Gardening Tips

pittie in flowersI commonly see and hear about dogs that get sick from the garden or garden products. I noticed this past weekend – tons of gardening going on. Mulching, planting, weeding. I went to Lowes and their garden center was BUSY!

Anyway, this is “flower” month and I want to make sure you know what you need to know about planting a pet safe garden. Maybe your dog or cat doesn’t go into the Flower garden – and if that is the case – good for you. But I know you also want to protect other animals from getting sick.

To help keep your garden pet safe.

The most commonly used lawn care products are of fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides and fungicides. When applied according to package instructions or by a qualified lawn care service most of these products are not harmful. Pets are primarily poisoned by contact with concentrated products. This may occur from inappropriate storage, failure to read package instructions, or by intentionally using more product than needed. Dogs are especially good at finding poorly stored containers, chewing them up and drinking the contents. Pet owners should be especially vigilant when using insecticides as these tend to have a higher degree of toxicity.
Dogs may be exposed by digging up treated earth, chewing on pellets, or rooting around ant mounds shortly after insecticides are applied.

Many pets chew on plants in the yard and garden. Fortunately for dogs, who for some unknown reason seem to enjoy eating grass and then vomiting, most grasses are non-toxic. Holiday ornamental plants such as poinsettias and Easter lily are often put outside for the summer. Ingestion of poinsettia stems and leaves may cause some mild gastrointestinal irritation and vomiting but is not deadly. Ingestion of all parts of the Easter lily causes depression, vomiting and diarrhea in cats. Left untreated most cats die of kidney failure. Tulips (bulbs), Lily of the valley and azaleas are all springtime plants that can be deadly to pets if ingested in large enough quantities. Dogs should be watched carefully when these plants are being cared for.

Most lawn seed and Mulch products are generally not associated with toxic problems in pets. Cacoa bean mulch is perhaps the only product known to cause poisoning in dogs. This mulch is made from the hulls of cacoa beans and when fresh has a rich, chocolate aroma associated with it. Some larger breed dogs have actually eaten several pounds of the mulch, more than enough to develop poisoning associated with the chocolate remnants. These over eager dogs should be kept away from the mulch until the aroma has dissipated. Generally a heavy rainfall or thorough watering is all that is required.

As you work outside be sure to take an extra moment or two to protect your pets. Read all package instructions carefully before any applying products to your lawn or garden. Be sure not only that it is safe to use around your pets but that you are mixing or applying it correctly. Check with your local garden center about the safety of plants you are putting in your garden. Finally, be sure to close the top tightly on all containers and put them in an area where your pets do not have access to them.
With a little careful planning, you and your pet can enjoy a safe and relaxing garden environment. Whether you’re planning a large garden to feed the family or decorating a small space with hanging baskets and containers, here are a few factors to be considered.

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Plant Selection

Plants and flowers are nature’s attention getters. Their fragrance, appearance, and cool shade they create are natural attractants for you and your pet. Curiosity often leads pets to consume the flowers and foliage of ornamental plants, which can produce irritating and sometimes life threatening side effects.
Plants for a Sunny Location

If the location of your garden, gives you 4 or more hours of direct sunlight, a day, you have a long list, of annuals and perennials from which to choose. Annuals grow from seed and last one growing season. They are good choices for fast, instant color impact. Garden and discount centers will offer a wide variety of annual plants at economical prices. Perennials return year after year from growth at the roots, they are a little more expensive, but do not need to be planted every growing season. Most gardeners have their favourites and mix both types for the longest possible color show. Safe choices for sunny locations include:

Annuals
• Zinnia (Zinnia sp.)
• Snapdragons (Antirrhinum sp.)
• Cosmos (Cosmos sp.)
• Calendula (Callendula sp.)
• Petunia (Petunia sp.)

Perennial
• Bee Balm (Monarda sp.)
• Phlox (Phlox sp.)
• Roses (Rose sp.)
• Catmint/catnip (Nepeta sp.)
• Coneflowers (Echinacea purpura)

Plants for Partial Sun

If your garden receives less than 4 hours of direct sunlight a day, the following list of non-toxic annuals and perennials requires less sunlight.

Annuals
• Primrose(Primula sp.)
• Butterfly flower(Schianthus sp.)
• Spider flower (Cleome sp.)
• Nasturtium (Tropaeolum sp.)

Perennials
• Columbine(Aquilegia sp.)
• Coral Bells (Heuchera sp.)
• Turf Lilly (Liriope sp.)
• Goat’s Beard (Aruncus dioicus)

Shade Gardens

A shade garden receives little to no direct sunlight, although the sun may filter through the trees for dappled light. Plant selection for these areas may include the following:

Annuals
• Begonia (Begonia sp.)
• Impatiens (Impatiens sp.)
• New Guinea Impatiens
• Violet (Viola sp.)
• Coleus (Coleus sp.)

Perennials
• Bugbane (Cimifuga racemosa)
• Yellow Corydalis (Corydalis lutea)
• Astilbe (Astilbe sp.)
• Queen of the Meadow (Filipendula ulmaria)

Vegetable Gardens

If you’re interest is vegetables, you’ll need 4 or more hours of full sun for most plants. Keeping your pet out of the vegetable garden may be your biggest task, especially when plants are young and fragile. Some clearly visible fencing may help. Avoid hardware cloth as pets can become entangled. Motion detector sprinkler systems can be useful in keeping pets and wildlife out of newly planted areas, and are not harmful. Most vegetable plants do not pose toxicity problems with a few exceptions. Onions, chives and garlic, which a lot of pets do like, contain compounds that, if ingested, can cause anemia. The leafy part of the potato plant, and the green part of the potato skin contain compounds that are toxic if eaten in sufficient quantities. Fruits also contain toxic chemicals in their seeds/pits. Apple, plum, cherry, apricot and peach seeds/pits contain cyanide, which can cause fatal seizures.

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The 10 Least Wanted

The following is a list of plants that is best to avoid altogether due to their toxic nature. It is not a comprehensive list, if you are considering any plant of which you are unsure; consult your local plant nursery.
• Castor bean (Ricinus communis)
• Oleander (Nerium oleander)
• Morning Glory (Ipomea sp.)
• Japanese Yew (Taxus cuspidata)
• Jerusalem Cherry (Solanum pseudocapsicum)
• Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)
• Nightshade (Atropa belladonna)
• Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis)
• Precatory Beans (Arbus precatorius)
• Trumpet vine (Campsis radicans)

Lawn and Garden Chemicals

It is very easy to reach for a chemical pesticide, fertilizer or fungicide when faced with a problem in the lawn or garden. Fortunately for the average home gardener, safer alternatives are available for most commonly encountered problems, reducing the risk of a toxic exposure for your pet. You would not think that your pet would have any reason to consume these products but sadly they do, either intentionally or inadvertently and these types of poisonings are all too common. Remember before applying any product to your lawn, vegetables, or ornamental plants to read the label and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Many of these products are designed to persist in the environment days to weeks after application, so a pet can have an exposure days to weeks after initial application.

Alternatives to Chemical Pesticides

If you notice damaging insects on your plants such as aphids, spider mites or thrips, these insects can be eliminated or reduced by a simple spray of water. These soft-bodied insects are easily dislodged. Adjust the nozzle of your hose so a firm spray will not harm your plants and wash them away. If you have only a few plants, use a good stream of water from your watering can and a little hand washing. It may take a day or two but an infestation can be cleared by no more than a good shower!

Soap and Water

If your insect problem is more serious, add a teaspoon of dish soap to a gallon of water and use it in a garden sprayer. The soap is an irritant to a lot of insects and can help break down the protective barriers of their external skeleton. There are commercial insecticidal soaps available that are less toxic than most chemical alternatives.

Compost

The “black gold” of the garden, recycled kitchen and yard waste can be combined to produce the best garden fertilizer at no cost and reduce the need for chemical fertilizers. It can be applied to the lawn and garden twice a year and it will replace the essential nutrients that growing plants and grasses require.

And Don’t Forget

Sometimes we forget the simplest things! Put your pets inside when mowing the lawn. A lawn mower can make a projectile out of a stick or rock that can injure your pet. Paint your garden tools a bright color such as red or yellow so you can see them out in the yard. Many pets step or trip on sharp garden implements. Store your chemicals out of reach and in their original containers. Don’t assume your pet will not be interested in consuming these products. If there is a toxic exposure or consumption, call your veterinarian immediately with the information from the product label. Keep your pets inside when applying any chemicals to the lawn or garden. With a little planning you and your pet can enjoy a safe and beautiful garden.

What Is Your Dog Saying? A Key to Canine Body Language

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Keys to Understanding Canine Body Language

Every dog, whether Akita, bichon, or beagle, knows the same language. You and your dog probably pick up on each other’s signals without thinking much about it. But if your dog begins to behave differently, if you are getting to know a new dog, or if you encounter a dog you don’t know, it helps to be able to read the universal body language of dogs.

If you and your dog landed in Tokyo or Timbuktu tomorrow and were greeted by a local person and his dog, it would take only a few minutes for the two dogs to understand each other. Hours later, you would still be wondering if you were bowing properly, making acceptable hand gestures, or using the right table manners. The dogs, on the other hand, would know just what to do – the lead dog eats first.

Signals Dogs Use to Communicate

Although a dog can’t speak and has no hands and fingers for gesturing as humans do, you can watch key parts of his body to determine how he’s feeling and reacting to the world around him.

Face. Although the dog’s facial muscles are not as refined as a human’s, he can wrinkle or straighten his forehead to show confusion or determination. If your dog wants you to give him further direction, he may raise his eyelids quizzically and tilt his head to one side.

Eyes. A dog’s eyes brighten when he looks at a creature he considers friendly and when he wants to play. If he is afraid, his pupils dilate and he shows the whites of his eyes. He averts his eyes to avoid confrontation. But if he is angry or ready to defend himself, his eyes narrow and follow your every move. At this point, it’s particularly important not to look the dog in the eye because he sees that as a challenge to defend his position.

Lips, teeth and tongue. A relaxed dog in normal posture may let his tongue loll out of his mouth. If he wants something from you, if he is happy or wants to play, he may pull his lips back in what appears to be a smile and show his teeth, an expression, by the way, dogs show only to humans and not to other dogs. But beware the dog that bares his clenched teeth and wrinkles his nose. He is ready to attack.

Ears. The dog’s sense of hearing is much more acute than ours and even dogs with floppy ears have the ability to move and turn them to follow sounds. If a dog’s ears are raised, he is relaxed, listening, or showing acceptance. If they are back, he may be signaling submission and deference or may be frankly fearful.

Tail. A dog wags his tail when he is happy or wants to play. It is really an energy indicator. When he is submissive, he tucks it between his legs. A taut tail, held down rigidly behind him, may show that he is prepared to spring since he uses his tail for balance when jumping.

