Ghosts, Ghouls and Drool: 7 Ways To Prepare your Dog for a Safe Halloween (+ Free Treat Recipe!)

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Ireland Practicing Being A Ghost

Ireland Practicing Being A Ghost

Halloween is fast approaching! For many kids (and some adults too!), that means dressing up as their favorite superhero or Halloween character, lots of candy, and even a little spooking!  For our dogs, especially young puppies, or those that haven’t ever experienced this strange onslaught of the senses, Halloween can be as confusing and scary as a fireworks show!

Think about it: Costumes cover our faces and add weird appendages to our features, strange people come constantly to our front door and yell… loudly! Is it any wonder that many canines display strong anxiety to these things? We might also put our canines right in the thick of it, taking them for a walk or bringing them along as a companion for our little trick or treaters. Imagine what they must be thinking when they come across that scary witch or graveyard of skulls?!

I often talk about the concept of “setting up for success” and for occasions such as Halloween where costumes are meant to evoke strong and sometimes frightening emotions, this concept becomes very important. In the service dog world, we proof and prepare canines for many different scenarios and possibilities that they may encounter during their busy lives helping out their family. In controlled environments, we expose dogs to the lights and sounds of emergency vehicles, encourage volunteers to come dressed in their work clothes to bring along the smells of the community and we have very generous fireman and police officers take time to come to the facilities in full gear, to expose the developing puppies to funny helmets, gas masks, oxygen tanks, and utility belts covered in things that might look like toys. However, for the majority of “household” canines, their exposure and learning experiences are slightly different. Some have a very integrative life, are out in the community all the time (or as much as possible), meeting new people and new things. Others spend some, or all of their lives around a few houses, and the local park. For any dog, at either end of the exposure spectrum, going around the corner and coming face to face with a Yeti, or someone dressed up as our favorite martial arts turtle can be quite a shock, and can evoke emotion and behaviours that we have never witnessed or experienced EVER!

You Thought I was Cute Before!!

You Thought I was Cute Before!!

So what can we do? Here is a list of things to keep in mind around the Halloween season and some ways to make All Hallows’ Eve as positive as possible:

For those of us with canine-enriched lives

  1. Have a good play with your dog at the local park or in your backyard well before you have to start handing out candy. Make sure their needs are met!
  2. Take them for a “business” run (pee and poop) before the trick-or-treaters are out and about. Usually it is still daylight at this point so you will also be less likely to be surprised by a costumed ghoul or ghost. Then take them out after when things have drastically calmed down and most, if not all, of the families have gone home.
  3. Usually someone stays at home to hand out candy. GREAT! Don’t leave your dog in the front room or by the front door unattended where they can be over stimulated by commotion outside and knocking/doorbell ringing. It also avoids any possible escape attempts.
  4. Set up a quiet and safe room for the canine. Put on the TV or turn the radio on with some nice easy listening, and pull the blinds over the window. For some, just running a fan in the room is enough white noise to block out stimulation happening at the front door. Make sure the room is safe for the dog, whatever their age. If they become stressed, they can act out on furniture, electrical cords, and doors. Set them up for success by minimizing dangerous items.
  5. If you are at the front door, take some time to check on them at a decent frequency. Reinforce their quiet behaviour with verbal praise and even the occasional delicious treat. (It is treat night for everyone else, after all! See below for a great recipe.) If they become anxious or unsure, spend some time to quiet them down and redirect these tense emotions towards a fun or happy thing. Get out their favorite toy or puzzle and have them work through it. Spend a little time running through their various commands so they redirect onto the task at hand, not what is going on outside.
  6. If your dog barks at the doorbell… Contact Canines By Design and we can help fix that, but for now, watch for people coming to the house or tape over the door bell with a sign to say “do not ring”.
  7. Make sure the candy and chocolate is out of reach from them. Also make sure that your children or guests know that the canine cannot have any “people” treats. Many kids like to spread out their candy on the floor to check out their “haul” after trick-or-treating. That’s fine… just maybe close the door to their bedroom first to avoid any canines snacking!

If you are out and come across a dog:

  1. Do not approach (even if you know the dog): Remember you are wearing a costume: Canines are very good at reading body language, facial expressions, and verbal language. We are running around having fun with raised/excited voices and covered faces (masks or makeup)… it doesn’t exactly give them a fair chance to assess the situation. If you have to go say hello, remove your mask and return your emotional level back to a relaxed and calm state before doing so. Even your own canine may second-guess that it is actually you when you are dressed up to scare!
  2. If you are going up to a house and you hear a dog barking from very near or right behind the door, turn around and head to the next house. While we want to give the benefit of the doubt to those caregivers, we cannot assume that the dog will be OK with us near their house and their people. They are already showing sign of arousal and they may make the wrong assumption and turn a fun night into a negative one.

MOST Importantly… Have FUN with your families this Halloween! While canines might not get the concept of dressing up and going door to door, they can still have fun and a delicious treat too! Try this easy recipe:

Simple Peanut Butter Pumpkin Canine Treats:

Ingredients:

1 ½ cups Peanut Butter (Natural)

1 cup of 100% Pure Pumpkin Puree, canned. (Not Pumpkin Pie Filling)

1 ¾ cups Whole Wheat Flour

Directions:

  1. Preheat over to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together peanut butter and pumpkin. Sift in the flour ¼ cup at a time just until the dough in no longer sticky.
  3. Roll the dough out between two sheets of parchment paper until it is about ¼” thick.
  4. Use your favorite puppy or Halloween-themed cookie cutter to cut the shapes. Place on prepared cookie sheets
  5. Bake @ 350 for 8-10 minutes (non-convection setting). Let cool completely. Store in an airtight container (2 week shelf life) or freeze for up to 3 months.
Ready To Hit The Town!!

