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Understanding your Dog’s Food – February 27,2013

While we all tend to focus on caring for our dogs by keeping them healthy with regular Vet visits and investments in training and dog activities, many of us pay very little attention to our dog’s food. Most of us have never even read the ingredients list on the food packaging. We make our decisions based on TV advertising or how appealing the packaging is.

To those who have consulted their pet store personnel or researched ingredients, kudos. For the rest of you, here is an excellent site where you can educate yourself to make better, more informed and healthy choices for your dog:

http://www.dogfoodproject.com/

Specifically, on left hand side, check out the 2 links under Commercial Dog Foods – Introduction, and Label Information 101.

All of the informaion is helpful so read on as you like but even a little knowledge can go a long way. And make sure you note the particular brand’s recommended daily portion for your dog’s age and weight.

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Consistency is the Key to Training – February 13, 2013

We all have our weaknesses: those soulful brown eyes pleading for just one morsel from your plate, the warm head on your lap while you tap away on computer, heavy with the weight of hope and expectation for a game of fetch or at the very least an ear scratch, or the more-empty-than-usual bed when a spouse is out of town that leads letting her sleep with you “just this once”.

Let’s face it, we love our dogs and sometimes that love, our need for connection, our and desire to give back some of the happiness they’ve given us causes us to cave in situations where we’d all be better served by sticking to our guns.

The thing is, dogs don’t do “exceptions”. Instead, they are constantly collecting and evaluating the feedback/consequences to their actions and if something they do works to get them something they really want, chances are they are going to try it again. Period.

If the “rules” you’ve outlined are occasionally (or routinely) broken, they really won’t be viewed as rules through a dog’s eyes. We may be able to comprehend the concept of special occasions but inconsistency in our responses causes confusion in a dog’s mind, sets them up to make mistakes, and causes us to become frustrated or angry because “he knows better”. Guess what? He doesn’t. He just knows that sometimes when he jumps up on the couch he gets to stay, and he hasn’t worked out quite yet why it’s okay with you sometimes and not others. And the occasional reprimand from you is worth it for even the possibility of one more evening curled up next to you in comfort rather than across the room on his bed.

So be clear and consistent when interacting with your dog, determine your house rules in advance, and then take the time to teach your dog what is expected of him rather than just punish him for mistakes (or for not following a rule he’s never been properly clued-in on in the first place).

Boundary training is an excellent place to start your new crystal clear communication. Not only does this make life easier when you are trying to come and go, but also it keeps dogs safe.

Teaching dogs to pause at thresholds rather than push past you and bum-rush the door is another great habit to teach your dog, and NOT because he may take over the world if he goes through the doorways before you. Rather, “Sit” as the default setting at doorways saves lives. It also gives you a marvelous opportunity to reinforce a polite sit and impulse control with a very powerful life reward – “let’s go for a walk”!

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Resource Guarding – An important behavior to understand – February 6, 2013

Does your dog growl at you when you approach his food bowl? Is your puppy possessive about toys and rawhides? Does he snap at you when you even step near him when he’s got a bone? Does your dog bare her teeth when you approach the couch? If not, you’re lucky! Read through this information and start working with your puppy or dog now, to keep him in the blissful state of loving your approach to his food bowl or other prized possessions. If you are seeing aggression, definitely read on to find ways to help your dog. The technical term for this behavior is Resource Guarding, and it’s an absolutely normal dog behavior. However, it’s not something we humans appreciate. Fortunately, resource guarding is also a behavior that we can change.

It’s a huge mistake to label a dog with a resource guarding problem as ‘dominant’. This is largely because it is just too simplistic to think that everything a dog might do which his owners disapprove of is some kind of a bid for power, especially if it involves threat behavior. This label can also encourage owners to look for opportunities to score points back on their dog when their time would be much better spent looking for opportunities to teach the dog not to guard his possessions and to reward him for doing other things.

Here are a few of the myths about resource guarding, according to Jean Donaldson’s book “Mine! A Guide to Resource Guarding in Dogs.”
• Myth #1: Resource guarding is abnormal behavior.
• Myth #2: Because resource guarding is driven largely by genetics, it can’t be changed.
• Myth #3: Resource guarding can be cured by making a dog realize that resources are abundant.
• Myth #4: Resource guarding is a symptom of “dominance” or “pushiness.”
• Myth #5: Resource guarding is the result of “spoiling” a dog.

