Rescues

Dogs and Social Distancing – Keep it Up!

Most of us simply cannot wait for this “social distancing” stuff to be over.

But what if your dog is enjoying it?

Now, I’m not referring the time you’re spending at home (although your dog very well may be enjoying that, too).  I’m talking about social distancing on your walks and in public spaces.

Allow me to explain:

I recently had the pleasure of attending Nelson Hodges’ Relationship Based Behavior Modification workshop.  As often happens to me at workshops, I learned how to verbalize and put words to something that I may have noticed, but hadn’t yet defined in a repeatable way.  Allow me to use that information to frame this discussion.

  1. Anti-Social –  dogs who are against interactions with others
  2. A-Social – dogs who are indifferent about interaction
  3. Social – dogs who desire interactions on their own terms – usually pushy and rude
  4. Pro-Social – dogs who use proper interaction as part of a social unit – their actions benefit the group

Here’s the thing folks – only the dogs in category 3 – Social – are upset about social distancing right now.  The other dogs are saying, “hallelujah, strangers are staying out of my space!”

I’ve seen meme after meme from dog trainers about how nice the social distancing is at the park – because it’s keeping us and our clients from being bombarded by well meaning, but uneducated, people.

Let me speak to the owners of the “Social” dogs for a moment.  I know it breaks your heart when you have to tell you super ooey-gooey labrador puppy that he can’t just run up and say hello to every person and dog he sees at the park.*  But guess what?  I say this with love – it isn’t about him.  It’s about the shy dog who doesn’t like strange dogs rushing up into her space.  It’s about the owner who is working hard to reduce her dog’s leash reactivity and is trying hard to prevent an explosion.  It’s about the owner who has a pro-social dog who has no problem with you or your dog, but knows that face to face leashed greetings with strange dogs often end poorly.

Socializing doesn’t mean you have to touch, wrestle, lick, or be within so many feet of another dog.  Socializing is getting out and seeing the world – taking in the sights, sounds, smells, and doing so in a responsible way.**

So maybe, just maybe, our social distancing practice during this pandemic can encourage some of you to really analyze your behavior out in public with your dog.  Are you the person who asks every dog who walks by to say hi?  Are you the person who always says, “but my dog is friendly!” without ever pausing to consider the feelings of the other person or dog?  If so, I would ask you to consider trying to see the world from the other owner and dog’s perspective.  Try to practice respectful distancing when this is all over.  Am I suggesting you should never ask to pet a puppy at the park again?  Not necessarily.  But you should be willing to graciously accept a “no” if the owner/trainer doesn’t want to participate, and you should DEFINITELY stop forcing attention and interaction on the people and dogs who don’t care for it.

 

*Training tip – the folks who let their puppy spend the first several months doing whatever they want at the park, and saying hi to everyone all the time, are the ones who call me between 6-8 moths old and say, “my dog just can’t focus and he pulls me towards every dog and person in the park!”  Guess what, you accidentally taught your dog that this is exactly how the park works and what he’s supposed to do!  It’s okay to set boundaries early and show your puppy that the park is about the two of you getting out and having a great time – not about seeing how many people and dogs you can rush up to and smother with kisses.  There are times and ways in which saying hi is appropriate – but it has to be done responsibly and within reason.

**We fully support supervised, guided playtime/social time at daycares and boarding facilities where the staff are not only supervising, but stepping in and teaching the dogs what Pro-Social behavior looks like and how to read the body language of the other dogs involved.  There is a big difference between an off leash scenario like this and randomly walking head on at another leashed dog out in the park.

 

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Photo just for attention – and because they’re adorable.  Our dogs, Ellie and Tucker, with Search and Rescue dogs Sabre and Reign.

 

Categories: Behavior, Blog, dog health, dog training, Dogs and COVID-19, Fearful dogs, leash laws, owner encouragement, Puppy Socialization, Rescues, training tips | Leave a comment

COVID-19 and Crate Rest

If your schedule hasn’t been affected by COVID-19, aka Coronavirus, then you are in the minority.  We have many friends who are trying to figure out new schedules for themselves, their employees, and their children.

But what about your dog?

Many folks won’t realize that these changes may be affecting their dog until a negative behavior begins or occurs.  Dogs love structure and schedules, so as you make your plans for creating a new normal over the next few weeks, don’t forget to include the dog!

We’re all basically on two weeks of “crate rest” – so don’t forget to give your dog crate rest*, too!  Most adult dogs sleep 12-14 hours a day.  Puppies under 10 months old need to be closer to 18-20 hours!  When we disrupt our normal schedules, it is very easy for our dogs to miss out on their normal nap times and rest periods and become anxious, grumpy, or otherwise off their normal.

