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Pennie Clayton Articles

Pennie Clayton runs “Horse and Hound School” and is a dog behaviour consultant, Bowen therapist and trains horses. She owns greyhounds and lurchers and is very familiar with day to day problems with rescue dogs and rehabilitating rescue dogs. She is available for behaviour advice, training and problem solving for all types of dogs.
Contact – Email: [email protected] or on 07910 720961

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Pennie is always keen to help owners to understand their hounds and forge a deep and meaningful relationship with them. If you have any questions for Pennie or would like to suggest topics for discussion either email Pennie at the email address above or use the form on our Contact page.



Keeping a Dog Diary


Many of us have rescue greyhounds. Often they are around 3-4 years of age when we rehome one, which is a lovely age, they are in their prime, and it feels like they will be young and fit for ever. Sadly that is not true. Around 10 they begin to slow down, although many remain very active and fit.

Even though 10 is not “old” for a greyhound this is a good time to keep tabs of their health and habits.

Things can change very slowly which means that we don’t always notice the progress of problems with their health. So it is a really good idea to keep a diary. The diary should contain a regular picture of your dog taken perhaps once a month from both sides. Along with a pictorial diary, keep a notebook type diary either in a book or on your computer. List anything which you can think of which is relevant to your dogs health. Things to monitor are whether he has a healthy appetite, how he eats his food-it is worth looking at how he eats, as many dogs begin to suffer with dental problems as they get older, and others can suffer from soreness around the joint at the top of the jaw (the temporomandibular joint). The TMJ joint works hard and can become sore even if your dog’s neck is injured or if any injury causes your dog to pull himself forward with his front legs, in fact there are myriad reasons why this should be monitored.

Other things to monitor are how your dog is moving, how eager he is to run around or if he is happier spending his time mooching rather than moving faster it is good to know what has been normal. Look at his sleep patterns and how he is sleeping, including which side does he lies on when he is resting, it is important to know if this has changed.

The coat is another area to keep a check on. The presence of bald patches or scurf might indicate that your dog is suffering from stress or possibly needs to have a blood test to check that all is well.

Keeping a diary as your dog gets older can help pick up illness and disease with much more accuracy than trying to remember when your dog got less active or when his coat started becoming less glossy.

Changes occur as dogs get older, and the quicker you notice the better his health will stay.


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CONSEQUENCES

 

I have to say it hasn’t been the best start to the New Year-no disasters to report but the weather in particular has been wreaking havoc, as I am sure it has for all of you.

I have no amazing ideas to convey this month apart from something that keeps going round and round in my head.

The thought that won’t leave me alone is “everything has a consequence”.

Yes, it is true.

I am sure you all know by now that I am equally passionate about dogs (particularly Greyhounds) and horses. Out of all the animals in the world I suppose they get well looked after, and get a lot of attention. And yet…..there are horror stories every day on the internet. Dogs being treated as disposable, being starved and being abused, even though some people seem to be greatly amused by children grabbing hold of dogs by the ears and jumping all over them. Horses being competed at all levels whether they are really healthy or not, or whether they are getting the best kind of training in order to perform often in very stressful conditions.

 

 

People are way too quick to justify why they treat their animals as they do, and yes it is easy to judge, but it is harder to educate.

There are many things that we can do to help our greyhounds live longer and have a better lives, among these are things like trying to find alternatives to drugs when they are lame or stiff. (Can I suggest Bowen therapy?) Other things are more straightforward, like being educated about the problems with collars.

My Lurchers have been wearing harnesses for years, but I have never really bothered about putting my Greyhounds in harnesses. They have always been very easy to walk on lead, and never pull except for the odd time that they see a cat. Merci will often stop and watch squirrels and does not jump up and down and yank on her collar when she sees one, but I have been using a harness for her more and more regularly.

 

The consequence of using a collar on a dog is there is a risk, actually quite a high risk, of destroying the thyroid gland. Once damage occurs in this area it will never regenerate. And if you give dried trachea to your dogs as a chew, you may also inadvertently be feeding diseased thyroid to your dog.

I would rather not take that risk, however small it may be, and I am thinking that as Merci ages I would also rather not risk any further damage to her thyroid area by using a collar. If you doubt how much damage is inflicted by a collar then just take a look around at how many Greyhounds have bare thighs with very little hair on them. A lot. Is this caused by thyroid problems? I have no absolute answer but I have a sneaking suspicion that this often seen problem might be caused by a tight collar. 

Even if a Greyhound does not pull against a collar now he is no longer racing and has been rehomed, think about how keen they get before a race, and how the fishtail collars are supposed to protect the neck. Yes they are designed to do that but our Greyhounds’ necks are incredibly slender and incredibly vulnerable.

Do you want to chance that?


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Wishes for Christmas


Christmas might not be for dogs but it certainly should involve them, and then after New Year when all the decorations are put away you might want to make your own list of wishes which include your dogs.

My personal wish list would cover the following

Respect for all dogs - there is a current trend which seems that dogs should be seen but not heard almost like Victorian children. The reason I say this is that everyone seems to have high demands of their dogs. What I would like everyone to take into New Year is that dogs are just that ….dogs! They do not behave like mini people because they are not people, when they bark they need something, when they pull on the lead they may be just plain excited or uncomfortable, when they pee in inappropriate places they might be stressed.


I think diet should be a big feature too, basic cheap foods will keep weight on and your dog will probably eat what is put down but is it good for him and is it doing him good? I would like everyone to take a long look at what they feed their dogs and find out if it could be improved. Food that costs you £1.00 a day is probably not providing good nutrition. A lot of dog foods are actually the equivalent of feeding your dog MacDonald’s every day; and my pet hate? People explaining to me that their dog won’t eat anything but cheap dog food. This is a different issue to what he can digest, (that is a different story especially if you have an ex racing greyhound) it is the idea that their dog just doesn’t like other foods.


The best way of resolving this is to offer your dog different types of food, for instance when I am preparing meals my dogs often have peppers (not the hot type), tomatoes, (Merci particularly likes the little cherry tomatoes) amongst other vegetables too. This is the same principal as offering children various types of food; if you offer your dog different things he will begin to enjoy different textures and tastes. I am not advocating different food everyday but just beginning to research what your dog likes and expanding the foods that he actually enjoys. (Did you know 1 cup of canned mackerel has about 300 calories which is equivalent to about ¾ cup of commercial dry food?)

The last thing where I would really like to see a seed change is people’s attitudes to other dogs when they are walking. If dogs are worried or concerned around other dogs then it is not good practice to tell them off. Their language is very important and if dogs are told off for barking then you potentially put them into a very dangerous situation and he is more likely to bite than modify his behaviour around other dogs. The best practice is to turn away and keep your voice happy as you do it, try not to transfer your anxiety to your dog. You cannot teach him how to “behave” by disciplining him. In fact the whole idea of disciplining dogs is archaic.


Last wish….for people who own dogs to not only be responsible but more tolerant. We go back to the first line here….dogs are dogs and they behave differently to humans.


Wishing you and your dogs a very happy Christmas


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This is probably the last article before Christmas so I want you all to think about how your dogs’ cope during this time. We all get caught up in preparations for events such as friends and relatives visiting, we become busy with parties and social occasions, and we set about buying food and presents and putting up decorations as well as other general hubbub and excitement.

Think of this from your dogs’ point of view. He doesn’t know it is Christmas and this time of year is such a radical change to normal it must seem really weird. Change of routine is always unsettling and stressful for dogs.

The differences include the fact that we are around the house more during holiday times and there is far more food around, especially sweet foods –particularly chocolate. People also think they are being kind by buying presents for dogs, and at Christmas more than any other time, it is really important to take care of your dogs’ diet and wellbeing.

Here are a few pre- Christmas thoughts as we all start to prepare for this frantic and fairly stressful time of year, and a reminder to keep things a normal as possible for your dog.

Remember it is your dogs’ home as much as it is yours

Visitors are not always as accommodating as you might be, so please do not allow guests to tell you how your dog should behave and don’t let them suggest that they should sit on your dog’s favourite place on the sofa. It is not fair if your dog is demoted by guests and visitors.

Let your dog have a place of sanctuary

I am now almost contradicting myself by saying this so I will clarify. Don’t expect your dog to stay in the same room continually with guests. If he is uncomfortable or feels like he needs a bit of space then he must have a quiet place where he is allowed to go and relax and have some peace. This should be a place where he is undisturbed until he is ready to re-join you. If children are present please put a visible boundary a few feet away from his bed/ area (such as a line of duct tape) and tell them that they must not step over this boundary to reach the dog.

Keep to a normal diet

Things can be added into his normal food like bits of turkey, freshly cooked vegetables and maybe some roast potatoes but don’t over- do this. Rich food is no better for our dogs than it is for us.

Treats and presents should be vetted by you

If people give you stocking and presents for you dog, with highly coloured raw hide chews moulded into candy canes and boots, please quietly put them in the bin, at the first possible moment! These kinds of treats are loaded with chemicals and toxins and are normally made in China which does not have the best track record of producing healthy food for dogs.

Other Christmas novelty foods including “doggy mince pies” and other forms of selection boxes packed with dog junk food should all go in your bin. With this in mind I went to a big pet store today to do a bit of research and I can honestly say there was nothing “Christmas themed” in the aisles that I would have considered buying for my dogs. In fact there were two entire shelves full of different types of rawhide. (Also don’t forget that Xylitol which can be found in peanut butter and many other food products is highly toxic to dogs, to check that food doesn’t contain it check the E numbers, xylitol is E967)

Walks should still be for your dog

If your house is full many people love to organise a Christmas or Boxing day dog walk. These can be really stressful for your dog, especially if your dog is not normally walked with more than a few dogs. Make sure you keep to your daily walks where your dog can sniff, explore, pick up his pee mails and just spend some time with you.

Don’t let children hijack any of these walks by trying to play games where your dog is asked to fetch and dash around. Neither should “Show and tell “ type obedience tricks be part of your dogs’ schedule to entertain guests, children should be taught to respect dogs ….they are not playthings.

Don’t leave him alone for hours while you are visiting friends/family

Conversely it is not good for your dog to be left for extended periods of time because you are out visiting relatives. Please make arrangements so that he can stretch his legs and have a pee when he needs to go out. Isolation is just as bad for our dogs as having to cope with a house stuffed full of people.

Christmas trees are not all good

They are too enticing for young dogs and filling them with chocolate decorations is a positive “no no”. The chocolate used for these decorations is unlikely to contain much cocoa but it is better to be safe than sorry, so leave these off your tree.

Be careful with exposed plugs, the water that sits at the base of a “real” tree, and be careful of the needles, all of the above can be hazardous to dogs.

Good gifts for dogs

So going back to treats what do make good presents?

Cows feet (but not the ones filled with gunk!)

Pizzles-good for chewing, even if you don’t like the idea of them!

(By the way windpipes/gullets or any part of animal necks should not be fed because there is a possibility that the thyroid gland, even if only in part, may still be present. Thyroid tissue contains thyroxine and if absorbed into your dog’s body will remain active).

Natural rawhide - this is white and comes from the UK-if you are not sure where to get this try The Natural Pet Pantry www.nuturethemnaturally.co.uk.

Activity toys, treat balls, Kongs (did you know dogs love black pudding in Kongs?!)and of course your dog would love a Bowen treatment! If you are interested in Bowen for you and your dog contact me.

WALKING WANDA

 

A few months ago I was helping someone with their rescue Lurcher. The dog was very worried about other dogs approaching, and being around her, and she was particularly worried about Staffies as she had been attacked by one in the past.

When we started on the first day she was a very anxious dog and I explained how to help her by giving her lots of space when there were any other dogs in the vicinity and to try and make all walks pleasant and positive for her. This was not going to be easy as she had so badly lost her confidence (if she had ever had any amount) but she did love her two owners although they hadn’t been together very long and she was slowly beginning to have a lot of confidence in them. They also combined some mental stimulation and nice calm games in the garden.

