Special announcement: Parvovirus There is now a diagnosed case of parvovirus in the Palm Beach area. Parvovirus is highly contagious and potentially fatal to dogs. Goodog asks you to read the following article to prepare yourself on what to look out for and to reduce risk – Parvovirus in Dogs.
Parvovirus can stay in affected areas for up to 7 months and longer in shady and damp areas. So although this announcement occurred in November 2021, please remain on alert in 2022.
If you have any concerns contact your local vet, or take your puppy or dog to the vet immediately if there are signs of illness.
Why are we getting dogs when we try to prevent them from doing what dogs normally do more often than not. And why do we find a lot of things real dogs do inappropriate or even offensive?
Sometimes it seems we consider a lot of the things a dog does as gross, dirty, annoying, or done on purpose to make the humans feel bad.
Yes puppies mouth, soil the house, don’t want to be alone, eat everything in sight, run away, roll in smelly stuff, chase moving things, growl, smell other dogs bums and bite or mouth. They are dogs and that is what they do – yes even a puggles or an oodles. Despite being called designer dogs they are still dogs. And don’t be fooled by the cute name, chances are high that these puppies were bred in a puppy mill environment. This means these dogs come (in addition to normal dog behaviour)with their own set of even more problematic issues.
Labelling normal dog behaviours like barking, digging, jumping up, chasing, growling and many more ‘abnormal’ is one of the problems we see more often in our classes and consultation.It is not the dog who has a problem but the human who has unrealistic expectations, or got fooled by cute puppy pictures on social media and the glorification of puppy hood.
Our expectations are extremely high, we expect them to fit in with our busy schedule, be active when we want them to be, calm on our terms, eat when we are ready, play when we feel like it and go to the coffee shop because we think it is fun – dogs mostly think coffee shops are rather boring.
We also seem to forget what the needs of a ‘normal’ dog are. We deprive them of puppy play because we neither have time nor the inclination to make an effort.Play has its purpose and is important for a well balanced dog.Play matters and if someone tells you that play does not, you might want to consider their agenda. Puppy play is not provided in some preschools because the business books too many puppies into the class, or the space is too small, or there is a lack of knowledge of puppy body language and skills to manage puppy play. Dogs and certainly puppies do want to associate and spend some time with their own species and I do think it is necessary for their well-being. This is why Goodog limits the number of dogs in our courses, we consider the size of the space available versus the number of dogs, all my trainers are qualified and teach my lesson plan and we understand dog body language (yes dogs speak to us in other ways).
I agree that the dog park is fraught with danger and not suitable for every dog too, but most dogs love to have some canine friends. If the dog is not suitable for the dog park, then socialisation can be provided with a group of canine friends they meet on a regular basis, or a good day care or dog walker matching appropriate dogs. To have a dog spending most of their life in the backyard and on the leash does not cater to their needs. They need to run, sniff, play, work and have some fun.
We also expect them to behave like ‘fury humans’, dress them up (I am not talking about a coat when it is cold or bucketing down) but dressing up for no other reason than to entertain us.
We get them as companions but leave them home alone for the best part of the day and when we come home expect them to be calm. Dogs are social animals and need company, they are not made to be home alone all day, every day. They also need to stretch their legs and run, especially teenage dogs. However, they spend most of their days inside, the yard or on the leash.
We control every move they make, they are told what to eat, when to sleep, where to walk with no choice in any thing that is important to them.
Is the only purpose of a dog to ‘serve’ us? To muddle the waters even more we read books or see films like A Dog’s Purpose which portraits dogs as these selfless, altruistic, ‘do-good’ beings whose only purpose is to help us humans. While I will not go into the controversy surrounding the film (plus I only read the book), the way this unfolded could be an indication of a rather selfish and human centric approach to how dogs are treated. Or as this review says, the purpose of a dog is to entertain us, or else we will use force.
There are many reasons why we add a dog to our family: they are very cute, we crave company, they are good for our health,the neighbours just got one, we want a running companion, the children have been wanting one forever, to name a few. But rarely do we consider what we can give this dog to lead a fulfilling life.
Dogs are not selfless or altruistic, they do whatever works. While we can be pretty sure that they do love us, they are not saving others, winning competitions, being great companions, or behaving at the coffee shop just because they love us but because there is something in it for them. This can be BBQ chicken, cheese, hot dogs, a ball, cuddles or whatever else makes them tick.
But even so what they can do for us should not be the only question. I think we should redefine our relationship with our dogs and see it from their perspective, too. To have a happy, well adjusted dog we need to provide suitable outlets for being a dog. This means create time and places for them to meet and interact with other dogs (assuming they like dogs), give them choices on where to go, what to eat and where to rest. Let them dig at least in some parts of the yard, occasionally sniff other dogs’ rear end, have the ‘zoomies’ and give them lots of things to chew.
It also means that we need to have realistic expectations. A dog who just spent hours home alone does not want to be calm and cuddle when you get home, most likely they want to play, run and go out.As in any relationship, it goes both ways and a dog is not an accessory! Make sure you have the time for a dog before you get that cute puppy. Dogs are great companion but we need to give something back and treat them as real dogs.
