Thunder and Lightning and Everything Frightening

I was just sitting down to engage people on social media when I heard a clap of thunder. Not surprisingly and not long after, I heard Jake coming up the stairs to hide in the closet. Jake, like many dogs, is not a fan of thunder or fireworks. The fourth of July around here is not very much fun for him. The poor thing shakes and hides and drools something terrible during thunderstorms and any time the neighbors set off fireworks.

I’m sure some of you can relate. You may have a pet that reacts the same to loud noises. Even if your dog doesn’t, it’s no guarantee that it will never happen. Dogs who were never bothered by storms or loud noises can suddenly develop what is called a “noise phobia,” and it can take years to subside if ever.

When that happens, it’s important to take action and not ignore the behavior. Ignoring the behavior can lead to severe anxiety. So it is important that you prepare for this or your dog will never be the same again.

One thing to keep in mind is that once your dog enters full-on fear factor do your best not to console him/her with affection. This is a difficult concept to accept for most of us. Even I have difficulty with it because we all want out pets to feel safe and we want to reassure them that everything is going to be okay. Unfortunately, that method only works with humans who have the capability to rationalize. Animals don’t work that way. When we give affection during times of stress we are encouraging the behavior. In a sense, we are letting the animal know that it’s okay for them to be afraid and ultimately we make the problem worse. It sounds cruel, but if you put yourself in their “paws” it starts to make sense.

But there is something you can do. Some people swear by the ThunderShirt. I myself have never used one on my dogs, but I hear many people who swear by them. They say that the product has really helped tremendously for their dog. I may have to do some research on that, but it bears mentioning here. One thing to keep in mind is to put the shirt on before the storm comes around before the dog starts to get anxious. That way they make a positive association with the garment.

Another thing you can do is just be near them. The simple act of being near them will make them feel safe. You don’t have to pet them. Your presence is affection enough. Let them hide in their favorite spot and make them comfortable with a blanket and just hang out with her/him. As soon as they calm down, praise the hell out of them. Shower them with love, kisses, and treats.

However, while your dog is in panic mode don’t talk to them, don’t pet them, just be near them. If you must touch your pet make it something relaxing like a message, but don’t talk to them. Just get their blood flowing until they’ve relaxed. Or you can take mother nature as an example. When puppies are nervous, their mother calms them down by licking their face. You don’t have to lick your pup’s face, but you can stroke it with the back of your hand nice and slow. Do that a few times and it will spark memories of the pup’s mommy licking his/her face and that should help calm him/her down.

The important thing to remember is not to talk to them during stressful times. It doesn’t help and in fact, it just makes matters worse. I would love to hear from people who have used the ThunderShirt and their opinions. Feel free to leave a comment.

Discipline Has Been Abused

Being a good parent means taking care of your children, providing for them, and raising them to be productive members of society. And to be a good parent one must provide children with rules and consequences for breaking those rules. That is discipline. Discipline is such a misunderstood concept. Partly because it has been misused by so many people who think that disciplining a child means causing them pain when they misbehave and that couldn’t be further from the truth. When a parent causes pain and suffering to a child that is abuse. There is a world of difference between disciplining and abusing a child. Unfortunately, most people don’t understand the difference.

One simple way of looking at it is to attribute emotions to the actions. Discipline is an act of love. It comes from a place of caring. When a child misbehaves they run the risk of harming themselves and/or others. We must teach them that their actions have consequences. Discipline is disagreeing with misbehavior and is essential for the development of a child.

Abuse is an act of anger and it comes from frustration brought on by ignorance. Abuse takes the form of yelling, belittling, striking, and/or punishments. And sometimes, abuse is very subtle. Abuse is not just about hitting a child. Words can be just as hurtful as a strick. Abuse is verbal and non-verbal but it is still abuse.  When we discipline a child we must examine our state of mind and ask ourselves, “Am I frustrated with my child right now?” If the answer is yes, then we must take a second to analyze what exactly is it that is causing us frustration. Being a good parent means being in control of your emotions at all times. Easier said than done, right? Nevertheless, it is what we need to do because when we discipline children out of anger, it will have catastrophic consequences.

You might be asking why am I talking about parenting and disciplining children on a blog about pets. The answer is simple. The two correlate because just as children need rules to be productive members of society, pets also need rules to be healthy and balanced. Our pets need discipline as much as they need food and affection. Pets without rules and discipline are unbalanced and do not live a satisfied life just as a child would be if they didn’t have rules and discipline.

Pets and children aren’t all that dissimilar. In fact, psychologically, most pets and toddlers are identical. If you ever watched young children play, you’ll see a lot of similarities when you watch young pets play. And when they get out of hand, both human and animal parents often step in to stop the behavior. It’s how they learn. If parents don’t discipline children or pets, they never learn to act appropriately. But, again, it must come from a place of caring and love, not anger. Animals have this packed. They discipline their kids using their instinct. We, on the other hand, are at the mercy of what our parents taught us who were at the mercy of what their parent taught them and so on. We have learned to suppress our natural instincts and instead we rely on our knowledge be our guide. Unfortunately, we humans are still animals and we often don’t have the right knowledge tools available to us. And so when we lack the correct knowledge, our emotions take over and that’s when we can get into trouble. That’s when we get abuse.

