Just say ‘no’ to saying ‘no’

As a trainer, one of the top questions I receive is, “how do I teach my dog the word ‘no?’”

My response is usually, “how well did that work out with your children?” We tell children “no” often, yet they still will sometimes repeat the behavior. Your child speaks a verbal langue and is smarter than your dog. So, how can we expect an animal that does not speak a verbal language to understand something as complex as the word “no?”

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Harley decided the time is right to get into the trash.

Dogs live in a world of safe vs. unsafe. A behavior is either safe to perform or it is unsafe. Imagine you are in the kitchen when your dog sticks his head in the trashcan to go after that pork chop bone he smells. You yell “no, bad dog, get out of there,” often while raising your voice and approaching the dog in a threatening manner. The dog just learned it is unsafe to be in the trashcan while you are near it. You leave the kitchen for a few minutes and when you come back, the trash is everywhere and your dog is happily holding that pork chop bone.

Most people become angry at the dog for “disobeying” them. But, in the dog’s world he did not disobey. You told him not to get in the trash when you were around. When you left the kitchen, you made the trash safe. In the dog’s world, leaving something as tasty as a pork chop behind would mean you didn’t want it anymore. If it had been important you would have taken it with you. If you punish the dog at this point, he will not understand what he did wrong.

If you yell at your dog because he pees in the house, he doesn’t understand you are saying it is wrong to pee in the house. He just understands it is not safe to pee in front of you, so he will learn to be in a different room where you can’t see him because it will be safe to pee when you are not in the same room. And if you try taking him back and showing him a potty accident that already happened, your dog will not understand that you are punishing him for going inside the house. He will learn instead you are scary and he should run from you if you approach him when you are angry. Often dogs respond to our anger by offering submissive gestures such as lowering their heads, tucking their tails, etc. People often read these gestures as “guilt” and assume the dog knows it was wrong. Instead it is the dog’s way of trying to appease you and beg you not to hurt it.

We also get into trouble with our canine companion because we send him mixed signals. For example, if he jumps up on you when you come through the door, it is an attention seeking gesture. If you say “no”, you are giving the dog attention. You spoke to him, you most likely looked at him and you may have touched him when you pushed him away from you. To the dog this was all a win. If you truly do not want him to jump up on you, you have to ignore the dog completely. Don’t look at him or talk to him. Stand still and after several weeks of this new behavior, your dog will learn this game no longer works. When he greets you with four feet on the floor, then give him lots of praise and he will figure out this is the new way to get your attention.

What happens if your dog brings you something he shouldn’t have such as your shoe? If you get up out of your chair and chase him through the house and then try and tug the shoe out of his mouth, you just played the best dog game ever invented: run and chase and tug. Your dog just learned if he is bored and you won’t play with him, he just has to bring something out of the bedroom and you will jump up and play with him.

Instead give your dog a long-lasting chew or a puzzle toy before you sit down so he has something to do while you are relaxing.

Trying to see the world as the dog sees it rather than trying to fit the dog into a human peg will go a long way to helping you have an awesome relationship with your canine companion.

 

That time I bought a dog

I grew up in Parke County, Indiana, on a road with only four other houses. Our road was a favorite for people who no longer wanted their pets. We even found a pony one year that someone let loose in a field.

We never lacked for a dog or a cat. I never picked out a dog of my own until I was 23 and had graduated from college. I went to the Vigo County Humane Society and picked out a fluffy puppy and named her Pica (I was a journalism major and starting a career in the newspaper business).

She was followed by a succession of animals; all from animal shelters. I got a border collie from the Mount Vernon Humane Society; another border from a rescue that had pets at a PetsMart on Washington Street in Indianapolis. I adopted Batman from the Humane Society of Indianapolis as well as a few cats from that facility.

While I had always adopted pets, I didn’t get into animal welfare seriously until around 2010. Then I was really on the bandwagon: Adopt Don’t Shop. Spay and Neuter. Dogs die when you don’t adopt.

And yet, in December of 2008 I bought a puppy. Even my Mom was incredulous and read me the riot act. I remained in animal welfare and even become more of an advocate for shelters and shelter pets. And yet I had this dog that I bought. When I was first offered a job at the Humane Society of Indianapolis, I brought up the subject in my interview because I wanted to be transparent and I wanted to show I was not ashamed of what I had done.

To top it off, I had a purchased male dog that I didn’t neuter until he was four years old. I was always thankful that Condor had really long fur so when I had him at the shelter no one could tell he wasn’t neutered.

I ended up walking a line between the world of working/sport dog people and animal welfare people. Having Condor helped me bridge this fairly wide chasm. I tried to help both sides of the line take a breath and see the gray and not just the black and white.

Animal welfare people often take a dim view of purchasing a pet and a dimmer view of having unaltered pets. I know several animal welfare organizations that have a hard and fast rule that they will not adopt a pet to any household with an unaltered animal in it. I had to go to bat for an adopter once because she had world-class border collies that she bred, but she wanted a rescued dog for a pet for her son. The shelter was set on not allowing her to adopt because her breeding dogs were unaltered.

I know sport dog people who think dogs in rescues and shelters are there because they have some type of serious behavior or medical issue that caused them to be given up. Also, many sport/working dog lovers don’t want dogs that have been spayed or neutered. So often they bypass dogs in rescue or shelters for that reason.

Condor taught me you have to see both sides and understand each other to have a meaningful dialogue.

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Batman carrying a bite sleeve that was almost as big as he was.

