Avoid Dog Problems After Christmas

Lonely Dog

Dogs are sensitive to routine changes. Be careful with how you handle your dog during the big holidays, or you’ll risk serious problems when the children go back to school, and you go back to work.

Christmas is a big holiday season in the Western hemisphere. We have more time to give to our pets, which is good, but can also create problem behavior if we are not careful. Having more time at their disposition means that most dog owners spend more time with their dogs—longer walks, maybe a bit more training, but most of all much more time together.

All organisms are more or less sensitive to routine changes—that’s a survival mechanism—and our dogs are no exception. The children staying home from school increases the household activity level and implies some stress. Many dogs do not respond well to that. Some of them become restless, hyperactive.

Another problem occurs with being home alone, which our statistics shows clearly. If June-July and December are low seasons, then August and January are high seasons for canine problem behavior. Many dogs react poorly when school and work routines set in again after having been together with their owners almost 24-7 for a longer period. From one day to the other, without any explanation (for them) all the razzmatazz goes away, and they are left home alone. After having been extremely busy for a period, unexpectedly nothing happens around them.

From having had company around the clock to being left alone eight hours a day, or from having been active most of the day to suddenly having nothing to do, creates problems.

What can we do to prevent our dogs from developing behavior problems during Christmas holidays?

The time we spend with our dogs should be quality time more than quantity time (and this applies to all relationships). More time during the long holidays is good because we can focus on training our dogs in some skills, which we had wished we could have done, but couldn’t because of our busy working schedule.

To prevent home alone problems from showing up after the holiday, we should maintain periods during the day in which the dog is unattended. That will also prevent the worst of the hyperactive behavior that may develop due to the higher level of stimulation. Instruct the children to leave the dog alone at set times and explain to them why this is important.

As to what you can do with your dog, avoid the hollow, stressing activities like ball throwing and chasing. Focus on the more meaningful searching games instead—nose work or scent detection as you prefer to call them. These are activities that tire the dog without creating hyperactive behavior. You can even teach your children these searching games. They will spend some fun times with their dogs developing a healthy relationship. It is my experience that children are great with animals if we, adults, give it the necessary time to instruct them correctly.

If you travel on your holiday, remember that boarding a dog is stressful for the dog independently of the quality of the boarding venue. The best will provide suitable conditions for the dog to satisfy its needs for contact and exercise, but it is still a break in the usual routine. Be prepared to reintroduce the household routines when you return from what I hope has been an enjoyable holiday. It does not need to be difficult if you are aware of it and do it systematically.

Other pets than dogs are also affected by our holidays. Cats may become extremely restless during the holidays and seek refuge. Horses may show stereotypies when returning to the pre-holiday routines if you have spent much more time with them. Even parrots have shown some problem behavior because of the disruption of the daily schedule.

It’s curious how our minds focus on irrelevant contexts and forget essential ones. For example, no canine has evolved to expect food presented at set times, and yet most dog owners insist in serving their dogs the daily rations by the clock. On the other hand, no canine has evolved to see their family-pack increase/decrease their level of activity dramatically from one day to the other (like with holidays) or to be moved suddenly to an unfamiliar location— and yet many dog owners don’t even give it a thought.

Our responsibility toward our dog is a whole year activity (as it is to be a parent). To love those we are responsible for means to provide them with what they need so that they can develop harmoniously. To love is a full-time job with no time off allowed.

Please, share this link with your dog owner friends; and with your clients, if you’re a dog trainer. It would be wonderful if we’d go out of business in what concerns treating problem behavior in pets, wouldn’t it? Alas, I don’t think that to be a realistic expectation anytime soon, but we can all do our part to help it move in the right direction.

Enjoy your holiday and keep smiling. Yes, life is great!

 

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The Misadventures of Bongo

Bongo Home Alone

Bongo Home Alone (Illustration by Henriette Westh)

 

In 1994, I created Bongo to illustrate the various situations dog owners and dogs get into and how to get out of them the best possible way. My objective was to explain and illustrate that many dog problems (maybe most) were the result of misunderstandings between us and them. If we spoke a better “Doguese,” we could certainly avoid the worst troubles. I paired up with Henriette Westh, a brilliant Danish illustrator, and she gave Bongo more than a form; she gave him a character of his own.

Bongo is a nice, friendly and naughty English Cocker Spaniel (orange roan, the original drawings were in color) with his own mind. He’s a good dog and loves his family very much, but he gets often in trouble, mostly because of misunderstandings as you can see in “Bongo Home Alone.”

“Bongo Home Alone” was first published in 1994 in my book “Hunden, ulven ved din side” (Borgen Publishers). Coincidentally, the editor of the book was none other than Henriette’s brother, Poul Henrik Westh. The book never appeared in English, but Bongo did.

