Does Your Dog Try to Stop You from Leaving the House?
Does your dog bark at you, pull at your clothes or attempt to squeeze his way out the door in a frantic attempt to either stop you from leaving, or to go with you?
I have read advice from trainers saying the reason dogs do this is because they want to dominate you, stop you from leaving the house and thereby control your life.
Hmmm, not so sure about that…
What is your dog expressing with his behaviour?
Let’s put ourselves in our dog’s paws for a moment as we contemplate this:
Each day you are forced to stay at home, locked inside, and away from the people you know and love. Perhaps you have a couple of toys to play with, but nobody to play with. You sleep on and off throughout the day, but mostly you are bored. You hear noises outside, perhaps other dogs barking, people laughing, kids playing. You imagine all the things that might be happening out there, but there is no way you can be part of it all. Your attempts to call your people (aka barking, howling, whining) or even to escape your confinement, (scratching at the door, digging, chewing) are all in vain.
How is my dog feeling?
At the beginning you might be bored and lonely. But, as the hours, days, weeks and months pass, with the same routine of being left alone, you start to become disillusioned, frustrated and even angry at not having your needs met, or being able to change your circumstances.
As stress levels rise, the brain changes gear into the sympathetic nervous system and brings on a natural flight-fight response. As there is no way to flee or escape, fighting / anger and aggression becomes the only option to express your emotions.
Dogs thrive on social contact.
Just like us, dogs are social animals, and have a compelling need for social contact and interaction for most of their waking hours.
They are not hardwired or equipped with the ability to spend long periods alone or confined.
It can be damaging to their physical, mental and social well being.
Dogs need to learn to stay alone.
For most of us who share our lives with dogs however, it is necessary that our dogs learn to cope and become resilient about being separated from their family group and left alone for some time.
They can learn this, but to get the best results, we need to start teaching them from young puppies that they can still feel safe and comforted when spending time alone.
Even adult dogs can learn coping strategies, but it requires time, patience and making sure that we are providing a well-balanced lifestyle by meeting all their physical, mental and emotional needs.
So, the answer is the opening question is a clear, “No.”
Your dog is not trying to dominate you or control you with his behaviour. He is simply having to ‘shout a little louder’ to express his feelings, given his circumstances.
If you would like to find out how you can help your dog to feel more comfortable about staying home alone and meeting his social, physical and emotional needs, then please sign up for our newsletter or get in touch with me.
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Does Your Dog Need a Teddy Bear?
Teddy Bears are often given to children in times of need, could the same practice work with your dog?
Whether transitioning to sleeping alone at night, being separated from their parents or carers, or during times of discomfort or illness. Teddies and other stuffed animals have been known to soothe anxiety and offer comfort and safety to children. They are generally made of soft materials, which children love to cuddle and snuggle with, and these actions allow them to mirror those of being warmly embraced and comforted by a parental figure or carer. In child psychology these are known as ‘Transitioning Objects.’ In dog behaviour science these are referred to as ‘Maintenance Stimuli’. They are basically any cues that have been conditioned to represent a feeling of safety, bonding and relaxation for that particular child or animal. These could be physical objects like a favourite toy, a blanket or a stuffed food toy/puzzle.
The comforter could be olfactory in nature, eg. an item of the caregivers clothing containing their familiar scent, or the soothing, calming or uplifting scent of an essential oil. Or, they could be auditory signals such as specially formulated music which promotes a feeling of calm and relaxation. Even a familiar radio channel which is played regularly when the caregiver is home, can become a cue for safety, routine and a sense of belonging. The more Maintenance Stimuli which we offer our dogs during times when they are learning to stay alone, the better.
It’s important for me to point out here that the chosen object/cue must represent and trigger positive emotions in your dog. If not done correctly, it’s likely to have quite the opposite effect!
For example, if your dog has never had a teddy bear of their own before. Now, you decide to buy one and leave it with your dog every time you go out, in an attempt to offer an object of comfort. However,
Yet there has been no prior connection between this teddy bear and any feelings of safety, reliability or affection. The presentation of the teddy in this case, is more likely to become a cue that you are leaving and trigger feelings of abandonment, frustration or anxiety. So, it is important to carefully consider which items you choose for this purpose and how they are related to any or all of the positive emotions you would like them to represent to your dog.
