5 Tips For Bonding With Your Dog

22 Jul


I have a confession: sometimes, when Topher is jerking me around in class or fraying at my last nerve with yet another reactive outburst… I stop liking him very much. I know! It’s a terrible thing to say! But when you own a reactive dog, stress and frustration can become a part of your daily and weekly routine; it’s important to try your best not to hold onto those feelings, not to let them negatively impact your bond with your dog.

Even if you don’t have a reactive dog, there are lots of ways to further bond with your pet! A strong connection with your dog can go along way, from giving you more patience in dealing with their less favorable idiosyncrasies, to helping them feel calmer and more balanced overall.

Create A Routine

When you establish a routine for things like feeding, walks, and playtime with your dog, it’s like making a promise with them. The more you’re able to keep that promise by adhering to your schedule, the more your dog will trust you. It also means they’ll be able to handle the occasional upset to the schedule with greater ease.

Make Up Little Rituals

Just like people, dogs appreciate the little treats and kindnesses you show them day to day. Establishing small rituals makes everyday actions just a little sweeter. For example, Topher gets a small spoonful of peanut butter as a morning treat, and another small treat right before bed. This started because he needed eyedrops several times a day, and giving treats was an easy way for us to help him adjust to being given medication. Now, it’s just another small way we show Topher some love.

Find (Or Create) Activities You Both Enjoy

Life with your dog is a team sport. Nothing will make your pup happier than doing things with you. Doing something fun with your dog reinforces the feelings that spending time with your dog is enjoyable—and this is key when you have a reactive dog, if you’re going to training sessions or getting into other stressful encounters. Whether it’s going on trail walks like Ivana and Archer, or just hanging out on the couch watching TV, find something you and your dog can both enjoy, and pursue it together.

Get On Their Level

One of Bryan’s favorite things to do with Topher is sit on the floor with him. A little face-to-face interaction is great for your dog, whether it takes place on the floor or on the couch (if they’re allowed up there!). A dog who will look into your eyes, even briefly, is a dog who is showing you respect and trust. Show you appreciation with praise, or pets or other affection.

This isn’t to say you should be staring down your dog. Staring and looking are certainly different things. And if your dog is uncomfortable with eye contact, don’t force them. As your bond with them grows, it will get easier.

Listen To What Your Dog Is “Saying”

At any given time, your dog may be providing you feedback about their overall level of comfort. It’s on you to listen, and respond appropriately. If your dog is reacting to something or clearly uncomfortable in a certain environment, it’s your responsibility to advocate for them. Get them training to aid them in learning to accept new people, environments, etc. Or, protect them from situations where they might feel forced to defend themselves. The more you can understand and respect your dog’s feelings, the stronger your bond will be.

How To Evaluate A Rescue Dog Before Adoption

16 Jul


A common tip given when adopting or bringing a new dog into your family is to make sure the dog you choose fits your lifestyle. In some cases, choosing a dog that fits your day to day life just means choosing a dog of a certain size or build. A small dog for an apartment, an athletic dog to run with, etc. However, what about when you’re trying to choose a dog with a particular temperament?

This was something Bryan and I stumbled into when we adopted Topher. We knew we wanted a dog of a specific type—a Boxer or bully type breed—but other than that, we didn’t really know what else to look for to gauge what kind of personality our dog would have. And when you’re in a shelter environment, sometimes it can be hard to tell just what a dog’s true temperament will be once they’ve settled into a less stressful situation.

This is the situation many people who adopt adult dogs from shelters find themselves in. Adopting an adult dog has many advantages, but its primary disadvantage is that an adult dog will come with baggage. Finding a new home is traumatic, and so their personality may not shine through immediately. So in a shelter environment, how do you decide if the dog you’re looking at is the right one for you? Here are a few ways to briefly evaluate a dog you’re considering bringing into your home.

1. Watch the dog from a distance. Do they appear aloof to those passing by, or friendly?

2. Approach the dog in a neutral way—don’t speak or smile, and try to approach from the side. See if the dog approaches you and the reaction they give.

3. Approach the dog with a big smile and a happy greeting, and see what reaction this kind of greeting elicits.

4. Watch a shelter worker or volunteer walk the dog on a leash, and see how much attention the dog pays to their current handler. This will give you a little bit of an idea of how they walk on a lead.

5. Find an area where you can sit quietly with the dog, preferably off a leash. See how often the dog comes back to visit you. A dog who is slightly more independent when off leash is not necessarily a bad thing, it all depends on your expectations for the level of attention seeking behavior and affection in your dog.

