Dog Breeders & Puppy Handling
Early tactile input pays off

As our readers know, The Bark is 100 percent in favor of adopting dogs from rescues and shelters. Giving a dog a new life in a home in which he or she is understood, loved and cared for is a giant gift, not only to the dog but also, to ourselves. It's one of those cliched win/win situations: we do something good for a dog and in the process, benefit from the unparalleled companionship that dog provides.

That being said, we also have to acknowledge that every day, hundreds—or more likely, thousands—of dogs are purchased from breeders for a variety of reasons. The most commonly cited reason has to do with predictability: those who buy a puppy from a breeder are looking for some degree of certainty in the adult dog's behavior, trainability and (shallow but true) looks. Taking the wide-angle view, that notion has merit, but when it comes to individual dogs, it doesn't hold up. Nonetheless, many people embrace the concept.

I'd like to say that I'm a purist, that I've only adopted, never purchased, but that would be untrue. In my 20s, I purchased a Dalmatian from a breeder who was also a neighbor. All of the pup's littermates had been sold, and at 12 weeks, he was the last one in need of a home. The breeder had determined that he was going to exceed AKC standards in terms of height at shoulder and size of spots (I'm not kidding--she told me his spots were too big) and so decided to sell him as a companion dog. He turned out to be a great dog, one with none of the stereotypical Dalmatian behavioral quirks.

Fast forward 30 years, and I made another foray into purchasing a dog, although not from a breeder, but rather, from an acquaintance whose Siberian Husky had had a litter fathered by a Siberian mix. In that case, I was specifically looking for a Siberian mix for the very unscientific reason that on some level, I was trying to replace a much-loved dog who had died shortly before. I was guided by my heart, not my head.

In both cases, I lucked out—and believe me, the luck was definitely of the "dumb" variety.

The Dalmatian breeder bred her dogs infrequently and carefully, and the pups were well-handled and well-socialized before going to their new homes. The Siberian's people were teachers, not professional breeders. One could be critical of their decision not to spay their female and to deliberately allow her to mate, but in their raising of the puppies who were the outcome of that mating, they were stellar.

Recently, I read a posting from Stan Rawlinson, the UK's "original dog listener." In it, he talks about the impact a breeder has on a dog's adult behavior and health. Following is an excerpt that I found particularly interesting—it also explains why I'd been fortunate in the two dogs I'd purchased: in both cases, the puppies were born in the home and handled extensively from birth. 

Humans handling pups from day one provide a mild stress response, which acts to improve the puppies both physically and emotionally.  After that at 10 to 14 days the sense of hearing and smell develop, eyes open and the teeth begin to appear.

Their eyesight is not fully formed until seven weeks. Though they can see enough to get round from around three weeks of age. Pups that are handled regularly during the first seven/eight weeks of their life mature and grow quicker.

They are more resistant to infections and diseases, and are generally more stable. These pups handle stress better, are more exploratory, curious and learn much faster than pups that are not handled during this period.

They are also more likely to be happy around humans and are rarely aggressive. Therefore the pups born in kennels outside, and not in the home, and the ones born into puppy farms are less likely to get this vitally important tactile input. 

Here's the take-away: If you care deeply for a specific type of dog and are determined to start with a purebred puppy, it behooves you to pay careful attention to the way the breeder approaches the pups' crucial first weeks of life and the environment in which those pups are being raised. (After that, it's up to you!).


Toxic Mushroom Kills The Rock's Puppy
The Rock's was unable to save his French Bulldog for the second time.

Actor Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson made the news last month when he saved his new puppy, Brutus, from drowning in his family's pool. The young French Bulldog was running in his new backyard for the first time when he made a beeline towards the pool. Not knowing how to swim, Brutus began to sink to the bottom. The Rock immediately jumped in, fully clothed, and pulled the pup to safety. But this month it was another backyard hazard that ultimately took Brutus' life. The Rock has been committed to sharing his tragic story.