Voice. Dogs are vocal animals. They yip, bark, whimper, howl, and growl. The pitch or volume of their sounds can increase with their level of emotion. A bark may be playful or aggressive. Unlike body signals, dog noises can mean different things from different dogs.

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Dog Posture Speaks Volumes – What Your Dog is Saying

When two dogs meet, as long as their human companions aren’t tugging tight on their leashes, they carry out a series of actions that looks like a choreographed dance. With their bodies tense and tails taut, they circle and sniff each other, silently gathering and exchanging information, ready to defend themselves at any moment if necessary. They hold their ears back and the hair on their back may stand on end. They often avoid direct eye contact at first, sizing each other up to determine if the stranger is strong or weak, male or female, hostile or non-hostile. One dog may place his head on the nape of the other’s neck or nip at his nose. It seems they are getting ready to fight and then, one lies down. Soon, they may separate and urinate. At this point they have agreed on which dog is dominant.

 

Dogs learn body language from their mothers during the first 8 weeks of their lives and they test out this form of communication with their litter-mates. If a dog misses out on such training, he will have trouble communicating with other dogs throughout life.

Normal posture. The dog appears alert with head held high. His tail moves freely. His jaw is relaxed.

Invitation to play. The dog happily signals his desire to play by wagging his tail and dipping down into a “play bow.” His front legs are in a crouch and his backbone swoops up, leaving his rear haunches high. His head is held up expectantly to capture your attention. He may raise a front leg or lean to one side with his head.

Submission. The dog crouches down further and still appears relaxed. He may lift a front foot as in a play invitation, but his ears are back and his tail is down. He may yawn, scratch, or sneeze, which is meant to calm him and the dogs or people confronting him.

Fearful aggression. A dog who is afraid tenses his body and holds his tail rigid, though it may be wagging. His rear legs are ready to run or spring. He bares his teeth, draws back his ears and the hair on his back stands on end. He growls or snarls constantly to warn off the subject of his fear.

Dominance aggression. Teeth bared, this dog stares you down and advances confidently with his tail wagging slowly and his ears in the forward (alert) position.

Total submission. The dog drops his tail and curls it between his legs. He drops his head to avoid eye contact. He rolls over on his side and bares his belly, with one hind leg raised and urinates. If he isn’t afraid, he’ll tilt his head up a bit and raise his ears to show trust.

 

The Stubborn Dog

Are dogs stubborn? Here’s what you need to know about training a ‘stubborn dog’.

I laugh whenever I hear someone refer to a dog as “stubborn.” It is patently unfair to label a dog as stubborn.

Dogs do what works for them (as we all do), and when they aren’t doing what we ask, they have a good reason.

When your dog doesn’t respond to your cue, perhaps he’s come to associate it with something aversive, perhaps he doesn’t understand what you’re asking, or perhaps he’s too distracted or stressed and your request doesn’t even register in his brain.

In any case, it’s our job, as the supposedly more intelligent species, to figure out how to get our dogs to want to do what we want them to do.

Some people believe dogs should do what they are told, simply because we tell them to. “Because I said so!” hearkens back to childhood, when parental directives were often accompanied by the implied “Do it, or else!”

In these days of a more enlightened dog training philosophy, this coercive approach isn’t what many of us want with our dogs. We prefer relationships based on a cooperative partnership.

If your dog isn’t doing what you ask, consider these questions:

Are you training competently?

Remember, dogs shouldn’t have to do what we say just because we tell them to – or just because they love us. We want them to want to do it. Make sure your reinforcers are valuable enough that your dog will eagerly offer the behaviors you ask for, and that you are marking and/or delivering the reinforcer with good timing so your dog associates the reinforcer with the desired behavior.

Is there something aversive about the behavior?

Years ago, my first Doberman, Karla, started refusing jumps when we were training for obedience competition. I didn’t punish her for not jumping – I took her to my veterinarian and discovered she had bad hips. It hurt her to jump.

A behavior can also be emotionally aversive.

If a car ride always means a trip to the vet, your dog could become very reluctant to jump into the car. Your challenge is to make car rides consistently predict “good stuff” – a hike in the woods, a trip their favorite canine pal for a play session, or? If he’s refusing to enter his crate because he has mild separation distress and associates crating with you leaving, alleviate the separation distress through behavior modification (and possibly appropriate medications), and then convince him that crating is wonderful.

Does he not understand?

You may have taught your dog to respond to a cue for the desired behavior, but perhaps you’ve used body language prompts in the past without realizing it, and now, absent the prompt, he doesn’t understand what you’re asking of him.

Fade all prompts if you want him to respond reliably to verbal cues. Perhaps you’ve always trained in the kitchen in front of the refrigerator, and so he thinks “Sit” means “Sit in the kitchen.” When you ask him to sit in the living room, he doesn’t sit because it’s not the kitchen. He’s not being stubborn – he needs you to help him generalize his behavior so he understands that “Sit” means to put his tail on the ground wherever you ask him to do it.

Your tone of voice does matter. If you usually give cues with a happy voice but your own emotional state causes your voice to sound different, he may not understand.

Is he distracted?

If you haven’t generalized your dog’s behavior to distracting environments, his attention will naturally be drawn to the multitude of exciting things happening around him. He’s not ignoring you; he probably isn’t even hearing you because he’s so focused on the fascinating world around him. Help him hear and respond to your behavior requests by training in various environments with gradually increasing distractions.

Is he stressed?

“Stressed” is an even bigger challenge than “distracted.”

When stress happens, the thinking part of the brain (the cortex) shuts down and the emotional part of the brain (the amygdala) takes over.

We even have phrases in the English language to describe this phenomenon: “I was so scared I couldn’t think straight.” “I was out of my mind with worry.”

When your dog is so stressed, he can’t think straight, it’s unfair to blame him for not doing what you ask. Relieve his stress (remove him from the stressor, and/or do behavior modification to change his association with the stressor) and try again.

Your relationship with your dog will be so much happier when you stop characterizing him as stubborn and realize how you can help him be more responsive to your behavior requests. Now get busy helping him want to do what you want him to do.

7 Effective Habits

As a professional dog trainer, I get to work with people from all walks of life and the dogs they love. Interestingly, no matter who they are, what they do for a living, or what kind of dog they have, their issues are similar: They call me because they want their dog to stop doing “X.” Usually, they say they have “tried everything, but the dog just won’t listen.”

I love the opportunities I have to work with so many amazing dogs. But a lot of what I do comes down to coaching the dog’s owners on how to look at things differently to obtain a new outcome.

1. Be proactive.

Much of the old-fashioned dog training we were exposed to growing up focused on waiting for the dog to make a mistake and then harshly correcting him. While most of us simply accepted this as “how you train a dog,” we were missing the bigger picture. This method never taught the dog what he was supposed to do in that situation the next time.

It doesn’t make sense to let an untrained dog loose in your house and then follow behind correcting him with “No! Don’t! Off! Stop! Get down! Quit that!” for every wrong decision he makes. It is much more effective and productive to take the time to teach this new family member how to act appropriately in your home.

In modern, science-based animal training we understand the importance of teaching the learner, in this case the dog, what to do by being proactive. To use the example above as what not to do when you bring your new dog or puppy home, start things off on the right foot by first showing your new family member where she is supposed to go potty – before you ever bring her indoors! Stay out there until she goes, and immediately reward her with treats and praise!

Allow her to relax in an area where it’s safe to explore without being able to make any major mistakes and where her water, food, toys, and beds/carates are located. Reward her for sitting politely as she meets each member of the family and each visitor to the home!

Dogs do what works for them and what’s safe for them. If you introduce behaviors that are safe for the dog and work for you both, your dog will begin to choose them naturally.

2. Begin with the end in mind.

To change an unwanted behavior, you first need to decide what you want your learner to do instead. It is very easy to say, “I want my dog to stop jumping” or “I don’t want my dog to bark at the mailman.” You need to turn that around and decide exactly what you’d rather have your dog do in those moments.

To modify the unwanted behavior, we must be able to picture the final goal. If your dog is jumping on guests, you would probably prefer that he sit politely instead. If your dog is barking, you may decide you want him to play with his toy or go to his bed while the mailman passes by. These are the finished behaviors you can have in mind so you know exactly what you’re going to teach your dog to do.

If you don’t have a goal in mind and you’re only focused on stopping a behavior, your dog will never learn what he’s supposed to do the next time a guest comes to visit or the mailman delivers a package. This will set up an endless cycle of wrong behavior, harsh correction, confused and scared dog, frustrated guardian. This cycle can be broken easily if you begin dealing with your dog with your end goal in mind.

3. Put first things first.

Prioritizing is a necessity in all aspects of our lives. Working with your dog is no exception. There will probably be several things you wish to change or work on with your dog, but certain ones should take precedent. Any behavior that is necessary to keep your dog and other family members safe should be a top priority. This could be teaching your dog to come when called because you live near a busy street. It may be working on creating positive associations for your dog with babies because you’re expecting. If you’ve recently brought home a new puppy, proper and humane socialization should be your number one priority due to the brief window of time puppies have to learn about their world and whether it’s safe.

Focus on teaching your dog whatever behaviors meet your immediate needs; usually, the rest can be handled with proper management such as baby gates, fences, a leash, stuffed food toys, etc. There is nothing wrong with using management to keep everyone safe and happy until you have a chance to work on that next issue with your dog.

4. Think win-win.

Always think in terms of mutual benefit when working with your dog. I doubt you added a dog to your family to spend the next 10 to 15 years in an adversarial relationship. Therefore, it’s not helpful to think in terms of dominating your dog or expecting your dog to spend his life trying to please you.

Instead, make the things you ask your dog to do just as beneficial for him as they are for you. Thankfully, this couldn’t be easier, since most dogs will gladly work for food, toys, praise, and/or petting.

Your relationship with your dog should be like any other in your family, built on mutual respect and love for one another. If you stop and consider how your dog must feel in a given situation – just as you would for your partner or child – you can then approach it in a way in which you both receive what you need in that moment: a win-win.

5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

Humans are quick to demand full and complete comprehension from our dogs. It’s surprising when you consider we expect this from an entirely different species – one that doesn’t speak our language! On the flip side, consider that dogs speak to us all day long with their ritualized body language. Sadly, the majority of humans have never learned this language.

We must remember that our dogs have their own thoughts and feelings and that the environment we subject them to affects both. If you cue your dog to sit or lie down while at the vet clinic or on a busy street corner and he doesn’t do it, it’s not because he is being stubborn. Your dog may be scared, anxious, or overwhelmed in this situation and feels that it would be unsafe or uncomfortable to sit or lie down. He is not defiantly disobeying your orders. He is responding to his instinct and emotions in the moment. Every one of us does this when we feel scared or threatened.

Learning how your dog communicates with his body means you care about this family member with whom you share your life. It also shows your dog that he can trust you to help him out of overwhelming moments and you will understand what he needs. What an amazing gift to be able to offer him!

