Pawsitive Dog
The Pawsitive Dog Blog

Arousal And Recovery

October 21st, 2015

No, I’m not talking about sex! The arousal in dogs that matters to pet owners and trainers is the sort that leads to hyperactivity, barking, jumping, over reactivity, and even biting. It can also show up as fearful escape, shrinking back and shutting down. On a physiological level, our dogs react in exactly the same way we do to events that trigger the body’s fight or flight response – a sophisticated chemical reaction of hormones and neurotransmitters that can save our lives. At modest levels, arousal improves performance and enhances learning. But at higher levels or over prolonged periods learning is impeded, fine motor skills deteriorate, and that brain chemical cascade starts damaging cells. Which brings us to the recovery stage. It takes time for the body to process and “dump” those brain chemicals once the crisis has passed. Depending on the dog (or person) and the degree of arousal, it can take several hours to several days for the arousal chemicals to subside and the recovery chemicals to rise to create a healthy balance. Once arousal chemicals are elevated, it takes less and less stimulation (triggering events) to elicit another reaction and each episode further elevates arousal. The interesting thing about arousal is that it feels good and the body can become addicted to the high it gets from those arousal chemicals – know any thrill seeking humans? Same idea in dogs.

For real recovery to happen we have to be able to turn off or avoid the things that trigger the arousal for long enough that the body can detox and find a healthy balance again. You know the importance of taking vacations and likely have a few relaxation routines for yourself. Perhaps you have learned to avoid checking your email before bed and screen your phone calls to avoid certain stress triggers. But how can you help your dog avoid his triggers and maintain a healthy balance of arousal and recovery? Like us, some dogs are addicted to the high they get from arousal. Others are extremely sensitive to their environment and get highly aroused by stuff that another dog would barely notice. They may bark at anything that moves, run the fence, or dive for cover at any sharp noise. These dogs are often rigid in their bodies, move too much or not enough, and may not sleep deeply through the night. It’s miserable and unhealthy for them to be on edge all the time.

Here are some ways you can help your stressed out pooch:

  • Reduce access to triggers – cover windows, close doors/windows, supervise yard time, take walks at quieter times of the day, change fencing/gates, use white noise to cover external sounds, etc.
  • Teach relaxation skills – “Relax on a mat” (Chill Out Fido by Nan Arthur) and Karen Overall’s Relaxation Protocol are a good place to start. Remember that dogs pick up on our energy too, so if you want your dog to relax you will need to relax as well. Breathe deeply, shake out your muscles, have a seat. Model relaxation for your dog.
  • Provide stress relieving activities – Chewing is one way dogs relieve stress so give them plenty of appropriate chew items. Rhythmic movement also helps so a brisk walk or trot for 15-20 minutes is a good idea, provided you can avoid triggers when doing so.
  • Engage their brains – Problem solving activities promote thoughtful concentration which helps tire them out in a non-arousing way. Examples include “find it”, food puzzle toys, hide and seek, and slowly working an obstacle course. Google “Sprinkles” for details on a new twist on a scent game. Your trainer can help you with a variety of games that teach your dog self-control.
  • Keep any training sessions short and non-aversive to avoid adding more stress.
  • Quality rest – Naps in a crate or quiet room may be necessary to help them achieve the deep REM sleep needed for recovery and cellular repair.
  • Quality nutrition – Food plays a critical role in how dogs feel as well as how they behave. Make sure you are feeding the highest quality, most natural food you can afford and avoid feeding anything (even treats and chews) with artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.
  • Added support – TTouchⓇ, massage, a ThundershirtⓇ or Anxiety WrapⓇ, flower essences, Chinese herbs, acupuncture/pressure, homeopathy, essential oils, energy work, and the D.A.P. diffuser can all be useful aids in helping dogs relax. The nutritional supplements lactium and L-Theanine can help relax dogs with anxiety and sound sensitivity issues. Both are available in chewable form from your vet. In severe cases your vet may suggest anti-anxiety medication to be used in conjunction with your behavior modification plan.

