Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Leashes, Leashes, Leashes! More About Leashes!

I realize I've talked about leashes many times here on my blog, but I get questions about leashes and leash walking more often than almost anything else.  It doesn't matter if a dog has anxiety or is anxiety-free, his or her owner likely still has questions about the leash.  Some people want to know what the "right" leash is for their particular dog, many want to better understand why their dogs pull on the leash, and more importantly, how can they stop that behavior. And for my clients with anxious dogs, how they use those leashes is critical to helping their dogs manage their anxiety on a daily basis.

First and foremost, never use a retractable leash on any dog.  Yes, I know people who can use these leashes with some success, but the majority of the dog owners I've seen using them are having trouble.  Plus, they truly aren't safe for dogs; I could tell you horror stories about dogs who've died on retractable leashes, but I won't. Most small to medium sized dogs need a 4-6 foot leash for walking; medium to larger dogs, a 6-8 foot leash is perfect. If you want your dog to have more freedom to explore, but still be on leash and under your control, get them a long line as well.  Long lines are made of the same material as most leashes (nylon), have a similar metal thumb release clasp, and come in varying lengths from 10 feet up to 100 feet!  For my dogs, I'm comfortable putting them on a long line that is 20 feet in length for safe exploring and for practicing their recall.

How you attach the leash to your dog makes a difference as well.  If your dog pulls, regardless of size, then a collar may not be your best option. Particularly for smaller dogs, collars can put a lot of undue pressure on their necks which could result in damage to their trachea.  Even for medium to large sized dogs, hard-core pullers will be gasping, coughing, and gagging while they pull on leash, and that could result in tracheal damage.  While I know that there are people who put pinch/prong/correction collars on their pulling dogs, that will never be my go-to solution. Rather, I'll be suggesting a head halter for that dog or a "Freedom No-Pull Harness" from 2 Hounds brand. Why?  Because if a head halter can control a horse, it can certainly help control a dog.  And the harness from 2 Hounds has a better design and fit than other no-pull harnesses AND you can order a double connection leash to go with it. I love these leashes for pulling dogs as they utilize the two points of contact on the 2 Hounds harness, thus evening out how much pressure you and your dog feel when they pull. Plus, two leashes leading to one handle makes it feel like reins on a horse and I love that. Much easier than trying to use two separate leashes which is something I've done with clients in the past.  If your dog isn't one to pull, but perhaps is one who falls behind, stops frequently, or zig-zags in front of you, then my choice for that dog would be a martingale style collar. These collars come in different widths for comfort at the neck and work well on dogs who don't pull.

Now, on to the actual walk.  Walks are not about cardio exercise for you, but rather about sniffing, exploring, and relieving themselves for your dogs. You want a cardio workout?  Take a brisk walk without your dog.  Yes, I know that there are dogs who don't sniff, explore, or relieve themselves on walks, preferring to power walk with their owners and then head home.  That's great for those dogs, but the average dog?  He/she wants to sniff and explore. When they are sniffing or relieving themselves, give them enough leash to do so without feeling pressure on their neck or body.  Keep the leash loose (a smile in the leash, so to speak). When dogs are doing something pleasurable, we want them to make an association between those behaviors and not feeling tension in the leash.  This means the person holding the leash needs to pay attention!  Don't walk with your phone in one hand, doom-scrolling, or trying to talk to someone on the phone while you walk.  Focus on your dog and what they are doing.  Redirect them from areas where they shouldn't be sniffing or exploring, and encouraging them to do so in areas that are safe for those behaviors.  In between sniffs, your dog doesn't need to be in a competition heel.  Save that strict behavior for tight spaces where you need to pass other dogs and people, or move through high traffic areas.  For general walking, focus on having your dog near you, either in front, alongside, or even behind, as long as your arm isn't taut and the leash isn't straining.  If you've ever seen me walking my dogs, you know that I allow them to move from side to side, walk in front of me, etc.  I'm fine with all of those things as long as my arm isn't getting yanked out of the socket and we aren't trying to maneuver in tight spaces.  In tight spaces, I keep my dogs next to me, not by shortening up the leash, but by using my voice and encouragement to keep them there without signaling danger by tightening that leash. How does that even work, you ask? Let me explain.

My dogs learn to walk on leash with me inside my house first, then in my yard, and then out on the street at off peak times.  We move up to high traffic walks as they become more skilled at listening to my directions. Before I ever put a leash on my dogs, however, I walk them without one all around my house and yard, luring them into position with my voice and treats.  That way, they learn the value of listening to me in a low pressure/low stress situation.  Walking my dogs on an invisible leash means I have to get really good at keeping them focused on me as I can't resort to pulling on the leash to draw their attention back.  See? Training for humans as well.  I do this invisible leash walking, moving up to leash walking on home turf, with every puppy I work with, as well as every adult dog experiencing leash anxiety/reactivity/aggression.  For many clients and adult dogs this seems like a step backwards, but ultimately retraining those humans and dogs on how to use a leash properly is critical to the treatment of the anxiety that drew them to contact me in the first place.

For those of you who are skeptical, thinking that's all fine and well and good, but those dogs aren't getting nearly enough exercise walking around the house and yard, my response is this:  Better to have shorter, more frequent, successful, stress-free walks in your home and yard than stressful, anxiety-provoking walks of any length out in public spaces.  Plus, there are all of those judgy people watching you get dragged around by your dog, yanking your dog into position, and struggling to maintain your control of the leash and your composure.  I'd rather you were in a better head space and less stressed out yourself before you get out there where other people are watching you.

Anyone can put a dog on a short leash, attached to a prong/pinch collar and yank them into submission.  But is that okay?  In my opinion, absolutely not.  Forcing a dog into submission is to ignore what they were trying to tell you with their pulling.  Using force to get a dog to walk nicely on leash doesn't get at the underlying issue of why they were pulling in the first place.  So, if you want to know why they are pulling AND how to fix it, then definitely let me know.  Leash walking is an art as far as I'm concerned.  Having your leash walks go well is such a joy and really does make you want to take your dog out to more places more often. Not to show off, per se, but to help them to see what the world has to offer if they can listen and stick with you when on leash.

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

Here's my granddog, Westley, out for a rainy day walk.  You can see he's happy (just look at that blur of a tail!) AND you can clearly see that my daughter is allowing him walk in front of her while still keeping the leash loose enough that it isn't taut.  I'm proud of Westley's leash manners and of my daughter for actually taking the time to learn how to walk her sometimes anxious dog.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Tantrums: They Aren't Just for Toddlers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Advice for You & Your (New) Dog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Get Off My Lawn!

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

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

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

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

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

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