Significant life events can create fear in an otherwise confident adult dog, even one who is genetically sound and well-socialized. These events may have the biggest impact during puppyhood and adolescence, but can also cause fear later in life. A car accident can cause a previously car-loving dog to become fearful of cars. A single significant attack by another dog can turn canine-loving hound into one who is fearful and defensively aggressive toward other dogs. And inappropriate actions by other humans toward your dog can convince her that people should be feared.
The average dog owner doesn’t get a dog because they are so excited and eager to study learning theory, compare classical and operant conditioning, and test the relative value of various reinforcement schedules. Few people who get a dog look forward to practicing their leash-handling skills and refining the subtleties of treat delivery timing and placement.
I offer my friends the only remedy that has never failed me: I tell them to go take a hike! But they need to bring their dogs, too – and to try to find a place where they can really breathe some fresh air and escape from other people for a while. The absolute ideal is if they have access to a place where they can safely walk with their dogs off-leash, without endangering their own dogs or anyone else’s.
In the San Francisco Bay area, part-time pet sitters and dog walkers are now so numerous that they can be seen on literally every block. It’s there that I have witnessed dog walkers doing things that horrified me – such as talking on their cell phones while walking half a dozen shut-down-looking dogs, each equipped with a shock collar. I recently saw a “professional” dog walker park 100 feet from the gate to a dog park, open the back of her truck, allowing 10 or more dogs to jump out of the truck and run, loose, to the dog park gate (where they were greeted by a wound-up mob of other dogs; the ensuing fracas was broken up with yells and squirt bottles by several dog walkers).
One of the worst moments in my life came about a year and a half ago, when the dam that looms over my town – the largest earthen-filled dam in North America, mind you – was proclaimed in an emergency broadcast to be in danger of imminent failure. I was 20 miles away, perfectly safe, with my younger dog, Woody. But my husband and my heart dog, Otto, and my son’s dog, Cole, were all at my house, just five short miles downstream of the dam, and three blocks from the river channel that would likely be obliterated by the 3.5 million acre-feet of water behind the dam. My mouth went dry and my heart was pounding as I tried to call my husband. Despite the fact this requires pressing only two buttons, with shaking hands it took me over a minute to make the call.
About half of the litter of nine puppies that I have been fostering for my local shelter got altered and adopted this week; the other half are scheduled for surgery next week. I’m sure they are going to get adopted within a day or two; they are adorable, friendly, confident little things – right up there in the top three of the most charming litters of puppies I’ve fostered.
I got a little whiny in one of my blog posts recently. I was feeling a little depressed by my latest foster project: a mixed-breed mama and her nine teeny puppies. They were surrendered to my local shelter in sad shape: thin, infected with coccidia, and infested with fleas. The mom knows absolutely not one cue, not even “sit,” though she is super sweet and friendly – how can someone let such a nice dog get into such bad shape, and pregnant to boot? Ugh! Some days it just feels like we humans are making no progress in our ability to care for and manage our dogs.
One of our newest contributing authors is a veterinarian who practiced emergency medicine for more than nine years. She’s been the impetus for our recent rash of articles about various ways to prevent canine health emergencies, and how to behave if you, despite your best efforts, end up dealing with one anyway. (Speaking of rashes – perhaps I should ask Dr. Ashe to write about that?)
I know I’ve hit a spot that’s going to be sensitive for some of WDJ’s readers when my copy editor sends an article back to me covered with personal comments mixed in with the grammatical and typographical corrections she’s supposed to be making. But in the case of trainer Nancy Tucker’s article in this issue, even as she was writing it, the author herself expressed concerns that the piece might be upsetting for some people to read.
I had an interesting conversation with a trainer friend the other day. She had gone to meet a breeder she had never met before, as a potential buyer of a puppy from a future litter. She told me about a little glitch in their conversation that she couldn’t stop thinking about.
When we are out in public, I am pretty confident in Woody’s ability to pass as a well-trained, well-behaved dog. But when I was driving with him toward meeting a dog trainer whom I respect but have never met, I found myself feeling anxious. I should probably warn her about Woody’s predilection for walking through people’s legs, I thought; it’s a tad alarming when he dives between someone’s thighs, even though he’s always wagging his whole body when he does this. Short people and kids sometimes get lifted off the ground for a moment; it’s his special way of saying hi!
The latest trend in pet food has to do with ingredient provenance. Over the past year, a number of the companies who make some of the most expensive foods on our “approved foods” lists are making strong claims about their ingredients. It’s not enough to promote “All ingredients from North America,” or the more pointed claim, “No ingredients from China.” Today, a number of companies promote the fact that they formulate their dog foods with sustainably farmed grains, fruits, vegetables, and herbs, and/or humanely raised, grass-fed, and/or free-range food animals and wild-caught fish.
We have been living in the historic downtown of this Gold Rush-era town for the past 11 years. There have been some wonderful benefits of living in an old neighborhood in a cute, old small town. I could go out my front gate with my dogs and walk four blocks to a paved trail alongside the Feather River, which flows right through town. The historic center of Oroville is a bit like a ghost town at night; there are no businesses, not even bars, that stay open past 10 p.m., so on hot summer nights, the dogs could safely walk with me off-leash downtown. When I’m on deadline and don’t have time to take Woody out for a miles-long hike to wear him down, I often walk him at night to a grassy area that surrounds some government buildings downtown (two blocks from my house!), to play fetch with a glow-in-the-dark ball.
Another fun, informative, and growth-packed year with Whole Dog Journal! As 2017 comes to a close, we ask our readers to take a look back on all the training, health, and doggy lifestyle topics Whole Dog Journal has covered this year.
The problem is, many dog owners have little understanding of animal behavior or training, poor animal behavior-observation skills, and bad timing. When you put a tool that works by causing pain in their hands, the result is often poor. Those who consistently hurt sensitive dogs or inadvertently punish dogs when they are doing the right thing are likely to produce dogs who resent and/or fear their handlers and/or walking on leash. Handlers who are uncomfortable with or not strong enough to hurt their dogs with these tools almost always end up with dogs who continue to display deplorable behavior on leash – those dogs who just pull right through the discomfort of a tight, choking or pinching collar – but who are also now stressed and anxious about this continual discomfort.