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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Give Me A break!

I recently read an article that I completely disagree with and maybe the person writing it was trying to get something else across to the public but what I got from  it and what many more people will take away from it is that it is okay to coddle your dog during a storm or fearful act.  This below link is the article in which I speak and quite possibly I have pointed out the quick take away that I got from it so maybe you will read it a bit more carefully and realize the person is talking about emotion, not behavior. Read it and feel free to comment in the comment section of my blog as to what you took from the article and then please continue to  give me your ear on why I disagree .
article link here 

Regarding the above article:

 I think this person is missing the boat.  It depends on what the dog is doing at the time the dog is frightened.  There are dogs that bark, chew, nudge, shake, dig, and whine when they are frightened.  So to give them this attention of petting, talking to, coddling at a time the dog is doing any of the above behaviors is in fact rewarding that ‘behavior’. We are talking about behavior not human emotion which humans tend to put upon their animals in every aspect. I do believe that dogs have emotions, but I also believe that humans at times interpret their own emotions to what the dog may be feeling.   

 The focus is a 'fear behavior'. If the dog barks continuously because it is fearful (and many do bark in more fearful situations than thunderstorms), does one want to reward that behavior or give the dog the tools to succeed and act differently?

There are many things that dogs and humans have in common and learning is one of them. If I took a young child that was afraid of storms and gave them something else to do instead of worry, such as an explanation regarding why thunder happens ( cold air  meeting  warm air)  so they could understand, they are likely to behave slightly different during the next storm. From there, one builds onto the explanation and gradually gives ideas of things to do during a storm so it is not seen as a horrible thing.  If I were to allow the child to continuously scream out of fear what is the child getting out of it? What are they learning from it?  Seemingly they just put themselves into more of a panic.    Did you ever read the book ‘Thunder Cakes’ which is a true story of a child’s fear of thunder?  If not, it may help some of you humans that wish to coddle and give the dog attention when they are acting fearful.  

When we ask a dog to sit and it does not sit what happens?  We wait.  We may ask the dog again to  sit , but the dog still does not sit, what do we do?  Some may lightly push on the rear quarters to show the dog what sit means, others may hold a reward over its head so that it has to sit. The dog sits, we reward with praise, sometimes petting, upbeat voices, or with treats.  The next time the dog comes to us and we ask for a sit, the dog sits. It has been taught to the dog that if I sit I get something.   

In a thunderstorm situation the dog comes to you shaking, whining, pawing at you, jumping in your lap, etc. Yes it may be frightened or anxious, but  could the dog also have learned that shaking, pawing, jumping in the lap, at this particular time (associated with a storm) gets it what it wants which is human attention and instant reward?

If  we reward a dog when it sits upon command, we have trained the dog a  'reaction to an action'  The dog sits, 'action', we reward 'reaction'

I think human feelings have to be put aside and the situation looked at logically.  I had a dog that barked with every storm, I talked to him softly the first few times because where I lived the storms seemed to always come in the middle of the night and for me sleep was first priority especially during a work week. I thought that by talking softly to him and  giving him a pet as he ran around the bed that he would calm down. But what happened was that his barking began to escalate and start a bit earlier the next time. The next time he was barking due to the rainfall because the rain in his mind  was now associated with the storm. The barking then became worse as he began barking with just the smell of rain in the air. The  smell of rain in the air was associated with rainfall and rainfall associated with the storm. It got to the point that even a threat of rain, or a few drops of rain, even though no storm was coming , elicited an action from the dog which in turn made him anxious, overheated, and barking continuously until everything was over.  

     Is that how you want your dog to live? Would it not be better to take some of that fear away by giving the dog something else to do to be talked to, praised , petted about?  Or does one feel it is okay to allow the dog to feel so out of control that even the smell of rain puts fear in them?   When should you stop a dog from being thunder fearful?  Perhaps after it has jumped out of the window because the fear was so bad they thought they could not get away from it? 

