Dogs Have Never Had It So Good!

imagesCAQVUMGT
Dogs have never had it so good! Before the 18th century you wouldn’t see any lap dogs, especially not dogs sleeping in the bedroom. Dogs were kept as hunting partners and guards, not friends or family. In fact, in the 16th and 17th century they were thought as dirty animals that carried disease.

“Hair of the dog that bit you” was a common phrase in the 16th century to say to someone who had rabies-the “hair” was the cure.

“If you lie with the dogs, you get fleas”…pretty self explanatory.

Phrases that were common for people who caught stray dogs were called, “dog skinners, dog drivers, dog whippers, and dog floggers.”

“Not fit for a dog” and “As sick as a dog” were phrases that showed dogs were thought to be horrible animals.

In the late 18th and 19th century, dog baskets and treats emerged. Small dogs were kept as house pets.
In the 19th century the phrase “A dog is man’s best friend” was coined. Dog hospitals opened and dogs were seen as having feelings.

It’s sad to see that some people still believe dogs don’t have feelings. Now a days dogs are family members (and rightfully so). They share our homes and many times our beds also. They are loving companions, daughters, sons, and sister and brothers to our children. They kiss us when we’re sad and stay by our sides. They jump, lick, and wag their tails to share our joys. They are so much more than just dogs. They are us. In fact better than us for they don’t judge or hold grudges. They give unconditional love. We should all look through the eyes of a dog…to see such a large world around us, yet appreciate the little things.

Medication Mania

dog-medicine-bottleA recent post by a friend on a social media site left me wondering…what do people think about dog medications? And why do many of them think they are more harmful than helpful?

Some people still seem to be stuck in the past, thinking dogs are just entertainment to have around. Medication? No way!! People frequently laugh, giggle, or give me weird looks if I tell them my dog is on medications for anxiety/fearfulness. I always get the saying, “Oh she’ll grow out of it” or “She’ll be fine, don’t worry about it.” Well, I do worry about it…or rather I did, before we had a breakthrough with medication.

If you feel like your dog is fearful or has anxiety and you’ve tried training but hit a brick wall, there are other options. Medication is another option, but should be given after extensive training has been tried. It’s not something to be taken lightly, but it’s also not something to fear. It’s also not a magic pill.

With dogs that are seriously fearful and haven’t progressed with the help of a positive trainer, medication is something to talk about with your vet. There are many options for whom to talk to about this. The best person to consult is a veterinary behaviorist. They specialize in dog behavior issues (aggression, anxiety, etc) and medical issues. Many times an underlying medical issue contributes to a dog’s behavior. It is important to get your dog checked for medical issues before considering anxiety medication. Many times simple things such as hypothyroidism could be a cause of many different behaviors including aggression.

There are a variety of medications to treat fearfulness/anxiety. It is important you talk to someone knowledgable about them, as they are recommended for different things. For example, some are used to treat separation anxiety, while others are recommended for general anxiety, and other for aggression. Blood tests will also be taken to make sure your dog will be able to take medications and check ups for blood work may be needed later.

I am going to repeat this again-because it’s not a quick fix–first you must make sure you have tried everything you can with a positive trainer, make sure your dog has adequate exercise, and rule out any other medical problems before even considering medication. I don’t want you to think it’s a bad thing either-because it can help immensely.

For example, Oreo was getting exercise and training for a long time with a positive trainer, but her anxiety issues were getting worse. She had trouble with training activities and seemed like she “hit a brick wall” in training. We could only take her so far. We also found out she did have some medical issues, but those were being treated and she still wasn’t progressing. So we worked with the vet. We started her on a low dose of an anxiety medicine. We increased the dosage but saw no improvement (the medication does usually take weeks or a month to kick in). We decided to wean her off of it and try another. This medication helped her immensely. She was able to progress nicely in training and take walks again. It allowed her to get over that hurdle that was stopping her, the debilitating fear that everyone and everything was out to get her.

If you had anxiety and it was so bad you couldn’t live your daily life, I’m sure you would try seeing a therapist and seeking out medication if that didn’t work. The medicine would allow you to combat your fears, and one day you may be able to get off of the medication. However, not all people or dogs do well off of the medication either. Oreo is still on medicine and we aren’t sure if one day she will be able to handle life without it. Do I like that she is on medicine? No, I don’t like giving her pills, but now I’ve learned that she needs the medicine, just like a diabetes patient needs them. Without them, she couldn’t live her daily life and function. Medication is not something to be feared, but not taken lightly either. Do you homework and read up-but also don’t rule medication out. It helped Oreo’s quailty of life immensely.

