Does Your Dog Like to Share Their Food and Toys?

When it comes to resources – food, toys, and locations – many animals, dogs included, prefer to keep it all to themselves. Learning to share is just that, a learned behavior. Guarding ones resources, is an innate behavior – and one that is very handy for survival.

Home Alone Needn’t Equal Lonely for Inquisitive Canines

Dear Inquisitive Pet Parents,

As we head into the fall season and get back to our usual routines with school and work, it’s not uncommon for dogs to develop behavioral issues. Why? Because they go from being around us humans all of the time to suddenly being home alone.

In fact, most people think of the “dog days” as being the hottest days of the year, but I like to define that phrase as the ideal time of year for dogs — when they get loads of added companionship from house guests, from getting to participate in family vacations and outings, and from having the kids and parents at home more throughout the day! I’m sure you can see why it’s a tough adjustment for canines to go from basking in all that extra attention to waiting all day for the sound of the keys in the front door.

Whether you’re a seasoned dog guardian who’s coming off lots of togetherness time with your canine family member, or you’ve taken advantage of the summer’s relaxed schedule to newly adopt a pup, the tips Poncho and I present below will help ensure a smooth transition for all this fall.

Canine Attention Deficit Disorder?

The pattern of going from the center of attention to complete independence can be rough on a dog (no pun intended). As a certified professional dog trainer, I all too often am contacted from dog guardians telling me their pup is destroying their home and property, or that they’ve received calls from neighbors reporting that their dog is barking and howling incessantly. These are responses to a sudden attention deficit: Some dogs end up bored, some become anxious and fearful, and others don’t really care. To help determine if your dog is bored or anxious, take this inquisitive canine quiz.

So before you place the cover back on the barbecue, Poncho and I would like to provide a few training tips to help your pooch make a smooth transition into your new routine.

Training Tips for Teaching Independence

Unless your dog is accustomed to being left alone for hours at a time, being apart from family — especially for long periods — can lead to behavioral issues like those mentioned above.

Whether you’re taking steps to prevent these problems from rearing their ugly head, or trying to fix an issue that has already started, the course of action is similar:

  • Determine what you want: What’s your ideal situation? To come and go whenever you want while your dog is relaxed at home enjoying some alone time? If so, you’ll want to start with being out of the house for shorter increments of time. Even just leaving the room for awhile, along with ignoring and/or being “boring” as you come and go can help dogs adapt to being alone. Boring is good! Continuous interaction leads to continuous dependence — not healthy for either canines or their guardians.
  • Determine what you expect from your dog: If your dog has never learned to be alone, you’ll definitely want to take steps to train him or her to do so. For those who work from home or are stay-at-home dog parents, think about teaching your dog to be independent through confidence-building activities and outings with others outside the immediate family. You’ll also want to consider crate or confinement training, conditioning your pup to feel comfortable in specific areas of your home.
  • Create a fulfilling environment: Enrichment activities — to motivate your dog to spend time on his or her own — should be used for delivering meals and for mental stimulation. Interactive food toys, scavenger hunts and chew bones are just a few ideas to help provide recreation for dogs. These outlets should be made available when others are home, and even more so when he or she is left alone. Creating an engaging environment helps with building self-confidence, gaining independence, and prevention and handling of boredom-related issues like redecorating the house with their jaws or landscaping the yard through digging. For additional tips on providing enrichment for your dog, check out these blog posts on enrichment.
  • Set up play-dates with others: Scheduling activities for your dog with people other than primary family members is a great way to not only help with independence, but also assist with socialization and expending energy! Asking outside family members, friends and/or neighbors to look after or even walk your dog can be fun for everyone involved. Other options include hiring a pet-sitter or dog-walker, or doggy daycare.
  • Plan and practice: Once you determine what it is you want for yourself and from your dog, you can arrange your dog’s environment to implement the new routine. Begin with integrating training steps into your dog’s daily agenda before your own schedule changes. This way, you’ll be able to concentrate on your dog’s needs, without being preoccupied with yours and that of other family members. Dress rehearsals are key in setting everyone up for success!

Home Alone Dos & Don’ts for Canines

  • DO engage in planning, environmental management and training to prevent your dog from developing behavioral issues due to being alone.
  • DON’T make a big fuss before leaving, nor for the first few minutes when coming home.
  • DO teach your dog to look forward to being left home alone by providing enrichment activities.
  • DON’T go from constant to zero interaction if your dog has never spent time on his or her own, especially for longer periods of time.
  • DO seek assistance from a qualified professional if your dog appears anxious when left alone.

Canine Caveat
Be mindful as to whether your dog appears anxious while you’re getting ready to leave or exhibits any of the following behaviors:

  • chewing and/or digging at doorways and windows within the first hour of being left;
  • not eating when left alone;
  • howling or barking throughout the day; or
  • eliminating in the house when he or she is already house-trained.

