Monday, August 13, 2012

Puppy Habits and Dog Training

I've had the pleasure the past couple of weeks to be working with an adolescent Boxer/Rhodesian Ridgeback mix that was adopted by a very patient senior woman. This boisterous boy was rescued from a shelter and is now adjusting to his new home.  He is very sweet, and very friendly with people, but he has a bit of a social issue.  When he gets excited and wants attention, he behaves just the way a 3-month-old puppy would, though he's now about 18 months old and 75 pounds of lean muscle. He jumps up, humps, paws, mouths and nips and tugs at clothing.

Which brings up a common misconception about behavior: "Oh, he'll grow out of it."  In some cases puppy behaviors do get less severe as they get older, even without intervention or training. But for most behaviors, owners need to take some kind of action to prevent their puppy from growing into a larger version with the same issues. Puppy classes, private lessons or other forms of training can help puppy parents learn the best ways to mold their puppies into good canine citizens.

There is good hope for this rescue dog. He now has a wonderful home with an owner who has the time and dedication to help him learn the manners he missed out on when he was younger. The training will involve some positive redirection, clear boundary setting and appropriate outlets (such as exercise and interactive toys) for his enthusiasm. I can't wait to see what a charming young man he'll turn into!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Apples and Slugs

This weekend we learned a very valuable lesson about caring for your dogs in the Pacific Northwest.  Slug bait, used in gardens to prevent the freakishly-large area slugs from consuming veggies and other plants, is highly toxic.  The main ingredient, metaldehyde (say that three times fast - or once even!) is a poison that attacks the neurological system, causing tremors, seizures, high fever, trouble breathing and eventually death.

Unaware of the deadly risks, Apple poisoned herself only inches away from me.  Saturday afternoon, after I had finished with the day's lessons, I was in the yard picking blueberries.  Lots and lots of blueberries in fact.  Apple, always on the lookout for something to eat, was following me, happily munching on the blueberries that had fallen to the ground, either over-ripe or plucked free by birds.

The blueberries had mainly landed directly below, where there is a large patch of strawberries.  Turns out slugs love strawberries as much as we do, so there was slug bait all around them.  Old slug bait, that had been sitting out in the sun and rain for months (okay, this is Oregon, mostly rain!).  Seems the stuff remains highly toxic, because a few hours later (since Apple isn't graceful or selective enough to have only eaten the blueberries themselves), my husband noticed something was amiss.

He tried calling Apple out from under the bed because she was panting very heavily.  She wouldn't come.  He tried calling her again, and just got a glassy stare and more heavy panting.  He sent for me, and while I was able to get her out from under the bed, I knew immediately that something was very wrong.  Apple was panting like she had just run up and down Mt. Hood.  As can happen when she gets worked up, her breathing wasn't just fast, but coarse and raspy, making horrible grating noises every time she drew a breath.  Which was about every second.

As she tried to walk she had a bit of a drunken look to her, not placing her feet in quite the right places, and swinging her legs wide as if even her frying brain knew she was likely to tip.  Her hind end was trembling, not the excited muscle twitches she gets when she's waiting for someone to throw the ball again, but a heading-for-seizure kind of shaking.

I made a beeline for Dove Lewis Emergency Animal Hospital,  even running a red arrow (shh, no telling!).  I promise no one was coming.  The wonderful staff there took a quick look at her and rushed her straight to the back where their ER clinic and ICU areas are.  Thank goodness for a 24 hour hospital.  Even more thanks for one of the best in the country.

The veterinarians and staff took wonderful care of Apple, bringing down her temperature (105 by the time we walked in) with cool IV fluids and wet blankets, stopping the tremors with medication, sedating her to slow the swelling that was causing her so much trouble breathing, and giving her oxygen to help her until the worst past.  It was a terrifying night.  I went home with the passenger seat empty, praying that Apple would pull through.  I had been told before I left that if her breathing didn't improve soon they would need to put her under anesthesia, put a tube in her throat and breathe for her for a period of time.  What a way to try getting some sleep - wondering if that's the path your dog is taking.

Sunday morning brought great news.  Apple had not only survived the night without anesthesia, but was eating and wagging her tail, convincing the veterinarian who had taken over her care that she would be ready to go home by the afternoon.

