Tuesday, 9 October 2012

SEPERATION ANXIETY


Behavioural problems are common in dogs from all walks of life. This could be attributed to the fact that more and more dogs are being left at home whilst we are out at work. Or it may be because they are being treated as family members rather than just workers or Pets. In the past a dog with an aggressive problem was more likely to have been destroyed. However in modern times more and more owners are turning to ‘professionals’ to seek help and give the dog a chance to work through the problems before turning to rescue centers or worse putting them to sleep.

Problems occur for a variety of different reasons. Each issue can be different because dogs are different, from very simple issues too much more complicated. These problems can manifest themselves for various reasons;

Lack of socialisation
Boredom
Excess energy
Owner behaviour
Unrealistic owner expectation
Breed specific traits
Diet
Inadequate or incorrect training.
Medical conditions or illnesses

The list is not exhaustive.

Generally speaking these behaviours are a symptom that something is not quite right and the behaviour we see is the how the dog is trying to cope with the situation. There is usually some sort of motivation or cause that has the dog acting in this way.
For example:

Motivation   -           Fear of being grabbed, hurt or pulled of the sofa.
Behaviour     -           bite, to protect itself.

Motivation   -           Fear of being left alone
Behaviour     -           Panic, home soiling, destructive behaviour.

The behaviour can also be a learned behaviour. That is, if the dog learns that a particular behaviour removes the threat or danger then it will learn to use that behaviour the next time it finds itself in that situation. So if snapping or biting makes you back off, then the dog will learn that every time it does this you will retreat.
The problem here is that punishment for this behaviour will only exacerbate the problem by increasing the fear in the dog and thus intensifying the behaviour.

The behavioural problems associated with separation anxiety are the second most common reason dogs are euthanized or put into rescue centers.

What is Separation anxiety?  Separation anxiety is the “fear and apprehension caused by separation from familiar surroundings or familiar people”. http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/separation+anxiety

In this article I will look at the signs, causes, a possible cure and what could have been done to prevent this behaviour becoming a distressing situation for both dog and owner.
Rosie Barclay BSc (Hons) MPiL CCAB Animal Behaviourist writes in her book Good Dog? Bad Dog?

Dogs are sociable creatures and naturally live in groups, which work together to secure territories in which there are important resources such as food, shelter and water. Intruder dogs are chased away and there are plenty of dogs to warn others against predators. Dogs, therefore, are likely to feel safe within their group and will probably not feel so secure when left on their own. It is not natural for a dog to be ‘home alone’ and it is no wonder that some domestic dogs show anxiety behaviours when left.

Rosie Barclay goes on however to suggest that in most cases dogs seem to cope very well when left alone and can settle down quite happily. The reason she suggests is that “all dogs are different”.

*    They have all had different upbringings
*    They have all had different experiences
*    They all have different genetic characters
*    They all have different owners

Just the same as some humans are more insecure than others so are some dogs.
Some of the reasons why a dog might show anxiety are as follows;

*    It may have suffered a traumatic event, a huge thunderstorm, building works next door.
*    There may be a change in its routine. Owner working longer.
*    There may be a major life change, new home, new baby.
*    There may be an underlying medical condition.
*    They may just be easily bored

What are the possible signs of separation anxiety?

*    The dog follows the handler
*    Pacing up and down
*    Excessive salivating
*    Destructive chewing
*    Excessive barking and whining
*    Home soiling
*    Self harm
*    Digging and scratching at the door to be with the owner.

Ok so what can we do about it? One method that is suggested is that owners should reprimand their dogs once they come back to the house. Show them the damage and give the dog a telling off. Traditional trainers would often say that you should rub your dogs nose in any mess that it has done upon your return. However modern thought is that punishing the dog upon your return will only serve to teach it to expect to be punished every time you come home making the dog even more anxious as it anticipates your arrival making the problem worse. Dogs have no concept that making a mess on the floor or digging up the shag pile carpet is what causes the owner to be angry. Al they know is that when you come home they will be punished. They have learned this. It is also known now that most of the destructive behaviour is usually carried out in the first 20 – 30 minutes of the owner leaving. They settle down after that because their exhausted with all their hard work. J. Other things that owners do to ‘cure’ the problem may see them taking the dog everywhere they go. Which is great if you have a very understanding boss. I wish I could bring my dogs to work. Or they could hire a dog sitter, arrange a dog walker or put them into day boarding kennels. None of these are particularly bad suggestions but they can prove to be expensive. However you may decide that the alternative is costing you more in replacing the Persian carpets.
There are however some things an owner can do. Firstly we have to make sure that what we are seeing is separation anxiety and not some other reason for the behaviour. For example a dog might chew your favourite slippers because he’s just bored. He may be urinating in the house at the point your are walking up the path or at the sound of the key going in the door. This may be because he is over excited to see you back and just wee’s the floor. Before any behaviour plan is put into action the first thing that should be done is the dog be taken to the Vet for a proper examination to rule out any medical reason for the behaviour. There may be some underlying illness or pain that the dog is suffering from, that the owner has not picked up on. Once the Vet is satisfied that the dog is ok then the owner can look to working on modifying the dogs behaviour.

