Compulsive Canines

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder-yes, dogs have it. I was reminded of my dog’s compulsive behavior this morning as her head went from the water bowl to the foot bowl-nose touching each, then touching the floor outside the bowl in a sweeping motion. Oreo would touch the water, the food, then the floor, around and around. I happened to be standing near her, so I interrupted the behavior by throwing another small tidbit of chicken in her bowl. This discontinued her behavior.
Oreo used to do this A LOT before we did training and added anxiety meds. She would not only make a mess in her food, but she would spend over 15 minutes with this round about behavior. When she was younger, she also had obsessive fixation on certain toys. It wasn’t the cute kind of fetch or chewing, it was very aggressive, whale eye, I can’t stop myself from chewing this ball/bone/toy. 

  
So where do these obsessive behaviors come from? Obsessive behaviors that interfere with your dog’s life should be checked out by a veterinarian. Your vet can rule out any medical problems. Many obsessive behaviors can be neurological, while others can be caused by anxiety or environment. Dogs that are very intense, hyper, motivated, and in the working group are the canines most likely to develop obsessive compulsive behaviors. 

It’s best to address these issues when they start. Here are some ways to treat the behavior:

Create a routine. Many times these behaviors can be from stress or anxiety. A clear and regular routine could soothe your dog’s fears and reduce the ocd behavior.

Exercise. Exercise will not only help keep your dog’s mind at ease, but it will help them feel better.

Try T-touch or massages (if your dog is used to them, if not-read up on T-touch it has many benefits). This can relax your dog and release stress.

Use a thunder-shirt to help your dog relax (it has helped my dog!)

Train your dog using positive training. This will allow your dog to know what’s expected and if you want to interrupt the behavior, you can with some tricks you taught your pup.

Involve a positive trainer. Trainers can help identify what your dog is motivated by and stressed by. They can also teach incompatible behaviors. For example, my dog is highly driven by food and toy rewards. When she started her food/water obsessive behavior, I interrupted it by adding some chicken to her food. I also can stop her excessive licking by giving her a toy. 

Training and routine are VERY important for dogs that are stressed-so is exercise. Try writing down the things that stress your dog. Next, eliminate them if you can. If you can’t eliminate the stress, then manage it, train your dog, make a positive association, or give them something else to do (example: if they are stressed by you leaving, give them a kong filled with peanut butter when you walk out the door). If you have tried all of these it may be time to visit a behavioral veterinarian. They will be able to help you analyze your dog’s behavior, try training and medicine to help.

Don’t be afraid to use medicine if training does not work. Find a GREAT positive trainer (your dog deserves the best). If with training the compulsive behavior does not work, get a vet involved. Put yourself in your dog’s paws-would you want to be in their position? Wouldn’t you want help? Help your pup!!!

Trusting a Select Few

  This picture would’ve seemed impossible years ago, but now Oreo trusts my dad so much she jumped up on his lap to lounge.

Some dogs trust a select few people in their short lives. Oreo is one of them. Oreo’s fear and anxiety is caused from being taken away from her mother and siblings too early. Pups should stay with their mother for 12 weeks. During this time puppies learn many important lessons and if taken away earlier can lack social skills and are more prone to be nervous and fearful. 

Oreo trusts me the most since I spent years working with her at reactive training classes. She also trusts my husband, and parents. She has a tenuous trust with my brother in law and some trust with my sister. She has a select few she trusts and has a hard time bringing more people into her “circle of trust.” 

Building trust with reactive dogs can be long and hard but their trust is an amazing gift. In the next post I will talk about ways to work with a reactive dog to earn their trust. 

Sweet Grass! 

As we walk down the road, Oreo slightly leans to the right, trying to sway me towards that yummy piece of grass sticking out of an otherwise ordinary clump of that green stuff. She has spotted the perfect piece-larger, wider and with a different shade of green than the others. Oreo has always loved grass and I have always wondered why. 

Do dogs like grass? Do they eat it to help ease stomach pain? When Oreo was younger I thought she ate it to help her throw up. I made this connection after she would eat grass and come inside and immediately vomit. However, I personally believe she would have thrown up anyway, it just happened to be after she ate grass. But who knows, maybe it does help a dog’s stomach and that’s why she likes it so much. Why haven’t important questions like this been answered? 

When you google, “Why do dogs eat grass?” you will get thousands of results with many different answers and no scientificically proven time after time answer. I tend to believe dogs like grass. Oreo usually looks for the just right blade of grass and refuses others. Yet there are the rare times she will munch on our grass like I eat a bloomin’ onion at Outback Steakhouse-like an animal!!

