for doing them has changed.  Adolescence, while challenging, is full of rewards and silver linings as well.  Most adolescent dogs have mastered house training, have learned to walk better on leash, and can sleep through the night.  Those are blessings; just ask anyone with a 9 week old puppy!

10.  Individual differences: Just like people, not all dogs learn at the same pace.  Some will need more time (and lots more repetitions!) to understand the house rules.  This is particularly true for rescue dogs whose early experiences, lack of early training, or use of inappropriate methods led them to where they are now.  Don't assume they were abused because most of them weren't, although they may very well have been neglected, outright abuse isn't as common as most people think it is. Even if your dog does have a learning difference like ADHD or does have a disability like deafness, those aren't strikes against them. It simply means that you as their caretaker must adjust your mindset and explore methods and programs that work for dogs with those challenges.

As always, if you need help with your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

After a busy morning of chasing birds with the older collies, and chewing on a bone, adolescent Westley has parked himself at my feet for a nap.  I can definitely keep an eye on him from here!

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Well, All Puppies Are Cute, Right?

 My step-daughter, Sarah, and her boyfriend, Zach, just got a puppy from their local shelter.  Poppy is an 8 week old Rottweiler/Shepherd mix and she is absolutely adorable....and I'm not just saying that because she's my granddog.  She really is cute with her big paws and soulful brown eyes.  I am one of those people who really does think that all puppies are cute, regardless of whether they are a smushy faced Pug puppy or a leggy, uncoordinated Borzoi pup.  I just love puppies.  As I am snuggling yet another puppy one of my newest clients brought home during this pandemic, I always find myself saying the same thing.  It's a good thing puppies are so cute and come equipped with soft fur and puppy breath because otherwise we'd give up on a lot of them right from the get-go! Puppies are challenging.  They don't sleep through the night, they have accidents in the house, they chew furniture and fingers, they vomit on car rides, they chew their leashes, and they whine in their crates.  And that's just during the first week in your  You get my point.  Raising a puppy is not for the feint of heart nor the impatient.  You have to be in it for the long haul with your goal of having a nice, well-behaved dog on the other end.  So why am I even bringing this up?  

Dogs come in all shapes and sizes, with temperaments ranging from super-outgoing to painfully introverted.  Some are easier to train than others with a great deal of that variability in training due to their personalities.  One of my very experienced dog friends is already talking about her next puppy.  She knows she wants a smaller dog than the ones she has now, but she doesn't want a terrier, hound, or toy breed.  With her level of experience and the amount of homework she does before getting a dog, I'm really not at all worried about her next canine companion. I do worry though about some of my clients.  Many have (unknowingly) gotten their puppies from puppy brokers who got the puppies from puppy mills.  They've been told one thing and been sold quite another.  Meeting a breeder halfway to pick up a puppy in a parking lot somewhere may seem convenient, but it often means you won't get to meet the parent dogs, siblings, etc.  There is so much you can learn about a puppy from meeting the parent dogs and littermates and seeing where and how they were raised.  And having said that, you need to be ready to pass on a puppy that doesn't meet your criteria, regardless of how cute they are or how much they tug on your heartstrings.

While I certainly have my favorite breeds of dogs, really my most favorite dog is the one who is well-behaved, regardless of breed.  I've been doing this a long time (almost 30 years!), long enough to know that all dogs are different, even those from the same breed.  While I think a lot of people feel that Golden Retrievers are some of the friendliest, most out-going dogs you'll ever meet, I myself am careful and reserve judgement.  I've been bitten a couple of times, unprovoked, by Golden Retrievers. And while people have certainly steered clear of me when I've been out walking with Bella, my Rottweiler friend, what they don't know is that she is the nicest Rottie you will ever meet. She's a total love sponge, a 90 lb lap dog really. Just as you can't pick a puppy solely from a photograph, you can't pick your breed just from something you read on the internet or in a book.  While it may be true that all Rottweilers have black fur with brown markings, large heads, and strong bodies, they don't all have behavior problems rooted in aggression as is so often assumed.  Same goes for Golden Retrievers.  They may all have that soft coat with feathers, ranging in color from cream to red, but not all are friendly, social butterflies. Each dog is an individual, the result of the interaction between genetics and environmental influences. So, what does this mean when you are trying to pick out a puppy?

