Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Counter Surfer - How to teach your dog to stop stealing your food!

We are coming up on holiday time and with it comes many gatherings, which to your dog means free food!  Dogs are opportunistic scavengers and this is never more obvious then when we have food out on the table or counter.  In the wild if a dog came across something to eat they wouldn’t look around to see if it belongs to someone else before diving in, and we shouldn’t expect them to in our kitchen.  A dog who steals food is not a bad dog, they just haven’t been taught (in a way they can understand) what is and what is not acceptable.   

Not only is it a nuisance behaviour but it can be potentially dangerous.  There are several foods that can be toxic to your dog, along with some everyday kitchen utensils that can pose a threat.   I had a personal experience with a client’s pup who liked to steal towels off the table, counter and front of the stove.  One day they had a blender set out to dry on a towel on the counter and their brazen little pup grabbed the corner and gave it a good tug.  Fortunately, no one was hurt but the pup was so frightened he refused to enter the kitchen for several days. 

With a few simple lessons and some set-ups there is lots of time to have your pup on his/her best behaviour before your guests arrive.

Teach ‘Leave It’

Step 1 - start by enticing your pup with a treat tucked away in your fist, as soon as they come up to sniff it say 'leave it' in a very matter of fact tone and wait.  As soon as your pup backs off or looks away immediately say 'yes' and release the treat.  Some will pick this up very quickly and some may not but as long as they aren't getting any crumbs from the treat they will eventually give up and back away.  As they begin to understand the game they will jump back when they hear 'leave it' and when they do say ‘yes’ and give them the treat.  Once they reach this point you can move on to the next step. 

Step 2 – with your dog on leash allow some slack while holding the end.  Show your pup the treat, say 'leave it' and toss the treat just out of reach.  If they go for it give them a quick, gentle pop on the leash keeping them away from the treat.  You may say leave it again along with each 'pop' if more than one is needed.  As with step one as soon as they back away, or stop pulling, say 'yes' and immediately pick up the treat and give it to them.  Once they are great at this stage you can make it more difficult by using better treats, more treats or nudging the treats closer as they are 'leaving it'.   

Set Ups
Set ups are essential to changing any unwanted dog behaviour.  When doing a set up leave a sample of food, maybe start with something simple like a cracker, and place it somewhere that you know your dog is likely to go for.  Act as though you are busy but don’t take your eyes off the dog and at the exact moment they go for it use the leave it command with a firm tone moving quickly to block your dog from the food.  If your dog jumps back or walks away praise them with an enthusiastic ‘good dog!’ and go back to pretending you are busy.  Continue on with the set up for a few minutes to see if your pup will try again.  If they don’t, consider it a successful session, pick up the food and go about your day.   If the command and swift movement isn’t enough to deter your dog you may want in include an interrupter (next paragraph).  If done correctly and often enough, your dog will learn that food anywhere but their food bowl is out of bounds.  They may even begin to assume it’s a set up and think twice about going for it in the first place!

An interrupter is a redirecting noise that encourages your dog to stop an undesired behaviour.   Many dogs will react to a firm ‘no’ or ‘ah-ah’, but for the tougher tempered pups an interrupter may be needed.  The noise should be just loud enough to grab their attention but not to scare them.  Interrupters come in many forms.  There are two that I use, one is homemade and one can be found at your local pet store. 
Shaker can – this is an empty pop can filled with pennies with tape over the opening.  The more pennies the louder the sound it will make.  Start with 10-15 and add more if needed.
The Pet Corrector – this is a small can of pressurized air that emits a loud hissing noise when you push the trigger.  I have found this tool to be very effective even when working with strong tempered dogs.

Once you have taught your dog ‘leave it’ and you are confident that they fully understand the command you are ready to begin with the setups.  If needed you can use an interrupter along with the ‘leave it’.  The end goal is to eventually wean off of the interrupter and rely only on the voice command itself but sometimes tying the two together will give you optimal results. 

