Is His Bark Really Worse Than His Bite?

Brain games to exercise your dog

The issue of chronic barking has been debated and legislated by owners and the public alike. Those people who suffer with the neighborhood howler are often so adversely affected that their health could be in jeopardy.  Think of the shift worker who comes home early in the morning only to have to listen to his neighbors’ dog barking all night. That person will lose sleep for extended periods of time which could effect their ability to make decisions. Is this person also driving a car?  Real trouble there!  This may sound a bit extreme, but it happens every day in some town or city in America. There are also dog owners who are at wits end because they don’t know how to control or eliminate the problem. They don’t seem to understand why their dog barks all of the time. So, which came first? The chicken or the egg?  Did the problem start because of a few dogs that just couldn’t control themselves? Or was it started when people began to acquire dogs as pets and had no knowledge of how to train their dogs?

As responsible dog owners, we are obligated to teach our pets how to behave properly.  But when you think about it, anyone can get a dog and there is no requirement for obtaining one. You don’t have to understand dog behavior, you don’t have to have knowledge of training techniques and you don’t have to pass a test to get a license for one either. It is “Open Season”, so to speak, for anyone to own a dog.  As a pet sitter, I can attest to the fact that many dog owners do not have the tools or they do not have the time to spend training their dogs.  Sometimes this is no problem.  There are many dogs that seem to come with this behavior all plugged in to their hardware.  Call it luck or call it past life experience, but I have worked with dogs that appear to know the rules and only need a little direction to get them on the right track. And I have others that seem to be completely unaware that they are misbehaving.  In either case, the owner still has to take responsibility for their dogs behavior. Behavioral problems in dogs are created by the way their owners interact with them and arrange their situations.

Dogs bark for a number of reasons.  Loneliness can trigger the barking behavior in a dog because he is starved for attention.  It should be part of the dog’s day that he gets undivided attention from his owner.  Some scheduled play time, a good long walk or a vigorous workout with a frisbee, may be all the dog needs to calm his fear of being alone. Another factor could be separation anxiety. Puppies that are adopted should be crate-trained to teach them how to be calm when they are alone. I have written about crate-training and feel it is the best option for any dog that comes into a family.  Finally, there is territorial barking. Territorial barking may be the hardest behavior to modify.  The reason for that is territorial barking has a built in reinforcer.  As the “intruder” leaves the yard, your dog’s behavior is rewarded. The best way to reduce or eliminate this behavior is to introduce your dog to the people who most often come into your yard or socialize him with more strangers. As with any aspect of behavior training, consistency is the key to success. Enlisting the cooperation of every family member is important in controlling your dog’s barking, and in all other aspects of training. Verbal commands and expectations for your dog’s behavior must be consistent if you are to be effective.

Of the seven to eight million dogs that pass through the nation’s system of animal shelters each year, 85 percent of them are there because of behavioral problems. That’s a telling number.  It would seem that millions of people are acquiring dogs who lack the knowledge, skills, or commitment necessary to properly socialize and care for the animals. They are not taking responsibility for their dog’s behavior. Refusing to take responsibility for that which one should be responsible, is by definition, irresponsible behavior. We see the result not only in the wholesale killing of dogs in the death chambers of our overflowing animal shelters, but in the chronic barking epidemic.

My point is this: when faced with a bothersome barking dog , what is the real reason the dog is barking?  Whether this problem pup is yours or the neighbor’s, what can be done?  The information noted in this post suggests that most problem barking is caused by a behavior problem.  Solve the behavior- solve the barking.  So simple and yet so unattainable for many.  We cannot control who gets a dog and we cannot control the manner in which they chose to train it.  We can only be responsible for our own actions.  And we can be ambassadors of dog training and good dog behavior.  When you get a puppy, commit to training him, give him play time and structured activities.  Keep him busy so he won’t be bored and have a need to voice his opinion.  There are a multitude of training methods and tools available to you at your veterinarian’s office, the library and even online.  I prefer the teachings of Cesar Millan and have used many of his methods with my dogs and the dogs I care for. This is a great offer from Cesar on his training guide:  Buy the Complete 6-Disc Set – SAVE $30 + Get Free Shipping. Expires Feb 28.  For games that stimulate your pup’s brain- this wears them out faster than a good run- this book will give you and your pup hours of fun and loads of time for bonding.  He’ll be too tired to bark!
50 Games To Play With Your Dog (128 Pages)

Brain games to exercise your dog

Workout your pup’s brain and have a contented pet.

