While the strategies or practice of using punishment in animal training are contentious, behaviorists agree that in many situations punishment can unequivocally make problem behaviors worse. Particularly in fearful or anxious dogs, the distinction between an animal’s actions being voluntary versus involuntary is huge – and punishment simply does not make sense when applied to an involuntary behavior or emotional response exhibited by a fearful or anxious dog. On Psychology Today’s blog, Ilana Reisner, DVM, PhD, DACVB elaborates on the damage punishment based training can have on fearful or anxious dogs, and how to address problems stemming from fear in a way that can not only stop the behavior and/or prevent it from worsening, but help sooth the dog’s emotional state over the long term as well. Her article is incredibly clear and helpful in defining fear & anxiety in dogs as well as how punishment and positive reinforcement respectively affect these states.
Meet Corneliuz. Who could resist that face, right? Right. I’m pretty sure that was the intention when these pictures landed in my inbox just over one year ago. “Bull terrier / rat terrier puppy in need of home. Isn’t he cute?”
My partner and I had said goodbye to our almost 12 year old Great Dane, Phoebe, just a few weeks before those pictures arrived, and we were in that “dog free” period that doesn’t happen very often in the lives of two veterinarians.
Now, I am not typically one to be swayed by pictures of a cute puppy, and I wouldn’t say that we were “looking” for a dog at that moment, but I was smitten even before I met him. We made arrangements to take him in for the weekend on a trial as a favor to a friend, but I had a feeling from the beginning there wasn’t likely to be anything temporary about our relationship with this handsome boy.
Before he arrived, we learned that he was surrendered for euthanasia by his previous owner at 16 weeks old. He was just a puppy, but he had “history” already by that young age that included bites to his owner in a resource guarding context. More on that later…
Within hours of his arrival, we learned that aggression wasn’t his only issue. He also had “pica”, or a behavior of eating non-food items. More on that one too… Within a one block walk, he vacuumed up every leaf, stick, nut, berry, and piece of trash in his path, and tried to swallow a few children’s toys along the way too.
You might be thinking, “What better home for this pup than with a veterinary behaviorist and a veterinary surgeon, right?” He may have won the lottery and we may have seemed the perfect fit for him, but that didn’t automatically mean that he was the right fit for us. We had a lot to discuss.
The short version of the story is that he is still here, and he isn’t going anywhere. It has been quite the journey over the last 12 months and I know that we will continue to learn from him throughout his entire life in our home. And, that also means that I have plenty of stories that I’ll be sharing with you all in the weeks, months, and years to come. Stay tuned.
~ Dr. Pachel
September marks the time of year when the kids go back to school, summer ends, fall begins, and stores start to put out Christmas decorations (what?!). It’s also the time of the year that I start thinking about what I’m going to do with my three dogs and all their energy when it’s too cold and rainy to get them out for a walk. We’ve been pretty lucky this year, getting a nice Indian Summer in October (I even got a sunburn!), but soon we’ll be battling boredom and rain (lots of rain).
Although some dogs do just fine with the weather change and less activity, most get really bored, and that can lead to restlessness and anxiety. When the weather is bad it’s difficult to get your dog the physical exercise that he needs, so it’s important to come up with other enjoyable things to do. Here are some of my favorite fun activities to help engage your dog and burn off that extra energy. They’re also quite fun to watch on a cold winter night!
- One easy way to entertain your dog is by using feeder toys or puzzles. In the winter, my dogs may get all of their meals out of a feeder toy or puzzle. It encourages them to move around and use their brain. Both things that are imperative to their overall health.
- A simple and fun way to get your dog moving is by scattering your dog’s food on the floor and allowing him to run around eating it bit by bit. You can also hide small amounts of his meal in easy to find places and encourage him to ‘find it’. You may need to give your dog some hints at first, but once he gets used to the game, he’ll be a pro in no time!
- Set aside time each and every day to play with your dog. My dogs have a million toys so I rotate them every few weeks so they don’t get bored with them. Pay particular attention to toys that you both can play with such as a tugging rope or even a flirt pole. This will give both you and your dog some exercise.
- For extra exuberant dogs, treadmill training might be the key to keeping them well exercised. There are many videos online about how to do this and most dogs do well. However, I’d recommend finding a qualified trainer to help you train this exercise safely.
- For those dogs that need a little help calming down, consider doga! Yoga is great for people and it’s also great for our dogs. Besides, have you ever noticed how when you’re practicing yoga on your living room floor your dog is always wanting to participate?
- Take a training class! Whether you want to learn something new like K9 Nosework or brush up on obedience skills, Portland has a ton of places to take classes with your dog and be indoors all at the same time.
- Not so stupid pet tricks. My favorite of all fun things to do! Trick training is great exercise for you and your dog and is super handy when you need entertainment at your next cocktail party. There are lots of books out there, but my favorite is 101 Dog Tricks by Kyra Sundance. The instructions are clearly illustrated and your dog also has the opportunity to earn his or her Trick Dog title!
This is just a small sampling of fun things that you and your dog can do to stay busy through the long winter months. Be creative and don’t be afraid to try something new!
~ Jenn Fiendish, CVT, VTS (Behavior)