So if the answer is not to “dominate” your dog or shower it with freely available food, then what is it? Simple. Make your puppy or dog understand that the approach of a human to his food, toys, space, etc. is a Good Thing. The process is called classical conditioning. Just as the clicker is associated with treats in your dog’s mind, the approach of a human hand, face, or other body part to his food dish should mean better food is on it’s way.

The following process should be done with ALL dogs, for their entire lives. Definitely do it with young puppies. The only part that changes is how often you do these exercises, what sorts of things your dog has when you approach, and how close you can get to the dog before presenting it with the treat. Every capable member of the family should take part in these exercises, keeping safety firmly in mind.

Initiate the Say Please Protocol with your dog. There are two reasons to do this. One is to inform your dog that you and your family are the source of All Good Things, and only by being polite does your dog get them from you. The second reason is for all family members to practice training with your dog, so that he listens to everyone in the family. This may or may not help with resource guarding, but it’s not a bad perk! If certain members of your family are being guarded against (growled or lunged at), then those people are the ones who should be asking the dog to Say Please more often.

Teach your dog the cue GIVE. Start with objects that he does not value as much and treats that are highly valued. Then gradually work your way up to objects that he cares very much about. Ask for him to give the object, then either wait for him to do so (if he knows the cue) or cause him to do so by presenting food near his mouth. Reward and praise him for dropping the object, then give it back to him as soon as he’s done chewing. Practicing this cue, giving the resource back each time, helps the dog understand that giving away his resources to a human is a good thing, so there’s no reason to guard them. Children should only work on this step under adult supervision. Start with the family member that the dog trusts most (growls at least).

Teach your dog the OFF cue. If he is guarding the furniture, teach him to jump off of it on cue. Get him up on the couch by patting on it or luring him with a treat. Don’t give the treat yet (we want to reward for “off”, not jumping on the couch). Then say “off” and lure him back onto the floor. If you use a clicker, click as soon as he heads off the couch. Give him the treat. Don’t start to teach off when your dog is all settled down on the couch. Work up to that level.

Condition your dog to expect good things when you approach him, especially if he has some sort of highly prized resource, like a bone. As with “give”, start with something your dog does not guard. Walk over, present the treat while he’s enjoying his low value toy or food, and leave. Do this with several low value toys throughout the day. Repeat this for several days until he begins to look up at you, with a “Hey, she’s here to give me a treat” expression on his face. With the low value objects, move up to touching the dog in some way, grabbing the object (often saying “give” first), then popping a high value treat in his mouth and returning the object. Over a period of weeks or more, gradually move up to repeating the above with higher and higher value toys or food. With high value toys/food/bones, start by just walking by the puppy, out of the range that makes him growl, and dropping a treat. Move closer as the days go by, if the dog is ready; never progress faster than your dog is happily willing to go. If the dog is not relaxed and happy at any stage, you have moved too fast. Retreat to the previous level. Repeat this entire process with several high value objects. After that, progress to doing this process with more people around, more stress in the environment. Children should only work on the conditioning step under adult supervision.

Keep your dog from exhibiting resource guarding behavior by not moving past his acceptance level. If he growls when you get within three feet of his toy, then don’t make him growl — stay more than three feet away from his toy next time. Better yet, remove the toys that he guards from the living area, so that he can’t accidentally be triggered. If your dog guards his dinner, make sure no one approaches or give him his dinner in a separate room, for now. If your puppy guards the couch, try to keep him off of it by not inviting him up and/or by making it uncomfortable to lay on (an upside-down carpet protector works well for that). Any approaches that you make to your dog at this time while he has a resource should be on purpose and accompanied by a treat. Do NOT punish him for growling by scruff shaking or any other show of violence. All you will be doing is proving to your dog that he was right — humans are crazy and you’ve got to protect yourself from them!

Maintenance. After your dog or puppy is happily accepting any human approach to his food or toys (a state that humans call ‘normal’ and dogs call ’strange’), you are at the maintenance stage. Twice a week, at first, then once or twice per month, approach him while he’s eating, pick up the bowl, and plop in a handful of treats before setting it back down. Do the same with toys or bones as well. Occasionally practice the “give” cue, replacing the surrendered object with something else if you really must take it away. Finally, continue the Say Please Protocol for the rest of the dog’s life, incorporating new tricks as your dog learns them.

Oh no, he’s doing it again! If your dog ever starts up again with resource guarding, it’s not because he is trying to take over the world. It’s probably because you haven’t kept up on his training and he has started to notice that it’s not such a good thing to give up his resources, after all. Remind him that humans are the source of all good things by going through the above process again.

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