Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Being a Good Observer

For over thirty years now, I've been a paid behavioral observer.  I've observed the behavior of everything from rhesus monkeys to cheetahs to snow leopards to client's house pets, and many other animals in between. But, to do what I do now, I need to be a keen observer of human behavior as well; reading human behavior, and how the behavior of my clients affects their companion animals.  Many of my clients have children or grandchildren in their homes too, so even more to observe. While I've often found it hard enough to help adults understand animal behavior, helping kids can be even more challenging, but critical, not just to their understanding of animals but for their safety around those animals as well.

I've recently started working with a new family; they have three kids under the age of 15 and 4 pets, 2 dogs and 2 cats. This is a busy household with a lot going on.  Not surprisingly, there have been a few issues that have cropped up, both among the pets and among the humans caring for those pets. After our first appointment, it was abundantly clear to me that no one in this house ever actually looked at the pets.  Yes, they fed them all, walked the dogs and cleaned the litterboxes, and made sure that there were beds and toys available, no one actually watched the animals do anything.  Even on the walks, the kids and adults were often on their phones. When I started pointing out body language cues and behaviors and what they meant, this family was astounded.  They felt like they didn't see any of the things that I saw.  Time for a homework assignment!  Every human in the household was asked to use their phone to videotape one or more of the animals in the house at some point during the week.  The animals could be interacting with each other, one of the humans, or even out on a walk. The only thing they couldn't videotape was an animal sleeping ( I had to add that extra instruction when one of the kids thought he could get away with that as fulfilling his homework assignment!). Then, at our next appointment, we watched those videos together, first with the videographer describing what he/she observed and what they thought it meant.  Once everyone had "decoded" their videos for me, we went back, and I gave them my impressions of what was going on in the videos.  Needless to say, minds were blown.  Misinterpretations abounded, and not just for the kids.

So, why am I telling you this?  It's important to be a good observer.  This is how you'll know if your pet is bored, tired, hungry, needing a walk, needing a bathroom break, or needing attention. It's how you'll know if they are ill, hurt, or scared as well.  It will also let you know if there are social dynamics that need to change in order to stabilize those existing relationships, making it safer for all involved.  If you don't watch your animals, you'll never know any of these things until it's too late. 

For this family, we are working on changing who is responsible for what so that the care and keeping of the animals is divided more evenly.  No more looking at phones on the walks. I added in some games for the younger child to play with the dogs and cats that will keep him entertained, but also keep him safer around the animals.  Because this is a busy family, I outlined ways to keep the animals safely entertained, even when the humans weren't observing them.  Finally, I reiterated the importance of sleep for all the animals and allowing them safe spaces in their house where they could retreat and rest, undisturbed, thus helping with those nighttime zoomies and short fuses occurring because of nothing more than sleep deprivation for the dogs AND the cats.

I know we are all busy, but taking just a few moments to be truly present and observant during your interactions with your pets will enhance your relationships with them.  You may even find, as my clients did, that practicing those daily observations makes you feel happier and more connected.  And what's not to enjoy about that?

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

Ozzie spends almost as much time watching me as I do watching him. I find comfort knowing that he's resting nearby, ready for whatever I want to do once I'm done working.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

The Difficult Ones

I was talking with a veterinarian friend of mine earlier this week.  She and I try to connect with one another, even if it's just for a few moments, every week.  We've known each other for years and share a love not just of animals, but of donuts, coffee, and 80's hairbands. All kidding aside, this week our conversation turned to those difficult appointments, the ones where we are the bearers of bad news.  It's stressful having to tell people things that you know will be painful for them and hard to hear, but that's part of our job as well.  Where our professions seriously overlap is in the area of behavioral euthanasia.  While no veterinarian wants to or enjoys euthanizing a pet for a behavior problem, they also realize that there is such as thing as mental health in animals and some mental health issues in animals aren't treatable long term IF their behavior continually puts them, and the humans in their home and out in public spaces, at risk. Re-homing an animal who has bitten multiple times only means that poor animal has to be stressed out and overwhelmed moving to yet another home environment where they are surely going to bite someone again.  While re-homing may make a pet owner (or rescue group) feel good in the short-term, re-homing aggressive animals who bite people or kill other animals doesn't help anyone, and can cause irreparable harm.  Some animals are simply not wired correctly.  It is truly a blessing that we can spare them further anxiety through humane euthanasia.

Now, before any of you get ticked off at me for not trying harder to save these animals, let me set the record straight.  I am not someone who takes behavioral euthanasia lightly.  I have certainly met pets who were simply in the wrong home environment, unable to thrive there.  For those pets, I strongly recommend re-homing them so that they can find their perfect match, that place where they will feel safe and seen.  I have met perfectly wonderful pets, who through no fault of their own, ended up in a home with someone who just didn't understand them or wasn't equipped to meet their needs.  So, yes, I strongly suggested that they be re-homed so that they could find their happy place.  And, obviously, I've helped clients find that perfect match; that pet that suits their lifestyle and temperament.  But the bottom line is this:  If you have a pet in your home who is a risk to you or others, I am not going to sugar-coat the situation, nor am I going to tell you to "just keep at it." No. I'm going to suggest that you speak to your veterinarian about a full physical and metabolic workup to make sure that there isn't some medical reason for the behaviors you are seeing.  It isn't normal for a dog to bite people; let's rule out pain, discomfort, disease, etc. first.  If there isn't a medical reason for the aberrant behavior, we have to assume that the animal isn't wired correctly and then humane euthanasia becomes part of the discussion.

My veterinarian friend and I share a handful of clients and she has done a few humane euthanasias for behavior problems that were unsolvable and creating dangerous situations for their owners. Neither she nor I found joy in these situations, but we did find peace in the knowledge that we kept that animal from biting another person.

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

Donuts and coffee, shared with a friend, in good times and bad.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Atmospheric Rivers Be Gone!

As you've likely heard, California has been getting a lot of rain this winter.  So much so that the events are actually referred to as "atmospheric rivers."  It isn't that we don't get rain (and snow at higher elevations) like this during the winter, it's just that we don't usually get this much all at once!  In any event, I've had clients emailing and texting me for ideas to keep their pets busy when they can't get their daily exercise outdoors.  You already know that I'm a fan of puzzle toys for both dogs and cats, and those should be in your regular rotation of activities rain or shine. Besides those store-bought puzzle toys, there are other option for you to consider.  Here are five of my favorite boredom-busters for your dogs stuck indoors:

1.  Obedience with a twist: Take your obedience and tricks training to the next level by adding in music!  I'm sure you've seen those videos of people doing obedience and tricks with their dogs, set to music, for freestyle competitions.  Well, even if you don't plan to compete, adding in music during your training sessions just makes them more fun. Plus, it's fun to watch your dog's reaction to your dance moves. How about adding in "Who Let the Dogs Out?!" just for fun?

