Socialization and Social Distancing

With puppy classes on hold, and people practicing social distancing I have had a few clients reach out and ask what they can do to keep their puppy socialized, and to expose them to new things. I did my best to put together some things to do, this is not a definitive list, it is a list of things to try, things to do, and ways to keep busy. If you think of something else, feel free to give it a try, or if something is just not for your puppy, skip it!

First though, a warning. Socialization is about quality, not quantity. It is also about creating quality experiences for your puppy. You want to go slow, at your puppy’s speed, and make sure you are not overwhelming them. Watch their body language, are their ears shifting back, are they lip licking, is their brow furroughing? If they start to worry watch and see if they can resolve it, if they cannot back them up, can they resolve it with more space? No, then go on home, or stop, and try again later. Sometimes if a puppy has already done too much they just cannot handle another thing, or, sometimes they are tired, or sometimes they are worried. Forcing them through something will not make it positive though, and in fact it may make it worse. If you want to learn more about socialization and how to help your puppy I suggest watching the seminar Mindful Socialization by Suzanne Clothier. I was involved in the production and it was incredibly helpful to me as a trainer, and a dog owner.

Second, bring treats. If your puppy can enjoy a snack as things go on around them – yay! What a great day for a puppy. The treats may also help you work through a sticky point, or be needed to manage an over-excited or worried puppy and lure them out of a situation. If you are in a spot without treats, and things get scary, and your puppy is unfocused and barking, that may be experiences we have to undo later, so, use food and make it awesome as much as possible.

Here is a list of some suggestions:

  • If you cannot get your puppy around different types of people, wearing different types of clothes, become those different people for your puppy! Start wearing hats, sunglasses, coats, wigs, Halloween costumes, masks, whatever strikes your fancy! Put on any weird thing around your puppy and make it seem totally normal.  Just please do not startle your puppy. Do not put on a Batman mask and jump out at your puppy, sit in front of her and let her see you put it on and take it off a few times. Same with the glasses, or hats. Let them see you change and realize that sometimes people look different, but they are still people.
  • Show them seasonal clothes or stuff they would not see everyday! Put on a rain coat, open an umbrella, break out your pancho, roll a suitcase around, go outside and show your pup a wheelbarrow and a hose and a rake and whatever is in your garage!
  • Break out some throw rugs, cardboard boxes, metal cookie trays, measuring cups, metal spoons, bells, balls, any weird things and put them on the floor as your puppy plays. Ask them to walk over weird stuff, to play with weird stuff and get used to different materials under their feet and in their mouth.
  • Break out toys that make sound have flashing light, let them check those out. If you have ones that move or dance, all the better!
  • Take out your lawn mower, rev it up, take out the weedwacker, rev it up. Chainsaw – sure! Let the neighbors think you are crazy (and feel free to send me video please – ha!). Inside use your coffee grinder, your blender, a food processor, vaccuum, carpet cleaner, whatever is different. You want to get really brave, put the fire alarm very, very far away and set it off and give your puppy treats while it happens.
  • Just because you have to stay apart does not mean you cannot see people. Drive to the grocery store, go to the back of the lot where there is no one close, and people watch with your dog. You can also do this with the vets office or a pet center to watch the dogs come in and out.
  • Bored neighborhood kids? Talk to their parents and ask them to ride their bikes by your house at set times so you can have your dog see them from a distance. Have them use scooters, throw footballs, bounce basketballs, ride a skateboard, make noises and be kids! Really want to go nuts? Ask them to wear costumes or hats and really give your pup some new things to see. From a distance! Don’t have kids? Go on YouTube and find some video of kids laughing, crying, screaming and being kids and at least play those sounds for your puppy, all while sharing some awesome snacks.
  • Take a drive to the country, check out cows, horses, sheep, llamas.
  • Drive your pup to a boat lock, look at the boats, walk on the weird surfaces. Go to the gas station and have them wait in your car as you pump gas. Take them to a drive through for coffee (well, coffee for you, puppies do not need caffeine!). Go to the places you hope to go when they are older, even if you cannot go near people, or you may not be able to inside, you can get them used to the ride and the area.

Remember, quality, not quantity. Use the check-lists below if they help. Make memories, create positive experiences, have fun and take pictures. Puppyhood does not last forever and while this one will be a little non-traditional, it is still going to be awesome and you will miss it when they are big (minus the house training part).

Raising a Perfect Puppy

Each and every puppy class I teach I am surrounded with owners who want what is best for their dogs.  Best food, best treats, best training, best play, best toys – and I get it.  I also want what is best for their dog, and for them.  I am right there with them determined to give them my best, and help them do their best.  It is a lot of pressure.

