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New Year’s Resolutions that benefit you AND your dog!

The new year is a time for new beginnings and putting good intentions into action. We wanted to share a few ideas that could make 2019 an even more fun and successful year for you and your dog!

1. Go on a new adventure!

Humans are creatures of habit but dogs LOVE to explore. Why not make time for you and your dog to get out and about to some new walking locations? Some of our favourite Edinburgh dog walks are Blackford Hill, Lauriston Castle, Portobello beach and the Water of Leith. If you’re stuck with what’s within walking distance of you, try mixing up your routes, or explore paths you’ve not been down before. Research also shows that going to new places can help combat stress, boost happiness and increase resilience in humans too!

2. Teach your dog a brain game

Despite what people might say, you absolutely can teach a dog of any age new tricks. The challenge of learning new games with your dog will increase your bond and give them a mental work out. We love the shell game as all you need is three containers and some tasty treats and you’ll soon be impressing family and friends! There’s plenty of brain games on the internet though, and in fact, a whole book of ideas if you get stuck!

3. Yup, dogs need diets too

Or more correctly, dogs need us to be “on it” in making sure we’re feeding them the best we can manage, and in the right amounts! Breed, age, size and exercise levels all influence what kind of diet will best suit your furry friend. For many owners, cost is an important factor too. Luckily, the website www.allaboutdogfood.co.uk is on hand to allow you to compare all these factors and more to find the food that is right for your dog. You may also what to discuss options with your veterinarian.

4. Bin that ball chucker (or use it less!)

This one is more of a plea than a suggestion. Whilst it may seem like a great way to exercise your dog, ball chuckers are responsible for creating “adrenaline junkies”, and more and more vets and dog health professionals are recommending they are used sparingly, if at all, to prevent injuries and excessive joint wear and tear. If you don’t want to bin the ball chucker altogether, how about using it to launch treats as part of a challenging game of find it? Have your dog wait for a release cue while you chuck the treats, for the added bonus of teaching impulse control as well as working their brain, nose and body!

5. Be a better communicator

Our relationships are only as good as our ability to communicate, and this is even more important when you don’t share a common language. With terms like “dominance” and “alpha” still firmly in the public imagination, it’s more important than ever we look to science and keep up to date with new developments in our understanding of dogs. Learn more about dog communication through the dog decoder app or silent conversations website, or check out this brilliant Canine Body Language book to get a better insight into what your dog is trying to say.

6. Start a teeth cleaning routine

Believe me, this is largely for your benefit as an owner, since many insurance companies do not cover dental and almost all dogs will need at least one (expensive) procedure in a life time. All you need is 2 minutes, 3 times per week, and with patience and understanding you can work up to cleaning your dog’s teeth. Start with a small amount of enzymatic tooth paste on your finger and let your dog lick it off. Repeat each time, allowing your dog to become familiar and comfortable before starting to gradually touch the teeth and build up to handling the muzzle. As long as you don’t force yourself onto your dog, and allow them to move away when they wish, after a few months you should have a dog that enjoys this process and will start to tolerate a doggy tooth brush as well.

7. Check your equipment

Take 5 minutes to check your dog’s collar, lead, harness etc for wear and tear, and most of all for fit. If you’ve ever had shoes that rub or clothing that is too tight, then you will sympathise with the importance of making sure our dog’s equipment fits comfortably. We recommended harnesses rather than collars for walking dogs on lead, as restricting airflow can cause stress and if your dog is a strong puller they can easily damage the delicate apparatus inside the neck (more vet bills!). Perfect fit and ruffwear make excellent harness that are comfy and secure, and last a long time.

8. Rotate that toy box

If you’re anything like us, your dog’s toy box probably resembles an archaeological record of toy eras, with the most recently played with at the top and a long forgotten, overdue-for-a-wash kong at the bottom (or if you have a collie, severally layers of balls). Tip it all out on the floor! See what your dog chooses and mix things up a little. You can also put toys away from time to time (even the favourite ones, actually, especially the favourite ones!) and bring them out at a later date to keep things fresh and interesting!

