|It’s amazing how the dog(s) in our life helps us find and become the people we’re meant to be. When Finn was still here, our walks were long and fast. My lug loved to move. And, while he liked people, he was more interested in the walk, so he breezed past human pedestrians with a happy glance. I needed the silence, I was training dogs at the time, and our walks were time to replenish my introverted energy. |
Gavin, on the other hand, loves him some people. Anytime, anywhere. And, I enjoy the random encounters we have after a nice stranger indulges his need to wiggle, smack them with his tail, and love on them because now my job requires a lot of alone and focus time.
Wednesday morning, Gavin and I had just finished his ten-minute decompression time/water break/snuggle session at the park when I noticed a man walking towards us with a woman in a wheelchair. The woman and Gavin both were so excited to meet each other that I could barely contain Gavin as I walked towards the sidewalk where they stopped. The man’s eyes sparkled, and he had one of those smiles that seemed so natural, he may not have even been aware he was beaming.
I learned that her name is Robin, and she has aphasia (a condition affecting her ability to communicate). When Gavin approached her, she grinned, leaned over, and petted him like they were old friends. Gavin continued his usual wiggle-shimmy-I-love-you dance while she rubbed his side then looked towards me. She pointed at my leggings, which had photos of dogs on them, including Gavin. I explained that they were part of a fundraiser for Faithful Forgotten Best Friends, an organization run by a lifelong family friend that helps homeless and low-income people by providing food and medical care for their pets. Robin’s smile grew bigger. The man’s eyes sparkled more. And Gavin continued to show them what a lovebug he is.
We said our goodbyes, and Gavin and I walked a bit further, and I stopped again to give him more water. As I sat on the grass, under the shade of a tree with Gavin, I turned around, not knowing why. And, I saw Robin waving emphatically from the window as the smiling, sparkling man drove them out of the park.
If it weren’t for my amiable dog, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet those two beautiful people. May your next encounter be just as joyous.
Gavin was a big factor in where we’re currently living. We’d lived for five years without a backyard, and I knew he’d love having a safe space to lounge outside during warm months. And, our walk path is perfect for him, we pass only a few houses (fewer dogs to bark at him from windows), we see tons of people who want to pet him (his fave), and our path is popular with bicyclists, so, it’s rare that we encounter off-leash dogs (his fear).
It’s not uncommon for those of us who love our dogs to do what doesn’t come easy for us. When I trained dogs, I was always in awe of my clients’ sacrifices to help make life easier for their dogs. Some moved to quieter neighborhoods, so they encountered fewer triggers when walking. Some isolated themselves to manage stranger danger better. Some arose at ridiculously early hours to avoid crowds.
Shoot, even positive leash training is tough. I still remember trying to learn how to simultaneously talk to Finn, pay attention to what he was communicating, be uber aware of our surroundings, all while walking and treating. It was exhausting, and I’m sure he was confused while I figured out what I was doing.
So, this holiday weekend, while I chill with Gavin in his man cave, I’ll raise a glass to you. I commend you extroverts who turned down plans to stay home with your dog during fireworks. I celebrate you night owls who get up far earlier than your body prefers to beat the heat. And, I praise you if you’re learning to leash train for the first time or with a dog who’s new to you. It’s laborious multi-tasking, but it gets easier, I promise.
Up until last summer, Gavin and both worked hard to keep him relaxed and happy on walks. He’s unbelievably sensitive and doesn’t handle ANY change well AT ALL—no matter how intricately I planned and managed his walk times. A helicopter flying overhead, a lawnmower starting, or a dog getting too close despite my asking (sometimes pleading) the human for more space would cause him to need decompression time.
But, lately, it’s been dreamy. I still reward Gavin, give him space from random dogs, and sit with him in predictable spots because it helps him and reminds him that he can always trust me. But, our walks are less work, they’re easier, for both of us. And, the weather has been absolutely perfect for a Midwest summer, not too hot or humid.
Yet, I caught myself yesterday feeling stressed after our walk because the majority of the time, I was crunching numbers in my head for a couple of places I’m considering moving our kitchen. The move will help us be more efficient, productive, and in the long run, will be more cost-effective. But, in the short term will be expensive and a ton of work.
