Did you know that your dog has up to 300 million olfactory receptors whereas we only have 6 million? This means a dog can smell a drop of blood in a room the size of an Olympic swimming pool! The part of your dog’s brain that deals with this is 40 times larger than ours meaning smell is their primary sense.
I see lots of people taking their dog for a walk yet they don’t allow them to sniff. Can you imagine going to the cinema with a blindfold over your eyes? By not letting your dog sniff this is essentially what you are doing. It can take a dog up to 12 seconds to get all of the information they need from one smell e.g What animal has been there previously? Was that animal ill? Do they know that animal? Was the animal in season? And lots more. In the dog world we say our dogs are going for a walk to read their ‘pee mails’!
Do you know how your dog’s nose works? It can separate air into 2 and each nostril can work independently. They can even take in air and breath out at the same time. Have you ever tried to do that? I can guarantee you can’t (I bet you’re trying now though!).
There are lots of benefits to scentwork including
Calming. Anything your dog does that includes licking, sniffing or chewing can release relaxing endorphins in your dogs body.
Mental stimulation. We are so fixated on the physical fitness of our dogs that mental stimulation is often overlooked. Regular brain work has been linked with a reduction in doggy dementia in later life.
Decompression. Lots of dogs are constantly chasing balls and running around. They never do anything calming. This means adrenaline is always keeping them ‘wired’ so they can’t relax. I often see if with certain breeds e.g Border Collies. The long term implications of this aren’t great for a dogs health mentally and physically. By all means let them run about to use up some energy but then encourage them to sniff so they can switch off and properly relax once home.
Reduction in reactivity. By allowing your dog to sniff it can work as a great distraction when that big scary bike is coming past. It can also release those relaxing endorphins desperately needed in certain situations. It will build focus on the owner too. I use scent work with Vinnie and it helps with his reactivity.
Increase in confidence. Free work is a common exercise used by trainers to help anxious and nervous dogs and one of the things we do in free work is encourage sniffing. As the dog submerges itself into the exercise it forgets about everything else that is going on and completely relaxes. You even see the muscles relax as the dog begins to enjoy what it is doing.
Channelling the nose. You will never stop your dog sniffing. This is something that I say to people a lot! My question is why would you want to? By introducing scentwork into your dogs life you are allowing them that vent that they need and using it to your advantage. This will allow your dog to be a dog but will also give you some control and will massively improve your bond.
The good thing about scentwork is that any dog can do it. Whether you have a puppy, a senior dog, a reactive dog, a nervous dog, a Pug or a German Shepard, scentwork will be work. The chances are you probably already do scentwork by playing ‘find it’ or scattering your dog’s food.
I’m sure lots of you watched Crufts this year, or have seen Dragons Den? You may have been lucky enough to see Jamie Pound, owner of UK Sniffer Dogs, talking about scent detection. Jamie is the person that trained me for my UK Sniffer Dogs Bronze Instructor qualification. In this clip https://youtu.be/8-N6JcBW-ZY Jamie talks you through different ways to introduce your dog to scent.
In May I will be running UK Sniffer Dogs workshops and classes. These are at various days, times and locations. During these sessions your dog will learn how to indicate a scent, how to search for a scent and how to identify a specific scent. We start using a whole red Kong but as your dog improves it will search for smaller and smaller pieces in a variety of objects. Not only will your dog’s nose twitch but it’s tail will wag faster than ever as the excitement builds up to indicating that scent.
We work with food, but if your dog isn’t food motivated. No problem, we can use a toy. There is a way around everything. Bad weather? Even better, then rain can disrupt scents making it more fun for the dog. Your dog has a disability? Vinnie is partially sighted, arthritic and now deaf. He still loved every single second of scent detection. My dog is reactive? Book onto a workshop as they are outside so your dog can have space.
Scentwork isn’t just for working dogs and Spaniels. It really is for everybody.
Booking closes 8 days before the first session due to preparation you need to do with your dog. For more information or to book head over to the following link
I get asked a lot by clients about dog daycare and if I think it would be suitable for their dog. Every response I give is different.
