Monday, December 17, 2012

Sound and the Furry

Some dogs are more sensitive to sounds than others
Until Rosie came into our household, I didn’t fully understand the extent of “sound sensitivity” and noise phobia in dogs.  Fireworks and thunder put Rosie into a blind panic:  whale-eyed, running wildly from room to room, surface to surface, to escape the noise (thankfully, she was indoors), panting and drooling.  We gave her acepromazine (a.k.a. ace), which did nothing except add disorientation and lack of coordination to the picture.  Although there wasn’t much thunder in Southern California, it had happened frequently enough for Rosie to start building a back chain to her fear – rain came before thunder, wind came before rain – so that she started to stress whenever wind started to build.   She was only with us for four years, and by that point we were using a tryptophan derivative as well as staying with her in the family room, which had a slab floor and carpeting, with the television cranked up as loudly as we could bear.  It helped, but she was still nervous.

Not all dogs react to sound in the same manner.  While some dogs are sound specific, most dogs that are considered “noise phobic” or “sound sensitive” tend to be particularly frightened of loud low range sounds like fireworks and thunder.   July fifth is the busiest day for animal shelters picking up dogs found wandering the streets, dogs that jumped over fences or broke through gates during Fourth of July fireworks.  Along with keeping animals indoors during times that we know are potentially frightening (New Year’s Eve, Fourth of July, and during storms) there are other ways to assist them.

It is possible to desensitize most animals to loud sounds.   Puppies born during storm season or exposed to loud noises while still with their mother (assuming the mother isn’t frightened), can be less sensitive to sound.  Playing recordings of sounds and explosions at a very low level on a stereo, while feeding the dog treats, and then very gradually increasing the volume over several sessions can also help.  But, desensitization is a long and delicate process.  It’s important to consider how frequently the dog will be exposed to “real life” scary sounds.  If thunder/fireworks only happen a few times a year, it might be more practical to seek ways of managing the sound and the dog’s reaction.

Panic and fear reactions to sound aren’t consistent.  Some dogs pace and run.  Others seek cover in tight or enclosed areas, although it is never advisable to crate a frightened dog.   An interior room, one with no windows and no outward walls, will carry less sound and therefore be quieter.  Padding the flooring with throw rugs can further muffle sound.  Add a covered crate with the door left open, and some dogs will declare that their safe haven, especially if family members are there as well.  There are also devices (Thundershirts is one) that wrap around a dog’s body, similar to swaddling babies, which use compression and pressure points to soothe.  Dogs that pace and try to run would also fare better in the quietest room, but wraps and crates will make them more anxious.

Diffusing and muffling the sound can help as well.  Windows and outside doors should be shut.  Blinds and curtains should be drawn as well, both to add another sound barrier and to prevent added associations to sound – like flashes of light – from becoming panic triggers.   Basements have the surrounding ground to muffle sound as well as having a slab floor.  Carpeting  and rugs also keep sound from transferring.  Turning on ambient sound, such as a fan, can help, as can turning up the television.  If the dog is accustomed to music with a bass, playing music with a thumping bass, with the bass speakers face down on the floor can help disguise other rumblings.

There are also over the counter herbal preparations that can help take the edge off of dogs’ anxiety.  Most contain tryptophan and chamomile, generally harmless ingredients.  However, it’s always best to consult with a vet first to make sure.  For severely anxious dogs, medication can be prescribed, but it’s best to try them during a neutral time first to know if it’s the right fit for the dog.  Some medications have a paradoxical effect.

