Summer Surf, Sun, and Safety!

Keeping our canine friends safe over the summer is important. After all, they rely on us to make sure they stay out of harm’s way.   Below are just a few tips to keep in mind  when enjoying the summer surf , sand and sea.

  • Please be cautious of leaving your pet in the car for any length of time.  Temperatures in the car can rise quickly.  Although we love to take our pets with us, at times it may be safer to leave Fido home in the comfort of the air conditioned room.
  • Make sure your pet is on a heartworm preventative.  Mosquitos (carriers of heartworm) are rampant during the summer months.  One monthly pill protects your dog from this potential killer.
  • Make sure your pet has access to plenty of water and shade.
  • Take precaution when walking your pet.  Hot sidewalks and asphalt can burn the pads of your dog’s feet.  Consider walking your pet early morning or late evening hours, when things cool off.
  • Many dogs enjoy water (swimming/diving/boating).  Remember to put a floatation coat on Fido if out on a boat.  Many dogs drink excessive amounts of water while swimming….so  keep an eye out on much your dog ingests (have them chase a ball or toy in the water to curtail the drinking).
  • Before vacationing, interview pet sitters, boarding facilities or doggie daycares to secure professional services for your pet.  Think twice before trusting a neighbors “kid” to watch Fido for you.  Although there are teens out there quite capable, entrusting your pet with just anyone isn’t always wise.  Professionals are usually equipped to handle any emergencies that may occur.  Most are insured, should anything happen while you are away.

Just remember, the summer can be a wonderful time for pets, as long as we think ahead and manage appropriately.   Happy Summer!

Puppy Potty Training 101

As a dog training instructor, proper communication between dog and owner is vital for success. Proper communication between trainer and the human client is also vital.  Case in point:

It became clear to me during a week when I was watching a friend’s dog, that my communication skills may not be all that I thought they were. I left my 18, 15 and 9 year old children in charge of a puppy (Eva) . They were given the following instructions:  make sure you keep an eye on Eva, let her out all the time and shut your bedroom doors so that she doesn’t wonder in there and go potty. Secure in my talents as a dog trainer, off I went feeling confident that my children were quite capable of following instructions.  After all, I was their mother and they were well versed in my valuable knowledge of dog training.

Five hours later I returned home.  Eva met me at the front door which was strange because I knew I had put a gate across the living room to block her access to the front door. Walking through the house, I discovered a chewed up piece of paper that Eva had gotten ahold of ….. not a good sign. In the family room I discovered my kids engrossed in their own activities…mainly electronic. Continuing to survey the house, I found 2 out of 3 of their bedroom doors open and closer examination of those rooms revealed what I had feared…poop and pee.  “Guys, get in here!” I yelled.  “Look at that”, pointing to the evidence, “Didn’t I tell you to keep your doors shut”. “We did, but I had to go in there to get my ipod.”, quipped my 16 year old.  “Why wouldn’t you close the door behind you?” “Well…..I fogot.”, was the only explanation I received.  “And didn’t I tell you to take her out all of the time?”, I continued.  “We did take her out all the time. Twice!” And then it hit me, MY definition of “all the time” was not THEIR definition “of all the time”.  So as I cleaned up the mess (with their help) I made a promise to myself to double check my communication skills and make certain everyone is on the same page.

With that in mind, I give you my potty training tips:

  1. Take the puppy outside to the same area of the yard each time.  This way he/she associates that area with going potty.
  2. You can “mark” the behavior by saying “go potty” as your puppy is peeing. Then immediately after, reward.  Do not reward once back inside…reward immediately after your puppy finishes pottying.
  3. If your puppy gets too distracted and doesn’t go potty, you can take him back inside and crate  him for about 5 minutes. The take him outside and try it again.
  4. Remember, we want to set your puppy up for success, so don’t give him the opportunity to have an accident inside. Most people give their puppies too much freedom in the house.  In order to prevent potty training accidents, you must be able to watch your puppy at all times.  If you can’t then he/she should be in a crate or a puppy pen.
  5. Make certain that you have your puppy go potty before you take him/her on a walk.  If you have them potty first, the walk can become their reward!
  6. If you can’t get home in time to let your puppy out, find a friend or hire a pet sitter to help you out for awhile.   Again, this won’t be forever.  It is worth putting the effort in now to avoid problems later.
  7. Don’t let your puppy get used to peeing in his/her crate.  If he are having accidents at night, it is worth getting up to let him out during the night.
  8. If you catch your puppy having an accident in the house, you can clap your hands or make a noise to startle your puppy and stop the peeing.  Quickly take your puppy outside to his area to finish going potty.  Never punish the puppy for having an accident. Dogs are not “born” knowing where you want them to potty.  They must be taught. You don’t want to run the risk of creating a situation where the puppy is afraid of YOU.  If you find that the puppy has had an accident inside and you did not catch it…clean up the mess and forget about it.  The puppy already has!
  9. Take up your puppy’s water up a couple of hours before bedtime. What goes in must come out, so monitor his intake of water.
  10. Have your puppy on a regulated feeding schedule.  Don’t leave food out all the time. Most puppies eat 3 times a day, but quickly move to 2 feedings a day.
  11. Take your puppy out a lot! The rule of thumb is that a puppy can hold his urine about 1 hour per your dog’s age in months plus 1.  So a 3 month old puppy can hold it for 4 hours.  However, this may vary with each dog.  Smaller dogs have smaller bladders and may need to be taken out more often. Below is a basic schedule, but is just a guideline.  You may need to alter it depending on your dog:

