Play Nice: Good Manners, Canine Style

With warm weather on the horizon and a holiday weekend ahead, chances are you’ll see a lot more people out and about enjoying the outdoors with their dogs. Some dogs, like people, are super-social and love spending time with others. If you have a dog like this, a dog park might be a fun destination.  The website K9 of Mine has an excellent overview of the advantages and disadvantages of dog parks, do’s and don’ts, and dog-friendly alternatives if a dog park isn’t a good choice for you. It’s definitely worth reading the entire article. Find that here.

Before you turn your own Fido loose into a crowd of canine revelers, let’s review  what the AKC calls the common-sense rules of dog parks:

  • Should your pet show signs of illness or a contagious disease, don’t bring him/her to the park.

  • Don’t bring a puppy less than four months old or a female dog in heat.

  • Keep an eye on your dog! Don’t let your dog be aggressive with another dog.

  • Obviously, you should pick up after your dog.

  • Don’t bring food for yourself or your dog.

  • Bring a portable water bowl for your dog – water bowls at dog parks carry the risk of communicable illnesses.

  • Keep your small dog in the designated small-dog section of the park – even if he/she enjoys hanging out with the big dogs.

  • Bring a ball, but be prepared to lose it.

  • Don’t let your dog run in a pack. Intervene when play starts to get too rough

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For more helpful suggestions about dog parks, check out this handy poster from Tail Wags Playground (click to enlarge):

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Interested in establishing a dog park in your own community? Check out this infographic from the AKC or their handy guide, complete with success stories!

Then and Now: Sasha’s Journey

Sasha's first day February 5th 2016

Sasha’s first day February 5th 2016

Sasha three months later (May 5th 2016)

Sasha three months later (May 5th 2016)

 Those of you following Sasha’s saga may remember she came to us in February frightened of ANY loud or unusual sounds. Clicker training in particular was an ordeal for her, so I turned to my friends and colleagues in the Dog Writers Association of America for help. They suggested wrapping the clicker it in a mitten to soften the sound. That sounded (no pun intended) like a good idea but Sasha still panicked at the noise. Thinking to muffle the sound even more I put the mitten-wrapped clicker in a coat pocket. I even tried clicking a pen instead of an actual clicker device. The result was the same: Sasha cowered as though she expected to be hit, which makes me seriously wonder what happened to her before she came to us. Given her fearful reaction, I discarded the idea of clicker training.

Enter obedience classes at the local kennel, where we were surrounded by a dozen people, all clicking merrily (and seemingly endlessly) through the hour-long training classes.  I distracted Sasha by moving away from the clicker crowd and treating her while praising lavishly, and she gradually calmed and focused on the exercises. Intermediate obedience was better when folks switched to verbal clicks, but some handlers insist on always using the actual clicker. (For the record, I’m not a fan of the “click/treat anywhere & everywhere” approach. Use it at home or in select training environments, sure. But learn to fade the lure as described here.)

I’ve learned a verbal click (“Yes!“) seems the most effective in gaining Sasha’s attention in a happy, positive way. Interestingly, that smart cookie also understands and obeys the “Neh!” sound when I don’t want her doing something–such as chasing ducks or moving toward vehicles as they pass by. I also use the “leave it!” command, but sometimes that single syllable “Neh!” works best.

If using the clicker is important to you and your dog reacts fearfully, consider these strategies to help your dog. And if your dog isn’t hyper-sensitive to such sounds and you want to learn more about clicker training, here are some basic training tips to help you get started.

Fresh-roasted-coffee-beans-and-grounds

Image courtesy of foodal.com

The clicker wasn’t our only sound-related challenge these past few months. The coffee-bean grinder left her literally shaking and barking wildly even if she was at the other end of the house, or even outside with doors and windows shut. It became obvious this dog takes hyper-sensitivity to sound to a whole new level. We tried showing her what it was so she wouldn’t be scared. Tried distracting her, supplied extra love and attention. Nothing worked.

