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.

lab eat garden

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.

golden gardening

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.

 

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.”

Steps to Take When Your Dog Growls at You

never tell a dog off for growling

Growling is a valuable means of communication for a dog – something that dog owners should appreciate and respect rather than punish. Of course, we don’t want our dog to growl at us, but neither do we want him to fail to growl if something makes him uncomfortable; that’s very important information in a successful canine-human relationship.

It’s very common for dog owners to punish their dogs for growling. Unfortunately, this often suppresses the growl – eliminating his ability to warn us that he’s about to snap, literally and figuratively. On other occasions, punishing a growling, uncomfortable dog can induce him to escalate into full-on aggression.

So, if you’re not supposed to punish your dog for growling, what are you supposed to do? The next time your dog growls at you, try this:

 

1.) Stop. Whatever you’re doing, stop. If your dog’s growl threshold is near his bite threshold – that is, if there’s not much time between his growl and his bite, get safe. If his growl doesn’t mean a bite is imminent, stop what you’re doing but stay where you are. Wait until he relaxes, then move away, so you’re rewarding the relaxed behavior rather than the growl.

2.) Analyze the situation. What elicited the growl? Were you touching or grooming him? Restraining him? Making direct eye contact? Taking something away from him? Making him do something?

3.) Figure out a different way to accomplish your goal without eliciting a growl. Lure him rather than physically pushing or pulling him. Have someone else feed him treats while you touch, groom, or restrain him. If you don’t have to do whatever it was that elicited the growl, don’t – until you can convince him that it’s a good thing rather than a bad thing.

4.) Evaluate the stressor’s in your dog’s world and reduce or eliminate as many of them as possible. For example, if your dog is unaccustomed to strangers, then having your sister and her husband and three kids as house guests for the past week would undoubtedly stress your dog. Noise-phobic dogs might be under a strain if city crews have been digging up a nearby street with heavy equipment or there was a thunderstorm last night. The vacuum cleaner is a common stressor for dogs. A loud argument between you and your spouse could stress your dog as well as you, and your stress is stressful to your dog. Harsh verbal or physical punishment, an outburst of aroused barking at the mail carrier, fence fighting with another dog. The list could go on and on.

 

Keep in mind that stress causes aggression, and stressor’s are cumulative; it’s not just the immediate stimulus that caused the growl, but a combination of all the stressor’s he’s experienced in the past few days. This explains why he may growl at you today when you do something, but he didn’t growl last week when you did the exact same thing. The more stressor’s you can remove overall, the less likely he is to growl the next time you do whatever it was that elicited the growl this time.

5.) Institute a behavior modification program to change his opinion about the thing that made him growl. One way to do this is to use counter-conditioning and desensitization to convince him the bad thing is a good thing.

 

Another way is through the careful use of negative reinforcement as in a Constructional Aggression Treatment (CAT) program to teach him a new behavioral strategy when presented with the discomfort-causing stimulus.

If you need help to create and implement a behavior modification protocol, contact a qualified behavior professional who is experienced and successful in modifying aggressive behavior with positive, dog-friendly techniques.

The Dog Nanny

Why Your Puppy Needs So Many Shots

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Puppy Vaccines: Why Your Puppy Needs So Many Shots

Ever wonder why puppies need multiple shots” in order to become fully immunized? Here are the reasons behind puppy vaccine schedules and how best to strategize your puppy’s immunizations.”

The first rule of puppy vaccinations is that there are no hard and fast rules for puppy vaccinations; the best way to make sure a puppy is fully immunized against the most common contagious diseases totally depends on the health and past history of the puppy’s mother, his age, and his environment. A puppy being raised by a responsible breeder may require only one combination vaccination in order to become immunized; whereas a puppy raised in a shelter might be given as many as six or seven combination vaccinations before being declared fully protected.

There are several reasons why puppy vaccination protocols vary so wildly, but the most important one to understand is that every puppy is an individual, presenting a unique and unpredictable immunological history to his veterinarian. If you understand the reasons that veterinarians recommend multiple “puppy shots,” you will be better prepared to both protect your puppy from risky exposure to contagious diseases and, possibly, help reduce the number of vaccinations the puppy receives on the road to becoming fully immunized.

