Monday, October 20, 2008

Dog Training 101: Fear Biting

A fear-bite is a bite that occurs out of sheer panic. It’s not to be confused with dominance-aggression, which is a sign of deep-set personality problems; a fear-biter isn’t necessarily a ‘fierce’ dog. He’s just scared. Why does fear-biting happen? A fear-biter bites because it’s his only way of expressing his extreme fear or panic, and his only way of telling his owner that he can’t handle the situation. Almost all cases of fear-biting are actually caused by well-meaning, but ill-advised, humans: they see what’s clearly a scared dog, and – intending to either comfort the dog or to show him that there’s ‘nothing to be afraid of’ – they approach too close, and push an already-anxious dog over the edge. Dogs can’t ask us to please leave them alone. They can’t tell us that something’s bothering them, or that they need some space: all they can do is sign the message to us through their body-language. It’s easy to tell when a dog’s feeling scared or panicky once you know what to look for. Fear-biting never just happens ‘out of the blue’: it only occurs when people ignore the signs. Fear-biting: the warning signs Fear-biters are submissive dogs. When faced with a new situation or unfamiliar people, they do not react with the customary effortless confidence of a well-socialized, well-adjusted dog: instead, they become nervy and on edge. A scared dog, when faced with the unfamiliar, will assume a distinctively submissive posture, and will display several marked behaviors. The more common of these are listed below. Posture - Tail tucked (or, if docked, the back legs will crouch down and the haunches will ‘tuck’) - Hunched, lowered back - Ears flat against the head - Elbows bent in a slight crouch Behaviors Excessive panting (hyperventilating) Yawning (an attempt to reduce tension) Avoidance of eye contact In extreme cases, a dog may also urinate or defecate out of fear What makes some dogs into fear-biters? All dogs undergo what’s called a fear-imprint stage when they’re about eight weeks old, and another one at about fourteen weeks. During this period of a dog’s formative puppyhood, he’s significantly more prone to ‘spookiness’: being excessively startled by new experiences and situations. If a dog has a scare during this time which isn’t properly dealt with by the owner (ie, after receiving a scare, he isn’t then taught not to be frightened of that thing), he may develop a life-long phobia towards that object. For example, if he’s been frightened by a repairman arriving at the door unexpectedly, and isn’t then acclimatized to that person, he may develop a long-standing phobia of men who resemble that repairman (men with beards, men in overalls, men holding toolboxes, etc). Some dogs are also just highly-strung and more prone to anxiety because of their breeding. Certain breeds – typically, the more intelligent ones, and the ones emotionally dependent on close, regular interaction with humans – have proven themselves more likely to develop phobias and excessive shyness than other, more emotionally stable breeds. A few of these ‘anxious’ breeds include Weimaraners, Great Danes, and Border Collies. A history of trauma or abuse is another major cause of fear-biting: many abandoned or abused dogs develop anxiety problems, which, without proper treatment, may progress into fear-biting. The difference between shyness and fear-biting It’s quite natural for some dogs to exhibit signs of shyness towards unfamiliar situations. It doesn’t mean that that dog is a ‘difficult dog’, or that he will grow up to be a fear-biter – some shyness is to be expected in almost all dogs at one point or another. Shyness only becomes a problem when it begins to interfere with the course of daily life: when a dog can no longer be trusted around strangers, for example, or if his behavior is endangering his own safety (scared dogs often bolt, sometimes across busy roads), or when your own life becomes significantly restricted by your dog’s fear. How to cope with fear-biting First of all, make sure your own attitude to the problem is realistic. While the behavior of a fearful dog can often be significantly ameliorated by careful training and acclimatization, on other occasions – and sometimes, despite your best efforts – a dog will remain fearful to the end of his days. You cannot force your dog to overcome his fear. Treatment requires patience, persistence, and consistency: rough treatment (anger, frustration, shouting, a take-no-prisoners approach) usually worsens the problem, because it increases the dog’s anxiety levels instead of decreasing them. You cannot train a scared dog not to bite: he’s responding to a powerful blend of instinct and sheer panic. No training in the world can counteract these two things – as motivators, they’re just too strong. What