Especially since puppies are not blank canvases, their DNA has been in place since conception, and that DNA will drive who they are, and who they become.  But, their experiences help shape that DNA, and that is where good socialization is so important, where creating positive experiences and associations can guide your dog to their best possible self.

But, this post is not about socialization, or DNA.  It is about you, me, and the pressure we put on ourselves when we raise a puppy.

Whether we realize it or not deep down I think we all dream of owning Lassie, that perfect dog who saves us when we need to be saved, who is friends to all, and who can walk by your side, never questioning your commands.  I know I do, the list of dogs I read about when I was young and dreamed of owning is epic.  But they were all fictional, and, the dogs by my side are not. 

Jasper was not a perfect puppy, he worried, he was aloof, he did not want to interact much with people, and he gets rough when playing with other dogs.  I knew I had to be careful with him, I put a bubble around him and did all I could to control everything around us and give him only the best experiences.

And I failed.

The first incident I could not control was when we were taking a walk and the neighbor’s let their dog out without realizing their gate was open.  She silently ran up from behind Jasper and grabbed him by his neck as we were walking by.  My husband’s quick reflexes saved the day as he (stupidly but bravely) tackled the other dog and grabbed her collar.

Then there were the new neighbors.  We used to have a lovely greyhound next door who would sniff along the fence line and say hi to Jasper, they had a great relationship.  He moved out and two new dogs came in, one of those dogs decided the best way to enter the yard was to bark and charge the fence, even if we were not outside.  He did his best to eat Jasper, I did my best to manage it.  I put up a visual barrier, I put up a smaller fence inside our fence, and then eventually had to put a full fence inside our fence to keep him from my dogs.  He still managed to make a hole big enough to shove his head through in the metal fence on their side.  Despite my best efforts Jasper learned the joys of barking at other dogs through the fence, he truly seemed to think it was a sport.  When the other dogs were let out and he was inside he’d run to the door with his tail high and wagging, wanting to go out and bark back.  He also learned dogs on the other side of the fence were dangerous.

The neighbors did their best but we both had dogs who needed to go out, and work schedules, and life happens and the dogs were exposed to each other far more then I would have liked.  There was nothing I could besides move, which we did, but, not before the habit was formed.

Then there were the neighbors who felt it was appropriate to let their dogs roam the neighborhood, loose and free, unattended.  Their dogs who were intact females, who would dance around outside my fence and drive Jasper wild.  More bad fence habits established. 

The most stressful moment for me came in a class when Jasper was taking his Canine Good Citizen test.  There was a dog in the class who felt it was entertaining to chase after the dogs as they walked by, barking at them.  Instead of dismissing the dog, as they should have, the tester decided to make every dog walk by that dog.  Jasper did, and he held it together as the dog chased after him snapping at his feet.  And Jasper held it together as three other dogs were forced to endure that.  But then the dogs in the room started to lose it, they started to get restless from the tension, and they started to bark back at this dog.  Jasper is not one to be left out, and he is not one to handle tension easily, and I watched him fall apart.  I should have left that class as soon as the other dog acted out, but I didn’t want to be rude. 

I’m telling you this not to excuse my dog’s behavior, or to promote the truth in the adage that good fences make good neighbors.  But to share that no matter how hard I worked, no matter what I did, I was not going to make Jasper’s life perfect.  Life is not perfect, life comes with conflicts.  And you have to be prepared.  Not by building a fortress around your dog or reading every training book you can get your hands on, but by accepting that you cannot raise a perfect puppy, that life is not perfect, and neither are you, and neither is your dog. 

Love your dog, build a relationship with your dog, celebrate your dog’s quirks and accept them for who they are, and where they are.  Take the pressure off you, and your dog, and enjoy the journey.  You only get one chance at life with your dog and if you spend your dog’s life worrying you are missing out on so much.

I failed at giving Jasper only the best experiences because my expectations were unrealistic, perfection is unrealistic.  Where I succeeded was in building a relationship with my dog.  Because of that relationship when the imperfect moments happened we could work through them together.  We have a connection to fall back on when things get stressful, or one of us gets worried.  And that connection was not built just through training, although that does play a role, it was based on having fun with my dog, listening to my dog, understanding what he likes, what he doesn’t like, and respecting him when he told me no, I can’t do that right now, or no, I don’t like that. 

When Jasper barks at another dog I know we can work through it together, and that is more valuable to me than having a dog who doesn’t bark.  Why?  Because while not every dog might react to other dogs every dog is going to have something they struggle with, and if you have a connection with your dog, you can help them through that struggle.