2.  Time to Walk the Dog:  Just because you can't walk outdoors doesn't mean you can't get in a walk.  Without a leash, walk your dog around the house; keep them on your left as you'd do on your walks outside, stop at all curbs (steps/stairs), stop signs (corners in your house), and jump over obstacles in your path (put down a few obstacles to maneuver around/over). 

3.  Recall: Just because you can't go outside doesn't mean you can't work on your dog's recall.  But it's time to make it fun!  Give your dog a small treat as they are faced away from you and then go hide!  Call them and when they find you, celebrate with a large treat!  And if hide-and-seek isn't your game, why not yo-yo?  With your dog at your side, toss a treat approximately 12-18 inches away from you.  When they scamper off to get it, say their name so they look your way, and then toss another treat a different direction.  Periodically, say "Here!" or "Come!" and only toss the next treat when they return to you.

4.  Box Bonanza:  I'm sure you've saved more than a few Amazon boxes in your garage for this activity!  Cut holes of different sizes in the boxes.  For large holes, smear a small amount of peanut butter around the hole on the inside of the box.  For boxes with smaller holes, put treats or kibble in the boxes so your dog can roll and toss (and tear up!) the boxes to get to those treats.

5.  Break out the Flirt Pole: While most people think of a flirt pole as a strictly "outdoor activity," you can play with a flirt pole indoors as well.  You may need to move the coffee table out of the way, or clear the kitchen floor, but letting your pup chase the lure around inside the house gets them some much needed physical and mental exercise.  Remember though that the flirt pole isn't a tug-of-war toy.  Your dog chases the lure and when they catch it, they must drop it when asked, in order to continue the game. If your dog doesn't want to drop the lure, now's a great time to work on reinforcing drop it by offering them a treat for dropping the lure.

And don't forgot to groom your dogs, even on rainy days.  Keeping the fur on their feet trimmed means less water and debris tracked indoors from their bathroom breaks. Short nails mean better traction and fewer scratches on hardwood floors.  Brushed/combed/grooming mitted dogs drop less fur and dander on your furniture, rugs, and bed. 

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

Here are my three musketeers (or the three stooges, depending on how you want to interpret this!) intently supervising me as I fill their puzzle toys for game time on a recent rainy day.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

For the Love of Little Dogs

I have several new clients with small dogs.  Everything from a 5 lb Terrier mix to a 12 lb Poodle. While dogs are dogs, regardless of size, I do think that small dogs have some unique issues to deal with that your average medium or large-sized dog doesn't have to contend with regularly.

First, being picked up.  Everyone seems to want to pick up those little dogs.  And it's not just their owners!  Unfamiliar people seem to think that it's okay to pick up these little dogs when they meet them.  I find this incredibly rude and potentially risky.  Many little dogs don't enjoy being picked up by their owners, let alone a stranger.  Folks need to wait for those little dogs to approach them and indicate that they'd like to be picked up. And if they don't, then don't pick them up. Period.  Just because a dog is "pick-up-able" in size, doesn't mean that they want to be carted around in someone's arms or shoulder bag.  While I have certainly met some dogs whose legs are essentially useless as they are never on the ground (lol!),  for the most part, dogs like to be on the ground and moving at their own pace.  I had one client tell me that her little dog never came when she called him, but would come to her husband when he called the dog.  She started telling me that it must be because the dog views her husband as "the alpha."  First off, that's ridiculous; you know how I feel about the alpha thing. It's misleading and doesn't even apply here.  The dog came readily to her husband, and to me for that matter, because we didn't try to scoop him up and smother him with kisses when he did.  It was as simple as that.  I needed to train this owner to call her dog to her, reward the come, and NOT pick the dog up.  It took about 45 minutes of recall on a long line for the dog to get over his PTSD about being picked up when he approached his female owner.  Once he realized that he wasn't going to be picked up, he relaxed his posture and would come close to her to get his treat for coming when called.  Her homework?  Long line recall, high value treats, and no picking up the dog. Instead, she can sit on the couch or in her favorite chair and wait for the dog to approach her and climb in her lap, which he does quite regularly.  Like any dog, he likes to make that choice on his own. Big dogs don't have this problem; we can't scoop them up when we call them.  We can, however, still make coming a negative if we always do something the dog doesn't like immediately following that recall. So, for example, if you always call your dog and then leash him up to go home, he'll stop wanting to come to you as he doesn't want to leave where he's currently located.  If instead, you call your dog, reward them, and then send them off to play again, even for just a few moments, your dog learns that coming when called doesn't necessarily mean the end of all fun.

Let's circle back to those kisses as well.  While little dogs seem to bear the brunt of the hugs, kisses, and squeezes, medium and large-sized dogs aren't immune to this kind of attention either, it just doesn't seem as prevalent.  It's not often you see someone run up to a Rottweiler and throw their arms around the dog's neck, smothering them with kisses.  You'll see it daily, however, with little Maltipoos and Cavaliers.  Is it that Rotties don't like hugs and kisses and those white fluffy dogs and Cavaliers do?  Not at all.  It's just that many of those smaller dogs have learned to put up with it, increasing their threshold of tolerance for rude human behaviors.  Again, some dogs love hugs and kisses (probably because their owners do), but waiting for a dog to offer that type of attention first is the key.  Consent isn't just something that needs to be given in human interactions; we need to wait for consent from dogs as well.

One last note about little dogs that sets them apart from their larger compatriots.  House training.  Many smaller breed dogs are more difficult to fully housetrain.  I've had people tell me that it's because those little dogs have smaller bladders.  While it's true that they do, that's not the whole story. In our human desire to breed smaller and smaller dogs who are more "puppy-like" in size for their entire lives, we are also (perhaps inadvertently) breeding for the retention of other juvenile characteristics beyond just size.  Neoteny is the retention of juvenile characteristics into adulthood.  So traits like those domed foreheads on Chihuahuas and big eyes on Cavaliers, those are the result of breeding for puppy-like traits being carried on in adult dogs, so examples of neoteny.  Circling back to house training.  What's a common issue dealt with in puppies? House training!  So these small breed dogs often take longer to house train, or for some breeds are never fully house trained, as adult dogs.  It's the trade off for those other juvenile characteristics folks love so much in their small dogs.

I'm looking forward to my follow up appointments with the Terrier mix and the Poodle.  My guess is that their recall will have improved. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that there haven't been any other snapping/growling incidents associated with being picked up and coddled. Giving dogs choices and waiting for their consent keeps those dogs AND the humans safe.

