We are very fortunate in Guelph to have an excellent resource for physical rehab for dogs! Very often we hear people asking if they can use their home treadmill to exercise their dogs, and we always tell them that it is a bad idea. Dr. Liz Pask of Gilmour Road Veterinary Services has kindly shared her thoughts in this guest blog for us, explaining about the risks of using a human treadmill to exercise your dog! Thanks Dr. Pask!
Dog Treadmills VS. Human Treadmills – What’s the difference?
A common question is “Can I use my human treadmill for my dog?” In the majority of cases the answer is no. Here’s why:
– The human gait is shorter than the canine gait, which means the belt is usually too short for dogs. While your dog may be able to “fit” on the treadmill, they will not be able to use their bodies correctly, which can lead to injury.
– Even if you have a little dog who can fully extend on a human treadmill, human treadmills often don’t go slow enough for their little legs.
– Canine treadmills have many safety features built in with your dog in mind. Human treadmills often have gaps next to the belt, or raised caps at the end where paws and nails can be caught. Canine treadmills will have side rails to keep your pet safely on the treadmill; many human treadmills do not have side rails or they are at an inappropriate height.
– The control panel on a human treadmill is not located in an easily accessible area, making it difficult to adjust speed or stop quickly in case of an emergency.
The two brands that we recommend people explore if they are looking into a treadmill are DogTread or the dogPACER. We do not recommend the use of carpet treadmills.
Whether at home or at an outside facility, dry or underwater, always make the treadmill is appropriate and safe for your dog.
For all your canine and feline conditioning and rehabilitation medicine needs, or if you have questions about the above article, feel free to contact us:
For anyone who has been in my classroom, you likely have realized that I am not going to ever be a supermodel. Aside from being 40 years too old, and the wrong body type, I just don’t care about clothing, hair and make up enough to bother. Incidentally, if you are curious, it is Sue writing, not John, but he probably would not be a super model either. Aside from being the wrong gender, and the wrong body type, he really just doesn’t care enough about clothing, hair or make up to bother either. Which brings me to a thought about our dogs. How many of our dogs are being asked to do jobs they just don’t care about?
Training is the way that we acquire skills and it doesn’t matter if you are a human, a dog or a dolphin, skills are important. In theory I have the skills needed to be a supermodel; I can walk, and wear clothes and if pressed, I can sit around while someone plays with my hair and puts make up on me. Maybe I don’t have the fine tuned strut that a model needs, but I can wear clothing, and I can walk, so what is preventing me from being a super model? Opportunity? Nope. I just don’t have the patience for the work! I would need a great deal of training and incentive to do that and you would have a very hard time convincing me that the work is relevant to my wellbeing.
So what about our dogs? You will hear me say over and over again that trained dogs get to do more, and that we should be willing to teach our dogs to do different things, so why not take up whatever sport the handler wishes? Recently, one of our instructors came to me to let me know that she had pulled out of one of our advanced classes, not because she and her dog were not learning things but rather because her dog was not enjoying the work. “My dog is doing this to please me, but she doesn’t actually like it” was the message I got. And good for the handler in recognizing that.
There are behaviours that I want every dog of mine to learn, regardless of how they feel about it; coming when called, not dragging me down the street, allowing the vet to examine them and lying down and staying for instance. These are the skills that allow our dogs to live successfully with us, but they are not their job. Have you thought about what your dog’s job might be? Many of us come to obedience classes because that is what we are supposed to do with our dogs, and then slot them into the jobs we want them to do without much more thought than that.
The problem with this is that many of our dogs are not actually interested in doing the work we wish them to do. As a behaviour consultant this is a daily frustration, as the Good Dog students probably all know. Consider what happens when we breed a dog to herd sheep 8 hours a day, and we expect that he is going to enjoy sitting on the couch day in and day out without any exercise. What might happen? Might that dog begin to engage in behaviours such as racing around the house and barking at traffic going by?
Many of my students want their dogs to participate in sports such as rally or agility and for most dogs, they really get into that. Some dogs don’t though. Some dogs prefer things like nosework, or tracking. When we put together our advanced classes, some of our students try and take as many of them as they can, and while we encourage everyone to give each class a try, it is really important to stay tuned in to your dog to discover which of these classes make you both happy.
All this preamble is probably bringing you to the point of asking yourself what to do if your dog doesn’t want to do the one thing that is really important to you? What do you do when you love agility and your dog just doesn’t like it? Or maybe the only thing that matters to you to do with your dog is hiking and your dog just doesn’t like to go out in anything other than the ideal weather?
