Picture of a Tibetan Terrier wearing a Shoulder Collar to illustrate dogs wont

When your dog won’t

Picture of a Tibetan Terrier wearing a Shoulder Collar to illustrate dog won't

What do you do when your dog won’t? Won’t come, won’t listen, won’t tolerate a new harness?

We were a bit sad this week. A customer had ordered a Choke-Free Shoulder Collar Harness for her dog. It was exactly what she needed – the dog has been diagnosed with collapsing trachea. But we got an email telling us she had to return the harness. While it’s perfect for her needs, her dog won’t get near it. Apparently the dog is afraid of the sound of hook-and-loop tape opening and closing.

We’re not sad because she’s returning the harness. While we want everyone to be delighted with everything they order from us, we understand that stuff happens. We’re sad because she didn’t ask what she could do to change her dog’s mind. This problem has an easy fix.

Get ahead of the issue

If you’re a little dog, the world can be an overwhelming place. That small dog’s one touchstone is you – the person who loves them and will always take care of them. That’s why you’re the perfect person to help your dog overcome these little fears.

In the case of the hook-and-loop tape, the problem could have been fixed in just a few days. All this person had to do was sit on the floor near her dog. With a bowl of yummy treats in her lap. Opening and closing the harness while tossing treats to the dog. As the dog figures out that nothing scary happens when they hear the sound, you can lessen the distance you toss the treat until the dog is coming right up to you. 

The key to introducing anything new to your dog is to take it slow, start with some distance, and go at the dog’s pace. Even the scariest household monsters can become neutral objects. Good dog training doesn’t take long, uses no force, and should be a game you both look forward to playing.

Over the head freak-out

Just like some dogs are frightened of the sound of hook-and-loop tape, others are uncomfortable with harnesses that go over their heads. That one’s easy, too. Hold the harness in one hand and reach through the neck-hole to give the dog some treats. Start at the length of your arm. Gradually decrease how far you reach. In just a few two-minute practice sessions, the dog will probably be sticking his own head through the hole to get the treats. One of the exercises we teach in our puppy and beginner classes is having dogs stick their heads in plastic cones to get a treat. Is it a useful skill? Not at first. But if they ever have to wear the “cone of shame,” it won’t freak them out.

It’s the same procedure if your dog doesn’t like getting their paws touched to put on a step-in harness. Put the harness, open, on the floor and give the dog treats while they’re stepping on it. When they’ve mastered that, pull one side up one leg a little bit. Step-by-step, dogs can learn that things aren’t scary and they can cope.

Turn “my dog won’t” around

No one should betray their dog’s trust by forcing them into a situation they fear. But it’s never too late to introduce them to new things, or help them overcome current fears. All it takes is a gradual, incremental approach. And really yummy treats the dog adores. 

One of the household monsters for many dogs is the vacuum cleaner. That one’s easy, too. Just turn it on in the next room so the dog adjusts to the noise. Gradually bring it closer. Or start with having it off, but in sight. Either approach works, if you give it time.

In all these cases it’s true that familiarity brings comfort. If they know what’s going on, they’ll be less afraid of it. Before you give up, before you dismiss, before you say “my dog won’t,” try to think of ways to turn it around. Your dog can, and will. 

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picture of a double helix to illustrate dog dna tests

Dog DNA Tests – spend or save?

When dog DNA tests came onto the market over a decade ago, we have to admit we thought they were pretty useless. We figured if the dog’s breed mattered to the person, they would get a purebred dog and not have to worry about it. 

After all, the whole point of developing different breeds is predictability. While individuals are unique, you can count on dogs of a particular breed having the  looks, personality traits, and behaviors that go along with that breed of dog. If a person was just looking for a companion and had no particular checklist for a dog, it absolutely doesn’t matter what the dog’s ancestry might be.

That was back when the dog’s breed was about all the information you got from a DNA test. Nowadays there’s more to it. And it may be worth another look.

What’s included now

Depending on the company and the particular type of test, dog DNA testing can also now predict the dog’s health risks, genetic disease vulnerabilities, even possible drug sensitivities. Knowing the breeds in your dog’s background may help you make decisions for your dog’s health, longevity, and possibly even training methods. If you know your dog has a hunting-dog background, your training might emphasize redirecting prey drive, for example. 

picture of a double helix to illustrate dog dna tests

For example, let’s say you have a dog that looks like a terrier mix. The dog is small, powerful, smart, energetic, and has short hair. You decide to find out what kind of terrier is in your dog’s make-up. So you get a DNA test and find out your dog, who looks absolutely nothing like one, is really half Poodle. That’s information you can use. The Poodle Club of America has information about specific health conditions that Poodles may inherit, including epilepsy and certain eye problems. Armed with that knowledge, you and your veterinarian may gain new insights into your dog’s health.

