life with dogs
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Having your dog’s attention is one of the most important and underrated aspects of positive dog training. It’s obvious when you think about it – how can you train your dog, if your dog doesn’t pay attention to you? Luckily, we’ve come up with three simple and fun exercises designed to help get your dog’s attention, making training your dog a little easier.
TEACHING YOUR DOG TO BE A GOOD STUDENT
Training your dog to pay attention teaches them to be a good student, ensuring that they will sit quietly and wait for instructions – once these foundations are in place, training your dog will become a great deal easier. Later on, we will cover two of the best attention exercises available, which are centred on being a good student, paying attention and awaiting instructions.
Although it is often underemphasised by dog training experts, ensuring your dog is capable of paying attention is one of the core principles in positive reinforcement training, and an absolutely necessity if you are to ensure your training is a success. This post aims to rectify this issue, by providing you with the mind-set and training exercises required to train your dog to be pay attention – eventually leaving you with a happy, well-trained and trusting member of the family!
HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU HAVE YOUR DOG’S ATTENTION?
The easiest way to see if your dog is paying attention to you is to observe whether or not he is looking at you and following everything you do closely. Once you have an attentive dog, this will be very obvious, especially to other family members or friends, who will note that your dog seems to follow you around and work for your attention – particularly at feeding time!
However, it is worth remembering that some dogs are discrete – they might not seem interested in where you are or what you’re up to, but the moment you disappear, they’ll appear right next to you – my dog can even be upstairs while I’m working downstairs, but the moment he can no longer hear the sound of me typing on my computer, he’ll come down to check that I haven’t nipped out without him. This is attention in a nutshell - when your dog is aware of your movements and what you are doing at any time of day.
IS HAVING YOUR DOG’S ATTENTION REALLY NECESSARY?
You might wonder if all this talk about attention is overrated – this outlook is typical of more traditional or ‘old school’ trainers, who believe you can get better results by forcing your dog to pay attention when you demand it. In my experience, though, this approach doesn’t work anywhere near as well – there’s a notable difference between a dog who focuses on you because he has to, and one who focuses on you because he wants to please you. The goal of this post is to help you reach a point where your dog is focused on pleasing you, as this is the easiest way of training him successfully.
DON'T TAKE YOUR DOG'S ATTENTION FOR GRANTED
In my experience, dog owners take a lot of things for granted – too many, in fact. When a dog first comes into the home, he relies on us completely, and we have his full attention at all times. After a few weeks, however, your dog will relax into the environment and encounter new, fresh and exciting experiences which are more interesting than you – and that’s not good news for your relationship, particularly where training is concerned. By remaining at the centre of your dog’s world, you’ll not only enjoy a stronger bond with your dog, but stand a much better chance of being able to train him successfully.
So how do we accomplish this? With consistent training – every day, all year. By making training a habit, you’ll make it second nature for both you and your dog, ensuring you’ll have the basics – sit, come here, down etc. - covered quickly and efficiently, allowing you to move onto more complicated routines.
Now that we understand what it means to have your dog’s attention and why having your dog’s attention is so important, we can move onto the frameworks we use for teaching attention, along with a few simple exercises you can undertake to ensure your dog is always paying attention to you.
YOUR DOG KNOW WHEN YOU'RE NOT PAYING ATTENTION
First things first - when training your dog to pay attention to you, you have to really be present with your dog, not just physically but mentally; remember, your dog can feel you! He knows when you’re sad and when you’re happy, and certainly knows when you are lying and when you are not. By taking an active role in training your dog, you can make the framework very simple, rewarding your dog not only with treats but praise and happiness. Here are three of my favourite ways to train your dog to pay attention to you:
DOG ATTENTION EXERCISE #1 – EYE CONTACT
The first exercise is based around eye contact, and is the exercise that teaches your dog to sit quietly and pay attention to the teacher. Grab some treats and then sit beside your dog, waiting for them to look at you. This requires a bit of patience the first time you train this, but hang in there – it’s worth the wait! Once your dog lifts its eyes to meet yours, praise them warmly (or use your clicker) and reward your dog with his favorite treat. Then simply keep still and wait for them to meet your gaze again - keep doing this until your dog understands that he will be rewarded for looking into your eyes, and he will be more than happy to do it whenever necessary.
