Monday, June 21, 2010

When A Dog Gets Bitten....

I now have first-hand experience with dog bites. Tonya was bitten on the ear on Friday by a terrier-type dog in our neighborhood. The experience has left me with a myriad of feelings and thoughts.
How did it happen? Well...there's this house at the very end of a dead-end street where two small dogs live. They guard their property fiercely, often throwing themselves against the window and door barking madly as we leash-walk our two Labs past their house. They also bark incessantly at any and all other dogs they encounter when their owner is leash-walking them around the neighborhood. So, it's clear that they practice leash aggression every single chance they get. We like to take our dogs to the large, grassy field just beyond the end of the street where these psycho dogs live. Our dogs have taken to lunging and barking back at these dogs if they are in their yard (on their tethers) as we pass by. Shame on us for not choosing an alternate route and avoiding this obvious hazard. On Friday evening, my husband was passing by the house when the door opened and the terrier was let out on his/her tether. The terrier flew to the end of the tether, all barky and snarly and crazy. Tonya lunged forward...onto the terrier's property and within his/her reach and the terrier nabbed her, leaving a two-inch gash in her ear.
I treated Tonya's injury with a steroid spray from the vet that we use for her other skin ailments such as allergic rashes and hot spots. On Sunday afternoon, I noticed that the entire ear was hot, swollen and seemed to be filled with fluid. Off to the Animal Medical Center (i.e. the emergency vet) on Warren Avenue we went on Sunday afternoon. $180.00 later, we learned that Tonya has a very badly infected ear along with cellulitis (that's the term for all that fluid inside her ear flap just above the wound). She's on antibiotics and we are applying hot compresses to the ear along with gentle massage to see if we can move that fluid out.
This morning, after a sleepless night watching over my sick baby, I was newly aware of the sounds of barking dogs in the neighborhood around me. My dogs aren't very friendly to other dogs when we leash walk. They get overly excited and sometimes can look scary to other dogs. Sometimes, they can be very challenging for me and Mike to control. Dogs in yards often defend their property lines if they are left outside on a tether, have an electronic fence system, etc. Walking your dog can be like running the gauntlet, it seems. So....what to do? In our situation with the terrier, we KNEW of his/her behavior pattern. We resented the owner for not DOING anything about the crazy dog....yet we still walked our dogs by their house. In hindsight (and with now-empty pockets), this was a stupid thing for us to do. Lesson learned.
We will now be sticking to the route that is "safest" for us and our dogs. We will be more diligent to choose walking routes that don't lead our dogs by places and things that freak them out or trigger them. We will avoid houses where we KNOW there are uncontrolled, freaky dogs who will be triggered by the sounds of our dogs walking by. We will be more careful to use the restraints on our dogs that allow us the best control of them. Flat collars sometimes just aren't enough when you're walking two powerful Labs.
It's an imperfect world and you can only control yourself and your own animals. You cannot expect other dog owners to do the right thing and you must be prepared and realistic when you walk your dogs. THAT's the lesson I've learned. Hopefully Tonya will begin responding to the antibiotics in the next 24 hours or we'll be back at the vets for an IV. Poor baby. And this much I know is true: she did NOT learn her lesson. If I were to walk her by that house again today, she would repeat the SAME behavior in reaction to the psycho terrier. She needs me to be in control. In that, we failed her. Sigh.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Bringing a Second Dog into the Mix

Several of my DWD families have recently acquired second pups as companions for their now- adult dogs. Lots of people ask me my opinion about the timing, breed choice and the whole idea in general. I'm no expert, but I do have two dogs myself and have observed many of my customers go through the process over the years. Here are some thoughts.
Most trainers will tell you that waiting until your older dog is at least 18 months or older before getting a second pup makes sense. You want the training and maturity of your older dog to be stable before introducing a new pup. Often, a family enjoys their first pup so much that they get a second one too soon, causing the older pup to regress in training and behavior as the focus is less on him/her and more on the new pup. I agree with the trainers on this one. You worked hard to get your older pup trained and on a schedule that works for both of you and don't want to mess that up and make life harder for yourself needlessly.
On the other side of the age issue, I think it makes sense to get your second dog while your older one is still very active and energetic. The ideal time would be when the older dog is between 18 months and three years or so. This way, the dogs can enjoy each other's company for a good chunk of years with the same or similar aging time table.
