Feeling the Pinch

DD favorite Solo shows off his Martingale Collar here at the Ranch

DD favorite Solo shows off his Martingale Collar here at the Ranch

Anyone that fills out an application form to bring their dog to the Ranch, for any kind of visit, will have seen that we are insistent that the dog wears a well fitted collar.
Despite this being made clear on the form, you have no idea how many people send their dogs to me with collars that are too small, collars that are way too big and slip over their head, or collars that fall apart the minute any strain is put upon them.
There is a perception with some owners that the collar is like a kind of window dressing for the dog, a vehicle for all kinds of sweet embroidery and Swarovski crystals being paraded around to draw gasps of admiration from passers by.
Uh, No!
The collar is worn by law so that the dog can be identified should it get away from the owner, hence the legal requirement for tags in most counties, and is also there as a means of restraint.
I know no one likes to think that they might have to restrain their dog in any situation by having to grab the collar but the truth is, we have all been there at some point in our lives with our dogs; even though we might rather that the dog would just come to call every time.
Life’s not like that, is it folks?
About three weeks ago, I was taking in a dog for daycare, and as the owner got him out of her car, he slipped his collar and ran off up the road. Other than the obvious advice to not chase the dog as she was inclined to do (they love a good game of chase…you have more chance of your dog returning if you turn and run in the opposite direction, or opening the car door and saying ‘you wanna go for a ride?’) I did explain to her that the collar wasn’t a big help.
So, whats the best kind of collar for a dog to wear? How do you have a collar on thats tight enough for the dog to not slip out of it, and loose enough that hes not trussed up like a Thanksgiving Turkey?
The answer is a Martingale collar. Martingales are double loop collars that fit comfortably and loosely around the neck so that the dog hardly knows hes wearing it, and then, when a leash is attached, it tightens to neck size and  cannot be slipped out of. The best of both worlds, and we love ’em here at the ranch.
Theyre pretty cheap at the big box stores like Petsmart and Petco (normally under ten bucks) and its the best choice for daycare and boarding establishments. No one likes to see a dog with a collar thats too tight, it leads to stress, which leads to snappiness, and a perfectly good dog with no issues can become very ornery with a tight collar on. Boarding establishments are always advised never to remove collars from dogs staying with them for safety reasons, however we hate having uncomfortable dogs in our midst…the Martingale solves the problem. The dog can’t slip out backwards and run off, plus hes really unaware of the collar the rest of the time. I have Freddie and the crew in Wiggles Wags and Whiskers Martingale collars that look beautiful (hand made with velvet lining) but are also safe and comfortable. People who cant stand to not have the bling effect will be amply rewarded for looking on their website…the collars are gorgeous, and we’ll order them for you at a discount from website prices.
And what happened to the dog that ran off? Sadly they never found him…just kidding! He saw the car door open, heard her ask if he wanted to go for a ride and hightailed it back to the car to go for a ride with his Momma.
Stay safe out there.

Why doesn’t my dog love me ?

Jake our youngest son (and much younger here!!) cuddles his first rescue dog, Wishbone, during our time in Trinidad & Tobago

Jake our youngest son (and much younger here!!) cuddles his first rescue dog, Wishbone, during our time in Trinidad & Tobago

