Age Related Behavioral Impairment

Last week I shared how antioxidant supplementation may benefit a dog, cat or even a human. This week, I would like to share a little more about the benefits of antioxidants and how they might help with brain health and complement the management of established cases of cognitive dysfunction.

A little over a year ago I sought out information from Animal Health Option “The Antioxidant Company.” Not that I was having a problem with any pet I currently have, but because I want to make sure I am doing all I can to prevent them from experiencing the cognitive decline that my heart dog experienced.

Let’s start with by identifying the behavioral signs of cognitive decline. Behavioral changes associated with age-related cognitive decline in both dogs and cats may include:

  • Regressions in house training, orientation, and social interaction
  • Changes in sleeping and eating patterns
  • Fear or anxiety not previously exhibited
  • Increased or repetitive activity or vocalization
  • Decreased responsiveness to know commands and activities

These are the most frequently observed signs. Unfortunately, I have observed all of them.  I had a friend last week describe to me what she thought were the typical signs of aging that included three of these. We both believe the first sign shown by our dogs was fear or anxiety which was displayed as general nervousness.

The blood-brain barrier (BBB) is a specialized system of capillary cells that determine which substances in the blood stream may pass into the brain. The BBB protects the brain from harmful substances. However, this barrier also presents a rate-limiting factor for the passing through of therapeutic drugs and beneficial nutrients into the brain.

Age-related changes that occur in the brain can result in cell death or damage, reduced chemical signaling, and increased oxidative damage. The overall effect is deterioration of a dog’s cognitive functioning, which is any mental activity related to thinking, memory, learning or perception.

According to Animal Health Options there are five behaviors that help one evaluate a dogs behavioral signs or conditions related to oxidative stress and aging. They are:

Disorientation/Awareness –       Gets lost in familiar locations

Goes to wrong side of door

Less responsive to stimuli

Interaction –       Decreased greeting behavior

Alterations or problems with social hierarchy

Sleep-wake cycle –          Increased daytime sleep

Wandering after dark

House-soiling/Learning/Memory –           Indoor elimination at random sites

Impaired working ability

Decreased ability to perform tasks

Activity: Decreased or Repetitive –           Pacing or aimless wandering

Decreased exploration or activity: apathy

Appetite decreased or disinterest

Just this week I read an article shared by the AKC on this topic. You might also find it interesting.


Have you experienced cognitive dysfunction with any of your pets? Please share. We learn more from other’s experience.

“Many owners are quite willing to do what they can for a 14 or 15 year –old dog, but if they knew they could intervene early on and prolong the life span of their pet, even more pet owners would be willing to do that. Antioxidant therapy is probably going to be number one for ease of delivery and increased owner compliance.” – D. Horwitz, DVM DACVB



Why Dog Food Bags Highlight Antioxidants

They are not buzz words, but they are words I have seen a lot in the last two or three years. The words are Free Radicals and Antioxidants. I don’t know about you, I got the gist that free radicals are bad and antioxidants are good. I really did not know much more about them.

A few weeks ago, when the weather was over 80 degrees, I started thinking about what I would feed my dog this summer. (I follow the Chinese feeding methods of feeding hot/cold depending on the season.) There is so much information out there about grain free and how grain, especially corn is bad. Is it true? I don’t know. I know when I was a child our dogs lived past 10 years old and were fed cheap bagged dry kibble.

My heart dog, Amadeus, had medical conditions or reactions that led me to investigate different types of dog foods. He lived 10.5 years on premium kibble. 10.5 years might not seem like much, but I thought I was going to lose him at 6 years of age.

So now I have decided to learn more about free radicals and antioxidants and how they impact what I am feeding.

I learned that free radicals are energetically unstable and highly reactive molecules with missing or unpaired electrons. These molecules travel though out the body looking for an electron they can steal from another molecule, thereby altering its chemistry.  In other words, it makes healthy molecules, unhealthy.