Some dogs thrive in daycare, some dogs can’t cope. Some dogs love the larger daycare companies whereas others prefer to be in a home with 2 or 3 other dogs.
Every dog is different.
Charmain from The House Of Muddy Paws has written a blog for me regarding what you should be looking for in daycare. It is incredibly important to pick the correct one for your dog as it can hugely impact behaviour…….and don’t be upset if your dog doesn’t enjoy it. We expect alot from our dogs and put yourself in their shoes. Do you want to be friends with everyone you meet or do you prefer time on your own?
As a dog trainer on a regular basis I hear experienced clients say “My dog loved other dogs before lockdown” and new puppy owners often say “My dog doesn’t know how to act with other dogs now restrictions have eased.”
Lockdown has affected everyone, even our dogs. You may have had to shield meaning your dog wasn’t walked as much as usual, your dog daycare may have had to close due to staff testing positive or you may have followed government advice and avoided contact with others as much as possible.
Do you find it strange now restrictions have lifted? I know I do…..and we understand what has been happeniing over the past 18 months but imagine how our dogs feel.
Older dogs have had to stay home lots more, not interact with other dogs and have had to deal with a mch busier home due to home schooling and working from home.
Puppies have missed out on the socialisation they need in the first few months of their lives. Then all of a sudden they see other dogs and are expected to know exactly how to behave.
All too often I am seeing off lead dogs bounding over to dogs on lead and not listening when the other dog is saying “give me space”. Owners with puppies go straight over to a strange dog to introduce them and then complain that their dog gets too excited. Then puppies then think all dogs are friendly and this can end incredibly badly.
Having a well socialised dog is incredibly important but it needs to be socialisd in the right way. Most people know the problems that can come with an undersocialised dog but did you know oversocialising can have just as many problem?
Socialisation walks can be of a massive benefit it run properly. Not only will they help create a polite, confident, well socialised dog but your dog will also learn important life skills such as impulse control. To be run safely they need to be done in a controlled environment with all dogs being on lead. They will have space between them and only be interacting in a positive way. This is why it is important to understand a dogs body language and to respond to it. Even the angle of a dogs approach to another dog is important. Lots of people don’t realise that eye to eye comtact can be threatening and that dogs should approach side on to avoid conflict.
If you feel your dog needs some help with socialisation I am starting monthly walks at The Dog Orchard secure dog walking field in Grundisburgh from September. These will be 45 minutes long, with a maximum of 10 dogs per walk who must all be on lead. There will be one walk aimed at puppies under 6 months and one walk aimed at dogs over 6 months.
To book or for more details please click on the button below.
Please be aware that these are not suitable for reactive dogs. If you are unsure if your dog would be suitable please contact me on email@example.com or call 01473931221 and we can have a chat. It may be that your dog needs some 1-2-1 training before moving onto socialisation walks.
These walks are purely for socialisation and not to be used for any other training needs. If demand is high more walks will be scheduled.
Please dress according to the weather conditions and be aware the field can be muddy.
This months guest blog comes from Joe Nutkins of Dog Training For Essex And Suffolk. She is going to talk us through how we can help our dogs stay fit and healthy when they get into their older years. This blog massively resonates with me as Vinnie is a senior and is slowing down alot now.
Joe is a certified Professional Canine Fitness Trainer, KC Accredited Instructor, Accredited Canine Hoopers UK Instructor and a pet bereavement counsellor.
Joe works with famillies with their dogs from puppy through to senior but has a special place in her heart for the oldies.
Joe uses holistic therapies including red light therapy and zoopharmacognosy for her dog’s Merlin ans Ripley who are both Norwich Terriers. She lives with her husband, dogs, rescue hens, ducks and quail. One of which is a house dog called Echo!
We have all heard the saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” but as the proud owner of one Senior Dog currently and two senior dogs a few years ago as well as being a dog trainer of senior dogs classes I can confirm that the saying just is very far from reality!!
