Home Alone; Why Should I Consider Dog Daycare? 

Most pet owners feel guilty about leaving our dogs alone at home. The “sad puppy face” as you put on your shoes and pick up the car keys can be rough to walk away from. Sometimes in life, leaving your dog behind is unavoidable. But, dogs left alone on a regular basis can begin to develop behavioral issues from too many hours spent in isolation, or without enough mental and physical enrichment in their lives. Dogs that chew up baseboards or furniture, bark for prolonged periods, or even who behave while at home alone but who work themselves into a frenzy when their owners return from a long day at work are typically suffering from some form of isolation distress. 

PercyBowieZiggySimoncrop.jpg

A well-run dog daycare can be a great solution for dogs and owners that need extra assistance in giving their dog enough exercise and mental stimulation. A great dog daycare will first test your dog’s temperament, then assign them to size- and energy-appropriate groups for monitored play. Dogs should get not only an adequate amount of free play, but also be rotated for scheduled nap and rest times. 

Dog daycare doesn’t have to be a five-times-a-week event. Most dogs do very well on a two or three day a week program. Alternating a day of play and stimulation with a quiet day at home, and a weekend spent with the family is a great balance for the majority of dogs. Even owners who work from home can benefit from a few afternoons a week of letting the dog burn off some steam at daycare while they power through a conference call or project for a few hours.

Getting puppies and young dogs early exposure to a variety of new dogs, people and environments is critical to proper socialization. A solid puppy-focused daycare program can be a godsend to busy families who want to ensure their puppy gets the early education he/she needs.

We have a variety of daycare programs for puppies and young dogs. Please contact us to find out more.

Ideologies Versus Principles

Ideology knows the answer before the question has been asked.

Principles are something different: a set of values that have to be adapted to circumstances but not compromised away.
— George Packer
Bucky and Moose, considering each other’s viewpoint.

Bucky and Moose, considering each other’s viewpoint.

I don’t envy the average pet owner looking for help with their dog. The sea of options and opinions floating about the internet, social media, from your neighbors and at the water cooler are overwhelming. One could easily drown in confusion, trying to sift through the infinite deluge of advice.

“Next time rub his nose in it.”
”He just needs to be socialized. Throw him in with the big dogs at the dog park so he can figure it out.”
”Stop feeding him treats; he should do it because you are his master/alpha/pack leader/etc.”

There are many slick websites out there, guaranteeing what they can do with your dog in two weeks for the low, low price of $2995. Or, a pack of group lessons that will cure all your dogs’ ills over six hours and for a hundred bucks. How do you know what is best for your dog, and your family?

Ask questions. Lots and lots of questions. Most trainers have a “code” upon which they guide their daily training processes and decisions. An adept and experienced trainer will be willing to not only answer your questions, but have open-ended discussions about how and why common methods work, even if those methods are not regularly recruited from the trainer’s arsenal.

If a trainer tells you that their way is the ONLY way, run. If a trainer tells you that their method ALWAYS works, the first time, every time, run. If a trainer says or shows you a one size fits all method, run.

If your personal ethics do not seem to align with the trainer’s, don’t question yourself or bend your own rules. Thank them for their time and keep looking. You have to do what feels good to you, not doubt your gut feeling in the name of someone else being an “expert”.

Beyond what we know to be immutable; i.e., we all need air to breathe and sustenance to survive, there are no absolutes when dealing with dogs. Dogs, just like humans are all 100% unique in their genetic makeup and upbringing. Yes, there are trends, between breeds, environments and training styles. And yes, we can typically predict what behavioral outcomes will be when applying the laws of learning theory. But not always. Any dog trainer or behavior consultant worth their salt knows that there are always exceptions to the rule.

Principles are rule sets and structures that we can work within. Learning theory is a set of principles on how ALL beings learn. Learning theory has been proven by science, again and again. We know, via a multitude of studies that positive reinforcement training works. But, positive training” should not be an ideology or dogma. Learning theory includes other options and how to interact with our dogs, and it is up to us to decide, from a personal, ethical perspective, what sits best with us.

Beware of the extremists from any camp or those that feel as if they are selling you a magic pill. Treat your dog as you would your close friends and family members. Be fair, be honest, be good to them. The rest will sort itself out.

Help! My dog is AGGRESSIVE!

Act of aggression? Or distance-increasing behavior?

