Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Have Blanket, Will Travel
Security blankets have great value—just ask Linus Van Pelt of Peanuts cartoon fame. His blanket gave him enough confidence to handle whatever life threw at him, especially out in the great big, wide world.
A blanket can help your dog handle adventures away from home, too. If your dog learns that a certain blanket is his, and often lies on it no matter where it is placed around the house, he will likely be more comfortable away from home if the blanket goes, too. It provides many of the advantages of bringing his crate with you wherever you go, but it is more portable. Blankets are lighter, easier to carry and can be taken lots of places that a crate can’t go.
If your dog is used to a particular blanket, it is so much easier to help him feel comfortable in a new place. You can bring it with you to friends’ houses, when you travel, to the park, to the vet, or anywhere else your dog goes. Just place it on the floor where you want your dog to lie down, and it will let your dog know that he has a spot to call his own. That helps your dog relax, and also indicates to him where you want him to go.
Blankets are commonly used in this way with service dogs. Service dogs are regularly asked to lie down and stay in a particular spot, both at home and when out and about. Blankets provide an easy way to show a service dog where you want him to lie down, whether it’s at a restaurant, in an airplane, in a meeting at work, at a conference, on a bus or at any social gathering.Blanket Training Tips
The first step in training a dog to happily lie down and stay on a blanket no matter where you put it is to teach the dog to associate good things with the blanket. Put the blanket on the floor at home, put treats on it and encourage your dog to go get the treats. (Most dogs will need no encouragement.) Move the blanket around to new places in your house and repeat. Once your dog happily goes to the blanket, start asking him to sit and then to lie down on it, frequently moving it to new places in your home and giving lots of treats when he does what you want him to do.
The next step is to ask your dog to do some stays on the blanket, and reinforce that behavior with treats. Again, make sure to move the blanket around to various places so that your dog is learning to stay on the blanket rather than on one particular spot on the floor.
Once your dog is comfortable doing stays on the blanket at home and has learned that his blanket is the place to be, work on teaching him to do the same behavior when he is elsewhere. In a new place, start by tossing treats on the blanket, then ask for sits and downs, and finally stays. Some dogs transfer their knowledge of staying on the blanket easily to new places. Other dogs may seem to be starting over in the learning process when you are away from home.
Always help your dog to succeed by not asking him to do more than he is capable of doing. It may seem odd that your dog sees the blanket at home and immediately heads over to it, but becomes utterly confused about what you want him to do with the blanket at someone else’s house. Some dogs are nervous in a new environment, which affects their performance, and other dogs simply don’t understand that the task is the same even though it’s in a new place. It’s common for dogs to progress through the steps of the process faster in each new place than they did at home when they were first learning about the blanket, no matter how confused they seem the first time you take the blanket on the road.
Once a dogs has been to multiple places and happily goes to lie down and stay on his blanket, it’s typical to be able to put that blanket anywhere and have him feel comfortable. Most dogs who are used to lying down on a particular blanket will immediately feel quite relaxed on it no matter where you are and where on the floor you place it. That’s really the great value of a security blanket for dogs—being able to help your dog feel at home anywhere.
News: Guest Posts
The plants and flowers we keep in our homes and gardens are lovely to look at. But dozens of common house and garden plants are actually deadly to dogs.
A study found that one in 12 pets has eaten poisonous plants, with smaller dogs and puppies being particularly at risk due to their size.
It’s no secret that foxgloves are poisonous, but did you know that daffodils can cause vomiting, diarrhea and even heart problems if consumed by your dog?
Use this infographic to correctly identify which plants are poisonous to your dog so you know which ones to keep your dog away from when out on a walk or in the garden. If you have family or friends this could help, please feel free to email them or pass it on by using the share buttons.
After a 10-year separation, canine siblings meet
We wondered what a 10-year reunion would look like for dogs, littermates who had been separated as pups. We adopted Lola when she was about 10-months old. She and her brother were found wandering the country roads of Yuba county in northern California. The woman, Julie Duarte, who rescued the pair specializes in rescuing Pointer-type dogs, and she got them from the local sheriff who had told her that they had been spotted for some time, out alone, fending, somehow, by themselves. Seeing Lola’s photo on Petfinder made us think she was a scruffy mutt, we found out later that she was actually a German Wirehaired Pointer. She came to live with us in Berkeley and became the lead Bark office dog. Her brother, Jack, was adopted a few weeks later by a couple living in Utah. We stayed in touch via Julie, sharing the occasional photo and update. We had hoped to make plans to rendezvous when they came out west during their travels but never managed to do so until this year.