Puppy Schedule:

First thing in the morning

Immediately after the morning feeding

Again before you leave to work (1/2 hour to 1 hour after feeding)

Mid morning

Lunch

Mid afternoon Immediately after the evening feeding

½ hour to 1 hour after feeding

Late evening

Bedtime

Possibly once or twice during the night

Eventually your young dog won’t need to go out as often, but to make the potty training easier….be consistent, reliable and proactive!

And remember, communication is always a two, three and four way street depending on the number of people in the room! Make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to instructions about your puppy.  The end result will be …..success!

Toys R “Ruff”

One of the biggest complaints I hear when it comes to dog toys that they just don’t last and that they are a waste of money. I would like to address these complaints with the following 5 Reasons you should feel good about spending $$ on toys for your dog.

  1. Playing with toys stimulates your dog’s mind and keeps him from getting bored.
  2. Toys keep dogs busy, and guess what? Your busy dog doesn’t have as much time to get into trouble.
  3. Toys help fulfill instinctive drives including: shredding/ripping, hunting/finding food, chasing/herding
  4. Toys help expend energy.  Fetching/retrieving activities expend pent up energy and allow you to further bond with your pet.
  5. Toys help with emotional balance: dogs that get adequate physical and mental stimulation are healthier and more emotionally balanced.

Please don’t deprive your dog of toys because you think it is a waste of money.  Toys satisfy many basic needs for your dog. How many children have the same toys left undamaged for any extensive period of time? Not many.  Dog toys, just like human toys, are made to be used.  So, with that in mind, determine how much you can spend on toys each month and consider it an investment in your dog’s emotional well-being.

These are a few tips on making the toys you choose last a little longer:

  1. Change out toys every week. Novelty seems to be something that many dogs love when it comes to toys.
  2. Keep at least one interactive toy out of reach for special occasions….you can pull that down for rewards during training!
  3. Some toys are tougher than others….Kongs, Marrow Bones…many food dispensing toys should be around awhile.
  4. Toys made from material will have a shorter life expectancy, especially if you have a “shredder” on your hands.  Just sit back and enjoy watching your dog rip it to pieces (make sure he doesn’t ingest any of it).
  5. Appropriate chews will help fill the gap…..back straps, pig ears, deer antlers, and bully sticks….are all great choices for filling your dog’s need to chew.

Some dogs need a little help when it comes to play, so try a variety of toys. Keep trying different toys….you should eventually find something that your dog likes!  The small investment in toys is worth a happy, mentally healthy dog!

SUPER—vision!

I was honored to be able to present my first Dog & Baby Connection class at Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater, Florida last month.  The program is new to the area and will become a regular class offered by the hospital next year.  The Dog & Baby Connection offers information on how to successfully integrate young children and the family dog into a household safely and with as little stress as possible.

One of the topics that the program covers is the importance of appropriate supervision when living in a combined household of young children and dogs.  The program breaks supervision into 5 levels: Absent,  Distracted,  Reactive, Proactive, and Full Awake supervision. Taking a look at each level helps to remind parents of the importance of paying attention anytime canines and kids are together.

The use of absent supervision is something that most parents would never intentionally do. Leaving a young child alone with a dog is never a safe option and the program reminds parents that absent supervision should never be allowed.

Distracted supervision is what gets most parents into trouble. Parents may be in the same room with their child and dog, but are busy emailing, watching TV, reading, texting, etc.  It is so easy to become distracted with today’s technology that  parents are physically in the room but mentally very absent.  It is important for parents to remember to pay attention to what is happening around them at all times.

