Understanding Your Anxious Dog

Anxiety in dogs seems to be more and more common these days. That likely has something to do with the increased pace of our lives (meaning less exercise/interaction for your canine) and the increase in rules & confinement (often creating more mental frustration & a lack of social interaction). The world is also busier than ever meaning that dogs need to learn to acclimate to A LOT! Some dogs can do this easily, while others struggle greatly.

Luckily, there are some things you can do to help your anxious dog, and the first of those things is truly understanding them. Anxiety creates many behavior problems, so understanding where the behaviors are coming from and how to alleviate that anxiety will help your canine not only feel better but behave better too!

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Lucky Paws Board & Train dog Finnegan. Finn struggled with anxiety related behavior problems, but she is now in a much better place due to behavior modification, training, management and the help of behavioral medicine.

What is anxiety?

If you were to pull out a dictionary, it would read something like…

Anxiety: distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune OR a nervous disorder characterized by a state of excessive uneasiness and apprehension, often with compulsive behavior or panic attacks.

This means that an anxious dog suffers from an uneasy mind. They are often excessively worried about what might happen and often have reactions to things that frighten them that are not proportionate to the stimuli (similar to a panic attack). Most anxious dogs have increased sensitivity to environmental stimuli, an exaggerated startle response, hyper-vigilance, and long recovery after arousing events.

The difference between a “normal” dog and an anxious dog:

When a “normal” dog is confronted by something it doesn’t understand (hasn’t seen before, considers it may be threatening), you may see a small amount of wariness in the body language (moving slowly, lowering head, moving away slowly), but after a few moments of evaluating the situation, curiosity typically kicks in and the dog begins using his senses to investigate (assuming the thing it didn’t understand was not actually something threatening).

When an anxious dog is confronted with the same situation, there is an exaggerated startle response. The dog may physically jump back or run away, bark at the trigger and generally exaggerate the level of threat. Many anxious dogs will either take much longer to get to the point of evaluating the situation, or skip it entirely and just run away to avoid the situation. Anxious dogs generally take quite some time to fully recover from a stressful event, sometimes taking several hours (and even occasionally days) after a stressful event.

Similarly, anxious dogs are often on edge. They are hyper-vigilant, constantly scanning their environment on the lookout for something scary. The world is a continuous stream of unknowns, so when outside of their safe zone (their crate, your home etc), they are constantly scanning the horizon for the next scary thing. This makes things like walks, and field trips to the park scary events. Some dogs may decide they no longer enjoy walks or trips to the park, but many are conflicted because they enjoy being at the park or they enjoy sniffing things on the walk, so they get excited to go on the walk, even though it tends to be a fairly stressful experience for them.

Anxious dogs tend to learn at a normal level in quiet environments but really struggle to learn and comply with commands they know in busier environments, or environments with a lot of stimuli.

To an anxious dog, the world is often at least a little overwhelming (sometimes incredibly overwhelming). To an anxious dog, a quiet yard can resemble a busy amusement park but instead of everything looking fun and exciting, it’s quite overwhelming and often scary. Remember that dogs have much better hearing and smelling abilities than people, so where we may see or hear nothing, they see and hear a lot!

Helping Your Anxious Dog

Once you understand your anxious
dog and how they see the world, helping them becomes easier. We can control how we expose them to the frightening stimuli so that they can learn not only to feel more at ease in their world, but also to trust our judgement which makes them feel safer.

Use Counter Conditioning

Counter conditioning involves pairing the scary stimuli with something the dog loves (play, affection, high value food rewards etc). When you come across something that frightens your dog, begin praising your dog and even stop to feed him a few treats or play. We want him to think that great things happen when the scary thing happens. Over time, he will begin to like the scary thing because it brings great things! That means, it will no longer be a scary thing!

What to do when your dog has a strong reaction to a trigger (barking, running away etc.)

