What is it with human nature that we try to hide away from our problems rather than stepping up and dealing with them? We deny there is an issue and pretend everything is fine. We let the problem fester and get worse which leads to stress, anxiety and feelings of guilt as we keep hitting ourselves with the fact we should know how to handle this on our own. As an adult, we should just know how to deal with it by now shouldn’t me?
Why is the above statement so controversial?
We have had Alfie, a 6-month-old Cavapoo staying for the last week. He is training to be an assistance dog for a 12-year-old boy with Autism (Dogs for Autism charity). I have been helping the family train him since he arrived, and he came to us for a holiday.
He hadn’t met my dogs before so that was the first job. Asking your existing dogs to accept a new dog in the house should be done carefully. Doesn’t matter how well mannered and friendly your dog is, having someone come to stay is different to meeting them up the park. So, we met in a field, Alfie on a long line, and let them do a short walk together. Lots of sniffing and not too much bouncing (from Alfie) and all went well – he was in the club! Cuba unsurprisingly accepted him; Bria took a few days to be totally comfortable with a bouncing pup.
Bria is now 3 and we got her at 9 months and Cuba is now 5, so it was a long time since we’ve had a puppy. Having a puppy in the house needs planning. Nothing on the floor that you don’t want picked up and chewed. Check for cables, wires and low shelves to see what pup can get access to. It’s all about keeping him safe and my house. I already know he loves to pick up everything and try to generate a chase game – socks and shoes are a definite favourite. He also needs his own bed space. He came with a crate and bed so wanted to have them in the living area where we all spend time, but also somewhere he could retreat to if he needed to.
After checking he was allowed on the sofa (first place he went) he settled in very well. I put several lovely chew toys on the floor and a few ‘stooge’ old socks so we could practise leaving them! I gave him 3 days to decompress and just relax into the household routine, he slept lots and seemed to be very comfortable.
After this time our training started. We went to lots of different places to experience sights, sounds and smells of new environments. We did shops, rural locations and lots of travelling in the van. The cows and horses were definitely of most interest and he had to stop and watch them for a while. My job is to just allow him the time and space that he can process this new experience and not become scared or overwhelmed by it. Our shopping trip to B&Q meant we could practise walking beside a trolley and Pets at Home we practised settling in a busy place with dogs and people around. This is called ‘park’ – he needs to just lie down in any environment and not move until released – very hard for a youngster. He loves to chase birds, so recall was also on the priority list.
I truly love teenage dogs! I know most people find this age a real challenge, but this is the age where you really get to know your dog. Their cheeky side comes out. They test the boundaries and it can feel like they are intentionally being ‘naughty’. They are not by the way; they are just finding their feet (or paws) in this world. This gives you the opportunity to explore together with a partner that is still so excited about new things, and it’s wonderful to see their confidence building. This time is where you get to find out who your dog is really going to be. You are still shaping them and giving them lots of positive experiences so that they are developing into a wonderful adult companion.
Alfie is such a bright pup, it's a joy to work with him. Everyone we met also seems to agree he is a superstar. I love really getting to know a dog, they always teach us new skills as each one is an individual. I am so proud to be part of his journey to see him become an amazing assistance dog.
Are you aware that the veterinary governing bodies have now advised vets to not start or complete puppy vaccination courses? This is of course due to support the effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. However, at this time in a puppy’s life where socialisation is essential to raise a well-rounded adult dog, this decision is going to have a significant impact on this generation of puppies being raised now.
PLEASE DON’T PANIC! You can still raise your puppy well; you might just need to be more proactive and plan better than perhaps you would have done before these changes.
You can carry your puppy outside if unvaccinated. Your daily exercise can include your puppy in your arms or use a pushchair or trolley if they are too heavy to carry. Please don’t leave them at home until they are fully vaccinated – you are missing so many opportunities to expose your pup to the world. If there are 2 people in your house, your pup could get outside twice a day and you can walk to different locations to mix up the experiences being seen.
