Service, Emotional Support, and Therapy Animals

 

Service Dogs
Credit: America’s VetDogs and Guide Dog Foundation/Rebecca EdenBy Dr. Lisa McIntyre

While it wouldn’t hurt to have my dog bring in a steady paycheck, her weekly job at hospitals, elementary schools, and assisted living facilities brings untold benefits to the humans with whom she interacts.  The joy I receive and the affection she gets from these strangers who are now friends make her job as a therapy dog the best around.  Luna is perfectly suited for therapy work.  She is gentle, intuitive, doesn’t bark, is non-reactive around other dogs, and loves nothing more that to receive hugs and positive reinforcement. Therapy work requires a special certification and some specific training and de-sensitization to the sounds of IV pumps beeping, dropped bandage material, or the clatter of wheelchair noise. Some of these “tricks” can be taught, and others are just a part of her genetic makeup. Other pups hard at work and with a special skill set include those that act as service dogs and dogs enlisted as emotional support animals. What makes these dogs capable of doing their unique jobs and who do they serve?

Emotional support animals can be any species: dog, cat, chicken, pony, or bird.  They don’t require a special test to receive the designation but must provide their owner therapeutic companionship and deemed necessary by their owner’s physician. Most emotional support animals are strongly bonded to their humans, are obedience trained, and have a calming presence which relieves distress. These pets are legally allowed to accompany their owners on airplanes and owners can qualify for no-pet housing if they have a condition requiring their emotional support animal to be present. Otherwise, animals are not permitted access to pet-free public areas and businesses. Because the term “emotional support animal” has been abused over the last several years, housing authorities and airlines often require written documentation of a psychological or emotional diagnosis from a medical professional.

Therapy dogs are enlisted to provide comfort and affection to people in a wide range of facilities including hospitals, hospice centers, schools, and in crises like natural disasters or to relieve other traumatic stress such as during funerals or acts of violence. It has been shown that contact with animals lowers humans’ blood pressure and heart rate, reduces anxiety and increase endorphins and oxytocin, the feel-good chemicals released by the body. Therapy dogs require obedience training and an innate gentleness, acceptance of strangers and other pets, and enjoy physical contact.  The temperaments of Golden Retrievers and Labradors are often well-suited to therapy work though any breed or mix may possess the appropriate personality for job. Prior to each therapy visit, handlers must ensure their pets are current on vaccinations and zoonotic disease screening and are clean and well-groomed. Testing and certification are offered through several regional and nationwide organizations including: The Bright and Beautiful Foundation, Pet Partners, Alliance of Therapy Dogs, and Therapy Dogs International. Contact the organization to determine what skills your dog must possess to pass the certification test and when testing is offered near you.

Unlike emotional support dogs and therapy animals, service animals like dogs and miniature horses have unrestricted legal access to public spaces and businesses as designated by the Americans with Disabilities Act and local governments. While it is legal for someone to ask if the pet is required due to a disability or what tasks the service dog can perform, they may not ask about the nature of a disability. Service dogs have a specific job, rigorous training, and certification which permits them to aid their human handler with tasks particular to the person’s disabilities. Service animals are employed to alert an owner when blood sugar is low, the onset of seizures is eminent, provide room checks for someone with PTSD, or enable someone with vision loss to cross a street. Many service dogs are trained by Canine Companions for Independence, K9’s for Warriors, and Guide Dogs for the Blind and then adopted by someone with a disability though they can be trained by the owner or another professional dog trainer.  Service dogs must be leashed, harnessed, or tethered and strangers should never interrupt a service dog when they are working or without owner’s permission. Service dogs are intelligent, highly trainable, intuitive, loyal, and even-tempered.

While it may seem that the terms emotional support animal, therapy dog, and service dog are interchangeable, make no mistake, these dogs have very different training and certification requirements, legal accessibility rights, and jobs they perform.

Holiday Toys and Treats!

 

Holiday Toys and Treats!