Free radicals can be produced by exposure to air pollutants, sun, radiation, drugs, viruses, bacteria, parasites, dietary fats, emotional stress and physical trauma or infections.

Free radicals are known today to be an underlying factor in many diseases including osteoarthritis and in degenerative conditions such as cancer, kidney and liver disorders, vascular disorders or immune-mediated disorders.

How do antioxidants help? Antioxidants are molecules that neutralize and deactivate free radicals and diminish damage they may cause. By donating electrons, antioxidants can convert free radicals into harmless compounds that may be safely excreted from the body.

In normal conditions the body can take care of itself. However, under conditions where excess free radicals are produced, the body needs extra quantities of antioxidants from another source in order to stop the free radicals. These additional antioxidants can be obtained through nutritional supplementation.

Examples of well-known antioxidants are vitamins A, C and E, beta-carotene, zinc and selenium. There are many others, but these were the ones I am most familiar with. I also learned that grape seed extract is 20 times stronger than vitamin C and 50 times stronger than vitamin E.

When you feed your dog tonight, look at the bag or can and see if it mentions antioxidants or list any of the examples I mentioned. They do not appear to raise the cost much compared to other factors in pricing pet food.  But antioxidant help is something I will now be looking for via dog food.

Let me know what you think. We learn more when we share.

“Petting, scratching, and cuddling a dog could be as soothing to the mind and heart as deep meditation and almost as good for the soul as prayer.”

― Dean Koontz




Fleas and Ticks – Not on My Dog!

It’s that time of year again when all dog owners must address the issue of parasite control. It seems like I am reading about it daily. I have a coworker who found a tick on her dog in February during one of the warm weeks we had that month. My vet tech gave me a stern lecture last year about my non-aggressive treatment of fleas and ticks. This year I am doing a much better job making sure my dog receives some type of control medicine.

Unfortunately, many dog owners don’t fully understand the importance of flea and tick control – and that’s a very big problem.  It is critical that you understand the dangers that your pets (and you) could be facing.  So please take a few moments to find out what you need to know to keep your pets safe.

Parasites aren’t just an annoyance.  They also carry many dangerous diseases – some of which are life threatening.  That’s why it is so important that you understand how to protect your dog from these dangers.

Dog owners have so many questions – During which months does my dog need flea control medications?  Is flea control enough, or should I also protect against ticks and other parasites?  What medications are safe?  What if I find fleas in my house?

The problem with fleas is that they breed and multiply so quickly.  How fast do fleas multiply?  If your dog had a single flea, in just 2 months’ time, under optimal conditions, you could have more than 3 million fleas infesting your home!

Fleas are blood-sucking parasites.  A single flea can bite your dog more than 400 times in just one day!

If your dog has an allergic reaction to the proteins in flea saliva, he can develop flea allergy dermatitis, causing constant scratching, skin problems and permanent hair loss.

Fleas can also transmit dangerous and sometimes life-threatening diseases to your dog, including anemia, bacterial diseases, tapeworms and other parasites.

TICKS are another common parasite.  They pose serious health risks to both pets and humans, and even dogs that spend very little time outdoors are at risk.  A tick bite can cause localized infection.  But the most harmful effects of a tick bite include serious diseases like Lyme disease (causes painful lameness), Rocky Mountain fever, paralysis, encephalitis and anemia.

If your dog brings a tick into your home, it can attach to and feed on humans, transmitting these same diseases to the human host.

So, when should you start treatment?   It is best to treat your dog at the beginning of the season, before your dog and your home become infested.  The Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) recommends that you administer a monthly preventative flea medication all year round. I know this, but still take off November – February, because I do not see fleas during these months and it helps my pocketbook.

What is the best product or method of flea and tick prevention? I don’t know. I follow what my veterinarian recommends. I have also started experimenting with diatomaceous earth. I am not sure why I am doing that I have not seen a flea in my house in over 2 years and much longer than that since I saw a tick. I think the diatomaceous earth is a preventative in my mind, even though I know there needs to be a flea or tick to work (it’s not a preventative.) Probably wasting some money, but if I miss brushing out a flea or locating a tick, I will have a good backup.