Earlier this week Brutus was outside playing with his brother, Hobbs, another French Bulldog, when Brutus ate a mushroom. It happened to be poisonous and within hours the toxins were destroying his liver and immune system. On Monday The Rock was forced to take Brutus off life support. Hoping to prevent this from happening to other families, The Rock took to Instagram with a warning. Alongside a photo of Brutus, he said, “I encourage all of you out there to be mindful of mushrooms in your yards, parks or anywhere outside your dogs play. What looks innocent, can be deadly to your lil’ family members.” The message was capped with the hashtag #WishICouldveSavedYouOneMoreTime.

The Rock's message is an important reminder to check the plants that are in your backyard and any other outdoor spaces your dogs play in. In my yard, mushrooms will often pop up overnight. The ASPCA has a searchable database of plants toxic to pets, with photos, if you find anything you don't recognize. 

Do You Have a Pup Francis?
Dressing dogs like the pope

A pope who shares his name with the patron saint of animals, St. Francis de Assisi, is unlikely to be offended by seeing dogs in papal wear. In fact, we can dare to hope that he would find it flattering to see dogs dressed in such costumes. Pope Francis, after all, has thrilled many members of the animal community by discussing an afterlife for many species, including dogs. He has also addressed the importance of kindness towards all living beings. Naturally, many people are dressing their dogs like him as a way to celebrate and honor the pontiff.

With hashtags such as #popedogs, #holyhound and #alldogsgotoheaven, social media has seen many dogs dressed as the pontiff. While claims that pictures of dogs dressed as the pope are taking over the internet are a bit overstated, there’s no denying that dogs in pope costumes are gaining in popularity. There have even been a number of names for these dogs such as Pup Francis, Puppy Pontiff and Pope John Paw II.

What do you think of the trend to dress dogs like Pope Francis?

Dogs on Prozac
The craze to medicate is becoming all too common

I foster for Col. Potter Cairn Rescue; Tadd, my most recent charge, came to me on high dosages of Prozac and Xanax. In his previous home, he had been confined to a crate 12 hours a day because his owners had no time for him. He had chewed the hair off his feet, and his teeth were worn down from biting the crate; his mouth was tied shut so he would not chew his crate during transport. He was a pitiful sight.

Sadly, I found that this craze to medicate is becoming all too common. Some people do not have the time, or do not want to take the time, to properly exercise and interact with their dogs. They would rather give them a pill. Shame on them!

With our vet’s help, we gradually withdrew Tadd’s drugs; his “detox” took two-and-a-half weeks. I am happy to say that he recovered and became the one of the sweetest, most fun-loving little Cairns I have ever fostered. He’s now living the life he deserves in the Adirondacks. Dogs need exercise. Prozac and Xanax should be the last resort.

Dog Sledding and Pediatric Cancer Patients
Study uses adapted activity to improve physical and psychological health.

Pediatric cancer patients have so much of their childhood stolen from them, and attempts to protect them can sometimes do more harm in this area. Often caretakers with good intentions will shield these kids from physical activities. However, a new study has shown that some pediatric cancer patients can actually benefit from a little more adventure in their lives, on both a physical and psychological level. Given that the activity studied was dog sledding, and what we know about the positive effects of therapy dogs, I think that the pups may have had a lot to do with the outcome as well!

Researchers followed eleven children, aged 10 to 18 years old, on an expedition organized by Sourire à la Vie, a French non-profit that supports the use of adapted physical activity for young cancer patients. The kids received training and exercises in preparation for the excursion, then traveled with doctors and nurses to race dog sleds in Northern Canada. They also participated in the pups' care while they were there.

The study found that not only can most pediatric cancer patients participate in adapted physical activities, even during treatment, they showed an improvement in both physical and psychological health. Laurent Grélot, professor at Aix Marseille University, explained that the activity had many benefits. "It avoids cardiovascular and muscular deconditioning, can decrease treatment induced fatigue, and can help in maintaining social integration."

No doubt the canines had an impact on the result as well. "One of the main reasons why we chose dog sledding was to create a unique sportive experience based on change of scenery and building a strong relationship with animals," explains Frédéric Sotteau, founder of Sourire à la Vie.

