Wednesday, March 29, 2023
Being a Good Observer
Wednesday, March 22, 2023
The Difficult Ones
Wednesday, March 15, 2023
Atmospheric Rivers Be Gone!
Wednesday, March 8, 2023
For the Love of Little Dogs
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.
Wednesday, February 22, 2023
Wednesday, February 15, 2023
Well, That's Not Entirely Correct!
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.
Wednesday, February 8, 2023
House Training 101
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: https://www-sciencealert-com.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.