What do you do for fleas and ticks? We learn more when we share.

Some of this information came from Intelligent Content Corp.

I feel sorry for people who do not have dogs. I hear they have to pick up food they drop on the floor! Anonymous


It is Manicure Time!

My dog’s nails need trimmed. And though it is easy, I usually pay someone to do it, but not this time. I am determined to trim them myself.  I have done my research and I know what to do and how to do it. I simply need to get over the fear of cutting a little too deep and have my dog yelp or flinch. Then the blood start flowing. It will be upsetting to my dog and me. It would also be frustrating if he runs through the house leaving a trail of blood spots on the carpet.

When you hear your dog’s nail click clacking as he walks across the floor or hard surface, it’s usually a sure sign that he’s ready to have them clipped. The general rule of thumb is to clip where the nail makes a defined curve down towards the floor. Don’t cut too far beyond that or you could snip the quick. Keep in mind that the longer you allow the nails to grow, the longer the quick may grow, as well.

It is easy to mistakenly cut the nail too short, “quicking” it. This is especially common in dogs with dark nails, but can happen with any dog. I read that torn and bleeding nails are common reasons dogs are brought into veterinary emergency rooms!

So, what can one do if you accidentally cut the nail too short? Here is what I have planned.

Keep the dog in one spot that is easy to clean, such as tile or linoleum. I will probably place towels over newspaper.

Keep the dog as calm as possible since the more excited he is, the higher his blood pressure will be and the more he will bleed.

Have gauze or a small towel handy to cover his foot if needed. I will probably also have paper towels close.

If blood is drawn the toe needs to be isolated and dried then dipped in a styptic powder. (I found some at the local farm supply store.) Gently and lightly pack the powder into the bleeding nail surface.

Styptic powder will provide an initial sting, so be prepared to hold onto the dog firmly while applying. Several home remedies also work, depending on the severity of the bleeding. A mix of corn starch and baking soda is said to work well or cornstarch or flour alone. Rubbing a clean bar of scent-free soap or a wet tea bag on the nail at the spot of lesser bleeding can also be effective. No home remedy, however, will be as instantly effective as styptic powder. Because I am a worrier, I have already bought styptic powder.

If the quick is accidentally cut, immediately compress the wound for at least two minutes with a clean cloth or paper towel. If the bleeding is minor, try rubbing a bar of clean, scent-free soap over it. If the bleeding is steady, wrapping ice within the compressed cloth or paper towel will help lessen the blood flow. If the nail is still bleeding cup your hand and pour some styptic powder or cornstarch into the palm. Gently dip the dog’s bleeding nail into the powder, repeating if the bleeding doesn’t come to an immediate stop. Don’t wipe away the blood before dipping because it will aid coagulation. Once bleeding does cease, continue to compress the wound with a paper towel or cloth, being cautious not to squeeze the paw. Try to keep the dog off his feet for at least 30 minutes. The 30 minute part is why I will be doing the trimming in the living room. He can easily sit that long and allow me to pet him.

Once sure that the nail bleeding has been stopped, wash the affected nail with lukewarm water and bandage to prevent licking and infection. If bleeding cannot be controlled after 20 – 30 minutes, proper clotting is not taking place, a veterinarian should be consulted immediately. Also consult a vet if the dog’s toe later becomes red, swollen or does not appear to be improving after a few days.

I chose this topic because I thought writing this would help me gain confidence in my ability to trim my dog’s nails. Now I am thinking I should give up buying coffee the next five mornings and pay a groomer to do it. I will let you know my choice next week.

Oh by the way, I never had trouble trimming my parrot’s nails which were thicker than then nails of many dogs. Her (the parrot) bite could break a finger, and I was not afraid!?!

Please share your nail trimming experiences or other grooming topics.

To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring – it was peace. Milan Kundera

Owning a Dog is Expensive!

