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An Awkward Hello & Pleased to Meet You!

I pay $100,000 per year for happiness, how about you?

Okay, let me back this up a bit before you start to get the wrong idea. After university, I spent nearly 10 years of my life chasing a pay cheque. But the whole ‘work to live’ thing wasn’t quite panning out the way I thought it would, and I found myself spending most of those pay cheques on a whole bunch of junk I didn’t need, as a bandaid to cover up the fact that I-HATED-EVERYTHING-ABOUT-MY-JOB-AND-MY-LIFE-AND-MY-JOB-AND-OH-MY-DOG-HELP-ME-IF-I-EVER-HAVE-TO-SIT-BEHIND-THAT-DESK-EVER-AGAIN. Errrr, too dramatic? Alright, so fast forward to July 2018 when I found the courage to just rip that bandaid off and do something about it already. I made the decision to walk away from my corporate career, and I made the jump without any safety net in sight. Goodbye corporate card, downtown parking spot, fancy-pantsy boozy lunches, and golf tournaments (okay, let’s be real – never having to ever golf again is maybe-probably the very best part of leaving my old job). I once defined my very own value in monetary terms; my self-esteem and self-worth tightly tied together with a number on a T4 slip. And I cut that tie in one very vulnerable and brave snip. Spoiler alert: I dug deep and found the meaning of happiness and fulfillment in a job that pays me $100,000 less per year, but I’ve never looked back. Not once. You can’t put a dollar sign on what this new job and life has given me, and friends- I promise that is not an exaggeration.

Hi everyone, I’m Sammy Musgrave, Behaviour Coordinator for a local animal rescue in Calgary, AB. This isn’t my first blog, but in my previous blogging-life I had mainly focused on mental health (hint hint – corporate Sammy wasn’t the happiest of humans out there). And now I am here to share everything I know about dogs and behaviour modification. Ultimately, my goal is to provide you with a one-stop shop for all your training questions and needs, and to share an insider’s view of rescue. Focusing on our furry canine friends isn’t that much of a leap from what I was writing about before, given that they have always been a form of therapy for me.

This is the kind of therapy that I subscribe to.

Anyways, enough about me! Here is what you need to know. This is a safe and accessible forum for those of you who foster, own, or care for dogs. I really want to hear your comments, and I don’t want you to be afraid to ask questions. The topic of training and animal welfare can be touchy! But don’t worry, I don’t usually bite and I have been taught amazing bite inhibition. Welcome to my lame and awkward sense of humour, and to my blog!


Dog-to-Dog Reactivity

Four simple steps to curb your dog’s reactive behaviour toward other dogs.

Brownie, a shy shepherd cross with the kindest eyes, was one of those foster dogs that you just don’t ever forget. She was so perfect in nearly every way, except I dreaded taking her out for walks. As soon as another dog came into view, she switched on the drama. That is to say, Brownie’s response to the innocent passersby included vicious snarling, relentless lunging, and aggressive barking.

Sometimes I think that dog training would be so much easier if we weren’t caught up in worrying about what other people think. But our dogs do have a way of making us feel varying degrees of embarrassment, don’t they? Therefore, I succumbed to feelings of mortification, and I wondered what my neighbours thought about me and my ‘bad’ dog. I wanted to chastise Brownie so they would at least see me doing something about her undesirable behaviour. After all, the typical and expected response is to follow with a verbal barrage of ‘no!’ and ‘bad dog!’. However, I did the exact opposite. There I was, rapid-firing treats into her mouth and singing her praises while receiving more than a few strange looks from my neighbours.

Why was I rewarding ‘bad’ behaviour? Counterintuitive as it may seem, I was by no means reinforcing her barking and growling response to other dogs. So, let me explain my bizarre response to Brownie’s barking using a step-by-step guide for you to follow.

FOUR STEPS TO CHANGING YOUR ‘BARKING-BROWNIE’S’ REACTION TO OTHER DOGS.

  1. Set-up practice scenarios with friends and family who already have a social and friendly dog.
  2. Keep your Barking-Brownie under-threshold.
  3. Use behaviour modification activities like ‘Look at That’ to create an appropriate response toward other dogs.
  4. Keep training sessions positive regardless of your dog’s behaviour.

step 1: Set up practice scenarios with friends and family who already have a social and friendly dog.

