Why I won't teach you to correct a dog

I started learning about dog training when I was 17 using off-the-shelf books and information from TV professionals. I’m now 33 and have dedicated these 16 years to becoming the best dog trainer possible. I have a long way to go, but my time learning has not been insignificant.

In the beginning I trained in the way advocated in the books and programmes I was exposed to and approached the issue from the perspective of what was right and what was wrong for my dog to be doing. If my dog was wrong I put him right. If he was right I praised him, played with a toy or fed him. I was doing my best to be a responsible owner and bring the best out of my boy.

In memory of Rex, my best boy

In memory of Rex, my best boy

The problem was that he lunged, barked and looked ready to bite people. And he was a large-ish dog, black and athletic in build- a german-shepherd/Labrador crossbreed- pretty powerful and scary-looking. I rescued him and tried to make his life good. His behaviour was extreme though, so the vet recommended euthanasia. I did not accept this and so she prescribed him beta blockers and instructed me to keep him muzzled in public.

What kind of corrections did I use? A lead jerk, a shove with my hand or knee, a jab with my fingers to his neck, a “no”. I would startle him out of an unwanted action, perhaps by shouting “AH!” then insist he sat down. I asked him for A LOT of sits and lie downs, poor boy.  One time, he bit me because I corrected him and I was so upset because it felt like a betrayal. Now I understand that he was caught between a rock (stranger) and a hard place (me) and I had made his situation extremely stressful. He couldn’t always eat treats in a stranger-situation because he was too overwhelmed, and my training methods were partly responsible.

I learned that I could often hide Rex’s reaction to strangers therefore I believed the method worked. But it was never quite gone and could reappear “out of the blue”. I remember his face when he was scared and shocked by me, and the lost and stuck expression when he could barely think for stress and all his options were shit. At the time I was following advice from dog trainers I respected.

I’m telling you this because I want you to understand I can make your dog walk past strangers and dogs without barking or lunging out. This is relatively easy to do, even with large and powerful breeds that can look “psycho” towards dogs or people. I can do that using quite basic equipment or we could use fancier things that squeeze, choke, pinch, shock, smoosh or contort your dog’s face or body. You know me as Lucy who is cheerful, enthusiastic and fun. But you’ll have to believe me that I can scare a dog with a look, let alone if I raise my voice. I can force your dog to walk quietly past another dog. I could teach you to do the same. But I won’t.

Every day of the week students come to me who have used rattle bottles, sprays, chains and choke collars. They’ve been instructed by another professional how to use their voice and actions to stop their dog from doing the undesired behaviour. And now they’re coming to me and the issue has grown worse because the aggression has intensified and/or more generalized. It’s even more unfortunate because not only is the problem bigger it is also more difficult to treat now your dog’s confidence is damaged, his trust in you and his explosive emotional response are heavily established. I “fix” these dogs. I don’t want yours to become one of them.

Why do people try using startle and correction techniques?

I think the answer is multifaceted. In no particular order I believe the reasons include:

  • It feels justified. Your dog has behaved “wrongly” and as a caring responsible owner it is natural to point out to them that they are wrong. It feels common sense that this would teach your dog to do “right”

  • A professional has given you these techniques, your friend uses them, you read it in a book or saw it on Tv. Keep in mind that dog training and behaviour industry is not regulated and you will see/hear a lot of inaccurate and harmful information. Perhaps you were brought up with a no-nonsense approach and apply that sense to dog-ownership.

  • You are frustrated and angry. Your dog doesn’t seem to be improving and is jerking on your body. He may have hurt you. Members of the public are judging you and you want to appear like you’re taking action. After all the time and effort you’ve put in to your canine friend, it feels that he’s taking the piss. You feel better for lashing out. He jerks on you, you jerk on him, shout and look angry as hell.

  • It seems to be effective. You provide an unpleasant consequence and your dog breaks off from his behaviour and looks to you, perhaps getting all soppy and seeming to “know he was wrong”. After a few experiences your dog avoids engaging with the trigger and you conclude that the problem is over.  

 

Why isn’t it effective?

  • Your dog will desensitize or habituate to the correction. This means over time you will need to make it more shocking, scary or painful.

  • If the trigger is aggravating or scary enough, your dog will lash out anyway. On balance, if the trigger is worse in your dog’s mind than you or the rattle/chain/spray, he will do it anyway and suffer the consequences.

  • You’ve set up a situation where you are scary to your pet. You might think that the rattle bottle or whatever is not scary, it’s just a startle response, right? Think back on when you’ve been startled in the past. Imagine being startled by the same person regularly and how this would affect you.

  • Startling a dog ‘flares up’ their nervous system. Putting your dog on edge is the opposite of what you want. To have reliable sensible behaviour in future your dog’s system needs to feel soothed and level.

  • To the untrained eye your dog looks fine. What your dog is actually doing is avoiding the trigger and your displeasure. This is stressful for your dog. Maybe that’s okay for you because your walks are enjoyable again. But this is not the case for your dog.

  • Stress over time causes illness in your pet. If you want a long-term solution and a long-lived, vital dog, correction training is not your friend.

  • You’ve spent time teaching your dog to avoid the problem. You never taught him what to do. Now the problem might be hidden but not overcome. Therefore, it’s always just below the surface waiting to reappear.

  • Dogs become nervous of learning if you use corrections. The worry about making a mistake overpowers the pleasure of seeking rewards like treats or games. Your dog knows you might “go off” any moment and loses confidence in themselves and their ability to make good choices. You will be managing your dog for life because they haven’t learned to manage themselves.

 

Empowering dogs for long-term success

My aim is to teach your dog to make good choices with your support and independently. I want your dog to enjoy life and their time with you. I want them to behave appropriately and to live a long and healthy life, free from fear and worry. This is done using non-permissive reinforcement training ie we keep your dog safe and prevent errors whilst nurturing desirable choices. Thankfully for Rex I discovered modern training methods a few years in to keeping him and they helped tremendously. Since then I’ve helped many out of control and dangerous dogs and my regret is not finding better methods sooner.

I hope this post gives you some insight into where I’m coming from when I ask you to ditch using a rattle, chain or lead jerk. These actions seem innocuous at first so my response might be disappointing to you. I’ve studied this subject practically and academically for 16 years and I hope you will believe me that I only have your dog’s interest at heart.

Let me reassure you that I know what dogs look like when they lose control and I believe you that your dog is terrifying when they get going. I don’t need to see your dog in that condition to judge whether correction is the best way to proceed. If you’re ready we can manage and teach your dog together for long term success that lasts.

 

Living with dogs is a journey and I hope by sharing my stories you will avoid the sadness I feel at recalling the days when I was a less effective and accidentally-unkind trainer.

 

With the memory of Rex in my heart

 

Happy dog training,


Love from Lucy x

Pets without plastic

Everyone is aware that we are experiencing a global plastic crisis. And increasingly the public care. Partly because of the incredible documentary series by David Attenborough and also from increasing activist efforts to raise awareness. As this is International Plastic Free July I thought I would join in and make a difference. You can help too.

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The problem of plastics may be especially important to animal lovers as we may be more sensitive to animal-suffering. Wild species face injury and death due to plastic pollution. We may be more conscious of the toxic risk household plastics pose to animals' health and want to eliminate it from their lives.

As a lifetime plastic consumer I certainly don't have all the answers, but I can share some of the small solutions I'm using at home. I believe these changes benefit my animals and the wider environment too. 

 

Feeding

Are you aware that plastics can contain hormone disrupting chemicals such as BPA and phthalates? I've used plastic feeding dishes in the past but for the last few years I've only used stoneware bowls. I've found Mason Cash stoneware to be solid, hard-wearing and have never needed to replace one. This negates the risk of toxins leaching in to my dogs' food or water. When you carry water for your dogs you may choose to use a flask or reusable bottle rather than single-use plastic for the same reason. 

Home prepared meals. I reduce plastic consumption by buying fruits and vegetables from the greengrocer. They arrive in brown paper bags in a cardboard crate. I combine them with garden herbs and kitchen spices to make batches of frozen meal rations. This complements the meat portion of their meals. I buy mackerel in bulk which comes in 1kg plastic bags. I'm not content with this packaging but it's the best solution I have found so far.  

Commercial meals. I love Lily's Kitchen for providing foods in tin and paper packaging. My cat primarily eats this brand. There are many brands that sell plastic-free canned food but ingredients lists can leave a lot to be desired. Canagan and Barking Heads offer recipes I'm happy to feed my dogs. When I buy bagged food I buy in bulk, which reduces the total amount of packaging. I wish more brands wrapped their food in paper as my Siberian Husky's nutritional requirements narrow the range I can select and it's sad to me when I feel "forced" to buy plastic. 

I've started sprouting wheat seeds for our chickens to reduce the use of commercial feeds. When I feed them commercial food I use Dodson & Horrell that comes in paper bags. For grazing animals I purchase bales of hay tied with string rather than bagged in plastic. Using large bales of paper/hemp/wood bedding intended for horses minimizes plastic consumption too. Our guinea pig, fish and sheep foods comes in plastic bags but I'm yet to find an alternative.  If you know a brand please recommend it below!

