Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I'm back!

I'm back to work this week folks and goodness do I have a lot to catch you up on.

First off, remember puppy Reese from previous posts? Well, she's available for adoption again (check out her adoption profile online by clicking here for Whiskers Cat Rescue and Canine). Unfortunately, it didn't work out between her and my friends. I started writing a blog post about this while at home, but I forgot to bring it to work with me. Look for that post to be coming soon — tomorrow, I hope!

Then, I'll backtrack a little bit to go over the good work we were able to do in terms of getting my dog to tolerate being around her.

I'm also hoping to get back into compiling and posting a weekly calendar of dog-friendly events going on in the area.

Meanwhile, here's some advice for handling your pets in today's extreme heat: 

1) It's too hot to exercise yourself outside, nonetheless your fur-wearing pet, regardless of how much those beggin' eyes egg you on. If you must exercise, make it a walk, make it very brief and make it on a non-asphalt surface. Remember that dogs heat and cool themselves through their paw pads, so if you're ever wondering if it's too hot for them, lay down the palm of your hand on the walking surface to test it out. Asphalt, being black, is obviously the most dangerous. Concrete takes a little while longer to warm up, but it too can get too hot for dog walking. Dirt trails are my favorite for summer walks — the cool earth beneath his feet really help him cope with the heat.

2) Don't leave your dog in a car, not even for a minute.

3) If you absolutely must leave your dog outside, make sure there's an overabundance of water at his or her disposal and a good shady spot to get out of the sun. If you find your dog has dug out a little hole for himself under a tree or something when you get home, don't yell at him. He dug that hole because he was too hot and was trying to unearth some cooler ground to lay on. If you don't like finding dog-cooling holes in your yard but refuse to let him stay inside your house while you're gone, at least buy him a cooling pad. Here's a link to Polar Products, which makes a variety of cooling products for both animals and humans. There's no electricity, refrigeration or freezing required — soak the product in water and it stays cools for a day.

4) I give Sensi an ice cube when it's this hot out and then put the rest of the tray of ice cubes in his water bowl. This will entertain him for a few minutes as he tries fishing a couple more ice cubes out of the bowl and it also helps to keep the water cooler over an extended period of time.

5) If your dog heats and cools itself through it paw pads, primarily, then that's exactly how you can help your dog cool down too. One time, when Sensi had spent too much time sunbathing and looked too hot for his own good, I had him lay down and pressed cold wash rags against his feet and draped them over his belly. It helped to cool him down really quickly.

Be safe out there!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Getting an adult dog to like a puppy: Exercise One "Picnic at the Park"

Sensi, relaxed, with Allison & Reese in the backgrou
Friends of mine and Brent's (Alan & Allison) brought home a new puppy, 10-week-old Beagle/Lab mix named Reese, last weekend. On Tuesday, we found out Sensi hates her (see my previous post, Adult dog doesn't like puppies, what do I do?).

So, we're working on that. Yesterday was our first exercise in getting Sensi to tolerate Reese. I call it "Picnic in the Park" and it's a total twofer — meaning that while Sensi is learning that being around Reese can be an enjoyable, positive experience, Reese is also learning a lot, from general obedience to good dog behavior in a park setting. And oh yeah, both dogs are getting energy drained — woo hoo!

When we first got to the park, we walked both dogs on opposite sides of a park road, Sensi comfortably ahead of Reese so he was focusing on the walk and not on her. He had on his Halti (gentle leader) but no muzzle. It was hot, which worked in our favor in terms of tiring the dogs out pretty quickly. We then returned to our vehicles, grabbed our blankets and coolers and bags full of dog goodies and set up camp.

I took the Halti off when we got settled. He drank a bunch of water and then I gave him a porkhide to
Chillin' with his tennis ball, watching puppy Reese
chew on, which he absolutely loved and that kept him busy for quite a while. I don't like him devouring a porkhide like that in one setting, though, so I took it away after a bit and had Allison toss him this supersized tennis ball she'd picked up for him (what a good friend, buying toys for my dog!).

Sensi was thrilled with the tennis ball. He loves ripping those apart. He was so happy that he moved off the blanket, into the grass and began rolling around his back. He actually moved closer to Allison and puppy Reese while rolling around, which definitely signaled to me that he was 100 percent comfortable with the current arrangement.

Allison and Reese moved closer, a couple feet at a time, than what you see in these photos. We were probably about 15-feet apart, each dog on 6-foot-leash, when all was said and done.
Allison & Reese

We later got up and walked them down to a spot where they could walk a couple feet into the lake. It was Reese's first time seeing a lake and the lab in her really shone through. She jumped right in and stuck her nose right down to the bottom of the lake to pick up some seaweed! Sensi, meanwhile, waded in the water as far as he could and fished out a couple sticks. He also watched Reese's adventure in the water with some relaxed interest — he's tried to teach so many non-water-loving puppies to love water and never had success. I hope her playfulness in the water sparked a bit of admiration from him.

