Alpha-rolls for (reactive) dogs

Having a reactive dog is an emotional business. Not only are our dogs anxious about walks and outings but so are we. We know too well the looks we get from others when we have a setback with our dog in public. They’re the same looks parents get in grocery stores when their children are throwing a temper tantrum and are thrashing about on the floor, screaming and crying, even throwing things. Sometimes we get the look of compassion and empathy – “You poor thing”, “I feel your pain”, “It’s not easy but you’re doing great”. These looks can be helpful – they can give us a break and some space to manage.

Other times we get the look or horror and judgement. This one is the worst one we can imagine. There is no compassion nor empathy in this look. It sends us into a dark place with our dog, embarrasses us and even causes us to react in a way that is inappropriate, out of character, or even downright dangerous. When we get this look (and sometimes even when we don’t) we suddenly feel like we are expected to react – to stop this thrashing, screaming beast, gain control of him and “set him straight”. When we feel this pressure, we can act out of frustration and desperation.

I remember Parker’s early days when I had been taught to use punishment in order to put an end to his reactive behaviour. We would be out on a walk and I would be on edge, ready to give him a firm leash correction every time he reacted to another dog. I myself became reactive (because you are, if you are not proactive), I would see the other dog and regardless of his reaction or lack thereof, I would “correct” him. Eventually the behaviour intensified and I felt as many people do, who use punishment, that I would have to intensify the punishment because this level was ineffective. (Learn about the 8 rules of punishment here from my brilliant friend Steve White.)

I was taught by many, including TV stars on dog training programs and well-meaning people in the park, to “Alpha Roll” him. This entailed flipping him onto his back on the ground, holding him still and forcing him to stay and “submit” to me. This is to apparently show the dog who is “Alpha” and force them to stop misbehaving. It’s such an unhealthy thing to do and I learned my lesson early on in my career.

Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 5.49.32 PM

My first solo behaviour consult almost 10 years ago was for a Great Dane / Pitbull mix and when he acted aggressively toward me, I did what I had been taught so many times over; I Alpha-rolled him. When I released him (once he “submitted” to me), he launched himself at my face, biting my face, chest, arm, stomach, and legs before they pulled him off me. It was well-deserved…in fact, the dog showed great restraint by not killing me. The bottom line is that I attacked him. It was not the other way around. He was defending himself against me, as he should have. I learned a lesson that day and still carry it with me.

At one point not long after the attack, Parker reacted to a dog while we were walking along the street and I reached for his collar as I didn’t have the strongest grip on his leash in the moment and he assumed I was going to Alpha-roll him (I wasn’t). Before I even made physical contact, he rolled himself. He lay on the ground on his back and put his front paws up in the air almost as if to say “okay, okay, I surrender – just don’t hurt me.” My heart broke in that exact moment. A man was walking by and he gasped as he saw it happen and he looked at me in such a way that made me want to crawl into a hole and die. I was mortified. It was as though someone caught me slapping my child across the face. I was a bad person in his eyes and I would never have an opportunity to change his perspective or prove him wrong. My heart broke for Parker too. He was scared of me. I was unpredictable and scary in his eyes. Things changed from that moment onward.

There is never a good time to Alpha-roll a dog. Here are some good reasons:

  • Dogs are not wolves. Plain and simple. They’re dogs.
  • Dogs are not wild animals and dominance is generally only a concern in wild groupings of animals rather than domestic ones. Dominance is also only an issue within a species and does not tend to be a cross-species concern.
  • Dogs know we are not dogs. They learn this early on. Like around 3-5 weeks of age. They’re not going to believe you’re the Alpha regardless.
  • “Alpha” is another term for “breeding pair”. Do you really want to be your dog’s Alpha now? I think it’s illegal in most countries. Gross.
  • Alpha-rolling your dog does not stop the behaviour. It might suppress it temporarily but it’s by no means a magical fix.
  • Alpha-rolling your dog causes your dog to view you as an unstable leader – unstable leaders lose their cool and lose control of the situation when they act out of anger or unpredictably. This is how your dog will view you after an Alpha-roll. Unpredictable, angry, scary, out of control. How does that feel?
  • It is insanely dangerous. (Re-read my story if you don’t believe me.) Once you let them up, they might take any chance they can to protect themselves and ensure you never do that again.
  • It might work for some dogs but if it works, it means you have just scared or intimidated your dog into avoidance. How effective is that as behaviour modification?
  • It can cause an emotional shutdown (which is quite difficult to “fix” later).
  • It can cause your dog to act even more aggressively in the future. (Want proof? Click here.)