Then I got smart and turned it into Special Treat Time. I got the bag of Fromm’s big oven-baked biscuit treats (something I don’t use during obedience training because of the time needed to chew), put her in a sit-stay where she could see the grinder, praised her, and gave her a treat. Repeated the process when we measured the beans into the grinder, again when the grinder started and yet again when the grinder finished. Yup, lots of treats, with plenty of time to chew before we moved on to the next step. Since we don’t use the grinder daily it took some time to condition her to the sound.  And then one day she came running into the office, whined softly to get my attention, and then trotted back to the kitchen just as I heard the coffee grinder start working. I was heading for the treats when I realized she’d already moved on to play time with Sock Monkey:

If you have a dog that’s fearful of loud noises, the Whole Dog Journal offers tips and strategies to help you. You can also check out this video from Pam’s Dog Academy for some useful ideas to desensitize your dog to whatever noises scare the dog. Whatever strategies you try, don’t expect immediate results. Depending on your dog’s age and the origins of the trauma, the “counter-conditioning” process could require multiple sessions over a period of weeks or even longer.

For some dogs, rare events such as fireworks celebrations can be a source of serious stress. Here are some great tips from the Michigan Humane Society via the Detroit Free Press:
Keep Pets Calm During Fireworks
Desensitizing a hyper-sensitive dog takes time, patience, and a willingness to adapt strategies to find what’s best for you and your dog. Whether it’s clickers, coffee grinders, or some other loud noise, it is possible to help your dog become calmer and happier.

Winter Workouts With Your Dog

Here in the Ozarks, winter weather can be unpredictable. This year, we’ve enjoyed mild weather for the most part with sporadic bouts of bitter cold and some freezing rain. And while this morning’s temperature was in the mid-30s, the rain was cold and edging into icy. I’ll confess I was sorely tempted to exercise Sasha indoors, but then I remembered reading a terrific post on the Chasing Dog Tales website about the benefits of outdoor exercise in winter. And so off we went, with Sasha proudly sporting her red plaid coat. In addition to keeping her warm, the coat kept most of her dry, making both of us happy!

And this Sasha’s very first stand-stay; didn’t she do well?

My Sasha

My Sasha, ready for a winter’s morning walk

Sasha enjoyed the outing so much I wanted to share the original post. Here it is, reblogged in its entirety courtesy of Elaine Bryant. (Thanks, Elaine!) That website is a wonderful resource, by the way, and I hope you’ll check it out.

do-you-hate-walking-your-dog-in-the-winter

By Elaine Bryant

It’s okay, I’ll be the first one to answer that question. Yes! Sometimes I do hate going for walks with Haley when it’s bitterly cold and miserable outside. When the weather’s really nasty, we find other ways to exercise like some of the ideas I wrote about in my article, 12 Easy Ways to Exercise Your Dog in the Winter. The problem is, it’s all too easy to get into the habit of skipping the walk and relying more on indoor exercise, rather than braving the elements.

I have to admit, I feel a little guilty when we opt for indoor exercise because I know Haley would much rather go for a walk outdoors where she can get more of a workout and have the joy of relishing all the sights, sounds and smells along the way. If you hate walking your dog in the winter too, check out these solutions to the most common complaints and excuses we use to stay inside on cold winter days.

7 Complaints About Walking Your Dog in the Winter (and the Solutions!)

1. I’m just not motivated.

Cold weather can put a damper on your motivation to go outside. Use your dog’s excitement about going for a walk to help you get into the spirit or focus on how rejuvenated you feel when you return home from an invigorating walk. Instead of taking the same boring walk around the block, go for a hike in the woods or explore a new area of town. You already have one walking buddy, why not recruit a few more. Ask a friend, family member or neighbor to join you on daily walks.

2. It’s too cold.

Yep, I can’t deny it feels warmer sitting on the couch inside your home, but with the right clothes and accessories you can stay comfortable on your wintertime walk. Invest in a good pair of boots, some wool socks, insulted gloves, a hat and how about a colorful scarf too? Layer your clothing to retain body heat and you’ll be all set to head outside for some fun with your pup. On days when it’s dangerously cold outside, use common sense and stay safe and warm indoors.