9. Address that bad habit

We all have them, dogs included. Whether it is dribbly staring at you while you eat, jumping up when you get home, or running off when they see someone more exciting than you on a walk (or just anyone who isn’t you on a walk), I will be surprised if your dog doesn’t have any! Very few problems fix themselves, so why not get proactive and come up with a training plan? A brilliant pro tip is rather than telling your dog NOT to do something, train them to do something that isn’t compatible with the bad habit, using loads of fun and treats to reinforce the preferred behaviour. Targeting your hand or going to a mat are great examples, and with enough practice, slowly increase the levels of distraction, you can make sure this is your dog’s number one favourite thing to do!

10. Make sure your details are up to date

Last but most important, take 10 minutes this week to check your dog’s microchip details are up to date and that they are in fact registered on a database. Shockingly, a large proportion of dogs found straying each year are chipped but the chip implanter failed to register the details with the microchip company. All that a finder will know in such a case, is that your dog is chipped and where it was chipped. They will not be able to reunite your dog, and you may struggle to even prove the dog is yours if it ends up in the wrong hands. Scary no? Indentibase and Petlog are the two main chip database in the UK, you can call Identibase on 01904 487600 and Petlog on 01296 336579, or check your chip registration through their websites.

We hope these ideas have inspired you, we’d love to find out more about your doggies resolutions on our facebook – https://www.facebook.com/edinburghdogbehaviour/

Wishing you all heaps of love, wiggles, games and adventures in 2019!

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Tips for attending “dog friendly” events this summer

There are thousands of venues and events across the country that are designated “dog friendly,” from local pubs to music festivals. Here in Scotland, we're doubly lucky because we also have statutory access rights, giving everyone the right to roam across some of the world’s most beautiful landscapes, so taking your dog out and about is easy.

But before you decide to bring your dog along to a "dog friendly" festival or other event this summer, ask yourself: Would they really want to go? How will you be able to tell when they might not be enjoying themselves, and how can you make sure they have the best possible time? Read on for a few tips...

Photo courtesy kris krüg on flickr (creative commons)

What does “dog friendly” really mean to a dog?

This will of course depend on the individual dog, their likes and dislikes and what particular things they enjoy (or prefer to avoid).

Take my own two dogs for example – Luke is highly sociable with people, but he can find it stressful being around lots of other dogs. He is also getting on in years and so doesn’t have the stamina for long days out. Mabel is sociable with people and dogs, but finds interacting with lots of them one after another quite stressful. Being deaf, she is hyper-sensitive to movement, and this can get tiring very quickly. She is also sensitive to vibrations: She can panic if a car passes by pounding loud music out of the window, or we encounter one of those awful things people add to their car exhaust to make it even noisier (apparently called a “cherry bomb” – right).

I have attended lots of dog friendly events in my time, and to the trained human eye, it can be a quite a distressing experience. Dogs are brilliant communicators, but most of their signs and signals are quite subtle and can easily go unnoticed, especially if their humans are busy having a good time.

Some signs that a dog might not be sharing in the fun include:

  • Excessive panting
  • Excessive salivating
  • Tense body or face
  • Inability to settle
  • Freezing/staring
  • Ears and/or tail held low
  • Lip smacking
  • Tongue flicks
  • Turning the head away, facing away or trying to walk away
  • Excessive or exaggerated yawning (dogs use this to communicate stress)
  • Licking or jumping at people
  • Whining/barking
  • Shaking
  • Hiding
  • Refusal to take treats (especially if they would normally do so at home)
  • Aggressive behaviours such as growling, snapping, biting

Any of these behaviours, especially for an extended period of time, or if there are several of them in succession, suggest a dog is actually having quite a bad time. Although many dogs will cope with being unhappy, is that really what we want when we take them out and about?

Is it your dog’s first event?

If your dog has no real experience of crowds, noise, or new environments, you will definitely want to introduce them gradually to each of the various aspects, ensuring you can manage things in a way that makes your dog feel safe and relaxed.

Introducing too many things all at once is enough to overwhelm, and can result in ongoing anxiety and behaviour problems.

Above: This dog is not showing any overtly friendly body language, and has limited behavioural options should she want to avoid being touched by the person reaching towards her. When meeting strangers, your dog should never be restrained, and should be encouraged to move away if they are not feeling sociable.

