Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Canine Controversy

I've been seeing a lot of articles lately about the beautiful Standard Poodle, Siba, who won "Best in Show" at Westminster. Apparently, a CNN correspondent ridiculed the Poodle's cut and made scathing remarks about dog shows in general.  Fortunately, there was a clap back as people explained why Poodles have their hair cut that way (they are water retrieving dogs and the cut makes them more aerodynamic when moving through water while protecting and warming vital muscles used for swimming and retrieving) and making excellent arguments in defense of dog shows as a way to showcase the different dog breeds and what they are designed to do.  Yes, designed.  Dogs have been selectively bred over thousands of years to serve particular purposes for people, hence the different breed categories at those dog shows.  So, all of this really got me to thinking about the people I meet and the dogs they choose.

So often, I have clients choosing dogs based on the popularity of the breed or because they "met a really nice one." Rather than giving thought to where they live, how they live, and how much time (and money) they have to spend on training, coat care, vet services, etc.  And then there are the clients who choose a dog breed based on appearance alone without any thought to what the dog was bred to do.  Don't get me wrong, I love the soft coat, 40 lb body size, and beautiful brain of a Border Collie as much as anyone else. They are not, however, the best choice if you are frail, inactive, work 14 hour days, or have an aversion to exercise. Border Collies that don't get enough mental and physical stimulation every single day are difficult to live with.  And, yet, I've had clients choose this breed because they are "so cute and so smart" without any idea of how they will challenge that dog for the next 15 years.  Same goes for the clients who love Beagles, but have given little thought to the fact that they howl and bay to communicate, often have poor recall because their noses get the better of them, and can escape any enclosure you attempt to confine them in.  Again, I love Beagles.  They are a great size, have a low maintenance coat, and usually love kids.  However, if digging, barking, and running off are a problem for you, then this isn't your breed.  Border Collies are herding dogs and Beagles are scent hounds.  Knowing whether you can live with the traits inherent to those classifications is key and simply must take precedence over outward appearance, popularity, or the fact that you met one once that stole your heart.

Finally, there is the client with the Dachshund who has complained that he doesn't have any stamina when she runs with him.  If she wanted a running partner, she should have chosen a dog with longer legs! Dachshunds are scent hounds whose bodies are designed for digging and tunneling after badgers, rabbits, etc.  They are not built for long distance running. Same goes for the client in Arizona with the English Bulldog.  She complained that she had to keep the A/C on all the time just for him and it was costing her a fortune.  Umm.  English Bulldogs are brachycephalic.  They have difficulty breathing in weather extremes.  While Bulldogs like to lay in the sunshine, they overheat and will seek out a cool place.  She lives in an area of Arizona that is routinely in the triple digits.  That may not have been the best place to retire with her Bully.

Why am I telling you all of this? I guess because it isn't just the general public (or ill-informed CNN correspondents!) who don't understand the importance of the different dog breeds, why they look the way they do, and what they were bred for.  Even dog lovers can get caught up in the hoopla and lose sight when trying to find the right canine companion for their living situation.

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, (or you want to talk about dog breeds!), you know where to find me.

Ozzie is a Collie which means he is a herding dog. 
 This is him waiting for his turn to go in the pen and round up some sheep.
Collies live for that!

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Power of Being Calm

I met again with a client I hadn't seen in a several months.  She has a very anxious dog; he's been anxious every day of his life and now at almost 6 years of age, his anxious behavior is affecting the other dogs in the house, and not surprisingly, the people too. Interestingly enough, drug therapy didn't help this dog at all; we tried several different drugs and altered the doses numerous times with the help of her veterinarian, and all we succeeded in doing was making her anxious dog really tired.  I encouraged the owner to return to behavioral modification to relieve some of the pressure everyone is experiencing in this busy household.  She invited me to come out and help her do just that.

