Raising A Creative Canine

The introduction of a new puppy into a reactive multi-dog household

All Dogs Need Jobs!

Education for a Lifetime No Comments »

It is my view that dogs need two things to live an enriching and successful life: structure and education. They need to know each day when they will be able to eliminate, eat, and drink. But they also need to be able to participate in challenging activities of some kind. Training your dog is a way for you to be able to communicate effectively with your dog.

Think of what it would like to be a dog: you have to wait until someone takes you out to relieve yourself and you can only eat when your “person” decides that it is time. You cannot watch television. You cannot use a computer. You cannot read. You are also unable to communicate with the people that you live with. Life could be extremely boring without adequate mental and physical stimulation. Dogs rely on us humans to give them these things, and if we don’t, dogs can become extremely stressed, even depressed maybe! These are the dogs that bark all day, that amuse themselves with obsessive-compulsive behaviors like biting incessantly at a front or a back leg, and/or eat all kinds of inappropriate objects like rugs, couches, pillows and anything else that might be readily available.

As you know I have four dogs, and each will tell me which sport that they would like to participate, and hopefully compete in. I let my dogs “decide” based on who they are and how they like to move. Are they quick? Do they like to jump? Or are they quiet and thoughtful?

Lizzie-Taylor, for example, is a serious dog. She excels at minute precise behavior. I can ask her to “Get It In” and she knows that she needs to tuck in her left foot (which had been previously hanging out) to fold herself into a perfectly straight sit. Obedience training was the perfect fit for her. As Lizzie matured, I realized that she also likes to run and jump so we do agility as well.

This video is of Lizzie-Taylor performing in a Show and Go at Masterpeace Dog Training in Franklin, MA. This is the second level of obedience competition. This sport is known for its precision work. The sound is a bit off but you get the idea.

Kayden-Blue, on the other hand, is my crazy man! He is a super high energy, zany character! Because he has the reactivity issues, he will participate only in a sport where we can perform in a ring by ourselves. Originally I was thinking Rally or CDSP Obedience, but recently I am leaning toward Freestyle. Freestyle is a sport where the dog and handler dance to music. In this venue, I can showcase all of his gorgeous movements and let him experiment with creative behaviors that I can string into a routine.

Austyn-Roque is still developing into the dog that he will eventually be. As a puppy, I will be watching to see what activities make him the happiest. Presently he loves all of the behaviors that I am teaching him. He is thrilled with his agility class just as much as he enjoys practicing his obedience work: hind end movement, fold back downs, and pop up sits.

Below is a video of Austyn doing his first “bent” tunnel with his dad! This beautifully run puppy agility class is at Riverside Canine Center in Nashua, NH.

Dogs can do all kinds of jobs. I am a dog trainer so I like to compete with my dogs. But dogs can do other things like retrieve a ball for a child or a senior citizen, or maybe they can help with the arrival of a new baby by lying quietly while the baby is being fed. They can also be taught a multitude of tricks to share with the neighborhood children.

Whatever job you decide to give your dog, think of dog training as the language that you will use to communicate with him. For your dog to fit well into your family, he needs to be adequately educated. And that education needs to start young and continue well into his senior years. In my next blog post, I will share how to pick a really great class.

Puppy Piranha Fish!

Preventing/Curing Puppy Biting and Mouthing 2 Comments »

So when Greg picked me up from the Boston Hilton, I couldn’t help noticing the scratches on his arms. Yup! The puppy piranha fish was at it again!

So below is a video of what you do NOT want to do. This is my husband Greg with Austyn and watching it makes me laugh! He is doing everything wrong! Compare it with the notes that I’ve written below. What changes would you make?