If you cannot leave the house, then you can just open the window and watch the world from a safe place. Or maybe your garden has a view of the outside world and you can still stay a safe distance from anyone that does pass. This is great for getting them used to smells and sounds and other daily noises. I recommend you also download the free sounds track from The Dog Trust website https://www.dogstrust.org.uk/help-advice/dog-behaviour-health/sound-therapy-for-pets
This you can play in your home and get your puppies used to fireworks, gun shots, livestock and other noises you might not have access to at home.
Socialisation doesn’t have to be about your puppy actually interacting with other dogs and people, it just being around them. So, go on your daily exercise walk, take some tasty food rewards with you (e.g. small pieces of cheese, sausages, chicken) and whenever your pup looks at something ‘new’ give a food reward. Pair these new things with tasty food! Just hang out and let them process what is going on around them. I know you need to give space from other people, but you can stop and have a quick chat (safe distance away) so that your puppy has time to look at them and listen to them – great experience. Same applies to dogs; let your puppy just watch them walk past.
I realise this isn’t ideal and of course there is nothing more fun than seeing your pup romping with others, but at this time this is not possible, so please keep your dog under control so either a short lead or long line (if suitable space to use).
Focus your time at home or on walks (if you can have your pup on the floor) engaging them with fun games, run around together, get them to ‘find it’ and scatter some food on the floor so they sniff and search for their food or find the hidden ball in the grass. This is a perfect time to develop an amazing relationship with your dog, with them thinking you are the best thing in their world!
I often get asked how to stop dogs from being naughty? I hear people say "I tell them off, but they keep doing it anyway". "They know they shouldn't be doing it", or similar themes.
Dog's view the world as what is safe versus what is dangerous. This is why telling a dog off for counter surfing (grabbing things of the kitchen worktops) won't stop the behaviour as they will just learn that they cannot do it when you are present, as this is when it is 'dangerous' and when you are not present it is safe. They don't know your house rules and why wouldn't they try and eat tasty things within reach? If it works - they will keep doing it. As a dog parent, your job is to set up the environment so they don't make mistakes as well as showing them how you want them to behave.
In this example, make sure all worktops are clear (including exciting tea towels) so that any opportunity isn't inadvertently rewarded by your dog grabbing something tasty. You also need to spend time rewarding your dog for keeping their paws on the floor when in this room. A 'settle on the mat' understanding would work really well here. This, however, isn't really what I wanted to focus on.
So why I am so happy that I caught my dog Bria with her paws on the window sill trying to reach a ball?
For me, I was really happy that she was bold enough to do this. I love that she saw what she wanted and tried hard to achieve her goal. She does tend to hold back and not push for example, if her ball goes under the table or the door closes. I want her to be confident and feel she can 'try' and figure out the problem. I want a dog that uses their brain and tries to solve problems as this is a dog that will be much more willing to learn new skills and have confidence in working through problems.
So the next time you catch yourself 'correcting' your dog, think: are you shutting them down? Are you stopping them have the confidence in working through a problem? Should you be more encouraging when your dog tries something new?
I am not suggesting you just let your dog do whatever they choose - this could be dangerous and will probably result in a dog that isn't much fun to live with. However, I would like to encourage you to think that some 'naughty' behaviour as an opportunity to boost confidence and problem solving skills. You just might like the version of your dog that this thought process produces.
I think we can all agree there is nothing like sometimes closing the door, turning the phone off and just huddling under the duvet to watch a whole series on Netflix or read that book you’ve been meaning to get around to for months. Whatever your idea of giving yourself the perfect ‘me day’, there is nothing like those days to give yourself a recharge and enable you to take on the world again when you resurface.
So why wouldn’t your dog need something similar?
Have you ever considered that your dog might like or even need some quiet days?
When I work with clients where their dog is struggling with a behaviour problem, I often advise that their dog needs a period of time where they don’t get walked. At all! The reaction is always the same…but he will be bouncing off the walls! However, when they do give their dogs some downtime, they always report back how amazingly their dogs coped with it and in fact report that they saw really positive differences in their behaviour.
I have to admit, I have dog walking OCD with my dogs. I usually walk them 2 or 3 times a day. I think this stems back from when I used to work full time in an office job, and I would have to get up and walk them first thing, then rush back at lunchtime for another walk and then they would always get an evening walk as well. However, in my life now I can pretty much choose my working hours, so I don’t need to do all these walks, but I still find I have to tell myself not to! I have to make a conscious decision to give my dogs quiet days. After a competition, they will always get a quiet day where we spend more time doing chewing and nose games rather than any running around. I am always surprised how much they sleep on these days; I truly believe they like these quiet days even though all my dogs are working breeds so should ‘need’ loads of exercise.
