Informational or Doggie Demographics
I have posted blogs on various toys, books, foods, and management and training aids that I like, but I decided that this week I would write about things I have encountered lately, or that I have re-discovered, that I would recommend.
I have mentioned The Education of Will, by Patricia McConnell previously, but I wanted to recommend it to anyone who has experienced trauma, or has a dog who was traumatized. Her compelling memoir sheds realistic light on how pervasive trauma can be and how challenging it is to overcome. But, mostly it is a tale of hope and compassion and well worth the read.
The book I am currently reading is The Dawn of the Dog, The Genesis of a Natural Species, by Janice Koler-Matznick. It is a well researched look at the origin of dogs. She takes on the status quo ideas of domestication and challenges them with reasons why dogs are not just sub-species of wolves. I have not finished the book, but I am impressed by her extensive research and, I am becoming increasingly convinced that man did not create dog, but, as one reviewer put it: “dog existed as a unique, naturally evolved species distinct from today’s wolves long before any association with humans.”* For anyone curious about the origin of dog, and who wants an eminently readable book, I highly recommend it.
Dean Koonz is a prolific author and often includes dogs in his books. I found an old copy of Dragon Tears and really enjoyed the role of the golden retriever mix in this book. He has delightful insight into the mind of dogs and how they see/smell and interpret the world. He also wrote an endearing (tissue alert!) book about his dog Trixie called A Big Little Life that I loved and find myself reflecting on years after I read it.
For those interested in the world of dog shows, I found tucked in the back of one of my shelves, Dog Eat Dog, by Jane and Michael Stern. Published in 1997, it is a bit dated, but the essence of dog shows and what it takes to have a champion remains true. It’s a quick read and has a good index of dog show terms. For a really entertaining look at the world of dog shows, nothing beats Best in Show, directed by Christopher Guest and starring a delightful potpourri of Hollywood actors.
Uncommon Goods has a wonderful line of “Bad Dog” products. My favorites are the tumblers, especially the Bad Dog Tumblers, and the Bad Dog Best in Show Tumblers. They also have free, downloadable Bad Dog Birthday cards. The images are a fun and are an all too real portrayal of our canine companions at their best…or worse!
The current treat of choice for my dogs is lamb lung. High in protein, low in fat, they are easy to break into small pieces and are a great addition to any Kong! I buy them in the 12-oz, headed-out-on-the-Oregon-trail size, though they are also available in a more reasonable 5-oz size. They are not wet or gooey (I think they are dehydrated), but they since they break into small pieces they are great for training treats and I have yet to find a dog that doesn’t adore them.
And, of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our podcast, Your Family Dog, featuring Colleen Pelar and me talking about all things canine. Our goal is to help families love living with dogs. Colleen’s gentle humor, compassion, and deep knowledge of dogs makes every episode a learning experience for me, and I hope for you as well. We cover a broad range of topics, from behavior problems, to dog sports, caring for your elderly dog, making happy dogs happier, managing vet visits, literary dogs, and so much more! With over 40 episodes, there is a topic of interest for every dog lover. Find us on iTunes, Google Play, or Stitcher. If you like us, please leave us a review. And, if you have a question or comment, please let us know by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call and leave a message at 614-349-1661.
*Dr. Michael Fox, from the back cover of the book.
The best thing about knowing a variety of trainers and reading blogs and posts by other dog people, is that it gives me ideas and sources for my blog, usually much better ideas than I can dream up!
This week, The Whole Dog Journal (WDJ), my bible for all things canine, blogged about dental care for your dog and why keeping his teeth clean and tartar free is important for Fido’s overall health. Dental care is not just about preventing bad breath.* Like humans, dogs can develop gingivitis (swollen, red, inflamed gums due to infection) that can lead to more severe health issues as the infection moves into the bones and ligaments surrounding the teeth. Moreover:
Because of the rich blood supply to the mouth, the infection can also spread systemically, making your dog quite ill and/or affecting his heart, kidneys, and liver. This chronic condition can prematurely age your dog. (WDJ)
Yikes! Considering how short our dogs’ lives are, we certainly do not want to risk anything that potentially decreases their life spans.** So, here are some things you can do to keep your dog’s teeth healthy:
- Regularly check your dog’s teeth for signs of tarter build up. “Tartar builds up on the teeth, forming a concrete-like crust on the teeth at the gum line. It also forms under the gums, which helps [the] bacteria get under the gums and proliferate.” (WDJ) If your dog’s teeth are discolored and show signs of plaque build-up, you will need to schedule a professional cleaning with your vet. Unfortunately this is the only way to get rid of the tartar and will require that your dog be under full sedation.
