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Dog Training Articles

Mailman Mystery

Dogs and mailmen. For many people, this instantly conjures up images of the traditional cartoon dog chasing the letter carrier down the street. Thankfully, most dogs don’t actually chase delivery people nearly as often as they do in cartoons, but people often ask, “Why do dogs hate mailmen?”

The answer lies in dog language. Body language more specifically, which is how dogs communicate. The mystery is solved once you understand how dogs think.

When a letter carrier, UPS driver or other delivery person approaches a home, they are facing the house (and the dog who is inside watching) with the front of their body. Facing a dog with the front of your body is dominant body language.

The dog, instinctively being a guardian of the home, barks.

Next, the person deposits the package, turns around, and walks away from the house. In a dog’s mind, walking away with your back facing him is submissive body language.

Do you see the connection? The dog, who originally started out barking simply because someone was there, is now under the impression that his courageous barking scared the delivery person away! He doesn’t realize that the person would be leaving anyway to continue to his next stop.

Over time, with this occurring on a regular basis, several more things may happen. One is that the dog, who now thinks that he is scaring away the mailman, has more confidence in this situation. His bark may begin to sound a bit more menacing.

The mailman, who notices that the dog’s barking now sounds truly threatening, may begin to use additional body language which reveals his discomfort to the dog. Once this cycle is in place, it can continue along these lines until there actually is a problem between the dog and the mailman.

The other issue is that dogs are very intelligent, and many make the connection that whenever a uniformed person comes, this same thing occurs. That’s why the problem can escalate to include other uniformed people.

Of course, humans don’t have to sit idly by and allow this to develop. If your dog is beginning to take issue with your mailman, you can work with your dog on some obedience to correct the barking. It can also be very helpful to bring your pet outside on a leash to meet and socialize with the mailman before things get to a dangerous level.

Wise letter carriers and delivery people are usually very happy to make friends with the dogs on their route (in a controlled environment, such as on a leash). In fact, the local UPS driver who services our neighbourhood is always armed with treats, and the dogs in our neighbourhood look forward to his arrival with gleeful anticipation. Sometimes he even leaves a treat on top of the package when our dog is not even around. I guess he prefers to be the “pied piper” rather than the “cartoon mailman.” Smart guy!


Introducing Dogs to One Another

Most dogs like to make friends with other dogs. As pack animals, when dogs meet one another they immediately check each other out through sniffing and body language, to establish their pecking order. This is best accomplished by giving the dogs plenty of space.

When the aspect of protecting one’s territory comes into play, even the friendliest dog may behave uncharacteristically. That’s why the best way to introduce dogs to one another is on neutral territory. What this means is that it’s best not to invite a new dog friend over and have them enter your front door or yard until after the dogs already know each other.

A better idea is to take your dog out for a short walk in your neighbourhood a few minutes before the canine friend is expected. A little exercise and sniffing will help tone down your pet’s initial excitement about being out for a walk on the leash.

When the friend arrives, introduce the two on leashes in neutral territory, such as out in the street or sidewalk of your neighbourhood. Be sure to act relaxed (after all this is a friend), keep their collars loose and try not to let their leashes get tangled with one another.

Most dogs will do a little sniffing and shouldering of one another, and will then be ready to play. Ideally, if you have a fenced yard you can then walk them there and take their leashes off to play freely together.

After burning off some energy, marking their territories a bit and running free, most dogs will be just fine about heading inside the house with their new friend.

If the dogs don’t seem to get along right away, some obedience work can go a long way toward ironing things out. You and your friend can take the dogs for a walk side by side so they can coexist together without focusing directly on one another. After a while of walking, each person should work their dog through some basic commands, such as “sit” and “stay.” Chances are, after doing some of these exercises your dogs will likely be ready to be reintroduced and will probably get along much better.

Of course, if your dog displays aggressive behaviour such as snarling, snapping or growling, you may need to work with a knowledgeable trainer to solve the problem.

For the most part, dogs like to have friends just like people do. By taking some steps to introduce them correctly, you and your dog are likely to enjoy play dates and friends together without problems.


Outdoor Doggy Destruction

Spring is here! Birds are chirping, squirrels are scampering and flowers are sprouting. It is at this time of year that many people feel it would be a shame for their dog to spend the day indoors while the family is not at home.

However, there are some downsides to leaving dogs outdoors all day, as well as some safety things to consider.

One of the negatives is that dogs, especially puppies, who are outside and unsupervised, may become bored and destructive in your yard. From the mild (pulling branches off bushes), to the wild (stripping siding and electrical boxes off the house), dogs who are left outside often busy themselves with mischievous activities.

Over the years, we have seen quite a variety of creative canine calamities, including: digging under the fence, chewing patio furniture and children’s play sets, knocking over barbecues, eating edges of decks and much more.

Not only are these things a problem for the owners, who are rightfully horrified about their things being ruined, but it can also be dangerous for the dog who is ingesting dangerous things or  getting out into the street.

Dogs who are outside all day also don’t have the need to “hold it in” when it comes to bathroom needs, sometimes resulting in house training issues when indoors.

Further, most dogs are much happier to spend their quiet time in the house when the family is not at home. They are comforted by the familiar smells and surroundings in the house that remind them of their pack.

If your dog has been doing (or might do) any of these things outside, it is much better to keep your pet indoors in a crate when you’re not at home. Dogs, being creatures of habit, need to learn that when you’re not at home, they are to rest quietly… not create activities. Those whose daily habit is to create activities often end up with ongoing chewing problems that can be difficult to change.

