I have been seeing a lot of people lately engaging in what I would refer to as stunts. One of these stunts is sometimes marketed as “reality” training, where dogs are left on a down stay outside of a store while the owner goes in. The dogs are unattended and un-tethered. These dogs are really clear that a down stay is a down stay is a down stay, but let’s think about this. Is this really a good idea? I have dogs who could do this if I asked them to do so, and in fact, I have done this in times past. Learn and grow I always say. I learned and I grew, and now, I don’t do it unless there is an emergency. I cannot think what that emergency might be, but I will never say never. I will just say that I would have to be pretty convinced that an out of sight, public down stay might be necessary.
Is the dog under control? Yes. The dog understands that he must not move. In the world of protection work for instance, the goal is to train to this level and the dog understands that if he moves, bad things will happen. This looks like a great idea and it is a wonderful piece of theater. I remember revelling in my earlier days as a trainer, doing stunts like this. Then I grew a little bit and I started to realize that doing this is pretty darned disrespectful of my dog. The dog may be under control, but there is no plan “B” for what will happen if the dog is startled or spooked out of his stay. What will happen to the dog if he is stung by a bee, spooks and runs into the street? What might happen is that the dog could be hit by a car. Worse, someone might swerve to miss the dog, and hit a child. Control is not the only element that should be taken into consideration.
I am seeing other stunts around town too. Today I saw a small dog being led around the downtown core by a toddler who was maybe three or four years old. Cute? Yes. Safe? No. The child doesn’t understand the risks of leading the dog and the dog doesn’t understand traffic and if the dog spooks and runs into traffic, then not only is the dog dead, but so is the kid. This is a stunt, and mom may have thought that she was amusing both the kid and the dog, but it just wasn’t a good idea.
And then there are the dogs I am seeing off leash, with joggers and cyclists in the city. These dogs are really the victims of stunts, because they are often being run through traffic. As a runner in traffic, you are at risk but at least your body is usually taller than the hoods of most cars. Your dog is not, and if the driver doesn’t realize that there is a dog loose in traffic, then he is are real risk for being hit by a vehicle.
Not all stunts are set up on purpose. A colleague of mine lives on a corner lot in a beautiful neighbourhood. She has a service dog who is completely reliable. One day, the dog was let out to toilet and the family went back in the house for a few moments. A couple of minutes later, they looked out and the dog was out of sight. They called and she reappeared and came in the house. Not a big deal, until you find out that a neighbour observed a car slow down and someone get out and try and coax the dog out of her own yard and into a car. When you cannot observe your dog directly, you are depending that everyone around you is kind and honest and not intending to do harm to your dog, and sadly, that just isn’t the case some of the time.
Another stunt I regularly see happens in barns with horses. I am a recreational rider, and I often see dogs in barns, off leash, just doing their thing. On the surface, this doesn’t look like a stunt, but in a dog who doesn’t live with horses, and horses who don’t live with the dog, this sort of stunt can result in danger to both the horse and the dog. Worse, if you are mounted and coming back into the barn yard and your horse is faced with a loose dog she doesn’t know, you risk that the horse will spook, the rider may fall and the dog may get injured by the horse, or the horse by the dog. No one wins in this sort of a situation.
If this was my pony and your dog, I would be really annoyed. Even when the horses and the dogs know one another, supervision makes for safer interactions. Image credit: virgonira / 123RF Stock Photo
Every day I see stunts around me in the name of training. Doing an off leash heeling routine in a public square away from traffic is one thing, but doing the same thing through traffic is another. Doing a sit stay by a statue (something I have been doing with D’fer for many years) when I am right there is relatively safe; leaving that dog at the statue while I go out of sight is grand standing and doesn’t respect my dog.
When you have a dog in modern society, you have to take into account a number of really important things. The dog is incapable of understanding the risks of the environment he lives in. A hundred and fifty years ago, putting your dog out to toilet was not a big deal. Horses could hurt a dog, but there were many more horses and the dogs learned early how to behave around them. Dogs who didn’t learn, learned the ultimate lesson and were killed. It was a slower time and there were fewer people interested in stealing or harming a dog. You knew more of your neighbours and people didn’t show up randomly in your neighbourhood as often as we see now.
So what can you do in public with your dog? In traffic, please keep your dog on a leash. Walking your dog off leash just isn’t safe and it is a stunt that could cost your dog his life. If you need to go into a store, tie your dog and ask him to stay. Yes, my dog CAN stay out of sight for a very long time (I once left a dog on a down stay in the training room to answer a phone call and came back forty minutes later to find him snoozing on the floor where I left him!), but I have no need to risk my dog’s life to prove that fact. Just because we can doesn’t mean we should. If you want to take a picture of your dog in public, by all means use your stay to the level you have trained it, but don’t leave the vicinity and hope for the best.
