My latest book is out, called ASK THE DOG. What made me write this book? Many things; my now 4 year old son, the adults that go straight up to dogs and stroke without asking because they are ‘dog lovers’, the people that have had dogs for years but are missing the subtle body language that dogs display, when they would prefer to be left alone, the number of children that try to come running up to us, when I am out with a client and their dog and of course the many cases I deal with where dogs have bitten.
Children below the age of 15 account for a high percentage of all dog bites, with the most vulnerable group being kids around 5 or younger, with this group at higher risk of being bitten in the face and are more likely to require hospitalisation than older children. Nearly 90% of the dogs are known to the children that are bitten. Children unfortunately do not recognise canine emotional expressions like growling for example, very well and sadly boys seemed to recognise fearfulness less in dogs.These are the many factors why I felt it was important for me to help educate children, parents and people in general, on how to recognise when dogs are saying they do not want to be touched.
Now let’s think about it, how much are we touched on a daily basis by known or unknown people? If we walked down the street stopping and physically touching people unsolicitedly, we would not only get some strange looks and make people feel uncomfortable but we might get someone shouting at us or worse. Now think about how much we physically touch and handle dogs. You could be having a BBQ for your friends and family, and as the family dog (big dogs in particular) moves from one room to the next, it may have been touched by at least 80% of the people in the room, just on the way through. Little dogs can often move away quicker but people often pick them up instead which makes them feel uncomfortable, vulnerable and threatened. Not many dogs like being picked up, an indication of this can be when they start licking your face repeatedly, ears back we like to call this the “Kiss to dismiss” which is often the dogs attempt to stop the interaction, see the following article on this https://www.familypaws.com/kiss-to-dismiss-not-all-licks-are-the-same/ by Family Paws Parent Education, they have some excellent information on keeping children safe on their website too. Yes there are some dogs that are on top of you licking you repeatedly because they do like being close but others only do this when you grab or hug/restrain them as this is not normal in the dog world, you don’t see dogs hugging and stroking each other.
Now it’s not just children that this book is aimed at, its for adults too, we are human and designed to read human behaviour, so we often miss when a dog doesn’t want to be engaged with. It’s a credit to many dogs that they don’t bite, many use the subtle signals like lip licking, turning a way and moving away to indicate that they do not want to be approached, and it’s only when these signals have been missed over and over that they have to use bigger displays like barking, growling, snapping or biting to get their message across more effectively. These behaviours are no different from us shouting, lunging or hitting at someone that made us feel uncomfortable too. The common thing I am told is my dog is so good, he tolerates anything we do to him and my response is but is that fair?
ASK THE DOG is about giving dogs the choice to interact or not, giving them the choice to say “No”, to keep people safe and to be mindful that dogs do not always want to be petted. It encourages children to make sure any dogs they encounter are happy to be stroked, and how to recognise signs that a dog may not want to be approached. The message is delivered in the form of a poem. With colourful, eye-catching illustrations to draw in younger readers and help to underline the points made in the text.
Available in paper back and Kindle Ebook, get your copy today on the following link https://amzn.to/2Kg6sRY and help me spread the word so more people are kept safe.
In my job I go into a number of peoples homes where dogs are not getting enough sleep or even rest, they maybe getting sleep in the night but in the day they get none or worse they are restless at night too. Over tiredness in dogs and puppies can cause all sorts of unwanted behaviour nipping and biting in puppies, in adults; biting when disturbed from sleep, some labelled “Grumpy” around people and other dogs and more.
Adult dogs need on average 12 -14 hours of sleep if they are in sync with your own sleep patterns say 8 hours a night, they need to get the remaining hours through the day. Like us humans, older dogs need more sleep as they age, they tire out more easily and need rest in order to function properly. Puppies, like babies, spend a lot of time expelling energy while playing and exploring their new surroundings, it can be stressful learning human rules and learning about the world, which means they might need as much as 18 to 20 hours of sleep to recover.
Just like us sleep is vital for dogs, it gives the dogs body time to heal, a dog deprived of sleep will have a weakened immune system therefore more prone to sickness and putting them at risk of serious conditions. Lack of sleep also has a huge effect on mood state. As humans suffer from fatigue and increased risk of obesity, due to lack of sleep, we would be fooled to think this is not a risk for dogs too.