If you would like to know how to establish new or existing transitioning cues suitable for your dog, then look out for our online course coming soon.
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With this in mind I would like to ask you to consider a couple of situations.
If you were doing grocery shopping with your toddler in tow, and you knew she was likely to ask for sweets, chocolates or sugar rich snacks, and was likely to throw a tantrum when you said no, which one of the following do you think you would do:
- Purposefully push your trolley with your toddler sitting in it, down the sweets aisle just to see what her reaction might be. After all, you already told her prior to coming to the shops that she can’t have any sweet snacks.
- Continue down the aisle and ignore her protesting because that’s the best way for her to learn that she can’t have everything she wants.
- Go down the health food aisle instead and offer your child a couple of interesting and tasty products on the shelves that you think she might like, knowing this would be a much healthier choice for her.
- Get the basic essentials and leave the shop as quickly as possible so that your child doesn’t get bored or tired and start to nag for a sweet snack, because her sugar-level is now low. Then go home and make a healthy and tasty snack that you can both enjoy together.
Which of these choices do you think will build trust and cooperation in the relationship and leave both parties feeling good? And, which of these choices is likely to erode trust and confidence and leave at least one of the parties feeling bad?
Now I would like to ask you to consider a similar situation where you are taking your young dog for a walk to a place where there are lots of distractions including other dogs, children playing and things he might find super tasty like rabbit droppings or someone’s dropped ice cream.
In this scenario, which of the following options do you think are likely to build trust and confidence between you and your dog, and which are not?
- Wind your way through the distractions, pulling your dog away and saying ‘No!’ every time he tries to go towards something he would love to sniff, chase, eat or play with. You have him on a leash anyway, so you can control the situation easily.
- Sit on a bench and watch the comings and goings with your dog leashed beside you, ignoring his protests to go and play or interact with everything he can see and smell from there. You think this might be a good way to teach him self-control.
- Make a wide circle around the park/play area and stay engaged by happily chatting to your dog as you walk along to another area where there are few/no distractions around, and you can let him sniff for treats which you have placed in the grass for him. Or, engage in a short game of fetch. In both activities you ask him to sit and wait before he goes to sniff or fetches his toy, so that he is learning self-control at the same time as having fun.
- Instead of going to the park where you know the distractions will be too difficult for your young dog to resist, you call a friend who has a similar aged dog and you arrange a play-date. The pups have fun during a short play session and then you go home and enjoy some relaxing snuggle time on the couch together.
After considering the above, what choices will you make today and going forward to ensure that you are providing the best opportunities for your young dog to learn, and simultaneously building a great relationship?
It all began with my sweet dog Leila. She is the twinkle in my eye, my heart-dog and my shadow.
Fortunately, I am lucky enough to work from home, and I am almost always with my dogs, and often they accompany me wherever I go. But, one day I started to notice that when I came home after being away for an hour or two either running errands or seeing clients, Leila would be waiting right at the door, and was not just happy to see me, but more like over-arousal with jumping, whining and mouthing my hands – like the kind of over-excited greeting you might expect after being gone for 10 years! It hadn’t been like that before.
I also noticed that she hadn’t touched her filled Kong or chewing items that I had left for her. Other tell-tale signs that something was amiss, was the odd toileting in the house, and urgent need to drink water shortly after I came home.
My heart sank as I realised that I had read about these and other ‘symptoms’ in articles on separation anxiety in dogs.
At first I guess, I didn’t want to believe it to be true.
Why would she have cause to worry that I wasn’t coming home?
Why could she not feel comfortable and safe when she had my other dog Charlies as company – he was always there with her, she wasn’t actually ‘alone’?
I was actually quite proud of the fact that I never just walked out the door and left my dogs at home, without making sure that they had all their needs met first.
They had been fed, taken for a walk, played with and even left with a variety of food puzzles, toys and chewing activities.
The questions continuously flooded my thoughts:
“What did I do wrong?
At the time, I had already begun my studies to qualify as a dog trainer and behaviour consultant. It was the realisation of a dream which was finally coming together, albeit much later in my life than expected.