One way to do this is to use a process called ‘counterconditioning’. Counterconditioning is a process that changes the dogs fearful, anxious or aggressive reaction to one that is pleasant and relaxed. Basically, countercondition helps the dog associate being left alone with goods things. We have to remove the fear of the dog being left on its own. First thing to do is to try and recognise the triggers that start the process of the dog getting anxious. In her book Good dog Bad Dog, Rosie Barclay writes “Dogs are god at learning triggers that alert them to you leaving”. Things like putting on a certain pair of shoes, or putting on your coat, lifting your car keys is a classic. At this point the pacing might start or the low whining of anticipation. Its important then to stop performing these triggers as soon as possible. As part of the curing process we could use these triggers to desensitise the dog, by picking up the keys and then sitting back down again. Rewarding the dog when it calms back down. Or we the owner might put on our coat and then go and make a cup of tea, come back in and watch some TV. Other things owners maybe guilty of is making a fuss of the dog both when they leave and when they come back. Dogs have little concept of time and saying things like “I’ll only be twenty minutes” does nothing for them. Owners should also begin building up the dogs confidence of being left alone by practising leaving the dog for very short periods of time and then coming back again. Rewarding the dog if it remains calm. For example they might walk out the room and then come straight back in again. If they did this repeatedly over and over again, the dog would eventually become bored. At that point the time out the door may be increased by a few minutes and the process repeated. This process can be repeated over and over and each time the dog shows signs of not being interested the time out can increase. Obviously this is a process that is used for severe cases of separation anxiety. And as such it is important that during this period of practise that the dog is not subjected to a full blown long period of time were it is left alone. The result of that would be to set the dog back again. There are some other simple things that owners can do to help their dog settle quicker and get them past the crucial first 20 – 30 minutes were most of the ‘damage’ is done.

Taking your dog for a long and energetic walk prior to be left alone will help to tire the dog out. Change the feeding time to just prior to you leaving. A dog with a full stomach who has had an hour long walk will be more likely to settle down for a nap once you are gone. Leaving a radio or the TV can mean that the dog is not suddenly left in a house where the silence is deafening once you and the kids have left for work and school. Leaving chew toys can help a dog that is a bit anxious. And it saves the furniture. There are many good quality chew toys on the market that can be filled with your dogs favourite food, which takes them some time to empty. Burning up their energy, making them use their brains and tiring them out. Owners should also start to make less fuss of their going and comings. As stated previously saying to your dog that you wont be long does nothing for them. When leaving your dog to go out an owner should just leave after putting on the TV or radio, filling the toy and just walk out the door without saying goodbye. Similarly when the return they should ignore the obvious greeting they will get for at least five minutes. And only when the dog has again calmed down and appears to be ignoring the owner would they then call the dog over and give them a pat.

As the saying goes prevention is better than a cure. By far the best way to avoid your dog having ‘Independence anxiety’ is to prepare them for the times when they will be left on their own as a puppy. During a puppies first days and weeks in it’s new home it will feel frightened and abandoned and will probably cry a lot. But owners have to be strong and teach the puppy that it is perfectly safe when it is alone. Jan Fennel in her book ‘The Puppy Listener’ writes “This can be hard for owners to do, especially if the dog is new to the home”. She goes on to suggest that independence is something that should be taught to a puppy very gradually. Short periods to begin with, then gradually extending the times.
In her book Jan outlines seven key steps which will ensure the puppy gets the best possible start.

1.     Before you leave the pup for a time, feed and toilet it first, and then play with it for a short while. Chances are it will be ready for a sleep after that.
2.     Put a radio or TV on at low volume so that the room wont be plunged into silence as soon as your gone.
3.     Bring the playtime to a close, close the gate or door to ensure the puppy cant follow you.
4.     Stay away for between 10 and 30 minutes. At first remain in the house, using the time to do a household chore, take a bath or mow the lawn.
5.     When you return the dog will probably be overjoyed to see you but you must not make any fuss or bother. Don’t interact with it for five minutes or so or until it has calmed down. Be careful not to make direct eye contact during this time.
6.     When the five minutes have elapsed, play with the dog for a good ten minutes, cuddling it and generally making a fuss of it.
7.     Repeat this process on a regular basis, slowly extending the period of time that you are separated from the dog.

By adopting this method the puppy will learn two things.
Firstly, it will learn that long periods without its owner are a normal part of life.
Secondly, it will learn that, long periods on its own is nothing to get distressed about and it shouldn’t fear them. Both of these lessons are extremely important in preventing your puppy developing separation anxiety in later life.

See you soon........

P.S......please let me know what you think by dropping me a comment....

Friday, 24 August 2012

NEUTERING.

THE PHYSIOLOGICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL EFFECTS OF NEUTERING. 

The most fundamental of all changes that owners make to their dog is to decide
whether or not the dog or bitch will breed. Both dogs and bitches are born
genetically programmed to reproduce their genes, and thus provide the next
generation. Owners may choose to do this by ensuring that the dog is secure
within their home and garden so that he cannot go in search of a mate, or that the
bitch is confined to the house or exercised on a lead while she is in season twice a
year. Or they may decide the safest method of prevention is to have the dog
castrated or the bitch spayed. This surgery is permanent and irreversible, and it
does have benefits other than preventing unwanted puppies.
Male puppies receive a surge of the male hormone testosterone shortly before birth
which induces their male outlook on life. As they reach maturity testosterone will
again come on stream, and the dog will begin to actively seek bitches with which
to mate. Bitch puppies receive a surge of the female hormone oestrogen when
they reach puberty, and from then on they will come into season on roughly a six
monthly cycle. While in season they will at some point be willing to accept a
mate, usually 10-12 days after the season begins. Some bitches are so much at the
mercy of their hormones that they may try to escape to satisfy the overwhelming
need to reproduce. This can occur in even very home loving, seemingly devoted
bitches and sometimes catches the owner by surprise. After the surge of oestrogen
subsides, another hormone comes into play. Progesterone is thought to be a
calming influence, sometimes to the point of making the bitch a little depressed
and unlike her usual self for a while.