DOG ATTENTION EXERCISE #2 – HAND TARGETING
Sometimes, you’ll need get your dog’s attention in order to protect them from something that might harm, scare or upset them. Occasionally dogs will become fearful and, naturally, will look to either run away or attack – neither of which are desirable outcomes. However, it is possible to interrupt this natural response by training your dog to keep attention on you even in stressful situations. Try putting your hand in front of your dog’s face, the palm of your hand right in front his nose. Say nothing, as it is important that your dog learns to make these associations for himself. Once your dog touches the palm of your hand, give him a reward in the form of praise or a treat. Repeat this exercise, and eventually your dog will come to understand that when your hand is down, he can receive a reward by touching it – and while he’s focused on you, he will be unable to focus on whatever might be scaring him, allowing you to avoid conflict with others and protecting him from harm!
See the below video for an example of how to do this.
DOG ATTENTION EXERCISE #3 – IMPULSE CONTROL
This exercise is called impulse control, and is really more of a concept that an exercise, because there are so many variations to work with.
Once your dog knows that he should be looking at you (see exercise #1) you can use this when training him. For example, you can ‘drop’ something from the kitchen table and if your dog tries to grab it, simply cover it with your foot. When your dog then sits and eventually looks at you, make sure to praise him and then allow him to eat the dropped food. Once more, your dog will learn to associate looking at you with praise and a reward – and over time will begin to realise that everything he wants can be channelled through you. As far as your dog is concerned, you are the origin of everything that is good in life. Clever, right? See the following video for more information.
As you can see from the video above, treats are often used as a reward for behaviour we wish to encourage. With this in mind, I usually retain around half of my dog’s rations, which I distribute throughout the day during training sessions. If treats are not withheld, your dog will either lose motivation to be rewarded or simply end up overweight – by rationing them and associating them with good behaviour, you can ensure your dog is healthy and well-behaved.
In summary, the most important, fundamental principle of dog training is attention – both your dog’s and your own. This element of training is sadly underutilised by most dog training experts, so make sure you don’t make the same mistake – ensure your dog associates paying you attention with rewards and praise, and you can ensure your training exercises are easy and successful. Good luck with your training!
Good Dog: Studies & Research
More satisfaction, less conflict characterize relationship
Long before people began to consider dogs members of the family, many kids were wishing that instead of brothers and sisters, they could just have more dogs. Dogs (and other pets) fulfill all of the roles that researchers consider important in an attachment figure. Kids find them enjoyable, comforting, they miss them when they are not around and they seek them out when they are upset. That may make them especially important for adolescents, who are learning to rely less on their parents and more on relationships with other individuals. The non-judgmental feeling people experience with their dogs may contribute to enhancing young people’s self-esteem.
We know that pets are important to kids, but scientific studies quantifying the value of their relationships are sparse. The recent study “One of the family? Measuring young adolescents' relationships with pets and siblings” demonstrates the true value that kids place on their pets. The research involved surveys of 77 people who were 12 years old. It made some interesting, if hardly surprising conclusions:
If many adults consider their relationships with dogs to be like those they share with children, it’s no wonder that many kids relate to their dogs much like they relate to their brothers and sisters—only better!
News: Guest Posts
Meet Addie, a pup who loves to help her owner on the job. It’s not all work; Addie has plenty of fun.
Pet at a Glance
On the job: Addie’s owner works from home and out of the Ethan Allen showroom, so her day looks different depending on what’s on Sluppick’s schedule. At home, Addie sits right next to her owner as she works on floor plans or emails clients. She’s also known for getting into fabric samples from time to time. At the showroom, Addie gravitates toward all the new faces. She likes to walk right up to clients, tail wagging. She loves clients, Sluppick says, and the clients love her back. A few have even brought Addie treats, toys and a doggy Christmas ornament.
Favorite part of the workday: Before each workday begins, Addie likes to join her owner as she has her morning coffee.
Break time: When Sluppick needs a mental break, she takes Addie on a walk in the neighborhood. Addie also enjoys watching the squirrels run around outside, Sluppick says.
Payment method: Treats! If Sluppick is on the road, Addie loves when they stop by Dairy Queen for a Pup Cup.
From her owner: “Having Addie around on calm days or busy days makes for a better day overall. She loves to always be in the action and where I am. She’s a ‘momma’s girl,’ and I love it.”
SHARE YOUR SMILING DOG!