Food, Vaccines, Vet Bills, Spay/Neuter, Doggie Bed, Treats, Chew Bones/Toys, Bowls, Collars, Leash, Training, Fence, Vitamins, Flea Control, Heartworm, Shampoo, Grooming, Grooming Tools, Dental Care, Waste Disposal, Stain Remover, Deworming, Boarding, Car Restraint, Crate

I started the list with food because a friend and I just had a discussion about how expensive dog food is. She just got a puppy and wants to feed it high quality puppy food for a large breed dog. She told me the dollar amount she was paying and it was a lot of money for dog food. I had not paid attention to what I was paying, I knew the food was expensive, but I was not sure of the exact amount. WOW! I think I was better off not knowing the exact amount.

Where am I going with this?  Dog food is so expensive, it is important that it is stored properly.

Depending on how dog food kibble has been packaged, sealed and resealed, storing it right in the bag can be just fine. Some pet foods have zip-lock tops that provide a very good seal, and some have plastic linking that also helps keep in freshness. On the other hand, sometimes the bag’s seal may tear, making it hard to reseal. Some people roll the bags closed to seal them while others use some sort of clip to seal the top of the bag.

If a bag of food is going to last your dog less than 2 weeks, I think it is useful to pour the food into a plastic storage container that is easy to seal. Some companies make these containers just for dog food. I use a food safe container and pour out of the bag what I will feed in one week and tightly seal the remainder in the bag.

Although it may be more convenient to open a bag of kibble and dump it in a metal or plastic container for storage, discarding the original bag isn’t a good idea. The bags are designed to keep the foods good, without spoilage, for quite a while. (Check the ‘sell by’ or ‘use by’ date on the bag.) The original bags also keep the fats in the food from soaking through and thereby turning rancid. Plus, if there’s a problem with the food later, you’ll want the information that’s on the bag, especially the lot number.

Unopened canned pet foods have a long shelf life. Depending on the ingredients and canning methods, sometimes these foods can be good for five years. It’s important to keep an eye on the ‘use by’ dates, however, so each time you buy more food, move the older cans to the front of the shelf and put the newer ones in the back. Once a can has been opened, you can transfer the unused portion to an airtight storage container and refrigerate the food for up to five days.

Refrigerated foods are becoming more popular and can be found in pet stores as well as many grocery stores. Some of the foods are found in rolls, bags, or even small plastic containers. No matter what refrigerated food your pet might like, keep an eye on the dates on the package as all of these foods have a fairly short shelf life. Plus, once the package has been opened, the food needs to be used within five days. Check the package instructions, though, as sometimes excess food can be frozen.

Dehydrated foods need to be protected from moisture. Too much moisture before the food is used will lead to the development of mold. The food can remain in the original packaging which is then tightly reclosed after each use or it can be transferred to a canister with an air tight lid.

Commercially prepared raw pet food diets have storage instructions on the packaging which includes how long the product can be frozen or refrigerated. If you’re making your own recipes for your pet, there are some generally accepted food handling guidelines. Raw ground meats of all kinds, poultry, and fish can be refrigerated for one to two days. If you won’t use the meat in that time period, freeze it. Larger cuts of meat such as roasts, steaks, or chops can be refrigerated for three to five days. Frozen meats, if wrapped well and in an airtight container, are generally good for four to six months.

Good nutrition is important. So let me start by saying that you should always feed a good quality food that is highly digestible. I hope whatever you are feeding has the right balance of proteins, fats and fibers with vitamins and nutrients.

Thanks to for sharing several of these ideas!

How do you store your pet’s food? Do you know how much you spend in one year just on pet food? Please share.

I am thankful for…..Pawprints on My Floor, Slobbery Kisses on My Face, Nose Prints on My Windows, Dog Hair on My Clothes, No Room in My Bed. For There Will Come a Day When These Things are Missed.

Shedding Season is Early This Year

Coping with the spring shed!

