Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Getting What You Paid For

I got a call from a new client wanting to set up an appointment for her almost 6 month old puppy.  She'd gotten her puppy from a breeder that had been recommended to her by a close friend. She indicated that the puppy's behavior was not only causing her frustration at every turn, she was also on the outs with her friend as she feels like her friend "duped" her with regard to this breeder.  I agreed to meet with her and the puppy in person to see if we could sort this all out before she gave up on the puppy AND her 15 year friendship.

The puppy in question is a Maltipoo.  Right away I can hear some of you saying, well that's a mixed breed dog, so what do you mean by "this dog came from a breeder."  Well, this puppy is a purposefully bred dog, the product of a breeding between the breeder's two existing Maltipoos (Maltese x Teacup Poodle).  Yes, I know, Teacup Poodles are not a recognized size for Poodles as Toy is considered the smallest within the breed standard, but nonetheless, there are people out there breeding even smaller poodles, and thus smaller mixes. This client has had small breed dogs before, though none with an adult size as small as this puppy will be. She was frustrated because the puppy seems impossible to housetrain, won't come when called, hasn't even learned to sit or lay down, and nips at her hands and ankles relentlessly, leaving marks on her skin and clothing. When I gently asked her what her expectations were when she chose this puppy, I found out that she didn't, in fact, choose this particular puppy; the breeder chose for her.  And when I asked why she was so upset with her friend, she stated that her friend knows the breeder and should have made sure the breeder picked the "best puppy for her." I was starting to get the picture. This was a case of buyer's remorse, so to speak.  

It was clearly time for a reality check.  Puppies are a lot of work, regardless of breed or temperament.  These super small breed puppies are notoriously difficult to housetrain for everyone who owns one.  The rule of thumb seems to be, the smaller the dog the more difficult to housetrain completely. I've known many a Yorkie, Morkie, Maltese, Maltipoo, and Chihuahua that were never completely housetrained. Why?  It isn't just that their bladders are small, for example.  Actually it's about something called "neoteny," which is the retention of juvenile characteristics into adulthood. In the effort to breed these small, cute, puppy-like little dogs with their big eyes and even bigger foreheads, we're also breeding in puppy-like characteristics like lack of self control, housetraining mishaps, mouthy behavior, etc. Basically, a Labrador puppy will grow up and become a Labrador dog.  A Maltipoo puppy will grow older, but they will always be puppy-like in their behavior. To be fair, that's why many of my clients who've chosen these little dogs made that choice.  They like that puppy attitude and are willing to put up with the housetraining mishaps.

So, while I do blame the breeder for not making all of this clearer to my client/her puppy buyer, I also know that breeders are in the business of selling dogs.  She probably figured that this client understood what she was getting into, particularly since they share that friend in common.  But you see, a Pug (what she had before) is very different from a Maltipoo.  Pugs are relatively easy to housetrain and mature into dogs with a low exercise requirement.  Good thing, too, given their breathing issues, but that's a separate issue altogether!  

I reviewed with the client a fairly rigorous schedule to help with the housetraining and suggested she crate or pen the pup when she couldn't watch him to limit where the accidents occur.  I also suggested consequences for the mouthy behavior that a puppy can understand, along with handling exercises to get him better and more patient with the things that were making him mouthy in the first place.  As far as training obedience skills goes, she needs to set realistic expectations. I taught the puppy to sit and come when called, using high value treats, clicking fingers, and a high pitched voice.  While her Pug was able to learn fetch and a handful of tricks, I told her she needed to remember that this new dog was a Maltipoo.  We can teach some tricks, but these dogs aren't bred for their obedience skills or their intellectual prowess.  They're bred to be constant companions and lapdogs. Period.  I don't think her friend steered her wrong, I just think there was some miscommunication.  When my client indicated she wanted another small dog, and couldn't bring herself to get another Pug, her friend suggested a happy-go-lucky Maltipoo pup to cheer her up and that's exactly what she got.  A happy-go-lucky, the world-is-my-oyster little ball of floof that likes sitting on laps, will love riding in a stroller, and will likely never be fully housetrained. I told her that if that's a dealbreaker for her, she should return the dog to the breeder to give him an opportunity to find an owner who is a better fit for him.  And, of course, we can find a dog that's a better fit for her too.

I appreciated that this client was okay with me sharing her story.  She'd never heard of neoteny or the pitfalls of owning a pup this small, and she felt others could benefit from her story.  She's not decided yet whether she will keep this puppy, but she is more patient with him now that she understands him better. I think he could end up being a nice companion for her IF she's willing to keep to that strict schedule with respect to housetraining.

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

This little guy will probably be about 10-12 lbs. when he's full grown. 
 I think Henley's head weighs that much!

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

An Open Letter to Dog Owners

Hi, I'm your neighbor. You know, the one you see walking every day with my dogs on leash.  While I occasionally deal with them trying to sniff your free-roaming cats or chase a squirrel, they are under my control and we stick to the sidewalks as well as the trails of our local park.

I feel the need to write you this letter because I'm concerned and frankly a bit frustrated.  You see, despite the fact that our city and county have leash laws regarding dogs in public spaces, you are still allowing your dogs to charge off of your property and onto the sidewalk where we are walking.  Your dogs running at me with my leashed dogs is anxiety-provoking.  The fact that you can't get your dogs to come back to you when you call them, makes me even more concerned for my safety, the safety of my leashed dogs, and the safety of your dogs as well.

And when you say, "Don't worry, he's friendly!" that doesn't make it any better.  How do you know my dogs are friendly?  How do you know my dogs won't protect me?  In fact, how do you know I'm friendly? Just kidding! Sort of.  Anyway, your dog being friendly doesn't excuse the inappropriate behavior.  Your dog should not be outside of your house without a leash or tether.  Having them off leash in your garage or on your driveway or in your non-fenced front yard when you know they are territorial AND you know they won't come when you call them away from the city streets and sidewalks is not just un-neighborly, it's against the law.

I, like you, love our neighborhood park.  It's so beautiful, lots of green grass and open space to enjoy.  When you let your dogs run off leash, however, you are making use of that park restricted for the rest of us. See that family with the young kids?  They wanted to throw the ball around but they can't as your dog is running around on that grassy field off leash trying to take their ball, despite the signs that say all dogs must be on leash.  Also, I hate to mention it, but your dogs have now pooped twice while they were running around and you were looking at your phone.  Maybe you missed it? But you need to pick up behind them as that's the law too and those little kids shouldn't have to try to play around the poop on their playground area.

Did I mention that I like to run every day to clear my head?  That's a problem too, I guess, as your off leash dogs have chased me more than once and one of them even bit me.  I know you said you're sorry and that it has never happened before, but I'm still going to carry pepper spray with me from now on.  Next time, I will spray your dogs if they charge at me.  I can't afford to miss work again for a dog bite.

I feel bad that I had to write you this letter, but I felt like it was the neighborly thing to do.  I don't want to have to contact Animal Control about your lack of respect for the law, but I will if it means one more runner isn't chased, one more dog isn't attacked, and one more child isn't bitten.  You are giving dog owners a bad name and making our neighborhood unsafe.


Your neighbor

P.S.  I really do love dogs.  They are my life and my livelihood.  I've spent the last 30 years helping pet owners.  So, if you are having a problem with your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

These two good boys are always on leash and they are friendly with dogs, cats and people,
but they don't appreciate being bum-rushed and they get scared when your off leash dogs 
body slam them to the ground.  Collies are gentle spirits, but their owner (me)
 is not going to be gentle when this happens to them again.

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Pats, Strokes, Cuddles, & Nudges!

