Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Marley says "This Is Fun!"

Say hello to Marley, an 8 month old American Pitbull Terrier! She is having fun learning all of the necessary skills to take part in conformation dog shows later this year. Here she is practicing "stacking" (standing) on her mat, and she loves it!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Beagle or Basset? Poodle or Pug?

With the sheer number of dogs turned into shelters and advertised in the local paper or on Kijiji, it's clear that somewhere along the line the thought of *planning* for your newest addition has gone by the wayside to be replaced by impulse buys or shallow choices - cuteness factor, being the main offender.

Sure, you DO want a cute dog, but that dog's cuteness quickly wears off when it is herding the children, has endless energy, or won't play well with others.

When you are getting a new family member, whether it is your first dog or your fifth, the decision should always be made with thought and a realistic look at your own lifestyle. In every person's life, as you progress through the path of life, your own lifestyle will change very much - young adulthood, career-based, family with kids, empty nester, and eventually retirement and senior citizenship, to name a few. As you travel that path, the truth is that the right dog for you at 25 might not be the right dog for you at 45 or 60 - based on a lot of things - finances, exercise and energy, physical limitations, the type of home that you live in, etc.

Below are just some of the considerations that should be involved when thinking about what type of dog (not breed!) will best fit into the life you have now.

1. Size
- Bigger dogs cost more money to feed, and accessories - kennels, collars, leashes, etc, are more expensive as you increase in size.
- Bigger dogs are often better suited to families with kids than tiny dogs. Some folks are a bit worried about medium-large dogs hurting children, but the reality is a small dog is at a much higher risk of injury, or for scary things to happen when the kids try to pick up, squeeze, hug, or fall on a small dog.
- Bigger dogs are, by sheer nature of size, much stronger than smaller dogs. If you have physical limitations due to disability or age, size needs to be an important consideration.
-Where you live may play a role in the best dog for you. Some apartments limit you to small dogs only, and if you live in a small one bedroom apartment you might have some space troubles with larger dogs.

2. Exercise Needs
- This is a biggie, because a lack of exercise is one of the leading causes of unwanted behaviour.
- Size is not an indicator of energy level! That's important. Some of the most high-energy dogs I've seen are small dogs, and many of the giant breeds can be pretty low-key. Age of the dog can also play a role in energy levels as well.
- Be realistic, not idealistic! If you are already a jogger and run five days a week, then a very active Shepherd or Malamute may be a great choice! But please don't kid yourself with the idea of "I'll start jogging when I get my pup". Like most New Year's resolutions, that thought process tends to fail miserably. Either take up jogging now, and get a dog to match that in a few months when you have a routine, or get a dog that matches the energy level you have now.

Any dog, even low-energy dogs will need at least 1/2 hour of exercise per day, so take that into account and plan accordingly. If you can't supply that minimum, please reconsider getting a dog until you can fulfill that. Exercise can come in many forms - walking, fetch, playing at the park, swimming, running in a field, frisbee, etc. Putting your dog in the backyard by itself is not exercise. Dogs don't tend to exercise themselves - you need to provide it.

3. Grooming needs.
- Do you want to spend 15 minutes every day combing out your dog, or do you prefer a wash n' wear dog?
- If you want a dog that needs regular grooming, like poodles or many terriers, do you want to spend the time learning how to do it or will you take your dog to a groomer? One takes time, the other takes money.
- Don't mistake short hair for a clean house! Some of the shortest-haired dogs are the worst shedders, and while you aren't vacuuming up clumps of fur these hairs tend to stick into clothes and furniture and clothing like barbs and are hard to remove.
- Are you a clean-freak? This might help determine shedding vs. nonshedding dogs. Keep in mind though the majority of non-shedding breeds have higher grooming requirements and are not wash n' wear for that reason.

4. Age of Dog
- Puppies are most charming little things, with their dependence on you and their big eyes. But keep in mind this can be a most frustrating time! Puppy teeth are sharp, they need to be taught where to potty, they need lots of manners and routine, and they need lots and lots (and lots!) of good socialization!
- Puppyhood is a ton of work, and it is not for everyone. Older dogs have a lot of that behind them already (although not all, if you go the shelter route some of these dogs still need a helping hand), their puppy antics are gone and they are settled into the personality they will carry forward. What you see is generally what you get. Puppy personalities are very unpredictable as to what an adult version will be like.

Those are just a few of the considerations you should ponder as you take that leap to choose your next companion, but that's not all! I will touch on other factors such as breed types and differences, existing pets, level of experience, and longterm considerations in another posting.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Training is not "all he needs"

There is no doubt that training is a necessary and important aspect of living with dogs. In order for dogs to learn to survive in human societies, we need to teach them how to do that. But there is a long-standing myth that every problem that people face with their dogs can be "trained" away.

This is simply not true.

A lot of problem *behaviours* stem from roots other than just training, although a lack of training usually occurs alongside.

Too often I am faced with dilemmas that exceed mere training and delve into deeper issues between the family and the dog. Part of my job as a trainer is to help people realize what else is missing in their dog's routine that is contributing to problems they are experiencing.

Poor matches between families and the dogs they choose as companions is a very key component to problems that owners face. Most people seek out dogs whose appearance is appealing or different, who has special markings, or is very different from the typical dogs in the community. Some choose on sheer emotion when they feel bad for a dog sitting in the corner at the shelter, not realizing the inherent difficulties they may face later. Still others choose based upon the premise of "my last dog was a ________, so another one would be perfect." Decisions made in this way sometimes do work out fine, and life continues merrily. But all too often things slowly start to go downhill and *training* does not seem to be solving the problem. This is not a failure of the trainer or the dog, but a failure in the realization that the dog that a family wants, and the dog the family has, are not the same dog.

You can't make a high-energy dog into a couch potato, no matter how much training you do. That dog, if not given sufficient physical and mental exercise and an outlet for that energy, will express it in other ways, such as barking, digging, running away, pulling on leash or destructive chewing. The real solution to the *problem* is to either make a lifestyle change in yourself, to accommodate the dog that you have, or to find that dog a suitable home where it will be able to have its needs fulfilled.

The same thing can be said when you assume that since your last dog was naturally the world's-best-dog, all others of its type must be the same way. This couldn't be further from the truth. No two dogs are the same, and dogs within a breed can vary greatly from one to the next. Assuming your next dog will be just like your last one is immediately setting yourself up for disappointment and failure if that turns out not to be the case. And as it happens, the dog is the one who suffers. It is punished harshly for behaviours that are merely symptom of other needs not being met; the dog is kennelled more and more often or banished to the yard; the dog develops self-destructive stress behaviours like licking, spinning, chewing, or fixations; or the dog is put to sleep as a *problem dog* or *untrainable*. When simply a better match could have prevented all of those problems.

Every family dynamic is different, and not all dogs will fit in neatly to the life and schedule that you live in.

Choosing the right dog for you is the first step to ensuring that you and your dog will spend many happy years together.

If you already made your choice of dog and are finding that you are having some mismatch problems, all is not necessarily lost. In the majority of cases solutions can be found to bring peace back into the home.

But if you are looking to add a new dog into your home, whether for the first time, second time, or fifth time, there are considerations to make before taking home the first dog that catches your eye.

Stay tuned for considerations to make when thinking of adding a new dog.

In the meantime, feel free to share your stories - whether happy endings or horror stories - of how you chose the dogs that you currently have in your home, and what led you to make that choice!