Sounds of spring include dogs retching

Ode to spring!

The birds are chirping.

The weather’s fine.

Windows are open and

Clothes dance on the line.

The lawn is greening,

Lilies don’t droop.

Dogs are relishing

Fresh rabbit poop.

Ewww. And then comes retching

We always look forward to the end of winter. Spending pleasant time outside with the dogs. But the idea is usually better than the reality. We actually spend our time in the yard following our dogs around saying “drop that.” “Leave it.” “Eww.” “Don’t do that!” “Quiet – that’s our neighbor.”

And, with multiple dogs, we inevitably miss someone eating something they shouldn’t. And wake up in the middle of the night to the sound that makes dog owners shoot out of bed faster than any other – dogs retching.

Avoiding the pain

With luck, if we’ve heard it fast enough, we manage to move whichever dog’s retching to a surface that’s easy to clean. Or hold them dangling over the toilet. Or at least off the bed so we don’t have to change the sheets in the middle of the night.

A friend of ours calls her dog’s habit “eating salad.” Her girl finds whatever over-grown patch of vegetation there is and starts chowing down. We’ve always called it “being a cow” because our dogs like grass. The lawn kind – not anything almost-not-illegal any more.

Simon’s different

This is Simon’s very first Spring – he’s now nine months old. And he has a taste for dandelions! We’re actually pretty happy about that. Dandelions are sort-of a superfood. Since we don’t use any chemicals on the lawn, Simon’s become our source of dandelion control. He shares an occasional dandelion flower with our bearded dragon, but other than that, he pretty much has them all to himself.

And, so far, so good. Simon’s stomach seems to tolerate the greens. We do make sure he doesn’t do too much “grazing.” It’s not quite the same story for our other dogs.

Rabbit poop

You would think that “survival of the fittest” would dictate that, by now, rabbits would know better than to set up housekeeping in our yard. It’s certainly shouldn’t be any secret to the local wildlife that dogs own our yard. But, if bunnies were bright, they could have a lower rate of reproduction.

rabbit poop causes dog retching

Unfortunately, dogs seem to think rabbit poop is caviar for canines. They can sniff it out at any distance. Teddy was the world-champion, but the resident dogs are no slouches.

We’ve been assured by veterinarians that, while disgusting, eating rabbit poop doesn’t seem to have any long-term ill effects on the dog. It can result in “non-pathogenic yeast” showing up in their system, but other than that, not really a problem. Until they eat too much of it.

Disturbance in the night

When we get that post-midnight wake-up call of retching dogs, and we’re too late, we do know an almost-magical formula for getting stains out of carpet – thanks to our dear friends at Good Housekeeping. Mix a tablespoon of Dawn Dish Soap and a tablespoon of white vinegar into two cups of warm water. Scrub like crazy and repeat daily until the stain disappears.

This time, it took us three days – but it worked!

How much grief is enough? Mourning a dog

I (Hope) have been struggling lately with a decision – is it time to get a puppy? Am I done with mourning my dog?

This post is going to be a lot more personal than most – it’s my usual job to share what we know about dogs and help you have the best/easiest/happiest/least stressful life with your dog.

But this is a decision that all people who love dogs face at some point – and I’m hoping by sharing it will help somebody else, sometime.

How long is grief?

It’s been five months since my 8-year-old French Bulldog Teddy died. It still doesn’t feel quite real – I’m still surprised when I realize he’s not next to me sitting on the couch, watching tv in the evening.

Most of the people we know have been through the agony of losing a pet. There’s no “good” way. Sudden or expected, illness or accident – every single way leaves us hurting. Teddy’s death was unexpected and fast – there was only a couple of hours between realizing something was wrong and saying goodbye.

When to move on

Teddy’s picture is all over our website, and all over both our business and my personal social media feeds. I rarely “share” the memories, because I don’t want to wallow in grief, or have other people feel sorry for me. I know two dogs is the right number for me – but do I want a puppy? Or do I only want my Teddy?

Fawn French Bulldog lying in grass

In March I contacted the breeder from whom I’d like to get my next puppy. Since French Bulldogs are very popular right now, I fully expected just touch base, let her know I was interested, and get my name on a waiting list. We’ve known each other for years, but I’ve never had one of her dogs. So I expected to have to wait, and am certainly willing to do so.

