Anxiety

Any huChihuahua Frankie learning to be confident and relaxedman being who has ever experienced panic attacks or an acute anxiety episode knows that symptoms like: trembling, inability to concentrate, accelerated heartbeat, labored breathing, sweating, consuming restlessness, involuntary paralyzation and/or an intense need to flee, are serious. And, when one is in that extremely debilitating state of mind, it is unlikely you will be easily coerced or talked out your suffering. What if, then, your most trusted friend; the one you counted on to protect, love and show you the ropes in life starting shoving you around, forcing you to perform for their hugs or conversation and stood hovering, chanting orders that you have never heard because you would not “snap out of it”? Would that ease your troubled mind?

Well, unfortunately, when we attempt to assert ourselves and use popular interpretations of “dominate”, in the name of  training, on our precious pup who’s once leisurely walks now include frequent grinding-halt-moments or shows signs of aggression after years of a fairly easy-going life together; the all-too-common bullying technique can only make unwanted behaviors more frequent, and possibly, much more severe. Here’s a few tips to keep in mind about anxiety and how you can help your dog.

Change is a big trigger for anxious behavior. Like humans, there are some dogs who are naturally more anxious. And, when your life changes, your beloved dog who tends to have a lot of nervous energy or becomes fretful over feeding time when daylight savings occurs will likely struggle with a new person in the house, a move, schedule change, and dramatic rule changes. Even positive alterations can send a dog’s understanding of what to expect from you and sense of security into a behavioral frenzy. My beloved Finn moved with me many times and took countless road trips, stayed in hotels, motels and friends and families’ homes and always did it with a beaming smile. Because, before the journey, we took a long jaunt. And, the instant I dropped my bags inside the door; even before I unpacked, we took another long stroll. Because, my Lug absolutely adored his walks; they were our routine and I knew traipsing through the novel ‘hood would help him settle in with ease. And, I always took his favorite dog bed so he had a familiar place to rest when he was not stretched out on top of my covers.

Remember, even if the life change is good, happy and welcome for your dog; it is an adjustment. And, he or she needs a consistency remnant or two in routine. Multiple changes in a short amount of time require even more thoughtful, proactive interactions to help your pooch understand the addition (even if your dog loves your boyfriend or girlfriend who just moved in) is not a vexing switch.

Gentler is better. I recently met a lovely couple who’s adorable chihuahua was experiencing some really unsettling fear aggressive behavior, including biting the man who he had known and enjoyed his company for over a year. Their research led them to some militant techniques and with time, they found their sweet dog became worse. During our session, I observed this dog offer oodles of anti-conflict behaviors when I approached his treasured bed; one of the areas he was becoming aggressive over, and, saw him light up when I let him come into my space on his own terms.

Before we started the exercises to help the anxious little nugget; I told them that based on what I was seeing, they should take a gentler approach. And, a huge darkness and weight lifted from their home and faces. Most kind, intelligent people do not want to be dictators to their furry best friends. They have no desire to force their dog to sit before going out for a walk that the dog does not find rewarding. Not all dogs ENJOY their walks like my Finn; even less so when they suffer from sound sensitivity or stranger danger,  and live in a busy neighborhood. And, with every head drop, retreat to his mom, yawn and tongue flick that Frankie offered when I pulled out his harness and leash; it was clear to me that the additional walks they were trying to take him on to tucker him out were actually adding tension to the situation.

And, while not all behaviors can be drastically altered in a short amount of time; this dear anxious boy’s mom emailed me a few days after our session to tell me that focusing on exercises to build her dog’s confidence, playing games to burn anxious energy instead of taking him on walks that he did not enjoy and teaching him good things happen when they go near his resources, rather than taking them away to show him who’s boss, were much more aligned with who they are as people and let them see the dog they knew and loved again.

Patience. Alter plans. And, more patience. I worked VERY hard after Gavin and I were attacked on a walk to make sure he had tons of good doggie interactions. And, he surprised me. He waltzed through the neighborhood wiggling his butt, smiling at every school child who remarked “oh, he’s so cute!” and never veered from his obsession to chase my neighbors’ trees; despite being an uber sensitive little dude. Lil’ Big Head once avoided the kitchen for a month because I dropped a spoon onto the floor while I was cooking; nowhere close to him.

