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Pack Them Up: Leaving Old Fashioned Dog World Words Behind

Pack Them Up: Leaving Old Fashioned Dog World Words Behind

There are a few words in the world of dogs that will incite an eye roll in many a modern dog behavior professional. Pack is among them, as is dominant, alpha, command and in many cases, obedience. Faces twist, sighs are emitted and words form in our heads that we struggle to keep unuttered. While it’s a frustrating feeling, taking the dog parenting public to task over these words is not helpful because they simply don’t know any better. Professionals in the world of positive rewards based training, however, should know better and as the compelling words of Maya Angelou suggest, when you know better, do better.

For the dog parenting public at large, education is key but endless. It is a subject that screams exhaustion to every trainer who has to continually bring the facts to the forefront. I am sure that I am not alone in wishing for a way that I can educate a huge amount of people at once so I don’t have to repeat myself so often I feel like a recording. I honestly don’t think I will see an end to the need to educate on this subject in my lifetime. And that makes me feel tired.

Graphic Dominant Pack Alpha Obedience Old School Command

The unfortunate fact that a self proclaimed dog trainer in the national spotlight sadly uses many of these terms makes it harder to make them go away. After all, if they are on TV, they are accurate, right? Nope. Said trainer in the national spotlight has literally no formal education in dog behavior. Furthermore, he failed a test for such in Germany when it was required for him to be able handle dogs in his show that had a tour stop in that country. A full education in dog behavior would erase those terms from the language of dog trainers when discussing the dogs they are attempting to help or even when referencing their own dogs.

I am sure that there are some people who although educated in this subject, simply stick to the words that they have always used. There cannot be any harm in that, can there? Yes, there actually can and is harm in that habit. Words decide how you feel about a subject. Words have great power. Words have strong associations that cannot be easily changed. Some words have been so poisoned with inappropriate meanings that they are better off left behind. Words that conjure a feeling that is no longer applicable, can and do give the wrong impression to those who know less on the subject, but are sponges looking to take in information. Making better and more modern choices with your words will create a kinder future for all dogs.

For example, dogs are not pack animals. That has been determined for many years now yet the number of people who still call their multiple dog household a pack is truly alarming. You are not a pack leader, you are a dog parent. You can also be the dog owner if you prefer a less relationship based term. The relationship that a dog parent/owner should aspire to is however similar to parenting. I have written at length on this subject so instead of reinventing the wheel, I give you links to previous works on that particular subject as well as a compelling study.

Parenting your dogs.
http://www.howmanydogs.com/2013/10/executive-decisions-why-do-you-have-to-parent-your-crew/

Dogs are not pack animals
New York Times: The Big Search to Find Out Where Dogs Come From

What is a leader.
http://www.howmanydogs.com/2012/03/leader-of-the-pack-there-are-leaders-and-then-there-are-leaders/

http://www.howmanydogs.com/2014/01/the-elephant-in-the-room-leadership-in-the-multiple-dog-household/

If you by some chance had a group of dogs trained to hunt together en masse, then you could technically refer to them as a pack when they are doing what they trained for. That is the only dictionary definition of the word pack that applies to dogs at all. Otherwise, choose a more accurate term. If you read my book, then you know that my preferred term is crew, as in crew member. We are all in this together and we all have a say. We work as a team. Family works as well. After all, that is what you consider them to be, correct?

As for the dominance debate, I have also addressed that before as well. It would again be a waste of time to rewrite the facts. You can read more on this subject here.
http://www.howmanydogs.com/2013/02/dominance-redux-words-and-consequences-aagain/

The term alpha is very much in the same category as dominance. However, far more people use that term than dominance simply because it’s just so sadly ingrained in the culture of dogs. But we are well past time to toss it to the curb with the others. It’s meaningless. Again, you are not an alpha, anymore than you are a pack leader. You are a parent/owner/team leader. Chose whatever compassionate and kind term you that most resonates with you. But you are NOT an alpha. There are no alphas in the dog world. More on that subject below.
http://www.whole-dog-journal.com/issues/14_12/features/Alpha-Dogs_20416-1.html

Another word that is still in use by some is the word command. I don’t know about you, but I don’t personally want a relationship with my dogs that involves commanding them to do anything. I call the term I use to signal my dogs to utilize a behavior, a cue. More on the inappropriate use of this word below.
http://www.howmanydogs.com/2012/11/command-performance-do-words-have-consequences/

And finally, the word that is very likely in use most frequently among even the most educated rewards based trainers is the term obedience. Unless you are actually competing in Obedience trials and are using that term to describe that activity, then toss this word aside PLEASE. Similar to the term command, obedience implies servitude. I don’t want a relationship based on servitude with anyone, especially my beloved dogs. I do, however, want my dogs to have manners so that is what I call them. Furthermore, when done correctly, you don’t have to use cues once manners are taught because you will have taught your dogs to make good choices about life’s moments. What could be easier than that? Imagine, not having to continually tell your dog what to do! More on this subject below.
http://www.howmanydogs.com/2011/09/to-cue-or-not-to-cue-manners-in-the-multiple-dog-household/

So let’s lead by example and toss antiquated terms to the curb. Choose words with their meaning based in the relationship centered world of modern dog behavior knowledge. Your dogs will thank you and you will leave a path of more knowledgeable and kinder-to-their-dogs people that you have influenced by your actions. Feel free to take the spaces below to tell me how you have moved beyond these old school terms.

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The Wanderers: Multiple Dog Traveling

The Wanderers: Multiple Dog Traveling

I made it a point to plan the vacation I have been dreaming of for so many years to help reboot my brain. This blog post is about that trip. I am actually wrote most of this from Lubec, Maine. We loved it there.