Few new dog owners understand why puppies need multiple “shots.” Most veterinarians recommend that puppies are vaccinated for distemper, parvovirus, and adenovirus (hepatitis) a number of times, starting when they are about four to six weeks old, and again every three or four weeks, with their last “puppy vaccination” given after they are about 16 to 20 weeks old. The most common guesses as to why puppies need all those vaccinations?

A) Because it takes at least four vaccinations for full immunity.
B) Each shot “boosts” the immunity from the first shot.

The actual answer would be C) Neither of these. Repeated puppy vaccines do not increase or “boost” the immunity in any way. Vaccines are repeated in order to make sure the puppy receives a vaccination as soon as his immune system is able to respond as we want it to – to respond by developing antibodies to the disease antigens in the vaccines. Let’s do a bit of review, to make sure all the terms used here are understood.

Dog Vaccination Terminology

Let’s do a bit of review, to make sure all the terms used here are understood.

An antigen is a substance that induces a response from a body’s immune system. In this discussion, when we talk about antigens, we mean a form of the diseases that commonly infect puppies and dogs.

vaccine is a form of disease antigen that has been altered in some way so that his immune system will recognize it as a foreign invader and respond to it by destroying substances that resemble that antigen in the future. Some vaccinations are made with “killed” viruses; some are genetically altered so they resemble the disease antigen but cannot make the animal ill (“modified live”); and still others are highly weakened, live strains of the disease.

Antibodies are the immune system protective substances that recognize and destroy the agents of disease (antigens).

When we administer a vaccine to a puppy, we are in effect training his immune system to recognize the disease antigen and mount an immune response to it – to form antibodies that will recognize and destroy those antigens whenever the dog comes into contact with them again.

When a puppy has been vaccinated and his immune system has formed antibodies to the disease antigens in the vaccines he received, he is considered immunized against those diseases.

How Maternal Interference Affects Puppy Immunization

Immunizing puppies is a tiny bit more complicated due to a mechanism called maternal interference.

All puppies who are nursed adequately by their mother in the first two or three days after birth receive some of her protective antibodies from drinking her “colostrum” – the yellowish substance that the mother produces before she starts actual milk production.

The mother’s antibodies protect the puppies for a highly variable amount of time – anywhere from about three weeks to about 12 weeks. These antibodies gradually “fade” from the puppies’ systems as the puppies’ own immune systems develop.

When a puppy is vaccinated during the period of time that his mother’s antibodies are still active in his system, those maternal antibodies will detect and destroy the disease antigen in the vaccine, rendering that particular vaccine useless to the puppy. He can’t develop his own antibodies to disease antigens until his mother’s antibodies have faded from his system. Also, while some puppies may have received a whopping dose of antibodies from their mom, others may have received few or none. If the mother was never vaccinated herself, and never came into contact with those disease antigens, she would have none of these antigens to pass along to the pups in her colostrum.

So, should puppy owners just wait to vaccinate puppies, until the time when any amount of maternal antibodies are sure to have faded (12 to 14 weeks is generally considered as the outer limit of any maternal interference)? The answer is NO, because we don’t know when any given puppy’s maternal immunity is going to fade, and he would have no protection from disease in the period between the fading of his mom’s antibodies and receiving his first vaccination.

A mother’s antibodies might fade when he’s three weeks old, when he’s 12 weeks old, or any time in between. If the protection he got from his mom fades at three weeks, and we don’t vaccinate him until he’s 14 weeks old, he is vulnerable and without any protection whatsoever, until at least a few days after his vaccination. That’s too long to go without protection, unless you plan to raise him in a sterile bubble. And there are many compelling reasons having to do with his behavioral development to not just keep him home.

Why Puppies Might Receive Excess Shots

Instead, we give the puppy a series of vaccinations, about three to four weeks apart, starting when the puppy is four to six weeks old. The idea is to try to reduce the size of the “window of opportunity” when the mom’s antibodies fade (leaving the puppy unprotected) and the next vaccine is given, to reduce the chances that he comes into contact with disease antigen when he is unprotected.

It might be that the mother’s antibodies faded early, and the first vaccine was given at four weeks, and he developed his own protective antibodies. In this case, he doesn’t actually need any further vaccines, but we don’t know that, so he is given additional vaccinations every three to four weeks until he’s about 20 weeks old. It’s more than he needs, but at least he was protected.

