Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Sibling Rivalry

We have a 5 y/o neutered male blue heeler, who has free run of the house. He is well trained, but high energy. Last week we adopted a 5 month old red heeler, spayed female. They play well outside in our fenced yard, and she begrudgingly accepts it when he corrects her. I watch them constantly, and when I am not around to supervise, she goes in her cage. My question is this...when he tries to get up on sofa she growls at him and sometimes lunges to bite. (This happens when i.m sitting on the sofa. He doesn't even want to sit by me, but on the other end.) I take her off the sofa and tell her no. It has gotten to the point that he won't get up anymore, even though he has always laid up here. This also happens in the car. Can you offer suggestions on how to fix this problem?
 This is actually a bit of a serious issue, because it could easily progress into something worse.  First things first, I would stop giving them each free run of the house.  The issue here is that your little girl is claiming the couch / car / etc as her own.  Really, though, all these things belong to you and you are allowing her to enjoy them out of the goodness of your heart.  So, let's start by setting guidelines.
Neither dog should be allowed on furniture unless you invite them up.
I'm a fairly understanding person.  I get that you don't want to have to lie on the floor just to snuggle with your dogs, and you'd like them to be able to enjoy the couch.  That doesn't mean, however, that they should be allowed on the furniture whenever they want to get up.  It means they should be allowed on the furniture whenever you want them up there.  So, at this point, if they get up on their own accord, make them get off.  If you want them on the couch with you, use a word or cue to let them know they're invited up (I use "hup" as a shortened version of "hop up").  I also recommend making them do something (like sit) before they're invited up.
Show them guidance in other areas of life as well.
Let them know that they should follow you in all areas of life, not just when the sofa is involved.  Make them sit before meal time or down-stay while you're eating.  Make them sit when opening the door or down before playing with a toy.  The idea is that all good things come from you and they have to work for it.  This will help to reinforce the idea that the couch / car / etc is yours and you dictate what happens on it.
Are you noticing an overall theme here?  Dogs, much like small children, need structure.  They thrive on it.  The point I'm trying to make is to give your dogs a good, structured routine.  Let them know that there are rules in the house and you set those rules and keep them in place.  This will help them in many areas of their life, and it should make for a happier, more harmonious household.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Charging Jack-Chi

We have another question to answer!  The set up for the question is a bit lengthy, but I'm sharing it all with you so you have all the information I have.

I've been having issues with my dog when we go on walks for a long time now and I'm hoping to get some advice. She's a 7 year old chihuahua/jack?/mystery dog mix. She's spayed, and weighs 11 pounds. At home she's always been sweet, she's good for the vet, does well with familiar dogs, and will eagerly make friends with new dogs as long as they come over to our place first. When she was a puppy she was terrified to go on walks, she'd freeze and I'd have to coax her along. She'd always shake and want me to carry her when we'd go to the dog park. Right around when she hit a year she started going berserk whenever she'd see a strange dog during our walks. When my husband takes her, or she's with one of my friends when we're out of town she does better...but with me she goes crazy.
Unfortunately we live in a busy part of a city that has a high population of dog owners, which has turned into her getting pad trained and not walked as often as she should. Recently one of my friends that lives in the same building has been taking her out. For awhile it sounded like she was doing OK, but it turns out she was flipping out on other dogs with her too, and getting picked up. Now she tries to get my friend to pick her up about half of the time when she sees another dog, and if I'm there...she'll stay in full on attack mode until the other dog is out of sight. The last three times my friend took her out, from what I was told, she's started jumping up at strangers and play nipping at their clothes. She's really bouncy, and when we play she'll jump and play nip. But, I'm worried that something might happen so shes no longer going with the friend. I suspect that the issue is her being protective of me (and now my friend), and not getting enough exercise because of the aggressive behavior. What should I do? 

 This is a great question, and it's a common problem, particularly with small dogs, as they tend to show a bit of a Napoleon complex.  In addition, it seems like she may show signs of under-socialization.  So, what are some things you can do?

1) Stop picking her up.
It's very common for the owner of a small dog to try to calm their dog by picking her up and soothing her.  The problem is, this doesn't actually calm the dog.  Rather it teaches her that acting in such a manner will get her hugs and snuggles (praise, if you will).  It will actually amp up her behavior as she searches for more ways to get your attention.

2) Teach her a command.
I'd start with teaching her a good heel command.  Really, any command could work, but the heel command is probably your best bet. 

3) Tell her what you want her to do, NOT what you don't want her to do.
Most people make the mistake of yelling at or trying to shush their dogs when they start barking.  The problem with this is that 1) your dog has no idea what you're telling her to do, and 2) even if she does understand "no" she won't understand why.  So, it's better to teach your dog a command (like the heel mentioned above) and then use that command when approaching stressful situations.  By rewarding your dog when she does the command you've taught her your teaching her that following you will earn her good things.

4)  Slowly introduce her to other dogs / distractions.
Don't just throw her into a long walk with huge distractions, and don't expect her to be perfect right off the bat with another wild and crazy dog.  Introduce, under control, to a calm, obedient dog.  Practice that a few times, then step up to a slightly less-trained dog.  Next, have an untrained, calm dog.  Keep stepping it up until you reach that crazy, hyper dog test.  Through each step, expect her to follow the command(s) you've taught her and reward her for doing so.