And, I thought, why would I rob myself of time I’ve worked hard to enjoy? Why would I miss these magical moments with my dog to think about something I really couldn’t finish until I sat in front of my computer again? Why is it so darn hard for us humans to allow ourselves to just be in the moment?
So, today, on our walk, every time I thought of my to-do list or planning my day, I took a deep breath, and I let it go. Then I listened, really listened, to the birds chirping, the leaves rustling in the breeze. Even the distant highway noises had a meditative quality to them.
When Gavin stopped to sniff (as he frequently does), I didn’t check my phone. I wondered, with curiosity, what he smelled. Then I felt a smile naturally grace my face as he trotted a little faster to catch up with a walker that we often pass. I was happier after our walk, and because I felt refreshed, I was much more productive. I don’t want to miss my time with my dog, precious time looking at his face, sharing his delight, and feeling the connection that we’ve built together over the years.
So, I hope my setback in finding more peace helps revive yours. May you be in the moment the next time you play with your dog. May you laugh when your dog does something silly, mischievous, or looks at you with the cutest derpy face. And, may you feel the love you share, whether it’s new and budding or whether it’s a bond that you’ve treasured for years.
|My sister and mom made this photo set of my beloved Finn and my sweetheart Gavin. I see it every morning when I wake. It’s my reminder of why I do what I do. I love walks, specifically with my dog.|
My lug, my Finn, created that love. His endless energy, adventurous spirit, and into-everything-naughtiness inspired me to walk him, A LOT. It was bonding time, great exercise, and I noticed my mind was clearer and calmer after our strolls. One night, we were attacked by two dogs who pulled their person across the street to fight Finn. It was noisy, scary, and heartbreaking. Fortunately, we were both physically unscathed, but our walks changed. Finn was scared (for a good reason) and began barking and lunging at every dog we saw, even from blocks away.
I wanted to help him, to ease his stress, so I began calling trainers. One trainer told me that he could completely fix Finn’s reactivity with a shock collar. I knew absolutely nothing about training, but I knew I didn’t want to shock my dog so, I continued searching. After finding the trainer who helped me rebuild Finn’s confidence, my love also grew for my mischievous, brilliant dog. That’s when I fell into dog training.
After Finn peacefully passed, it took me a few months to feel ready to love another dog. When I rescued Gavin, my only two requirements were that he liked walks and was older than two years. Well, Gavin’s insatiable love for humans fooled me during our meet-and-greet into thinking that he loved walks. He loved meeting me and was happy to accompany me because I was new and novel. However, I learned quickly that Gavin was easily frustrated on walks, wasn’t food motivated at all, and was only six months old.
I tried every smelly dog treat I could find. I spent countless hours cutting up various cheeses, hot dogs, meatballs, deli meat, and more. My hands were always greasy. I ruined clothes. And, still, Gavin refused to eat treats when we were outside.
That’s when I began concocting Bark Pouch blends. I wanted Gavin to feel confident on walks, despite his sound sensitivity. And, for his safety, I wanted him to learn to walk on a loose leash happily and as easily as possible.
My walks with Gavin look very different from Finn’s walks, but looking down at his beautiful chocolate brown eyes while he smiles up at me, trotting along, brings me so much joy and peace.
And, my wish for you is that your walks with your dogs—no matter what stage your training—delight you in some way.
If you’ve ever been surprised by your dog’s sudden aggression, the following tips will help you diffuse the situation. Once you’re safe, contact a qualified dog training and behavioral professional to help you determine the cause of your dog’s aggressive reaction. A canine behavior specialist will give you techniques so your dog learns better ways to cope with triggers that currently cause aggressive displays and will provide you with management tools to prevent aggressive behavior in the future.
Be calm. If your dog growls over a bone, snarls at another dog, or lunges at a child—your first instinct is likely to scream, “NO!!!!”. Aggressive behavior is unacceptable and dangerous. However, loud scolding can cause your dog to become more defensive which may result in an attack. If your dog is already on a leash, quietly guide him away from the plumber, child, dog (whatever is causing his aggressive display), so he relaxes. By calmly adding distance to the situation, you’ll give your dog an opportunity to recover from the emotional turmoil causing his aggression.
