Hey, Can You Blame Her?


Oreo, my parents and I went up to the lake house. We haven’t been there since winter, so some things were new to Oreo. 

Imagine your family bringing you somewhere, but when they try to tell you, you don’t understand. It’s like they are talking another language. Imagine you go to this new, unknown place and you see giant gadgets and things you could’ve never dreamed up. You aren’t sure what they do and you can’t understand what your family is telling you about them. 

That’s how dogs feel, especially reactive dogs. They see something new and strange. They have two options: fight or flight. If they are on a leash they only have one option: fight. 


Some of the lake was familiar to Oreo, but some was new or she hasn’t seen it in a long time. She enjoyed laying on the deck, sniffing the grass and barking at deer. 


There were some things she didn’t enjoy: moving boats, fishing rods, and the space (crack) where two docks connect. 

I knew she was scared because she gets the whale eye-you can see lots of the white of her eyes. She also pants loudly and barks. Sometimes dogs will show signs that let you know they are scared right away and sometimes you have to pay close attention and know what to look for. 

Signs your dog is stressed: 

  • Whale eye 
  • Panting/loud breathing
  • Barking
  • Ears down
  • Tail between legs 
  • Behaves frantically-looking all over, jerky movement
  • Hiding
  • Licking lips
  • Yawning
  • Grimacing 
  • Drooling, growling, shaking

Of course you have to take these behaviors in context. Oreo will grab treats more aggressively from my hand when she is nervous. This means I need to move further away from her stressor or remove her from the situation. 


So when your dog encounters something new and scary say, “Hey, can you blame her?” Either remove her from the situation, train her, or move her further from her stressor.

The Chicken Thief

There is a chicken thief in our midst…and her name is Oreo!

My husband bought a chicken sandwich and fries from Checkers and sat down to have his delicious lunch. However, the world had other plans for that sandwich. 

  He got up to take a phone call, leaving the sandwich and fries on a tv table (easy access for the chicken thief). When Matt arrived back to his seat after the call-the chicken sandwich and fries were missing!

The chicken thief was caught red handed with a wrapper hanging out of her mouth.

Boy, my husband learned his lesson. Dogs easily become thieves when chicken sandwiches and fries are involved.

The guilty girl aka chicken thief:

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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!!!

Do the Flip!

 
As I sit here watching tv, my dog daughter jumps up for a cuddle. This is my view while watching American Idol. Notice the ears-flipped! If you have a dog with long ears it’s vital to keep them clean and dry-so flip them when they are relaxing! This helps get air in there. 

Oreo has had lots of allergy problems and ear infections when she was young, but flipping the ears has really helped, along with weekly or biweekly cleaning with witch hazel on a cotton ball. You can tell a lot about the health of your dog through his or her ears. If they smell or have blisters get them to the vet! If they are dirty-clean them and get some air in there: Do the Flip!

Christmas is Over?!?

  
Christmas might be over, but I am very lucky to have this week off for vacation! 

Oreo has almost destroyed all of her toys-some in a matter of minutes! Luckily, since I know she is a big chewer, I buy toys that can be ripped, but still played with. For example, the snake’s squeakers (in the pic) have all been chewed out, but we can still play tug.

Uhh…I swear she lives to destroy toys…  

Find a Different Way

We are currently sitting outside while my brother-in-law is cutting wood, making us a shelf for our patio. There was once a time where just seeing him would cause Oreo to fly into a barking panic and hearing the noise of a saw would send her into a fit. 

However, we have to find a new way to do things so that our anxious dogs are no longer worried, but calm and relaxed. For example, Oreo use to back up and bark excessively out of fear when she saw Chris (brother-in-law). This would happen if we greeted him inside.

 Instead, we tried the greeting outside, by doing a quick sniff, turning and walking with him. This technique seems to work with most people, sometimes even strangers. Many times we think, “Well this is how my dog is supposed to act, why aren’t they listening?” Or sometimes we give up all together and avoid what we think scares them. Reactive dogs think differently, so we should too. Having a reactive dog can be difficult, but it’s much easier if you find a different way.

