Saturday, October 4, 2008

How to Stop Dog Behavior Problems

When you are addressing how to stop dog behavior problems, there is a formula. Whether the dog behavior problem is barking, jumping, chewing, digging, fighting, or a host of others, you need to:
  • Think about the behavior problem from the dog's point of view; what is he getting out of it?
  • Consider what you are doing that may be causing this problem.
  • Reinforce the dog's stopping this behavior problem. This may be very simple as in the example below...

Every time you sit down, your dog comes over and paws your leg. You'd like this to stop, so what do you do?

Common Sense Answer to solving this dog behavior problem: You take your dog's paw and put it back on the ground and say, "No, Rover". He keeps pawing your leg. Rover is thinking, "Well, I don't think Mom likes this, but she pays attention to me when I do it".

"Talkin' Dog" Answer to stopping this dog behavior problem: You don't look at your dog or acknowledge his presence; instead, you calmly get up and walk out of the room. Rover stops pawing your leg. Rover is thinking, "Well, this pawing thing is no fun anymore. Mom doesn't even look at me and tell me 'No'. She just gets up and leaves! I won't do THAT anymore. It not only fails to get her attention; it chases her away!"

This simple example illustrates how getting inside your dog's head -- "Talkin' Dog" -- can produce fast, easy, and somethimes even fun, ways to solve dog behavior problems with no harsh methods like jerking, no yelling and no gimmicks like squirting or clicking.

Another example of a dog behavior problem is fear aggression. If your dog has fear aggression, you may be thinking, "I give my dog so much loving attention -- how can he still have fear aggression?" Well, there's a good chance that all your loving attention may actually be INCREASING his fear aggression and causing this dog behavior problem! It is not true that only dogs that have been harshly treated wind up as aggressive biters or fighters.

Even when a dog is treated gently -- but incorrectly -- we can either induce or reinforce this problem of aggression. How you touch your dog and how you greet your dog can cause him to be fearful and can contribute to the next aggressive event. The difficulty with fear biters -- or nervous aggressive dogs -- is that people with the best intentions in the world often contribute to the behavior problem.

Here's an example of how you may be contributing to this problem: you come in and greet your dog, leaning over to pet him while looking in his eyes. He rolls over and you gently and lovingly rub his stomach. What's wrong is that you have just caused and rewarded the most submissive gesture a dog can make: rolling over on his back. Inducing and rewarding submission cannot induce confidence.

How to Greet Your Dog to Reduce the Behavior Problem of Submissive Aggression

When you greet a dog -- even your own -- your posture has a profound influence on your dog's behavior.

How to greet your dog to cause fear and submissive behavior: look him straight in the eye with your shoulders squared to him, lean over him, and reach down from above. How to greet your dog so he won't be fearful: squat down, don't stare at his eyes right away, and reach from the floor up to him to pet him on his chest and throat, not the back of his neck.

See my ebook on solving dog behavior problems for much more on my 'Talkin Dog methods of stopping dog behavior problems--methods that do NOT include jerking, yelling, squirting or clicking. And I wish the best for you and your dog!

Dr. Dennis Fetko, "Dr. Dog"

Saturday, September 27, 2008

What Toys Are Bad For Dogs?

In looking at what toys are bad for dogs, I find that we too easily overlook safety when we consider toys. We buy toys that appeal to us -- not necessarily to dogs -- and the manufacturers know this so they make them with whistles and bells and in colors and shapes that most dogs don’t even recognize let alone are attracted to. But we buy them, so they keep making them. It seems as though they will make anything we will buy and call it a toy regardless of its danger to the dog.

Just ask your vet or the staff at your local emergency animal hospital what toys are bad for dogs. They know because many times they see dogs and cats with toys or pieces of toys stuck in their throats or in their stomachs or intestines. So ultimately we are responsible for our pets safety, no one else.

Aside from the physical dangers of toys that are bad for dogs, I've noticed in the past few years a new trend in toys that make a squeal-type sound when they’re bitten. One of the reasons your dog would rather chew on your hand or arm than a toy is that you react. It mouths you and then hears your voice, sometimes feels your touch and absolutely gets your attention so you become its best “toy”!

In order to make toys more appealing to dogs, some companies add a sound component so that when the pet plays with the toy, it hears either the jingle of a bell or the squeaky sound of a whistle type thing or a clatter. And that gives the dog feedback, thereby making the toy more appealing than silence.

If the toy is made of cloth, either bits of the cloth itself or the thread that sews it together can come out in strings and either wad up in the pet’s throat or be swallowed and wind up in the stomach or intestine. These toys are bad for dogs and can be very dangerous because threads or bits of ribbon or yarn wrapped through the intestine can represent a real danger to the pet. And even if you notice signs of distress such as coughing, hacking, vomiting, dry heaves, or difficulty passing stools and you take your dog quickly for medical treatment, many of the substances do NOT show up on x-rays because they are no more dense than the surrounding tissue.

I’ve had clients whose pets had to undergo extensive surgery throughout several feet of intestine to find the constricting string or blockage from one of toys that are bad for dogs. Your pet doesn’t need extensive surgery nor you the worry and the expense because of a poorly chosen toy.