- Brush your dog’s teeth. Once your dog’s teeth are pearly white again, you can maintain them with regular (i.e.: daily) brushing. Use a soft brush and canine toothpaste as human toothpaste containing fluoride is toxic to dogs. Start slowly, allowing the dog to sniff and lick at the toothbrush, and become comfortable with the process. Here is a video from ClickerTraining.com with instructions for teaching your dog to accept having his teeth brushed.
- Raw marrow bones. This is a bit controversial as some dogs might chip or break a tooth on a marrow bone, but my experience has been that it does help to keep my dog’s teeth cleaner and they have not had any problems with chipped or broken teeth. I do, however, have a couple of rules for bones:
a) Supervise your dog chewing on the bone and if it gets too small, trade your dog for something else, lest she choke on it and;
b) Be careful about the diameter of the opening of the marrow bone. Marrow bones are cut from the leg bones of cows and if you get one that has the flanged opening at the top of the bone (i.e.: the socket part of a ball and socket joint) the opening may be large enough for your dog to get his lower jaw through it and get stuck! This happened to my dog Bingley and it required a trip to MedVet to have it removed.*** In the photo with the bones, the one at the bottom has a wide opening on one side and is the type of bone which attached itself to Bingers (external diameter of 3 1/2″). The one on the top is narrower in both internal and external diameter (2″ external diameter) and is also longer, which helps to prevent it from slipping over the jaw. This is the type of bone my dogs now get, and so far, it has not produced deleterious results.
Your dog only has one set of teeth, and proper care of them will help to keep him happy and healthy longer! And, look on the bright side, at least you don’t have to floss them!
*Bad breath may be an indication of more severe health problems such as kidney disease, diabetes, or injested toxins. If your dog has chronic bad breath, or suddenly develops bad breath, please see your vet.
***MedVet assured me that they see this at least once a week. Most dogs are taken in the back, have their jaws lubricated and the bone slides right off. Bingley, not being most dogs, required sedation as well as lubrication. Luckily they did not have to pull out the Stryker oscillating saw to remove it, but that was the next step.
My dog is a felon. So to speak. I think she views the backyard as a prison yard with the wide world beyond her pond, toys, sandbox, children, and best friend Little Bear, beckoning like a siren song promising unimaginable pleasures. Her escape attempts started as an occasional leap over the back fence to retrieve her ball, and were reinforced by the gate being left open accidentally. For the most part though, she seemed content to be with Bear in the yard.
However, the sultry voice of freedom gradually seduced her into a life of crime. We draped the backyard fence with plastic chairs to prevent her escape. This helped for a microsecond. So we added a long line that allows her to explore most of the yard (and to get tangled in a variety of Gordian Knot like configurations). That seemed to solve the problem and I contacted contractors for estimates for a new! better! secure! fence/prison wall.
It was on Sunday, that the great escape occurred. Zuzu and Bear had a good morning of play and were out in the back yard sleeping in the sun. Zuzu was on her line, and our daughter was home to check on her periodically. I adjusted her collar so it was a bit tighter, or so I thought… and my husband, Brad, and I headed out to Home Depot to look at fence options.
After finding some promising possibilities, he dropped me at a friend’s house and headed home to find Little Bear greeting him at the gate. Zuzu, however, was no where to be found, her collar still attached to the end of the long line. Apparently, in a canine impression of Houdini, Zuzu had escaped her manacles. Brad grabbed a leash and headed out to find her, only to encounter the dog warden next door with our little felon in the paddy wagon. The warden was very kind and no fines or prison sentences were levied.
Meanwhile, a dear friend texted me with Zuzu’s wanted poster that that Granville Fire Department had released, causing me to nearly leap out of my friend’s car in a total panic. Apparently Zuzu was apprehended just a few blocks from home, but without her collar she had no ID, so they took her to the fire department, who sent out the alert and called the dog warden.
Zuzu has a collar full of tags, a loving home and, theoretically, a functioning containment system, but management is never 100% and she found a way to game the system. I know that this did not have to have a happy ending, that I am very lucky she wasn’t hit by a car, and that we have wonderful neighbors in Granville who did the right thing and took her to the fire department. Those things aside however, it was her microchip that enabled the warden to find out who she was and where she belonged. Sadly, dogs without tags or microchips are not likely to find their way home. According to an article on Petfinder the statistics for lost pets are grim:
• The American Humane Association estimates over 10 million dogs and cats are lost or stolen in the U.S. every year.
• One in three pets will become lost at some point during their life.
A study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, including 53 animal shelters across the U.S., confirmed the high rate of return of microchipped dogs and cats to their families, and the importance of microchip registration. From the study:
• Only about 22 percent of lost dogs that entered the animal shelters were reunited with their families. However, the return-to-owner rate for microchipped dogs was over 52 percent (a 238 percent increase).
• Only 58 percent of the microchipped animals’ microchips had been registered in a database with their pet parent’s contact information.
