We are very fortunate in Guelph to have an excellent resource for physical rehab for dogs! Very often we hear people asking if they can use their home treadmill to exercise their dogs, and we always tell them that it is a bad idea. Dr. Liz Pask of Gilmour Road Veterinary Services has kindly shared her thoughts in this guest blog for us, explaining about the risks of using a human treadmill to exercise your dog! Thanks Dr. Pask!
Dog Treadmills VS. Human Treadmills – What’s the difference?
A common question is “Can I use my human treadmill for my dog?” In the majority of cases the answer is no. Here’s why:
– The human gait is shorter than the canine gait, which means the belt is usually too short for dogs. While your dog may be able to “fit” on the treadmill, they will not be able to use their bodies correctly, which can lead to injury.
– Even if you have a little dog who can fully extend on a human treadmill, human treadmills often don’t go slow enough for their little legs.
– Canine treadmills have many safety features built in with your dog in mind. Human treadmills often have gaps next to the belt, or raised caps at the end where paws and nails can be caught. Canine treadmills will have side rails to keep your pet safely on the treadmill; many human treadmills do not have side rails or they are at an inappropriate height.
– The control panel on a human treadmill is not located in an easily accessible area, making it difficult to adjust speed or stop quickly in case of an emergency.
The two brands that we recommend people explore if they are looking into a treadmill are DogTread or the dogPACER. We do not recommend the use of carpet treadmills.
Whether at home or at an outside facility, dry or underwater, always make the treadmill is appropriate and safe for your dog.
For all your canine and feline conditioning and rehabilitation medicine needs, or if you have questions about the above article, feel free to contact us:
For anyone who has been in my classroom, you likely have realized that I am not going to ever be a supermodel. Aside from being 40 years too old, and the wrong body type, I just don’t care about clothing, hair and make up enough to bother. Incidentally, if you are curious, it is Sue writing, not John, but he probably would not be a super model either. Aside from being the wrong gender, and the wrong body type, he really just doesn’t care enough about clothing, hair or make up to bother either. Which brings me to a thought about our dogs. How many of our dogs are being asked to do jobs they just don’t care about?
Training is the way that we acquire skills and it doesn’t matter if you are a human, a dog or a dolphin, skills are important. In theory I have the skills needed to be a supermodel; I can walk, and wear clothes and if pressed, I can sit around while someone plays with my hair and puts make up on me. Maybe I don’t have the fine tuned strut that a model needs, but I can wear clothing, and I can walk, so what is preventing me from being a super model? Opportunity? Nope. I just don’t have the patience for the work! I would need a great deal of training and incentive to do that and you would have a very hard time convincing me that the work is relevant to my wellbeing.
So what about our dogs? You will hear me say over and over again that trained dogs get to do more, and that we should be willing to teach our dogs to do different things, so why not take up whatever sport the handler wishes? Recently, one of our instructors came to me to let me know that she had pulled out of one of our advanced classes, not because she and her dog were not learning things but rather because her dog was not enjoying the work. “My dog is doing this to please me, but she doesn’t actually like it” was the message I got. And good for the handler in recognizing that.
There are behaviours that I want every dog of mine to learn, regardless of how they feel about it; coming when called, not dragging me down the street, allowing the vet to examine them and lying down and staying for instance. These are the skills that allow our dogs to live successfully with us, but they are not their job. Have you thought about what your dog’s job might be? Many of us come to obedience classes because that is what we are supposed to do with our dogs, and then slot them into the jobs we want them to do without much more thought than that.
The problem with this is that many of our dogs are not actually interested in doing the work we wish them to do. As a behaviour consultant this is a daily frustration, as the Good Dog students probably all know. Consider what happens when we breed a dog to herd sheep 8 hours a day, and we expect that he is going to enjoy sitting on the couch day in and day out without any exercise. What might happen? Might that dog begin to engage in behaviours such as racing around the house and barking at traffic going by?
Many of my students want their dogs to participate in sports such as rally or agility and for most dogs, they really get into that. Some dogs don’t though. Some dogs prefer things like nosework, or tracking. When we put together our advanced classes, some of our students try and take as many of them as they can, and while we encourage everyone to give each class a try, it is really important to stay tuned in to your dog to discover which of these classes make you both happy.
All this preamble is probably bringing you to the point of asking yourself what to do if your dog doesn’t want to do the one thing that is really important to you? What do you do when you love agility and your dog just doesn’t like it? Or maybe the only thing that matters to you to do with your dog is hiking and your dog just doesn’t like to go out in anything other than the ideal weather?