First you need to stop the reaction as quickly as possible to avoid a huge spike in stress hormones which makes it more difficult to come back down from the fear. Immediately moving the dog away from the trigger to a place where he can actually think and evaluate the situation is helpful. Once you find the location where the dog can function, try to regain the dog’s attention and use food, praise and play (counter conditioning) to get the dog in a better state of mind. Getting your dog into a better state of mind is important. We need to give your dog’s brain the ability to slow down enough to evaluate the situation instead of just immediately reacting to something he doesn’t understand.

Here are a few Dos & Don’ts for helping your anxious dog.

Refrain from harsh discipline: This doesn’t mean you never correct your dog, it only means that you control the level of the correction, especially in the presence of scary stimuli. Any time your dog is around something that makes him uncomfortable, you want to be positive. Fear and anxiety are emotions your dog doesn’t have much control over. Harsh punishment can actually increase anxiety and damage your relationship with your dog.

Change the way you console your dog: Instead of trying to soothe your dog’s anxiety by picking them up, petting them and saying “Your ok…” in a quiet manner, try to change his state of mind by making things fun. Condition him to feel happy in the presence of things that produce anxiety by pairing scary stimuli with fun. This of course needs to happen at a distance that is not too overwhelming for your dog.

Avoid the fearful stimulus when you aren’t able to work on counter conditioning: This doesn’t mean avoid it entirely. If you do, your dog will never learn to feel more comfortable when confronted by things he is fearful of. Only avoid when you are unable to work on counter conditioning. We don’t want to ingrain the fear any more than it already is.

Take the time to learn your dog’s body language: Being able to read your dog and recognize anxiety quickly is a very important part of the rehabilitation process.

Be a good leader your dog can trust: Take the time to counter condition your dog. Teach him that he can trust you to evaluate the situation and get him to a place where he can feel comfortable every time. When he learns to trust you, he will have more confidence to try
situations he may have otherwise not been comfortable with because he trusts you are there to help him through it.

Check your behavior and emotions: Dogs are very good at picking up on human emotions and can sense any stress or anxiety you may be feeling. Not surprisingly, many anxious dogs have anxious owners. Tackling your own stress and anxiety and being confident for your dog makes a world of difference. Anxious dogs are more likely to be able to feel comfortable in their world if they are confident that if anything does come up that is scary, you will handle it. You need to teach your dog they can trust you by immediately taking action when something frightens them, first getting them feeling safe, then following that by helping them adapt and learn about the thing that made them fearful. Soon they will begin to want to investigate things they don’t understand instead of feeling fear and anxiety.

Provide your dog with a routine life: Anxious dogs function best with a routine. They like to know as much as possible what is going to happen next.

Provide lots of physical and mental exercise: Physical and mental exercise boost serotonin levels naturally. Serotonin is a feel good chemical that is depleted when stressful events happen. The less serotonin there is in your dog’s system, the weaker his ability to cope with stress.

Teach your dog that paying attention to you is great: If you have your dog’s attention, they are more likely to be able to listen to commands in stressful environments. Keeping their attention is the key to success. This means that anxious dogs often rely on rewards in stimuli rich environments for much longer than your average dog.

Additional Helpful Tools:

Natural Calming Remedies: Pet stores sell many herbal supplements for anxiety. This is a great place to start before resorting to prescription medication (which can be a great option for some dogs). Be sure to consult your vet before choosing a remedy, especially if your dog is on any medication.

Comfort Zone Plug-In: This releases something that mimics a mother’s natural pheromones which helps to relax your dog. This can be great in conjunction with other calming remedies.

Pheromone Collar: Similar to the plug-in, this is a collar that helps relax your dog. This is great for dogs who are anxious outside of the house.

Thundershirt: Anxiety wraps use pressure to calm your dog.


Need Training Help?

Need some help with teaching your dog to cope better with their anxiety? We can help! Give us a call (612-388-9656) or send us an email (heather@luckypawsmn.com) anytime!

www.LuckyPawsMN.com


 

Successful Holiday Gatherings with Dogs

Are you hosting a get together this holiday season? Make it the best one
yet with Lucky Paws top tips for having a wildly successful holiday gathering with your dog behaving like a gentleman (or lady).