Even more useful

Knowing your dog’s long-term disease vulnerabilities may not really change much about your life with your dog. Everybody, both dogs and people, have some genetic baggage they carry around. For most of us, you’re aware of the possibilities, but they’re not something you focus on in the day-to-day.

However, there is another aspect that may have a more immediate effect. Apparently DNA tests can now predict your dog’s drug sensitivities. Depending on what you find out, this could have a significant impact on your choices.

From different anesthesia drugs to heartworm and flea & tick medications, it turns out that some breeds of dogs cannot tolerate certain medications. If you don’t have a Collie, chances are you didn’t know that Collies can have a genetic mutation that predisposes them to some adverse drug reactions. But if your dog has some Collie DNA, your veterinarian can choose parasite protection that also protects your dog’s health. Just as if you have a French Bulldog, you’ll want to make sure your vet avoids some anesthetics.

Not the complete picture

Unfortunately, the DNA tests can’t tell you what’s causing your dog’s allergies. You just know, if your dog is constantly licking paws and scratching ears, that they’re allergic to something. As far as we can tell, the most reliable allergy tests are still the elimination diets to test for food allergies, and the scratch tests for skin reactions to allergens. 

Before you decide to have your dog’s DNA tested, think about what you want to know and how you’ll use the information. If the health ramifications are mostly your concern, compare the different DNA testing companies. See how many tests they do, what their reviews are, and what the timeline for results will be. Looking at a few different companies, prices ranged from around $70 to over $200. Only you can say whether the knowledge gained is worth it to you.

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Fearful dogs and how to help them

When you have a fearful dog, it’s awful to feel powerless to help. For the Fourth of July this year we sent a wish on social media hoping that all of your neighborhoods would be calm and quiet. We’ve seen too many friends post about how awful the fireworks were this year to believe that wish came true.

So we’re looking at some of the most-mentioned dog fears hoping it will help. If your dog struggles with loud noises, like fireworks and thunder, there’s plenty of time before the next Independence Day to work on it.

Make it rewarding

Sound seems to be the number one fear most people mention when it comes to their dogs. Both thunder and fireworks are enough to send some dogs running down to the basement. 

One tactic is to pay a visit to your dog’s vet and get some calming medications and/or supplements to help your dog deal with the noises. While you know July 4th will be loud, thunderstorms aren’t quite as predictable, so plan ahead. Discuss it with your veterinarian, listen to the forecasts, and get the soothers into your dog ahead of time.

If your dog’s noise phobia isn’t severe enough to medicate, try making a game out of noise. Have a stash of treats on hand and give one to your dog whenever there’s a particularly loud “Boom!” In time, your dog will associate treats with loud noises and may not mind so much. 

If there are no storms in the forecast, you can simulate them with sounds on your phone, or a loud action movie. This may not work as well. Dogs seem to know the real thing from the fakes, but it may be worth a try.

Car quakes

Getting into, out of, and riding in the car is also high on the list of dog fears. That’s a shame, because going places with your dog opens up so many possibilities.

Picture of a small brown dog in a car window to illustrate Fearful dogs

If your dog won’t get in the car, practice when you don’t actually have to go anywhere. Get as close to the car as your dog is still comfortable. Talk to them in the vicinity, every once in a while giving them a treat. Gradually work your way closer. The most successful training is taken at your dog’s pace. 

Over the course of a few days or even weeks, accustom your dog to walking around the car, getting treats, and being calm. Do it with the doors open and shut, and only for a couple of minutes at a time. If your dog is fine around the car, but still won’t get in, move ahead.

With the door open, put a treat in the car. Put it on the door frame, on the floor, or on the seat. Let the dog get the treat and get right back out if they want to. Do it a couple of times, then be done for that day. When your dog is comfortable getting in and out, move on.

The next step, again working at the dog’s level of comfort, is to get the dog hooked up to their seatbelt leash or car seat. At first, just hook them up, then unhook and let them get out of the car. After a couple times, be done for the day.

The next steps will look similar. Take it slowly, only try a couple of times per session, and don’’t force the dog. You’ll go at your dog’s pace. Make each step a different session: hook them up, shut the door, you get in, turn the car on and off, move the car a little, go around the block, etc. 