Planning a dog friendly vacation is far easier these days that it used to be. A quick search of lodging on BringFido.com revealed a number of dog friendly rentals in the area of Maine that I wanted to visit. The first one that I emailed responded quickly and arrangements were made for the dates that I wanted. I don’t recall much in other areas of my life being that easy. This felt like it was meant to be.

Next up however, a sudden roof leak that scared me silly, thinking there goes my vacation money. But a seriously affordable estimate lifted my spirits. Vacation planning resumed. Driving nearly 1000 miles one way with two dogs is a serious matter. I wanted my car to be as safe as possible so I had some maintenance things done in advance of their need. We headed out with new brakes all around and fresh fluids. I even cleaned my vehicle thoroughly though that was a moot point when traveling that far with a hairy dog of Kenzo’s size.

Kenzo and Trent at West Quoddy Head Lighthouse Park, Lubec, Maine.

Kenzo and Trent at West Quoddy Head Lighthouse Park, Lubec, Maine.

Luggage was gathered and meals for the dogs were planned. I feed raw and we were planning on visiting a very small town. I could not take the chance of running out where we were away. I thawed all of our 5# bags of their ground raw and repacked them in empty yogurt containers and refroze them. I planned to pack them all into a cooler for travel. It was the largest item that I would be taking in my vehicle. It was space well used. I ended up planning the portions perfectly.

I carefully planned placement of everything I was taking. My Nissan Murano is too small for crates for my dogs and my dogs are never crated anymore anyway. Crating in the car would have caused them additional stress. But I wanted them to be as safe as possible should the unthinkable happen. My solution was a leather leash attached to the hand straps above each back door with those leashes in turn attached to the front circle on their front clip harness. I realize that this isn’t ideal as far as safety goes but in the event that we are hit and a door comes open, they are still attached to the car rather than running in traffic. On long trips I drive super carefully and take zero chances with my dog’s lives. Getting there is more important than getting there fast.

Since it was nearly 1000 miles from my home to Lubec, Maine where we visited, I planned a stop over for sleeping at about the half way point. I was assured via Facebook that a dog friendly choice close to a major highway would be fairly easy and it was. Right where I wanted to stop and rest was a Motel 6, very dog friendly and very affordable and at that location, individual entry to each outdoor accessed room. Exactly what I wanted. A tip when you travel with dogs and choose a motel with more than one floor; specifically ask for the main floor as the stairs are not only usually metal, they are open backed. The combination of those two gave Kenzo enough pause that I actually tried to cancel our already paid for room to avoid more stress for him. But the clerk magically found a ground floor room and we gratefully took it.

A word about stressed dogs when traveling. If your dogs typically love riding in the car, it’s no guarantee that a long trip will go just as smoothly. My dogs are in the car every single day. There has never been a hint of stress from Kenzo over car rides. He normally loves them as they not only serve to take him somewhere he deems fun but they also function as a portable crate that allow him and Trent to go with me to many places that I need to run errands to, weather permitting. On a regular basis, we travel about an hour north to a state park with a lake that my dogs adore. It never entered my mind that this trip would be stressful on my boys. But stressful it was to Kenzo. With few exceptions, he spent the majority of the time in the car on the way to Maine in the spot on the floor behind my seat. I am short so that spot is wide but it would have been far more comfortable for him to simply lay down on the folded over back seats and cargo area like he usually does. I would have done anything to help him feel better.

I brought calming flower essences, calming essential oils and I talked to him and played mostly soothing music when I could. I stopped every three hours at minimum to let them stretch their legs and potty and sometimes more frequently. But I seriously considered calling my vet for a Xanax for the way back. I had hoped that eventually finding out that we were headed somewhere fun would allay his fears. The trip back did seem to stress him less but I still should have called for that Xanax.

A severe rainstorm at dusk while driving on Connecticut highways caused him (and me!) more stress and we had a heck of a time finding a place to sleep that day. I ended up at a wonderful Motel 6 after 9PM, that did not have outdoor access rooms. However, a tearful call on my part while sitting outside in my car resulted in the night desk-person offering me of a room right next to the lobby with easy outside access. There are not enough words to describe how grateful I was for that angel in disguise. We were finally able to relax and awake with renewed enthusiasm to the balance of the drive home.

I did discover that Trent is an adventurer. He clearly enjoyed all aspects of this trip. Even during the car ride, he watched the scenery with a relaxed smile most of the time. Kenzo loves the smells of any new area and was definitely happier every time we stopped on the way here. After our arrival at the cottage that I rented, he was delighted. We did twice daily jaunts around the area since every day but one when it rained all day after out morning hike. They both loved these adventures. This fact made my heart soar.

On the chance that some things that I chose to do in the name of safety while traveling with dogs can help someone else, here are they are. My dogs have a great “Wait” cue so that gets used every single time I open a door, be it the door to the cottage or the door to the car. They don’t go through doorways until I release them. It doesn’t matter in the least who goes through a doorway first. What matters is that they wait until I cue them to move forward. There are few behaviors more important to teach your dogs than this one.

The cottage that we rented had a yard that wasn’t fenced. My dogs are on leash at all times without secure fencing, aside from a couple of specific secluded locations close to home. I place my arm through the leash loop for both dogs. I would far rather face-plant in the event of a sudden tug from one of them or trip on my part, than lose my precious dogs. Especially away from home.

I already mentioned my makeshift car safety precautions, but there are better options depending on your vehicle. Mine isn’t suited to regular dog car seat belts and Kenzo’s size make that solution impractical anyway. At rest stops, I parked as far away from other cars as possible. When there were other travelers with dogs on potty breaks, I waited until they were done before taking my dogs to the dog potty area. I figured that it was a safer option in case both parties were stressed. At one glorious rest stop in Massachusetts, there was a fenced in doggy potty area. My heart be still! What a treasure to find. Keeping my dogs safe is my number one priority.

