Monthly Archives: October 2020

Top Ten Tips to Keep Your Pet Safe & Calm this Fourth of July

 

 

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The Changing Role & Responsibility of Rescues & Shelters

There may have been a time when schools only needed to be charged with teaching students reading, writing and arithmetic. But as society changes schools become responsible for instruction that either used to be provided at home, or represents a new field of study. When I was in high school we had a choice of […]

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Dogs Who Play Pool

Watch dogs put balls into side & corner pockets
DOG PLAYS GAME OF POOL

A man walks into a pool hall with his dog … no, this isn’t the beginning of a joke—it’s a showcase for a dog with the unique ability to play the game of pool. Meet Halo, who learned to play pool from her owner Josh Kuhn. After Kuhn installed a new pool table in the basement of his Minnesota home, he found Halo to be a regular observer, then a curious participant as Halo would stand up on her back legs, lean her paws onto the table, bark at the balls and run around, eyeing and following the action. Soon, Josh seized upon her curiosity and taught Halo how to play the game by using her paws as a doggie cue.

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Positive Reinforcement Training Without Treats

use treats when I train. So do my clients. Now that positive reinforcement training has a 25-year-plus track record in the dog world (supported by studies that affirm its effectiveness), the use of treats in training has become widely accepted and embraced. 

There are times, however, when you can’t use treats. Perhaps your dog isn’t particularly motivated by food. Maybe there’s a medical reason your dog can’t have food right now. Or perhaps (horrors!) you ran out of treats. The good news is that food isn’t the only form of reinforcement we can use in training – there are a number of others ways you can reinforce your dog’s behavior.

NOT FOOD MOTIVATED?

The fact is, all dogs must be food motivated, at least to some degree, or they truly will starve. We all have to eat to live. 

But it’s true: Some dogs are more interested in food than others: Labrador Retrievers are notorious for being “food hounds.” In fact, a recent study found this breed is more likely to have a very strong interest in food because they have a specific gene mutation associated with food obsession. (Flat-coated Retrievers have it too, but it has not been found in any other breeds.) Still, all dogs must eat, so the first questions we need to ask are:

* Why is my dog not more interested in training treats?

* Are there things I can do to increase my dog’s interest in training treats?

* If I can’t get him to be more interested in treats, or if he can’t have treats right now for some reason, or if, inexplicably, I ran out, are there other reinforcers I can use in my training program?

There are several reasons why your dog might not appear to be motivated by food during training:

* Medical causes. We always want to consider and rule out or treat any possible medical causes for or contributors to a behavioral challenge, including anorexia. If your dog truly has little to no interest in food, if you have not already, please discuss this with your veterinarian as soon as possible. There is a long list of possible medical reasons why your dog may not be interested in food, and some of them are very serious. 

* Treats are low in value to your dog. Perhaps you’ve heard the suggestion to use your dog’s regular kibble for training. This could well work for a Lab and for other very food-focused dogs, but for dogs who aren’t as interested in food, kibble just might be too boring. 

* Easily bored with your high-value treat. Some dogs get bored with (or just too full to be very interested in) a great number of the same delicious treat. Be prepared with a list of treats your dog considers high-value, and when her interest in one starts to wane, switch to another. 

Most dogs love chicken (baked, boiled, or thawed-out frozen chicken strips), and yet we often see dogs tire of it at our academies, where they are plied with training treats throughout the day. Other treats dogs tend to love include roast beef, cheese, cooked hamburger, meatballs, peanut butter squirted from a tube, ham, baby food – the list is endless. If your dog is less than enthusiastic about food, the longer your list of potential high-value treats needs to be.

*Your dog is easily distracted, or the environment holds too many or too highly disturbing distractions. If your dog is on the mild-to-moderate end of the food-interest continuum, environmental distractions can serve to deflect her desire for treats, especially if she is easily distractible, and/or if you haven’t done your homework to generalize her behaviors to a variety of different locations. If this is the case with your dog, try higher-value treats and/or do more training in a less distracting environment before generalizing to more distractions. (Your backyard might seem perfect – but not when there are squirrels racing around the trees, or the neighbor’s dogs are barking at you through the fence.)

