Is that a sad dog, or a calm one?

Far too often we've been conditioned to think a happy dog is one with a wagging tail and forward posture - and a dog who is sad keeps their head down and doesn't wag their tail.

Dogs who are alert and in arousal will have that flashy look to them, and dogs who are calming down will have a more relaxed and subdued look.

It's not a matter of happy or sad dogs - it's a matter of what state of mind is your dog in, and what state of mind promotes the right behavior for your dog at the time.

Flashy and alert behavior is excellent for obedience drills, tricks, cute pictures, and performance/play. Calmer more relaxed body behavior is preferred for dogs who need to be cool, collected, and behaved in busy environments and in situations that would likely trigger an excited or explosive outburst.

Your dog can hopefully do both of these! Be aware, however, that you may unintentionally start psyching your dog up if you think they are looking "sad" (when really they are actually just calm). Let your dog get lots of practice resting in that calm state - most need more practice with that skill because they struggle to be relaxed around many of life's triggers... and are REALLY good at keying up and being alert (and subsequently impulsive and explosive!) 🙂

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Forward ears: Cute for Pictures, Bad for walks

While working on our off-leash heel with the long line, Lola the GSD would occasionally set sights on a squirrel - sending those big Shepherd ears towards the sky and sending ME a message that she is thinking about chasing them!

When you think about how a dog behaves on a walk, you often find that certain things grab their attention and bring their ears forward and alert! What people often don't realize is that constant or steady environmental alertness (fixating or reacting to things around you and your dog) leads to an impulsive reaction. Whether it is lunging towards a dog, diving after a squirrel, blowing up at cars as they pass, barking at a stranger, or jumping on someone as they walk by.

Forward ears (and a wrinkled brow) are usually a big red flag to a chain reaction of events about to happen: lock, load, explode! Basically, the ears are the first thought of "hey, look at that thing" and the longer they look, the harder they stare, the closer "it" is, and all of a sudden you're struggling with your dog.

Instead of going through that unfortunate sequence of events, let your dog's ears tell you what they are thinking! If their ears are forward/alert more than briefly it's time to assess immediately your plan of action: correct, interrupt, move away, and/or re-engage!

Forward ears are so cute for pictures, but are a sign of struggles to come on your walk!

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Big and Littles: Things to be aware of when socializing dogs of different sizes

When it comes to socializing dogs, there are many things to be aware of to keep everyone safe!

Learning how to read body language, de-escalate arousal, address over excitement or bullying, advocate for each dog, and match good social partners are all important foundation skills as you start working on socialization. You have to basically play lifeguard to a sea of dogs!

What some folks may not realize is that size of dog should be taken into account in socialization, as well!

I'm sure we've all see the "small dog section of the dog park" and not questioned it, because it has a shorter obstacle course, smaller water bowls, and appears to be calmer at times (fyi, I don't recommend dog parks at all but the fact that many have a small dog section is commendable!). Have you ever seen a small dog in the big dog section, though?

First off, be very aware that some larger dogs have strong prey drive and view little dogs as something to hunt - just like how they go after cats, squirrels, possums, etc. Predatory behavior is very strong in many breeds. Be careful!

The reality is that many small dogs can "hang" and hold their own with the big guys and isolating them from bigger pals just seems like overkill. That said, the humans responsible for socialization need to be very aware of how much influence they have over their group of dogs at all times, but especially when there is a small dog in the mix.

At first glance it's easy to look and think - well yeah, they're much smaller than the other dogs so getting stepped on or run over during play will be very rough and possibly cause an injury. That's so true! If play gets out of hand, a little could get hurt.

But what if your little doesn't really play and minds their own business? That certainly keeps physical interactions down, but always be aware of what is going on around them. Dogs use body language, growls, snaps, barks, etc to communicate with each other, and if there is a scenario where a little dog snaps, barks, or lunges at a bigger dog (maybe asking for space or possibly guarding something and being possessive) and the bigger dog doesn't take the hint and sees them as "fighting words," you've got a serious problem.