Yes, in the moment you feel you need to leave the scene with your dignity, however most people when they see others Alpha-rolling their dogs don’t respect the person doing it – they too likely feel that you’ve lost control and they feel sorry for the dog on his back. Why? We all love dogs – that’s why we have them. You can leave with your dignity if you do a few things:

  • call your dog off successfully (work on “recall”)
  • leash them up if they are off-leash and get some distance
  • reward them for good behaviour (such as sitting or looking at you)
  • promise your dog that you won’t put him in that situation to fail again
  • promise yourself that you will work on this, for real.

There. Now you can leave with your dignity and no one had to be hurt or scared. There is so much we can do for dogs who overreact around other dogs whether on leash or off leash and none of it has to be detrimental to your trusting relationship with your dog. Rather than pinning your dog, seek help! It’s as much for you as it is for the dog. Let’s take the emotion out of the equation and help your dog learn what you’d rather he do instead.

We have a great class that helps people immensely with this behaviour and our success rate is extremely high because of the level of support provided in class and beyond. Please forward the details on to those who need it and consider it for your own reactive dog.

Have you fitted your dog’s harness properly?

As I walk through our city and my heart swells with pride for these sweet people who have chosen harnesses over collars or inhumane equipment, my heart also sinks just a little.

We have so many tools available to us as dog-guardians and yet very little education comes along with these tools. Yes, there are warnings on shock collars that send electric currents through a dog’s neck at the press of a button. Yes, there are warnings on the spray collars that mist our dog’s faces with toxic substances. But there are no warnings on choke chains and prong collars – two types of collars that have been known to cause significant damage to a dog’s neck, trachea, spine, eyes, etc… And even still, there are no warnings on our humane equipment such as front-clip harnesses.

I am a huge advocate for harnesses; in fact, harnesses are on the verge of becoming mandatory in our classes. That is how passionately I feel about this. However, there is a right way and a wrong way to fit these harness to avoid injury, affecting gait, causing long-term damage, and of course to keep our pets attached to us rather than breaking loose and running through city streets.

Harnesses are not meant to be loose, flappy, floppy, dangling, easy to step out of, or sliding all over the place. They’re meant to be snug-fitting. For example, take a look at this harness here (taken from the 2HoundsDesign website):

boxerfullharness

 

Ignoring the tension on the leash, this harness is fitted perfectly.

  • It is snug-fitting on all straps, but not too tight, causing bulges in the skin.
  • It is just above the shoulder joint, allowing a free range of motion in those front legs.
  • The belly strap is not being tugged forward in a sideways “Y” position, it’s a nice sideways “T” position.
  • The front is not flappy, loosely dangling, pulled off to the side or up into the neck or chin.

Now, let’s take a look at this harness here (that the interwebs provided me kindly):

harnessfitting

  • This harness is very loose-fitting and will likely rub and chafe.
  • The chest strap is resting on the elbow, preventing range of motion.
  • This dog could easily step out of this harness and get loose.

When fitting a harness, it’s important that it is done with care and attention to detail, ensuring it is not so snug that the skin is bunching, but that it sits comfortably atop the skin and two fingers fit underneath. If it is too loose, it will likely rub, chafing and causing loss of fur in that area.

Watch the front strap – the ones that travels horizontally across the chest. does it pull that belly strap forward? If so, it will need to be loosened. The front strap should be snug across the chest, leading across and above the shoulder joint (never meeting the “armpit” so to speak), allowing for a full range of motion without interference.

Harnesses, like collars must be checked regularly for wear that might cause the fabric to break down and tear, as well as for a proper fit – dogs weight can fluctuate even when they’re done growing.