THE OPERATION ITSELF
Surgical castration involves the complete removal of the dog’s testicles, following a
postoperative check to ensure that the dog is in good general health. The dog is
given a premedicant so that he is relaxed and unafraid, and then a general
anaesthetic is administered. The dog may be sore for a few days, and a painkiller
may be given, but usually there are no complications and the dog will recover so
quickly that the owner may have difficulty in preventing him from running and
jumping before the sutures have been removed.
Bitches undergo a complete ovariohysterectomy which involves the removal of the
ovaries and the uterus. This is a major operation, and a postoperative check will
be carried out before the bitch is booked in for the actual operation. The incision
is usually made in the midline of the bitch’s abdomen, so there will be no obvious
scar once the incision has healed. Sutures are usually removed after about 10
days, and the vet will probably check to ensure all is well in the meantime. As
with male dogs, bitches usually recover very quickly and again it may be necessary
to prevent the bitch being too energetic until the sutures are removed.

THE EFFECTS
Castration has multiple effects. It renders the dog unable to breed, but in
addition castration is often recommended for male dogs that are showing
aggression towards other dogs or people. It can be useful in curing frequent
territorial marking, and it may have a calming effect on those dogs who attempt to
mount other dogs, legs and inanimate objects. Castration has a good success rate
with curbing aggression, roaming, and inappropriate mounting, but it is not a
foregone conclusion that this will be the case. Owners quite often report a very
quick improvement in aggressive behaviour. Others may find that it is some weeks
or even months before the dog is calmer. Although it is not one hundred percent
successful in curing aggression, it does have the valuable effect of making the dog
more biddable, and therefore more easily trained into acceptable behaviour.
Castration may be carried out at any age.
Spaying a bitch is the certain way of ensuring that she does not produce unwanted
puppies. It also means that the owner does not have to cope with the twice
yearly discharge when she comes into season, and deal with the unwanted
attentions of male dogs attracted to her scent. Spaying is not recognised as
having any appreciable effect on aggressive behaviour, but it does mean that the
bitch will not suffer phantom pregnancies or false seasons. Some veterinary
surgeons now recommend spaying before a bitch has had a season at all, so that
she never comes under the influence of oestrogen and progesterone. Others will
prefer to wait until she has had one season, and will operate mid way between that
season and the date of the next anticipated one. Surgery can be carried out on any
age bitch subject of course to her general health and ability to cope with an
anaesthetic and major surgery.
In addition to preventing the dog siring unwanted litters, and its effects on male
behaviour, neutering also has health benefits. There is a greatly reduced risk of
the dog suffering testicular or prostate cancer. He is much less likely to be
involved in a fight, and is less likely to roam whereby he might be involved in a
road accident. Contrary to what some owners believe, the operation will not
change the dog’s character. It will not make him effeminate, but does as already
discussed often change the dog that has aggressive tendencies for the better, and
make him much more comfortable to live with.
A spayed bitch is much less likely to suffer mammary tumours, false pregnancies,
and will not suffer pyometra (a serious infection of the uterus which is life
threatening and which usually requires urgent surgery if the bitch is to be saved).
She will also avoid the attentions of male dogs which some bitches find stressful
when they are not at the point of their season when they will accept a dog.
Spaying a bitch does not change her character, other than to negate the effects of
the two hormones discussed which do make some bitches depressed and snappy
while under their influence. Some owners will say that their bitch became even
more home loving after spaying, but this may be a perceived view rather than
factual.
Neither dogs nor bitches automatically become fat after neutering. In some dogs
their metabolic rate may change a little, but if the owner notes that the dog is
gaining weight, it is quite simple to control this by reducing the amount of food
offered. "Guide Dogs, Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, Support Dogs, and Dogs for the
Disabled are routinely neutered - they are not overweight or lethargic, and their
temperament which is of paramount importance does not change"..........Animal care College.

See you soon..

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

MAN's BEST FRIEND?