6. If you feel safe, run your hands all over the dog. If the dog seems okay with that, see if he will let you check his ears, his mouth, or handle his paws. Stop if the dog seems uncomfortable or moves to get away at any point. This is just to see how receptive the dog is to being handled.

7. Try handing the dog a small treat. Do they grab at it, or take it gently? If the dog grabs at the treat forcefully, ask them to be gentle and hold the next treat almost enclosed in your hand—refuse to give it to them until they are using their mouth more gently to take it. A dog who cannot understand the notion of gentle may be more difficult to manage later, especially around children or cats.

8. Make sure the dog is introduced to everyone in your family before adoption, especially if you have children. When bringing an adult dog into a family with children, the dog should greet them happily and with enthusiasm. An adult dog who is good with children is usually one who’s grown up with them, and that bond may be harder to teach to an adult dog who hasn’t had much interaction with kids.

9. If you have another dog or cat, try and see how the dog interacts with dogs and cats, or make sure to ask those at the shelter if they’ve evaluated their temperament towards other animals.

These evaluations will give you more of an idea of a shelter dog’s temperament, though no test is fool-proof; adopting an adult dog is as much work as, and sometimes more than, adopting a puppy. You need to be committed to working with your dog to help them grow into their new role in your home.

When you adopt an adult dog, there’s usually a honeymoon period—anywhere from a few days to a month where your dog is still adjusting to their surroundings, and their typical behavior may be somewhat inhibited. You should use this period to help your dog understand what is expected of them. Over time, you’ll begin to see their true personality begin to shine, as they grow into the role of companion and friend.

Take Your Dog To Work Day! 6 Reasons Your Dog Is A Great Co-Worker

25 Jun


It’s Take Your Dog To Work Day! Around here, take your dog to work day happens…everyday! Working from home gives us a unique appreciation for our canine coworkers. These days, more and more companies are allowing pets into the office on a regular basis. Bringing pets to work is proving to be a positive influence on the workplace. So, here are a few more reasons why your dog just might be your new favorite coworker.

1. Pets Decrease Your Stress Levels

Both dogs and cats are frequently cited as amazing stress-relievers. Simply looking into the eyes of your dog can melt your worries and deadlines away—for better or worse! A 2012 Virginia Commonwealth University study showed that people who bring their dogs to work produced lower levels of cortisol than those who did not.

As the workday went on, those who brought dogs to work experienced a decline in stress levels of 11% while those who didn’t have a furry friend saw their stress levels rise up to 70% by the end of the day. There’s a reason for this phenomenon: many studies show that simply petting a dog can increase levels of the stress-reducing hormone oxytocin, and decrease production of the stress hormone cortisol.

Plus, our dogs can provide a healthy dose of humor while in the office. It’s hard to have a bad day at work when you’ve got an adorable squishy face next to you, ready to cheer you up with a round of puppy kisses.

2. Dogs Make Great Team Builders

Anyone who’s taken their dog for a walk down the street knows, dogs are a social catalyst. Bringing your pup into the office will inevitably lead to striking up more conversations with coworkers who simply want to come by and give your dog some love. A 2010 study from Central Michigan University showed dogs in the workplace can lead to more trust between coworkers, how cool is that?

Personally, I’d take mandatory dog-social hours for strengthening work relationships over any cheesy team-building exercise!

3. They’re Great At Networking

If you routinely bring your pet to work, you may have to start thanking him for your next sale! Dogs not only boost internal morale at companies, they can also help companies bond with outside vendors and clients coming in to visit the office. It makes for a memorable experience, for any outsider!

4. Your Dog Will Increase Your Work Ethic

There are very few of us who would willingly work overtime when we know our pets are waiting anxiously for us at home at the end of the day. But let pets into the office, and suddenly you’re less stressed about making your deadlines and making time for your dog.

5. A Quick Dog Walk For Lunch Can Boost Creativity

We all know that regular exercise improves physical health, and taking a break from the computer for a walk has been proven to deliver mental health benefits. A recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found going for a walk can boost creative thinking by as much as 60% compared to sitting! You may not take that walk when on your own at the office, but what if your dog was sitting next to you, with those big puppy eyes? It’s walking time, sucker.

6. They’ll Make You Look Great

Even with all the benefits, there are a few downsides to having your dog at work. Their cuteness can be distracting, and bad for productivity. Plus, as far as coworkers go, they’re the least likely to pull their weight around the office—talk about not being a team player, when they’re sleeping all the time!

