K.I.S.S. Loose leash walking success!

Walking our dogs is the first thing that most people say when asked “what activities do you do with your dog?” For those who have easy to handle dogs, walking is a stroll through the neighborhood.

There are dog owners, however, who dread taking their dogs out in public! Whether the case being the dog is constantly pulling, barking at every person or animal they see, or zigzagging all over the place. Not every dog naturally knows how to handle being polite on walks. This blog posts is meant to help the latter group of dog owners out with how to help your excited dogs navigate the outside world.

red dog laying down

How far are you travelling?

The first thing to note is when we are walking easily excitable dogs, do not worry about how far you need to go out on a walk. The goal of your walk is not to get them physical exercise, but for them to get some exposure to the outside world. So how do we strike the balance between getting them out on walks and not having our dogs cause a scene?

Keep It Simple!

One thing is using the K.I.S.S. method for our walks. Keep It Short and Sweet. Walks with reactive dogs should be no more than 15 minutes. If you are walking these excitable dogs for long periods of time, you may notice that at a certain point in the walk our dog becomes more reactive, unruly, or pulls even more. This is because our dog’s ability to be behaved and use their brain to process the environment deteriorates over time. The more stimuli, or exciting things, you come across on a walk, the shorter that time frame of good behavior gets.

By making your walks shorter, we allow our dogs to experience walks without getting mentally exhausted from trying to process the outside world. Be conscious about the route you take, and plan on making back to your front door right at the 15 minute mark. This time frame is perfect amount to get your dog the mental stimulation and interaction with the outside environment and not have them go over the top from being exhausted. Keeping this kind of regimented walk schedule will allow for your dog to develop the experience of being on walks an it be a positive experience, instead of it turning into a frustrating experience for both you and your dogs.

What if you need more?

With dogs that are super excited about walks, one of the things we want to practice is letting them use their nose. If they want to stop and smell a lamppost, or a mailbox, or a single blade of grass, let them. That is not to say we let them drag you all over the place in order to sniff everything, but if you are walking and they stop to sniff, let them sniff!

Remember that these walks are for our dogs, and if they prefer to sniff a lot we want to encourage them using their nose. A dog’s nose is one of its biggest tools they use to figure out what is going on around them. By allowing our dogs to use their nose, it gets their brain working via processing information. Allowing our dogs to do this processing, it allows them to saturate their surroundings, and getting more comfortable over time and repetition.

You can practice the skill of having your dog use their nose in the home as well! Scent work exercises are a great way to get your dog to use their natural tracking instincts, and use their nose to process and find things. You can set a little scavenger hunt around a room by placing treats in random places, and letting your dog search out for the treats. You can also play a shell cup game with your dog and help them use their nose. Place the cookie under the same cup to also encourage shape and color recognition as well.

These are fun things designed to challenge our dogs in a way to promote using their brain in constructive ways rather than get overly excited about nothing.

Need more ideas? Get your free enrichment calendar here! You can also follow along with us on our Facebook Page.

Canine Enrichment: The W’s

Enrichment is a new buzz word in the dog community. It began awhile ago in the zoo world because the animals were being put in an unnatural environment and needed to satisfy some of the needs that are not met in captivity. Its slowly making its way into pet households and the results are speaking for themselves!

Why have we dedicated and entire month to enrichment on our Facebook Page and why should it even be on your radar as a pet owner?

two dogs on bench in the park
One of my favorite enrichment activities is a good long walk in the woods!

What is Enrichment?

Think about a feral dog or a stray dog in the woods. When they wake up in the morning, their first thought is “I must find food” They use their nose to track where the food has been, and finally catch sight of the food. Then they chase the food, catch the food, shake the food, tear the food apart, then eat.

How does your dog eat their food? I imagine that path is a little different for your house dog. The problem comes when we remember that dogs are still genetically wired to these behaviors. Enrichment allows your dog to satisfy those needs in a way that is socially acceptable. (Read: not releasing bunnies in your yard)

Why do you care?

Most of the phone calls we receive are from dog owners who are battling behaviors they don’t have a solution for. Its our job to get to the root of your dogs misbehavior and give you a path for improvement. Most of the time, enrichment helps satisfy many of your dogs needs, and helps to “fix” the misbehavior. Often, the root of the behaviors that need fixing, are boredom, stress, and lack of clear communication. Enrichment solves two out of three of those needs! By giving your dog something to do that taps into a need that their brain is searching for many of the unwanted behaviors disappear.