A tired dog is a good dog

I know it may feel like you couchdogdon’t have time to exercise your dog before your guests arrive, but you will be happy you took the time to do so when you see how much it improves your dogs behavior. In the days leading up to your event, be sure your dog is getting LOTS of exercise. Trips to daycare or the dog park, lots of fetch games or play with a tail teaser. The day of the big event, exercise your dog that morning, then give him mental activities to do throughout the day such as puzzle toys or search games. Additionally, right before or right as the guests are arriving, set up a big search game so your dog is rooting around the house for treats you’ve hidden (ideally in areas that won’t interfere with guests).

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Make the crate great!

When hosting a officegathering, sometimes keeping an eye on your dog is difficult to say the least. When your not watching he may be stealing grandmas ham! When you are busy, keep your dog happy in his crate.

Everyday between now and the big day, at least 3 times per day put something SUPER yummy in your dogs crate, but don’t put your dog in. What?! Yes, I said don’t put your dog in. Instead let him sniff and paw at the crate trying to get in for several minutes before finally letting him in and allowing him to have the yummy item. Close him in the crate to eat it, then let him out before he is done with the yummy item. At this point pick up the yummy item and do the same thing with it again later. If your dog guards the yummy item, let him finish it in his crate before letting him out.

When the big day rolls around, your dog won’t mind spending time in the crate with a stuffed bone or kong. To help your dog feel even more content in the crate, make sure the crate is in a familiar location where your dog is used to being crated, and ideally in a room far enough from the hustle and bustle to allow your dog to settle. Turning on a radio, tv or fan can help drown out some of the noise he hears.

When you have some time to be able to focus on your dog’s behavior with your guests, you can go ahead and bring him out. This is a great time to work on any behaviors you’ve been wanting to address with guests present. If needed, put a leash on your dog (especially puppies) to help them be more successful!

Brush up on TrainingIMAG1281 - Copy

Take some time to remind your dog of the great skills he already knows! Leave It, Greeting Skills (not jumping up), Out (of the kitchen or other room), boundary training at the front door, and no counter surfing rules are all important when food & guests are around.

At the Door Greetings

If you haven’t had much time to work on your dog greeting behavior at the door, a few simple tips can go a long way.

  • When greeting a guest at the door, have your dog leashed and have several high value treats in your hand (think cheese or hot dogs) to help keep your dogs attention, and reward him for good behavior.
  • You can also stand on your dogs leash, giving him just enough room to stand comfortably. This will prevent him from jumping on your guests.

Do you have a reactive, fearful or anxious dog?

Sometimes holiday gatherings can be a real drag for dogs who struggle with fear, anxiety, and aggression. In these cases, if you don’t have a quiet place in your home your dog can feel at ease (such as a crate or bedroom with a kong or bone), sometimes it is better to have your dog sitter watch your dog, or even crate your dog at a friend, family members or neighbors house where things are quiet and where your dog already feels at ease.

Alternatively, if you are in the process of modifying your dogs fear or reactivity toward people, this could be a good opportunity to do some behavior modification, but consult with your trainer before doing so to help make sure it is a successful training experience.

Need Training Help?

Need some help with some manners training, or maybe you aren’t sure how to handle your fearful, reactive or anxious dogs when you have guests. We can help! Give us a call (612-388-9656) or send us an email (heather@luckypawsmn.com) anytime!

http://www.luckypawsmn.com

 

Winter Grooming: Important Tips

Many people decide to let their dog’s fur grow long in the colder months, and opt to not give baths because it is cold outside. But, imagine if you stopped showering and getting haircuts for the four, sometimes five months of our Minnesota winter. You probably wouldn’t feel too great, and your dog probably won’t either!