I’d like to suggest a celebration of our older dogs and this blog is a general guide for owners of dogs approaching senior years and dogs in their senior years to continue providing mental stimulation as well as helping towards keeping them fit and active. I have now been the proud owner of three Senior Dogs, who loved doing new things at all ages and I got to spend 16 1/2 years and 13 1/2 years with Cassie and Taylor plus Merlin is currently 9 years old; they have all trained and worked with me from puppy through to their senior years. I am also a pet dog trainer and on top of regular classes and training session I run Senior Dog classes throughout the year to help provide a comfortable class environment for older dogs without younger excitable dogs causing any concern and covering a combination of exercises including brain work, body strengthening and awareness plus advice on enrichment and health of older dogs.
Working with so many older dogs it has been a real privilege over the last few years to speak to the owners and they tell me they are so pleased to see their veteran dog wanting to work again with them, or even better that they hadn’t trained their dog before but wanted to see how they did in the senior dog class and can’t believe how much their dog enjoyed it! Showing that it truly is never too late to start working with dogs – all ages and abilities can enjoy doing something new for the enrichment, bonding and fun of it!!
My own Senior dogs have just been up Mount Snowdon in Wales in May 2016! Cassie had a little extra help with a robust dog stroller when needed and we did have rests (I have ME so require rests while walking my dogs) and all three dogs loved the changes in terrain and things to sniff!! Keeping them mobile using canine conditioning exercises for their individual needs helps ensure they can do these more adventurous walks plus the brain work we do keeps the mind active and able to stay aware of surroundings and enjoy going to new places with confidence. Once our dogs become classed as Senior, over 7 years usually, I urge owners to continue their learning and play as well as looking into ways diet and other areas can contribute to keeping our Golden Oldies young at heart.
I adore Older Dogs – they have so much to give!
So, what is an ‘Older Dog’?
Senior ages tend to differ a little depending on the breed type of a dog. Smaller dogs tend to grow and develop quicker as Puppies but then the ageing process slows right down during adulthood so although classed as Senior at 7 years old they often don’t start showing their age until nearer 9-10 years. Compare this to Large and Giant breeds which take another 6-9 months to grow and mature as Puppies but by the age of 7-8 are often feeling the strain of long walks and vigorous exercise. This is a generalisation of course, as an exceptionally fit and healthy larger breed can still be very active at 10 while a smaller dog on a poor diet, overweight and not in good health can slow right down by age 6/7. But it’s valuable to understand that a larger breed dog slowing down in regular classes at 5-6 years old could benefit from adjustments to welcome the ageing process and help them thrive again!
There are a few things that we, our dogs caregiver, can consider when looking at our own dogs to determine if they are showing signs of aging:
* Eating habits can often change – either going off the food usually loved, or wanting to eat more. * Changes in weight – either gaining weight quicker which needs addressing to help keep the heart healthy, or loosing weight steadily which can lead to issues with the body including organ function. * Attitude towards walks seems to have changed, perhaps reluctant to go out for a walk or slower while out. * Changes in hearing or eyesight – not hearing you get home at first or you notice they are surprised by movement and shadows or confuse you for other people nearby. * You may spot that they take longer to properly wake up or physically get up after a sleep, which can be due to physical limitations and not specifically due to age but can be signs of joint stiffness or back discomfort. * Activities they usually do with ease become harder work or they start mis-judging or avoiding things like jumping in the back door or getting on/off the sofa.
On identifying some areas above such as changes in sight or hearing, going off food or weight changes do book a vets appointment just to rule out anything medical – many dogs are not ready to be classed as senior at 7 years old and the signs you’ve noticed could be indicators of something easily adjusted with vets help. Once cleared by a vet or given some support through medication or supplements dogs can then start working on preparing for older age through strengthening the body with physical conditioning and strengthening the mind with brain work and mental stimulation.
Noteworthy considerations when owning or working with an Older Dog
I personally know of many older dogs who are physically in better condition and can impress with their tricks and training more then some younger dogs, I still feel it’s beneficial in the long term to understand how to spot some of the common changes often occurring with older dogs and how we can address them. Some of these changes can also occur in any age of dog, but if your dog hasn’t shown signs of them previously there is an increased chance of them starting once your dog is heading to double figures.
