Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Power of Mental Stimulation

I am the behavior director for a local rescue, Big Dogs Huge Paws, and held a foster training last Saturday that included instructions on Chew Toy Training.  Here is an email I got yesterday from one of our foster moms:

"Hey Guys~
During the foster training I got to thinking that I might not be mentally stimulating my dogs as much as I should be..... feeding them their meals in their kongs sounded like a great idea!
So.... a little bit of cheese...some kibble, all natural meat... and a little peanut butter later, stuff the kong... and Hera is happy as can be....Zeus on the other hand is head over heals for it, until he realizes that he has to work for his food. He stops... takes a deep sigh... roles his eyes at me..... walks around the house.... then decides it's not so bad and goes back to his meal.... Oden missed out! He's out on an adventure with Jim camping!!!
Don't worry though, he will get his treat when he gets home!
Thanks Guys!!!

If you aren't feeding your dogs out of frozen Kongs yet, you should start ASAP!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Magic Treat Bag

 Sammi, the Labradoodle
This weekend I met 2 of the cutest, most food motivated dogs I have ever worked with.  Sammi, is a 3-year old Labradoodle, and Tabasco is a 3-year old English Bulldog.   Both of their moms called me because their dogs are extremely shy and fearful of people. and have snapped at and tried to bite strangers.   Each dog is also afraid of other dogs and is reactive and defensive.  Both moms said "My dog doesnt like strangers and will growl and snap.  "Hmmmmm" I thought to myself... "Well, they havent met the magic treat bag yet!".

I set up appointments and went to meet both dogs this weekend.  I met Sammi first.  After a few obligatory barks at the door, I entered and ignored her.  I sat down on the couch, with my treat bag on, and tossed Natural Balance lamb meat roll near her.  I would guess that it took about 35 seconds for her to become my best friend...

Then I went to meet Tabasco, the Bulldog.  Can I just say that I LOVE Bulldogs?  The way they walk and snort and talk and drink cracks me up.  Anyway, I actually entered with his mom this time, and I had my meat roll ready.   He didnt even think twice about the fact that I was a stranger, he was all about eating as much meat roll as possible.  For Tabasco, it took about 2.3 seconds for me to become his best friend.

Whenever this occurs (when I go to someone's house to meet their dog who bites people), the owners always say "Oh my god, she NEVER warms up that fast.  She hates people!".  Guess what?  Dogs don't love me because of my sparkling personality... they love the fact that I have a fabulous treat bag that really REALLY good stuff comes out of, and I don't push them to interact with me.  I just give them hot dogs and string cheese and meat roll, and they do it all on their terms.

Why is it that people think they must dominate and threaten shy dogs to get them to 'submit'?  (These clients dont subscribe to this, but a lot of my clients do).  How fast do you think it will take an extremely shy dog who is afraid of people to bite a person who tries to 'dominate' them?  Why on earth do you think a shy dog would 'trust' a person who tackles them, pulls their feet out from under them, and growls in their face to act like an "alpha" dog?  How would you feel if someone did that to you?!

I always say that shy and fearful dogs are like cats.  Cats always want to be by the person who hates cats or is allergic to cats.  Can you guess why?  Because people who hate cats ignore them, and cats LOVE people who ignore them, because then interaction can be on their terms.  Anyone who thinks they are a dog person, "Oh dogs love me" and try and force interaction on a shy dog, does, in fact, know NOTHING about dogs and dogs don't love them- they fear them and think they are threatening.

Of course, there is a lot more to re-programming a shy dog to love people or other dogs, but it all starts with positive motivation- i.e. a REALLY good treat!   Please don't ever force yourself on any dog.  Be patient and carry a really big treat bag. 

Tabasco, the English Bulldog