Tag Archives: dog behavior

Soothe That Not-so-Savage Beast

Playwright and Poet, William Congreve, coined the often mis-quoted phrase — “Music hath charms to soothe the savage beast.” He wasn’t (as far as I know) really talking about animals, but meant it as a metaphor. However, taking the idea literally has merits!

A friend of mine swears she tamed her skittish and hard-to-handle Arabian gelding with classical music. Many animal shelters pipe in instrumental music to help keep the animals calm. Dog experts Nichole Wilde and Patricia McConnel mention playing music as a possible soothing influence on dogs with separation anxiety.

Because of Kita’s problem in that area, I invested in a couple of CDs claiming to calm the savage beast of Separation Anxiety. Most don’t do what they claim!  However, THROUGH A DOG’S EAR, isn’t bad!  It was developed through research on how the canine nervous system responds to sound. The CD records pianist Lisa Spector playing various slowish classical pieces like Bach’s PRELUDE, with tempo and dynamic variations that psychoacoustic expert Joshua Leads determined would amplify the already-calming effect.

I’ve had pretty good results with this recording. However, I have to say that I’ve had just about the same results with recordings of the slower, lower-key pieces of Bach and Mozart. The selection of orchestra or chamber music on those two CDs were designed as background music for humans, so I suppose it’s much the same idea.

Music is no “magic wand” though! To get a dog that’s hyped up — agitated, barking and/or jumping out of his skin with excess energy — a few tinkling tunes won’t do much. For a dog that’s in full stress mode with anxiety – panting, drooling, eyes dialated,and nervously pacing – the music can’t calm her down.  However, to keep an already calm dog’s tension from escalating or persuadin well-exercised dogs that it’s time to settle down — it really helps!

Kita is really helped if music is playing when I leave the house.  Of course, I’ve had to work hard to avoid all the triggers that make her anxiety levels spike, but the music is a good tool to keep things on an even keel. It even works to keep her other fears in check – like her fear of the ice-maker in the refrigerator!  It also helps the daycare and boarding dogs – a lot!

When there’re a lot of dogs running around the yard, they are tiring each other out, but they’re also revving each other up!  (It’s just so exciting for the average, “only” dog to have so many playmates that they don’t WANT to slow down!)  However, if I don’t find a way to persuade them to take a break or two, they may get so wired that they might not continue making good social decisions!

Before we get to that point, my usual practice is to bring everyone inside, ask everyone to SIT, and hand around milk-bones or another crunchy treat .Then,  I put one of the classical CDs on, and ignore the dogs.   In less than 5 minutes, they’re all curled up in their favorite spots in or out of crates in my office.

Now, you might say they dogs are tired and eating the treat is what settles them down long enough to realize a nap sounds good. Well, that is why I feed them the treat! But, the funny thing is if I forget to turn on the music — as happened today — the dogs lie down , but only for a few minutes before they pop up again! If I add the music to the mix, then we get more like a half hour before they’re ready to rumble! It’s not a hard-and-fast rule! Any number of things — the cat peeking in the room, ice falling off the roof, a truck rumbling by — can get them excited again in an instant. Still, it does really seem to extend that nap break.

So next time you need to calm things down, try a little classical music! Not just for the dogs, but to help yourself, too! I find the music I originally put on to make the dogs subside, causes all those worrisome thoughts in my own brain to settle down. Not only do I get the quiet to write by “soothing” the doggie “beasts” with Bach or Mozart, but I get a creative and focusing boost for myself!

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The Power of Quiet

We humans tend to talk first and think later.  Scold and then find out what the problem really was.  Yell because we’re scared/mad/anxious and then find out that maybe wasn’t the most appropriate way to react.  We’re a noisy species – probably because of that hard-wiring for language!   We think loud is the way to be heard. As the proverb proclaims — “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”  Not even going to speculate how true that might be if we’re trying to get another human to listen to us, but it’s definitely NOT the way to engage a dog’s attention!

Take one of the most common scenarios – your dog is barking.  Dixie drives you crazy with her yapping every time she hears someone walk by.  You want her to STOP – NOW!  So, you yell at her and scold and if anything Dixie gets louder.  In the dog world, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, when one dog barks, the others in the vicinity start barking, too!  A lot of experts, including Stanley Coren, think that when we yell, the dog might just think we’re joining in like all the other dogs, rather than giving a command.

Or another instance – Doug is having a good time out on your walk sniffing and looking around. (Squirrel!) He doesn’t respond when you ask him to SIT.  So, you repeat the command over and over, finding your voice getting louder, and louder, and LOUDER!  But Doug doesn’t pay more and more attention to you, does he?