And so my quest began, to read all the material I could get my hands on, and immerse myself in groups and communities where people gathered to discuss their trials and tribulations of living with a dog who has separation anxiety. I wanted to understand what caused it and how I could help my sweet Leila to overcome this debilitating ‘affliction’.
There is a minefield of information out there
I was pretty shocked at just how common and widespread this problem is, and how many people are continuously reaching out (often in desperation), to find a solution and bring harmony into their lives with their beloved pups.
I noticed that there is a lot of support out there, but certainly no one-size-fits-all approach to solving the issue. Which I guess, is logical knowing that all people, all dogs and all situations are unique.
However, the range of behaviour ‘symptoms’ and degree in which each dog expresses these, is diverse and often multi-layered. This just added to the complexity of it all, and finding the right tools and methods for my particular case with Leila, was not as straightforward as I had hoped and expected.
Of course, there are some standard training protocols like desensitization and counter-conditioning involved, but there is also a lot of conflicting advice about departure and arrival protocols, how you need to act towards your dog when they show these behaviours, and why your dog is displaying these behaviours in the first place.
There are some common beliefs that the dog is simply too attached to you and too demanding of your attention, or is trying to ‘dominate’ you with their behaviour. Some of the solutions that were offered included ignoring your dog and not giving them attention, or even no longer allowing them access to physical contact with you. And, making sure your dog knows ‘who’s the boss’ in the household by implementing strict rules and levels of hierarchy.
These ideas did really not sit well with me. I believed my dog was crying out for help and not trying to control my life.
I believed my dog was crying out for help and not trying to control my life.
We installed a video monitoring system at home, so that I could see what both dogs got up to when I left them alone for a while.
The video footage was quite heartbreaking for me to watch. I saw how Leila paced and cried, going from the door to the window then to her resting place in the living room where she only settled for a couple of minutes before pacing and crying again.
She was super alert and vigilant and reacted with barking or whining as soon as she heard any outside noises. We live in an apartment, so there are constantly people going in and out of the building and up and down the stairs, neighbour’s dogs barking or delivery trucks coming and going.
I also noticed that prior to my departure she would remove herself to a place on the couch and wasn’t interested in interacting or ‘saying goodbye’ to me.
At first I interpreted this as her expressing something like, “well I don’t care that you are going anyway”. However, I learnt that this was more likely signalling depression and shutting down as she anticipated the imminent separation. Leila had learned through her experience that separation would trigger stressful feelings in her, and she also learned that she had no control over the situation. None of her whimpering, barking or other vocalisations had ever successfully stopped me from leaving or brought me back again quickly enough.
Knowing this was truly distressing for me. I didn’t want to intentionally leave her or make her feel upset, but I had a life to live. I needed to run errands, visit clients and facilitate my training classes, and it wasn’t always appropriate for her to come along.
I began to schedule my appointments for evenings and weekends so that at least my husband was home to look after her. Although Leila would still pace and cry, it was a little less, and I felt more at ease knowing someone she knew, loved and trusted was there to comfort her.
Sometimes I would ask friends or extended family members to look after her when we went out, but that too didn’t seem to offer her much relief.
When I was home, we worked on a ‘systematic desensitization’ programme whereby I would slowly and carefully desensitize her to the actions and events which normally led up to me leaving the house, and which would trigger an emotional response in Leila.
For example, putting on my jacket and boots and grabbing my car keys, was a cue that would cause her to hide under the table or go to her bed and curl up, her body language looking like I had just punished her.
Through the process we had to re-train her brain that these cues did not always predict my imminent departure. I did this by sometimes putting on my jacket and boots and getting my keys and then NOT proceeding out the door, but intentionally going about my business in the house as usual, whilst Leila lay nearby and enjoyed a tasty stuffed food toy.
It is an often slow and painstaking process, which requires lots of patience and time.
For some dogs the behaviours expressed might look quite different. Instead of getting depressed and shutting down, the dog might start to whine, bark or even frantically start tugging at the clothes of their person in order to get them to stay. Other dogs become anxious and start panting, pacing and can’t settle even before the person has left the house.