Zoom and Ember Ready To Hit The Town!!

NOTE: I would like to thank Kathryn Koh for the photos she sent me to use in this blog post.  Kathryn is very involved with my school, Bergin University, back in Sonoma Valley, California.  She volunteers to take many of the beautiful pictures of all the Bergin dogs, she is an active puppy raiser, trainer, foster home, canine caregiver, and helps out the school anyway she can!!  Many Thanks from here in Victoria!

Canine Intelligence: How Our Understanding Continues To Grow

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Making Light Work of a Heavy Snack

Making Light Work of a Heavy Snack

I was going to write an article this week about canine intelligence, but I quickly ran into a conundrum… they are intelligent in so many ways, I’m going to have to write a book, not a blog post!!!

Canine intelligence and what it means, stands for, and how it is represented is a hot topic these days. For a long time, we didn’t look at canines as intelligent, but rather we thought they were gifted with their nose, and something that we can train and mold to complete tasks.  Those tasks may have been something we didn’t want to do ourselves, or that we found canines could actually do more efficiently. While there are some magnificent examples of highly trained human trackers, a bloodhound’s nose is hard to beat.

But the tables have turned. Societal shifts have opened our eyes to explore our world through a different lens. We are more empathetic towards animals, their needs, and have turned our perspectives from being “master’s of the universe” to welfare minded “caretakers” (…this may be a generalization as there are still far too many people who either ignore or refuse to believe this, but that is a topic for another blog). We have begun to explore the possibilities not by what they can do for us, but rather what we can simply learn from them by taking a step back and looking at the world through their eyes.

We have come to understand that not all animals, especially dogs, are created equal. There is an unexplored intelligence that we are just beginning to uncover and attempt to understand. While being humans, we are still confined to understanding intelligence by how we have defined it, we are still uncovering many aspects of canine life that we once thought was completely untrue, or impossible.

I thought an easy way to share some of the ways that canines are amazing us, and showing just how intelligent they are, would be to group these concepts into areas we as humans tend to think about intelligence, and share some amazing links to some stories to demonstrate these areas.

Nose Work

Nose Work

Scent (nose) Intelligence:

This has been linked with canines for a long, long time. Helping on hunts, detecting predators lurking just outside our camps, canine olfaction has always been considered one of their strong suites. Imagine telling someone 30 years ago that scientific research would be able to show that they are actually so intelligent in this way, that they could in fact act as more reliable early warning detection systems for particular cancers than some of our best “man-made” medical equipment. Don’t believe me? Check out these links:

http://www.dogsdetectcancer.org/

http://www.degruyter.com/view/j/nbec.2014.13.issue-1/nbec-2014-0003/nbec-2014-0003.xml (sorry, you can only access the abstract without purchase).

Google Search: Canine Cancer Detection, or Google Scholar: Canine VOC detection and then pick “since 2014” for the newest articles.

Verbal Intelligence:

Immediately one thinks “dogs don’t speak words, so how can they have a verbal intelligence!?”. Well canines bark, and these barks do mean something. Canines also have a very important, and complex body language that they use to “silently” speak to one another. They can ALSO read our body language and what we are doing and interacting with! Furthermore, canines are great listeners (OK, most of the time :)), and have an incredible ability to understand human language… now imagine living in a world where this is going on all the time!! That is some serious thinking power!

Vocabulary:

Chaser the Border collie has the same understanding of vocabulary as a three-year-old child:

http://www.amazon.ca/Chaser-Unlocking-Genius-Knows-Thousand/dp/0544102576

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hi8HFdPMsiM

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-smartest-dog-in-the-world/

Body Language:

https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/virtual-pet-behaviorist/dog-behavior/canine-body-language

http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0035437

Auditory:

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/canine-corner/201211/how-dogs-bark-in-different-languages (a neat article in how dogs bark in different language courtesy of one of my Master’s Degree Professors, Stanley Coren)

What Did You Say!!?

What Did You Say!!?

Visual Intelligence:

People used to think of dogs as completely colour blind, but this is not true. We learnt at Bergin University that canines are dichromatic, not trichromatic, so to say they are colour blind is a misnomer. Canines can see colours in the environment; they just see them slightly differently than we do. Stan Coren writes:

“Instead of seeing the rainbow as violet, blue, blue-green, green, yellow, orange and red, dogs would see it as dark blue, light blue, gray, light yellow, darker yellow (sort of brown), and very dark gray. In other words, dogs see the colors of the world as basically yellow, blue and gray. They see the colors green, yellow and orange as yellowish, and they see violet and blue as blue. Blue-green is seen as a gray”. Reference: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/canine-corner/200810/can-dogs-see-colors).

One thing that Bergin University is demonstrating is that canines are capable of a form of reading. While not scientifically demonstrated how this occurs this video will get your grey cells working trying to figure out how they can look at a cue card and understand what it means without any auditory reinforcement by the trainer in the later stages of their training! AMAZING!! (I LOVE MY SCHOOL!)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Egvz_dZ1qv4 (this is an older video… facility has changed (now for three years).

