Readers Note: For ease of reading, 'he' is used. Please substitute 'she' if you have a female dog
He lifts his head backward, looking at you with soft eyes, pressing his head into your chest. He is leaning on you, lying on his side and looks at you in his funny little way that you adore. HIs mouth opens and the corners of his cheek stretch just a little and there it is...a small lazy grin that seems to say, "Rub my belly, please?" Who doesn't melt at this display of affection?
When your best friend is in a mental state of comfort, as with all dogs, they will move along a continuum from comfort to pleasure, and why not. It is at these heart-warming moments that you feel the most bonded to your dogs. The endorphins fire and you both feel the pleasure in your relationship.
In my daily career of caring for Guest Dogs whom I have often never met before, my goal is always to achieve an affectionate bond. Nothing is more gratifying than when a Guest Dog slowly comes to you, placing their head on your person and leans in. This is a dog hug, given willingly and joyfully. It can't be forced. I tell you that there is nothing like it in the world. It is also especially gratifying because it tells us that we have bonded with a dog under our care, and that they feel safe, happy and loved.
In our line of work, we don't have a lot of time to bond with a dog. We don't have days, weeks or months. We must achieve an authentic bond within hours of a dog's arrival at the Resort. Our training and skill requires us to be masters at reading dog signals and be capable of sending signals back to effectively shift a dog's mindset from worry, to a relaxed confident state of mind. Then, we must further move a dog's mind from seeing us as strangers to seeing us friends, then from friends to trusted caregivers, trusted caregivers to fun playmates, and from fun playmates, we build towards an affectionate bond. We must do this over a course of hours and we work hard to continuously honed and tweaked our reading and sending signals to our Guest Dogs.
When we are working on behaviourial cases, we support the Caregiver to bond more deeply with their dogs. We examine the way they display affection. We see the good, the bad and the ugly. In a large majority of cases, we see good-hearted Caregivers not reading the signals the dog is giving them accurately. Loving owners want their dog to be affectionate instantly or in some cases, feel entitled to having their dog's affection because they feed and exercise it. Willing affection displayed from a dog must be gifted by the dog himself, and if the mindset of the dog hasn't moved to an affection bond, then they will only tolerate a human touching them. Sadly, we see this sometimes after years of a caregiver and their dog being together. We watch the insistence that the dog loves being hugged, and the ugly faces of dog's tolerating it. In other instances, we take note of the bad body position of a caregiver, leaning over a dog to pat its head, promoting a dog's sense of being low in the social order of his family. We watch owners make their dog sit, hold the jowls to raise their pets head, directly lean over and place a kiss on their nose. All good and kind intentions, but bad execution.
By learning more about how to communicate with dogs, read their body language, and understand how they think, feel and act, we can learn how to develop a deeper and lasting bond, full of willing affection.
To foster your dog's emotional spirit, use this 1-minute booster-shot a day and learn to say in Dog-language:, "Hey I like you and respect you":
This should take approximately a minute, and easy to do daily. By doing this small act regularly, you will see your dog begin to enjoy the moments when you say: "Hey, I like you and respect you." Be patient. If you have never communicated effectively with him to let him know you like and respect him, it may take awhile for it to sink in. Affection is born out of consistent signals that you are to be trusted, that you respect him, and his body, and that you value him in your life.
It is the most powerful gift to have a dog give you their own version of what we call 'hugs'; when their eyes soften, and they lean into you. By respecting who they are as complex emotional beings, and by being patient and focused, this gift can be yours. My wish for you is to take a minute a day and begin unwrapping the gift only your dog can give you; wonderful affection given willingly and joyfully.
There is a Pet's Bloggers Challenge on, and you must answer the following questions to enter, so here it goes:
1. When did you start your blog and, for anyone who is just seeing it for first time, please provide a description of your site. Would you say your blog focuses more on sharing stories with your readers, or providing a resource for your audience?
I began in March 2016, wanting to connect with those who are passionate about continuously learning to enrich their dog's life through enhanced care and training. My blog focuses on myth-busting behaviour issues, providing resources and answering common questions with up-to-date, modern insights. We connect the dots to force-free, positive reinforcements and behavior issues.
2. What was your proudest blogging moment of 2016?
Receiving a total of 115 Likes for "My Trainer Told Me My Dog is Dominating Me" - it showed I hit the mark with many and hopefully helped redirect efforts to be force-free and providing positive reinforcement to Dogs.