Collar ID tags are the primary way that pets are identified and find their way home, but having a backup system for when the collar is lost (or slipped) is critical. Microchipping is the best way to give you and your pet an effective insurance plan, but it is imperative that you not only chip the dog, but register it as well! It really, truly, takes just a moment and it could be the most important 10 minutes you invest in the welfare of your most beloved pet.
*HomeAgain, the microchip company, had this slogan at the top of the email they sent to inform me that Zuzu had been found by the “authorities.”
That I love talking about dogs and find them endlessly fascinating, will come as no surprise to anyone of even passing acquaintance. And yet, there are times that I am stumped about what to write about in my blog. After trolling through various things I settled on linking to three short articles that I found on Facebook through Reisner Veterinary Behavior Services and/or behaviorist Traci Shreyer.
On March 30 Traci Shreyer posted an article about the long-lasting effects of punishment on our pets. In the study which the article reviews, researchers “taught mice to associate a tone with a mild shock and found that, once the mice learned the association, the pattern of neurons that activated in response to tone alone resembled the pattern that activated in response to the shock.” In other words, the tone alone elicited the same physiological response in the dog as did the shock. And, significantly, “[t]he findings also reveal that the neurons never returned to their original state, even after the training was undone. Although this was not the main focus of the study, the results could have wide-ranging implications for studying emotional memory disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).” [Emphasis mine.]
What does this mean for family dogs? It means that after your dog has experienced the tone followed by the shock (from an electric fence or an electronic training collar), from that point on, even if you use only the tone on your shock collar, he will react in the same way as if he were receiving the shock. Every time he hears the tone, he will re-experience the trauma or fear associated with the shock. Even after several repetitions where the shock does not follow the tone, dogs may not show the outward signs of fear (such as freezing or running away), but their neurons will never return to the original state. How this may manifest in your dog is uncertain, but since the neurons never completely recover from the shock or trauma, it isn’t a stretch to think that your dog won’t either.*
Few things strike dread into owners of shy dogs, parents of small children, or frail individuals more quickly than the cry of “Don’t worry, he’s friendly!” as an out of control dog races towards them. In a post shared by Reisner Veterinary, blogger PawsforPraise states:
Interestingly, confrontations such as this often play out in jurisdictions where leashes are mandatory. Yet, owners of off leash dogs still sometimes chastise their law-abiding counterparts as if accepting the unwanted advances of their out of control dogs should be acceptable. (It’s not.)
If you have control over your dog (real control, so that he really, truly comes when you call and you are not just saying his name repeatedly in a desperate plea for compliance), then I don’t have a problem with him being off lead in public areas.** But the vast majority of owners do not have this level of obedience, and it is incumbent upon them to keep their dog under reasonable control so that they do not cause injury or trauma to others (this applies to off lead areas such as dog parks as well).
For any dog, especially those who are young, fearful, or reactive, having another dog charge them can be not only scary, but genuinely traumatic, which can result in both short and long term behavior problems. I have helped several dogs recover from being attacked, but as we now know, the neurons involved in trauma never fully recover. And, moreover, most of these pups will need extra support and supervision for the rest of their lives.
The third article, Deadly Trust, by Karen Peak, owner of West Wind Dog Training in Virginia, continues the discussion of off lead dogs and why it might be in the best interest of everyone to keep your dog on lead. After discussing several instances where tragedy could have been prevented by leashing a dog, she says this about what we can really trust regarding our dogs:
I trust my dogs 100% to be dogs. I trust they will do dog things. They will do things others find gross. They may steal food if left unattended where they can get it. They will chase squirrels. They will growl when something is wrong or when playing. If pushed too far, they may nip. They are dogs. My job is to have them build trust in me so they feel comfortable letting me know what is going on. My job is not to trust but to work to increase safety for my dogs and the community. This means leashes, observation, recognizing situations that could set them up to fail and not demanding them to tolerate unfair treatment. My duty to my dogs is to remember they are a different species with different communication and behaviors trying to exist in my life.
Dogs are wonderful companions and their connection with humans can make it seem as if they are on a higher plane than other animals. Perhaps they are. But, if we do not provide for them the security and safety that they need, the resulting trauma can last a lifetime. We do them and ourselves no service if we disregard the very essence of their nature and fail to keep them safe and under control.
*Experience has shown me that it is very difficult to gauge what is traumatic to another person or animal. Something that does not bother you, may be quite scary to someone (think of spiders and how some people are terrified, while others have them as pets). Moreover, you might not be teaching your dog what you think you are when you use punishment. A dog may learn that the lawn is a scary place to be, not that he shouldn’t go to the edge. Or, if he is shocked while barking at a dog, he might learn that dogs cause him pain and he becomes leery, frightened, or even more reactive at the sight of a dog.