Government ministers are planing a reform of the law regarding dangerous dogs in the UK. But how long has the government been trying to tackle this problem? It may surprise you to know that dog law has existed since the Roman times. The ancient Lex Pesolania was probably the first edition of the Dangerous Dog Act., which made owners responsible for any anti social behavior of their dogs.
Dogs featured greatly in early Roman lives, often used as weapons of war and kept as pets. In the third century anti social dog behavior was such a big problem that a law was passed to make owners responsible for any injuries suffered or damage caused as a result of a dog attack. According to the late historian and liberal MP John Roby "if a dog was in a square or public road and not tied up in the daytime and did any mischief, the owner was liable".
The first fines for anti social dog behavior came about under Alfred the Great. The law dated back to 849 AD, said "If a dog tear trouser or bite a man, for the first misdeed let six shillings be paid." Fines multiplied if there were repeat offences. 
In 1839 the Metropolitan Police Act said, "Victorian Londoners could be fined up to 40 shillings if they let their dog loose in any thoroughfare or public place". "Anyone with an unmuzzled ferocious dog that they allowed to attack or put in fear any person, horse, or other animal was liable". Elsewhere in England, owners faced a 40 shilling fine or two weeks in prison under the Town Police Clauses Act of 1847, if their dog was deemed to be dangerous and not on a lead. The law was extended to "every person in every street". The power to sieze a dog was given to authorities almost quarter of a century later.
In 1871 the Dogs Act was created.
How has the rest of the world dealt with this issue?
Several states have considered banning specific dog breeds since the formation of the Dangerous dog act of 1991. The RSCPA reported that European and world governments introduced legislation as a direct result of media pressure following a spate of fatal dog attacks in the UK.
Vancouver, Canada and Belgium decided banning specific breeds would be ineffective. Do they know something we dont? A review of Dutch dog laws found their act failed to control the banned types or reduce the numbers of attacks on humans. One country however carried out a study and found that their legislation had been effective. Cutting the number of reported bite incidents on a regular basis. In France in 2000 a new law and a fine of £10,000 on owners of un-nuetered pit bull type dogs and other banned breeds was introduced.
Some facts: Dog attacks are on the rise, The number of people convicted for dangerous dog offences rose almost 40% between 2009 and 2010.
There are an estimated 5000 dog attacks on BT, Royal Mail and Parcel Force staff in England every year. Dog related hospital admissions have more than doubled from 2915 in 1997 to 6118 in 2010. Dog attacks alone have cost the NHS £3.3 million in 2009 in treatment costs.
Clearly this is a very very old problem that is not about to go away. Creating laws which ban specific breeds or meet out punitive measures does not address the problem at its grass roots. It merely closes the kennel door after the dog has bolted. Picking on specific breeds is tantamount to racism. Any dog in the wrong hands not properly socialised is a potential biter. The only way to eradicate this problem is to make training and socialisation of puppies from an early age compulsory. and it must be undertaken by qualified trainers and training schools. Then and only then will we see an environment where man and dog can live in harmony, unafraid of each other and become again 'Man's best friend'.

Monday, 16 July 2012

OLD AGE COMES TO US ALL I'M AFRAID !!

Recently I turned 53 and became a Grandfather for the first time. Does that mean I am now officially old? Old age affects people in different ways but how does it affect our dogs?