Physical Intelligence:

While I alluded to canine’s inability to open jars earlier (not having opposable thumbs will do that), they do have an amazing ability when it comes to their physicality and using it in intelligent ways. Anyone (like myself) who has worked within Service Dog organizations can certainly attest to this. The ways that they are able to help out it truly amazing!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k-WrDMxw_mY – Turning on a light switch (Sae can sure raise her voice up high!! What Excitement!! All students at Bergin work with canines training for full service certification).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NbFISCnTQgc -learning to pull a wheel chair at Bergin’s new facility.

http://vimeo.com/52965741 -Zoom Learning to recycle bottles (this was early on in my Master’s Program). We are required to teach our own dogs a higher-level job by shaping and linking smaller instructions together.

With all this said, I must also put in a disclaimer. These changes to our mindsets have gotten us excited, and the media excited, to seek out and find out more about canine intelligence. It is important that we continue forward with an open mind, but also be careful not to jump to any conclusions before we are able to match our gut feelings with rigorous studies that either approve or disprove particular theories and ideas. This isn’t to say that these intelligences we witness don’t exist, we just need to put our thinking caps on to determine how we can accurately measure and record. Our canines are truly amazing. They offer emotional and physical support, they can help us live longer, and they always seem to bring a smile to our faces. I am a firm believer that we are just beginning to truly understand our canines, so next time you are looking into your dogs eyes wondering what they are thinking, just know, they are looking right back at you, and might be wondering the same thing. -J

Nose to Tail: Be Prepared for a Canine Sleepover

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Zoom and Ireland Road Trippin!!

Zoom and Ireland Road Trippin!!

Are you hosting a canine sleepover party? Maybe you are helping out family or friends by taking care of their dog while they travel or head for a much-needed vacation? There are always a lot of considerations to think about when leave our canine in someone else’s care or do the same for them so I thought I would compile a few checklists of things to remember to help make preparations easier!

Short-Term Stay (e.g. one day):

  1. Enough food for the meals of the day.

NOTE: If your canine is on a special diet, prepare all the components before hand and write up some feeding instructions. Also bring their treats along if they have a sensitive stomach.

  1. Leash, Harness, and Collar (Make sure their ID and contact info is up to date!)
  2. Any medications needed for the day. Ensure instructions for proper timing/dosage.
  3. Let your “puppy-sitter” know about any specific behavioural things your canine may do throughout the day that is unique to them and also make sure you give your contact information (and a backup!) in case anything unforeseeable comes up.
  4. Before they leave on their adventure, take a moment to snap a photo close up of their face as also a full body shot in case anything happens and they bolt from your puppy sitter.

Long-Term (e.g. one week):

  1. Enough food for everyday that you are gone for. I like to leave a little extra (a couple extra meals worth) in case travel plans change.

NOTE: If your canine is on a special diet, prepare all the components before hand and write up some feeding instructions. Also bring their treats along if they have a sensitive stomach.

  1. Any medications needed for the day. Ensure instructions for proper timing/dosage.
  2. Leash, Harness, and Collar (Make sure their ID and contact info is up to date!!)… add an extra tag for the time you are away that has your puppy sitter’s information on it (name, address, e-mail, phone number) as this will speed up the pup being returned if he/she decides to go on a walk-about.
  3. Provide your sitter with a copy of your canine’s vet records (digital or paper) and give their veterinarians information (name, contact info, address, phone number) along with the details in case a medical emergency arises. If they cannot make it to your regular veterinarian, having the copy will give any veterinarian the background information they will need to answer any questions.

NOTE: Agree beforehand what the protocol will be if a medical emergency arises (how costs will be covered, how the caregivers will be contacted, etc.). Having this planned will make an unplanned stressful time much more manageable.

  1. If you have the time, go out with your puppy sitter for a walk or two, and maybe even a play, so that they can get comfortable with your canine’s behaviours and have the opportunity to ask any questions.

NOTE: This is a great time to go through their command list so the sitter knows how to ask the canine to perform a particular instruction (include this list as a part of your write-up!)…. Imagine not knowing the instruction that the pup waits for to pee!

  1. Write up a “day in the life of _____” so that the puppy sitter knows what your dog gets for activity on a regular basis. By sticking as close to their regular activity levels and schedules, the canine will be less likely to “act out” or develop new, and not necessarily productive, behaviours. It will also inform the sitter of any special things they may need to do (e.g. ear cleaning solution/wipes after a swim day) that they don’t necessarily perform on their own canines.
  2. Provide your destination contact information for your puppy sitter so that they can call or contact you even if their cell phones aren’t working, or they are busy visiting a family event. It might not be the best time, but emergencies never happen when the timing is “good.”.
  3. Before they leave on their adventure, take a moment to snap a photo close up of their face as also a full body shot in case anything happens and they bolt from your puppy sitter.

If your pup is prone to anxiety, then a great extra to bring along is a familiar smelling blanket or towel (something they sleep with) so that they can have some familiar smells around them when you are away and can help decrease stress caused by the new environment. If you don’t have a towel or blanket, then sleep in a old t-shit for a couple of nights and pack that along and it will help both with short and long-term stays!

I have also attached a checklist in .PDF file that can be opened with any .PDF reader to help make your trip easier.  Click the link below, download, print it off, share it with friends!!  And don’t forget, enjoy your trip!!