I received a call last weekend from a client who was interested in pet assisted therapy for her puppy.  I let her know that while most pet assisted therapy organizations require a dog to be over a year of age to begin volunteering, she can certainly begin training her puppy now with that as a long term goal.  She wants to work together to get her puppy ready as he will be the first dog she's ever had with a temperament for the job!  I can appreciate her desire to "do this the right way" as after years of educating new volunteers in pet therapy, and evaluating animals for the job, I can tell you I've met numerous dogs who weren't ready, as well as many who would never be ready for the job, and tons who just needed direction to be really good pet therapists. 

One of the very basic things I look for is a dog who doesn't shy away from new humans approaching them and petting them on the head.  See, here's the thing:  I KNOW dogs absolutely don't like being patted/petted on the head, however, I also know that that's the first thing a person will do when meeting a new dog, particularly within the realm of pet assisted therapy. People who don't know dogs always reach for their head, nose, ears, etc.  Even people who profess to knowing about dogs will reach for their heads, ears, etc.  which is frustrating as well.  I know we've talked about dog body language many times here before, but I want to specifically address head pats today.

Dogs do not inherently enjoy being patted on the head.  Looming over them, hands coming at their faces, accompanied by direct eye contact are all threatening behaviors in a dog's world.  Among dogs, coming over the head or neck of another dog, direct eye contact, etc. are all provocative behaviors that may lead to aggression. For dogs, unfamiliar humans doing these behaviors is anxiety-provoking.  You will see dogs widen their eyes, turn their gaze away, lick their lips, dip their heads away from those hands, and physically try to turn away. If their humans force them into the interaction, you may even see them stiffen, yawn, and pull away the first chance they get.  While your dog may be fully accepting of you petting them on the head, ruffling their ears, and hugging them, there's no reason to believe that they will accept such invasive behaviors from someone they've just met, and you shouldn't force them into accepting these things either.  And, do you REALLY think your dog enjoys it when you do them? Yes, I know there are some dogs who do seem to enjoy this type of attention, but I've certainly encountered enough dogs over the years who don't enjoy it all and are merely tolerating their owners doing it because it makes the people happy when they do.

I'm a firm believer in teaching every dog to accept brief contact with a new human that involves a head pat/stroke and ears being touched, I'm also a firm believer in teaching people the right way to engage a dog they've just met.  In pet therapy in particular, I try to train the new volunteers to make the greetings work for their dogs.  By bringing your dog toward a new person, telling them to say hi, for example, allowing a brief head pat and then turning them sideways or with their bottom toward that new person, thus diffusing any tension and encouraging the new person to scratch that bottom, stroke that side, etc. If your dog is good with face to to face approaches, then you can instruct those new people to pet your dog under their chin, across their chest, etc.  Those are non-confrontational face-to-face greetings that can be done with less looming and direct eye contact, so more acceptable to dogs.  And, again, dogs approach each other sideways, and tuck under each other's chins when behaving in a more affiliative manner.

It's also important to remember that people are less trainable than dogs...LOL.  You can tell people that your dog likes being petted under his chin, loves bootie scratches, and will shake a hand on command, yet they will, by and large, still reach over your dog's head, ruffle their ears, pet their face, and if they are really over the top, try to kiss or hug your dog! This is particularly true in the realm of pet assisted therapy, making it all that more important that your dog be accepting of poor human behavior if you are going to try to participate in this type of work together.  So, how can you prepare your dog?

As with so many behaviors, especially those in cooperative care, it's all about desensitization and counter-conditioning. You have to desensitize your dog to head pats, ear ruffles, eye contact, and looming and counter-condition them using high value rewards to view these human behaviors as desirable, or at a minimum, something they can tolerate without feeling anxious or overwhelmed.  You can even shape behaviors in your dog that encourage the people greeting them to do so in a more respectful way. For example, teaching your dog to put their head in someone's hand or on someone's lap or bed, allows you to position your dog in a way that gives them a choice.  They can choose to put their head in that position or not; if they choose not to, then you, as their handler, can move them into a position that they prefer, such as sideways, and have the person pet them there. If your dog will put their chin in someone's hand or on their lap, remind the person petting them to "go with the grain," that is, don't push their hair/fur or ears the wrong way.  Ruffling a dog's ears or fur often leads to excitement or them becoming over-stimulated, while petting them with the grain is more soothing and less stimulating. 

With my client's puppy, we are going to start with the basics.  We're going to work on sitting or standing calmly when people approach.  We're going to work on not pulling on the leash while walking in buildings and down hallways.  We are going to work on moving around in small spaces because this dog, when fully grown, will be about 90 lbs!  We will also work on shaping the head in a hand behavior and desensitizing her puppy to head pats, hugs, and kisses as this client really wants to work with children and teens on her pet therapy visits.  We will also be working on other cooperative care behaviors as this will ultimately be a big dog and we want trips to the veterinarian and groomer to go successfully as well. 

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

Here's Henley!  He and I have big plans for him to be my next pet assisted therapy dog. He's not even close to ready yet, even though he's a year old now. He's still too bouncy and jumpy, but we're working on it every day.  My guess is he'll be ready to work by the time he's 2 years old.  I'll keep you posted!

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Turn That Frown Upside Down: Part 2!

So many of you reached out to let me know how much you loved the idea of teaching a dog to pick up items and drop them into boxes or baskets from last week's blog post.  One of you actually told me that I was a genius to think of this and that really made me blush!  Not genius, just creative.  And the client with the resource guarding dog was desperate enough to try anything, including shaping an entirely new behavior, slowly, over time.  

There are other behaviors that your dogs might be doing that you find challenging enough to want to try shaping those behaviors into something more manageable for you.  For example: Does your dog bark and scratch at the door to get you to let them outside/inside your house?  How about teaching them to ring a string of bells on that door instead?  Basically, you just attach a single bell on a sturdy rope (you can buy them pre-made on Amazon, Chewy, Etsy, etc. or you can make your own with craft store finds) and tie that to the door handle of the door your dog goes in and out of the most. Every time you open that door, ring the bell yourself and say whatever you say when you open the door.  At my house, I say "Go potty!" when I open the door to let the dogs out and "Wait!" when I open the door to let them back in.  You can hang bells on both sides of the door so your dogs ring the bell to go out AND to come back inside. Timing is everything. You need to be there to respond quickly and open the door the first time your dog bumps those bells with a paw or their nose instead of pawing or nosing the door itself.  You definitely want to get there on the first ding so they don't escalate to barking!  You are trying to teach them that ringing the bell is enough to get the door opened, no scratching, pawing of the door, or barking is necessary.  

Ready for another one?  Does your dog jump up on people who raise their hands up to avoid getting jumped on or who raise their arms up because they are afraid?  Well, teach your dog that those raised arms and the frightened high pitch voices that accompany that behavior are actually just a different way that some people ask them to sit!  Have treats at the ready and get really excited, squealing with delight and throwing your arms up in the air.  Jumping dogs can't resist and will try to jump. Tell them to sit while your hands are up in the air.  The moment they do, give them a treat and repeat again with the squealing excitement and hands in the air. This is one of my favorite alternate behaviors to teach novice therapy dogs as a way to help prevent jumping on people during therapy visits. And a special thank you and shout out to Trish Wamsat for this exercise and helping me teach it to Henley!