How about watching Daisy dashing off into the sunset after slipping her leash?  What do we do?  Yell!  And loud!  Mostly we’re scared because she of what she could run into, but pretty soon we’re sounding like a drill sergeant and practically foaming at the mouth,  Still, it doesn’t help Daisy’s sensitive ears tune in our “dulcet” tones at all!  Funny that!

A dog’s hearing is very, very good.  We don’t need to yell to make sure the sound waves activate the proper mechanism and transmit info to their brains.  A dog can hear a cellophane wrapper being crinkled two rooms away!  Kita can hear my voice inside a client’s house while she’s parked in the car in the driveway!  Whisper the word “walk” in most households and a sleeping dog will beat you to the door!

Any trainer can tell you that the WAY we speak, speaks far louder to our dogs than do the words themselves!   If you want to get your dog excited about something (perhaps you’re trying to teach her how to fetch) you speak in a high, quick, fairly loud voice and repeat words and phrases.  Staccato!  Forte!  Whereas if you’re trying to get a dog to NOT do something (STAY for instance) we speak in a lower-pitched, softer, slower way, drawing out our words. Legato…Piano…

The change in SOUNDS helps get the message across to the dog. But beyond the acoustics, we need to speak quietly to become calm and still inside.  Dogs pick up on our energy quicker than our words.  By speaking slower and softer we slow our own respiration and probably our heart rate and blood pressure, too!  Dogs can hear and certainly pay attention to those physiological signs of stress and anxiety.  They can see the muscles in our neck and shoulders get tense.  We move differently when we’re tense and dogs are extremely sensitive to HOW we move, just like how we sound!  If their person is anxious, the dog is anxious, too!  So, take a deep breath, consciously RELAX your shoulders, neck,  jaw and arms — and speak very, very quietly (like you’re hunting wabbits!)  It’s amazing!  In short order you’ll feel much calmer and your dog will be listening.

Today has been a real test of this training technique; seven dogs — boarding and daycare doggies plus my own girl! One of the seven is sure to catch any little movement or suspicious sound outside!  When one hears a truck rumble by, or the propped-open back door bang against its prop, or a car door slam across the street, it lets loose a barrage of barks — and the rest of the pack gives voice right along side.  Instead of yelling (as I feel like doing); instead of saying a few bad words (as I’m tempted to do) I’ve taken that big calming breath, shaken my arms and neck, and breathed, “Quiet!  Quiet, puppies!”  It’s absolutely amazing how quickly they trail off and look at me as if puzzled to know what all the ruckus was about — and come over to be petted or lie down.

I don’t know if it’s the “energy” shifting from me to them.  I don’t know if they see me, as the leader, being unconcerned and so they figure there’s nothing to worry about.  I don’t know if they have to stop barking to hear me!  And I don’t really care.  It gets results!  The power of QUIET is very powerful indeed!  Also less stress on the vocal cords!

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From the Couch’s Potatoes

I am a confirmed couch potato! I like nothing better than curling up on the sofa with a quilt, a book and a cup of something hot by my elbow.  Can’t say I’m exactly PROUD of preferring a life with little physical activity, but I’m definitely NOT ashamed of being an introvert who needs privacy at home to recharge my batteries!  For some reason, I always thought that recharging was best done from a reclining position on the couch!

For years as an adult I’d lived with cats, who approve and support the introvert lifestyle — as long as THEIR introvert is properly trained as warm-blooded furniture! Not that I didn’t LOVE dogs and want one, but my job was in the theatre and that means long hours away from home. Two cats can keep each other company and be happy to snuggle with their human when she finally drags in, but a dog or even two dogs — not so much!

Finally, I adopted Kita, in spite of the scheduling issues because I realized that my aging body needed motivation to pry it off the couch cushions! I couldn’t keep to a walking schedule all on my own, but would have to get moving in order to exercise my puppy! And it worked! Though I had to re-arrange schedules at the theater and come home between activities, Kita got a good 45 minutes of exercise in the morning (even in the dead of Winter when that meant setting forth  in the dark before dawn) and 45 minutes to an hour every evening. And the couch potato did, too!