* Your dog is not hungry. This is a concept totally foreign to your average Labrador, but a lot of dogs who are not as crazy about food as the Lab will be less enthusiastic about working for treats if they just finished a meal. This is an easy fix: Schedule your training sessions before mealtimes, not after, and don’t feed your dog just before training class.

* Your dog is stressed. This is one of the most commonly overlooked reasons for dogs to turn up their noses at their training treats. It is biologically appropriate, for survival reasons, for her appetite to shut down when your dog is stressed. When the brain signals “danger,” the last thing an organism should do – if they want to survive – is stop for a bite of food, so the part of the brain that controls appetite turns off until the danger is over. 

If your dog is reluctant to take treats because she is stressed, you may be able to tempt her with higher-value treats, but the best solution is to figure out how to make the stress go away – or at least decrease enough so she can happily eat again. (If she can normally take a treat gently, but in a stressful situation goes from not taking the treats to blindly grabbing at the food, sometimes getting your fingers in the process, her stress level is still too high for effective learning; move farther from the stressor.)

Sometimes a dog will learn to take treats in the face of her stressor just through habituation (she just gets used to it), although a concerted effort at counter-conditioning and desensitizing her to the stressor tends to be more effective and faster. (See “Counter-Conditioning and Desensitization,” WDJ March 2020.)

In some cases, if the dog’s stress levels are persistent, behavior modification drugs are in order. This calls for another discussion with your vet. If your veterinarian is not behaviorally knowledgeable, she can schedule a phone consult with a veterinary behaviorist for assistance in determining what medication(s) might be appropriate for your dog. Your vet can find a list of Certified Veterinary Behaviorists at dacvb.org/search.

OTHER REINFORCERS

One of the great things about using food as a reinforcer in training is that the dog can eat the treat quickly and immediately go on to the next behavior. But anything your dog perceives as “good stuff” can theoretically be used as a reinforcer. Play, for example, is an excellent, very strong “other” reinforcer for many (but not all) dogs. Keep in mind, however, that other reinforcers can take more time to deliver and regroup from, and thereby are more likely to interrupt the flow of training.

Now that the use of food in training has become so widespread, it’s easy to forget that there are a multitude of other ways to reinforce your dog’s behavior. 

The definition of a reinforcer is “something that causes a behavior to increase.” In positive reinforcement training we teach our dogs that certain behaviors make “good things” (reinforcers) happen, so our dogs learn to offer those behaviors in order to make good stuff happen. 

Food is what we call a primary reinforcer, meaning it has innate value to the dog. Dogs don’t have to learn to like food; they are born looking for their mother’s milk. A scratch under the chin feels good – it has innate value – so that’s another primary reinforcer. 

Verbal praise, however, is a secondary reinforcer; it takes on value through its association with a primary reinforcer such as food treats, excitement, and scratches under the chin. Toys, too, are secondary reinforcers; they take on value through their association with the predatory chase response. (Doubt this? Have you never met a dog who was initially mystified and uninterested in toys, but learned to play with them over time?)

HOW TO USE A NON-FOOD REINFORCER

If you want to (or have to) make use of reinforcers other than food in your training, start by making a list of all the other things your dog loves. Here are some potential non-food reinforcers:

• Tennis balls, or balls with a pleasing squishy texture

• Squeaky toys

• Playing tug

• Playing “chase me” games

• Going for a ride in the car (a chief pleasure for some dogs, aversive for others; know your dog!) 

• Leash walks

• Off-leash hikes

• Swimming (again, it’s important to know your dog; some hate water!)

• Sniffing

• Performing a favorite trick for an appreciative audience

For each item on this list, write down how you might be able to use that as a reinforcer in your training program. Some are easier than others. Here are some examples:

* Use sniffing to reinforce your dog’s polite leash walking. Have your dog walk politely with you for a reasonable stretch (short enough that she can succeed!), then give her a release cue and say, “Go sniff!” (This works especially well at first if you give her the “Go sniff” cue when you know you are near something that she would like to sniff.)