5) Consult a Trainer
Whether it seems like it a lot, the steps I just set forth can be quite overwhelming.  You may find yourself asking things like, "Am I doing this right?"  "Is this command good enough?" "Are we introducing her to the right kinds of dogs?"  If in doubt, set up a meeting with a local trainer.  Many offer free consultations or at least cheap consultations.  A great many also offer walking sessions where you can learn to walk with other dogs (a great source for when you are well into step 4).  Don't be afraid to seek the advice of a professional.  That's what we're here for!

I hope this helps to answer your question.  I do have one last tip, though.  Don't concern yourself over what others are thinking.  The number one worry I see in people who have barking / aggressive / excited dogs is what others must think of them.  The only thing you should be worried about is your dog.  By worrying about anything else you are doing your dog and yourself a HUGE disservice.  Good luck!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Dogs In Need

For those of you who don't know, I do a lot of work with area rescue groups.  Mainly, I often offer my kennel as a halfway house for dogs who don't yet have a foster or a forever home.  Occasionally this also involves training them or grooming them.  In addition to that, I serve as an adoption screener, meaning I screen applicants who are interested in a dog to see if that dog is a good fit for them.  This means I have a lot of interaction with people involved with a rescue.  Some of them are looking for a new dog, some of them are surrendering their current dog.  Some of them are tearful because they want to be able to keep the dog but just can't, some of them are matter of fact that the dog isn't a good fit, and some are finding a home for a dog because the dog's owner is too sick to care for the dog himself/herself.  Today was the first time, though, that I became physically ill when I saw the state of the dog.

An owner came in today to surrender her dog.  She said it was a poodle mix, and that her employment situation just didn't allow her to care for her dog the way she'd like (something I'd heard many times before).  She said he hadn't been groomed for a while, and he had a few bad matts (again nothing new).  This is what she brought in:

The matt on his back alone weighed about a half pound.  His legs were so matted that he couldn't walk.  He had a matt that connected from the bottom of his neck to the back of his front leg, so even standing was painful.  During the grooming process, there were a few times he yelped in pain because simply trying to stretch out his leg hurt him.  Even through all that, though, he was friendly.  He didn't try to bite.

When we were done with the shave down were were left with what you see above.  Each black speck is a tick.  His paws were worse, and he had many ticks between each toe.  As we were shaving, at one point we shaved a huge matt of his ear.  It wasn't just a matt, though.  It was, in fact, a tick nest.  Hundreds of baby ticks had hatched on him and were making their home.

This sweet boy has been living outside for at least a year (probably more).  This sweet boy did nothing to deserve this treatment.  He was friendly and sweet.  He was a little nervous, but he was patient with us.  At this point, we're only partially done with his intake care.  The next step is to let the tick medicine do its trick and to finish grooming him.  We also need to administer vaccines to him since the only one he's had in the past 5 years is Rabies.  Chances are he has a tick-born illness which will require some fairly costly meds, and I can only hope that he doesn't have heart worms.  

In the few years I've worked with rescues, I've seen some pretty desperate situations.  This week alone I saw two dogs, emaciated, whose owner had run out of dog food and had essentially quit feeding them; I saw a dog who had heartworms, lyme disease, and ehrlichia all because the owner hadn't given it preventative meds; and I saw a dog, terrified of everything, either because it had been beaten or because the owner just hadn't taken the time to socialize it.  Still, none of that compares to this.  This is more than just neglect.  This is more than just an oversight.  This is flat-out abuse.  This dog was in so much pain he could not walk...all because someone had refused to take a brush or a pair of scissors to him.  

The problem is, there are so many dogs like him.  There are so many in shelters and in bad homes.  They need help.  They need someone to care for them, to love them, to play with them.  Rescues need fosters and donations.  If you're looking for a way to help, contact your local rescue, or contact me.  There's no reason for dogs like this little guy to stay in this situation.  We can help them.  You can help them.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Aggressive Dog

Apparently I had missed this question that a reader had posted on the blog, but I'm going to try to answer it now.

I am new at your blog, but I have questions regarding my just adopted dog. He was very sweet when we first got him, but now he seems to be aggressive. He is nice when I am at home with him (I work at home), but once my husband comes home from work, he is very aggressive towards me, growling and bearing teeth. He is not neutered yet as he was found to be heartworm positive when we got him and undergoing treatment for that. Why do you think he is aggressive towards me when my husband is home and not when my husband is gone?

This is actually a very interesting situation, and it may be somewhat difficult to answer.  First, I have a few questions of my own:

1) How old is your dog?
2) What breed is your dog?
3) What do you and your husband do for a living?

Without having met you or your dog, if I had to guess, I'd probably say your dog is exhibiting some guarding behavior.  Namely, your dog is guarding your husband.  Generally, when I see this, it's when a dog has bonded more with one person over another.  The dog essentially "claims" this person as his and feels it's his job to protect this person and his property.  You'll often see other behaviors, generally mistaken for affection, as well.  These may include climbing into the person's lap, sleeping next to the person, or insistence on being petted.  In most cases, you'll see this type of behavior displayed towards a woman, while the man in the house is shown aggression.  Of course, though, there are no rules.

