I decided to include a list of relative miscellany that has varying relevance in the lives of dog owners. As each dog is unique, so is the journey of training and acclimating each animal to its environment and people. While some of these things have been mentioned in previous chapters, forgive the redundancy (this apology is a long time coming, I realize) and allow yourself to record the information in two places.
Crates and tension gates offer myriad benefits for dog and puppy owners. They give them their own space, keep unsupervised dogs separated, limit the damage dogs can do around the house, are an excellent tool to treat separation anxiety, aid in housebreaking, and offer a place for dogs to unwind after exercise. The crate/gate is not a cage to lock a dog away; nor should it ever be used as punishment to “ground” your dog. A gate is sometimes preferable if space is an issue, since they can be placed in doorways. Gated areas should be dog-proofed, meaning all hazards are removed.
A crate should provide adequate ventilation, visibility, a soft dog mat, and water to drink. For a dog to acclimate to its crate, begin by placing special chew treats that the dog receives only in the crate. Use treats that would be of high value, such as marrow bones, toys that can be stuffed with peanut butter or turkey, and bully sticks. When you purchase a new dog toy, use the “go to crate” command and give the toy as a reward.
■ Kennedy sits in her crate—a safe haven with a soft bed, water, chew toys, some treats, and play toys. This is about the size of many New York apartments.
To use the crate or gate properly, always have the dog enter after plenty of exercise. A dog’s crate is a sanctuary for unwinding, resting, and relaxing. It is not a place to put a dog unattended for hours at a time. A dog’s adjustment period will take a couple of weeks, beginning with ten-to-fifteen-minute sessions while the owner is present. Once the dog is crated, owners should go out of sight as they do their business. As time is added, and builds to an hour or more, it is generally safe for an owner to leave without concern. Should a dog whine when an owner leaves the room, try making a phone call so the dog can hear your voice. Place the dog in the crate or gated area whenever he appears sleepy, in order to capture a positive association. As a dog gains comfort in the new space, open and close the door to your home in order to desensitize the dog to the sounds of leaving. It is not uncommon for a dog to be gated or crated overnight. In the case of separation anxiety, keeping the crate in the owner’s bedroom is acceptable at first. Since autonomy is the goal for the dog and human, the crate should be transitioned to another room in roughly a week.
With the exception of dogs that are comfortable being crated overnight, I recommend that adult dogs not be crated or gated longer than four hours, and in the case of puppies, two hours. This is not a hard-and-fast rule, as some dogs willingly spend long periods of time in their crates.
WAGS, BITES, AND BARKS
While much has been studied on the subject, there are a couple of cues that are commonly misread, particularly the idea that a wagging tail is the sign of a happy dog. While a dog’s tail tucked between the legs is a sure sign of submission, depending on the breed, dogs will carry their tails at different heights and wag them at different rates. A tail’s height is an indicator of mood. A tail at mid-height means the dog is relaxed, while a high tail is a sign of a dog attempting to threaten and establish dominance. It is not a perfect indicator, as beagles and terriers naturally walk with their tails held high, while greyhounds have naturally low-slung tails. It is necessary to determine the average height that an individual dog holds its tail before determining if the tail is telltale. The speed of the wag lets one know just how excited the dog is. How much the tail swings determines a dog’s emotional state. There is a lot to this, and endless combinations, but here are some common tail movements and their meaning:
■ A big, wide wag is friendly, not challenging in any way, and is the origin of the “wagging tail means happy dog” stereotype. When the wagging tail is accompanied by swinging hips, that’s one happy dog.
■ A vibrating tail that moves speedily is a sign that the dog is about to go into fight or flight. If the tail is held high, it is most likely ready to attack.
■ A slow-dragging wag with a low or half-slung tail speaks to an insecure dog that is not feeling terribly social or particularly good.
■ Small wags at an average speed are humble greetings. The dog is saying, “Hi, are you sure it’s okay that I come in?”
In a recent study conducted at the University of Trieste in Italy, a neuroscientist and two veterinarians tracked the angles that a dog’s tail would wag. They discovered that dogs feeling positive will wag their tail with a bias to the right side, and when they are experiencing negative feelings, they will wag their tail more to the left. Interesting stuff.
Dogs can smile. That happy-looking, partially open mouth accompanied by a slight tilt of the head and relaxed ears is indicative of a good mood.
■ Dexter and Buna crackin’ a smile for the camera.
A dog will dive into a play bow (its rear end in the air and its front paws and elbows on the ground) when inviting other dogs to play. In such a circumstance, any barking and growling is playful in nature. For new dog owners, telling the difference between fighting and rambunctious play can be challenging. The play bow can let someone know that all is well.