*Use tug to reinforce your dog’s “Stay.” Have your dog stay for whatever length of time she is able (set her up to succeed!), return to your dog, mark her for staying, give your release cue, then invite her to tug. 

Remember to pause various lengths of time before your release cue, so she doesn’t start anticipating the release. You can even remind her to stay, hold up the tug, put it behind your back and hold it up again, several times, so the mere sight of the tug toy doesn’t become the cue to release from the stay. This, by the way, is a great impulse-control exercise.

* Use a squeaky toy to lure and reinforce sits and downs. To lure a sit, hold the toy over your dog’s head the way you would a treat, and when she sits, squeak and toss the toy. To lure a down, slowly move the toy toward the ground and, when she lies down, squeak and toss. If that doesn’t work, move the toy under your knee or a stool, so she lies down to crawl after the toy. When she does, squeak and toss.

* Use a tennis ball to reinforce your dog’s recall. She comes when you call, you mark her for coming, and then throw the ball for her to chase. If she’s one of those who won’t bring it back, have several balls within reach so you can call her back and toss the next ball when she comes. If you want her to sit in front of you as part of your recall, wait for her to sit before you mark and throw.

Now take your own list of reinforcers and write down scenarios that incorporate them into your training program. You will likely find some reinforcers that are impractical for training (say, the dog who loves to roll in deer poop), but you should end up with a treasure trove of possibilities!

If there are secondary reinforcers you would like to use that your dog isn’t already enthusiastic about, you can “charge” them by associating with something your dog already loves. If you want your dog to be happier about your verbal praise, repeatedly praise her and then throw her beloved ball, so she begins to associate praise with the joy of chasing a squeaky ball. If she’s not crazy about car rides, start taking short car rides that always end up at someplace wonderful (such as the swimming hole, if she loves swimming). 

You get the idea. Whether your dog won’t take or can’t have treats, if you look for and create a good long list of other high-value options, you will always be prepared to reinforce your dog for appropriate and desired behaviors. She will love you even more for that. 

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Savor The Flavor: Slow Feeder Device Test

Can your dog make an entire bowl of food disappear faster than you can say, “Bon appétit?” Has he ever inhaled a bowl of food so fast he vomited it back up a few minutes later? Does her seemingly frantic consumption lead to gagging or choking? 

If any of these scenarios sound familiar, it’s wise to check out one of many commercially available slow feeders or experiment with creating one yourself to help your dog dial down her speed-eating ways. 

Eating too fast can lead to gagging and choking – plus, speed eaters tend to gulp air as they execute their deep-dive into the food bowl. This excess air can interfere with digestion, cause gas, and even lead to gastric dilation and volvulus, commonly known as “bloat,” a potentially fatal condition where the stomach fills with excess gas and flips on itself, restricting blood flow and requiring life-saving emergency surgery.

Slow-feed bowls and other tools also can help turn mealtime into an opportunity for enrichment. When using a slow feeder, your dog can tap into his problem-solving abilities as he maneuvers the device. This engages his brain more than when simply diving face first into an open bowl of food. Mental exercise is just as important as physical exercise in creating a well-rounded canine companion. 

The ability to slow a dog’s eating is also critically important to the success of certain training protocols. For example, when working with a dog who tends to guard his food, it’s helpful if he’s eating slowly enough to give us time to implement some behavioral interventions.  

A common positive-reinforcement approach to working with a dog who guards his food is to pass by the dog as he eats and drop a food item considered “better” than what’s in his bowl; this helps to counter-condition how the dog feels about a human approaching his food. However, if the dog inhales the contents of the bowl before you can approach, this is difficult to accomplish!

Who Needs a Bowl, Anyway?