Wardrobe

Metal and leather are biodegradable and last several-dog lifetimes if properly cared for. My border collie has a custom-made collar and lead set from Oakside Saddlery which I intend to last forever. Hemp equipment is available but I'm yet to try it out. I use TuffStuff, Perfect Fit, BUMAS and Equafleece brands which all contain artificial fibres. However, they function well and I've found them to be durable. If there was a non-plastic solution I would take it up but I'm relieved that at least these artificial products will last a long time.

Hygiene

Poo bags. I'm using corn-starch biodegradable bags by AlphaPet. I buy them on Amazon

Cat litter tray liners. I'm using 30L cornstarch bin bags by Allgreen which I also buy on Amazon

Cat litter. I'm using Bio-Catolet compostable cat litter. I don't compost with it as that would be gross but it's good to know it fully breaks down. 

Brushes. I've had Chris Christensen wooden brushes for years and they're still great condition. Wooden handles and metal pins or combs will last a lifetime if cared for. 

Shampoo. My dogs visit Woof & Ready dog groomers so I don't need to wash them at home. If I did I might try a solid shampoo bar made specially for dogs (their skin ph is different than humans and they can be more sensitive). I'm regularly seeing recipes online for diy nose and paw balms which I might try this winter. 

Bedding

Unfortunately I use artificial bedding fibres including polyester fleece and vetbed and to be honest, they don't last that long- maybe a couple of years. Most recently I've purchased a vetbed that contains wool fibres, so I suppose that reduces the percentage content of plastic, but it's not ideal. When I next need to replace items I might try searching for a bamboo, hemp or wool solution. In the past I've purchased from The Fabulous Fleece company and they offer fleeces for pets. If you can recommend a plastic free bedding brand please comment below! 

Cleaning

Recently I discovered ECO3  and bought a starter pack that included bathroom, kitchen and window cleaner plus microfibre cloths. My ecologist friend leads me to believe the cloths are not great as microfibre sheds tiny plastic particles into the environment via your drains. However, the products themselves reduce plastic consumption as they are refillable. Also they are totally non toxic and biodegradable.

So if you've read this far you'll have discovered I'm no expert on reducing plastic consumption. However, I hope you find some useful suggestion in the efforts I've made to care for my animals with less plastic.  And that you're inspired to make some simple changes for your family.

 

Please let me know what solutions you've discovered by commenting at the bottom of the page. If you're intrigued to learn more then keep an eye out for my next YouTube video.  Until next time,

 

Love from Lucy x

 

 

 

 

 

"It's okay! My dog's friendly"

A wonderful dog and owner team learning how to overcome fearful reaction towards dogs

A wonderful dog and owner team learning how to overcome fearful reaction towards dogs

Today, when I requested an owner kept her dog away from my student's fearful dog she responded "it's okay, my dog can fend for himself". From her comment it's easy to interpret that she had a lack of regard for her dog's welfare and ours. She seemed to believe an aggressive encounter would be acceptable as her dog would cope. This sort of attitude towards dogs' encounters in local parks is not rare and goes along with nonsense wisdom such as "let them sort themselves out". It's the sort of anti-social and neglectful owner-behaviour that we have probably all experienced. 

However, the far more common anti-social response from owners who allow their dog to approach dogs on-lead is the title phrase: "It's okay! My dog's friendly!" But is it really okay? Let's look at a list of reasons dogs might be on lead.

 

The dog could be-

  • contagious

  • recovering from an operation

  • suffering pain from injury or disease

  • in season

  • have a history of biting/barking/threatening

  • suffering trauma 

  • suffering anxiety or fear

  • excessively exuberant

  • in training

  • new adoption (unknown characteristics)

On top of these possibilities the walker may have lost confidence or be fearful because of a previous experience. They might have been very brave to come out and walk their dog in public. They might have a physical or mental limitation that prevents them from allowing their dog off-lead. They could be afraid of your dog especially if its coming over. 

Now do you really want to let your dog go over?

Aggression is contagious

It's simple to believe the problem is with the dog who's on lead. "Your dog's the problem, why should mine be under control" sort-of attitude. If you're an adult you should be able to figure this out: public spaces are for sharing, not a free-for-all space for your dog. Be responsible, control your dog and don't let him be a nuisance. The dog on lead has just as much right to be there as yours. All owners have a legal responsibility to provide good welfare ie walks. Even if your dog has always been sociable and friendly, one bad experience with an aggressive dog could cause your darling to become aggressive too. And if that dog was on lead that's absolutely your fault, because your dog was not kept under control- you allowed your dog to run over and invade another's space. You should have used a lead or had adequate voice control to prevent the situation.

Putting your dog on lead when another dog is on lead is respectful and good-manners.

Prevent your dog causing apprehension or annoyance

Having your dog run up to anyone or anydog demonstrates lack of control. Legally you are required to keep your dog under effective control. Failure to do so can result in court action even if no injury was caused. Let people with on-lead dogs know your dog is under control. Put your dog on lead or demonstrate that you have excellent voice control by calling to heel or sit. Remember, those people don't know your dog. Many people allow their dogs to race over and you might be the same. Be different, show courtesy. 

One day your dog might need to stay on lead 

I teach people who've had dogs all their life, experienced guardians with a history of numerous perfectly-behaved dogs over decades. And then they come to me with their tail between their legs because now it's their dog who is the "problem dog". Exhibiting behaviours they've judged others for over the years. All the times they muttered "get that dog under control" or "bad owners" are coming back to haunt them. The shoe's now on the other foot and they understand the need for good owner-manners on walks. I hope you will never be this person as I have so much empathy for the regret and shame these people feel for their previous attitude.

Get control

Calling your dog back shouldn't be hard. And if it is you shouldn't have taken the lead off.

  • Sign up for a class 

  • Watch a YouTube video 

  • practice, practice, practice

There is so much good information available for positive force-free teaching methods that there is no reason not to teach your dog the basic skill of coming when called. 

Make sure your dog likes being on lead and that it's not flapping in his face or causing discomfort when you attach it. If you want to leave your dog off-lead also teach heelwork or a sit-stay.

If it's an effort to get your dog to come back then you need to work on it. Whatever age or breed or background, your dog can improve. You can be ambassadors for responsible guardianship in your neighbourhood.

 

 

I hope you've found this post useful and if so please let me know. Have you had encounters like the one's described? Let me know in the comments below.

 

Until next time, happy training!

Love from Lucy x

 

Tips to keep pets safe in summer

Dogs out and about at the end of a hot day. Cool grass under paw, steady paced activity with lots of breaks and water available. These dogs can enjoy their trip out safely

Dogs out and about at the end of a hot day. Cool grass under paw, steady paced activity with lots of breaks and water available. These dogs can enjoy their trip out safely

At this time of year I always worry about our pets in the heat. People love to walk in the sunshine and often take their dogs out in the heat of the day, not realising that the experience can at least be uncomfortable, if not dangerous, for their canine companion. Also our smaller animals in cages and runs can suffer unnoticed. So here is a list of tips I hope will help you keep your furry ones safe in summer.

  • Avoid the heat of the day. Walk your dog in the early morning or the evening
  • Pavements get hot. Choose walks with grassy or muddy paths to be gentle on paws
  • Pick a cool spot. Walk in woodlands or by water, where your dog can cool down in safe streams, lakes, etc
  • Salt water can dehydrate your dog. Don’t allow him to drink seawater and clean rinse him in freshwater after a swim so that he can’t lick salt off his fur
  • Dogs must pant. Do not walk your dog with a restrictive muzzle or other apparatus that forces the dog’s mouth closed. Dogs must pant to cool themselves! Basket-style muzzles are safe to use as they allow your dog to open their mouth and pant
  • Vulnerable dogs. Be extra cautious with flat-nosed and hairy breeds, puppies and elderly dogs
  • Paddling. Put a paddling pool in the garden just for your dog to cool himself. Supervise play
  • Flooring. Give your dog access to cool tiled floors to lie on
  • Beds. Raised dog beds/kennels/hutches/cages are cooler as air circulates beneath. Plywood and bricks could be a quick diy fix!
  • A wet towel draped over a cage or hutch will make it cooler
  • Open windows at the top of the house to allow hot air to rise out
  • Downstairs is likely to be cooler than upstairs so consider rearranging your pet’s sleeping quarters if necessary
  • If it is safe to do so open doors and windows to allow a cooling draught
  • Consider purchasing a cool jacket or bandana for your dog or drape him in a cold towel or t-shirt
  • Moisten your dog’s fur at the ears, tummy, “under-arms”, where heat can be evaporated away from the body most effectively (dog’s only have sweat glands in their paws and not on the rest of the body as humans do so they find reducing their body temperature much more difficult)
  • Wrap a cold towel around your dog’s paws
  • Consider using rubbing alcohol soaked on cotton wool to moisten your dog’s paw pads as it has a lower boiling point than water. Use sparingly to avoid drying the pads
  • Place hutches and runs in a shaded area of the garden. Consider bringing in your outdoor animals at the heat of the day, if it is cooler indoors
  • Make sure horses, sheep and other grazers and browsers always have access to shade and water
  • Apply high-factor suncream to pale exposed skin of any mammal who will be in the sunshine to avoid sunburn
  • Always provide plentiful water, in multiple containers in case one is spilled or used up. Take water and a bowl on walks
  • Make dog-lollies. You could freeze home-made stock, stuff a Kong with kibble and water before freezing it, discover a recipe online….
  • Give your small pets a frozen water bottle to lean on, or just to lower the surrounding air temperature in the cage. Special mats are also available to purchase
  • Mist animals with water, if it is appropriate for their species. Always avoid spraying their face
  • Watch out for signs of heat exhaustion: Rapid and heavy breathing, increased heart rate and salivation, vomiting and diarrhoea. Steadily cool and rehydrate your pet. If left untreated heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke which can be fatal. Contact your vet if you have any doubts.