(Photo courtesy Sunny Wan on Flickr / Creative Commons)

How to make sure you AND your dog have a good time

Before deciding to take your dog along to a “dog friendly” event, think carefully about what you will be asking your dog to put up with at that event, and for how long.

  • Will there be crowds of people?
  • Lots of noise?
  • Will it be too hot or too cold?
  • Will they have to travel?
  • Will they miss, or have delayed meals?
  • Will there be anywhere quiet for them to rest if it all gets too much?

Make a decision as to whether the event really will be something they will enjoy – if not, or if it is going to be a long day, your dog will likely be calmer and happier left at home or with someone who can spoil them with the things they do enjoy.

How to help your dog have a great time

If you decide to take your dog to a "dog friendly" event, the following tips should help ensure they have the best possible time:

  • Pack a bag to ensure you have everything needed to keep your dog comfortable and happy: include plenty of water, something comfy to lie on, favourite toys and some special treats;
  • At the event, monitor your dog regularly for signs of stress, and to see if they are trying to communicate that they would prefer to be elsewhere;
  • Take regular time-outs: find somewhere secluded and quiet where your dog can rest (give them something soft to lie on if the floor is hard);
  • Be your dog’s protector if necessary – don’t let people “force themselves” on your dog. Let your dog approach them and walk away when desired. This is key in preventing aggressive behaviour towards people (how else can your dog tell people to go away?);
  • Do not be surprised if your dog shows different behaviours to those you might expect. S/he will be working hard to monitor and manage interactions with everyone in the vicinity, which can be exhausting even if they are having a good time. We all know that being tired makes us a bit less inhibited, or grouchy, sometimes.

Listen to your dog. Wherever you take them, you are responsible for their welfare. If you think they might be having a bad time, take them home.

Never tell your dog off or use punishment if you don’t like how your dog behaves. Make a note of what went wrong, and find ways to reward alternative behaviours in a less stressful setting. Punishing or shouting at your dog will make them more anxious and less trusting of you and other people.

Do I take my dogs to dog friendly venues and events?

Both my dogs are sociable and do work to assist me with behaviour cases, but I know their limits, and I know that for the vast majority of venues and events they would prefer a nice walk and then a kong and a chill at home rather than a noisy place where they would have to greet everyone in the room and then start again from the top (fun but tiring) as well as monitoring for the things they might find worrying (for Luke – other dogs, for Mabel – fast moving things).

Luke used to love coming to the pub but as an arthritic older man with a much greater requirement for rest he is now more comfortable snoozing at home, although the odd trip to a quiet pub with comfy places to sit is welcome (we love The Espy in Portobello!)

Do I wish I could bring my dogs to more events? Sometimes, but ultimately it isn’t about me, and by leaving them at home I can enjoy myself without worrying about them, knowing they are happy and safe and waiting for me to join them doing the things we love when I get home.

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If Your Dog Is Showing Aggression

Once you have identified what (or who!) is causing your dog to act aggressively, try to ensure that your dog is able to avoid it as much as possible. This will involve carefully managing your and your dog’s environment for a while until you can get an appointment with a behaviourist.

  • Plan walks for times of day or areas where you can easily avoid your dog’s triggers – for example, stick to open spaces where you can see other dogs approach and will have plenty of time to move away so your dog does not have to react aggressively to keep another dog away.
  • If aggression is occurring in the home, ensure the dog can retreat away from the trigger of its aggression and always ensure family members are kept safe by teaching everyone how to avoid triggering the aggression, or by containing your dog in a separate room until you can get advice from a behaviourist.

Never, ever, punish a dog for behaviours such as growling – as your dog may simply learn not to growl and may then attack without warning. Use growls as a source of information as to what is making them uncomfortable and respect this until you can start behaviour work to teach the dog a more appropriate way of reacting.

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Why Is Veterinary Referral Necessary?

A good behaviourist always works on veterinary referral. This is because health and behaviour are very closely linked.

Your vet will give your pet a thorough check up to make sure there are no health issues which might be underlying his or her behaviour.

In some cases it may be necessary for your behaviourist to work with your vet in the treatment of behavioural problems, for example if the problem diagnosed is likely to benefit from treatment with drugs.

If a behaviourist does not work on referral from your vet, beware! They may recommend modification plans which are ineffective or distressing for your pet should they have any underlying medical issues.