Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Tantrums: They Aren't Just for Toddlers!

I worked with a client last week who was at the end of her proverbial rope.  She had been patiently (sort of) waiting for her 70 lb. dog to move from adolescence to adulthood.  She figured if she could just get him to the age of 2 years, she'd be working with a calm, rational dog, willing to do what she asked him to do.  She has plans for this dog, wanting to do competitive obedience and agility, and maybe rally as well. She's always done activities like this with her dogs and it's actually how we met 10 years ago with her previous dog, an always compliant gentleman.  Her new dog?  Same breed, same breeder, in fact, but he's far from compliant.  He's "hell on wheels," as my grandmother would say.  He really does seem to relish challenging his owner (and me).  Any time he doesn't get his way, he resorts to throwing a tantrum.  Yes, a tantrum, much like an over-tired toddler in the grocery store, only he weighs 70 lbs.!  He spins and jumps, vaulting off of my client, trying to grab the leash out of her hands, grabbing anything he can find on the ground, and then eventually flopping into a down and refusing to move.  This happens in many different situations, including right in the middle of the street if he decides he doesn't want to go the direction she's leading him.  Fun times. He's, quite literally, stopped traffic in their neighborhood.  My client is mortified by her dog's behavior and frustrated that he's not grown out of this; he's been having these exact same tantrums since he was a puppy, they are just more dramatic (and dangerous) now. 

Just as with a human child having a tantrum, you can't give in to them, and you can't give them attention for the behavior. As frustrating as it is, you have to shut down and ignore your dog throwing a tantrum because giving them any kind of attention for it just encourages them to use this strategy again.  In order to keep my client safe, I've asked her to stand on her dog's leash so he can't jump on her and/or grab the leash from her hands.  Standing on the leash forces him into a sit or down, given his size.  I've encouraged her to talk to people passing by her, or bring out her phone and pretend to look at something on it.  Basically, she ignores her dog until he lets up on his behavior and begins to move out of the tantrum.  For her dog, this usually means that he gives a big "harumph," a dramatic yawn, and then he'll try to get her to look at him.  Once he does this, she unceremoniously picks up his leash and starts walking the direction she wanted to go in the first place.  His current record is three tantrums in one block, but since that day, his tantrums have become less frequent overall, shorter in duration, and not so many in a row.  That's progress. He's still throwing tantrums, but we are making headway.  So why is he doing this in the first place?

This is a very headstrong dog.  He knows he's big and he's figured out that he's stronger than his owner, though honestly, I've seen him do the same behavior with her husband who is a whopping 6 foot 4 inch man who used to play football for Stanford! No dog likes to have their goals thwarted, but some are more likely to react negatively than to capitulate and do what their owners ask of them.  For this particular dog, I could pretty much pinpoint where it all began.  His first tantrum was at a class meant to prepare dogs for competitive obedience.  He balked getting out of the car there and shut down during much of the class. The instructor dragged him out of the car and pushed the owner to do the exercises in class saying that he'd "get the hang of it if she just kept at it." Well, not only did he not get the hang of it, he outright hated that class, those exercises, and that instructor.  Again, I understand that dog owners have every right to choose the classes, sports, and activities that they are interested in doing with their dogs.  If your dog resists those activities, however, is afraid or overwhelmed, or shows a lack of interest, you need to take a look at whether there is something that you (and they!) would enjoy more.  I'm not saying give in to your dog, I'm just saying choose something you both can enjoy.  And it may even be the case that they will enjoy that original activity, you just need to stop for a bit, let them mature or even find a new class/new instructor and start again.

As you've probably figured out if you've read along this far, tantrums are all about control AND about anxiety.  You have to keep yourself under threshold as well as your dog.  You can't push them too hard or they'll shut down/resist.  What you can do is work on your own behavior; stay calm, resist the urge to yell or punish them, and show them that all that drama isn't going to get them what they want.  I've got another session with my client next week.  We're meeting at a new class setting, this time it's introductory agility with a different instructor, so we'll see how it goes.  I've done some parkour with this dog, just for fun, so I think he'll really enjoy agility.  Fingers crossed that we can find an activity he enjoys and that his owner enjoys as well.

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

Ozzie has been known to throw a tantrum or two in his life.  For him, these episodes were clearly associated with anxiety.  He felt overwhelmed and couldn't fathom moving past what bothered him. If I tried to move him through it, he'd resist and throw a tantrum, jumping, spinning, and trying to bolt.  Over time, we worked through this and he now knows how to ask for needed space when he's anxious, versus throwing a tantrum.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Advice for You & Your (New) Dog

While many a new dog owner is fairly patient with that 8 week old puppy they bought that has toileting mistakes in the house, whines in the crate, chews on the furniture, and won't sleep through the night, often the same cannot be said for dog owners acquiring a new dog who isn't a puppy.  A lot of dogs coming out of shelters are adolescents, and same goes for a lot of the rescue groups.  Why? Because adolescence is fraught with challenges and pitfalls and many a dog owner gives up during this developmental time period.  Even if you adopt a senior dog, however, you need to expect some challenges when you bring them into your home and as they make that transition.

Just because a dog is labeled as "housetrained" doesn't mean that they won't have accidents.  He or she, regardless of their age, is new to your home.  They need to learn your schedule, as well as the schedule you are imposing on them.  Maybe they used to free feed, but you feed them twice a day. That will change when they need to relieve themselves.  Or maybe they previously lived completely outdoors, toileting whenever and wherever they wanted, and you live in an apartment where all bathroom trips are planned as they have to get into an elevator and go down four floors to get to the bathroom area. Expect accidents and don't get mad.  If you want to decrease the number of accidents overall, crate train your new dog, or use an exercise pen to confine them when you can't watch them.  At a minimum you will be limiting where the mistakes will happen.  Plus, most dogs don't want to toilet where they are resting/sleeping and will go to great lengths not to toilet in their crate or x-pen, which helps you as well. Tether your new dog to you when you are home.  They most certainly are not going to toilet on your feet, so if they start pulling away from you, take that as a sign that they need to relieve themselves.  Tethering has the added benefit of helping you build a bond with your new dog.  That's a win-win.

While most newly adopted dogs go through a "honeymoon phase," where they are pretty well-mannered overall as they learn the ropes and get the lay of the land in your home, that isn't true for all new adoptees.  Some have some serious growing pains, reverting to behaviors that are more often seen in puppies and may have been why you chose NOT to get a puppy in the first place. Be patient.  They will definitely move out of this phase faster than a developing puppy would. In the meantime, go ahead and treat them as if they were indeed a puppy: Crate train them, enforce naps, walk them on a schedule, do multiple short training sessions each day, and judiciously use redirection and time outs as needed. 

It's likely that the name assigned to them at the shelter or in rescue isn't the last name that they were called, but even if it is, don't expect them to come to you every time reliably just because you used that name.  Or maybe you want to change their name. Either way, you will need to work on recall and making coming to you a positive thing. I meet so many newly adopted dogs who don't want to come when they are called. From their body language, it's clear to me that they've either been punished for coming slowly, or they assume coming to you will be the end of all the fun.  It's your job to teach them how valuable and fun it is to come every time that they are asked!  Keep treats on you at all times and reinforce every come indoors, even if it's slow.  Outside, keep your new dog on a leash or long line so that you don't lose them, don't have to chase them, and can work on recall with the added distractions that the outdoors inherently brings to training.

Just because you adopted an adult dog doesn't mean that they don't need mental stimulation.  Yes, puppies need a lot of mental stimulation, but honestly, so do adult and senior dogs.  Figure out what works for your new dog and add that into their daily routine. Start with something simple like a Kong and work your way up to snuffle mats and interactive brain games and toys.  If you have a really destructive young dog on your hands, consider some of those more indestructible brain toys from Starmark and Busy Buddy.  Talk to your vet as well about whether real bones, either from the butcher shop or the precut, stuffed, sterile ones available online and in pet stores from "Red Barn," could work to curb the voracious chewing demands of your new dog.