As a next step, the researchers are planning to do a randomized trial to further evaluate the benefits of adapted physical activities for children with cancer. However, you don't need to look at the data to see the positive effects.

"Before my cancer diagnosis, I used to do a lot of sport, but then I lost self-confidence and my body was not able to cope with physical efforts," says Merwan, an 18-year-old patient. "This trip in Canada transformed me. I am in shape again, and now I know I am able to practice sport again."

This program seems like a wonderful way to combine physical activity with the healing properties of the human-canine bond!

Case to Protect ADA Rights
A little girl and her service dog vs a school board

The US Justice Department filed suit yesterday against a public school district in upstate New York for refusing to permit a student with disabilities to attend school with her service dog unless the family pays for a dog handler to accompany the pair.

The lawsuit alleges that the Gates-Chili Central School District in Monroe County, NY, violated Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which states that a public entity must permit the use of a service animal by an individual with a disability, except under specific exceptions.

The child at the center of this debate, Devyn Pereira, 8, was born with Angelman Syndrome, a rare disorder that results in developmental delays, seizures and autism. Her mother, Heather Pereira, a single mother of two, spent more than a year raising the $16,000 for Hannah, a 109-pound white Bouvier trained to perform numerous tasks for Devyn, including alerting school staff to oncoming seizures, preventing Devyn from wandering or running away, and providing support so she can walk independently. 

Pereira, has spent three years trying to convince school officials to allow her daughter’s one-on-one school aide to provide periodic assistance in handling Hannah—primarily, tethering the service dog and issuing limited verbal commands. The dog is trained to last the school day without food, water or bathroom walks.

The lawsuit requests the school district permit Devyn to act as the handler of her service dog, with assistance from school staff. It also seeks compensatory damages of about $25,000 for Pereira for the ongoing cost of the dog handler.  

Announcing the suit this week, Vanita Gupta, principal deputy assistant attorney general and head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said: “Honoring an individual’s choice to be accompanied by her service animal in all aspects of community life, including at school, promotes the ADA’s overarching goals of ensuring equal opportunity for, and full participation by, persons with disabilities.” In hearing the news of the department’s decision, Pereira responded, “knowing the United States of America is not only sympathizing with our situation, but willing to take this all way to the top to fix it is an amazing feeling.” And she added, “I have so many dreams for my little girl and with the DOJ’s help, they are all within our reach. It is so exciting to think we are blazing a trail for all those that follow with service dogs.”

For more information about this lawsuit, or the ADA, call the Justice Department’s toll-free ADA Information Line at 800.514.0301 or800.514.0383 (TDD) or access its ADA website at www.ada.gov.  Complaints of disability discrimination may be filed online at http://www.ada.gov/complaint/.




Juntos Humane Education
Juntos’s Cool Cats Summer Camp

I was thrilled to read Twig Mowatt’s “Creating Animal Ambassadors.” I am the president of Juntos, a nonprofit on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico.

The organization is committed to promoting humane treatment of all animals on the island by strengthening the human/animal bond through educational awareness and community outreach. We have succeeded in bringing a privately funded humane education teacher into the public school system.

It is comforting and affirming to know that there are other islands in the Caribbean who are committed to educating children in the humane treatment of animals as a way to bring lasting change and improvement for those animals.

To learn more about Juntos visit juntosvieques.org

“Do As I Do” Dog Training
Evidence that this technique has great promise

As the recently departed Yogi Berra famously said, “You can observe a lot just by watching.” Our dogs probably understand that as well as anyone can, because dogs are able to learn a new behavior by seeing a person demonstrate it. Imagine being able to teach your dog a new behavior by simply showing him the behavior and having him copy you! That fits in with many dog trainers’ goals of finding additional, better or easier ways to train our dogs.

Learning a new behavior by watching someone else perform it is a type of social learning, and for many years, people thought dogs were not capable of doing so. A natural tendency to assume that only humans are capable of various high-level processes partially explains that, but once various animals were tested, proof of social learning was undeniable. Chimpanzees were the first non-human animals tested and shown to be social learners, but dogs have been in the club for years now. Despite that, social learning has not been used extensively in dog training.