This holiday season, the adult relatives made a pact to buy presents exclusively for the “littles”. In our animal-loving households, that thankfully includes our four-legged kids! With so many great  toys, treats, and accessories out there to add some bling to your pet’s wardrobe, it can be difficult to know where to spend your hard-earned dollars.  I’ve reviewed some of the best holiday gift ideas for your furry friends, and Luna and Leo have even gotten to test out a few! When possible, I try to shop small and purchase fun, unique gifts at local small pet retailers. Often, they have friendly and accessible staff with personal knowledge about the products they sell.
Here are some criteria to consider when purchasing anything that your pet may ingest, carry, gnaw, or retrieve as well as some recommendations to keep your pet mentally and physically stimulated, especially important during holiday season:

  1. Durability and texture: Not many toys will stand up to the bite of a pittie or shepherd.  Look for toys that have reinforced seams and no small pieces like plastic “eyes” or stuffing that can be swallowed.  Bonus points for anything that squeaks, makes a fun crunching sound, or can be carried in your pet’s mouth. A few toys that stood up to the durability and texture test are the ZippyPaws – Holiday Z-Stitch Extra Tough No Stuffing Plush Dog Toy with Squeaker and the Goughnut Stick.  The stick is made of natural rubber, floats, and comes with a replacement guarantee if your dog penetrates the outer layer. Cats are suckers for anything rough like corrugated cardboard.  This DJ cat scratch pad from Uncommon Goods is hysterical! 
  1. Hardness: This one stirs up all kinds of controversy! Even though some breeds may still resemble their wolf ancestors, it’s important to avoid dog toys that don’t pass the thumbnail test (pressing into the object leaves an impression with your thumbnail).  That means avoiding bones, antlers, or even hooves which can lead to tooth fractures, pain, infection, and splintering in the gastrointestinal system causing rupture, blockage, or even death. Likewise, rawhides can be unsafe as they may deteriorate into chunks that are too big to digest and harbor bacterial pathogens.  A safe dog toy that meets my criteria for durability, texture, and hardness is the Nylabone Dura Chew Plus; it’s got a pleasing ribbed texture, is chicken flavored, comes in multiple sizes, and dogs are able to shave off satisfying rice-grain sized bits that are safe to ingest.
  1. Coating: Beware the treated pig ear or coated bully stick. Not only do the coatings stain fabric and carpeting, they can cause digestive upset in your dog and promote bacterial growth on the surface of the chew. Many are not sourced in the United States and may be a by-product of the inhumane international fur trade. It’s important to consider the impact your purchase has on other species and the environment; a great dog toy shouldn’t harm any other critters during production. One veterinarian recommended chew that is coated with a dual-enzyme system to prevent tartar formation is the Virbac C.E.T. Enzymatic Oral Hygiene Chews for Dogs. Not only is it flavorful but provides the benefit good oral health! 
  1. Size & Shape: It is important to consider the “anatomy” of the dog toys you purchase and always supervise your pet when they are playing or chewing on a new holiday gift.  Toys and treats should not be small enough that they can become a choking hazard. Nor should they be too large that jaw strain is a sequalae of chewing. Avoid toys that have a ring or bend that can become stuck over the dog’s jaw causing injury. My recommendation is the Wisedom Dog Treat Ball; it has a variety of treat dispensing options, has an unpredictable, engaging bounce due to its unique three-armed design and is made of a softer rubber with plenty of give to avoid injury.  Another safe toy that comes in multiple sizes is the PetSafe Busy Buddy Calming Toys. Luna couldn’t get enough play time once I filled it with some of her kibble.
  1. Washability: Myth: a dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s.  Make sure your gift is machine or dishwasher safe! Kong brand products are not only sturdy but come in multiple sizes, have features that allow them to be stuffed with treats, and are top-rack dishwasher friendly. Kong brand soft toys can be thrown in the washing machine. The Outward Hound Bionic Ball  can be filled with a snack for added enjoyment and disinfected in the dishwasher after use.
  1. Engaging: The best  toys are mentally engaging, provide an outlet for chewing, help reinforce a positive behavior, relieve stress, and provide physical exercise and entertainment. Felines love to hide, hunt, and climb.  This cat tree from Chewy is amazing and under $70! Most food-motivated dogs love a treat that is bacon, chicken, beef or cheese flavored.  Kong stuffn easy treat bacon and cheese is made to be used in toys with a dispensing hole and dogs find it irresistible! Pet owners use this treat-filled toy to relieve separation anxiety and allow safe, long-lasting chewing. We recently purchased a Furbo, an interactive, treat-dispensing camera and microphone, that allows us to check-in on our pups when we aren’t home. With a tap on our smartphone, we can provide a positive food reward when they stop barking at the mailman or move away from the door. Some tasty, healthy treats that are low in calories and work well with the Furbo system are Bil-Jac Little-Jacs Small Dog Chicken Liver Training Dog Treats. I’m not sure who enjoys this new toy more, me or the dogs! 

