The Good, The Bad, The Ugly: Toys.

Toys. One of the number one things I am asked about as a trainer. What kinds? Why won’t Fido play with this toy? How do I get Precious to stop chewing up all of the toys? Why do they chew the chair/my shoes/pillows/carpeting/me when they have a WHOLE BOX of toys?!

99% of the time, my response is actually a question. Where are the toys located? And the response is usually: “Well Poochie has a toy box in the livingroom where she will go and pick what she wants…” Well, therein lies the problem. (Note: While, boredom is the most common reason for chewing, it is not the only reason.)

In many ways, dogs are just like children. We hear people call their dogs “fur babies” and “children” they’re not totally wrong! “Mommy, I’m bored!” We’ve all heard it… and we’ve all wondered how this child is possible bored with a playroom full of great toys. Just like that child, if your dog has 24/7 access to toys they are going to get bored with them, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t have expendable income to just go out and buy a new toy everyday! The solution: pick the toys up and only offer your dog a select few during “play time”. Then when playtime is over, put them away. My dogs have stuffed animals they have long since destroyed, leaving only the skins of the poor christmas characters… but when I pull these lifeless, tattered skins from the box, they still go nutty and play with them like its a brand new toy, straight from the packaging!

Now, an under-stimulated dog is often a destructive dog. Not only can they become destructive, but if your dog is not mentally engaged they can begin to show behavioral problems such as aggression and anxiety. Play time isn’t only for fun, it’s also a great way to strengthen your bond as well as stimulate your pup.

There are basically two general types of toys; isolation and interactive.

Isolation toys are toys that your pup will play with alone. These are things like the Kong, meaty bones, Nylabones, treat puzzles, etc. Toys that your dog will enjoy alone. While we are talking about this, I never recommend rawhide in any situation, ever. There are many healthier, safer alternatives. Rawhide, especially the bleached rawhide is unhealthy. It’s not uncommon rawhide bones have trace chemicals in it, IE BLEACH. Beside it lacking in the nutrition department, its also dangerous. Often when dogs chew rawhide, they rip of large chunks and swallow it. Depending on the size of the piece, it can get stuck at any point in the dog’s digestive tract and cause a major, expensive problem.

Interactive toys are the kind that require another dog or human to make it fun and stimulating. Things like balls, rope toys, a flirt pole, stuffed animals, frisbees, etc. These toys should only be given to your dog when they have a playmate, whether it be canine or human, for maximum play potential and for safety. We have all picked up the fluff from a murdered Teddy, and that fluff ingested can cause blockages which is a very pricey and potentially painful surgery. A client, just this last week, asked why rope toys are in the interactive category because she was told they “floss” the dog’s teeth if they are allowed to chew it. While I admit, I don’t know whether the flossing theory is true or not, I do know the rope can shed and be ripped apart into smaller, swallowable pieces. These pieces can collect and cause a major blockage. Now, I don’t mean to make the average pet owner fear these toys for they can be incredibly fun for your dog (Who doesn’t love a game of tug?), I simply mean to educate and hopefully help you to avoid some pricey vet bills and potential heartache.

I recommend that dogs are always monitored while playing with toys and the toys are regularly checked over for damages and sharp, broke, ripped or dangerous pieces.

Here are some fun ways to use toys you may have or to even make some homemade toys:

  • A fun summer treat using the Kong is to clog the small end with peanut butter, freeze it. Once the peanut butter is frozen, you can fill the kong with broth of your choosing and again, freeze it. I recommend giving this toy outside for it can become quite the mess, but it will keep your pooch busy for some time.
  • Many dogs enjoy water bottles as toys, something about the crinkle! If you have a large tube sock, you can put an empty water bottle inside and your dog will love it! (Note: when giving dogs water bottles, remove the top as it is small and easily ingested!)
  • Cut up old jeans and tie multiple knots.
  • Take a muffin tray, hide treats in half of the holes and fill the entire tray with tennis balls. The dog will have to lift the ball out to find the treat hidden underneath!
  • A fun game I tell my clients to try is to hide small treats all over your house. Initially you want to lead your dog to the first few treats, but after they get the hang of it, the game can give them something to do while you are at work!
  • Cut a straight line in tennis balls and fill it with treats. Make sure its not a circular hole, but a slit so the dog has to really work to retrieve the treats.
  • Cut old t-shirts, or any material really, into strips and braid them, making a fun, homemade rope toy.
  • Pup-sickles! Get a homemade popsicle tray and fill it with broth, then take bully sticks and stick them in before letting them freeze! A fun, refreshing treat. (You can also use milkbones as the “popsicle stick”!)
  • Lots of dogs LOVE to play with old soccer or basketballs! If your child has outgrown his or her sport, your pup certainly has not!