Puppy biting/mouthing is perfectly normal. The difficulty is that those baby teeth (milk teeth) are sharp and needle-like! They need to be, so that as the pup grows, the Momma dog will no longer allow her puppies to suck, and hence, will need to be weaned. Pups lose these teeth between the ages of four to five months. This time can be very painful. Gums are sore and might bleed. You may see them come out or you may not. It is a good idea to give the pup something cold and hard to bite on. One treatment I use is to take a washcloth or towel and tie it into a knot. I then wet it and put it into the freezer. Once frozen, this can provide comforting relief. Some owners will make different kinds of ice cubes for their pups. Chicken soup broth a favorite! What I don’t like about this is that the salt content can be too high and the pup could damage the adult teeth as they come in. Stick with something safe!

Although puppy biting is going to happen, there are a number of things that you can do to help deal with this situation:

Only sit and pet the puppy when the puppy is exhausted. Otherwise interact with the puppy in a fun and constructive way. Play “teaching” games with the puppy, like “Hide and Seek” or “Fetch”, rather than games where human hands are darting back and forth around the puppy’s face. Avoid rough games like wrestling and tug-of-war. Never let the puppy bite and mouthe your hands, no matter what the reason.

Always have a toy for the puppy to chew on as you are interacting with him. A nice exercise is to give the pup a chew toy, (I like either bully sticks, tracheas or antlers) and as he is chewing it, pet his head and tell him in a soft calm voice how wonderful he is. Keep assorted toys up on counters and furniture so that one is always available within reach, no matter where you are in the house. Always supervise your pup or adult dog when giving chew toys. My rule of thumb is to give the chew toys sparingly and I will take them away when they are about 3/4’s of the way finished. Depending on what kind of chewer your dog is, I would not recommend giving these toys to a dog that would bite a huge piece off in one sitting. This could be especially dangerous!

If you are interacting with the puppy and the biting is unusually intense, get up and walk away. Ignore the puppy. Go into another room, if able, and close the door behind you. If this is impossible, silently escort the puppy to his Safe Space (crate or baby-gated area), give him a mentally stimulating toy (stuffed Kong or ” title=”Twist n Treat” target=”_blank”>Flying Saucer), and leave him there until he calms down. Most puppies will play with their toy and then fall fast asleep. Now you might wonder why I didn’t give the “age old” advice to say “Ouch” loudly and walk away. I don’t because I have found that many puppies find this reinforcing and only start to bite harder and more frequently.

Your puppy should be adequately physically and mentally exercised each day. A tired puppy is always a good puppy! How about doggy day care three times a week or a pet sitter that visits mid-day? And do remember to rotate the puppy’s toys each day so that he will not grow tired of them as quickly.

Anticipate the time of day (dawn and dusk, for many puppies, are the evil hours!) that your puppy gets over-stimulated easily. Plan ahead and put your dog in his Safe Space, with a wonderful mentally stimulating toy, at this time of the morning or evening. Be proactive instead of reactive!

Physically harsh methods, like slapping the puppy under the chin, scruff shaking, or forcefully holding the mouth closed are absolutely unacceptable ways to curb this behavior. The potential side effects of physical punishment can lead to even greater behavioral problems in the future like timidity, hyper-vigilance, and aggression. Please note: this is not merely my opinion but has been scientifically proven!

Gone For a Few Days…

Take It Slow! No Comments »

I have been away for a couple of days to attend the KPA Faculty meeting in Boston, MA. This left Greg alone with all four dogs for three days, one of which is reactive. I got the impression that everything went smoothly however I will be finding out soon what the actual experience has been. (He will be picking me up shortly.)

Greg did take Austyn to his second agility class. I will be interested to see how this went. My hope is that he took some video, so that those of you who are contemplating taking an agility class, whether with a puppy or an adult dog, can see how a really good class is conducted.

It is very important that future agility dogs are introduced to each obstacle slowly and at a rate, and at a level that they can succeed at. For example, when teaching the pup to go through a tunnel for the first time: the tunnel is shortened considerably so that the pup goes in and comes right out. We will do this a number of times, and as the pup gains more confidence, then the tunnel is lengthened.