Step by step

Most dogs will get over their fears if given the chance to get used to the circumstances. This even holds true for dogs who actually do get car sick. It’s not fear of getting sick that makes your dog hate the car. It’s the intense fear of the car making them sick. 

The old adage “familiarity breeds contempt” may not be exactly applicable, but it’s close. Familiarity will let your dog sail through these formerly-trying situations. Fran’s Boston Terrier Simon used to get terribly car sick. That put a damper on going to classes, trialing, and neighborhood jaunts. It took a few weeks, but now he jumps right into his place in the car and is a perfect travel companion. 

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Picture of a Boston Terrier outside to illustrate Cause and Effect is meaningless to dogs

Cause and effect is meaningless to dogs

If X happens, Y follows. As a concept, it’s easy for people to understand. Consequences are the foreseeable outcomes of actions. It’s how we plan and it guides our actions. But cause and effect are meaningless to dogs. 

The way dogs live in the moment is, in many ways, wonderful. There are lots of lessons to be learned – how to be spontaneous, to meet new things/people/experiences with joy, to never hold a grudge, to always let the people you love know it. 

Picture of a Boston Terrier outside to illustrate Cause and Effect is meaningless to dogs

There’s also the flip side. Dogs completely lack understanding of cause and effect. Case in point: every time Booker (11-year-old Boston Terrier) eats grass, he throws up. It’s not always immediate, so he’s never going to put the two things together. He will never understand why we tell him “don’t eat grass.” And despite his actual Obedience titles, we still have to tell him every time we take him out.

Even when the effect is immediate, the learning process has a limited life span. And it can be a painful one. We had a Boston named Daemon who ate a wasp one Spring. He was intrigued by its buzzing, followed it around, and ate it. His mouth was stung and it hurt. He had a miserable few hours, but he was fine. He didn’t eat another wasp that year.  The following Spring we went through it again. Every year was the same darn thing. He had to eat that first Spring wasp to remember not to do that – this year. 

Don’t worry, be happy

Dogs don’t worry about what may happen in the future. Even if a dog is terrified of thunder, they don’t think about thunder unless it’s happening now. They don’t spend their days concerned about the next storm. That’s an admirable trait. No one ever changed the future just by worrying about it. It’s one thing to take some action to prevent future problems. But if something’s bound to happen, like thunder, and there’s nothing you can do about it, you may as well not even think about it.

If you ever find yourself threatening your dog with consequences (If you stick your nose in the trash, you’re in big trouble) you’re wasting your breath. If you leave temptation out in the open, even if your dog has been told a million times, they will succumb to the lure. 

Invariably there’s someone in our puppy training classes who complains about a puppy stealing and chewing on their shoes. Those people are usually a bit surprised by our complete lack of sympathy. If your dog got your shoes, it’s your fault. You should have put the shoes away. If you want to train the dog not to steal shoes, you have to be there when the dog is making the attempt. And make it worth their while to be “good.”

Be their fortune teller

Your dog can’t see the future, plan for it, or even realize that it exists. In many ways, that’s a blessing. They don’t worry about getting old. They don’t even have a concept of dying. Your dog is thrilled when you walk in the door, even if all you did was take out the trash. Because the moment we’re living is the only one that exists for your dog. 

Dogs do form emotional associations, but they’ll never tell us why. If a dog adopted from a shelter or rescue shies away from a person holding an umbrella, it’s natural for people to think someone may have harmed the dog with an umbrella. Humans want to know the cause of that particular effect. It’s how we think. But it could just be that the dog was startled when the umbrella opened. And when the dog’s person went into “poor baby” mode, the dog figured out that acting fearful got them attention. Dogs are extremely adept at reading us. And they’re absolute wizards at getting what they want from us.

Detangle the thread

Once people embrace the difference between how dogs think and how people do, they’re much better at arranging life so their dog always has the opportunity to be “good.” Realizing that dogs don’t have an iota of forethought lets you look at their actions a new way. Rather than “What did you think was going to happen?” ask “Why was that an attractive thing to do?” Now you know that cause and effect are meaningless to dogs.

If  there’s a tasty morsel in plain sight on the counter, your dog isn’t going to think about how much trouble they’ll get in for being up on the counter. The thought process doesn’t go any further than “Want!” unless you’ve trained your dog no to counter-surf. We’re the ones who understand cause and effect. So we have to be the humans in the relationship.

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