Sunday, September 18, 2011

Playtime to Prevent Bad Behavior

One of my favorite sights in the world is that of a dog running and playing joyfully. I honestly don't know if human beings are even capable of the type of mental and emotional freedom that must be required to enjoy life the way our pets do. I only wish that the squeak of a tennis ball would light me up the way that it does Cricket and Obi!

Fortunately, we can (and should!) take part in all of the happy nonsense that makes up dog play. Better yet, playtime can be as educational as it is fun. Playing with your dog could very well prevent or even eliminate common behavioral issues and it's definitely a great bonding experience.

Too many dogs are expected to do little more than lounge around the house or languish in the back yard. This lack of mental stimulation often leads to issues such as excessive barking, digging, or even boundary-related aggression. Dogs form these types of habits very quickly if they are not redirected and given something better to do. Training is happening all the time so when a dog's desire is simply for "something to do" then almost anything can become a reinforcer. By this, I mean that acts such as digging in the yard or barking up a storm can become very rewarding if there is little else for your pup to engage in. You don't have to be around offering treats for your dog to learn a new trick. However, the new tricks he learns when you're away are usually not very pleasant for you to come home to. A dog who spent the day digging up the yard is a dog who was left there too long with too little to do (as far as acceptable activities go at least.)

 Spend more time helping your dog expend his energy in acceptable ways. Find some time to throw a ball or a frisbee. Pick up the old rope toy for a game of tug! Any of these things are also a fantastic opportunity for you to practice teaching your dog to release possessions. Arm yourself with at least a couple of tennis balls so that when he's holding one, you can ask him to "Drop it!" and show him that he can then have the other one as a reward. (Don't offer the second ball until he willingly drops the first.) What dog on this planet doesn't think that the ball someone else has is better than the one he's got in his mouth?

Forget the old wives' tale that a game of tug will make your dog aggressive. An already-possessive dog might really show his colors during a game like this, but the game itself is not the cause. In fact, playing tug and teaching your dog to relinquish the toy (as described above with the tennis ball example) is a great way to prevent him from becoming too possessive over such items. Just be sure to keep the game fun and upbeat. If he's not dropping one toy to go after another then you obviously have two toys of different value. Pick two that he loves equally and you should have no problem.

Interactive toys are a great idea to have around for those times when you aren't home or are too busy to entertain the dog. A frozen Kong stuffed with canned food or other treats can keep some dogs busy for hours. Other toys are designed to be rolled or even thrown around in order for treats to come out. If you have an especially active dog, these can be very helpful for keeping him busy when you're away. Keep in mind that your dog doesn't need to be doing something the entire time you're gone (most dogs do nap for a good portion of the work day) but it is a good idea to give him options that are better than what he might come up with himself.

For literally thousands of years dogs have walked beside us and somehow managed to not be dragged down by our anger, depression, greed, or spitefulness. The least that we can do is attempt to acknowledge the favor and brighten their lives as well. The throw of a ball to say thank you for the enthusiastic tail wags and greetings every day after work. A playful wrestling match to show appreciation for all the tears licked away. Communicating with your dog doesn't always have to be stiff, stern, and serious. Take a cue from a canine and lighten up with it as often as you can. :)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Moving/Renting with Pets

When Matt and I moved into our previous apartment our standards were pretty low. Ultimately, the deciding factor was whether or not the owner would allow our dog, Cricket. It sounds very simple, right? Well, Cricket should probably be named something more along the lines of "Moo-Cow" because she's not exactly a tiny dog. She is a beagle/border collie mix and let's just say she definitely didn't get her size from the beagle parent. On top of that, she's currently on a diet to rid her of a few excess pounds. When all was said and done, we had our choice of exactly one place (our preference had no vacancies) so that's what we took. The most appealing aspect of that particular apartment (aside from being pet-friendly even to larger dogs) was that we had the option to buy out the one-year lease fairly cheap if we found a better place before it was up.