When I learned that Jack’s family would be traveling to southern Oregon in June for a mountain biking holiday, I was determined to meet up with them and told Lola she was going to a family reunion. We didn’t know what to expect when Lola and Jack saw each other again after a decade apart. Would they recognize each other? Would they jump for joy the way BFF dogs do at the dog park? Research suggests that dogs have the power of memory, and stories of canine recognition after years of separation are common.
To reach our destination, the small town of Oakridge, Oregon, we drove north 7.5 hours, split up with an overnight stay in Klamath Falls. We wanted to be fresh for our meeting. We had considered meeting up at Crater Lake, but were reminded that National Parks do not allow dogs off-leash—not a good option. So we decided to connect at the small off-road campsite that Jack’s family had been staying … secluded, no traffic, next to one of the many streams that feed into the Willamette River. Familiar territory for Jack. When the moment arrived, we let the two dogs out of the cars, off leash and stood back. Sniff, sniff … a few turns … but no hoopla. No outward signs of recognition, jumping for joy or howls. Lola didn’t express anything out of the regular interaction with any dog, which is one or two sniffs, and ready to move on. I’m not an expert and there may have been clues that escaped me. Erin and Ryan (Jack’s people) think that Jack showed more than the usual interest, something they interpreted as recognition. In fairness to Lola, she’s a little shy and reserved in nature under normal circumstances, and on this trip was exposed to new and changing surroundings, her normal routine completely disrupted. A show of celebration may have been too much to hope for.
None of us expressed any disappointment with the subdued greeting, and Erin and Ryan’s second dog Skye was let out to join the party. Skye is a very sociable senior GWP–Lab mix, Jack’s partner in the field. All the dogs were revved up and we immediately started on an hour-long hike down the narrow trail surrounded by forest. The dogs took their place in the procession—Jack in front, doing what GWPs do … scouting ahead and turning back regularly to check on the group. Lola followed closely behind Jack, the two moving in tandem. We started to recognize something that resembled teamwork, one dog moving further ahead, then returning to check in with the humans, then the other dog taking the lead position, then returning for a visual check. When we stopped at the stream, Lola and Jack “coursed” around (i.e. hunted) in a small meadow of grasses, rummaging through old logs, smelling holes, leaping into the air (as GWPs do) towards furtive movement in the foliage. That is typically Lola’s favorite activity and one that she usually is loathe to share with any other dog—we believe, she thinks that other dogs are “intruding” on her intense concentration.
But with Jack, her reaction was much more inviting to her bro, she seemed to relish having a partner with a similar skillset. Erin, Ryan and I all agreed this was very typical behavior for both dogs but now they were working in tandem. Skye did not join their expeditions, instead hung out with us. We saw this as a clear sign of a bond that was either familial or common to their breed. And since these two dogs had been pups “on the run” early on in life, and learned that pairing together was best for them, it was great to see them pick up that closeness again as seniors. Either way, real or imagined, this provided us the satisfaction we were seeking—littermates do maintain a connection over time and space.
After our walk, we all sat campside and shared stories of the dogs, comparing their similarities and differences—at 70 lbs. Jack was much larger than Lola, who is a petite 42 lbs. (and small for their breed). Jack has a lot more fur and his coat is really curly, Lola is fearful of loud noises, Jack is not and he is definitely more rambunctious … more of a … boy while Lola tends to be demur! They shared many of the same gestures, and we relished the kind of behavioral traits and anecdotes that only “family” would care about.
