This is an important announcement to let you all know that I am not taking on any more in-person clients this year. I am still open for remote zoom sessions, so please continue to contact me to help with general behaviour advice or if you need help with any specific problems.
Existing clients with in-person sessions are not affected. Thank you for your support and always remember, Think Dog Positive!
I want to talk bubbles … but possibly not the ones that immediately spring to mind. We all know about water bubbles, you know … bath bubbles, washing up bubbles, blowing bubbles and such like. Over the last couple of years we have also become very accustomed to hearing the phrase “social bubbles”, with regards to Covid-19. Today, I want to talk about a different type of bubble – personal bubbles.
You might already know that we (humans) have a personal bubble. Another name for it is personal space. Our personal space is an area around us that other people generally stay outside of. For example, When we talk to someone face-to-face, we naturally stand at a distance we feel comfortable with. The size of someone’s personal bubble is not “fixed” and it is not normally the same for two people. It can also change depending on who we are with. Taking the previous example, we may stand quite close to the other person (family and close friends) or remain much further away (acquaintances and strangers). For example, our bubble might be around 1 metre in size and this barrier should only be crossed by those we feel comfortable with. If someone gets too close, we begin to feel uncomfortable and may try to “step back” to create more space between us. We think of the other person as “getting in our face”. Have you ever been on a packed bus or train and had to stand so close to someone you can smell them? Or had a boss (or teacher at school) who didn’t seem to understand personal distance, and “invaded your space” by getting too close or looking over your shoulder?
At the start of Covid-19, the UK Government set social distance restrictions to try and prevent the spread of the virus. They told us we had to stay 2 metres apart from those we did not live with. That distance effectively became everyone’s personal bubble. Because it was our “normal” for such a long time, how many of us now feel uncomfortable if someone comes within 2 metres of us?
I know I do…
What About Dogs?
“That’s all very well, but what has all this to do with dogs?”, you might ask.
While not (yet) validated by science, it is my belief that dogs also have personal bubbles and they work in the same way as ours. Have you ever noticed how your dog might want to “get up close and personal” with some dogs, but not others? Next time you are out, just watch him (or other dogs and see how close they approach one another. It’s fascinating to witness. If you have an anxious dog, he might want to keep as much distance from others as he can – any closer and he becomes uncomfortable with the situation and his stress levels start to rise. If he is unable to maintain his personal space, his body is likely to go into fight or flight mode. His instinct will be to try and increase the distance between himself and the other. If he cannot create this distance by moving away himself (for example, if he is on a lead), he may try to force the other dog to “go away” by growling, barking or lunging at them in an attempt to scare them off.
Unfortunately, not everyone is able to recognise (or respect) another’s personal bubble and may accidentally (or sometimes intentionally) violate another’s boundary. Think of the teacher from the example above, we probably all know someone like that …
Now, consider the off-lead dog in the park who charges up to your on-lead “reactive” dog, while his human shouts, “it’s ok, he’s friendly …” . To your dog, it doesn’t matter if the other is a puppy, a friendly adult, is socialised, unsocialised or just socially awkward. The result is often the same – your poor dog’s bubble (boundary) is crossed and he reacts badly. Not only that, but the size of his bubble is likely to increase too, so the next time he is out on a walk, he may need to have more space in order to feel comfortable.
What Can We Do ..?
Of course, we don’t know how big our dogs’ personal bubbles are. They are not a fixed size and can change depending on many factors (meeting a known or unknown dog, how they feel emotionally, previous experiences etc.). So instead of “how do I know?”, the question should probably be, “what can I do to help him?”. Ultimately, we have to be aware our dog’s individual needs and ensure we act when they need it. We can do that by watching (and learning from) their body language and their behaviour. Once we understand them better, we will be in a much better place to make sure we work with them on walks, rather than forcing them into situations they are not comfortable with. After all, do you want to meet and chat to every person you see in the street?
One last thought, it is the same when it comes to dogs meeting people. Your dog may be perfectly happy to be touched by you (his family), but might not want to petted by every other person he meets. Occasionally, he might not even want to be touched by you. We shouldn’t be offended, we should respect our dog’s personal bubble and be mindful that all dogs are individuals, with their own emotional needs. They are not robots and not everyone wants a hug!