So, why did I buy a dog? At the time I was into a dog sport called Schutzhund. I was using Batman, who was 40 pounds on his best day. Schutzhund is a sport built around larger dogs. They don’t change the jump height of obstacles if you have a smaller dog. Batman had the heart and soul of a Schutzhund dog, but jumping a meter-high jump carrying a dumbbell was just too much for him. If I really wanted to be serious about this sport I knew I needed a bigger dog. This is a sport dominated by German shepherds; so at trials we would often encounter other shepherd owners.

One day the Schutzhund club I belonged to hosted a trial and a man showed up with several dogs including two 12-week old puppies. The man was there to get some titles on the mother of the two pups. The mother dog was super sweet and did well at the event. I also watched several videos of the father of these puppies doing Schutzhund in Colorado.

It was a two-day event and it is hard to resist something as cute and fuzzy as a 12-week old shepherd puppy. But, I was adamant I would not be buying a dog.

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Condor as a puppy. How could I resist this fluff ball?

Because the female had not titled at all until this trial, the puppies were less expensive than many working line German shepherds would normally be. People in the club kept telling me I should consider getting one of the pups. They had awesome pedigrees. I met the mother and she was great. The pups were both great temperaments and loved fetch. The father of the pups was fairly well ranked in Schutzhund and the pedigrees of both parents were impressive.

I finally decided to seriously consider getting one of the pups. Luckily, the club members were thinking with their heads and not their hearts and suggested a couple of simple tests to see the individual personalities of the pups. It turned out the black fuzzy teddy bear puppy I had fallen in love with was not very confident when it was dark. On a long walk he stayed between my feet and wouldn’t explore. The sable pup was more confident. He would go into the grass and explore, but come right back and check in with me. The sable puppy also had an automatic fetch. Whatever I threw, he went to get it and brought it right back. And he wouldn’t stop.

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Condor running through the woods on a search

And that’s how I came to buy Condor. It is something I will never regret. I soon gave up Schutzhund however as Condor and I both decided it wasn’t our thing. We moved into the world of search and rescue and found our home. Condor certified several times in human remains detection with the Indiana Department of Homeland Security and through Law Enforcement Training Specialists. I have no idea how many searches we have been on, but it was a lot. And Condor had some finds over the years. He was an amazing dog. I knew nothing about Search and Rescue before I got into it with Condor. Now I know countless people who devote their lives to a job that pays nothing, requires you spend a lot of your own money, requires countless hours of training each week and at times puts you in situations where the police are wearing bullet proof vests and you are wearing a bright orange shirt that says K9 Handler.

I have gotten to work with numerous police organizations and a few fire departments. I have a tremendous respect for law enforcement. I feel so bad for them now as all anyone hears about are the few unfortunate incidents in which a police officer made a bad call. But, I can tell you from the bottom of my heart that the vast majority of police officers are simply amazing. The police I worked for were always kind, patient, grateful and loved working with us. On Condor’s last search, we had to cross a railroad trestle and Condor fell between some slats. I was panicked thinking he was stuck and a train could come along and hit him. One of the officers with me assured me that if Condor had truly been stuck he would have made sure no trains came down that track until he was freed. All of the police officers I worked with would have protected me and my dog; I have no doubt about that.

Condor also gave me a family. My teammates at Midwest Search Dogs are more than people I train with. They are a family. My teammates helped me move two years ago when I divorced. Like any family, we don’t always agree with each other and we all have individual personalities, but cross one of us and you have the entire team to deal with. My search brothers and sisters have my back and I have theirs. When I was deployed on a search one of my teammates (and often more than one) would be with me helping  keep me and my dog safe and helping me by allowing me to just handle the dog while my teammate took care of navigation, note taking, safety, etc.

SAR isn’t easy and over the last seven years I’ve thought about quitting a lot. I don’t mind

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SAR is rain or shine, snow or sleet. Condor LOVED this weather.

the searches and the training, but I have serious test anxiety and the certification process is terrifying for me. I’m also one of the oldest people on our team and I am definitely the most out of shape. Training is physically difficult for me. After you fall down a hill a few times you have to wonder if you are just insane to keep going. When it is 10 degrees with a 20mph wind you really have to wonder if you are insane. Our team trains all year no matter the weather. The only time we call off training is it would be dangerous for the dogs.

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Condor lived for tug and a toss of his ball.

Condor on the other hand loved every minute of training and all of the searches. He lived for his ball and he knew that there was always a good chance he would find something that resulted in me throwing that ball when we were working. He climbed ladders, he swam rivers, and he jumped on shifting debris. He crawled through the smoking ruins of a home. He worked no matter what; including when he was dying. He went on a search one week before he died. We were out for a couple of hours and he worked as he always did despite the fact that there were tumors I didn’t know about growing inside of him.

On Thanksgiving Day, one of those tumors burst filling his belly with blood and I made the difficult decision to relieve him of his pain and set him free; even though I did not want him to go.

Condor taught me not to be so black and white.

I do have several things though to clear up before some of the people on both sides of the fence start yelling at me.

One: I do NOT condone buying a pet from any pet store. The vast majority of those dogs are from puppy mills (I don’t care what the pet store tells you). The parents of those dogs lead horrible lives. You did not “rescue” your dog from a pet store. You bought that dog and condemned his parents to breeding more puppies. I also do not condone buying puppies for some person who had a boy dog and a girl dog and decided to let them have puppies. I do not understand paying $1,000 or more for some made up breed like a chiwennie. You can go to any animal shelter and find a made up breed for a lot less.

