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Training Teddy: When your dog eats poo

dog eats poo

If you don’t own a dog, you might want to look away now. Coprophagia is the smart name for eating poo. Some dogs have a taste for it. Revolting but true.

I remember reading about this condition pre-Teddy and feeling faintly horrified. In Bruce Fogle’s DOG The Definitive Guide for Dog Owners, he writes the no-nonsense facts: “Dogs eat poop. It’s wired into their brain circuitry. In some the instinct is firmer than others.” I’m going to gloss over his use of the word ‘firm’.

Puppies sometimes eat faeces while investigating their environment. What do you do when your dog eats poo? To stop it becoming a habit, there are non-harmful sprays that you can buy to trick your pup into hating eating poo: squirt it on a stuff, leave it for your dog to find and then your dog will (hopefully) avoid the nasty-tasting stuff in the future.  Of course, training your dog to ‘leave’ and ‘come’ would help, too.

Although Teddy has an occasional fondness for rabbit poo he has never really gone for anything bigger. But this week he did. Cue much gagging on my part and a brisk walk home, followed by two thorough scrub-downs with a special anti-fox poo shampoo kept for just such unlikely, stinking occasions. For the sake of thoroughness, his teeth were brushed too, and then he was back to his former glory, above.

This unscheduled double wash and brush-up put paid to our morning’s plans and Ted definitely wondered what all the fuss was about. I did, too. Why had this usually choosy Miniature Schnauzer suddenly scarfed down these unmentionables?

Apparently some dogs eat stool in an effort to correct an imbalance in the digestive process. “If a dog is not digesting food properly, and they have less pancreatic enzymes, they might eat faeces because it will have the protein that they are after and which is palatable,” says Rodney Zasman of Zasman Vet. “Another reason a dog might eat faeces is a condition called pica, which is a brain tumour. More often than not, if a dog is a habitual eater, it’s worth getting them checked out.”

Then there’s the problem that eating poop can cause health problems of its own if it’s contaminated with viruses, parasites or the kind of crazy toxic substances that Teddy’s cousin found on our local Heath (see my previous post: When Your Dog Gets High).

As he hasn’t shown an interest since, I’m putting Teddy’s momentary dietary deviation down to the fact that, according to Rodney: “The poorer quality the food, the tastier the faeces. Same goes for cat faeces. Fox poo is tasty to dogs because it’s high in protein”.  Still though, I’ll be keeping a close eye on Teddy’s meanderings and I’ll definitely be steering him away from the undergrowth in future.

 

 

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Training Teddy: Teaching Ted to ‘Leave It’

dog trainer

Is it a bit late in the day to be teaching Teddy new tricks? I had a masterclass in dog behaviour from dog trainer The Dog Nanny, aka Deborah Colella, recently. Ted has developed a habit of getting feisty with excitable dogs: often the terribly cute, rambunctious ones who bowl up to him and want to play. This is a problem for two reasons: I really don’t want to see Ted being unfriendly (the growling, the barking is pretty embarrassing), and I really want not to spend our walks with my eyes on stalks, looking out for the next bouncy pup – it’s stressy.

The Dog Nanny suggested teaching Teddy the ‘leave it’ command. We met on Hampstead Heath and, after a chat with me and a treat for Ted, Teddy was attached to a neon long-lead (read why this is a clever choice of training lead on the the following blog post Brilliant Long Dog Leash).

My job was to hold the lead loosely, while Deborah took Teddy’s favourite squeaky ball and placed it a metre or two away. Ted watched and I had to say ‘leave it’ in a positive, upbeat voice as soon as the ball went on the floor. When he, inevitably, went for the ball, I held him back. After straining for a bit, Teddy tore his attention away from the ball, and looked back at me as if to say, ‘What?” As soon as he did that, I had to give him praise and a treat.

After a few goes at this, Ted was looking back at me for the treat almost as soon as I said ‘leave it’. “Quick learner,” said Deborah. (Is it wrong that I was proud?)