Speaking of enjoying each other's company, please realize that this isn't guaranteed to happen. In fact, my two Labs aren't bosom buddies. Casco, my older Lab, tolerates Tonya and not much beyond that. Many people think they'll be doing their older dog a big favor by getting him or her a playmate or friend and they are greatly dismayed when the two dogs don't become BFFs. Often, in an effort to "make" the dogs get along, humans will step into the relationship and reprimand the older dog for being "mean" to the younger one. If your older dog is truly a social dog who greatly enjoys the company of other dogs, it's more likely that s/he and a second dog will get along and play well together. If your older dog could take or leave other dogs, is more interested in being a companion to YOU, and/or has not been well-socialized as a pup, chances aren't so great that s/he will form a close, playful bond with a new addition to the family.
In my case, I knew my older Lab (two years old at the time) was a HUGE fan of people but was dominant around other males and had an aloof personality. Our decision to bring a second Lab into our home was based on a desire to be of service to a non-profit service dog agency. We understood that we would be fostering a puppy for a couple of years and participating in a rigorous training program with her. She would be away at "school" on weekdays being trained at the training center. We thought this would be a good chance for us to see how Casco would do with a second dog without it necessarily being "forever." Casco remained his aloof, standoffish self throughout the first year while Tonya was a pup. Tonya is very sweet-natured and really wanted to be Casco's best friend and cuddle buddy. He would have NONE of this. In fact, he would "yell" at her if her paw even touched him while they were sleeping. Sigh.
Tonya ended up being "ours" in the end, after she was released from the program due to health issues at 18 months of age. Our two Labs have never once fought with each other. They've simply worked out a relationship based on Casco's boundaries and limits. Despite being the same breed, they are two entirely different dogs in every way. He's an American Lab - tall and lanky with a huge head and long snout. He's hyper and bull-headed. If you ask him for some love, he'll go and get his tug toy. She is an English Lab - short and stocky with a block head and a short snout. She's mellow and sweet-natured and would never think of jumping on a human. She's happy to lie by your side and have her belly rubbed and her forehead kissed. For us, as their owners, we've learned to respect the relationship they've worked out. Yes, Tonya would've loved to have a housemate with whom she could share a bed every night for an eight-paws-entwined cuddlefest. Yes, Casco would've loved to shove her right back out the door on the very first day we brought her home. In the end, we've got two fantastic individual dogs who tolerate each other with respect and who occasionally run around in the field together and long as Casco ALWAYS wins.
Casco has always been very independent and totally trustworthy with the full run of the house from about six months of age. Tonya is more fearful and has a lot of concerns, so it turns out that Casco has been the perfect "babysitter" for her. I think she'd be a dog with some anxiety and separation issues if it weren't for her solid, predictable older bro keeping track of her while we're working or away for a few hours. Casco's never been one to cuddle with us and he gladly handed that nightly duty over to his younger sis. He watches with a look of semi-disgust on his face from his cushy corner dog bed while Tonya lounges on her back our bed pillows while we watch TV and pet and kiss her each night before sleep. So...they've worked it out and we've worked it out so that everybody gets their needs met for the most part.
Three DWD families have brought a second pup into their homes this spring, and another family is expanding in July. In the case of Lucy Bedlington Terrier (about 2 years old), her human mom's choice of another female Bedlington as a baby sis for Lucy is working out amazingly well. Lucy is proving to be a tolerant, kind and fun older sis. Ivy Rose has a sweet personality and they are playing well together, after about five weeks or so together so far. Brodie Westie's mom chose a female Westie pup as a companion for Brodie (he's about 14 months old). Brodie just loves his little sister, Kaylee, and they play quite well together. Kaylee is more tolerant of and interested in children than Brodie is and we're hoping that Brodie learns that kids aren't so bad from seeing/experiencing his sister's joy at kissing babies and tots. Bailey (about 2.5 years old) is what we affectionately call an "apartment-sized Lab." She is a mixy-mix of who knows exactly what! Her parents rescued a second mixy-mix this winter. The new sis is a female Dachshund/Pekinese mix who is just full of love and energy. Pika, the new pup, has presented some issues that Bailey did not. The parents of these two dogs are very committed to training their dogs well and have sought out both in-home support, 1:1 training sessions at a training center and some specialized classes to suit the needs of their brood.
