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!
Can your dog lie down and relax when you ask him to? I don’t mean does he lie down and relax of his own accord when you and he are just hanging out, but if you needed to pay at the veterinarian’s front desk, could you ask him to lie down and relax so that your hands were free to slide your card and enter your PIN? You have likely taught your dog to lie down and stay, so why is it that so few dogs I see can do this without behaving like a racehorse in the starting gate? You know what this looks like; the owner asks the dog to lie down and stay and he lies down, often on his chest with his haunches coiled underneath him ready to spring up and race off. He may even be shivering in anticipation.
The down stay is perhaps the single behaviour I could absolutely not live without. I can use a harness or head halter if I have to walk an unruly dog, so I don’t really need to teach my dogs to walk on a nice leash, and if they have a solid down stay that I can call upon from anywhere I can use that as brakes instead of a recall, but without the down stay I don’t think I could make it through my day. I use my down stay ALL the time. Let me give some examples!
We have horses. When they lived on the farm with us, I would often take Eco out to feed and water the horses. As a predator around prey species, it was easy for him to get them running when they first met him. All he had to do was rush to the gate and slip into the paddock and the horses would bolt to the other side of the paddock. This is a great way to teach a dog to chase horses because horses running away is fun for dogs. This is also a great way to teach horses to stay away from me, as I am always accompanied by a dog. But wait! Eco had a stellar down stay. We would leave the house and he would cavort around looking for a toy and when he realized we were heading to the horse paddock, he would start to race. I would call out “down” and he would drop. I would call out “stay” and he would stay, allowing me to get to the gate ahead of him. Then I would call him closer and ask him to down and stay again, and do my chores. In this way, he never learned to chase horses and the horses learned that he was safe. Eventually we were able to walk amongst our tiny herd without the horses bolting and without Eco trying to get them to run. Easy peasy!
Or consider this; when I am serving dinner to guests at the table, Friday thinks that helping would be a good idea. She is curious and likes having guests over for dinner. This past holiday season we had a dinner guest who brought her dog who ALSO likes to help serve dinner if you let him. Now we have two friendly dogs in the house, who like to play with one another and who like to follow when you move from the kitchen to the dining room. I asked both dogs to lie down and stay while I served dinner and then asked them to continue to stay while we ate. Both dogs eventually fell asleep because both dogs understand that a down stay is not going to result in an opportunity to race out of the down stay and into play right away.
So how do we achieve this? Yes, I am a very good trainer, and so is John and so is our dinner guest, but this isn’t magic. This is the result of understanding some of the mechanics of the target behaviour and then teaching those to the dog. The first thing to understand is that with young dogs we never ever teach them that the down stay is going to result in a big explosive release. I see this over and over again, especially in dogs who are competing in agility and obedience. The handler asks for a down and stay and then at the end, they release the dog and the dog bounces up and the handler throws a party. It doesn’t take long for that dog to start to anticipate that the return of the handler is going to result in a great big hurrah and bounce, and his body needs to get ready to do that. Internally, this means that the dog learns to raise his heart rate and tense his muscles when he thinks that he is going to get up. If instead we teach the dog that he is always going to do something calm and quiet after the down stay, the dog never learns to tense up and get his heart going when the down stay is over. My goal is to teach all my dogs, and especially my young dogs to come out of their down stay calmly and quietly and in a relaxed manner.
The next aspect to understand is that when we teach the down stay, we should not teach the down stay incrementally. Teaching the dog that if they do a one second down stay they will be released sets them up to be really excited about the release at the two second mark. When I was learning to train dogs, this was how we did it. We mastered one second and moved on to two seconds. Then three, five, 7, 10, 15 and so on. By the time we had reached the pinnacle of the three minute down stay that we needed for the novice obedience test we usually had a classroom full of lunatic dogs all waiting like horses in the starting gate to leap up and race forward and play. When I think about training this way, compared to how I approach it now, I smile in recollection of the antics that often ensued and I cringe in remembrance of all the machinations we engaged in to enforce that three minute down stay. The perception was that asking the dog to lie down and stay for three minutes was incredibly difficult!