Maine’s coastal trails have some serious cliffs and we hiked those trails. I am a little weird about heights so I was even more anally careful on these hikes. I kept them closer to the landlocked portion of the trail. I also asked for a sit whenever I needed to orient myself to our location in order to avoid being unexpectedly pulled too close to a rocky cliff.

As mentioned, I made sure that I brought their usual diet with me. I also brought my own homemade treats as well as my bait-bag and all accoutrements that go with that. I kept to our usual schedule albeit with many more physically challenging outings than usual. My dogs, however, welcomed those outings. I would not have subjected them to extra physical activity if it stressed them. I also brought their usual chew items with me and they had one each night as it typical at home.

The only thing that we did a bit differently than a home was an earlier to bed and earlier to ride schedule because we did not want to miss anything during daylight. Being the eastern most portion of the United States, it gets darker earlier, even with daylight savings time still in effect at that time. Sunset was about 5:15AM every day and sunrise about 6:45AM. I wanted to experience all that we could while there.

Traveling with your crew can be very rewarding. I highly recommend it. Planning everything down to the last detail possible takes as much stress away from it as can be done. Get out there with your crew and the road! Have fun but be safe!

Feel free to take the spaces below to share any adventure stories of your own.

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From the Frying Pan to the Fire: Adding a Dog When Your Current Dog Has Issues

From the Frying Pan to the Fire: Adding a Dog When Your Current Dog Has Issues

Let’s say for the sake of argument that you have a human child who is difficult, with a personality disorder that needs professionally addressed. Yet you haven’t had the heart to take that step. Your child is antisocial towards everyone but your own family, and at times even them. He is disruptive in school, openly hostile and pro-active about avoiding interactions and generally challenges any form of authority. Would you think it a good idea to suddenly decide to adopt another younger child to shower with affection? Would you expect the interactions of the new child and the troubled child to go smoothly?

Strangely, many people do exactly the canine equivalent of this. They are then vastly surprised that they have a problem on their hands. The expectation is that if you have two of the same species in the house, they should automatically get along. Why? All humans don’t get along. It would of course be great if that were the case, but humanity has a long way to go before we get to that point.

No one understands more than I do the temptation to add another canine to one’s household. But even I did not reach this point without planning. My last “singleton” dog was adamant about remaining a singleton. I tried but at that stage of my training life, I was not skilled enough to “fix” her. Layla’s behavior near other dogs was fine. I “fixed” that very easily. She simply did not want to share her space with another canine and I respected that. She had no other issues. She was a delightful and charming dog, enchanting every human she met. Everyone loved her and she them.

Adding another canine to a household with a dog who not only dislikes other dogs but also most humans is a huge task to take on. Changing the behavior won’t happen overnight. There are no magic wands. Consistency and dare I say the word, leadership, are important. Because of my specialty, I get requests to help with such situations to varying degrees. I believe being truthful is important to achieving success. All family members must be on board in order for changes to take place. Realistic expectations are crucial and patience is key.

Teach delivers a correction to Tucker.

Teach delivers a correction to Tucker.

Managing the environment and setting each dog up for success is important. I often get asked, “How do I stop so and so from annoying so and so?” Easy, don’t let him in the first place. Setting up your household for success so that each dog feels safe and secure is important to success. Safety is high on the hierarchy of needs. Anxiety is off the charts without safety. The humans are in charge of safety. The dogs need structure, guidelines and safety. Rewarding for appropriate choices and providing an incentive for such will teach impulse control.

My job would be so much easier if simply integrating the dogs was my only requested task. Yet in so many of these cases, the resident dog in question dislikes all human strangers so that has to be addressed before I can even attend to fixing the dog/dog situation. I do have to get access to the inside of the house, after all!

In the worst scenarios, the owners have waited until the now larger and more confident dog has gotten fed up with the corrections he or she has endured at the paws of the older dog and has started to fight back. Get help before this point, please! Better yet, address your older dog’s issues FIRST, before you add gasoline to your fire. The amount of work that needs done once the deed is done is more than most people want to deal with. So do yourself a favor and think of what the resident dog needs rather than what you want.

If you lived through such a scenario, feel free to tell us all about it in the spaces below.

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Great Expectations: Life Will Roll You on a Regular Basis

Great Expectations: Life Will Roll You on a Regular Basis

Things are running smoothly in your multiple dog household so you let your guard down and assume you now have a cake walk. Until one day you don’t and you are at the vet’s office with one of your crew. What happened, you wonder? Everything was fine, you muse. Well, you are right and you are wrong.

Life happens. Really. Google trigger stacking and you will get several wonderful articles by several wonderful trainers who will explain the dog version of a bad day. This equals “stuff” happens. Exchange the word “stuff” with what many of us say when something goes awry and you get the picture. Nothing is continually perfect. We all fluctuate with our moods and our tolerance levels. That is a perfectly normal occurrence.

Does that mean that the multiple dog parents can never relax? Of course not, But it does mean that you have to be skilled observers. This should be second nature with a multiple dog household. Nipping a problem in the bud early on will help things to be far more fixable than waiting until that vet visit is a reality.

Exciting situations are one of the triggers for conflict between housemates where there usually is none.

Exciting situations are one of the triggers for conflict between housemates where there usually is none.

Several stressors in any given day can cause a shorter fuse in a dog than he or she would normally possess. This can include many things, among them not feeling 100% up to par, not getting enough exercise or mental stimulation that day, not getting something expected that day, there are just so many variables. Even atmospheric conditions make a difference such as barometric pressure, temperature, moon phases, solar flares, etc. It all adds up.

