Resource guarding and your dog, for better or for worse

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Resource guarding is a natural part of your dog’s emotional makeup. Our expectations are unrealistic if we think we'll never see it to some degree. You can compare it to expecting that a human should never, in their lives, ever lose their temper. Like all animals, dogs will behave aggressively when feeling threatened and in order to defend resources. 

Resource guarding most often happens around food items but dogs will also guard:

• toys or objects perceived as play objects
• areas they like to sleep such as a bed or a couch
• their owner, who mistakenly feels their dog is protecting them when in fact, their dog is actually commodifying them (i.e. this human’s my dispenser of food and affection! Back off!) This one’s more common in a multi-pet home where there is only one lap to enjoy but can manifest out there on walks as well.

I want it because you want it

Often a dog will place a high value on an object only because he sees you want it back so urgently. Rather than allowing access to valuable objects, put them away until the dog is older so you don’t get into an antagonistic routine of constantly pulling things from his mouth. This behaviour only builds a relationship of resentment and mistrust, which in turn, creates trigger-stacking and aggression.

When my Jack Russell Terrier was a puppy I quickly discovered that she was far craftier, and faster than I, with unending endurance for bouncing just out of reach when she’d stolen something. Among many other objects, she was a master at grabbing socks and I was driving myself crazy trying to save them all from utter destruction. When I stopped chasing her for them, she started bringing them to me to entice me to play. Instead of grabbing for them, I would offer a Cheerio but only once she dropped the sock. Very quickly she started bringing me all sorts of things for a trade, including the socks (intact and no longer shredded). After that I would take the initiative by asking her to “find the sock”, and that was the start of a very happy and healthy “find and retrieve” game we still share today. This is called putting a behaviour on cue and you can do this with all kinds of less than desirable behaviours, like reorienting your dog to come to you rather than leaving him barking and jumping at the front door when the doorbell rings. Don’t fight it, shape it into something fun that’s rewarding for both of you.

Start some object exchange exercises so you’ll be prepared for the next time he takes your new shoe or a bottle of vitamins you've accidentally dropped on the floor

1) Give the puppy an object he’ll only mildly be interested in

2) Hold out your hand and say “give

3) Take the object away, gently, without pulling

4) Provide a nice treat in exchange

5) Give the object back and repeat several times until he's dropping the object on his own

6) Move gradually up to objects he might value more highly, perhaps something like your new shoe that he’s found on his own.

I would practice these exercises throughout his puppyhood to really engrain the cue.

Food bowl exercises for puppies

Food bowl desensitization is just as important as the proper handling of toys and objects, if not more so. It should start as soon as you bring your puppy home and commence feeding.

Without a pro-active strategy in getting a puppy comfortable with mealtime company (yours) while eating, most dogs will develop resource guarding behaviours such as:

• a hard stare
• freezing
• gobbling food faster
• growling
• snarling
• snapping
• possibly a bite

When feeding puppies

1) Sit beside him and hang around while he eats

2) Put his bowl on the floor but keep your hand on it until it’s half consumed. Start a verbal cue like “want more?”, then pick the bowl up, add an additional yummy treat and give the bowl back to him. 

3) The whole household should perform these exercises so the puppy learns to expect the same behaviour from all family members. Dog’s are not good generalizers. They have to learn what to expect from each person.

Adult dogs new to your home

Object exchange exercises can and should be implemented with new adult companions, the process is the same as with puppies. Food bowl exercises are even more important and take a bit more care.

Dogs are usually more trusting of one person when it comes to their food bowls. That trust does not usually extend to other people not involved in their feeding routines which is why it’s important that everyone (young children exempted) participates in the feeding protocols.

The time to set ground rules is as soon as your new companion joins your household before any negative patterns develop. However, they can be implemented with existing canine family members, with a bit more care.

Food bowl strategy is similar to how we teach puppies but, of course, there is more risk with a grown dog, especially one who is new to your home. You might want to start off with a protective glove, to first determine the dog’s tolerance levels.

