Thursday, 8 May 2014

Puppy Class Course

Puppy class course starting Saturday 10 May 2014. One space left.

These classes are aimed at young puppies (12-18 weeks old) and focus on socialisation and life skills rather than pure obedience!

Contact me on for details.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Travelling in the Car

Here are some general tips to make travelling comfortable and enjoyable for your dog:-

  • Introduce your puppy to the car at an early age, and do lots of short journeys – to fun places.  If your dog only ever gets put into the car to go to the vets, he will associate the car with unpleasant experiences (unless he loves going to the vets).
  • Some dogs do suffer with motion sickness!  You should discuss this with your vet if you think this is the case, as your dog will find it hard to learn new behaviours if he is feeling sick and stressed
  • Flicking lights/shadows may affect some dogs, so a window screen may help these dogs settle.
  • Make sure your dog is comfortable; a proper travelling crate/carrier ensures your dog is safe too. Some can also be closed to provide shade, but still provide ventilation.  Harnesses can also be used if the dog is happy to sit quietly.

Most young dogs get over motion sickness, but some still dislike car travel – even though they no longer actually feel sick.  Their behaviour (drooling, shaking, panting, pacing), which may have been in response to feeling uncomfortable and/or fearful may have become entrenched and associated with any car journey – so it is “switched on” every time they are put in a car.

Here are some suggestions for changing these learned behaviours, but if the problem is severe, it is recommended that you work with a qualified behaviourist, who will be able to help you ensure you are rewarding desirable behaviours at the right time, that you are not pushing your dog too far in any training session, and that veterinary advice is sought where necessary.

  • Try just sitting in the car with the dog without going anywhere!  Play with their favourite toy or give them their favourite treat for giving you calm behaviour.  Gradually build up the length of time you do this.  If your dog will not even get in the car, then start out by rewarding him for even approaching the car and showing any interest in it.Once your dog is happy to sit in the car try just starting the engine without actually going anywhere.  
  • The next stage would be to only do short drives – to a favourite walk, so they start to associate the car with that.
  • Gradually introduce short trips to the shops, to visit favourite people, or just a drive round the block for the sake of it – so that he/she learns it is not always going to be along drawn out journey.
  • Once your dog starts to relax more in the car, occasionally introduce a longer drive – but remember small steps work best!
  • Try using DAP spray or a DAP collar (obtainable from most Vets or on the internet) this helps to calm some dogs!
  • Try a Thundershirt – a snug fitting coat which calms some anxious dogs..


Being Alone!

Dogs are sociable animals.  They want to spend time with their family members, and do not like being left alone.  It is not good mentally for a dog to be regularly left alone for long periods of time.  However, with today’s busy lifestyles it is inevitable that dogs will have to be left alone at some point – and they need to be able to cope with this!  If they are not taught how to cope, they will inevitably find their own coping strategy – which may not be desirable to you – barking/howling, defecating/urinating, destruction, self harm.  If your dog really struggles with being left alone, his anxiety could become a serious problem and affect his and your quality of life!

Teaching your dog to be happy when you are out of sight is not simply a case of making him sleep in a different area from you, or to get used to you going out of the house – you need to build own time into his daily routine.

Start early by introducing him to a crate

Crates, used properly, are not prisons – but havens for your dog.  You can teach him that the crate, wherever it is, is a safe quiet place where he can relax.  Introduce your dog to a crate as soon as he comes home!  Make sure it is cosy for him; put his favourite toys in there – and some very tasty snacks.  Let him find the crate himself – so place the snacks and toy in there and leave the door open.  Do not make a fuss when he goes in – if he finds the snacks and drags them out to eat let him be, just keep randomly placing exciting tasty stuff in there for him to find.  He will soon realise what a good place the crate is, and want to stay in it for a little while!  Whenever he goes in and spends time there, give him some more tasty food while he is in there – to reward him for staying there – but do not shut the door!

What about when you are not there?

Crates can help with house training your dog – and helping him cope with being left on his own.  For this, though, you are obviously going to want to shut the door!  The more used you get him to the crate with the door open – the easier this is going to be!

Night time

Personally, I find the practice of leaving a puppy in a room on his own to cry and scream the first night he is home cruel and unnecessary!  He has been torn from his mom and litter for the first time ever and is suddenly on his own in a dark unusual place – this must be extremely traumatic for him – and whenever I have done it in the past I have felt extremely stressed too!  You want to build the best bond you can with your dog – and yet you are subjecting him to this trauma!

Learning from past experiences, I always take new puppies into the bedroom in their crates on their first night.  Having got them comfortable in their crate during the day they sleep in the crate close to the bed with the door closed.  If you play with them just before bedtime, this makes sure they are sleepy.  They can smell and hear you, and settle down to sleep.  All the puppies I have done this with have slept right through the night – with no toilet accidents!  (You do need to make sure you take them outside before bed and absolutely must wait for them to at least urinate before you bring them back in to bed.)  If you leave a (safe) toy in the crate he will have something to occupy himself with if he does wake.

Gradually, over the next few weeks, if you do not want your dog to sleep in the bedroom long term, move the crate a little bit further away from you.  Remember – small steps, so the dog hardly notices.  It could take a few days or longer to even get out of the bedroom!  Every dog is different.  Gradually move the crate just outside the room – but leave the door open, so he can still see/hear you, and then gradually get the dog used to not being able to see you. If possible, put the crate in another, empty room upstairs, with the door open so that he can still hear and smell you before you even think about taking the crate downstairs.  This will not be too traumatic, because he will still be able to smell and hear you.  Eventually, over time, you will end up with the crate where you have decided you want it to be long term.  Take it slowly, if you move too quickly, just go back a step and start again.

