Wednesday, April 27, 2022

On the Road Again!

Did you find yourself singing along with the title of this blog?  I did as soon as I typed the  But in all seriousness:  Are you going on vacation this summer? Are you planning to leave your pet at home while you are away? If you are, this is going to take some pre-planning on your part and the sooner you start, the better the situation will be for your pet and the less you will have to worry about as your vacation draws near.

First off, you know your pets better than anyone. If you have multiple pets, dogs and cats for example, it is likely better to keep everyone home and have a qualified and trusted pet sitter stay in your home while you are gone.  You can leave a detailed plan of how you want them cared for, what you do with your pets throughout the day, their exercise requirements, feeding plan, etc. While your pets might prefer to have someone they know like a family member or close friend be the one to stay with them when you are gone, that isn't always feasible. If that's the case, you will want to start interviewing pet sitters who are licensed, bonded, and insured.  I have several clients who have found not just dog walkers through, but wonderful house sitters as well.  If you are looking for a place to start, I think is as good a spot as any to begin your search.  If one or more of your pets has medical needs (e.g. fluid therapy, daily medications, or injections), you may want to even check with your veterinarian's office to see if they have any veterinary technicians on staff who also do house sitting.  

If you aren't comfortable having someone stay in your home, then it's time to take a look at the different pet boarding options available in your area.  You will find everything from traditional boarding kennels to places that do "boarding unleashed," with dogs rooming together in large rooms with dog beds and sofas and staff that stays on site 24/7, and everything in between.  A lot of the doggie daycares also offer boarding and that may work well if you have a dog who already enjoys going to daycare; spending several nights at a daycare your dog is already used to is key.  If your dog doesn't normally do daycare, isn't fond of other dogs, or is older and would be anxious being off leash with other dogs all day long, a more traditional boarding situation in a kennel environment may work better.  Some of these kennels will even offer upgrades which can include boarding your dogs together if you have more than one dog; daily walks or time in a play yard alone with a staff member; grooming; and even cuddle time.  Kennels also have staff that can administer medications to your pet for an additional fee, if needed. 

If you want a more personal touch for your pet, but don't want someone staying in your home, you can also explore in-home boarding options with people who offer the service in their homes, rather than yours.  These dog-loving folks will want to host your dog(s) in advance to make sure they are a good fit for their home as they usually have one or more of their own resident dogs as well.  

No matter what option you choose, you will want to have your pet care arrangements made at least 2 months in advance, often even further out for peak holidays.  Now is the time to make those pet care arrangements if you plan to be gone over the summer holidays, for example.  And it's never too soon to make plans for the winter holidays if you know when you'll need help caring for your pets while you are away. 

If you intend to use a kennel or daycare, whether in home daycare/boarding, or one of the larger places, go ahead and set your pet up for an overnight stay BEFORE you actually have to leave them for multiple days on your planned vacation.  That way, you will know if that boarding/care option works well for them, or if you will need to pursue alternate arrangements.  The time to find out that your dog doesn't like being kenneled, or hates hanging out all day with other dogs, is well before you actually go on vacation!

Remember, too, that boarding means making sure your pet is in good health and up to date on all of the vaccines required to safely board.  Some even require a visit to the veterinarian prior to a stay, so finding that out in advance is key to making those appointments and getting all the necessary paperwork ready to go. Don't forget to ask ahead of time if you want to bring your pet's bed, favorite toy, etc. with them when they board.  Some facilities don't allow any personal belongings while others welcome it! If your pet is on a special diet, be sure they know that as well as you will want to make sure any treats or shared snacks are safe for your pet while you are away.

We all worry when we are away from home and have left our pets behind.  Check to see if you can get daily reports emailed to you on how they are doing while you are gone (if you like), or if they have cameras set up so you can check in whenever you want.  Leaving your beloved furred family members in someone else's care is a leap of faith, and those whose job involves caring for those pets while their owners are away, take their jobs very seriously.  They want everyone to be safe and as happy as possible. 

Finally, try not to take it too personally if your pets snub you a bit when you return home.  This is perfectly normal as they acclimate to having you back home and getting back into their routine with you at the helm.  While they missed you as much as you missed them, it takes a little time to get back into the swing of things.  And if, conversely, your pet seems a bit clingier than usual, that's okay too and it most certainly is NOT a sign that they weren't well cared for in your absence. It just means they noticed you were gone and are happy to have you back. 

