Well Socialized? No, Well Traumatized

Saturday Afternoon, 3:00PM, Trinity Bellwoods Dog Bowl

This weekend I caught up with a couple that had taken group classes in the summer. Their roughly two year old rescue lab mix had been doing great. Right after adoption, leash pulling was their major problem, and they were proud (and I was pleasantly surprised!) that just six months later, the dog walked on a loose leash, even on the way to the dog park, and all they did to create that was click then treat for walking on a loose leash (They were able to totally fade out food reinforcement for leash walking very quickly they remarked).

They hired me for a private lesson because they observed and their dog walker observed that their dog was being rude with other dogs at the dog park. First, lots of mounting and humping. Second, chasing down and harassing dogs that were nervous or had “given up”. Third, grappling other dogs by their collars during wrestling.

Our appointment was for 3pm on Saturday afternoon, and after meeting at the school, we walked towards Trinity Bellwoods to enter the dog bowl – the official off-leash area for dogs in the park, so I could observe their dog’s behaviour and offer suggestions on what to do to improve it.

We started off by having her to some basic exercises (sit, down, offering attention, etc.) and then we released her to go play.

She found a Golden Retriever and proceeded to wrestle, and very quickly mounted and humped him. “Too bad!” I said, as I went to get her, moved her away by her harness, and leashed her up. Timeout time.

We tried again in a minute, and this time she ran into the mix of dogs at the park. Within a few seconds, a Doberman, German Shepherd, and Rottie mix started chasing her. It was starting to look ugly. She ran and ran, and eventually came to a halt, and offered appeasement signals (c-shaped spine, head low, whale eye, pinned ears) and the pack of three dogs wouldn’t let up. I ran into the group and physically shielded her from all three, and the owner of the Doberman saw me do this and proceeded to collect his dog. The remaining two dogs moved on by themselves. Their owners were absent.

THIS is what an unhappy dog looks like. The Ridgeback is being a jerk.
She looked just like the Beagle in this picture. Owner intervention required ASAP!(Photo courtesy of Paivi Reijonen)

 

I moved with my clients’ to the other side of the bowl and we let her go again. This time, she found a slightly smaller mixed breed dog and started giving chase. She was now chasing down a dog and making him feel uncomfortable! The same appeasement signals were being offered. We jumped in and quickly timed out our dog. What a hypocrite, we all thought!

Off in the distance, the three dogs that were bullying my clients’ dog were doing it to somebody else’s dog, but this time, no one was intervening. We had enough distance so I wasn’t concerned about my clients’ dog’s well being. But somebody’s dog was not very happy.

On the way out, our clients’ dog went to visit the German Shepherd. He told her off, hard, just because she entered his space. She got the hint and we moved on. Another dog went to visit the German Shepherd, and he got told off. I quickly realized that the Shepherd was resource guarding his owners. Yet they had brought their resource guarding dog and were just sitting around the dog bowl thinking nothing of it.

THIS is What Goes On?

I don’t go to these parks with my own dogs. I forget what goes on in places like this. Enclosed spaces devoid of anything interesting where too many dogs hang out – understimulated by the environment, but overaroused by other dogs. Too many people think that these dogs are playing and having fun. They were not. There was serious bullying and overarousal going on.

Today at lunch something connected. I get a lot of aggression cases where clients report that their dog was “well socialized” and spent a lot of time at the dog park. What I came to realize is all the owners with their dogs at the dog bowl that day were there because they really think that’s what the definition of dog socialization is, and that’s what dog play looks like.

If you took the average dog and had them stay in a poisoned environment like that for any length of time for weeks or months, I would be surprised if that dog did not develop an aggression problem. All that happens is dogs get bullied, these dogs learn that other dogs can be dangerous or threatening, my owners don’t help me at all, and the only way to get relief is to fight for it.

THIS is Normal


This is a video from a nearby park of two dogs meeting. One is trying a bit too hard. (OK, mine, the Beagle). The other dog offers some calming signals (head turn, look away, lay down) to communicate some discomfort. For the most part the Beagle backs off and the video ends with him reciprocating a head turn. After that the two just went off and did their own thing.

This is a video of Rachael taking a group of dogs out for a hike. This would be a great example of an alternative to being taken to a concrete, paved dog run.