Set up scenarios with someone who already has a well socialized dog – this is your ‘helper dog’. No dogs in your social circle? There are usually lots of local online communities for dog owners that you can post on to see if anyone is willing to give you a hand.

step 2: Keep your barking-brownie under threshold.

Keep a comfortable distance between Barking-Brownie and other dogs while you work on modifying her reactivity. This is called keeping your dog ‘under threshold’, and here are some tips to help you identify when she is under threshold:

  • She has loose and relaxed body language.
  • You are able to call her attention back easily.
  • She is still taking treats from you.

She is over threshold when she is in full reactive mode. Here are some tips to help you identify when he is over threshold:

  • Her body language is stiff.
  • Her mouth is closed and tight.
  • She is staring at the other dog.
  • She may already be lunging, barking, and growling.
  • It is challenging or impossible to get her attention back.
  • She is no longer taking treats from you, or she is taking treats with a hard mouth (this is a good indicator that your dog is stressed).

It is nearly impossible to modify behaviour when your canine is already over threshold. So if you know Barking-Brownie starts barking when she sees another dog from one block away, always do your best to stay one block {and three steps} away from other dogs when possible. Especially important when you’re conducting training sessions.

step 3: Use behavior modification activities like ‘Look at That’ to create an appropriate response toward other dogs.

Time to put an exercise called ‘Look at that’ into play.  When Dog A looks at Dog B, mark this behaviour with a ‘yes’ and then quickly follow up with a high-value treat. When I say high value, think pea-sized pieces of steak, chicken, hot dogs, cheese, etc.

If you say ‘yes’ and your dog does not immediately return her gaze back to you, you can place the treat in front of her nose and use it to lure her eye contact back to you.

After 10-15 sequences, give your dog the opportunity to look back at you without immediately prompting her with a ‘yes’. If she looks back at you, great! Mark the behaviour with a ‘yes!’ and treat. If she doesn’t look back at you within 3 seconds, prompt her as you did previously.

Is she is reliably offering ‘automatic eye contact’ after looking at Dog B yet? Good! Try taking 1-2 steps forward. The goal is to very gradually close the gap between Dog A & Dog B, but this could take multiple sessions. Don’t rush it. The end result is worth it.

step 4: Keep training sessions positive regardless of your dog’s behaviour.

Okay, admit it – you’re probably thinking that my advice is all well and good until you suddenly find yourself faced with your neighbour and her perfectly well-behaved Great Dane. Boom! Barking-Brownie is suddenly snarling and lunging towards the unsuspecting pair, and all you want to do is hide behind the nearest tree in shame. I get it.

Do your best to stay calm, and move Barking-Brownie in the opposite direction. Distract your dog as much as possible during your exit – using praise and treats as you briskly walk or jog away.

Above all else, we want our canine companion to see that other dogs predict good things. Regardless of the behaviour you’re seeing from your dog, do your best to reflect the behaviour that you would like to see from her.

I made this video to demonstrate exactly what I mean!

Also read: Facilitating Safe & Successful dog-to-dog intros.

Thanks for stopping by!

Love, Sammy & Bear
xx

Integrating a new dog into your multi-dog household

The secret to having a peaceful and happy pack is all in how you manage your environment and expectations.

Bear & Honey went together like… well, Bears & Honey, but it wasn’t always that way.

Dogs are pack animals, right? So then, isn’t it fair to expect a harmonious pack right off the bat? I mean, initial introductions went considerably well, not to mention your dog is always so gleeful to meet other dogs at the park or on walks. You picture that same glee on Molly’s face when you bring Titan home for good, anticipating hours of chase, wrestling, and group naps. Except – despite the evidence and logic that supports otherwise, our expectations need a serious wake-up call.

“Did you really think this is what I wanted, mom?!!” – Bear


So, let us get on with it, and wake-up then. What are some realistic expectations, and how do we promote good PR (Puppy Relations)? You’ve already facilitated safe and slow introductions, as detailed here. What’s next?

Use barriers, crates, or baby gates to keep the pack separate from the new kid for the first few days.

When a dog is moved to a new home, they are introduced to a new routine, family, rules, and environment that they are unfamiliar with, and this can be very stressful as they try to navigate their new life. For these reasons, it’s not uncommon for your new companion to experience something referred to as a ‘stress event,’ which triggers a release of various stress hormones including cortisol. Your dog can remain in this state for up to 3 days, and any further stressful events could escalate reactive behaviour. Think about the implications of having a dog chalked full of adrenaline and cortisol figuring out his place in the pack. It’s not a happy picture.