Barks and Growls
Barking and growling are how dogs talk; these sounds also act as a sophisticated alarm system. A growl can serve as a warning that aggression is on the way, as can offensive barking. Lower-pitched sounds signal the potential for aggression, while higher-pitched sounds are invitations to play. The longer the duration of the bark or growl, the stronger a dog’s intent is to act on the bark. Barks and growls that are shorter in frequency indicate the presence of fear. Sounds delivered at a fast rate are signs of excitement and possibly urgency. One or two short barks that are midrange in pitch are a dog’s way of saying hello and are commonly heard when the doorbell rings. When a dog dives into the play bow, a short, stuttering bark is the invitation to play. A string of individual barks communicates that a dog is lonely and likely asking for your company. Security dogs will bark low, slow, and continuously to alert others to the presence of an intruder and that danger is coming. The “call of the wild” bark is a string of two to four barks delivered with pauses and is the most common. It is not necessarily a battle cry but a way of calling the gang together because something requires investigation.
I’ve found there is some signature to a dog’s bark and growl once you get to know them. Chiquita has a long, low growl she’ll use to rouse me when I’m sleeping. What’s this mean? She has to go to the bathroom and in no small way. Pacino is not much of a barker; the only time he really barks is when he’s trying to goad another dog into play.
Nipping and Biting
Dogs at play mouth and nip each other’s necks and ears, and this is how they learn bite inhibition. Unfortunately, some dogs are slow learners and may play too rough with others. Proper socialization is helpful, but in places like a dog park, it is an owner’s responsibility to judge how well a dog gives and takes in order to avoid altercations.
TREATS, CHEWS, AND SNACKS
Always check with a vet, or do some research to determine which foods are healthiest for your dog. I recommend treats that will occupy dogs for as long as possible when they are at home. Treats like chew sticks are designed to be long lasting, while edibles such as raw marrow bones, peanut butter, wet dog food, and even cold cuts can be frozen.
I strongly advocate the use of rubber toys with hollow centers that can be filled with food. They come in different sizes and textures to accommodate different strengths of jaws and teeth. Dogs were made to hunt and scavenge for their food, and having to work to get the food out of these puzzle toys gives dogs a chance to perform one of nature’s designed purposes. A dog will lick, paw, nibble, and roll the toy around in order to release the food. This practice provides a dog with purpose and helps to defeat boredom and anxiety. Frozen treats are more time-consuming, while moist food is pretty easy for a dog to get to. Frozen treats are great for crate training, as they do wonders to keep a dog occupied while adjusting to the new space.
Raw, never cooked. I get them at the butcher and store them in the freezer. The hard texture of the bone helps rub plaque off teeth, though for dogs with sensitive teeth, it can chafe the enamel or chip teeth, so consult a vet before using. The marrow is rich in healthy fats and nutrients but can be difficult for certain dogs to digest and is never recommended for puppies.
I use treats primarily when training dogs and prefer them to be of the small, soft, and bite-sized variety so the reward can be consumed quickly. Treats on shelves can be hit or miss, so do your research, or try some of my personal favorites: Sliced turkey, baby carrots, cooked broccoli stems, and low-fat string cheese are all of high nutritional value and work very well.
TOOLS OF THE TRADE
I prefer four- to six-foot nylon leads for walking. Longer leads make it more challenging to control the dog, and the intimate communication with the leash is lost. In populous areas, I also feel it is a basic responsibility not to have dogs wandering on a long leash. Even though I use a shorter lead, I will tie a knot approximately two feet from the collar clip for a better hold while still providing some comfortable slack. For teaching the “stay” command outdoors, nothing beats a long training leash, which can be as long as thirty feet.
■ The proper way to hold a four-foot leash. Justin likes to tie a knot in the right spot where he has control and the dog still has a little slack.
Also known as the greyhound or whippet collar, these collars were originally designed for greyhounds because their necks are larger than their heads and can often slip out of traditional side-release collars. These collars have gained in popularity across all breeds for being humane, as they limit the amount of pressure that can be applied and hang loosely when they are not being pulled. They are great to use both in training and on a daily basis, particularly for dogs prone to pulling.
Head Halter Collars
See Chapter 9, “Living in the Solution,” and reference the section “Pulling/Halting on Leash” for a detailed description. Head halters are excellent for high-energy, pulling, and reactive dogs. The collar is effective in redirecting a reactive dog because it leads the dog by the muzzle.
Although I’m not a big proponent of harnesses, they do have their application with dogs under ten pounds in weight and dogs with trachea issues. I much prefer harnesses where the leash clips around the dog’s chest as opposed to those that clip to the upper back.
There are dozens of tools for training dogs. Extension leashes, prong collars, remote collars, clickers, among the full suite of products that are offered everywhere. I typically don’t endorse or oppose any tool so long as it’s used properly and humanely. I’ve noticed some of the newer products have a bit of a learning curve, so be sure to have a handle on how they work before use. All dogs learn and respond differently and owners will find that some things work better for them than others. Remember, it’s the owner and her technique, not the tool, that does the training.