A blog about my life with dogs.......

Monday, May 23, 2011

Doggy Reads and Doggy Deeds

I have to recommend to you a book I learned a lot from, entitled "Why does my dog act that way? A complete guide to your dogs personality" By Stanley Coren. I picked this gem up at a used book store in my area after I noticed a good review on it's back page from one of my favorite Animal Behaviorists (Patricia McConnell). This book opens your mind to an interesting world of thought on how our lovable companions got to be the lovable companions they are from the point of there birth, how experiences shape a dogs mind and before birth, discussions of studies on the genetic traits of our canine companions, where they came from and how. This book also includes an interesting 'personality profile' test and an appendix of personality profiles based on individual breeds.

Although I found myself in a personal struggle with some of the "findings" discussing pit bull terriers (looking back through the book, I made several notes in the margins and even had a page of rebuttal stuffed into the pit bull chapter siting a lack of public ability to identify the breed correctly which could skew bite reporting accuracy, as well as a high occurrence of abusing this breed for fighting or other purposes which was not , in my opinion, accurately portrayed in the data presented to the reader. A sensitive subject for me.) I found this book worthy of keeping my attention and an informative read indeed.

Doggy don't!
While enjoying a sunny day in the woods with a crew of Frisbee golfers an off leash Corgi ran straight up to Comet and I and sniffed quietly at his nose. The owner of this off leash dog continued to throw his Frisbee, after all his little off leash dog was clearly no threat to my nearly 70 pound Great Pyrenees mix......right? Well Comet's reaction to this rude little dude was loud and noticed by all eyes and ears in the park. Here we are behaving so nicely until now and next thing you know the whole park is looking at my loud dog. I can tell you what the people see. They see a big naughty dog that has to be kept on a leash.

Stop and look at this from the point of view of the leashed dog(eh-ehm, and the person at the end of the leash who is, by the way, following the rules of the park by keeping her dog leashed) you might notice that the quiet, closed mouth, little dog, was exhibiting behavior more like stalking then a "hello" or "lets play". This Corgi new she was off leash, and she knew Comet wasn't. Comets' response, loud, ruckus barking. I got a 'look' from the off leashing person who put his dog on leash for long enough at least for Comet and I to leave the area. Sigh, after a lovely walk with my well behaved dog, I ended my time in the park with a bit of disappointment. Why couldn't Comet just ignore that little stinker?

This is a great time to discuss our expectations of our dogs. Just like I am human and can't be right all the time (though, as a women this fact is debatable! ha!) so is my dog, only a dog and can't be perfect all the time. Neither can we expect that a super friendly well socialized dog, will be friends with every dog that he meets, just like, as much as I might try, I don't expect myself to be best buddies with each new dog owner, coworker, or friend of a friend I might meet. Anoter example, even if I knew I was on a diet, it would be tough not to eat at least some of a plate of brownies brought as a gift from my neighbor, just like even if the dog knows the counter top is off limits he can't help but notice you left the hot dogs on the counter, so he ate them all.

One of my favorite lines I've ever heard, (thanks, Victoria Stillwell) works so well when we think of our dogs, and just as well as we walk through our own lives,....."Set up for success."
For example:
Set your dog up for success by exercising him or her appropriately before having a guest over and expecting your dog to be a well behaved furry angel.
Set yourself up for success walking into work well rested, well fed, and with a positive attitude.

With all this in mind it would be remiss of me to continue recommending books with out pushing onto you my favorite dog author, and someone I am likely to reference repeatedly through-out my blogging. Patricia McConnell's books "The other end of the Leash" and "For the love of a dog" are two great reads from McConnell. But the great reads don't stop there. Check out her website for mini reads on specific behavior problems, like anxiety and leash manners.

And, dog gone it, get outside and enjoy your dog! Here in Iowa, the weather is just perfect for enjoying your dog! This week, I set up an old wash tub full of water in the yard for the pooches to cool off in. I get a laugh every time I see Comet 'digging' in the water. Hikes are lovely this time of year, get out early and beat the heat. But watch our for poison ivy, oak and other nasty plants like Nettles!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Body Moving! Managing space around your dog.

In a multi-dog house hold it is important to understand and manage space.

In any home with a four legged friend space management is an integral part of behavior management. More specifically I'd like to discuss using the space around your dog and yourself as a tool for modifying behavior and encouraging and creating the desired results that YOU want from your dog.
Body blocking is a term I have heard many trainers use when referring to the action of taking conscious control of the space around you in order to maneuver, manipulate or encourage your dog to do one thing or another. Here is an example.