6. Synergize.

This means recognizing your own strengths and celebrating the strengths of those around you. You may have adopted a dog because you thought it would be nice to visit nursing homes and cheer up people with a sweet, fluffy therapy dog. However, the dog you end up with might be full of energy and better-suited for an agility field.

Instead of seeing this as a failure in your dog’s ability to be a therapy dog, consider the amazing possibilities you could have doing something more active together. Perhaps this unexpected development will open up a new world to you, with like-minded friends and fun travel. (And perhaps your dog will grow to share your interest in providing comfort to people later in his life!)

Just as you would with a child, try meeting your dog where he is, accepting him for who he is today. Be open to discovering the wonderful gifts he can bring to your life right now.

7. Sharpen the saw.

There isn’t an individual on this planet that ever stops learning. In fact, learning is always taking place, even when we don’t realize it.

If you think of training a dog as something you do haphazardly (when you find the time) for the first few weeks he’s in your home, you will not be happy with the results. Alternatively, if you weave training into your everyday life with your dog, thinking of each brief interaction as a teaching moment, you will be amazed by the outcome. Your dog will receive clear and consistent messages from you in all types of settings and situations. This will allow him to develop into a calm, confident dog who truly understands what is expected of him and which behaviors are appropriate to choose on his own.

It’s not uncommon for someone to ask me, “How long will it take before my dog is trained?” The truth is, there really isn’t an answer to this question because there should not be an “ed” on the end of the word train. As long as we are alive, learning is always happening and none of us is ever fully “trained.”

Instead of being disappointed by this and thinking that you will have to train your dog for the rest of his life, I encourage you to flip that narrative and become excited about the opportunity to share a mutual journey in learning alongside each other – a journey that builds a bond like no other.

Swimming With Dogs Can Be Fun If You’re Being Safe

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Both dogs and their owners may love to swim but how about swimming with dogs? This can be a fun way to exercise, cool off, and bond with your dog. Below we will share some important water safety and swimming tips that are critical to the safety of you and your dog.

 

Water Safety Tips

The water can be a fun place to go and exercise but it can also be associated with possible dangers. Hazards include drowning, near drowning, poor water quality, toxins in the water, infectious agents or parasites, exposure to other animals, and possible trauma from things in the water that may not be visible.

Some dogs are really great swimmers and comfortable in the water and others are not. Breeds known to be good swimmers include the standard poodle, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Newfoundlands, Portuguese Water Dogs, American Water Spaniels, Irish Water Spaniel, Newfoundland, English Setter, Irish setter, Chesapeake Bay Retriever, and Spanish Water Dog. Lots of mixed-breed dogs are also good swimmers.

Any dog can be a good swimmer but some breeds that are not known for their swimming abilities including the Bulldog, Pug, French Bulldog, Shih Tzu, Basset Hound, Boxer, Corgi, Chow Chow, Maltese, Pomeranian, and Dachshund.

 

14 Swimming with Dogs Safety Tips

Some dog lovers jump into swimming pools, streams, rivers, oceans, ponds, and lakes to swim and this can be with their dogs. It can be fun. Some dogs love to fetch balls, Frisbees, or just float around.

Below are 14 tips to help keep you and your dog safe when you are swimming together.

Supervision. Ensure your dog is supervised while he or she is in the water.  Things can happen quickly. A dog can get caught on something in the water or caught in a current.

Life vest. Get a life vest or water safety jacket for your dog. Even dogs that are good swimmers can have problems.  If you are just floating in the water – it is a good idea to have a life vest on for you as well. Choose a style that is comfortable for your dog and has a handle over the back so you can lift him out of the water if needed.

Have an exit strategy. Ensure your dog has an exit ramp to get out of the water and knows how to use it. Show your dog how to get in and out of the water. Dogs can drown as they struggle to get out of pools or deep lakes without an accessible shoreline.

Restrict access. Prevent water access when you are not around. Dogs can fall in the pool or jump in because there is a duck in the water and drown.  Dogs can also run out on the ice and fall through.

Monitor water temperature. Ensure the water temperature is neither too hot nor too cold for your dog.

Monitor water quality. If you are swimming in a lake, pond or stream, it is important to be alert for signs of algae bloom.  Some forms of algae can be toxic to dogs and people. Additionally, if you have a pond on your property, consider having the water tested for bacteria or toxins.

Provide quality drinking water. Take plenty of fresh clean drinking water for both you and your dog when swimming together. This will help minimize your dog’s desire to drink from the pool, pond or ocean water. Some of the water can be unsafe to drink or can make your dog sick.  Additionally, it is important not to allow your dog to drink too much.

Boat access. If you are swimming with dogs off a boat, make sure that you have a dog-safe ramp to help your dog get out of the water if he jumps in and swims or falls in. Learn more about How to Ensure Safety When Boating With Dogs.

Monitor for signs of heatstroke. Many dogs LOVE the water and what is better than being with you in the water. However, some dogs will overdo it especially if they are working hard swimming in the direct sun. Take frequent breaks and ensure your dog has plenty of water to drink. Signs of heat exhaustion can be excessive panting, fatigue, and/or lethargy. This can quickly advance to signs of heatstroke such as collapse, weakness, vomiting, bleeding, and death. Learn more about Heatstroke in Dogs.

Prevent fishing hook hazards. Keep your dog away from fishing bait and poles. Some dogs will step on or even try to eat the bait and swallow the hook which can be a huge problem.

Monitor the water exits for hazards. Just as it is important to ensure your dog can get out of the water, it is important to understand that there are hazards lurking along the edges. Glass and metal can wash up on beaches and shores, debris can be in the water that can cut the paws of dogs.

Post swim bath. Just as we often like to shower after swimming, dogs can benefit from an after-swimming bath. This helps rid them of pool chemicals such as chlorine, algaecides and baking soda you place in your pool as well as parasites, bacteria, and algae that can be on your dog’s fur from lakes, or the ocean.

Dry out. Dry your dog’s ears after swimming to prevent infections.  Some of the adorable floppy-eared dogs have ears that never dry out if they get water in them, making them prone to infections.

Animals and parasites. Depending on where you are swimming, in addition to water dangers, there are other dangers. The ocean can have sea lice and jellyfish that can bother dogs. Sea lice are microscopic organisms that can cause severe itching. Jellyfish can sting dogs causing swelling and pain. Other dangers can be snakes, cockatiels, and alligators depending on your location. Please see your veterinarian if you have any concerns that your dog might have been bitten or infected.

If you don’t have time to go swimming with dogs, one thing you can do is create a doggy pool at your home.

I hope these tips help you know more about swimming with dogs.

Are Dogs More Fearful Than They Used to Be?

Dogs who are fearful are becoming increasingly common. Learn how to prevent your dog from developing chronic fear — or, if it’s too late, how to improve his security and happiness.

 

An increasing percentage of clients are bringing dogs to me for help with fear-related behaviors. Many of my fellow behavior professionals agree: They, too, are seeing more fearful dogs than they used to.

The increase in clients seeking help could be because more people are realizing that it might be possible to modify their dogs’ fearful behaviors.

However, it might also be because more shelters and rescue groups are  re-homing fearful dogs who, in the past, would have been euthanized as “not adoptable.”

Many of us trainers also have been called upon to help owners with extremely under-socialized and fearful dogs imported from elsewhere, such as the Chinese and Korean meat-market dogs and “street dogs” brought here from Puerto Rico, Mexico, and elsewhere.

Whatever the reason for the seeming increase in the population of fearful dogs, good behavior professionals will do their best to help these dogs (and their humans) have a better quality of life – and there definitely are things that can help.

Differentiating Between Fear, Phobia, and Anxiety

In order to successfully modify fear-related behaviors, it’s important to understand the difference among the closely related behaviors of fear, phobia, and anxiety.

fearful dog

Fear is defined as an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat. Most of us who have had dogs with fear issues (or are fearful ourselves) can agree, especially with the “unpleasant emotion” part. We tend to think of fear as a bad thing, but fear is also a life-preserving response to physical and emotional danger. If we didn’t feel fear, we would likely fail to protect ourselves from certain threats.

Phobia is an exaggerated, persistent, excessive fear of a particular object, class of objects, or situation. Common canine phobias include loud noises (thunder, gunshots, fireworks, household sounds), intense fear of humans, and riding in cars.

Anxiety is the anticipation of future dangers from unknown or imagined origins that result in normal body reactions (known as physiologic reactions) associated with fear. Fears and phobias occur in the presence of the emotion-causing stimuli, but dogs who are anxious present emotional and physiological fear responses even in the absence of the stimulus.

Of the three “shades” of fearful behaviors, the best prognosis is for dogs dealing with fear. At least we’re working with something real and present, rather than something exaggerated or imagined! A fearful dog may have significant behavioral responses, including a lowered body posture, trembling, salivating, hiding, fleeing, growling, snapping, biting, shutting down, and more.

Phobias and anxieties can also manifest in these behaviors, but also may include more extreme panicked responses such as jumping through windows, chewing through walls, urinating, defecating, and worse. Dogs with true phobias and anxieties often require pharmaceutical intervention before any modification efforts can even begin to be successful. (See “What About Drugs?” below.)

If you think your dog’s emotional responses go beyond fear into phobia or anxiety territory, please seek the help of a qualified behavior professional and a behavior-savvy veterinarian.

What About Drugs?

As a non-veterinary behavior professional, it is inappropriate for me to suggest specific behavior modification drugs to my clients or to our WDJ readers. Medication can and does have a vital role in behavior modification, however, and I have – on many occasions – suggested that my clients discuss behavior medications with their veterinarians. Here’s the rub: Most veterinary schools don’t require their students to take a single course in behavior, and the field of behavioral medicine is a complex one that most vets know very little about.

Here’s the solution. There are now about 70 veterinary behaviorists in the U.S., and many of them will generously do phone consults with general practitioners to help guide appropriate selection and dosage of behavior medications. Some offer this service to other veterinarians for free, others charge a reasonable fee for their time.

In any case, when I do ask my clients to discuss medications with their vets, I urge them to ask their veterinarian to take advantage of this service in order to ensure they are getting the best advice regarding pharmaceuticals. This helps to avoid the bad experiences some clients have (“the drug turned my dog into a zombie, or made her worse”) when well-meaning but uninformed veterinarians select an inappropriate medication or an improper dosage.

A complete list of board-certified veterinary behaviorists can be found here. If medication is in the cards for your fearful dog, urge your veterinarian to make use of this resource.

Preventing Fear in Dogs

My students have all heard me say this before: “We’re always better off preventing unwanted behaviors than we are trying to fix them.” Here’s another of my favorites: “Behavior is always a combination of genetics and environment.” A good fear-prevention program recognizes both – hence the importance of breeding behaviorally solid dogs as well as proper puppy socialisation. Of course, you will also need to diligently protect your dog from traumatic events throughout her life.