A training technique called “Do As I Do” is becoming increasingly popular, and may make social learning a more common part of dog training. This technique, which is described in detail in creator Claudia Fugazza’s book Do As I Do: Using Social Learning to Train Dogs, shows great promise as a new tool for helping our dogs learn. Dogs first learn to copy humans doing behaviors that they already know how to do when given the proper cue. An early step in the process is teaching dogs to copy a demonstrated known behavior when told, “Do It!” Once the dog has learned that “Do It” means to do what the person did, the dog can learn a new behavior with this technique. Later, a verbal or visual cue can be added so that the person does not always have to perform the behavior to let the dog know what to do.

Fugazza and Adam Miklósi (from Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary) recently published a study comparing the effectiveness of two training techniques. In “Social learning in dog training: The effectiveness of the Do as I do method compared to shaping/clicker training,” they report that the Do As I Do technique is more effective for quickly teaching dogs a behavior that involves interacting with an object than Shaping/Clicker training. They chose the behavior of opening a sliding door on a cabinet because it was a novel behavior for all dogs in the study. (All dogs in the study and their guardian-trainers were experienced with the training technique used by the pair in the experiment.) More Do As I Do dogs than Clicker/Shaping Dogs learned the behavior within 30 minutes, and they learned it faster on average, too. The experiment did not find a difference between the two training methods when teaching dogs a body movement—in this case to lift the front paws off the ground.

Dogs who learned with the Do As I Do method were better able to remember the behavior and perform it in response to a verbal cue 24 hours after the original training session. In addition, they were better able to generalize their learning by performing the behavior in a new context.

The authors conclude that this new method, which relies on social learning, is more effective than using a clicker to shape a new behavior, which relies on individual learning (in this case, operant conditioning.) The dogs who learned with the Do As I Do method certainly outperformed the dogs who learned without it, but the comparison is more complex than comparing social learning to individual learning. In the traditional view of social learning, individuals learn a new behavior by observing others and without direct reinforcement. In Do As I Do dog training, dogs do learn by observation, but they are also reinforced for correct responses, meaning that their learning also involves operant conditioning. In other words, these dogs are learning with the benefit of multiple techniques. There is compelling evidence that the use of the Do As I Do technique enhances learning in dogs, but it is not completely fair to say that it is better than using operant conditioning. I think it’s more accurate to say that social learning combined with operant conditioning is more effective than operant conditioning alone.

Either way, I am excited about the Do As I Do technique of training dogs and would encourage everyone to incorporate it into their training. It’s likely that we will look back in a few years and wonder why we didn’t use dogs’ social learning abilities sooner and more often in dog training. That doesn’t mean that Do As I Do dog training will replace other methods, because as Fugazza herself writes, “We should not limit ourselves to using one single training method. The major benefits accrue from the combined use of social learning with other techniques.”


(Editor's note, for demonstations and more on this topic go here.)

Free Microchipping, Swank, and Serious Play
dogs playing in the yard

I look forward to receiving each issue of The Bark, and especially enjoyed Winter 2014, with Hilary Swank and her rescue mission. I admire stars who use their influence to improve the lives of non-human animals, and I appreciate The Bark for its many excellent articles about canine rescue work.

I also wanted to especially thank you for the article “Serious Play” by Donna Jackel. The work that Aimee Sadler is doing with her organization, Dogs Playing for Life, is revolutionary, and could save so many innocent lives. I knew nothing of this work prior to reading the article and would like to see a reprint distributed to every shelter and rescue that works with dogs. This is one that needs to be spread around.

I also wanted to raise the issue of microchipping. As director of a nonprofit spay/neuter clinic that has recently added microchipping to its services, I was astounded to learn how many pitfalls stand in the way of the system working to get an animal home: from owners not registering the chips or failing to pay registration fees to vets and shelters not having universal scanners or failing to detect an implanted chip.