If your dog’s harness is not fitting quite as nicely as we’ve described above, please let us know and we can do a fitting for you and suggest a more appropriate brand (not all are created equal) if need be.

Send your pictures of your dog in their harness – we’d love to see them!


 

More tips:

  • wash your dog’s harness regularly to avoid the growth of bacteria that can get inside of scrapes and cuts. Use mild, scent-free soap or baby shampoo and handwash in warm water, rinse well, hanging to dry
  • replace your dog’s harness when it is worn or has chew-marks that cause a weakness in the fabric and a higher risk of tearing
  • remove your dog’s harness when they are running in the park or rough housing with friends (be sure that they have a safe collar with ID tags that stays on)
  • if your dog is a Houdini, use a martingale collar and double-clip the leash to the collar as well as the front clip of the harness as a backup
  • invest in a good quality harness once your dog is done growing and take good care of it – it’s well worth it!
  • if an old harness is still in great condition, consider washing it well and donating it to a local rescue (like Speaking of Dogs) for their fosters

Old Dogs

ImageOld dogs.

On Wednesday, Parker had been full of beans, bounding through the condo, whipping around corners and racing down the halls, prancing on his walks and uber-friendly and playful to every dog we met. I couldn’t stop laughing at his antics and really taking joy in this behaviour. It beats the “old man” gig we usually have – stumbling around, tripping up, standing and staring at nothing. 

I laughed about it with a good friend over the phone, who is also a trainer, and in the silence between sentences we both knew what the other was thinking. “Uh oh…is this it?” Sometimes old dogs have a burst of energy before things take a turn for the worst and that’s what we always fear. The truth is, if he has that burst of energy I’m going to enjoy it with him. I’ll stop everything and really take it in. 

I know it sounds terribly light when I talk about it this way but I’m a pretty realistic person and I know that we may not have long together. I’ve come to terms with the idea that we might not have long and I say a little goodbye every night along with a goodnight just in case. There’s a chance he could live another few years of course but with old dogs it’s hard to tell. It’s not like they have a little clock installed with a countdown timer that we can see…we just enjoy every day together as best as we can. 

With an old dog you grieve a little bit every day. You grieve the loss of the activities you used to share, the energy and endurance, the able-bodied way he used to move, the interactions he used to have with the world. You even grieve the naughty things; barking and lunging at dogs across the street, “whoo-whoo-whoo”-ing at the knock at the door, the scattered, half-asleep race to the door at the sound of the doorbell on TV, getting into the garbage while you’re at work, sneaking into your bed and shedding all over your clean pillows, even counter-surfing. You grieve the loss of his hearing and sight, you grieve the deep sleeps that are now interrupted by restlessness and sometimes wandering confusion. You grieve the future because now it’s like muddy water – you can’t tell what’s in it but it doesn’t feel great.

It’s not to say that you’re in a constant state of sadness and that you can’t enjoy life – this grief is different. It’s just under your skin. It’s a thin layer that rests there. Sometimes it’s greatly exposed by a fresh wound and then once it’s healed it’s tucked away again. We live our day to day, enjoying all the things we can do. I am proud of him when he dares to sneak something off my plate as I get up to get a glass of water. I praise him for being such a phenomenal scavenger and I let him eat that half-slice of pizza. He barks at a dog who gets in his face and I tell him he’s a good old man for using his words. He begs at the table and I laugh and reinforce him with a toast crust. 

ImageParker is getting older. Every day I see little changes in him and it’s usually just a slowing down or a bit of confusion or a shortened walk. Today he insisted that we live in the condo down the hall and stood there for about 3 full minutes staring at the door and looking back at me. 

He does a lot of sitting on walks, he sleeps off and on during the day, if a piece of food is tossed to him and bounces off his nose, he doesn’t get up to get it – he looks to me as if to say “sorry Mama, try again and aim for my mouth this time.” Things are a little different. 

It’s not easy, but it’s beautiful. There’s something about old dogs that I love more than I could ever explain. There’s this gentleness, this deep love, this wisdom and grace. You can’t argue with an old dog – you let them have their way because they’ve earned it. You make life a little easier for them but you sure as hell don’t give up on them. You make sure they’re getting proper exercise and lots of mental stimulation. You practice modified tricks (like modified yoga) and you take care of their body and mind every single day with the intention of making it more resilient to aging. 

