One of the biggest health risks posed to many dogs is a life-threating condition called ‘bloat’ (also referred to as ‘gastric dilation’) which requires immediate veterinary attention. When this occurs, the dog’s stomach becomes bloated as it fills with excessive gas, combined with fluid and/or food. The increased pressure and size of the stomach can, among other things, compress surrounding veins and organs, leading to low blood pressure, difficulty breathing and shock.
This situation can be further complicated by the stomach twisting on itself, (termed ‘gastric dilation volvulus’), which prevents the gas from escaping and cuts off the blood supply to the spleen and the stomach. If emergency veterinary surgery to untwist the stomach is not performed with a matter of hours, the dog will sadly die.
A dog suffering from bloat may show some of (but not limited to) the following signs: drooling, panting, paying anxious attention to their abdomen, have a hard and/or swollen stomach that feels as taut as a drum skin, retching without producing anything, stretching regularly, generally acting uncomfortable and distressed.
The exact cause of this condition is still unclear, but research has shown that it is most common in (but not exclusive to) large, deep-chested breeds, and those who are closely related to other dogs with a history of bloat. Older dogs also tend to have an increased risk, as do those dogs that are fed a single large meal per day, eat their food rapidly, drink excessively, or have undergone a stressful event.
To help reduce the risk of your dog developing bloat, you should feed several smaller meals per day instead of one large one, maintain him at a healthy weight, and avoid exercising him for one to two hours before and after feeding.
Further advice and information on this condition can be obtained from your vet. ©
It may come as a surprise to know that approximately 15% of dogs are in the habit of eating their own, or other dogs’, poo.
The clinical term for this undesirable, albeit natural behaviour is ‘coprophagia’ and as yet, a definitive answer as to why it occurs is still to be agreed upon!
What we do know is that during early domestication, more than 10,000 years ago, dogs would gain nutrients and keep the areas around human settlements clean by scavenging human faeces and other waste, leading to the notion that the behaviour is engrained within the dog’s DNA. Indeed, when a litter of puppies is born, the nursing mother dog stimulates her puppies to eliminate by licking their rears and then consumes their faeces, in order to keep the nest area clean and hygienic.
The consumption of faeces is also often seen in young puppies, although this is usually as a result of normal exploratory behaviour, tending to cease with maturity and if enough alternative enrichment is provided.
However, in adult dogs, faeces consumption may be considered to be more problematic. There are many anti-coprophagia products on the market claiming to help with this, although they have only been found to be effective in 2% of dogs.
If your dog currently eats his own, or other dogs faeces, he should be taken to your vet in order to rule out any suggested medical causes, including digestive problems. If a clean bill of health is offered, other suggested causes include hunger and boredom. To combat this, feed your dog an adequate amount of a good quality diet and ensure that he has plenty of physical exercise and mental stimulation. It is also important to make sure that your dog’s toileting area is kept clean and any faeces is picked up immediately. An excellent recall helps too. If these tips do not improve the situation, a qualified canine behaviourist should be contacted for further assistance.
Finally, if your dog is coprophagic, he should be kept up to date with his worming and people should follow basic hygiene measures, such as avoiding being licked by him. ©
It may come as a surprise to some, but by the time dogs reach seven years of age they are considered to be entering their senior years; with larger breeds having the shortest lifespans.
For most owners, the slowing down of their once youthful and exuberant dog can be difficult and saddening to see. However, caring for an elderly dog needn’t be a daunting prospect; in fact, people who choose to adopt elderly dogs from rescue shelters often state that they are rewarded with some of the most precious experiences that any dog owner can have.
Knowing what to expect, and preparing accordingly, will help to ensure that the dog’s sunset years are as happy, healthy and fulfilled as possible. Often, simple measures such as keeping the household routine as predictable as possible, or avoiding moving furniture in the homes of dogs that have gone blind, can provide much needed comfort and reassurance. There are even diets that are tailored nutritionally for elderly dogs, which can help fight off the signs of aging and avoid weight gain.
Because elderly dogs are prone to age-related ailments such as arthritis, gum disease or sensory impairment, they need to be taken to the vets regularly for check ups. Early diagnosis and treatment can not only combat pain and slow the progress of many diseases, and thus increase the length and quality of the dog’s life, but it can also help to reduce any negative behavioural changes that are linked with pain or irritability; most notably aggression.
Ensuring that the dog gets the correct amount of daily physical exercise is important too, as it helps to keep him feeling youthful and more mobile; with frequent, shorter walks being preferable to one long one. In addition, providing regular, positive, reward-based training sessions and food dispensing puzzle toys can offer much needed mental stimulation.