While slow-feel bowls are helpful, another approach to slowing a speed-eater is to ditch the bowl all together in favor of stuffed food puzzles, planned scavenging opportunities, or even hand-feeding via training.  There’s no rule that says dogs must eat meals at set times, and from a bowl! Often, high-energy dogs benefit from a “sit quietly and color” activity such as extracting part of a meal from a well-stuffed, frozen Kong or a Toppl toy, and it’s easy to split a dog’s daily ration of kibble into three or more puzzle toys to be offered at different times throughout the day. 

Snuffle mats allow dogs to fully engage their sense of smell as they poke around the fabric strips in search of kibbles. You can even offer a wide-spread kibble scatter out in the yard as if you’re feeding chickens! (Admittedly, these last two techniques work better with kibble than with home-prepared or raw diets, but these work well in Kongs and Toppls.)

And of course, there’s training time! On busy training days, my dogs have always eaten very little from a bowl. Rather, I’m leveraging their daily caloric intake in an effort to generously reinforce desired behaviors – especially when working with them as young puppies.

Don’t be afraid to ditch the dog bowl in favor of more creating feeding strategies that support your training goals and the development of a harmonious household!

SPEED TESTS

We selected five commercially available products that are marketed as able to slow a fast eater. We timed how long it took our test dog, Saber, an 8-year-old Golden Retriever, to navigate each bowl. Each timed trial was compared to his baseline of 2:00 to eat a meal consisting of two cups of kibble with a small amount of water (to dissolve a powdered supplement) from a regular stainless steel dog bowl. 

We recognize our test dog’s standard approach to a bowl of food doesn’t necessarily qualify as “speed eating” – many of you may have even faster chow hounds – but he’s in no way a “picky eater.” He dives into the bowl, eats with enthusiasm, and doesn’t leave the bowl until the food is gone.

Beyond timing how long it took to empty each bowl, we also considered cost, materials, ease of use, and how easy each product is to clean. Hungry to know more? Here’s what we discovered, listed in order of least to most additional time needed to finish a meal.

DOG HOG

Dog Hog

The Dog Hog is a weighted stainless steel ball, reminiscent of those gazing balls popular in backyard gardens in the early 1990s. It comes in two sizes: The small Dog Hog measures 2.88 inches in diameter and weighs six ounces and the large measures 3.5 inches and weighs 8 ounces. 

The Dog Hog is super easy to use. Simply place it in your dog’s bowl and add food around it. The smooth, slippery nature of the Dog Hog makes it difficult for a dog to be able to successfully lift it out of the bowl in order to better reach and gobble the food. Its weight makes it challenging to shove it out of the way. It’s certainly not so heavy that it can’t be moved, but in our test, it wasn’t easily chased around in the bowl by an enthusiastic snout. 

It should be noted that sound-sensitive dogs may not appreciate the sound of the stainless steel ball rolling around in a stainless steel dog bowl. 

Its simple design gives Dog Hog high marks for ease of use both in the bowl and when it’s time to clean the device. However, it added only 1:02 minutes to the time it took Saber to finish a meal, bringing his total eating time to 3:02.  

WOBBLER SLOW FEEDER

Wobbler Slow Feeder

As I unpacked the Wobbler, I was reminded of the classic 1970s childhood toy and its jingle, “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down!” This fishbowl-shaped slow feeder functions in much the same way; it can be pushed over in all directions, but thanks to its weighted silicone base, it rights itself as soon as it’s released. You pour your dog’s food inside the fishbowl, er, bowl, and your dog has to put his head inside it to chase the food around the inside of the bowl.

The Wobbler stands about 5.5 inches tall, is about 4 inches deep, and has a 5-inch opening. The top 2 inches can be unscrewed and removed, reducing the Wobbler’s overall height to 3.5 inches, but more importantly, reducing the depth to just 2 inches and increasing the diameter to 6.5 inches. This is great for smaller dogs – or any dog who might be leery about lowering his head into a relatively small space. 

