The other day, a client came into our hospital after visiting a local boutique pet store with questions about what she should feed her dog. She had visited the store to find some pet food and had been told by a cashier to disregard the advice she had gotten from us. She said, “Veterinarians don’t know anything about nutrition. They only get a few hours of it during their entire education.” (Said the cashier with a degree in what?). She then went on to brag that their pet store was the only one in the area that has a “certified veterinary nutritionist,” meaning they took an 8 hour on-line course from NAVTA (National Association of Veterinary Technicians). This is NOT the same thing as a board-certified veterinary nutritionist. Normally, I would let something like this ride. I have, MANY times, but I am feeling a little touchy lately, and this whole issue with BEG (Boutique, Exotic ingredient, Grain-free) diets and cardiomyopathy has increased the stakes exponentially.
Sadly, this cashier’s opinion about what veterinarians do and do not know about nutrition is commonly, though quite erroneously, held. I believe this opinion gets repeated for several reasons. People want a recommendation on what food they should feed their dogs. Typically, veterinarians will recommend a brand developed by (guess who) veterinary nutritionists. For some reason, this is difficult for the companies whose food is not developed by veterinary nutritionists to swallow (pardon the pun). Additionally, people are typically responsible for feeding themselves. Few people (unless you have a serious medical condition), rely on a human nutritionist to develop and feed them a nutritionally balanced diet. So, people tend to feel that feeding their pets a balanced diet is just as easy as feeding themselves a balanced diet. But truly, how many people eat a nutritionally complete, balanced diet. Finally, media sensationalism and the “back to nature movement” propagate pet foods that appeal to the consumer and reject scientific research, development and data.
Personally, I am not a boarded veterinary nutritionist. I did not finish my four years in veterinary school and go on to dedicate an additional four years of veterinary nutrition education. Also, I did not study and pass a grueling test on the advanced nutritional needs of five plus different species. I do not feel guilty recommending a food developed by people who are that dedicated to nutrition.
That is not to say that I do not have an education in nutrition. Perhaps I only had a single, semester long class in vet school solely dedicated to nutrition. This is, the class was two hours a day, five days a week for three months. However, I also only had a single class solely dedicated to cardiology, and one class dedicated solely to dermatology, and one class dedicated to immunology. Does that mean that if someone takes an on-line course in cardiology that makes them just as qualified as me to recognize, diagnose and treat heart disease in their pet? My point is that not only was nutrition an aspect in all our classes, but it is something that we deal with every single day in veterinary practice, just like cardiology. I have over 20 years of experience in practice. Do you think I am more knowledgeable about nutrition than some cashier who’s been working in a pet shop for 2 or 3 months???
Pet food companies frequently accuse veterinarians of promoting these foods for profit, so we can make money. This is laughable since we sell very little pet food through our hospital. Truly, it is the pet food manufacturers and pet stores who tend to make money selling their foods. I think the term for that is transference.
People are responsible for feeding themselves and their families. On the surface, this works out well. Whether you are using the four food groups or colors or sections on your plate, you should include protein, vegetables, starch and dairy in your diet. Do you eat your veggies every day? How many people truly eat a balanced diet? Obesity is an epidemic in the world today. Nutritional advice for people comes from all different kinds of sources. Do you think keto is balanced and healthy? It’s not. How about Adkins? Nope. Food trends for us tend to come from popular culture not from human nutritionists. Now, what is the difference in our nutritional needs and that of a six pound Chihuahua or a 160 pound mastiff?
Gluten-free became a huge phenomenon with people when a study was published by Peter Gibson, showing that gluten proteins cause stress on the digestive system, even of healthy people. Later, this research was debunked by the same researcher through further studies. (“Scientist who discovered gluten allergy clarifies his stance on what has become a fad diet,” Washington Post, May, 26, 2014). Now, if you go to Petsmart, about 90% of pet foods are grain-free. In reality, the meat source of a pet food is more likely to be the cause of an allergic reaction, NOT the grain (and it can be any meat). Additionally, food allergies, only make up about 1% of allergies in dogs and cats. However, the same way gluten-free has erroneously become associated with being healthier in people, grain-free has erroneously become associated with being healthier in dogs and cats.