I think it goes without saying that most newly adopted dogs need some work on their leash skills. Some of them have clearly never been walked before, while others have been walked, but by someone who never let them sniff or explore, so they resort to dragging you everywhere to try to get in as many sniffs as they can before they are yanked away. Again, pretend that they are puppies. Walk them on a leash inside your house first.  Use treats to lure them into calmer, more controlled leash manners. Continue to work indoors or in your own yard until you can get a modicum of control and focus on you, thus making those walks outdoors in busy public spaces less challenging. 

Finally, do set a schedule and stick to it.  Dogs love schedules and predictability.  It's the not knowing that makes them anxious.  Having a predictable schedule means your new dog will learn when they are being fed, when they will be walked and trained, and when they will be given the opportunity to relieve themselves.  Take them out often until you figure out what their body clock naturally does, but still know that there will be mistakes.  Just be patient, as every new puppy owner will tell you, it does get better.

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

I know I've shared this old photo before, but I can't resist sharing it again. This is Shadow, the dog I rescued when I was in college.  It took her 3 months to come out from under an end table except to relieve herself, but she eventually blossomed and became my devoted companion, as you can see here.  She would run alongside my bike all the way to campus and lay under my chair in class, never making a peep.  We went an entire quarter once before the professor even knew there was a dog attending his advanced genetics class!

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Get Off My Lawn!

I don't know if it's true in your neighborhood as well, but a lot of folks around here have put up signs telling dog owners to keep their dogs off of the lawns/away from landscaping.  Honestly, I get it.  Between the ill-mannered dog owners who don't pick up behind their dogs, and dogs whose urine burns the grass and plants, keeping an attractive yard can be challenging. One of my neighbors with these "keep off signs" has a dog himself who he toilets out on that lawn.  When we made eye contact last week, as I crossed the street with my dogs to give his dog space, he seemed to feel the need to explain himself, saying "My lawn, my rules, and when other dogs pee here or walk on the lawn, my dog starts barking and peeing in the house by my front window!" I waved and moved on, but this got me thinking about territoriality in dogs and how we live here in suburbia has affected the way dogs communicate.

Dogs behind windows and in their fenced yards have every right to bark when you walk past or walk on their home turf.  Hopefully, if that same dog is out in front of their house in an unfenced space, they are on leash as that same dog who charges the fence or window when you walk by, might feel compelled to charge at you without a leash (or fence) to stop them. As the owner of three collies, I know all about territorial barking.  While Desi doesn't bark much anymore (except to tell me that I'm late with his meals), Ozzie and Henley do bark.  While it's true that they "own the fence" they are barking at, it's also true that the neighbors on the other side of that fence own their side of the fence as well. As a responsible dog owner, it is my job to go out and call my dogs off of that shared fence when they bark. I do let them give a couple of barks because, again, I recognize that they are just doing their job of telling me that there is someone there, but they do need to stop and come indoors when told to do so. If they don't, there will be consequences.  What are the consequences?  Ozzie doesn't test me anymore, Henley on the other hand, tests me daily.  If he doesn't immediately come in behind Ozzie, I'll leash him, bring him inside, and give him a time out. Same goes for barking at the front window or front door.  They can bark, but they need to quiet when told. And if your dog is toileting on my front lawn, or if you've let them wander on that flexi-lead all the way up to the plants under my front window, then yes, I'm going to let them bark you and your dog off that space!  Dog owner etiquette implies that you, at a minimum, keep your dog on a leash at the border of other people's property.  Just one more reason to hate those flexi-leads!

My daughter lives in Los Angeles. In her neighborhood, everyone "curbs" their dogs, meaning the dogs toilet on the city owned urban plantings or in the street.  I've seen this in San Francisco as well.  Sometimes, I do curb my dogs when walking in my own neighborhood, so that I can be respectful of the folks who don't want dogs on their lawn/plants/etc. For myself, I'm okay with dogs sniffing and relieving themselves on my lawn as long as their owners keep them at the sidewalk adjacent plantings AND pick up behind them.  I also let my own dogs re-mark those areas when we leave the house as I know it's important to them to do so. It's their territory and anyone who tries to lay claim to it otherwise, needs that reminder.

What I really feel like this all boils down to is this:  Be a good neighbor AND be a responsible dog owner.  Respect your neighbors' rights to be in their backyard without your dog barking incessantly at them.  Respect that some of your neighbors are proud of their lawns and landscaping and don't want your dog marking/toileting there.  When you are walking, keep your dog's leash at 8 feet or shorter so that they don't inadvertently wander further into someone else's yard.  Be mindful of those dogs barking at you in the window and give them space.  While I feel for my neighbor whose dog is marking in the house in response to dogs going past their house, that's something he should get a handle on, but since I wasn't asked to help, I'll keep my mouth shut, and move across the street to, at a minimum, reduce the pressure that my dogs put on his dog.  It's all about being neighborly.

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

This is an old picture, but I love it nonetheless. This is Desi and Ozzie with their friend, Stella, in front of her house.  Desi and Ozzie were always invited onto their property to run around, have snacks, and yes, leave their mark.  Stella never minded as I always had treats for her too.  We miss Stella as she passed away a couple of years ago, though the neighbors have a new Labrador puppy to love and Ozzie and Westley enjoy romping with her as well.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Walking More Than One Dog!

I've had numerous people send me photographs and videos of dog walkers and dog owners walking three or more dogs at a time!  Every person sending me these photos/videos has the same question:  Is it safe to walk multiple dogs at the same time like this?  Clearly in some of the photos/videos, the answer is a resounding NO, but it truly isn't that simple. Let's talk a bit more in depth about the pros and cons of walking multiple dogs.

First off, you already know that I have three dogs myself, plus my daughter's dog when she's here visiting.  I've never attempted walking all four dogs, by myself, at the same time, and will never do so. I don't believe it would be safe for me nor enjoyable for them.  Desi is almost 13 years old and as a senior dog, he walks very slowly and only a couple of blocks on each of his walks.  That's enjoyable for him.  Because of that, Desi is walked by himself.  I have walked Ozzie, Westley, and Henley together, but I did so at an off peak walking time (really early in the morning) to minimize heat for all three dogs and to minimize encounters with other people and dogs.  Did I do this because I have concerns about my dogs around others?  No. I did it because I didn't want to have to wrangle an excited puppy and two well-behaved adult dogs just trying to do a walk if there are other people and dogs out walking too.  I have walked two dogs together many times, whether that's Ozzie and Westley or Ozzie and Henley.  Though I will tell you Ozzie prefers walking with Westley, or alone, to having to walk with his annoying little brother!  I feel comfortable handling two dog leashes as my collies are well-behaved on leash and can be easily navigated in traffic, around pedestrians, and around other dogs. If I didn't feel comfortable doing so, I would simply walk each dog separately.

No, I don't use a splitter leash to walk two dogs; I always have each dog on their own leash, with the leashes being the same length to make handling easier for me. I've never liked splitters as they inhibit each individual dog's ability to make their own choices with regard to sniffing, stopping to toilet, etc. I'm not saying that you can't choose to use a splitter for your two dogs, I'm just saying think about that choice from your dog's point of view. If your dogs simply walk/trot together, rarely stopping to sniff or toilet, then maybe a splitter is a good choice for you. I just think they aren't good choices for dogs in general. Splitters were created for human comfort and convenience, not the dogs!

If you are walking one or more dogs with any behavioral concerns (aggression toward people or other dogs, reactivity on leash, fear of strangers or other dogs, excessive pulling on leash, etc.), then walk those dogs individually.  You need to give your dog with behavioral concerns all of your focus and attention; you can't be trying to manage two or more dogs if one or more of them have issues when on leash. I've had many clients tell me that they simply don't have time to walk their dogs separately, even when they have dogs who are clearly anxious on leash. My response is always the same: Better to walk each of those dogs a shorter distance/shorter period of time than to try to walk them together and risk an incident. Plus, I've treated many dogs over the years who got frustrated on leash and lashed out (redirected aggression) at the other dog they were walking with or at the owner holding the leashes! It's more productive for you and your dog(s) to take a short walk together that is successful, meaning free of reactivity, aggression, and anxiety, than it is to try to walk your pack of dogs together in a misguided effort to save time.