Last spring, two of my DWD families with female English Bulldogs bought siblings from the same litter, each bringing home a second female E.B. as a companion for their older gals. The integration of these younger bullies into the families has been a bit more of a challenge. The two older Bulldogs, Lola and Mosley, were about two when the younger sisters arrived. Lola and Mosley spent a lot of time together, visiting at each other's homes and spending at least a day each week together here at DWD. Lola was very slow to warm to her new baby sister, Trixie. Recently, Lola has decided she really doesn't care for Mosley's new sister, Charlie, so much either. They get into feisty, violent fights and Charlie has developed some fear around Lola. This is frustrating and challenging for the two families, who had visions of bringing up the four dogs together, sharing responsibility for dog-sitting, etc. At this point, they are considering bringing in a trainer to see if they can do anything about Lola's issues with Charlie.'s a mixed bag, this life with more than one dog in the house. Lots of times, it works out great. Other times, it's an adjustment of small or large scale, depending on the situation. If I had it to do over again, would I have two dogs at the same time? Would I choose the same breeds? I think that people have different needs and wants at different times in their lives. One of my newer customers who has been a Lab owner for years and just switched to an English Cocker as her new companion told me that she recently met a lovely elderly woman (in her 90's?) on a plane and that got to talking about their lives with dogs. This woman had owned all kinds of dogs, all shapes and sizes and temperaments, in her life time. She told my customer that there is a breed for every stage of a person's life. I like that idea.... Maybe my next dog will be a little Schnauzer. Who knows??

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Tonya's Visit with Dr. Ruth Dalto

Last Friday, Tonya (my 6.5 yr old Black Lab) and I met with Dr. Ruth Dalto at her Yarmouth office for help with Tonya's allergy issues. Dr. Dalto is a holistic vet who offers some alternative approaches to canine health such as chiropractic, acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine and energy work. With Tonya's long history of itchy skin, rashes, hot spots, ear infections and other allergy-induced ailments, I felt it was time to try something other than traditional veterinary medicine.
In 2007, we spent several hundred dollars to have Tonya screened for food and environmental allergies. It had been quite a while since I'd reviewed the test results. I thought I'd put Tonya on a food that was "safe" for her. Just before leaving for our appointment, I printed out the ingredients list from her current food from the maker's website. When reviewing that list later with Dr. Ruth, I was horrified to see that peas were in her food. She is highly allergic to peas. Did you know that food manufacturers often add new ingredients and subtract others at their own discretion? Sometimes, it can take months before those changes even show up on the label. I suspect this is what happened with Tonya's food. When I first chose it, peas weren't on the ingredients list. Lesson #1: review your dog's food label often for any changes, and check the maker's website for any recipe changes that may be listed there. Sigh.
Dr. Ruth made another comment that really struck me. I've had Tonya on an ocean fish-based food because she's not allergic to fish. Dr. Ruth said, "We don't know that she's not allergic to fish. They didn't test for fish." Oh my! This seemed too simple to be true, but it was. Often, vets suggest diets with fish as the protein source and potato as the starch for dogs who are allergy prone. But....the most common allergy screening panel doesn't even test for fish allergies. Duh. Seems like a no brainer. Lesson #2: feed your allergic dog ONLY those items that she's tested NEGATIVE to on the screening. In Tonya's case, she tested negative to three protein sources - pork, venison and lamb. Beef, chicken, turkey, duck are all proteins that she IS allergic to, so those are out. Also out are any products that may contain some derivative of those proteins, such as bone meal (a major calcium source for dogs on raw or homemade diets), and marrow bones and rawhides for gnawing.
So, based on our discussion, my dry, bagged food choices for Tonya were extremely limited. In fact, I only found one or two that I could buy locally that are free of anything she's allergic to (all of those proteins, plus rice and wheat and peas and soy and a few other things). She is now on Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Diet, Venison & Sweet Potato Formula. There is a dry kibble and a wet canned food. For gnawing and chewing, she can have pig's ears (gross...) and a dried sweet potato chew carried at most local pet suppliers.
Had I not found this bagged and canned diet for Tonya, I would've pursued home-cooked or a raw diet for Tonya, mixing raw ground pork, lamb and/or venison (with bones) with vegetables (carrots, kale, etc) in juiced form (so her digestive system could make use of the nutrients), a calcium source (other than bone meal), an oil with Omega-3's, etc. If the dry/canned diet doesn't "work" for Tonya, I plan to go in this other, more expensive, time-consuming method. Of course, she's totally worth it.
