Terrible “Twos”

puppy chewing

Jerry Seinfeld jokes that “having a 2-yr-old is like having a blender without a lid!” I laughed out loud when I heard that one, but I have to admit I was mostly laughing because I immediately applied the thought to the doggie world. (Yes, almost everything I see or hear goes through that filter.) Just think about it — replace “2-yr-old” with “puppy” and those of us who’ve raised a young canine know that makes the joke even funnier!

Both first-time “puppy parents” and those who’ve just adopted a new puppy after years with an adult dog often marvel at how those little critters get into EVERYTHING!  In class the other day, a client told how she likes to fold laundry on the floor.  She thought she’d be fine since the puppy was napping, but as soon as the piles were starting to get neat, the puppy woke up!  Puppy saw Disneyland spread out before her.  She dashed through, delighting in causing chaos and stealing socks.  I imagine it looked very much as though the clothes had been through a blender after the lid came off!

That’s hilarious — if you’re not the one dealing with the mess!  I laughed, but tried to do so kindly.  However, I wonder why folks don’t think that sort of thing will happen?  It’s a puppy.  They see everything in the world in one of three ways:  Can I sleep on it?  Can I eat/chew it?  Can I play with it?  And sometimes objects and/or people fit in more than one category!  Simultaneously!

Folks have called me a “half-empty glass” sort of thinker all my life, because I usually look ahead and try to anticipate what could go wrong.  I call it being practical!  But you’d be surprised how many people don’t even think about “puppy-proofing” their house.  If I bring it up in class, I usually get a lot of startled looks, sheepish grins and remarks like, “Sort of…”

Here I go again on one of my favorite sayings, but “Management is easier than Training!”  There’s only so much you can instantly teach a little fur-ball.  Teaching requires TIME.  Even if you had the time for training non-stop in the first 24 hours after adopting a puppy, it’s STILL easier to put the shoes in a closet than try to convince a baby (that NEEDS to chew) to leave them alone.  Of all the tempting items in the house, those that smell and taste like YOU – shoes and underwear — will always be favorite chew items.  It’s a compliment, really, but one we can do without!

Even before bringing puppy home, it’s best to lie face down on the floor and look around.  Any fabric dangling within reach?  Any cords that are just asking to be chewed or get tangled up in? Any paper items temptingly close to the edge of a coffee table?  How about wastebaskets?  Whether it’s paper, crinkly plastic, or actual wonderfully-enticingly-smelly garbage, no puppy can resist!  What about shoes, purses, socks, remote controls, books, tablets, DVD cases…The likelihood of you training a young puppy to leave any of those things alone is approximately nil!

Another thing that many folks don’t consider is that the puppy ISN’T housetrained.  “What?” you say!  “How can folks forget THAT?”  It’s not so much that they forget the fact as forget what it MEANS.  It means that the puppy is likely to lose bladder control at unpredictable intervals!  So, giving puppy full run of the entire house is not the best plan.  But you’d be surprised how many people don’t think of restricting their new addition’s access around the house until after there’s been lot of “accidents!”  If the puppy is sneaking off to a corner of the hallway or a bedroom to do its business, she’s trying to do the right thing – in dog terms.  It’s up to us to teach her the human terms – that the whole house is off-limits – by limiting the possibilities for her to make a mistake until she learns the difference between inside and outside.

Obviously, there’s a lot of things to be considered when adopting any new dog, but especially when that dog is just a baby.  It’s not the puppy’s fault that she does what comes naturally.  If we haven’t “done our homework” – part of which includes getting the house ready to receive the new “bundle of joy” — we can’t expect everything to be joyful all the time!  Don’t just bring the little blender home and hope for the best!  Put a lid on it!

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They Also Serve

dog vet memorial

Happy K9 Veterans Day! There’s been a fair bit of buzz lately about our soldiers in fur. Animal Planet aired their documentary, GLORY HOUNDS, about Military Working Dogs and their handlers in mid-February. On January 1, a Rose Bowl Parade float, sponsored by Dick Van Patten’s Natural Dog Food, honored the canines who serve with our armed forces. And the Senate, led by John McCain, watered down a bill that would have changed the official status of our MWD’s from “equipment” to “canine members of the Armed Forces,” and be assured of a ticket home and an honorable retirement with medical care.