What I want to be sure of, is that whether we have a few weeks left or a few years left, they’re going to be wonderful for both of us. 

Anaesthesia-Free Canine Teeth Cleaning

In the past few years I have come across a few incidents of an individual practicing anaesthesia-free teeth cleaning and every time, it has been very hush-hush. I wondered about the safety aspect, but also about the qualifications of the individuals who are practicing.

Recently this practice has become a little less hush-hush and clinics are being advertised openly. The marketing is enticing and the details sound credible to the average pet owner.

Those of us who actively and reputably work in the industry (trainers, veterinarians, groomers, etc…) know that this practice is highly dangerous, not to mention technically illegal. Even if the practitioner claims to be trained and “certified” – it doesn’t matter.

In Ontario, only veterinarians may practice veterinary dentistry. What might surprise you is that cleaning is also part of veterinary dentistry, according to the College of Veterinarians of Ontario:

Veterinary dentistry includes provision of oral health care including but not limited to: the cleaning (other than simple brushing), adjustment, filing (“floating”), extraction, or repair of animals’ teeth; and to medical treatment of and surgery performed on any part of the oral cavity. 

What is Anaesthesia-Free Teeth Cleaning?
Anaesthesia-Free Teeth Cleaning, or Non-Professional Dental Scaling (NPDS), is the practice of cleaning an animal’s teeth without the use of a general anaesthetic, which involves holding the (awake) animal’s head still for a period of time (30  to 90 minutes at a time), scraping the plaque and tartar build-up off each tooth, cleaning the mouth of all debris, and brushing the teeth.

This sounds enticing especially to those whose pets are showing signs of periodontal disease.

What are the health risks?
While we go in for regular dental cleanings with our dentists, we are cooperative patients and will hold our heads still during the procedure. Animals do not do this willingly. If the animal turns their head suddenly, even just slightly, they can be easily injured or the handlers can be bitten.

Bacteria that rests on our teeth is not necessarily sitting politely atop each tooth – more often than not, the bacteria has found its way under the gum line. If the person performing this procedure must scrape below the gum line, one can guarantee that the animal will respond out of pain and there is great risk of the bacteria being pushed deeper into the cavity and worming its way inevitably into the blood stream.

Brachycephalic dogs (short-nosed, flat-faced dogs such as Pugs, Pekingese, Boston Terriers, Bulldogs, Boxers, etc…) and dogs with pre-existing heart conditions can be at great risk while restrained and put under even minor stress or exertion. Ocular injuries from improper restraint, abscesses developing near the root of the tooth, cuts that lead to infection, loose plaque can easily be inhaled causing aspiration, and the list goes on…

Lastly, as this is a cosmetic procedure, the results are very misleading and the owners who partake are far less likely to see their regular veterinarian regarding their pet’s dental health. This means that all the real dental issues that are not addressed during NPDS are left to fester for much longer, causing more damage. 

What are the behavioural risks?
Behaviourally, the risks far outweigh the benefits here as well. Unless you have trained your pet to sit still with their mouth open for up to 90 minutes and tolerate sharp instruments poking, prodding, and scraping, this is going to be a traumatic nightmare for your pet.

Many pets are not taught to be properly restrained for a brief veterinary exam that lasts less than five minutes.  Is it fair for us to expect them to tolerate an hour and a half of discomfort?

The risk for biting is extremely high, but even if they do not bite, they will have learned that any duration of restraint is uncomfortable and even painful. How do you think they will respond at their annual vet check when your veterinarian investigates their mouth? Now we have put our veterinarians at risk  for a bite too.

These types of traumatic incidents are called “single event learning” and this is one of the most effective types of learning in the sense that whatever happens in that situation will likely cause long term changes in behaviour. This is not ideal especially if the behaviour the animal is learning is that they are helpless and bad things happen when people touch them.

What about anaesthesia?
Anaesthesia is not 100% risk-free, but then again, what is? What we do know is that anaesthesia has become much safer over the years and that protocols are put in place to reduce risk, and to manage each patient safely.