We took the long way back to the blankets, each of us taking breaks to practice obedience along the way with some real cooked chicken. They loved it. We hung out on the blankets again, this time maybe a little less than 15-feet apart, until our men finished their round of disc golf. In all, we were out there for about five hours full of giving our dogs a doggone great day — a day full of walks, water, toys and really awesome treats and rewards.

Sensi was totally relaxed. I am feeling a lot more confident that we can do this, though I haven't forgotten dog trainer Nicole Herr's advice — take it slow. While it's very encouraging to have such good behavior from Sensi yesterday, I'm reminding myself and Allison that it's all about social distance with dogs. Yesterday, we kept a social distance between the dogs that Sensi was totally comfortable with. Had we decreased that, had we made them have direct physical contact, we could have turned it into a very, very negative situation. For now, we'll be keeping that social distance.

In the meantime, Reese will grow quickly and learn a lot about being a dog. Sensi will learn that having Reese around is going to be a part of life from now on. And maybe, just maybe, they'll learn to be pals along the way.

A short video clip from our outing:

Friday, May 20, 2011

Adult dog doesn't like puppies, what do I do?

Puppy Reese: Photo by Allison Jagow
No, this isn't a reader question. Really, what do I do?

Just kidding. I've got a plan.

Let me explain: Good friends of ours recently brought home an adorable little beagle/Labrador mix. Her name is Reese and she's 10 weeks old. And Sensi hates her.

I'm calling step 1 in my plan to change this "Picnic in the park." Reese is still too young to go on our long walks, and for a couple weeks yet, she can only be around dogs who we know are up to date on vaccinations.

Here's the gist of my plan — I'm going to tire Sensi out by taking him on the 2.5-mile walk in advance; go pick up Allison and Reese (Reese will be crated in the back of the Jeep) and head back to the park (not the dog park, just a dog-friendly park). Sensi and I will set up camp on a blanket while Allison walks Reese around a quiet, mostly unused picnic spot. She can practice a variety training stuff while tiring out Reese, while I work on getting Sensi to be calm and enjoy the outing via treat therapy. I'm pulling out the big guns for this one — I'll have a variety of doggie-favorites in my picnic basket, from cooked chicken to frozen green beans (a favorite of his), cheese, perhaps a banana and some brand-spankin' new toys from the dollar store for him to rip up. The idea is not to have the two dogs interact, but to get them used to enjoying themselves while being in the general vicinity of one another.

Now, for some background. Here it is, copied from an email I sent to fabulous dog trainer Nicole Herr for some moral support yesterday:

Sensi was a good nanny to puppy Ruger, about 4-months here
If there was one thing Brent and I thought we knew about our dog beyond the shadow of a doubt, it was that he loves puppies. He used to be a total and complete nanny dog. As a younger dog, he was so good with puppies it was magical to watch. He'd splay out on his back, let the puppies chew on his lips and ears (even carried an 8-week-old Brittany around who had latched on to his droopy jowls). He'd alternate between playing with the puppies and trying to teach the puppies things. He's tried to teach every puppy how to swim ... not with a whole lot of success, but he tried his little water-lovin' heart out anyhow.

He's been a "nanny" to four puppies in his lifetime and has met and played with many others too. One of the puppies lived with us for about six months. Puppy interaction probably dropped off about the time he was about four, though — by then, most all of our friends had gotten puppies.

A few months after we moved into our house in 2008 — the first time that just me, Brent and the dog finally all lived together — I brought home two foster puppies, 8-weeks-old. I've always wanted to foster, but I wanted to do it even more for Sensi. He was five. I thought he'd love having "his own" puppies to raise. 

I brought the puppies into the house myself. He acted interested and excited, sniffed their butts and then walked away — out of the room completely, in fact. A few moments later, one of the puppies went to investigate him. When the puppy got close, Sensi bared his teeth and growled. We muzzled Sensi and I had Brent get him up on the couch. When the puppies walked by the couch, he'd try to get up and get away from them — moving away from them on the couch. If they followed him, he growled. We later put him back in the bedroom. The following morning, we tried again. Sensi wanted nothing to do with those puppies. He snarled at them again through his muzzle when they got close, once seemed like if he was not muzzled it would have been a bite for sure. He employed all avoidance techniques. I decided it was not in the best interest of either the foster puppies or Sensi to continue onward and we brought the puppies back to another foster home that day. We've figured that there was a big difference between those puppies and all previous puppies — he thought they were ours. Every other puppy he knew belonged to a friend of ours and clearly not us.

Since then, he has had no interactions with puppies.

On Saturday, Brent and I stopped by our friends' house briefly to meet the puppy — 10 wk old female beagle/lab mix. When we came home, we let Sensi smell us and repeated the words: "Alan & Allison's puppy Reese" and "Friend." He knows the words Alan & Allison, he knows puppy, and he knows friend. He was excited, body language looked great.