Start out your search by making a list of all the characteristics in a dog that you value.  How big as an adult?  Does the dog require a lot of exercise/a big yard/a sport? Is the breed prone to health problems that could get very expensive? If you live in an apartment or you are renting, you need to take that into consideration when choosing a dog as well. Once you've narrowed down the breed(s) that could work for your situation, get out there and meet representatives of that breed. This is harder to do during Covid-19, but not impossible.  Join breed groups on social media and follow people with the breed of dog you are interested in.  Reach out to breeders and fanciers for information and to follow what they are doing in their breeding programs.  You should interview them and they should interview you. You want to form a relationship with the breeder that will allow you to ask questions and get guidance all throughout your dog's life.  A number of my new puppy clients don't feel comfortable speaking with their breeders at all and several have found their breeders to be completely unresponsive once the puppies were received in their new homes, and that's really unfortunate.

Even if you are getting your puppy from a rescue group or shelter, you still need to do your research.  Ask the caretakers about their experiences with the puppy.  Get as much information as you can about where the puppy came from, if it had littermates, what happened to the mother dog, etc. While it is certainly true that you can be quite influential in a dog's life if you get them as a puppy and raise them yourselves, it is also true that genetics plays a big role as well. Knowing as much as you can about the genetics and history of the puppy you pick is incredibly helpful.  While I can definitely help you get your puppy off to a great start and support you and guide you in your journey to that well-behaved adult dog, having as much information as possible at the start of our process is key. I'm still going to think your puppy is cute as I inhale all that puppy breath, but then I'll be ready to get to work.  Hope you are ready too!

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

Here is Miss Poppy, our newest canine family member!

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

When Dogs Who Live Together Don't Get Along

A couple of weeks ago, I had a virtual appointment with a new client.  She was devastated that her previously peaceful home was being turned upside down by aggression between her two dogs.  The instigator was the youngish (she's probably between 1 and 2 years of age) female shepherd mix that the owner rescued back in April.  The recipient of the aggression was the dog she'd had for 5 years since that dog was a puppy, a very sweet Golden Retriever.  The fights began in late May/early June and have been getting worse.  While they seemed to be about food at first, now the fights were occurring almost daily and the owner couldn't figure out what was triggering these fights given that she's been controlling food and feeding time so that the dogs don't interact at all when there is food involved. It was getting harder to break up the dogs and she was scared that she might get bit at some point as well.  After the most recent trip to the vet to stitch up puncture wounds on her Golden Retriever, the veterinarian suggested speaking with me. What we are dealing with here is a case of intra-household, inter-dog aggression and the prognosis is sobering.

In a recently published study in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the researchers looked at 217 pairs of dogs presented for inter-dog aggression in their households, examining the causes for the aggression as well as determining the long term outcomes for the dogs in those homes. Resource guarding was found to be the most obvious trigger of aggression between dogs in a household.  In addition, there were several risk factors that were significant among the pairs of dogs:

1.  The dogs were of the same sex, particularly two female dogs

2.  There was a bite serious enough to puncture the recipient dog's skin

3.  The aggressor dog was 2 years or more younger than the recipient dog.

4.  The aggressor dog came into the household after the recipient dog.

5.  The aggressor dog was heavier than the recipient dog.

6.  The aggression was triggered by the sight of the recipient dog, even in the absence of other triggers.

7.  The owner used positive punishment/negative reinforcement training techniques. (What this means: Positive punishment is an attempt to influence behavior by adding something unpleasant, while negative reinforcement is an attempt to influence behavior by taking away something unpleasant. Both methods serve to influence behavior, but the goal of positive punishment is to remove or decrease a “bad” behavior while the goal of negative reinforcement is to encourage or increase a “good” behavior).

In the case of my client's dogs, six out of 7 of these risk factors applied (the only one that didn't was size of the dogs; these two dogs were roughly the same size/weight). With regard to risk factor #7, she had been using a broom, hose, and an air horn to separate the dogs which all classify as positive punishment, by definition.