Consider the physical demands of this behaviour. I want the dog to lie down, and chill out. Relax. Not chew a bone, just wait patiently. Perhaps the world we live in today discourages us from seeing this as the easiest thing in the world to do; waiting rooms have television sets and magazines to keep us amused. And heaven forbid that we might have to wait without amusement for 20 seconds while in line at the store; there are screens and visual activities to keep us occupied there too. At home, how many of us have a television or the radio turned on from the moment we wake till the instant we drop off to sleep? How many of us have something happening in the room while we sleep? And what do we do about these distractions and busy makers? We pay to attend yoga classes or get a massage! This past year, I spent two weeks out in the bush, alone. When I came back, I visited the home a good friend who has two active kids. The day after I came out of the bush was Canada day, and she had invited family over. The house was super busy, so I decamped to the front porch to sit. One of the kids came out eventually and asked what I was doing. “Sitting” I replied. “Sitting and doing what?” she asked. “Just sitting.” Over the months since I was in the bush, I have lost that simple act of sitting and just being, but it is there in me, ready to reactivate when I choose to take the time and slow down a bit.
Our dogs are generally much better at just sitting than we are. As I write, Friday is lying on the floor in front of our wood stove. Her head is up, and she sometimes orients on me or John, or on something she hears, but generally, she is just…sitting. Incidentally, sitting doesn’t necessarily mean being in the sitting position, it means being relaxed and content with your thoughts. I have just finished my deer hunt for the year, when I go out in the bush for days on end and sit and wait for the deer to come in. This year the deer didn’t come, but I got to see many, many wild animals, just sitting. A chipmunk came and sat on my boot for about ten minutes. Just sitting and watching the world. When I shifted he was able to just move off, but while I was still, he was still too. I saw rabbits doing this and one spectacular afternoon a young bald eagle. Just sitting is a very natural activity that most mammals engage in for a good chunk of their day. Asking a dog to lie down and stay for three minutes should not be that difficult.
So what changed for my dogs? Why can they do the three minute down stay without distress now, when so many dogs struggle with this? Very simply because I START with a one hour down stay. When an 8 week old pup comes into my home, he learns sit, down and the cued take it in the first week. We work on meeting new people and other dogs, and handling and his name, but we don’t work on a lot else. Then at between 9 and 10 weeks, my puppies do their very first one hour down stay. Here is what it looks like.
We get up in the morning and I take the puppy outside to toilet. Then we come into the kitchen and I get out the pup’s breakfast and pour myself a cup of coffee. Then I sit down on the floor and ask the pup to lie down. As long as the puppy stays lying down, I feed him his breakfast one kibble at a time. If you feed a homemade diet, you would just feed a little bit of food at a time; with the rule being very, very simple. If you are lying down, I will hand you food. If you are standing up or sitting, you get nothing. I don’t keep reminding the puppy; I just wait. The first time we may not work for a whole 60 minutes; I have to judge things on if the pup needs to toilet again, but usually we work for between 45 and 60 minutes. Puppy kibble is great for this because it is smaller so there are more bites which makes for more training. After three or four days of this, my pups are pretty clear that lying down pays BIG, so they lie down a lot more often.
After a few weeks of this, I usually add a tether; I teach all my adolescent and adult dogs the same behaviour, but I use a tether for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that an adult dog might choose to get up and leave and I want to limit his choices. The second reason is that most dogs are going to have to be tethered at some point in their lives and I want to make sure that they can do this while relaxed.
Once the dog understands that lying down is going to keep me delivering treats, I start to move around; one step feed, two steps, feed and so on, until I can move out of sight. Then I add more distractions; dropping napkin or tea towel for instance. Then I make it more difficult; I want the dogs to look at distractions as a clue that they should settle in and relax for the duration, because you never know what Sue will present. What you do know is that if you get up, the floor show will stop and so will the treats.
