Last night, I was talking to a client and we were talking about a dog she was having a problem with, in her pack. As I know the dog quite well (he stayed at the Ranch for a short time before she adopted him) I was doing a phone consult for her, and went through the whole gamut of questions, from environmental to exercise, family dynamic etc.
When we got on to the subject of diet, she told me that her dogs, all seven of them, were vegetarian….
No way could all seven of them be fed vegetarian food because of health issues, could they?
It turns out that she and her husband have been vegetarians for years and have always fed their dogs this way, because they hate the slaughter of animals.
In all honesty, that argument is lovely for a dog rescuer, as we should all be against the needless slaughter of animals, however for a Dog Mum, probably a little convoluted in my view…..
The dogs eat Tofu, Soy, and vegetables every day and apparently really like their food. (Mmmmm, I just bet they are turning up their nose at breast of chicken and sirloin every day in the hope that they might get a heaped serving of tofu instead)
I have heard lots of the arguments for dogs becoming vegetarians over the years.. the toxic substances in todays processed dog foods, the cruelty of slaughtering animals for food, polluting the planet with carcasses, the fact that dogs and cats are our pets and thus should eat as we do if we are vegetarians…the list goes on and on. And yet, lets look at the heart of the matter. Should dogs and cats be vegetarian?
Firstly (and quickly as I’m not a fan of cats), cats are what is known as OBLIGATE carnivores. This means that they don’t have a choice in the matter, they have to eat meat to nourish their body adequately and survive. It’s as simple as that.
Dogs, while not obligate carnivores, are still carnivores and not vegetarians. Their teeth are designed for ripping of flesh, and are not flat like ours, a sign that they are designed for te grinding of grains.
The dogs digestion starts in his stomach and not his mouth….every part of his digestive system, every enzyme in his stomach, is geared towards the breakdown of meat and raw foods.
This is one of the very reasons that I counsel so many of my clients to please feed their dogs fresh meat, veggies and/or appropriate table scraps instead of packaged dog food where they are able to; not only is it less processed but its also what they need.
We humans have plenty of available choices in our lives; we can choose to eat ice cream all day every day, or to drink sugar laden soda every day, knowing that it puts us at risk of diabetes, getting fat or worse. We can gorge on steak every day if we want to, knowing that it will probably still be there in our colon for the next squillion years. Those are choices we make, because we can.
Feeding a dog inappropriate food because of our own moral take on a situation is just not fair to the dog.
I know I will possibly have a thousand carrot and tofu wielding dissenters campaigning for my immediate demise, however, I have to say it…go buy Fido a steak, please!
Kate Cochran Littleton, DD family member from Cocoa Beach Florida and friend of the great Max Roberts, Pom extraordinaire, asked us this week if we had any tips for easing arthritis pain for her little Pomeranian ‘Fluff’.
Firstly, Kate, as you know I am not a veterinarian, and so the first thing I would say to you is there is no substitute really for a great veterinarian when dealing with arthritis. It’s an inflammatory condition that with careful handling and the right long term care can be helped greatly, but you need to have a veterinarian that is willing to think outside of the box and realise that there are other solutions besides Rimadyl.
I use three different vets; each of them has proved to be incredibly good at certain things for us over the years and so we tend to use each of those vets for those particular strengths and sometimes because of reasons of sheer geography alone.
Here in Georgia, we are extremely fortunate to have a fantastic veterinary hospital who have over the years enabled many of my clients to move freely and live without pain again. I send many clients to Gwinnett Animal Hospital ( http://www.gwinnettanimalhospital.com ) for arthritis because they are truly holistic vets who look at the dog’s environment, diet, structure and general health. Then, armed with that knowledge, they then advise on a treatment plan and pain management.
I can’t even begin to tell you how valuable this is, because when dealing with arthritis, there are very often secondary problems caused by the bodys’ response to the pain…these could be behavioral or structural, as, just like humans, dogs tend to deal with the pain of arthritis in very different ways. They could become fearful of being approached, as happened with my old boy Levi recently, or they could be very snappy and irritated, or they could overcompensate in other areas of their body as a way of taking the pressure off the inflamed area, leading to overuse of those joints/limbs and starting up a whole different bunch of problems. The body, every body, is designed perfectly to balance; each part of it to handle certain types of stress in certain amounts. Throwing too much use onto one part of the body as a means of alleviating pain and removing stress on another can cause havoc.
In answering your question today Kate, I’m going to recount a recent case that illustrates this very well.
Kenton Doodle is a 6 year old pitt/chow/lab mix with arthritis in his neck and shoulders, hip dysplasia and arthritis in his back end.
When he came to stay at the Ranch last time, we noticed some irritation around other dogs when they got too close and a preference for sitting out some of the exercise sessions, staying put on the couch..a far cry from Kenton’s normal behaviour.
