Dogs are an amazing species of animal. There isn’t any real alternative to the close human animal bond we have with dogs with any other animal. People who have never had a dog, never quite understand the fuss. They see messy troublesome animals that cost a lot to keep. They see them stopping us from taking exotic holidays and how we are worrying about them while we work. But, people who have dogs, understand the meaning that they can create for people’s lives. They see the unique relationship we have with what was once a large flesh eating predator. We know that our dogs feel what we do, they read our moods and know when things are not quite right. They can be trained to do the most amazing things for just a few rewards and praise.
This closeness is unrivalled by any domestic animals. The domestication of dogs which started around 35000 years ago, probably came before any other livestock. But even before this date, we have had shared experiences with the wolf, so our dogs history draws many parallels with our own human development. To speculate for one moment I would go as far to say I think we are probably genetically encoded to live with dogs. When we see puppies for the first time we coo and are effected emotionally. Even for people that pass by in the street their feelings of emotions radiates, children smile and point, just at the sight of a fluffy puppy walking by. Dogs are profound. As civilisation and man spread across the world, dogs were by our side.
We now know that dogs descended from wolves 35000 years ago. They started existence in South East Asia, spread across the continent to Europe and then spread north and south. Some dog breeds have ancient origins, but many were developed by human intervention as we became more sophisticated and developed. However, we also know that a ‘dog type’ animal can also be created. Believe in Russia, and his 60 years study, proved that selecting for tameness was the critical factor in creating floppy eared, short snouted, curly tailed, and juvenile animals. A comparison that we have with the difference between a wolf and a dog.
We also know now that dogs are social animals and live in small family groups when left to become feral. It is an important distinction from the pack theory, because dog are not born to elevate their status per se, but to live and thrive among others. When we train our dogs, we don’t need to dominate them to show them who’s boss, we just need to provide clear companionate leadership; provide enough exercise and mindful stimulus for the breed; create structure and boundaries; and create the right rewards for their hard work and instinctive adaptive behavioural tendencies. Because if we don’t communicate with our dogs they will start to create their own rules and dominate us; become fearful and show extreme behaviours; or make a nuisance of themselves in public.
Unfortunately, we often find ourselves communicating poorly with our dogs, we are often too close to our dogs, and we start treating them like humans and start communicating with them in the same way. But many human expressions are seen by dogs in slightly different or completely opposite ways to the way we think. When we walk in the house after a hard days to greet our doughy eyed waggy tailed canines, with the excited and playful cuddle, we might just be causing our dogs stress. With no sensed of time, and having just been sleeping for a few hours, be wondering what all the fuss was about. But, for us calmly entering the house and ignoring them for a few minutes, seems completely alien to how we want to behave, but way better for the dog.
Without being able to talk, dogs do a very good job of showing their emotions, and they always show what they are thinking. Unlike humans, who can hind and fake their body language, dogs wear it on their sleeves. They say that America and Britain are two countries separated by a common language. We might as well say that Humans and Canines are separated by a common ancestry. To speak dog, we need to leave our human instincts to one side and learn that dogs have a highly sophisticated body language that they developed without our help!
One of the key learning outcomes for me is the fact that we very often mis-interpret the body language. We often miss early warning signals and generally confuse our dogs daily. Studying this more would reveal interesting insights and help us be much better behaviourists. Perhaps computer science and artificial intelligence will be an opportunity to speed up this learning process.
When I started the course I was keen to understand dog behavioural traits and how we modify these when we are presented with extreme or unacceptable behaviours. What I learned was the that all good behavioural traits come from good solid foundations. Ensuring that dogs are well socialised prevents many issues arising in their later life. Socialisation followed by good obedience ensures that we can control our dogs when they do get out of hand. I called this my BLT sandwich: Setting Boundaries, being a companionate and patient leader; and providing ongoing and consistent training. What I found, through this course was that some practice, especially around dominance management, is misguided and taken from outdated principles of pack theory. Bullying a dog is not what we need to do to achieve the best results. Dogs just want to fit in.
In dog classes I discovered that trainers have their personal styles and approaches. These can be all be useful and clearly develop good results in the dogs they train. However, one area to further develop and understand is how we manage the owners and support them to understand how to make a difference to their dog’s life.People simply don’t have the time to dedicate themselves to understanding how dogs talk or how the dogs idiosyncratic behaviours is not just their personality or set in stone. Some extreme behaviours are both damaging to the dog and people.
In our human world we are now learning how important both physical and mental health are both as important as each other, but we have yet to fully educate our dog owners that we might be unnecessarily be damaging the dogs health by not identifying the signs of mental health issues; yet we still buy the most expensive treats, gadgets; clothing and pet foods available. My niece has a vicious Lhasa Apso, that was poorly socialised and attacks everything that moves, but she’s oblivious to the impact this will have on the dogs long term health. My colleague at work has Pomeranian crossed with a miniature poodle. He tell me the funny stories of what his dog is doing, but these stories just demonstrate the lack of boundaries and good training, which means the dogs is over excited and anxious on a daily basis. Trying to find a better way to evidence and demonstrate these behaviours are negative to the dog and to us is an important next step.