Pet food manufacturers also like to add ingredients like chicory, alfalfa, blueberries, apples and pomegranate to make their foods more appealing to consumers. These ingredients sound great, but they are not necessary in a balanced diet. What nutritional value do these ingredients add? What benefits do they give your pet? Also, the quantities of those ingredients so small they are truly negligible.
Finally, there are many proponents of raw diets. It is amazing to me that raw diets are still advocated by people. (https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/animal-health-literacy/get-facts-raw-pet-food-diets-can-be-dangerous-you-and-your-pet) Dogs and cats are just as susceptible to food poisoning as humans. Yes, people eat sushi, but as a rule, people don’t eat raw foods to be healthy. In fact, humans started living longer when we learned to cook our food. Dogs and cats are no different. In the wild, wolves and wild cats don’t have a choice about having their food cooked. However, in the wild, the average life span for wild cats and wolves is only about 6 to 7 years. Dogs have been domesticated for about 15,000 years. Furthermore, the lifestyle of pet dogs and cats bears almost no resemblance to the lifestyle of wild animals. Wolves in the wild go for days without a significant meal, when they finally have a kill, they gorge on it for several days. They may bury part of their food to save it for later. Do we really want to feed our dogs like their wild ancestors?
In 2017, veterinary cardiologists noticed an increased incidence of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs, particularly dogs of atypical breeds. These cardiologists looked into these cases, performed studies and found that a significant number of these dogs were being fed “BEG” diets. BEG stands for boutique, exotic ingredient and grain free diets. Some dogs, particularly golden retrievers were found to have a deficiency in taurine, an amino acid that has been linked to cardiomyopathy for years. These dogs responded to supplementation with taurine. However, other breeds were not deficient and did not improve with taurine supplementation. However, when these dogs were switched to a different diet, they did improve and in many cases, their heart disease resolved. Manufacturers of these BEG diets have responded by adding taurine to their diets and emphasizing that, as if that were the problem, but it is not. Additionally, they have made statements to the press stating that there is nothing wrong with the implicated diets. However, I am not aware of any of these manufacturers trying to work with boarded veterinary nutritionists to understand what is contributing to cardiomyopathy and how to reformulate their diets so that they are no longer a problem. (For more information on FDA recommendations on this issue, see https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/cvm-updates/fda-provides-update-investigation-potential-connection-between-certain-diets-and-cases-canine-heart)
People love their pets. They want the best for their pets, and if feeding them special diets with exotic ingredients and blueberries makes them feel like they are doing the best for their pets, I am fine with that as long as it doesn’t cause a problem. For years, pet stores and pet food commercials have pushed such diets as “heathy” and “natural.” Now, these diets are causing a problems with your pets’ health. Now, I am counseling against feeding such diets. I do not appreciate my profession being maligned as ignorant and greedy because we have made some pet stores and pet food manufacturers uncomfortable by making recommendations based on scientific studies for the health of our patients.
In the end, it really depends on who you trust with your pets’ health. Should you trust a generic employee who may have only worked at the pet store for a few months, who has little to no nutrition education and derives a large amount of their income from selling pet foods? Should you trust a pet food manufacturer, with no boarded veterinary nutritionist on staff, who tells you that your maltese is the same as a wolf, who spends millions of dollars each year on advertising, and whose income depends 100% on your buying their pet food? You can trust your veterinarian who has gone to school for 8+ years, who has cared for all your pets’ health needs, and who derives very little income from the sale of pet food.
We love our dogs. We like to have our dogs with us. We love to see other people’s dogs out in public. Dogs are social creatures. They want to be with us. If your dog is well behaved: likes meeting new people, but doesn’t jump on them, doesn’t eliminate inside, and doesn’t bark excessively, there are numerous places you can take him.
When we think of pet friendly stores, Petsmart is probably the first one that comes to mind or, perhaps, Petco, or Dog Crazy. Those are nice places to take your dog, but it can be overwhelming because there are often A LOT of dogs in those stores. Besides, how often are you going to go out and get dog treats?
There are MANY other places in Fredericksburg you might never think of that welcome well behaved dogs. I personally have taken my dogs to Lowes, Home Depot, JoAnn Fabrics, Ross, Marshall’s, Greenline, and World Market. Additionally, Barnes & Noble, Bath and Body Works, Sephora, Hobby Lobby, Bass Pro Shops and Tractor Supply allow dogs with good manners on leash. By the way, dogs are not allowed in grocery stores including Walmart and Target. My best advice is to call ahead and make sure your dog is welcome before you get any place you’re thinking of taking them.
