Sunday, June 12, 2011

Walking Multiple Dogs

Each Sunday morning I wake up anticipating a nice long walk with the dogs.  These walks are the highlight of our week – we have time to ramble along instead of rushing to get back in time for work.  As I planned this morning’s walk in my head, I remembered the stray hound dog I am holding while trying to find her owners.  “Sweet Pea” is a quiet, friendly dog that really likes attention.  I hated to leave her home alone so I thought “what’s one more?” and grabbed another leash.

Walking one or two dogs on leash can be challenge enough, but I frequently walk three or four dogs on leash together.  This morning I didn’t think twice about adding a fourth dog to our morning line up even though Sweet Pea obviously has spent little or no time on leash.  Our walk had a couple of less-than-graceful moments (which were only to be expected) but otherwise was relaxing, enjoyable and went very well. 

Let me share some of my tips for walking multiple dogs:        

  • Have a lineup.  Know which dog you want where.  In my pack, Pip generally walks furthest to the left, Nellie in the middle and Ben furthest to the right.  This isn’t set in stone but the dogs know the routine and generally default to this line up.  When I add a new dog, they go to the right of Ben so I can manage my three dogs with my left hand and have my right (dominant) hand free to wrangle the new dog. 

  • If you have a dog that is nervous about traffic, put him on the side of the lineup that will keep him furthest away from oncoming vehicles.  This way, if he spooks away from the vehicles he won’t be tangling the leashes and running through other dogs.  

  • Don’t let a dog crossover, especially not behind you.  If a dog tries to cross from one side to the other in front or behind you, use his leash to return him to his appropriate position as soon as possible.  Make sure you lead him back on the same path that he took – don’t allow him to circle around behind you.   Circling not only takes two hands to untangle the leash, he will wrap his leash around your legs and risk tripping you as well as snarling the leashes.  If you are firm and consistent, your dogs will quickly learn to walk without weaving and tangling.

  • Good leash handling is critical to enjoying a multiple dog walk.  Tangles are inevitable but how you hold your leashes will prevent tangles and allow you to respond quickly to changes in the line up.  Never wrap or bundle the leashes and don’t loop leashes over your wrist.  You will not be able to respond quickly enough to prevent tangles or correct your dog’s position if you can’t get one leash free in an instant.  Let the tail ends of the leashes hang free so they don’t knot together when you adjust leashes.

  • Hold your horses.  I like to hold my leashes like I would a rein while riding horses.  The leash runs from my dog, over my pinkie finger, under my ring, middle and index fingers and out over my thumb (my palm would be facing down with the thumb closest to my body).  This way, I have a powerful grip on the leash (I can hold all three of my dogs in my left hand this way – even if they try to bolt after something) but I can also access each individual leash rapidly.  Often, I’ll run each leash through a different finger (one between pinkie and ring finger, one between ring finger and middle finger, etc) so it is even easier to grab the leash I want with my free hand.

  • Having lots of pretty leashes helps.  I love the look and feel of leather leashes, but I use different colored nylon leashes for walking.  This allows me to instantly recognize which leash I need to grab to redirect an individual dog.  Narrower or less bulky leashes are helpful so you can comfortably hold them all in one hand.  (I prefer ¾ inch leashes to 1 inch wide leashes for this reason.) 

  • Keep moving – tangles frequently happen when the pack stops or tries to turn tightly.  Instead of turning tightly, stop and walk rapidly backwards until all the dogs turn and walk towards you.  You can then redirect them or turn yourself and walk back the other way.

  • Teach an autosit.  This allows you to stop without the dogs milling around and tangling the leashes around your legs.  It’s easiest to teach autosits to dogs individually and then practice as a group.  The easiest way to practice is with treats.  Walk along for several strides, stop and ask your dog to sit immediately.  Keep this up until the dog starts to anticipate your command.  Reward for sitting immediately when you stop.  You want your dog’s default behavior be to sit when you stop walking whether you ask or not.  Solid sits are also very helpful when you are trying to leash or unleash multiple dogs. 

  • Keep calm and carry on.  Use your “leave it” command or “walk on” to keep the pack focused on you and moving forward past exciting obstacles like bear poop, taunting squirrels and small, yappy yard dogs.  If the dogs slow down, maintain your pace so they have to keep up with you (you will feel like you are pulling them along to start with).  If you stop every time one of three or four dogs wants to sniff something, you will never make it out of the yard.

  • Pick your position – in front or even with you.  I prefer my dogs to walk out in front of me.  It makes crossing over and circling behind easier to control and it keeps the slack out of their leashes so they are less likely to get the leash tangled around their legs.    

  • Train dogs to different sides to make management easier.  As I said before, Pip and Nell walk to the left and Ben to the right.  They also heel to those respective sides.  Put your more challenging dog or biggest dog in your dominant hand.  Group less challenging or smaller dogs in your less dominant hand.  Yeah, I know the AKC says your dog should heel on the left but no one is judging you out there on the road.  Do what works and is most secure for you.

  • Some people like couplers but they don’t work for my dogs.  If you use a coupler, make sure the dogs are similar in size, weight and temperament.  It isn’t fair to couple a timid, nervous or small dog to another dog that will simple drag it through the walk.  If you have a dog that is at all aggressive or prone to redirecting frustration as aggression, do not use a coupler.