If you raise two puppies – one genetically confident, one genetically fearful – in the exact same environment, giving them equal socialization, the odds are very good that the genetically solid pup will turn out just fine, while the one that came from a line of fearful dogs will likely be fearful.

Since many puppies come from shelters and rescue groups with little or no information about their genetic background, and because even good breeders sometimes receive unexpected rolls of the genetic dice, the best approach is to socialize every puppy properly, extensively, and thoroughly. Poorly socialized fearful dogs can be helped and their behavior improved upon, but will probably never be the dogs they could have been if they’d had a better start in life.

fearful dog

The puppy’s environment – even in utero – has as large an influence on him as his genetics. We now know that puppies born to mothers who were significantly stressed during pregnancy are likely to suffer from fear and stress-related behaviors throughout their lives, due to the flood of cortisol they were subjected to while still in the womb.

Note to shelters and rescue groups: This means you need to work very hard to place your pregnant dogs in appropriate foster homes, rather than subjecting them to the stress of a shelter or kennel, to give those pups the best chance for a long and happy fear-free life.

Puppies observe and learn from their mothers, so if their mother is fearful, they learn this from her as well. It’s no wonder that recent studies suggest that puppy-mill puppies have significantly more and greater behavioral issues throughout their lives than dogs born in more suitable environments.

Significant life events can create fear in an otherwise confident adult dog, even one who is genetically sound and well-socialized. These events may have the biggest impact during puppyhood and adolescence, but can also cause fear later in life. A car accident can cause a previously car-loving dog to become fearful of cars. A single significant attack by another dog can turn a canine-loving hound into one who is fearful and defensively aggressive toward other dogs. And inappropriate actions by other humans toward your dog can convince her that people should be feared.

So the better you are at protecting your dog throughout her life from events that cause her to become significantly afraid, the less likely you will need to manage and/or modify her fear behaviors at some point. And, with a “get back on the horse” recommendation, science suggests that the sooner you work to modify a negative association (fear) due to a traumatic event, the more successful the modification efforts are likely to be.

Managing Your Dog’s Fear

I’m sorry if this sounds daunting, but in order to successfully modify fear-based behavior, you must painstakingly manage your dogs exposure to the fear-causing stimulus.

Every time your dog has an over-threshold (fear-causing) exposure it can sensitize her further, making it even harder to convince her that she doesn’t need to be afraid. Barking, lunging, hiding, running away: whatever her avoidance strategies may be, each time she employs them she will become even more convinced that the strategies are effective, because she didn’t get injured or killed. Those behaviors are negatively reinforced (her behavior made a bad thing go away), and behaviors that are reinforced persist and increase.

If you want her to get more confident and less fearful, you must control your dog’s environment to protect her from the things that frighten her. Be your dog’s invincible advocate. If your dog is afraid of strangers, you must vehemently prohibit strangers from approaching her, even the sweet little lady who insists, “It’s okay, dogs love me!”

If your dog is fearful of visitors, put her in a safe place before anyone arrives – shut in a back bedroom, or even at a friend or family member’s house so she’s far away from the action, not trapped in a crate in the corner of the living room where guests can frighten her even more. Avoid taking her places where fear-causing sights or sounds might occur, and use appropriate medications to help her deal with scary situations that you cannot avoid, like trips to the veterinary clinic.

Modifying Your Dog’s Fear

So, how do you help your fearful dog get brave? My favorite approach is tried-and-true counter conditioning and desensitisation  giving your dog a new, happier association with the scary stimulus. CC&D is simple and straightforward, and after a training/coaching session, my clients are usually able to practice successfully on their own, without me holding their hand every step of the way.

training dog to target

There are even more simple exercises you can use to help your dog maintain her equilibrium while you are working with your preferred behavior modification protocol. Many of these involve “priming” – putting your dog’s brain in a happy place by asking her to do something she loves so she can more easily cope with the stress of the fear-causing stimulus. Here are some examples:

Targeting

It may sound like a marketing technique, but it simply means teaching your dog to touch a designated body part to a designated target. That description doesn’t do it justice – targeting is tons of fun! Nose-targeting draws your dog’s eye-contact and attention from a worrisome stimulus to a pleasant one and can be very useful for timid dogs.

To teach it, hold your open palm in front of your dog, nose level or below. When she sniffs it (because she’s curious!), say Yesss and feed a treat (or use a verbal marker – a mouth click, or a word). Remove your hand, then offer it again.

Each time she sniffs, click and treat. If she stops sniffing (“Boring! I’ve already sniffed that!) rub a little tasty treat smell on the palm of your hand and try again. When she deliberately bumps her nose into your hand, add the “Touch!” cue as you offer your hand. Encourage her with praise and high-value treats. Make it a game, so her eyes light up when you say “Touch.”

When she loves the targeting game, try playing when your dog is a little nervous about something. Scary man passing by on the sidewalk? Hold out your hand and say “Touch!” Your dog takes her eyes – and brain – away from the scary thing and happily bonks her nose into your hand. Click and treat!

She can’t be afraid of the man and happy about touching your hand at the same time. And she can’t look at your target hand and stare at the scary man at the same time. By changing your dog’s behavior – having her do something she loves – you can manage a scary encounter and eventually change her association with something previously scary to her.

playing games with a dog

Find It

Like targeting, “find It” is a behavior many dogs love and another game you can play to change behavior in the presence of a fear-causing stimulus.

With your dog in front of you, say “Find it!” in a cheerful tone of voice and toss a treat at your feet. When your dog finds the treat, click just before she eats it. Then say “Find it!” again and toss another at your feet. Click – and she eats the treat. Do this until your dog’s eyes light up and she looks toward your feet as soon as she hears the “Find it” cue.

Now when a scary skateboarder appears, say “Find It!” and toss treats at your feet. Your dog will take her eyes off the scary thing and switch into happy-treat mode. You’ve changed her emotion by changing her behavior.

These games can also work to walk your timid dog past a scary, stationary object, like a manhole cover, or a noisy air conditioning unit. Touch-and-treat as you walk past, or toss Find It treats on the ground ahead of you and slightly away from the scary thing, to keep her moving happily forward.

playing games with a dog

Play

You can use any behavior your dog already loves – a trick, toy, or game – to convince her that good things happen in the presence of something scary. If she loves to roll over, ask her to do that. If she delights in snagging tossed treats out of the air, do that. High five? Crawl? Spin and twirl? Do those.

The key to making any of these games work is to be sure you stay far enough away from the scary thing that your dog’s brain is able to click into “play” mode. You’ll be more successful if you start the games when you see low levels of stress, rather than waiting until she’s in full meltdown. If she’s too fearful, she won’t be able to play. If she’ll play games with you while the scary thing is at a distance, you’ll be able to move closer. If she stops playing and shuts down, you’ve come too close.

Be Patient and Kind to Fearful Dogs

Whatever protocol you use, always err on the side of caution, and remember that your canine pal is not being a “bad dog” – she is truly terrified. It should go without saying that any application of force, coercion, or punishment will only make things worse in the long run, even if it succeeds in shutting down behavior in the short term. With empathy, patience, and appropriate management and modification, you can help make your dog’s world a happier, safer place.

How to Keep Your Dog From Stealing Unattended Food and Other Edible Items

Counter Productive:

How to Keep Your Dog From Stealing Unattended Food and Other Edible Items

Prevent your dog from helping himself to any unattended food or food-like items he finds on kitchen counters, dining room tables, and other accessible locations

Some counter-surfing dogs are after the one human-food item that they find irresistible – and reliably stocked in the same place on the counter at all times, like bread or butter near the toaster. Other dogs will settle for any molecules of edible items they can find. If this describes your dog, be extra careful, because dogs like this are prone to overdosing on medication, sugar-free gum or hard candies (xylitol is deadly for dogs), or other dangerous food-like substances.

One of the hardest canine behaviors for some dog owners to understand (or forgive) is counter-surfing – when your dog helps himself to some edible item that you or another household human left unattended. The behavior isn’t just limited to counters; some dogs help themselves to any food left on tables, desks, coffee tables, or any other unguarded surface. Some dogs specialize in finding any food you have hidden in your car!

COUNTER SURVEILLANCE

Smart dog owners understand that canids are naturally “opportunistic eaters” – they are genetically programmed to eat food when they see or find it. Of course, that doesn’t mean we should just let them help themselves to anything in the house that they can find! Dogs are genetically programmed to do a lot of things we don’t just let them do.

However, it does mean that we have to scrupulously manage our dog’s environment, in hopes that they never learn the joy of counter-surfing in the first place, but also so that if they already have, we can reprogram the learning (i.e., modify the behavior).

Management is pretty simple. It just means never leaving unattended food anywhere your dog can get it. Alternatively, you can restrain or put your dog away (closed in another room, behind a baby gate, tethered, or crated) if you must leave food out.

If you do this starting from puppyhood, so your dog never gets an opportunity to abscond with the deli tray or butter dish on the counter, there’s a good chance he won’t decide to leap onto counters when he reaches adulthood.

Still, it’s not a good idea to take good behavior for granted, or frequently present your dog with unnecessarily hard-to-ignore temptations.

Our two dogs have never counter-surfed; they are both small (under 35 pounds) and have reasonably good house manners, so we trust that our food is safe on the kitchen counter or dining room table (even though they are both quite capable of jumping that high, if they wanted to). I wouldn’t dream, however, of leaving food on our coffee table and walking out of the room; there’s no point in tempting fate!

If you choose to manage your dog, rather than keeping the counters reliably free of food, make good use of our usual list of management tools to prevent your dog from having access to food on counters and tables: Doors, baby gates, crates, exercise pens, leashes, tethers, and (last but least, as it has the best chance of failure due to human error) direct supervision.

Not Guilty

Some dogs seem incorrigible about helping themselves to any food they can find in the house – and some humans get hopping mad about it. “I’ve punished him many times for this,” they say. “He knows he’s not supposed to do it. He only does it when I’m not in the room, and he always looks guilty afterward. So clearly he knows better!”

The thing is, he really doesn’t know better. What he does know is that bad things happen (you get angry, or perhaps even a little violent) if he takes food off the counter when you are there. However, nothing bad happens if he takes yummy stuff off the counter when you aren’t there, so it’s okay – and safe – to do it then.

Generally, by the time you discover his latest transgression and punish him for it (we don’t recommend this), the punishment is too far removed from his action; he won’t associate the punishment with his taking the food. All he really knows is that sometimes you are grumpy when you enter the kitchen (or wherever the food had been).

So what about those guilty looks? If your dog doesn’t know he did a bad thing, why does he look guilty?

In 2009, dog cognition scientist Alexandra Horowitz, Ph.D., author of Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know (Scribner, 2009) and Being a Dog: Following the Dog Into a World of Smell (Scribner, 2016), tried to answer that question with a study, “Disambiguating the ‘Guilty Look.’”