By our last session together she was walking with Saffy (my greyhound) and considered her to be a friend in a world full of worry, and about six weeks after this point she went on a special hound walk which had been organised by the rescue centre she came from.

Since then I regularly see her pictures on Facebook and we keep in contact and get updates on her from time to time.

A month or so ago her owners contacted me as Wanda’s dog walker that she trusted was desperately needing to take a holiday after the death of one of her dogs, and they were needing a new dog walker. I didn’t know any near to her that could help her out, but did tell them I would help in any way I could should she need me-as I am very fond of Wanda!

So, this did lead to my services being required for just a few weeks until her new dog walker was back from her own holiday. This was an interesting situation- it has been more than a few years since my dogs needed help of this description although Merci went through a long time of being very scared of German Shepherds after being attacked by one. This was a much easier situation as Merci and I have a really good strong bond, and she trusted me to let her choose where to go should she see a German Shepherd anywhere near us when walking. The situation with Wanda is different as any and all dogs are a potential threat to her and she didn’t feel so confident with me, as I don’t know her that well.

In these situations where dogs are genuinely very scared, their reactions are fast and strong-and emotions in these stressful situations prevent dogs from thinking clearly.

It must be truly awful for a dog to feel like this-although the area was known to her she perceived potential dangers around every corner.

After the first walk I felt as unnerved as Wanda and added a harness to her ordinary collar and lead. I did advise a harness when I worked with her but I think this may have been dispensed with over the summer. Harnesses are helpful in many ways, they provide a more secure feeling for the dog, and they provide us with a way to move the dog without pressure on the vulnerable area of the neck if things get scary. Collars are never good used alone, as they can also damage the thyroid. Harnesses are in fact essential equipment. Long leads are also useful, especially a lead that can be clipped back onto itself so the length can be altered.

How much time does it take to resolve these issues? The answer is as much time as it takes! These situations are long term projects, and cannot be resolved in only a few sessions which is why I allow people to take any sessions they book with me at intervals to suit them-and why Wanda was not “cured” by the end of our training. Owner skills take time to develop too, alongside everything else.

The method is to build confidence, recognise when a dog can’t cope with any given situation, to stay in areas that the dog feels more confident and under no circumstances should dogs be forced to meet others. Owners need to become very good at selecting areas to walk in. Quiet confident and self -assured dogs can also help enormously and can help an anxious dog. Make use of areas that other dog owners aren’t so likely to frequent-car parks, industrial areas quiet cul- de sacs-in fact any quiet “away from it all” areas are essential to allow dogs to become less stressed and to start to really enjoy being outside. Beaches can also be helpful in winter weather too, as they are more likely to be deserted.

And the golden rule is not to force dogs into situations that they are not comfortable with.

So this part of the story ends-Wanda and I walked and sauntered, and took long ways around the local parks, and I think Wanda began to trust me a little more. She certainly barked at the window whenever I appeared and I got in to the habit of checking on her favourite foods before I left the house before each walk so I had her favourites in my pocket on each walk we took.

It was good for me to be on the “other side” of the problem and to experience all over again exactly what many people are up against, but my belief in building confidence and bonding with the dog in question remains unchanged.

To all of you out there with anxious and fearful dogs please take time, and take your dog’s worries seriously-things will improve in time. They are definitely worth it.

 

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I just wanted to say that our first canine Bowen students passed their final assessments in September and to congratulate them.

 

Sam Hillman, El Adams and Julie Maconchie are all now fully qualified canine Bowen therapists and their details can be found on 

School of Canine Bowen Therapy. Training in Canine Bowen Therapy on the therapists page. They are all located around the West Country 


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Working Your Dog’s Brain

The more I work and live with dogs the more conscious I become of how important mental stimulation is for them.

Our greyhounds are very content with lots of rest and a walk but this does not mean their lives would not be enhanced by adding mental stimulation to their lives.

There are huge benefits in including mental stimulation into your dog’s life ; it is as important as exercise and yet we neglect to think about how much our dogs need to use their minds/brains in fact many people are completely unaware of the entire concept.

Huge physiological changes result from brain games and activities including reduction of stress which means lower adrenaline and cortisol levels culminating in improved quality of our dog’s sleep patterns and the ability to chill out and relax.

Reducing stress levels also has a big impact on other areas of our dog’s lives-reducing stress can help with skin problems, digestive complaints and general anxiety, especially if your dog suffers from separation anxiety or any kinds of phobias. In fact if stress levels are reduced there are so many benefits that it would be difficult to fit in one article.

MENTAL VERSUS PHYSICAL

The brain is an energy guzzler, we humans use 25% of the body’s oxygen and many available calories when we are working on a task that involves our brains. Therefore the energy requirements of the brain are impressive. It uses up proportionately more energy than the rest of our body; this is why we get so tired when learning something new. How often have you felt mentally tired but do not feel physically tired because you have been to a new place or have been learning a new task? This is the same for dogs, your dog does not have to run a mile to feel tired...in fact over exercise is one of the most common causes of behaviour problems. Dogs that are exhausted often continue to buzz around, pace and be restless when they return home after a long walk. This does not mean your dog needs more exercise this means he cannot switch off and relax; this is because he has been over stimulated, not under exercised. There is a very big difference.

Making your dog’s life more interesting does not just mean playing with your dog for longer each day, it means you have to allow him to make choices. When you prepare some activities for your dog he can suit himself as to how long he takes over each one; or if you have given him a few tasks he can race through them- the choice will be his/hers. Inevitably he will pick his favourite first, and if introducing games you need to encourage him to participate by doing easy ones first.

The important things to remember are

Take time to teach your dog.

Teach your dog new games and skills in stages, and remember they should be fun for you and your dog.

Don’t use lots of commands; let him learn at his own pace.

Don’t use too many commands, and show him how to play each game. Commands should be kept to a minimum, the more commands you use the less your dog can focus on the tasks. Don’t be afraid to let your dog take “time out” to work out the task once you have shown him, this is an important concept when teaching dogs. If your dog gazes into the distance or sits down and has a scratch he may well be thinking about what you are showing him, and is not being obstinate, difficult or stupid.

Make sure your dog is enjoying the game

Look for calming signals and stress signals. Calming signals are important to watch for, and an escalation of calming signals mean that your dog needs “time out”. Signs of stress are panting, restlessness, play bows and loss of concentration.

Starting games

Scatter some tasty bits of food in an area of your house or garden and then let him hoover them up.

Buy your dog a Kong and fill it with some food which drops out easily, make sure you use food he likes and if you are not sure what he likes cut up a selection of food and offer it to him- he will, of course, take what he likes best first. For example my dogs are very partial to black pudding! So they get black pudding in their Kongs and because they know how Kongs work I might also fill the top of the Kong with cheese or peanut butter(be careful with peanut butter as the cheaper brands contain xylitol, which is toxic to dogs)

Invest in some tea towels and wrap food inside them and hide them around your house. Send him to find them when you have hidden them or show him where each one is and help him with them.

Don’t throw loo roll middles away, fold over one end put a few treats in and then fold other end over and teach him to pull it apart!

Keep any cardboard boxes and fill them with treats and let him find them, things can also be left in the garden as well as the house.

We get so used to feeding our dogs out of a bowl at breakfast/tea time don’t forget that food can be hidden in these games too, it does not have to come out of a bowl. If you walk first thing you can also take your dog’s breakfast with you and hide it as you walk and teach your dog to search for his food.

Other useful things to keep are paper bags, wrapping paper, take away coffee cups (but not polystyrene) treats can be hidden in pots and various areas around the garden and you can set challenges where your dog has to fish treats out of a bucket filled with water. The more you look around, the more inventive you get, the more your dog will enjoy the games.

Pretty much anything can be used to stimulate your dogs brain and help fill his day, especially when you are at work.

 

If you want to invest in some more brain taxing toys then take a look at other specially made games. These will need to be played with while you are with your dog rather than left with him when you leave him.

The best ones are probably Nina Ottosson games but there are now a lot of other places selling them.

They come in all shapes and sizes and are very from being really pretty inexpensive to quite an investment. The one here is from zooplus and is quite a difficult one which involves the dogs learning to spin the tubes, they have different tops-take the top off and the treats drop out easily, put the lid on and the treats are harder for the dog to get out.

This is not a beginner level toy!


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Dog Food


Dog food is a very big subject. It is also very emotive and people are very loyal to the labels that they buy. This is fine if the food in question is giving the dogs all the nutrients your dog needs.

It is time, I think, to review exactly how much we are paying for the food itself. This is a bit of a sweeping statement as one of my greyhounds just couldn’t tolerate some of the foods I wanted to feed her. Her system could only tolerate very cheap kibble; after spending over 8 years in kennels she couldn’t process food that had better quality ingredients than the food she was fed while she had been in kennels.

I have at this point to relate a short story here that a few people that look at my Horse and Hound page on Facebook may have seen. I was on holiday with my dogs last week. After feeding my dogs I had only used half of the tin of Lily’s dog food that I had fed them, so I went to the communal fridge and found it so jammed up with stuff that it was very hard to put my few things and the tin of dog food in the fridge. I thought about taking all the stuff out and hiding the tin of food way back but I actually thought if I pulled everything out then I wouldn’t get the rest of the stuff back in. So, I jammed the tin in where I could - I did wonder about that. I also didn’t want to cover the tin so I just hoped that it would be there in the morning. Sure enough when I went to find it in the morning, someone had removed it and put it on top of the fridge.

I was pretty annoyed, and I also thought about the fact that most people feed their dogs absolute rubbish so that whoever had removed it had assumed it would somehow “contaminate” the rest of the human food. This would not have been true at all with this particular brand of food, and I never cover the tins at home if I put them in the fridge. Most of the time the tins the dogs get are as good, if not better, quality food than what I eat. To me this said everything - dog food is thought to be nasty, smelly and should not be kept with human food.

So, should we be more aware of what we put in our dogs mouth? Labels are notoriously misleading and even a kibble that says it contains a large proportion of fresh meat does not give you the whole picture. The percentage of fresh meat which is splashed on the front of the pack contains a high proportion of water which means by the time it is cooked and made into kibble the meat content is greatly reduced - so do not be seduced by the company’s “splash”. What should follow directly after is the same ingredient in the form of meal. To explain further if the first ingredient listed on the pack says it contains 50% fresh chicken then the next ingredient on the list should be chicken meal because this is where the primary source of protein comes from and it should be chicken meal not poultry meal or some other type of meal. If it is then the quality of the food is not as good as you are being led to believe.

Beware also of the necessity of senior dog foods, they are not as necessary as you might think, just because your dog turns 7, 8 or 9 does not mean that he needs to switch to a senior dog food. If your dog is healthy happy and thriving on an adult maintenance dog food, there is no need to search out a senior dog food. These foods very often have reduced protein which is fine if your dog has a kidney problem but protein is a very important part of a dog’s diet and the need does not diminish just because he turned 8 yesterday. Glucosamine is also a bit of a red herring and adding it into a kibble at the amount advertised on the pack is not likely to add any real benefit and is unlikely to be anywhere near the amount needed to make a significant difference to your dog.

Another piece of information that you may not have seen is as follows - if salt is added into a kibble (which generally it should not contain) it can only constitute 1% of the product by law - that is fine until you look at the ingredients listed after that point. By this definition anything added after this has got to be less than 1% of the entire product. So if the ingredients listed after this point look good they are very unlikely to of any be benefit to your dog.

If you select the food you feed your dog by the cheapest you can find I would like you to think again. It is important if you do not feed raw (and not everybody does-I don’t, for instance, as I don’t have space for a freezer big enough for 3 dogs) then please arm yourself with basic facts. Kibble packed with cereals and grains is not going to be as nutritious as a food that is formulated by using human grade meats and proteins. Carbohydrates are really not much good for a dog and the more that comes out of the “business end” of your dog, the less is being digested. This is not giving your dog maximum nutrition, so please do take a little time to research a better quality food.


