Yesterday we chatted about Passive Calming Activities (PCAs) and how they are part of the Calmness Triad by Absolute Dogs. Today we wanted to talk about a specific type, stuffed toys or Kongs. While Kong is a brand name, there are many other toys that can be stuffed with food, one of our personal favorites is the Busy Buddy line.
Kongs may be one of the biggest things that made calmness possible in our home. Its how we transitioned dogs into gated communities, increased duration on bounderies, and allowed non-stressful time away from us. Kongs keep your dog occupied, which reduces stress and anxiety when you leave them. It allows them to self soothe and relax in your absence, but please, make sure you know your dog. Never leave a dog that will chew or destroy alone with any toys.
When I first suggest Kongs I often hear from clients that their dogs are disinterested in them. In reality, this is most often because their dog has a low tolerance of frustration. The food is too difficult for them to get out because it is packed tight or frozen so they give up rather than eating - no matter how delicious or tempting the reward is. In order to reduce frustration your dog's first Kongs should be easy to eat and filled with extra tasty goodies. Just think about how easy (and fast!) they gobble up kibble from a bowl. You'll want to think of the type of dispenser you use just as much as what you want to put inside it.
You don’t need a specific toy, just anything that will hold their food. Even household items such as folded toilet paper tubes or small boxes can be used, as long as you are prepared to clean up the shredded paper. Again, take into account how frustrated your dog gets by problem-solving. One of our favorite toys is the Busy Buddy Twist 'n Treat, easy to fill and you can adjust the opening as needed.
Once you have a dispenser you can decide what to fill it with. Something like the Twist 'n Treat pair great with some peanut butter (no xylitol!) or plain greek yogurt smeared on the inside. You can then add kibble, fruit, or meat for an instant reward while the peanut butter or yogurt will make the treat last longer which will build your dog's frustration tolerance.
Be creative! Switch up food and dispensers as your dog becomes more used to them. Once they are no longer frustrated, but excited by Kongs you can begin to freeze them for longer lasting treats. Blended fruit or broths can be a great choice. This will help with separation anxiety, increasing duration on boundaries, and foster rest. Often, once a dog has finished their Kong they are more than ready to take a nap. And that is a truly tired, happy dog.
Yesterday we chatted about the Rest part of the Calmness Triad by Absolute Dogs. Today I want to tackle the Passive Calming Activities (PCAs). I like to think of this section as a pacifier. Basically, a way to soothe our dogs just like you would human babies. Unlike humans though, it’s best if you can provide PCAs before your dog requires soothing. PCAs allow our dogs to decompress, relax, and destress. They are activities that use their natural senses, such as chewing, licking, or sniffing. PCAs provide endless enrichment for our dogs, working their brains and creating a truly tired and content dog.
Remember how we said a tired dog is a happy dog? Tired dogs should be tired because they were provided enriching activities not because they were exercised to exhaustion. When we over-exercise our dogs in an effort to tire them out we aren’t allowing them the opportunity to unwind. Instead we are adding more stress to a dog that can't relax. Another common side effect is creating a dog with greater stamina that needs to go farther and faster to meet the same requirements as before. In general, these dogs aren’t any happier than a dog that was given the chance to “scavenge” for a meal.
So what are PCAs? I tend to group them into two categories: Chewing and Licking or Sniffing and Hunting. The list below is by no means exhaustive, in fact PCA can be just about as creative as you want. There is an excellent group on Facebook called Beyond the Bowl that can help you get started with enrichment activities, even on a low budget.
Some of our personal favorite activities are Stuffed Kongs (and other non-Kong branded similar toys). As well as puzzle feeders, scatter feeding, and scent games. In general, my dogs have 2-3 PCA per day, which helps foster calmness, time alone, ditching the bowl, and ditching the routine. If you have a dog that is struggling with rest PCA can be the key to achieving it! They allow a dog to be occupied when you leave and often help them sleep after they are finished.
Having struggles introducing PCA? Tomorrow we'll tackle how to get started and choosing the right activity for your dog.
Today was a lazy day, a calm day some might say. Which is good, because we could all use a bit more calmness and relaxing in our lives. In fact, I manage my multi-dog household with calmness as a strong foundation. My goal is for my dogs to choose calm as a default behavior. If we aren’t playing or training, they should be resting. At its most basic concept, there are no bad choices when calm, only good ones. In the wild dogs spend most of their days resting to conserve energy and when our dogs do the same it means they can make better choices and perform better when working. Our days are based on Absolute Dog’s Calmness Triad: Passive Calming Activities, Calmness Protocol, and Rest. Each has its own importance, but today I want to talk about rest.
I’m seeing a lot of posts regarding two concerns for our dogs while we are all spending more time at home. The first is that they will suffer from separation related behaviors once the world returns back to work The second that they are struggling to cope with spending their entire day with the family, particularly when young children are in the home. In reality, both of these scenarios are based on the same issue, a lack of rest, true rest, where the dog spends time alone.