For many dogs the emotions will go through a full cycle starting with being sad or anxious, then after continuous failed attempts at ‘calling for social support’ (aka. barking, howling, whining etc), they become frustrated and might start to dig, chew or scratch anything they can find in order to release their built up energy. Some dogs may be in a state of fear and will urinate or defecate. This is purely as a result of the autonomic nervous system switching over to the fight/flight system and is a function the dog has no control over. This is definitely not a conscious effort on their part to ‘protest against being left alone’ as some people believe.
There are also dogs who will experience fear and panic as they try to escape the confines of the room/house they are in, in an attempt to follow their person. Dogs can seriously injure themselves if they become panicked, as well as do some serious damage to property.
This is known clinically as severe separation anxiety disorder and calls for intervention by qualified behaviourists and/or a vet, who will often prescribe medication to help these dogs to cope with this extremely emotionally challenging condition.
Each dog’s experience is unique and one has to find the right techniques and tools to best assist them. Hence the reason why recently the general term of ‘Separation Anxiety’ is now referred to as ‘Separation Distress’ or ‘Separation Related Behaviours’.
Recognising the signs early on, can make treating separation related problems much easier, and prevent them from escalating. If left untreated, over time as the cycle of stress becomes chronic, it can manifest in many different mental, physical and emotional problems.
Continuing with training with Leila: We practiced short stays alone, where I would get her all comfortable, and then pop outside or down to the cellar or garage for just a few minutes at a time, and slowly stretch this time of absence, all the time making sure that she wasn’t get stressed at any stage of the exercise.
I set up more ‘comfort zones’ for her in the house, letting her sleep in my bedroom where she loved to hang out with me, and was close to my ‘scent’ even when I wasn’t there.
Finally, after many months we got to a place where I could leave her alone at home for about one hour without her pacing and whimpering. She was still pretty upset when I left, and homecoming greetings were always over-the-top exuberant, but she would eat the treats and chew toys I left for her, and there was no toileting in the house.
I was pleased with our progress, although both Leila and I were still a far way from being completely comfortable with the whole dilemma.
At that stage I accepted that my life was going to be pretty much about arranging around her needs. I was a little disappointed by the thought, but I was also totally okay with it. After all, she is my heart dog and I love that we have such a strong bond together. I would do anything to make sure she feels loved, protected and happy.
But, our story doesn’t end there…..
Our big breakthrough came when I joined the Brilliant Partners Academy, and through some one-on-one coaching with the wonderfully knowledgeable and intuitive Kathy Kawalec, I was able to see our separation issue from a fresh, new perspective.
It takes 2 to tango.
I was reminded that separation requires 2 parties. I was one of those 2 parties, Leila the other.
It’s not just about the fear of being left alone, it’s about the sad feelings of being separated from someone you love, trust and who gives you the comfort and support in times of need.
Have you ever been separated from someone you love and trust? How did that make you feel?
My mum and family live thousands of miles away from me, and I miss them. But, thanks to technology I can hop onto my phone or computer at any time, and chat to them face to face, and experience being together with them again.
The truth is we are always connected, anywhere, anytime. We just have to ‘dial up’ that connection and we are with that person.
Just because our dogs can’t talk, doesn’t mean we can’t make that connection. We can make that connection through our hearts.
I invite you to take a moment and perhaps close your eyes. Think of your dog. Imagine that you are in your favourite place with him/her, doing something you love to do together. Picture all the details….where are you? What is your dog doing? How is he/she expressing their joy at being together with you and doing the thing you both love? How does that make you feel?
If you did that, congratulations you just dialled up a connection with your dog! 🙂
This is what I started to practice with Leila. We made heart-connections on a daily basis. Mostly when I was with her, perhaps cuddling on the couch or out walking in our favourite quiet spot in nature. I became fully present with her and savoured each of those delightful moments. These become the memories and feelings that I could easily use to dial up our connection at any time.
This gave me a new way to approach the times we were separated. We built up a new ritual for my departure. Where I had previously left some lavender essential oil in the diffuser to help her stay calm, I switched to using a drop of mandarin essential oil, which is uplifting and joyful. I put a drop on me and a drop inside a little pendant I brought to hang on her collar. This was a little reminder of our connection.