When mum and dad came to collect him, we advised them to go straight to Gwinnett Animal Hospital in Snellville where his team took a really good look at him for several hours, watched him walk over many different surfaces to study his gait and pain triggers as he moved, and then after some immediate treatment, advised on some strategies to relieve his pain and make life easier.
Firstly, Kenton goes for regular sessions of cold laser therapy with Andrea Haupt, the hospital’s resident Tellington Touch massage therapist, known as ‘Magic Mitts’ here at the Ranch.
Using a combination of her massage skills and the cold laser therapy combined, Andrea is able to reduce Kenton’s pain dramatically while relaxing him. Massage helps to relieve the pain not just of the immediate affected area but also of other areas in his body where undue stress is being applied as Kenton over compensates. The cold laser therapy not only reduces inflammation, thus relieving the pain, but also is miraculous at healing sick live cells increasing the general wellness of the animal. It’s non invasive, but really acts like acupuncture does…the dog feels no pain, in fact, when my dog Nelson had this treatment, he fell asleep as it was being done!
Dr Connoly who specialises in chiropractic medicine and acupuncture has performed some realignment on Kenton, as he was slightly askew.
I have a rotator cuff injury that I have been awaiting surgery on for the last year; I can’t even begin to tell you how much stress this injury has put on to my opposite shoulder as it has to carry the brunt of every part of my daily life. Anyone who has a back problem will know that you will get headaches from it, or leg pains….they seem to be unconnected but of course, they are integrally linked and affect each other greatly. Pain travels…….
Kenton’s mum Vikki, has been advised to give Kenton a fresh healthy diet as he needs the power of vitamins, particularly Vitamin C to help fight the inflammation in his body. Vitamin C is a powerhouse in the fight against inflammatory conditions; I myself use it for my arthritis every day. Here at the Ranch, me and Uncle Pete start just about every day with a shake made from wild dark cherries, orange juice, yogurt, apples and bananas. Cherries are little Vitamin C gold mines and I urge you to check them out…awesome stuff!
He has been advised to do some work at the veterinary rehab center nearby where they have a warm water treadmill, specifically designed for cases like this.
He has been advised to take glucosamine and chondroitin sulphates; there are many good brands on the market, we like Cosequin but we have honestly had amazing results with Nupro Joint complex and Joint Vibrance, so here at the Ranch, those are our go-to products. Both are available on Amazon .com. This can enhance the production of the lubricating fluid in the joints and thus appears to help the joint repair itself. However, there is a school of thought that injectable glucosamine is even more effective, and we will shortly be discussing this with the vet for our own dear Levi.
Rimadyl is often prescribed and I have no problem with my own dogs taking this product for pain relief for very short periods, however, there have been cases of gastro intestinal upset and liver toxicity, particularly in labrador retrievers with prolonged use, and so I wouldn’t choose it for my own dogs long term.
Gold bead implants are definitely something you might want to discuss with your vet; Kenton will be having these implanted shortly and the results of other clients who had this done have been amazing.
Acupuncture and also Aquapuncture, where a cocktail of vitamins and homeopathics injected right at the joint have been very effective in some of our clients dogs.
The use of turmeric in the diet (here at the Ranch we buy fresh turmeric at H Mart in Suwanee and cook it in the food) is a great pain reliever as its a humongous anti inflammatory…I’ll talk more about turmeric another time, but I’m a big devotee.
Ginger, as a pain reliever is incredible, as told to me by Gwinnett Animal Hospital’s Andrea Haupt. When poor Levi was in pain, we grated some fresh ginger into hot water, strained it and when it was cool gave him a little. It was very effective, plus ginger is great for an upset stomach, if ever you need a go to for that! Not too much…too much of anything is never good, remember that!
Magnets for dogs are wonderful, and can be bought just about anywhere these days online. Wherever magnets are placed, (so in Kenton’s case, he would have a magnet on his neck/collar area), there is increased oxygen and flow of nutrients to that area, stimulating cell repair. I have seen it work for lots of dogs, not all dogs have miraculous results, but some do, so it’s worth looking at.
Lastly, nothing, but nothing, is as important as managing your dogs’ condition…..
Hardwood floors play havoc with painful joints, it’s as simple as that; so no matter where the arthritis is in your dogs body, if you have hardwoods, your dogs feet will be gripping the floor as he walks in an inappropriate manner, leading to irregular gait which is the cause of all manner of problems elsewhere.
Put down anti slip mats immediately wherever your dog needs to walk, and never let him run on a hardwood floor.
