life with dogs
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
She was taught to trade money for food
Dogs want food treats so much that they will generally do whatever it takes to get us to hand them over. Different dogs learn different strategies to accomplish this same goal. Some dogs learn to sit, other dogs figure out that making their cutest wide-eyed face works best and there are dogs who have been taught that begging at the table is effective.
One dog named Holly learned that the best way to get treats is to pay for them. As a puppy, she loved to take things from bags or purses in the house, and that included dollar bills. Rather than chase her around or try to wrestle her new treasures away from her, her guardians wisely opted to make trades. Holly would surrender the money to receive a treat. It wasn’t hard for her to figure out that if she had money, she could use it to “buy” treats. In dog training parlance, she had been reinforced (with treats) for having money in her mouth and letting her guardians take it away, so she began to do it more often.
In fact, she learned to search for money so that she could trade it for treats. Her guardians can tell her to go get a dollar if she wants a treat, and Holly will go find one. This family finds it amusing and allows her to have a stash of cash that she can use to “buy” treats. When she runs out, they replenish her supply. (She will often bring a dollar without being asked and put it on one of their laps to let them know she wants to exchange it for a treat.)
When it comes to getting treats, dogs do what works for them. As trainers and guardians, we can use that to our advantage by making a behavior that we like be one that works for them. So, if you want your dog to drop things, make that a strategy that will result in treats for them.
It is possible for this to go awry if what your dog learns to drop for treats is something you don’t want him to have in the first place such as your phone or your glasses case. It’s more fun (and less irksome) if you can teach your dog to drop things you want him to bring to you, such as the newspaper or your slippers. If there is something your dog is always taking that you would prefer not be in his mouth, make it inaccessible while you encourage him to take something else instead. Once he has established a new habit of bringing you the “right” objects, he will be more likely to leave those other things alone.
Has your dog learned that certain objects can be traded for treats?
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
It’s easier to give medicine to them than to cats
I’m quite fond of cats, though dogs top my list of true loves. I recently had a reminder about one quality I prefer about dogs: It is so much easier to give them their medicine. The typical dog doesn’t care for the taste, but there are plenty of workarounds. Cheese, peanut butter, steak, chicken and just about any other tasty food can be wrapped around the pill.
The result, for a large number of dogs, is that you can easily pop a pill in a dog’s mouth. Due to canine enthusiasm for the delicious smell of the tasty wrapping, it is likely to be swallowed. In fact, it seems that a typical dog’s thought process goes something like this:
“Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, that smells so yummy! I hope I get to eat it, I hope, I hope, I hope! Yay, it’s coming towards me, oh boy, oh boy, oh boy. [chomp] Hmm, that was mostly good, but it tasted a little funny at the end.” Then, the next day, with the same delicious presentation, the same internal dialogue may as well happen again, because most dogs will once again become excited about the cheese, steak or chicken wrapped around a pill, eat it again, perhaps notice a funny taste, and basically not care at all after that moment.
A few dogs will be hesitant about that particular food in the future or even reject it outright, but it’s not that common. To minimize the chances of having a problem, it is wise to give dogs these special foods without the pill sometimes so that they do not develop a distrust of them. Many dogs never have such issues anyway, but pill-free treats provide some extra insurance.
A large percentage of cats, on the other hand, tend to take more of a, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me” approach to being fed a pill wrapped in tuna, chicken or in another delicious food treat. Sure, you may be able to trick a cat into downing the pill one time, but good luck ever doing it again with any treat even remotely similarly to what you used.
During a recent cat-sitting stint for my neighbor, I needed to give each of her two cats medicine every day. The instructions said to put their medication, which was powdered, into their food. To be certain that each cat received a full does of the medicine and did not get any of the other cat’s share, I needed to stay and watch them eat. That usually took anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour. One day, neither cat would touch the food at all, possibly because they did not enjoy the previous night’s dinner. At breakfast, they were even hesitant to eat the medicine-free food unless it was different in flavor than what had been served at any meal with the medicine. Salmon cat food as well as tuna fish (high quality feline cuisine!) were happily eaten until they had been used to serve up the medication, after which point they were avoided. Pill pockets, which are so useful with dogs who object to taking their medicine, were not successful, although they do work for some cats.
