Saturday, February 6, 2010

Bad Weather

In case you're not from Virginia and don't watch the weather, the east coast is getting slammed with a major snow storm.  Actually, we're on our third snow storm of the season, which is virtually unheard of in this part of VA.  Unfortunately, this means that we as dog owners aren't necessarily prepared for the circumstances, and our dogs are the ones to suffer.  It's a lot harder to jog when the sidewalks and roads aren't plowed.  Who wants to go to the park when it just means that the dog will come home covered in mud and we'll be freezing?  This is fine when you just have to worry about a day, but what happens after a week?  What does your dog do then?  More importantly, what do you do when your dog is so bored he starting to chew on furniture, shoes, or even your carpet?

Play Inside
Move furniture around, secure all breakables, and have a romping good time!  The kids will really love this one too.  Just be forewarned, things will get a bit crazy and loud.  If you live in an apartment, your neighbors might not appreciate it.  Also, keep in mind that this play time needs to last longer than 5 minutes.  Can you handle the dogs going crazy for 30 minutes or more?  No?  Then this probably isn't the best idea for you.

Work on Obedience or Teach New Tricks
One of the things I tell every single one of my clients is that dogs need more than simple physical stimulation.  They need mental stimulation as well.  This can mean changing your walk routine, teaching your dog agility (or any other dog sport) or working on obedience.

  If your dog knows agility, try practicing some at home.  Use a broom handle as a jump and a hoola hoop as a tire.  Use your stairs to practice two paws on, two paws off (a handy trick for the a-frame and teeter).

If your dog doesn't know agility, try to just practice your basic obedience.  Dogs who are new to sits and stays may find this a bit more difficult, so the mental exercises will be good for them.

Some dogs, however, are bored with obedience but don't know any other sports.  Take this time to teach them something fun and new.  You can invest in any trick-training book at your local bookstore or you can make up your own.  I used a day like this to teach Cody to sit pretty (beg) and to bow.  You may want to work on teaching your dog how to open and close cabinets or how to fetch.  I've even had a client teach her dogs to run to the bathroom and jump in the tub on the cue "Tornado," a handy tool to have in a stressful weather situation.  Have fun coming up with new ideas for your dog.  Keep in mind, however, that training doesn't need to be long.  Keep it to 15-20 minutes max or else you and dog will both get bored or frustrated (or both).

Play Games
Have fun with games like Hide and Seek.  You can do this a few ways.  One of my favorites involves hiding a toy stuffed with treats while your dog waits in another room.  Once the toy is hidden, encourage your dog to find it.  Note: It's helpful if your dog already has a cue to grab a toy.  "Find your frisbee" is Cody's favorite.   Another, two-person, method is to have one person hide with treats while the other person waits with the dogs.  Once the person is hidden, the dogs can be released.  When they find the person, they'll get a treat.

Head Outside
Just because you can't go for your normal walk or jog, doesn't mean you can't have fun in the snow.  Try to tap into your inner child and head on out into the cold.  Some dogs love this, but others just think it's an icky mess.  See how your dog reacts.  I love having snowball "fights" with Cody, but I have to keep an eye on his coat.  The longer hair means cold snowballs attach.  Sometimes, my husband and I will even play hide and seek in the snow.  He'll cover himself with snow and I'll send Cody to find him.  Of course, that's only a game to play if you can handle the wet cold.  I can't, which is why my husband is the one who hides.

Try the "Joring" Sports
"Joring" is a Norwegian word that means "driving."  The most common form of "joring" is dog sledding, but you may also try your hand at skijoring.  Skijoring, in the simplest of terms, is cross-country skiing with your dogs.  Or dog sledding on skis.  Of course, it's best if your dogs have some experience in this or else you may find you're being dragged out of control.  That being said, I have some great memories as a child of trying to "mush" my dogs.  If your dogs are really big pullers in the snow, try attaching yourself to a harness (collars aren't safe for this) and see if they'll pull you around on a toboggan.  Make sure you're strong enough to stop your dog if necessary, and, most importantly, NEVER try this on a hill.  Traveling downhill without the proper equipment could be extremely dangerous for both you and your dog.   Lastly, I'll note that my dogs growing up never were big pullers, so when I yelled "MUSH!" (a command they'd never heard) they merely turned around and gave me kisses.  I was ok with that.

I hope, no matter what you decide to do, you have fun with your dog.  Keep your dog safe in the weather and make sure you both get plenty of water.  Check your dog's paws to make sure they aren't to cold, and make sure you don't stay outside for too long.  Lastly, if you have any other ideas, let me know!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Angry Owner

"Lady! Lady! Lady, be quiet! Lady, it's ok. Be quiet! LADY! LAAAAAAADY!"