Or it might be that the puppy was vaccinated at five weeks, again at eight weeks, and again at 11 weeks, but his mother’s antibodies were still circulating until he was about 12 weeks old. The mom’s antibodies would have neutralized all those first vaccines, so when the antibodies finally faded, he was left without protection from disease until his next vaccine was received at 14 weeks. This is actually the worst-case scenario, because many puppy owners are taking their pups into high-risk environments at this age, thinking, no doubt, “He’s had three shots already; he must have at least some immunity by now!”

There is no practical way to know whether the mother’s antibodies are still circulating in a puppy’s body or when they have faded. And each mother and each puppy is an individual; she will pass along a variable amount of antibodies, and these will fade at different times in each puppy. So we vaccinate several times, until we are past the point in time when any maternal antibodies can interfere with proper immunization.

Dog Shelter Vaccination Protocols May Vary

Puppies who have been bred and raised by a professional, responsible breeder are likely to be given far fewer vaccines than puppies who came from a shelter environment. In a professional breeding program, the mother dog’s vaccination status will be known, and her first nursing session will be observed, so better assumptions can be made about how much protection the puppies will receive from her maternal antibodies. Further, the breeder will likely have experience with keeping the puppies from being exposed to disease antigens, by requiring visitors to remove their shoes, wash their hands, and so on. These protections may allow the breeder to administer the first puppy vaccines at eight weeks or later, and perhaps just one or two more vaccines (with the last one given after 16 or 18 weeks).

Puppies who have the misfortune to be born in or surrendered to a shelter after birth may not receive any antibodies from their mothers; if their mothers were not vaccinated or otherwise exposed to the core diseases, they wouldn’t have antibodies to pass along. Also, puppies may not have had sufficient access to colostrum. In addition, shelters are often teeming with infectious disease agents. For all of these reasons, puppies who are born and/or raised in a shelter environment may be vaccinated much more aggressively – some might say excessively – than puppies who were born with more advantages.

Shelters often vaccinate puppies for the first time at just four to six weeks of age. At four weeks, the puppies’ immune systems are just barely mature enough to develop antibodies following exposure to disease antigens; this is done in an effort to immunize puppies who didn’t receive any maternal antibodies as quickly as possible.

Another vaccination protocol common in shelters is vaccinating every three weeks until the puppies are 16 to 18 or even 20 weeks of age. In this case, it’s the possibility that the puppies received far more than the usual amount of maternal antibodies than usual that causes shelters to take this tack.

If an unvaccinated dog contracts and then survives a disease like parvovirus, she actually develops far stronger immunity to the disease than she would had she been vaccinated against the disease in the first place – and she will pass along this very robust protection to her puppies (as long as they receive an adequate amount of her colostrum). Her antibodies will likely take the longest amount of time to fade in her puppies, so her puppies need to have their final vaccines a bit later in order to prevent this strong maternal antibody interference.

Finally, there is the sad fact shelter staffers often have to guess at the age of the puppies in their care. Shelter immunization protocols are usually designed with enough overlap to ensure that a puppy has every possible chance of receiving adequate protection from contagious disease.

Finishing Your Puppy’s Vaccinations

A puppy is considered fully immunized against the “core” (the most common, and most problematic) diseases of adenovirus (hepatitis), distemper, and parvovirus when he has received a vaccination for these diseases after the age of 16 to 18 weeks. (Note: Until recently, the “puppy shots” were considered complete when the last one was given at 16 weeks. New research states that final puppy parvovirus vaccine should be at or after 18 weeks of age.)

Rabies is another “core” vaccination, but it is not given to puppies before 12 weeks of age. A puppy can receive his first rabies vaccine at 12 weeks (but no sooner), and should be given another rabies vaccine a year later. A vaccination is required by most states every three years afterward. (This is a matter of state law, put in place for the protection of human health; a dog who has received two or more rabies vaccines is likely protected from that disease for life.)

Until the final “puppy” vaccines are given at 16-18 weeks, the puppy should be protected from potential exposure to disease antigens, but this doesn’t mean he shouldn’t ever leave the house until the time of his final “puppy shot.” It just means that his exposure to the outside world should be carefully considered. Do bring him to the homes of relatives and friends whose dogs are demonstrably healthy, vaccinated, and friendly. Do not take the puppy for walks in places that are highly trafficked by unknown dogs, such as sidewalks, parks (especially dog parks), pet supply stores, and so on.