When placing the bowl on the floor, do not let go. Sit down as you’ll be there while he finishes,

• hand on the bowl, to the dog, means “this food is my owners and she’s sharing

• hand off the bowl, to the dog, means “this food is now mine

• hand returning to the bowl, to the dog, now means, “my owner is attempting to steal what’s mine and I’m protecting my property”             

• When the dog has finished, wait for him to move off even if the bowl is empty. In his mind, it’s his until he walks away.

Once he seems comfortable with your presence and routine (likely over a period of weeks):

1) Sit beside him and hang around while he eats

2) Put his bowl on the floor but keep your hand on it until it’s half consumed. Start a verbal cue like “want more?”, then pick the bowl up, add an additional yummy treat and give the bowl back to him.

3) The whole household (small children exempted until they are older) should do this so the dog learns to expect the same behaviour from all family members. Dog’s are not good generalizers so they have to learn what to expect from each person.

THE DOG BLOG is a great resource for tips on training and canine well being. Got questions or a topic in mind? Let me know via the comments box. I would love to hear from you.

Additional Resources: 

1) Culture Clash, A revolutionary new way of understanding the relationship between humans and domestic dogs, by Jean Donaldson

2) Mine! A Practical Guide to Resource Guarding in Dogs, by Jean Donaldson

Banner photo courtesy of skeeze from Pixabay

 

Learning the art of loose leash walking

One of the biggest reasons people sign up for dog training is to stop their dogs from pulling on the leash.

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First day of class, more often than not, students bring (or drag) the dogs in, sit down, and proceed to wind the leash up around their arm. It's an attempt to force good behaviour and silence. What it actually creates is anxiety, reactivity, and….guess what? Pulling.

Now's the time to take a good hard look at our relationship with the leash, why we continue to pull, and what we can do to break our own bad habits.

Why people pull

  • A person pulls on the leash to attempt to teach their dog to walk beside them.
  • A person pulls on the leash to gain the dog’s attention.
  • A person pulls on the leash to stop the dog from jumping on a visitor.
  • A person pulls on the leash to attempt to correct their dog’s inappropriate behaviour, because they feel the dog is embarrassing them.
  • A person pulls on the leash because they’ve been doing it for so long they do it on reflex, even when unnecessary.

Why dogs pull

  • A dog pulls because when he does, you follow him, and forward progress can be made.
  • A dog pulls because you’ve tried to teach her to walk closer to you by yanking her backward. When you jerk the leash it momentarily goes slack, followed by that hard, painful jerk. So now by association, the dog expects the pain will instantly follow, as soon as the leash loosens up. In essence, you’ve actually conditioned her to constantly pull, to avoid the painful jerk.
  • A dog pulls when you use an extendable leash (a Flexi) which is designed to always be taut so even if the dog tries to walk with a slack leash, he can’t and therefore gives up trying. Not only is the leash always taut but it varies in length (sometimes three feet, sometimes 15 feet) so the dog never learns what a consistent working distance means.
  • A dog pulls when you are frustrated and sometimes yell, making her much less willing to stay closer to you and engage with you. Your frustration stresses her out. The more stressed she is the more erratic and reactive she will be on a walk.

Expect that teaching a dog to walk on a slack leash does not happen overnight. It’s going to take a few months of teamwork. Take a pocket full of Cheerios or something he or she likes with you, every time you go out. Make staying around you fun and worthwhile.

Why Loose leash walking should be implemented

Loose leash walking allows for some of the dog’s natural instincts to be exercised like stopping and sniffing from time to time, moving in fan pattern ahead of you as long as the leash is slack. Exploration and sniffing are important for a dog's mental health. Remember that it’s their walk too and getting from point A to point B in record time, is the last thing on your dog’s mind though it may be first and foremost on yours. Remember that a dog’s sense of smell is 100,000 times stronger than ours. Dogs live for scent so allow them to experience the world through their nose. Unlike us, their vision is not very good, something like 20/75, compared to ours, and they have only a limited ability to discern colour.