Dogs with arousal issues can be a challenge to live with at times. But with proper management and stress reduction methods, most can lead much calmer, healthier and happier lives. Daily relaxation sessions are a practice that will benefit both you and your dog

The Art of Self-Control

October 19th, 2015

While I often hear people wishing their dog would “chill out”, mastering self-control is a two way street.  Dogs are opportunistic by nature.  Without training most will “throw themselves” at stuff they want.  This can lead to door barging, jumping on people, counter-surfing, etc.  However, humans are often guilty of poor self-control around dogs as well.  Commonly there are the “dog lovers” who are so focused on what they want from the dog (affection, attention) that they engage in excessive greeting (talking and petting) without regard to the dog’s behavior.  Another camp gets easily frustrated by the dog’s boisterousness or failure to respond promptly to a cue.  This frustration comes though in their voice and body language.  Both types of human behavior tend to whip dogs into more of a frenzy.   How can both dogs and humans learn to “get a grip”?

Humans

Just because we love dogs doesn’t mean we get to to interact wit
h them at will without regard to how they feel about the interaction.  Like any relationship, there are two sides to it.  We need to take a moment to (at least mentally) ask the dog “how is this for you?”  Remember that dogs do what “works” for them.  So if jumping, grabbing, bolting, stealing, etc. gets you up and moving and interacting with them, in some way the dog is rewarded for these behaviors and will continue doing them.  You may love dogs, but the attention you give may be working at cross purposes to your desires for good behavior.  Take a moment to consider what you want your dog TO DO.  What behaviors are you “paying for” with your attention?  Are those behaviors you like?  If so, great.  Keep up the good work!  However, if you aren’t thrilled about the behaviors you have been rewarding, stop paying the dog for them.  I’ve mastered the “can’t see you, can’t hear you” approach to poor dog behavior.  Stand up, fold your arms, lift your chin and wait for the dog to collect himself.  In some cases, you may have to leave the room and enter more calmly only when the dog has calmed.  As long as the dog remains calm you may look, touch, and talk, but do so in a way that promotes calmness – slow movements, soft voice, calm demeanor.  The instant the dog “loses it”, remove your attention only to return it when the dog has calmed.  Be patient if the dog is working out the problem of how to get your attention.

Dogs

They usually love us as much as we love them, but all that excitement, coupled with a human that attends to it, can really whip a dog up.  Remember, their behavior is often a reflection of what YOU do.  Practice specific self-control exercises with your dog.  “Wait” is one of my favorite.  It’s just a moment, but I ask for “waitSmooch 3mo” to exit the kennel, leave the house or car, and to eat meals.   You can also incorporate “wait” into the games you play and things like “getting dressed” in a harness and leash.  I use “wait” to mean “don’t move forward”.  The dog doesn’t have to “sit” first, but many find it easier to wait when sitting.  Gradually expand the difficulty of your “wait” exercises as your dog learns that showing self-restraint is the fastest way to get stuff he wants.  Other self-control exercises include the eye contact game and “leave it” games like Doggie Zen and It’s Your Choice.  You can ask for a small amount of restraint before giving the dog anything of value (access to a dog friend, walk, car ride, ball game, etc.)  The more consistent you are with your “works”/”doesn’t work” feedback to the dog, the faster he will learn self-control.  As part of self-control exercises it is important that your dog has a release word – a cue that tells him when he is free to “go for it” and “be a dog”.  Many people say “okay”, but I prefer “ding” or “break” as they are less common in our normal usage.  Choose what works for you.

When you mindfully reward behavior you like and refrain from inadvertently rewarding undesirable behaviors, both you and your dog will be happier and calmer.  This leads to more harmony, gentleness, and clear communication.