When anesthesia is used, “One trained person is dedicated to continuously monitoring and recording vital parameters, such as body temperature, heart rate and rhythm, respiration, oxygen saturation via pulse oximetry, systemic blood pressure, and end tidal CO2 levels,” according to the guidelines. – AAHA Anaesthesia Guidelines

I urge you to avoid these dangerous cosmetic procedures and instead have an open discussion about dental care with your veterinarian. No one is more qualified to discuss this with you than your licensed veterinarian.

Want your dog to have better teeth?
It’s not as hard as it sounds. A few ideas:

  • appropriate chew toys (not tennis balls!)
  • daily brushing with a pet safe toothpaste (do you brush your teeth every day?)
  • regular veterinary exams (see below for chart)
  • a healthy diet (high quality kibble, home-cooked or raw) – be sure that it is professionally balanced and see our upcoming blog about diet.
  • utilizing a Healthy Mouth product in your pet’s water

How often should I see my vet?
Here is a great chart from Dr.Karen Overall, MA, VMD, PhD, DACVB, CAAB. When dogs hit developmental milestones, it is paramount that we make appointments with our veterinarian and our trainer in order to assess the physical and behavioural health of the dog, preventing future problems and addressing current ones.

I compare this to how often we visit our family doctor or bring our children to their paedeatrician. If we do this for ourselves, why wouldn’t we do this for our pets? It certainly is worth it to me!

AGE OF DOG = FREQUENCY OF VET VISIT
<16 weeks = every 2-3 weeks
16 weeks – 1 year = every 2-4 months
1-2 years = every 6 months
2-8 years = once per year (minimum)
8> years = every 6 months (minimum)
12> years = every 3-4 months

Your veterinarian will occasionally suggest a full dental cleaning that involves anaesthetic which will actually prolong your dog’s life. Oral health is the keystone to our health too. Many people say that it is too expensive or that they don’t need it. Logically, if that were true, we wouldn’t either.

Please take care of your dog’s teeth as well as you take care of yours, and do so responsibly. Cosmetic procedures like anaesthetic-free cleanings are far too risky for any dog. Don’t believe the hype.

Pet Obesity Day

Image

[Image source: Mr TGT]

Is Fido looking a little frumpy lately? 

It’s been known to happen. Perhaps you’ve been working long hours, unable to spend as much time at the dog park or running each morning. Maybe a member of the family is sneaking table scraps (more than usual) to him while your back is turned. It could even be that the measuring cup for that kibble is getting bigger and bigger…

Whatever the reason, it’s no laughing matter. 

Did you know? Obesity can lead to: 

  • Type 2 diabetes 
  • Respiratory and Heart disease 
  • Osteoarthritis 
  • High blood pressure 
  • Many forms of cancer – especially intra-abdominal cancers

Obese pets also live shorter lives than pets who are at a healthy weight or slightly underweight. 

Now before you jump on the diet-wagon, it’s important to visit your trusted veterinarian. There are some conditions that are associated with weight gain; hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease for example. These should always be ruled out prior to embarking on a weight-loss plan. 

There are some simple solutions to weight loss once medical issues are ruled out, but just because they’re simple doesn’t mean they’re easy or a quick-fix. Just like with people, we don’t need fancy food, diet pills, surgery or gimmicks. We need to do three things:

  • portion control
  • healthy choices
  • exercise

Sound familiar? I hope so! 

Portion Control

First, look at your dog food bag, if you’re feeding kibble. The dog food companies want your dog to eat more so that you buy more and you buy more frequently. Don’t follow their recommended feeding unless your dog is more of an athlete than a couch-potato. Decrease portion sizes slowly and gradually until your dog is at their recommended weight and then all you have to do is maintain. 

If you’re using treats to train, decrease the amount of kibble you’re feeding to make up for the extra calories in training. Use healthier choices for treats. Avoid store-bought products that contain colours, nitrates, preservatives, sugar (yes, that happens!) and other harmful chemicals. Try boiled chicken breast, ground beef, cheerios, freeze-dried liver. 

