GET ME OUT OF HERE!

We have just finished this year’s annual UK survival reality TV game show, I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here’, where 12 celebrities live together in a jungle environment for a number of weeks.

The contestants have to endure ‘Bushtucker Trials’ to earn food.

A young woman was locked in a tank of snakes. She is terrified of snakes. A man who’s not a good swimmer was shut in a dark tunnel leading to a deep tank with scary water critters. Others are buried in a dark tomb with rats and insects dropping all around them. They scream and shout.

These people do this through choice.

Terrified of the outside world

Marco

They know exactly when the terror will start and when it will end. They have a get-out card. If the terrified contestant shouts “I’M A CELEBRITY – GET ME OUT OF HERE!” he or she will be rescued immediately. There is a team of medics on hand, just in case.

They know that however much they hate the ordeal, they are safe. It will come to an end.

Imagine how it must be for a dog that is terrified of the outside world, like Marco.

After some weeks in kennels he has a wonderful new home. But, as soon as he leaves the sanctuary of the house and garden he is terrified.

The gate opens and a world of horror is beyond.

Vehicles – small, large, fast, slow, noisy, smelly – roar past. He lunges and barks, attack being the best form of defense.

In the open he is on high alert all the time. He barks at wind in the trees, at birds flying overhead and at distant lights. Bikes and joggers rush by without warning.

Unlike the ‘I’m a Celebrity’ contestants, poor Marco has no way of knowing that he is, in reality, safe.

It’s an educated guess that, in order for him to be like this, during the first three and a half years of his life he will have had little exposure, if any, to the world outside a house and garden.

All good dog owners need to give their dogs walks, right?

Like the conscientious dog owners they are, they wanted to do the very best for their gorgeous but troubled new dog. They had been taking him out for walks from the day they brought him home four weeks previously.

Outside the garden gate is, to him, hell. It’s one endless Bushtrucker Trial.

Unlike the ‘I’m a Celebrity’ contestants, Marco doesn’t have choice. He can’t know that in reality he is safe. He can’t know that the ordeal will only last a set length of time and then it will end.

Marco has has no ‘I’M A TERRIFIED DOG – GET ME OUT OF HERE!” option.

See this: What fear does to the body – dog or human.

With a dog so obviously fearful of the outside world, it’s common for a rescue to suggest to new owners that the dog isn’t taken out at all for three weeks.

No walks.

People find this hard and often ignore the advice.

Just imagine the enormity of being trapped in a totally new world over which you have no control.

First a dog has his new immediate surroundings to get used to – house, garden and people. As if this isn’t enough, he’s then taken out into a world of what must seem like mayhem to a dog that hadn’t been walked.

No animal, or human, willingly goes somewhere he believes he could come to harm. Keeping fit and exercise is a complete irrelevance compared to feeling safe.

They will now work slowly, always keeping in mind Marco’s comfort threshold. He’s fine in the house. He’s fine in the garden. When the gate opens he panics.

He transforms into a lunging, pulling and barking beast.

The gate is where his panic starts, so that is where the work begins.

They then need to get him okay with the traffic on the busy road outside. He has to pass by this before going anywhere else.

Desensitising and counter-conditioning.

With Marco on a long, loose lead they will open the gate and find his threshold distance – where he is aware of the passing traffic but can cope; it could be right away down the garden. As the vehicles pass and Marco is watching them, they will rain chicken on him. If he won’t eat, he is still over threshold. He will have the freedom and choice to retreat further.

With lots of short sessions, with vehicles at a safe distances heralding food, over time his threshold will get closer to the road.

His humans will be winning back the trust they will have lost. They will gain his trust if they allow him to choose what he is ready for, and when.

If with his body language he shows uneasiness, they will make things better.

If by barking he shouts, “GET ME OUT OF HERE!”, they will do just that.  They will get him out of there.

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The Invisible Dog

Apart from grazing on lower-value food like fruit, it’s highly unlikely a dog outside human guardianship would have an ever ready supply of food on tap without having to put some work into either scavenging or chasing and killing something – a ‘running’ buffet quite literally.

imagesHe would probably also be in competition for the food with other dogs.

Food is a currency with which we can help our dogs in all sorts of ways where possibly a pat and a fuss isn’t enough.

Food is the best means to teach Monty things we want him to learn. Food is the only thing that can be administered instantly and repeatedly in quick succession without stirring him up or distracting him like play or talking might.

Food is invaluable for counter-conditioning, for pairing with anything Monty is wary of.

Food, used correctly and with patience, is the nearest to a magic bullet that we have.

The more value food has to Monty, the more power it has.

imageIf a dog has constant access to edible goodies (unless perhaps he’s a Labrador!), surely this will be reducing the value of his food as a currency. If I were to win lottery millions (I’m often ‘in it’ but never ‘win it’), I wouldn’t get quite so excited as I would now about being showered with five pound notes.