According to McCarthy, some research now sees ‘pack-theory’ as an outdated model of dog behaviour and hierarchy. This Dominance model proports that dogs live in hierarchical packs and that all unwanted behaviours such as aggression are associated to hierarchy and the desire to be the alpha dog. Pack theorist suggest that problem behaviours can therefore be resolved by owners adopting the pack leader status (Australian RSPCA).
The more modern view, is that dogs are social animals that group together, and form a social order among the group. In this view the idea of a pack should be limited to the family unit, as evidenced by more recent wolf research. This evidence, taken from wolf observations, is that the pack is limited at family level. The modern view also sees displays of dominance, often through aggression, as a result of social confusion, frustration, fearfulness or anxiety. A much broader view than mere pack hierarchy. Unfortunately this view has been clouded by public figures referring to pack hierarchy theory, which might confuse dog owners understanding of dominance.
Tabor suggest that dominance can be defined in two ways. The first definition is related to a relative position within a hierarchy (to be more important). The second definition is related to dominant behaviour (to be more assertive).
From my view of owning two dogs at the same time, I found that one dog will behave more assertively than the other. One of the dogs will concede and this behaviour is consistent in a range of situations: feeding times, protective posturing among other dogs. However, the dogs tend to sort themselves out and construct a social order that they can all find agreeable. Ross McCarthy also shares this view and witnesses dogs asserting themselves by taking possession of food, spaces and toys.
Colin Tennant in his DVD on Breaking Bad Habits in Dogs, identified the following eight signs of dog dominance:
· Head held high
· Confident direct eye contact
· Head and ears erect
· Confident body stance
· Not startled by sudden movements
· Tail evenly wagging
· Pushy with dogs and people
· Demands petting on his terms
Essentially these body postures and non-verbal communications are the product of the dogs psychological mind-set. The dog feels it is high up in the hierarchy and so acts up to the role. These early signs are a precursor to more assertive behaviour (aggression) when threatened or nervous. Therefore, it is essential that dog owners remove any of their signals that provide the dog with feelings of high status. Unwanted behaviours in a confident dog, can include barking at strangers, pulling on the lead, aggression to other dogs etc. Unwanted behaviours in less confident dogs with perceived high status, could include biting, growling and unpredictability. Nervousness is generally caused by poor socialisation, but combined with fear responses, can be disastrous.
The Pack theorists would suggest that establishing dominance is paramount and using strong confrontational body language; “alpha rolls” and punishment will allow the trainer to assert themselves into the position of pack leader. This approach is unlikely to be practical for a novice owner to carry out effectively and without unintended consequences.
The social dog theorists would recommend a different approach. Nick Jones suggest that dogs dominance status can be kept in check through solid foundations of socialisation and good leadership. Nick suggest that good leadership have the following principles. Setting Boundaries; Obedience training; Building trust; developing good manners; regular exercise; and a consistent approach.
In summary, some dogs, like people, will have a natural tendency to feel and behave more dominantly. Others will have a more timid nature. Good leadership from the owners will provide a stable basis for the dog no matter what underlying personality they might have. Dogs are social animals, their drive is to live among other dogs and people with a sense of order and surety. Dominance becomes a problem when a dog feels they need to act up to the role through misleading ownership behaviours or faulty learning.
In conclusion, it is probably better to think of dog social structures in the same way we see human social structures. In close families there are strong and well-defined roles, but outside the home uncertainty and confusion is all around. In other social environments we adapt to the people we meet and perhaps the same goes for dogs when they enter new social circles.
Yes, there is a debate regarding pack theory and a social construct theory of dog dominance, but, clear and well-defined boundaries alongside positive leadership work for both humans and dogs. Further reading is required to fully understand this phenomenon.
Just like dogs we are all different and are experience with dogs will also be a personal journey of discovery as we. Also owners have their personality and will approach challenges differently than the next person. Owners will have varying commitments and circumstances that mean they interact with their dog differently too. It’s probably not a coincidence that nervous people have nervous pets.
The dogs will also bring with them their own unique behaviours and traits, while also adapting to the new environment as best they can. We should celebrate these differences but must also be recognise that we need to be mindful that we could lead our pets towards unwanted and destructive behaviours that don’t create well-mannered and social pets.
Training dogs is both complex and time consuming. My research during this assignment has led me to wonder if training dogs should bemore an art than a science. Indeed basic principles of conditioning and modelling behaviour are clearly relevant and work, but the uniqueness of the situations that pet owners find themselves, demands trainers to have an instinct that only experience can develop.