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CHANGES


Just before Easter 2011, a post came up on facebook from a friend of mine saying she and her family had agreed to look after a greyhound during Easter as a local greyhound rescue was trying to find some homes for them during the long weekend.


I responded to her post by saying how wonderful. She then said she would call me as she was a little worried about how their own Greyhound (Sharni) and their Westie (Scruff) would be with a new dog.  She was concerned as Sharni is a bully. When they first got her she was not good with other dogs even though she had been in a home previous to when they picked her. (I say they picked her, but it actually she picked them! You know the scenario “only going to look” and that same day she went home with them!)

From the very beginning she was very bossy with Scruff who is an adorable dog. Sharni decided from the time she put her little elegant feet in the door that she WAS IN CHARGE! Poor Scruff didn’t stand a chance, he was made to stay on the stairs (out of her way) while she luxuriated on her new bed by the radiator. The only time she seemed to tolerate his presence was when something happened like firework night. I often give Sharni some Bowen before this comes around as she gets so worried. Her Diva behaviour often resumed as soon as the bangs went away though.


So they were a bit concerned and had asked for a dog rather than a bitch because they thought that Sharni would terrify a girl and that there might be a different kind of fireworks party.

Having decided to do this good turn Clare actually had some Bowen for herself and was telling me all about her new venture of short term fostering. She and her family were still concerned about how Sharni in particular might behave and had stressed that they wanted the most laid back dog that the rescue had. Clare also said that there was NO way he was going to stay, it was only for the weekend and then he would definitely be going back.

Enter Seamus! During the first few days I had a few calls from her with questions about settling him in for the weekend and whether I thought they should be kept separate whenever they were out for short times during the weekend. These times were short as they had planned to make sure all went well and their priority was to keep all the dogs happy during the weekend.


We decided that the dogs should be put in separate rooms while they were out for the short times especially as Seamus wasn’t going to be a long term lodger.

I had the funniest time reading her posts among them being how Seamus liked collecting their clothes and odd dog toys while they were out but all seemed to be going well.

Then I had a phone call saying they were thinking about a slightly longer term fostering project for Seamus....and still (she said) there was no way they were going to keep him. Yes you can guess it everybody...they are now the proud owners of a lovely large black greyhound called Seamus.


The one thing that swung it was the fact that Sharni is a changed dog. No more swiping and swearing at poor old Scruff. Seamus has taken charge and has instilled a calm over the house that has not been present since Sharni arrived 4 years ago. I went to see them about 10 days ago to do a little bit of training with Seamus and the biggest difference was that Sharni didn’t bounce and leap all over me as she often does when I go to visit, it is absolutely astounding; calmness reigns-all due to Seamus!

 The most amazing thing is that Seamus only came over from Ireland 6 weeks ago and had never been in a house before he went to stay for that weekend. He had raced in Ireland and had only finished racing in October 2011 and had only ever been in kennels.

God bless Seamus long may he reign! 

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The Great British Greyhound Walk


I really would like to spend this article celebrating the Great British Greyhound Walk.

I do not know of another group of dog people who are so passionate about their dogs and so passionate in showing what great companions and friends they are. The bonus being that so many people take time out to just celebrate them.

I am always proud to participate in the day especially knowing that so many other people are doing the same thing.

Greyhounds (as we all know) are truly amazing especially as they are often not born into homes and have totally separate lives until they meet their new families. Sometimes  there are some troubles as they settle in, but we all know that we  can’t expect dogs that have never set foot in a house before not to have a few questions. When these questions are answered and the new owners start to explain what retirement truly means, most of our hounds are just so happy to settle down and appreciate the gift of a home and the comforts that go with it.

Not only do I want to celebrate our hounds but the lovely people on the ends of the leads-yes…all of you! We all know when we take on our hounds that many of them cannot initially be let off lead-and some of them can’t ever be let off lead, due to a high prey drive or the fact that a big wide open field is too much of a challenge, either way we have to take this  in our stride. Although it would be lovely for each one of us to have access to a safe open field so that we can take them off lead, and let them run, these kinds of facilities are still very rare-but do our greyhounds mind? I would say not, they love having a good old sniff and a chat with friends both doggy and human, and they love to stop for a bite to eat or a long drink and ice cream in the summer, and most of all I know we all value this.

To see many hundreds of pictures on the GBGW Facebook page which feature many greyhounds standing happily together and showing no stress and just enjoying the day always brings a smile to my face, and everyone seems to value the fact that it is more than just a social occasion. The value of these pictures cannot be underestimated in this day of people demanding that dogs are muzzled, especially when we are in the midst of a new dog attack, or when dogs are in the news for all of the wrong reasons-the pictures showing everyone smiling and relaxed tell important stories, the moral of the tale being that our greyhounds are truly fantastic ambassadors. 

We ended our walk in Belhus by having a picnic, a small dog show, and a few doggy games and it made the day perfect, everyone smiled and the dogs were pampered and beds were brought out for them to lie on while the proceedings took place. It is rare for me to be among so many dogs without hearing a growl or a bark and amongst people who are so conscious of the need for space between the dogs.  I have to say our social walking groups are pretty perfect-and so very different from many others I have witnessed or been part of.

I want to raise a glass to all of you that took part and ask you all to keep up the good work, not only with the greyhound PR but with the amazing amount of care you take on looking after and I commend you all for the seriousness that you approach the conduct when the hounds are all together in a large group. It does our cause so much good, and do have a look at that page, if you haven’t already, it is just full of people and dogs having a good time.

Well done everyone-keep doing what you are doing, and if you didn’t join in this year can I challenge you to do one next year, or even actually organise a walk in your area in 2016? Go on….. you won’t regret it!!


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Training and Teaching

I have just spent a lovely day with a friend of mine. She has both horses and dogs and loves all of her animals with a passion. She is educated and knows exactly how she would like people to treat her animals.

I start with this paragraph as she recently sent one of her horses away to be brought on and further his education except even with her qualifications she made a mistake. In fact she didn’t make a mistake, she was misled into believing she was doing the best for her horse. She knew the trainer that she sent the horse to and trusted him, but she didn’t reckon on the fact that the trainer she knew would totally change his approach when he had her horse on his yard.

This is really a mixture of a rant and a worry that even with education and knowledge you can be fooled into thinking that the person that you choose to work with-whether that is a horse or dog- is what she says she is / or what he says he is.

Teaching our dogs and horses should be a very thoughtful process and should not be undertaken without care, and sometimes, as in this case, you can’t always assess the quality of the training that you and your dog / horse will be given.

It is a continual problem and unfortunately there really are no answers.  All I can say is that the bigger the ego of the person the more likely it is that they will undertake training your dog without solid morals. We talked at length today about what goes on in people’s minds when they take an animal to train and how it is impossible to know what is going on in another person’s mind. The bottom line here is that things should FEEL right. That is; the methods that are being used should be clear and should put the animal’s needs first. I will switch to using the word dog as this is essentially an article written for a greyhound ezine but it applies equally to the education of any animal.

For a few weeks now I have been thinking about the use of the word “training” as it seems to have superseded the word “teaching” and in my mind they are very different things. Training is practicing something that is already known; teaching is about introducing new ideas and new thoughts and taking the first steps to education. You can’t train before you have been taught a foundation. The steps to a foundation cannot be rushed and they need to be as stress free as possible.

So what does that mean? Do positive trainers always empathise with the dog they are working with? That is not something that is easy to know unless you have some knowledge of how you want to teach your dog and the fact is you need to know your dog well too. They are not robots and every dog is an individual.  They should never be treated like they already have an element of knowledge, and no one dog will react identically or need the same things and the same teaching protocols.

Teaching should never be undertaken lightly and the problem is that we have to trust the person we select but that does not mean if you start to feel uncomfortable that you should carry on, neither should you be browbeaten by someone who maintains they know best, especially if you feel uncomfortable about the methods they are using.

Positive methods mean just that, they should not involve cruelty or humiliation and the problem is that positive methods can also include positive punishment - it is after all still “positive”. It is a very difficult dilemma and we all have to learn to follow our own judgement and to continually assess what our dogs and ourselves are learning.

Teaching and learning should be fun and you should be motivated without pushing your dog to do more and more difficult things just because you can.

Think before you teach….just because you can doesn’t mean you should.


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Thyroid Health


A few weekends ago I attended a seminar on dog health which was conducted by Jean Dodds. Just in case you have not heard of her I will fill you in a little bit.

Jean Dodds is a vet who qualified 50 years ago, but she is a very unusual vet. She has devoted her life to finding out and researching some of the most controversial things that surround the health of our dogs.

She has founded a blood bank which uses greyhounds to provide the blood and the greyhounds take part in the project for a maximum of 18 months but more normally they only stay in the programme for 12 months, after this point they are found  homes and live a normal pet life for the rest of their lives.

Each greyhound donates blood a maximum of twice a month and each individual greyhound saves about 35 – 40 dog lives during their stay in the blood bank programme. Greyhounds are ideal for this project as their histories are available which ensure the quality and safety of the blood that is taken.

Apart from this project she also helps many dogs via her research into canine Thyroid disease. She found that this entire subject and the diagnosis of thyroid disease in dogs is not properly taught in veterinary schools and that the results are often skewed,  therefore incidences of thyroid problems in dogs are incorrectly diagnosed by the majority of vets. Her main concern was that not all dogs are the same and what may be normal for one dog is not normal for another dog. Every dog is presently diagnosed via the same system –including young dogs, growing dogs and old dogs but obviously normal basal rates for each of these life stages will be different. For instance sight hounds (as the majority of us know) are very different to other dogs and have lower basal rates, so what is normal for a Labrador is very different for a greyhound.

She maintains that if you suspect your dog may have thyroid problems, that you should show your vet pictures taken of your dog which detail why you are concerned-a picture taken 6 months ago will be very different and show the changes you are worried about when compared to the day that you take your dog to the vet; so comparisons are very important and if a vet examines your dog and has nothing to compare it to then your concerns are easily dismissed.

Jean Dodds has set up a service where you can get a far better result from blood tests, it is available by sending her your dogs blood. If you are interested in this service I will include the website at the end of this article.

The very interesting thing about thyroid problems in dogs is that things can get very serious. Thyroid glands in dogs cannot regenerate. So any damage via collars which can occur when  a dog pulls (and this is very common) will remain damaged. If correctly diagnosed and treated drugs cannot reverse the damage but they can help the dog to stabilise and help to maintain the remaining function of the thyroid, so at least things don’t degenerate further. This is why it is so important that your dog is fitted with a suitable collar-or better still walked in a comfortable harness. Any dogs can suddenly pull onto a collar and it is amazingly easy to damage the thyroid gland. 

There are many symptoms of thyroid problems which include the more common ones like oily or dry skin, hair loss, and yeasty ears;but there are also other signs that are very easy to dismiss such as lethargy, seizures (I mention this one as seizures are so easily put down to epilepsy) unprovoked aggression, mental dullness and weight gain…..this is a major one as so many dogs are overweight these days.

So this issue is a very complex one. This is where her research and interaction in the area has been so important. She has written a book called “The Canine Thyroid Epidemic: Answers You Need for Your Dog” if anyone would like to research further and learn more.

Not content with all of this work, she has also conducted research into nutrition in our dogs and has developed a test called “nutriscan” which looks into allergies and food intolerances. Again there is a simple test which involves swabbing your dog and sending the sample to her which gives a very detailed profile that can give answers to any food allergies or nutrition problems that your dogs may have.  This is not cheap but for many dogs it has been a turning point towards healthier lives.

If you google her name you can find many webinars which she has been involved in, if it all sounds complicated and you think the whole subject surrounding thyroid and health issues sounds complicated do listen to one of the webinars as this couldn’t be further from the truth. She is a delight to listen to, explains things in layman’s terms and is really recommended.

Her website is www.hemopet.org

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Teaching our dogs through choice

Often I wonder why people choose to train their dogs like they do. There are as many ways of dog training and as many people offering suggestions and ways of training.

