PLAN B

Originally posted July 2013

When we get a puppy, we are happy and looking forward.  We look forward to the times we will spend in the company of our adult dog, and all things we will do and all the fun we will do together.  We realize that there will be work along the way, including taking the dog to the vet, training and cleaning up after him, not to mention the dust bunnies and other household reminders he will leave in his wake.  What we often don’t think about is Plan B.

Plan B is what we intend to do in the event of an unexpected tragedy.  How will we deal with an unexpected surgery?  How about when the gate gets left open, and the dog gets out?  What about your own health; who is going to feed, walk and water your dog when you are ill?  What if you die?  When we get a puppy, it is a good idea to have a Plan B for all the things we can think about that the dog might encounter through his life that we wish he didn’t.

I encourage everyone to spend some time planning for medical emergencies, and who will care for your dog in the event that you are incapacitated or if you pass away.  Everyone should think about who will take care of your animals in the event that you cannot.  Our animals cannot care for themselves without our help and if they are presented with a situation where they cannot get the care they need, they could end up in a rescue or at the humane society.  Beyond your animals’ basic care though, there are a lot of things that we can do to help our pets to be successful and not get into trouble.

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Teaching your dog to sit when the door opens could save his life.  Just keep in mind that if you are depending on prompting your dog, then it will only work when you are there to prompt him.  I would encourage this person to use putting his hand on the door as the cue to sit instead of his pointed finger!  Image credit: alexeys / 123RF Stock Photo

Let’s start with sitting at the door.  If your dog is accustomed to sitting before going out of your house then if the door is accidentally thrown open, your dog isn’t going to bolt out and into the street.  Making sitting at the door a priority also prevents your dog from bolting out in the event that you have to bring things into the house or a guest inadvertently opens the door for you.  On the flip side, don’t make your dog sit to come in.  Make coming in the house a really rewarding and valuable experience.  I had a dog who used to enjoy jumping our back fence.  To keep that dog safe, I taught him to come to the front door if he escaped the back yard.  He thought this was a great game.  Once he understood to come to the front door if he escaped the fence, then I dog proofed the fence and made it very difficult for him to jump the fence.  Why did I not just fix the fence to begin with?  Simply because that might fail and I wanted a set of behavioural suspenders to go with the belt that fixing the fence was.  I wanted my dog to have a Plan B should he ever get out again.

Another very important behaviour is for your dog to really enjoy having his collar grabbed, by anyone, anytime.  There is a dog who has been missing in Guelph for over a month now, and I regularly get emails and Facebook notes that a dog is missing and has been sighted.  Often these posters come with a note about not grabbing the dog because he is timid.  The best favour you can do for your dog if he is lost is to teach him that being caught and grabbed is a great and exciting thing to do.  It is really easy to do this.  Walk up to your dog with a treat, grab his collar and give him a treat.  Let go and repeat.  Get everyone in the house to do this.  If your dog is timid, work slowly and gently until you can grab any part of his body without warning and make it fun for your dog.  The fact is that if your dog is timid and gets loose, then someone is going to try and grab him, and probably by whatever is the closest body part.

Teach your dog to automatically leave things that they find.  Having a leave it on cue is not as important a behaviour as being able to walk past something that your dog wants and having him just automatically leave it alone.  Consider what might happen for instance if your dog is alone at home and you have left a grocery bag on the floor with a box of baker’s chocolate inside.  Would your dog automatically leave it, or would he only leave it if you had identified that the bag was off limits?  At Dogs in the Park, we teach the dogs that nothing is theirs unless we identify it to them.  The broader implication of this is that if my dog walks down the street and there is something that he should not have on the ground, I don’t have to be on alert to notice it first.  This has so many applications.  One of my colleagues’ mother came to visit once.  Her mom takes a very heavy duty medication and dropped a pill in the house.  Her older dog didn’t eat the pill, but her young puppy did and was very sick because of that.  I cannot count how often I have dropped my own medications, and my dogs all look up not down when that happens.

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Here a dog learns to come over a pile of toys and treats.  This prepares him to be able to cope with things that don’t belong to him falling in front of him, and he won’t touch them even if he wants them.  Asking first is a great tool for teaching dogs to leave things that don’t belong to them.  Photo Credit:  Sue Alexander

Teach your dog that it is safe to come when called to whomever calls.  Playing lots of recall games helps a lot with keeping dogs safe in the event that they ever get away from you.  Playing games with your dog in fact builds trust and bonds and helps dogs to understand that they are able to come when called no matter who calls them.  Periodically, I have a client who wants to teach their dog cues in a different language.  I do this for Schutzhund, where we do most of our cues in German.  My dogs also know the common English equivalent.  I want to make sure that if something happened and someone else needed to help my dog, he could come when called.

All my dogs learn to wear muzzles when they are puppies and we practice periodically throughout their lives.  My dogs don’t live in boxes; they do stuff.  They will likely get hurt.  They will need veterinary attention, and using a muzzle keeps them and the vet safe while the vet does things that hurt.  Muzzles are perhaps the best tool invented to keep people safe and we need to keep in mind that if your dog needs to wear one, that is not a slight against your dog.  That is the veterinarian taking reasonable steps to keep everyone safe.  When your dog is in pain, he is not likely going to behave the way that he might when he is not in pain.  There is no glory in having a dog who doesn’t need a muzzle and there is a lot of glory in keeping your vet safe.

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D’fer had a very serious cut pad that needed medical attention including some surgery to clean it out and stitch it up.  You can see that he is relaxed and concerned when the vet is looking at his foot.  Why should we muzzle a dog who is tolerating this?  Because we want to keep the veterinarian safe and even though D’fer is a real gentleman of a dog who has never ever tried to bite anyone, we don’t feel the need to take any risks with our veterinarian.  Photo Credit:  Sue Alexander

Perhaps the most important thing I can do to help my dog have a good Plan B is to make sure that he is well socialized to begin with.  If I am working with an adult dog who is timid it is a very high priority to teach him that he can trust people not to harm him.  This is sometimes difficult when you are working with a dog who was not properly socialized or who has been traumatized, but if something goes wrong, I want my dog to know that he is not going to come to harm if someone tries to help him.  If I am ever in a car accident with my dogs on board, or if I am injured on the trail and a search party is trying to find me, I want my dog to accept that help, no matter what the person looks like or what they are wearing or doing.

Plan B is something we don’t talk enough about.  Years ago, we didn’t talk about fire drills either, but we know they save lives.  The best thing we can do to help our dogs live long healthy and safe lives is to think about Plan B long before we need it.

PLAN B

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