Do your kids speak doggie?

While the rest of the world smiles at, shares and ‘likes’ the plethora of videos and photos of dogs with kids on the Internet, positive dog trainers like myself cringe. In many cases, the child appears to be having the best fun while, if you know what signs to look for, the dogs are clearly uncomfortable at best and at the opposite end of the scale, about to bite as their warning signs have gone unheeded and they have run out of options which with to communicate or protect themselves.

In this second installment from the Modern Pet Dog seminar held on Sydney’s Northern Beaches last month, Louise Colombari from Pittwater Animal Hospital addresses dog and child relationships. Her philosophy is based on five pillars:

  1. Teach the dog – reinforce the behavior you want through positive training methods and puppy school is not the end of their training, it’s a life-long requirement for any dog to keep exercising their body and their brain.
  2. Teach the family – take proactive action to manage interactions between your dog. This involves setting rules such as ‘the dog is not a jungle gym’ that includes principles of no riding, tugging, teasing, grabbing, jumping on, poking, annoying, pestering, provoking or bothering during sleep or meal time. There’s a lot of educational resources available – see below for lots of awesome links for adults and kids to talk about together.
  3. Management – use tools such as baby gates, tethers or crate training the dog to separate and manage the smaller and furrier members of the family. Keep the dog amused with alternatives such as stuffed Kongs or interactive toys. Teach the kids to reward the dog for calm or training really cool tricks instead of rough play.
  4. Deal with problems – learn dog body language as they may be communicating discomfort clearly and ignoring it is not an option as a responsible dog owner. Deal with problems straight away – such as separating them and giving the dog a ‘safe’ area where they can relax without anyone near them. If in doubt, seek a qualified and positive dog trainer really quickly.
  5. Seek help and resources. There’s a lot of free information available online, covered in the next section.

Learn to speak Doggie

Here are some great resources – free by the way – that Louise highlighted as essential reading for any dog or human parent as they advocate a both positive and proactive approach:

  • The Family Dog – has the fabulous video ‘Pat, Pet, Pause’ which features a ‘doggy genie’ that appears to gives kids tips on how to approach a dog and see if they want to interact as well as Dog Stars with its catchy tune that young people will relate to. I speak Doggie is produced to the tune of London Bridge and its message will remain in your head long after you close YouTube.
  • Doggie Drawings – Lili Chin’s posters and doggie drawings are a must-download item (great Christmas stocking filler idea!) as they show dog body language in an easy-to-understand cartoon.
  • The Vet Behaviour Team in Sydney – offer great fact sheets ranging from early to severe stress signs in dogs, including how to read their facial expressions.
  • Mighty Dog Graphics – has free posters and infographics including the ‘Young Person’s Guide to Staying Safe Around Dogs’.
  • Doggone Safe – fabulous links including the ‘Speak Dog’ video, interactive games for kids to play and bite prevention tips. This includes the Doggone Crazy Board Game which ships via Amazon (another Christmas present idea, nudge nudge, wink wink!). It teaches adults and kids how to be safe around dogs – players race around the board earning bones by demonstrating safe behaviours such as ‘be a tree’ and interpreting photos of dogs.
  • 4pawsuniversity – a range of articles including ‘Training Tip Tuesday’ articles
  • Good Dog in a Box – specific resources to help families who have dogs (some you have to purchase)
  • Positively – has a large knowledge repository including a focus on dog bite prevention and children.
  • Family Paws Parent Education – their Dogs & Storks and Dogs & Toddlers programs help parents prepare for the addition of a new baby to the house where there is already a dog living in the house.
  • Animal Behavior Associates – offer a range of articles ranging from behaviour analysis to wellness with Helping Fido Welcome Your Baby designed for expecting or new parents.

Look out for the next installment of the ‘Building Relationships’ theme of the night coming soon. If you want to find out about future events email barbara@goodog.com.au or follow the Modern Pet Dog on Facebook.

Here’s the link to the first article – ‘how to train your tiger, or dog’ in case you missed it

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It’s really okay – comfort your dog in a storm

The recent Modern Pet Dog seminar focused on all things summer. In this second installment of what was covered, we cover how to help dogs that have storm phobias and also dog park safety. Read the first installment about tick prevention and heat safety.

Keeping your dog safe when the sky becomes scary

Louise Colombari – Pittwater Animal Hospital said that scientists still aren’t sure why dogs are scared of storms – it could be the noise, lightning, the smell, a drop in barometric pressure or a combination of these elements. With their acute smell and hearing, it’s no surprise that dogs sometimes know that a storm is on its way, sometimes while the sun is still shining over your house.

When dogs get scared, they want to take action about it to feel less scared. This may create the vicious circle of storm phobias where because a storm frightened them before, they’ve created an association between the noise and light with being scared and every time a storm rolls through this is reinforced.

Some of the typical signs of fear in dogs as they try to take action includes pacing, panting, trembling, hiding, salivation, chewing things, excessive vocalization such as crying or howling, self-inflected trauma or faecal and urinary incontinence. Poor babies, it must be terrible to feel that scared!