It is strongly believed that socialisation activities in a dog’s formative year is essential to developing a rounded and confident animal. Exposing dogs to new experiences in a positive manner, allow dogs to develop into more balanced animals, less fearful, less timid, less excitable. However, it is often in this early stage of development where owners behave in a paternal manner, cuddling and mothering their puppies. This is not all counterproductive because it secures the deep bond that a dog will have with its owner, but our anthropomorphic tendencies provoke us to treat the dog as we do a new baby. This can lead to mixed signals and confusion for the dog. Us caring humans, simply can’t help ourselves. However, when we behave anthropomorphically towards the dog, the signals we are sending to the dog are, that they are in charge and leaders of our pack, not the other way around. If dogs feel they need to be leaders we start to create problems. A bad dog is our fault!
Much of the basic training and puppy classes that take place are more about training the owner than teaching the pet obedience. Making owners aware that their actions are just as important as the dogs reactions to training techniques is just as important. Therefore a good trainer must ensure that owners are sending the right messages to their pets, enabling the owners to learn about their unique animal as they live together, whilst providing a solid foundation for the owner to eliminate undesirable behaviours.
Choosing the right training methods for you and the dog, is an important step. Trainers would be best to allow owners to choose what would work for them rather than dictate an approach. As a basic example, when using rewards, some dogs will prefer toys to food. I know that my old Labrador was game on for any food treat. Whereas, I have seen spaniels obsess about balls. Trying out different rewards is just a simple way of getting to know the dog better and not just blindly expecting the dog to respond and wonder why it’s not listening.
To emphasis the key areas of training I’ve created my own 3 point model, (which I’d be grateful for feedback). It’s called the B-L-T framework. To us humans a BLT is a very tasty Bacon Lettuce and Tomato sandwich. However the BLT framework for dogs is Boundaries – Leadership and Training. I’m using the ‘BLT’ to emphasis that we interpret things differently to dogs. Hopefully you get my fun idea.
Firstly to ensure that we provide a safe and secure environment for out pet dogs we must provide sensible boundaries for a dog to exist within the living environment of our human lives. Good consistent boundaries will give your dog a clear guidance and security to make it a well balanced dog.
Physical boundaries - The use of a crate in early development provides the perfect safe space and is important to emphasis to the dog that it lives in the house under your rules. Shutting doors to rooms, walking on the lead, not supporting begging at the table; house training; are just a few simple boundaries that communicate pack order in the house.
Emotional boundaries – Ensuring that anxiety, begging and fear are eliminated or reduced through great socialisation helps the dog to adjust to its new lifestyle.
Providing the dog with a great pack leader is perhaps the hardest of all things to develop with your dog. Positive reinforcement of good behaviour is essential to build trust (punishment is often confusing for a dog); consistent behaviour and clear dog communication to ensure that the dog is listening carefully; providing mental and physical stimulations to provide a nourishing home environment for all to co-exist. A good example of poor communication is of our tendency to stroke and say calming words or sounds when a dog exhibits anxiety. For example, if a noisy dog barks or a car screeches. In these circumstances as the leader we should do nothing. By responding we are telling our pack to respond. Repeatedly saying calming words and sounds while a dog is anxious will eventually lead to unwanted behaviour that’s both damaging for the dog and a nuisance to the owner. An owner needs to understand that its leadership not ownership that the dog craves. Perhaps the industry should move away from the term owner to leader.
Unfortunately we are not all great leaders, so training owners for leadership is a great way to help them be better handlers. I noticed at one puppy class that a dog was very fearful, hiding under a chair, make distress sounds etc. I was sat with my beautifully calm St Bernard wondering what the commotion was. I first looked at this little timid dog out of concern. I then looked up and saw the owner. The owner was as fearful as the dog! The body language was stiff, eyes were wide, there was slow forward movement, quietness. A perfect example of dog fear poses, but exhibited in the human. I didn’t explore this any further with the owner as they may have had a personal trauma that they were dealing with, but you could easily recognise the impact of the body language mirrored by the owner and the effect on the dog. I believe that we need to give leadership lessons, subtly, to owners to show how their behaviour, posture and actions can lead to better pets, and possibly for themselves.
A good dog is an obedient dog. If we have already provided the dog with clear boundaries and ensured that our behaviours transmit clear leadership to the dog, then training the animal will be more straightforward. A good trainer does not need complicated tools or techniques, unless the dog is going through rehabilitation, to develop good dog actions.
In this section I’m referring to actions rather than behaviours in training because I feel that’s what we are developing. Separating the two also makes the distinction between what a dog will do naturally and what we are asking them to do through training. Repetition and patience are key in dog training, because dogs don’t develop all at the same pace and some actions are harder depending on the breed, but all dogs can learn, they just need a time and a clear message. It’s also important not to try and run before you can walk. Teaching a dog agility is no good if you cant recall the dog when it’s off the lead in the local park.
The first stage of training should be – Socialisation, walking the dog on a lead and enabling the animal to feel calm and secure when dealing with new experiences. Basic manners ( going through the doorways last etc.) and house training should also be included in this first stage. Recall should be the primary activity for any training at this stage. Teaching the dog to respond to its name; good grooming practice; and learning about praise and reward should all be covered in this 1ststage of learning.