If you are going to buy a dog from a breeder; do your research. Only buy from a breeder who stands behind his or her breed. A good breeder only breeds to put something back into the bloodline, not to make money. A good breeder will have breeding records that show their dogs are free from whatever ailments might be common to that breed. A good breeder will have dogs that are house pets and not living in a kennel in the barn or the back yard. A good breeder will allow you to meet the parents of your puppy. A good breeder will not meet you in the parking lot of McDonalds and give you a puppy once you hand over some cash. A good breeder often is active in breed rescue for their breed as well. A good breeder makes sure you will be the right owner for that puppy rather than a person willing to pay a fee. Two of my favorite German shepherd breeders have a long questionnaire that you have to fill out to even be on the list for one of their litters. You have to wait for them to find the right pup for you. A good breeder will take your puppy back, no matter what, if something doesn’t work out. A good breeder will ask you for progress reports and want to keep in contact with you. A good breeder will have a limited number of litters and ensure the females are not bred every heat cycle. One of my favorite breeders neutered her breeding male after one of her litters produced a puppy with a serious issue even though there was no true science to say if the parents could have produced that issue. She didn’t even want to take that chance.

Second: Can you find a working dog through a rescue? Absolutely. I know several police and fire departments that scout shelters for dogs. A friend of mine just adopted a dog for the Indy Mega Adoption Event who turns out to be a natural in several sports. I am seeing promise in Skywalker in terms of search and rescue training.

Third: in regards to spaying or neutering; I am absolutely for the spaying and neutering of shelter pets. Yes, there are responsible people like me who can have unaltered dogs without ever allowing them to breed. However, the vast majority of people who adopt don’t realize what it takes to keep dogs from succumbing to the call of nature. I also think science is changing and showing us that there are consequences in terms of long-term health especially in cases of pediatric spaying and neutering. So, sport and working dog people who responsibly choose not to s/n are not the enemy.

Thank you Condor for showing me a path. Walking the path without you is going to be very lonely.

 

 

My dogs are not perfect

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. My dogs are not perfect. As a matter of fact, many of the great trainers I know have dogs with behaviors some people might consider annoying.

I often use my own dogs as examples when I try to help people decide what is most important in terms of their dog’s manners.

A client emailed about her dog chewing up DVD cases while she was gone, plus the dog jumped on people who came to visit.

The dog is around a year old and very energetic. He is also easily bored and needs more than exercise to keep him busy. He needs to find things to do. Hence, chewing up DVDs when he was alone and bored. He also loves people and is a big dog. So, when he jumps up on people, he is large enough to push someone over.

I told her how I solved these issues since I have an 11-month old constantly bored 65 pound adolescent dog – He is never left alone and when company comes over he is not at the door.

crate

Sometimes a crate can be an awesome management tool as long as the dog loves the crate and is given adequate exercise and mental stimulation.

Instead of training a different behavior I choose to manage my dog’s behavior in situations such as this.

My client emailed back. “Clearly, if YOU are crating your dogs, we need to return to putting him in his crate. Also, if you as a dog trainer are keeping your dog on a leash or separate from guests, clearly we novices need to be doing something similar!”

I was quick to point out that just because I did this, it didn’t mean she had to follow my lead. I was just providing a management solution vs. a training solution.

If I left Skywalker loose in the house while I was gone, I would come home to a destroyed home. He is a busy boy. I wanted an intelligent, high-energy dog in order to do search and rescue. I did not want a couch potato. Sky gets lots of daily exercise and he spends several hours each day loose in the house under my supervision (and he still manages to destroy things when I’m not watching closely enough).

In terms of jumping up, I could train my dog to be more polite at the door. It just isn’t a priority for me. I have lots of things I want to work on with my dogs. In order not to be overwhelmed I choose the behaviors most important to me and work on those. For the rest, I find a way to manage the behavior. Instead of working with four dogs on polite door behaviors, I either meet someone outside my door (like the pizza delivery person) or I put my dogs up before I let anyone inside the house. I can then choose to allow dogs to greet visitors later if I want to.

However, if a client wants her dog at the door happily greeting visitors, then I can teach the client what to do.

I always try and give my clients more than one option. I want them to have one or two training options and at least one management option.

If you find yourself having a conversation with a dog trainer and you feel overwhelmed don’t hesitate to ask for management as well as training tools.

 

 

What I learned from my dog

Animals can teach us so much, if only we would take the time to listen to them.bat st huberts

While I have had animals all of my life, it wasn’t until I adopted a little mutt 10 years ago that I actually paid attention and began to learn from my pets.

For years I had alternated between adopting a border collie mix or a scruffy terrier mix. Ten years ago it was time for a new scruffy terrier. I had seen one on the website of the Humane Society of Indianapolis that fit the bill. I went to meet her and she was everything I was looking for: scruffy terrier face, very playful, right size for me, etc. I took her out to the outdoor runs and threw some balls for her and she loved fetch. She ran around the yard exploring and sniffing, not really paying a lot of attention to me, but I figured she was just happy to be out of her cage.

When I put her back I glanced into the kennel to her left and saw a young German shepherd looking dog shivering on a blanket. He was obviously very scared. Super pathetic looking. I was feeling magnanimous. I decided to take this little dog out and just give him some time outside while I was waiting to process the adoption of the terrier.