** The intent of this blog is not to argue for or against leash laws. My view is that if there is an ordinance requiring your dog to be leashed, then leash your dog even if he is the world’s reigning obedience champion. Dogs are not robots and can be unpredictable or reactive at times, especially when startled. So do everyone a favor and increase your level of control by leashing your dog.
Reviews.com, a company that reviews all sorts of things, from deodorant, to mattresses, to yoga mats, to dog food, recently contacted me about their review of dog foods. I initially did not pay any attention to the email as I get a lot of people wanting me (or, more specifically, “the person in charge of …”) to include their products/opinions/ideas/thoughts-on-aliens on my website. Besides, I thought, The Whole Dog Journal has it’s yearly review of dog foods that I think is the best of the best, so why bother?
But, they contacted me a second time, actually addressing me by name in the email! So I thought, “Why not? If it’s worthless I will have wasted 10-15 minutes of my life, but gained a brief respite from vacuuming. If it’s any good, I have yet another resource to share that will help people to better provide for their dog.”
So, I have to say that I was impressed by the thoroughness of their research and the standards they used to include foods in their recommended list. They had ten people working full-time (over 1400 hours) to produce this report. Here is how they conducted the research:
— We built a list of over 11,00 people with connections to the dog food industry and narrowed it down to the best.
— Over 20 experts contributed their valuable time to our work, including veterinarians, dog trainers, animal behaviorists, university researchers, and authors.
— We surveyed 300 dog owners and asked them if they knew what was in their dog’s food.
— We gathered a list of over 8,000 search queries to find out what matters most to dog owners.
— We read and analyzed 72 of the most popular articles and studies on dog food.
— We compiled a list of 2,223 formulas from 115 brands and reviewed their ingredients.
Their research led them to the absolutely inescapable conclusion that safe, quality ingredients are the key to good food and good health (physically and mentally) for your favorite canine. The use of inferior food products can lead to obesity, ear infections, liver or kidney issues, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, and perhaps much worse.
Dogs need the right combination of protein, fat, moisture, fiber, and nutrients to live healthy, happy lives. The wrong ingredients in the wrong combinations can lead to a host of health problems, both physical and mental.
Digestive problems, including bloat and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), are symptomatic of poor ingredients that don’t contain enough whole, unprocessed foods. Food allergies can also lead to digestive issues — many of the experts we reached out to have seen evidence that dogs are sensitive to wheat and corn, both popular fillers.
Obesity is on the rise in dogs. One main reason for this is overfeeding, but many of the experts we talked to were quick to point out that poor grain-based ingredients are also to blame.
Physical problems are only half of it. There was a unanimous consensus among trainers and behaviorists we talked to that poor diet causes mental health issues in dogs, including poor temperament and lack of focus. Marc Abraham elaborates: “Certain popular pet food brands on the market contain extra colorings, additives, and E numbers that, in my opinion, can affect behavior, leading to hyperactivity and difficulty with training.”
I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Abraham that poor diet can lead to poor behavior and training issues. A dog who doesn’t feel well cannot perform well. Ask any parent of a child the day after Halloween if their child is cranky, unable to focus, distracted, amped up, or lethargic…
Included in the review are two handy charts: A Quick Guide to Dog Food Ingredients and A Quick Dog Food Type Comparison. Both give a handy overview of their subject matter with pros and cons. I especially liked the Food Type Comparison chart as it is hard to find information about the various types of food (dry, wet, dehydrated, raw and homemade) in one place.
And their conclusions?
After putting in 1,400 hours of research and analyzing over 2,223 formulas, we discovered even some of the most popular brands still make food with unhealthy or unsafe ingredients. Of the 2,223 formulas we looked at, only 134 met our standard of approval — about 6 percent overall.
Why so few? They eliminated 2,089 foods because of the following reasons*:
1) We removed products where the first ingredient is not a meat of any kind. 194 disqualified
2) We removed products containing corn, soy, wheat, grain, or flour. 578 disqualified.
3) We removed products containing beet pulp or sugar. 146 disqualified.
4) We removed products that contained by-products or sauces. 44 disqualified.
5) We removed brands for recalls, ingredient sources, history, and customer satisfaction. 956 disqualified.
6) We reviewed the remaining formulas based on the best ratio of protein, fat, and carbs, as well as the source of protein. 171 disqualified.
