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Megan’s Musings: 3 Steps for a Successful Spring

dog in pink rainboots smallSpring should be fun for your dog

Spring is a time of new growth, more sunshine, warmer temperatures and more people getting outdoors to enjoy the change in seasons. It is generally a happy time that we look forward to. However, Spring can be scary for our dogs. It begins to get busier outside with much more activity from people, animals and machinery. It is easy to forget the impact this can have on our dogs, so this month I am going to share some ideas on how to ensure your dog can enjoy the Spring season as much as you do. Follow these steps to ensure you can both be ready for a Summer full of fun activities together!

Go Slow
On a warmer day, life outside is busy. There is a lot of energy as people are excited to be out and enjoying the weather. Nature responds the same way and the wildlife becomes more active. Along with this, skateboards, bicycles, strollers, motorbikes, lawnmowers, sprinklers and so many more machines start to appear. All of these things are normal and many of us enjoy this extra activity. However, all of this can be new and scary to your dog, who may be used to quiet walks or time outside where they may only see the odd person or dog.

Work at your dog’s pace and do not rush out to all of the busyness at first. Start by going at slower times of the day; typically earlier in the morning or late evening. Go to places with lots of space and work at a greater distance at first. Even if your dog has seen all the seasonal changes before, work on offered attention at a distance your dog is comfortable with to start. At dogma, we always encourage dog owners to be proactive versus reactive. This means ensuring your dog views all of these changes as a positive, and is still comfortable with them, before immersing them right in the middle of it all.

Pay Attention to Your Dog
In order for you to know your dog’s comfort level and to ensure you are going at their pace, you need to understand your dog’s body language and pay attention to them. As the season gets busier, and you are going out at quieter times, be sure to watch them and their reaction to the new activities and surroundings. I’ve outlined some key things to watch for below:

  • Calming signals: These can be ways for your dog to calm themselves when they are feeling unsure. Some common ones you may see during Spring are sniffing, shake offs, tongue flicks or yawning. We have a full post on calming signals that cover these in more details.
  • Signs of stress: Stress does not always have to be bad stress, but it is important to understand when your dog may be responding to the extra activity to ensure you are taking it slow. Watch for excessive panting, shedding or dander, sweaty paws and lowered body language (tail tucked, ears pinned back, weight shifted back and head down).
  • The four f’s of stress: These are signs that your dog is overwhelmed and needs some space to slow down and feel more comfortable.
    • Flight: If it is too busy, or something startles your dog like a skateboard, they may try to flee the situation.
    • Fight: This is the same as the above situation, except your dog may be on leash so they feel like they cannot escape. In this case, they may react by barking, lunging or snapping. They feel cornered and are stressed, so they need space.
    • Fool around: This can appear like your dog is distracted or behaving in a silly manner. If they are struggling with their focus and moving quickly, it is a sign that they are over-stimulated and need some space and a quiet area to gain their focus.
    • Freeze: They may move slowly or not want to move at all.

If any of these happen, you are too close and need to give your dog space. Contact a reward-based trainer or email training@dogmatraining.com for assistance. Do not hope this will go away on its own, set your dog up for success and help them feel comfortable. Be sure to attend our Dog Talk seminar if you want to learn more about your dog’s body language.

Give them breaks
Don’t keep placing your dog into the new activity every day. If you feel like it is a lot for them, it is ok if they do not get out every day. Play brain games, provide them with interactive toys or chew bones and do some extra training with them if you decide not to walk them. Ensure they are getting enough sleep and give them quiet time in between walks. As the outdoor world gets busier, it will add to your dog’s arousal levels. This elevated state will have their adrenaline levels increased and it is important you give them time to settle. This is the same for when you are out on walks with them. Give them time to smell their surroundings and keep a slower pace. Practice offered attention and work on their focus to help keep them thinking. Monitor arousal levels and keep walks short to start.

If your dog has not experienced Spring in the urban environment or if they have fearful/reactive tendencies, I would suggest that you get to classes or work with a trainer to ensure you can introduce things in a controlled environment. Our urbanK9 classes focus on ensuring your dog can be successful in our busy human world. We also have a wide range of clinics to assist with this. Summer is a time to strengthen your relationship and enjoy life with your dog. A few simple steps now can ensure it will be one of the best ones yet!

Do you have other ways you ensure Spring is a successful time for your dog? What are your favourite activities to do together in the warmer weather? Please comment below!

