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Archive for the ‘Dog Behavior’ Category

Teaching Your Dog to Come When Called

November 13th, 2009 5 comments

Dog Trainers Say it is the Most Important Training Command

Teaching one’s dog to come when called may be a live-saving endeavor.  A dog that is running toward a busy highway or encountering some other hazard must be taught to respond immediately to the come command in order to avoid the danger.

What is the Best Way to Teach My Dog to Come When Called?

Dogs Respond Better to Praise and Kindness than to Punishment

Dogs Respond Better to Praise and Kindness than to Punishment

Most dog trainers these days agree that the old style drill-sergeant method of dog training just does not work.  The authors of The Well-Mannered Dog note that dog trainers have come to recognize the obvious:

Dogs are intelligent, sensitive animals who don’t deserve physical punishment.  In fact, they respond a lot better to praise and kindness.

In fact, pack leaders in traditional packs do not rule predominantly by physical aggression.  Rather, dog pack leaders more often rule with mental control and discipline.  With those ideas in mind, here are a few things to avoid when trying to train a dog to respond to the come command:

  • Even if you get frustrated, avoid yelling at the dog.  It is counter-productive and likely to just make the dog want to stay away from you as opposed to come to you.
  • Do not chase the dog.  Depending upon the relationship you’ve already established with your dog, chasing her will be understood as either intimidation or as an invitation to play.  Intimidating the dog into coming when called fails to develop the trust necessary to get her to follow your lead.  And if the dog takes the chasing as an invitation to play, she will just keep running because, in her mind, it is so much fun.
  • Don’t fail to be consistent in your word choice.  If you want your dog to come, and you are teaching him to come using that word as the command, do not expect him to come when you say “stop” or “get over here,” or “come on,” or merely shout his name.

Make Your Dog Want to Come When Called

Teaching Your Dog to Come When Called

Teaching Your Dog to Come When Called

In her excellent book The Loved Dog:  The Playful, Nonaggressive Way to Teach Your Dog Good Behavior, author Tamar Geller insists that games and positive reinforcement are the best dog training techniques.  She suggests the following approach to teaching one’s dog to come:

  • Bend down in a posture that resembles the dog’s “play-bow” position.  “This kind of bow is wolf sign language that implies an invitation to play,” Geller states.
  • Use the dog’s name in addition to the chosen command.  The dog needs to hear her name so she will know you are calling her instead of one of the other dogs in the dog park, for example.  Thus, “Come, Lucy” is better than just calling, “Come.”
  • If you are having a lot of trouble getting your dog to come when called, Geller suggests feeding him out of your hands instead of a bowl for several days, and only when practicing the come command.  According to Geller, this will make it not a luxury but a necessity for the dog to come when called.
  • Make a game out of practicing the come command.  According to Geller, a game of hide-and-seek can be a fun way to teach your dog to come when called.  Use special treats – what she calls “gold treats” – to reward your dog after he has spotted you and obeyed the come command.  “Dogs love a challenge, especially if they know the end result will be a pleasurable one,” says Geller.
  • Reinforce good behavior with random rewards.  If your dog learns to associate the come command with something that does not give him pleasure, he may prove stubborn just when he most needs to obey.  For instance, if “Come, Frankie” always means that the fun is over and it is time to go inside, Frankie will not want to come when called.  Geller suggests calling the dog off several times during play time, then rewarding him with a treat and, most importantly, an invitation to continue playing.  “You’ll be teaching him the pattern that coming and checking in with you is a good thing.”

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Categories: Dog Behavior

My Dog Growls When I Go Near Her Food Bowl

October 30th, 2009 4 comments

Training Your Dog Not to be Aggressive at Feeding Time

Lucy is a sweet-natured, playful dog who has never had any hesitation to share toys and beds with her adoptive brother Frankie, another Labrador retriever mix of about the same age.

But My Dog Doesn’t Want to Share Her Food Bowl

Growling at People is Unacceptable

Growling at People is Unacceptable

In fact, she doesn’t even want Frankie anywhere near her food while she’s eating.  She growls in a threatening manner if he gets too close, and he usually backs away.  (He is the type of dog who likes to pick at his food anyway, so there typically is not much conflict.  He never really tries to take any of her food away from her.)