I’d like to challenge you to rethink “discipline” to redefine the concept. I want you to realize that it is an important part of development. That it isn’t the torture device used by tyrants. Think back on how your parents applied it and how you may be able to improve upon it. If your parents got it wrong, don’t just toss it aside, learn from it. If you’re a productive member of society, chances are they did some things right.

Shadovar & Gaelic

Yesterday, I dropped in on my first paid client. Full disclosure, they are friends of mine. I have yet to provide services to people I’ve never met, but I still think that this is a milestone for Anibal Den and I’m very excited about it.

I haven’t hung out with these guys in quite a while. Work and life kept me busy so I never really had much time to socialize. That’s one of the biggest reasons why I wanted to create my own business so that I can make time for friends and family. I have a lot of good friends that I don’t get to see too often. I’m hoping that will change now that I’m working for myself.

Funny story, my friend Brandi was talking to another mutual friend, Kat, right around the time I left my job with the State and started my own business. Brandi and Kat were talking about their pets and Brandi mentions that she needed to find someone who would drop in on her dogs, Shadovar and Gaelic. Brandi then tells Kat that she wished that I would start my own business taking care of dogs. Kat laughed because she knew that I had already done just that. Long story short, Brandi gave me a call almost immediately and we set up a time to discuss her needs. That was a few weeks ago and yesterday was the first of what I hope to be many drop-in visits.

Brandi has two dogs. They are both bully mixes, powerful, but super sweet. They are such sweeties and working with them was such a treat. I had a great time getting them to chase balls and sticks and giving them tons of affection. They both ate it up and I couldn’t be happier.

img_3527Shadovar is such a sweetie. Just look at her. Her smile is contagious and you can’t help but fall in love with her. She LOVES to play fetch to the point of exhaustion. I had to be careful because she could go ’till she drops. The tenacity of terriers is uncanny. Working with her was surprising. She’s such a strong dog. I mean, look at that mouth. She’s like an alligator. Her jawline is so intimidating. I can understand why people are so afraid of bully breeds. Luckily, I understand dogs better than the average person. I know the difference between an aggressive bark and an announcement bark. All she wanted to do was play and be a dog. She also did amazing on the leash and she was more than happy to submit to my leadership. Perfect dog, very puppy like. I love her.

img_3525Gaelic was a little different. Don’t get me wrong, he is also a great dog. He is full of love and just wants to lick you and please you. He is so eager to please that he can’t wait to do it. Gaelic is full of energy. For that reason, next time we meet I will be putting him on a treadmill to burn off some of that energy. A tired dog is a good dog.

Gaelic’s energy is so high, that I had to approach him a little differently than Shadovar. To give you a frame of reference, I took a billion pictures of Shadovar, but Gaelic never stood still for me to take a decent picture. I did get a couple, but I wish I could have gotten a few close-ups. He would just run away when I got close. It’s a dog game.

As high energy as Gaelic was, I’m happy to say that he did take to my leadership and I think I gained his respect towards the end. So by the end of our engagement, he was no longer trying to pull me or trying to lead me anywhere. Instead, he submitted to me completely and let me lead him back into the house. I wish that I could take them out for walks. Unfortunately, the pups don’t live in that great of a neighborhood. Brandi tells me that there are dogs off leash and some of them have even attacked Gaelic and Shadovar in the past. I might suggest to take them to a trail or someplace else. Baby steps.

I had a great time with these two pups. I wish I could introduce them to people who are afraid of pit-bull-type breeds because they really are so sweet. I can’t wait to work with them again.

What Methods to Use When Training Your Dog

When it comes to training dogs, it seems like everyone and their brother has an opinion on the subject. Both dog owners and non-dog owners are quick to give you conflicting tips and tricks on how to train your dog and/or correct misbehavior. And it’s not just the amateurs who disagree. In fact, it is widely known that two professional dog trainers will only agree on one thing and that is that a third dog trainer is wrong.

So to whom do you listen to? And what methods should you use? Unfortunately, I can’t tell you because every dog is different and every situation is different. Working with your dog is a special relationship between you and your dog. And it really doesn’t matter what breed they are, what sex they are, or how old they are. Every dog is different and therefore the methods you use are entirely up to you.

But I do want to talk about the pros and cons of two methods that I’m familiar with and use every day. Those methods are positive reinforcement and calm-assertiveness. Unfortunately, there is a huge stigma attached to the calm-assertiveness approach. It is often described as dominance-training and it has been denounced by most positive reinforcement trainers because they feel it is cruel, abusive, and outdated. Some even say that this kind of method could even make matters worse. I’m not going to lie, calm-assertiveness is not for everyone. It is a complicated method that requires a certain mindset so if done incorrectly it WILL make matters worse.