Horowitz set up a situation where the owner would put a treat where their dog could reach it, tell the dog to leave it alone, and leave the room. When the owner returned, Horowitz sometimes reported to the owner that the dog had eaten the treat even if he hadn’t (the researchers removed the food from the plate). In these instances, the owners most frequently described their dogs as looking guilty, even though, unbeknownst to them, the dog had not taken the treat. Additionally, if the owners scolded the dogs, the dogs frequently looked “guilty” – whether they had eaten the treat or not. In fact, Horowitz also found that when scolded, the most exaggerated guilty looks were frequently offered by the dogs who had not eaten the treat!

The behavior and expression that owners often think is an indication of guilt – a hunched, lowered posture, ears back, eyes averted, sometimes accompanied by a submissive grin – is actually appeasement behavior; it indicates that the dog is fearful. It means he has read your body language, understands that you are upset, and is trying to appease you so you don’t take it out on him.

If your dog’s counter-surfing and your anger about it is separated in time by more than several seconds, he has no idea why you are angry, but he doesn’t want your wrath descending on him. Even if you aren’t overtly angry, he can tell when you are upset about something, so he offers body language intended to deflect your emotions.

Note: While the dog’s behavior in the counter-surfing scenarios described here are not an indication of guilt, that does not mean dogs cannot feel guilt. We don’t know that yet. It’s possible that they can. But this isn’t it.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE:  MODIFICATION

My own unproven and untested theory, based on anecdotal evidence alone, is that the truly dedicated counter-surfers tend to be smart, confident dogs with resilient personalities. Some are truly masters of the art of taking food – practically from under your very nose, without you ever noticing. You have to admire ninja skills like that! You might even be in the kitchen with your dog and you think you’re doing a good job of managing, but you turn your back for a second and oops! The holiday ham has been swiped from the counter.

There is certainly value in modifying counter-surfing behavior, especially if you have one of those expert surfers, or if management won’t be consistent in your household; perhaps you care for an elderly parent with dementia, or have distracted, spontaneous children roaming your home. When scrupulous management isn’t possible, by all means, use behavior modification!

Here are some useful training tools you can teach your counter-surfing canine:

* Mat training. Teach your dog that her place in the kitchen is on her mat, conveniently placed in the corner. Cue her to go to her mat as needed, and then watch for her to start going to her mat on her own, without a cue. When this happens, be sure to reinforce her happily and generously! (For more detail about teaching this behavior, see “Useful Matters,” WDJ January 2020.)

Work to increase the duration of time that you want her to stay on the mat, until she will stay there happily for long periods, with long pauses between reinforcers. Continue to reinforce her on her mat in the kitchen (or wherever food is present) to keep the behavior strong.

* Leave It. A well-trained, well-timed, cheerful “Leave it!” cue can work wonders, especially if it’s delivered right at the moment when you see your dog eyeing the turkey sandwich that one of the kids left on the coffee table.

I teach that “Leave it” means “forever,” so if you do have to leave the kitchen for a brief moment, your “Leave it” cue can help ensure the safety of any unattended food – but don’t count on it for more than a few seconds!

Start by saying “Leave it!” and putting a treat under your foot, then waiting for your dog to stop trying to get it out from under your shoe. The instant she stops, “mark” the moment with a signal, such as the click of a clicker or the word “Yes!” and give her a treat. Continue using the marker (click or “Yes!”) and giving her a treat every few seconds, in random durations (but not too long), as long as she doesn’t go back to the shoe. If she does try to get the treat again, just wait until she stops, then mark/treat again.

It’s a fun behavior to teach! You are setting up your dog to make the right choice, then reinforcing her when she does. It’s one of those rewarding-for-the-human positive-training moments where you get to see the light bulb come on, when your dog looks at the treat and then deliberately looks away. (For more instruction on teaching this behavior, see “Leaving for Good,” June 2018.)

*Walk Away. The “Leave it” cue tells your dog not to eat whatever she is coveting; in contrast, the “Walk Away” moves her promptly away from the food that she’s eyeing on the counter or table. In many cases, this is more effective, because it tells your dog what to do (and reinforces her for doing it) instead of just telling her what not to do.

Being able to teach your dog to move away from something when asked is an invaluable tool, both for your dog’s safety and for your sanity. It has become one of my favorite behaviors to teach and use.

We start teaching this behavior by tossing treats for our dog to chase and eat. When he thoroughly understands the “game” of watching to see where you toss the treats so he can pursue and eat them, you present him with a novel but neutral (uninteresting) item that may draw his attention for a moment. When he moves toward the item to investigate it with a sniff, you cue “Walk Away!” and run away, tossing treats behind him, so he whips a U-turn and pursues the treats.

There are more steps and more practice required for a reliable “Walk Away!” behavior, but you get the idea. For detailed instructions on teaching this behavior to your dog, see “Walk Away!” in the September 2018 issue.

BEWARE THE GREMLIN:  INTERMITTENT REINFORCEMENT

Note: The leash here looks a little tight. Don’t pull the dog away from the novel item. After a couple iterations, when he hears the cue, he should be anticipating the treats and start turning and running away from the item with you.

In behavior science terms, you “extinguish” your dog’s counter-surfing behavior by not leaving any food on the counter for him to find – ever – thus removing all possible reinforcement. Behaviors that aren’t reinforced in some way eventually go away. But if your dog happens to score a sandwich or a savory pie while you are trying to extinguish the food-seeking behavior – even just once! – the behavior will be so strongly reinforced that it will be difficult to extinguish again.

So, if you really want to extinguish your dog’s counter-surfing behavior, your management has to be flawless. If your dog has access to a goodie on the counter every now and then, she will continue to search for random prizes that she can snatch when no one is looking. And each time she does, she’ll become even more convinced that the counter will eventually pay off. The behavior will become even more durable, and she will keep scouting the surface of the counter even longer.

Think about this: Let’s say you’re walking to work and you happen to glance at some pretty marigolds in a street-side planter. To your surprise and delight, you find a $100 bill tucked under the leaves of the plant. Want to bet you’ll check the planter again the next day? And the next?

If, four days later, you happen to find another $100 bill, you’re for sure going to keep checking the planter every time you go by, for a long time. Finding another bill in 20 or 30 days will only convince you to keep looking, even if there are very long gaps between finding one $100 bill and the next. In fact, you’d probably keep looking even if you “just” found a $20 bill!

COUNTER CLAIM:  ALL FIXED?

Some dogs are more strongly motivated by the prospect of finding unattended food than others. You may never be able to turn your back on these dogs and expect to see snacks where you left them – so don’t leave snacks unattended! Management is that simple.

You’ve invested extensive time and energy into managing and modifying your dog’s behavior. He no longer snags food off the kitchen counter when you turn your back. In fact, he’s very good about relaxing on his mat in the corner when you are in the kitchen preparing food, and you’re very good about continuing to reinforce him for that. Congrats!

Can we say he’s “fixed” now? Is it okay to let your guard down and leave food on the counter even when you’re not there?

With some dogs, perhaps; but for most, probably not.

Some dogs have very strong food-seeking behaviors. For example, as most animal-care professionals are aware (and most owners realized early in their Labrador experience), Labrador Retrievers are notorious chow-hounds. It’s actually suspected of being a genetically inherited trait! In 2016, researchers found a gene believed to be responsible for the Labrador’s well-known magnetic attraction to food.

Your counter-surfing Lab – or any other dog with strong food-accessing behaviors – is likely to need management for the rest of his life, even after an excellent modification program.

Think back to that planter with the marigolds and the occasional $100 bills. If you went months without finding any more money, you’d probably stop checking every day – but you might still take a peek under the flowers every once in a while. And if at some point you found more money – even just a $5 bill – you’d likely go back to checking that planter regularly again, right?

When we modify behavior, the old behavioral response (neuron pathway) doesn’t go away; it just gets overlaid by the new behavioral response. If something happens to trigger the old response, the behavior can (and often does) quickly pop back up (this is called a spontaneous recovery).

EVEN TRAINERS’ DOGS STRUGGLE WITH THIS

In my Academy, we sometimes conduct a “Leave It Test” with trainers and their relatively well-trained dogs. The trainers place a bowl of food on the floor and tell their dogs to “Leave it!” Often, as long as the trainer faces her dog and watches, most of the dogs are very reliable about abstaining from eating the food.

Amusingly, however, if the trainers cover their eyes, turn their backs to their dogs, or step behind a barrier, more than 90% of the dogs will help themselves to the food within 10 minutes. Most eat the food within 60 seconds or less!

If your dog has a history of getting reinforcement for counter-surfing, and you’ve put effort into modifying his behavior so he’s far less likely to help himself to available food, keep up reasonable management protocols as well. Don’t waste all that effort by tempting him into transgression – just don’t. If you do – and he fails, it’s your fault, not his.

Understanding Your Dog’s Vocalizations

barking together

Barks, growls, howls, whines, and whimpers-your dog is talking to you, and he’s got a lot to say!

Barking

Dogs bark for many reasons, including alert (there’s something out there!), alarm (there’s something bad out there) boredom, demand, fear, suspicion, distress, and pleasure (play).

The bark of a distressed dog, such as a dog who suffers from isolation or separation distress or anxiety, is high-pitched and repetitive; getting higher in pitch as the dog becomes more upset. Boredom barking tends to be more of a repetitive monotone. Alert bark is likely to be a sharp, staccato sound; alarm barking adds a note of intensity to the alert.

Demand barks are sharp and persistent, and directed at the human who could/should ostensibly provide whatever the dog demands. At least, the dog thinks so. Suspicious barks are usually low in tone, and slow, while fearful
barking is often low but faster. Play barking just sounds . . . playful. If you have any doubt – look to see what the dog is doing. If he’s playing, it’s probably play barking.

Baying

Baying is deep-throated, prolonged barking, most often heard when a dog is in pursuit of prey, but also sometimes offered by a dog who is challenging an intruder. The scent hounds are notorious for their melodic baying voices.

Growling

Growls are most often a warning that serious aggression may ensue if you persist in whatever you’re doing, or what-ever is going on around him. Rather than taking offense at your dog’s growl, heed his warning, and figure out how to make him more comfortable with the situation. Dogs also growl in play. It’s common for a dog to growl while playing tug – and that’s perfectly appropriate as long as the rest of his body language says he’s playing. If there’s any doubt in your mind, take a break from play to let him calm down. Some dogs also growl in pleasure. Rottweilers are notorious for “grumbling” when being petted and playing, and absent any signs of stress, this is interpreted as a “feels good” happy sound.

Howling

Howling is often triggered by a high-pitched sound; many dogs howl at the sound of fire and police sirens. Some dog owners have taught their dogs to howl on cue, such as the owner howling.

Some dogs howl when they are significantly distressed – again, a common symptom of isolation and separation distress.

What is The Dog Nanny’s  view on dominance dog training?