Changes in hearing and attention – We’ve all experienced selective deafness with dogs! There becomes a fine line with dogs coming into senior stages of life where they could genuinely not be hearing us so clearly, or the usual routines and ‘rules’ have been relaxed enough that a dog is seeing what they can get away with or they are pretending and using their selective hearing!
Before going deaf some dogs can go through changes like tinnitus which will cause sounds to be distorted or unusual to them and can actually contribute to new fears developing. If you spot new behaviour responses with your dog when hearing sounds they have heard for years then that can indicate hearing changes.
Changes in vision – One of the most common issues older dogs can develop with their eyes is a thickening of the lens. It’s quite natural and can happen gradually or more quickly and often dogs can appear to be walking into something invisible or into cobwebs so suddenly recoil when we cannot see anything there. There are eyedrops that can help reduce this and really helped Taylor’s eyes when he had exactly this issue age 10-11 years old.
Cataracts can develop at almost any age but are more commonly associated with older dogs. Cataracts can be slowed and turned around medically when caught early enough but can also be soothed and slowed through specific eyedrops and increasing specific vitamins. Cataracts can often be spotted when a dog’s eye starts to look more cloudy and blue if usually brown and can be caused by genetics as well as trauma to the eye, nutritional needs and other eye health issues.
Mobility and Activity Levels Declining – As our dogs age they will have experienced more and more wear and tear on their bodies including the joints, muscles, tendons etc and this tends to add up to reduced mobility over time, just like with us! Arthritis is something often associated with older dogs but can affect dogs under a year old, however once a dog is considered Senior it’s definitely worth looking at ways we can help ease any arthritis discomfort or potential joint and mobility issues for the future.
What your dog does when younger can strongly affect how they are when older. For example if your dog jumps out of the car when you go out somewhere that is putting unnatural pressure on the front legs, shoulders, spine etc. Imagine that as a once a week walk for several years. Now imagine that is 4-5 days a week for several years!! Using a ramp or picking your dog up out of the car from now can really help reduce the front legs becoming weaker or painful. Slippery floors can cause damage to dogs’ bodies from puppy age onwards as when slipping they will try to over compensate, tense the body and this causes unnatural gait and weight shifting which can tear ligaments, pull muscles etc. Having mats down on the floor especially where your dogs bed is or lays down, where they need to turn a corner etc will really help them for their whole lives.
When our older dogs start slowing down it is very easy for us caregivers to try and help them by stopping or reducing their activity, but this can actually cause our dogs to then be unable to continue at their new reduced level of activity due to muscle wastage, loosing interest or even gaining weight from not being as active! Although when they slow down they might not be able to do a 5 mile walk in one go or an hours agility class it doesn’t mean they need to stop completely! Shorter walks but to different places where there is varied terrain and new things to investigate keeps the mind active as well as the body. Trying activities like tricks training, canine Hoopers, Scentwork etc can be great to give your dog a new purpose and sense of enthusiasm, and doing something like canine fitness / conditioning, hydro (with vets referral) or even low level canine parkour can help with muscle strength, body awareness and enjoying their fun times with you!
One area that can really help dogs to continue with their regular walks, training, exercises etc is to ensure the body is prepared for the activity so there is less chance of injury or accident. Warming up can be done in a few ways and there are always more to learn that are more specific to your dog. If your dog has any actual physical issues I do advise seeking veterinary advice or seeing a canine physiotherapist or rehab professional to ensure your dog is getting the correct exercises to suit them.
By contacting a Canine Massage Specialist you will be able to work on a plan for your own dog to use that is specific for them and will help them in many more ways then just warming up. Canine Massage specialists will also be able to confirm what exercise suit your dogs body type and needs.
Moving your dog a little before exercise is also advisable. This may sound odd, getting your dog to move before they do more movement but for a warm up I mean do a few minutes of gentle or slow walking before they go off lead and run about or chase a ball. Guide your dog to walk in a circle one way then the other before starting a long walk, giving your dog a short on lead stroll before going down to the beach and running on the uneven sand. Human’s doing exercise do not go from sitting on the couch to running down the road, and dog’s shouldn’t either. So from the house or car give your older dog a few mins slower walking or mooching before they move onto running, jumping, chasing toys etc.