Happy Howlidays!

Signs of Canine Stress and How to Relieve It

 

Ommmmmm…… As I sit with my legs crossed, hands to the heavens, and eyes closed, I can almost feel myself becoming one with the universe.  It is no secret that regular exercise and breathing deeply helps the body release natural feel-good chemicals and can promote a better night’s sleep and sharper thinking.  Physiologically, our pets’ bodies operate in much the same way ours do.  We know they anticipate, perceive, and react to stress very similarly; anxiety leads to rapid heart rate and breathing, raised cortisol levels, and outward signs of stress like panting, whining, shifting of weight off the front limbs, yawning, or pacing.

 

How can we assist our pets during times of stress or change and enable them to cope with situations that may prove taxing?  First, recognize some events that are inherently hard on animals, taking into consideration your own pets’ personalities and environment. Animals are very perceptive; if your human family is experiencing stress, your pets may become agitated as well.  Change, whether it be a move, an animal or human addition to the family, or the loss of a loved one can be upsetting.  Travel, storms, babies crying, separation (even for just a few minutes) from family, pain, and illness are also common stressors.  Animals may react be hiding, vocalizing, panting, salivating, shaking, needing physical closeness to their human, refusing food, or inappropriately urinating and defecating.dog groom

 

To manage stress and anxiety, make sure your pet has a calm place in which to retreat such as a kennel for a dog. A quiet, interior room or bathtub may relieve anxiety during a thunderstorm or fireworks. Thundershirts can provide relief by essentially wrapping your dog in a protective “hug”. By utilizing gentle, constant pressure symptoms of anxiety decrease.  Do not inadvertently reward unwanted behavior such as crying or shaking by “reassuring” your dog things will be ok.  Such positive reinforcement can cause the behavior to persist or escalate. If separation anxiety is a problem, try to ignore your pet for the first few minutes after you arrive home which will allow them time to settle; reward calm, quiet behavior with your attention. Try to vary your departure and arrival routine and schedule.  Your dog will come to associate the sound of the hair dryer or garage door opening with your departure, causing anticipatory stress. Make the kennel or safe space the best place to be by offering a high value treat such as a peanut butter filled kong every time they rest quietly in their “den”.

 

dog yoga

Take a walk, toss a toy, join an obedience or agility class, or incorporate some of those yoga moves while exercising with your pet.  The bottom line is to get moving and have fun!  Yoga classes that involve pet stretching and owner-animal bonding can be a major stress reliever.  Giving your pet a “job” or place to succeed such as an obedience class can work wonders for calming nerves and instilling confidence. You will often hear me say, “a mentally and physically tired dog is a happy dog and owner”!

 

Natural chemicals such as dog appeasing pheromone (DAP or ADAPTIL) can calm dogs under stress.  Collars, plug-ins, and sprays are impregnated with the odorless product and are worn or placed strategically on bedding during travel or throughout the home.  Lightly diffused essential oils such as lavender and chamomile may prove relaxing though in concentrated doses they can also be toxic; make sure your dog can’t taste test any oils you may use in your home. Rescue Remedy is a Bach Flower blend that can be given orally to your pet or in the water bowl.  It is online at: www.VitaminShoppe.com or at Whole Foods. Other common supplements used in managing pet anxiety include: Melatonin, Valerian Root, and Passion Flower extracts.

 

Calming CD’s and videos can help your animal relax while you are away or divert their attention from a major weather system.  Relaxation Music for Dogs and Cats Vol. 1 and DVD’s such as Dog Sitter (multiple volumes) can be found on Amazon.  These videos show familiar and comforting scenes such as fish swimming in a bowl, layered with sounds appealing to dogs including the phrase “good dog” audible only to canine ears!