In an urban environment where traffic and dogs and people share space, a leash is a must no matter how well your dog is trained. Image credit: vvoennyy / 123RF Stock Photo
If you want to introduce your dog to horses, make sure that one person is controlling the horse and one person is controlling the dog while you train your dog to do things that are safe around your horse. If your dog is frightened of your horse, this is not necessarily a bad thing. If you want to spend time with your dog and your horse together, orchestrate what you want them both to be doing. When I am grooming my horse if my dogs are around, I will put out a mat or send the dog to a bale of hay to lie down while I am grooming. If I am riding, I will have a spot for my dog to do a down stay in the event that I am in an arena or riding ring where it is safe for my dog to be. If I want my dog to heel with me, I will teach both my horse and my dog to work together instead of hoping that they will both figure it out.
The bottom line is that we are responsible for both what happens because of our dogs and what happens to our dogs and it doesn’t matter if we are there to observe the activity or not. If you leave your dog on a down stay out of sight and a child comes up and teases your dog and your dog bites the child, you are responsible. If you are crossing the street and your dog is off leash and he darts between the cars and is hit, that is also your responsibility. An important lesson to consider is that it need not be your fault in order to be your responsibility.
Whenever someone asks me about female dogs, I feel like I am jumping down a rabbit’s hole because often the answer is “it depends”. Picking up from the last installment on intact dogs, let’s review that male dogs are known as “dogs” and female dogs are known as “bitches” and we will use those terms in this blog to indicate which gender we are talking about. As a side note, I should mention that when I talk about a puppy, I am talking about a dog under the age of about twenty weeks. I have had clients who talk about their “puppies” who are now 12 years old!
So what exactly is going on with bitches? Let’s start with how reproduction works in dogs. Humans, all primates, bats and one shrew all have a menstrual cycle. All other mammals have an oestrus or estrus cycle; the word is spelled differently depending on where in the world you live. We are going to spell it “estrus” because that is how we commonly see it here in Canada. In a menstrual cycle, you can ONLY get pregnant on a few days that happen between your periods. In an estrous cycle, dogs can ONLY get pregnant for a few days during their heat cycle. In the simplest of explanations, in humans, be cannot get pregnant during a period, when we are producing menstrual blood, and in dogs, they can only get pregnant when they are expressing blood. This little fact has been the result of several unplanned litters in families who are new to living with an intact bitch. Because this is a dog blog, I am not going to go any further into the details around human reproduction than I have right here.
The dog heat cycle can be divided into four sections, and dogs can come into heat every 4 to 8 months, with a very few bitches only coming into heat once a year. The first phase is proestrus. Proestrus is the part of the heat cycle that starts when the bitch first exhibits a bloody discharge from her vagina, and continues until she is reproductively receptive. Often male dogs will be very interested in the bitch, but she will not be interested in their attentions, and she may even be aggressive towards them. The problem that novice owners have is that there is no visible difference between proestrus when the bitch cannot get pregnant and the next phase where she CAN get pregnant. Add to this that in a bitch’s first heat, she may not actually discharge enough blood for you to notice that she has come into heat. This is where you have to really know your dog’s body well, because a few other signs can be observed. The first of these signs is a swollen vulva.
So how do you get a good look at your bitch’s vulva? Quite simply, you make examining her down there a regular part of your health check. Check regularly from the time she comes home at 8 weeks, and from time to time, dab it with a paper towel. When she is in heat, you will usually get some clear to red discharge on the paper towel. At that point, the only responsible thing to do is to keep her on leash and away from the boys. Proestrus lasts an average of 9 days but can be over in as little as 3 days or last as long as 17 days.
Proestrus is perhaps the most difficult time for dog trainers because their bitch may be super cuddly one moment and then grumpy the next, especially towards male dogs. Sometimes, bitches in proestrus may be intolerant of other dogs altogether. And occasionally bitches will experience some cramping. Throughout this phase, continuing training is important. Putting a dog up and not training her during proestrus is not going to help her to mind her manners! Instead, it is important to patiently teach her that even though she may be extra friendly to the people or less than friendly to other dogs, or whatever variation of hormonal changes she may go through, it is important to keep learning and practicing all that she has already mastered.
When you come to class, please dress your girls in panties with a panty liner, but do come to class. For the gentlemen in the audience, you should know that pantyliners have an adhesive strip on the backside to stick to the panty. You remove the backing off the pantyliner and stick it to the panty, put the panties on your bitch, and you are good to go. Change the panty liner at least once a day or when it looks full if she has a heavy discharge. Dogs don’t usually have as significant a discharge as humans do though so you don’t usually have to change the pantyliners multiple times per day. When she is outside, or in her crate she doesn’t need to wear her panties, but when she is loose in the house or at class, she does. Make sure you take her panties off so that she can urinate and defecate. We suggest crating bitches in heat overnight so that they can groom themselves, but other than wearing panties there is nothing you really need to do to keep your house from getting covered in drips of blood. It helps to teach your young dogs to wear panties early, when they are quite young. You can buy dog panties at most pet stores, but many people just use a pair of boy’s underwear and pull the tail through the pocket. You will need to use her panties through proestrus and estrus.
