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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The lead is not a steering wheel

Most dogs think their humans are jerks. Literally so, and I agree. Travelling on holiday for the last few weeks has given me an opportunity to observe many dogs and owners together. In many instances I see beautiful loose lead walking, dogs sitting calmly at their owner’s feet in cafes, others tied up outside a store patiently and quietly waiting for their person to come back, dogs being patted and loved greatly.

But there’s one thing bugging me and it has been for a while. It’s this idea that as humans we get to command dogs and that they have to do our bidding without any choice or option to exercise their own mind.

Sometimes this becomes physical. How I’ve seen it manifest many times is the source of the greatest exasperation for me – lead jerking.

The dog wants to sniff a lamp post while the owner is walking, it’s jerked back. The dog wants to stop and look at an oncoming dog in a bit more detail, it’s jerked along. The dog wants to explore the surroundings to the extent of the lead while the owner is standing still, it’s jerked back.

In one instance a man who was walking two dogs suddenly changed the direction he’d been taking but didn’t say anything to them like a “this way”, so they kept going and he gave their leads an almighty jerk. In that second I noticed both dogs look up at him in total surprise – they weren’t expecting the hard pull and it was a total “what the” look on their faces. Imagine how that would feel if suddenly you were almost pulled off your feet for apparently no good reason and no communication…

The lead is not a steering wheel. Not that steering wheels should be jerked either. It’s a tether between people and their dogs. You don’t use it to turn the neck or move their body.

The alternatives are to let them sniff a little when out walking– after all their noses are their most complex input organ with which they learn about their world. Teach a ‘touch’ to turn the head or neck away from something you don’t want them to focus on. A ‘let’s go’ or ‘this way’ helps them know when you’re on the move or changing direction.

Apart from degrading the relationship between dog and owner – they become mistrustful of walking alongside you, as they don’t know when they are going to get jerked – it’s also physically dangerous. I don’t know many dog owners who want to pay for vet bills yet jerking can cause whiplash and more extensive spinal cord injuries, while damaging the soft tissue of the throat and esophagus.

If we teach our dogs that ‘sit’ is a nice way to say please, then ‘this way’ with a gentle and soft tug of the lead in the direction we’re going should be a nice way we ask our dogs to turn with us.

Make your next holiday a doggyday

With Easter here and the first semester school break coming up soon, many people are planning their next getaway. Luckily attitudes towards taking dogs on holiday in Australia are slowly changing. In this second installment from the Modern Pet Dog seminar held on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, two experts talk about holidaying with dogs and getting them looking good for the trip with stress-free grooming. The first installment covered reducing stress during vet visits.

Ask lots of questions

Planning is the key to having a great holiday with your furry best friend, says Barbara Hodel of Goodog Positive Dog Training. Firstly plan where you want to go, considering that the country-side or dog-friendly beaches will provide lots of opportunity for exploring, walks or running around.

“Also check what ‘pet friendly’ really means,” Barbara says. “Is the place fenced? Are dogs allowed inside or on the furniture? Know what the rules are. Does it cost more to bring the dog? If the person who is renting the place doesn’t know if there are any dog-friendly places nearby then it probably isn’t as pet friendly as is being advertised”.

Travelling to the destination also involves forward planning, considering:

  • Dogs need to be restrained with a harness and clipped in – in NSW there are files over $400 and more if they are hurt in an accident and not restrained. Secure them into a seat belt holder in a harness or in a crate.
  • Never leave them in a hot car.
  • Take plenty of breaks to stretch legs and have comfort stops.

Other things to remember are ensuring their vaccinations are up to date, their ID tag is on (with a number you’ll be reachable on), they’re micro-chipped and you have the numbers of local vets in the area you’re visiting. Make sure they’re dewormed and have had their flea treatment to neither pick up nor leave any critters behind. Also check that your pet insurance will provide cover if you’re on holiday.

“Be a responsible dog owner and clean up after your dog, don’t let them chase wildlife and don’t let them off lead unless they’re allowed,” Barbara says. “We need as many people doing the right thing as possible so that travel suppliers make dogs more welcome. While away, keep a routine for your dog as much as possible, take their own sleeping mat or blanket and their favourite toy to make it feel like home”.