Now, let's talk about those dog walkers who walk 5, 8, or even 10 dogs at a time.  When I see this, it makes me very uncomfortable. All it would take is one dog going rogue and the entire situation will go sideways really fast. I know several professional dog walkers who state that they heavily screen the dogs in their care and only do multi-dog walks and hikes with those who can do this safely and successfully.  My response to that is always that behavior, by its very nature, is unpredictable.  And just because you know and trust the behavior of the dogs in your care doesn't mean that other dogs (and people) you encounter when out in public spaces are trustworthy or reliable.  I know for myself that I would not feel comfortable using a dog walker who walked multiple dogs at the same time with any one of my dogs in the mix. Feels like a liability situation for the dog walker too.  What if a skirmish breaks out and you lose control of one of the leashes? A dog escapes your pack?  Redirected aggression occurs toward one of the dogs in your care, or toward you?  Maybe I'm just assuming the worst, but I only bring up these scenarios because they've happened before with my clients' dogs on pack walks, so those clients can't be alone in their experiences.

I guess it's all about comfort level. If you feel comfortable walking your 3 (or more) dogs together at one time, then that's your prerogative. Just know that if any one of those dogs is experiencing issues in anxiety, that peaceful, time-saving, multi-dog walk could go sideways really fast.  I'm a "better safe than sorry"' kind of person.

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

Here's a picture from one of my multi-dog walks when Henley was still really small. I would not feel comfortable walking these three dogs alone now as Henley is almost 45 lbs. and I definitely need more than one (or two hands!) to allow three herding dogs the space they need to sniff and explore on our walks.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

It's Going To Be Okay!

I met with a client last week who was feeling very overwhelmed.  We'd met once before when her dog was an adolescent and didn't like coming when he was called and loved to pull her down the street to meet everybody. We worked on a long line to get his recall back on track and changed the leash and collar she was using to something that gave her more control over her 60 lb. dog on walks.  When she did her follow up, things were going well; they'd been able to phase out the long line as he was now happily coming when called and her walks were much more peaceful.  Fast forward to 9 months later and a frantic call from the same owner where she told me her dog had just bitten someone on the hand when they reached to pet him. No warning. No growl. Just a quick bite, that didn't break skin, but terrified her nonetheless. Turns out he's been lunging and growling at men (and some women too) he sees on walks for a while now, and she'd been steering clear of interactions.  This bite happened when she let down her guard so her dog could meet this man's dog.  The dogs were fine, but when the man stretched out his hand toward my client's dog, that's when the bite happened. This left her wondering how could she ever trust her dog again?

A truly unfortunate situation on so many levels.  This young male dog has become more and more territorial over the last 9 months, and while his owner didn't love that he now barks and lunges near her front door if anyone comes on the porch, she could understand that he was protecting her house, and she didn't connect this behavior to what was happening on their walks.  As a single mother, she appreciated that he guarded the house.  But even his front door behavior has gotten to the point where she has to leash him in order to control him there, even with people he knows.  And that bite?  It happened right on their street to a man walking his dog there who doesn't live on the street.  When she takes him for hikes on the local trails, he has no trouble passing people or other dogs, same for walks she does with friends in other neighborhoods.  This dog's territory includes not just his house and yard, but his immediate neighborhood as well.  I observed him on leash and he's clearly "on duty."  He doesn't stop to sniff much, preferring to keep his head up and watchful as he, quite literally, patrols the neighborhood.  I had my work cut out for me, but I did have a plan.

I started with the front door behavior.  While it is totally fine and expected for a dog to bark when someone approaches their home, it isn't fine for them to continue barking, or escalate to jumping on the windows or doors, once you've told them "enough" or "quiet."  There needs to be a consequence for not listening to you.  Keep a leash by the front door, or put a short leash or tab on your dog's collar so that you can lead your dog away from the door and to a quiet place for a time out, whenever they don't listen. Once your dog gets to the point where they stop barking when asked, you'll still want to leash them at the front door, or teach them to sit off to the side using the "place" command so that you can deal with whomever or whatever is going on on your front doorstep.  If your dog tries to dart out the door or gets up from their "stay in place," once again, lead them to their time out area. We are not punishing them for barking or being territorial as that could lead them to escalate beyond those behaviors.  We are simply saying you can be territorial but when I tell you it's all good, you have to listen to me. We were able to enlist the help of a couple of neighbors, having them ring the doorbell and/or knock, and we worked with her dog to help him understand what we expected of him.  This is a smart dog and he got the new routine quite quickly.  The best part?  He actually looked visibly relieved and much happier when he understood what we wanted from him.  We quite literally took the pressure off of him!

When working with a dog who is this territorial. I like to encourage owners to step outside of THEIR comfort zone and change up their walking routine.  Walking at off peak times and off peak locations, in this case, just other neighborhoods away from this dog's home turf, will reduce a great deal of pressure for this owner and for her dog.  We drove him a few blocks away to walk and he was a completely different dog; sniffing, exploring, wagging his tail, completely consumed by all the new smells.  He walked right by other dogs and other people without anything more than a casual glance. Such a relief for his owner!

None of this erases the fact that this young dog bit someone.  This means his owner now has scienter, the legal knowledge that she owns an aggressive dog.  She will need to actively control his interactions with other people, particularly men as that seems to be the group of humans most triggering for her dog. She needs to say, "No, you may not pet or approach my dog. It isn't safe for you to do so." Again, off of home turf, this dog is not actively approaching anyone, not trying to engage strangers, etc. He isn't "gunning" for trouble, but he sure as heck won't back down either if challenged.  Ultimately, this owner may need to muzzle train her dog, just to make it even more obvious he needs space AND to protect from any future bites, but she's not there yet.  She needs to see if she can make better choices about the situations she puts her dog into. This dog will be very easy to muzzle train as he's easily handled and very food motivated. I went over how to do it as I think it's a good exercise for this dog to learn to wear a muzzle even if he never gets to the point where he needs to wear one regularly.

My client hasn't heard a word from the man who was bitten.  She gave him her contact information, but he literally said it was his fault for reaching toward the dog and since the bite didn't break skin, he was fine.  I let her know that he does have up to a year to pursue action against her, but it sounds like he's taking some responsibility for his poor choice of actions.  I know I've talked about it a million times, but it clearly bears repeating.  Humans do not have carte blanche rights to pet other people's dogs.  Even if they aren't a service dog, that isn't your dog.  And if you ask to pet the dog, it's okay for the dog owner to tell you no, you can't.  Don't get offended.  Just because a dog is out in public doesn't make him or her public domain.  And if someone says yes, you can pet their dog, then please don't be an idiot and extend your hand to the dog.  That's not how to greet a dog.  Drop your hands to your sides and let the dog sniff you; if it's a smaller dog let them sniff your shoes.  If they still show interest, reach down and briefly rub them under the chin or across the chest.  Then STOP.  If they are still interested, they'll let you know by nudging your hand, licking your hand, or resuming sniffing. Many dogs walk away or turn away after this initial brief interaction and that's fine too. Let the dog determine the length of the interaction. Do not pat the dog on the butt, pat them on the head, reach over their back, boop their nose, stare in their eyes, or pet their ears.  Be respectful.  And, most importantly, even if the owner says yes, you can pet their dog, if their dog approaches you, sniffs and walks away, the dog has made their decision.  Accept it.