It is really difficult to comprehend that as your dog gets older you have to make changes to how you communicate with him. Both my black labs are now nine years old. Ben, the male, has gone through two major operations in his life, which most people tell you add to your years. Mentally and physically they have always been very active. They have always gone to training school and are part of a demonstration team that carry out demonstrations throughout the summer at local agricultural meetings on obedience and fun agility. The club we are with has an agility night once a month which they go to. We have a holiday home in Berwick-Upon-Tweed, were we go twice a month and for all our main holidays. At Berwick they go for even longer walks and swim in the sea, regardless how cold or rough the sea is, wouldn’t be me. However the changes I refer to are that I have noticed that it takes longer, for Ben in particular, to respond to my commands. At first I thought he was just getting more stubborn as he got older. But that is obviously not the case. As a handler it’s hard to remind yourself that it takes longer for my dog to work out what it is I’m asking him to do. It’s generally a recall because I want to move on, or get him to come so we can go in the car and head home. As dogs get older the speed with which they translate your commands into the appropriate action takes longer. As stated in the literature with this course, the signals that once speed trough the cerebral cortex at 200 miles an hour now pass through more sedately. And sometimes we forget that. I certainly do in my busy life. Physically his looks have changed; he now has a handsome grey muzzle. He also gives a moan as he lies down, or when he gets up. He prefers a comfy warm cushion, or, if he gets away with it, up on the couch is his favorite at night when we settle down to watch telly.
I walk Ben mostly and my wife walks Tess his sister. When I walk Ben I take Miya my other dog. She is a Northern Inuit aged four and a half. Miya will tend to walk out in front and Ben will now fall behind. If off lead, Miya will continue to walk out in front getting to almost 20 or 30 yards in front before stopping and looking around to see if I’m coming. Something Ben used to do early on. Now though he seems to spend a good bit longer stopping to sniff interesting smells. It has got noticeably longer over the last couple of years. Something that, until I wrote this piece, I hadn’t quite put together with the slow to react when off lead and his age. He still loves to work and he comes alive when I put on the treat bag and get out the clicker. Even now I still try and teach him new tricks and he loves it. I haven’t noticed any real change in the speed with which he eventually gets it. Physically dogs can expect to go through a lot of changes with age, similar to humans in a way.
Virtually all of the organ systems throughout the body go through some form of change affecting vision, hearing, stamina. Mentally the changes relate to a reduction in brain size, the number of brain cells. It takes longer to react as mentioned above.
Specifically changes to things like the kidneys becoming impaired. The signs of this might be an increase in the amount of water your dog might intake. This is because the kidneys filtering system begins to deteriorate resulting in drinking more in order to flush the urine through more. Ben was never really a big water drinker, however lately he is drinking more.
It is clear then that a good supply of fresh water is always available. Other systems are also affected in a similar way were deterioration occurs and the systems start to shut down. However no two dogs are the same. Breeds are different, size can be different and even siblings. Tess as I have stated is Bens sister and does not show the same levels of ageing as Ben. She doesn’t have a grey muzzle yet for example although mentally she can be a bit slower than she used to be to respond. An important thing to do at this time when you feel your dog is showing the typical signs of ageing is to take them to a vet for a check up. Your dogs life span can be extended by a few years if somethings are caught at an early stage and appropriate medicines given. Other things like arthritis can be quite common especially in dogs of larger breeds or with hereditary disorders. Another cause for expediting the on set of arthritis might be if your dog is over weight. So by taking your dog to the vet he may advise you to begin reducing the food intake or put it on a low calorie diet. These things will have a positive effect on the quality of life left in your companion. Older dogs can tend to become overweight because they exercise less and therefore need less food. We sometimes forget to cut back on their food. As mentioned earlier Vision impairment, deafness and incontinence can become an issue. I had a medium sized cross breed as my first ever dog. When she was 10 she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She had regularly visited the vet on an annual basis and so it was caught relatively early. However even then the vet told me that I would be very lucky to have her for more than a year to eighteen months. He recommended that she be put on a strict low fat diet food which could only be bought from the vet. The vet told me she could not eat anything else. Spice, that was her name, was put onto this diet and everyone in the extended family and everyone we met were told under no circumstances could they feed her anything else. I had spice until she was 18. every year I took her back to the vet he would utter his amazement at how she had adjusted to her new regime, and the fact that I was strict in what she ate and continued to exercise and train with her, left him in no doubt that it had contributed to her extended life span. Eventually her hearing went and then her sight. It wasn’t until she became unsteady on her feet and was prone to falling over we reluctantly agreed with the vet to put her to sleep. The problem was that we both worked and Spice would be left in the house for a part of the day and she could fall over and couldn’t get up. Most of her life she walked with me off lead. It wasn’t until she lost her hearing that I eventually put a collar and lead on her. But she never became incontinent so as I mention above dogs will age differently and not necessarily exhibit all of the systems normally associated with old age. Spice never got any grey muzzle, and I only realized how old she was getting, when one day she never came to me when I called. She had walked ahead in her usual fashion. She was very street smart and never once crossed the road without first stopping and waiting for my release. She was so interested in a smell that when she looked up I had already walked past her. She looked in the opposite direction to where I now was and not seeing me she took off in that direction. I called but she didn’t respond. She stopped some 100 yards further along the street. Turning around I called her again, but it was then I saw that she didn’t hear me or see me at that distance. A panicked look was in her face. I ran towards her and as I got closer she recognized me and came hurtling towards me. We were both quite relieved. It was then unfortunately that I decided she had to go on a lead. Something she obviously didn’t like and made it known.
As Ben grows older I obviously have to make some adjustments. He is still fairly active and still does a bit of fun agility. We still go for walks of up to an hour but I will start to reduce that as and when he shows signs of being out of breath or he starts to drag his feet. Keeping him warm and comfortable is now something I am aware of. As I said earlier he likes to lie up on the couch preferring that to the laminate flooring. It becomes a dilemma for him when the gas fire goes on. Do I lie on the laminate flooring or go up on the couch next to the boss. Almost every time he ends up next to me. I’m also keeping a close eye on his weight. I’m looking for the obvious changes in his shape, losing his waist line, his belly starting to hang down. We have put him onto a different dog food, one recommended for dogs of a senior year. Obviously the condition of his coat is a tell, and changing his diet will hopefully help maintain a healthy look, changes in his skin and nails are another sign to look for. The key thing at this time of your dogs life is regular visits to the vet for health checks. Changes I will need to make are to be more patient with him, a lot more tolerant and not be quick to associate any deterioration in behaviors as anything other than a time lapse in interpreting my commands. However another important thing to remember here is although your dog is getting older and Ben is showing the signs. It will be my intention to keep him active for as long as he is willing. I still teach him new things as often as possible.
Recently I have been introduced to Dog Rally, if you don’t know what this is then let me explain. Dog Rally was created in the US primarily for dogs that had retired from competitive agility. The idea was that dogs of senior years still liked to work with their owners as a team. Dog Rally consists of a circuit like and agility circuit, but the difference is that instead of jumps, walls and tunnels etc. At each station the team (You and your dog) needs to perform a designated behavior, like sit or down or stay. There can be up to about 20 stations with different things at each station. The stations are numbered like in agility and have to be followed in sequence. The whole thing is timed and can be quite competitive. For more information please see the web site Dograllyuk.com. It is not true to say that you cannot teach an old dog new tricks, it just might take a bit longer. If you have been teaching your dog from an early age, stimulating his mind and giving him problems to solve, they grow larger brains, which if continued throughout his life means he is more than capable of learning new things well into his old age. It might just take a bit longer for him to get there, but then are we in a hurry? The goal is to keep him active, healthy and happy for as long as humanly possible.
  
In summary then, my recipe for prolonging the life of Ben is to;
Keep him as healthy as possible by observing the condition of his coat, skin, and nails.
Being observant for things like changes in his vision and hearing.
Keeping him active but tailoring that to his stamina.
Keep stimulating his mind, providing him that opportunity by continually training him new things like Dog Rally.
Providing as much of a daily routine as possible.
Making sure he is warm and comfortable.
And try to be sensitive about what he is going through, being more tolerant and being more patient.
And ensuring he gets regular veterinary care to catch the things that I don’t see.

See you soon .........

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

THE GREAT MICROCHIP DEBATE.