I hope this is useful for you and your pets and let me know what tips you liked best. Do you have any other suggestions? Please share them below 

Until next time, Happy Training! Love from Lucy x

 

Learning to forgive yourself

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I meet owners who haven't forgiven themselves for mistakes they made with their dogs in the past. These 'mistakes' might have been using a particular training method that they now view as unkind, getting frustrated, or misinterpreting their dog's fear/pain as naughtiness, or providing what they now consider to be inadequate exercise, cuddles, support, whatever. The guardians I've met have sometimes felt so guilty and ashamed of the previous errors that they are struggling to move on. In their head they are still beating themselves up about the past. Sometimes it has taken them a long time to seek professional help because they are afraid to be confronted by, or criticised for, their mistakes. Sometimes they're not even 'bad' mistakes! I frequently hear clients berating themselves for spoiling their pets as if giving affection and 'too much' care were wrong! My response to that is always, "We have pets to pet them" or "Of course! Your dog is your family!" This practice of self-castigation that I so often come across, takes up room in the mind and heart of the person that could be focused on enjoying their dog more fully now, and building a brighter future. 

I'd like to take a moment to say that pet professionals have a responsibility to teach human clients kindly. If we wouldn't criticize an animal for making mistakes because we want them to be engaged and confident learners, why would we do it to their human teammate? Mistakes are part of life. No biggy! Of course we'll want to identify what hasn't worked in the the past. I always attempt to do this in such a way that no blame is laid. We draw a line in the sand and create new strategies that make the human-dog team feel great. 

Why am I not cross or judgemental about owners' mistakes of the past?

  • I only see owners who love and are dedicated to helping their dog. That's why they booked me!
  • I've made a ton of mistakes in the past
  • I know the owner can change, so I see no purpose in focusing on crap
  • I know worry and self-blame can be reinforcing so I'm not prepared to go there
  • We are doing this together and formulating a plan of action 
  • The owner has chosen to come to class, I want them to be pleased with their decision

Is shame guilt, fear or uncertainty holding you back? And if so, why should you forgive yourself for mistakes and move on? Probably, the choices you made in the past were the best you could make with the skillset, knowledge and environment you had at the time. Now you know more and have a different set up, you can improve! This is the nature of life and of course it is uncomfortable sometimes. Maturity is making peace with the discomfort rather than sticking head-in-sand, keeping to the same old known-to-be-inadequate routines, criticising self or others. 

 
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Perhaps you feel that your guardianship skills are spot on and you've been doing a great job caring for your fur family. But are you spending time criticising others and shocking yourself with abuse and neglect stories on tv or social media? A lot of people do this and maybe they could reconsider the way they spend that time and direct it positively towards doing Stuff with the animals in their life, or being kind to someone else. We do the best we can with the knowledge that we have at the time. But more than that, we are affected by our health and our wellbeing. Emotionally if we are in a bad place it is unlikely that we will be able to give our best. So help your dog out by being kinder to yourself and others. 

I hope this post was useful to you and please comment below to let me know.

Until next week, happy training! Love from Lucy x

Feeding my Feline

There are a few quirks to domestic cats' eating behaviour. Unlike many other carnivores, cats need to eat everyday. Cats manage better with small multiple meals throughout the day rather than one or two big meals. When they eat too much too fast they often throw it back up again and this is the case for my cat, Samson.

So knowing Sam will be healthier eating multiple small meals per day, I can use food to address particular behavioural challenges

1) Frustration & boredom

2) Inactivity (weight maintenance)

2) Conflict with Viv

Firstly I wanted to teach Sam to "hunt" up on his catwalks. Read my previous post to find out more about the catification that's taken place in my front room. I discovered a cool feeding system called NoBowl which involves fabric-covered plastic "mice" that the cat bats around like a pinata. See here for a video. The contents of the mice (I use cat kibble) falls out as the cat works them. Now, because I have dogs in the house and they would quickly polish up any fallen cat food, I've modified the nobowl mice using magnets. I've popped magnets into the nose of each mouse and placed metal tape on the walls behind the shelves. This way I can place the mice anywhere on the system, they have some movement for Sam to knock them about, but fall off less easily. The aim is to increase the amount of time Sam spends hunting for food and eating it. There are 5 NoBowls in the system and I fill each of these with cat Kibble and place them up on the walkway system in varying spots each day. 

Sam lusts for NoBowl mouse. NoBowl mouse is safely stored out of reach to be used again tomorrow

Sam lusts for NoBowl mouse. NoBowl mouse is safely stored out of reach to be used again tomorrow

This is all very well for getting Sam up off the floor in the front room, but what about in the kitchen? I've initiated a training protocol. If I see Sam on top of the freezer or high up in his bed in the kitchen, I give him a treat. His treats are conveniently placed in an old bodyshop body-butter tub, out of the dogs' reach, by the cat bed.  Sam likes wet food too and I've been happy with the pouches by Canagan and the trays by Lily's Kitchen. So in the kitchen I deliver him a tray each day up high on top of the tumble dryer. This is to teach him to miaow at me hopefully from that location instead of staying on the floor where he's most likely to cause a row with Viv. 

 

Have you used food to train your cat? Let me know in the comments below.

 

Stay tuned for a future blog on sensory enrichment for house cats.

 

Love from Lucy x

Climbing the walls

Sam has not been happy

1. I've had less time to spend playing and training with him

2. He's on a diet

3. A new dog moved in

I know he's not happy because of his bad-tempered attitude towards the new dog (Viv), his new digging at the carpet, miaowing excessively for attention, and toileting accidents in the kitchen. In the images above you can see how he stares at Viv, and she knows he's not messing around- look how uncomfortable she's feeling. He uses staring and invading her space, stretching out and licking himself to move her and claim the space. She averts her gaze, softens her eyes and has tension through her body. She moves away from him to to escape his creepy behaviour. To improve Sam's mood, relieve his frustration, get him out of the way of the dog and keep him physically and mentally active, I've catified the walls of our front room aka put up shelves. 3 walls now contain plain shelves and one has a sisal covered shelf.

These walkways can be accessed by leaping onto a diagonally placed ramp/shelf that is also wrapped in sisal. I hoped Sam would also be able to get up  via the small shelves either side of the window but so far he hasn't tried that way. To get down he can leap off from anywhere but prefers to use the small shelves. I've made bridges to enable Sam to travel 2 larger gaps in the system. 

The shelves are made of 23cm wide mdf which was cut to size for me at Conways local timber supplier. Altogether I paid about £13 for all the mdf including the cutting. The London style brackets were ordered from Amazon for around £20. The plain shelves were painted with the same matt white as my walls to make them less of an eyesore while I decide how to decorate in the longer term. The sisal wrapped shelves took me hours to complete. I ordered 440m (!) of 6mm sisal rope from cheaprope.co.uk and a gluegun with cartridges from Amazon. It took A LOT of glue. And then Viv chewed up the glue gun so I used a friend's to finish off the last 150m or so. The most challenging part was to saw wooden lengths at an angle to enable the ramp brackets to be attached vertically. As you can see from the images, I made one of the angles too steep.

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These catifications should increase the choices Sam can make in his day to day life and enable him to avoid confrontation with Viv. Instead of making angry faces at her from the carpet he can stare down imperiously at her from the comfort of his walkways. I'll be using cat wands to encourage him to chase along the routes and catnip spray to excite him about the sisal walkways. You can see this games on @animalbehaviourcoach Instagram. From a sensory perspective I'm not content with the extent of the changes yet so stay tuned for future upgrades as I've lots of ideas. If you haven't already, read Feline Pheromones to find out how pheromone treatment worked for Sam's behaviour. Next time I'll be filling you in on the feeding and training system I've instigated to improve Sam's wellbeing.