You can find out more about what your dog is trying to tell you and how to understand their body language in Tony’s book Not Everyone Wants a Hug, available directly from the Books page on his website, and all good retailers.
When Rosie lost her sight suddenly we were devastated. I think I may even have started to grieve over the (perceived) loss. This wasn’t the loss of her sight but the thought that we were going to lose her (again). Rosie is a 9 year old retired racer and since we adopted her 3 years ago we have had some real scary moments (a corn cob, poisoning, not to mention a few ripped nails). It is fair to say she has cost us more money than possibly all our previous dogs put together.
Earlier this year she was rushed into the emergency vets after becoming seriously ill. We were convinced we were going to lose her after her balance deteriorated over a matter of hours, resulting in a total collapse. She spent the next two days on fluids, antibiotics and then blood tests over a couple of months to keep a check on her kidney functions. So when it seemed to be happening again …
Wearing a sock to try and reduce the noise of the fireworks
On this fateful night she had stood in the kitchen, shaking uncontrollably because of the fireworks (as she had over the previous week as she is terrified of the noise).
Then she started to have problems with her balance again, back legs became uncoordinated and then she started to “step across” herself (almost like being drunk – the only way I can come close to describing it). Then she bumped into a wall and tripped over her water bowl and I began to think it might be eyes instead. I settled her upstairs (had to carry her up) and waited for my wife to finish work (she had the car) so we could decide what to do next.
After a cursory check of her vision (menace response, pupil tracking), we both agreed her vision had “gone”. As she wasn’t showing any other symptoms, we decided to wait until the morning to see our local vet. Needless to say, neither of us got any sleep that night.
The vet diagnosed progressive retinal atrophy(which affects the photoreceptors of the retina), resulting in total (or almost total) loss of her vision. The sudden onset may have been caused or exacerbated by extremely high blood pressure and it would be easy to blame the previous 5 nights of fireworks but we can’t be sure this wasn’t coming anyway. We were sent away with tablets to reduce her blood pressure and told to come back in 3 weeks or sooner if she deteriorated.
That first day was terrible. As she lay on the sofa not wanting to move we were heartbroken, convinced this was the end for our beautiful girl (side note: it doesn’t seem to matter how well you know dogs and their behaviour, your brain consistently tries to prove you wrong). Eventually sense returned and we started to encourage her to do things, supporting rather than comforting her. Each time we moved we spoke, so she knew where we were, going outside with her to toilet (walking in front with my hand on her collar or back), giving her time and praising her whenever she did anything. Fortunately she was still treat oriented so even though she didn’t want to eat her normal food, I made sure she could find the snufflemat which was full of really smelly treats. I helped her upstairs to be with us at night, fully intending to have to carry her down again (if she needed to go out in the night).
Over the next few days she started to find her way around downstairs, and could go outside to toilet on her own without bumping into the garden walls or falling down the steps. There were a couple of issues with the stairs, but (more often than not) she manages to get up them on her own. 6 days later and you could forget she is blind (or almost so), the only signs are the way she sometimes looks past us, the extra use of her nose and some uncertainty when she is outside on walks.
Talking of walks, we have limited these for now as we want her to adjust to this new life in her own time and she seems happy with this. The last time I walked Stom (our lurcher) on his own, I was acutely aware of how many hazards there are at eye/head level which she will need to negotiate on a daily basis. There are things you can buy to help protect their eyes (see below) and we are still thinking which would be best.
I haven’t yet spoken about how Rosie’s impairment has affected our other dog. He knows something is different, but I don’t think he knows what. He spends more time sniffing her now. We know dogs communicate using vision, hearing, touch and smell. We also know they secrete pheromones which convey information about their physiological and emotional states. Therefore it is reasonable to presume that Rosie now smells different even if she looks the same to Storm. As her visual communication decreases, he is having to adapt as well. For instance, if he is laid on the mat, she will often just attempt to lie on it instead of the communication which would normally have taken place between them. We are all having to adapt to the changes …
As we move forward, we are no longer heartbroken and are returning to a sense of normality, albeit a changed normal. We have made some changes around the house to support her and I have no doubt there will be other challenges ahead. For now, this is not the end … it is just a new chapter.