You have permission to crate your dog even if you are working from home.

Let me say that again – you have permission to crate your dog even if you are working from home.

If your dog is struggling with finding a new normal, help him out by keeping his sleep pattern as close to his previous normal as you can.  Schedule naps, play, training, and feeding times.  You’re the human – it’s your job to advocate for your dog and help him navigate your world.  And sometimes, that means putting him down for a nap whether he likes it or not.

I can already hear some folks saying, “But my dog goes crazy if I crate him while I’m home!”  This is exactly why we encourage our clients to practice utilizing their crate for a variety of circumstances and at different times of the day.  Normally, we encourage this habit because of the potential of a medical reason on the dog’s part for unexpected crate rest (kennel cough, surgery, pulled muscles, etc), but today, we can add “just in case you get stuck working from home during a pandemic” to the list.

If your dog struggles with being crated while you’re home, try some of the following:

  • Begin feeding your dog his meals in his crate.
  • Make sure your dog is getting adequate exercise – we’re talking planned and purposeful exercise, not just “walking around and barking at birds out the window.”  Go for a walk (6 ft way from other humans, of course), play structured fetch, paper plate recall, or any number of other structured activities that use both your dog’s body and brain.  (Your training homework can also count here – hint, hint!)
  • Cover the crate – for some dogs, seeing everything going on outside the crate is just too hard and they settle better with a blanket over the kennel.
  • If covering the crate isn’t helping, move the crate to a central location so you can provide feedback more easily – treats and/or release from the crate for good/quiet behavior, verbal reminders or crate pops for poor behavior.  Rinse and repeat in small increments.
  • Allow the dog to have special edibles or toys while in the crate – and in the crate only!  Make the crate a desirable place to be.  (Please be sure to only provide edibles or toys that are safe, especially for unsupervised use.)

To be clear, the concept of making sure your dog has adequate rest applies in a wide variety of circumstances, not just during a pandemic.

The nature of our work and schedules means that our dogs, Tucker and Ellie, are very accustomed to having a slightly different schedule most days.  At the moment, however, we are practicing down time and crate rest because we have ended up with a foster dog in the house.  Even at 9 years old, this dog needs the rest and downtime because she was an only child until three days ago.  As she navigates her new world, new people, new siblings, it’s important to be sure that we aren’t asking her to do all of that with a low battery.  So right now, as I write this, she’s crated and her crate is covered to encourage her to take some deep breaths, nap a little, and give her space to process.  She’s doing well so far, but it’s our job to be sure that we do everything we can to set her up for success.

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Daisy – 9 year old Weimaraner 

 

*If your dog is able to rest well  without a crate, modify the advice to fit a dog who can rest on his “place” or in a particular area of your home.

Categories: Behavior, Blog, crate training, dog training, Dogs and COVID-19, owner encouragement, Rescues, training tips | 2 Comments

Purebreds VS Rescues

Purebreds VS Rescues
Please note that this post is geared mostly towards those looking to adopt or buy a puppy – not an adult dog.  I am also using “rescues” to generally refer to dogs of unknown history and breeding – not necessarily purebreds who need a new home or end up in shelters.

As with almost every other subject, people can get very defensive, and downright mean, when it comes to purebreds versus rescues.  So, just in case anyone is curious, here are my two cents on the subject:

BOTH ARE GREAT. 

And here’s why: each owner’s needs, and each dog’s purpose, is different.

Rescues
I love rescues.  They come in all sorts of cool and sometimes funny looking combinations.    I grew up with Dingo, a “pound puppy” who was mostly Golden Retriever and a little bit of who-knows-what-else.  We had her for nearly 16 years and loved her dearly.  As a adolescent, I never dreamed I’d ever grow up to own a purebred dog.  After all, I’d had a great rescue, rescues are cheaper (initially, at least), and there are a ton of them available.  So, how did I come to a place where I now own two purebred dogs?

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Dingo

Purebreds
I love purebreds.  They may be cut from a relatively similar cloth, but they are all still individuals.  I ended up with my first purebred dog, Tucker, because I volunteered to be his Puppy Raiser for Leader Dogs for the Blind.  When he was career changed at a year and a half, they gave him back to me.  During this time, I also had the privilege of becoming good friends with a couple who train Search and Rescue dogs – all of whom just happened to be purebred German Shepherds.

Then I became a dog trainer.  As my business grew, my Labrador (who is atypical in my opinion) decided he didn’t want to have to work every day.  He’s mellow and he’s lazy.  He didn’t seem to enjoy being the one and only demonstration dog or training assistant.  So, we began thinking about our next dog.  And although a working dog will always also be a family dog in our home, our business needs were a huge priority.  I needed a dog with a great work ethic, a confident personality, and a good temperament.  The more time I spent with my search and rescue friends, the more I fell in love with the qualities of the German Shepherd Dog.  And now we have Ellie the Warrior Princess.