Louise’s key message was: it’s okay to comfort your dog during a storm. There is nothing you are going to do to reinforce the fear. Stroke them, talk to them, do what you have to do to make them feel safe and calmer. Other handy tips are:

  • Provide them with a safe place to hide. Let them choose where they feel the most safe.
  • Block the lightning flashes by turning on the lights and drawing the curtains or blinds.
  • Use soothing music to muffle the storm noise.
  • Play a game to distract them, give them a bone to chew, or feed them their favourite food if they are able to eat so they associate the storm with a positive experience.
  • A lot of dogs benefit from wearing a Thunder Shirt which provides soothing acupressure.
  • Turn on an Adaptil collar, spray or room diffuser which emits calming synthetic pheromones.
  • Homeopathic drops such as Rescue Remedy may also work.
  • In cases where the phobia is severe, speak to your vet about prescribing doggy ‘happy pills’ for their anxiety to help them through.

Dogs don’t have to go to the dog park to have fun

Barbara Hodel of Goodog Positive Dog Training has a theory that of the dogs she sees in dog parks, 50% are clearly communicating “get me out”, 20% are just coping and only 30% truly enjoy going. And while dog parks are a relatively new concept – starting in California less than 40 years ago, owners love them but don’t trainers don’t. Why not?

Barbara believes that dog parks are an artificial set up. We expose our pets to strangers and expect them to play nicely, while in reality dogs usually have a small group of friends they like. While dog parks do offer some benefits – such as being the only place where dogs are legally allowed to run off leash and providing an opportunity for socialisation, the risks far outweigh these.

Cons include:

  • Risk of exposure to disease i.e. unvaccinated dogs
  • Dog owners who have different ideas about appropriate dog socialisation to you
  • High energy and arousal levels meaning some dogs are simply out of control
  • Misunderstood boy language
  • Lack of supervision
  • Accidents can happen
  • A lot of people think bullying is play

Dogs who absolutely shouldn’t go to the park are females in season, males which aren’t neutered (especially once they’re older than 5-6 months) as they are more likely to get picked on, unvaccinated dogs, puppies, bullies or fearful and anxious dogs.

If you still want to go – make sure your dog which is older than 9-10 months old is fully vaccinated and has attended a good puppy pre-school where they’ve been exposed to lots of positive interaction with other dogs. They need to have a reliable recall and show emotional resilience – be able to recover when things go wrong. Watch them closely – bullying (by them or of them) is not okay and watch for loose body language, good play etiquette that ebbs and flows in terms of who is chasing who, play bows etc. Else it’s just harassment!

Watch out for dog owners who may think the dog park is an appropriate place to rehabilitate their dogs who have not been socialised appropriately or have resource guarding issues of their toys by exposing them to as many others as possible without boundaries or barriers. It is not and can be dangerous for your dog. Get them out of there if you have any doubts.

Playing in your back yard, learning tricks or going on interesting walks are suitable substitutes for dogs who aren’t suited to dog parks – they will be better off by not going at all. There’s lots of fun to be had in a variety of other ways.

To keep in touch with upcoming Modern Pet Dog seminars follow us on Facebook.

How to stay cool with your hot dog

Very aptly, the theme of the Modern Pet Dog seminar held last night ahead of today’s roasting 41 degrees in Sydney, was all about summer time. This first installment about the topics covered will focus on paralysis ticks – symptoms and prevention of those poison-packed pests and how to have fun in the sun while staying cool.

Blood sucking and deadly

Dr Bryn Lynar, a vet from Pittwater Animal Hospital, took attendees through the four life stages of the Paralysis Tick. Both adults and nymphs (baby ticks) feed on mammal blood – typically bandicoots, possums, wallabies and unfortunately the dogs, cats and humans they also come in contact with. Scarily, a mature female tick can lay 1000 eggs at a time. That’s a lot of baby blood suckers!

These tiny pestilences are highly adapted at finding an unwilling blood donor – able to smell carbon dioxide on the breath of animals, then climb on for a ride as they brush past vegetation and possess a highly specialised tool in their head with which to bore into the skin and attach for a feed.

The toxins they inject through their saliva are deadly – even the baby ticks can paralyse an animal. Symptoms take 2-7 days to develop as they slowly inject more poison which interrupts the function of the junction between the nerves and muscle – therefore causing gradual paralysis.

There are four stages of tick poisoning, increasing in severity and leading to death:

  • Stage 1 – Mild wobbly legs, panting, voice change, vomiting – make sure you’re looking out for the symptoms
  • Stage 2 – Very wobbly legs, increased panting and deep breathing, reduced gag reflex
  • Stage 3 – Sitting or lying or cannot stand on legs. Grunting to breathe. Loss of gag reflex and ability to regulate temparture.
  • Stage 4 – Lying on side, unable to lift head or sit upright, slow breathing, blue discolouration of the skin.