In reviewing the allergy test results, we also noted that she's allergic to three grasses and three major trees. These allergies are affecting her currently, as all of these trees and grasses are coming into season. Dr. Dalto added a Chinese herbal formula, in pill form, in hopes of giving Tonya some relief of her incessant itching. We've noted some small improvement after several days. Two weeks' worth of pills cost about $25.00.
We dealt with Tonya's allergy issues first, and spent a lot of time figuring out what more I could do to improve her health and well-being via food and supplements. Then, we spent a whole lot of time on Tonya's emotional issues. Emotional issues? Huh? In actuality, I have always known Tonya is a fearful dog. She is not the typical exuberant Lab who runs up to every human with love and drool to share. She lowers her head and stands still when meeting people. She'd prefer not to be acknowledged or attended to by strangers. In fact, her "fear issues" along with her allergies caused her to be dismissed from the service dog program she was in as a pup. Fearful, hesitant dogs don't make great service animals, understandably.
Dr. Ruth is somewhat of an animal intuitive and she does a lot of hands-on energy work with patients. Our first session found the two of us seated on the floor beside Tonya, each with a hand on Tonya. Dr. Ruth ran through a battery of questions concerning all aspects of Tonya's health, including mental, spiritual, emotional and physical issues. I was told to share any "messages" Tonya might send to me energetically. At first, I was hesitant but within just a few moments, I kept getting messages I couldn't ignore. As we went along, I felt freer and more confident in sharing what Tonya seemed to be "saying" to me. One strong message was that Casco, our older Lab, doesn't like her. Another was that she missed her Mom. Later, though I really didn't want to "hear" it, it seemed that Tonya was "telling me" that she wanted a little boy dog/friend. Good grief!
Trust me, I'm a grounded person. But, I'm also a spiritual being and am open to alternative forms of "knowing." I did not expect this revelatory spiritual energy healing session, but here we were. And Tonya was hurting in many ways, apparently. Dr. Ruth goes through a process of removing those negative thoughts/emotions/energies at the end of the session. Wow.
At a minimum, this energy healing part of our session really put me in touch with who my dog is, on an emotional, personality level. I have been much more sensitive to her needs this past week and to attending to her signals that I had been overlooking or even ignoring on a daily basis. We will return to Dr. Ruth in about 10 days for a follow up to see how Tonya is doing. More on that later....

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Dealing with The Allergic Dog

One of my Labs can eat anything, roll in anything, swim in anything and no bad things happen. No itching, no barfing, no runny eyes, no ear goop. My OTHER Lab however.... This blog is about THAT Lab.
Her name is Tonya and she's a 7-y-o Black Lab with a sweet disposition. She's one of those Labs who, if no one was around and the opportunity presented itself, would happily eat an entire 30-lb bag of dog food, or a half-dozen donuts, or a whole pan of brownies. She simply LOVES food. Unfortunately, food does NOT love Miss Tonya. Her food allergies are multiple and strange. Because she had a puppyhood filled with ear infections, hot spots, paw licking, fur scratching and Prednisone, we took the plunge years ago and had her allergy-tested, to the tune of about $400.00. You'd think life since then would have been somewhat simpler: avoid the foods she's allergic to and all will be well. Not so.
In addition to her food allergies, Tonya also has some allergies to environmental stuff like grasses, flowers, trees, etc. We'll get to that later. Her list of food allergies is curious and surprising. For instance, she's allergic to turkey and duck, but not chicken. She can't have most grains. She must avoid peas. Peas?! We must check and re-check the ingredients list when we give her ANYTHING at all to eat. Food companies are always being bought and sold and their recipes evolve and change over time, without the consumer being notified. One day, no peas. The next day, peas in the same food!
And then there are treats. Everywhere you go these days, well-meaning folks want to give your dog a biscuit or treat. At the bank, pet supply store, hardware store and the vet's office (mine offers Milkbones, of ALL things!), Tonya is offered a treat. The look on people's faces when I lunge for their hand as they reach for Tonya's mouth with a biscuit in their clutch is sometimes horrifying. They look at me like I'm a psycho-dog-mother. In a way, I am. That biscuit could keep my dog up all night itching or set off an ear infection that will require a vet visit and antibiotics. And...Tonya will eat ANYTHING. This does not make my job any easier.