But, the number of dogs in our neighborhood has tripled in recent months. Gavin started digging his heels into the sidewalk and blinking his eyes whenever he heard; but, did not see a dog barking from inside their home. The behavior came to fruition pretty quickly one day, when we were still about ten blocks from our condo. I noticed his face, the subtle change was not his usual but I-wanna-go-play-fetch-the-OTHER-way halt. Gavin looked miserable. His head hung low, ears back and true panic on his big, block-headed face. I bent down to let Gavin know I would protect him. This tactic always relaxes Lil’ Big Head when he is a teensy bit nervous. But, he completely turned away from me and laid down, then, looked up at me with such a helpless expression that my heart shattered into pieces onto the sidewalk. Gavin loves his Chuck-It balls. But, I knew, in that moment, he was what trainers call “over threshold” and the sight of his prized orange and blue striped rubber toy was not going to get him moving. So, I scooped him up and carried him. As soon as I did, he planted a kiss on my cheek and his whole body relaxed in my arms.

Quite a few drivers slowed to watch us as I walked, carrying my 65 pound, muscly, aesthetically tough-looking dog. And, after about 100 feet or so; I put him down to catch my breath and he bounced along next to me like the world was right again. We have been doing pretty well since that day with a new herbal supplement, relaxation protocols, Thundershirt, timing our walks so we see the most possible people (the more school kids, the more excited Gavin is to move) and using his Chuck-It balls as a reward for being a big, brave boy. None of those solutions were a panacea and we were not completely back to his carefree self on walks; but, Gavin was not so stressed when walking that I contemplated calling my vet to assure there is nothing medical going on.

One day this week, we had the perfect storm of events working against us. Gavin had a late play date with his buddy, Homer. So, he was too tired to get up for the morning rush hour. And, the velcro on the Thundershirt rubbed his no-fur chest and shoulders, causing some irritation so I had to leave that part of our strategic-dog training package at home. After we played fetch, we were trucking along beautifully and he heard an airplane that caused him to pause. I grabbed my second Chuck-It toy and laid it a few feet in front of him to keep him from going into full MAYDAY mode. But, because Gavin’s slobber had saturated the ball, it slipped out of my hands as I went to pick it up again to encourage him to keep walking. Once he had BOTH balls, he went down. Gavin barely eats treats on his best, big-boy day, so waving my arms around in attempt to get him moving and rapidly repeating, “come on, come on, come on” appears anxious to most dogs and would only harm the progress we have made in the past week.

So, I scooped him up again and carried him. Thankfully, there were no cars around. Because, I realized when I knelt down that we were both wearing bright, Barney-purple colored fleece jackets so it likely appeared to anyone who may have seen us that I purposely dressed us to match each other. We both collapsed when we arrived home. And, since then, I have had to make new alterations, adjust our route and thankfully, we have had a few walks that everything about Gavin’s body language tells me that my happy-go-lucky boy is still in there. We are on the right path.

Anxiety is a very serious behavioral issue and not a choice for our precious pups. Identifying the cause and developing individualized solutions is a science that many of us dedicated and passionate training and behavior consultants have spent years cultivating. I will be kind and patient with my fragile boy to reduce his anxiety, will you?

 

Grey Eyebrows and a Puppy Belly

Happy golden retriever duo, Senior Sam and Puppy SadieIt is no secret, we have a soft spot for senior dogs. And, puppies. Well, and any dog in between. Anyone who has ever been blessed to share their life with a senior dog knows there is a language, a secret code, that you develop with each other over the years. A vernacular that no one else in the world could possibly understand but you and the amazing four-legged soul who has rested their beautiful head on your lap during so many of life’s ups and downs. The furry creature who somehow still loves you despite having seen your worst bad hair days and can be given credit for teaching you important life lessons like compassion, patience and responsibility.

