Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Protecting your dog's eyes from the sun

I live in an area that had a lot of recent solar eclipse activity, and this morning I read this interesting article about the eye damage that can easily result from just a few seconds of exposure at the right angle to the sun's rays.  We all know not to look directly at the sun, right?

But what about the position we're putting our dogs in, when we are training our dogs?

Is our dog's face (and eye line-of-sight) toward the sun when we are asking him to sit, or doing a retrieve, or a down-stay?  In other words, when our dog is obediently looking up at OUR face, are we inadvertently positioning his face and his eyes to be getting more direct-line exposure to the sun than we should?  We often position ourselves with our back to the sun for our own comfort-- so we can see our dog well-- but we don't want to accidentally expose our dogs to dangerous sun radiation in their eyes.

The exposure won't cause pain, but will ruin their eyesight.  It doesn't take much. The upward angle of a small dog's head will be greater than a large dog's, though both are now a consideration in my mind.

I'm much more aware of this now, thanks to the eclipse, and I'll caution my dog training students to be aware of this as well.  In almost every case it's easy to make minor adjustments to ensure our dear dogs are not being asked to essentially look into the sun as they are looking into our own faces during training.

Here's to keeping training fun, positive, effective AND safe for all involved!  Especially our dear dogs.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Moving (with dogs!) from CA to WA

In February we moved from Palos Verdes Estates, CA to Vancouver, WA.

This move was years in the planning and since we were leaving the state we'd spent all of our married life in (and my entire childhood) we decided to take a 10-day drive up the coast to our new home, visiting many of our favorite places.  This post is about the logistics of doing that with 2 dogs in the car, too.

My minivan has had its two back rows of seats removed (those were being moved up with our other possessions in storage containers).  We've always had a huge dog crate behind the driver and passenger seat (the biggest model they make) for our large Borzoi, and behind that we have two more smaller crates (we used to have 3 dogs).  One of the smaller crates is for my oversized Sheltie (35 lbs), and the other has been opened and stacked top-into-bottom, so it's like a large drawer that's open at the top.  This is used for storage.  Both the smaller crates sit on top of a 10" high wooden platform which has plastic storage boxes under it, open at the top, so they too operate like pull our drawers.  This is our normal minivan configuration.

When we left PVE, my van was filled with some essentials for our trip up-- last minute kitchen items that didn't get packed because we used them up till the last minute, my large suitcase, dog food and supplies, a water filter, my big computer bag (with devices and chargers), some towels, dog blankets, etc.  My husband's Prius was full of his suitcase, his golf clubs, his computer bag, etc.  We had walkie talkies so we could talk without relying on cellphone coverage  We caravaned up together.

We drove up the coast stopping in Carmel, Mendocino, and Gold Beach OR.  The trip took 10 days and was stunningly beautiful.  The dogs slept in the car almost every night, which worked out really well.  Because they each ride in their own crate (with water bowl, crate fans, and locks if we need them) we have the ability to keep windows open wider than you would if your dog was unconfined.

We obviously took frequent breaks during the long hours of driving to stretch everyone's legs and potty the dogs.  We took care to go slowly during curvy roads through the coastal forest to prevent any motion sickness in the dogs.  We kept their food and dishes easily accessible so we could pull over at feeding times, or quietly go out and feed them at 6am.

It was a long and beautiful trip, and even I was happy to see it end when we arrived at our new home.  The dogs had so much adjusting to do-- once we got to the new home they still didn't know we weren't just at another hotel (another temporary place) and they didn't start to really settle in until our possessions (and their beds!) arrived later.

All of the dog training we've done over the years made this trip a breeze.  Our dogs are comfortable in strange locations out in public, they are polite and easy to handle on leash, they know how to "settle" on their mat no matter where the mat is, and they know how to load and unload into their car crates easily.  We adhered to their normal routine during our trip (feeding them at the same time as usual, etc).  The only thing that required more diligence on our part was recognizing that they were getting less exercise than usual, and we needed to keep track of their eliminations.  After hours of driving (with their snoozing in their crates) they required longer walks to get them to potty.