If your dog is off-leash, safety tactics can be a bit trickier. If you’re approaching your dog, stop moving immediately. By walking close to an already agitated dog, you’re communicating that you’re not backing down, and contrary to popular information—attempting to “dominate” a dog who’s aggressing may make the situation worse because you appear menacing, aggressive.
Aggression + aggression = more aggression
You can reduce tension, and potentially stay safer by removing social pressure: pause, slightly turn your head, lower your gaze, and relax your body while remaining still. During precarious moments, your goal is staying out of danger. Communicating to your dog that you’re not a threat is a much better way to prevent a full-blown attack than adding more aggression to an unstable situation. Never turn your back, run, scream, or make sudden movements—all of which can further incite your dog, and place you in a more vulnerable position to become injured.
Once you’ve gained composure, find something of interest to your dog (or if another person with you, she’s in a better position to distract your dog if he’s growling or snarling at you) and as slowly as possible, move the item far away to entice your dog then confine him immediately. Though tossing a treat (underhand is best) into another room may seem like you’re rewarding your dog’s aggression, you’re preventing an attack. You’ll need to make a plan once everyone is safe to avoid further reinforcing your dog’s unwanted behavior.
Practice prevention. It’s important to make a note of what caused the aggression. Did your dog growl over a new a toy? Did a stranger approach your dog too quickly? Was your dog standing in front of you, attempting to protect you from your partner? A good trainer can help you identify what caused your dog’s aggression but until you can schedule an appointment, you must practice management to prevent putting yourself and your dog in a scary situation again. Leashes and gates are great ways to keep everyone unscathed (child, stranger, or another dog) until the trainer arrives.
If you’re unsure if your dog has the potential to become aggressive, thank you for being proactive—here are some tips to introduce a new person to your dog safely.
Understand body language. In my line of work, I meet a myriad of aggressive dogs, some with very serious bite histories. Nonetheless, I remain safe because I watch dogs closely to assure I know what they’re communicating so I’m actively preventing them from becoming so uncomfortable that they want to bite me. Keep in mind, dogs are MUCH faster than we humans are, so it’s best to keep your dog’s nervousness or agitation way below attack-mode because he doesn’t need coffee to gear up, especially in heated moments.
Indications that a dog is close to becoming defensive are hard stare, mouth tightening, pulsating tail (not wagging), and tense body posturing. If your dog positions himself between you and another person, runs away with a toy and hovers over it, or walks away from a child and hides, stop doing what you’re doing, immediately.
Your dog is communicating that he’s uncomfortable. If you pet him, take away his toy, or allow your child to corner your dog when he’s attempting to avoid a conflict or defensiveness, you’re asking for trouble. While I agree dogs should not be permitted to growl at your kids or snarl when you touch his belongings, tense moments aren’t teachable moments. Reduce tension by softening your body language, and when your dog is in another room, pick up the toy and place it in a closet or keep the person at a safe distance until you hire a trainer.
Tense moments aren’t teachable moments.
Never punish aggressive behavior. If you scream, yell, or stick your face in your dog’s face while he’s growling, snarling or snapping, you could get attacked. If you’re still getting to know your dog (it often takes up to a year to really know a dog), and his bite history is unknown, you very well may end up in the emergency room. Adding force and anger to an agitated, uncomfortable, and volatile situation can cause serious injury to you.
If you punish your dog harshly, some dogs stop communicating discomfort to avoid further punishment. Teaching your dog NOT to growl before he bites will jeopardize the safety of everyone you love.
Prevention and understanding are the best ways to keep an aggressive dog calm. However, in the face of a surprise, avoid staring and remain calm. Once you’re safe, call a trainer to get the help you need.
The Kong product line is popular for its durability and versatility. It is often my first choice to redirect innate chewing behaviors because it is virtually indestructible by most dogs. However, like any dog toy, there are exceptionally strong chewers who can annihilate even the Extreme Black Kong (considered the strongest). If your dog has destroyed every toy you have purchased (including the Extreme Kong) you can try the Kong Rubber Ball, Premier Galileo Bone or Boomer Ball toys. Keep close watch on your dog the first few times you allow chewing from any new toy, even small dogs. Some of the strongest mouths I have seen were in little bodies.