 

In recent years there has been resurgence in popularity of dog training methods that espouse “dominance” models of dog behaviour. Dominance models suggest that wolves live in hierarchical packs with the alpha wolf at the top and that dogs evolved from wolves and also live in hierarchical packs and see us (humans) as part of their pack. Dominance theory assumes that most unwanted behaviour such as aggression is due to the dog trying to be ‘dominant’ or wanting to be the alpha dog in the pack. Therefore, dominance theory suggests, that the way to solve many behavioural problems such as aggression is to establish dominance as pack leader over the dog.

However, many of these assumptions are erroneous and are often harmful to dogs and the human-animal bond. A lot of initial research about wolf behaviour was conducted by studying captive wolves. This is because wild wolves tend to avoid humans and were difficult to study. It was these studies that generated the idea of ‘packs’ with the alpha male and female breeding pair at the top of the hierarchical structure.

However in this false environment wolves could not disperse and escape from confrontation with other wolves, so relationships developed that are not necessarily reflected in more natural wolf groups. More recent studies of natural wolf groups show that they tend to live in families.

The group usually consists of Mum and Dad, the current litter, and possible juveniles from one or two previous litters. Dominance contests in such packs are rare and the breeding pair is able to maintain group harmony without aggression.

 

Most scientists accept that dogs evolved from wolves or they had a common ancestor. However dogs are not wolves. They are different anatomically, physiologically. The biggest difference between wolves and dogs is their ecological niche. Wolves, as a rule avoid humans whereas dogs have evolved to live near humans.

It is now widely recognised by animal behavioural specialists that dogs that use aggression towards humans or other dogs are not trying to be ‘dominant’. Rather, the aggression is usually the result of social confusion, frustration, fear, anxiety or learning. Dogs may use aggression as a means to control situations in which they feel frustrated, fearful or anxious. Some dogs are unable to navigate certain social and interactive demands placed upon them without showing aggression or reactivity. With repeated exposure to such situations dogs can learn that aggression ‘works’ and are more likely to use aggression to control similar situations in the future. If your dog is showing aggression, we suggest that you seek help from a veterinary behavioural specialist.

The ‘dominance’ model for dog behaviour poses serious dog welfare problems. Dominance models may use aversive training techniques such as “alpha rolls”, staring the dog down or other confrontational methods and punishment which can cause fear, pain and distress to dogs. In addition, these methods generally do not address the underlying cause of the unwanted behaviour which is why they are often unsuccessful. In fact, dominance training methods are not scientifically proven to be effective.

Aversive methods may also increase the dog’s underlying fear and anxiety which can actually make the unwanted behaviour much worse. Aversive methods can also reduce the quality of the relationship between the owner and the dog and they can place the owner at serious risk of physical injury.

 

When trying to change behaviour, try to think about the behaviours you would like your dog to perform and reward only for the responses that lead to those outcomes. This might include sitting rather than jumping on guests or chewing on a toy rather than your favourite pair of shoes. This approach revolves around positive reinforcement- i.e. rewarding behaviour that we like. Rewards can be food, toys or verbal praise. Basically, anything your dog will ‘work’ for.

Conversely, we also need to ensure that rewards for unwanted behaviour are removed. So, keep those shoes out of reach and try wherever possible to avoid any situations or triggers for unwanted behaviours.

The Dog Nanny’s position is that dogs should be trained using programs that are designed to facilitate the development and maintenance of acceptable behaviours using natural instincts and positive reinforcement. Aversion therapy and physical punishment procedures must not be used in training programs because of the potential for cruelty.

Why you should care whether your dog is chronically stressed

Stressed Out

Why you should care whether your dog is chronically stressed, how you can tell – and what you can do about it.

Lots of people joke about how they would like to have their dog’s life – no job, sleeping all day, having food delivered…but the truth is, that life can be very stressful for a dog! Dogs evolved to live in groups, not staying alone all day. Being subjected to our unpredictable schedules, often without so much as the ability to go outside to relieve themselves when they want to, can actually cause a lot of stress in some dogs.

Stress is not specific to humans – it affects all species, including our dogs, and it takes a toll on every living thing that it affects. The growth rate and production of plants decreases when they are stressed by unseasonal weather. Bees sting when they are stressed by threats to their hive. Humans get ulcers, are more susceptible to illness, and are more likely to lash out at other humans (or our pets!) when stressed.

As kindred mammals, the dog’s response to stress is very similar to our own: It can make them sick, and it can affect their behavior in ways that no one around them enjoys. It behooves us, as well as our dogs, to recognize the stressors in our shared lives and do our best to minimize them.

 

WHY STRESS IS BAD

There are two kinds of stress. “Good” stress, known as eustress, can actually enhance our lives (“eu” is Greek for “good”). Eustress is defined as: “The positive cognitive response to stress that is healthy, or gives one a feeling of fulfillment or other positive feelings.” This is the stress you feel getting ready for a promising date, or waiting to go pick up your new puppy. It’s the stress your dog feels when she hears your car turn into the driveway gets happy and excited because you’re home after you’ve been away at work all day. We’re not worried about eustress – ours, or our dogs’.

What we’re concerned about is the “bad” stress, technically called distress, and defined as: “Psychological discomfort that interferes with your (or your dog’s) activities of daily living.” If you’ve lived with a dog or dogs for any length of time, you have probably seen some of the signs of their distress (we’ll just call it “stress” for the rest of the article). Here are a few you may have seen:

 

  •  Tension and trembling on the exam table at the vet hospital

 

  •  Hackles raised and growling at the UPS delivery person

 

  •  Hiding in the back bedroom when guests are visiting

 

  •  Crawling behind the toilet when a thunderstorm hit

 

  •  Drooling or foamy mouth at the dog park

 

The list could go on for pages, but you get the idea. So why is stress such a bad thing? For starters, a huge percentage of what is perceived as canine “misbehavior” is actually a dog’s response to stress. Eliminate the stress in your dog’s world and you might be amazed at how much better behaved she is.

The other significant reason stress is bad is that it affects your dog’s physical health. It is well known that anxieties trigger the release of stress hormones – adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine – and chronically increased levels of these hormones can negatively impact the immune system. A compromised immune system makes your dog more susceptible to a variety of infectious diseases as well as serious long-term health issues, including cancer. A 2016 study suggests that dogs who are diagnosed with cancer are significantly more likely to have lived in stressful environments than those who are cancer-free. 1

 

CAUSES OF STRESS

There’s no end to the things that can stress your dog – but some are more common than others. Life with humans can challenge dogs in a number of common ways, including:

Change. Life changes are stressful for all of us. For your dog, this can be something as small as a change in routine (such as when daylight savings time changes mealtimes) or as significant as the loss of a human or canine companion. Moving is another big stressor that often results in unwanted canine behavioral changes (although a move that removes stressors can be a good thing!).

Presence of an aversive stimulus. An aversive stimulus is defined as “an unpleasant stimulus that induces changes in behavior.” If your dog doesn’t like or is afraid of other dogs (or men, or children, etc.), the presence of another dog (men, children) is an aversive stimulus. If your dog is sound-sensitive, thunder, fireworks, a pan dropping on the floor or even the “ding” from a microwave oven could be aversive stimuli. The greater the intensity of an aversive stimulus – more dogs, dog(s) closer in proximity, louder volume of sound, repetition of the sound, etc., the more stressful it is to your dog.

Forced restraint. Many dogs prefer not to be restrained – and some find it very stressful. Forced restraint most often occurs during husbandry procedures – veterinary visits, grooming, nail trimming, etc. The shift toward cooperative care in the veterinary, grooming, and training communities is a change that will be appreciated by many dogs (and their humans). (See “Fear Free Veterinary Care,” WDJ August 2019, and “Fear Free Vet Visits,” December 2015.)

Force-based training. By definition, force-based training involves the use of techniques that are aversive to the dog – usually both verbal and physical force and coercion. These are significant stressors for dogs, and studies support the position that dogs trained with these methods are considerably more stressed and exhibit more problem behaviors than dogs trained with force-free methods.2

Medical conditions. Whether illness or pain (chronic or acute), medical issues are extremely significant stressors. This is why it’s critically important to rule out or identify and treat medical issues as soon as possible in a behavior modification program. You are likely to still have to do behavior modification after the condition is treated or managed, but your likelihood of success is greatly enhanced when you remove the medical stressor.

Owner stress. We have long known that dogs are very aware of their humans’ emotional states. A recent study supports our also long-held belief that dogs mirror their owners’ stress levels. If you are stressed, you are stressing your own dog, so mitigating your own stress can be beneficial to your dog as well as to you! 3

This is by no means a complete list of stressors. It will behoove you – and your dog – for you to sit down and make as complete a list as you can of your dog’s own personal stressors, so that you can begin to address them and help you and your dog have a better life together.

 

SIGNS OF CANINE STRESS

If you are not fluent in canine communication, it’s time to study the language so you can better understand your dog and be prepared to help her when she needs it the most. Here are some of the common signs you might see that tell you your dog is stressed:

Aggression. With one very rare exception (idiopathic aggression), aggression is caused by stress. The best thing you can do for aggressive behavior is reduce stress. The worst thing you can do is punish the dog, which merely adds stress to your already stressed dog. (See “Good Growling,” December 2016.)

Vocalization. Dogs vocalize for a long list of reasons. Vocalization is normal canine self-expression, but it may intensify under duress. Dogs who are afraid or tense may whine or bark to get your attention or to self-soothe.

Dogs with separation anxiety may bark or scream for hours. Your dog may howl to express her unhappiness, or because the fire truck is going by with sirens blaring. When your dog vocalizes, check to determine the trigger. If it’s from stress, it needs to be addressed to mitigate her emotional distress, whatever the cause. (See “Oh Shush,” March 2017.)

Destructive behavior. Left unsupervised, puppies can wreak havoc on a home in almost no time. That’s often just normal puppy behavior. When an adult dog is destructive, we tend to think she’s being a “bad dog.” In many cases, however, she’s destroying things because she’s in a stress-related panic. Reduce her stress, and you’re likely to see a significant behavior change.

Unusual elimination. Just as with anxious humans, nervous dogs can feel a sudden urge to go to the bathroom. House-soiling in an otherwise well housetrained dog is a big red stress-flag. Marking (especially indoor marking) is commonly a function of stress rather than a house-training issue. Diarrhea can be a sign of stress, and the sudden release of bladder and/or bowels can also indicate significant stress. (These can also be medical issues, so be sure to discuss  with your veterinarian.)

Not eating/losing weight. If your dog turns up her nose at your high-value treats during a counter-conditioning session, she is probably stressed because the aversive stimulus (the thing you are trying to change her response to) is too close or otherwise too intense. Move farther away or otherwise reduce the intensity of the stimulus (by decreasing its volume or movement, as appropriate). If a dog with an otherwise good appetite isn’t eating well, consider illness first and consult your vet, but don’t rule out generalized stress.