At the end of a walk giving your dog a chance to cool that body back down is just as important as warming up. So again if your dog has been running and playing with other dogs let them have a couple of minutes walking calmly with you before you reach home or go back to the car, if you are having a longer hike across hills and rough terrain then give your dog a few minutes sniffing and walking slowly on grass before going and stopping at a cafe for a break. If you are doing activities at a training class such as agility or heelwork to music you can finish by walking with your dog in a large circle clockwise then anti clockwise to bring your dog’s body back to it’s usual state.
Conditioning and Strengthening can play a really big role in all dog’s lives, especially those who are older. Conditioning work involves helping the whole body stay mobile and there are many ways to do this including general walks on different types of ground surface, help and advice from canine conditioning specialists, wag and tone training, physio, massage and chiropractic work and more. Conditioning also helps with body awareness which in turn helps older dog’s not trip over things while walking, not bumping into door frames while passing through doors etc. Strengthening work often starts with overall core work and then develops into targeting more specific areas, such as the back legs which tend to be one of the first areas to weaken in older dogs.
There are canine professionals who can help work out a plan for your dog individually, or check your local training centres for conditioning classes or sessions. You can also learn about canine conditioning more through places like Fenzi Dog Sports Academy who offer courses about Canine Conditioning which help with the understanding of the exercises but are not designed to diagnose or replace veterinary advice.
Alternative Therapies to help with Mobility and Comfort.
If you do find your older dog becoming stiffer or has pain or discomfort from joints or other issues, once diagnosed or confirmed by your vet there are many alternative ways of helping ease their symptoms. Hydrotherapy has become very popular for dogs of all ages and not only helps dogs post surgery to regain strength and mobility, but is also beneficial for older dogs who are feeling the strain on their joints and bones as the hydro pool provides relief from inflammation, reduces the stress or weight on the body or weak limbs, and can build strength to continue improving.
Laser therapy can help with issues including the skeletal and muscular areas, providing both pain relief and actively healing damaged areas. Laser can help older dogs to gain pain relief without pain meds and side effects and is non evasive also.
Massage and Ttouch is very good for older dogs for a number of reasons. Professionals will be able to design a programme to suit your dog best and provide relief from discomfort, anxiety, help them settle at home better and often will be able to show owners some methods they can continue at home which provides additional one to one time with your Senior dog, thus increasing your bond even further.
Chiropractors and Physiotherapists, again referred by your vet, will be able to diagnose specific issues with your dog that are more permanent or causing more pain, and then design a programme to help adjust your dog’s level of pain and discomfort leading to increased mobility, comfort, returning to walks, better metabolism and more.
Ramps for mobility. It’s still important to help your dog do as much for themselves as possible as activity helps continue activity so instead of lifting them or picking up for steps try looking at introducing ramps for steps into home and garden. Bring in steps or a small ramp in areas where your dogs usually jumps down from such as the sofa or raised garden – these help keep your dog’s independence plus are good strengthening work and takes the force off shoulders and back through jumping down. For indoors there are many small ramps with a carpeted surface which look fine in the home.
Use of harnesses for mobility. Older dogs can find their back legs are one of the first areas to become weaker and this can mean walking becomes harder work or even holding themselves up to toilet is more difficult. There are a vast amount of companies creating harnesses to help with mobility for dogs – including rear end to support rear leg weakness, full body harnesses to help a disabled dog start regaining strength in the lead after operations or alongside conditioning and physio work, harnesses to help a dog stand back up after sleeping or to help lift in and out of the car. If you find your dog has some weaknesses or difficulties with walking or standing or a side effect from pain medication, then using harnesses can really help your dog stay mobile and clean and protect your back more too!