In my book training should be substituted by the word teaching in pretty much every instance. What the word “teach” explains is the fact that we all have to be taught to do specific things; training is a different thing it assumes that you already have certain knowledge about the tasks you are working on. If you do not know how to do something then you have to learn first before those things can be perfected.

I was thinking about this today because I was talking to a friend of mine about her dog. She is a situation where she knows that he needs time and teaching, and she also knows that she may not be able to provide the  amount of time and attention needed to help him at this point in her life. If you have read any of these articles for any time you may know that I am very anti quick fixes. The reason things can never be fixed quickly is that the dog (or horse) needs teaching. Spraying a dog with water when he barks, or tapping him on the nose with a roll of paper when he mouths someone will effect a cessation of that behaviour ….for a while. This is because the dog is often shocked, stunned and frightened by the intensity of the correction, as not one of us in this situation will administer this type of correction with care, mainly because we are told it has to be quick-short and sharp.

A short sharp correction offers no explanation and the dog can become superstitious about why that thing happened. He may become frightened or worried around doors (very reasonable if the “correction” was given by a door)-or he might assume the position of becoming more anxious and very worried which might mean he does not repeat the behaviour but “shuts down” which means he will be very quiet and unresponsive and unreactive–this does not mean the behaviour is cured it means the person has delivered a correction that will destroy the dog’s trust in the person, and what has been achieved is very negative.

This is not progress. What the dog has not understood, or learnt is not what was intended when the correction was given. It will not lead him to think that he should not repeat that behaviour but it will teach him to be unsure and it will take away his choice and his enjoyment in learning.

Teaching involves an explanation and it also needs the teacher to have a plan of action as to how to teach the required task. If we think about how to teach something then we start to also understand why the behaviour started in the first place.

There is also another scenario here - one of over training so it takes away the dogs ability to reason or think things through.

 I have recently seen a dog who is suffering from the most severe degree of separation distress. He is “beautifully trained” but the moment his mum leaves the house he hasn’t got a clue what to do. His life is so micro managed that he has got no coping skills when he is left on his own. He is at such a loss without someone managing every aspect of his day to day life that choices become distressing.

I find these two subjects entwine considerably. Teaching is all about choice; it should also be as stress free as possible. If we are supposed to be the “superior species” why do we not think about cause and action?

When we take on dogs we should not take the easy way out, this actually involves treating dogs like an inferior friend, one that is expected to come and go about things as we say, and it is amazingly easy to be bossy and use the recommended firm voice and TELL a dog to lay down/sit/settle or whatever you feel should be demanded of a dog-have you ever wondered how that would feel?

Choice is everything.

Sometimes we all pick the wrong choice, but nowhere near so much if we are guided and taught and offered explanations. It is undoubtedly harder to teach like this than just storm in and start shooting off commands but what suffers is the dog’s trust and it can have a big impact on the dog’s confidence and this will lead to behaviour problems sooner or later

How do you offer choice in training?

Before you tell your dog to do anything ask yourself why you want him to stop a certain activity and then ask yourself WHAT you do want the dog to do.

Puppies and young dogs are often boisterous and find it hard to settle at times-jumping up and climbing onto chairs and racing around is not disobedience just because it is inconvenient to us, but it is high spirits and what young healthy dogs do. What would you want this dog to do? To encourage the dog to become steadier give him some mentally challenging things to do-such as asking him to search for treats (you can actually use each meal you give him to do this-your dog’s meals do not necessarily have to be given in a bowl. If you do this you are not going to ask for 5 obedience tasks while you stand over him you are in fact going to hide the food and encourage him to find it. Engage his brain instead of suppressing his energies. As he uses his brain he will become steady and he will enjoy doing something where he is not constantly being told what to do.

If your dog does not like treats then find out why. If your dog won’t eat treats when you are out but will when you are indoors he is anxious or you don’t have the right treat. If you use more treats than you would like to when working like this find something that is soft so they can be split into smaller pieces.

If you are walking and come to the kerb do you ask your best human friend to stand before you cross? Let’s face it, this is unlikely. If this is important to you to teach, as you reach the kerb (this is a human concept by the way a dog wont register every curb he gets to) slow yourself as you approach, as you stop offer a treat and use your body language to ask him to stop for a moment while you monitor the traffic-guess what he will learn?

I know we rarely ask our greyhounds to sit as they find it difficult, but don’t use this command if you are tempted-forget it and use your skills to ask your dog to become immobile if needed. It requires patience and skill but they are great skills to develop and they are incredible as a means of skill building for us.

By teaching instead of” telling”, by thinking instead of repeating words that your dog doesn’t know, you will earn you a far richer relationship with your dog.

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Is your dog eating the right food?

It is the start of our second Canine Bowen course this weekend and throughout the process of writing up notes and discussing what should or should not be included in the course; we (Maddy and I) have been doing a lot of reading.

As I have been reading and researching I think one of the most “controversial” subjects has been around nutrition in dogs, so much so, that when we have finished developing the course after this first year I am going to study and do a canine nutrition course.

It is one of those things that everyone has something to say about. I often look at the hundreds of replies on Facebook to the question often posed by someone about what food other people feed their dogs and what they would recommend. This is one subject that nobody is ever going to agree about unanimously….

So what is the best food for a dog? That of course depends. Every dog and every owner is different and of course as you struggle through people’s prejudices and likes there are many things which people believe are very important and should never be changed. For instance should food be changed gradually? Does a change in food cause digestive upset if changed too fast? Are dogs’ carnivores or can they eat and digest other foods? Is grain always bad for a dog? Are allergies caused by feeding grain?

Ultimately many people do feed some form of biscuit or kibble as it is convenient but as we all know there are many different types of kibble and each brand has different claims or “wonder ingredients”. We can only decide what to feed our dogs by doing research and letting our dogs test the food, they ultimately dictate what we feed them, but we must be aware that just because a brand appears on television or it is heavily advertised that does not make it a good food for your particular dog.

Here are a few basic facts about kibble…….

A dog consumes over 10,000 meals in an average lifetime

Many dogs are overweight and are being given too much food. Food is often linked to the fact that people love their dogs and they make bad choices by not feeding the correct food or feeding the right amount

Anatomically a dogs’ gastrointestinal tract from mouth to intestines is consistent with other predatory species that consume a varied diet

All natural (if advertised on a bag of food) ingredients do not make a food “superior”. Nature has many plants and ingredients which are not necessarily healthful or “safe” for dogs. The word natural is a play on owners’ heartstrings and is often a marketing ploy.

If a food declares on the packet that it is “complete and balanced for ALL life stages of dogs” then it is essentially a puppy food. This is because puppy foods have to have specific ingredients in them to encourage growth in a puppy and a company cannot say that it covers all life stages without addressing the problem of making sure the food is providing enough nutrients for a puppy. If this is on a bag of food then you may well be on the path to a fat dog or at least a dog that is being overloaded with unnecessary calories that could ultimately affect his health.

Dogs do not necessarily need a senior food the moment they turn seven; if your dog is fit and healthy and is doing well then he has no need of a senior food this precise moment and it is very likely he will continue to do well on an adult maintenance food.

“Vet recommended” …..did you know that only one vet needs to recommend a food to have this on the front of the bag, it is in no way a scientific evaluation of the product? And also that a vet very rarely gets more than 2 weeks training in pet nutrition during their entire training, and this is mostly via/ sponsored by  one of the well-known pet food companies?

Most dogs especially our pet greyhounds should be fed on an adult maintenance food. Working dog foods are for dogs that do more than the walking twice a day. High performance foods should be for dogs that do endurance sports such as dog sledding/scenting and rescue work. Even agility work is not included in this bracket as the sport needs short bursts of energy which can be fulfilled with a good quality adult maintenance food, and actually does not really necessitate a high energy food. Calories that go into your dog should equal the calories that go out. If this does not happen your dog will put weight on.

This is a very brief and short overview of some of the facts that we need to know when we choose a kibble for our dogs-and what should the take home message be? Do not believe what you read on the bag- do your own research and then get your dog’s approval on your selection- and add some fresh vegetables into his diet as he will really benefit from them.



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A few thoughts about “separation anxiety”


Earlier this week I was thinking about boredom in dogs and actually wrote something on my own blog about the issue of dogs being bored when we are not at home. As I have been thinking about what to write for this article, and doing some research too, which is always interesting I have been listening to a dog that must be directly across the road from me, because he has been barking solidly for about an hour.

The barking is not changing in volume or tone but it is insistent-I am going to have to go and investigate as soon as I finish this article.

But whatever ails the dog across the road leads me to think about whether people actually do diagnose separation anxiety in their dogs correctly.

The facts are that dogs are a very social species, but there are many dogs that have severe separation anxiety that live with other dogs, so it is human company that they really crave, and not just anyone will do. Many people think that providing another dog for company will solve separation problems but this is not generally the case.

Another fact is that many of us leave our dogs for far too long –and I include myself in this bracket too. They may well be fine when I leave but often when I return I will find the door to the loo open-which is always where they look for me when they need me, and I often find paw prints around the worktops and the sink.

So what has happened here? The dogs of course have been bored, and they have wandered off to find something to entertain themselves. This is not an awful story of distress but a snapshot of my dogs’ days when I am not around. Dogs do not really tolerate isolation well, and as a consequence often spend the time “sleeping” which is a good thing…..or is it?

There are other “things” that people think point to separation anxiety such as scratched  doors and windows – but this is often more due to the frustration of being left in a house while the human occupants are not there-it looks the same but is not necessarily the whole truth.

If your dog truly does get distressed when you leave home you will find more than just one or two of these signs. There will be destruction of furniture and household objects, as well as the signs of scratching and more major attempts to dig through walls or doors as well as elimination problems -and as the dog across the road is doing- it is likely that the dog will be very vocal.

What this short article will cover is the prevention of minor symptoms becoming more serious.

Remember that tiring your dog out by a long walk/fast run in the local park is not enough- he needs time and energy spent on other things.

If you think your dog is beginning to have problems with you leaving then bear in mind you need to minimise his discomfort which means that the standard advice of pretending that you are leaving putting your coat on, picking up your keys and bags etc will only work if your dog is chilled-the moment your dog becomes aware and starts watching then he is already assuming that bad things might happen (ie you are going to leave him).

The preferred situation will be to teach him all about nice stuff-yes here we go with the kong talk. Fill some kongs and/or similar things with favourite foods and place them as you make your preparations to leave; you are aiming for your dog to become very relaxed about any imminent departures. If you do work on this it is important to recognise any minor signs of stress and cease your “pretend preparations” before he shows signs of discomfort.

Remember we are thinking about dogs that are only displaying mild symptoms and you are able to rehearse the semi preparations.

Recognise frustration when you see it and find out why your dog is frustrated-maybe the room you are leaving him in when you go out is just plain boring and he needs more choice. Dogs are not just social animals they also enjoy different places to rest and sleep and the ability to choose where to do these things.

Build confidence-teach your dog to spend time away from you when you are at home, sit in another room while you are on the computer but leave the dog with a kong when you depart to work-any barrier between the dog and you should not be a cause of frustration though-just keep your movements calm when you move to another part of the house. It truly is amazing how much of a performance we make of these things. A good exercise is to monitor yourself when you are moving around your house- take a mental note about how you are doing each task and whether your dog follows you because you call him or actively encourage him/her to follow. These are all useful and good observational skills to think about and will definitely help your understanding of why your dog reacts like he does.

Confidence can also be built by helping him to develop skills like nosework and activities like hiding treats when you are out walking and practicing the same skills in the house and out in the garden. It sounds very tame but never doubt how much difference these things make-dogs love to do things you are just asking him to use his natural skills and senses rather than using man made games such as ball throwing or encouraging mad off lead runs.


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Monitoring changes in an older dog


I am very aware that my dogs are getting older. Some dogs stay fit and healthy into an extremely old age while others show signs of ageing much earlier.