Also, if someone in your home has tracked through places that are likely to be covered with agents of contagious disease – such as a dog park or veterinary clinic – keep their shoes outside the front door, and ask them to wash their hands before they play with the puppy.

If you attend puppy training or socialization classes, be sure the instructor takes the following precautions:

  • The puppy school should require each puppy’s vaccine records, to make sure all the puppies are in the process of receiving veterinary care and proper protection from either catching or spreading disease
  • A puppy with any signs of illness (such as lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, and/or an increased temperature) should be disallowed from attending class.
  • There should be equipment on hand so that every “accident” that a puppy has in class can be quickly cleaned up with a proper antibacterial solution.

Passing the Puppy Titer Test

The vast majority of puppies will be successfully immunized after the series of vaccinations described here, but a tiny percentage will be what are called “non responders” – incapable of developing protective antibodies in response to vaccines. These dogs will be vulnerable to infection by these diseases, no matter how many times they are vaccinated, and thus should be protected from high-risk environments (wherever a lot of dogs congregate).

There is a way to determine whether the final vaccination (at least) that was administered to your puppy triggered his immune system to develop protective antibodies for the “core” diseases he was vaccinated for. At least two weeks after what is hoped will be the puppy’s final vaccination – at approximately 18 to 20 weeks of age – you can ask your veterinarian for a “vaccine titer test.” A blood sample is taken, sent to a laboratory, and tested for the presence of antibodies that protect the puppy against parvovirus and distemper. If these antibodies are detected, he’s done with his core vaccinations.

However, if the vaccine titer test comes back with a negative result, it’s recommended that the puppy be vaccinated one more time, perhaps with a different brand of vaccine than was used previously. Two weeks later, the vaccine titer test should be repeated. If the result is still negative, the puppy will be considered a non-responder, vulnerable to contracting any of the core diseases he may be exposed to.

Vaccine titer tests are being increasingly used by knowledgeable owners who want confirmation that their puppy is protected from disease, but there are still many veterinarians who are unfamiliar with the tests, and/or skeptical of their usefulness. Some clinic managers may be unable to quote a price for this test, or unsure of what test to order from the laboratory they use. We’ve heard of clinics charging as much as $200 for the test, which is ridiculous. In contrast, highly progressive clinics may offer a SNAP (in-office) test that will reveal the results within a half-hour.

Alternatively, ask your veterinarian to take a blood sample, and send it to the Dr. Ronald D. Schultz Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin (Madison) School of Veterinary Medicine. Price for distemper/parvo vaccine titer test is currently $40 at the CAVIDS Titer Testing Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, School of Veterinary Medicine.

Are Essential Oils Toxic to Dogs and Cats?

The Dangers of Essential Oils for Pets

Table of Contents:

Are Essential Oils Toxic to Dogs and Cats?

What Are Typical Symptoms of Essential Oil Ingestion in Pets?

What Should I Do If My Pet Ingests an Essential Oil?

How Do I Avoid Essential Oil Toxicity in Pets?

Essential oils are commonly used for holistic medicinal purposes, but have also increased in popularity for household use in diffusers or as potpourri. These fragrant compounds are extracted from plants and made through distillation or mechanical methods, such as cold pressing. Once the essences from the plants have been extracted, they are then mixed with oil to create a liquid compound.

 

These oils are used in transdermally in humans, meaning that they are absorbed through the skin or to inhaled through diffusers. They are not meant to be ingested (eaten), injected, or applied to the eyes. There are many proposed benefits of essential oils for humans, including relief of stress and anxiety, immune support, headache relief, and digestive health. Data in veterinary patients is slim, and there’s no proof that these benefits are shared with animals.

sniffer

Are Essential Oils Toxic to Dogs and Cats?

Unfortunately, essential oils can be extremely toxic to cats and dogs if ingested. Ingestion can occur in many different fashions, including:

Application to the fur and subsequent ingestion during self-cleansing

Licking oil off of a person

Licking oil off of another pet in the household

Drinking oil from diffusers in the home

Some essential oils are more toxic than others for pets.