Growling at Other Dogs

Most dog trainers feel that it is not a cause for alarm when a dog tries to protect his food from another dog.  After all, dogs have an instinctive tendency to protect their food when another animal gets too close.  Among dogs, protecting one’s food is a way to ensure one gets enough to eat.  It is also part of the competitive process of establishing one’s place in the pack.

In Lucy’s case, add in the fact that she was rescued from near-starvation, and it seems only natural that she would want to keep every kibble in her food bowl for herself.

The simple solution is to feed the dogs in separate bowls and to perhaps place the bowls a distance away from each other.  Each dog will feel he has his own space for eating.

Training Your Dog Not to Growl at People

The real problem arises, according to dog trainers, when the dog growls at people.  In the book The Well-Mannered Dog, the authors explain that dogs who show aggression when their humans get too close to the food bowl are forgetting their rightful place in the pack.  That is, they are trying to assume the lead position in the pack over their humans.  As the authors state, “Food aggression can be a problem because it invariably leads to other kinds of aggression.”

Dog Training Techniques to Stop Food Aggression

There are several dog training tools that owners can use to modify their dog’s aggressive behavior at feeding time.

  • The dog should never be fed first.  In a pack, the leader eats first.  The leaders are the humans in the family and the dog should not be fed until after having watched the humans eat.
  • The dog should be given a training task or two to perform prior to receiving her food bowl.  It could be something as simple as a sit or a down command.  But a training task will focus the dog’s mind and emphasize the idea that the human is the pack leader.
  • Reward the dog with the food only after she has performed the training tasks.
  • Stay with the dog while she eats.  The authors of The Well-Mannered Dog note that leaving the room while the dog eats can give her the idea that she is entitled to be left alone with her food.  Staying with her reinforces the human’s status as the pack leader.

Train Your Dog to Understand that You are the Leader of the Dog Pack

Make the Dog Sit and Wait for her Food

Make the Dog Sit and Wait for her Food

These training tips for aggressive growling behavior around feeding time seem to be working with Lucy.  In the past few days, I have done the following, without hearing any growling:

  • Gave her sit commands and made her earn a couple of hand-fed kibbles before putting down her food bowl.
  • Held the food bowl in my hands for the first minute or so after she started eating.
  • Moved the food bowl a few inches after putting it down.
  • Stood over her while she ate.
  • Promptly removed the food bowl after she finished eating.

I think Lucy is catching on to the fact that I am the leader of this dog pack, and she is a well-loved but subordinate member of it.

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DNA Tests for Mixed Breed Dogs

September 18th, 2009 2 comments

Should You Have Genetic Testing Done on Your Mixed Breed Dog?

So you’ve adopted a cute little mutt from the local animal shelter.  Wonderful!  You’ve not only saved a life, you’ve also robbed a puppy mill of profit by adopting rather than purchasing a dog from a pet shop.

You think your new family member might be a Golden Retriever crossed with a German Shepherd, with perhaps a little Boxer tossed in.  Many people who adopt mixed breed dogs are turning to DNA test kits to try and determine the genetic heritage of their dogs.

Why Have Dog DNA Testing Done?

Certain dog breeds may be prone to specific health problems.  If the owner knows the dog’s ancestry, perhaps measures can be taken to ensure the dog a longer, healthier life.

DNA Testing May Explain Some of Your Dog's Behaviors

DNA Testing May Explain Some of Your Dog's Behaviors

Additionally, some behavioral traits are breed-specific.  DNA testing may help explain some behaviors in your dog, such as digging, herding and barking.  Knowing your dog’s genetic background may help with fashioning the best routine for training, exercise and discipline.

Finally, finding out your dog’s genetic ancestry may have other consequences, for better or worse.  An example is a recent story from Salina, Kansas about a woman whose mixed breed dog was picked up by animal control officers after it got loose.  The dog appeared to have a lot of pit bull in its ancestry.  Since 2005, the town has banned the unregistered ownership of pit bulls and mixed breeds that are predominantly pit bulls.