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area and need boarding suggestions, don't hesitate to send me a message and I'll try to send some good options your way.  And as always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me. 

When Ozzie was a puppy, I left him in the care of a dear friend while we were on vacation. He was only 6 months old, and I hated to leave him, but I knew he was in good hands. He and Desi stayed at her house where they played with her dogs and she tried her best to keep them out of mischief.  This meant Ozzie spent a significant amount of time in an x-pen on time out as he was a holy terror as a puppy! I'm lucky she is still friends with me!

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Sibling Rivalry

A long time client called for my advice.  She lost her beloved senior Labrador during the pandemic lockdown and was now ready for a new puppy!  Turns out, two breeders have contacted her with puppies available and both have said that she can have a puppy.  One breeder even told her that the pups could keep each other company when she's at work!  She was calling me because she'd heard me say, more than once, that you should never adopt sibling dogs, but she wanted to know if the same thing applied to same-aged puppies from different litters.

While it's not a formally used term, many of us like to refer to the issues dog owners face when they have sibling puppies OR puppies of the same age from different litters, as "littermate syndrome."  I know that some folks say that potential problems only happen when the puppies are related, that simply isn't true; complications can arise even if the puppies are unrelated. While most of the breeders I know personally like to advise their potential puppy families to wait 6 months to a year before bringing home a second puppy, there are some breeders who still believe it's just as easy to raise two puppies as one.

For most dog breeds, puppies are ready to head out to their new homes and bond with their new families between 8 and 11 weeks of age.  Puppies who stay together longer than that run the risk of bonding more with each other than with people, even if the breeder or breeder family is interacting with those puppies regularly; basically, the puppies spend more time together than they do apart.  So, if you get two puppies, even from different litters, they are naturally going to bond with each other more than they will with you unless you make some pretty substantial changes to the way you raise those puppies.  While it might seem easy to just let them use the same crate, play pen, eat together, nap together, etc., letting them do all of those things *might* make it easier for you, but it isn't going to make things easy for the puppies.

If you have two similarly aged puppies, they need to sleep in different crates.  The crates can be in the same room, but they should be visually separated from one another.  Every day, you need to walk, train, handle, and play with each puppy separately.  While they can eat at the same time, they should not share a bowl and should be separated so that neither needs the presence of the other to eat. Puppies need four two-hour naps everyday, so you will likely want to stagger those naps so the puppies are sleeping apart and you have time to train, handle, and walk one puppy while the other naps.  If you do this right, it should take up most of your day...LOL! But if you want your puppies to bond to you and look to you for attention, approval, and guidance, then this is how to do it successfully.  

Are you sensing that doing this will give you less time with each individual puppy?  Then you are correct.  Splitting your time between two puppies means that neither really gets your undivided attention.  And you're going to need to schedule two puppy classes too as those puppies need to go to separate classes so they can interact with other puppies and people, learn to work under distractions, and further bond with you.  While your puppies may very well be playing at home with each other just fine, many sibling puppies (and here I am using the term "sibling" to refer to puppies raised together, related or not) display fear and some even aggression when exposed to other, unfamiliar puppies. Puppies do a significant amount of learning watching each other, the adult dogs and cats in their house, etc.  Those two puppies you are raising together are, by design, going to have more house training issues as they are learning good AND bad habits from each other. Finally, those puppies raised together and not separated enough regularly will have a difficult time doing anything apart.  Routine veterinary visits, trips to the groomer, even a solitary walk can become problematic as the puppies show obvious and pronounced distress when they are separated.  

When I went over all of this with my client, she was thoroughly relieved to have asked as she was pretty sure she didn't have the time or patience for two puppies, but now she was CERTAIN she didn't have time for them!  Two puppies is definitely more than twice the work as anyone with human twins can tell you.  And in case you are wondering when I think it's a good time to get a second puppy, I like to wait until the first puppy is no longer a puppy, but still young enough to enjoy the antics a new puppy brings to the mix.  So for me, a second puppy can be brought home after the first puppy's first birthday, and ideally before that first pup turns 3 years of age.  It doesn't mean you can't add a puppy when your first dog is 4 years of age or older, it just means that the age difference between them will be significant enough that they may not enjoy each other as much as they would have had they been just a bit closer in age.  While it's true that the addition of a puppy can rejuvenate an older dog, it's also a lot of work for the older dog to keep up with said puppy, much more so than it would have been when he was young and spry.  And finally, the big picture:  The only reason to EVER consider getting a second (or third, or fourth dog) is because YOU the human want another dog.  Never get a dog as company for your existing dog.  Who's to say that your resident dog will think that puppy or dog you've chosen is good company? Many dogs like other dogs in small doses, but really don't want to live with them (and compete with them) day in and day out.  Multi-dog households are for the people, not for the dogs.