Act of aggression? Or distance-increasing behavior?

As behavior consultants and as owners of a dog daycare, we get to see a very wide range of canine behavior. We also get to speak to many clients who are concerned, for a variety of reasons, about their dogs’ behavior. Commonly, we hear the term “aggression” being used by clients to describe their dog’s actions. That certainly sounds like a word you’d use to describe something upsetting and scary, doesn’t it? This word is often used to describe a WIDE range of behaviors—from growling, to barking and lunging, to snapping, to actual contact with another person or dog, to severe damage and even death.

Let’s take a look at a few definitions of “aggression”;

  • hostile or violent behavior or attitudes toward another; readiness to attack or confront.

  • the action or an act of attacking without provocation.

  • forceful and sometimes overly assertive pursuit of one's aims and interests.

While many people will focus on the descriptive words in these definitions, I’d encourage you to sit back and look at the larger theme here. Aggression, as per the definition, is an act of assertion, or determination. There is no questioning, or hesitation in true aggression. It is truly an act with intent to harm.

Therefore, many of the behaviors we describe as “aggression”; growling, barking, air-snapping, hackles up, stiffening posture, etc., are actually the opposite. All of these behaviors listed above are pre-cursors. The dog is telling you, often BEGGING you, to please, back off. We call these “distance-increasing” behaviors. The dog is saying, “PLEASE listen to me! If you stop doing that/remove the trigger I will back down!”

But far too often, we treat these pleas by the dog, which are solely attempts to communicate, as “acts of aggression”. We punish the dog for making attempts to communicate with us BEFORE he feel forced to use his teeth. “Baxter, don’t growl at that dog!” “Bella, don’t bark at the neighbor who tried to pet you!” And by suppressing the undesired behavior, the punishment will actually take away the dog’s ability to tell us when they are not okay.

”Bad behavior” often offends OUR human sensibilities, or embarrasses US when our dog acts out. But we have to first acknowledge our OWN emotional components in the equation, and choose to act from a logical, rather than an emotional stance. Only then can we truly help the dog.

When we separate what is true aggression from what is far more often a dog attempting to tell us he’s in over his head, it can reframe the lens by which we view the dog. Understanding that these behaviors are based out of emotion, most often fear, it can make the human half more understanding to the dog’s needs.

A dog that is fearful more often than not, needs his basic needs to be met, thoughtful handling, and to be taught better coping strategies. With positive training and guidance, most dogs labeled “aggressive” can be changed into better canine citizens. Let us know how we can help!

Socialization Redux :: Functionality is Greater than Sociability

We are kicking off our blog in 2019 revisiting a popular topic; puppy socialization.

Most owners understand that socialization typically refers to exposing our puppy to new experiences. However, most owners also very much focus that process mainly on meeting and interacting with other dogs.

We, the owners and trainers of a thriving dog daycare, are here to tell you otherwise.

That probably sounds like crazy talk, but here’s the deal. It is absolutely great to have a dog that WANTS to socialize with other dogs, and that can do so in a safe manner. That said, is socializing with a group of strange dogs at a dog park, or in a daycare (preferably a well run operation like Dogs Abound) something that is critical to your dog’s happiness and well-being?

Nope. It’s not.

What is critical, is that your dog can FUNCTION in the presence of other dogs. That he/she can be around other dogs, and either interact calmly, or just ignore the other dogs all together. That is healthy, normal dog behavior, and its what will ultimately allow your dog a more anxiety-free existence. A dog that can calmly wait at the vets office, or lay on a mat while you have lunch with friends is what we all want. A dog that wants to frenetically meet every animal that walks by, or conversely, bark and lunge at them really isn’t fun to handle. Calmness is the goal.

Beatrix takes it all in stride. Waiting to get into her crate and head off to the plane at Dallas Love airport.

Beatrix takes it all in stride. Waiting to get into her crate and head off to the plane at Dallas Love airport.

