The one thing you should never let your dog do!

Tall fences make great neighbors.

remember this guy?

I find this saying to be very true, unless there is a barking dog on the other side of the tall fence.

Fences are a necessity for keeping your dog safe. It keeps them out of the street, away from people and dogs walking in the neighborhood, and gives you some peace of mind knowing you can open the back door and they go out to a safe space to play or potty.

Most of us have neighbors that also have dogs and enjoy the same luxury of having a fenced in area to let their dogs have some freedom.

Does your dog get his “exercise” running this tall fence with the neighbor’s dog? Does he whine at the door to go out and bark and run up and down the fence over and over again? Do you think, “Great Fido is getting his exercise for the day!”

What if I told you this creates most of the behavior problems I see?

Oops.

Running the fence line is not a healthy activity for any dog to be participating in. Why? Lets take a look at it from the dogs perspective! At first your dog goes to the fence to say hello to the neighbor’s dog, then they get excited and start bouncing up and down the fence trying to interact in normal doggy fashion. This would look like some butt sniffing, some play bows, and a rousing game of tag where each dog could chase and be chased alternatively. Now the fence is in the way. Dogs communicate primarily by body language and visual cues, so if they don’t have a clear way to communicate things get very frustrating very quickly.

Take a quick trip back in time with me to the very first cordless phones. (yes, I am old enough to remember corded phones!) They were big and clunky and if the antenna was not all the way out you couldn’t really understand the person on the other end. Imagine if that was every interaction you had with people. Only getting part of the conversation and really struggling with understanding what you could hear. So frustrating!

Science time!

(skip this if you are not super nerdy like me!) When you are frustrated, your brain releases chemicals that respond to that stress (cortisol). Cortisol puts your body in a fight or flight scenario and it takes a long time to get rid of that chemical. If your dog is frustrated about the dog next door every time he goes outside, he is building up a store of cortisol which is keeping him on edge and amped up. Symptoms of increased cortisol levels can be seen as the inability to settle down, excessive barking, lack of sleep, and my most common scenario, redirected aggression to a housemate or person in the way of the barking and running the fence.

What does this mean for you?

First, don’t let your dog fence fight with the neighbor’s dog. If you do have an issue with your dog fence fighting, then add some management to your routine. Come up with a signal system for your neighbor, letting them know when your dog is out and have them do the same to keep your dog from practicing behaviors that you don’t like. Leash walk your dog outside and reward them for paying attention to you instead of the fence. Work on a really solid recall so you can call your dog away from the fence if the other dog starts barking.
This is not one of those behaviors that will magically disappear overnight. It takes some commitment and training to get your dog to a better mental state in these situations. If you find yourself struggling with what to do next, contact a local professional to help get you on the right track. Of course, if you are in the Hampton Roads area, I am happy to help! Visit my website www.thefreckledpaw.com to schedule a consultation appointment.

Door Manners! A “how to” guide!

I love when my clients answer the door and ignore me! Seriously! It makes my heart sing when I have a client rewarding their dog for staying on their mat at the door, releasing them then saying hello to me!

Society says that not speaking to your guests when you open the door is rude, but so is a dog who jumps all over you.

Pick your battles people!

I promise you I will not be mad if you slam the door in my face because your puppy made a mistake! I’m pretty sure your guest will not be mad either if you tell them what is going on. (communication is key!)

Do you have a dog who jumps all over people at the door? You want a dog who keeps all 4 feet on the floor when saying hello? That seems like a pretty big endeavor, but with a little management and planning it’s not so hard!

 

Let’s break it down!

First, what skills can we use to communicate to our dog what we would like them to do? Down and stay are a good place to start. Mat skills make this really easy. Make sure you have taught your dog a release cue to communicate that they can get up.
Break these skills into pieces your dog can be successful with.
Can your dog stay while you walk towards the door with no one there? No?
Can they stay while you drop cookies on the floor, or roll a ball away from them? Yes? Add the door with no one there.
Can they stay while you ring the doorbell? No? Record the sound of your doorbell on your cell phone and practice staying while no one is at the door.
Once all those pieces are mastered, start opening the door while your dog is in a “stay.” Again, no one is at the door at this point. Make sure this step is really solid by running to the door, talking to the invisible person on the other side of the door, go out the door and come back inside, do a dance at the front door, you get the idea. If your dog can keep his stay through all that, then we can start adding people to the door.

My dogs happily laying in a sunbeam. It would be great for this to be the way everyone answers the door!

In the meantime, put your dog in his kennel or outside when you have people come in the door. Practice makes perfect and you don’t want them practicing behaviors you are trying to get rid of. (don’t make things harder on yourself!)

Tell the people coming by that you are working with your dog and you might have to get them to stand on the porch just a little longer than normal. (I think spring is finally sticking around so you are not leaving them in the cold)
If they are just dropping of a package (or children) then put your pup away so you can deal with the quick drop and move on with your day. Don’t frustrate your dog by making them practice until they “get it right.” Obviously the first time you add a person to the door they are not going to be successful. If pup is keeping it together and making good choices, then reward that by letting them say hello to your guest. If they can’t keep it together after 3 tries then they go in their kennel and do not get to say hello. (Yes! Only 3 tries!!)
Keep working at this! It works! If you need some guidance, let me know I am happy to troubleshoot with you!

What to look for when adopting an adult dog!

