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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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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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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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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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Tooth Root Resorption

There are many possible causes of dental disease in dogs including plaque accumulation, tooth trauma, genetic predispositions, cavities, and cancerous conditions. In recent years, there has been an increase in the research of canine tooth root resorption – a process in which part or parts of the tooth are destroyed by physiologic processes gone awry – as a cause of dental disease. 

Unfortunately, the research has not yet resulted in solid answers as to the cause or effective treatment of tooth root resorption in dogs. Nevertheless, owners should be aware of the condition so they can bring any abnormality they may observe in their dog’s mouth to their veterinarian’s attention.

ANATOMY OF A TOOTH PROBLEM

A healthy canine tooth consists of the crown – the part of the tooth above the gumline – and the root, which is below the gumline and makes up the majority of the tooth. 

The center of the tooth root is the pulp chamber; this is living tissue filled with nerve endings and blood vessels. Moving outward from the core of the tooth, the next layer is dentin, a hard, bone-like material that protects the pulp. Outside of the dentin, cementum is a thin coating that attaches the tooth to the jaw bone. 

Enamel, the white, visible part of the tooth, protects the crown. It is the hardest substance in the body. Once laid down, enamel is no longer produced. Any destruction to enamel is permanent. 

Tooth root resorption occurs when a part or parts of the tooth are destroyed. Any area of the tooth can be affected, from the dentin to the enamel. 

Odontoclasts are cells that are critical for resorbing tooth tissue. They are usually associated with breakdown of baby tooth roots, so that these teeth can fall out and make way for permanent teeth. For reasons that are not understood, sometimes the supportive “net” of proteins that protect the teeth gets compromised, and odontoclasts can then break down the tooth and surrounding tissues (called the periodontium) without restriction. 

The beginning of this breakdown appears as a lesion that looks like a pit or a hole in the tooth. These lesions are often found at the junction where the enamel meets the cementum. If above the gumline, bright pink tissue from the gums (called gingiva) may cover the hole. This is the body’s way of trying to heal the defect. If the dog is under anesthesia for a dental cleaning, once the tooth is scraped clean, the lesion becomes obvious. However, many of the lesions are below the gumline and will not be seen except through dental x-rays. 

Odontoclasts are cells that are critical for resorbing tooth tissue. They are usually associated with the breakdown of baby tooth roots, so that these teeth can fall out and make way for permanent teeth, but, interestingly, they don’t normally affect the incoming adult teeth. The mechanisms are not fully understood in dogs.

There are three basic types of resorptive lesions: physiologic, inflammatory, and non-inflammatory. 

Physiologic resorption is normal and occurs as the body prepares to shed the deciduous teeth (baby teeth) as the adult teeth develop and emerge. 

Inflammatory and non-inflammatory resorptive lesions are abnormal. The triggers for these types of tooth destruction are unknown. One study found a possible correlation between age and breed, with older, large breed dogs predisposed.

SIGNS 

What symptoms might your dog show? This is what makes resorption lesions confusing! There may be no symptoms at all. Resorptive lesions are often found incidentally if your dog has full mouth x-rays before a dental cleaning. (This is one reason that x-rays are such an important part of dental cleaning.) If symptoms are noted, they might include drooling, difficulty chewing, bad breath, mouth pain, and dropping food when chewing. 

If a resorptive lesion affects the crown of the tooth, a hole may be seen. It is also possible to see pink fleshy tissue that appears to be growing on the tooth. This is gingival tissue that is trying to cover the defect in the crown. It is a hallmark of a resorptive lesion.

DO YOU HAVE TO DO ANYTHING ABOUT THIS?

Treatment for this condition remains controversial. In some cases, your veterinarian will suggest only monitoring every six months with dental x-rays. But if discomfort or dysfunction are observed, extraction of the affected tooth is indicated. 

In the past, veterinary dental specialists tried filling these resorptive lesions like a dentist would fill a cavity in a human. However, this proved to be a mostly unsuccessful tack; usually, the tooth loss would continue to progress. The filling would fall out and the tooth would have to be extracted after all. If the dog seems to be experiencing discomfort, and/or the loss of the tooth is certain, the tooth should just be extracted. 