Although the dogs definitely barked when I arrived, no one was over the top and the anxious dog brought me his ball, his go-to stress reliever.  As we talked, the dogs settled in around us, watchful, but calm overall. The owner indicated that this isn't how it is at all and that they were showing off for me! I told her it's more likely that she's relaxed having me there, and her dogs feel that relief too.  We let the dogs out for a bathroom break and she indicated that this is often when excessive barking occurs.  As soon as I saw them all relieve themselves, I used a dog whistle to get their attention, then called them back inside for treats.  The owner indicated that's DEFINITELY not what usually happens.  Because they are really anxious on walks, I suggested splitting the dogs up for walking.  She was afraid this would make more work for her, but I told her the walks would be less work because they'd be less stressful. She could divide her walking time among the dogs, and focus on letting them sniff on their walks to burn off energy, rather than trying to walk a certain distance or for a certain amount of time.  As she was getting the leashes out, all the dogs started getting pretty riled up.  I had brought a shaker can with me (just an old soda can filled with pebbles), so I shook the can behind my back to interrupt their frantic barking.  All the dogs stopped barking and began looking around for the sound.  At this point, she could call them over, ask them to sit, and reward them by putting on leashes.  Out on the walk, I found the dogs to be pretty good overall. I had the owner begin encouraging them to sniff and they sniffed with gusto.  Formerly bark-worthy things like moving cars, other people and dogs, etc. got a few glances and whines, but no frenzy.  The owner indicated that it was my presence that was resulting in their best behavior. I told her no, it was the fact that SHE was calmer with me there, AND we were not trying to walk all the dogs at the same time AND we were redirecting their attention to sniffing.  By the time we finished walking all of the dogs, they were all very calm and content resting on the couch.

Sometimes it really is just a change in mindset that gets the ball rolling.  Reminding yourself to stay calm and in the moment with your dog.  Encourage sniffing.  Stop and assess where you are walking and change direction if you feel overwhelmed.  Little tools like dog whistles and shaker cans are great at interrupting behavior.  You just have to be ready to follow them up with direction to what you really want your dogs to do.  There are no "magic pills," and for some dogs medication does little to relieve their anxiety.  By focusing on what we as dog owners can do to relieve stress and remove some of the pressures our dogs are feeling, WE are essentially "the magic pills."  Small changes can have a large impact.  Never underestimate the power of being calm. And asking for help.

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

Ozzie's anxiety on walks has improved over the years.  He's less anxious about bikes and cars, though still very watchful with scooters and skateboards.  He's an avid sniffer and we always encourage him to do so, knowing it helps him relax and enjoy his walks more.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Surviving Your Dog's Adolescence!

I had a lovely conversation with a dog owner in one of my classes.  She has an adolescent German Shepherd Dog who, as she put it, "really knows how to push my buttons." The dog has been through several training classes (and the owner has attended several of my seminars as well) and yet there are still challenges to be faced daily.  Pulling on leash, barking on and off at other dogs, not listening, counter surfing, jumping up on visitors, and stealing her owner's stuff were just a few of the highlights.  This dog owner is not alone.  These are all very common issues to be faced when you live with an adolescent dog.

Dogs go through adolescence from roughly 8 or 9 months of age until about 18 months to 2 years old, depending on breed. As with teenage humans, adolescent dogs are experiencing a great deal of physical and psychological changes that effect their behavior.  They aren't those puppies that want to follow you everywhere and hang on your every word anymore. They are more independent, free-thinking, and often defiant.  But it isn't all horrible.  Adolescent dogs are quick learners, ready to work on a moment's notice. And a little patience on your part will go a long way to surviving and thriving during your dog's adolescent phase.

First of all, it's time to change things up.  Some of the puppy toys and chewing options your dog had as a young puppy are no longer challenging or satisfying.  You will need to step up your game and expand the offerings to bones, chews, and interactive toys suitable to this age.  Durability of the toys and chews is a must as adolescent dogs have adult teeth and can be hard-core chewers.  Interactive toys and chews combat boredom as well as provide mental exercise and jaw stimulation for your developing dog.  Rotate those toys and chews daily to maintain their novelty and interest for your dog.  Pick up your stuff if you don't want your dog to get it.  Continue to work on leave it and drop it.  Don't leave your dog alone unsupervised in the kitchen where he can counter surf without consequences from you.

With adolescence comes physical growth.  These dogs are getting bigger, bolder, and rowdier.  Make sure your dog is getting enough physical exercise daily, taking into account that their bones and joints are still developing.  They will want to explore on their walks (hence all the pulling on leash!), sniffing constantly.  That's completely normal. Let them sniff! Sniffing is a great anxiety reliever for dogs and actually serves to "wear them out" on their walks. And while naps in their crates are still important, you will likely notice that your adolescent dog has a different sleep pattern than he did as a puppy.