Dog's Life: Home & Garden
There’s a briskness in the air. That means it’s time to cozy up your home for the pets. Sure, the human household members are important, but we can’t deny our furry housemates those same creature comforts we enjoy. Here are some ideas for getting your pets’ hangouts and bedding ready for the cooler temperatures in ways that are attractive to humans.
Build them their own nook. Cutouts like this circular one make the pet part of the decor. While cats may split from the family fun, dogs usually prefer to lie right in the heart of it. Encourage Buddy to not be a tripping hazard, especially in the kitchen, where it can be a serious hazard. Instead, give him a safer hangout all his own from which he can monitor the action. Wherever you find the space for such a pet nook, fill it with plush materials that can be washed easily and often.
Photo by Busby Cabinets - Browse traditional laundry room ideas
Create a cave. Dogs generally crave a cave-like bed (when they aren't sprawled out in everyone's way). This undercounter crate provides that same atmosphere. A fitted cozy inside offers added warmth on frigid nights.
Photo by Brenda Olde - Browse eclectic living room photos
Instead of trying to hide the kennel, turn it into furniture. This dog's kennel acts as a table base that sits smack dab between his esteemed pack leaders' chairs.
Photo by Vanni Archive/Architectural Photography - Discover traditional living room design ideas
Give them matching furniture. Not into showing off the kennel? Create an elegant bed that resembles the rest of the room's decor. Find pet furniture or pillows that share similar properties with other facets of the room, such as color, finish, shape or texture. This dog bed blends in nicely with the living room, thanks to its library-like qualities.
Photo by Landing Design - Look for traditional living room design inspiration
This little Brussels Griffon gets to make himself at home on a loveseat under his portrait when he's not hanging out in his own room. With something like this, just make sure guests know not to sit in the no-human zone. If there is no delineation between pet and people furniture, lining furniture with stylish throws offers extra cush to cushions while keeping fur off them. Just make sure your throws (and any nearby pillows) are as washable as they are attractive.
Photo by A+B KASHA Designs - Search modern bedroom design ideas
Keeping Things Clean and Other Considerations Washability.
Washability is an important factor for any fabric that your pet sleeps on, especially during the rainy season, when muddy paws are a constant.
This guy's easy; he doesn't need his own bed. He'd much rather sleep in between his human companions. Good thing the comforter washes well.
Time apart at night. Just because your pets want to sleep next to you doesn't mean there's room for everybody. If you enjoy having your love bugs close to you at night, consider offering them a bench at the foot of the bed as their own. This way they can still see and hear you without sandbagging your feet.
Style. For larger breeds or multiple pets who enjoy one another's company at night, choose a bed that complements your own. There are no rules about what a pet's bed should look like. As long as the bed is comfortable for the animal, take liberties to make its design work with your room.
Photo by COOK ARCHITECTURAL Design Studio - Browse traditional kitchen ideas
Color. It's believed that animals can't see color like we humans can. But that doesn't mean their bedding can't offer color in abundance to please our tastes. Pet pillows and upholstered cushions can be opportunities to add shots of seasonal color or pull from the existing room palette.
Photo by Scheer & Co. Interior Design - More home design ideas
Outdoor shelter. Not all pets are allowed — or wish — to sleep indoors. It's especially important to make sure they're sheltered from the elements. This customized wine barrel is a stylish covered bed that doubles as a planter box.
Dog's Life: Humane
My Old Dog
Puppies are adorable. I’m talking seriously adorable. How could they not be? They have squishy bellies and too-big paws and goofy, clumsy gaits. And they have puppy breath … don’t forget the puppy breath!
As cute as they are, though, puppies aren’t always the best fit for people with busy lifestyles. That’s because puppies can be furry little hedonists with two big passions: indoor urination and property destruction. Bringing a puppy home is not unlike bringing a baby home—and in some ways, it’s even harder because puppies become mobile so much sooner than human infants.
What if you’d like to skip the chewed shoes and the challenging potty-training regimens and jump ahead to the very best part of enjoying life with a dog? These days, it’s easier than ever to do just that and to feel great about what you’ve done. A senior-dog-rescue movement is spreading across North America and catching on for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is that dogs over the age of six or seven tend to be calm, mellow, sweet and loveable, and they’re usually already house-trained.
Yet, as wonderful as animals in this age bracket are, they need help. They often represent the highest-risk population at shelters across the United States, where nearly three million dogs and cats are put down each year.
