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.

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! 

  

What Reactive Owners ARE…

I wouldn’t say Oreo is “rehabilitated” or “normal” in any way. I’d definitely say her stress levels are way down & our family has it’s own happy “normal.” Oreo now has the tools and knowledge to deal with stressful situations and I know not to put her in them (or how to do a U-turn and escape them)!

It can be VERY stressful (especially in the beginning) with a reactive or scared dog. Not only stressful for you, but your dog is suffering. After reading some posts on forums, blogs and conversations with new or ongoing reactive dog families, I find it’s important to keep things in perspective. Reactive owners are many things…

  1. RESOURCEFUL!!  Find a positive trainer to help you. Trust me, if you find a great one they make all the difference. They are not only a teacher for your dog, but for you.
  2. SPECIAL!! Reactive dogs take SPECIAL owners. DEDICATED owners. Owners who have strength, patience, and are willing to LEARN.
  3. TRUSTING!! If you aren’t sure if your dog is reactive, do some research. Reactive owners need to TRUST THEIR GUT. Sometimes families and friends might think you are crazy. They think you are obsessing over your dog. They might say something like, “Your dog will be fine, bring them to the party.” Well, YOU KNOW WHAT’S BEST. When reactive dog owners DOUBT something, THEY STAY ON THE SAFE SIDE.
  4. SMART!! If your trainer is booked for a while, or you’re saving up to bring your dog to lessons, READ SOME BOOKS. I recommend this. I trained my dog by reading many books, then brought her to a wonderful reactive trainer who wrote some of the books. This enabled me to have some understanding and be ahead of the game. BOOKS DO NOT REPLACE A TRAINER. The advice/training saved my dog’s life. Even the vet said that Oreo would be dead if she weren’t with me. I don’t think of it as just me…
  5. ORGANIZED!! IT TAKES A CITY, not just you to help your dog. Get in touch with a trainer, work with your vet. Sometimes medications can help to improve training, especially if you are training with a professional and your dog hits a road block. Get your FAMILY ON BOARD. Everyone has to learn and train with your pup.
  6. FUN!! HAVE FUN. Sometimes with reactive dogs we forget to have fun-especially when we are in the training mode. Your dog can get better, but it is hard work. Once you start training your pup the fun can begin. There are plenty of games, tricks, and fun things you can do with your reactive dog. Reactive owners like to have fun, don’t lose that joy in the stress.

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If you’re just starting out it can seem like your are climbing Mount Everest, but with dedication and time you will be building an unbreakable bond with your pup and they will teach you more than you ever dreamed.

Books I suggest reading:

  • Scaredy Dog by Ali Brown
  • Focus Not Fear-Training Insights From A Reactive Dog Class by Ali Brown
  • The Cautious Canine by Patricia McConnell
  • Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas
  • Bringing Light to Shadow by Pam Dennison
  • Help For Your Fearful Dog by Nicole Wilde

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.

 

 

 

Planning a Vacation With a Reactive Dog

Planning a vacation with a reactive dog isn’t always easy, but there are some tips I will share that helped us have a wonderful vacation with our reactive pup, Oreo.

  • First, rent a cabin/house instead of a condo or hotel room if possible. This will ensure less noise and intrusions.
  • When renting a place make sure it is reactive dog friendly, by that I mean make sure it meets your dog’s needs. Sometimes rental companies or owners don’t disclose to you right away that your dog has to be in a crate when you leave, or other dog related issues. Oreo is deathly afraid of crates, therefore we did some serious house hunting before we found the right one. Read the contract carefully.  If it’s in the contract you must follow the dog rules.
  • Bring your dog’s favorite things! Anything that can make your pup more comfortable is great. I brought Oreo’s favorite toys, her bed and food bowls.
  • Make sure to bring something to keep your dog busy if you are away. We were away for many hours at a time exploring the Smoky Mountains and Oreo was free walking through the house. I brought her kong and another toy stick I could stuff with treats. I made sure they were extra special treats like pieces of cheese.

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  • Make the trip a vacation for your pup too! Don’t forget to walk/run around with your dog and explore new areas. However, make sure you watch for other dogs/people or whatever your dog is afraid of. We stayed in the yard and walked around the “neighborhood”, which wasn’t crowded. Also-I brought some special new toys for her-ended up she didn’t really need them since she loved the place-but it would’ve been handy in case she was stressed.
  • When renting a house, make sure it is semi-private. You don’t want to be worrying about your dog barking & stressing while you are on vacation. Find a place where you aren’t right up against a neighbor. Maybe they have a fence, maybe a large yard. In our case we had a house at the end of a road. The other houses weren’t so far away-probably only 50-80 feet away. However, our deck we sat on faced the quiet woods. There were bushes and trees between some of the houses. This ensured we could all relax in quiet and she couldn’t look out windows and see other people/dogs.