  • While front connect harnesses and, to a lesser extent, head halters can be useful tools in the right situations, they can cause challenges when walking a large group of dogs.  The lower connection point of the leash makes it more likely that dogs will get their legs up and over the leash and cause a tangle.  It is not fair or healthy for a dog with a head halter to be jerked or yanked because someone else got tangled up in his leash.  I prefer to use just regular collars when walking larger numbers of dogs or adding a new dog to the mix.

  • Remember that you are outnumbered and may be outweighed.  In the event that the dogs lunge forward as a group (ie., the sudden appearance of a suicidal squirrel), keep your elbows in close to your body, your arms bent at the elbow and rock your weight back on your heels.  This will allow you to use your arm and back muscles to absorb the pull and your body weight to slow them down.  If you let your arm get pulled straight or your body weight pulled forward, you could wind up in a dangerous situation and be pulled forward or off your feet.  Likewise, never wrap or loop your leashes over your arm.  In the event of an emergency, it is better to be able to drop your leashes and let your dogs go than to get pulled off your feet, dragged or hurt.  For these reasons, don’t ever walk more dogs than you can physically control if the worst should happen, no matter how well trained they might be. 
So grab a couple of dogs, or three or four if you have them, and go for a walk!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Ready, Set, Go!

The key to running, for both people and dogs, is to start out slow and short and build gradually.  Here are some easy steps to get started running:
·         Start by walking!  If you haven’t been walking your dog or if your walks have been very casual, work up to briskly walking for 20 minutes at a time at least three times a week.  Once you are comfortable, add a couple of minutes to each walk until you are walking for 30 minutes at least three times a week.

·         After several weeks of consistent activity, you can start adding in some short running intervals to your walks.  Your first runs will look something like this:
o       Walk briskly for 5 minutes to warm up
o       Run for 1 minute followed by a two minute walking break
o       Repeat 6 more times (for a total of 21 minutes walking/running)
o       Walk for 5 minutes to cool down

·         Slowly increase the length of the running interval while decreasing the length of the rest/walking interval.  Your progression may look something like this:
o       1 min run: 2 min walk (7 times for 21 minutes)
o       1 min run: 1 min walk (10 times)
o       2 min run: 2 min walk (5 times)
o       2 min run: 1 min walk (7 times)
o       When you are comfortable running for 2 minutes and walking for 1, gradually add 1 minute to your run interval until you are running the length and distance you want.
o       Remember to always include 5 minutes of walking for both of you to warm up and cool down. 

·         You don’t ever have to go long or go hard with your dog and it may be best if you don’t.  If your dog is running on leash, keeping a steady speed for miles is not only hard on his body but can be boring for him mentally as well.  You are better off keeping it short and interesting so you both have fun.  In my experience, dogs enjoy intervals of walking and running best because they like the variety and it is less stressful for them.  Thirty minutes is long enough for both of you to ramp up your metabolism and reap the cardiovascular benefits of running.  45 minutes is great if you both have it in you.  I would not recommend running your dog on leash for longer than an hour. 

·         If you do want to add additional time and distance to your workout, don’t add more than 10% a week.  (If you are measuring your workout by time, that means you can add three additional minutes to your initial thirty minute workout each week.)  Trying to go too far too fast is a major cause of burnout and injury in runners – both human and canine!

·         Watch your dog and set a pace that is comfortable for him.  If your dog is frequently switching between trotting and running, speed up or slow down so he can hold a consistent gait.  Carefully watch for any signs of stress.  If he’s running behind you more than he is running with or ahead of you, this may be a cue that you need to slow down and walk home.  

·         Dogs running off leash (where legal and if your dog is reliable) can regulate their personal speed and gait better.   

·         If you are going for a longer run, make small amounts of water available at intervals during your run but don’t let your dog down a large amount of water mid run.     

·         Watch for signs of slowing down.  As your dog ages, he may not be able to go as far or fast as he used to.  If he isn’t as eager to run or gets up stiffly the morning after a run, consider cutting back on the speed and/or mileage.  Of course, discuss any changes with your vet to rule out underlying medical conditions.  Older dogs may prefer certain types of footing (dirt roads and trails tend to put less stress on the joints than pavement) or to run off leash (if appropriate) so they can set the pace that is comfortable for them. 

·         Not every dog was “born to run”.  If you have planned carefully and started slowly and your dog isn’t having fun, look for a different activity to engage him in.  Some dogs just don’t enjoy running for exercise, they may prefer to walk or play off leash instead. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Running with Your Dog: Let's Get Started

Pip has been hounding me to post so here is an introduction to things to think about before you actually start running with your dog.  Next week, I'll get around to the actual running part.

It’s spring time and for many of us, it is time to start getting back into shape.  Maybe you made a New Year’s resolution to lose a couple of pounds or you just want to be more active.  Either way, running is a great way to do it and including your dog provides additional incentive to get there and get it done. Chances are good that if you are out of shape, your dog probably is too.  Pet obesity is a growing problem in the US and the best way to fight it is to measure your dog’s food and make sure he is getting enough physical activity.  In today’s world, running with your dog is a great way to up his activity level in a safe and enjoyable way.

Most dogs enjoy running and running with your pooch can help you stay motivated too.  Don’t feel like running today?  Nothing like a disappointed look from your dog to guilt you into getting out the door (getting out the door is the hardest part of running).  To be honest, I wouldn’t be a runner today if it weren’t for my dogs.  When I started running, Nellie’s enjoyment of the activity is what kept me going. 