How can this be? Why is it that the most snuggly, tranquil, ideal companions languish in shelters? For starters, this happens to most senior dogs through no fault of their own. Confronted with financial pressures, illness or another life upheaval, people suddenly may be unable to care for their pets. Then, once older animals land in shelters, they’re often overlooked because people think it will be too sad to bring them home.
But not so fast! In the process of researching and writing the book My Old Dog: Rescued Pets with Remarkable Second Acts, I saw firsthand that adopting a senior can be even more rewarding than choosing a younger dog. In fact, it’s likely to go down in history as one of the best things you’ve ever done.
Just ask Lori Fusaro, the photographer for My Old Dog. She once thought it would be too sad to adopt a senior— “I didn’t think my heart could take it,” she explained—until the day she welcomed a sweet-natured 16-year-old named Sunny into her family. Sunny transformed almost immediately from a sad shelter dog to a happy family member, and thrived for more than two and a half years in Lori’s care.
“Sunny showed her love for me every single time I came into the room,” Lori said. “It’s like she knew I rescued her. She freely gave kisses and followed me around everywhere. It’s like these dogs know, and they just want to let you know how grateful they are to you.”
Taking this step doesn’t have to cost as much as you might expect. While it’s true that many older shelter dogs need veterinary care, including dental work, people on a budget can take advantage of a variety of programs that address the issue.
My Old Dog includes a comprehensive resource guide with contact information for senior-dog rescue groups across North America and overseas. These groups spring older dogs from shelters and handle all major veterinary work before putting them up for adoption, allowing people to bring home a dog who is good to go.
What’s more, some organizations, such as Old Dog Haven in Washington and Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary in Tennessee, do something slightly different and quite amazing: They pull older dogs from shelters and take care of any urgent veterinary needs. Then, they place the dogs in permanent foster homes and continue to cover all veterinary costs for the rest of the dogs’ lives. In such situations, people who open their homes to these “final refuge” foster dogs never have to worry about a single vet bill.
“Seniors for Seniors” programs are another wonderful provision offered by many shelters and rescue organizations. These programs match mellow older dogs with older humans, and typically waive adoption fees and cover all initial veterinary and grooming expenses. Many also provide free welcome-home kits with dog bowls, leashes, harnesses, collars, food, medication, dog beds and more.
Even those who adopt senior dogs directly from shelters or rescues without taking advantage of any special program or assistance can keep this cost-saving detail in mind: with older dogs, it often doesn’t make sense to do high-dollar, heroic procedures such as lengthy cancer treatments. Instead, the focus is on helping dogs enjoy a good quality of life, minimizing discomfort and giving them lots of love.
Of course, even if they’re crazy about dogs, not everyone’s circumstances allow them to adopt or foster a senior dog. But that’s okay. There’s still so much you can do to help homeless senior dogs. Shelters and rescue groups always need volunteers for animal care-giving; professional grooming; high-quality photography; marketing; fundraising; and administrative assistance such as filing, paperwork and document design. If you have a special talent, why not throw one of these hardworking groups a bone?
These organizations are, of course, always grateful for financial support to help defray vet bills and other expenses for the animals in their care. You can donate money to specific, local senior dog rescue efforts highlighted in the resource guide in the back of My Old Dog, or you can opt to help to a nationwide program. For instance, the Grey Muzzle Organization does careful background checks and provides grants to effective programs that help older dogs across the United States. Grey Muzzle also donates orthopedic dog beds to shelters to get kenneled seniors off concrete floors. Another group, the White Muzzle Fund, is building an endowment to help support reputable senior-dog rescue organizations for years to come.
Helping a senior dog is such a great thing to do, and there are so many ways to do it. Please consider it. You’ll never, ever regret it.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Bicyclists, skiers, snorkelers, hikers, skydivers, surfers and whitewater rafters have been using the rugged, razor-sharp GoPro camera to record their adventures for more than a dozen years. Now, dogs can go digital, too.
Several companies make dog photography mounts for the device. The GoPro Fetch ($59), for example, is available wherever the ubiquitous little cameras are sold. A comfortable harness that straps on securely around a dog’s neck and belly without restricting movement, it has two quick-connect camera mount points: one on the chest (to document surreptitious snacking) and one on the back (for over-the-head shots of squirrel chasing). Highly adjustable—it can be used on dogs from 15 to 120 pounds— it also includes a camera tether for added security. (Fotowelt, Kurgo and SmilePowo all sell similar mounts for $10 to $30.)