3. It’s too cold for my dog.

Most dogs are fine when walking outside in the wintertime but you’ll want to limit the amount of time for puppies, senior dogs and dogs with illnesses. There are several types of dogs that can benefit from wearing a sweater or jacket when it’s cold outside. Read Do Dogs Need Sweaters in the Winter? to find out if your dog would benefit from the extra insulation. Keep an eye on your pup for warning signs that they might be cold or uncomfortable. If your dog’s shivering, whining, looking anxious, picking up their feet or they hesitant to keep walking, it’s time to head back indoors.

4. My dog’s paws get cold or form ice balls.

Snow can cling to the hair between your dog’s toes and form painful ice balls. Prevent the ice balls from forming by trimming the hair between your dog’s paw pads. Also consider using booties or applying a wax such as Musher’s Secret to your dog’s paws before your walk. If your dog doesn’t wear booties, be sure to wipe their paws with a wet washcloth when you arrive back home to remove any residue from salt or chemical de-icers which may be dangerous if ingested.
Dog on Ice Puddle

5. It’s slippery outside and my dog pulls on the leash.

Ice and a pulling dog usually results with you ending up on your butt or worse. Here are a couple of things that will help keep you on your feet. First, buy a pair of ice cleats that fit over your boots, such as the Yaktrax Walk, to give you better traction. Next, prevent your dog from pulling by using a front clipping harness combined with a non-retractable leash for more control. Remember, every walk is also an opportunity to train your dog not to pull on the leash.

6. It’s hard to hold the leash and pick up poop while wearing gloves.

Besides juggling a leash and poop bags, you’re probably also dealing with treats, a cellphone and maybe even tissues for a runny nose. Don’t bother with gloves or mittens that you have to take off over and over again. Instead, buy a pair of fingerless gloves with an attached mitten flap that easily pulls over your exposed fingers. I have a pair of gloves similar to these that I absolutely love.

7. I don’t like walking in the dark.

The shorter days of winter mean some people might not be able to walk their dogs during daylight hours. A couple of items can help keep you and your pup safe. A headlamp rather than a flashlight will leave your hands free to manage the leash and other things and an LED collar or clip-on collar light will help make your pup visible in the dark.

Those are some of the most common complaints about walking your dog in the winter but there are plenty of benefits and reasons to love those wintertime walks too. Here are just a few!

Reasons to Love Walking Your Dog in the Winter

  • There’s something very special about a quiet walk through fresh fallen snow.
  • Winter walks are more peaceful because fewer people are outside. This is especially nice if you have a reactive dog.
  • Fresh air and a chance to absorb a little sunlight does wonders for your attitude during the winter months.
  • You and your pup will stay in great shape and avoid winter weight gain.
  • The mental stimulation and exercise of a walk will help prevent destructive dog behavior caused by boredom.
  • You won’t feel guilty. :)

Snow Hike with Dog

While I’m on the topic of winter walks, I want to throw in a couple of safety tips.
Always use a leash if you’re walking or hiking near frozen ponds or lakes. It’s not worth taking the risk of your dog falling through a partially frozen body of water.
Be careful about letting your dog walk in snow that has an icy crust over the top of it. Haley once ripped her dew claw because it got snagged on the ice as her paw broke through the crusted over snow.

Since January is National Walk Your Dog Month, I’m going to challenge myself to maintain the same walking schedule as we have during the warm summer months. If you hate walking your dog in the winter too, why not join me in the challenge and use the tips here to make cold weather walking more enjoyable. For you hardcore winter walkers, I’d love to hear your tips on how you make winter walks more comfortable and fun!

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My thanks to Elaine for allowing me to reblog this post and share her excellent advice. If you’d like more information about helping your dog stay healthy and happy, be sure to check out Chasing Dog Tales

Have more tips and suggestions to help us all enjoy the winter? Leave a comment here!