While it requires a bit of planning to prepare for storms or fireworks, some dogs can start to associate the preparations with “something bad” about to occur, which can also start panic.  Practicing what to do when there isn’t  a storm or fireworks can help break up any negative associations.  Wearing the Thundershirt at arbitrary moments, hanging out in the “quiet room,” and playing dance music during calmer times, preferably while eating snacks or getting belly rubs, can build additional positive associations with the plan, making the end result more potent.
Finally, it’s not true that offering comfort to a fearful dog rewards fearfulness.  Dogs need assurance that all is well, just like people.  However, assurances are just that: assurances.  If  there aren’t solutions or a plan in in place to help mitigate the fear,  there will be no resolution.  And that’s not very reassuring.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Beyond the Barrier

Frustration or friends?
Although the poet, Robert Frost wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors,” in “Mending the Wall,”  the poem is “anti-barrier,” describing how walls and fences prevent interaction and therefore communication, setting the scene for isolation, frustration, and misunderstanding.  Our lives are full of barriers, physical as well as lingual, intellectual, and cultural and we’re frequently frustrated by them.  We yell at our computer screen when something doesn’t work, at our phone as we’re punching numbers, waiting to talk to a “real” person, at someone who doesn’t share our language and we can’t make our message clear.   At sport events, obsessed fans in the stands hurl insults at players on the field.  People curse other drivers while they’re driving.  We vent our frustration by behaving badly.

Dogs also experience barrier frustration.  They bark and lunge at the window, on the other side of a fence, and/or at the end of a leash towards other animals or people.  Like people in similar situations, dogs are seeking a way to interact, to communicate.  The barking and lunging could be a warning sign for real or perceived trespassers to go away or an attempt to greet and make friends.  But without the interaction, frustration builds and dogs have less control over their behavior.   

While a consistent and “strong” barrier increases frustration, a failed barrier fuels persistence.  A dog that starts off running a fenceline, barking at other dogs or people can start fence fighting and slamming against the barrier.  A dog pulling at the end of a leash, increases to lunging and barking at the end of the leash.  If the fence gives way or the leash breaks or drops, the dog is in essence rewarded for challenging the barrier.  Regardless of the outcome, the frustration has been released.   If the barrier fails more than once, even if the events are weeks or months apart, a system of intermittent rewards is established – a strong reinforcer that is also used in training desired behaviors – and the behavior increases and intensifies with an end goal of releasing that frustration.

For management, keeping the dogs away from the source of frustration can help.  Blocking access/view to a front window or fence can prevent the dog from becoming overstimulated.  On leash, limiting walking hours to “quiet times,” when a minimal number of other dogs or people will be encountered, can help, as can a Calming Cap (a device that filters a dog’s vision).  During management, directing the dog’s attention elsewhere or rewarding the dog for ignoring the stimulus can reinforce the dog for keeping away from the barrier (the fence, window, or end of the leash) encouraging self-monitoring. However, if the hope of breaking through the barrier or the thrill of barking and lunging is more rewarding than anything we offer, the behavior will continue whenever the stimulus or stimulus point is presented.  Management prevents a behavior from happening, rather than eliminating the behavior.

Finding out why the dog wants to interact leads to a solution to barrier frustration.  Is the dog frightened and trying to ward off a perceived threat to itself or its home?  Or is the dog overly enthusiastic to meet and greet and make friends?  Fearful dogs need training to restore confidence that all is well and safe.  Overly friendly dogs need training for impulse control, to be taught that polite behavior might be rewarded with the opportunity to meet and greet.   While the behavioral end result is the same - calm dogs in sight of a formerly overly exciting stimulus - the means to the results are entirely different methods of training.  In this case, simply rewarding for not lunging and barking might not be sufficient, especially when fear is at the root of the matter.

Punishment for barrier frustration, on the other hand, can increase barking and lunging, shifting it to actual aggression, the intent to attack.  Because the frustration has achieved such a heightened emotional state, dogs are unaware of their behavior.  Punishment in this situation causes dogs to correlate the pain/discomfort to the stimulus of their frustration, meaning other animals or people.  Dogs initially frustrated by fear increase that fear.  Happy excitement changes to fear if the dog’s frustration originates with an eagerness to greet other people/animals.  Punishment can also cause redirection of the frustration, the dog reacting to the source of the punishment, frequently the handler or the suppression of a behavior until the fear reaches a point where it explodes with indiscriminate violence.