But hey, when all your coworker does is sleep and beg for treats, that makes you look pretty great, right? Just make sure he doesn’t eat those TPS reports.

Dog Bite Prevention: 10 Things Dog Owners Can Do

21 May

In honor of National Dog Bite Prevention Week, we wanted to talk a little bit about how we, as dog owners, can make sure we’re doing our very best to prevent dog bites from happening. Many, many dog bites are preventable. However, prevention starts by having a thorough understanding of your dog, their behavior, and an understanding of what situations can lead a dog to bite.

So, how do you avoid getting bit by a dog? Respect the personal space of all dogs! Preventing dog bites is never, ever a dominance game, and usually leads to further injury. Never approach an unfamiliar dog, especially one who’s tied or confined behind a fence or in a car. Do not disturb a dog while they are sleeping, eating, chewing on a toy, or caring for their puppies. Be cautious around strange dogs. Always assume that a dog who doesn’t know you may see you as an intruder or a threat, and do not pet a dog without letting them see you and sniff you first.

With that in mind, here are some other ways that dog owners specifically can do to help prevent dog bites.

Before You Get A Dog

1. Educate yourself. Learn about dog care, raising a puppy, and humane, reward-based training methods. The more you know about caring for your dog, the more you’ll know about interacting with others’ and how to move forward past any challenges in a positive way.

2. Support legitimate rescues and breeders. Avoid purchasing your new dog at a pet store. Most pet store puppies come from puppy mills: large-scale commercial breeding kennels that often house dogs in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, without adequate veterinary care, food, water, and human companionship or socialization. The dog you end up with may be poorly socialized to people and other animals, which can lead to aggressive behavior.

The same is true of backyard breeders. Avoid purchasing dogs through classified ads in newspapers, or through the internet. Many puppy mills and backyard breeders sell their dogs through these kinds of ads. A backyard breeder is an unlicensed pet owner who breeds the dogs they own, or who allows dogs to mate on their own. Backyard breeders usually have little to no knowledge about breed standards, genetics, or proper puppy-rearing, and socialization.

Instead, adopt a dog from a well-managed animal shelter or rescue group whose staff and volunteers can fill you in on the dog’s background, their personality, and their behavior in the shelter. Or, if you’re looking for a specific breed, find a small-scale, reputable breeder who sells only one breed, and allows you to visit his or her home and kennel. The breeder should show you the mother and relatives of the puppy and provide a clean, loving home environment for them, including lots of handling, play, and interaction with different people of all ages.

3. Make sure a dog is the right fit for your family. If you have young children, consider waiting until they are older. Many more dog bites happen to young children than any other age group, so waiting until they are at least ten years old is recommended. Regardless of age, before introducing a dog into the home, all children need to be taught how to treat the dog gently and with respect, giving them their own space, and plenty of opportunities to rest.

After Getting A Dog

4. Spay or neuter your dogs. A spayed or neutered dog is typically more laid back then intact dogs, and may be less likely to lash out or display territorial aggression.

5. Make sure your dog is well socialized. An ounce of prevention in the form of puppy socialization is worth a pound of cure—trying to fix behavior problems in adulthood can be extremely difficult. An under-socialized dog is a risk to their owners and to others because they can be easily frightened by everyday things.

Fearful dogs are more likely to aggress or bite. They tend to fight with other dogs. They have trouble adapting to new situations, and routine outings (like to the vet’s office) become difficult for them and everyone involved. Socializing is the opposite of isolating. It means to let puppies meet, greet, and enjoy a variety of people, animals, places and things. Done properly, socializing helps puppies feel comfortable and friendly in many situations and around all kinds of people and animals. The main rule for effective socializing is to let your dog progress at her own pace and never force her to be around someone or something when she’s clearly fearful or uncomfortable.

6. Invest in proper training. Take your dog to humane, reward-based training classes—the earlier the better. Early training opens a window of communication between you and your dog that will help you consistently and effectively teach them what you expect of them.

More importantly: don’t wait for a serious accident to happen. The first time your dog shows aggressive behavior toward anybody, even if no injury occurs, seek professional services and work to correct the behavior early. Err on the safe side.

7. Don’t isolate your dog. Your dog is a part of the family. Don’t chain or tie them outside, and don’t leave them unsupervised for long blocks of time—even in a fenced yard. A tied-out dog can quickly become frustrated, or feel defenseless in an open yard tied to the end of a lead, and they’re nearly three times more likely to bite than dogs that aren’t restrained this way.