Goodog’s holiday packing list for dogs:

  • Bed or crate
  • Toys
  • Food and treats
  • Poo bags
  • Leashes
  • Collar with ID (with your contact details where you can be reached on holiday)
  • Grooming equipment
  • Medication
  • Tick and flea treatment and tick removal device
  • First aid kit
  • Familiar fluffy toys to help them feel at home
  • Contact details of the local vet

If you can’t take your dog on holiday with you, then there are other options such as organising a pet sitter or having friends or family come to stay. If you do leave them with a kennel, read Pedadoggy’s guide to ensure the kennel is not a jail for them.

Build a trust bank account

To get your dog looking good and feeling comfortable for its doggyday, Maxine Fernandez of Canine Kindergarten says that prevention is the key to reduce stress when going to the groomers.

“Grooming involves the big noises of the hair dryers, and the tables and tools such as nail clippers look scary,” Maxine says. “Starting desensitation early and slowly is important – and giving lots and lots of treats will help your dog associate it with the positive experience of food. Get them used to touching, the noises such as your own hair dryer and build a trust bank account”.

Tips for reducing the stress of grooming:

  • Teach target training or ‘touch’ early such as a nose or paw touch so they get used to having their feet and faces handled. It’s also helpful to teach them to maintain a position and condition the touching. Start with one body part and don’t rush as it’s really important to build their confidence by going slow.
  • Invest in CDs or apps that play noises –e.g. blow dryer noise playing softly while the dog eats. Slowly increase the volume. Makes the noise a positive experience.
  • For bathing, throw the treats into the bath but don’t bath them – simply do a few ‘in’ and ‘out’ exercises so learn that the bath is a great place to be where they get food.
  • Be prepared to regularly groom long coated dogs, else if they are brought in when the coats are very matted makes it a more traumatic experience for the dog.
  • To teach nail clipping tolerance, desensitise and counter-condition your dog – having their paws touched but start where they are comfortable – start with no touching and build it slowly.

The next Modern Pet Dog Seminar is all about having fun with your dog on 21 July. Email barbara@goodog.com.au to register or find out more.

Fixing their bones but breaking their brains

Storms, vacuum cleaners, skateboards, having their nails clipped, being groomed or going to the vet – modern pet dogs face a myriad of stressors in their lives that they all respond differently to. A range of experts shared their knowledge at the booked out Modern Pet Dog seminar held on Sydney’s Northern Beaches this week.

This first installment of the topics covered will focus on how to recognise and then reduce stress in dogs, particularly during visits to the vet.

Stress escalates with obvious signs

Louise Colombari of Pittwater Animal Hospital says dogs experience similar physical signs as we do when we’re afraid – increased heart rate, sweating (through their paws), raised blood-pressure and shutting down of non-essential systems such as digestion.

There are plenty of signals that dogs show when they are uncomfortable, uncertain or getting increasingly stressed – in the categories of freeze, fiddle, fight or flight – including:

  • The whale eye (eyes rolling to the side and the white showing) or a tucked in tail over a rounded body shape
  • Lifting an paw
  • Blinking a lot or squinting
  • Lip licking when not eating, yawning when not tired, scratching when not itchy or shaking off when not wet
  • Actively trying to move away from the stressor
  • Having tense muscles and a tense mouth
  • Increased panting
  • Excessive vocalization such as crying or whining
  • Increased pacing or sniffing the ground
  • Excessive licking, digging or chewing
  • Not eating, vomiting or having diarrhea
  • Growling and lunging.

These signs usually occur long before the worst-case scenario of a dog bite and it’s important that dog owners learn to recognise these and also teach others. This is a useful graphic showing the stress escalation ladder in dogs – from low levels of stress to complete communication shut down and the dog taking action such as biting:

 

This is a great cartoon showing a typical stress response of a dog in a park – which is unfortunately a familiar sight.

https://i2.wp.com/www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/iaabc-dogpark-Is-Your-Dog-Scared.jpg

Dogs take trauma snapshots

Dr Heather Chee & Dr Amanda Cole, the dog psychiatrists from the Vet Behaviour Team see a lot of dogs in the stages of freeze, fiddle, fight or flight in their daily work. They focused their talk on reducing stress during vet visits. They say it’s accepted as normal that dogs are scared or even petrified to go to the vet but they believe it doesn’t need to be this way. “We’re fixing their bones but breaking their brains,” Amanda says.