I took him into the same outdoor run and threw a ball. He just stared after the ball and looked pathetic. He kind of sniffed around and just sat down. I got down on my knees to see if he would come up to me and he suddenly came alive. He ran over to me, sat right in front of me, put a paw on each shoulder, rested his chin on one shoulder and let out a mighty sigh. This is absolutely a true story. My heart lurched, my eyes misted. This dog PICKED me. He LOVED me. Goodbye terrier tradition, hello little German shepherd mix with a curly tail.

This was the first lesson I learned from a little dog who I eventually named Batman: If we can train shelter dogs to make quicker connections to people who take them out of their kennels they are more likely to get adopted (The ASPCA backs this up with research, they didn’t have Batman). I’m not belittling this instant connection I felt to this dog, but five years later when I actually began working at IndyHumane, it was a story I told over and over. I watched numerous dogs not get adopted because they acted like that little terrier, they just weren’t that interested in the person who took them out. We now tell volunteers and staff how important it is to reward dogs anytime they check in with the human who takes them out of the kennel. People want to adopt a dog that “picks” them.

I always imagine Batman sitting in that kennel plotting how to get someone to take him outside so he could wow them with the sigh on the shoulder. For as I was to learn, Batman was a very wise and extremely intelligent dog.

He was 7 months old when I adopted him. He was given up for being too hard to handle and untrainable. Dogs between the ages of 6 months and 18 months are among the most given up age population. They are teenagers and many people just give up and decide the dog is a bad dog. I’m sure his previous owners didn’t understand that what they really had was a super intelligent dog who was most likely bored out of his mind.
There are going to be some things in this story that I’m not proud of and now we come to the first one. At the time I adopted Batman all of my dogs had lived outside. It wasn’t that I didn’t care for them. I grew up on a farm and dogs just lived outside. My dogs were well provided for. They had dog houses, food, water and I occasionally walked them, but I figured since I had a fenced yard, they were just happy running free outside.

Batman once more took matters into his own paws. He lived outside a few days, then one day when I let him inbat pig for some loving, he took a little rubber squeaky pig toy and ran all over the house squeaking it. It was super fun to watch. I got distracted by something and when I looked for Batman next, I found him on the couch sound asleep with the toy under his paw and his chin resting on it.

I started letting him in more and more. He never had any accidents in the house and I had no idea he would be so entertaining. In a few weeks he was sleeping on my bed. He has the distinction of being my last dog that ever stayed outside 24/7 and the first dog that slept on my bed.

I now know that most dogs actually prefer living inside with their humans. And dogs won’t generally self exercise in a yard. They just sit at the back door waiting for you to come out or they get bored and jump the fence of destroy things in your yard.

Prior to adopting Batman, I had taken two previous dogs to training classes. This was more than 30 years ago now and the types of training classes were the traditional walk in a circle with a bunch of other people and practice jerking up on a choke chain to get your dog to do what you wanted. I thought it was boring, but it was the only option I knew about and the man teaching the classes seemed knowledgeable and had a well-trained dog to show off to perspective clients. I totally bought into that we weren’t hurting the dogs, that dogs needed to be dominated because that’s how they lived in the wild and we were just communicating with them. I even alpha rolled one of my border collies after the trainer said I should. He was the expert right? And the border collie never jumped on me again after that. He also submissive peed when I called him to me after that, but at the time I never understood why.

I bought a choke chain for Batman and practiced all the things I had learned in the two previous classes. Then I found out about dog sports. I met a group of people who had a Schutzhund club. Schutzhund is a dog sport, mainly practiced by German shepherd owners, but other dogs also participate. Look it up on You Tube. There are national and international championships. It is a huge sport with a dedicated following.

I suddenly learned that training did not have to be walking in a circle making your dog sit. Training could be fun. You could teach your dog to retrieve, jump a barrier, “attack” a guy wearing a bite sleeve, play tug. There was a camaraderie in the club. They met twice a week. It bat sleevewas like a family and it was all about the dogs. Batman was the only mutt in the group, but his GSD personality shined through and he did a fantastic job. He earned a BH which is an obedience title in Schutzhund.

At this point I was hooked on training and dog sports. I loved spending time training my dog. I moved from a choke chain to a prong collar and then an electric collar. Just about everyone in the club used these devices. People from other clubs did as well. These people had decades of experience. It must be right. I went to training seminars on effective use of an electric collar in training. I even went to events and helped out with electric collar seminars on a few occasions using Batman as my demo dog to show how wonderful he was.

And then one day I ruined my dog. I tried to make him do something that physically was really too difficult for him. Sadly, one drawback of Schutzhund is that no consideration is taken for the size of the dog. Batman was less than half the size of the average dog doing this sport. So, trying to make him jump a meter high jump carrying a dumbbell was just too much. I shouldn’t have done it, but I WANTED that Schutzhund I title.

This opus isn’t meant to start a debate about the right and wrong way to use an electric collar. What I learned though was that if you use an aversive training method, you can cause a behavior that may be impossible to fix. It is very hard to break a dog completely using non-aversive methods.

At this time in our club was a woman who had a thing called a clicker. She talked about things like operant conditioning, something about quadrants that contained things like positive and negative reinforcement and punishment. It was all very confusing and not nearly as clear cut as the electric training collar remote in my hand.