Finally, it is not unusual for behaviour problems in elderly dogs to be linked to age-related degeneration within the brain, known as cognitive dysfunction syndrome. Dogs who are suffering from this tend to display behaviours such as barking inappropriately, pacing, and acting disorientated or confused. If this is suspected, the vet may prescribe specific drugs, or offer supplements, which may help.
As our dogs grow old, it is clear that they need our patience and understanding more than ever. It is during this time that we have an opportunity to repay them for the years of joy, love and companionship they have brought us throughout their lives.
If you are currently without a dog, why not consider rehoming a elderly dog from your local rescue shelter? ©
As the hectic Christmas festivities gather pace, it is worth taking a few moments to think about how this time of year can impact upon our canine companions.
This blog post is to help you avoid the potential pitfalls by offering advice on how to keep dogs and their owners safe over the holiday season.
During this busy period, the consistency and routine of our regular day-to-day life can alter, leading to increased anxiety in some dogs. For this reason, it is important to try and maintain your dog’s routines, with particular regard to feeding and walking. Provision of a quiet, undisturbed, rest area will also help alleviate your dog’s anxiety, as he will be able to retreat there if things get a little too hectic, and this can be complemented with the use of an ‘Adaptil™’ plug in diffuser.
Although a traditional part of Christmas, the decorated tree can be fraught with problems, so supervision of your dog whenever he is around it is a must. As well as seeing it as an invitation to urinate, some dogs may accidently knock the tree over, or even succumb to the temptation to play with the lights, tinsel or baubles! (Please remember to avoid hanging any chocolates on your tree). To combat this, try to make the tree as inaccessible as possible for your dog and provide him with plenty of his own exciting toys to play with instead, including Kongs’ and puzzle feeders. Also, if you happen to have a real tree, watch out for fallen pine needles injuring your dog’s paws, and if presents are kept under the tree, make sure that they do not contain food, otherwise your dog may have the perfect outlet for his natural scavenging instincts!
It is important to realise that a lot of the traditional foods that we indulge in over Christmas are extremely toxic and dangerous to dogs, including grapes, raisins, chocolate and licorice; so any nibbles must be kept well out of reach. If you intend on giving your four-legged family member a Christmas dinner, please be aware that it may cause him to have an upset stomach, and foods that produce a lot of gas (Brussels sprouts, cabbage, etc.) should be avoided as they can contribute to the life threatening condition of ‘gastric dilation’. Finally, cooked bones must not be given as they may splinter and cause damage to your dog’s digestive tract. ©
When it comes to getting a dog, many people choose to save a life and adopt from a rescue centre. Others prefer to obtain a puppy direct from a breeder, due to worries about the health or behaviour of a rescue dog. Having adopted a rescue dog ourselves, we can assure you that it was one of the best decisions we have ever made.
As well as having a vast array of ages and breeds to choose from, those who adopt a dog from a rescue centre receive the added benefit of knowing their new companion has been fully examined and vaccinated by a vet, neutered, given parasitic control and behaviourally assessed. There may even be a short history offered about the dog’s previous background.
Dogs often end up in rescue centres because of behavioural issues stemming from a lack of training in their previous home. However, many may already be obedient and housetrained and have been given up purely because their owners no longer wanted them. Whatever the reason for the dog being in there, don't let it stop you, you can teach an old dog new tricks! With patience and positive, reward-based training, any problems will soon improve. Remember, professional help is also always available should you require additional support.
It is important to prepare properly for the arrival of your new rescue dog into your home. All the members of the household must be prepared to follow the same consistent routines and requests for the dog, and give him time to adapt to his new surroundings during this stressful time. It is a good idea to begin praising him for any appropriate behaviour, utilise Adaptil™ products, and to create a safe haven; a comfy place of his own that is associated with purely positive experiences and where he isn’t bothered by anyone. Finally, provision of food-dispensing toys and other chews will occupy and enrich your dog, whilst offering valuable mental stimulation.©
At some stage in their life, it is inevitable that all dogs will encounter situations that they find challenging and stressful. Some of the most common of these situations include exposure to new environments, fireworks, or simply being separated from their owner. If left unaddressed, your dog’s welfare may begin to suffer, and the likelihood of anxiety-related behavioural difficulties occurring will be increased.
If you feel that your dog is not coping well with certain situations, the first step on the road to recovery is to speak to your vet who can offer valuable advice, and if required, refer you to a suitably qualified behaviourist. We are very fortunate, as a lot of local vets choose to refer their clients directly to us for help with their dogs’ behaviour problems.
