Let sleeping dogs lie… but never let puppy dogs cry!

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Image pinched from here

In the wild, a puppy would stay with their mum for about 9 months. So when we take them home at 8 or 9 weeks, they really are still infants in need of a mother. Our job is to become that mother- to care for them emotionally and physically and to create an environment that allows them to grow and flourish, and most importantly, to feel safe.

This is a big commitment, requires compromise and sacrifices, and there are going to be times when it is difficult. But the benefits you will reap from making sure your puppy’s needs are met and that they grow up feeling happy and safe make it so worthwhile.

Don’t let them cry it out

For many years, the advice doled out to new puppy parents was to bring their puppy home, put them to bed that night (often in a cage in another part of the house), and then to ignore their cries. This, we were told, would avoid ‘rewarding’ their ‘attention seeking’ behaviour and lead to a puppy who could cope with being left alone.  The same advice was given to parents of human children for many years, and today many people still adhere to it, for both canine and human babies.

But guess what?

It has been shown that the effects of not responding to infants (human or canine) does the reverse of teaching independence- allowing a baby to repeatedly become distressed in this way is damaging to their ability to establish secure attachments in the long term, and is more likely to lead to clingy, demanding children, with a deep sense of insecurity which can stay with them for the rest of their lives.

In my capacity as a dog trainer, babies are of limited interest to me! But science has taught us that mammalian brains all work pretty similarly. A lot of research done on mammalian brains has been done on rats (sorry rats!), and we know from this research that there is a period in the ‘infant’ stage of life where the caregiving that an animal receives has a life-long impact on how prone they are to being anxious. Rats whose mothers were nurturing and caring in their early days (which translates to longer periods in larger mammals who develop more slowly) had the genes for controlling anxiety turned on, whereas those who had ‘low-nurturing’ mothers never had these genes turned on, and suffered from anxiety for the rest of their lives. This is something which seems to be true across the board.

We also know that when an animal becomes excessively stressed, the body’s response becomes destructive, negatively impacting the brain, emotions, the digestive system, the immune system. Excessive stress is simply not good for us.

And, we know that when a puppy cries, their mum always responds. This all makes perfect sense from an evolutionary perspective. Crying young alert predators to the presence of vulnerable, tasty youngsters! Dogs always do a very good job of rearing puppies, so we could do a lot worse than following their example.

So what should we do?

Dogs are social sleepers- they find safety in company, and without it, struggle to get the deep sleep they need. The ideal situation is to have your puppy sleep with a member of the family. Most puppies sleep longer and sounder when they are with you, so you might find the night is not as broken as you’d expect.

If you have a carpeted room and are worried about your puppy sneaking off to the corner for a wee (or worse!) during the night, a simple solution is to block off the parts of your room that you can, and cover the rest with a waterproof bedsheet- these usually have non-slippery cotton on top and a waterproof backing.

If you don’t want your dog in your room forever, as the puppy gets older you can gradually move their bed further and further from yours. Having their bed just outside your door with a dog gate rather than a shut door can be a good interim arrangement.

If they can’t be in the bedroom, camping downstairs with them for the first while can be helpful. You can then work on gradually increasing the time they are left downstairs.

Know when they’re tired

Puppies need a lot of sleep- upwards on 20 hours a day! But dogs are polyphasic sleepers- they sleep in multiple blocks throughout the day and night.

People often worry about their puppies sleeping too much during the day, and wonder how this will affect their sleep at night. But they need so much sleep that this is highly unlikely to be the case. In fact, depriving your puppy of sleep can have the reverse effect! Puppies who are over-tired can become hyperactive and restless and find it difficult to go to sleep at night. So if they’re resting during the day, don’t worry- it might help you get a better night’s sleep.

Here are some signs that your puppy may be tired or over-tired:

  • Yawning;
  • Eyes closing whilst sitting up;
  • Red eyes (I once had a pom-chi in puppy class whose eyes used to actually get puffy when he was tired);
  • Hyper-activity;
  • Excessive nipping;
  • Restlessness or not knowing what to do with themselves;
  • Vocalisations (barking, whining)
  • Grumpiness (snappiness).

If it’s too early for you to go to bed, if everyone just sits down calmly and leaves the puppy be, they will probably lie down and go to sleep. Offering them a food-based chew can help relax them.

Early starts

Dogs are naturally crepuscular, which means their most active times of the day can be dawn or dusk (many people report their puppies having a mad half hour morning and evening, and this is the reason). Over time, they adjust to our rhythm of life, but this is something they learn over time, not immediately. Be patient if your puppy is rising at 5.30 and ready to face the day!

Letting them out for a wee, and then encouraging them back to bed with a food-based chew can gain you an extra half hour of sleep!