One final example of shaping you might like to try: Ever been in a tight space with your dog where getting them into the heel position was difficult as people were walking on both sides of you?  Instead of shortening their leash and forcing them to stand next to you/walk next to you, try having them walk under you or  reverse sit in front of you, and wait at your feet.  Basically, you teach your dog to walk in the heel position first.  Then stop and have your dog go around behind you (use your hand to direct them around your body) and poke themselves through your legs.  Keep your legs a comfortable distance apart so that your dog can squeeze through and have them sit immediately when the front half of their body is through your legs.  They should be sitting right in front of you, between your feet, with their heads facing out. It's okay if they look up at you initially, but the goal is to have them go around your body, position themselves between your legs, and then sit calmly in your body's space at your feet.  You can even train them to walk with you, between your legs, much as some trainers do who teach dogs in the art of protection. The bottom line is that now people can move around you on either or both sides and your dog and you are sharing the same exact space, making those people around you less worried about moving around you and your dog.  

I've been continuing to work on the "don't jump up when people get excited and raise their hands or clap" behavior with Henley. It's a work in progress as he REALLY wants to jump on people.  What I don't want to do is pull back on his leash as that teaches him that whatever he's approaching is bad.  I can stand on his leash, but he's really strong and he's been known to yank that leash right out from under me to get to someone to say hi!  So, we continue to work on the sitting politely for greetings, even if people get excited to see him too. No surprise, Ozzie is great at this exercise.  And Ozzie loves the through-the-legs-sit-at-my-feet exercise too.  And if I walk with him between my legs, he grins from ear to ear with joy, prancing with every step!  That will be the next behavior I teach Henley; he can walk around and then through my legs, but sitting quietly at my feet will take practice.

Let me know if you try any of these shaped behaviors with your dogs too.  And as always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

Here's what I see when Ozzie does the "sitting at your feet, sharing your space" behavior. 
 He makes this look easy.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Turn That Frown Upside Down!

Just because a behavior seems bad doesn't mean you can't turn in into something that's less bad or even something that's actually good!  This was how I started a recent appointment with a new client whose dog is a resource guarder.  If he gets a sock, a kid's toy, etc., he's not giving it up and he's escalating to aggression in his efforts not to give up what he's found in their house.  The owners are terrified that they'll get bitten or that he'll swallow something he finds and get really sick.  So, here's an outline of what we're going to try with this dog. 

We set up laundry baskets and boxes all over their house, one in each room to begin with.  Using toys, I taught the dog to pick up a toy and hand it to me, and then I gave him a small bite of mozzarella cheese.  He'd never had cheese before, so he was definitely interested in what I was up to!  Once he was able to pick up any toy I dropped and hand it to me, I walked over to one of the baskets/boxes and put my hand over it as I asked the dog to give me the item.  Instead of taking it, I let it drop into the container and immediately rewarded the dog with cheese.  I repeated this until he'd readily just drop the toy into the container and look at me expectantly for his treat.  This was phase one. The owners will keep working on these basic behaviors (pick it up, give it to me, and drop it in the bin with dog toys) until we meet next week for phase two.

For this next phase, I'll be using innocuous items that are too big for the dog to swallow, but also something he's likely to want to hang onto and not give up.  I'll start with a hard glasses case and a hair brush, dropping these items on the floor and asking the dog to pick them up. I'll start with having him hand them to me, rewarding with larger pieces of cheese when he does so.  Once he's handing them to me readily, I'll quickly move over to the container in the room and see if I can get him to drop it in the basket and step away for the treat.  Stepping away after he's relinquished the item is the key with this phase.  If he does, big rewards!  If all of this goes well, I'll have the owners start doing these same exercises for another week with innocuous items and we'll see how it goes from there.

What's the end goal?  My end goal for this dog is to let him pick up anything he wants IF he'll go and put it in one of the containers in the house. If he does, big rewards in the form of mozzarella cheese will be coming his way. Why do I want him dropping the items in the containers versus just handing them over?  Mostly because this dog has a history of dropping things in his owner's hands and then grabbing it back quickly before she can even get a hold of it, and he'll growl with a hard stare if she grabs for it again.  I want a completely different behavior to be trained so that we bypass that grabby business and get the dog into a working mindset.  Plus, as the client said, if she can get this dog picking up stuff around her house and putting it away in the baskets and boxes, he'll be better trained than her kids!

Yes, it's important to control defensible resources in a home with a resource guarding dog, but it's also possible that you can turn that behavior into something different IF the dog is willing to trade and IF you are willing to take the time to shape a different behavior.  And, yes, you can shape this same behavior in a dog who doesn't engage in resource guarding. When Ozzie was a puppy, I taught him to pick up laundry and help me stick it into my front loading washing machine! He loved this task and it kept him from racing around with socks and underwear. I no longer have that front loading washing machine, but he still stands at the ready when I'm doing laundry. I appreciate that about Ozzie.

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

My ever present laundry assistant, Ozzie. If I drop something, he'll pick it up for me!


Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Make the Most of Every Moment!

A client called me over the weekend to share the sad news that her 5 year old, seemingly healthy dog, had passed away suddenly. Apparently, he'd become lethargic and she figured he just didn't feel well and would get over it on his own, only to find out that whatever had made him lethargic was some toxin he'd gotten into outdoors and his liver just couldn't beat it.  Really sad and all the more reason to watch your dogs when they are outdoors AND have a really good leave it/drop it in case they do pick something up they shouldn't.  But besides that, I think the thing that really broke my heart even more was when she said, "I wish I'd spent more time just hanging out with him.  He was so amazing!" She'd had this dog since he was an 8 week old puppy, so her feeling that they'd not spent enough time together, really hit me.

We all need to make the most of every moment we have with each other.  Savor the friendships and the time with loved ones as there really are no guarantees that any of us will be here tomorrow, next week, or next year.  And our pets' lives are already shorter to begin with.  Yes, I've known dogs and cats that live well into the double digits, but the truth of the matter is that the average dog lives about 10 years and the average cat about 12 years. That's not nearly long enough!  While I'm not advocating bubble wrapping them and never letting them do anything that could be challenging, I am saying enjoy them while you can. 

Take the walk even if you only have 15 minutes to do so.  Better to walk for 15 minutes with your canine friend than not at all. Grab that fishing pole lure toy and play with your cat every chance you get.  Just take the time, even if only a few minutes at a time, and enjoy them. Include them in what you are doing.  Take your dog to run errands with you and watch TV with your cat.  You know, dance like no one is watching! Better yet, dance with your dog!

For me, I really enjoy the "not really doing anything in particular" together moments with my dogs. They'll park themselves next to me while I'm working, reading my book, or watching a movie.  We love walking around in our garden together.  Sometimes we just sit outside and enjoy the sunshine, or even the rain. I want to remember these moments with them as much, if not more, than those moments where we were doing something specific together. 

The bottom line?  Take care that your pets stay out of trouble and don't shorten their already abbreviated lives with risky behaviors.  Help them understand what's safe to pick up/eat and what they need to avoid.  Keep them on leash unless their recall is near perfect amid distractions. Buckle them in or secure them in crates when they ride in your car. And most importantly remind them every single day that you appreciate the joy they bring to your life.

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

Shadow with me, circa 1995. She's just hanging out while I carve a pumpkin. Nothing fancy, nothing mentally taxing, but definitely enjoyable. I don't remember this day specifically, but I fondly remember all of the times that she was there with me doing something, doing nothing, but nonetheless together.  She was here for 16 years and it still wasn't long enough.

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

When it Hurts

I started working with a new client this week.  She has a dog who has suddenly begun displaying aggressive behavior.  This dog went from being friendly, outgoing, and sociable to snappy, avoidant, and biting anyone who touches her. She had emailed me photos of her dog out in public, receiving pets and love from strangers, children, etc. Now, she's afraid to even walk her dog as the dog lunges at anyone who gets within range of them. I asked, of course, if she'd talked to her vet about this and she said, yes, the vet prescribed Prozac and gave the client my card.  I felt bad about doing it, but I told her she has to return to see her veterinarian. I didn't want her to feel like she was being ping-ponged back and forth without getting any help, but I have major concerns about this dog's physical health.