What is the most difficult thing to teach our dogs? Coming back, or a great recall? While I do agree that this is a difficult behaviour, I do think teaching calm is much more difficult.
Being calm is not the same as a cued ‘sit stay’ or ‘down stay’. Without becoming too airy fairy: Calm is also not just the absence of arousal, or a heightened state of alert or stress.
For dogs calm means that they are content, happy, and relaxed. They are able to lie on their bed and watch the world go by without barking at every noise or every thing that moves. Calm is a state of mind.
It is normal for puppies to only have two speeds: One is go, go, go and then they crash and go to sleep. For very young puppies calm is not really on the agenda, but we can (and should) start teaching relaxation at a young age. Like everything else calm is age specific and for puppies a few minutes of a relaxing massage or a two second ‘sit stay’ might be all we can expect.
I meet a lot of dogs who are bored out of their minds at home in the backyard, or dogs who spend most of their day alone. They either develop separation distress, related behaviours such as vocalisation, they escape, destructive behaviours, or over attachment and attention seeking behaviours as soon as the owner is home. For dogs who have no job and not enough company, calm is an impossible state of mind
We get dogs as companions and then leave them home alone all day and when we come home we want them to be calm. For most dogs this is too big of an ask!
There are a lot of different ways to provide incentive and an environment that promotes calm. There are also a lot of different protocols to teach calm. In my opinion it is best to use a holistic approach.
First, and probably most important we have to provide adequate outlets for their energy and cater to their social need for companionship. They need physical exercise, brain stimulation and company. If these needs are not met we cannot expect them to be calm.
A lot of dogs love to go out for a walk twice a day. This is not just for physical exercise but also to keep them socially well adjusted. Socialisation, like everything else, requires practice. If they are not exposed to new things in a positive way and in an ongoing basis their social skills will deteriorate very quickly. However, too much physical exercise, especially high arousal activities like the dog park or incessant ball chasing, just increase excitement and high arousal levels.
Second, while most dog owners are aware of their dogs physical exercise needs, they sometimes do not provide adequate mental stimulation. Many dogs, especially working breeds are ‘run into the ground’ every day, spend a lot of time at the dog park but they are never calm or relaxed. They are in a heightened state of alert and arousal at all times because they do not get enough down time and mental exercise.
Dogs are social animals, they are not made for being left alone for extended periods of time. I do understand that most of us have to work and leave their dogs home alone. Most dogs cope with that if they are not left for excessive periods of time. However, and I repeat myself, if you work full-time, have a busy social life and three children under the age of six years, a puppy or dog might not fit your lifestyle unless you are prepared to make some major changes. Crating your dog while you are at work is not an option. Crate time, especially during the day, should be limited to a maximum of a couple of hours. If you are absent most of the day, look into a good day care, dog walkers or trade dog minding time with neighbours.
Once we have catered to their mental and physical needs we can start teaching behaviours that lead to calm. Such as:
Teach a go to mat and relax: This can start out as a ‘drop stay’ exercise, in the beginning facilitate with a chew. The dog learns to happily chew on the bed and relax.
Teach impulse control: Typical exercises for this are look at me, hand target, wait, or lie down. The one I like most is ‘Doggie Zen’ (sorry I really cannot remember where I got it from) but for me it works like this: You ask your dog to sit, show the dog the treat, hold your hand with the treat at arm length away from your eyes at eye level and wait until the dog takes the eyes off the treat and looks at you. You have to be quiet. If your dog jumps up calmly put your hand with the treat behind your back and start again. Once you get eye contact, click or say yes and reward. In the beginning you reward for every glance! That is not a cued behaviour but a relaxation exercise.
Capture calm: Interestingly most owners miss their dog’s calm behaviour. A typical scenario is the dog calm on her bed and getting ignored. However, as soon as she gets up there is a reaction from the owners. By mistake the getting up is rewarded while calm is ignored. This tells the dog being calm is not worth doing. We need to change our approach and capture calm. While this is not training per se, it should be a major part of our relaxation protocol. When you see your dog in a relaxed state of mind calmly with a low, gentle voice tell them they are a good dog. Do not use treats, do not move towards them. Otherwise they might go right back into working mode. Dogs do no come pre-programmed to know what we want, so we have to let them know.
Also, a gentle massage or listening to music such as Through a Dog’s Ear are other ways of promoting calm and relaxation.
In my opinion calm is more than just a behaviour and while we can and should teach preliminary behaviours such as ‘go to mat’, doggie Zen, ‘wait’, ‘pay attention’ or ‘lie down’ calm is a state of mind. Our dogs can only reach this state of mind if their physical, mental and social needs are met and if they live in an environment that promotes calmness.
It is a bit like focus, which is a state of mind that cannot be reached with training of attention cues such as ‘look at me’ or ‘touch’, but depends on the relationship and connection we have with our dogs. And that is a topic for another blog!
Barbara Hodel – Goodog owner First published by the Pet Professional Guild.