THIS is NOT Healthy – But Sadly Normal at Dog Parks

In this above video by Sue Sternberg, you can see a small dog doing appeasement gestures and clearly asking for help.  Owner intervention is required immediately. If I owned the little dog I would body-block him and even just pick him up and immediately leave the park. If this dog is repeatedly taken to the dog park and experiences this, I have no doubt he will develop a serious dog aggression problem very quickly.

Excuses, Excuses

“Oh, but that’s how dogs play”

“My dog likes playing rough”

“Your dog needs to toughen up!”

“Let them work it out.”

Too commonly heard at places like the dog bowl. All wrong. That’s why I don’t go to places like that anymore, especially when it is busy.

Recognize Oncoming Disasters When You See Them

This is why I cringe a little when I hear of my clients’ taking their puppies to the dog park. I hope they have learned what we have taught them in puppy class, so they can identify what is good play and what is bullying. I also hope that they don’t unlearn due to the off-repeated mantras that well-intentioned but really uneducated owners parrot at dog parks. This Saturday afternoon at the dog bowl was a mess. Recognize a disaster in the making when you see it and keep your dog safe. Socialize, don’t traumatize your dog.

(Updated – Nov 19: A couple of commenters with a good eye did point out that the original video I used from puppy class wasn’t the best example. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WehLVdUPHpc – Things pointed out were tail tucked, trying to climb into person’s legs etc. for relief. So I am switching it out for another video that is a better example,  I hope. The Springer and Beagle were good friends by the end of class and in future socialization classes though, so don’t worry about her!)

Hi! I am in training. Please give me space.

dog in training

I went to visit Marcel’s home for a private lesson to help his new family help him adjust to city living. He is very excited when he sees other dogs on his walks. He’s getting better but it’s going to take time.

As I approached their home and locked up my bike, I saw this illustration taped to their home’s front door.

Please think about it when you are out walking your dog. Dogs that are reactive and are in training are loved terribly by their families and they deserve our consideration. When people let their dogs rush up without permission (usually off-leash) and set off dogs like Marcel, I just don’t think they understand how it makes their owners feel. Keeping your dog on-leash and in-control in public spaces, and asking permission before allowing your dog to say hello – it is a small courtesy that goes a long way.

dog in training
Hi! I am in training. Please give me space.

Congratulations to our Newest CKC Canine Good Neighbours

Miko, CGN, and Ellie, CGN

This past weekend, on Saturday, April 6, the Pawsway offered testing for the CKC Canine Good Neighbour certification. I am proud to say that all four of our alumni that registered to take the test passed with flying colours!

Introducing Our Newest Canine Good Neighbours

In order of completion, we have…

Theodore, CGN
Theodore, CGN

Theodore is a rescue from the Toronto Humane Society, estimated to be somewhere between 1-2 years old. Katrina, his owner, took classes with him just recently at our Avenue Road location. Katrina only adopted Theodore in November! Excellent work.

Molly, CGN
Molly, CGN

Molly is a two year old Leonberger. Gaye, her owner, did puppy classes nearly two years ago with us, Foundation Skills class, and recently completed our Canine Good Neighbour prep class. Gaye intends to continue with Molly’s testing so she can pursue a Therapy Dog certification. She’s pretty much there I think! Well done!

Miko, CGN, and Ellie, CGN
Miko, CGN, and Ellie, CGN

Last but not least, we have Miko and Ellie, both Havaneses. Ellie did Foundation Skills with us, and Miko did both Puppy Class and Foundation Skills with us; both of them recently finished our CGN prep class (and they were classmates with Molly). Well done, Jim and Inge!

At the very last minute, I decided to actually bring my Beagle/Jack Russell-mix, Petey, for the examination as well. He has a “colourful history” (I will leave it at that) so I was particularly delighted that he did well, especially handling, restraint, and grooming by a stranger.

Tips for the Examination

Here’s a video showing how the examination was run at the Pawsway.

[youtube height=”480″ width=”720″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H1Szg7tDzac[/youtube]

 

The way the evaluator with the Pawsway ran the test is atypical of what you’ll see on YouTube and in other CGN tests I have participated in. There is no “ring” per se, and instead of fabricating distractions via volunteers in the ring, we were just taken outside to Queens Quay where no shortage of people, cyclists, joggers, and dogs passed by. Without the structure of a performance venue, with a formal crating area and ring to enter, a handful of the dogs from a dog sports/obedience background actually had a harder time staying focused in the more general chaos of the Pawsway. Midway through my examination, a group of Cairn terriers entered the Pawsway and were barking their heads off.