If your dog is struggling with a behavioural issue, for example reacting to other dogs, and you’ve had a bad walk where your dog tipped over their threshold and barked or lunged at another dog, then they will really benefit from having a few quiet days. It takes at least 48 hours for a dog to recover after going over their threshold and experiencing a stressful event.
I want to encourage you to try giving your dog a duvet day and see what happens. Plan ahead, so they’ve got some nice things to chew or sniff to give them some mental enrichment, but no walks. I would love to hear how you get on.
This week I had to make the hardest decision any pet owner will make; to have my dog put to sleep. Morgan was a 12-year-old Red and White Setter who I’ve had since he was an 8-week-old puppy. This is my first dog I’ve had from pup to old age. We had just come home from a walking holiday in Wales where we spent the week running around beaches and having the most amazing time. He had an upset stomach on the last day of the holiday, but I wasn’t worried about that, as we were coming home so gave him a quiet weekend and he was bright and back to his usual self the next day. However, 2 days later, New Year’s Eve, he became unwell again, nothing specific, but you know your dog and he was certainly not himself. By New Years Day he was much worse, so we took him to the Vets. They did blood tests and an ultra sound and found fluid in his stomach. He was given medication and sent home to return the next day for another ultra sound. This time they found a large tumour on his spleen.
He must have had it for some time, but it had only just ruptured hence the fluid. The Vet confirmed it would happen again and that would probably not be recoverable from. So, our choices: operate to remove the tumour or let him go. The operation although possible would be a big operation and if they found anything else or the tumour was attached to any organs, they said he wouldn’t wake him back up. So, my husband and I had the weekend to decide.
How do you make this decision? It’s too big! Of course, I would do anything to keep him around for longer, but is that fair? The surgery is a big operation, which he might not come out from. The recovery period would be long with a very restricted lifestyle during that time. And what would we gain – another year maybe? He was 12 and a large breed, so he had already done well. He had lots of other lumps and bumps on his body, and he was mentally struggling with more anxiety over the last 8 months. Was I considering surgery just for my own desire to not let him go?
So, after changing our minds hundreds of times over that weekend, we decided the best thing to do was to put him to sleep. We had the vet come to the house and actually it was very peaceful, he just fell asleep on his bed. Thanks so much to Hayley from Deane vets for your kindness.
I cannot tell you if he would have survived the surgery and everyone must make the decision that feels right for them. I personally don’t like putting my dogs through unnecessary surgery and my heart told me that they would find other complications when they opened him up and I didn’t want him to die on the operating table. Owning a dog or any pet gives us the responsibility of making decisions on their behalf, as hard as those decisions are.
I have so many wonderful and precious memories of my boy Morgan. There is a very large gap in our home, and the other 2 dogs are definitely confused as to where their big brother is. All I ask is that you give your dog an extra big cuddle today, because they are definitely not here for long enough, so enjoy them while you can.
My red and white Setter Morgan turned 12 this week. I’ve owned him since he was 8 weeks old, so we know each other pretty well 😊 He is my first dog that has reached old age.
This last year he has definitely aged. We stopped doing agility training 2 years ago, but he still loves running around and chasing pheasants. We are going away for a week over Christmas on a walking trip and I think it will probably be the last one he will keep up with.
He has taught me so many valuable skills of owning a gun dog. Recall was certainly a challenge when he was younger as his love of chasing/stalking birds was so rewarding to him it was hard to compete. He taught me how to get involved in his games and showed me the love of doing the job you were bred for.
He is also showing me how to now meet his needs as an older dog. We get him massaged to make sure he is staying fit and flexible. Any signs of him hesitating to jump in the van is my usual cue that he needs a treatment. (Anna from Somerset Canine Massage is amazing with him). Things worry him more and changes to routines seem to upset him. I try to keep his routine the same and sometimes use herbal medication if I know we are going to have a busy period.
