Dogs-Dog Training: A Holistic Approach to Dog Training (Parts 1 & 2)

[This article was originally published in two parts in the January 2015 and February 2015 editions of the Downeast Dog News.]

TriviaIt was forty years ago this month, when I had just turned 17 that my parents finally agreed to let me have a dog. I brought home a little black fluff of fur with no real idea of what to do other than to love and feed her. Neither the pet store where I bought Trivia, nor the veterinarian who examined her, suggested she have any level of training; in fact they didn’t even mention housetraining. Nor did they suggest I learn anything about what it’s like to be a dog.

Somehow Trivia and I survived, but as I look back I know that the relationship we had and Trivia’s quality of life could have been so much better if I had just taken the time to learn more about her, train her and more importantly prepare her for living in my world. Trivia was a social butterfly and she loved people, but because I had never socialized her or taught her any manners, she was a bit of a “wild child” when people were around. As a result, for the first several years of her life, she wasn’t taken places and when people did come over she was exiled to her pen outside or her room in the basement. She was basically denied the social interaction she craved. Every time I think of Trivia, it saddens me to know how much better her life could have been.

Seventeen years later, my wife Paula and I got our first dog as a family. Since we wanted to do everything right, we immediately signed Gus up for a puppy class. We were introduced to a very heavy-handed method of training, which was popular at the time, but really weren’t encouraged to think beyond “training the dog.” There was little or no emphasis on our learning anything about canine behavior, how dogs learn, how dogs communicate and express themselves, what motivates a dog, the role of health and wellness in learning  or a dog’s physical, mental and emotional needs. All we were taught was; “This is how you train your dog to do x, and this is what you do if he does not comply. Non-compliance is NOT an option.” If it weren’t for my innate need to understand “the why” of everything, coupled with Gus’ medical and behavioral quirks, we probably would have just muddled on and Gus would have had a life similar to that of Trivia. Gus

Sadly, in many ways the general public’s attitudes towards dogs and training has not changed much in forty years. According to the 2011-2012 American Pet Product Association National Pet Owners Survey, only 4% of the dogs in the USA are taken to a dog training class. While this number is trending up, it was only 2% in 1998, it is infinitesimally small. While some families do manage to train their dogs without going to a class, many dogs still remain untrained or under trained and totally unprepared for living in the human world.  Even though the science clearly supports the benefits of positive reinforcement in learning,  many people still cling to the heavy-handed method of training we were introduced to when we first got Gus because that is the way the dogs in their family have always been “trained.”

Even more alarming, an article from the November 2013 issue of Veterinary Medicine indicates that only 4.7% of puppies attend a puppy socialization class. I believe that these statistics provide an answer to why so many dogs are surrendered to a shelter or rescue because of behavior problems.  Proper socialization often makes the difference between a well-adjusted dog and one that develops behavioral issues. Socialization is about so much more than getting along with the neighbor’s dog or becoming familiar with grandpa and grandma or the neighbor’s kids. In my experience, very few individuals understand what socialization and habituation means without the benefit of attending a class or working with a professional trainer.

I see dogs for behavioral consultations. These dogs are brought to us because of aggression, reactivity or some type of anxiety, and often they have had little or no training. Typically they were not well socialized or were socialized inappropriately. Many dogs that develop behavioral issues end up being surrendered or spend their lives tied up in the yard or relegated to the basement for the majority of their lives. Some may be continually subjected to being yelled at and having guardians that are regularly rife with anger and frustration, simply because the dogs “should know better” or “are stubborn.” When people open their homes to a dog, it is not with this life in mind for their new pet. Many of these pets could have dramatically different lives if owners were made aware and had put forth the initial effort to learn about their dog and to train them, I believe that there are five fundamental reasons that people choose not to work with a professional when it comes to learning about their dog and training their dog.

  • First, many people are under the misguided impression that dog training is only for dogs that have problems or for dogs that compete in dog shows or sports. The reality is that most dog training programs are created with the average pet dog in mind and focus on the basics such as not jumping on the guests and walking nicely on a leash.
  • Additionally, people often underestimate the value of training to both themselves and their dogs. A well trained dog is more welcome in public places and because they are easier to care for become everyone’s favorite. Because of their exemplary behavior, owners with well-trained dogs often find it easier to find rental housing or insurance and may even qualify for discounts at the veterinarians, groomers, boarding kennel and daycare.
  • Another barrier to dog training is all of the misinformation about dog training and canine behavior, much of which is outdated and obsolete but still considered “state-of-the-art” by the dog owning public due to urban legends and the internet. Examples of these myths are things such as suggesting that a dog needs all its shots before it can start training, that some breeds are too stubborn to be trained, that you can’t train a dog until it’s “x” months old, that a dog will learn all it needs to know from other dogs, that you just need to dominate your dog and make them mind, etc. Our knowledge about dogs, their behavior and the most humane and efficient ways to train them has changed radically in the last 15 years, but often it’s only the professional trainers that are aware of this new information.
  • A lack of resources, both financial and time, is a further reason that people often use for not pursuing training with their pet. The reality is that compared to the purchase price of a dog, veterinary care, and a year’s worth of food, training is a bargain! If the resource one finds lacking is time, then you really need to question whether you really have time to have a dog. Working with a knowledgeable, experienced professional will actually save you time.
  • Finally, there often seems to be a cultural lack of emphasis on the importance and benefits of training by breeders, rescues, shelters, veterinarians, boarding kennels and daycares, groomers, and yes even dog trainers at times.

Training is about much more than teaching the dog to sit; a training program should have a comprehensive, holistic foundation.

What is “A Holistic Approach to Dog Training”?

Holistic is defined as “relating to or concerned with wholes or with complete systems rather than with the analysis of, treatment of, or dissection into parts.”   It is essential to a dog’s welfare to understand a dog’s physical, mental, emotional and social needs and their methods of communicating with one another and with humans. It is the use of this knowledge that allows for the building of a trusting relationship with dogs, meeting their needs and thus ensuring their quality of life. As humans we have the ability to continue to learn about our dogs as a species as well as individuals.

A key component of a good trainer is that they will make the process of learning and training fun. This not only increases the probability of success, but also serves to further enhance the relationship. Also, central to training is the management of a dog’s environment to prevent dangerous and undesirable behaviors, while simultaneously using reward-based training to teach the dog to offer behaviors that help them thrive within our human world.

Why should I train my dog with a holistic approach?

Besides the obvious benefits of having a well-trained dog that is responsive to you, training, when done with humane methods, is extremely beneficial to your dog as well.

Dog’s Don’t Come With A User Manual

Spending some time to learn about your dog, their breed, what they were originally bred to do, normal and abnormal canine behaviors, how they learn and how they express what they are feeling will be very beneficial. A good place to start is with the following books ; On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas , The Other End of the Leash – by Patricia McConnell, PhD, DOGS: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior and Evolution by Raymond and Lorna Coppinger, Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You A Better Friend to Your Pet by John Bradshaw, For the Love of A Dog – by Patricia McConnell, PhD, and Living with Kids and Dogs…Without Losing Your Mind: A Parent’s Guide to Controlling the Chaos by Colleen Pelar.

Building a Bond & Trust

If you make training fun and rewarding, which is not hard to do, training can become a central part of your effort to build and strengthen the bond with your dog. After all, isn’t companionship the main reason you got a dog?  My dog Muppy was a bit shy when we adopted her. Through training we’ve established a wonderful relationship that has helped her get over her shyness. Additionally, she’s learned; how to control herself around other people (sit, down, stay), behaviors that help keep her safe while enjoying the world (heel, coming when called, leave it), and things that help me take care of her (swallowing a pill, trimming her nails, combing out mats). All of these things she’s learned also make it easier for her groomer, her veterinarian, and others that care for her. Because she has learned these things through the use of positive reinforcement, her trust in the human world has grown immensely.

Socialization & Habituation

Properly socializing and habituating your dog when they are 8 to 16 weeks of age, and maintaining this socialization for the lifetime of your pet, can go a long way in helping your dog to enjoy being part of your everyday life without being fearful. Unfortunately, most people do not fully understand the concept of socialization and think that exposing their dog to a couple of friends and their existing dog or the neighbor’s dog is all it takes. Socializing a dog is not that simple and requires planning, which is why taking your puppy to a class taught by a professional dog trainer can help you get off to a good start. You will have the added benefit of meeting others that are going through all of the same puppy frustrations that you are. Many families and their dogs become longtime friends through puppy class.

Prevent Problems Before They Start

People have good intentions when they train their dog, but often they or a family member or friend inadvertently end up training the dog to do exactly the opposite of what they really want. Often people come to us with a dog that habitually jumps up on certain people and after we talk with them we discover they have unknowingly been rewarding jumping. It’s much easier to train what we want from the beginning than to have to “untrain” a behavior we don’t like.

Learning Basic Manners

When one gets a dog it is usually with the intention that it will be a member of the family and will be able to participate in family activities. One of the best ways to make this happen is by teaching the dog some basic manners like sit, down, walking on a loose leash, coming when called, and leaving things they’re not supposed to have.

Mental Stimulation

So many people worry about making sure their dog gets sufficient physical exercise, yet rarely do they think about their mental stimulation which is every bit as important. A dog that receives plenty of mental stimulation is much less likely to engage in problem behaviors like destructive chewing and digging.