Ball games and chase games where your dog has to turn on a dime or stop quickly are ill advised, as the dog needs to have a natural follow through of movement where the ‘transaction’ is completed and not stopped short. Leash walks with a collar are normally more difficult for arthritic dogs than an open leg/unconstricted walk or run where the dog stops and starts on his own terms, because the pulling by the neck can first of all be painful and also stops the natural flow of movement…..the course of action that the brain dictates and so the body automatically proceeds along. If it is ceased, the abrupt close of the movement is not what the brain has geared up the body to do, and so there is faltering, which can cause injury. Funnily enough, in England, sports injury experts reckon there is more damage incurred in soccer matches by players not following through with planned tackles because of last minute panic than those who actually execute them naturally without falter.
I hope this has been helpful and I hope you are fortunate to have a great veterinarian in your area Katie. Do your research on anything you have seen here, don’t just take my word for it….arming yourself with any knowledge and being fully informed is half the battle, and makes it easier for you to discuss options with your vet.
God bless and have a lovely weekend. (we’ve posted a photo of Max as Fluff is such a big fan !!!!)
Yesterday I was talking to a local dog trainer friend about her work with a rescue organisation she volunteers with. The woman gives hours of her time every week, year in, year out to this organisation, has had some amazing results with the fearful dogs she works with, is beloved by the humans she deals with, and yet felt she had been lambasted by members of the dog training community because she isn’t a certified dog trainer yet.
We talked for some time about her skill set which is not only varied and deep, but also valuable with the cases she works with, yet she had no real conception of just how good she is and the difference she is making. I realized she was suffering from a crisis of confidence brought about by the judgement of other people in her field. I sat down and asked her a few pointed questions;
“Do these people who judge you pay your wages?”
” Do these people work hands on with any of the dogs, foster them, transport them, feed them, help them to get rehomed? When there’s no camera or photo opportunity?”
The answer to both questions was of course no, because most people who are busy doing actual good, week in, week out, have little time to criticize the work of others.
I asked her who her REAL clients were and she told me she saw the dogs as her clients, as I myself always have, and so I asked her then, ” Are your clients happy with your work?”
Of course they are, the dogs adore her…she’s a good dog trainer and has helped saved countless lives that would otherwise be lost. They don’t care how she phases out some reward, shapes a behaviour, when she uses the clicker or even if she has a clicker. They just care that she’s present, helpful, loving and gets the desired result in a kind way. The dogs just know that she is there for them, and thats all they need and want.
The humans that judge her probably spend more time analysing what technical part of dog training she does wrong than they spend actually training a real dog. It’s sad, but a story I often hear.
In listening to her yesterday it brought my own experiences sharply into focus and made me think of how I came to do what I do today.
I was very fortunate to have an introduction into this arena through my sister Melanie, who started Desperate Dogs in the UK many years ago. A passionate dog lover and instinctual dog handler, my sister is still the very best pack leader I have ever seen. I marvel at her ability to control and lead twenty dogs on a pack walk, off leash, multiple times a day. That pack will consist of anything from German Shepherds to Bichons, poodles and chihuahuas. They all coexist peacefully and play beautifully together.
When I decided I wanted to learn how to handle my own dogs’ problem behavior, I went first to my sister who allowed me to watch and learn, and then become more and more hands on, before going off to learn more from other handlers and behaviorists, some famous, some not so much.
I gained much knowledge from my diploma courses, every seminar, every book that I read, and combined that with hands on experience and formed a base line of protocols that formed the starting point for what we do at Desperate Dogs today.
Nothing though, but NOTHING, was as valuable an education as the work that I did with shelter and rescue dogs, and they are the ones I have to thank for the knowledge we put into practise today.
I cut my teeth on some of the worst cases I have ever seen; completely out of my depth at times at the start, working with dogs no one else would touch who were destined to be put down, I just felt that they had nothing to lose by being my guinea pig. In all but one case, I am sure they would agree with me…
Yes, I made mistakes and wrong calls; my dogs paid the price as I fostered many of these cases in my own home, my kids paid the price for the reduced time I gave them, constantly listening to my frustrations and having to always help some poor pathetic creature that I brought home every time I visited a shelter.
And yet…I learned an incredible amount from all of those dogs, as did my family. We all learned compassion, the value of service to other beings and more about the highs and the depravities of mankind’s behavior than anyone should, really.
Nothing in any course curriculum could have ever prepared me for the sight of a dog so fearful at being left again that he jumped through a plate glass window three stories up and almost killed himself.
Nothing in any book that I ever read gave me the instincts I needed to deal with a dog tied up with barbed wire around her neck that had grown into her flesh; she was starved almost to death and was being used as a canine scarecrow on a ten foot wire when she was ‘liberated’ from her field in Hoschton.
Nothing in any seminar could have prepared me for the long term view we had to take when dealing with the extreme case of our dear old Ava, whose story has graced this blog previously.
No continuing education units will ever be as valuable as the knowledge that problems have been solved and that families are still living with the very pets that they maybe sought to get rid of.
