Thursday, October 25, 2012

One month later...

It's been one month since my last update, and for that, dear readers, I do sincerely apologize. Business has been booming and I can't complain - my dream is coming true and things are definitely looking up.

Here are a few training tips for new parents. I hope to post pictures of all of my new clients that I've had the pleasure of meeting with little anecdotes to go along with them.

Top 10 Basic Training Tips For New (And Current) Pet Owners:

1. Keep Training - as owners, we tend to think that once our pup has learned a trick, we can stop "training." However, this is not the case. Pups learn throughout their lifetime, so if you wish to avoid a bored and destructive fur baby, always train. Always reinforce the positive habits and tricks.

2. Think "Dog" - Take time to think about how your dog perceives the world, and use this knowledge to make training easier.

3. Exercise Your Dog (this is a big one!) - To help avoid destructive behaviors such as chewing, it is important to exercise your pet. Dogs, like humans, need exercise to stay healthy. And it's an added bonus that you can get the exercise while enjoying time with your pet. Not only do walks help keep a pet calm, but this time is also a time for bonding. Cherish it.

4. Be a Confident Leader - To feel secure, all dogs need a calm, confident leader. Effective leadership isn't about dominating your dog and making him submissive toward you. It’s about being a teacher and building his confidence. You can achieve that by encouraging and rewarding good behavior.

5. Improve Your Dogs Diet - Look at your dog’s diet, and see how you can improve it. You are what you eat, and the same is true for your dog. Many behavior and medical problems can be attributed to poor diet, so make sure your dog is eating the very best. I persnoally feed and recommend Acana; you can read more about all the yummy ingredients here: Acana Pet Foods. I did have a client last night tell me about a new food product called The Honest Kitchen. I personally have not had a chance to check it out, but I can tell you that the concept behind the food (gluten free and all natural ingredients) seems to be something worth looking into. You can find more information here and I plan on checking with my local pet store to see if I'm able to get a sample to review on here.

6. Keep Your Dog Active - Sign up for an activity that you both enjoy, such as an agility class, flyball, heel to music, etc. Dogs get bored easily, so get yours out and moving.

7. Dog Care - Get your dog microchipped, if you haven’t already. Also, don’t forget his yearly checkup with the veterinarian. The first one is a debatable topic which I will post more on at a later time but the second is always a must! I would recommend a check up every 6 months to reduce the chance of any illness or issue progressing to a non-treatable phase.

8. Keep Playing - Keep playing. One of the best ways to bond with your dog is to play games that you both enjoy. Play is a great stress reliever for both dog and human.

9. Keep Your Dog Safe - Have fun and enjoy your dog. A dog should never be a burden. If you take the time to train your dog, you'll give him the tools he needs to live successfully in a human world.

And last but not least...