There are many reasons why dogs are lacking sleep;
Inadequate or uncomfortable bed area
A plastic dog bed or hard floor is not comfortable for a dog and not conducive to having a good nights sleep or adequate sleep or rest in the day. In the wild dogs dig the earth to make it softer or choose the most comfortable resting spot they can find. Yes dogs do choose the floor as-well particularly if they are hot but some move around quite a bit during the night which you would notice if they were on your bed, which mean some struggle in crates for this reason too. If you have wooden, tiled or laminate flooring a moving bed is unsettling to and a nervous dogs won’t want to lay on it. Dogs are social animals and generally like to rest near us, a completely relaxed dependant dog would happily sleep away, a lot of people frequent the kitchen and tell me their dogs pester the visitors constantly, I look round the kitchen and see there is no where for the dog to just chill and calm down. I often ask people to get me a blanket or towel I lay it down near us and carry on talking to the owner leaving the dog be and the dog looks almost grateful and lies straight down.
This is another problem for some dogs particularly if you have this throughout the house, dog’s over heat quickly so having a place they can go where it is not heated is important. I get complaints about dogs digging up the garden, if your dog digs a hole and then lies in it, the main reason will be because either they have no comfortable place in the house or because they are digging to get to the cool earth underneath, if you don’t like it provide them an equivalent like a cool bed in the shade.
If you are not allowing your dog on the bed or furniture (yes you can by the way, this does not make them dominant), they need multiple options, each dog is different and have different bed preferences, cave, flat, thick, bean bag, beds with lips for dogs like short nose breeds, that need to lift their head to help them breathe, and some like some dogs like being covered up. Before you say it, no they are not “just a dog” and should not “just be grateful they get anything!” Some people who don’t let their dogs on the furniture have a daily battle with their dogs getting up there, or worse the dogs become aggressive. Think about it, we often appear or become threatening first, Dave the dog is lying there minding his own business, nice and comfortable on the sofa or bed, having a lovely rest and then we suddenly come in telling them to get off, or sadly drag them off by their collar. Over time they start to defend themselves and no they don’t know they shouldn’t be on the furniture, they can just read in your body language that you are angry and this can be as simple as a look, so they either appease you with slinky body language as they don’t want conflict or they use aggression to defend themselves. I know what I am like when I am disturbed from sleep, ask my poor husband!
Location, Location, Location
Your dog should have at least one bed where there is no foot traffic, away from where your children play loads and the hustle and bustle of a busy household, never located near a cupboard that is frequently used etc.
Many locations where dogs sleep, like the kitchen for example have no window blinds/curtains these days, which means dogs get disturbed by all the critters that wake up at night, that we are not even aware off. This can make them more anxious or on high alert and no blinds mean it can make them rise when the sun does. Often people tell me their dog doesn’t use the bed that they bought them at all, this is either because the bed is not the right one for the dog, they might not find it comfortable or are not used to the texture, or it is located where the dog is not comfortable, is there a draught, is it to close to the radiator, is it facing the front window where it’s bombarded with perceived threats e.g. people and/or dogs walking by that make them uncomfortable? If they are crated, again there should be a bed or at least a crate mat like the one here. There should be enough room so that your dog can stand up fully, and lie down with their legs stretched fully without touching the crate walls.
Crates ideally should not be forever. Of course some dogs love them and would choose the crate or den area over everything else, that is absolutely fine just be sure they are getting adequate sleep in there.
Let sleeping dogs lie
Never disturb your dog when resting or sleeping, yes if they are on your lap it’s fine to stroke them, although once they are a sleep try not to. If they have decided to sleep away from you on their bed or on the other end of the couch, leave them alone and ensure children do too! Don’t decide I want to play with them and wake them up. I know they look adorable, but don’t be tempted to give them a stroke, it’s annoying. We touch dogs far more than they would touch each other, if we did it to people as frequently it would be classed as inappropriate and irritating, give them a break. Most people hate being touched in their sleep, it’s startling and unsettling, why are we shocked when a dog snaps or is grumpy when they are woken constantly, if it doesn’t happen frequently then they are less likely to react this way, but lack of sleep in general can trigger snapping and it’s quite common in fearful/anxious dogs that need help in other areas of their life.