Dogs of all fur types still need a certain amount of grooming all winter. Wet fur SSPX5395from playing in the snow causes a greater risk of mats and walks in the dirty snow along streets and sometimes mud when the snow melts, will build up dirt in your dog’s coat. Regular brushing year-round helps to remove dead hair and skin, distribute natural oils that keep your dog’s coat healthy, and also acts as an opportunity to check over your dog for bumps, cuts, mats, fleas, and anything else that may cause a concern about your dog’s health. Regular baths year-round are also recommended to keep your dog’s coat in tip top shape, you just need to be sure your dog is completely dry before going outside. Simply let your dog out to potty right before a bath to avoid any conflicts of a wet dog that needs to pee. If your dog is otherwise clean, but is getting a little smelly, a good option to avoid a wet dog is to use a dry shampoo.

Dogs that normally get their hair cut every 6 weeks or so during the warm months like poodles and many breeds of terriers should still be properly groomed in the winter. You may choose to keep your dog’s coat longer to keep him warmer, but regular grooming is even more necessary with a long coat, so even if you skip the cut, you should still bring your dog in for a bath, brush and blow dry, or you may end up with a badly matted and uncomfortable dog come spring, and you may need to fully shave your adorably fluffy dog!

In addition to taking care of your dog’s coat, pay attention to their feet. To keep your dog’s pads from cracking in the cold weather, dry them off every time they come inside, and moisturize them regularly with a paw protection wax. Dog’s nails also need to be trimmed more often due to being inside more and not having as many opportunities to wear down their nails. Clipping the long hairs between your dog’s toes can help prevent matting, and also prevents ice balls from forming. Taking the extra time to groom your dog during the busy holiday season may feel like a burden. To make it feel less time-consuming, schedule a 5 minute grooming session at each meal, rather than taking a half-hour or hour each week. Avoiding cracked paws and matted coats—or worse, a shaved dog in the middle of winter—is worth the effort.

Written By: Jessi Weaver

Holiday Safety & Training Tips

Food and family are the best things about the upcoming holidays. Since our dogs are members of our family too, many will likely be included in these festivities, but the truth is an ill or ill-mannered dog can quickly turn a wonderful holiday into a stressful situation. If you don’t want your dog jumping all over your guests, or getting sick from consuming things they shouldn’t eat around the holidays, read on!

Good Eats!IMAG1938

It can be tempting to want to treat the furry, tail-wagging members of your family to some of your delicious concoctions. Before giving them goodies, it’s important that you know about some very toxic foods that could cause immense pain, neurological issues, and even death if enough of these foods are consumed by your dog.

Many people know that chocolate, raisins and alcohol are dangerous for dogs. But don’t forget about the onions and garlic that you may use to season your meal. Other potentially dangerous spices and foods include, sage, nutmeg, cinnamon, macadamia nuts and walnuts. Over consumption of sugar from cakes, puddings, pies, and even cranberry sauce can cause pancreatitis. Even the turkey skin can be dangerous due to the high fat content (which can also cause pancreatitis). Also, cooked bones are much more likely to splinter than uncooked bones, and can not only cause stomach upset, but can also get stuck in your dog’s throat or digestive tract which can be very dangerous.

While all this may make us sound like party-poopers, there are some healthy snacks that you can give your dog as a special Thanksgiving treat. Raw or cooked carrots and green beans are healthy and low calorie treats.  Also, fresh or canned pumpkin is proven to help dog’s digestion. You can even treat your dog to a small amount turkey if it is skin-less and not heavily seasoned. Keep in mind that some dogs’ digestive systems are more sensitive than others, so even healthy treats can sometimes cause stomach upset.

Holiday Training Tips

Food isn’t the only thing to think about if you are hosting or attending a big family get together over the holidays with your dog. Common behavior problems that might put a damper on your dinner are jumping on or mouthing guests, counter surfing, and begging at the table.