 

In older dogs, pain is a common cause of physiologic stress and can be treated via a multi-modal approach involving anti-inflammatory medications, massage, acupuncture and supplements. It is best to consult your veterinarian to see which therapy and dosage is best for your animal depending on their specific condition. Board certified veterinarians who specialize in rehabilitation and recovery, chiropractic, and physical therapy are available at most veterinary teaching hospitals and major metropolitan areas.

 

Now, lace up your running shoes and grab a leash.  You and your pet are on the road to relaxation!

April is Heartworm Awareness Month

hw life

I remember thirty years ago when we not so dutifully administered a daily pill to our Irish Setter in order to protect against developing heartworm disease. It’s no wonder Shadrach died at the age of 11 after several months of coughing, lethargy, weight loss and labored breathing. Did he die of congestive heart failure and respiratory distress secondary to heartworm infection or due to another cause? We will never know.  But we do know that prevention has come a long way since the days of the daily, forgettable, tablet and simply trying to minimize mosquito breeding grounds. These days, we have several more effective and memorable ways to prevent heartworm infection. Sadly, a 2016 American Heartworm Society survey among 5000 veterinary clinics showed the number of heartworm positive pets rose 21% since 2013. (1) What are some reasons we are seeing an increase in heartworm (Dirofilaria immitis) disease across all 50 states and what can we do to combat this life-threatening problem?

The number one way we can minimize the incidence of heartworm disease is to increase compliance in administering preventatives.  Monthly chewables like Heartgard, Interceptor, and Trifexis as well as monthly topical products like Revolution are extremely effective in preventing heartworm disease. With smart phone apps and email reminders from product manufacturers, there is no longer an excuse to forget to protect your pet. These products also control intestinal parasites that can be transmitted to humans like roundworm and hookworm, some whipworm species, and in the case of Revolution, fleas and ticks.   In addition, an injectable preventative called Proheart can be administered every 6 months by your veterinarian, making compliance a non-issue.  These medications work in the dog’s system to kill circulating Stage 3 heartworm larvae, which are transmitted by a mosquito bite, before the parasite can mature into its adult form in the heart and pulmonary vessels. Thus, a pill administered on May 1st works to kill larvae that may have entered your pet’s bloodstream via a bite up to 30 days prior. This is important to know, as many people stop giving heartworm preventative once the weather turns cool, not understanding they are treating for any infection acquired in the preceding month when mosquitoes may have been more active. Even “indoor” pets can be bitten by a mosquito entering the home via an open door or window and should receive a monthly, life-saving, preventative.

A significant reason we are seeing an increase in heartworm infection is because changing ambient temperatures have extended mosquito breeding and feeding seasons. No longer can we safely advise to stop giving preventative in January, as we often have mild weather for several days every month, year-round, no matter the state. Standing water in pools, birdbaths, and ponds provide ample opportunity for mosquitoes to breed; elimination of standing water or disrupting the water’s surface with fountains or aerators can limit mosquito populations. Keeping pets indoors during peak mosquito activity times can also reduce mosquito bites and disaeas transmission.  A surge in heartworm disease is also seen after natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina; dogs are displaced, preventative care for pets is at a low due to expense and household disruption, and dogs carrying heartworm from the highly endemic South bring disease to areas where it was previously unheard of. Mosquitoes being the vector for transmission of the heartworm larvae, they bite the infected transplanted dogs and spread the blood-borne parasite via bites to previously uninfected dogs, cats, ferrets, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, and opossums. gross hw

Cost to protect your pet from heartworm infection is about the same as your monthly Frappuccino and pastry.  While dogs who test positive at their veterinarian’s office can often be successfully treated, the treatment can easily run in the thousands of dollars. Dogs are treated by administration of painful injectable medications, antibiotics, and preventative pills as well as subjected to diagnostic testing such as radiographs (X-rays), bloodwork, and urinalyses.  Treatment also involves strict exercise limitation for a period of several months which can be unbearable to an otherwise active young dog and owner. The “slow-kill” method to eliminate heartworm larvae and adults is not recommended; the protracted method in which higher doses of preventative is given to eradicate heartworm adults and circulating microfilaria is variable in efficacy and can lead to heartworm parasite resistance. In cats, there is no way treatment to eliminate the parasite and they suffer from cough, lethargy, and sudden death.  In all species, with or without treatment and management, long term, irreversible damage is done to the heart, lungs, and sometimes organs such as the kidneys.  Clearly, prevention is key to controlling heartworm disease.

