Saturday, November 16, 2013

Do Your Best To Prepare Your Dog For the Worst

When people bring a new puppy or dog  home so much attention is focused on housebreaking and obedience training.  Don't get me wrong, these are important things, but I'm always preaching to my clients the importance of raising calm confident dogs.  A dog who is comfortable being away from you whether you're in another room or you've left the house.  We want dogs who LOVE their crates and can be calm and relaxed when confined.  These are things we tend to take for granted as we focus on teaching Fido to Sit and to stop peeing in the house. 

This past week has given me the opportunity to see first hand the benefits of practicing what I preach. 

My 7 month old Labrador, Hubble, received a devastating diagnosis and had to undergo surgery.  This was unexpected and very traumatic for Hubble and his humans.   We arrived for an appointment at Michigan State University and were told he needed surgery and would be staying, not returning home with us.  This would be the first time he's stayed away from home as well as undergoing a surgical procedure.   The weeks and months of helping him learn to love his crate,  the process of helping him realize that he can relax when left alone because his humans always return have made a horrible situation more bearable .   I had the comfort of knowing even in this difficult situation he would be alright. 

The reports I've received from the staff at MSU have been those of shock and surprise as to how calm and relaxed he has been during this ordeal.   He rests comfortably in his kennel run while the dogs around him are distressed and fearful.  He greets every person he meets as if they have always been his friend because humans are wonderful and he's never met one he didn't have a great experience with.  He didn't panic when I left him because I always return.   Don't get me wrong, I'm sure he was afraid, in pain and missing his family, but he had the coping skills to get through it.

If someone had told me last week that my sweet puppy would be going through this I would have never believed it.  We don't expect things like this to happen to an apparently healthy puppy, but they do, that's just the way life goes.  While we can't prevent bad things from happening we can invest the time and energy into preparing our dog to cope with a difficult situation. 

I preach prevention all the time, prevent separation anxiety, prevent confinement anxiety, because you never know when it will be the most important thing you ever do for your dog! 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Yours........Mine..........Ours.............Who's The Walk For???

When I think about walking my dog, I've found that there are three different types of walks.

This is a walk that belongs to the dog.  It is all about sniffing, exploring, observing, scanning, lingering, all things dog.  All dogs need to have opportunities to explore the world around them and what better way than on a walk.  This walk is totally directed by the dog, I'm following his lead. 

This walk is for the human.  I gave up my gym membership many years ago so that I would have the time and energy to walk my dogs everyday.  I love walking and typically get 4-6 miles in per day.  When I head out on my walk it's pretty faced paced so I typically take my older dogs who are seasoned walking buddies and can keep up with me.  It's important to note that 'forced exercise' is not appropriate for puppies, senior dogs or dogs without appropriate endurance.

These walks are geared towards training and socialization.   When I have a young dog in training we spend alot of time walking and training in public.  These walks include working on leash manners, heeling, greeting people and ignoring distractions.   I'm not concerned about the distance we walk and often times we are just going places and hanging out, so this is not meant to be a physical workout for either human or canine. 

By determing which walk you're going on you can decide if you should include friends or just walk alone.   I've found over the years that both myself and my dogs get more exercise and enjoy our walks when we abandon the one-size-fits-all approach to walks.

More great info by fellow trainers.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Bringing Puppy Home

The moment you have been waiting for has arrived, your new puppy is coming home!  There are  things you can do to make this process easier for both you and your puppy.
Have the necessary equipment

The most important piece of equipment you will need is a Crate.  All puppies benefit from having a Crate and learning early on that it's a safe and happy place.  Great things happen in their crate, meals are served, wonderful toys are there and it's the best place for sleeping and quiet time.  It is also helpful to have a few gates on hand or an  X-Pen.  A puppy should not have free run of your home, using gates is a great way to keep them confined to a smaller area. 

Write out a daily routine for everyone to follow

A young puppy needs a schedule, one that everyone complies with.   The first few days will be trial and error as you get to know your new puppy.   They need to eat, head outdoors for bathroom breaks, playtime and sleep.   Following a schedule will ensure that your puppy is getting all their needs met.

Be available and close to home for the first week 

The transition away from the litter and into a new Human home is stressful.  It's best to have someone available 24/7 for the first week.   If you're going to establish a good routine, someone will need to be there to make that happen.  A puppy has limited bladder/bowel control and should not be expected to go more than 2-3 hours without gaining access to the outdoors, especially during the day.  If you can't be home, hire someone to come and cover for you. 