Four Years!!

I can’t believe it’s been 4 years since my first post on here! I started this blog as a way to deal with stress when I finally found out the name for what was happening with Oreo- reactivity. We’ve been through many tough times and have come a long way. Now I mainly post on here for updates and to share hope for others with reactive dogs.   I still train Oreo, but do much managing and take many previous skills she learned and apply them every day. Four years ago, I would’ve never imagined I would be cleaning Oreos teeth, ears, feet and even grooming her myself! I also never thought we could go on long walks without her freezing, shaking in fear, or losing her cool. We’ve come a long way since she was attacked and the future can only get better! 

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.

 

 

 

Brushing a Reactive Dog’s Teeth

As you know, reactive dogs are afraid of many things. Oreo is afraid of ANYTHING new. I reward her when she explores new things without growling, barking, etc. However, if you put anything new near her face, she’s very likely to back away, run away, or if continuing to put it near her face, snap at you. Why worry about brushing your dog’s teeth? Dog’s teeth need to be brushed just like ours do-they get tartar and have problems. If you’ve ever had to get your dog’s teeth cleaned-it’s also very expensive. Recently the vet mentioned Oreo is getting tartar so I need to brush her teeth. Whether your dog is reactive or not, steps should be taken to familiarize your dog with toothpaste and a toothbrush. (*FYI-don’t use regular toothpaste, there are special dog toothpastes. Don’t use adult toothbrushes either, stick to children and soft bristled.)

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Here are some tips that helped Oreo love toothpaste & her toothbrush:

  • Most important FIND A TOOTHPASTE FLAVOR THEY LOVE!!! I can’t stress this enough-I have tried a few brands/flavors with Oreo and she hates certain ones and tolerates others. However, the CET Poultry flavor-she LOVES! I pull that toothbrush out and her tail wags and she runs towards me-sometimes she is licking it so much it’s hard to get to her teeth to brush!
  • Take baby steps-Don’t thrust the toothbrush at your dog’s face right away.
    • First familiarize your dog with the toothpaste. Put some on your finger and see if your dog likes it. If not, try another toothpaste. If your dog won’t take from your finger or let you near them, don’t worry about brushing their teeth right now-work on building a relationship and working with a professional positive trainer. If your dog won’t let you touch and manipulate their muzzle and mouth-work on that (touch their mouth, lift a lip-click treat! Teach them good things happen when you are touching their face/mouth.)
    • At this step you can either skip to the next step, or if your dog really doesn’t like things near/in their mouth, use your finger or a finger brush (you can find them at pet stores near the toothpaste-they fit over your finger). This will familiarize them with brushing their teeth without sticking a toothbrush in their mouth (it could be scary!)
    • Next you can put the yummy toothpaste on the brush and let your dog lick it. Depending on how scared your dog is you may want to do this a few days so your pup knows the toothbrush brings good things. Some dogs may need more time for this step, while others don’t.
    • Use the brush in your dog’s mouth to brush the outer sides of the teeth-don’t brush hard, be gentle. Do this for weeks. You may want to treat your dog in the beginning to reward them. Don’t keep the brush in their too long-start small at first-a few seconds if that is suitable for your dog. If your dog is happy, continue longer but stop in the beginning to reward them.
    • If your dog isn’t comfortable with you opening their mouth wide, and clamps their mouth shut when brushing their teeth, work for weeks (or days) on opening their mouth (NOT FORCIBLY).  Treat your dog when you put your hand on their snout (not over their nose-behind it). Work your way to opening their mouth gently and treat them each time. When your dog is comfortable this is when you can brush the inside of their teeth (I haven’t worked up to this yet with Oreo-but am working on it now).

It’s really up to you-how to pace introducing the toothbrush and toothpaste & how often you can brush their teeth. It is recommended that this is done daily, but if not a few times a week. Just remember-baby steps-for some people their dogs will love it right away-for others you may work on it for weeks or months-or perhaps never perfect it. However, remember your dog needs their teeth brushed so it’s important to work on this with your dog. Do you brush your dog’s teeth? How often?