Meanwhile, in the hour or so I spent each evening with these sweet cats, I could probably have dosed dozens of dogs with whatever medication they required just by wrapping the medicine in anything I happened to have on hand. The point of reporting this is not to pick on the marvelous creatures we call cats. My purpose is simply to add to the never ending list of reasons to be grateful for dogs.
What has made you grateful to your dog lately?
News: Guest Posts
It’s hard to understand why anyone objected
We have leash laws, and I understand the value of them. Leashes control some of life’s chaos and protect people (and other dogs!) from out-of-control dogs. For those who fear dogs, having them leashed eases many anxieties, and leashes have certainly saved many dogs from injuries. So, please understand that I support leash laws and wish more people complied with them. I also wish that many communities had more places where dogs could be off leash, but that’s a rant for another time.
Today’s rant is about someone screaming at a person in my neighborhood for having his dog off leash. I thought it was an odd battle to choose because this dog is so geriatric and moves so slowly that as you drive by, you can barely tell that the dog is out for a walk. You could just as easily mistake him for a dog waiting at a bus stop. Really.
I see this dog out fairly regularly, because his guardian takes him out daily for a walk, and their schedule often coincides with my drive to school to drop off my kids. The dog travels, on his own four paws, down the block and then returns home, but he is barely moving. The walk is so slow that I sometimes see the dog soon after I leave my house and again 20 minutes later when I return, though the dog’s journey could be covered by a younger dog in two minutes. The guardian shuffles along with him, continuing their 16-year tradition of enjoying the great outdoors together.
Yes, this dog did not have a leash, and yes, I realize that is technically a violation of our local ordinance. Still, I cannot imagine why anyone would be so upset that it would be worth making a fuss about this dog. He is in the latter stages of his golden years and shuffling along the sidewalk, bothering nobody at all and posing no threat to anyone. Yet, someone did make a fuss. A man came up to the guardian, yelling about our leash laws and threatening to call the police. He demanded that the guardian put his dog on leash immediately or that “he would be very sorry.”
I did not witness this firsthand, but heard about it when I commented to a neighbor that I was surprised to see this man was suddenly walking his dog on leash. It seemed so unnecessary after seeing him walk his dog without one for the last year or so. It makes me sad to know that this man was criticized so harshly. Luckily, I don’t think the dog minds the leash, and I’m pleased to see that the guardian has chosen to use the thinnest, lightest leash I have ever seen used on a 50-ish pound dog, and that the leash has a super light clip. I suspect it’s actually a cat leash.
I see plenty of loose dogs who should really be on leash because it adds to the comfort and safety of everyone around the dog. This dog just isn’t one of them. Being on a leash makes absolutely zero difference in his behavior. He is just as old and slow and harmless as ever. In my opinion, all that has changed is that the guardian has been made to feel rotten for no useful reason.
It’s easy to object to my distress on the grounds that the guardian of the dog was violating the law. It’s still hard to imagine what motivates someone to complain about such an extremely old and hobbled dog going on a walk without a leash.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
My favorite sight in Mérida, Spain
Mérida, Spain is famous for its World Heritage Site—an extensive set of archaeological ruins that include a well-preserved 2000-year old Roman theater. One might expect that it is these ancient treasures that my memory would lock onto most fiercely, but that is not the case. The lasting mental image I took away from my visit to this beautiful city was that of an elderly man sitting on a park bench with his dog lying next to him. Happily, I thought to take a photograph so that I also have a permanent digital image to go along with my memory.
There is simply nothing more endearing than the companionship of a person and a dog, and I find that especially true of the elderly of either species. When I see an old dog accompanied by an unhurried and endlessly patient person, my heart swells. I have the same response when a kind and gentle dog shares a peaceful moment with an older human.
It is especially inspiring to see people and dogs spending time together when they take a leisurely approach to enjoying life that allows a full appreciation of each moment. This man and his dog seem completely content to sit outside together taking in their surroundings. I do not know this man’s story, but I like to imagine that he, like many people, considers all to be right with the world as long as he has his dog for company.
There is no doubt that I will remember this man and his dog long after my memories of the extraordinary Roman relics in Mérida have faded away.