10. 5 Rules to Positive Training - How do you cope with a dog that is showing anxiety-based behaviors such as aggression, inappropriate urination, guarding, destructive chewing or barking? Know that your dog is not trying to take over your household, even though it might seem like it. Positive reinforcement (i.e., giving the dog a reward in the form of praise, play, food or toys when it behaves in a way that you like) has been shown to be the most effective training method for these types of behaviors. As you begin the process of modifying your dog’s behavior, BE PATIENT. Positive training relies on consistency, repetition and the following general rules:
  • Tip #1: First, identify WHY your dog is behaving this way. You cannot effectively deal with a behavior unless you know the root cause behind it.
  • Tip #2: Once you know the WHY, then you can ask yourself HOW to treat the behavior. It is vitally important that you understand your dog. I don’t believe you can train a dog well without first understanding how he perceives the world. You can then use this knowledge to make training easier.
  • Tip #3: Learn to talk and think dog. Good communication increases the bond between dog and owner considerably. Dogs don’t speak our human language, yet many people treat them as if they do. As a result, the dog ends up confused. 
  • Tip #4: Be kind! Never hit, scream at or yank your dog. Dogs that exhibit aggression to humans or other dogs are under a great deal of stress, even though they might appear confident, dominant or just plain nasty. Think how you feel when you are fearful, angry or even violent. It is not a good place to be. Don’t combat fear with more fear—recognize your dog’s concerns, then slowly and gently teach him to overcome them. 
  • Tip #5: Go very slowly when dealing with anxiety-related behaviors. The best way to rehabilitate an aggressive dog is to change how he perceives the stimuli that make him anxious. Do this by slowly showing your dog that the thing he fears is no longer scary. This technique is called desensitization. If your dog is guarding the couch, food bowl, or front door, show him gently that there is another way to feel that makes him happier and more confident. For example, shower him with attention when he is on the floor, and not on the couch. Show him that good things happen to him when you approach his food bowl, because it means you'll be adding more delicious food.
Teaching obedience commands is relatively easy to do, but changing a dog’s negative behaviors and perceptions is not. Therefore, it's important to enlist the help of a qualified trainer, who can help tailor a treatment plan for your dog’s particular problem. Avoid trainers who use harsh methods or advocate choke, prong or weighted collars. And remember, positive training equals positive results. It might take a little longer, and require more time and patience on your part, but the positive changes you’ll see in your dog are worth it!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The "Smart Cookie"

Having just realized that in an earlier post I would next leave tips and tricks for the dogs I like to affectionately call the "smart cookies," I apologize for not following in sequence. With that said, here is a post dedicated to those dogs, including breeds like Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, and German Shepherd, although we all know that within each fur baby lies a "smart cookie," so these tips are not breed specific.

The smart cookie trains you, rather than the other way around. These pups tend to get bored easily and express his ennui in a variety of destructive ways, such as chewing. This tends to happen especially with dogs that come from breeds who (at one time) would perform a job, such as herding livestock.

But fear not, dear readers, for these activities and games will help avert your smart cookie's attention to something a bit more positive than chewing up that new pair of shoes or your grandmother's antique trunk (I use these examples as one of my own fur babies had what my husband referred to as an "unnatural affection" towards any kind of furniture.)
Top activities:
  • Agility games exercise his brain as well as body.
  • Obedience training, whether it's in your living room or at a competition, is the canine brain workout he craves.
  • Herding allows your dog to pit his wits against a flock of sheep. No, you don't need your own farm; trainers offer group classes and private lessons.

Other fun stuff:
  • Read up on training and teach your dog to do a job, any job: retrieving the paper, putting away his toys, playing messenger in the house (he can carry notes in his collar)--anything that makes him feel useful.
    • Paw Brigade Tip: Training your dog to put away his toys is easy! While I have tried many different methods, the one that seems to have the most lasting impact can be completed in a few simple steps. You will, of course, have to repeat this exercise several times. After all, practice makes perfect. Let me also stress here that both of my dogs are retrievers and adore the game of fetch. If your fur baby isn't so keen on this game, please leave a comment and I will do my best to find some information that is more specifically tailored to your fur baby's personality.
      • Step 1: Play a game of fetch with one of your dogs favorite toys. Position the toy basket (or box or whatever you have designated for your dogs toys) beside you so that your hand rests above the basket when your dog retrieves the toy and brings it back to you.
      • Step 2: Placing your hand beside the toy, command your dog to "drop it" and when your dog drops the toy in the basket (thinking it's in your hand), reward with verbal praise or a tasty treat. You will need to repeat these two steps for a week before moving on to step three.
      • Step 3: After reinforcing this trick for one week, play another game of fetch with the same toy and basket placed beneath your right hand. Throw the toy and wait for your dog to bring it back to you. Say "drop it" and point down at the basket instead of placing your hand into the basket. Repeat until your dog drops the toy into the basket.
        • * You can also use the words "clean up" after the first full week of training, but beware - changing the command like this can easily confuse your fur baby and this may result in longer time needed to properly train your pup.   
  • Play hide and seek with treats, a favorite toy or you. Ask for a sit/stay and hide behind the couch or stash the goodies (start off by letting your dog see where), then release your dog. Make it more of a challenge by hiding the items when he's not there.
  • Stock up on interactive toys that make your dog use his brain to find the treats inside. Some interactive puzzles that I have found useful can be purchased at your local pet store. These include Zanies Interactive Puzzle Pizza Dog Toy and Trixie's Chess Game.