The first thing I like to do is to is to try and figure out why the dog doesn’t want to engage in the behaviour. I once had a client who purchased a husky to go and run with him. As it turned out, we happened to have a very hot summer when he was just the right age to start running at about 18 months. The husky learned very quickly that running gear meant that he was going to become hot and uncomfortable. The husky was no dummy! He learned that running was uncomfortable so he didn’t like running.. He LOVED to run, but not with the owner or on leash. The only thing we had to do to change the activity was to choose running times when the weather was cooler. By taking the dog’s comfort into account, we were able to teach him to like the activity. As the old saying goes, if I had a nickel for every dog who was uncomfortable in the desired activity, I would be a whole lot richer!
Sometimes the dog is behaviourally unsuited to the work that the owner wants to do. Recently I saw a post on a hunting list I follow. The person on the list wanted a dog to go duck hunting with, but his wife wanted a German Shepherd. The person asking the question wanted to know how good German Shepherds might be at duck hunting. As it happened, I once had a German Shepherd who was pretty decent at fetching ducks. He enjoyed it and he was technically good at it, but there were a few problems. Firstly, he got a LOT of water in his ears. There is a really good reason why retrievers ALL have dropped ears! Secondly, once he was wet, it took a long time for him to dry off and if I had asked him to retrieve in the late fall when goose hunting usually happens, he would have gotten very wet and cold and likely he would not have thought that retrieving was quite that much fun. Even though he was good at retrieving, including in water, he much preferred to do tracking.
Sometimes something happens during training that makes the activity you want to do more difficult for your dog. If you keep changing your mind about the behaviours you want when preparing do to an activity, the activity itself can become very frustrated. I did this to one of my dogs early in my obedience career. I kept changing how I was approaching training with this particular dog, and ended up just confusing the dog. The dog got to the point where she was confused, annoyed and frustrated and just really didn’t enjoy obedience competitions. I had a coach who noticed that I was creating frustration and we were able to work through it however, if I had persisted I might have eventually caused much more damage to the relationship I had with that dog. We went on to have a great relationship once I straightened out my training program.
If an activity with a dog is really important to you, consider that BEFORE you get the dog and choose a dog who is going to start out with an aptitude and an interest in that activity. There is a reason that we usually choose hounds for trailing, and herding dogs for rounding up sheep. These dogs have been bred for a long time to do that work, and allowing the dogs to do what they were bred to do helps a lot.
If you already have a dog and he doesn’t like doing the activity, you may want to either do less of the activity, or stop doing it altogether. If you have a dog who does a lot of things they really like, and you only ask the dog to do something you like that the dog doesn’t some dogs might be willing to “play the game” to humour you if you don’t ask him to do the activity too often. The key is take your canine partner into consideration, and like the trainer at our facility, choose activities that both you and your dog will enjoy.
This is a special blog I wrote in 2013, when D’fer was misdiagnosed with osteosarcoma. We were fortunate that time; he did not have cancer. Now though, I am re-posting this, in honour of Friday, John’s special partner. She has been diagnosed with carcinosarcoma and she is not expected to live long; hopefully for another 4 months or so. Right now, John and I are both struggling, but especially John, because Friday is his partner. They snuggle in bed together, they share a tent at camp and most importantly of all, they hike remotely in Algonquin together. Friday is a very special friend to my very special man. It doesn’t feel like it at the moment, but it is going to be okay. Friday has taught us to love better and to count the love, not the minutes. Please be patient with us. We are working on helping Friday to have the best time left and we may not be as on the ball as we would like to be. Never the less…it will be alright.
Yesterday was a very hard day. D’fer, my service dog, my best friend, my best and most favourite dog ever, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. This means that he will soon die, and likely he will, between now and then, suffer some terrible pain. This means that my heart will break again and again and again as I face the reality of life without the dog who has meant more to me than nearly any being that I have ever encountered. The sarcoma is located in the head of his femur, it is fairly advanced, and it is quite possible that there is involvement in the pelvis. This is a fast growing cancer, and it will likely progress to his lungs within months at the outside. D’fer has an unassociated heart issue, which means that he is not a terrific candidate for surgery, and the only available treatment would be amputation and chemo, and honestly, the results are not favourable even if we were to do this. Never the less, it will be alright.
D’fer in his prime with the expression I love best.
I am not going to tell you that some spiritual being will save him for me, or that I will see him at the bridge. I will not tell you what I do or don’t believe about the afterlife. I am going to talk instead about love and leaving and loss and why it will be alright in the end.