The second stage is formal training. It is possible to do this at home, but it’s good to see and experience other owners dealing with their pets. Attending a puppy training class also enables the owner to pick up tricks and tips from the trainer as well. Sit – Stay – Lay down are the easiest first set of commands that can be taught to a puppy.
Dog trainers will provide lots of 1-2-1 support in the class and spend time understanding your circumstances as well as supporting you in the training. For example, tone of voice can be important for a dog. The NO! command should be given as if a loud sharp bark. GOODBOY should sound gentler. A good trainer will ensure that owners are not repeating word or adding ‘babble’, which confuses the dog. One word commands are best. Commands should be delivered as the dog initiates the action.
Administering rewards also has to carried out correctly. It’s very important to ensure the correct association is developed. Thus a reward needs to be immediate, any delay will water down the message and possible reward an unwanted behaviour. Rewards should be delivered within 2 seconds of the action. After 6 seconds its unlikely that the of will make any association. Puppies tend to get over-excited easily. Rewards can create excitement, once this happens the dog will lose focus. It’s best at this point to stop the reward, or even stop the training altogether. If praise rewards are used these need to be down with high drama and enthusiasm. Dogs are picking up on the gestures and body language not the words, so it’s important that praise is given energetically. I see a lot of owners giving praise in a very lacklustre monotone manner, we wouldn’t do that with own children, so we should do it with our dogs either.
Training classes should also recognise that owners have different levels of ability. They might also have mis-information or outdated practice, so trainers need to get to know the level of competency of the owner and the individual personality of the dog.
Outside the training class it’s imperative for the owner to continue with the routine. All training should be carried out in short bursts. The time period should be judged on the capability of the dog to concentrate. As a guide 5-15 mins 3 times a day would be adequate. Dogs like humans forget so repetition is still required once the dog has learnt the action. Practicing commands on a daily basis will be the quickest way to training the young dog.
I believe that a puppy class should contain the following topics
1) Owner Basics - Equipment necessary to create boundaries for the puppy and ensure that it stays in good health. How to prepare the home for a puppy.
2) Awareness of supportive human behaviours and activities – train owners to recognise counterproductive human paternal behaviours and how these can lead to unwanted behaviours in their pets.
3) Basic background of dog behaviour
4) Socialisation training and gentle leadership during formative weeks.
5) Overview of different methods of training including equipment
6) Simple commands and dog relationship development
7) Obedience training
I feel each session should be delivered, using my BLT analogy, as a sandwich. There is no need to spend time teaching the dog, this should happen outside the class. What we need to do is ensure that the handlers are doing it correctly and know why they are doing it a certain way.
Each class should consist of 1-2-1 time with dog and handler
A group review and discussion
Preparation for next week’s class; a handout of homework.
The room should be large enough to establish discipline but not too big so that it is difficult to engage owners in the handling of other dogs. Placing seats around the room is a possible layout. I think that it’s good to see other owners attempting the activity individually under the guidance of the owner, so that others can watch and learn.
In conclusion, dog training is more complicated than simply teaching dogs to obey commands.To effectively train a dog, we must understand the dog, the owner and the environment. We must set clear boundaries, so the dog can adapt and learn to be part of the ‘new’ world they now belong. Owners must demonstrate effective leadership through clear verbal and non-verbal signals and compassionate approach that builds strong trusting bonds with the dog. And finally, train the dog in obedience so that they are well mannered and enjoyable to own.
Dog training in general is based on basic operant conditioning as described by Skinner (1948). Operant Conditioning relies on the association of rewards or punishments to bring about a behavioural change. Repeated rewards or punishments for a specific behaviour will lead to a learned response. It is now considered that reward-based approaches are best suited to the development of behaviour in dogs. Notwithstanding that punishment could cause harm to the animal, it is felt that rewarding a dog is easier and less confusing for the animal, thus leading to speedier learning. I’ll describe three types of reward-based approaches.
Clicker training was originally developed by dolphin trainer Karen Pryor. Box clickers are the most common form of clicker, they are cheap and very portable. They can be kept in a pocket or on a key ring. The name of this method is derived from the sound the clicker box makes when pressed.
When the clicker is sounded, it prompts the dog to associate the previous action to a reward. However, its first important to train the dog to associate the click sound to the reward. This can be done by using tasty tit-bits, liked cooked chicken. Once there is a clear association developed between the clicker sound and the reward, the trainer can move on to establishing new behaviours, or even tricks. To make quick progress, its best to reward the behaviour as quickly as possible; within 2 seconds is reported as the maximum time allowance. After 2 seconds the reward is unlikely to be associated to the action and will confuse the dog or even reward undesirable behaviour. The clicker is extremely beneficial to make a quick associations to dog behaviour, because the trainer also doesn’t need to have treats immediately at hand every time (or fumble around beyond the 2 second rule) . This approach has been used for training animal actors and teaching dogs to work to music. According to Mary Ray (2009) there are 5 reasons why it’s a successful method.