Fireworks & Fido: Reducing the Fear Factor

dog fireworkAs a kid, I loved fireworks celebrations. Loved the colors, the artistry, and the music that often accompanied the big events. I still enjoy the celebrations, although my appreciation is tempered by the effect fireworks may have on our furry companions. Some reports suggest dogs can be frightened by the fireworks and often escape the yard, winding up lost, injured, or worse.

If you’re likely to hear a barrage of fireworks as people celebrate the holiday weekend, consider how to make the experience a bit less scary for the pets in your family.  At the end of this post you’ll find a terrific infographic from the American Kennel Club with important reminders for us all. To begin, here are some useful tips to help keep your dog safe, courtesy of the Such Good Dogs blog:

Have ID on your pet:
This is the number one most important thing!  More pets run away on July 4th than any other day of the year.  Be sure that your pet has proper identification tags with updated contact information.  On the 4th, be sure to keep your pet on a leash and keep a close eye on him when out and about.

Preparation:
The best thing to do for a dog that gets nervous, anxious, or fearful during fireworks is to properly prepare BEFORE the day arrives.

Try Lavender Oil:
Lavender is a naturally calming scent for both humans and dogs.  I have recommended lavender in the past for dogs with arthritis.  To use lavender for your dog, take some time to give your dog a massage and give some good petting.  Put just a little dab of lavender oil on your hands before massaging your dog and/or petting him in his favorite spots.  Use nice, calm, slow strokes.  Slowly massaging the outsides of the spine from the neck down is another proven approach.  Be sure not to use a lot of lavender.  A little dab will do just fine.  You do not need a lot to get the smell, and we do not want to have dogs licking excessive amounts of oil off themselves.  The point of this exercise is to associate the smell of lavender with a nice calm, relaxed state of mind.  You should do this for a few days (or more) prior to the fireworks on July 4th.  Your dog will build an association to the smell of lavender and being relaxed and calm.  Before the fireworks begin, put your dog in his “safe place” with the scent of lavender.

Have a “Safe Place” for your dog:

For many dogs the thing that makes them feel best and most safe is to be able to get as far away from the sights and sounds as possible.  Have a spot ready that your dog will enjoy and be comfortable in.  Make it somewhere far away from outside walls and windows.  This will make it easier for him to relax.  The best thing would be a kennel or crate.  Dogs generally enjoy den-like enclosures, and having your kennel or crate set up before the 4th will help them have a nice spot to go.  It is also helpful to place sheets or towels over wire crates to help block sound and lights.  Be sure to take the temperature into consideration.  It is summer and things get hot quickly.  Do not make your “safe place” uncomfortable for your dog by making it too hot.  You are most looking for a den-like area for your dog to feel safe.  If possible feed and/ or treat your dog in this area prior to the 4th.  Make sure the area is lined with a bed or comfy blankets for your pup as well.
Also remember to try and give your dog something he enjoys to help occupy him such as a chew bone or Kong filled with some yummy treats or peanut butter.

Communication & Energy:
If you will be around your dog during the fireworks, the best thing you can do for them is to remember to remain calm and feel like the fireworks are no big deal.  Dogs react to energy.  If your energy is telling your dog that you are calm and not at all worried about the sights and sounds, your dog will feel that it is okay for him to relax as well.

Exercise your Dog before Dusk:

A fantastic way to help your dog is to thoroughly exercise him before the fireworks begin.  Be sure to get your evening walk in before it starts to get dark.  The less energy your dog has, the less energy he has to put towards being fearful.  A tired dog will be more comfortable and will be able to more easily ignore the sounds and sights of the night.
Read the entire article at the Such Good Dogs blog.
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The American Kennel Club always has helpful information about canine care, and they’re put together a sensible list that’s worth keeping for year-round reference. (New Year’s Eve, for example, often ends in a frenzy of fireworks.) Find that here. And here’s a great graphic, courtesy of the AKC, that sums up the key points to help keep our beloved pets safe. Wishing everyone a happy and safe celebration!
INFO_Fireworks_201507_Infogfx