I truly hope that this is the first and last bite for my client's dog, but unfortunately, statistics don't support that outcome.  The majority of dogs who bite, bite again.  What keeps some dogs from biting again?  Good management, consistent consequences, and realistic expectations. What leads to more bites?  Sticking your head in the sand, ignoring your dog's aggressive behavior until it escalates and/or punishing the behavior hoping that will make it go away. Don't try to explain away a lunge, a growl, or a bite.  Those behaviors happened for a reason. Your dog felt overwhelmed, anxious, or both.  We need to dive into that, figure out why they're anxious, and then work to determine what management strategies will work best for you and for your dog.  Eyes wide open, no excuses.

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

This border collie has a very intense gaze and stiff posture. I would never approach this dog unsolicited.  I would allow this dog to decide if it wanted to engage me.  This is a working dog, and I respect that. You should too.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

You Are Not a Bad Pet Parent!

I worked with a lovely client this week who started our appointment by saying, "I'm such a terrible pet parent!"  Why did she think this?  She thought this for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the horrible things her family had been telling her and the random advice she'd been receiving (unsolicited) from strangers.  I stopped her right there and told her not only was she not a terrible pet parent, she was actually terrific.  Why?  Because she recognized that her dog had a problem AND she sought help from a qualified professional.  She's not the first pet owner I've worked with who felt that they weren't doing right by their four-legged companions.  

Here's the thing.  While it's true that the average adult dog needs roughly 90 minutes of exercise each day, that doesn't mean that the same dog will suffer if she lives with an owner who is only able to get her 60 total minutes of exercise.  The bottom line is this:  Dogs need exercise, both physical and mental.  Balance between the two is important for brain and body health.  And while smaller dogs may need less physical exercise each day than their larger compatriots, they do still need that mental exercise.  And mental exercise doesn't have to break the bank.  While those cool interactive toys you can buy for your dogs provide wonderful mental stimulation, so do boxes and egg cartons with treats hidden inside, towels with kibble wrapped up in the loops, and ice cubes with carrots and apples frozen inside. Just because you are budget conscious with regard to your pet doesn't make you a bad pet parent.

Yes, dogs and cats need to eat, but that doesn't mean you have to buy the most expensive pet food available.  Unless your pet has a specific ailment that requires a limited ingredient/prescription diet, then you have lots of options.  The pet food manufacturers have spent millions of dollars creating all kinds of pet foods, many aimed at the idiosyncrasies of human consumers. Just because you prefer to eat grain free doesn't mean your pet needs to.  Instead, choose a diet that you can afford and that your pet enjoys.  Pet food doesn't need to break the bank, and feeding Costco brand dog food, for example, doesn't make you a bad pet parent.  My childhood dog ate Purina Dog Chow from the grocery store, topped with canned Alpo. He lived to be 17 years old. Go figure.  

I've been teased many times about the sheer number of dog toys I have at my house. I've even been accused of "spoiling" my dogs.  But here's the thing:  most of the toys were gifts from family, from friends, and from grateful clients.  I do buy my dogs toys, usually because I want to see if this newest craze item is worth the hype as my adult collies are picky.  However, just because my dogs have 60 toys doesn't mean a dog with fewer than that is deprived or has a bad owner.  Any number of toys will be appreciated by your dogs.  The key is to rotate daily those toys you do have, keeping all of the toys out of sight and bringing out a couple each day to capitalize on the novelty effect and generate interest in what you've given them.

What I'm trying to say here is give yourself some grace.  Whether you are dealing with a pet with a significant behavior problem you are trying to address, or you are simply on a budget and have to watch your spending, neither of those things makes you a bad pet parent. Our pets provide us with unconditional love and support in spite of their behavior problems and our limited budgets.  They honestly don't care if the neighbor's dog has a nicer bed than they do or gets a more expensive dog food.  What they do care about is quality time.  Spending quality time with your pets is what they crave and what they deserve, whether that means laying at your feet while you work from home, riding around in the car with you while you run errands, or taking them on a mental health hike.  They just want to be with you and the fact that you let them makes you a great pet parent in my book.  You are enough.

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

Here's Henley napping on my legs.  Quality time for both of us.

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Back to School!

As kids all over are getting ready to head back to school, I'm getting ready to start another round of puppy classes.  I'm ever hopeful that the weather will cooperate and these classes won't be too hot for the puppies (and their people!) who are enrolled. I did have one puppy owner reach out to me for more information, on a referral to my classes by her veterinarian. Her main question was, quite simply, "Why do we need to take puppy classes at all?  We've had dogs before!" This is actually a great question and one everyone should ask before enrolling in classes.  You see, while I love teaching my puppy classes, I know that puppy classes aren't for every puppy. I also know that it doesn't matter how many dogs you've had over the years, this puppy will be different, even if it's the same breed you always own.  And most importantly, I know that the science behind puppy development is changing all the time which means training methods are going to be different now than they were even 5-10 years ago. While I know not everyone is as science-minded as me, I do think that my love of scientific research and learning means that the information I bring to my students in class is the most current and based on actual studies done on developing puppies, and not based on something I saw on TV or read on some random website on the internet.  I won't shove the science down your throat, but if you ask me why I do something a certain way or why I don't do something a certain way, I'm going to give you an answer that's rooted in research.  Here are a few examples:

So, why do I do two to three short play sessions in every class and why do the playgroups change weekly?  I do this so that puppies get a chance to meet one another, but in small enough groups not to get overwhelmed.  Shorter play sessions, whether in class or on your own at a playdate, are a must. Puppies go through fear stages during their first year of life, so keeping play sessions short, and rotating participants, creates a more stimulating, but still safe, learning environment.

Why do I have puppies doing tricks in class instead of regular obedience?  I do this for two reasons.  First, because most people taking my classes have taught sit, down, and come, but don't know where to go from there. Second, because tricks are fun for people and for dogs, and if you are having fun, you're more likely to do the work.  The added bonus is that every trick I teach in class has a real-world application.  For example, teaching a dog to roll over is cute.  But teaching a dog to lay down, then flop on its side, and then roll over has value because now your veterinarian (or their staff) can examine your puppy's abdomen and legs with ease. 

Why don't I teach puppies to heel?  I don't teach a strict heel because the puppies in my class are still very young, for the most part. While I'll work with the older puppies on the foundation for heel, I want the owners of the younger puppies in particular to work on just getting their puppies to enjoy walking on a leash without zig-zagging or slamming on the brakes.  Frankly, heeling is boring for dogs, so I keep it to a minimum.  I'm not saying I let people get dragged around by their puppies, or vice versa, but I don't feel like puppies need to be in a strict heel.  We work more on moving with their owners, around cones and other obstacles, with a loose leash.  I like that much better and so do the puppies!

While I try to screen out fearful puppies beforehand, every once in a while, I'll get one in class. I try to give them a chance to acclimate just in case they are simply slower to warm up, but if they are truly afraid, that will inhibit their ability to learn and make gathering in a group setting a negative experience.  Some dogs, like some people, are introverts who learn better in a non-classroom/group environment. For those puppies I suggest one-on-one work first, and then they can try a class again in a few months when their puppies have gained some confidence. Any even if those puppies are too shy to ever take a puppy class, that's okay too. There are plenty of other ways to learn, grow, and thrive in the absence of group instruction.

So, if you or someone you love has a puppy right now, and they are located in the San Francisco Bay Area, send them my way.  For those of you out of the area asking about virtual attendance for my classes, I'm working on that!  I'd love to be able to use Zoom to get my classes to you in the near future.

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

Henley doesn't know it yet, but he'll be attending this round of puppy classes.  
He loves other dogs and he loves to learn, so I'm hoping he enjoys the experience
 as much as I'll enjoy having him there with me. And Ozzie and Desi will enjoy the break!

Thursday, August 3, 2023

Why Crates Can Be So Helpful!

I worked with a client last week who wants to crate train her puppy, but has never used a crate before and wanted to make sure she does it right.  I was thrilled to be asked to help her with this as I think getting a puppy off to a great start with a crate does take some planning.  And as I started to talk with her about all the different ways to use the crate with her puppy, and then the myriad of uses for the crate when here puppy moves through adolescence and then on to adulthood, she was truly sold on the idea.  After leaving that appointment, it got me to thinking that she wasn't the only client I've ever had who thinks that crates are just a means to an end with puppy house training, so I wanted to go over some of these other opportunities for using a crate for your crate trained dog well beyond the house training phase of their development.