If your dog has a lot of experience in doing group classes or dog sports events (Rally Obedience trials, Agility trials, or even fun matches) you might be have a better likelihood of passing the test if you do it with a club/group that runs it more like an obedience trial.

The other tip is, in a more traditional format, one dog enters the ring, and all 12 tests are done back to back, meaning your dog is finished and done in about 15 minutes. If you watch this video, this is what a more typical CGN examination/test would look like:

[youtube height=”480″ width=”720″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2hMyFjVbyU[/youtube]

 

At the Pawsway, groups were evaluated at once, so the entire test took about 45 minutes to complete. That is a very long time for a dog to wait and be patient without any primary reinforcement (treats, toys etc.). A dog can fade and lose focus over that duration quite easily. In total, we were at the Pawsway for 2 hours. Of course, the first hour where we were waiting, I was practicing, training, and keeping Petey busy, and reinforcing good behaviour with treats.

The plus side to waiting for a Pawsway event to try is, you can take your dog there many times prior to the event, so that the space itself loses its novelty, and you can practice. In many situations, the examination site is not accessible, so the day of the exam is the first time your dog may have ever been there – this can be very distracting for them.

If you are interested in giving it a try, consider taking our Canine Good Neighbour prep class.

To find out when a test is coming, check out the CKC website here.

If you decide to give it a try, and of course if you pass the examination, please be sure to let us know!

New Class! Dog Sports Fundamentals

Finally, after over three years of running modular, start any-time Puppy Socialization and Foundation skills classes, we are delighted to launch our third modular program – Dog Sports Fundamentals.

The exercises chosen for this program are consistently taught as foundation/building block exercises by world-class agility and obedience competitors. Besides serving as an awesome foundation for your future in dog sports, they are, by themselves, really fun and neat tricks – and they’re challenging!

 

To get more information, please check out the course page.

 

[youtube height=”HEIGHT” width=”WIDTH”]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s8KJi2wpHTQ[/youtube]

 

We’re Thinking About Getting A Puppy.. Any Advice?

5 Weeks Old at Petsmart

A couple of months ago I got an email from friends saying they had been thinking about it, and they wanted to get a puppy. They wanted some tips and also some feedback. They recently found a breeder that was selling Golden Doodles (Golden Retriever/Poodle crosses) online and they had went to visit the breeder to see the puppies. Here’s what they said they saw:

  • The litter of puppies was living in a shed in the backyard. It was clean but separate from the house
  • There were two unsold 6 month old puppies on the premises and they were CRAZY
  • They could take the puppies home right away if they wanted.

 

They had the good sense not to make an impulse decision, so instead they went home and emailed and asked what I thought.

I broke it to them and said they had basically visited a back yard breeder/puppy mill operation.

Sorry To Break It To You, But…

  • If you bought your puppy online with a credit card from a web site that sounds like “perfectpuppies.com” or “buyapuppyonline.com”, you probably got a puppy mill puppy.
  • If you bought your puppy from the window of a pet store, you definitely got a puppy mill puppy.
  • If you answered an advertisement on Kijiji, you got a back yard breeder puppy.
  • If you didn’t have to actually apply and go through a selection process to get your puppy.. well anyways you get the idea.

 

Why Care?

Other than the animal rights aspects of this (see horrible puppy mill video here) why should anyone care? These backyard bred puppies weren’t abused at all. They were just raised by people who got two dogs together and made a litter. We’ll get them at 8 weeks old and do a great job at socializing them and training them, and live happily ever after, right?

 

What Happens Before 8 Weeks Matters a Ton

Grisha Stewart, her in book, Behavior Adjustment Training, talks about her own dog, Peanut. She rescued Peanut from the shelter at ten weeks old. Peanut ended up being severely dog and people reactive. How could this be? She was a professional dog trainer, and she took him to two six-week puppy classes and two six-week adolescent dog classes. She used systematic desensitization and classical counter-conditioning to try to help Peanut get over his fears. The problems began before Peanut was even born.