Most people do not realize that there are organizations that will register their pet’s chip for free. Our clinic ended up going with a nonprofit, Found Animals Registry, which will register any microchip for free. I really want to get the word out to people to get their pets’ microchips registered so that this potentially valuable tool actually does what it is supposed to do.

Who Can Give a Dog a Massage?

It may take more skill than a belly rub, but should massage only be allowed with veterinary supervision? California is the latest state to propose regulating the field of animal rehabilitation, and it could put many kinds of practitioners out of work.

With preventive health care booming, the state’s veterinary board wants to rein in non-veterinary businesses that cater to wellness, saying they “pose a grave danger” to pets and can increase costs for owners. The rule would mean only veterinarians, or physical therapists and registered vet techs, if supervised, could perform animal rehabilitation..

Opponents of the rule say the board has defined the field so broadly, it nets the use of electricity or biofeedback right along with exercise and simple massage used to soothe aching seniors, relax dogs that play sports, and socialize shelter pups.

“It is about defining everything as rehab, even swim facilities and pet certified fitness training,” says Linda Lyman, who attended a recent public hearing in Sacramento to air her concerns. Lyman says she has a PhD in physical education, has taken a canine medical massage course, and for seven years has operated Pawssage, a canine massage practice.

 “I go to agility trials every weekend and massage dogs before, between, and after they run. My goal is always to make sure my client’s dogs can hike, walk, and do things with their owners while and when they quit agility.”

As the board’s proposal would have it, Lyman is practicing veterinary medicine without a license. Aside from the hands-on, she makes suggestions that could get her in trouble under the new law. At her recommendation, three clients bought pools for their dogs, for example.

In many states, a background like Lyman’s isn’t needed. Anyone can provide animal massage, including evaluation, treatment, instruction, and consultation. That currently includes California, where only “musculoskeletal manipulation” by the layperson is forbid. Other states call for direct veterinary supervision of the work, or allow it with a vet’s referral. Some require certification, like the state of Washington, where a 300-hour training course in general animal massage, first aid and more is needed.

Whether body workers massage humans, which calls for state licensing but not doctor supervision, or pets, “the good ones survive and thrive and the rest fall by the wayside, certification or not,” Lyman says.

In a few cases, lawsuits have accused vet boards that restrict massage of stifling competition. In Maryland, providers of horse massage successfully challenged the state vet board, and a recent Arizona lawsuit argues that massage is not a veterinary service.

Another meeting will be held on October 20-21, when the board will discuss comments received so far, and possibly vote on the final rule.

Lyman sees more at stake than massage, or any one service, she says. “This is about a pet’s access to all practitioners who can help it maintain a healthy lifestyle.”

Not on the Hard Floor
Something soft and cozy, please!

Jack does not like to lie down on any hard surfaces. This dog will be with us all weekend, and since our entire downstairs is uncarpeted, it will be littered with sheepskins, towels and blankets. He likes the sheepskin he is on in the picture the most, but he will choose any soft option over a hard one.

I’ve sometimes heard people insist that dogs lie down on a hard floor because of the inconvenience of providing other options even if the dogs are clearly hesitant. Jack’s distaste for lying down on wood or tile floors is not a problem for me. He’s an exceptionally sweet, agreeable dog, and if he feels so strongly about this one thing, I can adjust. Many dogs share Jack’s distaste for lying down without at least a tiny cushioning layer, and I think that’s reasonable. It doesn’t mean that a dog is stubborn, difficult or spoiled, even though you may have heard that it does. There’s probably a good explanation why any particular dog avoids lying down on a bare floor.

Typically, dogs who want a place that’s soft and cozy are either really skinny, on the older side, have very short hair or are in some kind of pain. Basically, that means that lying down on a hard floor hurts them or makes them feel cold. People don’t like to lie down in a spot that causes a chill or pain, either. It makes sense that dogs would similarly resist.

If your dog hates lying on the hard floor, by all means provide a more comfortable spot to rest. If your dog suddenly develops an obvious inclination to seek out the softest place available before lying down and actively resists lying down on a hard surface, it’s a good idea to try to find out why. A good first step is telling your veterinarian about this change and having your dog examined for potential physical explanations.