DNA testing proved that the dog was not predominantly pit bull, and the owner was permitted to keep her dog.  Of course, DNA testing could very well lead to the opposite outcome if it proves a dog is predominantly a banned breed.

What Dog DNA Tests are Available?

There are at least three main dog DNA tests on the market.  One test offers blood based DNA sampling that is performed by your veterinarian; the others offer at-home cheek swab sampling that you send back and await the results.

Wisdom Panel™ MX

Wisdom Panel™ MX by Mars Veterinary™ offers:

  • Blood based DNA sampling conducted by a veterinarian.
  • Analyzes DNA back to the dog’s great-grandparent level.
  • Tests for at least 157 breeds.
  • Consumers receive results in two to three weeks.
  • Cost is about $120 to $170 per dog.

Wisdom Panel™ Insights is another product offered by Mars Veterinary™.  This DNA kit features:

  • Do-it-yourself cheek swab DNA test kit.
  • Tests for more than 170 breeds, “the largest database on the market,” according to company advertising.
  • Consumers receive results in approximately three weeks.
  • Cost is about $80 per dog.

Canine Heritage® Breed Test

The Canine Heritage® Breed Test consists of:

  • Do-it-yourself cheek swab DNA test kit.
  • Tests for approximately 108 breeds.
  • Consumers receive a Certificate of DNA Breed Analysis listing the dog’s primary, secondary and “in the mix” breeds.
  • Consumers receive test results in four to six weeks.
  • Cost is $100 to $120 per dog.

BioPet DNA Dog Breed Identification

BioPet DNA Dog Breed Identification kits from BioPet Vet Lab feature:

Several Dog DNA Tests are Available

Several Dog DNA Tests are Available

  • Do-it-yourself cheek swab DNA test kit.
  • Tests for 62 breeds.
  • Issues results of detected breeds in decreasing order.
  • Consumers receive results in about two weeks.
  • Cost is about $60 per dog.

What to Expect from Dog DNA Testing

The science of genetics is complex.  The fact that your mixed breed dog appears to have characteristics of a certain breed does not necessarily mean that breed is predominant in your dog.  Most of the DNA test kits do not test to determine if your dog is a purebred.

If numerous generations of your mixed breed dog’s ancestors were also mixed breed dogs (that is, if your dog has no recent pedigree ancestors), the results of the DNA test may be inconclusive.  Additionally, the DNA tests available on the market test for a limited number of recognized breeds.  If your dog’s ancestry is predominantly from a breed that is not included in the test, your results will be inconclusive.

Although there might be sound reasons for wanting to know your dog’s genetic heritage, in the end, you may not be able to find out with any degree of certainty.  Moreover, if you have concerns about your dog’s health issues or behavior, the best place to start is by discussing those concerns with your veterinarian.

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Categories: Dog Behavior, Dog Health

Tough Dog Toys: Finding a Durable Dog Toy is Challenging

August 26th, 2009 1 comment
Picking Dog Toys that are Tough Enough can be a Challenge

Picking Dog Toys that are Tough Enough can be a Challenge

Finding dog toys that can stand up to a couple of rowdy, toothy dogs can be difficult.  Many toys that are advertised as tough, indestructible or durable fail to live up to the billing.  Other toys that appear too flimsy to survive the chompers of our two mutts end up lasting a long time.

Why Bother with Dog Toys?

It is important for dogs to have a number of fun and distracting chew toys around.  Chew toys serve several functions.

  • Some types of chew toys can help keep your dog’s teeth clean and her breath fresh.
  • Chew toys can help get a puppy through the uncomfortable teething stage.
  • Chew toys can be very entertaining, giving your dog an excuse to run and tug and chase.
  • And if you don’t want the legs on your dining chairs to sport teeth marks, you might want to keep a handful of chew toys around just to keep your furry friend amused.