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

This is McIntosh.  He was a West Highland White Terrier and my first dog.  He was a whopping 22 lbs. when full grown, so technically pick-up-able, but not something I ever recommended.  While he was game to wear a ribbon, hat, or coat, particularly for a photo op and a treat, he was not a lap dog.  His preferred position was the the back of the couch, not a lap, nor someone's arms. And we respected that.

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Should Have Started Sooner!

At least twice a week, I work with someone who says "I wish I had started on this when my dog was younger!" While it's true that teaching cooperative care techniques, walking nicely on a leash, and polite behavior around kids and the elderly are skills more easily taught to puppies, you can certainly work on all of these things with adolescent, adult, and even senior dogs.  Not having adopted a puppy isn't a valid reason for not doing the work to get a handle on behavior issues.  And while starting when you first brought home that new dog is ideal, there really is no time like the present!

Whether you are teaching your dog to offer a paw for a nail trim or walk nicely on leash, you will need treats.  I've said it many times; we all like to get paid for a job well done.  The value of a given treat is determined by your dog and the job at hand.  So, while a few small treats may work nicely when teaching your dog to move away from the door and sit nicely when guests arrive, you are likely going to need something more enticing to get that same dog to hold still for a nail trim.  And something even yummier to teach them not to pull on the leash.  Varying the payment options and payment schedule depending on the job is important.  You are not bribing your dog to behave or cooperate, you are rewarding/paying them for a job well done.

It's also important to divide your training into frequent, small sessions.  While it would be nice to be able to dremel all of their toenails at once, that may not be feasible right off the bat. Instead, focus on your dog cooperating with you (i.e. not pulling their foot away, struggling, or mouthing your hand!) as you trim/dremel just one nail.  It may be the case that you can trim all of the nails on one foot and I'd consider that a success! Same goes for teeth brushing.  Start by just having your dog lick the doggie toothpaste off of the brush.  Work up to putting the brush into their mouth and moving it around. You may only be able to brush those front teeth the first few times you try, but that's better than not brushing their teeth at all. And when it comes to working on leash skills, start indoors without the leash, having your dog attend to you and focus on walking nicely by your side.  Work up to walking around inside your house on leash, graduate to your yard, and your neighborhood before venturing too far from home.  Frequent short sessions on leash will result in better learning and keep your dog from getting overstimulated.

Be patient. I realize having to trim one nail every day, brush just a few teeth, or spend your time walking around with your dog on leash inside the house is frustrating.  I've done all of those things myself and can confirm that I needed to take a break and walk away from the training session just as much as my dog did.  Doing those frequent short sessions, however, means that now I can do all of the nails AND brush teeth AND groom my dog ALL in one session.  Happily.  

The bottom line is this: You CAN teach an old dog new tricks.  A dog of any age can be taught to participate in care that is crucial to their well-being.  They can learn that not pulling on leash means a better walk.  It's just going to take some patience on your part and an understanding that Rome wasn't built in a day.  Taking the time to do it right, having treats ready to reward those baby steps, means you and your dog can look forward to those grooming sessions, leashed walks, etc. that go off without a hitch.  And by all means, start early if you've just brought home a puppy!  Trimming puppy nails and brushing puppy teeth, introducing the leash, etc. are exactly the kinds of skills you will want to be working on with your puppy just as much, if not more than, the crate training, sitting when asked, and fetch.

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

Ozzie started walking on leash, inside our house, as an 8 week old puppy.  By 11 weeks, he'd graduated to walking alongside Desi as we did a slow lap around our block.  You'll notice that Ozzie is walking on a leash and collar.  Because we started indoors, making the leash positive without pressure on his neck, he was able to navigate leashed walks outside without a body harness. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Rewarding Nothing!

I worked with a client last week who had described her dog as "hyperactive."  When I met them for our appointment, I found her dog to be easily over-stimulated and quick to offer behaviors that got him attention, albeit negative attention, from his owner and others. He would bark, spin, jump, vault off of guests, grab clothing and hands, etc. I was exhausted just watching him!  His owner was at her wit's end and embarrassed by her dog's "over the top" behavior.  She couldn't figure out why, in spite of verbal corrections and time outs, the "bad behaviors" persisted.  If this situation, or something similar, is happening to you, affecting your relationship with your dog, then let's get to work!

We all do behaviors and repeat behaviors that have consequences we desire or find rewarding.  So, while some people love to run and find that rewarding, there are others who find running to be a form of cruel and unusual punishment!  Running is a behavior and whether it's rewarding or not is determined by the person doing the activity.  It's the same thing for dogs.  While one person might enjoy their dog jumping up on them for attention and thus reward that behavior favorably by petting that dog, there are other people who hate being jumped up on by a dog and will yell, shove the dog, put up their knee, and squeal to get a dog to stop jumping on them.  But, here's the thing.  Both of those people are reinforcing the dog for jumping up and that's why the behavior persists.  Dogs are looking for consequences and in the case of jumping up, the dog getting loved for it and the dog getting yelled at are both receiving attention and that's why they keep jumping. 

So what should you do for the dog that jumps up?  Walk away. Ignore them.  Don't give them any attention at all.  I like to think of this as "passive training."  Basically, you are refusing to engage a dog who is doing those annoying behaviors.  This will only be successful in getting the dog to change their tune and do what you want them to do IF you reward the behavior that you actually want to happen.  In this case you will be rewarding THE ABSENCE OF THE BEHAVIOR (that is, rewarding NOT jumping up). Yes, this means you have to have treats in your pocket at all times, but really, why wouldn't you?  The moment that jumping, spinning, vaulting dog quit doing those behaviors last week, I tossed a treat for him and walked away.  I rewarded the absence of the behavior.  He was clearly flummoxed as that had never happened before!

When I asked the owner if she'd ever rewarded him for NOT doing those behaviors she hated, she admitted that she really didn't think she had; she was just grateful and relieved the times that he didn't. But, you see, that's the problem.  Rewarding the dog with negative consequences AND/OR offering neutral or no consequences when they get the behavior right (meaning they don't do what they aren't supposed to do), results in a dog who can't see the value for them in doing the right thing.  They don't see the value in lying on their bed because when they do that, you don't reward/respond/react.  Again, I'm not asking that you throw your dog a ticker tape parade, showering them with treats and praise, for simply lying quietly on their bed.  I understand that this is what they're supposed to do, but do they know that?  No.  They won't know that unless you reward the behavior of lying on the bed.  We all need to get in the habit of rewarding the absence of the behaviors we'd really like to see be extinguished. 