Regular training sessions, even after a dog has successfully learned everything you want them to know, can keep their skills sharp and help expend that pent up energy. Teaching your dog something new and fun (e.g. retrieve a favorite toy, find a hidden object) can provide your dog with mental stimulation on those days when life does not accommodate a walk. Sometimes it can be as simple as training your dog during commercial breaks as you watch your favorite TV program.

Because It Is Fun!

My dog Muppy absolutely loves to “go to school.” When she prances in her heel position, it is obvious through her body language to see how much she is enjoying herself. Her mouth is open, relaxed and smiling while she is looking at me with rapt attention. Not only is she having a great time, it fills my heart with joy to watch her. And all the while, she is learning skills that will help her to successfully live in a human world. Give holistic training a try and spread the word!

Working With A Professional Is Worth It

Working with a certified professional dog trainer (CPDT) is one of the best ways for you to implement a holistic training program for you and your dog. A good CPDT will teach you about body language and canine communication, they will introduce a fun, positive method of training and will help guide you through those difficult moments of canine chaos. A professional understands that all dogs are different yet ultimately learn the same way and can help you prevent problems before they begin. They are also there to answer your questions and to show you how to do something; not something you can get out of a book or a YouTube video. Yes, you can see a trainer on YouTube but they cannot see you and your dog and that is an essential factor in helping people and dogs to progress.

Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop (greenacreskennel.com) in Bangor and the 2014 Association of Professional Dog Trainers Dr. Ian Dunbar Member of the Year. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner, Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, and Certified Professional Dog Trainer. He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Voice of Maine  (103.9FM, 101.3FM, 1450AM & woofmeowshow.com) every Saturday at 7:30AM and Sunday at 8:30PM

______________________________________________________________________________
Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop (greenacreskennel.com) in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at http://www.wzonradio.com/ every Saturday at 9 AM. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found at www.woofmeowshow.com. Don also writes about pets at his blog: www.words-woofs-meows.com.

©2015, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

Dog Training – It’s Responsible Pet Owners Month… Time to Train Your Dog

<This article was first published in The Maine Edge on January 28. 2015>

Don and Muppy practicing walking politely off-leash.
Don and Muppy practicing walking politely off-leash.

If you are like most people, you got a dog for companionship. Companions hang out together and training your dog makes that easier. February is Responsible Pet Owners month, and one of the most conscientious things any dog owner can do is to take the time to appropriately train their dog. Odds are if you train your dog they will be able to do more with you and will be welcome more places you would like to take them. Even your friends and family that don’t like dogs, and yes those people exist, will perhaps at least tolerate your well trained, well behaved, magnificent dog.

An untrained dog is likely to result in you, and possibly other family members, becoming frustrated. This results in a dog that also becomes frustrated and unhappy. A vicious cycle ensues and opportunities for you to teach and for the dog to learn cease to exist because you are both so wound-up.  The time for effective training is well before the bad stuff happens!

There are many advantages to having a trained dog. Trained dogs are often welcome at family and neighborhood gatherings, they are less likely to bite someone, and having a trained dog could very well end up getting you a lower insurance rate. Your veterinarian will likewise be very appreciative when you and your dog come in for a checkup and your dog shows off its skills, resulting in an easier visit for everyone. Lastly, when you truly understand your dog and have taken the time to train them; you are both more fun to be with! Really!

Unfortunately the actual training of your dog is beyond the scope of this column however, the following are some suggestions on getting started.  One option is to train your dog yourself, but you must first be well prepared with some basic information about your dog. A dog is a complex, living, sentient being very different than a human. Dogs do not come with a comprehensive user’s manual that covers everything you really need to know; what were they bred for, how they learn, what normal and abnormal behaviors look like, how they communicate and express emotions, etc. Yet we need this kind of information to make sure that we are meeting our dogs most basic needs; they need far more than food, water, shelter and a human that appreciates them. This is all essential knowledge to having a fantastic relationship with a dog.

Learning what you need to know about your dog does not happen overnight.  The following books are some recommendations that will serve as a good starter; On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas , The Other End of the Leash by Patricia McConnell, PhD, DOGS: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior and Evolution by Raymond and Lorna Coppinger, Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You A Better Friend to Your Pet by John Bradshaw, For the Love of A Dog – by Patricia McConnell, PhD, and Living with Kids and Dogs…Without Losing Your Mind: A Parent’s Guide to Controlling the Chaos by Colleen Pelar. Beware of information on the internet; as State Farm insurance has so graciously taught us; just because it’s on the internet does mean it is true or good advice. That holds true for the information from dear old Uncle Tim, your neighbor who considers training to be “yelling at the dog” and even some pet professionals, dog breeders and rescues. When you are reading and gathering information about dogs, please remember that not all of the information out there in the world is accurate or humane; it is your responsibility to be a critical thinker.

If you do not have the time or would simply rather not do all that reading and studying about dogs, your best bet is to contact a professional dog trainer who will be skilled not only at training dogs but also at teaching you. This part is absolutely critical! Be very wary of trainers that want to work with your dog alone and insist that they can do most of the work for you. That may sound appealing, but if you really want to be companions with your dog you need to be intimately involved with the process. Whether you choose group classes or private instruction, a professional trainer will be able to not only show you what to do but will be able to troubleshoot situations as they arise. I’ve asked books and YouTube videos questions but have yet to get an answer.

When looking for a professional dog trainer you want to make sure to select one that has kept current in the field. The best place to start is at the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (www.ccpdt.org) or the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (www.iaabc.org). Professionals credentialed by these organizations must not only take a test and comply with a professional standard; they must acquire continuing education units in order to maintain their certifications. So get studying or find a trainer and have fun!

 

©2015, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

PODCAST – Pet Behavior Counseling and Don and Kate – with special guest host Dr. Mark Hanks

10JAN15-Dog Behavior, Don and Kate w-guest host Dr Mark Hanks 400x400Dr. Mark Hanks from Kindred Spirits Veterinary Clinic has been a frequent guest on The Woof Meow Show, giving Kate and I several opportunities to “pick his brain” about a wide variety of topics. For quite some time he’s been asking to “host” the show and to turn the tables so to speak; interviewing Kate and I and asking us questions about animal behavior and training.  In the first of four shows in this series, Dr. Hanks interviews Don and Kate about their experiences as professional animal behavior counselors and dog trainers. Some of the questions Mark asks are: 1) How did you get into helping people with animal behavior problems? and 2) What does the current science say about dominance and alpha dogs?

You can listen to this episode of The Woof Meow Show at: http://traffic.libsyn.com/woofmeowshow/WoofMeowShow-2015-10-01-2015_Dog_Bhx_Don_Kate_w-guest_host_Mark_Hanks.mp3

You can download this episode of The Woof Meow Show at the Apple iTunes store, or you can download it at: http://woofmeowshow.libsyn.com/webpage

You can listen others episodes in this series at the links below.

Dog Training Questions for Don and Kate, part 1– 12JUL15 – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/07/12/podcast-dog-training-questions-for-don-and-kate-with-special-guest-host-dr-mark-hanks-part-1/

Dog Training Questions for Don and Kate, part 2– 19JUL15 – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/07/19/podcast-dog-training-questions-for-don-and-kate-with-special-guest-host-dr-mark-hanks-part-2/

Dog Training Questions for Don and Kate, part 3– 26JUL15 – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/07/27/blog-post-27jul15-podcast-dog-training-questions-for-don-and-kate-with-special-guest-host-dr-mark-hanks-part-3/

For more information on the Woof Meow Show go to: www.woofmeowshow.com

©2015, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

Book Reviews – Do You Really Know Your Dog? – Part 2

<A version of this article was published in the December 2014 issue of Down East Dog News>

Last month I indicated that one of the best gifts we can give to ourselves and to our dogs is a better understanding of who they are. I suggested three books (On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas, The Other End of the Leash – by Patricia McConnell, PhD, and DOGS: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior and Evolution by Raymond and Lorna Coppinger ) that I believe provide some very fundamental information that every dog lover needs to know. Any or all would make a great holiday gift for yourself or a friend or family member. This month I’m adding to that list with these books.

Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You A Better Friend to Your Pet by John BradshawEarly on in this book Bradshaw describes why he decided to write this book: “I felt it was time that someone stood up for dogdom: not the caricature of the wolf in a dog suit, ready to dominate his unsuspecting owner at the first sign of weakness, not the trophy animal who collects rosettes and kudos for her breeder, but the real dog, the pet who just wants to be a member of the family and enjoy life.” Bradshaw’s reasons for writing this book are exactly why I love it so much because most dogs are quite simply companions and family members.

Dr. John Bradshaw is an animal behaviorist and the director of the Anthrozoology Institute at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom. If you look at recent scientific papers that have been published on dog or cat behavior, you’ll often find Bradshaw listed as one of the researchers/authors.  In Dog Sense he summarizes the latest research for dog lovers like you and me. Topics he covers include; how the dog evolved, the fallacy of the dominance construct, how the dog’s role in society is changing and how that has led to higher expectations for non-dog like behavior and how these changes might affect the dog’s future. He addresses breeding issues and how the dog fancy’s focus on appearance rather than temperament and health may threaten the existence of many breeds. He also talks about how dogs learn and how research has demonstrated the many advantages of positive reinforcement/reward based training over the antiquated training model based on force and intimidation.

