I met Moose, a very handsome Silver Lab, when he was about a year and a half old. Preparing to pet sit for clients of mine, I learned they had rescued him from a couple that had no time for a dog. Moose had lived most of his life all alone in a fenced in back yard. Thanks to his new owners, he would finally have the home he deserved with two wonderful, loving, caring, compassionate people who loved dogs, and another fun-loving Chocolate Lab named “Kodi.”
Before I had the pleasure of meeting Moose, the owners warned me that he was a handful and the two dogs together could be quite explosive! So, I told them I’d try to work in a little obedience training with the two of them while they were away. When I arrived at their home the first day of pet sitting, the owners had already departed. They told me they would leave the dogs in the backyard. As I entered through the front door, all I could hear was a cacophony of dog barking and an intermittent thumping and scratching of nails on thick glass. When I walked into the kitchen I had a full view of the sliding glass doors to the deck and backyard. I couldn’t help but laugh at the two of them bouncing up and down simultaneously, doing Olympic jumps of four-off-the-floor in a syncopated rhythm. Moose would wiggle the front and back end of his body in opposite directions and then elevate his whole body up off the ground in one gigantic leap, followed by a resounding thump of 90 pounds hitting the wood flooring of the deck. Needless to say, I had my work cut out for me trying to achieve obedient calmness from these two. First things first, an off leash run in the open space would be our immediate event for the day!
After an hour and a half of exercise, Moose and Kodi were two totally different dogs. The rest of the evening would be quite peaceful with them both crashed out on the couch. All was well until about 3:30 in the morning when I was awakened by the sound of Moose choking and heaving. As I staggered out of bed, he began to throw-up some unidentifiable white material in a ball on the carpet. I quickly rushed him outside and cleaned up what looked like the remnants of a white sport sock. All I could think was, thank goodness he was able to throw it up! Moose seemed to be fine the next day, so I decided to take them for a long hike. We were about 30 minutes into the hike when all of a sudden Moose started choking and heaving again off to the left side of the trail. I walked over to inspect it and this time he threw-up some kind of black, shiny pieces of material. I had no idea what Moose had gotten into, but from then on I made sure Moose had no access to any kind of clothing items. Luckily, the rest of the week remained uneventful.
Neither the owners nor I had any idea at the time that Moose’s eating of non-edible objects happened to be a bad case of separation anxiety. But after Moose ingested a whole red potato (surgery number 1), a small cardboard encased light bulb (surgery number 2, in which he lost 18 inches of his intestines), and a chewed up plastic squeaker from the inside of a stuffed animal (surgery number 3, in which he almost didn’t survive), something had to be done!
It seems to me that Moose must have been a cat in his former life that didn’t get the chance to use up his nine lives! It’s a miracle he is still here today — he wouldn’t be without the amazing work of Dr. Mary Press of Larkspur Landing Veterinary Hospital in Larkspur, CA. Thanks to Dr. Press, Moose still has six lives to go — let’s hope he never has to use them!
By the way, I finally figured out what the black material was that Moose threw up that day in the woods… About three weeks later, I was pet sitting at another client’s home and I’d just gotten out of the shower and reached for my small, shiny black robe. I didn’t think anything of it until I stood in front of the mirror to dry my hair. As I raised my arms and looked into the mirror, I stood there in shock. Moose had somehow strategically managed to chew off the right and left side of the sleeves to my robe, they were completely gone!
Separation anxiety is when a dog experiences a certain level of panic due to feeling alone and unsafe, being confined, and his inability to determine when his suffering will end. Dogs will do anything they can to try to escape and relieve their anxiety. People have come home to find their furniture torn to pieces, holes in the walls, curtains shredded, doors and window frames chewed, and their dog’s mouth and paws bloody from endless attempts to escape.
There are a number of ways to go about resolving separation anxiety. Here are a few things I think are very important to address:
1.Making your dog feel safe and secure in his own environment. Be sure the area where you are going to leave or confine your dog is free of anything he can destroy or that will hurt him. Use baby gates or exercise pens or a dog run to create this space. Do not crate your dog unless you are positive he is at ease and comfortable in his crate.
2.Creating routine and consistency in your dog’s life. Be predictable, if your dog knows that when you leave you will always return, then he won’t have difficulty being alone. The most important thing to do when you are ready to depart is to act very calm and relaxed. Take your dog to his confined area, ask him for a “sit” give him a treat and say a quick, casual good bye such as “see ya” or “off to work” and calmly leave. Then, when you return home be sure to completely ignore him until he is in a calm and relaxed state. Then reward him with a greeting and affection.