Those of my clients who need to work with their dog and who leave the dog’s food bowl down and topped up all day have been introduced to The Invisible Dog.

Using their Invisible Dog, it’s unlikely their Bella won’t very soon be finishing up her meals.

Having The Invisible Dog doesn’t mean that food always has to be fed in bowls. It merely means that food won’t hang about once the dog walks away from it because The Invisible Dog quickly moves in. Just as another dog might.

Bella is allowed to walk right away from her bowl or food source before it’s removed. It’s not grabbed from under her nose which could encourage guarding.

(There are always exceptions. Sometimes for a particular reason and a particular dog, food needs to be left about).

Here is the story of a dog I went to recently who is very scared of bangs. To help Rio we need to be able to use food. He is currently overweight, he’s given unsuitable extras and treats when he asks for them. His food bowl is left down all the time.

For food to best help him with his fear of bangs it needs more value. Rio needs to be ready to eat – just a little hungry maybe? When working on bangs, food will arrive, almost literally, like pennies from heaven.

For more stories of dogs I have been to, visit my main website www.dogidog.co.uk

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Forcing Square Pegs into Round Holes

Over my many years, I am able to look back to how things were with our family dogs back in the day. I lived in a rural area and it was no big deal if my dogs went walkabout. I don’t remember anything about dog ‘training’ for family pets before Barbara Woodhouse.

Apart from one big dog that scared me by barking at me from behind a gate when I was a child and a Boxer belonging to a neighbour that chewed up my tortoise resulting in my strongly disliking dogs until I had one of my own in my early twenties (a Labrador), I don’t remember problem dogs.

Dogs back then, particularly away from towns, were more able to ‘be themselves’. As I remember it, mongrels were a lot more common.  I can’t remember dogs being overly fussed. Dogs simply lived in our houses, were chased away from our food – and had freedom. If they wanted to hunt – they went hunting.

Dogs’ lives today are for many reasons much more prescribed by us.  There is more traffic for a start. Most of my clients work all day and simply don’t have enough quality time to give their dogs and this often makes them feel guilty. They may then compensate in ways that aren’t particularly helpful for the dog, perhaps by over-indulging them in some way.

Despite our ever-increasing knowledge, it seems there is more and more work for someone like myself. Over the years that I have been working with dogs, there has been a huge increase in the number of dog trainers and behaviourists.

Busy people, instead of choosing dogs that were bred to be easygoing family pets, today are doing the very opposite. It’s crazy.

Why do we choose pedigree dogs, the majority being some kind of working breed? We mix breeds as with the doodles – working genes and brains. Why? We choose dogs that can’t breathe properly or give birth naturally. Why?

Unwittingly we subject our working dogs to a kind of prison. Lucky are the dogs with really dedicated humans who have the time, knowledge and enthusiasm to enrich their dogs’ lives appropriately and give them the kind of lives they were bred to live.

I picked out at random three of my ‘stories‘. Each one is a dog living a life he or she was not born to live. No wonder the huge amount of frustration, inappropriate guarding and hyperactive behaviour we are now dealing with.

Einstein

Einstein is a Poodle Rottie Doberman mix. Brains, herding and guarding. Is it any wonder that he chases people away – or tries to? Early training and lots of cuddles is good, but not enough.

Pixie

Pearl is a Jack Russell. Bred to hunt, to be on the lookout for rats for most of the day. Quick bursts of extreme energy. She is alone indoors for ten hours a day. Is it any wonder she is awake at night, that she is short-tempered or that she constantly seeks attention? Her evening walk is good, but not enough.

Banjo

Banjo is a Beagle. Bred to hunt and to live in a pack. Is it any wonder he doesn’t like being left alone, that he’s destructive, he still messes indoors at two years old and that he chases the cat? Two on-lead walks a day and half an hour of ball play is not enough.

This is what Pat Miller has to say in Whole Dog Journal: ‘One would expect that the rise of force-free training methods and the increased awareness of and respect for dogs as sentient creatures would make life easier for them. We should expect to see a corresponding rise in the number of calm, stable, well-adjusted dogs who are happily integrated into lifelong loving homes. But many training and behavior professionals note with alarm the large number of dogs in today’s world who seem to have significant issues with stress and anxiety, with high levels of arousal and low impulse control.

It’s quite possible this is a function of societal change. There was a time not so very long ago when life was pretty casual for our family dogs. They ran loose in the neighborhood day and night; ate, slept, played, and eliminated when they chose; and many had jobs that fulfilled their genetic impulses to herd some sheep or cows, or retrieve game felled by a hunter’s gun.