Genetics: Peanut’s mother was so fear-aggressive, the shelter had to euthanize her.

Chemical Stress in Utero: Peanut’s mother lived in presumably not-so-nice conditions when Peanut was in-utero – this stress affects the development of all the puppies she was carrying.

Environmental Stress: From eight weeks to ten weeks, during a critical developmental period where puppies start becoming aware of danger, his entire litter was exposed to a building full of fearful dogs, and he was also neutered at eight weeks old. Not a place or a procedure for a young puppy to learn the world is safe and wonderful.

Basically, much of how your puppy will turn out is determined before you even take your puppy home. Therefore, where you get your puppy matters a ton.

(FYI, Peanut is a therapy dog now. But it took her jedi-like skills to make it happen and in doing so, she created an entire protocol for helping dogs get over fear.)

 

Find the Right Breeder, Get the Right Puppy

When you have determined what breed you want and what is appropriate for you (a whole separate topic), start looking for a breeder and think about all the things that Peanut had against him.

Genetics – What were the parents like? Are they health tested? Are they therapy dogs/CGN titled? Sport titles?

In-Utero Stress – What kind of environment does the bitch live in? (Imagine what it must be like to go through the gestation period inside a filthy, uncomfortable puppy mill with dozens of other barking dogs, or be in an uncomfortable backyard shed, isolated from social contact)

Environment from birth to 8 weeks – What kind of environment do the puppies live in as their eyes open, ears start hearing, and they start learning about the world? What are they being socialized to, and how are they being socialized? Or are they living in a back yard shed, where they will have never seen anything other than the four walls of the room?

Responsible breeders also take measures to reduce pet overpopulation. This can be done by offering to take back the dog at any stage of its life (it puts the onus on the breeder to select appropriate homes for each puppy) and possibly through a spay/neuter clause in the contract.

 

Early Socialization Starts Before 8 Weeks

Two years ago I hosted a Puppy Socialization Party for a 7-week old litter of Icelandic Sheepdogs from Solhundur Icelandic Sheepdogs. Prior to leaving the litter to go to their forever homes, these dogs have been on car rides, to a dog training school, met dozens of people (house visitors to their house, as well as people out and about) and had even had some beginner clicker training.

This past winter break, Rachael and I were invited to go to a Puppy Socialization Party at Van Wijn Tuin Dutch Shepherds. In this video you can see the puppies live inside a home environment, where they are exposed to a variety of surfaces, meet a variety of people (including one child this evening), have all sorts of cameras with flashes point at them, and have these strange house visitors even feed them to start building positive associations with strangers.

Responsible breeders have to put in so much more effort than their kijiji/puppy mill counterparts. Consider the amount of work to be done… it is literally a full time job for months for one person to properly raise a litter of puppies in a textbook fashion. This socialization has to even include being taken off property to other places (in a safe fashion, taking into consideration risks of disease).

5 Weeks Old at Petsmart
5 Weeks Old at Petsmart

These puppies will have been exposed to almost all of the items of Dr. Sophia Yin’s Socialization Checklist  before they have even left the litter. How lucky are these guys vs. their backyard breeder counterparts?

 

No Guarantees

Let’s say you do this perfectly – you find the best breeder that has litter after litter of champion show dogs, agility superstars, and therapy dogs with brilliant temperaments, and they raise the litter according to procedures such as the Puppy Prodigies Early Learning Program – and then you take the reigns and enroll in a high quality puppy socialization program and continue the process of careful socialization and training – all of this is no guarantee of the perfect dog.

Mother Nature can have a way of throwing you a curve ball. Casey Lomonaco, writer, and dog trainer/behaviour consultant extraordinare, did everything textbook with her puppy, Cuba, yet when he hit adolescence, he started exhibiting highly reactive behavior in very strange situations. You can read about her experience here: http://www.rewardingbehaviors.com/2012/10/06/voyage-with-cuba-the-next-leg/

 

Close to a Sure Thing: Adopt a Mature Dog

This is just my opinion, but I believe that if you want to maximize the chance that you’ll end up with a dog that fits your ideal lifestyle, the best way to do this is to rescue a mature adult dog. In particular, a foster-to-adopt arrangement would be ideal, since oftentimes, problem behaviors are suppressed until after the dog has been placed in a normal home environment. A four year old dog, confirmed to be good with children, is likely to remain good with children for the rest of his life. A three year old dog that sleeps at home calmly all day, is likely not to develop separation anxiety later in life. A two year old dog that loves tug, loves food, and loves training, would probably make a great project dog for dog sports.