3. Which of your blog posts was your favorite this year and why? (Please include a link.)
Dealing with the Loss of Your Best Friend (http://www.executivepetservices.ca/blog/dealing-with-loss-of-your-best-friend) because it helped many people facing the holidays with a sadness and despair. Sometimes just knowing that it is 'okay' to grieve deeply for a dog is cathartic. I had several notes written to me privately thanking me. It was extremely difficult to write and I was touched by how much it helped others deal with their loss.
4. Year after year, one goal that we all seem to share is that we want to reach more people. What one tool did you use or action did you take this year that had the most impact on increasing traffic to your blog?
It was an action, specifically overcoming the fear that no one wants to hear my voice.
This time last year I was a recognized Executive Consultant working with Global Companies to introduce complex change programs, moving organizations through the maze of new strategies. It was a high-stress, high-paced career and it was impacting me physically, emotionally and personally. My voice back then was authoritative and confident.
I turned my life upside down when my medical team recommended I change professions, and find more joy, a more active lifestyle, and regain my health. We sold our home and moved to a property in the middle of a forest in Muskoka, Ontario (the most beautiful place on earth in my opinion). We opened Executive Pet Services & Resort, and I earned my diploma in Canine Behavior. But there was an identity crisis in all of this and to gain a foothold in blogging it had to be overcome. I had to answer definitively why anyone would want to hear from me? I was new in the field and humbled by what had brought me to this point in my life. So many experienced professional dog behaviourist before me, and I have so much to learn (still).
During my studies I learned that the bridge between humans and dogs is closing. My previous career dealt primarily in Human Dynamics and helping people deal with change. Canine neuroscience and cognitive science were bridging human emotion and cognitive abilities with dogs going through change. They were remarkably similar and I was able to come up with original thinking and connections between the two bodies of knowledge: Human & Canine Behaviour Modification. It was hard a first, to connect the dots in a new way that hadn't been done before, but I had original thoughts and hoped people wanted to learn and hear more, Once I saw interest, well you couldn't stop me writing.
5. Which of your blog posts got the most traffic this year? (Please include a link.) Have you noticed any themes across your most popular posts?
5 Observations to Tell If Your Dog is Bored (http://www.executivepetservices.ca/blog/enriching-your-dogs-world)
People like the myth-busting and new insights into Dog Behavior. They adore learning how to enhance their dog's life. Our readers are made up of dog care advocates and passionate dog owners,/dog enthusiasts.
6. What blog do you find most inspirational and how has it influenced your blog? (Please include a link.)
Theo Stewart's The Dog Lady, whose Blog is called, "Paws for Thought" (http://www.dogidog.co.uk/paws-for-thought). Theo is one of most admired Dog Behaviourist that I follow. Her blog teaches me a lot.
7. What is one thing your readers don’t know about you or your pets that would surprise them?
I don't have a dog. We do foster from time to time but not too often. I fall in love with every dog I meet. Saying I need dogs in my life is an understatement, and when people allow me to care for their dog or help their dog it fills my hungry heart. By staying hungry for dog kisses, dog hugs (where a dog leans into you), and earning the sweet look from soft, loving eyes of a dog, it allows me to put all my heart into their care. My business also provides new innovative "Human-Dog Sleeping Zones" where myself or a professional caregiver monitors the dogs all night to ensure restorative sleep occurs. Having my loyalty be with a four-legged family member while managing group care would be problematic.
8. What is something you’ve learned this year that could help other bloggers?
Write emotionally and passionately while keeping your readers in mind. Visualize their faces when writing, as if they were right in front of you. Speak to them in a respectful and honest manner. Be gentle and kind with your words. Keep your message simple. Oh, and for me, keep working on your proof-reading - LOL!
9. What would you like to accomplish on your blog in 2017?
To change the way people think. To deliver more informed articles to help them make better decisions. To challenge old beliefs and introduce new ones.
10. Now it’s your turn! You have the attention of the pet blogging community – is there a question you’d like answered, or an aspect of your blog that you’d like input on?
I would love to hear from other bloggers about their best marketing campaigns because in small business every advertising dollar counts.
We have just introduced Human & Dogs Sleeping Zones. Just like at home, dogs sleep with humans right beside them, all night long. At the Resort, Professional Dog Caregiver's monitor your dog 24 x 7, and we adjust their care based on how deeply they slept. Why is this important when you're away? We know that dogs have varying levels of stress when they are away from you and sleeping in a new environment adds to the stress and dogs can become quite scared.
New science has shown that better sleep equals better judgement in dogs. Meaning, when your dog is faced with a choice, he is able to use his memories and knowledge to make the best decision.
