Sunday, September 21, 2014

One teachable skill can avoid resource guarding in dogs, but it can be tweaked for other situations

There is one scenario that presents itself regularly in my daily adventures with dogs, and it can vary anywhere between being benign, disgusting or downright dangerous: I need to retrieve an item from the animals's possession — their mouth, more precisely — and typically in fast order.

I could be on a walk with a charge and they discover a dead animal, a prescription pill enveloped in a yummy treat could inadvertently drops on the floor as I am preparing to dole it out to another pet in the family, or I might to need to get a prized chew toy away from a furry pal before they devour it whole.

Ideally, a pet has been taught to "leave it" — one of the most valuable skills that a dog can have in their repertoire in my opinion —but quite honestly, the item that they have in their mouth might be of really high value to them, they might not be as reliable as we would like in giving it up (especially if there is another dog close by).

In any case, grabbing the item might prove to be too gross or as it is most often, unsafe.

Instead, I make a "trade" with the dog: one high-value thing for another, usually a yummy edible treat, though it could be a coveted toy that they don't get often.

It goes without saying that every dog has their favorite edibles, so taking that into consideration and having them handy before proceeding is helpful. Is it a crunchy dog biscuit? A soft, meaty treat? A nibble of dried liver? A piece of cheese? Maybe it's a chunk of apple.

This teachable skill, which can also stave off the problem of resource guarding, can be practiced giving your pooch a toy or other object that she likes to play with. With the toy in her mouth, offer up a high-value treat and as she drops the toy to take the treat, use verbal marker, like “yes!” and feed her the treat. Then give her back the toy.

If she's on the fence about complying, use something that's higher in value and try that or you might consider scattering several treats on the floor.

As with any other new skill, practice often but make it fun.

Quite honestly most of my charges are not good at this skill, but I still employ this process in a modified form to get the job done. Does it teach the dog anything? No. But that's not my aim. It's just a Plan B and one that is geared to keep everyone safe. In fact, my Lab, Bruiser, was impossible to teach "trade" to and resource guarding was one issue that could never be successfully resolved with him, but this modified tactic worked well with him.

Sometimes you have to pick your battles.

That said, with my ever-present pocket-full of high value treats, I'm always ready to handle a scenario that might avail itself and quickly so.

I stand in front of the dog, get their attention with a quick call of their name, show them the treat/treats (making sure they get a whiff of them as well) by waving them gently about while calmly but enthusiastically asking, "Would you like a treat?". At this point my furry friend will either stand still with said object in their mouth, pondering the decision. They might drop the item, at which point I feed them a couple of treats to keep their mouth busy, offering a verbal "good job!" as a distraction, both of which give me time to pick it up safely or allow us to move away from the dead something if we're on a walk.

If all else fails, tossing a couple of treats on the floor but away from their body can be convincing and with some dogs, a safer choice.

I often use the latter technique to distract overly-enthusiastic dogs who simply can't self-regulate when playing a game of fetch. Getting head-butted, clocked in the face accidentally or having my fingers nipped by a large breed dog is something I'd like to avoid, so getting them to drop the toy and moving away from me so that I can grab it will keep the fun going.

Though canines can be taught a multitude of skills in order to live harmoniously with their human counterparts and to keep them safe, we can at times use a process behind the skill to achieve a favorable outcome as well.

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer -- most recently as a regular contributor for The Ann Arbor News -- and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Staying safe when tending to certain tasks that could make your dog ill-at-ease is a must

During the cold or soggy months I joke that I feel like a kindergarten teacher because I spend much of my time bent over putting on dog booties or drying off wet paws, or putting on or removing a charge's fleece jackets.

I get a few laughs from saying that, but in truth it can be a very dangerous situation for me: my face is level to a dog's body, and more easily within reach of my charge's teeth. You get the picture.

The fact is, just like you, I spend a lot of time in physical contact with the dogs in my care all year whether it's putting on a collar, harness or leash, checking them over for ticks or burrs after an adventure or tending to a minor (or goodness forbid) a more serious injury.

Though I am confident that my charges by and large are behaviorally safe around their bonded humans (including myself), there are times that my touching them might become uncomfortable for some reason — or be downright painful, and as you know, canines often try to hide their pain. If I locate an especially painful area that I'm not privy to and/or startle the dog, they can easily act out in response to the pain. This kind of thing is especially prevalent in arthritic dogs.

I don't get up-and-close to my canine friends in a casual way: believe me, there is mindfulness behind my close interaction, though it might seem quite off-the-cuff (years of doing so and relationship-building helps!).

Whether I'm interacting with a fearful or anxious dog, or one that is fine with being touched, I make a point to follow these rules:

Give fair warning: As I build a rapport with a dog, I touch them a lot, an act that builds trust: petting, rubbing their ears, scratching their rump — things that most dogs find positive. As I get to know them, it's then that I incorporate the word "touch" immediately prior to my performing tasks that they not find as favorable, like checking for ticks or burrs, putting on booties or if I am having a look at things around their head or face. The dogs in my care seem to catch onto this quickly and appreciate it.