"Wanna go outside?"
After uttering this statement a blur of fur zooms from every end of the house to the door and three fuzzy faces stare intently, not at their person, but at the door. Beloved person that you are, opens the door for those sweet drooling faces and a bum rush of canines fly out the door, one dog catching his hip on the door jam, and the eldest dog being bumped and pushed out of the way. As the loving owner, you cringe at seeing your oldest and arthritic dog becoming a bumper car.

Did you know that more often than any other spot the area around the door to outside is where dog fights could break out? Multi-dog households have an extra responsibility to encourage patience in there dogs and the door is a great example of where to do it. A great way to do this is body blocking, or managing the space around you and your dogs.

Dogs don't push with paws. People have a strong tendency to use our hands and arms to manage situations (after all, we have thumbs!) but dogs use there bodies in a different way. And because of this they respond to our bodies moving in a different way then we would naturally use our bodies to communicate.

Imagine I am at the door with three outdoor bound dogs. All three of which are nearly nose to door. I have the option of reaching over the pack to turn the handle and push the door open, but lets deny that urge and manage this situation. First, pretend your hands are tied behind your back. (Yes, seriously!) Now use your body. Walk yourself between the door and your dogs, then step forward into your dogs space. You may have to lean this way or that, or take steps to the side as your dog is set on getting out that door and doesn't know your plan. So use your feet and move your body to block the space around the door. This should result in your dog moving away from you(and the door). You are claiming the space around you. Step forward towards, almost into , your dog. After you have claimed your space, ask your dog/s to sit. And now it's time to release each dog individually out the door on command......how? That's a whole other dog blog post!

Lets take a step back and talk about your paws. Why aren't we grabbing collars and hauling dogs away from the door? That certainly is an option, but not a good one. Ask yourself who learns from that? And,...Do you want to continue this collar grabbing for the entire life of your dog?
All too often people grabbing collars, becomes a point of fear and defensiveness for some shy dogs. If your human child was deaf, or spoke another language than you, would you grab him by the collar of his shirt anytime you wanted him to move his body? I doubt it.
Also, human paws can become a toy to our pets. Hands crowding around there face, grabbing and pulling, think from your dogs point of view. And, those hands sometimes hold toys and treats. Yum! "Pawing" at your dog is likely to encourage him to play with you.

Here is a great example of that.
I am sitting on the couch watching TV when Comet comes up and nudges my hand. I then push his head away from my body, maybe I also say "leave me alone" and I don't look at him for more than a second or two. I know what Comet will do next, he will nudge again, or might hop onto the
couch with the intention of getting onto my lap. I keep pushing him away and the more I use my paws to push him the more he tries to play, soon he is barking and pawing at me. This frustrating sitation is based on a communication break down. Rough housing, like pushing, is likely an invitation to play to your dog, putting your hands in his face makes your hands into likely chew toys, "leave me alone." is probably not on his list of commands so all he heard was some funny noises coming from your head, (curious! lets investigate! ruff!). Eye contact for a second when I spoke, then I looked away,...looking at your dog can be a form of attention( just what he was looking for!) and looking away, while that is a calming signal among dogs, dogs do look away from each other during play to keep things content between the two. So what has all your efforts to get your dog to leave you alone gotten you? Just the opposite.

Back to body moving, or body blocking.
If you are on the couch and your dog is nudging into your lap, stand up and look away. This is a simple, easy and effective option for communicating that now is not the time. Teaching an "Off" command is handy for getting your dog off of objects you would rather not like fur on and providing an appropriate activity for your active, curious, lovable dog will also help when you are just not in dog mode. After all, whose responsibility is it to manage communication between species in your household? You? or your dog?

Here is a pic. of two of my three dogs out on a hike enjoying a beautiful day.
Bugsy and Comet

Monday, May 16, 2011

Hit it!

It's that season again when the weather outside is oh so conducive to being outside with your furry pal. That high temp, high humidity weather is coming, and it will slow them down. Here is some gear I love when hitting the trail with the dogs.

This collapsible water bowl is one of my favorite things. It's easy to throw in your backpack, lightweight, it pops up and stays up, isn't likely to spill, my dogs use it. You can find it at PetCo or online and it comes in several sizes. I have two, one for water, one for food.My second bowl is a size down from the one in the picture and they fit together nicely. Love them. The hole in the handle comes in handy when I use a metal clip to keep the two bowls together inside a pack during camping trips, or hang them up for easy access.