The Bed Chewer
For a dog that chews beds, try multiple old towels or duvets, rather than spending a fortune on beds, under supervision of course, particularly if they swallow what they chew. Reintroduce the bed differently focusing on calm activities, encouraging them to lie down in a relaxed position, and giving them Kongs filled with something they have to lick, as opposed to dropping it, or chews that take them a while. Ensure to reintroduce the bed slowly, managing access to it at first. Be sure it’s not on a slippery surface because ones that move, can attract chewing particularly in puppies, as it becomes a fun toy just like puppy pads.
Visiting other locations
When visiting restaurants, cafes, friends homes etc always take a comfortable familiar mat too, this helps dogs feel more relaxed having a recognised space to go to, this is especially important if you are going to a house where another dog resides. The floor inside and outside a cafe/restaurant, is hard and freezing on a cold day and on a hot day they must have the option to move into the shade as dogs over heat quickly. Ensure they are not trapped with no escape route in these places and ask people to not touch them, the mat should be there safe place, only letting people stroke your dog, if your dog is indicating they want the attention. As mentioned I personally really like these they are designed for dog crates however they are handy to take with you, they have an anti slip surface and double up as a snuffle mat too, win win. Others use bath mats, both can be rolled up. I have also seen some very thoughtful owners put an item of their clothing down, if they have nothing else.
A final point to consider is how comfortable is your dog’s collar. If you can, pop it round your neck, arm or leg and lie down on it, is it comfortable does it dig in. Take collars off at night to give them a break, popping it back on in the morning before breakfast, it’s always advisable to take collars off when puppies are in crates anyway, incase they get their tag trapped which can cause choking and particularly when two dogs are left alone together as there has been many cases, where the dog has caught its jaw in the other dog’s collar, there are always risks they can get hung on things.
As you can see there are many things as behaviourists, we have to consider when looking at a dogs behaviour. It’s important to be mindful and try and think from your dog’s point of view.
As a dog trainer and behaviour advisor that works on a one to one basis with my clients, I spend a lot of time in areas where people regularly socialise their dogs, whether that’s is a local park that consists of a rectangular patch of grass with a park in like Warrender, the woods, busy places like Ruislip Lido or Rickmansworth Aquadrome, country parks like Black Park, Langley Park, Denham Country Park, Large green spaces like Horsenden Hill or just a local walk round the block. One thing that is for sure is there is a huge dog owning community. As a behaviour advisor I know you have to look at every dog as an individual, every dog I come across or work with have completely different back grounds and upbringings which can also vary between dog to dog within the same household. One type of dog that has inspired me to write this blog is the number of Street Dogs I am now seeing as clients, most of the ones I have seen so far have lived on the streets so it’s vital that they can communicate effectively with other dogs, they mostly avoid conflict as much as possible as they need to stay uninjured and healthy to survive. These dogs come over here I find often have excellent body language but do find our dogs difficult to interact with initially, which can make the Street dog appear unsociable.
Dogs socialisation varies hugely, you can take 5 dogs that have all been to the same socialisation classes but all 5 could have a had a different experience; depending on their own emotional state generally and during the class, how the other dogs were, how their guardians handled them in the class, the guardians emotional state at the time, if anything spooked them in the class, stress that they had been through a few days before the class and so much more.
One piece of bad advice that goes around is, that you should let dogs get on with it “they will sort it out themselves”. This is a massive mistake and hugely unfair especially on puppies that are just finding out about the world of dogs and the different kinds of dog breeds there are, if they go down the park and get in trouble by every dog, do you think that they will continue to want to socialise with dogs. Using an older dog as a stooge dog, putting them in a position which makes them have to tell other dogs to back off is unfair too. Older dogs are sometimes in pain, do not have as much energy to play or interact anymore, which means they are far less tolerant understandably and what about the dog that has been attacked previously should they just be left get on with it with a dog that is intimidating them or over aroused and won’t take no for an answer. I am finding there are lots of dogs out there that play inappropriately and some owners, dog walkers and dog sitters do not recognise what is appropriate and what is not.
