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.