We wanted to introduce a new way to provide restorative sleep. It has always been important as seen in our Bedtime Service (bedtime stories, massages, zen music and cuddles). Now, we add to our enhanced services, introducing a sleeping zone where we can settle your dog on a cozy bed right beside a professional caregiver, all night long. It is the next step to making your dog happy when you are away. We ensure that any Dog Guest does not have to fight for space, and that they stay warm and cosy all night (yes, we tuck them in to a faux-fur blanket in the winter). We monitor if they are sleeping deeply or restlessly and we have been known to soothe those that are having bad dreams. We also adjust their daytime activities to include longer nap times to be as bright and happy as possible.
As a "Care Facility," things like our Restorative Sleep Program is constantly improved upon and adjusted. Unlike Dog Boarding facilities, where kennels will have one or two dogs panicking through the night, frightened to be all alone, and bark repetively throughout the night, we offer an alternative. We are also unlike Dog Camps, who provide unmonitored, "cage-free" environments which becomes a free-for-all for any aggressive dogs once night falls, often leaving your best friend to fend for him or herself.
When planning your away time, consider the sleeping environment for your Dog's happiness and safety.
Yay! You've booked the vacation of your dreams. Now it making sure it is worry-free and guilt-free. High quality pet care is hard to find but it is out there. Planning ahead is key to finding the right spot where your Dog (or Cat) doesn't feel emotionally bereft or left to face fearful situations without you.
Here is a Worry-Free Dog Vacation Check-List. Use it to help plan a successful trip away where your dog is set up to be well-cared for:
1-2 Months Before Your Tropical Vacation
Readers Note: For ease of reading 'he' has been used, but if you have a female dog, please substitute 'he' for 'she'.
You have to leave your dog for that much needed vacation. Nothing ruins the relaxation of sipping a Pina Colada on the beach then worrying about your Best Friend and wondering if they are okay. If your Best Friend could talk, you could plan the best care knowing what he will tolerate and what he can't. Here is the inside scoop on your Dog's Secrets that he wants you to know when planning for his Vacation Care:
1. He likes his own bed, his home, his food dish, the noises which represent comfort to him, especially when you are away. His vacation care should make him as comfortable as possible when you are away.
2. He notices his stomach rubbling when his snacks are removed from the diet and his stomach aches when his diet changes, and sometimes he doesn't want to eat when you are not there. When your away make sure your substitute understands and agrees to maintain your Best Friend's dietary needs.
3. Without you there, coping in a new place, and/or new people is confusing to him, and sometimes scary. The coolest dog ever may look okay, but their inside feelings are concerned and unsure of what is happening. His daily exercise and puzzles-solving, just like us, should not be removed/shortened when you are away. Like humans, we need them to manage stress and stay calm. Conversely, suddenly increasing their exercise suddenly will also add on unnecessary stress.
4. He needs his sleep during the day and during the night. Noise and disturbance, such as, barking, whining, and restlessness from others, during his normal napping time and nighttime sleep can leave him unable to cope. Restorative sleep and daytime napping has been linked to a dog's ability to make good decisions - especially important when in a new environment.
5. If he can't see you, then let him smell you. Dog's have powerful memories when tied to strong emotions, including love and touch. Scent is also one of their super-powers with a million more receptors than we mere mortals. Leave your scent behind - an old t-shirt you have recently worn, a blanket, a towel or anything that reminds them of a happy, pleasurable time with you.
More to come as we introduce a timely series to help owners think through Dog Vacation Care decisions.
It's 19 days before Christmas and in our Christmas Care Countdown, we reach out to those who have recently lost their dog. The post below shares our own personal loss, and provides guidance to those you may find themselves this year without their beloved friend. Please share if someone you know could use some words to help heal.
Your friend is gone. There is no more presence at your side. The sweet sound of breathing during the long naps is no longer in the background. The eyes that blinked softly, shining with love and pleasure, have been removed. The loud grating silence in your home becomes vast and unfillable. Colours lessen, tender music becomes sharp, the sunshine seems colder, and the loss feels unresolvable.
Coping with the loss of a friend is a painful, tiring ordeal which we all go through. It is part of our humanity to care for and ultimately loose family and friends, including our special four-legged ones.
When Martin and I had to part with dear friends after 14 years of care it was a devastating experience that nothing could assuage. We planned for their departure, torn between guilt and logic, love and selfishness. We arranged for in-home euthanization of our two dear souls whose many painful health conditions had been cared for over several years and had begun to worsened dramatically. Directly after the event, we packed up our bags and drove. We just wanted to be away from the pain. We landed several hours later in Niagara Falls. We sobbed in each other arms, in restaurants, and walking in the cold January with tears freezing on our cheeks. The roar of the falls seemed to mimic the tears felt inside still to come out in the weeks that followed. We agreed that whatever went through our heads we would discuss – no matter how horrible. We helped each other resolve the normal guilt that arises and to embrace our mourning. Going home, and opening the door was one of the worst moments. It was only the passing of time that has tempered the pain that is still tender.
