I hate walking my dog

This is a post from 2016 that I am bringing back because I think it’s that important. In the past 2 years the neighborhood is not as scary for her, but the possibility of loose dogs have kept us away from the neighborhood. She is a dog that does better with one or two walks in the park a week than a walk in the neighborhood everyday. 

Yelling dogs are never something we like.

I hate walking my dog.
Pixie is reactive. She flips out on people, kids, dogs behind fences, people with leashed dogs, and the occasional cat or squirrel. Nice days are showing up more frequently, and I have to be careful when I decide to take my dog out for a walk. The stresses of all these people who also want to walk their dog, are just too much for both of us.

For example, last Sunday I got home from appointments while it was still light outside and decided I should get the dogs out. Once I turned into my neighborhood I saw ALL the people.

I mean ALL. THE. PEOPLE.

I felt my blood pressure rise while I was still in my car so Pixie was not getting a walk.

I hate this. I hate that I have to compromise my plans because there are too many people outside with their dogs, and I can’t just go do what I want with my dog. I hate that I get embarrassed and frustrated with her when she flips out. I also hate that going out on a day like Sunday would have stressed Pixie out to the point of melt down. I really hate that going out for a relaxing or exciting sniff walk is so stressful for my pup. I can’t imagine what that feels like for her, so I make the decision not to put her in that situation.
Pixie and I have been working on this for about a year now. Some areas have improved greatly, others we still have a long way to go. There is no quick fix for having a reactive dog. Its working together to change the emotion associated with the trigger. She never gets punished for flipping out, I make a mental note of what went wrong, and change tactics next time. Walks never involve answering the phone, or zoning out to the song on my Pandora station, it’s actively keeping her engaged with me and always watching for triggers to make sure she knows I am going to get her through them safely and calmly. They often involve changing directions or choosing another street to walk down because there are loose dogs, or kids playing, and I know that would be too stressful for her to deal with. Walks at the state park often involve me headed into the woods to give plenty of space for her to deal with a passing runner or barking dog.
One day she will be able to handle going for a walk on a sunny Sunday afternoon, but for now I am committed to teaching her to trust me. On our journey I rejoice in the moments when she looks at the barking dogs behind the fence, takes a deep breath and looks at me for instruction. Learning is happening at her pace, and I will continue to keep her safe. So if you see me in the trees at the park, you can laugh but please don’t talk to my dog because she might flip out.

Are you talking to your dog?

He got up there all by himself!

Let’s talk about talking to our dogs. (Pixie knows all my secrets. We are all a little nutty around here.) Truly communicating with your dog goes far beyond one 6 week puppy class where they learned how to sit (sort of) when you are holding a cookie. Training is your way of teaching you dog how you will communicate with them, and what certain words mean, and what is expected in certain situations. Dogs don’t know English when they show up at your house, just like you don’t know a foreign language when you show up in a different part of the world. It takes time to learn that language and culture and taking time to learn helps you feel more confident when you go to that country. It’s our responsibility to teach them our language since we decided to invite them into our homes and lives.

I think you will agree that communication is a two way street and you need to have two parties involved for effective communication. If one party is not listening or doesn’t understand what you are saying, then communicating is not happening. When we are out with our friends and they seem overly distracted, we often take a look around and wonder what is going on that has pulled their attention away from the conversation. Maybe the scary clown just walked in the room, or if your friend is really struggling to keep focused, you change the conversation and ask them “if they are okay.” Dogs are supposed to be “man’s best friend” but we don’t ask them if they are okay when they are struggling.

How do we communicate with our dogs?

We say things to them, but do they listen? Can they listen? Do they understand what you are saying? Are they being “stubborn”?

This is where your training comes into play. Does your dog know that “sit” means put their tail on the ground and keep their elbows up everywhere you ask? Or do they think that because you have a cookie in their face, and they are in that space that you typically train, that they should try a “sit” and see what happens. Often, people tell me “he knows this” but the dog is telling me otherwise. Maybe your dog does know what you are asking in the comfort of your living room where you do all your training. Dogs are incredibly forgiving and put up with a whole lot of miscommunication from us, and a whole lot of higher expectations than they are ready to tackle!