 

There are many other ways to make fun toys for your dog, I could go on forever. Please comment if you have any other awesome suggestions and feel free to contact me with any questions!

 

 

*May that pesky mailman finally get the hint! Tail wags and puppy kisses.* 

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The Truth About Doggy Daycare

First, let me say that I love my job. I believe in what my mentor/employer is doing and I am blessed to be able to work with her. She had a pet sitting business for many years but when she saw what was happening in doggy boarding and daycare facilities she was unhappy with it, so she opened her own facility to set the standard. The thing is, it’s working. Other facilities in the area, even large country-wide chains, are changing the way they do things. Now, beyond believing in her vision, the experience and knowledge I am gaining from simply watching different dogs and different breeds interact and play is invaluable. With all of that said, there is so much the average owner simply doesn’t know about what happens when they drop their dog off. I’ve seen things firsthand in the facility where I work as well as heard the many, many stories from clients as well as previous employees from other facilities!

What you first need to understand about these facilities is that they aren’t necessary. Sure, its nice to have somewhere to board your dog when you travel but your dog does not need doggy daycare.

“But dogs are pack animals and they need doggy friends!”  While dogs SHOULD be well socialized as youngsters so they aren’t aggressive or nervous around other canines, they do not need to play at a daycare. Not only are the dogs at a facility not a pack, domestic dogs do not need a pack like wolves do. YOU and other dogs in the home are their pack. A pack is a structured hierarchy where there is a level of respect and a family-like dynamic, they know the leader, they know each other. You wouldn’t consider children at a human daycare siblings, right?

The pros of doggy daycare:

I have no interest in turning everyone off of using facilities with their dogs, that is not my goal here. There ARE good things about it! First and foremost being, your dog is gonna be tired. This must be the number one reason people bring their dogs, they use the socializing as a way to burn off their dog’s energy so they can enjoy the cute and cuddly side of their pooch, and lets be honest… we all prefer the pup snugs instead of the crazy, jumping dog when you walk into your house.

If GOOD doggy daycare is consistently and correctly used from puppyhood, it makes for a well-socialized pup. Socializing is important for so many reasons. One, someday you might want another dog! If your dog isn’t already socialized with other dogs… and is now aggressive, good luck getting a new one! What if someday you need to re-home your dog for whatever reason? Take it from me, it is hard to find a new home for a dog aggressive dog. A dog aggressive dog is also a liability… if your dog were to ever escape the yard and injure another pup walking by… YOU are responsible for that. As the owner it is your responsibility to socialize your dog from the moment you purchase/adopt it.

Some(by some I mean few) facilities employ very knowledgable staff, as in trainers, behaviorists, rescuers, etc, who know enough about canines to be able to modify your dog’s behavior and help them become comfortable around other dogs. This is the exception, not the rule, but nevertheless it is a definite pro. If you have rescued a dog who has some dog anxiety or aggression issues, it is possible it can be helped… with the right guidance and knowledgable people to help.

The cool thing about doggy daycares with knowledgable animal people is if you don’t know much about dogs, they can catch things you wouldn’t. There are many times where myself or my co-workers notice something about the dogs coming in and are able to share it with the owner. Whether it be odd behavior from a dog that we see almost daily, or injuries, or an illness, or a large dog growing incorrectly because of genetics or something… anything abnormal, we would be able to notice and bring to an owner’s attention. We even have a couple clients with dogs who have genetic diseases who come in so we can monitor them for their hard-working owners.

Now the cons:

Most facilities DONT have knowledgable staff and think about it, it is extremely costly to have vet techs, behaviorists, trainers, etc on staff. The reality is most employees for doggy daycares are high school kids looking for a short term job. Most places just employ them, throw them in the yard with sometimes up to 80 dogs and say “have at it!”, some will show a couple hour course about doggy body language then send them on their way with good luck wishes, only a small few facilities have career animal people as employees. Which employees would you want watching over your dog?