Reducing stress during vet visits matters for three good reasons:

  • Welfare – negative impacts on the dog based on the cumulative effect from repeated bad experiences. They take a ‘trauma snapshot’ of everything in the room and will develop ‘new’ fears of e.g. stainless steel tables or the smell of cats. Some dogs that Heather and Amanda treat have suddenly become fearful of men after a visit to a male vet. They call it “white coat syndrome”.
  • Safety – dogs on an adrenalin rush can be pretty powerful. They can be aggressive to other dogs, vet staff or their owners. Sometimes even hurting themselves in their angst of ‘flight’ with reports of dogs jumping out of windows in fear.
  • Misdiagnosis – if you can’t examine an animal you can’t diagnose it. We want a vet to be able to touch it. Also, symptoms of fear can mask or mimic real symptoms e.g. panting can look like a respiratory disease or dilated pupils may indicate toxins. I know when I take my dog into the vet for a limp he’s suddenly bouncing around with adrenalin with no sign of pain anywhere.

Making happy photo memories instead

The Vet Behaviour Team gave some useful tips to help hardwire dogs that the vet is a good place to visit, regardless of them having to tolerate pain or being exposed to new sights, smells or surfaces. These include:

  • Feed them high quality treats (kibble isn’t going to cut it) while at the vet – chicken, cabanossi, cheese, bacon – whatever they love. They will then associate the vet hospital as the place where they get the best treats regardless of what’s happening to them there. Feed them in the waiting room, in the examination room or when the procedure is taking place, if they are able to eat.
  • Take them to the vet for “dummy visits” where they go in, say hello to the receptionists or vet nurses and get treats but don’t stay long or have anything done to them, so they build up a photo album of nice memories versus trauma snapshots at the vet.
  • If your dog is uncomfortable on the cold and slippery examination table, as the vet to assess them on the ground or your lap – wherever they are most relaxed.
  • Habituation to handling as a puppy – lots of massage, touching paws, ears etc. while feeding them treats. Works for older dogs too but take it slow.
  • Redirect their behaviour to something that is more rewarding. I get my dog Zac to do his tricks in the waiting room and give him lots of treats for those, rather than let him focus on what’s going on in there. Watch him ‘go up-pie’ onto the scale and sit for weighing like it’s a game where he gets treats. Nothing bad happening here!
  • Crate training – create a safe haven that travels with them.
  • Car rides – don’t make going to the vet the only time they go somewhere where they experience pain and stress. Take them to fun places.
  • Adaptil collars release a dog-appeasing pheromone that works well to reduce stress.
  • Thundershirt – a compressive jacket providing consistent pressure. However, can cause some dogs to freeze rather than pace or shake – make sure it’s not just changed how they show the stress.
  • Call ahead to your vet to see if the visit is necessary. Some vets do home visits.
  • Leave the animal in the car until your turn is called – no need to have them in the waiting room if it stresses them.
  • Let them take their favourite toy with them if it comforts them.
  • Use medication under guidance of your vet if necessary and give them a relaxant a few hours before you go the vet to take the edge off the experience for them (just like humans who are scared of flying do before getting on a plane).

The next Modern Pet Dog Seminar is all about having fun with your dog on 21 July. Email barbara@goodog.com.au to register or find out more.

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.

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!

 

Get your wolf off the couch and other dog myths

Myths such as puppies don’t need pre-school, garlic prevents ticks and that dogs will dominate you if they sit on the furniture with you are busted in this second installment of the Modern Pet Dog workshop by Northern Beaches dog trainers who are united by positive philosophy.

Louise Colombari – Pittwater Animal Hospital

As a veterinary nurse and a dog trainer, Louise dispelled some myths about our canine companions that many people believe or grew up learning.

  1. Dogs have an innate desire to please

Busted: They aren’t born with a desire to please us but are motivated by attention, food, praise, toys and games etc. They work out what’s beneficial for them and how to get out of the environment. Some are more motivated than others so experiment what they’ll work for.