That’s not to say there aren’t some activities you can’t do to set the stage for a peaceful and trusting pack while invoking the 3-day rule of separation.

Group hand feeding:helps create a strong positive association between the pack, and also helps teach them patience and focus. Take turns giving each pup a piece of kibble, using barriers and/or leashes to keep everyone safe and respectful.

Group walks: allows the pack to acclimate to one another without the pressure and confrontation of direct greetings. The newbie should have his own walker.

Remove prized possessions from common areas.

When you are ready to grant your new furry family member access to the rest of the pack and house, it’s important to remove toys, beds, food, and anything else your dogs may covet, from shared areas. Feed your new dog in his own separate space, and enforce the same rule of separation when they are given chews or toys. This will help prevent spats over possessions and territory. After a few weeks, you can gradually re-introduce toys while you are actively supervising your pack.

The new dog should still be kept separate from the rest of the pack when they are not being supervised.

Keep the dogs confined in separate areas of your home any time you are away or can’t watch them. It can take weeks, if not months before your pack finds their groove. It’s good practice to separate the new guy even when you are home from every now and again, to give everyone some quiet time, especially if it seems one dog is not matching the other dog’s energy level. Breaks are a proactive way to prevent disputes and stress. You should still expect tiffs over jealousy, territory, and status. It’s all normal behaviour and part of the integration process. Think about the people that you have cohabitated with over the years. Did you always get along with them? No amount of baby gates or group walks will save my husband when he has taken the last bit of ice cream, and we have shared the same roof for years now!

In Summary:

1. Facilitate safe and managed introductions, as detailed here.
2. Invoke the 3-day of separation rule, and promote good PR (group hand feeding and group walks).
3. Remove prized possessions from common areas.
4. Invoke the rule of separation when you are not there to supervise the pack.

Thanks for stopping by!

Love, Sammy & Bear
xx

Facilitating Safe & Successful Dog-to-Dog Intros

Whether you are fostering or looking to bring home a new furry family member, how you handle initial introductions between your dog and her potential new flatmate is important. When fosters ask me for advice on how to introduce their resident dog to their new foster dog, here is what I tell them.

Both dogs should meet in a wide, open, and neutral area on leash.

Meeting in your home or yard could elicit territorial behaviours from your resident dog, and we choose a wide, open space to avoid putting either dog in a situation where they feel trapped. It’s ideal if you can find a location that is relatively quiet with low dog and human traffic to avoid adding any unnecessary stress or distractions to the meeting.

One handler per dog please and thanks!

You are going to need one person per dog. The introduction process should start with 20-30 feet between each dog. Give them even more space if they are giving off any stress signals.

Each handler should be giving their dog high value treats as they move closer to the other. Stop at about 5-10 feet away, and proceed to walk them parallel to each other. This allows your dogs to acclimate to one another without the pressure and stress that can go along with greetings. If one dog seems nervous, you can either create more distance between the two dogs, or you can position the nervous dog behind the one who appears less nervous. Don’t allow sniffs or greetings just yet. Walk them on leash for a few minutes, and if you see loose, relaxed body language from both, you can then set them up for a greeting.

MVIMG_20181022_130127.jpg

Proceed with brief greetings (1-3 seconds)

We are going to cross paths briefly, and as the dogs meet, it is so important that leashes are nice and loose. Pulling back on the leash or allowing tension on the leash can evoke defensive behaviour. Allow a quick greeting, and then continue moving them forward and away from each other using praise, and lots of high value treats.

Stress signals and body language to watch for.

When dogs greet one another, it’s appropriate for them to glance away after eye contact is made. Even  more preferable is if they avoid nose-to-nose greetings all together the first few times, and sniff each other’s genitals, moving around each other in a circle, and offering loose and relaxed body language. Remember to provide positive verbal feedback for appropriate greeting behaviour.  If you see any body language that suggests tension, diffuse the situation using positive interrupters and moving the dogs away from each other for a shake-off, or break. 