By the end of my appointment, the dog was no longer doing all of these annoying pushy, loud behaviors.  He was lying a few feet away from me calmly.  All I had to do to get that behavior was only reward that behavior.  I finished the appointment by shaping continued calm behavior and giving him a large chew to work on as I moved to leave their house.  So, instead of body slamming guests as they exited the house, he was there in the kitchen, chewing happily on the yummy chew stick I'd brought for him.  There were consequences, and he clearly understood.  Calm behavior would get the rewards now.  Passive training works! You can (and should) reward the absence of behaviors you don't like just as much as, if not more than, the behaviors you are trying to teach your dog. Thus, while I certainly think a dog learning to stay has great value, I also think a dog learning to stand/sit/down without being asked to stay also has value.  I can reward the stay when I ask for it, but more importantly for those easily over-stimulated dogs, I can reward the absence of frantic behaviors, in whatever form that absence takes.

I'm really looking forward to my follow up appointment with this client as she's been excited to see how fast this new game plan is working for her, her dog, and her family.  They are all feeling relieved and less stressed out which I'm sure is making the dog feel less anxious as well.  Now that her dog is calmer and can focus, when can move on to the real, active behavior training that she wants to do with him.  

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

I took this picture in my office. It was dinner time and Ozzie and Desi had to come to see if they could get me moving to fix them their meals.  They didn't bark, nudge, whine, or fuss.  What they did do was lay quietly about 3 feet away from my desk and stare at me patiently until I got up and fed them, thus rewarding the absence of obnoxious, pushy hungry-dogs-in-the-house behaviors.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Well, That's Not Entirely Correct!

It's been a crazy week and it's only Wednesday!  So many random thoughts and ideas racing around in my brain as a consequence of seeing and advising this handful of clients and their pets. There seemed to be a common theme though with everyone I've met so far; surprise regarding their misinterpretation of their pet's behavior. Misinterpreting behavior and behavior cues can lead to more serious problems, particularly if those cues you missed were early indicators of deeper issues, or something completely different than what you had assumed. Here are just a few examples:

The Problem: Your dog won't let you put his collar on, he just walks away.  You call him, sometimes he comes, sometimes he lays down where he is.  You ask him to sit and he just stands there looking at you.  He's defiant, right?  According to the internet, it's time to start some harsh corrections for that inattention and disobedience. Actually, no.  This dog isn't being defiant per se.  He's been living in a home without any type of positive reinforcement in the form of treats.  He's gotten plenty of physical attention, but not one snack.  The backstory: His allergies had led his owner to discontinue using treats in his training starting when he was 12 weeks old.  Now he's 2 years old, and while he appears defiant, he's actually just trying to figure out what's in it for him.  Basically, whether he does what he's asked, or he doesn't, there really isn't any consequence he cares about that much.  I spoke to their veterinarian and we determined that a single ingredient treat could be used with this dog for training purposes.  Once we re-introduced treats to reinforce executing the correct behaviors promptly, and used the lack of treats for behaviors executed slowly or not at all, suddenly this dog was doing exactly what he'd been asked.  He wasn't defiant at all, he just wanted to get paid.  Final Thoughts: Research shows that while dogs enjoy being told they've done a good job and they do like to receive physical attention (pats/strokes) from their owners, what they really love and value most are treats.  

The Problem: Your dog has bitten you more than once.  Your brother-in-law told you the bites are happening because you let the dog walk all over you.  Your neighbor told you that you're getting bit because you sit on the floor with your dog and allow him on the furniture. Even your vet told you that you need to "be the alpha." The Heart of the Matter: Well, those bites are happening not because of anything you've done, but because your dog CHOSE TO BITE YOU.  Dogs do have choices; a growl, snap, or simply walking away would have sufficed. You getting down on the floor with your dog or allowing them on the furniture isn't the reason why you got bit; again, you got bitten because that's the choice your dog was willing to make.  And frankly, most dogs are unwilling to make that kind of choice. They'll put up with all sorts of indignities and slights and never consider biting a human, let alone biting the one loving on them on the floor or the sofa.  So, if your dog bites you, stop thinking this is a "you" problem.  This is a "them" problem.  Your dog isn't wired correctly; dogs who bite people don't stop, they go on biting people, sometimes causing very serious injuries.  Final Thoughts: You don't need to be your dog's alpha because there's no such thing. Such an outdated and misleading term! Dogs know we are in control as we have thumbs and can open cabinets, containers, and the refrigerator.  We control their bowls, access to fresh water, etc.  It's pretty clear we are the "top dog." If your dog is biting you, it's time to remove that dog from your home.

The Problem: Your dog is pulling you down the street on walks, chasing after squirrels, trying to meet other dogs, and attempting to pick up everything they see on the ground. Clearly you need to put a pinch collar on your dog so you can deliver corrections every time she pulls. The fact that your dog yelps with those corrections, and continues to pull is of little consequence as you were told to just tighten up on the prong collar and shorten the leash. Reality Check: Well, actually, tightening that pinch collar and shortening the leash are just going to make your dog more anxious.  Instead, let's look at this leash pulling as being rooted in anxiety and treat the underlying anxiety first.  I had the owner put a flat collar and 6 foot leash on her dog and start doing walks inside the house.  That's right, indoors, no distractions.  If the dog pulled, she just stopped and dropped the leash, using her voice and treats to lure the dog to walk with her, no pressure.  Within about 30 minutes, her dog could walk around the house, happily without pulling.  We moved to the yard and practiced the same exercises.  Within a couple of days, she could walk their block, leash loose in her hand, dog happily trotting along, sniffing, but able to be redirected before picking anything up.  Our next appointment, we'll be headed for a walk at a local park.  I'm bringing a head halter and a ThunderLeash just in case the flat collar and regular leash don't work when there are squirrels, bicycles, etc. The moral of the story: Pulling dogs aren't always disobedient dogs.  A lot of the time, they are anxious dogs who need their anxiety addressed before they can enjoy those leashed walks in public spaces without pulling.

The Problem:  Your dog lays on top of your feet every time you sit down.  He does move if asked or when you stand up, but you read on Facebook that dogs that do this are dominating their owners and need to be discouraged from doing so. Reality Check:  Your dog sitting or laying on your feet, leaning against your legs, etc. is simply affection; your dog is choosing to be near you.  I actually capture and mark these behaviors in my own dogs (meaning, I am alert for their occurrence and give treats and praise and love in response) because I want my dogs to do this, and not just for me, but for people we visit in the pet assisted therapy environment where my dogs work. Interesting Side Note:  Pre-COVID, I had the opportunity to hear Sue Sternberg speak at a conference. Sue is a renowned dog trainer who does the bulk of her research in shelter settings.  Anyway, she had developed an assessment that can be done quickly when evaluating shelter dog temperaments.  One of the behaviors she coded was something called an "anal swipe."  I know, this sounds gross, but bear with me.  Basically, an anal swipe is a behavior where a dog rubs its butt against someone's legs, feet, etc., essentially marking that person as theirs, thus imposing some control over the person being marked.  This was considered an unfavorable or flagged behavior and a marker for a dog that bears further testing and assessment.  The one exception? If that swipe occurred by a dog toward someone they already knew, particularly the owner.  In this case, as with the dog sitting on your feet, this is just an indicator of an existing relationship, making the context of the behavior way more important than the actual behavior itself.  Nothing more, nothing less. Fun Fact: Now that you know about anal swipes, you are going to feel compelled to watch every dog you see in a group setting and see who they're butting up against and when, just saying.