All of the obstacles should be taught in this methodical fashion. If you are taking an agility class and the teacher wants to just put the dogs on the equipment to “see how it goes” run for the hills! This is NOT a class that you want to take!


A Big Mistake! No Comments »

This Easter morning, I was up, rushing to get the dogs out before Greg and I went to church. Instead of carefully choosing who would go out with who, I let them all out together. (I had five minutes!) I figured I had put them out briefly before so surely nothing would happen in the small amount of time that they were out now.

Usually Austyn will stay close by but this morning he playfully romped around the yard trying to find a place to do his “business”. All was well up until this point.

Kayden and Austyn finished eliminating almost at the same time. Both dogs ran to me in triumph to receive Mom’s accolades. Mistake! I could feel Kayden stiffen, and in a moment’s flash, Kayden growled and charged at Austyn! Austyn, stunned by the suddenly violent behavior, screamed loudly as he clumsily ran back up onto the step. It broke my heart to see him so upset. Luckily Kayden had not done any damage but the point had been made.

As much as I didn’t want something like this to happen, I’m glad it did. It was a wake-up call. This was a situation that if one of my students told me they did, I would read them the riot act!!!

Just because a reactive dog hasn’t had a problem in awhile, it doesn’t mean that all situations will be safe. I foolishly was lax. Dope!!!!

I have to always remember that I need to not only protect Austyn from Kayden but that I also have to protect Kayden from himself and his own tendencies.

Beginning to Work!

Puppy Agility Class No Comments »

Tonight was Austyn’s first puppy agility class! Greg, my husband, is taking him since I still cannot train my dogs because of my surgery last week.

We had a ball! Shannon, the puppy’s wonderful breeder, is taking the class with Khouri, Austyn’s sister. Both puppies learned how to run on each side (left and right) with their handler as well as confidently going through the tire and tunnel. They are also learning to ignore the other puppies in the room, even in the case of highly distracting puppy siblings! Both Goldens were focused intently on their person even at the age of 13 weeks! (Love the work ethic!)

The one thing here that I wanted to mention is that one must always be aware of one’s surroundings, no matter where you are, even in a well-run classroom setting.
Agility work begins
There was a young girl there with a dog that was reactive. Now, please know that my heart has a place for reactive dogs (heck I own yet another one!) however it made me cringe watching the two interact. He would growl as dogs came close to him and she would grab him by the muzzle and hold on tightly. Now I know what the intent was, but I wanted to take her aside and explain that what she was doing was only making the behavior worse. This is where I have to watch my step. My “behavior hat” cannot always be on, especially when someone else is teaching the class. This girl wasn’t even in our class. She had taken the class before ours.

A couple of times that Greg was going to send Austyn through the tunnel, I told him to wait because the girl (and her dog) had migrated from one end of the room to the other. They were standing very close to where the opening of the tunnel was. All I could picture is Austyn seeing the dog, and innocently running over to him to be corrected, or worse, bitten! People would think that I am being paranoid however I have counseled many families whose puppies have been through such a scenario only to be aggressive with dogs in the future.

We must always protect our dogs no matter where we are. When Austyn is older, I will teach him a handful of Emergency Foundation behaviors that I can use to diffuse, and protect him, from a potentially dangerous situation.

Reactive Dog Update

Kayden/Austyn Interaction No Comments »

Kayden has been dealing with the puppy’s arrival quite well. Kayden is exposed to Austyn from behind the baby gate and when I carry Austyn from room to room. So far Kayden has remained somewhat calm as the transitions are being made. If Kayden should start to get over-stimulated, I quietly tell him to “Back up” and he does so. Kayden has already been taught this behavior.

The one scenario where I have to refresh the cue is when I am putting the puppy in his crate. Kayden has a habit of pushing past the other dogs to see what I am doing. When I verbally tell him to “Back Up” in these situations, he does move away but only for a few steps. He still wants to have his head right there. This behavior will have to be retaught in this situation.

