Is your dog stressed?

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Your dog may not have a 9-to-5, relationship issues or financial worries, but stress in dogs is real, and can have real implications on your dog’s ability to behave appropriately.

4PawsUniversity has a handy visual guide to Stress Signs in Dogs, which can help you read your dog’s signals before a bark, growl or bite happens. Pay particular attention to the avoidance signs. These are warning signs that your dog is not enjoying the interaction! Think of avoidance as a stop sign. When you see it, stop what you are doing and change tactics, or remove your dog from the environment that’s creating the avoidance behavior. There are a number of reasons a dog could be avoiding a particular person, dog or other scenario, but in any case it is a signal that should not be ignored.

If your dog is continually stressed by specific events or situations, behavior modification can help your dog learn to cope with stressful events before a bite, bolt or other unwanted behavior occurs.

Beat your pup’s cabin fever

dogs-91536_1280 It’s -8º, the sidewalks are covered in ice, and it’s also sleeting. You just don’t want to go out. As a result, your pup is a little terror–running circles around your house and chewing things up because she needs some exercise. What should you do? Try some of these fun games! The mental exercise will help wear her out, keeping you both sane and toasty warm.

Play “Hide and Seek”—Rope a family member or a friend into playing with you. You and your friend should each have a stash of delicious treats or a favorite toy in your pocket. Then, go somewhere in the house and hide. Don’t make it too tricky at first. Call your dog to you. Give her a big reward when she finds you —either a tasty treat or a chance to play with her toy.

In the meantime, your friend should hide somewhere else in the house and repeat! Your friend can’t make it to your house in this weather? Work on your pup’s sit-stay while you hide. Then call her to you!

Teach your dog a new trick—Teach your dog to roll over, shake hands, hide her eyes, or touch a target with her nose or paw. The mental work of learning something new prevents boredom.

Feed your dog her meals in a toy—Mix up some dog food with a little bit of yogurt, stuff it into the center of a Kong, put it in your freezer overnight, and then let your dog enjoy her meal, frozen-yogurt-style! You can stuff multiple Kongs and feed your dog her whole meal this way. The chewing will help tucker her out. Buster Cubes are another great option. You fill the ball with kibble, and your dog has to roll it around with her nose to get the food to come out.

Play tug-of-war with your dog—This game is a great way to burn energy, build a strong bond, and teach obedience like “Take it” and “Drop it”. Watch Emily Larlham of Kikopup teach her dog to play tug. Remember to set rules for the game. Teeth on skin = Game over!

Teach your dog to “Find it!”—Find three large cups and place them upside down on the floor. Put them about 3 feet apart at first and then gradually extend the distance between them as the dog gets better at the game. Put your dog in a down-stay or a sit-stay. Hide a very tasty treat under one of the cups—like a piece of chicken or cheese. Allow your dog to get up and find the cup with the treat. When she finds it, she gets the treat! Once your dog gets the game you can put this skill on cue by telling her to “Find it!”

Your dog is a bundle of energy, and—sleeting or not–that energy tank needs to be drained each day. These games provide stimulation for your dog, through safe chewing, the mental work of learning, or exercising with tug. We hope these games help keep you and your dog sane and having fun together this winter!

Help — my puppy is wild!

Silva playing with a carpetDo you have a furry wild child on your hands? Here are a few tips to help calm that puppy!

The Witching Hour: Generally speaking, puppies get especially wound near dusk, or between 6 and 8 p.m., depending on where you live. When possible, see to it that your puppy is exercised and pottied before this time, so he or she can rest in the crate with a Kong stuffed with dinner (a high-quality canned food or soaked kibble) and frozen.

Jumping Up: The general rule of thumb must be, “Jumping makes all attention and fun activity stop.” If you are sitting and your puppy jumps on you, stand up, folding your arms and turning your back. Once your puppy has all four paws on the floor, sit back down, wait a few seconds, then pet her if she is sitting, standing, or laying down nicely. This also applies for when you are on walks. If you are walking your pup and she begins to bite, paw and jump up, stop walking, cross your arms and turn away. As soon as she has stopped, start walking again. Remember to keep those walks short for easily tired puppy legs!

