Do You Pass the Smell Test as a Dog Owner?

Do You Pass the Smell Test as a Dog Owner?

I’m a bit of an NPR addict. When not listening to WMPH 91.7 in my car I am on the app. I have a few favorite broadcasts, one of which is Terry Gross of Fresh Air. Imagine my delight last week when her guest was author Alexandra Horowitz to discuss her latest book, “Being a Dog.”

Being a Dog book cover

I have yet to read “Being a Dog,” but it is next on my list. Her interview was highly interesting and gave me a lot to think about as an indulgent dog owner myself! You can read the interview, or better yet, listen to it yourself.

The interview game me a lot to think about as a dog owner. Horowitz emphasized that dogs know their world first and foremost through smell, not sight. Since most humans are sight-dominant, we tend to force our pet dogs into a seeing world and suppress their active noses. It gave me pause. Am I guilty as charged?

Rushing Through Our Daily Walks
I think of our twice daily walks as an opportunity to get exercise and burn off energy. I had never really considered I am suppressing Bitsy’s instinct to smell every blade of grass or that I am unknowingly reprogramming her innate sense. Since my Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is already so close to the ground, her desire to stop and sniff rather than walk is strong! While I let her tary here and there, I have certainly never allowed her nose to guide our walks.

Harowitz recommends taking “smell walks” to allow your dog to explore and nurture that part of her nature.

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Taking Our Sweet “Smell” Time
I tried it over the weekend and discovered how interesting our normal route became to us both. Bitsy was very happy to find I was not tugging her along every time she caught an intriguing scent. As I observed her actions, I found myself absorbed in musing why she would stop and pee on some scents, but not on others?!?! We made far less progress distance-wise, but I noticed she was just as tired when we got home as when we walk the full distance. Certainly her nose must have been exhausted from her sensory exploration.

Dog Sniffing Not Rude
Horowitz opened my eyes to another notion. My dog knows me first by smell and secondary by sight and sound. It is also how she knows the other living beings in our lives. If I discourage her from smelling my house guests or other dogs she encounters then I am stifling her ability to connect with the world around her.

From now on I will make a better attempt to forewarn visitors that my dog will be giving them a onceover. If they are not dog people and are uncomfortable around my little friend, then I will crate her. When we encounter other dogs I will no longer tug her away from butt sniffing unless I notice it makes the other dog uncomfortable. Bitsy usually just sits herself down when she no longer wants to participate in the ritual!

I look forward to reading the book to unearth any other tidbits which would improve Bitsy’s happiness. Our pets lavish such love on us, I am happy to nurture her nature!

Do you already go for smell walks? I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic!

Five Tactics to Teach Your Dog Manners

As a slightly obsessed dog lover, I want everyone else to at least like my dog. That’s why I spent so much time training Bitsy to behave like a proper lady. Jumping up on guests, stealing shoes, barking excessively, and begging at the table are pet peeves I cannot tolerate in someone else’s dog. I would certainly not tolerate that behavior in my own sweet Cavalier.

Don’t get me wrong. Raising a well-behaved canine is no easy feat. But if you don’t have the time and patience for proper training, perhaps a dog is not the best pet choice. Maybe you should consider a hermit crab instead.

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Tactic 1: Find what motivates your pooch.

For many dogs, food is the most effective motivator. Luckily for me, Bitsy falls into this category. Treats should be small and healthy. Examples of good training foods include raw vegetables, bits of home baked biscuits, or dry food kibbles. Ice cubes can also be a no calorie special treat!

There are many reputable websites that include more comprehensive lists of foods you should not feed your dog, but here are a few to avoid:

  • Grapes
  • Avocado
  • Chocolate
  • Dairy products
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Raw meat
  • Raw eggs
  • Onions, Garlic
  • Mushrooms
  • Caffeine
  • Fat trimmings
  • Chicken bones

Praise is an excellent motivator, both verbal and physical. A calm, positive word of encouragement or a scratch behind the ears can get some dogs to do anything you ask! You can also reinforce good behavior by using a much-loved toy or activity. If your pup goes crazy over a favorite ball, kong, or ride in the car, use those things as training tools.

Tactic 2: Nip jumping in the bud.

It doesn’t matter whether Fido weighs 5 pounds or 85 pounds. When a dog jumps up on you, it scratches your legs, covers you in dog hair, frightens, and annoys even the most reasonable people. I’ve seen many tactics to combat this unpleasant behavior. I would start with these simple tips first.

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Train your dog from the very beginning to sit and stay when someone enters your home. Use the motivator that works for your dog. Start with short periods of time and increase that span in increments.

If your dog already acquired the “jump on visitors” trait, ask people who enter your home to fold their arms and turn their backs on your dog. When the dog finally figures out that jumping up will not elicit any affection, he will usually give up. When your dog returns all feet to the floor, try getting him to sit and stay. Once accomplished, hand over a treat or praise.

If the folded arms system does not take hold over time, you can try lightly stepping on the dogs back feet while his front paws are resting on the human legs (or chest). This will immediately prompt your dog to return to his own four paws. In time, he will associate jumping up with the discomfort of his back paws and cease the bad behavior.