I hope this helps you all, dear readers, and will post more as soon as I'm able. I currently have one of my fur babies barking for her weekly "bone" (I use Canyon Creek Ranch Chicken Tenders Dog Treats)

Friday, September 14, 2012

Late Night Post - The "Nose"

Life has been hectic this past week. Between being a full time mommy to two fur babies and juggling work, school, and life in general, I have a deeper appreciation for something that has been lacking: sleep. It's now 11:15 PM CST and I have just gotten back - I love what I do or else I wouldn't be up at 5:00 AM and in bed by 1:00 AM (if I'm lucky.) So my apologies to any of my readers out there who feel that I have fallen short of what this blog was meant to be. On with the pup information! :) I hope you guys enjoy.

Today's post will focus on dogs that I like to affectionately call "noses." These dogs love to use their nose to track scents near or far. Fur babies that would typically fall into this category are beagles, black and tan coonhounds, and bloodhounds.
Top activities:
  • Training your hound to be a search and rescue dog is a huge commitment, but very rewarding if you've got the time and passion for it. Check out the National Association for Search & Rescue website to find out if it's for you.
  • Participate in tracking trials, which involve following a scent trail to find a deliberately "lost" person and any items she dropped. The American Kennel Club puts on tracking events for purebreds; local chapters of the Mixed Breed Dog Clubs of America do the same for mutts.

Other fun stuff:
  • Create your own tracking game by asking your dog for a sit-stay outside, and walking through the grass to leave a scent trail. Leave a treat at the end of the trail, then retrace your steps and release your dog to find the treat.
  • Hide treats throughout your yard and let your dog sniff them out.
  • Turn meals into treasure hunts by putting your dog's food bowl in a new spot, and leaving a widely spaced trail of kibble to the bowl.

With this information now safely penned (or typed) for all of you, Dear Readers, I bid you good night. Let me know your thoughts and share any "nose hound" stories that you might have.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

11 Creative Ways to Get Moving With Your Pup

Dear readers - within each of our four-legged fur babies lies a natural gifted athlete. Even the tiniest Chihuahua or the pudgiest Persian possesses amazing physical abilities, if we as owners would take the time to tap into these gifts and utilize them to the fullest potential. Unfortunately, it is a sad statistic that many of the pets in the US have been "benched," resulting in an epidemic of obesitity that rivals that of the American people. In fact, nearly 44 percent of dogs are either considered overweight or obese. When we let our pets gain too much weight, they increase their risk of so many diseases, such as arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, and even behavioral problems (just to name a few.) To help keep our fur babies healthy and trim (and we get the added bonus of aiding our own health as well), try these tips for adding a little exercise and fun every day with your pet. Your dog will love you, and the bond that this will create between you and your dog will be rewarding enough.

Indoor games

1. High and low. This game is like squats for your dog or cat. With a kibble or piece of food in one hand, have your pet lie down or sit. For dogs, lower the treat and coax your dog to jump up and follow it. Then quickly lower the reward again and return the dog to a sitting or lying position. An ideal "high and low" is when your dog explodes upward and immediately lays down again. Repeat this three to five times before giving the food.

2. Hide and seek. This is similar to fetch but without the throwing—and resulting broken lamps. Show your dog a favorite toy. Lead your dog into another room while you hide the toy from your dog's view. Make the hiding place obvious at first, like the toy peeking out from under a pillow. You may have to help your dog find the toy the first couple of tries. When your dog finds the toy, praise and give a kibble or piece of food. Hide the toy in progressively more challenging places as the game continues. This game is so fun you won't need food after a couple of rounds.