Some experimental exercises I have done with them both:

One was to take them both out into the yard (we have a huge yard) and I would click and feed “anything and everything” that Kayden did that was appropriate with the puppy. So he would run around us and then decide when to come in for clicks and treats. The nice thing about this is that, because the yard is so big, he gets up speed and then comes in smoothly for a sit. The sit is his default behavior and I love that he chose to do it in this scenario. This exercise helps him go from crazily running around to coming and sitting calmly with Mom and the puppy. (only to happily run off again!)

The other exercise was to insert Austyn into his favorite game in the world, “Two Ball.” I throw a tennis ball in one direction, he retrieves it, and then I ask him to drop it. Once he drops it, I throw the other tennis ball in the opposite direction. And so it goes. I inserted Austyn into this game by helping me get Kayden’s “off” ball. Austyn is with me on a leash and I switch between having him walk with me and by me carryng him. By watching Austyn become part of his favorite game, Kayden did very well.

Please note that the two games played above are set up taking Kayden’s issues into account. I know that, first and foremost, it would be highly unlikely that Kayden would actually bite the puppy (if this was the case I would have never added a new puppy to the household as I had not with Ben) and I also know that Kayden, as long as he has enough room, will not come in and confront the puppy.

Although both dogs seem to be enjoying each others company in this limited way, I want to go slow. It is so easy to think that all is fine and that nothing is going to happen. And if something does happen, it can take literally years to repair if not at all.


The Most Important Puppy Task No Comments »

The AVSAB’s (American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior) statement on the importance of puppy socialization:

The primary and most important time for puppy socialization is the first three months of life. During this time puppies should be exposed to as many new people, animals, stimuli and environments as can be achieved safely and without causing over-stimulation manifested as excessive fear, withdrawal or avoidance behavior. Incomplete or improper socialization during this important time can increase the risk of behavioral problems later in life including fear, avoidance, and/or aggression.” www.avsabonline.org/avsabonline/…/puppy%20socialization.pdf

The most important thing for puppy Austyn is to give him as many positive and productive experiences with humans, canines, and the world as possible. Emphasis here are on the words “positive” and “productive.” Certainly it is not possible to predict what the outcome of every interaction will be but it is extremely important beforehand to get as much information as possible to make that decision intelligently. But something can always go wrong:

Take, for example, one of Lizzie-Taylor’s puppy experiences: At lunch we were walking around in a nearby Petco when a gentleman started walking toward us with his adult Golden Retriever. Seeing that we both had Goldens, I smiled. He asked about Lizzie-Taylor, how old she was etc… He then asked if his Golden Retriever could meet her. I happily consented because his girl Golden seemed nice and calm. I gave Liz her “Go say Hi” cue and she went up to the Golden confidently. Right as she was about to sniff her, his female Golden quickly snarled and smacked Lizzie on the head. Needless to say I was shocked! I looked at the man questioningly and he said, “Well, I guess it’s true. She has not been great with puppies and thought maybe it woud go away but I guess not.” I was furious! I would have liked to be told ahead of time that we were guniea pigs!

So even in that situation, there were no dead giveaways. Sometimes things just happen!

My socialization plan with Austyn so far:

Each weekend we walk in the woods with friends to interact with their dogs and to work on recall and check-in skills.

Austyn comes to work with me everyday to learn how to settle in his crate (with many mentally stimulating toys) and meet all of my co-workers, their children and their dogs.

He comes to all of the various training facilities that I go to. Once there, he is learning to wait in his kennel while all of the other dogs work and then he gets his working time as well. Here we practice walking around other dogs that he CANNOT say hello to. I put this interaction on cue, so that when he is an adolescent, he will already know that this is not a “given” and therefore he will not get frustrated and/or reactive when he cannot say hi to every dog he sees. The scenario described above is one of the many causes of canine reactivity.

Tennis Ball, Anyone?

Interactive Toys No Comments »

Interactive toys are those toys, like tennis balls and Frisbees, that you play with your dog one-on-one.