Next up is estrus, which is commonly known as standing heat. Estrus is the phase of the cycle where your bitch can get pregnant and can last between 3 and 21 days, although again, the average is about 9 days. During this phase, you may notice less discharge, and many bitches appear to have no discharge at all, or it may be clear; just because you don’t see discharge, don’t assume she is no longer in heat. This is exactly when she is most likely to be fertile if she is bred. Other signs include losing hair on her belly, and her nipples may get enlarged, but just like in humans, everyone is an individual and each dog’s hormones are going to impact her a little differently than every other bitch. The biggest tell that you will have that your bitch is in the estrus phase is that she will start to flirt with the boys; turning her back on them and flagging her tail. She may mark even though she doesn’t normally. And she will be receptive to male dogs who want to breed her. When she is super receptive like this, it is essential that you keep her away from any males who could breed her, and continue to train and set good boundaries. Be aware that a fence is not a good enough boundary between a bitch in heat and an intact male; more than one litter has been conceived through a chain link fence!
During estrus we particularly want the girls in class. We don’t recommend that you do off leash recalls through milling dogs; that is a recipe for either an unplanned litter or a dog fight between two interested males, however, we do want your girls in heat in class. Use your leash, make sure that the instructor knows that your bitch is in season, put pants on your girl, and come train. It is best to ask to not be placed right beside an intact male, but other than these simple guidelines, training really isn’t any different when your bitch is in heat and when she is not. If you are careful and keep track of your bitch, and she is not covered (one of the technical terms for being bred) by an intact male, she should not get pregnant. If however you suspect she may have been impregnated by an intact male, call your vet right away for advice. They may advise you to have her spayed to ensure that there are no unwanted puppies. Keep in mind that you have to actually accompany your bitch outside when she goes to the toilet EVEN if you have a fenced yard. Many intact bitches have jumped the fence, or had an intact male come over the fence to breed. If you don’t have a fenced yard, take your girl out to toilet on leash, 100% of the time. Together proestrus and estrus lasts about 21 days from the first day of discharge, so this is a three week commitment, however, it is worth it if it prevents your dog from getting pregnant.
Following estrus, the bitch will go through diestrus. This starts the first day that a bitch would refuse a male because she is not longer fertile, and continues for 58 to 63 days if your bitch gets pregnant, and ends when the bitch welps, or 60 to 90 days if she is not pregnant.
Some bitches will go through a pseudopregnancy (the veterinary term for a false pregnancy) even if they have not been bred. If this happens, your bitch will look and behave like she is pregnant. She may begin lactating, nesting and she can even become aggressive as though she is guarding a litter. Pseudopregnancy is caused by a hormonal imbalance, however it is a relatively normal situation and will usually clear up without any medical help at all. If you think your bitch is experiencing a pseudopregnancy, but you are not sure, call your vet! Once you know, you can usually carry on with her as normal, unless she is really unsettled in which case keeping her home for a week or so should give her body a chance to settle down. If you are in doubt, call your vet for their medical opinion.
Diestrus is also the time when pyometra is most likely to occur. Pyometra is an infection of the uterus, and it can be fatal. If you have an intact bitch, it is your responsibility to keep an eye on her health on a daily basis, and this is yet another instance where being familiar with your bitch’s vulva can stand you in good stead. If your bitch is lethargic, stressed and panting, or if there is an abnormal discharge of her vulva, or if she is drinking or peeing excessively, call your vet. In fact when it comes to your dog’s health, any time you notice something out of the ordinary, call your vet! This is so important that we wrote a blog about it called “Who’re ya gonna call?” and you can read that at https://mrsbehaviour.com/2015/06/26/whore-ya-gonna-call/ . Calling when nothing is wrong is not a big deal, but not calling if your bitch has pyometra could cost her her life. If you have an intact bitch, it is very worthwhile to have a careful discussion with your vet about what the signs and symptoms of pyometra are so that you can be prepared in case of emergency.
The final phase of a bitch’s cycle is anestrus and this is the period between the end of diestrus and the beginning of proestrus. During this time, your intact bitch will behave pretty much the same way that a spayed bitch would. She cannot get pregnant and she should be fairly even keeled in terms of her behaviour. This is the time when you would normally spay a bitch if you are going to do that. With the whole production of proestrus, estrus and diestrus and all the things that happen during those times, you might be asking yourself why anyone would want to live with an intact bitch at all, so here you go; I will attempt to answer that question!
To begin with, if you have a bitch who is a spectacular example of her breed, or if she is particularly talented at a sport or some specific work, then you may wish to breed her with a specific goal of producing another dog as good as or better than she is. This is by far the most common reason to keep a bitch intact. Be aware though that doing a great job as a breeder is a huge responsibility, and it may cost more than you will make off a litter. If you are very lucky, you will only lose the cost of two or three pups in your first litter (there are a lot of costs associated with breeding a litter of puppies; consider that a good friend of mine just took a week off work to drive her bitch to the stud every day for a week, and in the end the bitch did not get pregnant; can you afford to lose a week’s wages and pay gas to drive your dog out to a date every day for a week?). More likely you will be many thousands of dollars in the hole at the end of the day and you may not produce the puppy you were looking for.
More and more research is showing that bitches may benefit from going through one or more heat cycles before they are spayed. There are indications that bitches who are left intact are less likely to suffer from aggression and anxiety, and they may have fewer orthopedic issues. Notice though that I am using a lot of “may” and “less likely” and “could” statements. We don’t have all the answers to these questions yet, so each case should be carefully considered with your veterinarian, taking into account your dog’s close relatives, disease risk in your breed, confidence in your breed, aggression in your breed along with as much current research as you can find. See the resources section below for links to studies and research. Be aware too that a blog like this is based on my opinion and experience; it is no substitute for the years your vet spent in school, or the newest research that is out there, so when you are choosing when to spay your bitch, you are going to have to do some digging to decide what is best for your dog.