At least the evening “walk” always started out as aerobic, but in my neighborhood, EVERYBODY took their dog to the park after work. It wasn’t unusual for the humans to stand around socializing and let their dogs frisk about, socializing on their own. The neighbors encouraged me to let Kita off leash so she could have fun with the other dogs and I couldn’t resist!  Yep, Kita had fun, but after she organized and lead break-away adventures in the woods a couple of times, they stopped suggesting that!  (Kita was far more independent than most 6-9 month old puppies and still doesn’t have a rock-solid recall because of that trait.  But that’s another subject.)  Still, she got a good measure of movement, and compared to the pre-Kita days, I’d added quite a bit of activity to my day!  Until Kita was over a year old, it was no problem getting her enough walks and play-dates to keep in shape.  Then we moved.

Foolishly, I thought that we’d get MORE activity in a semi-rural area. It wasn’t until we were all unpacked that I realized a couple of things — out here there are no sidewalks or streetlights.  In addition, the road we live on may be only two-lanes, but is one of the only connecting roads between two communities and a college, so I don’t feel safe walking on the shoulder even in daylight.  With the leash-laws (by township ordinance, even CATS have to be on-leash) and Kita’s Recall being iffy, I couldn’t safely bend the rules and let her romp in the wild land behind our house even if I was scrambling around with her.  We have 2/3 of an acre fenced in behind the house, but a dog doesn’t exercise herself.  And even if she did, that doesn’t exercise ME!

This is where I started to really envy those folks with high-fetch-drive dogs.  Romping and throwing ball or Frisbee with Kita would have gone a long way to keeping us both off the couch.  After a year or so of intermittent walks at parks we had to drive to.  Short walks along the same “safe” backstreet. Running around our yard which got to be a more than a bit boring without the ball-or-Frisbee component, I broke down and adopted a companion animal for Kita – Rilka.  (It’s her picture I use as my blog avatar!)

That solved the dog’s exercise requirements — for about a year.  The girls would play and chase each other around the small barn, and we’d all walk a couple of times a week, so with yard-work I was doing OK, too.  Then, as these things happen, the girls played less, and we walked less, too.  It all happened so gradually that I didn’t recognize the increasingly frequent doggie break-outs as the symptom of what they were – two still young, lively dogs weren’t getting enough exercise!

By break-outs, I mean literally and figuratively!  The girls would break out their own fun with “boredom” chewing, garbage exploration and digging inside and outside the house.  On the literal side, Rilka was an escape artist and Kita no slouch, neither.  They took many, many opportunities to slip under the chain link, or enlarge a gopher hole under the privacy fence, or punch out a screen in a window, to get out and chase furry critters all over the area. (I wanted smart dogs and they are – they thought of ways to break out faster than I could think of what they might be thinking of!)  Considering how busy the street out front is, it was fairly miraculous that they stayed safe – except for tapeworm from eating little furry creatures, scratches, burrs, and Kita blowing a knee – for nearly 4 years.  But it eventually killed Rilka who was hit by a car.

They say hind-sight is always 20-20. I now see that I let my “couch potato” inclinations take over and — not to put too fine a point on it –neglected my dogs and myself.  Even if I found our only safe walking route boring, the dogs didn’t – the smells were always new and interesting.  There was always time, and walking in the pre-light before dawn always revealed wonderful wildlife.  No, I just failed to do the duty I got a dog to force myself into in the first place.

Since then  DRAMA DOG TRAINING activities — boarding, daycare and classes – are making sure both Kita and I keep moving,  Even though she’s now, at 9 years, considered a “senior,” Kita plays more and more with the client doggies!  If we don’t have dogs that exercise each other, Kita and I take one dog at a time for walks, so we’re doing pretty good there, too!

And it’s kind of amazing that I’ve discovered even an introvert’s batteries get recharged all the better with a little physical activity!  After a good walk, I’m more creative, relaxed and refreshed that if I sat down with a book and cup of tea!  The benefits to me are great, but to my dog, they can’t even be measured. It’s my job to keep us from “couch-potato-hood” and I wish I’d lived up to my responsibilities in time so that my sweet Rilka might still be here with us.  But I can point to myself as a bad example and assure clients that exercise DOES make a huge difference in a dog’s behavior and “bad” habits as well as her health — and theirs!

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You Get What You “Pay” For

puppy and ball

(Thanks to the German Shepherd Dog Community for this cute pic!)

One subject that inevitably comes up when talking “dog” with anyone, anywhere, are those dogs that LOVE to chase a ball, stick, or Frisbee, but a) won’t bring it back, b) try to morph into TUG the instant a human lays a finger on it, c) seize the opportunity to turn FETCH into KEEP AWAY, or d) spit the object out at the human’s feet before he can take it. Actually, I’m always envious of folks with ANY of the above issues because it means their dog will at least FETCH to some degree.  Both of my GSDs, though with HIGH prey drives, preferred to chase live, furry things and seemed to think I was trying to trick them somehow with balls and Frisbees.  (You want me to do what….?)