Avoidance, escape, and displacement behaviors. When faced with an unwelcome situation, your dog may “escape” by focusing on something else. She may sniff the ground, lick her genitals, suddenly start scratching an itch, avoid eye contact, or simply turn away. If your dog avoids interaction with other dogs or people, don’t force the issue. Respect her choice.

Some dogs will move behind their human to hide – an extension of avoidance. Other escape behaviors include displacement activities such as moving/running away, digging or circling, or hiding behind a tree or parked car.

Hypervigilance. The dog who can’t seem to settle, is always on alert, reacting to every noise or change in the environment, is very likely a stressed dog. This behavior is common with dogs who are identified as having generalized anxiety disorder – they rarely or never relax.

Stressed body language. There are a multitude of ways that dogs tell us they are stressed, with their eyes, ears, tails, faces, mouths, and body posture. In fact, your dog is talking to you all the time; be sure to “listen” with your eyes. (See “Listen by Looking,” August 2011, and “About Face,” March 2013)

Comfort-seeking. Your stressed dog may seek you out for comfort and reassurance. Contrary to an unfortunate popular myth, it is okay – no, it is good – to calmly comfort and reassure your stressed dog. A stressed, frightened dog may also tremble – again, provide calm comfort and reassurance.

Yawning, drooling, licking, scratching. Of course, dogs yawn when they are tired or bored, just like we do. They also yawn when stressed, just like we do. A stressful yawn is more prolonged and intense than a sleepy yawn. Dogs may also drool, lick, and scratch excessively when nervous. Again, rule out medical conditions and fleas when you see these, but also consider stress.

Excessive shedding. It’s normal for dogs to shed a lot in the spring and fall, getting rid of their old coats to prepare for the new season. Some dogs also normally shed year-round – Labrador Retrievers and Huskies (and several other breeds) are notorious for this. However, shedding can also increase when a dog is anxious, so watch for this type of shedding as a stress indicator.

Panting. Panting when hot, excited or having just exercised is, of course, normal. If, however, your dog is panting absent those conditions, it is quite likely due to stress.

This is not a complete list of all the signs exhibited by dogs who are stressed. Your dog may display some of the stress signs listed above or others. Take time to observe her and identify her particular signs of stress so you can recognize them and help her when she is stressed.

Most importantly, remember that when your dog is behaving inappropriately it is most often because she is stressed and cannot help it, not because she wants to misbehave. One of my new favorite aphorisms is, “Your dog isn’t giving you a hard time, she’s having a hard time.” Remember this, and help her times get better.

Give Your Puppy a Smart Start

saty alert thanks giving advise

Wondering when and how you should start training your puppy? Immediately!

 

March 20, 20203

“Catch her doing something right” whenever possible! When you notice your puppy doing anything you like, such as sitting calmly and quietly, or chewing on one of the toys you bought for this purpose, let her know she’s being a good dog! Offer her a treat, praise, and/or a little bit of calm petting.

When it comes to puppy training, it’s never too early to start. Puppies are more than ready to learn by the time they leave the litter and transition into a home. After all, they’ve been learning since birth, so why not keep the ball rolling as soon as you welcome a puppy into your family?

It’s our responsibility to teach puppies how to successfully live in our human world, which has a rule structure quite different from what they’re used to with their littermates. There are plenty of options for positive-reinforcement training starting at a young age: a well-run, in-person puppy kindergarten class; one-on-one instruction with a trainer; an online program; books and videos; your own knowledge of training; or a combination of options. No matter what you opt for, starting sooner, not later, is key to success. From the first day you bring your puppy home, have these three basic principles in mind:

 

  1. Have clear goals for your puppy’s behavior from day one and support his understanding of them every day.

It’s important to have some basic training goals before your puppy comes home, so you can create clear behavior contingencies from the very beginning.

Your puppy is constantly learning. From the moment he sets paw in your home, he will be learning which behaviors get him things he wants and which ones don’t. Make it easy for him to get what he wants when he does behaviors you like, and prevent him from getting what he wants when he explores behaviors you don’t want him to practice. The more black and white your expectations, the easier it will be for the puppy to figure out what works for both of you.

 

So, as just a few examples: If you don’t want a grown, 80-pound dog jumping on you to get your attention, avoid petting the tiny, 8-week-old puppy when he jumps on you. Instead, if he happens to sit or even just greets you with happy eye contact and all four paws on the floor, go ahead and tell him what a good puppy he is and lovingly give him all the petting he wants! If you want a well-housetrained dog, commit to paying close attention to your puppy’s need to eliminate, not giving him a single opportunity to “make a mistake” indoors. And if you don’t want your adult dog to sleep with you on your bed or your nicest sofa, don’t allow the puppy to do so, either.

Gray areas are challenging for dogs. It’s not fair to make exceptions to what we know our rules will be later (because the puppy is so cute!) and then change the rules as she grows. It’s also harder to “fix” unwanted behaviors than to train correct behaviors from the beginning. (For more about this, see “The Biology of Early Learning”)

 

  1. Make your interaction with your puppy rewarding and engaging.

Teach your puppy that spending time with you is fun! Be generous with rewards of food, attention, petting, and play so the puppy is eager to focus on you in anticipation of enjoyment.

Build a strong history of reinforcement (with treats, toys, praise, and play) for behaviors that you like from your puppy; she will strongly associate you with all these good things, helping cement a solid relationship between you.

A great strategy is to aspire to feed more of your puppy’s daily ration of food from your hand than from a bowl. This makes you the primary source of a pretty great thing and gives you plenty of calories to leverage to your advantage by reinforcing any behavior you’d like to see more of.

Be super generous with rewards with a young puppy because, as the puppy matures, environmental distractions will become more interesting, and it’s helpful for the puppy to have a strong history of finding you rewarding. This makes it easier for the puppy to continue to choose you, and what you have to offer, over the environment. No need to worry the pup will end up “only doing it for the food.” Since the food comes directly from you, you gain value by association. Plus, when you pair praise and petting with the delivery of food, the food increases the value of your praise and petting, so it is more reinforcing in the future if you choose to use fewer food rewards in training.

Don’t forget to mix lots of play into your interaction. It’s fun (for puppies and people!), it breaks up training sessions, and studies show following learning with play can lead to improved performance in subsequent sessions, when compared to immediately following learning with an opportunity to rest. Playing with your puppy, in ways you both enjoy, convinces your puppy that you’re a blast to be around because you know how to play all the best games. Who doesn’t like hanging out with the fun guy or gal?

 

What you can expect?

With frequent, short training sessions, most young puppies can start offering simple behaviors like “sit” in anticipation of “good stuff” as early as 6 to 7 weeks old, even before they leave the litter. If you really want to stack the training deck in your favor, look for a responsible breeder or rescue that provides early enrichment and basic training opportunities to young puppies in an effort to set them up for success when they meet their new families.

If you’re starting from scratch with the basics, it’s still reasonable to expect a young puppy to quickly learn to offer a “sit” for a food bowl or when approaching people, or follow a hand signal to lie down. In fact, in many cases, people report their puppies readily respond to cues for “sit,” “down,” “come,” “leave it” and a parlor trick or two by the time the puppy is 3 months old.

The catch? This degree of understanding is generally limited to the home environment. Sound familiar? “But he does it at home!” is one of the most often heard frustrations among dog owners when attending a group class or otherwise asking the dog to perform seemingly “known” behaviors away from home. Learning to do these behaviors in the face of a highly distracting, enticing world takes a little more time and maturity.

Learning the physical mechanics of the behavior is easy. Adding duration, making the behavior resistant to distractions, and properly generalizing the behavior so the dog understands the same rules apply anywhere, anytime is a process that takes time and patience. Try to avoid thinking your puppy truly knows a behavior until you’ve seen him be successful under a wide variety of circumstances. Until that point, he’s learning a behavior. Working in a new environment, around new people, other dogs, interesting smells, etc. makes it harder for the puppy to perform correctly. People often become frustrated and view the pup as being “stubborn,” when really, he’s just not developmentally mature enough to concentrate for long periods and in the face of distractions. He’ll get there with patience, maturity, and continued training support.

 

  1. Keep training sessions short but frequent.

 

Like young children, puppies have short attention spans. The most effective training happens frequently throughout the day, but in short sessions each time, and with a high rate of reinforcement. Three to five minutes is perfect for a young puppy.

Try five repetitions of cheerfully saying your puppy’s name when she’s not looking, and rewarding her when she turns to orient toward you. Practice “sit” and “down” a couple of times, changing your position relative to the pup with each repetition to help her begin to “generalize” the behaviors, understanding that “sit” means the same thing whether you are standing right in front of her or next to her.

Bust out a toy for a quick round or two of tug, trading the toy for a treat to begin a “drop it” behavior, then playfully run away from the puppy, encouraging her to follow you with a happy, “Let’s go!” as you take off. Reward her when she catches up to you, with treats or another one of her favorite toys. Aim for three to five short sessions each day. Also, remember every interaction is an opportunity for learning, so be prepared to help her practice desirable behaviors every time you casually interact with her, too.

Formal training sessions that are short and fun keep the puppy’s head in the game. More importantly, they teach the puppy to enjoy and look forward to training sessions, creating a pup who exhibits a happy conditional emotional response (CER) – that is, she becomes visibly excited – when our behavior starts to predict a training session is imminent.

 

The Big ‘A’ (Adolescence)

Trainers who teach group classes have seen it a million times: Owners bring their young puppies to “canine kindergarten” classes and are delighted with all the cues and behaviors they and their puppies learn to do. After graduation, a few months roll by, and gradually, more and more of those formerly delighted owners start reporting that their puppies “don’t know anything anymore!” Sit, down, come, stay – all the basic behaviors the pups “knew” when they were tiny seem to be gone! What gives?

The simple answer is adolescence.

Adolescence is a natural part of canine development. It’s generally said to begin when the dog is about 6 to 9 months old and lasts until about 18 months old. (Different breeds mature at different rates. Smaller breeds mature faster than larger breeds. Whereas a toy breed might be fully mature at 12 months old, a giant breed won’t fully mature until closer to 2 years old, so the adolescent phase will vary from breed to breed.)

 

 

If you don’t want your puppy to chew your shoes or any other household items, make sure you provide him with a large and varied assortment of “legal” chew items and toys, so he always has “good” choices available.

Dogs go through lots of changes during this time – physical growth spurts, hormone surges, and an increased need to chew in an effort to fully set adult teeth into the skull. These physical changes generally coincide with the secondary fear period, a developmental stage where dogs often react fearfully to things they’ve been fine with in the past.

Much like in human adolescents, a hallmark of canine adolescence is a push for independence. Dog owners often report the adolescent dog is “blowing them off,” “being stubborn,” or otherwise seems to have forgotten everything she’s ever been taught.

Although it can be a trying time, patience is a virtue. Find ways to foster success and prevent failure in training. For example, if your young adolescent is overly distracted by other dogs when in a group class, add distance or use a visual barrier between the dogs to filter the distraction. If the dog is clearly driven by his nose, avoid letting him off-leash in unfenced areas. Avoid scary or painful punishers, as they can erode the relationship you share with your dog. The good news is, this too shall pass.