Spring is here and hopefully is sticking around at this point. This time of the year you guys call me for help with puppies you have brought home, or your newly rescued adult dog that has now become part of your family. If you are bringing home a puppy, check back through my puppy series that started in January. If that series has totally turned you off from getting a tiny puppy, then hopefully this will help you choose an adult dog that will be a wonderful addition.
What do you envision when you think about bringing a dog home?
Long walks on the beach? Snuggling on the couch? Do you work long hours or from home? Kids have lots of after school activities? Think about your regular day and how much time you can devote to giving your dog the attention that he needs. If you are popping home from work then whisking kids off to soccer practice, then a smaller dog that you can travel easily with might be a better fit than a mastiff who will take up half your minivan. An older dog might also be a better option since they will not need as much supervision and exercise as a younger pup.
Finding a dog
All of the animal control facilities and rescue groups in my area have facebook pages, websites, and adoption events to promote their adoptable dogs. (If your facebook feed looks anything like mine, it’s gone to the dogs) Each one has its own sad story or great picture and write up to make you rush down and adopt that dog tomorrow.

But wait! How do you find the dog that will be a great addition to your family?
Where to start!?

Animal Control Facilities

I challenge you to chat with an Animal Control Officer! They are amazing people with a thankless job. Tell them Thank you!

Animal Control Facilities are city run shelters that are usually funded through the police department. They are set up to take in every animal that comes through the doors regardless of how it gets there. Animal control officers respond to both stray animals, neglect cases, dangerous dog calls and wildlife rehab calls. (these folks are super heros, really!) Because of this, AC (animal control) may not have a great history (or any history) on the dogs that are sitting in the kennels. They rely on their wonderful kennel staff and volunteers to help label the temperament and suitability for each home as they work with the pup. Shelter environment is pretty stressful on these guys so you may not get an accurate read on the pups personality once out of the shelter. The pup that looks high energy and spring loaded inside the kennel might come home and decompress forever on the couch. If you are ready for a little uncertainty then AC is the place to start your search.

No Kill Shelters
These are privately funded facilities that can house an animal for its whole life. They are called “no-kill” because their euthanasia rate is below 10%, which for recording purposes is sick or old. They are also called “limited admission shelters” which means they can pick and choose which dogs are housed at the facility, and rarely allow owners to surrender their dogs there. These dogs are usually the dogs from animal control facilities who need a little longer to find that perfect home. They take the pressure off the AC shelters so they have the space for the strays and owner surrenders to have a little longer in the kennels there. These dogs usually have some history, from the previous housing facility or from the volunteers that worked with the dog. Usually a no-kill shelter will have dogs that did not work out in a first home and have been returned to the facility so you have some information from a previous family.

This is Lady Inga, she loves her foster home.

Foster Based Rescue
If you know exactly what you are looking for in a dog, and don’t want to take the gamble of figuring out a shelter dog, this is the way to go. Foster based rescues take in dogs from the shelter and place them into a home. Usually these homes have cats, other dogs, or children that they live with. They know exactly how these dogs act in these situations, and have no time limit to find these dogs a perfect home. These dogs are usually fully vetted, spayed/neutered, house broken and crate trained. Foster based rescues will have an application process to make sure you are ready for a dog, and make sure they are matching you with the right dog for your lifestyle. Adoption fees will often be higher than a shelter because the rescue is running on limited funds to help the dogs with medical expenses, food, and heartworm and flea preventative. Sometimes the dog you are interested in may not be the perfect fit, but the rescue group can recommend another dog that would be a better match. Trust the rescue coordinators to help you in your decision.
Some rescue groups do shady things since this is a very emotional decision and not regulated very closely (remember that list of things the AC officers already do? Only so many hours in a day y’all!) There are some practices that will send up some red flags for me when researching a rescue group.
Lots of dogs in one place. If one house has 20 dogs in it and they don’t live on some acreage then that is a concern for me. How well does this person know these dogs, and how much socialization and training are they getting to prepare them for moving to a forever home?

Lots of turn over with the dogs. If dogs are coming in and out of a rescue in less than a few weeks then that is also a red flag. Most rescues want their dogs in a foster home for a minimum of a few weeks to make sure they know the dogs personality and can accurately place the dog into an appropriate home.
Adopting out anything with a bite history. I don’t believe that any dog that has bitten a person and caused harm is safe to ever be adopted out. You don’t want that liability, I don’t want to have to tell you your dog is dangerous and the rescue group lied to you. If anywhere on the website or write ups you see that any dog has been “rehabilitated” or was a “red zone” dog, run as fast as you can! There are plenty of dogs who can safely and easily live with people without that kind of management and heartache.
No vet history. Every dog should come to you with thorough vet history including a checkup by the rescues vet, heartworm preventative and vaccines on schedule as well as records of any medical issues the dog may have displayed when leaving the shelter.
No home check or reference check. The rescue should be researching you as much as you are researching them. The love these dogs and want them to go into a home where they will be loved forever.

What if you have your heart set on a purebred dog?
Find a breeder with a program that you like. (see the puppy series for information on finding a breeder) Ask them if they have any older dogs who might be looking for a new home. Occasionally breeders will have puppies returned to them for assorted reasons that have nothing to do with the dog. They also may have kept a puppy with aspirations for showing or sport that the pup didn’t quite live up to. The breeder may agree that those dogs would do better in a family home since owner and dog do not have the same goals. Take advantage of these situations, and don’t be afraid to ask!

Rough start to life but now living happily with a family!

This is just an overview of where to start to find a pup to join your home. Adopting an adult dog can be extremely rewarding! Keep in mind that dogs personalities don’t fully solidify until 3 to 5 years old. Finding a 3 year old dog with all the personality traits that you are looking for can still give you 10 to 12 great years with your pup. This is also without dealing with all the crazy house training and chewing that comes along with getting a puppy.

Dogs sitting in shelters do not come with baggage, and are often surrendered because of unfortunate life circumstances. They are not broken and unwanted, they are just waiting for that next chance. If a puppy sounds overwhelming then please take a look at an adult dog. They have just as much love and fun as a puppy, but often with less effort on your part to get that great companion!

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!