When seeking a successful long-term resolution to any anxiety-related problem, it is important to realise that behavioural modification techniques form the foundation of the overall treatment programme. However, these techniques can also be complemented through the provision of certain products that your vet can advise you on.
One popular product that is often used to assist dogs in coping during stressful periods is ‘Adaptil™’. This non-sedative pheromone has been scientifically proven to help alleviate anxiety and works by replicating the canine appeasing pheromone that a lactating bitch naturally releases to comfort and reassure her puppies. In dogs of any age, Adaptil™ allows situations to be perceived more positively and supports dogs to be more responsive to behavioural therapy and training. Crucially, it must never be considered as an alternative to meeting required dog welfare standards.
Adaptil™ is available in several forms, including a collar, spray, and plug in diffuser.
We are often asked for advice from dog owners on the best books to read about dogs. In this day and age, with such a vast array of easily accessible information regarding our canine friends, we understand how difficult it is for dog owners to feel truly confident in what they read.
Fortunately, there are many excellent books on dog behaviour and training that we are happy to recommend. With Christmas just around the corner, the following gift ideas may come in useful for those loved ones who wish to learn more about their canine companion.
A past UK bestseller, ‘In Defence of Dogs: Why dogs need our understanding’ by John Bradshaw is a great place to start. This book is based on scientific fact and examines carefully what is currently considered to be true about dogs, including where they originated and why they behave as they do. The text also explains to the reader why dogs cannot be considered as domesticated wolves, and thus lends itself to a much more relaxed and healthy human-canine relationship. A similarly great read is, ‘Dominance in Dogs. Fact or Fiction?’ by Barry Eaton. This short book helps to dispel the dominance myth that is unfortunately still so prevalent amongst some.
Having trained dogs for nearly two decades, including guide dogs for the blind, we are very aware of the impact that human behaviour can have on the dogs we choose to spend our lives with. In order for both parties to get the most from our close relationship, clear communication is vital, and two of the best books on this topic are, ‘The other end of the Leash’ by Patricia McConnell and ‘The Culture Clash’ by Jean Donaldson.
Finally, for those who want to learn specifically about the nuts and bolts of dog training, ‘Don’t shoot the dog: The new art of teaching and training’ by Karen Pryor provides a fantastic starting point. This book highlight the principles and power of positive reinforcement in an easy to read, light-hearted manner.©
As the firework period draws closer, here is some helpful advice to get you and your dog through one of the most difficult times of the year.
A past survey highlighted that as many as 50% of all dogs will experience stress as a result of the sudden loud bangs and unusual hissing sounds emitted by fireworks.
All owners are advised to prepare for the firework period in order to avoid unnecessary suffering and prevent the development of undesirable behaviours in their dogs. Here are some useful tips:
It is important to consider all pets during this time, and further advice can be found by visiting the RSPCA website.
Halloween is drawing eerily close and it is worth considering how the old traditions such as dressing in scary costumes, lighting lanterns, and knocking on doors to ‘trick or treat’ can prove frightening and somewhat dangerous to our dogs. Here are a few common sense ideas to make sure that things run smoothly.
Dogs have a natural tendency to fear novel things, so it is understandable that seeing strangers dressed as ghouls and ghosts may alarm them, especially if they invade the dog’s territory. It is also important to remember that dogs can act aggressively, in order to protect themselves, if they feel under threat. The most sensible thing to do, regardless of whether or not you think your dog is likely to act anxiously, is to provide a safe haven in another room and keep your dog away from the front door when people come over to ‘trick or treat’.
If you prepare a bowl of offerings for your ‘trick or treaters’, make sure that you keep it out of reach from your dog, as consuming products such as chocolates, raisins or xylitol (found in chewing gum, sugar free sweets, etc.) can prove to be fatal for any dog. If you suspect that your dog has consumed any of these items, contact your vet immediately. Another serious safety precaution is to ensure that all lit lanterns are kept well away from your dog, to prevent them from being knocked over.
If you decide to dress your dog up in a Halloween costume, please consider whether or not your dog will enjoy the experience and ensure that it does not reduce your dog’s ability to walk, see or breathe normally. Also, if you intend on leaving your dog home alone, consideration should be made to how your dog will react to regular knocks at the door throughout the evening, by placing them in a room away from the front of the house and providing a food stuffed Kong.
A full list of poisonous substances to dogs can be found on the DogsTrust website. Happy Halloween!
Following on from our previous blog post, here are a few tips on how to promote family harmony when the baby finally comes home.
Firstly, before allowing the dog and baby to meet, parents should expose the dog to the new baby’s scent, using a worn item of its clothing.