This spring, Tonya has been really, REALLY itchy -- to the point where she's itched her fur off in several locations. Her eyes are runny and swollen. She's got scabs all over her body where she's drawn blood from her itching. The vet put her on a prescription anti-histamine. We were advised that sometimes, after being on a certain food for a while, a dog with allergies can develop new allergies to their current food. We were reminded that raw beef bones are bad, as is rawhide, for a dog with allergies. So...what's she supposed to chew on, a frozen carrot? Poor baby!
If your dog is showing signs of food allergies and you're not yet at the point where you're ready to invest in allergy testing, the smart thing to do would be to eliminate the most common allergens, starting your dog on a food that has NONE of them. Chicken and beef (due in large part due to the hormones and antibiotics in cheap meat), corn, wheat, soy and dairy are often the foods dogs are allergic to. Lesser-bought protein sources like fish, venison, buffalo, etc. are generally "safer" proteins for allergic dogs. Removing ALL grains from the diet is also advisable. Treats, bones, rawhides and other chews should also be removed from the diet. Ingredients in some supplements and vitamin tablets can also set off an allergic dog. Once your dog's allergic reactions have subsided, you can always test an item by reintroducing it to see whether your dog has issues with it. Keeping a food diary is also a good idea. This way, you'll have a record of food brands, treats and whole foods that your dog has had bad reactions to and what those reactions were.
As I mentioned, Tonya also has some allergies to plants, grasses, etc. So, the vet suggested that it might not be food at all that is bothering her currently. It could be spring allergies. That made a lot of sense to us, as she'd been pretty comfortable through the winter on her grain-free, salmon-based food. Of course, Tonya likes nothing better than to rub her itchy face and body in the fresh grass. She literally grinds and drags her chin and cheeks through it any chance she gets. Dogs with allergies shouldn't be bathed often, as this strips their skin of essential oils which are actually helpful. We were advised to take her to the ocean for a swim weekly and to rinse her with the hose or let her air dry. The salt water helps her skin lesions and scabs to heal and is soothes the itch a bit. We also brush her daily with a few different brushes to keep her skin cells shedding and rejuvinating and her tendency to scratch her fur off to a minimum. This seems to help a bit.
Tonya has been uncomfortable and itchy for several weeks now, and has been on a daily regimen of both OTC and prescription antihistamines which provide only slight relief. On the up-side, she's lost 8 pounds this year and looks healthy and fit, other than having a patchy looking coat. If you have a dog with allergies, know that the path is crooked, uphill and strewn with boulders, but help IS available in many forms. For us, next steps include considering home-cooked meals and seeking the advice of a holistic vet.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Teaching Your Dog to Walk in Heel

This morning I was asked by a customer with an almost one-year-old dog how to get him to walk in heel on leash. I'll answer that question here for everyone's benefit.
First, ditch the Flexi-lead or retractable leash if you've been using one. Your dog needs to be on a four to six foot regular leash for training "heel." Second, know that in the dog's world, there's only one Pack Leader, and anytime your dog is walking ahead of or in front of you, S/HE is the Pack Leader, not you. Third, keep in mind that if your dog has had lots of practice pulling on the leash or stopping at every tree or bush or generally doing whatever s/he pleases while on leash, it will take LOTS of practice to effectively teach your dog the RIGHT way to leash walk. Patience on your part, as well as a firm commitment to NOT allow the old habits to continue, will be necessary.
Okay, then. Let's talk about teaching your dog to heel. Heeling means walking BESIDE you on a LOOSE lead. Because most dogs respond to food lures/rewards, you'll need to have some delicious treats on you for training him/her to heel. Investing in a training pouch is your best bet. I recommend the one with a metal hinged pocket that you can slap closed easily. It comes on a belt that you can wear around your waist. These are sold locally at The Kennel Shops, Planet Dog Company Store, Fetch, etc. I'm not fond of the ones with a drawstring closure or those that clip on, as they just don't function well and will mess up your timing of rewards.
Fill your treat pouch with TINY, SOFT rewards. Why? You will be giving lots of rewards to keep your dog in position and moving forward. You don't want to fill them up too quickly, and you want them to be able to chew and swallow each reward quickly and easily. Bits of finely chopped chicken breast, steak, deli meats or cheese work really well. You can also purchase soft treats that can be chopped up into small bits for training. Go with something your dog is sure to work for, as you will be using the food to lure, motivate and reward your dog for the proper behavior.