If you love being outdoors with your dogs then camping and hiking are no doubt in your dreams of summer. Want you dog to carry his weight? I know I do. Check out www.granitegear.com they have some serious hiking gear and are one of the few places I found to have serious dog hiking gear. The Long Howl Dog Pack is my personal choice for my boys. This pack doesn't wear sore patches in your pooches skin, and stays in place. My Aussie wore this pack on a 2 day camping trip where he jumped in a rushing stream, ran threw rugged terrain and hiked on leash with me everywhere our feet would take us, all wearing his pack. This pack offers what I'll call a rear hitch, so you can attach a leash to the back end of the pack. When Bugsy couldn't calm down on the trail due to the persistent presence of equestrian trail riders (not a surprise I would have hoped for) and constantly pulled the leash while I was trying to keep pace with my hiking companions up a steep incline I hooked his leash to the rear hitch and he stopped gagging himself. Also, it made me feel a lot better about him partially pulling me up the hill!
It's easy to distribute weight evenly and the wrap around his chest and belly are wide and comfortable. Bonus, it also double as a windbreaker like jacket should you choose to remove the pack from the harness.

Nature trail camping adventure? HIT IT!

Monday, May 9, 2011

You say tomato, revisiting the post

Lets talk about what happened here. Did anything go right in the interaction between the dogs (and people) in my blog post "You say tomato, I say keep your dog away from mine, please." ?

Sure. Harry had some great loose leash manners, not pulling or lunging like the approaching dog. Also, I pulled Harry just out of reach of the dog he was having a stand off with just in time to keep anybody from getting injured. (Arguably I could have done better, but) That was good. Harry did a good job of giving off a few calming signals to the approaching Lab, example: sniffing the ground. In a previous post I shared a link with an article on calming signals by Turid Rugaas noting ground sniffing as one of many calming signals dogs give to each other. I was polite and neighborly, and that's about where the good stuff ends.

Lots of things about this guy were setting off alarms, so lets not blame it all on the pooches. His slurred speech, bedraggled appearance and missing teeth gave a lot of information to go on about this man. But before you go on saying I'm judging a book by it's cover, if you read the blog post I'm not out to get this guy. And in my defense I am often bedraggled and I have 1 friend and 1 family member with missing front teeth, so there! This persons claim to currently own 20 labs was suspicious at best. If you say you have 20 dogs you are one of three things, A breeder, A hoarder, or a liar. (comment please if there are other possibilities) As the owner of three dogs I can personally guarantee you that no one that does not have plenty of money and time is able to adequately care for 20 dogs of any sort, breed or size. Even then it is debatable that could be good quality of life due to lack of individualized attention to each domestic dog. Also I personally have a very strict standard set for breeders, and all too many folks claiming to be breeders do not meet the standard. I prefer to adopt my pets from shelters and rescue groups. More on breeding later,...........

Another alarming comment is the reference to breaking up numerous dog fights. Had I been wearing my big girl strong arm bragging pants I might have joined the tough guy club and mentioned that I myself have been the guts and muscle to break up several dog fights. In reality, that is nothing to brag about. Any dog fights I may have broken up were due to working in large groups of free playing dogs at dog day cares, or in the public or other scenarios. And I am proud to say I have very rarely had to intervene with my own dogs when they meet other dogs. WHY? Because the right thing to do, for the 'owners' and the dogs is to stop it before it starts. (oh, and that's also the best thing for the vet bills. Unless you ARE the vet. Ha Ha).

What other items did I highlight in that post? And Why?
Balls-There's one that caught your attention right!? Why is she highlighting his balls?
Unaltered males, can be more of a handful than altered males. They may be more likely to be territorial, and they do have more hormones pumping through there bodies. Does this mean unaltered dogs are bad dogs? Mean dogs? Vicious dogs? NO!

Personally, I advocate for spaying and neutering all dogs and cats due to the massive population of homeless domestic animals.

Starring, wide eyed- Why shouldn't these boys stare into each others eyes? Because they are dogs. Humans have the habit of greeting each other with an outstretched hand and eye contact. This is a very human interaction. Often people are incredibly anthropomorphic when it comes to greetings with there dog. This is a perfect example. This man thought the dogs should come "face to face" when in fact a proper greeting is more of a face to bum kind of thing. :) Another way two dogs may interact is by looking away, this tells a dog I am no threat to you, see, I am looking away from you, I am no threat.

Walking straight on towards a dog is rude dog behavior. Eye contact is downright challenging. And this feeling was expressed by the dogs when they rose there tails high and stiff, that in combination with body stillness and stiffness was a red flag saying this is not okay! We are going to fight! The barring teeth and lunging that came next from the Lab was of no surprise to me.

Check out the posted suggested reading for more info on how to interpret dog body language. It may help you avoid a nasty situation with your neighbors dog.
Let me know if you have any advice for me about handling my neighbor!