As with any unwanted behavior, addressing barrier frustration in the early stages can prevent unwanted behaviors from accelerating.  Training impulse control can help dogs greet humans and other animals appropriately on and off leash.  Limiting access to possible stimulation points, pre-emptively rewarding for ignoring potential stimuli, and not allowing dogs unsupervised time in potentially hyper-stimulating areas can prevent guarding against unknown or perceived intruders.  While we can’t eliminate all the barriers in life, by altering the perception of barriers, we can keep frustration to a minimum.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Wishing and Hoping

Many of us have moments when we hold our breath and cross our fingers, wishing, hoping that, just this time, please, our dogs will do the “right” thing – and most of the time they do. And then, we’re relieved, crisis averted.  But sometimes they don’t.  And depending on what it is that we fear might happen, sometimes just wishing and hoping can have serious consequences.

In daily life, if our dogs are “good” 95% of the time, we consider our dogs close to perfect.  But what happens during that other 5% of the time?  Do our dogs dive enthusiastically into kitty litter for tasty morsels?  Indulge in intense crotch sniffing with our guests?  Or is it something more disturbing, our dogs stiffening and staring one day when we reach to remove the food bowl or they suddenly fight other dogs for “no reason at all?”  Because we want our dogs to be “good,” we tend to dismiss those rare “bad” moments, attributing the behavior to a unique set of circumstances.

The first time we see disconcerting behavior from our dogs, we want to think it’s a fluke.  It’s unfortunate that we are taught to ignore our instincts.  They are frequently right.  With animals, including people, a look, a certain twitch, a hesitation can indicate that something is amiss.  Our amygdala catches it, sends a warning, but because the behavior didn’t make an obvious impact, a logical impact, we tend to do nothing, even if we don’t like it, for fear of looking foolish.  We hope we won’t see it again, but now there’s that seed of concern in the back of our mind.  If we don’t see it again, we’re hoping it never existed in the first place. But then it happens again.

As humans, we want people to think well of us, to think of us as decent and responsible.  The behavior of our dogs is often seen as a reflection of our own character.  We want our dogs to be friendly, well-mannered and responsive. So, when they aren’t, usually our gut reaction is “What are other people thinking about me?”  While hoping the bad behavior is an exception, refusing to address the behavior and continuing to wish and hope can result in the behavior happening more frequently or even escalating.  Recognizing our dog has a behavior issue is the first step towards prevention.

For some people, it is difficult to seek assistance, particularly for problems within our household.  We often feel that we should have control over our dependents’ behavior, and we think a failure to do so suggests a lack of respect and competency.  We love our dogs and there is an emotional conflict within us when someone we love does something “bad.”  “Good” dogs shouldn’t be doing “bad” things, especially when we are being good caretakers.  So, with our dogs, it’s usually after something serious happens, usually a bite, that a trainer is called in to help.

Addressing a minor behavior issue is much easier than trying to change an established behavior. Success in altering a behavior improves when dog handlers aren’t intimidated or fearful of possible outcomes of that behavior. For some behavior issues, there is a time factor to consider.  The more established and extreme a behavior is, the more difficult it is to either teach dogs better coping mechanisms or to change the dogs’ perspective of the world.  It’s simple to teach old dogs new tricks, it’s “unteaching” old tricks that’s the challenge.  Shyness, intent staring, growling, seeking isolation, demand barking, and showing stress during what shouldn’t be a stressful situation, are all behaviors that should cause concern and aren’t behaviors that will disappear or be resolved without training.
Wishing and hoping won’t result in behavior changes.  While our dogs’ behaviors and reactions are not necessarily a reflection of us, the way we address the behavior is.  It’s our responsibility to our community and our dogs. 

A Holiday Reminder:
Halloween can be a frightening and exciting holiday for dogs.  They don't understand that there are people or even dogs under those costumes and may become frightened.  Keep dogs secure indoors during trick-or-treat-ing hours.  We don't want our pets dashing out the door into the night while we hand out candy. 