Dogs Aging Gracefully

May 20th, 2013

Aging has been on my mind lately.  My own, but especially that of dogs.  Several of my friends have lost their old, and not so old, dogs in the past few months.  As my own dog is almost 13 and dealing with several small health issues, I decided I needed help evaluating the care I was giving him.  He had a vet check-up, full blood work, and a visit to his DOM.  I also rented the Winding Down video by Dr. Karen Becker from BowWowFlix.

This DVD was a treasure trove of useful information!  I was familiar with many aspects since I’ve been on a natural healthcare journey for years, but it was a good reminder of some things I had forgotten.  While specifically aimed at owners of geriatric animals, the wealth of information provided will help you make better choices while your pet is still young and help keep them healthy far into their senior years.  Here are a few highlights for you:

  • For optimum health dogs need a varied diet of fresh, whole foods.  While a species appropriate raw meat and bones diet is optimal for our dogs (and cats), even a prepared diet can be improved with the addition of raw foods.
  • They need regular access to clean air and pure water.  If there are smokers in your home, an air purifier will reduce your pet’s exposure to second hand smoke.  Filtered or purified water is available in many forms for us and for our pets.
  • We need to reduce their exposure to toxins, chemicals, preservatives,  and other obstacles to good health.  Make informed choices about all vaccinations and the use of flea and heartworm products.
  • Our animals “break” at the weakest link.  So things that happen in their youth can give us an inkling of their weak spots – accident, injury, surgery, chronic infections, sensitive digestion, pulling on leash, jumping off furniture, chronic reactivity can all lead to weakening of the body in some way.  The more we recognize this, the sooner we can take steps to mitigate the damage with supplements, preventive care, and training.
  • Regular check-ups and a good relationship with your veterinarian are vital to your pet’s health.
  • There are MANY complementary modalities that can also benefit your pet’s health.  Acupuncture/acupressure, chiropractic, TTouch, massage, Healing Touch for Animals, flower essences, herbs, nutraceuticals, etc.
  • Most older animals can benefit from the addition of digestive enzymes, probiotics, anti-inflammatory supplements and acid reducers.  I chose the N-Zymes system for Solo.
  • Despite all that we may be able to do for our pets, we must also be respectful of their spirit and desires.  That may mean NOT adding another supplement, treatment, or surgery and accepting that they have a voice in deciding the length and quality of their life.
  • Dr. Becker suggests creating an “autumn file” for our animals – information that will help us when we reach the “fork in the road” with them.  If we pre-plan and make some decisions while they are well, it will save us feeling overwhelmed during a time of crisis.

You can get a copy of the Winding Down DVD for only $20. I went to order a copy for my library and found that they have a special offer available now – buy any book and get a free DVD.  So I ordered Dr. Becker’s Real Food for Healthy Dogs & Cats and requested the Winding Down DVD.

Solo

He will be 13 on the 4th of July.  That’s phenomenal for a Doberman!  The current average is, sadly, 8-10 and I lost 2 of my previous Dobes at about 8.  Solo is my first “old dog”.  That has brought some added challenges but also many gifts.  He’s incredibly sweet and funny now.  He sleeps more.  He has more lumps and bumps than you can count.  Some past issues with his liver and digestion continue to give him trouble at times – which leads to sleepless nights for both of us.  He has arthritis in his front feet and he is slowly losing muscle mass and strength.  Despite a life of raw foods, his teeth are wearing out.

The Winding Down DVD reminded me that much of this is “normal aging” and some of it is simply the by-product of his life.  He has always been an intense dog.  He over-reacts, worries, has trouble relaxing, and throws himself into his activities with abandon.  This kind of lifestyle takes its toll over time.  I’ve worked hard to moderate his intensity and have made great strides.  But that hasn’t changed his basic nature.  So I accept him for who he is and we compromise on many things.