Over the course of my pup’s first year, they will do a daily down stay until I can do anything and they will remain in place. Of course, along the way, I thin out the reinforcement, and with an adult dog who is very experienced, I will sometimes use activity as the reward for the down stay but ONLY if the dog is relaxed. If the dog is at all tense or distressed, I make the game easier and feed more often but don’t stop training the behaviour.
The down stay is probably the most important activity that I have to teach my young dogs, and it is the most important behaviour I use day to day with my dogs. Doing housework? The dogs are in a down stay! Watching a movie? Down stay! Dinner guests? Down stay. Bringing in the groceries? Down stay. Planting flowers in the garden? Down stay. Grooming the horses? Down stay. Playing frisbee? You got it! Down stay! I use the down stay everywhere, every day. And for my dogs it is the clue that they should settle in and relax because it is likely going to go on for at least twenty minutes. When I only need a short down stay, they are relaxed because they don’t start out with the idea that they are going to get up at any moment and race around. And when I do release my dogs from the down stay with nothing planned to do next, most of the time my dogs will take a big stretch as they would when waking form a nap and then they walk off. Racing is for racehorses. Down stay is for just sitting!
It has been a while since I have written a blog, and I am really missing doing them. This time, we have a guest blog from Bojan and Amy who live with Lola. Good Dogs are often difficult to live with not because they aren’t nice dogs, but because living with a Good Dog can present a number of challenges when it comes to navigating the universe. Amy and Bojan work really hard with Lola to work through their challenges. Here is there story in their own words, and hopefully that will inspire me to get back to some writing soon! Thanks for the writing folks-it is an honour to work with you and Lola!
Lola is a shepherd-hound mutt, and is the first dog for both my husband and I. She used to be a street dog in Greece and was brought over to Canada by a rescue agency. When we adopted her, we had a soft spot for street dogs and had never heard of reactivity, instead imagining that all dogs loved everything! As it turns out, she loves us but loses her mind over everything else, including people waiting at transit stops, people who pick things up off the ground, people in general, other dogs who are on leash, small prey, bicyclists, skateboarders, streetcars, buses, trucks, and especially kids with sticky fingers or any fingers at all. Some of our friends have questioned how seriously we’re taking things with her and have asked us if it’s really “that bad.” We usually tell them that, if it happened to them, they wouldn’t like it very much.
We have a protocol for everything from how to get Lola out of our seventh-floor condo (hint: it doesn’t involve the elevator) to how to get her from each of her daycares to the car. Both of us walk her together so that one person can be on look-out duty for triggers and the other person can focus on her body language. To share with you what it’s actually like trying to keep her below threshold and not panicking (i.e. barking and lunging and terrorizing) in everyday situations, here’s a breakdown of one of our recent walks. We happened to be 15 minutes late and left our place at 6:15 a.m. instead of our usual before-6:00 a.m. departure.
Similar to superheroes, no reactive dog’s life is complete without an arch nemesis, so our walk began with Lola’s arch-nemesis-neighbour-dog barking at us from inside their unit as we were getting Lola into the stairwell. Lola heard it and froze but disengaged when Amy cued her onwards. Not waking up all of the neighbours on our floor = small victory!
As we exited the stairwell into the alleyway, there was a running truck at the other end that she fixated on, so I played Look At That twice before she would move on. A male in his 30s was waiting to cross the street about 20′ ahead of us and we waited for him to go ahead. In the next alleyway, we heard some noises which made her anxious and did our emergency Oh No Let’s Go U-turn twice just in case. Lola loves this cue and thinks it’s a fabulous game of chase so she completely forgot about the noises.
At the parkette, there was a person waiting for the streetcar that she started staring at and we played Look At That once. After that person got on a streetcar, another woman was walking on the sidewalk towards the streetcar stop about 30’ away. Lola had a hard time disengaging as this woman was looking at her and we played Look At That while backing up a few steps at a time and she finally broke her focus.
