Creating an Enriched Environment for your Dog

When I was doing my Education with Turid, enriched environments were one of the first things we learned about. An enriched environment is basically an area that’s been set up to stimulate the dog’s senses- things to look at, sniff, touch, investigate, climb on, etc. The dog should be left to interact with the enriched environment without any input from the humans and be free to walk away when they want to.

I’ll admit, I was sceptical… it sounded almost too easy to be true. Would putting out random stuff for a dog to investigate really make a difference to their behaviour? Well, 18 months later, at the end of our course, we all had to present a project. Some of my fellow students had been working in shelters, and for their projects had put Turid’s methods into practice in the shelters, including the enriched environment, and recorded their findings. A lot of the dogs these people were working with had real issues- some were reactive to other dogs, some were reactive to people, some were just incredibly stressed or shut down. The changes they reported back were incredible. The dogs became calmer, and more focused and their behaviour improved.

 

Shelter dog Sheena

A shelter dog (courtesy of Caroline Lewis) unwinding in an enriched environment.

So if I wasn’t convinced before, I certainly was then. Often, we’re reluctant to try the more simple things, especially for complex problems. We think ‘that won’t work for my dog’, and we don’t try, or we give up too soon. But if enriched environments can help shelter dogs, often some of the most stressed and ‘difficult’ dogs in our society, there’s no reason not to try them with our own dogs.

 

When to use an enriched environment

Dogs are naturally curious creatures, so really an enriched environment is a great idea for any dog. Putting out new things will pique their curiosity, and as they amble around investigating they’ll be using their brains and developing confidence. And of course, it’s interesting, in the same way as browsing your favourite shop or discovering a new place and seeing new things is for us.

Bad weather day? Dog on restricted exercise after an injury? It’s a great way to alleviate boredom! You don’t need to go anywhere, you just need to find new things to put in the same place.

Enriched environments are also particularly useful with dogs who are scared or stressed. It’s a great way of providing mental stimulation without subjecting them to walks or places they might find stressful or scary. Also, because there’s no human input once the environment has been created, the dogs’ confidence can grow. They’re making decisions and thinking for themselves. They have choice, an essential component for overcoming fear. They’re getting practice at encountering strange or new objects in a safe space, which they can leave at any time.

With dogs who are scared or stressed, they may initially have very little interest in investigating. They may constantly look to their owner for reassurance. They may find the enriched environment overwhelming and leave very quickly. That’s absolutely fine. Just try again a few days later. And then a few days later. You can time your dog to see if they begin to get more confident/more interested/more relaxed.

For dogs who are over-excited or lacking focus, environmental enrichment can teach them to slow down and begin to engage with their environment. Once they slow down, they can begin to think before they act. They’ll be using their noses, and sniffing slows the heart rate, calming them down (read more about sniffing here). As with fearful or stressed dogs, it may take some time before they’re relaxed enough to really engage with things. That’s fine too, stick with it!

 

Tips for creating an enriched environment

  • Don’t use anything that could injure your dog;
  • Don’t use anything that you wouldn’t want your dog to pee on or destroy (they don’t tend to, but if you suddenly have to leap up and try to get something from your dog you’ll be undermining the object of the exercise);
  • Your enriched environment can be inside or outside;
  • Your dog should be off-lead and free to move towards/away from things as they wish;
  • Change things up each time you create an enriched environment. Things will lose appeal once they’ve been thoroughly investigated. Have lots of things to rotate, introduce new things when you can, or lend your items to friends so they come back smelling different;
  • Don’t distract your dog. Don’t praise them, don’t stroke them, don’t call them away, just leave them to it;
  • Let them leave once they’re ready to- no pressure, no targets. They may wander away and come back, or they may leave and lie down. Just let your dog lead
  • All that investigating is more work than you’d imagine- when your dog is finished with the enriched environment, they’ll probably be very tired. Make sure they have time to rest!