About 15 months, an additional dog (Obi-Wan), and many headaches later, we found a place we actually did really like and started the whole moving process again. I knew fairly quickly that I wanted to write about the experience just because it's such a common hassle for pet owners to have to tackle. Finding a new place is hard enough as it is! Add pets to that and it becomes quite the ordeal. Even worse, add pets over 20 lbs. and you could easily end up with a complete nightmare. Here are answers to some of the more common "moving with pets" questions.

How do I find a pet-friendly house/apartment? 
This can be most of the battle depending on where you live and there is only one answer: Look everywhere. Leave no stone unturned. Personally, I do skip over the ads that include lines such as "NO PETS" or "ABSOLUTELY NO PETS" because they've made their position on the issue pretty clear. But anything else is fair game. If they don't specify, I ask. Even if there are other restrictions, it doesn't hurt to dig a little deeper to find out of they make exceptions. I've found that sometimes, even if the written rules say that there is a weight limit, the landlord will allow a larger animal anyway. This is especially true for those that use a generic lease agreement rather than one that was made specifically for their establishment. Don't forget to check places like Craigslist, the newspaper, and websites like rent.com. One time I even found a great place by just driving around town looking for "For Rent" signs.

Obi and Cricket settling in.
How do I prove to a stranger that my dog is well behaved?
If your dog hasn't been to a training class or two, sign him up. In 6-8 weeks you should have a certificate from the trainer to show that your dog at least knows basic manners. Even better, arrange to take the AKC Canine Good Citizen test. In addition to this, you can put together a sort of doggy "resume" that includes things such as vaccination history and written references from your vet, trainer, or other reputable source who can vouch for your dog's good temperament/behavior. If you happen to find a property owner who might just rent to you but seems hesitant, it doesn't hurt to give yourself this type of advantage.

What if the landlord doesn't seem to care about certificates or doggy resumes?
Unfortunately, you'll probably see this a lot. Most of the time what really talks is money. If you have the money and no one else is biting, you're going to have a better chance of the landlord saying yes to you. Be prepared and give yourself plenty of time to find a new place and move in. I have been in a situation that allowed for very little moving time and it is not a pretty picture. Plan ahead and save enough so that you don't have to bargain for both your pets and flexibility on coming up with funds. Money talks.

What about breed restrictions? 
Aside from the suggestions above, the best that I can advise is that you try to find a "private" landlord rather than a company. Generally, no matter what type of pets you have a private landlord has a little more room to be lenient than those that manage a large number of properties.  I hope that in the future more people will become educated about the so-called "vicious" breeds so that they learn the truth being hidden by all of the myths.


I found the place! Now what?
If you can board your dog while you move then this might be the best option. Having someone you trust to watch your pet for you might also be a good idea. Things go much smoother when you don't have to worry about the dog getting out of an open door or being underfoot when it's time to lift the heavy sofa. Make sure that during this entire process, your dog's collar and tags are on him at all times! In the event that he escapes you'll want him to be wearing identification. Even better, make sure that he is microchipped. This is a form of identification that cannot be taken off of him or lost.

How can I help my dog quickly adjust to the new place?
Most dogs adjust very quickly and even enjoy running around finding all the new smells. Others might be a little more apprehensive but do warm up to a new place given a bit of time. Try to keep things as familiar as possible. If you can, move most of your furniture to the new location before you bring your dog to the new home. If he has a bed or crate, try to keep it near the same furniture that it used to be near, at least until he's had a chance to really settle in. The most reassuring thing you can do for your pet is to keep the everyday routine as "normal" for him as possible.

Considering that this subject is near - though not so "dear"- to my heart, there will be more posts on it in the future. Renting with pets brings on so many unique challenges that others don't always have to deal with. This is particularly true if you're renting an apartment. Those of us who rent (or even just those who live in very close proximity to others!) have to make extra effort to make things work. We also have the responsibility of managing our animals so that they don't become destructive or a nuisance to those around us.

We jump through a lot of hoops to keep our dogs happy, healthy, and by our side. I hope that this process becomes easier as both pet lovers and property owners become more educated about each others' plights.