In April of 2012 the BBC ran a story on the proposed scheme of compulsory micro chipping of every new born puppy. The idea behind this proposal is so that it makes it easier to trace and prosecute owners of violent dogs. Northern Ireland has already introduced a law on Microchipping this year. At the moment Scotland has no plans, but that may change. There are two voices on this proposal, firstly all the major charities welcome the idea stating that in addition it will be easy to reunite dogs with their owners should they become separated or worse stolen. Well that’s not true is it? If you read July’s issue of Dog’s Today magazine they have done a piece on the subject of micro chipping and in it they highlight a case where a woman ,Faye Moore, had her Pug stolen from the garden a few years back and had been searching frantically for it ever since. To their amazement they were contacted by the micro chip company to be told the dog had turned up somewhere near Somerset. The new owner had bought the dog from someone in Manchester and when they went along to have it micro chipped at the local vet, the vet announced it already had a chip. However the new owner decided that since he was out of pocket for considerable expenses, he intended to keep the dog. Faye Moore contacted the chip company and the Somerset Police who both told her it was a civil matter and nothing could be done. So that takes care of that argument. Let’s now consider the government’s reasons for this proposal.
It will allow authorities to trace and prosecute owners of dangerous dogs. Well what about all the ‘dangerous dogs’ that are already in existence? How does it combat that? And what happen when dogs are sold on and the micro chip details are not updated? What happens if the dog changes hands two or three times? If it ends up in rescue centers are they now liable to have all the details updated? Will that not add considerable administration to organiations that are run on charitable donations? Who is responsible for making sure the details are updated, the previous owner or the new owner?
But here is the real question, if all of the above can be overcome, and that’s a mighty BIG IF, will the fact that, every dog in the land has a microchip prevent a dog from attacking another dog, or worse a human or child? The answer to that I am afraid is NO. So if that it the sole reason for doing this then it is a waste of time and money. In 1991 The Dangerous Dog Act was introduced by Parliament, it was subsequently amended in 1997. This was breed specific legislation which was introduced to reduce the number of dog attacks on humans that had become ‘Press fodder’ in recent times.
Let’s savour that for a minute, Breed specific legislation’. In human context this would be classified as racist. To suggest that every example of a specific breed of dog is dangerous and should be banned is ill-informed, dangerous and downright offensive to experienced dog handlers around the world. Every piece of literature I have read on the subject of dog behaviour and dog training says the one thing, “There are no bad dogs, just bad handlers”. Killing dogs after they have bitten won’t reduce the number of attacks. Proper socialisation and education is the only thing that will eventually bring an end to this awful situation. So what is the answer? In my opinion, a complete shake up of the whole process from “cradle to grave” is required. If the government wants to issue legislation then it should legislate that it is illegal to breed dogs unless you have a breeder’s license. So the back street breeders would be breaking the law by breeding dogs for profit. Every breeder would be registered. If it were made illegal then owners of cross breeds would be committing an offence by letting their dogs wander around unsupervised leading to unwanted pregnancies. At the moment every dog that ends up in rescue is dressed or neutered, therefore through time most if not all cross breeds would be dressed. I believe there is still a requirement for cross breeds and a niche market would emerge for breeders of cross breeds, and they could be licensed too. When a puppy is sold every new owner should be given a socialisation pack like ‘The puppy Plan’ created in collaboration by dogs Trust and the Kennel Club. This at least gives very useful information on how to begin the socialisation of the dog. At the moment the UK has enforce a dog license scheme, but it is ineffective and worthless. For it to mean something the license should come with conditions. For example, a license should only be given out initially for six months. After which the dog and the handler has to sit an exam which demonstrates that they have received proper basic obedience training and socialisation. Evidence of such should be provided by means of a certificate issued by a registered club or trainer. A list of registered clubs or trainers should be kept and said clubs or trainers should have reached a certain standard of qualification through a recognised training body, like The Kennel Club Good Citizen Scheme, The British Institute of Professional Dog Trainers or the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. An owner would then be given a full license which could be produced upon request by the appropriate authorities at any time. There are many hurdles to overcome before this blueprint can ever be realised, but if such a thing were to happen it would take care of many issues with regards to the anti behaviour of some dogs. Namely the reduction in back street breeders operating purely for profit, the removal of unprofessional and unqualified trainers and or behaviourists who have emerged during the boom years which has seen dog behaviour come into every front room in the country through the magic of television on such programmes as The Dog Whisperer, It’s Me or the Dog and Dog Borstal. I have no issue with any of these programmes and indeed I applaud them on how they have highlighted in many cases that the anti social behaviour of the dogs in these programmes are largely down to how they have been handled by their owners. However on the back of these programmes there seems to be a ground swell in the number of ‘Behaviourists and trainers’ around. In summary I believe the measures being introduced by the government will have little effect on the number of dog attacks on children and adults and as such is a shame. We should deal with this problem like we deal with other anti-social problems, at source, from the grass roots. Why is it different because we are talking about dogs??

Monday, 11 June 2012

DO YOU PLAY WITH YOUR DOG?



Rolan Tripp, DVM of the Colorado State University Veterinary School, says “Whether it's puppies, kittens or children, Nature insists on play. Play is a requirement for healthy development of a loving personality as well as for a healthy body. In addition, play is the basis for a social structure. Individuals of any species that do not play when they are young are severely mentally and socially compromised when they become adults.”




Play for a puppy is extremely important and begins as early as four weeks. Puppies will play with their mother and littermates at this age. Play will teach a puppy many important skills, for example bite inhibition. Bite inhibition is the most important thing the puppy can learn. Puppies need to develop ‘soft mouths’ for when they get older. Dogs without the skill of knowing how much pressure to use when mouthing either their human family or when the play fight with other dogs will very quickly find the game stops and no one will want to play anymore. More seriously some tissue damage could occur which would be completely unacceptable to human or dog.