It’s ludicrous to think that with all our knowledge in general about how to help fearful dogs succeed so they no longer fear that person walking  down the street or that child riding their bike, or the loud thunderous noise of a motorcycle, but yet we expect they should not be helped through a storm fear why?    Why do we not want to bother to give them the tools to earn rewards for a better actions?  Why do we not train them what to do so they succeed in their actions/behaviors during a thunderstorm?

 I have to admit that due to my human emotions getting involved  during those first few thunderstorms when my dog was barking  that I soft talked him, and gave him a pet here when he came to the side of the bed. I actually allowed this fear to build up over time rather than nipping it in the bud as I should have. I was the one in charge of my home, yet I allowed his anxiousness to get so out of hand for him that within fifteen minutes of running on a hot summer day due to the smell of rain in the air, he got heat stroke and from being overheated  he had an intake of water so fast that it turned into gastric dilatation-Volvulus (AKA BLOAT) which is a killer.

I had allowed his actions first to the thunderstorm, then to the rain and finally to the smell of rain  get out of hand, and because of this his nearly died.  I should have taken the fear away from him from the onset instead of reacting to an action in which he got what he wanted from me.   

  Because storms and fireworks are so far and few between and there is nothing to duplicate the storm activity for training purposes  it took me nearly two  years to retrain him and give him the tools and commands he needed to be calmer during the next storm and every other storm after that.   

 If the dog is shaking and hiding and not a nuisance to the neighbors, and you are home all day with them,   then by all means, coddle until you heart desires, but once you see that dog’s reactions changing and it is  becoming fearful of the next little thing and the next little thing as my dog did you then have a long haul on your hands and possibly a dangerous situation. I was fortunate, I was home when my dog got overheated and started to bloat and I knew the signs. Had I not been home to rush my dog to the Vet he would have died a painful death within an hours time. 

I have to ask this because I am really trying to make sense of the human thought process, if you as a human were so frightened of something it made you shake uncontrollably, would you want to live like that forever and hope that someone would be around to stoke your head or hold you? What if you were alone in the home when this fear hit? How would you handle it?  

Or, would you want to seek out a professional to help so that you would not fear it anymore and have the tools to work through it?

Why then is it so wrong to want to help our dogs do the same? We all have fear of something whether it be a disease or a thunderstorm, the fears may always be there in the back of our minds, but to simply say  do nothing to help the mind is in my opinion very poor judgment and bad advice to put out there. 

In my opinion, the person in the above article seems to be saying that the reinforcement of an emotion is something that cannot happen and that simply is not true.

If you were frightened every night because your little brother hid under the bed and grabbed your leg as you were hopping under the covers in the dark, he is reinforcing that fear for you, so that soon there comes a time that in the back of your mind you will think someone is under the bed waiting. Fear can be reinforced and it can be turned  into a positive  or a negative depending on how you handle it. It is an emotion and the definition of emotion is:
A natural instinctive state of mind deriving from one's circumstances, mood, or relationships with others.

So what is your dog getting out of the relationship with you during a storm? 

I would hope that common sense if nothing else would steer you in a way to help your dog through the variety of tools and medications out there , rather than to let your dog's mind suffer with every boom of thunder.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Protective or Possessive ? Using the Learn to Earn Program

This is my rescue dog Skylar. When I first
brought her home she was possessive aggressive
with my other young dog. After about  a month of
living here I had given all of my dogs a special treat of frozen yogurt.
I bent down to take a picture of Skylar eating hers and
she growled at me. This told me that her possessive tendencies
were transferring over to humans and she viewed this item
as  high value. Up until then I had not had a problem with her.