And for those humans who enjoy a little scare, Specter Spectacular:  13 Ghostly Tales includes one of my short stories, "Safe Upon the Shore."  Available in paperback and on Kindle at Amazon.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Changing the Routine

Dogs, like people, find comfort in predictability and daily rhythms.  It assures us that needs will be met, that good things will happen (playtime, walks, etc.), even though not so good things happen as well (being left home alone).  But, routines can change.  Of course, it’s easy to adapt to more “good things” in a routine, trips to the park, a mid-day snack, but not so easy when it’s not so good, even if it’s a routine that was previously established, like when the family returns to a school and work schedule after a long, fun summer.

It’s not uncommon for dogs to become destructive or to start soiling the house when these changes occur. Although people often accuse their dogs of being resentful or spiteful about a change in schedule, the real reason is more innocuous. Summers contain more interaction with our animals, which means more energy expended.  More time outside means that potty breaks aren’t as regulated. With a change in schedule, there’s an adjustment period. We can make the adjustment easier.

One of the biggest changes from the summer schedule is the amount of activity and stimulation that our dogs receive.  Even if we weren’t doing marathon fetch sessions, those little 10-15 minute sessions throughout the day between chores made the day more interesting.  Most dogs benefit the most from starting their day with play and exercise, rather than ending it that way.  It allows them to burn off energy accumulated after a long night’s rest, rather than letting it continue to accumulate throughout the day without an outlet. Getting up a half hour earlier to provide exercise can help prevent inappropriate behaviors that happen due to pent up energy.  Providing food toys for breakfast can help burn energy with brain exercise.  Hiring a dog walker or a neighbor to interact with the dog during the middle of the day can also alleviate boredom and provide an energy outlet along with companionship. 

The sudden decrease in human companionship in the day can cause some dogs anxiety.  In those cases, it’s best to build up times of absence before the schedule changes, leaving the house for a couple minutes at first, and then gradually interspersing longer periods of absence.  Constantly increasing the time without keeping some of the shorter times can increase anxiety as the dog begins to anticipate longer and longer absences.  Again, breaking up the “work day” with human visits can help dogs adjust to the change, especially if the visits vary on when they occur during the day.  Some dogs develop more serious separation issues, drooling and panting before their humans leave the house and attempting to claw their way out at various exits after their humans leave. In those cases, it’s best to consult with a professional trainer.

Some dogs seem to lose their housetraining skills.  Pottying in the house for a dog that is already housetrained could be the result of a health problem, like a urinary tract infection, or it could be a reaction to stress or a result of not “emptying out” when taken outside, having spent the summer being able to have easy access outdoors whenever the need arose.  Some dogs won’t go or will delay going to the bathroom when let out if they know it will be followed by being called inside and their human leaving them.  For them, going to the bathroom equals the human leaving.  Therefore, not going to the bathroom can prevent the human from leaving or at least extend his/her stay.  Not leaving immediately after dogs potty can prevent this behavior.  While dogs can be trained to relieve themselves upon going outside, some dogs will do a “courtesy potty” just so they can go on to the next fun phase, so it’s important to watch dogs closely to make sure they actually go to the bathroom.  Dogs should be able to relieve themselves every 4-6 hours to prevent accidents or health problems. 

Dogs that are bored or stressed can also start barking when their humans are gone, partially out of boredom, but frequently out of distress, feeling they’ve been left behind.  Keeping dogs indoors can help muffle the barking, although it won’t necessarily stop it.  Giving the dog some control of its environment with a dog door can help relieve some stress.  Dogs can also become hyper-aroused and develop barrier frustration if left to their own devices for entertainment.  Again, exercise, providing mental stimulation, and having someone come to entertain the dog during the day can greatly diminish barking.

While we’re toiling away at work or school, it’s hard to keep in mind that our dogs are spending their day waiting for our return.  Even when there are multiple dogs in the household, most dogs while away their time by sleeping or finding novel ways to keep occupied rather than playing with each other.  Exercising our dogs before we leave and providing mental stimulation in the form of food toys can help exhaust our dogs before we leave, making it easier for them to sleep during our absence.  Dog walkers and dog daycare can also break up the monotony of a long day, although it’s always recommended to do research to make sure the person/facility hired meets the desired standards and expectations.  While no one likes to see the end of the lazy, hazy days of summer, easing our dogs into a new routine takes time and patience, but our dogs’ comfort during our absence makes it worthwhile.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Creating a Better World

A variety of experiences helps puppies become confident adults.
Lately, many dog owners have been told to “socialize” their dogs.  It’s one of the reasons for the increased popularity of dog parks. But while dogs interacting with other dogs is part of “socialization,” it’s not the entire picture nor is it entirely correct. 