  1. Playing tug makes dogs aggressive

Busted: This is great way to mentally and physically exercise the dog. Is also a great form or positive reinforcement. You should teach a ‘release’ or ‘drop it’ cue – which also makes it a great training activity. Teach them to grab toy with permission and only pull side to side to avoid neck injuries. The game temporarily ends when play gets too rough.

  1. My puppy doesn’t need puppy school

Busted: The benefits are huge. Socialisation is from 4-16 weeks of age. Common excuses that Louise has heard from people includie they include they can’t afford it / but they’ve owned dogs for years / have another dog at home that will teach this one / did puppy school 10 years ago.

  1. Happy dogs wag their tails

Busted: Yes but for lots of other reasons as well. Use their tail as part of the overall communication process. Position of the wag is important. Low slung signifies fear or anxiety. Mid-set is calm or neutral. High set or straight up means the dogs is alert or threatening.

  1. If you use treats to train a dog they’ll always be needed to obey your commands

Busted: Dog has a choice that if they act on the cue given, their behaviour has a consequence. Treats are a primary resource as we control the food. So we use it to get them to do things. Different types of food have different levels of reinforcement. Not a bribe (present food to do the behaviours) but a reward (after they perform the behaviour = pay). When behaviour is reliable can phase it out with others such as pats or praise. Fade out, not completely and replace with other reinforcers. A dog that will only perform for food has not been trained properly. Take the rewards out of their food allocation of the calories. Make sure it’s the right food / do they like toys more and they won’t eat if they are stressed.

  1. A warm / dry nose means your dog is sick

Busted: False belief that dogs noses have to be wet. Their temperatures fluctuate. Not a reliable sign. Check with your vet if not sure about their health.

  1. Adding garlic to their diet prevents fleas and ticks

Bused: When ingested in large amounts garlic can lead to the breakdown of red blood cells, anemia and death. Belongs to the alium family (includes chives, leeks) – same compound. Not necessarily an outward appearance of toxicity but has an effect on the red blood cell.

  1. My dog is scooting their backside on the ground – they must have worms

Busted: They have anal glands in their bottom. Gives information to other dogs about them. Scooting means they have an itchy bottom which may be due to impacted anal glands, not worms. Can also be a skin irritation, wound or abscess. So get it checked by your vet.

Maxine Fernandez – Canine Kindergarten

Studies done in the past made the false link between dog and wolf behaviour. The wolves studied to make this conclusion were held in captivity in artificial family groups, forced to remain together in a more rigid hierarchy that impacted the behaviours they’d show in the wild. This has fuelled a decades-long, inaccurate perception that there has to be an ‘alpha’ leader, rather than the more true view that it’s actually a parental relationship between the different animals that guides the different activities of the group.

Humans have misinterpreted this inaccurate theory to mean that to maintain rank they must be dominant with their dogs, leading to aversive training which can lead to aggression, fear and anxiety that destroys their relationship with their dog. Common ways this myth is asserted includes:

  • The Alpha Roll – asserting dominance by forcing dog physically onto their back and pinning them down until they stop struggling, shake them by the scruff of neck. However, dogs don’t do that to other dogs and when they lie on their backs it’s always voluntary. You are likely create a fearful dog that mistrusts you if you use this technique.
  • Believing you shouldn’t allow your dogs on the furniture as if they are on the same height they are equal to you. But wolves don’t have couches in the wild!
  • You have to eat before your dog as the most dominant dog eats first. This is not the case as in times of scarcity the wolf puppies eat first, of if there is enough food they eat together.
  • Other misperceptions include: playing tug games promotes dominant play; a dog that mounts you or another dog is trying to dominate; dogs who pull on the lead or jump up on people are trying to be dominant; dogs who growl are trying to assert a dominant rank over you and never let your dog go through the door before you.

Also read about the first Modern Pet Dog workshop installment (is that a guilty look or is your dog scared of you?) if you missed it.

 

Is that a guilty look or is your dog scared of you?

This is the first installment from the Modern Pet Dog workshop that challenged the knowledge of Northern Beaches dog owners on Thursday night. The focus of the evening’s sessions were on busting some of the common myths around dog behaviour including:

  • Are they looking guilty, or are they just scared of you?
  • Getting your dog to reliably come back when called (99% of the time).