Canines By Design Sleepover,Vacation Checklist

 

Restricted Lifestyle? No Problem! Canine Hydrotherapy Might Be Right For You!

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Husky Hydrotherapy

Husky Hydrotherapy

This week’s article is all about alternative medicine and exercise plans for canines. Specifically, I thought we’d take a look at hydrotherapy. What is dog hydrotherapy? Well, we’ll get there. But first, I want to introduce the concept of appropriate exercise.

Body and brains: What appropriate exercise means!

When professionals in the dog world talk about exercise, the phrase “appropriate exercise” often arises. Used as a blanket term, the notion that not all exercise is appropriate for all ages and sizes of canines can get one thinking. A simple comparison would be comparing the activity level of a young German shepherd to that of a geriatric Pug. Appropriate activity isn’t saying that the Pug is incapable of any activity, but rather the type activity the Pug engages in should be incorporate variables such as his age, any underlying medical conditions such as heart condition and any physiologic limitations such as arthritis.

The equation gets even more complicated when we start to think about physical and mental exercise.   Both mental and physical requirements change throughout a canine’s lifetime, just as they do for humans. Finding a balance to keep their lives enriched and happy can become tricky when genetic and age-related changes (like arthritis) begin affecting the exercise equation. While an older or injured (or both) canine might not have the physical ability to run and play on land, their mental well being is reliant on them maintaining a lifestyle balance that still includes exercise, play and all those things that make a dog a dog!

What is canine hydrotherapy?

This is where hydrotherapy comes in. The dictionary defines hydrotherapy as the therapeutic use of water where wet heat and wet cold are applied to help in medical treatments, strengthen muscles, restore motion, and clean and heal flesh. (Merriam-Webster, 2014). In other words, we can think about it as time spent in the water, walking, swimming, and exercising.

Golden Relaxing

Golden Relaxing

Hydrotherapy offers many, many benefits for both humans and canines. Because of the properties of water, the effects of gravity are lessened when our bodies are submersed, making us feel lighter. While this takes pressure off joints, the submersion in varying temperatures of the water can help with inflammation of joints and muscle recovery from major surgeries and other musclo-skeletal damage (Mooventhan and Nivethitha, 2014). Hydrotherapy has even been shown to help with cardiovascular issues such as blood pressure (Mooventhan and Nivethitha, 2014).

These findings are now being applied to canines! We once thought that canines with restricted lifestyles, whether it was due to age, medical or otherwise, meant having a very bored pup giving us those long looks and big eyes saying “please, lets go for a run… if only for a minute.” There are many applications of hydrotherapy (and physiotherapy) and resources to help you try them, with long-term rehab facilities for canines and animals becoming the norm in many cities across Canada and the United States. Check out this example: Coastal Canine Hydrotherapy and Fitness Centre on Vancouver Island.

For anyone who is scratching their head, wondering what sort of fun things they can do with a canine who has special needs or a restricted lifestyle, maybe hydrotherapy is an option for you! You may find that a trip to the beach and a dip in the ocean is exactly what you both needed!!

NOTE: It is always important to consult your veterinarian before introducing a new exercise platform for your canine, especially when there may be physiological limitation/conditions that could cause compounding issues.

In 2014, a book was released, “No walks? No worries!: Maintaining wellbeing on restricted exercise”, by Sian Ryan and Helen Zulch. A good source of information, this book will help you understand more of what appropriate exercise is from the viewpoint of entering a period of restrictive lifestyle (e.g. having a major surgery) and provide you with the questions you should ask your veterinarian when the times comes.

Finally, if you have an extra 2 minutes, watch this loving video of Schoep, a canine who lived to TWENTY years of age who benefited from the wonders of hydrotherapy (and A LOT of Love!):

Looking for a good canine life jacket for your new found love of water?  Check out this great line by Ruffwear.  Called the K-9 Float Coat: http://www.ruffwear.com/-9-float-coat?sc=2&category=694, it comes it various sizes and two colors to fit your lifestyle and canine needs.

References:

Merriam-Webster (2014). Hydrotherapy Definition. Retrieved from: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hydrotherapy. Accessed on: September 16, 2014.

Mooventhan A, Nivethitha L. (2014). Scientific evidence-based effects of hydrotherapy on various systems of the body. North Am. J. Med. Sci.; 6: 199-209. Retrieved from: http://www.najms.org/text.asp?2014/6/5/199/132935.Accessed September 16, 2014.

Nose to tail Product Review: Improving Intelligence In Your Pup, and Preventing Age-Related Cognitive Dysfunction in senior dogs

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Zoom enjoying the sun, sand, and his toy!

Zoom enjoying the sun, sand, and his toy!

If you’re like me, you are always on the lookout for new and creative ways to entertain and enrich the lives of our canines. You know who you are… if there’s a new toy at the pet store, you’re all over it! Luckily, a Swedish company has been thinking this way since 1990. If you haven’t heard of Nina Ottosson before, you’ll be excited to learn that their Dog Activity Toys have been designed and tested to challenge your dog both physically and mentally through educational play.

Just like “brain games” for you and me, the games are meant to motivate your canine to learn, whatever their age, increasing their problem solving skills and intelligence as the difficulty level increases. They have developed a variety of interactive products with different difficulty levels (in both plastic and wood options) depending on the needs and play style of your canine.