Aaron Roberts is a chemical engineer living in Raleigh, N.C. A recent graduate of North Carolina State, he works for a large pharmaceutical company in nearby Rocky Mount. Three years ago, he adopted a three-month-old brindle Plott Hound/Labrador puppy from the Wake County SPCA and named her Caroline; the two are inseparable. The Plott Hound is North Carolina’s official state dog; bred here as far back as the early 19th century to hunt wild boar, the breed is known for its intelligence, stamina, uncanny scenting ability and loyalty. But it’s Caroline’s benign Lab traits that make her instantly affectionate toward most humans. In fact, she doesn’t display much interest in other dogs, but is always curious about new human acquaintances.
“She’s also stubborn as a fence post,” Roberts said, “but I suppose that’s what made her ancestors such good hunters.” At 55 pounds, she’s not as large as some Hound breeds, which makes her fairly easy on Roberts’ car interior and dog-food budget. Caroline routinely watches Animal Planet from her claimed place on the couch, and comments loudly on certain scenes, especially those involving anything feline. Before Roberts trained her to respond to his call as well as cues to sit, stay, heel and lie down, she was a barely containable dervish of exuberance.
Roberts had been using his GoPro to shoot friends, selfies and scenics on weekends and vacation trips when he spotted the GoPro dog harness and decided to try it with Caroline on a visit to one of the city’s recreational lakes. He also bought a “floaty” that attaches to the back of the camera just in case it came loose in the water. He set the camera to shoot a frame every half-second, then released Caroline from her leash. She happily galloped off to investigate several other human/dog combos. Later, he sorted through hundreds of frames, looking for those few interesting, lucky shots. Once he found them, he adjusted color balance, contrast and cropping using the easy Instagram software.
“It’s fun for both of us,” Roberts said. “But I’m not sure appearing in The Bark is good for her. She’s already too full of herself.”
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Dogs use creativity to break free
Most people love that dogs are good problem solvers except when they hate that dogs are good problem solvers. Take the age old battle of dog versus crate. This is one of the situations in which we fuddy-duddy humans object to our dogs’ creative thinking and hamster-like wiggling ability. When we crate dogs, we are usually doing it for their safety and the safety of our homes. Millions of dogs love the coziness and security of their crates, and happily trot in to spend some restful time there, but the people who recorded the following videos have dogs who are not in that category. These dogs will apparently do anything to escape their crates, and they are successful at doing so. The many ways that our canine buddies set themselves free show that where there’s a will, there’s a way.
This dog breaks out after much effort, and while I admire his acrobatics and persistence, it is concerning that a dogs who make a break for it in this way will injure themselves. Luckily, this particular dog seems to have accomplished the goal without suffering any damage, but his level of desperation is concerning because he is literally forcing the issue.
What’s interesting me about this next dog is not the “how” of her escape, but the “why” of it. She was so drawn in by the calls of a litter of puppies in the shelter that she was apparently compelled to escape her kennel to be near them. Her own litter of puppies had recently been taken from her, so it’s likely that she her post-partum physiological state made her especially receptive to the needs of puppies.
This dog is methodical in her escape. There is no evidence that she is distressed or emotionally aroused in any way. She seems simply to prefer to be out of her crate than in, so she takes the necessary steps to make that happen in a calm, organized way. She shows evidence of having the emotional stability of an astronaut, to the point that I can practically here her saying to herself, “Work the problem.”
One of the sweetest videos of dogs escaping their crates is this one, because the crated dog had outside help. It’s great to have a pal who can help you get out of a jam!
Has your dog been victorious in a contest of Dog versus Crate, and if so, do you know how the escape happened?
The Shepherd’s View
Last year, in his Bark review of James Rebanks’ remarkable memoir, The Shepherd’s Life, Donald McCaig observed, “It isn’t really a book about dogs. It’s about a world the dogs make possible. It’s the best book I’ve read this year.” Other reviewers also sang its praises; for example, New York Times literary critic Michiko Kakutani called it “utterly compelling,” and named it one of the Top 10 Books of 2015 (it was also on our list). So, we were thrilled to see that Rebanks has a new book, The Shepherd’s View: Modern Photographs from an Ancient Landscape, replete with his lovely and compelling photography and poetic essays. On its pages, he shares with us a unique view of the pastoral world of England’s Lake District. We caught up with him recently to find out more about these working dogs and his remarkable partners, Floss and Tan, the sheepdogs who help him tend the flock.