The sound issue becomes important when dealing with other animals and should be considered in learning what toys are bad for dogs. Nearly every mammal on earth squeaks or makes a screechy sound as an infant in distress. When your pet mouths its new toy and the toy squeaks to encourage further mouthing, you may literally be training your dog to mouth your cat or kitten to a point of danger or death. In nature that screech sound is supposed to inhibit hard contact – not instigate more. And puppies raised with such toys may literally increase their oral actions on a kitten vocally expressing distress.

Suddenly we have a severely injured or dead kitten because the well-intentioned dog simply “broke its toy”. If we then see what happened and impulsively reprimand the dog, it gets confused becauxe from its point of view we are punishing it for playing with its companion animal. It had no intention of hurting the cat but did because all of its early toys made the same screech sound to instigate further oral action. So some toys that are bad for dogs desensitize the dog to instinctive reactions since they were encouraged to play with them.

A word about rawhide. It’s a very popular and well-known material for chew toys, but if the hides are tanned in Asian countries -- and many are — arsenic is often used as one of the chemicals in the tanning process so this seemingly attractive toy may actually be a bad toy for your dog. Granted the arsenic is in very minute amounts by the time the finished product is given to your pet, BUT even minute amounts over a few years time, can represent a serious threat.

Also, rawhide is literally the skin or hide of an animal. Another form is called leather. So if you give your puppy wonderful rawhide toys and chewies for several months and come home one day to find your new designer shoes all chewed up or your leather cushion gouged away, you taught your dog to chew leather! So this is definitely something to be aware of in considering what toys are bad for dogs.

Many of the clients with whom I work—because of their dogs chewing on things like shoes, briefcases, eyeglass cases, and leather book covers, have the Euraka light bulb go on when I ask if they used rawhide chewies to get through the teething stage as a puppy!

Regarding balls, such as tennis and racquet and soft rubber pink balls, many dogs have the bites strength to compress these. I have been with client dogs who were very nicely playing with their ball while I was dealing with the owners and suddenly the dog showed severe distress and I reached in and had to forceably pull the ball from the dog’s throat. What happened was that the dog compressed the ball with its biting molars, but while flipping its head around the ball worked its way in between the rows of teeth at the back of the mouth and reformed and popped back in shape. While it's at the front of the throat or the back of the mouth, the dog has no bite pressure to recompress and it was suddenly choking dangerously on its own toy. That’s why size and composition are so critical when considering what toys are bad for dogs – especially for unsupervised use.

Tennis balls are a popular toy for dogs BUT the surface is more abrasive than rock! The tennis ball coating is intended to “grab” both the racquet strings and the ground so they wear the teeth down if gnawed on. One of my clients spent several hundred dollars having root canals done on his Lab's teeth because the tennis balls wore the teeth down to the point it became painful for the dog to chew anything hard including dry kibble. So these are definitely bad toys for dogs.

Again, YOU must be your pet’s advocate for safety and well-being. Tennis balls are fine for a brief round of fetch or retrieval games, but then stick them in the drawer or a box; do not leave them available for long-term chewing or gnawing.

Some of you may be aware that the "pimple ball" has gone through a recall after killing pets whose tongues got caught in the hole in the ball as the ball reinflated.

SO, I'm hoping that this description of what toys are bad for dogs has been helpful as your choose toys for your pets!

You can also learn more about my "Talkin Dog" methods of stopping dog behavior problems without jerking, yelling, squirting, or clicking.

Monday, September 22, 2008

What Are Good Toys for Dogs?

When choosing good toys for your dog, consider safety and appeal to the pet – dog or cat. Hard rubber and nylon properly sized for the dog are generally safe but have little appeal. Recent changes include being able to flavor or “season” the object with appealing things like peanut butter, prepared spreads and a little gravy to make them much more attractive as best dog toys, especially to dogs.

My old favorite dog toy of a “PB Kong” is now being produced as a rubber Kong toy with an accompanying aerosol can of some sort of cheese spread, but I still prefer smearing the inside of the Kong with peanut butter.

In considering what toys are good for dogs, you might consider a new line of chewies. They are hard but edible, made of things like rice, corn, potatoes – to make them appealing to dogs but safe enough to chew and consume.

A great new type of dog toy to keep dogs busy AND interested are the rolling balls you can put treats or kibble into. The goodies come out bit by bit as the dog rolls the dog around. This gives activity and exercise and rewards both with the food treat. Just be careful, of course, that the Godzilla dogs out there don’t crack the whole thing open to get the contents.

Although you should avoid tug of war type games with your dogs, a double pull toy can be a good dog toy as it provides great exercise if you have multiple dogs. It’s okay if they tug playfully against each other; it is NOT okay if they do so with a human.

When you tug with your dog, you first of all teach it to tug and secondly reinforce it for using its mouth hard against a human. That’s not something you ever want your dog to learn or feel okay doing, so why teach it? Now, dog to dog, it’s not as bad because when they play they are either mouthing a toy OR each other’s body directly and they will get instant feedback that they’re mouthing too hard. But by the time a human, especially a child says that to a dog, the damage is done. Don’t teach what you don’t want.

Chosen carefully, good dog toys can provide exercise, fun, and activity to prevent mischief and damage so common with boredom. Just choose carefully. You can find more information on my 'Talkin Dog methods of solving dog behavior problems without jerking, squirting, yelling or clicking.

by Dennis Fetko, Ph.D., "Dr. Dog"
Information on stopping dog behavior problems like digging.