I’ve included an example of two dog-to-dog greetings. The first clip shows a very polite greeting between Mya and Vida. We move with the dogs to ensure that leashes don’t get tangled, and keep the leashes very loose. The second part of the clip exemplifies a somewhat tense greeting. Mya (lighter dog) was exhibiting some reactive behaviours towards Budha, so we turned Budha away from her to allow for a rear sniff which is less confrontational and scary for a reactive dog. We didn’t expect laid-back Budha to pop around to face Mya. Nose-to-nose greetings can be perceived as threatening, and their stiff body language tells us that they are both feeling uncomfortable. We use a positive interrupter to move Mya and Budha away from each other. 

Interrupt the greeting when you see any of the following:

– Stiff body language
– Closed mouth
– Puckered lip
– Hard stare or fixation on the other dog

You can go back in for another 1-3 second greeting once both dogs have had the opportunity to shake off.

Keep intros light and positive.

It is so important that both handlers stay calm and positive, regardless of the behaviour your dog is exhibiting towards the other dog. Your mood really matters. If you are feeling frustrated or stressed, your dog will most definitely pick up on that and it will impact her reaction towards the other dog. If taking a few deep breaths doesn’t help to calm your nerves, then you should end the greeting for the time being until you are feeling calm, or until you can get assistance from a confident handler.

Our aim is to create a positive association between both dogs. If they are reacting in a way that we don’t like, we are still going to use positive redirection to move them away from the situation.

Discipline, frustration, coercion, and yelling have no place in dog-to-dog introductions.

I’ve seen this story play out all too many times: Jasper growls and lunges at Maggie, which prompts his owner to yank his leash, and let loose a stern string of ‘No! Hey! That’s bad, Jasper!’ What are some likely outcomes based on what we know of the laws that govern behaviour?

– Jasper learns that Maggie’s presence predicts bad or irritating things happening to him.
– Jasper learns that the presence of any dog predicts bad or irritating things happening to him. Thankfully, dogs are pretty bad at generalizing; although, they always seem to generalize the things we don’t want them to.
– Jasper begins to develop escape or avoidance behaviour responses toward his owner.
– Tension is added to an already tense situation.

Use positive redirection, a pleasant tone of voice, and high value treats to call your tense dog away. Even if he is being a jerk. You can call him a few choice words if you want to, so long as you use a pleasant sing-songy voice.

If you have a reactive rover like Jasper on your hands, there are some training exercises you will want to work on, and you may want to seek the assistance of a professional trainer to help work through those exercises.

Moving into the Yard and Home.

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After a few greetings, you can continue with each dog walking parallel to one another before moving greetings into the backyard. Things can get a bit trickier in the backyard – here, territorial behaviour is more likely to surface. If we continue to see relaxed and happy body language, we can drop the leashes, and allow for brief sessions of play – remembering to monitor body language closely so that you can continue use verbal feedback to encourage any good behaviour you observe, and positive interrupters to diffuse any tension. End on a positive note, pick up the leashes, and take one dog into the house. Give them a minute to clear the entry way before having your helper bring your other dog in. 

Here is where things get truly tricky.  It can take weeks, even months, for dogs to acclimate to each other. Peaceful co-habitation can take time, and spats over territory, jealousy, and hierarchy are to be expected. Your new dog should be kept separate from the rest of the pack for the first few days when inside the home, using a baby gate or ‘crate and rotate’ system. There are activities that you can implement to promote a good relationship between your pack and your new addition, while still keeping them separate.

Thanks everyone for stopping by, and I am excited to hear about how you helped create a peaceful pack of your own! 

Love, Sammy & Bear
Xx


Read This Before You Take Your New Dog Home

Congratulations on making the best decision ever to adopt a dog into your family! How are you feeling? Over the moon happy? Nervous? Overwhelmed? A little bit of all of the above? Let me help you dispel some of those worries with a concrete Fido-Proof plan so we can focus on all the good feels that come with bringing home your new-to-the-family sweet and furry companion.

Gather supplies and prepare your home.

Before you bring home Fido home for the first time, make sure you’ve already done your supply run for a leash, collar, harness, food, etc. Once you have the basics, here are some less obvious preparations that I recommend in order to make your life that much easier in the long run:

  • If you will be using a crate, make sure it’s already set up before you bring your new dog home. Witnessing the set-up could make Fido even more hesitant to trust the dog-eating contraption that you are asking him to get into.