I don’t have a PhD in dog behavior. I don’t print a list of credentials after my name a mile long from every course I ever took, every club I belong to or every trade association I pay to be a part of.
Instead, I ask every one of my clients to send me a testimonial if they are satisifed with the work that I have done, or act as a referral should I have a prospective client with their exact same problem, that way, the client knows if I can do the work or not, rather than having to take my word for it.
Too often in clubs and organizations, some fool is putting together a mission statement, a code of ethics, a list of ‘approved’ practises for its members to follow, and anyone who veers away from that ‘approved path’ becomes somewhat of a persona non grata. Thats how the whole ‘Mean Girls’ premise starts with divisions, ex communicating and back biting, all rather tawdry in my view.
In dog training and behavior, there are many professional organizations all over the world, mostly dedicated to the welfare of dogs and the education of their owners.
I used to belong to the biggest one worldwide until all of the in-fighting and back stabbing that I heard soured me so much that I decided not to renew. Listening to it all, with their boardroom antics, I wondered how any of them had time to actually help any dogs?
I was about to join another one recently, slightly more tailored to what I do, when I realised that some of the names on the members list included people I know to be scared of handling dogs, other people whom I know to use choke chains and pinch collars as a means of control, and some people who have a squillion credentials but can’t solve basic dog behavior problems. I was brought up to believe that we are judged firmly by the company we keep and so decided to forget that also.
Some of the very best dog trainers and well known behavior experts in the world, especially some of the TV trainers, don’t have a million credentials, they mostly just learned, as I did, from the dogs they worked tirelessly with until they hit on the right result and developed a way of dealing with dogs based on the information and experiences they gained from them.
If you are looking for a dog trainer, or a plumber, or a good restaurant, or a contractor, DON’T be blinded by credentials. As master ethologist Dr Patricia McConnell says, they just show that we are ‘teachable and trainable’. They say nothing about our ability or our business practises.
With dog problems, if you’re looking to hire a professional, consider going to the shelter and asking their advice about who they would recommend. Obviously look at websites, but take time to ask for referrals/testimonials and question past clients about the results they got using this person. Dogs aren’t robots, no two cases are ever identical; is the trainer/behaviorist good at thinking outside of the box? Are they obsessed with rules more than results?
If you are looking to get into this industry, and why wouldn’t you, it’s an amazing thing to do with your life, I would urge anyone to most definately get educated as there is no substitute for depth of knowledge….. but start by being willing to get your hands dirty and by being hands on. I learned far more about diet by picking up poop than I did at one of the nutrition seminars I attended.
Volunteer at your local shelter and be willing to foster if you can, it’s an intense learning experience, I guarantee it. Watch other trainers or dog handlers and watch the dogs’ reactions to them; the dogs will tell you all you need to know. If it’s kind and it works, borrow it. If its not kind, don’t go there…
Lastly, never allow yourself be judged or ruled by anyone but the Almighty Himself and your own conscience, which are, lets face it, one and the same. If you follow those, you will never go wrong.
If you follow these, your work and your contribution, will always be good enough.
I am always on the lookout for new products, new foods, new supplements that might benefit either my dogs or other peoples, and this week, as I was searching for an alternative to Acana dog food, the brand that we have been using here at the ranch as a base for our own home made dog food for over a year now, I came across a brand called Great Plains, which I’ll be checking out.
I am seeking an alternative as Acana has been experiencing some manufacturing issues making it one, hard to get hold of at times, and two, I am unhappy at some upset tummies that we have seen at the ranch and that my clients have had to deal with at home using this food. I don’t wish to start a scare, but I have asked Acana to investigate their production of these batches and will be sharing the results with you guys once we have the results in.
As I was checking out Great Plains, I took a look at their ingredient list online and saw an ingredient that isnt very often listed in dog food, and that is kelp.
For those of you that know about the advantages of kelp, don’t bother to read on, but for those of you that don’t, I would suggest you consider, not necessarily changing your dog food, but certainly adding kelp to your dogs food if your dog can take it.
Kelp is basically seaweed, and a literal power house of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and trace elements.
Kelp supplies a natural source of iodine, which acts as a natural antibiotic to kill germs.
Because of the plethora of vitamins and minerals in kelp, it can really aid in giving your dog a shiny coat and supple skin; dogs, and in fact, people, who take kelp can also benefit from improved tissue repair. The environment is constantly attacking our skin, the largest of all our bodily organs, so we are constantly needing to renew in order to shore up this important ‘first line of defense’.
By far the most important value of kelp though, is that it helps our glandular system, especially the pituitary gland, thyroid and adrenal glands.
This is especially important for regulating the digestive system and enables the animal or human to burn the fuel we put inside the body more efficiently, extracting the maximum amount of nutrients and energy from each mouthful, which in turn leads to much healthier bodies.
