Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Puppy Training 101

I have quite a few puppy clients right now. Pandemic puppies truly are all the rage!  Big or small, obtained through rescues, shelters or breeders, these puppies are out there, enjoying all the extra attention that people working and attending school from home can provide. While all of that extra attention is great, puppies do thrive on rules and structure.  Here is my short list of 10 things you should be doing for your puppies right now:

1.  Crate Training:  Even if you are home all the time, crate training is a skill your puppy needs to learn.  They can nap in their crate, sleep in there at night, even go there for time outs when needed (it won't make them hate their crate!).

2.  Naps:  All puppies need to have 3-4 scheduled naps each day.  Those naps should be in their crate to insure good sleep.  Just like little kids, they may not WANT to take that (crate) nap, but they NEED it!  Letting puppies "cat nap" wherever they lie down does not promote or encourage good sleeping patterns.

3.  Potty Training:  Puppies should be taken to a designated bathroom area every 30-45 minutes when they are awake and encouraged to go to the bathroom.  Once you figure out your puppy's toileting schedule, you can alter this.  Remember, however, that puppies need to toilet after eating or drinking, if they've been startled, after play, and when they wake up from naps.  

4. Never leave your puppy unattended:  Your puppy should be on leash with you or where you can see them at all times.  Don't give them free run of your home or you'll have lots of toileting accidents to contend with. If you can't watch your puppy, they should be in their crate or x-pen resting or with something to keep them occupied there like a kong or chew toy.

5.  Rotate your puppy's toys:  Daily toy rotation insures that your puppy is always interested in the toys you offer them as they seem new and exciting.  Make sure the toys offered challenge different modalities, meaning one toy is soft and crunchy, one is cuddly, and one is hard and good for chewing, for example. By having those three options each day, your puppy can choose based on their needs.  Rotating which toys meet those needs daily keeps their brains challenged and saves your furniture from puppy teeth!

6.  Control mouthing:  All puppies mouth their owners.  You want them to put their mouths on you so that they can learn how much pressure is too much.  If you feel the pressure of puppy teeth, squawk loudly and move away from your puppy.  Wait a moment and then offer a toy to play with so that they learn how to use their mouths constructively.

7.  Daily Training:  Incorporate basic training into your everyday activities.  Have your puppy sit and wait before being fed, for example.  Keep your training sessions short and frequent.  Puppies will learn a lot more from ten, 2 minute sessions than they will in one 20 minute session.  For best results, spread your training exercises throughout the day and among all family members.

8.  Walks are important:  Even if your puppy isn't fully vaccinated, you still need to take them for short walks to leash train them.  Do the walks around inside your house or in your own yard. When you do start walking them in public, keep your walks short and fun; even if you only manage to walk one block in 10 minutes, that might be perfect for your puppy!  Let them sniff, explore and watch the world around them.  Don't force them to walk at a certain pace, go a certain distance, or for a certain length of time. Walks are about quality and quality to a dog of any age is about sniffing and exploring.

9.  Zoomies:  Zoomies are about excitement and excitement can be good or bad.  If your puppy is racing around following something stressful like a trip to the vet, this is your puppy running off their anxiety about that experience.  If they do it following a bath, they are trying to rid themselves of the water and that smelly shampoo you used!  And if they do it in the evening, that's often about being over-tired and having missed one (or more) of their daily naps.  Remember, too, if you laugh and encourage the zoomies, your pups will offer them to keep you entertained!  That's reinforcement!

10.  Handling exercises are important too:  Handle your puppies every single day. Look in their mouths, in their ears, between their toes.  Begin grooming your puppies early whether that's using a gentle brush or a grooming mitt.  Introduce a puppy toothbrush and dog toothpaste and start cleaning their teeth as you handle their mouths.  Introduce all grooming tools early (including nail trimmers and/or a nail dremmel) so that your puppy doesn't find them stressful or scary.

Obviously this list isn't comprehensive, it's just a few of the things I see many of my new puppy clients neglecting with their pandemic puppies.  As always, if you need help with your pet (pandemic puppy, or otherwise!), you know where to find me.