But, this is when Batman taught me what I consider his greatest gift: he showed me that there might be more than one training method. I did not stop using an electric collar one day and just switch to a clicker. Instead it was a two-year process. But, what I also learned in this two-year period was that there was an entire world of dog training seminars out there. I became a seminar junky. I went to Clicker Expo and the APDT conference. I drove to Chicago and Columbus, Ohio, to attend seminars on all manner of subjects related to dogs. I became fascinated by canine behavior.

The woman with the clicker began to make more sense to me and then I saw her do a demo with her dog Shakespeare, who I will always consider to be the wisest dog I ever met. Once I saw a clicker training demo with this dog, I became hooked.

It wasn’t easy to leave the world of prong collars and electric collars. I loved my friends. I loved what they did with their dogs, but in the end I made a decision that I could no longer do anything that physically hurt my dog. Again, this is not meant to start a debate. This is my journey with Batman and not meant to change anyone’s mind.

bat clickersOnce I switched to positive only training, my world with Batman opened up. I trained him to do all kinds of fun things. At the same time, the Indianapolis Star started a website called IndyPaws. It was a way for pet people to connect and you could “talk” in the voice of your pet if you wanted. Batman and I both had accounts and he often posted about his life. He was quite witty (if I do say so).

Through the other people in IndyPaws I discovered the world of animal rescue. I learned about how many dogs and cats were dying in our state due to over population, out dated facilities, lack of money, poor management at shelters, etc. I became a blogger. I attended meetings. I met Nathen Winograd several times and learned there might be other ways to run animal welfare organizations.

I was offered a part time job at the Humane Society of Indianapolis. I kept attending seminars on animal behavior. I was asked to try and save a dog about to be euthanized for resource guarding. I saved said dog. I became really hooked on positive reinforcement training.

Several years later I was offered the position of Director of Canine Training at the Humane Society of Indianapolis. It was a huge change. It would mean leaving a job I held and loved for 25 years and taking a huge pay cut. I did it. Batman now became my real partner. He went to countless schools and libraries showing people the right and wrong ways to interact with dogs. He taught me if I was too boring, he would take over and make people laugh. He showed me that letting people see what he could do was the most effective way to change anyone’s mind about training and dog behavior. People did not buy training classes from me because they wanted to do clicker training. They bought training classes from me because they wanted their dog to be like Batman.

I decided to enroll in the Karen Pryor Academy, which was a six month course to teach people how to become dog trainers using clickers and positive reinforcement. My world expanded once again. Batman was my demo dog. We did everything together.

Batman taught me one last thing on Nov. 10. Sometimes if you love something you really do have to set it free even if you don’t want it to leave you. Batman was diagnosed with bladder cancer in July. He responded great to the chemo. His oncologist thought he was doing great. He had no side effects. He ran, chased squirrels, did our demos as if nothing was wrong. Until one day when he didn’t eat. The next day he could barely walk and the day after that he couldn’t get up at all. I spent hours in two different vet offices. We tried various things. I could have kept going. His heart and lungs were still strong. But, he lifted his head and put it on my hand and sighed the same sigh that he gave me when we met. He was hurting. He needed me to be strong and make one last decision for him.

He left the world with me scratching his ears in his favorite spot. I promised him I would not stop learning.

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The dos and don’ts of going to the vet’s office

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Batman going home from a chemo treatment. We always stop and get a cheeseburger on our way home, so Batman looks forward to this part of his treatment.

Even under the best of circumstances, going to the veterinarian can be stressful for both the owner and the animal. If you have to go repeatedly due to a serious illness, especially if the visits include invasive procedures, then going to the vet can quickly become a nightmare for all involved.

My dog, Batman, has cancer. We go for chemo treatments every other week. As I sit in the waiting room of the clinic I can’t help but notice the behaviors of both the humans and the animals. It turns out that nervous owners and owners who just don’t understand their pet often make an already stressful situation worse for their pets. So, this is my guide to making the best out of a bad situation.

Here is the “do” list:

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Batman hates the cold floor of the waiting room, so he likes it if I bring his matt. It gives him someplace to park himself as well.

Do bring your dog’s favorite blanket or rug if he has one. Waiting room floors are often cold and uninviting and they smell like all the other scared animals that have been there. Bringing a familiar sleeping matt can help the dog settle down into a comfortable spot while you wait for your appointment.

If your dog is allowed food, do bring a long lasting chew for him to provide something to do while you wait. You could fill a Kong with his favorite food and some high value treat like peanut butter and then freeze it and pull it out for the wait. Or bring along a bully stick. There are some caveats here: Do not give your dog a high value chew if other dogs are seated nearby and can get to your dog. This is also not a recommended option if your dog guards resources from people or other dogs. But, if your dog is laid back, having a chew item will help keep him stress free.

Do give your dog lots of love. Your dog is stressed, you are stressed. Rubbing your dog’s chin or behind his ears can be a great way to relieve the stress on both ends of the leash. You may find your dog appears more needy than normal. He may paw at you or try and insert his head under your hand. Now is not the time to swat at him and tell him to leave you alone. He may want reassurance that all is well.

Do remember your dog has a highly developed sense of smell. You might not smell anything as you walk into a clinic, but rest assured your dog smells everything including the fear scent of other terrified animals, strange chemicals, perhaps even death and he smells the increased perspiration of nervous owners. If your dog needs a few minutes to decide to walk through the clinic door, respect that wish and help him out by giving him some slack on the leash, enticing him with high value treats or just get down on the floor and ask him to come with him. Ask the staff if there is a different entrance. Sometimes just switching doors can help a dog overcome the fear of walking into a clinic, especially if the clinic you are walking into forces the dog to instantly confront lots of other dogs. Imagine how you would feel suddenly walking into a room and being stared at by lots of strangers who could pose a threat to you. That’s how your dog might feel going into a clinic.

