Sunday, January 31, 2010

Stress in your dog

I'm teaching a "Basic" and a "Competition" class right now and as is often the case one or two of the dogs in each of the classes are exhibiting signs of stress which come in a variety of forms including heavy panting, incessant barking, cowering, inability to take treats, etc. The stress certainly comes from the surroundings especially if the dogs are new to our training facility, but it also comes from the tenseness of the person working with them. For some, the stress goes away immediately, for others it continues for several classes, and still others--those that have the hardest time--suffer the entire 8-weeks.

Understanding the signs of stress and doing things to alleviate the stress when y0ur dog experiences it will go a long way in improving not only your training success, but your overall relationship. The first step is to recognize the signs, the second is to learn some of the calming signals that dogs use with each other. For example, turning your head, blinking your eyes in rapid succession, and yawning (there are many more and we can certainly discuss them on this blog if people are interested) can indicate to your dog that she does not need to be worried or anxious--at the very least it will let her know that you are not angry or frustrated with her.

However, there is an important caveat here--dogs are masters at reading body language--both human and canine-- and thus they will know when you are trying to "pull one over on them"--that is, they will know when you are pretending everything is okay when it is not. If you yawn and blink your eyes, but you really are tense and frustrated because, for example, your dog is not learning a particular skill fast enough, he will know and thus continue to feel anxious. I have increasingly become mindful of my own tenseness when working with my dogs and have regularly pointed it out to students when I see it in them. Be conscious of this when working with your dogs--take deep breaths, relax your shoulders, slow down--you will be a better trainer for it and more importantly your dog will be happier when your training her.


Saturday, January 30, 2010

Multiple dog issues

Our multiple dog household always poses some interesting challenges, not to mention constant management. Today was no exception. Two of my own dogs do not get along well, Collie Paige and Rottie Noel. Noel bullies Paige, not aggressively, but she goes out of her way to try and intimidate her. We've managed this by not having them loose together. This afternoon I was upstairs making a foolish attempt at a nap (ha!), and I kept hearing Noel doing her guarding (translation: obnoxious) bark. I stormed downstairs, irritated, only to find that Noel who was baby-gated in the back room was guarding the kitchen from Paige (Paige was the one in the kitchen, not Noel) and poor Paige was in the front entry way afraid to go into the kitchen, even though Noel was on the other side of a gate. Dog behavior and pack dynamics are always an interesting study, there is endless information to be gained just from observing dogs interact with one another. Needless to say, Noel is in time out now.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Winter exercise

Finding ways to exercise the dogs during the winter always poses a challenge. I went to the Decorah city prairie today and took the dogs for a walk in the 6 degree weather. My face was numb after a few minutes but the scenery was beautiful and we had a peaceful and uneventful walk. The only other people we met along the way were other dog walkers, out braving the cold to make sure their dogs were well-exercised. It seems a small sacrifice to make given the all-too-familiar alternative of a bunch of wild dogs in the house--I much prefer them tired. For those not willing to brave the sub-zero temps there is a much easier way to tire your dogs out during the winter months. Stimulate their minds. Spending 30 minutes a day teaching your dog new skills will tire them as much as a 60 minute walk, no kidding! Of course this doesn't permanently replace the benefits of physical exercise but is wonderful for bad weather days. Another tip: if you have a dog that likes to fetch, play in deep snow areas. The dogs use a lot more energy bounding through snow than they do on grass.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Welcome to our blog! Living with the number and variety of dogs that we do, as well as working with other peoples’ dogs for many years, we have a lot of stories to share about our own experiences. We encourage everyone to share their comments and questions and hope this will also be a place for interesting discussions about dog behavior, training and health.