Quiet Please!

Many people live with and around dogs that bark too much. If you have a high drive dog, then barking could be particularly challenging. Barking can be a nuisance.  And if a neighbor complains it can also become a legal issue. But before your dog’s – or your neighbor’s dog’s – barking issues can be addressed, it helps to understand why he or she is barking. Dogs bark for a variety of reasons. Following is a list of possible triggers, and how they might be handled:

Barking for attention

A bored dog may not have anything more interesting to do than to bark.  Yelling at him to be quiet will typically only make matters worse, as he’ll consider this attention, and thus rewarding. Just like children, bad attention is better than no attention at all. If your dog is bored, he needs an outlet for his energy. Consider getting up earlier to walk or play ball with him, and give him more mental exercise. Additionally, giving him toys or chew treats may keep him occupied while you’re away.

Barking at prey animals

If a dog is prey driven – as so many are – he may not be able to resist chasing critters that run by. In this case, teaching the dog to re-direct attention to a toy or game is helpful when you are around to reinforce the new behavior. When you are away, keep the dog separated from areas where squirrels play. As an alternative, a motion detector sprinkler can be a great way to keep small animals away from the yard.

Barking at perceived intruders

Known as alarm barking, most people want their dogs to bark at intruders this way. It’s their job!  However, excessive barking can be a problem. Here again, yelling at the dog to be quiet seldom works.  Instead, first acknowledge the “intruder” by looking directly at him/her/it and then praising the dog. (“Good watch dog.”)  Next, tell the dog “quiet now” and lure him away with a treat. Tell him to sit, down or some other trick and give him the treat. If he attempts to go back to barking at the “intruder”, call him away with an “ah-ah” and ask for additional tricks in exchange for treats.  Over time, the long process won’t be necessary and a simple “Good watch dog, quiet now” will suffice to quiet him down. If your dog is a persistent barker, you may add a “time out” – 30 seconds to 2 minutes of isolation – whenever he goes back to bark at something after you have praised him and called him away the first time.

Barking when left alone

Some dogs bark when left alone for extended periods of time. If your dog does this, it could be due to boredom or it could potentially be separation anxiety. If your dog is bored, then increasing his mental stimulation, as described under “attention barking” above, could help to alleviate this. However, if your dog has separation anxiety, then it is important to treat this very challenging condition with the help of a professional behavior counselor and/or veterinary behaviorist. Some helpful management tactics include doggy day care, or getting a sitter to spend time with your dog during the day. Please note that separation anxiety is also best diagnosed by a professional, so when in doubt, consider calling one.

If you have a serious barking dog challenge, contact your local dog trainer. He or she can help you to teach your dog to be more polite. Telling your neighbors that you are working with the trainer for the barking can also go a long way to build rapport and keep them from taking legal action against you.

Crate Rest and the High Drive Dog

Some years ago, Claire, my Border collie, was injured and required to “crate rest” for 10 days. As I was leaving the vet office, I told my vet that she was a working dog, to which he answered “it’s time for a vacation.” Clearly, he didn’t understand about working dogs!

If you have a high drive dog, and find yourself in this unenviable position of having to keep her quiet due to some sort of injury or illness, you know how challenging it can be. Following are some options for keeping your pooch mentally stimulated while limiting physical activity. In this manner, your dog may be (at least somewhat) less restless during convalescence.

Poor poor Buzz hurt his foot

NOTE: Not all of these exercises may be suitable for all dogs. Please consult with your veterinarian to determine which exercises would be best suited for working around your dog’s specific malady.

Find it: Start with teaching a simple “find it” by tossing kibble or treats to the ground where your dog can easily see them land then move to eat them. As she starts to understand, proceed to dropping a treat while she’s looking in another direction, and then tell her to find it. Once she is proficient at doing this, then you can take the treats and roll them into folds of a towel or old blanket. Put the blanket into your dog’s crate and encourage her to “find it” using her nose and digging into the blanket.

A related game is to hide the treats under cups.  Set out three cups, with a treat under one of them. Ask your dog to “find it”, and see how long it takes her to choose the correct cup. When she finds it, give her a jackpot of additional treats. As she gets better at choosing the appropriate cup, start to reward her extra only when she chooses the correct cup on the second try or better, then eventually only give her extra treats when she chooses the correct cup on the first try.