When we lived in Trinidad & Tobago, I used to volunteer at the kids school and every morning a lady called Daphne would drop her daughter Sammi off at the classroom door, fussing over her and trying to kiss her goodbye, while Sammi just would look away, roll her eyes and pull herself away from her mother. She looked thoroughly grossed out and couldn’t get far enough away!
Her mother was bemoaning the fact that her daughter couldn’t stand her, and what was she to do?
I delicately suggested she give the poor kid some space…how on earth was she ever going to like someone who smothered her from morning til night?
I was reminded of Sammi and Daphne this week, when I met a charming woman called Sally who brought her dog to us for a behavioral consult last Thursday night.
Sally’s dog, Vera, (you know I make these names up, don’t you? The people are real but the names are stupid, made up names that I have a right good giggle over…who would honestly call their dog Vera?) as well as having some fear issues around other dogs had not ever physically bonded to Sally, who told me quite candidly that she brought Vera into her life and rescued her, to ‘fill a hole in my heart’.
Little Vera adores Sally’s boyfriend Jim,and giggles and wiggles all the way over to him when he gets home from work, she comes when he calls her, looks up at him adoringly and wants to be near him.
Sally, who feeds Vera, walks her, trains her, takes her to the vet and is an exceptional mum to her in every way…when she walks in  looking for some love from her little pup, well…… it ain’t happenin’!
Sally is heartbroken about this and can’t understand why the dog doesn’t do back flips for her, when her previous dogs just adored her?
I explained to Sally that firstly all dogs are different, and secondly, as a fearful dog, Vera needs two things above all else in any new situation…time and distance.
I sat down on the tree trunk down in the meadow and told her, verbatim as if I had been a fly on the wall, exactly how she had acted the night she brought dear little fearful Vera to their house after they adopted her. I told her that she had cuddled her in the car, and brought her home and been given access to every area of the house straight away, Sally had set her on the couch and talked to her all night telling her how she was safe and how she was going to be loved forever, she had stroked her and loved on her like a little Princess. Sally admitted that this was the case.
Now, to a human child who has just been adopted that might just work and they might find that appealing, but to a fearful dog, passed from pillar to post, in a new environment, its a nightmare on wheels!
What little Vera really wanted to do was to sniff out her new environment; the scent of something tells them everything they need to know to get a handle on things in a new situation…who lives there, what they eat, how they act, if they are strong or weak characters, where they walk…..its a whole community newspaper at floor level for your dog if you only allow them to read it. Doing so helps them to get their bearings.
Next, taking the dog for a long, long walk around their new neighborhood and their new home on leash while letting the dog explore with their nose, helps the dog to settle much, much faster. Granted, Sally and her boyfriend did take Vera for a walk when they brought her home, but my guess was that they were talking and cooing to her and trying to ‘connect’ with her at every turn.
Here at the Ranch, we never ever talk to dogs while they are settling in. I can hear a million ‘positive dog trainers’ go green at the thought of no-one praising with a  ‘great job’ and ‘good girl’ every five minutes, but here, we just don’t think that dogs connect linguistically at first.
We connect and build a relationship through letting them use their nose, then exercise and then body language. When the relationship is formed, and the dog feels comfortable, (which might take half an hour, two hours, it might take two days, it all depends on the dog) then, and only then, do we bring in the language….calm commands and calm praise. Once the dog is settled with that, they will come to us and tell us they would like some touch now thankyou very much, and at that point, do I go all gooey and stroke away?
No, I don’t. At that point, I won’t touch the dog, I ignore her. Then ten seconds later, I will call the dog to me and start to touch and stroke gently on their shoulders or on the chest. Just for a moment.
Why like this? Because when I form a relationship with a dog, it is going to be a lasting one…….
All of my relationships with all of the dogs that come here are started this way because I want the dog to go through a gamut of emotions including an emotional release, and end up at the right place. This has worked for me over five thousand times so I’m not going to change it.
By using no touch, no talk and no eye contact at first, I am telling the dog that I am asking nothing of it, there is no need to be overwhelmed and they are free to explore the place as we walk together. Thats the start of the relationship.
Remember, the dog wants time and distance….time to make a decision as to whether they like me, and distance because no one likes anyone that gets all up in their business when they’ve just met.
Humans hate it and dogs hate it even more; to them its beyond rude.
Next, by allowing the dog to sniff as we walk, we are exercising together and working in tandem. This, to a dog is affection; its a shared experience and it s a language we can share as we walk and rest, walk and rest, which is how, in a pack, dogs bond. The dog then sees me as more than just some idiot on two legs, she sees me as someone who has respected her needs and thats a wonderful foundation for any relationship.
The calm commands and calm praise that form the next step are to introduce the dog to my voice and my expectations. Too much noise befuddles the dog, too much excitement and ‘whoop de doo’ and the message is lost on a fearful dog, who really is trying hard to cope in the new situation.
Don’t forget, they don’t speak English, they aren’t hard wired for language at all, so our words are just sounds to them unless they understand commands we give them. Flooding them with language is a strain on a fearful dogs senses, when in actuality, they would rather rely on their nose and eyes in a new situation. Its more comforting. Its what they know..
When the dog comes to me for affection, I turn it away at first because I have to set boundaries, respect and limitations, just as I have accorded the dog the same thing.
My particular boundaries are that I don’t like dogs clambering all over me willy nilly, I like to instigate physicality when I want it, as most humans do. By turning the dog away in that first instance, I am doing two things: I am setting my boundaries from the get go with the dog, which is very important as the dog then knows what to expect from our relationship from the off. Secondly, I am increasing my own value in the eyes of the dog. Dogs are like us, what they can’t have they tend to want more.
Every single time I do this technique, the dog can’t wait for me to call it over to me and get some loving and they revel in the special gift that I’m giving them, knowing I do not bestow it freely all the time. Once our relationship is formed I do, you’ll see pictures of me slushing all over some big handsome goofball every day with my lips wrapped round his chops…..but never at the start.
While Sally was here at the Ranch, I had her follow my protocol for the two hours that she was here with me. She hated it, felt there was no way she could do it for more than five minutes and looked appalled when I first told her to do this.
When she called Vera to her, and Vera ignored her commands, I had Sally and Jim, her boyfriend, hide behind a tree with me so that Vera had to physically come looking for her.
We watched, out of sight, as little Vera got the first shock of her relationship with Sally…she wasn’t there!
Vera panicked and bolted around looking for Sally and when she found her was all over her like white on rice, jumping up at her, joyous in the moment as she had just had a short sharp lesson in fear of loss and realised that Sally wasnt to be taken for granted.
Sally admitted to me and Jim by the end of our session that this was the most tactile Vera had ever been with her in the ten weeks she had had her.
Remember I said at the start that Vera loves Jim more than Sally and is all over him like a rash when he comes home……why?
Jim is the strong, silent type, far less openly affectionate and chatty to the dog than Sally, and has a clearer, less expansive vocabulary with the dog. He might not be a dog whisperer, but he is a lot more cool and not so in Vera’s face as Sally is. Thus, Vera chooses Jim as her significant other, because he suits her needs better and answered more of her needs for time and distance at the very start.
Sally is going to be dialling her relationship with Vera right back to zero and, after Vera had spent a little time here at the Ranch to work on some other, fear associated issues, she will be bringing her home and using the protocol that I use here to start her relationship with her dog over.
I predict that within a short time, Sally is going to have the dog of her dreams and Vera is going to be one happy, well adjusted, very tactile pup who can’t get enough of her new Mum!
Remember people…time and distance!