I told her where I was going, what I was going to be doing and when I would be back. I told her I would check-in with her to let her know I was okay and to make sure that she was fine too.
All I had to do was take a quick sniff of the mandarin oil on my wrist and recall those wonderful times together where Leila and I were together, feeling safe, calm and happy. Instead of worrying about if she was coping at home alone, I was relaxed, knowing that we were always connected heart-to-heart.
We did continue our training with extending the separation times, but something dramatically changed for both of us, and suddenly this process went a lot quicker and a lot smoother.
We were soon able to build up to stays of 3 and even 4 hours.
Happy me, happy pup!
Why does this matter?
I guess the main message that I would like to share with you about my experience, is that we need to examine the thoughts and feelings that accompany separation related behaviours, both for ourselves as well as our dogs.
Our dogs are not simply stimulus – response machines that can be trained to do anything.
If we recognise and acknowledge that our dogs have the same emotions, feelings and basic desires to feel safe, loved and connected as we do, then we can help them (and us) to meet those needs. This will go a long way in supporting our dogs to become more confident and resilient individuals, in and out of the times of separation.
A large part of the course that I will soon be offering on separation related behaviours in dogs will include how to meet the emotional needs of dogs, and how through our own change in mindset we can better support them. We will also explore ways to build a deeper heart connection with our dogs, and build resilience to any and all of life’s challenges.
The bangs and booms of fireworks often begin in the weeks leading up to New Year’s Eve, and even dogs who don’t seem overly concerned with the noise of fireworks, have been known to flee in fright when a loud bang happens unexpectedly close during a walk. So, choose a time of day or night when most people are not actively out and about and likely to be ‘trying out’ their crackers and rockets. Or, if possible, choose an alternate location to walk your dog as far away from areas where this might happen. Also, make sure your dog is wearing a harness with name/number tag and is leashed at all times in areas of firework risk.
2.✅Prepare a ‘Safe-Zone’ for your dog at home.
A covered crate (with door left open or taken off) or a cosy bed placed in an area where your dog normally likes to hang out and sleep during the day. Some dogs prefer a very quiet, darker space in another room away from it all, whilst others prefer to be closer to where the other family members or dogs are hanging out. Give your dog a couple of different options and see which one they prefer, and remember to provide lots of safe chewing activities for your him/her to help relieve his stress. Eg. a filled Kong, bully stick or raw knuckle bone.
Flower essences and essential oils (only use pure, therapeutic grade oils) have amazing properties to help soothe, calm and balance emotions in both humans and dogs.
Bach Rescue Remedy is one of my favourites to offer my dogs in times of stress, and can have an almost immediate effect to relax and calm. However, I have found the best results are to start using it at least 3-5 days before the stressful event.
Essential oils including Lavender, Roman Chamomile, Valerian Root, Lemon, Clary Sage, Vetiver, Rose, Bergamot, Patchouli, Geranium, Lemon Grass, Mandarin, Frankincense are all good options.
Although all the oils I have listed here have a calming, soothing and/or slightly sedative effect, each oil has slightly different properties and depending on how your dog reacts to fireworks, (eg do they try to hide, seek shelter, seek comfort, escape by fleeing, shiver and shake, or do they get over-aroused, barking, whining, howling and try to run towards the source of the noise or flashes of light), there might be one or two which are best suited for your specific dog’s reaction to their fear.
* If you would like some help to decide which flower essence or essential oils might be best for your dog, and how to use them, please contact me for a free 20 minute telephone consultation!
4.✅The Magic of Touch
Gentle touch, stroking, massage and close body contact can be very helpful to calm your dog and create a sense of security. Calming touch helps to release oxytocin and endorphins in our dogs and ourselves, which are the ‘feel good’ hormones helping to combat stress and create a feeling of safety.
However, some dogs prefer not to be touched and massaged when they are feeling stressed and, in this case, a ‘body wrap’ may be helpful to create the same sense of safety and comfort without the physical touch. A snug fitting (but not tight) T-shirt or Thundershirt are also good options to help comfort your dog by providing sensory input to the nervous system.