In contrast, life today is strictly regimented for many of our canine companions; many live in social isolation, and when they do get out, their activities are on a tight schedule. Owner expectations and demands are high. Dogs are told what to do from the moment they are allowed to get up in the morning until they are put to bed at night, including when and where they are allowed to poop and pee. Some of today’s dogs never get to run off-leash or socialize freely on a regular basis with other dogs. During any free time they may have, they are expected to just lie around and be “well behaved” (by human standards, not canine ones!). They have virtually no control over what happens in their world. Some trainers suggest this strict regimentation is a significant contributor to the stress and arousal levels of today’s family dog. Imagine how stressed you might be if your life was as tightly controlled by someone else.’

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Always Look on the Bright Side Of Life…

At a meeting we were discussing dogs being either pessimistic or optimistic, introvert or extrovert.

Someone suggested that the two things go hand in hand (paw in paw). Would the introvert dog be more likely to be pessimistic and the extrovert more of an optimist?

Paddy

There were two dogs in the room with us. Paddy, a Springer Spaniel, was a bundle of happiness, running around constantly, giving and receiving love and having fun.

Maisie was a larger dog of mixed breed. She had been found dumped by the road and in a terrible state as a young puppy. She understandably was less trusting – more uncertain around people anyway.

You can see here how Maisie was very suspicious of a stuffed dog, whereas Paddy sniffed it once and went waggingly back to interacting with all the people!

These two dogs were poles apart. The Springer, a real extrovert around people, looks like he’d be a lot more likely to expect the best from things life throws at him, certainly in the context of a hall full of people, than would Maisie.

An article I have just read by Linda P. Case in The Science Dog suggests that we all, whether optimists or not, suffer from a negativity bias. It would stand to reason that a negativity bias would be even greater in a pessimist than an optimist.

Case says, ‘This is the phenomenon in which we naturally pay more attention to and give more weight to negative information and experiences compared with those that are positive. It is this particular cognitive bias that causes us to be more hurt or discouraged by insults or criticism than we are pleased or encouraged by compliments and shining reviews.

‘Research studies have shown that the human brain actually experiences stronger neural activity when reacting to negative information compared with when we are given positive information. As a result unpleasant experiences are inevitably more memorable to us than are pleasurable ones’.

This resonates very strongly with me.

What about our dogs?

The *researchers were actually studying emotional contagion in dogs and in the process discovered that dogs paid more attention to negative information than to positive information. When they heard sounds of either a human crying or a dog whining, the dogs showed more signs of stress and arousal than when they listened to positive vocalizations from either a human or another dog.

I wonder which dog would be more empathetic to our feelings though. Paddy, our extrovert, sociable Spaniel, or the cautious Maisie?

I would say I myself am on the optimistic side side of things. However, the effect of one email in the morning from a client who is struggling will instantly wipe out any ‘feel-good’ effect of ten happy emails reporting good progress.

Almost subconsciously I then carry this negative feeling around with me for some time.

What does just one angry shout at our dog or one use of force or punishment do to our dogs’ state of mind? Will not an introverted dog, already pessimistic and possibly more ‘difficult’ or fearful be a lot more affected by punishment than the more resilient optimist?

A couple more thoughts…..

We know one critical word in the world of cyber-bullying can overwhelm an impressionable teenager.

Some people actually seem to enjoy being pessimistic and miserable, whilst people being constantly optimistic can sometimes be a bit annoying!

Remember Monty Python’s classic ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life‘?

I have this song now as an earworm and it’s driving me mad! Play it at your peril.

PS. Dogs, like us, are a mix of all sorts of things. I myself am not too keen on the idea of categorising them with labels but was picking up on discussion and an article. It also depends upon context. Paddy is much more noise-sensitive which probably suggests pessimism of some sort, but in the context of a room full of people he’s an extrovert socialite!
*Huber A, Barber ALA, Farago T, Muller CA, Huber L. Investigating emotional contagion in dogs (Canis familiaris) to emotional sounds of humans and conspecifics. Animal Cognition 2017′ 20:703-715.
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Pawing our Pets

Why do we humans find it so hard to just let our dogs be?

Must tickle that fluff-ball! Can’t resist scrunching that sleek black coat. Ooooh, kiss that soft muzzle. Coochy-coo…squeeze that little pug-face.

Why do I, like so many humans, feel like this? The feel, the smell, the everything... cries out “Touch Me!”.

Why is it we humans so get off on stroking, ruffling, tickling, ruffling and roughing-up canine fur?

Fortunately for our sakes, many dogs love it – but not all. Do we even consider if Archie likes being approached and touched in our urge to lavish physical affection on his cute little face?

“What? He doesn’t like it? But I’m a Dog Lover!”.

Some dog owners I visit touch their dogs all the time they are near to them. Who is more needy, the human or the dog? I sometimes suggest a compulsive toucher spends five minutes at a time sitting on their hands. They could take up knitting.