There are some dogs who may be fine about spending their days outdoors. If your dog seems to enjoy being out there and is not destructive, then it’s simply a matter of personal preference. Never tie your dog up when you’re not there to supervise. Be sure to provide shelter from the rain and sun, and have identification on your pet at all times. Another good idea is to give a key to a neighbor whom you could call to put your dog inside if the need arises, such as if a big storm comes through and you can’t get home to bring your pet to safety.

By putting some forethought into your dog’s schedule and training, many behaviour problems can be avoided, pets and property stay safer and your overall enjoyment of your pet increases.


Excessive Barking in the Yard

Barking. It’s one of the things that dogs do. In fact, there are occasions when it’s a benefit to have a dog who barks. If there were a stranger entering your property or if something were genuinely amiss, a barking dog could be downright helpful.

What is not helpful however, is a dog who barks constantly. A twig snapped in the backyard, “Bark, bark, bark!” Neighbours are grilling in their yard, “Ruff, ruff, ruff!” Neighbourhood kids are riding their bikes, “Yap, yap, yap!”

This is a problem that is not only extremely annoying to neighbours, but can also be rather chafing on the pet’s owners who are either inside the house or out in their yard. Many dog or puppy owners find themselves constantly yelling “Cut it out! Hush!”… which for most dogs doesn’t stop the barking but instead just adds to the commotion.

Another down side to a constantly barking dog is that he can become rather like the boy who cried wolf. Since the dog barks so much, there is a tendency to not even go see what it is he’s barking about. In the event of an actual intruder, your dog might be trying to tell you, but will instead either be ignored or told to hush because the barking is so common.

The first step in alleviating this problem is to work on some obedience training with your pet. If he doesn’t clearly understand what “no” and “good dog” mean, he will not comprehend what you’re asking when you holler out the window. Likewise, if your dog doesn’t respect you, even if he does know what you mean, he will not listen anyway.

Some basic obedience commands such as “heel,” “sit,” “down,” “stay” and “come” will help establish a learning curve for your pet, and being consistent during practice will help you to earn his respect at the same time. Another benefit of obedience training is that it helps to stave off boredom. You may be surprised how many dogs bark all the time simply because it’s an activity.

The next step is to get outside with your dog or puppy! If he’s out there by himself, barking and running back and forth, all the hollering in the world is not going to stop him. You need to personally catch your dog barking inappropriately, tell him “no” and redirect him to a more appropriate behaviour such as chasing a ball, doing a “down/stay” or another acceptable activity.

Also extremely important is to take your dog out on a leash and socialize him thoroughly with normal neighbourhood occurrences. Introduce him to the neighbours. Bring him to meet the kids who ride their bikes. Hang around out front when your neighbours are doing yard work so he learns that it’s normal and acceptable for them to be there.

Between the obedience training, respecting you more, your personal supervision and being properly socialized with normal neighbourhood happenings, your dog’s barking will be dramatically reduced. Soon, even your neighbours may start to like him!


Lampshades on Dogs (Elizabethan Collar)

Most dog owners will eventually have the experience of their pet having surgery. Whether it’s a simple spay or neuter or a more serious operation, the majority of dogs will have a procedure performed at one time or another.

One of the biggest heartbreakers for pet owners is the “lampshade issue.” This is when you go to pick up your beloved pet from the veterinarian and find that he is wearing an Elizabethan Collar, which looks like an upside-down lampshade on his head.

It’s bad enough that you feel sorry for your dog for having had to get a procedure done in the first place, but now this can make you feel even worse! Your pet will likely be bumping into doorways and might seem horrified in general.

As responsible pet owning adults, we know that it’s important to follow the veterinarian’s instructions by having the dog wear the collar for his own good. It will prevent him from licking at the wound or pulling off bandages, thereby allowing the area to heal much more quickly and preventing infection. So what should you do? Keep it on 24/7, allowing your dog to “suffer” the whole time? Keep it off 24/7, ignoring the vet’s advice and risking injury or infection? There is a middle ground.

There are steps you can take to make the whole experience much more bearable for your pet. The first step is to socialize your dog with wearing the Elizabethan Collar so he’ll feel more comfortable.

Begin by working with your dog on a few obedience commands. Keep your requests simple since he’s just had surgery… you’re merely doing it for a minute to get him into the learning frame of mind.

Next, put the collar on your dog and do the commands for a few more minutes while he’s wearing it. Be sure to do this in an open area so your dog doesn’t bump into things and praise lavishly as he begins to act more relaxed.

Be sure to never pet your dog while he’s acting horrified. Rather than feeling soothed, your dog will feel as if you are praising him for being afraid. Instead, when your dog acts horrified, gently say "no", have him do something he knows, then follow with praise for doing the right thing.

Once your dog is more comfortable when he does have the Elizabethan Collar on, the next thing to realize is that it’s intended to prevent your dog from licking and bothering the wound. What would happen if you and your dog watched a movie together and you personally supervised him the whole time to make sure he doesn’t lick it? If your dog leaves it alone, you can allow your dog to have a little time each day during which he gets a break from wearing the collar, but you must supervise him diligently the entire time to make sure he doesn’t mess with the site.

Of course, your dog should always wear the collar whenever you’re not home, are sleeping or otherwise not watching him. Even dogs who seem to have no interest in picking at the wound may regress, either because they’re not supervised or if perhaps healing has progressed and it’s suddenly in an itchy stage.

If you take steps to make your dog more comfortable with wearing the collar, and combine that with the realization that this is only temporary and things will soon be back to normal, your dog’s recovery will soon be a not-so-traumatic memory for both of you.