The Kong Company has many toy varieties to choose from, including: squeaky tennis balls, durable plush toys and many more. If your goal is to play fetch, tug and hide ‘n’ seek games. you can choose from any of Kong’s toy categories. However, for chewing purposes, I would recommend one of the Rubber Toys. The Classic and Extreme Kongs are popular choices because the stuffing options are limitless); they can entertain some dogs for hours and their solid design is very durable for strong chewers. The Goodie Bone is another excellent toy to teach good mouthing skills. If you fill one end of the toy with treats while holding the other end, you can prevent nipping while working on good handling exercises.
The Dental Stick and Stuff-A-Ball are also great toys to keep your baseboards, pant legs and shoes chomp free.
Some dogs play with their Kongs by rolling them around, tossing them in the air or simply licking out the good stuff. When introducing your dog to a Kong Rubber Toy for the first time, rinse it off very well. You can entice your dog by filling it with peanut butter, cheese or cream cheese so he or she understands its purpose is to engage their mouth. You and your dog can enjoy years of entertainment with the same Kong, clean it out regularly with
warm soapy water and always give the Kong in response to good behavior.
The above picture is compliments of Sarah Eng, we can’t wait to feature more of her beautiful photos!
After 11 years of living together and being completely unmoved by loud noises of any sort; my dear Finn started showing signs of anxiousness during storms. The first incident really took me by surprise and was very mild. He danced around a bit and followed me from room to room (which is not common). Once I realized what was going on; we moved to the room with the least amount of windows, turned on the ceiling fan and closed the blinds. I massaged him and gave him a Kong. He settled and remained relaxed even once his Kong was empty. Being a trainer, I immediately started working on a desensitization program where I played thunder and lightning sounds at a VERY low volume and practiced his “go to your bed” command pairing it with hot dog bits.
Unfortunately, the second storm came a few days later and we had barely increased the volume of storms on my phone to level three during our training sessions. His response to this storm was more upsetting; he paced and panted the entire time and only settled when there was food in his Kong. Feeling horrible for my big guy’s stress, I revised my training plan and added TTouch and the Tellington Touch body wrap to our daily training sessions. He absolutely sank in relaxation every time I worked Linda Tellington’s methods on him.
Barely a week into our training program, a third storm bombarded Chicago. Finn frantically paced and panted to the point I worried his old heart would not survive the night. I held him in a bear hug to try to calm him and I convulsed with him without doing much good. Sadly, the wrap I had used all week was a bit too short so the effects were non-existent. A snug t-shirt seemed to offer only an iota of relief. Worried for his health and just grief stricken for my poor old guy, I wondered what caused his anxiety to develop so quickly with such vigor. The puddles of his panic drool were smaller and he shook less if I stayed with him on his dog bed. I knew sifting through graduate school files and seminar information was out of the question as I wanted to stay close to him to minimize the worry that was coursing through his body. So, I did what I normally would not do. I turned to the internet.
Rather than searching for just any article on the topic, I looked up information from renowned Veterinary Behaviorist Dr. Nicholas Dodman and my other trusty resource Whole Dog Journal. After reading this article and desperate (a place I never like to be); I decided to give Finn a small dose of one of the herbs because I had it on hand and could not find any literature citing negative side effects.
After about an hour, I felt his panting to be a bit less pronounced and intervals of full blown panic started to shorten. With guidance from my veterinarian, I have since tried a few different herb combinations. We continue to pair storm sounds with treats during set-up sessions so he develops better associations. It was interesting for me to be caught off guard by my dog’s behavior. Here are a few lessons I would like to pass on:
1. Have more than one option for emergencies. I now have three herbs handy; a plan for when to give each one and how long I can wait until I can safely give the next herb.
2. This is the dog geek in me. Finn’s panic continued the entire night, even when the visual and audible sounds of the storm were not prevalent. I know and speak to dogs’ senses being much more heightened than ours but it truly made me re-think things a bit. I recalled (or remembered upon re-reading in the wee hours of the morning) that it is hypothesized perhaps static causes the horrible responses some dogs have to storms. I am also keeping dryer sheets close by in the event of a storm.