There are problems we should all be on the lookout for as our dogs age, and among the most common but possibly the hardest to actually diagnose is Cushing’s disease. We can look at symptoms and see the obvious signs but in this instance it can prove hard to get a firm diagnosis.

Many dogs begin to drink more, lose weight, perhaps lose hair and lose their appetites as they get older and equally this could signal the start of Cushings, diabetes or kidney problems, but the best way is to track any changes in your dog.

We would expect most greyhounds to slow down as they approach 10 or 11 years of age but it is the little changes that are most important to monitor. Among these are the following;

Restlessness especially when you know your dog can usually sleep for hours! If they can’t get comfortable but don’t seem to be  in any distress this is important to keep track of especially as some of these things become almost normal when they go on for a number of days or weeks. This could denote the beginning of arthritis or just random aches and pains.

Having difficulty getting in or out of the car - please think before asking your dog to jump out of a car, if he is experiencing stiffness and is general achy jumping out of a car can cause extreme pain. There are solutions these days and while it takes a while to get a dog used to walking down a ramp or finding a raised curb or similar to help reduce discomfort from jumping and landing it is just as well to plan in advance and start to get your dog used to using such things before they are actually needed. If you teach your dog from an early age how to balance on low tree trunks and walk along raised platforms then it will be second nature to him when he actually starts to need help to get into and out of a car. It makes walks more interesting too!

Becoming less interested in food-or starting to gobble food down - both are significant changes especially if they carry on for over a week.

Keep an eye on how well food is being digested……yes!! This means checking poop. I don’t think anyone will be horrified about this as checking this should be part of our daily routine with our dogs. It is hard to find out about the digestibility of our dogs’ food, and while food manufacturers should give us figures and facts about the digestibility of the food they are selling to us, this very rarely happens. So until this is easily available, the only way we can  monitor this is by watching what comes out!

If dogs are digesting a food properly (and this goes for any age of dog) the faeces will be minimal and should not be runny or brightly coloured. This might seem obvious but judging from what I see around when people don’t pick up after their dogs this fact obviously doesn’t occur to as many dog owners as it should. Needless to say any change here is a marker - unless of course you have changed your dog’s food or he has eaten something he shouldn’t have. (While I am on this subject please be aware that many rawhide chews originate in China and contain extremely toxic elements. Please do check where treats, in particular, come from as many contain undesirable toxins , and if not they may well contain a very high proportion of fat.)

 

Reacting badly to being touched-if your dog reacts negatively to a touch that he would normally like (or ignore), that reaction may be due to pain. Typical negative reactions include yelping, jumping away, whining, licking your hand as you try to stroke him, pulling away or even growling. A pain based reaction may usually only be displayed when a specific spot is being touched.  It is worth also noting that a dog may also do the opposite, if in pain or distress dogs will often seek body contact. This gives them a feeling of security and being a very social species, they can and do often seek the comfort of another body whether that be another dog in the household or you. If this is a change from normal then please take note, this is especially important in our older dogs.

Needless to say if you are at all concerned about your dog do take him to a vet to get him checked over, and PLEASE do tell your vet about any concerns you have and WHY you are concerned. What is normal for one dog may just not be the case for your dog. The vet is bound to listen to your concerns so please do make sure that you have made him/her aware of these.


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About White Rugs

I was in the supermarket the other day and overheard two of the people who worked there having a conversation it went something along the lines of

“I never knew my dog was going to grow so big” this was followed by a sympathetic noise by her colleague, and then the next remark was something along the lines of

I bought a new white rug, wish I hadn’t done that it is not white anymore…..I really do wish my dog wasn’t so messy he makes everything so dirty” …… “I don’t know why he has to mess everything up so much”

I actually had a hard time not saying anything but they moved away as I think I had made it obvious that I was listening to their conversation. But I wondered why do these people have dogs? What do they think is going to happen when they have a dog? Do they actually think a dog is going to be a bit like a toy and that the house they live in will not change once they have a dog? Words sometimes fail me.


I also had another quite weird experience last week when someone left a voicemail on my phone because their new rescue dog had bitten his wife. I rang back as soon as I could as the man sounded panicked. What happened? The dog had been settled on the sofa with the man and the wife had been prodding and poking around the dog looking for her daughters keys that she thought may magically be underneath the dogs bottom…..result? The dog bit her and then continued to growl at her for some time.

What I really wanted to ask was why she didn’t have more sense?-what did happen though was that she did carry on telling me about was how long he had growled at her for after he had bitten her. If I had been the dog I would have growled at her for longer I can guarantee it! She then continued to tell me about other problems they were having but none of them were down to the dog, and all of them were down quite honestly to the owners approach to the dog.

Somehow he was supposed to not have problems with his recall and it should be instant- so a lurcher that won’t come back? When lurchers are running and having a nice time in the field this is a no brainer, I hasten to add that the words long line and nice treats were not what she seemed to want to hear.

What this boils down to (as far as I am concerned) is our inconsistencies. We ask dogs to come and live with us and then we are not always prepared to teach them what we do want them to do-I have selected the word teach rather than train as our dogs are not automatons and the word train around dogs seems to have an odd effect on people.

Yes…teach your dog to come back –don’t expect him to be a mind reader. And know the animal you are living with.

Yes a dog will growl, and will tell you all about it; especially if he is sleepy, dogs particularly dislike being disturbed by people poking around them, if you do need to look for something when your dog is relaxing ask him to move by offering a treat, but better still don’t disturb him look for the item later on.

People need to learn to leave their dogs alone when they are relaxing-growling does not mean a dog is dominant, badly behaved or exhibiting aggressive or unacceptable tendencies. (See the last 2 articles I have written for this ezine about canine communication)

Learning about our dogs is of immense importance and if you don’t like the way things are panning out then teach your dog what you do want-and while I am at it-do not expect miracles with 2 sessions with a trainer or at classes ,teaching takes time and consistency and being clear about what you are working on and following up with working on those skills is actually more important for us than it is our dogs, we need to learn how to teach our dogs not expect them to be mind readers, they are pretty amazing and have amazing abilities but mind reading and speaking English are not among those skills.

And for those of you with white rugs……..really?


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CALMING SIGNALS:   AMBER AND RED ZONE        

In the last e-zine I discussed calming signals. Many people are unaware that they exist and are surprised to know that many things that dogs do actually have a valid meaning and should be observed by us. We should never just ignore our dogs when they are in a situation where they may be cowering or struggling to get away. Nor should we ignore the fact that many dogs feel more restricted while on lead.

Many dogs do need to be on lead for various reasons, if this is so make sure you watch your dog when other dogs approach and learn to read your dog’s body language, if he looks uncomfortable and is turning his head away or freezing then move away from the other dog or person. Dogs know when they are uncomfortable and they need the ability to make the choice between meeting another dog or person or staying away. Never force your dog to meet a person or dog that he is uncomfortable with.

Green zone calming signals are generally used in everyday life by every dog, and dogs use them to placate and diffuse tense situations in a multitude of circumstances; dogs use this language to help calm themselves and other dogs around and these signals serve to diffuse, help and relieve stressful situations that dogs find themselves in.

All dogs recognise calming signals, no matter what breed, or age they are, although adolescent dogs tend to ignore them and to react to other dogs by being exuberant and a little bit “over the top”. But as they experience life they become wiser and learn to use and respect calming signals given by other dogs.

Green calming signals indicate a dog skilled in using this form of communication and that is unwilling to get into a confrontation with another dog. They consist of various behaviours that attempt to reassure, calm and to put other dogs in the area at ease. In fact calming signals inform anybody in the vicinity that your dog means no harm and he is not a threat.

The most familiar green zone signals are lip licking, yawning, freezing and curving around other dogs at a respectful distance. Humans often “mess with these” by insisting that their dogs are “friendly” and often marching their dog up to other dogs to “be sociable”. This is not the way our dogs would choose to instinctively behave in this kind of situation, but generally no harm comes from this.

But this is not the end of the story-if polite or green calming signals are ignored things can change very quickly and will escalate, the signals will become more frantic and more visible. To us dozy humans the green zone signals are often misunderstood or missed. This means we only realise things are getting out of hand when more threatening behaviours occur.

AMBER SIGNALS

These indicate a situation that is escalating and fast becoming confrontational, bear in mind that dogs have the ability to react at least 5 times faster than us.

There are many of these” amber signals” but the most obvious ones consist of the dogs lips being retracted and growling; this indicates that a dog is becoming increasingly worried and there is a possibility that he will lunge or bite unless the situation changes for the better; at this point raised hackles will usually be visible along the “threatened” dogs back, in response.

 If the situation occurs between 2 dogs they may continue to circle each other very slowly, or they may start to approach head on and stare at each other. Staring is a very intimidating behaviour to dogs, and this should be considered as a serious threat and is generally something dogs would rather avoid.

 Dogs may also use louder audible signals such as barking, snarling and growling.

RED ZONE

This is generally where we wake up; in fact at this point any intervention on our part is too late! The situation described above will now progress to the dogs locking eyes; the time for backing down and peaceful solutions has now passed. This red zone consists of incredibly loud and fast actions like snapping, lunging and biting.

Facial expressions should be watched too, white showing at the edge of a dog’s eye means he is not comfortable or happy especially if this is accompanied by a tight and closed mouth.

When dogs are termed “aggressive” they have often learned to bypass the use of green zone signals and will jump straight into using red zone actions.

This is not a good place for a dog to be in, and very often humans are to blame for punishing their dogs for grumbling and growling at other dogs. If punished while feeling intimidated especially if the dog is barking at the time, a dog will learn that it is wrong to use warning signals, and he will begin to learn that red zone actions are the only choice he has.

Choice is a good word to use here-dogs do not choose to behave aggressively it is dangerous to them and they can become injured and even die, it is not in their best interests to skip polite language and go straight into more threatening language.

We have to learn how to recognise and deal with these situations and to allow our dogs to decide when they feel safe and secure and when they do not.

The lesson must be learnt if we are to help our dogs settle into good doggy relationships and we can learn a lot from just watching other dogs when we are out and about.

Never doubt that your dog is better at summing up a perceived confrontational situation than a human. This includes times when dogs warn us off too-nothing can be more important than safety.


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CALMING SIGNALS / GREEN ZONE


A week or so ago Val and I had an email to ask for more information about calming signals in dogs. This is the first instalment and in the next ezine I will follow with red and amber signals.



Calming signals were first “discovered” by Norwegian dog behaviourist Turid Rugaas, as she observed dogs she realised that they had a very definite language. She named them “calming signals” This is because the primary use of dog language, is to placate and calm both themselves and any other dogs around them.

Turid identified many separate signals or actions which dogs employ to communicate with each other, and which they will use to try to communicate with us too (if we are looking, that is). We in turn need to learn to understand what we are observing.

The majority of dogs have no wish to injure or cause a threat to other canines (or humans). The way the signals are given is very subtle, but they are easy to observe and learn, and they can also be used to signal back to our dogs for the same purposes.

By learning these signals, we can help our dogs when they find a situation threatening, difficult or just plain exciting. Once you realise calming signals exist it does not take long to learn the most obvious ones. If you sit and watch a dog you will witness the following signals, and you can begin to understand why a dog is using them and whether you should take some kind of action. The following list is by no means comprehensive but is intended to serve as a “starter course”:

  1. ·         Lip licks.....usually a very quick movement of the dogs tongue licking his lips. This is used frequently especially during activities especially if the action is very hurried, vigorous, or the dog is slightly uncomfortable, for instance when being groomed.

 

  1. ·         Rapid blinking of eyes...dogs can feel intimidated if they are stared at for too long (not recommended with a dog you don’t know) after a very short time the dog will start to blink rapidly and narrow his eyes- this is to try and encourage you to avert your gaze, and it also serves to calm himself down.