We all have scenarios that cause us to have shorter fuse than usual. Dogs are no different. Expecting our canine friends to have the same mood day in and day out is as unrealistic as assuming you will have the same mood on a daily basis.

Nothing comes out of the blue. I hear that periodically. “There was no warning”. There is ALWAYS warning. It’s usually unseen except in the parts of the mind where the conscious mind doesn’t allow it to come to a full surface thought. And then it happens. Unfortunately it usually coincides with the dog version of a bad day. The perfect storm. The straw that broke the camel’s back. Choose your phrase.

What does this all have to do with preventing chaos? Easy, pay attention on a daily basis and your perfect storm trigger stacking days will be far less of an issue than they could be. It’s all about being present in the moment. Watch your crew for questions. Watch your crew for signs of needing assistance. Watch your crew for anything that feels off. Don’t expect perfection because they are great most of the time. Life is fluid. Life is motion. To be stagnant is not something that you should aspire to. But the more in the moment that you are with your crew to prevent problems, on a regular basis, the more that you can relax in the future in the knowledge that they know you are present and there for them.

Feel free to explain your in the moment skills with your crew in the spaces below.

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Mythbusters, the Dog Training Edition: “Some Breeds Need a Firmer Hand”

Mythbusters, the Dog Training Edition: “Some Breeds Need a Firmer Hand”

Breed specific enthusiasts can have a narrow view on some aspects of their chosen breed. This is not limited to any one breed. I see it among many breed enthusiasts. Everyone wants to believe that their breed is more special than any other breed. So they say things like the above phrase to set their breed apart and in doing so, themselves as well. After all, they can handle this breed so they must be special too.

In truth, all dogs are special. There no need to make any one breed seem tougher than any other breed. To do so invites abuse of that breed in the name of training. This is unnecessary at best. It is a crime at worst.

Behavior is behavior. Modifying a behavior can be done with reward based methods regardless of the breed. Breed only matters in knowing where some behaviors come from and in how to redirect them more effectively. Of course plenty of breeds were bred for a certain job. Knowing what that job is and how certain behaviors fit into a breed trait are important considerations for behavior consultants. But that doesn’t change the methodology that one should use to modify errant behaviors that are unwelcome. There are plenty of choices on how to implement reward based behavior modification.

No force is needed to handle these two Cane Corsos.

No force is needed to handle these two Cane Corsos.

In fact, using punitive methods on strong confident breeds can create a time bomb waiting to go off. At some point, said strong confident breed will get sick of being forced and choose to fight back. Is this the kind of relationship that you want to create with your dogs? I sure don’t. All of my confident breeds have flourished when I finally got a clue with how to inspire them effectively.

Status breeds can often the choice of some people who want to use the perceived status of their dog to elevate how they are viewed by the world at large. Being able to “control” such a “tough” dog makes them tough. So they use methods popularized by a certain TV “trainer” with little background in dog behavior. These old fashioned methods have proven to be detrimental to having a trust based relationship with one’s dog. They also often create more aggression and a defensive state of existing in the dogs in question.

Among the fallacies I have heard are that Pit Bulls have necks so strong that they can’t feel prong collars and their jaws lock so that you have to be forceful with them in order to prevent that. Of course this kind of false information creates an adversarial situation with a breed already in a precarious position in the public eye right now. The truth is that this is one of the breeds that is the softest with humans. They are eager to please and take to reward based training very quickly. Thankfully most Pit Bull rescue and advocacy groups operate with modern methods these days, although sadly not all do. Do your research before supporting Pit Bull rescue and choose the ones who choose to train with their brains. Without that reassurance, you can inadvertently support very old fashioned methods that rely in abuse and call it training.

Dobermans and Rottweilers are two more breeds where you often see a heavy slant towards the old fashioned methods among their fanciers. Progressive owners choose positive methods because they work better without a need for manhandling one’s dog. Merlin introduced me to the Doberman world and fortunately for him, I wound up on the path to reward based training. I wish I could say the same for most Doberman fans.

Fortunately for Caucasian Ovcharkas, Kenzo’s breed, the original breeder in this country who wrote the book on the breed, was ahead of her time. Reward based training and even capturing, is mentioned in her book on the breed. Unheard of that decade, this is a boon to the breed. This breed tends to be the picture that shows up on the internet if you google aggressive dogs. Large and powerful, yet perfectly trainable with reward based training, once again.

The same is true of all breeds. Behavior is behavior. Expecting to have to be forceful with your chosen breed sets up an adversarial relationship from the start. This causes defensive behavior on the part of the dog and resentful behavior on the part of the human. If you choose to see believe that you have to use a hammer, you will see everything as a nail. Build a relationship, not a battle. If you have a breed perceived as “tough”, feel free share your reward based training path in the spaces below.

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Puzzle Pieces: Choosing The Right Dog To Fit Your Lifestyle

Puzzle Pieces: Choosing The Right Dog To Fit Your Lifestyle

A Westminster breed win causes the winning breed’s lovers to cringe for their breed. So can movies made about a particular breed. Dalmatians, Siberian Huskies and Chihuahuas to name a few, have already suffered through this fate. Backyard breeders pop up like weeds and rescues will be overflowing in the not too distant future. The same thing can happen when a particular breed is featured on the cover of a popular non-dog related national magazine. This recently happened with the Belgian Malinois.

It is especially harmful to a breed when the reputation is what can be seen as “bad ass” for lack of a better term. I imagine that the millions of Pit Bulls that have lost their lives for varying reasons because of what has been done to them via public perception would have preferred to avoid the “bad ass” persona. Unlike the majority of breeds that perform a job for humans, Pit Bulls actually do make great family dogs in most cases.