Owners of senior canines take special note: they promote their products for older dogs. Activities change as their bodies age, so it’s great to find new, accessible ways for them to play and have fun. Keeping seniors mentally engaged is important for preventing or helping with Age-Related Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, and introducing mental puzzles is a great way to do it (Cline, 2014).

These products work well enough in creating dynamic challenges for canines that even service groups have integrated them into their programs to help develop problem solving skills in their up and coming service canines!

Quality is carefully controlled, with usage of choice materials that meet strict rules geared minimize or eliminate the impact to both the environment and your dog’s health. All of their products are recyclable and non-toxic, which is evidence of the detail they put into their design.

My Tips:
1. Using some of their dinner kibbles as the treats you put into the puzzle is a great way to make sure you are keeping your canine at their proper weight while still giving them food rewards.
2. Set them up for success. Start with level 1 puzzles and work your way up.
3. Lots of reward and praise through the process and make it fun!
4. Always supervise your canine!
5. Don’t forget to wash your puzzles frequently to keep them sanitary. Plastic puzzles can be cleaned easily and work well if you are using wet, canned or raw food, and/or are being used by multiple dogs. Wood puzzles can be wiped with a slightly damp cloth and a little mild detergent (Dawn dish soap) then wiped dry.
6. Check out all of Nina Ottoson’s tips and tricks!!!

Canines By Design wants you to know what cool and interesting products are out there. Do you know of a product that everyone should have, or at the very least, know about? Contact me (link) and let me know so I can feature your product!

References:
Cline, Dr. Jill. (2014). Cognitive Changes in the senior dog patient. Retrieved from: http://www.veterinarmagazinet.se/content/images/list_5/7467_1702620309.pdf. Accessed on: Aug. 12, 2014.

Whats Next!!?!

Whats Next!!?!

3 Ways To Make a Bad Situation the Best It Can Be

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Ziggy and Zoom at the Beach!

As we and our dogs make our way through our daily lives, we hope that every experience is happy and pleasant for our canines! Unfortunately, factors in the environment, like bad encounters with other dogs, bolting away from panic or over-stimulation, can very quickly turn positive situations into negative ones.

It is impossible to plan for everything that could happen. If we tried, I think we might all be walking around in plastic bubbles. However, there are a few preventative measures we can take to help our furry companions, and ourselves, best handle (what could be) a traumatic situation:

  1. KNOW YOUR CANINE:

Knowing your canine means working with them to understand their personalities, their fears and their ambitions (or drives). Armed with this knowledge, we can go through routines and avoid moving too far out of our dog’s “zone of comfort” where a reactive behaviour might trump them using their brainpower.

It also empowers us. The deeper our knowledge of the details, the finer tuned our training can become. Not only can we work through new environments and experiences while feeling at ease that we are not causing undue stress and anxiety, but we can utilize their zone of comfort to help them work through past experiences that have left them anxious or unsure.

If your relationship is new, your canine is recovering from medical issues that can influence behaviour, or you are working through behavioural baggage, please also read the Yellow Dog Project post I wrote a couple months ago and visit their website for more details.

  1. BE ENVIRONMENTALLY AWARE:

Knowing your environment starts with knowing what is going on in your personal space. Ever see someone enter a crosswalk right into traffic because they are texting? They are so absorbed in the task at hand that they don’t even realize they are stepping out in front of a moving car! Some of us are gifted with this ability to know what is going on. It is innate to be aware of our surroundings and it is second nature to use our senses, sight and sound, to know what is going on around us. For others, this type of vigilance requires practice. We get lost in our own thoughts, or in the phone call that just came in, and we become blind to what is occurring around us. Practice will increase this ability. Your range of awareness will grow and so give you more time to create a good situation.

  • Look ahead. If you are walking down a trail, try to look as far ahead as possible to see what is coming up. You can avoid sticky situations with other dogs before they even begin by moving to the side. This includes looking up and down – staying clear of those poisonous plants means one less expensive and stressful trip to the vet.
  • Use your hearing. Many of us live in busy cities and towns and this increases the ambient noise we put up with, and actually habituates and dulls our sense of hearing. Yet, we are really good at picking up noises that “just don’t belong” (e.g. a dog suddenly barking with intention). When that happens, trust your instincts. Take your time, and set up for success.
  1. BRING TREATS WITH YOU:

I never leave home with Zoom without bringing my treat bag that I use for teaching and learning new tricks! Treats, especially items that are high reward for your canine (for Zoom, this might be cheese or chicken), give you a lot of power to make a potentially terrible situation a little better. How many of us didn’t like visiting the dentist when we were kids? Once the dentist brought out the sucker jar when they finished, those little ones would leave with a big smile (or at the very least, stop the waterworks and vocal cord workout!).

The same can happen for a dog. Just like us, they will carry “baggage” from experiences in their lives. These experiences shape them and create the dynamic personalities we can see when we compare brothers and sisters from within a litter. If the worst happens when a situation occurs, one of the simplest things we can do after we have removed them from danger is give a quick task request for a behaviour they can do in their sleep (e.g. sit) to get their focus back to you, and then reward them like you have never done before! Yummy treats, happy faces, a favorite toy, lots of petting, and even some distracted goofing around can immediately help your canine off the “red zone” cliff and get them back on track to “happy land”!

It is important for us as caregivers, and our canines, that we can go about our daily lives without undue stress and fear. Past encounters can be traumatizing to both, but avoiding the outdoors or other people and dogs doesn’t do either you or your canine any good. By knowing our dogs and understanding our environment, we can plan ahead to make every situation as positive as we can. Each positive encounter gives our furry friends and us motivation to continue to grow and the mental strength to work through new and exciting situations… with treats, of course!