Spring Plant Toxicity

It’s been wonderful seeing the sun this week after a long, dreary winter. Our pets, like us, have spent many days cooped up and are naturally eager to get outdoors and explore. Soon, green buds will emerge on the trees and daffodils and tulips will be among the first flowers to announce the arrival of the new season. The first pots of annuals and perennials will become available for planting at local garden centers. If your curious pets roam the yard while you tend to the landscape, keep a close eye on them as some of the more beautiful foliage and bulbs can pose health hazards if consumed. While many household and outdoor plants are considered non-toxic, keep in mind that any plant can cause gastrointestinal signs such as stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea but not life-threatening illness.

Although most spring blooming bulbs are planted in the fall, it is not unusual for your terrier or retriever to decide that now is an ideal time to dig them up and have a snack. Tulips, daffodils, and crocuses belong to different plant genus’s, but their toxins are most significantly concentrated in the root or bulb portion of the plant. Crocus and tulip bulb ingestion may cause mild gastrointestinal signs, while daffodils, jonquils, iris rhizomes and paperwhite bulbs may cause GI and oral ulceration and more severe problems including breathing depression. Daylilies and lily-of-the-valley also grow from underground tubers called rhizomes and contain toxins that can affect the heart, leading to arrythmias, seizures, coma and even death.

Hydrangeas are one of the earliest, and in my opinion, most beautiful blooming shrubs.  Their flowers can be white, or pink, or deep blue depending on the species and the pH of the soil in which they grow.  They also contain cyanide in low amounts.  A large breed, mature dog would need to ingest a large quantity to become ill, whereas a smaller puppy (and they NEVER chew) might exhibit symptoms such as vomiting, heavy breathing, lethargy, stomachache and coma.

Rhododendrons and azaleas are related plants and popular spring-blooming garden shrubs.  Because some species retain their leaves year-round (evergreen) and have bright pink, purple, red or white flowers, they are common in local gardens. But beware, the nectar extracted from the flower used to be called “mad honey”; the grayatoxin, which is most concentrated in the flower but is found in all parts of the plant, causes vomiting, confusion, and cardiac problems.  In small breeds, it doesn’t take much to cause severe clinical signs. 1

Other common garden plants that are highly poisonous include foxglove, oleander, and nightshade. While not perennial in Chicagoland, asparagus fern, sago palm, and ficus are often planted in pots seasonally or enjoyed indoors year-round. Especially dangerous is the sago palm seed or nut which can cause liver failure and death though the first signs of toxicity may be drooling and vomiting within 15 minutes of ingestion. 2

Weeds are everywhere and unavoidable.  While most dogs will chew on a blade of grass before eating plants like buttercup, morning glory, water hemlock, milkweed, skunk cabbage or cowbane, if you see your dog eating something unfamiliar outdoors it’s best to try to identify the species. While not especially toxic, foxtail can be particularly harmful to dogs. The plant itself looks like a grass, but the seeds have sharp barbs and have been known to be inhaled or imbedded in the skin.  The seeds can lead to infection and abscess formation anywhere in the body as their sharp tips cut through tissue. 3

Which plants are safe to grow around pets? Indoor plants that not only brighten a space but can help purify the air and provide oxygen include true ferns, air plants, the succulent hens and chicks, parlor palms, and orchids.  In the edible garden, basil, cilantro, and rosemary are great options to cultivate.  Spiderwort, sunflowers, marigolds, barley grass and roses (minus the thorns!) are perfectly happy to co-exist in a pet-safe space.  4

Value your plants and your pets? Want to avoid a call to the ASPCA’s Poison Control Center (888-426-4435/$65 a call)? Install some dog friendly species in a separate area suitable for sensory exploration and fence in your prized specimens. Place pots out of reach of pets and teach your dog the cue “leave-it”.  Most dogs will learn that chasing squirrels is more fun anyway!