With any grief, we go through a grief cycle, moving from the first few stages of initial loss, anger to guilt/sadness through to sweet denial. It is the latter that help me function through the first 6-months. It took over a year to be able to breathe normally when thinking of our two dogs. Then from denial, you move through a stage of perseverance waiting for the pain to recede and just riding out every bleak day, day after day until it mercifully eases. Hope then blooms and suddenly an hour passes and then another when you just live without wearing your coat of loss. Finally we reach the other side of the grief stage where the pain isn’t suffocating anymore, where the memories are tender but happy. You don’t focus on the seconds, minutes and hours of their passing, but instead you dwell on the joyous times, like the first squeaky toy, the moment they learned the delight of the garden hose only a hot day can bring, or when they figured out how to go through the doggie door you installed.
To help you manage the loss of beloved dog, acknowledge the dog as a living soul who is now departed. Review the stages of grief: Anger, Sadness, Guilt, Denial, Depression, Perseverance, Hope and Rebuilding and figure out where you are in it. It is ‘normal’ to be feeling what you’re feeling. It is also normal to slide backwards and relive one of the stages. And sometimes you get stuck in a loop before something, like time, propels you forward.
Loosing a friend requires a lot more healing time and patience than a person normally allows. Sometimes you may feel you shouldn’t take the time for a mere creature, a dog. But a dog is a being with complex emotions. They are engaged and shape all aspects of our life experience.
Often people going through loss find it hard to put themselves first. I recommend you plan to cope with each day as it’s own event. Determine at the beginning of the day where you are from an emotional perspective, and how much you are able to engage with others. Make decisions for each day that work best for you to help heal. Tell your friends and family to be patient and allow you to work through the loss.
When you are ready, consider writing an obituary for your social wall, or send to friends via email. It is amazing the stories that will come back to you and make you feel better about what your are going through. Consider lighting a candle at Christmas to honor your dog's memory. Honor their memory with doing something wonderful, like volunteering in memory of your Best Friend.
If you loved your friend thoroughly, courageously and passionately, you’ve created a rich tapestry of your life, which is better than keeping your distance and making a life that is basically cheesecloth. Your dog was like bright pieces of wool woven deeply into your life, and gave you the gift of memories and lessons, unbounded by time or space.
Recent science is pointing to Dog's having memories especially when the memory is linked to emotion, further indicating the complexities of their mind.
"...They not only remember...what they have done ...but also what their owner did. For example, they may watch the owner cut the roses in the garden one day, and then when they see those flowers again, this memory could pop up in their mind. This could happen without showing any change in behavior, because this is just a spontaneous 'thought,' although in some other cases such thoughts may actually become causes of (spontaneous) behaviour." - Excerpt from Marc Berkoff, Phd, Dogs Remember More Than You Think
Around this time of year and 25 Days into our Canine Christmas Countdown, mentally stimulating activities not only tires the dogs and calms him down, but you have created a memory of happiness around the activity. How do you find these mind-stimulating activities?
Well, recently we launched the Snuffle Mat in Canada. It is an activity where the dog uses a Mat filled with long layers of fabric, and the dog is required to find treats within folds of material, thus 'snuffling' through the mat. The first time you put it down, the dog is completely engaged using his nose and mind to find the treats, setting the stage for a great memory.
But what is equally important using the Snuffle Mat, is what happens 'after' they are done. The Snuffle Mat must be removed right away and placed out of reach. Why? Because the next time you bring it out, you will see their memory working and your dog will become excited remembering the joy they felt the first time, and how he enjoyed snuffling.
It becomes very powerful every time you bring it out, if you remember to remove it directly after it is completed. Consider the next time you want to redirect behaviour, like barking or just relieve boredom. The Snuffle Mat is an excellent ways to enrich your pet's life and create great Christmas memories.
'Yesterday 16 dogs were stolen in a dog-walkers van. It must have been a terrifying ordeal and I can't even begin to imagine if this happened to me, or any one dog in our care. Now the recovery must occur, both for the dog's and their caregivers.
To help, here are some suggestions to help your dog regain his balance and confidence (I use 'him' for ease of reading but your dog may be a 'her'):
Sparky Smith is a Certified Behaviour Consultant and Associate Director of the International School for Canine Psychology and Behaviour in Canada. Sparky services clients in Canada via remote video conferencing. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (705)788-7688.