Jumping / Scratching / Biting While Playing: Leashes, tethered to a sturdy object, can be a lifesaver, especially for supervised child-puppy play. Playing with your pup when he is tethered has some special rules, however: NEVER tease or frighten a tethered puppy, and NEVER leave your tethered puppy unsupervised.

While playing with your tethered pup, interrupt play before he gets over-stimulated by practicing a sit cue followed by a treat when he sits. Use “Go play!” to resume play. If he starts jumping or biting at you or your child, stop the playtime by stepping out of his reach and waiting silently until he calms down (sits or keeps all four feet on the ground). Once he calms down, ask him for a sit, then say “Go play!” and resume playing.

Relaxing Time for Your Puppy (and You!): If your puppy does settle nicely in her crate, take advantage of this and give her some alone time to relax in her crate during the day. Allow her about 30 minutes once or twice a day to be alone in her crate with a frozen Kong while you are in the house (at least one of these times can be The Witching Hour — see above). This will not only give you a break, but teach your puppy to settle herself for short periods of time. It will also teach her that her crate is a relaxing, safe place she can go when she is overwhelmed, tired, or stressed out, and that you don’t only put her in the crate when she’s about to be left alone.

Practice these tips and you may have your little Tazmanian Devil settled in no time!

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How can I get my puppy to stop biting?

TeethIf you have a new puppy, your hands and arms are likely covered in bite and scratch marks, and at least a few of your favorite sweaters have holes designed by sharp puppy teeth.

What can you do to keep your little shark from mouthing and biting all day long?

Here are a couple of effective strategies to get you started:

Let ’em bite. “What? I thought this article was about getting my puppy to stop biting!” It is, but bear with me: Your 2- to 5-month-old puppy is at an optimum age to learn bite inhibition, an all-important process that starts when a puppy is still with his or her mother and littermates. Those sharp teeth that we find so painful — well, they annoy mom and the pup’s brothers and sisters, too! Mom and littermates teach the puppy not to bite so hard. As the pups grow into adults with teeth that could do real damage, they learn  to use their mouths gently to avoid life-threatening injuries to one another. Humans can use this learning process to our advantage.

To teach bite inhibition, start with a biting puppy on a leash and a soft toy. Allow the puppy to mouth and play with the toy while you pet her. Then, if her teeth scratch your skin or she grabs your clothing, simply stop playing, step on the leash and cross your arms. Say nothing. Wait five seconds before offering to play with your puppy again. If she intentionally bites you, or bites hard, say “Ouch!” in an offended tone and walk away (tethering your pup first if necessary so she doesn’t follow you and bite your pants). Return and attempt to play again in 10 seconds. This teaches your puppy that calm, gentle mouthing does not end play, but hard bites or bites to clothing does. Do not encourage young children to teach puppies bite inhibition; see time-outs, below.

Time out! If you’ve laid a foundation by teaching bite inhibition (see above), time-outs can be an effective tool for teaching the puppy not to put his mouth on people. Around age five months, as the puppy’s adult teeth settle in, we can start to request that our puppies not mouth us during play. Time-outs can also be effective for those wild-child times when your pup is super-stimulated and can’t calm himself down.

The timeout area can be his crate, exercise pen, a small puppy-proofed room with a door, his leash or other tether, or outdoors if you have a fenced yard. Give time-outs when your polite requests to stop biting (by stopping play) aren’t working.

To use time-outs effectively, pick a word or phrase to use every single time you put your puppy in time out. Popular picks include “Uh-oh,” Oh no!” or “Too bad.” Use this word or phrase only when you’re about to give a time out, not at any other time. This prevents the puppy from running away from you any other time you reach for him, and helps him understand why he is being separated from you.