If you want to get off on the right paw with your dog, reading Dog Sense would be a great place to start. Incidentally, Dr. Bradshaw also has a book for cat lovers which I also recommend highly: Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet.

FAVORITE QUOTE: The new canine science reveals that dogs are both smarter and dumber than we think they are. For example, they have an almost uncanny ability to guess what humans are about to do, because of their extreme sensitivity to our body language, but they are also trapped in the moment, incapable of projecting the consequences of their actions backward or forward in time. If owners were able to appreciate their dogs’ intelligence and emotional life for what it actually is, rather than for what they imagine it to be, then dogs would not just be better understood—they’d be better treated as well.

For the Love of A Dog – by Patricia McConnell, PhD – Yes, this is the second book I’m recommending by Dr. McConnell and it’s simply because her books are that good! For the Love of A Dog explores the emotional connection we make with our furry, four-footed canine companions. She also discusses how revolutionary it is to view animals as having a vibrant emotional life. Kudos to McConnell for being one of the few scientists with the courage to admit what almost everyone has known all along; animals experience joy and fear and everything in between. We don’t know what it is they are feeling, but it’s obvious the have a rich emotional life; in some cases very joyous and in others quite sad.

After reading For the Love of A Dog you’ll have a better understanding of the science behind emotions and why we and our dogs get along so well. McConnell has also included an excellent section on canine body language, one of my favorite subjects and one that is not emphasized enough in classes for dog owners. If you take your dog to the dog park you MUST know this stuff.

I recently had the opportunity to hear Dr. McConnell speak on People, Dogs and Psychological Trauma at the 2014 APDT Conference, a topic filled with information on emotional extremes and how similar they can be between dogs and people. I suspect another book is in the works, and I cannot wait.

FAVORITE QUOTE: “On the one hand, of course dogs have emotions. It seems so patently obvious to most of us that we feel foolish at having to say it. As much as any animal on earth, dogs express emotions as purely and clearly as a five-year-old child, and surely that’s part of why we love them so much.”

Living with Kids and Dogs…Without Losing Your Mind: A Parent’s Guide to Controlling the Chaos by Colleen Pelar –

As a dog trainer and behavior consultant I get my fair share of calls and emails from parents trying to balance the needs, wants and desires of their dog and their children. In her books title, certified professional dog trainer Colleen Pelar alludes to the chaotic nature of living with kids and dogs. Not having two-footed children of my own, I’m glad to have her back on hand to help me make recommendations that will make things better and not worse. I especially like that Pelar is honest and upfront about the fact the dogs and children do not automatically get along and sometimes a dog , any dog, is not going to be a good choice for a family.

I like this book so much, that whenever I have the opportunity to talk to a family before they get a dog, I suggest that they read Colleen’s book first. I’m a big believer in prevention and Colleen offers information that will help parents make smart choices. I also recommend Living with Kids and Dogs to parents who already have a dog, even if there are no problems. It’s all about being prepared. This is also a good book for anyone who doesn’t have dogs but has children that will most certainly be meeting dogs that belong to friends and other family members. It’s also a good choice for the grandparents and aunt and uncle who don’t have kids but do have dogs that will be interacting with children.

Why didn’t I recommend a “how to train your dog” book? There are many good “how to train your dog” books out there and also some that are quite bad. I didn’t recommend any because I believe the best training experience a pet parent can have is working with an experienced dog trainer privately or in a group class. Books can be a great reference, but they do not take the place of having a skilled professional working with you and your dog together and being available to answer questions when they occur.

______________________________________________________________________________
Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop (greenacreskennel.com) in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at http://www.wzonradio.com/ every Saturday at 9 AM. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found at www.woofmeowshow.com. Don also writes about pets at his blog: www.words-woofs-meows.com.

 

©2015, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

Service, Assistance and Therapy Dogs – What is the Difference Between a Service/Assistance Dog, an Emotional Support Dog, and a Therapy Dog?

<Updated 13AUG17>

Can any dog become a service/assistance dog, an emotional support dog, or, or a therapy dog?

As a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant and Certified Professional Dog Trainer, I am of the opinion that not all dogs will be happy or will find fulfillment serving in the role as a service/assistance dog, an emotional support dog, or a therapy dog, despite the desires of the dog’s guardian or trainer.

I am not saying it is inappropriate for dogs to help humans in these roles, but I believe that the dog’s well-being is equally important and must be considered. While the human healthcare professionals recommending or prescribing dogs for their clients understand human psychology and behavior, I am concerned if they are giving enough consideration to the dog’s welfare. So please, as you think about recommending that a dog be used in this role, reflect on the dog’s welfare. If you do not have a background in canine behavior, then work with a qualified, pet behavior consultant who can assist you and help ensure that the the dog’s needs are also met.

FMIAssessing Pets’ Welfare Using Brambell’s Five Freedomshttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2014/10/01/animal-welfare-assessing-pets-welfare-using-brambells-five-freedoms/

FMI – What Is A Pet Behavior Consultant?http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/12/12/what-is-a-pet-behavior-consultant/

Mobility Assistance Dog

The labels “service/assistance dog,” “emotional support dog,” and “therapy dog” can often be confusing and are regularly misused by professionals. This leads to even greater confusion in the general public when trying to differentiate these terms. The expectations for dogs in these roles vary greatly, as does the amount of training required and the legal rights granted to those that own these dogs. It takes a special dog to fill these roles, and not every dog has the temperament, emotional stability, or physical abilities to do so. That is why it is suggested that an individual work with a professional when selecting a breed and an individual dog. While this is important when selecting a pet, it is even more critical when choosing a dog to serve a human in a critical situation such as that of a service/assistance dog.

FMIFinding the Right Dog for You and Your Family http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2017/01/16/adopting-a-pet-finding-the-right-dog-for-you-and-your-family/

The simplest way to understand the difference between a therapy dog, service/assistance dog, or an emotional support dog is this; a therapy dog is a pet or companion animal that has been trained by their guardian to work on a volunteer basis to benefit people other than the guardian. Therapy dogs have no specific legal rights of access to public accommodations but may only go where they have been invited. In contrast, a service/assistance dog is trained, typically by professional service dog trainers for many months, to perform specific tasks to assist a person in their daily life. A service/assistance dog may be used to guide the blind, alert the deaf, provide mobility assistance, and to intervene when an individual is experiencing symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Service dogs are trained to benefit the person they are paired with and no one else. Service dogs and their person are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and in most cases, have the right to have their dog accompany them anywhere the general public is allowed. Emotional support dogs fall somewhere in between a therapy dog and a service/assistance dog. They are typically trained to bring emotional comfort to their handler but have only limited legal rights in regards to public housing and air travel.

You can learn more about each of these types of dogs below.

THERAPY DOGS

What is a therapy dog?

Therapy Dog

A therapy dog is someone’s pet that is highly trained, can be easily controlled around other dogs, is very social, enjoys interacting with all ages and types of people, and has been tested and certified through a recognized therapy dog organization. Typically the dog is certified with one handler, usually the dog’s owner, as a therapy dog/handler team. Once certified these teams, if invited, may visit hospitals, nursing homes and other places for the purpose of interacting with residents of those facilities providing they maintain their certification. Unlike a service/assistance dog, a therapy dog and their handler have no special rights of access as defined in the Americans with Disabilities Act. You can find information on the legal definition of a service/assistance dog at http://www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm.

Who registers therapy dogs?

There are several therapy dog registries. Therapy Dogs International (http://www.tdi-dog.org/ ), PetPartners, )formerly The Delta Society), (http://www.petpartners.org/ ) and Alliance for Therapy Dogs (formerly Therapy Dogs Incorporated) (https://www.therapydogs.com/) are three of the more well-known registries that credential dog/handler teams. Each registry has its own test criteria, rules, evaluators and associated fees. Typically a dog/handler team may only be registered by one registry, and evaluators usually are only certified by one registry.  The best place to get current information on each registry’s requirements is at their respective websites.

Does a therapy dog need to pass a test to be certified?

Reputable therapy dog registries will require a dog and handler team to pass a test before their being certified. This test is necessary to protect the public, the people, the facility the dog may visit, and ultimately the therapy dog/handler team. The fees paid to therapy dog registries are used in part to pay for liability insurance that protects all parties in case of an accident such as a dog bite. There are places online where you can register your therapy dog and get a certificate without requiring a test. These “registries” typically do not include any insurance should an accident occur. The reality is that if you and your dog are not certified by a reputable organization, you could be financially liable for any and all damages and could be subject to criminal charges should something go awry during a visit.

What are the test requirements to be a therapy dog?

The test criteria for most registries are usually a superset of the American Kennel Clubs (AKC) Canine Good Citizen Test. Registries typically require that the dog is at least one year of age, be current on all vaccinations, have a veterinary health certificate and be licensed by the state before they are eligible to be tested. In my experience as an evaluator for Therapy Dogs International, most dogs are not sufficiently mature enough to pass the test before 18 to 24 months of age. A dog must be able to sit, down and stay reliably when given a cue. Other basic obedience behaviors involve being able to walk with their handler on a loose leash, to come when called, and to leave things when asked to leave things. Additionally, dogs should be non-reactive to any type of person or dog and only minimally reactive to audible and visual stimuli. When your dog is at your side, they should not move towards another dog or a person unless they have been released to do so. A dog that lunges or barks at a person or another dog during a test would be considered “not ready” and may not have the temperament to become a therapy dog. A dog must also allow a stranger to examine their paws, their eyes and to brush them without excessive wiggling and without growling or biting. A dog that paws at or mouths people would also be deemed “not ready.”