Some of you may remember Freddie.  He was a sweet Goldendoodle puppy who lived with us for a week to get his training back on track.  Here he is learning how to do sit/stays with the big dogs.  He was an excellent observational learner and the collies were great teachers!

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Helping Your Dogs Keep Their Cool!

Summer is definitely here in Northern California.  We are being hit with a heat wave where daily temperatures are in the 100's and the night time temperatures aren't dropping much below the upper 70's to mid 80's. My two collies would like it to be known that this is NOT good collie weather at all!

It's incredibly frustrating for me to see people out walking their dogs in the middle of the day when it's the hottest.  Just now, I looked out the window to see someone walking their dog; the dog's mouth was wide open, eyes squinty, and tongue out as far out as it would go, bouncing around on the hot sidewalk.  This was upsetting to see.  If you can feel the heat of the sidewalk through your shoes (which I can, I just checked!) and/or it's too hot to touch with the palm of your hand, then it's too hot to be walking your dog out there.  Plus, a dog who is panting that hard to try to cool off is in obvious distress. Understanding how dogs cool themselves is helpful, but keeping them comfortable in the summertime is partly our job as their owners too.

People sweat when it's hot and that does help cool us off as that moisture evaporates cooling our skin.  Dogs actually sweat too. Dogs have merocrine glands in their paw pads making sweating through their paws one way for a dog to cool off. Dogs also have apocrine glands (often referred to as sweat glands) located throughout their bodies, but these glands don't do much for cooling and are more about scent marking and identification among individual dogs. Unfortunately, however, dogs cannot cool themselves completely just through the pads of their feet. The primary way dogs cool themselves is through panting.

When a dog pants, the moisture on their tongues evaporates, as well as the moisture that exists in the lining of their lungs. In order to make panting most effective though, the dog must have access to water to help keep this system working effectively.  Making sure your dogs have access to clean, cool water when it's hot is a necessity.  Sometimes if they are really hot, however, they won't want to drink and thus this method of cooling won't be as effective.  Dogs do regulate their body temperature through vasodilation as well, a process by which blood vessels expand bringing hot blood closer to a dog's skin surface and helping them to then circulate cooler blood throughout their bodies.  The problem with this cooling mechanism is that young dogs may overheat faster than the system can cool them, and elderly or physically compromised dogs may also be unable to cool themselves effectively without your direct intervention. Heat exhaustion can very quickly turn into a life-threatening event for a dog if their humans aren't vigilant.  Here are the signs to watch for:
  • heavy or rapid panting
  • heightened salivation
  • ataxia (stumbling or lack of coordination)
  • bright red gums indicating that vasodilation mentioned above
  • rapid heart rate
  • feeling very warm to the touch
  • muscle tremors (some dogs will even experience seizures)
  • loss of consciousness
So what can you do if your dog is overheating?  Get them to a cool area, preferably indoors near the air conditioning or near a fan, and get their heads and feet wet. As the cool air blows across their bodies, that water on their heads and feet will start to bring their body temperature down. Keep putting cool water on them until they are able to drink and then offer fresh water. If your dog isn't able to recuperate at home, contact your veterinarian for further care.

So, what can you do every day to insure that your dog is as comfortable as possible when the weather is hot? Only walk your dogs early in the morning and late in the evening when the air temperature is a bit lower and the ground isn't too hot for their feet.  You can even purchase cooling vests for your dogs to help keep their body temperature lower, or cooling collars which work well for small dogs or those with short coats.

Fresh, cool water is a must.  If you have bowls outside, make sure the water in them isn't too hot to drink.  If your dogs must be outside, make sure they have access to shade along with several water bowls to drink from.  You can add in a large, plastic child's wading pool as well for them to soak their warm bodies in and rapidly cool off. Don't be afraid to drop some ice cubes in the water in their bowls and in the pool.  Those ice cubes will melt quickly and cool off the water. Better yet, bring your dogs indoors and let them rest near fans or A/C vents to stay cool. If you don't have hard floor surfaces for your dog to spread out on and cool off, consider cooling mats for summer resting spots instead of dog beds or rugs.