Soon we had no option but to take it up a notch. A Labrador wandered over. Luckily he was lardy not bouncy, but with the lead loosely in my hand, and plenty to spare, Deborah talked me through what to do.
1. Check body language. In Teddy’s case, if he’s not on tippy toes, making direct eye contact or growling, say “leave it” and give Ted a treat when he looks at me.
2. If either dog gets potentially feisty, encourage Teddy away. Do something fun – with the lead in hand – like run in the opposite direction, make merry, and have it sound like a game.
3. Give him his treat and use the ultimate reward (a throw of his ball) after he has come away.

She also told me to breathe. I was more tense than Ted. And I’m sure, like all the books say, I was making things worse because I was expecting trouble where there was in fact, none. It all worked well – I only had to say ‘leave it’, then Ted looked to me and the Lab lumbered on.

Ted’s uptake was impressive and we weren’t out there long. Before she left, Deborah gave me some extra pointers.
1. Give Ted treats after every positive encounter with another dog, even if he has just ignored it. It’s called ‘rewarding desired responses’.
2. When there are more distractions about (ie. other dogs), reinforce that looking back to me is what I’d like Ted to do by saying ‘leave it’ again as soon as he turns back.
3. Eventually leave the long line dragging and only pick it up when you think there may be a situation brewing.

Finally, according to the Dog Nanny, “Doggy politeness is often not what everyone thinks it is. And anyway, no one needs to be friends with everyone.” Maybe that’s the point. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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Training Teddy: Dog Treats to Train Humans

dog treats

My friends have a handsome young Rottweiler called Beau. He’s a soppy, cuddly chap who has grown into the massive dog he was always going to become. He doesn’t know his own strength and is therefore in the midst of some intensive, reward-based training with dog treats. It’s going swimmingly well – except for the problem of co-ordinating giving the treat with giving the command.

The idea is that you give the dog treats immediately after the dog has done what you ask (reinforcement). How can something that sounds so simple be so tricky? It’s hard! I still find myself so happy that Ted is on his way to doing what I want him to do, that I slip him the treat before he has completed the whole task. I don’t even realise I am doing it – although I am a whole lot more aware of it since Kevin-the-Trainer pointed it out.

It seems Ted’s training is fraught with my slip-ups. I’ve been trying to stop Teddy’s feisty tendencies with a healthy dose of distraction. I bring out a bit of carrot as soon as I see the trigger (which in Teddy’s case is another feisty pup) approach and say ‘watch me’. It has been working well. Except this morning, as I was holding the carrot-y dog treats aloft, I heard myself not saying ‘watch me’, but saying ‘Good boy. Well done. Aren’t you clever?’ etc, etc (and there were plenty of etceteras). Completely confusing for Ted. It can’t be a coincidence that today this Miniature Schnauzer’s attention was less than focused. When I woke up to what I was doing I nipped it in the bud, but it did remind me that it’s clearly not just Teddy who needs more, much more, endless, repetitive training.

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Training Teddy: When Dogs Get Aggressive