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  • Bring something to calm your dog down-just in case. I brought Oreo’s ThunderShirt. I used it when we first got there-but she didn’t really need it anymore-she loved the house. In fact-she behaved better there-super quiet with not many people or animals to drive her crazy!
  • This probably goes without saying-but if you are vacationing with other people-make sure your dog is comfortable with them-otherwise leave your pup home.
Oreo loved hanging outside on the deck in the quiet.

Oreo loved hanging outside on the deck in the quiet.

We went to the Smoky Mountains for the week with my parents & Oreo. I was very worried so I over packed dog supplies. I prepackaged all of her food in portions with her medicines to make it easy. We made sure to walk her and spend time outside with her. Every time we left I left the tv on for noise and put some treats in her Kong. She hardly barked the entire time and didn’t seem stressed at all! Don’t forget if you are driving a far way (we drove 10 hours!) make sure to stop at plenty of rest stops to take fido out and give him/her water. If you plan, you can have a fun trip with your pooch!!

Here are some pictures from the vacation.

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Do You Watch or Take Action?

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What do you do when you see someone using hurtful training techniques, being rough with a dog, or harming a dog? Or do you take action??

This question came to my mine while at my sister’s house and witnessing inappropriate behavior toward a neighbor’s dog. We walked up to get my sister’s dogs from the neighbors who were watching them. They just adopted a female black lab who is around 6 months old. She is what you picture a typical black lab-full of never-ending energy. As soon as we walked up the hill to their house the dog bolted right towards us, jumping and snapping at our fingers. I decided to ask for a sit, however, the dog doesn’t seem to know what sit means. So, I decide to turn my body so the dog doesn’t get any attention from me for jumping like a jack-rabbit.

This is where I cringe. The neighbor-we’ll call him “Bob”. Bob runs over and starts yelling at the dog “NO!! BAD DOG” and grabs her collar and yanks her hard to the side. As soon as Bob lets go of her collar she goes right back to jumping on us to greet us. Of course this is where I curse myself, I should’ve had treats in my pocket as I usually do. As the dog jumps on us Bob grabs her skim behind her neck and reprimands her with harsh words and a tug of the skin. Bob then lays her on the ground and holds her dog for a minute covering her muzzle. (Ahh! At this moment I want to push him off the dog and scream at the top of my lungs). Luckily, he let go before I could push him.

My question to you is what would you do in this situation?

A. Punch the guy and tell him he’s a jerk
B. Educate him on dominance and tell him about positive training
C. Run the other way
D. Offer to help with training

Although some of the answer choices are silly, we run a fine line telling someone else how to treat their dog. You don’t want to scream or sound like you are scolding them, otherwise they will shut down towards positive training and never know the error of their ways. However, you don’t want to let the training (if you would call it that—I’d call it ABUSE) go on. What I decided to do was ask him about training and he mentioned he needed some help, so I offered to help him and told him a little bit about positive training and starting with some education on rewards instead of punishments. Next time I see him I’m heading over there with my clicker and treats to hopefully transform their thoughts on “training” and what is right and what is wrong. Unfortunately, many of the people in the rural area up there see nothing wrong with holding their dogs down and following some outdated and abusive trainers tactics-that’s where he learned them from. Surprisingly enough you wouldn’t guess his profession–he’s a minister!!! I sure hope a minister would find much more pleasure giving the dog rewards instead of using hurtful methods of punishment.

When I’ve seen people using choke collars I want to run up to them and tell them the damage they are doing to their dog and how horrible it is…it’s so hard to stand by and watch people abuse their dogs like that. What do you do?

Have you ever encountered someone hurting their dog with negative punishments? What did you do??

Doggy Bliss and How Your Fido Can Help Fight Depression

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We are going through the loss of my father-in-law right now and one thing that seems to always cheer us up is Oreo.

Dogs can lower your blood pressure and help depression. Just stroking your pet can lower your anxiety and stress levels.

Everyone has had a hard time in their life and if you’ve had a dog you know that they can sense it. They can see the slump in your shoulders or the fall in your face and read your body language to know your upset. Has your dog ever cheered you up? Licked your face while you cried? Snuggled next to you when you felt alone? Well, if so you have experience how wonderful dogs are for stress, anxiety, and depression.

