Which dog is for you?

I would like to introduce you to two of my canine friends, Wilbur and Tedda.

wilbur and tedda

As you can see, they have many similarities, but they also have many differences. They joined the family about the same time, and each has come with their own unique set of characteristics.

Wilbur is a real dog, living and breathing. From puppyhood he has shown an interest in his surroundings. He wants to investigate, meet people and dogs, he loves to chew, run, bark, dig, and play. He gives me feedback on my actions in the form of body language and behaviour. He has good days and not-so-good days. He has likes and dislikes. As Wilbur’s owner it is my responsibility to help him meet his needs on a daily basis, to provide him with good choices so he can keep busy and active without leaving a trail of destruction in his wake, and to provide him meaningful feedback in the form of training and interaction so that he knows what behaviour leads to good things happening in his day.

Tedda is a stuffed toy, designed to be played with by dogs. He has squeakers, which can be annoying, but his list of annoying behaviours ends there. He sits around looking really cute, and he’s soft and cuddly when i feel so inclined to interact with him. He doesn’t make a mess (unless Wilbur tries to de-fluff him), he is quiet, and he has very cheap upkeep. He doesn’t ruin my stuff, and i have no need to spend any time training him or teaching him to behave in ways i like. He is a very easy addition to the household.

Unfortunately many people acquire dogs thinking they will behave like stuffed animals. Seen but not heard. Still and quiet until called upon to spend a short time doing dog-stuff: fetch, belly rub, walk. Punished for engaging in other dog behaviours: barking, digging, chewing. There is no time given to teaching our dogs good outlets for these behaviours, and too much time given to trying to quickly suppress these annoying characteristics.

Dogs are not pre-programmed at birth to know how we want them to behave. They do not know, automatically, right from wrong. They don’t know we will be upset when they chew up our shoes, pull on the lead, or dig up our lawn, they just know it is great fun. When we invite a dog to be part of our family, we need to do so with a commitment that we will help them to be the best dog they can be. We will provide them with the training, enrichment, socialisation, and exercise that will let them show us how awesome their doggy behaviours can be.

If this is too much responsibility, then you can purchase a Tedda from your local pet store instead – they are very cute!

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Are we having fun yet?

These days there are so many awesome things that we can do with our dogs. In most cities you will find off-leash dog areas, dog beaches, social dog walks, fenced dog parks, and a host of other activities. There are also numerous events that aren’t specifically organised for dogs, but where dogs and other on-leash pets are welcome too. This could include local markets, pet stores, community events, etc.

It can be so much fun getting out and socialising with other dog people, checking out the breeds that people own, introducing your dog to other people and puppy friends. We love our dogs so much, so why wouldn’t we want to show them off?

Check what’s going on at the other end of the leash – is your dog having fun too?

million paws walk townsville 2014
Wilbur at the Townsville Million Paws Walk 2014 – checking out the sights

Often event organisers and dog owners are well-meaning when they take their dog out and about, but for many dogs these social experiences can be overwhelming for them, especially if they are really only used to quiet walks around the neighbourhood.

Signs that your dog may be unhappy or too stressed in a certain situation could include inactivity and hanging close to you all the time, hyperactivity or hyper vigilance, pulling at other dogs and people beyond the point of being able to be redirected, barking or growling at other people or dogs, or showing stress signs such as trembling, yawning, licking his lips a lot, keeping his ears tucked back, and sniffing or pacing a lot. These are just some examples. Go to any heavily populated dog area and you will see plenty of dogs who would prefer a good game at home or a walk in a quieter area.

If you dog is showing signs of stress, what should you do? Remove your dog from the situation as soon as possible, and work on a plan to make that sort of outing something enjoyable. Depending on your dog you may just need to work on some basic manners training, or perhaps get help to develop a plan to change the way your dog views these things altogether. Or maybe these social outings aren’t actually important to you and your dog. There is a widely held belief that all dogs should be social butterflies and love any dog we set them up to play with. This just isn’t the case. Your dog may prefer to play with just a select few canine friends, or maybe none at all. So long as you help teach him not to feel afraid, and help him to pass on by without stress, there is no reason why you have to visit social dog locations.

Part of our responsibility as dog owners is to help our dogs be well socialised, confident, and happy members of society. They should be able to go out and about by our side without feeling afraid of day-to-day activities, sights, and sounds. Beyond that, if we want to get involved with our dogs at community events, it is important that we look out for our dogs and help them to enjoy the experience too! We are doing it for the dogs after all!

Little Dog Syndrome

off the leash cartoon

I saw this cartoon on one of my favourite Facebook pages, Off The Leash, and it got me thinking. Small dogs often have a bad reputation in the pet industry. We hear people describe them as dominant, spoilt, snappy, rude, uncontrolled, and a whole range of other unsavoury things. So what leads to this “little dog syndrome” that people talk about?

Look at the above cartoon, and imagine that Alexander is a Labrador or a German Shepherd. Suddenly things get a whole lot scarier, and the cartoon is much less of a joke! Small breed dogs often miss out on very important training and socialisation, simply because their size makes their behaviour less annoying or destructive. If your 30kg dog is pulling, barking, lunging, and growling on walks, that is more than just embarrassing! You get physically tired, and passers by get frightened. If you lose control of the lead, then things get quite dangerous. When your dog weighs just 5kg you might feel embarrassed, but you won’t lose control of the lead, and you might even laugh at how “tough” Alexander is trying to be.

Unfortunately for 5kg Alexander, what he is experiencing is just as real for him as for his larger doggy friends. It is just as important to figure out why your small dog is behaving a certain way, and looking for ways to help him behave differently, as it would be if your dog weighed 3-4 times as much. Often when small (or large) dogs are acting really tough and aggressive, they are actually very scared and are simply trying to increase the distance between themselves and the scary thing by going on the offensive. Most people would rather their pet not experience life as something to be scared off!

Positive reinforcement and other force-free training methods can be used with any small dog to help them to adapt and cope better in a world where everything is bigger than they are, and some extra training can really help create a happier bond between canine and human family members.