The value of knowing your dog

Knowing about typical breed (or crossbreed/mongrel) characteristics is all well and good, but the value of knowing your dog is priceless.

This was really brought home to me this week as we’ve had Bodie six months now. And it was time for his six month health check and booster vaccination.

He’s not the best at being handled. He’s an affectionate dog in many ways, but he does still struggle with basic ‘husbandry’. Before we got him, he’d had eye infections as a puppy. So he was very scared of anyone touching his eyes or running their hands going over his head. You could only stroke him from under his chin and chest to start off with. He’s also not good about having his paws touched or held. He’d obviously not had positive experiences of being touched and handled early on and getting them used to this as a puppy is so important.

If you’re not already, start gently doing paw touching, ear sniffing and gum rubbing etc. to get them used to it. Even if they’re not a puppy, you can help them at any age. Just start with what they are comfortable with, give rewards as you’re going and build it up at their pace.

So we’re a step behind with Bodie. But we’ve done a lot of that over the six months we’ve had him. Doing it when he’s in a nice relaxed mood, just stroking his legs, stroking the parts of his body that he’s better with us touching. And then a little bit of paw twiddling and touching between his toes, nails and all that kind of stuff. We’ve been building up slowly, obviously feeding him nice things while we’re doing it. He’s still not great, but it’s getting better. So that’s a work in progress for us.

So I knew the vet check-up would be a little bit challenging for him. To help prepare him we’ve done quite a lot of popping into the vets without doing anything. We go in there and just get him stand on the scales, and hang around for a little while. Or the nurses in reception feed him some dried liver, and we take him out again. So he’s got more used to it, but there’s obviously cats and dogs and lots of strange smells. So it’s still an exciting and stressful place.

I’d been thinking about a backup strategy if he couldn’t cope with what the vet needed to do in the treatment room. A lot of the ‘desensitisation’ work that I’ve done with him is when he’s clipped into the boot of the car after a walk. Once he’s in the boot I’ll use ‘Clean Sheets’ (textured wet wipes) for dogs. And I’ve been stroking his body with them, cleaning his paws, legs and belly. Even up and over his head. With the other hand (or useful boyfriend if he’s with us!), I’ll be feeding him to help distract him and give positive associations to what’s going on.

So I thought as a backup plan, I would see if the vet would do some of the work with him the boot of my car! Bodie did relatively well for most of the appointment. The vet was amazing; he was really sensitive to how Bodie was reacting. He didn’t mind having a face wash from Bodie as he was going in for an ear inspection! His teeth are all lovely and clean as a puppy’s should be, but we do give him lots of natural chews and bones to keep the plaque off his teeth. The vet managed to gently feel his body, while stroking him, he was very good at disguising the fact that that he was getting a check up. The stethoscope was a bit of a challenge, but he spent time letting him sniff it as I fed him dried sprats.

I’ve been doing prep for an injection by picking up the scruff of his neck and just poking him gently with a pen helping him getting used to that feeling. But by now we’ve been in there for 25 minutes and I think Bodie had reached his limits and the sprat/chicken distraction wasn’t working any more. So I suggested we get him back in the boot of the car to do the injection and the vet was totally up for that.

So we take him outside, he hops up into the car nicely now and I was just feeding him chicken and before he’d even noticed, he got the injection and we were done!

I’m so pleased I’d thought about what I was going to do to help him in advance. And because I’d thought it through, I was calmer going in, expecting it to be fine. He would have picked up on me not being worried. In another six months’ time he’ll be even better and it should just get easier.

So all I wanted to say was just the importance of knowing your dog and knowing what knowing what’s right for them. And not being afraid to ask for what they need.

Ditch the routine for a calmer, happier pup

Do you have a dog that barks when you’re getting ready to go for a walk? Or that whines when you’re in the car? Or that goes ‘on strike’ when you’re trying to head out of a park and just puts the brakes on? Ditch the routine and this could help.

Old school dog training – things have moved on!

I grew up with ‘old school’ dog trainers and I remember hearing about how it’s good for dogs to have a routine. Basically – ‘they know what’s coming and when, and this is good for them’. Not so!!

The problem is that routine creates a puppy or dog that struggles to be flexible. If they don’t get fed or walked at the time they are used to, they can let anticipation build up and get frustrated. Or anxious or over-excited. And then this can lead to barking, chewing, or other destructive or disruptive behaviours. Or when you do take them out walking, perhaps they are lunging at people or barking at other dogs. Or just not able to walk calmly on the lead beside you.