 

Things to include

There’s no recipe for an enriched environment. Just use your imagination! Kids can be really good at coming up with novel ideas. Here are just a few suggestions to start you off:

 

Things that smell interesting Things that feel interesting Things that look interesting Things that move/make noises
  •  Laundry
  •  Other dogs’ toys/bedding
  • Things that smell of other animals- sheep’s wool, animal skins, horse’s brushes. I once got some used hamster bedding from the local petshop!
  •  Safe plants and herbs
  • Sticks from the park
  •  Hay bales

 

  • Tarpaulin
  •  Sandpit
  •  Soft furnishings
  • Leaves in autumn
  •  Dried seaweed
  •  Hay

 

  • Traffic cones
  • Teddy bears
  • Black sack with clothes or other items in
  • Household items- vacuum cleaner, drying rack
  • Cans/tins suspended from strings
  • Toy buggies or carts
  • Wind chimes

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a video of Seren, a 4 year old Duck Tolling Retriever, exploring an enriched environment (with thanks to Kirsty Grant for the video and Seren’s human, C. Holborrow!).

Have you any good ideas for things to include in an enriched environment?? Do leave a comment if you have!

 

My new book ‘Office Dogs; The Manual’ is now available to pre-order on Amazon. Find it here!

 

The Gift of a Growl

 

‘He growled at me the other day!’

This is something I hear commonly from clients. It is always uttered with a tone of shocked and offended indignance which would lead you to believe

growl

Ok, so it mightn’t look pretty, but growling is a wonderful warning system, and a really clear piece of communication which should never be punished.

that their dog had done something truly awful.But growling is a normal, natural, functional part of the dog’s vocabulary, and one we misunderstand terribly. Almost invariably, when people tell me that their dog has growled at them, they see the growl as a threat. An indication that the dog wishes to harm them. The irony is that a growl is exactly the reverse of this! Dogs growl to avoid conflict.

Dogs don’t speak the way we do, but that’s not to say they don’t have a complex system of communication. Their communication comprises body language, sounds, and odour.

Their range of sounds includes whining, whimpering, barking, howling, ‘chatting’, yelping, and of course, growling. As a highly social species, one of the primary purposes of communication for a dog is to avoid conflict. Growling is no exception. A growl says ‘I don’t want to fight, but I do want you to know I’m not comfortable with this’.

A growl rarely comes out of nowhere. If a dog is feeling uncomfortable with a situation, you can nearly always spot it in their body language first- they freeze, they look away, they show the whites of their eyes. They might lick their lips or yawn. However, we humans often miss these signals, and when we do, the dog is forced to escalate their behaviour, and a lot of the time, nobody hears the dog until they do growl.

And a growl is a wonderful gift. The growl itself is not an act of aggression, it is the only way the dog can make itself heard when all of his other signals have been ignored. If you punish a growl, you are disabling a really useful warning system. If a dog’s body language is ignored, and his voice is punished, he’s only left with one way of communicating- his teeth.

So, if your dog growls at you:

  1. Stop what you were doing and give the dog space;
  2. If you really need your dog to do something, try and think of a less confrontational way of asking him to do it. For instance, if he’s eating something he shouldn’t, he may be happy to leave it if you offer him the opportunity to do a treat search elsewhere;
  3. Come up with a plan for dealing with similar situations in the future. If your dog growled because you tried to move him from the couch, perhaps you could do some work around training an ‘off’ for future use. If the issue was food he shouldn’t eat, perhaps you can teach a ‘leave’;
  4. Question your own motivation. Often people are moving a dog or acting in a threatening way because they’ve been told they need to show their dog who’s boss. This sort of thinking is based on outdated theories and will only serve to damage your relationship with your dog and lead to more serious problems down the line. Don’t take things from your dog or make him move for the sake of proving you can.
  5. Most importantly, don’t punish your dog in any way. You can read more on the pitfalls of punishment here.

Don’t silence your dog. Don’t lose the gift of a growl.