Helping her to adapt
There are many aids you can buy and things you can do to help support a blind dog adapt and navigate the changes. I am going to list some of the things we have done to help Rosie, in the hope it may help someone in a similar position. Remember though, all dogs are individuals and what worked for us might not work for you.
1. Talk to her – after my facebook post about talking too much when training, this is a time we need to talk. Talking lets her know where we are (relative to her position) and also provides comfort. This is calm speaking (like gently rousing them from sleep), not hurried/worried high pitched talk which can cause them to become anxious (“what’s happening?”) . Paired with a steady hand resting on the their neck or side, this gives them all the comfort they need (we started this on the first night to help ease her anxiety).
2. Keep a good routine – don’t be tempted to baby her. The more normal her life is, the quicker she will adapt. Encourage her to do her normal things in the normal place, but provide support so she is able to do them.
Encourage her to explore around the downstairs in her own time (leave doors open where possible so she can find her way outside). Make sure you are close by to provide support and praise her as she explores.
Help her to toilet by going outside with her (walk in front, warn her of steps, and possibly guide her with your hands on collar/harness).
Place treats in front of her (instead of handing them straight to her mouth), this encourages her to use her nose to find them (keeping her mentally stimulated). We have a snufflemat in a fixed place and regularly drop treats on it – it was one of the first locations Rosie found!
3. “Don’t move the furniture” – This may sound obvious, but once she is able to find her way around, anything “out of place” will disorient her, causing confusion and stress (we hold mental maps of our location in our heads and dogs are no different).
Keep fixed places for food and water bowls – these will help to orient her position with doors etc.
We don’t really like our house layout but it actually helps Rosie as the rooms tend to flow naturally into each other, leaving a large “pathway” of space with few obstacles for her to navigate. Most of the furniture follows the room edges and we only have to remember if we get things out.
4. Stairs – you can block off the top of the stairs with a baby gate (while they get used to going up and down). We didn’t bother as she is only upstairs with the bedroom door closed and we support her going down them (see sensory help, below). Going up, we tend to let her work it out for herself as any intervention from me seemed to cause more problems. A shut baby gate at the top would also be an issue for a blind hound travelling at speed.
5. Sensory help – sighthounds like Rosie normally rely mainly on their vision, so we have to help her “see” using her other senses instead.
Sound – we use a verbal “stairs” cue just before going down the stairs and a “slowly” cue to help moderate her descent. We will use another one for stepping on/off curbs and any others we feel will help.
Touch – we use a soft guiding hand on her collar/harness to help her navigate unusual places. On the stairs we pair this with “slowly” to help her not go down too fast.
Different floor textures help her to locate where she is and orient herself. Our landing and stairs have a textured carpet, the main floor is wood laminate and we have purchased a runner which provides a pathway from the lounge, through the dining room, to the patio door (her normal exit and next to the water bowl). The kitchen is vinyl and leads to her food bowl (raised off the floor and on a rug). There is a large dog bed cushion in the lounge (on a rug) near to the sofa and the runner. You can almost see (no pun intended), the mental layout plan forming.
Different rooms have naturally different temperatures (especially in our house) and this also helps her “feel” where she is.
Smell – you can help dogs to orient themselves by introducing specific smells to particular areas in the house. A few drops of an essential oil can be placed low down on doorways to designate different rooms or areas of danger (steps, table edges etc.).
Instead of using a baby gate at the top of the stairs I have placed a few grains of celery salt near to the edge so Rosie can recognise when she is close. This smell is not used anywhere else in the house (even the kitchen lol) and only needs a tiny amount (refreshed after cleaning).
We are currently using Pet Remedy in the lounge (was for the fireworks) and this is close to the lounge door.
Smelly treats (the smellier the better) – helps her locate the snufflemat.
The main thing is to let her know you have her back!
There are other things we have (and may) purchase (links are to UK Amazon but shop around). Anything “worn” by the dog needs to be introduced slowly and positive associations made before use.
Muffin Halo – not really suitable for Rosie but may be useful for others.
Doggles – these may be useful to help to protect her eyes while walking.
Raised Bowl – gives a sturdy frame for the bowl which reduces risk of the bowl moving away from the “fixed location”.
Carpet Runner – goes from our lounge to the patio door to provide a recognised “path”.