So let’s start with some basic ground rules:
  • Make sure your dog has good leash manners before you start running.  Running is hard enough without your dog pulling or trying to stop and pee on every vertical object you pass.  If your dog likes to sniff and mark a lot, teach him a “leave it” command, tell him to “leave it” before you get to a distracting object and don’t break your stride if he stops to sniff – keep right on going – so he learns he has to keep up with you. 

  • Chances are good that you will be passing other runners, pedestrians or dogs, make sure your dog is comfortable moving over to the side of the trail with you and waiting nicely while people and dogs pass.  No one wants a dog lunging at them, even if it is just because he’s really friendly and wants to greet them.  If your dog isn’t used to this, practice asking him to sit every time you stop walking.  When you see a person coming, step to the side of the trail, ask him to sit and offer him a treat as the person passes.  As he gets used to ignoring people and dogs passing him, you can pick up the pace and won’t need to stop each time you pass a distraction. 

  • Everything gets more challenging when you pick up the pace so practice first at the walk and in a low distraction environment.  Work up to a more distracting environment at the walk and make sure your dog’s behavior is consistent before you finally start running.

  • Don’t run young dogs.  Puppies need about a year for their joints to stop growing (this may happen as young as 9 months for small breed dogs or not until 18 months for giant breed dogs).  You don’t want to put stress on their joints before they are fully formed.  Up until then, limit running to short intervals during off leash play time so your puppy can choose to start and stop on his own.

  • Brachyencephalatic breeds (dogs with compressed faces like bulldogs, boxers and Boston terriers) have more difficulty breathing.  Be careful not to overexert them.  Depending on their individual anatomy, some individuals of these breeds may simply not be good candidates as running partners. 

  • Dogs do not manage heat as well as people do.  If outside temperatures are warm, watch your dog carefully for signs that he is uncomfortably warm.  He shouldn’t be panting excessively or lagging behind you.  If it is hot out, leave your dog home.  Remember that he can’t sweat and releasing heat by panting while running is difficult.  Also, hot pavement can easily scorch his paw pads.    

  • Senior dogs, overweight dogs and dogs with joint problems are not good candidates for running, walk them instead.  If you have any concerns or your dog has any health problems, consult your vet before you start walking or running with your dog.  Overweight dogs should shed the excess weight through walking, swimming or other low impact activities before you start running with them as excess weight puts additional strain on their joints and organs while making them more sensitive to heat stress.     


Sunday, March 27, 2011

An Update from the Pack

Hey there!  It’s me, Pip Squeak.  Mom* has been very slack about writing lately so I have taken it upon myself to write a note and let you know how we are all doing here “down east”.  First, Mom’s been working a lot.  Let me tell you, she’s up and going in the morning and doesn’t get back until 5 or 6.  Then we go for a walk, have a little play time in the back yard, have dinner, maybe chew a bone and go to bed.  That’s about it.  On the weekends, we go for a longer walk and get bigger bones.  All-in-all, it’s okay but I’ll admit things are a little boring.  We are trying to be good and take it easy on her though. 

This morning, we went for a run.  Now honestly, I really can’t tell much difference between our “walks” and our “runs” except that I don’t have to wait up for her quite as much on the runs.  She’s never going to break any land speed records, let me tell you and boy does she look silly doing it.  Don’t tell her I said this but she kind of waddles when she runs instead of trotting all nice and slightly diagonally like I do.  Dogs are so much more efficiently built than humans. 

Today we did “intervals”.  That’s her word for running more like us.  When she runs intervals, she runs and stops then runs and stops again.  This is similar to the way I run except I can never tell what Mom stops for.  I stop to sniff good things but lots of times Mom runs right past the interesting stuff (turkey poop, coyote tracks, deer rubs) and stops in the middle of nowhere just to pant!  I like running without my leash best because then I can stop at the good stuff.  Otherwise, I have to stop when she stops and, as I said, her choice in stopping places can be pretty lame.

When she does start running again, it’s funny because I never see what she’s trying to chase.  It probably doesn’t matter though because Mom’s never going to catch it!  Ben says he ran in a race with her once and there were some very fast humans there.  He thought some of them could even keep up with us chasing a turkey.  I wouldn’t believe that based on watching Mom run.  Heck, she can hardly catch up with me when I’m standing still getting ready to roll in something fabulous. 

Lots of times Mom stops to make us pose so she can take a picture.  Really, you would think she has enough pictures of us at this point but no it’s, “Sit here so I can take a picture” or “Lie down there, that will make such a cute picture”.  She even waits until we are all facing her before she’ll take the picture.  Honestly, there are things to sniff and chase crazy lady!  Let’s go.  We do pose to humor her though.  Today, she made us take a picture in front of an old airplane strip.  It was so boring it took a couple of tries before she got a picture with all of us looking towards her.  We were all scanning the woods for something more interesting!  Meanwhile, she ignored the perfectly intriguing pile of coyote poop right in the middle of the road.  People have weird priorities. 
This is us in front of the airstrip.  Anticlimactic right?  For those of you who don't know us personally, that's me on the left!

