The other day I got the wonderful news that one of my clients is adding a new baby to their family…a human baby, this time. Cricket*, their first “child,” has grown in to a sensitive four-year old terrier with lots of energy, tons of love to give, and some anxiety in new situations.
Sadly, some dogs never adjust to a new baby in the home and desperate parents have no choice but to surrender their pet. Cricket’s mom and dad adore their fur baby and would be absolutely devastated to give him up – even if it was a last resort to protect their human baby – so we want to make sure that he is as prepared as possible for the upcoming change. Ultimately, there is no way to simulate a new baby in the house but exposing Cricket to some of the scents, sounds, and other changes he will experience will help him to adjust to the real thing.
Babies are loud and for a dog with a history of sound sensitivity like Cricket, it’s important to get them used to the cries and gurgles that will become a part of daily life. Buy a c.d. (or make a playlist) of baby sounds – crying, cooing, laughing, etc. – and play it (loudly) daily. Give your dog a stuffed Kong to munch on while the c.d. plays so he forms happy associations with the noises. The first several times you play the c.d., do so while you are home with your dog so that if he is frightened, you can reassure him. As he becomes accustomed to it, give your dog a Kong and press play before you leave the house.
Sudden noises, such as a baby’s cry in the middle of a quiet night, which can be particularly frightening to a dog. Single out a couple of specific noises that a baby may suddenly make, play them at random times without warning. Gather a handful of treats and when you press play, throw a shower of treats over your dog. This will teach him that a sudden cry means that great things will happen!
There are all sorts of new smells that you will bring home with your new baby. Expose your dog to baby powder or other products you will use regularly on your little one in the months before the birth by using it on your own skin and allowing your dog to sniff you. Play games with him while smelling of the baby so that he will form happy associations with these scents.
When the baby is born but before he is ready to come home, ask your partner or a friend to take a blanket or piece of clothing that the baby has been wrapped in or worn home to your dog so he can sniff it at length and get used to the new human scent.
Your dog will have to get used to the fact that you will holding or otherwise paying attention to the baby a huge percentage of the time. A person holding a baby, or carrying one in a pouch or pack, can look like a distorted monster human to a dog. Buy a life-size babydoll and practice holding and carrying it around at home, as well as simulating other common activities like changing a diaper or bathtime. Show the baby to the dog but treat the doll the way you will your real baby – don’t let your dog lick it or get close enough to jump up on it. Put the babydoll in a stroller and practice walking your dog with the baby stroller, too!
If you have friends with babies or young children, invite them over for a visit. Ask your dog to sit calmly with you and your guests and give him a Kong or treats to keep him busy while they are present.
The reality of bringing home a new baby is that you simply won’t have as much time to spend with your dog. Even though your natural inclination may be to spend more time with him now to make up for the change, it is actually better for your dog to begin spending less time with him in the months preceding the birth. This will help to mitigate the realization that new baby = less time with mom and dad.
Bringing home baby
It’s very important that your first actual interaction between your dog and your baby is a good one so go slowly. With mom having been in the hospital for a few days, let her greet your dog without the baby – he will be excited to see her! Have someone else take the baby in to the other room while mom calmly gives your dog love and treats.
After mom’s initial greeting, sit somewhere comfortable with baby and dog and reward him for being calm. If possible, have a friend or relative introduce your dog to the baby the very first time while you sit with him and give him affection. Also shower him with treats or give him a Kong to make him happy around the baby.
As time passes, be sure to give your dog some one-on-one attention each day. Since dogs are creatures of habit, try to establish a routine that is as similar as possible to the pre-baby one (make changes in your dog’s routine pre-baby to anticipate those that will come when the baby arrives). Above all go slowly and be patient; never force your dog to be around the baby if he is not interested. As things settle down over time, so will he, and you will have one big happy family!
Thanks to popular culture, the concept of dominance in dogs has become widespread. Your dog won’t come when you call? Well he must be dominant. Your dog always sleeps on the bed? He’s showing you he’s dominant. You dog rushes ahead of you when you open the front door? Dominant.