I would be greatly remiss if I did not share the cons to having an intact bitch. We know for certain that every heat cycle that your bitch goes through increases her chances for mammary cancer. If this is not a huge concern for the close relatives in your bitch’s pedigree, then you may not need to worry about it. But if your bitch has a close relative who had breast cancer, you may want to spay sooner rather than later. If you live in a household full of young people who are going to forget to put your dog on a leash to go out when she is in heat, or if you have intact males in the house, you may want to spay before you have to deal with an “oopps litter”. Each situation has to be considered on its own merit.
Of course, you cannot let your bitch in heat interact with any intact males. If you regularly walk in an area where she might encounter an intact male, including in your neighbourhood or at the dog park, you are going to have to keep her away from there. You absolutely cannot run her off leash! Be aware too that if you run her in wilderness areas off leash, coyotes and wolves absolutely CAN impregnate a domestic dog, so that must not happen. Don’t assume that you can stop an intact male from breeding your bitch just because you have her on leash; many males will become very aggressive if you try and stop them from breeding, and if the male is not being handled on leash, you really don’t have much of a chance of stopping him. Finally, if you have an intact male in your home, don’t be surprised if he goes off his food while she is in heat, or begins howling, or even tries to dig through a door to get to her. It is often easier to board your intact males with a friend while your bitch is in heat. It is not entirely uncommon for small time breeders to board one another’s boys while the girls are receptive.
The bottom line is that if you have a young bitch and she is in classes with us at Dogs in the Park, you don’t have to stop coming to class just because your young girl has gone into heat. Small breed bitches can come into heat as early as 20 weeks (but just to be safe, consider that this could happen even earlier!), and giant breed bitches may not come into heat until they are 18 to 24 months of age or older. You may be thinking “but that is right in the middle of when we recommend that dogs are actively in training” and you would be right. We know that bitches will come into heat unexpectedly the first time and we don’t want you to stop training just because this normal event has occurred. Note when the first day of bloody discharge has occurred, and count 21 days past that and you can keep your girl in training classes by being sensible and take care not to let her get pregnant!
At Dogs in the Park, we have two mottos. The first is “It Depends..” It is on all of the staff uniforms to remind people that the answer to dog training questions are dependent upon many variables. The second is less commonly said, but almost all of my students will eventually hear me say “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”. I was reminded of this by one of my staff the other day. She had been challenged by a colleague at school to train a dog to do a trick. The problem is that the trick required the dog to roll back onto his very arthritic and dysplastic hips. My staffer replied “Just because I can, doesn’t mean I should,” and she is right. She COULD teach the dog to do the trick, but she shouldn’t because it will cause the dog more injury than not.
I have an exercise I used to do when I ran my fun-gility workshops. Fun-gility is informal agility. I would get out all the cavellettis (small light jumps for teaching dogs to take off and land smoothly; they are about four inches high), and place them as close together as they can go. There is about four inches between each jump. Then I ask all the humans to walk through the twelve or so jumps. People with really big feet slide their feet in sideways, and people with little feet slip in between the jumps toe first. One very athletic man in the last workshop danced through them like a ballerina on point, pronking up and down in the manner of a gazelle. Once everyone has walked through these, I challenge everyone to go through as fast as they can. The only person to every run through these successfully was the man I just mentioned-but he said afterwards it was really difficult and uncomfortable.
Next I spread the jumps out so that each is one of my foot lengths wide. Everyone expresses relief at the ease at which they can place their feet. When they run through though, they are once again frustrated by the lack of room to solve the problem of where to put their feet. Some people just take two jumps at once and then congratulate themselves on coming up with such a neat solution. At this point I ask them; “Would it be okay if your dog chose to do two jumps at once if that was easier for him?” Most folks who have been through the exercise reply that yes, it would be okay with them if the dog solved his problem that way. If I were to ask someone who is serious about agility though, the answer might be different-the person might decide that the dog must take each obstacle one at a time, regardless of how uncomfortable that might be for the dog. That brings back the statement of “Just because I can, doesn’t mean I should”. Just because I can make the dog take jumps at an uncomfortable striding, doesn’t mean I should.
I come across this situation when I work with dogs with behaviour problems. I have had clients with dogs who are noise sensitive. I prefer to resolve problems like this by working below threshold, so that the dog is not being set off repeatedly. When the dog gets to relax a little, they often become bolder and more willing to accept some noises they weren’t previously. Recently, I was at a community event and I saw a little dog sitting terrified under her person’s chair. I approached the person and told her that I thought her dog was afraid of the noise of the crowd, and the owner replied that yes, she was, but the dog had to accept that this was part of life and must get over her fears, and so she was brought out to as many noisy events as possible. I bit my tongue but what I wanted to say was “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” When it is my client who is doing this though, I try and help them to understand that just because you can, doesn’t mean that you should!
