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.

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!

 

Is there more cruelty in the world?

Is it just me or are there more people in the world, now more than ever, who think nothing of torturing dogs for pleasure or just pure perversion?

Or is it just a trick of perception? Perhaps it’s because there are more humans in the world in this moment than ever before and therefore statistically there are more who will do wrong? Or is it that our social media and Internet feeds bring information we’re interested in to us and by default my interest in dogs narrows my information world to more news stories about them, both good and bad? Similar to that perception trick where you buy a new car and suddenly you only see that make and model on the road around you – the car was there before but your cognitive bias means that suddenly you’re more aware to it.

Or is there something more sinister at play with people becoming crueler because of the pressures of living and the breakdown of family structures causing them to lash out at the animals who can’t defend themselves? Is it correlated to the ghastly rise in family and domestic violence in our community? It’s clearly a complex issue and while I’m not qualified to speculate on the reasons why these horrors occur in our society and how we address them, I do believe that animals are often the collateral damage.

It seems that my Facebook feed every day is full of dogs who have been shot, chained, beaten, driven over, tied to railway tracks and, in one of the most horrifying videos I’ve ever seen, blasted into oblivion by having fireworks attached to it and set off just for the kicks of a group of teenagers. That’s not including those who are left alone in backyards day in and day out, or worse, chained there with no shelter from the elements or any interaction.

According to sources on the Internet, there are many reasons why people abuse animals – broadly categorised as either active or passive cruelty. These range from not realising they are hurting them because they don’t regard them as being able to experience discomfort or pain; they do it without thinking or under peer pressure, to control the animal or another person or, transference of emotions such as anger or worst of all, they simply like inflicting pain. Studies have also shown that children who injure or abuse animals are more likely to hurt or murder people as they get older.

Luckily in some places, legislation is catching up to help animals by putting in punishments for the humans in an attempt to make them realise that it’s wrong. Earlier this year it was heartening to hear that animal cruelty is now being considered a “crime against society” by the FBI. Starting in 2016, those who abuse animals will be held just as accountable as someone who abuses a human including murderers and arsonists.

In Australia the penalties for animal cruelty vary by state – from as low as maximum $13,700 with a jail term of 1 year for individuals in the NT with WA leading the way with the harshest jail time of 5 years and QLD a maximum fine of $100,000. An obvious opportunity here would be to bring these to similar levels to ensure offenders are punished consistently across the country.

I have been thinking about writing this blog for some time now and feel I have come away with more questions than answers.

Apart from supporting animal rescue groups and reporting gross abuse – also important, I do think, however, that there’s something that each and every one of us can do daily that doesn’t necessarily involve storming a puppy farm and rescuing the animals.

It’s about the philosophy of ‘the standard you walk past being the standard you accept’. Call out poor dog handling. Recently I’ve saw someone I know drag their dog by a choke chain as they hadn’t been taught loose lead walking. I pointed out to the person why that was hurtful, harmful and damaging, and that it may cause aggression in that dog further down the track. I chose my words carefully and made sure they knew I was coming from a place of seeking a better outcome for everyone, rather than criticism. They listened to my logic.

So take action on the small and big things and hopefully, together, we can together make the world a better place for all the dogs who are it with us.

The sound of dog hearts breaking

I’ve been on ‘staycation’ this week to catch up on home chores, read, write and relax. Bliss! However, being at home for a few days has made me realise how many lonely and neglected dogs there are in my suburb.

There are three in particular that I regularly hear barking during different times of the day. Each time they do, it stabs me in the chest. Because every single one of them very clearly sounds heart broken.

The one who lives the closest to me and that I can hear the loudest, has a bark that sometimes ends with a little whine. The same sound of pain as if it has hurt its paw. The other one, a little further down the road, has a hoarse, enquiring bark that ends on a high note. As if it’s asking the question of when the endless loneliness will end. The third, even though it’s a few blocks away, has a bark that ends in a long howl. You can hear its vocalised grief every single time. And it breaks my heart too.

I know from observation that two of these dogs are outside-only dogs. The one with the lonely bark has a family that leaves for work early and comes home late. Sometimes they go out at night again, which is when that heart-breaking sounds start up again. The dog gets a plate of food shoved out the back door but I have never seen the owners interact with it. Ever. Either take it for a walk, or play a game.

My local council reports that dog barking is the number one complaint lodged with them every year. While an endlessly barking dog nearby is not easy or fun to live with, we must remember they are doing so because they are in emotional pain. While they bark for various reasons, in the majority of cases it’s because they are lonely, isolated, anxious, frightened and unsure. Imagine feeling like this every day of your life with nobody prepared to help you. As animals that live in a family-orientated structure, being left outside alone, day after day for a dog is like being put in jail. These dogs have essentially been given life sentences of emotional starvation. It’s not fair on them and in my mind, is as much a form of animal cruelty as is physical violence or torture.