Megan’s Musings: How We Stress Out Our Dogs

scared shepherdHow we can make our dogs feel from our own actions

It’s true. Nervous owners are more likely to have nervous dogs. This study released last month confirmed something dog trainers have suspected for years. We get nervous which causes our dogs to get nervous, and when our dogs are nervous, we get nervous. It becomes a vicious circle. It is challenging for everyone involved when our own fears/anxieties affect our dogs, but even the most confident person can put unnecessary stress on their dog. Through training and understanding the impact our actions have on our dogs, we can create confident and happy dogs and help ourselves at the same time. Let’s cover some of the main ways we stress out our dogs and how avoiding these will help to lessen our anxieties as well.

Showing frustration when your dog behaves like a dog
This is likely one of the most common things pet owners do and one that causes a great deal of confusion for our dogs. Think of a new puppy who has just been brought into your home. Everything is new to them and they are going to explore. As they explore, they find a new object, so being a dog, they explore it with their mouth and chew on it. It just so happens that it is your shoe. Suddenly, they are interrupted by this new human yelling, grabbing them roughly and throwing them outside. What have they learned? Did they learn not to chew on your items? No, they have just learned to be scared of you. They will be full of anxiety and confusion as they try to navigate this busy human world and learn what they should or should not be doing while having to avoid your anger. And they have to navigate this without getting any clear direction on what they should be doing. That is stressful.

Now think of an older dog. They are running and having fun at the off-leash park with their friends. Someone throws a ball (their favourite!) and they run after it. Their owner yells their name and a strange word ‘come’ that they have heard occasionally, but they are too focused on the ball to even register the cue. They chase after the ball and run around with it and their new friend. Suddenly, they hear their owner’s angry tone, they get grabbed harshly and the leash gets clipped back on. They head out of the park and their owner is frustrated and angry with them and they have no idea why. They were playing happily and suddenly when their owner appeared, things turned bad. What have they learned now? What feelings are they likely to experience when they are having fun and their owner appears?

Exerting physical punishment 
This ties into the above section. Take all of the above and pair it with physical punishment. What does that do? It creates more fear of the owner and even more stress as the dog does not always know why he is being punished. A dog may learn to be compliant in the sense that they do not do much when the owner is around and that they stay close to avoid punishment, but they are doing so under stress and are nervous about what type of punishment they may receive.

How do we avoid this then? We must understand that they are dogs and they are going to do dog things. Most things that we deem behaviour problems are normal dog behaviours. The frustration we feel adds stress to our lives, so both us and our dogs are better off if we instead learn to properly train our dogs and teach them about our busy human world. It is our responsibility to socialize and train them. If they are not listening, it is because we have not done our job training them, so we have no right to punish them. If it is a struggle for you, contact a reward-based trainer who can help you better train your dog so that you can both enjoy your time together and avoid the frustration all together.

Thinking in terms of dominance 
Your dog jumped on you? Dominance! Your dog barked at another dog? Dominance! Ran out the door ahead of you? Definitely dominance! We have all heard these. It seems like nowadays we attribute all of our dog’s behaviour problems or lack of training skills to dominance. First off, if it were as simple as you needing to be a better leader and not let your dog dominate you, I wouldn’t have a job. Secondly, we would not want to live with these animals if they spent their entire time trying to dominate us. They do not think this way and every single concern you will have with your dog comes down to a training issue, never dominance. So, forget about how they must respect you and instead focus on a relationship of mutual respect. You must learn how your dog communicates, spend the time training and socializing them and teaching them the world is a safe and positive place. If you struggle, contact a reward-based trainer who can help you better train your dog. Are you starting to see a trend here? Training your dog really does alleviate so much frustration and stress for both of you. Training through modern and reward-based methods enhances your relationship, and unlike punishment based training, it reduces stress and anxiety, instead of increasing it.

Forcing them into scary situations 
A final point on aversive methods and things we may do that create fear and aggression in our dogs; forcing them into something that frightens them. This can be as simple as making them say hello to someone they are unsure of, or perhaps forcing them into a group of dogs when they are afraid. Or perhaps we laugh at them barking at a new lawn decoration on our walk and force them up to it to see that it is safe. By forcing our dogs we are showing them that we are not to be trusted when a scary thing is around and we can actually increase their fear and anxieties. The solution? Don’t do it. Use food rewards to show them that these items are not scary and work at your dog’s pace.