If you've trained your puppy to sleep in their crate for all naps and for night time sleeping, then this is something you can (and should) continue with going forward into adolescence.  Adolescent dogs still need to have those enforced naps during the day to ensure that they are well-rested and well-mannered.  Adult dogs can easily nap wherever and whenever they choose, but many will choose their crates if you leave those dogs access to them. It's great for them to sleep in crates at night too, even if you choose to leave the crate door open so that they can move around. On hot days, being crated indoors near fans and A/C vents can be much safer and more comfortable for dogs than being outdoors. Plus, if there is a fire or other emergency in your home when you aren't there, having your dogs in crates means that safety workers can get them out of your home easily.

If you like to travel with your dogs, then having them crate trained is a perk!  Many hotels, Airbnb's etc. allow dogs, but feel more comfortable having guests crate their dogs if they intend to leave them unattended on the premises.  Your dog is an unfamiliar environment already, and if you aren't there, that can increase their anxiety. Bringing their crate and bedding from home means having something familiar among all of the unfamiliar things. Plus, you'll have peace of mind when you leave them behind while you do non-dog friendly activities as you know exactly where they are and that they are staying out of trouble.

If you intend to fly with your dog and he isn't your ESA or service dog, then he must be able to crate, either under the seat if he's small enough, or in the cargo hold if he's a medium to large sized dog. Having your dog already used to crating for extended periods of time makes air travel more of a possibility for you if you need it and are going someplace not accessible by car.

If you are having work done on or in your home (painters, plumbers, repair folks, housecleaners, etc.), then having your dogs trained to happily hang out in their crates is helpful.  Having your dogs crated means these workers can feel safe while doing their jobs successfully, not worrying about your dogs following them around looking for attention, or worse, following them around suspiciously, barking, or otherwise being disruptive.  People who come to work on or in your home will greatly appreciate not having to pretend like they like dogs if they don't, or worry about getting bitten.

If your dog has to have any kind of surgery, then being crate trained will be incredibly helpful to their recuperation.  Dogs who've had major orthopedic surgeries, for example, spend weeks on bed rest with limited exercise allowed.  If they've been crate trained, you can set up their space to be comfortable and enriching for their post surgical experience. If they are in their crates, you don't have to worry about them running around the house or yard, jumping up on furniture, or playing with your other pets, all activities which are likely off-limits during their recuperation.

If you have multiple dogs and one or more have issues with resource guarding of food, bones, toys, etc., then being crate trained is incredibly helpful. The resource guarding dog can be crated for meals, when they have bones or bullysticks, and when they play with toys that they love too much to share.

Finally, having crate trained dogs makes life easier for housesitters, daycares, boarding facilities, and your friends who watch your dogs when you are gone. Your dog is already going to be anxious about you being away from home. If they are being left with strangers, or someone new is coming into their home to care for them, that crate will be their safe haven. 

Now, I'm well aware that not all crates are esthetically pleasing.  I've never liked having the airline style crates in my home, but I don't mind them serving as outdoor dog houses.  Indoors, I prefer wire crates, nylon crates, or those lovely wooden crates that can serve as end tables or bedside tables as well. Remember, too, that while you may like those nylon crates, your puppy or adolescent dog may think they are good for chewing on and destroying more than resting.  Pick a crate that is the correct size and age appropriate for the dog you are crate training.  As a puppy matures, you can move on to a different type of crate, or one that goes better with your home decorating style.

Right now, Henley has a wire crate.  He's going to outgrow this one soon, however, and I'll have to figure out what to get him next. I'm leaning toward a wooden one that can double as an end table, but we'll see.  In the meantime, he's pretty happy to nap during the day and sleep at night in his cuddler bed inside his wire crate.

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

Here's a happy Henley hanging out in his crate after a much needed nap!


Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Huh? Thoughts on Why Dogs Tilt Their Heads!

An up and coming Bay Area social media influencer asked me a fun question at the Pawsitively Summer Event a couple weeks back.  She wanted to know why dogs tilt their heads and how she might get her dog to do them more often as those were her most engaging posts.  I couldn't help but giggle as I, too, love a good doggie head tilt, but never really thought a lot about what it would take to get them to happen with some kind of predictable regularity.  I worked with her dog for a couple of minutes, getting a handful of solid head tilts, and left her with some ideas to start working on herself.  All the way home in the car, I was still smiling about those head tilts.  Ever wonder why dogs do them in the first place?

While not widely researched, there does seem to be evidence to support five possible reasons for the canine head tilt:

1.  Doing so helps makes them more attentive listeners. One study actually found that dogs tilt their heads more when their humans use the words that the dog finds most interesting/important and were thus words that they knew really well.  This makes sense given the plethora of funny viral videos of people saying nonsensical sentences, punctuated with their dogs' favorite words like car ride, walkies, cookie, etc. and the dogs' responses which invariably include head tilts and enthusiasm. So, it would seem one possible explanation is that tilting their heads helps them process what we are saying, picking out the key words and phrases of value to them.

2.  The tilted head makes it easier to see better. A dog's vision could be blocked by a long nose (my collies, for example). Evidence to support this would be the fact that flatter faced dogs tilt their heads with less frequency than those with the longer snouts. So, it would seem some dogs tilt their heads to get a better perspective.

3.  Tilting the head may make it easier to figure out where a sound is coming from.  I've seen this one many times.  My female smooth collie, Pearl, used to sit in the yard like a statue, tilting her head from side to side, before pouncing on a spot and starting to dig.  She was listening for the moles under the lawn! Some breeds of dogs with heavy ear flaps may tilt their heads even more as those heavy flaps can mute or block sounds. So, they may be tilting their heads to listen better.

4.  If tilting their head gets them positive attention, they'll do it for the love. Dogs are smart.  If they see you laughing, smiling, and giving them treats and attention for tilting their heads, they'll do it just for that.  Case in point: All of those videos on social media of dogs cocking their heads!

5. And a more serious reason; the dog has an underlying medical concern. Dogs with vestibular issues (problems with balance and depth perception, turning in circles, etc.) may tilt their heads to try to regain their equilibrium.  Dogs with ear infections may tilt and shake their heads to try to dislodge whatever is in the ear canal or as a way to indicate pain/discomfort in their ears. Head injuries and brain tumors can also cause head tilt in dogs.  So, if you see your dog tilting its head with some regularity and at times when you've not been soliciting and rewarding the behavior, see your veterinarian to further explore the underlying causes. 

So, what did I do to get the influencer's dog to tilt his head? I made ridiculously high pitched sounds and then quickly offered a high value treat for the head tilt.  Within a couple of minutes, I was getting head tilts in rapid succession due to the rewards and excitement.  

My first dog was a Border Collie mix named Shadow, who I know I've mentioned here before.  I could get her to cock her head basically on command.  What was the command? Me saying, "Huh?" and cocking my head.  She'd mimic me!  Never discount observational learning as a way to get a desired behavior as well.

I think I love these fun questions almost as much as the serious ones.  As always, if you have any questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

I'd never tried to get Henley to tilt his head.  How did I get this perfect head tilt?  I made those ridiculously high pitched sounds again.  He tilted his head first, then sat down, 
right before he tackled me!  

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

You've Got Questions, I've Got Answers!

A dear friend texted me last week about her own dog.  She'd noticed that her young, now neutered male dog doesn't like other male dogs who are intact, that is unneutered. She talked to a dog walker she knows and he said it's a pretty common occurrence.  She was curious if I'd seen this too and thought it might be good to address the topic here in my blog, and she was right!  In fact, I had two people come up to me at the Pawsitively Summer Event series and ask about the same thing.  Let's dive into this topic more deeply, including what you can do if you own an intact male dog and this is happening to you when you are out and about.