3. Focus on the solution, you may not figure out the cause. We moved into our new neighborhood last Fourth of July weekend and were surprised on our first walk with a huge firework celebration that lasted almost two weeks. Amazing how different life can be just a few miles from your old home. However, there have been many storms since then and Finn has been fine. I keep reminding myself when I wonder “why” that my energy is best focused on helping him.
4. Staying calm helps! I wanted to break down and cry a million times that night. Out of sadness for Finn; worry with hour that passed about what the stress would do to him and too exhausted to think straight. But, I feel he finally calmed for a bit because I was able to breathe deep and keep myself calm as I hugged him tightly. Since then, we have purchased the Thunder Shirt and love the results.
It’s happened to all of us: we meet a new friend and we like them so much we tell them to call us anytime. When they do, we get flustered because we’re busy and have other things going on in our life. I see this all the time, people getting annoyed at one another for doing exactly what they’ve encouraged, tolerated and even rewarded (picking up a call in the middle of a meeting).
Goodness! No wonder we have such a hard time setting boundaries for our dogs! Dogs, just like humans, require clear and concise parameters to help them understand their relationship with us. These “guidelines” help our relationships continue down a positive and loving path where both individual’s needs are met.
Now, while I do not claim to be a psychologist nor an expert on the human mind, I can tell you that I have learned a few things to help me develop friendly boundaries with dogs that may just be applicable to humans as well:
Be present whenever you are with your friend. When you walk your dog, walk your dog. If you chat on your cell phone the entire time, you miss a great opportunity to reinforce good leash walking behavior and eye contact which goes a long way to prevent unwanted behavior. Plus, you miss important bonding time with your pooch; another great tool in preventing naughtiness.
Say goodbye to guilt! You have to go to work, run errands, and leave your dog alone for life’s necessities. If you give your dog appropriate mental, physical and social stimulation when you are home, you have no need to worry all day about whether or not your dog is happy.
Set and stick to expectations. It is super confusing to allow your dog to jump on you when you walk in the door from work but then get angry when your dog does the same to your guests. Again, don’t feel guilty. By teaching your dog a simple “sit” when you spot any human walking towards you, you will aid in the development of good social behaviors and further reinforce what is acceptable behavior. Over time and with consistency, you will eventually see a lovely doggie smile as a result of all that great attention he or she gets for “sitting pretty.”
All good behavior should be rewarded. The whole concept of training is to work with our dogs so they naturally and freely behave in a manner which is appropriate. Unfortunately, many people only look for the negative behavior and respond strictly to that, often finding their interactions with their dog peppered with “No’s” and ”Stop that’s.” Try changing your point of view: if your dog is good when you watch a movie, sits at a street corner without being asked, or goes to “bed” during meals, make sure to communicate that by providing praise. Your dog will learn that getting attention for good, calm behavior results in love and rewards instead of sock stealing, barking, and grabbing your shirt to get attention in a busy home.
I received a disturbing email from a client about her dog being attacked by another dog. I am always heartbroken when clients share this kind of news. What makes the story even sadder and shocking was that her dog was attacked twice by the same dog. Yes, twice by the same dog. Even worse, the offending dog’s guardian, who was present for both attacks, showed no remorse over their dog’s actions. When I read her words, “he blew me off”, I could not help but feel obligated to share her story.
Like me, you are probably appalled by her news because you likely share similar views with my client. If you are reading a dog training article, assumably you spend time teaching your dog expected behaviors and truly want to understand your dog better. To you, I say….SPEAK UP. First and foremost, always ask if a dog is friendly when considering approaching with your dog. Anyone who has worked with me knows I preach on that subject. If the person says “sometimes” or “I don’t know”, move on. Just because they are both canines does not mean they are meant to be best friends.
If you are at a park or frequently pass a dog on the street who is bullying others, talk to the owner. Do not do attempt a heat of the moment discussion. People are passionate about their dogs and their choices. Knock on their door or catch him or her when neither of you have your dogs so you are each other’s sole focus. Be polite and simply explain that their dog is going to hurt another if bullying continues. Print this article and show the individual this video because understanding warning signs can prevent future incidents.