Reactive supervision can be defined as “the panic mode”.  Parents yell or scream or rush towards the dog and a child when they think something may go wrong. This often backfires as dogs learn through association. We want children to equal good things in the dog’s world.  We remind parents to stay calm and redirect either the child or the dog if they find themselves in a “stressful” situation.

Proactive supervision will make a parent’s life the easiest.  If they plan ahead….setting  up crates or areas where kids and dogs are safe from each other, it gives busy parents options.    Teaching children how to appropriately interact with dogs is also proactive.  Give children guided direction when it comes to dogs.  Providing plenty of outlets for your dogs throughout the day helps as well. The more prepared parents are and the more options they have, the less stressful the day should be.

Full Awake Supervision is what we want anytime we have dogs and children together in a room…..we need a parent’s full attention so that they can  know exactly where both dog and child are at all times and they can pay attention to any interactions that may occur between them.

Using proactive and full awake supervision helps lower the risks of bites and unwanted stress in the household shared by children and canines.

The Dogs & Baby Connection program is available to groups or individuals and can be  in the form of a lecture/powerpoint presentation or a private in-home consultation.  Check out the Family Paws website at familypaws.com for more information.

Too Good to be Chew!!!!

This year I have lost 3 books, a roll of toilet paper and two  shoes (each from a different pair, of course) from my Goldendoodle who happens to be a bit of a chew hog!  Upon discovery of the destruction I did what any good trainer would do ….smacked myself in the head with a newspaper. After all, I was the one at fault for each of these losses. With each loss of an item I can attest  to the fault being mine. Those were days that I didn’t leave something for him to chew on, hadn’t exercised him enough or was gone just a little too long for him too not find something to do!  Bad owner….bad owner……Dogs chew for several reasons and not one of them is for  “revenge” despite what many people believe. Some of the most common reasons dogs chew are:

  • Most dogs have a natural desire to chew. It’s fun, it passes the time, and it’s a self-rewarding, self-reinforcing activity.
  • Chewing provides a nervous, bored, or lonely dog with an outlet.  Many dogs find the act of chewing to be soothing.
  • Underexercised dogs often use chewing as a way of burning up nervous energy and giving themselves something to do.

Preventing unwanted chewing can be a full time job, especially if you have a puppy or younger dog. Those teeth need to go somewhere, so below are a few chewtastic ideas to help you create a  chewing machine that you can live with.

1.  First, take control of the situation: manage your own possessions. Your first step should be to dog-proof your home. Dogs are opportunistic.  If the opportunity arises, they will take it.  They do not read books on what to chew and what to leave alone.  In their world, everything is a chew toy unless it tastes yucky or doesn’t feel good.  Even if you have the best-behaved dog in the world, there’s still no reason to test her self-control – after all, dogs explore the world with their mouths and they are opportunistic. Dog-proofing your home means taking whatever you don’t  want to end up in her mouth, and making it unavailable. Many dogs are quite  creative if need be. Make sure any “precious” items are locked away or in put in another room with the door closed.

2. If   you can prevent her from chewing your stuff in the first place, it’s a lot easier for her to understand what you expect of her. Practically speaking, this means confining her in a dog-proofed area until you’re confident of her understanding of the house rules. Manage her surroundings by using baby gates, crates and pet pens when you are not able to supervise her.  You can also tether her to you or an area  in your house to help keep her “out of trouble”.  Never leave a dog tethered if you are not home to supervise.

3.Don’t offer your dog old clothes, shoes, or towels to chew and play with: realistically, you can’t possibly expect her to be able to tell the difference between your current shoes and the one she’s got in her mouth that you gave her five minutes ago.

4. Provide her with lots of tasty  alternatives to your stuff. Go on a toy and chew shopping spree, then give  her two or three to play with at a time. Rotating the available toys every  few days will keep things novel and interesting for her. Be creative with the chews.  Try antlers, Kongs filled with yummy treats and then frozen to make them last longer, dental chews, pig ears, and plenty of sturdy toys.

5. Make certain that your dog is getting plenty of physical and mental stimulation every day.  Yes, this is a pain at times, but a tired dog is always the best dog.  If they are tired then they will rest and a resting dog is not able to destroy your house!

6. When you catch her chewing something inappropriate, interrupt her by making a loud noise: clap your hands or make an “Ah-ah-aaaah!” noise. Then, immediately hand her a tasty and dog-appropriate alternative; as soon as her jaws close around it, give her lots of praise. You should also teach your dog a “leave it” and “drop it” cue.