On the day when the mother sees the dog for the first time since coming out of hospital, the dog is likely to be very excited. The best way to deal with this is to ensure that they are reintroduced when the dog is tired; by making sure that he has had plenty of prior exercise. This initial greeting should be done without the baby being present, as the dog may jump up. However, when the situation has calmed down, the dog and baby should be introduced in a quiet room, with an adult cradling the baby, whilst the dog is allowed to sniff. After a few seconds of interest, the dog is likely to begin to move away, when he does this he should be praised.
All interactions between the pair should always be supervised, and it is important to regularly praise and reward the dog whenever he is demonstrating appropriate behaviour around the baby. This will not only help to develop a strong positive association, but it will also reduce the likelihood that the dog will perform undesirable behaviour in order to receive attention. The dog should also be provided with his own ‘safe haven’, a quiet place of his own where he can go in order to rest and not be disturbed.
Finally, it is inevitable that the daily routine for all family members will change following the arrival of a baby, and sometimes this can be difficult for a dog, especially if walks are less frequent as a result. If this is the case, obtaining the services of a local, reputable dog day care or dog walker can prove invaluable.
The impending arrival of a baby can bring great joy and anticipation. However, for some dog owners there may also be an added sense of trepidation about how their dog will react towards the new family member.
Rest assured, dogs are excellent when it comes to adapting to new situations, if they are given the time. So, to help things run smoothly, preparations need to begin many months before the baby actually arrives.
After making sure that your dog is receiving qualified veterinary treatment for any long-standing ailments, and is fully vaccinated and up to date with worming and flea treatment, you need to consider the changes that will take place when the baby arrives. You can prepare your dog for some of these changes by putting new furniture, such as cots and high chairs in place, and fitting baby gates to keep him out of ‘no go’ areas.
If your dog has any behavioural issues, such as pulling on the lead or not coming back when called, then these should be addressed immediately before the baby arrives.
It is important to begin to develop a strong positive association in your dog towards baby noises, using a specially created audio CD. You can also ask friends or relatives for any worn items of baby clothing, and leave them around your house, to allow your dog to get used to the smell of a baby.
Finally, it is useful to begin carrying a baby doll around the house, acting out all the things that would be done with a real baby. This allows your dog to get used to seeing you undertake baby-related activities, and gives you an opportunity to reward him for appropriate behaviour. By the time your baby arrives, your dog will already know what is expected of him and you will feel much more comfortable with the situation.©
After nearly two decades of working with dogs, we are still as passionate as ever about ensuring that the public and their dogs are given the best possible chance to maintain a happy and healthy relationship together. However, some common old-fashioned myths surrounding dogs not only make this challenging to achieve, but actually compromise dog welfare.
One such myth is that of the dog attempting to be ‘pack leader’ or trying to ‘dominate’ their owner.
We have lost count of the number of genuinely caring and intelligent dog owners we have come across who innocently believe that their dog is challenging them to be ‘top dog’ or ‘alpha’, after hearing some seemingly credible dog person spouting this fiction as though it were fact.
The reality of this falsehood is that people are advised to ‘out-dominate’ their dog and bend him to their will using feats such as rolling the dog onto his back, staring him down, and eating before him.
This is such a sad, unsatisfying, and stressful situation for all involved. Worse still, some of the confrontational techniques employed actually increase the likelihood that the dog will display aggression - not as a ‘challenge’ towards their owner, but because of the pain and fear that these techniques create.
So where did this myth come from?
Well, many decades ago, studies were undertaken with wolves kept in captivity, which highlighted a 'linear hierarchy', fights for rank, resources, etc. By virtue of wolves and dogs being related, the assumption was made that their behaviour would be identical. Besides this incorrect assumption, the studies did not even offer a true reflection of wolf behaviour because they were based on unrelated wolves living in an environment so unnatural that it caused them to behave unnaturally and be in constant competition with each other.
True wolf behaviour has been seen in more recent studies looking at wolves in the wild. These show that the packs actually consist of related family units who rely on unity and cooperation, not conflict. The parents are the leaders, gently raising their offspring with no need to fight, or defend, the imaginary ‘alpha status’. ©
We are occasionally asked for advice on how to stop dogs barking when they are left tied up outside shops.
It would appear that some dogs seem to accept this situation more easily than others. However, for many the separation from the owner and the restriction of movement causes them to panic, and in a desperate attempt to be reunited, the dog begins to bark. For others, they bark simply because they cannot cope with the frustration.
Teaching a dog to accept being left tied up in any unfamiliar environment without resorting to barking or becoming distressed would take a significant amount of time and effort.
However, because we hold several strong reservations about leaving dogs tied up outside anywhere, our advice would simply be to avoid it. We do understand that many people find it convenient to get two things done at once, by combining the dog walk with a trip to the shops, but it is not worth the associated risks.