5.✅Music to soothe the Soul.
According to research, creating music by adjusting the relationships between tone, tempo and pattern, can alter brain, and activate the sympathetic nervous system to alter heart rate and breathing and reduce anxiety. Examples of music specially created for dogs are ‘Through a Dog’s Ear’ and ‘iCalmDog’.
White Noise and Whole Tones are also a popular choices of music which helps promote relaxation, sleep and overall well-being in pets. This music can be streamed on the internet, purchased and/or available on downloadable apps.
A simple solution could also be to simply play some pleasant background music or having the TV on during fireworks, to ‘drown out’ the bangs and booms happening outside, if they are some distance away.
💗And, one more important thing to remember: 💗
YOU can influence the situation by being a calm role model for your dog.
Go about your daily or evening activities as normal, showing little fuss or concern for the noises happening outside. This does not mean you shouldn’t comfort your dog if he / she needs it – on the contrary – you should acknowledge how your dog is feeling and show him/her that you are there for comfort and support any time they need it, whilst communicating your intention to do all you can to help him/her feel safe and comfortable.
This is not a good time to adjust feeding, playing and sleeping routines. If, however your dog loves to do things like sniffing for treats around your home, playing with his interactive toys, chewing activities or even some training games, then you can use these as fun distractions if your dog is happy to participate.
The bottom line is keep your dog safe, keep him/her as comfortable as possible and be the calm, caring and supportive guardian he/she need during this time. ✨😀❤️
Whilst I can think of at least 20 reasons why your dog won’t respond to your request, I am going to ask 5 questions here, which I believe you should be asking yourself instead of presuming that your dog is simply being disobedient.
1. Does your dog even know what ‘Sit’ means?
Dogs are contextual learners. That means when they learn a new behaviour, like a sit on command, they take the entire situation as part of the learning context. That would include the dogs position (which is usually in front of you), as well as you making eye contact with him and raising your finger as you say the word “Sit” (this is what most people do when asking their dog to sit). After you have repeated this exercise several times over a period of time and you have rewarded your dog for responding by plonking his butt on the floor, then you might presume he knows what ‘sit’ means. But, here is something you can try to test that. Stand in front of your dog, then turn around so that you have your back to him and he is standing behind you. Then, looking forward in front of you, ask him to “Sit”. Look over your shoulder and see if he is sitting. Did he sit? If he did, well done, but chances are he didn’t.
So, you see your dog might know what you are asking in a regular setting, like at home, in the kitchen before he gets his food or a treat, or perhaps at training class. But, if you are out and about and your dog is at your side facing forward and so are you, or maybe your dog is a few metres ahead of your looking ahead in the direction he is going, can he still follow through with your request?
2. Does your dog feel safe in the environment you are asking him to ‘Sit’?
Are you asking your dog to sit in a situation where he may be feeling nervous, uncomfortable or even afraid? This could be at the vets office, visiting someone, in a shopping centre, a new place he hasn’t been before, or in a crowded space with other people and dogs around? Your dog might find any or all of these situations stressful, and by asking him to sit or even lay down, you are pressuring him to take up a very vulnerable position. Just imagine you were in a place or situation you felt really uncomfortable or fearful, and your gut is telling you to just get out of there, but instead your friend is holding you firmly by the arm and asking you to take a seat, relax and just be there without moving. How does that make you feel? Pretty uncomfortable and vulnerable, right?
3. Is your dog too over-aroused to even ‘think’ properly?
If your dog is in an over-aroused state it means he has shifted into a physiological state where his hormones and neurochemicals have pretty much taken over the driver’s seat in his brain, so to speak. Over-arousal can be caused by both positive or negative factors. For example, your dog could be really amped up after playing and chasing another dog, or even from playing a long, hard game of of fetch with you.
On the other hand, lets say your dog is not comfortable with greeting other dogs and whilst you are enjoying a leashed walk, another off leash dog comes bounding towards you. Your dog might start barking to communicate to the other dog to ‘back off’, or maybe he cowers behind you to seek protection. In both examples he is in a state of stress and over-arousal.