In both of the above scenarios, whether it's a little playing or a little trying to communicate in the yard - if an injury happens (or maybe they just get scared or overwhelmed), they may vocalize/cry - which immediately becomes a safety issue. The crying/yelp of any dog, but particularly a small dog can set off the prey drive of others. Before you know it, you've got instinct taking over and dogs trying to go after the crying dog. I know it sounds gruesome, but the reality is they are dogs...why do you think they love squeaky toys so much? It's because they are designed to click into their predatory instincts by replicating the sound of injured prey! Never forget, dogs are apex predators living in our homes. Owners must be smart and aware about interactions with others!

This doesn't mean that bigs and littles can't coexist or even play well together - what it does mean is that the human responsibility for this "puppy party" needs to be matching appropriate partners (not just every dog can be with any dog), know how to identify and address potential conflict or high arousal situations, and have influence and respect of all the dogs present.

Be smart and aware about socialization so you don't put your dog in a situation to fail!

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The problem with feeling guilty about using a crate

When it comes to crating your dog, many people feel very guilty or uncomfortable with a few things - typically the amount of time their dog is in their crate when owners work away from home, if the dog has to go back in their crate if their owner wants to go back out of the house again, and on top of all of that, their dog sleeping in their crate.

Crate training and predictable behavior from your dog while unsupervised go hand and hand! It's not uncommon for folks to feel so bad about the 6-8 hours of crate time while they are at work, that they get home and leave their dog out of their kennel while they run to the store for errands or go out to dinner. Unfortunately, many times people return home to a variety of things - like chewed up furniture, things missing from the trash can or counter top, pee and poop in the house, etc - things that are easily controlled and prevented with their dog's crate training routine, but are given the green light when left out of the kennel.

A similar pattern can happen with dogs who spend time out of the crate overnight. Not to say some dogs won't simply rest on their dog bed in your room, but many dogs (particularly those not mature enough or have not earned the right by general improvement in their behavior and state of mind) will make mistakes or get into trouble while they are unsupervised as their owner sleeps.

If you are giving your dog an opportunity for exercise and potty relief a few times per day, kennel time isn't really that much different than your dog laying somewhere else in your house. The only difference is that when they are done with their nap in their kennel, they may wake up and eat their provided food or chew on their dog toy because those are the options - on the flip side, your dog outside of the crate has more opportunity to make mistakes and get into things they shouldn't.

Utilizing a kennel when you can't supervise your dog helps set your family up for success, and that's why most trainers encourage puppy and dog owners alike to help create routine and boundaries in their home with crate training.

They're going to do a lot of laying down anyway, why not make sure it is in a controlled and safe place? 

All these pups look pretty comfortable - crate or not :)

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Sweet Moments

One of the special things in my relationship with dogs are our Sweet Moments. The warm times, where we share gentle and mutual affection with each other.

One of the biggest things stressed during training to prepare owners for success at home, in particular with dogs who have behavioral issues, are setting boundaries. There is necessary application of non- negotiable boundaries, discipline, rules, and accountability to help create a shift in the relationship with a dog to take a dog who is practicing behaviors we don't want (over excitement, aggression, anxiety, territorial tendencies, fear, etc). But I know it can be so hard to look ahead at the first 24 hours, 7 days, 30 days, or 90 days with your dog and visualize how to make all of those important changes, while still sharing companionship and affection with our loved pet.

My best advice is to share Sweet Moments. Moments mean they are there, they are special, but they are limited - these moments aren't happening all of the time. 

Sweet moments are genuine and rewarding periods of affection and adoration between you and your dog. 

But the most important part is that they arn't happening ALL the time. Smothering, spoiling, pampering, over accommodating, too much freedom with unearned affection, and being loose on rules or boundaries are not the same as Sweet Moments. Those dynamics make the majority of your relationship with your dog unbalanced, moving your progress in the wrong direction, by often unintentionally reinforcing and empowering behaviors you are actually wanting to correct.

Sweet Moments are evenly and appropriately balanced with boundaries, rules, and leadership - to create a teamwork effort where your dog looks to you for direction. They move your relationship and your dog's behaviors and choices in the right direction. 

Please, share and enjoy your Sweet Moments - they are lovely and special. And then think about all the other interactions with your dog, and decide if they are helping or hurting your progress and their ability to look at you as a leader, instead of a soft pamperer:)

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Socialization Problems: Vampire Dogs & Hulking Out!