I was a bit shocked, delighted, and terrified when she told me that she was expecting a litter at the end of the month. And, if there was an available puppy, it could be mine.

My choice

I know there are some people reading this who are aghast that I’m planning to get a pedigreed puppy from a breeder, rather than adopt a dog from a shelter or rescue. I’m familiar with all the arguments on both sides of the debate. And, whether you agree with my choice or not, it is my choice. We all have the right to choose what’s right for our lives, circumstances, and situations.

I’ve adored French Bulldogs for decades, and it is my breed of choice. I know that Torque (my four-year-old Frenchie) is mourning for Teddy as much as I do, and would probably welcome another dog.

Is it the right time?

That’s the question I’m really wrestling with right now. Puppies are adorable, disruptive, wreak havoc with schedules, are generally pains in the butt, time-suckers, cute, cuddly, wonderful, and terrible – all at the same time. Am I ready for that?

Brindle French Bulldog puppy

The other part of that question is – would it be fair to the puppy? Could I give it the time, attention, and devotion it deserves? Or is it possible I’d be constantly comparing it to the one I adored and lost? Am I ready to fall in love all over again? Or am I still stuck on the memories?

Can’t stand the cute

The breeder has been sending me photos and videos of the puppies in the litter. When I watch them, the cuteness is overwhelming. And there’s an immediate “I want one!” reaction.

But the doubt creeps in after the video ends.

Checking them out

There’s really never a “good time” to get a puppy. They’re always disruptions. But they’re also sources of joy, smiles, and laughter – even when the naughtiness gets to us.

So sometime in the next couple of weeks I’ll make the four-hour trek to see if one of these puppies is meant to be mine. It feels a bit odd to make a date to fall in love. Or not.

Take care of yourself

If you find yourself in a similar situation – take the time you need mourning your dog and take care of yourself. I don’t yet know what I’ll decide about that puppy, but I do know that I won’t let Teddy’s death mean more than his life. I can’t be one of the people who reject love because grief, eventually, arrives. There will be another dog, some day.

Your dog’s eating habits – change isn’t good

Have your dog’s eating habits changed? Is she fussier than she used to be? Is he turning up his nose at used-to-be favorites?

Cause for concern

It’s an old joke that “habit is the most powerful force in the universe.” But there’s also a lot of truth to it. And dogs are even more entrenched in habits and rules than people! Dogs love schedules. They love rules. And habits make them happy.

Changes in eating habits are significant. The reason may not be serious – but it’s always worth checking out.

Seasons & reasons

The cause for the change could be anything:

  • Normal appetite suppression in hot weather
  • A bitch coming into heat
  • Food recipe has changed and isn’t as palatable
  • Toothache
  • Tummy ache
  • Feeling ill
  • Stress
  • Parasites
  • Age
  • Disease
  • Schedule change
  • Travel

How do you know?

One of the reasons we’re not fans of “free feeding” (leaving food out all the time) is because it’s hard to judge exactly how much the dog is eating and whether there’s a change. If the household has more than one person feeding the dog, it may be impossible to judge. Same situation if there’s more than one dog – how do you know which one’s eating what? Other than seeing one get fat?

If a free-feeding situation is the one that works for your family, try to put some controls in place so you know if there are changes. Have only one person in charge of feeding the dog. Use a measuring cup to judge exactly how much is offered each day. And take notes on a calendar to chart any changes.

Up or down matters

We’re lucky that most of our dogs have been good eaters. There have been a couple of exceptions, and they both fall into the category of “when you know better, you do better.”

dog eating

As young people, we had a Boston Terrier named Daemon. He needed to be coaxed to eat, and we got pretty creative (and desperate) to make it happen. Because we were convinced that he “had to” eat kibble, we actually wound up resorting to adding people-food toppings. His favorites were Chunky Steak and Potato Soup and Dinty Moore Beef Stew. Neither is something we’d recommend for dogs now, but we didn’t know anything about dog nutrition at the time. It turned out that Daemon had liver cancer. We tempted his appetite enough to keep him strong as long as he was comfortable. It may not have been an ideal solution, but it worked for the time and circumstances.