Over the years, I have held many special dogs close to my heart. I didn’t think there would be a dog after Buddy who would mean as much to me as he did. Buddy, majestic and beautiful, smart and strong, taught me about love and caring and change and accepting and working hard and being real with myself. He accompanied me on endless adventures and trips through learning and things I could not have ever expected. Buddy sure was special and he carried me through things I did not think I could survive. And then one day, he could not get up and he lost control of his bladder while I was out. He was very elderly then. He had to lie in his own urine and wait till I came to rescue him. He was too big to lift into the bathtub and he was too sore to get in of his own accord. The next day I helped him to die, in my living room. That last day, I double dosed him on pain meds and played ball with him. I read him poetry. I napped with him. And when he died, I thought my heart would break forever.
I thought there would be nothing that could ever come close to touching my heart the way that Buddy did. I grieved deeply and long and hard and publicly for Buddy. I still have pictures of him around the house, and at first every time I looked at them, I would cry. Now I can look and I smile when I remember the walks, the journeys, and the learning. I just didn’t think then that there would or even could be anything remotely close to the love I felt for Buddy.
Then along came D’fer. Deef was supposed to be John’s dog. He had other ideas. He was an annoying and frustrating puppy and adolescent. He was an accidental service dog. And over the years, over time, he and I developed a dance together that is unique, that is special. The dance has etched itself onto my heart and into my head until I cannot think about what is next. In some ways, D’fer taught me to remember Buddy not with grief but with joy. Surely, there cannot be anything better than the love that D’fer and I share? Maybe there isn’t. But maybe there is something else. Maybe what Buddy did and what D’fer is still doing is not teaching me to be a better trainer, not teaching me to be a better person. Maybe what they have done is teach me to love better. While D’fer did not replace Buddy in my heart, he taught me something I have told others in a very profound way. True love doesn’t divide; it multiplies. Buddy prepared me to love D’fer. D’fer has prepared me to love other dogs, and maybe, if I am lucky, he will have prepared me to love another dog as deeply as I love him. Once again, it was alright.
Five or six years ago, I lost my Dad. He was unexpectedly hospitalized due to a collapsed lung and suddenly without warning we were faced with a diagnosis of bullous emphysema. Essentially, his lungs had large holes in them, making it impossible for his body to take in enough oxygen to live unassisted. Over the weeks he was in hospital, I wanted the minutes. I hoped for the time minutes. I wanted just a few minutes to talk to my father. Those minutes were not possible. Over the weeks he was in the intensive care unit, D’fer took me to visit him. In one of my dad’s few lucid periods he asked who I was. I told him I was his daughter, Sue, and he looked right at me and said “no you aren’t…where is your dog?” When I showed him D’fer, he relaxed. He knew me, because he recognized Deef. D’fer facilitated that last minute with my father, a gift so precious. That last minute was a gift that D’fer made possible for me. In his patient way, he showed me that the minutes that counted were the minutes in the moment. Love is the minute we get.
I don’t believe that D’fer is afraid of death. I know he doesn’t like the pain, but we have good chemical control over the pain. I know that when we take the pain away, the joy and curiosity and intelligence and wonder that make D’fer special are still there. Last night, after we gave him his first dose of gabapentin, he started to dance around the kitchen where my desk is. He wanted me to play. In my grief, I didn’t want to play, I wanted him to lie down and rest and not tax his body. I was thinking about the one more minute attitude; I just want every precious minute with my special boy, and I was crying because I know that there aren’t a lot of minutes left. D’fer is wiser than I am. He always has been. He doesn’t want one more minute. He wants to play frisbee. He wants to go search for things. He wants to run around. And really, his minutes are love. He loves me, he loves life, he loves his frisbee and his friends. When he is pain free he just wants to be himself, much more than he wants one more minute of time. His minutes are written in love.
I would give a lot to have one more year, or one more lifetime, but in the coming days, weeks and months, I will work to let go of wanting one more minute of time. I will work learn and relearn that minutes with D’fer are measured in love. Living carefully, feeding him only cancer reducing foods, and maybe putting him through very painful treatment will buy us time minutes, but will not give us even one more minute of love. Instead, I have to give up looking for minutes and instead, look for love. This is why I won’t be even considering radical treatments, or herbs or a magic wands or crystal balls to address this. I am going to treat cancer with Frisbees and banana bread corners and his own pieces of pizza and little house searches and visits from friends.