 

1 https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control

2vhttps://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/sago-palm-poisoning

3 https://www.thealternativedaily.com/weeds-that-can-kill-dog/

4 https://www.plantsnap.com/blog/dog-safe-plants/

Dog Mysteries, Revealed!

Dog Mysteries Revealed!

Anatomically and physiologically our canine friends share a lot of common characteristics with other mammals, including humans! But some of their behaviors and physical differences leave us scratching our heads asking, “Why do they do that?” and “What function can that possibly serve?”. Let’s answer some of those questions and as always, I welcome feedback and am happy to answer any of your canine queries.

Why the wet nose? Dogs’ ability to detect scents is up to 10,000 time more sensitive than the human nose.  As an example, they can sniff out one rotten apple among 2 MILLION barrels of apples. A wet nose enhances the ability to trap olfactory chemicals in the secretions produced in the glands of the nose. Some

wet nose

dogs lick their nose, contributing to the “wet nose” look and enhancing the process of scent detection as those chemicals are processed in olfactory centers in the roof of th

 

eir mouths. Dogs’ also produce more secretions from their nose as a way of regulating body temperature.  Sweat glands are found in the feet and nose and as such, a wet nose helps keep them cool. Should I worry if my dog has a dry nose? Nope! If the dog is otherwise happy and healthy, without dried discharge around the nostrils, a dry nose is not an indicator of illness.

Why does my dog pant? We are back to the unique distribution of sweat glands in your pup and his ability to cool down. Because they don’t sweat like humans, excessive heat is lost as air moves through your dog’s airways. While normal respirations in dogs can be up to 30-40 breaths per minute, a panting dog can exchange air up to 300-400 times per minute.  Some causes of abnormal panting can include stress, pain, endocrine diseases, heatstroke, and heart or respiratory disorders such as tracheal collapse.  If your dog doesn’t need to chill out in a warm environment, bring abnormal panting to your veterinarian’s attention.

Why does my dog eat poop? This is a gross one, especially if you witness the event and then your dog wants to plant a big, sloppy one on your lips. From an evolutionary perspective, dog moms eat the poop of their young pups to keep the den clean and free from odors that may attract predators. Some puppies bring this behavior to their new home, though most grow out of it as the dog matures; if they aren’t on a well-balanced diet or experience digestive disorders such as intestinal parasites or pancreatic disease, the behavior may persist.  Some dogs eat stool (coprophagy) because they are stressed, bored, like the attention they receive, even negative attention, or to avoid punishment.  Some dogs eat poop just because they like the taste! Discourage the opportunity to eat stool by picking up poop immediately after defecation or taking your dog outside to defecate on a leash.  A sprinkle of meat tenderizer or a product called Forbid on their kibble make stools less enticing. dog-eats-poop-cover-2

Why does my dog have a tail? And why are they always sniffing each other “back there”? The rear end of your dog is confounding place.  Anal glands, which secrete a foul-smelling liquid are used for scent marking and identification. Because of their complex olfactory system which includes a component called Jacobsen’s organ in addition to their nose, they can also process scents that have no detectable odor like pheromones. A butt sniff is the equivalent of a human handshake enabling dogs to recognize each other as individuals and identify sex, age, variabilities in health and social order. Dogs also communicate using body language and physical cues; raised, waving tails indicate happiness and tucked tails appear when fearful. A wagging tail can help to spread those chemical scents when greeting other pups. Tails are useful for balance and movement, such as the rudder-like tail of the swimming retriever or the whip-like tail of the sighthound which helps them change direction in the blink of an eye.

How come my dog spins in a circle and scratches before lying down? Back in the days before fluffy pillows from Costco, dogs had to make their own bed.  By flattening the grasses and brush for themselves and their young, they made a comfortable nest and drove out critters such as snakes.  Scratching imparts a scent to their bed expressed by the small glands in the feet, further defining the space as their own.