For a dog to suddenly go from friendly and approachable to one that can't be handled, even by the owner, is a red flag for some sort of medical issue.  Pain mediated aggression, that is, aggression as a result of physical pain, is a very real thing. The aggression can be an appropriate or inappropriate response to pain. The highest number of bites occur in veterinary clinics and emergency clinics treating canine patients who have been injured or who have orthopedic issues. Yes, even arthritis can stimulate an aggressive response from a dog. While it is true that exhibiting pain mediated aggression toward someone who has barely touched the dog is absolutely inappropriate, and snapping or biting at that person should be a last resort not the the first line of defense, not every dog deals with pain in the same way. Some breeds are more sensitive to handling to begin with and many dogs are wary of handling because they were never accustomed to it when they were younger (cooperative care, something we've talked about many times before). But if this dog is a bite risk for the veterinarian and the staff at the veterinary hospital, how will this dog get the care it needs?

First and foremost safety has to be a priority. I advised this client to reach out to her vet and set up the agenda for the appointment in advance.  She should fast her dog and have it wearing a muzzle when they arrive for the appointment, that way the dog is prohibited from biting and ready to be sedated or anesthetized for care. This dog will need blood work, x-rays, and a full physical exam including exploration of the ears and mouth to rule out ear infections, cracked teeth, or oral abscesses, for example. That blood work should tell us if there are underlying issues with the dog's thyroid function, liver, etc.  And those x-rays are critical for telling us if something is broken, torn, or if this dog has something brewing with her internal organs.  If all of this is inconclusive, it might be worth the expense to do either a spinal tap or brain MRI, or both.  If this dog's body is healthy, there may be something very wrong with her brain causing the sudden and abrupt change in behavior.

This client felt relieved to have a game plan so that she can return to her vet's office and start getting answers on why her formerly sweet, compliant dog, is no longer approachable or touchable.  While I never want to hope that a dog has medical issues, in this case I truly do.  If this dog's behavior changed this rapidly with no underlying medical reason for it, then we are likely dealing with a case of idiopathic aggression; that is, aggressive behavior that is unprovoked, unpredictable, and uncontrolled.  There isn't a lot that can be done with idiopathic aggressors as their care is about safe management rather than a solution.

I hope the veterinary appointment goes well and my client gets the answers she so desperately needs, both for her sake, and for her dog's.

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

Sudden changes in behavior must be investigated from a medical point of view first. 
Then, if medical reasons for the behavioral changes aren't found, 
you can pursue treatment in the form of behavioral modification.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

I Know It's Hard!

I had a new client reach out for help on a referral from her sister-in-law. She's in her early 70's and in good health, but really questioning her recent decision to get a puppy. She's always had dogs and always had big dogs, but this particular puppy is giving her a run for her money! Between the bruises and marks on her arms and legs from his relentless mouthing, to the scratches from him jumping up on her, she's feeling overwhelmed and defeated.  She'd recently fallen when she'd had him out for a walk and he took off after a squirrel, dragging her by the leash behind him. She called me because she was frustrated and thinking about sending this puppy back to the breeder, but wanted my thoughts before she did that. I'm really glad she called!

Let's start with her age. Just because she's in her 70's doesn't mean she shouldn't have a dog; it also doesn't mean she shouldn't have a big dog.  First and foremost, making that decision is about what you prefer and what your dog experience entails.  Small breed dogs can be just as mouthy and jumpy as large breed dogs, and any dog can pull you over if they take off after a squirrel or cat.  What it's really about is the resources you have available to you for dealing with these common, but nonetheless annoying, issues.  I suggested that this client work with a really good dog trainer I know to get a handle on the basic behavioral challenges she's facing. I like to refer clients to this trainer because she will send them back to me if the issues aren't actually training issues, but rooted in anxiety and thus true behavior problems, warranting me stepping back into the picture.  I also suggested that she hire a dog walker, one that she can walk with and learn from.  Professional dog walkers are invaluable in helping people learn how to safely walk dogs.  Walking with a dog walker means this client can still get that exercise she'd hoped for and spend time with her puppy without worrying about him pulling her over as he's continuing to improve his leash skills. Ultimately, she decided she wanted me to come out and assess her puppy to make sure that she was indeed dealing with annoying training issues and not behavior problems rooted in anxiety or a personality mismatch between her and her new puppy, something I'm happy to do.  If this is a mismatch, or this puppy does have anxiety-based issues, sending him back to the breeder may not be a bad choice.  The breeder she chose is wonderful and willing to take this puppy back if this isn't the best home for him, so she really is fortunate. Not all breeders are as engaged with their puppies post-placement as her breeder truly is.

I think this client has been feeling judged by her family, by her neighbors, and by her friends.  She's filled with self-doubt and guilt about getting a puppy "at her age."  I tried really hard not to get inordinately irritated with this.  Here's what I think:  If you want a dog, have the time to devote to a dog's training and daily exercise, and can afford to care for a dog, then you should get a dog. This woman has the time, experience, and means to support a dog.  She's a solid home for a dog and while it's true that an older puppy or young adult dog might have been easier for her to handle, she wanted to raise a puppy again and I don't fault her for that. Puppies are a lot of work, but watching them grow up and mature is a delight and as she pointed out, she's got nothing but time to spend working with him.

Let's all try to be a bit more supportive of each other.  If you see another dog owner struggling with their companion, don't be too quick to judge them harshly as being a "bad owner" or "not taking the time to train their dog."  You are only observing a small snippet of their experience together, perhaps seeing a dog reacting to other dogs on leash.  This leash reactivity is just that, they might have the calmest most satisfying relationship at home, off the leash where there are no other dogs or people to trigger their dog's anxiety.  As my daughter would say, dog owners need to stay in their own lane. LOL.

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

Dogs can bring joy to owners of all ages!

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Getting Down to the Brass Tacks!

So, I got a couple of messages after I posted last week's blog.  People were surprised, dismayed, and a bit irritated that there were dog trainers out there who didn't use treats to reinforce dogs in classes, private training sessions, etc.  I get it.  It IS frustrating that old methods and mindsets still exist, but I think that's true of just about any profession.  The fact that many dog owners know better, ask questions, and seek out practitioners that align with their beliefs and pet parenting style is truly the key.  There will always be people who like to say "I don't have to rely on treats to get MY dog to do (insert behavior)."  But even if they say that, you and I will KNOW that their dog would be happier if they did use treats, intermittently, to make the whole game (and dog training is a game, my friends, or at least it should be!) more rewarding.

One of these same conversations about treats pivoted to a request for an appointment.  How delightful for me, right?  I explained to this dog owner that I would be happy to set her up with a video appointment.  She explained that she felt we should meet in person so I could see her dog's behavior.  She has a dog who is reactive around some dogs and aggressive toward strangers.  I gently explained that I don't need to see a reactive or aggressive dog to know what needs to be done. In fact, over 33 years in business, I've seen hundreds of reactive and aggressive dogs, some of whom bit me in the process!  Seeing one more isn't going to change my recommendations on how to proceed. While I understand that this is your dog and for you this is unique, it's important to understand that for me the issue isn't unique or uncommon.  And, while I'd love to be able to see each and every client in person, there are some for whom that just isn't possible. I have clients all over California, in other states, and around the world.  In order for me to be able to assist and treat as many pets as possible, I have to be realistic; I can only see so many clients in person in a day.  One thing I learned during the whole COVID lockdown was how efficient and productive I could be seeing clients virtually.  It was actually kind of humbling as I had always thought I *needed* to see people in person and put my hands on their pet, so to speak, for them to understand the treatment plan. Now I know that's not the case.  Meeting with clients virtually is just as effective, at least for the first one to two appointments, which is often all that's needed to get them back on the right track. If they still are having issues OR the problem really does warrant me being there in person, I make that happen to the best of my abilities.  Doing this has allowed me to see clients sooner as well, instead of having to schedule out 3-4 weeks in advance as my in-person calendar is so booked up.