Over-escalation is a huge problem in these facilities. To understand this, you need to understand the canine brain which we break up into three parts, fore, mid and hind brain. We will focus on fore and hind. Forebrain is where your dog is when you are working through your obedience cues and he is thinking, hindbrain is where your dog is when the mailman comes or they are chasing the squirrel in the backyard. An over-escalated dog is in hindbrain. When they are in hindbrain they are essentially taken back to their roots and are in a purely instinctual state of mind, fight or flight. This is why a dog who has just been hit by a car could bite his owner even though he is the sweetest dog on the planet who wouldn’t hurt a fly in normal circumstances. When a dog is playing they begin to escalate, they get wound up and start teetering on that edge between normal behavior and escalated behavior. A rough playing dog can go from a body slamming good time to snapping and “aggressing” at their playmate within just a few seconds. With ill educated employees, that is terrifying. Over-escalation is the cause of most fights in facilities and if you do not know enough about dog behavior or body language to be able to recognize the dogs’ escalation levels and react accordingly by giving the dog a break or stepping into the play to redirect the attention, you will have a fight on your hands. From what I’ve heard from friends who were once employed by other (well-known) facilities, there were times they were breaking up fights sometimes six times a day, mostly just because of pure volume of dogs in the yard at one time and lack of humans to monitor it.

Dogs do learn from each other just as much as the learn from their owners. That is one reason why most will recommend leaving a puppy with its littermates for at least eight weeks, they learn valuable body language and behavior from one another. Anyone with multiple dogs can attest that dogs pick behaviors up from each other. My Erni didn’t bark until he was almost 10 months old and he learned it from a female I was fostering for a short time. Now, even after she has found her home, he barks. Quite the alert dog, he is. In facilities this can be problematic. Dogs can learn to jump, dogs can learn to bark, to resource guard, push through doorways, react at crate/kennel doors, etc.

 

Your dog can be hurt. Anyone who tells you that your dog could not possibly be harmed is not being truthful. Just like children at daycare or in school, your dogs can come home with scratches from another dog while they played, scraped paw pads, a limp from being jumped on, scratched face from trying to escape a crate, its even possible your dog was the victim of an over-escalated dog and was bit. It does happen. And anyone who says otherwise is lying.

Now, I’ve gone on and on about the dangers and compared facilities. Some are good and some are bad. But how do you know? How do you pick a good from a bad facility? First, you need to trust your gut. I know many dog owners are not very knowledgable, so it could be difficult to feel like you can truly make an educated decision, but you can definitely trust your intuition. If you feel like something doesn’t add up or you don’t feel comfortable, do not leave your dog there. Do not let someone talk you into something you are uncomfortable with because they sound like they know more than you because, it’s possible they don’t know much more than you! Be weary of facilities where your dog isn’t given the opportunity to rest. Just like children, our dogs need a chance to settle down and relax. They need to have down time just like they need to be able to play. ASK what kind of training the employees receive before they are working with the dogs because it is important. Just having a dog at home is not enough experience to be the single human in a yard with 35-80 dogs.  Ask where your dog goes if they are overwhelmed, where they can go to have their own space in case the yard is too over-stimulating for them. Ask how the dogs are introduced to group, if they respond “on leash” LEAVE. It’s one thing to have a dog on leash with it dragging behind them just in case, its another to introduce dogs face to face on a tight leash, if they don’t know what that does to a dog behaviorally, they do not know enough to leave your dog there. If they say that they just throw the dog in the yard, LEAVE. Having cameras for the owners doesn’t mean much, either. Like I mentioned before, if you don’t have the knowledge you can’t really tell what is happening on those videos. For example, if you’re watching you see a dog resting, I see that cute Golden Retriever laying in the corner as a terrified, over stimulated dog in the wrong playgroup. If they will allow you in the yard with your dog to watch them play, LEAVE. A dog will ALWAYS behave differently when their owner is around. It is dangerous for you, your dog and the other dogs for you to enter the yard to watch play at any point in time. If possible, find a facility where there are SMALL play groups rotated throughout the day. Ours has a 15 dog max per playgroup, but most of the time the groups hover around 6 to 8 dogs. 35-80 dogs is simply too many dogs to ensure as much physical, mental and emotional safety as possible.