No one really knows why dogs eat grass. Just remember if they are eating grass it should be untreated by pesticides and sprays. Sometimes I call her my little cow! 

  

Finding Peace with a Reactive Pup

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Let’s be HONEST here, it’s NOT easy living with a reactive dog, especially when you are first starting out. Now that Oreo and I have been on this journey around 4 years recognizing her reactivity, training, and managing it, we find peace more often than years ago. Although this picture might not look PEACEFUL, it in fact is one of sheer joy for Oreo. Today it snowed more than 10 inches on top of 15 already, creating a winter wonderful for furry fidos. While some dogs don’t like the snow, Oreo LOVES it! What makes this time even better is she & I have no worries-NO DOGS OUT, STRANGERS, SQUIRRELS, OR ANYTHING FOR HER TO REACT TO!

Finding peace can be difficult if you are just starting out or in the midst of training. Peace won’t come to you, YOU HAVE TO FIND IT.  Sometimes, you even need to CREATE IT.

Here are some ways that I found peace in the past or present with a reactive dog, I hope these may help you:

Walking-if you love it, find somewhere your dog will not come in contact with many triggers. I’m not saying avoid triggers forever because as you know in training your dog may need to see a trigger (example : another dog) from a distance and accept treats. However, your dog also needs peace and definitely needs days to calm down after a stressful event.

Where can I go walking, I live in a busy neighborhood/apartment/condo/city?

  • Find an empty parking lot. I’ve walked Oreo around school yards on off seasons, company parking lots, and even parking lots of grocery stores that are out of business.
  • Find a large, open space park. Some of my favorite parks were located near my condo where we used to live. After Oreo got attacked I couldn’t/wouldn’t walk her through our neighborhood. She froze up out of fear and quite frankly so did I walking around our neighborhood unaware when the next loose dog would attack. We found 2 favorite parks. Both parks weren’t super busy, and if one was busy, we went to the other. Both had lots of open fields, sports fields, and many exits. They both had various walking paths but also grassy areas we could cut through to avoid dogs or other triggers.
  • Tennis courts. I’m not saying go into a tennis court that has a sign NO DOGS, but I am saying if you are lucky enough to have a neighborhood tennis court like we did, they are a great place to have your dog off leash if no one is around. Oreo loved her time running free, chasing tennis balls. We also practiced recall, my husband and I on separate sides of the court, calling her and rewarding her.

Inside Your House-Depending on your dog’s reactivity, you may be able to find peace in the home.

  • Close the shades, put up window film, whatever works. If your dog is reactive when looking outside, don’t let them. If you aren’t working on training-don’t let your pup learn to bark at triggers (they will think they made the mailman/squirrel/dog go away).
  • Turn on the tv, radio, a white noise machine or fan. We always leave a fan running at night because our neighbor’s dog that barks. If the fan is off, Oreo will bark. If the fan is on, we sleep through the night.
  • Make a safe place for your dog, especially if you have kids. It could be a crate, a dog bed, or a gated area or room where your dog can go to feel safe and relax. This is also a good place for you to find peace if someone arrives or you feel your dog can’t handle a stressful situation, have them go to the peaceful place.

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My personal favorite time to find peace with my pup is walking in the neighborhood while snow is falling with no one is around. This is a time Oreo and I can do something we loved without fear of dog attacks, while everyone else is bundled up inside we are being adventurous in the snow 🙂

No matter how much stress you or your pup is in, it’s always important to cool down and FIND PEACE or MAKE IT. Reactive dog parents go through a lot of stress, take some time for you and your pup to relax!

GO TO YOUR BED!

Remember when you were a kid, got in trouble and your parents told you to “GO TO YOUR BED (or room)!” Well, instead of a negative thing, sending your dog to their bed is a very positive trick, giving your dog confidence, routine, and a calm corner to relax.

I am revisiting an old trick I haven’t practiced in a while-sending my dog to her “bed”. This can be very important for all dogs, especially fearful dogs. There are many dogs who need a “cool down” or “calm” area, away from kids, stress and distractions. There are many dogs that can be possessive of space-they don’t like when you are too close walking by or need a space where no one can bother them when they are tired. Perhaps they need a space to go when the door bell is suddenly rang by someone delivering a package. Dog beds can be used as a safe space, a place to rest, to eat bones, and to practice routine.

Oreo, my reactive dog does not enjoy guests unless they are close family she is very familiar with such as my parents or sister. If someone like a delivery man approaches the door the usual reaction is barking and pacing. My goal is to give her something to do-SOMETHING ELSE besides reacting in an undesirable way. This can be very helpful if you have the bed behind a dog gate, once your dog goes in there to their bed, you simply treat, close the gate and answer the door.

