Dog's Life: Lifestyle
It’s not just true with dogs
“It’s time to line up.” Upon hearing this once, 30 kids who had been happily engaged in soccer matches were immediately racing at top speed across the field to line up with their teams. They formed straight lines quickly and cheerfully, just like they do every time their coaches tell them to.
Is this a particularly good group of children? Are they all the type that do what they’re told right away just because they want to please? Of course not! The group is just as mixed in behavioral tendencies as any normal group of kids. They are displaying desirable behavior because they have been reinforced for doing so.
Specifically, at British Soccer Camps, the coaches reinforce the campers by awarding points in their imaginary World Cup competition. The greatest number of points (10) is given to the first team to line up properly, which shows that this behavior is most highly valued. By comparison, the winning team in a match receives 3 points and the “man of the match” (the player who is singled out for excellent play, fine sportsmanship, consistent effort or any other commendable behavior the coach chooses to recognize) earns 2 points for his team. Team effort is more highly prized than individual effort.
In a similar way, when I train dogs, I use the most highly valued reinforcement for the most important behavior I am working on, which is often recalls. When a dog comes when called during training, the reinforcement may be a new toy, a stuffed Kong, going for a walk, multiple treats, or anything else that is highly desired. Because this behavior is so important, I reinforce it very strongly.
“You get the behavior you reinforce” is as fundamental a truth in dog training as it is in any situation that involves teaching and influencing behavior. At soccer camp, many of the parents comment that the coaches are so good with kids, and that’s certainly true. I see it from a very specific perspective though: These coaches are well-versed in using positive reinforcement to get the behavior they want. (Another way to think of this is that the coaches themselves are well trained by the organization and its experts.) Positive reinforcement works, and it makes camp fun for all. When the same techniques are used in dog training, the results are identical: It works, and it makes the experience fun for everyone, whether two-legged or four-legged.
News: Guest Posts
Why so many dogs love being rubbed on the rear
I’m half-asleep. I can hear the “tip-tap” sound of Daisy’s nails on the wood floor. I open my eyes just a millimeter, and see Daisy’s face right in front of mine. Her chin is resting on the edge of the bed, and her expectant face moves gently from side to side with the movement of her wagging tail. It’s time to wake up and eat and walk—the best time of the day!
I reach out to pet her cute head and, suddenly, there it is: The Rump. Or, more precisely, Daisy’s luxurious, wagging tail and poised hindquarters. Right in my face. She cranes her head around to look at me, as if to say, “Well?”
Like many dogs, Daisy loves a good, solid rubbing on her rear. She loves it as much as tummy rubs—sometimes maybe more. What is it about that area that drives dogs mad with pleasure?
According to Dr. Bonnie Beaver, professor of veterinary medicine at Texas A&M University, the answer is very simple.
“The reason most dogs like their rears scratched is because that is a very hard area for them to reach themselves,” Beaver says. “Think about the hardest place you have to reach in the middle of your back, and how nice it is if someone will scratch that for you.”
This explains the pleading eyes and subsequent looks of rapture.
Keep an eye out, though, for signs that your pup’s posterior-petting obsession isn’t just a good time. Beaver says to look for excessive scratching, a bad odor, or bald spots.
Rear-rubs aren’t universally loved, either. Some dogs are not especially pleased by a rump-scratch, and move away, growl or snap when a well-meaning human touches their hips too directly.
“A few dogs are just not into being touched in many places and don’t appreciate the help,” Beaver says.
However, if your dog is one of the rump-scratch lovers, remember that you’re doing them a big favor—even though sometimes you’d prefer to stick with a nice ear scratch or chin rub. They’d return that favor if they could.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
There are so many reasons
A press release from the Postal Service titled “Postal Service Announces Top Dog Attack Cities” shares the statistic that 5,669 postal employees were attacked by dogs last year in 1,400 cities across the United States. Houston was the city in which the most such bites occurred with 62 and Columbus and San Diego tied for second with 45 each.
Of course, many more people nationwide are bitten, but it’s common knowledge that mail carriers regularly face the threat of dog bites. There are many reasons for this. Mail carriers walk onto dogs’ territories every day, returning no matter what the dogs do to warn them—bark, growl, lunge or stare. From a canine perspective, these people just keep invading the dogs’ space each day without responding to their warnings. So for dogs who are territorial, postal workers are unwelcome, and their behavior sometimes escalates from warnings to actual bites.
The majority of dogs who bite do so because they are afraid. Fearful dogs are often especially scared of people who are carrying things, which puts people who deliver the mail at risk. Furthermore, these mail carriers turn their backs and walk away, an action that can give frightened dogs just enough confidence to act on their fears by biting.