1) The dog quickly learns the click equals a reward, no punishment is required
2) It’s easy to mark a specific behaviour within the 2 second rule
3) Its consistent, so easy to understand
4) It can be used when the dog is not close enough to reward by hand
5) It encourages the dog to think about the action
Any slight movements or motions or behaviours can be quickly marked and then reinforced.
Aversion Therapy techniques
Aversion therapy could be considered as a negative reinforcement method. It’s not normally considered as modern practice as it has to be administered with care and preferably with professional help. Often aversion therapy is associated with the use of training tools such as shock collars. Shock collars is a very brutal way to adjust behaviour. It works by placing an electrified collar around the dog. When the dog exhibits an undesirable behaviour the shock is administered by the handler. Sometimes they are even remotely operated. Shock collars are now seen as a very barbaric approach and I believe they are now only available in the US. In defence of this technique, it would have to be used only when livestock or humans are at risk of life threatening injury.
However, there are ‘lighter’ versions of aversion therapy that can be used in the home to deter pets from unwanted activities. Aversion therapy could be through devices that emit a sound; smell; or some other form of unpleasant distraction, such as a water spray.
Chewing is a natural action for young dogs, so preventing any unwanted chair leg disaster, is desirable, but hard to avoid. One way to prevent dogs from chewing is through an aversion techniques that involved a spray called “bitter bite” or “bitter apple”. If these are applied early before the puppy starts to habitually chomp on furniture it can effectively remedy the problem of chewing inappropriate items.
Using a water spray is another way to apply the aversion technique to unwanted behaviours. The best approach is to make a quick squirt on the dogs nose. This should be done calmly and without any commands. The surprise of the water spray should be enough to distract the dog from its current thinking and then enable the handler to continue with positive reinforcement techniques.
It’s very important to ensure that any aversion technique does not upset the dog and result in unexpected consequences. It’s not advisable to attempt aversion therapy on fearful or very timid dogs.
Reward based Techniques
The reward based approach to training a dog is now seen as the preferred approach. This approach is likely to build a strong and close relationship between dog and handler as they both work towards common goals. The reward can be varied dependant on the breed or individual animal. A reward can be a juicy tit-bit, tummy rub or tickle, or a toy/ tuggy game. According to Fisher (1992), a reward for the action needs to be administered very quickly after the action has taken place. It’s reported that anything more than a 2 second delay will have limited affect because the dog will not associate the desired action with the treat. If food treats are to be used, it’s best to ensure the dog is hungry beforehand. And also, to ensure that the extra treats are factored into the daily food allowance. Labradors are very keen for treat rewards, but I often experience dogs such as the collie or spaniels that are very possessive over a ball and simply removing the ball will provide the motivation. The St Bernard, is very playful and enjoys a tuggie game, but when hungry is keen for food treats.
The most traditional collar is the standard flat collar which fastens with a plastic clip or a buckle. They are easy to fit and remove and identification tags can be attached easily. This type of collar is strong and comfortable for most breeds however, it can be a hazard for dogs that play in a rough manner as their mouths can get caught in the collar and injury can be caused to both the dog caught and the dog wearing the collar. A second downside to this type of collar is that according to a study in the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Associationin 2006, pressure generated when dogs pull while wearing these collars raises the pressure in the eye leading to more serious problems for dogs who are predisposed to glucema, thin corneas, and other eye conditions where the pressure in the eye is an issue.
The theory behind the choke chain is that they give a sharp jerk which is strong enough to stop a dog doing what it’s doing. Once the dog knows he’ll get a strong correction when he misbehaves, the owner can use lighter jerks to remind the dog that a more painful correction can occur. Problems with choke chains are that people don’t research how they should be used and they are often not fitted correctly. They can cause health issues due to the strong yanking on the dog’s neck causing eye problems and airway conditions such as coughing in dogs prone to collapsed trachea, changes to the pupil in the eye and nerve-induced lameness in the front legs. Finally, they should never be left on an unsupervised pet. They can get caught on something and tighten to the point where they strangle the panicked dog.
A half-choke collar is a recent development and can be made from fabric or fabric and a chain section. They are designed for obedient adult dogs. It’s easy and quick to put on and suitable for active dogs that are allowed to run free during training. The half-choke collar is also well suited to daily walks. The half-choke collar should be just the right size for the dog which means it should fit over the dog’s head, but is firmly placed around the dog’s neck when pulling on the lead.
Over the past few years a wide range of harness and head halters have become popular and vets recommend them for dogs that may have health issues that are exasperated by the traditional flat collars.
A harness with a single D-ring at the back that sits between the dogs shoulders is the most widely available. These are best for small dogs and trained dogs who walk with a loose lead. If you have a powerful, large dog this may not be suitable as the dog could drag the owner along behind them.
A front clip harness features a D-ring on the front in the middle of the dog’s chest. This type of harness gives you more control and should prevent the dog from pulling. It’s a good choice for initial training with a lead as it gives a higher level of control and is also appropriate for anyone who needs to walk a strong dog safely.