The first thing I like to do is to is to try and figure out why the dog doesn’t want to engage in the behaviour. I once had a client who purchased a husky to go and run with him. As it turned out, we happened to have a very hot summer when he was just the right age to start running at about 18 months. The husky learned very quickly that running gear meant that he was going to become hot and uncomfortable. The husky was no dummy! He learned that running was uncomfortable so he didn’t like running.. He LOVED to run, but not with the owner or on leash. The only thing we had to do to change the activity was to choose running times when the weather was cooler. By taking the dog’s comfort into account, we were able to teach him to like the activity. As the old saying goes, if I had a nickel for every dog who was uncomfortable in the desired activity, I would be a whole lot richer!
Sometimes the dog is behaviourally unsuited to the work that the owner wants to do. Recently I saw a post on a hunting list I follow. The person on the list wanted a dog to go duck hunting with, but his wife wanted a German Shepherd. The person asking the question wanted to know how good German Shepherds might be at duck hunting. As it happened, I once had a German Shepherd who was pretty decent at fetching ducks. He enjoyed it and he was technically good at it, but there were a few problems. Firstly, he got a LOT of water in his ears. There is a really good reason why retrievers ALL have dropped ears! Secondly, once he was wet, it took a long time for him to dry off and if I had asked him to retrieve in the late fall when goose hunting usually happens, he would have gotten very wet and cold and likely he would not have thought that retrieving was quite that much fun. Even though he was good at retrieving, including in water, he much preferred to do tracking.
Sometimes something happens during training that makes the activity you want to do more difficult for your dog. If you keep changing your mind about the behaviours you want when preparing do to an activity, the activity itself can become very frustrated. I did this to one of my dogs early in my obedience career. I kept changing how I was approaching training with this particular dog, and ended up just confusing the dog. The dog got to the point where she was confused, annoyed and frustrated and just really didn’t enjoy obedience competitions. I had a coach who noticed that I was creating frustration and we were able to work through it however, if I had persisted I might have eventually caused much more damage to the relationship I had with that dog. We went on to have a great relationship once I straightened out my training program.
If an activity with a dog is really important to you, consider that BEFORE you get the dog and choose a dog who is going to start out with an aptitude and an interest in that activity. There is a reason that we usually choose hounds for trailing, and herding dogs for rounding up sheep. These dogs have been bred for a long time to do that work, and allowing the dogs to do what they were bred to do helps a lot.
If you already have a dog and he doesn’t like doing the activity, you may want to either do less of the activity, or stop doing it altogether. If you have a dog who does a lot of things they really like, and you only ask the dog to do something you like that the dog doesn’t some dogs might be willing to “play the game” to humour you if you don’t ask him to do the activity too often. The key is take your canine partner into consideration, and like the trainer at our facility, choose activities that both you and your dog will enjoy.
Dogs love food. Well, mostly dogs love food. Food is such a contentious issue. People don’t always like to use food in training, and often even when people do use food, they either don’t use it effectively or they struggle with a dog who doesn’t want to take treats. In the training hall we often see people making all sorts of food errors, so it is time to write a blog about how to use food.
The first issue we see is the “switcheroo”. The switcheroo happens when a dog hits early adolescence and growth slows down. Most families get a young puppy and are astounded at how many calories that little perpetual motion machine can suck back. Let’s say that a pup is 3kg when he comes home, and he is eating one scoop of dog food in total each day. Within 6 weeks that puppy is now 10kg, and eating three scoops of dog food each day! Skip forward another two months and the puppy is 20kg and eating five scoops a day, and then 8 weeks more and he is 30kg and eating 7 scoops a day. This brings our pupster to about 7 and a half months of age and all of a sudden Fido stops eating. In a panic, the average family goes out and spends a pile of money on a different bag of dog food and Fido resumes eating. A week or so later, Fido goes on strike again, and the family spends more money on a third brand of food. Fido resumes eating and two weeks later goes on strike. At about this point, Fido who should be 35kg is a solid 40kg, and has become a picky eater, and the client tells me in class that Fido won’t work for food.
So what is really happening in the “switcheroo”? Often what is happening is that Fido has stopped growing and doesn’t need 7 scoops of dog food! When you change dog foods, novelty will get Fido to eat again, but he doesn’t really need all the extra calories, so a week or two later, he self limits his food and you worry that he isn’t eating enough. You switch again and the novelty entices him to eat for a bit and then he hits another point where the calories are just too much and he stops eating again.
So what happens to food training when the old “switcheroo” is at play? Often the dog stops wanting to work for food because he is already getting far too many calories in his bowl. The first thing that I do is check with the family to make sure that there is nothing going on that would indicate the need for a vet visit. I do a quick visual inspection of the dog and feel his ribs to see what his body score is. The easy way to tell what your dog’s body score is would be to first feel your dog’s ribs and then find the part of your hand that is most similar to your dog’s ribs. Use the pictures below to determine if your dog is overweight. If your dog is overweight, but everything else is normal; he is drinking and exercising and toileting normally, then the first thing I would do would be to feed a bit less food in his bowl. Dogs love to eat, but they are also usually really good at self regulating when they get overweight and then they get fussy about the treats they want for training.