I'm sure many people are familiar with this scenario:

Two dogs are playing and both seem to be having a good time. As they continue to bounce around together, you start to notice things speeding up, getting more intense and rowdy - maybe they've started chasing each other or maybe they've started getting more physical with paws on each other's backs, mouthiness, or body slams. Then,very rapidly, there is an altercation between the dogs who were playing/interacting! Whether it's just a bunch of noise, or a full on dog fight, things that we once playful and fun quickly turned into conflict.

This kind of scenario plays out a lot - especially at dog parks, daycares, and even when introducing two dogs to each other for the first time. Even dogs who usually play well with others can get caught up in this moment of "hulking out!" Almost all of the clients we see who have dogs that are leash reactive or snapping at/getting nasty with dogs at one point played just fine! However, their social skills diminished because they got into a situation that escalated beyond their comfort zone.

Just like any relationship, dogs have limits of what is OK and what is not - and often folks don't realize that when unfamiliar dogs are brought together, none of these dogs have a relationship where they've established limits and playstyle with the other dogs. Many of these "socially akward" dogs actually do want to interact with others, but time and again are getting overwhelmed quickly and set up to be reactive to the scenario.

Why does this fine line between play and fight happen? In general the envelope starts to be pushed as intensity, excitement, and arousal increase. Bouncy play bows, and "give and take" are a softer form of play - chasing and lots of body contact is more hear pumping AND puts a lot more pressure on dogs. In general, dogs who have a history of snapping or getting into scuffles generally don't feel comfortable with too much pressure put on them - particularly by a dog they don't trust or have a relationship of limits/understanding play style and mannerisms.

Whenever we have a dog in for training that has a history of getting into fights or scuffles in social settings, our number one job is to advocate for that dog! That means, as we try to re-introduce social cues and interactions to their skill set, we make sure the other dogs they are around are polite, courteous, under control, and not putting a lot of pressure too soon on the particular dog. A huge part of helping the troubled dog is making sure they feel safe with us and know that someone else is controlling the yard (so they don't have to)!

After multiple calm and controlled social sessions, I'm not surprised to see the scuffle-pup start to sniff, engage, and relax around the dogs - not playing, not wrestling, just moving with, sniffing around, and existing with other canines. Shortly after that happens we may even see that awkward dog start to offer some play bows and get a little spunky - and that's fantastic! However, when that is happening it is SUPER important that I make sure things don't get too playful too fast!

This is what I call the "vampire dog" who is having a good time and enjoying themselves (finally!) but quickly gets in over their head as their heart rate raises and they realize they don't really "know the dog" they are playing with. It's really common to get excited our socially challenged dog is trying to play, but then see things turn into a scuffle quickly when the dog gets just a little carried away in soon uncomfortable. Like a vampire who is trying to love and be passionate with their partner, but the heat of the moment becomes to much and the fangs come out!

So, our goal is to take it slow, help dogs build relationships with appropriate and polite partners, and begin to work on their social skills. In controlled and appropriate social groups, these kinds of pups can excel, thrive, and finally get to act like a dog again! That said, these dogs are never great candidates for the dog park or doggy daycares where there is no one controlling the dogs and advocating for pups who are feeling overwhelmed or uncomfortable.

Just like people, your dog may not like every dog, but they can definitely start to rebuild their social skills in the right environment with advocacy and appropriate dog-friends!

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    Puppies need more than other puppies for socialization

    Watching puppies be puppies can really bring us a lot of joy - they are clumsy, frisky, and when they're playful look so cute zipping around the yard! As much fun as it is to watch two puppies play, it's also very important to remember that unchecked puppy play is usually really rowdy and really rough! Why wouldn't it be? Most pups love rough and tumble play, which is often very energy exhausting and physically demanding, and for a puppy owner the idea of PLAYTIME = TIRED PUPPY = GOOD PUPPY is very tempting to partake in as frequently as possible!