But dogs, as individuals, are not “dominant”. Dominance is not a personality characteristic (as in, my dog is energetic and dominant), it is found in relationships between individuals. By definition, dominance refers to an individual’s ability to take charge of or influence others but to be dominant requires the presence of those other individuals; I can’t just walk around by myself being dominant.
Let’s apply this concept to some beloved friends. Take Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, the Taco Bell Chihuahua and Spuds Mckenzie, the Bull Terrier spokesman for Budweiser in the 80’s. On their own, these dogs are noble (in the case of Lassie and Rin Tin Tin, at least), loveable, and obedient. Now put all four of them in to an empty room for 24-hours with only one food dish delivered 12 hours in to the experiment. It is highly likely that one or more of these dogs will dominate the others in order to eat as much of the food as possible but I’m not sure I could place a reliable bet on which dog that would be. That’s because in this specific context, Lassie may be the first to get to the food and protect it from the others or Spuds McKenzie might bully the others and fight them off. Does that mean Lassie or Spuds are dominant dogs? No. It means that in this specific context, one dog gained the upper hand and wielded power over the others in order to get what it wanted. In this context that dog “dominated” the others. Dominance in dogs is based on a loose hierarchy that may be established when two or more dogs interact. But this is an unstable and constantly shifting hierarchy. Let’s go back to our empty room. What if we suddenly throw two more dogs – Goofy and Pluto – in to the mix (ok, I realize these are not actual dogs, but bear with me here…)? Suddenly, the relationship that was established among our original four dogs changes to take Goofy and Pluto in to account. Even if Lassie acquired the food before, now it may be Pluto who is the most adept at securing resources for himself. Does this mean Lassie is a submissive dog? No. It just means that in this new context she is no longer the individual with the power.
If a dog can never be described as “dominant” how did this idea of a dominant or alpha dog become so entrenched in modern-day dog training? The concept was first developed by Austrian animal behaviorist and Nazi Party member, Konrad Lorenz, in 1949. Lorenz made many contributions to the understanding of dog behavior, but he was also highly influenced by the times in which he lived when dominance and submission applied to dictators and peons, to violent victors and overcome nations. Lorenz’s theory of canine dominance and submission closely mirrored these historical patterns of human action: submissive dogs will roll over (literally and figuratively) under the aggressive leadership of a dominant dog. In the relationship between humans and dogs, he believed, humans are dominant and should express that dominance any way necessary, including through physical means.
Over the following decades, the concept of dominance became standard in dog training and generations of dog owners were taught that the only way to produce an obedient dog was through punishment that proved the dog owner had the power. After the identification of “pack leaders” in the 1970s, research on wild wolf packs was used to support the theory. Unfortunately, this was a case of interpreting the data to fit the theory instead of the other way around. Wolf packs are family groups which are naturally led by wolf moms and dads. Just as in human families, when offspring mature, they leave to go and begin families of their own, they do not stick around to challenge their parental figures for leadership status. “Leaders” emerge in the pack not because one is more dominant or aggressive than another, but because parents must take charge over their children to keep the whole family happy and healthy.
Free ranging dog packs (when they form packs, which is not a given as in the wolf world) differ from wolf packs in that individuals may not have familial ties. But even in this case, dogs fail to establish and cede all power to one “leader.” Instead, as shown in research by Roberto Bonanni (2010), adult individuals take turns in the leadership position according to which dog can contribute most to the pack at any given time. In the pack he studied, Bonanni witnessed at least half of the dogs taking the “lead” at some point (with six individuals in regular rotation at the head of the group) according to which dog could make the strongest contribution to the pack’s welfare in any given context.
