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!