ELEVEN ways to help your dog with fireworks

Thunder and fireworks, while exciting, can be terrifying for your dog. Let’s look at ways to help them deal with the stress.

1. Isolation

Place your dogs in an area in the house that is isolated from everything. Bathrooms are good, as are internal bedrooms. A dressing room, should you have one, is the best, as the clothing on the walls effectively dampens any exterior sounds.

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2. Masking

Play music in the room where the dogs are. This results in a masking effect, and creates additional ambient sound. Play a selection with a wide range of frequency, highs and lows, and lots of drums. House music, rock music or country is a good choice during periods of loud thunder or fireworks. This is not the time for relaxing to Enya or yoga vibes. Ensure the music doesn’t stop when you are away, as the silence can be deafening.

3. Soundproofing

Place sound absorbent materials, such as carpeting, towels, blankets etc. in the room where the dogs are staying. This will in effect break up the sound transfer, and reduce the pressure reaching the dogs. By the way, this also helps with a noisy puppy; or a crying baby.

4. Sedation

Personally I am not a fan of drugs such as Prozak or Ace. However, if your dog has an extreme case of PTSD, or is severely affected by load noises, then this may be your only solution. They do work, and most have minimal side affects. Check with your vet first though.

5. Feeding

Feed your dogs shortly before the action is about to start. Most dogs take a nap after dinner, so may be more relaxed. However, if your dog has a tendency to throw up when fearful, then I would not feed them prior. Rather I would wait until you return home, or until after the fireworks are over.

6. Training

Group Stay on grassYes, I am a trainer, so clearly I may be accused of bias. But the truth is training is very effective. The trick is to know how and when to train, and to know your limitations. Start by introducing your dog to noise on a limited basis, over a period of weeks. Don’t wait until July 3rd to start. Depending on your dog, and if you are reading this, chances are your dog has this issue, you may have to start small, and build up in baby steps. Don’t flood your dog. Build on successful results, and avoid overwhelming your dog, which could cause them to crash. Remember, positive is always more effective than pressure.

7. Calming

Calming kind of goes with training. Basically you use your training foundation to maintain calm in your dog. Using a gentle assertive voice you show your dog there is nothing to fear. By “assertive” I do NOT mean dominant compulsion. I mean remaining calm and respectful, but using your “parent” voice. Use words such as “settle”, “relax” or “easy”. Avoid corrections, such as “NO!” These increase stress. Remain kind and fair to your dog, while showing them noise is just that; noise!

8. Companionship

Having a second dog can be useful. Or for that matter another animal. However, it only works if the companion is calm and relaxed. Placing two animals that are both reactive or stressful will result in a cumulative or even exponential effect.

9. Crating

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Anyone that knows me knows I love crates. If used correctly, they are awesome. But like any tool, you need to prepare and train. Crating plays on the denning principle in animals. Most dogs love their crates. Mine cannot wait to go into their crates, as it provides a safe and quiet place for them. If your dog is not comfortable in a crate, consult a professional trainer before leaving them in a crate over July 4th.

10. Kenneling

Another option if you are out for the night is to board your dog at a kennel. Check that they have protocols in place to ensure your dog cannot break out of a kennel, or better still, that their facility is soundproof. Keep in mind that some kennels are full over July 4th, or have minimum stays.

11. Treat

As a trainer, I love things that keep my dogs occupied. A bone, or a Kong filled with cheese or peanut butter will keep them occupied for hours. My dogs will chew on almost anything I give them. Avoid things that they could choke on, and if you have more than one dog, ensure you keep them separated to avoid conflict over a bone or toy. Did I mention crate training?

P.S.Thundershirt

This tip is a freebie. Look into the “thundershirts” that dogs can wear. They work on dogs that are already anxious, and may minimize their reactivity. I have found these work best on dogs that have been acclimated to them over a period of weeks.

EXTRA: Exercise

Ludwig running in forest.jpgDon’t forget exercise! Run, swim or play with your dog for a hour prior to the evening. You probably need the exercise too; I know I do, but your dog will LOVE the additional attention. And after all, isn’t that what life is about.

A tired dog is a sleepy dog.

Back in the 80’s Where It All Began!

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Seeing The Boss last night appearing for the Hurricane Sandy victims made me think back to the 80’s. (For those that aren’t as old as I am, The Boss is Bruce Springsteen!)
And one of my earlier newspaper appearances. It was around 1985, in Pretoria, South Africa, while I was the Head Trainer for a school called Canine Institute. What is interesting is some of the statements I made back then.

So I thought we would compare my statements in 1985 versus now in 2012, 27 years later.

1985 – “…owners had to learn to understand their dogs because most problems with dogs were caused by a lack of understanding on the owners part”

2012 – Mmm. Not much as changed! We still spend most of our training time teaching owners to understand their dogs behaviors.

1985 – “…dogs trained for protection had to have previous obedience training…”

2012 – No change there either. We still teach personal protection dogs obedience training, and even law enforcement and military working dogs are coming to that conclusion.

1985 – “…any dog could be trained, even very passive dogs as well as aggressive ones…”

2012 – That is not always true. In those days we could take higher risks, whereas today we have to consider liability and safety issues. However, we still train almost every dog that comes to us.

1985 – “Mr. Oosthuisen trains all the dogs in three to four weeks…the clients are given a lesson…the owner attends classes for eight weeks…”

2012 – We still train dogs for three to four weeks, but now I have a staff of highly trained instructors to help. And of course, as it was in 1985, follow-up training is still critically important.