The time-out should last no longer than a minute, unless he is barking to leave the crate (wait for a bit of silence before opening the door), you are finished playing with him or need to leave the house. In the latter cases, he can rest in his crate with a Kong or other toy.

The best toys for young, strong dogs

Most dogs between five and 18 months, large or small, play hard — so it’s up to us to locate toys that are both safe and last more than 20 seconds once the dog starts using them!

Soft latex or plush toys aren’t suitable for most growing dogs (although some dogs enjoy carrying a fleecy toy like it’s a puppy). Stuffed animals, particularly those with squeakers, tend to be disemboweled after only minutes of play, and latex ones are torn apart even faster.

A game of tug with you or another dog makes many dogs’ lists of all-time fun activities, so knotted rope bones, strong rubber tug toys or large plastic bones are good additions to the toy box.

My first criteria when choosing a toy is “Will it last longer than a week?” If the answer is yes, then the toy likely passes the safety test, as well. The second is, “Will my dog play with it?” Toy-treat combos, such as products made from rawhide, might be enjoyed by your dog, but don’t qualify as interactive or provide much mental stimulation. While some dogs are happy to make a toy from anything, it’s important to start teaching your dog early in puppyhood which objects are for playing, and which objects belong to you.

Here are five of my favorite dog toys (affiliate links to Amazon, but you can find these many places, including your local pet store):

Buster Cube


The Buster Cube is a perfect way to feed your dog if you don’t have time to trade the dog’s dinner for a few tricks or obedience behaviors. The cube has a maze-like center that you fill with kibble or treats, and your dog rolls it this way and that to get the food out. It’s a great way to add a little work to your dog’s day!

Ultra Kong


If ever a toy was designed specifically for big, strong adolescent dogs, the Kong Company has made it happen. The “Ultra” Black Kong toy is made for heavy chewers and can take more abuse than its red counterpart. If you have one a dog who does not enjoy chasing or chewing the Kong, stuff it full of canned food and freeze — this will generate interest!

Jawz disc


The Jawz disc by Hyperflite is an extremely durable disc that flies just like a regular one. Most dogs will destroy a regular plastic disc in one 20-minute play session. Although puppies and young dogs should not jump to catch discs until their growth plates have closed, you can begin teaching dogs of any age how to grab short tosses and pick up rollers off the ground.

JW Pet Invincible Rings


These heavy-duty interlocking rings are perfect for joint tug games, whether with you or another dog. They withstand dogs who are strong pullers and chompers! A determined dog can sit with this toy and chew it apart, so it is best used under supervision and not left alone with your dog.

Kong Goodie Bone


Even dogs who aren’t chewers like this bone, and dogs who are chewers love it! A little peanut butter or cream cheese, or a biscuit stuffed in one end provides hours of tough-chewing fun. My dogs like to “share” it between them with endless games of tug. Perfect for your female who likes to play, “I have it and you don’t”! Put it in the refrigerator or freezer first to sooth teething jaws.

Hol-ee Roller Ball


Not a chew toy, this ball stands up to heavy use primarily because it can’t be punctured!

Be sure to inspect all your dog’s toys regularly, and replace any that are worn or have pieces missing.

Catch a tiger by the tail?

Having trouble trimming your dog’s nails? This video might provide some inspiration to help you work on your dog’s husbandry skills. Note the use of targeting:

How a shelter dog is made

Ian Dunbar talks about how dogs become shelter dogs.

The message in this short video is vital for anyone who is getting or has a puppy, works with shelter or rescue dogs, or anyone considering adopting a shelter or rescue dog.

Creative Commons License (Photo credit: bk2000)

Teach your dog to Roll Over

This trick is great fun for most dogs, but it can be a little scary for some pups to show their belly. Go slow, and if your dog isn’t having fun, you can always try something else.

Step One: [intlink id=”635″ type=”post”]Get your dog to lie down.[/intlink]

Step Two: With a treat in one hand and a clicker (if you so choose) in your other, lure the dog on his side by moving the treat behind his head. Your dog should turn his head and shift his body position; when he does, click and give him the treat.