Puppies require a certain vigilance and lots of extra care and attention.  So it is at the other end of their life as well.  Fortunately for us, all that extra work is balanced with an emotional closeness and intensity that can’t be duplicated.  If your pet is still in the spring or summer of their life, take some time to review your care plan.  Are you doing what you can to create a lifetime of health?  If, like mine, your pet is in their autumn stage, is there anything more you can do to provide them with, as Dr. Becker emphasizes, “comfort and relief”?  I’m doing my best.

The Great Training Divide

April 1st, 2013

Dogs – we love them! We invite them into our homes and even our beds. We spend billions of dollars a year on them. We buy, adopt, rescue, breed them. We just can’t get enough of dogs. Everyone that’s ever had a dog can tell you stories about those dogs and likely has an opinion about training dogs. If you have a dog with issues, you’re likely to get training advice from a guy at the dog park, your grocery clerk, and your mechanic. People will tell you, “I’ve had dogs all my life…” as some measure of their expertise. Well, I’ve had teeth most of my life, but that doesn’t make me a dentist! It’s likely that you will receive a lot of conflicting advice as well. To make matters worse, there are trainers on TV, a slew of training books, and many websites and on-line resources that offer different training approaches and advice. How do you choose? How do you know what is right for your dog? At their core, training philosophies boil down to a choice between correction based training or reward based training. Let’s look at the evolution of this choice.

Our history with dogs is long and complex. We share many characteristics that make us natural companions. I like to think people enjoyed the company of dogs even when practicality required that the dog serve a purpose and function. In many cases, human survival was aided by a dog doing a job – primarily herding, hunting, retrieving, and guarding. I’m sure there was some training involved, but for the most part the dogs were doing what came naturally to them, and what they were specifically bred for. A natural balance existed. World War II changed everything. It changed the way people earned a living, where we lived, how we ate, and changed the lives of our dogs as well. War rationing of food gave us grain-based kibble to feed our dogs. Urbanization left many formerly working dogs unemployed. And the dog training method employed by the military found its way into our homes through the works of people like Bill Koehler and Blanche Saunders.

This is also about the time when the “dominance theory” came into vogue. It was based upon a study of wolves in captivity and claimed that wolves formed packs with an alpha male and female and that the alpha wolves maintained this position of dominance by forcing the other wolves into submission. This theory was then extrapolated to our pet dogs and we were told to use techniques like the “alpha roll”, “scruff shake”, and “chin clip” (made popular by the Monks of New Skete) to “dominate” our dogs. We were indoctrinated in the belief that we must always “be the alpha” when dealing with our dogs. This attitude fit quite nicely with the punitive methods of military style training.

The military style of training (now commonly referred to as traditional training) relies heavily upon the use of the “training collar” – a choke chain, pinch/prong collar, or even shock collar – and a six foot leather lead. Dogs were sent to obedience school when they were six months old – strong enough to withstand the “corrections” used in training. Handlers were taught to give “commands” that the dog must obey to avoid receiving a “correction”. These traditional training methods could be quite harsh and there were many dogs that “failed” obedience school. These were dogs that couldn’t handle the stress and physical punishment. Their responses to training were to either “fall apart” – urinating, cowering, crying, freezing up – or to “fight back” – growling, biting, attacking their handlers. The dogs that fought back were often subjected to even harsher training as the humans were told they must “win” and “dominate” these dogs. Not only were the methods hard on the dogs, they were hard on the humans as well; requiring some brute strength and physical confrontations with the dogs, which sometimes led to owners being bitten and dogs dying.

A new era dawns

Further research has debunked the dominance theory (http://www.clickertraining.com/node/2297). Modern studies shows that wild wolf “packs” are actually family units. Submissive type behaviors are offered rather than demanded and there is little violence between family members. While there are still many similarities between dogs and wolves (as there are between humans and apes), dogs are not wolves. We must be cautious in applying our wolf theories to dogs and we would be wise not to put ourselves in positions of physical confrontation with dogs. They have mouths full of razor knives and they are generally stronger and way lots faster that we are. Even with young and small dogs, just because we can physically overpower them, doesn’t mean we should.