The adrenal glands are responsible for the body’s ability to cope with stress, for the regulation of blood pressure and play a major part in regulating our sex hormones.
As you can see, anything that benefits those key areas of our bodily functions is a pretty major player in ours, and our dog’s health, so it should be worth examining whether kelp would be a useful addition to the diet.
We will take a look at Great Plains, one of the attractions is that it is made in the USA, and we will let you know if its something we would recommend. In the meantime, happy eating and good health to you all.
I took a call a while ago from a lady called Marina, the owner of a 12 year old labrador.
She asked me if I could come see her dog as soon as possible because he was becoming very aggressive. Previously wonderfully natured around their small children who could always ‘hang off his neck” and ‘lie all over him’ when he was in his dog bed, Jake, their dog, now grumbled and growled when the kids approached the dog bed and had snapped at their youngest child last week.
” I don’t want to keep an aggressive dog at my house”, said Marina after she gave me the long diatribe about how upset she was with this dog who had become a stranger over the last few weeks,” He’s a risk to my kids and my husband wants me to put him down”.
I immediately got Marina to include her husband in on the call and we went to speaker phone, so I could ask them both some questions.
How long had they had Jake?
“We have had him since he was a nine week old puppy” they told me.
Had he ever been this way before?
“No never, in fact we had always bragged about his nature to our friends…the perfect dog, great with kids, cats, other dogs, we had even thought about him being a therapy dog at one time.”
When was the last time Jake went to the vet for a check up?
“Well, because he’s so good natured and there’s never been anything wrong with him, we only take him to the clinic to get shots once a year and to get our prescription for heartworm meds and frontline. In fact my husband said its ironic that the only time we’ll have had to take this dog to the vets, is to put him down…its heartbreaking, he was such a good dog….unless of course, you can help us….?”
I seriously couldn’t believe what I was hearing, so I realised I needed to be rather dramatic about how I put things, in order to make the point.
I asked Marina how old her mother was, and she told me 76. I asked after the lady’s health and she told me that she suffered from dementia, but that they were looking at a long term care facility for her.
” Oh, I wouldn’t bother with that, I told her…I think you should just ask the Doctor to put her out of her misery”.
You can imagine how shocked the response was when she said ‘……….Excuse me?’
I could hear her husband in the background mumbling something about British people being whack jobs.
“Well, I’m guessing you maybe do this with all the members of your family, right? Just do away with them once they get a little bit antsy? But why stop there? Why not do this with the kids too?”
As they listened in stunned silence, I explained that they had enjoyed the companionship of this wonderful friend and family member for twelve years.
He had always given them everything he had to give; love, protection, warmth, a shoulder to lean on, a companion for their kids and a valued member of the community. This dog had been on every family vacation, been at every family celebration…Christmas, birthdays, christenings, you name it. He was a closer family member than most family members ever are.
Now, as he was getting old and probably just suffering from ill health, they were ready to give up on him at the first hurdle, when a vets visit, a thorough check over, could just tell them how to help Jake in his golden years, in the retirement that he had earned.
Well, by this time, Marina was bawling and Joe, her husband wasn’t mumbling ‘whack job’ quite so loudly. I told them to forget about hiring me and to spend the money on a visit to an excellent local vet for a thorough check over and some blood work instead, which they agreed to do. It had honestly never crossed their mind even once that Jake might not be feeling well. They assumed, because he was growling and getting fractious, that it was a behavioural problem.
Many people fail to see dogs as beings with problems. Man forgets at times that he is not the only one who can feel pain, experience anxiety, be overwhelmed with feelings of loss or sadness. The advent of all these TV shows telling us how to train away this behavior or not accept that behavior sometimes misses the deeper issue at hand, which is…how is your dog feeling?
As a behavior counsellor, I deal with many aggression cases, and here at the Ranch we work hands on with aggressive dogs all the time.
The first thing we do with any problem dog is not stifle them with rules and drills and training protocols. …
The first thing we do is to set them free; remove the harness, remove the collar sometimes and remove the leash…and then we watch. The dog’s body will tell us all we need to know. Where the dog will let us handle him will guide us to his problem and his response will tell us the depth of it.
All aggression comes from one of two places, Pain or Fear. It’s our job to diagnose which one it is and then help the dog to overcome the fear, or have the owner get a good hands on, instinctual vet to help if its pain.
Of course, in this case, I didn’t even need to see Jake to know that this dog was in pain because his behavior was totally out of the ordinary, and it was sudden onset; usually a clear indicator of pain. When I explained all of this to Marina, who, now she realised I didn’t really want her to have her own mother whacked, was listening to me intently and was feeling both guilt and relief that she hadn’t done the unthinkable.