So if the idea of canine dominance is invalid, and establishing yourself as the “alpha” in your relationship with your dog is unnecessary and, in many cases, cruel, how should we approach dog training? Luckily, there is not only an alternative, but one that has been proven to be more effective in training dogs. This method – positive-reinforcement training or reward-based training – is in many ways the polar opposite of training that uses physical dominance, pain, and intimidation as a tool. In positive-reinforcement training, the dog is rewarded with something it loves (food, toys, or even praise) when it does something good. This basic tenet opens up tons of possibilities for training a dog to do something positive to replace a behavior you dislike (instead of punishing the “bad” behavior) and for shaping a dog to do fun tricks. Instead of instilling fear in your dog which may lead or exacerbate aggression, reward-based training (in both operant and classical forms) can decrease fear, build a dog’s confidence, and strengthen the human-canine relationship.
With positive-reinforcement training’s record of incredible results in obedience and behavior modification, there is absolutely no reason to use intimidation to train your dog. Really, wouldn’t you rather have your dog love to work for you than fear your presence?
And she eats a lot of it. Her favorite flavor is cat. Despite all the barriers I have used to keep her out of the litter box – baby gates, blocking it with furniture and plants – her drive for cat poop reigns supreme. Yesterday, on a walk, I even witnessed her poop, then turn around and eat it before I had my baggie open and ready to go. I know that dogs like poop – my darling Franny was always on a hunt for human feces in the giant open-air toilet for homeless San Franciscans, the Panhandle. But since I haven’t found any poop in the cats’ litterbox in weeks, I wondered if the quantity of poop she is eating could either a) indicate an underlying health problem or b) cause one.
The art of dog poop eating is called Coprophagia. Eating feces is a behavior embedded in a dog’s genetic make-up. Before domestication, poop was a perfectly normal part of a dog’s diet, providing nourishment. Some experts even believe that poop eating both in the past and today is a way for dogs to restore enzymes that help them to digest their food better. Female dogs with a litter of puppies will eat the poop of their puppies to keep the nest clean. In households with several dogs, those lower in the hierarchy may eat the poop of the higher ups as a submissive gesture.
Though some studies have found that dogs that eat poop have a nutritional imbalance and eat poop to acquire vitamins, particularly the B vitamin, in many cases dogs eat poop just because it is delicious. Because of this, it is extremely difficult to train a dog not to eat poop; if you drop a piece of food on the ground, of course your dog is going to eat it. The good news is, poop eating is not dangerous to your dog and shouldn’t cause any health problems. The only exception is eating feces from a litter box during which your dog is likely to ingest cat litter along with the poop. Clumping litters, in particular, can clump inside your dog’s belly. In this case it can’t hurt to switch to a natural cat litter like America’s Best Cat Litter or FelinePine.
If your dog is scavenging the litter box, there are a few options. Placing it behind a baby gate lifted a few inches off of the floor may work but if your dog is anything like Ginny, she will find a way to knock it over if it isn’t completely secure. Putting the litter box up high may be an option for some homes. A great idea from Kathy Diamond Davis is to put a large cardboard box over a covered litter box with a cat-sized opening in the back of the box (the opposite end from the litter box’s entrance) creating a little tunnel for your cat and a dog-proof barrier (as long as your dog is larger than the cats).
If your dog is a connosieur of dog feces and you have a yard, clean up poop as often as possible so as not to tempt your pup. You could also try sprinkling some hot sauce (make sure it’s super hot) or bitter apple spray on feces. Outside of controllable areas, like at the park, your best defense is a strong “leave it” command.
No matter what your dog’s taste, sometimes it’s best just to turn a blind eye and remember that poop eating is perfectly natural for our canine kids.
Ginny is not an aggressive dog; far from it, in fact. She is mellow and gentle…that is, until you get her in the car. In the car, when we pass another dog, a different side of this darling girl comes out. Rather than quietly observe, Ginny explodes in to vicious barks and snarls that last until the dog is out of sight and her trance is broken. This pattern sometimes repeats itself when we are on a walk. A dog across the street can make her bark; so can a dog she actually gets close enough to meet.