The bill was passed in the House and was also passed in the Senate, but it did not contain those three very important stipulations. MWDs are still considered equipment. According to the Senate’s version of the bill (which the President later signed into law) the military commanders have the option to send dogs home, and a COMMITTEE has been authorized to look into raising funds to take care of retired dogs, as long as no Federal Funds are used for that purpose. Nice reward for soldiers who daily risked their lives to protect us, huh?

It may be argued that dogs are only behaving as they are trained and ordered to do by their handlers, and have no conception of what they are risking. True, dogs live in the moment to a great extent – they can teach us a thing or two about that! Also true — they certainly are working in partnership with a handler. I’m sure it’s equally true that a MWD’s willingness to engage in dangerous maneuvers is motivated to a great degree by his love of and trust in his partner. Still, that doesn’t mean the dog is insensible of the danger he’s facing — especially after serving for a few months.

Come on! Dogs aren’t dumb! If they were, soldiers wouldn’t trust the dogs with their safety and lives as they do. Though dogs live in the moment, it’s been demonstrated that a dog’s mental stability depends on being able to predict what’s going to happen next, so MWDs certainly know that their jobs risk a lot of noise and danger! Even if the dog doesn’t fret about the danger as a human might, he knows the soldiers he’s patrolling with are anxious, on edge – and when they’re frightened. And, as trainers say, “emotions go right down the leash!” so what the handler feels, the dog does, too.

To me, the point isn’t that Military Working Dogs serve in exactly the same way as human soldiers. After all, they are specialists. You don’t see a human being asked to sniff out explosives, any more than you’d ask a dog to shoot a rifle. Of course dogs have specific talents which are different than those of their human comrades-in-arms! The point is that they go through intensive training, just like human soldiers. They live in primitive conditions for months and years, daily using their training in situations that put them in mortal danger. They often are killed, injured, or rendered incapable of doing their duty in the pursuit of it.

The difference is that a wounded human soldier will be flown home, cared for and given an honorable retirement. The injured canine soldier, unless his handler (on a soldier’s pay) can afford to send him home. If his handler can’t afford to adopt the dog and his medical bills, the Military Working Dog may in all likelihood be killed by his own military. Disposed of – as just another useless piece of equipment.


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Puppies Want to Please

sad puppyI have a PUPPY MANNERS class starting tonight — and I’m thrilled!  It’s always exciting and makes me very happy when folks don’t put off formal training with a young puppy. They grow up so fast and you never get back those first impressionable months.

A puppy is “pre-programmed” to eagerly accept new experiences between about 7 and 16 weeks.  That’s the age where, in the wild, the pups would first emerge from the den to meet and bond with their social unit — the pack.  After that age, a more cautious phase sets in to discourage the growing pups from wandering too far afield and bonding with members of other packs, or prey animals.  Domestic dogs have the same built-in learning periods as those in the wild.  So, our best time to teach Toby to accept people, dogs, other animals, and new places and situations is while he is still in that early formative period – less than 4 months old!

Too many times, we bring a puppy home and either because of busy schedules or fear of infection for that pup just starting vaccinations, Toby scarcely leaves home again until months have gone by.  He’s never exposed to new people, dogs or even other places – except the Vet!   And a trip to the Vet is scary!  So, it’s really no wonder that, at 6 or 8 months, Toby starts showing fear and/or aggression towards a lot of people and places his adopters really want him to like and accept.  Poor Toby was never introduced to them when it would make the best impression, so now teaching him will be much more difficult!

This is similar to language acquisition in humans.  A child’s developing brain swiftly makes new connections and assimilates words, grammar and syntax without even trying.  An adult’s brain can’t do that, and we learn language much more slowly and with a lot more effort!  There’s no going back to that more plastic brain just because we’d like to.  We’re dealing with hard-wiring.  Can’t just load up the newest software!  And neither can a “teenaged” puppy.  Toby has learned  that his home and those few people in it are his pack and territory and everyone else and all places outside that are “other” and not to be trusted.