I think we need to consider this carefully when we work with dogs and other animals. We CAN make a dog go out in public when he is afraid to do so, but should we? We CAN make a horse jump over a fence when he is physically uncomfortable, but should we? We CAN make a child stand up in front of a group of people and recite Evangeline…but should we? As trainers and teachers, we hold a very powerful position, and Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should applies to our jobs on a daily basis. Just because we can make a student take a risk we are comfortable with when training our own dogs doesn’t mean we should make our students do so too. Part of what we need to teach when helping people to train their dogs, is that just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.
Keeping “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” in mind when you are training your dog can really help you to do two things. The first thing it helps with planning your training. Many of us have asked our dogs to participate in sports they don’t really have the skills to succeed in. Often the dogs “fake it till they make it” and we feel like we are able to do the sport even if we haven’t trained for it. This is the classic case of “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”. Better by far to teach your dog to do the skills and then participate in the activity.
The second thing that “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” helps with is acknowledging what the dog is struggling with. If the dog is shy, let him leave when he has had enough. If the dog is bold, don’t put him in situations where he is going to take risks that are dangerous to his health and wellbeing. If the client lacks confidence, I don’t put them in situations where they are going not going to succeed. Setting up for success means a lot more than just setting up to get the right answer, it also means taking into account that sometimes, the dog cannot or the human cannot do something and allowing them not to do that thing, all the while balancing that they need to be challenged sufficiently to continue to move forward.
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:
Over the past six weeks, I have worked with a number of families with dogs who have finally put down their paws and said “Enough! I don’t like that anymore.” In each case, the families were astounded that their previously kind and calm dog snapped. I hear things like “he always let the kids do that before” and “he never minded when I did that until now”. And in every single case, these dogs have been asked to tolerate things that I would not expect the dog to like.
In one case, the dog snarled at a child in the home when the child bounced off the couch, on to a foot stool, and the over the dog, and finally onto the chair beside him. It turned out that this bouncing game had been going on with the child for an extended period of time and the dog had not protested the first ten or eleven times she did this. The parents were astounded when the dog finally snarled! I asked the parents if they wanted their child to behave this way in the house. “No” they admitted, but they were still upset that the dog had reacted the way that he had.
I think back to my own childhood and the rules we lived by. Running and bouncing in the house was not allowed. Tormenting animals meant that we would get hurt and if we were scratched, bitten or knocked over by the dog, the first question was “what did you do to the dog?” I am constantly amazed that the attitude has shifted from “what did you do” to “why did the dog respond”. It seems that in the face of tolerant dogs, people have forgotten that some of the time, the behaviour we see in dogs is the result not of a flaw in the dog, but of what we ask the dog to put up with.
When you live with a tolerant dog, you can come to forget that the dog has very real feelings about what happens to him. One of the things that I constantly hear is how important having animals in our lives is because it teaches us empathy and to consider the needs of others. When we live with tolerant dogs, we may actually learn that we can push harder than we should because these dogs will put up with behaviour that we should not expect them to put up with.
I regularly see tolerant dogs being asked to put up with highly aroused children or dogs racing around, with the expectation that the dog in question will remain calm and collected while this is happening. If I had a nickel for every student who said to me that they arrive in the dog park only to have their dog lose his marbles I would be moderately wealthy. I often wonder if folks remember being six and arriving at the park and remaining calm and relaxed while watching the other children running around and playing tag!
Although I require my dogs to show self control before letting them off leash to play with other dogs, I don’t expect that they would do so without help from me. Self control is a learned behaviour, not a naturally existing one. If you want your dog to exhibit self control you need to keep in mind two things; first-what have you taught him about self control, and second-how much excitement is he being exposed to while being asked to exhibit this self control.
If you take your dog to the dog park, and you are 100 meters away from the dogs who are playing and your dog spies the active exciting play, it is reasonable that most dogs can disengage from the fun they see and attend to you, even if they haven’t had much training. Stand and wait till you get spontaneous attention, and then take your dog off leash and join the fun! You will be teaching your dog that self control is the key to getting to participate in the fun. Take that same dog into the middle of the game and hope for that same level of tolerance, and you are going to find that you have a highly excited monster on your hands. Just don’t! You can eventually do that if you practice diligently and increase the difficulty very slowly, but it isn’t something that will just happen
This lesson applies to racing children too. For the most part, I don’t want my dogs to run with kids. I have large physical dogs who think nothing of hip checking one another, or grabbing each other by the neck while they run and race. When there are children running around, I put my dogs in their crates, or if I have taught them to, I ask them to lie down and stay. They are tolerant, but it is not worth the risk to the children to expect that they would not hip check a child with whom they were running. It would most likely be a completely benign event, but 50kg of running dog can flatten a toddler or even a primary school aged child. That is not fun for anyone. And if the child charged my dog, I would not be surprised if my dog grabbed the child; why wouldn’t he? Charging is a rude and dangerous behaviour, and my dog doesn’t want or need to get hurt; he will quite likely protect himself. If I have put my dog in a down stay while children run, then I have made an agreement with my dog that I will prevent children from disturbing him and I am very strict about how close I allow play to come to my dogs.