The most important element when teaching your dog to ‘leave it’ is timing.  As with all training the timing of the reward or consequence is limited to 2-3 seconds.  In order to be fair and sure your dog knows what is expected be aware of the timing.  Lastly, if you catch your dog stealing food and you are not prepared to deal with it immediately just remove any food that’s left and plan to do a lesson later.   Training is never successful when you are angry.  Do lots of setup’s and your pup will be steering clear of your food in no time.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Keeping Your Dog Calm in a Thunderstorm

This time of year can be pretty hectic if you live with a dog who's afraid of thunderstorms.  Many dogs experience a lot of anxiety, some will seem uneasy,  begin pacing or find a place hide before we even know there's a storm coming.  Most of us when trying to comfort our dogs are unknowingly only adding to their anxiety.  Below are a few things you can do that will help keep your dog calm during a thunderstorm:
  • Play with your dog. Playing with your dog will keep them distracted while the storm takes place. Get out their favorite toy and play a game with them. Eventually, they’ll associate thunder and lightning with good things instead of bad things.
  • Turn on some soothing music. Soothing music can calm dogs. Keep turning the volume up as needed. Sound machines work great for calming dogs during thunderstorms.
  • Provide a safe spot for your dog. Make sure your dog has a safe unenclosed area to retreat to during a thunderstorm. If you notice that your dog favors a particular spot during stormy weather, make that spot as comfortable as possible for them.  For some dogs it may be a small room like the bathroom, a corner of a room, behind a chair, or they may even choose their crate.  You can make that area comfortable for them by placing a blanket or toy and  don't try to force them out, wait for them to come out when they are ready.
  • Provide blankets or towels for your dog. Many dogs hide under the covers during thunderstorms. If your dog does this, make sure they have their own blanket or towel to hide under. You can put it on their bed or in their safe spot.  It will help them feel a sense of security.
  • Give your dog a stress-relieving product. There are products out on the market today that are specifically used for calming dogs during thunderstorms. Examples of these products include: The Thundershirt, natural remedies you can find at your local pet store or anxiety medications from the vet. The Thundershirt fits your dog like a piece of tight clothing, using pressure to relieve stress during thunderstorms. If your dog is frightened of thunderstorms and doesn’t mind wearing clothing, this might be an option for you to try.  There are many different natural anxiety remedies available.  The one I most commonly recommend is by the brand HomeoPet called Anxiety TFLN (Thunderstorms, Fireworks, Loud Noises).  Lastly there is the option of medication from your veterinarian.  Although these options are safe I only recommend this as a last resort and most often only if you area worried about your dogs safety.
Please remember to avoid cuddling your dog during a thunderstorm. When you do this, your not comforting them, you’re actually encouraging them to be frightened.  Also, never let your dog see your anxiety. Dogs read you like an open book and if your are appearing anxious and worked up it will only encourage this behaviour in your dog.

Most importantly, always make sure your dog has shelter during stormy weather. If you have an outside dog, the best place for your dog to retreat to during stormy weather is your garage or basement. If this isn’t an option, make sure your dog has a dog house or pen to retreat to while he’s outside.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

You can never be too prepared if your dog goes missing!

It’s very stressful and upsetting when your dog goes missing, but worrying won’t help get your dog home.  If your dog is missing, they are likely trying to find their way back home, so act fast.
There are quite a few things you can do beforehand to make sure you’re prepared if your dog ever does go missing.  The two most important things you can do is
1) make sure your dog is microchipped, and
2) make sure they wear an ID tag at all times. 
If he/she is taken to a vet’s office or animal shelter, they'll be scanned for a microchip.  If your dog has this, your contact information will be revealed after the quick scan.  For the ID tag, it should include your name, telephone number and email address (the dog’s name isn’t necessary). Another tip is to have a tag that says “Needs meds, please call” followed by your phone number. Even if it isn’t true, someone who might NOT be intending to return your dog might not be keen on taking a dog with health issues. “Reward if found” works well too! All dogs need to wear ID tags…a simple thing like this could help the two of you reunite if your canine buddy suddenly disappears.

If your dog does happen to go missing, act quickly and follow these 10 steps to get your dog back home safely:

1. Don’t panic!  Think long and hard about when you last saw your dog.  Look throughout your home and yard.

2. Spend about 15 minutes calmly but forcefully calling and whistling for your dog.  If you do it in a panicky voice, your dog may not recognize it and may not respond.

3. If your dog isn’t in your home or yard, gather his leash and some treats and head out to search for him.  Go door to door with a photo, asking your neighbors if they’ve seen him.  It’s not unusual for a dog to hide out in a neighbor’s garden or garage.

4. If your dog is microchipped, contact the company to let them know your dog is missing.  Always make sure your contact information is up to date.

5. Contact local vet offices and animal shelters to give them your dog’s description to see if he’s been dropped off.  If your dog hasn’t been dropped off, be sure they have your contact information so they can contact you if a dog that matches your dog’s description is dropped off.

6. Post flyers all over your neighborhood and city.  You can post flyers at places such as animal shelters, vet offices, pet shops, gas stations, police stations, fire stations, grocery stores, etc.  Make sure to include your dog’s name on the flyer, as well as any important information.  The contact information should include your name, telephone number and email address.  A photo of your dog will also be helpful.