 

Here is a list of the most toxic essential oils for dogs and cats:

Armoise

Basil

Bay leaf (W. Indian)

Birch (sweet)

Bitter almond

Boldo leaf

Buchu

Calamus

Clove Leaf

Cornmint

Horseradish

Hyssop

Lanyana

Mustard

Myrrh

Oregano

Pennyroyal (N. Am.)

Pennyroyal (Eur.)

Pine oil

Sassafras (Brazilian)

Sassafras

Savin

Savory (Summer)

Southernwood

Tansy

Tarragon

Tea tree

Thuja

Tree wormwood/large wormwood

Western Red Cedar

Wintergreen

Wormseed

Wormwood

Ylang-ylang

 

What Are Typical Symptoms of Essential Oil Ingestion in Pets?

The most common clinical signs that your pet has ingested essential oils include:

Gastrointestinal symptoms

Vomiting

Diarrhea

Inappetence

Neurological symptoms

Depression

Low heart rate

Respiratory depression (low respiratory rate)

Ataxia (wobbliness)

Seizures

There are a handful of essential oils that can cause specific organ injuries aside from gastrointestinal or neurological problems. Tea tree oils are one of the most toxic to dogs and cats. If an animal ingests tea tree oil, neurological signs can develop in addition to low body temperature and severe skin irritation. Pennyroyal, specifically the type derived from Mentha Pulegium, can cause liver failure in dogs. Also, wintergreen extract has components that are similar to aspirin and can cause liver and/or kidney damage, particularly in cats.

Some pets are more sensitive to inhaled oils and can have an allergic reaction. In these cases, pet parents may notice hives, facial or paw swelling, or skin redness. Pets that have respiratory disease can also be overly sensitive to essential oils and in-home diffusers, so please proceed with caution.

 

What Should I Do If My Pet Ingests an Essential Oil?

If essential oils have been accidentally applied to your pet and they are not showing any signs of toxicity, the first step is to bathe them with mild dish soap to avoid further ingestion or absorption. After bathing your pet, it is important to reach out to an animal poison hotline to discuss the oil and exposure. They can help direct further treatment and provide a list of clinical signs to watch for.

If your pet is showing signs of toxicity, they should be seen by a veterinarian immediately to initiate treatment. Essential oil toxicity is an emergency and should be treated at first indication of toxicity. At a veterinary clinic, treatment will be focused on clinical signs, including gastrointestinal support, and medications will be used to combat neurological symptoms, if present. In some cases, intravenous lipid therapy is recommended, and your veterinarian will discuss this treatment option if necessary.

 

How Do I Avoid Essential Oil Toxicity in Pets?

The easiest way to avoid essential oil toxicity in pets is to avoid exposure to these products. Simply put, not purchasing these products or having them in the house is the easiest way to keep your pets safe. If oils are present in the home, then care should be taken to prevent inadvertent ingestion from diffusers. Prior to applying essential oils to your pet, a veterinarian should be consulted to assess safety and discuss the safest options. If essential oils are applied to your dog or cat, they should not be allowed to lick or ingest the topical products.

While essential oils are a nice accent to your living space and beneficial for holistic medical therapy, care should be taken with pets around these products, since reactions are common and can be very severe.

How to Teach Your Dog to Greet Nicely

moms home 2.8 seconds to hug

Calm and collected is the name of the game, whether you would like your dog to greet others or pass them by.

come

 

On any given day, depending on the circumstances, a dog might have a multitude of opportunities to meet and greet a number of other creatures: dogs, cats, horses, a variety of other species, and all sorts of humans. Some dogs seem to do it with aplomb, while others are clearly overexcited and unable to contain themselves. I suspect most if not all of us would far rather have the dog who’s calm, cool, and collected rather than the other option. So how do we get there?

 

Undermining Your Dog’s Success in Greeting

When our dog jumps on someone, we all tend to roll our eyes and apologize. A well-behaved dog shouldn’t do this! Why is learning to greet people without jumping on them such a challenge for so many of our dogs?

 

The answer is intermittent reinforcement – which means that the behavior is sometimes reinforced. “But wait!” you say. “I don’t reward my dog for jumping on people!” Perhaps not. But perhaps you aren’t aware of all the other times or ways your dog is being reinforced for the behavior. Every time your dog jumps on someone and they say, “Oh, it’s okay, I don’t mind!” and then pet and fuss over her, your dog is being reinforced for jumping up.