Enjoy this bit of history and nostalgia and have a good laugh!

 

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The Misadventures of BongoClick the icon to read the book on your mobile device (iOS, Windows and Android). Please, note that the ease of read will depend on your device’s screen size and resolution. To get the full experience of the flip-pages book, you must read in on a computer.

 

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Odie The Pekinese: Awaiting On Death Row

Sad Pekinese

Odie, an ugly duckling of a Pekinese, was awaiting his turn on death row. A twist of fate meant Odie survived his death sentence and, one year later, he had turned into a beautiful wolf (Photo by Nikolaj).

 
Odie came to me on an odd day, one of those rainy, grey days, when the only thing you want to do is stay at home, listen to good music, watch the fire roaring in the fireplace, hold a hot cup of punch in your hands and feel sorry for yourself. Odie, an ugly duckling of a Pekinese, was awaiting his turn on death row. A twist of fate meant Odie survived his death sentence and, one year later, he had turned into a beautiful wolf.

I was sitting in my office at my desk, gazing absent-mindedly at a blank piece of paper lodged in my typewriter, which, unfortunately had been stuck there for far too long. I was suddenly wrenched from my thoughts when our vet knocked at the door. “Have you got a minute? ” she asked. I debated saying “No,” but overcame the temptation. She came in, accompanied by Odie’s owners, and explained the situation. Odie’s owners wanted to euthanize him, because they were sick of a particularly annoying behavior of his. He urinated all over the house and, when one day they found him cocking his leg up the impeccable flower arrangement they had proudly positioned in the middle of their much cherished, antique mahogany dining table, that was the last straw.

“Right on top of the table?” I asked them and they nodded solemnly.

I glanced down at Odie with newfound respect for it was no mean feat for an eight inch (20 cm) tall Pekinese to climb on top of a dining table in order to accomplish a vital mission. So I asked them if I could keep the dog instead of them euthanizing him. I would try to solve his problem and find a good home for him. They were overjoyed at my proposal and I thus found myself being the improbable owner of a Pekinese for the first, and no doubt last, time in my life.

I was on a very tight deadline to write an article. After giving Odie a quick once over, I turned back to my typewriter and the embarrassingly blank sheet of paper. I remember thinking “Gee, you’re a really ugly little fellow, I understand why they wanted to get rid of you.” Odie grunted once in return. I think he could take a bit of humor. I would take care of Odie later. My first priority was to fill that all too white sheet of paper with some wise words.

Once deeply submerged in writing my article (or not writing it as the case may be), it was then I heard an almost imperceptible sound that took a couple of seconds to register and identify. I spun round to the source of the sound and, to my astonishment, my suspicion was confirmed. Odie was peeing on my books on my bookshelf.

I am a peaceful person and it takes a lot to upset me. Being a child of the sixties, I accept everyone and almost everything; all is good as long as it doesn’t restrict my freedom. However, one thing I must confess I can’t take is having someone peeing on my beloved books. I don’t discriminate: nobody urinates on my books, period! My reaction was therefore pure reflex. I reached for the first thing I had at hand, ironically enough it was my first book about dog training and behavior “Psychology Rather Than Power” and, before I knew it, I had thrown it at Odie.

The book, a good quality hardback, landed with a smack right behind Odie. Taken by surprise, he yelped, performed a beautiful pirouette in the air and stood there looking baffled and bewildered, staring at my book. For my part, I remained quiet as a mouse, holding my breath. After a few seconds, Odie managed to compose himself. He approached the book, sniffed at it in a noisy, Pekinese manner, then sniffed at the books on my book shelf, before returning to my book on the floor, giving it another long and even noisier sniff and then, smacking his lips, he decided to lie down right next to the book. I returned to my tauntingly clean sheet of paper whilst keeping one eye on Odie.

Odie fell asleep, or so it seemed, and I finally began filling the blank sheet of paper with some meaningful words. A little later, whilst searching for something on my desk, I happened to knock a pencil over the edge and it fell on the floor, between the desk and that same book shelf, a source of so much knowledge and inspiration for me. Odie opened his big, bulging eyes, one looking right and the other looking left, and approached the pencil. I couldn’t see him or the pencil, but could hear him clearly, grunting, snuffling, puffing and panting. A few seconds later, maybe 15, he came around the desk directly towards me. He was holding the pencil in his mouth, each eye still looking in a different direction, one as wet as the other, dribble all over his face, with his head covered in balls of dust and fluff, reminding me that my office needed a good hoovering.

I stretched out my hand to him and automatically said “tak” (which means “thanks” in the Scandinavian languages and was my sound signal for “release”). Odie, with a grunt, promptly dropped the slimy pencil into my hand. I was impressed. Was that a “retrieval”? Did he really retrieve that pencil for me?