Usually with an adolescent dog who has had several different foods because he has become picky, we see his appetite normalize and his willingness to work for regular food return when we remove some of the calories from the bowl. This is the easiest situation to resolve when it comes to food and training. Once you figure out how much your dog should be eating, take the total amount for the day and divide it by three. Feed 1/3 at breakfast, 1/3 at dinner and save 1/3 for training class. Let’s look at my German Shepherd Eco as an example.
When I got Eco at 7 and a half weeks of age he ate a whopping 2/3 cup of kibble each day. Total. By the time he was 12 weeks he was eating 1 ½ cups, and at 16 weeks he was eating 2 ½ cups. His intake steadily increased over the weeks and months until at 7 months he was about 40kg and was eating a total of 12 cups a day divided into four meals, and he was a lean, mean fast moving doggy machine. I remember thinking at this age that I sure hoped he would slow down soon as I was going to go broke feeding this dog! Predictably at about 8 months he started to skip a meal. That meant that all of a sudden, he went from eating 12 cups a day reliably to eating 9. Whew! That was cheaper! I started to feed three meals a day, but instead of feeding three cups per meal, I fed 2 cups per day and kept 3 cups aside for training. At about ten months of age, Eco started to pretty reliably skip one of his three meals each day, so I took another three cups of food out of his daily ration, which brought us down to a much more reasonable 6 cups per day, and divided that into three, making 2 cups per serving, Eco went to two regular meals and two cups set aside for school. By the time Eco was four he was normally eating about 4 cups of food a day, and just got a few treats in class. Mostly in class at four, he would work for play.
The next thing I have seen in class is the dog who will only work for ultra high value treats. A number of things can be at play there. The first of them is that when the dog is very stressed or overwhelmed, he cannot eat. This should not be a surprise; the same happens to people too. Consider what it might be like to be in a car accident and then have someone offer you a nice dinner. Most of us would find that situation too stressful to allow us to enjoy eating. The same thing can happen when the dog is extremely excited, and that is also true for us. Most of us don’t feel like eating when we are engaged in something like riding a rollercoaster.
Other things can contribute to dogs only wanting to take high value treats too. When your dog comes to class overweight, they are going to be really picky about what they will take as treats. Similarly, if he comes to class right after eating a large meal, he will be willing to take dessert class treats, but not lower value treats. One thing that people often try is to completely deprive their dogs before class. This can backfire too; often dogs who have been deprived enough can be so deeply focused on any food at all that they cannot even think. It is far better to feed more sensibly, and come to class with a dog who is neither overweight nor completely deprived.
Dogs definitely have preferences, and there is a lot of value to knowing what your dogs prefers. I have worked with dogs who do not like liver and making a dog take a treat he doesn’t want works against you as a trainer, even if it is a treat you want your dog to like or if it is a treat you think your dog will like. I have also worked with dogs who like really unusual things like cooked squash, raw celery or blueberries. When I have a dog with strong preferences, I often rank the treats. When I know for instance that a dog likes liver best, and then rollover and then cheese and then bread and finally kibble. I will sometimes take some time to teach the dog to take lower value treats. Working in a low distraction environment I will offer the dog his lowest value item. If he takes the treat, I reward him with the next value treat. In this case, I will offer kibble. If the dog takes a piece of kibble, then he gets a piece of bread. I then offer the dog another piece of kibble. Most dogs will look longingly at the bread. Hold out. If the dog takes the kibble, he gets another treat but THIS time, he gets the next level up; so I would feed him some cheese. Next I will offer him another piece of kibble. He will likely look out for another piece of cheese. Hold out. When he takes his kibble, he will get the next thing on his list; in this case the rollover. Then offer more kibble again. When the dog takes the kibble he gets his top value treat; in this case the liver. I keep working with the dog offer kibble to get a better reward. I keep working on this until the dog will willingly take a low value treat regardless of the situation, in the hopes of getting a better treat.
Perhaps the most common error I see in the training hall is reinforcing every single behaviour without any differential between good iterations and not so good iterations. If you ask your dog to sit and he lies down, and you give him a treat because he did SOMETHING, anything, you are in fact teaching him that trying random behaviours is really valuable, but it doesn’t teach your dog that when you say sit, you mean sit, or when you say down, you mean down. You can actually use treats very constructively to teach your dog the difference between a really, really valuable behaviour such as a fast, accurate sit, when you ask the first time, and a slow reluctant sloppy sit. To teach the difference between a fast snappy sit and a slow casual sit, you can simply choose to reward the best sits to reward with the favourite treat, and then reward the sloppy undesired sits with a low value treat. Dogs can learn really quickly that a good sit gets a good treat, and a poor sit gets a less preferred treat.
