Behavior

Dog Parks – Good or Bad?

I get the “dog park question” quite frequently.  Is it good?  Is it bad?  Is it fun?  Is it unsafe?

In my opinion?  It can, and will at times, be all of the above.

I know dog people who swear by them and those who swear they will never set foot in one.

My two cents?  Use your best judgement and make the decision that fits you and your dog while keeping in mind the following:

  1.  Not all dogs are, or want to be, social butterflies.  Dog parks can be a great place for dogs who seem to love everybody and can think of nothing better than a field full of strange new friends.  However, for dogs who are shy, introverted, or no-nonsense, it’s probably not their idea of a good time.
  2. People are irresponsible.  It doesn’t matter how responsible you are as a dog owner, you cannot control the owners around you.  When at the dog park, your primary focus should be – you guessed it – YOUR DOG.  Dog parks are not the place to do your yoga, get lost in a good book, or take a nap on a bench.  Unfortunately, that’s exactly what a lot of folks do – at the expense of those around them.  You have to be your dog’s advocate – if you see them being bullied, go to their rescue.  And by all means, if your dog IS the bully, put a stop to it!
  3. Vaccinations are not guaranteed.  Now, if your dog park is owned/run by a humane society or other animal welfare organization, you may be required to show proof of vaccinations to gain access.  That being said, I have been told by multiple people that they share their gate code/park access credentials with friends.  While those folks no doubt believe they are doing their friends a favor, if those dogs aren’t properly vaccinated, they’re doing everyone else a disservice.
  4.  It’s a playground – accidents happen.  As you can read in this article – “How a Routine Trip to the Dog Park Ended With a Broken Hip” – it’s not just dogs who have the potential to get hurt!  Most dogs possess great athletic ability, but that doesn’t mean they never run into something!  There is also the possibility of run-ins with unfriendly dogs.  I have personally witnessed a person being backed up onto a bench by an aggressive dog – the owner was on the other side of the park and had no idea his dog was being a bully until I yelled at him.

 

After pointing out some of the shortcomings of dog parks, you might think I’m totally against them.  I’m not!  Tucker has frequented several parks and has, for the most part, had really great experiences!  That being said, I didn’t take Tucker to a dog park until he was a full blown adult – physical and mentally mature.  He was a well rounded adult with a happy go lucky personality and good manners.  Even so, we had our fair share of weird experiences and days when we left early because someone else got out of hand.

I don’t know that we’ll ever take our new German Shepherd to one, but if we do, I can tell you that I’ll be watching her, and everyone else, like a hawk – and we will leave at the first sign of trouble.

Categories: Behavior, Blog, Dog Parks | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Dog People Need Dog People

Dog people need dog people.

That may sound pretty obvious.  I mean, of course dog people like to hang out with dog people, right?

But I’m not talking about the casual, lets meet for coffee and bring our pups, kind of people.  I’m talking about the people who will go down into the trenches with you.  Crazy dog people need crazy dog people.

Let me tell you about my favorite crazy dog people: Roy and Suzie.  They started as my mentors for a project in high school a decade ago and have been my doggie mentors ever since.  This past weekend, they very graciously went above and beyond the realm of normal dog friends.

They let me bring a brand new puppy into their house.  It just so happened that we had already planned a visit to see them on the same weekend our puppy was ready to leave her litter, and since they live on the way to the breeder, we decided to go ahead and do both.

Now, let me tell you about our newest little addition – Ellie.  She is the strongest willed, most confident puppy I have ever met – and she kept everyone in the house awake until just after 4am on her first night with us.  My friends work shepherds in Search and Rescue, so they know high drive dogs – and they say she’s the highest drive little shepherd they’ve ever seen.  We were all astounded that she had the energy and lung capacity to sing us the song of her people at the highest volume imaginable almost constantly from about 10pm to 4am – and that was with plenty of potty breaks, snuggles, and playtime mixed in to try to wear her out and calm her down.