I'm looking forward to meeting the puppy my client chooses this time around.  Her previous dog was so delightful and I enjoyed watching him blossom as a pet therapy dog as well. While this puppy has big shoes to fill, I know my client will have the time and resources she needs to get him or her off to a terrific start.

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

They are all ridiculously cute, but choosing just one is in your best interest if you want to avoid littermate syndrome!

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Am I Too Old For This Dog?

That was the question posed to me by a client I saw a few weeks ago.  Her kids told her she was too old to get a puppy (she got the pup anyway!), and then they told her she was certainly too old for an adolescent dog when she began having a few issues with him, and that's when she started to doubt herself and called me. My client is 72 years young and told me she'd love it if I shared her story as she knows she's not alone.  Several of her senior friends told her their kids had said similar things to them, with some caving in and not getting a dog at all, while others opted for cats instead.  I'm grateful that she called me for help and for allowing me to share her story here.

My client has had dogs her whole life.  She and her husband always had Shepherds when their kids were growing up, but when they rescued a Golden Retriever about 15 years ago, that became their new favorite breed.  My client lost that Golden right after her husband passed away.  She said that while she knew they were keeping each other company in Heaven, she was lonely here with her kids living out of the area.  She decided she wanted another Golden Retriever, this time opting to go through a breeder rather than rescue as she wanted a "mellow puppy" that would fit her lifestyle. The breeder picked an adorable, rolly-polly male puppy for my client; he was laid back, loved to cuddle, and had already been crated trained and was doing well with house training. My client picked him up in January and things had been going really well until last week.  Her puppy is now 6.5 months old and has seemingly entered adolescence; he chases the neighbor's cat, pulls on leash, started chewing on her dining room chairs, and barks when people walk past their condo.  She hadn't felt overwhelmed up until this point, but now felt like she was in over her head.

First of all, I was a bit perturbed that her kids would tell her that she was too old for another dog.  What does that even mean?  My client is an active, vibrant, funny and fun-loving senior who lives on her own in a condominium in a big senior development. She is certainly not a novice dog owner and she's had puppies before.  Second, the breeder she worked with felt as I do that placing a puppy in a home is about finding the right home.  The breeder felt this puppy was a perfect match for my client as his easy-going temperament made him a better fit for her quiet lifestyle than if he had been placed in a busy home with kids, for example, where he might have been overwhelmed. So, while her kids were telling her "I told you so" when he began to behave as most adolescent dogs do, she called her veterinarian for help and that's when I entered the picture.

The issues my client is having are common and easily addressed.  By adding in an experienced dog walker, we've been able to increase the dog's physical exercise. We added in a flirt pole at home for exercise in my client's little backyard, and we picked several interactive toys to use for feeding him meals and keeping his brain stimulated.  We switched out his plethora of soft toys for a handful of stuffed sterile bones, bullysticks, and Nylabones to redirect him from chewing on the furniture when he's bored.  All the toys are picked up now and in a cupboard and my client is switching them out several times during the day to hold her dog's interest.  We've instituted time outs for not listening to the quiet command and put up motion-activated sprinklers in her yard to keep the neighbor's cat out of her garden and thus keep her dog from chasing the cat too! This client loves to learn, so we decided she'd enroll her dog in an upcoming Rally class for fun.  I've started her training for the class already, using soccer cones at home and printed directions for different stations.  Her dog is loving all the new challenges and my client is feeling accomplished and like she took an active part in changing her dog's behavior before it felt like it was too late.

I did a follow up phone call with my client yesterday to see how they were doing.  She sounded so upbeat and positive (not tearful as she was the first time we'd talked!) and she said she'd sent her kids video of herself and the dog doing Rally in her backyard!  She was proud that her dog was getting all sorts of positive comments from her neighbors and friends and she was relieved that her kids weren't pushing her to give the dog up.  I'm really proud of her and all that she's accomplished.  For me, she is an ideal dog owner, one with the experience to know when she should ask for help.

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

If you're happy and you know it, smile big for the camera!

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Does Your Dog Really Love You?