We know that limited exposure to other animals, people, and environments tends to make dogs (and people) cautious or even frightened by the unfamiliar.  In the dog world, socialization is the practice of introducing dogs to the variety of the world in a safe and positive manner.  Good socialization is necessary for our dogs to feel secure and confident.  Socialization is not just psychological and emotional, but also physical.  New experiences actually stimulate neurological development.  It’s how animals and people build up a memory bank, a resource that allows us to know, for example, how rabbit fur feels in comparison to a rock without having the textures immediately present.  It’s how we remember the thrill of a roller coaster, without being on a roller coaster. It’s also how we remember if something is good, bad, fun, safe, or dangerous.

 For dogs, the key socialization period is during the first 3-12 weeks of their life.  The impressions and experiences puppies have during this time period form the groundwork for their view of people, dogs, and the world for life.  Since most puppies are still nursing during part of this time, responsible dog breeders start introducing puppies todifferent walking surfaces (grass, linoleum, carpet, wobble boards, etc.), different people, a variety of sounds, and handling (touching paws, collars, ears, etc.), even before sending them off to their new home.  New puppy owners should continue building on the positive experiences, monitoring the puppy closely so that it safe and comfortable during these times.  Because puppies haven’t completed their shots, it’s important that they are kept in disease free environments – not being walked on public sidewalks, only meeting polite, safe, and healthy adult dogs, and people washing their hands before and after handling the puppies.  For smaller puppies, doggie strollers and being carried can further expand places to explore while still being disease free.
Dogs reach a second period of impressionability during adolescence, beginning as early as 6 months and continuing to as late as 2 years old.  Like human adolescents, adolescent dogs undergo hormonal changes that impact physical and mental development.  They start to test and challenge their world view.  Again, the results of their experience become ingrained and will carry into adulthood.
Introducing puppies to children and collar grabs in a positive
way makes them familiar and comfortable with both in adulthood.
All these formative moments and memories establish the “norm” of the dogs’ world perception, determining how they will interact with the world:  with confidence, fear, aggression, etc.  The goal of socialization is to create a positive reserve of memories.  If the world view is positive, when the dog has a negative experience, it will be interpreted as “not the norm,” making it easier for the dog to recover emotionally.  “Bad” things will be seen as the exception to the rule.  Still, it’s important to follow a negative experience with more positive or neutral experiences to confirm that the negative experience is exceptional.  On the other hand, negative experiences during developmental periods have a strong emotional impact that remains with the dog for life, making it extremely difficult to change behaviors that result from that experience.  So, it’s important to protect our dogs.  By constantly adding new positive experiences, dogs can also learn that novelty in itself is a good thing.
That’s not to say that once a dog has passed its prime socialization stages, it is done socializing.  Although it’s easy to become accustomed to limited places and routines as we get older, it’s important to continue to have new experiences. Science has shown that learning and experiencing fun new things, even in our senior years, keeps all of us alert and healthy with a positive outlook on life. And that’s something that benefits us all. (Special thanks to Cash Creek Whippets for the puppy photos and Basu Ball footage)
** The Collaborative Dog is offering Basic Training, Leashwalking, and Coming When Called classes through Pleasant Hill Rec!  Puppy Socialization classes in a safe environment will be coming in mid-August/September.***

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Should They Stay or Should They Go?

Summer is synonymous with vacation and family fun.  So, it’s logical to think of our furry family members when making holiday plans.  Should the dog come along?  Go to a boarding facility?  Stay with family or friends?  Remain at home?