The same cannot be said of a Malinois. Or a working line Border Collie. Or an Australian Cattle Dog. Or so many other breeds that need a job in order to remain sane. Think of them as Type A dogs. Type A dogs are very much like your Type A friends who cannot sit still and relax unless exhausted. And even then, they struggle with this thing called the off switch. I know this. I am a Type A person.

Type A dogs need a job. Seriously, we are not talking just part of the day. We are talking most of the time. Dogs like this need almost constant mental stimulation or they will make their own and you may not agree with their interpretation of said mental stimulation.

So when a Type A dog breed suddenly becomes popular, people who are not planning on working their dog many hours a day decide to get the latest “cool” dog breed. While in a few cases, this will create a new fanatic of said breed, dedicated to their dog’s emotional stability, in most cases this ends up on the opposite end of that spectrum.

Typical of happens when Siberian Huskies -- or other Type A breeds -- aren't kept busy.

Typical of happens when Siberian Huskies — or other Type A breeds — aren’t kept busy.

The best way to prevent this scenario is to research, research and then research again when you plan on adding to your current crew. Areas of consideration include your lifestyle and your available time, your current crew’s tolerance level and likes and dislikes among other canines, your available finances and what a new addition would require, your available space and what your considered breed requires and even your plans for the future and whether an addition fits with them.

I am sure that I am preaching to the choir with my readers, but dogs are not fads nor are the meant to be disposable. They should be a lifetime (of the dog) commitment. Careful consideration that you have the right situation for the breed that you lust after is important to future happiness for everyone involved in the decision. Adopting or purchasing a puppy, especially a backyard bred version, of a Type A dog without having all the puzzle pieces in place will be a disaster in the making. Save yourself some angst and spend quality time matching your lifestyle and your current crew to what fits best, rather than basing your decision on the cool factor or an attractive face. That doesn’t work well for human pairings, it doesn’t work any better for choosing the canines in your life!

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Graduation Day: Kenzo Transitions Out of the Crate

Graduation Day: Kenzo Transitions Out of the Crate

Today we folded up the crate and put it away. This was by no means an overnight decision. It has been on my mind but I had not taken any steps to start the process until a month or so ago. That was when Kenzo put his big boy pants on in a manner of speaking. He turned two years old. Coincidently he chose this same time frame to start protesting being crated when I left the house long enough for clients.

The routine up until this time had always been that Siri and Trent were loose in my bedroom and Kenzo was crated in the same room with that door closed. I have long since considered my bedroom the quietest and calmest seeming room in my house. Living in the city with guarding and guardian breeds meant that I tried very hard to reduce their need to feel that they had to guard the homestead while I was out. The bedroom has always been the logical choice to avoid the majority of the sounds of activity in my neighborhood.

Before Kenzo, Merlin, Kera Siri and Trent were loose together in that room for most of their life together when home alone. When Trent initially joined us, he was crated in that room until I was comfortable with their interactions.

For about the past year when I only planned on being gone an hour or two locally, I often left them all loose with the run of the entire house. I initially started that process with quick trips to the store down the street and progressed from there. That set up always went well, but my thoughts on that were that because they had the entire house to move around in, they were less likely to have any bad interactions between them. Kenzo would never harm Siri and vice versa but Trent is insecure and I wasn’t sure whether I was comfortable with them in less space when alone yet.

Trent likes to hang out upstairs a lot and Siri and Kenzo hang out in the kitchen unless we are all in the living room or bedroom. But when Kenzo initially refused to go into the crate after smacking himself in the bum with the crate door accidentally as I was leaving for a client, I was unsure how to handle it. He spooks easily about things like that and I knew he wasn’t going back in without some work on my part that I did not have time for at that very moment. So I settled on the whole house set up for the first couple of days. On day three, he again went into the crate but day four he said no again.

Day four gave me a new set up to try that I had been mulling over for several months. I left them all loose with access to both upstairs bedrooms and baby gated the top of the stairs. This solved the problem of the too close of quarters in the one bedroom for three dogs, with one male being twice the size of the other. And it also solved the problem of potential activity on my back porch where the mail and packages would be delivered, causing a need to guard the castle.

Kenzo in the spare bedroom with his Kong

Kenzo in the spare bedroom with his Kong

Kenzo automatically went into the spare bedroom to get his Kong as this is where he usually laid down while I showered. I gave the other two their Kongs in their usual spots. I had already set up another water bowl in the spare bedroom. I sprayed calming lavender essential oils and left many of Kenzo’s favorite toys and antlers out. The only thing that I worried about was Kenzo knocking the baby gate down to go downstairs. I needn’t have worried about that. Kenzo respects barriers. He also spooks easily about things such as that and if he had knocked the gate over, he would have steered clear of it and stayed upstairs.

So now we have a new routine and Kenzo no longer heads upstairs with reluctance when it’s clear I am heading out for a bit. They are calm and happy and this makes me happy. So the message here is integrating can happen easily if you take it step by step. Trust is earned. Good interactions between your crew members are crucial for such a step. Your crew must have some manners between one another before even considering something like this. Impulse control is key. As is trusting your instincts. Some households may never have the dogs loose together when home alone and that is okay. Do what is right for your own situation and you cannot go wrong.

Take a moment below to share how you handle your crew’s home alone set up.

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Saving Them All: At What Cost?

Saving Them All: At What Cost?

No Kill. This is a buzzword in the rescue and shelter community. But to the majority of said community, it is an offensive term. The use of this term implies that all else but no-kill aficionados are to be scorned. No one wants euthanasia. But the sad reality is that it’s not possible to save them all responsibly.