And yet, they never complained and consistently offered help and advice on what we could try to help Ellie settle in with her new people.  They sent us home with toys and collars for when she grows, and an offer to help whenever needed.  Those are the kind of crazy dog people that every crazy dog person needs in their corner.

It doesn’t matter how much you know about dogs and puppies in general – each one you meet and raise will be different from the last, and it’s always good to have people around you to offer new tips and tricks.  🙂

Below:  Roy and Suzie with Tucker the day after I picked him up from Leader Dog six years ago (top) and with Ellie this past weekend (bottom).

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Categories: Behavior, Blog, Ellie the Warrior Princess, Puppy | 1 Comment

A Tip from Tucker: Super Chewers

When I bring home a new toy, I get the distinct feeling that Tucker’s first thought is “challenge accepted!”

Tucker is a super chewer. His favorite thing in the world is to rip things up into tiny little pieces and leave them scattered all over the floor. And yet, even as a puppy, he only chewed one hairbrush handle and put one hole in a slipper (that I remember). I credit that track record, and today’s continued success, to consistent supervision as a puppy and the accessibility of a wide array of appropriate toys.

Dogs chew. If we don’t tell them what to chew, they will choose something on their own (and that doesn’t usually end well).

So, here are a few tips for the owners of the super chewers. (Note – this is not a product endorsement – just Tucker’s personal experiences.)

Hard Toys
> Nylabone – When it comes to hard chew toys, like bones, we buy Nylabone products almost exclusively. They last quite a while, despite Tucker’s best efforts, and I trust the materials. I’m always fearful that some of the cheaper bones will break off in large chunks that he might try to ingest. That being said, we do usually make sure to buy the bones with the highest durability rating.

Rubber Toys
> Kong – The next time you’re in a pet store, look at the labels on the Kong toys. You’ll find that different colors of rubber represent different degrees of durability. The “normal” Kong is red. Tucker laughs in the face of red Kongs. We are strictly a black Kong household. The black Kongs are the toughest and, so far, Tucker has yet to destroy one.

> West Paw – This company makes a toy called a Tux, which we affectionately called “Freezer Toy” in our house. West Paw is so confident in this toy’s durability that they will actually replace it once if it’s destroyed. We have bought, and replaced, two Tux toys. The Tux is rated 5/5 on their website, and while it did last a decent amount of time, it was still no match for Tucker in the end.

> Planet Dog – We are currently on our third Orbee-Tuff Orbee Ball. Again, while these balls are rated 5/5 and have lasted a decent amount of time with a chewer like Tucker, they all eventually come to an end. We also recently tried an Orbee-Tuff Eggplant which has a 4/5 rating. It was dead within 30 minutes and we utilized Planet Dog’s replacement policy to try a different 5/5 ball.

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> GoughNuts – This is a new company we were turned on to by friends who work German Shepherds in search and rescue. Tucker has one of the GoughNuts sticks, and so far, so good, though he really hasn’t laid into it too hard yet. Similar to Kong, GoughNuts uses different colors of rubber to represent different levels of durability. Given our track record, we decided to start with black. This company will replace a damaged toy as soon as any part of the red core, a stop indicator, is exposed.

Curious what Tucker might pick for squeaky, stuffed, fabric, rope, or leather toys?

Ha! You’re funny. There is a reason the only two categories on this page are “hard” and “rubber:” nothing else survives longer than an hour around Tucker. If you need/want to utilize those types of toys with your dog, make sure it is during supervised play and that the toy is taken away before they begin trying to destroy it. Tucker doesn’t tend to ingest the items he destroys, but if your dog does, a damaged toy could pose a major health concern.

Happy toy shopping!

Categories: Behavior, Blog, Prince Tucker Problems, Toys | Leave a comment

The Prince and the Pea

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I often affectionately refer to my faithful Labrador Retriever as “Prince” Tucker. Why? Because he seems to believe he should be treated like royalty and he’s extremely picky.

While Tucker may not be quite as sensitive as the princess in the fairytale, “The Princess and the Pea,” who is able to feel one pea through twenty mattresses and twenty feather beds, he is still quite princely.