Keep their mouth busy: Yes, I use a lot of treats in my work and for good reason — they work! In this case, I have them munch on some dog treats as I set about tending to whatever it is that they might not find favorable. If they are happily munching away on a yummy treat, they are less likely to be paying attention as closely to me, they'll associate what I'm doing as something positive and honestly, it's harder to snap or bite if your mouth is full.

Position strategically: Whenever possible, it's ideal to approach a dog from the side, and facing the same direction as they are, as opposed to approaching from from the front. This conveys, "We're working on doing this together, and I'm honoring your space.". (Fearful or anxious canines benefit from this greatly.)

Pay attention to body language: dogs use non-verbal language and they speak clearly when they are uncomfortable. If I see that a dog is not okay with what I'm doing, I stop and give them space. Click here to get a better understanding of how dogs tell us when they are having difficulty in social situations and otherwise.

With a fluid action, If I'm attaching a harness around a dog, as an example, I will have a couple of treats in one hand, the harness in the other, and as I approach I'll say, "Okay, here we go! Touch..." (as I pop a treat into their mouth with my right hand as I slip the harness around their facial area, then another treat as I fasten the harness and clip the leash.)

Staying safe when interacting with my charges, large or small is paramount. By incorporating these tips, you can do the same while trust-building all the while.

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer -- most recently as a regular contributor for The Ann Arbor News -- and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

When giving pets oral medication, using their natural tendencies to persuade them is essential

One of the most common tasks that I need to ensure gets done when caring for my charges is giving any medication. Though a few meds are dispensed as a suspension, as a transdermal gel or even by injection (something that I had to begin recently with both of my pets), pills or capsules are the most common mode of delivery.

This doesn't make most animals feel especially cooperative, as many a pet owner can attest -- especially when it comes to the latter. Their size and shape can make things a bit more challenging.

There's a bit of an art to making the task of taking meds stress-free for dogs and cats, and as a caregiver to many four-legged charges, I've figured out a couple of tricks to facilitate this.

Dogs can be pretty easygoing when it comes to administering pills, as they are food motivated and believe me — I take full advantage of that. For most dogs, pill pockets work well, though some dogs get wise to the tactic so mixing things up a bit and employing a stealthy technique can be helpful.

There are a variety of things that you can use as treats to act as a foil for medications as most dog treats aren't soft enough to work with.
  • Cheese cubes (co-jack is ideal, because of it's soft, smushy yet firm texture)
  • a gob cream cheese
  • a piece of hot dog that's cut just big enough to hide the pill in
  • liverwurst (or cooked chicken livers that have been mashed and formed into balls)
  • a regular-sized marshmallow
  • a gob of Daiya (cheddar-style wedge)
  • canned dog food that's chilled and formed into a bite-sized meatball. (A bit of pâté-style canned cat food formed into a small meatball can be used as well.)

The trick to getting even the most reluctant canine to scarf down any one of these things is to make sure that they are good and hungry (give them before a meal), and have 4-5 treats in your hand, ready to offer one after another in rapid-fire succession, ensuring the highest value treats are doled out somewhere in the middle. For example, you might give a crunchy treat, a slightly higher value treat, then whatever you've hidden the medication in, then whatever is left in your hand. Most dogs are too busy thinking about getting the next treat that they don't pay attention to anything, and using this tactic seldom fails.

Cats can be a very different story, but it's important to note that there are pill pockets for our feline friends and some actually do eat the treat, pill and all so they are worth a try first.

Most cats require the use of a piller (swaddling helps calm them and keep you safe), and they can be obtained at your vet's office or at better pet stores. These gadgets make it easier and above all, they keep your fingers safe from those very sharp teeth. Though I am very experienced at pilling the most challenging feline, there are always a few out there that refuse any attempt to be coaxed into doing it or having it popped down the hatch with a piller.

Recently, I stumbled on a technique that has worked well, but I have yet to use it on every one of my feline charges that needs a pill. It's very simple and works on very much the same premise as the one that I fleshed out for dogs. It's genius!

Michelle Danna-Christian, DVM of Baltimore, MD gave the details on

"I use Easy Cheese (Kraft). I make a line of cheese, then a dot, then another line. The dot contains the pill. Cats eat the cheese quickly, and because there is a second line, they continue to eat very quickly and swallow the pill without noticing they consumed it."

It doesn't seem to work if the pill is just stuck in a glob of cheese, Danna-Christian clarifies, as the cat will eat the cheese, leaving the pill behind.

"It's the line-dot-line technique that consistently works for my clients and me."

See my own cat, Silver, demonstrate how easily the aerosol cheese technique works. In the past, he's notoriously fractious when it comes to taking medication.

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer -- most recently as a regular contributor for The Ann Arbor News -- and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.