You see, if you’re not FORMALLY training the puppy — Toby’s learning anyway!  We can’t put Toby on hold until we’ve got enough time to teach him.  Babies pick up whatever their environment presents, because their little brains are BIG sponges.  It’s not a matter of teaching Toby or not, just if we want to be in conscious control of what he’s learning or are content to leave it all to chance.

Another reason to get puppies into formal training ASAP is that a young dog is so eager to please!  Baby Toby probably drives his new family crazy following them and constantly getting underfoot –because he’s trying so hard to be noticed and loved.  This attention-seeking drive of a puppy is beyond price!  At that young age they will do ANYTHING to get our attention and approval!  And he’s probably doing a lot of very annoying things trying to get it, too!  So substitute lessons, make him EARN that attention, and the limits of Toby’s learning is the limits of our time to teach and ability to explain what we want!

Recall?  Ha!  Try getting far enough away to call Toby to you!  Praise that pup every time he wanders your way, called or not.  Never call him over for “bad” things like clipping nails or getting a bath, or punishment, and Toby will zip to your side every time you say his name!  Play recall games consistently before the pup is 4 months old and you’re forming a HABIT of returning to you.  Early habits are very hard to erase, and Toby won’t even try!

Walking on leash?  Puppies are FOLLOWERS!  Introduce Toby slowly and gently with lots of treats and praise to his collar and leash.  Instead of dragging him around when he hesitates, pretend to RUN AWAY calling his name and let Toby chase you!  Then PRAISE him when he catches up!  That’s all good leash-manners are – following the leader!

Don’t wait until your dog becomes a teenager to start training!  Just like in humans, doggie teenagers are learning to become independent and are not so intent upon following or gaining our approval.  If we’ve carefully taught Toby good habits while he was a baby, it won’t take much to keep him “in practice” as he’s growing up, or to build on those early lessons.  If we’ve put off the training, all is not lost.  Old dogs (and “teenaged” dogs) most certainly can learn new tricks!  However, Toby will never so readily, so easily, so joyfully pick up any instruction, nor work so hard to learn — just to please us.


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Ignoring Speaks Louder than Language

I know my clients, friends, and family undoubtedly get tired of hearing me advise: “IGNORE the behavior you DON’T want to see repeated and PAY ATTENTION to ANYTHING you want your dog to keep doing!”  I know I often sound like a broken record to myself!  For everyone’s sake, I’ve got to think of other ways of getting that point across because, to me, it is training in a nutshell. Everything else is just techniques and strategies to help you accomplish those two things.

As humans, we are so terribly tempted to TALK all the time in training, thinking that will help the dog learn faster. But dogs don’t automatically understand what we’re saying.  They don’t have a natural predisposition for verbal language like humans, so they’re not even listening for verbal cues.  I saw a cartoon once with a lady talking to her dog.  The “speaking” balloon coming from her mouth said something like, “You know better than that, Fido, but you just had to do it anyway!”  The “thinking” balloon coming from the dog’s head looked like this – “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah FIDO! blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…”  you get the point.

Dogs watch what we DO far more than listen to what we SAY. It takes many, many, many repetitions for most dogs to correctly connect the sounds coming out of our mouths with specific actions or situations.  They pay a little more attention to tone of voice, but it still doesn’t help them as much as we think it should.  My mentor, Humane Society of West Michigan’s behaviorist Namiko Ota-Noveskey, says that she can tell when she’s being an effective trainer because she’s not saying much!   Then, she knows she’s focusing on the dog’s body language and using her own to teach the dog!

Something happened in my backyard today that really illustrates how effective IGNORING a dog can be!  My GSD mix, Kita, is 9 years old and never was one to play a lot even in her youth.  A new Daycare client is a Black Lab/St. Bernard mix named Sheba.  She’s only 9 months old and already as big as Kita.  Sheba also LOVES to play and spends HOURS trying to persuade Kita to join her.  Sometimes Kita does – actually to my surprise!  However, today wasn’t one of those days.

