Archive | March 2016

What would you do in an emergency?

Do you know what to do in an emergency or have you even thought about it? Do you know how to give First Aid to your dog? What would you do if there was a fire in your home? How about a flooding, or what if you become unwell or even had an accident while travelling with your dog?
Every day of the week, somebody, somewhere, will be caught up in an event that seriously impacts their lives, but have you considered your dogs or other animals in the event of an emergency? 

It’s the middle of the night and your smoke detector goes off – you do have a smoke detector, right? Have you thought about your escape plan? Who is going to wake everybody up and make sure they are safely out of the property? The advice given has always been – get out, call the fire service and stay out. Now most of us will see our dogs as members of our families, they are like our children in many cases, and would you leave them behind? Human nature is such that there is a fair chance that you will not, and even possibly return into the building to rescue them. Even if they live in a kennel in the garden or in a kennel complex, have you ever thought what you would do in the event of a fire or other emergency? 
Today, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are cheap and easily available – these will provide an early warning and will be your watchdog while everybody else is sleeping, including your dogs. The early warning they provide will give you the time to react and get everybody, including your dogs, to safety.
To have the best chance of getting everybody out safely, you need to think about, and prepare for it, in advance. The first time to be thinking about what to do in an emergency, is not when you are involved in one!
So, this month I am going to look at a few simple things we could consider doing and ways to prepare for this and how we can help our dogs with a little pre-planning.
Firstly, just like behaviour problems, prevention is better than cure. Do you have a nightly or exit routine to make sure electrical equipment is turned off, doors are closed, cigarettes are extinguished, fire guards are in place, etc?
Then, as part of the pre-planning, think about things like: Who will call the emergency services? Do you live in a difficult to find location? How could you make it easier for the emergency services to find you? Who is going to be responsible for doing what, if they hear the alarm operate? Can you open your exit door without having to find keys? The last thing you want is to get to the exit door only to find out that the keys are in a different room. Then, once you have decided what needs to be done, practise it.
If you would like more information on escape plans and general fire safety, contact your local Fire and Rescue Service who will be more than happy to help out.

So, I have briefly looked at planning, but what about your dogs and other pets? What if today something happened, who would look after your dogs? Who would you call in the middle of the night – are they available 24/7? Who would you call next if they were not available? Do you have trusted kennels, vets and friends you could call? Once you have thought about this, make sure you have the phone numbers easily accessible – mine are stored on my mobile phone. Just thinking about these now, will save you time and be one less stress if something was to happen.
I would consider having a small bag handy, you may even want to have it close to where your dog sleeps. You could have in it a pet first aid kit, or if you want to be super prepared, small animal oxygen masks that fit the muzzles of dogs.
Make sure you have a selection of dog leads handy, if you don’t have collars on your dogs, keep slip leads available. I am not a fan of slip leads, as to me they are just another type of noose and it breaks my heart to see dogs choking for breath on the end of a lead, but in the case of an emergency, better that than dogs running panicked into the house or escaping when outside. You could always switch to a collar/harness as soon as you can, or better still train your dog to walk on a loose lead. It’s always a great idea to keep a correctly sized muzzle at home – these are super useful in case the dog is injured or is not people friendly, it will provide a level of safety and management that will protect you and the dog. As the muzzle is likely to be for short duration use, the soft material muzzles are brilliant. Ideally pre-train your dog to wear a muzzle as this can reduce the stress to your dog in what is likely to already be a stressful situation. 
I covered muzzles extensively in previous months, but if you want some help to muzzle train your dog, there are some great videos and websites available, or better still, contact a professional trainer who will go through this with you. 

The emergency bag could also contain: one of the body wraps that are used for fear and anxiety, contact phone numbers, treats, collapsible water bowl etc. These are just a few ideas, but you could easily expand it to suit your needs.

 So, up until now I have looked at an event in the home, but what if you own a kennel complex with multiple dogs, have you ever thought about what to do? What if you were suddenly taken ill – how would people know you had a dog living with you at home? A simple idea that may get around this issue would be to carry some alert information in a wallet or purse, this could contain contact information and an address. Just a little preparation can make such a massive difference and I hope you will never need to use it, but if you do, it will help you so much. 
 Should the worst ever happen, no matter the issue or event that you are caught up in, having a broadly socialised and well trained dog will certainly help make things easier. At Puppy Stars, our basic foundation class is centred around preparing puppies for all manner of life experiences, as well as basic obedience exercises and it is not unusual to see people wearing all manner of silly hats and clothing during class. In fact, I encourage them to bring something new each week. 
Regular readers of my articles will know how much importance I place on socialisation, and preparing us and our dogs for life’s emergencies is just another one. A little preparation now can save a lot of stress and heartache if the unfortunate was to happen and hopefully prevent it from becoming a disaster.

Reproduced with kind permission of Dog World Magazine.

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Does your dog pull?