On Tuesday, I brought Sensi over to Alan & Allison's to meet the puppy after a good 2.5-mile walk. He has only been there once, to pick up Allison for a walk, and never went inside their house. She brought the puppy out, let it's butt drop down within reach of Sensi. Wearing muzzle and halti. He was very excited. I probably should have waited until he calmed down ... He sniffed the puppy's butt, then immediately walked away from the puppy. He went straight into avoidance. The puppy walked in front of him at one point and peed, he leaned forward to sniff and she turned around, putting her face next to his. He snapped at her and, since he was muzzled, opted to use his big ol' paw to give her a good whap. She yelped and jumped away. We then walked them up and down the street a couple times. Total avoidance — kept his body turned away from her, practically walking on an angle because of it, his head, never even got close to looking at her. If we stopped, he immediately sniffed the ground. The longer we stayed there, the more his tail tucked and body began crouching — like fear — even though she wasn't even within reach of him, and just before leaving, he went so far as to try to hide from her by crawling under the Jeep (and came out just covered in thick gobs of mud, which was lovely).

My next course of action is to do a sit-in with both dogs at the park. I'll have Sensi walked again, then have Allison and the puppy meet us. I'm going to bring a blanket and set up shop on the grass with Sensi on leash. I'm going to wait for Sensi to totally calm down — like, take a nap — while Allison works out some energy with the puppy in the general vicinity. Once Sensi is calm and puppy is de-energized, we'll walk the dogs past each other, around each other, etc.

As the puppy gets older, we'll start doing our longer walks together.

Right now, I have no hope that they'll ever get along, but darnit, Sensi will learn this puppy is to be tolerated.

I'm so heart broken, and my confidence has taken a bit of a beating. I so wanted to see my nanny dog return.

Can I do this?

Nicole approved my plan and advised me to take it very slowly. That I can do. I'm not really clear on why Sensi decided he doesn't like Reese, but as I've said in previous posts, the "why" doesn't matter nearly as much as the "what are you going to do about it."

Nanny dog Sensi won't be returning. Sensi may well be in that senior citizen stage of his life and simply isn't interested in having youthful puppies around. But there's no reason that these two dogs can't learn to at least be around each other, and maybe, with time and lots of solid work, they'll even learn to like each other a little bit. I won't hold out hope for that, but I am determined that we will be able to walk these dogs together.

I'll keep you posted on our progress throughout the summer!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Advice from a trainer: What to do if an unfriendly dog approaches mine at the dog park

On Monday, I posted my response to a reader asking what to do if an unfriendly dog approaches her dog while at the park. You can read my response here: What to do if an unfriendly dog approaches ...

With my own pooch not fit for the dog park, though, it's not an area I have a whole of experience with. So, I reached out to my favorite local dog trainer, Nicole Herr. She and her husband, Brian, run Herr Pet Training. They have the right knowledge about dog behavior — not all trainers do — and are capable of tackling the toughest of behavior problems. It's all about credibility for me and these two have it.

Without further ado, here is Nicole's response:

The question
“What to do if you are at the dog park with your dog and a “not friendly” dog approaches. I would love to say this never happens when we are out, but there have been a few times that I have been out with my dog and another dog comes up that is a little too aggressive (starts to show aggressive dominance behaviors like mounting). If you had any tips about how to handle while minimizing getting hurt that would be great!”

Great blog post Karen! (Gee, thanks Nicole!!) You've written sound advice on a very tricky subject and I'm going to build on that...

This is the trickiest part of a trip to the dog park ... the other dogs. It's an element you can't control for, so you need to be very alert and aware to your own dog's body language and cues of stress. If your dog begins to look stressed, it is our job as pet parents to step in and manage or remove them from the situation. Many dogs do not handle the dog park environment well. Having even a basic knowledge of canine body language will help you identify what dog-dog communications are occurring, and if your dog will fit well into the environment. 

An important note to start: While you are at the park with your dog, don't sit back and read a book.  Keep a watchful eye on your dog and stay reasonably close. Seconds matter if an altercation occurs and being a football field away is simply irresponsible. 

If I am in the dog park, I am always carrying VERY tasty treats, a loud whistle and a small air horn.  The treats can help redirect your dog if necessary and can be used as a lure for others if the need arises. The whistle and air horn are there to serve as an interrupter.  They can startle the dogs just long enough for you to step in and diffuse the situation. You should ALWAYS have your leash immediately at-hand as well. Your leash can be used a loop to quickly gain control of your dog when there isn't time to clip onto the collar. 

To go back to the original question, I am assuming that you are in the immediate vicinity of your dog when this happens and that your dog is off-leash.  If the dog approaches in an offensive and charging manner, take a step between them and give a "HEY!" to startle them. Often, something this simple will stop them or slow them down. At this point a "Please come get your dog" in a nice, loud voice will have the owner coming in for assistance.  If the dog continues to approach, use your whistle or air horn if you feel threatened (this will definitely get everyone's attention). We are looking to startle them just long enough to intervene and avoid a dog fight.