That being said, even this is no guarantee, since fear and anxiety can be learned (my seven year old Petey, who is totally neutral towards dogs, could be attacked savagely by a dog tomorrow, and become dog aggressive because of it) or develop with age (changes in visual acuity, pains and discomfort, dementia, etc.) Many of my clients’ own dogs started off being good with all dogs, but due to repeated attacks or being charged by off-leash dogs, learned to become aggressive.

 

A Lifelong Commitment

Regardless of how you end up with your dog, you chose him, not the other way around. He didn’t ask to go home with you – it was your decision and yours alone. For that reason, you have an obligation to stick with them right till the end. And, if you care about the welfare of animals, and you don’t want puppy mills and backyard breeders to produce litters of fearful and aggressive dogs that end up in shelters, where you get your puppy is what makes the difference.

My friends ended up finding another Golden Doodle breeder. Some key differences – the litter was being raised in the family house, where they were exposed to people all day long, as well as the sights and sounds of a household. They were able to meet the parents. And, the puppy is doing great in puppy class – fearless, loves to play, self-regulates arousal, accepts handling and restraint, likes people, and is pretty easy to train. They have “normal” puppy challenges such as house training, inappropriate chewing, nipping etc. I hope that they never have to worry about fear, reactivity, and aggression problems. Otherwise they might have to become professional dog trainers to develop the skills to overcome them.

Good Dog Owners Want Increased Bylaw Enforcement

Recently I was a guest on a Toronto-area talkshow, Goldhawk Live. They invited Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong to talk about his proposal to allow select city parks to have “off leash” hours for dogs early in the morning and later at night. I was brought on as a dog behaviour expert for the show.

One of the points I made was that the majority of dog owners are good owners who respect leash laws, pick up after their dogs, and invest in training and do their best to keep their dog from infringing upon the rights of others. The minority spoil it for good dog owners, and make us all look bad.

Certainly, while good dog owners can socially shame others to do things like pick up their dog’s poop, unfortunately, that only goes so far. We need more enforcement of bylaws so that those bad apples respect leash laws, pick up after their dogs, and start behaving responsibly.

This is what I saw today on King Street West in the middle of the day. A dog tethered to a bicycle, riding in traffic. It is a horrible idea and a copycat behaviour I am seeing more of.

What bad behaviours drive YOU crazy? Comment below and let’s discuss.

[youtube height=”HEIGHT” width=”WIDTH”]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WjNRl5GzzPo[/youtube]

 

Beagle and Springer Spaniel at Puppy Socialization

Beagle and Springer Spaniel

Just a short cute video I took during Puppy Socialization class today at our Avenue Road school.

Watson the fun loving Beagle really knew how to bring out the confidence in Diva the Springer Spaniel.

In previous classes, the other puppies had too boisterous a play style, so we had Diva mostly sit on the sidelines and watch. With the right pairing, a young puppy’s confidence can come out.

Unfortunately, too often at dog parks, or poorly run puppy classes, shy dogs get bulldozed by more rambunctious puppies, which can actually cause them to become fearful of dogs later in life.

[youtube height=”HEIGHT” width=”WIDTH”]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WehLVdUPHpc[/youtube]

Making All City Parks Off-Leash Dog Parks Is Crazy

Dufferin Grove Park Off-Leash Dogs

*December 6 update* – Just to close the issue on this, since getting clarification that the proposal is for “select” city parks to be given “courtesy hours” early in the AM and later in the PM, it is safe to say that responsible dog owners would be strongly in favour of this. This allows dog owners more options for legal off-use areas, and allows others to wish to avoid off-leash dogs a greater ability to avoid them, since where and when they are off-leash would be understood. Great for dogs in need of space.

Toronto city councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong made the news by suggesting that all city parks be made available for off-leash use by dog owners from 9pm-9am.

At first glance, this may seem like a good idea, and you’d think that any dog loving person would be in support of this. However, upon closer evaluation, this is a horrible idea both for everyone.