Tucker and Ellie

Ellie and Tucker

 

So, if you’re looking for a dog, and you have friends on one side yelling, “adopt, don’t shop!” and friends on the other side yelling, “you don’t know what you’re getting!” how on earth are you supposed to decide what to do?  Here are a few things to consider:

  • Health
    • Most people have heard the statement, “mutts are healthier than purebreds.”  In my experience, that has been true to a point, but not 100%.  My parents currently have a rescued German Shepherd mix and she has had very few health issues so far.  Dingo, however, had poor hips and allergies, and was on arthritis medication for roughly 8 of her 15.5 years.  Tucker is a mess of weird health problems – acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, poor tooth structure – while Ellie, thus far, hasn’t shown any issues other than a birth defect in her eye (which doctors say isn’t necessarily genetic).  When you rescue a dog, you don’t know their health history.  When you buy a dog, you can (and should!) look at their lineage and health history, but it isn’t a guarantee.
  • Physical Characteristics
    • Some people like big dogs and some people like small dogs.  Some people live on 50 acre farms and some people live in one bedroom apartments.  The size of dog you have, and their other physical characteristics (such as their fur), can have a great impact on your life.

      My dad took me to the pound and let me pick out Dingo all on my own – at five years old.  I wanted a “golden colored” puppy – that was my only requirement.  My parents had no idea how big she would or wouldn’t get and what her temperament would be like.  Newsflash y’all – rescues organizations and shelters GUESS at a dog’s breed to the best of their ability, but when they don’t have any history on a puppy, they are guessing in the dark based on the physical traits they can see at a young age.  Thankfully for us, we had the space and finances to handle what turned out to be a 70 pound Golden Retriever mix – not all families have that luxury.  Another example:  I worked for a wonderful veterinarian for a few years who will readily tell you that guessing a puppy’s breed is not her best skill.  She currently owns an 80 pound hound dog because her son brought home a stray puppy that she thought was a Beagle pup…

      While size is an important factor, another important one for a lot of families is the coat.  If you know a family member is allergic to dogs, you may not want to invest time and money into a rescue who MAY be hypoallergenic when you could buy a specific breed known for that quality or even one who has already been tested and proven mostly hypoallergenic.  And besides that, some people just don’t want to deal with fluffy tumbleweeds floating around their house!

  • Purpose
    • To me, purpose is one of the most important factors to consider in this debate. If you’re looking for a family pet, a companion, or a walking buddy, you may not care exactly how big he gets or what his level of trainability might be for advanced commands.  If you’re looking to train for a specific task or skill, or you need certain physical characteristics because of your environment, you may be wary of adopting a rescue puppy when no certain history is available.

      And do you know what I think?  I think that is perfectly acceptable.  I don’t think either of these sides should be judged too harshly.  After all, if you believe as I do that a dog is a long term commitment, you want to be sure that you’re committing to something you can handle and that serves its intended purpose.  Now, there are always exceptions to the above thoughts.  There are organizations who are willing to take the time to comb through shelters and pick out dogs with certain characteristics to train for high functioning jobs – and that’s awesome.  There are breeders/shops who are in it for the money, who are irresponsible, who sell dogs with horrible health and temperaments and who contribute to our shelter dog problem – and that’s repulsive.

      At the end of the day, you should think long and hard about your decision to adopt OR shop and make the choice that will be best for you, and the dog, in the long term.  Don’t let someone bully you into rescuing a dog with a laundry list of issues that you don’t have the money/time to handle.  Don’t let someone bully you into going to the most expensive breeder in town because they think a dollar sign is the only qualifier of worth and value.  Seek out people on both sides of the road, do your research, and make the decision for yourself.

      Mixed breeds and Purebred dogs

      Between my parents, sister, and myself, we have two rescues and two purebreds.  They are all dearly loved and serve their purpose well.  My sister’s dog Harley, who is a who-the-heck-knows-husky-mix?, fits in well as a patient big brother to my nephew and cuddle buddy for my sister/brother in law.  My parents’ dog Kalli, a shepherd mix, lives a happily introverted life with two empty nesters and has amazing mole catching skills.  And then there’s my kids – the German Shepherd Dog who cries when she doesn’t get to go to the office and the lazy Labrador who enjoys sleeping next to kids at the elementary school while they read.  They all have purpose – they are all valuable – and they are all exactly where they need to be.  

       

 

Categories: Adopting a dog, Blog, Buying a dog, dog training, Mixed Breeds, owner encouragement, Puppy, Purebred dogs, Rescues | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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