Now I can hear some people say they are dogs they will work it out, they will soon learn when another dog has had enough and this may have worked for your one particular dog. Unfortunately this is not always the case, I deal with many dogs thats companions have taken exactly that approach, with regards to their interaction with other dogs. You have the ones in the park that are allowed to run up (or can’t be stopped) to any dog whether the dog is on or off lead, these dogs are usually over aroused and often do not read other dogs body language well or are not sure how to interact so end up over the top. Now firstly if this dog has run up to an owner that has a dog that is not comfortable with other dogs not necessarily one that may fight (which generally stems from fear) but I mean the ones that throw them selves on their back and if that fails tries to get away as quickly as possible. This can be pretty traumatic for both dog and owner, leaving them in a state of stress for a few days or more. The dogs that bark and try to instigate play with every dog not leaving them alone, these dogs usually have played like this or have been allowed to play inappropriately with other dogs that play in the same way, allowing them to practice and be proficient in play that is not suitable with most dogs. On top of this we have breeds that are bred that can be over social, crosses that have low frustration tolerance and more.
What’s not fair is these dogs often can be turned on regularly by other dogs and eventually can understandably get very offended when another dog growls, barks or bite to indicate they don’t want to play. I am then often called in to see the inappropriate player type dogs, as they have now started to understandably react back over time; as they are frustrated that the other dog didn’t play, appearing confused why they keep getting into trouble, they can often appear unpredictable and end up fighting during play due to high stress levels.
Now this is no fault of the dog guardians out there, it is likely that no one has told you what is appropriate or inappropriate, our gut instincts usually do but we often ignore this because of pressure other dog guardians put on us, they might say they are ok leave them be etc.. especially if you are a new owner as you will feel other dog owners know more than you. I will let you into a secret shh “just because someone has had dogs for thirty years, does not mean they have been getting it right or that they are an expert in dog body language” the average dog owners do not know the subtle signals dogs give way before they growl bark and bite.
Let’s have a look at Play and what to look out for:
Best to call your dog to you positively before things go too far. If you are not careful this could lead to fall out.
If one dog is always being picked on and there is more than one other dog involved, this should be stopped.
Tugging and dragging the other by the collar, harness or body parts
If the chasing is mis-matched and one dog is trying to hide or get away, this type of play needs to be interrupted, always interrupt positively.
Interrupt positively and move away
Biting of the neck or other parts of the body.
Barking at the other dog, especially in their faces.
Bullying the other dog to play
Humping, this is done by both sexes, it does not mean sex, it is often a sign of anxiety
Air snaps. This is I don’t want to continue
Standing with his head over the other dogs shoulders.
Body slamming. NO WAY. Not appropriate.
Pinning or mouth round neck
Dogs forming a gang
Sometimes it’s difficult to interrupt as both dogs will be concentrating on where the play may lead so try and wait for natural breaks in the play. The moment you get their attention call them over and then move on with your walk.
If another dog has run over to yours and yours clearly does not want to play i.e. looking away, turning away, walking away sniffing as if they are doing something else try and increase the distance between you and the other dogs owner, by moving in the direction you want to go this will help the dog (and the other owner) get a clear message both you and your dog do not want to engage and don’t be afraid to say “please can you get your dog”.
Play bows are also not always a sign to indicate they want to continue playing, sometimes it seems to be used to defuse a situation that might appear to be getting out of hand.
This is reciprocated and there is a give and take aspect. The dogs are having fun. Dogs have relaxed body language and may appear a bit “goofy”. Playing chase is a sharing opportunity, where they may take it in turns. Do a consent test if you are not sure: hold the chaser and see if the other dog still wants to engage in play.
We often leave our dogs far to long playing, which means they become hyper aroused and find it difficult to calm down, if anyone knows what an overtired toddler is like it’s exactly the same. Some dogs even though you can see they are exhausted will not let up. These are usually the hyperaroused dogs or the ones with addictive personalities!
