Take The Edge Off

Take The Edge Off

Sometimes you adopt a dog that has a pre-existing behavior issue that shows up only in a home environment. For example, your new pup barks at men with beards. If this is the case, then desensitizing your furry friend is an excellent way to eliminate the issue.  Desensitization means exposing a dog to such a low level of stimulus that s/he does not react: this technique can be applied to any number of situations. Take the example of men with beards. The first step is to identify that a bearded man is a trigger that sets your dog barking. Once the trigger is identified, what can be done? For the facial hair phobic dog, this means finding a distance at which the dog sees a bearded man but doesn’t react. That might be 5, 10, 20, or 50 feet away. The actual distance doesn’t matter, because what you want to do is reward your dog’s calm behavior in the presence of a bearded man.  You can enlist the help of a bearded friend or a fake bearded friend. Let your dog see the man and when he does not react, praise and reward him. Have your assistant move closer, and if no response from your dog, repeat praise and reward.   If the dog’s body language changes, such as they step away, hackles rise, head drops or ears go back, then before s/he starts to bark get them to sit as your bearded assistant calmly walk away.   The next session restarts with the bearded assistant at a distance that doesn’t provoke a response.  Keep desensitization sessions short, fun, and rewarding. In this way,...
Fear or Aggression?

Fear or Aggression?

  Let’s take a look how a dog’s past experiences may influence their future behavior.   You have adopted a male dog, and he’s settling in well. In fact, better than you dared hope. Encouraged, you introduce him to the other dogs at the local park. Everything is going well. He behaves perfectly and meets dogs of all shapes and sizes, without issue.   Then it starts to rain. A woman walks past with an umbrella and your dog, bares his teeth, growls and snarls with a real intent to do harm. If you had not had him on his leash, he might have attacked the woman. Then it happens again! He snarls at an elderly man walking with a cane. Your friends say that your new furry friend is “aggressive.”   What the world sees as an aggressive dog, may just be in reality fear. In your dog’s past life, his owner may have abused him repeatedly by beating him with an umbrella. Your dog associates umbrellas with pain causing him to lash out in fear. He extends this fear to any object that looks like an umbrella, including canes, brooms or any long object a person can carry.    A fearful dog has two options: run away or stand and fight. If he decides an attack is his best defense, the outside world deems him aggressive.   Your job as an understanding owner is to unravel this chain of events and retrain him. An intricate puzzle, the best bet is to desensitize him slowly. Exposing him to the fearful stimulus at a sufficiently safe distance where he...
Muzzles and Body Fat

Muzzles and Body Fat

People regularly ask me, why do Greyhounds in the pictures posted all wear muzzles?   It’s not because Greyhounds are aggressive or mean. Actually, generally speaking, they are sweet and playful. The pictures posted are from when I volunteer at Hemopet. When Greyhounds exercise and play in a group, it’s very easy for one dog’s eye tooth (it’s big) to graze and catch the body or neck skin of another. Wearing a muzzle is simply for their protection. When Greyhounds are exercising and playing, it’s very easy for one dog’s eye tooth (it’s big) to graze and catch the body or neck skin of another. The result could be a huge skin tear (like a zipper opening up). Greyhounds have little protective body fat “cushion” underneath their thin skin layer. Our Greyhound Mickey Mouse has a gentle style of play, similar to our other dogs; there isn’t a need for him to wear a muzzle. We monitor playtime since Mickey is so much larger and faster than our other dogs, he’s can be a bit intimidating. Due to Mickey’s thin skin he also needs to be watched hiking through rough terrain. Sharp branches and rocks can tear his skin quickly, just like teeth can from dog...
Do You Use Retractable Leashes?

Do You Use Retractable Leashes?

When you shop for a leash, look for a standard nylon 4-6 foot leash. As tempting as it may be, as fun as it may look, avoid the retractable leash. You’ve probably seen them being frequently used by dog owners in your area. I’d like to caution you against them, especially when you’re working with a new-to-you rescue dog. First and foremost: you can’t control the dog when it’s 20-30 feet away from you. No matter how experienced a dog handler you are nor how well-behaved your dog might be. You cannot effectively control a dog at that distance – and this can lead to tragedy. In fact, I’ve personally seen several dogs killed who were on retractable leashes. It happens in the blink of an eye, and stories like these are unfortunately all too common. I was in a store in line behind a woman checking out at the cash register. She had her dog on a retractable leash. As she paid for her goods, the dog ran towards the automatic door which opened. Quickly the dog ran out the door, got to the end of the leash and with its force pulled the leash from her hand. The over-excited dog ran out into the street and was hit by a passing car and killed – in just seconds. Another instance, I was at a park with my dogs and came across an owner on his cell phone. His dog was on a retractable leash as he was encouraging his dog to chase squirrels, as he laughed at his dogs antics. The dog darted out in the opposite...
The Kiss

The Kiss

Does your dog kiss you on the mouth? Both of mine do, and it seems to gross some people out. Once in a park a lady just about threw up when she saw Olivia take a treat off my tongue. OK, I know it is probably not a “Kiss”. She does this “her kiss” out of instinct, anxiety, my face tastes salty or just to get that treat between my lips or tongue. Truthfully, it is most likely a behavior Olivia learned through positive reinforcement training. Thinking it is a kiss is anthropomorphizing (attributing human characteristics to an animal) her behavior. I still want to think Olivia is kissing me because she thinks I am pretty great. Still there’s a minor danger of bacteria such as Staphylococcus and Pasteurella being passed from dogs to their owners via kissing. However, there’s only a small chance we can get sick. Shelly Rankin is an associate professor of microbiology at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine. Professor Rankin reports bacteria needs to enter the bloodstream through a break in the skin to harm us, and stomach acid would most likely kill almost any bacteria passed to us by a kiss from a dog. I’ll live with the risks of being kissed by my dogs. Besides its fun grossing people...
Looks Like I Have A New Hero

Looks Like I Have A New Hero

While hiking with Olivia and Bailey in drought-stricken California we finally got a decent sized thunder shower. The trail we hike quickly got muddy and slick, yet we were still several miles from the Jeep. Rain does funny things to my dogs. Water makes Olivia goofy even animated. Unless drinking, Bailey avoids water like the plague. We were fine until we got to a 4-foot gap in the trail we usually just jump across without much trouble. Olivia and Bailey made it with no fuss. But, when I attempted it, I slipped and face planted on the opposite side. Slipping into the hole isn’t a big deal, it’s only 7 feet deep and I have done it before — when it was dry. The dogs will wait for me while I scramble up to the path.   But this time was different. Just as I was about let go and tell Olivia and Bailey to “wait”, I felt a hard tug on my right arm. My 36 pound SCWT Bailey was pulling on my sleeve with all his might. Olivia seemed content to watch. I dug my old man legs into the mud while Bailey was trying to pull me out. Was I ever in any danger? Nope. Did Bailey think he was saving me? I’ll never know for sure, but he was really pulling hard. It’s a big contrast from when we adopted him and he was fearful of everything. If this happened last year, I’m sure he would have run...