If any of the above behaviors occur, we recommend you speak with a certified professional dog trainer or veterinary behaviorist to evaluate and help make the correct diagnosis and receive proper treatment.

Remember, dogs are social animals by nature. The transition period between current and post-summer vacations can be stressful on everyone. But you can still help your dog enjoy the last few dog days of summer, along with a new routine of self-sufficiency and enjoyment. All it takes is knowing what you want, realistic expectations, a little patience and some dress rehearsals.

Dog Behavior Quiz: Is Home Alone Stressful or Big Bore?

Now that the dog days of summer are winding down and we’re heading into the busy fall season, it seems that back-to-school means our dogs are left at home on their own with the responsibility of entertaining themselves. This sudden shift in routine – family around all the time to suddenly being gone all day – can sometimes lead to behavioral issues related to isolation.

Poncho and I developed this little quiz for you to take to help determine if your dog might be bored, be on the brink of isolation distress (a.k.a: separation anxiety), or just hunky dory about being on their own.

Q: As you’re going through your ritual to leave for work and/or school, your dog:

  1. Lies on his or her bed, watching you get ready, relaxed.
  2. Begins pacing around back and forth, clinging to you.

Q: You head out the door, closing the door behind you. Your dog:

  1. Stays behind, relaxed as if they’re saying “Have a nice day!”
  2. Whimpers, whines, and scratches at the door to go with you.

Q: You come home from being away for only a half hour or so. It appears your dog:

  1. Didn’t appear to care one way or another. He or she was happy when you got home, plus the food you left for them has been eaten up!
  2. Eliminated on the rug, chewed up the door and window frame, and left the bowl of food alone.

Q: You come home from being gone all day. It appears your dog:

  1. Didn’t appear to care one way or another. He or she was happy when you get home, plus the food you left for them has been eaten up!
  2. Eliminated on the rug, chewed up the door and window frame, and left the bowl of food alone, chewed up paws, and according to your neighbors barked and howled all day.
  3. Is excited to see you, as if running to say “Welcome home!” However, you notice that not only is the food in the bowl gone, but your dog went counter-surfing and dumpster diving in your kitchen, redecorated the living room by chewing up the couch and pillows, helped with laundry by dragging it all over the house and chewing up your new socks, and topped it off by re-landscaping the yard by digging up the flowers you just planted.

RESULTS:

If you’ve answered mostly 1’s in each question, then bravo to you! You’ve done a great job at teaching your dog to be independent and comfortable on his or her own! If you’ve answered mostly 2’s for each question then we recommend you consult with a certified professional dog trainer and/or vet behaviorist to discuss signs and symptoms related to canine isolation distress. There are medications and behavior modification plans that can be implemented to help with these issues.

If you’ve answered 3 to the last question, then consider your dog might be bored – scenarios such as this means your inquisitive canine is designing his or her own scavenger hunt! Providing enrichment is key to help prevent boredom related issues. Being passionate about this topic ourselves, we’ve blogged about it a lot! So click here to find out more about enrichment for dogs.

Keep in mind that our canine companions are social animals – they enjoy the company of others and often do not do well when left alone – unless you condition them to do so. Taking the time to teach them independence and coping skills are key in raising a healthy and happy dog! For help with these matters and more, feel free to contact us directly.

Take Your Dog to Work, Make Them Employee of the Month

Dear Inquisitive Dog Parents,Joan and Poncho in the Office

My sidekick Poncho and I are fortunate enough to work together, and we enjoy sharing our office while writing and educating others about the dog-human relationship.

We wanted to encourage others to share in the same experience,  so we decided to devote this month’s Dear Inquisitive Canine article to Take Your Dog to Work Day, which takes place on June 25th. This international pawliday was originally developed in 1999 by Pet Sitters International to help promote pet shelter adoptions by exposing those who don’t have a dog (or cat) to the joys a pet can bring, while encouraging folks to adopt from local rescues and shelters.

As a certified dog trainer I agree this is a wonderful way to share the love and joy a pet brings with others. It’s also the perfect opportunity to encourage dog guardians to train, refine and show-off their dogs’ obedience skills. The more active roles we take in our dogs’ behaviors in public places,the more freedom they will have to go to more places.

So how do you go about participating in this event? Poncho and I both wanted to provide our opinion. You can find his dog training tips on ways to help you prepare for taking your dog to work while I offer a general outline and suggestions to help you prepare for this exciting day below.