Does your dog jump up, beg, or stare you down while you are eating? Mine doesn’t always, but after some trips to her grandparents house where they fed her some food from the table, she developed some habits which are fine, but can be solved with a dog bed. Instead of staring at us, she will learn to go lay down on her bed and relax, that will keep her calm and she will be rewarded with a treat there, but not from the table.

Do you have kids or even a spouse or friend who makes you nervous around your dog? Well, if you are nervous that your dog will react the wrong way-think of how your dog feels! A simple way to solve this problem is to teach anyone who comes into your house that the dog bed area is off limits-a dog gate would even be better so they CAN’T get to them. If you are nervous or you see your fearful dog is nervous-send them to their bed. They will feel more confident for completing the trick.

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Okay, enough with the many reasons, let’s learn how to send them to their bed. There are two different ways.

Way 1: 

1. Decide on what you would like to call your trick-“Go to bed,” “Go to mat,” “Go to cushion” and so on. We always taught her bed is when she travels into our room at night, and my husband’s name is Matt-so that won’t work. We picked “Go to cushion.” Go near the dog bed and say “Go to bed,” and place a treat there or lure your pup with a treat.  Use a clicker or a word maker like “Yes!” when your pup is on the bed (release the treat if you are holding it for your pup to eat).

2. Encourage your dog to lay on the bed by saying “down” or whatever word you use for that trick. When they lay down click or say yes and treat. It’s best to teach them to lay on the bed, this way they can relax and you may want to continue to teach them more to the trick-like staying on the bed for periods of time.

3. Continue practicing having your pup on the bed by saying, “Go to bed” before they actually are on the bed. Use a treat to lure them and they will associate the bed with the signal “Go to bed.”

4. When they seem to get this, start asking them to “Go to bed” without the lure sometimes. Eventually, with practice you can fade the use of luring, and treat after they do the trick. They will no longer need to even know you have a treat. You can practice this from short distances and work your way up to more challenging tasks like having your dog “Go to bed” when you are in any area of your house. Eventually you can have them “Go to bed” with many different distractions happening at once.

Way 2:

1. If you like shaping or “catching your dog in the act,” this is the way for you. When you see your dog do anything near the dog bed (look at it, step on it, sit on it, stand on it, get near it) you click and treat.

2. You continue this “game” until your dog starts to realize good things are happening near the dog bed. Eventually your pup will realize being on the bed is when brings treats. You can continue shaping to add a sit or lay down.

Whatever way you chose, the trick not only helps your dog stay calm, but can help keep your dog safe. I will continue working with my pup on this and let you know how it goes! If you have taught your dog this trick, how did it work out?

Counter Conditioning-Cool!!

The ASPCA defines counter conditioning as “re-teaching the pet to have a pleasant feeling and reaction toward something that he once feared or disliked.” Counter conditioning is VERY valuable in training, especially with fearful dogs. Here’s how it works:

1. Identify what your dog is fearful of (men in hats, skateboards, large brown dogs, and so on)

2. Get yummy treats (cheese, chicken, steak, something special).

3. Expose your dog to their fear in a controlled environment (ask a friend to help or do training at class). If not, then go somewhere your dog can see/experience the fearful event at a very safe and far distance.

4. Make sure you expose them at a far distance. If you were fearful of snakes would you want a snake thrown on you? NO! You would start seeing it at a distance first. You need to figure out what your dog’s threshold is. Do they get scared of a dog 50 feet away? 20 feet? 10 feet? When does your dog go from being confident to being worried to completely losing it (barking, snarling, hiding)? You want to find the point when your dog is a little worried, but not losing it.

5. When you have your distance, give your pup those yummy treats when she/he sees that scary thing. Don’t give it to them when the scary thing is gone, only when it’s there. You want your pup to associate the GOOD TREAT with something scary-this way your dog will come to have a neutral or positive reaction towards it. Example: You work on looking at dogs at a distance. Your dog gets nervous 30 feet away. You bring your dog to a park and see a dog 30 feet away. Your dog looks at the dog, you click (use a clicker or a word to signal food), then deliver the treat. You work on this for days, weeks, or even months depending on how well your dog does. Eventually your dog sees a dog and looks up at you-YAY! Your dog EXPECTS GOOD THINGS when they see other dogs!

6. Once your dog is okay at a certain distance, get closer. So now we move to 25ft away instead of 30. We work on this the same way with treats until the dog expects treats at this level and doesn’t show signs of being overly nervous.

