Wednesday, December 29, 2021
Wednesday, December 22, 2021
I love the holidays. I love the smell of a fresh Christmas tree, the aroma of my cranberry kitchen candle burning, sugar cookies fresh from the oven, and having everyone home for Christmas. What I don't love is the stress! Ozzie has always been my mirror, reflecting back at me my moods, feelings, and frustrations. He feels the holiday stress as much as I do. Because of this, I make a concerted effort to work on my stress and his through mindful activities together. If you are feeling a bit overwhelmed as well, maybe these tips could help you too!
1. Take a walk. Ozzie and I walk every day, rain or shine. Our holiday season walks are a necessity for our sanity. We love to walk really early in the morning when there's hardly anyone else out there. We look at the sky together, Ozzie sniffs and stalks squirrels, and he will bump me with his head and grin whenever he feels particularly light-hearted. I treasure our morning walks; and if Desi is up for walking in the morning too, having him along just adds to our pleasure.
2. Stop Moving. This is a hard one for me, but I make sure to do it anyway. I just stop, sit down on the floor or a dog bed, and do absolutely nothing except pet a dog. No phone, no TV, not even a book. Just a girl and a couple of collies breathing in and out.
3. Nourish your body. We love apples. I'll slice an apple and share it with Ozzie and he'll happily crunch away on it, waiting for more. His crunching sounds make me smile. Apples are good for us both in more ways than one.
4. Treat yourself. Anyone who knows me, knows I love to bake. I find it stress-reducing, and having that delicious reward at the end is gratifying. I especially like to bake things that can be shared with Ozzie and Desi.
5. Prioritize. This is really hard for me, but it's something easily learned from a dog. They don't worry about what others think of them for taking a nap, taking a break, playing, or just doing nothing. Prioritize what really needs to happen and what can wait or be skipped altogether.
6. Soothe your soul. Whether it's music, a massage, a soak in a hot tub, or all three, schedule some daily relaxation for yourself. While you're at it, treat your pets to some T-Touch so that their sore muscles, aches, and pains can find some much needed relief on these cold, winter days too.
Finally, it's okay to feel grumpy, grouchy, and less than festive. And if it's your dog who is feeling a bit like the Grinch, that's okay too. Give them the space they need to recharge; put them in their crate with a frozen Kong, or in another room with a bully stick or bone to chew on. A little peace and quiet (and something hard to gnaw on!) will have them back to their usual selves in no time. And remember, not every human or animal is an extrovert. Give those introverts space and an out when they need it.
I hope all of you have a wonderful holiday, one that serves you and brings you joy. As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me. I'm over here, sitting on a dog bed, sharing a snack with a couple of collies who stayed on Santa's good list all year long!
Wednesday, December 15, 2021
I met with a client this week who has been struggling with her dog for a couple of months. His body is big and he's passed his first birthday, but he still behaves like a puppy. He has accidents in the house; he chews anything and everything (no piece of furniture is safe); he doesn't heed signals from her other dogs when they shun his exuberant behavior; he's very needy; and he still needs enforced nap times. Basically, he's a 120 lb puppy and his owner is quite frustrated and downright concerned. Her veterinarian told her that she doesn't discipline the dog enough; her neighbor told her the dog needed more training; and her family has told her that the dog isn't welcome at family events until she can get better control of him.
When I observed this dog, here's what I saw immediately: A puppy. Not an adolescent dog. Not an adult dog, but a puppy. A BIG puppy, but a puppy nonetheless. His behavior was consistent with what you would expect to see in a 6-8 month old puppy, not a dog who had just celebrated his first birthday. He wasn't being defiant when he pulled on the leash, he was excited to explore! He wasn't being defiant when he chewed on the furniture, he still needs direction to appropriate chewing outlets and boundaries to help him make the right choices. The hardest thing is going to be helping this big puppy move past his fears and uncertainty when out in public so that it's safe for his owner to walk him (when he gets scared or spooked, he wants to bolt for home).