Do consider using calming products such as ADAPTIL or a Thundershirt prior to going into the clinic. You can spray ADAPTIL on a bandanna or on the dog’s leash or blanket. If your dog responds well to wearing a Thundershirt, put that on him before you enter the clinic.

Do be an advocate for your dog. If you know your dog does not like slip leads, then insist that he be walked on his regular leash and collar or harness. If your dog is afraid of tight hugs, ask the staff to practice low stress handling techniques. For example, Batman does not like to be safe hugged, but if you stand in front of him and gently massage his ears while holding his head he will stand still for most procedures without issue. He also is highly food motivated so a hot dog in front of his nose will also get him to work well with staff for procedures. Do not assume the clinic staff understands low stress handling. Ask how your dog will be restrained, what the procedure will look like and offer suggestions on how to make your dog’s experience the best it can be. If your dog is better with you by his side ask if it is possible for you to handle your dog during his procedure (I have not had much luck getting anyone to let me handle Batman, but other people I’ve spoken with have been allowed to handle their dogs).

Do consider training specific behaviors if your dog has to go to the vet long term. You could teach your dog to raise his leg and allow someone to hold it, thus making blood draws easier. You could train your dog a chin rest, so he rests his chin on someone’s hand while other people handle him.

Do remember that stress causes dogs to do things they would not normally do such as growl, bite, snap or have potty accidents. If your dog pees or poops in the waiting room it is OK and won’t be the first time that happened. Just remain calm, assure your dog it is ok and ask for help with clean up. Allow at least 10 minutes prior to your appointment to give your dog plenty of potty time outside before you have to go in.

Do leave the waiting room first once it is time for your dog to go back with the vet tech. This is especially important if the vet tech has a hard time leading your dog away from you. If you walk away first, chances are much greater that your dog will willingly go along with the vet or vet tech once he can no longer see you. It is stressful for everyone if someone has to pull your dog away from you.

Do consult with a trainer or behavioral veterinarian if you want to learn more about ways to help your dog feel more relaxed during repeated vet visits.

Do visit the waiting room on days when you aren’t there for a real visit, walk in, give your dog a treat and walk out again. That way he won’t be so stressed every time you come in.

Here are some don’ts.

This is not puppy play time, social hour at the dog park or the canine training school. Don’t assume your dog wants to meet all the other dogs in the waiting room (even if he is normally a social butterfly). Don’t force your dog to do behaviors if he isn’t up to the task. Below are all examples of things I’ve seen while waiting for Batman’s appointments.

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If your dog is coming out of a procedure, it won’t be feeling its best. How is not the time to allow other animals to come up and sniff your dog.

A woman with a yorkie in her arms walked up to a woman with a dachshund in her lap. The woman with the yorkie shoved it into the face of the dachshund saying “oh, my little girl just loves to meet friends.” Then both women squealed with delight and said “look they are kissing.” In reality, the dogs were licking each other’s chins. It was an appeasement gesture. Then both dogs turned their heads as far away from each other as possible. The dogs were really saying “our owners are clueless, I am really sorry I am rudely invading your personal space. I mean you no harm. Sorry.” If you were in the hospital awaiting a procedure, would you want a complete stranger to come up to you and hug you or invade your personal space? Probably not.

Even dogs that love meeting other dogs probably do not want to meet them in a stressful waiting room. And the dog your dog may be meeting could be super stressed and not in the mood. I saw a dog bitten in the face by another dog in the waiting room. I felt bad for the dog that bit because everyone looked at it as if it was a bad dog and the owner screamed at it. The dog was sitting in a corner, trapped when another dog was allowed to come up and greet it. The dog tried everything it could to move farther away but there was nowhere to go so he bit. Dogs are all about social distancing. They want to be able to increase the distance between themselves if at all possible to avoid stressful encounters.

A man with a corgi had the corgi on a retractable leash. The lock was not set on the leash, so the corgi had about 20 feet of leash to play with. The man was engrossed in his cell phone for 10 minutes while the corgi explored and got tangled around chair legs. When I body blocked the corgi from approaching Batman, the owner said “he’s friendly.” Awesome, so is my dog, but he doesn’t want to meet your dog right now. The owner became argumentative about the benefits of dogs having friends. I chose a new place to sit in the waiting room.

It is totally awesome if you have taught your dog behaviors such as sit and down, but don’t be surprised if your dog doesn’t immediately comply in the waiting room at the vet’s office. I watched a man force his trembling dog into a sit after the man had been repeatedly telling the dog to sit for more than 5 minutes. The dog was terrified of the waiting room. He was lip licking, trembling and had ropes of saliva dangling from his mouth. He didn’t want to sit. He probably didn’t even know his owner was talking to him and he certainly had not been taught to sit when lots of distractions were happening. If your dog knows lots of behaviors and you’ve taught him to do those behaviors in lots of different situations, then asking him to work for you can be a fun way to keep him occupied. Batman and I play hand targeting and foot targeting games while we wait. But, only if Batman wants to. If I ask him to target and he doesn’t, I don’t ask again. Targeting is his favorite game and if he won’t do it, I know he is stressed. Yelling at him or forcing him won’t help either one of us.