Fortunately, for us and for our dogs, modern science prevailed and brought us out of the dark ages of dog training. In the 1970’s and 80‘s marine mammal trainers started going public with what they had learned. They had quickly realized you could not put a choke chain on a killer whale and any sort of “correction” could result in an injury to the trainer or the animal just leaving. They had to find another approach to achieve their goals. Karen Pryor’s book, Don’t Shoot The Dog, published in 1984, revolutionized our understanding of the science of learning – and applied to “anything with a brainstem”. Enter the positive training movement. A complete change in attitude came along with the new science. Dogs were now given cues instead of commands and the primary “correction”, if one existed, was loss of the opportunity to earn a reward. If a person could teach a killer whale to do a back flip with only a whistle and a bucket of sardines, then surely our pet dogs could be taught basic manners without the use of a training collar. And basic manners were just the beginning of what dogs have been taught with positive methods.

The Science of Learning

In it’s simplest terms, traditional, military style, training focuses on “correcting” undesirable behaviors: The dog remains standing when told to sit so the leash is “popped” to “correct” the dog for the mistake. Modern, positive, training focuses primarily on rewarding desirable behaviors: The dog sits when asked and is then given a treat and/or praise as a reward for compliance. Both methods can be effective, so lets look at the pros and cons of each.

Correction Based Training

Pros:

Generally fast results if effective, basically simple concept if applied correctly.

Cons:

High probability of “fallout” – dog becomes fearful or aggressive, physically taxing on dog and handler, handler must be physically able to make corrections, requires special collar, easy for humans to become “correction happy” and jerk the dog often and for no reason, may permanently damage dog-human relationship, damage to the dog’s neck/throat is common, ineffective and abusive if done with poor timing or technique.

Reward Based Training

Pros:

Much of it can be done “hands-free”, can be done by anyone (children, adults, elderly, etc.), long lasting effects, fosters cooperation and respect, does not require special equipment (except perhaps a clicker), little risk if done with poor timing or technique, is generally fun and pleasant for dog and handler.

Cons:

May take longer to accomplish some goals, requires handler to be patient and precise for best effect, requires handler to learn more about dog behavior and training.

When you consider this data, the choice between correction based training and reward based training seems perfectly clear. Modern science shows us that dogs can easily learn without force, fear, pain, or intimidation; that force-free training is safer, kinder, and has more long lasting effects than traditional methods, and that we can have more trusting and cooperative relationships with our dogs when we use force-free methods. Why then do we persist in “correcting” our dogs? Why are traditional obedience classes still common? Why is the public fascinated by TV trainers who advocate correction methods based on the dominance theory? After 30 years, why aren’t we getting it?

The Positive Paradigm

A commitment to reward based training requires a paradigm shift. Whether, like me, you see dogs as spiritual beings in dog bodies, or you view them as “just dogs”, these creatures share this planet with us and deserve to be treated with kindness and respect. There is no reason to use pain, fear, force, or intimidation when less invasive and less aversive methods will work just as well and with fewer risks. But it takes effort to break old habits, to see things in a new light, to let go of “tradition”, and to open ourselves up to seeing the world from another’s point of view, especially when that “other” is another species. Examining ourselves, our history, our motives, and our desires can be taxing. It’s just easier to keep doing it the old way, without thinking.

We are a culture that defends our freedoms vehemently, including our right to own dogs. We also recognize the need to protect those that can’t protect themselves. Every state in the country has laws defining and prohibiting animal cruelty and abuse. Yet little abuses happen daily right under our noses and we overlook them by calling it “training”. Training collars, including those that produce an electric shock, are available for sale everywhere and could easily be considered tools of abuse, yet we condone their use in the name of “training”. Funny thing is, those that advocate the use of these items have developed a wide range of euphemisms to describe them – slip chain, power steering, nick, tap, buzz, tickle. If they are so safe and effective, why do they need to hide behind these obfuscations? Let’s tell it like it is and stop the madness!