Four Reasons Why This Is A Very Bad Idea:

  • Many dogs chase and bite fast moving objects. In particular, cyclists, runners, and children do not mesh well with dogs. Many dogs chase fast moving objects and can frighten a cyclist, causing them to fall, or bite a runner. Dogs do not belong off leash anywhere near cycling or running trails.
  • Small children are susceptible to being knocked over and injured by dogs. It is for this reason children do not belong in dog parks. Similarly, dogs do not belong off leash near where small children play.
  • When a dog is off-leash, the likelihood of even diligent owners picking up every poop is reduced. Couple in darkness, and, the odds of poop being left in city parks where users sit, run through, and roll on increases. Dog feces can carry zoonotic disease like various types of worms, giardia, and other parasites and bacteria. This is a health risk to everyone, but especially the young, elderly, and those with compromised immune systems.
  • Not all dogs want to play with other dogs off leash. Many owners that have dogs that are elderly, injured, have disabilities, are fearful, or even aggressive need spaces to walk their dogs, on leash, and be free from interactions from other dogs. A boisterous, friendly dog, that runs up to any of these dog is a disaster waiting to happen. If any park is fair game for off-leash dogs, these dogs will have nowhere to go.

 

Minnan-Wong is correct in that there are too few dedicated off-leash parks in the city. As a result, in every community in Toronto, there are school fields and parkettes everywhere that are already being used illegally by dog owners as unofficial off-leash parks anyways. But, in these cases, they are usually free of children, joggers, cyclists, and other users of the park that would naturally come into conflict with off-leash dog owners.

In other places, such as the greenspace along the Martin Goodman trail, due to the high volume of cyclists and joggers, the vast majority of dog owners keep their dogs on leash. It’s a smart move anyways, since no one want to see their dog get run over by a cyclist, or have their dog chase down and bite a cyclist.

However, by making it officially legal to allow any dog off leash at any city park during that time period, there will be an significant increase in the number of runner/cyclist/child dog incidents. Many of these incidents will involve biting.

It’s Not Quite Like That In New York

He claims that this works in cities like New York. But, as far as I know, only Central Park has off-leash dog hours. This leaves many other places for joggers, cyclists, and dogs who’d rather not play with others to enjoy, free from having to deal with off-leash dogs. A blanket rule that allows any dog to be off-leash at any city park is quite dangerous.

What I would propose:

The city should just greatly expand the number of approved off-leash areas to meet need. Perhaps officially designate a large # of city parks as off-leash areas during designated times. But, each park should be considered carefully, taking into consideration the other types of use it currently serves. This already happens unofficially.

For example, Dufferin Grove, by College and Dufferin, is not an official off-leash dog park, but, the soccer field is commonly used by local residents as an off-leash park during the day. It is not a park commonly used by cyclists or joggers, and the playground area where children play is far away and physically separated by fencing. Dufferin Grove is very easily a park that should be approved to be an official off-leash dog park, provided soccer games are not in session.

Dufferin Grove Park Off-Leash Dogs
Duke and Elmo, off-leash,at Dufferin Grove Park. No soccer game, no joggers, no cyclists, no children, well-trained, great recalls – no problem.

There already is a process for applying for off-leash areas. Why not just make it work faster, and approve more of them?

http://www.toronto.ca/parks/facilities/dogs/application.htm

PLEASE, for the sake of everyone, including dog-lovers, please do not implement a blanket bylaw that allows any dog to be off leash at any city park. It is a disaster waiting to happen.

Good Behaviour Depends on Good Health

Finnegan Beagle

If you’ve hired one of us from When Hounds Fly to discuss behaviour problems (fear, anxiety, reactivity, aggression), you’ll remember that before we even talk about the behaviour problems, we spend time talking about the overall lifestyle of the dog.

The House of Good Health

Sabine Contreras of Better Dog Care (her business is in dog nutrition counselling) has a framework on her web site called “The House of Good Health”:

House of Health

When the foundation and pillars falter, behaviour falters.