I guess the takeaway here is this.  While you may get some good advice on the internet, from your family, and from your neighbors, that may not always be the case.  It's good to check with your veterinarian, and even better to ask a trusted trainer or behaviorist. As I always say, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me. 

Westley always keeps an eye, and often a paw, on whoever is in the room. He's not dominating me in this photo, he's letting me know I'm loved.  He's also going to know right away if I get up for a snack he might be able to share!

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

House Training 101

I receive questions all the time related to housetraining a new puppy.  My advice is the same whether that puppy is 8 weeks or 8 months old; it's going to take patience and perseverance on the part of the humans to accomplish the task.  And while some dog breeds are easier to housetrain than others, no puppy is ready, mentally, to be fully housetrained until he or she is a year of age.  Yes, a year of age.  Those puppies whose owners are bragging about their dogs being housetrained at 3 months, 6 months, etc. should be bragging about how amazing the humans in their home are at reading the signs in their puppies and getting them outside to toilet!

For years, housetraining was referred to as "housebreaking," the implication being you are breaking a dog in on the rules or breaking down their resistance to being told not to toilet in the house.  Dog owners were told to put newspaper down on the floor for their dog to use to relieve themselves; basically teaching dogs to toilet indoors!  And then they were supposed to roll up a newspaper and swat their dogs for toileting mistakes, drag the dog over to the house soiling mistake and rub their nose in it, etc. Must have made those newspapers a bit confusing! We've learned a lot since then.  We now know that swatting the dog or rubbing their nose in their own excrement only makes them stop trusting us AND just get better at hiding where they toilet in the house for fear of getting caught in the act and punished for simply relieving themselves.  When dog owners began crate training, using pens to confine their dogs, etc., house training made a move in a more positive direction. By capitalizing on a dog's natural tendency to keep their den or sleeping area soil-free, crate or pen training resulted in puppies having fewer indoor accidents when their owners weren't watching them.  But crates and pens aren't everything, you still have to show your puppy where you DO want them to toilet, take them there frequently, and reward them after the job is done, not mid-stream/mid-squat.  Setting up a designated toilet area in your yard means a puppy that understands where to toilet, even in the greater outdoors.  And if you have one of those puppies who gets sidetracked on those bathroom breaks, you can set up an exercise pen outdoors to use as a designated toilet area; leave them there to toilet and go back inside yourself and watch them.  Once they toilet, and only then, can they come out of the pen and explore the yard, supervised, of course.

A big piece of the housetraining puzzle is learning the cues that your particular puppy needs to relieve himself.  Some puppies sniff around, circle, whine, or even approach a door or window when they need to go.  Others will give no apparent sign and just drop and go wherever they happen to be.  Some puppies have to toilet seconds after they finish eating while others don't need to go for 30 minutes or more.  All puppies need the opportunity to toilet when they wake up in the morning, before and after naps during the day, after play, any time they get startled, scared, or excited, after eating and/or drinking, and before bed.  That's a lot of trips outside!  If you break that down time-wise, your puppy should have the opportunity to toilet outdoors every 30-45 minutes that he is awake.  I'm always asked if I can write up a sample schedule for a puppy to help new or first time puppy owners get the hang of this, so here goes.  And, again, individual schedules will vary depending on the humans' schedule, breed of dog, and their individual metabolism.

6 a.m. Let your puppy out of their crate and take them outside to toilet.
6-8 a.m. Feed your puppy breakfast, offer them water, play with them, train them, etc. Let them outside every 30 minutes, so 4 total trips outside if they are awake for 2 hours.
8 a.m. Bathroom break then down for a nap
8-10 a.m. Nap time in their crate (don't wake them up if they are still sleeping at 10 though!)
10 a.m. Let your puppy out of their crate and take them outside to toilet.
10-noon Feed your puppy lunch, offer them water, play with them, train them, etc. Let them outside every 30 minutes, so 4 total trips outside if they are awake for 2 hours.
Noon  Bathroom break then down for a nap
Noon-2 p.m. Nap time in their crate (don't wake them up if they are still sleeping at 2 though!)
2 p.m. Let your puppy out of their crate and take them outside to toilet.
2-4 p.m. Feed your puppy a snack, offer them water, play with them, train them, etc. Let them outside every 30 minutes, so 4 total trips outside if they are awake for 2 hours.
4 p.m.  Bathroom break then down for a nap
4-6 p.m. Nap time in their crate (don't wake them up if they are still sleeping at 6 though!)
6 p.m.  Let your puppy out of their crate and take them outside to toilet.
6-8 p.m. Feed your puppy dinner, offer them water, play with them, train them, etc. Let them outside every 30 minutes, so 4 total trips outside if they are awake for 2 hours.
8 p.m. Do a quiet activity with your puppy to get them ready for bed.  Brush them, handle them, pet them, let them chew on a bone or toy on your lap or near you.
8:30 p.m. Bathroom break then off to bed for the night.
8:30 p.m. to 6 a.m.:  Your puppy should sleep most of this time, but many will have to go outside at least once during the night.  These nighttime bathroom breaks are just for relieving themselves.  Do not give your puppy tons of attention in the middle of the night, and don't give them a treat either.  You want those middle-of-the-night bathroom breaks to go away as soon as possible for your own sanity!

You will notice from this schedule that I've built in naps in the crate, training time, play, and handling time for teaching cooperative care.  These are all important, foundational activities that need to happen for a puppy to be well rested, mentally and physically stimulated, and socialized. Don't let your puppies play so hard that they pass out on the floor, and don't let them just sleep wherever they happen to lay down for a moment.  Schedule those naps and put them in their crates.  Puppies sleep more soundly and wake up more rested if they sleep in their crates.  It's a fact that well-rested puppies are less mouthy and have fewer housetraining accidents, and frankly, who doesn't want that for their puppies?