Several weeks ago, my very obedient Tucker suddenly started balking at the idea of going to bed. Tucker has slept in the same crate since he was a puppy (almost six years), and up until this point, had never had an issue with it. Our routine has always been pretty much the same – he goes outside for a break, comes inside to get his nightly pills and evening snack, and goes to bed. All of a sudden one day, he started sneaking back to his bed in the living room after his snack instead of going to his crate. When my husband or I would ask him to go to his crate, he would hang his head sadly, and, slowly but surely, plod over to his crate.

We were both quite perplexed for a while until one day when I decided to wash the mat in his crate. As I pulled it out, I realized just how thin it had become.

And that’s when it hit me: the Prince had decided he preferred the very fluffy bed in the living room over the worn out old mat in his crate.

The next weekend, I bought a new fluffy bed and laid it on top of the old mat.

And guess who doesn’t balk at going to bed anymore!

The lesson is this – sometimes, it’s necessary to apply what you know about your dog’s personality when you’re trying to figure out what’s causing a certain behavior.  Remember that dogs, like people, all see the world a little differently.

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Happy as a clam now that he has extra padding.

Categories: Behavior, Blog, Prince Tucker Problems | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

It’s Not Worth It

Before you begin reading, it is important to understand that everything I’m about to say is rooted in the following belief:

Canine Life ≠ Human Life

During this Christmas season, I have had several conversations with people about dogs and kids.  Holidays tend to put unfamiliar dogs with unfamiliar kids and, unfortunately, that sometimes leads to horrible consequences.  For the sake of the following information and advice, let’s assume that the child and dog do not belong to the same household.

  • To the PARENTS/ADULTS – I have seen many a child behave inappropriately around a dog.  Please be teaching the children in your life what it means to interact appropriately with a dog.  That means…
    • no pulling on ears, tails, or lips
    • no riding on a dog’s back like a pony
    • no poking eyeballs
    • always asking before you run up to a strange dog to pet it
    • no sitting on the dog
    • no removing toys/bones from the dog’s mouth unless you’re told it’s okay

If the child is too young to fully understand those lessons, then that child should always be ACTIVELY supervised when interacting with the dog.  It’s your job as the adult to watch the child, watch the dog’s body language, and end the playtime as soon as you see signs of stress for the dog (or child).  Even if the child IS old enough to know these lessons, it’s always a good idea to supervise playtime when your child is with someone else’s pet, especially if you are unsure how the dog will respond.

  • To the OWNERS/ADULTS – I have seen many dogs with aggressive or impatient tendencies be allowed to interact with children far past the point when it was safe.  Please be willing to put your dog away or use protective gear if you are unsure how your dog might react to the quick moving, unpredictable actions of a child.  That means…
    • utilizing a crate to keep the dog secure and separate from children (make sure the child is not allowed (or not able) to poke the dog through the bars)
    • putting the dog away in a closed off room or yard away from the stress and commotion
    • using a muzzle if the dog has no choice but to be out around children (make sure to introduce it properly and to get one that allows the dog to breathe/pant freely – don’t forget to take breaks and offer water)

You may be appalled that I would suggest the use of a muzzle, but if that muzzle keeps a child from loosing an eye, getting a scar, or even receiving a lethal bite, isn’t it worth it?  And remember, just because a small dog or toy breed can’t kill you, that doesn’t mean it can’t take a child’s eye out or cause serious physical/emotional damage.

This holiday season, be wise when it comes to dogs and kids.  Remember that dogs are still animals and that it’s your job as the adult to supervise, mediate, and sometimes restrict interaction between kids and dogs if there are any signs of aggression.  A bitten child is not worth it!