Picky puppy

The other dog who didn’t want to eat was Fran’s Booker. When she picked him up as a puppy from his breeder’s home in Virginia, he didn’t eat much of anything for the first two days. As a new mom – it drove Fran crazy. Booker’s eating issues were resolved when we switched to a different food. He just didn’t like the first one. At home or on the road, he’s been a champion eater ever since.

Do not pass “Go!”

For the rest of our dogs – we have a house rule. If the dog doesn’t eat, go directly to the veterinarian. Do not pass “Go!” Do not collect $200. And step on it.

If your dog’s eating habits change – pay attention. It may be nothing. One of our dogs had a bad case of gas. Another had a tooth ache. That started us on brushing our dogs’ teeth and it hasn’t been an issue since.

But if it is “something” – your diligence may help save your dog!

Talking to dogs – tone matters!

How do you talk to your dog? Do you pay attention to how you’re talking to dogs, as well as what you’re saying?

Do you use baby talk? A high-pitched voice?

Normal conversational tones?

Or “command” mode?

Tone matters

Dogs pay attention to everything we do and say. They pick up on cues we don’t even know we’re broadcasting. Have you seen your dog take on “nurse mode” when you’re not feeling well? Or “act guilty” when you’re angry – even if they haven’t done anything wrong?

Tone matters. While we’ve seen data that says dogs can learn hundreds, if not thousands, of words, dogs’ ability to pick up on tone and inflection seems to be instinct, not learned.

Dogs know our moods

Your dog knows when you’re happy. He or she knows when you’re upset, or frustrated, or angry, or having a bad day. How he/she reacts depends on the individual dog’s personality. Some dogs may yell right back at you. Others may shut down. Still others may become confused and act out.

We’ve recently had experience with how tone matters. Fran is preparing for upcoming competitions in Obedience, Rally, and Agility with her Boston Terriers, Booker and Simon.

Getting ready to compete

Booker is six years old and a somewhat experience competitor. He has titles in all of these performance venues. And, when he’s paying attention, is marvelous.

We have the habit of playing training games with our dogs every morning before work. It’s something we love, so it lets every day start out on a positive note. Each dog gets a few minutes by himself with his “mom.” We all love this time. And we’ve learned a lot about how talking to dogs has an impact on them.

To assess how we’re doing, we’ve starting recording video of our little sessions. Listening one day, Fran noticed that her voice was different when talking to each of her dogs. And it matters!

Using video

Handler and Boston Terrier in obedience class

Booker was first. Fran and Booker start competing at the Open level in obedience this week. Her tone was pretty serious with him, and when he didn’t get things right, she found herself getting a little frustrated.

Tango is retired now and his little sessions are all for fun. Fran expects little from him now, so whatever he does is fun. They just have fun together.

Her puppy Simon is just learning, although he is entered in Rally competitions coming up. Fran is patient with him and rewards every time he gets things right. When he doesn’t quite “get it,” she just tries again.

Fran learned a lot when listening to the video. Of her dogs, Booker is the most sensitive to her mood and tone. When she heard herself on the playback, she knew she had to change to prevent Booker from shutting down.

The next day Fran made a conscious effort to keep all of her dogs’ sessions playful, fun, and upbeat. And Booker responded beautifully.

So we’re still learning. How we talk to our dogs matters even more than what we’re saying.

How does your dog smell?

“Mmmm! Frito feet!” Isn’t it the best dog smell, ever?

Everyone who loves dogs knows that scent. When your dog is really, deeply sleepy and you get a whiff of that unmistakable, irresistible, uniquely doggy aroma.

Turns out it’s probably caused by a couple different bacteria: pseudomonas, which smells a lot like popcorn; and  proteus bacteria, which smells like corn tortillas.

Before you get all “ewwww, bacteria!” neither one is usually anything to worry about. Our environment is chock-full of harmless microscopic thingies and it turns out that exposure to more of them is probably good for our immune systems. The more “exercise” the immune system gets, the more “fit” it is to cope with the world around us. We think that makes sense.

Delicious dog smells

Years ago a friend had a Border Terrier (MacDuff) who had a very distinct smell. You could only sniff it on the top of his head. His “mom” loved that scent.

Two Boston Terriers, a French Bulldog, and a Brussels Griffon
Simon (left) smells like caramel!