While we’ve domesticated pets, some of these instinctual behaviors and functional anatomic features are part of what makes dogs such fascinating creatures!

by Dr. Lisa McIntyre

 

 

Skills Your Dog Should Master

Your dog loves you. You love your dog.  Sometimes, it’s difficult to understand why EVERYONE doesn’t love the shedding, jumping, barking, sporadically house-soiling fur baby you’ve welcomed into your life. As a “pet parent”, it can be easy to overlook some behaviors that others find undesirable and that may cause you occasional grief. To be a good citizen of the world, safeguard your pet around other dogs and humans, give them a “job” and mental stimulation, and receive the maximum enjoyment pet ownership can provide, it is vital to teach your pup good manners and a few skills needed to operate in a domesticated setting. While it is easier to teach a puppy new tricks, dog training is necessary and ongoing at every age. Whether you participate in dog training classes, seek out the services of an in-home trainer, or watch some YouTube videos, there is a dearth of knowledge out there and some long winter days ahead, so get to it!stay

One of the most important skills to teach your puppy is how to be social.  While it may seem that dogs, as pack animals, would inherently seek and enjoy the company of others, this is not always the case. A critical developmental window exists from 4 to 14 weeks and puppies who are not exposed to other dogs, little humans, loud humans, and hat-wearing humans during this period may become unaccustomed and fearful of interactions later in life. Most training techniques, especially at this age, include positive reinforcement. Whether your puppy is motivated by food or affection or a special toy, it’s best to reward them with their favorite thing while in the presence of other dogs and people of all shapes, sizes, and volumes.

House-training, when done correctly, is simple as it speaks to the dog’s instinctual need to keep their den clean. For puppies and adult dogs, the best training tool for housebreaking will be a sturdy wire crate that is just large enough for the pup to stand up and turn around.  Crates can be soft sided or plastic and hard sided if you and your dog prefer, but I like the collapsible metal crates with a removable pan that I can move around the house, easily clean, and modify in size as the dog grows. Dogs can be fed in their cozy kennel or presented with a delicious treat every time they enter their crate. As soon as you open the crate door, expect to take your pup to eliminate in a consistent spot outside and use a command such as “potty”.  When immediately rewarded for urinating or defecating outside, and by catching them immediately inside and correcting the mistake, house-training can take just a few weeks.

Sit, stay and come are the three most common commands taught in beginner classes and are the foundation for further skills training and behavior modification programs. By teaching your dog to sit and stay, their minds become engaged and they learn deference to the human at the end of the leash. When a dog’s role is clearly defined in the “pack” and social order is established, it is reassuring and permits them to relax, gain confidence, and focus. From a safety perspective, sit, stay and come are often used when guests are welcomed into the home, or during an emergency such as car or aggressive animal heading toward a loose pet. If a dog can consistently be recalled on or off leash, it can be the difference between life and death.

grad dogs

Leave-it is an oft used command in our house and in the animal assisted therapy work I do at the local hospital.  When an object is dropped on the ground (think grapes or a chicken bone) or you come across something you want your dog to ignore and not ingest or approach (bandage material or a skunk), leave-it gives your dog the message to back away for their own good!

Training your dog to go to its place/bed/kennel is done by having your pet in a sit and stay in a specific location while giving the command and a food reward.  This command will help you to position your dog for sleep, when the doorbell rings, it’s dinnertime and you don’t want distraction, or to keep your pet away from open doors or guests who may not want slobbery kisses.

Barking can be the bane of anyone’s existence, especially if you have just gotten a cranky baby to sleep! Personally, I like it when my dogs alert me to a stranger at the door.  But I don’t need to know every time a squirrel climbs the fence.  Consistency is imperative when teaching any skill including “quiet” so make sure everyone in the house is reinforcing the same behavior. Yelling at the dog can be perceived as “barking” by your canine and the negative attention can be surprisingly pleasing to a dog; rewarding a quiet pup or teaching an incompatible behavior like going to their bed is best!  Remove the stimulus for barking by closing the drapes or limiting access to the front door if the doorbell is a trigger. Don’t set your dog up to fail as the longer an undesirable behavior has been performed, the longer it can take to un-train.

What are the most important skills you’ve taught your dog?