Today, you wouldn't even know that Apple had a brush with death, aside from the telltale shaved patch on her forearm that allowed the Dove Lewis staff to place the IV line.  Apple was running around, chasing the ball and trying to instigate games of tug.  The slug bait has been carefully removed, and once she's done pooping out all the charcoal she was given (to bind with the remaining toxins), she really will be 100% healthy.  We are a little poorer, but with Apple home to sleep on the bed and greet Ethan when he comes home from school, it doesn't really matter!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Puppy Class!

It's hard not to fall in love with those soft, brown eyes, or to coo at the tiny features of a new puppy.  Puppies melt our hearts.  They also bite our hands with their sharp little teeth, jump on our legs as we try to walk, and pee on the floor (oops!) instead of the yard. 

But that's what puppy class is for.  That, and the critical puppy-to-puppy socialization that nothing else (not even playing at home with your other dogs) offers.  We have to protect these little ones who are still on their path to becoming fully-vaccinated adults, so romping off to the dog park is a big no-no (way too many chances for disease, and also a risk of an unfriendly dog doing some serious damage).

Puppy class allows growing dogs (ages 8 to 16 weeks) to learn lots of life skills.  It also gives their owners the opportunity to ask the burning "should he really be doing this?" and "am I handling that right?" questions.  We cover things that puppy parents may not have thought of, with the hope that every graduating puppy is well on his or her way towards becoming a well mannered adult.

Puppy class is a joy, one of the perks of being a dog trainer.  A client once asked me, towards the end of a rollicking play session where 6 adorable puppies were tumbling around on the floor, "you actually get paid to do this?!?" 

Well, yes.  It's not as bad as, say, a leash walk through cold, sleety rain with a ninety-pound dog who wants to take a chunk out of my arm.  But it all comes with the territory.  And I take pride in knowing that my puppy classes are well run.  They are jam-packed with good information, covering all the necessary topics in a fun way.  The play sessions are kept to the right length so puppies don't get too crabby with each other and so we get in plenty of "work" too. Overall, they are a joy not just for the dog trainer, but for the puppies and their owners too.

Now, don't you want to sign up?!

Next Class: Saturday, July 28th at 4:00 PM
Location: Rose City Veterinary Hospital, Portland
Cost: $140 for the 5 week course
Requirements: Puppies must be enrolled and current on their vaccines (at least one DHPP/DAP and one bordatella two weeks before the first class).  Ages 8 to 16 weeks; no more than 8 puppies per class.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Rest In Peace Snowborn's Cedar Mesa Timber

Today we said goodbye to one of our own - our Siberian husky, Timber.  Words fail me, so pictures will have to do.  We'll miss you big guy.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Children and Puppies: Handling Chasing and Biting

I have several clients right now with young puppies and young children.  It can be a precious mix, especially when the kids are just old enough to be helping feed, walk and train their new family member.  It can be an adorable, fun interaction. That is, until those kids are ready to burn off some energy and start racing around the house or yard with the puppy snapping after them like a furry little alligator. 

"How do we handle this?" the parents want to know.  It partly depends on the age and training level of the puppy, but in general, you begin with management and progress to training.  That's to say, when the puppy is very young your best bet is to manage the situation.  As puppy grows training will play more and more of a role until management is no longer an important part of the picture.

So what is management versus training?  In the case of a puppy chasing, jumping on and biting at children who are playing wildly, management will start with the use of a crate.  When the children are playing quietly they should be taught how to interact properly around the puppy, but all kids have those times where they are over-the-top with energy - this is a time to put the puppy in its crate, along with a stuffed Kong or a safe chew toy.  It's just not fair to expect your children to change their behavior (they are truly being children after all), and it's not fair to ask your puppy to ignore everything instinctual (running, chasing, tackling and biting that squealing human puppy).

As the puppy matures a little and gets some training, it's time to move onto a new phase of management.  Instead of crating your puppy when the kids are being wild, try putting the puppy on a leash and allowing them to watch, but not join in, the craziness.  Try to keep your puppy busy with some easy obedience training (don't forget your treats and clicker), games or toys.  If puppy finds it too frustrating then he or she may not be quite ready to move beyond quiet time in the crate.

Once your puppy can handle things on leash, the next step is allowing the puppy to remain loose while the children play, closely supervised by you.  Use the time to practice some recalls (coming when called).  Give lots of praise for every successful recall - that's a tough exercise!  This is also a great opportunity to work on down-stay or "settle."