In the study, 55 dog pairs (25.3%) had poor outcomes including 23 pairs that had to be completely separated, 24 pairs where one dog was euthanized, and 8 pairs where at least one of the dogs was rehomed.  Of the remaining 162 pairs who had a better outcome in the study, 100 pairs or 61.7% had improved behavior following behavioral modification, 32 pairs needed to continue to be separated during triggers, 21 pairs were kept separated anytime there were triggers or the dogs were unsupervised, and 9 pairs were kept muzzled when they were together and supervised. 

I reviewed all of this current research with my client before we did our in-person, socially distanced meeting. For this senior, continuing to try to manage her two dogs didn't feel like something she could safely do.  While she understood how to control resources, she also knew that with respect to her new dog, those resources worth guarding could (and did) change almost on a daily basis making that dog's behavior hard to predict.  While my client loved her new dog, she didn't want to do muzzle training and felt it was in the dog's best interest to go to a new home, where she could be an only dog.  Fortunately for this dog and owner, there was a family member who had been looking for a young dog and didn't have any other pets.  My client's hard work on the basic training and leash skills with this new dog meant that her family member who has taken the dog is off to a great start.  When I followed up with my client she indicated that while she felt a bit guilty about how relieved she was now, she did feel she'd made the right decision for herself and for her Golden Retriever.  Within a few days of being the only dog in the house, this dog had started to relax again, seek out her owner for attention, and enjoy her walks and play time. It's hard when your dogs don't get along.  I've been so fortunate that other than a few minor squabbles over the years, my dogs have always gotten along quite well with one another and with dogs visiting our home. Treating inter-dog aggression in your own home isn't easy, but it is worth doing, While not every dog pair will have a happy ending together, it is possible to find the solution that benefits everyone in the long term.

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me. And if you'd like to read the research study yourself, here's a link:

Even with visiting dogs who stay a few hours (like Bella the Rottweiler when she was a pup) or those who stay for several days (like Lucy the Cavalier), Desi and Ozzie share their toys, food, snacks, and love without issue.  No inter-dog aggression for any of these four dogs.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Why Can't I Get My Dog to Stop Barking?!

Just got off the phone with a new client.  She lives in a senior community and her 9 lb. barking dog is creating problems for her neighbors.  She's always had little dogs, but she's never had one that barked as much as this one.  She feels that the barking has gotten worse over time and at this point she's frustrated that nothing seems to be working to get the dog to settle down when people walk by their unit, knock on the door, etc. Turns out this dog also barks at the TV, when the phone rings, and sometimes in the middle of the night, waking up his human.  That's an awful lot of barking and several different triggers as well.  Here's what I told the client:

Dogs bark, that's a given. Some bark all the time, others rarely. Some bark only when someone is on their home turf, ringing the doorbell, knocking on the door, delivering mail, etc. For some dogs, it is other animals that set them off; the squirrel on the fence, the birds in the tree, the dog on the other side of the fence or the dreaded cat next door. I've met dogs who bark at the television and those that bark at the beeping microwave!  The one thing to keep in mind with respect to barking is can be controlled. Just as you can teach a dog to bark on command, you can also teach them to quiet.

When your dog barks, find out why. Go outside, go to the window, etc. Don't just holler at them to be quiet...find out what it is that is triggering them to bark. Acknowledge whatever it is and THEN ask for the quiet. For many dogs, once they see that you've validated what they've discovered, they stop barking. If, however, they don't stop barking once you've acknowledged them, then you must assign a consequence for them NOT heeding your request. The consequences assigned are NOT for barking  per se. Not only can we not completely get rid of dog barking, we really don't want to; dogs are here to alert us and that's a good thing. The consequences are there because the dog did not listen to what you told them to do. Just as you expect a "sit" when you ask for it, so it is with "quiet." So, what is an appropriate consequence for not quieting when asked? I am a big fan of time outs. Put your dog in their crate, in the laundry room, etc. and have them remain there for 3-5 minutes, or longer if they persist in barking. This will not make their crate (or the laundry room, for that matter) a negative. You are not grabbing your dog, swatting them, and shoving them into the crate or laundry room; you simply put them there without any fanfare at all. The idea here is to use social shunning (time away from you and their world) as a means of getting more compliant, attentive behavior from your dog.  For my senior client, catching her little dog to put him in a time out could also be challenging.  We decided that keeping a leash on the dog at all times would make catching him easier so he can be put in her bathroom for the time out.  We also agreed that turning on the fan in the bathroom will help to blot out any barking he does there in response to the time out!  I reminded her that he cannot be released from the time out until he is quiet, so the time out could end up being longer than 5 minutes.