Dogs that can spend time apart from their families/owner have a chance to recharge and unwind, just like we do when we read a book or take a bath after a long day. By not giving our dogs a chance to relax we do them a true disservice. Dogs that can’t spend time alone don’t learn how to self soothe and can end up with separation related behaviors that can be mild (whining when their owner first leaves) or severe (tearing the entire house apart). While dogs that are not given space to rest can often seem to be unable to relax or even exhibit behaviors that seem aggressive, such as barking, nipping or lunging. When bites do occur they often seem to be “out of nowhere” when in reality that dog reached a breaking point from not being allowed time to rest.
The good news is, for most dogs, its fairly easy to allow them the opportunity to rest. However if your dog is already exhibiting seperation related behaviors it can be a bit more tricky. Another bonus, it’s easier to implement these changes while we are spending more time at home. Start by deciding where they can rest (ideally this is not in a single location - remember about Ditching the Routine!!), If they are crate trained it is an obvious choice, but you can also use a room, gated off area, exercise pen, or boundaries/place/bed if your dog has a strong foundation for staying comfortably in one place.
My dogs spend time alone at least twice per day. I like to give them a Kong or other stuffed toy when I leave them (know YOUR dog and if it is safe to leave them with a Kong unattended). This helps soothe them in my absence and often allows them to fall asleep after they have finished. For dogs that aren’t used to being alone, you can begin by just using a gate to separate you. Boundaries can be an excellent choice here, as you can teach them to lay on their bed while you are in the room before you leave it.
Aside from planned rest you can do little things throughout the day, such as not allowing them to follow you into the bathroom or leaving them outside the kitchen (behind a gate) while you prep meals or eat dinner. Take short walks, such as to the mailbox on your own, scatter feed in your backyard, leave them upstairs when you go downstairs to do laundry. Be creative, there are lots of opportunities to “leave” them throughout the day.
If your dog is distressed by your absence, you will need to reevaluate how you are introducing time apart. We’ll be exploring Passive Calming Activities tomorrow, which will help you be more creative in helping them adjust. Crying, whining, barking, and other behaviors are generally based on fear and allowing them to continue will not help your dog adjust to your leaving.
These days my dogs generally rest wherever they are on their own. However, when major life changes happen (guest spending the night or dad is suddenly home all day) they sometimes need me to step in and make sure they get that time. After all, they say a tired dog is a happy dog...and we’ll explore that tomorrow.
I struggled to find a topic for today’s blog. In some ways, it felt like nothing happened. Another day spent social distancing, hiding away from the world. I kept myself busy with work, filming and corresponding virtually. It's just not the same as seeing clients and can leave you melancholy.
At the same time, I managed another small adventure, this one in the heart of our city. I've been selective in the hiking spots I’ve visited near my home in the last few days. Searching for those that have little traffic. I grew up in the same zip code and had no idea the places I visited yesterday and today even existed. Both days I passed two other hikers, keeping more than the recommended six-foot distances, but it felt so good to get out. To get back with nature in a way I haven't in a long time.
When I lived in southern Utah I knew all sorts of secluded, tucked away spots to hike, but have always complained that I lived too far for anything similar in the busy salt lake valley. Today I found a quiet spot, not ten minutes from the building I rent. It was odd to drive by and not stop, Luna even whined as we neared the street. But I have to say, I enjoyed today just as much, if not more than a training session.
It wasn't a lot to look at, not compared to the red rocks and sands where Luna and I would have been this weekend if not for Corona. But the small, worm trail next to a canal running so close to state street had its own charm. You could forget you were in the city as we walked, forget about the virus, and just enjoy being with your dog.
We did little training, but I marveled once again at the difference between THIS Luna and the Luna from before. I'm realizing that I'm always so busy running here or there I often don't see the transformations in my own dogs. The way she confidently explored terrain she was not used to, in a place where she had not been. Sounds in the distance did not phase her and the few strangers we saw she ignored as they passed. Even a dog yapping at their fence caused her little concern. She crossed an old, narrow bridge without hesitation and although interested in birds and ducks she paid them little attention in the grand scheme of things. She sniffed, explored, and checked in. All while I observed, truly observed, the dog she has become.
Training isn't new to us, not by a long shot, but concept training still is. It's been a little more than a year since I was "converted". I could never go back. The results we've had in just a single year are tenfold what we had in the five before that. Every season, no week, brings a positive change to my dogs through the games. I just have to learn to see it.