And shouting at your dog to stop barking or whining isn’t working is it? Now all the dogs are barking and all the owners are on edge because they have just listened to you for 10 minutes shout at your dog about his barking. He is barking because he is stressed out and he is getting you to interact with him. Ask the vet staff to call you when it is your turn and take your dog outside where he has more space or wait in your vehicle (weather permitting). I saw a woman grab the snout of her barking dog and give it a firm shake and the dog wilted under a chair where it remained trembling.

And if you are bringing your pet rabbit or bird into a clinic full of dogs on leash, consider putting your small pet into a protective carrier. I watched a man bring his rabbit in wrapped in a towel. I had to move Batman clear across the room after the rabbit started twitching its ears. Batman was way too focused on that bunny.

So, relax, take a deep breath and do all you can to ensure you and your dog have the best experience possible.

Games for when it’s too cold to play outside

When it is bitterly cold out, it can be dangerous for both dogs and humans to remain outdoors for very long. This means many dogs aren’t getting enough exercise. While you might be content to sit curled up under a blanket binge watching a favorite TV series on Netflix, your dog may decide that tearing up your couch is a great option for entertainment.

Here are some ideas for keeping your dog entertained indoors.

Take away your dog’s food bowl
Instead of feeding your dog once or twice a day, take away his food bowl and invest in food dispensing toys such as Kongs® or Kibble Nibbles®. Let’s say you have four large Kongs®. Measure out your dog’s kibble for the day and put it in a bowl. Add a little water; just enough to slightly moisten the food. Consider throwing in some peanut butter or cheese whiz. Stir it up and divide it evenly between the Kongs. Next top it off with a little more peanut butter or cheese and then put the Kongs in the freezer. Once frozen, you can then give your dog one every few hours and instead of gobbling up his food, he will spend time figuring out how to get it all out.

By the way, this is also a great tip for those of you who have puppies or adolescent dogs that drive you crazy. Whenever you need to give the dog something to chew on so he isn’t chewing on you, you can bring out a frozen ball of food. You have to feed him anyway, so make the food count. Just make sure you give the dog the food dispensing toy before he chews on you so he doesn’t think that nipping at you makes a fun toy appear.

In a Kibble Nibble, you put the dog’s food inside an egg-shaped device that has small holes on each end. The dog then has to figure out how to move the egg so it wobbles and as it wobbles one or two pieces of kibble fall out. The dog then spends his time moving the egg around the floor trying to get the food out.
There are many other types of food dispensing toys. Stop by IndyHumane’s Retail Store to see these and other food dispensing toys or stroll the aisles of your nearest pet store.

Let your dog help with the recycling
Dogs love to chew stuff up. Instead of trying to make the dog stop chewing, channel his energy into something that he can chew up.

First, stock up on cardboard boxes. You want boxes that contained a food product (think cereal boxes or something similar). You don’t want a box that has staples or that contained any type of cleaning product. Start saving the cardboard tubes from paper towel rolls and toilet paper as well.

Step number one is to make it easy. Take a paper towel tube and put some tasty treats inside (small bits of hot dog work great). Twist the ends of the tube and give it to your dog. He then has to tear up the cardboard tube to get out the treats. If he likes this game, take a paper towel tube filled with treats, twist the ends, put the paper towel tube inside a cereal box, put some more treats in the cereal box then close the flaps. Give the dog the box. He now has to tear up the cereal box to get to the paper towel tube inside. You can make this as complicated as your dog allows by adding more boxes.

Is it messy? You bet it is. But, most dogs stay in a small area and destroy the cardboard making it easy to sweep up in the end. This is a game that you want to play only when you can supervise the dog for the entire time. If you see your dog swallowing large pieces of cardboard, you would want to trade your dog some treats and take the cardboard away. Most dogs just rip up the cardboard and perhaps swallow tiny pieces of cardboard in the process, but you definitely want to avoid the dog swallowing large chunks of boxes.

Does it teach your dog to be more destructive? No. He is going to chew stuff up anyway right? Why not channel that chewing into something you don’t care about and which can be easily swept up at the end of 20 minutes or so.

The shelter dogs at IndyHumane rate this game #1 in things to do when you are bored.

Doggy play dates
If your dog is super dog social and loves playing with other dogs, consider a few days at doggy daycare each month. There are many, many doggy daycares in most large metropolitan areas. Ask your friends for recommendations. Look for reviews online. Use the same screening process to pick a doggy daycare as you would if you were finding a daycare for a child.

Visit the daycare first and observe play time. Is there enough staff to adequately monitor the dogs and to intervene if play gets too rough? How often does the staff rotate out dogs and let them rest? You don’t want to pick a daycare that just lets dogs loose for hours at a time. Dogs need to play awhile, and then take a break from each other. See if you can find a daycare that is large enough to offer different play areas based on size of dog or play style of dog. Not all dogs play the same. Some dogs love to stand up on their hind legs and box with their forepaws. Other dogs love to play run and chase.

If you aren’t sure how your dog feels about doggy daycare, find out when the place you are checking out is the least busy and take your dog then for its first day so it isn’t overwhelmed.

This is only a good option if your dog really does love playing with all kinds of dogs. Many dogs actually don’t enjoy playing with lots of other dogs. They may have one or two doggy friends, but don’t enjoy larger groups of dogs. People often force their dogs into dog parks or doggy daycares because humans think the dog must need friends of his own kind, but many dogs would prefer to stick just with their human friends.

Still if your dog is a social butterfly then a doggy daycare may be a great way to get some energy out.