 

  1. ·         Yawning....yes, your dog might be tired but it is a frequently used calming signal. If things are getting too hectic he may yawn slowly and regularly to get other dogs around him to relax. He may also use them in other situations to try and get a human to calm/slow down; this calming signal is used often if the worried dog is in an enclosed area with other dogs present.

 

  1. ·         Freezing...a dog will often freeze to the spot if he finds a situation problematical or threatening. This can often be observed when a dog has spotted a dog in the near distance; his first impulse may well be to freeze and think about what kind of signals the dog in front of him is using before approaching. This is not the time to insist that your dog meets the other dog, let your dog make up his mind whether he feels comfortable or not. This signal can also be observed in situations like recall in a dog class, the owner is often staring at the dog in preparation for the exercise, and on calling the dog to come the dog often freezes or slows his approach to try and calm the handler/owner down. This is often misinterpreted as “disobedience”, if the owner proceeds to raise his /her tone of voice the dogs reaction may well be to continue towards the owner but very slowly in attempt to get the owner to calm down.

 

  1. ·         Displacement activities. You will also often witness “displacement activities”, as the name suggests a dog may use these as he thinks about what to do next, and he will use them to avoid a perceived confrontational situation. Examples of displacement activities may include sitting down to scratch, sniffing the ground, looking around almost blankly, or staring into the distance

 

The above list is only a small collection of calming signals. Once you know they exist, you need to watch and observe dogs, particularly when they meet each other and you will start to identify many different calming signals. When dogs meet each other they may freeze, circle away from each other, sit, sniff each other, play bow, or look away or they may do all of these.



The pictures show 2 dogs that are not being forced to meet, but even so they are observing strict dog codes of communication. The first picture shows the approach, both dogs are freezing and looking away from each other, (more so in the spaniel’s case), there is no direct stare which means neither is intimidated by each other.





Picture 2
shows the dogs circling each other, when they circle they can pick up each other’s smell and intention- they are communicating furiously.



Picture 3 both dogs have met and have chosen to part and go on their way, this was a very amicable and good social meeting.

(The dogs in these pictures had never met each other before)




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Why “NO” should not be used when training your hound


It was a question posted on Beverley Cuddy’s Facebook page-it was as follows “Can you be a positive trainer and still tell a dog “no”?

Many people responded to the post and most people said they thought it was fine and yes of course you can.

They talked about interrupting bad behaviour, that it depended on the dog, and that a dog being told “no that isn’t good enough to get a reward” is ok as a teaching practice, and that negative reinforcement methods were fine, in fact I seemed to be the only one to respond by saying that I didn’t think it should be used.

Because I took the opposite view of most everyone else I got a small paragraph in January’s issue of Dogs Today explaining why I responded in the way I did.


My rationale for the above reply is as follows:

Dogs do not speak English-or at least it is not their first language. It is unfair to expect dogs to have identical values to us. They don’t know what qualifies as “bad behaviour” and what is unacceptable unless we teach them.

We are all trainers to some extent or another, even if we share our lives with a very laid back greyhound, we still call the shots. We need to otherwise our dogs wouldn’t get walked or fed or the basic day to day staples. Our dogs can’t decide to put their coats on and go out for a walk, that is down to us-neither can they decide when to make themselves a meal- that is also down to us.

So we have to put our trainer’s hat on from time to time. The reason I hate the word “no” is that it is rubbish. No….no what exactly? Humans can understand the concept of “no”.  We can sit children down and discuss why the word was used, but it is no good following a dog around saying the word no. It is non instructive and generally goes with some pretty strong body language-try saying with word “no” to your dog is a nice way, it doesn’t happen very easily. And then if you can do it nicely, surely another action or word would be more applicable?

 Let’s face it aren’t we supposed to be the ones with higher intelligence? It is hard to believe this sometimes.

The other reason I do my utmost not to use it is because often I am teaching other people to teach their dogs specific life skills. The word no can be a source of great frustration to dogs-you can almost see the dogs saying to themselves “well if you don’t want me to do that what the hell DO you want me to do?” When other people correct their dogs it can be so hard and more than a bit scary for dogs to understand the tight face and angry body language that goes with it.

This week there were 2 documentary programmes on BBC 2 which featured people who had just taken on new puppies.

Of course it was car crash telly-I am betting a lot of the “good stuff” ended up on the cutting room floor. The one couple who did brilliantly hardly featured and had most of the footage on the second evening when they took their rescue puppy back to Battersea for a dog show. They had done a super job, while the rest of the people and puppies were shown in a very negative light.

One particular woman who was getting bitten by her puppy time and time again, kept shouting “NO, BRYON, NO” and so it went. He was teething, didn’t have a clue what he should do, and at least she was getting involved with him. The ideal for her seemed to have been that the puppy should have gone off somewhere and entertained himself and somehow dealt with all his problems on his own-how was he supposed to tell her he needed help and of course being young it also got him some much needed attention.

This word can cause confusion and worry to your dog, instead of using it-grab some treats and think about how to teach your dog what you would like him to do-if that makes you pause and wonder how you are going to do this then wonderful!

Use the word “good and yes” more often and your dog will get it! He will pick it up immediately, as dogs love being told they are good and any positives are fantastic-your own body language will change and it will make for a happier dog that understands so much more

Teach and show your dog what your want-not what you don’t want.


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Dominance Theory

One of the most contested areas among dog trainers is the subject of dominance in dogs. There are 2 clearly divided camps-and never the twain shall meet. The myths around dominance originated in the 1960’s and 70’s and were mainly due to research done by L. David Mech. David Mech is a biologist at studies wolves and wolf behaviour .
David Mech published a book in the 1970’s which is still in circulation, it details some of the research he had done up until that point in his life. 35 years later he is trying to stop the book being published because in the intervening years he has found that his interpretation of what he was seeing in front of him in the 1960’s had radically changed.
He began research in the 60’s with a group of unrelated wolves, which lived in a very large version of a wildlife park, and he concluded that the strongest wolf would control resources and be the dominant member, invariably the dominant wolf was a male and he controlled the rest of the pack. David Mech termed this wolf at the top of the pack as the “alpha” wolf.
His research continued throughout the years and to his consternation he realised he was wrong; very wrong. He took the opportunity of studying proper wild wolves that had never lived in captivity and what he discovered at this point was that wolves in the wild, live in family groups, and the family groups act pretty much like any family. The mother and father look after the cubs, and the older cubs learn to hunt and survive under their parents tutelage. The wolves that he had studied in captivity had led him to wrong conclusions and ever since that point he has been very outspoken about his initial impressions and has openly declared that these conclusions were wrong.
So I hear you ask….whatever has that got to do with dogs? Unfortunately it has become our dog’s biggest nightmare. Trainers in the 60’s,70’s and 80’s seized upon Mech’s findings and concluded that if dogs were distant relatives of the wolf then their mind set must parallel the world of the wolf too. Dogs must therefore be dominant, or very dominant, depending on which trainer you listen to and must be treated as if they were wolves. This also meant that dogs would try to assert their dominance in the house, and, therefore any aggression or bad manners that the dog exhibited should be met with certain techniques .
If dogs are descended from wolves then according to the “dominance theorists the only way to train them and to get them to behave in an acceptable way is to make yourself “the alpha”. Along with the research came some nifty wolfy behaviours that these trainers strongly recommend, among these techniques are exercises like  “alpha rolls”, making sure that the alpha (you and your family) eat first, and then there is the importance of going through doors first, not allowing your dog to sleep on your bed ,and just generally behaving in a way suitable to put across that the dog should be pretty aware of just how important you are! God forbid that your dog should forget that it is the human that is in charge.
The real trouble with Dominance theory, is it is just that, theory, but it was never established as a fact. Dominance theory opens the doors to allow people to act like –well badly adjusted people. Animals never behave like badly adjusted people but people can behave like savages! 
The very many trainers that advocate treating dogs like wolves, will not accept that dogs just do not have the gene to try and take over your house. By using dominance techniques they subdue dogs and yes, dogs become quieter. More enlightened dog trainers call it “shut down”. Some dogs cannot stand the ferocity of these training techniques and they become depressed and shut themselves off from the world. If dogs do not become severely shut down, they do in fact start to become aggressive, but it is defensive aggression based on being worried and frightened. In no way does a dog that is skulking under a chair and growling need “firm handling and alpha rolls, he needs a positive and non threatening environment before he can become a happy confident and “well behaved” dog.
If it were true that dogs needed this firm handling and people telling him that he should mind his “p’s and q’s” then how did man and dog live together so successfully for many thousands of years before the enlightened ones discovered these indispensable training methods?
One of the nastiest “training exercises” which are recommended by theses trainers is to remove a dogs food when he is eating, if the dog comments with a growl as it is taken away then they should be rolled over the floor until they “submit”. For submit read the following behaviour… stop growling, lay still and look away from the fierce stare of the trainer. To be quite honest if someone took my food away when I was eating I would probably do more than growl! The right method if your dog is growling when you approach him when he is eating is to stay away…not keep putting your face near his bowl. If he is resource guarding in this kind of way there will be specific reasons why he is trying to keep you away from his food-leave him alone and meantime find somewhere for him to eat where he will be undisturbed. Resource guarding is not dominance!
 Dominance techniques are nothing more than mental cruelty. If you want a well behaved dog, parent him, look after him and learn about dog behaviour, but please do not take advice from these outdated and brutal trainers who like to make themselves look good. Big egos have no place in dog training-instead take a leaf from your dogs’ book, and think about whats he really wants. His needs are simple, a sofa, regular food times and a kind owner who loves him. The one thing he does not want is to take over your house and control the resources in it….after all why should he, he is a dog ,and for many of us that own greyhounds we know more than just about any dog owners how much they value home comforts.
Positive methods and reward based training is the only way to train, but better still let your dog guide you. Spending time with you is much more valuable to him than just about anything.
 Love your dog and do not judge him.

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Riley - mad, bad or just playing? 

 

About a month ago I was contacted by Riley’s owner. Riley is a greyhound and was rehomed by his present owners in January 2010.

Riley was settling in well and all was pretty perfect and ticking along nicely. The summer arrived and his owners decided to install a new kitchen. One day while this was being finished Viki (Riley’s mum) asked her father to go to the house to do something. Her father (who had a very good relationship with Riley), had a key and let himself into the house. Viki’s father reported that something strange had happened, Riley had jumped up and tried to get at his face.

Viki was quite concerned but couldn’t come up with any reasons for this and wasn’t quite sure that her father’s story was exactly right. There were no further problems of this nature so she put her concerns to one side and tried not to become worried about her lovely dog’s odd behaviour that day.

All continued well until early December. An evening out was planned and everyone had decided to meet at Viki’s house before they went out for the evening. Riley was present but in another room and Viki was in the kitchen, one of her friends went into the other room to relax and wait and say hello to Riley. There was a yell and when Viki went to see the cause of the outburst her friend was clutching his face and was in a lot of pain- Riley had jumped up and had caught her friends eye with his teeth (although there weren’t any noticeable marks on his face).

Viki was flabbergasted and very distressed and her friend had to be rushed to hospital. He said that there had been no provocation on his part and that Riley had just pounced. His injury (a scratched cornea) appeared very serious and he had ultimately to go to Moorefield’s eye hospital for treatment.

Not only were Viki and her partner very upset but they felt responsible for their friend and they were concerned, disturbed and very perplexed about Riley’s behaviour as they had never seen him display this kind of behaviour. This was obviously a very serious problem and something had to be done but they were dismayed as Riley was truly such an adorable dog.

Viki contacted me for any insights or thoughts that I might have. I normally like to visit clients when they have problems with their dogs, but as Viki lives in Oxfordshire, and I live in Kent this was not particularly viable, so we did a consultation over the phone. The reason I like to go to people’s houses is that the set up of a house can tell me so much about the lifestyle of people and their dogs, and it lets me see where the dog sleeps and this can give me vital information; but clearly this was not possible. However, Viki did a great job of telling the story giving me good details and didn’t hide anything, (which people often do as they don’t like to as they often feel so responsible for particular problems) her  relaying of information though was so good that that it really didn’t matter.