I’m not saying that dogs shouldn’t be left alone, but we need to teach them to cope and that means human effort is involved. Here are some of my observations about dogs that can handle being left alone:

  • They are acclimatised to being alone over small periods of time, which are gradually built up.
  • Every single time when they are left alone they are given something to do such as play with a new toy, chew on a meaty bone and find treats scattered across the yard. Make being outside fun – take the food out of the bowl and make them hunt for it. There’s a large variety of ‘home alone’ stimulation options or calming techniques such as leaving the radio on.
  • Before the human leaves the house, that dog is well exercised. That means getting up 20-30 minutes earlier and taking the dog for a run, to the park or playing games – so their energy is expended before the family leaves and if they are left to hunt for their food, they’ll be tired with a full belly and more likely to sleep until the humans return. Dogs do not exercise themselves in the back yard, no matter how big it is and bored dogs are more likely to bark or chew on things they shouldn’t.
  • Dogs that cope being outside better are allowed inside for periods of time. Either joining in when the family are home, or left inside when they are out (either for a small amount of time or ensuring they can get out through a doggy door). This reduces their feelings of isolation and that every day is the same over and over again.

So next time a barking neighbourhood dog is annoying you, think about why they might be barking and speak to your neighbour about making them aware of it and helping their dog, as they may not even know it’s happening. I also regularly ask my neighbours if they hear my own dog bark when I’m out so I can take action if I need to help him be calm and happy when left home alone.

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.

Positive puppies, delightful dogs

A number of people I know or have bumped into when out walking were lucky enough to get a puppy in the last few weeks and I’ve had a number of conversations about all things baby dog. We’ve spoken about everything from chewing, confinement, barking, sleeping, eating, playing, toileting and training techniques.

It’s great to see that everyone I’ve chatted with are getting the ‘positive’ message and rewarding their dogs for doing the right thing whether it’s settling in their crate or peeing on the lawn at night. It’s clear they want to set the right foundation for their dogs.

My advice has been:

  • Keep everything positive. They are absorbing the world and how it works like a sponge. Don’t make anything punishing. Either reward what you want; or interrupt the behaviour that’s unwanted, ask for something else and reward that; or ignore it.
  • Dogs are social creatures and have been bred for companionship. Make sure they’re allowed in the house but on your terms. Close doors to rooms while you’re toilet training and if you don’t want them on the furniture provide a comfy alternative that’s their spot.
  • The three basics of enough exercise, stimulation and training will help prevent the behaviours that aren’t desired. Tired dogs don’t bark, those that have enough chew toys are more likely not to eat the couch. And it’s never too late to teach a dog a new trick.
  • Get toilet training down pat by taking them out every hour, after a sleep, play or feed and anytime they are looking unsettled. Reward heavily for toileting where you want them to and make sure you get them to go on wet grass too.
  • Make all new experiences happy – from the sound of the vacuum cleaner to different ways human being dress (hats, sunnies, uniforms) and the objects we carry such as umbrellas or back packs. Sound Proof Puppy Training has a great app available to help dogs get slowly and gently used to the many noises they’ll encounter and not to be scared such as storms, buses, grooming tools, fireworks etc.
  • Read as much as you can from good quality dog training sources. Positively has some really good articles and tools on how to raise a happy, confident and well socialised puppy. Work on building a relationship of trust and you’ll be rewarded by years of unconditional love, lots of laughter and a fabulous member of the family.

Have fun with your new furry friend and remember that the strong and positive foundation you set now will be the behaviour you are likely to see from your grown dog in the next few months as they grow up so fast.

Ode to the dog

I think I may have written the world’s first-ever positive reinforcement dog training poem. Published by Pedadoggy for the first time. Enjoy!

Ode to the dog

 

Isn’t it a little treat

To have a dog rest at your feet.

Deeply gives a contented sigh

And so past the hours fly.

 

But all is not right with this pure scene

For how do these two make a team?

One so tall and standing on twos

The other takes great joy in smelling poohs.

 

To really understand this anomaly

Let us review the family tree.

Visit scenes from long ago

Before human beings grains did grow.

 

So cast your mind to years have gone

When camp fires through thick forests shone.

Safety, warmth, water and food

Were priorities of the human brood.

 

But in that dark lives wolf – big and scary,

Fiercely proud and extremely hairy.

Who made the first move by that camp fire,

Who overcame fear with their bold desire?

 

As the humans camped and sang and clapped

Fed and laughed and took their naps.

Wolf was curious and could smell their cooking

Stole some pieces when they weren’t looking.

 

So was it man who threw a spare bone

Without following it swiftly with a stone?

For with this creature he could connect

As its priority was to defend and protect.

 

Or was it wolf in a moment of need

Traded fear in return for some feed.

Learnt to hang out with the human pack

No teeth bared in exchange for a snack.

 

 

Perhaps one day a hand leant out to touch

Standing still was wolf, it wasn’t too much

For following quickly was the prize of a bone

Isn’t this a place you’d want to call home?

 

Now generations of wolves and human kind

have passed since that first meeting of minds.

Today with humans dogs do stay

Eat and sleep, run and play.

 

Around us the dog’s shape takes many forms

And between the two a new bond has been born.

Whether labrador, malamute, pekinese or poodle

Staffy, whippet or even cavoodle.

 

They’re part of the family, a member of the house

Except for the time when they bring in a mouse.

Man’s best friend became their name in time

And so these two creatures live lives intertwined.

 

So next time your doggy is pulling on the leash

Be kind to them when manners you teach.

For inside them still lives the wolf who is strong

And to punish them at all is so very wrong.

 

Remember the campfire and what it did show

That food helped the wolf learn new things and grow.

Let them catch flies and chase smells that allure

As their happiness will be yours too for sure.

 

 

 

 

Written by Grazia Pecoraro

Sydney, Australia