Mom told us today that we were lucky because even though she is slow, some people don’t ever run with their dogs.  Some hardly even walk with them.  It is hard to believe, but I’ve seen how excited some of the foster dogs get when Mom takes them running so I guess it must be true.  It’s funny but kind of sad at the same time.  It’s the most fun we have (other than chewing on bones of course).    

So, I told Mom that the next note she writes should explain to people how to get started running with their dogs.  I know how fun it is to go for a run with Mom as slow and clumsy as she is so if people just got started even a little bit, I know their dogs would appreciate it.  So stay tuned for her next note and get ready to start running with your dog. 

*Mom isn’t really my mom.  My real mom was a very nice border collie.  I call Lisa “Mom” because she took my family out of the shelter when we needed homes and she kept me forever because I was cute and persistent.  She also found homes for my real mom and my sister Ginger.  So she’s the mom of the family I live with now and it’s nicer than just calling her The Food Lady. 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Teachable Moments

This week's post is by Terri Wilkes, a Mid Atlantic Border Collie Rescue volunteer.

I often use this phrase while working with children, but today it dawned on me that it is a perfect opportunity as a dog owner to work on improving my dog's behaviors.  As Sarah can attest, I am known for adopting the schizophrenic pups.  Actually, my dog Sophie (a corgi/border/something mix) is 11 years old and has come such a long way in the last few years because I decided to stop protecting the world from her nonsense and make her 'deal with it'.

We have a big issue with the door, any door.  If a person comes through--even one of the family, the dog goes nuts. The barking, shrieking and running away from us goes on and on.  I just got fed up that I can't speak to anyone without my dog freaking out. When the doorbell rings I changed my body language.  I don't instantly search for her or try to get her contained before I answer the door (I look like a frantic fool).  I simply answer the door, give her a firm "quiet" and proceed to let the person know that the dog doesn't attack, she barks and I open the door and allow her to go out on the porch.  She gives them a few sniffs and barks and then we all enter the house.  Once she sees that I am ok with this person she settles and I reward her with a treat. 

Today the cable man arrived.  Big, scary, stranger with tools and wires.  So I proceed with the same process and it worked!  She started to huff and puff and carry on a bit inside when he was moving about from room to room and opening the garage door.  I decided that this was my opportunity not to stress out, but to make it a "teachable moment".  I am in the middle of the exact situation I want to work on with her.  I planted myself at the dining table with my laptop to work.  I got a few delicacies from the fridge (cheese bits, meat, etc) and kept them next to me on the table.  This is Sophie's currency !   

Each time she was quiet, sat next to me and allowed the cable man to pass by I rewarded her with a treat and praise.  I ignored any stuff I didn't like.  For the first time I had someone in my home for hours and she was just acting like nothing was unusual!  She got her toy and went and lay down.  She even followed the guy around wagging her tail.  I am almost looking forward to having more people show up so I can reinforce this. 

I hope that this inspires others to use those moments when you feel out of control of your dog's behavior and use it to teach. I realize I have to change my reactions and behavior in order to get her to.   Took me a little while, but I am getting it!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Training Tip for Today:

Take the blame out of training time.  Your dog isn't being stupid, stubborn or "dominant" and labelling him as such doesn't help you train him better.  He either doesn't understand what you are asking, isn't sufficiently motivated or you are asking for too much too soon. Take a step a back and look at your training program. Figure out how to make the right behavior easy, the wrong behavior hard and reward each tiny step in the right direction.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Clearing up Myths Surrounding Animal Rescue

Today I'd like to share an article written by our friends at Mid Atlantic Border Collie Rescue.  