Calming signals

Remember reading about Harry meeting the nieghbor and his dog? Remember the ground sniffing? Turid Rugass discusses many different calming signals dogs use in this article of hers entitled "Calming Signals, the Art of Survival"


Recommended Reading

If you are a lover of dogs with a desire to understand them, train them, or do tricks with them these are some dog gone good reads..........

Begin the journey of becoming more aware of pet nutrition by reading this fun and easy to read book about feeding Fido.
"Fat Dog Slim" By Victoria Stillwell

Expand your nutrition knowledge with this short and very useful book. This book makes making all your own "dog food" seem like a feat any puppy lover can do. And it's true. You can do it!
"Raw Dog Food. Make it Easy for you and your dog" By Carina Beth Macdonald

Learn what your dog is REALLY trying to tell you when he does that thing he does, READ THIS!

"Canine Body Language: A Photographic Guide Interpreting the Native Language of the Domestic Dog" By Brenda Aloff

While you are diving into these great dog days of summer reads I'll keep posting more of my favorites! Check in again soon!

You say tomato, I say keep your dog away from mine, please.

You say tomato, I say keep your dog a safe distance from mine, please.
The sun is shinning down on me and my 12.5 year old rottweiler mix mutt as we slowly, slowly, make our way around the block. Harry has more than just a little gray around the muzzle and he spends most of his days napping on the couch. Adopted at age 7, I planned on being his retirement plan. These days that's just what I am. I am a living breathing plan of how he can easily enjoy his golden years in comfort and with class.

It must be the slow pace at which Harry and I walk together that leaves us open to interruption, and today was no exception as we meandered a middle age man in blue collar garb walks towards me hollering. "Hey, my dog wants to meet yours. He sees you walking by and he just wants to play" He calls out from about 30 feet away as he and his big black lab begin a slow approach. His lab is bouncing feet in the air and doing all he can to get his person to start moving faster, after all Harry just peed on his mail box.

I am quick to start with a hello, but call back that my dog is not friendly with other dogs.

Sorry, Harry, we both know this isn't true, but in his senior days he has become less and less adaptable and more irritable. A few years ago he might have put up with a young ruckus dog bumping into him, now his arthritis gives rise to defensiveness. Fair enough. It is with this in mind that I recently made the conscious decision to no longer introduce Harry to new dogs. This is not a steadfast rule, and on occasion I break it, when I meet a calm dog, or another senior, but this dog didn't meet the standards, so I lied.

As he came closer I noticed his slurred speech and wondered if he'd had a few beers. The black dogs big black balls hung low almost hitting the ground as he continued to lung on end of leash. I repeated that my dog doesn't do well with other new dogs, that he's old, arthritic and doesn't like other males. I suggest maybe we could introduce one of my younger dogs to his dog and they might have a higher likely hood of getting along. The neighbor now holding his dog by the collar reaches out to shake my hand, and I return the gesture. No sooner than our hands let loose, Harry at my side, loose leash, sniffing the ground, he lets go of his dogs collar grabs his big black head in both his hands, squeezing it and pulls that big slobbery head face to face with my Harry and says, "There now meet face to face like you should!"

Both dogs hackles immediately went up. Tails changed positions as well, the big lab had been wagging, now his tail was stiff and held high. Harry's tail had been relaxed and was now mimicking the labs tail. They stared wide eyed directly at each other and I saw the lip lift begin on the side of Harry's mouth. This interaction lasted about 4 seconds. I knew at second # 1 that this was just plain trouble. I made a distracting noise and pulled Harry away just as the lab snapped at his face, only missing by an inch or so.

The lab baring teeth and snarling ,the neighbor struggling to contain his dog, they settled on the fact that I was right, clearly MY dog didn't like other dogs. (humph!) Then the man puts both hands around his labs muzzle tightly and then forces the dog to sit beneath him. All the while his struggle for control continues and I am left stammering over my small talk while I say a secret prayer that this man does keep 'control' of his dog. "Oh he just wants to play" The man says again. " He's been in his share of fights. But don't worry, I aint afraid to get in there and pull 'em apart. Wouldn't be the first time. Hell, he got his ass beat by another one of my dogs awhile back. I've got about 20 dogs, and I could throw tennis balls all day and they'd never be satisfied, I swear."

I try to hide my dismay, this guy is, while not 100% neighbor (his mother lives in the house whose yard he is currently standing in) is at least some percent neighbor and I feel obligated to be neighborly.

He gives a laugh. "I'll have to bring him over to your place on of these days. He loves to play. Yeah, I'll just stop on over sometime." He says as I walk away.

"Enjoy the sunshine." I say. "It's a beautiful day." While that's is true, what I'm really thinking,.. is "oh crap"

So, what's wrong with this picture?