When your dog doesn’t listen, take inventory of what is going on for your dog. Did the scary clown just show up in the room? That could be in the form of a truck noise, the neighbor doing construction on their house, or the wind blowing. Dogs noses work a whole lot better than ours so keep in mind that when we walk out the front door to go for a walk, we analyze the world with the our eyes while your dog analyzes it with their nose. We see our normal boring neighborhood but they are trying to filter the critters, the bugs, the cars that went by 20 minutes ago… you get the idea.

Barack passed his Canine Good Citizen Test. This is a great goal to see if your training is where is should be.

The next time you ask Fido for that sit, take a moment to see why he may not comply. Is this a new place, have you practiced “sit” enough times for him to understand what you are asking? Did something weird just happen that took his attention away from you? Don’t automatically assume he is being stubborn or defiant. In my experience dogs always want to do what we ask, they may not be able to actually comply for one reason or another.

 

Remember that you are his protector, and you understand this world he lives in. It’s up to you to make sure he is confident and can look to you for answers to his questions.

Does your dog talk to you? Head over to Facebook and tell me about that time that your dog told you something was too hard!

Ingas Journey

I need to share this story with you because it embraces so much of my training philosophy and why I recommend the things that I do. It is a true testament to the power of a committed owner and stress release programs in changing behavior for the better! I am so proud of this team, and how far they have come, that I hope you can take away some pieces that might be beneficial for your own dogs.
Inga had been picked up in January of 2017 as a stray in a very rural area in North Carolina. Those that know anything about rural areas, their animal control has very little funding, and even fewer volunteers to help the animals in the shelters. Being sweet as sugar, she was quickly pulled into rescue and boarded at a local animal hospital where she began the journey to good health, heartworm treatment, and basic vetting.

Over the next few months Inga would be moved from foster home to vet clinic to foster home and eventually back to North Carolina with the rescue coordinator. Over that time she began to show more and more anxious and stress related behaviors, which included pacing in her kennel, hyper attachment to her people, and inability to settle down in normal situations, which caused her to over react in many new situations.

When I met Inga in August, she was on three medications to help get her through daily life. Two sedatives, and one for anxiety. She had difficulty being crated, she could not settle if the other resident dog was around so they kept them separated. She constantly was looking for something to steal, eat or destroy, so she required constant supervision by her foster parents, and this was understandably taking its toll on them.
Summertime on the coast is full of pop up thunderstorms and heat lightning. With all of the stress Inga was under, a pop up thunderstorm was the last thing she could cope with. A week of severe thunderstorms after Fourth of July fireworks was all she could handle. Fosters reported that she could not settle, she was pacing through the house wide eyed and panting, jumping on and off the furniture, if confined to keep her from pacing, sh

 

e was jumping up and down. She was completely out of her head. Her poor fosters were up all night with her. Medications were changed and a phone call to me was made.

During my evaluation of Inga, I saw a very sweet but very stressed out young dog who truly wanted to do what was asked of her. She was jumpy and mouthy, panting and wide eyed for most of our consultation. She would lay down because it was hot and she was tired, but her brain would not let her relax. She would be up and pacing again in less than a minute. Her foster reported that this was normal, and my heart broke for her. Once I went through her history with the rescue, I could not believe the amount of stress this poor dog was carrying with her. If I counted correctly, she has been moved to 7 different places in less than the first year of her life. Dogs thrive wit

 

h communication, and consistency, and she had absolutely none up to this point. With the constantly changing environments, and no one to teach her how to live life with people, the stress continued to build. I don’t know if a dog can have a panic attack, but I absolutely believe that is what happened to her during that thunderstorm.

We talked at length about enrichment and stress relief in dogs. Inga was being moved again to North Carolina to stay with the rescue coordinator in a week so we agreed that stress release program would begin there.
Once in Carolina, Inga was on a strict schedule of meals, playtime and down time. Every meal was during training, or in a puzzle toy. Training happened twice a day, and included basic manners, leash walking around the back yard, and lots of fetch with rules to keep her arousal level down. We introduced a sandbox, and flirt pole to keep her brain and body active. Toys and chews were rotated on a regular basis to make sure she had variety to keep her from getting in trouble. Enrichment puzzles were very easy at first to allow her to be successful and build up her confidence in problem solving. Walks were removed from her schedule because that was getting her too worked up, sending her into a biting and jumping frenzy once the leash was put on. Since we were trying to keep her stress low, this was not a healthy activity for her at first.
After the first week in North Carolina, she began to relax, and show she was dealing with life much better. We began weaning her off of her crazy medication cocktail with the help of her vet. Week by week we removed more and more of the medication, and saw only improvement to her behavior. The schedule, puzzles, and training all continued as normal.
By the holidays in 2017, Inga was completely medication free. She continued to do beautifully with her training, often attending classes with me and acting like a normal dog at home and walking in the neighborhood. Her training continues to help her cope with the exciting things of the world, like other dogs and people who she adores. Puzzle toys and schedule are still a big part of her life to allow her to deal appropriately with normal life stress. She does normal dog things, and acts like a normal big puppy should.