Check ups with the Vet are more important with Senior Dogs – Changes in our dogs body can happen much quicker when dogs are older so having check ups more regularly then once a year can help spot something as soon as it changes or appears. This might be a change in mobility, signs of arthritis, dental pain, loss of hearing or sight or might be changes in general behaviour. These checkups can highlight changes in the body quicker and diagnose issues to help treat. There are tests for older dogs to check for things like Cushings disease, Canine Dysfunction, liver and kidney function, how healthy the heart is and much more. I used to take 12 year old Taylor and 16 year old Cassie for their OAP checkups every 6 months or so. There are also urine tests that can be done routinely for older dogs at the vets to check for things like diabetes. You may decide that annual vaccinations are no longer needed once your dog is over 7-10 years older but so often stopping vaccinations means stopping annual health checks – please keep the health checks going!
Enrichment is an incredibly important activity to include in your dog’s life. There are so many benefits including confidence building, calming, improved behaviour, better eating habits, expressing natural behaviours and bond building.
Enrichment should not only benefit you as a dog owner but your dog should also benefit mentally and physically. Anything that involves your dog sniffing, licking or chewing will be giving your dog that mental stimulation that it needs.
Did you know 5 minutes of mental stimulation is roughly the equivalent of 20 minutes exercise? Now that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exercise your dog, of course you should, but the brain needs exercise too which a lot of people forget.
In fact too much physical exercise can have a detrimental impact on your dog’s health such as long term joint issues and constantly increased adrenaline levels resulting in a dog that can’t relax.
Mental stimulation has also been linked with a reduction in dog dementia which is a big problem for a lot of senior dogs at the moment.
It’s a common misconception that you have to spend lots of money on puzzle toys. You can make so much at home with things you would usually throw away. If you have children include them in this too as it’s a safe way for them to get invloved with your dog’s training and will help with bond building.
By thinking outside of the box you can incorporate cheap and easy ideas into your dog’s life such as;
food inside a closed egg box
food inside a toilet roll tube then folded at each end
food in a bowl with balls on top
a sniffy walk
introducing scent work using your dog’s favourite toys
bowl free feeding
a walk in a new environment
good interaction with you or another friendly dog
Why spend £20 on a plastic puzzle toy that is bad for the environment and once your dog figures out how it works it’s useless?
If you do want to buy equipment to help enrich your dog’s life there are a few must haves that I always suggest to owners;
Always take into account the age, breed and ability of your dog. If your dog finds what you’re doing easy you can make it a bit more difficult. However, don’t make it so difficult that your dog gets frustrated. That isn’t what enrichment is about.
Likewise if your dog gets annoyed and finds it too hard, make it easier. If it is the first time you have introduced this particular activity you may have to show your dog what to do first.
I use enrichment in a lot of my training and if you follow me on Facebook (The Ipswich Dog Trainer) or Instagram (@theipswichdogtrainer) you will have seen lots of pictures. I like to include Vinnie enjoying lots of different enrichment in my posts
I always talk about it to new puppy owners during training as it is a great way to build a dog’s confidence…….and a confident dog is a happy dog! During 1-2-1 training sessions it can be used to calm over aroused dogs, it can help the dog get a good association with things it is fearful of and it can help with dogs that get bored and destructive.
Other times you can use enrichment are if your dog needs crate rest after an operation, if your dog is elderly and can’t do the physical exercise it used to (or maybe you can’t do the physical exercise you used to!) or if the area you live in is experiencing extreme weather such as thunderstorms, snow or heat.
Hopefully this blog has given you some ideas on how to enrich your dog’s life whether you are a dog owner or professional. This is a subject I’m incredibly passionate about and I hope you are too!
You all know that I can be a bit of a broken record when it comes to nutrition but it is such an important subject to me. I do talk about raw feeding alot but I know many of you aren’t comfortable with it, or just don’t have the freezer space to store it.
Cold pressed food is the stop gap between off the shelf dog food and raw. The way it is processed guarantees lots of nutrients are kept in the end product meaning your dog is much healthier.
This months guest blog comes from Lucy Millar, the founder of Rún who make cold pressed dog food. Lucy has 2 dogs called Murphy and Ripley who have helped pave the way to the career she has now.
Lucy was a Baroque Violinist (!) before becoming a puppy trainer and now she runs Rún. Just like myself one of her first questions she would ask puppy owners is “What are you feeding?”. That would generally lead to an in-depth conversation about dog food and the long term health benefits, as well as short term behaviour benefits of being on a good diet.