Near the end of the article is the complete list of approved dry dog foods as well as links to their lists of preferred canned, puppy, and grain free foods. It is well worth your time to peruse the review and the list of acceptable foods. It was a definite eye opener for me! I had already decided to switch my dogs from Taste of the Wild and Blue Wilderness Puppy to Origen and Origen Large Breed Puppy before I read this article. After reading it, not only was I glad I switched, but I went to the local pet store to get some Origen to tide us over until my auto-ship arrives.**
I am sure that it is possible to own a dog and not spend a small fortune on food, toys, treats, equipment, beds, vets, etc., but that doesn’t seem to be the way of the world in our house. I am always on the prowl for interesting, useful, or entertaining things that will improve the quality of life not only for my dogs, but for my clients by helping their dogs to be more successful members of their families. I get a fair number of dog-related catalogs and recently In The Company of Dogs arrived with some interesting items I had not noticed before.
The first thing that caught my eye was the Piddle Place Potty System. Small dogs can be very difficult to house train and I will recommend that owners consider training their petite canines to use a litter box. This potty system claims to be:
Ideal for puppy training, urban pets and older dogs, this compact, all-in-one system is a mess-free, eco-friendly alternative to disposable pads. The innovative portable potty features a super-porous, machine-washable grass mat and fully enclosed base reservoir with innovative quick-drain spout for easy emptying. Includes odor-neutralizing bio-enzyme treatment…
Moreover, this system is apparently not just for the tiniest members of the canine community as it is “for dogs up to 100 lbs.” And, it’s portable, all for $159.00
For those desiring a less expensive potty solution, they also offer the Bark Potty: the all-natural dog potty solution. This is an:
Eco-friendly “dog park in a box” features shredded tree bark that naturally absorbs urine and neutralizes odors. Perfect for urbanites, busy households and travelers, it’s convenient, easy to use, recyclable—and a cost-effective alternative to disposable pee pads. Includes a 24″-sq. waxed cardboard tray packed with bark under fine netting, pheromone spray for training, and bag dispenser with roll of bags for solid waste.
It can be used either inside or out, but the downside to this system is that it lasts only 2-4 weeks, and I don’t think it is as portable as the Piddle place. Price: $26.95.
Please note that I have not used either system so I don’t know how easy or convenient either of them are. I just thought they were intriguing products for house training. If you do try one of these systems, let me know how they work.
The catalog also has a huge assortment of dog beds in a variety of sizes, shapes, covers, and styles from nests to bolster beds to loungers to orthopedic beds. No matter how your dog prefers to sleep, they have a bed for him. A couple that caught my eye were the Bear Hug Mod Fur Bed whose “Shaggy faux fur gives this uniquely shaped bed a contemporary vibe. The ultimate in ‘creature comfort.’” Sign me up! It ranges in size from small to large and in price from $129 to $239. The Mod Fur also comes in a Nest bed that looks like a giant furry donut and is perfect for the dog who likes to curl up into a ball. (x-small to X-large, $179-$289)
There is also an entire collection of orthopedic beds (at least 8) that offer “joint relief for dogs with special needs.” Some are rectangular, some have bolsters, but all are pictured with joint challenged dogs happily lounging on their bed of choice. Sizes range from small to X-large and prices from $99.95 to $279.
Gates are another specialty item and they have some lovely ways to contain your pet. A couple of my favorites are the Wood Swirl Pet Gate and the Arched Gate with door.* Both are solid wood, fold flat and are really attractive. Each comes in two heights (24″ and 32″ for the Swirl, 24″ or 36″ in the Arched) and vary in the number of panels (2-5) so you can get just the right height and width for your home and dog. If you have a dog that pushes against the gate, they also sell support feet for the Arched gate.** Beauty is not cheap however, so be prepared to spend $99.95 up to $329 to artfully cordon off your beast.
In addition to In the Company of Dogs, I have other favorite dog sites/catalogs. If you are looking for good prices, great customer service, and the convenience of autoship for food, treats, whatever, check out Chewy.com. I get both raw and dry food from them; treats for training; and calming aids such as D.A.P. collars, spray, and diffusers.*** They always let me know a week or more before my autoship so I can modify or reschedule as needed. I have never had a shipment take more than 2 days to reach me, nor have I had to return anything. When you call, the people who answer the phone are cheerful and helpful. It is customer service the way it ought to be.
Of course, here in Granville, we are very lucky to have the Village Pet Market (222 S. Main St.) as well as Bath and Biscuits (1616 Columbus Rd). Both of these boutiques offer excellent choices in food, treats, equipment and service.
*See also Cats are not small dogs, part 2 for another gate option. Not as attractive, but functional and sturdy.
**These gates do not attach to the wall, so if your dog charges gates these might not work for you, as I am not sure how steady the feet make the gate.
***DAP (or Dog Appeasing Pheromone) aids in helping a dog to relax and be more comfortable with situations that cause anxiety. This pheromone imitates the smell of a lactating female dog and is very comforting to most dogs. For situational anxiety, I recommend you spray it on a bandana 10 minutes or so before the stressful event. It should last about an hour, and you can re-spritz the bandana as needed. It is very important that you get either the Adaptil or Comfort Zone spray (same company, different name for the same product) as this is the only one with the patented pheromone. It also comes in a diffuser and a collar.