Unfortunately, there is no known way to prevent tooth resorption, as the causes are not known. However, dogs who have suffered one tooth resorption are prone to more. As a result, close attention to overall dental health is critical throughout your dog’s life. If your veterinarian suspects resorptive lesions, then referral to a veterinary dentist may be the best course of action. Canine resorptive lesions are an area of limited knowledge and current research, so speaking with a specialist might be the best bet. 

Catherine Ashe graduated the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine in 2008. After a small animal intensive emergency internship, she practiced ER medicine for nine years. She works as a relief veterinarian in Asheville, North Carolina and loves the general practice side of medicine.

 

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The Play Way for Shy and Fearful Dogs

Play is a widespread feature of social animals. Humans play. Dogs play. Maybe our shared need for and love of play is part of what strengthens our desire to share our lives with dogs. We play together with toys and invent enjoyable games. Many of us make a point to incorporate toy play and fun interpersonal play into our training programs, offering an exciting bout of tug or an opportunity to retrieve a prized ball in exchange for a correct response to a cue.

Used in a very specific way, play also helps shy and fearful dogs learn to work through and overcome fear and anxiety, often in cases where more traditional positive-reinforcement methods – attempts to counter-condition triggers (“scary things”) with the use of food – have been less successful. 

Amy Cook, Ph.D., a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, has been training dogs for 30 years and has specialized in working with shy and fearful dogs for the past 20. She first began exploring the therapeutic value of play for shy and fearful dogs as part of her doctoral work in psychology, where she realized the stark differences between therapeutic approaches to addressing fear and anxiety in children and how positive-reinforcement dog trainers typically addressed fear and anxiety in dogs. In exploring therapeutic approaches to traumatized children, Cook wondered if a similar approach might work for dogs. 

“It got me thinking,” Cook says. “When we have a traumatized 4-year-old child, what do we do with them? Do we lean on classical conditioning to make new associations? Sure, that can be there, but there’s so much more to pull from in the human therapy model than what we were pulling from with Skinner and Pavlov as dog trainers.” Cook began exploring the many ways child therapy often incorporates playful, fun games and nurturing activities to communicate love, joy, and safety to a traumatized child.

Not long after, Cook formulated the concepts she found most effective for rehabilitating frightened dogs into Play Way. 

PLAY WAY IS DIFFERENT

The Play Way incorporates play in a carefully nuanced manner in order to help shy and fearful dogs overcome their issues in order to live a happier, less-stressed life. But the “play” used in the Play Way is different from what many people likely think of when asked to play with their dog. 

“In my system, the dog leads most of the play,” explains Cook. “I may not prod or nag or insist. I may only invite. If the dog responds with, ‘Yeah, I’d love to do that,’ then great. If the dog says, ‘No thank you. I’m busy. I’m sniffing. I’m looking at something,’ that’s okay, too. I want the trainer to communicate her availability to play, but it’s equally important to respect the dog’s answer.”

Cook says that’s the hardest part. Especially in cases where the trainer is used to aiming for constant engagement during training sessions, eager to call the dog’s name or otherwise prod for attention the instant he becomes distracted and looks away. 

“We’d never dream of doing that in our interaction with other humans,” says Cook. “If you were on the phone and I wanted to talk to you, and you said, ‘Give me a second,’ I’d need to give you that time. I wouldn’t grab the phone, hang it up and say, ‘Hey! Hang up the phone! I have money, take it, let’s talk!’ The Play Way is a lot more about how interactions happen between people. I’m asking handlers to explore this space where the dog gets to decide if they want to do this.”

Giving the dog equal footing in the decision-making process is just one key aspect of the Play Way. How one plays is the other, along with teaching the dog to “look at and dismiss” potential triggers (this is described in “The Play Way, Step by Step,” on page 21). 

For most people, the most challenging part of learning the Play Way is learning how to play in this manner. Play Way play is not about overly excited, high-arousal play. It’s about developing a consensual, relaxed yet playful interaction between dog and human that gives both parties permission to be silly and simply enjoy the moment. High-energy, aroused play definitely has a place in Cook’s toolbox. It’s super fun, builds and maintains arousal when needed, and is great for building anticipation and reinforcing trained behaviors. It’s just not the goal in the Play Way.

Success Story: Tessa and Molly
Molly and Tessa enjoy a sweet moment together; their relationship blossomed after Tessa learned how to use therapeutic play to boost Molly’s confidence and trust.

