Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Fav X-mas song and CTV dissapointment

I love classic country music, like Alberta as much as Nova Scotia, and live in the sticks, and that's why Leroy the Redneck Reindeer is my favorite Christmas song this year.

On a less lighter note, I was very disappointed with CTV's Live at 5 yesterday. The media is pretty influential; can, and in my opinion does, manipulate popular opinions and actions. You'd think they'd feel somewhat of a responsibility to report stuff that helps their viewers, and sometimes they do, but not yesterday when they profiled Pets Unlimited in Sidney and all the wonderful exotic pets people can buy there before Christmas.
Very, very disappointing that CTV hasn't clued in yet that getting a pet - any pet - as a Christmas gift is not a good idea, especially from a place - any place - that mass produces and mass sells living beings; a place that is 100% commerce driven and doesn't give a rat's tail what they sell and to whom.
Animal welfare might not be on CTV's agenda, but the thing is that an animal acquired on a whim and without diligent investigation where it came from and how it was cared for, causes heartache for people as well, when the gullible new pet owners realize after the holidays that they might have gotten more than they can handle and have to tell their kids that the lizard, bunny, puppy or kitten has to go.

My wish for 2010? Get on the bandwagon and help spread the word:
Get a pet only from a dedicated and caring breeder, or adopt a pet from a humane society or rescue group!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Santi Paws is Coming to Town

We wish you a Merry Christmas, or a Merry whatever you are celebrating this time of year.
For 2010 we wish you and yours Peace, Health and Prosperity.

There is snow on the ground where I live. The winter wonderland look was the last thing that needed to happen before Christmas; the cookies are in the house, tree all up and decorated, and the dogs’ wish list to Santi Paws went out weeks ago. I think I mentioned before that Davie and Will are brilliant, the little darlings, but they aren’t able to scribble on paper what they’d like to find in their stocking, hung with care, so I did it for them.
According to a survey conducted by Petfinder, 63 percent of dog owners give Christmas presents to their pets. We belong to the majority. Including the canine family members into the festivities feels good all around; for humans because giving is better than receiving, for dogs because they love to get stuff. Period.
Gift giving is only one aspect of the Holiday Season. There is last minute shopping and cleaning, big meals to prepare, functions to go to and company that’s coming; family gatherings sometimes with people one doesn’t really want to gather with.
All that can be exciting, but also very stressful for people – and dogs. By now, most everyone knows to safeguard the box of chocolates from the dog, and to refrain from noshing him fatty food scraps.
Helping him deal with Holiday stressors is just as important. The young, inexperienced or timid pooch could spook when a big, red Santa inflates in front of the house, or when there is a snowman with a black hat and broom in a yard where there was none before. Suddenly, his familiar turf that always looked the same, changed - and that is scary, and his natural response is to bark, lunge or bolt. The smart owner calmly increases the distance until the pooch relaxes, and then lets him observe the new things so it can be checked off as non-threatening. Offering a piece of his favorite loot, or engaging him into a familiar and fun game, further contributes to the cagey canine feeling cool again in his ‘hood, despite all the changes.
Every dog, even the friendliest people lover, can be overwhelmed when too many hands are patting, especially children’s. And because he can’t pour himself another glass of wine to calm the nerves, he might growl – or shy away, bark, chase, pant or pace.
Apropos wine, even you being a little looped with too much cheer can weird a sensitive dog out, and if you call him to come, he might not obey.
A dog often doesn’t have the option to avoid or escape, physically or mentally, all that commotion. The onus is on the owner to recognize when the pooch has had enough partying, and to provide a safe, quiet place where he can chill undisturbed.
That, and keeping the dog’s routine as much as possible, for example feeding the same food at the same time, and going for walks at the usual time, further ensures that giving presents on Christmas Morn’ isn’t the only happy event during the festive season.

I wonder what the girls gonna find under the tree this year? A Nina Ottosson interactive toy they can both play with? A ball for Davie to add to the dozen she already has? A couple of brownies from the Three Dog Bakery for Will? Extra meaty marrow bones and “accidentally” dropped pieces of low-fat roasted turkey breast, or that jazzy white collar with black sheep prints for Davie – wait, that would be a present more for me; but an extra long walk where there are a few slow squirrels, or maybe a….

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Motivations for Aggression

Because aggression is too complex an issue for one blog post, I will periodically return to it in the future to discuss different aspects. With this one, the focus is what motivates a dog to aggress.
We know that not every dog is aggressive, and the reason why some are and others not, in similar situations, is due to: mistakes made during the dog’s formidable imprinting and impressionable learning phases, which is between the ages of 3-16, or so, weeks, and/or; the dog’s present living environment, his Umwelt, and/or; neurochemical and hormonal imbalances the dog can be born with if mother dog was malnourished and stressed, or can show up at any time in a dog’s life.