The bottom half of the Wobbler sphere has an interior bowl with a series of ridges inside, creating channels around which the kibble falls. This interior bowl spins within the external sphere, but when we spun it by hand, we felt a fair amount of friction, so we’re not quite sure how much, if any, spinning happens as the dog eats. 

When it came time to clean the bowl, we couldn’t figure out how to remove the internal bowl, and were ready to just chuck the product altogether. Cooler heads prevailed, however, and WDJ’s editor pointed us toward a video on the Wobbler’s Amazon page that showed how it can be done. Okay! It was back in the test.    

According to the manufacturer, the Wobbler holds up to four cups of food, is made with food-safe plastics, and is BPA-free. We appreciate its unique ability to adapt to both large and small dogs. 

The Wobbler added 1:50 to the time it took Saber to finish a meal, bringing his total eating time to 3:50. 

GOBBLESTOPPER

Gobblestopper

When we selected products to review, “ease of use” was one of the attributes we looked for, and the Gobblestopper looked very easy to use, so we gave it a try.

The Gobblestopper consists of a molded plastic bone on a one-inch base that suctions onto the bottom of any flat-bottomed dog bowl. The dog has to eat around the obstruction and use his tongue to sweep the food out from under the bone.

We used the Gobblestopper in a stainless steel bowl with an interior diameter of 7 inches, which left about 1 to 2 inches of space between the device and the walls of the bowl. It took Saber an extra 2:51 minutes to finish a meal, bringing his total eating time to 4:51.

We did run into an issue with the suction cup not sticking well to the bottom of the bowl, and near the end of the meal, we noticed it was being pushed around as Saber worked to extract the final kibbles. The suction cup itself is extremely shallow, which likely makes it difficult to achieve a strong seal. Adding water to Saber’s food may have also lessened the strength of the seal. 

Had the suction cup done a better job, we’d give the Gobble Stopper higher marks, as it’s easy to use, easy to clean, and more than doubled the amount of time it took our test dog to eat a meal. Unfortunately, given that it sometimes fails to stick to the bowl for the duration of the meal, we’re less enthusiastic about recommending it. 

BRAKE-FAST BOWL

Brake-Fast

Many people prefer stainless steel bowls for their non-porous quality, so we were happy to add a stainless steel slow feeder to our roster. The stainless Brake-Fast Bowl is essentially a standard dog bowl with three removable posts around which food is added. This bowl is available in small (1 quart), medium (2 quart) and large (3 quart) sizes. We tested the 2-quart bowl. 

With more than 2 inches between the posts themselves, admittedly, we weren’t expecting much in terms of challenge, so we were surprised to discover it added nearly 3:00 to our test dog’s eating time, increasing the total eating time to 4:52!

Interestingly, we noticed Saber tended to pick up and chew bites of food more often using this bowl compared to other bowls, and kibbles positioned between a post and the side of the bowl seemed especially challenging to extract. The Brake-Fast bowl has a non-skid edge, but it did slide a little as Saber worked to get the final few pieces of food. 

While we loved the unexpected challenge this bowl provided for Saber, we were less than thrilled to discover that the product comes with five-part cleaning instructions. 

Per the manufacturer, to properly clean the bowl, one must first unscrew the posts, hand wash all parts with warm soapy water (while taking care to not submerge the posts), dry thoroughly, and then reattach the posts without over-tightening. That’s a lot of steps! 

The company also makes a plastic Brake-Fast bowl with molded permanent stanchions, and, as much as I like stainless steel, I think I’d prefer the simplicity of hand-washing the plastic version that doesn’t have to be taken apart and put back together for cleaning. 

DIY Slow-Feed Bowls

Chances are, you already have items around the house that can be repurposed to create a slow-feed bowl for your dog. Try experimenting with one of these DIY alternatives to a commercial slow-feed bowl:

* Add a small, upside down terracotta pot to your dog’s dish. The pot placement creates a “moat” from within which the dog works to extract the kibble. Similarly, you can add a large rock to the center of the bowl. (To protect his teeth, make sure the dog doesn’t try to pick up the rock.)