Object discrimination: This is learning to distinguish between the names of different objects, usually toys. Start with a single toy, and ask your dog to take it, i.e. “take the ball”. Proceed to hand her the toy. If your dog doesn’t like to take things in her mouth, you can simply accept a nose touch to the item. Reward with a treat, and repeat. When she is readily taking the ball on cue, switch to another toy, i.e. “take the bone”. (Be sure the words you use are sufficiently different! Note that words like Phone and Bone may not be distinguishable to some dogs.) Use only the bone for a few days. Once your dog is proficient at taking the bone, try with both items – one in each hand – and tell her to take one specifically. At first, say the cue then move the correct item toward her a little bit to give her the hint. Be sure to move the item AFTER saying the cue so she doesn’t ignore the verbal cue and just take what you hand to her. Soon, you may stop moving and let her choose the toy. If she chooses correctly, she either gets the toy to play, or a treat. If she chooses incorrectly, take both toys away and just say “oops”. If she is incorrect, return to giving her the hint by moving the correct item toward her after giving the cue.

Puzzle Toys: Interactive puzzle toys are a great way to mentally stimulate your dog without quite so much work, for those days when additional training time is just not part of your schedule. These work by allowing your dog to use her brain to solve puzzles in order to find the food and/or treats hidden within. Most of these do require a bit of training at first to help the dog determine what is to be done, but once they learn the process, then they will go on to puzzle solving on their own, and you can take the puzzles to a higher level of difficulty. Find many puzzle toys at the Clicker Training Store online.

Tricks: There are a wide variety of stationary tricks that may be taught to a crate-resting dog. Here are just a few.

Left and Right turns – useful in a variety of sports, left and right turns are also a very easy, in-position trick to teach a dog.  Start by facing toward your dog, remembering that your right is her left and vice versa. Practice left and right turns separately (i.e. left turns in one session, right turns in another session) by tossing treats for your dog to see. Ask for a “watch me” and then release the dog with a “right” or “left” cue followed by your release or “take it” cue. As the dog starts to understand the directions, begin dropping the treat while the dog is looking in another direction, then release with the directional cue.  Remember to only practice one direction in any given practice session for at least the first several days, until the dog is consistently turning in the correct direction.

If your dog is severely restricted in terms of movement, this exercise can be practiced in place, with the dog lying down, and setting the treats to the side of the dog instead of tossing them. NOTE: the left and right turns are simply head turns of approximately 90 degrees. Once the dog understands turns, then her body will naturally follow where her head is looking once she is in motion.

Left paw / right paw – This is simply a paw shake with either paw. Many people call this “Paw” and “Other Paw”. If your dog already knows it, it can be practiced from lying down as simply a forward extension of her paw. At first, make it easy by putting your hand near the paw that you are requesting. Over time, ask for the paw without the physical cue, but give her the hint if she don’t get it on the verbal cue.

Shake head yes/no – Easily lured (side-to-side or up-and-down) these can also be shaped using clicker training. The cues could be “say yes” and “say no”, or you could choose clever questions to which your dog could respond, such as “do you want a cookie” (nod yes) and “how about a bath” (nod no).

Touch body parts – if your dog is able to move physically, but just not allowed to jump and play, then this could be another good option.  If you have clicker trained your dog, you can free-shape this with simple head turns. If not, you can lure her to touch certain body parts with her nose. For example, to touch her tail, lure her nose to her tail, then mark and reward. When she is readily moving her nose to her tail, you can start to put the cue of “tail” (or “find your tail”) before guiding her to touching her tail. Once she is proficient at this trick, you can add more body parts that are easily accessible to your dog’s nose, such as her hips, front and rear feet, etc.

Crate rest is no fun

Like people, most dogs need mental as well as physical exercise on a regular basis to remain well-adjusted and content. High energy, intelligent dogs, can become particularly distressed when they are not able to work at all. Giving them at least some mental exercise on a daily basis may substantially reduce their stress, and thus improve the healing process.