“Blind” Dog Collar & Lead – to help other people notice she is visually impaired and help me to encourage them to leave her alone (or adapt their greeting).
There are many facebook groups and websites that have lots of useful information for people with blind dogs. Unfortunately they are just too many to name here, but I suggest you search a few out if you want more ideas.
We are just starting out on this journey, but if anyone has any questions or thoughts, please feel free to email me and I will get back to you as soon as I can.
From 13th July, I will be restarting in-person home appointments. In line with with government guidelines and in an effort to keep everyone safe, there are a couple of things to note about our sessions.
– Visits will generally take place outdoors (keeping 2m apart).
– Inside visits will be kept to a minimum and only when other options are not available (to see specific behaviour etc.). Where possible, room layouts and behaviour should be videoed beforehand and these can be viewed outside.
– Inside visits will be conducted at a distance of 1m with face coverings/disposable gloves worn by me. If possible doors and windows need to be open throughout to provide adequate ventilation.
– Where possible I will use my own equipment/treats to demonstrate techniques and you will need to use your own (to prevent potential cross-contamination).
– While I love drinking tea, please do not be offended if I decline a cup and do not shake hands with you.
– I will sanitise my hands when I arrive and again when I leave. Depending on the length of our session, I may also sanitise them during the session (if I need to touch your dog or any of your training equipment).
– If you or your family are/have been unwell or showing symptoms of covid-19, please let me know as soon as possible as we will have to postpone the visit for 14 days. I will of course let you know if the same happens on my side.
These are definitely interesting times, but we can move forward together by keeping ourselves (and each other) as safe as possible.
Video appointments will continue as normal .
Thank you for your understanding and continued support.
Disclaimer: As a professional member of The Association of INTODogs, I received this Trainer Pack free of charge from K9 Connectables to trial with my own dogs. The following review is unbiased and totally neutral based on my dogs’ and my tests.
K9 Connectables make unique toys, designed to enrich, mentally stimulate and build confidence. The idea behind the toys is that as your dog gains confidence, the toys can be connected together (like the well known children’s building blocks) to make ever more complex structures, developing your dog’s problem-solving skills.
Each kit is sold in two parts, the starter pack (containing the three essential toys), and the puzzle kit (two additional pieces to add more levels of complexity) and they come in three different sizes: mini (for dogs weighing between 3 and 9kg), medium (dogs weighing between 8 and 25kg) and large (dogs weighing between 20 and 40kg). Each pack contains lots of information on how to use and the type of enrichment each piece provides (e.g. dental hygiene, foraging etc.). There is also the obligatory warnings regarding supervising your dog during play and not being indestructible toys. The packaging is made from recyclable cardboard and my only issue is the use of cable/zip ties to hold the pieces to the card – in the current climate it would be nice to see packaging move away from non recyclable material to something sustainable or biodegradable.
The pieces are made from BPA free plastic and feel quite sturdy (when pressed by human hands). There is a slight smell to them, but no worse than most new toys and my dogs did not seem to mind it. Each piece has male and female ends that connect to the opposite end of another piece. The connection is firm and the pieces do not come apart easily when dropped on a hard floor.
Each piece has unique moulded ridges and valleys that are good for spreading soft food (for example, pate, peanut butter, squeezy cheese, etc.), providing great mental stimulation by offering different sensations on the tongue while licking around the different shapes. Each piece also has two bone-shaped holes which will take the company’s own bone treats.
The pieces are firm enough for general chewing, but may be too firm for puppies or senior dogs and not tough enough for strong chewers (like Staffies). I don’t know whether it is possible with this type of material, but the company may like to consider offering a softer option that is kinder (with more give) for dogs with sensitive or weaker mouths (similar to the puppy and senior kongs) and another option that really is tough enough for more powerful (and determined) jaws.
The treats are designed to fit snugly in the bone-shaped holes and the large blue “base” toy can hold 3 treats in each hole. One thing I noticed is that I couldn’t see the size on the packaging. The mini and medium/large ones are easy to tell apart, but unless you have the medium and large side by side, you could mistakenly buy large instead of medium (and vice versa) as there isn’t much difference in size. Perhaps colour coding the kits/treats or adding the size to the treat packs might make it easier for people to spot the correct sized treats (see update below).