If anyone would like to inquire further about doggy daycare facilities, facility names, horror stories, or alternatives to daycare feel free to contact me. I am more than open to answering any questions anyone may have or even advising anyone on where to take their dog.

 

Licks to everyone!

 

Doggie CPR

Let’s start with the five W’s.

Who? The CPR’s of Dog Training was brainstormed by Deborah Vitale owner of Pawsitive Performance and Beaches Pet Resort & Training Facility in St. Clair Shores, MI. Please do not take this and relay or repost without giving her appropriate credit, please and thank you!

What? CPR stands for consistency, patience, and repetition.

Where? Anywhere!

When? Every time you work with your dog!

Why? The most important. Why is CPR so important? Because it will save your dog’s life. Does that sound dramatic? It really, truly shouldn’t. One of the most common reasons people re-home or surrender their pet is because of difficulties when it comes to their training. They’re “rude” and jump, steal food from children, wont potty train, counter surf, etc and the frustration eventually leads the owner to a crossroad: find a good trainer or get rid of the dog.  Even if you never want to surrender or re-home, a dog that has not be properly trained can be a danger to himself by: escaping the yard, running into the street, not responding to “come”, etc. Remembering CPR will contribute to a respectful, positive relationship between you and your furry partner as well as ensure maximum potential for learning and growth.

Now, we will break down CPR!

Consistency: This is so incredibly important. First, let me address that for most people, they only want a pet. This means that training doesn’t go beyond basic obedience and they just want a well behaved animal in their home. So the “old school” idea that there should be one master and one person working with the dog is not applicable here. When you move on to advanced training where you are competition level, it’s possible that you may want a primary trainer, but for most people you want a dog who will listen and respond to not only everyone in the house, but other people who may need to interact with your dog. So consistency, everyone in the home and out of the home needs to be on board with your dog’s training. If cousin Sally is coming over and you have been working your butt off to break Max’s jumping habit, Sally needs to understand and respect the expectations you have set for your dog. “Oh I don’t mind he jumps on me!” Sure. But I DO MIND and your five year old nephew that you babysit on Thursdays DOES mind. Sally doesn’t live with the dog, you do. For every one person who allows your dog to jump on them rudely, your training to break this habit is taking five steps back. If you have a particularly persistent friend who just refuses to help you train your dog, don’t feel obligated to subject your dog to being set up for failure. Put your dog in his crate or away while this friend is over. Do NOT feel obligated to allow this person to interact with your dog unless you want them to! Dogs do not think in shades of gray, they are black and white. Consistency is key.

Patience: “Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.” ― A.A. Milne. The relationship between you and your dog is not a sprint, it is very much a marathon. Training doesn’t have an expiration date and old dogs can learn new tricks! You have a whole lifetime with your dog, use the time you have to the fullest. Just like humans, dogs learn at different paces. You need to remember that your dog does not speak the same language as humans. They do not know English. Not only do you need to teach the command, you need to teach your dog what the command means. So, you need to take your time! Allow your dog to make mistakes because, everyone makes mistakes. We don’t expect perfection from our children all the time, why would you expect it from an animal? If your patience is running thin one day, back track and go over a command he well knows, end on a good note and walk away. Be done. When you get frustrated, so does your dog and no one benefits from this.

Repetition: How does ANYONE learn anything? Repetition. We re-write our spelling words in elementary school five times each for memorization. We practice riding our horses daily for muscle memory. We can still sing every word to our favorite song from high school because we’ve listened to it seven thousand times on repeat.

 

Now go out and do some CPR!

The Speuter.

It’s a beautiful spring day, your Poochie Poo is due for her booster shots and you need new Heartworm Preventative, so off to the vet you go! You’ve noticed her gaining weight the last couple of weeks but you haven’t thought much of it since you haven’t been taking her out on walks much anyways!

You arrive at the clinic and sit to wait for the tech to come in and get you guys started. A few minutes pass and then she has come to take Poochie’s weight, before she walks her out to the scale she runs her hands over her swollen belly and looks puzzled.