Dr. Heather Chee – Vet Behaviour Team

Human beings tend to misinterpret classic signs of fear as guilt, especially when their dog has done something they shouldn’t have such as chewed an object or stolen food, typically when their owner isn’t around. These signs include looking away from you and not making eye contact, the ‘whale eye’ where the white shows, lip licking or yawning, squinting, running away, walking slowly etc.

She quoted an experiment where dogs were left in a room with food and their owners told them not to eat it, then left the room. When the owners returned, they were given various scenarios about what their dogs had done. And the dogs that ‘looked’ the guiltiest were those who had been scolded by their owners, even though they had not eaten the food! They were merely reacting in fear to the way their owner was responding to them, in anger, in that moment.

The bottom line: dogs cannot feel guilt. They only live in the moment and it’s a human emotion we put on them.

Heather’s advice was that yelling at your dog when they “look guilty” won’t teach them anything except to be more scared of you. The best thing to do is clean up the mess and move on. Also, address the underlying cause of their behaviour. If they are chewing things they shouldn’t, are they anxious about being home alone? Dogs cannot feel guilty and are they therefore just acting like that because they are scared? If they are frightened, do something to make them feel better, such as during a thunderstorm, as you cannot reward fear.

Barbara Hodel – Goodog Positive Dog Training

First and foremost, Barbara believes you’re never going to get a 100% recall and the best you can ever hope for is 99% in a distracted environment. Other myths relating to coming when called include:

  • Not all dogs need to come when called. Busted: Apart from it being healthy for dogs to run free sometimes, what happens when they run out of the car or front door without a reliable recall?
  • They come back because they love me. Busted: We don’t work for free and neither should our dogs. Give them something worthwhile, such as a yummy treat or toy.
  • You can use any method to teach a recall. Busted: Using aversive techniques such as shock collars for chasing cars or livestock means you “poison” the cue of “come” and they brace for the shock that is coming as they know something bad will happen and if they get through that they might get a treat at the end. What will that do to your dog’s emotional wellbeing? And it certainly won’t help with the recall.

Barbara’s tips for reaching “come when called”:

  • Teach what come means – reward for the smallest motion towards you at the beginning.
  • Their name doesn’t mean “come” so don’t confuse the two.
  • Make it worthwhile by giving high value treats, not kibble and don’t be stingy with dishing these out.
  • Manage the environment. Start in an enclosed area with no or few distractions or use long leads to prevent them running away if you can’t practice in a fenced area.
  • When at the dog park, call them, put the lead on and let them go again a few times so they don’t learn that “come” means the fun is ending and you’re going home again.
  • Increase distractions gradually, as well as the range of the recall. Built it up slowly.
  • Never tell them off for coming back, even if it took them a while to get back to you. Also, don’t use “come” when you’re about to do something they don’t enjoy to them e.g. clipping nails or having a bath – go and get them instead.
  • Great games to play to practice the skills include: hide and seek, to and fro, hide and find toys etc.

Look out for the second installment of the ‘Modern Pet Dog’ workshop coming soon.

A day in the life of… doggy psychiatrists

Pedadoggy Profiles...

Vet Behaviour teamDr Amanda Cole and Dr Heather Chee are Behaviour Veterinarians who diagnose and manage behavioural diseases such as anxiety or compulsive disorders, fears and phobias – just like a human psychiatrist.

Mental illness is increasingly being recognised in humans as well as animals. This team of specialized vets help dog owners recognise and understand their pets’ emotions, and then take the right course of action so their animals feel happy, confident and relaxed.

They don’t focus on training dogs, but work on the premise that the more anxious a dog is the less likely it will be able to learn anything new – just like a bullied child at school often suffers from poor grades. Let’s find out more about what they do and how they do it.

What are the three most common reasons your clients engage you for your services?

  1. Dogs who are aggressive or very reactive such as barking and lunging towards other dogs
  2. Dogs who are aggressive towards people
  3. Dogs who suffer from separation anxiety expressed as through barking, howling, escaping, or destroying things when their owners aren’t home.