First off, why this happens.  Simply put, intact male dogs smell different.  Their hormones mean they smell like a dog who is still male and has the ability to mate. The scent of an intact male dog can cause tensions to rise even before the dogs engage each other.  Neutered male dogs, on the other hand, are believed to smell like female dogs and thus don't automatically put other male dogs on high alert.  Intact male dogs can also trigger aggression in female dogs, both spayed and intact. Why?  Because, once again, those intact male dogs have the ability to mate. It is also true that some intact male dogs engage in postures that elicit negative responses from other dogs, meaning intact male dogs may stiffen their gait, raise their tails, and stare directly at other dogs resulting in an altercation. While dog on dog aggression can occur between any combination of dogs, it seems to be on the rise between intact male dogs and their neutered male counterparts.  Why is it on the rise?  No, we can't blame this one on COVID-19 and a lack of socialization.  Rather we need to look at changes in spaying and neutering trends among dog owners. 

In 2020, the results of a study at UC Davis were published, examining the rates of some joint disorders and cancers in 35 breeds of dogs, looking at the correlation between early spaying/neutering (at or before 6 months of age) and those specific health concerns. As a result of this study, many veterinarians have begun advising their clients to postpone spaying/neutering their dogs until after a dog's first birthday, and for some breeds, even longer than that.  While timing of spaying or neutering varied with breed, one thing seemed quite clear; larger breed dogs had a higher incidence of joint issues and cancers if they were altered early. This is likely due to the absence of hormones which provide a certain level of protection from those health issues. 

Back in the 1970's when I was a kid, very few people in our neighborhood altered their pets.  And yet, I can remember very few aggressive encounters.  Why is that?  I chalk it up to different pet practices back in those days.  Dog owners didn't spay or neuter, but they also didn't take their dogs to dog parks, doggie daycare, or to restaurants and stores with them. Rather those dogs were mostly in the house or yard, and walked on leash in the neighborhood with little chance to get into an altercation with another dog. While the techniques used to spay and neuter pets have been around since the 1930's, it really didn't become a common practice until the 70's and beyond.

So here we are today, having come full circle.  We are delaying spaying/neutering if we do it at all, knowing that keeping our dogs intact may protect them from some very common health concerns. But we are also taking our intact dogs everywhere with us, including to dog parks, daycares, off leash at the beach, etc. Doing this means we are exposing our intact animals to potential negative encounters that could result in aggression.  

I was also asked why intact male puppies don't trigger these same aggressive responses and the reason is still all about hormones.  Testosterone peaks around 10 months of age when a dog reaches adolescence.  Research seems to indicate that these adolescent dogs have testosterone levels 7-10 times higher than intact, adult dogs, which explains why so many intact, adolescent male dogs are getting aggressed by neutered adult male dogs.  They smell like a threat.  The bigger issue here for owners of those adolescent dogs is putting those dogs into situations where they have to face this overt aggression daily, which may result in fearful or preemptively aggressive behavior in their young dog. So, what can you do to protect your intact adolescent dog?  For starters, avoid the dog park or any other place unknown, off leash dogs congregate. Keep your dog on leash and only allow off leash interactions with known playmates who have an established relationship with your dog and are therefore less likely to behave aggressively toward him.

Now, you may be wondering when (or if) I will be neutering my newest collie, Henley.  Based on the above mentioned study (and here's the link to it in case you want to explore it in more detail:, I've got options.  Of the 116 total collies they looked at in the study, they found no increased occurrence in joint disorders or cancers associated with neuter status in the male dogs.  They did find, however, an increased cancer risk in female collies spayed earlier than 6 months, and an increase in urinary incontinence in female collies spayed between 6-11 months of age.  So, I always encourage my friends with female collies to wait until their dogs are over a year of age to spay them.  For me, I still think I'll wait for Henley to reach at least his first birthday before I neuter him, unless he starts urine marking in my house, something that could happen given that I have a household full of male dogs!  Ozzie started marking in my house when he was just shy of his first birthday, so he was neutered before he hit that milestone.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed with Henley!

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

He's getting bigger all the time.  His ears don't look like they belong to someone else any more!

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

My Favorite Advice!

As you know, I did a special event for the Golden State Warriors last weekend to kick off their month of Pawsitively Summer activities in San Francisco. It was a lot of fun to attend and participate in a dog-friendly environment.  One of the people who interviewed me at the event asked me for my favorite behavioral advice that I regularly give to dog owners.  I told her that would be a great topic for my next blog post, so here goes! Here are my top 5 pieces of advice given regularly to dog owners:

1.  Aim for well-behaved dogs, not obedient. I love a well-behaved dog just as much as the next person, however well-behaved doesn't always mean obedient per se. You see, while I do know some amazingly obedient dogs, not all of them are well-behaved; they can perform sits, downs, long stays, and come when off leash, but they still bark at other dogs, jump up on people they meet, etc. I love a good community dog, that is one who can walk through a crowd without jumping on people, one who doesn't lunge at other dogs to greet them, and one who quiets when asked.  I'm always mindful to tell people their goal should be a well-behaved dog first, with rote obedience taking a back seat to that.

2.  Don't overtrain.  While it's good to work on your dog's training every single day, you don't need to put in hours of work. In fact, too much work can end up backfiring on you when it comes to dog training.  It's better to do frequent short sessions with your dog than to work with them for hours at a time.  This is particularly true of puppies.  Remember too that incorporating training into your everyday activities with your dog is better than a devoted training session.  Working on drop it and leave it, for example, during your daily walks is a much more productive way to work on these behaviors than to just try to do it at home where there are fewer distractions.

3.  Speaking of leave it and drop it. I know a lot of people like to teach their puppies and dogs sit, down, and stay first, but I like to teach leave it and drop it. Why? Because dogs don't have thumbs, so they explore their worlds with their mouths.  Some dogs readily drop items, even before they are asked, while others hold onto (or worse yet, swallow) anything they can get into their mouth, even if it's not technically edible. If your dog has been taught leave it and drop it early on in your relationship, and they know you will trade whatever they have for something that IS delectable and IS edible, then they are much more likely to play let's make a deal with you when they get something they shouldn't have.

4.  Don't compare your dog to other people's dogs, previous dogs you've owned, or even the other dog you live with now.  Each dog is an individual.  Even if you always get the same breed of dog, each dog you add to your family is unique.  Treat each of your dogs as an individual and find out what motivates them and use that to your advantage. While your previous Border Collie may have been ball motivated, your current one might be more treat motivated.  And I've certainly met more than one Border Collie who didn't like to chase a ball and didn't like herding sheep, but did like mozzarella cheese, so that was the motivator used.

5.  Have fun! No matter what you are doing with your dog, find the joy.  Their lives are short and they live to just spend time with you.  So, spend time with them.  You can spend time with them actively (playing, training, going for walks, heading to the pet store, etc.) and you can spend time with them passively (encourage them to sit or lay near you while you work, read, watch TV, or prepare food). And whatever time you do spend with them, have a good time. If you're having fun, they're having fun.  This is precisely why I encourage the use of tricks training for puppies and young dogs.  It's just more fun and if it's fun, you are more likely to do it, and less likely to find reasons NOT to do it.  Plus, most of the tricks I like to teach lead right into cooperative care exercises for making trips to the groomer, vet, etc. easier. 

I'll be back in San Francisco again this Saturday for one more Pawsitively Summer event, and I'm really looking forward to it. In the meantime, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

Working on a group stay with this gang of Collies! Fun for them and lots of fun for me.  Everyone did great and they all received a small treat for their efforts.  That's a win/win!


Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Hot Fun in the Summertime!