We talked of plans for our next gathering, perhaps in Utah or out west next summer. It was thrilling to share time with Jack and his family, to renew the bond between littermates and to find kinship with his people. We’re fortunate to have that connection that Julie, their rescuer made possible. We even recounted all the hoops that she, as a very picky matchmaker, made us both go through in order to adopt our dogs. Glad that we both passed the test. I am curious to know about other canine family reunions, and how dogs express their familial bonds.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Visible ribs can lead to criticism
Many dogs struggle with their weight, and we have all become accustomed to seeing dogs whose health is negatively affected by extra pounds. The standard of what is normal for dogs has become skewed toward dogs who would have seemed quite heavy a generation ago. Perhaps because overweight dogs are so very common, skinny dogs are not always favorably regarded. I am dog sitting for an exceptionally lean dog this week, and I’m fascinated by how many people comment on her size.
Saylor is around 22 inches tall at the shoulder and weighs about 45 pounds. She is some kind of mix of who-knows-how-many breeds, but I suspect she has some Whippet (or other sight hound) in her, and if she were bigger, I would swear she is part Great Dane. A naturally lean dog, Saylor eats a couple of cups of food a day, along with an assortment of treats. Even if she eats more on occasion, there is no weight gain. She is in perfect health, maintains her weight and her ribs show. That is apparently her natural state.
Nonetheless, I have been asked, “Do you feed her enough?” multiple times and been told on several occasions that she is too thin. For the record, her vet disagrees, and considers her to be just fine. It irritates me to have strangers give medical advice that I neither want nor have asked for. (Perhaps it grates on me more than it does other people, because I have regularly been asked these same questions about my naturally lean children over the years. I usually reply that I want them to join the American obesity epidemic, but they just haven’t been successful at it yet.) With Saylor, I just reply that her veterinarian thinks she is perfectly healthy at this weight.
If you have a healthy, lean, ribs-showing skinny dog, do you receive comments about it that you wish people wouldn’t offer?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Counting the ways dogs have made people late.
Dogs add a lot to our lives, but they may take some of it back each morning when we are trying to get ready to go to work. Often, dogs make it even harder than it would otherwise be to get to work on time. There are oh-so-many ways that dogs regularly interfere with their guardian’s good intentions to be punctual. Do any of the following scenarios seem familiar to you?
He messed with your sleep by hogging the bed and the covers or by bumping into you as he was dreaming. You end up oversleeping.
You take him out for his walk and he just won’t poop, causing you to make the walk longer than your schedule can accommodate.
He won’t take his medication, and you absolutely have to get it in him before your leave.
You have trouble getting your dog into the crate. The resistance means that this is more time consuming than you had figured it would be. (Corollary—the dog is hiding to avoid being put in the crate.)
Your walk with your dog was so enjoyable that you took too much extra time. You enjoyed the early morning peacefulness, but now you’re going to have to rush to stay on schedule.
Your dog is in the yard but instead of coming in when you call, he starts a not-so-fun game of catch-me-if-you-can. By the time he decided to come in, it’s too late for you to make it to work on time.
You had to clean up a huge mess that he made. The two most likely messes are a potty accident or the vestiges of a trash party. Few of us ever add in a safety factor to our morning routine to account for these kinds of events.
Your dog was on the receiving end of a skunk’s spraying, and in order to save your house, you have to clean him up before you can leave him there. (Also, he will likely be a lot happier when he has been de-skunked.)
Along the same lines, he found a way to collect every burr on the property in his fur, and you have to remove them before leaving the house for his comfort and safety as well as to prevent a huge mess in your house.
You just don’t want to leave him for the day, and who can blame you? You prolong the inevitable to spend a bit more time together, and then you end up being late for work.
No matter how much we love our dogs, it can be frustrating when they make it extra challenging to get to work on time. How has your dog made you late for work?
News: Guest Posts
The transformation of Katie.
As a rescue, we see a lot of dogs who lack social skills with other dogs. Some of them show what appears to be aggression, and can be dangerous to other dogs, when they aren’t truly aggressive by nature. Katie was such a dog. Katie is a black Great Dane, very tall, very underweight and a stray at a rural shelter. She was friendly with people, but wildly aggressive to other dogs. Even the sight of another dog had her barking, lunging and snarling as she tried to attack. If unable to bite the object of her fury, she would spin and bite herself. Truly a disturbing sight. If fact, Katie had been adopted out to a person who promised to keep her separate from other dogs but it didn’t work out because she got so wild at just the sight of another dog. She was returned to the shelter.