Stress …. a contagious disease

Nelson (clearly not stressed !!!) relaxes watched over by photos of his brothers Joe and Jake

Nelson (clearly not stressed !!!) relaxes watched over by photos of his loving brothers Joe and Jake

A dear friend and client of mine boarded her dog with us last week; she contacted me a few days before the dogs arrival to tell me that her pup had diarrhea that had been a problem for a few days now, and would I still have the dog come stay? She had apparently eaten a critter like our Steve did a week or so ago, and hadn’t been right since…..

Because I love her, and love her dog, I said of course we would take her (trust me, I gotta love your dog, and you, to face the prospect of runny diarrhea in my home….!) and so ‘Haley’ (not her real name, this dog is in the DD witness protection program now she’s had an article written about her, of course!!!) arrived early last week and settled in to her normal routine at the Ranch.

The dogs here have an immense amount of time outside with us; even when we are winding them down for the night, we normally are sitting outside under the porch, and so from day one, due to plenty of chances to eliminate outside, she didn’t have an accident inside the house. However, the poops that I noticed in the yard had a runny quality and a smidge of blood in them.

We set about trying to fix the problem and Haley went straight on to a diet of rice and chicken and her tummy quickly started to settle. We first checked with mum that it was okay and then gave the dog some metronidazole that we had here for our own dogs ‘just in case’ and some probiotics to balance the delicate flora in her digestive system; Haley was doing fine after a few short days.

However, I was scratching my head trying to determine what had caused this upset tummy that had no vomiting and no ill feeling at all, the dog was running footloose and fancy free all last week like a puppy, had a bundle of energy and didn’t present as sick at all…….it was then that I remembered a conversation I had had with her mum just after she dropped her off…..

She told me that she couldn’t really cope with any more poop on the carpets, her house had just gone on the market, she was constantly trying to keep it clean and tidy which was a huge ordeal in itself, and shampooing the carpets every day was wearing her out. She told me that this whole ordeal was so stressful; the thoughts of where they might be moving to, where her daughter might be going to school, added to the fact that the ex was behaving like a world class jerk and being totally unhelpful financially. She told me that the stress on her was incredible, and I had to admit that she looked absolutely overwrought with it. Her face was flushed, her eyes looked tired and she was finding it hard to relax and chat whereas we would normally be shooting the breeze like a couple of old tarts on a street corner together.

Things started to make sense….

When she picked Haley up, I had a word with her about her stress level and how it was affecting the dog…..I have no doubt at all that Haley was suffering a bout of stress colitis brought about maybe at the start by the nasty dead critter but I truly feel that it was exacerbated by the stress in Haleys mum’s life.

Dogs mirror their owners, how often have I said that on these pages?

If we feel stress, they feel stress. If we are ecstatic, so are they.

Heck, the only variance in most dogs’ days is brought about by a change in their owners demeanor….we are so fundamentally important to them, so intrinsically linked to them if we have a close relationship, that if we cry or feel anguish, it feels like the end of the world…..

Last time I took Hank Williams, our foster/rehab dog from the Gwinnett County Sheriffs Jail Dogs Program back to the jail, he was riding beside me in the front of the truck, sitting up high on his seat, looking out of the window.