Does your dog avoid lying down on hard floors?

A Pope for All of Us
and all species too

As proclaimed in the New York Times, Pope Francis is definitely a pope for all species. Like we noted in the past the pope has not only shown compassion and concern for animals but has suggested, underscoring what a previous pontiff had declared, that there is a place in heavens for animals. I’m sure we can all agree that what would a heaven be without dogs. But to see the joyfulness that this spiritual leader greats, acknowledges and blesses dogs is its own blessing. His visit to the White House would of course include a meet and greet with the ebullient pair Bo and Sunny, canine members of the Obama family.

It’s also important to note that in Laudato Si’, his encyclical on the environment that he warned that, “We must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures. The Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism.” Certainly a strong position on animal right’s! Laudato Si’, translated in English is either as “Be Praised” or “Praised Be,” and is a quotation from a popular prayer of St. Francis of Assisi written in 1224 praising God for the creation of the different creatures and aspects of the Earth. “Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures, especially through my lord Brother Sun,” St. Francis wrote in the third stanza of the prayer. He then continued, expressing praise to God for “Sister Moon,” “Brothers Wind and Air,” “Sister Water,” “Brother Fire,” and “Mother Earth.”

As noted by Nicholas Kristof:

Charles Camosy, a Catholic theologian at Fordham University who has written a book about the theology of animal protection, says that Francis’ carefully reviewed encyclical this year constitutes the first authoritative Catholic statements that animals enjoy eternal life.

It was so fitting that this pope took the name of the patron saint of animals, St. Francis of Assisi, and has followed him with humane and enlightened positions. It is wonderful to see him visit our country, spreading his inspiring messages wherever he goes.




Dogs' Fur Dyed in Theft
Microchip proved useful in the case of a stolen Seattle pup.

I'm a huge advocate for microchips because collars and identification tags can easily fall off, but they can also be useful in other situations. Recently a family in Seattle had to rely on a microchip to prove ownership when their pup was stolen and disguised with hair dye.

Earlier this month, Robert Lucier went to the supermarket and tied his Cairn Terrier, Waffle's leash to a post while he ran inside. When he returned, the pup was gone. Over the next four days, Robert received multiple calls from people who saw Waffles with a homeless woman, and one who saw a woman washing paint out of a dog's coat in a public restroom. Using the information, Robert rode his bike downtown, called police, and located the woman with Waffles. Robert almost didn't reorganize his beloved pet as Waffle's fur had been dyed black.

For a second Robert thought that he may be harassing the wrong person, but the smell of chemical dye erased any doubt in his mind. The woman argued with him about whose dog it was, but a veterinarian scanned Waffles' microchip to confirm the truth. Thankfully Waffles is now back home with his family. While this story shows how valuable a microchip can be, it's also an important lesson to not leave your dog tied outside!

The Case of the Missing Toothpaste
Plus brushing tips


We’ve been hearing from a few readers about why one of the most popular dog toothpastes on the market, seems to have vanished off the shelves, they were hoping we could dig into the cause. Its popularity is such that there have even been reports about one tube of it being offered on e-Bay for $75! We did a quick search at our local stores, thinking perhaps this scarcity was limited to other parts of the country, but our sources were right, there is no C.E.T. to be found anywhere. With ingredients that include glucose oxidase, lactoperoxidase, sorbitol, dicalcium phosphate anhydrous, hydrated silica, glycerine, poultry digest, dextrose, xanthan gum, titanium dioxide, sodium benzoate, potassium thiocyanate, it would be hard to think there could be shortages in any of those substances.

We just got off the phone with a spokesperson from Virbac, the maker of this elusive C.E.T Enzymatic Dog & Cat toothpaste, and he said that this product, along with a few of their others, were undergoing a quality production upgrade, and they started to make it again back in July but it takes a long time to get back into the distribution chain, and will be back on the market within 60 days!