Dogs, just like people, can experience developmental delays. Those delays can be genetic in origin, or they can be due to something that happened during the dam's pregnancy, during birth, etc. Some puppies get stepped on or laid on, and some are born as singletons or the runt of their litter. All of these scenarios could result in a puppy, and thus a dog, with developmental delays.
If your dog has developmental delays, you will need to be more patient with her. She may take longer to get through puppyhood, experiencing longer or more frequent fear stages, having accidents in the house more often, and seemingly ending up over threshold or being more reactive than other puppies or dogs her age. Thus, while most people report their puppies, regardless of breed, being completely housetrained by the time they are 10-11 months old, a puppy with developmental delays may be 18 months old before reaching that milestone. And while most puppies go through four fear stages in their first year, a pup with developmental delays may seem to be stuck in a fear stage for weeks to months at a time. It is also true that while most gangly, loose-limbed puppies become sleek, well-coordinated adolescent dogs, those with developmental delays may seem off balance or uncoordinated a bit longer. One caveat to all of this, however, is that you can't just assume that an adolescent dog who is still having house training accidents, or is fearful, or seems to trip over her own feet has developmental delays. Your first step always is to visit your veterinarian and rule out the other, medical causes for these behaviors before assuming that a developmental delay is the culprit.
So, back to my client. She's been to see her veterinarian several times to rule out medical issues because she was sure her dog must have had a bladder infection given the number of accidents the dog was having! Nope, the dog is perfectly healthy, just really a 6 or 7 month old puppy living inside the body of a 1 year old, young adult dog. So, here's what we are going to do to ease my client's anxiety and help her dog thrive and mature to the best of his abilities:
Set and maintain clear boundaries: While my client had crate trained her dog as a puppy, she'd quit using it once she thought he was an adult and wouldn't need it anymore. We are bringing back the crate for nap times, and enforcing those nap times, to make sure this dog is well-rested. We are also introducing an x-pen to confine the dog when he's awake but can't be supervised. That way, he can't chew the furniture or constantly pounce on her senior dogs for attention.
Adhere to a predictable schedule: Having a set schedule that the dog can predict and that the owner can stick to will be key. A lot of anxiety for dogs comes from not knowing what will happen next, or thinking it's time for something to happen, and then it doesn't. For dogs with developmental delays, willy-nilly schedules, missed walks, etc. are not just frustrating, they are anxiety-provoking and stressful.
Increase both the mental and physical exercise the dog receives daily: Two walks a day with a focus on sniffing and exploring are a must. Simple, interactive toys like snuffle mats and food dispensing balls to build brain connections are also necessary. The third component we are adding in are balance and coordination boosters, which will ultimately increase the dog's confidence. Using wobble boards, hula hoops, and bosu balls, this dog will learn to balance his big body, lift himself a few inches off of the ground, etc., thus making him able to step off of a curb without tripping over his big feet.
Increasing the amount of time the dog is on leash: We are going to keep my client's dog on leash more; he can drag it around the house so that someone can step on it, if need be, to keep him from jumping up. He can also be walked on leash inside the house to increase his confidence with being on leash and help him to learn not to pull. There is no hard and fast rule that says walks on leash need to be outdoors. Leash walks can be done anywhere, inside the house, in your yard, in your garage, etc. Anywhere you have space to walk with your dog is an opportunity to work on leash etiquette.
Clear communication: Using hand signals and verbal markers, my client will make a bigger effort to connect with her dog. He watches her all the time, waiting for feedback, and now she's going to make a conscientious effort to give it to him. She's going to let him know when he's having success by saying “Yes!” and doling out treats and use redirection and time outs for when he invariably makes mistakes. She's going to learn t-touch so that she can use handling and massage as a way to calm her dog and reinforce their bond.