I hope these adaptations will improve Sam's fitness, keep his mind active, reduce his frustration and improve his relationship with Viv. Let me know if you've enjoyed the topic and if you're had any experiences of catification in your home. 

Until next time, With love from Lucy x

Sourcing sustainable fish

Viv primarily eats fish and has a low grain diet due to her breed predispositions. If you're interested please read my first post on the subject Siberian Husky Nutrition.

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Dilemma! Fish stocks have plummeted and continue to do so, fish farming tends to exacerbate the issues and we are facing global catastrophic trophic cascades, extinctions of the most commonly eaten fish (a major crisis for the balance of ocean life) and yet we still keep exploiting the seas! For what reason is it totally normal to bring destruction on ocean habitats and species through over exploitation and trawling? Is it because we are not there, it's spatially separate and hard to visualise as we go about our normal daily lives? Is it simply because fishes aren't considered to be cute, sentient or intelligent? I feel the research on the latter two will shake our understanding to pieces and hopefully cause people to be thoughtful. It seems to me to be total insanity to see rows upon rows of species facing extinction lined up in tins on supermarket shelves. And in dog and cat food too. Would we sit back complacently if it were orangutans and tigers in tins? How about some of the UK's endangered wildlife such red squirrels or hedgehogs? To me the sea-life facing catastrophe matters as much as wild and domestic land animals. 

I am uncomfortable feeding my dogs tuna, cod, salmon or trout. I won't buy any of these species for mine or my daughter's consumption but have purchased them for my animals when I've been in a tight spot, such as when Viv would not eat dog food and when I was broke and a high quality food was heavily discounted. I'm not perfect and at times found it hard to live congruent with my principles. If you want to know more about the horrendous damage fishing and fish farming causes look at the Marine Conservation Society. You'll also find advice there of which species are good to eat. 

I'm lucky enough to have studied some marine and freshwater biology at degree level, gaining appreciation for the disastrous and irreparable damage being caused by non-traditional fishing methods. I also studied the challenges of welfare and ecology in fish farming practices. I've gained experience of teaching my goldfish and in the process undergone hours of close observation. As a result, I'm sure fish are sentient problem-solvers with social communication systems. Perhaps the public don't consider this to be true of cod, tuna, etc. because we only see these species dead, not associating the food in our kitchen with a living creature. 

So, looking at dog food ingredients for Viv, it appears that the most commonly used fish is salmon in dog foods. I was astonished to find "white fish" as an ingredient on many lists. How many species might that include?! It was also difficult to discover how or where the fish were sourced. Greenpeace advise line-caught mackerel, line-caught bass and purse-seined herring from Cornish coast as sustainable practice. I couldn't find these in dog foods. So as commercial feeds were disappointing me I set about finding those fishes from online retailers in order to prepare homemade dog food. In the end I located an online supplier and purchased 15kg of raw frozen mackerel, heads and whole gutted fish. From my research herring would have been the most cost effective species to feed but at the time the stocks hadn't landed in Cornwall. Did you know that fish species migrate? In the future I might try to source herring again, but not all herring (or mackerel) are fished sustainably.

Frozen gutted mackerel and mackerel heads arrive

Frozen gutted mackerel and mackerel heads arrive

There's quite a lot of flesh on the heads

There's quite a lot of flesh on the heads

Using raw feeding calculators available online, I believed that I could feed Viv 480g of fish per day (240g/meal) with additional fruits, vegetables and herbs to fulfil her nutritional needs. Read about the vegetable and fruit mix I prepared here. Weighing the first batch of mackerel heads this turned out to be about 4 heads per meal. Unfortunately she lost weight so I increased the portions. She was already a bean-pole when I got her and there's no way I wanted her to get any skinnier. She's also started running with me and swimming each week so extra calories will be required. I discovered that although the fish heads were meaty, I wanted more muscle meat in her portions so I searched for ethically sourced and affordable white fish fillet at the supermarket. In the meantime I added the odd egg to her meal.

How did I serve the meals? I varied the presentation. Sometimes I fed her two or three thawed raw mackerels in the garden. Sometimes I poached the heads and served them over a bed of veg/fruit mix with the cooking water poured over the top. This is her favourite way. I don't cook the heads but feel more comfortable from a hygiene perspective by heating their surface with boiling water. The hygiene of the heads matters more to me than the whole fish as they've been tampered with more so I guess a greater risk of bacteria. She enjoys the heads to the extreme when they are warm and the fishy water turns the fruit/veg mix into a soup.

Viv loves hot mackerel stew- they're raw under the skin surface

Viv loves hot mackerel stew- they're raw under the skin surface

Hot mackerel (raw inside) on a different homemade vegetable and fruit mix

Hot mackerel (raw inside) on a different homemade vegetable and fruit mix

I haven't solely fed Viv fish, or homemade food, nor do I intend to. During this time she's had about half her meals homemade and the other half as commercial dry kibble. This is because I use kibble to teach her and at the moment I'm teaching her every day and lots. I've used Canagan Country Game and Fish4Dogs Herring and Sweet Potato as the mainstays. I am also interested in sourcing deer and rabbit for her as I believe these proteins will be suitable and provide variety. Sometimes she has had an upset stomach when she has had lamb or chicken, whichever way I've prepared it so we avoid these foods. 

I hope I've inspired you to learn more about your dog's nutritional needs and enjoyments and that if you're interested in doing it yourself you keep researching, follow your vet's advice, and get it right. Homemade dog food carries the risk of poisoning and deficiencies which ultimately could kill your dog. For now Viv loves her diet and and this method enables me to live closer to my ethical principles. Stay tuned for my future post on the fruit and vegetable mix I've made for my dogs. 

Happy eating!

With love from Lucy x

Emotional Support for Good & Happy Dogs

This blog series is about Good Happy Dogs, and how we can achieve those qualities for our companions. I've been limited in my life to seeing dogs almost exclusively from a British and Irish perspective. I've seen a variety of ways dogs live, how they're "kept", the various roles they fulfill for humans and the multi-species relationships they share, but surely the diversity I've witnessed is just the teeniest piece of the world view. This thought fuels my curiosity about what dogs need.

Hierarchy of Dog Needs adapted from Maslow by Linda Michaels. This graphic explains the needs of dogs and shows that a foundation of biological and emotional requirements is essential to the fulfillment of all others.

Hierarchy of Dog Needs adapted from Maslow by Linda Michaels. This graphic explains the needs of dogs and shows that a foundation of biological and emotional requirements is essential to the fulfillment of all others.

When there is so much diversity in how we live together, how can we identify what dogs need to be good and happy? Let's look at just two examples of dogs I've known; farm dogs and pet dogs. Growing up observing farm dogs in and around my family, it was enough (at least for the humans) that the dogs were fed, sheltered and taken to the vets when needs-must. The dogs were Good, whatever that might mean in each circumstance, as there was little tolerance for keeping a useless or difficult dog. These dogs had been selected, thoughtfully or not, to be fit for purpose. Being fed might mean table scraps, kitchen peelings and left over porridge, sometimes the cheapest wholesale dog food. The dogs were keen for their meals and seemed to enjoy them heartily. Being sheltered might mean tethered access in and out of a barn, closed in a stable or a kennel. Warmth and comfort came from straw and perhaps a cardboard box. When I picture these dogs in my memories, they often appeared content. I remember them eagerly coming in or out of their living space, relaxing in the bare surroundings and smiling/wagging at people they knew in the yard.  Often they were valued individuals, shared special relationships with their caregivers, and were quietly loved. 

The farm conditions I describe are a far cry from how my usual clients live with their dogs, and from how I live with mine. (I am writing this in bed, my two sleeping dogs gently breathing on either side, occasional paws-twitching as they dream.) Commonly companion dogs in the UK enjoy a regular dog walker and day care service, an orthopaedic mattress, moisture wicking technology in their fabrics, regular trips to a variety of therapists and professionals, hypoallergenic food and specially ph balanced shampoo. With all of this, are they more happy or more good? 

I have to say, no. I don't think so. It's not the mod-cons and stuff that make dogs Happy or Good, although they often help. It's everything I've written about previously- Puppy planning, genetics, early development, socialization, health care, physical and mental stimulation....but even those are not enough. Emotional support is key to happiness! Awareness of a dog's emotionality alters the human's view of Good behaviour so that they're probably more likely to perceive it. This is a win-win situation.