It should be remembered tolerant tiny dogs can easily get in trouble too! I have seen dogs tripped upon, stepped on and inadvertently kicked when they are walked through crowds. When they are resting, people often pick them up resulting in dogs who learn never tot relax in the presence of people they don’t know and trust. Tiny dogs are often not terribly tolerant in part because they never get a chance to be. You can help these dogs by being aware of what they are doing, and what happens to them.
Dog bites are rare, but they do happen. One of the things we can do to help prevent dog bites is to ensure that the people around our dogs treat our dogs with respect and dignity. We can set and enforce boundaries with those who interact with our dogs and help our dogs to move through the world in peace. When a dog is tolerant, he will often put up with things that he should not have to, but we can help. When I am in public with my dogs I am really clear about the things that I allow to happen to them. I don’t let strangers just touch them, or scare them or get in their space. I don’t allow children to play with my dogs like they are inanimate toys. My dogs are really tolerant of a wide variety of bad behaviour in humans, but I do my very best to help my dogs stay tolerant by not making them put up with bad behaviour towards them. I would encourage everyone to do the same.
One of the platitudes we hear over and over and over again in dog training is that a tired puppy is a happy puppy. When I think about being tired, I think about that feeling of having lots to do and not enough time to get it done, of deadlines, of the desire to do more but the inability to do so. Or I think about the end of a work out, where I just want a shower and to be left alone. I don’t think about tired when I think about content.
Don’t get me wrong. Exercise is an important component of good health for both us and our dogs. Reasonable amounts of exercise that is. Yesterday I took my horse out to exercise her and she was very full of herself. We went to a new area to her, and I got out my longe line and asked her to walk in a circle around me. This is a very common way of exercising horses and my mare is very familiar with it. In a new place though she was very spooky and nervous and when a truck rumbled by and blew its horn she took off. She galloped around me for a solid ten minutes, and that was before we even got really organized. After her spook, I worked her in the other direction so that she would not get stiff on one side, and then I walked her for about twenty minutes to make sure she would be properly cooled out. With horses we have to be very careful about keeping them properly limbered and properly warmed up and cooled out and when a spook like this happens we often end up exercising a horse more than we would prefer. At the end of her work out, Kayak was very tired.
Today when I brought Kayak out for her daily work out, she was very subdued. She was loose and moving well, but she was obviously tired out from yesterday’s work-out. Today I worked her very lightly because although a tired horse can be an easier to handle horse, a tired horse is also a horse more prone to injuries. This is true of all athletes, horse, human and yes, dog.
Often when I talk to people about the behaviour problems they are having, an interesting pattern has developed for the dog. As a young pup, the people would see the puppy get the zoomies and thinking that their puppy needed an extra walk, they would take the puppy out for progressively longer walks. Very quickly, the zoomies move out of the realm of an emotional response to being over tired to an operant way to get more walks. It takes very little time for a dog to learn that racing around results in a walk.
As the puppy grows, so does his stamina and then next thing that often happens is that the puppy develops a lot of stamina. A young Australian Shepherd is perfectly able to run hard for most of the day, regardless of the effect on his future health. This is an active breed that was intended to move large numbers of sheep for hours on end. The race between stamina and the amount of exercise that a young dog can absorb becomes a vicious circle where the human gives the dog exercise, and then the dog is naughty and the human gives the dog more exercise. It is not just herding dogs like the Aussie either; I have seen this happen in spaniels, retrievers, and working breeds. If your dog comes from a genetic background where he needed to be active, then the more exercise you give him, the more exercise he seems to need. Furthermore, if you have been exercising your dog whenever he seems restless, you are inadvertently creating a dog who will need more and more and more exercise.
Attempting to exercise a dog into fatigue who was bred to do this for ten hours a day is an exercise in frustration for families, but likely also for their dogs. Copyright: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/profile_kitzcorner’>kitzcorner / 123RF Stock Photo</a>
Often the next stop on the journey of exercise junkie is dog day care. There are great dog day cares out there, where the dogs have structured days that include rest periods and down time, but a great many dog day cares are one revolving door of activity, activity, activity. One of my clients came in after his dog was dismissed from daycare because he was aggressive to the other dogs. The daycare would not permit a video to be made to determine what exactly was going on, however from what we can determine, the dog would arrive around 7 am and more and more dogs would arrive until about 10 in the morning. As the dogs arrived they were permitted to race into the day care and plough into the play group. From ten till about two in the afternoon, these dogs would be a more or less stable group, but any time they settled down to rest, a staffer would go out and get them moving. At two in the afternoon, dogs would start going home. By five when my client would pick up his dog, his dog was exhausted. When we added this dog to our play group, it was really clear that he didn’t mind rough play at first, but over time, as he tired, he would begin to build a bigger and bigger space bubble around him. By keeping his play sessions short and not permitting him to play when he was tired we resolved a good chunk of this dog’s problem.
The allure of the dog coming home tired is very attractive to many owners of young dogs, but if the day care doesn’t make sure that the dog gets down time and rest time, then you can be contributing to a dog becoming an exercise junkie. This leaves us with two questions. The first is “How much is enough” and the second is “When should you exercise the dog”?