Opportunities for socialization are still important.  Taking your adolescent dogs to training classes geared toward them is warranted.  Classes with a focus on leash walking, public manners, and even tricks training will be what you want to look for.  Take your dog with you as much as possible so that they can continue to meet new people and experience new places and activities thus helping to move through some of the fear and blustery behavior exhibited by adolescent dogs in social situations.  Don't reinforce their fear, but be supportive.  Let them stop and assess the situation. It's okay to bark too.  Be patient and consistent in your responses as well.

Practice recall with your adolescent dogs every day.  Make coming to you fun and rewarding. If your dog is slow to come (or won't come at all!), put a long leash on him before you start working.  Get your dog's attention FIRST.  Then, call your dog with an upbeat voice and if necessary, slowly start putting pressure on that long leash to get the dog to move toward you. Once he arrives, get excited and offer love and treats for a job well done.

I know that it may seem like all of the training you did with your puppy went right in one ear and out the other judging by your adolescent dog's behavior, but don't despair. They did hear you and they did learn those behaviors, they just are behaving like typical teenagers.  They will come back around as long as you remain calm, supportive, patient and persevere in getting what you want from them.  And if you need more help, or want to commiserate with other folks dealing with adolescent dogs, I am offering a short course on dealing with your dog's adolescence.  There will be an option to take the class with your adolescent dog, or for people with puppies who want to get a head start, they can sign up to take the class without their pups.  Here's the link:

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

Adolescent dog defiance, collie style. Westley had been told twice not to dig up and eat grass, but he ignored my daughter's request.  When she removed him to redirect him, the tell-tale evidence of his shenanigans was right there on his nose!

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Planning Ahead!

I've had two clients call this week worried about what they will do with their dogs when they travel this spring and summer.  These are clients whose dogs are special needs; one has a dog who can be unpredictable and aggressive, and the other has a deaf dog with separation anxiety. Both clients have managed (up until this point) to not be away from home with their entire family in tow.  Both of these dogs are fine as long as their routines are in place and a familiar person in the immediate family is there with them.  Family vacations are important, but these two clients have been putting them off as they didn't want to face the inevitable. So, what should they do if everyone is going to be gone at the same time?

Given that both of these dogs feel most comfortable at home, my first suggestion was to see if there was anyone these owners trusted to come into their homes and take care of their dogs. While the deaf dog with separation anxiety could, in theory, be kenneled, he would have to be kenneled someplace with 24 hour care, and the aggressive dog wouldn't be a candidate for kenneling as new environments and strangers are triggering. The other option would be to "board" the dogs with someone they trust in that person's home.  The aggressive dog has a couple of dog friends and the owner trusts those dogs' owners, so perhaps a trade could be made where my client would watch one of their dogs in her home in the future in exchange for watching her dog now.  She does need to be transparent, however, about her dog's aggressive behavior.  She's always been very forthright with new people who meet her dog, so I feel confident that she can make this work, it just may take some time.  The deaf dog with separation anxiety may end up spending a few days staying with someone who operates an in-home daycare.  That dog has no aggression issues and can be around other dogs, care just has to be taken not to leave him alone and to make sure he is always on leash when outside as he will wander off and can't hear his name being called.  He does respond to sign language, but finding a caregiver who signs may be just more than my clients can find in a few months' time!

The bottom line is this:  with some planning ahead, I anticipate that both of these clients will be able to safely leave their dogs behind for a few days while they vacation with their families.  By planning far in advance, they optimize their chances for success and ease their minds about leaving their dogs behind.  Not every boarding or kenneling solution works for every dog or every dog owner.  And dogs with special needs like those I see on a daily basis, need just a bit more work to find the perfect fit.

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

I hated the thought of leaving Ozzie when he was just a 6 month old puppy!  
However, he stayed with friends who reinforced boundaries, including naps in the x-pen, and basically made sure that he was well-cared for in our absence.  In return, we watch their dogs with an equal amount of love and care when they are gone!