Tessa Romita of Stoneridge, New Jersey, chose a 4-month-old Coonhound puppy, Molly, from her local shelter because she seemed mellow. As she later learned, Molly’s outward appearance of “mellow” was masking a very anxious and reactive dog. 

Tessa struggled to integrate Molly with her resident dogs. Molly frequently lashed out if they got too close to her or items she perceived as hers. Tessa’s resident dogs, all smaller than Molly, were always walking on eggshells, with no real idea how to peacefully coexist with their new canine housemate. Outside the house, Molly was a mix of independent, occasionally confident, and often fearful. Life was a complex maze of management strategies. 

Tessa did everything right. She enrolled in a well-respected positive-reinforcement puppy class and diligently tried to help Molly. As Molly transitioned from puppyhood, to adolescence and into adulthood, Tessa continued working with trainers in an attempt to make life less stressful for Molly, and by extension, for the rest of the family. While they made some progress, eventually each of the trainers came to the same conclusion: Things were as good as they were likely to get. There was nothing more to be done. Molly’s world would need to be small. 

“Then I took Amy’s class and it was a game-changer,” Tessa says. “I tear up even thinking about how this journey started for us.” For Tessa and Molly, strengthening their relationship through therapeutic play was transformational. In giving Molly the space to accept or decline invitations to play, she learned she had a choice, and in being given that choice, her confidence grew. She became more relaxed. “It’s so powerful to see how Molly learned she can be out in the world and not need to scan and worry about what could happen; instead, she trusts me and enjoys being out.”

The situation even improved between Molly and Tessa’s resident dogs. Whereas management used to be a big part of their daily life, the dogs now enjoy loose, relaxed social interaction. “It took time, but it’s beautiful. They’re friends now,” says Tessa.

Molly still has times when she struggles with anxiety, but overall she’s more relaxed, more confident, and sometimes even downright silly. “I’ll have these random moments where Molly does something she’d never do before, like suddenly go wading through a creek when she used to be afraid of water, or not care about an alarm going off when she’d been painfully sound-sensitive,” Tessa says. “I’ll email Amy in amazement and her response is always, ‘Play is magic.’”

 

THRESHOLDS

Taking the time to develop a conversational, give-and-take social play relationship is important because in rehabilitating shy and fearful dogs, the dog’s ability to engage in this manner serves as a barometer for how a dog is feeling. 

Threshold is a phrase that comes up a lot in work with fearful dogs (and dogs who exhibit aggressive behavior, too, which makes sense because a lot of aggression is directly traced to fear). Threshold is loosely defined as the moment when a dog crosses from one emotional state to another. In the specific context of fearful dogs, a dog who is just “under threshold” is in that emotional sweet spot where he’s aware of the presence of the trigger (the “scary thing”) but not feeling at all threatened. Once he’s tipped into a fearful state (“over threshold”), the fight-or-flight hormones (adrenaline, cortisol) may kick in, making it hard for him to think, learn, remember, and respond like a more “normal” dog.

When working with fearful dogs, the ability to keep the dog sufficiently sub-threshold is paramount to the training success. But keeping a dog under threshold is often easier said than done. Real-world variables can change on a dime, especially if one hasn’t gone to great lengths to carefully set up a controlled training session. And a stressed dog is not in the proper mental state to learn he is safe in the presence of the trigger.

“When I first learned about positive reinforcement-based dog training, the general wisdom was that as long as the dog is eating, he’s under threshold,” says Cook. “That might be a reliable indicator for some dogs, but it’s far too unreliable for me with the degree of under threshold I’m aiming for. After all, many dogs can eat or tug on a toy while stressed.” 

NOT THE USUAL COUNTER-CONDITIONING

Many trainers turn to classical counter-conditioning to help rewire how the dog’s brain reacts to scary things. But Cook’s method follows more of a human therapeutic model. 

Rather than use food in an attempt to reprogram how the dog feels in specific situations, her goal is to help the dog naturally achieve an emotional state where he can comfortably evaluate a situation and come to his own conclusion that there’s nothing to worry about. It’s similar to how a skilled human therapist guides a person through a healing process in such a way that the client discovers the answers herself. 