What are some of these risks? Well, dogs that are left tied up outside are more likely to be stolen, often ending up being used for breeding or in the hands of criminal dog fighting circles. Also, it is worth remembering that if a dog feels threatened by an approaching stranger or dog, with no means of escape, the likelihood for aggressive behaviour is increased.
Getting your dogs spayed or neutered, in line with your vets’ advice, will prevent them from being stolen by criminals for breeding purposes. Also, if your dog is lost or stolen, their microchip will allow your dog to be identified if he is found.
So take our honest advice, leave the dog at home when it comes to shopping and enjoy separate walks with your dog without any unnecessary risk.©
It is important to recognise that aggression is a natural and normal part of canine behaviour and that all dogs have the potential to bite.
Any situation that causes a dog to feel threatened can increase their need to display aggressive behaviour. For example, if a dog is wary of a child, he may attempt to stop the child entering his personal space by acting defensively.
However, dogs also have an array of non-aggressive signals. They use these in response to a perceived threat, in order to show that they are uncomfortable with a particular situation and to avoid any physical confrontation. Biting tends to be a last resort.
Non-aggressive signals include: moving away, yawning, blinking, averting gaze and lip licking. The correct response to these signals would be to immediately give the dog more space, in order to allow him to feel more comfortable. If these signals are not responded to appropriately, the dog will display more aggressive signals of unease such as growling, snapping and biting.
Routinely ignoring non-aggressive signals may lead to a dog learning that only the more aggressive signals are reliable in reducing the perceived threat. Equally, punishment will increase the dog’s level of anxiety and may suppress the use of these signals, leading to the dog feel that he has no options left but to bite.
Please be aware, a dog who is in pain, suddenly startled, restricted on a lead or even tied up outside a school/shop, will be more likely to react aggressively towards any perceived threat.
Fact: Statistics highlight that dog bites are most common in children below 10 years of age and these are likely to occur to the face. ©
Here are some important points to remember when teaching your dog to be a well mannered member of society.
Firstly, a really good habit to get into is to regularly praise your dog whenever you see him behaving in a way that you think is appropriate, instead of falling into the trap of only offering him attention when he is acting inappropriately. For example, if your dog is led down quietly whilst you are eating, try to notice this and tell him that he is a “good boy”. Rewarding this good behaviour with your attention will make it much more likely to occur again, and will help to prevent him from sitting and drooling in front of you as you eat!
Remember that dogs rely heavily on interpretation of body language and are not born with an understanding of our spoken word. With this in mind, try to keep any verbal requests short, clear and consistent.
Whenever you are trying to teach your dog something new, keep your sessions short and begin in a quiet environment with minimal distractions. Just imagine how difficult it would be to try and learn a new language with your favourite television show playing in the background! Like us, dogs can get easily distracted, hindering the learning process. When the new behaviour has been taught and can be performed reliably in a quiet environment, it should be attempted in areas that gradually offer increasing levels of distraction.
Dogs live in the moment, so it is important to reinforce the behaviour you want within a second of it occurring, otherwise the association may not be made.
Finally, teaching can never be considered complete. It needs to be maintained throughout your dog’s life. If it is done in the right way, using a positive, reward-based approach, you will both enjoy learning together and you will have a well-behaved, happy dog to be proud of.
Why not sign up for one of our classes? Your dog will thank you for it!©
With summer well under way, here are a few ways of keeping your dogs cool and entertained during the hot weather!
First of all, there are a vast array of food dispensing dog toys that can be bought from your local pet shop, such as a Kong. These can be used to make your dog a satisfying doggy ‘ice-lolly’!
There are several ways to do this. One of the simplest, if your dog is fed tinned dog food, is to fill the Kong with some of the contents from the tin and place it in the freezer for a few hours.
If your dog is fed dried kibble, then simply soak the kibble in a bowl until it goes soft and then stuff this inside the Kong before placing it in the freezer. Any remaining water from the bowl can be poured into an ice cube tray or small plastic container, making meat-flavoured ice cubes for your dog to crunch on.
For the adventurous amongst you, the Internet is filled with lots of wonderful frozen Kong-stuffing recipes dreamt up by dog lovers, with ingredients as varied as banana, apple, mango, peanut butter and cheese. Alternatively, you could purchase some baby food from the supermarket and use that to stuff your Kong (taking care to avoid any ingredients that are known to be poisonous to dogs, such as grape or onion).
Here at MacCanine Doggy Day Care we also give our dogs lactose free yogurt from frozzys.com - the dogs love them!