What are your top tips for getting the most out of your relationship with your dog?

Empathy is the most important part of forming a relationship with your dog. Emotionally and intellectually your dog is the same as a 2-3 year old human child, so their behaviour is never vindictive, malicious, manipulative or even guilty. Most behaviours that we do not like simply stem from fear or anxiety, so we need to move away from the old fashioned belief that you need to ‘dominate’ your dog and move towards being good, kind and consistent parents.

What’s the most common mistakes you see dog owners making?

Dog owners often blame themselves for their dog’s behaviour and think that they have not been strict enough with training. This is often not the case. A lot of behaviours and mental illnesses have very strong genetic components which are not the fault of either the owner or the dog.

This leads many owners to think they can’t comfort or try to calm their pets during scary situations such as storms or meeting people they are afraid of – especially if they present their fear as aggression. They think they have to ignore them or punish them or they worry they are rewarding their pet’s fear. You cannot reward fear. Doing anything that makes your pet feel better such as bringing them inside, petting them, giving them treats or playing with them during a situation where your pet is scared is the right thing to do. Making your dog feel comfortable will actually make it less likely to be aggressive!

What do you love most about your job?

We love opening people’s eyes to animal behaviour and rebuilding human-animal bonds which have been fractured by frustrating, aggressive or destructive behaviours. Seeing dogs go from being anxious to the point of having panic attacks, constantly barking, howling, self harming or being fearfully aggressive to feeling happy, relaxed and comfortable is so rewarding! We love seeing the relief on our client’s faces when we tell them that they can be kind to their dogs and not have to punish or intimate them anymore.

What are some good online resources you recommend for people to learn more about dog behaviour?

http://www.dogwelfarecampaign.org/

This is a fantastic website for understanding dog behaviour and why training techniques that rely on inducing pain and fear in dogs, are not only unsuccessful but also break down the relationship between an owner and their dog. Punishment based training often originates from the belief that dogs try to assert ‘dominance’ or achieve ‘status’. This a concept that is no longer regarded as a useful way of understanding dogs, and is also potentially harmful.

http://avsabonline.org/resources/position-statements

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) is a group of veterinarians and research scientists dedicated to improving the lives of animals and people through an understanding of animal behavior. Their website has many position statements which are updated to reflect the ever changing science that is animal behaviour.

Find out more:

Vet Behaviour Team

http://www.vetbehaviourteam.com

vetbehaviourteam@gmail.com

 

 

Guest blog: “Having a butt sniff is like reading someone’s drivers’ licence”

Thursday night saw a gathering of dog lovers and owners at the third in the Modern Pet Dog series on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. Everyone came with an eagerness to learn more about getting the most out of their relationships with their pets through positive training techniques. Here’s the download on what was covered.

Louise Colombari – Pittwater Animal Hospital: Greetings!

Humans tend to greet dogs like we greet humans, generally face on, while dogs have an entirely different social convention for saying hello. They usually start with a nose sniff, which is followed by a butt sniff in a circle formation. They therefore greet side-to-side, not face-to-face.

Having a butt’s sniff is like reading your driver’s license – getting personal information to get to know each other better. Two scent glands situated in the bum give dogs vital information about each other.

It’s considered poor doggy manners or inappropriate to pin, stand over, hump or do a body slam when saying hello. This can turn into a disagreement really quickly as dogs who do this are seen as being bossy or rude. Don’t listen to a dog owner who says “my dog is friendly” when their dogs are displaying these behaviours.

Dogs have personal space requirements, just as we do. Many people will try to greet dogs face-to-face, which dogs often find scary or intimidating. It’s not necessary to do a butt sniff, but there is a better way of greeting a dog:

  • Always ask the owner if you can pat their dog
  • Approach slowly as sudden movements can be scary
  • Don’t force yourself on them. Respect their personal space as they might not want to interact with you. Don’t stick you hand out and put it in their face, they can smell you already.
  • Approach them side on and if they come to you and want to interact, squat down to avoid leaning over them.
  • Never stick your hand in their face. Pat them side on, stroke down the back of the neck down towards the back. Don’t pat the head.