You will also notice from this schedule that I've built in 3 meals and a snack.  This is ideal for most puppies as those meals are small and less likely to make them feel bloated or too full to function. Some puppies need more meals than this, and others fewer.  Talk to your veterinarian about the best feeding schedule for your individual puppy.  And remember that those are mealtimes, meaning you put the food down for a set period of time and pick up the bowl whether they've eaten everything or not. I like to give puppies 15-20 minutes to eat.  Anything not eaten is tossed.  Having established meal times and not allowing puppies to free-feed means that the humans will have a fighting chance of knowing when their puppy needs to toilet.

One last note on that schedule.  Where you see "play time" please note that this doesn't necessarily mean that you need to actively play one-on-one with your puppy.  This can mean offering your puppy a puzzle to work on such as a Kong, Busy Buddy, etc. It can also mean giving your puppy a Nylabone to chew on or a rope toy to play with by themselves. You don't want your puppy to think that every waking moment they will have your undivided attention; that is unrealistic and impossible to maintain long term.  Puppies need to build confidence and learn to occupy themselves when the humans are busy.  Just remember that your puppy needs to be confined to an area that you can control and that is safe for them if you aren't watching them directly. Or, alternatively, you can attach a leash to your puppy's collar or harness and tether that leash to you as you work.  That way, your puppy gets some passive leash training while also learning to occupy themselves when you are around but busy, AND you know that if they start to fuss or pull away from you on that leash, it's time for one of those bathroom breaks!

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

Here is Ozzie as a puppy, working on training in our backyard.  Once he toileted outdoors, we would work on basics like come, sit, down, and stay.  Ozzie was a quick study, lucky for us!

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

That's Easy For You To Say!

I worked with a client over the weekend who has a  rather "defiant" young adult dog.  I'm putting defiant in quotes because that's a loaded word that implies that her dog was willfully non-compliant and resistant.  What I saw wasn't really defiance per se, but a bored dog who had been receiving inconsistent reinforcement from the owner and other caregivers, creating a situation where the dog appeared to be doing nothing since when he did something, right or wrong, he never knew that his behavior had consequences!  I got the dog's attention on me (that chicken in my pocket once again!) and started reinforcing very basic tasks such as touching my fingers, staring at my feet, sitting, laying down, and letting me pick up one of his paws.  Each of these behaviors received verbal reinforcement and a bit of chicken.  I explained to the owner that every behavior has a consequence and she needs to show her dog those consequences.  She said, "That's easy for you to say!"  She then asked if I wanted to move in, because clearly her dog was only going to listen to me!  At this point, I needed to give the dog something to chew on so I could delve a little deeper with this owner.

You see, it isn't that it's easier for me than it is for the dog owners I work with, it's simply that with more than 30 years of experience, I know what works and what doesn't.  My job is to be like those crib notes we used back in high school in college; I'm here to summarize and condense all of the learning and techniques you should be using into one easy-to-follow game plan.  And for the frustrated dog owners who've said to me, "Well, of course, this works for you!  Your dogs are probably perfect!"  I'm here to tell you, my dogs are not and have never been perfect.  And I love them just the same.  No, really.  Every dog I've ever owned had some issue or some quirk that needed work.  My first dog, a Westie, had the worst recall.  He was a terrier who followed anything that moved.  My Border Collie mix Shadow?  She was incredibly fearful and anxious. She lived under a coffee table in my apartment for the first 3 months we lived together.  Anyway, you get the picture.  I've never once suggested that a client use a technique or method that I've not already done myself.  I practice what I preach:  positive reinforcement, easy to understand consequences, and rules that are easy to follow and don't change.  My dogs know that if they bark incessantly there will be a consequence and that consequence has never changed. I teach owners to do it the same way.  Same with recall. I play recall games with my dogs and work on a long line when teaching recall with distractions in public settings. I do it the same way with clients and their dogs.

Turns out, I am what researchers are now calling an "authoritative pet parent." This doesn't surprise me given that this designation comes from the human parenting research which places human parents into three categories, authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive, and I was (and am) an authoritative human parent as well. My client with the "defiant" dog?  She was a permissive pet parent. I'm going to post the study that looks at pet parenting style tomorrow on my business website.  Here it is, just in case you don't follow my page regularly:

Managing behavior problems isn't easy for anyone, even professional dog trainers, behaviorists, or veterinarians.  Behavior problems are challenging for all of us.  I will never tell you that they are easy to fix as I feel that saying that trivializes what is going on with your pet. What I WILL tell you is that we can work on a management game plan that includes actionable, proactive methods that can be used to get those behavior problems under control.  And those methods will be ones I've used on my own pets too.  Nothing like being the proverbial guinea pigs for any new method I try, just ask Ozzie and Desi!

My client from the weekend has already sent me her first progress report and she and her "defiant" dog are off to a great start.  Just goes to show that it was easy for me to say AND, more importantly, easy for her to do.

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

One of the things that is "easy for me to say" is add in some interactive toys for your dogs!  Daily brain games for dogs keeps their active brains stimulated and gives them something to do that doesn't require you playing too. Here's Westley with his "Mad Scientist" Puzzle from the Trixie company.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Let's Talk About Those "Hypoallergenic" Dogs!

When I was a kid growing up in the 1970's, my grandparents had a Cockapoo named Sammy.  He followed my grandmother around everywhere and loved to play tug-of-war with socks.  In my mind those Cockapoos from the 70's were the first "Doodles," with Poodle crosses gaining even more popularity since the first purposefully created Labradoodle back in 1989. Wally Conron, the man who spent over 2 years creating that first Labradoodle, did so because he wanted to create a dog that could serve as a guide dog for a blind woman whose husband was allergic to Labradors. He has since publicly said he regrets having (unwittingly) created this craze where for-profit-breeding has led to a preponderance of health and temperament issues in Doodles. Add to this the confusion prospective owners go through trying to figure out what is meant by "F1, F1B, F2, or F3" when looking at litters of Doodle puppies. Just to make sure we are all on the same page, let's break that down:

A Golden Retriever x Poodle breeding will result in F1 Goldendoodle puppies

Breeding one of those F1 Goldendoodles to a Poodle again results in an F1B Goldendoodle puppy litter

Breeding two F1 Goldendoodles results in a litter of F2 Goldendoodles

And finally, breeding two F2 Goldendoodles will result in a litter of F3 Goldendoodle puppies.  And so on. I recently met an F5 Sheepadoodle!