 

It’s also likely to be reinforcing for your dog every time she jumps on someone and he physically pushes her away – “Yay, he touched me!”

 

Intermittent reinforcement makes a behavior more resistant to extinction – harder to stop. It is the same force at work when a human finds it difficult to stop playing a slot machine; as long as you get rewarded occasionally (enough so that you don’t run out of money!), you may just keep playing and playing. Similarly, your dog may just keep playing the jump-up game, thinking, “Eventually I will win. Maybe this time it will pay off and I will get petted… Jackpot!!”

 

I’m going to describe three important elements to successfully teaching your dog to greet humans politely; the first and most important one is aimed at putting an end to that intermittent reinforcement.

 

Train your dog to greet

Most things in life with our dogs are easier if they’ve had some basic good manners training. A well-run force-free group class is my first choice for working on this; it gives your dog the opportunity to generalize her good manners to new environments and distractions, especially other dogs and humans. Your class instructor and assistants will also be able to give you feedback on your own skills – something you miss if you do all your training on your own.

 

A common goal for basic good manners training is for your dog to learn that her highly reinforced “sit” is a good “default” behavior (the best behavior to offer when she’s not sure what to do), which comes in very handy when teaching polite greetings. In addition, most good manners classes formally teach polite greetings to humans and provide coaching on how to help your dog behave appropriately in close proximity to other dogs.

 

3 Steps to Greeting Humans Politely

  1. Manage the situation.

In this context, “management” means controlling your dog’s environment so she isn’t intermittently reinforced for jumping up. This mainly entails always keeping her on a leash when she greets people, and providing very clear, simple instructions to everyone who wants to greet her – family, guests, and random humans on the street – regarding how they should interact with her to reinforce polite greeting behavior.

 

Sometimes, this may mean sacrificing politeness for firmness when you encounter one of those “Oh, it’s okay!” dog lovers. Be ready to tell him no, it’s not okay, and you’d love to have him pet your dog if he will follow instructions. If he scoffs or gives you the sense that he’s going to do what he wants to do anyway, be prepared to say, “Whoops! Sorry!” and do a quick U-turn with your dog away from the would-be management underminer.

 

When visitors come to your home, consider using a tether to keep your dog away from the door, or park her behind a baby gate, so you can greet your guests without worrying about dog-jumping. Once the initial excitement of your guests’ arrival is over, it’s easier to instruct them on how to greet your dog properly.

 

Another alternative, if you want your guests to be interactive with your dog at the door, is to set them up to succeed with treats, toys, and a few basic instructions on how to use these to help your dog practice good greetings. This is a fun way to enlist the help of visitors to teach your dog to sit to greet people at the door.

 

Place a basket of toys by your door – toys your dog really likes. Tape a sign next to it instructing visitors: “Take a toy before you come in. When Bouncy runs up to you, hold the toy at your chest. When she sits, throw the toy for her to chase. If she brings it back, you can do it again.”

 

For a dog who doesn’t get excited about toys, you can use high-value non-perishable treats instead. (Real Meat Treats are my favorites for this; see realmeatpet.com.) Break the treats into small pieces in advance, hang a reusable, resealable bag of treats by the door, and tape up a sign that instructs your visitor to take a handful, wait for Bouncy to sit, and then fling some treats behind the dog.

 

Both of these methods reinforce Bouncy for sitting to greet your guests and directs her energy away from them as she chases after the toy or treats. Plus, it’s fun for your dog and your guests!

 

  1. Reinforce her for sitting a lot – every chance you get!

In what I call a “Say Please Program,” your dog’s sit makes everything good happen. A sit makes her dinner arrive. A sit gets her leash clipped on and another one gets the door to open for your walk together. Sits also elicit a toy or a treat. This will help make sit her default behavior and increase the odds that she will offer a sit when she is approached by someone.

 

  1. Practice polite greetings.

You can do this yourself by tethering your dog to a solid object and repeatedly approaching and feeding her a treat when she sits. Have everyone in the family try it, too!

 

If she tries to jump up on you when she isn’t tethered, say “Oops!” in a cheerful tone of voice, turn your back and step away from her.

 

Bad dog greeting

You can also practice this with friends or anyone else who would like to greet your dog. Hold your dog’s leash firmly, not allowing your dog to stretch your arm toward the greeter. As your acquaintance approaches, tell him not to interact with or give your dog a treat until she sits.