Dogs also need to learn about self control around food before you start training. If your dog thinks that if he can see the treat, he can have the treat, then he is going to have a harder time learning to get the treats by doing something to earn them. I like to start all training by teaching the dog to control himself around food (https://mrsbehaviour.com/2015/11/12/the-dog-controls-the-dog/ ). Once your dog has learned not to snatch treats as soon as he sees them, you can start to use your treats much more effectively.
As with many tools, treats are a good servant but a poor master. When used well, food is perhaps the best way that you can teach a dog. When used poorly you can teach your dog all sorts of bad habits.
This is a special blog I wrote in 2013, when D’fer was misdiagnosed with osteosarcoma. We were fortunate that time; he did not have cancer. Now though, I am re-posting this, in honour of Friday, John’s special partner. She has been diagnosed with carcinosarcoma and she is not expected to live long; hopefully for another 4 months or so. Right now, John and I are both struggling, but especially John, because Friday is his partner. They snuggle in bed together, they share a tent at camp and most importantly of all, they hike remotely in Algonquin together. Friday is a very special friend to my very special man. It doesn’t feel like it at the moment, but it is going to be okay. Friday has taught us to love better and to count the love, not the minutes. Please be patient with us. We are working on helping Friday to have the best time left and we may not be as on the ball as we would like to be. Never the less…it will be alright.
Yesterday was a very hard day. D’fer, my service dog, my best friend, my best and most favourite dog ever, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. This means that he will soon die, and likely he will, between now and then, suffer some terrible pain. This means that my heart will break again and again and again as I face the reality of life without the dog who has meant more to me than nearly any being that I have ever encountered. The sarcoma is located in the head of his femur, it is fairly advanced, and it is quite possible that there is involvement in the pelvis. This is a fast growing cancer, and it will likely progress to his lungs within months at the outside. D’fer has an unassociated heart issue, which means that he is not a terrific candidate for surgery, and the only available treatment would be amputation and chemo, and honestly, the results are not favourable even if we were to do this. Never the less, it will be alright.
D’fer in his prime with the expression I love best.
I am not going to tell you that some spiritual being will save him for me, or that I will see him at the bridge. I will not tell you what I do or don’t believe about the afterlife. I am going to talk instead about love and leaving and loss and why it will be alright in the end.
Over the years, I have held many special dogs close to my heart. I didn’t think there would be a dog after Buddy who would mean as much to me as he did. Buddy, majestic and beautiful, smart and strong, taught me about love and caring and change and accepting and working hard and being real with myself. He accompanied me on endless adventures and trips through learning and things I could not have ever expected. Buddy sure was special and he carried me through things I did not think I could survive. And then one day, he could not get up and he lost control of his bladder while I was out. He was very elderly then. He had to lie in his own urine and wait till I came to rescue him. He was too big to lift into the bathtub and he was too sore to get in of his own accord. The next day I helped him to die, in my living room. That last day, I double dosed him on pain meds and played ball with him. I read him poetry. I napped with him. And when he died, I thought my heart would break forever.
I thought there would be nothing that could ever come close to touching my heart the way that Buddy did. I grieved deeply and long and hard and publicly for Buddy. I still have pictures of him around the house, and at first every time I looked at them, I would cry. Now I can look and I smile when I remember the walks, the journeys, and the learning. I just didn’t think then that there would or even could be anything remotely close to the love I felt for Buddy.
Then along came D’fer. Deef was supposed to be John’s dog. He had other ideas. He was an annoying and frustrating puppy and adolescent. He was an accidental service dog. And over the years, over time, he and I developed a dance together that is unique, that is special. The dance has etched itself onto my heart and into my head until I cannot think about what is next. In some ways, D’fer taught me to remember Buddy not with grief but with joy. Surely, there cannot be anything better than the love that D’fer and I share? Maybe there isn’t. But maybe there is something else. Maybe what Buddy did and what D’fer is still doing is not teaching me to be a better trainer, not teaching me to be a better person. Maybe what they have done is teach me to love better. While D’fer did not replace Buddy in my heart, he taught me something I have told others in a very profound way. True love doesn’t divide; it multiplies. Buddy prepared me to love D’fer. D’fer has prepared me to love other dogs, and maybe, if I am lucky, he will have prepared me to love another dog as deeply as I love him. Once again, it was alright.
Five or six years ago, I lost my Dad. He was unexpectedly hospitalized due to a collapsed lung and suddenly without warning we were faced with a diagnosis of bullous emphysema. Essentially, his lungs had large holes in them, making it impossible for his body to take in enough oxygen to live unassisted. Over the weeks he was in hospital, I wanted the minutes. I hoped for the time minutes. I wanted just a few minutes to talk to my father. Those minutes were not possible. Over the weeks he was in the intensive care unit, D’fer took me to visit him. In one of my dad’s few lucid periods he asked who I was. I told him I was his daughter, Sue, and he looked right at me and said “no you aren’t…where is your dog?” When I showed him D’fer, he relaxed. He knew me, because he recognized Deef. D’fer facilitated that last minute with my father, a gift so precious. That last minute was a gift that D’fer made possible for me. In his patient way, he showed me that the minutes that counted were the minutes in the moment. Love is the minute we get.