Alternatively, scattering some of their breakfast in the garden can serve the dual purpose of tiring them out in a calm way by engaging their brains as they sniff around for the treats, and filling their tummies! Sniffing also lowers the pulse-rate and as such is a calming activity. You might well find they’re ready for another nap after the exertion. This is also a good exercise to do in the evening before bed.

Getting ready for bed

  • Keep everything calm and quiet before bedtime so your puppy is getting into the right frame of mind to sleep. Remember that adrenaline can stay in the system for 6 hours, so keeping them calm as much of the time as possible is actually a good idea!
  • Let them out for a toilet trip before bed.
  • Don’t withhold water- puppies can become easily dehydrated and need access to water at all times. If you are concerned about toilet training, offering them a wet food can mean that they get most of their required fluids with their meals and are less likely to graze on water throughout the day and night, making it easier to predict when they need to go.
  • If your puppy is struggling to settle, a calm nose game in the evening can help them get into a calmer frame of mind. Read more here.

Get the night time routine right, and you can rest assured that you’re increasing your odds of raising a happy, stress-free puppy with a secure attachment, and hopefully getting a better night’s sleep yourself in the process!

 

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

 

Motivation

When I started out in dog training, one of the buzzwords was ‘motivation’. I heard how a dog has got to be motivated to work with you/for you. If they won’t do what you want, they’re not motivated enough. Motivate them more! Use better treats. Better treats not working? That’s ok, just take away their meals and hand feed them throughout the day in return for them doing what you want. In fact, in the early days, I went to hear a very well-known dog trainer speak, and he said that he simply refused to work with anyone who wouldn’t commit to this method of getting their dog to earn each mouthful of food.

Now, call me a nay-sayer if you will, but as far as I’m concerned, this idea of ‘deprive and reward’ is simply not a kind way to interact with your dog. And it’s not ‘positive’ dog training.

Eating = survival

The reason dogs are motivated by food is because they need it to survive. Anything we need in order to survive is going to be inherently valuable to us. To only fulfil that basic need conditional to their compliance with our every wish is not fair.

Just imagine having to earn every mouthful of food individually. How stressful would that be? This means the dog has to be constantly on alert, just to ensure they get this basic need met. Your relationship with your dog becomes based on the somewhat menacing premise of ‘sure, you can eat… but only if you do exactly what I say.’

What are you asking your dog to do and why?

If the only way you can convince your dog to do something is to compel them to do it (essentially by threat of starvation), why is that? I’ve outlined what I find to be the most common reasons for training problems below, and in any of these situations, just increasing the value of your rewards until the dog complies (and he probably will eventually comply – we all have a price, especially if we’re constantly hungry!) is not going to benefit the overall well-being of the dog, and could in fact, adversely impact it.

1.      Does the dog enjoy doing whatever it is you’re asking them to do?

Sadly, a lot of the training we do with dogs is for our egos or our entertainment. We feel good if we can get the dog to perform. We tend to teach tricks that indulge us, rather than life skills. If the dog enjoys what you’re teaching them to do and deems it a useful skill, it’s likely that you won’t need them to be hungry in order for them to cooperate. I don’t think my dogs have ever turned their noses up at a bit of chicken, despite regular meals being provided!

If your dog does not enjoy it, is it really necessary? Is there an alternative?

2.      Does what you’re asking them to do cause them pain or discomfort?

If what you’re asking your dog to do is causing them pain, you simply shouldn’t be asking them to do it. We can inadvertently be the cause of our dog’s pain (read more here), their conformation can make certain acts uncomfortable (I’ve come across many people who consider it a real achievement to convince a greyhound to sit, despite the fact that it is not a position most greyhounds would ever adopt naturally, as they’re simply not the right shape for it), or they could have an underlying health issue. The environment can also play a part- would you want to sit on cold wet grass in winter? Or a burning hot pavement in summer? Tiles and wooden floors can be slippery and create issues when the dog tries to move around. Compelling them to do something which is causing them pain has the potential to exacerbate any underlying health problems.

3.      Is the dog in a state of stress and unable to focus on the task at hand?

If your dog is too stressed to focus on the task at hand, your focus should be on getting them out of the stressful situation, reducing their stress and giving them coping mechanisms. This stress can be anything from being overwhelmed by the environment, being in the presence of triggers (other dogs, loud noises, bikes etc.) to chronic stress from a stressful lifestyle, not enough sleep or the wrong sorts of activities. If your dog is stressed, they are not in a position to learn anything, and the focus should be on stress reduction, not motivation.