This lead to Lucy taking more of an interest in the science behind dog food and in 2019 she discovered cold pressed dog food. Once she knew more about the manufacturing process she knew she would champion it. The next year was spent creating Rún- learning about ingredients, speaking with packaging manufacturers and, most importantly, many meetings with her fantastic nutritionist.
“I am so very proud of the food that we have created. Rùn’s recipes are designed with science and canine health absolutely at the heart, with carefully balanced nutrient levels, just the right amounts of proteins and fats, and an incredibly gentle manufacturing method, to keep all of those nutrients intact. Murphy and Ripley absolutely love it!”
To learn more about Rún and how cold pressed food can benefit your dog click on the link below.
I have been working with lots of owners recently with various things they need help with. There are some basics that need to be pretty solid for all of the other training to fall into place and one thing that is really underrated is focus. If you haven’t got any focus from your dog then they definitely wont come back to you when off lead and they won’t respond to you around distractions.
One of the first things I teach on my 1-2-1 puppy course is ‘look at me’ which encourages your dog to get eye contact with you. It’s a really simple command to teach but can have huge benefits in the future.
Start by having your dog infront of you and ask for ‘look at me’, when your dog gives you eye contact, mark and reward. You can use a clicker, a hand signal or a verbal command as a marker. It’s whatever works best for you and your dog.
When your dog has this solid in the home it’s now time to increase distractions. First of all in the garden, then on walks, in parks etc.
Don’t increase the difficulty level too quickly as you will be setting your dog up to fail!
Lots of dogs pull on the lead when they are focused on something else e.g another dog, rabbit, car, person etc. Asking for ‘look at me’ and getting your dog’s focus back will help to loosen the lead.
When off lead asking for ‘look at me’ will stop your dog straying too far. It means your dog knows that you always have to remain in eyesight. When your dog hits that confident teenage phase (which they all do!) and they run further than normal this will mean they shouldn’t run out of sight. Lots of dogs go missing during the teenage phase so putting in as much training as possible beforehand will hugely help.
It is important that everyone in the home can get focus from your dog as it will make the training more evenly balanced and everyone will have a great bond.
I often get asked by clients if their dogs look a good weight and alot of the time the answer is yes. Sometimes I have to be honest and say that the dog could do with losing a few lb’s.
It’s really easy for that extra bit of weight to creep up on your dog……a few extra treats here and there, food from the table, post op, owner illness or just purely being spoilt. Although you may think you’re being kind to your dog the longterm health implications are huge including heart disease, joint issues and early mortality.
It is never too late to get your dog in shape (and it is never too early to get on top of it).
In this months guest blog Veterinary Surgeon Caroline Taylor talks about how to keep your dog at a healthy weight, what to look for in a healthy diet, how to help them lose weight and how to keep them interested in food.
Caroline has been a vet for 18 years and has told me that during the pandemic obese or overweight dogs are at their highest, with over 55% falling into these catagories.
At the end of the blog is a link to her Facebook group Slimline Canine-SLIM Solutions for Overweight Dogs. Caroline has a FREE 5 day challange starting on Monday which will be full of tips and activities to help your dog loose weight. The 5 day challange is an introduction to a 12 week programme you can follow up with if you choose to.
I’m sure you all know by now that I only have a few weeks left before there is a new addition to the household. With this in mind I thought I would base this months blog on preparing your dog for this big change. Although we already have a toddler running around I’m sure Vinnie has forgotten what it is like to have a newborn here…….I’m pretty sure I have!
I have to admit then when I was pregnant with George I totally underestimated the effect it would have on Vinnie even though I thought I had done lots of desensitisation with him. I have certainly learned some lessons which is why I’m determined to get it right this time, especially now Vinnie is even older and just wants a quiet life.
The biggest thing I thought I had done enough work with was the sound of a baby crying but the sounds I played weren’t that of a newborn baby. Anyone that has had children will know the sound of a newborn is different to the sound of any other cry. So this time I have played the sound of a newborn and gradually turned the volume up as Vinnie ignores it. I have also stroked him and spoken to him while it is playing so he has a good association with the sound. By clicking on the button below you will be directed to the YouTube clip I have been using.