Importantly, it is worth being mindful of the extra calories being given to your dog in this way, by reducing their remaining daily food allowance accordingly.
Interesting Fact: Did you know that dogs can suffer from sunburn? This is most likely to occur on the nose and ear tips of pale, white, or shorthaired dogs. To help prevent this, experts have developed special doggy suntan lotion!©
For some dog owners, the bouncy, joy-filled greeting that they receive from their beloved pooch upon returning home is a pleasant and welcomed antidote to the stress of modern life. For others however, the idea of being jumped all over and having their faces licked in a display of such unbridled affection may not be entirely appreciated!
In the past, dogs displaying behaviours such as jumping up have been described as trying to ‘dominate’ their owners. This is completely incorrect and I feel that it is important to stress that the ‘dominance’ myth surrounding dog and human interaction has long since been discredited by the scientific community.
To understand why dogs jump up we need to look at where this behaviour originates.
Dogs display their emotions primarily through body language. Greeting behaviour begins in puppyhood, initially seen when puppies instinctively lick their parents mouths, attempting to get them to regurgitate food which they can then consume (as would occur in the wild). When puppies grow older they no longer require this method to obtain food, but they retain a very similar behaviour of jumping up to nuzzle the side of their parents face as a way of reinforcing the bond and saying “hi”.
As we are surrogate families to our dogs, and knowing that they have evolved to live socially as members of a group, it comes as no surprise that they attempt to jump up to nuzzle the side of our face when we return home, desperately trying to re-strengthen the attachment with us following a period of unnatural social isolation.
If you are trying to stop your dog from jumping up, it is important to remember that he will be more likely to do this if he is rewarded with your attention when he does it. Try to ignore the behaviour or turn your back on the dog and wait until he is calm before giving him your attention. Alternatively, calmly ask him to “sit” and offer him praise and attention when he does so. By making sitting more rewarding than jumping up, your dog will soon offer you this behaviour instead. ©
Having a well-behaved dog is a priority for most owners. To help achieve this, the dog’s requirements for physical exercise and mental stimulation must be met.
One of the ways we can mentally stimulate our dogs is through the use of toys and chews. Dog toys come in a variety of forms; some are designed specifically for solitary use (e.g. food dispensing balls), and others are more appropriate for play with humans or other dogs (e.g. tug toys).
When choosing appropriate toys and chews for your dog, you should be aware that extremely hard products could potentially break teeth, especially if your dog is a powerful chewer. The size of the product should also be appropriate for your dog, in order to minimise choking or ingestion risks.
In the past, people have been led to believe that engaging in a game of tug with a dog can increase the likelihood that he will show aggressive behaviour. However, research does not show this, even when the dog is given the opportunity to regularly ‘win’ the game! Nevertheless, playing tug can be very exciting for some dogs, so it is important to teach your dog how to ‘take it’ and ‘drop’ upon request before the game is played. The tug toy should also be long enough to avoid accidental contact between the dog’s teeth and your hand.
If your dog is elderly, or has physical difficulties limiting his level of exercise, puzzle toys such as the ‘Nina Ottosson – Dog Tornado’ offer a great way to provide mental stimulation without too much physical exertion.
Supplying your dog with toys doesn't have to be expensive either. Homemade toys are a cheap, safe and effective way of entertaining your dog, as long as their use is closely supervised and they are immediately removed if any attempt is made to consume them. So, why not try tying a few knots in an old towel to make a tug toy, or give your dog an old cereal box to rip up and throw around? Some other doggy favourites include old plastic water bottles (with lids removed) and empty margarine tubs with pate smothered inside!©
Most dog owners will agree that walks in the park are more enjoyable when you are able to let your dog safely off lead, knowing that he will happily return when called.
Having previously trained guide dogs, I never underestimate the importance of a reliable recall. Can you imagine letting your dog off lead to play in the park, without being able to see where he is and trusting that he will return?
The key to good recall lies in the ability to effectively compete for your dog’s attention against all surrounding distractions, such as other animals, dogs and people. In order to do this you have to convince your dog that you are interesting and worth coming back to.
The first step is to find out what your dog loves the most, such as food or toys, and then use this as your dog’s reward for recall. Initially you should practice in your home and garden, creating a positive association for your dog coming back when called. Remember to reward each successful recall and also try increasing your distance from your dog.
Once your dog is returning to you reliably, you can then choose environments with increased distractions, in order to consolidate his recall. This allows you to build up a solid foundation of successful recall responses, making it more likely that your dog will respond when the distractions become even greater.
Please remember never to tell your dog off when he returns, despite how long it may take him, as this will punish the very behaviour you have requested, making him less likely to come when called in the future.