A further design has clips on both the front and back allowing the owner to evaluate and use either.
Head halters can speed up training by keeping a dogs attention on its owner and once trained it may be that a traditional collar replaces the head collar. They are effective as they help the owner guide the dog’s attention towards them rather than a collar that pulls on the back of the neck. They’re effective as they work in a similar way to a horse’s reins and direct the entire head so that the dog is looking at its owner.
The problems with head halters are that many dogs don’t like wearing them and it takes an investment of time to get a dog comfortable and happy in one. Owners who decide to use a head halter also need to learn how to use it properly and spend time developing good habits from the start.
Relaxed facial features are a sign that your dog is content. One of the reasons why I love dogs so much is that they tell it as it is. Their body language doesn't lie and they show how they feel every second of the day. Doggy body language is very subtle, and in fact, they can probably read our's better than we read them. Here are some dog whispering tips on spotting when your dog is happy and content.
1) Long lips
2) Squinty eyes
3) No tension or ridges under the eyes
4) Head in neutral position
5) Head turned away from prey or threat.
6) Mouth open
7) Tongue hanging loosely
8) Breathing is relaxed and not hurried
9) Dilated pupils if caused by fun exercise, but due to adrenaline release.
10)Ears hanging loosely or at half-mast
Physical signs of stress in dogs. Some characteristics dependant on other physical displays, so please consult an expert for additional help
1) Tail tucked under
2) Top line rounded
3) Head lowered
4) Head to side with eyes not straight forward
5) Lip licking
6) Tongue flicking
8) Rigidity in areas of the body head or tail
9) Ears back
10)Bodyweight moving backward
11)Lips tight and smaller opening
12)Eye fixations on other dogs
13)Ridges under the eyes
15)Bracing of the front leg
18)Rigid spatulated tongue
A study is Sweeden (https://www.companionanimalpsychology.com/2014/06/do-dogs-get-eureka-feeling.html) highlighted the need to ensure that dogs are stimulated have better overall wellbeing. The authors comment that “opportunities to solve problems, make decisions, and exercise cognitive skills are important to an animal’s emotional experiences and ultimately, its welfare.”
1) Throw it on the lawn – This is a great way to stimulate the dog to use its scavenger instincts. This is also a good way to get an old dog moving more and taking more time outside. However, it can be difficult to quantify how much your dog has eaten, especially if you have other dogs in the home.
2) Kong toys – These provide a great way to stimulate a dog while alone. The kong is a very durable, virtually indestructible toy, which like a sausage can be filled with a variety of food stuffs. Recommendations online suggest using a mixture of crunchy biscuits, sticky cheese, honey or peanut butter as a binder, and dog treats/dry kibble. The aim is to provide your dog with a challenging task to gain tasty treats.
3) Hide and seek – Place the dog food in hidden, but accessible locations around the home. Allow your dog to use its scent and tracking skills to uncover the food.
4) Use a slow feeder - These are devices that prevent the dog from eating too quickly and can be helpful for dogs that are prone to bloat. The feeder usually has some form of rubber prongs that allow the food to slip down the side and in between the prongs. This feeder prevents the dog from taking big mouthfuls of feed at a time, which can cause the dog to take air as well. The dog then has to use his tongue to dislodge the food and slows the eating process. This is another method that is better without the presence of other dogs, who might take some of the food or create conflict.
5) Use their food in training – Socialising a dog is an important part of a dog’s development. This is carried out by ensuring new experiences are perceived as unthreatening and positive. Using tasty treats and tit-bits can help the dog associate the new experience with a positive reward. Sitting in cars is one important location for the dog to behave and feel calm. Using the vehicle to feed the dog is a great way to encourage positive associations and an alternative to feeding from a bowl.
The food we feed our dogs is one of, or perhaps, the most influential things that we can do for dog’s physical and mental health. Not commonly know the behaviour of our canids can be markedly affected by the food we give it (Fisher 2017). Fisher (2017) recommends that before we start to work on improving a dog’s behaviour, we should start by examining the food and any changes to the diet that may have caused any changes in behaviour. Although Case (2014) disputes that additive have any effect on dogs. A common sense approach would be to limit preservatives in food and choose the freshest option available to limit their need.
Raw feeding includes food stuff such as offal, raw meat, veg, oils nuts and seeds. Colin Tennant in his video on feeding raw meat to dogs, describes how dogs teeth and health are better from raw food consumption. However, this can be expensive and the likely hood of providing a dog with a balanced diet are challenging. Dogs are naturally omnivorous, so are happy eating vegetables as well as meat. Dogs therefore need a balanced diet and it may be necessary to include supplements to ensure the dog is gaining sufficient quantities of essential vitamins and minerals. According to the Pet food Manufacturers Association (website: 2018) “In one study, 95 samples of raw food rations were analysed; 60% of the rations were found to have significant dietary imbalances and the remaining 40% were reported to have minor imbalances or were found to be balanced.”