NOTE: Loose leash walking is not heeling where the dog walks at your left side only, with the ability to match his pace to yours as you speed up or slow down. If your dog has not mastered loose leash walking, good luck teaching the more structured task of Heeling.

How to get started

  • To start off, find an empty parking lot where you and your dog have less distraction to deal with.
  • Give your dog the full extent of the leash (six feet, no shorter) and let her sniff around. If she pulls towards something, STOP!
    Do not move forward. Do not pull her and do not allow her to pull you.
  • Almost always she will look back at you to see why you’ve stopped. Call to her in a happy, upbeat voice. If she’s prone to jumping up, avoid eye contact to allow her to just focus on the task at hand. If she comes back, reward and praise. If she’s still distracted, simply turn in the opposite direction and (without pulling) start walking the other way. She’ll start to follow and you can drop a few Cheerios behind your foot for encouragement. Think of the kids game Red Light/Green Light, only in this case, your only move when the leash is slack. You always stop when the leash goes taut.
  • If the dog doesn’t seem to hear you and is focused on sniffing or listening to something in the environment, give him a few moments. Dogs are not good at multitasking. If a dog is using one sense (like his nose) his brain actually cuts out most of his other senses. A gentle touch will usually bring his focus back to you.

Making it fun

Dogs love to hear you count. It’s something I discovered while teaching class, helping students build duration into their “watch me” cue. My guess is that, unlike regular human speech which must seem like monotone mush to a dog’s ears, counting is simple, crisp, and consistent. It never varies so eventually a dog learns to recognize the individual sounds. Let’s take this method a little further and apply it to loose leash walking.

Start your dog walking by your side and count “One”, “Two”, “Three”. On “Three” provide a reward. Repeat, repeat, repeat…The process is continuous just like learning to waltz (1, 2, 3, 1, 2,3, 1, 2, 3…).
Make sure you are counting to the dog, nice and clear, with a bit more emphasis on the “Three”. Think of the sound you make when pushing a child on a swing. That’s the kind of enthusiasm your “Three” should embody. Continue this method and very quickly your dog starts to associate “Three” as the signal that his treat will follow. Counting will keep your dog in exactly the right position for short stretches at a time. Once your dog performs well you can build in more duration by adding a longer and longer pause between "two" and "three". Once your dog is fairly consistent, you can drop the counting and use for times on a walk, when he or she is having trouble staying close.

Dangers of the "Jerk" method of walking

Jerking the dog to gain their attention or compel them to stop pulling, has many unwanted side effects.

One hard jerk on a leash, or small ones over time, can damage your dog’s thyroid gland, trachea, neck, and back. It often results in whiplash and in fact, some veterinarians have suggested that blindness and poor eyesight in dogs may be a result of equipment hindering blood circulation to their brain.

Another negative consequence is that dogs feel choked and/or pain, from a jerk, when approaching another human or dog as their owners try to restrain them. They then may associate that pain with strange people and other dogs, in which case you’re actually teaching your dog to be fearful and aggressive.

Where possible use a harness for walking. In fact, small dogs should always be walked with a harness. They should never be walked using a collar. If you are using a collar for a large breed dog, ensure it’s as wide as possible. There are some great harnesses out there for large breed dogs with a good heavy-duty handle, sewn in, right above the shoulder area. Grasping the handle, just before a dog reacts to something, saves your joints, his neck and signals what you expect of him much more effectively.

Learning for puppies

Remember that puppies, no matter their size, are still only babies. They have little in the way of focus and concentration. Don’t force a puppy to work for longer than they are able. To start a puppy off with loose leash walking, keep the walks short, maybe 10 minutes at three months of age, adding on another five minutes, for each month.

Learning for adult dogs

When you and your dog have mastered loose leash walking in that parking lot, that’s the time to try out your new skills in a normal, dynamic environment. Always keep some rewards in your pocket but once you’re getting good solid consistency you can start rewarding less often. A varying, unpredictable schedule for rewarding, develops the best performance.

THE DOG BLOG is a great resource for tips on training and canine well being. Got questions or a topic in mind? Let me know via the comments box. I would love to hear from you.