Jumping and mouthing are attention seeking behaviors. This means that the best way to train your dog to not jump and mouth is to completely remove any possibility of attention by walking away and completely ignoring your dog.  Your dog behavior may get worse before it gets better (this is called an extinction burst), but dogs only do what works, and so over time, your dog will figure out that jumping and barking no longer work as a means of getting attention. Once your dog has learned to not jump on you, invite guests over to help with a training session so your dog can learn that the no-jumping rule applies to everyone, not just you. If your guests are unwilling or unable to ignore your dog’s attention seeking behaviors, it is important that you immediately remove your dog from the greeting to reinforce that jumping and mouthing never gets them attention. It also helps to reward calm behavior by giving treats and attention anytime you see your dog greeting with four paws on the floor, politely asking for attention by sitting and waiting in front of you, or laying down in the presence of guests.

Keeping food out on the counter or table can often prove to be too tempting for your otherwise polite pooch. To prevent counter surfing and begging, you can teach your dog to stay out of your kitchen and dining area, or even a “Place” or “Go Lay Down” command. It is equally as important to avoid feeding your dog from the counter or table, and instead feed any goodies in their dog bowl. If you catch your dog counter surfing or begging, immediately remove them from the area and encourage them to instead go to their “Place” or “Go Lay Down.”

Just imagine your dog showing your family what a polite and calm dog they can be. You CAN enjoy the holidays with your dog if you take the time to teach them the important skills needed to be that polite pooch!

Happy Holidays from all of us at Lucky Paws! 

Written By: Jessi Weaver

Preventing Resource Guarding

No one ever wants to think their sweet puppy may someday growl or snarl when you try to take away his bone or walk past his food bowl, but this is actually a pretty common occurrence.

Does your puppy…

  • Eat REALLY fast!brown-labrador-12
  • Become very still when you approach his food or bone
  • Play keep away with his possessions

Did you know that these can all be subtle signs of resource guarding? Guarding dogs tend to eat quickly to prevent the need to guard. They also appear to freeze when approached, maybe even look at you out of the corner of their eye in this position and sometimes they just quickly run away when you approach. These can all be warning signs that more severe guarding may begin over the next few months with your puppy. It’s important to take action now to prevent this from getting any worse. Here are a few steps you can take to be sure your puppy is happy to have you around his prize possessions.

Practice Trading Your Puppy

Always practice trades for valuable objects. If you are just constantly taking things away, your pup won’t think you are very much fun to play with. Play fetch with two balls, as your puppy drops the first you can throw the second. When your puppy has a bone, you may need to provide a highly tempting treat such as hot dog or cheese to convince him to give up the bone. After bone time is over, consider doing something else with your dog so the fun doesn’t just suddenly come to an end.

Create a Positive Association

Walk by your dog while they are eating or chewing a bone and simply toss them a few treats while they are eating. You may also drop a spoonful of wet food into their bowl. This will make them see your approach as a very positive thing.

Ask for Help

If you see any type of behavioral issue developing in your puppy, don’t wait months or years to address it! Behaviors can be changed much more easily when your dog hasn’t practiced them for a long period of time and gotten good at them. If your dog is already freezing, growling or snarling, it may be time to consult a trainer for help. You should also look for help if your dog is guarding from other dogs as this is a more complex behavior. Contact us and we can help you solve these issues and keep your family safe.

Crate Training: Why and How you Should Do It

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Board & Train dogs Nugget and Rosie relaxing calmly in their crates here at Lucky Paws.

Crate training your dog, even if your dog doesn’t NEED a crate, is a great idea. Here are my top 3 reasons to crate train your dog!

#1: The number one reason I recommend crate training your dog is for safety reasons. Traveling in a crate is the safest way you can transport your pet in the car, the crate keeps them out of potentially dangerous things they may find or destroy in your home.

#2: It will help to minimize stress when your dog needs to visit the vet or groomer for the day and spend time crated. It also helps with housetraining.

#3: The third reason I recommend it is that if training is done properly, your dog will LOVE it’s crate! It will be a safe, comfortable and fun place to be. Not only that, but it will make traveling with your pup much easier as well!