I'm excited to announce that I will be participating once again this year in the "Thrive City Paws-itively Summer" Event series hosted by the Golden State Warriors.  Dog friendly fun will be happening on all of the remaining Saturdays in July, but if you want to see me, you'll have to be there opening day, this Saturday, July 8th, or next Saturday, July 15th. You do need to RSVP for the events, so here are the links for each of those dates:

The fun begins at 10 a.m. and ends at noon. I'll be on stage from 11 to 11:30 with collies in tow.  This Saturday, it will be all about Henley,  while next Saturday will be Westley's turn in the spotlight.  Henley will be doing tricks and helping me show attendees how tricks training can help you form a lasting bond with your dog of any age. I'll also be talking about all things puppy and answering questions on leash training and socialization for puppies. On the 15th, Westley will be helping me show what's involved with attaining a CGC, Canine Good Citizen designation.  Should be fun for the collies and a great opportunity for me to work with them around a lot of distractions.  And if you are wondering why I'm not bringing Desi or Ozzie:  This is an outdoor event where it could be quite warm.  Our young, smooth collies will do much better in the warm weather than our older roughs.  If it's cool enough on the 15th, I might bring Ozzie just to show off my Lassie descendant dog, but I won't make him go if it's really warm.  That's no fun and these events are meant to be fun for all involved!

Please stop by and say hi if you are there as I always love to see you.  Don't forget to bring water for you and your pup and sunscreen for sure.  Putting water on your dog's feet and head will help keep her cool and the fact that all of the events will be winding down at noon means we'll all be out of there before it gets too warm to be walking around on the pavement and artificial turf. 

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

Here's Henley working on place in a hula hoop.  He's also working on being able to walk through the vertically held hoop, with little hops, when prompted!

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Adventure Time!

No, not the TV show your kids used to watch, but taking those puppies out in public spaces to socialize them.  Even though puppies under 16 weeks of age are at risk around other dogs or in places frequented by other dogs given their insufficient immunity until fully vaccinated, they still need to get out and socialize with people.  This can be challenging, however, given that a lot of the places you might frequent are also places where other people take their dogs! Nonetheless, you will want to persevere. Puppies really need to meet lots of new people and if you wait to socialize them until they are 4 months old or beyond, then you will not only have missed your opportunity, you will be doing your puppy a disservice. If you don't want your puppy to be afraid of people wearing hats, children screaming and running, strollers or wheelchairs, then you have to expose her to those things regularly. I really want my collie puppy, Henley, to be my next pet assisted therapy dog, so it's my job to get him out, a lot, and make sure he meets all kinds of people.  I also want him to be comfortable riding in the car, so frequent car rides are a must. So, let's talk about some places that Henley and I go every week to give you an idea of what might work for you as well.

Even though Henley can't go into the post office with me, he can come with me to mail items using the outdoor drop box there.  He can go with me to the bank where I can have him practice sitting and waiting patiently while I make deposits at the ATM. I love taking him out with me for coffee or lunch as he's learning to sit or lay on his mat at my feet and quietly people watch. He's even been to the local farmer's market where he people watched from the safety of a bag over my shoulder. Next week, he'll be going with me to the car wash as I want him exposed to the noises and all of the cars going in and out.  We've sat on a bench and watched the kids at the park, as well as the seniors with their canes, wheelchairs, and walkers who visit the park from a nearby assisted living facility.  Henley is an avid people watcher and gets very excited if he can wiggle and bounce enough to get someone's attention.  He's been approached by children, strollers, people in hats and sunglasses, people with medical equipment, bicycles, scooters, etc.  So far, so good.  I make sure he sits or stands politely for petting and reward him verbally and with a small treat for getting it right.  

While it might seem like pet stores would be the perfect place to socialize a puppy, do be cautious. It's fine to do so if you take precautions such as bringing your pup inside in a stroller, bag, or a shopping cart you've laid a mat or towel in for safe exploring up off of the floor.  Remember, however, that not every dog visiting that pet store with their owner may be fully vaccinated or behaviorally appropriate with your puppy, so keep your puppy's interactions limited to the people in the store.  Do walk your puppy past the birds, pocket pets, etc. so that she can see those other animals without getting over-excited.  Again, since I want Henley to do pet assisted therapy, I want to make sure he sees cats, birds, and guinea pigs as friends not food!

So where won't I be taking Henley? He won't be going to any festivals or large gatherings where folks might be setting off fireworks. I want his first experience hearing fireworks to be at home where he'll feel the safest. Plus, neither Desi nor Ozzie care about fireworks, so seeing them calmly hanging out while there are loud sounds in the distance, is something I'd like Henley to experience on his first 4th of July. We live near the fairgrounds, so fireworks have already been going off nightly as part of the festivities there leading up to the 4th of July. None of the dogs, Henley included, have paid them any attention, which is great. I hope it stays that way! And his first trip to the beach will have to wait until he's fully vaccinated, but I'm looking forward to that as the other collies here love the beach!

Finally, I've had a couple of people ask me if Henley will be attending puppy classes. The answer is yes, as soon as his veterinarian gives him the okay to go.  I'll be teaching a round of puppy classes this summer and I plan to have Henley attend those, handled by my daughter since I'll be the instructor.  While he will already have learned all of the behaviors I cover in my classes, Henley will be attending for the social opportunities with other puppies his age AND for the chance to work with lots of distractions around. So, if you are in the San Francisco Bay Area and you have a puppy who needs puppy classes this summer, let me know!  Your puppy and Henley could be new best friends!

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

Henley has learned so much from the older collies here at my house, and no one has been more influential in his understanding of boundaries and respect than my daughter's young adult smooth collie, Westley.  Ozzie and Desi would not want to be doing this puppy thing without his help!

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

I Understand Your Frustration!

The most common question (and one I've addressed before here in my blog) that I get asked is, "How long will it take to fix this?" The second most common question? "Why does my dog DO this?!  My friend's dog (neighbor's dog, sister's dog, co-worker's dog, the dog I had before...) is the same breed and she doesn't do this!" Believe me, I understand your frustration.  If you always acquire the same breed of dog, or everyone in your family or friend circle does, then comparisons are inevitable. But here's the thing.  No two dogs are alike, even if they were born in the same litter, raised in the same family, etc.  Each dog, just like every person, is an individual.  Each individual human or dog is continually altered by external factors.  We are all products of our genetics AND our experiences.  While something environmental like a thunder storm might have profound effects on one dog or person based on their personal experiences with loud noises, it can also be something that has little effect on other people or dogs in the same family.  Your individual personality affects how you cope with obstacles thrown in your path and experiences that you face.  Personality plays a role in the behavior of our pets as well.

We now know that sociability in dogs can be ranked on a scale from 100% extrovert to 100% introvert, and all the levels in between. For example,  not all puppies are social butterflies, making activities like puppy classes, puppy socials, and puppy play dates incredibly stressful for those puppies to navigate. While puppy classes are good for the humans as well, forcing those puppies to go when they clearly are uncomfortable and in distress can result in long term, negative, behavioral consequences.  Better for the humans to attend the classes sans puppy and apply what they learn in class, at home, on their own. Introverted puppies and dogs often do better working at activities one-on-one with their owners.  So, agility and nosework are two sports that I've seen more than one introverted dog excel in; they don't have to interact with other dogs directly AND they get to focus on an activity that brings them joy with their owner. 

It is certainly true that breeders who incorporate Puppy Culture type programs into their litter raising routine often produce puppies who are better at "rolling with the punches," so to speak. It isn't that puppies who complete these programs in their breeders' homes are smarter, more competent, or more capable than their peers raised in different situations, it's simply that these puppies have experienced more sounds, surfaces, lights, textures, etc., so that they, regardless of personality type, have the ability to cope with novel situations thrown their way.  Puppy Culture puppies seem to learn some resilience from having these early experiences with the support of their dam and littermates. They may still be introverts (or extroverts!) when all is said and done, but they will know how to bounce back from experiences that can behaviorally cripple other puppies. It just makes them more pliable.