4.      Does your dog understand what you’re asking them to do?

If they don’t understand what you’re asking, take a look at how you’re asking. Is your body language at odds with your request? Do you need to break it down into smaller steps? Is what you’re asking them to do sensible from a dog’s perspective? One example where we humans often fall down in this regard is asking a dog-reactive dog to ‘sit’ when they see another dog. Firstly, sitting when you’re in a state of agitation goes against everything your body will be telling you to do. Second of all, sitting is a calming signal, part of a dog’s communication toolkit. We’ll never understand all of the nuances of canine communication, so expecting your dog to utilise a feature of their communication on command in response to a perceived threat from another dog, is rather unfair. Just because he’s getting paid for it and therefore complying, doesn’t make it feel right.

 

So how should we manage our dog’s food?

fia eating smallFood should be a pleasure for your dog, and it should be provided reliably and predictably in a stress-free environment. Ensure your dog has enough good quality food, often enough, preferably with a bit of variety. If you plan on using food throughout the day, and your dog has weight issues, by all means put someof your dog’s allowance aside. But they should still be having a substantial meal which they can eat in peace and at their leisure.

 

For food rewards, you can always use small amounts of lean protein like chicken, which is unlikely to impact your dog’s weight and is usually a big hit. I often fry lamb’s liver and cut it up into very small pieces. Some dogs will even be quite pleased with fruit and vegetables.

Remember, if your dog is not interested in taking tasty morsels, something is probably wrong. They are probably stressed or in pain. I’d happily bet that in 90% of situations, it’s not a lack of motivation.

 

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

 

 

 

Fags and Fido- Another Reason to Quit?

As New Year’s Resolutions abound, many people are attempting to quit smoking. That’s obviously great news for them, their family and friends, but also for their dog. We don’t often consider the impact that smoking can have on our pets, but understanding the serious implications the habit can have on furry family members can serve as an extra push to kick the habit.

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Passive Smoking

The detrimental effects of smoking on the smoker, as well as on their family, have been widely publicised, and it is well known that smoking, as well as passive smoking, can cause serious health problems, such as cancer, heart disease, stroke and lung disease.

We also know that 85% of cigarette smoke is invisible and that toxic particles accumulate on the surfaces of our homes, including furniture and carpets as well as clinging to our clothes and hair, long after the smoking has stopped. These surface accumulations are known as third hand smoke, and are thought to be even more carcinogenic than second hand smoke. The particles are released from the surfaces they cling to and react with other indoor pollutants, creating a further toxic mix. Airing does not remove these particles, clothes and surfaces must be thoroughly cleaned to get rid of them.

And, we also know that it’s not just people who are effected by second and third hand smoke. Our pets are even more vulnerable to the deleterious effects of the by-products of smoking. This is because:

  • They can absorb the toxins clinging to carpets and floors through their paws;
  • The toxins will transfer to their coats, which they may then lick (particularly problematic in cats, who are fastidious groomers!);
  • They are lower down and closer to the carpets and furniture and the particles they will be releasing;
  • They often do not have the opportunity to remove themselves from the smoky environment.

Research into the effect of passive smoking on dogs has shown that living with a smoker leads to:

  • an increased risk of nasal and lung cancer;
  • cell damage;
  • increased weight gain after neutering;
  • an increased risk of corneal ulceration (ouch!).

Although there are limited amounts of research into the effects of passive smoking on dogs specifically, I think it is safe to assume that they will also be subject to the myriad of problems experienced by humans who are subjected to second and third hand smoke. I also can’t help but think how much more unpleasant it must be for dogs to be around cigarette smoke with their far superior sense of smell.

Nicotine

The other risk to dogs from smoking comes by way of nicotine poisoning, and ironically, this can be more common whilst owners are attempting to quit, owing to the presence of nicotine replacement patches, gums etc. in the home. The toxic level of nicotine in dogs is 0.5-1.0mg per pound (approx. 500g) of body weight. 10mg/kg of body weight can be enough to have fatal consequences. The effects of nicotine poisoning can be seen within an hour and include:

  • Vomiting;
  • Abnormal heart rate;
  • Drooling;
  • Incoordination;
  • Hallucination;
  • Tremors;
  • Weakness;
  • Collapse.

If you think your dog has ingested nicotine containing products, do contact your vet.

Mitigating the Risk

If you are a smoker, you can reduce the risk to your dog by not smoking in the house. Remember, however, that the toxic particles will still be present on your clothes and hair, so this does not eliminate the risk to your pet.

If you are quitting, the great news is that your pet will be living in a much less toxic environment soon. In the meantime, be sure to keep all nicotine containing items out of your dog’s reach, including cigarette butts, which puppies particularly will often pick up to investigate, and which contain high levels of nasty toxins.

 

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

 

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!