Until Simon, none of our dogs had a particular dog smell. The top of Simon’s head has a pleasant, uniquely “Simon” smell. It’s like caramel. Apparently it’s not rare for dogs to have a uniquely good smell about them – although you have to look around a bit to find information. The most common stories on dog smells are not about pleasant perfumes!

Smell the change

Dogs use their sniffing skills to find all kinds of stuff:

  • Escaped prisoners
  • Illegal drugs
  • Truffles
  • Diseases including diabetes and cancer
  • Rabbit poop in the yard
  • Decaying leftovers the last hotel room tenant left behind
  • Gooey disgusting things you have to grab from them without gloves
  • Other dogs’ recent proximity

But we need to use our own, much inferior, sniffing ability to keep tabs on our dogs. How does your dog smell? Has it changed?

Scent detectives

Healthy dogs really shouldn’t have much in the way of detectable odor. But you know how your dog smells. And if that changes, your pup may have a problem.

Dogs produce oil that keep their skin and coat conditioned. They don’t sweat like we do – just from their paws. If your dog’s normal scent changes, or becomes unpleasant, there are a few things that could be going on.

With the smell is emanating from the ears, chances are there may be an infection that needs to be cleared up and a visit to the veterinarian is in order.

Bad breath? Check with the vet to make sure it’s nothing serious. If everything looks okay, we recommend adding tooth-brushing to your dog’s regular grooming regimen. We’ve had wonderful success with our GG Naturals Toothpaste – our dogs seem to like the taste and texture better than the mass-produced pastes.

Our dogs all have skin folds on their faces and we’ve learned to give them a wash most days. Hope’s Torque is a particularly messy eater – we know what flavor he’s eaten by the evidence all over his face! Fortunately, Torque loves essential oils, so he runs into the bathroom after meals for his Animal Scents Shampoo face wash.

We love it, too

Non-dog people may think we’re all crazy – but we think it’s perfectly normal to bury your nose in your dog’s neck and take a whiff. We love our dogs – playing with them, training with them, cuddling with them, and even the way they smell. If somebody else disapproves – it’s their problem. Dog is our favorite perfume!

Battle of the Species! Dogs and Cats

Dogs and cats are very, very different animals.

There are dog people.

There are cat people.

And there are “both” people.

We don’t think they’re mutually exclusive, or that dogs and cats are always enemies. But there are many differences between the two.

“You feed a dog, groom a dog, pet a dog, take care of the dog and it thinks you’re a god. Do the same for a cat and the cat knows it’s a god.” A saying that falls into the “funny, but true” category!

The differences dogs vs. cats

Did you know cats have no collar bones?

Why does that matter? Because: (a) it allows cats to fluidly fit through very small spaces and (b) means most dog harnesses won’t secure cats.

A customer came into the shop the other day asking if we have stuff for cats. With a few exceptions – not really. She was actually interested in getting a harness for her kitty, which we could do. But only a couple of harness styles work for cats – only the ones that fasten around the neck.

Cats are instantly housebroken

Most cats only need to be shown where their litter box’s location to be immediately housebroken. As people living with a 7-month-old puppy, we wish that were true for dogs. We’re not sure why it’s instinct for cats and intense training for dogs – but it is.

But dogs can be trained to do anything

It’s our theory that dogs are trainable because they’re social animals and want to be in the middle of the action. On the other hand – cats are, by comparison, solitary animals. For the most part, only food-motivated cats (not finicky ones) can be “trained.”

We just saw a story about a Japanese study that concluded that cats recognize their names, even if called by a stranger. Merlyn was our cat for 17 years. To this day, we’re not sure he even knew he had a name. Good to know it’s possible he did –  he just didn’t care.

Dogs and cats have different styles

Dogs and cats are both natural predators, although with very different styles. Can you imagine your dog having the patience to watch a mousehole for hours? On the off chance the prey might appear? Unless they’re asleep, our dogs rarely sit still for more than a minute or two!

Aliens on Earth

Bubba Louis, who is a French Bulldog internet celebrity, calls cats “aliens.” We kind of agree. Dogs can pretty much take the same medications as people, are prone to similar ailments, and seem more similar than different. Having a cat in our lives came with a steep learning curve, medically and nutritionally.

With some exceptions (onions, raisins, chocolate) dogs can eat pretty much anything people can. We like that about dogs. If you’re watching tv, having a snack, your dog is happy to help you with that.