Recent Examples

Just in the last two weeks alone, here are three anecdotal stories that support this common belief:

  • My own Beagle, Duke, we discovered, was suffering from some sort of skin problem. We noticed this due to flaking and itchiness. At the same time, his reactivity towards dogs increased. Once diagnosed and addressed, the skin flaking and itchiness subsided, and his reactivity to dogs decreased again to very low levels.
  • Another client’s dog, who withdrew from group classes due to dog aggression, worked with us via private lessons. The dog had ongoing gastrointestinal issues. We referred to Christine Ford of Oh My Dog and she prescribed a new home prepared diet. Within a short period of time of starting to just transition to the new diet, we received this email:

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]Beau is doing much better, thanks for asking.  We increased his new food to 15% a few days ago, so we are going to keep him on that amount for a few more days.  His poops are still pretty good – he is pooping more often and each poop is pretty small, so we are making sure to take him out more often.

There was one question I wanted to run by you – has it been your experience that when dogs are eating a poor diet, that this can impact their behaviour?  This may sound crazy, but we have noticed that with the supplements and the small portion of new food, Beau’s dog aggression has decreased a bit.  We weren’t sure if this was due to all the training we have been doing, but we noticed the biggest difference when we started changing his diet.[/quote]

  • Another past student emailed saying that their dog had suddenly started growling and fighting with other dogs in his walking group. So much so, that the walkers had to crate and isolate this dog for safety. They were interested in training, but instead, I directed them to their vet. I didn’t hear back from them for a while and upon checking in, this is what they had to say:

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]

As you suggested we took him to the vet when he started acting grumpy to other dogs. The vet thought he might be having lower back pain. Finn was on painkillers for a few days and that seemed to do the trick. So all’s well that ends well.

 

[/quote]

Get Started Now

Is all undesired behaviour related to the foundations and pillars as Sabine calls them? No, of course not. However, before embarking on a journey of training and behaviour modification, it is irresponsible not to exhaust every avenue and leave no stone unturned on the foundations of diet, exercise, physical health, and environmental enrichment.

With health related issues, first consult your veterinarian. Tell them if your dog is having behaviour problems. They should be helpful and not hinder your attempts just to ensure your dog is in perfect health. Some veterinarians have out of date information regarding behaviour and will be resistant. If they are, that is a red flag, since any good behaviour modification program starts with an evaluation of health.

Diet can make a huge difference, so consider hiring someone like Sabine or Christine to help you formulate a home prepared diet. This is especially true if you have a dog with allergies or gastrointestinal issues.

Finally, hire a dog trainer/behaviour consultant who understands how to use humane, force-free methods to help with fear, anxiety, and aggression to get help with the training component of helping your dog out.

Finnegan Beagle
Finnegan the Beagle two years ago in puppy class. Suddenly growling and crusty just because his back hurt. Now he’s back to being the dog loving Beagle he always was.

Additional Resources

Sabine Contreras, Better Dog Care

Christine Ford, Oh My Dog

Emily Fisher has a longer post about this very same topic with her own dog, Elsie

Jean Dodds Hemopet – Blood Testing

Managing and Treating Separation Anxiety

Separation Anxiety

What is Separation Anxiety?

Separation anxiety is a condition in dogs where emotionally and physiologically, the dog becomes panic stricken when he’s apart from his owner or people in general. Typically it manifests itself when a dog is left home alone.

  • Behaviors that occur when a dog is suffering from separation anxiety:
  • Urination (a normally housebroken dog will soil within minutes of being left alone)
  • Vomiting
  • Self-mutilation (licking his/her own paws excessively till the fur is gone and the skin is raw)
  • Destroying objects (pillows, shoes, door trim, trying to eat the door)
  • Barking or howling

 

Some physiological signs include:

  • Sweaty paws
  • Glazed eyes
  • Panting
  • Excessive pacing

 

Why does it develop?

There are many reasons why a dog may develop separation anxiety. It has been observed that puppies that are transported by air cargo during puppyhood (specifically, around 8-11 weeks) have a higher likelihood of developing separation anxiety. It also develops when a dog never has the opportunity to practice being alone, especially when growing up as a puppy (for example, an owner who takes time off from work and is with the puppy 24/7 for weeks at a time). Major lifestyle changes such as a work-from-home person suddenly having to go to an office 9-5, or moving to a new home can also cause separation anxiety to appear later in life.

Regardless of the reason, it is a major reason why dogs end up in shelter (Dogs can bark and howl loudly – if they have separation anxiety, the owners get eviction notices).