Possession Aggression in Dogs

Several times a week I do get customers whose dog is snapping, growling or biting those that come near it when the dog has a toy or valued item.  However this is not limited to dog treats, bones, or toys. The human in the dog’s life can also be considered an item to possess, but the human believes that the dog is being protective over them. Usually dogs that are protective do it in a silent way by staying near the owner in a situation where the dog feels the owner may be harmed in some way, but they rarely act out until they feel it is warranted.
 A dog barking at a stranger that approaches your front door, is more of an alert to you from the dog stating someone is here, it does not mean necessarily that the dog is in protection mode. If your dog is possessive over items such as those mentioned above then it is likely possession not protection that you are seeing.

I once owned a Newfoundland dog named Chance and he was a protector of me though he and I seemed to be the only ones that noticed this. He was a therapy dog and I often took him for walks through town to keep him in touch with people, other dogs, and strange noises.  One day while walking through town about 7:30 AM I saw a bicyclist coming up the sidewalk so I moved closer to the storefronts and put Chance in a sit stay so the man could pass by safely. The man however was not going to just pass by; I had actually stopped in the area where he was going, which was a local Moose Lodge.  When he got off of his bicycle he began to talk with me and I could smell alcohol on his breath. Chance must have felt the man to be a danger because he began to pull me away from this man rather than greet him as he would any other person. You can’t really stop a 170 lb dog if they want to leave a situation!  I also had a situation arise when I went on a therapy visit. We did visits to the local prison and on one occasion a guard brought a prisoner   into the room that we had never met before. Chance was laying on the floor relaxing as he would do normally on these visits but as this prisoner came close to us to find a seat in the room, Chance sprung to his feet, came to me and put one front foot on either side of my seat, then leaned his whole body into mine, pressing me against the back of the chair as his head followed this prisoner. Once the prisoner took his place in the room Chance still did not want leave me. I had to physically push him off of the seat and that was no easy task!  From that day on Chance never left my side when this person was in the room.  That is protection. Never a growl, a snarl, or a bark came from him; it was his actions that told me I should be leery. 

  Dogs that are used for protection are taught to bark, lunge, and act out when a stranger approaches such as you would see a police dog do.

That being said let’s talk about how to stop possession aggression so no one gets hurt.

Training daily in commands will help and doing this in a positive way will actually reward the dog for it’s good behavior as well as show the dog you are consistent in what you expect from it. When humans are not consistent then the dog feels the need to take over.   Training daily in conjunction with a the learn to earn program will help the dog to see you as ( for lack of a better word) being in charge.   

Some trainers will tell you to teach the dog to trade the item that they have in their mouth for a higher value item but there are problems with this.

A)  The dog does not necessarily have to have the item in its mouth to be possessive of it; the item only needs to be in the same room as the dog. I have seen a dog shoot across the room and bite someone because they accidentally stepped on the dog’s favorite squeak toy!

  B) While using  the 'trade' method  may work for those that know the dog is possessive aggressive, it will not work for the unsuspecting guest in your home who does not know what to do. This well meaning person who goes to pet Fluffy and does not know that Fluffy has issues and that Fluffy’s favorite toy is across the room,  then this person suddenly becomes a threat to Fluffy. Thus a bite can incur. Do you really have time to explain to everyone that visits you how to “Trade” an item with your dog and do you always have a higher value item on hand?    

The best practice is to try to eradicate the possessive behavior altogether so you don’t have to explain rules to guests. Children especially are not going to fully comprehend what you are telling them.

What we want here is to tell Fluffy we are in control of the home and Fluffy’s  prized possessions so that Fluffy does not need to take on that job.

 Think how exhausted you would be if you had to check every room in the home to see if any item was taken from you while a repair man was there working on your pipes. It could take hours before the repairman finished his job and instead of being able to relax you are constantly going from room to room looking for your prized possessions.  That would be mentally and physically exhausting. Having the items you treasure  put  away in one spot would be able to help you relax a bit more while the repair man is there.