Additional Resources: 

1)  My Dog Pulls. What do I do? by Turid Rugaas

2)  Teach the Leash, Loose Leash Walking, by Pamela Dennison

3)  Control Unleashed, Reactive to Relaxed, by Leslie McDevitt

 

Empowering anxious, shy and fearful dogs

Like people, canine personalities come in all shapes and sizes

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There are the extroverts, the reserved and the truly inhibited. The latter is my focus for this blog post. In most cases, fearful dogs who seem unwilling to perform certain behaviours, do so because they lack the ability. If a dog does not experience socialization, novelty and new things as a puppy, it will have a harder time in adulthood to learn new skills.

A dog can also suffer from a past trauma for many years. In addition, some dogs out there simply have a genetic predisposition to be wary and easily startled. Expecting a timid dog to behave like a confident dog, is unrealistic. Training needs to be modified to alter their world view. As pet parents, we have to tailor our approach to suit their unique needs.

Let’s take a look at three aspects of the canine emotional landscape to understand our shrinking violets a little better

Fear is an emotional response that happens when an animal feels they are in danger.

Anxiety is the anticipation of future danger, whether it’s real or not.

Stress is mental or emotional strain resulting from tense circumstances. It can happen as a result of a single event or it can develop over a period of time when a dog is subject to several continual background stressors.

All change is rooted in creating an environment where a dog feels safe

Tell visitors to ignore your fearful companion. Let the dog initiate any social interaction. Know your dog’s triggers and the threshold for tolerance. Train to gain your dog’s attention. Show your dog that great things follow when they pay attention to you.

The name of the game is to create positive associations

When it comes to anxiety it’s not about altering how a dog behaves in a certain situation. It’s all about changing how they feel about that situation. It’s about finding ways to develop their confidence, the behaviour will then change on its own.

Take the pressure off a dog that is fearful of new people. If the dog is new to your household and not ready to be social yet, avoid looking or talking to him. Feed meals by tossing bits of food to her, from a short distance. Move around, generally away from the dog and make sure the food is yummy enough to compel them to take a chance and move out to obtain it.

Desensitization is one very useful strategy. It works by exposing the dog to low threshold amounts of an uncomfortable situation and pairing with a high-value food reward, thus creating a positive association. Over time as the dog gains confidence, the food reward can be faded out.

Help your dog to avoid trigger stacking

Trigger stacking is an emotional response that happens when a dog is exposed to a single stressor he can’t get away from or when he’s exposed to continual low level, background stressors which eventually lead him to suddenly act out. Trigger stacking causes the buildup of Cortisol in a dog’s blood which is a stress hormone playing a key role in aggression. Cortisol lasts at least two days in a dogs system after a stressful event so if the dog is under continual levels of stress, even at low levels, it will be more prone to aggression.

For Example:
One new person petting a dog may be uncomfortable but tolerated by him. A second person attempting to pet him may cause him to react.

Getting dogs to move differently helps them to think differently

In order for dogs to change existing behaviour, they need to be able to learn new behaviours.

Most dogs want to learn what you want them to do. Show your dog what you want them to do, rather than just attempting to stop the behaviour you don’t like.

Nerves in our bodies control movement so if we change the way we move, we can change the way we think. Exercise addresses movement especially, after a stressful event, and lowers stress both in humans and dogs.

Check out some training classes for your shy companion. If she's not yet ready for group instruction, try some private classes to build confidence at a pace more in keeping with her comfort level. Novelty is important to help a dog’s brain continue to grow. Animal studies have shown that pleasant, new experiences activate the brain to release dopamine (a pleasure-inducing chemical that also helps the brain to process and learn new skills).

Learning actually changes the structure of the brain as new neurons and pathways between them are created. Owners of fearful or anxious dogs should find low threshold ways to provide novel experiences for their animals. Introduce new toys or items in your dog’s environment. Move their food and water bowls occasionally. Make up new games, Try out a puzzle toy for instance. Routine and predictability are the bedrock of a stable dog but also be sure to add some variety into their lives, to improve their ability to learn and adapt.