Cats? Sometimes. Maybe. If they feel like it. Our Merlyn was never a particularly finicky cat. He just wasn’t interested. With the notable exceptions of green olives. He adored them.

Better? Worse? Just different?

Cats and dogs have different world views. And as long as their people accept them for what and who they are – it works fine. We know some cats who fetch. We know some dogs that climb. Whatever works!

Is your dog coughing? When do you worry?

We hate hearing our dog coughing. It’s never a good thing. Either he’s sick, he’s got something stuck in his throat, or there’s something really wrong.

The checklist

This week, Booker started coughing one evening. We’ve had dogs and know way too much about them to panic right away – but you do start going through the list in your brain:

  • Where were we?
  • Did he eat something off the ground?
  • What dogs has he interacted with lately?
  • When did this start?
  • Are the other dogs going to get it?
  • Should we take him to the vet now or wait and see?

Because he seemed otherwise normal, we opted to wait a day and see how he was. We gave him a little honey to soothe his throat. But he was eating, playing, and acting pretty normal, aside from a bit tired.

Time to get help

Boston Terrier lying in a dog bed.

The next morning his cough had worsened, so off Fran and Booker went to the vet. Our vet is pretty old school – definitely a “no panic” zone. She checked him out – no fever, clear lungs. She prescribed a cough suppressant and sent us on our way with instructions to follow up in a couple of days. Earlier if he got worse.

With the medication, Booker’s only coughing now when he chases the puppy around the yard. Apparently exertion irritates whatever’s going on. The virus he picked up someplace doing something has to run its course. As long as he improves, we’re happy.

What are the signs

There are several different kinds of coughs – each one signalling a different issue.

The deep, dry hacking cough means the dog’s upper airway is irritated and is a symptom of Kennel Cough, which is a highly-contagious virus.

A high-pitched, gagging cough may mean the dog’s airway or throat is irritated.

A wet-sounding cough may be a sign that the lungs and possible pneumonia.

A deep, honking cough is one of the signs of heart disease.

Wait and see

Most vets will say to wait a day or so and see if the cough improves on its own. If it’s just an irritation, it may disappear overnight, or after a meal.

If the cough worsens, or if your dog’s behavior changes, it’s time to go to the vet and find out what’s going on. While Booker’s cough wasn’t horrible, it was clearly worse the next day and he didn’t feel good.

Worry or not?

There are many different causes for dog coughing, some are concerns, others not as much.

Don’t worry: If your dog coughs occasionally, there’s no need to be concerned. Like us, their throats can get dry or irritated. Or there may be an obvious trigger – a dog that always pulls on leash may cough. It may be time to change that collar for a harness away from his/her throat before any damage is done. Some people will also describe reverse sneezing as a coughing sound.

Worry a little: Coughs may also be caused by infections, including canine flu and kennel cough. A viral infection has to run its course, so supportive care is called for. A bacterial infection can be treated with antibiotics.

Worry: Coughing can also be caused by heartworm infestation, collapsing trachea, laryngeal paralysis, or heart disease. Which is why a visit to the vet is called for if you see no improvement in a day or two.

On the road to recovery

Booker feels better and is back to being his normal self. We’re hoping he’ll be back at “school” next week. Mostly because he’s a non-stop dog. After class, he comes home and takes a nap. We love that.

Puppy panic! Pay attention!

Simon is seven months old now. He’s a constant source of fun, laughter, and love, with a healthy dose of puppy panic added! When you have a new dog in the house, every time you turn around there’s something new to think about.

Pure puppy panic – that was a close one

We’ve learned over the last few month with Simon to watch. Everything. Carefully.

Just because no dog did it before, doesn’t mean this one won’t.

Simon “tried” drain cleaner today. No dog’s ever gone anywhere near the bathroom cleaning stuff before. Simon did!

A quick call to the Pet Poison Helpline (and $60) later and now we know that he’ll be fine. But that was a panicked moment we could have lived happily without.

Making us laugh – that was a funny one

boston terrier puppy simon

We prepare our dogs’ food so they eat at the same time we do. We choose to feed them in their crates so our mealtimes are relaxed for everyone. Their food waits on the table while we finish getting our own plates ready. From the kitchen, we hear the sound of a dining room chair moving. Simon was helping himself to dinner! None of our dogs ever did that before.