I cannot say how proud I am of team Inga! Many people would have given up on a basket case like her, and moved on to something easier. The dedication to her stress release program is what saved her life, and will allow her to live without medication or the constant worry and panic that she started with.

Communication and Enrichment are the cornerstones to having a well-rounded and happy dog who can cope with anything that life can throw at it. If you are struggling with behavior challenges in your dog, start with enrichment. I have a free e-book download for signing up for my newsletter. You can have more tips and blog posts come straight to your email!

Puppy Classes

Choosing a Puppy Class: Playing isn’t always good for your dog!
Being a dog trainer, I know lots of dog trainers. Also, calling yourself a dog trainer, and teaching classes does not make you a good dog trainer, or a knowledgeable dog trainer. Keep this in mind always! Finding a puppy class for Cargo was more difficult than I expected. I should have gone with my gut and observed the classes before bringing her. (Always go with your gut! How many times have people told us that?) Time got away from me, and we showed up to our first puppy class together.

These are the boxes to check when looking for a puppy class! (#1 is go to puppy class!)

Positive Reinforcement based. (Labels of dog training is a blog post for another day, but this is the most common term so I am going to use it here) You should be giving your puppy tons of cookies. Like all the cookies, like more cookies than you ever thought possible. That’s the right amount of cookies for your puppy. If the trainer is suggesting a training collar or slip collar then you need to find a new puppy class. Puppy should be in a well fitting harness or flat buckle collar.

Vaccinations are required upon entering. The AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) changed their guidelines on puppy socializing a few years ago, and most vets are still struggling with the changes. Previously, Vets have been keeping puppies close to home until they are finished with their puppy vaccinations. Now, we have discovered that the 9 to 16 week window is prime time for learning the world and learning how to adapt to new environments. Keeping puppy at home can actually cause more behavior problems than the risk for catching a disease. Be smart about socializing your pup. (See previous blog post) Puppy class should have a bunch of healthy and vaccinated puppies for you to socialize with.

Playtime and work time is separate, and clearly defined. Imagine letting kids decide to play or learn their letters in preschool. Obviously they are going to choose playing instead of working! They are babies and have a need to play! But you are in puppy class, and you both are there to learn. If you have stray puppies rolling up on you while you are trying to teach your dog to focus on you, then you are making class too difficult for you and your puppy.
Playtime should also be structured to accommodate all playstyles and sizes. Cargo is a monster when she plays. I do not expect someone with a 2 pound Maltese puppy to be okay with my bold crazy puppy being in their face. Play time should allow the wallflowers time to interact with other wallflowers until they are ready for wild and crazy play. Throwing everyone in together to “work it out” is a recipe for disaster.

playtime

Learning is tailored to your baby puppy. Your puppy should be learning that you are the most fun, exciting and important thing in their life. Puppy class should be working on teaching your puppy the foundations that will set him up for a lifetime of learning. Teaching puppy how to focus, his name, and some impulse control are really the big things that you should walk away learning in puppy class. Save the “sit” “down” and “stay” for when they are a bit older and understand how to focus and figure out their surroundings. If you have a good foundation, then the rest becomes very easy!

Again, go with your gut! If you don’t think the puppy class you chose is giving you the results you were looking for, then find a new one! Bad socialization will do more harm than minimal socialization. You and your puppy should be having fun when going out and doing things together. If puppy class is stressful for you or your puppy then it’s not doing anyone any good! Find a trainer you trust to help you with your puppy’s socialization plan.
Did you know that I have a free E-book on ways to keep your pup calm? Download it now by signing up for my newsletter at www.thefreckledpaw.com!

Puppy Socialization: What does it mean?