Weekend Warriors

The Olympics are over, but I can’t stop thinking about the elite athletes, and how inspired and moved I always am by their dedication. They train every single day, not just practicing their specific sports, but also strength building, stretching, and all manner of conditioning exercises to achieve optimum fitness. This is why they are the best in the world, but it also reduces their likelihood of injuries.

We’ve all heard of the “Weekend Warriors”. Most of us have at least one or two friends who are such athletes, competing in their chosen sports once per week as their only regular exercise. Of course, it doesn’t mean that they don’t want to exercise more, but many of them are so busy during the week that they just don’t have the time. Unfortunately, the term “weekend warrior” is also commonly heard along with the word “injury.” According to some authorities, Weekend Warriors are more likely to incur injuries than athletes who train more consistently.

So why should dogs be any different?  I have colleagues and friends for whose dogs the weekend training sessions are most of the exercise that they get for the week. These dogs might go for a walk or two during the week, but otherwise spend most of their time inside their homes or apartments with little physical exercise. Now I’m not remotely suggesting that they have bad lives – they get to sleep on beds, hang out on the couch with their owners, and play nice games of tug or fetch down hallways – but they are not getting the exercise needed to maintain the fitness levels to safely compete in some of the high-octane sports that they do.

Swimming is another good form of exercise if your dog likes water.

They are Weekend Warriors. And like their human counterparts, I see them injured more often than their fitter friends. Injuries appear to occur suddenly, and often surface at practice or in class, when the dog is running drills or otherwise exerting itself.

If one is going to compete in a high-exertion sport, particularly one that involves jumping or turning, such as agility, then fitness really should be a priority. In addition to training sessions within the given sport, athletes should get several days per week of solid cardiovascular exercise. I recognize that not everyone is a runner, or can afford a training treadmill for their dogs, but there are other options, such as a solid retrieving session, or a good romp with a playmate. If your dog is not well-suited to a dog park, then a play date might be in order with a dog whose company he does enjoy. Other options for exercising dogs include cycling with them (I recommend the use of a rear-axle fitted device) or hiring a dog walker who may be able to take your dog out for longer jaunts. And some dogs, given a bit of playful encouragement, may even go into “zoomies” on their own.

Regardless of the type of fitness exercise that you choose for your dog, be sure to check with your veterinarian to confirm that he or she is healthy enough to embark on a conditioning program. For further information about canine fitness, check out the work of Christine Zink, DVM, who specializes in canine fitness and sports.

Now, get off the couch and get some exercise!

Though sometimes, a nap is well-deserved!

World’s best running partner

With the Olympics in full swing, my favorite events are now televised: the track and field events. I have been a runner pretty much my entire life,. In the early days I would sometimes be asked by naive passersby if I needed a ride somewhere. My running attire included jeans or jean shorts, and whatever sneakers I happened to have on. Luckily for me, by the time I entered Middle School, I had a coach, and was able to get some proper attire. I started running with Nick, my German shepherd dog, right about that time as well.

Most dogs already know the joy of running

Over the years, I continued to run, throughout high school and then on a track scholarship in college. And in spite of the wonderful friends that I have made in the lanes and on the trails, my favorite running partners have always been my dogs. The don’t complain about rain or cold or having to get up too early, and I have never been stood up for a morning run by a dog who had been out too late the night before. Not surprisingly, my daughter is already learning the joy of a dog as a running partner as well.

Yet, running with a dog entails more than just putting on the leash and heading out the door. Like people, dogs must be in suitable condition to run, and in spite of their lack of complaining, weather and other factors can absolutely affect them.

First, there is basic conditioning – just like people, dogs must take the time to gain conditioning. If you are already a runner, as I am, I recommend taking your dog on a short warm up of your run at first, running a short loop, then dropping him off at home before completing the rest of your run without him. In this manner, you can feel that you’ve had your full run without pushing the dog beyond his capabilities.

Our daily runs also keep us in shape for flyball and other sports.

If you have a young dog, be sure to consult with your veterinarian, and don’t start running him for extended distances until his growth plates are mostly closed. I start training my medium-sized dogs (border collies) at about 9 or 10 months, and don’t run them at full distances until over a year of age. With the larger breeds, I’d wait longer than that. Note that the breed and size of the dog may be determining factors in maximum running distances. I’m a middle distance runner, so it’s never been a problem, but if you are an ultra-runner, consider your dog’s breed and condition before taking him along on your longer runs.