A week later, Marina called me and told me that the vet had diagnosed Jake as being riddled with arthritis in his neck and his back legs, plus he had thyroid issues. He had been started on medications for both problems and was already starting to feel a bit more comfortable. The vet and I both counselled them to not allow the kids anywhere near Jake’s dog bed while he was resting in it, and to not let the children put any physical pressure on him at all. Instead of a collar for walks, Jake was fitted with a loose harness which freed up his neck, and Marina and Bob agreed to put all that money that they had saved on vet visits over the years to Jake’s ‘retirement fund’, and booked visits to the local veterinary rehab facility for work in the pool and the underwater treadmill.
Jake’s future is now looking much brighter; he may have three more years, he may have substantially less than that, but the family have committed to looking after him and understanding him in his hour of need and doing what is right.
As role models for their children, it was also important they showed compassion and patience, but above all, commitment, to this wonderful dog who had given them so much and now needed them so badly but just couldn’t give voice to this trouble other than to growl, as it’s the only language he knows.
God bless and keep you all this fine Spring weekend, and pay attention to your dogs’ voice. He might not be speaking English, but he still has a lot to say.
There are lots of books and articles out there from all kinds of experts with degrees and doctorates coming out of the wazoo that strive to debunk the ‘Alpha Myth’, as they call it.
Unlike lots of dog trainers, (of which I am not one, I purely counsel on certain behavioral problems) I DO use the term ‘Alpha’, and I do so because I would use it in ANY situation where a leader is required. Positive dog trainers today are fond of saying that there is no place for the term Alpha in relationships with dogs and use words like ‘parenting’ and ‘leader’ instead.
(Firstly, let me say, I am firmly behind positive dog training techniques and will not work with bullies who use shock collars and pinch collars, choke chains etc, on their dogs. That’s not leading, thats just hurting, out of ignorance for the dogs’ true feelings and sensibilities. Most people thankfully see the light after I demonstrate the pain a choke chain or pinch collar can inflict and are mortified at their previous actions.)
However, I do believe that in any gathering of people, dogs, cats, rabbits, chipmunks, whatever you want to consider…someone’s got to be upfront, leading the way, taking point.
Someone’s got to be first….and that’s all that the term ‘Alpha’ means.
Even Jesus himself chose the name ‘Alpha’, as he knew He was the King, and a teacher, a leader of men. Yet a more humble and gentle being never walked on the earth…
Never more did the necessity of an Alpha become more glaringly apparent to me than this week when I enjoyed a very educational visit from Captain Melinda Allen of the Gwinnett County Sheriffs Dept Jail Dogs Program.
During her tour of the Ranch, we discussed the running of the Jail in general and she explained the protocol that they have adopted, which fascinated me.
In 1981, in Contra Costa, California, the Sheriffs Dept adopted a ‘Direct Supervision’ protocol, which roughly translated means that each area where there are inmates has a Deputy on the floor, in charge and very visible. This provides a leadership figure, for the inmate population, that sees all, hears all, and has a cool, calm, confident approach with them. The inmates respond very positively to this protocol and, instead of forming clusters and gangs in the jail as a means of protection for themselves, they look to their authoritarian figures, the Deputies, who are always on hand, approachable and visible, yet cool and slightly aloof to ward off any notions of familiarity, to sort out any issues for them. This is ‘hands on behaviour modification’ on a whole new level.
This is the leadership system that has been implemented at Gwinnett Jail.
The positives in this case are endless; the inmates feel protected from other inmates because they have the certainty that nothing will be allowed to get out of hand. This feeling of protection gives rise to confidence, particularly in figures of authority, something lots of these individuals will never have had in their lives before…..and that confidence leads to trust.
Trust in authority makes for better citizens both inside and outside of jails…lets face it, the very purpose of jail is as a correctional facility where man’s behavior can be corrected to enable him to become a more productive and valuable member of society in general once he returns to it.
I have visited the Jail Dogs Program on a few occasions and have seen at first hand the value and ambience that is created in the jail environment using this protocol.
The jail is quieter than one would expect, much calmer and visitors are treated with hospitality and good manners. The inmates defer to the Deputy in every matter, which is sorted out immediately, hands on and with respect for each party. Respect trickles downwards, and so the inmates treat each other with more respect than you can ever imagine….
Because of this protocol, there has been a 98% reduction in violent and criminal activity in the jails since its introduction, and that, my friends, makes great financial sense as well as common sense.
Having an Alpha in each localized inmate population cluster has been an amazing introduction and a huge success. So great in fact, that our own Gwinnett Jail is held up around the world as an example of success and is visited by police departments all over the world, eager to tap into this knowledge bank.
And so, because that’s what this is REALLY all about….to dogs again…….
So many of you know that I burble on and on about the need for leadership with our own packs.
Families fall apart when there are no clear boundaries set for children and no one is steering the ship.
Companies flounder or prosper based on the confidence and leadership capabilities of the CEO.