Another good beginning tool for teaching your dog to stay in the heel position is a wooden spoon. On the spoon end, you can smear peanut butter, cream cheese, liverwurst or Cheeze Whiz.
When beginning training "heel," you need to decide which side of your body you prefer your dog to walk. My service dog, Tonya, was trained to always walk on the LEFT of a human's body, for instance. Now, she prefers to walk to my left at all times. If you choose the LEFT side, the handle/loop at the top of your dog's leash should be on your RIGHT wrist or vice versa if you want your dog to walk on your right side. The leash should come across the FRONT of your body, with the dog standing on the opposite side. This way, the correct hand (left if your dog is walking to the left of you, or right if the dog is walking to the right of you) is free for dispensing treats.
Let's begin. For this article, I'll assume that your dog is on your left side. Just reverse everything if you'll be walking with him/her on your right. For the wooden spoon exercise, you'll have the spoon in your left hand. Every couple of steps, you'll bring the spoon down to your dog's nose level exactly beside your left knee, giving your dog a very brief chance to lick the contents of the spoon. Then, bring the spoon up so your dog can't reach it. Continue walking forward, without stopping, for as many steps as you are able,, dropping the spoon down to your dog's nose level every few steps. If your dog gets out in front of you, STOP immediately, plant your feet and wait for your dog to figure out that NOTHING is going to happen (i.e. no forward movement) until your dog re-engages with you. Eventually, and this may take a few loooong moments, your dog will look back at you. When s/he does this, bring the spoon end close to his/her nose and use it to lure your dog back into heel position beside your knee OR simply turn in the opposite direction and use the spoon to once again lure your dog into the heel position and begin walking again. It's vitally important that you a) keep moving if your dog is attending to you/the spoon and walking beside you and b) stop immediately if s/he gets out in front of you.
If you are skipping the wooden spoon exercise and simply using your treat bag and delicious niblets of food to lure your dog, that's fine. The treat bag should sit in the center of your body so that your dog doesn't get so distracted by it that his/her nose is constantly in the bag. Similarly, you should try to get into a rhythm of walk/grab treat/dispense treat without STOPPING the walking. This can take some time and practice to coordinate, but it's well worth the effort. If you are constantly stopping to open the treat pouch, dig your hand into it, etc., your dog may not understand the "object" of the game, which is walking in heel. So...get your rhythm down and let your dog be your guide in terms of how many steps you take forward between each dispensing of food. ALWAYS treat the dog alongside your left knee, not out in front. Use your hand to guide your dog back into heel position using the scent of the food to bring his nose back into position and THEN dispense the food into his/her mouth.
If your dog is biting your hand harshly out of excitement for the food reward, simply use your thumb to hold the food in the center of your palm and dispense the reward with the flat of your palm, moving your thumb out of the way at the last second, and using your palm to push TOWARD your dog's mouth, thereby keeping him/her in heel and gently reminding him (by the push of the palm back towards his/her mouth) that snarfing and rushing forward to grab the treat is NOT desired and WON'T work.
As you and your dog get the hang of walking in heel, you can then extend the number of steps between rewards. For instance, I used the rhythm of 5 steps between rewards with Tonya for a long, long time before move to 7, 9 and 11 steps between rewards as she became proficient and her understanding of what the "game" was all about increased.
The object of these early training walks is NOT to walk a mile in heel, so make your walks brief and always end on a positive note rather than in frustration. Walking back and forth on the side walk in front of your home, or walking the length of the back yard a time or two is great for these early training walks. It will take time and patience and lots of practice for your dog to "get it" that leash-walking is not a free for all where s/he pulls you all the way around the block, stopping at every tree, lunging at every other dog, squirrel or car that s/he sees.