We all learn differently and at different paces. Some people find math easy, for example, and others think of math as a foreign language that they just can't figure out. Dogs are just like us in that regard; some find learning to walk on a leash to be very easy, while others find it quite challenging and anxiety provoking. There's one thing we can all agree on: The world of dogs and dog owners has plenty of room for all types of abilities and aptitudes.
As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.
Wednesday, December 8, 2021
I received so many requests for another set of "five minute training exercises" from followers after last week's blog post! I'm really pleased that you enjoyed these easy to do exercises with big behavioral payoffs for your dogs, so here are five more exercises you can do for five minutes each day:
1. Wait before going out the door or jumping out of the car; Make sure your dog understands stay before you teach them to wait. Stay is a permanent command, meaning you will always go back to your dog and release them from their stay. For wait, your dog can be told when it is safe for them to proceed, without you returning to them to do so. For example, have your dog sit on leash at the front door and stand on the leash. Tell them to "wait," and open your door. If they try to bolt out the door, they won't get far because you are standing on the leash! Say something like "Uh oh!" or "Nuh uh!" and bring them back, have them sit, tell them wait, and try again. Continue to do this until your dog will sit and wait at the door. Once they will do this reliably, then you will say something like "Now we go!" or "The coast is clear!" and head out the door with a calmer dog. For the car, have them in their car harness or crate for rides. When you stop the car and intend to let them out, don't allow them to bolt from the car. Again, tell them "wait," as you unhook the harness or open the crate door. Repeat the wait command if you have to do so. Then, hook on your leash and tell them "Now we go!" or "The coast is clear!" as they exit your vehicle. Never let your dog exit the car without being on leash as they could be distracted by a cat, squirrel, passerby, etc. and exit your car, cross the street, or run into traffic versus into your house or yard as you intended.
2. Take treats nicely: Do not teach your dog the gentle or easy command for this one. Putting taking treats nicely onto a command implies that there is a time or place where they won't have to take treats nicely and that's simply not the case! Your dog should always take a treat nicely, when offered. Instead, set them up to succeed every time by shaping the behavior you want around food. Hold a low value treat (kibble works well for this) in a closed fist and hold your fist out in front of your dog. She'll be able to smell the food and will bang on your hand with her nose, teeth, lips, etc. None of these behaviors will get you to release the kibble. When your dog gently nuzzles or licks at your hand, flip your hand open so she can take the kibble from the palm of your hand. Repeat this over and over with kibble until your dog simply approaches that closed fist and sits in front of you waiting for your hand to flip over and the kibble to magically appear in the palm of your hand. Once you can do this with kibble, repeat the exercise with low value treats, high value treats, and desirable "people" food like cheese, meat, etc. Once your dog is proficient at automatically taking treats gently from you, start adding in other people to your exercises to ensure that they always take treats nicely, regardless of who is offering them.
3. Stop grabbing hands, clothing, or the leash: This is an exercise in self control. Many dogs get so excited about going out for a walk that they start grabbing anything that they can get their mouths on, including us! Your first step will be to decrease the value that the leash inherently has for them. This means attaching an old leash to your dog's harness or collar (one that you really don't care if it gets dirty or destroyed!) and letting them drag it around while you are home doing other things. Basically, you want the leash being attached to their collar or harness to no longer be a thrill. Periodically pick up the leash your dog is dragging around as this used to signal to them that a walk or trip outside was going to happen. Now, when you pick up the leash, ask them for another behavior (sit, touch, watch me, shake, etc.), one that doesn't require them to open their mouths is the key. When they do this calm behavior, reward with a "yes!" and a treat from your pocket. Continue picking up the leash and marking a calm behavior throughout your training sessions. Once your dog can do this easily, you are ready to apply this same routine at the front door and on your walk. During the walk, keep your dog under threshold for grabbing and mouthing by redirecting them to "go sniff!" and even dropping treats on the ground for them to find. You can also redirect to a toy or bully stick you carry in your pocket, but mostly you want to be shaping calm behaviors on leash and keeping your dog from getting over-stimulated. If your dog still grabs your hand, your clothing, or the leash, stop dead in your tracks, drop the leash and stand on it, while ignoring your dog. Don't give them enough leash to jump on you, but just enough to stand or sit. They may get frustrated with this, but they won't be able to reward themselves with the jumping, grabbing, etc. When they settle down, pick up the leash, ask for a calm behavior like sit, touch, watch me, etc., before you begin walking again. Repeat as much as you need to for them to stay focused on the walk and not on grabbing you and the leash!