Spring is when many dog owners start to notice a great deal of shedding. It is a natural occurrence as the dog’s body is getting ready to enjoy the warmer days. Many dogs put on a thick winter coat to help insulate them during the cold of winter. In the spring, their body starts shedding to make way for a cooler summer.

I have a Bernese Mountain Dog. A breed that has a thick double coat. I have heard the Bernese does not shed on February 29, thus one day every four years! But spring is definitely when it is the worse. It seems that long haired dogs shed more, but this is really just an illusion because their long hair strands are easier to notice. The color of a dog’s hair also influences how noticeable it is around the house.

Frequent brushing helps with mats and tangles in the coat. They are often the cause of bacterial infections, hair loss and even hot spots. When a mat forms in the dense inner coat, it forms a hard ball or lump. This ball of hair then rubs against the skin, especially if it is in an area around the legs, body, base of the tail or the neck. This constant rubbing causes abrasions to the skin, leading to bacterial infections. With repeated bacterial infections hot spots can form, as can patches of complete hair loss. How often is frequent brushing? That depends on your dog’s coat. For me it is twice a week.

One easy grooming method for short haired dogs is to use a stiff bristle brush, followed by a slicker brush. The bristle brush will dislodge the loose hair and the slicker brush will pull it out of the coat. There are several sizes of slicker brushes, some with a button on the handle that pushes the hair out of the bristles for easy cleaning.

A shedding rake or comb is ideal for longer haired dogs. This tool is sometimes called an undercoat rake as it removes only the dense inner coat without changing the appearance of the outer coat. The teeth on these rakes or combs are stiff and fairly long, allowing even a very thick coat to be groomed to the skin’s surface.

I have also seen different spray on formulas that can be used to help your dog’s coat release the dead hairs. As I understand it, these products act like human hair detangler or conditioner and serve to help the loose hairs slide out from the rest of the coat.

Pet supply catalogs also advertise supplements with extra Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. From my research, I found these may keep the coat looking healthy and promote a faster shed, but they do not lessen the shedding. (And why would you want that – shedding is necessary.)

If you are bathing to help with shedding, groom first to remove all the current dead hair, and then bath in warm water, using an appropriate shampoo.  Always completely dry the ears and check the eyes for any signs of irritation or stray hairs that may have become lodged in the eyes or ears. Be sure to brush the hair dry. My dog might get 4 baths a year as it takes four hours from the time I put him in the tub until I declare him dry.

Saturday is bath day! Much earlier than the April spring bath he received last year.

Share your stories about your dog shedding, and especially about how you help 4-H members prepare for dog exams in Showmanship and You and Your Dog.

Until the next post remember:

Those who teach the most about humanity aren’t always human.

Not Property in My Home

Last year a 4-H member heard that she could not take her dog to the Ohio State Fair. Her parents had divorced and the dog lived with the noncustodial parent. According to the rules, “Dogs must be in the continual care of the junior fair exhibitor for the duration of the project.”  I agree with the 4-H rule and I feel sorry for the young member.  It made me think it may be time for a change in Ohio’s custodial pet law.

According to John Culhane, a Professor of Law at Widener University School of Law, the traditional approach to handling pet custody between a divorcing couple, “is to regard pets as property” and apply “all the usual rules.” For instance, if one of the individuals owned the dog before entering into the marriage, that would be their “property,” and therefore, he or she would get the dog in the divorce—no matter what the relationship to the animal.

In Alaska, that is about to change.  As of January 17, 2017, “Alaska has become the first state to empower judges to take into account the ‘well-being of the animal’ in custody disputes involving non-human family members.” 1.25.17

Penny Ellison, an adjunct professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, recently wrote an article for The Legal Intelligencer asking the very question, “Can Courts Consider the Interests of Animals?”  In the article, she notes that in instances where both parties want to keep the family pet, “Alaska courts will now be taking evidence on issues like who took responsibility to care for the pet and the closeness of the bond the pet has with each ‘parent’ in determining what type of custody arrangement is in the best interests of the animal.” 1.25.17

Ellison and Culhane both agree that other states are likely to follow in Alaska’s footsteps, and should. They noted that people think of pets as much more than just property. I know I do. My dog is my best friend and closest family member.