Having lots of different dogs come to stay at DRAMA DOG TRAINING for the day or week, I’ve seen many dogs exhibiting one or more of the four issues above.  In all cases, it only took a little persuasion to convince them to play by my rules.  You see, dogs are smart!  If they can get us to play THEIR game THEIR way, then why shouldn’t they?  The pay-off for the dog, as always, is how much attention they get!  We reap the behavior we feed with the most attention – and doggie doesn’t care if we’re happy or upset as long as doggie’s getting our focus.

Consider the dog that just won’t bring the ball back.  One might think that Tucker isn’t getting to play FETCH much at all if he runs off with the ball, but who says that’s the game he wants to play?  If he runs and grabs the ball – it becomes HIS!  “Nyah, nyah!  It’s my ball and you can’t have it!” Tucker  seems to taunt as he’s dashing about the yard; a doggie grin plastered on his face!  I guarantee if you turn your back or start go in the house he’ll probably deflate like a pricked balloon.  If you don’t care he has the ball and are taking away your attention and company, most dogs will drop the toy to run after you, or bring it along (forgotten) in his mouth.  Even if Tucker DOESN’T, his fun is over because you’re not there to gloat over any more.  After a few repetitions, he’ll be looking for a game that’s more fun and FETCH might have a chance, after all!

Most dogs that instantly morph into a game of TUG have been taught to do that by their human!  We don’t MEAN to, but we do!   Joey brings the stick right back and you grab it.  Joey hasn’t been taught what “Drop it” means, so you pull on the stick trying to get it out of his mouth to throw it again.  You ARE playing FETCH, right?  Not after you’ve started TUGGING, you’re not!  That turns it into a brand new game with new rules – and you started it!  Can’t blame Joey if he joins in!  Or if ever after he thinks the two games should alternate.  HE Fetches and then YOU Tug!  That sounds fair, doesn’t it?  Not so much from our point of view!

So, when Joey tries to pull, decline to reciprocate!  You can let go of the stick, or move along with him as he TUGS.  The idea is you’re going to wait him out — until HE releases the stick.  You can wait until he drops it on his own.  As he it leaves his mouth, say, “Drop it! YES!” then pick up the stick and throw it.  If you keep hold of the stick, watch as he’s chomping to shift his grip.  When his jaws release the stick, suddenly pull it out of his mouth, saying “Out! YES!” and throw the stick.  In either case, Joey is learning a new CUE and you’re not being trapped into playing TUG!

It’s no wonder so many dogs return the Frisbee only to keep it just out of our reach.  KEEP AWAY is the game voted most-fun-to-play by 9 out of 10 dogs of all sizes, ages and breeds.  Ringo’s reactions are so much faster than ours that he gets a good doggie giggle at our fumbling attempts to grab the Frisbee.  “Sucker! You’ll never get it!”  And that’s true.  A human’s chance at winning the KEEP-AWAY game are pretty slim!

SO DON’T PLAY THAT GAME!  Instead, play FETCH with TWO objects that Ringo likes equally well.  As he’s bringing back the first one, hold up the second and waggle it enticingly.  Most dogs will drop the first without a second thought as they focus on the one in YOUR hand – that you of course THROW to keep the game of FETCH going.  Pick up the first toy as Ringo runs off, and you’ll stay in business!

I honestly used to wonder a bit at folks who thought D was a PROBLEM.  A dog that returns and spits the FETCH object out without being asked or coaxed!  Isn’t that what we WANT? But then, I encountered a high-drive Australian Shepherd!   Cooper was so intent on getting ready to go after the re-thrown ball that he would dash up, dropping the ball somewhere in my vicinity as the ran half-way out in the yard to wait for the next toss.  Stooping over to pick up a ball once or twice isn’t hard, but after 50 repetitions, it gets old.  So I refused to pick it up!

Actually, that was the final step.  The intermediate steps involved not picking up a ball that was dropped further away than the previous time.  Then I only picked up balls that were CLOSER to me, until it was consistently left at my feet.  You see, I’d only throw the ball AFTER I picked it up, so if it was too far away and I was just standing there, Cooper couldn’t stand it and would move it a little closer!  (Ha-ha!  All according to my fiendish plan! ) Finally, when Cooper was bringing the ball right to me, I’d point to the ball on the ground and say, “Gimme the ball!” and WAIT!  Cooper would get so frustrated at my stupidity that he’d pick it up and nudge my hand with it.  Grabbing it, I’d say “YES!” and throw the ball as the reward.  It only took a couple of days for Cooper to learn MY rules! That the ball got thrown again much QUICKER if he put it in my hand!