Want help understanding your canine? If you might be feeling discouraged because you just can’t seem to keep your canine off the “red zone” cliff, contact me anytime to talk about how we can get you and your dog get back on track and back into your community!

Jeeter and Zoom

Jeter and Zoom

 

 

Nose to Tail Product Review: GoughNuts Toys

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GoughNuts.com Stick

GoughNuts.com Stick

At Canines By Design, we are always looking into new and exciting ways for you and your dog to interact and have fun. Both Zoom and I love checking out new products, games, puzzles, and gear that is geared for positive and safe experiences (and sometimes it’s hard to tell which of us geeking out more!).

I know I don’t have to look too far to find those of you who have a canine with some serious chewing power. I bet they are the kind of dog that has made those “indestructible” claims seem like a bit of a stretch. I also know that this… enthusiasm can make finding appropriate toys difficult, expensive and, frankly, distressing when yet another product fails miserably.

GoughNuts, LLC has created a line of safe dog products, made in the USA, that have specifically catered to the needs of champion chewers. Alongside Mechanical and Polymer Engineers, Goughnuts has developed products made of high quality materials with wear indicators to let caregivers know when the toy’s integrity has been compromised. They also come with a multi-Axis Groove System to help prevent potential choking/air blockage, bite-strength statistics and a return/replace policy for both Canada and the U.S.

Products with these types of considerations make canine safety a top priority, and GoughNuts makes sure customers know it when visiting their website. They go into detail about how to properly size their products based on your canine’s size and also give detailed information about when it is time to remove the toy to ensure your pet stays safe. They make a range of GoughNut Sticks and Rings with different bite strengths and sizes for both small/medium and large dogs, and have also recently released a tug toy and a ball design that follows their strict “Safety-First” policy.

Nothing is indestructible – this is always part of our environmental enrichment discussions with clients. Playtimes with toys should be monitored, especially with strong chewers. Developing safe and enriching spaces means working with the specific personalities, needs, and behaviours of each individual dog as well as all the variables (such as durability and budget) introduced in each case to strike a balance between an entertaining space and a safe one. No one wants to lay on a tile floor in a bare room with nothing to do! The GoughNuts company is helping this process for us all, by ensuring that the products they develop, produce, and promote already encompass major components of canine safety.

Always research your canine-related products. While those that offer bargain prices and multi-packs may seem enticing to those of us who have canines who don’t seem to know their own strength, the level of ingredient control and quality in these products can be quite varied. While I can offer many examples of dog-related surgeries due to the ingestion of toys and other materials in the environment, I thought I would post one that we will all be dealing with right now as it is BBQ season and we are all on the hunt for what we think is a deal: http://www.edmontonsun.com/2014/07/07/woman-hospitalized-by-cheap-bbq-brush.

 

 

 

 

Zone Of Comfort: Make the Most Out of A Stressful Situation

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At Canines By Design we talk a lot about T.A.P. for success, setting-up-for-success, redirection, and proofing.  But one aspect that we have yet to discuss on the blog is working within the “zone of comfort.”

Are you asking yourself “what does that mean?”… or “isn’t that some prop from Get Smart!?”.  Well, we aren’t talking about a Hollywood TV prop, but, like the safe learning space that the (awesome) “cone of silence” was designed to create, building a comfort zone means working with the environment around us to create a positive and, most importantly, educational, experience. And unlike Maxwell Smart’s device, I’ve found a much simpler approach that actually works to achieve the desired outcome!

We all have zones of comfort.  These imaginary force fields around us help dictate our level of ease in social situations, strange environments and when we test new experiences.  Depending on the individual, these zones will vary depending on previous exposure, comfort level, etc. and it is critical to take all factors into account.

Let’s use an example:  Since I work with dogs, sitting on the floor in the middle of 10 full grown canines playing together doesn’t evoke feelings of stress or fear. However, for someone who isn’t used to large dog fests, or only interacted with guard dogs, their perspective on the situation will be totally different.  For someone fearful of canines, such a situation could be so overwhelming that they might shut-down and glean nothing positive from the experience or not even be able to remove themselves from the environment because they are so overwhelmed.  Some dog trainers like to call this “the red zone.”  For the human analogy, we can say this person has started the “flight-or-fight” response.  This response, also known as the acute stress response, is when the sympathetic nervous system responds to the physical or the strong emotional state that has been presented to the body, coordinating various bodily functions (adrenal gland secretion, pupil dilation, increase heart rate, etc.) in order to create the optimum situation for that individual’s survival (1).

Now imagine the situation where we are beginning to expose a newly adopted canine to various environmental factors.  Maybe that dog had spent its first year locked in a backyard, without environmental enrichment.  Maybe that backyard didn’t even have grass or any trees. Now, when we take that pup out and begin to work through different training scenarios, the environment can become very overwhelming, very quickly.  For this particular example, the canine will enter the “red zone” fast – inhibiting their response to our training programs and damaging their overall personal growth.  Part of my graduate thesis examined this phenomenon, and many examples arose in which increased levels of stress (in particular example it was related to training methodology) directly resulted in a decrease in working ability of canines trained for service (2,3,4).