Whether you want to think of these Doodle-dogs as purposefully bred mutts, expensive designer dogs, or up and coming dog breeds in their own right, is up to you and not my point here.  What I want to get at is this notion that these are your only options if you have family members with allergies, or simply do not want to deal with a shedding dog.  One caveat though:  many of these Doodles are not actually hypoallergenic, as they are often advertised.  It takes several generations to get to enough of those genes coding for hair versus fur to arrive at the point where shedding is minimal or non-existent.  And truly there are no hypoallergenic dog breeds.  What many people who think that they are allergic to dog fur are actually allergic to are the things that stick to a dog's coat.  These external allergens can stick to haired dogs too, meaning that how you care for your dog's coat is the most important factor in allergen control.  Now, if it's just a preference for a haired dog rather than one with fur, then you have many other options than you may have first thought.  And the added bonus of researching a purposefully bred, purebred dogs is that the breeder should be able to supply you with the results of genetic testing, and be able to give you references to other owners of the dogs they've created.  Each of these breeds has a distinct temperament and personality (in addition to their haired coat!) that you can feel confident will be present in the dog you purchase as those characteristics have been bred over hundreds of generations to a breed standard.

So, without further ado, here is an alphabetical list of dog breeds to consider if you are looking for a breed that has hair rather than fur.  Just for fun, I've listed a few breed characteristics (based on my observations) for you as well:

1. Afghan Hound--a big, elegant, aloof dog

2. American Hairless Terrier: Friendly with everyone, has a reputation for being good with kids.

3.  Bedlington Terrier: Looks like a sheep and has fairly low exercise requirements compared to other terriers on this list.

4.  Bichon Frise: Happy-go-lucky and often a good candidate for pet therapy.

5.  Chinese Crested: Great little watchdogs, but they don't do well if left alone. Not usually a good choice for homes with young kids.

6.  Coton De Tulear: Sturdy little dogs who have a reputation for being good with other dogs and good with kids.

7.  Giant Schnauzer: Super-smart and loyal, but they can be very territorial.  These dogs need a lot of exercise, both mental and physical.

8. Irish Water Spaniel: These dogs are goofy and will bring a smile to your face.  They are very energetic though and must have lots of room to run in order to be content and not stir-crazy.

9.  Kerry Blue Terrier: Equally as energetic and active as a Giant Schnauzer but with a gentler disposition. 

10.  Lagotto Romagnolo: Often mistaken for mini-labradoodles, these 30 lb. bundles of energy and enthusiasm need their exercise out of the way first thing, and then will spend the rest of the day cuddling on your lap.

11. Maltese: While notoriously difficult to housetrain, they make up for this with their playful yet fearless dispositions. 

12.  Miniature Schnauzer: Same watchdog tendencies as the Giant version, but a bit more cheerful and engaging.  Less likely to terrify your neighbors than the Giant Schnauzer!

13. Peruvian Inca Orchid: These dogs are hairless and come in three sizes.  All have a tendency to be protective and territorial with a lot of energy and enthusiasm.

14.  Poodle: You know this one.  Comes in three recognized sizes and are the smart, energetic base dog breed for many of those designer dogs you've seen going for thousands of dollars.

15.  Portuguese Water Dog: "Porties" make great family dogs as long as that family is action-driven and not sedentary!

16. Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier: Good with kids. Especially kids who like to run. A lot. 

17.  Spanish Water Dog: High energy like the Portuguese Water dog. BUT.  These dogs are more protective and territorial.

18. Standard Schnauzer: Of the three Schnauzers on this list, the Standards tend to be more sociable and affectionate, better with kids and older folks.

19. Yorkshire Terrier: Like the Maltese, these little dogs are notoriously difficult to housetrain.  They are also pretty feisty and can be bossy with their owners.  

20.  Xoloitcuintli (Mexican Hairless): These dogs come in three sizes and two varieties, one with hair and one without.  The hairless version will need sunblock (and appropriate weather coverings). These are calm, rather aloof dogs with a moderate exercise requirement.

There you have it!  Twenty options for a haired breed dog that isn't a Doodle. Keep in mind that you will still need to do your research to find a reputable breeder and get on a wait list for a puppy or older dog being re-homed after a show career. Dog shows are a great place to network with breeders, particularly if they are "benched shows," meaning dog shows where the dogs being shown in the ring are also on display for observers to meet and talk to the breeders/handlers about those dogs.

You know I have collies and collies are, most definitely, a furred breed. My dogs shed all the time all over everything.  I groom them weekly, sometimes twice weekly when they are blowing their coats, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I control allergens by wiping them down with pet wipes and using waterless shampoo when necessary. My couch has an attractive, washable cover, so that I can share my favorite reading spot with them. I am fortunate that no one in my family is truly allergic to dogs. I'd hate to have to give up those human family members ;)

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

This is my buddy, Loki. He's the 3 year old Miniature Labradoodle I've had the privilege of working with for the last couple of years.  He's smart, quirky, and looks great in a coat.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Slow Down, You're Doing Fine

Worked with two clients this week who needed a gentle reminder to slow down.  It's not a race to see who can groom their dog the fastest, trim the most nails in one sitting, or get the harness on a puppy before they wiggle away.  In fact, if you slow it down, breaking those everyday tasks into smaller pieces, you'll find that getting things done for your pets goes a lot more smoothly.  

For many dogs, putting on the harness or leash is a time of heightened arousal.  They may be excited, barking and running around trying to speed up the process, or they may be running away from you making it take longer.  Stop chasing them and definitely stop leashing up a dog who is barking, jumping, or pulling you to the door.  Slow down.  Bring out the leash.  Stand still.  Wait for your dog to approach you (don't say come or here!) on their own.  Reach toward them with the collar, harness, or leash. If they race off, just stay where you are. If they back away, don't lunge for them! Make putting on the leash or harness calmly the goal.  Use those high value treats and reward standing for the harness or sitting for the buckle of the collar.  Attach the leash now. If they take off running once the leash is on, just drop the leash and stay where you are.  Wait for your dog to come back.  With a treat in your hand get their attention and then walk around in a circle or figure eight, with your dog at your side, dragging their leash.  Don't pick up that leash and head for the door until your dog is more calmly attentive.  If you go out the door with an over-excited dog, that sets the tenor of your walk right from the start. 

I meet a lot of dogs who are reactive at the vet's office or for their grooming appointments.  Some folks who groom their pets at home report being unable to brush certain areas on their dogs or cats, brush teeth, or trim/dremel nails. I know I've talked before about the importance of teaching cooperative care to puppies and kittens for trips to the vet's office, but the same applies to grooming.  Don't try to trim all of those nails in one sitting if that's too much for your dog or cat.  Better to trim one each day and have your pet cooperate than to wrestle with them and make the whole thing a giant negative experience they won't soon forget.  This is true for older pets as much as it's true for young ones; slow down. Take your time.  Use treats.  Take breaks.  Always end on a positive note.  While it's fine to have someone help you hold your pet for nails, teeth, or ears, they should simply be holding your pet in place, not actively restraining them.  Maybe set your pet up on a towel on a table (I LOVE my grooming table!), treats at the ready, and your other human assistant there to monitor the treat delivery to help ensure you are rewarding compliance with the grooming tasks, and not bribing your pets into acceptance of their fate.  