"He may stand there, looking at you, confused, not quite ready to give up more of his space. Tell him to get lost. Wave him off. If it doesn’t work, stand there and hold your ground until he decides to trot away in a different direction.
If he tries to go around you, body block him. If he takes a step to his left, you take the same step to match him. Claim your space. Claim your dog.
This is great advice from Karen.  (Thanks, Nicole!!)

A few other notes on this subject:
*Stay calm--  Your dog feeds off of your emotions, so remain calm and confident.  If you panic, so will they. 

*Don't grab for the collar — A dog in a heightened state won't know your hand from the touch of another dog. They may turn and snap at or bite you if you grab at their collar. Use your leash to loop your dog and regain control. If you need to physically remove your dog from another, do not use your hands. At that point, use your legs/shins to shove them, then loop them to regain control. 

*Avoid busy times at the park — Simply put, go when it's less busy. Or visit during times when the less-than-friendly dogs are not there. 

*Report it!  — If you see a dog that is a problem, report them to park authorities. If there is no one on-site, make a report to the governing offices. Keeping the park safe is everyone's responsibility. 

While I enjoy a day at the park with my dog, I highly advocate for trying a good doggie daycare, too.  The daycare is a controlled environment, where the dogs have been evaluated for temperament and personality. This keeps the "not so friendly" dogs out, as they generally don't make it past the initial screening process. 

Please keep in mind that these are general tips to keep the "not so friendly" dogs at bay. Avoiding them is the first step. If you find yourself encountering them at a park too often, let the authorities know and find a new park. Before I take my dog to a new park I will go by myself to observe and meet some people. Ask questions. Are there times to avoid? Dogs to stay away from? Take the time to find the right place for you and your dog to enjoy. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Coyotes team up to attack large black Labrador in Springfield

Oh, those wiley coyotes.
Reggie, the lab, was attacked by coyotes
A story I wrote for today's paper, Coyotes team up to attack dog at Springfield home, is getting a lot of attention — and rightly so.
Is it rare to hear about more than one coyote taking part in an attack, and perhaps even more rare to hear of a very large, 110-lb. dog being the target.
The DNR thinks the dog may have wandered too close to the coyotes' den site, or that the coyotes may have wandered away from the den and stumbled upon the dog. The attack, then, is assumed to be a defensive one, not a hunting one.
But I've been hearing from people all over the place this morning.
"You know they go for the hamstrings," said one man who called early Wednesday morning. "They rip out the hamstrings on the back legs' of the dog, and then the dog can only use it's head to defend itself and eventually, the coyotes will wear down the dog."
I noted that Labrador who was attacked seemed to suffer the worst injuries on his back legs.
Another guy told me about some California folks who owned and bred champion Yorkies. He said coyotes came into the yard, attacking and eating the male Yorkie used for breeding. The dog owner got so mad he went out and bought a German Shepherd, but the coyotes had a plan for that, too.
The caller said that the coyotes sent in a female in a heat and the German Shepherd followed the female out into the wilderness, where he was promptly killed and eaten by the rest of the coyotes.
I can't confirm whether any of this is true — it's second-hand information, after all — but definitely interesting.
What there does seem to be a whole lot of information on is coyote-dog hybrids (Google "Coydog"). If that's not a reason to spay and neuter, I don't know what is.
Check out these photos posted on Jonathan Schechter's blog last fall of a potential hybrid coyote in Brandon Township.
I also got an email from the Executive Editor of The Macomb Daily, who said he watched two coyotes take down a deer a couple years ago. He also said he recently saw coyotes that looked to be 60-70 pounds right on the shore of Lake St. Clair. That's much larger than the 25-35 pounds most coyotes weigh in at.
Also notable, Tim Payne of the DNR mentioned to me yesterday that there is some evidence Michigan has both the larger species of coyote, the Eastern Coyote, in addition to the smaller Western Coyote. I found online that Eastern Coyotes mates for life. I couldn't find anything about their hunting habits, though I'd presume if you're a coyote, and you're pairing up with another coyote for life, you might as well hunt together, right? It only seems smart.
Meanwhile, I recommend owners of small dogs in Oakland County take all the precautions they've always had to, and that big dog owners keep a watchful eye out too.
As always, keep your dog in your yard, and keep a watch on your dog while it's in your yard unattended. It's a good practice to have anyhow.

Video of Chip Acey and his dog, Reggie, who was attacked by two coyotes recently

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

What do I do if an unfriendly dog approaches mine at the dog park?