This week Reisner Veterinary Behavior Services had a Facebook post about choosing a dog trainer, which links to an article in Companion Animal Psychology titled, How to Choose a Dog Trainer. It is a great article, clearly written, with good advice as to what to look for in a trainer, and what questions you should ask the trainer. Remember, this is your dog and you get to decide how it will be treated and to require that your trainer be committed to humane, dog-friendly training techniques.
When choosing a dog trainer, the most important thing is to find a trainer who uses reward-based dog training methods, which they might call positive reinforcement, force-free, or humane training methods.
You want to look for someone who uses a reward based method of training, meaning that the trainer uses rewards (primarily food) to make a behavior more likely to reoccur, and withholding a reward to lessen a behavior. For example, when your dog’s bottom hits the ground after you say “Sit,” reward with a tasty treat. If your dog jumps, turn your back on him (withholding the attention he seeks) and wait for his bottom to touch the ground. When it does, reward with affection and food!
In practice, the reward that works best is food. It is possible to use other types of reward, such as play, but food is more efficient because it’s faster to deliver; it’s better for most dog training scenarios (for example, if you’re teaching a dog to sit-stay, play will encourage your dog to jump out of the sit); and all dogs love food.
So in other words, you want a dog trainer who will use food to train your dog.
Many people fear that if they use food to train their dog, the dog will only listen when the food is present. A good trainer will also teach you how to: 1) use your dog’s food (so you are not always dependent on treats); 2) reduce the amount of food as training progresses and; 3) add in other rewards for desired behaviors.
The article goes on to talk about certification for trainers, professional memberships, and continuing education. Most professional organizations require continuing education, so check and see if the trainer you are considering pursues further education, and with whom!
There are certain names that are a very good sign. For example, if someone has attended training with the likes of Jean Donaldson, Karen Pryor, Kathy Sdao, Chirag Patel, Ken Ramirez, Ian Dunbar, or Bob Bailey, that’s very promising, because these are all important names in science-based dog training.
Check out the trainer’s website and Facebook page to get an idea of what they do when they train and the methods they employ. Do they blog or podcast? Looking at their writings or listening to them talk about dogs will give you a clearer idea of how they approach training. Also, look for customer reviews (not only on their websites, but other forums such as Angie’s list or Thumbtack), and ask for references. And, to really get a good idea of what training will look like with a particular trainer, ask the following three questions:
What, exactly, will happen to my dog if she gets it right?
What, exactly, will happen to her if she gets it wrong?
Are there any less invasive alternatives to what you propose?
If you are uncomfortable with the answers to any of these questions, keep looking.
The article also discusses the advantage of group versus private lessons, what to do if there isn’t a trainer in your area, and who to call if your dog has a behavior problem. This comprehensive article is well worth reading and will help you to make the right decision concerning the training and well being of your dog. Remember, you are your dog’s best and only advocate, do not settle for less than the best for your best friend.
This year has been a challenge for me and my family as we lost 2 dogs to cancer and one dog to a seizure disorder. I wasn’t sure my heart could take any more sorrow and I was a bit hesitant to risk it on another dog, as Bingley was my canine soulmate. But, if I have learned anything, it’s that loving a dog with everything you have makes it nearly impossible to live without one, and it is that love of a great dog which propels you forward into another canine experiment.
So meet Zuzu, my newest pooch. She, like Bingley, is a flat-coated retriever, and true to her breed, is one of the happiest dogs on the planet. At 16 months she is a teenager who is unlikely to grow out of her teenage enthusiasm anytime soon. Channeling her inexhaustible energy into constructive activities and teaching her to focus on the task at hand are my immediate goals for her. To do this, I have decided to enlist the aid of a book I recently discovered: Fun & Games for a Smarter Dog, 50 Great Brain Games to Engage your Dog, by Sophie Collins.
This book is great on so many levels beginning with the introduction and a part on playing safely with your dog which includes a very important section on playing with children.* Take the time to read the section on play and training before you plunge into the individual games, as it will set you up to better use the games to your particular dog’s advantage and is a wonderful reminder that training and play can happily overlap. After all, “there’s no reason you can’t teach your dog by playing with him.” She also has sections on dog personalities, toys, and clicker training.** And, be sure to read the “About You, What You Need To Do” as it reminds us that we can be part of the problem when our dogs are not “getting it.” Subsequent chapters divide the games into categories: Basic Games, Bonding Games, Brain Games, Fitness Games, Figuring it out, and Getting Along.