Whether the cause was a positive or negative influence, the physiological result is pretty much the same. The body is in a state of stress and there are chemicals such as adrenalin, cortisol and dopamine surging through his bloodstream, his heart is racing, his blood pressure is raised, and if he is feeling threatened in any way, his body will be preparing for ‘fight-or-flight’.
Now imagine you ask your dog in any of these circumstances (or even shortly after the incident occured), to ‘Sit’. It might be the equivalent of you running a sprint race or a car swerving in front of you whilst you are driving, and straight afterwards your friend or partner asks you to stand still and work out the answer to 12 x 14 + 32 in your head…huh!?
4. Is your dog finding it uncomfortable to ‘Sit’?
Have you ever considered that your dog might be in some kind of pain or it’s uncomfortable for him to sit at that moment? Think about a time when you might have hurt or injured your toe / foot / knee or pulled a muscle in your leg, or perhaps when you have experienced back pain for some reason. Was it easy for you to go from a standing to a sitting position or maybe squatting and then standing up again?
Our dogs are pretty tough when it comes to pain and most of them don’t give many obvious outward signs when they are uncomfortable or in pain. Many dogs happily go about their lives with un-diagnosed muscular, joint or skeletal conditions and sometimes it takes a trained eye to notice a slight adjustment in their gate or a faint nod of their head as they trot along to compensate for any discomfort or pain.
And, if your dog has a known condition eg. hip dysplasia, then remember that asking him to sit on a slippery surface eg. tiles, laminate flooring, is extremely uncomfortable for him, especially when he has to stand up again.
5. Were you feeling frustrated, impatient or irritated when you asked your dog to ‘Sit’?
Sometimes when we are with our dogs, our minds are elsewhere….we are late for work, we have a list of chores to do, we have a headache, our child or partner is not well…the list goes on and on… Then suddenly our dog does something that we don’t particularly want them to do and we get impatient or frustrated and ask them to “Sit!”
Our dogs are very keen observers and brilliant at reading your emotional state. They can tell by the tone of our voice, your body language, your facial expressions, muscle tension, etc. that we are disconnected, preoccupied or feeling troubled and tense in the moment. But, instead of responding to your command promptly they may start to show you other behaviours which are also known as Calming Signals. This is a term for a set of signals that dogs use to communicate with other dogs as well as humans, that they feel uncomfortable or threatened in some way and are trying to avoid conflict or appease the person/dog to diffuse the tension in the situation. This could include (amongst others), the dog turning his head away from you with a quick flick of his tongue up over his nose, or a yawn and turning his body away from you, or perhaps moving off to sniff something on the ground, or perhaps even blinking his eyes and initiating a play bow.
These might all look like he is intentionally ignoring your request, but his motives are actually very different.
So, next time you ask your dog to ‘Sit’ or any other command for that matter, and he doesn’t respond in the way you expect him to, try asking yourself these questions and see if they reveal to you some possibilities of what may be going on.
Being a dog guardian or dog parent is not a dictatorship, it’s a partnership. That means you are equally responsible for getting the behaviour you want your dog to do.
So, what’s your part in this?
Firstly, have you taught your dog to sit in a variety of places, positions, with various distractions present or when he is feeling excited? Practice your sit skills often, anywhere and everywhere. Always having fun and rewarding your dog when he gets it right.
Learn to read your dog’s body language and signals that he is using constantly to communicate with you. His body posture, position of his ears, tail, vocalisations, facial expressions, calming and appeasements signals, stress signals, etc. It’s both fascinating and informative learning to ‘talk dog’.
If your dog is feeling anxious or fearful in a particular situation, is it necessary for him to sit? Can he simply stand / hold his position instead? Or can you move away from the thing he is afraid of, giving him the space to feel safe, and then ask him to sit?
If your dog can’t sit because he is over-excited and over-aroused, then this is your cue to end the activity, and remove him from the situation (if he has been playing with other dogs), giving him some time to cool off and settle down.
And lastly, remember to check-in with your own emotions and feelings. If you are feeling stressed, irritated or frustrated for whatever reason, then perhaps you should choose to do something else that may or may not include your dog. You could ask your partner, family member, neighbour or a dog walker to play with your dog or take them for a walk, whilst you take a break and relax. Or, you could choose a quiet relaxing activity to do together such as hiding treats for your dog to find, food puzzles or relaxing cuddle or a massage.