Many dogs who are “well socialized” as puppies, and get a good amount of consistent dog interactions, STILL eventually “age out” of daycare. There is absolutely nothing wrong with those dogs. Just as many humans (most humans, frankly) are not hyper-social, many dogs are not either. Going to parties and staying out late is fun in your teens and early twenties, but most people grow out of it. Dogs do too. Now, as an adult should you still be able to go to a family function, or meet a friend out at a restaurant for dinner? Yes, that is healthy social human behavior. Dogs should likewise be able to take a walk, go on a routine outing, and casually cross paths with other dogs without having a meltdown. But they should NOT be expected to appreciate or enjoy the advances of any rude dog that flings himself their way. Or be expected as a grown adult to enjoy roughhousing with rude adolescents at the dog park. Most people wouldn’t appreciate a complete stranger grabbing their hand and dragging you on a dance floor without getting to know them and asking permission first, right? Then why would we expect our dogs to be so much more tolerant than we are?

So, back to what TO do when socializing young dogs;

  • The most important factor is consistency. One or two play dates before the puppy is 16 weeks old are NOT enough. They must get REGULAR exposure to other dogs, people, and experiences on a REGULAR basis. As in multiple times a week.

  • When the puppy ages past that “critical window” (roughly the four month mark), your work is still not done. You hopefully have already done much of the “heavy lifting”, BUT throughout that first year, your puppy still needs continued exposure and new experiences. You can let off the gas slightly, but you still need to be moving that needle.

  • Do not push the puppy past their comfort zone. If the puppy appears uncomfortable or fearful of what is happening, back off, pack it up, and try it again another day. Do not force him to just “work through it.” Evaluate what may have been the issue, and break it down into small micro-steps to ensure success.

  • Easy, short excursions and experiences are best. Twenty minutes in a cart driving around Home Depot, or a half an hour at a friends house with another bombproof, dog savvy dog is enough. Again, CONSISTENCY of exposure is MORE important than duration.

  • If you ever feel icky about what is happening with your puppy and another dog, or even you puppy and a human do not be afraid to advocate for your dog. A polite “okay, play time is over, we gotta go! Thanks!” is more than enough. If you are unsure about interactions, you are probably right. Listen to your gut.

  • get professional help. Really. Hiring a professional trainer to coach you through the puppy process may seem like a big investment at the time, but it will pay off many times over in the long run. Having a dog that has a well-planned out first year of life that includes positive training and experiences will produce a well-balanced, well-mannered dog for life.

If you have any questions about puppy socialization, please contact us! We are here to help. And as always feel free to ask questions here or on our social media platforms.

Loose Leash What? Are 20 Minute Neighborhood Walks Really Good for Your Dog?

               Taking your dog for a walk can be a really relaxing experience for both yourself and your pup. Who doesn’t like to stop and smell the roses from time to time? While walks are great for physical health, it’s important that they’re also benefiting everyone’s mental health as well. If a typical walk consists of constant arm pulling, barking at dogs/people, constantly giving your dog commands, then maybe there’s a better way to spend time together.

dogpullingleashfeatured.jpg

               Dogs repeat behavior that gets reinforced. If pulling on a leash results in movement forward, that sends the message that he should pull when he wants to go forward. Additionally, if he has been practicing pulling forward many times on the same route, he’s had the opportunity to study and hone his talent of pulling on this path. Instead of trying to “fix” this behavior while he’s pulling on your walk, use this time instead to start practicing some loose leash walking foundations at home where he’s comfortable and the environment is predictable.

               Imagine while taking a casual stroll, your neighbors run down their driveway and start yelling at you. It wouldn’t take too many repetitions of this scenario for you to start anticipating getting bombarded at those houses. If your dog’s daily walks include scenarios where he/she repeatedly gets “yelled at” by other dogs, these walks could actually be having the opposite of the desired effect! Even though getting to the “path less traveled” may take longer, and result in less walks a week, the outcome may actually make it easier for your dog to relax when you get home.

               How often does your dog get a chance to be a dog and use her nose to freely follow smells or look where she wants, instead of “watch me”? A walk should include time to allow your dog to sniff where she wants to sniff and look where she wants to look. Having to constantly say “leave it” or “let’s go” can wear on one’s patience really quickly. Try to separate the times you are training your dog (to leave things on the ground or only pay attention to you) from the times when you are telling her that it’s ok to just go do what meets her canine needs.

               There are a lot of other options for activities than the daily, obligatory walk, that are also potentially less time-consuming, and, more fun. Hide-and-go-seek is a fun activity that can take as few as 15 minutes to mentally and physically tire out your pup, and you don’t even need to leave the house! Does your dog like to dig? Give her a kiddie pool filled with sand and let her do her thing in an appropriate area. Retailers sell a plethora of brain games for dogs, but you can create DIY toys out of empty soda bottles, boxes, or even muffin tins.