Sometimes, your distinguished dog would think it was honky-dory for you to bring home a zippy puppy. But, it can also be the worst thing you could do to an aging animal. Read on for some do’s and don’ts to assure you give your salt ‘n’ pepper pooch exactly what he or she deserves during those precious twilight years.

Dos

  • Sometimes folks consider a puppy because their silver fox of a dog is dispirited after his or her canine best friend crossed the rainbow bridge. Please accept our sincerest empathy tears. The infinite gorge left in our hearts when our revered dog leaves this world is a wound many of us know too well. And, we would not wish that anguish on an enemy; let alone our dear, sweet dogs who can become despondent and disengaged while they mourn their own loss. Only consider introducing a new furry friend if your dog has had other doggie friends besides the darling pooch he or she is grieving over. Some dogs have one or two canine pals in their entire life. So, be kind to yourself and your sad sweetie; and really make sure a completely different personality and energy level would be a welcome addition to your home.
  • Consider adopting an older dog. Not only are many rescue dogs VERY dog friendly; but, an over-three-year-old dog has a VERY different idea of  how rough and how long a play session should last than a five-month-old-pup does. And, while we absolutely respect responsible breeders; many are too far away to allow your resident canine a chance to meet his or her new roommate. All the rescue organizations we work with require a meet ‘n’ greet to assure it is a canine match made in heaven for BOTH dogs. And, who knows, you might even meet a mutt who makes you fall in love with a different breed or mix of breeds, even if you have always been drawn to one type of dog.
  • Give the puppy lots of crate time so your older dog can rest. Even if both dogs are grinning, play bowing and continually pressing the start button on spirited play sessions; your older dog will be very happy with some down time. And, to prevent the puppy from fussing because he or she would prefer to play 24 hours a day; give him or her a Kong with a super scrumptious filling. Just be sure your senior dog gets a brimming Kong too; in another space, to prevent scuffles over resources.
  • Set up training sessions to teach the puppy to respect the older dog’s space and to give both dogs the opportunity to learn that it is FUN to share attention. Relying on everyday situations and habits to create the relationship you want between your two best friends can easily backfire. Teaching ‘wait’ and ‘gentle’ with LOW VALUE TREATS, practicing attention and rewarding for not bombarding each others’ space is vital; and will pay off for years to come.
  • Plan to spend one on one time with your senior dog. Puppies are so stinkin’ cute. But, do not let the shiny new whirling dervish steal every second of your attention. We do not mean to sound drippy; but, every day with your senior dog should be considered a blessing. Make time for an activity that he or she LOVES; and, enjoy it sans puppy. Your grey-faced love bug will smile from ear to ear to have you all to his or herself; and not be pummeled while you are massaging tender muscles.
  • Keep up with your senior dog’s feeding and pottying routines. Yes, it is hard to adhere to an insane and exhausting, puppy potty training schedule. But, your dear senior’s behavior and good habits can go completely awry if you also try to change his or her schedule to meet the puppy’s needs. Older dogs can develop new anxieties due to loss of senses and other bodily changes. And, change can exacerbate stress. Adding a puppy is a HUGE transition for your distinguished dog and tossing other alterations at him or her can wreak havoc on their comfort and sense of security.
  • Hire a trainer. There are complex hierarchies that develop between two dogs and can rapidly change as the puppy develops. A qualified training and behavior consultant can observe the relationship and coach you through the nuances of the dogs’ interactions to best help prevent nasty fights that can have serious detrimental effects on both dogs’ behavior and well being.