How can I get my dog prepared to pass the test?

If you have a young puppy and your hope is to become a therapy dog and handler team someday, the most critical thing you can do is to appropriately socialize your puppy in a positive manner before they are 16 weeks of age. Getting them accustomed to crutches, wheelchairs, different noises and flooring is crucial. Always keep in mind, however, that even if you do everything right, this does not necessarily mean that your dog will be cut out to be a therapy dog.

FMI – Puppy Socialization and Habituationhttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/06/27/dog-behavior-puppy-socialization-and-habituation/

From a training perspective you are not required to take any classes or even to train your dog to take a therapy dog test; however, there is no question that it is very beneficial. It is rare that a dog and handler team not taking a formal training class will actually pass an evaluation.  Typically a person would complete several dog training classes before they and their dog would be ready to take the test. For example, if you are starting with a young puppy, the optimal choice would be to go through a puppy kindergarten class, followed by a basic manners class, and then upper-level classes as necessary. At Green Acres Kennel Shop we offer a level 3 class that is basically a prep class for the CGC class and therapy dog tests, People may take that class more than once until they feel they and their dog are ready.

While it is not impossible for a rescue dog to become a therapy dog, it is very unlikely that they received adequate/appropriate socialization and habituation during the critical 8 to 16 week period, so working with a reward-based, certified professional dog trainer would become even more important if you wish to achieve your goal.

FMI – How to choose a dog trainerhttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2017/01/08/how-to-choose-a-dog-trainer/

What happens if my dog does not pass the test?

If you and your dog take the test and you are not ready, you can usually take the test again. Most evaluators will suggest what you need to work on, although they do not necessarily offer advice on how to train your dog to do better. Also, if an evaluator has concerns about your dog’s basic temperament, they may suggest other activities instead of therapy work. The fact is, not all dogs are suitable for being therapy dogs; however, that does not mean they are not great dogs.

What happens after my dog passes the test?

Once a dog and handler have passed a test, they must then register with the therapy dog registry before they are considered certified. This typically involves submitting current veterinary records along with your application. One of the main benefits of registering, which is typically done annually and involves a fee, is the liability insurance that comes with the registration. If your dog were to hurt someone while working as a therapy dog, you would typically have some coverage. If your dog is not appropriately registered, you may be personally financially and legally liable for your dog’s behavior and subsequent actions. Institutions should require that you provide proof of registration and proof of insurance before allowing you and your dog to visit with people at the facility. Their failure to do so does not necessarily remove or limit your liability.

On a personal note, I always advise people that some dogs that can past the test may not enjoy doing therapy work. Your first responsibility is to your dog, not to the people you visit. If your dog does not enjoy therapy dog work or later shows signs that they no longer enjoy the work, it is time to stop.  Shed, one of our dogs, was certified with my wife, Paula, as her handler. Paula took Shed on one visit, and although she was a real sweetheart, she clearly did not enjoy meeting and interacting with strangers. Shed retired after one visit. My dog Tikken and I did therapy work for a few years, but then one day she hesitated as we were entering one of the nursing homes we visited. When Tikken showed no interest in visiting a second time I knew she was ready to retire and I allowed her to do so.

So after we are registered, how do we get started doing therapy work?

If you wish to visit healthcare facilities as a therapy dog/handler team, you should contact the facility ahead of time rather than just showing up with your dog. Typically it would be the activities director or volunteer director you will need to connect with to schedule your visits. Most facilities will need to see proof that you and your dog are certified and have insurance. They may also require that you go through their volunteer training program due to laws covering patient privacy and confidentiality.

Most registries require that you reregister and pay an annual fee to keep your certification and insurance current. Some may also require that you take the test again.

 

When is a therapy dog/handler team considered to be working?

Typically, a dog/therapy team is usually only considered to be working as a therapy team when; 1) the dog is with the certified handler, 2) they are volunteering their time, and 3) they are on a leash connected to the handler. If your spouse or partner is certified with your dog and you are not, the dog would not be considered to be a therapy dog when working with you. Most registries do not cover your dog when they are at your home or if you have your dog at your place of employment.

If you are a mental health professional and want to use a therapy dog as part of your practice, you should check with your employer and your personal insurance provider to make sure you have adequate insurance coverage.

Likewise, if your dog were to bite someone in your home, it is doubtful that you would be covered by the registries liability insurance. Lastly, if you are not holding the leash and something happens, you may not be covered by the registries insurance.

 

What if I do not have a dog but want to get one so we can become a therapy dog/handler team?

Not every dog is going to be able to pass the test to become the canine half of a therapy dog/handler team, so selecting the right dog will be very important in increasing the odds that your dog will pass. I strongly encourage you to work with a certified professional dog trainer that is familiar with the test criteria which can offer objective advice.

 

FMIFinding the Right Dog for You and Your Family http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2017/01/16/adopting-a-pet-finding-the-right-dog-for-you-and-your-family/

FMI – How to choose a dog trainerhttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2017/01/08/how-to-choose-a-dog-trainer/

 

EMOTIONAL SUPPORT DOGS

How do I get my dog certified as an Emotional Support Dog?

At this time, to the best of my knowledge, there is no legally recognized or required process or procedure for evaluating and credentialing a dog as being suitable for being an Emotional Support Animal.

Be warned that there are websites online that will charge you to obtain “certification” for an emotional support dog. These are scams to deprive you of your money.

How do I prove my dog need for an Emotional Support Dog?

If a licensed mental health professional diagnoses you with a disabling mental illness and believes that you would benefit from an Emotional Support Dog they may provide you with an EAS letter documenting your need. Emotional Support Dogs do NOT have rights to access public areas under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Emotional Support Dogs are protected under the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) and The Air Carrier Access Act.

FMI – Service Dog Central – Emotional Support Animalshttp://servicedogcentral.org/content/ESA

What is the difference between an Emotional Support Dog and a Psychiatric Service Dog?

Many people confuse Emotional Support Dogs with Psychiatric Service Dogs. Service dogs are described in detail below, but basically there are three differences.

  1. An individual must be diagnosed with a psychiatric related disability by a licensed mental health professional to qualify for a Psychiatric Service Dog.
  2. A Psychiatric Service Dog must be trained to perform a task that specifically mitigates the individual’s disability. For example, if you become disoriented and confused and wander off during a dissociative event your dog might be trained to stop you from wandering until the episode passes. If you pick at your skin because of OCD your dog may be trained to interrupt and redirect your behavior. However, teaching your dog to kiss you or jump in your lap, would not qualify them as a Psychiatric Service Dog.
  3. As a Service Dog, a Psychiatric Service Dog has rights to public access as defined by the American’s with Disabilities Act.

FMI – Service Dog Central – What is the difference between a psychiatric service dog and an emotional support animal?http://servicedogcentral.org/content/node/76

 

Can any dog be an Emotional Support Dog?

No. Dogs that are Emotional Support Dogs need to have a very stable temperament and be able to remain calm when the individual they are helping becomes emotionally distraught. In my experience, dogs like stability and this will be tough for many dogs.

 

Do Emotional Support Dogs need training?

Many of the websites that discuss Emotional Support Dogs indicate that they need little or no training. I disagree. In August of 2015, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) published their Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines. This document reports that behavior problems are the number one problem facing dogs and cats and that a primary reason for this is pet owners misunderstanding about dog and cat behavior. Everyone with a pet needs to learn more, and it has been my experience that all dogs, even the average pet, have a happier, and more fulfilled life when trained.

FMIYour Pet’s Behavioral Health Is As Important As Their Physical Well-Beinghttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/08/01/pet-health-and-wellness-your-pets-behavioral-health-is-as-important-as-their-physical-well-being/

 

 

 

SERVICE/ASSISTANCE DOGS

How do I get my dog certified as a Service or Assistance Dog?

Service Dog in Training

It is important to understand that there are not necessarily easy, simple answers to obtaining or certifying a dog as a service dog because there are legal issues involved as well as training issues. As previously mentioned, there is a great deal of confusion between the differences between therapy dogs, emotional support dogs, and service/assistance dogs. As opposed to a therapy dog or emotional support dog, a service/assistance dog does have special rights of access as defined in the Americans with Disabilities Act. You can find information on the legal definition of a service/assistance dog at http://www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm. Any specific questions you have about the legalities should be directed to a lawyer with expertise in this area.

Definitions – Service Dog

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and associated Federal regulations are the laws that allow access to public accommodations for people that require a service/assistance dog. The U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division’s definition of a Service Dog is:

Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.

This definition does not affect or limit the broader definition of “assistance animal” under the Fair Housing Act or the broader definition of “service animal” under the Air Carrier Access Act.

Some State and local laws also define service animal more broadly than the ADA does. Information about such laws can be obtained from the State attorney general’s office.