Katie was scheduled for euthanasia but the shelter reached out to see if any rescues wanted to try to try and take her first. I was so torn. Katie reminded me of my own Dane girl Tyra, who was once a snappy shelter stray scheduled for euthanasia, but turned into the best girl ever with a lot of time. But this dog was ten hours away and I couldn’t even assess her before committing to taking her. I was told that she had never harmed an animal to their knowledge but still, what if I got her and she couldn’t be rehabbed? Not all aggressive dogs can be made safe and there is a lack of good homes for dogs as it is. I lost sleep over a dog I had never met, and tossed and turned trying to decide.
Finally Katie was down to her last day. She would be euthanized the next day if not pulled then. I knew if I pulled her and she couldn’t be safe I would have to put her down anyway. But I realized that it was better to have the chance of a wonderful life than no chance at all. In Katie’s final hours, I found a transport willing to get her to me and I picked her up in a store parking lot off the freeway at midnight. In the dark parking lot she was certainly people friendly, and she jumped willingly into my car for the final journey home. So far, so good, I thought.
I had put the dogs to bed in another room where Katie wouldn’t be able to see them. I fed her, tucked her into a colossal crate in our room and we slept without incident.
The next morning, I took all the other dogs out for a run, then back in the house where Katie couldn’t see them before taking her out. I let her explore the yard and fenced field, smelling where the other dogs had been. At one point, she saw some foster puppies in a run at a great distance and began barking, growling and lunging. There were two fences between her and them but she was determined to get at them. It wasn’t the happy, excited bark of a dog wanting to play, it was serious.
I leashed her and pulled her away and placed her in a spacious run where she couldn’t see the puppies. I then let my sweet, gentle, Doberman, Breeze, into the adjoining field. Breeze is wonderful with dogs, very forgiving and gentle and with beautiful social skills. Katie immediately began barking, lunging and snarling at Breeze and trying to get to her. When she couldn’t reach the object of her aggression, she began spinning and trying to bite herself. I leashed her, placed a basket muzzle on her and walked her into the yard where Breeze was. Katie was incredibly powerful, nearly jerking me off my feet in her single-minded attempt to get to Breeze. Wise Breeze ignored her completely as I walked her out into our fenced field.
We kept moving while Katie continuing her lunging, stiff body and guttural roar and with Breeze never acknowledging her. We continued walking, with Breeze off leash and walking nearby. It was obvious that Katie was completely clueless in how to greet another dog and likely had never had any kind of positive experiences with dogs. At one point, I allowed Katie enough of the long line to approach Breeze. Katie was still muzzled and she was shaking with stress and excitement. She made another lunge and attempt to bite through the muzzle which I checked with the long line and told her no. After another ten minutes or so, Katie approached Breeze’s rear and made a cautious sniff which I praised repeatedly.
The morning progressed with Katie meeting all the other dogs in the same manner and then I put her in her crate out of sight of the others to let her relax and decompress. We had several more short sessions throughout the day with Katie making improvement each time.
The following day was similar, with Katie muzzled and on a long line while the other dogs romped and played around her. At one point, she lunged for little pitty mix Widgie who had enough of the obnoxious stranger and came back up in her face with a roar. I redirected Katie to some toys and continued our walk.
After the first two days, Katie began making incredible progress. We removed the muzzle and allowed her more space on the long line. She began learning more appropriate interactions and we celebrated every butt sniff and praised every positive interaction.
For a while she still became overstimulated by every fast movement or noise by the other dogs and kind of had it out for Widgie. But with a great deal of work, and schooling from the pack she does great. She meets new dogs successfully almost every day and they all play off leash together both inside the house and out. We don’t leave her unsupervised if we leave home but she’s made incredible progress. She also does great on walks with us praising and redirecting at the sight of another dog. She eventually progressed to doing great at the off leash dog beach.
Had Katie been truly aggressive, she would never have been able to progress to this point. She’s a beautiful example of how a dog with a lack of social skills may just need some time in finishing school rather than euthanasia. Katie was adopted after more than a month in foster care and her new family adores about her. She’s affectionate and fun and has a bright future.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
When people don’t recognize evasive actions.