3.Building his confidence level. A dog that is confident feels a sense of security when his owner is gone. It’s important to be there to support your dog through this difficult process, but it’s also important not to coddle or nurture his neediness. You can help your dog gain confidence through basic obedience training by teaching him “Sit” and “Down,” “Wait” and “Stay.” Using these exercises you can build up on increasing distance from your dog and practice being out of his sight. Another fantastic way to build confidence in your dog is to enroll him in socialization classes such as, agility, herding, canine freestyle and scenting or tracking classes. Any of these exercises and classes will give your dog an ability to adapt to new situations and a sense of being safe in various environments.
A few other great ideas…
·Leave your dog a yummy, treat-filled smart toy such as a Kong or Buster Cube.
·Leave some music on or the television. Be sure to choose a channel that you normally listen to and turn it on for a period of time before you leave.
·Try using natural treatments such as “Rescue Remedy” Bach Flower Essences, aromatherapy or homeopathic remedies.
·Be sure to exercise your dog before you leave.
·In severe cases consider medications. Contact a professional behaviorist and your veterinarian if you want to explore the options of using pharmaceutical alternatives.
If your dog’s case of separation anxiety is extreme, you should contact a professional to help you through the process. It’s imperative that you take the time to work with your dog through the beginning stages of this process. It can be very time consuming and arduous, but well worth it in the end for your peace of mind and your dog’s long-term health and well-being.
I’m sure the first thing you’re thinking is Oh my gosh! are they alright? Yes, they did survive the collision with only minor injuries, thank goodness!
It all started about six months ago when I received a call from a couple who desperately needed help with their two “out-of-control” Labradoodles named Chicklet and Bazooka. Both dogs had some basic obedience training when they were puppies, but unfortunately no one had taken the time to keep up with the training as they grew older. They had quite a few challenging behavior issues to address, such as, knocking adults and children over when greeting them, pulling their owners through the neighborhood on leash walks, and (one behavior they had truly perfected) “bolting” out of the house through the front door and from the back of their SUV.
A few days later when I arrived at their home for a consult, a nice young couple, Denise and Mark and their two children, Jack and Samantha, greeted me at the door. As the kids ran off to play in their rooms, we took a seat at the dining room table to talk. I was very anxious to hear the story about the car incident. I was trying to concentrate on what they were saying, but all I could hear was the background noise of scratching and banging against a door somewhere down the hall. They had put the dogs in the kitchen and they could barely contain themselves anxiously waiting to meet the new human that had entered their house. I finally told them to go ahead and let the dogs out while I stood up and braced myself a bit against the table. In seconds, a burst of energy came bounding into the room and I was gregariously greeted by two very large Labradoodles, one apricot in color and resembling the curly poodle side of the Labradoodle, and a wiry haired chocolate one looking very much like an Irish Wolfhound. I was trying to practice my usual initial greeting of new dogs, ignoring them and keeping eye contact with the owners, but I wasn’t very successful. These two were bound and determined to win my undivided attention!
As Denise and Mark were yelling out their names in redundancy, and with extreme embarrassment, they each grabbed a dog and peeled them off of me. The next thing I knew, they were tossing handfuls of treats in the opposite direction for them to fetch. As the dogs flew across the room in search of their treats, we were finally able to take our seats again at the table. They were just about to share their story with me again when our brief, peaceful moment came to another screaming halt. Because both dogs had Labrador in them, the treats were gone in a matter of seconds and before we knew it I had a chocolate, apricot parfait in my lap! Now someone who isn’t a dog lover would have probably left the house by now, but the two of them were quite comical in their battle to achieve the most affection from the visiting human. It was all I could do to keep from laughing as the poor couple turned red and grabbed the pooches off of me again! Needless to say, Chicklet and Bazooka ended up back in the kitchen for the rest of our visit.
Now, finally, I would get to hear the long awaited story… One Saturday afternoon Denise had headed off to run some errands while Mark got the kids ready to take them to a friend’s house for the day. As the kids got into the car, Mark headed back into the house to get the dogs. He was the only one who could handle the two dogs, so he was the one responsible for exercising them. Once the kids were dropped off he headed for a hiking trail a few miles away. As he pulled over to park the car, he saw someone he knew going into a house across the street. As Mark caught the man’s attention he waved to the man, who hollered out to him that he was taking his son to a birthday party. Unfortunately, Mark could barely make out what he was saying due to Chicklet and Bazooka’s out-of-control barking, whining and scratching at the hatch door desperately trying to get out. He ended up just smiling at the man and waving goodbye. He then proceeded to change from his street shoes into his hiking boots. As he was putting on his boots, unbeknownst to him, one of the bootlaces had gotten tangled around a floor latch that just so happened to be the release for the back-door hatch. As he grabbed the second boot he realized it was caught on something and began to pull it towards him. All of a sudden the back hatch popped open and out bolted Chicklet and Bazooka into the street. As the dogs flew past him, Mark, flabbergasted and frantic, struggled to release his bootlace from the latch. He shoved his foot into his boot without lacing it and bolted out of the car himself to try and accost the crazy doodles at large!