Useful resources:

Barbara Hodel – Goodog Positive Dog Training: On leash reactivity

On leash reactivity is when a dog that barks, growls or lunges. There are various reasons – some dogs are scared, others don’t like head-on greetings and many haven’t been socialised to be relaxed when meeting other dogs on lead. That’s why Barbara is a firm believer that interactions should happen off leash as much as possible.

What to do if the dog is reactive:

  • Desensitisation – associate other dogs with good things (rather than being scared or anxious). E.g. meeting a new dog means BBQ chicken. You do not pay for being good, you pay for the appearance of the ‘scary’ stimulus. Keep the stress under threshold i.e. calm levels, as stressed dogs do not eat. It’s not about distracting the dog, but desensitizing the scary thing to being a predictor of something good.
  • Counter conditioning – teach an alternative. E.g. a “look at me” or touch a hand target. Teach it outside of the situation. Generalise it by training in different types of environments before using in the on-lead greeting situation as an altenative behavior.
  • Recognise signs of stress in your dog e.g. lip licks, looking away. Don’t ask for more than they can give you.
  • If all else fails then don’t do any greetings on leash. Welcome to the midnight walker club!

What not to do:

  • This is not a behaviour that has to be corrected, as it’s likely they are scared
  • Punishment will not work as it will suppress a behaviour but not change your dogs’ perception, they could make the fear worse and turn it into aggression
  • Don’t force them to approach, sit or lie down.
  • Don’t jerk on the leash.
  • Don’t shout or yell.

Maxine Fernandez – Canine Kindergarten: Environmental Enrichment

Dogs are highly social and when we aren’t with them need to make their environment more interesting to prevent them with destructive behaviour such as barking or chewing things they shouldn’t. Studies have shown that dogs who are given enrichment learn faster, have better emotional stability and higher resilience to stress.

It’s not just about exercise, but also the toys, sounds, different surfaces, space to move around freely in and opportunities to problem solve and learn.

You can start it at any age but it’s critical for puppies in the first 20 weeks of their life as this is their critical period of socialisation. Find a balance as more is not better and be aware of over-stimulation e.g. certain types of food dispensers, too much noise etc.

How to create a fun backyard:

  • Provide toys and more toys, and rotate these.
  • Ensure the size is appropriate for your dog but there’s a range of options available – Kongs, treat balls, stuffed plastic bottles, swinging toys, puzzle toys, balls and food dispensers.

Other ideas include wading pools – water for swimming or floating objects in, sand for digging or hiding ‘treasures’ in; treasure hunt; dog walker; dog friends for play dates; training; agility; doggy day care; playing radio or TV, meaty (raw) bones to chew on.

Jen Hassell – Kong – Enrichment Toys Kong stuffing demonstration

Kong-1Jen is a ‘Kongsultant’ who showed us how to get the best out of Kong toys and food dispensers with her Kongaholic demo dog, Australian Shepherd Shimmy (…luckily Zac doesn’t know what I do for a living because surely Shimmy has the best mom any dog can have).

Kongs are designed to use meal times to entertain your dog and give them mental enrichment. It gives them a job rather than eating the food out of their bowl in 30 seconds as it increases the amount of time it takes them to eat. It’s a behavioural enrichment and training tool, helps prevent stress or boredom, crate training, teething, recovery from injury or surgery and minimising separation environment. Think outside of just stuffing them with peanut butter!

Top tips for using these dog puzzles:

  • Kong Wobbler – dispenses dry treats when they bump it to get the food. Top tip for fast eaters – stuff it with crumpled piece of A4 paper so they have to work harder to get the treats to come out.
  • Kong Puppy, Classic, Extreme and Senior – choose the right sized Kong for your dog. Introduce early to the puppy and dogs of any age. Get them used to it by stuffing with things that can come out easily such as liver paste, liver pate, sausage and roast chicken so they get enjoyment and results immediately. Build the difficulty as their skills improve. Stuff with anything that is safe for dogs to eat. Be creative and mix it up.
  • Kong Quest – a dispenser that’s great for small dogs and puppies who aren’t big chewers. Can be frozen.

If you are interesting in finding out more or attending future events as more are planned for 2015, please get in touch with Barbara at www.goodog.com.au or Barbara@goodog.com.au or follow Pedadoggy on Facebook.