 

The Bottom Line

When we bring a dog into our life, it’s our responsibility to teach them how to successfully live in our human world. Good training is a partnership. It’s not something we do to our dog, it’s something we do with our dog. It’s also ongoing. We get out of it what we put into it. With modern-day positive reinforcement training methods, it’s easy to make training an enjoyable way of life that creates treasured companions for years to come.

Teach Your Dog to Help With Chores Around the House

lab eat garden

Jessie can, among other things, wake up family members; dust with a feather duster; close a left-open toilet lid; mop up spills with a towel; get the mail; use a Dustbuster; mop the floor; polish shoes and boots; take out the trash; pick up dropped items; turn on lights; carry a shopping basket; and push a grocery cart. Some of these behaviors are just for fun; you couldn’t genuinely expect a dog to understand the point of putting polish on your shoes, much less doing a good job of it! But some of them are legitimately helpful!

 

  1. Fetch the Newspaper

Of course there’s the old standby of bringing in the newspaper. Trainer Clarissa Bergeman, CPDT, owner of In Canine Company, in Round Hill, Virginia, enjoyed sharing a walk down the driveway with Anny, her Pembroke Welsh Corgi, to get the newspaper or the mail. Anny was always happy to carry the paper or a magazine on the walk back. Anny is gone now, but Bergeman’s new Corgi, Simon, is learning the task in her stead.

 

  1. Sort Laundry

I thought this one might be particularly up my 8-year-old Scorgidoodle’s (Bonnie) alley, since she loves to hold soft things in her mouth. In fact, I often have to search Bonnie’s crate for socks; if she finds any lying on the floor, she stashes them in her bed.

Since dogs are partially color-blind, it’s probably too much to expect she could sort clothes by color herself, so I started by placing an article of laundry in each of several spots that I named accordingly: Whites, Jeans, Brights (pronounced “Buh-rights,” to help distinguish it from “Whites”), and Towels. The piles were generously far apart at first (six to eight feet between) so I could point to the proper pile without confusing her. I started by handing her a piece of clothing from the basket, gave the cue, pointed to the appropriate pile, and moved with her to the spot. Then I gave her the “Trade” cue, and when she dropped the item on the pile to “trade” for a treat, I clicked my clicker (one could also use a verbal reward marker, such as the word “Yes!”, to indicate that she performed the desired behavior) and gave her a treat.

 

I quickly faded my movement toward the appropriate pile, finding that the pointing gesture alone sufficed to send her to the proper spot. The “Trade” cue prompted her to drop the item, and a click-treat brought her back to me for the next piece of laundry. We just started this recently, so it’s still a work in progress. Our next step will be to fade the pointing gesture and see if she can identify the proper pile with just a verbal cue.

 

  1. Close Doors

Susan Giordano, CPDT, owner of K9U in Atlanta, Georgia, taught her dog Potter to close the refrigerator, pantry door, and any cabinets that are open. Potter will also fetch a towel so Susan can wipe off the counters. Susan says when they are finished with the chores, they dance!

It’s relatively simple to teach your dog to close doors. Begin by teaching her to target with her nose or paw (hint: using your dog’s nose to close doors rather than a paw reduces the likelihood of scratches to the finish). Offer the palm of your hand to your dog at her nose level. When she sniffs it, click (or say “Yes!”) and treat. Repeat until she eagerly bumps her nose into your hand, and then add the cue “Touch!” as you offer your palm. (If she thinks your offered palm is the cue for “Shake” try the back of your hand, or offer her the knuckles of your closed fist.)

When you are confident she understands the “Touch” cue, hold a plastic lid (such as the top to a tub of cottage cheese or yogurt) in your hand and ask her to touch that. First hold it so it covers your palm, then eventually hold it by the edge.

When she will touch the lid reliably, attach it to a door or drawer with double-stick tape or rubber cement and cue her to touch it there. You may need to start with your hand near the lid and gradually fade the presence of your hand. When she reliably targets her nose to the lid, shape for more powerful touches until she touches hard enough to close the door or drawer. (For tips on using a target stick to teach this behavior, see “Utilize Target Training,” January 2007.)

 

  1. Pick Up Trash

Lots of dogs have been taught to pick up their own toys and put them away in a basket designated for that purpose. Dana Ebbecke, one of the trainers at My Pet’s Teacher in Horsham, Pennsylvania, suggests a variation on that behavior: teaching your dog to pick up trash and put it in a garbage can. This is a perfect behavior to “backchain” – where you teach the last piece of the behavior first, and build the chain backward from there.

 

Offer your dog a piece of trash (that she won’t want to eat) directly over the center of a garbage can and say “Take it!” When she takes it, praise her, then cue her to “Drop.” If she already knows a “Drop” cue, she will drop the trash and it will fall in the can. Click (or use another reward marker) and treat. If she doesn’t know the “Drop” cue yet, say “Drop” and offer her a treat. When she opens her mouth for the treat the trash will fall in the can. Click and treat.

When the “Drop” is working over the center of the garbage can, move the trash slightly to one side, but still over the can, and cue the “Drop.” If it falls into the can, click and treat. If it misses, say “Oops!” and try it again. Gradually move the “training trash” farther from the center of the can, until it’s no longer even over the can. You are helping the dog understand that she needs to move it back over the middle of the can to make sure it falls inside, not outside the can.

When she can bring the trash that you hand her to the can from some distance, start offering it to her closer to the ground, so she understands she has to lift it up and move it to the can. Finally, place the trash on the ground, and add your “Pick up the trash!” cue before you say “Take it!” In fairly short order you should be able to fade the “Take it!” cue and your “Pick up the trash!” should prompt her to pick up that item and drop it in the can.

Now you’ll need to generalize the cue to a variety of different trash items. Make sure you don’t leave valuable objects on the floor when you ask her to pick up the trash! You can’t expect her to make good judgment calls about what is trash and what is treasure; your smart phone could end up in the garbage.

Ebbecke suggests adding to the “Wow! factor” of this behavior by using a garbage can with a push-pedal lid, and teaching your dog to step on the lid to open the can before she drops the trash in. (Just don’t teach this one to a dog who is likely to help herself to items in the can rather than putting more trash there.)

 

  1. Pick Up/Find/Bring

The “seek back” used to be a behavior performed in advanced obedience competition. You walked around the ring and, when cued by the judge, dropped an item, such as a glove. Your dog was supposed to continuing heeling with you until you stopped and gave him the cue to, go back, get it, and bring it back to you. Very useful!

 

It’s relatively simple to get your dog to pick up something you just dropped. Your “Pick it up!” cue (from “pick up the trash”) can generalize to anything you indicate you want your dog to pick up – and it sure beats stooping over to get it yourself.

Just think how even more useful it would be if your dog could search for and find, by name, items you’ve misplaced such as your car keys, the TV remote, your cell phone, or your glasses. I realized many years ago how capable dogs are at finding lost stuff when our wonderful Terrier-mix, Josie, found our missing tortoise without even being trained to do so.

I didn’t realize I had taught Josie to associate the word “Turtle” with Fred and Wilma, the two yellow-footed tortoises we had adopted from the shelter where I worked at the time. But apparently I had. One day I couldn’t find Fred. I frantically searched the yard, repeating aloud to myself, “Where’s the turtle?” I eventually realized that Josie was coming to me, and then running to the spot where Fred had fallen behind a retaining wall. Because of that amazing little dog, Fred was found, safe and sound.

Chaser, the brilliant Border Collie and subject of multiple cognition studies, now knows the names of more than 1,000 objects, and can retrieve them by name.  Surely your dog can learn the names of a handful of objects, then learn to find them for you when they go missing.

You’ve probably already taught her some, simply by using object names in your conversations with her. “Fetch the ball!” “Go to your bed.” “Get in the car.” So it’s not a stretch to think you can teach her more.

Use your targeting cue, followed by the name of the object. Hold the TV remote in your hand and say “Touch, Remote.” Click (or say “Yes!”) and treat when she does it. Hold your car keys and say “Touch, Keys.” Click and treat. Then place them on a table or floor (one at a time) and do the same. When you’ve done it several times with each item individually, place both on the floor six to eight feet apart, stand six to eight feet away, and ask her to touch one. If she gets the right one, click, treat and party! If she goes to the wrong one, cheerfully say “Oops!” and try again.

If she gets more misses than hits, go back to working with just one object at a time for a while, then try again. Eventually teach her the names of other objects you’d like her to be able to find for you.

When she’s identifying the correct object at least 80 percent of the time, start adding the “Find it!” element. If you’ve already done nose games with your dog, this will be easy as pie. Just as you have been doing already, place one of the objects on the floor in plain view and say “Find Remote!” When she goes over and sniffs it, click and treat. She found it! Repeat several times.

 

Now start hiding it. First have her sit and wait, and let her watch you hide it in a very easy place. Return to her side and cue, “Find Remote!” When she goes to where it is, click and treat. If you want to teach her a “tell” – a behavior she performs to tell you she found it – start asking her for that behavior when she locates the object. You could have her sit or lie down at the spot where the item was, or she could come back to you and touch you with her paw to let you know she found it, then lead you to it.

Gradually hide objects in harder and harder places, and eventually hide them when she isn’t watching and then ask her to find them. The final step is to have her find things when you’ve really lost them.

You can even take this one step further by teaching her the names of family members and having her find them. Just as you did with objects, have your human hide first in easy places, then harder and harder. If, heaven forbid, a family member is ever truly lost, your dog can join in the search!

 

  1. Reveille

Now that you’ve taught your dog the names of family members, you might as well make every day use of it. Send her to wake up family members who are sleeping in too long. Teach her to pull the covers off the sleepyheads! Have her deliver messages to the kids – carried in her mouth or attached to her collar. Ask her to bring everyone to the table at dinnertime. The sky’s the limit!

 

Unexpected Help

A dog trainer friend, posted this on her Facebook wall, just as I was writing this article. It’s a great testimonial for the value of teaching your dog a few general purpose helping behaviors. Miller-Riley wrote:

“This morning I attempted to change a small latch on a screen door. I was standing on a 4-foot high front porch, which is bordered by 6-foot high bushes. In my clumsy attempt to screw in the small metal bracket, it flipped out of my hands and landed under the bushes next to the house – a place I would have great difficulty reaching.

“So I called for Rivets, my service-dog-in-training. I showed her a short pathway to the spot where the item fell and told her to ‘Bring,’ her cue to seek and bring something back to my hand. The object would have my fresh scent on it and would most likely stand out to her like a bright color to us. She went right into the bushes, nosed around and pawed at the object. I said, ‘Yes, bring!’ She picked it up, crawled out and delivered it to my hand. She is such a cool dog, her mind and willingness astonishes me. I completed my door repair after a treat fest with my little paw-hero.”