Please don't get me wrong. I love meeting people in person.  And I know many of the veterinarians who trust me with their clients love the fact that I will do in-home appointments as well.  But here's the thing.  There's only so much time in a day and if I'm battling traffic for 3 hours to get between clients, that's reducing the number of clients I can help AND negatively effecting my quality of life in the process.  I've started offering clients the option to come to me and that's been amazing.  You do the driving but we can still meet in person if that's what you feel will work best for you and your pet.  That's a win-win for sure. And for those aggressive dogs, getting them off of home turf is often helpful to the treatment process which is always a relief for their owners and for me.

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

One of the benefits of working at a local park here in Concord are the plethora of opportunities to work on confidence building AND redirection from the comfort of a sturdy bench!

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Reinforcers, Rally, and Other Random Thoughts!

I had such a fun video consultation earlier this week.  New clients, experienced dog owners, but with two little dogs who don't always get along with one another.  They've been through a lot of training classes and private training lessons as well, but weren't really getting anywhere with that core issue; lack of harmony between their dogs.  They had asked around and were given my name as someone who could actually address that problem specifically and I'm grateful to whoever sent these folks my way.  You see, these two little dogs don't have an obedience problem, they have a behavior problem.  Those are most definitely NOT the same thing!

After taking a complete history, it became clear that these dogs have a huge age disparity; one is just 2 years old, the other 11 years old.  While little dogs do tend to live longer than larger ones, this is still a significant age gap.  The 2 year old dog wants to play and the senior dog most decidedly does not.  I suggested sending the younger dog to daycare, something they did try, but they sent both dogs!  Not unexpectedly, the older dog hated it, so they decided not to send either dog as they didn't want the older dog to get jealous if the younger one was out of the house without him. That was the mistake. It's absolutely okay to remove one dog, leaving the other at home.  I truly believe time away benefits them both.  The younger dog gets to play, socialize, and run around while the older dog gets some much needed rest, making him less likely to lash out at the younger dog for bugging him.  Plus, the younger dog will be less energetic when he returns home having spent most of his energy at daycare.  Beyond that, the humans need to better control the resources that are in conflict between the two dogs.  The humans need to be in better control of doorways in their home as well.  These two dogs both want the favorite chair and to go through the doorways first.  The owners need to decide who should have the chair (or neither of them!) and who goes through the door first and reinforce that so the dogs know the rules.  I've said it before and I'll say it again. Dogs love structure, rules, and guidelines. If there is disharmony between two dogs it is often related to someone overtly or covertly challenging the status quo.  It's up to the humans to get that settled and reinforce the rules.

Speaking of reinforcers. Turns out the long time dog trainer these folks have been using discourages the use of treats.  W.T.H.?!  That makes no sense at all.  I went over the research with these owners that shows that the happiest dogs are those who are paid with a tasty treat, not the ones getting verbal or physical (pat on the head) reinforcers alone.  No wonder these dogs were starting to slack off at Rally classes and not doing well with their recall.  They weren't getting paid for their work!  It's been a long time since I've come across a dog trainer who doesn't believe in the value of working with treats!  I suggested that these owners have a frank conversation with their trainer (who they love working with!) and let him know that they intend to side with the science over "the way its always been done" philosophy.  These two dogs are food motivated, adding in treats will result in them working more effectively and efficiently, guaranteed.

And about those Rally classes.  The other problem at classes was the reactivity of one of their dogs toward the other dogs participating.  I suggested that part of the reason the classes aren't fun for them or the dogs is that the reactivity is getting in the way.  These owners have no intention of competing in Rally, they were just doing it for fun and because their trainer loves the sport.  They can continue to take the non-reactive dog to classes, if they like, but it would be better to set up Rally courses at home for their reactive dog, reducing the pressure he feels being surrounded by unfamiliar dogs.  And Rally truly can be done anywhere and without a lot of special equipment.  You just have to get creative with your furniture placement!

Finally, the owners wanted to know what else they could do to curb door charging behavior by both dogs. Their trainer was having them use a shaker can (a soda can filled with pennies) to discourage going near the door when the doorbell rings.  However, that shaker can has resulted in the dogs being terrified to go near the front door and they now avoid the trainer if he's holding the can as well.  Well, no kidding.  Shaker cans are awful!  They are unexpectedly loud and definitely punishing.  These two dogs have no idea why approaching the front door is now an excruciating auditory experience, but they definitely are associating it with their trainer!  I suggested that they get rid of the shaker can and try a consequence their dogs can understand.  First off, barking at the front door is a normal dog behavior. They are simply letting you know someone is there.  Once you get to the door and tell them to quiet, back away from the door, and stay, that's what they should do. If they don't do that, there needs to be a consequence and that consequence is social shunning.  That is, you remove the dogs from the front door and put them somewhere where they can't see what's going on.  Dogs hate missing out and being removed from you and whatever is happening at the door is a form of social shunning.  You can go and let them out of their time out after a couple of minutes, but continue to do this every time you get someone at your front door and your dogs don't follow the rules.  Social shunning (time outs) are very effective at altering behavior in dogs and they actually use social shunning themselves.  In fact, these owners came to realize that their older dog, hiding under the bed where the younger dog can't get to him, is in fact a form of social shunning.  The older dog often snubs the younger dog this way after he's fed up with the nonsense!

We ended our video appointment with a summary of why it's important to look beyond "what you've always done" or what "used to work" and find what works for the dog in front of you. And more importantly, embrace the science behind animal learning and motivation!  You don't have to take my word for it that positive reinforcement works to build and support relationships while punishment results in animals less likely to perform reliably for you, just look at all the research coming out which continues to substantiate those truths.  We all prefer to get paid and be told we are doing a good job.  Beats the heck out of being startled, yelled at, or smacked around.  And if you've brought doughnuts, I'm definitely interested in what you have to say!  

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

These two goofy goobers are here to remind you that they like chicken and almond butter as their reinforcers.  And if you give them both at the same time, they'll be your best friends forever.

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

The Winter Blues

I have a friend who lives in Tennessee. They've had the wildest weather this winter, including icy conditions and snow! Here in California, we've been hit recently with record amounts of wind and rain with lots of snow at the higher elevations.  My friend in Tennessee had reached out for ideas to keep her pets from going stir crazy when they can't spend as much time outdoors.  This is something I've been facing myself with a yard that is flooded and walking trails that are treacherous to navigate as they are under deep water and felled trees. So, how do you keep your pets happy when the weather conditions are less than cooperative?

First, don't feed them in bowls.  Find creative ways to feed your cats and dogs their meals, using boxes, muffin tins, egg cartons, and knotted towels.  If you have them, break out the snuffle mats and puzzles as well.  If you don't have any of these items, that's okay.  Now's the time to hide kibble for them to find and use the remainder for reinforcing some of their basic training and teaching new tricks.