It is interesting to see the reactions of people when they see a dog in places like those. Often, the public is thrilled to see your dog. Many people will walk up and share stories about their own dogs. Frequently, people ask if they can pet your dog. I have even had people ask to get a picture with my dogs. (We have mastiffs that weigh 150 pounds, so there is a bit of the “WOW” factor, but still.) There are a lot of dog lovers out there.
It is really good for your dog to get out in the world, meet people, see things and be stimulated. Dogs are extremely intelligent, but often, because of busy our lives, busy work schedules or maybe because they are a little energetic, they end up sitting at home. They often rely on us entirely for their entertainment. Many dogs adapt well to that type of lifestyle, but dogs thrive when they have new things to learn and focus on. An intelligent dog, like a shepherd, lab or golden retriever needs mental stimulation as well as physical exercise. If we don’t provide these things, it can lead to behavioral problems such as separation anxiety, destructive behavior, and attention-seeking behavior. A dog that is mentally stimulated and challenged is much less likely to create ways to entertain themselves.
If you get your dog out as a puppy, it is easy to have a very social, well-behaved dog in public. If you take your puppy to pet-friendly places, and they get attention, they learn that new people are fun to meet and new places are fun to go. This helps eliminate car sickness, “stranger danger,” guarding behavior in your home, and anxiety at the vet’s office. Socialization is so important for puppies. Puppies under 14 weeks are in their peak socialization period. This is the time when they want to embrace new experiences. It is recommended that your puppy meet at least 100 people before 14 weeks, but the more people they meet, the better. You do need to think about where you are taking your puppy before she/she has all his/her shots as they are not completely protected from infectious diseases. In fact, at this age, Lowes, Sephora and Hobby Lobby might be better choices than Petsmart simply because there is a lot less dog traffic in those places. Once He/she has finished their shots, go crazy. They should meet another 100 people in the next 14 weeks. In fact, you should continue getting your puppy out in public for at least the first three years of their lives.
So, what if your dog or puppy is not stellar in public? There are a lot of training options available. Puppy preschool is a great way to get started on the right foot. You want to ensure the program you choose is selective about the health of the participants. Puppies should be up to date on vaccines for their ages, should be free of parasites and free of signs of respiratory or gastrointestinal disease. Additionally, a good program should cover socialization, handling, and some basic obedience training. The American Kennel Club’s (AKC’s) Star Puppy program focuses on responsible pet ownership as well as getting your puppy heading in the right direction with manners in public. There are also many options for puppy obedience classes in the area, just make sure the focus is on positive reinforcement, rather than corrections.
If your dog is older, the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen program is a good place to start. The course and test cover basic manners, such as walking on a loose leash, walking through a crowd, sit and down on command, and greeting a friendly stranger. Additionally, there are a lot of training classes you can enroll your older dog in. The AKC’s Community Canine takes things a step further and trains/tests your dog’s manners in public places. These programs are great if you just want to get your dog out in public or if you want your dog to be a therapy dog that visits nursing homes and hospitals.
It is amazing the number of places that welcome dogs. Being able to take your dog out in public is a great thing. It requires some effort, but can be extremely rewarding. It is also a HUGE benefit for your dog. Preparation and responsibility will help keep this benefit available for other dog owners.
Separation anxiety is a phrase that many pet owner and parents are familiar with these days. This makes me happy overall because it means that owners are thinking about their dogs’ feelings more than just being concerned about whether their dog is behaving itself or not. However, I think most owners are unaware of how devastating this condition can be.
Most new dogs suffer from some degree of separation anxiety. Whether you have gotten an 8 to 9 week old puppy from a breeder or you have adopted a dog from the shelter, they will typically suffer some degree of anxiety after being displaced from familiar surroundings and possibly mom and siblings. Most dogs will adapt to this quickly, especially if they have been placed in a caring and affectionate home. In this case, a little compassion, patience and structure will help your new dog or puppy get this through this stage.
Kids go through the same thing when they are little. They may be little social butterflies, and then suddenly, they get upset when you go to leave them. You just reassure them and carry on, and after a few weeks all is well again.