Hopefully, by now I have convinced you to throw away your “training collars”. But then what? Those were your primary means of communication and control of your dog. As a necessary step in the paradigm shift, you may now feel powerless to control or train your dog in any way. Good! That will prompt you to look for new ideas and options. When I first made the switch away from traditional training, it took me a full year of having my dogs not wear collars at home to break myself of the habit of grabbing those collars any time I felt the need to reposition or stop my dog. That feeling of helplessness was instrumental in my learning to communicate with them better and to actually teach them words for the things I needed from them – inside, outside, wait, touch my hand, move out of my way, etc.

Learn to listen to your dog

Dogs do what works for them. If barking at the door gets you to let them out, then they will keep barking at the door. But if barking at the door never gets your attention or gets you to go to the door, eventually your dog will give up barking at the door in favor of a more rewarding behavior. Behavior that is rewarded tends to increase. Behavior that is not rewarded tends to fade away. You can’t really teach a dog what NOT to do. You can only teach what TO do. Make a point to notice what your dog is doing right – resting at your feet, playing quietly, waiting patiently, following you. These are behaviors we want to reward. Your dog will tell you if your training efforts are on track and working.

To be clear, positive training is not passive or permissive. It takes a great deal of attention and discipline to be consistent, active, and creative when it comes to raising our dogs with positive methods. It’s easy, and perhaps reflexive, to just say “No!” It takes knowledge and practice to be proactive and patient.

Where knowledge ends, violence begins. This could not be truer than in dog training. Every time a person yells at a dog, yanks a collar, or swats a rump it is a clear indication of the limits of their knowledge. When we don’t know what to do to accomplish our goals or solve a problem we get frustrated and upset. So the obvious solution to most, if not all, of our dog problems is educating ourselves. The Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson and The Power of Positive Dog Training by Pat Miller are great places to start. We must learn how dogs “work” and to apply the science of learning effectively if we want to live in harmony with them and treat them humanely. Our society continues to shift away from corporal punishment and authoritarian methods with our children, so the day is sure to come when those methods are no longer accepted or tolerated with dogs. And that can’t happen soon enough if you ask me.

 

 

Growling Dogs: It’s Not Personal

December 10th, 2012

Why is it that we humans so often feel insulted, disrespected, and devalued by information and feedback?  This information may come in the form of a grade on a school paper, a comment from a co-worker, or a growl from our dog.  Any little thing can trigger a cascade of emotions in us.

We may feel angry, hurt, defiant, resentful, you name it.  It’s not a very useful response as it often clouds our judgment and limits our ability to respond rationally.  While it’s possible, though unlikely, that other humans may intend to hurt us or make us angry, that certainly isn’t the case with your dog.  He doesn’t lay awake at night dreaming of ways to make you crazy.  He doesn’t hate you or want to embarrass you in public to gratify his ego.

We really need to get over taking his behavior personally.  Rather than “How dare you growl at me.”, we would be wiser and more effective with “Wow, wonder what brought that on?  He must be really uncomfortable with something.”  Then we can use our rational brain to (1) find the source of his stress, (2) remove the stress, and (3) formulate a plan to overcome the stress.  Otherwise we’re just stuck feeling hurt, afraid, and angry, none of which are especially helpful in changing the situation and moving forward.

So next time your dogs does something you don’t like, stop and take a deep breath.  Do a mental “step back” and ask yourself, “How might this look from the dog’s point of view?  What can I learn from the feedback I just received?  What can I change to help us be more successful next time?”  Your dog will come to trust and respect you more if he knows he can give you feedback without you freaking out (that’s what he might think of your previous reactions).  You will keep the lines of communication open and allow room for growth if you learn that “it’s not personal”.  This also works well in our relationships with people.  Give it a try.