Countries, under the correct leadership and with the right vision, can rise from third world nothingness to becoming huge powerhouses in the world economy…think India for instance.
Leadership, in any situation, is all important. Pure and simple.
In a dog pack, or a mixed human and dog pack, the need for leadership, an Alpha then, is of equal importance.
Years ago, in Scotland, a pack of wolves in a sanctuary were in turmoil. Wolf was killing wolf, and the local authorities wanted desperately to end the carnage but didn’t know how. Wolf experts were asked to advise on the situation and it was discovered that the Alpha male had died, thus the leadership position was open, which left the pack in such turmoil as each member set about proving that they should take on the job. It was suggested that a new Alpha male be introduced, to calm things down but this suggestion was not accepted and the pack dissolved, wolves were killed, without anyone trying to implement the one thing that would undoubtedly have worked. Dog packs, Wolf packs, whatever canine you are talking about, they need leadership and without it, they fall apart in the same way. Maybe not quite in so barbaric a fashion as the pack in Scotland in all cases but falling apart just the same.
In our own domestic situations, with our own dogs, they are always looking for leadership and asking who is in charge? We need to tell them very clearly using confidence and cool aloofness that we are. That way they don’t feel the need to fight over the top job between themselves or even throw down the gauntlet to us.
I don’t believe that dogs are planning world takeover (cats are, though) from the comfort of our beds; I do believe however, that just as a jail is a scary place for an inmate, the human world is a scary and unfathomable place at times for dogs. They need a guiding hand, a teacher and a protector to let them know that ‘we’ve got this’.
So, don’t be afraid to be an Alpha figure for your dogs, a parent, teacher, leader, Obiwan, Oracle..or whatever you want to call it. Wear the label loud and proud; it just means that you’ve got his back and that you’re taking care of business!
When I posted the article last week ‘A House Divided’, I received a whole bunch of emails and facebook messages from people asking me how to stop a dog fight. I have 1500 people subscribe to my blog and I think almost every one of those people wanted this information.
In all honesty, there is no easy way to answer this, because it really does depend on the dog and the circumstances and of course, your relationship with him.
Because of the work we do, I have had to break up dog fights, as has any experienced dog handler. Of course in an ideal world, we would be able to steer all dogs away from the possibility of physical conflict using distraction and calming techniques but in reality some times we need to know what to do when the shit hits the fan.
Just as all heart patients might eat properly and take all the necessary steps to reduce the chance of a heart attack, stress happens, LIFE happens, and so members of the family need to be ready to know how to deal with a heart attack in progress. It doesn’t mean they’re bad family members and not careful because someone had a heart attack, but they are ill prepared if they don’t know about administering Aspirin, loosening clothes and calling 911 etc, right?
So it is, my friends with dogs fights. Know how to stop them, role play it and learn it, then when you need it, the information is right at the forefront of your brain.
The reason I am telling you to role play it is because, as with dogs, in a difficult situation, we humans automatically turn to the thing we have practised the most. Think about when you are out on the road, and someone cuts across into your lane…if you’re me, out comes a stream of expletives like a drunken sailor, because, well, I’m ashamed to say, that’s how I talk when I’m out in the field with the dogs all day! I subconsciously practise it, basically…….. so its the first thing I turn to when my stress level is heightened and I am making a response to the trigger.
One of my clients is an FBI captain, a few are police officers, and we have talked at length about their training which involves more conditioned response training than anything else. It’s knowing, in a crisis, what to do; how to keep cool and make the right decision, and how to produce the best possible result from the worst circumstances imaginable. While you may be scratching your head and thinking ‘How is this anything to do with stopping a dog fight?’, in all honesty, there are many parallels.
First of all, we need to know the players…in this case, I would advise anyone to never try to separate dogs from fighting that you do not know. Many is the well meaning individual that gets their face chewed off or their arm mauled by a strange dog that they tried to save.
Second of all, we need to assess the situation before acting. Never be tempted to wade in if you see two dogs fighting on the street and pull two collars apart. Pulling dogs apart by their collars in an inflammatory situation is just baiting the situation with most dogs. Think about the vile practices of dog fighting..to bait the dogs to attack each other, what does the handler do? Holds his dog by the collar and makes him feel restrained while the other dog lunges at his dog! As soon as he lets go, the fight is ON.