Problematic separation anxiety in dogs is a totally different situation. These dogs are in desperate need of help. I have seen dogs that have broken several teeth, chewed through Plexiglas, dry wall and wood. These dogs will hurt themselves in the panic of being alone, confined or without their person. Every case is a little different, but these are dogs that are in need and in danger. In an ideal world, there would be someone to stay home and be with these guys, but in the real world, that just doesn’t happen.
We had a puppy with separation anxiety when our first child was a baby and I was at home. He couldn’t be crated because he would tear up the crate and get out, but when I would leave for just 20-30 minutes he would destroy things. He ate through both arms of our sofa, he chewed up our stairs and numerous other pieces of furniture. We were truly at our wits end. Fortunately, we got through it and because I was home most of the time, he got over it. But normally, dogs need to be left at home alone on a regular basis, and with separation anxiety, this just doesn’t work.
There are people who are firmly against using antianxiety drugs in their dogs, and there are people who just want “a pill to make it better.” Most people, like me, are somewhere in the middle. Of all the behavior problems I see in dogs, separation anxiety is the one that almost always requires some kind of pharmaceutical intervention.
The biggest challenge with separation anxiety is that the undesirable behavior occurs when no one is around (for the most part). This means that it is nearly impossible to interrupt or redirect the behavior. Additionally, separation anxiety encompasses many behaviors that are self-reinforcing. A dog urinates and or defecates in their crate, and they become more anxious about being in the crate with their own waste. A dog chews through their crate and escapes into the house, and they learn that aggressively chewing and pawing at their crate gets them free. They don’t consider the cost of broken teeth and raw pads.
Separation anxiety can also be a very expensive problem. The cost of repairs to the home can be astronomical. These dogs may chew through drywall, break through glass windows, ruin carpets by soiling them or digging through them, and eating through furniture. I joke that you can’t have anything nice if you have pets or kids, but separation anxiety brings that to a whole new level.
Finally, for those living in an apartment or renting your house, separation anxiety in your dog can get you evicted. Neighbors don’t enjoy the constant noise and your landlord doesn’t have the emotional attachment that you do to your dog. All these components make separation anxiety a problem in which you must stop the behavior and you must stop it fast. Medication is the only humane and effective means of accomplishing this goal. HOWEVER, stopping the symptoms of separation anxiety is only a small part of the big picture.
The purpose of medication in the case of separation anxiety is two-fold. First is to stop the cycle of destructive, self-injurious behavior. Secondly, the goal is to allow the dog to develop alternative, acceptable behaviors.
The first goal is to calm your dog enough to allow him to be contained in a crate, if necessary, to stop the destruction, elimination and vocalization that perpetuate separation anxiety. Basically, I use these drugs to break the cycle and keep owners and dogs together. Most often, these are situational medications that lower the overall level of anxiety to a point at which the dog can cope. If the dog is not in a complete panic, they do not eliminate in their crate and get stressed out about that. If they are not panicked to the point that the pain of breaking teeth and wearing paws until they are raw means nothing to them, they do not break out of their crate. This helps stop the cycle of the self-reinforcing behavior.
The second aspect of medication is a maintenance medication to help change behavior and form alternative pathways in the brain. A dog’s brain with separation anxiety says “I am confined, I must escape!” Medications like fluoxetine help redirect this response to say, “I am confined, but if I am patient, I will eventually be let out.” Of course, this is not an immediate result, and it is not nearly as simple as that, but that is the desired end result.
In addition to medication, management and training are important. You must have a crate that is strong enough to stand up to some abuse. Alternative calming methods often help: like playing soothing music or having a pheromone diffuser close by. Working with your dog to accept the crate, to see it not as the doorway to abandonment, but as a cozy den (when the door is open at least) is also very important. It is important to work on gradual departures, so that your dog doesn’t see your leaving as “forever.” It is also helpful to train your dog that a signal, such as a light coming on, indicates that you will be returning soon.
Every case of separation anxiety is different, but there are many, many ways to help resolve this serious problem and keep these at risk dogs in their homes.
By Victoria Schade
There’s nothing more frustrating than calling your dog over and over again, only to have him ignore you—or worse yet, if your dog runs away in the opposite direction. The basic steps of training a dog to come when called are straightforward, but many pet parents don’t realize just how much work goes into building a long-term, reliable recall. Add to that the fact that we can accidentally “un-train” the behavior, and you have a recipe for a very frustrating dog training scenario.