Let's talk a bit about all of those distractions mentioned above, because those are critical times for training your dog. It's totally understandable and normal for your dog to be tweaked and excited by squirrels, other dogs, bikes, skateboards, etc. while you are walking along. It's also reasonable to expect your dog to be able to behave appropriately despite those exciting distractions. This will take time, patience and many, many repetitions of the appropriate behavior. A few things to consider: If you become tense, stressed and/or anxious when you see an exciting distraction coming your way, those emotions will travel right down the leash and your dog will sense them and respond. The dog's response will most likely NOT be the one you desire. So, stay confident and calm when you see something coming that will cause a "training moment" to happen. If your dog darts out ahead of you toward the distraction and you find yourself with a dog straining on the leash, you can try putting yourself between your dog and the distraction and feeding your dog one treat after another until the distraction passes by. Ideally, you will put your dog in a sit and step on the leash so s/he can't lunge toward the exciting thing. Your dog may be so excited and distracted by the exciting thing that s/he won't eat the treats or pay attention to you. If this happens, it's best to try and change your dog's energy by using a stern voice and saying "uh uh or chit chit" while tapping him/her on the shoulder with your fingers. Continue to block his/her view of the distraction until it passes.
Dealing with exciting distractions will likely be a very challenging part of leash training work. Sometimes, your dog will see or hear or smell the distraction before you are even aware of it and may lunge or run toward it, jerking you along with him/her. If your dog is small enough, stepping on the leash (while keeping the loop around your wrist) is advisable and should be your first line of defense. Blocking your dog's view of the distraction is next. Distracting your dog with the food or rewarding your dog with the food for calm, submissive behavior is good practice.
Your positive, authoritative Pack Leader presence will go a long way toward teaching your dog that YOU are in control and that you expect him/her to stay calm/submissive when distractions occur. Yelling at your dog, jerking him around on the leash, picking him up, etc. are not helpful reactions. Ideally, your goal is for your dog to acknowledge the exciting distraction by staying calm and continuing to walk at your side. Practice, practice and more practice is necessary to achieve this. And...NOT allowing your dog to practice the WRONG behavior over and over again is also necessary. Every time your dog gets to practice going nuts and running toward the other dog/squirrel/person wildly, they learn that THIS they'll keep doing it....and it will become his/her customary habit.
While you are training your dog to walk in heel, do yourself a big favor and choose locations and times where/when you are least likely to encounter the big distractions. Your backyard or the side walk in front of your home may be the best place for those first exercises to take place. Start on small successes....always wear your treat pouch! And, if you are having great difficulty achieving the desired results, don't hesitate to hire a professional trainer to coach you. It's well worth the cost of an hour session!!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Talking "At" Your Dog

Humans are naturally conversational, chatty beings. Dogs aren't. In fact, your puppy has little to no idea what you're saying. In his/her lifetime, a pup will develop the word knowledge of a two-year-old child. So....talking "at" your dog is somewhat of a waste of time, and maybe even a hinderance to his/her important early training.
Puppies DO pick up on and respond to tone of voice. A deep, stern voice is best for correcting your pup. I use the term, "uh uh!" when a pup has made a mistake, and follow that with a command such as, "no bark!" As soon as the pup is quiet, I switch to a higher, sing-songy voice and give a short statement of positive praise. In this example, I would say, "Good quiet!"
Remember that your new pup doesn't know his or her name or the word "come" or any other command for that matter. To "teach" your dog a new word, get into the habit of taking 20 pieces of kibble from the pup's daily food allotment. Set these aside to be used for daily word training. Start with your dog's name. For this game, your dog doesn't need to DO anything to get the reward (kibble). Simply say your dog's name and give him a piece of kibble. Repeat 20 times. Name - kibble. Name - kibble. Soon, your dog will swing his head around at the sound of his name. Why? Because something GOOD ALWAYS happens when he hears that sound combination.
The same will be true of the word "come" or "here" as your recall word. Don't waste this important word by saying it over and over and over again to your dog before he knows what the heck it means. And for him, it HAS to mean something GOOD will ALWAYS happen when he hears it. Why else would he want to come to you? He needs motivation. And for most dogs, food = motivation. So, 20 kibbles each day should be set aside for teaching your dog his recall word. The word doesn't have to be "come" or "here," especially if you've already messed up with that word. Any word you choose will "pizza" or "cookie." Train your dog to RESPOND to the WORD before you expect him to DO anything, in the case of recall.
Don't overstimulate your dog will lots of idle chit chat when you greet him after being away from him for a period of time (for work, as an example). So many of us "teach" our dogs to go crazy when they see a human by acting like a crazy person when we greet them in those early weeks and months. After the pup learns to respond to all the excitement by jumping, running around, etc. we humans will grow irritated with their out-of-control behavior and begin to scold them for the very behavior WE created with our excited voices and hyper behavior.