Bark: Where would shepherds would be without sheepdogs—would it even be possible to do the job without them?
James Rebanks: A shepherd isn’t a shepherd without a sheepdog, just a fool running round achieving nothing on a mountain. Sheep are quicker than people, and on their own terrain, impossible to manage without a good sheepdog. To gather the flocks on our mountains (we call them fells) takes 5 to 10 shepherds and shepherdesses, and 20 or more sheepdogs. They are our main tool, and key to what we do.
BK: How can you tell if a dog will be good in the field? Is it breeding? Are skills passed along genetically?
JR: We start training dogs when they are very young, so they learn their names and to come to us. They progress as the months go by, until they are fully trained at about two years old. My youngest dog, Meg, is a year-and-a-half and can do nearly all the work of my mature dogs, Floss and Tan. She has learned from them. Well-bred dogs from good families are incredibly gifted, and show their raw talent and focus as puppies. So I think a lot of the instinct is there, waiting to be harnessed and focused through training. Nature gives you the potential, but nurture determines how well that instinct and natural potential are harnessed.
BK: What makes a good working sheepdog? Does the environment determine how well they can do their jobs?
JR: I like a classic Border Collie-type sheepdog. I think they look right, but that is just vanity. All that really matters is how well the dog works. A pup comes to its new owners to start its new life at eight weeks old. Choosing a puppy is about knowing the working quality of the parents. Floss and Tan came from a noted sheepdog breeder whose dogs are remarkably good workers. Different types of landscapes require different types of sheepdogs; fell land requires dogs with stamina and an ability to hunt sheep out of bracken.
BK: Do sheepdogs have different skill sets?
JR: Yes. Some sheepdogs have strong “eye” (power over the sheep with their gaze and presence), and those kinds of dogs like working in small fields close up to the sheep. Others work best in the mountains and across big spaces; they can hunt sheep out of crags and rocky screes. This kind of dog is best for the fells.
All dogs have different character traits; some are confident, others timid. Part of training is learning to connect with the dog and to communicate with it and get the best from it. Floss is a very strong, confident dog who likes to work up close; she tries to dominate me and the other dogs. Tan is quiet and shy, and I have to encourage him and praise him. I change my tone of voice depending on which one I am working, or I can unsettle Tan.
BK: In your first book, The Shepherd’s Life, you said that it’s possible to “make a mess” of training a sheepdog. How does that happen?
JR: The thread between shepherd and sheepdog can easily break. The dog is often trying desperately to please the person she works for, so if you speak in the wrong tone, or get frustrated or cross, you can shake the dog’s confidence, or scare or sicken her and spoil her love of the work. But perhaps the commonest mistake is that the dog just doesn’t understand what the shepherd wants, and becomes disheartened.
A few years ago, I felt I didn’t understand training as well as I should, so I sought expert advice from a trainer called Andy Nickless, who makes DVDs about training sheepdogs. I use his training method and find it works very well.
BK: In the same book, you wrote, “Shepherds hate other people’s dogs near their sheep.” What kind of harm can off-leash pet dogs do?
JR: To sheep, dogs are just wolves. But the sheepdog who is well known to the flock becomes less stressful and scary, and they know it is under the shepherd’s control. A stray, unknown dog —which is often out of control— causes them stress. It may chase them until they collapse from exhaustion, or miscarry; it may attack and kill them. Even tiny dogs can do this. And even the nicest, friendliest family pet can be excited by fleeing sheep and become momentarily wild as the adrenaline kicks in.
So that’s why I hate other people’s dogs near my sheep: they are all potential disasters. Dogs should be kept on leads near farm animals, for everyone’s sake. Responsible dog owners can help by persuading others to do the right thing. And for that, we are grateful.
News: Guest Posts
How many different situations does your dog understand?
Dogs respond to our behavior when we are preparing to leave the house. Reactions are different depending on where we are going. Each type of excursion is associated with a distinct set of (human) behaviors that occur prior to the departure. Dogs pay attention to these different behaviors because they carry a lot of information that matters to them.
The going-to-work behaviors that dogs observe their guardians perform mean that the person is leaving for much of the day. Those behaviors can include packing a lunch, blow drying hair, putting on dress shoes, carrying a specific bag or backpack and possibly being rushed and impatient. Dogs typically respond by sighing, going to lie down, and perhaps acting bored or disinterested. Their reaction reflects their understanding that they will not get to come along.