I don’t believe that D’fer is afraid of death. I know he doesn’t like the pain, but we have good chemical control over the pain. I know that when we take the pain away, the joy and curiosity and intelligence and wonder that make D’fer special are still there. Last night, after we gave him his first dose of gabapentin, he started to dance around the kitchen where my desk is. He wanted me to play. In my grief, I didn’t want to play, I wanted him to lie down and rest and not tax his body. I was thinking about the one more minute attitude; I just want every precious minute with my special boy, and I was crying because I know that there aren’t a lot of minutes left. D’fer is wiser than I am. He always has been. He doesn’t want one more minute. He wants to play frisbee. He wants to go search for things. He wants to run around. And really, his minutes are love. He loves me, he loves life, he loves his frisbee and his friends. When he is pain free he just wants to be himself, much more than he wants one more minute of time. His minutes are written in love.
I would give a lot to have one more year, or one more lifetime, but in the coming days, weeks and months, I will work to let go of wanting one more minute of time. I will work learn and relearn that minutes with D’fer are measured in love. Living carefully, feeding him only cancer reducing foods, and maybe putting him through very painful treatment will buy us time minutes, but will not give us even one more minute of love. Instead, I have to give up looking for minutes and instead, look for love. This is why I won’t be even considering radical treatments, or herbs or a magic wands or crystal balls to address this. I am going to treat cancer with Frisbees and banana bread corners and his own pieces of pizza and little house searches and visits from friends.
Knowing that I won’t have the years, months or days doesn’t make this easier or fun. This is hard, and depressing and sad and terrible and something I don’t feel ready to face, but I know it will be alright in the long run. I know this because I have been through this, as a part of an unbroken chain of the experience of thoughtful beings. I have faced loss, and in my turn, there are those who will face my loss. I grieved deeply for my father who grieved for his own father, and presumably, his father grieved for those who were important him when they passed in their turn. Grief is hard, and knowing that the end is near highlights coming loss, but then I come back to being a part of an endless cycle of gain and loss, of birth and death, and of love for those being who walk beside and before and after me. I know that right now, this time is an important time not to borrow grief ahead of time, but to cherish what we have together now; not to cherish what we have left, but what we have.
Now that I am facing the minutes, the hours, the days and hopefully the weeks or months that make up the end of D’fer’s life, he is teaching me again that when pain is under control, the minutes we have are love. I will cry often and smile and throw the Frisbee and hide toys, and make sure that my special friend gets time with the people he loves. The support from my community, my friends and my students are the minutes of love that we get. And a Frisbee tucked in the bookshelf to find is one of those special minutes, when you cannot make the illness go away. In the end, when I lose him, I will grieve, and I will cry and then I will probably find his Frisbee and a minute of his love. It will be alright.
D’fer has told me over and over again throughout his service career that I will be alright. He is right. In the long run, it will be alright.
For those who follow my blog, please be patient. I may not be posting very regularly while I work through these last minutes with my very talented and special Chesapeake, D’fer. I will be back when I can.
If you are reading this, it is more likely that you are a dog owner or trainer, than a professional soccer player. You might be an athlete, but you are unlikely to be in the top 10% of physical fitness of all humans on the planet. You might be, but it is unlikely. I want you to just take a moment and evaluate your own level of fitness. Are you a typical North American, fit enough to run for the bus, or run for mayor, but not really a marathon runner? Are you a weekend warrior, who plays hard on the weekends, but sits at your desk all week long? Are you a gym rat, making it out to the gym at least 3 days a week? Or are you amongst the elite athletes who seriously exercise each and every day, come what may, even on vacation? Unless you are an honest member of this last group, I am betting that dropping you into the middle of a professional soccer game, 90 minutes of aerobic intensity, would not be much fun!
Oh, the first few minutes might be a thrill, especially if you are a soccer fan. But a whole game would likely be exhausting, overwhelming and possibly frightening. Those guys run REALLY fast! And if you run into one of them, you are likely going to be flattened. And if you have a coach on the side lines encouraging you to play harder throughout the whole game, you are likely going to feel really pressured.
Maybe a soccer practice would be more fun for you. But wait! Being immersed in a group of highly fit, world class athletes who know their work can be pretty overwhelming too. Especially if they are all familiar with one another, know what the other guy will do and already have all their social pecking orders worked out.
This I think is often what occurs to the dogs that get tossed into unstructured play groups, especially in confined areas as you might find in the typical daycare. If you have ten dogs who are already involved with the group, and you add in number 11, the eleventh dog is not really likely to be successful. Dog number 11 will have to be equally fit and socially savvy to make the cut right away. If the eleventh dog is intolerant of other dogs being rude, he is going to pick fights. If he is the kind of dog who harasses other dogs in an effort to get them to play his games, he is going to struggle. If the eleventh dog is either more or less fit than the rest of the group he is either going to tire and get frustrated, or he is going to harass the other dogs in an effort to get them to play his games.