Pekinese

Odie became very popular. His odd looks combined with his skills were an improbable combination in most people’s eyes.

I was so baffled and curious that I proceeded to do something that fellow pencil lovers regard as the ultimate sin towards pencils. You never drop a pencil as it is highly likely you’ll break the lead inside, rendering it useless once sharpened a couple of times. I tossed the pencil so it fell in the same place between my desk and the book shelf; and once again, Odie ran (I think he was running, but don’t know for sure as I couldn’t see his short legs for all the fur), he grunted, snuffled, puffed and panted, rubbing one eye then the other along the floor in an effort to pick up the pencil and, in doing so, collected even more dust fluff. He wouldn’t give up, finally managed to take the pencil in his mouth and promptly returned it to me just as he had done before.

“Hallelujah!” I exclaimed despite my lack of religious conviction, “We have a retriever!” Joy filled my heart. The misery and self-pity the dull, grey day had imposed upon me ever since I had got out of bed that morning were gone like magic. Of all the activities I have undertaken with dogs, the one that has most amused me, and my dogs too it would seem, is without a shadow of doubt search and retrieve.

Odie never again urinated indoors, a fact we have discussed at some length. We are convinced it was the book incident that did it, due to the optimal coincidence of a series of conditions. Firstly, he was caught in the act (perfect timing), secondly, he did not associate the book falling behind him with me (instead with his own behavior), thirdly, the smack of the book falling on the floor had the right intensity to startle him (not too much, not too little), and fourthly, he associated the book aversive with his urinating behavior and nothing else (it happened when he urinated, it stopped when he stopped). No bad feelings towards books and (of course) no bad feelings from books towards him. Of course, the moral of this story is not that you should throw books at your dog. Let me say this loudly and clearly so no one gets it wrong: I do not recommend people throw books at their dogs. It worked in this case because of the coincidence of the many necessary conditions for it to work (as I explained) and that’s it.

I kept Odie and we all trained him. Sit, stand and, down were no problem at all, only difficult to observe for all the fur and short legs. We used treats as unconditioned reinforcers and my “dygtig” (as a semi-conditioned reinforcer), but he would do anything as long as we held a pencil in our hands (this was his reinforcer of choice). He would take the treats only because he was hungry. We put him on a program where he had to work for all his food and he worked a lot: no free food at all. Odie became very popular. His odd looks combined with his skills were an improbable combination in most people’s eyes. The staff at the Ethology Institute sometimes asked if they could take him home to show visiting friends. Odie never disappointed.

At the time, I was living in one of those enormous, old European mansions, like small castles, with three floors and endless of rooms. One particularly cold winter when the fields were covered by snow and ice, our cellar (basement) became a refuge for mice. This is very normal and we all know how to deal with the problem, except that I thought at the time it was more dignified for a mouse to die in battle than to be trapped or poisoned. Therefore, I introduced a hunting session every night at 8 pm after having read my son Daniel his bedtime story.

The nightly hunting session began with the troops, Petrine, Elanor (English Cocker Spaniels) and myself, assembling at the door to the cellar. Petrine and Elanor were skilled hunters so this was a good opportunity to stimulate them. Every evening we enacted the age-old game of predator and prey in the cellar of that big, old mansion house. Odie was always very keen to join us on our mission and, one evening, I decided to let him give it a go. Odie experienced his first hunt.

Odie quickly learned the rules of the game, although learn is perhaps the wrong term as it looked like he had always known and just had to be reminded. The first time, he went under a couch to chase a mouse, he took a long time. All I could hear was his usual grunting, snuffling, puffing, panting and the occasional high-pitched squeak from a mouse. I guess the mice were terrified of Odie’s looks combined with the spluttering, snorting and grunting. He came to me carrying his first mouse by a hind leg, the mouse completely stiff and wet, but very much alive. Odie became an efficient mouse hunter. He was quick and could squeeze into confined spaces for which the cockers were too big. Every evening, he was the first to reach our rendezvous point. He was there from around seven onwards, waiting patiently. He insisted on being the first to reach the bottom of the stairs to the cellar which was quite a spectacle for the steps were too steep for his all too short legs. He somehow managed to overtake the cockers on the way down, not running, but tumbling down amidst a cloud of dust and much snorting and grunting. The cockers just looked at him bemused. Up until then, our mission had been a well-planned military operation. Stealth, discipline, training, dedication and precise timing were our weapons. After Odie joined us, it all looked more like Asterix and Obelix against the Romans.

The days passed, one year passed, and Odie grew older and more experienced. I bet he could have won all kinds of competitions, but we never subjected him to that. By then he had become a great hunter, only limited by his physical characteristics, the ones us humans have bestowed upon him through selective breeding.