To overcome problems of a homemade diet, many companies are now setting up and offering frozen or refrigerated products. This type of feeding is a growing trend and a recent visit to Crufts demonstrated the range now on offer.
A major challenge of raw food is the potential for contamination. Salmonella can spread to humans from dogs so preparation and delivery need to be carefully regulated. Salmonella could be present in raw meats and poultry, so handling food needs to be treated with extreme care. Salmonella can also be present in faeces, so picking up dog mess carefully is essential and dog owners need to be extra careful with their own hygiene afterwards too.
Tips on food hygiene (PFMA, factsheet)
1. Wash your hands with hot water and soap after handling either your pet or their food
2. Wash all surfaces that have been in contact with raw meat
3. After each use, wash your pet’s bowls, dishes and utensils with soap and hot water, rinse properly and dry before the next use
4. Correctly store unsealed containers/open bags to limit any risk of cross contamination
5. When storing pet food in the fridge ensure raw products are at the bottom
Raw feeds are also more expensive than mass produced dry foods and will make storage more complicated. If choosing this option it would be better to use a registered manufacturers’ brand. These products will be clearly labelled, stating whether the product is a complimentary or complete meal. This is important as it will advise whether to add the product to other foods. The products are also regulated in a similar way to food for human consumption and clear labelling will give you advice on the products constituents and nutritional content. If frozen raw food is chosen it’s important to ensure that the defrosted juices are also given to the dog and not drained off, as these contain essential nutrients from the food stuff.
Dry food is a popular choice of pet food for dogs. It’s convenient and easy to store, has longevity and may have benefits for teeth health over wet food. However, because dry food comes in large bags it will come into contact with air it can be prone to oxidation and ingredients need to be added to ensure that fats and oils do not become rancid. Dry food can be a cheap alternative, but prices vary dramatically dependant on the brand and ingredients used.
Dry food is often called Kibble. It is a mixture of food stuff with additives. These are mixed together to create a viscous solution and then processed to create different shapes. Manufacturers have even gone as so far to optimise the shape for breed specific issues. Flavour is added as a coating to the dry mixture to improve the taste. Sometimes colour is added to simulate the original ingredient colours, such as orange for carrots.
Feeding consideration for dry food (PFMA factsheet 2018)
“Dry pet foods should be stored in a cool, dry environment to prevent destruction of vitamins and oxidation of fats, which can lead to rancidity (spoilage). Pet foods will retain their best palatability if they’re stored in the original packaging, provided they are sealed properly after each use.
1) Dry pet foods are good for pets who like to eat little and often, and who choose to regularly return to their food.
2) It can be left in the dish longer than wet food but it will become less palatable the longer it is left out
3) Dry foods are convenient and can be weighed out more easily, helping with portion control
4) Some, but not all, dry diets may contribute to dental health by reducing the build-up of plaque and tartar on the teeth
5) Due to the lower moisture content in dry food (approx 8-10%) your pet is likely to drink more water. A recommendation is to offer one water bowl for each pet in the house plus an additional one. This is often referred to as the 1+1 rule.”
Dry food is easier to weigh out and this can help to regulate the quality of food given to a dog, if a calorie controlled diet is required to overcome obesity (Evans and White, 1997:p51)
Wet food is a traditional manufactured product provided by major brands. These are often provide in tin cans or foil packets. A classic example is Pedigree Chum or Caesar for small dogs. The moisture content makes this product heavier than dry kibble, so can be more problematic to transport. However it is generally stored in small containers than dry food, so it can be opened more conveniently to cater for portion sizes. Moisture content is around 70% of the product and provides a tasty treat usually in a meat jelly.
According to the PFMA factsheet (2018) the following considerations should be takem into account when choosing this option.
· Wet food can be convenient with single-serve formats ensuring a fresh, easy-to-serve meal each time
· For hygiene and cleanliness any uneaten wet food should not be left out for a prolonged period of time
· Pets usually drink less when eating wet foods as there is higher water content than in dry foods
· Wet foods can be a good option for pets with missing teeth, poorly aligned jaws, or smaller mouths
· In terms of storage, once opened wet food can be kept for a maximum of up to 5-7 days if stored correctly. The food needs to be covered to minimise air exposure (for instance use a plastic tin lid or a zip-to-close bag) and refrigerated
· When feeding wet food, the portions will be bigger due to the higher water content
· A special consideration for puppies and large breed dogs: Puppies require a much higher nutrient intake per unit of their weight than an adult dog. Large breeds have proportionately smaller stomachs than standard or small breed dogs. In both these cases, it is possible that with wet food alone, a dog may feel full and finish his meal before the nutrient requirements have been met. To ensure your dog is receiving a nutritionally balanced diet, we advise owners to speak to their local vet for feeding advice.
It’s important that any switch in food type or food brand is carried out progressively, so that any gastrointestinal upset is reduced or avoided.