She starts with the basics of Sit, Down, Wait, and Let’s Go (which you have likely taught your dog already, but perhaps used different names for these behaviors). She makes the point that, “It is better to make sure that your pet stays responsible and reacts promptly to key commands instead of moving on to other exercises at the expense of the basics.” So, she goes over these core behaviors in detail so that you can be sure that you are clearly communicating to your dog, and he clearly understands what is expected of him. This section is a good place to begin as it really does help you to pay attention to your words and your body language so you can more effectively communicate with your dog. Moreover, the rest of the games will be easier for you and your dog if you have figured out how to work with one another.
As you work through the various exercises in the book (and you can easily pick and choose those that are most appealing to you and your dog) she continues to provide clear instructions as well as explaining what he is learning and why this behavior is useful. Almost every game has a note that will enhance the learning experience or give you an extra challenge. When playing Hide-and-Seek with your dog she suggests that you, “Try hiding at different levels: going up a level, for example, perching on a bunk bed because dogs don’t automatically look above eye level when they’re searching for something but instead rely on their noses.”
In addition to Clicker Training, she also has sections explaining positive reinforcement training and the Dominance myth. Her easy to read and understand instructions, coupled with her explanations of the science of learning and play, will broaden and enhance your understanding of how dogs think and learn. But mostly, this wonderfully accessible book will convince you that playing with your dog is a great way to live, learn, and love together for a lifetime.
Above: Zuzu and I practice some fetch, sit, and give, 3 days after picking her up. Playing games is a great way to establish a strong bond with your new dog.
*Having kids play with dogs is great, but should never be done without the direct supervision of an adult. Colleen Pelar and I talk about Simple Games for Kids and Dogs in our podcast airing 12/20/16, and see my other blogs on kids and dogs: Forced Friendship and And Baby Makes Four.
** See also our podcast, Why Be Positive?
On October 15th Reisner Veterinary Behavior Services addressed an issue that has been of concern to me for a long time: dogs who really shouldn’t be therapy dogs. Not every dog can be molded into a dog who relishes visits with children, Alzheimer’s patients, or nursing home residents. As much as I admire someone’s desire to give light and joy to those individuals, very few dogs really have the right temperament to do this work, and those that do may well have institutions they do not like, types of people who make them uncomfortable, or days they just don’t feel like doing the job.
Or, it could be that your therapy dog is ready to retire. Our Golden Retriever, Hudson, was the dog I used for Bite Prevention workshops in schools. When he was about 7, I was invited to a first grade class to talk about dog safety. One of the things I did in these visits, was have the kids hide a stuffed Kong in the classroom and then let Huddy find it. He never failed to retrieve it and then settle down amongst the children to clean out the Kong. On this day, the kids hid the Kong, Hudson got it, and promptly walked away from the kids to settle under a desk to eat his treat. I knew right then that it was Hudson’s last day as a classroom dog because he was telling me quite clearly that he no longer enjoyed the situation, but was only tolerating it. Therapy dogs need to love their work, not just put up with it.
As Reisner puts it so very well:
Many of us see therapy work as a desirable goal, where we and our dogs can work as partners to help others less fortunate than we are. But it’s not typically our dogs’ choice to do this work; some of them just aren’t meant to do so.
Socialization, training and even ‘testing’ don’t guarantee that a particular dog will do well in an institutional or hospital setting, and with children or elderly people. Very elderly people may be stiff and fragile, or may not be able to follow instructions. Children can be impulsive, loud, and can crowd dogs. Any institution is crowded with equipment, noises, staff and smells that can intimidate dogs.
My beloved red Aussie, Zev, was Therapy Dog International certified, well socialized to a variety of human sizes, shapes and abilities and very easy-going. Neither of us was prepared when, in a nursing home, a woman with Alzheimer’s approached him very slowly, and with a direct stare, while he was in a small room visiting with someone else. Understandably, he growled; I almost growled myself. That was the day he retired from therapy work, much to his relief. And there have been dogs presented for behavior consultations because of fearful behavior in such environments.
Every therapy setting is unique, as are the temperaments of individual dogs. It pays to think twice before putting a dog in a setting that neither you nor the dog can control. Consider your dog’s temperament and, most important, his attitude and posturing in the therapy setting. Protect him from situations that might trigger fear and, if needed, be willing to walk out for his sake.
If your dog is sketchy or the setting is challenging, remember that you can choose to spend weekend afternoons visiting a nursing home and enriching the lives of its residents without your dog, while he stays home working on a frozen food-filled Kong.
Finding the right dog to do therapy work is a major challenge, especially with rescue dogs whose backgrounds and socialization maybe murky at best. That might lead you to think that purebred dogs are the answer. Not necessarily. Even well-socialized pure bred dogs, raised from puppyhood to be comfortable with a variety of people, may not have the temperament for this line of work. Challenging situations might trigger discomfort and reactivity that would put him and others at risk. This is why it is imperative to pay close attention to the signals your dog is giving you that may indicate that he is unhappy and would prefer to be doing something else. If your dog does rise to the challenge of being a therapy dog, congratulations! But, don’t feel bad if he doesn’t, just allow him to spread joy in his particular fashion.