It was bound to happen sooner or later: one day someone came along that wanted to keep Odie. It was love at first sight when they saw his antics. When they asked me about his original problem, I couldn’t even remember what it was. I had completely forgotten, as had we all. After that first “attack” by my book, he had never again urinated indoors. Odie found a good home, one year after he had entered our lives.

I was sad to see him go. We all were. We often spoke fondly of him and made each other laugh by telling Odie stories. Odie had taught us invaluable lessons. First, that we should never judge anyone by their appearance. He was a little dog, short-legged, furry, flat-faced and cross-eyed, but he was a dog at heart like any other. None of us thought he was ugly, despite my initial horror. He was further evidence that many dogs develop problems because they are not treated as dogs; they are understimulated and their excess energy causes them to engage in any kind of activity, be it desirable or undesirable for the owners. He was a quick learner and an impeccable hunter with an enormous joy for life. Without words, he told us: “Respect and you shall be respected. I’m not a toy, not a thing, not a little human. I’m Odie, a Pekinese dog.”

14 years later, I went to give a talk in a town about 50 km from where I lived. During the break, a couple approached me and asked me if I remembered them. It took me a while, but I did recognize them. They were the new owners we had found for Odie. He was still alive, they informed me, but very old and tired by then. He no longer had any front teeth, as his love for retrieving hard objects had not waned over the years. They said they were getting ready for the day they would have to say goodbye to Odie and I saw their eyes well up.

Thinking of him, my eyes welled up too, Odie, the ugly duckling of a Pekinese that had turned into a beautiful wolf in my eyes and in the eyes of all those who had the privilege to know him. Thanks, Odie, my friend!

___________________________

PS—I know that metamorphosis does not occur in canids and that a dog cannot turn into a wolf. I also know that a dog is a dog (Canis lupus familiaris) and not a wolf (Canis lupus lupus). Since this is a story with a point written for a blog, not a scientific article, I allow myself some artistic license when I write “Odie turned into a beautiful wolf.”

 

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Animal Training My Way—The Merging of Ethology and Behaviorism by Roger Abrantes.
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Are Our Dogs Stressed?

Licked My Balls
Chuckle at the serious and reflect on the amusing; both are amusingly serious and seriously amusing.

Keep smiling!
Read more about stress (from “My Daily Blog”):

 

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Treat me as a dog, honey!

All characters appearing in this blog are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. The facts described may not apply to all regions of the world. Content warning: The following text contains scenes of humor and should not be read by humorless persons.

Dog Pees Sun Bather (by faxo.com)

Dogs are wonderful, aren’t they? (photo from faxo.com).

 

Treat Me As A Dog

Treat me as a dog!

“Treat me as a dog, honey!” If we were as patient, caring and understanding toward our spouses as we are toward our dogs, I’m sure that the rate of divorces would fall dramatically.

Dog owner: “My dog bites me sometimes when he gets too excited playing with a toy. What can I do?”

Dog owner: “My dog chews the couch and tears down the curtains when he’s home alone. What can I do?”

Dog owner: “My dog pees on the floor when we have guests. What can I do?”

Dog owner: “My dog bites people I meet on the street when they talk to me, but it is only to protect me. What can I do?”

Canine home alone problems (CHAP).

#1 dog problem (photo from ABC news).

Now, substitute the word dog with the word spouse in all sentences above. How many divorces are we facing, do you reckon?

Dog owners go to great extents attempting to solve the problems that invariably will pop up. Being a dog owner is living by the law of Murphy. When all fails, they adapt to their beloved pets and adjust their lives accordingly. They get up early and go to bed late because the dog needs to be walked and do stuff—and sometimes there’s a lot of stuff to do including the almost endless sniffing of a patch of pee.

They don’t go on holidays, or only shortly, because they don’t want to leave the dog behind. The dog decides who they visit, when and for how long. They visit only friends who accept their dog’s visit as well.

Penelope Cruz And Dog

Nothing better than a warm puppy!

The dog cannot be home alone. Gone are the days when they could go to the movies as an impulse.

Gone are the lazy Sunday mornings, staying in bed a bit longer.

Their impeccably clean home is not impeccable any longer because dogs imply hair, dust, fluff, flees, accidents—and the dog never tidies up.

Imagine that your partner bites you when watching an exciting TV program, pees on the toilet seat, hits people who talk to you, force you to go for a walk in pouring rain, regularly interrupts your movie watching, always decides where to go on holidays, chooses which friends you can see, and makes a mess of the house and never cleans up. I bet you would be gone even before you have had the time to finish reading my blog (and I, for one, would not have blamed you for that).

“Treat me as a dog, honey!”

Keep smiling!

PS—Tomorrow, I have an epilog to this one for you. Smiley smiles

 

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