If you are like me, then chances are you probably only clean them when they are wet and/or muddy because you don’t want them making a mess indoors, right?
Lately however, I have changed my mind about when and how I clean and care for my dogs paws and claws.
If you have ever had cracked heels; a broken or torn toe nail; a cut or bruised toe, you will know just how uncomfortable it is spending time on your feet. Our dogs may have tougher feet than we do, but cold weather and rough terrain can often cause wear and tear and sometimes injury to their paw pads and claws. So, it’s important to check their feet regularly and keep them in good shape so that running, playing or even leash walks along a tarred or cement surface are easy and pain free.
In the wintertime where I live, the streets, sidewalks and foot paths are regularly sprayed with rock salt to melt the snow and ice, and often a layer of coarse grit is spread over that for extra traction and a non-slip surface. It may be helpful for drivers and pedestrians, but it’s certainly not good for our pups’ paws. The freezing temperatures (and, by extension, snow and ice) can cause dry cracked paw pads, and the mixture of salt, grit and also antifreeze (used in vehicle engine cooling systems and windscreen wash) can irritate this further and cause pain to the already damaged skin.
These salts and chemicals are also highly toxic for our dogs!
Be aware that if you don’t clean your dog’s paws thoroughly, they will do the job themselves by licking their paws and subsequently ingesting the salt and chemicals. Not only can this cause burning of the mouth and throat, but can also result in gastrointestinal irritation, nausea, vomiting and in some cases even poisoning resulting in dehydration, liver and kidney failure and pancreatitis.
So, you can see that getting into a habit of cleaning your dog’s paws after each and every walk is not only a good idea, but vital for keeping your dog fit and healthy!
There are various ways to clean your dog’s paws. Wiping with a damp cloth or spraying with some water and patting dry can help, but I think this only serves to get rid of the surface debris and not the salt and chemicals which can dissolve into the skin and fur on the feet.
For this reason I think a far better option is to soak your dog’s paws in a foot bath.
But, if you have a dog like my Leila, who has pretty sensitive paws and doesn’t enjoy having them handled, then dipping them one by one in a bowl of water and drying them can be quite a stressful task.
So, I set about finding a way to make the process as easy and stress free as possible for both of us. I decided to teach her that foot baths can actually be fun or at least no big deal.
In my home we call it a ‘footy-bath’.
PREPARING A FOOTY-BATH
1. Find a large, shallow plastic container (I used an under-bed storage box).
2. Place a non-slip rubber mat on the bottom of the container (I used a shower mat).
3. Pour in just enough water (luke warm or room temperature) to cover the base of the container and cover your dog’s paws when they are standing in the ‘footy-bath’.
You can have the container of water prepared before you go for a walk so that it’s ready and the water is at room temperature when you get back.
CONDITIONING THE FOOTY-BATH
1. Begin with an empty footy-bath.
2. Have some tasty treats ready. I used a squeezy tube of liver paste that my dog could have tiny licks of as a reward for standing in position in the footy-bath.
3. Once your dog is reliably and confidently stepping into the plastic container you can slowly start to add the water, one cup at a time, until it’s deep enough to just cover the top of their feet.
4. Your end goal is to get your dog to comfortably stand in the container with water with all four paws for about 5 mins to give them a good soak.
5. Place towels around the footy-bath so that when they step out, most of the water will be absorbed. Then you can carefully and gently dry each paw and between the toes with a dry cloth or towel.
NB: The training process was done over 3 or 4 short sessions over a couple of days. Do not rush the process. Go at your dog’s pace and make sure they are not showing signs of being nervous or stressed. Remember this needs to be a fun and rewarding process for your dog, so talk to them, encourage them and reward them with plenty of praise and yummy treats!
EXTRA CARE AND PROTECTION
After paws are completely dry it’s a good idea to apply a paw balm once or twice a week. You can buy a ready-made preparation, or make your own using organic coconut oil, St John’s Wort oil and a drop or two of Lavender or Bergamot Essential Oil which are soothing and rejuvenating for the skin.