A reader has asked me to address the following issue. She writes:

“What to do if you are at the dog park with your dog and a “not friendly” dog approaches. I would love to say this never happens when we are out, but there have been a few times that I have been out with my dog and another dog comes up that is a little too aggressive (starts to show aggressive dominance behaviors like mounting). If you had any tips about how to handle while minimizing getting hurt that would be great!”
Sensi's two small friends holler at him to stop being so boisterous

This is not something I have a whole lot of experience with, since my dog is not a dog-park-dog. To answer these questions, I'm drawing on my experiences of stopping off-leash dogs from approaching Sensi and I while we're out on walks.
Here's a series of posts specifically about that (Learning from Sensi, Learning from Sensi Part II, The charging dog and Challenge the charger).

To check my advice, I've also asked professional dog trainer Nicole Herr to give me some tips. I'll be interested to learn whether our advice is similar and will certainly post what I hear from her.

All right, here's what I've got:

The first step is being able to identify whether there’s any offensive communications going on between your dog and the new one who has approached. Again, this is where knowing canine body language is worth its weight in gold.

First off, how did the dog approach yours? Did it barrel toward your dog, head to head, and not stop until bodily contact was made between the two? That is the ultimate statement of rudeness among dogs, and it’s perceived by many dogs as a threat of aggression — meaning as soon as the offending dog does make contact, your dog has already readied himself for an altercation. This means that even if it was just a lack of good doggie manners driving the offending dog to run at yours and not aggression or the threat of aggression, an altercation may still be had.
This doesn’t necessarily apply between dogs who know eachother. But for two dogs who have not met, one dog running directly at another without stopping and engaging in routine dog-meeting pleasantries is generally a threat.
If you see this happen, stop the approach before physical contact is made with your dog. Position yourself in front of your dog (between your dog and the charger), puff up your chest, straighten those shoulders and stare coldly and intently into the charging dog’s eyes. Do not avert eye contact for a split second. Stand still. And understand that you are now threatening the charging dog and telling him to stay away. There’s always the risk that he won’t stop and may attack you, though I’ve done this more times than I can count and it’s worked like a charm every time. But the risk is there.
The offending dog will likely stop abruptly. He may stand and stare at you. He may run away in the other direction. Hold your ground until he moves on. If he tries to meet your dog again later with proper doggie manners, you’ve made your point and helped a dog learn some good etiquette about meeting others.

Secondly, what do the dogs’ tails tell you? If the offending dog’s tail is held high, up over its butt or like a flagpole up in the air, and your dog is perhaps tucking its tail or wagging it low and rapidly, then you have a problem. This is a clear and early sign that the offending dog is feeling dominant over your dog, who is feeling submissive.
Sometimes these situations work out — the submissive dog submits, the dominant dog stays dominant and all is balanced. But more often than not, an altercation is brewing.
I personally don’t approve of dominant tails. I don’t want to see one on my dog and I don’t want to see one any other dog around me.
If I were in a dog park situation where a dominant-tail dog and my dog were exchanging sniffs, I’d break up the meeting. I use a throaty, growly, sharp “Eh!” to get dogs’ attention. Generally, you’ll see that dominant tail drop instantaneously.
Then, I’d walk toward the offending dog, walking right into his space, to back him up. If he doesn’t immediately start backing up as you walk into his space, you can gently press your shin (I said GENTLY PRESS, not kick and NOT with force! The goal is to push, not strike!) into the dog’s chest/shoulder area to move him back.
He may stand there, looking at you, confused, not quite ready to give up more of his space. Tell him to get lost. Wave him off. If it doesn’t work, stand there and hold your ground until he decides to trot away in a different direction.
If he tries to go around you, body block him. If he takes a step to his left, you take the same step to match him. Claim your space. Claim your dog.

If another dog is mounting yours, I’d pull out that growly “Eh!” in conjunction with physically pushing the dog off your dog. Follow-up your push by walking into the dog’s space, forcing him to back up. Tell him to get lost or stand your ground until he does.

There’s no easy cue, no phrase universally-understood-by-dogs that you can use or sound you can make to let an offending dog know you want him to get lost. You do have to get physically involved, even if it means nothing more than standing in front of your dog and staring at another dog until it runs away.
You do need to understand that you are asserting yourself as dominant when you employ these tactics, and that in some cases, your actions will be perceived as threats by the dog they are aimed at. If you stare down a dog upon first arriving to the park, I wouldn’t try hugging and kissing up on the dog later in the visit to try to make friends. He’s probably scared or at least intimidated of you and wants you to keep your distance now, just like you told him to keep his distance earlier in the visit.
With any of these actions, you are risking that the offending dog may become aggressive toward you. I would argue, though, that if a dog is dangerously aggressive, none of these tactics would work in the first place. But, God forbid that someone would be so stupid as to bring a dog with a dangerously aggressive temperament to an off-leash dog park.
You’re more likely to find an offending dog has little more than poor social skills, poor training and mild behavior issues. Those are traits open for manipulation.