My understanding of this definition is that the owner of a service dog must have

Mobility Assistance Dog

a disability and that the dog must be trained to perform specific tasks related to the disability. It does not say anything about the dog being “certified” as being able to perform those tasks. In fact, there is no legal requirement for certifying, registering or licensing a service dog as a service dog, although there are places online that will take your money for doing so. Please understand that these are scams and that the only license your service dog may require is a municipal or state dog license; the same any pet dog may be required to have. For more information on organizations that are selling fake service dog certifications, check out this website: http://servicedogcentral.org/content/node/509.  This article, also from Service Dog Central discusses the consequences of fake and inadequately trained service dogs – http://servicedogcentral.org/content/node/595.

If you need a service dog, please make sure that you get one that is properly trained. If you do not meet the legal requirements for a service dog, please do not attempt to pass your dog off as a service dog. Doing so is not only a crime but also potentially threatens the access rights of those that truly do need a service dog.

A business or other public facility may only ask an individual with a service dog two questions: 1) is your dog a service dog and 2) what tasks has your dog been trained to perform for you. They cannot require an individual to present special ID cards for their dog or ask about the person’s disability.

Owner Responsibilities

The same U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division document outlines where service animals are allowed, as noted below.

Under the ADA, State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go. For example, in a hospital it would be inappropriate to exclude a service animal from areas such as patient rooms, clinics, cafeterias, or examination rooms. However, it may be appropriate to exclude a service animal from operating rooms or burn units where the animal’s presence may compromise a sterile environment.

The document also outlines responsibilities of the service dog’s owner.

Under the ADA, service animals must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered, unless these devices interfere with the service animal’s work or the individual’s disability prevents using these devices. In that case, the individual must maintain control of the animal through voice, signal, or other effective controls.

A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service animal from the premises unless: (1) the dog is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it or (2) the dog is not housebroken. When there is a legitimate reason to ask that a service animal be removed, staff must offer the person with the disability the opportunity to obtain goods or services without the animal’s presence.

If a business such as a hotel normally charges guests for damage that they cause, a customer with a disability may also be charged for damage caused by himself or his service animal.

Can any dog be a service dog?

The reality is very few dogs have the requisite temperament and skills to be a service dog. All service dogs need to have very stable temperaments and be able to be trained to a high degree of precision. Also, they need to be able to work on demand and under great stress for as long as necessary. Many of the service dog agencies have developed their own breeding programs to improve the odds of getting dogs that will meet their qualifications.Even with dedicated breeding programs designed to produce the optimal service dog, only about 50% of the dogs that start training can complete the program. Those that do not become service dogs become great pets, but the point is, a great pet probably does not have what it takes to be a good service dog.

The website (http://www.servicedogcentral.org/) says this about the odds of a pet becoming a service dog

 “Service dogs can come from many different backgrounds. Some are intentionally bred for service work, some are career change dogs bred for other work, some are rescues, and yes, some started out as pets.

However, the odds of any given dog having all the “right stuff” and actually completing training to become a service dog are about 1 in 100. The vast majority of pets, even lovely, well-behaved pets, aren’t going to be suited, though it is possible.”

FMI – 10 Things That Make A Dog Unsuitable for Service Workhttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/03/03/service-dogs-10-things-that-make-a-dog-unsuitable-for-service-dog-work/

What does a service dog need to be trained to do?

A service dog needs to be trained to perform the tasks related to their handler’s disability. They also need to be taught to have good manners and to be reliable in a wide variety of situations. Assistance Dogs International, an organization whose purpose is to “…improve the areas of training, placement, and utilization of assistance dogs, staff and volunteer education, as well as educating the public about assistance dogs, and advocating for the legal rights of people with disabilities partnered with assistance dogs.,” suggests that all service dog and owner teams should be able to pass a public access test (http://www.assistancedogsinternational.org/standards/public-access-test/). Many Service Dog providers use this test and require their dog/owner teams to take the test on a periodic basis. It is unfortunate that this test was not included as part of the ADA because clearly the professionals with the most experience in training service dog/owner teams believe it is essential.

Can I train my service dog myself?

While not impossible, rarely can a person train a service dog to meet their needs and perform tasks with the necessary reliability required of most service dogs. Taking into consideration the high rate of dogs whose temperaments are not suitable for service work, it is very unlikely that the household pet can become a service/assistance dog.  Individuals that need a service dog are best advised to work with one of the many service dog agencies that have years of experience in identifying the best dogs, training them, and then training you to get the most from your dog. Service dogs need to perform to a high degree of precision and reliability, far beyond what the average pet dog or competitive obedience dog requires. They typically are trained for months, by experts.

Where can I learn more about obtaining a service dog?

The website Service Dog Central (http://www.servicedogcentral.org/) contains a large amount of information on service dog laws as well as agencies that train service dogs.

Please, do what is right for the people and the dogs

Service and assistance dogs can significantly improve the life of the disabled. Emotional Support Dogs can improve the life of those who are anxious and alone. Therapy dogs and handlers teams can bring great joy to those in hospitals and nursing homes. Unfortunately, there is a growing trend for people to fraudulently present their dog as a service/assistance dog, emotional support dog, or therapy dog so that they can take their dog places where their dog would not normally be allowed. This fraudulent act makes it even harder for those that really need and depend on these dogs.

If you are an individual who can benefit from one of these dogs, please work with the appropriate professionals to ensure that you are getting what you need and are also doing what is best for the dog.

 

 

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Recommended Resources

Articles on Don’s Blog (http://www.words-woofs-meows.com)

Shared Blog Post – If a Dog Fails This Test, He Won’t Make a Good Service Doghttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2017/08/13/shared-blog-post-if-a-dog-fails-this-test-he-wont-make-a-good-service-dog/

10 Things That Make A Dog Unsuitable for Service Workhttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/03/03/service-dogs-10-things-that-make-a-dog-unsuitable-for-service-dog-work/

10 Signs That A “Service Dog” Is Actually A Fake – An article from “I Heart Dogs” that reveals ten things that are a reliable predictor of whether or not a dog is a trained service dog. Sadly, more and more people are committing fraud and claiming there dog is a service dog when in reality they are not. It takes much more than a letter from a doctor or mental health professional to make a dog a service dog. Typically a real service dog will have between 12 and 24 months of training, by professionals at a service dog organization, before the dog is every placed with the person they are meant to help. – https://iheartdogs.com/10-signs-that-a-service-dog-is-actually-a-fake/

Accepting the Pet You Havehttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2013/11/26/accepting-the-pet-you-have/

Assessing Pets’ Welfare Using Brambell’s Five Freedomshttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2014/10/01/animal-welfare-assessing-pets-welfare-using-brambells-five-freedoms/

Finding the Right Dog for You and Your Family http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2017/01/16/adopting-a-pet-finding-the-right-dog-for-you-and-your-family/

How to choose a dog trainerhttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2017/01/08/how-to-choose-a-dog-trainer/

Maine’s community of disabled asks relief from ‘comfort animals’http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/11/15/maines-community-of-disabled-asks-relief-from-comfort-animals/

Puppy Socialization and Habituationhttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/06/27/dog-behavior-puppy-socialization-and-habituation/

Your Pet’s Behavioral Health Is As Important As Their Physical Well-Beinghttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/08/01/pet-health-and-wellness-your-pets-behavioral-health-is-as-important-as-their-physical-well-being/

 

Podcasts from The Woof Meow Show (http://www.woofmeowshow.com)

 

Service & Assistance Dogs w/NEADS/Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans, part 1http://traffic.libsyn.com/woofmeowshow/WoofMeowShow-2009-10-04-ServiceDogs-part-1-wJohn_Moon-NEADS.mp3

Service & Assistance Dogs w/NEADS/Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans, part 2http://traffic.libsyn.com/woofmeowshow/WoofMeowShow-2009-10-11-ServiceDogs-part-2withJohnMoon-NEADS.mp3

 

Web Sites

Alliance for Therapy Dogs (formerly Therapy Dogs Incorporated)https://www.therapydogs.com/

Americans with Disabilities Act (Service Dog section)http://www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm

Assistance Dogs International Public Access Test – http://www.assistancedogsinternational.org/standards/public-access-test/

Michigan State University Animal Legal & Historical Center FAQs on Emotional Support Animals – https://www.animallaw.info/article/faqs-emotional-support-animals#s1

NEADS (National Education for Assistance Dog Services, also known as Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans) – http://www.neads.org/

PetPartners (formerly The Delta Society http://www.petpartners.org/

Service Dog Centralhttp://www.servicedogcentral.org/content/

Service Dog Central – Emotional Support Animalshttp://servicedogcentral.org/content/ESA

Service Dog Central On the Consequences of Fake and Undertrained Service Dogs – http://servicedogcentral.org/content/node/595

Service Dog Central – Service Dog Certification — Spotting Fake Certification/Registration/ID – http://servicedogcentral.org/content/node/509

Service Dog Central – What is the difference between a psychiatric service dog and an emotional support animal?http://servicedogcentral.org/content/node/76

Therapy Dogs Internationalhttp://www.tdi-dog.org/

US Department of Justice – ADA Requirements – Service Dogs – https://www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm

________________________________________________________________________
Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop (greenacreskennel.com) in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at http://www.wzonradio.com/ every Saturday at 9 AM. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found at www.woofmeowshow.com. Don also writes about pets at his blog: www.words-woofs-meows.com.