Sometimes play groups have a human who can make matters either better or worse. If the human is very savvy about play, they can intervene and pull out the trouble makers and help them to self modulate. Sometimes interventions back fire though, especially if the human thinks they need to pin the dog to the ground to make the point. Pulling a dog who is causing trouble out should be gentle and allow the dog to decrease his arousal and then re-integrate. Pinning the dog may work, or it may create collar shyness in the dog, who then learns to dart away from the people running the group. Other times, the humans can make matters worse by doing things like throwing objects and creating competition between members of the group, or encouraging shy dogs to get in over their heads.
There is almost nothing I enjoy more than watching dogs play. I love to see them cavort and interact, and large groups are much more fun than small ones, however, there are some caveats about this; firstly, I prefer to have mostly trained dogs that I can control with a solid off leash down, even when things get really active. When we have this sort of a group, I like to hike with the dogs. When dogs and people walk together, we see a lot more normal chasing and then running together sort of interactions. We don’t see the puppy wrestling that people enjoy, but for the most part our dogs are not puppies either. When a puppy is integrated into an established group of dogs who are hiking, it doesn’t matter so much if there are fitter or less fit individuals because the fitter dogs have space to run farther. And the harassment we see in an unstructured group in a confined area doesn’t happen either, because the dogs can get away from that if they aren’t having fun. If the overall arousal of the group gets too high, we can ask the trained dogs to lie down and that solves about 90% of the problems we see.
You may be thinking to yourself “but what about daycare groups” or “but I want to send my dog to a crate free boarding facility”. As with many things there are good alternatives and less good choices out there. Before sending your dog to such an activity, spend a few hours there watching how the staff interact with the dogs. Here are some of the issues we think you should consider:
Are dogs turned loose in an enclosure without supervision?
If the group is a long term group of stable individuals, this may work out. When we think long term, we think of groups that might live in a family. When we had 5 or more dogs who lived with us for six months or more, they might get turned into the yard together alone, but only if they were really familiar with one another and polite together when we were supervising. We didn’t just add a dog to our family and hope for the best. The dogs had to show us first that they were safe to be together outside unattended. When dogs are turned loose without supervision and the group changes every day or even every few hours, there is a high potential for things to turn out badly. We don’t recommend sending your dog to a facility where the dogs are not supervised by people who know what they are doing.
Is there only one person on site?
This is one of the worse ideas we see on a regular basis. When a facility is run by one individual, what is the plan for the dogs in the event of an emergency? People often don’t think of the worst case scenario, and the fact is that something CAN and might go wrong. Years ago, when we did board training, I was alone at home with our three dogs and a guest dog. The guest dog had an anaphylactic reaction and stopped breathing. Luckily, the three resident dogs could stay home loose together without an issue and I was able to carry the lifeless dog to the car and get him to the vet in time to save his life. If I had had more dogs or dogs who could not be left home and loose together, the guest dog might have died.
If you are paying to send your dog to a day care or other play group type of activity, you should be sure that there is more than one person on site, especially when there are many dogs who don’t know one another. There is no hard and fast rule for how many dogs should be there for each staffer, but we know of facilities that have 25 or more dogs on site and only one staffer available. This is dangerous for the staff and for your dog!
Does the facility have a plan for what to do if a dog fight breaks out?
You may be thinking to yourself “surely they would not accept an aggressive dog” however, a fight can break out with even the nicest, easiest going dogs. I saw a fight break out one time in a dog park when one dog caught a tooth in the collar of another dog, and then both dogs panicked and started to scream. A third dog jumped in when the screaming started. The third dog was not caught on anything, but it was really difficult to get these three dogs separated because you could not tell exactly what was going on. Two of the dogs had to get stitches, and one of those dogs ended up staying in the veterinary hospital for several days.
Any place where dogs are being left loose together should at least have a can of compressed air or citronella to break up scuffles and they should also have break sticks and a catch pole available. Staff should also be trained to use these tools.
What does the facility look like?
Many years ago, a dog of mine was killed while in the care of a veterinarian when the tech opened a crate door and the dog got out of the clinic. The clinic had a habit of leaving all the clinic doors open to air out the facility at the end of the day. Every door between the kennel room and the street was wide open and my dog left and was struck in the road and killed. As the owner of a dog training facility, my building is fitted with doors and gates and we include door safety training in our obedience program. Too often I have seen images of day cares on the net where the dogs could easily get over a short flimsy gate, or where the gate doesn’t close completely. If the gate cannot contain your dog, don’t leave your dog there!
How are groups separated and sorted?