The above paragraph will cause a huge uproar among some rescue circles. But not the responsible ones. Don’t misunderstand me. All lives are worthwhile. But there are worse fates than euthanasia. Warehousing is sadly common among the save them all fans. What does warehousing mean? Unfortunately, it entails keeping animals technically alive but with little regard to quality of life. This can include crating or kenneling for long periods without human interaction and without enrichment. Endless hours without physical exercise or mental stimulation is not healthy for any living being. Why would it be okay for an animal? Is alive really better in this circumstance? Would the animal experiencing this agree with the no kill crowd if asked? I tend to doubt it.

Picture of dogs inside a shelterYet there are “rescuers” who only care about whether a dog is alive. They consider this a win. Dog after dogs are taken in by some rescues, into foster homes that already have too many to meet all their needs. Dogs are crated, with little interaction and exercise. Their emotional and physical needs are only marginally met. They spend long hours with little to do. In other scenarios, they are placed into any home that offers, with little to no screening to determine suitability. These homes often are fickle in their preferences and when the dog isn’t perfect, the dog is given up for the next “save”. These dogs go from home to home, often being given away with no regard to where. The emotional toll this takes on an animal can be permanently damaging. The lucky ones find a place that is home for life, hopefully a home that is good to them. The unlucky ones are victims of abuse and neglect, worse off than their life wherever they started from.

Rescue can be an addiction, like so many other addictions that cause the people acting on them to feel good when they “win”. Numbers are more important than quality. The need is for self approval and self importance, not the improvement of a dog’s life. Rescuers patting themselves on the back, the worse the story, the more attention they get for the “save”. Then the “saved” dogs get shipped off to some foster home that is no better than a warehouse and the hell begins.

I am truly sorry if this comes off as cynical but it’s a sad reality for so many more than it should be. This doesn’t mean that the most shared stories of dogs in dire straits are bad rescuers. Each situation is individual and most rescues who take in dogs who were victims of terrible circumstances are just trying to do a good thing. But there are many others who are looking for their 15 minutes, less about the dog, more about them.

These are the same individuals and groups who think every dog can be saved, no matter the cost to the rescue, the community and the other dogs who will die because of the effort to save one. Let me preface this by saying that I will be the first one to offer to help when a dog with a committed family wants to fix his or her issues. A committed family willing to implement proper management and behavior modification in order to make things safer for the community and their dog is to be commended.

The same type of issue in a dog who is available for adoption is not going to be as workable in many scenarios. Consistency makes for a successful outcome. Consistency is often lacking in rescues and shelters when the issue is severe. Situations such as severe stranger aggression or severe dog aggression pose a danger to so many. Placing a dog who has already killed another dog and attacked others leaves a very small and unrealistic criteria for a successful adoption. Yet there are people who rally for dogs like this to be shipped to some imaginary location where they can be fixed fast.

I hear these “rescuers” say that human errors caused the dog’s issues. They did indeed but we are not placing dogs with aliens. Until we accept that we are all humans and capable of these errors and stuff happens, then we will continue to make mistakes. These mistakes mean that we place dogs who are simply not fixable in the situations they are in, into a household unequipped to handle them.

I see post after post on Facebook about dogs that “need some work”, just needing a place they can go with no other dogs, no cats, no kids, no men, etc. I see post after post about dogs that need to “live with a single woman who never has visitors”. Sure, these homes exist but they are few and far between and they are the ones who already have that dog. There are people taking in dogs like this who have other dogs, who crate and rotate dogs in different parts of the house. This is a very stressful way to live. Accidents happen. They really do. Humans will be human. And then we are back to the lack of appropriate enrichment for the dog with the issue and once again, quality of life rears it’s ugly head.

Lest you declare me the Hitler of dogs, I am wholeheartedly supportive of proper attempts at behavior modification with the appropriate commitment level, with the dogs that fit these descriptions. If there is a place where this can happen and given the proper attention, then everyone deserves a chance. But here is where the attention to common sense and reality must come into play. If you have done everything that could be done and the dog you are trying to help is not improving, despite appropriate attempts at behavior modification, medication, vet screenings for organic causes and people and/or animals in your care have been injured, then you owe it to those people and other animals to take a long hard look at the situation. No one should be pressured to not give up just because others don’t share their own common sense. Pressure from others to “try just one more thing” causes guilt on the part of the person trying to help. That is hardly helpful.

Every life is worth putting an effort to save. But an effort should not involve placing so many others in danger in any given foster home or the public at large. It also should not be mean that perfectly lovely dogs with wonderful temperaments in overcrowded shelters be placed in danger of euthanasia simply because of space. What about their right to being saved? I realize that this is an extremely controversial subject and emotions run very high on both sides. But we all need to stop and realize just how many good dogs are dying because of our choices. We need to consider quality of life and not just being alive.

Everyone has different personal beliefs about life after we leave this earth. I don’t expect anyone else to agree with mine. But mine are that this is only but one realm of our existence and that nothing is to be feared about leaving this realm. I believe that leaving this realm doesn’t mean an end to consciousness. Perhaps that helps me make hard decisions easier than some who don’t share this belief. In any case, I believe we have an obligation to the animals in our care to do the best that we can by them while we are with them and that includes letting go when we should. Peace to you all in your own decisions on this subject. Feel free to share your thoughts on this subject in the spaces below but I ask that you please keep it classy.