How to Choose Tough Dog Toys

Some dogs are harder on dog toys than others.  Our two young Lab mix dogs are about as rough on dog toys as any dogs can possibly be.  When they play together with a toy, it is usually a fierce fight-to-the-death (of the toy, that is) game of tug o’ war.

When they play individually with any given chew toy, they both tend to fixate on finding a weak spot and tearing the toy to pieces.  It simply does not occur to dogs to think of a toy as a keepsake, or as something too cute and expensive to demolish.  For example, of the five toys we gave Frankie for Christmas, only one – a soft rubber football – survived to the end of the day.

So, through trial and error, we have learned a thing or two about choosing durable dog toys.

There are no Indestructible Dog Toys

The first rule to keep in mind is that there are no indestructible dog toys.  No dog toy lasts forever, particularly if a dog actually plays with it.  All toys wear out or come apart or break.  That is why dogs should be carefully supervised while playing with any toy.  Dog chew toys often come apart or fray during play.  You don’t want your dog swallowing pieces of any dog toy because the pieces might not pass easily through his digestive tract.  This applies to toys made from any material, natural or synthetic.

For Rough Customers, Dog Toys with Rounded Edges Fare Best

It has been our experience that dogs who tend to fixate on destroying a dog toy will focus on finding a weak spot in the material.  For Frankie and Lucy, the weakest spots tend to be angled edges.  This is especially true for rubber dog toys, whether they’re made of soft or hard rubber.

We bought Frankie a rubber dog toy shaped like the classic comedy prop, the rubber chicken.  He loved it, carrying it everywhere around the house the night we brought it home.  By the next morning, Frankie had relieved the poor rubber chicken of its beak.  The beak was an angular appendage, so to speak.  It gave him something to grab hold of and tug with his teeth.  And it didn’t hold up very well.

For rubber dog toys, we have found that some of the most durable products are manufactured by JW Pet Company.  Their toys are made from pliable, natural rubber, which tends to hold up better than hard rubber or plastic.  The soft rubber football that survived Christmas is a product of the JW Pet Company.  Their products are available all over the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and elsewhere.

A couple of caveats are in order, though.  Many of the toys manufactured by JW Pet Company have squeakers inside.  The squeakers do not seem to last very long at all.  But that is not necessarily a bad thing, for the humans anyway.

The other caveat is that JW Pet Company does make several toys with angled edges.  One example is the Ruffians Large Dog Toy™ shaped like an octopus.  The little octopus arms provide a perfect weak spot for pulling the toy apart.

Aspen Pet Products makes the Dogzilla® line of rubber chew toys.  These toys may or may not be very durable for dogs that are tough on their toys.  For some reason, our dogs are just not very interested in these toys.

We have had mixed luck with Kong­® products.  The Classic Kong™ holds up quite well as a treat dispenser and chew toy.  However, Frankie figured out very quickly how to best the Wubba™.  All it takes is a few minutes of relentless chewing on the fabric covering the small ball on top, and that toy is destroyed.

Fabric Dog Toys

The rounded edges rule applies to fabric dog toys as well.  We’ve had mixed luck with toys made by Fat Cats, Inc.  Some of the stuffed animals have been known to last only 20 minutes before the fabric is ripped and the stuffing is everywhere.  The tossing rings (e.g., Chuck-A-Duck™) are fine for playing fetch games with the dogs.  But they won’t last long if the dogs are left to play with them on their own.

Rope Dog Toys

Rope toys are wonderful for cleaning and flossing a dog’s teeth.  Some rope toys are treated with fluoride or baking soda to make them even more effective as a dental aid.  Rope dog toys also provide hours of tugging fun for the dogs.  Aspen Pet Products makes a spearmint flavored Fresh ‘N Floss™ rope toy for large dogs that is quite durable.

Trial and Error

Finding the right dog toy is a matter of experimentation.  Our dogs are large and very rough on any kind of dog toy.  Smaller dogs, or dogs that are less destructive with toys may do just fine with stuffed toys or toys with angled edges.  Such toys do not stand a chance with our toothy beasts, though.  And at an average of $15 to $20 per toy, the toys we buy need to last longer than a few hours or a few days.

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