Clearing up the Myths Surrounding Animal Rescue   
When you have been involved in animal rescue long enough, you hear so many things that people assume which are simply not true! So, in order to clear up so common myths or misconceptions, we have listed a few of them here.
Myth: Rescue groups exist to serve and assist former owners and future adopters.
Reality: Rescue groups exist solely to serve the animals it seeks to save and must always do what is best for its animals, and not the potential adopter or former owner.
Myth: Rescue groups are grateful and happy to receive the donations of animals from their former owners.
Reality: Rescuers are saddened when someone who acquired an animal with a promise to love and care for them are now giving them away. We are people who believe that caring for an animal is for life, not for convenience.
Myth: Rescue groups are desperate to find homes for dogs, and any home will suit.
Reality: Quality rescue groups are very careful about placing the right dog in the right home. Some dogs have special needs and are placed into homes appropriate for them. We invest time speaking with potential adopters, getting to know them. We visit their homes to make certain that the dog we place into their home will thrive in the home that applicant has to offer. We want every adoption to work and to be the best adoption possible and are very careful about our placements. We always try to do what is in the dog's best interest; we are, after all, the guardian of the dog.
Myth: Rescue groups are just like shelters.
Reality: Rescue groups tend to be experts on the breed(s) that they are representing. Rescue groups also tend to foster their dogs, rather than to house them inside of kennels. Because of that, rescues tend to know their animals more intimately than a shelter; therefore can really help to place the perfect pet into the adoptive home.
Myth: Rescue groups never have puppies (or kittens) available.
Reality: Rescue groups do sometimes have puppies available, and often they are quality pups who came out of unpleasant situations. If you are set on a puppy, consider applying and asking to be put on the waiting list.
Myth: Rescue groups always have puppies (or kittens) available.
Reality: Only occasionally do most rescues have young pups available. However, the majority of dogs we rescue are between the ages of one and three years. When considering adopting a rescue dog, please be flexible in your expectations.
Myth: Adult animals are difficult to train and do not bond as tightly as animals adopted in infancy.
Reality: Adult animals are almost always far quicker to catch on to new rules and in the experience of many adopters, may actually bind tighter, almost as if to not ‘lose’ their new person. While adopted adult dogs do come with history or ‘baggage’, so did your spouse/mate/friend and somehow you manage to love them and they you.
Myth: There is something wrong with an animal that is in rescue.
Reality: The large majority of animals in rescue have simply been tossed away. Sure, some of them do need some honing to become perfect, but most of us need that as well! Many of these animals are shy and under-socialized. They have not been abused; they have not been trained or exposed to the world. This is an easy thing to accomplish and the large majority of animals respond well to simple exposure.
Myth: Adopting a child is easier than adopting an animal through a rescue group.
Reality: Adopting an animal is sometimes time consuming and yes, you will need to answer questions and allow us to visit you in your home, however, comparing pet adoption to the adoption of a child is ridiculous and incomparable.
Myth: Rescue people use rescue to make money. If they were really interested in finding animals homes, they would give them away rather than charge a fee.
Reality: While some rescue groups get financial support from a national club (either the breed's club or a national rescue for that breed), most money that is spent on the care of the dogs in rescue comes from the rescue. In order to continue to rescue animals, the rescue must charge a fee or the rescue will fail. Each animal receives the vet care needed to ensure that they are reasonably healthy when they are adopted. Vet care costs, as does food, and shelter. In reality, the Adoption Donation made for an animal is far less than the actual cost to care for the animal while it is in our care.
Myth: Rescue is going to ‘make money’ from the animal that I donate, so there is no need for me to give a financial donation if I choose to relinquish my animal.
Reality: Far from it. The rescue that kindly accepts your animal into its rescue program will likely invest double its adoption fee into your animal before it is placed into its forever home. Your donation ensures that your dog receives the best care possible and that the rescue can continue to operate in order to save another animal.
Myth: The breed rescue people will take my dog if it has bitten and will rehabilitate and re-home that dog.
Reality: If you do not trust your dog, you should not ask anyone else to trust your dog. Dogs ‘speak’ with their mouths (teeth), and some dogs speak more loudly with them than others. In a situation where a dog is unpredictable, it cannot be placed safely into a new home. Please take responsibility for your dog and either handle him with training or management, or in severe cases, euthanasia.  
Myth: The rescue people will take my old or sick dog and care for him in his final days
Reality: Breed rescue does not exist for your convenience. Rescue exists for the animals, and our ability to re-home them. If an animal is ill, or old and infirm, it is far less likely to be re-homed, therefore, we are unable to assist.
Myth: Breed rescue will adopt out intact dogs for breeding purposes.
Reality: As unbelievable as this is, many people think we will do this. The truth is, we aim to REDUCE the number of dogs who wind up in shelters, not to INCREASE those numbers. No ethical rescue person will adopt out an animal that is intact.
Myth: Rescue groups are the people who have dogs that sniff in rubble or avalanches to find bodies or trapped people or rescue groups are the people who train dogs to help the disabled.
Reality: Not us. The first is Search and Rescue, the second is Service Dogs.
Myth: Animal rescue groups are against breeding as a general practice.
Reality: While some rescuers are against breeding in general, many people involved with rescue are breeders themselves. What we are against are irresponsible breeders who are uneducated and are not breeding in order to improve their chosen breed. Breeding is not something to be taken lightly. It is not something one just does, out of curiosity, to teach the kids about nature or to make some extra pocket money. When done correctly, breeding is not profitable, and is done ONLY to improve the overall quality of the breed. There are many people out there who breed simply to satiate the demands of the "pet" market, which ends up weakening the genetic pool of the given breed. This is what most rescuers are against, because we do not want to see anything happen that will diminish the quality of the dogs we love so much.

© MABCR 2009
Portions of this document have been borrowed from various animal rescue sites on the internet, as well as valued MABCR volunteers.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Cocklebur Conundrum

Or “Why Fuzzy Dogs Don’t Grow in the South”

As we get to know our new area, I’m coming to understand why dog breeds native to the south have short slick coats.  I know, it’s because of the heat right?  While I’m sure that plays a role, I think the presence of sharp, prickly vegetation is more of a limitation than the heat.  After all, a fuzzy dog can dig a nice deep hole in the shade on a hot day or sack out in the air conditioning but he can’t avoid the constant onslaught of spiny vegetation.  After each walk or potty trip outside, Ben and I practice our new ritual of removing the native vegetation from his feet, ruff and britches.  Cockleburs, sweet gum balls and cat claw briars are the main culprits here. 

Yes, I could shave his coat but as many of you already know, Ben survives based on his charming good looks and his overly flamboyant tail and britches are a big part of his charm.  So several times a day, Ben and I sit down and get to work removing the prickly vegetation from his fluffiness.  On the bright side, Ben has never liked having his feet or nether regions handled but his touchiness is getting better by the day since we have no choice but to do it.

Like many owners, I often avoid working on a problem unless I actually have a compelling reason too.  Up until now, we had relegated grooming to every couple of weeks and I simply make him lie down and stay.  Neither one of us enjoyed the process much but it worked so we didn’t fix it.  However, after three weeks of me “helping” him pull the cockleburs and sweet gum balls out of his feet and coat, he’s starting to make the connection and realize that even though what I am doing is uncomfortable, it makes him feel better in the long run.  He’s realizing that my working on his coat is a good thing and starting to relax, even when things are tangled up tight. 

