How I Tired Out My Dogs Tonight

I’m not going to lie; having three dogs is… a lot.  There are days when I don’t think I can do multiple walks and I just want them to get tired.  So tonight I started playing a game that made my dogs think really hard and walk themselves around the house multiple times!

I took my Kong Stuff A Ball

kcks3-kong-stuff-a-ball-dog-toy

And put a few squares of Natural Balance roll

nb roll

Notice how if you cut the squares fairly large it will be difficult for your dog to get them out of the ball, but since it’s a soft food it was easy for me to jam them in.  Then I hid one Kong per dog around the house.  I made sure to hide them in places where my dogs would not normally look, and they have some difficulty getting them.  For example the first round I hid one in a laundry basket, one on a chair behind a pillow, and Beo’s on a low table behind a stack of books.  My dogs had to run around the house, work out how to get the Kong out of it’s hidey hole, and then work to get the treats out.  Each round took about 20 minutes, and by the third round my dogs were DONE.  They went and laid down to rest.  It was just like taking the SAT’s for them!

I usually hide each piece of kibble around the house, and that can take me around 10 minutes to set up, longer if I’m doing all the dogs and trying to make it more difficult.  This was a new way to play Find It! and I can’t believe I didn’t try it sooner.  Just because you’ve always done something a certain way doesn’t mean you can’t switch it up a bit and have some fun.

Being a Dog Trainer is Like Being a Boy Scout

So, that was some thunderstorm we just had!  My boy Beo has some thunderstorm issues.  I’m not going to go so far as to call them thunder-phobia, but this storm definitely made him anxious.  I’ll admit, some of those blasts of thunder scared me, even Tamlin was nervous.  Losing power didn’t help either.

Here’s where being a dog trainer comes in handy: I was prepared.  I recognized the signs of anxiety

-Pacing

-Panting, fast breathing

-Dilated pupils

-Flattened ears

-Refusal to eat

-Tucked tail

So I pulled out my toolbox.  I always keep a few bags of canned dog food that has been frozen into cubes in the freezer; they easily stuff into Kongs in seconds.  I put on the first Through A Dog’s Ear CD I could find (yes, I have the entire series).  While Tamlin occupied himself with the Kongs, I went to work with Beo.  I started with the Jolly Game; acting silly, tossing toys, using a happy voice, singing silly songs, doing whatever it took to get his tail wagging.  That worked for a bit.

One of the things you have to be prepared to do is toss one method and move on to the next.  This also requires HAVING another method to move on to.  No one has just a hammer in their toolbox.  This is something I stress with my clients: “It’s great that X is working, but what are you going to do if a squirrel runs right in front of you?  You have to think on your feet!  Plan ahead!  Be prepared!”

So, I grabbed Beo’s relaxation mat-it’s basically a bathmat where we do the Relaxation Protocol.  He immediately lay down upon it.  I sat on the floor next to him and did the little TTouch that I know.  Once I had exhausted those two touches I just stroked him slowly.  After about 30 minutes Beo was on his side with his eyes closed.

It was actually very nice and a lovely bonding moment for us, and all because I had been prepared.

 

Your Dog Pulls? Great!

I’ll admit it, one of my dogs is a terrible puller, especially when we run.  On walks I’m willing to train and work with him, but running is my ‘me time’.  I simply don’t want to sacrifice any of that precious time on heel work, so usually I run with Beo on a Gentle Leader.  Last night, however, I had a brilliant idea.

I stumbled across the pull harness I had bought when I thought I could teach Tamlin to pull a sled (that’s another story!).  I put it on Beo, hooked a bungee leash to the belt of my hands-free leash, and voila: I had a canicross set up!  Canicross is a dog sport gaining popularity in the US.  Already popular in Europe, it is a combination of skijoring and running or walking.  It’s very simple: a dog in harness pulls you while you run or walk.  It’s a great outlet for dogs who pull and a great way to enjoy the outdoors with your pup.

If you want to try letting your dog pull you on a run or a walk, I highly recommend a waist leash and a harness specially for pulling.  I got mine here .  Pulling harnesses won’t ride up and choke your dog the way another harness might if the dog is pulling for a long time.  They also distribute the weight more evenly across your dog’s chest and back, which can prevent joint problems.   Whatever waist leash you use (and there are several brands) place the belt of the leash around your hips, not mid back, to keep your dog from pulling you over or hurting your back.  If you have back problems look for hip belts, Nooksack Racing Supply has several affordable options for belts and bungee lines.  Bungee lines help absorb shock so stopping and starting doesn’t cause back problems for you or your dog.