Choosing a Crate

For puppies, wire crates with dividers are a great idea. This gives you the ability to buy a large crate and make it much smaller for your young puppy. Puppies should only be given enough room to stand up and turn around comfortably. This will prevent them from pottying in their crate. You may choose to put bedding in the crate, however some dogs will destroy bedding so proceed with caution.

Weekend Crate Training Plan:

Preparation: Prepare lots of high value treats (cut up into pea size pieces or smaller for smaller dogs), make up a few stuffed kongs and freeze them and/or a few treat dispensing toys or bones. The higher value of the treat (chicken, cheese, hot dogs, freeze dried liver) the faster your dog will learn.

SATURDAY:

Step 1: Show your dog the yummy treat and toss it into the back of the crate while saying your command “go to your crate.” You may certainly use a different
command if you choose. When your dog goes in to get the treat, give it another treat while they are still in the crate, then say “Ok.” releasing the dog to come out of the crate. Do not reward for coming out of the crate. Good things should happen only while they are in the crate. Repeat 10 times, then take a few minutes for a break. Come back and do another 10 repetitions.

Step 2: A little while later, grab those high value treats again and walk over to the crate. Ask your dog to enter the crate without first tossing a treat in (you may need to warm up with step 1 a few times prior to starting this). When your dog enters the crate without tossing a treat in, praise and feed several treats while your dog stays in the treat. Say “Ok” to release them. Repeat 10 times, break for a few minutes, and repeat another 10 times. If your dog is nervous or cautious, go back to step 1 for a little while. Once your dog is rushing in doing step 1, you can move to step 2.

Step 3: Later that day, you will begin working on closing the door. Warm up with a few repetitions from step 2. Send your dog into the crate as in step 2 and gently close the door. Feed several treats through the door, then release “Ok” and open the door. Repeat 10 times, break, then move on to step 4.

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My dogs Ryder & Apollo resting in their crates (Sage in the dog bed).

Step 4: We will now begin slowly increasing duration. Follow directions in step 3 while beginning to increase the amount of time the door is closed. Randomize how long you leave the door shut. Ex. 3 seconds, 10 seconds, 7 seconds, 15 seconds. Do 1015 repetitions rewarding generously while your dog is in the crate, then break for at least 30 minutes. Practice throughout the evening working up to leaving your dog in the crate for 1 minute and begin adding distance from your dog as well. You can walk away and return to your dog to treat every few seconds, varying how often you return.

SUNDAY:

Step 1: Send your dog into their crate and give them a special bone or stuffed Kong hat will last them a while. Now occupy yourself with TV or a book in the same room. Leave your dog in the crate for 30 minutes. If they finish they special treat, periodically toss them treats as long as they remain quiet. After 30 minutes, say “Ok” and release your dog. Take away their special bone/chew, and do not give them treats or excited praise. The fun only happens in the crate.

Step 2: Exercise your dog, then repeat step 1, but instead leave the dog in a different room in the crate for 10 minutes. Take a break & repeat.

Step 3: Repeat step 2, but actually leave the house for 10 minutes. Take a break and repeat several times over the evening, gradually increasing the amount of time you are gone up to an hour or two. Continue to increase the amount of time your dog is in the crate. A general rule is 1 hour per month of age, so a 3 month old puppy would last 3 hours.

Additional Training Tips

  • If at any time your dog seems stressed, slow down and go back to the previous step for a bit to build confidence.
  • Older dogs, rescue dogs, and some puppies will need you to really take your time.
  • Feed your dog in their crate
  • When your dog is not looking, put something tasty in the treat for them to find the surprise later (can also lock the dog out with the treat inside).
  • If your dog complains (whining or barking) simply ignore them. Reward when quiet for 5-10 seconds.
  • Youtube: “Zelda Crate Games”

Is your dog NOT food motivated?

Are there times when you feel that your dog isn’t really food motivated? Having a dog that is motivated by food is very helpful in the beginning stages of training new behaviors. Sure, we can use other reinforcers as well, but food is very simple and easy to use in most training scenarios, where using something like play as a reinforcer can at times be a bit more challenging (such as during leash walking). Rather than just accept that your dog “isn’t really food motivated,” why not take some simple steps to change that?