Strategies for living with an anxious dog

Don’t make a big deal about a scary incident. Learn to put your game face on. If you drop your cup of tea on the floor, keep calm and cool or try laughing. What can it hurt? Laughing is not going to change the fact that you’ll still need to mop up the mess but it may have a lowering effect on your blood pressure. Remember that your dog takes his cues from you and may perceive the experience with curiosity if you laugh, versus diving under the table if you shout and curse.

Don’t punish your dog for fearful behaviour. When a dog learns that you both recognize and respect their need for space, they’ll grow more trusting. If you punish fearful behaviour, they will stop giving you a warning and may just move straight on to biting the next time.

Behaviour medications

For some dogs with chronic anxiety, the fear is unending. Research shows just how much this kind of stress affects their health. The use of medications alone will not “fix” your dog but it may allow him or her to learn new skills, behaviours and confidence, which would otherwise be very difficult.

Resources

If you feel your dog’s situation warrants it, find a vet well versed in the use of behavioural medications.

If you want to do more research, a book called Clinical Behavioural Medicine for Small Animals, by Dr Karen Overall, is one of the top resources out there.

You might also check out A Guide to Living with and training a fearful dog, by Debbie Jacobs CPDT-KA, CAP.

And there is a lot of information on behavioural medications and supplements at American College of Veterinary Behaviorists www.dacvb.org


THE DOG BLOG is a great resource for tips on training and canine well being. Got questions or a topic in mind? Let me know via the comments box. I would love to hear from you.

 

Clickers, the ultimate communication tool when it comes to dog training

How to mark the exact moment of your dog's success 

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If I could provide only one piece of advice when it comes to training it would be to start using a clicker as soon as you bring your new companion home. Developing the clicker association even at six or eight weeks of age is not too early. Once your pup is a little older, his or her more formal skills such as walking on a leash and recall, will already be partially developed. Adult dogs can learn this system of communication with ease as well.

Clicker training (otherwise known as the mark and reward system) is used to create a fast and reliable association between your command and when your dog's performed as requested.

The clicker tool has a great advantage over human speech because a dog’s central nervous system can process the click many times faster than it can process a word. A spoken word must be recognized and interpreted before the dog understands that a behaviour is being marked. A click is processed instantly. It’s thought that a click goes directly to the instinctive, reflexive part of a dogs brain (the amygdala) while a word is processed in the cortex (the thinking part of the brain), which takes longer.

Once a dog is conditioned to a clicker, he will respond “reflexively” without having to stop and think about it.

Getting started

Suggestion: Perform the following exercise prior to a meal, not after, to keep the dog motivated.

Step 1.

Otherwise known as "loading the clicker", develops the association between the sound and the reward.

At home, start with 15 very small treats (cheerios, cheese, chicken, etc., something highly motivating). Make sure the pieces are small and soft. You will be doing rapid repetitions of this exercise so it’s important the dog can consume the treats quickly.

Step 2.

Start with the dog in front of you. Hold the treats in one hand and the clicker tool in the other. Click and provide a treat within a half-second (hold the clicker behind you or at your side, not too close to the dog's ear). Do this about 15 times. 

Your timing should be:

Click/treat, wait a beat; Click/treat; wait a beat, Click/treat, wait a beat...

Make sure the click comes before the treat, not after, and within that half-second window, for maximum effectiveness. Canine understanding only happens if a dog receives a reward within a half-second after attempting to do as you ask.

What we are doing is conditioning the dog to have an almost involuntary response to the sound of the clicker tool.

Step 3.

Perform this exercise twice a day for three days with your dog. By the fourth day he'll be whipping around corners in search of you. That’s when you know your dog has learned the clicker system successfully.

Step 4.

Will be to expand the use of clickers for other commands. Once the dog is clicker conditioned, click for his attention, and treat only once when he responds.

Name recognition

Clickers work really well in conditioning a dog to get ‘really excited’ and to pay attention when they hear their name. It means they sit up and takes notice, anticipating the new request you're going to send their way.