The Dog House Blues Tearoom, Howth -Dog Friendly Spots in Dublin

 

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With the weather as it was (that is to say, unusually hot for Dublin!), we made a trip out to Howth this weekend. This presented me with the perfect opportunity to scope out the Dog House, a dog-friendly tea room and restaurant that I’d heard of from a friend.

Howth is a super place to bring your dog, with lots of great walking spots around- Deer Park, the cliff walks, walks along the pier for those who require flat surfaces, and of course, the beach. I usually bring my dogs to the Hole-in-the-Wall end of the beach, which is often a little less busy than the end closest to the Dart station. When the tide is out, you can walk right the way around from the hole in the wall to the Dart station.

The Dog House is situated just to the right of Howth Dart station if you take the main exit through the ticket office. It has both outdoor and indoor seating. Dogs are only permitted in the outdoor area but it is spacious, covered, well-sheltered and cosy, with the air of a trendy youth hostel!

There was background music (easy listening, nothing offensive!) and some general restaurant-related noise, but none of it uncomfortably loud for my own rather sensitive human ears. Although dogs’ hearing is better than ours, I suspect that the level of noise here was no greater than what you might find in a lot of houses.

There are couches and arm-

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Penny, a canine visitor making herself at home on the couches!

chairs, many covered with throws. Dogs are allowed on the chairs and sofas, so no need to bring your own dog bed here!

The layout is quite good and even if there were a number of dogs in there, it would be easy to maintain a comfortable distance. A lot of the seating areas are in little hubs, so the furniture and other customers would form natural barriers for dogs who didn’t want to be too close to others.

Water bowls are provided, and when I asked our server about snacks for the dogs, he told me they have little bowls of chicken in the kitchen fridge, should they be required by the canine clientele.

I also enquired as to whether there’d been any issues with people complaining about the dogs. I was told that some people did grumble, and request that the dogs be asked to leave, but they were informed that the dogs were allowed, and would not be asked to leave. So nice to see the canines maintained equal standing in this fine establishment!

So, in short, paws out of 5:

Local walks: 5

Dog-friendly layout: 5

Creature comforts: 5

Doggy drinks and snacks: 4 (losing a paw only because it wasn’t apparent that doggy snacks were available, and it seems a travesty for any dog to miss out on a bowl of chicken!)

Noise: 3

Staff dog-friendly: 5

NOTE FOR NERVOUS DOGS: If you have a nervous dog, avoid the seats by the main thoroughfare. If you move to the back of the restaurant there are some seating areas back from this where your dog might be better able to relax.

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We humans had to eat too… in the interests of research of course!

My new book ‘Office Dogs; The Manual’ is now available to pre-order on Amazon. Find it here!

 

Dublin’s Dog-Friendly Spots

I moved back to Dublin in May after nearly 10 years in the UK. With me, of course, came my two greyhounds. I was really delighted to find that Dublin is a lot more dog-friendly now than it was when I left 10 years ago! There are pubs and cafes that will welcome your pooch with open arms all over the city.

This is obviously a great development for our dogs and for us. Dogs are social creatures who like to get involved with what we’re doing. They are curious animals who like to see (and smell!) new places, taste new things and have new experiences. So visiting a dog friendly café can be a really nice experience for your dog, and a great form of mental stimulation.

But, as with any activity that we’re involving our dogs in, it’s really important to think about it from their perspective too… Just because somewhere allows dogs, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all dogs will enjoy it. So I would always recommend visiting without your dog first.

With this in mind, here are some of my thoughts on some of the things you might wish to consider, some of the things you might want to bring with you, and how you can set your dog up for success in these situations.

Things to Consider

  • Noise- our dogs’ hearing is considered to be about 4 times better than ours. Bars and cafés can be noisy places, so this is something to consider when you’re thinking of bringing your dog. Is there loud music playing? Do the staff shout at each other a lot? Are there quieter spots available?
  • A suitable position- your dog will probably settle easier if he can be a bit away from the main thoroughfares. Lots of people passing too close to your dog could be
    stressful, and toes or tails could be trod upon.
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    Fia enjoying a cheese bread at our local dog-friendly cafe in London!