Above all, remember to keep your expectations realistic. You’re not perfect, and neither is your dog:  You may end up losing a  few items throughout the life of your dog. Just accept that and move on. You are always better off trying to be pro-active when it comes to chewing then reactive!  Planning ahead, using appropriate management and creating enough outlets for your dog daily will help you survive your dog’s appetite for chewing.

Helping Fido Learn to Love the Veterinarian

Most dogs do not relish a trip to the veterinarian.  It can be extremely stressful on our furry friends.  Honestly, who among us enjoys going to the doctor?  Not me, and at least I understand why I’m going there. Our poor dogs don’t have a clue as to why they are put through an exam which includes being hoisted onto a tall cold table, having needles stuck into them, and being poked a prodded from head to toe.

The associations that dogs can make at a vet’s office are very important.  It can mean the difference between a relatively easy visit and one where muzzles and restraints are involved. One bad experience in a vet’s office can create years of frustration for owners and severe anxiety and stress for their dogs.  So, teach your dog from the start that going to the veterinarian isn’t so bad, in fact it can be a great experience!

If you have a puppy, start the process now. It is always better to be proactive and teach a puppy to love the vet.  Load up on treats and toys and pull them out at the vet’s office.  Let staff members give the treats and make sure that lots of good things happen immediately after a shot (or anything that may be uncomfortable for your pet). If you have a “shy” puppy, then you may need to follow the steps below.

If you have a pet that is already nervous or difficult at the vet’s office, then you have to create a new association.  This means starting at square one.  The following is an example of counter conditioning that has been used successfully when trying to change a dog’s mindset when it comes to visiting the vet.

Step 1: Take your dog on a drive and pull into the vet’s parking lot.  Give lots of treats (high value….the really good stuff like hot dogs, cheese, turkey) and lots of praise, then drive away.   Try that several times over the course of the next week or two.  If you do this enough, your dog should start to wag his tail when you pull into the parking lot.  Once this is happening, then it is time to move to the next step.

Step 2: Next drive up to the vet’s office, get out of the car with your dog, walk around the parking lot, treat you dog or play with a favorite toy  and then get back into the car and leave. Again, do this until your dog is very relaxed and wagging his tail the entire time you are there.

Step 3: The next step is to walk into the clinic, stay a short amount of time while playing and treating your dog.  Make certain that you leave while your dog is still having a good time. Again, continue on this step until your dog’s tail is wagging all of the time.

Step 4: Finally, you can move into the office and have the staff and vet dispense treats. Always leave while your dog is in a “good” state of mind.  The idea is to change the association of this “scary place with evil people” to “Wow!  I love this place…and the yummy treats!”

My German Shepherd is a prime example of a dog that has some anxiety. I bring treats and toys, and we actually practice “sits”, “downs” and “targeting” while we are waiting at the office.  It keeps her mind busy, so she forgets to “stress” about it!

The above steps can be moved through quickly (the first steps may not even be necessary with all cases) or each step could take weeks.  It will depend on the severity of the anxiety. Don’t move from one step to the next unless your dog is very relaxed and appears happy.  Moving too quickly can cancel out all of the work you have put into this.  Most vets should be willing to work with you, but it is always a good idea to call ahead of time and find days and times that are not too busy when asking the staff to help you.

A little bit of time can make a big difference in the way a dog handles a visit to the vet.  And an easy vet visit makes life a little more enjoyable for all of us.

Before you buy that dog…

Where does one begin the search for a new dog!  Before you adopt the newest four – legged member into your family, stop and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What size dog is going to work best in my household?
  2. What is my lifestyle like….meaning how much time each day will I be able to allocate to my dog?
  3. Do I want a puppy (and all that comes with it) or should I adopt an older dog?
  4. Do I want a dog that is more of a lap dog (low energy) or do I want a dog that will run/exercise (high energy) with me?
  5. How much dog hair am I willing to vacuum up daily?
  6. Will this dog need to be good with children and other dogs or is that not going to be an issue? (All dogs should be socialized to the best of their abilities, but some breeds tend to be better as family dogs).
  7. Do I have the available funds to care for this dog and his/her needs (food, medical, training, etc)?

Before you invest in a dog, the wisest thing you can do is research, research, research!  Too often people purchase a dog without any thought at all and unfortunately, the unsuspecting owner  often ends up having taken on more than he or she bargained for. So, do yourself a favor and open a few books, Google a few sites and ask a few dog savvy people their opinions of specific breeds prior to getting a dog.