Also, try using slow-feeders or food toys to slow your dog down a touch and maybe even feed 3-4 smaller meals per day rather than 1 or 2. 

Healthy Choices

Speaking of healthy choices, look at your dog’s food. Would you eat it? Why not? Answer that question honestly and reconsider what you’re feeding your dog. Do you know how to read dog food labels? Here’s a crash course. Want to find a better choice for your dog? Contact Sabine who specializes in canine nutrition and for less than $30 you’ll be coached on the best choices for your dog.

Remember that major dog food companies have excellent marketing but if they’re putting all their money into marketing, how much is left over for quality ingredients. Don’t go for that big-box-store or grocery brand – you know the one…the one with the commercials of happy puppies and kittens munching and crunching while you’re bombarded with promises of “high quality animal protein” (read: euthanized pets), probiotics (read: just a touch so we can list it on the ingredients, but not enough to make a difference), and fresh fruits and vegetables (riiiiiight…). The words “natural” and “organic” are also a joke to me. Everything is natural. Kibbie is not. 

Kibble is simply meat (of all kinds, you will find out), grains, vegetables and fruits, grinding them up, steaming them at high temperatures and finally pushing them through a machine to make cute little shapes. Once the food is dry, it’s generally sprayed with flavour agents (many are carcinogenic), fats and vitamins to make it appetizing for the animal. 

Well. “Appetizing” is one word for it. It’s “life-sustaining”…that I’ll give it. We shouldn’t have to *make* food more appetizing to eat it. Food should taste fantastic as is. 

Bottom line? You have other options. There are higher quality kibbles out there, as well as home cooking and raw food diets. Each dog is different and there is no cookie-cutter approach. 

Exercise

I find that most people in Toronto exercise their dogs quite well and relatively appropriately, however visiting the suburbs, I see more overweight, sluggish dogs than anything else. When you have a backyard it’s easy to get comfortable and stop walking your dog 3-4 times a day. 

When increasing an exercise regime for humans or dogs, it’s paramount that we start small and start slow. I always tell people to research The Running Room program for people and use that same methodology; warm up well, one minute jog, one minute walk, repeat for a short time, then cool down. You gradually increase the distance and intensity, but you don’t go from couch-potato to marathon-runner in one week or even four weeks. Find the right type of exercise for your dog. 

Swimming is low-impact and great for water-loving dogs. Running is a good choice if you can find a softer surface than concrete or asphalt (terrible on the knees and other joints!). Agility classes can be a blast, as can frisbee, fetch, and flyball. Brisk walking is the most realistic for most people and dogs. Always choose something you both enjoy – if your dog is not enjoying it, get creative and find other ways to exercise where you’re both having fun – otherwise it’s not realistically sustainable. 

So when your dog is packing on the pounds, don’t turn to gimmicks and special food. Be sure they’re medically sound and then give them healthier choices and more activity in their lives. You might even find that you’re getting into better shape and that your relationship with your dog might get a makeover too! 

Happy Pet Obesity Day! 

Just wait here…

As I walk through the city of Toronto on a daily basis, I am still shocked to see how many people still tie their dogs up outside outside stores and leave them for a stretch of time. I’ll admit to doing it up until last year when we had a series of dog-nappings in the city and my eyes were opened to the dangers. It was only one store (my favourite shwarma shop) and I was literally on the other side of the glass, 10 inches from the door, and didn’t have to take my eyes off him since they knew my order.

Dog-napping is not the only concern that is a reality when we tie our dogs up outside, but it’s a very real one. Dogs who are stolen are sold on Kijiji and Craigslist, sold for research (yes, that happens here in Ontario!), used as bait dogs in dog fighting rings, walked around the city for days/weeks/months/years on end by the homeless.

Dogs tied up outside stores can also block access to everyone else trying to get by on the sidewalk or even enter the store. If a person is afraid of dogs and there’s a dog blocking the entrance, they now have to wait until you decide to return. Dog walkers and anyone else walking dogs can’t go by as it’s a risk in case your dog is not friendly (dogs who are tied up have only one option: “fight” since their “flight option is taken away by the tether). I’m not afraid of dogs, but last year a Husky who was tied up outside a store lunged at me and got my pant leg. Needless to say, I was ready to bite his guardian myself.