So you’ve been to the vet and they have said “make sure you socialize your dog”, the breeder said “make sure you socialize this puppy”, friends and neighbors say “make sure you socialize so you don’t end up with behavior problems”.
So what does that even mean? When I was becoming a dog trainer, finding this information was enough to make your head spin. Everyone had an opinion, or a guide, or lots of stuff you shouldn’t do.
Lucky for you, I have a few years’ experience now, and I am going to guide you through “Puppy socialization”
I was lucky enough to live close to Cargo’s breeder so I was able to work with her a bit when she was very young. We started our “field trips” when she was 5 weeks old. She is a bold puppy who was not fazed by much at that age, so we were able to start things pretty young. One of our first trips was into Bass Pro Shop. She got to climb on the rocks out front, see the cars in the parking lot, visit with people as she wished and investigate all the things inside the store. When she seemed a bit overwhelmed I would scoop her up and she would check things out from the safety of my arms. When she wiggled to be put down, I complied so she could go investigate as she wanted to.

Start early!

Puppies are tiny sponges when you first get them. The more you can expose them to in the first year, the better off the rest of your life will be with your puppy. However, (and this is big) make sure you are making the experiences positive ones! It’s better to have a handful of great experiences than a ton of mediocre ones, or a few bad ones. We made a plan to go to one new place a week for about 20 minutes. We’ve been to the barn to see the chickens and horses, we have been to the vets office, hardware stores, pet stores, training buildings, the parking lot of the outlet center, many parks, and the auto repair shop.
Many Veterinarians and breeders will recommend that you wait until your puppy has completed his shots to begin to take them out and expose them to things. The new American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines actually recommend exposure as early as possible! Now you have to be smart about it and avoid places where there might possibly be a sick dog, like the dog park, vet clinic or pet store until your pup has received a few vaccines.

Be an advocate for your puppy! When I take Cargo out, I tell people they can pet her if she approaches them. Sometimes she does, sometimes she creeps up, and sometimes she says “heck no!” I don’t care either way what choice she makes, I just support the choice. If she finds a thing that she finds frightening or worthy of working out, then I allow her the time and space to figure out what she needs to do to be successful. Sometimes we creep towards it and I touch it to show her it’s okay, sometimes we decide it’s too much for right now, and we walk away. If we walk away I make a mental note to try again when we get older and see how it goes. So far we do not have anything that has been scary more than once (Except plastic bags blowing down the street. That was scary a few times), so I am happy.
How to support your puppy
First things first. This is your puppy, your companion, and your family member. If someone is being rude to a family member, you say something or you leave the situation. Supporting your puppy from the beginning teaches them that you will always be a safe place, and you are trust worthy in these new environments. There are a few ways you can support your puppy’s choices in a new place.

Treats. Offer cookies when your puppy checks in, checks out a new thing, or person. Treats should always come from you, especially if your puppy loves his food. Often the desire for food can overshadow the fear they are feeling, and put them in a bad situation once the food is gone. Food also intrinsically makes us feel good. (There is science behind this) Feeding in a new location will lower your puppy’s stress level and make the situation not as strange.
Talk to them. Cargo had a hard time with people “appearing” through doors or on the trail. She still watches and wonders, but it’s getting to be more of a normal occurrence. When she is watching, I calmly talk to her and ask her what those people are doing or where they came from. This helps her hear my voice calmly supporting her, and it explains to the people why my puppy is just staring at them. When she had explored the situation to her satisfaction, she would check in with me for a cookie, then we would carry on. I never asked her to get closer to the people or the door until she was ready and checked in with me. (communication is a two way street)

 

You can’t reinforce fear. If she was really struggling with something, I would kneel down and let her take shelter near me. I would pet her and reassure her that she did not need to panic, and that I was right here to keep her safe. After all, I have decided she was going to live in my world and do things my way, I need her to trust me when something unexpected happens. Fear is an emotion, and as most of us know, we cannot control emotions.
Socialization does not end when your puppy is beyond the cute fluffy stage. Socialization is ongoing for the life of your dog if you are looking for a well-adjusted companion. Think ahead to the situations that your puppy might encounter over the next 5 years. Do you have a boat but it’s in winter storage? Visit the marina anyway, and let your puppy see the other boats. Obviously you can’t plan for everything that will happen over the lifetime of your dog, but if you have enough great experiences with strange places or strange things, when something strange does happen in the future your dog will have all those puppy experiences to fall back on!

If you need help deciding what path of socializing is best for your puppy, shoot me a message! I am happy to help in any way I can! In the next post we will explore those first things you should be teaching your puppy, and what to look for in a puppy play group!