Dont’s

  • Expect an older dog to correct your new puppy for naughty behaviors.  Your adorable puppy will learn loads of information, good and bad, from your cherished senior dog. But, many elderly animals do not have the personality nor the desire to show a puppy the ropes; let alone be interested in defending themselves against raging puppy teeth for hours on end. We have met many lovely and sweet senior dogs who gently avoid the puppy’s NEVER ENDING need to PLAY PLAY PLAY.  But, the instant the human intervenes and gives the puppy some down time; the senior dog flops onto the floor into doggie dreamland. Just because your dog is not growling at your puppy does not mean he or she is having fun. You are your senior’s best ally.
  • If the sole reason is to soften the blow for you, knowing that your senior dog might potentially leave this world sooner rather than later. The thought of making a tough choice, and hoping to do so for all the right reasons can suck the life out of us mere humans. And, the dread and anguish are often almost unbearable. But, if you are preparing yourself for this day, it is likely your senior dog is coping with major medical issues or struggling to get around. Please, do not let a puppy toss themselves at those aching joints just so the awful day is less painful for you. Your elderly dog deserves to sleep without puppy teeth gnawing on their ear and to mosey along as slow as he or she needs to on walks; without enduring a four-legged throttle machine every two steps.
  • Let your puppy torture your senior dog. We have kind of mentioned this before but, puppies have an endless desire to play and when your ankles are not beet red due to relentless, razor-sharp-puppy teeth, it is way too easy to miss that your resident canine is miserable. Remember, your treasured, grey-faced buttercup has had many moments, if not years, without a puppy stealing their food or grabbing their neck 23 hours a day.
  • If your senior dog is dog-aggressive. Sometimes, very well meaning folks decide that a young puppy would be best for a dog who has never really liked other dogs. Really young puppies can be VERY appealing to introduce to a less-than-social-older dog. Super young puppies ooze and melt where ever they go. So sweet and hard to resist. But, one quick growl, or worse, can behaviorally wound a puppy for the remainder of his or her life.  And, as the puppy grows older and becomes more independent and curious; he or she might decide that stealing a toy is more important than heeding to a snarl. Things can get very scary, very quickly. It is well worth the investment to hire a trainer BEFORE even considering bringing home a puppy if you have even the tiniest concern that it might not be a good fit.
  • Get hung up on “sit” with your senior. Most folks like to start obedience or tricks with new puppies and we highly encourage it! But, sitting over and over again can really make a senior dog’s nagging knees and creaky joints super painful later on in the day. Encourage both dogs to join in training. But, have your elderly dog do something that is kinder to his or her joints like “touch” or simple attention. Then, be very clear when saying “sit” that you are asking the puppy, not both dogs. This will help your sweet senior know he or she is still doing right by you and not adding pressure to comply with something they were probably very good at doing; but, their aging body just can not handle much more.

We hope these tips were helpful to keep your senior dog sane and help your puppy learn some boundaries so everyone in the house enjoys each other as much as possible. We have met many amazing senior and puppy pairs over the years who absolutely adore each other. Do please take the above hints into consideration to assure a new puppy or dog is the right fit for you, your home and your marvelous senior dog.

Kiddos & Dogs

Creme Retriever "Oliver", sitting politely for the ball.What could be more gratifying than watching your children frolicking in the back yard with your puppy or rescue dog? The uninhibited joy of playing, romping and chasing with no agenda other than having fun; responsibility and commitment-free. We firmly believe no one expands their human household nor brings home a new dog with the intentions of causing stress for the whole family. Or worse, putting any loved one in harm’s way. Safety should always be the first priority when it comes to children. Here’s a few pointers to ensure Fido or Fifi stay in your good graces when it comes to your little lambs.

Bringing home baby. You have to consider your dog’s history with children. Has your dog been around children? If so, has he or she avoided or worse, growled, snarled or lunged at nieces, nephews and kids on the street? Folks sometimes believe that because the baby will be coming from their loins that the resident pooch will automatically love the child. Unfortunately, this is not true.

If your dog has EVER shown fear or aggression towards children, it is best to be uber cautious. Gates and crates can keep bambino and doggie separate. Just make sure when your little one starts toddling around, he or she does not walk towards a confined, aggressive dog; the restraint can make some dogs MUCH more agitated and/or they could exhibit territorial aggression if in a favorite space.

Also, you have to be fair to your pup. Start early and reward for accepting the new sounds and all the novel gear that starts arriving at your home WAY before your wee one enters the world. And, if you plan to keep your dog in another room, make sure you give your dog time to adjust and get reinforced for being in that space. ESPECIALLY if he or she has not been crated or gated in years, if ever.