The cockleburs are a pain to deal with but are actually function as a training tool.  In behavioral circles this is called “negative reinforcement”, something negative (a cocklebur) goes away when Ben does something good (not reacting to my handling his body and tugging at his coat).  Since I have to get the cockleburs out after each trip, we have lots of repetitions each day where something he doesn’t like (handling) is followed by something more pleasant (stupid cockleburs go away).

So if you have a training issue, remember to break it down into several short sessions throughout the day, work on it every day and be consistent.  The more you work on it, the faster your dog’s behavior will improve.  And be glad if you have a short coated dog or live in an area without cockleburs.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Problems with Underground or Invisible Fences

Periodically people ask my opinion on underground or invisible fences.  These are fences that rely on a cable laid in (or on) the ground and an electronic collar to keep a dog within a prescribed area.  When the dog gets too close to the cable, the collar will beep in warning.  If the dog continues, the collar will administer an electrostatic shock.  Generally, the boundary is initially marked with flags and the dog is gradually introduced to the fence.  Many people love their invisible fences but I don’t.  In fact, I don’t consider them to be a fence at all. 

Invisible fences:
  • Don’t protect your dog from people or other animals coming into the yard and harming him.  If something poses a threat, your dog does not have an option to try to run away.

  • Can cause or increase aggression and anxiety because the dog may associate the discomfort of the beep and/or correction with the people or dogs he sees passing by at the time.  If your usually cheerful, people loving dog is consistently corrected with a beep (a threat that he may be shocked) each time he trots towards the neighbors walking down the road, he may change his mind about the neighbors.

  • Can cause fearful dogs be uncomfortable in their own yard.  Some dogs may be scared enough that they just won’t go out in the yard period; others may not be able to relax enough to go to the bathroom or simply enjoy the space.  Some dogs are noise sensitive and just the warning beep of the collar will make them nervous.  What’s the point of having a yard if your dog isn’t happy and comfortable there?

  • Will not prevent your dog from breaking out if the stimuli is strong enough.  I have known many dogs that will happily run through a functioning invisible fence – they have learned that once they are through the shock will go away.  Once they get out, most dogs will not cross the barrier again to get back inside.  After they have learned that going through is an option, many dogs will break out over and over again. 

  • Will fail when the battery gets low or the wire is damaged.  Many dogs learn that when the beep fails, the shock does too and they will be out and gone before you realize the battery is low.  If anything breaks the cable, your dog may be able to escape before you realize the fence is broken.   

Finally, that “harmless beep” really isn’t harmless.  To you, it’s a warning that your dog is getting too close to the boundary.  For him, it is a threat that he may be shocked.  Some studies have indicated that dogs may have a similar psychological response to the beep as to the actual shock itself and no wonder – the beep means the shock may be coming next.  Even for dogs who only ever get shocked once, the beep itself can be very aversive. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Cat Scratch Fever

Cats scratch, a lot, and they seem to be very good at finding places to scratch that we don’t appreciate.  Like on my blue arm chair.  Or the leg of the newly refinished dining table.  When my cats transitioned from being indoor/outdoor cats with a cat door to strictly indoor cats, scratching became an issue for me.  Prior to this, they did most of their scratching outside.  If a cat scratched inside, I would hiss at them and they would stop.  Once they were permanent indoor cats, the scratching got worse and, while I could stop them when I was home, they would scratch like mad when I was gone.  It took a multi-pronged approach to getting the scratching under control. 

Here is a list of things that you can do to help redirect scratching to acceptable places:

  • Provide multiple scratching opportunities so you can figure what your cat likes. 
Many commercial cat towers aren’t structurally sturdy enough for cats to really enjoy scratching on them so if your cat ignores his, don’t give up.  Cats have personal preferences for the texture, softness, and surface of their scratching place.  Some cats have a preference for vertical versus horizontal surfaces.  Some cats like corrugated cardboard scratchers while others prefer twine covered or fabric covered options.  Look at the surface your cat chooses to scratch on and try to replicate it if possible.  I like to provide several options at all times – some horizontal, some vertical and ideally of different textures. 

My cats are most consistent about scratching on corrugated cardboard scratch pads.  They seem to prefer the texture of regular corrugated cardboard scratch pads to the Emery Cat pads.  Make sure the pad is large enough that your cat anchors it securely when he sits on it to scratch.  You can find corrugated scratch pads that hang from a door knob if your cat prefers a vertical arrangement and there are stable slanted options available too.

Lots of cats are very happy with low-tech, homemade solutions too.  If you have someone handy in the household, cut a thick sturdy branch (choose a branch that is at least several inches wider than your cat) and wedge it securely in a corner of the basement or utility room (if that is somewhere your cat is comfortable).  Or get really creative, attach it to a sturdy base and figure out how to work it into your d├ęcor!  (Good luck on that one.) 

My new discovery is that my cats *love* to scratch a rolled up area rug.  If you have an old one (or a cheap one but an old cheap one would be best) roll it up so the bottom is facing out and either lay it on the floor or brace it in a corner of the cat room for scratching.  The rug my cats just inherited after our move should last for years. 