Often I think it is a blindness to the emotional capacity of dogs, so similar to our own, that has enabled dogs to be kept inhospitably so they tend towards depression rather than happiness. Some might say a dog living in a barn or kennel with straw as bedding is inadequately kept, but I don't find that to be true. I've played and slept in those conditions very cheerfully as a child and as an adult. In contrast it is the house dogs I've met, living in ordinary British homes, who were for example, chastised constantly if out of their bed, that I picture when I think of inhospitable canine environments. You can substitute living space in this example for another variable...food, mental stimulation, exercise, health-care, training ...and imagine the in-home wealthy version of inhospitable or dissatisfying from the dog's perspective. We all have our biases and perhaps it is good for us to question what we think we know. How could a dog like the one unable to leave his bed without chastisement, feel loved and secure? Would we even recognise the dog's discomfort in plush and polite surroundings with welcoming human company? Perhaps my description sounds cruel to you but the examples I have in my mind were not carried out by cruel or unkind people. A little more self awareness and dog awareness would open their eyes and probably break their hearts. Often very lovely people have cried with me in consultations when they realised the emotional consequences of their mistaken treatment of their dogs. This post is about inspiring you to think differently, to be brave enough to look at the way you live with your dog and ask yourself if you're truly an emotional support to your canine companion. 

My conclusion is that dogs need us to be aware of their emotional states, that they even have them! And to be proactive and responsive in supporting dogs towards positive feelings whilst managing and reducing negative states. A huge part of this comes down to choosing and nurturing a dog that will be able to be satisfied in your home environment or you will be working exceptionally hard with limited results to provide adequate emotional support for the resulting frustrations. I am talking about choosing an appropriate breed from an appropriate background, and being realistic about what it will take to satisfy your dog's soul. If you're not sure read Puppy Planning. I believe that a lot of dog's joy comes in the giving and receiving of interactions with their special humans; if that is not a description of two way emotional support I don't know what is. So whether you have a little or you have a lot please remember that the quality of the relationship you share with your canine matters more to his happiness than stuff you can buy for him. And if you're worried, as many of my clients are, that your dog is less Good because he is spoiled with luxuries, put your concern aside. As long as your dog is emotionally satisfied, healthy and the luxuries support your training, it's all good! 

If you're interested in reading other posts in the Good Happy Dog series it's easy to find them using the desktop view of the site. Otherwise follow the links contained in the text above or start at the beginning. Please let me know what you thought of this article and if there are any particular topics you would like me to cover in future. The last in this series will be about recognizing Happy Dogs because Good and Happy don't have to be mutually exclusive. A well trained companion can also be joyful and satisfied although not every trainer prioritizes these qualities. In fact some trainers use forceful methods that create fear and pain in the belief that these are somehow superior to modern, science based and ethical techniques. Which is of course untrue! Go to "Do No Harm" e-book if you'd like to learn more about force free training, and keep following my blog.

Until next week, happy training to you all. Love from Lucy x

Feline Pheromones

This post is part of a series about enriching the life of my house-cat who's been frustrated and fed up with the new dog. To start at the beginning click here

https://purrfectlove.net/2017/01/scent-glands-on-cats/

https://purrfectlove.net/2017/01/scent-glands-on-cats/

Cats produce different pheromones from different scent glands of their body. These pheromones are communication signals that trigger emotions and stimulate certain behaviours. The behaviours I want to address with pheromone treatment are 1) digging at the carpet between kitchen and front room and 2) aggression towards Viv. Luckily clever people in CEVA laboratories have artificially reproduced a variety of cat pheromones marketed as Feliway and I've bought them in bottles from Amazon!

Carpet. By scratching the carpet Sam has marked it with scents from the glands between his toes. This scent attracts him to repeat scratch. So I used Simple Solution Extreme Stain & Odour Remover, a pet stain remover, with enzymatic action and bacteria to destroy the pheromone trail in that location. Then I introduced a new door mat on top of the area which has a flat-weave texture that won't be as satisfying to scratch as the carpet. I kept the new mat in place using Kraftex carpet tape. His original scratch posts are positioned close to the area so he only has to move two foot to engage in scratching behaviour, and his new scratch-ramp will be positioned on the wall above the doorway. Feliway produce a scratch pheromone, the one Sam has naturally distributed on the carpet, which I could purchase and apply to the new scratch ramp to encourage him, but I feel that the steps I've already made should be sufficient to deter his carpet scratching. On top of the new mat I applied Feliway CLASSIC spray which stimulates feelings of comfort for cats and is recommended by the company as a way to reduce scratching. These changes are still very new or in progress and I will keep this post updated with the results.

Aggression.  I've plugged in a Feliway FRIENDS diffuser close to the doorway he tends to guard from Viv, and that is also in the room where he is most often offended by her presence. Within 3 days I observed a significant difference in his behaviour towards her. He barely aggressed towards her until the refill needed replacing. It was almost a complete solution by itself! However, the refill lasts only 30 days and a little aggression remained so other steps, environmental enrichment and training, are needed to complete the cat-dog harmony in our home.

If you're struggling with tension in your cat family or have difficulties with unwanted scratching I hope you find the ideas in this post useful. If you'd prefer one-to-one help with your feline frustrations I offer private consultations which you can book here. Keep checking back each week for a new post. Next week I'll be writing about the catification in our house so far and how it's working out for Samson. If you've enjoyed my writing be sure to let me know by commenting below.

Lucy x

Catification

I'm taking a short break from the series about how to make Good Happy Dogs, but keep looking back as the next will be along soon- Emotional Support for Good Happy Dogs.

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Cats are territorial creatures and less well adapted to group living than humans and dogs. For example, dogs think about you thinking, cats don't think about you thinking; this cognitive difference limits social problem-solving for cats. In practical terms this means that they find it harder to diffuse awkward situations; disputes occur and can be ongoing and difficult to resolve, especially regarding access to resources, travel routes and spaces within the home. Owners might notice problems with aggression, fighting, litterbox failures, overgrooming, confidence issues, and more, that can relate to how cats perceive the home environment, the social challenges within it and their lack of ability to resolve those challenges.

Catifying your home provides walkways that give cats more choice of route as they travel through, snooze or simply watch the world go by. The way the walkways are arranged can enable house-cats to express their natural climbing behaviour, can be placed to encourage leaping and stretching, perching and balancing, and sisal covered to serve as great areas for scent marking and nail care. I believe the term catification was first coined by Jackson Galaxy whose work you might like to look at to learn more.

Why do I care about catification? My house cat Samson needs space and opportunity at home to express himself as a feline. He gets bored and frustrated, digs at the carpet, miaows for more attention than normal and is less tolerant of others in his space.  I wanted to catify to relieve his frustrations and enrich his life. Unfortunately life gets in the way and plans have been slow to materialise.

Then Viv the accidental Siberian Husky rescue arrived. And Samson needed to spend time crated or closed out of the kitchen to keep him safe while she learned how to behave with him. When he had an opportunity to interact with her he stared, mRarwled and threatened her with flattened ears and aggressive approaches. He was not a happy cat. He didn't want her in her cage, he didn't want her passing the doorway, he took offence at her lying on the front room rug. He needed some help to get along. So Viv's arrival spurred me into faster action to get the catifications in place. 

Of course catifications are not the full solution to cat-dog harmony within our home, but I intend for them to be part of the puzzle. I will let you know what other methods I'm using in future posts. 

Stay tuned for next week's blog. If you've enjoyed this post please let me know by commenting below.

 

Until next time, Lucy x

 

Good & Happy Nutrition

This is part 5 of a series on helping your dog be Good & Happy. Start here to read from the beginning.

Viv tucks into raw lamb ribs

Viv tucks into raw lamb ribs

There are many different ways to feed your dog including commercially prepared or home made, cooked or raw, dry or wet, fresh or freeze-dried ...the choices keep on growing. The ingredients in dog foods vary widely from animal derivatives, to meat meal to human grade muscles and organs. Some are packed with the cheapest cereals, others use root vegetables, some are carb-free. Doubtless you've heard owners advocating one sort of food over another and you may well be confused about what is best for your dog's health. How you choose to feed your dog will be based on your dog's health and fitness, their stools, appetite, your personal preference, budget and hygiene considerations. Your dog may have particular dietary needs because of performance, age, whelping, disease, disorder, allergy or intolerance. I talk a little about the evolutionary history of dog digestion in my other post Siberian Husky Nutrition which you might find of interest.

Whatever you do, feed your dog at least twice a day, more often if they're very young or elderly. This is important in keeping blood sugar levels even and avoiding the sensation of desperate hunger. Some dogs always feel hungry even when they're fed excessively but that's not an excuse to let them get fat. Fat dogs aren't as happy as they could be because they're not as comfortable in their own skin as possible. You should be able to feel your dog's ribs without digging for them, their tummy should neatly tuck up underneath, and you should see a waistline from above. Unless they have a supremely fluffy coat of course! If you're not sure, ask your vet. The other half of the weight battle is exercise which your dog should receive on a regular basis. Look here for my post Exercising A Dog. Many veterinary practices run weight loss clinics for their patients where nurses can support your dog on their journey to a lighter life.

Alternately you may be in the minority of guardians who can't put weight on their dog! You may want to find a nutrient dense food so that your dog consumes more calories and goodness with each mouthful than their current diet. Read recommended portion sizes and find a food that says they don't need as much as your current choice. Still struggling? Get advice from a canine nutritionist and your vet. What about picky dogs? Well switch up meal times, don't make it all about food in a bowl that's the same every time. Warm their food. Feed smaller portions more often. Work up an appetite with exercise. Undo sources of stress in their environment. But I can count on one hand the picky eaters I've met who weren't being overfaced or overfed. Double check your dog's weight as I described above before deciding to help them eat more.  