Above – Photos from Tucker’s trip to Savannah, GA, spring 2012.  We met this child on the street with his family.  His father made sure to ask if it was okay to pet him and the kid had pretty good manners when it came to petting gently.  You’ll also notice that I’m not standing several feet away talking to my friends or the kid’s family – I’m sitting right next to Tucker, watching his behavior, watching the kid, and making sure that everyone stays happy and healthy.  You’ll see in the first photo that the kid went in for a “hug” of Tucker’s head.  Tucker is okay with hugs, but not all dogs feel the same.  If your dog is great with petting and head scratches but not a fan of hugs, don’t be afraid to tell people who approach you that a hug is not okay!  (Photo Credit – Beth Anne Ho)

Categories: Behavior, Dogs and Kids, Holidays | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Tired Puppy is a Good Puppy

I imagine that the vast majority of books written about puppyhood use some variation of the phrase, “a tired puppy is a good puppy.”

There’s a good reason for that: it’s true!

Tired puppies are much less likely to get into trouble, because they simply don’t have the energy for it.  If you play fetch until your little pup can barely hold his eyes open, chances are, your shoes are safe for the next few hours.

Sometimes, wearing a puppy out can feel like a daunting task, especially if the weather outside isn’t the most welcoming.  Here are a few suggestions for indoor activities to help encourage some long puppy naps:

  1. Obedience – Yes, you read that correctly.  Start working on obedience!  I don’t care if it’s day one and your puppy is only 7 weeks old – get started!  The earlier you begin teaching basic obedience commands and manners, the better off you will be in the future.  “Sit” is a great place to start because most puppies will naturally fall into a sit if you hold ANYTHING of interest over their heads.
  2. Handling Exercises – Practice handling your puppy so that future visits to the veterinarian and groomer are pleasant and stress-free experiences.  You may be surprised at just how much effort is required for a puppy to hold still long enough to have all of his toes touched!
  3. Toys – Make sure your puppy has several appropriate toys to play with, and encourage appropriate playtime!  Play fetch, tug on a rope, chew on a bone – but make sure that ALL of those “toys” came from the pet aisle.  Don’t set your puppy up for trouble by encouraging playtime with socks, shoes, children’s toys, or other household items that you don’t want chewed up in the future.

All of these activities should be fun in and of themselves, but sometimes, the best part is the long puppy nap that comes afterwards!  (But don’t forget, as soon as that puppy wakes up, take him outside for a bathroom break!)

 

 

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A tired puppy is a good puppy!  Tucker June 2011

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A tired puppy is a good puppy in the car, too!

 

 

 

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Are You Thankful for Your Dog?

Are you thankful for your dog?

Your immediate response might be, “Of course I am!  What a ridiculous question.”

If that is the case, then my second question to you, next Monday post-thanksgiving holiday, would be, “Are you STILL thankful for your dog?”

Did your dog behave well around friends and family this holiday?  Did he/she respect your guests’ personal bubbles, resist the urge to jump on grandma, and leave the feast on the kitchen counter alone?

If you are already fearful your dog may NOT be a good Thanksgiving guest this week, here are a few things to consider:

Dogs are not greater than people

Hear me – I love my dog immensely, but he is not as important as a person.  If I were afraid that Tucker would jump on and injure a guest (especially an older, more frail guest like a grandparent) he would not be allowed to participate in Thanksgiving events (or any other family gathering).  Here’s the thing – treating your dog like a dog for a few hours IS NOT CRUEL.  This is another great example of why I advocate crate training from an early age – if your dog cannot be trusted, a crate is the safest place for him/her to be.  I’m not suggesting you leave your furry friend cooped up all day or all weekend.  If you need to employ a crate, make sure to schedule times for bathroom breaks and exercise.  Remember, a few hours of boredom for your dog is a low price to pay to avoid a hip replacement for grandma.

Leashes are a great invention

If your dog has not been crate trained, or you just can’t bear the thought of locking Fido up for a few hours, a leash could be a great second option.  If you don’t trust him/her not to bug guests, eat leftovers off the counter, or sneak off and destroy your shoes, tethering him/her to yourself with a leash can be a great way to allow your dog some very supervised freedom.  As your friends/family begin to trickle into your living room to watch football or reminisce the day away, grab a chew toy and leash and require your dog to lay next to you on the floor.  If you haven’t done any training, getting your dog to lay calmly at your feet may be a task, but it isn’t impossible, especially if you’ve made time to include some doggy exercise in your day.