The problem is society put high unrealistic expectations on dogs, that they should get on with every dog they meet. This means we put a lot of pressure on dogs to socialise without really understanding what is appropriate and what is not. We don’t get on with everyone, there are people that can frustrate us or anger us and this is what happens with dogs. The first thing everyone does is tries to expose their puppy as much as possible to as many dogs as possible including going to puppy parties, having friends over with dogs, meet ups, dog walkers and more often this is too much. Some dogs just are not interested in playing with other dogs especially strangers, we don’t chat or play with all the strangers we meet, don’t force dogs to be social if they are not interested if however they are showing that they are uncomfortable by growling, barking or biting seek professional help. All interactions should be about choice and going at your puppies or dogs pace without pressurising them.
What I aim for and I explain to the clients I work with are the nice “hi” sniff butts “bye” interactions where the dogs have a short relaxed interaction like we do, when we politely say “hello” to our neighbours when we pass them by or where we exchange small pleasantries and move on. Standing in the middle of park chatting to other owners, or dog walkers that stand stationary whilst the dogs rough house for long time, is what I avoid, this often causes over arousal if you stand back and look at the group of dogs at least one of them often actually want to move on with their walk not stand stationary, after all there is so much more to explore. Standing in a group is unfair on the dogs that don’t want to be played with or have had enough. This kind of stress can send the dogs back home in a adrenaline filled hyper-aroused state, which means they sometimes find it difficult to relax. Sniffing and interacting with the environment is far more important for dogs for their emotional well being and tires them.
The owners that are naturals have it right you know the ones they just walk their dogs without thinking about it, they will say a brief “Hi” whilst continuing to walk their dog, their dogs often have great body language and interact with other dogs briefly but politely and may have a short brief play, which is much more like the interaction of how dogs are that live on the street and why there often is not as much conflict.
Let’s all aim for short polite relaxed interactions!
Ever wonder why some people just struggle to stop there dog pulling, even though they have been to many training classes. Lack of time of course is one reason, if a dog has not been taught from a puppy to walk on a loose lead, it take a lot more time, effort and dedication to correct this behaviour and lots and lots of patience!
However there are a number of reasons why dogs pull on the lead:
If dogs learn that pulling gets them where they want to go and we follow them, the behaviour becomes rehearsed. Taking your dog out when you are rushed, means you are more likely to let them pull, undoing what you are trying to achieve. Pulling to the park gets them to the park!
We pull first
Pulling against a dog that is pulling away from you is counter productive, if you pull them back they will pull forward it is as simple as that. This is why techniques like jerking on the lead or simply pulling them back, makes them pull away from you and pull more.
We are dictators
If we dictate their every move on the lead, insisting on being at heel, correcting the position manually or constantly stopping them sniffing, they again will fight against you to get to the sniff that they want and in fact need, dogs get a lot of information from sniffing and stopping them can cause frustration and even anxiety.
Wants to get home
If your dogs is pulling on the way home, it is could be that either your walk is too long or see point 8 your dog is not enjoying the walk.
To get to something
Is your dog one that walks nicely until they see a cat, squirrel, person or another dog. 9/10 times this is because of how we handle the lead, over time you can trigger the behaviour because by pulling them back, you make the target much more interesting then it really is. Like toddlers you take something away from them they want it even more. We pull the dog away sometimes before they have even seen the stimuli!
Too short a lead
If you walk your dog on a short lead, a lead you wrap round your hand or even standard length leads, do not allow the dog enough freedom to explore as much as they need to, so some dogs learn to pull quickly and shoot across you just to get that sniff they are longing for.
Your dog just the same as other people, walks at a different pace than you. Your dog has four legs you have two, your dog has to learn to match your pace and that’s difficult, this is why during lead walking training, they often drift forward to their natural pace. You try keeping up with someone that walks faster or even slower than you, you will not sustain that pace for long!
and another often overlooked reason…
Commonly these dogs pull on the way home, pull past busy places, pull anxiously when other dogs/people/or traffic is approaching. Dogs that are scared of noises are often ones that pull, like they want to get the walk over as soon as possible. Fear on walks is something that should be addressed professionally, fear and stress can have long term health implications and effect behaviour, seek help from a professional behaviour advisor.
You see, pulling on the lead is not just about training, the above points are just some of the many factors that you need to consider when working on lead walking.