Does your dog pull on the lead? For many dog owners, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” I regularly see dogs hanging on the end of their leads, by their necks, their legs pulling forwards, trying to drag along the ape that’s on the other end of the lead. For many dogs, it matters not if they have some type of noose around their necks and by that, of course, I mean choke-chains or slip-leads and to some extent, flat collars, they still pull like crazy things, being strangled every step of the walk.

I have seen those same owners then yanking on the lead hoping to stop the dog pulling forward, the dog in response to this yank, takes a sudden movement backwards, pauses and then hits the end of the lead and off they go again. I often wonder how these owners would answer if
I asked, “Why are you yanking on the lead?” Because if it’s to stop the pulling, it’s clearly not working!

It’s not easy or much fun for the owners either, being dragged along by a dog can really spoil the enjoyment of a walk. This then can exacerbate the problem, as our owner stops walking the dog as much and when they do, the dog has an even greater desire to move forward and so pulling becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. This reduction in exercise for many dogs also coincides with an increase in other undesirable behaviours, such as barking and destructive chewing. Exercise levels are always something I consider when working with behaviour problems.

When I teach classes, along with recall, loose-lead walking is way up there on an owner’s want list. It’s also a skill that many private training sessions focus on; in fact I run specific loose-lead walking workshops because so many people want their dogs to walk nicely with them.

Walking on a loose-lead is actually quite a difficult skill for many dogs to learn and needs a good level of owner discipline.

It’s also not all about the dog that pulls forward; some, like one of mine, just lag behind – he loves to sniff, pee, look down drains and wander at his own pace and this can be just as frustrating.

Now, for me, I have no problem with this and this suits my walk most times, so I am happy for him to dawdle and take in everything his environment has to offer, but when I need to move him more quickly, I need to be able to bring him closer and up the pace.

So why is it so hard for dogs to walk on a lead? And is it reasonable to expect them to do so, for mile after mile of walking?

Have you ever walked with a friend who walks significantly quicker or slower than you do? I know I have. It can be quite a challenge and is tiring just trying to match your pace to theirs. This is what we are expecting our dogs to do – let’s face it, for the majority of dogs, we are just too slow – simple, dogs are built to move quickly across the ground and if left to move at their own pace and not restricted by a lead, most dogs would leave us way behind as they go about their business – is it any wonder they find it hard to walk alongside us!

So, the first thing we need to accept, is that we are going to have to train our dogs to walk happily alongside us, not an easy feat, I can assure you. The next thing we need to do is manage the dog’s pulling when we are not training, this is super important, as we need to stop the dog rehearsing the pulling.

There are a number of options available to manage the dog, some I have briefly mentioned above; flat collars, choke chains, slip leads etc, but these all put pressure on the soft parts of the neck and can cause long lasting damage to a hard core puller, but there are other more humane
and effective ways to manage
the pulling.

My starting point would be one of the many no-pull harnesses on the market, in my opinion, a good harness will have a front/chest connection point and another connection point on the back, couple this with a double ended lead and voila you have power steering for your dog. Some dogs, especially large, powerful dogs, or dogs where there is a large owner/dog weight disparity, in my opinion, can be controlled better using a good quality and well-fitted head collar. Now, not all dogs like having a head collar put on at first, but with a little desensitisation and conditioning, most dogs become accepting of this new sensation and so this can become a really useful management tool.

Now, remember those options discussed only manage the pulling behaviour and are best used for the times when we are not training, we still need to train as it’s only the tool that’s inhibiting the pulling and if we were to take it off, the dog would pull again.

Also when training, I would ask that we consider what the walk is for. For me the walk is about the dog and their needs, it’s not all about me travelling from point A to point B, so that we get to tick the 30 minutes of exercise box. So, in between training sessions, allowing the dog to sniff and wee and explore is vitally important to the dog’s well-being.

So, what are the training options? Firstly, be prepared to take your time – training takes time and it takes time for a dog to learn how to walk with us.

Imagine the dog is walking with you as if the lead was not there, think of the lead as a safety device and avoid dragging the dog around. Training like this will mean that you pay more attention to your dog. Waist belts are brilliant for this exercise, as it gives you hands-free safety.

Think of all your walks as training walks and in the early stages be prepared to not walk very far, you may not even leave your road. By keeping the initial training in as low a distraction environment as possible, you
are removing another competing motivator. In time you can make the environment more challenging.

Tire your dog prior to training; dogs with too much energy often pull. By tiring your dog prior to training, you are going to be at a good starting point. You can do this by playing a game of fetch or other games in the garden.

People very rarely reinforce often enough in the early stages of training, so be prepared to pay the dog frequently for the behaviour you want and you want to deliver this pay in the right place (where you want your dog to be – next to your leg).

So we have highlighted above the basic fundamentals of loose-lead walking, we now need to decide on the methods we will choose to employ while training. I would recommend having a one-to-one coaching session with a competent trainer as they can ensure your technique is correct and make your training more efficient. Let’s face it, in a time where we expect things to happen quickly, efficiency of the training is vitally important.