“Has Poochie been bred?” She asks and you respond with an “of course not!” The tech walks out to get the vet and sure enough, he confirms that Poochie Poo is expecting!

“But how?!” You wonder out loud… Well… turns out that Fido from down the street can scale a fence with ease and since his owners are irresponsible too, you’re gonna be a grandparent!

Now I want to do some math with you. Let’s say Poochie has six surviving puppies, three male and three female, and you sell them to more people who don’t believe in alteration. Those three females can have a litter of six or more TWICE PER YEAR for most of their life… So lets say each one has just five litters in their life of six puppies. Thirty. Thirty dogs from one puppy. Those females that just popped out of your bitch produced NINETY OF THEIR OWN. What if those 90 aren’t altered? Those 90 aren’t even taking the three male dogs into consideration… they can breed almost daily… Impregnating all sorts of females. THIS is why there are so many dogs in shelters, on the streets, sick and dying homeless. It may sound like a stretch but this HAPPENS. Not only does it happen, it happens OFTEN. Your dog doesn’t need to be an outdoor dog who dug a hole to breed, they don’t have to escape your yard, things happen, they are animals and if given the chance, they can and will breed.

Now what if Poochie couldn’t birth on her own and you must go in for not only a c-section but an EMERGENCY c-section! Now we are talking thousands and thousands of dollars, not to mention the vetting for the puppies before they are re-homed!

 

Now for the responses to “you should spay/neuter!”

“But I don’t want to take my dog’s BALLS away!” 

He wont miss them! I swear! Probably wont even know what happened, wont notice. In fact, your male dog can actually be less anxious if they are neutered, he wont have to worry about, lets call it… “performance pressure” (lol). A neutered dog also wont have testicular cancer and the chances of prostate cancer are reduced. Altered male dogs can have more predictable and manageable behavior, there is less of a chance of other dogs being reactive and aggressive towards him.

Female dogs certainly don’t miss their parts, no one enjoys a period and one that lasts a MONTH we would enjoy even less! Your unspayed female will be susceptible to Pyrometra, which is a fatal uterine infection, along with cancers of the reproductive system. Not even considering the immense risks she faces during pregnancy and birth of her puppies. Speuter please.

“But someday I want a little baby him!”

This response is always the most worrisome to me. If you are not well versed enough in the world of dog behavior to know that you will never have a dog identical to the one you are hoping to duplicate, you have no business breeding. No two dogs are the same, your situation when you got the first dog and your situation when that dog is birthing this puppy is not the same. Your life will not be identical. The raising will not be identical. And while genetics do contribute to personality, you will never have another dog like that one. Why would you set the puppy up to fail? And chances are you will be extremely disappointed by the puppy and it will do nothing but make both of your lives more difficult. Speuter please.

“I want to earn the money back that I paid for him…”

Stop. Please do us all a favor and find someone to take your animals and never own one again. Don’t get me wrong, there is money to be made in the animal world. BUT breeding to make money isn’t the way to make money. The ONLY reason you should be breeding your animal is to better the breed overall. Reputable breeders come closer to breaking even on breeding than actually profiting from it. Before breeding your dog you should get a full health check done on both the male and female, hips, eyes, blood panel, etc. That alone can be pricey, but then we are going to add pregnancy vet care, the supplements for the mama, the special foods, etc. Now, lets add whelping supplies to the bill. NOW, lets imagine something happens during birth and you need to pay for an emergency c-section. Now what if, god forbid, all of the puppies pass away. You’re now a few grand in the hole and you look like a fool. Speuter please.

“She wants to be a mother…”

Oh really?! Did she tell you that? Speuter please.

 

All in all, just don’t breed. If you need any more incentive to not breed, go for a walk through your nearest Shelter. If you want to be REAL hardcore, go take a stroll through the closest KILL shelter near you. The kind of shelter where you can feel death as you pull up and those dogs who fill those kennels must LIVE there for the remainder of their life unless they are adopted. But who will adopt that dog(who is only 16 months old and would make an exceptional therapy dog because his temperament is extraordinary) when you are offering a backyard bred Poochie Poo/Fido mix? No one. So the three day hold ends and the shelter worker goes back, slips a lead around his neck and leads him to the back room where he will be put to sleep because dogs are so vastly overbred and they need the kennel for the next stray they pick up.