Remember, this will be a HUGE change for your precious pooch to lose an extensive amount of your attention. So, make a plan to give your skeptical hound one-on-one time when your infant is napping so he or she does not develop naughty habits out of boredom or anxiety.

Wobbling toddlers. Once kids start walking and moving around; even the most solid, friendly dogs can have a limit for how much they can take. And, just because your pup liked the laughing, sometimes crying infant or even wanted to protect him or her; does not mean Fido will adore tiny hands grabbing his fur or chasing him into a corner over and over again.

One of my dearest friends in the world, Pam, brought her adorable, ridiculously happy 16-month-old to stay with Gavin and I for the weekend. The two of them were so sweet together, Cannon would wobble away and Gavin would smooch him. Then, Cannon would laugh like it was the funniest thing in the world and kiss Gavin back. He would then pick up Gavin’s toy and drop it on the ground and giggle again when Gavin grabbed his squeaky toy. It was so lovely to watch; and I know and trust that Gavin would NEVER, ever hurt a child. Well, except for his whip tail. I followed Lil’ Big Head around during the love-fest to make sure his happy tail did not inadvertently smack poor Cannon and hurt his delicate, baby skin.

One afternoon, Cannon decided that rolling cans from the pantry across my living room floor was just a riot. And, I did not care that he entertained himself that way. During the first few rolls, if the black beans looked like they were heading in the direction where Gavin was sleeping on the sofa, I or Pam would redirect them. And, of course, Cannon would chuckle. The sound alone was something Gavin is not used to. But, even though the cans never got within five feet of Gavin, he gave me a look that said it was scary for him. So, I scooped him up and put him in my bedroom . He literally sighed with relief when I put him on the bed so he could be away from the hullabaloo that was disturbing his usual nap time.

If your dog has ever growled, tensed, snarled, cowered or hid when ANY child was near; keeping the two separate at the toddler age is ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL. Toddlers move LIGHTNING FAST and dogs move LIGHTNING FAST. And, it takes less than a second for a child to get hurt. We as adults are unfortunately, not as quick as either; let alone the two together.

Teaching all to be gentle. I remember when my nephew was starting to toddle around and Isaac picked up his cat, Echo by two of his legs. Isaac was just a baby; he did not understand that it probably hurt Echo and was just not the way animals should be treated. My brother Chris handled it beautifully, he did not yell at Isaac. But, he used it as a teaching moment; and explained to Isaac (who is so kind and gentle to all living things now) why he should never pick up Echo in that way and showed him the right way to pet his kitty. I have seen enough America’s Funniest Home Videos to know that sometimes, parents egg kids on for behavior that is just not nice to animals. Please do not do this. Kids can be taught early and often how to be compassionate to their pets.

As Isaac waddled and toddled his way into his current big kid stage, I or Chris would always hold his hand any time he wanted to pet Finn; to make sure his tiny, bobbling hands were gentle. And, every time my nephew stroked my senior dog’s fur, I told him he was such a good boy being so tender to my Lug. Children learn from repetition and positive reinforcement just like our four-legged friends.

The training techniques are pretty darn similar. Dogs do not learn by being chased around all day being told “NO!” And, what can happen, if they were doted on before baby came home; they can develop negative associations with the two-legged tyke because you always seem to be angry now that he or she is around. Also, kids learn better by being shown what to do and given constructive ways to interact with dogs.

If your child is afraid of dogs or the new puppy is still a teething machine, have your sweeties hold a Kong when interacting with your dog (if you have ever seen ANY signs of toy or food guarding, this is not the right strategy). And, if you hold your child’s hand while your pup is enjoying whatever you stuffed in the Kong, you give both puppy and child practice interacting in a way that will make everyone happy.

Rather than trying to keep up with lightning fast puppies or toddlers, chanting “no” all day long; spend ten minutes a day showing both what to do. Kids LOVE hide ‘n’ seek and it teaches dogs it’s fun to find the kids. We also like “find” games for children because it is easy and it helps create a cohesive, positive relationship.