 

No Non-Consensual Dog-Dog Greetings

Just last week I was sitting with my new dog Sunny in our vet’s waiting room, and a man walked in with his 8-month-old, 120-pound Great Dane, who immediately began straining to come see my 16-pound dog. To my amazement and consternation, the man walked forward, allowing his dog to approach. I held up my hand and said firmly, “Please, no!”

 

“No? He likes little dogs,” the man responded. “He lives with a Pomeranian and they are best friends.”

 

“No,” I answered firmly, not bothering to add that my dog doesn’t live with a Great Dane and was showing signs of concern about the giant canine looming just six feet away.

 

The man took a seat on the other side of the small waiting room, and I did a little counter-conditioning with Sunny while both of us regained our equilibrium. Then I engaged in polite chat with the Dane’s owner, suggesting that lots of little dogs don’t like being approached by big dogs. He nodded, seeming to understand.

 

A few minutes later a woman walked in with a dog half of Sunny’s size, and the man again let his dog approach. The little dog was even more worried that Sunny had been, crying out, backpedaling on his leash, and trying to hide behind his human. This went on for many long seconds, until the woman finally picked up her dog and took a seat just out of reach of the Dane. Sigh…

 

Not only do dogs who are routinely allowed to greet other dogs on leash come to expect being allowed to do so, they can become quite frustrated and aroused when their desire to meet and greet is thwarted. There is a whole class of reactive dogs who are known as “frustrated greeters.” These are often the dogs who seem to play happily with other dogs when they are off-leash, but when the leash goes on they appear to turn into Cujo.

 

Guidelines for Greeting Other Dogs Safely

In order to avoid creating frustrated greeters, or worsening the behavior of the dogs who are already frustrated, my rule for dogs in my classes (and for my own dogs) is, “We don’t greet other dogs on leash. Period.” I see far too many dogs who are routinely allowed to greet other dogs on leash and whose behavior is very problematic. As soon as they see another dog they bark, scrabble, and pull, dragging their human toward the other dog until contact is accomplished, whether the other dog likes it or not.

 

Hence my solution: Allow dogs to greet and interact only in a safely enclosed area, where leashes can be dropped with a “go play” cue when it’s evident the dogs are compatible. Leashes stay on for the first few minutes of interaction, in case the dogs need to be separated, but are removed as soon as it’s clear that the dogs will play together well.

 

I do understand that this isn’t always possible. Dog owners who live in cities may find safely enclosed dog-play spaces hard to come by, not to mention compatible playmates accompanied by humans who are willing to arrange play dates. Sometimes, the only social options of urban dogs are on-leash greetings. If you are in the “really have to/want to” category, here are some suggestions to help you avoid future problems:

 

Teach your dog to approach other dogs on a loose leash.

(See “Loose Leash Walking: Training Your Dog Not to Pull“.) Pulling and straining on leash to reach another dog can send unsettling body language signals to the other dog, making the encounter less likely to be successful. It also increases arousal in your dog, again making the encounter less likely to be successful.

 

Teach a solid “Walk Away” behavior so you can easily interrupt an encounter that seems to be getting too intense.

Even if the intensity is playful. Pulling a dog away forcibly on leash can add tension that causes an otherwise successful encounter to go south. (See “How to Teach Your Dog to Just ‘Walk Away’“.)

 

Greet other dogs only occasionally.

Most of the time, your dog’s job when she is on leash is to be with you. Just as you give her permission to go sniff when it’s appropriate to do so, have a cue that gives her permission to greet another dog – and use it sparingly. Far more often than not, you want her to “not-greet.”

 

Use high-value treats and consistently reinforce your dog for paying attention to you in the presence of other dogs.

If we have our dogs’ attention, we can get them to work with us. If we can keep their attention, we can keep them working with us in the face of distractions. (See “It’s All In Your Dog’s Eyes“.)

 

Know what type of dog yours is likely to be comfortable with.

Even dogs who do well with other dogs don’t necessarily like to engage with all other dogs. Size, energy level, and play style are just three factors that may determine play-pal predilections. Some dogs have breed or size preferences; a bad experience with a particular type of dog in the past can give your dog a negative association with that type for life.