Simon did!

This one’s just interesting

Simon loves chew toys. His style is unique. Whatever he’s chewing has to be elevated. He stands on the couch with the bone between his front paws, resting against the back of the couch. And then, of course, it falls. Behind the couch, between the cushions, the most inaccessible places possible.

He’s a hoarder

He hoards his bones. For training reasons, the only always-available toys in the house are chew toys. There are at least a dozen and a half lying around at any time. And yet, they disappear. Because Simon has collected as many as he can find and hides them in “his” place.

When we disrupt the stash and put them back in circulation, the other dogs think we’ve just given them all sorts of new toys. It’s been days since they’ve seen so many!

He’s learning

Simon is not only creative on his own – he also learns quickly from the other dogs.

If he’s bored, he justs goes up to Tango to start trouble. Tango doesn’t see terribly well these days and startles pretty easily. Simon comes up behind him and bounces his front feet on Tango. Which makes Tango dash after Simon, barking, cranky, and wagging his tail. Simon does it on purpose.

From Torque, Simon’s learning to play “bitey face.” Some people call it “mouth wars.” It looks and sounds nasty, but it’s not. There’s a lot of noise and wiggling around. The only casualty so far seems to be Torque’s whiskers. We think Simon’s bitten them all off!

And from Booker, Simon’s learning how to be a Boston Terrier. With slightly better weather, we’ve been able to enjoy the yard. And the running of the Bostons has begun.

Remembering why we prefer dogs

We’ve always tried to space out getting dogs so we’re not faced with a bunch of oldsters at once. It hasn’t always worked out as planned, but there’s usually been a few years between puppies. Plenty of time to forget how challenging, stressful, joyful, and fun puppyhood can be.

What are your best and worst puppy experiences? And do you love the pups? Or prefer older dogs?

Winning against winter weight

Did your dog put on some winter weight?

Ours did – and so did we!

We’ve been having this discussion in the shop this week. As we get the first hints of warmer weather, we’re getting out more. And we’ve had a few people comment on how their dogs have gained some unwanted weight over the last few months.

Ice & snow make it hard

It’s certainly understandable. It was impossible to go for a long walk when everything is covered in ice and salt. But now we’re paying the price – a few pounds heavier and a out of shape.

We know dogs aren’t, technically, people. But they are a lot like us. (Unlike cats, which are aliens. We know – we’ve had cats.) Just like us, they tend to be less active indoors, moving less, sleeping more, and generally burning fewer calories.

Packing on winter pounds

And just like us, they can get out of shape. Fran is a fitness fan – Hope (me), not so much. I’ll go months without exercising. Then I’ll decide it’s time to get going again. So I do a workout from months ago, when I was “into it,” and be in major pain the next day. The price we pay for that inactivity is sore muscles.

French Bulldog and Boston Terrier puppy cuddling
Torque and Simon in “winter mode.”

Dogs are the same. Their little bodies, just like ours, lose strength, stamina, and fitness.

Don’t go for that hour-long walk the first nice day! Your dog will pay in pain tomorrow. Ease back into a regular routine. If you haven’t done anything with your dog in months, a 10-minute walk is probably enough the first day back. Increase the time and distance gradually.

Take it slow

If exercise, or activity, is one side of the winter weight “coin,” the other face is diet. While we don’t necessarily eat more during the winter, the calories have a tendency to stick around. Increasing activity will help with weight loss, as long as no extra treats are involved. If they are, either as rewards or motivation, you can modify what you’re giving.

Swap out some calories

Remember – your dog doesn’t make his/her own food decisions. We know exactly how hard it is to say “no” to those puppy dog eyes, so we’ve developed some tricks we’re happy to share:

  • Replace a portion of your dog’s food with frozen string beans. We know it’s weird, but they’re low-calorie, nutritious, and most dogs love them.
  • Make a “trail mix” of treats for rewards. Include your dog’s regular food, a smaller portion of his/her favorite dry treats (we use Chicken Heart Treats), and circle-oat-cereal. Stir up a big batch, pour it into a plastic bag, and keep it conveniently at hand. The cereal should be about half of the mix. (True confessions: one of our dogs doesn’t like the plain cereal, so we use the honey-nut flavor. Still low calorie for one piece and all the dogs love it.)
  • Some dogs actually love playing with and chewing ice cubes. We’ve talked to many vets and all of them say it doesn’t hurt the dog to chew ice. Action without calories – it’s a win/win!
  • Carrots and/or celery are also good, low-calorie treats many dogs enjoy.
  • If your dog isn’t crazy about chasing balls around the yard – try a small apple! They’ll get all the benefit of a workout and think they’re getting a treat!