7. Continue until you get closer. Not all dogs are meant to get super close to other dogs or what they fear. Don’t push the dog TOO MUCH. Take baby steps & think of what your dog needs. Does your dog NEED to be close to other dogs all the time? Does your dog need to greet dogs? I know my dog was attacked by another dog and isn’t comfortable playing or greeting other dogs. Has she greeted them since the attack and through training? Yes she has, however, I don’t feel the need to push her anymore-She’s okay with them being 10ft + away, and that works for both of us.

Counter conditioning allows your dog to associate something scary with something good. This turns something horrifying into something yummy and fun. When Oreo finds something scary she knows where to look-at me for yummy treats and we keep moving on our walks.

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Have a Happy Hound at the Holidays

Most of us love the holidays, and we love our hounds. However, some people are VERY busy during the holidays depending on the size of their family. It’s a wonderful time to spend with family & friends reminiscing about the year and holidays past. We also don’t want to forget our pups…we want happy hounds.

  • If you have a nervous Nelly pup it is important to try to keep up with a somewhat normal schedule. Try to talk them at normal time (if possible).
  •  If they are nervous around lots of people/excitement or anything, don’t forget to manage their behavior/fears or use it as a training time. If it is very busy & hectic make sure they have a safe place, whether it’s a crate, a bed in the corner, or in another room.
  • Don’t forget foods that are poisonous to them. If you have that uncle or dad who can’t resist feeding them, remind them these foods are not good for eating:
    • grapes, raisins, currants (in fruitcake)
    • chocolate
    • gum
    • too much fatty scraps
    • alcohol
    • any medications relatives may leave out in bags on the floor or somewhere your dog can reach.

Another thing we need to keep an eye out for are decorations that may be dangerous:

  • hot potpourri (don’t let them lick/get close)
  • watch they don’t get too close to the fire!
  • snow globes (if they are imported) they contain antifreeze—YUCK!!!
  • lillies, holly, mistletoe

DSCN4117Oh yeah--Don’t forget to get them toys & gifts too!! They love opening them 🙂

Have a happy holiday & happy hounds!

Talking Their Language

Whether you have a reactive, hyper, calm, people-friendly, dog-friendly dog, it’s always important to talk their language. They don’t always understand what we say, in fact they only understand a few words we teach them. It’s important to understand what they are telling us.

 

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Eyes up, looking at you, bottom sitting: please give me that treat, toy, food, or attention! If you train a lot it could be a sign for, “I’m ready for training!”

 

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A very obvious sign of discomfort is licking the lips or nose. Dogs can do this for many reasons, including yummy food left on their nose. However, if they didn’t just enjoy a meal or treat they are sending a clear message-please back away/leave me alone/I’m uncomfortable. Oreo uses this language a lot. She does that when I’m taking pictures, when seeing a stranger, dog, or anything that makes her uncomfortable. If this doesn’t work, she will usually try to turn away, or move away. It’s important to pay attention to the smaller signals such as licking the lips-otherwise dogs can escalate to showing their teeth, growling, snapping, or even biting. They have  many ways to tell us they are uncomfortable/scared/or want to be left alone, we just need to listen.

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A dog who is staring or at attention is alert and sees something interesting/scary/etc. You may see your dog’s tail go rigid and up in the air frozen. You may also see your dog lift one paw in the air. This mean your dog senses something. In my case, this usually means something scary or super exciting is near. This could end up being a squirrel to chase, or a person/dog nearby. In the first picture Oreo is looking for a chipmunk in the woods-she hears the pitter patter of leaves. In the second picture, Oreo is ready to attack something super scary for her-the vacuum! She is saying I’m scared and I’m going to attack if you don’t move away! The signal of freezing, paw up, still tail up in the air, or staring helps me be ready for stimuli. I make sure I have my treats out and on alert for any loose dogs or brace myself for a squirrel chase!

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These are my sister’s dogs. The play bow, or running side by side is usually a sign of-let’s play!! If you look, the dog on the right seems to be shifting his weight to move away, and his tail is a little stiffer in the air. This is because he’s saying-leave me alone-I’m old and tired little puppy! However, the pup on the left is saying come on-play with me!

 

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Whale eye-notice her eye is very large-it’s not the cute puppy eyes that want food. Whale eye is when you can see the whites of your dog’s eyes. Usually this happens when your dog keeps their head in the same position but follows you with their eyes. Whale eye=stress. If your dog is showing the whites of his or her eyes it means they are stressed or uncomfortable. Oreo uses this many times too. I’m very thankful she communicates well now, and I can read her signals. In this picture she is uncomfortable because I am getting close with a scary camera. She is trying to tell me she is stressed. Oreo uses this many times when she is super tired/grouchy or feeling sick. If I want to play/pet her and she’s feel lousy we know she will watch us this way. If you have a food/space/toy/bone possessive dog, many times they will continue eating/playing/etc but watch you as you walk around or near them. Definitely back off & if you don’t have a positive trainer for that situation, make sure you get one!