If this last straw tactic fails, then contact a dog trainer.

I want to add here that I am not a professional dog trainer. I love dogs and have taken the time to train my own. Dog training takes time, patience, practice, and a calm spirit. Don’t expect miracles overnight. And never lose your cool.

Tactic 3: Stealing the Three S’s – Shoes, Slippers, Socks

Have you ever wondered why some dogs take your house guest’s shoe the moment they leave it at your front door? Or why she runs through the house with your bedroom slipper hanging from her mouth? Does your pooch confiscate more single socks than your dryer?

Could it be she gets your attention every time she takes something you’ve forbidden? In my opinion, dogs just want to love and be loved. If you make a big deal out of chasing her down when she steals something, it becomes a game and a source of attention. Use treats to reward her for not taking shoes, slippers, or socks when you put them within easy reach to tempt her. You should also ensure your dog has her own toys for entertainment.

Confession: Bitsy loves it when she finds one of my dirty socks. She does not chew it, but relishes in running away when I see it dangling from her mouth. Funny, but she never takes the clean ones!

If your dog is taking your shoes and chewing them, that is a more serious behavior issue than poor manners. I recommend reading Cesar Millan’s website for shoe chewing and other problematic behaviors.

Tactic 4: Halt Excessive Barking

It is difficult to speak with a house guest or talk to your neighbor through the back fence when your dog is overtaking the conversation with loud, obnoxious barking.

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As with jumping up or stealing slippers, never reward your dog with attention for unacceptable behavior. Remain calm and ignore an overly excited dog. Affection and attention should only be paid to an equally calm dog. This is much more difficult to achieve if you’ve rescued a dog that already developed the barking habit. Don’t get frustrated. Remember what I wrote at the end of Tactic 2!

I am not a fan of those barking collars. I’m not passing judgement on anyone who successfully uses them to train their dog. It’s just not my personal preference.

Tactic 5: Do Not Teach Begging!

Here is where I am going to pass judgement. If your dog begs at the table, you are one hundred percent to blame. It is an owner-created bad habit. (On my soapbox now.) If you only feed your dog dog food and healthy snacks as training aids, your dog will not beg for people food from the table. I’m not sure how I could explain that more simply or explicitly! This is a hard habit to break, so don’t go down that road in the first place. If you inherited a dog that begs at the table, then work with her to overcome the habit by ignoring it and not feeding her from the table.

Dogs are much easier to train than children, or so I’m told! Be patient. It takes time to break bad habits. Be positive. Your dog only wants to make you happy. Most importantly, start your dog out with firm boundaries and good manners from the start. That way, your family, friends, and guests will love your prized pet as much as you do. Well, almost!

New camera = more dog photos

New camera = more dog photos

Well, the weather was finally nice this weekend. I’m so grateful for extra sunshine. Bitsy and I had some good quality time at my sister’s house. She has a great back yard. I took advantage of taking some great pictures of Bitsy. Now I need to learn how to REALLY use this camera.

What do you think?

Bradley Nierenberg
My future’s so bright I should be wearing shades.
Bradley Nierenberg
On the hunt for snacks… you brought them, right dad?
Brad Nierenberg
Dad’s belly rubs are THE BEST.

Brad Nierenberg 1

 

Don’t Buy things at 3am…

So – over the holidays I succumbed to a 3am infomercial… after 16 AAA batteries completely drained, I can say, without a doubt – Bitsy and I are completely disappointed in the KnotOut brush…

On the bright side, we’ve discovered that when we go too long without going to the groomers, Bitsy can really rock a good comb-over / pompadour.

Maybe she and I should go out on the town and I can gel my hair and we can be one of those rockabilly duos.

Brad and Bitsy

Happy Tongue Out Tuesday Everyone!

How to Keep Your Dog Happy

For me, I’ve been fortunate to have one of the happiest dogs on the planet. Bitsy is a bundle of love and affection and seems to thrive on simply being around me.

I was reading an article in my facebook news feed the other day – http://www.eukanuba.com/dog-articles/puppy/happy-puppy – and while I’d never use Eukanuba (we’re a purely organic household) – they had some cute ideas.

The things I’ve come to find make my dog happiest are:

  1. Spending time with me — sometimes I call her my little shadow.
  2. Going to Home Depot – they let us shop together. And she doesn’t rush me through the hardware section… so that makes both of us happy… especially when I can’t find what I’m looking for.
  3. Going on roadtrips — the wind blowing back her ears and all the fun smells really seem to make her tail wag.
  4. Learning — she’s a really smart pup – so when I play games with her and teach her new words, like “frisbee” instead of “ball” and we play fetch, I know she’s fully engaged.
  5. Leaving the lights on when I’m not home — it could be that it’s this time of year, but she really does better when I’m out later and leave on a few more lights. I know they say dogs have great vision, but I feel like leaving on a few extra lights makes her calmer when she’s home alone.

So, that’s all for today. What do you think makes your dog happiest?