Those of us who have dogs in our lives will not be surprised to learn about the emotional and mental health benefits of having dogs in the workplace. For many years, research has proven that not only is there a measurable health benefit psychologically, but also a very real and measurable benefit physically for people recovering and dealing with a multitude of physical issues.
Three years ago, when I started a dog-assisted-therapy program for a non-profit for which I was working, I assumed that the dog-therapy was going to be wonderful for my Social Work clients – mostly the children – who had come from abusive homes. The first surprise was how much the adult clients I was working with loved having a dog-therapist. The second surprise was how much my colleagues (also staff at the non-profit) loved having the dog-therapist around.
At first, my co-workers were very polite, pretending that they had an interest in coming to my office to actually say “hi” to me. Quickly, that pretense faded and co-workers came in, glanced cursorily in my direction, and headed straight for my dog. Co-workers who worked in other buildings, whom I had never met, came to meet my dog. Other staff asked me to help them with their clients. Many staff told me that being able to visit with my dog made a really difficult day much better.
Treats are a great tool with which to begin training your dog. They can be used to teach new behaviors, to lure a puppy or dog into a desired position, such as a “sit” or “down”. They are great for initially getting a dog to come to you. They are a wonderful way to bond with your dog. But they can become a problem if your dog will only follow a command if you have a treat in hand.
They can always become problematic if used to stop undesired behaviors, such as barking or lunging at other dogs. Dogs can actually learn to exhibit unwanted behaviors in order to get a treat.
The question I am asked most often is
"How long will this training take?"
When people have a new puppy, they want him or her to be housebroken as soon as possible (believe me, I'm no fan of cleaning up pee and poo either) and to stop biting and chewing. And because I work with so many dogs with problem behaviors, especially aggression towards dogs and people, owners obviously want these behaviors to stop as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, the answer to how long will it take is not a black and white one - there are many variables. The dog's personality, the owner's relationship with the dog, others who are involved with the training and/or live with the dog. The most crucial component is the consistency of the training, use of the proper training techniques for each situation and the amount of time spent, particularly in the beginning of training. Dog training, as with many things in life, is an example of the amount of work you put in greatly impacting what you get out.
Often times I will come in for an initial assessment and get immediate results. The owners will see this, jump into training, put in lots of time and effort immediately, and see results within days. Sometimes it takes a few weeks for owners to see significant differences. Since my job is not really to train the dog, but to train the people to train the dog, my job is only complete when I have taught owners how to balance their relationship with their dog and build upon that. Once that is complete, I am no longer necessary. My job is done.
So, the real question is, "How long will it take to build and maintain a healthy relationship with my dog?". That one is easier to answer. How long do most solid relationships take to build and maintain? You need to start with a very solid foundation and keep working on it every day.
But with this work, you will have a relationship that pays you far more than it costs in time and effort.
Did you know that dogs have an adolescent period? It starts at about six to eight months of age and lasts until about twenty-four months for females and thirty-six months for makes. This is the time that dogs often end up being surrendered to shelters
due to behavioral issues. During this period of canine development, that "perfectly behaved" puppy can regress back to poor behaviors and start to show independence in a way that is not appreciated- aggression towards other dogs or people, tearing up the house, possessiveness over food or toys, etc.
Many people mistakenly believe that their dog will outgrow bad behavior without intervention. If these behaviors are not addressed, the dog will continue to practice these behaviors and they will continue to get worse.
I always say that in my next life, I want to come back as my dog. She has an amazing life, due in great part to the fact the she is psychologically balanced and well-trained. I can take her anywhere with me and not worry - I can walk anywhere at anytime, take her when I run errands and into stores (when allowed), take her to dog parks - she even has playdates with her doggie friends. But this didn't just magically "happen" - it is the result of lots of training, both when she was young and on-going. It not only made her life better, it made mine better too.
I always feel badly when I hear people talk about how their dog's behavior is making it difficult for them to take their dog out - aggression issues, bad leash manners, etc. - or that they don't want to have guests at their home due to their dog's behavior. Everybody is unhappy in this situation. Both the dog and their people are stressed. This can not only impact the dog's quality of life, but can have physiological effects as well - stress in dogs, as with people, can shorten lives.
So, how can this situation be changed? Training. These issues can all be fixed (and yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks) with good, effective training. And the really great news is that dogs' behaviors can be changed much faster than people's!
So I propose that as a New Year resolution - we all look at how we can improve our dogs' quality of life, and by extension our own, by helping our dogs become more psychologically balanced. Imagine having a dog that calmly greets guests, appropriately greets other dogs and one that you can have accompany you anywhere you wish with no worries about his or her behavior. Wouldn't that be a much happier way of life for everyone?
Make an investment in your dog's quality of life and I guarantee you, it will be an investment in your quality of life as well.
Happy New Year!
Recently I have been called by a number of people who have adopted littermates – two dogs from the same litter. Some were very young (10 weeks), some a bit older (8 months), some from rescues and some from breeders. When I spoke to the owners, I asked them each the same question: “Did anyone talk to you about the potential challenges of raising littermates together?” and every time the answer was “No”. This was particularly concerning to me when I heard that some rescues were giving financial incentives for people to adopt more than one animal at a time. Don’t get me wrong - I love rescue groups. And while I commend rescues and shelters for all of the work they do (all of my dogs have been from rescues, I volunteer for rescues and always encourage people who ask to go the rescue route), I think it is really important for adopters to understand the dynamics of adopting littermates.
Dogs are pack animals. As such, they need a leader. When they are with their mother and littermates, they create a very strong bond and figure out who’s in charge in their little pack. In any new situation, they will try to figure out, “Who’s the leader here?” whether it be with new dogs or new people. In order for the human to be the leader (which is necessary for a well behaved dog living in a house with you), you have to build a really strong relationship with your dog. If you have only one dog from a litter, he is not yet attached to anyone else in your home and so it is relatively easy to build up a strong relationship. However, if you have two dogs from the same litter, they already have several weeks or months of bonding with each other and you will have to compete with that bond in order to establish yourself as the pack leader. It will be difficult even to get one dog’s attention if the other is around. I have also seen a lot of separation anxiety occur when littermates are adopted together if they are separated from each other, even for very short periods of time. It’s as if they have never learned to be alone, and this builds anxiety. The bottom line is, once they have developed this pack of their own, it is very difficult to train them to respect the fact that they should pay attention to you and not to each other.
So please think long and hard before getting littermates. If you want to get two dogs at the same time, it’s better to get two dogs from different families (providing you have made sure everyone gets along of course). And if you are tempted to get two puppies at the same time, I suggest you may also want to foster a couple at the same time beforehand, just to make sure you really know what you are in for!