Other ways our dogs communicate:

Yawning-if it’s in the morning-they are probably tired/waking up, however, yawning is usually a way for your dog to calm down. If she is stressed when we are walking, this will help calm her down. However, if your dog is doing this while you are doing something new, or are too close-this is a signal they are stressed.

Sniffing-maybe there is something interesting to smell, but if you are in a street or somewhere where your dog is sniffing incessantly it means I am ignoring what is stressing me out (usually a dog for Oreo).

Ears flat laying on head- This is a sign your dog is very stressed or scared. Oreo tends to only do this at the vet.

Shaking- I am sick or very scared.

Head turns or looks away– I want peace-I’m moving away from what is scary or stressful, please leave me alone. Oreo will do this sometimes with other dogs, but many times does it when she is very tired at night. Her thyroid is a continuing medical condition we are monitoring, but her levels cause her to be grouchy & very tired sometimes. When going to pet her in the evening, if she wants to be left alone, she turns her head away. It’s very smart of her & since she knows we listen to her it’s an easy way for her to tell us she’s uncomfortable.

Shaking whole body as if shaking off water after swimming (but not wet & didn’t go swimming)– I’m releasing stress! Oreo does this during our walks when she is stressed-I definitely reward this motion as she is trying to calm herself.

Panting- If it’s not very hot-then your dog is stressed. This happens on the way to the vet-Oreo pants very loudly.

Wagging tail-this can be complete opposites. Your dog could be very anxious, or very happy. Researchers now say that the direction of the tail wagging will tell you which one. They are saying that if the tail is wagging to the left the dog is anxious, to the right it means they are happy. I haven’t seen this, but I do read other signals with tail wagging. There have been times my parents thought Oreo was happy to see some neighbor or stranger because her tail was wagging, only to find if they brought her close she started jumping and trying to nip their shirt and barking. I personally think it’s hard to see the direction of the wag, so I look for panting, ears down, crouching, and other signals to show she is stressed. I fortunately know her so well I usually know when she is wagging her tail when she’s scared and take her out of the situation or give her more space. If you have any doubt-back out! Better safe than sorry.

Growling- this is a signal you need to take seriously, if you ignore this signal which means I’m really stressed-leave me alone, then it can escalate to snaps and bites. Oreo actually started growling at 8 months and we knew she was genetically reactive & pursued an excellent trainer.

Snaps-You aren’t listening-next step I’m biting. If you have a dog that snaps I recommend finding a positive trainer. Oreo did this when she was younger before we enlisted the help of a reactive trainer. We didn’t know when she was stressed and what was bothering her until we learned her language.

Biting-You didn’t listen, I was really scared/uncomfortable and asked you to leave me alone, but you didn’t.

Many times dog owners state that their dog was always so friendly and loving, but out of nowhere it bit their child/neighbor/friend, etc. Even friendly dogs who never show any snapping/biting/or growling can be pushed over the edge when they are being teased/tortured/or put in a very scary or uncomfortable situation. It is important for people to pay attention and listen to their language. We don’t speak the same language, but like meeting a person who speaks another language, their are signals or signs we can read to find out what the other person or canine is trying to tell us. Listen to what your dog is telling you.

 

 

 

Tug it Up!

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My sister has an elderly dog which has been with them for many years after her roommate threatened to bring it to a shelter after she moved (nasty). Mighty the dog doesn’t get along well with everyone-all of the time and can appear aggressive to strangers. There was no question-my sister and husband (boyfriend at the time) would definitely adopt Mighty.

Mighty doesn’t always play well with others-in fact we’ve never seen him play well with others-until Kai came along. Don’t get me wrong-Mighty doesn’t like to play all the time-but when he does play it’s magical to watch. Kai is a large German Shepard my sister and husband adopted who loves to play (he’s only around 1 year old). Mighty on the other hand is closer to 12 years old. Watching the 2 dogs play is quite the treat. Sometimes Mighty will just growl, turn his head away, or walk away to tell Kai he doesn’t want to play.

However, when it’s tug time Mighty stands his ground, while Kai pulls him around for fun. Kai doesn’t win…ever…but I think Kai wins in his mind. Kai’s goal is not to win the rope, but to pull Mighty around as much as possible (so much fun)! Here’s the link to a short video my sister posted of them playing tug together and a short snippet at the end of Kai listening to the video and saying, “huh?” with the classic head turn. Enjoy!

>https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=f4T4N5QKy2w