Sheba tried every ploy in the book!  Huge play-bows right in front of Kita, front legs spread wide and chest on the ground, rear and tail wiggling madly.  Then, Sheba tried lying down head between paws to give Kita the ole sad-puppy dog eyes with some begging-whines!  After that didn’t work, came the bouncing all around from every angle in play-bows — barking all the while.  Through all that Kita continued sniffing the ground and the air without so much as a glance in Sheba’s direction.  So, Sheba started dashing right up to Kita, nose to nose and then would run away in the “butt on fire” gait of a dog that’s expecting to be chased.  Kita looked in the other direction.  Now being a bit of a distance away, Sheba charged, in huge gallumphing strides directly at Kita looking for all the world as if she was going to bowl her over.  Kita calmly lifted her nose a bit and gazed off at the horizon.  As a last-ditch effort, Sheba tried some deliberately provocative actions:  nudging Kita’s nose and face repeatedly, then “T-ing” (putting her head over Kita’s back.)  Kita remained unimpressed.  Sheba at last acknowledged defeat and looked for a stick to chew.

Kita never once lost her cool.  She stood her ground, but never made eye contact.  She never wrinkled a lip or made a vocalization, even when the “puppy” was in her face and being a bit of a brat!  Now, T-ing is a form of jockeying for dominance, and Kita does not take kindly to being so challenged.  Sheba clearly was trying that to get ANY reaction out of Kita – even a negative one!  I think Kita knew just what the puppy was doing and wasn’t going to give her the satisfaction – the ATTENTION!

Sheba didn’t give up easily!  Her behavior got worse before it got better!  Kita didn’t have human language skills to help her, but she didn’t even use a dog’s limited repertoire of vocalizations to “say” anything.  She didn’t even need to take any direct action to get HER point across to Sheba!  I’m not too proud to learn a lesson from my dog!  She’s not the most patient animal I’ve ever met, and probably wouldn’t have taken all that from an adult dog.  But Kita today gave me a textbook example of how to teach a puppy some manners!

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Mothers and Four-pawed Kids

kids have4 paws

This picture was posted for a (very) short time on FB today. By the time I saw it and tried to comment, it had been “retracted” probably due to some negative comments. I found it fascinating that the only folks objecting were male. Actually, I think that’s pretty significant, especially since the women who posted something all agreed and had some anecdote to share about how true it was in their own lives.

One man posted, “sorry dog owner isnt a mother people.” Though his lack of punctuation makes his exact meaning imprecise, I don’t think he was apologizing to the dog owners reading it. Another fellow had this to say — “No wonder the world is a mess. Comparing motherhood to owning a dog. That’s actually quite sick.” No wondering about what HE means, is there?

Isn’t it INTERESTING how both used some conjugation of the verb “to own?” Probably it was in reaction to the language in the picture, but I’m sure it was also a deliberate strategy to underscore their points. Emphasizing that word says a lot about how they view the world.

You can only “own” property — THINGS. To call something ALIVE “property” means you regard those living being as things, too. According to law, animals — even household pets — are still listed as property. The US military still classifies Military Working Dogs as “equipment.”  However the soldiers who work with the dogs regard them as partners and fellow warriors. Most folks who share their home with an animal usually regard and speak of them as members of the family. I would imagine these two guys are not among those “most folks.”

As men, they can never be mothers, themselves, so they can’t be objecting to the lady’s posting on that basis. At first glance it seems that the two “gentlemen” are standing up for the women in their lives.  I wish I could believe that’s all that’s going down.  Their reactions are not objective disagreements with the etymology of the word “motherhood.”  No, their comments are coming from gut-reactions and that means emotions which are connected to core beliefs.  No 21st century American would openly talk of owning his wife or kids, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they truly, deep down, consider the women and children in their lives as being extensions of themselves.

Didn’t mean to get so far off my usual “doggie” topics, here.   It just struck me that if these guys considered that post to smirch the beauty and sanctity of motherhood, then they must have pretty low opinions of dogs – as property.  Perhaps they were offended that a human woman would WANT to “mother” a beast. They certainly showed that they considered the opinion put forth in the picture to be just plain wrong for society as a whole!