Establish good sleep habits

The average puppy is sleep deprived and this can lead to a whole host of problems.  A young puppy should sleep 18-20 hours per day.  The following article explains why this is so important.
Take things slow

It's best to keep things low keyed the first week or two, stick close to home, avoid having lots of visitors and resist the temptation to go visiting people or places for the first week.  Having a new puppy in your home is exciting and stressful, taking things slow will allow everyone to adjust.  If you have other pets, these early days are equally as important as they establish new relationships.
Enroll in a Puppy Class

Take the time to research and find a Puppy Class, one that is reward based and taught by a professional trainer.  Once a puppy has started their series of puppy vaccinations they can attend a group class.  A puppy SHOULD NOT go to public dog parks until they are fully vaccinated and have had time to develop age appropriate play skills.   By laying a solid foundation you can help your puppy get off to a great start!

We offer Pup Start Classes year round, visit our website, for details and to enroll.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

How 'Tolerant' Should A Dog Have To Be?

When people share with me that their dog is the most tolerant--submissive dog on the planet, I have to ask, what exactly is your dog having to tolerate?   Why do we expect dogs to tolerate everything that comes their way?  This is especially true of dogs that live with children.  Many parents believe that the family dog needs to be tolerant of anything the kids dole out.   A family dog is often expected to accept kids grabbing them, climbing on them, pulling ears and tails, teasing them, tackling them and they should never so much as flinch, much less show displeasure or fear. 

Instead of expecting the dog to be tolerant, we need to teach children boundaries with dogs.  I'm speaking from experience, as the mother of 3, I know how important it is to teach kids and even adults appropriate boundaries with the family dog.  Young children need 100% adult supervision around puppies and dogs, especially kids who are too young to understand boundaries.   I've had many conversations with my kids over the years about appropriate ways of handling and interacting with our dogs.  Not every dog wants to be a pillow, wants hugs and kisses, enjoys cuddling, likes to wrestle, loves being chased and grabbed.   There are many times when the family dog is treated more like a stuffed animal than a living creature.    When a dog shows displeasure it could be that they are experiencing pain, are fearful, feel trapped or anxious or quite simply would just like to be left alone.  There is so much pressure on the family dog to always be 'up' and 'happy', who else could live up to that expectation?    If a dog is being forced to endure something unpleasant, they are not being tolerant or submissive, we need to know the difference to keep everyone safe. 

The following video shows the difference between a dog that enjoys being petted and one that does not.  

There are great resources available such as videos and posters to teach kids how to properly interact with dogs. 

The truth is...........not all dogs are good with kids..................and not all kids are good with dogs.   Instead of thinking tolerance is the answer................use training, management, supervision and education to keep everyone safe and happy.  

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Helping The Foreign Body Ingestor

There is nothing worse than realizing that your dog has eaten something dangerous like clothing or a piece of a toy.  It's all too common for puppies and dogs to tear things up but it becomes life threatening when they swallow it causing a bowel obstruction.  I feel as if I've had a crash course this past year on living with and helping  dogs who are chronic foreign body ingestors otherwise known as PICA.  

What I've come to realize is that the problem is more common than most people think.  The stories I've heard from Pet Parents about how their dogs regularly eat socks, underwear, wash cloths, towels, is mind boggling.  The vast majority of these dogs appear to be ingesting and passing things on a regular basis.  Prior to having one of my dogs nearly die from eating a simple black dress sock, I probably would have not sounded an alarm either.   But having lived through the heartache of watching her nearly die, losing 3 feet of her intestine, having life long dietary restrictions and paying an ER bill that exceeded $4,000, has forever changed how I think about and handle PICA.   It's not something to just write off as 'normal' dog behavior.  

What should you do if your dog is eating things?  The first step is to discuss this with your Veterinarian.  If you know or even suspect that your dog has eaten something DO NOT try to induce vomiting at home without the direction of a Veterinarian.  What your dog swallowed MAY NOT come up as easily as it went down and vomiting could cause them to choke.   The safest thing to do is contact your Veterinarian and let them direct your next steps.  If your dog has a history of eating things and suddenly presents with vomiting or the inability to defecate, a trip the Vet or ER is warranted.  The sooner you intervene the more likely you are to prevent a life threatening event. 

I've learned that there is still so much we do not understand about why dogs ingest foreign objects.   It can be motivated by any number of things and will require your help to keep them safe.  Over the years I've consulted with colleagues and a Board Certified Vet Behaviorist to better understand PICA and how to keep our dogs safe.   Here are some things to consider:

  • Keep your dogs environment free from objects you know they have a history of eating, such as socks, underwear, etc.  When you have a pup with PICA, management of the environment is important. 
  • Keep them crated or confined when they do not have 100% supervision. 
  • Make sure your dog is eating enough.   There are many puppies and dogs who are quite frankly not being fed enough.  Hunger can be a motivating factor in PICA and it often develops in puppyhood.  While it is important to help our pets maintain a healthy weight, underfeeding can cause them to eat anything and everything in sight.  Bulk their meals up with fiber and low fat foods to help them feel satisfied.  
  • Teach your dog a reliable "Leave It" or "Drop" and always reward them trading with you. 
  • Use a Basket Muzzle outdoors  on bathroom breaks or at night, if they are eating things like rocks, feces, sticks, etc.   Muzzles are NOT meant to be a 'fix' but rather a safety tool too keep your pup safe during the behavior modification process.  NEVER leave your dog unattended wearing a muzzle and never for extended periods of time.   