It is temporarily a bit costly in terms of time and effort to enforce OUR rules, but if we let THE DOG dictate the game, we can expect to be frustrated for the life of the dog.  The dog is out for maximum amusement and it will probably be at our expense, not its own!  The truth is that dogs will play WHATEVER “game” you play WITH them.  You’ll always get the results you’ve earned with your attention. In dog play as well as dog obedience — you get what you pay for!

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Just This Once

We humans are addicted to short-cuts. We’ll skip steps and rush through directions. I don’t like to call us lazy, but especially if we’re feeling rushed, we’ll latch on to just about any excuse to let things slide—temporarily, of course!  Giving things “a lick and a promise” as my granny used to say, we blithely assume we’ll be able to go the full distance later, tomorrow, some OTHER time.

We humans are pretty good at fooling ourselves, too!  Ever notice that tomorrow or that OTHER time, it’s even harder to make the effort and do whatever it was?  I’m not even talking about something BIG, like walking the dog.  No, it’s the little things that tend to get washed away in a flood of just-this-once!

I don’t think anyone really likes being bowled over by the dog (or dog pack) on our way outside.  There’s no reason for dogs to bowl us over because they really pick up the WAIT/OK cue at the door with amazing ease.  On high-traffic days, out of self-preservation – I make all dogs SIT, and WAIT until I get the door open and they are released with OK.  My mom thinks it’s the funniest thing in the world to see 7 or 8 bottoms hit the ground more-or-less simultaneously.  Even the first-time visiting pups get the hang of the business in just a few minutes.

So, do I make the dogs do that ALL the time?  Of course not!  I know it’s a breakdown of training!  I know making them SIT and WAIT won’t really take appreciably longer than fighting my way close enough to lean over the large jostling bodies to grab the  door handle.  I know it will be less aggravating and stressful!  I KNOW it’s safer and better and yada, yada, yada!  For some reason – call it temporary insanity – I think it’ll be easier to skip the whole WAIT business.  Even when it demonstrably takes as much time or MORE to push past the “puppies” and persuade them to move enough to let the door open.  Even as I strain to hold the door open against the onrushing wave of wolves wanting to win the “outside” race, I still think (at the time) it’ll be easier.

In my going-out-the-door example, at least the actual DANGER to anyone is relatively low.  Sure, I get jostled, but that happens outside during playtime, too.  Yes, dogs that were a bit protective of their place in the pack might get a little ornery, but I’m not tempted to skip steps when there are ornery dogs visiting.  However, I’ve seen a lot of skipping steps just-this-once that have potentially lethal consequences and leave me with sweaty palms and a pounding heartbeat!

For nearly a year, until his mom moved out of state, a lovely Basset Hound/Beagle mix came for daycare a couple of times a week, and often boarded while “mom” was away on business.  Max was a real sweetie, but he was a typical scent hound.  Let his nose point at the ground and he was off — and never looked back or even heard you calling to him.  His mom consistently – because it was easier, just from the car to the training room door – wouldn’t put his leash on.  For a while, she carried him. Well, Max was short, but no light-weight!  So soon, his mom would put him down on the ground for the last few feet, then a few more…

Well, you know what happened!  The first time he trailed a squirrel towards the road (a busy thoroughfare where cars whip by at 50 mph plus) I thought I’d have a heart attack.  We’re lucky that he heard us that time – and that the time he DIDN’T hear, he was headed off back into the shrub woodland and went slowly enough for us to catch up!  After chasing Max for 20 minutes, I determined that I would take the time to rush out with my own leash and put it on him from then on!

Obviously, not taking the MAYBE 10 seconds with a squirmy dog to clip a leash on the collar did NOT save time.  Equally obviously, clipping the leash on could very well be the only thing that would someday save Max from getting hit or lost, but his mom never did put his leash on!  And we all do this sort of thing.  I’ve done it with Kita — just going out to get in the car — even KNOWING she’s not 100% on recall if there’s any furry critters out there!

Yep!  My only explanation is temporary insanity.  It’s not like we don’t REMEMBER what happened the last time.  It’s not like we really expect things to be different the NEXT time! (And if we do, that’s more evidence of incipient lunacy!)  What is it with the human brain that it doesn’t recognize that making a LITTLE effort “just this once!” will save us time and aggravation – and perhaps tragedy – in the long run?

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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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