    It's also important to realize that puppy play often goes a bit too far, very frequently. At some point during their wrestling and chasing, one puppy is going to overwhelm the other - whether it's barrel rolling the other or all the growls and barks escalating to an snappy puppy tussel of angry faces. All of a sudden we have one puppy overwhelmed, and another puppy jacked up on energy and intensity...not a good combo for confidence and relationship buidling. Without realizing it, puppies get overwhelmed in rough play (that was "ok" at first but then everyone got carried away) and start to loose confidence around other dogs, feel like they need to self preserve, and can even become defensive. Just like that, a puppy's social development can become compromised and very soon we have a pup who is seemingly "snarky" to others due to being overwhelmed/bullied so frequently and becom an adolescent that is defensive/reactive to other dogs. Why can't we all just play nice? 🤔

    The best way to keep this pattern of events from happening is to help puppies learn how to settle down from play and look for the signs that things are getting too rowdy. I always have one puppy on a long line (the more fiesty one!) so that I can easily guide, remove, or recall them away if they are becoming too intense. I never want to just let the dogs "work it out" - that's like asking two toddlers or little kids to resolve a fight/struggle they are having. They are still developing their social skills, but don't have enough experience to resolve conflict fairly or smoothly yet.

    What does that intensity look like where a puppy is getting pushed too far? Play should always have some give and take - you chase me, I chase you; you clobber me, I clobber you. You should feel like there is a pretty fair amount of "equal" play between pups. If one puppy is constantly the bottom, getting trampled, and visibly displaying submission/concerned body language (tail down, crouched body, trying to get away, snapping/showing teeth) they are not having that much fun anymore and are experiencing overwhelm. If the barsting by the other dog continues, the partnering dog will become more defensive and feel less advocated/looked out for by their person. This happens very frequently at dog parks and daycare settings...and puppies quickly become reactive - not from a dog fight or being attacked (although that will certainly do it, too) but from being bullied and left without anyone looking out for them.

    So, while puppy play is fun, it's almost more beneficial for your puppy to interact with older, stable, and less playful dogs more often than rough and tumble play. Time with appropriate elders will allow your puppy to learn more mature socialization that doesn't involve tackling a dog on sight, and constant badgering to play. Your puppy can learn how to sniff, be sniffed, take a correction for being to forward, move with a pack of dogs with wrestling, and spend time in a social setting that isn't always fast paced. There is a place and time for puppy tumble play, BUT if that is all your puppy ever experiences, that is how they will try to interact with every dog (young or old, big or small) and will often be greated with a firm correction or dislike by the other dog because of it. There is a lot of value in an older dog disciplining a youngster, but they shouldn't be the only being responsible for molding your puppy's social skills - as owners we need to also be proactively looking for signs that our puppy is "too much" for others or has "had enough." Never just let the dogs work it out, or your bound to have friction between dogs very soon - older dogs who constantly have to correct young dogs that don't back off end up having to escalate. Many fights happen between rude adolescent dogs and older dogs who have been pressured too much.

    It's a lot of work of work to raise a well rounded puppy, but if you work hard on having positive and meaningful social experiences with appropriate dogs and with other puppies, you can help your pup be the best they can!

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    Introducing a new dog to your home & How to Avoid Problems

    When a dog arrives at your home for the first time, you have a unique opportunity to guide them on where they are staying, how they should act, and show them that you are advocating for them in this new environment. Depending on how you do things, you can build a great foundation OR can have a disastrous outcome! It is important to build relationship and trust through consistency and training (not just hugs and kisses) because these dogs have lived a life of uncertainty for a while and need to be shown how to live appropriately in a home. Not to mention, if you have current animals/other family members it is important to take precaution and set rules for both your current pets/humans as well as the new dog on how they will live together. Being casual about a new dog in your home can lead to behavioral issues, fights, anxiety, and aggression down the road.

    Most behavioral issues develop during the couple of months in a new home, because owners/fosters are not sharing the right information with their new dog, teaching boundaries, and showing the household that you have control of the chaos :) After a dog decompresses from shelter life and gets "comfortable," without proper guidance will begin to display behaviors you may not like.

    Allow your new dog to decompress and work on building a working relationship through training and boundary setting (not just cuddling, sitting on the couch, and feeding treats!), so they can learn how to be successful members of your family--and ultimately someone else's family if they are a foster dog! Always, always stay safe and reach out to a trainer if you are concerned about any behavioral issues, like aggression.

    Check out this video where I disucss what to do and what to look our for! You can watch on YouTube at: https://youtu.be/KMOH9libFiw

    Foster Dog Friday