Compassionate Costumes and Clothes

With Halloween approaching I admit I am reveling in dog costumes!  I love dressing up and as it is not socially acceptable for me to go out in costume as an adult, I indulge myself by dressing up the dogs . . . with some caveats.

First, they have to like it.  When I put a coat on Tabby it was very clear she thought that coat was going to steal her soul and leave her for dead.  She froze, she went belly up, she shivered worse then she did in the snow.  I tried a costume to see if something less restrictive might be more appealing. It was not. I told Tabby I received her message and instead of using a coat I carefully monitor her time outside when it is cold, and she remains a nudist.  Costumes are not put on Tabby.

Jasper does not mind a coat, but he does not love a coat so I was not sure about costumes.  Last year he was all puppy and felt costumes were for chewing.  This year I tried out some different things I had for different dogs, and well, costumes are hit or miss.  Some of the ones with appendages he thinks are more fun to chew then wear.  Anything that goes near his head and flops around he does not like, or covers his ears, so, things with “heads” or hats are mostly out.  I do not want to limit his vision or his hearing – and not just because it is uncomfortable. Jasper is a cautious dog and he startles, putting him in something that makes it harder to see leaves him easier to surprise, and just plain stresses him out. I do not put him in anything restrictive to his movement – he is a young dog and should be able to move freely.  And so he tolerates them, and I respect that he is wearing them for me, not him, and do not keep him in them for long, or for more then a picture or two.  Which is a shame because he looks totally adorable in them.

I will chew this the second you look away.

Pirate we once put a coat on, getting it off was an adventure, we do not dress Pirate, he let us know VERY clearly it is not his thing.  Although for some reason he does not mind hats. Pirate is weird, but he is entitled to his opinions on clothing.

Enter Magdalina.  Magdalina is the most tolerant dog in the house.  I can put her in a lion’s mane, I can make her a rainbow, she is an adorable frog too!  But she tolerates, she does not love, and putting them on her sometimes makes her a walking chew toy for Jasper who thinks frogs legs are delicious!  I learned with Magdalina too that HOW a coat or costume fits matters as much as anything else.  Magdalina has arthritis and achy legs, manipulating them to put them in a coat or a sweater or a costume can be painful for her.  I have to find things for her without sleeves and that attach by the neck and under the belly. In an attempt to find something light weight I even broke out my knitting needles to make her a sweater that does not involve sleeves.  With her skin and sparse hair coats are sometimes a necessity, and she does appreciate the warmth, but, it is hard to find appropriate clothes sometimes.

But I have to talk about Shadow, Shadow loved a tutu.  You put him in a tutu or his Batman costume and he would strut his stuff and be so proud.  I could put him in so many things and as long as the camera was out, he was posing.  He was a dog that loved a costume, or maybe he loved the attention it brings.

He is not alone! My foster dog Nellie adored being dressed up, for her I think it was also about the attention. But she had no issues with costumes or clothes. Poor dog was put in many outfits.

My friend’s dogs love costumes and clothes so much they come running when she gets them out. Memphis and Bella are dressed more often then they are not and have the biggest wardrobe of any animals I know.

So, this Halloween as you are picking out your outfits take some time to think how they will fit your dog, how they will affect their vision, how they will affect their ability to move, and do doggy things. If you notice them stressed out, take it off. Watch for lip licks and ears back, and do not wait until Halloween day to put on the costume for the first time. Halloween comes with enough stress and weirdness without leaving your dog feeling uncomfortable in a costume too.

Have fun this Halloween, but make sure your dogs are having fun along with you.  And send pictures. 

My meatballs bring all the dogs to the yard.

More specifically the kitchen, but, that does not fit the song as well.

Confession – as much as I love a cheese stick for high value treats, Jasper is a total meat dog. I am not a huge meat eater, and hot dogs have a lot of stuff in them, so, I have been experimenting with different treats. He loves chicken but it shreds in my hands, and makes a mess on the floor. He will happily eat steak, but, that is not budget friendly. Liver is harder to prep and gets soft in my hand. So I have been buying pre-made meatballs for Jasper for agility class lately.

They are tempting to him, easy to defrost, and store, and because they are frozen they do not spoil on me before I use them. But, I do not love all the ingredients (onion powder), and they are a little fattier then I like. So, today I decided to make my own. Judging from how his head lifted and his nose hit the air as they came out of the oven, and how quickly Tabby came running from upstairs when I brought one to the living room for sampling, I think they are a hit.

I also like how they break up easily without being too crumbly, although, next time I might add some shredded mozzarella cheese to help them bind up even more.