I also recommend using a “whoa” cue for stopping, or running downhill.  I will say “woah” when I start to slow down for a stop, then ask my dogs to sit and stay.  Eventually they realize that “woah” always happens before we stop and they slow down when they hear the cue, anticipating the stop.  Once that happens I can use it to slow them down on a hill.

Last night’s run was a breeze; the hills don’t seem so steep when you have a dog pulling you up them!  I noticed something different with Beo as well.  Usually on a run or a walk he’s sniffing, zig-zagging, trying to chase squirrels, just very highly distracted.   On this run he went in a straight line and barely glanced at squirrels, cats, dogs, etc.  He just wanted to run and pull and run and pull.  He finally had a job, and I had an enjoyable run and a tired dog.

I’m excited to continue running this way with Beo, and I bet he is too.

Show Rover What To Do

I was walking down the street the other day and noticed a woman standing on the corner with her dog.  Her dog was sniffing the ground, and every so often the woman would pull on the leash and say “No!”  Fascinated I stopped and continued watching this woman and her dog as discreetly as I could.  I was trying to figure out why she was pulling on the leash.  What did she want her dog to do?  I had no idea, and it looked like the dog didn’t either.  If I couldn’t figure out what this woman wanted, me with my primate brain and big frontal lobes, this dog had no chance!

What was clear to me is that this woman wanted her dog to do something specific.  She was trying to get him to do it by stopping him from doing something else (as far as I could tell).  As convoluted as this sounds, it is often our first instinct when trying to change behavior.   Clients of mine want their dog to stop jumping, or stop chewing, or stop pulling; however, people often forget that your dog has to do something.  Your dog is often just guessing what is the right thing to do, and unfortunately their instincts are usually contrary to what we would like.  Wouldn’t it be easier if you just told him what it was you would like him to do instead?

As intuitive as dogs are, your dog can’t read your mind to find out what you want.  You have to show him, and-I hate to break it to you-saying “NO!” when he jumps on you really does not give him a clue!  However, if you decide that you want your dog to sit to greet you instead of jumping, you now have a very clear training plan: If your dog jumps up, you ignore him.  If he keeps his rump on the ground, he gets cookies/love/toys.  Very quickly your dog will understand jumping equals no attention, but sitting equals good things!  You showed your dog what behavior you do want instead of getting upset when he guessed wrong.  It really is just that simple!

If you are frustrated because your dog “isn’t listening” to you, ask yourself this: have I actually shown him what I want him to do?

Snow Day!!

It snowed last night and owning huskies, snow is a big deal in our household!  My boys love to dig in the snow, and since it’s not permanent I let them go to town.  This morning I was able to play my favorite game with them: Find It!

The game is really simple: I take a cup of kibble outside and toss it up into the air, scattering the kibbles all over the yard.  I let my boys go and yell “Find it!”  They spend hours sniffing every inch of yard to find every last kibble.

The snow makes Find It a bit more difficult, since the kibbles sink down and the boys have to dig around a bit. I’m not a big fan of the cold, but my dogs are (go figure!) so I’m always looking for ways to exercise them in winter weather that doesn’t require me spending hours outside.  Find It! is a great way to exercise their mind, and give them an outlet for their need to hunt.

You can play my version of Find It! inside if you don’t have a yard, or if you don’t want to toss kibble all over your apartment you can hide kibble in specific places.  Put your dog in another room while you are hiding kibbles.  Remember to choose easy hiding places while your dog is just learning the game.  Let them out of the room and say “Find it!”  You may have to help them and point out some hiding places at first, but once your dog catches on you’ll have to get creative with hiding spots.  Once I hid kibble in the bathroom tub, and now Tam will occasionally jump into the tub to see if kibble magically appeared in there!  Soon you’ll be feeding your pup every meal this way because it’s so entertaining.

 

Have fun and enjoy your snow day!

To Medicate or Not: Tamlin’s Story

The decision to medicate dogs with behavioral issues is something many dog owners are torn about.  I know, I used to be one of them!   I understand that this is a volatile issue, especially since arguments about medicating dogs often involve comparisons to medicating children.  I think we get so heated up about this because both dogs and children require us as adults to make these types of decisions for them… and what if we decide wrong?