Just because you can't walk outside doesn't mean you can't walk inside!  You can do this on leash, off leash, or both, just grab a handful of kibble or treats and walk your dog all around your house, pretending corners are stop signs and doorways are stoplights.  If you have stairs or even 1-2 steps in your home, use those too.  Teach your dog to take a single step at a time, two feet up on a step, and then those two feet back down on the floor. Work on taking stairs slowly and see if you can teach them to turn around mid-flight.  Work on backing up, going through your legs and around objects in your house as well.

Playing hide and seek is always fun.  Put your dog in a stay or wait and then hide from them. Call or whistle for them once and see how long it takes them to find you.  Give them a nice reward when they do!

Work on object recognition.  Grab three of your dog's favorite toys and lay them out on the floor, 12-18 inches apart.  Tell your dog which toy to grab.  If they find the right toy, they get a treat.  Start adding more toys to the line up to see how many they can differentiate based on verbal cues alone.

Here's a fun art project:  Combine food coloring and corn starch to create a pet safe paint.  Dip your pet's paw(s) in the paint and have them walk across a piece of paper, creating a colorful canvas of happy feet! Definitely put your art up on the refrigerator!

To relax your pet and keep their coat healthy while indoors where it's warmer and the air is dryer, brush or comb them daily to get rid of loose fur and dander. Follow up the grooming with a massage session.  I wrote about the basics of T-touch once before, so here it is for easy reference:

And if you're going stir crazy too, maybe it's time to make some popcorn, put on your favorite movie (I'll suggest Lassie, of course), and curl up together on the couch.  You may fall asleep, but then again, rainy days and snowy days ARE the best nap days indeed.

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

Couch potato bliss on a recent stormy day in Los Angeles.

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Me & My Shadow!

Did you sing the title of this week's blog?  I know I sure did. I grew up listening to Frank Sinatra as he was a favorite of my dad, and that particular song, a duet with Sammy Davis Jr., is a classic...but I digress.  Not the first time, I know!  I chose this for the title of this week's blog because of a question I received from a new client reaching out for advice on her French Bulldog. She was wondering if there was something wrong with her dog, if her dog was anxious, as this sweet dog spent every waking moment following my client around.  She was worried that her dog might have some kind of an attachment disorder (her words exactly!) and she wanted to find out if this was an unhealthy bond and something she should be worried about. This is her first dog and her friends' dogs don't seem nearly as devoted as her little Frenchie.

After collecting a complete history on the dog, I came to the conclusion I'm sure many of you have as well; there's absolutely nothing wrong with this dog!  This dog sleeps in her crate for naps and at night time.  The owner works about 6 hours every day outside the home and the dog just sleeps peacefully in her crate that whole time (she has a camera on the dog, no anxiety noted). The dog is walked twice daily, has plenty of toys, and playdates twice a week.  The reason she follows her owner all around the house is quite simple.  She loves her owner.  She's devoted to her owner.  She sees her owner as the bearer of all wonderful things.  This isn't an attachment disorder, this is a dog who has bonded to her owner in every sense of the word.  

Dogs demonstrate their devotion to us in many ways. They'll hold their gaze with us, something they don't do with each other.  They will bring us their favorite toys.  They will cuddle at our feet or next to us on the couch. If they do something that makes us laugh, they'll repeat the behavior to make us laugh again! They follow us from room to room, perhaps to see if we are going to do something that they might enjoy, but mostly just to be with us. Having a dog means never having to use the bathroom alone again!  Now, certainly, you can shut the door so you can have "alone time," but my question to you is why?  If your dog is perfectly capable of being alone, as this dog had proven when the owner is away at work, then they can choose to be alone when you are home, or they can choose to be with you.  Most dogs choose to be with their people.  That's what over 30,000 years of co-evolution will do for you! Yes, we've created dogs who are dependent on us, but that's kind of the point, isn't it?  Why have a dog if you don't intend to spend time together. And that's the great thing about dogs; quality time to them doesn't require a large expenditure of cash, a week off from work, or a lot of planning.  They are perfectly content to just follow you around as you clean your house, do your laundry, and use the bathroom.  They are delighted to watch you cook and really enjoy sharing popcorn on the couch.  They don't ask for a lot; they just want to be with you.  

My client was relieved to learn that there wasn't anything wrong with her dog.  She said that she secretly enjoyed it, but her friends were making her feel like the dog was too dependent on her.  I laughed at that and told her that her friends just might be a bit jealous.  She's got a wonderful bond with her dog and that's something she can be proud of.  And, yes, I do think it helps that she chose a Frenchie for herself.  That breed is renowned for being cuddly and people-centric, devoted to their owners, and playful without the huge exercise requirement of other similarly-sized dogs. They are the perfect match.

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

This is my fur-nephew, Argon.  He's a champion cuddler, total comedian, and best non-collie friend to my pup, Henley. He has brought incredible joy to our family, and yes, he shadows family members wherever they go.  This is him gazing lovingly at his owner....from her pillow!

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

WWJD (What Would Julie Do?)

I'm lucky enough to have a handful of clients who've been my clients for years; one couple have been with me for almost 25 years and I've helped them with seven dogs (so far!) over that time period.  I did a phone consultation follow up this week with these folks and the woman said she often says to her husband, "WWJD?" and they both laugh as they use that to refer to me and what they think I would suggest they do!  This cracked me up and they both indicated that they try to figure out from all of their notes, and using my blog posts, what I might do in the situation they are facing. And, if they can't find the answer, they call me!  I asked them if I could use their examples in this upcoming blog and they said they'd love to see their thoughts come to life, so here goes, a brief game of "WWJD?"

What would Julie do if....her dogs try to sniff, jump on, or quickly approach people she's trying to pass on walks? This is actually a good one as I face this issue daily with Henley; he's very sociable and wants to approach everyone he sees, whether they give him any indication they want to meet him or not!  Ozzie is good about not approaching people or other dogs; he knows we never meet other dogs on leash, and he waits to see if the person wants to meet him before approaching. All bets are off, however, if Ozzie knows you! If he knows you, he just assumes you want lovies, and he heads your way, tail wagging. So what do I do in this situation?  One thing I don't do is shorten up the leash in advance (cuing the dog that there is going to be a problem!).  I also don't race across the street to avoid interactions (cuing the dog that other people/dogs are bad or suspicious).  What I do, though, is this:  I get both dogs on the other side of me so that they aren't closest to the people/dogs we are passing.  Then, I get their attention and offer them a treat for focusing on me and not what we are passing.  I don't always say the same thing because, again, I don't want them "pregaming" and jumping ahead in the lesson. Rather, I might say, "you guys want a snack?" or "hey, let's play a game!" instead of "watch me" or "look at me," though I do use those phrases, on occasion, as well.  I want the dogs to pay attention to me, so varying what I say keeps them on their toes.  And if they are well-mannered and pass those folks without any drama, then they get the high value treats in my pocket.  Ozzie knows that if Henley messes up, he gets both treats and that keeps the game interesting for him!

What would Julie dog if...her dogs picked up something they shouldn't on a walk? I start working on "leave it" and "drop it" from the moment I bring home a new dog.  My dogs all know that if they leave it when asked, they will get something better for sure.  If they test me and pick something up, I'll tell them to drop it and they do (sometimes more reluctantly than others) and they still get a reward.  You might think that this teaches them to pick stuff up just to make that trade and the answer is, I actually don't care. Yes, I'd prefer they leave it when asked, but if they do pick something up, whether that's out of curiosity or testing the theory that I'll pay them something better, I will trade with them.  I don't want them to ever think that whatever they've found will be better than what I'm offering.  It does mean I have to have treats in my pocket at all times, but I'm pretty sure I have treats in my pocket all the time anyway...don't you?