The actions that take place before a run may be putting on running shoes, grabbing a water bottle, stretching or eating something specific like toast or a banana. It’s easy for dogs who are running buddies to figure out that they get to come along and become excited in anticipation. Many will jump, spin, bark or do some other behavior associated with their enthusiasm or happiness. Some will bring the leash to their guardian, and others will stick very close, as if making sure that they are not accidentally left behind.
The behavior that is often most distressing to dogs involves the actions associated with travel. When many dogs see people filling suitcases, gathering items for a trip or anything else they connect to a long departure, their reactions reflect their displeasure. It’s as though they are thinking, “Uh-oh. I don’t like the looks of this at all.” Some dogs whine, some look sulky and others try to get in the way of our packing efforts.
Some departures are so brief that most dogs don’t make too much fuss over them. If you look outside, slip on your flip-flops and go outside suddenly, a dog who has seen this many times before likely connects those actions to your daily visit to the mailbox. Dogs may watch you from the window the whole time you are gone just to make sure they’ve read the signals correctly, but few experience much distress.
There are so many cues that tell dogs whether or not they are going when you leave, and give details about what’s to come. A bike helmet often means they stay behind (though in some families, it means just the opposite). Picking up the leash is a clear sign that they get to go with you. Shopping bags mean they are staying behind, as does a stuffed Kong being prepared. Grabbing poop bags is a good sign from the dog’s point of view, but grabbing your tablet is not. Dogs pay attention to what we do before we leave because information about their immediate future resides in our actions.
I’ve generalized about the reactions by dogs to various pre-departure behaviors. Obviously, a dog who is too new to the household to know the various patterns will not react predictably to your actions. Dogs who struggle when left alone, especially those with separation anxiety, are often too emotionally overwhelmed and panicky at any sign that you are leaving without them to cope with details distinguishing various situations. (Such dogs are often the most astute at figuring out whether they will be coming with you or being left behind, though.) Most dogs become quite attentive if they’re unsure about what is happening and can’t tell what your actions mean. If the cues that tell them what kind of departure is impending are mixed up or don’t match your usual pattern, most dogs focus closely on what you are doing to try to figure it out.
How many different situations involving your departures can your dog distinguish, and how nuanced are his reactions to each one?
News: Guest Posts
Has it happened to you?
A couple of times a decade, a fall of a truly spectacular nature occurs in my life because of dog-related forces. This morning, for example, an unlikely combination of bad luck and bad timing led to this score: Laws of Physics—1, Karen—0. I was walking Saylor, a sweet, cuddly adolescent dog with more power than you’d think based on her medium size and willowy build. Her strength is most obvious when she sees another dog, but usually I can distract her with treats and (reasonably) calmly walk by another dog without revealing her reactivity to anyone. That’s not how life unfolded today.
We had received more than a foot of snow this weekend. It’s still deep in places but has turned slick in others. (You can probably see where this is going.) On a sidewalk that had not been shoveled, I spotted a sled that resembled a boogie board. Detecting a potential issue, I actually said out loud to Saylor, “Don’t step on that sled. You’ll go flying,” without expecting her to understand. It was just my way of getting her attention so we could veer around it. Saylor noticed the dog before I did, and moved in his direction before I could make an adjustment or give her treats. The dog leapt up on the fence in front of the house so that his head and forelegs were over the fence. He remained there, threatening to make it all the way over, and barked aggressively.
Saylor had charged in his direction with such speed and power that my next step was right on the sled. It traveled in the way that children everywhere want sleds to move—fast and with no friction—resulting in an immediate slam to the ground with my entire backside hitting at the same time. I still had a firm hold on the leash, but that just meant that in addition to my undignified position in a pile of snow, my arm was thrashing about as she lunged at the dog attempting to climb the fence.
“I’m okay!” I said immediately to my husband, who was walking Marley—a dog much older and more calm than Saylor. I assumed (correctly) that my husband would be concerned that such a fall might have caused serious damage. I feel a bit stiff, but I’m grateful to have avoided the usual worries—broken wrist, concussion, bruised tailbone. My pride was far more damaged than my body. I got up laughing, headed away from the debacle of the sled, snow and barking dog on the fence, and worked on calming Saylor down.
I would love to have the incident on video because I’m sure it was hilarious, if not the sort of footage I would use to promote my dog skills. It’s all just part of life with dogs! If you’ve taken a similar spill, please share your story. (And I hope you were also unhurt.)
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