Medication can be a lifeline for dogs that would otherwise be euthanized.

For people with dogs that aren’t seriously anxious in only certain situations-there are many natural medicines or remedies for you. Look in chinese herb medicines, thundershirts, chamomile, and essential oils.

Common Sense…AKA Positive Reinforcement

Some people don’t have common sense. I haven’t always had it. It’s a new way of thinking…new age. Okay, I kid. People complain that their dogs whine and beg at the dinner table. Did that just happen magically? Well…NO!

If you give your dog food from the table while you are eating, generally they will want more of that good stuff while you are eating. If you save some for them and put it in their bowl later…they won’t beg at the table. If you reinforce their begging at the table by giving them more food…it will happen again. It’s called positive reinforcement.

Positive reinforcement is giving a dog a reward for something you like (you want repeated). Positive reinforcement is a very powerful tool in dog training. Positive reinforcement is used in any healthy type of dog training. If you want your dog to come, you teach them the concept with positive reinforcement (when they come to you, you give them a reward to tell them “good job” such as attention, toys, or treats). If you want your dog to learn any trick you use positive reinforcement. If you want to modify behavior such as jumping on people, fearful aggression, or even begging at the table…you can use positive reinforcement.

There is a pattern here…positive reinforcement works. Why? Because it’s the same thing your parents used to raise you and build a caring and loving relationship (hopefully). Dogs are family, not play things or replaceable (even though some people think so-it infuriates me!). Making a connection with them and building a trusting relationship is very important-believe me, I have learned it work very well in training, especially with fearful dogs.

If you yank a dogs leash, yell at them, swat them with paper or your hand, you can bet they will not trust you and your relationship with your pup will suffer. Traditional methods of training are outdated and cause dogs to follow you out of fear instead of wanting to follow you…just because they want to (they like you!). Positive reinforcement training allows dogs to be more confident and less fearful.

Next time a problem comes along I suggest positive reinforcement (also known as common sense). You reinforce behavior you want to keep. If you want your dog to beg at the table, then go ahead feed them that piece of steak off of your plate. However, if you want to use common sense, wait until later when they are laying around relaxing and reinforce that with a small piece of steak.

For those of you who want an example of positive reinforcement in action here you go:

Positive reinforcement can be used to reinforce everyday behavior you want to continue. For example, if you want to teach your dog to relax, give your dog a treat when you see them relaxing. If you want to reinforce paws staying on the floor when guests arrive, treat only when the dogs paws are on the floor.

Positive reinforcement can also be used to teach behaviors.

For example, if you want your dog to learn to look at you when you say his or her name you can easily use positive reinforcement. Call your dog’s name. When your dog looks at you, give them a treat (I would use a clicker and click, then treat to make sure the dog realizes you are giving them a treat for the moment they look at you.) Continue practicing this so that every time you say the dog name they continue to look. This should be repeated until they can at least look at you 80% of the time you call their name.

Additionally, positive reinforcement can be used to modify behavior.

Oreo is fearful. She gets scared when she sees other dogs on walks. Problem: she is so scared she starts to puff, growl, and lunge even when a dog is 50 feet away. She won’t turn around or move!

How can I solve this problem? Positive reinforcement! I can walk with Oreo at a distance a bit further than 50 feet away. I don’t want her to get very upset, so upset she can’t hear me or think. I want her to be far enough away from her “trigger” (what gets her upset), that I can work with her. So I try 55 feet away. I walk with Oreo and when we see another dog we start practicing turning around. I call her name and give her 5 seconds to turn around. If she does turn and look at me I click and treat (reinforcing the behavior of looking at me in the presence of another dog so she will do it again). If she doesn’t we need to start over (no reward, I don’t want her to ignore me, so I won’t reinforce it). Eventually with practice, she will turn around and walk the other way with me quickly.

These are just examples, and if you have a fearful dog like my dog Oreo, I suggest you seek a positive professional dog trainer to help you. There’s a lot more your dog needs to learn then just turns. Common sense right?