I view these separately for two reasons: the first is that these games are wonderful relationship builders between you and your dog, if played under the right conditions, and second, being a veterinary technician, it is quite common to see dogs that have ingested things, like tennis balls, and other types of inedible items. Be sure that you puppy proof your home!

Below are the Rules of Play that I follow with all of my dogs. The only difference is that I will not start taking Austyn’s toys out of his mouth when he brings them to me until he is a couple of months older.

Tennis Ball - I thnk I LOVE you

I start the play.
The play does not start when my Golden Retriever starts scratching my arm demanding that his needs be met. Years ago my America Eskimo scratched my arm so hard that it ripped my shirt. This was before I knew anything about dog training. Back then I would allow this because I felt guilty that I had to work all day and could not play with him until the evening.

I reinforce the correct behavior.
Now I decide when I want to take the dog(s) outside to play and then I will wait for calm behavior and/or ask the dog to perform a behavior of some kind before the play begins.

So it looks like this: I go and get the tennis ball from the bucket and then call Lizzie-Taylor to me. Together we go outside. I ask her to sit and then upon completion, I throw the ball for her. She brings it back to me at which I will either give her a treat or will throw the ball for her again as the reinforcement. I will then ask for another behavior. I vary the behaviors I ask for so that she never knows what comes next. Sometimes I ask her to lie down, touch my hand, sit in heel position, and so on.

With Austyn, at this age I either ask for a sit or a hand touch. He knows both of these quite well.

Tennis Ball - the object of all affection

I end the play.
The play comes to an end when I decide that it does, not when my dog takes the tennis ball and hides it in the bushes! I try to estimate how many retrieves each dog is comfortable with before completely tiring out. For example, Lizzie-Taylor is good for about 6-7 long retrieves before she becomes “sluggish.” Because she is a competition dog, I want to interact with her only when she’s “on” and at the highest point of her energy level. So I tend to throw the ball for her about 5 times and then I say “All Done!” Together we go back into the house and the tennis ball goes back into the closet until the next play session.

Mental Stimulation

Play Toys No Comments »

Austyn has two different toy buckets, both of which contain his “normal” toys. These are the toys that he hangs out with everyday as opposed to the interactive toys that I use only when I am going to interact with him one-on-one. Tennis balls and Frisbees are wonderful examples of these.

Play toys are the toys that are in his play area. These toys are rotated every day. If dogs see the same toys laying around all of the time, they get sick of them regardless of whether or not they’ve played with them. Children are similar in this sense.

Canine toys can be very expensive so it is a good idea to rotate them on a regular basis. When I used to counsel families individually, I would have the children in the family decide which toys the dog(s) would have access to each day. They loved having this job! (Anything to play with the dog toys!)

Each day Austyn finds “new” toys in his toy bucket. I also have put the toys in a bucket that he can run into and roll in as he chooses a toy. (More mental stimulation!) This is Wylie-Rae rolling in the toy bucket.

Austyn plays wonderfully on his own, although anytime he is out and about, he is supervised.

Physical and Mental Stimulation

Brain Toys No Comments »

Now that Austyn has been home for a few days, my next priority is to come up with a plan to keep him physically and mentally stimulated.

It is important for all dogs, regardless of breed, and ESPECIALLY for puppies, to be physically AND mentally stimulated each day. If this is not provided for them, they will come up with their own ways to mentally stimulate themselves, and I can guarantee, it will not be something we humans would approve of!

Physical stimulation is easily understandable. Any time the puppy runs, jumps, plays.. These are all ways that the puppy is physically stimulated. Because of puppy growth plates, it is far more preferable to keep the puppy running and jumping “horizontally” rather than “vertically”. You do not want to put unnecessary pressure on fragile growing joints.