7. If your dog is enrolled in a healthcare plan, contact the insurance company to let them know your dog has gone missing.  They may be able to provide financial assistance (pay for flyers, reward, etc.) to help get your dog home.

8. Put an old t-shirt on the outside of your home.  More than likely your dog is still nearby and if he recognizes a familiar scent, it’ll be much easier for him to find his way back.  If it’s recently rained or snowed, your dog may become lost.  The smell of a family member’s t-shirt may help put your dog on the right track and lead him back home.

9. Place a ‘lost dog’ ad in the newspaper as soon as your dog goes missing.  Check the column daily to see if anyone has found your dog.  Also, there are many websites where you can place a ‘lost dog’ ad.

10. Offer a reward.  Most dog lovers will return a dog without wanting anything in return.  However, a reward is a great motivator for people to look for your dog.  When offering a reward, beware of scammers.  Some people will call and claim they have found your dog, but they haven’t and they plan to rob you when the two of you meet because they know you’ll have the reward money.  So, even if the description they give you sounds exactly like your dog, never meet anyone alone or at their home.  Always take someone with you and meet in a public place.

Although most of us will likely never need to worry about this, it's better to be safe than sorry.  Be prepared!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Quick Housetraining Checklist

  • Your puppy should be let out for a washroom break immediately after he/she is let out of the crate, had something to eat or drink, woken up from a nap, finished with a play session or done chewing on a bone.

  • A pup should be given the opportunity to relieve themselves outside regularly while the are awake and enjoying time to roam in the house (every half hour is recommended

  • Watch your pup when you let them out to do their business to be sure they did.  If they don’t do anything keep an extra watchful eye until their next outing  

  • If you catch your pup having an accident in the house, abruptly lead them outside to finish.  DO NOT punish the dog!  It will not teach them to go outside but rather make them afraid to go in front of you! 

  • If you find an accident and the dog is no where near it, clean it up and go about your day.  Dragging the dog to it and ‘rubbing his nose in it’ will not help in the housetraining process and only makes you look a little crazy to the dog.

Housetraining Basics

Puppy season is here!  So now that your puppy's home first things first lets get them doing thier business outside...

Puppies will want to pee and poop wherever they have done so before.  Your job is to make sure your puppy learns to prefer the outdoors – not your carpets!  Whenever you are unable to supervise your puppy with 100% attention, you need to place him/her in either a short term or long term confinement area.  To choose the appropriate confinement area, you need to know how long your puppy can wait between opportunities to do his/her business.  A puppy can generally hold it for as many hours as their age in months plus one during the day, and 1.5 times that length overnight.  So, take the age of your pup in months, add one, and that is how many hours they can hold it during the day.  Multiply that by 1.5 and that is how many hours they can hold for overnight.
Daytime holding limit: # of months for age + 1 hour (eg. 3 month old pup = 4 daytime hours)
Overnight holding limit: 1 ½ times the daytime limit (eg. 3 month old pup can hold for [1.5 x 4 hours] = 6 hours overnight)
So, your pup can be placed in a short-term confinement area such as a crate for this length of time.  The purpose of the crate is to keep your pup out of trouble while you are unable to supervise them. It will also help you predict when he/she will have to go so you can take him/her straight outdoors and give a reward for doing it in the right place.  The crate should be big enough to stand up, turn around and lie down comfortably, not so big there that is room for both a bedroom and a bathroom!

Puppies will naturally have the urge to eliminate after a nap, a meal, a drink, exercise, excitement, or time spent in confinement.  Give you puppy the opportunity to do her business outdoors at these times.  When your puppy does her business in the right place attach a command such as ‘hurry up’ or ‘go potty’ and offer a special treat.  This will speed up her housetraining.
Punishing a pup for soiling in the house after it had happened is counter productive.  If you wait more that a few seconds after your pup has eliminated to express your disapproval, he/she will not know why they are being punished.  If you catch your pup about to pee or poop in the wrong place, clap your hands and say ‘Ah-ah, Outside!’ and swiftly scoop him/her up to the outdoors to continue.  Do not hold a grudge; it will not help with housetraining.
If you would like your pup to poop promptly when you take him/her out, teach them that a prompt poop is the ticket to a walk around the block or play time in the backyard.  This will encourage your pup to poop quickly when you let them out.  If you do the opposite by taking your pup for a walk only when he/she takes too long to go, and heading back home as soon as he/she does go, you are teaching your pup to delay pooping!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Puppy Checklist

A list of some must haves for anyone with a new pup.  These toys and bones will help keep your pup busy and out of trouble and the extra yummy treats will have them begging to learn.