Dog's Life: Home & Garden
These dogs were home when photographers came by to shoot their houses. Some greeted the photographers and followed them around. Other dogs did what they always do at home: lounge around, eat, play, snooze. Each charmed the photographer and ended up in the picture. See if you aren’t more than a little charmed too by these dogs of Houzz as they show you around their homes.Photo by Archer & Buchanan Architecture, Ltd. - Discover exterior home design ideas
An inquisitive poodle stands ready to greet you at the gate to a historic stone farmhouse in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania. The Bryn Coed Farm property was once owned by the late U.S. Supreme Court justice Owen J. Roberts, who hired noted architect R. Brognard Okie to renovate it in the late 1920s. Archer & Buchanan Architecture did a recent renovation.Photo by Barn Light Electric Company - Discover tropical entryway design inspiration
Sam, a yellow Labrador retriever, welcomes visitors to a renovated wood-frame cottage on a family compound on Merritt Island in central Florida. Light fixture: Benjamin Sky Chief in Jadite, Barn Light Electric Co.Photo by Banks Design Associates, LTD & Simply Home - Browse traditional entryway ideas
A pair of friendly dogs echo the pleasing symmetry of this entry to a traditional home in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.Photo by Rosney Co. Architects - Look for farmhouse porch pictures
You get a tail wag and a smile from Stormy, a Llewellin setter, when you approach this pretty farmhouse porch in Albemarle County, Virginia. Renovation and addition: Rosney Co. Architects; porch ceiling paint: Atmospheric SW6505, Sherwin-Williams; siding: HardiePlank in Arctic White, James HardiePhoto by Weaver Design Group - Look for transitional exterior home pictures
Fluffy Labradoodle Mr. Magoo is ready to meet guests at the front steps of his casually elegant home on John’s Island in Vero Beach, Florida. He’s flanked by Chinese planters from Drum & Co. in San Francisco. Behind him are a pair of Harper candle lanterns. Designer: Weaver Design GroupPhoto by SDG Architecture, Inc. - Discover mediterranean entryway design ideas
It’s all paws on deck for a black and white pup stretched out on the porch of a rustic Mediterranean-style residence. Much of the natural stone used for the renovated home is yellow Osage, a textured limestone. The reclaimed French door dates to the 1800s. Designer: SDG Architecture; stonework: Peninsula Building MaterialsPhoto by Michael Fullen Design Group - More rustic entryway photos
Cocker spaniel Bubba checks out visitors to this contemporary Southern California home. Of the custom front door with glass panels, designer Michael Fullen says: “The driveway is broken up in a similar way, so it made sense to incorporate these shapes into the entry. They are also a repeating element throughout the house.” The porch stairs are poured concrete in a custom color.Photo by The Design Atelier - More farmhouse entryway photos
The welcomes don’t get much warmer than this one from yellow Lab Sadie, who peeks out over the Dutch door of this Fitzpatrick, Alabama, farmhouse. The Design Atelier worked with the homeowners to create interiors with a warm, collected look. Door design: Architect Keith Summerour
Wellness: Healthy Living
Removing them makes play safer
It was one of the worst moments of my professional career. During a supervised play session in a group class, the buckles on two dogs’ collars got stuck together. Being attached at the neck caused both of these sweet social dogs to freak out. (That’s a better description than any technical term.) It’s hard to say what they thought was happening, but both of them were receiving a lot of pressure on the neck and the more they struggled, the more panicky they got. Neither was choking, but it was not a safe situation. After a quick attempt to release both collars while several guardians tried to steady the dogs, I ran to the supply closet to grab a pair of blunt-edged scissors, and ran back to the dogs to cut off one of the dog’s collars.
The dogs were safe, and we could then attend to their emotional condition, which wasn’t great. One was whining and the other was shaking. Luckily, neither dog appeared to hold a grudge against the other, and they remained friends. I did encourage the guardians to take their dogs to their veterinarians to make sure that they did not have any injuries requiring medical care. (The dogs were a little bruised but fortunately neither of them suffered any serious damage.)
Why did we have blunt-edged scissors in our supply cabinet? Because one of our trainers had once had a similar situation that was even worse than the one I faced. If a person in that class had not had a Swiss Army Knife and used it to free the dogs, it could have been disastrous. After that, we were always prepared for such worst-case scenarios, and it is now my preference to remove all collars before playtime.
Collars are helpful to dogs in many ways, but also pose dangers. On the up side, collars hold tags that have been responsible for the safe return of countless dogs. They allow people a way to prevent a dog from running into the street or getting into less serious but still dangerous trouble—with a leash or as something to hold onto directly in a pinch. They are stylish, in the opinion of many.