Knowing that I won’t have the years, months or days doesn’t make this easier or fun. This is hard, and depressing and sad and terrible and something I don’t feel ready to face, but I know it will be alright in the long run. I know this because I have been through this, as a part of an unbroken chain of the experience of thoughtful beings. I have faced loss, and in my turn, there are those who will face my loss. I grieved deeply for my father who grieved for his own father, and presumably, his father grieved for those who were important him when they passed in their turn. Grief is hard, and knowing that the end is near highlights coming loss, but then I come back to being a part of an endless cycle of gain and loss, of birth and death, and of love for those being who walk beside and before and after me. I know that right now, this time is an important time not to borrow grief ahead of time, but to cherish what we have together now; not to cherish what we have left, but what we have.
Now that I am facing the minutes, the hours, the days and hopefully the weeks or months that make up the end of D’fer’s life, he is teaching me again that when pain is under control, the minutes we have are love. I will cry often and smile and throw the Frisbee and hide toys, and make sure that my special friend gets time with the people he loves. The support from my community, my friends and my students are the minutes of love that we get. And a Frisbee tucked in the bookshelf to find is one of those special minutes, when you cannot make the illness go away. In the end, when I lose him, I will grieve, and I will cry and then I will probably find his Frisbee and a minute of his love. It will be alright.
D’fer has told me over and over again throughout his service career that I will be alright. He is right. In the long run, it will be alright.
For those who follow my blog, please be patient. I may not be posting very regularly while I work through these last minutes with my very talented and special Chesapeake, D’fer. I will be back when I can.
If you are reading this, it is more likely that you are a dog owner or trainer, than a professional soccer player. You might be an athlete, but you are unlikely to be in the top 10% of physical fitness of all humans on the planet. You might be, but it is unlikely. I want you to just take a moment and evaluate your own level of fitness. Are you a typical North American, fit enough to run for the bus, or run for mayor, but not really a marathon runner? Are you a weekend warrior, who plays hard on the weekends, but sits at your desk all week long? Are you a gym rat, making it out to the gym at least 3 days a week? Or are you amongst the elite athletes who seriously exercise each and every day, come what may, even on vacation? Unless you are an honest member of this last group, I am betting that dropping you into the middle of a professional soccer game, 90 minutes of aerobic intensity, would not be much fun!
Oh, the first few minutes might be a thrill, especially if you are a soccer fan. But a whole game would likely be exhausting, overwhelming and possibly frightening. Those guys run REALLY fast! And if you run into one of them, you are likely going to be flattened. And if you have a coach on the side lines encouraging you to play harder throughout the whole game, you are likely going to feel really pressured.
Maybe a soccer practice would be more fun for you. But wait! Being immersed in a group of highly fit, world class athletes who know their work can be pretty overwhelming too. Especially if they are all familiar with one another, know what the other guy will do and already have all their social pecking orders worked out.
This I think is often what occurs to the dogs that get tossed into unstructured play groups, especially in confined areas as you might find in the typical daycare. If you have ten dogs who are already involved with the group, and you add in number 11, the eleventh dog is not really likely to be successful. Dog number 11 will have to be equally fit and socially savvy to make the cut right away. If the eleventh dog is intolerant of other dogs being rude, he is going to pick fights. If he is the kind of dog who harasses other dogs in an effort to get them to play his games, he is going to struggle. If the eleventh dog is either more or less fit than the rest of the group he is either going to tire and get frustrated, or he is going to harass the other dogs in an effort to get them to play his games.
Sometimes play groups have a human who can make matters either better or worse. If the human is very savvy about play, they can intervene and pull out the trouble makers and help them to self modulate. Sometimes interventions back fire though, especially if the human thinks they need to pin the dog to the ground to make the point. Pulling a dog who is causing trouble out should be gentle and allow the dog to decrease his arousal and then re-integrate. Pinning the dog may work, or it may create collar shyness in the dog, who then learns to dart away from the people running the group. Other times, the humans can make matters worse by doing things like throwing objects and creating competition between members of the group, or encouraging shy dogs to get in over their heads.
There is almost nothing I enjoy more than watching dogs play. I love to see them cavort and interact, and large groups are much more fun than small ones, however, there are some caveats about this; firstly, I prefer to have mostly trained dogs that I can control with a solid off leash down, even when things get really active. When we have this sort of a group, I like to hike with the dogs. When dogs and people walk together, we see a lot more normal chasing and then running together sort of interactions. We don’t see the puppy wrestling that people enjoy, but for the most part our dogs are not puppies either. When a puppy is integrated into an established group of dogs who are hiking, it doesn’t matter so much if there are fitter or less fit individuals because the fitter dogs have space to run farther. And the harassment we see in an unstructured group in a confined area doesn’t happen either, because the dogs can get away from that if they aren’t having fun. If the overall arousal of the group gets too high, we can ask the trained dogs to lie down and that solves about 90% of the problems we see.