Watch how dogs greet each other. You don't see many dogs running up to each other and jumping all over each other, barking crazily. This isn't how dogs "do" greetings. Well-socialized, savvy dogs are careful and quiet when they encounter an unknown dog. They avert their eyes and don't meet each other nose-to-nose. Rather, they will brush alongside each other's bodies and then sniff each other's bottoms. Once they've gotten a read on each other, they'll perhaps move on to a play bow or some other invitation to engage. Similarly, it's best to greet your dog in a quiet/silent, calm demeanor. Bend down to your dog's level and let him sniff you. This allows him to take in a lot of information about who you are and where you've been since he last saw you. Stroke him quietly and gently along the side of his body, giving him attention only if he remains calm as well.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Some Thoughts on Common Puppy Illnesses...

Socializing your pup is extremely important during the early weeks and months of ownership, yet many owners and even some veterinarians are nervous about the spread of illness during this time period. What to do? Proceed with caution and be proactive, I say.
Be careful where and with whom you choose to socialize your puppy. Stay clear of dog parks and crowded beaches and parks where adult dogs congregate in large numbers until your pup is better able to handle these situations. Ask if your vet's office offers any puppy social hours. Some vets invite new pups and their owners into the clinic after hours for a bit of social play (for the pups) and education (for the owners). Check with your local dog supply stores to see if they offer puppy play groups. For my local group, which meets weekly on Sundays, I ask that new pups have their first round of shots and preferably the Kennel Cough (Bordatella) vaccine as well before coming to play.
It's important for owners to realize, however, that their pup may still get an illness despite careful selection of play experiences. Think of it this way: if your child attends nursery school, they may catch a cold or the flu if it's going around. The same is true with puppies. Feeding your pup a healthy diet, offering plenty of fresh water and ample opportunities to rest will help build a strong, hearty pup - i.e. a pup with a healthy immune system who may be able to fight off or prevent passage of certain viruses.
The Kennel Cough vaccine works like the flu vaccine for humans. It protects against the major strains of the Bordatella virus, but not all strains. Your pup may still contract the illness despite having had the vaccine, but the vaccine provides some level of protection and is worth having if you plan to board or socialize your pup.
Anther common puppy (and adult dog) illness is giardia. Giardia is commonly known as Beaver Fever in the human world. Giardia is a bacteria found in the feces of many wild animals and in dogs as well. Giardia can get into the water source and spread to other dogs through contact with contaminated water in puddles, ponds, streams, etc. Giardia can also be passed from pup to pup through contact with feces or even through mouth play or drinking from a community water bowl. Thus, it's a good idea to always bring water and a bowl for your pup to play groups and social occasions. Even if your own pup does not eat feces of other dogs, if s/he is sharing the water bowl with others who have, there is a chance that other dogs have introduced the bacteria into the water bowl via their mouths. Avoid community water bowls at dog parks and at dog supply stores, since you don't know who else has been drinking from those sources.
Here at DWD, the community water bowl is switched out several times per day. All bowls are sanitized with a kennel-strength cleaner before being reused. Dogs who eat poop habitually are dismissed from school for the safety and health of the pack.
Both Kennel Cough and Giardia are treatable with meds. For lists of common symptoms and course of treatment, consult your vet or do a Google search. These illnesses are not life-threatening, but they do take your pup out of the social scene for a while.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Welcome to my blog!

And off we go... My customers from Dances With Dogs know that I post a daily progress report to my company website. This tells them all about their pup's day at school, etc. Here on the blog, I'll have the opportunity to expand on some of the behavioral tips, answer questions about training and management and so on. For those who don't know me.... I am the Pack Leader at Dances With Dogs, a puppy nursery school in South Portland, Maine. The school provides the chance for puppies to spend a day each week socializing with a pack of age-mates in a carefully-supervised environment. We have a 1/2 acre puppy playground for romping and indoor space for napping and quiet play. The school will be four years old this fall and I've had almost 1000 pups come through the school since opening. WOW!
One of the outcomes of my work with families raising puppies is a desire to share their stories for the benefit of others considering adding a pup to their family. I am teaming with Meredith Perdue, a fabulous photographer of dogs (& unlimited photography is her biz name), on this non-fiction book project. Our work is well underway....interviewing families and photographing them with their dogs...and we hope to present a proposal to a few publishing houses later this year in hopes of getting the book published. Wish us luck!