Does this sound like an exchange between you and your dog?  Unfortunately, for too many people, this is exactly how they talk to their dogs.  Of course, it's not always because the dog is barking.  I've often heard, "Sit.  Sit.  Sit, sit sit!  SIT!" while I watch the dog stare on in utter confusion, and it makes me wonder why people try to communicate they way they do.

Dogs do not speak English.  They also don't speak French, Spanish, Italian, or Czech (my husband might argue that all dogs speak German, but I can assure you they don't speak that either).  Dogs speak dog.  Period.  Unfortunately for dogs, most owners only speak primate.  Most owners think the best way to communicate is by repetition and volume.  The problem is, if your dog didn't understand "sit" before, she's not going to understand it simply because you said it louder. 

When training a dog, it's important that we as owners and trainers realize that we're really teaching our dogs ESL (English as a Second Language).  That, however, requires us to speak dog.  Think of it this way, if you were trying to learn Spanish, and had never heard the language before, what good would it do for your Spanish teacher to walk in and say, "Buenas dia, clase.  Sientase por favor."   You'd sit there a bit baffled.  Would it help if your Spanish teacher repeated the command?  "Sientase."  How about if he said it louder?  "SIENTASE!"  What about a clarifier?  "Yo dijo, 'SIENTASE!'"  Do you understand the command yet?  No?  Oh, in that case, "Sit!"  Great, now we're on the same page. 

Unfortunately, this is what our dogs go through every day.  Sit.  Sit!  SIT!  I said, SIT!  Instead of then actually trying to translate for our dog we just become frustrated and angry.  (Note: If you're reading this and can't seem to figure out what the best thing to do in this situation would be, I beg you, please call a trainer or some other animal specialist.  Take the time to learn how to speak to your dog.)

So, how do dogs communicate?  Before I answer that question, let me ask you another.  When you come home from work, what does your dog do?  Does she walk up to you calmly and say, "Oh, hi Mom!  I missed you today.  I'm happy you're home."  No?  Ok, so what does she do?  Does she instead run up to you, tail wagging, face smiling, sometimes jumping all over and giving you kisses?  Yes?  Fantastic.  She's talking.  Dogs communicate with their bodies.  They wag their tales, they raise their fur, they stretch.  They don't need words, their bodies say it all.  Not only that, but their body language is completely different from our own.  Let me give you an example, first from a person's point of view and next from a dog:

Maria was looking for a new dog, so she went to her local shelter.  As she walked through the kennels, she looked to the right and there he was.  Drew was perfect.  Maria walked straight through the door and patted Drew on the head.  She smiled when he backed away and said, "It's ok.  Don't worry."  After a while of petting Maria was in love.  She scooped Drew up, held him close and said, "Ok, I'll take you home."  That's when Drew bit her

Now from Drew's perspective:

Today, I was sitting in my kennel.  It's a soft kennel, a clean kennel.  No one really bugs me.  But today, this weird, two-legged creature came by.  I don't know what I did wrong, but she passed by all my friends, turned right to me and came forward.  I was pretty scared by her challenge (I'm not really an alpha dog) so I backed away a bit.  She really must not have been happy, though, because she kept coming forward and even swiped at me and hit me on the head.  When I tried to back away again, she barred her teeth and whined which was kind of confusing, so I just decided to stand still.  All I could think was, "Please don't hurt me!"    Then, all of a sudden, she lunged!  She grabbed me and was pulling me towards her.  I'm a pretty gentle guy, but I can only take so much.  I had to protect myself.  I bit her.  Thank goodness that worked!

Drew isn't necessarily a mean dog, he just doesn't understand.  While some dogs, especially those raised in a house from puppy-hood, can learn to understand people talk (just like a baby can learn to speak multiple languages spoken in a home) many dogs just haven't had the proper exposure.  Instead of labeling Drew as vicious, aggressive, or even cranky, maybe we should label him as non-fluent...just like he labeled Maria.

Then, instead of condemning this dog to a kennel (or worse), we can try to "speak" to him on his terms so we may both come to a basic understanding.  Once we've learned his language, we can try to teach him some of ours.  That way, when someone else tries to "hug" Drew, we have a way of letting him know it's o.k.

Again, for those of you who just aren't sure what to do, don't be afraid to seek guidance.  Read books, ask a trainer, even talk to your vet.  Just, please, don't write your dog off.