For example: If conditioned properly, the dog will look up when he hears his name, waiting for the next command such as “come”.

So…just like the loading exercise:

Step 1.

Start with the dog in front of you, treats in one hand, the clicker tool in the other.

Step 2.

Say his name, and perform the... click/treat, wait a beat; Say his name, then, click/treat; wait a beat, say his name, then, click/treat, wait a beat (do 10 or 15 repetitions in rapid succession).

Step 3.

Perform this exercise twice a day for three days. By the fourth day your dog will be snapping to attention when he hears the click, awaiting your next command.

What you’ve just taught him is that his name has great significance. Hearing his name means great things coming. His name is now synonymous with the click sound.

Step 4.

Eliminate the clicker as the use of his or her name now takes the place of the clicker sound:

- Call his name then...
- Give the “come to me” command, and...
- When he complies, reward him

Hide and seek

Once your dog responds reflexively to the clicker, reinforce his responsiveness by playing the hide and seek game.

Step 1.

Hide from your dog in your home, and click. When he or she finds you, provide the reward.

Make it easy for him or her to find you at first, then make it a little harder. Once they're good at the game, practise by adding in their name:

Hide:

- call his name/click and treat if he finds you
- call his name/click and treat if he finds you
- call his name/click and treat if he finds you

Step 2.

Once he’s good at the name game practise by calling his name only:

- call his name and treat if he finds you
- call his name and treat if he finds you
- call his name and treat if he finds you

 

So next time you're at the pet store, find the clickers and pick one up. For the cost of a toonie you'll reap the life-long pay off in great training skills with your dog.

THE DOG BLOG is a great resource for tips on training and canine well being. Got questions or a topic in mind? Let me know via the comments box. I would love to hear from you.

Life goes on, including dog training, after the April COVID-19 shutdown

First graduate, June 11, 2020

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Meet Toby, my first graduate with the reopening of training facilities in our community. Toby and his human partner completed intermediate level with me and most of my advanced program, before the pandemic hiatus. They returned earlier this month to finish advanced training and obtain their advanced certificate. Watching Toby and his pet parent work together now, is a true joy, and a testament to the real potential of dog and human teams when we commit to training as a lifestyle and not just something that happens for a few months, while our dogs are puppies.

Toby first came to my intermediate class at 11 months of age, and like most teenagers, he struggled with distraction and the ability to focus. Still, he was smart enough to grasp the necessary skills. A few months later he was back to complete the advanced classes, a little older, calmer, more receptive to working, due in part to simple maturity, and to his pet parent’s steady dedication to training, throughout his adolescence.

Come this August, Toby and his owner will be returning to join other students for the therapy dog program, and I can’t wait to participate in their partnership, once again.

Summer is usually quiet when it comes to dog training, however, like so many things due to COVID-19 restrictions, this season’s turning out to be very different…and very, very busy.

It’s only late June, new classes are filling almost faster than we can post them online. A great many people have adopted a furry little family addition over the past two months, or they were ready for classes a couple of months ago and are anxious to start training with their older puppies and adult dogs. By necessity, my curriculum has been tailored to suit our new COVID-19 reality which, paradoxically, makes for a richer classroom experience. With the observance of social distancing and smaller class sizes, pet parents and dogs get more individual attention. With the addition of masks (optional), I’m getting better adherence with hand signals; and with the requirement to maintain a six-foot distance from each other, pet parents become more skilled in managing their companions from several feet away.

To borrow from that famous line of Forest Gump, dog training is like a box of chocolates—you never know what you’re going to get.

Just this week I finished teaching the last three sessions of a beginner class that had been interrupted by the pandemic hiatus. This was a large group of eight originally, with several full-grown, powerful, reactive dogs, including but not limited to an Argentinean Dogo, a very solid terrier/boxer cross, a Siberian Husky, a game little Boston Terrier, and a 10 week old Golden Doodle puppy I had sheltered in a corner. It was the most challenging class I've run, to date. Those first three weeks were like standing in a powder keg. Air horn at the ready, I was constantly on my guard for problems.