It is important to remember that dogs were bred for various purposes so make is easy on yourself and find one that will work easily into your lifestyle.  A good place to begin your research of specific breeds is the American Kennel Club. The AKC has categorized dogs into 7 groups.  Each group has distinct qualities that help define what breeds in that group were meant to do.  The groups are: Sporting, Herding, Non-Sporting, Working, Terrier, Toy and Hound.   One of the benefits of categorizing the dogs into groups is to help potential owners find a dog with qualities that they will enjoy. After all, the goal is to provide a beneficial relationship for both dog and owner.  For more information on specific breed characteristics check out the AKC website at: http://www.akc.org/breeds/

FYI – The Westminster Kennel Club Dog show is on February 13th and 14th. It is another great way to check out breeds and watch the different groups in action.  For more information go to: http://www.westminsterkennelclub.org/

Rewarding your dog is OK……..Really!!!!

Positive training uses a reward based system for training.   Many naysayers contend that the use of “rewards” during training teaches a dog to only respond if there is a reward involved.  They consider this “bribery”.  Realistically we have to dispel the myth that dogs live to please mankind . No matter how much we want to believe this, it is just not the case.  Dogs live to please themselves. “What’s in it for me?” is their mantra.  The sooner that we accept this, the easier it is to move on and provide wonderful “paychecks” whenever our dogs do something that we like!

Keep in mind that every dog has a different reward system.  Food usually works with most dogs, but don’t forget about affection, belly rubs, walks, access to outdoors, access to toys and wonderful interactive time with their favorite human. The difference in rewarding a dog and bribing a dog has a lot to do with timing.  It is important that you reward your dog “after” he has performed the requested behavior.  The reward appears after he has “worked” for it, not before.  It is also imperative that once your dog understands the cue and behavior being requested, you begin to change the ratio at which you reward.  Once your dog “sits” regularly, there is no need to reward every time with food.  He could be rewarded the 1st time with a treat,  the next time with an excited “good boy” from you, and the next time with a game of tug o war.  In other words, your dog knows that something great will happen, it is just a matter of “what”.

Tips:

1. Use very small portions when rewarding with food. You can also use some of Fido’s food throughout the day as a reward so
that he/she doesn’t gain too much weight!

2. Make a list of anything that your dog likes…..each dog is different.  Anything that your dog likes can be used as a reward.

3. Constantly keep your dog guessing with what you will offer.  Sometimes you have great things and sometimes
smaller rewards.  He never knows what is coming his way….but it comes from you, the owner, and it is always good!

Dog Training Myths #4 and #5

Myth #4: My dog pulls on the leash, jumps on me or runs out the door in front of me because he is dominant.

Truth:  This word “dominance” is used to explain every behavior that a dog does.  The concept of dominance is a difficult one and is usually mis-used, so I have ousted it out of my vocabulary altogether.  Dogs seldom want to rule the world; they tend to be more on the opportunistic side, if anything.  They pull because we walk to slow, they jump to smell us and say “Hi” and they run out the door first because in “doggy world” “I want to be there first to get the best stuff…so why not?”  More dogs have been punished for behaving like a dog than I care to count.  This isn’t to say that these behaviors can’t be corrected, but not with punishment nor with the idea that “my dog wants to be in charge”.

Myth #5: My dog knows he did something wrong.  He looks guilty.

Truth:
  Although there is a lot of debate on the emotional intellect of dogs, as of right now, the theory is that dogs live in the moment. If Fido destroyed your curtain and you walk through the door and he seems “guilty”, he is taking his cue from your body language.  If he looks guilty the next time, it is probably because “sometimes you come home and you are happy and sometimes you are angry…which will it be today”.   Dogs are wonderful at reading our body language. They pick up on the smallest changes and can read us better than most of our friends can!

Dog Training Myth #3

Myth #3: Why bother training a puppy.  Dogs don’t learn anything until they are over 6 months of age.

Truth:  Yipes!  This one is not only incorrect, but can create some really difficult issues for the owner.  Just as human babies begin to take information in from day 1, puppies do the same. In fact, their all-important “socialization period” is primed and ready within the first 2 months.   It is vital that puppies are exposed, (at levels to which they are comfortable with) to as many different people, well-mannered dogs and experiences as possible.  Aside from socialization, they can start learning basic obedience too.  Most puppy classes start dogs off at 8 weeks of age!