“It’s about giving the dog the chance to self-soothe from a place of entirely established safety, and where they’re already feeing relaxed. Now they have a chance to gather new information and I don’t have to tell them what specific response they should be having. I’m not saying, ‘You’re right, there’s a stimulus (the scary thing) and now I’m going to give you something (food) to influence you directly.’ Instead, I can say, ‘Go ahead and look at the scary thing and come to the very real conclusion that you are not under threat here.’” 

Play helps facilitate the process. Whereas the goal of food centers around changing the dog’s conditioned emotional response (CER) to the trigger, the goal of Play Way play is to help put the learner into a better state of mind from which to fully evaluate the situation and organically realize there is no threat.

The Play Way, Step By Step

1.  Learning the Language of Play Way Play. For most people, this is the most challenging part of the Play Way. This first step focuses on developing a therapeutic play style that allows for relaxed, silly, low-energy, consensual activity, where the dog is given room to say, “No thank you,” “Not right now,” or, “I’d rather do this instead of that.”

2. Location, Location, Location. Once the dog and handler have come to a mutual understanding about this new style of interaction, make sure it holds up by playing in many new, non-challenging locations, such as different rooms of the house. 

3. Developing “Look and Dismiss” Using Simple Distractions. Now it’s time to introduce simple, non-worrisome (trigger-free) distractions. The “look and dismiss” part of the Play Way is about helping the dog realize he can acknowledge potentially “scary things” from a place of safety, realize it’s no big deal, and calmly dismiss the potential trigger. This starts by practicing look and dismiss with simple distractions. 

The critical piece of this skill is for you to let the dog control the session; you just open the door to the possibility of play. Let’s assume your dog is initially receptive to the invitation. If she disengages for any reason – say, a blowing leaf catches her attention – let her do so. Pause, wait, and allow her to process the information. When she reorients her attention to you, simply acknowledge her warmly, and then, if her attention is still present, re-issue the calm, casual invitation to play and wait to see how she responds. 

This can be tricky, as there’s a great temptation to enthusiastically react to the dog’s choice to re-orient to you by instantly re-engaging in play. But the calm, casual, re-issuing of the invitation to play, and not an enthusiastic, potentially rewarding reaction is a critical element of “look and dismiss” in the Play Way, Cook says. “You want to leave room for the dog to look back at the scary thing if she needs to. Dismissal can come in stages. If you play too quickly, you can overshadow the dog’s natural thought process.”

The Play Way is not about teaching the dog to look at triggers and then look back at you in order to earn a reward of play. Cook doesn’t want the dog to be seeking rewards, but instead, to be in a mental state that supports his ability to acknowledge the trigger’s existence and realize it’s not so scary after all, so it can be comfortably dismissed. It’s important to practice this step a lot so the dog becomes well rehearsed in looking, processing, and dismissing – all on his own, without being cued to return attention to the handler.

4. Formal Training Set Ups. Once the dog is well practiced at noticing but easily dismissing assorted non-concerning distractions in favor of engaging in therapeutic play, it’s time to introduce slightly more challenging distractions that might be of minor concern, taking care to present them at a very low level. 

For example, if a dog is fearful of other dogs, one might use a realistic-looking stuffed dog placed far in the distance. If the dog worries about strange people, a helper might stand far away. Distance is important since, for most dogs, the farther they are from the trigger, the less problematic it is. The goal is for the dog to see the trigger, but to now have the tools –the ability to look and gather information from a place of safety – to process the situation and realize there is no threat. If the dog can’t easily look and dismiss the trigger, that’s key information for the handler, who then aborts the session and creates an easier training scenario next time.

Cook points out these set-ups rely heavily on the handler’s ability to control the environment temporarily in a way that avoids being ambushed by the dog’s trigger. For those everyday situations where one just needs to walk the dog through a neighborhood full of potential triggers, she recommends careful management such as keeping a safe distance from “the scary things,” along with using food in a more traditional positive-reinforcement framework such as consistently feeding in the presence of the trigger, often known as “open bar, closed bar,” to help prevent the rehearsal of unwanted, reactive behavior. 

Over time, Cook says clients report a marked decrease in the amount of management needed to navigate everyday, real-world situations. Their dogs might still notice triggers, but find it far easier to dismiss them and move along. 

“Dogs get really good at gathering information quickly, and from a place of calm safety, so they aren’t feeling triggered and don’t need to overreact,” she says. “It’s much easier for them to look at people or dogs and it’s like they’re saying, ‘No big deal. I’ve seen that before. We can move on.’”