To both fearful and territorial dogs (as well as dogs with both issues), uniforms are often associated with unfamiliar people arriving on their property, so the uniform itself can be a trigger that elicits aggressive behavior.
How does your dog react to the person who delivers your mail?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Does your dog mind?
The dogs out for walks in the rain seemed to be paying no attention to the constant drizzle. Even the people seemed unconcerned by the wetness. Most were a little damp. A few had on rain jackets. Absolutely nobody had an umbrella.
I just returned from a visit with my parents in beautiful, flower-filled Portland, Ore., during which it rained almost every day. While I was there, I saw dogs being walked in light rain, medium rain, heavy rain and (occasionally) an absence of rain. There was no detectable difference in their behavior. Rain is so common in that part of the country that people generally ignore it and go about their business, whether it’s yard work, exercising, or taking care of their dogs. I actually found it sort of refreshing. (What I found refreshing was that everybody was going about their business, NOT the rain, which I’m not used to since leaving town to head to college.)
I love that people were outside with their dogs, not caring to try to stay dry, and apparently making little attempt to coordinate their outings with times of day when the rain let up. Living in Flagstaff, Ariz., which has 262 days a year with at least some sun, I have clearly gone soft.
Some dogs are like me—unused to the rain. I remember one client from training classes whose Bichon/Poodle mix was perfectly housetrained . . . except when it rained. She seemed to object to getting her paws wet, but if they could get her outside under the upstairs balcony, she would eliminate quickly and then dash back inside, looking offended. Though usually a lover of walks, she was not interested in them when it was raining.
Do you walk your dog in the rain? Does your dog object?
News: Guest Posts
No one expected Mia to survive fire that destroyed home
There are smart dogs, and there are Einstein canines. Mia clearly belongs in the latter category. When a fire engulfed her family's home in Greenville, S.C., the one-year-old Belgian Malinois opened four doors to make her way to the basement. There, she stood in a cool bathtub that quickly filled with water as firefighters doused the blaze. Mia's owners, Chris and Codi Brumby, were enjoying dinner out with their two children when they learned of the house fire. After six hours of intense heat, smoke and flames, they assumed Mia had not survived. When she was carried out by firefighters, she was soaked and bewildered, but completely unharmed.
News: Guest Posts
Human scent trails as a recovery strategy
I recently finished writing a story for Bark’s summer issue about best practices for recovering lost dogs, based on the experiences and research of folks at the Missing Pet Partnership (MPP). Among their techniques for locating lost dogs are scent-detection dogs, i.e., using one dog to track down another. What I hadn’t heard of was relying on the lost dog’s nose to get himself home.Over the weekend, I read about the curious case of Annika Schlemm and her wirey Terrier, Charlie, who went missing during a walk not far from his home in West Sussex, England. He was on the lam for several days, and was frequently sighted in areas where Schlemm had recently been searching. So her mom suggested she go to the last place he’d been sighted and walk home, barefoot—leaving a scent path for Charlie to follow. It seems to have worked; the errant dog arrived home the following day. We won’t know for sure, Charlie isn’t talking, but it’s an interesting notion. Relying on a dog’s keenest scent makes sense, except for one possible problem. During my lost dog research, I learned that panicked dogs can temporarily lose their sense of smell. “The olfactory portion of the brain will shut down when a dog is stressed,” MPP founder Kat Albrecht told me. “They’re not thinking of eating. They’re protecting themselves. They are full of adrenaline and need to be ready to bolt and run.” That may be why some dogs don’t always respond to food as bait or, unlike Charlie, have a hard time finding their way home.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
There are so many similarities
As Mother’s Day approaches, I am thinking back to when I first became a mom. It’s hard to remember much because massive sleep deprivation made me so tired that my brain failed at recording all but the occasional bit of information. Some of what I do remember is how awkward I felt with a baby compared to how comfortable I was with dogs, including puppies.This should not be surprising. I was a novice with a baby, but I had lots of experience as a dog trainer and canine behaviorist. I occasionally slipped into dog mode when dealing with my new baby. For example, if I wanted to get my son’s attention in order to take a photo of him looking at the camera, I fell back on my dog training habits and either clapped, smooched, or made a clicking sound in my cheek as I would with any dog. I have no recollection of ever saying, “pup, pup, pup,” for this purpose, but it’s possible I did so and have just repressed the memory. This tendency to have my mind in the dog world did not go away as the fog of those early weeks with no sleep lifted. When my son was about 9 months old, someone asked me, “Is he walking yet?” and I answered, “No, but he’s often up on his back legs.” Most moms would have said, “He’s cruising,” to refer to children’s early pre-walking behavior of toddling along while hanging onto couches or other furniture. I quickly