If your favorite stress relief activity is a hot bath, and your hot water heater is busted, you are going to get more stressed out. The same with runners who have to rest an injury. They are not always pleasant to be around because their mode of stress release is gone.

big black dog laying on the floor
After a little play time, and a good chew, Ayla is resting peacefully.

Dogs need to sniff, chase, catch, and tear to satisfy the need that their brain still thinks they have to do to survive. Hounds need to sniff, Malinois need to bite, Huskys need to run. Enrichment gives the dogs an appropriate way to satisfy those needs.

How do you start?

For starters sign up to get our free e-book on enrichment here! Inside is a calendar so you can follow along with us through the month of February, and post videos so we can also enjoy your dogs! If you need some ideas, we’ve already gotten started on the Facebook Page. Just scroll through and take a look!

The puppy and the cold weather

Well 2020 started out really nice, I was on the beach barefoot for a few days there. These days we are back to typical January weather, wet and cold. I hate the cold weather, one day when I have made all the money, I’ll be a snowbird and winter in sunny Florida. (We can dream, right!) Until then I need to work dogs in every season.

So how do I get through to March when the sun comes back, and I am not complaining about my bones being cold? First, I make a training plan for the psycho puppy, then I fill in the gaps with Brain Games!

Puppy shredded toy

Brain Games for the win

Seriously a cardboard box has saved my sanity more often than I want to admit! Those really cold rainy days create more of a mess in my house than I truly want to clean up but its totally worth it.

So what are these brain games and why do they work. Otherwise known as Enrichment, these activities tap into the dogs genetic makeup, and satisfy many of those areas that dogs still crave. This is very popular in zoo communities because zookeepers want the animals to use as much of their natural behavior as possible. Our dogs are no different. Our world is quite different from theirs and they do a fabulous job of figuring stuff out. Why not give them some freedom to be a dog for a bit!

For example, dogs are scavengers, and like to dig and shred their food. If they were digging their dinner bowl, we would get pretty mad. What about a box full of toilet paper tubes with kibbles in it?

Sniffing. Check.

Digging. Check.

Shredding. Check.

Three doggy behaviors checked off in one activity. February is a cold one so we are hosting a month long enrichment party on the Facebook Page. Check us out each day to see how we are playing with our dogs. Want to follow along with us? Grab our enrichment e-book here with a calendar of ideas to keep your dog satisfied all month long.

Adoption Counseling

We have a new dog in the family!

I had the privilege of accompanying my cousin to our local animal shelters to find his new best friend. He’s never lived with a dog, his parents didn’t have dogs growing up so he only had my train wrecks to play with. (I didn’t get a dog until I was 19, that would have made him about 8 years old.)

Decompression nap

Sleepy pup after a bit of training.

Purebred or rescue?

Since I know a bunch of dog people I was able to provide contrast. We were able to see both the world of purebred dogs with introductions to many friends who are breeders and show their dogs in conformation or sports.  I also have friends who work in shelters and with rescue groups so I was also able to show him that side of the dog loving world. We discussed the pros and cons of each path, and what he was comfortable with.

We also discussed in depth, what his goals were and what he envisioned life to be like with a dog. From those discussions he decided that a rescue dog was the way he wanted to go.

There is no right or wrong answer to the question of rescue or purebred. I have 2 rescues and one purebred currently who were acquired them for different reasons, and they serve different purposes. I love them all the same.

Back to our story…

We planned a day to go to the shelters and take a look around. Since I know people, I asked those in the know to recommend a few dogs who might match our criteria. This also helps with the feeling of overwhelm. If you have ever wandered through the kennel area at a shelter, all the dogs essentially look the same. Knowing you can choose from any of them can be a bit daunting! Having a list, from the people who see these dogs everyday was certainly helpful! (Thank you Amanda, and both Jessicas!)

We visited with 8 dogs in two shelters before he made his pick. I let him make the emotional choice, but if I saw any red flags I would point them out. He chose one affectionate walker hound at the first shelter, that was not at all what we had discussed as a goal for a dog. Taffy was sweet, but clearly had been a discarded hunting dog, and with that comes little to no house manners, and she was heartworm positive, which would delay adventure time by about 4 months. Taffy is going to be a great dog for someone who can give her some rules, and be patient while she figures out life inside a house, but it was not the dog that my cousin had described to me prior to our trip.