Out on a walk today with a sweet dog who is a bit fearful, I saw a man with two rambunctious, though also sweet, dogs headed our way. Knowing that the dog with me would be stressed by (and possibly react to) those dogs, I crossed the street. No big deal. Crossing the street while walking dogs to avoid any number of possible triggers—runners, bikers, skateboarders, scary lawn art, plastic window coverings flapping in the wind, children riding in red wagons, other dogs—is second nature to me after two decades of working with dogs with behavioral issues. Most people with dogs realize what I am doing, we pass by one another in peace, and that’s the end of it.
Today, we did not pass by one another in peace, and that was not the end of it. The man crossed the street, as I had, so we were now on the same side. That’s happened before, because occasionally when I am trying to get out of someone’s path, I end up going right where that person was headed. So, I did the obvious thing and crossed back over the side where I had come from, but then he did that, too. At this point, I didn’t know whether to feel annoyed (Is he so unaware that he doesn’t realize I’m trying to avoid his dogs?) or scared (I clearly want to get away, so why doesn’t he want me to get away?)
Here’s how our conversation went, starting with me.
“My dog won’t act well if our dogs greet. I’m trying to give her some space.”
“Oh, don’t worry! My dogs are friendly and love every dog!”
“I’m not worried about your dog. I’m concerned about mine, She’s shy!”
“Oh, they’ll be find! She probably just needs to socialize.”
“No, she needs more distance. I’m going to keep moving away. Please stop following me.”
And then we ran.
Thankfully, the guy with the dogs did not follow us, and we were happy to run for several blocks until he was no longer in sight.
The entire exchange was irritating. I’m trying to increase the distance between the dog with me and other dogs, and I even said so in very direct terms. Why must people insist on trying to close the space? I realize that some people have had the luxury of never knowing a dog who needs some space or tends to react to many aspects of the world, but that is no excuse for ignoring a clear request. I could not have stated my intentions or the needs of the dog any more plainly.
Have you had an issue with someone who refused to give you and your dog the space you wanted and needed?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The challenges of leaving your dog with someone else
It’s hard for almost everybody to leave a dog behind for travel, whether it is business related or purely recreational. We miss our dogs when we go, even if we are headed off on a grand adventure. Beyond the emotional strain of taking off while our best friend stays behind, there are many roadblocks to feeling comfortable about it. No matter how caring the person is who is taking care of your dog, there is often at least one concern about what the people will (or won’t) do.Here are some common sources of uneasiness.
They will let dogs develop bad habits. It’s common to worry that other people will let them develop bad habits. Perhaps you do not tolerate begging, but you know that the people watching your dog will offer him a tidbit or two from the dinner table. Even though this will not likely cause immediate harm to your dog, you know that you will have to work extra hard to teach your dog that begging is still not going to work in your house, even if the dog sitter gave in to it. The same goes for allowing your dog up on the furniture. It’s a hassle if other people allow your dog to sleep on the bed or rest on the couch and then they try to do this when you are home. Even if your dogs have been forbidden to get on the furniture for years, a few days with a dog sitter can undo a lot of your efforts. (Confession: I have done this as the dog sitter—let a dog up on the furniture at my house when he isn’t allowed to do it at home. What can I say? I was weak and gave in to temptation. I fessed up to the guardian, who was a sport about it.)
They won’t be giving enough. Will they give my dog enough love? Will they give my dog enough exercise? Will they give my dog enough attention? It’s hard for many people to imagine that another person can do enough for their dog. It’s hard to leave your dog for any reason, but especially so if you have doubts that someone else will care enough about them to make sure that they are happy, whether that means lots of time playing fetch, having a variety of things to chew on or going outside enough to let them burn off some energy.
They won’t manage potential mischief by removing temptation. A lot of people are completely used to making sure the trash can is covered, out of sight, or otherwise dog-proofed. Likewise, it becomes second nature for many guardians to keep the counters clear of food. If the people watching a dog are not accustomed to these basic habits, there is risk of both trash parties and counter surfing incidents. It’s especially important to make sure that the dog can’t get access to things that are certainly dangerous such as medicines or household cleaning products. Many people are used to managing these situations, but know that their friends who take care of the dog are not.