corrected myself and said something more appropriate to a description of human behavior, but the funny look I was given is burned into my brain forever. Not only did I treat my kids in ways similar to how I would behave with dogs, I reacted to dogs as I did to my son. When he was only two months old, I returned to teaching dog training classes one evening a week. As a nursing mom, I already knew that any crying baby, not just my own, would result in my milk letting down. While teaching classes, I learned that certain dog vocalizations (a yelp from a dog whose paw had been stepped on for example, or the sound of a whining puppy) had the same effect, which was biologically fascinating as well as monumentally inconvenient. The sound of any creature in distress, whether human or dog, apparently spoke to my motherly desire to give. Hopefully, my dog expertise is enhancing my parenting skills. I do apply many behavioral techniques from my years in clinical practice with dogs to the task. Only my sons, and in later years, probably their therapists, will be able to comment intelligently on whether or not this was wise. Happy Mother’s Day to all. No matter what species your children are, here’s hoping you have a wonderful day!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
What they do is not necessarily appealing to us
As a member of a species that generally doesn’t swallow the afterbirth or eat feces, I feel qualified to discuss the fact that some dog behavior grosses humans out. I was thinking about this recently as I raced to my refrigerator for a piece of cheese to use to encourage a dog to drop the tissue that had fallen from my pocket as I reached for my lip balm. He was attempting to chew the tissue (used, of course) and while many a dog has eaten tissues with no ill effects, it’s not generally considered health food. Luckily, the cheese was more appealing, so I was able to convince him to drop the tissue so I could put it into the trash bin where it belonged.Dogs do other disgusting things besides the rather mild eating of used tissues. If people had any idea how often clients had confided in me that their dog had taken a discarded tampon from the garbage and ran through the house with it (invariably in front of company), you’d be amazed. This is common behavior in dogs, and the fact that we humans find it revolting does not make dogs any less likely to do it. The same goes for rolling in the poop of other animals. Fox poop is a common cause of rolling, perhaps even more popular than horse poop. I’ve seen countless dogs roll in these substances, but I’ve yet to meet a person whose response was, “Right on. That’s always fun.” What has your dog done that you consider revolting?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Tips for comforting your pup during a storm
As the saying goes, April showers bring May flowers. And in my neck of the woods, we’ve certainly been getting a lot of rain and, unfortunately, thunderstorms.
My first dog, Nemo, has never been afraid of thunder. Being a Sheltie, he’ll sometimes bark at the loud noises, but he isn’t fearful. His breeder played sound tapes when he was a puppy, which I think helped.
I’m also fortunate that my new puppy, Remy, doesn’t seem to be affected by thunder. To ensure that it stays that way, I’ve been feeding him chicken every time I hear a loud boom. That way he begins to associate thunder with good things.
But for many dogs, storms bring panic and fear. Sometimes this fear even extends to the precursors to thunder, like dark skies, lightning, or changes in barometric pressure.
The ASPCA recommends the following strategies to help your dog through a storm.
As a long-term solution, the ASPCA recommends counterconditioning your dog to thunderstorms, which is what I’m doing with Remy as a preventative measure. As I mentioned, this involves associating the scary sound with treats and toys. Ideally you’ll want to start with a recording of thunder noises at a low volume and gradually increase the level before a real storm comes.
Many of my friends have had good results by using the Thundershirt in combination with a counterconditioning program.
If your dog has a serious fear, you can also speak to your veterinarian about anti-anxiety medicine or herbal remedies.
How does your dog react to thunder?
News: Guest Posts
Learn to read canine body language
This might sound strange, but I've been studying dog play recently. A lot. My normally playful mixed breed, Ginger Peach, stresses easily in new environments.She often refuses to tug on her toy, play with her Frisbee, or otherwise engage with me. She gets a glazed look in her eyes and pants heavily, completely overwhelmed by so many dogs, people, noise and no doubt smells. This does not bode well for her long-term agility career if I don't figure out how to help her be as relaxed as she is in training or agility class. I've been videotaping how she plays with my other dogs and reading as many books on dog play as I can. My friends and students enjoy watching some of the film snippets and good-naturedly listen to my latest canine body language observations.
What I find particularly intriguing is how some people can’t tell the difference between dog playing and dog fighting. When I showed the clip above to a friend, she thought my Dalmatian, Jolie, and mix, Ginger Peach, were fighting. The growling, teeth flashing and body pinning scared her. We talked about the difference between playing and fighting, and how to read canine body language. We also talked about play styles and why Jolie and GP are such a good match.What’s your dog’s play style? How do you tell the difference between playing and fighting?
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