So, even if you always have had Golden Retrievers, and you always get females, this doesn't mean that female Golden you just purchased from a breeder will be like all the others. Why? Because even if you always use the same breeder, the genetics of the parent dogs ARE different; they, too, were affected by their experiences.  It is even the case that puppies are affected in-utero by stressors felt by their mothers. So, while generally speaking, always getting female Golden Retrievers may make things somewhat more predictable for you as a dog owner, you, too, will need to be flexible.  Your new puppy may be bolder or more fearful, sensitive or hard-headed, a fast learner or a pup needing lots of repetition.  Why?  Because she's an individual.  Parents are always told not to compare their children. Well, you know what? Don't compare your dogs either!  

Let's circle back to that second most commonly asked question of why does the dog behave this way. It behaves that way because of her genetics and her experiences before you even met her.  Now that she lives with you, her behavior is affected by the choices you make for her. Be flexible. Just because a martingale collar was right for your last dog doesn't mean it will be the right choice for this one.  And just because he's a Labrador that doesn't mean he'll love water or want to fetch a ball all day long.  I can attest to this fact having had a Labrador who hated water and never fetched a toy her entire life.  You know what she was good at though?  Keeping up with young children and protecting them. She was a champion at these tasks and for that, I will always be grateful.  She begrudgingly followed them on the slip-n-slide and would run with them when they kicked a ball, but those were not activities she chose for herself, and we never forced her.  Love the dog you're with, not the one you thought you were getting.

We're all trying to make the best choices that we can for our pets.  Sometimes those choices are no brainers, while other times, we can stew and fret over them.  Henley is my third collie puppy; we've had numerous collies over the years, but I've only raised three from puppyhood.  He is similar to Cooper (my first collie puppy) and to Ozzie (my goofy Lassie descendant dog) in that he's a fast learner. All three were puppies you could show something to one time, and they got it. They'd all test you to see if your boundaries were firm and non-negotiable, but they got it.  How is Henley different?  Well, he's the most confident collie puppy we've ever had.  Noises don't bother him (some noises still cause Westley anxiety), he accepted a collar the first time it was put on him (Ozzie fought every collar we tried on him and ultimately had to be desensitized to wearing one at all), and he walks on a leash with the big dogs like he was made for it, no apprehension, no hesitation, no concerns.  Because he is a bold and confident puppy, I feel the need to protect him even more; it's my job to make sure he doesn't just skip his way into a situation that's too much for a puppy his age to handle. I scoop him up when we see other dogs on the street; I make sure his greetings with new humans don't include mouthing them or jumping up; and I carry him when we are out in public spaces on errands. He's getting kind of big to be carried, but I know he feels safe in my arms or over my shoulder and that allows him to explore places he might otherwise not be able to go yet as he's not fully vaccinated. It's funny. Henley was born on my daughter's birthday and he's very much like she was as a child.  She, too, was bold and confident, only crying when things didn't go her way.  Henley is exactly the same. Go figure.  I don't know if you believe in Zodiac signs, but I sure do.  These two are both Aries through and through.  So, yes, I do get frustrated with Henley (and my daughter!) but that doesn't make me love him (or her) any less.  He is different from our other collies, and I love that. He's going to keep me on my toes and I wouldn't have it any other way.

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

Here's Henley last week, at 12 weeks old.  He went with me to get my hair cut and spent our time there in the salon sitting on my lap, or parked on his mat chewing his bone and getting treats for being quiet and doing his basic behaviors, when asked. He charmed my hairdresser and the other patrons in the shop.  It was a good day to be a confident, collie puppy.  Here he is, sitting in the salon chair like he owns the place.  Definitely an Aries!

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Setting Goals

I'm one of those people who likes to make lists.  I make lists when I grocery shop (so I don't get stuff we don't need AND so I get the stuff we do need!), lists when I travel (that way, I don't forget my sunblock, sun hat, and favorite day pack!), and lists of goals for the week, month, and sometimes even the year.  I like lists because checking items off of them feels like I've accomplished something, even if it's just that I got my car washed and the laundry done. Somedays, those are big accomplishments! 

Now that we have a puppy, however, my lists include goals for him.  Some of the goals are immediate (getting him to be able to sleep through the night without a bathroom break), others are mid-range (making sure he understands basic requests and tricks as he's going to be doing two special events with me in July!), and some are long term.  As many of you know, my plan is for Henley to become my next pet therapy dog, taking Desi's place as he's retired and Ozzie's place as he really doesn't enjoy those visits.  While I truly chose Henley with this long term goal in mind, I'm certainly not giving him back if that doesn't end up being his calling.  I love him to pieces and if it doesn't work out for him to do pet therapy, I'll find him another job.  At this point in time, however, I'm hopeful.  He shows a lot of the behaviors and characteristics I look for in solid pet therapy candidates.  I'm actually teaching a pet therapy seminar class right now, and the topic of how to train a therapy dog came up more than once.  I try not to be wishy-washy in my description of what it takes, but truly I believe that the best therapy dogs are born, not made/trained that way.  You can have the best behaved dog in the world, but if they don't enjoy meeting new people, exploring new situations, being around strange sounds/smells, etc., then they aren't going to make a good pet therapy dog. Conversely, if you have a dog that loves people, loves new situations, isn't bothered by smells or sounds, etc. they won't make a good pet therapy dog if they bark, whine, jump up, or paw excessively for attention, for example.  There has to be a nice balance between those two extremes. You need a dog who loves people, is friendly and outgoing without being easily overstimulated, and can follow basic commands like sit, down, stand, stay, wait, and come and can walk nicely with you on a leash. Since you will likely need to drive yourself and your pet to your therapy visits, it's also a must that your dog can ride in the car without getting carsick or overstimulated by things outside of the car, thus making car travel negative for them.

So, let's see how Henley's progressing.  He's got the basics (sit, down, stand, and come).  We are working on wait and stay; he's a good observational learner and Ozzie and Desi are champs at wait and stay.  He walks very nicely on leash, doesn't pull and doesn't dart back and forth.  He's learned bow, touch, turn, through, and shake is at about 80%; sometimes when you ask for shake, he flops into a down and then shakes your hand.  Funny, I think he learned that spin on shake from Westley; my daughter's collie loves to shake hands from the down position. Go figure. More observational learning going on here! I take Henley in the car with me to run errands almost every day. He doesn't get car sick and is happy to look around, not barking or getting scared/overstimulated.  He waits patiently if I step out of the car (something Ozzie has never mastered!) and isn't overly dramatic when I return.  He loves being petted and talked to by everyone he meets and shows no fear or apprehension regarding people of different ages, ethnicities, or wearing hats/sunglasses. My next challenges for him will involve working with my wheelchair and walker that I use for my pet therapy classes.  We can work with them at home before he starts encountering them out in public spaces when he's old enough to begin exploring there.

Beyond my long term goal for Henley to do pet therapy after his first birthday, I'd also like for him to be able to help me with my clients and their dogs when Ozzie has to retire from that job. That's a long ways away (I hope!), but it's something I'll still work toward.  I may have him work side by side with Ozzie with a few of my clients to see how it goes, but that won't happen until he's closer to 2 years of age, as that's when Ozzie started working as my assistant/demo dog. Two years of age seems to be perfect for a dog as they've matured out of puppyhood, have an excellent attention span, and can be trusted to nap on their own, when needed, without being enforced.

First and foremost, Henley is a well-loved family member.  But like all family members, I have expectations for him.  I want him to be happy and healthy, and I'll do my level best to make that happen for him. I also want him to be mentally challenged, so making sure I find the right job(s) for him is key.  I think he and I will enjoy getting his Canine Good Citizen (CGC) designation, but I'm really looking forward to him earning some tricks titles and therapy dog titles.  For now, however, we're just working on potty training, bite inhibition, and not making the other dogs nuts.  Smaller goals for now, but with big consequences, right?

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

Here's Henley: 11.5 weeks old and working on stay.  I am standing just three feet away from him, but he's relaxed and attentive, maintaining his sit. He'll definitely get that cookie in my pocket when I release him from the stay!