On the down side, they are attached around a dog’s neck and therefore pose a danger. Dogs have been injured, even fatally, when collars have caught in things as random as heating vents, fences, crates, branches and other collars. The most common accident that I have heard about involves another dog’s lower jaw getting stuck in the collar during play and causing strangulation.
I prefer to see dogs play without collars because I know that serious collar accidents can happen. If dogs with collars must play together, I advise having something sharp on hand to cut the collars, such as a pair of blunt-edges scissors. (Pocket knives can also be used, but they are more likely to cause an injury during the attempt to help the dogs.) I don’t like metal collars because of the various risks they pose, and they are especially problematic in the case of an accident during play because they can’t be cut off.
Playing without collars is safer because of the risk of collar accidents, but breakaway (also called quick release) collars are also an option. They have a safety buckle that releases when significant pressure is applied to them. The safety buckle has a D-ring on either side of it so the breakaway section can be bypassed for leash walks by attaching a leash to both D-rings.
Have you ever witnessed an accident involving collars when dogs were playing?
National Dog Day is upon us, not exactly sure what that means but if gives us an excuse to celebrate our love for our dogs, it’s a good thing. You know what your dog likes best, right? So just do more of that, but here’s some of our ideas too:
Hugs and Kisses. A long leisurely petting session and deep body massage with stretching exercises. You can also sneak in a quick body scan looking to see that everything is in order, don’t forget to peak inside their ears and check between their toes.
Treats. Stuffing an extra special Kong—perhaps using liver, cheese, yogurt, peanut butter—freeze it and then serve it up. Prep some frozen yogurt cubes, add blueberries, bananas, strawberries, or use chicken broth or other delicious cool licks.
Walks and Hiking. A nice long back-to-nature walk, letting your dog do what they do best, sniff around and discover a fresh scent.
Engagement. Every dog loves learning especially with you, so today teach them a new trick, or practice an old one. Our three dogs each have different talents: one loves to crawl, one prefers to jump up onto rocks, one likes to leap over just about anything. They all love hide-and-seek or finding little pieces of pasta hidden around the house.
Dining Delights. Top off their meals, there’s so many ways to “beef” up a kibble-based diet. Great time to think of trying your hand at making dog meals (but remember to start off gradually, just adding a little to your dog’s usual food).
Let us know what you are planning to do with your dog to celebrate National Dog Day.
News: Guest Posts
It took dog sitting to really get to know her
I thought I knew Harlow, a young Boxer mix, long before she came to spend the week with us. I had worked with her guardian in over a dozen training sessions, and she had visited our home multiple times so she would be familiar with my house and family. (I always recommend a few visits ahead of time so that dogs are more comfortable when they stay with me.)
From my previous experience with Harlow, I anticipated an enjoyable week while her guardian was out of town. She has always been fun to train, responsive, affiliative and friendly. I thought that I knew her quite well, which is why it caught me a little off guard to learn just how incredibly nice she is.
When I say that a dog is “nice”, it is the highest praise I can offer. I’m not using the term as something vaguely positive in lieu of anything more specific to offer as a compliment. I believe that a truly nice dog is a wonder of the universe, and that such angels are not at the end of every leash. All dogs have their fine qualities, each a little different, but there’s a special place in my heart for dogs who are remarkably nice.
Harlow is such a dog, and it’s odd to me that I didn’t realize it in the many months I worked with her. During our training sessions, I came to like her very much and have always considered her a great dog. Yet, it took living together this week to really understand the depth of her sweetness, which showed itself in a number of little ways. When we entered the house from the yard and arrived simultaneously at the back door, she paused as if to say, “Please, after you.” This is not because she has specifically been trained to do this or because she is particularly deferential. It’s a result of being naturally kind. She’s friendly with all of our guests and welcomes attention from anyone, yet she’s not pushy about it. She takes treats gently no matter how excited she is about them.
Harlow walks and runs beautifully on leash, and though a large part of that is due to the training efforts of her guardian, there’s more to it than that. When we run by a spot on the sidewalk that has plants growing over it, she navigates the narrow part carefully so we can both easily fit through. She looks back as we go through and slows down, apparently aware that the length of the leash requires special care when we must go single file. There’s simply a pleasant agreeableness about her that is hard to explain, but easy to appreciate.