Cool treats are not just refreshing, but they can help your dog cool off.  Some dogs like ice cubes and those are fine to give them.  Frozen yogurt is refreshing and you can use liquid yogurt to make your dog homemade frozen"pupsicles" to enjoy. Even giving your dog apple slices or frozen blueberries or strawberries will be a refreshing snack on a hot day.

Finally, remember to keep your animals well-groomed.  Brushing or combing them means you will be getting out all of the loose fur that keeps them from thermoregulating properly on their own.  You will notice that your dogs shake their whole bodies after you groom them; this puffs up the coats of medium to long-coated dog breeds allowing for good air flow to their skin.

Hot days don't have to be painful.  Thinking ahead to when to walk your dogs and when to just let them rest is the bare minimum we can do.  Adding in wading pools, refreshing treats, and cooling options are even better.

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

Ozzie and Desi wearing their "Swamp Cooler Dog Cooling Vests" from Ruffwear.  I got one for Westley too because even smooth collies get warm during the summer months!

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

When the Internet Isn't Your Friend

I would say that most people know better than to believe everything they read on the Internet.  While your ability to access possible answers to your questions is literally at your fingertips all the time, some of those answers aren't just erroneous, they are purposefully misleading.  Case in point, a recent paid promotion/ad and email campaign by an organization that "will allow you to legally bring your pet anywhere you live or travel" "just click to qualify instantly for ESA approval."  If you peruse the comments made on these posts, there are a plethora of people talking about their desire to take their pets everywhere they go, avoiding extra expenses they might incur if they went through the more traditional routes.  Bold claims are made that you'll be able to fly without additional fees; rent and live in homes with no pets policies in place; bring your pet on any public transit; and avoid pet deposits where they might otherwise be applied.

The company is using a very broad interpretation of the Americans with Disabilities Act to "certify" any pet to allow them to be labeled an "emotional support animal, or ESA."  While the Fair Housing Amendments Act does allow for certified ESA's to live with their owners and be exempt from additional pet fees or deposits, it does not cover pet owners who simply want to avoid those added expenses. You must have a legitimate emotional service animal to meet that criteria. Why bother to work with your doctor, psychiatrist, and/or psychologist to determine if your pet meets the criteria for ESA certification when you can just go through this company who has doctors standing by the certify any animal?  Bear in mind, they will never meet your or your animal; they will just have you answer a few questions and guarantee certification to 99% of applicants. WOW.  Just. WOW.  The rules and expectations for service animals are clear, including extensive training required to perform specific tasks for the owner and clear consequences if the animal fails to perform those services or behaves inappropriately in a public setting in that they can be removed from service. While ESA's are expected to have basic manners and an ability to tolerate a wide range of experiences and situations, this is not required, and that is the loophole that often gets pet owners feeling that their pet qualifies as an ESA.  And these organizations that will certify anyone just emboldens them further.

One other thing you can find on the Internet are dozens of reports of pets on airplanes, in stores, etc. behaving badly whose owners claim they are ESA's and thus exempt from the usual rules about animals in those locations.  In fact, there are numerous accounts of so called ESA's behaving so badly that airport staff, other passengers and patrons, and legitimate service animals were injured. This is unacceptable.  I understand that pet owners love their animals and want to spend as much time with them as possible. I don't feel, however, that it is every pet owner's right to take their pets with them everywhere they go.  Rather, I'd like to see animals with the temperament and behavior for that role be the ones who get certified and placed with owners who really need them in order to have a good quality of life and thrive.