There was once a time when I never took my dogs anywhere unless they could all go. After all, it just didn’t seem fair to take one or two while the others were at home. As a result we reached a point where no one seemed to go anywhere. We might go for short walks around the neighborhood but even those trips seemed to be limited. With three dogs I felt more comfortable with at least two handlers - and four? No way was I tackling all of them on my own. Not to mention Stark was his own special handful when he first came to live with us, there were little manners, let alone loose leash walking with that dog. So we went out less and less, I poured more time into trick training and things we could do at home. No one seemed to suffer for it, but still, I longed for the days when a dog could accompany me quietly on a walk.
Then one night I was listening to one (of many) Absolute Dogs videos and Lauren Langman said, “Fair does not always mean equal”. That phrase stuck with me, like a mantra. What was fair for one dog may not be fair for another. And it certainly wasn’t fair for one to go without a privilege simply because another was not ready for it. How had I not seen this before? With children it had been obvious, so why hadn’t it transferred to the dogs?
We woke up early this morning to a sprinkling of snow, hopefully, the last of the season! I had a lazy start, caught up on some Absolute Dogs training videos and we ate breakfast late. One of the things I love about ditching the routine is the dogs relaxed with me. There was no nagging or begging for a meal, no whining or barking for attention. Even on the days I work I try to make “breakfast” unpredictable. The amount of food varies, as does how they earn it, and when they eat. One day it might be a frozen Kong as soon as I wake up, the next we might play games instead. Today we broke the mold by having a little bit of plain kibble in a bowl with their probiotic.
After breakfast I did some chores before breaking out the Dremel for nail trims. This is something I normally do in the late afternoons or evenings but I wanted to get it done early. Nails may be one of the most underrated things we can do for our dogs. When they are overgrown they can cause pain just walking. Most dogs are never conditioned to having them trimmed or filed which means it can be a fearful experience when they are done. My dogs have been conditioned to the Dremel (much easier than the nail clippers I used to use!) and we practice calmness while they are each taking their own turn. It also helps that we have yummy treats that only come out during nails. If you are interested in conditioning your own dogs I recommend joining the Nail Maintenance group on Facebook. And if you are not, consider it, you’ll save a lot of money during the life of your dog and they will be happier for it.
nce every five years my “regular” job gives us four weeks paid time off for a sabbatical. We have one year to take that time and I put far too much thought at the end of last summer into when to use it. Fall or spring, narrowing down to the exact month, only to find all that careful planning brought me to today. April 1st, 2020. Not the best time to have chosen with the Coronavirus raging in the United States and the rest of the world. I could tell you about the dog shows I had planned, the trip with my mom, or the hike in southern Utah on my Luna bucket list. But I’m not, because they won’t be happening, at least not right now. It would be easier to dwell on what cannot be, but I’m determined to focus on the opportunity I have been given.
Last week I wrote about Ditching the Routine, but I’m on a personal journey to find a delicate balance. I want to build a routine for myself that fosters more productivity, focus, and self-care, all while breaking routine for my dogs. It sounds counterproductive, but I know that structure can also leave room for flexibility. You see, I do better when I plan, and I do better when I write, which is why I’ve decided to share this journey with you. Every day, for the next 30 days I’m committing to writing in this blog, no matter how long or short the entries. There will be dog training (of course) but I hope that I will have more to share. Maybe inspire others to ask what they can do to make the most of this time, rather than focusing on what we have lost. Because one day the world will open back up to us again and we will long for it to slow once more.
If you’re ready to start Ditching the Routine then its best to start with ditching something else - the bowl. Every morning we start the day with a pot of value, our dog’s daily food allowance. We can decide how to use that value, but too often we chose to put it in the bowl. Our dogs love their bowls, but we want them to find the value in our relationship. Instead of pouring their food away it becomes an almost endless currency (unless you have a tiny dog!) you can use to boost your relationship. Their food can be used for training, enrichment, or rewarding good choices.
When life throws us a curveball we feel uncomfortable, nervous, and sometimes, even scared. One of the things making life difficult around the world during this pandemic is uncertainty and the disruption to our daily routines. Humans go through life with routine, we get up, go to work, come home, and have regular activities. We know exactly when to do something and where something is. It has been proven that those with a routine lead a more productive lifestyle. But the more routine we have built into our lives the more uncomfortable we can feel when it’s disrupted. Often, that’s because strong routines can leave us unflexible and unable to adapt to change quickly.
Our dogs also have routines, ones that we have created for them. They know when breakfast (and dinner) is, when to get us out of bed, and when its time for a walk. Most even know Thursday evening means class or Monday afternoon means a visit to the retirement home. They may not be able to tell time, but they notice the little predictors leading up to an event that says “routine” for them. When you put on your shoes you are leaving, when you pick up the leash they get to go too. Something exciting happens whenever the doorbell rings, visitors mean even more excitement. We are often told dogs thrive in routine when in reality routine can create dogs that are more excitable and unable to cope with change. A common complaint is when the dog won’t let their owner sleep in on the weekend. In reality that early wake-up time is a routine we created.
Owner, Head Trainer