  • Make the right locations fun. 
My cats love catnip so I put a little catnip on their scratching spots each day when I feed them.  This encourages them to roll, play and scratch in that particular area.  I try to sift the catnip into the corrugated cardboard pads a little bit so they really work to get it out. 

If your cat doesn’t really like catnip, try the Cosmic Catnip brand.  My guys are pretty unimpressed by some of the other brands but really love Cosmic Catnip.  If you have multiple cats, make sure you provide multiple scratchers/catnip locations as some cats will get rowdy and play rough or beat up on each other when given catnip. 

If you are really ambitious, you could reward your cat for scratching in the right spots with treats.  You could even break out a clicker and click-treat for interaction with the scratching pad. 

If you have dogs, put the appropriate scratching opportunities in a room separate from the dogs.  Lots of dogs like to “help” correct cats when they are scratching and you don’t want your dog to deter your cat from scratching in the right place. 

  • Make the wrong locations not fun. 
Anything that changes the texture of the surface will help.  Double sided tape or covering a horizontal surface with saran wrap or tin foil can help deter scratching.  Active corrections like squirting your cat with a spray bottle filled with water or tossing a penny can near him may help deter inappropriate scratching.  (A penny can is an empty soda can that you put a couple of coins in and tape the opening shut.  When you toss it in his direction – not right at him! – it will make a noise that will startle him.)  However, these options will only work when you are home so you will probably need to prevent him from having physical access to this spot when you aren’t home to supervise during the training period. 

  • Trim your cat’s toenails. 
This doesn’t end the problem but it reduces scratching and prevents them from doing much damage if they choose something inappropriate to scratch on.  I just trim front toenails and do it once every week or two (add it to your list of Saturday morning chores).  I sit on the couch with a cat tucked under one arm.  The back of the couch prevents them from being able to back out of my hold.  Then I trim their toenails with normal human fingernail trimmers.    

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Moving and New Move Resolutions

The Positive Paw pack just moved from the beautiful mountains of western North Carolina to eastern North Carolina.  Like many trainers, I have a vocation (horticulture) that helps to support my avocation (dogs, horses and critters of all sorts).  When I was offered a fabulous “real job” closer to the coast, it was too great an opportunity to pass up.  So the kids and I loaded up the Uhaul and headed east.  (Just kidding, I loaded up the Uhaul with a friend and the kids mostly spectated.) 
We have been in our new home for less than 48 hours and I thought this would be a good time to discuss ways to help your pack transition better when and if you have to move:

  • Crate training really helps! 

My dogs were crated far more than usual for several days while we loaded the Uhaul (I didn’t want anyone slipping out the door and into the road!), drove (the dogs don’t ride loose in the car – see the entries on “My Not So Excellent Adventure” and “This is How We Roll”) and unloaded.  Luckily my dogs are very used to and comfortable in their crates, so this extended crate time didn’t stress them out.  In fact, in light of all the chaos going on around them being crated actually helped them to settle and relax.  It also allowed me to focus on packing and loading efficiently instead of worrying about the pups. 

Once we were unloaded in the new house, I brought the dogs in and they all ran back into their crates.  I had to laugh because this was after spending the night (while we stayed at a hotel) and most of the day in the car!!  I didn’t shut the doors, but it was great to know that after all that time crated, they came into the new house and were reassured to find their crates.  In a changing situation, they view their crates as their “safe place” and spot to relax.  Of course, you could do the same thing with a dog bed but the real advantage to the crate is that you can shut the door and have that added protection of knowing your dog is confined when you need it. 

At home, my dogs aren’t normally crated during the day but I am crating them when I go out right now.  We have moved from a very rural setting to one with neighbors.  Crating them when I leave means they can’t practice any undesirable behaviors like standing up and looking out the windows or barking at the neighbors or birds in the backyard while I am gone.  Once we are all comfortable in the new house, I’ll gradually transition back to not crating during the day.

  • Provide happy constructive activities to keep your dog busy and entertained.

Since the dogs were spending *way* more time in their crates than usual, I focused on giving them plenty of good chewing opportunities (recreational raw bones are the norm in my house but you could stuff kongs or any other treat dispensing toy).  I did a tiny bit of trick training before each meal to give each of them a little individual interaction (usually it was just a couple of repetitions behaviors they already know like sit, lie down, high five, touch, rollover).  I also sacrificed a couple of small cardboard boxes, paper towel rolls and some newspaper for the girls to run around with, tear up and destroy. 

  • Aim for as much consistency as you can. 

I tried to keep my pets’ routines as normal as possible.  For the dogs, this meant getting out for a little walk in the usual places – even if we couldn’t go as far or as long as normal.  I also tried to make time every night for the girls’ indoor playtime even though it had to be shortened (sometimes it was only a couple of minutes long).  For Ben, I made it a point not miss evening snuggle time – even if it was for just a minute or two.  For the cats, it meant leaving them in my old house for a couple of days after everything was packed even though I was staying with a friend.  This way, I wasn’t bouncing them between multiple houses. 

  • Small spaces make transitions easier for cats.

The cats were shut in a single room while we were loading the Uhaul.  My cats are indoor only at this point so they were easy to find and confine.  If you have indoor/outdoor cats though, you many need to confine them before you start packing since nervous cats may be difficult to find for days at a time.  (If Stella had access to the out of doors, I would have confined her before packing the first box since she is very flighty about any change in the routine.)