Teen Dogs – Dealing with new annoying behaviors

March 30th, 2011

QUESTION :
Rover, our almost 9-month old, generally well-mannered dog, has developed some annoying behavior lately. He starts barking at random times to obviously get our attention, but it’s a higher-pitched “yappy” bark. If we don’t pay attention, he butts us with his head. His needs have been met (food, water, potty) and he has been very well exercised. What should we do?

ANSWER:
Sounds like Rover, now a teen, is experimenting with some new behaviors to see if they work for him; trying to get your attention in various ways and “demanding” action from you. He’s using all his best efforts to train you.

Time to fine tune a few details that may have slipped. When we start feeling that our puppies are pretty well-mannered (clean in the house, no more biting or inappropriate chewing), we often get a bit lax. After
all, we’ve worked really hard for months, don’t we deserve a little break? Unfortunately, just about that time, they become teenagers and we have to be vigilant all over again, just in a little different way.

Teen dogs (and kids) question the rules, test their boundaries, and try out new stuff. Sure they know a lot, but they often seem to forget or are unresponsive. It’s normal. A study on teen humans showed that
their brains actually go into a sort of rest state where it is really just busy processing all the stuff they have learned up to that point, but aren’t taking in as much new info. I think of it as mental housekeeping time without much space for new info until the mess gets cleaned up. I imagine teen dogs experience a similar lull in their learning. No worries. It’s a stage that passes.

So, what to do during this stage? Maintain routines. Keep asking for simple things you know they have already learned like sit, wait, come, etc. Try not to make these exercises too challenging, and practice many times a day as part of your normal routine. For example: sit to come out of the crate, go out the door, get fed, get petted, etc.

Be patient, but firm and consistent. In some cases, ignoring teen behaviors is really tough, especially if they are willing to escalate to worse barking and head butting like Rover. So take the “ignore” a step further and actually walk out on him if he acts this way. Since most likely what he wants is your attention, leaving the room deprives him of the opportunity for that attention. If you remain in the room, he keeps trying new (worse) things to see what will finally get you to pay attention to him. If you leave, he can’t do that. Of course, you only leave for a minute or so and then calmly return. Repeat as often as needed.

His physical needs may have been met, but possibly not his mental or emotional needs. Do some short (3-5 min) training sessions several times a day, play with him, and make time to just sit and hang out for a few minutes. This will give him the attention he craves, but on your terms and for behaviors you like. During the rest of the day, make a special point to notice when he is calm and relaxed and “being good” (playing by himself, resting quietly, watching you work), and praise and reward him for those behaviors. Again, attention for stuff you like. You can keep some dry treats in strategic locations around the house (out of his reach) so you can quickly grab a treat if he is doing something nice. The more you notice and reward his “good” behaviors, the less he will need to resort to obnoxious behaviors.

Face it, there are times when we just can’t “walk out” or attend to training the dog. Perhaps, for you, that’s when you are busy getting the kids ready for school. You have a schedule to keep and they need your attention as well. At these times it is perfectly acceptable, and even desirable, to pen up the pup. You’ve fed, watered, and pottied him and spent a few minutes playing or cuddling. Then you put him in his pen or crate with a yummy chew and explain to him that now it’s time you attended to the kids. Our dogs have to learn that they don’t always (nor should they) “come first” and they must learn to be patient, relax, and entertain themselves.

Teen dogs may still need some limits set on their freedom (pen, leash, house line, etc.) to help them learn the self-control and patience they need to live with us. Pay attention to when Rover is most inclined to flip into one of his yappy states. Is he tired? Have you been at the computer too long? Has he been napping for hours and is now awake and bored?? Be proactive when possible to meet his needs before one of these moments comes up. If you know he has an issue just after a walk, or when the kids get home from school, use your pen to prevent him from making mistakes; maybe walk him before the kids arrive and then pen him for 20-30 minutes after walks to help him calm down again.