you can do is, firstly, build up your dog’s confidence, to reduce his overall anxiety and tension levels; and, secondly, pay close attention the cause of his fear, and work to desensitize him to it. Building up his confidence Obedience training is a great vehicle for doling out praise and rewards: simply dispensing treats at random won’t do any good, since the issue here is drawing attention to achievement and good behavior (your dog can tell the difference between an earned and an un-earned reward!). Start small, with basic obedience classes, and practice the commands for five to ten minutes every day. Remember to set him up for success: start off with the easy commands, and make sure he’s thoroughly comfortable with them before progressing to the next level. Always treat and praise liberally for good behavior. Desensitizing him to the fear-object Desensitizing your dog is all about slowly accustoming him to whatever it is that’s eliciting the fear response, at a pace that’s comfortable for him. The emphasis is on maintaining comfort levels: your aim here is to keep your dog happy and serene (as much as possible), so that he learns through direct experience that the cause of the fear isn’t actually scary after all. So if he’s afraid of, say, the vacuum cleaner, start integrating it into daily life. Remember to move slowly and not to push him too far, too fast: start by simply leaving it out in a prominent position, where he’ll have lots of incidental contact with it (for example, in the middle of the lounge carpet). Allow him plenty of opportunity to sniff it and walk around it, Play with him near it; feed him near it. Integrate the object or the situation (whether it’s the garbage truck, strangers approaching the door, small children, driving in the car) into normal, everyday life as much as possible. Counterconditioning Once he’s become desensitized enough to the fear-object that he’s reasonably calm around it (so, he might be exhibiting signs of fear, but isn’t panic-stricken to the point of wetting himself or hiding), you can start counterconditioning: teaching him to associate good things with the fear-object. You can do this by dispensing treats liberally, and doling out lavish praise for any improvements in his fear-levels. Do’s and Don’ts Do: Cue your dog. He takes his emotional and psychological cues from you, so make sure you’re a good role model. Adopt a straightforward, no-nonsense attitude, and stick to it. When he’s frightened, talk to him in a relaxed, don’t-be-silly manner, keeping your tone matter of fact and direct. Socialize him frequently and thoroughly. Even though the most critical socialization period is from eight to sixteen weeks, it should still be an ongoing process throughout your dog’s life. The more opportunity he has to accustom himself to the ways of the world, the easier it will be for him to see that, really, there’s not much to be scared of. Be patient and move slowly. Don’t try to rush your dog, or force him to confront objects, people, or situations that he’s scared of – you’re trying to countercondition his learned fear-reflex, and you’re not going to do that by teaching him to associate feelings of anxiety with the fear-object. Pay attention to his body language at all times. Some whining and trembling are OK, but if he’s wetting himself, hyperventilating, and showing the whites of his eyes, he probably needs some space. Even though a fear-bite isn’t inflicted out of a direct desire to cause harm, it’s still a bite, so give him what he needs! Don’t: Crowd him. Scared dogs need space, more than anything else – you won’t make things easier for him by entering his ‘personal bubble’. If he’s really scared, back off, and wait for him to approach you. If he’s hiding, or strenuously resisting your direction, pay attention to what he’s trying to tell you: that he’s not comfortable enough to proceed yet. Forcing him outside his comfort zone is when bites happen. Don’t coddle him or reward his fearful behavior with special attention. It’s great to praise, pet, and cuddle him for good behavior, increased calmness, and being brave enough to approach/sniff/explore the object of fear – it’s not good to reward him for fearful behavior. Save the special attention for when he deserves it: remember to reward the behavior you wish to see repeated; ignore the behavior you don’t. For further information For more information on problem behavior in dogs, check out SitStayFetch. It’s a comprehensive training manual for dog-owners, and covers just about everything you could ever want to know about raising a happy, healthy, well-adjusted dog: from canine psychology to dog whispering to preventing and handling problem behaviors to obedience training, SitStayFetch has it all covered. You can visit the SitStayFetch website by clicking on the link below:

Kingdom of Pets: Sit-Stay-Fetch

Friday, October 10, 2008

Brandy (July 13,1999-October 10,2008)

I was shocked to come home tonight and find my dog Brandy dead on the floor. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, there was something wrong as Brand had been having diarrhea the past 2 weeks. At first I thought it was because I changed the dogs diet a couple weeks ago. But I changed her food back but she was still having problems. I had it in the back of my mind to take a stool sample to the vet next week. I certainly wasn't expecting this.

The sad thing about a dog dying is nobody except you knows what the dog meant. There won't be any funeral, no monuments or prizes to remember the life by. But Brandy was an angel in fur. Her life started out hard. In 1999 I wanted another German Shepherd and saw this ad in the paper. I went down and saw Brandy and her brothers and sisters by the river. They were in dirty surroundings so I had second thoughts.

I kept thinking about Brandy so after a week went by I called the guy and he said he still had her. So I picked her up and brought her home. She was covered in ticks and vomited roundworms, but after that recovered and was on her way.

Brandy was sweet as pie but always a little shy around strangers. I remember once I enrolled her in an obedience class and she was shaking like a leaf the first day. By the end of the class though, she was doing great. They had these contests and she won the "sit" contest. I feel silly but I was very proud of her.

When I got Brandy I had a male German Shepherd named Sam who was a couple of years older. Sam and Brandy were always the best of friends, throughout Sam's life until he died last year. They kind of reminded me of an old couple.

Brandy, like most dogs-had two favorite pasttimes-walking and chasing balls. Brandy loved chasing balls, and she loved hiking in the mountains. I have owned lots of dogs and I have to say without a doubt Brandy loved going out in the mountains more than any other dog.

The past few weeks I guess it was obvious something was wrong, but I never would have imagined it was life threatening. I will feel guilty the rest of my life for not having done something soon enough.

Pay attention to the health of your dog. Today might be their last day on earth.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Book Exerpt: Dog Health From A to Z

Dog Health from A to Z is a quick glance guide to health conditions and illnesses you need to be aware of that can affect your dog. The guide is meant to be easy to read and quick and to the point, telling you what a given disease or condition is about, what the symptoms are, and how its treated. In this sample passage, we discuss roundworms.

In a Nutshell
One late summer afternoon, my new puppy Brandy, an 8 week old German Shepherd, threw up in her crate. To my horror there was a big pile of worms there—long white, featureless yet disgusting looking fellows. Brandy had a roundworm infestation.
Unlike tapeworms, roundworms have solid, unsegmented bodies that some people describe as looking like spaghetti. They can be big-adult females are around 7 inches long. They can also be nasty for puppies, causing malnutrition and even intestinal blockage.

Brandy, a roundworm survivor

Where do they come from?

Roundworms can be obtained in basically one of four ways:
If the mother is infected, puppies can obtain the infection while in utero
Puppies can also obtain the infection from their mothers milk while nursing
Dogs can pick up roundworm eggs from the soil
Eating an infected rodent like a rabbit can transmit roundworms

Roundworm eggs are passed out into the environment from the dogs feces. As a result, roundworm is detected by testing a fecal sample at your veterinarian's office. When the eggs are picked up by the got, usually by picking up some dirt containing eggs and ingesting it, the eggs hatch in the intestinal tract then a rather complicated life cycle begins. Are you ready for this? Let's break it down into stages:

The baby worms migrate to the liver where they hold up in encrusted cysts.
At some point, they decide to get out of the cysts. From there, they migrate to the lungs.
Once in the lungs, they utilize the air passages to make their way to the throat. This stage is often indicated by a dog which is coughing.
When the worms are coughed up into the throat, they make their way back down-to the intestines again!
This time they mature into adult worms. They mate, absorb nutrients from the dog and lay eggs which come out in the dogs feces.
Strange fact: If the dog is pregnant, the worms hatching out from encrusted cysts in the liver don't go for the lungs, instead they find the puppies and infect them. Brilliant strategy!

When my dog Brandy vomited up a whole pile of worms, well it was pretty obvious what was going on. But you may not be so lucky. So here are some symptoms of roundworm infection you should be aware of, especially if getting a new puppy:

  • Coughing
  • Pneumonia
  • A pot-bellied appearance
  • Vomiting of worms
  • Diarrhea, especially in puppies

In serious infestations, there can be so many roundworms that they clog up and choke off the intestines. This can be a serious health problem for the dog.

While discovering the worms can be quite unnerving, the treatment is actually very easy. Roundworms can be treated easily using an orally administered de-wormer. Some effective dewormers include Heartgard Plus, Febantel and Panacur.