Some dogs are naturaBe a Great Leader!lly more motivated by food than others. While it may have something to do with their personality in some cases, it is more often the result of the way you feed your dog and how much you feed. It can also have a lot to do with your dogs health and exposure to different types of food (puppies often take a little while to warm up to new foods similar to children – older dogs who haven’t been exposed to many types of foods will do the same).

If any of the things listed below are true for you, then you should consider adjusting the way you feed your dog.

  • My dog is not very interested in his/her treats when in class, outside or in other distracting environments.
  • My dog just seems to be uninterested in training, or lacking motivation in general.
  • My dog doesn’t eat right away when I put his/her food down or sometimes skips meals.
  • I need to add things to my dogs kibble just to get him/her to eat anything.
  • I want a dog who is HIGHLY motivated to work for me.

First of all, it is NOT natural for a healthy dog to not be motivated by food (unless of course they are full). Food sustains life, so refusing food means that they are either being given too much, or they are holding out for only the good stuff. Certainly dogs have their own taste, but they should be willing to eat just about any dog treat or kibble you offer them, maybe with just a few exceptions. Before making changes to the way you feed your dog, it is important to consider your dog’s health & nutrition.

Consider Your Dog’s Health & Nutrition

Before we go on to talk about how to address your dogs lack of food motivation, it is important to consider your dogs health. Digestive issues can often disrupt food motivation (and affect your dogs overall behavior). If your dog has occasional or regularly loose stools or occasional vomiting episodes, it may be time to take a good look at your dogs diet & overall health. Even high quality foods may just not be the right fit for your dogs system, and trying a food with a different protein source may produce better results. If you are consistently struggling with these issues despite the type of food you put your dog on, it may be time to see a vet specializing in nutrition (not just your regular vet) or consider switching to a raw food diet. A prescription diet from your may firm up your dogs stools, but be sure your dog actually seems to feel better too (and that they are increasingly motivated by food). Prescription diets also often contain less than desirable ingredients. Other health ailments such as parasites can cause loose stools and vomiting as well, so it’s important to be sure your dog is in good health.

I’d like to share with you a personal story about my own dog which illustrates how health impacts food motivation. I’ve included the story below after the Increasing Food Motivation Steps so you can see how some simple changes can make a big difference.

Increasing Food Motivation Steps

Once you have determined that your dog is healthy and on a proper diet, begin following the steps outlined below to increase your dogs food motivation.

·       If you are free feeding (leaving food out all day to eat as they please), STOP. Food is a very valuable training tool, and by giving your dog free access to it, they find no need to work for it. Really, why wouldn’t they blow you off when you ask for a sit if they can just eat later when they are actually hungry?

·       Meals should be given 2-3x a day and left down for 10 minutes ONLY! Whatever is not eaten after 10 minutes gets picked up and put back in the food bin (not added to the next meal). You will continue this routine until your dog is regularly eating at each meal. Depending on your dog, that might be after a day or two or a few weeks. Don’t worry, your dog will eat when they are hungry!

·       Having your dog sit & wait for his/her meals can also help to increase food motivation. Working for it really does make them appreciate it more! They may not be willing to offer this behavior initially when the food doesn’t hold much value, but as the value increases, your dogs motivation to work for you will too!

·       On days you do training with your dog, be sure to adjust the amount of food they eat according to how many treats were given (less kibble because of more treats).

It is important to keep in mind, for dogs who have been on their own eating schedule for quite some time, it may take some tough love to get them back to being hungry for meal times again. Be patient, they will eat when they are hungry (assuming they are healthy)! If you are finding that your dog is fasting for more than 2 days, it is time to go see your vet (and probably a nutritionist too).

Feeding “People Food”

Contrary to popular belief, feeding your dog people food will not automatically make him a beggar, nor is it generally bad for your dog (depending on what you are feeding, it may actually be IMG_9972very good for your dog). Giving your dog an occasional tasty “people food” treat is not a problem, but just like cupcakes and candy, the special stuff should be saved for special occasions, or in our case, for training. Pieces of chicken, cheese and even peanut butter can prove to be very motivating treats for training.