If your dog is barking in your yard or on your porch, it is also important to interrupt your dog's barking with something other than the word "Come!" You don't want that command associated with anything negative, so calling them to come inside when they are barking in the yard will, by definition, make coming when called a negative for the dog. Instead, whistle, clap your hands, stomp your feet, or squeak a toy. When you have your dog's attention, use their name and ask for the quiet or redirect them to a toy, bone, etc. so that they have something else to do. Interrupting barking when it first occurs means it will be easier to redirect your dog to something else. The longer you let the barking persist before you interrupt it, the harder it is to get the dog to stop.  And remember that dogs who tend to bark incessantly/indiscriminately should not be left outdoors unattended as you won't be able to assign consequences to the behavior if you aren't home to do so.

So, while I agreed with my client that it is a real pain to get up at 3 a.m. to find out why her dog is barking, it is in her best interest to do so. It could be an opossum on her porch, but it could also be something more important like someone rattling the door knob or a fire in a nearby unit (that actually occurred which I think contributed to this dog's hyper-vigilant barking at night, in particular).  In the case of the fire, her barking dog was just doing his job. 

Given that this little dog also barks at sounds on the TV, the beeping microwave, and the phone ringing, we needed to discuss noise sensitivity and how to deal with that issue from a desensitization point of view. Just as some noise sensitive dogs become anxious and/or hide when they hear noises, some dogs (like my client's) are more reactive, barking at the offensive noise until it ceases.  My client is going to try some noise desensitization with her dog using sounds she can play on her computer at varying volumes, rewarding quiet behavior and redirecting the dog when he barks.  If this is not successful, we may move on to trying a drug called Sileo which has recently been found to help noise sensitive dogs become less anxious and reactive.  The drug is used short term, but can have long term effects in that within 1-6 doses, dogs no longer care about or react to noises they previously found triggering.  

I also reminded my client that it's important to communicate with her neighbors that she is aware her dog's barking is a nuisance and that she is actively trying to curb the behavior.  Not only will her neighbors appreciate knowing that she's aware of the problem, but that she is seeking help to get it under control as soon as possible.

I always feel a kindred spirit with clients whose dogs are barkers.  I have had collies for almost 15 years and as anyone who has had collies can attest to, they are a breed that likes to bark! Ozzie, in particular, is very "barky." He barks at squirrels, cats, when he plays, when he wants attention and thinks Desi is getting more than he is, when someone stares at him in the car, when you run with him, etc.  See? He's a barker.  I've spent a lot of time working with him, however, so he understands that while barking is allowed, he must quiet when told to do so.  For the most part, he's good about this.  When he persists and is defiant, he knows there will be consequences.  Ozzie is smart and doesn't usually push me to the point of a time out.  But if he does, you'll find him pouting in the laundry room.

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

Ozzie *quietly* keeping a watchful eye on the fence for squirrels.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Didn't I See You Walking Someone Else's Dog?

 Over the weekend, I posted a photo on Facebook of a client's dog.  This week for our appointment, I took him on a "field trip" into town so that we could work on his behavior out in public spaces.  You see, this is a pandemic pup.  He's been raised indoors and basically had all of his experiences limited to his own yard and neighborhood.  If these had been non-pandemic times, he would have attended a couple of rounds of puppy classes, met all of the friends of his kids while walking them to school, etc.  Since these are pandemic times, however, his experiences have been limited.  Now that we can be out in public more, it was time to put all of the training we've done at home in his yard to practical use, hence the field trip.  Here's what it looked like:

I put a car seat harness on my dog friend and loaded him into my car.  This means we worked on standing nicely to put the harness on, patience with being loaded into an unfamiliar vehicle, and even more patience while I connected his safety harness to my seatbelt.  Finally, we were off.  I was fortunate that he is a very quiet car companion. If he'd been barking or whining, we'd have worked on that as well.  When we got to town, patience was once again required as I got him out of the car, masked up, and removed his car harness, switching it out for his walking harness.  We walked all over town, up one street and down another.  Stopping at all crosswalks to practice sits and waiting to cross. We worked on not pulling on leash to meet other dogs and people.  If people wanted to greet him, I sent him out to the end of his 6 foot leash to say hi.  We'd already worked on not jumping on new people, so I crossed my fingers that he wouldn't jump when sent out on his own.  Whew!  No jumping.  People were lovely, telling him what a good boy he was, thus reinforcing his calm behavior.  Normally, I would have taken him into some of the dog-friendly stores, but given the limits on the number of people who could be in those stores at any given time, I didn't want to keep someone who was actually there to shop from being able to get in.  We stopped at several benches where I sat down and pretended to be working on my phone.  His job was to sit or lay quietly, not jumping on me for attention or whining to resume the walk.  This took a bit more practice as he really doesn't like it if I appear to be paying attention to anything but him!  By the 4th bench we stopped at, however, he had it figured out.  I treated it like a game; if he was quiet and didn't stare at me, he got a treat.  If he whined, jumped up, pawed me, or stared, he was ignored.  The hardest part of the lesson was walking past people sitting with their dogs.  My canine charge was fine; he knows better than to try to engage other dogs when on leash with me.  Those other dogs, however, often came flying at him to say hi.  I wasn't really worried about most of them as they were friendly. It was the two aggressive dogs, however, that gave me pause.  One actually dropped into a predatory posture, eyes dilated and frozen body before the pounce.  The owners were completely oblivious to their dog's behavior until he leaped up, nearly yanking one person's arm out of the socket and almost tipping over the cafe table! Yikes!  Luckily, I saw all of this before it happened and I scooped up my little buddy and gave the lunging/barking/snarling dog a wider berth as we went past.  While the other dog's owner did issue a small apology and indicated that his dog does this all the time, all I could think about was other dog owners who are likely less observant than me who just want to walk in town and window shop, and not have to be concerned about aggressive dogs coming at them.  While I firmly believe it is every dog owner's right to take their dogs in public, they do need to work with those dogs on good behavior in public spaces.  Probably would have been better to leave the dog we saw at home if they'd intended the trip out to lunch to be one without incident; they knew their dog had issues.  Or, if they couldn't leave him at home, how about humane muzzle training for him so that the general public would see the muzzled dog and naturally give them more space to keep the dog under threshold for aggression?  Food for thought.  The funniest part about all of this was the owner commented on my canine friend "shooting him stinkeye" after the incident as we were walking away.  I smiled behind my mask.  My little buddy knows good dog and human behavior when he sees it and that definitely wasn't it!

After an hour of walking around in town with all of those sights and smells and new people and things, my buddy was exhausted.  We headed back to the car where he was more than happy to trade his walking harness for the car harness and be lifted back into the vehicle and air-conditioned comfort for the ride back home.  Mission successful!

Turns out that someone I know saw us walking in town, but between the mask and the unfamiliar dog on the end of the leash (it wasn't one of my collies!), they figured they must be mistaken and didn't give me a shout out. When they saw the picture of the dog on Facebook, however, they knew it had been me after all and asked why I was walking someone else's dog.  Teaching your dog to be comfortable with friendly strangers and trust other people besides you is an important skill.  Dogs need to go to the vet's office and the groomer without us now, making this level of trust and good behavior in public even more important.  I am grateful to have clients who trust me with their canine family members and allow me to take them on these types of field trips where we can increase the distractions and teach life lessons in real world scenarios.  These sessions benefit everyone involved and result in happier families as a result.  Plus, my little buddy was exhausted when we returned home and took a much needed nap, thus giving his humans some additional time to themselves.

If your puppy or adolescent dog is ready for one-on-one field trips like this, let me know, and we can set one up in your area.  As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

ICYMI:  Here's my little Goldendoodle buddy waiting patiently 
for me to put my mask on so that we can begin our field trip!