Tag Archives: dogs

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!

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?