The choice of food can be dependent on a range of aspects, but it’s essential to focus on the on health rather than convenience alone. Specially consideration needs to be given to dogs with specific conditions, their age or their breed, as these may have an impact on how food is digested. Water should always be provided. Diabetes, for example, can be treated by providing dogs with food with a low glycaemic index. Increase fibre content and eliminate refined carbohydrytes will reduce sugar spikes. In old dogs supplements, such as glucosamine, will improve mobility and reduce inflammation in old joints.
1) Agility and fly ball are a fantastic way of engaging with other dog owners and for dogs to socialise, from personal experience it can be fun for a wide variety of breeds and creates a mental as well as physical challenge for dogs.
2) Hydro therapy is superb exercise for dogs as it uses different sets of muscles and stimulates them in a different environment.
3) Geo caching can be a fun way for families to exercise with their dog. It uses mobile phones to generate sets of co-ordinates that lead to hidden messages and treats.
4) Running with your dog can make a great change to walking as it strengthens muscles and improves stamina for both owner and dog. Care needs to be taken not to go too far and fast with certain breeds.
5) Hide and seek is fantastic for working dogs as it satisfies their natural breed desires. Any number of objects (usually owners socks etc) can be hidden in the garden or park and searched for together.
6) Playing with other dogs is what they would naturally do so organising ‘doggy meetings’ at the park or at home is great exercise for them.
7) Brain training activities, learning tricks and obedience training are important to continue throughout a dogs life the opportunities for learning are endless.
Just like humans, personal care is essential for the health and happiness of dogs throughout their lives. The essential difference is that humans can care for themselves through the majority of life stages whereas dogs are heavily dependent upon humans for their welfare. I have personally always enjoyed this aspect of dog ownership as it can deepen the bond between dog and owner. I’ve always adopted a daily, weekly, monthly approach to dog grooming which has been successful. However, there have been and always will be occasions when I’ve needed a professional opinion from a vet which has proved invaluable learning for me.
Dog maintenance is dictated by breed, hair type and any medical conditions that individual dogs may have or develop over the period of their lifetime. There is a vast and ever-growing range of equipment available for pet care. Products normally specify which breeds and hair types they are suitable for but again it is sometimes trial and error as to what each dog prefers and works.
All of my previous dogs and existing dogs love being brushed so although our boxer has a short coat it’s usually every few days that we brush through with a soft bristle brush, hoover his bib and back with a soft bristle adapter and use a puppy brush for the very sensitive areas such as around the ears and nose.
Our long coated St Bernard is a different matter! Long -haired dogs usually require daily brushing to prevent matting and tangling of hair, it is normal for him to have bits of the garden and food in his fur, so its essential to have a daily brush with a wire pin brush and slicker comb.
Our Labrador who I would class as a medium-haired dog again, enjoyed being hoovered and we used a double-depth metal toothed comb to reach the undercoat on a weekly basis.
Some smooth coated dogs are happy to go a fortnight between brushes.
Nails should be checked on a daily basis when interacting with your dog but trimming may only be required monthly or longer. Dogs can find nail trimming an unpleasant experience and the pain from injury to the nails can be extreme so it is essential that owners know how to nail trim properly and get their dogs used to it from being a puppy by gently holding the nails and pretending to cut at the earliest opportunity.
√Paws and Pads
Paws should be examined on a weekly basis for cracks, wounds, sores, cysts and nail-bed problems.
Bath time can be a love or hate experience, my Labrador loved it and my boxer is always reluctant, luckily our St Bernard has been enjoying bath time and I question whether it is a breed issue or can be shaped by dogs getting used to it as it can be a positive, fun experience.
Most dogs only need to be bathed when they seem dirty or itchy. Some people bathe their dogs monthly, but bathing too much can cause problems such as dry skin and coat as it removes the protective oils coating the dog’s skin and hair.
Ears need to be checked weekly and need checking for discharge or smell from the ear canal. The ear flaps need to be checked for inflammation or wounds. Dogs ears can harbour bacteria and yeast if not kept clean, some dogs have no problems and others suffer ongoing problems.
Dogs with floppy ears or long hair tend to be predisposed to ear problems because the ear canal simply does not have as much air exposure. Ears can be cleaned with warm water on cotton wool balls or soft tissues and if there is an excessive build-up of wax or an infection it will be necessary to see the vet and get antibiotic eardrops to clear the infection up.
This is a daily check as the eyes are easy to observe. Look for any discharge around the eyes and pus in the conjunctival sac area. Check that the corneas are clear and bright and that the dog can see clearly. A good check is to throw a treat and see if your dog can catch it.
Always worth looking at whilst picking up on a daily basis. Look for consistency, colour, blood, worms or any foreign bodies in the faeces.
Teeth need checking for any gum inflammation often identifiable by brighter-looking gum colouring, tooth decay and build-up of tartar. Again, dogs can find teeth examinations an unpleasant experience and pain in the mouth can be extreme so it is essential that owners get puppies used to having their teeth examined by gently holding the jaw open and rubbing a finger around the teeth. Dog toothpaste and ‘finger brushes’ can be very effective as well as dental chews that aim to reduce tartar build-up.