Now, the real question is: How do you handle the aggressive dog owner who thinks his/her offending dog is perfect and gets mad at you for “scaring” or “harassing” her precious pooch who could never, ever do anything wrong? That’s the altercation that won’t be so easy to settle.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Snippets and stuff

I've got a bit of variety to post about today, so enjoy these little Dog Blog snippets.

Good reminder on fear series
Last week, I wrote a series of posts about five subtle signs a dog will display when uncomfortable, anxious or scared in a situation.
Nicole Herr, my favorite local dog trainer, had this to add: "It's so important that people understand that these signs don't happen alone. Most often you'll see just two or three, or you'll see them all. All elements of their body language should be taken into account."
She is absolutely correct. Remember that your dog has a large repertoire of body language communications and will send out a variety of signals to indicate it's internal state. Learn as much about canine body language as possible and you'll start seeing your dog in a whole new light — the type of light that will make you say, "Gee, it's not as hard as I thought to communicate with my dog."

Puppy Socialization & Basics class
Nicole also mentioned she's leading a puppy socialization class that starts this Saturday. It'll be at the Wet Noses Pet Camp in downtown Rochester.
The class is open to all puppies between the ages of 3 and 8 months, but they must be up to date on rabies (for those pups six months and older) as well as DHP and Bordatella, and have a negative fecal exam. Bring proof of this from your veterinarian.
Classes are from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. on May 14 and 28 and June 4. The class fee is $75 and participants must register in advance by emailing nherr@herrpettraining.com or calling 586-797-9267.
I strongly recommend this class for anyone with an appropriately-aged puppy — Nicole and her husband, Brian, have excellent knowledge about dogs and how they learn. This will provide you with a solid base for future training and no doubt give you a wealth of information that every dog owner should know.

Finding good on-leash trails
I wrote a while back about wanting to find a good place to walk my dog where people are prone to keeping their dogs on leash. I asked all of you to tell me about places you've found, but since I didn't hear from anyone, I reached out to our trails columnist Jonathan Schechter for some advice.
I thought this comment was particularly noteworthy: "Except for dog parks, no dog may be off leash in any park, trail, etc. in the entire state of Michigan (excluding special things that are permitted in some areas). That is the law."
So, to all you lawbreakers out there, you can bet I'll be chastising you if I run into you and your off-leash dog on a trail.
Schechter confirmed what I'd already felt was the case with areas like the Bald Mountain State Recreation Area.
"The DNR state recreation areas are notorious for off leash dogs," he wrote.
I'm disappointed at this. State rec trails tend to be very natural, challenging and beautiful. Unfortunately, I'll be keeping away from them with my dog.
He also confirmed another notion I had: "Best trails that enforce the leash laws are the Oakland County parks and the Huron Clinton metroparks ... From personal experience, a few of the parks with the least chance to encounter doggy violations are Independence Oaks, Addison Oaks, Kensington, Stony and Indian Springs metro parks. And the metroparks BAN pets from the nature trails all together."
I can totally back him up on the note about Addison Oaks. I've been out there more times than I count already this year, and while I've passed lots of people walking dogs, I haven't encountered a single off-leash dog. Way to go, Addison!
I feel like writing a thank you letter.

What if my dog is approached?
A reader emailed for advice on how to deal with the situation if a not-so-friendly dog approaches. Specifically, she asked me about what can be done in an off-leash dog park situation.
"I would love to say this never happens when we are out, but there have been a few times," she writes.
I would love to say it never happens either. I have one of those not-so-friendly dogs and am smart enough to realize he's not cut out for the dog park. Ideally, everyone with less-than-perfect pooches would be able to see that in their dogs and do the same. Unfortunately, too many people have what I call "my-kid-can-do-no-wrong" syndrome.
You know what I'm talking about — just like the parents who refuse to admit that their kids could ever possibly do something wrong, there's a ton of dog owners out there who take the same approach with their pooch. They'll make excuse after excuse after excuse for why their dog did this or that, inevitably finding a way to place blame on something out of their own control.
The world would be a better place if more people could take an honest look at their dogs and realize they're not perfect. That, of course, would necessitate that they do something about those imperfections (and trust me, I do my very best to address my dog's imperfections. That's why I'm out there walking him everyday, trying to expose him and desensitize him to as much of this world as possible rather than just keeping him jailed in the house. I realize, however, that for all I'm able to achieve, my dog will never be a dog park dog. That's just the way it is). And when it comes to doing something about your dog's imperfections, far too many people are either too egotistical to admit that there is a problem and they don't have the slightest clue how to rectify it, or will make up their own "solution" rather than seeking out solid advice.
Either way, I have not in the slightest way answered my reader's question. That, however, is something I will focus on doing throughout posts this week, so check back later this week!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Five subtle signs of fear in dogs: The tail wag

Playful tail: Level w/back, swaying side to side

OK, this is the last in my series of posts listing five subtle signs of fear in dogs that most humans entirely miss.