We pieced together the story bit by bit and as Viki hadn’t witnessed either incident this part was hearsay, but the actual incidents became clearer and it was possible to put the puzzle together and the incidents started to make some sense to both of us, and traceable to particular things that happened during Riley’s day.

We discussed Riley’s routine in some detail and we found the following item of interest. Whenever Viki returned from work or from being out she has an unvarying routine- she comes in and pays very little attention to Riley apart from brief greetings, because she always has a million tasks to do- but her partner’s homecoming was totally different. Riley and he had a play time when he came in. They would roughhouse a bit and Riley would tear around and have a wonderful time rushing around and diving about with toys and yes he jumped up. He had never jumped up on Viki and neither had she ever invited it, but Viki’s partner had invited and enjoyed this interaction from the time they had taken Riley home.

What I assume Riley had started to believe was that men were fun, they loved a game and being a young dog he loves to play. The one thing about play is it can cause over stimulation and dogs do not always think straight when they are careering around this is especially true of younger dogs. Riley believed that men would always appreciate greeting when they came into the house, and not only did they indicate fun they also liked him jumping up to their faces. This fact was all very well when it is instigated it and people are ready for it, but it is another thing when they were uninformed of the Riley greeting procedure.....hence forth the routine of jumping up. Riley was not aware of his strength or how quick his reactions are and how slow we are! So the incidents were the result of Riley’s belief that all men enjoy fun and games as much as he did.

Viki, I am sure, will forgive me for saying that it was her partner’s behaviour that we had to reform rather than her dog’s! We decided it was best to implement a “no playing policy” when coming into the house and they also had a dog gate ready for Christmas visitors. This, I have to say, was not needed, although Christmas was very close at that point.  Riley’s behaviour altered so much in only a few weeks, he had already learned to be calmer and Viki and her partner started to do some mental stimulation with him instead of boisterous play and took him on quiet walks in the snowy countryside, and he has to this point been a more informed and reformed dog.  The friend’s eye has recovered and has completely healed.

This is a salutary story which says it pays to stay calm as you come into the house, and to spend other ways of bonding with your dog-rough play is not king! More pertinently and most important this lovely dog has proved not to be aggressive or a danger to anybody.


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Aggression in dogs

Social aggression (dog-dog/dog-people), food aggression, toy and play aggression, sleep aggression.

Oh our poor dogs! They get lots of labels fixed to them and aggression in dogs is often featured in the media so it is a highly charged topic.

All the above “aggressions” get talked and pondered about whenever our dogs relent to using their voices and do something weird or unexpected. Over the last 2 months we have looked at calming signals, so it seemed logical to look a little at this subject.

Aggression can be very real and very dangerous, and it can also be an instinctive and defensive behaviour sparked by the flight or fight reflex. There are very few cases that are truly life threatening to either a dog or another person when you think how many dogs there are in the country and how many dogs we are in close proximity to on a regular basis.

For instance we all know that our greyhounds have the potential to kill (usually small fluffy animals and dogs) but we are also aware, especially when they have raced, that there are times when we have an almost loaded gun on the end of a lead.

This is not “aggression”, we are seeing a predatory behaviour which is honed and instilled into our dogs by genetics and training. The result may be similar if we are very careless - a dead animal that was targeted by a greyhound need never occur if we are aware of when our dogs should be kept on leads and/or muzzled; at least until their behaviour changes and their instincts become almost “dulled” and our greyhounds are truly socialised to other breeds. Each greyhound is different but a careful owner will work to rehabilitate and reform these trigger instincts.

Aggression like many other problems can be bought on by stress. Stress produces hormones that accelerate particular responses including aggressive/defensive behaviours. Often stress is a result of lack of proper rest and sleep. It is very important that you observe your dog so you become familiar with his normal behaviour patterns so you can track any changes.

Stress can also be the result of aches and pain, changes to lifestyle (either your dog’s or yours) lack of food, or too much food, firework night, Christmas, holidays, offensive fragrances and smells; yes your dog can become ill and stressed if subjected to powerful scents from household plug in perfumes and car air fresheners. I know the smell of lilies is unbearable to me, and it gives me a headache - so how much worse would a synthetic or powerful perfumed smell seem to your dog’s very sensitive nose?

Why I am making these points id because I would like you to look at the reasons behind so called aggression in our dogs. It has become a very popular label for dogs.

Dog-dog aggression

Scenario - your dog lunges and barks and tries to bite another dog. Have you ignored his discomfort when you see other dogs and forced him to meet dogs he would otherwise choose to ignore? Or has he, in the past, been attacked by another dog?

Either scenario will start to produce defensive behaviours that look very aggressive, but they are meant to be! Your dog is doing his best to keep the other dog away. Remember that our dogs are ultimately very social creatures and do not choose to shun the company of either us or other dogs so there will always be a good reason for any very vocal or loud barking.

Dog-person aggression

Scenario – dog tries to bite or actually does succeed in biting someone. Dogs do not instinctively like every person they meet (and neither do we). Forcing a dog to say hello to someone he is backing off of and who they instinctively distrust should not be practiced; and this practice is not going to result in an outgoing social dog that is happy to smile politely and approach every person he meets. This practice may actually make him aggressive and defensive. In fact I find that many dogs distrust me, it may be that I smell funny (often a weird mix of dog and horse smells!) and I often venture into their houses as a stranger, and a stranger that often their owners are a little unsure of too. (I have to say I never dress like Victoria Stilwell though, god forbid, that would be scary!!). In fact this is a good point as many dogs are frightened of people in hats, uniforms or people who have walking sticks; the list could be endless, your dog is not colour prejudiced he is startled!

If a dog backs off from someone they should be allowed to make that choice, they are far more likely to relax if they are able to make their own choices. It is relatively easy to formulate a plan for this dog and to explore possibilities to help him feel more secure and confident around (strange) people.

Toy and food aggression

Taking something away from a dog, particularly something that he sees as a valuable resource will often provoke a strong reaction from many dogs. I would be pretty cross too if someone took a book away from me if I was reading, or took my dinner away when I was eating. Taking resources away from dogs, especially rescue dogs, will very often prompt a strong reaction. These dogs may have had to fight for resources in the past. Even dogs that have been bought up in the same home from puppies can have a very strong opinion about things being taken away. If your dog is reactive in these types of situations leave him alone.

If you are worried about your dog’s behaviour around children, do not give him a high resource item when they are around, and teach children to respect the dogs around them. Always give your dog a quiet place to retire to if there are children around too. Do your best to help your dog, and do not try to prove that you are boss in your house - he already knows this and does not need continual reminders, he is not vying to take over the world - why would he???

If you insist on bombarding him with demands and taking things away he can become more reactive, defensive and then aggression may well kick in. Alternatively he can become “shut down”. Shutting down is a name given to a dog who becomes almost blank and non-reactive in what he perceives are stressful situations, and it is not a good place for a dog to be. This would make a good topic in itself for the future.

Sleep aggression

Ok, so why would you march up to your dog and plonk yourself down next to him when he is sparko? How would you react? I would certainly jump and may well be a bit cross if I was woken up abruptly, why should our dogs be any different?

Respect your dog’s space when he is fast asleep and do not try to wake him up by patting him. If you really need to wake him wave a piece of sausage under his nose...the reason for this is that his sense of smell is the one thing that does not close down when your dog is asleep. (You don’t need me to tell you this; it is something you already know!!!)

This is not an extensive article but I hope it has given you some food for thought; I am definitely not saying that aggression does not exist in dogs, but when it is found it may well be caused by many factors including stress, lack of choice and security.

The way that stress works is to promote and elevate the flight or fight instinct and this is a “dog of another colour”. Stress issues and triggers should be detected and resolved before anything else is done. Most dogs that snap are not aggressive and have many reasons why they react as they do.   


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 A Christmas message from a dog in kennels to anybody who would like to listen to my story


To anyone out there that might be interested.


I have lived my life in kennels which I have liked as I have known nothing else. There was a brief spell (I think) where I may have been in a house but I don’t remember it clearly. I have shared with other dogs some I liked some I didn’t care so much for. But we have been split up a lot so we have never really had time to get to know each other.

I would love some space and some quiet as it is always noisy here, at least it is noisy most of the day, and it is very hard to rest when the others are being taken out and walked and VERY hard to rest before we are fed at lunchtimes. I love food in fact I would love more! I particularly like sausages and consider it a special day when I get some! If Santa comes and grants my wish this is who I want to share the rest of my life with

 

My forever home people will forgive me for things I don’t get right. It will take me a while to adjust from kennel life and I am sure that things will be very different.  I hope I will be given time to adapt to walking in new places. I might be very distracted by new places and experiences and I am sure they will be very different to the race tracks I used to run in. Although I raced under lights and people were all around I didn’t really notice, as I had other things on my mind and those times were brief and I had to concentrate on running after the hare. I do like running but may not have a strong enough bond with you at the beginning of my time with you to return without guidance in the beginning. I may not be very trustworthy around different types of dogs either. I can’t really tell you as I have only ever met other greyhounds.

 

I am dreaming of a huge soft bed which will be away from hustle and bustle and which is truly mine….all mine.

 Give me time to rest and sleep-I am tired and I won’t be able to function in a new place without the sleep I lost while I was in kennels-I have always had to share and have always found it hard to have enough space to sleep and rest properly

 

Please don’t give me too many rules to follow or ask me to listen too hard at the beginning, a new home will be hard enough to get used to without imposing too many rules and boundaries on me. I promise I will do my best but I can’t promise that I will always get things right.

A house looks like fun and I am sure there are things in it that you would rather I didn’t touch but I will need help with this and cannot guarantee that I won’t get things wrong from time to time. I know that there are lots of things that I will be allowed to look at and perhaps play with and I hope these will be obvious-even to me!

 

I don’t know if you know about the fact that us greyhounds can get stressed with all the excitement and coming and goings so please take time to read my body language and if I have to tell you something please try to identify the fact I am communicating. I have heard stories of greyhounds being brought back for growling and barking….I cant say I won’t do these things as we are allowed to in kennels and our dog kennel mates know exactly what we are saying to each other.

 

The photo is of Ducky, he is looking for a home and is at Ashwells RGT (Brentwood RGT) in Essex http://brentwood.retiredgreyhounds.co.uk/

 


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Social Skills

I have been thinking all week about exactly what to write for the ezine. As I have been stuck on the roads around here for most of today I have found myself half puzzling and half grinding my teeth about a phone conversation I had in the week; as well as thinking about a dog show that I attended on Sunday.

The phone conversation was very brief and a bit hopeless. I often  find phone conversations unsatisfactory, it is easier to respond by email to specific requests because at least I can qualify what I am trying to say without being interrupted, or being dismissed.

The phone conversation was in response to an enquiry about when I was starting a new dog class. Due to a new impending course I am running with a colleague (it is a new canine Bowen course, just in case anyone is interested www.schoolofcaninebowen.com) classes are starting later in September this year. It seems that this “is unacceptable” not really sure why, as classes run pretty much all year, at different times in one form or another.

This particular person moaned about the fact I wasn’t starting them until later in September and replied by saying that her dog was already 8 months old and “needed to mix with other dogs”. I really wanted to ask her why she had left it so late before she started to find out what classes were running, but I was annoyed about the only reason she felt her dog needed to go to classes was to “mix” with other dogs.

Why are the general public so ill educated about socialisation? If the only reason a dog is taken to a class is to “mix” then I would prefer for them not to attend my classes.

Why do I feel like this?

Socialisation is a lifelong thing both for us and our dogs. Socialisation is a life skill, not something to be dealt with when owners suddenly realise that their dog is 8 months old. It is one of our biggest responsibilities, especially now the dog laws are so stringent.  It is also not something to be learnt in an enclosed space, once a week. The owners need specific information about canine communication and how their dogs should be monitored and skills need to be practised (ideally) in quiet outdoor areas, with confident older dogs who can teach both young dogs and owners how important and skilful socialisation needs to be.