They won’t be cautious enough about bolting out the door. Perhaps the most serious concern for many guardians when others people watch their dogs is making sure that the dog does not run out the door. This is an extremely important issue because a dog who gets out is a dog who may be in danger. The scariest risk in many areas is that the dog will get hit by a car, but lost dogs or dogs who are taken in as a pet by someone else are often dogs who escaped a house. Many guardians are used to minding the door to keep a dog who likes to make a break for it safely inside. However, sometimes dog sitters are not as vigilant about it, especially if they are not used to dogs who try to sneak out the door.
What’s your biggest worry when other people take care of your dog?
News: Guest Posts
Dog's name and age: Floyd III, 1 year
Floyd III was spotted in the middle of a storm floating on a piece of wood during the flood. The two men who found him began searching for other puppies or the mother in the waters. After a few minutes of searching, and at the risk of their own lives, they found a dog house submerged underwater. Unfortunately, the dog house had been pinned down by a fallen tree with the mother and her six puppies inside. Floyd was the only survivor. Thankfully, Floyd was rescued and was adopted into a loving home.
Floyd's human decided to name him Floyd III as a tribute to the previous two dogs that he shared his life with. Although they are expecting their first human child this month, Floyd III will be always our eldest son.
Good Dog: Studies & Research
A new approach allows further study
The influence of genes on personality and behavior is of great interest to people who love dogs as well as to scientists studying the genetics of animal behavior. Since dogs’ personalities play a major role in their ability to function as our companions as well as to carry out a variety of tasks as working dogs, it’s important to understand the contribution of genetics on behavior. It is well established that genetics plays a large role, as evidenced by behavioral differences between breeds. Even substantial differences in behavior within breeds can be accounted for by genetic variation.
One of the challenges to studying behavioral genetics is that large sample sizes are required because there are so many factors that influence behavior (e.g. early environment, training methods, various lifestyle factors). To achieve adequately large sample sizes in research is both expensive and time consuming, sometimes prohibitively so. A recent study called “Genetic Characterization of Dog Personality Traits” took a creative approach to meet this challenge.
The scientists were interested in genetic contributions to personality, defined as “individual consistency in behavioral responsiveness to stimuli and situations”. Researchers took advantage of the substantial knowledge people have about their own dogs’ personalities to explore genetic contributions to personality traits. Their work shows that it is possible to detect genetic variation in dog personality traits by using questionnaires to collect large quantities of useful data.
In this recent study, researchers used the C-BARQ (Canine Behavioral Assessment Research and Questionnaire) as well as a separate questionnaire about demographics to study 1975 UK Kennel Club-registered Labrador Retrievers. The C-BARQ allowed each dog to be scored for the following personality traits—Agitated When Ignored, Attention-Seeking, Barking Tendency, Excitability, Fetching, Fear of Humans and Objects, Fear of Noises, Non-Owner Directed Aggression, Owner-Directed Aggression, Separation Anxiety, Trainability and Unusual Behavior.
The additional questionnaire collected data about the dog’s age, coat color, sex, neuter status, housing, health status, exercise, daily exercise and the role of the dog. (The various roles were gun dog, show dog and pet dog.) To gather genetic information, the study took advantage of the dogs’ pedigrees, which involved 29 generations and 28,943 dogs. Further genetic data on the dogs were obtained as part of a different study using standard genomic methods and genetic markers, with 885 dogs from that study also participating in the C-BARQ portion of the research. In the analysis, the researchers estimated heritability of personality traits based on both the pedigree and on the genomic data.
The researchers found that fetching has a higher heritability rating than any other personality trait. Interestingly, some previous studies have lumped trainability with fetching ability, which results in lower heritability scores for both of them. This study also revealed a considerable genetic component to the fear of noises. Aggression directed towards owners showed no genetic component at all, while aggression towards strangers had a moderate genetic component.
Many behavioral traits are polygenic (influenced by a large number of genes, with each one often having a small effect) and also have significant environmental influences, which means that it is difficult to determine genomic associations. Estimates of heritability are likely to increase with technological advances in genetic work.
The importance of this study is that it shows that genetic variance can be detected and studied with the use of questionnaires filled out by owners. It also reveals that grouping responses into behavioral factors may make it harder to detect the genetic influence on various traits.
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