The 2017 Ohio State Fair Junior Fair Dog Show Rules were recently posted on the website. As I reviewed these rules, I remembered the member who could take the Dog Care Project and even the Dog Achievement Program, but was not allowed to show her dog at the State Fair. I hope that Ohio would follow Alaska and allow courts to decide what is in the best interest of the animal.

My dog is NOT property.

Share your thoughts. I would love to know what you think.

Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.”—Roger Caras (photographer and writer)

Lean On Me

Lean on me when you’re not strong, and I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on. For it won’t be long
’til I’m gonna need somebody to lean on. – Bill Withers

Is your dog a leaner? Why do dogs lean? Is it like the one TV personality espouses; they are trying to dominate you? Is it a sign of affection? Is it a way to calm themselves? Is it a sign of fear or of attention seeking?

It could be any of these plus many more. Dogs lean on people for all kinds of reasons, depending on the dog and the exact situation.

One of the biggest mistakes we make with our dogs is to treat them like humans. The human race is a compassionate species that tend to look at our canine companions as little humans. When in reality, they are canines, and have a very different thought process.

Dogs are expressive animals with a lot to say. They’ve learned to understand the language of people, both verbal and nonverbal. They’ve learned to convey their needs to us as well. People spend countless hours and lots of money trying to decipher doggy dialect. It’s quite an amazing feat that dogs “get people” the way they do. For example, when a dog wants to give us a warning, they show their teeth. But when people want to show friendship, they smile. Seeing a human face split in a broad grin coming straight at a dog’s face should alarm the dog, yet dogs have learned it’s not a bad thing. Some dogs have even mastered the submissive grin, a kind of doggy smile some dogs display when they’re happy. When a dog wants to challenge another dog, he will stare deeply into his opponent’s eyes. Yet when a person wants to show a dog affection, he looks lovingly into his dog’s eyes. It was all part of domestication.

Dogs communicate with us on all levels and there’s a reason for what they do. We are the ones that have trouble understanding what they are trying to tell us.

When my dog leans I think it is just his way of telling me how safe he feels when with me. He’s showing he is relaxed and happy. Okay, I do not know if that is true, but it is what I like to believe. There are several other things he could be trying to communicate with me when he does this, but I do not believe that when he leans he is displaying a dominate behavior. That is where this post comes from. I was told recently that my big oaf of a dog is trying to dominate me. Yes, there are times he annoys me by putting his paws on me, using his nose to make me pet him and insistently feeling the need to be touched. I have never felt, however, he was trying to dominate me.

I do not know why dogs lean. In my world it is never a bad thing when my dog shows me how much he loves me by leaning on me. And, in my world that is how I interpret what he is trying to tell me. I understand that is not true for everyone. What have your experiences been with a leaning dog?

Until the next post remember: Those who teach the most about humanity aren’t always human.

Home Health Care

It has not been a good couple of days. Around 3:00 Monday morning, my dog woke me and stood staring at me. Unusual, but I was in a sound sleep and thought he was patiently waiting for me to take him outside. I get up and notice he still did not seem normal, but make it to the door and open it. He stands there and looks at me. I asked him to go out and he did, but immediately turned around and asked to come back inside. He had water and he knows he does not get food/treats in the middle of the night. Being a large dog and of a breed that is susceptible to bloat, I watched for any signs that might be happening. None.

I slept on the couch the rest of the night as to be close if he needed me. We made it through the rest of the night, but when I got up he still was not “right.” He did go outside and he ate and drank. I was ready to call work and take a vacation day, but I instead decided to go to work as when I am home he follows me and I think would try to mask any ailments. I have the best neighbors and asked one to check on him when she got a chance and let me know what he was doing. She saw a normal dog at each visit.