Travelling with dogs can be fun but it’s important to plan ahead.  How does the dog react to change and new locations? Does the dog get car sick?  What are the airline requirements, if the dog will be flown to the new location? Where will everyone be staying?  In a hotel?  At a friend’s house?  On campgrounds?  Can the dog be left unsupervised?   Leaving dogs in the car, especially in the summer, can have tragic results.  Where will the dog be while people are taking meals and seeing the sites?  While some campgrounds allow dogs, dogs are not welcome on all hiking trails.  Be sure to check before travelling.

Boarding kennels offer another option for dogs.  While looking at websites and reading reviews can provide some information about a facility, it’s important to visit the facility before dropping off the dog.  Website photos don’t relay sound and scent.  Most boarding facilities, especially ones that offer “group play,” will want to meet dogs before accepting them as clients to ensure a good fit.  Be sure to ask the specifics about how, where, and with whom the dog will be boarded.  Ask about the dogs’ daily schedule.  Is there 24 hour supervision?  How long and how frequently are dogs walked?  Where are they walked?  If there is “group play,” how are the play groups organized?  Large and small dogs should be separated as some large dogs view small dogs as prey, especially if the arousal level of the group is allowed to escalate.  How many dogs are in a play group and how many people supervise?  What happens if a fight breaks out?  What happens to dogs that need individual play time?  Is there quiet time and how quiet is “quiet?”  Because being separated from the family can be stressful, how is “excessive” barking handled?  What happens if other behavior issues arise?  Do all dogs need to be spayed/neutered? 

Staying with friends or family can offer a sense of familiarity for dogs since they’ll be staying in a home rather than a facility.  However, dogs that haven’t been to that home before might exhibit the same behaviors of a newly adopted dog.  Does the other home share the same rules regarding furniture, sleeping arrangements, and diet?  Will the schedule be similar? Are there other animals in the household?  Are the dogs familiar with the other animals or will they have to be introduced?  If there will be multiple dogs, how will quiet time be arranged?  As with a newly adopted dog, it’s often best for the visiting dog to have restricted access to the house (staying in a crate or one room) when not supervised.  Visiting dogs might do behaviors that they don’t do at home such as jumping onto furniture or going to the bathroom in the house since it’s a new environment.  Stress can also affect behavior.  Again, how will behavior issues be handled? 

Remaining at home with family, friends, or a professional pet sitter can offer even more stability for dogs and the least amount of stress, especially if the routine is maintained.  This can be ideal for dogs with behavior or health issues that prevent travelling or make travel difficult.  It’s important to leave specific directions for feeding, exercise, and house “rules.”  Pet sitters can be “live-in” or “drop-in.”  For pet sitters staying overnight, how long will they be in the house?  Most overnight services are 12-18 hours, which includes sleep time.  That means potty breaks might be as long as 12 hours between visits, the same with “drop-in” services.  What is included in the service?  Will dogs be walked and if so, for how long and with how many other dogs?  For dogs that have special needs, is the pet sitter qualified to meet those needs?  Emergency contacts, both for owners and local assistance, should be provided.

Whenever pets are travelling or being left in the care of another, it’s imperative to have current identification on them, specifically on tags since not all facilities or individuals have the equipment needed to read all the varieties of microchips.  Pets should be current on their vaccines, and if staying outside of the home, should also have their bordetella vaccine and flea protection.  There should be a plan in place for emergency situations – both medical and in case owner arrival is delayed.  Professional caregivers should have insurance.  Meet professionals before hiring them.  Don’t be afraid to not accept a service if the caregiver isn’t a good fit with your pets’ needs.  Go with your gut instinct if something doesn’t feel right.

Ultimately, we know our dogs best and should base our decisions on what will make our dogs the most comfortable.  While cost can be an influencing factor, it’s important to understand exactly what the price includes, especially when there are multiple pets involved.  Knowing our loved ones are well-cared for can help make holiday plans more relaxing for everyone.   

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Doing the "Right" Thing

Sharing is caring - so long as it's the cheesecake and not
the martini.
In social situations, when people discover I’m a dog trainer, two questions invariably come up in conversation: what do I think of dog trainer X and is it o.k. to ___ (share food, sleep on the bed, snuggle, etc.) with their dog?  While it’s nice that dog training has come to public attention, along with it have come feelings of confusion and guilt regarding how people interact with their dogs.  And sometimes, that results in a less fulfilling relationship.

