Thursday, March 26, 2009

You Can't Speak Dog

Here is another stake in my ground: I unequivocally disagree with any training method that attempts to mimic dog communication. Examples of this include growling, or the old-fashioned Alpha-roll.

The idea of trying to communicate to your dog using their own language sounds pretty logical right? The problem is a human trying to act like a canine usually only further confuses the dog.

Take growling. First of all, dogs use different growls in different situations. (see "Growling" on my Tips page). Lets say that maybe you are able to successfully mimic an appropriate vocalization. Dogs also use lots of body language to clarify exact intentions. Of all the dogs we’ve owned, when one wanted to indicate the other should “stop” or “back off” they used growling/barking WITH definitive body language. These actions were always clear to the offending dog, and they always complied. You should also note that a dog’s body language almost always includes the ears. I, personally, am not able to voluntarily pin my ears back or get them to stick straight up. The only time my dogs seem to understand a growl is if we are playing tug.

Actually, just now I tried making a nasty growl while staring at an inanimate object. The dogs looked at me but showed absolutely no interest or concern and went back to sleep.

Using the Alpha-roll is similarly problematic. People are taught to force their dog onto his back in a submissive position in order to establish dominance. This is not how dogs do it. If you’ve ever watched two puppies playing you have seen how one may at some point willfully roll over on his back. But then when the other dog backs off, the submitting pup jumps right back up and starts pouncing again. Does this mean the other dog has established dominance? No! It means the pup was saying, “Hey, look, I’m really no threat”.

Dogs actually indicate dominance using combinations of staring, growling/barking, showing teeth, nipping/biting, resource guarding and marking. Communication among dogs is actually not quite as simple as some dominance trainers would have you believe.

Dogs are masters of observation and adapting to their environment. When your dog consistently goes to the door, you realize that’s his signal he needs to potty. Your dog can also learn what you want to communicate in the same manner. Be consistent with cue words and body language. Reinforce desired behavior with rewards. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your dog will start understanding, and how much calmer everyone will be.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I Don't Click

I'd like to set the record straight about my positive-reinforcement training...I have so far not needed to, and actually prefer NOT to clicker train. But I’m not “anti-clicker”.

Clicker training IS positive-reinforcement training. This method “marks” desired behavior by using a mechanical device that makes a "click" sound. In Psych-speak a “marker” is a signal to the animal that it is doing the right thing. The marker is quickly followed up with a reward (typically food) to reinforce the behavior.

I, and other non-clicker positive-reinforcement trainers, mark behavior with the word “good”. The methodology is the same. The equipment is different.

So why do I refrain from clicking? First, let me say if someone wants to use a clicker I’ll be happy to teach them. And I do endorse this method of training. It’s just not my preference. When I began as a trainer, I mentored with a non-clicker professional. I learned that with any form of positive-reinforcement, TIMING of markers and rewards is more important that the form they come in.

Other reasons I don’t click includes feedback from clients previously experienced with clicker classes:
- the dog was scared or otherwise made anxious by “click” noise.
- complaints that if timing wasn’t perfect, training did not go well.

When it comes right down to it, I have no need to carry around one more piece of equipment when using my voice works just as effectively. I always carry that with me. So even outside of formally practicing with my dog, if she does something naturally that I want to train I can still say “good” and give her some form or reward and not worry about where I left my clicker.

In closing I want to reiterate that there is absolutely nothing wrong with using clickers to train. Any training that is based on positive reinforcement and is effective is worth exploring. Some dogs actually do BETTER with clicker training (most likely because the owner does better for a variety of possible reasons). As with any training, it is a matter of find out what works best for both you and your dog.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Permethrin Warning

Permethrin is an insecticide used in and around U.S. homes and some topical tick preventatives. I just learned that K9 Advantix is one brand that contains this toxin. Permethrin has been classified by the FDA as a possible carcinogen (cancer causing agent).

While other products do, of course, use insecticides as well, I have not yet been made aware of their possible carcinogenicity. Needless to say, I will be trying another product during our peak flea/tick season.

Learn more about Permethrin at

Friday, March 13, 2009

Recommended Read: "The Healing Art of Pet Parenthood"

"The Healing Art of Pet Parenthood" by Nadine M. Rosin is a true account of the author's relationship with her "canine daughter" Buttons. The book focuses on the canine-human bond, hoistically healing canine cancer and the grieving process.