He definitely has some cognitive decline in that he doesn’t like being on his own (thankfully Cuba and Bria my other dogs help him) and has developed a new habit of chewing zips and buttons off any coats or jackets that are lying around. He is also more opportunistic and will counter surf any food left in the kitchen!! A story I have shared before is that he managed to take a 12 box full of eggs off the counter, carried it into the lounge and ate the cardboard box and didn’t break an egg !!!
He is still bright and willing to learn new skills; we are learning Rally and heel work at the moment. I think it’s so important to keep a dog mentally active for their well-being. Old dogs can learn new tricks 😊
Here’s to appreciating our oldies and remember they have earned the right to need some extra attention and patience to make every day special.
I’ve spent 2 weekends in the last few months learning more about how to train dogs to ‘use their nose’. I have really only started looking at this skill over the last few years and am now so excited to share this knowledge with my dogs and my clients.
Why is this a focus? Surely all dogs know how to sniff? They do it all the time! This is exactly why I want to learn more – harnessing a dog’s natural ability and work together to have some brilliant fun.
Scentwork can be a dog sport that you compete in, however I’m not referring to that level of expertise. I think it’s an essential skill for all pet dog owners to learn for the benefit of their dogs. Nose work is great for lowering arousal levels which means it’s also brilliant if your dog struggles to cope in certain environments or around other dogs and people. Those dogs termed ‘reactive’ dogs really thrive on this type of training.
Another positive is that it tires your dog out – so if you have a dog that seems to need loads of exercise and you never seem to tire them out, then this training skill is definitely for you.
A dog’s nose is so amazing they can smell up to 100,000 times better than a human! This means they can smell ½ a teaspoon of sugar in an Olympic-sized swimming pool – we struggle to tell if we have put sugar in our cups of tea! They also have a special scent-detecting organ called the vomeronasal organ that we humans don’t have, which detects pheromones and chemicals. Learning about scent plumes, and how dogs use their nose as their preferred sense, will really help you to understand their world.
Learning some simple games like: scatter feeding, find the toy, finding a certain scent, or tracking people, is such fun I want to encourage you all to give it a go this week. What are you waiting for? Get started in this fascinating world of scent.
I receive a lot of calls and emails from dog owners telling me their dog is fearful of other dogs or people. They describe their dog’s behaviour as barking, lunging and growling on lead, and explain how embarrassing it is to walk them: getting to the point where they don’t enjoy their walks anymore. They want to know how to change their dog’s behaviour.
Yes, some of these people’s dogs will have a dog that is genuinely fearful of other dogs, people or environments, however I think the ‘fear’ word is now the go-to assumption for any dog that is acting out. As the term dominance gradually fades out of the dog world (thankfully and about time!) people are now trying to come up with another term to explain ‘unruly’ behaviour.
I see many ‘reactive’ dogs that bark and lunge and look ferocious; however, these dogs are actually really frustrated and by choice want to approach the dog or person they are shouting at. I am by no means advising to let these dogs approach until you have sought professional, qualified help: however, can you imagine living a life where the things you get the most pleasure from are always restricted? You shout really loudly “I want that” but your person simply doesn’t understand and pulls you away. This is turn increases the frustration and the circle continues…
For those frustrated souls (and in fact all dogs) you want to look at how much frustration they have to deal with on a daily basis at home? Do they get to make some choices? For example, show them 3 different toys and let them pick their favourite? Or giving them options on what treats to use? How about letting them choose which route to go on a walk? How much mental enrichment do they get e.g. trick training, nose work and appropriate chasing games?
Does your dog choose to interact with you when outside or are they constantly looking for something more fun to do? If your answer is ‘yes’ to the second option, you need to make a few changes if not your dog will always be looking somewhere else for their joy. Also see previous blog about “Are we getting puppy socialisation wrong?” and add to that the idea that we spend so much time showing our dogs how much fun other people and dogs are, it actually doesn’t set realistic expectations of how your dog should behave on a walk. It’s makes them think everyone wants to be their best friend and they become very frustrated when they cannot interact.
I want to challenge you to think a bit more from your dog’s perspective and see if some of the routines you have can be amended to focus more on what your dog chooses.
Let me know how you get on, be creative and most importantly, have fun!