Meeting a New Dog

Meeting a new dog

 

Nowadays, we are surrounded by dogs wherever we go.  Pet supply stores welcome them with open arms.  If you want to learn about a specific breed, just go to your local PetCo and wait a while.  Any number of breeds will cross your path.  Restaurants often have a dog water bowl strategically placed on their patio.  I think it’s the new universal sign for “Dogs Welcome”.  They even have dog walks/runs for the canine-inclined health nut.  I LOVE it!!  Dogs are more a part of our families than ever before.

The following statistics were compiled from the American Pet Products Association 2011-2012 National Pet Owners Survey.

There are approximately 78.2 million owned dogs in the United States

Thirty-nine percent of U.S. households own at least one dog

Most owners (60 percent) own one dog

Twenty-eight percent of owners own two dogs

Twelve percent of owners own three or more dogs

On average, owners have almost two dogs (1.69 percent)

The proportion of male to female dogs is even

Twenty-one percent of owned dogs were adopted from an animal shelter

On average, dog owners spent $248 on veterinary visits (vaccine, well visits) annually

Seventy-eight percent of owned dogs are spayed or neutered

So, you would think that people would be pretty well-versed in the proper etiquette of meeting a dog.  There are so many different dog experts out there and they typically have  their own style of greeting.  One thing I have found to be consistent is that you should give the dog the cold shoulder.  I know it’s hard to resist the sweet puppy dog eyes, however, you do want to establish yourself as high ranking in the pack  right from the get go.  When I meet a new client, I explain to the owner that I am going to ignore their dog for the first few minutes of the session.  I do not make eye contact, I do not speak to the dog and I do not touch the dog.  I tell you, it’s not easy.  I have found that this kind of interaction allows the dog to “check me out” with no face-to-face confrontation.  I do not invade his space by reaching for him or trying to make a connection.  It puts the dog at ease and gives him permission to observe me.  I stress to the owner that the meet and greet appointment is mostly for the dog.  I want to establish that I am not a threat and that I am an equal to his owner.  I make it a point to speak only to the owner and to make eye contact with him, shake his hand.  The dog should see me as having a greater status than he does.  This makes it easier for me to come into his home, his territory and care for him.  Is this rocket science?  No.  Is this a common practice for people who are meeting a dog for the first time?  No.  Is this more comfortable for the dog?  Yes!!  This little gesture on my part allows the dog to learn the sound of my voice, how I move , what smells I bring with me.  This is the same behavior an alpha dog would exhibit when meeting a new dog or when a new dog approaches to join the pack.  The alpha is held in high esteem by the pack members and he must maintain that superiority at all times.  You wouldn’t see him fawning all over a new dog.  He would behave as if the new dog did not exist.  The new dog must earn his attention.  This applies to our domesticated dogs just as much as it does to the wild wolves.  When we work with dogs in a manner that they find instinctive, they learn to trust us all the sooner.  This practice has served me well.  I first used it when I was just starting to build up my clientele.  I had a meet and greet with a man and his three male pit bulls.  The first meeting didn’t go so well, at least not for me.  I did my research and called the owner and arranged for another meeting.    We needed to get our pack positions realigned.  I had read a lot of Cesar Millan’s work and felt that his approach would be good for me to adopt.  BINGO!!  It worked.  I have been using it for years.

Meeting a new dog

Ignoring a cute pup is difficult.

Is Your Dog Jerking You Around?

