Thursday, January 27, 2011

What's normal?

A friend of mine recently took in her first foster, a miniature poodle relinquished to Whipstaff Ranch after a local breeding facility decided to "liquidate its stock."

The good news is: The majority of the 1,200 dogs and puppies reportedly at the facility have been safely placed into rescue groups that will medically treat, socialize, and place them in loving homes. And happily, these dogs are less fearful than most of the puppy mill dogs I've worked with.

Still, like all mill dogs (and shy-fearfuls), they create training challenges. Gracie, my friend's foster, didn't know how to walk up stairs, had not been potty trained, didn't vocalize, didn't play, and my friend bemoaned, "Will she ever be normal?" Well, that presumes a "normal" set of dog behaviors exists, but although Gracie may never be as confident as some dogs that have been loved and cared for all their lives, her prognosis is promising.

The first step is to start training her and to push her outside of her comfort zone a bit. That doesn't mean it is wise--or even responsible--to throw her on a leash and take her out for a walk. Many a well-meaning rescuer has done just that and ended up with a loose, undersocialized dog, a very dangerous situation for the dog with low odds of a good outcome. In fact, these dogs can be so fearful that they can even get loose from fenced yards or lost in them when they panic.

Start slowly. Rather than throwing a potentially traumatized dog on a leash outside (which it may have never experienced), attach a leash on her collar when you are home and can superverise to make sure she doesn't get tangled up and hurt herself. Let her drag the leash for a half an hour or so. After the dog becomes comfortable with the leash attached to her collar, pick up the other end of the leash from time-to-time to desensitize her a bit. Generally increase the amount of time you walk her on leash inside before venture outside into unsecured areas.

To take this approach a step further, try "umbilical training," during which you attach the dog's leash to yourself for an extended period of time, usually a couple of days. Umbilical training is highly regarded by many rescue people I've met, and we use it to help build confidence in undersocialized dogs, to help unfocused dogs connect, and to aide with potty training. I've used it myself with terrific results.

Remember, though, that mill and shy-fearful dogs are easily intimidated. Add time and activities gradually, as they become more confident, but don't coddle them so much that they don't have any motivation to come out of their shells.

So, why not try it? Let your mill or shy-fearful dog drag the leash while you supervise, and work up to umbilical training.

And good luck, Gracie!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Connecting with your dog

As I sit here in Dunn Brothers, I overhear two conversations in the background. The woman to my right expresses her initial frustration with a rescue dog she adopted that didn't bond with her immediately. Now the dog eagerly tries to wake her up each morning. The second describes a dog that runs from door to door when family members leave. She finishes her narrative with, "She is a good dog."

I kid you not. I'm overhearing two conversations, and they're both about dogs.

But dogs do get anxious, for a lot of reasons. And rescue dogs are particularly prone to that sense of disconnect. I can't tell you how many dogs have come into my home that refused to make eye contact for months.

Not to worry. There are ways to increase the connection and, thereby, reduce everyone's stress.

If your dog is anxious--whether or not you brought him home this week or six years ago--try working on your bond. Do you take him for walks? If so, do you get his attention regularly throughout? Does she look you in the face when you stop at corners? If not, try a simple exercise, called "Right here."

If your dog is food motivated, show her a treat, and place it between your eyes. Then say, "Right here," tapping the bridge of your nose with your treat, if you like. When your dog looks you in the face, praise her immediately. "Nice!" Then hand her the treat. Do that a few times, and your dog is bound to start checking in with you more often. And that will lead to a more connected dog. Trust me.

And now, I'm off to more eavesdropping.

Until next time . . .

Monday, January 17, 2011

Rude dogs

Whenever I mention the term "rude" in terms of dogs (a term I first heard from my friend Janey at Rogues and Rascals--Thanks, Janey), I can see people visibly recoil. "Surely my dog isn't rude. He just wants to say 'hi,' but other dogs are always attacking him." Tell you what: If you find yourself saying that, chances are, you've got a rude dog.

The problem is, rude dogs look pretty friendly to the human eye. After all, they run up to other dogs and greet them with a friendly nose sniff, tail wagging. That's not rude, is it?

In dog language, a dog that approaches another dog directly while openingly looking into his face is challenging him. Chances are, that dog being greeted will snap or lunge to indicate its objection to this overly familiar and challenging greeting. To start getting this under control, ask your dog to sit and face you when another dog is approaching her--and praise her lavishly when she does. If you do let her "greet" another dog, make sure their greeting is respectful. Let the dogs sniff one another from behind, and never, ever let her approach strange dogs by going nose-to-nose. When a dog graduates to a nose-to-nose greeting after multiple meetings, watch for signs that either dog is becoming agitated, and don't let them greet one another for more than a couple of seconds.

To build safe greeting behaviors, help your dog focus on you, and create situations to help her succeed.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Reactive dog intro

I've been meaning to write more regularly. And you can see how that's been going, but it's a new year, and I had a great day talking to talented and committed folks at AllBreed Obedience in Woodbury about rescue dogs, which is exactly what I needed to energize me to "get on" this. Our focus today was really "reactive" dogs, which I'll get to more extensively in the upcoming weeks.

Suffice it to say that there is no pattern to reactive dogs. They can be overly assertive or rude, shy and overwhelmed, responding to long-standing issues resulting from experiences they had as a puppy.

Your first challenge, when deaing with reactive dogs, is trying to get to the bottom of it. So, watch your dog a bit. What triggers her to react negatively? Does she begin to pant when you pull out the vacuum cleaner? Does he become agitated when he encounters another dog on ther street?

Once you've identified the triggers, pay some attention to your dog's behavior. Do his haunches go up? Does he pant or salivate? Is she trying to make herself seem larger than she really is? Or does she get in fights? These are all clues that will help you understand how to deal with a reactive dog because, like football teams, not all reactions are created equally.

Once you can understand the triggers and recognize the behaviors, you can develop a plan for changing the pattern, which I'll talk about more soon. But now I'm off to deal with Bob, my boyfriend who is gloating because the Packers won.