Two weeks ago my friend took Fudge, her gentle Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, for a light morning stroll. They walked through the park, Fudge on his lead. A large dog – a Labrador-mix – charged up to Fudge and attacked him without preamble.
What did my friend do? It all happened so quickly that all she could think was to shout to the dog’s owner as she tried to drag Fudge away. The owner and her friends had to pull the dog off of Fudge who was left inert and bleeding on the floor. Fudge was taken to the emergency vet and went straight into surgery. He was eventually sent home with a drain for two bites in his side and chest. He’s now, understandably, a nervous wreck.
Shocking for Fudge, shocking for all who witnessed him being shaken about like a rag doll– including the attacking dog’s owners who said, “He’s never done this before.”
My friend wondered if she could have done anything to avoid the situation. I asked Kevin-the-Trainer. “It’s often the case that dogs off-lead have a much better chance in an aggressive encounter than a dog held on a lead,” says dog trainer and behaviourist for the Mayhew Dogs Home, Kevin McNicholas. “Picking up dogs often exposes the owner to injury and makes the held-up dog more of a target.” If you have the presence of mind, and can see the situation coming, then Kevin advises, “Throwing a coat or jumper over your small dog and then picking it up. It makes your dog ‘disappear’ to the attacking dog.”
Anyone who has seen dogs skirmish will know that using your hands to separate them is dangerous not to mention difficult because it’s all so fast-moving (although I do know a woman who took hold of the rear end of the dog attacking her Schnauzer/Pug mix and gave him the ultimate cool-off by chucking him into a pond on Hampstead Heath). Fudge’s attacker was a big dog, eventually hauled off by his collar – it took two men to do it.
“If your dog is injured or in pain after an incident with another dog, see a vet as puncture wounds can get infected very fast,” advises Kevin.
After she had calmed down, and before she’d carried Fudge to the car and straight to the vet, my friend took the owner’s details. She called later to explain that Fudge had to have near-on £1000-worth of surgery. Unfortunately no apology was given, no hint of paying the vet bills or subsequent dog training were suggested. Keen to stop a repeat performance, my friend reported the incident to the police. She chased it up two times and chased-up the Community Police two times. Still no feedback. Perhaps used to this response, Kevin advises a thorough approach. In 35 years of working with dogs and owners, he’s finely honed the process: “Any evidence you have should be recorded (use your smart phone or a pen and paper to write down the facts – date, time, description of dog and owner, where and when, any witnesses with their contact details). Report the incident to the local police and get a crime number. Follow that up with a recorded delivery, signed-for letter to the Police Borough Commander in the area where the dog attack occurred (a Google search will reveal the name and contact address for the correct person). Include the crime number and all evidence that you have collected, with a copy of any witness and vet reports. Ask the Commander what is going to be done about this Dangerous Dog and await your reply. A similar recorded delivery letter can be sent to the Chief Executive of the Council in the area where the attack occurred. If you don’t get a reasonable reply in two weeks then contact you Member of Parliament and ask them to investigate on your behalf.” It’s a lot of legwork.
“Sometimes owners of aggressive dogs do not “see it” in their dogs, they confuse aggression with play. But whether you own a large dog or a tiny one and however placid and friendly your dog is, the Dangerous Dogs Act applies to you. Under the Act, it’s illegal for a dog to be ‘out of control’ or to bite or attack someone. The legislation also makes it an offence if a person is worried or afraid (the term is ‘reasonable apprehension’), that’s before a bite or attack has occurred. So, ensure that your dog is kept under control at all times and in all places.”
And finally, if your dog is the aggressor, Kevin has some advice. “Control your dog, don’t allow it to start things off. Work hard to achieve a great recall. Food can sometimes be a catalyst for dogs to fight, it can attract other dogs and they might be more aggressive because there are high value rewards around. Toys and balls are sometimes less attractive to other dogs so try to use games as well as food in training.”

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Training Teddy: A Lesson from a Falconer