Dog Food Update

Well last night was the clincher. At about 3 AM my German Shepherd Brandy walked out into the hallway, waking me up. I didn't pay much attention until I heard a big explosion: of the diarrhea kind! Almost complete liquid. Brandy is a really good dog and has never had problems with going potty inside, but she looked awfully happy after this episode! I was miserable, having to clean up dog poop that was completely liquid at 3 AM! Luckily I had some Nature's Miracle on hand that made it much easier. Anyway so this afternoon I stopped by PetSmart and picked up a big bag of Nutro. Give that a few days to see if it clears up the digestive problems with the dogs. If not I guess I will have to head to the vet and see if its something else, but at this point I'm pretty sure the Solid Gold just hasn't been agreeing with the dogs. I am putting Brandy all on Nutro right away, but will be mixing half and half Solid Gold/Nutro for the other dogs.

Thumbs Down on Solid Gold

Well my experiment with Solid Gold dog food is coming to a disappointing close. Despite the rave reviews given by most people it just isn't sitting well with two of my dogs, who have been having chronic diarrhea since being on it. I was hoping that they would become acclimated to the food and the problems would fade. Unfortunately that doesn't seem to be happening. Not sure where to turn next, I could just go back to Purina One. I did feed my dogs Nutro at one point, which is supposed to be a good dog food, I may try that.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Bringing Home Lucy the Weimaraner

My 3 year old weimaraner Lucy is completely nuts. So when I knew I had to keep Tony the German Shepherd Dog confined for 42 days straight because of heartworm treatment, I thought getting a vacation from Lucy was a good idea for all of us. So off Lucy went to my mom's house for a little vacation and an extended visit with my mom's German Shepherd, Smokey.

Well now that Tony is over his heartworm, Lucy has returned. Bringing Lucy home has drummed up some old issues. For one, I have 3 female dogs and 2 male dogs. Once, a long time before I had 5 dogs, I asked a vet which is better: multiple male dogs or multiple female dogs? The vet, perhaps speaking from a point of view best described as naive, insisted that having multiple female dogs was far better.

Whoa could anything be further from the truth. Just like a caddy of women at the office, having multiple female dogs is a serious problem. Here is my take on it. You get multiple male dogs, and yes they are going to fight. Once. That's it. One time, end of story. They sort out who's in charge, then after that everything runs smoothly.

Not so with the um...bitches! Female dogs are constantly jockying for position. Like I said, its just like having an office with nothing but women. Two female dogs, well that seems to work out OK. But three represents some kind of tipping point.

A funny observation: over the past 8 weeks while Tony was undergoing his treatment, my female Akita Naomi has been skimping on her food. Not eating at all sometimes. Hell this is a good thing because Naomi is a bit overweight despite walks in the mountains. But since Lucy came back-all of the suddent Naomi's got to eat every last crumb.

Unfortunately for my German Shepherd Dog Brandy, who is a real sweetee-she is at the bottom of the female heirarchy. Brandy is basically a real gentle dog, but for some reason she likes taking her stress out on the males. She used to bark like crazy and do lots of fake attacks on Sam the German Shepherd. Now she takes her anger out on Jake and Tony. But for some reason, when it comes to the girls Brandy is real passive. She won't fight back at all when Naomi and Lucy pick on her, and even seems afraid to get a drink of water (Naomi and Lucy growl and bark near the water bowl, despite my objections). Since Lucy has been back home Brandy's been spending lots of time hiding.

Well things will work themselves out, they always have. But that vet was seriously mistaken. My male dogs have always gotten along great but female dogs never seem to sort it out. It always seems to be contant battling and bickering amongst female dogs to see who is on top and who is in the middle. They don't seem to sort things out all in one go the way male dogs do.

Well what is your experience? If you've had large numbers of dogs I'd like to hear how they sorted out their heirarchy.

Heartworm Update

Well the heartworm treatment for my dog Tony is apparently over, although I won't know for sure for about 6 months. It will be then that the vet will do another heartworm test to find out if the treatment worked. At least I am able to let Tony out of the crate for now and he can resume a normal life. A dog that has tested positive for heartworm must be on heartworm preventative year round from that point on.

Anyway I let Tony engage in one of his favorite past-times, which is chasing the laser light. Lucy, my weimaraner loves doing that too. She also likes chasing flashlights shining on the ceiling. You can get the laser toys at Pet Smart, they're a great investment for your dogs. Here is a short video. Tony is the black German Shepherd Dog. Sorry for the mess I've been doing some remodeling ;)