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The Elephant in the Room: Leadership in the Multiple Dog Household

The word leadership has become such a dirty word in the more progressive circles of dog training. Oh, don’t get me wrong, many qualified dog behavior specialists believe in and advise clients to establish good leadership but usually not with that word. The stigma of a certain TV trainer’s bad advice leads us all to tread lightly where this subject is concerned. So we call it parenting, guiding, coaching, anything but leading. The fear is so great that a mile will be taken when an inch is intended. We have good reason to worry, to be sure. I don’t even pass out my own handout on benevolent leadership anymore. And that theory took center stage in my book.

leadership used correctly in training multiple dogs

But the fact remains that actually IS leadership. Good leaders are not scary. They are approachable and friendly and provide safety and security. What’s to be afraid of there? Did you ever have a teacher that you looked up to or were/are you friends with one or both of your parents? That means do you look to them for guidance but also share your fears and successes with them? This is what leadership is about. Providing advice, guidelines, structure and when needed, kindly but firmly pointing you in right direction. Real leaders are never scary or never harmful. Real leaders always lead with love and respect for who you are. This kind of leadership allows the ones being led to spread their wings and find their own niche and make their own choices, always being rewarded for the right choices. Having consequences for the wrong choices as needed, never scary.

My friend, Rachel, recently described a book that she bought on human parenting called Scream Free Parenting. This is a perfect analogy for being your dog crew’s leader. Scream free, force free. But make no mistake, parenting still requires you to be the leader, human or canine kids alike.

Which brings me to the point of this blog post. Leadership is the number one necessity in a multiple dog household with strong canine personalities. There is no getting around that. That IS the elephant in the room training world. It MUST not be forgotten. It must not be swept under the proverbial rug.

You certainly need training and manners and all that entails. But you need leadership first and foremost. So much of what I do on a daily basis could have been unnecessary with proper leadership from day one. Many of my readers are not human parents. Neither am I but if you have siblings that you possibly did not get along with all the time, maybe this analogy will help. You don’t have to like someone to live with them peacefully. But if you respect the leader of the household and feel safe from harm and all your basic needs are met otherwise, you can stand living with someone you may not enjoy. Sound familiar?

That is why leadership is important in blended households and that is exactly what a multiple dog household often is. Without leadership and manners, things can progress to such a point that takes a huge amount of management, structure and work to fix. Multiple dog household issues run the range of easily fixed with simple tweaks such as adding some leadership to all out dangerous fights on a regular basis where leadership is only the first step. While the latter is unlikely to be fixed when allowed to fester for long periods of time before a professional is called in, some sort of progress can be made in any situation provided the humans are capable of handling the situation.

And this is where leadership comes in. Now a comment that may cause some to get the flamethrowers out: I use body language a lot in multiple dog issues. Heck, I use it with single dog households too. Dogs understand body language far faster than words that we throw at them without applying meaning. I don’t use physical corrections or fear for training or management. But I do use body blocks, parental style stances and disapproving looks when appropriate and necessary. And in a multiple dog household, body blocks are something that can be needed on a frequent basis when conflict is happening. It certainly can be used in an intimidating way as evidenced by that same aforementioned TV trainer. But that isn’t how I use it or teach others to use it. The goal here is to establish that the human is the go to for conflict resolution and safety. The dogs don’t need to handle those things.

Which brings us to the subject of safety. Safety is crucial for all living beings. It’s high up on the pyramid of needs. Take care of that and you can take care of everything that occurs from the lack of safety. So now all that body language that cues the crew to look to you for safety and conflict resolution makes so much more sense than having no consequences for trying to incite conflict. Doesn’t it? Body blocking and splitting on the part of the human is crucial to a harmonious existence in some multiple dog households. I say some because I have seen other trainers say that they never need to use body blocking. They clearly are not working with confident dogs existing together in a conflict riddled household. My goal is as little re-homing as possible when possible.

And just as I would never use a body block with timid dogs who have no need of such a move, I would not dream of not using them in households with dog(s) confident enough to not wilt from such a thing. Establishing or repairing a relationship between the dogs and the humans helps this go smoothly. Keep the safety part in mind. That is what this is all about for all involved.

Body language establishes boundaries that dogs understood very easily. Just as good parents provide non-scary consequences for children who flout boundaries, dog parents need to do the same. Doing so provides safety for the one(s) targeted by the bullies, just as with children. Positive never should over permissive. That helps no one, least of all the one(s) with loose boundaries.

I could go on perhaps endlessly on this subject. But in closing, I will allow those who offered me their thoughts on this subject to have their say. Here are their definitions of leadership, though most use a different word to name it. Please feel free t share your own thoughts on this subject in the spaces below as well. But play nice, we are all in this for the sake of the dogs.

From Inna, a trainer in New York City:
With clients I use the term caretaker along with words such as clear guidance and well defined structure. I don’t use words like leader because I don’t want them to associate leader with “Pack leader”. I talk to clients about how important it is for them to help their dogs become the best companions they can be through clear, non violent communication & training.

From Helen, a trainer in Greece:
I consider myself as a parent and friend to my dogs…My role is to protect them, to care for their well being(physical and mental), to guide and educate them, to help them cope with things in life, to love and respect them!

From Jeff, a multiple dog parent in Ohio:
I’d like to think my relationship with my dogs is more of a partnership than anything though. We do this…together. I think it’s how Preston, the girls and I forged the kind of relationship we have. I trust them, and they trust me…therefore they typically do what I ask. Hopefully that makes sense.

From Crystal, a trainer in Indiana, PA:
I do not use the term leader with my clients usually because the word has been poisoned by “dominance” trainers but I use teacher or parent. We protect, we teach, we give them self-sufficiency. Yes, we must have discipline but that means establishing guidelines, not punishing them for our unrealistic expectations. We need to show them that we are steady and reliable, a positive influence in their lives, where to turn when they don’t know what to do. They are foreigners in a world of rules and language that doesn’t make sense to them and we are their guide. Our relationship is like a trust fall, and it is our job to catch them. Every. Time.