 

Don’t confuse Separation Anxiety for Boredom

A dog that chews your shoes when you’re gone may just be bored and wanted to chew your shoe. Similarly, a dog that soils in the house when left alone may just not be housebroken – or you left them at home for longer than their bladder could handle. Look for sweaty paw prints, drool puddles, glazed eyes, etc. as signs that it is separation anxiety and not a general training issue. Recording your dog with a camera when you’re gone is a good way to tell.

 

Managing Separation Anxiety

Solving separation anxiety, after its developed, may take months or years. So you’ll need management strategies while you implement treatment strategies. Here are a few:

  • Confine the dog to a small room, leaving only chew toys and dog items in the room (kongs stuffed with food, hard, safe chew toys, etc.) This way he can’t eat your shoes or destuff a pillow. He may ignore the kongs when you’re gone (too panicked to touch them) but that will change over time.
  • Crate train your dog and create him when left alone – leave toys/chews inside. Again, this is about minimizing damage to the house and the dog when you’re gone.
  • Leave the dog with a friend when you’re gone.
  • Leave the dog at dog daycare if you need to be away for long durations.
  • Have a dogwalker come mid-day to give him a break – have the dogwalker return the dog to the crate or room and resupply with new kongs.
  • Use “natural” anti-anxiety products like Rescue Remedy in his water
  • Try a product like a Thundershirt
  • Consider using a DAP Diffuser in the small room (pheromones for calming anxious dogs)
  • Consider prescription anxiety drugs from your vet as a short term solution (to lower the anxiety to a level that treatment strategies become effective) – discuss this with your vet. In the case of severe separation anxiety, this may be the only way to start making inroads in addressing the problem.

 

Treating Separation Anxiety

  • Exercise the dog before departure (30-40 minutes, offleash, running – playing fetch, etc.) and then give them some time to rest and recover.
  • Leave home from different doors, wear different coats and shoes, don’t always get your wallet and keys in the same order – mix it up – sometimes put your coat on and go sit in the living room. You’re trying to randomize the predictors of departure so that anxiety doesn’t build up as you get ready to leave.
  • Feed your dog when you leave (i.e. give breakfast in a food dispensing toy such as a Kong Wobbler when you leave for work, and dinner when you go out for the night)
  • Leave stuffed kongs and other food toys in the crate or room your dog is left in.
  • Most importantly – practice PLANNED DEPARTURES

 

What is a Planned Departure?

A planned departure is leaving your home for a set amount of time strictly for the purposes of desensitizing your dog to being left alone. If you pack up and leave, you may find your dog is silent for 1 minute at first, then the barking or urination starts at 1:01. If that’s his threshold, you leave for 55 seconds, and then return. Repeat at 56 seconds, then 57, and slowly move your way up. Doing as many as you can sporadically through the day is the best way to do this.

Over days and weeks you’ll move from increments of seconds to minutes – over time your dog will be able to tolerate being alone and loose for longer and longer periods. Once you get up to about the 10 minute mark, it’s easy to integrate this practice to your daily life – 10 minutes is enough time to go to the corner store to pick up milk, or walk to the video store to return a movie, go to the bank ATM, etc. The more reasons to leave and come back the better.

After weeks and months of work, you’ll break the 60 minute mark – at that point you’ll be able to leave your dog alone to go to the gym, eat at a neighbourhood restaurant, etc. By that time your dog should be OK to be alone for 3+ hours at a time.

Just make sure the dog is well exercised, has been opportunities to relieve himself, and you’ve left lots of chew toys and stuffed kongs (and hidden your prized pair of shoes or other at risk objects) to set your dog up for success.

Use webcams and audio recording software to help you collect useful data about whether your dog’s anxiety is getting better over time.

It is important as you work up on your departure durations to avoid leaving the dog home alone for longer than they can handle. This may mean heavy reliance on dog daycares, friends, family, and a severe impact on your social life in the short-term.

Here’s a video of a beagle that suffers from Separation Anxiety. Notice that the dog ignores food that is left behind – he is too stressed to eat – a sign that he suffers from moderate to severe separation anxiety (mildly anxious dogs will still eat when left alone).

Further resources to help:

Treating Separation Anxiety in Dogs by Malena Demartini-Price

Don’t Leave Me by Nicole Wilde

I’ll Be Home Soon by Patricia McConnell