We kept moving and got to the main park where a male jogger in his 40s passed by her field of vision about 15’ away. This was an “oh shit” moment because by the time we noticed, he was already too close, approaching her directly, and neither of us were in a position where we could easily block her without causing her to panic anyways. I tried to play Look At That but it turned out Lola could not care less as she was busy sniffing for the perfect spot to poop. With that done, we went into the baseball field to get some more space. A male construction worker walked through about 30′ away and I played Look At That until he was 50’ away. We saw a few off-leash dogs in the distance which she handled well with low arousal, although we still played Look At That since she wasn’t easily disengaging on her own.
Her favourite thing is to play chase, so we ran around with her and then did some obedience practice. We saw an off-leash dog about 30’ in the distance and started playing Look At That, during which she offered a down. We never cue the down so that she can choose to do it when she feels relaxed enough to and it gives us an indication of her stress levels. While we were focused on the dog, we didn’t notice an approaching construction worker who was about to pass us at about 15’ away. Both of us expected her to lunge and bark at him, but she stayed in her down. At one of the park entrances, we saw two familiar small black dogs coming in off-leash, wearing lights on their collars. These dogs have a habit of running up to everything while barking and Lola thinks that dogs who light up are aliens, so it was time for us to go.
We got up to leave, got to the sidewalk and saw a crowd of 3-4 construction workers who had just gotten out of a parked car on the other side of the street. She froze and I played Look At That, but a large dog on leash was approaching on the same sidewalk so we doubled back but were trapped by another on leash dog on the path behind us and a group of three people walking towards us on the sidewalk from the other direction. To add to that, a construction worker was walking towards us and cutting it too close for comfort. Lola was giving me a lot of eye contact so I was worried that she wouldn’t notice the person until they were too close and she wouldn’t have any other option but to freak out, so I played Oh No Let’s Go to get her to back up 5-10’ to a safer distance.
She handled all of this craziness like a champ and we tried to leave again once it cleared, but an off-leash dog that looked similar to her jogged towards Lola. Lola stopped on the sidewalk and perked up, wanting to greet, but the other owner called their dog back. She got to the end of her leash but wasn’t overly aroused, so I was careful to not put any extra tension on the leash. The other dog came back and they immediately started playing, as she doesn’t have any problems with dogs who are off-leash. The owner approached to leash their dog and ended up very close to Lola, who sniffed her from inches away. In this moment, I had to stifle my own panicked flight-or-fight response and just let things happen because any reaction from me would’ve made it much more likely for the whole thing to go south. The woman leashed her dog while completely ignoring Lola and walked away after Lola had a quick sniff. It was a huge success but my main feeling was definitely relief. I regained my thoughts enough to remember to give Lola a handful of cheese and lots of praise!
We had been trapped here long enough that the two small black barky dogs had completed a full circle around the park, and one of them approached Lola while barking, about 5’ away. Lola had voluntarily sat down since we weren’t moving and was unconcerned with the dog. My husband blocked the small dog from getting any closer and finally their owner was able to call it back. With nothing else scary remaining except for the group of construction workers at their car, Lola started to fixate on them and we played Look At That to get past them while on the other side of the street. In the home stretch, we also ran into an owner and an on-leash lab across the street, a 40sM walking towards us from 15’ away, and two people walking in front of the condo building, all of whom we were able to somehow avoid or manage. We got upstairs, closed our door behind us, and my husband and I looked at each other wondering what the #*@^$ just happened because in no way would we have guessed that she could handle even small pieces of that, nevermind all of it together.
Let me say that I did not think taking my dog for a morning walk would be the equivalent adrenaline rush of going to a shooting range on a daily basis. It’s extremely stressful for my husband and I, but things are slowly getting better and we can only imagine how difficult and scary it is for Lola in these situations when we have a hard time just observing and guiding her.
On many walks since this walk, there have been similar incidents that Lola was not able to handle. We used to torture ourselves with the “Why?” question more often, asking ourselves why she was able to do this one day but not the next, but we’ve now mostly come to accept that she’s a different dog on different days and, as Sue likes to say, “It depends.”
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.