Chicklet and Bazooka immediately headed towards the house where the birthday party was commencing in the backyard. By the time Mark caught up with the two dogs and made it into the backyard, he found them standing on top of a picnic table devouring a Cookie-Monster birthday cake! The dogs were surrounded by a group of screaming, crying and laughing children and adults. Mortified by the scene his dogs were starring in, he ran at top speed hoping he could take them by surprise. The second they caught a glimpse of him they flew off the table and headed around the other side of the house back towards the car. As Mark made his way around the house to the street, he was just in time to see his two crazy dogs looking back at him as if to say, “hurry up he’s gaining on us!” Within seconds of that look, the dogs ran head-on into a moving mini van.
Luckily for Chicklet and Bazooka the person in the van happened to be searching for a parking spot when they ran into it, so the van was barely moving. The dogs were a bit stunned and in shock, but they recovered just fine. Mark on the other hand was another story! Needless to say, Chicklet and Bazooka’s obedience training program would begin right away and it would definitely include “Wait and Stay!”
Once your dog has learned “Wait and Stay” there are many ways you can practice using it:
·At any entrance or exit of a house or building
·Getting in and out of your vehicle
·Ask for a “Wait” before releasing your dog to eat his meal
·At street corners and intersections
·To keep from entering an unsafe area, e.g., a glass breaking in the kitchen
·Using it as a backup to recall. If your dog won’t “come” when you call, try “Wait or Stay” and walk towards him
·Use it as a game to play with your dog inside or outside of your home. Ask your dog to “Wait/Stay” while you go and hide somewhere; then release him by calling to find you.
Teaching “Wait and Stay”
“Wait”– When you ask your dog to “Wait” they cannot move past the threshold where you asked them to wait, like the front door, but they can move about behind the threshold.
Teaching “Wait” – Put your dog on a 6-foot leash and shorten the leash a bit only giving your dog a few feet of the leash as you walk towards the front door. As you reach to open the door, begin to turn your body around to face your dog with your back to the opening of the door. If your dog is used to going out the door ahead of your, you may have to quickly move in front of him blocking him from the exit. Once he is in place, ask your dog to “Wait” while holding out your hand with a flat, open palm facing him. Begin to slowly take a few steps backwards while keeping a hold on the leash. If he tries to move forward, take a quick step forward into his space forcing him to move back behind the threshold. Repeat “Wait” one more time. Once he has been successfully waiting for a few seconds, release him by saying, “OK” or “Release” giving him permission to pass through the threshold. You don’t have to treat him once you release him; he is rewarded by being allowed to move through the entrance. You can praise him and tell him he is a “good-boy.” Practice this both entering and exiting the house. Be sure not to make him wait too long at first, work on building up time and distance.
“Stay”– When you ask your dog to “Stay” he can be in a sit, down or standing position. He must stay in position, without moving about, until you release him.
Teaching “Stay” – Once your dog is in position tell him to “Stay” while holding out your hand with a flat, open palm facing him. Take a few steps backwards keeping an eye on him to be sure he remains in position. If he tries to move out of position, step forward moving him back into position, and ask for the “Stay” again. After a few seconds of staying in position, release him by saying, “OK” or “Release.” Remember to take your time building up on time and distance. If he keeps popping-up out of his position, you may be moving back too far or too fast. Start out at a short distance apart and only make him wait a few seconds the first several times you practice it.
Have fun with these exercises. Once your dog has achieved “Wait and Stay” at close range, practice these exercises outdoors where you can really expand on your distance and time. When a dog learns commands through the fun of exercise and play they tend to learn very quickly and they don’t seem to forget it!
A few years ago I was invited to Thanksgiving dinner by a good friend of mine. There were 15 people in all and everyone was focused on drinks, conversation and preparation. It was just about time for everyone to take their seats as the turkey was being pulled out of the oven. My friend’s husband carved the turkey, filled a plate full of freshly carved meat and walked away from the bird to deliver the plate to the table of hungry guests. No one paid much attention or noticed that the big yellow Labrador named Bandit had somehow escaped from the bedroom where he had been secured until the food portion of the festivities were over.