Kong (Classic) - can be filled with a mixture of wet and dry dog food
or other healthy snacks

Kong (goodie bone) - can be stuffed with large crunchie treats

Tricky Treats – can be filled with kibble or small treats for hours of challenging fun
Megalast Bone much like the goodie bone this toy can be stuffed with all kinds of treats (comes in three sizes)

Fleecy Cleans – a rope toy that's safe and durable for puppies to play with
Marrow Bone – a safe bone for puppies to chew that can by stuffed with food (look for bones that are pre-cleaned of marrow and meat for young pups)

Elk Antler – a safe delicious chew with no odours, no stickiness and no staining
Nylabone – these bones are safe for puppies to chew, just be sure to get the right size for your dog

Purebites a delicious, healthy training treat for dogs of any age

Zukes Mini Naturals – a yummy bite sized semi-soft treat perfect for training

  Try freezing any toys/bones that can be stuffed with wet/canned food to make them last twice as long!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Know what your dog is thinking!

Sorry it's been sooo long since my last post...I'm back to regular posting so keep checking back :-)

How to read your dog’s body language

Is your dog trying to tell you something?  Dogs communicate to each other in large part through body language.  Understanding this language can not only help you understand your own dog but will also allow you to better predict what other dogs are thinking.  Here’s an overview of the general signs and signals to watch for.

A Confident Dog
A confident dog stands tall with their head held high and ears perked.  Their mouth may be open but relaxed, their tail is relaxed as well and may have a gentle sway or curl to it.  This dog is safe to approach.

A Playful/Happy Dog
In a happy or playful mood your dog will show similar signs of a confident dog along with their tail wagging excitedly.  When trying to engage play, dogs will very often display something called a ‘play bow’.   A play bow is when a dog stretches their front legs forward along the ground with their back end up in the air most likely wiggling along with the tail.  This is a sure sign they want to play!

A Submissive Dog
A submissive dog shows signs by holding their head low, ears are held flat toward the head and their tail is held low or tucked underneath them.  Some dogs will roll on their backs and sometimes even let out a little piddle, this is called a ‘submissive pee’ (not to be confused with housetraining issues!).  A submissive dog will often sniff the ground as if they are distracted or don’t even notice you are there; this is a way to avoid conflict and let you know that he/she doesn’t want any trouble.  A submissive dog is usually safe to approach but be gentle as they are likely more nervous then you.

A Fearful/Fearful Aggressive Dog
A fearful dog will not usually look you in the eyes and will often have their tail tucked between their legs.  They will approach you, if at all, with caution and a tense look, head down and ears pinned back.  You should use caution when approaching a dog in this state.  Rather than approaching directly it is safest to be patient and allow a fearful or submissive dog to approach you on their own time.  A fearful dog is often underestimated and can be the most dangerous where bites are concerned.  A fearful aggressive dog will have many of the same characteristics but may also bark, bare it’s teeth and lunge toward you, backing away right after a lunge.  Do not approach a dog in this state even if the owner tells you ‘he/she’s just scared’.

A Dominant/Dominant Aggressive Dog
A dominant dog is an over confident dog.  They will try to assert themselves over other dogs and people.  They will be the first to approach you and demand attention.  These dogs are often called ‘jealous’ as they always want attention over everyone else.  A dominant aggressive dog is very easy to spot, they will stand firm and look you straight in the eyes with ears pinned back and tail straight up.  They are often leaning forward and threatening by showing their teeth and possibly letting out a growl.  This type of dog should never be approached.  If your dog acts this way toward you or others contact a professional to help you with this immediately.

An Anxious Dog
Often when a dog whimpers or whines they are feeling anxious.  A common sign of an anxious dog is a ‘stress yawn’; this is when a dog whines or whimpers in the middle of a yawn.  Some dogs will do this for something as simple as needing to go out for a bathroom break but it can also be a warning signs.  An anxious dog can very easily become nervous or fearful and it may be a very clear signal of your dog feeling uncomfortable.  A common example of this behaviour is when a dog becomes overwhelmed by many children surrounding them.  If your dog lets out a ‘stress yawn’ it’s best to cut the visit short, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Understanding what your dog is saying can be very useful information and give you a greater chance of avoiding dangerous situations.  The dog park is a great place to observe these signals in action.  Many dog bites could be avoided if we only knew how to recognize these signs.  Take some time to familiarize yourself and share your knowledge to help keep everyone safe.
Oaklee, Pluto & Charlee looking quite relaxed after a great run in the snow!