The following are some typical mistakes made when trying to teach a dog to come when called.
The Dog Was Punished in the Past
Sometimes frustration can get the best of pet parents when a dog won’t come, which can result in the dog getting scolded, or worse yet, physically punished, when he finally does listen. Unfortunately, getting mad at your dog once he’s at your side won’t teach him what he should do; it will only make him less likely to come running to you in the future, because he knows you’ll be upset when he gets there.
You want your dog to think that coming to you is a wonderful thing, so even if you’re disappointed by his less-than-speedy response, make sure to avoid scolding him when he gets to you. Then, try to set him up for success in future training sessions by making it easy for him to “win” the recall game. Always reward him with high-value dog treats like Pet Botanics Training Rewards, which have a bacon flavor that’s sure to rev up your dog’s recall responses.
You Sounded Angry When You Called Your Dog
If someone shouted, “Get over here NOW!” at you, would you be eager to listen? The same goes for our dogs, yet many pet parents let their tone of voice convey anger when calling their dog. A loud, mad voice will make your dog less likely to run to you since he can tell that you’re displeased.
Instead, always keep your tone upbeat as you call your dog, and don’t forget to praise your dog as he starts his trip toward you. You might discover that he picks up speed when he hears that he’s doing a great job!
Remember to reward your dog with a small, meaty treat every time he reaches you, particularly when you’re in a distracting environment. Switching to a novel protein, like Merrick Power Bites rabbit and sweet potato treats, will help keep your dog interested in what’s in your pocket.
You Trained Your Dog to Come in Limited Environments
The early training you did with your dog probably took place in a dog training facility and continued in a few rooms in your house as well as in your yard. Your dog probably became proficient at responding in those environments, which made you feel confident that your dog fully understood the recall cue.
However, dogs typically don’t generalize behaviors well, which means that even though your dog was responsive in familiar environments, he might not be able to translate coming when called to brand new locations.
To increase your dog’s recall “fluency” it’s important to train your dog to come when called in a variety of settings. Practice with your dog in new environments, like a friend’s fenced-in yard or community tennis courts during the off season, and then gradually expand to more distracting spaces, like the dog park.
The Word “Come” Means the Fun Is Over
Some dogs ignore the recall because they understand that the word “come” means that they have to leave the dog park, or stop chasing squirrels in the yard, or go into their dog crate because you’re heading to work.
Consistently pairing the recall cue with something that your dog doesn’t like will result in a dog who equates the word “come” with negatives. That’s not to say that you should only use your recall word in positive situations, but you should be aware of how your dog might perceive what the word “come” means.
To combat the idea that coming when called equates to the end of fun, try to do “surprise” recall practice in situations when your dog is just hanging out around the house, and reward him with a tasty treat and a quick game of tug.
Or call him in from the yard, praise and reward him, then send him out to continue playing. That way your dog won’t be able to tell if the fun is truly ending or if it’s just a practice run! If you’re concerned about the number of treats you’re giving your dog, opt for a low-calorie goody like Fruitables Skinny Minis pumpkin and berry treats, which have less than five calories per treat.
You Repeat the Word “Come” So Much That It’s “Verbal Wallpaper”
“Fido, come” is a very different cue than “Fido, come, come, come, come on, c’mere, Fido come!” Many dogs delay responding to the recall cue because they’ve figured out that they don’t have to do it until you say it a few thousand times.
Instead of having a conversation with your dog when you want him to come running, it’s better to use a single-word cue, like “come” or “here,” and then follow up with upbeat kissy noises, whistling or hand clapping to encourage him along.
Plus, it’s important to continue to reward your dog with a high-value treat, like Crazy Dog Train Me! Minis, for longer than you might think is necessary. Keep in mind that racing to you, particularly when your dog is hanging out with a canine buddy or a enjoying a good smell, is huge compliment. It makes sense to pay your dog for a job well done!