1985 – “Dogs can be trained in any language”

2012 – We continue to train in many languages, and have dogs working in English, Dutch, French, German and Czech. We even have a dog trained in sign-language!

So while many of the training techniques are different; and we use far more motivational training systems, the basics are the same.

Of course, my hair has changed a little! And I have added a few pounds, but in 2013…..

For the record, I started training in 1973, almost forty years ago, with Bill Diamond in Johannesburg, South Africa. The German Shepherd is Bodger, who belonged to Aileen Rolfe. Aileen was one of the most wonderful clients and was the first to sponsor me in obedience and agility trials. Bodger also appeared in numerous movies, including Howling IV, until his death in 1990 (I believe).  – Thank you to Robin for sending me this picture.

Then, and now, I still consider it an honor to working with dogs and people!

What did You Not Understand About …..?

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Have you ever been to the doctor, and not taken the meds they prescribe?
Have you been told to slow down, but yet you still drive fast!

I have days when I tell students: “Don’t do this; do that”.

And then I watch them do exactly the opposite.

Let me give you an example. Ms. Smith (yes, you guessed it, not her real name) comes to me and says her dog potty’s in her house.

I suggest she crates the dog, until she is able to take it outside to go potty, and then either crates the dog again; or keeps it on leash.

Two days later I get an email – “my dog peed in the house when I was out”

So what part of “Crate your Dog Did You Not Understand”?

Let me be clear; I love my students; almost as much as I love their dogs!
(Shhhh, don’t tell them I love the dog more)

So I don’t mean this disrespectfully, but:

If you hire me to train your dog – well, actually train you; then why don’t you listen to what I say.

As a professional trainer my job is to teach, and I love teaching. So in effect, you are great job security! But if you want results, then listen to what you are being taught to do.

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As a side note; if you have ever been to my classes, you will find I spend quite a bit of time explaining why you need to do something, as opposed to just telling you to do something.My philosophy is that if I can teach you to UNDERSTAND, the likelihood of you following my direction is higher.

Be a Parent, not a Grandparent

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When interacting with your dog, it is perfectly okay to spoil them.

But remember, love them as a parent!

The Task of a Parent

Parents need to teach their kids what is appropriate behavior. No child is born with an understanding of the complex requirements we have of society. Use encouragement and motivation. Guide them in a direction of what is acceptable and what is not.

We also need to remember that expecting a child to act as an adult is not only difficult; it is ridiculous. (For that matter, there are many “adults” that act as kids!)

Dogs are no different! Puppies need to learn what to chew on; when to eat; when to play and when to sleep.

As the pet owner, you are the parent. And as the parent, you are responsible for teaching them.

Older Dogs

Older dogs that have been raised with few boundaries, need to learn how to act. And while most are willing to learn, there are a few that either have no wish to learn, or are so established in their behavioral patterns, they have no wish to change.

The Task of a Grandparent
What is the task of a Grandparent. Actually, this is quite complex.

In many societies, Grandparents are seen as the “elders”.

They have extensive experience; have learned many life-lessons and are generally well educated. In many cultures, education is not book learned; it is learned through practical hands-on training. A “student” is taught through constant repetition of the correct behavior.

“You learn what you see!”  (Sound familiar?) 

In behavioral training we refer to this as modeling, and at our school we apply this concept extensively. Older (more experienced) dogs teach younger (greener) dogs.

Respect

Something these cultures have in common is a great respect for the elder. Students value their leadership, teachings and knowledge. Students are comfortable with following and obeying the elder; and elders feel appreciated and needed.

In the Western world, this has changed. While many see the elders as knowledgable, the proliferation of electronics and social media has created a belief that the younger generations know more. Now the child believes they are “more educated”.

I am not sure I agree with this. Yes, sure, we know more about computers, games, sport, etc.. But are these truly life lessons? Does this mean we know it all? Is this a new culture?

Grandparents as Spoilers

For many families, the Grandparent has been relegated to the background. (In some cases, the Grandparent is completely missing, but that’s for another discussion.)

Grandparents now fill the role of being the “spoiler”, meaning they spoil the kids, they don’t educate them. This is not necessarily wrong; simply it is what it is. The problem is that some dog owners become Grandparents.

Entitlement Generation

So is this change in our culture possibly the source of our “entitlement” generation? Have we developed a new culture? One in which first the grandparent; and now the parent; is no longer the teacher? Worse, the student believes they are now entilted?

We need to get back to being the parent! Parents still need to teach! And children need to learn. Grandparents should be a part of that process, even if they are more in the support role. After all, they have a lifetime of experience to offer – let’s put that to use!

What has this got to do with Dogs?

By now, you are wondering what has this to do with dogs.

Let me explain.

Dogs are like children. For many, they are our children.

They need calm, confident and motivated leadership.

They need to be educated.

They need to learn restraint.

They need to learn what the rules are in life – what we tolerate, and what we don’t!

Parents not Grandparents.

So while you want to be seen as a dog lover; remember to be a parent first.

Relax and Breath

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Sometimes it’s good to take a seat and relax. Breath, calm and quiet.

I’m reminded of what is important in our lives.
Most days I’m going at a frenetic pace, 12-14 hours. And I love it.

But there are times when it’s nice to sit back and watch a little mind at work.

The concentration, the focus, the ability to do it for themselves.

And while this is my own daughter, and clearly I’m biased, she truly is the most beautiful princess.

So relax, breath and enjoy the quiet!