One of the important things that I do when I work with any dog is to include him in my daily routine. My dog isn’t just an inhabitant of my home; he is my partner in pretty much everything I do. This morning for instance, I included Eco in my ironing; I am working on a craft project that requires ironing, and so when I got the iron and ironing board out, I included Eco in the activity. How might that look? It probably doesn’t look very interesting, but when I opened the closet door, Eco poked his head in and then when I reached for the iron and board, I asked him to back up and he backed out of my way. While I was setting it all up, I asked him to lie down and pointed to where I wanted him to go. I didn’t ask him to stay so when I go out the fabric that I wanted to iron, he got up and took a look at what I had in my hand. When I asked him to go back and lie down, he did. After I was done ironing, I needed to get access to my craft table and he was in the way, so I was able to ask him to change his resting place to another point across the room. When I was done with that part of my project, I need to go downstairs to get some water for the steamer in the iron and I asked Eco to heel beside me down the stairs, which he did. We worked together to get the task done. Was it strictly necessary to have 48kg of black carnivore supervising my activities? Did he contribute? Not really. But we do things together and this morning I was ironing.
Sometimes I do things he likes; when I take my daily morning walk, for instance, I throw his feed pan. As a big strong dog, he needed a big strong toy and the thing that worked best for him was a rubber livestock feed pan. It makes a lousy frisbee but he likes it, and he will bring it to me and suggest that I throw it for him. On a good day I can throw it about 20 metres. He includes me in his games and activities because although he doesn’t need a great big primate to amuse him, it is part of how he and I relate.
The bottom line for me is that we share our activities with one another and we each bring skills to the table that the other can ask for and respond to. This is the gift that good reciprocal training gives to me. When Eco was a baby, I did more things that he found interesting than things that I found interesting with him. I spent many hours sitting on the floor playing tug and touch, fetch and search games. As we got to know one another, I began to teach him the words for the behaviours I wanted him to do. This in my opinion is the best kind of teaching to do with a puppy; I didn’t spend so much time at that age formally asking for or prompting sit or down, but sometimes in the course of our interactions, if he offered me a behaviour I was interested in keeping, I might respond by naming the behaviour and then playing a game that Eco wanted to play. It didn’t take long for him to figure out that the names for the behaviours corresponded to what he was doing and that if he did them when I asked, I might do something he would find enjoyable.
A sad tale for me is the story of so many dogs who are not really “one of the gang”. Many of these dogs are well loved and well cared for, but they are not yet partners with their people. The people and their dogs share space and activities in parallel instead of in partnership. The thing to understand about partnership is that it is a two way street, and deep partnership involves more than simply co-habitating and ensuring that your dog has enough to eat and drink. Deep partnership means that we should be aware of one another and respond to one another in a meaningful way. That is probably the biggest reason that I train my dog.
Dog training is the way that I develop a language to use when I am talking to my dog. I do a lot of informal training when I include my dog in my daily activities, but I also need to develop a language that we can share to do more complex things together. If I want to take my dog into the bush and go camping with me, I need him to be able to come when called, lie down and stay off leash, go around obstacles or over them as is necessary and I need him to connect with me so that if there is a challenge we can overcome it together. This is where teaching my dog in a formal setting can really jumpstart what we do together. Sometimes exercises in a class can seem disconnected from what we do informally, but if you start to look for opportunities to incorporate your formal training into your daily life, you not only improve your dog’s overall performance in those exercises, at the same time that you create a better bond with your dog.
If you go back to my ironing exercise, consider all the times when my formal training was integrated into that informal activity. The behaviours that I used during my ironing included backing up on cue, lying down, going to place, moving from one place to another place and heeling so he wouldn’t trip me on the stairs. These are all behaviours that I taught formally in obedience classes. I think that it is interesting that when I use behaviours in context I rarely need reinforcers to maintain them. If my canine partner thinks he is doing something important to both of us, he rarely asks to be paid to work, and I think this is an important clue to successful training. When your dog feels that they are an important part of what you are doing, they are often willing to participate in the activity, and if they have learned the skills to participate, reinforcement is rarely needed.