I also meet dogs that avoid a particular human, usually the one that loves them the most, because they get no peace. This person is terribly upset.

Does fondling dog’s fur give us some sort of high?

Just imagine living with needy members of another species, that you are unable to escape from, that want to paw us all the time. (It can be equally bad when our own species does it).

Even strangers feel they are entitled to join in ‘dog-touching’.

Looking at dogs in a group – dogs just being dogs – do we see communal touching going on beyond a few sniffs and licks here and there? No.

We ourselves may enjoy a certain kinds of non-intimate touching for limited periods of time, like massage. It is likewise for dogs. This is an expert kind of touch that is sensitive to when the dog has had enough. He has choice.

Scenting?

It’s been suggested  before that a dog may rub his body against someone or against furniture much like a cat to spread his scent. Stroking our hand over a dog might seem to him like us scent marking. This would add another unwelcome angle to all this touching from the point of view of the dog.

My most recent case story got me thinking down this path – a lovely puppy that simply doesn’t want to be touched in his bed when he’s resting. Typing ‘being touched‘ in the search box on my website brings up a large number of case stories of dogs that have problems with being touched in certain ways, at certain times or by certain people.

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We Exhale, Our Dogs (and Cats) Become Smokers Too

‘Supervet’ Noel Fitzpatrick was quoted in the Daily Mail yesterday saying, ‘Pet owners have not yet got the message that their dogs and cats can get cancer from their second-hand smoke.’

passive smokingNoel Fitzpatrick referred to this study at the University of Glasgow:

From Glasgow University News: ‘An ongoing study by the University of Glasgow shows a direct link between the effects on pets living in a smoking environment and a higher risk of health problems including some animal cancers, cell damage and weight gain.

Professor Clare Knottenbelt, Professor of Small Animal Medicine and Oncology at the university’s Small Animal Hospital, has been studying the effects of smoking and the health impact it has on family dogs and cats.

Knottenbelt said: “Our findings show that exposure to smoke in the home is having a direct impact on pets….”

This took me back to another ‘Paws for Thought’ I wrote over two years ago: Cigarettes – The Danger to Dogs Goes Way Beyond Passive Smoking

Since I wrote my first ‘Paws’ on the subject, vaping has really taken off. Does this remove the risk for our dogs? Are there dangers to our pets with vaping also?

I quote Mary Simpson from PetGuide.com:

‘Here’s the problem. Nicotine is toxic to pets – whether consumed through a butt discarded on the street or by getting hold of a tasty smelling mock-cigarette. The vape versions contain the equivalent of one to two cigarettes per and when purchased in packs of five to 100 cartridges and placed within reach of your pooch it can quick spell tragedy for all involved…’

 

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Sensory Overload – Dogs Also?

I recently visited a teenage girl with autism. She was wearing noise cancelling ear muffs.

She explained to me that without them she simply has sensory overload. They enable her to function.

Her two highly-stressed little terriers, like so many dogs I go to, showed signs of suffering from sensory overload themselves. In addition, their own hearing and sense of smell is far more acute than our own.

Added to this, dogs will usually have little freedom to escape from what is, to them, ‘too much’.

To quote the Puppy Playground website:

The Ears: By the time their sense of hearing has developed, (a dog) can already hear 4 times the distance of a human with normal hearing.  Dogs can hear higher pitched sounds and can detect a frequency range of 67-45,000 Hz, compared to a human range of 64-23,000 Hz.

The Nose: A human has about 5 million scent glands whereas dogs have 125 million to 300 million (depending on breed), meaning their sense of smell is 1,000 to 10,000,000 times better than humans!

I thought I would find out just little more about why these ear covers help someone with autism. Phoebe Caldwell says:

‘…. in general, people on the spectrum find it difficult to process too much incoming sensory information. Their sense organs (the eyes/ears etc…) may be working perfectly well but the brain has a limited processing capacity. ‘If you feed my brain with too much data it will crash’.

Mutt Muffs

Could this not be the similar with certain dogs?

This led me off ona bit of a tangent to Google ‘Can dogs have autism’ and I found this article from Nicholas Dodman. I found there was a lot more on the subject online. Dodman concludes his interesting article on Bull Terriers, ‘At least we seem have found the first canine model of autism and top psychiatrists and neurologists agree that our findings are real.’

Take a look at this – ‘Can Dogs Have Autism‘.

Obviously sensory overload doesn’t necessarily mean autism. Sensory problems alone could be diagnosed as a sensory processing disorder.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could find a non-drug equivalent to noise cancelling ear muffs for little dogs like those I have just visited – to give them and their family a break if nothing else?

There are, of course, ‘Mutt Muffs‘ which I had always considered a bit of a joke.

Maybe not?

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