Creating a flexible pup

A flexible pup is a good thing; sometimes you can’t always do the same things at the same times. Life gets in the way. Plus, how much easier is it to have a pup that isn’t controlling the household timetable. You’ve probably got enough things to deal with in life without a demanding dog! Recently I was chatting to a lady with two Basset Hounds. (When out walking our dogs we always end up talking to other dog people don’t we!) And she said on the dot of 6pm her dogs would woof like crazy if she didn’t have their food out on time. And those are big barks! It’s time to ditch the routine.

Dogs are efficient animals

Dogs are efficient and will try and predict what’s about to happen; this creates anticipation. It might be something exciting that they’re looking forward to. But it also might something that they find stressful (and we might not even be aware of this). Either way, too much anticipation isn’t a good thing. If your pup is prone to pulling on the lead, barking at squirrels, reacting to other dogs or joggers. Or is a bit hit and miss with their recall (or any other behaviour that you’d probably rather they didn’t do), their state of anticipation and increased arousal. (This is a professional term so no need for sniggering 😊) is likely to be a factor. If you can reduce the stress of anticipation, you can help them approach anything in a calmer, more relaxed state. This means they’ll be able to make better decisions.

It’s useful even just not letting them out as soon as you get up, or at the same time. This excludes puppies or any dogs with toilet training needs! Sometimes I’ll let Bodie out when I first get up, sometimes I’ll make tea, go back to bed for a while, or sit down to work. And then let him out a little later. He’ll let me know if he really has to go out, but it means he doesn’t get the chance to get used to any specific patterns so that’s he’s anticipated when it’s about to happen.

Look at visual triggers

There’s a whole series of visual triggers that could be building up your pup’s anticipation of going for a walk or just leaving the house (quite possibly one of the highlights of his or her day). Even if you don’t walk at the same time each day, you might not think of all the little signals that you’re giving before you even pick up a lead or put on their harness. What about the more subtle signs. Such as shutting down the laptop, locking the back door, moving towards your keys, changing your shoes. All signals your pup could well pick up on and be getting them more and more excited about what might be about to happen.

So, what can you do?

  1. There are all sorts of things that you can do to stop your pup picking up on routine signals that lead to getting over-excited before you go out for a walk.
  2. Can you actually change any of the times of day that you go out? I know this can be difficult, if you’re walking before you head to work or go on the school run, but it’s worth thinking about any small ways that you can vary your routine.
  3. In addition to changing the timing of your regular walks, what else can you do differently to ditch the routine?

To ditch the routine here’s a list to get you started, but what else can you add?

  • Picking up keys and putting them down again without anything else happening. Turn this in to a non-event.
  • Picking up your pup’s harness/lead/collar and not putting them on your pup.
  • Picking up the harness/lead/collar and putting them on your pup and taking them off without going anywhere, or just going into the garden.
  • Places to walk to. Think of going in different directions when you leave the house. How much can you chop and change the walking routes?
  • Driving different routes to parks, beaches or woods. Dogs will recognise the routes you take on a regular basis and their anticipation will start to build.
  • Searching out different places to go. It’s so easy to just head the places we know but it’s good for us as well to experience new things. Some of them are hidden treasures. I’ve picked up some great recommendations from other dog owners in each new space I visit with my pups.
  • Get them in the car and get them out again without going anywhere (so that even getting in a car isn’t so much of an event).
  • Types of walks – lead on, lead off, long line on, open spaces, gated dog parks, wooded trails, beaches, canals, pavements, busier areas. What have you got that’s around you and how can you use it?
  • Vary the length of time that you’re out walking or in the park.
  • Taking the lead off at different times when you’re out (and it’s safe to do and you know your pup’s recall is 100% reliable) – not just when you enter the park, you can walk part way before taking it off.
  • Putting the lead (or long line) on part way through your walk for a while and then taking it off again. This stops them thinking that having the lead go on means the end of the ‘fun part of the walk’.
  • Not actually going out for walk at all! Use the time for some tiring training games in the house or the garden. You’ll be really building the relationship you have with your pup. Plus, this can help all sorts of behavioural issues, just contact me if you want any specific recommendations on which games to start with.

Ditch the routine and 24/7 training

Training is something that is happening 24/7. Not just when you go to a puppy or dog training class or make a conscious decision to ‘do some training’. Any of these little steps above can help your pup be more flexible in their thinking, helping them be calmer in lots of different situations.

If you’d like some dog training help in Twickenham, Teddington, Hampton, Hampton Hill, Richmond and surrounding areas, please get in touch.

© 2019 Pup Talk by Niki French