It is also a good idea to practice recalling your dog throughout the walk, to avoid your dog predicting the end of the walk and so choosing not to return.
Aside from training, there are few better ways to improve your dog’s general behaviour, than the provision of regular opportunities to expend his energy through exercise.
Taking your dog for a daily walk, is a great way for you both to get out in the fresh air and spend some quality time together; it also offers the positive health benefits of regular exercise.
Walks with dogs can vary from off-lead romps through the local park, to simple lead walks through the streets. All types of walks offer ways for your dog to engage in natural behaviours that he will find enriching. Whichever type of walk you choose, you can be sure that there will be value in it from your dog’s perspective!
It is well known, that a dog’s sense of smell enables remarkable feats such as drug or cancer detection, and is actually thought to be more than 10,000 times more powerful than that of a human’s. As any dog owner will testify, use of this powerful sense is often displayed on walks, with the dog’s nose stuck to the ground following some secret, mysterious aroma!
Knowing how important the sense of smell is to dogs and seeing how much they enjoy a good old sniff, why not allow your dog’s next lead walk to include more of what he enjoys? If this means patiently waiting whilst your dog is glued to the spot sniffing a lamppost, then why not do just that? After all, your dog is simply fulfilling an instinctual urge to gain information from any previous dogs’ ‘pee mail’.
Allowing your dog to engage in this enriching behaviour, without constantly dragging him away, will provide increased mental stimulation and an additional outlet for his energy. It may even lead to a happier dog! ©
It is a sobering fact that every single day in the UK dogs are euthanised because they display behaviour problems that their owners find difficult to cope with. These behaviours are often preventable and can stem from a lack of fulfillment of the dog’s instinctual needs. Take destructive behaviours in the home as an example, dogs are social animals that desire the company of others. When a dog is left at home alone, the lack of social companionship and stimulation can lead to them performing behaviours that inherently make them feel more comfortable (but which we may deem inappropriate) such as chewing furniture or shoes. They may also display signs of distress, such as toileting, barking or howling.
A great way to tackle this type of separation-related behaviour problem is to set the dog up to succeed in your absence. I regularly advise owners to take their dogs for a walk before they leave to go to out, making it more likely that they will sleep when they are left. Often, simply leaving the radio on for the dog can alleviate the stark contrast between you being there and the quietness of an empty house. If your dog is inclined to chew or bark in your absence then why not provide him with several food stuffed chew toys to consume whilst you are out? By being directed to these appropriate chewing outlets just before you leave, he will be able to engage in his natural scavenging instinct, be less inclined to chew on furniture, bark, etc. and your absence will be felt much less than if he were left at home to just twiddle his paws! The king of all food stuffable chew toys has to be the ‘Kong’, and can be found in all good pet shops.
Sometimes simple measures such as these are not enough to overcome a dog’s separation related issues. In these situations, it is recommended that you contact your veterinarian who can refer you to a suitably qualified behaviourist. Enrolling your dog in a well-run doggy daycare is another helpful idea too. ©
Most people are aware of the very real danger that dogs can die in hot cars. Despite this, the RSPCA receives nearly 6000 phone calls each year from concerned members of the public who have spotted dogs that have been left unattended in rapidly heating vehicles.
Dogs lower their body temperature by pulling cool air into their mouths when panting. If the air is already warm, such as of that in a hot car, panting does not work and the dog is unable to cool down. Within minutes the dog will begin to suffer from the effects of heatstroke, which can very quickly lead to death. This situation is not solely restricted to hot vehicles either, the same can also occur when dogs are confined inside conservatories or caravans on warm days.
In the event of such sad, yet preventable, deaths, reasons such as ‘I forgot he was in the car’ or ‘It didn’t feel that hot outside’ offer little consolation for the grieving owner. Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, prosecution for causing unnecessary suffering to the animal is also a distinct possibility.
It is important to realise that dogs should never be left alone in a vehicle and that leaving windows open, providing bowls of water, using a windscreen sunshield or parking in the shade will not make the situation safe for the dog.
If you encounter a dog suffering from heatstroke (early signs include panting excessively, salivating and very rapid heartbeat), move him to a cool, shaded area and contact a vet immediately for advice. It is important to douse the dog with cool, but not cold, water in order to gradually lower his body temperature. Small amounts of cool water should also be offered for drinking and the dog should be taken to the vets for treatment.
The RSPCA advises anyone who sees a dog left unattended in a car on a warm day to ring 999 immediately. ©
Scavenging comes naturally to dogs. In fact, they would spend most of their day acting on this instinct if they didn’t have us presenting them with the same quick bowl of food every morning and night. Herein lies the problem, what is your dog to do with all this extra time on his paws?