I met with a client last weekend who was worried that her dog "just wasn't into her." I asked her what made her think that her dog didn't care about her and she indicated that the dog didn't like being hugged or cuddled and would often walk away from her if she tried to snuggle.  She also said that the dog seemed to get very excited to see her boyfriend and would wag her tail and jump up on him, things the dog never does with her.  And the behavior that seemed to bother her the most was that if she was petting this dog, the dog would often get up an move after just a few pets.  My client wanted to know if I thought her dog loved her or not. No pressure there, right?!

First, let's talk about how dogs show love.  Dogs show love in the following ways (remember, though, that not every dog will do every one of these behaviors):

1.  Gaze at you adoringly/maintain eye contact:  Dogs don't stare intently at one another as that can be perceived as a threat or challenge, but they will learn to gaze at us softly, and maintain that eye contact.  Doing this behavior actually can lead their brains to release oxytocin, often referred to as the "love hormone."

2.  Bring you their favorite toy:  Dogs who enjoy toys will often bring a favored toy to share with their humans as a way to solicit play and time together doing something the dog loves---play!

3.  Happy to see you come home:  Whether you've just gone out for a minute to pick up the newspaper or mail, gone shopping for a few hours, or gone to work all day, a dog who shows how happy they are to see you return is another way they show love.

4.  They check in on you periodically when you are home together: Whether you are going to the bathroom, taking a shower, or laying down for a nap, your dog might come check on you to see what you are up to. 

5.  They choose to sleep in your bedroom with you: If your dog has the option to sleep wherever he likes and he chooses to sleep in your bedroom (or on your bed with you!), then that's an expression of love.

6. Dogs will lean on those they love:  Whether you are on the couch together or they are at your feet, if your dog chooses to lean against you or lay near you, creating physical contact, they are choosing you!

7.  Laying on your clothing or shoes, or carrying them around (not destroying them!): Some dogs find comfort laying on your stuff or carrying around your stinky running shoes. Those items smell like you, their favored person.

8.  Smile at you:  Many dogs learn to smile at their owners, offering a squinty-eyed, loose-lipped, lolling tongue grin when they see you.  It's their version of a smile and is indicative of pleasure being directed at you.

So, back to my client.  I found her dog to be very confident and self-contained.  This dog has no problem with her owner being gone 8 hours a day for work and does come to her, tail wagging when she gets home every day.  Yes, the dog jumps up and licks her boyfriend, but this is a female dog; female dogs are wired to choose male humans for special attention and vice versa; I truly believe that if my female client had chosen a male dog, she'd see more of that type of behavior she is looking for directed at her! This dog sleeps on her dog bed in the owner's room by choice and will often bring her owner her leash or her ball, her two favorite things.  I think this dog, like many dogs, does not enjoy being hugged, tightly cuddled, kissed, etc.  The dog has learned to move away from her owner to keep those behaviors that make her uncomfortable from happening at all.  I think that if my client stopped trying to cling to her dog, she'd find the dog seeking her out more for things like laying nearby, which the dog clearly finds enjoyable with the client's boyfriend who doesn't hug on the dog etc. With regard to her dog moving away when she's petting her: I think the dog is anticipating that the petting is going to morph into hugging and kissing and she's preemptively moving away.  This dog sat at my side soliciting pets and scratches for a solid 5 minutes, and I was a stranger she'd met for the first time!  

I truly believe that my client needs to change her expectations and embrace the dog she has.  This is a terrific dog, one who can be trusted alone in the house all day, loves to ride in the car and can be taken anywhere, and is great with new people and other dogs.  Just because she doesn't lick the owner or seek out and enjoy cuddles does not mean she doesn't love her owner, she clearly does.  She just isn't comfortable showing her love through the level of physical contact that my client thought she would get from a dog.  Once I explained this to my client, she was a bit sad at first, but then when she realized that her dog might indeed seek her out more for petting if she gave the dog the space to do so on her own terms, she was satisfied that this could work out; she just needed to change her expectations!

How many of the above ways does your dog show you their love?  Let me know. As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

Desi likes to cuddle on the floor and loves to be hugged and kissed. Ozzie doesn't like to cuddle, preferring to lay near me on the couch instead, or just be in the same room.  Now, Westley is a different story. He loves to cuddle, will solicit kisses and hugs, and will bring my daughter his favorite toys if he thinks she needs a break.  Three collies, three different ways of showing their love for their people.