Raising A Creative Canine

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

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!

Effective Home Management

Setting Dogs Up for Success No Comments »

The first thing I had to do was setup the house so that it would be easy to keep Austyn and Kayden separated but still be exposed minimally (and safely) to each other.  I put two crates up: one in the living room (upstairs) and one in our bedroom (downstairs). I want to be able to have the puppy with us when we are enjoying family time in the heavily trafficked living room as well as taking full advantage of exposing the two dogs at the most quietest time of the day: at bedtime.

The other piece was deciding where Austyn was going to be able to play with his toys and my other dogs in the house without being secluded. We have a huge backyard so the outdoor environment didn’t concern me. The indoor environment did. We live in a ranch style house but the rooms within are very small.

Austyn has two spaces where he plays: the kitchen, separated by a baby gate with smaller holes, which works extremely well since it is right off of the main dining room and the larger area downstairs where I also train the other dogs. The other thing that I like about the kitchen is that the door leads directly outside to help to improve Austyn’s housetraining abilities.

In the van, we have set Austyn’s crate up beside Lizzie-T’s, which is kitty corner from Kayden. So, again, Kayden is being exposed to the baby at an angle and not “head-to-head.”

Austyn-Roque Comes Home!

The First Day 1 Comment »

I don’t know why I chose to get a puppy now. God knows I have enough on my plate: between husband, three competitive obedience and agility dogs,  working full time as a veterinary technician, and teaching my Karen Pryor Clicker Training classes along with reactive dog classes and seminars, this is hardly the time for a beautiful Golden boy! But I just knew.

As I sat there watching all of the little Golden babies swarm around me, I knew that one of them was mine. (It was that same feeling that I had years ago when Ben had bloat. There were no obvious outward signs, just a feeling that something was terribly wrong. And even after bringing him to the emergency hospital, and being discharged with a clean bill of health, I still demanded that they keep him there overnight. And sure enough, in the early morning hours, the overnight doctor called to let me know that his stomach had twisted and that they were prepping him for surgery.)

So this was the same except that this situation was a happy one. I somehow knew that whichever little guy was chosen for us; he would be our teacher just as all of our other dogs have been. (The question always is: “Do I really have to learn THOSE lessons?” said by the girl who learned more from Ben than any other human or canine alike! See “Click to Calm:Healing the Aggressive Dog.”)

This litter was just so perfect! All of the puppies were not only gorgeous but all appeared so wonderfully stable. I have been around puppies long enough to know that when you find a stable puppy, grab him! They certainly do not come along every day. Shannon Gervais (www.zengoldens.com), our dear and close friend, is the breeder of these pups. It is she who molded them by exposing them to all kinds of stimuli to a degree that they could handle, and hence, profit from.

So today is the day that we are bringing Austyn home. His full name is Austyn-Roque. The name “Austyn” means “great or magnificent” and the name Roque (pronounced “Rock” and sometimes spelled “Roch”) is the patron saint of dogs.

“Saint Roch was born the son of a wealthy French nobleman. As a child and a young man, he had many advantages and privileges. Yet, as he grew, he saw the needs of the homeless, the poor, and the sick.

At age 20, he gave his fortune to the poor and renounced his nobility. Saint Roch then went on a pilgrimage to Rome where he spent his time caring for victims of a plague, curing and healing by the sign of the cross. The sign of the cross had personal meaning since a birthmark on his chest was in the form of a cross.

While ministering to the needs of the sick, Saint Roch became infected himself. It was his nature not to burden others and he stayed in a hovel. While he lay dying, a dog from a nearby villa found Saint Roch and brought a fresh roll from his master’s house each day. The dog’s owner noticed this strange behavior and his curiosity led him to Rochus. Touched by the sick man and his condition, the dog’s owner befriended him and Saint Roch recovered.

Back in France there was a civil war. Saint Roch left for home and the dog went with him. The turbulence of war led him to be accused to spying. Saint Roch refused to identify himself as royalty and was thrown in prison along with his dog. He spent time praying and helping fellow prisoners until he died five years later. At his death a document in his possession and the distinctive birthmark revealed his true identity.

After his death, numerous miracles, especially those related to the plague and infectious diseases, were attributed to Saint Roch. He was canonized 100 years after his death. Since then, intercessions on his behalf have helped paupers, princes, priests, and popes.”  Taken from: St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church site.


The rest of my pack:

Wylie-Rae is my five-year-old Papillon. He is one of my agility dogs. He is a great little guy and loves people and other dogs. Out in public, I have to watch him carefully because he will greet other dogs eagerly and doesn’t seem to care what size the other dog is. I am constantly aware that, being a small dog, he could be perceived by some as prey and could be snatched up in an instant!

Lizzie-Taylor is my four-year-old Golden Retriever that is a born workaholic! (Just like me!) Being named after two of Ben’s superb veterinarians, and two of my best friends, (not the movie star!) she is a dog that excels in obedience and agility. She is my “dream” dog earning two 199’s and two 198’s earning her first AKC obedience title.

Kayden-Blue is a three-year-old Golden Retriever and a reactive boy. He was abandoned in a collapsible crate on an elderly couple’s front lawn when he was approximately 7-8 weeks old. He weighed only nine pounds and had four different ailments: ear infection, urinary infection, puppy pyoderma, and intestinal worms. He seemed fine with people and dogs at the time, but once we got him home, I noticed some concerning behavioral issues.

The first week he came home, I took him into the kitchen to introduce him to some retrieval exercises. I threw the toy. He picked it up, turned and started running back toward me, but then sunk into a down and froze. No worries. I went to the refrigerator and took out some cheese to exchange with him. I offered it to him but he ignored me. His body was still frozen, rooted to the floor. A chill went up my spine! This is what you DON’T want to see in any dog, never mind a puppy! “Ok, this is great,” I thought. I went back to the fridge and got out some beef. I took a huge handful and placed it in front of his mouth and then made a trail towards the door of the kitchen. At that point, he did drop the toy to get the food, but he turned very quickly to grab it again. I was able to pick it up in time but from this day forward, he was in puppy re-hab!

In the weeks to come, I also discovered that he was food possessive as well and he was not good with other dogs. My assistants in reactive dog class told me that I was being paranoid, but I knew! I could see the signs…

Kayden’s Puppy Kindergarten:

In the first class during puppy playtime, he hid under the table. In the second class, he happily ran out into the middle of the room, and then when a group of other puppies surrounded him to play, he promptly attacked them! There was no bloodshed, only a lot of noise.

I am the owner of another reactive dog! Damn!!!!  Luckily, he is not as bad as Ben but reactive just the same. Getting him comfortable to live with a new puppy in the household is going to be a feat! (And, hence one of the reasons for this blog!)

Kayden is reactive with everything not just dogs: a lone person walking in a field, a trash bag blowing in the wind and anything weird and unfamiliar to him.

Targeting worked beautifully for this. I taught him at a very early age to “touch” anything that disturbed him. For example, we can be walking in a field and he spots a person in the distance. He reacts by barking and pulling on his leash. As the person comes closer, I can tell him to “Go Touch” and he will run up to them eagerly and go and touch their hand. Once the contact is made, he relaxes and enjoys the company. (Please note that Kayden was never a biter and actually has quite nice bite inhibition.)

So this is the challenge I face: raising Austyn-Roque to be a smart and successful competition dog of some kind (I let my dogs choose their sport) while teaching Kayden to accept the newest member of the family.