This is why lead walking techniques like, jerking, luring them back into position and changing direction, does not work for a lot of dogs. Not all dogs and I would actually go as far as to say most dogs are not happy walking to heel either and you know what it’s not necessary for a dog to walk to heel, or on your right hand side and guess what they can be in front of you as well, it does not mean the dog is being dominant! Your walk should be a compromise between you and your dog, learn how to help him cope when anxious and work on a good loose lead walking technique that allows your dog to sniff and explore what they want but with out them pulling/dragging you down the street to do it.
As some of you may know, I have recently published a children’s book called “What Dogs Like“, a story in rhyme with an important safety message on bite prevention. Nearly 80% of dog bites are from the family or a friends dog. Written as a read-along-rhyme with informative illustrations, “What dogs Like” helps educate young people as well as their parents, on how to behave around their canine friends.
What inspired me to write this particular book was a few things; my little boy, the news with headlines like “family dog attacked out of the blue” and the many uncomfortable pictures/videos shared on social media on a daily basis, with children sometimes laying on, picking up or maybe even hugging their dog, with the dog using as many signals as possible to indicate it is not comfortable.
Firstly it is very rare for dogs to just bite out of the blue, unless there is an underlying medical condition, dogs give many subtle signals way before they growl, bark or bite. It’s a credit to the majority of dogs that most tolerate us as adults let alone younger children who are often unpredictable and are learning and investigating the world themselves, which often includes poking and prodding the family dog. I work with many dogs that have bitten or are close to that stage and their owners are often shocked that it has happened, commenting that they felt like it came out of the blue, but then when we go back through the dogs history, there has been a number of times the dog had been indicating its fearful, frustrated or just uncomfortable. Even if your dog appears to be ok, tolerates the children and hasn’t ever reacted negatively, does not mean they are comfortable.
It’s time for parents to help educate children and themselves and be an expert on what their dog and others are trying to tell us. Recognising the many subtle signals dogs use, way before they have to even growl. Lets all work together at reducing bite statistics to an all time low in children (and adults)!
Signs to look for:
Dog avoids children (not always as obvious with your own) often taking its self into another room when others visit
Pulling head back, turning away or backing off, ears back
Showing the whites of their eyes cautiously glaring, looking unsure
Yawning when not tired
Tongue flick when no food is present
Hard eyes like they are concentrating or just staring
Tense Stiff Body and Tail, with mouth often closed
Common times these behaviours are displayed:
When being picked up
When approached especially when resting, eating or playing with a toy
When patted on the head
When being cuddled and restrained
When being dressed up
When being handled
When punishing them
When being forced to do something they don’t want to do
How stimulating is your dogs walk? Is it round the block or the same park once a day? Do you always take the same route? Has your walks become predictable and stagnant?
The best way to know if your walk has become stagnant is by looking at your dog, does he avoid being put back on the lead, when you reach the car or a certain point on the walk? Along with predictable walks often comes poor recall. Does your dog on the walk, stick there heels in and want to go in a different direction. Does your dog know the route off by heart. If your dog pulls you all the way to the park, again the walk has become predictable as your dog knows you always go there.
Our dogs lives are very much dictated by us humans, we decide when they eat, play, at worse; when they have to sit and lie down and of course when they get the privilege to leave the confinement of the house and garden, and go for “their” walk. You may have a lovely big house with a large garden but it is vital that dogs as well as us get out the house and get stimulation from many different environments too. When we think of walking the dog, the main thing we often think about is exercise. For our dog however it is much more than that. It’s a chance to finally get out of the house, no matter how big or small your home is, it is still the same four walls your dog sees day in and day out, they cannot decide to leave, its all dictated by us, when and if we decide to take them. Think about it from a human perspective, when you are stuck in the house for one reason or another you can end up getting cabin fever. A walk for a dog means a chance to explore, take in new sights, smells, meet people, other dogs and much more. When you walk your dog try and keep one thing in mind “The walk is for your dog and he/she might need it more than you”. How we walk our dogs can have a huge impact on there mood state and can cause all-sorts of on lead problems, lead frustration, reactivity to other dogs, people and more.