©26-Feb-17, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

 

Book Reviews – Do You Really Know Your Dog? – Part 1

< A version of this article was published in the November 2014 issue of Down East Dog News>

In her book, Inside of A Dog, author and researcher Alexandra Horowitz writes, “We are known by our dogs— probably far better than we know them.” Horowitz is right, and sadly dogs don’t come with a user’s manual. In my 19 years of teaching dog training classes, I have tried to teach my students about more than training; if you want to be a good companion to your dog, you need to know about your dog’s language, natural history, anatomy, emotions, and everything else that makes your dog a dog.

I believe one of the best gifts we can give to ourselves and to our dogs is a better understanding of who they are. In my columns for November and December, I’ll review the books that everyone who lives with a dog should read. It’s a perfect time to pick one up for yourself or for another dog lover in your family or circle of friends.

On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas  – This book and its author, Turid Rugaas, have influenced my understanding of dogs more than any other book or seminar. While this book is few in pages, it is rich in information depicted in great photos. This gentle, kind, woman is incredibly knowledgeable about canine behavior and ethology. She has taught many how to live in harmony with our dogs by helping us to better understand what they are trying to tell us, and in turn she has taught us a better way to express ourselves to our dogs.

Full of photographs illustrating each point, On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals focuses on how dogs use specific body language to cutoff aggression and other perceived threats. Dogs use these calming signals to tell one another, and us, when they are feeling anxious and stressed and when their intentions are benign. If you have more than one dog, or if your dog frequently plays with others, or if you are a frequent visitor to the dog park, you need to be familiar with calming signals. This book will help you learn ‘dog language’, for which you will be rewarded with a much better understanding of your pet and its behavior.

FAVORITE QUOTE: “If you want your dog to respect you, you must also respect your dog. A good relationship is based on two-way communication, and living together in a well-balanced togetherness. Leadership does not solve anything; it only creates problems, in our lives as well as in the dogs’ lives.”

The Other End of the Leash – by Patricia McConnell, PhD – Back in the early 1990’s, before I entered into the pet care business, I was fortunate to attend several dog training classes taught by Dr. Patricia McConnell. Her understanding of how dogs and humans communicate and her emphasis on rewarding good behavior made this the first class my dog Gus and I really enjoyed.

The Other End of the Leash is an information-packed, yet readable book. In it you will learn how to have an improved relationship with your dog through better communication. As a scientist who has studied both primate and canine communication systems, Dr. McConnell has a keen understanding of where the communication between humans and dogs often breaks down, creating frustration and stress for both species. For example, she explains how simple innate greeting patterns of both species can cause conflict. We know that when two people meet, the polite thing to do is to make direct eye contact and walk straight toward one another smiling. However, as Dr. McConnell notes: “The oh-so-polite primate approach is appallingly rude in canine society. You might as well urinate on a dog’s head.” Direct eye contact and a direct approach is very confrontational to a dog.

Dr. McConnell also emphasizes how dogs primarily communicate visually, while humans are a very verbal species. The picture she paints of the frustrated chimp, jumping up and down, waving their hands, and screeching repeatedly is only a slight exaggeration of the frustrated human, saying “sit, sit, sit, ahhhh please sit” while displaying countless bits of body language. Primates, including humans, “…have a tendency to repeat notes when we’re excited, to use loud noises to impress others, and to thrash around whatever is in our paw if we’re frustrated. This behavior has no small effect on our interactions with dogs, who in spite of some barks and growls, mostly communicate visually, get quiet rather than noisy to impress others, and are too busy standing on their paws to do much else with them.” With these fundamental differences, it’s amazing we can communicate with our dogs at all.

FAVORITE QUOTE: “If humans are understandably a bit slow at responding to the visual signals that our dogs are sending, we are downright dense about the signals that we generate ourselves.”

DOGS: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior and Evolution by Raymond and Lorna Coppinger – This book refutes a great number of the popular myths about the domestic dog with sound science. Dr. Coppinger is a professor at Hampshire College where he teaches evolutionary biology. He and his wife Lorna have over 40 years of experience living and working with all varieties of dogs.

The main premise of this book is that humans did not create the dog by taming and domesticating the wolf, but instead the dog self-evolved from the wolf. Tamer and less energetic wolves started hanging around human settlements for the discarded food and over time these wolves evolved into today’s village dog. Only in the last few hundred years have humans become involved in consciously, and not always responsibly, engineering the village dog into the many breeds we see today. The Coppinger’s have studied village dogs (feral dogs living in human communities) as they exist in the world today in places like Mexico City, and Pemba.

FAVORITE QUOTE: “Dogs as a species are most likely less than fifteen thousand years old, which is a barest instant of evolutionary time. Wolves as a species are maybe five million years old, and they need protection from extinction. … [There are] four hundred million dogs in the world – that is a thousand times more dogs than there are wolves. If wolves are the ancient ancestors of dogs that means dogs have achieved a biological coup, successfully outpopulating their ancestors by a lot.”

______________________________________________________________________________
Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop (greenacreskennel.com) in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at http://www.wzonradio.com/ every Saturday at 9 AM. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found at www.woofmeowshow.com. Don also writes about pets at his blog: www.words-woofs-meows.com.

©2015, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

Pet Nutrition – How Much Fat Is In Your Pet’s Food?

Overweight Cat
Overweight Cat

Pet obesity, with both cats and dogs, is a serious problem and one that dramatically affects the health and quality of our pets’ lives, as well as their longevity. Since we control what our pets eat, we can help them stay fit. One way we can do that is by paying attention to the fat content of the food they eat.

The first step in understanding the fat content of your pet’s food is to learn some basic rules of thumb; a gram of protein contains four calories whereas a gram of fat contains nine calories, over twice the number of calories for the same weight. When you look at the label of a can of cat food, and you see 10% protein and 5% fat, you logically think it has twice as much protein. However, from a caloric perspective you are getting 45 calories from fat versus 40 calories from protein. With that food, your pet would be getting over half of their calories from fat. That is simply too much fat!

Now you might think, yes but the canned food I purchase is labeled 95% meat so it must be equivalent to the 95% lean ground beef I buy for myself at the supermarket. Take another look. That can of 95% meat food may be only 6% protein and a whopping11% fat which means that 75% of the calories are coming from fat! Now who would buy that?

The following table illustrates the differences between 3 canned cat formulas. Remember, the %fat should ideally be much less than the %protein.

Weruva Green Eggs & Chicken Wellness Chicken Formula Blue Buffalo Chicken Entrée in Gravy
Protein (min) 10% Protein (min) 10% Protein (min) 9%
Fat (min) 1.6% Fat (min) 5% Fat (min) 4%
Fiber (max) 0.5% Fiber (max) 1% Fiber (max) 1.5%
Moisture (max) 85% Moisture (max) 78% Moisture (max) 82%
Ash (max) 1.2% Ash (max) 1.95% Ash (max) Not Available

 

©2015, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

Complementary Medicine – Tikken – Vaccines, Aggression & Homeopathy

This article is part of a larger article, Trends in Training – The Evolution of a Pet Care Professional, which describes my development as a professional dog trainer and our involvement with holistic veterinary medicine. You can find the entire article at: http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2008/04/19/professional-development-trends-in-training-the-evolution-of-a-pet-care-professional/

Tikken for ad 242x300In April of 2000, our Golden retriever Tikken went to her veterinarian for her annual examination and received a two-year rabies booster. At the time, Maine law required a rabies vaccination every two years even though the vaccine was labeled as effective for three years.

It was in July of 2000, when my sweet, cuddly Golden Retriever suddenly, and without warning or provocation, transformed from Tikken to Cujo, just like Dr. Jekyll turned into Mr. Hyde. One moment all of our dogs were lying calmly on the floor as my wife Paula watched television. Suddenly Tikken just exploded and within seconds she had ravaged Crystal, our Pekinese, causing the loss of Crystal’s left eye.

While we had seen a few small signs of “irritability” in Tikken over the past couple of months, the apparently unprovoked nature of this attack, and its severity, led us straight to our veterinarian for a thorough check-up, including a complete thyroid panel and behavioral assessment. Her thyroid was abnormal, but not in a manner which suggested the need for medical treatment. However, based on the advice of the veterinarian, we started Tikken on a course of Clomipramine. We also began a strict management protocol with the dogs. Unless we were present Tikken was separated from all but one of our older dogs, Shed. Tikken and Shed had bonded closely when Tikken was a puppy, she was always very respectful of Shed, and they were similar in size.

We noticed increasingly anxious behaviors by Tikken. Now she became overly excited at mealtime, and became enraptured by any shadows or moving lights. These behaviors became so obsessive that I could not even distract her with fresh meat when she got caught up in a shadow or flickering light.

Seeing no improvement in Tikken’s behavior, our veterinarian recommended a consultation with Dr. Dodman at the behavioral clinic at Tufts University. They recommended we put Tikken on a higher dose of Clomipramine, establish and maintain a dominance hierarchy, manage her environment, and institute a Nothing In Life Is Free (NILIF) program. We were already managing and doing NILIF and I had concerns about the validity of the hierarchal approach, so we were really hoping for the Clomipramine to work. What we ended up with was a dog that was so doped up that she seldom moved. She still became excited at mealtime and got caught up with shadows and light. She just moved slower. To us she seemed to have lost her will to do anything but lie around.