Play at an early age will also stimulate the mind of the dog developing its mental ability. It will also develop physically, developing muscles and coordination. For example throwing a Frisbee or ball will help develop sight tracking. Playing hide and seek helps hunting skills because the dog uses scent to ‘track’ the hidden object, which maybe a family member rather than a toy. A great game I used to play with my two Labs was find ‘Mandy’. Mandy is my daughter and although she no longer plays with us, she’s 25 and got better more important things to do, she used to go and hide somewhere in the house and I would count to ten then send the labs after her. She would change the places she hid and would squeal with excitement when they found her. I always gave her a couple of treats to hold so that when they found her she would reward them with the treats. To be honest the treats were a bonus they loved the game and loved the excitement Mandy would show when found.

Once Mandy moved on to other things I changed the game to find the keys. I would smear the keys with doggy treat then hide them in another room. Once they had mastered that and I had run out of rooms, I moved outside and started hiding them in the garden. With all the different smells it made it harder forcing them to hone their skills and focus on the smell of the keys. I combined the find with a fetch. They had to bring the keys back to me to get the treat. They loved it. I would send them one at a time because I found that one would follow the other even if it was going in the wrong direction. But on it’s own the individual was much faster at finding the keys.

Clearly this game develops the dogs mind, developing its problem solving skills, and learning it to carry out sequences of events. Remember finding the keys and then fetching them to get the reward. Many obedience skills were learned during this game, for example I would make have the dog ‘sit’ and ‘stay’ whilst I went to hide the keys. Sometimes that involved going ‘out of sight’. The dog would have to stay until I returned. I recommend this game to all my friends as a useful game when teaching basic obedience.


“Playing games lets your dog explore using all senses such as sights, smell, touch and listening which helps with socialisation. Your dog will be less fearful and anxious and more confident if he has learnt under safe conditions to play and explore other dogs, humans and objects.” Julie Davies Puddle Paws. http://www.cfidos.co.uk/the-importance-of-play-in-your-dogs-life/

Because dogs are essentially social animals, play is very important for developing social relationships. Your dog will learn to be a lot more sociable through playing games. Playing games is also important for teaching your dog rules and boundaries. It doesn’t always have to be strict obedience training although clearly that has a place in its overall development. But you can teach your dog simple things like ‘Sit’ and ‘stay’ and ‘Leave’ whilst playing. You can incorporate sit into the fetch game. Have the dog sit when it returns with the toy and then leave before you reward with a treat. The dog will love this game and you are teaching the dog basic obedience commands which are very important components of road safety. By teaching other members of the family how to play with the dog you are also helping the dog to socialize with different people, again the dog learns to be obedient with other family members. Play is very important and is a vital tool in developing a well balanced sociable dog which is a joy to be with.
Another crucial part of developing the puppy’s socialization is letting it play with other dogs. A dog that has only played with humans and has not had interaction with other dogs will not learn the necessary skills for meeting and greeting other sociable dogs.
“.a puppy who has not played, been isolated from other dogs/littermates and/or humans will not have learned bite inhibition, how to communicate and will be more likely to develop fearful and aggressive tendencies to control it’s surroundings in the future.”

In summary, play is vital in the development of your puppies’ socialization and communication kills. It stimulates the dogs and develops problem solving skills and helps develop the brain. But just as important as these are it’s also a lot of fun for both you and your dog.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

MIYA IS NOT A HUG ME TYPE DOG !



Miya is a white Northern Inuit dog. Seen here with my other dog Ben the black Lab. I rescued Miya from an animal rescue center here in Glasgow when she was about 14 months old. I had been to see her a couple of times and decided I wanted to give her the type of home that would let her reach her full potential. I lead a fairly active doggy life. Involved in dog training and spend a lot of weekends doing dog related stuff, like trekking and agility stuff. So I can give a dog like Miya a good life. She was hard work at first, I am her third owner. She was bought as a puppy from a breeder in Central Scotland and given to young children as a Christmas present. I can imagine that at eight weeks old she must have looked like a stuffed pure white wolf cub some kid would have on their bed. Who couldn't resist her. Three months later and sprouting somewhat, she became a bit of a handful. Originally cross bred from German Shepherds and Huskies, Northern Inuits are not Labs. And need a bit more experience when handling and training. This I found out very early on. Like many Christmas presents the kids soon tired of her and turned no doubt to the games consul that offers similar or more reward for a lot less effort. Mum and Dad were not interested in taking up the challenge and so at three months, off she went to the shelter. There she stayed for about four months before her second owner decided she would look good walking next to him along the road. She was adopted for a second time and went to her new home. She lasted there for another three months before being returned once more. The reason this time was that she was 'smelly and jumped up on the table'. The owner's circumstances were also changing and now had no room in his life for such a big dog. So back she went to the rescue center for another four months. In her first year she had spent seven months in a rescue center. When she came to me I had to win her over and as I've previously wrote in this blog, early influences are absolutely vital in helping to shape a dogs eventual temperament. I had my work cut out for me. I'm happy to say she is a much more relaxed dog now. I've had her now for three years. She competes at agility and has reached senior advanced level in road safety obedience. She is very vocal, not barking but typical husky growlly talking. She is clearly fond of me and follows me everywhere, but every now and then I take hold of her and give her a big cuddle. If I were to indulge in a bit of anthropomorphism I guess I would say she reacts like when you were that awkward teenager. Remember when you were say fourteen and dragged off to another family get together be it Christmas or Thanksgiving. You arrive there and know that aunty maud is going to be there. She must be a hundred and fifty by now. Smelling of moth balls and denture tablets. With both her hands she grabs each ear and pulls you towards her for a kiss. Wearing the most awful shade of violet lipstick. she insists on smacking you straight on the mouth, yeuck. Thats how Miya reacts when I give her a big cuddle. As soon as I release her she voices her Yeuck, wags her tail and runs off to get me a ball to play with.        Do I really smell of moth balls??
Thankfully Ben my black Lab doesn't think so he loves cuddles.....