It's difficult to keep this post short when I'd really like to include everything and discuss all the details of diet. But I can't make this blog post last forever, so here's a list of things I think all guardians should bare in mind about feeding their dog -

  • Store your dog food correctly. Dry foods should be kept cool and airtight. Raw foods must be reputably sourced and mustn't contaminate human stuff. Moist foods should be refrigerated after opening. All foods should be used within date. 
  • Balanced nutrition. If you supplement a complete diet with treats and scraps, you are switching up the balance of calories and nutrients. If you make your dog's diet at home incorrectly you can easily cause your dog a deficiency so educate yourself before trying. Consider your dog's whole diet, not just what you put in his bowl.
  • You don't need to feed your dog in a bowl. Use feeding toys, training piece by piece, scattering in the grass, get creative. 
  • Antioxidants and gut biota. Your dog needs vegetation in their diet and these ingredients retain most of their beneficial qualities when freshly prepared. You can add fruit and veg to your dog's diet easily although it is usually best to cook and mash to aid digestion.
  • Some human foods are poisonous to canines. Look here
  • If you're going to home prepare food, educate yourself first. There are lots of books about canine nutrition from which you can learn about the nutrients and proportions required
  • It's okay to feed your dog the same thing everyday but new textures, flavours and methods of feeding will brighten your dog's day. Food is an opportunity for sensory enrichment
  • Don't overfeed your dog
  • Don't leave dog food down all day

They say food is the way to a heart and this is certainly true with dogs. Nutrition is key to canine well-being so an essential conversation to have within the topic of Good & Happy Dogs. If you enjoyed this post please let me know and share your comments below. Come back next week for Part 6: Emotional Support for Good Happy Dogs.

Until then, bon appetit!

Lucy x

Canine Care for Health & Hygiene

This is part 4 of a series of blogs on the formula for Good & Happy Dogs. Read from part 1 here

To be Good & Happy your dog needs to feel Good & Happy. That's hard if he's got pain, irritation, infection, disease or parasites. It's very easy to dismiss a dog's odd behaviour as "he's just grumpy" or "strange" when he might actually have an underlying health or hygiene issue. 

You need a great team on your side for routine preventative care and in case of emergency.

  • Vet
  • Groomer
  • Qualified therapist eg hydro, physio, chiropractic or other.

It's really a shame when you have access to great professionals but your dog hates them and won't cooperate or melts down on visits. I know because my first dog needed valium shots to stay calm at the vets! In the ideal world you'd have a responsibly sourced puppy, great set of genes, great rearing environment, well "socialised", etc.... and you would take time to introduce your dog to his health and hygiene professionals. On top of that you'd teach your dog what was going to happen on visits by training him for cooperative care. Take a look at the series of simple tricks for easy care on my YouTube channel.

Take your vet's advice about vaccination and parasite control. There are opposing views about best practice. You must find a solution that you feel comfortable with and that is supported by your qualified professional. Keep up to date with the healthcare plan you've decided to follow whether that's boosters/titer testing, spot-ons/tablets/parasite counts or something else reputable. Things as simple as poor dental health or fleas can make your dog miserable. With the right veterinary advice they are easy to prevent and treat. 

Groomers know how you should care for your pet's coat and you should definitely follow their advice. If they tell you to comb your dog through thoroughly once a week, make sure that you do. If they need your dog to come in for a full groom every 6 weeks, make sure you do. It may be that you have the grooming skills to maintain your dog's coat well yourself, but most owners of long coated and curly coated breeds don't. A significant problem for groomers is that owners don't listen to their advice which means the coat gets matted underneath and must be shaved off. The owner is then devastated and may take their dog to a less scrupulous groomer who puts your wishes before the dog's health. Matts are painful, dirty and lead to infection which is why a good groomer will shave your dog off rather than hurt them or leave knots underneath and prettify over the top. The worst story I've heard about poor dog hygiene is one from my vet nurse friend. She treated a thick coated northern breed who was left outdoors in the summer. He was old and a bit dirty. The heat, moisture and filth in his coat attracted blowflies. Flystrike is fast! Eggs hatch, maggots dissolve the skin to eat their way in, within days they are in the muscles and organs of the animal. Totally yuck! This happened multiple times to the same dog. All it would've taken is regular trips to the groomer to wash and blast out the coat, a cleaner yard and respite indoors to prevent this infection. Something less gross, such as a grass seed can cause havoc for your dog too. Keep your dog clean and tidy. 

There may be a time that you choose to be referred to a specialist therapist. It could be your dog is suffering from dysplasia, muscle atrophy or recovering from an injury. You'll need a veterinary referral to see a physiotherapist or hydrotherapist and will probably be given exercises to do with your dog at home to help them progress between sessions. It really makes all the difference if you've spent time learning how to communicate with your dog (built a trusting relationship and learned how to train) in advance of needing these sorts of physical treatments. 

There's not a single formula for keeping a dog happy, healthy and a joy to live with, but there are ways to increase your chances. I hope you've enjoyed reading my thoughts on looking after one aspect of the Good & Happy formula, health and hygiene, in today's blog. Read last week's on Socialization and keep a look out for Part 5: Good & Happy Nutrition next week.

Lucy x

 

Puppy Socialization

This is part 3 of the series of posts about what makes a Good Happy Dog. Start here if you'd like to read from the beginning of the series. A lot of owners know they should be doing something called "socialization" with their puppy but there's a lot of misunderstanding around and about it. 

Stimuli affect the puppy's gustatory, olfactory, auditory, tactile and visual perception. The sensory stimuli of the real-world your puppy will live in as an adult are of particular importance for "socialization" activity plans you make. 

Stimuli affect the puppy's gustatory, olfactory, auditory, tactile and visual perception. The sensory stimuli of the real-world your puppy will live in as an adult are of particular importance for "socialization" activity plans you make. 

When trainers and behaviourists talk about "socialization" they probably mean one of two things

1) Similar to the dictionary definitions such as - 

a. "The process of learning to behave in a way that is acceptable to society

b. "a continuing process whereby an individual acquires a personal identity and learns the norms, values, behavior, and social skills appropriate to his or her social position". 

Different dictionaries have slightly varying definitions

OR

2) A sensitive period in canine development between 3 and 12 weeks old. Puppies' sensory systems are functioning and they're taking in and processing environmental stimuli. They've not reached the age of "cutting apron strings" and perhaps haven't hit the fear period just yet. 

 

In contrast, most owners I meet mean "The activity of mixing socially with others". These differences of meaning matter A LOT to your puppy's ongoing behaviour. The risk is that owners meaning "the activity of mixing socially with others" overexpose and overwhelm their pups to stimuli that aren't relevant or are very relevant to their everyday life. Creating negative perceptions of irrelevant stimuli is teaching your pup to be afraid of novelty for absolutely no purpose. Creating undesired associations with Normal Stuff is setting you and your dog up for a hard life, battling his reaction to Normal Stuff for an indefinite amount of time.

Usually when I discuss "socialization" with clients I am meaning a combination of 1 and 2. I try to be clear which I mean (type of activity or stage of development) although there is so much overlap in the associated guidance that matters can be tough to keep straight in communication and therefore the mind of the owner. We learn about "socialisation" at Bright Start Puppy class where client puppies find out about new environments, people and pups in a controlled and fun setting.

The priority information for puppy owners to have is that there is a window of opportunity between the breeder having the puppy and 12 weeks of age. During this time your puppy is extra accepting of the world around him and will take the stimuli he encounters as Normal Stuff. It is absolutely possible to scare your puppy at this time and every care should be taken to make his experiences gentle and lovely. It's also very possible to teach him a beserk overexcitement reaction which you'd probably agree is best avoided. When the sensitive period ends it is more difficult for him to learn about New Stuff, but it can be done. Socialization as an activity is an ongoing pursuit for all ages of dog. To break this advice down into easy chunks

  • Puppies from an unsuitable background are already disadvantaged from 3 weeks of age
  • Weeks 3 to 12 are an extra special opportunity to introduce Normal Stuff 
  • Keep activities short and sweet
  • Enable your puppy to engage in behaviours that will be socially acceptable now and as an adult
  • Avoid overwhelming your puppy. He will remember the unpleasant/overexcited feelings and this will affect his future behaviour
  • Make sure your puppy has quality rest times. Rest is important to recover and process information
  • Puppies with genetic predisposition to guarding may need extra careful support
  • Puppies from sensory-impoverished starts (eg. puppy farm) will need extra careful support
  • You will be teaching your dog how to respond to stimuli for life, but groundwork at the critical stage of development will make life easier.