We were very concerned about Tikken’s quality of life, and with no changes after

Tikken under the duvet
Tikken under the duvet

six months of the higher dose of Clomipramine, we contacted Dr. Patricia McConnell, a behaviorist we had previously worked with when we were in Wisconsin, for another opinion. After reviewing Tikken’s history, Trish advised us that she had not had much success with dogs exhibiting Tikken’s issues using behavior modification, drugs or a combination of both. She did however indicate she had heard of some successes when treating with homeopathy. We immediately made an appointment with our homeopathic veterinarian, Dr. Judy Herman at the Animal Wellness Center in Augusta.

Dr. Herman diagnosed Tikken with rabies miasm. A miasm is when the body/mind/emotions of an individual manifest signs of the disease without actually having the disease. Tikken was given a homeopathic remedy at the conclusion of the consultation and within eight weeks she was weaned off Clomipramine entirely. We were soon seeing dramatic improvements in her symptoms. Tikken was treated two other times with the same homeopathic remedy over the next few months. We still managed the dogs closely, but Tikken eventually became reintegrated with the rest of the pets in the household. Homeopathy gave us our sweet, cuddly Golden back.

Working the Kong 400x671Since Dr. Herman felt that Tikken’s issues were the result of a reaction to her rabies vaccine we evaluated our vaccination protocols with all of the dogs. We have been doing titer tests in lieu of vaccinations since that time, with the exception of the rabies vaccine. Tikken did receive two subsequent rabies vaccines under the guidance of Dr. Herman, followed by treatment homeopathically. When she developed a second immune mediated disorder (pigmentary uveitis) in 2004, we decided to stop any further rabies vaccines, and she now has a medical exemption which still allows her to be licensed.

Paula and I both started to read more about vaccines and become further educated about alternatives. We made the decision to allow our clients to also do titer tests in lieu of vaccines, as long as the tests were done under the direction of a veterinarian.

Paula and I felt so strongly about the vaccine issue that in April of 2002 I wrote

Tikken and Batman at window
Tikken and Batman at window

Rethinking Annual Vaccinations for the Green Acres newsletter. In this article I disclosed that as early as 1992 veterinary textbooks were questioning annual vaccinations (Current Veterinary Therapy, volume XI, pp202-206: “A practice that was started many years ago and that lacks scientific validity or verification is annual revaccination. Almost without exception there is no immunological requirement for annual revaccination. Immunity to viruses persists for years in the life of the animal.”Dr. Ronald Schultz, Veterinary Immunologist. In this article, I suggested that minimally clients talk with their veterinarian and ask if titer tests were an option. Needless to say, several veterinarians in our service area were not too happy with me, but I still believe I did the right thing. I felt somewhat vindicated a year later when the American Animal Hospital Association published their new vaccination guidelines which started a move away from annual vaccination.

UPDATED – March 2013

We were very fortunate that Tikken overcame her rabies miasm and remained with us until she crossed the crossed the Rainbow Bridge on February 7th, 2013 at the age of 16 years and 27 days. It was several months after her treatment with homeopathy before we fully reintegrated Tikken with the rest of our pets; however, she lived the remainder of her life in complete harmony with them and even became buddies with Batman, a rescued cat that joined our family. Tikken did require ongoing treatment for her pigmentary uveitis and eventually also required treatment for hypothyroidism for the rest of her life. We are convinced that homeopathy, tittering instead of regular vaccination, and a raw diet contributed to Tikken’s long life.

Paula, Tikken, Don & Batman - 2012
Paula, Tikken, Don & Batman – 2012

©2015, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

Animal Welfare – Assessing Pets’ Welfare Using Brambell’s Five Freedoms

< Updated 3JAN18 >

(This article was first published in the Fall 2014 issue of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers Chronicle of the Dog  – [Click for a PDF of this article])

As trainers and behavior consultants, it is essential for us to consider whether or not a pet’s basic needs are being met if we are to offer our clients the best possible training and behavioral advice. This becomes even more important when facilitating the treatment of “problem behaviors,” as these often manifest when a pet’s welfare is compromised or when basic needs are not being met consistently. Brambell’s Five Freedoms are a very useful set of guidelines for assessing a pet’s welfare and developing a corresponding training, behavior modification, and management plan.

Brambell’s Five Freedoms originated in the United Kingdom as a result of Parliament creating a committee to assess the welfare of livestock raised in factory farms. In December of 1965, the Report of the Technical Committee to Enquire into the Welfare of Animals Kept Under Intensive Livestock Husbandry Systems, the Brambell Report, December 1965 (HMSO London, ISBN 0 10 850286 4) was published. The report identified what are known as the five freedoms that a farm animal should have: “to stand up, lie down, turn around, and groom themselves and stretch their limbs.” The British government then established the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Committee, which later became the Farm Animal Welfare Council, to further define these freedoms to what we know today as: Freedom from Hunger and Thirst, Freedom from Discomfort, Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease, Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour, and Freedom from Fear and Distress.1,2

While originally intended for farm animals, the freedoms can be applied to any animal that is kept by humans. During my training in the Bach Practitioner program in the U.K., we discussed how Brambell’s Five Freedoms applied to dogs, cats, cattle, horses, rabbits, hogs, ducks, and a variety of other species. It is imperative that we have adequate knowledge of a species’ husbandry requirements and natural behaviors in order to appropriately assess whether their freedoms are being restricted. Even when we do have adequate knowledge, we may find that the freedoms sometimes conflict with what are considered best practices. Likewise, they may be inconsistent with what may be necessary to protect a pet or others. Not everything is black and white, and considering the freedoms over the years has brought me many answers, but also many questions for which I have no definitive answer. I invite you to consider some of the questions that have occurred to me and contemplate how you would address them within Brambell’s Five Freedoms.

  1. Ensure the animal is free from hunger, thirst, and malnutrition.

This sounds relatively simple, right? Provide animals with food and water and the need is met, but…

  • Does the type of food matter? Cats are true carnivores and most dogs, if left to their own devices, would eat a diet with very few carbohydrates. However, the average dog and cat are fed a diet that is probably at a minimum composed of 40% carbohydrates. Both dogs and cats would usually be eating fresh food, yet most pet food is highly processed. Feeding a pet as naturally as possible is not inexpensive. Is it better to have one pet and to feed him really well, or is it better to have multiple pets for social interaction? What about pets on prescription diets? They may need it for disease purposes, but is it optimal nutrition? Which takes precedence?
  • Many pets in the U.S. are obese, clearly due to overfeeding, improper diet, and lack of exercise. How does an animal’s obesity affect its welfare?
  • Does the source of water matter? Cats often depend on getting the majority of their hydration from eating live prey, yet few cats have that opportunity in today’s world. Would they drink more and have fewer urinary issues if they had ready access to fresh meat and running water? If you don’t drink from your tap, should the animals?
  1. Ensure the animal is free from discomfort.

Originally this freedom focused on shelter, and seemed relatively straightforward: make sure animals always have adequate shelter from temperature and weather extremes. However, there is much more to comfort than hot versus cold and dry versus damp.

  • Animals need down time. Does the pet have a quiet, comfortable resting place where he can be undisturbed and where he will feel safe? Is the pet’s environment free from things that may cause harm and discomfort?
  • Many people have multiple pets. Does each pet have adequate space, or are there too many animals for the amount of space available? Do the pets get along and enjoy each other, or is there constant conflict? Are there sufficient resources for all of the animals?
  • Breed also affects what an animal needs to be comfortable. Pets with long coats often cannot groom themselves adequately, and their hair can become tangled and matted, causing them discomfort. This becomes an even bigger problem if the pet is obese and as he ages. Are your clients making sure that their pets are adequately and properly groomed?
  1. Ensure your pet is free from pain, injury, and disease.

Regular and as-needed veterinary care goes a long way toward meeting this freedom, but breeding also plays a huge role, as well as how we respond when a dog is injured or ill. Mental disease needs to be considered along with physical disease.

  • Working dogs and dogs who compete in dog sports can experience injuries that cause pain. Is just using painkillers enough, or do we need to consider removing the dog from the activity causing the pain? Physical therapy for pets is still a relatively new treatment modality. Should it be a routine part of care for a working or competitive dog?
  • Breeding has resulted in some pets who essentially have physical impairments that can affect their ability to breathe, to move, and even to give birth naturally. How much should these animals be put through in an effort to correct their conditions? How do we help our clients separate their emotions from those of their pet? How do we handle it when it is one of our own pets?
  • Many purebred pets are susceptible to one or more genetic disorders, as well as physical conformations that often cause impairments. Are breeders doing everything that should be done to eliminate these disorders and create healthier pets? When clients are considering what type of pet to get, should we steer them away from certain breeds that have physical impairments or are prone to genetic disorders? How do we educate without being judgmental?
  • Animals can experience mental disease and disorders (anxieties, phobias, dementia, etc.) just like humans. How do we reconcile that the treatments of these disorders are often not considered as important as physical disorders? Is it appropriate to breed a dog for behavioral traits that might be an asset for a dog who works or competes, but might negatively affect that dog’s ability to thrive as a companion dog? How do we best counsel clients who wish to keep their dog involved in activities that have great potential to exacerbate behavioral issues?
  1. Ensure your pet is free to express normal behaviors.