    Facilities- a lot of the dog friendly spots I’ve been to in London are ok with dogs on the furniture (very handy for spoilt greyhounds not accustomed to floors!). If this is not the case, you may want to bring along a bed or cushion for your dog.
  • Water- most dog friendly spots will have a nice big bowl of water for our furry friends. If not, you may want to bring your own, especially if you’ll be calling in after a walk.

Things to Bring

If your dog is not used to settling in strange places, you may want to consider taking some of the following along:

  • Somewhere comfortable to relax- bringing a cushion, bed, or mat that your dog is familiar with may help them settle;
  • Something to do- for instance, fleece-backed snuffle-mats (available from
    my shop). The idea with these is that you can hide treats in them, which the dog has to sniff around to find. Sniffing is a great activity for your dog to engage in; it’s a tiring activity, and a calming one (read more here). If you have a small or medium sized dog, these can also double-up as a spot to lie down. Making treat parcels is another way to engage your dog’s brain. 

  • Something to chew- chewing releases serotonin in the brain, helping your dog feel happy and relaxed. The only challenge may be finding something that is appealing but not too smelly!
  • If there’ll be nothing suitable for your dog to eat, you may want to bring along some snacks. I believe that variety is the spice of life however, and I find that even if they don’t have dog treats, most spots will have something your dog will enjoy. Our local café in London sold frozen yoghurt, which was much appreciated by Fia, as well as cheese bread. Now, these are not my recommendations for a healthy, balanced diet, but a little bit of what you like… (obviously avoid anything toxic for dogs such as chocolate, raisins, and the artificial sweetener xylitol!).

 

Something to teach

I’m not one for tricks or training doggy robots. But I do like to teach dogs useful life skills, and one such skill is learning to relax in a variety of situations – such as a café or pub! Turid Rugaas calls these calm sessions, and there’s really nothing to it.

You’ll want to start somewhere not too distracting. Your house or garden is fine. Pop your dog on his harness and a long lead. Have a few comfortable spots around for your dog to choose to relax in. Hold on to your lead. Sit down somewhere. Now, don’t look at your dog, don’t speak to your dog (especially don’t cue or command your dog to sit or lie), don’t touch your dog. And most importantly, DON’T MOVE an inch! Then just wait for your dog to lie down and relax… This can happen quite quickly, or can take a while. It will happen though. When your dog does relax, say nothing. As Turid says, the reward is the feeling of being relaxed. Your dog won’t need any other reinforcement. Stay with your dog for a while, and end the session while the dog is still very relaxed. You can practice for short periods of time in various places, and once your dog has the hang of it, try it in the dog-friendly spot of your choosing.

Don’t worry if it takes your dog a few attempts to learn to relax easily- a lot of dogs can struggle to relax initially. But having a dog who can sit down and relax with you when you go to your local café, is really nice for both human and dog!

Anyhow, watch this space! LovinDublin put together a list of some of the dog friendly spots in Dublin. I’ll be visiting some of these places (and others) over the coming weeks and months, and will report back on my findings!

 

 

https://lovindublin.com/sponsored/18-places-in-dublin-to-eat-and-drink-with-your-dog-in-tow-for-2016

The Great Crate Debate

‘Whether you’re beaten or pampered, fed the best foods or starved, kept in filth or kept clean, a cage is still a cage’

– Anne Bishop

 

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When I decided to write this article, it was not without a degree of trepidation. I recalled the apprehension I feel whenever I tell clients that I don’t approve of crating. I feel apprehensive because I expect to be met with resistance and I don’t want to alienate my clients. Nevertheless, it is an issue that I feel is especially pertinent.