The answer to how much is enough is completely dependent on how much you think you can live with. If you cannot live with a dog who needs 5 hours of hard exercise a day, then don’t start building up your dog’s exercise tolerance to that level. I have a colleague in Sudbury who is extremely active with her dogs; she does sledding and hiking and biking with her dogs, and she could live with dogs who are able to tolerate five hours a day of hard exercise. This is not typical of my students though. If you cannot tolerate this level of exercise, then don’t get your dog up to that exercise.
When a dog starts exercising stressed, he is going to also be stressed during exercise at least for the first while. Look at this guys’ rounded eyes, pulled back ears and pulled in tongue.
There is a minimum though; dogs do best with at least an hour a day of off leash hiking with their people. Not all of us have the luxury of this, but that is likely the optimal for most dogs and it is doable for more folks, so as a middle of the road guide line, an hour a day off leash is a good amount of exercise. When you cannot give your dog this, you can substitute things like walking (not bounding!) up and down stairs, training games that involve searching for specific items or treats or learning new tasks.
The second question of when to exercise your dog is an interesting one. If you exercise your dog at the same time each and every day, you will create a situation where your dog anticipates exercise and becomes difficult to handle because of that. As the moment of exercise approaches, the dog becomes increasingly aroused and excited. If you then exercise your dog he will learn that being excited and aroused predicts a walk. When nothing else is going on, he will behave in an excited manner and then you will eventually respond by giving him that walk. Although you may be planning your walk at a specific time, your dog may begin to think that his excitement is what produces the walk instead of the other way around.
On the other hand, if you walk your dog more or less randomly, he will begin to tune into your subtle cues that a walk is coming and you have exactly the same issue that you might in the event that you walk your dog at the same time every day. Putting down your reading glasses and picking up your phone means that you are going to go for that greatly anticipated walk.
To avoid these common walk problems, there are a few things to do. First, understand that puppies under 12 weeks who zoom around like small jets are probably tired and need a nap, not another walk. When you see this behaviour, call your pup, put him in his crate with a kong or other appropriate chew and let him be for a while. After twelve weeks you can start to give your puppy more exercise and start to build towards a level of stamina you can live with, while meeting his minimum needs for exercise. If you have an older dog who has the pre-walk fidgets, use that as an indicator that you need to crate him till he settles down too. When the dog is settled, you can take him out if appropriate. We find that most young dogs conk out pretty quickly and take a nap. Older dogs can learn that being silly and excited in the crate does not open the door.
Once you have broken the cycle of being excited and aroused before the walk, establish a routine before your walk. Start out by teaching your dog to lie down. Lying down is a calm and controlled position. When your dog is down, feed him treats, one by one and then work on being able to move around the room, while he stays. If he breaks the stay, just re-cue him and work with him on staying in a down position for ten minutes. At about the ten minute point (sometimes 9, sometimes 10, or even 11 minutes), call your dog out of the down position and go get ready for your walk. Work up to being able to get ready for the walk while your dog is down. If he gets tense or excited (you will notice ears and eyes perking up), then keep working on the stay, continuously feeding as you move things around and get ready to go. When your dog is relaxed, actually calm, that is when walks will start.
This dog is ready to go for a walk. He is calm and he is showing us that his face and body are relaxed.
If you work on this regularly and reliably, then what you will get is a dog who is calm before walks. If you only walk your dog when he is aroused and excited then you are only going to have a dog who is aroused and excited, and that is not much fun to live with. A tired dog is a tired dog. A calm dog is usually a happy dog.
I work with dogs with behaviour problems every day. Some of the dogs I work with have bitten people. Some of them have attacked other dogs. Some of them leap at passersby when walking on leash. I see dogs with separation anxiety, with inappropriate elimination issues, who chase lights and shadows and who snap at invisible flies. I see dogs who don’t sleep and who eat things they ought not, and who do a wide variety of very strange behaviours. Over the years I have seen dogs who charge and lunge, who bite, who target the other dogs in the house, who have lunged at me, who have knocked me over, who have targeted another dog in my classroom and who have lost control over their bladders when I have looked at them. There is a really important thing to know about my job. I know what misbehaviour looks like. I don’t need to see your dog show misbehaviour in order to help you. You may wonder why.
The very first thing to know is that triggering the behaviour problem you are experiencing is not good for your dog. It is not in your dog’s best interest for me to see your dog misbehave. If your dog has a serious behaviour problem, every time he practices that behaviour, the behaviour becomes stronger, and that is not what I want when I am helping a family. There is a medical analogy that I like to use to help people to understand. Suppose that you had a broken leg. Every time you go to the doctor for a check up on your leg, would you expect your doctor to ask you to do something that would further injure your leg? Would you agree to jump up and down on your broken leg ten or eleven times to see how much it hurts? Would you expect your leg to ever actually heal properly if you keep re-injuring it?
Every time that you set your dog up to exhibit the undesired behaviour you have come to work on with me, you are re-injuring your dog. I don’t want your dog to get worse! I want your dog to get better. I look at resolving behaviour problems by starting from the point of doing no harm. I don’t want to make matters worse. If seeing your dog misbehaving were helpful, I would be in favour of allowing your dog make as many mistakes as possible but it doesn’t help. It really, really doesn’t help.