Many dogs react this way to others and it is rarely true that the dog is “aggressive.” It is more likely that the dog is experiencing one of two things: fear or barrier frustration. In Ginny’s case, because she is thrilled to meet dogs when she is not facing an obstacle, I suspect barrier frustration is the culprit.
Frustration occurs in dogs like it does in humans. Getting stuck in traffic or at the end of a long line can make me want to throw a tantrum. Same with dogs. With a natural inclination to be with others of their kind, a barrier like a car, fence, or leash can result in the doggy equivalent of a screaming, crying, rolling on the ground fit.
Barrier frustration falls under the category of dog reactivity and so do the techniques for managing it. Helping the dog to establish positive associations with other dogs when at a distance (a barrier) is important. This can be achieved by sitting with your dog in a location overlooking a path that other dogs use (not a dog park). When the dog looks at another dog, mark it by saying “yes” or using a clicker and offering a treat. Putting the treat on the ground so the dog must turn away from the action is preferable to letting him eat it out of your hand. These training sessions should be kept short – no more than ten or fifteen minutes each. As your dog progresses, slowly move your position closer to the path.
Impulse control is a major factor in barrier frustration so teaching the dog to perform an alternate behavior such as “sit” or “look at me” can keep him from getting too worked up. So can putting a visual barrier like a car between you and the other dog. Another useful technique is to keep your dog moving forward at a fast pace while maintaining focus on you or while throwing treats ahead of him on the ground. As your dog advances, rewarding him for approaching a dog nicely without any outbursts will continue to build those positive associations.
In the case of on leash barrier frustration, always remember to keep the lead loose. If you tighten up, so will your dog, and the frustration will increase!
An assortment of tips on dog health, training and rescue!
Tip #1: If your dog has a hot spot, cut the hair short, wash the area with mild soap and cool water, and put a black or green tea compress on a few times a day. Franny’s spot is already looking better!
Tip #2: Dogs have trouble generalizing. Teaching your dog that your toddler is not prey doesn’t mean he will understand that ALL toddlers are not prey. Socialize your dog to as many new people and situations as possible when he is a puppy to minimize accidents!
Tip #3: If you and your dog are in a stressful situation, trying panting at him. Certain kinds of panting is doggy laughter and it might help to calm your pup down!
Tip #4: Does your dog bark at other dogs on the street? Distract him! When you see another dog coming in the distance, pull him to the side and ask him to focus on you by asking him to sit, spin, catch treats, jump to touch your hand, or any other fun obedience task.
Tip #5: Does your dog seem uninterested in what you are trying to teach him? Trade in your regular treats for something “high value” like hot dogs, cheese, or chicken. Break the yummies in to itty-bitty pea-sized pieces and watch your dog become a model student!
Tip #6: The command “leave it” can make you and your dog’s walks a whole lot easier. Follow this simple training guide to learn how to teach it to your pup!
Tip #7: Is your puppy too mouthy? Let out a high pitched yelp when he bites too hard and stop the game. This will teach him to use his teeth gently on human fingers.
Tip #8: Does your dog pull on his leash? Work smarter not harder by switching from a flat collar or choke chain to a Sense-ation Harness or Gentle Leader!
Tip #9: Looking to adopt a specific breed? Don’t go to a breeder – go to a breed rescue group! Look online at akc.org for groups in your area.
Tip #10 is an ugly one…if your dog is doing a butt scoot, it means his anal sacks are full; if his anal sacks are full, he has a build up of poop-related stuff that he is not able to get out naturally. Take him in to the vet as soon as you can to have his anal glands “expressed” – a simple procedure that requires only a brave, educated set of hands and your dog’s butt.
Tip #11: If your dog pulls on the leash, try wrapping it around your waist inste…ad of holding it in your hand. This feels to your dog like pulling against a static object, instead of one with give-and-take, and will help him to learn not to pull.
Tip #12: If your dog’s eating behavior changes suddenly, it may be a sign of pain in his mouth or elsewhere in the body.