 

The other point I'd like to make is that there is no One Size Fits All solution to "socialization". The activities and stimuli one dog is exposed to for life will not be the same as another's. It is your responsibility as an owner to determine how you envision your dog's future with you and therefore which emotions and skills you will need him to produce in the context of real life stimuli. In simpler terms, you need to determine how you want your dog to react in the real world. Start preparing him when his brain is most susceptible to the lessons and introduce him kindly and gently. Don't allow him to have a Free For All if that won't be acceptable later on. Use sensible restrictions, lures and distractions to direct his behaviour in the way you want for life. Prioritise your puppy's experiences of Normal Stuff from the breeders home to yours, up to 14 weeks of age, to make sure he has the best chance of being Good and Happy for life.

I hope you found this post informative and please let me know your experiences of puppy "socialization" in the comments below. Take a look at last week's blog on Puppy Planning and keep an eye out for next week's Part 4: Handling Puppies for Health and Hygiene.There's not a single formula for keeping a dog happy, healthy and a joy to live with, but there are ways to increase your chances.

 

Happy training, love from Lucy x

Puppy Planning

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Following on from my previous post about creating a Good Happy Dog I'm writing a brief idealistic guide to help out newbie and wannabe owners. To read the first in this series click here.

 

Step 1. Puppy planning

The best time to start creating a Good Happy Dog is when you start planning to get one! The following guidance doesn't mean that a rescue puppy, older dog or puppy farmed pup won't be Good and Happy. But if you're looking for the easiest beginning and the highest probability that your dog will cheerfully fit in to your life, take note.

Meet dog families

If you're getting a pup you can test that the genetics and early development are appropriate for your family by meeting various ambassadors of the breed. Speak to several breeders and be prepared to go on a waiting list for a puppy that will be just right for your home. Meet the parents and definitely see the puppy suckle from mum. If mum's lovely, dad's lovely and breeder is lovely (knowledgeable, clean home, experienced and dedicated) your pup will probably be lovely.

Health testing

Find out what hereditary health problems occur in that breed. Make sure the breeder has tested their dogs and ask to see the veterinary documents. Don't just take the breeders word that their dogs are health tested and clear. There are no guarantees that your dog will have great health for life, but appropriate health testing goes a long way to reducing the misery of some genetic diseases.

Rearing environment

If you want a dog to live in your home, buy a puppy that has been raised in a home around the sights and sounds of a home. If you're after a farm dog, buy a dog that's raised outdoors with sights and smells of farms. The rearing environment is very important in shaping the dog's mind including what's scary, how to play and where to wee and poo. A super breeder will have different surfaces, toys, sights and sounds in their puppy play space. Think children's day nursery- but with baby dogs. The place will be clean, not smelly. And you won't come away with flea bites.  

Expert advice

Find a great trainer or behaviourist to advise you on setting up for your new arrival. You may need help choosing a breed and locating a great breeder. The number of puppy products on the market can be mind-boggling. The commonly available guidance on rearing dogs is even more difficult to navigate! An experienced owner will tell you one thing, a TV celebrity another, then you take a look on YouTube and receive different advice again. Your books, your vet/breeder/groomer/mum, your heart and even your own common sense will have conflicting opinions on what's best to raise your new dog. Save yourself difficulty by getting expert training advice from the outset so you know exactly what to buy and how to use it for house-training, walks, food, play, sleep, travel, etc. 

 

I hope you enjoyed the post and please comment below to share your thoughts. Look out for Step 2. Socialization on next week's blog post. There's not a single formula for keeping a dog happy, healthy and a joy to live with, but there are ways to increase your chances.

 

Happy Training to you and your pups, Love from Lucy x

What makes a Good Happy Dog

It's easy to think there are 3 ingredients to having a Good Happy dog. I think new owners and dog lovers alike often believe that...

Love + Obedience + Socialization = Good Happy Dog

But if life was so simple it wouldn't be nearly so interesting!

Mishka the Border Collie is a Good Happy Dog. Here he is catching water from the hosepipe

Mishka the Border Collie is a Good Happy Dog. Here he is catching water from the hosepipe

A complete view of the Good Happy Dog formula would include these elements (and more)...

  • Genetics
  • Development from gestation to adulthood
  • Health care
  • Nutrition
  • Age at neutering (if neutered at all)
  • Parasites, disease and injury
  • Relevant and APPROPRIATE socialization
  • Human/dog relationship (requires a whole other blog post or several)
  • Daytime routine
  • Level of dog's control over its life 
  • Presence and quality of joy/fear/anxiety/excited/anger/etc triggering events 
  • Physical fitness
  • Mental stimulation
  • Cooperation and communication (training)
  • Owner expectations
  • Dog expectations

Perhaps having a Good Happy Dog is now sounding more complicated than you imagined! And if you're the proud companion of a Good Happy Dog, CONGRATULATIONS! Either by fluke or your design a number of these elements have come together for your furry friend. If you're at your wits end with your stress-head, nervous or angry dog and worried that you've "done something wrong" put your mind at rest- you've probably done the best you could with your current skills and knowledge. Loved, obedient and socialized dogs have difficulties, it doesn't mean yours is neglected, abused or has something wrong. But it is a sign that life isn't as happy as it could be. Seek professional help to resolve challenging areas of your dog's life. With the right advice tailored to your particular family there's every chance yours can be a Good Happy Dog too. 

In the coming weeks I'm going to create a brief IDEALISTIC guide to having a Good Happy Dog. Come back next Friday for Step1: Puppy Planning. There's not a single formula for keeping a dog happy, healthy and a joy to live with, but there are ways to increase your chances.

I hope you've enjoyed this post and please let me know in the blog comments what you liked best. Do you have any tips for helping dogs be Good Happy Dogs?  

 

Happy training. Love Lucy x

Help! My dog is reactive

Accept where you're at

Your dog ...

...may have underlying pain or illness that should be ruled out by your vet

...may not want to go out because outdoor stuff is overwhelming

...may be adrenaline-fueled with little ability to control himself on walks

...may suffer with hypervigilance as a result of previous traumatic experience

...may love everyone and be frustrated that they can't greet everyone all of the time

...or something else!

 

Define it

  • What exactly is it that causes your dog to react and what exactly is that reaction. Try writing it down using the templates here as a guide. Get as specific as possible by adding your own words, more details and as many clauses as necessary

My dog [barks / growls / lunges / leaps / drags me] when s/he [sees / hears / smells] a [dog / human / cat / squirrel] at [home / the park / the field] and s/he is on / off lead. The behaviour is [worst / best / loudest / strongest / longest] when the other [dog / human / cat / squirrel] [approaches / looks like a post man / follows us / makes eye contact / barks / runs].

I believe my dog feels [excited / afraid / anxious / uncomfortable] when [dogs / postmen / squirrels] are [in view / approach / run / play / interact / look / sniff / touch / say hi] and s/he shows this by [stiffening up / growling / barking / ground-sniffing / looking away / lip licking / paw-lifting / showing teeth / bowing / lunging / pouncing / jumping up / licking faces]

Search for infographics online to better understand your dog's body language. This one is from  Vet Behaviour Team  online

Search for infographics online to better understand your dog's body language. This one is from Vet Behaviour Team online

Often there are more subtle signs of your dog's likely reaction BEFORE it happens and this exercise may help you to find them so you can help your dog to AVOID the reactive behaviour

 

Build your confidence

  • If you know precisely what triggers your dog's reaction you can avoid it while you get professional help to resolve it
  • Develop core strength so that your dog can't pull you around
  • Practice willing and joyful obedience so your dog is generally under better control
  • Stretch out your muscles before and after walks; you're probably holding a lot of tension
  • Meditate. Get an app like Calm or Headspace to get started, 10 minutes a day

 

Find a professional

Training is key to changing reactive behaviour and you'll be committing a lot of time and effort to this pursuit. Make sure you're on the right track by seeing a professional asap

  • Look for a professional with recognisable qualifications (this is an unregulated industry) who uses compassionate and science-based methods. As an example, I'm a member of the PPG who advocate force-free, pain-free, fear-free methods of teaching
  • Avoid those who explain behaviour using a pack leadership model, or advocate correcting your dog. I've met many lovely people who've caused harm to their dog because a professional told them to spray/shout/throw/choke/jerk their pet and they followed this advice in good faith. You don't need to do any of these horrid things to educate your dog (or anyone else)
  • Make sure your professional is as good with humans as they are with dogs! 
  • Consider joining a dog training class specially for reactivity cases (I offer Growl Class)
  • Work privately with a behaviourist (You can book private sessions with me here)

I hope you've found this post useful in defining and managing your dog's reactive behaviour while you seek professional help. Write below on this post if you'd like to share your experiences or tell me what you liked most about this advice for your dog.

Happy Training to you all! Until next week,

Lucy x

 

How to avoid dog walkers

So, you're a dog owner. You aim to walk your dog outdoors. And this is where the problem begins because your dog's behaviour towards others is not acceptable. The challenge is two fold: Other people and dogs trigger undesirable feelings and actions in your dog; Other people and dogs are outdoors.