When a dog aggresses, at that moment, the motivation is always to increase the distance to the trigger stimulus, or to eliminate it. In other words, whatever the dog perceives at the moment as a problem is too close, and he tries to make it/him/her disappear, in any way possible. Any way possible means: a growl on one end, or severe injury with the intent to kill on the extreme other end, or anything in between.
Here are some reasons why a dog would want to increase distance:
Fear of losing a possession. If a dog has something he values enough, or depends on for survival, he will defend it. In nature, a dog who has possession has ownership. And ownership is when something is given to him; surrendered. By the way, “rightful possession equals ownership” is a human rule also, and people that don’t obey it are called thieves. Because taking a possession away is not natural, it adds stress and confusion to fear when done forcefully, which intensifies aggressive displays. A possession can be anything, including a person or space. So be careful what you give your dog ownership over.
There are other fears that can trigger aggression, for example the fear to be hurt or harmed, or that offspring is harmed, and the fear to lose social belonging, which can be the reason a dog lashes out against a new group member.
With humans, aggression is an expression of anger; fear is expressed in avoidance and escape. Theoretically that may be so, but in reality it’s not that simple, especially regarding dogs, because they are under human control. Retreat is often prevented by the person in physical control. The dog is denied the option to flee, so he fights. If he gets attention for that - aggressive behaviors almost always changes the situation for the dog - aggression is reinforced and repeated. Any consequence maintains the aggressive behavior; it becomes operant conditioned and a functional coping skill.

Aggression to obtain a possession is not natural. As said, ownership should not be challenged. But dogs compete over resources before it becomes someone’s possession. If there is something one dog wants as much as another (dog or human), a dispute ensues and the one who ends up with the loot is the dominant one at that time.
Dominance is also when a dog controls access to something or someone he is claiming. Access control is controlling space – space around the object, subject or oneself. The dog who controls things and space feels in charge of it, and, in his mind, has the right to correct anyone who violates the rules he has set. Corrections are not intended to injure or eliminate, especially if directed against a social group member, but can nevertheless break delicate human skin. If the dog is successful and aggression keeps someone away from a resource, or out of his face, his behavior, again, is reinforced and becomes operant conditioned.
In a dog’s world, just as it is in ours, there is a distinction between familiar and unfamiliar; belonging and not belonging; in-group and strangers. A dog with a strong sense of privacy, and no leadership, will tell anybody not belonging to get lost. If prevented by barriers, such as a leash or fence, he becomes frustrated and reactive, aggressive displays intensify.

With all of the above, the intent is to increase distance to a perceived opponent or threat. With predation, it is the opposite: the intent is to decrease distance. The dog wants to catch the prey. That is why I don’t define predation as aggression, even so severe injuries and kills can result. A dog who has a strong prey drive combined with no or little bite inhibition, can bite repeatedly; slash and rip prey apart without consuming it. Orgy type kills are prey driven, and the result of pure instinct taking over.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


A few weeks ago I posted about food cause many of my clients and friends recently addressed that subject. There is another recurring theme: the acquisition of a second dog. Quite a few of recent follow-up appointments, and questions I found in my inbox, dealt with if and how to integrate a canine sibling, or problems that arose as a result of the second joining the social group.
Here are some of my truths based on experience, clients’ and personal.
~ It doesn’t matter if the second dog is same or opposite gender. The most beautiful inter-canine relationships I encountered are between two females, and between an older resident male and a new female pup. The big brother syndrome played out that way can be quite endearing.
~ Ideally the dogs should have common interests, similar play behavior and energy requirements. Common ground allows for team activities and thereby team bonding.
~ Common ground does not mean same personalities. Especially two needy for attention and insecure dogs can be quite competitive for space and their owners’ love. Home life is less confrontational when a more submissive dog is teamed with a more confident one, or one laid-back dog with a bossy one.
~ Taking sides is a bad idea. Setting rules for both is a good one. That means that it doesn’t matter which dog is the dominant one. Fighting over resources, including the owner, is not allowed. All resources should be under the owner’s control, and therefore it doesn’t matter who gets fed first.
~ A confident second dog does not necessarily influence the behavior of an anxious resident dog for the better. Studies showed that social mammals are more receptive to stress signals than calm ones. If dog one is very stressed, reactive and anxious, likely dog two, even if a calm and grounded personality, gets stressed as well and the owner doubled the trouble. The human can bring out the best in a dog, and the incompatible or problem-ridden canine companion, the worst.
~ The same is true if an owner has an exuberant young dog who still needs training and hopes that an older, second dog clues him in, or tires him out. Likely the boisterous first dog will drive the newcomer nuts. It is unfair to ask a new dog to educate a youngster and it rarely works. Said that, an older and wiser resident dog can be a great helper in raising a pup who enters as the second dog. Help is the key word here – the primary teacher is always the owner.
~ A good way to introduce a second dog is going for walk together and then entering the house together. The first meeting is as casual as possible; if it’s a big deal for you, it’s a big deal for the dogs.
~ It helps if dog two comes with a dowry.
~ If there are initial squabbles over stuff, removing stuff increases competition. Better is to add stuff whenever the dogs are in the same proximity. That creates cooperation.
~ Signs that dogs are not compatible are: if there are injuries, especially ones intended to kill; if there is a lot of tension – still and stiff dogs, hard stares; if one dog changes his personality, becomes withdrawn, reactive or aggressive, or doesn’t want to interact in activities she enjoyed before; if one dog fears the other – slinks away or refuses to enter a room, a certain space, or coming to the owner; if the dogs are not seeking to be close to one another and interact with one another.

Two is company, if the company is compatible. In my home, it’s not good enough if dogs tolerate one another; they have to like one another. Imagine if you were forced to live your whole life with someone you don’t like?