Looking at the toys, they seem to be very versatile and their usability is only limited by your own imagination. Something the company recognises – on the outside of the box it states “Only for dogs …” and inside the box “… who can think outside of the box” . It’s very clever marketing and when you open the lid, it also reminds you to think outside of the box. That’s what these toys do …
I have done a short video review of the large kit and possible ideas for use. This is my first video review so apologies for the naff-ness of it and all the sniffing (coming down with a cold).
Every ridge and furrow of every piece is useful (from the connector difficulty level, to the complex shapes that can be built, to the type of treats that can be used).
In the video I talk about an “end cap” or “bung” that could be used to close off a section without having to use another toy. I think making a simple connecting piece (about twice the length of the male connector – about six ridges) would add to the versatility of the whole kit (by encouraging even more configurations). But that is just my opinion and not having one doesn’t detract to the usefulness of the toys.
These pictures show the slight puncture and scrape marks from chewing and justifies the statement that they are only for light to average chewers. Impressively though, the end shows no sign of wear so far. It will be interesting to see how long they last my two.
I believe K9Connectables have also been working on a slow feeder to add to the range, which could be great for mealtimes. My only concern, as with all slow feeding items is that dogs may become frustrated if they cannot get at the food quickly enough. As with all enrichment toys – know your dog, start off simple to build confidence, gradually increasing complexity and always end on a high for the dog.
For me, these are a great enrichment toy. The price may put some people off, but when you look at what you get for the money and how versatile they are, I think they are definitely worth it (providing they are long-ish lasting).
Thanks for reading/watching this review, I hope it has been useful and thank you K9connectables for gifting this trial kit.
Remember … Think, Dog Positive!
Apparently there are only two sizes of treats, mini and medium/large. The newer treats (Salmon flavour) have packaging stating “Designed for Medium and Large Connectables”. Excellent! No more confusion :).
At the most basic level, dog behaviour is a set of movements that occur in response to something happening around him, either inside or outside of the body. This does not mean that dogs are unfeeling and unthinking machines performing purely automatic actions with no ability to control them (reflex). If this were true, it would also be the case for humans as well – after all, have you ever managed to NOT lick your lips after eating a doughnut?
Dogs, like humans are very complex animals and this is being seen in the results of a multitude of research conducted over the last few decades. It is true that there are built-in “patterns” of behaviour which have been used for survival throughout the history of the species, passed down through the genetic code to become automatic (and almost automatic) responses (think fight or flight, or a Border Collie with such a strong herding instinct she ends up herding the kids, or the Labrador who constantly carries things around in his mouth). This is often referred to as “Nature”, but how a dog sees and interacts with the world (“Nurture”) also affects how he might respond in a given situation. This includes how he is feeling at that specific moment in time (is he in pain? hungry? scared? happy? excited? relaxed?), what are his past experiences, and past memories, did something happen earlier in the day, the week, years before that was so strong it became stored as a memory (ready to “pop” out when you least expect it).
Going back to a basic level, dog (and human) behaviour can be affected by many different factors (either added together, or acting alone). This goes for both (what we class as) “normal” behaviour as well as “unwanted” (or disruptive) behaviour and is often represented in imagery as a “behaviour iceberg” – what you see is only a small fraction of what is really going on below the surface.
If we only deal with the behaviour we see, we risk missing something at a deeper level and instead of changing the behaviour, we only suppress it. Suppressed behaviour is very likely to occur again or can come out in a different form of behaviour (and sometimes more extreme).
Take a dog who growls at a child – we “see” the behaviour and tell the dog off, so the dog becomes quiet. After a few times of doing this, the dog no longer growls at the child and appears to ignore him. We think the dog is “fixed”. However one time the child gets a little too close to the dog and instead of growling, he snaps at him. His growling behaviour (which was a warning to stay away) has become suppressed, and as a result his warning behaviour has also become more extreme.
While we will probably never know what “else” is going on (does he not like children, did the child accidentally stand on his tail one time, did a different child pull his ears, is he feeling sick because he ate his food too quickly, did he stand on a sharp stick on his walk and is in pain …), the list is endless. BUT, by acknowledging the bigger picture, we can work on changing the dog’s emotional state so he no longer sees the child as a threat, and therefore does not feel the need to growl when the child is around. THIS is changing behaviour.