Here are some important facets concerning social interactions among dogs

  1. ·        Socialisation should be in a relaxed situation and dogs should be allowed to choose whether they interact or not.

 

  1. ·        Socialisation should not produce an excited response when they see other dogs. Yes, dogs can get a little excited when they see their friends but this should not be a completely “over the top reaction”.

 

  1. ·        Social situations should help to build a bond with the owner and promote confidence, this means that the dog should be able to trust the owner in any situation. Not all dogs want to meet every dog they see, and by watching your dog carefully and getting to know him and his reactions it becomes very easy to see if he is not happy/or if another dog in the area is not happy.

 

  1. ·        If dogs are not allowed to choose which dogs they meet they may begin to over react and become stressed.
  2. ·        Many people have a very odd belief that all dogs should like every dog they meet and they must play in order to develop social skills.  This cannot be further from the truth. This is the way to develop rough play and dogs can become bullies very easily OR they can start dreading meeting other dogs.

Apart from the phone conversation I also went with a friend to a big dog show. While we were there her young Lurcher was pounced upon by a Border Collie who should never have been at the show.  The Collie was very reactive and clearly not enjoying the situation with many dogs and owners walking past him and what’s more the owner wasn’t  “present” and was busy talking to her friend while her dog lunged at my friends dog.

We were also, at a later point, standing in a group and we had surrounded our dogs to “ protect” them  from any other people /dogs walking past while WE were socialising but people walked past and let their dogs barge into our little safe group many with very little realisation that their dogs were not welcome. I call this very bad “parenting”. I use this word as this is our role in this kind of situation. We should parent our dogs and learn what socialisation is all about.

Lifelong skills should be practised and refined, they should never be just an afterthought.

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Working with treats

Treats are essential when doing games and puzzles and training  your dog. If your dog doesn’t like treats there may well be a reason for this. Some dogs may prefer toys or praise to motivate them but this may change as you work and experiment.

WHY SHOULD I USE TREATS?

Dogs learn best when they are motivated and interested. By giving your dog treats as rewards he will begin to look forward to learning different things. Some people have been misled into believing dogs should learn without the use of treats. This leads to dogs finding tasks boring and it will be difficult to teach him anything that he really enjoys. Other important reasons for using food are for chewing and enrichment purposes .

Chewing is one of the most important things a dog should do each day, and a daily requirement for a dog is to give him something to chew for at least 30 minutes a day; be aware that things like rawhide may not be suitable and are often made in China and are full of toxic chemicals, instead look for natural rawhide chews which are normally white in colour and are safe and natural to give your dog, or you can use kongs filled with food, or if you are able to give bones they are also beneficial for both his mind and his teeth.

I DON’T WANT TO GIVE MY DOG TOO MANY TREATS

Some people have concerns about feeding too much. When doing activities with your dog you can always use a portion of your dog’s daily food intake and use that, this way he will not become over weight and he need not miss his meals either. Some people actually don’t feed their dog in the traditional way instead  they use their morning/evening walks in which to feed and walk their dog by hiding treats under logs or leaves as they walk and getting their dogs to search for them. This fulfils your dogs need for food, mental stimulation and exercise in one go.

MY DOG DOESN’T LIKE TREATS

This is often a complaint I hear when I talk to people about using food as a reward for training and to start working with their dog and teaching them games and puzzles.

Among the reasons for this may be

  1. ·         You are not giving him the right treat-this is not time for a bit of old biscuit that has been mouldering in your pocket for a week. Do not give treats that you think he should like instead make a habit of asking him and ask him  which he likes best by doing a consumer test and letting him decide which food he likes best. (Consumer test*)
  2. ·         He has bad associations with treats-let me explain a bit more about this. Dogs are often offered treats when they go to classes. If the class was a bit too much for your dog and it was stressful, he may well start to refuse treats. If you suspect this then the classes should stop. Have a think about what your dog is actually learning when he is at classes- he will not learn if he is stressed and in the long run you may not be doing the right thing by training in this kind of environment.
  3. ·         Don’t use treats that are too difficult for your dog to eat or are too big. You can cut them up into little bite sized chunks for him, if you cut a piece of cheese into tiny pieces it will last ages and he will not become too full too quickly.
  4. ·         When you run out of treats stop training!
  5. ·         He may also reject treats if he feels uncomfortable around other dogs or conversely gobble them up without thinking what he is doing. It is best to work with him on a 1-1 basis to enable him to relax and enjoy working with you.
  6. ·         Make any training sessions short and keep your attention on your dog. If he gets something right praise him quietly do not make too much fuss of him as it could disturb his concentration, and you may come to the conclusion that the treats you are using are not high resource enough.
  7. ·         A high resource food is not normally food like his daily kibble, if you are asking him to do something new and difficult he will need treats that are very special!!
  8. ·         Make sure your dog is healthy. If your dog is uncomfortable or in pain it does not matter which treats you offer him he is unlikely to take them.

 

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A LIFE WELL LIVED

Have any of you ever thought about what would have happened if you had never had dogs? Sometimes I think about what my life might have been like without my very first dog, and wonder that if, when she died, that I had decided never to have another dog, what would my life have been like? I can only think my life would have been so much less. Dogs have been scattered into my dreams and are interwoven into my entire life experience.

Dogs and horses are passions.  Many people do not understand us for preferring to have animals rather than children, although many of us do have both, but what is so different about people with animals is that nobody questions you if you choose to have dogs and not children.

My dogs have led me to a very long winding path that has caused me to stop and think and question. I love learning about them and I love the way that dogs are now among the most researched species of animal on the earth. They are exotic and radically different to us and there is so much we don’t know, and yet all we have to do is to sit and watch them as they sleep or race around with their friends to learn more about them. Dog play is more intricate and dance-like they anything a human could ever perform, filled with intricate movements and short pauses that all mean something. Even when they are still it means something - dogs don’t waste energy if they don’t have to and stillness is as meaningful as movement. That is quite something.

As I watch people bring their puppies to class and help guide them through their first stages of training I can’t help but watch with my breath held as I can see a bond forming between them and their new dogs - in fact their new life partners, and I really hope that this is exactly what they will mean to each other.  

Educating people can be difficult especially as not everyone knows where to find the right information on how to live with and enjoy their dogs. Much information available actually makes people and their dog’s lives miserable.

I posted yet another link on Facebook only yesterday, about the myth of dominance and hoped that people who were still impressed with this type of mythology would wake up and smell the coffee.  Dogs really don’t want to dominate, they have been bred over many, many thousands of years to co habit with us and be our perfect companions. These myths do nothing for people struggling to build bonds and find their way with their dogs, and ill-informed and stupid trainers do nothing to help achieve the perfect harmony that many of us are so lucky to have found with our hounds.

I may have been very lucky with my first beautiful Lurcher but we didn’t know about dominance and we didn’t know about who should be in charge, we just took one day at a time, and how I wish more people would actually do this.

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WALKING THE DOG

Walking your dog should be one of the most enjoyable things about owning a dog. Many people have very fixed ideas about how to walk. They have been told that dogs need lots of exercise, which is not necessarily true. The fact is that more dogs are over exercised than under exercised. What dogs don’t need is 15 minutes mad ball chucking before you go to work in order to try and “wear him out”. This kind of exercise often creates more trouble than is ever imagined.

The reason for this is that frantic running around over stimulates your dog, resulting in him pacing and appearing very restless when you get home. This kind of behaviour does not mean that your dog needs more exercise- this could not be further from the truth. What you are seeing in this scenario is your dogs cortisol levels rising.  They have been pushed up by dashing around making it very difficult for him to “come down” from the high created by this type of exercise. The other reason for avoiding too much of this type of exercise is that many dogs end up with injuries and damage to joints; cruciate damage is becoming very common and it is often the result of dogs jumping and twisting while catching balls, especially when they are still adolescent (their joints are not fully developed and grown at this age).

WALKING YOUR PUPPY

Puppies, overweight and older dogs also need careful monitoring when out walking for similar reasons. It is very easy to tire puppies out. Too much exercise can damage their joints and puppies can be overwhelmed by meeting lots of dogs and different people. Many people do not understand exactly how long a puppy should be exercised for. For a puppy 3 months old or less a walk should not last for longer than 15 minutes, for 3 months onwards the rule of thumb is to add 5 minutes for every month; ie 4 months =20 minutes, 5 months= 25 minutes until you reach about 35 minutes a day when you should start to keep an eye on your puppy and check that he is happy with the amount of walking you are doing. There is no set time per day that you should walk, the ideal walk will depend on the time you have available and how your dog copes with the amount of exercise you are giving him.  If your puppy jumps up at you, grabs hold of the lead, tugs, or barks he is actually telling you he is tired, not that he needs more exercise.  If you are concerned that this amount of time spent walking will not allow you to socialise your puppy remember that socialisation should go on throughout your dog’s life, not just done in a big rush when your dog is  a puppy and not robust enough to be able to handle lots of different experiences all at once.  Socialisation can be done too quickly and cause trouble later on in your dogs life, so go about it steadily and carefully. (The same can be said for a greyhound that has just been rehomed, you have all of the rest of his life to socialise him do not put him under too much pressure too quickly.)

The above rules also apply to an old or overweight dog, plan walks carefully in order to keep dogs  mobile and supple and  do not make walks so long that they cause severe tiredness which then cause the dog to become dehydrated and so tired that they are unable to move around the house once they get home.

DOES YOUR DOG PULL?

Dogs that pull are also trying to tell you something.  Yes, training plays a large part of correcting this problem but if a dog is agitated before he ever leaves home then that walk is going to be a chore rather than a pleasure. The most important element of re training is to walk much slower and encourage your dog to look at the surroundings and to interact with you rather than completely ignore you, which he will not do if he is charging along in front of you.  Never allow your dog to pull as hard as he can on the lead while you follow. If you go to the park every day and your dog is going as fast as he can in order to charge around with his doggy friends you should consider exactly what he is learning from this.  Yes! he is exercising himself, but any training you have done is swiftly being undone, and if you do not end up with a recall problem it would be surprising, and in fact you do actually deserve to have one!

WHAT DOES YOUR DOG ENJOY?

Every dog I know actually loves to sniff.  If you discourage your dog from sniffing as you walk the pace will pick up and the walk will be less enjoyable for him by the day. Dogs love to find out about the area they are walking in and you only need to encourage this activity to have a dog that is more relaxed and that starts to walk at a more leisurely pace. For younger dogs this allows them to interact with strangers and other dogs and teaches good communication skills. Your dog should be encouraged to mosey along and pick up his “wee mails” and take in the smells and fluctuations in the seasons, this kind of walking will fulfil his basic dog needs, give him the right type of exercise, and you will begin to have a more relaxed and happier dog. 

Take some treats with you and drop them every so often and help your dog to find them. These can be hidden under some leaves or in undergrowth for your dog to find. If your dog does not seem to enjoy this type of activity it could be that you are not using the right treats.  Do some research and find treats that he loves and he will be more interested in you and less interested in running off with any dogs in the vicinity or forging ahead of you.

USE THE ENVIRONMENT

Walking is a fantastic activity for your dog because it helps him hone his social skills and you can do some training and natural agility obstacles.

Making use of natural obstacles is just as good for developing your dog, as an agility course, which you might come across at a dog show. Make use of logs which you find around and along the fields and you can introduce your dog to water and gates as these things all form part of your walks by teaching him to wait at a gate or how to clamber over a small fence will not only teach him new skills but will help your dog keep supple and can be entertaining for you both.

Also taking your dog out at different times of day will offer him extra stimulation and vary his routine. Things look different to us at different times of day and also smell different this is even more evident to your dog.  His sense of smell can pick up all sorts of nuances in the environment and will help to fulfil that very necessary requirement of socialising by meeting different people and dogs and animals at different times of day without overloading him and causing undue stress.