Step Three: Go a little further each time, until your dog is on his side. Click, treat, and continue luring him onto his back, giving treats often. If your dog gets tired, don’t be afraid to give him a break.

Step Four: Once your pup is on his back, he might roll to the other side on his own! If he does, click and treat it, release him, and keep going.

Step Five: When he is reliably rolling all the way over with your lure, start going through the same procedure without a treat in your hand, but still click and reward once he completes the behavior.

Step Six: Add in your verbal cue while very gradually fading your lure. After a few sessions, your pup will now roll over on cue without the hand signal!

Have a blast teaching your dog this entertaining trick!

Creative Commons License photo credit: OakleyOriginals

Should you comfort a scared dog?

DSC_8997There’s a terrific discussion about thunderstorm phobia, body language and the issue of whether fear can be reinforced over on Patricia McConnell’s excellent blog.

The oft-given advice to ignore a dog who’s feeling fearful may not be correct. But, like most emotions, fear and its resulting behavior can be complex to address from a behavioral standpoint.

Read for yourself and see what you think — Dr. McConnell promises to write more on the topic, and several folks are offering good advice for thunderstorm phobia in the meantime.
Creative Commons License photo credit: broxtronix

Five reasons to avoid invisible fencing

Invisible fencing may seem like a good idea on the outset, but I believe the risks outweigh the benefits. Below are five reasons I think these fences aren’t the best option for containing your dog.

  1. You still have to train the dog. Many people assume an invisible or underground fence is “plug ‘n’ play” — that is, you simply install it, plop the collar on your dog, and let him play to his heart’s content. This is not the case (as the reputable underground fence dealers will tell you). The dog still must be trained to accept the fence’s boundaries. But the assumption that it is an “easy” way to contain a dog makes me question whether the potential owner is really willing to put effort into the dog’s care and training (i.e., regular walks, obedience), as well as make sacrifices (e.g., increased cost and imperfect landscaping) to accommodate the dog.
  2. Electric shock. As far as I know, all varieties of invisible fencing operate on the premise that the dog wears a collar which produces electric shock when the boundary line is approached. Some dogs are so determined to make it through the fence that the shock level must be turned up unusually high. I have seen instances in which a dog wearing a fence collar was inadvertently shocked by the owner’s television, computer or vacuum. (Think of how healthy this is for the poor dog’s mental state!) I have also heard horror stories and seen pictures of third-degree burns caused by fence collars that have malfunctioned. Beware of the underground fencing dealer who tells you this can’t/won’t happen — after all, he’s there to sell you something, not to look out for your dog’s well-being. That’s your job.
  3. Dogs can — and will — go through an invisible fence. And once they do, guess what? They won’t come back into the yard for fear of getting shocked; they aren’t stupid. They’re simply willing to take the shock the first time through to get whatever they’re after. And once they’re through, they’re free to chase other animals, get into fights, get hit by cars, be shot at, picked up by animal control, etc.
  4. Underground fencing does not keep anyone from entering your property. Therefore, children, cats, other dogs, wild animals and the like are free to come onto your property and tease or terrorize your dog. And dog thieves find underground fencing absolutely delightful — all they have to do is take the collar off the dog and go!
  5. This study linking use of or malfunctioning of underground fencing to serious biting incidents. Do we really need to make dog owners more subject to lawsuits and breed-specific legislation? Further reading: “Train With Your Brain” — Green Acres Kennel

Keep in mind this is my reasoning, and there are plenty of responsible trainers, rescuers and breeders who will place dogs in homes with invisible fencing. Also understand that a “real” fence can be a hallmark of lazy or irresponsible dog ownership and is certainly not a cure-all. But given the fact that regular exercise and training can eliminate the need for a fenced yard (a luxury) and given the variety of fencing options available, I’m inclined to discourage clients from using invisible fencing, for the reasons listed above.