3. Find the food. Cats are natural predators. To tap into the instinct and encourage your cat to get its move on, try dividing the food into small bowls placed throughout your house. Have your cat watch as you "hide" the bowls. Your cat will "hunt" the food throughout the day. This is one of the best ways to get corpulent cats on their feet and burning calories.

4. Follow the leader. This classic indoor game uses the same skills as "come and get it" below. Show your dog or cat a favorite toy and call her to you. Walk around your house with your pet following you. Go as fast as you like; just don't blame your pet for any broken items.

5. Obstacle course. Set up an indoor obstacle course made of empty drawers, buckets, pillows, boxes, or broomsticks. Have your dog jump, crawl, and navigate around furniture and objects for an intellectually stimulating activity. Playtime is about togetherness, not the quality of your toys. Get creative and resourceful to make even the dullest day bright with love and excitement.

6. Remote-controlled toys. Technology has provided pet owners an almost endless supply of remote-controlled toys. Many dogs and cats will chase a remote-controlled car or interactive talking toy. Look for a pet-friendly toy or car that has few small parts and is durable enough to withstand a paw strike or bite. Don't scold your pet if it destroys the toy; fun happens.

Outdoor games

1. Fetch. One of the most entertaining activities for many dogs is fetch. Use a fun toy and start with baby throws. Get your dog's attention and throw the ball or toy a couple of feet away. When he reaches the toy, praise him. As soon as he puts the toy in his mouth, take a few steps away while calling him to you. As your dog begins to approach, continue offering praise. When he reaches you, give the command "release" and show him a treat. Most dogs will trade the toy for a goody. Repeat this sequence, each time throwing the toy a little farther and stop giving treats after two or three trips.

2. Come and get it. Show your dog a favorite toy, such as a ball or Frisbee. As you do this, quickly bend over at the waist and extend your arms downward. This nonverbal communication cue signals you want to play. While you're bending over, say, "Come and get it!" As soon as you're certain you have your dog's attention, turn and run away. When your dog gets within three or four feet, stop and offer praise and a tiny treat. If your dog isn't interested in chasing you, don't chase the dog because doing so may teach that it's a game to run from you.

3. Obstacle course. Set up a basic agility or obstacle course in your yard. My favorite fun fitness device is a climbing obstacle or ramp. Walking up and down uses your dog's largest muscle masses in the rear legs. Weaving poles and jumping bars are also great ways to make exercise fun. While all of these tools can be bought online or a pet store, you can easily make your own with a little ingenuity. Ramps can be as simple as wood raised on blocks and weaving poles can be made from dowels or broomsticks. Dogs want to learn new skills, just like people do. Teaching old dogs new tricks might not only help them lose weight but also stay mentally healthy.

4. Stair mutts and hill hounds. A simple technique for healthy, overweight dogs is to find a hilly trail or flight of stairs and walk up and down. (Before you walk your dog on stairs or hills, ask your veterinarian to evaluate your dog's knees and hips. Obese dogs can put more stress on their joints, resulting in higher frequency of injuries.) Maintain a moderate pace and avoid sharp turns or jumps. Five to 10 minutes of solid hill or stair climbing is a great workout for any pudgy pooch. If you have stairs in your home, feed your cat in places that make her go up or down them.

5. Swimming. If your dog likes to swim, indulge. Many breeds, such as Retrievers, seem hard-wired to dive right in. For dogs with joint injuries or arthritis, swimming is an excellent exercise option. For many cats, swimming (bathing or water in general) is often less than enjoyable.
Exercising your pet can be as basic as shaking a piece of yarn or as complex as an agility-course competition. Find an activity that suits both you and your pet and do it consistently. Add new routes, games, and toys on a regular basis. While exercise certainly won't replace feeding fewer calories when it comes to your dog or cat losing weight, it is a vital part of a healthy lifestyle for both pets and people. When you and your pet move together, you celebrate one of the oldest, most unique, and most extraordinary bonds our planet has ever known.
Sections of this post were excerpted from Dr. Ward's book, Chow Hounds-Why America's Dogs Are Getting Fatter: A Vet's Plan to Save Their Lives (HCI Publications, March 2010)

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Keeping Your Fur Baby Happy and Healthy - Part 1

If you've heard it before, it's worth repeating. If you've never heard it, take note: A tired dog is a happy dog. Not enough exercise - be it mental or physical - is at the root of most behavioral (and many health) problems.