Taking care of your pet's needs shouldn't be a mental to-do list with you trying to check things off as quickly as possible.  Break down those tasks into smaller, easier to swallow pieces for them, particularly when it comes to experiences that make them anxious or reactive. And, as always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me. 

Grooming collies takes time and patience.  Just ask Ozzie who always needs 
a snack and then a nap following his weekly home grooming sessions.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Rain Rain Go Away!

While I am feeling grateful for all the rain we've been getting over the last couple of weeks here in Northern California, I am getting tired of it.  I know I'm not alone in feelings of being overwhelmed by the weather we are experiencing here in the US this winter.  My friends in the Midwest and on the east coast are getting hammered with freezing temperatures and snow, and even my friends in Tennessee and Florida have had crazy weather this winter.  Stir crazy humans makes for stir crazy pets and while you might just want to curl up with a bowl of popcorn and a good book, your dogs and cats are going to need more than that to make them feel content.

I know I've talked about puzzles many times for dogs and cats and getting those out and rotating them daily is key.  Change up the puzzles AND the treats you use so that interest remains high.  Novelty is the key, but that doesn't have to break the bank.  Amazon boxes, shoe boxes, egg cartons, and paper towel tubes can all be used like puzzles for solving.  And if you're really creative with a drill and have some PVC pipe laying around, drill holes in the plastic PVC pipe for your pets to dig and lick to get treats out of.  Remember too that something as simple as a braided rope toy can be changed up by soaking it in low sodium chicken broth and then freezing it.  Dig out old muffin tins and cookie sheets, smear them lightly with nut butter and stick treats or kibble on them, then freeze.  In a pinch, a frozen Kong is better than nothing at all, as are bullsticks and bones.

For cats and dogs with a high prey/chase drive, dig out the wand toys, R/C cars, and ripple rugs. Crinkled paper, balls with bells, and even catnip can entertain some of your feline friends.  And if you are stuck indoors with a puppy, set up an exercise pen and create a jungle gym for the pen using PVC pipe that you can hang toys and items off of.  For the ground in the pen, vary the flooring. You can put bubble wrap down under a towel, cardboard stacked up to work on balance, and indoor/outdoor turf to hide kibble or treats in.  Add a small children's tunnel for exploring and boxes for climbing on and in.  

If your pets are going stir crazy from a lack of outdoor exercise, consider a treadmill. There are several manufacturers on the market, creating exercise wheels that are safe for cats and treadmills that are safe for dogs of all sizes. 

Finally, don't forget to groom your pets regularly during inclement weather. You need to remove the loose hair, dirt, and dead skin cells as then accumulate, particularly on pets who are spending a lot of times indoors where it is heated.  Their coats will dry faster if they get wet and be able to thermoregulate better when their coats and skin are in top condition.  Be sure and clip the hair/fur on feet and between toys to keep dirt, debris, and snow from accumulating there.  Obviously, raincoats and boots can help protect your pets on walks in rain, snow, etc.  Just know that training a dog to wear boots takes some time and patience!

Hang in there everyone.  Stay safe. Keep your brains and those of your pets exercised so that you can contentedly enjoy that book or TV program. And, as always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

Ozzie and Westley happily wear their raincoats meaning less dog area 
to be dried off when they return home after their walks!

Thursday, January 5, 2023

Is It Time For Another Dog?

I had a lovely video appointment with a new client who lives in another state. She has a sweet, senior dog who is experiencing some dementia and a second dog who will be 5 years old in February. We were meeting not only to discuss what she can do to help her senior dog, but to discuss her next dog.  She asked if she'd "blown it already" by waiting too long.  She said she knew that pediatricians recommended 18-24 months between human children, and was wondering if it was similar in dogs! I truly got a kick out of this as that's probably not far off the mark really in terms of spacing with dogs, IF your goal is to have dogs that can really enjoy each other's company and learn from each other.  Is it too late if your dogs are 13 and 5 as my client's are?  Let's dive into this idea a little deeper.

First and foremost, the only reason to add a second (or third, or fourth!) dog to your family is because you, the human, really want to do so.  Adding canine family members should never be done for the benefit of the other resident dog(s).  While adding a younger dog or puppy may perk up your senior dog, for example, it's also a source of competition for a limited resource, namely you and your attention.  Not all dogs want to share their resources with other dogs; it's fine to share a ball at the dog park, but sharing toys, beds, and treats day in and day out is just stressful and unappealing for some dogs. While you may feel that you have enough time, attention, and treats for everyone, your resident dog(s) may feel differently about the new family member.  Dogs are competitive with each other, the family cat, and even human children.  Research has shown that the happiest dogs (as measured by cortisol levels in their blood) are those that live alone with no other dogs to compete with. I'm looking forward to the extension of this research where they look at other, non-canine family members and whether dogs would prefer you not have cats or kids either!

Having at least 18-24 months between your dogs does seem kind of ideal, though longer than that is okay too as long as you take the age gap into consideration when you think about those resources.  Dogs who are the same age (or very close in age) will have similar wants and desires.  Two puppies, for example, will need to be trained separately so that they don't bond more closely with each other than you.  And housetraining two dogs at the same time?  No fun, in my book.  If your dogs are two or more years apart, those resident dogs are already housetrained and cognizant of the house rules, meaning they can help you with the new arrival.  Observational learning is huge in dogs, so having calm, well-behaved, established dogs in your home when you add someone new can really help to get that newcomer off on the right paw. Just remember to keep the interactions monitored and appropriate, meaning play is okay as long as your resident dogs are up for it.  If they want to play for just a couple of minutes and that's it, then it's up to you to entertain that new, young dog.  And be sure to give your resident dogs priority in terms of resources and resource distribution; the new dog needs to know that they can't usurp the position of the resident dogs in your heart, or in your home.

There is a lot that goes into choosing a new dog for your family, everything from deciding on breed, age, and sex of that dog to how to make the transition to a multi-dog household successfully.  We've been thinking, quite seriously, about adding a new dog to our home.  Desi will be 13 this year and Ozzie turns 8 this week.  Yes, that's definitely more than a couple years of age difference between the dogs we already have and the new dog we'd potentially be adding.  We've enjoyed having Westley in our home when he visits, and he's now 4 years old.  Seems like it might simply be time for a new canine family member.  I'll keep you posted.  For now, it's just Desi and Ozzie, but don't be surprised if you see a new pup pop up in the next year or so.

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

Puppy Ozzie definitely drove Desi nuts, on occasion, 
but they were fast friends.  Desi was extremely indulgent with Ozzie, 
leaving us, the humans, to correct and redirect Ozzie.