               Dogs need mental stimulation in the same way they need exercise. A brain game a day with some training sessions sprinkled in and an occasional day off is a pretty reliable recipe to a healthy pup.

If you have questions about any of the information above or need assistance with your loose leash walking training, please contact us at info@dogsabound.com.

              


Needs of the Common Dog; Are You Meeting Them?

Question; what does your dog do all day? Really? Are you gone, like most people are, for 8 hours of the day with a dog at home alone? Or maybe your household has people at home much of the day, and yet, what is your dog actually doing with the bulk of his/her time?

Most dogs spend their time at home, often alone, or even if someone *is* home, the dog is expected to be quiet and calm, aka "well behaved". Yet little to no enrichment or entertainment is provided for the dog, they are left to their own devices. Some dogs can manage to stay out of trouble despite a "minimal" environment, but, just as many, if not most, cannot.

Bennie_bone.jpg

Most breeds of dogs commonly found in American households, were bred for a purpose, other than sitting on laps or snoozing at their humans' feet. Terriers were bred to hunt and unearth critters, sporting dogs were bred to run huge swaths of land, swim, and retrieve, while herding dogs and working dogs, well, that's pretty self-explanatory.

So why are we surprised when we find that our terriers have dug up the back yard, the Visla has run a track around the backyard chasing butterflies, the Lab has chewed off all the sprinkler heads, and the Corgi has taken to nipping the kids as they run around the yard? All these "problem behaviors" are really just symptoms of the dogs' needs not being met.

Since we have taken these purpose-bred dogs out of their "genetic" environments and typically cannot provide them with the proper outlets to do what they were bred to do, what is the solution? Well aside from signing up for hunting or herding lessons, there *are* things we can do to help our dogs fulfill their natural needs. 

Dogs need both mental and physical exercise, on a daily basis. And yet, you may be surprised, it does not need to be for hours on end. Basic enrichment activities can not just help your dog be more content, but also can accomodate for most people’s busy schedules. Most enrichment games and activities can take 30 minutes or less, yet will have a lasting impact on your dog's well-being.

Some ideas for mental exercise are;

- food puzzles/toys - dogs should NOT be eating the majority of their meals out of a bowl! Food toys and puzzles are ideal, but other options are scattering food in the backyard or even in a clean hard floored area for your dog to forage, or even feeding your dog his/her meal via a training session. No cost food puzzles can be made from household items such as paper towel rolls, rolled up towels, empty water bottles, etc. Foraging for food consumes both mental and physical energy, as well as frees up time for the human half. Frozen food meals or treats in feeder toys can be made ahead of time, then delivered when needed.

- hard chews - dogs who have good health/teeth should be allowed to chew on a regular basis. Hard chewing is both a physically exerting AND mentally soothing activity for most dogs. Chews can be consumable, such as raw marrow or knuckle bones, or hard edible chews available on the market (bully sticks, Himalayan chews, beef trachea, etc), or, they can be "non-edible" such as Nylabones. Either way, giving you dog a variety of chewing options will not just save your family’s shoes and baseboards, but your sanity too.

- sniffing! Yes, we said it. Sniffing, while on walks, is a GOOD thing. Dogs have "300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, compared to about six million in us. And the part of a dog's brain that is devoted to analyzing smells is, proportionally speaking, 40 times greater than ours!"* Which means, they WANT to explore the world through their noses! Getting your dog out on a more natural terrain such as a park, or even better, a nature trail, on a longer lead, and letting them explore the environment through their nose is a FAR better means of wearing them out than a comparable walk around the neighborhood sidewalk. Try it out, you may be surprised!

- training - using positive reinforcement-based training to teach your dog new skills, or even just fun tricks, is a great way to wear out their mind. What you train isn't so important as the "game" of training itself. Dogs that learn that problem solving can have rewarding outcomes will be the most eager and dedicated learners, as well as easier to communicate with!

We do many of these enrichment activities with our training and Montessori program dogs here at Dogs Abound. Feel free to contact us with questions, or for more information.

* reference; http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/nature/dogs-sense-of-smell.html

Social Animals; Bars, Dog Parks and the Correllations Between

The late night bar scene is not for everyone. It can be visually and audibly overstimulating when things are really going full swing.  It can also be overwhelming to be polite to people who can’t take a hint. Sometimes the bouncers are too busy talking to regulars to prevent drunken squabbles from turning into fights. These social pressures that many people find uncomfortable are very similar to social pressures placed on dogs at dog parks.