  • Provide your dog with appropriate toys, enrich their environment with food dispensing toys.  If your dog always wants to have something in their mouth, they are more likely to keep ingesting things, so meet that need with safe toys.  

  • Make sure your dog is getting adequate physical and mental activity as boredome can increase this problem. 
  • Consult with a Behaviorist or Vet if you need assistance and support as this problem can be complex and is not simply a 'training problem'.  Many PICA dogs benefit from supplements or medication to reduce anxiety which may be increasing their need to consume dangerous things.
  • Rule out any underlying medical condition, specifically GI issues
  • Avoid punishment as it will not resolve the problem and will most likely give increase your dogs anxiety and make the problem worse. 
  • Consider Pet Health Insurance.  No one wants to be faced with the decision of whether or not they can afford to treat their dog in the event they need emergency surgery.
PICA is complicated and will not resolve without intervention and treatment.  I've have known many dogs who've lost their lives or who suffer life long medical problems from having had multiple surgeries.  

The best thing you can do to protect your dog is to NOT ignore the problem. 

**Since I wrote this blog 5 years ago I've dramatically changed how I raise my puppies, I take a preventive approach to them developing PICA and I'm happy to report that I've not had a PICA dog since**

Monday, March 11, 2013

A Little Understanding Goes A Long Way

How well do you understand your dogs behavior?  The average person takes more time learning how to operate their Smart Phone than they do learning about the amazing creature they've welcomed into their home.  I'm not suggesting that every Pet Parent needs to be an expert in canine behavior but some basic understanding of how dogs learn is very helpful.  There tend to be two ways of handling behavior problems.

The first approach is ignoring the problem, thinking and hoping that over time it will just magically go away.  There are many behavior problems that are written off as 'normal puppy behaviors' such as fear, anxiety, resource guarding, separation anxiety, just to name a few.  It is not uncommon for people to think that these are normal puppy behaviors and over time the puppy will just outgrow them.  When an adult dog is displaying these behaviors people will often just learn to live with it as they feel there is probably nothing that can be done so what's the point in seeking help.

The second approach is to immeidatley jump into assualt mode which often results in resorting to using harsh and punitive methods to try to resolve the problem.   People will run to the local Pet Store and arm themselves with an arsenal of equipment guaranteed to make their dog see the error of their ways.  This can feel very empowering, especially if you have been feeling helpless and frustrated.  The problem is,  it's almost always destined to fail and the one who suffers the most is the dog. 

The best approach is,  trying to understand the underlying problem or what may be  driving the behavior.   When a dog is displaying an undesirable behavior there is usually more to it than meets the eye.  If they are immediately labeled as difficult, dominant, stubborn, or worse, you've labeled the dog before you even try to understand the problem.  Behavior is complex and changing all the time, it's influenced by many things, you often have to dig deeper to solve a problem. 

Whether your dog is peeing on the carpet or eating foreign objects, it's serious and needs to be addressed.  There are some behavior problems that are linked to an underlying medical problem.  Don't think ignoring it or a 'firm hand' are the answer, try a little understanding first.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Pre Purchase Counseling, Is It Right For You?

Are you thinking about getting a dog or a puppy?   Are you well informed before you take this life-altering step?   Yes, your life will change dramatically if you become a Pet Parent.  Most people research the purchase of a new car longer than they do the decision to add a dog to their home.  True a car may cost more, but most people only have their cars 5 years and a dog lives an average of 12-15 years.  Basing your decision to get a dog on solid information can help make having dog an enriching experience that changes your life for the better.  Adding a dog to the family for all the wrong reasons or getting the wrong dog can lead to heartache.

There are many things to consider when adding a puppy or dog to your family, sorting everything out before you're driving home with Fido in the car is the best approach. 

What age of dog would be best for your family?
While puppies are cute and cuddly, they are not for every family.  They require alot of time and attention, will need to be housebroken, crate trained, require alot of management and supervision around children, need alot of exercise and socialization in the first 6 months and don't forget training.  This is a very time consuming adventure, be sure you have time to meet their needs because the 'cuteness' wears off quickly when they are tearing your house apart, biting the kids, and keeping you up at night.  

If you have a young family or a busy schedule, an older dog is a better choice.  The shelters are full of wonderful dogs looking for forever homes.   If you prefer a specific breed, many breeders release older dogs from their programs. 