You may be thinking to yourself “but what about daycare groups” or “but I want to send my dog to a crate free boarding facility”. As with many things there are good alternatives and less good choices out there. Before sending your dog to such an activity, spend a few hours there watching how the staff interact with the dogs. Here are some of the issues we think you should consider:
Are dogs turned loose in an enclosure without supervision?
If the group is a long term group of stable individuals, this may work out. When we think long term, we think of groups that might live in a family. When we had 5 or more dogs who lived with us for six months or more, they might get turned into the yard together alone, but only if they were really familiar with one another and polite together when we were supervising. We didn’t just add a dog to our family and hope for the best. The dogs had to show us first that they were safe to be together outside unattended. When dogs are turned loose without supervision and the group changes every day or even every few hours, there is a high potential for things to turn out badly. We don’t recommend sending your dog to a facility where the dogs are not supervised by people who know what they are doing.
Is there only one person on site?
This is one of the worse ideas we see on a regular basis. When a facility is run by one individual, what is the plan for the dogs in the event of an emergency? People often don’t think of the worst case scenario, and the fact is that something CAN and might go wrong. Years ago, when we did board training, I was alone at home with our three dogs and a guest dog. The guest dog had an anaphylactic reaction and stopped breathing. Luckily, the three resident dogs could stay home loose together without an issue and I was able to carry the lifeless dog to the car and get him to the vet in time to save his life. If I had had more dogs or dogs who could not be left home and loose together, the guest dog might have died.
If you are paying to send your dog to a day care or other play group type of activity, you should be sure that there is more than one person on site, especially when there are many dogs who don’t know one another. There is no hard and fast rule for how many dogs should be there for each staffer, but we know of facilities that have 25 or more dogs on site and only one staffer available. This is dangerous for the staff and for your dog!
Does the facility have a plan for what to do if a dog fight breaks out?
You may be thinking to yourself “surely they would not accept an aggressive dog” however, a fight can break out with even the nicest, easiest going dogs. I saw a fight break out one time in a dog park when one dog caught a tooth in the collar of another dog, and then both dogs panicked and started to scream. A third dog jumped in when the screaming started. The third dog was not caught on anything, but it was really difficult to get these three dogs separated because you could not tell exactly what was going on. Two of the dogs had to get stitches, and one of those dogs ended up staying in the veterinary hospital for several days.
Any place where dogs are being left loose together should at least have a can of compressed air or citronella to break up scuffles and they should also have break sticks and a catch pole available. Staff should also be trained to use these tools.
What does the facility look like?
Many years ago, a dog of mine was killed while in the care of a veterinarian when the tech opened a crate door and the dog got out of the clinic. The clinic had a habit of leaving all the clinic doors open to air out the facility at the end of the day. Every door between the kennel room and the street was wide open and my dog left and was struck in the road and killed. As the owner of a dog training facility, my building is fitted with doors and gates and we include door safety training in our obedience program. Too often I have seen images of day cares on the net where the dogs could easily get over a short flimsy gate, or where the gate doesn’t close completely. If the gate cannot contain your dog, don’t leave your dog there!
How are groups separated and sorted?
Puppies are baby dogs! Any dog under 16 weeks can probably be turned loose in a group of other puppies the same age with very little risk. After 16 weeks though, there are definite age related issues that dogs face. Adolescent dogs can be pushy and bully younger, smaller or weaker dogs; it is the nature of adolescents to do that. Adolescents may also harass adults in the hope of getting them to play. It is best if dogs are sorted behaviourally. Puppies under 16 weeks can be left in fairly unstructured areas (you will see that they spend an awful lot of time sleeping if you do this though!). Young adolescents should be sorted by speed, playfulness and tolerance into groups that allow them to enjoy one another. There are definite play types; dogs who ramble and roam are not going to enjoy chasing one another much. Dogs who race and chase don’t enjoy those who wrestle so much. And adult dogs may not play so much as they did when they were puppies or adolescents. Geriatric dogs should not be left in a group of young fast dogs either; it just isn’t fair!
You may be asking at this point if I think that there is any place for day cares. I do, but you have to choose carefully. Know the staff. Know what their protocols are for trouble shooting. Be aware of their plans. Get to know the staff and the people you will be asking to care for your dog. And don’t be afraid to just skip the daycare and go for a hike; consider what it might be like from your dog’s point of view to be in the set up you are considering. It is very possible that it would be a lot like getting dropped into the middle of a pro soccer game and although you would come home tired, you likely would not come home very happy.
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!
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.