Being inconsistent
Let’s say you decide that your dog cannot go on the bed (as an fyi, all of my dogs come on the bed and our time together snuggling is one of our favourite activities). Then one day you are sick and feeling sorry for yourself, so you invite your dog up for snuggles. It is a wonderful bonding time for you both. A few days later, you lie down in bed, your dog jumps up to join you, tail-wagging and so excited for more snuggles. Instead, you yell at them to get off the bed. Now let’s say you are working on your dog not jumping. We have not been consistent and let the dog jump occasionally and greet them cheerfully. One day we come out dressed up for an event and your dog comes in with muddy feet and jumps on you. They get yelled at and sent behind a gate to be isolated. Can you see how this is confusing for your dog? Do you understand how all of this creates high levels of stress and anxiety in our dogs? How do you avoid it? Be consistent. Doing so will make things clear for both of you and eliminates a huge amount of stress.

white sad dog head down smallDon’t leave your dog feeling unsure and nervous

Worrying about all stress 
One of the most common traits I have seen working with nervous dog owners is that they over-stress. They become anxious and over-protective of their dogs for any sign of stress. Dogs are going to face stress in their lives, so it is important that we teach them how to cope and work through their fears. If we always avoid the bad things completely or stop as soon the dog shows minimal signs of stress, they will never learn how to cope when something stressful happens. It is much easier to just avoid the scary thing for everyone, because in doing so, we need to face our fears and will experience some discomfort. I can understand why this is more difficult for nervous owners as they become stressed when their dog stresses and we get caught up in that vicious circle again.

This one becomes harder to solve, but the rewards for working through this are immeasurable. At first, we need to address our own stress. By becoming aware of your own signs of stress (trust me, if your dog could talk, they would have no problem identifying these as they are a cue that something scary is about to happen) you can begin to work on yourself. The key is to both work through your stress vs always avoiding it. You must begin to see changes and progress and can only do so when you really face the things that cause the anxiety. It is never about forcing a dog or putting them into situations that are too much for them, but to experience real progress, you must move past just managing the behaviour and work through the concern.

To help your dog, start working on your own anxiety. Identify your signs of stress, take time to settle and calm yourself and start at a pace you are comfortable and then begin to challenge yourself. Reward yourself for your progress. If you are struggling, work with a trainer with your dog and a professional for yourself. In order to best care for ourselves and our dogs we must work through our stress and learn effective coping skills. Not easy, but there is an army of people who can support you both.

Exercising too often or too little 
We have all heard the mantra, ‘a well-exercised dog is a well-behaved dog’. This is true, but there is such thing as too much exercise. Do not be fooled into the idea that hours of exercise will solve your dog’s arousal concerns as it has been proven that it does the opposite. On the flip side, not exercising your dog enough will also lead to behaviour concerns through over-arousal. Find a good balance of free exercise where your dog can run and play (such as off-leash parks) and structured exercise that focuses on mental stimulation (such as on-leash walks working on attention). Too much of over-stimulating activities such as dog daycare, off-leash park visits or group walks will increase your dog’s stress/arousal levels, so work with your trainer to find the right balance for your dog. You want them tired, but not over-tired or bored. Exercise is good for us as well and lowers our stress, so find ways you can get out and exercise with your dog so you can both enjoy the benefits!

Final notes
Every time you get frustrated, stop and think about how things may be for your dog. Try to better manage your own emotions and watch how this will benefit you and your dog along with enhancing your bond. Be aware of how the simple of act of yelling, showing frustration or responding through strong emotions can impact your dog, even when it has nothing to do with them. We are all human and will have moments of this, so either keep your dog separated during these times or ensure you are reassuring them and pairing with positives to minimize the affect. Dogs have an amazing way of sensing and responding to our stress, so take it as a cue that you need to settle. And take everything above into consideration; teach them to be successful in our human world, avoid punishment, do not force them into anything, be consistent, let them experience appropriate levels of stress and get out and enjoy nature together!

 

Megan’s Musings: Helping Your Other Dogs After a Death

hikingGuinniss and Deja on an adventure

Losing a pet is hard on the whole family. We lost Guinniss in June and saw the effects it had on the remaining pets immediately. Deja and Duke were both lethargic and stayed in bed for hours. For a few days after his passing, neither of them got up to greet us when we came home. Deja stopped eating and they were quiet and withdrawn. It was a big adjustment for everyone and we are still seeing the impact today. In this post, I will share some of the lessons I have learned through this, ways you can help your pet while they are grieving and steps you can take to minimize the impact on them.

Let them be a part of it
This is one that is a personal preference, but I highly recommend considering having your remaining pets there when another pet is put to sleep. Or at least allow them to see and investigate the body after they pass. We had one of our wonderful vets, Dr. Rienske from Dekens Vet come to our home. This was a much less stressful option for all of us to do it in the comfort of our home and one that I encourage you to consider when the time comes.