When you start taking your dog just on round the block walks, you make the walk boring for your self, in turn the walk then becomes a chore “I have to walk the dog” exercise is important for dogs but so is the quality of walks, if your dog is not allowed to sniff, it’s not being naturally stimulated, studies have revealed that dogs get a lot of information from scent, such as when the last dog was about, what sex they were and more. If we constantly interrupt the sniffing, this makes the walk unpleasant and could make your dog anxious as its is not getting full information about the dogs that are around. Let the walk be about them. Variety is the spice of life, keep your walks interesting go to different places, woods, fields, canals, parks, lidos, journey in the car to different places, go in different directions. Walking in the same direction round in a circle in a park two or three times can be frustrating too, you walk round the path meet a dog, you walk on again then repeatedly meet the same dog, this can be frustrating for both dogs.
Now some of you may have a dog that does not like walks, they are fearful of cars, novelty, busy places, you may have a dog that is reactive to other dogs or people, these behaviours must be addressed for the health and well being of your dog, so please seek professional modern advice. These are behaviours that can be changed with the right person helping you, they should work with you at your dogs pace and help you both enjoy getting out again. If you don’t like the idea of letting your dog sniff because you have a dog that constantly picks things up of the floor, this may be because you have accidentally reinforced the behaviour, by making everything they picked up from a pup a big deal or they are not getting the opportunity to forage naturally see my Banish the Food Bowl blog for some ideas. If your dog is a puller find a good trainer to help you teach them to walk loosely on lead. If your dog has a condition which means it cannot walk for long, drive it to different places, if you also have a condition which means you cannot go far again either drive to new places or hire a dog walker
Don’t make your walk all about throwing a toy/ball for your dog either, this can actually keep their arousal levels high, which I typically hear from owners who says they have played for an hour and the dog comes home with as much energy as they went with. This kind of exercise is like going to the gym, when you have finished your work out, you are full of endorphins, which make you feel good and gives you more energy. Ball throwing can make some dogs obsessive and can stop them doing natural behaviours like sniffing and exploring. This in turn can also make them so obsessed that they pull all the way to the park rather than enjoying the journey too. This can then be a dog that is highly stressed out on the lead and can trigger other unwanted behaviour. Although it is vital to play with our dogs, throwing a ball is overused by us and is generally for our own convenience, to “exercise” the dog by us standing still, it is not a natural behaviour for them to be solely focused on a ball or toy of any sort. It often causes conflict/fights with other dogs in the park when your dog becomes possessive of it. It is normal for a dog to resource guard however it is not normal for your dog to resource aggress. I have spoken to a lot of physiotherapists and they say if they had their way they would ban ball play altogether, as it causes many injuries in dogs, sometimes that their owners are not even aware of, dogs are good at hiding pain. Dogs that are injured can act out of character and be more reactive generally. Now as mentioned it is crucial you still play with your dog, but you can play hide and seek with the ball instead, or hide and seek yourself so your dog has to find you as well, this game is a good way of strengthening recall.
Walks also where you take your dog for a jog/run with you or on a bike ride, also can be unpleasant for dogs, especially if this is the main way you walk them. On these kind of walks they are forced to run with you and can only generally stop when you decide, their arousal levels will also be high from this type of endurance exercise, it’s not particularly relaxing or stimulating, again make sure your dog is getting something out of this kind of walk.
A walk where your dog gets to investigate and explore is much more rewarding than a dog that is marched from A to B in a strict heel, when your dog is looking at you the whole time on the walk, who’s the walk benefiting, this is not the only way to stop your dog pulling their are other techniques out there, in fact in my time working with dogs, just changing the equipment the dog is walked on and allowing them to sniff has made a significant improvement to dogs that usually pull and ones that are reactive on lead. Those of you that know me, will know that for many years I have not taught heel walking and instead have taught loose lead walking, the dog still learns that pulling on the lead gets them no where and they are taught to correct their own behaviour. The compromise is that if they do not pull, they get to sniff what they like pretty much when they like. More about my lead walking technique in my later blog!
Now you can teach two different walks, as I am aware that some times you need to get to places with your dogs, you can teach one where you want there nose off the floor and one where they can sniff until there hearts content however make the no sniffing walk the exception rather than the rule!! Try not to take your dog out when you do not have much time or if you do, make the walk shorter but allowing them to sniff more, they will get more out of this kind of walk than a rushed stressful one.