It’s important to understand that a dog will often not tell you if he’s had too much until it’s too late, so be aware of the signs of overheating in a dog which include a darkened tongue, labored breathing, stiffness of gait, and hyper-salivation (excessive drooling). Dogs also tend to overheat at more moderate temperatures than many humans, so don’t take your dog out if the weather is particularly warm. I have cut short runs with my dogs when I was raring to go on, but I realized that the heat would not be good for them. Brachycephalic dogs (with flat noses such as boxers and bulldogs) can overheat even more quickly, so must be monitored even more closely.

As to training, while I allow my dogs to wander to the ends of their leashes on walks, I insist on heel at my side while running. This is more for safety than anything else, as a wandering dog may get underfoot, tripping you and potentially injuring itself. I recommend against taking a dog running until he knows at least the basics of leash manners, and does not have reactivity issues on leash. If you are fortunate enough to find off-leash places to run with your dog, then a solid recall is a must, as well as a really good leave it command. And even in off-leash settings, a good heel at your side is useful for those times when you need your dog close in order to keep him out of trouble.

Running with your dog can be a most relaxing and enjoyable bonding experience, as well as a great way to stay in shape together with your best friend. Just be sure not to overdo it, and let your dog determine how far is far enough. And if you are unsure as to whether your dog is well-suited to running with you, consult with your veterinarian first to assure that it will be OK for him to do.

Still More Fun and Games: Dog Sports Part 2

Some weeks ago, I offered a run-down of some of the most popular dog sports available in the U.S. today. Of course, the list was nowhere near comprehensive, and even with this installment, I know that there will be others left to cover. Nevertheless, here are descriptions of a few more of the popular (or should I say “pupular”?) dog sports available today.

Traditional Obedience is perhaps one of the oldest competition activities available for dogs in the U.S. While the foundation includes heeling, stays and recalls, in the more advanced levels, retrieves are included, as well as finding scent articles and jumping over hurdles. Originally only open to purebred dogs, the American Mixed Breed Obedience Registry changed all this in the late 1980s. More recently, the AKC opened up all of their performance competitions (not conformation) to mixed breeds, allowing anyone to compete via their Canine Partners program.

Down-Stay is an important cue in many sports (photo by Tonya Jensen)

Carting is another option that can now be enjoyed by virtually any healthy dog. Carting competitions include pulling the carts through obstacle courses that include gates as well as requiring the dog to back up, stay and move forward with the cart attached. Sometimes called “dryland mushing”, carting is also used to keep sled dogs in shape during the warmer months.

Skijoring, is like sledding without the sled! While most popular in colder climates, it can also be enjoyed anywhere there is snow during the winter. Skijoring is a sport where dogs pull their humans, who are on cross-country skis. Typically, a person will have between 1-3 dogs pulling them. The beauty of this sport is that both human and dog(s) get a great deal of exercise. Most skijoring competitions are between 3 and 12 miles long, though there is one race of nearly 100 miles held in the Yukon every year.

Another high-octane sport that originally only allowed specific breeds is lure coursing. While the AKC competitions are open only to sight hound breeds such as greyhounds and whippets, many local clubs have opened up fun runs to other breeds in recent years. In lure coursing, the dogs follow a lure – often a plastic bag – that is moved along the ground on a zip-line of sorts. For any dog that loves running and chasing (and what dog doesn’t!) this is a great option for exercise and fun.

If you are interested in some more intense training, there is the century-old sport of Schutzhund, and its relative, French Ring Sport. Both of these sports combine obedience with protection work, and in both cases, the dogs must first pass tests of sound temperament prior to being eligible to compete at any level.. Schutzhund was originally developed in Germany in the early 1900s, and literally means “protection dog.” Modern Schutzhund dogs are tested for their abilities in tracking, obedience and protection. In French Ring Sport, the dogs must pass a variety of tests including obedience commands, finding, holding and barking at a decoy (hidden person) and other aspects of protection work.

Regardless of the sport that you choose, it is important to take into account not only your dog’s temperament and aptitudes, but your enjoyment as well. For, whatever sport you choose, if you are enjoying the work, your dog will be much more likely to be enjoying it as well!