See you soon...........





Tuesday, 22 May 2012

CAN YOU REALLY TEACH AN OLD DOG NEW TRICKS?

Whilst sitting in my back garden enjoying some rare sunshine, I thought I would relax further by taking off my boots and socks and putting my sandals on. I call them my slippers because I wear them around the house. So there I was reading a good book, "How dogs Learn". by Mary Burch and John Bailey. Sitting on my decking in front of the summer house. I had just got back from work and the dogs were milling around the garden. I live in a corner property with a substantial back and side garden, which I have made completely dog proof. i.e. they cannot escape. I had taught Ben my Black Lab a few tricks and one of which was "Fetch my slippers". Labs love to "find" things, and teaching him to suss out where they were and bring them to me was a great game. I cant for sure say I know what he's thinking when he's playing this game, but you can tell from the enthusiasm he shows when I give him the cue that he is enjoying himself. But then if he didn't want to do it then he wouldn't. As with any dog, there has to be something in it for him. Over the years, and he is now nine, I have taught him many things. Initially it was basic obedience type stuff. Walk to heel, sit, stay, lie down, distance control. All of which was taught to him using the traditional training methods. Very much hands on, push down for a sit. Jerk the slip collar for a close heel, you know the type of training i'm talking about. To be fair it worked for the basic stuff and I didn't need to use much in the way of 'encouragement' to get him to comply with what it was I wanted him to do. He was a very willing learner even from an early age. It wasn't however until a few years ago that I learned about positive reward training and I was introduced to 'Clicker training'. I have five dogs which I got at varying times and their ages range from two two nine. I have A northern Inuit, two Black Labs and two cross breeds. Miya the Northern Inuit was the newest dog to come into the family about the time I was picking up the Clicker Training. So I set about teaching her with a clicker. Her training came on a treat, and pretty soon she had the basics down, flying through her Road Safety Obedience tests at the local training school. She completed Novice all the way up to Senior Advanced in two years. I started going to crufts round about then and was amazed at the heel work to music demonstrations. Not because I wanted to have a dancing dog to music, but some of the 'tricks' that the handlers were getting their dogs to do was amazing. When I came back I decided to try some of these on my lot using a clicker. Ben was now about seven which is a fair age in doggy years. I started clicker training with Ben, and he took to it like a Lab to water. Why? because it involved food rewards. The one thing I have learned about Labs is that they will walk over hot coals for a treat. Not that I have ever had a Lab walk over hot coals I might add, or anything else equally as dangerous. I began retraining him on the obedience stuff, partly because he already knew it so it would be easy for him, and partly to improve the speed at which he performed a sit, or down or came in to recall. Using the reward method made him up his game and it felt a lot better rewarding him for getting it right rather than punishing him for doing it wrong. This form of learning is called Operant Conditioning. There are four procedures to Operant Conditioning, Positive Reinforcement, Negative Reinforcement, Positive Punishment and Negative Punishment. The procedure described above is Positive Reinforcement - "A behavior that is followed by a stimulus that is rewarding". In Ben's case doing a sit and then getting a nice treat. Note that the treat has to be worth it for this procedure to work effectively. I will go into the other procedures in my next Blog. Having retrained Ben on all the obedience stuff I started to teach him some tricks. I bought a couple of books on the subject, Mary Rae's book on heel work to music, and Karen Pryor's Clicker training. Both are excellent books for teaching your dog new things. I have been keeping this up now for a few years teaching all of the dogs new things. But recently I have been teaching Ben to 'fetch my slippers'. My thinking is that Labs are scent hounds and well my slippers give off a strong scent. So I would sit down stairs and send him up to one of the rooms to find my slippers. He always loves the 'find the' games. Using the clicker and a nice reward it didn't take too long for him to pick it up. So as I sat on the deck of the summer house and said to Ben, "fetch my slippers" and I pointed to the conservatory doors so that I was giving him a clue that he should go in the house to get them. He looked at me rather confusingly, moving from side to side, and looking towards the side garden round behind the large leylandii trees separating the back garden from the side garden.  I said to him "no, in the house son, fetch my slippers". He was clearly becoming distressed at my insistence that he go in the house and so he took off round the other side of the trees. Disappointed that it looked like I would have to go and get them myself I sat back down. As I looked along the fence to a gap in the trees I could see Ben making his way back with something in his mouth. Low and behold it was my slipper. "What was it doing in the side garden I asked him". As if he was going to answer. "Ok so you took that out when I came home and wasn't looking, so go and fetch my other slipper". Same again he disappears round the side garden. And once again he wanders back with the second slipper in his mouth. So a lesson to be learned, it's ok teaching your dog a new trick like fetch the slippers, or open the cupboard door. But be aware that once they know how to do this they will do it when you least expect or want them to. Be warned.

See you soon.........