Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Adventure Time!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

I Understand Your Frustration!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Setting Goals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Let's Get Creative!

I'm teaching a puppy class right now and I'm greatly looking forward to my own puppy joining this group for the last couple of classes, once he's had another round of vaccines and is given the go-ahead by my veterinarian. I've had a couple of clients reach out to say that they, too, are waiting to join puppy classes and are looking for more ideas of things to do at home with their puppies to maintain their sanity and that of their other pets! I know I've talked before about bathroom schedules for puppies, the importance of naps, keeping walks short, and doing daily training on the basics for a few minutes every day. But what are you supposed to do with them the rest of the time?  You know, when they're chewing on your furniture, tearing up your rugs, biting your legs, and pouncing on your adult dogs' tails.  Or is that just what's happening here at my house?! LOL.  All kidding aside, if you have a puppy right now, are these things happening for you too?  If so, here are my suggestions for ways to keep those active puppies busy and appropriately occupied between naps, training sessions, and bathroom breaks.

First off, rotate those toys.  We've got two boxes full of dog toys. There are rope toys, squeaky toys, tug toys, cuddle toys, nubby toys, all kinds of bones, hideaway toys, and toys that crunch when you grab them. With all of those choices, you might think that our puppy, Henley, would be happy as a clam just sorting through them every day.  Well, that's where you'd be wrong.  Even with all of those choices, I need to get in there and move the toys around, putting what he played with yesterday at the bottom of the boxes, and moving novel toys and bones to the top.  Why? Because if I don't, he'll get bored and think "Oh, I've already seen all of those toys" and move on to chewing on the furniture, rugs, etc. Any toy you put away for a day becomes new to a puppy when you bring it back into the rotation, so move those toys around.  If your puppy is really craving novelty, but you have a limited number of toys available, there are still things you can do to make those same toys seem different. Got rope toys?  Get one of them wet and put it in the freezer.  A frozen, crunchy rope toy is different from that dry one you play tug-of-war with. Want to increase the value even more? Soak the rope toy in low sodium chicken broth and freeze it.  Now it smells different AND is cold and crunchy.  Rope toys are easily washed in your washing machine so you can do this over and over again. Got bones that your dogs have already emptied of the marrow/stuffing?  Run them through your dishwasher to sterilize them and then stuff them with your own concoction. I like to throw cooked chicken breast and either plain Greek yogurt or peanut butter into my food processor to make my own stuffing.  I can fill those empty bones and then freeze them so the stuffing is harder to get out.  Even though Henley doesn't have the teeth to really work on these larger bones, he sure does enjoy licking out the stuffing.  Wears him out in no time and he seems to enjoy them as an alternative to a stuffed, frozen Kong. 

Speaking of Kongs:  You should have at least two of them stuffed and ready to go in your freezer.  I like to have one stuffed with kibble and a bit of nut butter and the other stuffed with the higher value chicken filling mentioned above. That way, Henley can be surprised with what he gets when it's crate quiet time. 

Never underestimate the value of ice cubes, tissue boxes and paper towel rolls, discarded Amazon boxes, etc. While you will need to supervise your puppies with these things, they are still fun for them to explore. You can cut holes in the boxes and add some treats or smeared peanut butter so those boxes become even more valuable to open up. If it's warm where you are, get yourself one of those small plastic kids wading pools. Put just a small amount of water in the pool and float those ice cubes for your puppy to bob for.  If your pup enjoys this game, then freeze blueberries, small pieces of carrot, or strawberries in water in ice cube trays (I know a lot of you may not have ice cube trays anymore, but you can find them in kitchen stores, online, and at thrift stores!) and add those colorful cubes to the wading pool.  Always supervise your puppies around water, but go ahead and enjoy that water yourself; this is a good time to dip your toes and read a book while your puppy bobs for those ice cubes.

Did you know that you can even use old towels, braided or knotted together as a toy?  Just tuck a few treats in the braids or knots for added fun.

Truly the key here is to think like a puppy. If they are chewing on furniture, then they are looking for something hard to gnaw on.  Give them a stuffed bone, hard Nylabone, etc.  Are they tearing up the rugs and throw pillows?  Give them one of those chilled rope toys or braided towels to chew on instead.  Chewing on you?  Maybe it's time for a nap.  Or a time out to calm down. Most importantly remember that it's critical to teach your puppy to be able to entertain themselves.  You should not have to be engaging them every moment that they are awake.  That's not normal, nor is it sustainable.  It's also true that even if you have other dogs, it's not their job to entertain that puppy all the time either.  Puppies need to learn to back off and do something else if the adult dogs are resting or otherwise engaged. Those puppy naps are as much for the sanity and recharging of batteries for your other pets as they are for your own well-being and that puppy's brain development.

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

Here's Henley enjoying one of those repurposed bones, filled with ground up chicken and peanut butter! You'll notice the carrot and rabbit toy beside him.  That's one of those hideaway toys where the puppy can pluck the bunnies out of the carrot and the bunnies squeak when they do so! It happens to be one of his favorites.