For Day 40 of our Canine Care Christmas Countdown, we focus on barking at people on the street as it becomes busier with families coming home, and holiday shopping.
Barking at people walking down the street is rewarding through your dog's eyes. He barks to tell the person walking by "Don't even think about it! You are not to come into my home! I am fierce and will bite you!", and in his mind, he sees it working. Those enjoying their walk do move past the house and don't come in. That is how the barking plays out in your dog's thought process. He is simply trying his best to be a valued member of the household by protecting the home.
What we want to avoid at all cost is any punishment for barking, e.g. Shouting, Shock Collars, Citronella Collars. Why? You are suppressing and frustrating the dog. It associates pain with protecting the house, a natural instinct. If the dog gets used it, you need to increase the punishment and then where will it end? I recommend that those considering a shock collar is to use it on themselves first to truly understand what it feels like, remembering the dog's emotional capacity is the same as a 2-year old child. A citronella collar shoots what a dog hates into its face. I recommend before placing one of these on your dog, is to squirt a bottle of perfume directly onto your face. How long does it last? A punishment which last far longer than then when the barking ends. Do you want to punish your dog all day for barking at the mailman? Do you believe he will even remember the connection after being sprayed? What are you really teaching your dog? If you guessed to hate the collar, be scared to do anything that could set it off, and decimate the dog's confidence and happiness, your right.
The goals to change this behaviour is to redirect and then reinforce not barking. There are three stages to stop the barking. First, to interrupt the behaviour, second, to re-focus the mind elsewhere, and third, positively reinforcing 'not' barking. The risk in implementing a 'not-barking' behaviour shift to not unintentionally reinforce the barking. You reinforce barking when you miss the second stage. To successfully achieve the second stage, you want to achieve a full 10 seconds of not barking, before positive reinforcement.
A client and I have been working on recall commands. Every time she says 'here' the dog comes running. For the first stage, it is a great interrupter and can be used to interrupt the barking. But it is not enough. If the second stage of re-focusing mind is skipped., it will fail to stop the barking, possibly reinforce the barking as a good thing, and worse possibly undermine the effectiveness of the recall command, 'here.' Re-focusing the mind may be as simple as holding the treat for a few seconds longer allowing the dog to nibble but not gobble the reward for coming. It makes the dog have to work to get the treat, but not so hard as to not be rewarded for coming when called. Once the reward being nibbled on is finished, a gentle rub or scratch provides additional positive reinforcement. I like to include the phrase, "nice quiet" to provide the behaviour a name the dog will come to recognize.
If the dog returns to the barking directly after all three stages are carried out to the letter, it reveals that the dog is finding a great reward from the barking. The 'here' would still work to interrupt the barking, but his mind needs to be totally refocused away from the barking. He needs about ten full seconds where he has to puzzle out something more important than the reward he feels when he is fiercely protecting your home. So 'here' is a great command to break him from barking, but it must be followed by redirecting his focus in an equally rewarding & stimulating manner. Think about what he loves; you, scratches, new squeaky toys, puzzles, and 'find me' games. Now, which one of these will provide him with ten full-seconds of re-focusing. If nothing pops out at you as a way to refocus him, that is okay.
Another alternative strategy is to respond to the barking by leading him calmly and gently out of the room where he is barking - this will re-focus him as he won't know where you are going. Do not pull or push. Leading your dog anywhere must be a good experience for the dog. Otherwise, you can compound the issue. Once he is out of the room and you have him away from the barking for a full 10 seconds, kneel to the side of your dog and give him a lovely scratch and say "nice quiet" (your positive reinforcement that he is not barking). Next, with his lead still on bring him back into the living room and very quietly and gently remove the lead. While this takes a lot of commitment to do this each and every time, it allows the stages to be met to change the behaviour. Eventually, he will learn that barking does not lead to the reward of seeing people scared off by his ferociousness. The critical mistake you want to avoid is any negativity in being led away, or having his lead put on, remain gentle and firm, and ensure you complete the positive reinforcement.
Let me know if you are experiencing any problems with barking. I service the Muskoka region in person, and via video conferencing, anywhere in Canada. Read more about my Behaviour Training Services.
We have discuss travelling over the holidays, but Kurgo just posted a great blog that is worth the read.
TIPS FOR EASY HOLIDAY TRAVEL WITH YOUR DOG
'Sparky' Smith is a Canine Behaviorist and Practioner, educated through the International School for Canine Psychology & Behaviour, earning her ISCP.DIP.CANINE.PRAC.