I am not an expert in medications for dogs or children, but I do think that they have their place.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think medication is a cure-all, nor do I believe every dog should be on medication.  I think that for a serious behavior problem (such as severe anxiety, intense aggression, or relentless fear) medication is a necessary tool to have in your training kit.  I came to this conclusion slowly-and painfully-because of my Siberian Husky, Tamlin.

I adopted Tamlin when he was 14 weeks old from a family who could no longer keep him.  I had grown up with dogs, but Tam would be the first dog of my adult life.  Tamlin came to his new home with some anxiety issues already in place, and I made several common mistakes resulting in Separation Distress.  Tamlin also had food allergies that turned his paws red and made them itchy, he dealt with this by licking them almost constantly.  While I searched for a food he could eat, licking turned into an obsessive displacement behavior he used whenever he felt anxious.  If I left him alone he cried and licked his paws and crate nonstop, sometimes until his entire chest and front legs were dripping wet.  Tamlin now had full blown Separation Anxiety.

In every other respect Tamlin was a wonderful, normal, happy puppy; he was incredibly smart and learned obedience commands and tricks easily.  At 5 months he knew sit, down, stay, off, come, drop it, paw, high-five, spin, “wiggle your tail”, bow, big speak, and little speak.  Despite his anxiety issues, I knew Tamlin was a very special dog.

I chose to begin medication with Tamlin almost a year ago, after attending a seminar featuring Drs Ian Dunbar and Nicholas Dodman.  During a morning spent learning about Separation Anxiety Dr Dunbar described how he once had a panic attack.  He thought he was going to die, and he said he would never wish that feeling on anyone.  The he told the room of hushed and thoughtful trainers that THAT is what a dog with Separation Anxiety goes through when they are left alone.

I have experienced panic attacks, and luckily for me the longest one only lasted 20 minutes.   I was shocked to think that I-who claimed to love my dog-had been forcing Tamlin to live through that day after day!  After the session was done I ran up to Dr Dodman, hoping for some advice.  As quickly as I could I explained what Tamlin was doing, and I listed what I had done to try to help him.  The lovely Dr Dodman looked at me and said words that I’ll never forget: “Ma’m, I have no idea what is wrong with your dog.  All I can tell you is that you’ve tried everything but medication, and nothing has helped.  Maybe you should consider medicating.”

It seems so simple to me now.  I had been so dead-set against medication, because I had to be the one to cure my dog.  Tamlin would get over his anxiety because of my blood, sweat, and tears; medication seemed the easy way out.  But now, knowing the hell Tam experienced each day it would be cruel if I didn’t give it a try.  When I asked my vet to suggest something for Tam, she looked so happy, and said “Finally!”  I thought that’s what Tamlin would say if he could.

After eight weeks friends began asking if Tamlin had just gotten a massage.  One of my friends exclaimed how “relaxed his face looks!”  My agility instructor watched dumbstruck as he lay quietly on the sidelines while I set up a course.  His MO up to then had been to scream his head off.  He began to play more, and could relax in a room even if I wasn’t there.

Tamlin is now four years old.  He is a Canine Good Citizen, competes in Agility and Rally Obedience, and knows how to open the refrigerator.   Currently, the dog I once had to keep with me 24/7 can now be left alone for up to 3 hours with no signs of anxiety or destruction.  He is still young, and we have a long way to go.  Medication wasn’t a cure-all.  We still have some bad days, and the behavior modification training I had done and continue to do plays a huge part in Tamlin’s therapy.  However, medication was the missing piece; with it now in place Tam can lead a panic free life.  Not all dogs need to be on medication, but some dogs definitely should.

Health Alert!!

I love to take my dogs swimming, especially since we are in our 20th day of over 95 degree heat!  However, due to the extreme heat and lack of rain the east coast is experiencing a bloom of blue-green toxic algae.  If your dog swims in infected water or ingests algae coated water they could become very ill.  Some dogs have even died from ingesting the algae.  My mother’s dog had a run-in with this algae and he’s fine now, but did develop sores around his mouth and diarrhea.

Keep your dog safe and healthy:

-Avoid allowing them to swim in still, stagnant water

-Keep your dog from drinking water from streams and ponds

-If your dog does go for a dip, rinse them off thoroughly

More information can be found in the Whole Dog Journal article here:

http://www.whole-dog-journal.com/blog/Harmful-Dog-Toxins-20058-1.html

Stay cool this summer everyone!

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