Are there things to consider when adopting an older dog?
Anytime you adopt an older dog, that means any dog over 6 months of age, you may be dealing with a variety of unknowns.   If you do not have any background on the dog you will not know their socialization history.  This is critical especially for dogs that live with children.   While you will not know everything about an adopted dog, it does help to evaluate the following:
What is their comfort level around children?
Are there any behavioral concerns such as resource guarding or separation anxiety?
Are they reactive or aggressive around other animals?
Are they comfortable being handled?
Are they crate trained and/or comfortable with confinement?

Adopting a puppy or dog with behavioral problems requires a commitment of time and money.  It's important to be realistic about your ability to meet their needs.  I've worked with many stressed families who wished they had called me BEFORE selecting their pet rather than after the fact.

The best approach is to be as honest with yourself as possible, look at your schedule,  lifestyle and  budget.  All of these should play a part in helping you make an informed decision.

If you're thinking of adding a puppy or dog to your family, consider Pre Purchase Counseling.  I offer this service via phone, Skype or in person.   We will work together to determine the best dog for your family. 


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Are You Encouraging Your Dogs Dysfunctional Behavior?

We've all observed our dog doing goofy things.........chasing a shadow, barking at their reflection in a window or mirror, mugging guests at the door, chasing their tail, eating random objects,  etc.  In the moment we may chuckle because some of these behaviors are amusing.   It rarely occurs to people that these types of behavior can take on a life of their own and often do.  Some behaviors are born out of boredom, while others are linked to stress and anxiety.  What ever the root cause, allowing them to persist is not in your pets best interest.   By the time I receive calls from Pet Parents regarding their dogs behavior problem, no ones laughing any more. 

All puppies and dogs act silly and goofy at times and yes, it can be quite entertaining.  We do however have to determine when behaviors have crossed over from being funny to being a problem.  A perfect example is the puppy or dog who barks at their reflection in a mirror or window, this  is setting the stage for them to become reactive when they see other dogs.  It seems so innocent when they do it the first time, everyone laughs as Fido goes crazy, but your dog just learned to go nuts when they see another dog.    If a dog is constantly eating everything in sight, they have a foreign body surgery in their future if you don't manage their environment better. I've had clients brag about the things their dog could ingest, but trust me, you'll feel horrible when your dog suffers a bowel obstruction or worse, dies from eating something like a sock or some other choke hazard.   Behavior problems can develop quickly and practice makes perfect, so the more your dog practices undesirable behavior the more you will see it rearing it's ugly head. 

When should you intervene?  I redirect any behavior that I feel encourages negative or unhealthy behaviors for my dog.  The occasional chasing of the tail is ok, but after a few seconds I  redirect the dog to do something else.  If I am not able to redirect the dog,  that is a clear indication that this is not an appropriate activity or behavior for my dog.  

I once observed a Golden Retriever who loved to shadow chase in the shallow waters of the lake where his family lived.  He would spend hours pacing back and forth chasing light shadows.  It seemed funny at first and everyone joked about his 'fishing',  but he developed a serious yeast infection on his paws from his hours of being in the water.  His family tried to no avail to interrupt this behavior but he was almost mesmerized, unable to come out of what they described as a 'trance'.   At first glance the owners primary concern was treating the yeast infection, but truth be told, they needed to address the shadow chasing to keep him out of the water.  He was evaluated and placed on medication to control the compulsive behavior which kept him out of the water and allowed the infection to resolve. 

If your puppy or dog is exhibiting a repetitive behavior pattern that you are not able to interrupt or redirect, it is advisable to consult with your Veterinarian and/or Certified Behavior Consultant.   Dogs can suffer from OCD, a full assessment is warranted to make a diagnosis. 

Lets not be entertained at the expense of our dogs physical or mental health. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Catch Them Being Good

How often do you stop what you're doing and 'Catch Your Dog Being Good'?    Throughout the day our dogs are doing wonderful things that are often overlooked.  We become so focused on the things we don't like that we fail to see all the wonderful things our pups do each and every day. 

  • Greeting you calmly at the door
  • Watching the squirrels run around in the yard without barking
  • Not stealing food off the table
  • Not reacting to the doorbell by acting like a lunatic
  • Waiting patiently at the door to go for a walk
  • Laying quietly at your feet while you read
  • Sleeping on their dog bed
  • Tolerating your bad mood *grin*
All of these behaviors are worthy of clicks/treats, praise and attention, is your dog getting that from you?

We set our dogs up for failure by not providing them with supervision, management, adequate education and training.  The article linked below is written by Kelly Gorman Dunbar and sums up the confusion surrounding raising, training and living with dogs.

If you want to see positive changes in your dog, start by changing your attitude and the way you interact with your dog!  

And yes I did stop what I was doing and praise the 3 dogs in this picture for resting quietly when they could been wrestling around and acting like hooligans :)