Puppies are baby dogs! Any dog under 16 weeks can probably be turned loose in a group of other puppies the same age with very little risk. After 16 weeks though, there are definite age related issues that dogs face. Adolescent dogs can be pushy and bully younger, smaller or weaker dogs; it is the nature of adolescents to do that. Adolescents may also harass adults in the hope of getting them to play. It is best if dogs are sorted behaviourally. Puppies under 16 weeks can be left in fairly unstructured areas (you will see that they spend an awful lot of time sleeping if you do this though!). Young adolescents should be sorted by speed, playfulness and tolerance into groups that allow them to enjoy one another. There are definite play types; dogs who ramble and roam are not going to enjoy chasing one another much. Dogs who race and chase don’t enjoy those who wrestle so much. And adult dogs may not play so much as they did when they were puppies or adolescents. Geriatric dogs should not be left in a group of young fast dogs either; it just isn’t fair!
You may be asking at this point if I think that there is any place for day cares. I do, but you have to choose carefully. Know the staff. Know what their protocols are for trouble shooting. Be aware of their plans. Get to know the staff and the people you will be asking to care for your dog. And don’t be afraid to just skip the daycare and go for a hike; consider what it might be like from your dog’s point of view to be in the set up you are considering. It is very possible that it would be a lot like getting dropped into the middle of a pro soccer game and although you would come home tired, you likely would not come home very happy.
I think that starting with full disclosure is a really important thing for this blog. Let me be clear; I don’t speak Turkish. I have never taken a class in the Turkish language, and I have very few friends who come from Turkey. Actually, I currently have no friends who come from Turkey. If you were to ask me to pass the salt in Turkish, I would not have a clue. If you are really curious about how to say “Please pass the salt” in Turkish, you can listen to that here https://tinyurl.com/yd8wn9nb . Let’s be honest though, no matter how loud, or how slowly, or how clearly you say “Lütfen tuzu geç” to me, I am not likely to know that salt is what you want.
If we were in Turkey, and at dinner, and someone at the table said to me “Lütfen tuzu geç” and pointed at the salt, I would likely guess correctly that salt was what the other person wanted, but I still would not speak Turkish, and if the Turkish speaker asked me the same thing out of context, I would have no idea what they were talking about. I think this is often what dogs go through when we talk to them.
Dogs are amazing at their ability to pick up information. My dogs all know what I mean when I say “Dog in a box” (our cue for getting into their crates), or “hup” (our cue for getting in the car) or “two paws” (our cue for dogs coming onto our laps to cuddle), and I never really trained those things; they learned the cues in context and then over time generalized the behaviours to a bunch of new scenarios. They picked up the lingo so to speak, just as I might if I spent enough time at Turkish dinner tables to hear “Lütfen tuzu geç” often enough that I could pick it out of conversation.
My dogs also know all the regular obedience cues such as sit, down, stay, here, heel, let’s go, over, tunnel and piddle; I taught my dogs those cues very carefully and they have long histories of being rewarded for the correct behaviour when they do as they are asked, and I have carefully taught them what the sound “sit” means so they know what I am talking about.
I see the Turkish language problem occurring when people have incompletely taught a behaviour and they assume that because their dogs understand what to do in one context that the dog will know what to do in every context. Similar to my example of learning to pass the salt when asked at the table and then not recognizing the words when taken out of context, many dogs are simply confused when they are asked to do something that doesn’t fit with their experience.
Perhaps the most common behaviour I see this with is the recall, or come when called behaviour. When you call a dog to come, you likely have an internal picture of what you want. You call out “Fido come” and you want Fido to drop whatever he is doing and come racing towards you. Often when clients ask for help with the recall, they cannot tell me how they taught the dog to come when called in the first place. If the training session was too dim for you to remember how you taught that behaviour, likely it was not a very meaningful experience for your dog either. Think back to teaching your dog to come when called. What steps did you take? Where were you when to taught your dog to do this behaviour? How rewarding was it for your dog to do the behaviour? If you cannot remember, then maybe, you are speaking Turkish to your non Turkish speaking dog!
Another problem that can occur with misunderstood cues is simply that you over structured the learning so that the dog learned the words, but only in the context of what you were doing. So many of my students taught their dogs to stay and then to come out of the stay when called. This is perhaps the most confusing way for a dog to learn the recall, and has nothing to do with leaving the rotting dead fish your dog wants to roll in in order to come racing towards you when you call; this is akin to teaching me to pass the salt by describing the chemical formula by which you would concoct salt in a laboratory. Sodium Cloride is the chemical name for table salt and you can make it very simply by taking Sodium hydroxide and Hydrochloric acid and mixing them together as they do in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=erWTsWut7Vc . Knowing how to make table salt in the lab just isn’t useful when you are sitting at dinner and it really doesn’t help you to learn Turkish any faster! Staying is a behaviour that requires the dog to inhibit his desire to move, and the recall is a behaviour that requires the dog activate his body and move towards you; these diametrically opposed behaviours can be very confusing when initially paired together, and just don’t have anything to do with leaving something the dog wants (an activation type activity) and coming towards you (another activation type activity that is the opposite of heading towards what the dog wants!).