With that said, calm-assertiveness shouldn’t be dismissed because it is about mimicking nature. The key is that you must be in touch with your animal instincts for it to be effective because it is using animal/dog psychology and not human psychology to communicate with your dog. It is about using methods that dogs are already familiar with and use within a pack in the wild. It is all about working with mother nature. This is why I have a real issue when people who do not understand nature call it “cruel” and “outdated.” That is like saying that nature is cruel and outdated.

Positive reinforcement, on the other hand, is using a reward system like food or play when a dog does something right and ignoring misbehavior. It is very effective when training dogs to potty train, do tricks, participate in agility events, or to do a job. It is a good method because dogs love attention and anytime they get the attention it reinforces whatever behavior they were just doing. But be warned because positive reinforcement can also be misused and it often is because it can reinforce bad behavior just as well as the good. Timing is essential when training your dog no matter what methods you use.

There are two famous people on TV who use these methods. You may have heard of them. Victoria Stilwell and Cesar Millan. Victoria is a huge proponent of positive reinforcement and opposes the use of “dominance-training” at all cost. Cesar Millan, The Dog Whisperer, uses calm-assertive energy to work with dogs. Victoria uses praise and treats to reward dogs when they behave. Cesar works with nature using its rules to correct unwanted behavior.

There is one huge difference between these two individuals that most critics don’t seem to understand. Victoria is a dog trainer, Cesar is not and he has never claimed to be. Cesar is a dog behaviorist. He works with unstable dogs who have often bitten and attacked both strangers and their owners. He’s not trying to get them to sit and stay. He’s not trying to get them to stop barking when the mailman stops by. Cesar uses the dog’s natural instincts to help individuals prevent their dogs from lashing out at people or other animals when on their walks or at home. He helps people correct behavior that can lead to dangerous situations. There is a huge difference between these two people and they really shouldn’t be put in the same category.

Dogs are animals. We need to remember that. Animals are ruled by laws of nature. They do not rationalize as humans do. They respond solely on instinct. And unless those laws have changed in the past 10 years, calling Cesar Millan’s methods “outdated” is unfair if not inaccurate.

With that said, his ways are not the end all be all. Even Cesar himself has often approached a dog using different methods. The key is to think outside the box when it comes to dogs because every dog is a unique individual. They are all different and they will all respond differently to different techniques. As long as you’re not hurting the animal, as long as you’re not abusing the animal, as long as you respect the animal, any method you seem fit, that gets your desired results, is the correct method.

The important thing is not to give up on the dog. Try different methods until you find something that works for you and your dog. Be creative. Do some research. No dog is beyond help. So there’s no reason to kill an animal just because the methods you’re using are not working. You have to be open-minded and you can’t give up.

I was moved to tears watching this one episode of It’s Me or the Dog. Victoria Stilwell recommended destroying a dog when she couldn’t help his aggression problems with her own methods. To me, that is the epitome of arrogance, selfishness, and irresponsibility. This poor dog was needlessly put to death because of this person’s pride. Her positive reinforcement methods didn’t work so in her mind she labeled the dog as having something seriously and mentally wrong with it and recommended it be put down. The poor family took her advice and had their dog put to sleep. If she had put asside her ego and approached the animal with different methods, that family would probably still have that pet with them today. Can we honestly say that destroying an animal is better than using an approach you may disagree with, but might produce results?

Positive reinforcement is a great tool, but let’s try to remember that it is a human invention that works against nature and animal instincts. Dogs are pretty smart and they can learn to work with the method, but, again, it has to be taught and they have to accept it. It just takes training, patience, and time. Nature already has a method in place for animals. I chose to use nature in my favor to correct unwanted behavior and I use positive reinforcement to reward my dog when training them to do things that don’t come naturally to them. To me, it makes more sense to work with those instincts than trying to reinvent methods that go against everything animals are used to? No matter how much training a dog has, no matter how much positive reinforcement your dog is exposed to, they will never be able to fully suppress their natural instincts.

We, humans, are amazing animals. We have skills that are unique to us. We can rationalize and use logic to solve problems and our emotions. Animals rely solely on instincts. Humans also have our own set of instincts. For example, when a baby is first born, we don’t need to teach them how to latch on to their mother’s breast. They just do. That’s instinct. Think about the first time you had a beer, your natural instincts might have rejected the beverage because instinctually bitter tastes are linked to poisons. We train ourselves to drink beer and to enjoy it. Others never develop a taste for it.

Fear of spiders is another example of natural human instincts. It’s a response that is ingrained in us that can take time and exposure to suppress and yet some people will never be able to fully suppress it. That is how strong instincts are. With positive reinforcement, we are asking dogs to suppress natural instincts and like people, some dogs will take to it, others will not.

We should feel free to supplement the laws nature has given us with our own methods. But let’s not dismiss natures laws and substitute them entirely. Nature has managed, successfully, for billions of years without our help. How arrogant of humans to think we can develop a better “humane” system in the short time we’ve been here.