We were shown photos and videos of very sick dogs being given intravenous drips (antibiotics, fluids, anti-serum), oxygen or even on a ventilator. Prevention definitely pays – keeping a dog on a ventilator (stage 4) can cost up to $2000 a night for a minimum of 4 nights and some dogs may be left with permanent heart problems after even a more mild episode.

Bryn then ran through a variety of methods to prevent ticks including:

  • Daily tick checks – if you miss the tick on day 1 you can find it on day 2 (I personally check my dog twice a day in summer). Start at the head and work backwards – checking mouth, eyes, head, neck, ears (including inside), whole body, genitals and also between the toes.
  • Keeping long-haired breeds clipped short to make it easier to find ticks.
  • Don’t go bush walking if you can avoid it – and especially not after rain.
  • Remove the tick with a tick hook as soon as you find it (get one from your petshop or vet) and take your dog to the vet if they have any of the stage 1-2 symptoms as the toxicity will get worse as the poison spreads through their system.
  • There are a variety of chemically-based tick prevention tablets, collars and wipe-on products available which can be used in combination – speak to your vet if you are unsure what to use. Readers of this blog will know that I’m personally a fan of more natural approaches and which I’ve had success with (Pet Protector disc and cedar oil spray – Scalibor collar at a push) but it does also require high vigilance.

Hot dogs and cool fun

Maxine Fernandez from Canine Kindergarten then focused on the fun side of summer and doing it safely. It’s really important to consider the dog’s wellbeing such as providing adequate access to water, shade and ventilation, and no excessive exercise on hot days as heat stroke can kill them. Dogs at high risk include obese dogs, squish- nosed breeds such as bulldogs or pugs, those with thick or long coats, those with heart disease, or very young or old dogs.

Maxine’s top tips for safe summer fun were:

  • Freezing Kongs with their favourite food or making doggy popsicles
  • Wading pools to splash around in or lie in
  • Play time with sprinklers and hoses
  • Be aware of signs of heat stroke include heavy panting, drooling, distressed breathing, dizziness, staggering, very red or pale gums. First aid includes covering them with a damp towel or spraying tepid (not freezing) water on them and put them in front of a fan (no ice or iced water) and see a vet.
  • If possible if it’s cooler inside bring them in
  • Don’t leave them in a car even with the windows down
  • Avoid hot sand, concrete or asphalt as their pads can get burnt. Apply sunscreen to dogs with lighter, exposed skin such as on their noses.

See how Sydney’s furry and feathered residents kept cool in the heat wave today.

Next time we’ll cover storm phobias and dog parks (to go or not).

Don’t let Halloween monster your dog

Whether you’re a fan of this annual celebration of candy and creepy things, or not, make sure that your pets are kept safe during Halloween this year.

1. Don’t let sweets leave a sour taste

Any form of chocolate is dangerous and can be lethal for dogs through their reaction to the compound in the cocoa called theobromine. Sweets containing the artificial sweetener xylitol are also poisonous – causing low blood sugar, seizures or liver failure. Eating any sugar is also not recommended so keep the dog away from the treat bags, while lolly pop sticks or candy wrappers are a choking or intestinal blockage hazard. Make sure dogs aren’t eating the pumpkins in large quantities either.

2. Avoid a night of frights

Every time a visitor calls around, it’ll be a child or adult dressed up in a strange costume or in a mask – which for some dogs will be very scary. Put them in a secure room inside the house or out the back with some new toys to play with or a bone to chew on with some soft music on the radio. If you want them to answer the door with you, put a lead on them so they don’t run away should they get scared and have their dog treats handy to reward them for being calm. Some people set off fireworks so if your dog is scared of these, make sure to put the necessary precautions in place to keep them relaxed and secure. Here are some tips on this from Positively.

3. Put pets away from pranksters

Keep pets inside or in the back yard – to avoid nasty people wanting to harm, injure, steal or kill pets just for kicks during Halloween. This is relevant for all types of pets but particularly so for owners of black cats. Make sure their ID tag and microchip are updated in case anything does happen.

4. Keep scary items safe

Ensure animals can’t brush up against or bump candle-lit pumpkins, igniting either themselves or the house. Any other festive lights or decorations should be secured to avoid electrical shock, the ability to bite the items or cut themselves on broken glass or plastic.

5. Cute costumes can choke or cut communication

I’m personally not a fan of dressing up dogs in full costumes. If you must, choose a cute bow tie or perhaps a bandana tied around the neck. The problem with a lot of the full-body costumes is many dogs don’t like it, and they can be quite constrictive in terms of movement or breathing while having loose items that can be chewed. Think how hot it is for them as well under those usually polyester fabrics. Some costumes are choke or tangle hazards, while restricting the dog’s ability to communicate through their body language using their tail and ears. If you are dressing up your dog, never leave them unattended while they are in their costume and keep a close eye on their physical and emotional wellbeing at all times.

If you are celebrating this year, have a safe and happy Halloween to everyone and their pets!