I’d like to blame it on the autumnal frenzy of squirrels, but the fact that Teddy is refusing to come back when called probably has more to do with me than the fluffy grey smudges that he likes to chase.
I met a dog-walker while standing on Hampstead Heath and calling for my errant mutt. His advice? Training dogs is all about practice, mixing it up a bit and making sure that what’s offered as a lure (especially for a picky Mini Schnauzer like ours) is something fairly special.
So this is not news to me, but it took watching another trained animal perform for me to get with the programme.
Last weekend we visited Countrywide Falconry to fly some hawks and owls. Let’s do something different, we thought, as we loaded up the children and Teddy and journeyed away from London, into the open fields of the Kent countryside. Once Teddy had stretched his legs, we stowed this urban dog out of harm’s way, back in the car. He promptly went to sleep.
The falconer introduced us to his Harris Hawks. He showed us how to hold the birds on the glove, how to weigh them (they are only allowed to fly at a certain weight), and how to fly them. Then the training techniques began to ring some bells. We were told that when calling a Hawk to fly to you, “You never put your glove up to receive a bird unless you have some food for it.” Essentially, this is the same recall strategy with which we started training Teddy: don’t ask him to come unless you are going to give him a reward.
The Harris Hawks were powerful and elegant in the sky but, when some chicken bits fell to the floor, the three hawks whining and squabbling over food were positively pup’ish, especially when they looked up, squawking furiously, demanding more.
When whistled for or, amazingly, called by name, the Hawks swooped obediently back onto the glove for a small piece of chicken. The Bengal Eagle Owl, however, was more Teddy-like in her approach. When called, she looked the other way (the falconer put this down to owl stupidity – apparently they do not deserve their wise reputation) or screeched what sounded like ‘nah’. She appeared only to return to the glove when she considered the size of what was on offer worth her while. I admired her style.
And so for Teddy, I’ll have to up my game. Rather than a whole small chick (the owl’s favourite bait) I’ll try some roast chicken scraps, perhaps a bit of sausage, and hope that gets the recall back on track.

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Training Teddy: Dogs and Fireworks

This time last year I was fretting about Teddy and firework season. I needn’t have worried. When Bonfire Night arrived and bangers and firecrackers were exploding up and down our street, Teddy couldn’t have been less bothered. But this time around I’m not sure things will go so smoothly. A couple of over-zealous, well-meaning children, keen to smother Teddy with love, have left this Miniature Schnauzer a little bit wary of newcomers. We are working on it. Meantime, I’m wondering if this new-found nerviness will translate to loud noises, too. While mulling this, I received a sensible email from our vet, sharing some ideas on how to ease a dog into the firework.

Zasman Vet says:
– At least a week ahead of time, prepare a ‘den’ – a secure place where Teddy can hide; he may already have a special place – perhaps behind a sofa, under the bed or in a cupboard. Either way, it should be somewhere dark, quiet and away from disturbing activity. Teddy’s den should have comfortable bedding, extra blankets to hide under and a bowl of water. Make sure the den is available at all times, day and night. Encourage him to use it by hiding chews, bones or toys there (unless you think he might aggressively guard them). Of course, he will be more likely to use the hiding place on noisy nights if he can enjoy going there at other times.
– Get a non-odour plug-in diffuser that releases anxiety-reducing pheromones (similar to those released by the mother to her puppies) – we recommend the Adaptil®Diffuser. It should be plugged into an electrical socket at floor level next to Teddy’s den about 7 days before the firework season begins. Sprays and collars are also good as alternatives. Some dogs need additional treatments or even sedatives (speak to your vet) to calm them down.
– Microchip him if you haven’t already done so. Escaped pets can easily get lost if frightened and confused.
– On the evenings you expect fireworks, give Teddy a stodgy, high carbohydrate meal about an hour before you expect the noise to begin. For example, a portion of overcooked rice or mashed potato mixed with a little of his usual food. Then take him out for a toilet break. Lastly, secure doors and windows and draw the curtains. Turn on music to help block out the noise.

During the fireworks
– Ignore any fearful behaviour and do not try to comfort him; he will pick up on your anxiety.
– Don’t get cross with him – this only confirms that there is something to be afraid of.
– Try to act as a good role-model; stay relaxed and calm. Having you around and acting normally will reassure him.
– Draw the curtains and increase the volume of the radio or TV which may help to drown out the sound of the fireworks.

Afterwards
– After the event do not show a lot of attention and encouragement. Teddy will receive mixed messages if you encourage him to use the den and then lavish praise on him for coming out again! Ignore him until fully relaxed later on.
– Remember what works well and be consistent in how you manage and interact with him during future fireworks events.