  • Designate and prepare a dog-proof space. I can’t stress how important this step is! I bring 10-15 new foster dogs into my home per year, and this was a rule I had to learn the hard way… (a few times). Save yourself from the potential destruction, accidents, and stress that can result from not having a dog-proof space. In many homes, this looks like a gated off area in the kitchen, mud room, or other non-carpeted space, using baby-gates, x-pens, crates, turned over coffee tables, and creatively placed chairs. This area should include Fido’s water and food dishes, a dog bed, a crate (if you’ve decided to use one), and a few chew toys (bully sticks, frozen stuffed kongs, etc).
Vida plotting her escape from her dog-proof space.
  • If you have children, now is a good time to teach them how to interact with their new furry friend. It’s also crucial that they not approach your new family member while he is eating or sleeping during the first few weeks.
  • If you have other pets in the home, be prepared to separate them for the first three days. Yes, your home is safe, and your family is likely the best thing to ever happen to Fido, but here’s the catch – he doesn’t know that yet. Something called a ‘stress event’ triggers when a dog’s schedule and environment changes. This means a whole lot of stress hormones flood Fido’s system, and continue to increase over a 3 day period before stabilizing to normal levels. It is a best practice to separate your new canine from the rest of the pack until he has had some time to decompress in his new environment. Even after 3 days, they should not be left together unsupervised during the first few weeks or perhaps months. It can take a long time for dogs to acclimate to one another in a new home, and spats over jealousy, territory, and miscommunication are to be expected. {Post on how to introduce a new dog to your pack coming in Jan 2019}
  • Find out what food he is currently eating so that you can keep him on it to avoid any tummy troubles. You can gradually transition him to a food of your choice over a 1-2 week period. Adding flora fiora or pumpkin can assist with this transition, but isn’t necessary.
  • Stock up on some training treats. Kibble can be used for a lot of training, but I recommend high value treats for anything that may be particularly challenging for your new dog (keeping in mind, that for some dogs, something as ‘easy’ as stairs might constitute a challenge that requires payment in a much higher currency).
  • Kongs and bully sticks! Give Fido something appropriate to chew on so that he isn’t tempted by your delicious looking baseboards.

Be prepared for the drive home.

Crate your new canine companion for the first ride home, or if he isn’t crate trained, have a second person with you to hold onto his leash during the drive. As much as you might want to show him off or introduce him to fun new experiences, avoid making any stops on the way home. Your first stop should be the area where you want him to do his business. Once he has done his business outside, you are ready to introduce him to his new home.

Create an errorless schedule for the first week.

It’s a good idea to keep a 10-15 feet lead on him as he explores the house. After he has had a chance to explore, help him get acquainted with the area that you’ve prepared for him. You can spend some time hand feeding him, and petting him while he gets adjusted to his designated space, but do make sure to leave him for an hour or two, preferably with a stuffed chew, to allow him some time to rest.

This is a general outline of what his routine should look for the first few days. When Fido isn’t in his designated area, it is a good practice to keep him on a 10-15 foot lead at all times during the first few days.

  • Wake up and let Fido out for a bathroom break
  • Feed breakfast
  • Bathroom break
  • Exercise, play, and/or family time
  • Bathroom break
  • Fido’s designated area
  • Repeat bathroom break-exercise, play and/or family time-bathroom break-Fido’s designated area circuit until it’s dinner time
  • Feed dinner
  • Bathroom break
  • Exercise, play, and/or family time
  • Bathroom break
  • Bedtime in Fido’s designated area

Note that there are tons of bathroom breaks to remove any room for error. You might be wondering why all the extra precautions? Perhaps your dog has already been housetrained, and has never gotten into anything he wasn’t supposed to in his foster home. Here’s the thing- dogs are terrible at generalizing. Just because he knew the rules in one household doesn’t necessarily mean he is going to realize those same rules apply to your household. That, coupled with the stress and anxiety of moving into a new household makes an accident that much more likely to occur.

Make the first week utterly unspectacular.

The first week should be relatively quiet and stress free. This week is all about bonding with Fido, and teaching him his new routine. Avoid introducing him to all kinds of new people, places, and animals. He needs time to feel safe, and to adjust to his new environment, people, and and routine. This is also a good week to practice a few short departures to prepare your new dog for the first time you have to leave him for an extended period of time.

Bear makes boring look cute.

Thanks for reading everyone! <3

Love Sammy & Bear xx