What would Julie do if... her dogs were moving around in the car and barking while she's driving? Ok. let's just state the obvious. I have collies, so barking in the car is to be expected.  I don't, however, allow my dogs to move around in the car.  They are harnessed into their spots in my backseat.  And if we have Westley with us, Ozzie gets the far back seat to himself and the smooths ride together in the middle seat.  ALL are harnessed and have those harnesses buckled into my car's seatbelt restraint system. Crates would work in the car as well, but if I filled the car with crates, there'd be no room left for other stuff!  Now, about the barking/whining.  I will tell them quiet (a word they know, but don't necessarily love) and if they do it, I verbally reinforce them for making good choices. If they persist in barking/whining, however, I pull over when it's safe and ignore them, checking my phone etc.  Usually they look at me (and each other) like, "Why'd we stop here?"  The time out lasts a couple of minutes and then I'll resume driving. It just isn't safe to drive with dogs caterwauling in the back.  My record is pulling over three times on a road trip because Ozzie was losing his mind over a group of motorcycles on the freeway. I was irritated and he knew he should stop barking, but he just couldn't seem to do it.  Westley and Henley stopped after the first pull over, but it took three times for Ozzie to get it.  He knew I was mad the third time I pulled over (and he could see the steam coming out of Jessica's ears!) and he stopped barking at the motorcycles the rest of the drive; we literally drove past them or them past us two more times on that stretch of highway 5!

What would Julie do if... her dogs were pestering guests in her home? I'll bet you already know the answer to this one.  Over the holidays, I had lots of family and friends here to visit. I also had a workman in my home fixing an electrical issue.  In all cases, dogs were leashed, crated, moved outside, or all three options depending on the situation and how badly they were pestering people for attention.  Ozzie can be told to leave folks alone, and he will. He doesn't jump up, but he may have to be reminded that most people don't like a collie nose to the crotch. Westley may jump up if he's excited and he knows the person, so we leave his collar on him so we can grab him.  One collar grab and verbal correction, "no jumping!" and Westley behaves himself.  Henley is still a puppy.  He was leashed for all greetings over the holidays and he received more than one time out in his crate for trying to jump on people even after they'd been here for hours.  Crating the dogs, leashing them, or putting them outdoors where they can watch but not be involved are all fine solutions to this issue, depending on your dogs, your guests, and the situation.  Food involved?  Children running around?  Guests who are afraid of dogs? Better to crate with a bone or put your dogs outside with something fun to do.  It lowers the risk of your dog eating something they shouldn't, knocking over a child, or scaring a non-dog loving guest.  Your dogs won't view this as a negative because again, you aren't punishing them; you are provide them with an alternate form of amusement for a short period of time.

Now, it's your turn.  Think you know what I'd do?  Share an example and how you think I'd approach the solution.  And, as always, if you can't find a solution or you need help with your pet's behavior, you know where to find me. 

I took this picture over the holidays.  These three raced to the kitchen as soon as they heard me rip the plastic off of these packages of prosciutto!  I swear, they can hear a cheese or meat wrapper three rooms away.  In any event, here they are.  So WWJD? I told them to leave the kitchen and when they did, I gave them each a bone to chew on in the other room, which they happily did, as they could chew those bones AND watch me in the kitchen at the same time.  That's a win/win in the dog world!

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Let's Play!

I had a wonderful conversation with a new client about her dog who doesn't seem to be enjoying daycare any more. Basically, he's gotten into a couple of tussles with other dogs, seemingly without provocation.  Naturally, the daycare is concerned as they want to keep the environment safe and fun for everyone, but they don't want to lose a good patron of their facility either.  A couple of things struck me about my conversation with her (and with her daycare as I spoke to them as well) and figured what I told them was worth sharing more widely.

First and foremost, I'm pretty sure those scuffles weren't unprovoked.  I'm not saying the daycare dropped the ball somehow and missed something, on the contrary, I'm saying what happened was likely subtle and building over the last few months.  A few pointed stares, being stepped over or on, run through or over, and you can have a dog who's on edge.  That same dog who's always been social may now see social interactions as less than satisfying. He might even feel frustrated enough to react, but if he can't direct his frustration at the offender, he may just lash out at whoever is closest at the time (redirected aggression).  In the case of my client's dog, I was able to watch the video of one of the interactions in question. Sure enough, I saw an example of redirected aggression; the dog who was on the receiving end of my client's dog's frustration truly hadn't done anything.  He was just standing there, minding his own business, but he was in striking range and thus an easier target than the real culprit.  Who was that dog?  He was the dog strutting around on his toes, tail high, chuffing who had actually urinated on my client's dog while he was sniffing and then backed into him and tried to sit on him!  How did the daycare miss this, you ask?  Well, they were working with two other dogs in the playgroup whose play had gotten them overstimulated.  Basically, the offender dog saw an opportunity (humans were distracted) and he ran with it and my client's dog who was smaller than him, was on the receiving end of some inappropriate dog behavior.  My guess is that this type of thing had happened more than once (the daycare often has this same group of dogs together two days a week) and my client's dog was fed up.  So, what's the solution?  

Sure, the daycare could split this group up.  They could have more staff monitoring the group, or they could keep eyes on the offender to make sure he behaves himself going forward.  But truly, he's probably one of many dogs who tests boundaries at daycare; he wasn't the first, and he clearly won't be the last.  Instead, I think we have to look at who is in these playgroups, what we want them to get out of the experience, and set up the groups accordingly.  Nothing so simplistic as small dogs in one group, rambunctious dogs in another, and seniors over there. Rather, personality, temperament, and play style should be the determining factors.  Yes, age is important, but I've met some rowdy senior dogs and some reserved puppies, so age can't be the only factor. The other thing to keep in mind is this:  Daycare isn't for every dog. And while it might be great for your dog for the first year of his life (or the first couple of years), it's unlikely to be his favorite thing forever.  Why?  Because play behavior and motivation to play changes over time.  Puppies (seemingly) can play all day while adult dogs play with each other for shorter periods of time.  Puppies do a lot more rough and tumble play than adult dogs.  Adult dogs prefer to play with known playmates over random dogs they meet.  Puppies will play with anyone!  Puppies are often forgiving when they get run over and seem to shrug it off when corrected; adult dogs often get anxious and feel cornered by those same things. 

Here's my rule of thumb:  Dogs under the age of two years should be offered opportunities to play with other like-minded dogs, whether that's at daycare, the dog park, or during play dates.  Owners of dogs over the age of two years should turn their focus to short play dates with known dog friends, outings such as hikes and walks together rather than focusing strictly on play, and most importantly, playing with their dogs themselves.  Yep, I said it.  Owners need to be playing with their dogs themselves, especially owners of dog over the age of two years.  We've been coevolving with dogs for thousands of years, selecting for dogs who choose us over pretty much anything (or anyone) else.  Your dogs want to play with YOU, so grab a ball, a tug toy, or a stuffed animal and get started!  Again, you don't have to play for an hour, but you should be playing for at least 10 minutes a day with your dog.  Play is fun for you both, enhances your bond, and keeps you engaged in the health and well-being of your dog.  

I've had people tell me that their dogs only play for a few minutes with them before walking away and you know what?  That's fine!  There's no set hard and fast rule.  It's play!  It's supposed to be consensual and fun for all involved.  This doesn't mean you stop playing with your dogs, it just means you keep trying to find a game that interests them for longer, or add in multiple, short play sessions during your day. Maybe they'd prefer hide-n-seek to tug-of-war.  I feel like it's time for an example.