Well, that sounds practical and do-able. Why the carb-rich dinner? “Carbohydrate-rich meals often increase serotonin levels,” says Rodney Zasman. “In the brain, serotonin’s main effects include improving mood as well as making one more relaxed or sleepy.” I’ll be getting out my rice cooker, then.

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Training Teddy: The Dog Nanny

During my immersion in the world of all things dog I have discovered that there are as many views on how to train a dog as there are opinions on how to raise a child. Theories abound – some clearly nuts, a few that seem harsh and archaic but thankfully, rather more that are both logical and kind. My latest find on the ‘logical and kind’ side is Deborah Colella, with her refreshingly quirky website, The Dog Nanny. Unsurprisingly, this well-qualified dog trainer has also worked as a children’s nanny and says that there are distinct similarities in working with the two. “You have to make a dog want to do things,” says Colella, explaining her method. “I like to use logic and fun – just as you would with a two-year old child”. Her blogs always provide food for thought. I particularly like But I Don’t Have 10,000 Hours! which debates how long it takes to train a dog : “20 hours. That’s one hour of puppy class a week for 6 weeks, plus roughly 2 hours of home training each week in between. 120 minutes a week. 20 minutes a day, 6 days a week. You can manage that right? (If not, you probably should just get a fish.)” One to watch.

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Training Teddy: Taming The (Mainly Docile) Beast

At home, we’ve got used to Teddy’s chilled out, undemanding personality. But recently we’ve seen a bit of a change in our Miniature Schnauzer. On weekday evenings, when the family reconvenes after a day at school and work, he perks up. He welcomes his pack, bustles about and gets involved, making sure he’s seen and patted – so far, so normal. But lately he has added some extra feistiness to his repertoire. He growls and tugs at any available trouser leg. This then escalates to jumpy nips as he tries to encourage one of us to play. Not ideal.
What to do? Should we take him for a walk and tire him out? Should we ignore him until he calms down? Should we give-in and play, but be firmer with reprimands? I ask Kevin-the-Trainer. “Sometimes training wears out a dog better than exercise,” he says. His suggestion: “Try putting him on a lead and spend five or ten minutes practicing sit/stays or teaching him a trick.”
I tried this last night. We went through sit/stay/leave with treats on the floor. Teddy was super-focused (food was, afterall, involved) and he was one hundred per cent successful in each drill. So, not exercise, not play, but training is the answer for this little dog when he acts up. I wonder if it works for children, too?

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Training Teddy: Halt the Howling #2

(P)update: over the past week, I have been following Kevin-the-Trainer’s very thorough instructions (See Training Teddy: Halting the Howling) to help quell Teddy’s separation anxiety. Now that he has managed to be tied to a bench and watch me move twenty yards away without howling, we are ready for the next step.
“Teddy is getting used to the idea of being tied up in random places for short periods,” says Kevin. “You should continue to practice this even when you introduce the next step, which will get him used to you going out of sight.
Start out-of-sight training at home and in your garden. Again, tether Teddy in one room and go around the corner into another room wait for twenty or thirty seconds. When you decide to return, use the ‘quiet Teddy means you go back’, and ‘noisy Teddy means you stand still or even walk a step or two away’ approach. The first few times you do this Teddy will not know what is happening, so don’t make it too difficult by stretching it out.
Once Teddy is able to be quiet when you are in another room, then you can bring him back a treat. Only do this if he is consistently quiet as you don’t want him to think that barking and howling is rewarded.
When you have got a really consistent ‘quiet when out-of-sight’ both in the house and in the garden, then you can try it in a park. Choose a place that is both easy to tether Teddy and that is easy for you to get out of his sight within 10 steps. Then repeat the method above. Don’t stay away for long, instead consolidate learning in short periods of up to 30 seconds and once this is consistent then you can extend to one minute. This could take a few weeks,” says Kevin. Luckily we have all summer long to practice, before the school gates loom once more.

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