 

When you see a dog you would like yours to greet, ask permission from the other owner first, and respect their wishes. If they say no, it’s a no – don’t try to talk them into it. Conversely, be politely firm with your “No” if someone wants to approach yours with a dog you’re not comfortable with. Be your dog’s advocate.

 

Ready to Greet

Here is how to proceed when you are ready to do on-leash greetings, and you see a dog who fits the bill and whose owner has agreed to the encounter.

 

Start out by doing some parallel walking first, so the dogs get a little more information about each other prior to actually engaging – and you get a little more information about the dogs! Watch both dogs’ body language throughout the entire encounter and be prepared to abort if appropriate. (For more information about canine body language, see “Listening to Your Dog’s Body Signals“.)

 

If their body language tells you they are comfortable walking in proximity to each other, coordinate with the other owner and give the “go play” cue.

 

As the dogs engage, keep the leashes loose! This is so critically important it bears repeating: Keep the leashes loose! If there’s tension between the dogs as they greet, a tight leash greatly magnifies the tension and can cause what otherwise might have been a very successful greeting to fail. This usually take some fancy footwork on the part of the humans; as the dogs circle, sniff, play bow, and bounce you will need to circle with them and always be prepared to move forward to give extra leash slack as needed.

 

Dog meeting horse

It’s a good idea to interrupt the encounter if play starts to get rowdy. You simply cannot manage leashes well enough if dogs are getting very excited. If the two look like they both want to be rough-and-tumble run-and-chase play buddies, you really do need to find that elusive “safely enclosed area” so they can play together to their hearts’ content.

 

Meeting Other Species

All of the tools and techniques described above can serve you in good stead when your dog has the opportunity to meet an animal of another species. Some dogs become quite overexcited by the opportunity to meet other species, while others are sometimes a little fearful, perhaps even defensively aggressive. A few rounds (or more!) of counter-conditioning and desensitization will serve you well in these cases, if your dog needs some help learning to keep his cool when a horse, or a cat, or a cockatiel looks her in the eye.

 

If You Love Dogs Jumping Up On You

There’s almost always at least one member of a family who likes the dog to jump up on them. (I’m not naming any names, but there’s a possibility I could be guilty of that myself…)

 

No worries – just teach your dog a cue that means “jump on me,” and reward her for jumping only if she does it when the cue is given. Choose a cue that is something people won’t do inadvertently, such as touching your hands to both shoulders, as opposed to something like patting your leg, which many people do when greeting dogs.

 

Then, if you encounter someone who really wants your dog to jump up to greet them, you can say, “If you want her to jump up, just touch your shoulders!”

The Challenge of Defusing Intra-Pack Aggression

The Challenge of Defusing Intra-Pack Aggression

My first choice with most clients is this: changing the dogs’ opinion of each other through counterconditioning and desensitization (CC&D).

CC&D for intra-pack aggression involves changing your dogs’ association with each other from negative to positive. The easiest way to give most dogs a positive association is with very high-value, really yummy treats. I like to use chicken – canned, baked, or boiled, since most dogs love chicken and it’s a low-fat, low-calorie food.

Here’s how the CC&D process works:

  1. Determine the distance at which your dogs can be in each other’s presence and be alert or wary but not extremely fearful or aroused. This is called the threshold distance. If one dog has a greater threshold hold distance than the other (often the case), work at the greater distance.

 

  1. With you holding Dog A on leash, have your helper appear with Dog B at threshold distance “X.” The instant your dog sees the other, start feeding bits of chicken, non-stop. Your helper will feed chicken to her dog, too, the instant he notices your dog.

 

  1. After several seconds, have the helper step out of sight with Dog B, and you both stop feeding chicken.

 

  1. Keep repeating steps 1-3 until the sight of the other dog at distance “X” consistently causes both dogs to look at their handlers with a happy smile and a “Yay! Where’s my chicken?” expression. This is the physical presentation of the dogs’ conditioned emotional response (CER); each dog’s association with the other at threshold distance “X” is now positive, so they can deliberately look at you to get their chicken, rather than staying intensely focused on each other.

 

  1. Now you need to increase the intensity of the stimulus by increasing the length of time Dog B stays in sight. Continue to feed chicken when they are in view of each other, occasionally pausing to let them look at each other again, and immediately feeding chicken when they do.