 

WHAT PLAY WAY PLAY LOOKS LIKE

Play Way play is about social, interpersonal play, more so than playing together with toys or using food. What matters most is that the human acknowledges and adopts the conversational nature of how dogs play with each other, rather than seek to drive and control the play interaction. 

Healthy dog-to-dog play has a natural rhythm. There’s a lot of back and forth. They pause. They hold suspense. They change things up. They don’t much enjoy a play partner who is being pushy. It’s not as much fun to play with someone who insists on picking the game and dictating exactly how it’s played.

“It’s a lot like working with toddlers,” says Cook. “With kids, you don’t get to decide how the game goes. It’s no fun if you decide we have to play Candyland and then you win. Play Way play is about being cooperative, improvising, and letting the dog make suggestions like, ‘I want to do this…’ or ‘I don’t like when you poke my butt with your claw hand, but I do like to play fake bitey-face with you.’” 

Try play-bowing at your dog. Hide your face and encourage your dog to burrow under your hands to “find” you. Cover yourself with a blanket and do the same. Start with slow, soft energy and give your dog plenty of room to move around. Try to exude affection. Flirt! When you touch the dog, pull back and invite her to come toward you. Don’t be afraid to try new things, but don’t frantically switch from one behavior to another. Float an idea and see what happens. If your dog is used to interactive toy play or frequent training sessions, he might be confused and need time (over several short sessions) to figure out what’s going on. 

PLAY WAY ADVANTAGES

According to Cook, one of the biggest advantages of the Play Way method is its ability to keep handlers honest about whether or not the dog is under threshold. That’s because many food-motivated dogs will still eat and some toy-motivated dogs can still enthusiastically tug even though anxiety is creeping in. In contrast, social play (as practiced in the Play Way) is far more fragile. Social play is the first thing to go when stress starts to creep in, says Cook. 

“It’s not very robust,” Cook says. “The second a dog starts to have even a mild concern – or even a curiosity that might lead to a concern – the play stops. When that happens, you as a trainer have a clear indication of something you need to pay attention to and potentially adjust. It keeps the trainer honest about staying under threshold.

“I like things that help me counter my own biases and weaknesses as a human being,” Cook continues. “When you’re trying to get something done, you might be tempted to tell yourself it’s okay, the dog’s fine if he’s eating or tugging. I find this type of social play keeps me really honest in my assessments.” 

The ability to maintain a high degree of accuracy regarding the dog’s thresholds can lead to faster results compared to traditional classical counter-conditioning protocols. It’s a heavily front-loaded effort that pays off in the end. By taking the time to slowly develop a wholly consensual, give-and-take play relationship with a dog, you gain the ability to use social play for therapeutic purposes. And in using social play therapeutically, you’re less likely to accidentally push the dog over threshold. 

Also, by preventing the dog from going over threshold, he’s more likely to take consistent steps in the right direction, instead of setbacks continually causing him to take two steps forward and three steps back. 

Different From Classical Conditioning
p>People often mistakenly refer to the Play Way as a classical conditioning set-up that uses social play in place of food to help change how a dog feels about the “scary thing.” But Cook says that’s not entirely correct. A common approach used by positive trainers working with shy and fearful dogs is to strategically offer food or toys – something the dog readily enjoys – anytime the trigger (the “scary thing”) is present, so that the dog comes to associate the scary thing with the availability of food or toys, and the newly formed association reduces the degree of concern. This is called classical counter-conditioning and it frequently works wonders. 

However, with the Play Way, says Cook, “I’m specifically working to avoid a situation where the dog looks at the scary thing and then instantly play happens. Instead, I’m using play to facilitate the dog’s ability to be in a relaxed, happy state where he can comfortably assess a situation and decide for himself that he’s safe. I know Pavlov is always on your shoulder, but the focus of the Play Way is not to drive the purposeful formation of specific associations. I’m actively trying to not contribute, as a trainer, to the associations being made by the dog.” 

For more information about the Play Way, visit playwaydogs.com or check out Cook’s online course, “Dealing with the Bogeyman – Helping Fearful Reactive and Stressed Dogs,” offered via Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, fenzidogsportsacademy.com. 

 

MUTUALLY RESPECTFUL TRAINING

Here’s an aspect of play therapy that is less commonly seen in other dog training methodologies: Being “present” – sensitive and respectful of the dog’s needs – is an integral component of the Play Way.