So does this mean you can’t feed your dog “people food” except during training? Well, that would be our recommendation (the dog should work for the things they value most), but the occasional leftover snack given to your dog in their food bowl after they have eaten their regular meal won’t do any harm (to avoid begging, never feed these foods from the counter, table, or your plate). The key is to make sure your dog is willing to eat their regular meal (and is excited to do so) before giving them special treats. Mixing things in with your dogs regular meal will create a dog who will only want to eat his meal if the special stuff has been added. Instead, consider the special food your dogs dessert after they clean their plate.

HELPFUL HINTS

  • DO NOT feed your dog other items during this process just because you think they are hungry. They WILL eat when they are actually hungry.
  • If after a week or two your dog is still just picking at it’s kibble, try a different kibble with a different protein source (ex. Switch from Chicken to Fish) or consider switching to a raw diet.
  • If your dog becomes more excited to eat it’s meals, but is still leaving some kibble after 10 minutes, you are feeding too much. Feed that much less at each meal and monitor your dogs weight. Your vet can tell you what your dogs ideal weight should be. Typically you should be able to see the first rib or two and your dog should have an obviously tucked tummy & visible “waist.”
  • Stop adding things to your dogs food to get him to eat more.
  • Keep in mind, that a decreased appetite can mean that something is wrong with your dog. It could be as simple as an ear infection or uti or something more complicated. Watch for changes in your dog’s eating routine. Those changes are so much easier to spot if they are typically excited for their meals and eating it up immediately.

To illustrate the importance of proper health & nutrition, here is the story about my own dog Apollo.

When I first got Apollo, he was nearly two Apolloyears old, very scrawny (most if not all ribs showing) and didn’t seem very food motivated. There were times when he wouldn’t eat his food, but would guard it ferociously from the other dogs (even though he didn’t seem to want it). When attempting to train him using food, he appeared to get bored quickly and go find something else to do, so I started trying all different types of treats (including “people food”), and after trying well over 30 things, I found just a few that he was actually excited to eat. Now I had always told my clients that it wasn’t natural for a dog to not be food motivated. Food sustains life, so if they aren’t motivated by food in general, (not just one type of food (their kibble for example) – each dog has their preferences just like us), it’s either because of how or how much we feed them or maybe they are struggling with an underlying health issue. In Apollos case, there were a couple things going on. He grew up on the cheapest of cheap “Puppy Chow,” which the first three ingredients are whole grain corn, corn gluten meal, chicken by-product meal. If you know anything about canine nutrition, you know that those ingredients don’t really cut it (see dogfoodadvisor.com to learn more & see how your dogs food rates). His previous owner told me he kept him on Puppy Chow instead of Dog Chow (adult version – no better) because he struggled to keep weight on (struggling to keep weight on is also not natural).

puppychow

So what was my first step? We went to the vet of course, and sure enough, Apollo had a parasite. We treated the parasite and put Apollo on a healthier kibble and quickly saw an increase in food motivation (still not highly food motivated – but much better). But Apollo still had somewhat loose stools on a regular basis. Over his first year or so with us, we tried several different types of kibble, but none of them really made the stools better and even though he had put some weight on, he was still scrawny (not muscular like a rottie should be). After two bouts of pancreatitis, we IMG_0005decided to switch him to a raw diet (our other two dogs had already been switched to raw for other health reasons – allergies & excessive urination/water consumption) and we haven’t seen a loose stool since (excessive urination & water consumption also ceased and allergies greatly improved – I’ll be blogging more about raw food in the future)! I’m happy to say he is now a solid, muscular dog as he should be and boy can you tell he feels better! He now eats literally anything I give him, even things my other dogs won’t. So, it turns out in Apollo’s case an underlying health problem requiring proper nutrition was present along with the parasite.