Imagine being disabled in one way or another and you are using a service dog – when you approach the store, a dog starts lunging at your service dog or trying to play and suddenly the leashes are tangled and what can you do? Perhaps you’re blind and you can’t even decipher what’s going on.

Leaving Fido outside the store can also create some issues for him; if he has separation anxiety and you leave him in a place where you have not practiced leaving him under threshold for short periods of time, this can cause a lot of anxiety that sets you back in any progress you might have made. If you have a reactive dog (towards dogs, people, cars, squirrels, anything at all), leaving him outside the store allows him to practice the behaviours you don’t like, such as barking, lunging, snarling, growling, etc…

Other people may unknowingly train (or untrain) your dog too! People walking by might say hello and encourage jumping or rough play. Kids may torment your dog and leave you with a few behaviour challenges you weren’t expecting. Some well-meaning folks my try to “rescue” your dog or even feed him without your permission.

Perhaps your dog gets spooked by something and slips out of his collar or harness – a frightened dog will run anywhere and that might include directly into traffic or far away from home.

Liability-wise, it’s also incredibly unsafe to leave your dog tied up outside. Anyone can say that your dog charged them or bit them and they’d likely have a case since most of the time, the dog pays no matter what is said.

No errand is so important that your dog cannot be dropped off at home or left in the care of a friend while you run it. Play it safe and even if you think you’ll “only be a second”, it’s just not worth the risk, is it?

“My dog is great with kids – he would never bite.”

The learning never ends…let me tell you.

Parker is ten years old now and up until this point has been absolutely phenomenal around children and has been a pretty tough dog in stressful times.

This Christmas was particularly hectic as family gathered (all the siblings were here this year), most of us sick with varying colds and flues, and me working crazy hours trying to wrap up my year end and get my school opened on time. I could tell that Parker was uninterested in most of the goings on this year as he seemed to want to spend more time upstairs in bed than down with everyone around the tree. (Although around meal times you’d be hard pressed to find him anywhere but under the table, clever pup.)

A couple of days ago, my aunt and cousin came over with my two little second cousins who Parker has met many times before and loves dearly. This particular visit, they were pretty excited by all the festivities and spent a while running around with Matchbox cars in their hands. At first Parker didn’t mind sitting at a distance and just watching but as the excitement level rose, I could see him offering a few yawns and lip-licks here and there. He came to sit with me and I massaged him as I spent time chatting with my family and the kids ran around. This soothed him for a while but I could feel the tension in his body. I gave him a potty break and then sent him up to bed…but he came back down moments later, wanting to be with us instead.

He chose a spot between my feet as I rubbed his ears and asked the kids to find a quieter activity than running. (Who actually listens the first time?) It was at that moment, the older one scooted under the table right behind Parker with quite a bang and squeal. Parker turned and before you can blink, he air-snapped. I caught his muzzle and turned him to face me. “You’re a good boy – I hear you. Let’s go.” I said. I asked my family to send the boys to the family room while I get Parker out of the way and they comply quickly and happily. I bring Parker to his favourite spot on the main floor – his bed. He lays down, visibly calmer and puts his head down for a snooze.

No punishment, no scolding, no grabbing the child and rushing them away, no panicking, just management and more management.

“My dog is great with kids – he would never bite.”

Well, my dog is great with kids, but he most certainly will bite if he feels he needs to.

I failed him in this particular situation. He should have been removed from the hustle and bustle at the first yawn, not 10 minutes later, not an hour later. I’m lucky, plain and simple. I’m lucky that Parker is as tolerant as he is around children and that I’m able to recognize the signs of stress and anxiety. I should have acted sooner so that he wasn’t at his threshold, but I got greedy (as we all do) and based my current perspective on past experience assuming nothing had changed.

Like I said, Parker is ten now. His patience has lessened, his tolerance is lower and his favourite pastimes have changed. My lesson is to grow with him and to occasionally adjust my expectations based on current experience among other factors…and to always practice what I preach.

Silly rabbit trainer.