    Even just entering the dog park can be difficult, thanks to dogs guarding the entrance. Your dog gets through the gate, and before he can even stop to smell the grass, there is a nose up his butt and another dog jumping on his head trying to play. How overwhelmed would you feel walking into a bar to have half the patrons rapidly approach you, one clasping your shoulder, and just inches from your face, ask you what you want to eat and drink, all before you’ve even had a chance to orient yourself?

    After surviving the introductions, now your dog has found a friend to play and run with.  All the fun they are having has gotten attention from other dogs that are now jumping in to join in the fun.  Now we have a group of multiple dogs, whom are unfamiliar with each other’s play preferences, trying to interact as one large group. Two of the dogs figured out they like to play jump, others know they like to herd, and then there’s always the one who thinks all the other dogs are solely there so he can hump them. A squabble among two of the dogs in the group breaks out, but nobody comes running to claim their dogs. It escalates, because one of the dogs likes to referee the others, trying to calm the situation – where are these dogs’ parents?!

Have you ever had a conversation in a really large, excited group of people? The subject changes five times per minute, there are other opinions that you really don’t care about flying your way, and you end up fighting just to get your two cents heard. Plus, so many diverging opinions can steer things the wrong way, fast. It’s often frustrating and emotionally draining trying to participate in such a large group.

Now let’s consider another component – age. I was much more willing to go out partying all night with friends at 21 than I am now. Dogs do “age out” of daycare regularly. They get to an age where there is just no more patience for that young buck who just wants to run around playing and tugging all day – and that’s completely fine! Dog parks prevent the older crowd from being able to separate themselves from the younger, more adventurous players. Even after politely expressing disinterest, there is no guarantee the other dog will understand the communication and actually back off. It doesn’t take many of these interactions before your dog is labeled the aggressor after appropriately asking the other dogs for a break.

Socialization is very important in a dog’s life, especially at certain ages, but caution should be taken before using the dog park. Does your dog actually want to play with other dogs, or do they just meander by themselves keeping distance? What play is your dog’s preferred style? Would he/she enjoy being run at by an unlimited number of dogs? What personalities are currently in the park now? There are many options other than the dog park for tiring out your pup both mentally and physically. If you’re running out of ideas or just don’t know what to do with your dog if you aren’t going to the park, please contact us for ideas. We are happy to help you come up with solutions that fit your and your dog’s lifestyle.

Know Better, Do Better

I was recently listening to a podcast and was reminded of this lovely quote by Maya Angelou;

"Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better."

As do most things in my brain, I jumped to dog training when I was turning this over in my head.

Percy_lab.jpg

I spend most of my time with "positive reinforcement-based" or "clicker trainer" trainers, both in person and when learning from others online. The vast majority of people I have the fortune to spend my time with are dedicated learners. They always want to know, and be able to apply, more, better.

The irony however, is that regardless of what "camp" we live in, "positive-based" especially, is that sometimes it can be challenging to converse with someone--whether that person is another trainer, or a client, or someone on Facebook--whose ethics seem so drastically different (or sometimes even just slightly different!) from our own. It can be tempting to "preach" at someone, or scold someone who is using what could be labeled as "harsh". It's human nature to divide others into groups--"you fit in that box, I fit in that box," "my box is RIGHT, yours is wrong...," etc., etc. 

I think its critical, especially for dog trainers to remember, that if we want to help clients, and even better, change their behavior to apply methods that will be easier and yet still effective on the dog, that we need to be kind. And open, and less judgemental.

There is always a reason why a client may walk into a lesson with a dog on a prong collar. A friend or neighbor may have recommended it, or maybe even another trainer whom they paid for their expertise. Maybe they have used that tool in the past, and it worked. People are always just seeking a solution, using the knowledge they have.

Nothing feels worse than being shamed for a "wrong" you didn't know was wrong. So, dog trainers, take a deep breath, and ask the client the question; "how is this tool working for you?" And then LISTEN. Which is easier said than done.

It is our job, as professionals who people are hiring for our advice and our knowledge, to freely and kindly share that knowledge. Leave the blame and judgement at the door, and teach our clients WELL, so we can ALL be better.