So, what can you do when you see these ads/promotions? Report them like I did.  Report them on Facebook. Report them on Instagram.  Report them to the BBB.  Don't make it harder for people who need ESA's to have them.  Please don't make it harder for people with disabilities to go out in public spaces, find adequate housing, and access the resources they need.  And don't perpetuate the problem by "certifying" your pet through one of these online resources as an ESA when they aren't one. As a lot of you know, I have therapy dogs. During non-pandemic times, we visited people in the community who could use the uplifting presence of trained therapy dogs.  My dogs are not ESA's.  And they are not service animals.  I make sure I tell people that as I've often been told how beautiful/well-trained etc. my service dog is.  Desi is most certainly beautiful and well-trained. He is not, however, a service animal.  Making sure that people know the difference between a therapy animal, an ESA, and a service animal is important and I consider community education to be part of my role as a member of a pet assisted therapy organization. 

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

A service dog certified and trained through the Wounded Warrior Project checking in with their owner during water therapy.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Giving Dogs the Power to Choose

Last week I talked about consent; giving dogs the opportunity to choose whether to interact with new people or new situations rather than forcing them to "be nice" or "go say hi" when they don't feel comfortable doing so. This time around, I'd like to expand on the idea of choice and discuss what giving your dog choices and options does for their mental health and psychological well-being in other situations besides greetings.

If you think about it, we don't really give our dogs a lot of choices.  We feed them what we choose to feed them, walk them where we want to walk, and when we want to walk.  Even the toys they have available are the ones we've picked out. While some might argue that the freedom from having to make any decisions at all is liberating, I think it is actually quite stressful.  Dogs are thinking beings.  While it may appear that the only decisions they are making are those that involve whether to lay on this dog bed or that one, they are actually capable of making quite a few decisions about their care if given the chance to do so.  Something as simple as asking them, "do you want canned pumpkin or green beans" and showing them those options so that they may choose, has long term psychological benefits.  If you are giving them puzzle toys for feeding or slow feeder bowls, show them a couple of options and ask which one they want to eat from.  When you go for a walk, let them choose the direction and while walking, if they want to explore a new area, let them. Take them with you to shop for toys, dog beds, etc. (when possible), so that they can pick what they like or find interesting at that time.

Really look at your dog when you give them the choices.  At first, they may appear confused or overwhelmed.  They aren't used to making those decisions and all of the choices look good at first when you are talking about food and toys!  There are certain situations, however, where those choices they make for themselves may actually lead to obvious relief of tension and stress.  For example, if you have a tendency to walk your dog on autopilot, focused on walking a certain distance or route everyday, you might be missing cues from your dog that his lack of choice with regard to this arrangement is stressful.  Look at your dog on your walks!  Do they look happy, or frustrated that you don't stop so they can sniff.  Do they look like they are enjoying the pace, or really having a hard time keeping up.  Watch your dog's body language as that will tell you very clearly when your dog is having a good time and when he's not. For older or infirm dogs, maybe a walk is not their choice. Maybe they would prefer a nosework game in the yard or in the house where it's cooler.  Perhaps they'd get better exercise with a modified agility course in your backyard where they can choose where they want to go next and earn treats for stepping through hula hoops, moving around soccer cones, rolling an exercise ball, etc.

Sure, it may take a bit longer to walk the dog if he's choosing the route and yes, it may take longer to let your dog choose which food topping he wants and which bowl he wants to eat from.  Taking that extra time, however, shows your dog that you care about him and the way his mind works.  You are demonstrating your capacity for compassion and understanding.  You will be making most of your dog's big decisions for him.  Letting him have a say in some of those decisions that are part of daily life, however, will result in happier, less anxious, more engaged dogs.  The power of choice is something we humans often take for granted.  Our dogs most certainly don't.

As many of you have pointed out, we have a lot of toys to choose from at our house, three toy boxes full in fact!  I love watching Westley choose what he wants to play with.  He'll root around in all three boxes, throwing toys hither and yon until he finds the one he wants.  He will often choose something that hasn't seen the light of day in months.  He gets really excited when he finds one of these gems and will toss it around proudly which usually results in interest from Ozzie and Desi as well.  He is definitely a dog who enjoys different textures as you can see in this picture of him with two toys he found to play with, from the bottom of the toy boxes, the last time he was home for a visit.