In our new home, we don't have a fenced in yard which means our dogs must be leashed every time they go outside (we now live on a golf course).  These routines have also taken some adjustment on everyone's part.  I can no longer open the side door and let the dogs come and go as they please (and I have to intentionally take them out and for walks to eliminate).  They' adjusted well as have we.

The first time we took them to the new large dog park we kept them both on leash while we walked the perimeter, giving them a chance to get acquainted with the new park.  Our Sheltie is now mostly deaf, so he stays on leash since he can't hear me.  We found a wonderful new vet, and are settling in nicely.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Retractable Leashes (Flexileads) -- good or bad?

Today I'm sharing some information from Dr. Mercoloa which which I heartily agree!

Retractable leashes are popular primarily because they aren't as confining as regular leashes, allowing dogs more freedom to sniff and poke around on walks. But unfortunately, there are many downsides to this type of leash.  Read more here:

10 Reasons Why You Should Not Use a Retractable Leash

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Training for a well mannered “café dog”

Would you like to have your dog calmly laying by your table at a sidewalk café, while you enjoy a coffee and good conversation with a friend?  You can train for this, and it does require training. 

While there are many restaurants with outside patios and tables where a dog would be allowed, in every case where the restaurant prohibits it, it is not because of the health codes (they’ll say it is because they don’t want to offend you).  It’s because dog owners who didn’t train their dogs ruined the dining experience for the other customers.  So let’s go on a campaign to create well mannered café dogs!

What is a well mannered café dog?  Let’s list the behaviors involved:


  1. Is calm and quiet in the presence of lots of distractions including:
    a.       Other dogs in the environment, including other dogs who are not well mannered.
    b.      Food servers walking up with trays of food that smell very tempting to the dog
    c.       Banging and crashing of dishes, glasses, plates
    d.      Food within reach and often under the table.
    e.      Food that is accidentally dropped on or near the dog.
2.       Able to “down stay” for long periods of time.

3.       Able to maneuver under a chair or the table—ie, willing to lay down where you want him to lay down, because as a polite customer you’re doing to make sure he is out of the foot traffic of other customers and the food servers.  This one takes a lot of special training and is very important.
4.      Able to stay in that position even as YOU carefully maneuver YOUR position.  You may scoot your chair out, move it a bit, etc.  None of this is a signal to your dog to get up.  

How would your dog do today against these criteria?  How would you set up a training plan to improve in these areas?  I’ll  address that in upcoming posts. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

What's holding your training treats?

When you're training your dog, having your treats handy (and a variety of treats with different levels of value from the dog's perspective) is important.  The timing of your click is important, but the treat should follow quickly don't you don't want to have to be fumbling around for it. 

I'm constantly urging my students not to use ziplock baggies in their pockets for this-- it just creates too much fumbling and it creates an annoyance for them.  I just discovered this 4-pocket apron from a garage sale supply vendor that would be great for training.  It's rather girly, so would be better for women and girls, but I've also heard that Lowes and Home Depot sell "nail aprons" that accomplish the same thing for about a dollar.  This one here is about $3.

Check it out, and consider getting something like this if you're not already happy with your treat holder.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Getting your dog ready for houseguests

With the holidays coming up, I'm getting ready to have a house full of guests, including a 3 year old toddler.  So let's talk about what we dog owners need to do to make these visits relaxing and successful for the guests and the dogs.

I have 3 dogs, and by the time you add in 3 more adults, one toddler, and two more adults who aren't staying with us but who will be here at the house when they aren't sleeping at their hotel, that's a crowded situation.  With us, that's 7 adults and one toddler.  So the first thing is to be willing to confine the dogs a lot more than usual.

Recognize that having all of these people and all of this new stimulation is a very unusual situation for your dog, so don't expect the same level of obedience and attentiveness to you that you usually get.  And frankly, no one wants to hear you correcting or scolding your dogs, so lower the bar for them, and don't ask as much of them in this situation as you might be tempted to.  "Manage the environment" and confine them.