I’m sorry for those men and anyone else who objects to this post, and here’s why – YOU ARE MISSING THE POINT!  The point is that not having biological (or adopted human) children of one’s own does not mean that a woman has no “motherlove.”  Nor does it mean she puts it a box and buries it!  She instead lavishes that nurturing spirit on others, including her “pets.”  She is not denying children anything.  She is not cheapening a mother’s love (or father’s) for their own children.  “Mothering” a dog or cat just means a woman’s heart is too big to restrict her caring to her own species.  Out of empathy, she cares for an animal without expectation of gaining anything in return.  And isn’t that what being a mother is all about?  Grow some empathy, guys!  It’s LACK of it that’s the reason the world is in such a mess, not because women call their 4-pawed pet, “kids!”


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Who’s Bed is it, Anyway?

Since I’m always cold, I love it when my animals want to sleep with me — especially as we keep the heat turned way down at night! My kitty is equally happy to oblige – and a fine, furry “electric” blanket she is, too!  But Kita (9-yr-old GSD mix) likes to sleep next to the bed or even go off to a doggie pillow in the corner on her own.  So, I’m always a bit jealous when folks “complain” about how much of the bed their dog(s) hog! Nothing’s warmer than having a big dog to cuddle up against when the Winter wind howls outside!

Most of the time, folks aren’t really complaining — they wouldn’t banish Rover from the bed no matter how much room he takes! However, it worries me sometimes when a certain note creeps into the mock-grumbling. Hearing stories that the dog won’t move over when requested, or pushes back if the human tries to reclaim some square footage, or “grumbles” at THEM when asked to get off, I find myself getting tense. In these cases, it sounds very much as if Rover thinks it’s HIS bed!

Dogs are territorial, even dogs that aren’t particularly “dominant.” What’s theirs is THEIRS, thank you very much!  So, I worry that about what message Rover gets when his owner grumbles, but lets herself be pushed out of bed, or relegated to the outer 6 inches, or gives up the pillow and covers.  Rover can be forgiven for thinking it’s HIS bed since he’s been allowed to claim it.  Possession is nine-tenths of the law with humans — with dogs, more like 100%!  I’ve seen a 9-month-old puppy after making submissive gestures to all the other dogs in the yard, literally chase them all away from a stick she was claiming.  If Rover thinks the bed is his territory, even if he knows the human is boss, he’s going to have something to say if the human tries to push him off!

But dogs also put a lot of status on who gets the “top” (as in highest) spot. We humans don’t have any problem with letting a teenager, for example, sit on the couch while we take the floor. We realize that, while additional height, in certain circumstances, can give one human a psychological advantage over another, it doesn’t always apply – or we don’t have to let it bother us!  If we’re in a competitive situation humans pay attention to height and make sure it’s in their own favor, but otherwise it’s mostly symbolic and easily ignored.

Rover probably doesn’t see it that way. If one dog is “over” another that isn’t just a symbol, but a statement of fact.  The “top” dog is saying he’s literally on top – has higher status! There are a few circumstances where one dog would tolerate another claiming the “high ground” if that wasn’t his right — in play situations and with young puppies!  Parent (and good-natured adult dogs) grant puppies a lot of leeway, often allowing pups to crawl on top of them, etc.  However, Dr. Patricia McConnell illustrates how seriously dogs regard “one-up-manship” with an incident, where a well-socialized, puppy-loving female Golden Retriever became “a furry chainsaw” when someone held a puppy up over her head.  Clearly, height matters to dogs!  So, Rover must think he’s (at least) of equal status with the folks who let him hog the bed!

If Rover thinks he owns the bed and is of equal status with the humans sharing it, odds are that there will come a show-down one day.  Rover may growl when jostled, or snap when pushed at.  He may snarl when a boyfriend tries to share the bed.  He may even bite you when you grab his collar and try to pull him off.  It’s not really his fault.  He’s acting on information that he’s been taught.

Kita used to sleep on the bed!  One of the probable reasons she doesn’t like to anymore, is that early on, I let a bed-hogging situation progress unchecked until she growled at me one night when I bumped her getting back into bed.  So, I had to take a few steps back and forbid her access for a time.  Then she was gradually allowed up after “working” for the privilege (SITTING upon command.)  However, I didn’t always allow her up when she “asked” by putting her head on the bed, to underscore that the bed belonged to me.