This does seem longwinded, but I find it much less stressful for all concerned.  When you eventually get the crate where you want it – leave all the doors open if you can to start with – so that he can still smell you and know you are there through the night.

Day time

Even if you do not need to leave your dog alone during the day – you still need to do so, so that he learns that he cannot always be by your side.

Religiously continue with keeping that crate an exciting place by hiding treats/new toys under and amongst the blankets so that your dog regularly visits it and gets to value it as a safe place.  Move the crate around rather than leave it in one place!  Get the dog attached to the crate – not the room where it is.  This will make going on holiday and visiting friends and family much easier for him in the future.
Gradually, over time, when the dog is in his crate, give him a yummy treat (eg. stuffed Kong) and once he is tucking into it, close the crate door and go into another room for a little while.  Do not make a fuss about this.  Do not say anything to the dog. Act as though it is completely normal.  Stay away for a short time (only five or ten minutes to start with – whatever your dog can cope with) and then come back, open the door and really praise the dog.  Do this regularly, gradually building the time that you spend away from the dog, and building in short trips away from the house.  Some trainers use signs to indicate to the dog that this is going to be “alone time”.  They may hang a wind chime out or some similar sign.  The dog soon learns that when the chime is hanging it is alone time – but it is ok, because they are in their favourite spot, and their family members ALWAYS come back if they wait.  For this to work though, you must remove the chime immediately you return! Always leave the dog something to do while you are gone – a Kong, a safe toy to chew on.
As always, this process should be done in small steps, and if you are in a position to be able to spend time at home, and gradually build up the time, then that, again, will make the whole process less stressful.

During this whole time, introduce your dog to as many different people as you can, and let other people do things with them without you if possible.  This all helps with ensuring the dog does not become too dependent on you and able to cope if you cannot be around.  Also, if your dog follows you everywhere you go around the house, make some areas inaccessible to him – eg the bathroom so that he learns that he cannot follow you absolutely everywhere.

Remember, there are no hard and fast rules for how long this will take.  Some dogs are naturally clingier than others are; others can quite happily be on their own relatively quickly.  Help them by gradually, but continually moving towards your final goal, rather than using an all or nothing approach!

Handling your Puppy/Dog

Handling is an important part of socialisation.  We need to be able to handle different body parts of our pets' bodies in order to keep them healthy - and to help them during times of illness.

Start handling your new puppy as soon as he moves in, but make sure you make the experience enjoyable! Whilst petting your pup, gently play with his ears, lift his lips to inspect his teeth, gently put your hands in his mouth. Introduce grooming tools and wipes slowly! Let the puppy investigate them! Use slow deliberate movements so the pup can always see what you are doing!

Some puppies may be growly when you try to clean certain areas such as ears and paws.  These areas are sensitive - many puppies feel wary of you letting them touch these areas. Make sure you are very gentle when you touch them and give rewards (treats) and lots of praise for them allowing you to touch them.  If your pup is obviously uncomfortable, then gradually build up the time that you touch the area for.  Just letting you touch and immediately remove your hand should be rewarded to start with. Five minutes a day spent petting and introducing your pet to gentle handling and grooming will help your puppy accept and even enjoy grooming!

Grabbing your dog and forcefully holding him still while you groom him, or using a muzzle only for grooming, or leaving his coat to become matted and overgrown before trying to groom him are guaranteed ways of making the experience frightening for him and a stressful chore for you! You also run the risk of being bitten and damaging your relationship with your dog!

If your dog is an older dog who already hates being handled and growls and snaps at you, then you need to go right back to the beginning - as if your dog was a puppy.  If the dog's prior experiences with handling mean he might bite you, then it is a good idea to introduce him to the muzzle! Do this slowly and patiently and only associate it with good things to start with! There are several good videos on Youtube demonstrating how to do this.  Click here for a good example.  Just remember that every dog is an individual, and every trainer has different skill levels - so you may not be able to progress as quickly as the dog in the video!

Once your dog is used to the muzzle, make sure you keep him used to it by intermittently using it as part of a training session where he gets lots of rewards for wearing it.  Take him to different places wearing it too - so that he does not generalise wearing a muzzle to only one place - where bad things might happen!

Remember - it is natural for a dog not to want to be manhandled.  We would not like it - why should they?  We only appreciate being touched when we consent, and we react instinctively if we are touched without that consent.  Dogs are the same!  Growling is their way of telling us they are not happy with the situation - it is normal - it does not mean they are a bad dog!

If you dog growls, avoid scolding him for trying to communicate with you.  Instead slow the process down, give him a break, start again with slow, calm movements and lots of treats.

Remember, if your dog growls at you, you scold him and stop trying to handle him, he learns that growling stops the handling and that you behave strangely sometimes by shouting for no reason!  Instead ease off, approach gently and slowly, and reward him for any progress towards letting you handle him - little steps.  Make sessions short but regular and ALWAYS finish on a happy note, by rewarding him for his progress - or if it's a slow day, and little or no progress has been made, get him to do something you know he can easily do and reward him heartily for that!