I looked at him and felt such a pang for all that he had been through in his short life, how he had been manhandled to the point of him being so fearful of touch, how so many short sighted people had given up on him and pronounced him dangerous, and it cut right to my heart. I burst into tears and seriously couldn’t stop……. so I had to pull over.

As I sat there in the truck on the side of the road, sobbing my heart out, Hank eased over onto my lap and began to lick my face and snuffle my hair. Then he put his paw on my shoulder and laid his head on top of it. It’s one of the most beautiful moments I have ever had with a dog and it was at that moment that I truly knew Hank was going to be okay…..

Hank had taken on my pain, he probably even knew it was about him, and he sought to give me solace, a very special quality in a family dog. Our relationship had grown to new heights in that moment; a wonderful thing, and a terrible thing all at the same time, because his new-found sensitivity towards my feelings meant that my hurt was his hurt, my pain was his pain.

Had the jail called me up the next day and asked me what the hell had I fed Hank because he had the screaming abdabs (as we English would call it), I wouldn’t have been surprised, because, so often, I see stress being centered in the stomach.

As it is, thankfully, Hank has a cast iron constitution and could probably eat a whole dead rotten carcass and still run a marathon the next day, but the point is……..stress stays, it festers and its a weight we carry in our heart, in our head or in our stomach.

In talking to Haleys mum about this whole subject of stress and stress colitis, which is when stress manifests in the digestive tract as vomiting or diarrhea, she expressed surprise that Haley would be feeling stress over her current situation, because she was nowhere near as bad as this when her mother died two years ago. Surely she would have been worse then, when the pain was so much greater? The ordeal and the grief was so huge?

I explained to Haley’s mum that just like humans, dogs experience a huge range of emotions, in different ways at different times and thus, have different coping mechanisms with which to deal with them.

Dogs seeking to become a panacaea to their humans hurt might just provide a shoulder, as Hank did for me that day; they might howl, as a particular husky I know did after the death of his beloved mate; they might retreat, feeling they can do nothing in this situation and trust that their owner can work it out for themselves; or, as Haley did, they might feel helpless in the face of such a huge range of problems and emotions, feel a little perplexed at the shouting over the soiled carpets and the reaction becomes more of a physical one…hence the never ending cycle of poop/ sensing the disappointed owner/ seeing her shampooing the carpets wearily/ stress of seeing her so upset means back to pooping again.

Not every stressful situation is the same, and as a human I don’t handle each one the same. Sometimes I cry, sometimes I scream, sometimes I throw things, sometimes I withdraw, and yes occasionally I spend hours in the bathroom! Dogs are capable of the same array of coping mechanisms……mind you, when I’m in the bathroom for hours I wouldn’t call that coping!

Haley’s mum adores her dog, she is without question one of the most caring dog parents I have as a client, but even she isn’t perfect, she has a dog with the heaving poops and cant hide her displeasure at the sight of yet another steaming pile; as a vibrant, passionate woman, she cannot hide her emotions at all, so poor Haley just took it all in and wore it like a crown of thorns.

My advice to her was to find her inner calm and to just ‘let it go’ for the moment, for the sake of her, her family and her dog. Sometimes our dogs’ reaction to our problems can bring the whole situation into a much sharper focus and force us to rethink how we approach it….

Being someone who is incredibly quick to fly off the handle [never when I’m working, but oh my…when I’m at home? Duck and cover!] and who gets antsy at the stupidity of certain people in my life, I have had to find some quick ways to cool down and chill so that my pack and my family don’t get to feel the brunt of it.

My advice to you today, if you don’t want your dog to go stick their head in a gas oven or call the shelter asking if they can please come check themselves in is…..

1) Take a good brisk walk, go to Six flags, eat a bowl of curry or go get ‘jiggy’ with someone special.. all of these activities produce endorphins, a neurotransmitter produced by the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus, which acts as an analgesic. Endorphins are so named because they create a morphine like substance in the body. So much better for you than anti depressants and no side effects!

2) Big glass of sauvignon blanc and a pile of pasta with pesto, parmigiano cheese and good olive oil. (carb rich meals are scientifically proven to increase the flow of serotonin in our brain) The wine…well, everything tastes better with a good glass of sauvignon, doesn’t it? That’s not necessarily science that’s just common sense!

3) Big bar of 50% or higher cocoa solid chocolate. Chocolate contains phenylaninine, which is an amino acid that acts as an analgesic and an anti depressant. Thus, a trip to Godiva is exactly the place one needs to go when the poop hits the fan!

4) If all else fails, take five minutes and watch the bathroom scene from the hilarious movie ‘Hall Pass’…guaranteed to crack you up every time!

Stay calm out there….!