Hopefully for those of you who ran out of C.E.T. you will be using an alternative until that time. But here are some facts to underscore how important tooth brushing can be:

  • Roughly 80 percent of all dogs over the age of three have some degree of dental disease.
  • Dogs’ teeth are awash in bacteria-rich plaque, which, when combined with minerals in the saliva, hardens into tartar (or calculus) that traps even more bacteria. Left unattended, your dog’s gums can become inflamed, resulting in gingivitis and ultimately, periodontal disease.
  • Oral bacteria can enter your dog’s bloodstream and cause damage to her heart, liver, kidneys and lungs.
  • Most plaque buildup occurs on the cheek side of your dog’s teeth, so when brushing, concentrate your efforts there. And you need to be quick—most dogs have limited patience with this kind of personal-hygiene exercise.
  • Contrary to what some dog food manufacturers promote, dry kibble is not better for the teeth; it does not “chip off tartar” and can actually contribute to tartar production by sticking to the teeth.
  • When used with supervision, raw bones, special chews, dental bones and toys, and other healthy products that work by scraping off plaque (but not tartar) can also help, although they shouldn’t be relied upon to do the whole job.

If you are new to brushing your dog’s teeth, keep in mind that with patience and a few positive techniques, you can help your dog be more cooperative. Or as Barbara Royal, DVM  told us “If your pet won’t tolerate a toothbrush, wrap a piece of gauze around your finger, then dip it in some flavored dog toothpaste (not human toothpaste—it can be toxic!) or a paste of baking soda and water.” Also check out The American Veterinary Medical Association has an excellent instructional video, see below.

Helping Fearful Dogs Handle Visitors
One simple tip to try

Trouble when visitors arrive is a common concern of many guardians. I get calls every week because people want help with dogs who react badly to anyone who comes to the house. More often than not, these dogs are afraid, but people rarely call to say that they have a fearful dog. They call to tell me that their dogs are barking and lunging, growling, or even biting visitors.

Comprehensive programs for improving a dog’s emotional state and behavior when visitors arrive must be individually designed for each dog and each situation. Often, the use of treats or favorite toys is involved so that the dog learns that all visitors have something fun and wonderful to offer. When a dog has grasped the strong connection between visitors and good things, happiness can replace fear as the dog’s response to people coming to the house. That’s a very brief and simplified description of what can often be a long and detailed process. Sometimes a little trick can help make visits easier for dogs so that they are in a better state for learning to like having company.

The little trick is to make sure that the dog does not see the visitors enter but only first notices them when they are already settled in the house. It’s a lot easier for a dog to see people already seated in the living room or around the table than it is for the dog to see people arrive and enter. Having visitors show up at the door is a very intense situation for a fearful dog. The sight, smell and sound of someone other than a family member appearing at the door and entering the home is a big deal to a dog who is not comfortable with new people. It sets off all of their alarm bells (“Intruder! Code red, code red!”) I’m all for avoiding this challenging situation whenever possible.<

To avoid that situation takes some planning ahead. Hopefully, you can tell your visitors to call or text right before coming in so that you can make sure you have the situation set up to maximize your chances of success. Before opening the door for your visitors, temporarily put your dog in a place out of sight of the entry such as in a crate in another room, in the back yard or in the laundry room. I’ve even had clients briefly put their dog in the car in the garage if that is where the dog is most comfortable when not with his guardians.

Once the dog is where you want him, let your visitors in, have them sit down and give them whatever treats or toys your dog loves best. Then, bring your dog into the room where the visitors are and have them give the dog those goodies. Depending on the details of the dog’s issues, you may need to have the dog on a leash or behind a gate during this interaction.

Some dogs will be fine with people once they have met them in this way, and if that’s the case, then this may be all you have to do during this particular visit. Other dogs may react as usual if anyone stands up or makes any sudden movements, and may be better off kept separate from the visitors after the initial exposure. Such dogs can benefit from additional work, but this technique can still be a good first step. No single method suits every dog, and extra caution is always advisable with dogs who have bitten. Still, it is easier for almost all fearful dogs to meet visitors who are already in the house sitting down than it is to meet people as they enter the house.

Have you tried this technique with any dogs who react to visitors because they are afraid of them?

Karen B. London

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