Desi was my sweet, senior collie who passed away late last year.  He was never much for play with toys, even when he was a younger dog, but he'd get a wild hair every once in a while, strutting around with a toy in his mouth waiting for a human to try to get it or for Ozzie to give it a go.  You know darn well that if I saw Desi with a toy in his mouth, tail up and wagging, I was in!  And when he got older and really didn't care about toys we played a different game, one I like to call "doggie carwash."  I'd encourage Desi to walk between my legs and I'd give him a good scritch and rub down as he did, wiggling him around.  He'd wag his tail, turn around, and shove his way back through my legs for another pass.  He'd do this a handful of times before wanting a few kisses and then happily taking a nap.  That counted as play and I'm glad I never missed an opportunity to play this "game" with him.  And the funny thing?  Ozzie plays that same game with me now.  I'm not sure if he's doing it because he thinks I miss it, because he misses seeing Desi do it, or if he just likes it as well now that he's a bit older.  All I know is that Henley, my 9.5 month old puppy doesn't ask to play this game.  He still likes to be chased by me or by Ozzie, and he loves to play with toys by himself, with me, and with Ozzie.  He's still a puppy, so that's all age appropriate and appreciated around here for the levity he provides.

So, let's circle back to my client's dog.  How are we resolving his issues at daycare?  We are changing it up. He will only be going to daycare twice a week now instead of everyday.  He'll be trying out smaller, calmer play groups where the dogs in the group just like to cruise around, sniff, and lay on the raised beds provided by the daycare for naps in the sunshine. He will be engaged by the staff who he loves to play with.  And that dog who tried to urinate on him?  The staff will be watching him closely and correcting and redirecting him so he learns what is acceptable and what is not.  And my client will be playing more at home with her dog and setting up more regular playdates with her sister's dog as the two dogs love adventuring together and have never had one issue.  She asked if I thought she should consider getting a second dog since her dog loves her sister's dog so much and I told her no way!  Not unless she herself really wants a second dog.  You see, I know her dog is sociable with other dogs, I could see that at daycare and I could see it in the videos of her dog playing with her sister's dog.  But you know what I also saw?  A dog who was hopelessly devoted to his owner and wanting to spend time with her.  A better investment than a second dog was an investment in time with the dog she already has.

Well, I'll end this here as Henley has brought me a toy and Ozzie is barking to be included, so we're taking a break to play like the three goofballs we are.  As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

Tug-of-war time!

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Five Favs for a Fabulous 2024--Feline Edition!

So, last week I gave you my five favs for starting off 2024 on the right paw for you dogs.  This week, let's look at five things you can do to improve your cat's quality of life right now:

1.  Ditch the automatic litter boxes and covered litter boxes. You can also get rid of the litter boxes that are high sided/top entry (look like plastic storage containers) as well. Research shows that cats prefer litter boxes that they can easily step into and out of, that give them a good vantage point from all angles, and that don't make them feel trapped.  Research also shows that owners are much more likely to keep up on the daily maintenance of these standard litter boxes, as opposed to those other types, thus making them even more desirable to their cats.

2.  Add a second (or third!) climbing option to your cat's main living space. Cat trees are fine, but having more than one is ideal.  If you don't have space for a second cat tree, clear off sections of your book shelves for your cat, or add single shelves or ledges to a wall for climbing and jumping vertically.  You can also add a window-mounted seat for your cat if the ledge at your window is too small to perch on safely or if your window doesn't have much of a ledge at all. 

3.  Don't leave food in a bowl for your cat to eat all day long. Instead, you can leave a small amount in a bowl, but hide the rest on their cat perches for them to hunt for and find.  You can also put their food into puzzle toys, similar to those made for dogs, but designed for cats. 

4.  Add in a fresh water feature. Bubbling fountains are soothing for you and a better, fresher water source for your cat. Cats prefer fresh water and many will hang around the sink waiting for someone to turn it on so they can get the freshest water possible. If you add a small water fountain you can enjoy the soothing sounds and they can enjoy the fresh water source. That's a win-win!

5.  Play with your cat every single day. Cats need to play just as much as dogs do.  Break out the lure wands for a game of chase or try something new like a remote control bug they can chase, a ripple rug, or a circuit style toy with a ball that goes around and around for a good game of hunt, chase, and capture. And for anyone looking for more information on the importance of play in cats and how to add more play into your cat's daily routine, I can highly recommend pre-ordering "Play With Your Cat!" by Mikel Maria Delgado, PhD which officially comes out on March 5, 2024.

There you have it! Some easy to do ideas and activities that can quickly enhance the lives of your feline companions.  And, as always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

This perch kit for cats is available on Amazon and easy to install yourself!

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Five Favs for a Fabulous 2024!

I'm not a "New Year's resolutions" kind of person.  I just figure I should be working on being the best version of myself all year long.  I think that if dogs could talk, few of them would be resolutions-kind-of-folks either.  I think dogs live in the moment and living in the moment leaves little room for looking too far ahead.  Having said that, however, I do think there are things we can all do to improve our dogs' quality of  life and if starting these off in January helps you to make them habits, then that's awesome!  But truly, starting them at any time works and just adding in any one of them will help improve your dog's life and for that they will be eternally grateful.  So, without further ado, here are my five favorite things you can do for your dog starting right now:

1. Change up their walks. This could mean a new route, walking a shorter or longer period of time, adding in a second (or third!) walk, changing your pace (add in trotting, skipping, uphill/downhill, whatever brings you both joy), adding in more sniff opportunities, or adding in more chances to explore. You can actually do all of these things making their walks more stimulating as they won't know what the day brings when they head out the door with you.

2. Provide an interactive toy everyday. You already know how much I love interactive toys.  They are enriching, brain stimulating, and fun for your dogs. Don't feel like you have to break the budget on this. You can use boxes, paper tubes, egg cartons, muffin tins, and even knotted towels for your interactive puzzle options.  Just remember to rotate them so it's not the same puzzle everyday and make sure you let your dogs solve one puzzle every single day.  You can do this at meal time if that's easier for you, or make this the thing you do midday to keep them happy or in the evening to wind them down.

3.  Groom them every day. You don't have to do it all, but they really should be brushed, combed, or grooming mitted for a few minutes every day. They walk outdoors picking up dirt, debris, and allergens on their coats. Even hypoallergenic dogs can pick up allergens on their coats and bring those allergens indoors to you and your family.  Taking a few minutes to brush, comb, or run a grooming mitt over your dog when they come indoors will help keep their coats shiny, clean, and in good condition.  It will allow you to see if there are any mats you need to address and note any irregularities on their skin.  Dogs who are groomed daily require fewer baths as well which is also better for their skin. And the bottom line is that this is one-on-one time with your dog and they love that!

4.  Give them a dental chew if you can't brush their teeth. Brushing your dog's teeth everyday is the best way to combat tartar buildup in their mouth.  If you have trouble remembering to brush their teeth, keep their toothbrush and toothpaste near yours so you can do their teeth when you do your own before bed.  And if you still forget, make sure you have some Veterinary Oral Health Council approved dental chews on hand to give them.  For a list of the currently approved treats, food, and chews you can choose from, take a look here:

5.  Put them on a long line twice a week. Taking your dog to a park and allowing them to (somewhat) freely explore on a long line means they have more sniffing and exploring options available to them. Using a long line means you can even allow them to explore in parks that are designated as on leash only. Plus, you can work on their recall while you are at it and that's something worth practicing every day.  And did I mention squirrels?  On a long line is the best way to chase squirrels!

So, there you have it, my favorites for a fabulous 2024. Let me know what you are doing to make 2024 even more amazing for your dogs!  And, as always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

Westley goes on a hike once a week with my daughter. She says it's good for her mental health as well as Westley's.  They have lots of great hiking option in the Los Angeles area, so the hikes vary and they both come home quite content!