Full confession, I was learned to cook from my Armenian grandmother, and mother, so, until it feels right is a common measurement in my house. I did my best to track amounts though.

  • 1 lb. lean ground beef (96%)
  • 1 lb ground turkey (85%)
  • 1 large egg
  • 4 Tbs. canned pumpkin
  • 3 Tbs. grated or shaved parmesan
  • 1 Tbs. Nutritional yeast (confession, I am trying to use it up, you can ommit it!)

First, preheat the oven to 350 degrees farenehit. Then put the ground beef and ground turkey in the bowl, followed by the egg. Add the canned pumpkin, grated parmesan, the nutritional yeast (if you are adding it) and then mix (I did it by hand, but, you can use a spatula). If you sing ‘my meatballs bring all the dogs to the yard’ at this stage, it adds some extra love.

Prepare your baking tray buy lining it with foil, and if you prefer, placing a baking rack on the tray too (I did not do this but I wish I had). Shape the meatballs so they are about 2 inches in diameter (should make about 15) and place the meatballs on the rack/tray. You can make them smaller, or larger, but you need to adjust your baking time. I made them large planning to defrost a few at a time and break them up as needed.

Place them in the oven and bake for 25 minutes, or until the internal temperature is 165 degrees farenheit.

Once they cool, store them in the freezer and take them out as needed. If you forget to take them out the night before, you can pop them in the microwave for a quick defrost.

Like I said, if you want them to be less crumbly, you can add some shredded mozarella cheese to the recipe. Play with it, make it your own, and let me know how your pups like them!

Preparing for the Fourth of July

The Fourth of July is one of the hardest times of year for our dogs.  It is hot, there are many events, and, there are fireworks.  Here are some tips for getting through this time of year successfully.

  1. Leave your dog at home.  As fun as it is to have our dogs with us at picnics or events, it is often stressful for the dogs.  Add in the risks of open gates, dropped leashes, unsafe foods being out and about, hot weather, thunderstorms, the stress of new environments, excited children, and fireworks, leaving your dog at home is often the safest bet, and where they would rather be if given the choice.
  2. Make sure they have an ID tag and their microchip info is up to date. The Fourth of July is one of the biggest days of the year for lost dogs.  Dogs get spooked by fireworks, or gates are left open at family events – and if your dog is on the run, you want to make sure they have current and up to date information that is still readable.  It doesn’t hurt to make sure their license is up to date as well, as another way to ensure your dog gets back to you safe and sound.
  3. If your dog gets out, know what to do.  I already have a post about what to do if your dog is lost, check it out and make sure you are prepared.
  4. Plan ahead!  Know when the fireworks are going to be going off and make sure you get your walks in ahead of time.  If you suspect your neighbors might be setting them off, plan for a day with the windows closed, the air conditioner on, and keep the TV, radio or white noise playing to keep things as quiet inside as possible.  Get an awesome marrow bone, some bully sticks, make sure there is a frozen Kong ready to keep your dog entertained and focused on something other then the noise.
  5. Watch the heat! Dogs do not sweat like we do, and can overheat easily.  Do not leave your pets in cars, and watch them when outside.  Especially the black dogs, or dogs with short noses who overheat a lot faster.  Also remember young dogs and older dogs, and dogs with certain medical conditions can be even more sensitive to heat.  So, keep them cool and comfortable.
  6. Talk to your vet.  If your dog is truly phobic, see if there is a medication or supplement that may help.  Some people are reporting success with CBD oil, or supplements containing lactium, but as always, make sure you check with your vet first.
  7. If you have to leave them, leave them safe.  Make sure they are in their crate in a room that is calm and quiet, with something safe for them to do.  Close the windows, pull the shades, blast the air conditioner and leave a white noise machine on, or calming music like Through a Dogs’ Ear.
  8. Do not be afraid to let them know it is okay.  If you are with your dog, and your dog is upset, it is okay to be there for them, and to soothe them and reassure them.  It will not reinforce their fears, it will let them know they are not alone.
  9. Know the closest vet, and emergency vet.  Know which vets near you are open, where the closest vet is, and have their number in your phone.  Heaven forbid an emergency happen you want to know where to go, and how to get there.

How to Pick a Puppy (or Not)

When I met Jasper, I knew he was not your typical happy to lucky puppy.  The vet who gave him his second round of shots called him a worried rocket scientist.  The plan had been for me to foster him, and I had not been looking for a puppy.  In fact, I usually preferred adult dogs.  But, his worry made me worry, so, I started talking to other trainers about what they thought about him.