The ability to express normal behaviors is often problematic, because many normal behaviors are the behaviors that people dislike the most (e.g., cats hunting and killing birds and dogs sniffing people’s crotches, to name two).

  • Do your clients’ pets have an adequate and safe space in which to run and express normal behaviors, both indoors and outdoors? Are they provided with an opportunity to do so on a regular basis? Cats are all too often neglected here. Are they getting ample chase games?
  • Is the environment in which the animals live suitably enriched so that it stimulates their minds? Do they search for their food or is it just dropped in a bowl?
  • Do the pets have sufficient interaction with family members to establish a bond and to provide emotional enrichment?
  • Are there opportunities to interact with suitable members of their own species, if they choose to do so, in a manner that is rewarding for all parties?
  • Humans use dogs for a variety of jobs. Is it ethical to put dogs in working situations where they are not allowed to express many normal behaviors for most of their lives?
  • There are a number of breeds that humans choose to physically alter by docking their tails or cropping their ears. Tails and ears are both tools that dogs use to communicate with one another. Do physical alterations impair a dog’s ability to express normal behaviors and to communicate?
  1. Ensure your pet is free from fear and distress.

I truly believe that no psychologically healthy human would ever intentionally cause their pet fear or distress. However, a lack of knowledge — or incorrect knowledge — about animal behavior often is a cause of fear and distress in our canine and feline companions.

  • Early socialization and habituation is key to freedom from fear and distress, as is ongoing socialization and enrichment throughout a dog’s life. What can we do to make clients, breeders, shelters, rescues, and veterinarians realize the importance of socialization and habituation? What can we do to help our clients to be successful in socializing their puppies gracefully and gradually without overwhelming them?
  • Cats have an even earlier socialization period than a dog (two to five weeks). How do we make sure that breeders and shelters are aware of this and taking steps to accomplish this? Should we be discouraging clients from adopting kittens that have not been properly socialized at this age? What about the feral population? Is it just kinder to leave them be?
  • Additionally, many animals have a more fearful baseline, either due to genetics, prior history, or a combination of both, and with the best of intentions, well-meaning pet owners throw the animals into situations that involve flooding to re-socialize them. How do we decide when enough is enough? At what point does management become preferable to continued trials of desensitization and counter-conditioning?
  • Dog bites, especially of children, are a significant problem, and are often caused by a dog who is afraid or is otherwise under stress. In some cases the child is the direct cause of that fear. How do we convince the dog-owning public and the non-dog-owning public of the importance of learning basic canine body language so that many of these bites can be prevented?
  • A lack of adequate physical and mental stimulation can cause a pet to be distressed. How do we help clients understand and find the time to ensure that their pets get appropriate amounts of stimulation and exercise?
  • On the flip side, too much stimulation and exercise can also be detrimental, causing a state of chronic stress. Many dogs will not do well in a daycare setting, playing all day or going for a five-mile run every morning. How do we educate our clients and others in the industry that too much activity can be as detrimental as not enough activity? How do we help clients to find the balance for their pet between too much and not enough?
  • While both the domestic dog and domestic cat are considered to be social animals, some are more social than others. Feral dogs and cats choose which bonds to form; in most households, humans choose which pets live together. How do we get clients to understand that pets who do “okay” together may not be thriving, and may be living under stress? Is that fair to either pet? Should one be rehomed, or would that be worse? If so, how do we counsel clients about which one should stay?
  • Communication and understanding are the cornerstones of good relations. How do we get the dog-owning public to understand that learning dog body language and training their dogs with reward-based training is key to ensuring that their dogs do not live in fear and distress?
  • Stress comes in two varieties: distress (scary things, trauma) and eustress (excitement). Whether distress or eustress, what happens to the body physiologically is very similar, and being in a state of frequent eustress or distress can have negative impacts on health. How do we get people to understand that, while occasional, moderate distress and eustress is in fact essential to life (and unavoidable), high or frequent doses can be extremely detrimental? How do we help them balance and manage their pets’ lives to avoid long-term, high levels of stress? If going to the vet is causing extreme stress, yet is necessary for freedom from disease and pain, how do we respond? Which carries more weight?
  • As trainers we may choose to put our own dogs into situations where they serve as a decoy dog while we evaluate a client’s dog-aggressive dog. Even though we take great effort to prevent physical and emotional harm to our dogs, the latter is not always easy to measure at the time. Is it ethical to place our dogs in this situation?
  • Working with dogs, and observing others working with dogs, is an essential part of how we learn to become better trainers. Is it fair to bring out a dog who is experiencing fear and distress and to use him in a demonstration in front of a group? Can we come up with a better way for us to learn, without causing dogs even more distress?

There are not necessarily any straightforward answers to satisfying Brambell’s Five Freedoms for all animals in all situations. As with any treatment or training plan, all factors need to be considered and weighed. I encourage you to spend some time thinking about the freedoms and how they apply to the animals in your life, the global ethical questions they bring, and also learning how you can use them to help your clients and their pets.

 

Footnotes

1 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs-Farm Animal Welfare Committee-Five Freedoms: http://www.defra.gov.uk/fawc/about/five-freedoms/

2 “Press Statement”. Farm Animal Welfare Council. 1979-12-05: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20121010012428/http://www.fawc.org.uk/pdf/fivefreedoms1979.pdf

 

©2015, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

Adopting/Getting A Pet – Before You Adopt A Dog…

< A version of this article was published in the October 2014 issue of Down East Dog News>

Whether it is your first dog or you have had dogs your whole life, whether you have no other pets or lots of other pets, whether you live alone or live with a large family, adding a dog to your life is a big decision and requires careful thought and planning. As a pet care professional with over 19 years of experience, I have heard countless stories of what can happen when you bring a dog home on impulse. Yes, it might turnout just fine, but there have also been many times where being impulsive leads to heartache. I suspect that there is a “right dog” for most every situation, but not all dogs will be right for your situation. So before you start thinking about which breed you want, whether you’ll get a rescue or purebred, a puppy or an adult, I suggest you ask yourself the following questions.

What is the primary reason you want a dog? – Companionship is probably the most typical reason people get a dog. Other reasons might be so that you can compete in dog sports or to do therapy dog visits at nursing homes and hospitals. Perhaps you want a dog as a hunting companion or to help you on the farm. Some people will even think they want a dog to teach their children responsibility or for protection. If it’s either of these last two, I’ll try to talk you out of getting a dog for those reasons. Alternatively, you might be looking for a dog to be a service/assistance dog for yourself or a family member. In this situation your best option is to let a qualified and reputable service dog agency select and train the dog for you. Most dogs, even the ones specifically bred to be service dogs, do not have what it takes to develop into a reliable service dog. My point is that there are several reasons you might want a dog and how you answer this question will determine what breeds you should consider and those that would be out of the question, whether you want a puppy or an adult dog, and whether or not you should consider a purebred or a mutt.

Where will you be 15 years from now? – Depending on the breed and individual dog, your new canine friend will hopefully be with you for 12-15 years, perhaps longer. Your life, where you live, who lives with you, the amount of free time you have, your financial resources, your health and physical abilities, and your dog’s health can and will very likely change a great deal in 15 years. When adding a dog to a family I believe you need to plan for it being a lifetime commitment. That means you need to think ahead and be sure that the reason you want a dog today will still be the reason you want a dog several years from now. When we recently added our new dog my wife and I knew we needed a smaller dog. We both have back issues, and carrying our 16 year old Golden up and down the stairs was difficult at best and we knew we would not be able to do that 15 years from now.

What are your deal breakers? –  Even though we make a lifetime commitment to a dog sometimes things happen and it is in the best interest of you and your dog to part ways. This can be heartbreaking for all involved. One of the best ways to prevent that heartache is to spend some time before you welcome a dog into your home deciding what would be a reason you would not want or be able to keep a dog.  Some reasons that people have given for ending the relationship; the dog bites someone, you need to move into town and the dog cannot adapt, the dog kills another animal, someone in the family develops allergies, the dog urinates and defecates inside and cannot be trained, the dog has separation anxiety and you work 14 hours a day, the dog barks excessively and the neighbors are complaining, you move in with a new life partner and your dog hates their dog, etc.. The point is that unexpected things happen, sometimes beyond our control. If you can identify these deal breakers before you choose a dog, you may be able to select a pet that decreases the probability of these unfortunate situations developing.

What happens next? – After you have answered these questions for yourself, I recommend you share them with at least a few pet care professionals; a veterinarian, a dog trainer or behavior consultant, a daycare/kennel operator or a dog groomer. You want someone who can give you an objective opinion based on extensive experience with many breeds as well as individual dogs. Breeders, rescues, and shelters can provide useful input; however, remember that they are hoping you will choose one of the dogs that they have available. This is not to say that we do not all have our share of biases; for this reason talking to several people will give you a broader perspective.   At Green Acres Kennel Shop, we will gladly sit down and have this discussion with you at no charge, because we know it’s going to result in a good match.

______________________________________________________________________________
Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop (greenacreskennel.com) in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at http://www.wzonradio.com/ every Saturday at 9 AM. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found at www.woofmeowshow.com. Don also writes about pets at his blog: www.words-woofs-meows.com.

©2015, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>