"How do I stop other people letting their dogs come up to mine?" is one of the most common questions I'm asked at work, and although I don't have all the answers, I have a few suggestions that may help you.

I recommend sitting down with a drink, paper and pen for the next part. You may be working through this section for some time and you'll need to be comfy. I highly recommend strategising on paper rather than in your head as you'll find more solutions and better results. 

 

Out of the box

Ask yourself some worst-case-scenario questions and force yourself to write down 5 suggestions for each scenario. Yes, they're silly questions! But you will be surprised at the helpful ideas you discover by running through them.

  1. If my dog was a VIP hiding from the paparazzi, where/when/how would I walk him?
  2. If I turned into a blueberry like Violet Beauregard, where/when/how would I walk him?
  3. If I were facing a zombie apocalypse where/when/how would I walk him?
  4. If my dog was the zombie where/when/how would I walk him?
  5. If there was an outbreak of contagious canine disease, where/when/how would I walk him?
  6. If my dog were injured (restricted exercise), what activities would I provide instead of walking?

  Write down 5 answers for each of these questions

Map 

  • Find a map with topography symbols. Google maps will be okay for this. I'm currently using Ordnance Survey route planner
  • Where looks built up?
  • Where looks visually open? 
  • Where are car parks close to walking-space?
  • Where would owners be forced to keep their dogs on lead for road safety?
  • Where are trails with lead restrictions (sheep, ground nesting birds)?
  • How about open properties such as National Trust and English Heritage sites?
  • How about local facilities eg privately hired training fields or equestrian centres? 
 

 

Make yourselves uninviting

  • You can be uninviting to approach without being rude or scary
  • Let your body language speak for you. Stop, slow down, make a point of turning away. Most people will avoid you if you demonstrate this body language
  • Work on your "No". You don't have to suit strangers, they're not entitled to interfere with your dog
  • Ditch your embarrassment. Do what you have to do to keep everyone safe
  • Let your dog wear a muzzle. Get one that's basket style, comfy and brightly coloured. Find out how to teach your dog to LOVE wearing their muzzle. Try BUMAS
  • Keep your dog on a highly visible lead
  • Experience has shown me that engaging in polite chat leads to people overstepping the boundary you're trying to create. ("It's okay, I love dogs!" "My sister is a dog trainer" "Mine used to be exactly the same" *Stranger comes closer*) Keep language short and to the point eg "no thanks", "don't touch my dog", "no". 
  • Keep your dog happy by keeping your smiles, attention and chit chat especially for them

 

Take off the pressure

  • Find private activities and exercises in place of walks
  • Make the few walks you take about connection and training, not timing and distance
  • Get comfy, highly-visible equipment for you and your dog. Shock absorbing leads from Tuff Stuff and Perfect Fit Harnesses are my favourites
  • If your dog can slip their collar because they have a tapering neck, use a martingale
  • Connect collar and harness so that if one is slipped the other is still secure
  • Sometimes you will meet a person or dog, despite your best efforts. Know that by training and following some of the above suggestions, your dog will cope better and develop greater resilience to one-offs

 

Ultimately you will need to invest time and effort into dog training so that you won't have to avoid other people on walks. Avoidance is not a long term solution and it's a pretty miserable (but necessary) state of affairs. While you box-off your dog's training, you have to do something new. I hope these suggestions help you and please let me know which ones you try and how you get along. Comments below! 

Until next week, with love from Lucy x

 

Top human skills to develop in 2018

If I could suggest skills to develop in yourself this year to improve the way you live and train with your dogs these would be top of the list. If you'd like to read more context for this post and how dogs have motivated me to grow as a person and live better, check out part one, Who will you be to your dog?

Meditate

Go to a class online or real life, watch a YouTube video or download an app like Headspace or Calm. The research on meditation shows that it changes the structure of the brain. In practice this allows people who meditate to be less reactive, reduce stress and feel more energised, less depressed and many more wonderful things. Do it. It may seem weird, hippy, or nonsense, but it's not. Commit to a daily routine even if it only involves a couple of minutes. Look forward to bringing a calmer, happier and more joyful attitude into your life with your pet. 

Action shots

Want to get good at dog training? You'll need ace observation and timing skills so that you can mark desirable behaviours before following up with reinforcers. My advice to you is this- the camera doesn't lie. Either you caught the moment something awesome happened or you missed it. Get good at capturing action shots and you can transfer this skill into dog training (clicker training)

emma crushing snow boulder.jpg

Direct don't block

How many times do you tell your dog to "stop", "no", "leave" or "off"? Most of us using these words or similar are presenting them in a spirit of blocking behaviour, as opposed to asking your dog to do something we are asking them to cease acting at all. Is this reasonable? Your dog is a living creature so I'm pretty sure in almost all circumstances, it's not :/ I want you to develop a habit of noticing when you seek to block behaviour. Pause and ask yourself "what can my dog do right now?". This habit will give you the opportunity to either teach your dog something new, or request behaviour your dog already understands and likes. I promise your dog will like you a lot better for making this change

Spend time

When do you spend time with your dog outside of the necessary walking, playing, feeding, grooming etc? Could you sit with them more often, for example, reading a book beside their bed, or working with them under the desk? Could you set a timer to get up from the laptop once every hour and do something small together such as stretch, walk to the garden, get a drink or stuff a food toy? Could you commit more daily time to brushing their teeth or coat in a way that they appreciate? Are you always on your phone when you're with your dog? Perhaps you could make a commitment to putting away your phone or turning off the TV so that you can be truly present with your dog. 

Dog day

Maybe 2018 is the year to brighten up your relationship with your dog. Why don't you make a list of cool places to visit, classes to take, people to see, dog-friendly pubs/cafes/hotels, etc... and pick 12. Then open your diary and commit to doing one a month for 2018.  It may be that your dog is lacking certain skills that would enable public activities, but you can schedule sessions with a behaviourist or trainer to overcome behavioural challenges. I offer classes which you can book here. In the meantime, take time to bake together, play a dog board game, learn canine massage skills, there are so many possible activities!

 

Personally I will be improving my fitness in 2018. I'm committing to daily yoga, regular massages and a weekly running class so that I can take up running with Viv. As a Siberian Husky she needs a lot of exercise and running in harness is good for her body, mind and soul. Thank goodness for dogs! Without whom I might never have wanted to improve myself so much. This time next year perhaps I'll be fit enough to run a race with Viv!

I hope this post inspires you to take up one new action for your dog in 2018. Let me know if you're making a commitment to change something for yourself and your companion animals in the comments below.

Wishing you Happy Training and a wonderful New Year! 

Lucy x

Who will you be to your dog?

As New Year approaches, we tend to reflect on ourselves and resolve to improve.

The lovely thing about being human is our power of abstract thought. We can consider past events, dissect and rerun situations, and plan how to respond in the future. These abilities aren't unique to Homo sapiens, but the degree to which we are capable is certainly very special. So now we arrive at this particularly reflective time of year, how would you better yourself as a companion human?

dogs with me.jpg

Over the years the animals I've lived with have improved me no end. They've taught me to have patience, to observe without butting in, to predict what they're likely to do next and how to manage the environment in such as way that it guides them to "good" choices. These are all very valuable skills whether you're dealing with human people or animal people, young or old, in the family or outside of it. If you follow my social media streams you'll know that at the moment dog training is causing me to improve my time management skills. I'm learning to go to bed on time, sleep better, wake up brighter, plan my day and deliver the day as intended. Again, these skills may seem small and easy, but there are many people who struggle with their routine and are frustrated by the lack of hours in their week or lack of energy in their body to complete tasks. To make changes I have to research how other people have solved these challenges, consider what would work for me, give time to this planning, then take baby-steps every day to develop the habits I chose and to monitor my performance. If you're also struggling in these areas of your life take a look at Brendon Burchard online as I've found his work very helpful. I hope that in another few months my habits in these areas will be firmly set and I know my dog training skills will be much better for it. 

Animals have pushed me further than learning these relatively simple skills though. They've motivated me to manage myself emotionally and psychologically, which is no mean feat for anyone. When you're all wrapped up in your own bubble (where else could you possibly be?) the lack of perspective can hinder your ability to get passed yourself. Dogs offer a fresh pair of eyes on you and the world you occupy together. They've made me notice my limitations in temper, impatience and need for social acceptance. But noticing is not enough to create change; change happens when consistent actions are applied over time, and for anyone to make this effort they need to have a big reason why. A meaningful career/life with animals is that reason for me. So if you're honest with yourself how does your dog view you and how does that compare to how you want your dog to view you as your best self? Fun, trusted, comfort and awesome are the words that I want to see written in my dogs' expressions when they look at me.

viv looking.jpg
moby looking.jpg

I hope this post inspires you to think about developing your best-self for the sake of your dog, your training and yourself. Stay tuned for the second part of this post which will outline which top skills I'd recommend you develop to be an even better companion human. 

Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas and a joyful new Year!

Happy training! Lucy x