Fortunately, there are a variety of ways in which to keep your pet's body and brain in shape. The key is to find something you both enjoy, whether that means training classes, hiking the local foothills, scavenger hunts around the house, or hearty walks around the neighborhood.

Your dog is a thinking, breathing being — and deserves to be treated as one. Keep her mentally challenged and physically active, and she'll likely stay happy and healthy. Not to mention, you'll stave off many unwanted behaviors.

This will be a mini-series of different ideas, recipes, and games to help you stimulate your dogs mind and body, all while strengthening your bond together and making one tired fur baby at the end of the day :).

Read on, dear readers, and let me know if you have some ideas or recipes that you would like me to add to this series in the comments section. Please note that this mini-series focuses mostly on dogs, as I plan to have another mini-series focusing on our feline friends at a later date.

The "Ball Hound" as I like to call them can be described as one (or all) of the following:

  • Adores fetching and gnawing on chew toys
  • Is prone to play biting or nipping
  • Comes from a breed that works mostly with his mouth, such as a retriever.
If your dog falls into one of these categories, please read on, as these ideas will hopefully help create enthusiasm in your fur baby.

  • Athletic, mouthy dogs love a good game of frisbee. You can even take it to the competition level with Disc Dog or just have a game at your local dog park! Buy a frisbee with padded edges because it's gentler on his mouth. My "ball hound," Millie, really enjoys the booda soft bite floppy disc, but be warned: these don't last long if your dog has a tendency to tear apart her toys.

  • Flyball is a timed relay race that involves jumping hurdles and retrieving a ball--nirvana for high-energy, ball-obsessed dogs. Learn more and get local club listings from the North American Flyball Association.

  • You can also take your pet to a body of water since most "ball hounds" love to swim. I would suggest doing this ONLY when the weather is nice and warm enough. But you can buy fetch toys that would enable you to throw long distances into the water without getting wet yourself (until your dog happily greets you and shakes water all over the place - including you.)

    But we all know that it's hard to play "fetch" or any variation of the game if the weather is poor. So there are indoor alternatives to this as well. While you might not want your 90 lb. dog barreling down the hallway towards an antique umbrella stand, try setting up a toy box somewhere near your fur babies most comfortable "spot." This box will enable your dog to pick and choose her toys as she pleases, and she can carry them around in her mouth, thus satisfying her basic instinct to chew or retrieve. You can even work with your dog to train her on how to place her toys back in the toy box (but I will have a separate post dedicated to this.)

    As you can see, there are many ways to keep your dog healthy and active - whether you are indoors or out. If I've left out anything that you have found helpful with your ball hound, please let me know and I can make changes while giving you credit as well.

    Next time we'll look at another group of dogs, affectionately called the "smart cookie."

    Sunday, August 26, 2012

    What a Weekend!

    As the title states, this weekend was definitely a busy one. My husband and I took some time to travel to Memphis for a Sugarland concert on Friday (one of the few vacations I've had in a while) and we decided to leave the fur babies with the boarding facility My Second Home ( The facility is absolutely gorgeous inside, with caring staff that truly want the best for your fur baby (cat or dog.) When we dropped the pups off at 7:30 AM on Friday, our little diva queen, Harlie, was so upset. She hates feeling like she's missing out on anything we do, and that's in part because everywhere we have travelled, 90% of the time the dogs took the journey with us.