* Turn a muffin tin into a meal puzzle. Add varying amounts of kibble to each of the individual muffin cups. Top cups with dog-approved items to be removed first, such as a tennis ball or Kong toy.

FUN FEEDER SLO-BOWL

Our winner in the slowing-down-the-dog contest? The Fun Feeder Slo-Bowl, which added a whopping 8:15 to the time it took Saber to finish a meal, for a total eating time of 10:15! 

Fun Feeder Slow-Bowls

The Fun Feeder comes in three sizes, five colors, and four challenging designs. We tested the Large/Regular “Purple Flower” Fun Feeder, which is 11.75 inches in diameter, two inches deep and holds up to four cups of food. The mini Fun Feeder of the same design is 8.5 inches in diameter, 1.75 inches deep and holds up to two cups of food. 

This entire feeder is a complex challenge; there’s not a single area of the bowl that appears to create the opportunity for an easy-grab bite. The widest part throughout the interior of the design is only about 1 inch, making it nearly impossible to reach in and “bite” a mouthful of food. Rather, it seems food must be scooped into the mouth using the tongue as a spoon. If you need to really slow down a dog, this seems like a good option. 

My dog would probably be happy to know that the bowl created  challenges for me, too. I add a powdered supplement to Saber’s food, and mix it into his food with a little water, but because this slow-feeder doesn’t have any bowl-like area in which to mix the supplement into the food, I had to use a separate bowl for mixing, and then dump it into the Fun Feeder, scraping as much of the (expensive!) supplement off the sides of the first bowl. Kind of a pain. 

Also, the narrow channels made it difficult to hand-wash, but per the manufacturer, it’s top-rack dishwasher safe. It’s also free of PBA, PVC, lead, and phthalates. 

VARIETY, SPICE OF LIFE

I’ve always been a fan of food puzzles for dogs, especially young puppies. All of my dogs have consistently eaten at least some of their daily ration of food out of frozen stuffed Kongs or Toppl toys, or from a snuffle mat of some sort. 

While I’m not worried about the general speed with which Saber eats his meals, I’ve still chosen to keep the Dog Hog, Wobbler and Fun Feeder in weekly rotation to add a little extra variety, and hopefully, mental stimulation to what can be an otherwise very predictable dining experience. 

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Three Secrets to Safe & Effective Exercise for Your Dog

It’s no secret that exercising your dog can lead to a happier and healthier pup – not to mention a quieter house and a happier you. The complication is that exercising your dog takes time and sometimes we struggle to find time to exercise ourselves. However, without safe and effective exercise, your dog can gain weight, risk costly injury, and tear apart the house in response to pent up energy. Consider how you exercise your dog now: perhaps you play tug with your Chihuahua in the living room, jog or play fetch with your active retriever, or ask your senior mixed breed to sit in the kitchen — all of these activities can exercise your dog both physically and mentally. Let’s further explore how you can make the most of your time with your dog while safely and effectively gaining the benefits of exercise.

Here are three secrets to safely and effectively exercising your dog through activities and games that you probably already play.

1. Discuss with your veterinarian

Before beginning any exercise (even training class!), it’s important to get a full health check with your local veterinarian. Let your vet know which activities you are thinking about pursuing, and ask which activities would be most appropriate for your dog’s age, musculoskeletal structure, and preferences. Remember, just like with children, jumping from high places or playing on hard surfaces can be detrimental to joints. Be sure to ask how long the activities should last, how intense they should be, and about any necessary equipment or weather precautions. Just because your dog wants to fetch constantly, doesn’t necessarily mean that this high impact, sustained exercise is healthy. Describe the activity and environment to your vet in detail, and be sure to get clearance before enjoying with your pup.