Third, give things a moment to calmly see where it leads….while most people rush in and take the frenzied rush to stop a dog fight, very often most fights will sort themselves out, just as arguments between children do. It’s not unusual to have a nipped ear or a bit of ‘snot’ after a dog fight, but no one ever died from that; more fights are exacerbated by the involvement of humans escalating the situation with frenzied screams and huge nervous energy. Here at the Ranch we sometimes have altercations between dogs, where theres lots of noise and not a lot else going on. Those situations can usually be resolved by counting to three and seeing what happens, and above all, staying quiet and watchful. If after that, we feel that real damage might soon occur, we take the action best suited to those dogs, based on our knowledge of those dogs. Sometimes, it might take a yell accompanied by a loud ‘NO’, for some other dogs, it might be to make them ‘sit’ (sound ridiculous? try it before you mock….most dogs have a supreme conditioned response to that word, which is what makes it ideal to use when the dog is in a state of turmoil and stress) or for some dogs, we might need to stride over there and use a tennis racquet between them to cut the physical contact completely and quickly. We take a lot of time getting to know the dogs here before we board them, and then when they are here we are with them, hands on, for 18 hours a day. That depth of relationship, that only time and shared experiences can create, is what is key to knowing how to stop a fight.
So, your dog is fighting with another dog you own (more fights happen in multiple dog families than attacks by unknown assailants) and you’re wondering what to do?
1) Stay calm.
2) Check the noise level….more noise means less actual biting in some cases, very often the quieter the altercation, the more serious. From your observations at this point decide whether you are going to weigh in or leave it to disperse naturally. Not always a silly idea….many dog behavior counsellors and trainers will tell you that sometimes its better to allow one fight, let it play out and then the dogs can establish a top dog and a true pecking order between them and then most likely will not need to do so again. Of course, if this needs to happen between the dogs, then you yourself are not a firm competent leader in the dogs eyes, as dogs only argue about status when there is no clear leadership, as happened with me when I was a complete emotional wreck, and the very subject matter of the blog that started this converstaion. With firm, clear, calm competent leadership in place, dogs know their status in the pack, have a clearly defined role and respect the authority. It’s not to say that spats will never happen; dogs are like humans in that they have rich emotional lives and so are prone to get antsy or feisty just like us, but the spats will not normally rise beyond that.
3) You decide to stop the fight, what next?
Noise aversion is a great tool to use, I have used air-horns (a sound that in some cases is useful because its never been heard before by the dog) or metal baking trays bashed together, I have also used a metal bowl clattering on concrete. With the wrong dog, sound can escalate the situation, so hence the need to really know your dog.
If one is being bullied and the other dog is not protecting itself, then I would suggest pulling the aggressor off as soon as possible to minimise damage and also to let the victim know that you are not going to allow bullying and that ‘you’ve got this’.
Pulling both dogs apart by their holding them each by their back legs and raising them from them up from there is a common tool. I have found it effective with dogs who are unwilling fighters but who are going through the motions so to speak and neither wants to be first to break it off.
A hose down with water works in some scenarios unless the dog is a complete water junkie and is not phased at all by a dousing.
Sliding a large flat object, like a huge baking tray between the dogs (which is the same premise as the tennis racquet of course) if they are not in a firm grip and can easily be disconnected, is hugely effective.
Asking for a sit from a dog with a cast iron response to that word is an option as I previously stated; lots of dogs cannot hold anything in their mouth when they sit as they cant often multi task.
The old British dog trainer reviled for her cruel methods, Barbara Woodhouse, actually knew a thing or two about this subject and suggested pinching the skin between a dogs’ eyes to stop an attack. I have used it once, and yes it worked, however I knew both dogs and was absolutely confident and calm in the situation. Putting your hands in the middle of two fighting dogs is downright disastrous unless you know what you’re doing.
I always laugh when well known TV behaviourists say ‘Don’t try this yourself at home, refer to a professional’ about techniques to end dog fights because, in all honesty, why would they show them if not to help the public make informed decisions about what to do. Karen, our assistant at the DD Ranch says they say this because of liability issues, so in that vein I will say ‘Don’t try this at home, refer to a professional’, but I know as a dog owner, I would always want lots of different options to consider if my dogs were at risk of fighting……..Do your research as with all things; don’t just take my word for it, do what feels correct for you and your pack.
We always need to be careful to keep the dogs separate for a while after a fight, to give everyone a chance to ‘come down and cool down’. Reintroducing them in neutral territory with you being firmly in control and both with trailing short leashes is an excellent way to keep you confident (most of the battle) and the dogs firmly in check. At this point do not use treats at all as food is an inflammatory subject for almost every dog, as is the owners bed, the doorway, the kitchen, the dog food bowls and toys.
Be prepared to monitor your dogs for some time afterwards and remember that dogs who get into the habit of fighting are more likely to fight because in actuality, biting feels good to a dog, power feels good to a dog and a seasoned fighter with lots of practise becomes better and better at it. (It is for that reason alone that we do not encourage wrestling at the Ranch in any escalated from; gentle wrestling yes, but nothing more and even then we break it up after a very short time as we don’t want the dogs to become used to this type of behavior). Clearly this is not a situation you want. So, from then on, you will need to practise preventative measures at all times…another subject for another article if anyone wants it.
Stay safe and be cool, calm, confident leaders.