    We arrived back home in Nashville Saturday evening and were unable to pick up the dogs until Sunday morning, so it was eerily quiet throughout the night. No dogs barking, jumping on the bed, panting in our faces trying to make sure we were up and ready to go at 4:45 AM each day. While the break was a nice one, I'm glad to have my fur babies back with me. I can't stand being separated from them for too long.

    Where we live, a lot of our neighbors have cats. Now, I love cats (I love all animals), but I do get frustrated with some of the neighbors because they feel it's their "right" to let their cat wander the neighborhood. That is the neighbor's perogative, but please if you have outdoor pets, be sure to keep plenty of water and food out for your pet. It's too hot to "forget" to leave water outside, as one of my neighbor's once told me (to which I proceeded to fill a bowl with ice water for the cat, who appeared to be incredibly happy with me after that.)

    Well, Millie loves cats too. Almost too much. She jumped out of the backseat of the car and took off to see Jackson, our neighbor's orange tabby. Jackson doesn't care for Millie much, but on occasion he will tolerate her presence. Today was not one of those occasions. I had to chase Millie around Jackson's house to try to get a good grip on her leash, with poor Jackson hissing and meowing from the top of his fence. Once again I see that there is no water anywhere, and I know my neighbor does not have a "kitty door."

    Moral of today's story is twofold: first, if you have pets outdoors, PLEASE provide at least water; second, if you have a fur baby that is very excited to be home, please don't be like me and think she isn't as fast as you. She is. And she will run.

    Thank you, Millie, for my daily exercise. It is good to have you and Harlie both home!

    As promised, here is a photo of Millie. This was taken not 5 minutes after she had her bath. She loves water, but she was still skeptical and giving me that "I can't believe you bathed me" look.

    Tuesday, August 21, 2012

    A walk in the park

    Where I live, there is a neighborhood dog park. I'm not saying it's the cat's meow, but it suffices when the weather is beautiful and the fur babies want more than just your typical walk. Of course, along with this park comes a variety of little fuzzy creatures that make this park home, specifically - moles and rabbits, with an occasional squirrel.

    While taking Millie and Harlie on their morning turn around the block, we encountered a few squirrels, which of course signaled trouble for my shoulders (Millie once dislocated a shoulder - thankfully, not mine) and I'm too stubborn or soft-hearted to use the gentle leader.

    But I digress. While on this walk, Harlie has decided that a trip to the park is in order. After all, there might be a rabbit munching on breakfast! Let me note here that when Harlie wants to go somewhere you go. Period. End of story. If you don't go in the direction that she wants to go, she will lay down in the grass, on the sidewalk, or in the middle of the street. Harlie is also known to stretch her front paws out in just the right position so that if you keep pulling on the leash to get her to stand up, the harness comes right off and she is free to run wherever her heart desires.

    This morning, my husband was with  me since he works nights at Wild Ginger. So all four of us somehow make it safely to the park. And that's where the fun begins. My husband runs around like a crazy man waving his arms while the dogs try to chase him and each other. I have a video and if I can figure out how to post it, I will let the world see how silly a person can be with their dogs.

    Millie tries to dig at the various mole holes around the park and completely zones out, refusing to listen to either myself or my husband, which is unusual since she always listens to my husband. Me? not so much. Like I said, I'm too soft-hearted and she knows that the most discipline she will receive from me is a few seconds of a stern glance. Harlie is running around in circles picking up what had to have been her own personal best speed before immediately stopping and throwing herself on the ground to eat some dirt. Why she eats the dirt I have yet to figure out. I'd like to think she's hunting for bugs and that's what she finds attractive because it's dirt. It has no taste (that I know of) and the very thought of ingesting it myself is disgusting. But Harlie is a dog and maybe dirt is like the piece de resistance of the week. Who knows. Have any of you readers out there experienced this with your own pets? What are your theories?

    And now, here I sit at home with two very exhausted sleeping pooches. The husband is wandering around here somewhere and I'm taking a few moments of "me" time. At least the laundry is done, and put away - I don't need any repeats from yesterday.