Of those original eight, four returned recently to finish their last three weeks and, ironically, those that did were the Husky, the terrier/boxer cross, the game little Boston Terrier and (thankfully now much bigger and able to hold her own) the Golden Doodle puppy.

Time and fewer numbers had such a positive effect on the dynamics of this class. These particular pet parents continued to work on what they’d learned in the first three weeks so when they returned there was a marked improvement in both the management of their dogs and the skill level of the dogs themselves. For those final three weeks, the new four dog class maximum meant everyone could spread out. Both dogs and owners were much more relaxed and able to work and…every one of these dogs will be moving up to intermediate level.

There have been several requests to address potty training as well (an additional and very valuable part of my job). These seminars have not yet been approved but I’m hopeful for the fall and, in the meantime, if you and your puppy are struggling, check out two of my earlier blog posts to tide you over:

THE DOG BLOG is a great resource for tips on training and canine well being. Got questions or a topic in mind? Let me know via the comments box. I would love to hear from you.

Canine dementia is more common than you think

 The Seasons of a dog's life

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Sadie, a grand lady at 12, almost 13 years of age

It started in early spring with Sadie, a strange evening restlessness, a compulsion to ball up her blankets and dig, dig, dig. She no longer wanted to stay with us at night and began to seek out darker, more isolated places to sleep. Sometimes she would go out in the backyard and refuse to come in.

In the morning, she's fine, happy to greet us with her tennis ball, enticing us to play. Physically she’s enjoyed better-than-average health for a dog soon to be celebrating her thirteenth birthday. Her catlike tendencies are still sharp, running along the back of the couch, crawling under furniture after toys, dashing up and down the stairs with little effort. This repetitive nighttime behaviour is new.

As a trainer, owners have sometimes come to me with stories about their senior companions, so I had my suspicions as to what was happening with my own dog. The vet called it Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD) but it’s also known as canine senility or canine dementia and it often goes unrecognized. Dogs are living longer these days so it’s not surprising they're also experiencing the same cognitive decline as we do, with age. Milder symptoms are circling or repetitive behaviour, wandering, house soiling, sleep disorders, decreased learning, and increased levels of barking or whining.

More advanced symptoms could be pacing back and forth or in circles, losing the ability to recognize familiar places, staring into space, seeking out tight spaces, failing to remember known routines, etc. As with humans, canine dementia can be attributed to a build-up of beta-amyloid plaques around neurons which affect the transmission of nerve impulses in the brain. And, as with us, there is no cure but there are things we can do to delay more pronounced symptoms…

Management

Puzzle toys to keep your dog engaged and stimulated, at any age
  • More daytime activity to provide fresh experience and mental exertion
  • Increased social interaction to increase motivation
  • More exposure to sunlight to regulate a dog’s sleep-wake cycle
  • More toileting opportunities, on a regular basis, since older dogs simply can’t wait as long as they once could
  • A change to prescription senior food that includes antioxidants for cellular-level health and medium-chain triglycerides 
  • An addition of supplements to their diet, that contains amino acids which can reduce CCD related anxiety

How time flies...

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Sadie at two months, October 2006, when we were new and just beginning

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Sadie at seven months enjoying her sunny spot on the couch

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Sadie and my daughter Emma, puppy class graduation day, summer of 2007. Emma's a young woman now, just finishing university and with a new dog of her own

There are also some medications available, however, these can be hard on a senior dog’s liver and kidneys. For mild symptoms my vet recommended Gravol to help Sadie sleep, to be taken as needed. You should confirm the dosage with your own vet, depending on your dog’s weight. For now, I found this was a very effective and minimally invasive solution. In addition I've kicked her training routines up a notch.

In closing, as the Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, once wrote "Do not go gentle into that good night..." Find ways to get your dog excited about life again. Improvements and substantial delays can be made to this unavoidable decline, just as new experiences and new routines can make a difference with us.

THE DOG BLOG is a great resource for tips on training and canine well being. Got questions or a topic in mind? Let me know via the comments box. I would love to hear from you.

 

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