You may feel you have no time for the kind of walks I am describing but you need to make time for the health and wellbeing of your dog, so miss that episode of Eastenders and make your dogs walk interesting.
Of course for those of you that already provide variety for you dogs, keep up the good work!
There are many behaviour problems that can be resolved in our dogs by just providing them with mental and environmental stimulation. One way of doing this is by Interactive feeding. For many years we have fed our dogs out of food bowls, as this is the way we eat ourselves off a nice clean plate. Many dogs don’t enjoy eating this way, some may take the food from the bowl and then eat it off the floor, others may regularly go off there food, especially the ones that have one large meal once a day (not good for many reasons) or ones that have their food left down all day, imagine me leaving your roast dinner on a plate all day and expect you to eat it, you might pick at it because you are hungry, but would you really enjoy it! Now if you look back in history at how dogs evolved, you will find that they are natural foragers, eating small quantities up to 12 times a day or more and of course hunting is a strong instinct that we have bred into them too although most dogs no longer consume prey. Although a large number of dogs are now bred to be family pets, they still have these instincts hard wired into them. You see this when they raid the bin, when they watch the floor like a hawk when you are preparing food, just incase you drop a bit, when they pick up everything that looks like food on their walks. Dogs have natural instincts and needs to but we are so busy making them conform to our lifestyle dictating how, when and where they do things, they can often get frustrated as they have no job to do. When dogs are lacking mental stimulation they often go what we like to term as “Self Employed”. Your dog may hunt socks, the remote control, chase shadows or reflections, pace the house looking for something to do, chew, start barking at things and more. Now I don’t recommend exactly encouraging them to use the hunting skills they were bred for i.e. hunting birds, local vermin or the neighbours cat but we can provide them an equivalent.
It’s time to change the way we feed our dogs!
At the very minimum dogs should be fed their daily recommended allowance twice a day, this helps sustain their energy levels, but splitting it down to 3, 4 or more meals is even better. After all how often do we eat if we include snacks.
Use every meal time, everyday for the rest of there lives, as an opportunity to mentally stimulate your dog, there are many ideas out there nowadays and the good thing about this type of stimulation, is you can do it no matter how old your dog is. Here are a few suggestions:
Please note:It’s important that your dog enjoys it, feed differently at different meal times to keep it interesting and make sure it is not so hard that it’s almost impossible to get the food out
The simplest way to start off with (if your dog is on a dry complete food, wet food could get messy!) is by scatter feeding, which literally means throwing the food all over the kitchen floor, out in the garden or even on your walk, just make sure other dogs are not around, alternatively use a snuffle mat you can make your own too see here.
Hide some portions of the meal around the house or in the garden in small piles, at first let your dog see where you put it and say “find it” once your dog understands what you are doing make the game more challenging by hiding it whilst they are out of sight.
There are obviously the classics like the Kong or the cheaper version Busy Buddy Squirrel Dude, which are so versatile you can put the dry food loose in them to start off with making it easy, then if you have multiple ones you can then hide them in different places around the house. You can soak their dry food, stuff them with it and then freeze them, making a popcicle for hot days or just use feed wet complete food stuffed in it. These are good for when visitors arrive too.
Of course the cheaper alternative is to make your own. If your dog likes to chew and consume then some of these ideas are not for them, always supervise your dog and remove the item when empty, and completely if you have any concerns of them choking on or swallowing bits. Again there are some innovative homemade ideas out there:
Fill up Plastic bottles (with lid and ring round neck removed) with there dry food
Old slightly split tennis balls can be filled and dotted round the house or garden to hunt and find
For your diggers out there; take 1 cardboard box and hide the meal between layers of fleece, towels, plastic milk cartons, toys etc
Wrap the food in an old blanket or towel
Take one juice carton, remove any plastic, rinse, dry and fill
Buy a cheap kids ball pit, scatter the food in with the balls
With some of the interactive toys you might need to help them to start off with, showing them how it comes out. You must then leave them to try and work it out themselves, this is how it becomes stimulating for them. Always make sure the toys are not left down after they have finished with them, to keep them novel and interested the next time. Ensure your dog has opportunities to rest, there should be a balance between mental stimulation which includes sniffy walks as well as ample opportunities to rest and sleep.
Be inventive and share your ideas in the comments below.