“It’s not about coming in with a plan and saying, ‘I’m going to make this specific thing happen to influence you to feel a certain way,’” Cook explains. “I’m sensitive and listening to my learner. It enriches all of my training to consider a space where I’m respectful of the viewpoint of my dog. I don’t think that’s something we emphasize enough in dog training.” 

That’s not to say Cook suggests dogs should call the shots all the time; she knows that’s not realistic. But setting aside time to develop social play is also beneficial as an overall stress release for both shy and fearful dogs and their owners.

“Reactive dogs, shy dogs, fearful dogs – they all live a more inherently stressful life,” Cook says. “It’s hard to be routinely triggered by stressful things. We all need play, silliness, and laughter to help shake-off these types of stressful build-ups. I think, in general, we don’t really do enough to relax the dogs who spend a decent amount of time feeling an overabundance of stress compared to a more adjusted dog.”

In this way, the Play Way method can be just as beneficial to the dog and owner as a team as it is in its ability to help the dog organically work through its fears.

“When you own a fearful or reactive dog, you yourself are often stressed,” says Cook. “You’re nervous your dog will blow up at any time, and you’re worried what people will think. Maybe you’re even grieving a little bit because this isn’t what you pictured when you thought about getting a dog.

“I think it helps the human, the dog, and the partnership to have this one expectation-free space – this isolated time where you only focus on what you both can do right, where you make each other laugh and enjoy being silly together. That kind of connection can help keep you invested for the long haul in helping your dog. It can recharge the batteries in the relationship.”

As Cook always says, it’s magic! 

Success Stories: Susanne and Cash

Five-year-old Cash, a Belgian Tervuren has always been a “special dog with special needs,” explains Susanne Handwerk of Eichgraben, Austria. Susanne says he used to be anxious about strangers, leery of other dogs, and on high alert when he was away from home. Also, he’s not very food- or toy-motivated, so traditional management techniques involving food or toys are of little help. Many facets of life with Cash had become “frustrating and exhausting” for Susanne.

Finding Fenzi Dog Sports Academy and Cook’s “Dealing with the Bogeyman – Helping Fearful, Reactive, and Stressed Dogs” class changed how Susanne approached training with Cash. Whereas prior trainers insisted she work to make toys more valuable to Cash, learning the Play Way taught her how to develop new games they could enjoy together. The class also helped her better understand thresholds, and the importance of keeping Cash under threshold.

Susanne says learning Cook’s Play Way method has helped her become a better partner for Cash. Through social play with Susanne, Cash has learned to relax in many situations that used to cause him great anxiety.

“Now I realize Cash was over-threshold much of the time,” Susanne says. “And because he was so stressed, he was sleeping most of the time at home. Everybody told me that was a good thing, but now I know it wasn’t. He was exhausted. That’s no way to live.”

Taking the time to develop a therapeutic play relationship helped Cash relax. “It helped him become less serious and to worry less,” Susanne says. “And I think it was helpful for him to realize I would listen to his signals – that a, ‘No’ would be, ‘No.’ In the beginning, he ignored most of my invitations to play, but the more I respected his answers of, ‘No,’ the more he was ready to play with me.”

Susanne says Cook’s class was life-changing in teaching her how to help Cash learn to trust her as his partner, develop confidence and become resilient. While he still has some challenges, he’s quicker to acclimate to new environment, can successfully work around other dogs most of the time, and generally ignores strangers. 

“The Play Way helped Cash lighten up and learn I would listen to him and support him,” Susanne says. “And it helped me lighten up because I feel like I’m able to help him.”

The post The Play Way for Shy and Fearful Dogs appeared first on Whole Dog Journal.

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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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Forget About Stress & Anxiety

POSITIONING THEMSELVES FOR REINFORCEMENT First off, sorry. The title was designed to get your attention. We cannot forget about stress and anxiety but rather than focus on those conditions we assume a dog is experiencing, let’s get down to the business of behavior. It has been important that people have been encouraged to […]

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Meet Rona

Seven-year-old Rona was named after a Scottish island. She goes loonie at the beach and will bark at the waves.

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Meet Snowy

Snowy “Bear” is learning to paint … and considers himself a master of the abstract and is actively seeking a publishing deal!

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