Tuesday he was more himself, but still not the dog that greets me each night when I get home. Wednesday morning things seemed more normal. What would you do? I chose not to give him any NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.) If he had hurt himself, I wanted white blood cells going to the inflammation and start the healing process.

Right now he is getting sardines for omega-3 fats. Many of the fats a dog eats are either omega-6 fats or omega-3 fats. Both are important and both help control a dog’s hormones and immune system. The omega-6 fats however, could help trigger inflammation and the omega-3 fats reduce it.

He is also getting turmeric and blueberries and ginger for their antioxidant effects. Antioxidants are molecules that can prevent the cell damage free radicals cause.

I am not sure if these help or not, but they do not hurt, and it makes me feel like I am trying my best to make him feel like his old self. He will see the veterinarian on Saturday for blood work to determine if he has any health issues.

That is what I have done. What would you have done in my case? What have you done for your own dogs? I look forward to reading your comments.

A dog will teach you unconditional love. If you can have that in your life, things won’t be too bad. Robert Wagner

I Do Not Understand You!

How can spring be here already? I am not ready for show season! What did I do all winter?

I did train my dog; I just did not train for obedience. I trained for play and mostly to enhance our communication skills. However, there are still times where I speak in a not so happy voice and there have been plenty of times when he has told me off.

People have debated which foreign language is the most difficult to learn, but based on a 2001 study by Nicola Rooney at the Anthrozoology Institute in Southhampton, UK, the answer is clear. The language humans have the most difficulty understanding and using is “dog.” In this research featuring 21 owner-dog pairs, the scientist videotaped the owners engaged in play with their dogs. The owners patted the floor, barked, bowed, shuffled their feet, slapped their thighs, crawled on all fours – anything to get their Fido to romp with them.

The researchers identified common actions owners used to elicit play and then tested them to see which signals actually worked. As a result, they discovered that bowing or lunging while verbally encouraging a dog usually elicits play. Tickling/quick pats and stamping feet got virtually no response. Patting the floor and clapping were less than 50 percent successful.

The researchers found that although some actions tended to instill silent stares and others instigated play, the frequency with which the owners used the signals was unrelated to their success. That is owners tended to use unsuccessful gestures as frequently as successful ones. This means that we are oblivious to whether our dog is responding to us and whether our actions create the appropriate response. Instead, we babble or gesture blindly, and occasionally use the correct language.

According to Sophia Yin, DVM, you need to pay attention to both your actions and your dog’s responses. She says in order to be successful at training and changing behavior, you must: have good timing, be clear and consistent with your expectations and signals, and provide the correct rate of reinforcement.

Yin explains that dogs are not blank slates, as researchers once thought. That is, they cannot all learn the same tasks equally well, and even when trained in exactly the same manner, they may not learn exactly the same thing. These differences in learning are due in part to differences in past experience and motivation level at the time.

Managing your dog’s every task is one that some people cannot help but attempt. They are constantly telling their dog what behavior to perform. You have seen it, people telling their dog to sit, sit, sit, sit, sit.

Good training starts with a reason to learn. Most dogs’ motivators are a combination of food, praise, petting and play. Here is an exercise to try. To see whether praise or petting works well as a reward while your dog is in training, praise him exuberantly. See whether he wags his tail or ignores you. If he wags his tail and looks at you the entire time you are praising or petting him, then praise or petting is an effective reward. If he acts like you are not there, then these potential motivators – at least under these conditions – are not a worthwhile communication tool.

One of the obedience tasks I need to train my dog is go outs. Well, this was not fun for me or my dog, so I added the retrieve. (Now my brag) This week, he went into another room and retrieved my slippers and brought them to me one at a time.  So while I did little formal obedience training this winter, my dog and I have increased our communication skills. Can I transfer these skills to ring work? We will find out the end of this month.

In what ways do you and your dog communicate? Let me know, I might need to copy your ideas.

“A dog can’t think that much about what he’s doing, he just does what feels right.”
Barbara Kingsolver (author, Animal Dreams: A Novel)