Keep things fun and positive, and remember, be sure to set your puppy up for success.  These first few months are setting the stage for the behavior and relationship you get with your puppy over the next 12 or more years.  Take the time to do it right and you will be rewarded many times over!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Dog Food Recalls

Please be aware that there are several active dog food recalls at the moment.  We want to keep our pets healthy, so take a moment to review the lists.  The primary culprits are Diamond Pet Foods - involving a number of brands, including (but NOT limited to), Call of the Wild, Chicken Soup for The Pet Lover's Soul, and Diamond varieties, and other brands that have some of their food manufactured at Diamond plants:  Wellness Dry Dog Food, Canidae Dog Food, Natural Balance Dog Food, and Solid Gold.  Again, this is not a comprehensive list.  For a complete list, as well as up-to-date details, visit Dog Food Advisor or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which oversees the pet food industry. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Why Won't My Dog Listen to Me?

One of a dog owner’s greatest frustrations can be a dog that doesn’t listen to what they are told to do.  You may feel that you spend an endless amount of time calling your dog into the house, trying to keep them from jumping, or attempting to get their attention when you are out for a walk.  Or maybe there are simply times you feel your dog has very selective hearing.

All dogs can be good listeners, but they need the proper guidance and relationship with their owners to achieve this.  If your dog doesn’t listen to you, one of the following is probably the reason.

You aren’t as much fun as whatever your dog is doing.  Many of the occasions when our dogs tune us out are simply because there is something more interesting to do.  If you are trying to call your dog in from the backyard and aren’t getting any response, your dog has probably learned that there is a greater reward in ignoring you – more squirrels to chase, more time to smell the grass, etc.  Plenty of dogs listen well at home, but when they are taken out, to the park or into town, they quickly stop listening to even the simplest commands.  In any of these situations, getting upset or frustrated won’t make your dog any more likely to pay attention.  The only way to get your dog’s attention is to become more interesting than whatever they are currently doing.  Make yourself fun, make yourself interesting, and make yourself exciting!

Fear of punishment.  If you correct your dog for something, you should be confident that you are addressing a behavior that you do not want repeated, and that your dog will associate the correction with that exact behavior, not something else.  For example, if your dog gets out the front door and leads you on an hour long chase through the neighborhood, chances are by the time you catch up to him you will be quite frustrated, if not outright angry.  However, if you punish your dog for finally returning home (or merely allowing themselves to be caught), your dog will associate that correction with the last action they took – coming back.  Because dogs have relatively short attention spans, they cannot make the connection between what you are frustrated with (the bolt out the door that happened an hour ago) and the punishment they are receiving now.  That means that if you correct him when he comes back, next time he won’t want to come when you call him.  Using positive methods instead of punishment based training will ensure you never make a mistake like this.

Your dog hasn’t been formally trained.  Many owners expect their dogs to respond to commands that haven’t ever been officially trained.  You may think your dog knows how to do something, but they may in fact have only gotten lucky in responding properly.  Or maybe they do have a little understanding of what you are asking, but don’t know well enough to be able to perform around distractions, when they are tired or bored or in a different situation.  Our dogs genuinely want to do the right thing, but we need to give them the tools.  If you feel your dog isn’t listening because she’s just being difficult or stubborn, consider that maybe she just doesn’t get it.  The easiest way to fix this problem is to do some formal training: go to a class, get a private lesson from a professional trainer or find a good book.  Educate yourself so you know the right way to teach your dog.

You’re speaking the wrong language – English!  Let’s face it; we are a very ego-centric species.  Without even knowing it we often expect our dogs to act the way we would.  It’s the only way most of us know how to behave.  But when we expect our dogs to understand us or act like us, we are usually asking too much.  If you’ve ever thought of your dog as your child, talked in complete sentences and sort of expected an answer, or felt like your dog was holding a grudge against you, you’re guilty.  Don’t worry – it happens to the best of us.  However, if your dog seems to be ignoring you, maybe it’s just a “language barrier” of sorts.  You speak English and she speaks canine.  And it’s not just about interpreting a bark.  Dogs are very tuned into body language.  They communicate mostly through posture, movement, eye contact…all without a single spoken word.  The next time your dog doesn’t listen to you, consider if she really understands the question.

If your dog is not listening, regardless of why, the best solution may be found through a professional dog trainer.  Good dog trainers don’t just know how to get a dog to sit, they can interpret relationships between dogs and owners and help you learn how to improve them.  That leads to a happy ending for both you and your dog, and lots more listening!