Currently, the practice of crating is ubiquitous. In an average puppy class, I expect that at least 3 out of the 4 puppies present will probably be ‘crate trained’ or undergoing ‘crate training’. I understand that people are not crating their dogs to be cruel. And I understand that there are a lot of people out there who think that dogs love their crates; that putting a dog in a crate helps them feel safe. However, I feel very strongly that confining a dog to a cage for hours is unnecessary, and unkind. And that no animal ever likes to be locked in a cage. There, I said it!

In our society, a rhetoric has built up around crates, which sanitises their use. We speak of ‘crates’ and ‘dens’ rather than ‘cages’. However, when we see any other animal confined to a cage, we don’t generally think of it as a den or a crate! We simply see an animal locked in a cage and deprived of freedom. Comparatively, in Sweden and Finland, legislation prohibits keeping dogs in crates, apart from for the purposes of travel. Even then, they must be walked every 2-3 hours. Most puppies I meet here in the UK (and a lot of adult dogs) are confined to cages for at least 8-10 hours overnight. People often tell me that they don’t crate their dogs… apart from overnight – this still represents nearly half their lives! A lot are also put in cages if their humans are going out during the day. For some, whose owners work, they are crated for another 8-10 hours a day, getting out for a walk with a dog walker somewhere in the middle.

The problems wth crates are manifold, but one of the issues is that they inhibit natural behaviour. The Animal Welfare Act recognises an animal’s need to be housed in a suitable environment, and to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns. Caging a dog, by its very nature, deprives him of the opportunity to exhibit normal behaviour patterns such as elimination, free movement, and the opportunity to socialise with others.

ELIMINATION:

One of the most common uses for a crate is to toilet train. In this situation, the crate is being used to deliberately prevent a dog from exhibiting the normal behaviour of eliminating. The idea is that a dog won’t eliminate in his sleeping area.

So you potentially have a dog desperately needing to go to the toilet, and being faced with the choice of holding it, without knowing how long for, or soiling their bed and lying in it. This is particularly cruel in the case of a puppy, who simply doesn’t have the physical control to ‘hold it’.

Furthermore, dogs who are forced by confinement to soil their sleeping area can eventually overwrite their instinct to be clean in their living quarters, causing long term toilet training issues!

FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT:

Many crates (often to facilitate toilet-training) are just big enough for the dog to stand, turn around and lie down in.

Although in the UK there are no restrictions on caging a pet dog, there are guidelines surrounding the housing of lab animals. While I think it is horrendous to keep animals in labs, I think it forms an interesting comparison that the guidelines surrounding the housing of say, laboratory beagles, affords them greater space and freedom to exhibit normal behaviours than a typical crated dog.

The National Institutes of Health guide for the care and use of laboratory animals recommends that dogs have kennels, runs or pen, rather than cages. The space guidelines suggest 8ft2 per dog.

Inhibiting movement for long periods of time can also have detrimental consequences on the health of a dog. In humans, remaining sedentary for hours can cause variety of health problems: joint and muscular pains, depression and anxiety, and even premature death. I’m sure the same will apply to dogs.

DEPRIVATION OF SOCIAL CONTACT:

Dogs are social creatures, and puppies especially have a developmental need for sustained social contact. From birth, puppies are programmed to gravitate towards the warmth of their mum and litter-mates. Often, when puppies are taken home for the first time, they spend their first night isolated and alone in a cage, away from family members. As dogs are a social species, the aforementioned National Institutes of Health guidelines for lab animals recommend that they be housed in pairs or groups. Isolating a dog in a cage is at odds with their need for social contact.

Dogs of all ages are also social sleepers and depriving them of the opportunity to sleep with their social group can be a contributing factor to dogs developing behaviour problems.

Additionally, dogs are polyphasic sleepers, so being forced to sleep in the one spot for 8-10 hours will go against their natural sleep behaviour. They cannot move around, stretch, or find a new spot to sleep like they might if they were afforded the freedom to do so. Read more about dogs and sleep here

THERMOREGULATION:

Dogs do not perspire to regulate their body temperature as humans do. They reduce their temperature by panting, and by lying out on cool surfaces. Most crates I see have their floor covered with beddings and/or pee pads, leaving a dog no cool ground on which to stretch out on should they become too warm.