I "met" Nadine online a Twitter (@PetParentAuthor). Following the link to her blog is where I learned more about the book. At first, this did not seem like it was for me. I'm not usually a fan of personal pet stories as I have plenty of my own. Nadine was kind enough to feature me in a blog, and the more blogs from her I read the more I became convinced to order the book.

The first thing that struck me about "The Healing Art of Pet Parenthood" is how much personal informaion Nadine shares. She opens up so much of her experiences that somewhere you will find yourself being able to relate. This level of intimacy also draws the reader in and allows you to "get to know" Buttons as well. Nadine's explaination of the holistic therapies used will also serve to educate pet owners on alternative care options.

Toward the end of the book, I was in tears. We recently lost our beloved 14-year-old, AmStaff, Jesse. Nadine's book helped me unlock some supressed emotions. What a catharsis! The "The Healing Art of Pet Parenthood" has been recommended to any pet owner who is grieving. But I feel it is for any owner who has ever had a deep emotional bond with their pet.

Please check out Nadine M. Rosin's blog, to learn more about her and "The Healing Art of Pet Parenthood".

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Don't Poo-Poo the Poo Poo

You're probably aware that many cities and neighborhoods now have ordinances and laws requiring us to pick up after our dogs. But even if you are in a more rural area, it is important to pick up his poop.

First of all, if it is your land and you don't want to clean up immediately, fine. That's your right. But you really have no right to leave anything behind on another's property. I hope you don't litter; and basically poo should be viewed the same as littering. Although it eventually breaks down, it does take a while. In the meantime, it will inconvenience the owner or whoever else may walk by.

Dog feces can carry zoonotic diseases (transfering from dog to human) and parasites such as Giardia. This can occur through direct contact or via flies and other pests. This is fairly common among kids. Think about it: a kid doesn't look where he's walking, steps in the poo, tries to clean it off, gets a little fecal matter on his hands which he doesn't wash very well, then a couple days later he's being treated for an intestinal parasite. And it all could have been avoided if someone wasn't being careless.

Make sure waste pick-up is part of your walking equipment. There are cool leash attachments and refills available that dispense poop bags. Many people like to recycle their plastic grocery and newspaper bags for this purpose. I have heard of some folks simply carrying around their pooper scooper and then flushing the waste when home.

Whatever method you use, make sure it is reliable; i.e. no holes in the bag. I even often carry extras to offer people who've forgotten theirs.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Warmer Weather = Heartworm, Fleas & Ticks

Now that the weather is warming up out here, I begin thinking about uping the parasite prevention for my pooches.

Heartworm is carried by mosquitoes. It only takes one bite to infect your pet. Once contracted, treatment can be effective, but a costly and lengthy process. Here, in Maryland, we often have relatively mild winters. Also, mosquitoes can survive the winter inside a home. I keep my dogs on heartworm prevention all year round. Heartworm preventatives can only be prescribed by veterinarians. If your dog has not been on Heartworm meds, even just skipping the winter months, a blood test for the parasite will first be required.

Fleas and Ticks are typically killed through products such as K9 Advantix and Frontline. These are highly effective and have low in incidences of side-effects. I highly recommend you discuss all your concerns and options with your veterinarian to find what will work best for you and your dog.

Some dogs can have reactions or develop sensitivities to these products; like my Golden. Many folks also wish to avoid use of chemicals. So I will share the natural flea & tick deterents we use.

#1 Checking the coat and skin thoroughly and regularly. The warmer it is, the more frequently I check. This may mean each and every time they've gone out. Don't forget to check between toes as well.

#2 Use of a botanical spray for the coat. I feel comfortable using those that contain Neem oil. This is a natural insecticide. I add a few drops to my favorite leave-in conditioning spray. Do not try to use pure Neem oil, full-strength - it smells rancid and could cause skin irritation. Natural flea/tick collars are also available. But, personally I feel better spraying the entire coat (except the face of course)

#3 Frequent vacuuming pet sleeping areas in addition to the rest of the house removes any eggs that may be lurking around. Dispose of bags frequently as eggs could hatch inside allowing fleas to escape.

#4 Any ticks found are immediately removed. Fleas would require an immediate bath using a flea control shampoo.

In addition, due to the high incidence of Lymes in our area, our dogs are annually vaccinated. NOTE: More kids in our area are contracting Lymes. Because we have kids I do use K9-Advantix on the dogs a couple times during the summer.