Deja was with us for the whole event and we kept Duke, Mya and Domi separate until it was finished. We knew Duke and Mya would become too excited and that Domi would just interfere because there was food. Deja is a quiet and gentle girl who quietly observed the whole thing and was provided with lots of cookies throughout. We allowed her to sniff and explore Guinniss afterwards, and then brought out Duke, Mya and Domi to do the same. They all moved slowly around and sniffed Guinniss quietly and we made sure to stay calm and reward them. I will never know if they fully comprehended what had happened, but it was important that they were allowed to be part of it in an attempt to help them process the fact that Guinniss was no longer with us.

Let them rest
As I mentioned, Duke and Deja were quiet and slept a lot after we said goodbye to Guinniss. We allowed them to sleep as much as they needed, and only woke them to feed them, potty them and get them outside. We made sure to keep the house quiet and activities calm. Some dogs may seem more restless after the loss of a pet. It is still important that you avoid highly stimulating activities. Provide them appropriate outlets for their stress through interactive toys and brain games.

img_6318Deja enjoying her recent trip

Get them out
We wanted to ensure the three dogs were still getting exercise and that we were providing ways to help elevate their moods. We spent the next week taking them out on small road trips and to new places to explore. We went to quiet areas, walked slowly and let them sniff and explore their surroundings. Sniffing can be stress-reducing for dogs, so we made sure that their walks allowed them to do this at their pace. They love their walks, so this was important to bring them some joy and get them out of the house.

Spend time with them
We gave them their space as they needed it. If Duke withdrew himself to the bedroom to rest, we let him do that. However we always made sure to offer regular affection and calm petting. We stayed home more and were around to ensure they were not isolated. We participated in quiet activities and stayed with them while reading, watching tv or working. We kept things quiet and ensured their time alone in the house was minimal for the first few days.

Give them time
Be patient and let them work through this at their own pace. Duke is back to normal, but Deja is still struggling. We have seen many of her sensitivities magnify and new ones appear since the loss of Guinniss. She has become more noise sensitive, unsure in new situations and jumpy in more stimulating environments. She has only ever known life with Guinniss at her side and they spent almost 13 years together. He was her big brother and was obviously a source of confidence for her. We have recognized her struggles and know we just need to give her time and do our best to keep her happy. We are still taking her out and working her through her fears, but are doing things at her pace.

Monitor your own emotions
It is an incredibly emotional time and you are going to be grieving and upset. Your dog will know this and feel your emotional state. It is ok to show this and be upset around your dog, but be aware of how you may be affecting them and the impact on them. Do not overuse them as a source of comfort and ensure you are also spending time with them participating in activities you both enjoy. There will be stress in the household and you cannot avoid that, but monitor how you may be affecting your surviving pets.

fullsizerender1Our crew Deja, Guinniss, Duke and Mya

Ways to minimize the impact of losing a pet
I felt like I had done work for this as we also had over a year to prepare for the loss of Guinniss. However, I did not expect it to have such an impact on Deja and witnessed more of it when we took herwith us to the west coast this month. I’ve outlined some key points to help minimize that impact on your surviving pets:

  • Alone Training. We advocate for this for a variety of reasons, but the value of this training became more apparent after we lost Guinniss. I spent a good portion of Deja’s life teaching her that it was ok to be alone. I would separate them at home while I was there, take them out on different outings and varied leaving one at home. If I had always kept them together, it would have been a very hard adjustment for Deja. Start this right away if you have multiple pets. You never know when they may need to be alone.
  • Follow the above points before the loss as well. If you have a pet that is dying in the household, things are changing and emotions and stress are increasing. Ensure you go through the above suggestions throughout this process and not just after the pet passes. It is easy to focus on the pet that is sick, but do not forget about the needs of your other pets.

Take care of yourself
If you are struggling with the loss of a pet, seek out pet loss support groups. There are some excellent groups in Calgary and a quick google search outlines options. Many vets also provide access to pet loss support groups. Do not forget to take care of yourself. You cannot help your pets if you do not take care of you. It is an incredibly hard time for everyone and my heart goes out to everyone who has been affected by the loss of a pet. May they all be running free and enjoying time on the rainbow bridge.

Do you have any other ideas on ways you helped your other pets through the loss of a companion? If so, please share below!

 

Training Tip: Helping your Dog Cope After an Emergency

Emergencies are stressful for everyone involved. For our pets, they will be confused and potentially scared from all of the activity and stress of their families. They may be left behind, rushed out into new environments or placed somewhere strange on their own. This is hard on everyone and the stress can have an impact on your dog’s emotional and behavioural well-being. Below are some simple ways you can help to ensure you minimize the impact of the stress after an emergency. Read more