MISCONCEPTIONS

There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding crates. Many people who extol the use of crating claim that the crate is a ‘den’ for the dog. Dogs are not, in fact, den-dwelling creatures! And even if they were, they would never be locked in a den!

Crates are often used to deal with separation anxiety in dogs. However, a study found that contrary to popular belief, confining a dog does not reduce anxiety. Puppies that were restrained (ether alone or with a littermate) were three times more reactive than those that weren’t. Another study found that long-term or excessive confinement in a crate may have an adverse effect on the social behaviour of an otherwise well-socialised pup.

If your dog is suffering from separation anxiety and consequently exhibiting destructive behaviours, locking them in a cage may save your door frames from being chewed, or your floor from being soiled. What it won’t do is make your dog feel any better, or deal with the root cause of their anxiety.

All too often, crates become a means for controlling rather than treating behaviour problems. Crates are very convenient for the humans, as they can inhibit certain behaviours. A lot of people think that once locked in a crate a dog will ‘relax’. However, the fact that they are not actively fighting their confinement does not mean they feel any better- in zoos and circuses, animals are not routinely seen struggling to escape. In dogs, the process of ‘crate training’ can essentially create a state of learned helplessness, when, like animals in other forms of captivity, they cease trying to escape, as they have learned that struggling does not improve their situation.

A SAFE SPACE?

A safe space means having choices. A safe place is only a safe place if the dog can choose when to go in and when to come out. Once locked in somewhere with no chance of escape, a dog is not safe, they’re trapped.

SOLUTIONS AND ALTERNATIVES

So, rather than locking your dog in a cage try the following:

  • Provide access to the garden or wherever you want your dog to go to toilet on a regular basis. Reward toileting successes, ignore failures! Toilet training can take a bit of time, but dogs are naturally clean creatures, and there is no need to lock them in a cage in order to train them;
  • Provide plenty of food-based chews for your dog. This can go a long way to deterring them from chewing less appropriate objects. It will also help reduce stress and keep them occupied;
  • Put away anything that you don’t want your dog to destroy;
  • Use a baby gate or other barrier to keep your dog out of areas of the house where there are dangers, or they can’t yet be trusted alone;
  • If your dog is suffering from separation anxiety, locking him in a cage will only worsen the anxiety. Your dog may become shut down, and have fewer ways of exhibiting his anxiety, but he will still feel the same. Instead, enlist the help of a dog behaviourist to work on reducing his stress and teaching him to cope with being alone.

I hope this has been helpful. Ultimately, the crux of the matter lies in the question ‘What is best for my dog?’ rather than ‘What is best for me?’. Answering the first will lead you away from the crate, making for a happy dog and a happy human!

Collars Vs Harnesses

A few weeks ago I had the great pleasure of attending a fascinating  talk by Els Vidts about the anatomy of the neck and the negative impact collar use has. I also learned that despite my best intentions, my own dog’s harness didn’t actually fit her that well. I left with a great determination to make sure my own dogs wear better fitting harnesses, and that I’m clearer with clients about the sorts of harness they need. As Els pointed out, a lot of harnesses are actually just collars with extra bits of material- pressure from the dog pulling or being pulled still is still focused on the neck.

So my top tips for harnesses now are:

  • there should be no pressure on the dog’s neck- pressure should be distributed across the thorax;
  • There should be 5 cm clearance between the dog’s front legs and the rear strap of the harness;
  • Shoulders should still be free to move.

As well as saving the dog from physical damage, the right harness can also go a long way to helping with behaviour problems such as pulling and even reactivity.

Below is Els’s flyer. This can also be downloaded from her website http://www.freedogz.be in many different languages, so no excuse for not spreading the word far and wide! This is a really simple thing that we can get right for our dogs, so I’m hoping you’ll join me on the bandwagon!