Puppy Stars provide private training to clients using humane methods and we have plenty of experience teaching loose-lead walking.

Choosing the right Dog

There is no such thing as an ‘easy’ dog – they all require exercise, enrichment, grooming etc, but there are some dogs that may be more suitable for your lifestyle, than others. Because a great many problems have their roots in the mismatch between a breed’s original function and our expectations as pet owners, I thought it would be worthwhile to provide some general information, using the recognised groups as a starting point for what the average pet owner should take into account when choosing a companion animal.

The following are generalisations and there are always exceptions to every rule, so always research a particular breed in more detail and try to understand how the original function of these breeds will have a strong influence on their behaviour.

When you think about it, it’s incredible how varied the genome is; that you can have the smallest Chihuahua to the biggest Great Dane, all from the original wolf ancestor.

The Kennel Club currently recognises 215 breeds and these 215 are placed into 7 categories; gundog, hound, pastoral, terrier, toy, utility and working. These breed categories are the labels given to describe their original functions.

So, if we start with gundogs: this includes spaniels, Pointers, Labradors and Setters etc – all with various functions.

Potential pet owners who are interested in dogs from this group need to know up-front that breeds in this group are generally athletic and in some cases, able to run all day. Some are very keen around water and many are keen to chase prey animals. Many of the breeds in this group, especially those from working lines, have huge exercise and mental stimulation requirements and if this is not met, problems may well follow.

On the plus side, they tend to be outgoing, liking all people, not just family members, making them easy to socialise.

Hounds were originally used for hunting either by scent or by sight. The scent hounds include the Beagle and Bloodhound and the sighthounds, such breeds as the Whippet and Greyhound. The scenthounds were bred to follow a scent until an animal was located, whereupon they would bay until the hunter caught up. These scenthounds could be many miles ahead of the hunter and so tend to be happy to be away from and independent of humans.

The sighthounds on the other hand, were bred to run down, catch and kill prey items and are very good at it.

As pet owners, we need to know that the scenthounds are going to be very into scent and when they find an irresistible one, they are likely to take off and do their own thing. If they are from the sighthound group, they are going to be keen to run down and kill small animals, which includes cats!

The pastoral group consists of herding dogs that are associated with working cattle and sheep, etc. Breeds such as the Australian Cattle Dog, Border Collie, Malinios and German Shepherd are but a few included in this group.

Many of the dogs in this group are easy to motivate and have a need to be busy, working from the moment they wake to the moment they sleep, they will literally run all day. This makes them popular with dog trainers and people who participate in dog sports, but for pet owners, this could be a disaster. They can be sensitive and spooky, weary of strangers, prone to sound sensitivity, have compulsions and chase and nip at moving objects.

The terriers are dogs originally bred and used for hunting and killing vermin. This hardy collection of dogs were selectively bred to be extremely brave and tough, and to pursue foxes, badgers and rats (to name but a few) both above and below ground.

Interestingly, when I talk with owners in class, they are generally well aware of the breed traits to be pugnacious, scrappy, vocal and quick to kill small animals. Jokingly, I have heard these traits described as Westietude and terrier-ists.

The toy breeds are small companion or lap dogs, although some have been placed into this category simply due to their size. They should have friendly personalities and love attention from people.

Owners should know that these breeds have a reputation for being barky, can be difficult to house-train, may be fussy eaters and may be very keen to guard their owner’s laps. This may be the case, but it could also be that due to the breed’s small size, their owners are less diligent about house-training and these breeds do not need very much food, also due to their small size.

The utility group consists of miscellaneous breeds of dog mainly of a non-sporting origin, including the Bulldog, Dalmatian and Poodle. The name ‘utility’ essentially means ‘fitness for a purpose’ and this group consists of an extremely mixed and varied bunch, most breeds having been selectively bred to perform a specific function, not included in the sporting and working categories.

From a behaviour point of view, because this is such a varied bunch, it’s much harder to generalise based on the group and so you should take each breed by breed. The group includes Chows, Akitas, Shiba Inu’s and other Asian breeds. Pet owners need to know about these breeds’ propensity to a variety of aggression types.

The working breeds were selectively bred to become guards, sled, draught and search and rescue dogs, it includes Mastiffs, Great Danes and St Bernards.

What this means for pet owners is that the guardian breeds are generally great with family and familiar people, but not so good with strangers and so need lots and lots of socialisation, unfortunately even with their best efforts, their dog may become reactive to strangers in the future.

The draught and sled dogs have been bred to pull and in some cases, like huskies, they are going to be wanting to ‘go, go, go!’ and like a lot of exercise.

The rescue breeds like Newfoundland, other than sheer size and cost to keep, do not generally pose too many problems for pet owners.

Finally, with the current trend of cross-breeding dogs with catchy and attractive names such as ‘puggles’, ‘poo’s’ and ‘doodles’, trying to find information on what to expect in the way of size, health, shape, exercise and temperament may prove a little tougher!