Happy Holidays with Your Dog Part 1

For many of us, our pets are like family. A 2011 survey found that more than half of pet owners bought their pets a Christmas gift. Another survey said that in 2011, 68 percent of pet owners traveled with their pet.

So chances are you are thinking of taking your dog with you if you travel for the holidays or that you will want your dog to be part of your holiday plans if the family is coming to your house. For the gregarious dog who has never met a stranger, the holidays can be fun. But, for the shy dog or a dog that is easily overwhelmed by anything new, the holidays can be stressful.

Below are some things to think about as you decide whether or not to include your pet in the holiday scene.  Before anything else though, know the signs of stress in your dog and start training for some behaviors that will help ensure your dog has a great time this year. You can learn more in the second part of my Happy Holidays with Your Dog blog by clicking here.

Meeting people

Your dog will meet all kinds of people during the holidays. But, dogs may not like everyone they meet. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the age group of 5-9 is the most bitten age population in the United States. If your holiday plans include lots of children amped up on candy canes, make sure your dog really does enjoy the company of young people. It is not fair to ask your dog to not be a dog or the kids to not act like kids at Christmas time.

If you are unsure how your dog feels about meeting lots of new people, have him on leash for his first interactions and have a game plan in place to remove him from the situation if he acts as if he is getting stressed. It may be better to have your guests seated before letting the dog in to meet everyone. My dog Batman LOVES people, but he gets super excited when guests are arriving. Instead of allowing him to meet everyone at the door, I keep him in a crate until everyone has arrived. Then I let him out. He runs around nosing hands and asking to have his butt scratched rather than barking and jumping on everyone as they arrive. Tell your guests not to try and coax a dog to them. If the dog wants to interact, he will, but if he needs some space, that’s ok. Provide your guests with some tasty treats and ask them to reward the dog if he comes by to say hello (as long as all four paws are on the floor). Remember, you may enjoy being head butted  by your dog, but many of your guests may not.

Watch your dog throughout the evening and if you see him becoming stressed, act quickly to give him a break in a quiet place away from people.

Don’t allow a dog to get trapped in a corner by guests, especially children. Dogs need escape routes. If you see the dog in the corner and someone is approaching the dog, ask them to stop and let the dog come to them.

Meeting other animals

If everyone in your extended family is bringing their dogs to your holiday feast, it can be stressful. Just like all people don’t like each other, all dogs don’t like each other. If you are allowing dogs to meet, do it in a place where there is plenty of room (a fenced yard is always best). Have the dogs drag their leashes, but try and not hold them back. It is far better if the dogs can meet on their own terms and approach or retreat if needed. Some growling or lip curling may be appropriate. Don’t rush in to stop every confrontation, but do be prepared to step in if things become heated between two dogs. If the dogs are dragging leashes, it is easier to separate them. Never separate two dogs by sticking your hand near their faces or collars. Even your beloved dog could  bite you if he is stressed over the encounter with another dog. Some dogs do fine meeting another dog one on one, but get stressed when meeting multiple dogs. Take it slow, and always watch the dogs. Don’t just leave them to their own devices.

And just because your dog loves your cats, that doesn’t mean he will love your brother’s cats. When meeting any other animals always keep the dog on leash until you are certain that all will be well.

Travel

Does your dog enjoy car rides? Then chances are he will be fine going over the river and through the woods to see grandma. But, don’t take a long trip with the dog if he has never been in the car before. Make sure the car is fun. Find a way to put a crate in your car if possible as that is a far safer travel option than letting the dog roam freely around the vehicle. Of course, make sure your dog loves his crate and is used to getting into it in the car before you take that trip.

Make sure your dog is microchipped and is wearing an ID tag. Do not let your dog off-leash at the rest area or your grandma’s house. Even if you have a great recall at home, your dog could be spooked by a new environment and run off. Take a 30-foot leash with you so you can adequately play ball or provide other exercise if needed. If your dog is not in a crate, make sure his leash is clipped before you open your car door. Many dogs are lost each year because they dart out the door before their owners are prepared.

Both an ID tag and microchip are important. Many dogs end up losing their collars when they are lost so the microchip will be a permanent method of identifying your dog. But, if someone finds your pet right away, a tag with a phone number may ensure a quick reunion. Make sure both your microchip information and your ID tag contain up-to-date phone numbers.

Food and water

Many people feed their dog on a strict schedule, but when you are traveling, it may not always be possible to feed or water the dog at the same time. Before you travel, be sure and vary your dog’s eating habits. Make sure he can eat and drink from different types of containers. Take enough food for your entire stay to avoid tummy upsets. If your dog doesn’t eat as much as normal, or if he refuses to eat, don’t panic. Give the dog a quiet room for his food and water and give him a chance to relax.  And don’t forget the poop bags if you travel. Be a responsible pet owner and always pick up after your dog.

Vaccination records

If you are traveling with your dog, be sure and take a copy of his current vaccination records. Some areas require dogs to always have on their rabies’ tag when they are in public. If an emergency arises, you need to be able to tell someone what shots your dog has had and when. Before you travel check with your veterinarian to ensure your pet is up to date on all shots.

Temptations     

Remember, a counter with a turkey or a stove top filled with ham will be very tempting to your dog. Don’t leave the food sitting out unattended. A dog could eat something that is poisonous or he could over-indulge. Know what plants and foods are poisonous to pets.

A few simple precautions and some fun training will have you and your pet enjoying the holidays.