Cydney Cross of Crossroads for Dogs met him first, Jasper sat in his crate in the car and looked at her, and processed things.  He stepped back when she came close, and when she tossed him a treat, he watched her for a bit before trying it.  When I took him out of his crate, he stuck to my side.  He was four months old.

Jasper was clearly attached to me but was not that interested in other people.  I showed off some of his tricks, and Cyd told me what a great dog he was – she loved how smart he was, how observant, and how well he focused on me.  I was relieved, and I asked if she thought that meant he would be easy to adopt out.  She told me no, he was the type of dog who might find a home quickly, but who also was likely to be returned at a year old after having bitten.  Not because he was aggressive, but because he was a worrier, and if someone did not help him with his worries, they would become fears.  Cyd suggested I keep him.

What you typically look for in a puppy is the social one, the one coming to greet people, eager to interact.  The one that hears a noise and while they might be startled, they rebound quickly.  Jasper was none of those things.  But he was smart, and he was sensitive, and with the right support, he could build confidence and overcome his worry.  Jasper would never be a social butterfly, but, he did not need to be.

I was not in the market for a puppy, but, maybe a puppy had found me.

Not sure what to do, I brought Jasper to Suzanne Clothier.  When it comes to puppy assessment, there are few with more experience, or a better eye.

Of course he hopped out of the car far less worried then expected after an hour plus drive, and while he did not run up to greet her, food soon won him over, and Suzanne got to know Jasper. We saw him with other dogs (German Shepherds were scary), with people (John was also kind of scary), we saw him when I left (WHAT MOM COME BACK!) and I eagerly awaited her verdict.

Suzanne agreed with Cyd – he was a worrier, and he was smart, and he was a bit of a project.  But she also told me with the right socialization he thought he would be an awesome dog – was I up for the challenge?

Well, we are a year in and still finding that out.

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The Heart of a Champion

Tilly is fourteen years old, and has been a much loved family pet for years.  Until now Tilly did not go to class because Tilly did not need class, she has basic obedience down and is generally a mellow girl.  But the family thought that Low Impact Agility looked like fun, and that maybe Tilly might want to try it.  And that is when we realized that inside Tilly beat the heart of a competitor . . .

Tilly is a Low Impact Agility Super Star!  She used to take a minute to run through a course but now she can do it in 30 seconds, and her tail is wagging the whole time.

Best of all her family says Tilly seems to be more relaxed and confident in their home.  When you say “school” she gets excited and runs to the door.  While I love working with all the dogs, dogs like Tilly touch my heart in a special way.  I love seeing these “Elder Dogs” have fun and use their brains and get out and just have fun and all the benefits that come from that.

Allow me to brag . . .

When your 14 year old dog earns his second Wag It Games Sniff It Title you are supposed to brag right?  Shadow earned his fifth qualification in Search last night getting him his Search Wag It Games 1 Title.

GreatestElkhoundEver.JPG

So proud of this boy!  He has only been working for a little over a year and a half and did not start until he was 12 years old, but he took to Sniff It and does it with joy and focus (mostly).  When we were posing for our picture he wanted to go back and look in the tents some more which made me smile – even though he was totally ignoring his recall and doing what he wanted, what he wanted to do was work.  That’s my boy!

And a private victory is Shadow did it while being polite among the other dogs, no barking or staring or kicking up a fuss, Shadow was there and ready to work and relaxed (mostly) around the other dogs.  Time and patience do so much, and yes, old dogs clearly can learn new tricks.

Katy Bug the Brave . . .

What does a beagle do when they come to scent class?  They put their nose to the ground and they get to work!

This video is extra special because just a few months ago Katy was living in a lab being used for pharmaceutical testing and research.  In December she found a home and now she making up for lost time, getting out into the world and experiencing lots of new things.

It has been a pleasure to be a part of helping her learn and build confidence, and watching her and her mom become a team.   I have loved seeing her go from the shy dog, quietly entering class to the dog pulling on the leash excited to use her nose!  When Katy is working she is on a mission and her tail is up, her nose is down, and she knows just what to do.

Find it!

We just started a Scent Class for reactive dogs, and two weeks in I am not only impressed at how great the dogs and their owners are doing, I’m also excited by the positive feedback we’re already getting.

I’m hearing how the dogs have more confidence, how they are happier, how they are sleeping after class and excited to get into the car and come back – it is wonderful and total reinforcement of why I do what I do.  So happy to be helping dogs, particularly dogs who do not always get included in things outside of basic behavior.

This is a video I put together from the scent runs on our first week of class – some of these dogs had never tried scent work before and by the end of the hour they were consistently identifying the boxes, and better yet, they were excited to work!

Such a great group of dogs and people!