There’s still time

Whether you already know that Thanksgiving is likely to be a disaster or you’re reading this post-Thanksgiving and you KNOW it was a disaster, don’t lose heart – there is still time before Christmas!  If you’re unsatisfied with your dog’s holiday behavior, now is a great time to start looking for a trainer in your area who can help you work through problem behaviors.  While few long-standing bad behaviors can be fixed overnight, there is definitely still time to make good progress before Santa comes to town.  Don’t be satisfied with poor dog behavior – make the time to discover your dog’s full potential!

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In this photo from Thanksgiving 2012, Tucker snuggles with me while I eat a plate of leftovers.  Does your dog have the self control to sit with you (or on you) while you eat without begging or trying to steal a bite?  Side note: Tucker had just been released from the Leader Dogs for the Blind training program the month before, so he was all about making up for lost time when it came to recliners and snuggles. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How We Contribute to Bad Behavior

I would highly recommend checking out this article from the American Kennel Club titled, “5 Things You’re Doing To Make Your Dog Misbehave.”

5 Things You’re Doing To Make Your Dog Misbehave

Why do I recommend it?  Because these five problems/scenarios are very common.

Their first point refers to a lack of exercise and their second refers to a lack of training.  While both of those points are extremely valid, and sometimes separate, I would argue that these two items are actually very closely related.  Until you’ve done an intense obedience “workout” with your dog, you cannot fully grasp the benefits of mental exercise.  Most of the obedience problems I encounter with my clients revolve around a dog’s lack of SELF control.  For a hyperactive dog, learning that you have self control and how to utilize it is absolutely exhausting.  If you’re the kind of dog who is used to always getting your way, (especially when it comes to running, jumping, and general chaos) learning to hold a sit for more than a second or two requires an incredible amount of concentration.  While that may not seem like “exercise” to us, it truly does wear them out!  I have had multiple clients tell me that the first thing their dog does after a solid “workout” or training session is take a two hour nap.

Their third point involves reinforcing bad behavior, which we do both knowingly and unknowingly all the time.  Sometimes, we let things slide out of fatigue or laziness, and the dog learns that we don’t mean what we say.  Other times, we purposefully condone behavior that we don’t realize will come back to haunt us later (see the video I posted on the Facebook page about a dog “protecting” its pregnant owner).

Some might argue that the last two points, which focus on breed and age, are out of the owner’s control.  I would disagree.  In my opinion, part of responsible dog ownership is doing the research required to choose a breed that fits your lifestyle and being prepared for puppyhood if you choose a young dog.  Our society is very much geared towards getting what we want, even if it is impractical for our current situation.  I think people often forget that different breeds exist for a reason – they have different characteristics and were created for very different purposes!

Now, I will say that choosing the best breed for you becomes harder if you are adopting a rescue, especially at a young age.  I recently read an article about breed identification accuracy in shelters and the percentage of incorrect identifications was staggering.  DNA studies are showing us that, as the saying goes, you can’t always judge a book by its cover!  Even so, make sure you get as much information from the shelter as possible, and if you have a friend in the dog world, try to bring him/her along for advice.

Finally, if you choose a puppy, be prepared!  Puppies are hard work from day one, but many folks think that as soon as they are housebroken or lose their puppy teeth, all will be well with the world.  Wrong!  Dogs, especially those who have not been spayed or neutered, will often experience a rebellious teenage phase just like humans!  I distinctly remember the day that my dog’s testosterone seemed to kick in – and boy was he fun to be around for a few months.  As the article states, consistency is your best friend during this time frame just as it is when you’re working with a brand new eight week old puppy.  Hold your ground and the rest of your dog’s adult life will be much more pleasant.

My last little bit of puppy advice would be this – push them to excel!  Yes, you always need to mindful of the puppy’s age and what is realistic for that age, but most of us don’t realize just how much a puppy can learn at a young age.

In this photo from July of 2011, Future Leader Dog Tucker was just shy of three months old – and he was holding a sit in order to get a cup of shaved ice.

Chelsea Cutler, Certified Professional Trainer
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