“Ready?” Using meta-communication to help your dog

A short post today, but I hope a helpful one. It's inspired by the "mud luscious and puddle wonderful" nature of spring, and the need to wipe off Will's paws as we enter the house when it's wet outside. As I was drying Willie's paws a few days ago, I thought about how much easier it is now that I say "Ready?" right before I pick up each leg. Since I started communicating my intention ("now I am going to pick up this paw"), he is beginning, on occasion, to pick up a paw himself, but more often he will shift his weight so that it is less awkward for him. (Yep, I could train him to pick up each paw on cue... also a potential solution, but keep reading for some potential benefits of a more generalized cue.) Keep in mind that this is the dog who, as an adolescent, growled at meĀ  when I picked Read More

Lost Dogs

I'm inspired to write this after crying over the happy ending of a lost dog saga. A Golden bitch, who had been rescued from a hellish life in a puppy mill, had escaped from her new home and run into the woods. She was friendly and loving to everyone when she was in her foster home, but once she took off she became terrified of human contact. She was spotted numerous times, but ran off every time she saw someone, even from familiar dogs and her new, beloved human. The story reminds me of the time that I lost Tulip. It was only for nine hours, and it was one of the worst days of my life. She was old by then, with a severely weakened hindquarters, and I knew she'd never go running in the deep snow voluntarily. After hours of searching the woods in a snow storm, calling and stopping at Read More

Oxytocin Increases When Your Dog Looks at You

A friend and colleague (Toni Ziegler, an internationally known primatologist) sent me an article in a journal I usually never see, Hormones and Behavior, and I was sure you'd be as interested in it as I am. The authors, M. Nagasawa et. al., found a correlation between the level of an owner's oxytocin and how much their dog tended to gaze directly at them. First off, you probably know that oxytocin is the "feel good" hormone that is associated with lactation and social bonding. Someone called it the "wine and candle light" hormone, because it seems to play an important role in social relationships and feelings of trust and affection. (People are more trusting of strangers if oxytocin is sprayed into their nose--leading me to speculate in For the Love of a Dog that we should all be armed Read More

Thunder Phobia in Dogs

I promised I'd write more about treating thunder phobia in dogs, beyond the earlier posting that it won't make things worse if you try to comfort them. It's such a serious problem for some dogs (and their humans), and everyone who has a dog who suffers from it deserves some help (or just support!). All I can do here is to summarize some of the treatments I have known to work.. a thorough discussion of treatments requires a booklet unto itself . I encourage you to send in comments to let others know what has worked for you, because if there's one thing I've learned, it's that there is no one treatment that works for all dogs. Counter Classical Conditioning: This is the first treatment I recommend, and it is especially effective in mild or moderate cases. I'm doing it now to prevent Read More

Tulip’s Tulips

As promised, I'm going to write soon about helping dogs with Thunder Phobia (and the very interesting issue of reinforcing fear and/or the behavior that expresses it) , but I couldn't resist posting a few photos from this morning. Here's Mr. Will, front and center as usual, as I try to take a photo of the tulips that are blooming over Tulip's grave. I named Tulip, in part, after the white tulips I planted in honor of my first Great Pyrenees Bo Peep. We buried Tulip with the hundreds of fresh tulips her admirers had spontaneously brought to a celebration of her life a few hours before we put her down. Tulip the dog may have been all white, but her spirit was a rainbow of colors. The flowers are planted overĀ  her grave, in the place that she spent so many hours, chewing on bones, Read More