We can do it!

It’s hard to win the winter weight battle. For our dogs’ health – we have to keep an eye on their waists. Last year I didn’t notice when Torque gained four pounds and it took us months to make it go away. I’m paying attention better this year – we started walking as soon as the ice melted.

What “steps” are you taking to keep your dog in shape?

Scared of strangers? Your dog doesn’t have to be!

Is your dog scared of strangers?

Either out and about or at home?

Does he/she “go ballistic” whenever the doorbell rings? Have you stopped inviting people over because it’s just too stressful? When repairs are needed do you have to lock your little dog away?

Most of the “aggressive” behaviors small dogs display are rooted in fear. It’s the dog saying to the world, “I’m tough and I’ll hurt you before you hurt me!”

Warning – danger approaching!

Small dogs know their size. And many of them aren’t particularly confident. They’ll bark and lunge, hoping the display will be enough to keep others away so they’ll be safe. And many owners react by indulging the behavior, either soothing their dogs with a comforting “you’re okay! It’s fine!” or by picking them up to remove the threat.

Many dogs will try to hide behind their owners for protection, then lunge out when they feel a threat. Some trainers encourage dogs to sit between owners feet as a “safe place,” but it can work in reverse if the dog thinks you’re acting as his “back up.”

We feel your pain – Tango was scared of strangers

Our own experience with aggressive dogs is first hand. Unfortunately, Fran’s Tango was a lunging, snapping maniac when she got him. He was fear aggressive and extremely scared of strangers. She had no hint – their instant connection meant she could do anything with him from the moment they met. No one else could get near him – including Hope!

Brussels Griffon Tango

It took time and patience to bring out the best in Tango. He became a dog Fran could take places and compete with in Agility and Rally. There were times we thought it would never happen.

And there are some people who prefer their small dogs to stay aggressive to the rest of the world. We know one woman who firmly believes her Chihuahua’s snarling and snapping keeps both of them safer. And if that’s where you’re at, that’s fine.

Turn it around

But if you want your dog to be a welcome guest and companion, there are simple things you can do to turn things around.

If, like Fran, you’re able to do anything with your dog, you’ll need to enlist an understanding friend to help.

You’ll need some absolutely irresistible treats. Use something smelly, like pieces of hot dogs. And, with your dog on collar or harness and leash, have your helper drop treats in front of the dog. Be sure you’re far enough away that the dog can’t reach your friend. If necessary, the treats can be gently tossed on the ground.

If your dog is nicer than Tango was, your friend put a treat in an open hand and offer it to the dog. Tango would bite, so that wasn’t an option.

Repeat 10 times – 10 treats.

That’s it. The friend shouldn’t try to engage with the dog at all – don’t meet his/her eyes, don’t talk to the dog, nothing. Especially don’t lean over! As tempting as it is to bend over to look at, or pet, a dog, to the dog it’s a threat. Either stay standing, or, even better, have your friend sit on the floor and toss the treats where the dog can reach them. Remember to stay out of range to keep everyone safe!

This sets up the idea, in the dog’s mind, that this person is not threatening, doesn’t want anything from me, and just wants to give me treats. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll like this person!

Enlist some help

The next time you try, maybe your dog will have a more relaxed posture. Maybe he/she will actually seem happy to see your friend. As time goes by, your friend will be able to hand the dog a treat.

And that’s the key. Over time, there were many friends of ours who became “cookie ladies!” Fran packed lots of treats whenever she went out with Tango, and handed a few to whoever she saw. Over just a couple of months, Tango became a dog Fran could take anywhere. He expects strangers to be treat dispensers, not dangers.

When you have a dog that’s fear-aggressive, one eye should always be on him/her, to make sure everyone will be safe. Time, patience, and “cookie people” can help fix the problem, but it may never be cured.

What works for you?

Have you had a reactive, or fear-aggressive dog? Is he/she scared of strangers? What works for you to help your dog cope with the world a little better?