4. Stay off of the furniture: While some of us may be okay with our dogs being on the furniture, for others, the arrival of guests for the holidays, or the addition of new furniture, means dogs need to learn to stay on the floor. Obviously, it's easier to just never let them up there in the first place than to switch gears and change your mind, but it is possible. Just remember that to a dog, your old couch looks just like the new one, so they aren't going to figure out that they can't get up there anymore unless you help them to understand. Do make sure that you have dog beds, dog mats, or your dog's crate nearby so that you can tell you your dog where they are supposed to be rather than on the furniture. When you are first teaching this, do not leave them unsupervised in the room with the off limits furniture; close the door to the room, block it off with a baby gate, or confine your dog when you aren't home to help them make good choices. Now, it's time to make staying off the the furniture fun! Put yummy treats in your pocket and plop down on the couch yourself. When your dog approaches you, and before they try to jump up on the couch, tell them "go to your bed/mat!" and then toss a treat in that direction. Once they are there, tell them to stay. If they stay, toss them another treat. If they get up and come toward the couch, say "Nuh uh!' and take them back to their bed/mat and tell them to stay. If they stay, toss another treat. Repeat this exercise until your dog understands that staying off of the couch is way more rewarding than getting up there. A side note: this only works if everyone in the house keeps the dog off of the furniture. And, if your couch or chair is positioned in such a way that it is located in the exact spot that gives your dog the best view of the street, side walk, etc., then you will need to realize that keeping them off of that piece of furniture will be more challenging; you might even want to move it and put the dog's bed or mat there instead. Finally, if you are looking for a happy medium, teach your dog to lay on a machine washable blanket located on one spot on your sofa or chair. That way, they can still be there with you (and look our the window!) without soiling the whole piece of furniture. Again, you will still want to do the exercises outlined above to ensure that they stay on their blanket and don't wander to the unprotected spots on the couch.
5. Don't paw people for attention: Dogs paw to get our attention and will continue to paw as long as this behavior is successful. Remember, dogs just want attention, so negative or positive, if they get your attention for pawing you, then they've been successful! When your dog approaches you, and before they go to paw you, ask for something that is counter to pawing (lay down, for example). When they do what you asked, offer them a treat. If they paw you, turn your body away from them, or get up and walk away. When you sit down again, ask for the down and say "stay." Once again, if they paw, turn away or move away. Only give them attention for NOT pawing you; bringing a toy, is fine, just no barking, whining, or pawing for attention. Those behaviors will get them shunned or ignored. It is critical that everyone in the house resist giving the dog attention for pawing; if one person rewards them, the behavior will persist.
Now you have a total of ten exercises that you can do in 5 minutes or less everyday to help your dogs be on their best behavior! As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior (or have suggestions for topics you'd like me to cover in my blog posts!), you know where to find me.
Wednesday, December 1, 2021
1. I want my dog to stop jumping on people. Excellent! Put your dog on leash anytime you will encounter other people, whether it's at the front door, out on walks, or around your house Stand on your dog's leash so that they can only sit or stand in place when approached and then have people approach your dog. Start with quiet people approaching and work up to giggly, bouncy, squealy people approaching your dog. Yes, you can practice this! For 5 minutes every day, set your dog up with the leash on to do these controlled greetings. Have treats and reward your dog for sitting or standing in place (wiggling is okay!) for greetings. Over time, you will challenge your dog more by loosening the leash and moving up to no leash at all for greetings in and around your house.