During the actual drive, the cats were confined to large dog crates with small litter boxes.  I offered them food and water at each stop (they invariably spill the water if I leave it in the kennels while driving).  This setup worked great, even when we had to stay in a hotel overnight since they had access to litter all the time, and water and food at regular intervals.

With the help of a friend, I was able to carry the crated cats right into the house and the “cat room” when we arrived.  I shut the cats in their new room overnight to help them relax.  It also helped them learn where the litter box, food and scratching posts were.  Since this house is small, I was able to quickly transition them to having run of the house.  The larger the house is though, the slower I give them access to new space.  When we moved into the big house on the mountain, I gave them a new room every couple of days. 

The speed of the transition depends largely on the personality of your cat.  A more timid cat will be reassured by a slower transition (maybe even start out confining him to a bathroom) while a bold cat may not require as much time.  (My cat Cleo is uber-confident and The Queen of Moving.  She adjusts to almost any move within a day or so but she is a *rare* exception.  This is also our sixth move together.)  Too much space at once increases anxiety and the risk that your cat will hide, mark territory, scratch inappropriate objects or have litter box issues.

  • Plan for the worst and manage, manage, manage.

If your critters have any issues, expect that the stress of the move will exacerbate them and be prepared.  This way, you are one step ahead of the problem.  If it doesn’t happen – great!  But it’s always better to be safe than sorry – especially when your pet’s safety is at risk.  No matter what your pet’s issue is (marking in the house, chewing, not coming when called, separation anxiety, etc), assume that the move will make it worse and take proactive steps to alleviate and manage the issue. 

As much as I hated to leave all of my clients and their dogs behind in the mountains, I am excited about my job opportunity here.  I will start teaching classes again after I have settled in but right now my goal is to focus on my dogs and working with them.  I have realized that over the years, I spend so much time working with other people and their dogs that I have a tendency to come home and manage my dogs rather than actively changing their behaviors.  While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, I look forward to working with and training my own dogs more.

Meanwhile, I’m still just a phone call or email away for my WNC clients.  I will still be posting on Positive Paw (and Positive Paw on Facebook too).  I will also be back in the mountains regularly to catch up with friends and hope to see some of “my puppies” then.  So please contact me if you have any questions and I’ll keep you updated on how the Positive Paw pack is doing with our transition. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Adopt and Save a Life

Or, “Why you should look to your local animal shelter for your next pet”
There are many reasons you should adopt your next pet from the local animal shelter.  Most of us are looking for companion animals, not purpose bred working dogs and millions of really great companion animals are put to sleep in animal shelters every year.   In the US alone, an estimated 5 to 7 million companion animals wind up in animal shelters every year.  Of these animals, approximately 3 to 4 million are euthanized.  The reality is that 60 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats that enter shelters each year die.

5 out of 10 dogs are euthanized simply because there aren’t people to adopt them while 7 out of 10 cats are euthanized for lack of adopters.  This means that the vast majority of these animals are put to sleep not for behavioral or health reasons but simply because there are more animals than there are people to adopt them.

How do these animals wind up in shelters?  These animals come in either as owner surrenders or strays.  Many strays are never reunited with their owners due to lack of proper identification (collar tags, microchips, tattoos).  It is estimated that 15-20% of dogs are returned to their owners while less than 2% of cats are.

While some animals are relinquished for behavioral issues, many animals are dumped in shelters for totally unrelated issues including: moving, landlord issues, cost of maintenance, lack of time, inadequate facilities, too many pets in the home, owner illness or death, and personal problems.  Many owners are unprepared or unsuited to caring for the pet.  In my experience, while challenging dogs certainly do exist, most of the “behavioral issues” that dogs are relinquished for are basic training issues.  Many owners fail to understand the time and energy that a pet will require.  Others choose to give their pets up when major life changes make pet ownership more challenging.  Even more owners simply don’t have the knowledge to train their pets effectively.

Very nice dogs and cats wind up in shelters on a regular basis through no fault of their own.  Due to the high euthanasia rate in many areas, animals with significant behavioral issues frequently never make it to the adoption floor.  (This doesn’t mean it can’t happen, but it isn’t an everyday affair.)

If you are set on having a purebred dog, it is estimated that 25% of dogs that wind up in shelters are purebred.  I even find purebred puppies in shelters.  You may need to spend a little more time looking and waiting for the right animal but it is well worth the investment of time.  If you want a specific breed, use to search for animals by breed and location.

If you are concerned that adopting a dog from a shelter is buying “damaged goods”, rest assured that I see just as many problem dogs that were raised from puppies in their own home as I do adopted dogs.  In fact, one of my clients bought a puppy expressly because she “didn’t want a dog that someone else had screwed up”.  Two years later she realized that she had “a dog I have screwed up all by myself!”  Most of us raise puppies like we drive cars – we like to think that we are way above average when we probably aren’t.

Finally, few things are as satisfying as knowing you have made a difference for a homeless animal.  I adopted all three of my current dogs from local shelters and pull great dogs out of shelters on a regular basis.  Watching these dogs learn, grow and develop to their full potential is very satisfying.       

So go ahead, get out there and check out your local shelter.  Your new best friend is waiting for you.  Adopt and save a life.

Below, you'll find some photos of just a few of the wonderful dogs I have found in shelters.

 Pip Squeak, Ben, Nellie