As a Gen-Xer, I feel like I do okay with technology. My brother LOVES computers and tech. He is finishing his Master’s Degree in Computer Science after retiring from the U.S. Army. I feel like a tech moron when I am around him. However, I know people who can barely check their text messages or set up their voicemail on their phones. I work with tech all the time, and I am good at the stuff I do on a daily basis. We just installed a new computer system at work: new software, new hardware, new everything. I am in tech overload! So when we had our meeting for setting up the website and the support lady said: “Here’s the web address to set up your website. Call me if you have problems,” I was like, “WHAT???”
Fortunately, I did not have to write the code for our new website. It is a Weebly-based site, so all I had to do was add pictures and text and make it look good. (Hopefully, I succeeded in that.) Our new computer system is through Idexx, and they have a website with LOTS of education material. Included on this site, were several tutorials on setting up your new website.
Unfortunately, since tech moves at the speed of light, not all the tabs were the same on tutorial as on my actual Weebly site. I eventually had to sit down with two computers and build our site while watching the tutorial. There was A LOT of pausing and reviewing until I was able to figure it out.
With Weebly, you click and drag items like images, text and titles onto your page and configure them “how you want.” They have very helpful items like spacers and dividers. The spacers and dividers are REALLY helpful. However, they were new and were NOT included in the tutorial. I watched the tutorial and set about clicking and dragging images onto the pages. I could NOT get the images and text to go where I wanted them. I dragged the item to a place on the site and it would end up somewhere totally different. I was about to have a melt-down after trying multiple times to put text under a picture and having it appear on the opposite side of the page, when I called our helpful website support lady. She was very nice on the phone. I explained my problem and what I was trying to accomplish, and she fixed it for me. She did not explain HOW or what I was doing wrong, she just fixed it. Very helpful for that situation, but what was I to do the next time? I eventually figured out about using the spacers and dividers, and I was able to delete them and put things exactly where I wanted. I had a little trouble making everything line up properly for the mobile version of the website, but once I understood the concept of the spacers and dividers, it did not take me long to set that up right.
Another fun challenge I had was that not all the pictures I could choose from their library could be downloaded and placed where I wanted them. As we all know, computers are very literal and often only tell you that what you are asking is not possible. They do not tend to explain why unless you go to the help menu and know exactly how to ask the correct question in the correct way. I finally gave in and called our website lady, explaining that I was have difficulty downloading pictures from the library to the site. The first one downloaded perfectly and so did the second. She was like, “I don’t know why you were having problems…” So, I hung up and continued working. The next picture I tried to download failed. “Unable to download,” said the site. I was not happy. I was finally able to figure out that only certain pictures could be used for backgrounds, but all the pictures could be used when I cut and pasted. No one ever mentioned that little detail.
Setting up our website was quite a challenge and, with all the other information I have had to take in and process, I kind of feel like I am in school again. I guess it should make me more sympathetic to our kids. I am quite used to asking questions about veterinary-related problems and figuring out solutions, but I had had to step out of my comfort zone for this one. I endured, and I am actually quite proud of what I was able to accomplish. The website is uniquely ours, and I know how to change things or add new items, so I feel like it is much better than anything we have had previously. It is a good thing to learn new things and broaden or horizons, but it isn’t always easy and the process isn’t always fun. I guess it is important to be reminded that there will always be more to learn!
First published 8/17
The American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen program was designed to foster responsible dog ownership and recognize dogs who have good manners at home and in public. When I first became involved with CGC, over 10 years ago, I took our dog, Ajax, through a training course and the test. Ajax was an exceptional dog, both in his physical appearance (he weighed over 200 pounds) and in his behavior. Even from a young age, he was extremely attentive and well behaved. I found it very rewarding to work with him to achieve his CGC certification, and I learned a lot about how dogs should behave in public in order to be welcome. In fact, though we have always taken our dogs to different places and had lots of people over, I never really thought specifically about the things that your dog should know in order to be welcome within the community. I think the CGC program does a good job of defining good behavior in its ten test items.
The test items are fairly simple: 1) Accepting a friendly stranger; 2) Sitting politely for petting; 3) Appearance and grooming; 4) Out for a walk (walking on a loose leash); 5) Walking through a crowd; 6) Sit and down on command and staying in place; 7) Come when called; 8) Reaction to another dog; 9) Reaction to distraction; and 10) Supervised separation. Most dogs can pass some of the items without a problem. Some can even pass most of the items, but very few dogs pass all the test items without preparation.