You can read the previous posts by clicking on these links:
Averting eyes, shifting body
Sniffing the ground
Licking the air

Today's "subtle sign" is all about that tail wag.

Number Five: The tail wag.
It’s a neck-and-neck race between licking and tail wagging in terms of which behavior is more commonly misinterpreted by humans.
If you were surprised to see how many ways a dog can use its tongue to send out communications, you’ll be downright shocked to learn about the tail.

Good tail: Comfortable, confident
A wagging tail is not a sure sign that a dog is friendly. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. As with licking, it’s important to look at both the circumstances and the rest of the dog’s body language to determine what a tail wag is conveying.
The classic human assumption is that a tail tucked between the legs means the dog is scared or — hear me groan — guilty of something, and that every other type of tail wag is a sign of happiness and friendliness. The first part, that a tucked tail signals fear (not guilt!), is true, but a wagging tail can signal fear too. It’s just a different type of wag.
Good tail: happy, comfortable, confident
Have you ever seen a tail that was hanging low, but not tucked, and wagging with fierce intensity from side to side, but never fully extending past the sides of the dog’s body? This type of wag is probably the most likely to be mistaken. It looks the most like a normal tail wag to the untrained eye, yet it warns that the dog is extremely anxious and apprehensive. Think of how hard your heart might be beating prior to jumping out of a plane for your first ever parachute attempt — there’s a mix of excitement, anxiety and apprehension making your heart beat so fast. Those are the same emotions often displayed by dogs through this type of tail wag.
Playful tail: Swaying gently, proudly, but not too high
The more the dog’s fear escalates, the lower it will keep the tail (and the side-to-side wag will continue decreasing in width) until eventually, it is classically tucked under the belly.
So, what should you watch for? A rapid side-to-side tail wag from a low-hanging tail, with the wag decreasing in width as the tail’s position becomes lower, though not necessarily tucked. I recommend turning so the side of your body is facing the dog and ignoring the dog until the tail becomes relaxed. Essentially, if you continue with whatever you’re doing to unnerve the dog, you’ll see the tail continue to go lower until it is eventually tucked.
Everyone knows the expression “she wears her heart on her sleeve.” Think of the dog’s tail as exactly that. It is the pulse of your dog’s emotions, and all the tiny variations in how it’s positioned and wagged tell a tale of what your dog is feeling.

Some other good “tails” to be aware of:
• A tail that is held high while wagging displays dominance laced with excitability and/or playfulness. Get your dog’s attention and calm him down.
• A tail that is held high and erect like a statue (the whole body will be statuesque) is a threat of dominance — your dog is not just feeling dominant, but he’s ready to enforce his dominance as well. Remove your dog from the situation.
• A tail that is held in line with the dog’s back or slightly dipped below the back line, swaying from side to side, is a sign that he’s comfortable and playful.
• A tail that is wagging rapidly in circles like a helicopter tells you that he is extremely excited. Extreme excitability is an unstable mood for dogs, so you should try to calm him down a notch. That tail wag could decrease to comfortable playfulness or switch to great anxiety and fear — the bottom line is that it’s a wild card, so calm down that dog!
• A tail that is resting naturally at a downward angle from the dog’s body, perhaps with a slight wag or no wag at all, is a sign that the dog is feeling stable, comfortable and at-ease. This is the best tail of all.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Five subtle signs of fear in dogs: Licking the air

All right folks, it's my third post writing about five subtle signs of fear in dogs commonly missed by their humans — yep, I mean you. Thankfully, humans are quite good at reading and learning, so read on and learn about that pooch of yours!

Here's links to my first two posts:
Averting eyes, shifting body
Sniffing the ground

Without further ado, today's topic is about those slobbery dog tongues:

Number four:  Licking the air.
“Oh, he wants to give me kisses,” says the person who proclaims “every-dog-loves-me” upon approaching a new dog.
The truth is, wanting to give “kisses” may be the last thing that dog has on its mind.
Licking can mean a lot of things. In most cases, it’s a display of affection. Licking the air can also signal digestive issues, like bloat. Dogs may also use that tongue hoping to get regurgitation action (yes folks, this is disgusting. Just keep reminding yourself that our dogs are descendants of wolves. Wolf pups will lick the muzzles’ of adult wolves to prompt regurgitation and this is how they first taste a solid meal). Additionally, licking can be a statement of submission as well as an attempt to calm you.
Now doesn’t that add a whole new dimension to that slobbering dog tongue?
The key here is to take in the big picture of what the dog is trying to tell you. Don’t focus in on one or two behaviors, look for a variety of behaviors to indicate the bigger picture.
If you see a dog licking the air, consider the circumstances. Did he just eat a big meal and then take a huge drink of water, and now he’s licking the air and dry heaving? You might have a case of bloat on your hands and you need to rush-rush-rush to the emergency room.
Did you just holler out something really loudly down the hallway to your husband and your dog came running, licking the air and trying to lick you? Your loud voice may have alarmed him and he’s trying to calm you down.
Are you approaching a brand new dog you’ve never met before? Look at the rest of his body language before telling yourself he wants to give you kisses. He may very well be more apt to bite you than kiss you, and in that case, you’ll want to keep your face far, far away from those pearly whites of his.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Five subtle signs of fear in dogs often missed by humans: sniffing the ground

This week I'm focusing on five signs of fear in dogs that are usually missed by humans.
Yesterday's blog talked about Averting their eyes and Shifting their body away from the source of fear.
Today's topic is sniffing the ground.