Learn to earn for possession aggression

1)Pick up all toys, bones, food and put them out of reach of the dog

2) Put the daily dose of food in a sealed tin on the counter top

3) Pick up all food related toys and bowls. Leaving only a water bowl

What learn to earn training means is that you are taking charge of the dog entire life’s wants and needs.  No more is free food put down in front of them. Keep the daily dose of food in a closed tin in the area where the dog is fed, call the dog to you and ask him to sit. When he sits, he gets a handful of food. Do this throughout the day using any command that the dog knows. The dog must obey that command in order to get some food.  Feed the  dog its kibble by hand throughout the day but when you call the dog to you not only should the dog obey a command before getting food but the dog should see you eat something before you hand over any kibble. So keep a cracker or something on the counter for yourself.

You will also take control of when the dog can play. The toys, bones, etc. should be put away, then when you are ready to play take out a toy and play with the dog, when you decide play is over, put the toy away again.

Petting does not come to them just because they nudge you, you decide when this takes place, which means you would call them to you, ask that a command be obeyed and pet them at your discretion. If they nudge to be petted, you ignore that, but you can give the dog a command at any time to obey and reward that behavior with petting. Again you always want to reinforce a behavior you have asked for. So even though you know the dog has nudged you to be petted, you don’t have to totally ignore the dog, turn that nudge into a trick or command and praise and reward the dog for that.  

Anything your dog takes for granted such as you opening the door to let it out, putting on a leash to go for a walk, allowing it to walk though a door before you, etc. these are all privileges to a dog that come naturally due to the human’s repetitive actions over time but many humans don’t realize this.  So, before you go through that door put the dog in a wait command and you walk through first, then invite the dog to walk through. Again this should be rewarded with praise.  Before you put the leash on for a walk you ask for a sit ~ stay.

Furniture is a big no, no for dogs that have aggressive tendencies because it puts them in a higher charge over the others in the home, especially children.

             Dogs should not just be allowed on the couch without specific invitation and sometimes not at all if the aggression is severe. The need to be close and cuddle is more a human thing than a dog thing.  While dogs do like to be close to the one they love, taking a few minutes to sit on the floor next to you will be enough to please them. Remember that it must be your decision to sit on the floor and then call them to you. Don’t sit on the floor if they are whining or pawing at you for attention. Wait for that to stop then you can sit on the floor and call them to lie down next to you. If you are sitting on the floor and the dog begins to approach you without being asked, then give the command of wait and after a few seconds give the recall (come) command. 

This is not to say that no dog should ever be allowed on a couch, it is perfectly fine if you have stable easy going dogs. It is when there are problem dogs in the home that furniture should be off limits to all dogs.

As mentioned above, in most cases dogs have developed habits that the owner allowed over time but did not realize it.  What might be helpful to the owner is to sit and make a list of all the good things your dog gets for free by an action that you have allowed the dog do for years. This will help you to turn those free behaviors into commands or tricks that can earn a reward.

When the dog tries an action to get the desired reaction from you, stop and think. Did I call the dog over to be petted? Did I tell the dog it is time to go out and that is why he brings the leash? Did I say let’s play so that is why he dropped the ball in my lap?  All of those actions got the dog reactions in the past usually in a positive beneficial way to the dog. So now it is time to turn that all around. 

Dogs that are well balanced within a group to begin with do not really need any of the above things to change; it is your right to spoil a well rounded dog!  It is only homes with dogs that have social limitations around other dogs that should need the above direction.

Some of you may think that the above is cruel or negative and how dare the human take these things away,  however you are actually setting the dog up to succeed by taking away any worry it may have over its possessions. 

This is Skylar today. Notice how she is sharing
her ball on a rope with Brody my other dog.

 In this  video link below  you can see plenty of toys strewn about
which at one time Skylar considered hers even though they
were here before she came to us.  Though there are still
high value things I have to control for now she is getting the message. It is
always a work in progress and you have to do what is best for
your dog and your family 


Friday, June 13, 2014

JW Pet Skid Stop Slow Feed Dog Bowl. Does it work?