As a positive reinforcement trainer, I believe there is nothing more rewarding and reinforcing than joy shared, whether it’s between two people or people and their animals.  So, when people ask me, “is it o.k. that my dog and I ____?”  The first thing I ask them is, “Do you both enjoy ___?”  If the answer is yes, my inclination is to tell them to carry on and have fun.  There are caveats, of course, most of which relate to safety. 

First, is the actual activity safe?  Sharing food is a bonding experience practiced among people as well as animals.  I frequently use cheese and chicken while training since most dogs enjoy the flavors, but also because many commercial “dog treats” contain unnecessary ingredients and are expensive.  However, some “human food” isn’t safe for dogs.  Most people know that chocolate, particularly baking chocolate, is dangerous for dogs. But grapes, raisins, onions, and foods containing xylitol (an artificial sweetener found in mints and gum) can also be dangerous. There is also the manner in which the food is shared.  It wasn’t uncommon for my sister and I alternate licks of ice cream cones or lollypops with our dachshund, but it wasn’t the most sanitary practice considering all the other places our dog’s tongue had been.  Sleeping on the bed together can also be bonding, but very small dogs can be smothered and there is the consideration of what dogs bring into bed with them, including fleas and whatever they’ve tracked on their paws.  Some people ride their bicycles while exercising their dogs. What mechanisms are in place to keep the dog from running in front of the bike or if the dog bolts in another direction?  How is the dog being monitored for exhaustion or overheating?  Always check if the object/activity itself is safe, then, be a bit of a “Nervous Nellie” and picture all the worse case scenarios and incorporate ways to prevent those scenarios from happening.

A second, but very important factor to consider is: is the dog actually enjoying the activity?  Many people assume a wagging tail indicates affirmation, but it can also indicate extreme nervousness, fear, and hyper arousal.  Looking at the rest of the dog can provide more clues to the dog’s state of mind.  Is the body loose or rigid?  Does the dog balk or need considerable coaxing when presented with the activity or object?  Does the dog want to quickly leave after the activity?  Because dogs are experts at putting together cues that will lead to an event, how does the dog act as the components to the activity are assembled?  My dogs react very differently to the opening of the refrigerator versus the opening of the dog towel cabinet. Many people love to hug their dogs, but most dogs at best tolerate the behavior.  It’s restricting.  There are many photographs of people hugging their dogs and the dog looking away, doing a tongue flick, or even making a “whale eye” (showing the whites of their eyes), all signs of stress and discomfort.  On the other hand, many dogs enjoy “snuggling,” sitting or lying against each other, even resting a head, hand, or paw on the other during quiet time.  Sometimes dogs are conflicted.  They want to be with their people, more than they actually enjoy the activity.  Again, look for signs of stress and, if the dog is stressed, either find a way to ease the dog’s fear of the activity or find another activity that everyone can enjoy.

Lie with dogs, expect to get fleas ... and lots of snuggles.
And finally, there are the consequences of the activity. Does the activity encourage desired behavior? Does it create a desired result? Feeding human food to dogs won’t cause begging at the table, but feeding any food, human or dog, while at the table will.  And then there are the calories to consider when indulging in any kind of treat. Playing tug is great, but if fingers are being nipped or the dog is grabbing the tug without an invitation, some training in impulse control should be put into place while playing.  Sharing the couch is great, unless the dog starts guarding it.  Off leash hikes are fantastic, if the dog comes when called. Unwanted consequences can make formerly fun activities sources of frustration.  If the fun is gone, the activity should stop and be re-evaluated.

Sharing joyful moments is what makes having dogs so pleasurable. We like to have fun with our dogs and we like our dogs to have fun with us.   Most of the time, our gut instincts about whether an activity is beneficial or damaging are correct.  And we all know, there’s no greater pleasure in life than being able to share happiness. 

***  The Collaborative Dog is getting class-y!  We will start classes for Basic Training, Walking on Leash, and Coming When Called in September.  Check out our website for more details.
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