In our house, even though my dogs are good with kids and have never bitten anyone, we have a solid rule-- if there is a toddler about, the dogs are crated or kept out in the side porch unless we are specifically supervising.  We only bring in one at a time, on leash, and we personally supervise.  We tell the parent, "It's your job to supervise the child, and my job to supervise the dog".  I ask them to try to keep the child using "our quiet voice" and avoid screeching.  What do I look for?  I make sure we don't accidentally set up a situation where the toddler is approaching a dog whose back is facing a corner or a nearby wall (accidentally cornering the dog).  I give the dog room, an escape route if she's suddenly uncomfortable. I have the dog lie down, and let the toddler approach quietly.  I'm RIGHT THERE the whole time, watching my dog's body language to see any signs of stress or anxiety.  I have treats, and I am rewarding frequently.  I want my dogs to hope children will come around because when they do, the treats flow.

If the child is old enough to offer a treat, I show them how to "make a plate" with their hand, and "lower the plate so the dog can lick the treat off".  I demonstrate first, then I have the mom demonstrate.  This serves as a "warm up" for the dog, who by now knows what to expect from the child. 

Let's talk about leash handling.  I keep the dog on leash the whole time, and hold the leash about 12" from the collar, so the dog cannot bolt up (remember, the dog is on a "down" command).  I'm squatting.  Almost all dog bite incidents with children happen in the child's face, so you don't want to be standing up when the child's face and the dog are down by your knee. You have no control at that distance. Get right in there by your dog's head, so if the child suddenly gets super excited (as toddlers sometimes do!) and explodes into movement or thrilled squealing you are already at your dog's head and can provide calm reassurance and-- if necessary- grab a collar and prevent the dog from lunging at the child.  Children at that age have not yet mastered impulse control.  If the child bursts into motion that would be a good time for the mother to scoop her up into a hug-- ie, remove her from the dog who may be wondering what the heck just happened.  Sometimes, for example, a small child will be so thrilled after giving a dog a treat (and after feeling the dog's nose touch her hand as the dog takes the treat) that the child will squeal and start jumping up and down-- landing, perhaps, on a paw or a tail. So at the first sign of that, quick parental intervention is in order.  Talk about this kind of thing in advance with the parent so the two of you can work as a team. 

Do I sound overly cautious?  I should (though I try to exude calm and not convey any concern).  I want my family to know that I take the safety of their child very seriously, and while we don't go through this routine in other situations I want to err on the side of caution in order to make sure we never ever have a scary situation.  I don't ever want my family to be hesitant or reluctant to visit our home.  And I don't want my adorable niece to have a bad experience.  When she's older and more predictable, we'll lighten up, but at this age I want to give her fun, very controlled dog interactions.  Most people don't realize what kinds of situations result in a dog snapping at or biting a child, and most people are too casual about the interaction.  My dogs don't really know this child, so that makes it all the more important to provide what may seem like a ridiculous amount of supervision. 

When we have house guests we need to respect the fact that this is a situation that isn't trained for very frequently, so our dogs are not going to be fluent at handling it well.  If they are fluent at it, you can be pleasantly surprised but please don't expect it of them.

Dog bites with children often happen when the adults are distracted by something and the poor unsuspecting child does something innocently that makes the dog uncomfortable.  We don't have children so when you add in the other guests, our dogs are not used to having so much stimulation.  They might get crabby and might be inclined to complain about stuff that normally might not bother them.  Err on the side of caution.

This is the perfect occasion to crate your dogs and give them a break from all the activity.  If they do want to come in, use a secure indoor tether, and tether them out of the foot traffic (you don't want someone to trip on your dog).  If  your dog is not used to being tethered, the time to start this training is right now, way before the guests arrive.  My dogs enjoy being tethered in the room but only if I or my husband is within sight-- if we both leave the room and leave them with the other guests, they have worried looks when we return.  And again, I would not do this with a toddler in the house-- only with adults.

The truth is that no one loves your dogs like you do, and they are coming to visit you, not your dogs.  So be willing to make some special accommodations for your guests' benefit.