So happy to be homeThe seventh dog we met with was Harley, a barky, jumpy girl who had been returned for some resource guarding of her food bowl (easily fixed, I saw no problems there)  I noticed some crouching and tail tuck when coming into the playroom. We let her take a good while to sniff around the room. She sniffed the caretaker helping us, she sniffed me and continued around the room until she sniffed my cousin seated on the floor and plopped into his lap.

Sold.

Don’t judge a dog by it’s kennel behavior

Harley jumped and barked at us when we walked by her kennel. Actually, all the dogs we saw had terrible kennel behavior. Jumping, barking, growling and retreating. If it had just been me, I might have passed her over. Luckily for Harley, I had a list!

In the meeting room, Harley was not taking food from me and not playing with the toys like the other dogs we had visited, but I saw some resilience in her. She has a natural curiosity about things, she was calmer now that she was outside of her kennel, and was seeking out people for affection. This could be a good match after all.

There is no guarantee that a dogs behavior at the shelter will in anyway be a predictor to how they will act outside of the shelter. The same idea that a well bred puppy will not necessarily act like its parents. The biggest struggle I see with people comes when the dogs temperament is not matched to what they expect it to be. Adopting a dog can be a very emotional decision and having an impartial 3rd party to help you make a clear headed decision might be the difference between the best dog ever, and an emotional train wreck!

So far, a happy ending!

So far Harley, now Ayla, is transitioning easily for my cousin. He’s done all the things I have told him to which has helped her to ease into her new life with less stress.

If bringing home a new dog is in the cards for you this year, reach out to us, or another qualified trainer to help be that impartial 3rd party. Your forethought will make them jump for joy! It will also give you a bit of peace of mind that a person trained and certified in dog behavior is helping you find your new best friend!

Happy Gotcha Day Ayla!
Happy Gotcha Day Ayla!

I am not against exercise

I want to clarify something from a previous post. If you would like to read that post first, you can find the link here: I don’t walk my dogs.

The most frequent time that I tell my clients to stop walking their dogs is when they are reacting to stuff outside. This means jumping and barking at things that seem benign to us, like dogs, people, or inflatable halloween decorations.

I promise that if your dog was enjoying his walk, he would not be throwing a fit every time they saw stuff when on a walk. For these clients, while we are working through our behavior modification program, their instructions are not to walk your dog in areas where they can react to things. Find a giant field where you can see things coming and get your dog out of the situation before they explode. Around the Hampton Roads area, that might mean taking a trip to Smithfield or another space, where you might have to drive to get there. If you are not willing to take the drive, then don’t walk your dog.

Another situation that I have recommended this is for dogs who get themselves so worked up while on walks, they start to jump at their owners and bite them. We need to teach your dog how to cope with the environment before we start walking into the unexpected.

For both of these types of dogs, practice makes perfect. Everytime you unexpectedly expose your dog to a trigger that causes the behavior we are trying to stop, it’s one more episode that we have to reteach. Dogs who are continuously walked in the space that holds the triggers, take so much longer to work through their behavior modification programs than dogs who can take the break from walking in the neighborhood

However, healthy dogs still need 30 minutes of cardiovascular activity each day. This can be done without walking! Let’s take a look at some of my favorite exercise that does not require a leash.

  • Chasing food. Literally throw kibbles across the house.
  • Chasing a ball. If your dog is into toys, fetch is a great game to get that heartrate up. I don’t love my dog sliding after the ball so I teach them to go out and then I throw the ball.
  • Flirt pole. Wear your dog out in record time. There is no way your dog can do 30 mins of flirt pole at one time!
  • Play tag. Poke their rump and run. After a few rounds your dog will be totally into it. You get your cardio exercise in too!
  • Strength training. All the dogs have a workout plan. It takes me about 15 minutes to work 3 dogs, and Cargo is still learning that sometimes it’s not her turn.

In the last week, Opie and Cargo both went to the farm for a barn hunt lesson where, they were on leashes walking around the farm. Cargo went to agility class, the brewery, and to the park for a walk with a doggy friend on a leash. Pixie went nowhere on a leash because she hates it. I want you to consider, if your walks are stressing you out, you might be stressing out your dog too! Not walking down the street is okay and doesn’t make you a terrible dog owner!

Give some of these options a try the next time you want to go for a neighborhood walk. You might notice your dog is actually better behaved after a break. Change is good for everyone.