2. Explore variation

After speaking with your veterinarian about appropriate activities for your dog, plan to vary the types of activities each day. If your veterinarian approved some shorter distance jogs for your pup, perhaps the next day you could spread his food in the backyard as a scavenger hunt. Varying high intensity with low intensity workouts is just as stimulating for your pup, and the variation will keep him engaged. You can also vary exercises within the activity itself. For example, if you frequently throw a ball or disc for your dog until she lies down and pants, consider asking for tricks between different types of throws. By varying distances and body movements you can help your dog regulate her arousal and stay safe.

3. Remember warms up & cool down

Before beginning any activity, it’s important to set up your dog for success. Dogs have the same basic musculoskeletal components as people, and therefore they can sustain similar injuries from rigorous use or clumsy accidents. However, dogs are more athletic compared to humans (even your couch potato probably has a higher VO2max than you!), and they can exert a lot of energy at playtime. It’s important to warm up and cool down your dog’s muscles before use. Consider the type of exercise and what body parts are involved, and plan for a warm up. For example, if you’re about to open the back door for your dog to dash out with his powerful hind legs, take a couple walking laps around the living room first. Ask for a few repetitions of sit and put a treat in front of his nose to lure him in a few circles before opening the door. Much like a short jog, squats, and plyometrics before a sprint, these exercises can help protect your dog’s soft tissue before dashing off. The easiest part is that the same exercises can be performed in reverse for a quick cool down.

Using these three secrets, you can safely and effectively exercise your dog in the same amount of time and help you and your pup enjoy the benefits. Through warms ups/cool downs and varying your dog’s activities you can tire your pup out in no time at all. Talking to your veterinarian about the type, duration, and intensity of activity can also tailor the exercise to your dog and avoid costly injury. 

Many caretakers believe that their dog needs to sprint in order to get tired, when in reality sniffing, training, or a combination can be just as taxing. Check out the table below for more ideas! Challenge yourself this week to change one thing about your dog’s exercise routine, and see if you enjoy a calmer, healthier dog!

 

Activity

Variation

Warm up/cool down

Hide a treat/toy in the house

High/low places, obstacles, multiple rooms

Walk laps, sits, crawls

Sniffy walk

Hide treats, change route

Walk laps, sits

Tug

Side to side, stop/go, 2 tugs

Jog laps, play bow, weight shift

Fetch

Short/long distances, walking breaks, sit/down/spin/beg/back

Jog laps, downs, circles

Jog

Walk/run, canicross, sniff breaks

Sniff, walk laps, sits

 

 

The post Three Secrets to Safe & Effective Exercise for Your Dog first appeared on Victoria Stilwell Positively.

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Three Secrets to Safe & Effective Exercise for Your Dog

It’s no secret that exercising your dog can lead to a happier and healthier pup – not to mention a quieter house and a happier you. The complication is that exercising your dog takes time and sometimes we struggle to find time to exercise ourselves. However, without safe and effective exercise, your dog can gain weight, risk costly injury, and tear apart the house in response to pent up energy. Consider how you exercise your dog now: perhaps you play tug with your Chihuahua in the living room, jog or play fetch with your active retriever, or ask your senior mixed breed to sit in the kitchen — all of these activities can exercise your dog both physically and mentally. Let’s further explore how you can make the most of your time with your dog while safely and effectively gaining the benefits of exercise.

Here are three secrets to safely and effectively exercising your dog through activities and games that you probably already play.

1. Discuss with your veterinarian

Before beginning any exercise (even training class!), it’s important to get a full health check with your local veterinarian. Let your vet know which activities you are thinking about pursuing, and ask which activities would be most appropriate for your dog’s age, musculoskeletal structure, and preferences. Remember, just like with children, jumping from high places or playing on hard surfaces can be detrimental to joints. Be sure to ask how long the activities should last, how intense they should be, and about any necessary equipment or weather precautions. Just because your dog wants to fetch constantly, doesn’t necessarily mean that this high impact, sustained exercise is healthy. Describe the activity and environment to your vet in detail, and be sure to get clearance before enjoying with your pup.