We hope this cursory overview of keeping kids and dogs happy and SAFE in the home was helpful. This is a VERY big topic and if you plan to bring home a new dog and you have children in the house; or you are bringing home a baby and you are unsure if your dog is going to do well, it is well worth hiring a professional trainer to come to your home to assure everyone stays safe. And, if there’s even tiniest bit of concern about aggression, PLEASE bring a trusted trainer to your home as soon as possible.

 

Terrible Teenagers

Golden Retriever puppy, "Opie" sitting like a good boy.Remember that bumbling ball of fur who plopped into a “sit” and melted into “down” with just a couple of minutes of practice? And, the adorable way he dropped his little head and gave you the best sad puppy eyes when his shark teeth hit your hand and you instinctively said “ouch”? Well, those days are gone when puppies hit their adolescent stage. Technically, dogs hit the equivalent of their teenage stage between 6-18 months. But, I find that the absolute worst phase for urban dogs is 5-10 months of age. Here’s a few tips to survive the raging hormones, lack of motivation and VERY selective hearing.

Follow-through When puppies are super young, they are biologically inclined to want to please. “Oh my goodness, you want me to sit? Ok, and thank you for that bite of biscuit. Garsh, I just love you so much.” As pups develop and become more independent, they sometimes choose NOT to listen to cues they once readily (and happily) complied with. It is super easy for us understanding humans to give our pooches a pass because we know they are in a funky stage.

But, if you ask your darling fur babe to “touch” and she stares at you with her best “I don’t wanna” face and you go on your merry way; all you teach your precious pooch is that your words really do not mean anything. Doing so can bite you in the butt when it really counts. Just like Gavin did when he was this age.

So, in the above example, move your hand a tiny bit closer. Help a puppy out. There is a lot going on in her body clouding her compliance capability. If she then touches your hand, say “yes”. But, do not reward. If you treat your teenage pup for the slow responses, then she is getting reinforced for sloppy behavior. If your puppy is REALLY in a punky place, she might turn her head or continue to ignore you. But, fight the urge to hover over her shouting “touch, touch, touch”. Adding pressure and force to the situation never does any good. Take a step away and gently offer just your hand (not the verbal cue) again until she responds. Some pups make take QUITE A FEW repetitions. Patience is important at this stage; and making sure you help your growing dog remembers that good things happen when she listens to you will pay off for years to come.

Use play as a reward.  Often at this age, pupppies turn up their naughty nose to the most scrumptious treats. Are you playing hours of fetch to try to tire your hooligan hound? Make it count! Ask for a “wait” before you grab the ball. Impulse control is REALLY important. And, who wants gashes in their hand from an over-eager puppy mouth when the only reason you are picking the ball up is to toss it for your clamping canine? Ouch!

Ask for a “sit” before tossing it again. Or, if your dog likes to do drive-bys, have a second toy ready and just bounce or squeak it. When he graces you with his first toy at your feet, toss it as a reward. This is a great way to shape “drop”. But, only give the cue when the ball is out of his mouth. Too much talking and your pup learns to ignore you.

Lighten up. I called Gavin “El Diablo” when he was a terrible teenager. Often, I would ask him to “sit” and he would stare at me, then tear around the living room like he was the Tazmanian Devil, and lay down (not sit, like I asked) right in front of me right before he would grumble again for punctuation. As long as there are no serious behavioral issues developing and your puppy is not in danger him or herself, chill out a bit.  I find that when my clients get too serious during this stage, it alters their body language so much that it actually causes the pup to respond even less. So, try not take atrocious behavior to heart. Practice an easy behavior or play a game so your pup remembers that you are not such a stick in the mud. Oh, wait, if you were a stick, your pup would be SUPER interested in you!!!

Follow these few steps and remember, your adorable juvenile delinquent will soon look at you again with the glitter gaze that made you fall in love in the first place. And, do continue to polish your pup’s skills even if you do not see the rapid results you did when she was a wee little one. We promise, terrible teenagers do not “stay” around forever.