I am very fortunate to see a good many dogs in my day to day life, but not all of them are normal. There is for instance, my own very intense, military lines German Shepherd. Nice guy. Not really normal. Or my Chessie. Another nice guy. Also not normal. I have an intern with me these days; nice lady, with a very normal Keshond. In fact he is pretty much the only normal dog I know at the moment. I also have a six month old lab and a four month old German Shepherd in the house who aren’t normal either.
All of the “not normal” dogs I have really ARE normal, in the context of what I do. Eco, my GSD, works his behind off for me doing sport. He would be equally happy as a police or military dog. He would be a menace as a house pet. D’fer, my chessie works hard taking care of me as a service dog. Similar to Eco, he would not make a very good pet. He is altogether too intense and active to make a good house dog. Unless you would like to know when you are anxious, and when you should take your meds and when you should get up in the morning. These dogs have responsibilities, and they thrive on their work.
Widget the six month old lab is a service dog in training. He does pretty intense training on a day to day basis, and he is also doing public access training regularly. He is a pretty responsible guy all things considered. He might make a good pet for someone who desires to have brains and enough energy to run a nuclear submarine in one loving package of chocolate Labrador. Friday is also a service dog in training; she is 16 weeks old and keeps us on our toes. She has just started doing public access visits too. I don’t think she would be happy as a pet though; just not enough structure or training or exercise for her taste.
All my dogs are pretty far off of normal. That is just fine for me as I know that each has strengths and weaknesses, and I play to their strengths and avoid their weaknesses. That does not always work out for my clients. My clients in the Good Dog program come to me with dogs who are not normal too; often though, the people they live with don’t recognize that their version of not normal needs some special handling. One of the most important questions that I ask myself as a behaviour consultant is “Where would this dog be “normal”. Today I met a sweet little dog who would be very normal as an only dog on a quiet mountain farm where she did not have to meet anyone new, or any new dogs, or climb any stairs. Preferably in an open concept house. The dog currently lives in a busy two story home in the middle of town. My job is to make the compromises so that this dog can find a peaceful way to live in an environment that is alien to what he would like to live in.
In my mid twenties I worked for the federal government. I was an agriculture inspector. I was not a very good agriculture inspector and I didn’t like the work. In fact I hated the job, and in that job I was extremely NOT normal. I ended up on stress leave and when I got back, the federal government did me a huge favour. They fired me. They decided that I was just not the right person for that job. I feel very lucky that they fired me; I didn’t want to do the job, I wasn’t good at it and I didn’t know enough about myself at that point to do something other than that job. I felt stuck, like I didn’t have any choices.
For many of the dogs I meet, they grow up understanding one reality, and end up plonked down into another. They may have the genetics to do one job, and be stuck in another. When we look at what “normal” is for a particular dog, we can often figure out what compromises we can make to make the situation “normal” for that dog. Unlike me, they are unlikely to get fired and end up in a better situation. When we start to look at what would be “normal” for our abnormal dogs, we start to be able to find middle ground where we can start from.
Where we can make the biggest difference in the lives of dogs is to think about what “normal” looks like in your life before you choose your dog. Does your normal include a lot of people? Because if it does, then no matter how much you like that guarding breed, his “normal” isn’t going to be the same as yours. If your normal includes lots of hunting and fishing and camping, and you love the look of a greyhound, you and the greyhound are going to each have to make some serious adjustments to make that work out. The greyhound is not going to enjoy river rafting even if you do get a life jacket on him. And you are not going to enjoy hanging out indoors when it gets cold and rainy. Your normal is the best place to start when you are thinking about what kind of a dog is going to fit into your life.
My intern’s Keshond is an interesting example of normal. He is normal at the moment. In Canada. In the fall. At home, in the southern United States, he really is not normal. There, for nine months out of 12, he is not normal. He is hot and uncomfortable in that incredible coat. In order to live there, his people keep the air conditioning turned down as low as they can tolerate it and they walk him only at night. And interestingly, her most recent dog is not a Keshond.