Somehow in all that process and re-training, Kita lost the confidence that she was welcome up there with me, as long as she remained respectful.  If I had it to do all over again, I would teach Kita two commands:  UP (get on the bed) and OFF (get off the bed.)  I would, as part of the bed-time ritual, ask for the SIT every night, and then cue her to get UP on the bed.  If she tried to hog too much room, she’d be told to get OFF.  This would be all very matter-of-fact and would prevent the irritation, betrayal, hurt and emotional misunderstandings when possession of the bed finally became an issue.  I have tried to encourage Kita to share the bed – and the couch, too!  But she is so ill-at-ease that I’ve stopped.  After the fact, I just don’t know how to let Kita know  I WANT her up there, and so I am now without my BIG, furry “electric” blanket.  But the cat is happy because there’s more for HER to hog!

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Saying, “Boo!” to a Dog

I remember as a child, once walking by a tied-out dog. My mother was with me; we were at a campground, as I recall.   I knew enough not to approach a tied dog, even calm and lying down as this one was, without its owner present. However, I didn’t want to just ignore him!  It seemed rude as he was watching us in a hopeful way, so I said something like, “Hey there, Boo!” and the dog thumped his tail on the ground and grinned at me, dipping his ears and looking rather goofily happy. I remember asking my mother why dogs always seemed to like being called “Boo!”  Poor woman. I probably asked crazy things like this all the time. She did her best and came up with, ” Because it sounds friendly!”

Looking back, I think she was right.  But I don’t think it was the name, “Boo” alone that sounded friendly to the dog.  I’m sure (because I still call dogs, “Boo” today along with “Sweetness” and “Babycakes”) that I used a form of exaggerated speech that is closely related to baby-talk.  Nowadays I believe it’s called Motherese or Child-directed Speech.

It has been noted by many psychologists that humans (especially women) speak to animals (especially pet dogs) in almost exactly the same way as they would speak to a small child.  It seems to be an instinctive response.  I have never had children of my own, never baby-sat very small kids, and have few friends or relatives within easy-visiting distance who had infants for me to “practice” on.  Yet, I invariably use this special form of speech to all dogs, cats, and to a lesser extent the other domestic animals, and wild creatures I encounter around my home and on walks.

This isn’t necessarily the stereotypical baby-talk where words are distorted almost beyond recognition — “Did oo hurt ooself, widdle beebee, Did oo?”  But there are some shared characteristics:  higher pitch, drawn out sounds, musical cadence, rhythmical delivery and repetition.  Think about the last time you asked your dog if she wanted to go for a walk.  I bet it sounded something like this — “Puppy wanna go for a walk?  Wanna go?  Wanna walk?”  Probably the “walk” and “go” as final words were drawn-out and had an upward swooping pitch.  And I bet your dog got very excited and happy!

Well, you, say.  That’s because Fifi understands those words.  Yep!  I believe it!  And she understands the words precisely because the delivery was designed to help others acquire language!  Of course it was evolutionarily designed to teach our own children, but when we adopted dogs into the family, they benefited from the same speech patterns that were already well-honed by thousands, if not millions of years of mothers talking to their babies.

I’m not trying to be sexist here!  A lot of guys use this sort of language instinctively, too – especially if they’ve been the caretaker of small children.  However, men seem to have a harder time with applying it to a dog.  A lot of my clients just can’t wrap their minds around the need to talk baby-talk to their puppy (or adult dog!)  Even if you’re not trying to teach the dog word recognition, they just RESPOND better to that form of talking!  If you want to get a dog excited, encourage it to come to you, or make him work harder – speak in baby-talk.  Most dogs go all soft and goofy when they hear it and will do anything for you!

Some guys seem embarrassed by it all.  I point to K9 cops and Military Working Dog handlers.  Those big tough cops and soldiers invariably praise their dogs in this very same, high-pitched, sing-song, silly way.  And the big tough police and military dogs eat it up with a spoon!  They get the very same happy grin on their faces that the tied-out dog so long ago did for me.  It is plain that this silly-talk is the reward they work so very hard for and risk their lives to receive.  Saying “Boo!” to a dog is exactly what they want from us!

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