If you have witnessed or been a victim of a dog attack (human or dog); pass on a reputable trainer’s information. Follow up and if he or she has not attempted to teach their dog better choices, report it. Often, we fear something horrible will happen to the offending dog. However, if a dog has bitten, he or she will bite again and bites often get worse. Your dog (or you) could also be attacked a second time by the same dog and it is not fair.
If this message happens to wander across the screen of someone who might not understand why their biting, growling, bullying dog should not be allowed to continue this behavior, let me give you a few reasons:
- By allowing your dog to continue this behavior, it will only grow more intense with time. As behavior progresses, so do damages and dogs have the capability to kill. That is not something I would want on my conscience, would you?
- Your dog’s actions, which are your responsibility, have traumatized and possibly altered another being’s perception of dogs for their entire life. Imagine being riddled with anxiety every time you pass a dog. Please understand that is your doing and take accountability.
- If your dog hurts or growls at another dog (or human) when approached or gets into fights at the dog park, he is not having fun. It is that simple, find a new outlet for your dog’s energy. Work with a trainer to teach more appropriate social behaviors.
For those of you who have attempted to “socialize” your growling, humping, lunging dog by continuing to take him or her to the dog park or continue to pull and growl on leash walks; please thoroughly review the above video and articles to better understand your dog. Spend time some training your dog to walk better on leash. And know that “socialization” is not throwing a dog into something or at someone that he or she has shown clear signs of flee or fight. Socialization is teaching dogs that awful things are not awful in thoughtful steps, always watching for stress signs while working through the process.
We chose to domesticate them and we dote, love, play and spend loads of money on them. Why shouldn’t we spend that time trying to understand them? If your watch what your dog is trying to communicate and remember we all have to share parks and sidewalks, perhaps it will be a little more peaceful for all of us. My hope is that unknowing owners can recognize warning signs, get the help they need and keep everyone safe.
Some dogs happily accept every toy their human brings home and will eat any treat with wild abandon; other dogs need a little more prodding to determine what makes them happy.
Watch your dog’s face when trying to decide if what you are offering is really a reward to your dog. If you see your dog’s eyes light up, their mouth open into that doggie smile’ or ears perk up; you know you are on the right track. On the other hand, if your dog turns their head or moves away, you may need to find a new way to reward your dog. It is not a reward nor is it motivating if your dog does not like it; no matter how much you think he or she should like it.
Praise In general, dogs like high pitched and happy verbal praise. However, if your dog is shy, loud voices can be scary. Play with the intonation in your voice, every dog is different. I have a client with a very fearful dog who LOVES low pitched praise. I have to purposely speak as low as possible to keep this sweet dog engaged in her training sessions and continue to build her confidence. Praise is an easy way to reinforce your dog’s good behavior, but it may not be enough in some situations. An energetic dog who likes to jump on guests may need a little more than a happy “good boy” to reinforce a calm “sit”.
Toys For some dogs, toys and play are the greatest joy in their tail wagging worlds. Save yourself time and money by taking your dog with you when you go toy shopping. Nearly all retail stores that cater to pets allow them to join you on shopping trips. Hold out a toy for your dog and watch his or her face. If you see excitement and delight, that is the toy for you. If not, continue shopping.
Once you get home, move the toy away from your dog to entice play. When you push a toy into your dog’s face to invite play, some dogs can find it obtrusive and withdraw. Dogs like to chase things so wiggle away and enjoy play time with your dog!
Treats There are so many treat options but soft and smelly tend to be the easiest to get dogs excited. Soft treats are MUCH easier to break up. It only takes a crumb to be enjoyable to dogs and the smellier treats tend to be more exciting. If you use small bits, you avoid adding too many calories to your dog’s diet and save money on treats! If your dog turns his or her nose up to even the premier treats like Salmon Paws or Dogswell, hot dogs or cheese are great to reward amazing behaviors. Use them in moderation and cut them up into tiny pieces to avoid an upset stomach. Vegetables or cheerios are also a great alternative if you are trying to maintain weight or help your dog shed a couple pounds. If your dog makes the happy face, you found the right treat!
Praise, toys and treats are wonderful rewards but your dog gets plenty of other great goodies every day. Cuddling on the couch, playing with other pets, walks and meals are amazing motivators of good behavior. Just be sure to give all of these when your dog is being good and you will keep your dog motivated for life!