Hang in there. It will get better, but by all means take control of the situation rather than let him make the rules.

Should we get the kids a puppy for Christmas?

November 20th, 2009
Teddy

Teddy

Let’s face it, it’s a beautiful fantasy – the kids in their pajamas opening the big box, and out pops a fuzzy puppy with a big red bow.  Awww, how adorable!  But, this isn’t Hollywood, and puppies aren’t props.  So let’s explore the idea from a more practical viewpoint and see if a Christmas puppy really makes sense for you and your kids.

  1. How old are your kids?  Young puppies and young children are not always a match made in heaven.  Kids squeal and run.  Puppies bite and jump.  Completely normal behavior for both, but it can be a challenge to meet the needs of both human and canine babies in a way that keeps everyone safe and happy.  I believe it is best to wait until children are at least 6 years old before trying to raise a young puppy.  Despite your best intentions and efforts, some dogs are not really fond of small children; even a puppy raised with kids may not enjoy them.  So what is a reasonable compromise solution?  Find an adult dog that is accustomed to and loves younger children – a smart choice with a better chance for harmonious success. Read the rest of this entry »

Choosing a Puppy – Do’s and Don’ts

November 20th, 2009

DO

Teegan

Teegan

Educate yourself. If you are looking for a purebred puppy, the American Kennel Club site provides information about each breed.  There are advantages and disadvantages to choosing a pure bred dog.  Years of specific breeding have often created genetic health issues, so be sure to find out what problems are common in your desired breed, and what health testing you should expect a good breeder to do.  For more on education and breed selection see Should we get the kids a puppy for Christmas?

Choose a breeder wisely. They are not all created equal, and finding a good match can really help you.  A good breeder will want to interview you to ensure that their dog will be going to a good home.  They will put the dog’s welfare ahead of their own monetary benefit.  They will expect you to sign a contract of some sort.  They will require you to return the puppy to them if you are unable to care for it at any point in time.  They will be willing to answer your questions, offer advice on raising your puppy and serve as a great support system.  I have pretty high standards these days and generally suggest Natural Rearing breeders. Read the rest of this entry »

Preparing for a new puppy

November 20th, 2009

DivaDogYou’ve done your homework, decided the time is right to get a puppy, and chosen the right puppy.  Now it’s time to prepare yourself and your house for the new arrival.  Yup, just like you would get ready for your new baby!

Prepare a safe place for your puppy. You’ll likely want a crate for sleeping and an exercise pen (X-pen) or baby gate to create a safe containment area on an easy clean surface.  I suggest having the crate in your bedroom at night and the pen near your main living area.  If you don’t have an appropriate floor surface available, get a remnant of vinyl flooring from your home center or carpet store to use under your X-pen.  You will use the X-pen as a long-term confinement area for times when you can’t watch the puppy for a few hours.  You can use the crate at night, and for short periods like taking a shower or talking on the phone.  Rid yourself of the mindset that a crate is punishment; by using it properly, it will instead become your dog’s favorite safe haven. Read the rest of this entry »

Bringing Home A Puppy – Tips For Success

November 20th, 2009

puppy dog hold flowers in forefootsThe big day is finally here!  You want to be prepared and get off to a good start right away with your new puppy.  Here are some tips to make things go smoothly.

The ride home If you have a helper to drive, the drive isn’t too long, and the puppy is tired and/or calm you can try holding the puppy on your lap.  Otherwise you’ll need a crate or at least a cardboard box to contain the puppy.  If you use a box, put some plastic under it just in case.  Place a thick towel at the bottom of the crate or box to give the pup good footing and to catch any accidents.  If your trip will take more than an hour, plan to make a potty stop (or two) along the way.  I would avoid highway rest areas as they are frequented by lots of dogs and your puppy doesn’t have full immunity yet.  If possible, opt for a quiet grassy area instead. Be sure your puppy is wearing identification and has a secure collar or harness. Read the rest of this entry »

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