-Research shows that many people smile more around dogs and feel more at ease.

-If you have a life where people are telling you what to do, how to do it, and when to do it-a dog can help you! Many people overwhelmed by complicated relationships find the companionship of a dog that loves you unconditionally very beneficial.

-Isolated people who are shutting the world out have a friend, their friendly fido.

-For someone who doesn’t have many friends, a dog can bring them many social contacts. Taking walks, dog classes and going to the park offer social opportunities.

-When you are depressed you may feel like doing nothing. However, if you have a pup you are forced to take some responsibility and have a schedule. You have to feed the dog, walk the dog, etc.

-This brings me to my next point-exercise. Exercise can help depression-people with dogs are more active as a whole.

-Dogs do many funny things, in turn this promotes laughter.

Dogs aren’t for everyone, especially people with severe depression. However, if you have a pup I bet you smile, laugh, and love more!

Oreo has been there for us through many rough times. She has laid next to my husband and I when we were sad. She’s licked our faces when we cried. After a rough day she has greeted us with wonderful wags and a happy face. When we were away visiting hospice my husband commented on how he wished Oreo could come with us (she is too scared to go to stranger’s houses). I asked him why and he responded, “She makes me happy.”

Do you have a personal story when your dog helped you feel better? Feel free to share!

Deferring to You Part 2

Deferring to You-Part 2

Walks with your dog are supposed to be enjoyable, but if you have a reactive dog they can quickly turn into a nightmare. Dogs that are scared of the world can find walks overwhelming and may likely “freeze” and not move. They can also lash out and snarl, growl, bark, and lunge. There’s a solution for this-deferring to you!

Tasty treats are essential especially when you start out. First you must identify what triggers your dog (what makes them lunge, bark, etc). Make a list of everything that sets them up and try to be specific. If it’s other dogs what kind of dogs? Male dogs, white dogs, long haired dogs, barking dogs? Same thing with people-is your dog just afraid of children, adults, or people with hats? Now we work with some classical conditioning to get your dog to defer to you.

Every time your dog notices something scary (from a distance where they don’t react, just look), start feeding them those yummy treats. When the something disappears, stop feeding them the treats. This is conditioning them to expect treats when that scary thing shows up-thus…deferring to you-looking at you! Treats + scary thing=not so scary thing anymore! As an added bonus every time they see the scary thing they will look at you-you will become giver of treats (you should be already but hey, backup isnt’ so bad). This will help build your relationship and they will see you as something positive (as hopefully do they already, but sometimes we can be scary if your dog is very afraid of the world). Soon you will find on walks your dog is more attuned to you and looks at you when a scary thing is nearby.

Your Dog Should Defer to You

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No, I don’t mean your dog should be submissive or any of that humbo-jumbo about being dominant. Please…you know me better than that! I mean fearful dogs needs to look to you when they are unsure. This will give them something to focus on every time they are scared. It will make them more confident and successful.

I will be writing a series of articles on how to train your dog to defer to you (meaning check in with you if they are scared). The first is very basic-having your dog look up at you (not your treats) when you say their name.

First things first. When you call your dog’s name-they should look at you. If they don’t you need some name training. Have some yummy treats ready and a clicker. Have your dog stand or sit in front of you. Call your dog’s name and when they look up at your eyes (not your treats), click then treat. *Now when I say look at your eyes I don’t mean you are staring at them, I just mean they look up at your face area. If your dog is having problems making eye contact, wait a few seconds and see if the dog finds your eyes. If they do, click and treat. If your dog is REALLY having trouble you can try holding the treat near your face to start, but fade it out-you don’t want your dog to focus on the treat-you want them to focus on you. After 80% accuracy with this (8 out of 10 times the dog looks at your eyes), move on to extending your arm straight out to the side with a treat in hand. Your dog will most likely look at the treat, call their name and when they look at you (your face) click and treat. It may be slower in the beginning, but eventually your dog will know once your arm goes out they need to look at your face before you even say anything! When you get to 80% try with the opposite arm, then treats in both hands. There are many possibilities-but this activity allows you and your dog to bong-and teaches them to look and focus on you, which will come in handy in frightful situations.

**News update: A neighbor’s dog was 2 doors down (condos) and I was giving Oreo a haircut. The other dog was small but was putting on a show growling and kicking up dirt behind it. Oreo looked, licked her lips, then focused on me and was fine-yay! Also-WE SOLD OUR CONDO!! Yay! We are out on the road today looking for homes, can’t wait for a yard for Oreo (and for growing vegetables!).