One of the things that not only makes the test more difficult, but also more effective is that testing in an unfamiliar area is much more difficult than testing the dog in its home environment. Lots of dogs behave perfectly well at home, but are not accustomed to focusing on the owner and performing behaviors with the distractions of testing in public. I see this at work almost every day. Dogs are nervous when they come to see me. There are all sorts of unfamiliar sounds, smells and sights. Sometimes, I need the dog to lay down, and he can’t listen to the owner because he’s worried about what I’m going to do to him. If you’re never going to take your dog away from the house, it’s not that important that they can listen away from home. But how many times do we take our dogs on vacation with us? How often do they go to the dog park? Or Petsmart? Or on a walk around the neighborhood? A change of scenery is just as good for our canine friends as it is for us. However, it is much more enjoyable for you and your dog if they are well behaved.
Another challenge is that many people think that if their dog is friendly, they will pass. Certainly, the AKC doesn’t want dogs that are aggressive or terrified to pass, but a friendly dog is not necessarily a well-behaved dog. Running up to strange dogs for a sniff is just as unacceptable as jumping up on new people, and can be more dangerous. You can’t assume that just because your dog loves to meet new dogs that the dog they’re greeting feels the same. If your dog runs up to another dog, and they end up fighting, your dog is just as much to blame. Not all people or dogs you meet want an over-excited dog running over to them or jumping on them. In fact, four different test items require your dog to be calm, restrained and in control in situations where they might get really happy. In my experience, item 8, reaction to another dog is one of the toughest items for dogs to pass. To pass that item, your dog must stay at your side and can’t pass in front of or behind you to see the other dog.
I think my favorite item is “Out for a walk.” This is the other test item that gives people the most trouble. I like it because it encourages people to communicate effectively with their dog through the leash. They must work with their dog to follow subtle cues on the leash, rather than either the dog jerking and dragging the owner around OR the owner dragging and jerking the dog. It is truly amazing how difficult this item can be, but it can be so important. Imagine if you didn’t have a fenced yard and you had to walk your dog on a leash. Wouldn’t it be nicer if they listened to you without it becoming a fight? If you dog could walk nicely on a leash, how much more time would you spend together?
Working with your dog to achieve AKC Canine Good Citizen certification is not easy, but the challenges you face with him help improve your understanding of his behavior. They help you communicate better with your dog, and they help your dog be more attuned to you and what you want from him. In three short weeks, it can really change your relationship with your dog, as well as simply improving his behavior. The AKC Canine Good Citizen program is important for many reasons. It can help you get homeowner’s insurance. It can help people identify your dog as a “safe” dog. People use it to help get their dogs in service and therapy programs. There are many benefits, but the biggest benefit is sharing the success of passing with your dog.
First published 7/17
There is a new movement among trainers and veterinary behaviorists to make the use of basket muzzles more accepted. There is a very negative stigma attached to muzzling, and dogs that are muzzled are typically seen as vicious. The Muzzle Up Project is the heart of this movement and seeks to encourage acceptance and educate people about the use of muzzles.
Why muzzle? Aggression is one of the most challenging aspects of canine behavior. Aggression is a behavior problem, but really, it is not just one problem. Aggression is a behavioral response, typically to stressful situations. The situation is a little different with every dog. When dogs are being aggressive, it is not because they want to be the boss or they are mean. There is something about that situation they don’t feel good about. When aggression gets them out of that situation, they are more likely to have more episodes of aggression. In reality, treating aggression is not that much different than treating other behavioral responses except for one big difference. Aggression is dangerous, and an aggressive dog puts all those in contact with him or her in danger in situations where they are likely to become aggressive. Muzzling makes these dogs safer, but muzzling alone is not the solution. Aggressive dogs need to be properly desensitized to a muzzle, and careful work with counterconditioning and desensitization needs to be done to address the underlying problem.
As a veterinarian, I have to do things to dogs that they don’t particularly like. Sometimes, a little bit of time can show a potentially aggressive dog that they don’t need to be afraid of what is happening, but sometimes, we need to muzzle dogs to give injections or cut toenails or draw blood. Muzzling can actually make the experience less stressful if you are firm, calm, and gentle. We do what we need to do and take away the risk of a bite. It gets done quickly, then it is over. If we fight and struggle with a dog, it makes it that much harder to treat that dog the next time we see it.