Labs are pretty well known for their voracious appetites when it comes to human food and Bandit was no exception. As the turkey was being delivered to the dining room I saw Bandit, out of the corner of my eye, enter the kitchen. I looked from the dog to the bird and realized what was about to happen. I got up out of my chair and ran to the kitchen yelling for Bandit to “leave-it” as he went for the turkey. I was too late and all that could be heard was the loud crash of the plate hitting the floor. There in front of me stood good old Bandit covered in turkey juice with a big turkey leg hanging out of his mouth. He was looking at all of us like “What? It’s just a drumstick…” What else could we do but laugh! Thank goodness we at least saved one plate-full of turkey to feed the humans.
“Leave-it” is a valuable command for many situations. It should be one of the first things that you teach your puppy. It’s uses are endless, but these are a few things that come to mind.
·Leaving food and clothing items alone
·Staying out of the garbage
·Leaving another dog’s toys or food alone
·Stop eating or rolling in foul things on the trail or walk
·Stop an attempt to go towards another dog or a cat, coyote, skunk or any other animal
Try to be alert and proactive whenever you use this exercise. “Leave-it” works best if you use it the second before your dog gets a chance to react to something. In the beginning, be consistent by rewarding him every time he does what you want with a treat that has a high value to the dog, like chicken or hot dogs or any strong-scented and appealing dog treat like Omega Fields’ Omega Nuggets. After a few weeks or so you can begin to treat him every other time or less, and reward him alternately with praise and affection or even a favorite toy. Most importantly, have fun with this exercise. You will be very surprised how fast your dog will pick it up, and how often you will use it! Be sure to keep a positive, friendly tone in your voice whenever you practice this. Training should always be fun for you and your dog.
This training exercise can be done from the floor or from a standing position.
“Leave-it” Floor Position
Take a large piece of treat in your right hand and show the dog the treat. Then put the treat on the floor and quickly cover it with your hand. Let him try to get at it by sniffing and licking at your hand. The minute he stops touching your hand say, “Yes” and reward him with a treat from your left hand. Be sure to keep the treat in your left hand out of sight by holding it behind your back while he works to get the treat from the right hand. Repeat this three times. The fourth time you do it add the words “Leave-it” as he moves towards your right hand. If he stops or hesitates say, “Yes!” and reward him with a treat from your left hand.
Once you’ve seen that he’s getting the hang of it, start setting the treat on the floor uncovered and say, “Leave-it.” If he stops or hesitates say, “Yes” and reward him. Remember to always guard your treat on the floor and be prepared to cover it up with your hand if he goes for it. Also, never reward him with the “Leave-it” treat, only reward him from the other treat hand.
On occasions when I’m working with a dog or puppy that has been rescued and I don’t know how he may react to food, or when the owner tells me that their dog or puppy is very mouthy or aggressive when he takes treats, I use the standing position to train “Leave-it.”
“Leave-it” Standing Position
Start out by showing the dog the treat in your right hand and then make a fist, closing the treat inside your hand. Now extend your hand out with the fist still closed letting him sniff and lick at your fist as he tries to get at it. The minute he stops touching your hand say, “Yes” and reward him with a treat from your left hand. Again, repeat this three times and on the fourth time add the words “Leave-it” as he moves towards your right hand. If he stops or hesitates say, “Yes!” and reward him with a treat from your left hand.
Once you’ve seen that he’s getting the hang of it, move to showing him the treat in your right hand, leaving your hand open. As he goes for the treat say, “Leave-it.” If he stops or hesitates, quickly say “Yes” and reward him with the treat from your left hand. If he goes for the treat and doesn’t stop, close your fist and start again. Remember, never reward him with the “Leave-it” treat.
After I teach the basics of “Leave-it” I step it up a level and move the training into the kitchen. Almost every client that wants basic obedience training for their puppy always asks me the same questions… “How do I get him to stop going for food and how do I stop him from going for the dirty dishes in the dishwasher?
The first thing I do is ask the client if they have any tasty human food in the refrigerator that I could use to entice their dog with. Once, I even pulled out a whole precooked chicken and set it on the kitchen floor and believe it or not, after successfully perfecting the first stage of teaching “Leave-it”, this dog didn’t even try to go for the chicken! He waited patiently knowing that he would be immediately rewarded with yummy high value treats if he left it alone.
When training the dog to leave the dishwasher alone, I open the dishwasher and pull out the lower rack of dirty dishes. Then I take the same tasty human food from the refrigerator and set it on top of the rack. I use the same steps asking the dog to “leave-it” and immediately rewarding for doing so.
“Leave-it” is a very valuable command and one that every dog owner should teach their dog at an early age. Many of the frustrations of owning a puppy can be nipped in the bud by applying this command early and often. The puppy who will become the adolescent and then adult dog, will know what things are off limits and what things are Ok. Also, always be sure to provide plenty of durable toys for your dog to play with so he won’t look for makeshift toys in the bottom of your closet or the garbage can. Early obedience training is one of the keys to a happy and fulfilling relationship with your dog.
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