Obviously, I adore this dog, but please don’t think I’m seeing her through rose-colored glasses—I’m not. Delightful as she is, she’s not perfect. Like all dogs, she has her good qualities and her not-so-good ones. She is not above throwing herself the occasional trash party, and she even had one such festivity at our house. I don’t consider that a blot on her character—or on any dog’s character for that matter—but it’s not a plus. The enthusiasm with which she barks out the window at any potential dog buddy is loud enough to be objectionable. (Since she can be called away from the window, the ruckus is brief, but it’s pretty exciting while it lasts.) Her drinking habits are so sloppy that I can only watch in wonder and amusement as she dribbles around the bowl and across the floor.
Most dogs are nice (that’s why we love them so!) but Harlow is especially so. Dogs can learn to have better manners and trained to perform certain behaviors, but being genuinely nice is an intrinsic quality that can’t be taught.
I’m not sure why, but it took living with Harlow for me to see how nice she is. Have you ever hosted a dog you thought you knew, and only then really gotten to know her?
Dog's Life: Home & Garden
Emily Post’s great-great-granddaughter gives advice on having dogs at parties
Question: Is it OK to let a dog roam around a party?
Answer: A dog may be man’s best friend, but, let’s be honest, not all humans like dogs and not all dogs like all humans. For most party hosts, this isn’t a big issue: They know their dog and will put it in a crate, the yard (weather permitting) or an area of the house where the pet will be comfortable.
Or they will let the dog wander about, knowing that it is calm and not a food thief or constantly underfoot. Most hosts also know the guests who are coming over, and most guests will know that the host has a dog. They may have already met the dog and are expecting it to be present.
Problems arise when the dog has characteristics or tendencies that distract guests or make them uncomfortable, or when a guest has fears or allergies.
I suggest that you always warn new guests that you have a dog (or other pets). That way, if they have fears or allergies, they are aware of the situation ahead of time.
I also suggest that if you have fears or allergies, it’s OK to make them known. “Sarah, I would love to come on Friday! I have a true phobia of dogs, so I have to ask: Do you and Kevin have a dog?” The conversation can then evolve into what the host and guest feel comfortable with in regard to the dog and visit.
If you haven’t talked with your host about your fear or allergy and show up to the party to find Fido free-roaming, it’s OK to speak up to your host.
Just remember that how you say something is just as important as what you say. A calm tone (as calm as you can muster if your fears are kicking in) and offering a suggestion rather than a demand will be better received.
“Beth, thank you so much for having us. I’m terribly sorry, but I didn’t realize that you have a dog. I have a very real fear of them. Would it be possible to keep him separate from the party?”
Most hosts will be accommodating. Also, you can choose to suggest that you leave the party. Not that I think it’s the best solution, but stating that your allergy or phobia is severe enough for you to have to excuse yourself is certainly an option. “Beth, I’m so sorry — I forgot to tell you that I have a very severe dog allergy, and I’m afraid I won’t be able to stay for the party. I would love to get together another time.”
Either way, you should feel confident in your communication, and if you aren’t able to stay for the party, suggest another time or place to get together.
News: Guest Posts
We know it when we see it
The way we love our dogs varies. For some people, a dog is the proverbial best friend. To others, dogs are simply a family member, whether that means the dog is like a brother, a sister, a child or need not be defined beyond being a dog who is adored. No matter how we identify the complex relationship between ourselves and our dogs, nobody who has shared such a connection can deny that it is True Love.
True Love is hard to explain, but it’s easy to see in pictures. In the above picture, our friend Greg and his dog Espave (pronounced ESS-paw-vay) gaze at one another in a way that conveys that sentiment. In fact, I refer to this picture, which I took while visiting an ecological reserve in Panama that Greg manages, as “The True Love Photo”. Greg frequently travels internationally as well as in Panama for his work, and when I asked him what he misses most when he is away, he immediately answered, “Espave”. It is clear from the dog’s behavior that she is every bit as attached to Greg as he is to her.
Though it might be hard to explain how deeply one can care for a dog, the concept is completely straightforward to many of us. We love our dogs, and they love us. Dogs make our lives complete with the joy and companionship they add to every shared moment. It pains us to be away from them, and it’s always a pleasure to be reunited, whether at the end of each day or after a long trip. Our love for dogs reminds us that the strength of our emotions and connections to others cannot be contained within the boundary of our own species.
I know you and your dog share a bond of love that all dog people understand, but do you have a picture that you think shows it?
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