It is therefore very important as caregivers that we keep our canines’ “zone of comfort” in mind when we are out training and setting out educational experiences for success.  Here are some easy ways to keep this in mind while we are out and about:

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  1. Keep your dog’s history in mind!
  • If they have had previous negative experiences with something in the environment, their zone for this object/person/dog will be less secure.
  1. Slow and Steady!
  • Fear can be incredibly powerful and debilitating.  We cannot learn when we are in fear for our lives or someone’s well being.  The same goes for canines. Flooding canines emotionally is a very dangerous practice.  Working within what the canine is comfortable with, as slow as it may be, will allow you and your canine to gradually build confidence with that once-scary scenario, and also help you both build a stronger, trusting bond.
  1. Keep it Fun!
  • We always strive to make every situation and experience for canine and caregiver as positive and rewarding as possible.  Success gives everyone a good feeling, and those positive feelings go a long way to help overcome hurdles we encounter and give us further motivation to keep going.

Canines By Design is here for you!  Contact us today to see how our customized approach can help you and your canine work together and create success everyone can see!

1. TheFreeDictionary.com (Medical Dictionary) (2014).  Fight-or-Flight Reaction Definition.  Retrieved from: http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/fight-or-flight+reaction.  Accessed on: July 1. 2014.

2. Hilby, E.F., Rooney, N.J., & Bradshaw, J.W.S. (2004).  Dog training methods: their use, effectiveness and interaction with behavior and welfare.  Anim. Welfare, 13: 63-69.

3. Haverbeke, A., Laporte, B., Depiereux, E., Giffroy, J.M., & Diederich, C. (2008). Training methods of military dog handlers and their effects on the team’s performance.  Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci., 113: 110-122.

4. Haverbeke, A., Messaoudi, F., Depiereux, E., Stevens, M., Giffroy, J.M, & Diederich, C. (2010).  Efficiency of working dogs undergoing a new human familiarization and training program.  J. Vet. Behav., 5: 112-119.

Higher Level “Shaping” Through Positive Reinforcement (No, it’s not a secret weight loss technique!)

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Ever watch a certified service dog in action, and envy their well-developed technique? It’s nice to daydream about your own pooch mastering these moves, but know it doesn’t happen by chance.  Service groups around the world spend many thousands of dollars, and hundreds of man-hours, perfecting technique and working up a skill set large and effective enough to ensure that these canines can pass their extremely difficult final exam.  Sometimes all this work pays off, and sometimes it doesn’t. Just as not all humans are cut out to be brain surgeons, not all canines can meet the rigorous criteria that will allow them to work with a disabled companion.   As we look on at these service teams in awe of their abilities, it can be discouraging to consider that this level might only be attained by “the best of the best.” I’m here to attest to the fact, however, that you and your dog can achieve this higher-level relationship, and I’ll explain more below!

Our canines all have amazing skill sets that can successfully contribute to the family “pack,” and have a positive impact within our communities.  I’ve discussed a number of Canines By Design concepts already that help you get to the finish line: T.A.P. For Success, Set Up For Success, and Proofing: What is it and how to do it. These concepts focus on preparation, frequency, and environmental interactions, but what about the actual training itself?

I would like to introduce two terms for your training considerations: shaping and chaining (specifically forward chaining). Both terms have been accredited to B.F. Skinner and his work in behavioural psychology. I’ll also provide some examples showing just how valuable these skills are at teaching canines – did you know we already use teaching techniques with children much in the same fashion?

Inquisitive German Shepherd

It’s as simple as A-B-C…

Shaping is defined as a conditioning procedure, which uses “differential reinforcement of successive approximations” (thefreedictionary.com, 2014).

Translation? We always have a particular end-point (goal) in teaching that we wish to reach.  For example, when we teach the alphabet to children, our end goal is to have them learn and recite all the letters of the alphabet.  However, we don’t expect a child to learn all the letters on the first attempt, nor do we expect them to recite in proper order.  So what do we do?  We start with A, then B, then C…  We offer testing periods along the way to help solidify the steps taken to that point, and then continue with new steps (or letters in this case) once the previous steps have been mastered and reinforced with praise and the positive feelings we all get when we succeed.

Easily enough, the same applies for canines! When I’m training a service dog to turn on a light switch, I do not expect them to walk up, place their paws perfectly, use their nose to flick the switch up, and their teeth to lightly pull the switch down, in the first five minutes.  Nor do I expect a young puppy integrate “lay down” and “roll over” at first go.  I break the task down into manageable, achievable steps (A separate from B) so that the canine can succeed and receive that praise (positive reinforcement) at each step.  Once those steps are perfected, we continue to add further steps (A + B + C) until the canine is completing the task from start to finish.

Chaining is the form of learning in which the “subject is required to make a series of responses in a definite order” in which each response, when sequenced together, forms a complex behaviour.

Let’s return to our alphabet example:  When we teach children the alphabet, there are two important aspects we focus on: one is the letters themselves, and the second is the order in which they exist in our alphabet.  We try to set ourselves (the teachers) and our children (pupils) up for success so we have created an alphabet song that shapes the behaviour of knowing the alphabet by forward chaining each letter together in their assigned order using a melody.  By doing so, we can not only teach them the letters, but also the order.  Could you imagine trying to teach your child the alphabet order by first saying “D comes after C but is before E”?  Behaviours are hard enough to learn without becoming frustrated or struggling with complicated instructions.