I recently adopted a five month old Newfoundland puppy from a rescue.  I have to say that out of the 20 plus dogs of various ages and breeds that I have owned in my life, never have I experienced one that devours their food like a Turkey Vulture  eating road kill off the side of the interstate!

Skylar, I realized had a rough start in life as a pet store puppy, meaning she was brought up in a puppy mill situation where she had to possibly fight off several dogs that shared her 4 x 4 cage for every piece of kibble that was strewn onto a feces and urine soaked floor. If you are not aware of puppy mills and puppy brokers click the link below.

Because this breed has its health issues the worst possible nightmare entered my mind as I watched her gulp down her kibble.  GVD, aka, Bloat!  Bloat is a deadly twisting of the intestines usually seen in large breed dogs. One of the reasons this can happen is that the dogs gobble their food too fast and take in air at the same time.   If the air has no way to escape you will see the dog’s stomach getting bigger as the air fills it. However, what is happening inside the dog is something even more serious than a fat stomach, the twisting of the intestines. If you don't know the signs of bloat and if emergency help is not sought out immediately, you can lose your dog within an hour.

Years ago I had a close call with this disease with my Newfoundland  Bentley,  however I was fortunate to recognize the signs and got him to the veterinarian before the intestines had time to twist.  Bentley was not a fast eater like Skylar is, but Bentley had gotten himself all worked up due to an impending thunder storm and then came in the house and gulped down a lot water causing air to get into the stomach. So there are variables as to why bloat happens, and it is said not to allow your large breed dog to exercise ½ hour before or after a meal. In Bentley’s case the meal was water.

Read about Bloat here

But I digress, let’s get back on track!  I happened to get an email from  expressing  their remarkable deals. In my quest to find the perfect toy that will not expire within a week of its use by my dogs and the neighbor dog's who come to visit, I opened the petflow page. Not finding much in the toy department I went on too see other dog items, because let’s face it, once you are online for anything dog it’s like having a bag of open potato chips,  you can’t have just one! 

With this new search on dog items I came across the JW Pet Skid Stop Slow Feed Dog Bowl (what a mouthful!) Over the years I had heard of the ‘Break-Fast Bowls’ and have even recommended them to customers but they can be pricey.  The premise of the Slow Feed Dog Bowl is the same; there are barriers in the bowl to make it harder to get to the kibble out so in theory the dog slows down the eating pattern thereby taking in less air.

Actually this can also be done by putting an unopened can of vegetables into the dog’s bowl, but that might hit the range of the Crazy dog lady scale among your friends.

So for a whopping six bucks, (much cheaper that the Break- Fast Bowl) I ordered one and waited anxiously for its arrival.

Finally that day came and as soon as I pried it out of Brody and  Skylar’s teeth as they thought it’s sleek design and scent of plastic automatically made it a chew toy, I began the testing!

In a normal dog food bowl it took Skylar 2 minutes and 10 seconds to get through the 2 ½ cups of small kibble. In the Slow Feeder bowl, it took her nearly 6 minutes 30 seconds to eat through 2 ½ cups of the same kibble.

In my view this bowl works for what it is intended to do and I give it a 4 paws up for intent, its ease of use, and its pet friendly price. However it is not ‘skid proof’ as you can see in the video.  You may want to try placing a rubber mat or a rug under it.  On a positive note, the bowl moving along the floor may also have helped slow the eating.  But then again, Skylar’s head is as big and powerful as the pumpkin in Charlie Brown’s “The Great Pumpkin” so for a dog like a Golden Retriever or a German shepherd who may be a bit more gentle, the bowl may stay in place.

Compare the Break- Fast Food Bowl which sells from 9.95  to 24.95 depending on what site you go to. If you like a metal dish Break- Fast makes them as well. It will come down to choice and price for most.

click here for the BreakFast Bowl

To see a video of Skylar and the JW Pet Skid Stop Slow Feed Dog Bowl in use 
click here  

Until next time happy training!