All dogs should receive walks and reward-based training, both of which are effective ways to combat boredom. You can also introduce enrichment toys and activities that involve sniffing to find food, as this will not only harness your dog’s most powerful sense, but will also provide an outlet for his natural scavenging instinct, helping to occupy your faithful friend.
Some ideas include using part of his daily food ration to stuff Kongs and Buster cubes, or scattering dried kibble onto a clean area of grass outside for him to sniff out and eat. You could even try sprinkling some treats into a cardboard box containing large pieces of scrunched up old newspaper, so that your dog has to really rummage around to try and find his food rewards.
Teaching your dog to follow a scent trail is enjoyable too. To do this, place some strong smelling cheese into an old sock and allow your dog to sniff it. Next, take your dog into a different room and leave him there for a minute whilst you slowly drag the sock along the floor to a hiding place (whilst your dog is new to the game, you can also place a few treats along the scent trail to make it easier). Bring your dog back into the room containing the scent trail and encourage him to begin sniffing along it, remembering to praise him as he moves along. When he finds the sock, reward him with the cheese from inside it! Begin with short and easy trails initially, until he gets the hang of the game.
Activities such as these require minimal owner time and effort, but are a great way to enrich your dog’s life and reduce the potential for boredom related behaviour problems. Also, taking your dog to a well-run doggy daycare is another great way of enriching your dog’s life too. ©
Walk into any pet shop and you are sure to be faced with a vast array of delectable dog training treats.
As someone who prides himself on being an up-to-date, ethical dog trainer, I am thrilled to see the growth that positive, reward-based training has had over recent years.
Despite this growth, some ‘traditional’ dog trainers would still rather use intimidating methods that cause fear and pain in the dog. Not only this, but they also contest the use of food reward and make false claims about this type of training to the general dog owning public. This serves to create confusion and unease, which needs to be addressed.
Firstly, these trainers argue that because dogs have lived by our side for tens of thousands of years, they should instinctively want to follow our requests just to please us. This is simply not the case. Dogs, like any animal (including humans), have to be motivated to perform a particular behaviour, and food rewards can be useful for this. In fact, food is such a strong positive reinforcer that it is effective in training animals such as dolphins, killer whales and birds of prey; proving that there is no need for ‘old-fashioned’ punitive methods.
Other common myths that people are led to believe include the notion that food treats are used to bribe the dog, and that once used, the owner needs to carry treats around forever. This is untrue, a bribe and a reward are two different things. A bribe involves presenting the food before the desired behaviour, such as by waving a treat at a dog in order to get him to come to you, and a reward is when the food treat is presented after the behaviour is performed. When reward-based training is done correctly, the dog does not have to have the promise of food before complying with a request. And, once a particular behaviour has been fully taught and is being performed reliably by the dog, other things that the dog finds motivating, such as play, can be used as a replacement for the food.
The benefits of using food rewards are many, but above all, the dog will enjoy being involved in the training. It is important to remember however that if they are used, the dog’s daily meal intake should be adjusted accordingly, in order to prevent him from becoming overweight. ©
In this day and age the majority of dogs spend most of their time indoors, making toilet training a big priority.
If you are currently having difficulty toilet training your dog, it is important to rule out any potential medical cause for the behaviour by taking him to be examined by your vet, as certain health issues may undermine your training.
To teach your dog what is required, start by taking him to the appropriate toileting area every two hours throughout the day. Once there, gently praise for pre-toileting behaviours such as sniffing or circling, and increase your praise as he begins to eliminate. As soon as toileting is complete (within 1 second), provide him with a very tasty food reward.
You should also try to prevent your dog from getting into the habit of going to the toilet inside your home too. To do this, he needs be supervised at all times when indoors, until four consecutive weeks have passed without any toileting accidents (baby gates can come in very handy during this time!).
If you happen to catch your dog toileting in the house you should make a sudden (not scary!) noise in order to interrupt him, quickly followed by gently taking him outside in order to finish his business. It is important to realise that if your dog has toileted in the house but you did not witness it, then any reprimands you make will not be associated with the mistake because dogs only live in the ‘here and now’.
It is important to stress that successful toilet training does not require punishment and that dogs do not toilet in the house out of any malice. Also, old-fashioned methods such as ‘rubbing the dog’s nose in it’ should be avoided as they are unjust, ineffective, and will damage the bond between you and your dog.
Finally, any areas within the house that have been used for toileting need to be thoroughly soaked with an enzymatic cleaner such as ‘Simple Solution®’ in order to prevent the dog from being encouraged to use the area again. ©