Tip #13: Well-timed & skilled delivery of awesome consequences like praise, trea…ts, and beloved toys, are a major aspect of building your dog’s confidence. The higher his confidence, the better behaved he will be in “scary” situations and around strange humans and animals.
Tip #14: There are thousands of things your dog might be allergic to including foods, plastic, plants, synthetic fibers and chemicals.
Tip #15: For some dogs, holding the leash short and tight when another dog walks by actually MAKES him react by barking and lunging. This is called barrier frustration. Next time you pass a dog on your walk, try keeping a loose leash and letting your dog sniff his new buddy.
Tip #16: If you see waxy build up, dirt-like flecks, or scabs in your dog’s ear,… they may have an ear infection. Get your pup checked out by your vet asap!
Tip #17: When at the dog park, don’t let your dog play uninterrupted for long periods of time. Dogs that get too aroused can easily slip from excitement to aggression. Step in every now and again and remind your dog that there is a world outside of his game.
Tip #18: If you encounter an angry dog, never look it directly in the eyes. Eye contact between strangers in the dog world is like challenging a man to a duel. Instead keep your head turned away and your eyes on the ground.
Tip #19: Don’t touch a sleeping deaf dog. Instead, jump up and down nearby and let her wake up to your vibrations.
Tip #20: The iphone has dozens of free apps to help you keep track of your pet’s medication, learn about health issues, find a local dog park, locate pet friendly businesses, discover new breeds, and work on training techniques!
Most dogs can hear frequencies 2-3 times what a human can hear. But not Ginny. Ginny can’t seem to hear anything at all. She is deaf. Deafness is fairly common and dogs and doesn’t just afflict older mutts; some dogs are deaf from birth. There is no way of knowing how long Ginny has been deaf (though I do have a theory that her chronic allergies led to chronic ear infections that resulted in hearing loss) but luckily, with a healthy nose and eyes, she probably doesn’t miss her hearing much.
Owners of deaf dogs face some unique challenges but not all hope is lost when it comes to training. Deaf dogs can’t hear commands but they can read your facial expressions. They can also understand hand signals just like deaf humans. The Deaf Dog Education Action Fund recommends using basic obedience signals combined with American Sign Language signals for things like “car” or “walk.” With a little work, a dog can learn dozens of signs! Many deaf dogs have just enough hearing that they can hear the sound of a clicker. Clicker training is a great reward-based training method that help you to develop a great relationship with your pup.
The two biggest obstacles to deaf dog ownership come when the dog’s back is turned. If he is not looking at you or is asleep, you may have difficulty controlling or comforting him. Unless your dog sticks to you like velcro, you will have to keep him on a leash 95% of the time. When I take Ginny to the dog park I let her off leash but I am sure to follow her around and keep an eye out. I have tried to walk her unleashed in safe spaces but after a minute or two she becomes distracted and I find myself chasing after her. To avoid any devestating accidents, the minute she steps out of the boundaries of a safe space like the dog park, the leash goes back on.
The first time I woke Ginny up from a deep sleep, I gently brushed her back with my fingertips. She jumped up, completely disoriented, took several steps backward and fell over. It took me a full 60-seconds to calm her down by getting low, stroking her slowly until she could get her bearings and her heartbeat slowed. Now I take the earthquake strategy: I stand near her bed and jump up and down a couple of times and let the vibration wake her. Instead of freaking out, she slowly opens her eyes, looks at me, then stands up and comes to greet me with a wagging tail.
And, lets face it, there are lots of other positives that come with doggie deafness: I can play the music in my car as loud as I want and it won’t bother her; I can wander around the house while she is asleep without waking her and without her following me around; when other dogs in the building bark, she doesn’t get all worked up and join the chorus.
Don’t let deafness come between you and an amazing dog! For more information, check out these books:
Living with a Deaf Dog by Susan Cope-Becker
Hear, Hear! A Guide to Training a Deaf Puppy by Barry Eaton
The Pocket Dictionary of Signing by Rod R. Butterworth and Mickey Flodin