Sporn Mesh No Pull Harness

In a previous post,”Dog Walking- Why Does My Dog Pull Me?”, I discussed why your dog pulls you on your walks.  I would like to take the opportunity to expound on that topic.  Most of my discussion was centered on the type of collar used during the walk.  I stressed the importance of being in control of the walk in order to make it as enjoyable as it should be for both you and your dog.  No one wants to have their sweet dog pulling them down the street in what looks like a tug-of-war with the leash.  Can you imagine the horror?  Besides that, it can be harmful for your dog.  As your dog pulls on the leash, the collar is pressing up against the esophagus.  The more he pulls, the more pressure on the esophagus and the result could be a trip to the vet.  If nothing less, your dog will be coughing and choking and people will think you are just plain mean.

Many owners will see this problem and think “I know, I’ll get a harness.  That will be so comfortable for my dog.”  This may be the solution.  If your dog will remain calm and walk at your side while wearing his harness, then great.  However, if he is going to simply substitute harness pulling for leash pulling, we are back to square one.  To make matters  worse, when you strap that harness on your dog, you are actually  giving him some serious leverage.  Your dog’s shoulders are one of  the strongest muscle groups in his body. To think that he wouldn’t use this to his advantage is folly.   People who harness their dogs are typically preparing for them to work, to pull something.  Maybe a wagon, or a tree trunk, or a sled but definitely not them.  In fact, there are competitions for this very activity because it is a natural instinct.  It is amazing to see these dogs at work.  They can pull over a thousand pounds, absolutely awesome to watch.  But I digress.  Suffice it to say, that if some dogs can be trained to pull that much weight, why not just pull you??

There has been some  progress made in the world of dog harnesses.  Joseph Sporn came up with an idea that would change the effect of pulling and he put that into a harness/ halter.   This harness transfers pressure from around the neck where the collar is to underneath the legs.  At this location, the dog is just sensitive enough for the pressure to cause him to back off the pulling.  The restraints are attached to the front of the collar then looped under the legs and anchored at the top of the collar.  It comes with sherpa sleeves to make the restraints more comfortable for your dog.  A very interesting concept that has been tested by dogs and their owners for over a decade.

So, back to the collar .  My previous post described the proper use of a choke collar and it’s cousin, the pinch collar.  To some dog owners these measures may seem extreme, even cruel.  But I have used them with great success and taught others how to use them as well. I truly believe that with many dogs, this is the best collar option that the owner can make.  There are alternatives.  Cesar Millan, known to many as “The Dog Whisperer”, has written numerous books on dog training and a lot of his materials cover the topic of dog walking and controlling the walk.  He has developed an innovative collar that he calls the “illusion collar”.  It is basically a choke collar with an added base to keep the choke in it’s most effective position- high on the neck and behind the ears.  This position is the most sensitive for the dog and therefore the most effective.  You have seen this leash position on show dogs in the ring.  The show collars are high to give the handler more control over the dog’s behavior.  Exactly what you want when you have your mutt out in the park!!

Finally, let’s talk about leashes.  I mean a proper leash.  My personal preference is leather.  A good width for your hand, so that will be specific to your palm size. These leashes give you a firm hold on the dog, will weather well and are tough as…leather!!  I have seen some very nice webbed, nylon leashes that are durable and sturdy.  The webbing gives the leash a round shape that is easy to hold and won’t tear your skin.  My first gripe is a flat, nylon leash that can cut through your hand when a dog makes a quick jerk or lunge.  They often seem slippery and the grips are not comfortable.  My second gripe is those flexi-leashes or whatever they’re called.  They remind me of a broken fishing reel, it can be let out, but can’t be pulled back in!!  I think they are a danger to mankind and dogkind for that matter.  Your dog goes free-wheeling down the street as the tiny nylon string unwinds and if some sort of danger arises – say a loose dog approaching- you have no way of getting your dog back to you and to safety.  Add to that the risk of nylon burns if the leash is dragged across your legs, the major hassle of unwinding the spaghetti of  leashes if walking two dogs and the possibility of severing a finger if the nylon string wraps around it and the dog really pulls.  Phew!  That should convince you.   I have used a great leash from Cesar Millan.  It is a diamond-braided rope similar to a mountain climbing rope.  The unique feature is the padded hand grip.  It is ergonomically designed to give you the Cadillac of walks when it comes to comfort and as a dog walker, I am all about comfy walks!!

SPORN NO-PULL MESH HNS L/XL BK

This Big Guy won't jerk you around!!