8. Know your dog’s triggers. Be aware of the most common triggers of aggression: pain, injury or sickness, the approach of strangers or strange dogs, the approach of people in uniforms, costumes or unusual attire, unexpected touching, unfamiliar places, crowds, and loud noises like thunder, wind, construction, fireworks and appliances.

If possible, avoid exposing your dog to these triggers in an uncontrollable environment until you know they’re properly able to cope with more stressful situations. If they are stressed or panicked in crowds, leave them at home when you go to the market. If they overreacts to visitors or delivery personnel, keep them in another room when they come to your house. Work with a qualified behavior and training professional to help your dog become more comfortable with these situations.

9. Care for your dog. This sounds basic, but you’d be surprised how many dog owners can’t seem to follow even this simple rule. You should always be fulfilling all basic animal-care responsibilities. License your dog as required by the laws in your area, and provide regular veterinary care, including rabies vaccinations.

10. Make sure your dog is properly supervised. This is one of my biggest pet peeves: do not allow your dog to roam alone—it can pose a major danger to both you and your dog. You have no idea what triggers your dog may encounter while outside unsupervised, and even the most well trained dog may find cause to bite if they feel significantly threatened.

Always supervise children and dogs, as well. Never leave a baby or child younger than ten years old alone with a dog. It’s important to teach your children how to treat dogs well, but your supervision acts as a fallback—an adult who knows the dog will always be more observant of a dog’s behavior than a child.

Rehabilitating A Dog Aggressive Dog: A One Year Update

22 Apr

It’s been one year since we started our journey towards rehabilitating Topher’s dog aggression. We knew from the start that working on Topher’s temperament was going to be a long term project, and 365 days later, we’re still working! When we started training with Frogs to Dogs, our objective was very simple: we wanted to get Topher to a place where he can safely socialize with other dogs. With that goal in mind, here’s an update on where we are, one year later.

Understanding Our Dog’s Aggression

There are several different ways that dogs display aggression. Identifying what kind of aggressive reaction Topher was having was very important in training sessions. A dog that is displaying dominance aggression will have different needs compared to a dog who is displaying fear or defensive dominance. In class, Topher has fear dominance reactions towards other dogs—which means he tries to bluff his way out of an anxious situation by charging, growling, and giving other aggressive displays.

Tackling The Biggest Issues First

Because Topher was attacked while on a leash, he’s most fearful in situations that are similar—and that’s when his aggression is at its worst. Knowing this, we’ve been able to work on this specific issue. Leash-reactivity and aggression is our biggest hurdle, so it’s the one we’re always working on. When it comes to serious issues like these, improvement can feel slow at times, or nonexistent at others. Not only that, but sometimes accidents can set back that training. Still, it’s important to keep moving forward and stay positive. Training happens one day at a time.

No Beating Dead Horses

We’re incredibly lucky to be in a reactive dog training group that allows us unlimited classes. We’ve gone to dog training classes once a week, sometimes twice a week, for a whole year. Through regular classes, Topher has made considerable improvements. His anxiety has improved, his stress threshold around other dogs, and he’s vastly more responsive and obedient on a leash than when we started. Still, the routine of the classes—especially with them being all in the same place—eventually gave Topher something to anticipate, and he would work himself into an over anxious state even before we were out of the car.

So, to keep that from happening, we started changing up the schedule. We’d go to sessions that were in different locations, to keep Topher from getting keyed up ahead of time, and stuck to sessions where there were going to be fewer groups—weekday classes, rather than the larger classes held on weekends. This helped Topher adjust and respond to commands, as a stepping stone back to the bigger classes.

Combining Techniques & Trying New Things

As another way to add variety to Topher’s training, Frogs To Dogs began introducing agility courses into reactive class! It’s been a great way to keep Topher’s attention on training, instead of on the other dogs that are also working in the same area. While agility is a little more complicated to learn while on a leash, Topher’s gotten pretty good at most of the obstacles. His favorite obstacles are the tunnels!

Recently, we’ve also started day camps with Topher’s trainer. Topher spends every other Monday at the trainer’s house, with the trainer’s dogs, working in close proximity with them. This means Topher gets exposure to dogs who are calm and well trained, who he can begin to take cues from. Topher has improved leaps and bounds during day camps—currently he’s working on playing off leash with other dogs during camp, though he wears a muzzle for safety.

Like I said before, training takes time and patience. We’ve been at it for a year, and I imagine we’ll be at it for a while longer. Our goal, a year later, is the same: we want to get Topher to a place where he understands he doesn’t need to fear other dogs, a place where he knows how to socialize and play. And after that, who knows? Once we tackle this hurdle, the rest might seem pretty easy.