For canines, it is the same.  If our end-goal is to have our canine recycle pop bottles into a garbage can, we must first take that particular behaviour, break it down into learnable pieces:

  1. Recognize the bottles
  2. Pick them up
  3. Carry them
  4. Move them over the garbage can
  5. Drop the bottle in the can
  6. Slowly combine each step [successive approximations]
  7. Learn that each step is a part of one behaviour and therefore one command “go recycle”).

I developed the “ go recycle” command for a behavioural course project as part of my Master’s Program.  Check out my course video (sorry for the quality, it was “home” recorded)  – it visually explains the concepts of shaping and chaining without actually using the terms.

At Canines By Design, I take my academic education in psychology, canine behaviour and animal biology, and apply terms, research, and teaching methods to your relationship with your canine. This knowledge should not only be reserved for service dogs. Using positive reinforcement techniques, shaping, and chaining will help open up the doors of possibility and will have you thinking up cool news ways that your canine can contribute to your household and community.

TheFreeDictionary.com . (2014). Shaping Definition.  Retrieved from:  http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/Shaping+(psychology).  Accessed on: June 18, 2014.

Britannica.com (2014).  Chaining Definition.  Retrieved from: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/334034/learning-theory. Accessed on: June 18th, 2014.

 

Nose To Tail: Tips and Tricks For Dog Grooming

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Marley the Magician

“Home is where the dog hair sticks to everything but the dog” – unknown

Where there is dog, there is hair. Or is it… where there is hair, there is dog? Canine caregivers often joke that a dog home isn’t complete until your furniture, your clean clothes in the closet, and the dinner you just finished preparing has a little, or a large dusting of our four-leggers’ fur present. Breed differences, seasonal changes, nutrition, and stress, are all active factors in the timing, amount and length of time for which your canine will shed. Because of this, cleaning up ever-present “tumbleweeds” of fur becomes a regular part of canine caregiving for many of us. Keeping on top of it can be a real challenge, and for some of us, nearly impossible. This can especially become a problem when guests come to stay who are not necessarily “dog people” themselves and seem to have a knack for picking out outfits that not only attract the fur like flies to flypaper, but also for those guests with allergies. Here are a few easy steps that can be taken to minimize the impact for your family on a regular basis and also for those special guests:

  1. Daily Grooming: Brush your canine’s fur everyday. Especially true for those of us living in flea and tick country, make sure to groom it all: top to bottom, legs, belly, tail, neck, arm-pits, etc.  A rule of thumb for the mainstay tick-born diseases is that they require 24 hours of attachment time to transmit to the host (dog).  This will also help keep matts from occuring, and massage the skin to help remove dead skin and loose fur.  There are many products out there for general and specific breeds’ grooming needs. From rubber to metal, bristle to flea comb, there is something out there that will work for your purpose. I find certain combs and brushes work better for particular body regions (e.g. the rubber Kong brush works best for me around the head), so consider having a few different brushes on hand. Need help deciding? As part of our product review services, Canines By Design can help you pick out the right grooming tools and show you how to use them.

Pro-tip: Bring your brush to the park and do your grooming outside to avoid generating extra dander in your home’s ventilation system.

  1. For quick “tumbleweed” touchups, use an electrostatically charged broom (e.g. Swiffer) that will make your life oh-so-much easier when guests are arriving soon. Many options are re-useable and green as well (Save the Planet!) Electrostatic dusting cloths are also available.

Pro-tip: With a daily sweep, one static cloth can last over several days. Keep the in-use cloth on the broom wrapped in a plastic bag for easy use.

  1. For guests and family members with more serious allergy issues, I would recommend dusting and sanitizing surfaces (helps with saliva allergies), vacuuming of all chairs, couches, carpets, etc., washing any bedding and towels they will use, and also changing out the furnace filter if possible to one that offers HEPA-level filtration to decrease allergy-related particulates in the air. If you have a severe case, then renting a carpet cleaner for any bedroom carpets will be useful as well.

Pro-tip: After cleaning, keep the guestroom door closed before their arrival to avoid more hair buildup.

Part of being a proactive canine caregiver is keeping in tune with your canine’s hygiene. Regular veterinary checkups, teeth cleaning, and nail clipping are all very important aspects of caregiving, but one aspect that can be neglected is regular grooming, and dermal (a.k.a skin) inspections. Our skin is our largest organ and its function (e.g. maintaining a homeostatic balance within our bodies) is essential for life – and the same applies to our canines. Unusual and rapid onset of shedding can be an alarm bell for changes in health, or health-related issues. Stress, bacterial infections, contacts with toxins, pregnancy and even organ disease/failure can all cause rapid shedding. By being proactive caregivers, we will see these changes faster. By performing daily grooming rituals we can minimize any “surprises” hiding under our canines fur, ensuring their skin and coat remain healthy.   Dermatitis, hot spots, parasites, growths, cuts and scrapes hide under a fur coat, but can all easily be found and monitored with daily routine.

Being a canine caregiver is an active process. Balancing the needs of your canine with the demands of life can sometimes be challenging. Constantly having those furry tumbleweeds blowing around is annoying (to say the least), but your dog’s shedding shouldn’t be a deterrent or source of undue worry when welcoming allergic guests. Following the few suggestions above and taking the C.B.D. approach of “setting up for success” will help minimize both the hair and the stress, and finally nix your grandmother’s idea about knitting a sweater out of all the fur blowing around at tea time.