When you are teaching your dog behaviours like the recall, it is important to help him out by making it as simple and clear as possible. When teaching my dogs to come when called, I have someone hold my dog and I run away so that the dog wants to come towards me; I reward him for doing the right thing that he would likely have done anyhow. This is much like holding up a shaker of salt and shaking some salt into my hand and offering that to you while saying “Tuz” two or three times. I am making it really easy for you to understand that the word for salt in Turkish is Tuz. Then when you encounter salt elsewhere, you have a chance of recognizing that object as “Tuz”.
When your dog is having trouble understanding what you are asking of him, ask yourself if you have made the meaning clear for your dog, or if you have assumed that he has just picked up the information from conversation. If you are not sure, then go back and explain it again, simply, with rewards for the behaviour you are hoping for. Don’t get louder, or repeat yourself, speak slowly, because it doesn’t matter how slowly or loudly you speak in Turkish, I still won’t understand what you are saying.
One plus one is 2, but two ones are 11.I remember being fascinated by this fact when I was about six.When I was in my early twenties and doing the family budgeting for myself and my first husband I learned that this mathematical truism has practical applications.Each of us alone needed a certain amount of money to survive but together, somehow or another pooling our assets and renting only one apartment felt like it didn’t work out as a more frugal alternative.There seemed to be so many things that we needed that I hadn’t felt the need for as a single person.Even simple things that seemed like they would cost less if we were buying for two often resulted in buying two brands of the same product.Two CAN live as cheaply as eleven.
The same is true of raising puppies.Raising one puppy takes a certain amount of time, effort and cost.It seems like you could only be doubling the effort if you get two dogs, right?Plus they will keep one another occupied when you have other things to take your attention, like your children, your spouse, your home, your car or your job, right?If only it were that simple.
I have lived in a multidog household for most of the past twenty years.John and I usually each have one dog of our own, and sometimes one or the other of us will have a second dog who is significantly older or younger.Realistically though, we try and space them out to a new dog every three to four years.We are coming up to the time when we will be considering adding a new addition in the next year or so.At various times for various reasons we have raised two dogs at the same time.
When Eco was a puppy, we were raising a service dog candidate; a standard poodle.They were merry friends who spent a lot of time bouncing around with one another.The poodle was about a month older than Eco and for the first six months or so, he ran the roost.He was faster, stronger and more developed.And then Eco overtook his speed, strength and agility, not to mention that Eco cared a lot more about who got things first, who ran the fastest and who controlled access to resources such as me.
When the poodle puppy came home, we enrolled him in puppy classes (all of our pups go to puppy classes, both our own and those of other schools).When Eco came home four weeks later, we enrolled him in different classes.Why not put both pups in the same class you might think.There are two reasons for not putting both pups in one class.The first is that the older puppy needed to start sooner than Eco.And the second is that jockeying for position that I mentioned above; in a class setting we might have had to restrain one pup while the other played in order to avoid the inevitable ganging up that can happen of these two closely aligned friends against all the other pups in the class!So already, even though John and I were raising two pups and there were two of us, and we both went to both sets of classes, we didn’t double up on the enrolment and put both puppies in the same class.
Then there is the whole issue of equipment; surely with two pups, we could get by with a little less equipment, right?Not so much.Even with a month between the two puppies, we needed full sets of collars and harnesses, leashes, bowls, crates and beds to accommodate both puppies.Furthermore, we had to pay for vet visits twice as often, and usually we find it is better to bring dogs separately to the vet; there is less confusion and we can focus with the vet on each dog as an individual.That means that not only did we have to pay for two veterinary appointments, we chose to attend the vet together, with each puppy on a different day.Considering that our vet is a fifteen-minute drive from home, that means that we had to allocate about an hour for each vet visit for each of us, and pay for an hour’s worth of gas in total to get both dogs to the vet.In a busy family with a company, that was really quite tough!
We had to allocate time to train each dog separately and again, we tried to make sure that each of us got in a training session each day with each dog.We also made time to walk each of the dogs separately each day.That made for more time into this project.John and I like to teach our dogs to trail walk, and for the most part we did that together, so we could cut down some of the doubling up on that front, but honestly we didn’t save much time, and the time that Eco (the BLACK German Shepherd) to Yarrow (the snow white Standard Poodle) swamp walking, we really wondered why we had any dogs at all!
Two baths.Two grooms.Two classes, two vet visits, two sets of everything.And eleven times the mess!We have found that when we compare raising one versus two puppies at a time, having pups one at a time allows us to get to know the puppies better and creates so much less chaos in our lives that when we can, we don’t try and raise 11 puppies at once!