In order to make lasting behaviour changes at the base level, we have to dive below the surface and see what is really going on.
In March 2019, I successfully achieved the Level 6 (degree level) “Advanced Diploma in Canine Behaviour Management” from Animal Jobs Direct. This means I can now use the designation “Adip CBM” after my name.
As part of the Advanced Diploma, I had to write a thesis which should extend existing knowledge while encouraging further discussion. My choice of thesis subject was “Can Choice Help to Build Resilience in Dogs”. It reviews existing scientific research while identifying future areas of potential study, to formulate a reasoned argument. A copy is enclosed here if anyone wishes to read it and I am happy to discuss any aspect of it, as I believe that future research starts with discussion.
The Importance of Vet Checks … When Dealing With Behaviour Issues
At a basic level behaviour can be seen as motor-responses to events, which are repeated through reinforcement. However, behaviour goes beyond the original theories of Pavlov, Skinner, Watson and Thorndike. It is a much more complex process, influenced by internal factors (genetics, physiology, neurology) and external events (environmental experiences and learning), and is also affected by current emotional states.
Recently it was brought home to me just how complex behaviour is, and why it’s important to investigate every aspect when looking at changes to a dog’s normal behaviour.
My (nearly) 3 year old Lurcher Storm had been exhibiting unusual behaviour for a little while: licking paws, staying close to us, whining if we went upstairs without him. These behaviours can be signs of increased stress levels and feelings of anxiety. Prolonged paw licking can potentially turn into compulsive behaviour and self-mutilation quite quickly (after starting out as soothing). We did not see any other “obvious” signs but started investigations. We clipped his nails (they were a little long and may have been causing discomfort) and took him to the vets to be checked over “just in case”. The vet found a slightly high temperature, so he was prescribed antibiotics and we were told to “keep an eye on him”.
A Cheeky Boy
His temperature came down but his behaviour started to increase in “naughty-ness”. For example he started to get “cheeky” with food, trying to steal from plates, eating his own meals very quickly and then trying to get Rosie’s, lying down while staring at us constantly, occasionally whining for no reason.
A short interlude …
Dogs need routine, it helps them to have an element of control in their life by predicting certain environmental events (when to be fed, where to sleep, who is around etc.). Now, we happen to have some changes happening in our house at the moment which has interrupted Storm’s routine. Could this be the reason for his anxiety and poor behaviour?
As a behaviourist, I understand the science behind what may cause this behaviour (don’t worry, I won’t bore you with it), but as his care-giver, I am more experienced than anyone at recognising changes in my dog’s behaviour.
An unexpected change saw Storm performing a “perfect sit” randomly (and then look behind him). Investigating his rear end, I couldn’t see anything untoward but when a hand was placed on his back (near his tail), he gave a very slight shudder (as if tensing). Off to the vets again to find that his anal glands were blocked! Now they have been emptied, his behaviour has reverted back to the same level of “cheekiness” it has always been (in other words normal).
He has never had issues with his anal glands before, and his behaviour did not conform to the classic “scooting across the floor on his buttocks” routine (so often seen with anal glands blockages) or show any discharge etc. However, he must have been uncomfortable and as his internal stress levels increased, “thinking” processes that are needed for moderating impulsiveness reduced, leading to food-stealing and anxiety-related behaviour.
This is a prime example of medical issues showing no obvious outward symptoms. Without a medical check-up, I could have gone down a totally different path, while his behaviour continued to be influenced by feelings of stress/anxiety/discomfort.
Unfortunately, the first sign that something is wrong is often a change in normal behaviour and therefore (as I said at the beginning of this post), it is very important to rule out any possible medical problems first, especially when dealing with new or unusual behaviour.
Remember … Think, Dog Positive.
McLeod, S. A. (2018, Oct 08). Pavlov’s dogs. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/pavlov.html
McLeod, S. A. (2018, Jan, 21). Skinner – operant conditioning. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/operant-conditioning.html
McLeod, S. A. (2018, Aug 21). Classical conditioning. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/classical-conditioning.html
McLeod, S. A. (2018). Edward Thorndike. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/edward-thorndike.html