Your Workplace Rules:

  • Are dogs allowed? You’ll first need to find out if your employer will allow you to bring your dog into your place of business. If yes, will your dog be allowed in all areas or will he or she be limited to one specific location? If you are the boss, will you be allowing others to bring their dogs? Are there specified rules about dogs being on the premises? Can the rules be changed? If the health department paid a visit, would you/the company be in trouble? As much as we love this event, we want people to play by the rules.
  • Respect your co-workers: Are all employees comfortable with dogs being in their space?
  • Be Aware of Your Inside Environment: Is your workplace and/or office a dog-friendly environment? What will your dog be exposed to throughout the time he or she is there? New people, new sights, sounds, smells, chemicals and equipment. A completely different environment can make a dog anxious, especially if he or she has never been introduced to these conditions before.
  • Be Aware of Your Outside Environment: Is the area conducive to dog activities such as midday walks or a game of fetch? Will your dog have a convenient area to eliminate? Will you have a convenient location to dispose of your dogs waste?

Be Prepared with Proper Office Etiquette for Your Dog:

What behaviors will your dog need to know? No matter the work environment your dog will most likely need to know the basics: sit (especially when greeting others), “Watch me” (good for gaining his or her attention when needed) down-stay (while you have to actually work), and loose-leash walking (while you walk to and from and throughout the office and during various midday outings).

Train the Behavior Before You Need the Behavior

If your dog is already savvy at his or her canine behaviors for the office, I still recommend you practice, especially in new settings. As a matter of fact if you can do a dress rehearsal in your own office for a few minutes, it’ll make it easier on your dog (and you) when you are there the entire day.

If your dog is new to these adventures not to worry, you still have time to practice. To make it a successful journey you’ll want to practice the basics I’ve mentioned above for at least 3-5 minutes about three times a day. As I say to my own dog training students, “Train the behavior before you need the behavior!” Just like fire and earthquake drills, you’ll want to have practiced behavior “drills” with your dog before the big day!

Additional Ways to Celebrate Our Dogs and Promote Pet Adoption

What if you’re retired, work at home or aren’t allowed to bring your dog to work but you would like to help promote dog rescue and shelter adoption? A few ideas that can help you enjoy this day too.

  • You’re retired or work at home: If you have a well-mannered dog whose skills you’d like to show off, ask friends and family if you can bring your pooch to their office for a “meet and greet.” This is fun for you, your dog, as well as those you socialize with. It’s not called “pet therapy” for nothin’!
  • If dogs aren’t allowed in your workplace: You can bring photographs and/or video clips and share anecdotes about your dogs with coworkers.
  • You don’t have a dog but you want to help promote shelter adoptions: Take a field trip at lunch and visit your local animal shelter. You could find out more about volunteer programs, as well as adopting or fostering a dog of your own.

Whether your dog is already an employee of the month or still developing his or her good manners, it’s best to plan ahead! Developing a strategy to ensure success for you and your dog can not only help promote this event, but it just might enable you to bring your dog to work additional times. Sounds like the perfect situation to boost employee morale!

Counter Surfing: a great sport for dogs

I’ve received lots of questions from owners of inquisitive caninesabout “stealing” stuff off of counters and table tops… Hello? We’re dogs! These are some of our normal traits, and what makes us dogs in the first place…If you wanted a pet that didn’t do this, you should have considered getting a turtle or a fish… But, I’m glad to hear you adopted a dog…and I’m more than happy to provide some help.

Here are a few tips on dealing with us inquisitive canines and the sport of counter-surfing:

  • What dogs are: our doggy DNA says for us to scavenge, hunt, sniff, explore … That’s what we were born to do! Please remember this. The saying is “Release the hounds!” not “release the humans”!
  • Management: “Lead us not into temptation.” If you don’t want us to get to something, then put it away! After all, if it’s within reach, and appears interesting, we’re going to investigate! Us canines have been known to be impulsive and lack self-control. Please refrain from leaving things out, especially if you’re not going to keep an eye on us. And if you do, kindly have the integrity to take responsibility for it! (Maybe mom will blog about her latest visit to the Sees candy shop in Santa Barbara).
  • Play the exchange game, not the chase game: if we have something “illegal”, exchange it for something better – this way we’ll be happy to give it up, and not develop that other doggy hard-wired behavior of guarding our stuff! You don’t really like that one either… And for goodness sake, does chasing us really help matters? Or just turn it into a different game? A game most inquisitive canines love.
  • Provide Legal Outlets: make sure they’re items we like, not ones you think we should like. (Have you ever wanted to return a gift someone gave you?) As a bonus, reward us for making the right choice, this way, we’ll want to do that more often.
  • Teach us a special behavior: “Drop” comes in handy. You say “drop”, your dog lets go of the item, and you give them a treat … pretty simple. It’s just the reverse action of picking things up with our mouth…instead of retrieving we’re dropping something.

I used to counter-surf too…but mom and dad quickly figured out how to solve their problem. Bummer for me…I guess I trained them to pay attention. I wonder if the surf will ever be up for me again? Hmm, something for this inquisitive canine to ponder…