As written by Dr. Daniel A. Degner, Board-certified Veterinary Surgeon (DACVS)

“Dogs and cats under one year of age have growth plates, which are located near the ends of the bones of the limbs. Growth plates are responsible for growth of the bones.The growth plates are much softer than other regions of the bones, therefore are more prone to injury. Growth plates normally fuse or close down as the pet matures. Most of the pet’s growth occurs during four to eight months of age. After eight months of age, little longitudinal growth of bones occurs. Usually by one year of age the growth plates are closed and are not visible on x-rays.” copyright © 2004 Vet Surgery Central Inc.

For example, if you are playing with a tennis ball, roll the ball for the puppy to chase instead of throwing it into the air. If you throw it, there is more of a chance that your puppy will run and try to jump up to get the ball. And once the puppy brings you the ball, instead of taking it from him, massage the puppy while he still has the ball in his mouth. Puppies at a very young age like to bring you things to show you what they have, they don’t necessarily want you to take it from them at this young age. You can teach them to “Give” in a couple of months.

You also will not want to take the puppy on very long walks. Several short walks (10-15 minutes) are more preferable than a very long one. (45-60 minutes)

Mental stimulation will encourage your puppy to use his brain creatively. It is very important for them to start making decisions for themselves, and for them to practice this task, several times a day. A mentally stimulated puppy is a happy and tired puppy!

For Austyn, his plan will include the following:

Brain toys: These are the toys in which he will have to figure out how to get the food that is inside. Austyn eats the majority of his meals in this fashion. Actually all of my dogs do, even as adults. Please note that there are also brain toys that you put treats inside instead of a whole meal. Use both interchangeably.

Kong: The Kong Company has many different brain toys that one can purchase. My favorite is their original Kong that comes in a variety of sizes. Black is for the heaviest chewers and red is for the mild to moderate chewers. With my guys, I take their meal and stuff it into the Kong and either freeze it or refrigerate it. You will have to see which consistency your puppy prefers. I have one dog, that if it is frozen, will turn away. Too much work. But he will work on a Kong that has been refrigerated.

Do you feed kibble? This works great too. Just mix in a very small amount of canned pumpkin (low fat and fiber for lean stool) or use some canned veterinary “bland” food. For example, I use Royal Canin Intestinal diet, to mix in Wylie-Rae’s Kong.

I prefer these fillings simply because I do not want my dogs to get diarrhea. Some of my students have filled the Kongs with peanut butter, yogurt, cream cheese, and so on with much success,

Busy Buddies: This company has my toy of choice for Austyn: the Twist n’Treat. This is a toy that looks like a flying saucer where one end screws into the other. You can adjust the challenge of getting the food out by how close you screw one side to the other. The flying saucer, itself, can be filled with any kind of gooey food. Since Austyn is on a raw diet, this can easily be smeared into the creases of the toy, and hence, keeps him working steadily to get his meal. I started with both ends screwed together lightly, but as he becomes more skilled, I start to screw the pieces closer and closer so it becomes harder and harder to get his meal.

Other ideas to feed your pup: smear your puppy’s food into a bundt pan or a cupcake tray.

Luckily for us, the pet stores are now filled with many different types of brain toys. I’m sure you can find one that will suit your puppy’s needs.

And the last thing that I want to mention is to remember to put your puppies in their crates, or other Safe Spaces, for a nap regardless of whether or not they seem to need it. Puppies need to have plenty of sleep. If they do not have adequate rest time, they become extremely over-stimulated and this is when, us humans, can become very annoyed with them. This is the puppy that stops playing with their toys and starts biting us instead! They act like over-rambunctious children! They need to nap numerous times throughout the day. They rely on us, their caretakers, to make these decisions for them.

I can remember years ago when Ben was a baby: about dusk I would call him the “piranha fish” biting at whatever would cross his path! Yes, that includes my pant leg. Into the crate for a nap he would go! I started to change his routine and would put him in the crate before dusk with a mentally stimulating toy. Behavior was much better.

Now my pups go in and out of their crate/space all day along. This time lessens as the puppy matures. And all of my dogs do rest after a training session. There is something to be said about latent learning!