From Renee, a trainer in Johnstown, PA:
I use the wording positive leadership with my clients. I was hesitant at first to use the word leadership due to, well we all know why, but I decided to use it to teach a different definition of leadership to pet dog owners than the one they already might know of.

From Andrew, a trainer in Morgantown, WV:
I strive to give my dogs as much freedom of choice as possible, so long as their decisions do not have the potential to harm themselves or others. I foster and encourage appropriate decisions very early on so I have to do very little “active leading” or managing later on. Of course, how much freedom you can give any individual dogs varies, and some dogs prefer more active direction. …I guess I play the role of a cooperative partner…Partnership is the word that comes to mind. Leadership is certainly a component, but I have no problem allowing the dog to take the wheel either. And some situations require active direction, of course.

From Dawn, a trainer in Hawaii:
I don’t give it a label with clients.. I tell people that class is about teaching them to communicate with their dogs and have a relationship. leader/alpha etc. never even comes up. .. I guess even with non parents (before I was a mom still considered myself a dog parent) you can still have them relate to their own parents…… how their parents had rules/structure, etc to keep them safe. or maybe a ‘teacher’. But on the flip side sometimes people need to imagine themselves as a leader in order to understand how to create structure…

From Sue, a multiple dog parent in Georgia:
If I have to put any label on it at all, I’m my dogs’ parent….I have 6 dogs, we still have structure and rules and they look to me for things (to get toys out from under the sofa mostly) and I assume that is true for the way multi-kid families are–I don’t have furless children.

From Karla, a trainer in Virginia:
I am a leader if I have a follower. If I reinforce my dogs engagement with me, he pays attention to my movement, he follows me with his eyes and ears. And if he sees an opportunity for engagement with me, an opportunity for reinforcement, he follows. At those times, I am a leader.

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Sweet Dreams are Made of These: Should Your Crew Sleep With You?

Sweet Dreams are Made of These: Should Your Crew Sleep With You?

If I had a dollar for every time a client apologized before telling me that their dog(s) sleep with them, I could have retired by now. Old school style training dictated that dogs not be allowed on raised surfaces or they would consider themselves of equal or higher status than their “masters”. Hogwash.

The only time sleeping in the human bed is advised against is if there are guarding issues of some sort. Guarding, in this case, can pertain to the space on the bed. Guarding from the humans is a biggie that needs addressed in person with a qualified behavior consultant. Guarding from other canines or even felines is also an issue that needs addressed with a professional. But overall, that provides less of a threat to the humans, aside from breaking up a fight that is. I am obviously not going to give advice on these issues here. On the spot assistance is what you need if these issues ring a bell.

Aside from the previously mentioned red flags, sharing the bed is fine if that is what you wish to do. Of course, if you don’t wish to share your bed with your dogs, I am not here to say you must or your dogs will suffer. What I will share with you is this: dogs feel so much safer being permitted to sleep in the vicinity of their human family members. It doesn’t matter whether it’s on your bed or in their own bed in your room or that of another family member. Even being permitted to be on the same floor as the sleeping area is better than not.

Safety: we have discussed that here before. Safety is a crucial feeling to all sentient creatures. Safety is vital to survival. Safety provides emotional and physical security. The amount of stress a lack of safety adds to an emotional state cannot be overstated.

The Author's 3 dogs are very comfortable on the bed.Familial bonding is another often overlooked facet of this scenario. For example, most households have some sort of regular weekday work or school schedule that prevents a lot of bonding and togetherness during the workweek, whether that be weekdays or just several days strung together where the canines in the family get less interaction than they need for emotional stability. Consider then that the dogs in the home may sleep separately from the humans and you have very little togetherness going on.

The easiest way that involves very little effort once established is to permit your crew to sleep in the vicinity of the humans they care for. It involves little effort once you get past the novelty, if you are new to this. And it rewarding for all involved.

I often get quizzed on why dogs who don’t sleep near their humans are so needy on workday evenings. The answer is that they spend so little time together on these days. Sleeping in the same area is an easy way to remedy that situation. Less neediness on the dogs side, more peace on both sides.

What if you have allergies? Well, some of you are not going to like my answer on that but here goes. Allergies are over-exaggerated in my opinion. I am allergic to just about everything including dogs. So my take on that is if you are able to have and love on your dog, you are able to sleep in the same room as your dog. Just limit them to their own beds rather than yours.

So what if you don’t have room for all your dogs in your bed or even your room? After all, if you are reading this, you are very likely a multiple dog household of some quantity and not all households have human beds big enough for the humans and all the canines! So the solution to that is providing plenty of comfy sleeping surfaces and options for all dogs who reside there. If there is sufficient room in the bedroom, then place beds all over that room. If there are multiple family members, consider both canine and human preferences for favorites and plan from there. A word on that however: some children or even adult family members may permit too many privileges for a dog that may not be ready for such privileges so keep that in mind when choosing sleeping places.

Some readers are likely wondering about dogs that don’t want to sleep near their humans. Some dogs may prefer a bed in a close by empty bedroom or a dog bed in a hallway nearby. But in that case, what is important is that the choice of where to sleep is there. Meaning, the dog(s) has the run of the house at night and chooses this alternate spot. What I strongly advise against is crating day and night away from the humans. Not only is it cruel physically, it’s emotionally isolating. Obviously puppies need crated or otherwise movement restricted at night for safety concerns. But said crate should be in the vicinity of a human family member.

The difference in the emotional neediness is obvious when sleeping safety is considered. Easy bonding while sleeping can only be beneficial. Please share how you arrange your crew’s sleeping routines in the spaces below. And sweet dreams!

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