So, what do we do about it?

Well, we first need to teach your dog some manners.  I generally say it's not about what you DON'T want him to do, but rather about what you WANT him to do.  In other words, it's easier to tell him to sit than it is to tell him to stop.  So, try to teach him some basic obedience.  All he really needs to know is one really great command (down/stay or something similar).  If he can do this through any situation, you're ready to move on to the next stage.

Next, create some distance between your husband and your dog.  Instead of allowing your dog to climb up in your husbands lap or climb between you and your husband when you're relaxing, tell your dog to down/stay on the other side of the room.  Your husband could also be the one to tell him this.  Teach him that his biggest rewards will come when he's calm and away from either you or your husband.  Remember, it's not about teaching him to leave your husband alone.  Rather, it's about teaching him that good things will happen when he's not trying to guard your husband.

After that, we need to teach him that all good things come from you and he has to work for them.  I call this plan The No Free Lunch Program.  Essentially, have him do a command for everything.  Make him sit before you pet him.  Make him sit before you play with him.  Make him walk in a heel when you take him out.  Make him sit/stay before you take him outside.  Make him sit/stay before you feed him.  Have him down/stay while you're eating.  Of course, you don't have to use the commands I just stated, but you do have to have him work. 

Lastly, you can amplify the No Free Lunch Program a bit.  Feed him out of your hand rather than out of a bowl and have him do a command for each new handful.  Don't allow him on furniture unless specifically invited or don't allow him at all.

By teaching him to follow you more and that you're the provider of all things good you'll create a much stronger bond with your dog, and you'll encounter fewer incidents.

One last word of caution: Take note of whether the aggression is worse at certain times of day.  If you're dealing with some sort of neurological disorder or physical ailment, things may be worse in the evening when your  dog is tired and less tolerant of outside stimuli.

I hope that you and your dog can find a peaceful cohabitation. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Moving With My Dog

Here's a question I hear quite often:

"I'm getting ready to move to a new house (city/state/etc).  How should I handle this with my dogs?"

This is actually quite a loaded question, because it causes me to ask the following questions:

1) How many dogs do you have?
2) How old is your dog?
3) How long have you had your dog?
4) Do you ever travel with your dog?

Each dog is different.  Some can handle stressful situations with ease, while others go berserk at even the mention of a suitcase.  Here are some good rules for anyone to follow, though.

Step 1
Stick to a schedule. Your dog will see boxes and suitcases while you pack, and this may stress her out, so keeping her on a routine will be helpful.  Feed her at the same times each day, take her for walks at the same time, make the rest of her life as routine as possible.  It's particularly helpful if you start to do this a few weeks before you move.  That way, when life gets a little more hectic with the move, your dog won't be thrown off nearly as much.

Step 2
Exercise!  This is almost always part of my answer, but the truth is a tired dog is a happy dog.  Go for REALLY long walks, head out for a run, go for a bike ride, or, if all else fails, enroll in a doggy daycare.  This will make life much easier for both you and your dog.

Step 3
Board your dog.  On the day of the actual move, it may be best if your dog is not with you.  Think of it this way: Doors will be opening, people will be going in and out, chaos will reign.  Do you really want to have to worry about your dog?  See if a friend will take your dog for at least the day, put your dog in daycare for the day, or even consider boarding her overnight.  Plus, if you board overnight, or even for a few days, you'll be able to pack all the final things, move everything, and even unpack before having to bring your dog back into the mix.  It really takes the pressure off.

Step 4
Get comfortable.  This kind of goes along with step 3, but you really don't want your dog to come to the new house while you're still frazzled.  Take a little time to set up your bed and hang up some clothes.  You don't have to be completely unpacked, but having at least one room set up will give both you and your dog a bit of a retreat.  Trust me.  It comes in handy.

Step 5
Introduce your dog.  Take your dog to the new house.  Walk from room to room with her.  Introduce her to the back yard.  Make sure she sees that you're comfortable and happy.  Make sure you keep an eye on her, though, because sometimes the excitement can cause accidents or other behavior issues such as chewing or scratching.

Step 6
Settle down.  Once your dog has had ample time to see the new house and sniff the corners, try to settle down in one room.  If your dog knows a command such as "down" or "bed" use that.  Reward her for being calm with a chew toy or something to keep her occupied.

Step 7
Stick to a schedule.  I know this is also step 1, but it's so important it bares repeating.  The more of a routine your dog has, the easier things will be.

The last time Hans and I moved we had Cody.  Cody was almost 3, had a solid recall, and had traveled across country with us multiple times.  While we may have been a little more relaxed on these rules, we still followed them fairly well.  It made our lives easier, and more importantly it made Cody's life easier.  The next time we move we'll have both Cody and Lollie, and I can guarantee we'll be following the same rules again.

If you're planning a move, good luck.  It can be so very stressful.  Hopefully, though, with these simple guidelines, you'll have an easier time with things.