The next reason I don’t need to see your dog misbehave is that it often isn’t safe for me, for you, for your dog or for the dogs and people who are around you. If your dog is aggressive towards other dogs, it is really risky for other dogs for your dog to practice that behaviour. It is not safe for me if your dog is practicing being aggressive towards me! If your dog is aggressive towards me, and I have to do something to protect myself, your dog could be hurt. I don’t want to hurt your dog; that is not my job!
The final and perhaps the most important reason to avoid triggering a problem behaviour is that I likely already know what it looks like. I have seen some very wild and woolly behaviour. I have seen a dog with seizure induced aggression; I don’t need to ever see that again. It was extremely dangerous to me and I don’t think the dog was having much fun either. I have seen various types of Obsessive Compulsive Disorders and that is so hard for the dog to endure. I have seen in person more fear aggressive dogs, defensively aggressive dogs, and confidently aggressive dogs than I care to count. I have seen dog to dog aggression and twice, I have seen dog fights so severe that both dogs nearly died. I have seen play, I have seen affiliative behaviour, I have seen fearful urination and defecation, I have seen leash aggression and I have seen resource guarding. After twenty five years of working with dogs with behaviour problems I have seen more problem behaviour than most pet owners will see in a lifetime. I don’t need to see most of this again, but if there is some reason for me to see a problem behaviour, I want to see it on video, retrospectively. For the very most part I don’t want to see the problem behaviour if I can avoid it.
This probably leaves many readers wondering how I can help if I don’t see the problem behaviour. First off, I want to know what the problem behaviour is, so I ask lots and lots of questions about the problem behaviour. Most people can tell me what I need to know after I ask the right questions to frame the problem. Once I have an idea of what the problem is, I need to know more details to start to help solve the problem. How much does the dog sleep? What does he eat? Is there something that happens right before the problem appears? Has the dog caused any injuries? How much exercise does the dog get and what kind of exercise is it? Who does the dog live with? Who does the dog play with? How is the dog’s health? Does the dog have any pain related issues? When I know about as many of the contributing factors as I can find, I can start to formulate a plan to help the dog and their family.
The first thing I will do after taking a history from family members is develop a management plan to avoid the problem. As with my example of a broken leg, for a period of time, I don’t want the dog to be re-injured by being triggered by the things that disturb him. I think of your dog having an episode of bad behaviour as being like re-injuring a broken bone. If you do it often enough, you are going to create a permanent and potentially worse problem. If nothing else, your relationship with your dog is not going to be as good as it could be.
Management in behavioural terms simply means setting up a successful environment. This can be very straightforward to do sometimes, but often it can be tricky. When you are talking about a dog who is afraid of men in hats, you can usually avoid men in hats for a period of time while you work on the problem. This is much trickier when you cannot tell what triggers the undesired behaviour, and that is where I am often really helpful to my clients. I have years of experience coming up with unique and creative ways to prevent exposing your dog to the things that set him off.
When we are talking about problems such as house soiling, I often have a few cards up my sleeve that you may not have thought of; it isn’t just common sense even though simple solutions are often what works. Often, coming in with experience and fresh eyes can help me to develop a plan to meet your dog’s needs even though you may have already thought up a number of solutions of your own and yet still, I don’t need to see your dog making the error to help.
The next thing I want to do is to determine what is driving or motivating the problem behaviour. If your dog is toileting in the house, but only does it on days when he or she is asked to stay home alone for ten hours at a time, then what is motivating him is a full bladder. If you get someone to come in and toilet your dog half way through the day, then he won’t have a full bladder and won’t soil in the house. That is a simple example of the kind of problem solving I help my clients with.
Some situations are more complex though. I have worked with dogs who are afraid of a myriad of things in their environments and the first step we have to take is to teach the dog that he is safe within his own environment. Once I have done that, we can start to expand his success puddle from within the house and yard to the street, the neighbourhood and then beyond. Sometimes the motivator behind the behaviour is medical; then I need to work with my client’s veterinarian to resolve the motivation. Sometimes it is hard to tell what the motivation is, and then I get to work like a detective solving a mystery to figure out how to help.
The final step in the work I do is to help you to teach your dogs the skills they need to succeed in their new reality. When we aren’t triggering the dog over and over again, and when we change what motivates the undesired behaviour, the next step is to examine what skills the dog needs to successfully navigate the situations that used to be a problem. Sometimes when I work with aggressive dogs the aggression is triggered by a specific triggers (such as men in hats) and it is motivated by fear (perhaps a man in a hat startled the dog when he was a puppy) and when we overcome those two components, we need to teach the dog what he should do instead of being aggressive.
By now you may be thinking “gee, your work sounds pretty straightforward” and to be completely honest you are not wrong, but I still hold the card of experience. I know how to evaluate the situation and what questions I need to ask to find out what the problem might be. I can recognize when the motivation that is driving the problem might be medical instead of behavioural. I know where to start when we attack the problem you have come to see me about. And I know what skills to teach your dog to give him tools to use in his tool box. I also know that although it might be flashy, your dog’s life is not a TV show, so I don’t need to see him exhibit the undesired behaviour!