When a dog bites, it is self-reinforcing. Every time that dog has a bite episode, it makes another bite more likely. When a dog snaps or bites in reaction to something or someone he doesn’t like, that thing stops or that person goes away, and they don’t have to deal with it anymore. Then the biting behavior is successful for the dog, even if punishment follows. I would NEVER recommend punishing a dog that has bitten someone. A dog that has bitten is in an aroused state, and by adding more energy to the situation typically makes it worse.
My dog HATES the muzzle! The first step is properly introducing your dog to the muzzle. This doesn’t mean that your dog tolerates the muzzle or lets you put the muzzle on him without a fight. If your dog is properly introduced to the muzzle, he will run across the room to stick his nose in the muzzle. Believe it or not, this is possible with proper introduction. Does this behavior occur if your dog thinks bad things are going to happen when the muzzle is around? NO. Will this behavior occur if you rush things and put the muzzle on him before he LOVES the muzzle? NO. Will your dog look forward to having the muzzle on if he does fun things when the muzzle is on? YES! Can your dog eat treats and carry around toys with the muzzle on? YES!
How can I make sure that I am introducing my dog to the muzzle properly and using it in a way that he doesn’t learn to dislike the muzzle?
If you have a dog with aggression issues, and you think he or she could benefit from using a basket muzzle, the best thing to do is to find a qualified veterinarian, trainer or certified animal behavior specialist who can help you get started on the right track! For more information, go to The Muzzle Up Project on Facebook or watch a video on counter conditioning your dog to a muzzle on YouTube.
First published 6/18
Dealing with teenagers is not for the faint of heart. Sometimes I would rather be facing down an aggressive dog that trying to figure out how to deal with my kids. Don't get me wrong. My kids are great most of the time, but sometimes... Well, let's just say, they're not so great. The up-side? I get to practice all sorts of training techniques I use for dogs. Now, I don't think that my kids are dogs, and I certainly don't treat them like dogs. Well, most of the time. Well, anyway... These are some things dog training has taught me:
The same is true with my kids. One of my son's chores is to vacuum. If I ask him to do it at a time when I KNOW he's not going to do it, the chances of it happening at all are slim. If I keep pestering him about it, but don't tell him to do it right away, that's nagging and he gets annoyed and frustrated. If I say. "No do it now,” he still gets frustrated and annoyed, but when he's done, it's over with. We don't always have the opportunity to ask at the right time, and yes, he can remember that I asked him to vacuum even if he can't do it that second, but it is so much more effective and pleasant when you ask at the right time, sometimes it's worth the wait and hassle.
Yelling at your kids is kind of the same thing. When you're yelling at them, they aren't really going to be listening to what you are saying, they're just going to be thinking that you're upset. This will likely get them upset too, not in a "Oh, gee, I wish I'd done that," way but more like a "Why do they always yell at me," kind of way. And the next time you yell at them, they start down that path sooner. I am not perfect, I have yelled at my dogs AND kids before, but I recognize that my lapses are just that, and they don't make things better.
Teenagers DO speak our language, though, we may not always speak theirs. However, they have a lot of stuff going on. They want to be adults one minute and your little kids the next. Hormones, peer-pressure, homework, extra-curricular activities and jobs are just some of the things that put pressure on your teenager. These things make it difficult to set priorities, plan ahead and get all their stuff done. If they are trying to juggle all their stuff, recognize that, and give them some support. If they are not, then you need to do even more. I know they'll have to do even more as an adult, but it's all new to them now, and it's tough.
I have found the same is true with my kids. Instill values at home, reinforce them over and over, gradually give them more and more responsibility, and hope they remember what you taught them. If they make mistakes, back up a couple steps or figure out what went wrong, and try again.
The same goes for your kids. Maybe they didn't get enough sleep or they're not feeling good. They need to do the minimum: treat you with respect, clean up after themselves. Maybe you won't make them do their chores, but there are minimum standards, and then you give them a break.
Praise is just as important to our kids regardless of their ages. When they actually do their chores without a hassle, make straight A’s or get a part-time job, you should recognize their success and say something about it.
We love our kids, even though they drive us crazy sometimes. As teenagers, your kids may not want you to hug and kiss them in public, but they still need your attention and company. I try really hard to be involved with things the kids care about, and give them hugs (at least when no one is looking).