2. Explore variation

After speaking with your veterinarian about appropriate activities for your dog, plan to vary the types of activities each day. If your veterinarian approved some shorter distance jogs for your pup, perhaps the next day you could spread his food in the backyard as a scavenger hunt. Varying high intensity with low intensity workouts is just as stimulating for your pup, and the variation will keep him engaged. You can also vary exercises within the activity itself. For example, if you frequently throw a ball or disc for your dog until she lies down and pants, consider asking for tricks between different types of throws. By varying distances and body movements you can help your dog regulate her arousal and stay safe.

3. Remember warms up & cool down

Before beginning any activity, it’s important to set up your dog for success. Dogs have the same basic musculoskeletal components as people, and therefore they can sustain similar injuries from rigorous use or clumsy accidents. However, dogs are more athletic compared to humans (even your couch potato probably has a higher VO2max than you!), and they can exert a lot of energy at playtime. It’s important to warm up and cool down your dog’s muscles before use. Consider the type of exercise and what body parts are involved, and plan for a warm up. For example, if you’re about to open the back door for your dog to dash out with his powerful hind legs, take a couple walking laps around the living room first. Ask for a few repetitions of sit and put a treat in front of his nose to lure him in a few circles before opening the door. Much like a short jog, squats, and plyometrics before a sprint, these exercises can help protect your dog’s soft tissue before dashing off. The easiest part is that the same exercises can be performed in reverse for a quick cool down.

Using these three secrets, you can safely and effectively exercise your dog in the same amount of time and help you and your pup enjoy the benefits. Through warms ups/cool downs and varying your dog’s activities you can tire your pup out in no time at all. Talking to your veterinarian about the type, duration, and intensity of activity can also tailor the exercise to your dog and avoid costly injury. 

Many caretakers believe that their dog needs to sprint in order to get tired, when in reality sniffing, training, or a combination can be just as taxing. Check out the table below for more ideas! Challenge yourself this week to change one thing about your dog’s exercise routine, and see if you enjoy a calmer, healthier dog!

 

Activity

Variation

Warm up/cool down

Hide a treat/toy in the house

High/low places, obstacles, multiple rooms

Walk laps, sits, crawls

Sniffy walk

Hide treats, change route

Walk laps, sits

Tug

Side to side, stop/go, 2 tugs

Jog laps, play bow, weight shift

Fetch

Short/long distances, walking breaks, sit/down/spin/beg/back

Jog laps, downs, circles

Jog

Walk/run, canicross, sniff breaks

Sniff, walk laps, sits

 

 

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Dog Training Helps Teach Robots to Learn New Tricks

Positive reinforcement teaches robot to learn faster.

With a training technique commonly used to teach dogs to sit and stay, Johns Hopkins University computer scientists showed a robot how to teach itself several new tricks, including stacking blocks. With the method, the robot, named Spot, was able to learn in days what typically takes a month.

By using positive reinforcement, an approach familiar to anyone who’s used treats to change a dog’s behavior, the team dramatically improved the robot’s skills and did it quickly enough to make training robots for real-world work a more feasible enterprise. The findings are newly published in a paper called, “Good Robot!”

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The Changing Role & Responsibility of Rescues & Shelters

There may have been a time when schools only needed to be charged with teaching students reading, writing and arithmetic. But as society changes schools become responsible for instruction that either used to be provided at home, or represents a new field of study. When I was in high school we had a choice of […]

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A Tribute to the Dog Who Saved Me

Dogs save people all the time, and we hear about those heroes on the news. But we don’t often hear about the dogs who are everyday heroes—the dogs who save us from ourselves.

When I had nothing left, I still had my dog. In fact, at a total rock bottom in my life, all I had was my dog. As I struggled with mental-health issues and alcoholism, my black-and-white Pit Bull, Brayson, saved me on a daily basis.

Brayson’s name was meant to sound soft and approachable for fear of the stigma that Pit Bulls have had to contend with in recent years. And he was soft, friendly and loving. At my worst moments, throughout my struggles, I would promise Brayson that a house with a fenced-in backyard would come.

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