Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Walking More Than One Dog!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

It's Going To Be Okay!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

You Are Not a Bad Pet Parent!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Back to School!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 3, 2023

Why Crates Can Be So Helpful!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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