Number 3: Sniffing the ground
Dogs sniff the ground and that’s just part of being a dog, right? No, not exactly.
Sure, there are lots of occasions when a dog is sniffing the ground simply to sniff — to pick up all the wonders of the world that we can’t experience like our dogs can because our noses just don’t work as good as theirs do.
A dog is also likely sniff a lot when he’s figuring out where to go potty.
But, a dog will also employ sniffing as an avoidance tactic.
Think of it like realizing you and the world’s most annoying neighbor are headed on a collision course down the neighborhood sidewalk, destined to make contact with another. But, you really, really hate this person and you really, really don’t want to get roped into some conversation with him or her. So you pick up your cellphone, pretend to dial a number and start talking to no one about your day. You get to pass by your neighbor with nothing more than a head nod and you didn’t even have to be rude about it.
Sniffing pretty much serves the same purpose for a dog. The dog has been placed in a situation that he’s totally uncomfortable with. Rather than feed that situation with his own energy, he diverts his energy and attention to something he’s familiar with and likes doing — sniffing. It mitigates the situation for him.
Other dogs are able to read this behavior and respond accordingly. Humans, however, tend to be clueless.
To figure out what your dog is sniffing for, look at the big picture. Is he showing any other signs of distress? Did he first avoid eye contact? Maybe he repositioned his body? What is his tail doing? His ears? What are the circumstances — did a stranger just approach you to talk?
Sniffing, like all of these subtle signs, is actually a calming signal. The dog is trying to calm himself with these behaviors, and these behaviors are also read by other dogs as part of their massive repertoire of non-verbal communications. That means they’re not just actions that affect the dog’s internal state, but communications meant to affect the actions and behaviors of others.
So, start listening.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Five subtle signs of fear in dogs often missed by humans

Everyone thinks they can identify a fearful dog, and they’re partially right. Most people have no problem identifying a dog who is so fearful that he or she is about bite or take flight, but what about identifying fear in your dog before the situation escalates to being dangerous?
This is where most people fall short.
The classic signs of fear that most people know are actually classic signs of intense fear. At this point, you may see a dog whose hackles are raised, body is crouched, tail is tucked, body shivering, ears back, whites of the eyes showing. The problem is, once the dog’s fear has ballooned to such extremes, the dog truly is dangerous. Catching fear when the dog is just beginning to feel fearful is key to reducing the dog’s fear and making the situation safe.

This week, I'll give you five subtle signs most often missed by humans. It's not an exhaustive list, but it's certainly a start. My first two are included here and I'll post one more each day this week.

1) Averting their eyes.
Looking away from whatever is making them uncomfortable is a way for dogs to say, “I’m not threatening you, but I am uncomfortable with you. Please give me some space.”

2) Shifting their body away from source of fear.
Whether it’s a person, another dog or an inanimate object, a dog is sending a very clear sign that he is apprehensive when he shifts his body so that his head is facing away from whatever he is fearful of.
I often see this displayed during “first meets” with a new person, and it almost always follows an eye aversion.
Envision this: You meet a dog. You reach down to scratch the underside of the dog’s neck. The dog avoids eye contact with you. You don’t notice. You sit down to be closer and “make friends” with the dog in that ignorant human manner that we have. The dog doesn’t get up, but does shift it’s body so it’s front paws and head are now facing away from you; it’s back now facing the front of your body.
Most people don’t read this at all, and depending on the dog’s bite threshold, these communications can very well be the only signs you’ll get before that dog turns around and bites you, considering you persist in trying to “make friends” with dog and don’t listen up and give him or her an inch of space and moment of time to acclimate to you in a more dog-mannerly fashion.
Between dogs, you may also see a dog’s body take a half-moon shape (standing broadside, front and back paws slightly more forward than the dog’s torso) upon meeting or even during play. This curvature of the dog’s body tells the other dog a lot of information — I’m stopping here, please stop too, I’m uncomfortable, please keep your space, I’m nervous about you and apprehensive to decrease the social distance between us.
Of course, dogs may also use this posturing with humans, but in my real world experience, I’ve spotted it much more often between dogs than between dogs and humans. Eye aversion and body shifting is more readily used by dogs trying to communicate with humans, in my experience.