Dogs, like people, need regular exercise to keep their waistlines trim, reduce health problems, and moderate their behavior. For people, living the sedentary life can lead to a variety of health problems, including diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, colon and breast cancer, heart disease, dementia and more.* It is no different for our dogs (and cats). According to the Dog Nutrition Center:
[R]ecent findings by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), [show] more than 45 percent of dogs and 58 percent of cats can be classified as overweight or obese. A gain of even a pound or two of additional fat on some dogs and cats can place significant stress on the body.
Some of the conditions that can occur as a result of excess weight are:
- Exercise intolerance, decreased stamina
- Respiratory compromise (breathing difficulty)
- Heat intolerance
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Diabetes or insulin resistance
- Liver disease or dysfunction
- Osteoarthritis (lameness)
- Increased surgical/anesthetic risk
- Lowered immune system function
- Increased risk of developing malignant tumors (cancer)
If these things weren’t bad enough, “overweight dogs die at a younger age than those maintained at an optimum weight.” According to a study by WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition, obesity can reduce the length of a dog’s lifespan by up to 10 months.** At particular risk are Labradors, Beagles, Shih Tzus, Goldens, and American Cocker Spaniels.
In addition to preventing obesity, regular aerobic activity has a myriad of other benefits. There is an adage among dog trainers that “a tired dog is a well-behaved dog.” Most dogs do not get enough physical exercise or mental stimulation so they get bored and restless (especially young dogs) and go looking for something to do. A well exercised dog is more likely to settle, sleep better and longer, and refrain from nuisance behaviors such as barking and destructive chewing.
Simply walking on a leash however, may not be enough exercise for some dogs, particularly among breeds who “are built to spend the entire day working outside with their owner, and they have the physical ability and energy required for constant thinking and moving for hours.” (From Decoding Your Dog, pg.179). Having your dog run and chase a ball or another dog, go running with you, go swimming, or take an agility class may provide him with the aerobic activity he needs to be a better behaved dog. Chapter 9 in Decoding Your Dog has tables of canine activities, sports, and jobs that you might consider for your pup.
To get your dog to go from crazy to calm, it is also important to provide him with mental stimulation as well as physical exercise. Figuring out the right intelligence toy as well as the right amount of exercise may require some experimentation on your part and will change with the age of your dog. (For suggestions, check out my blogs on intelligence toys.) As you find toys and games that Bowser loves, keep them interesting by picking them up after a play session. Limited access keeps them special.
One way to keep toys interesting, as well as provide some fun for both of you, is to play hide and seek with them. This was one of my dog Bingley’s favorite games and a great rainy day activity. Start by teaching your dog to sit and stay in front of you. When he can hold a stay for 10 seconds or longer, take one of his toys (be sure he sees and sniffs the toy so he know which one he is seeking) and put it behind your legs. Ask him to “Go find it!” When he gets it, make a big deal about it, give him a treat (so he releases the toy), and ask him to sit and stay again. After a round or two of this, next walk a few feet away, put the toy behind your legs and ask him to find it again. As he gets the idea of staying until told to “Go Find it,” begin to make it harder. For example, I have an island in my kitchen so I would put Bing in a sit-stay on one side of the island, walk to the other side, put the toy down, walk back to him and tell him to go find it. As your dog gets better at waiting to be released venture farther afield and get creative where you hide it. I would put the toy behind doors, under sofas or pillows, in a basket, on the stairs, etc., until it got to to the point that I could hide the toy anywhere in my house and he would seek it out.
You should find that this game is both physical as well as mental as he will run all around the house looking for his treasure. This might not be enough physical activity for an adolescent Weimaraner, but it might be for a small or elderly dog, and it certainly is plenty of mental stimulation for any age of dog.
Whatever you choose to do with your dog, remember that you’ll both feel better when you take the initiative to get involved and active with him everyday.
** An article on PetMd stated: “A recent analysis of veterinary records revealed that dogs under 20 pounds had an average lifespan of 11 years while those over 90 pounds typically lived for only 8 years. Medium and large dogs fell in the middle at around 11 years.” Therefore, depending on the life expectancy, obesity may take anywhere from 7.6 to 10.4% off of your dog’s lifespan. [If your dog is expected to live 8 years (96 months) and his obesity takes 10 months off his life, that’s a 10.4% reduction in his lifespan. If your dog’s expected life span is 11 years (132 months), and he loses 10 months due to obesity, his life span is reduced 7.6%]
***For specific instructions for getting your dog to go from crazy to calm, see: “Fun”nel of Activity!