Other things you can do to prepare your dog include practising walking with the pram and/or sling. This will get your dog used to the movement and means you can train them to walk nicely if they don’t already.
Feeding is also something to think about. However you choose to feed will create a new smell for your dog. Although you may not be able to replicate that until baby is born you can get a doll and hold it as if you were feeding. Atleast your dog will get used to the sight of a baby being fed, and if you play the crying baby noise too it will be another thing to help.
Moses baskets, play mats and toys will be a new thing too. Get these out before baby arrives so your dog can investigate. Play boundary games so your dog doesn’t think the play mat is a new bed. Clicking on the following link will take you to a YouTube clip on how to teach your dog the bed cue https://youtu.be/t07AkD3riqQ
Teaching a really good ‘leave it’ and ‘drop it’ will come in handy with toys, especially if you have a puppy!
If baby doesn’t come straight home from hospital it is worth letting your dog sniff a babygrow or vest that baby has slept in. This will get your dog used to the new smell and it won’t be so keen to investigate when baby does come home. When your baby does come home let your dog have a sniff of a used nappy, but make sure they don’t try to eat it as it can be a big choking hazard (and will be fairly gross!).
If you do have a baby due soon things are going to be very different due to Covid but if the roadmap keeps easing you will inevitably have visitors. This can be a huge shock to your dog as they will be so used to having the home and garden to themselves. Make sure your dog has its own space to go to, whether that is a bed, crate or different room. It’s really important that if things get too much they can go and relax away from all of the hustle and bustle.
Sleep and separation anxiety can also become an issue. Sleep deprivation is something we underestimate and we also forget it can also have an impact on our dogs. Depending on your situation it is highly likely you will be spending more time at home which means your dog may not be getting the neccassary rest it needs and they will get used to you being there (if they aren’t already due to lockdown!). If you feel up to it still try and go out for a short time so your dog can recharge it’s batteries and to help prevent any attachment that can lead to separation anxiety. It will also help you mentally to get out and get some fresh air!
It’s really important to remember never to leave your dog and baby alone, even if you’re just nipping to the toilet. You could have the worlds best behaved dog but babies can be unpredictable. They have a startle reflex which could frighten your dog meaning they react in a way they never normally would. Either take your baby or your dog with you but don’t take the risk of leaving them together.
Knowing how to read your dog’s body language is really important. Subtle signs such as lip licking, turning away and yawning can all be signs your dog is stressed. As always these things have to be seen in context e.g your dog may be yawning because it is tired and not because it is stressed. Being aware of these things means you will be able manage the situation before you end up with an anxious or reactive dog.
The picture below shows the body language signals your dog may go through and some of them are really subtle. However, picking up on them will prevent the dog reaching the top of the list. For more information on how to read your dog get intouch about the accredited Canine Body Language course I teach.
Having a child and a dog in the home can be such an amazing thing. The bond between Vinnie and George melts my heart so I’m hoping the same happens with our new arrival. The most important thing is to enjoy the pregnancy, don’t stress too much and be sensible with your dog when baby arrives.
Scientific studies have even shown children have less chance of developing asthma and they have a better immune system if they live in a home with a cat or dog.
My last few weeks before baby arrives will be spent having quality time with Vinnie……..and trying to get some sleep!
Your dog will visit the vet at various points in it’s lifetime and it hugely helps if your dog is comfortable there. Not only does it help your dog have a good association but it also helps the vet do there job safely. In the current situation where most vets won’t allow owners into consultation rooms due to Covid restrictions I think this is even more important than ever.
In week 3 of my puppy course we go through lots of confidence building exercises that help your dog in lots of different situations, including the vets. Something as simple as teaching your dog to ‘stand’ on command means it will be in the correct position for the vet to check it’s pulse. It’s always better for the dog to voluntarily go into position than being forced.
In this months guest blog Katey talks about how you can help your dog, how you can help your vet, how to decide which veterinary practise to use and she goes through some common myths you may have heard.