At the Shelter: Can We Put People in the Mood to Adopt?

February 18, 2014

Elderly Lady with PetI’m one of those people whose mind always seems to translate things into how they relate to dogs. The other morning was no exception. I came across an article stating that researchers have discovered what they call the “temperature-premium” effect. According to the study, published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, a series of five field and lab studies were used to measure and manipulate physical warmth in conjunction with shoppers’ assessments of perceived value of products. The findings suggest that “exposure to physical warmth activates the concept of emotional warmth.” This study follows others that found a relationship between positive feelings and reduced distance from the subject, and suggests that increased temperatures also reduce people’s perceived distance from the subject.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we “trick” anyone into feeling like they should adopt a dog; the last thing anyone wants is adopter’s remorse and a return. But there’s nothing wrong with making people feel as comfortable and receptive as possible when meeting their potential new best friend. In regard to the temperature premium effect, the meet and greet rooms in shelters and rescues comes to mind. In the study, the target temperature was a few degrees above 72. That’s not a temperature that would be uncomfortable to most dogs, and it might relax people. If you run an adoption facility, wouldn’t it be worthwhile to conduct an unofficial “study” to see whether it helps? I wonder too whether we could extrapolate from the study that a higher temperature in the kennel buildings would make people feel closer to the subjects in distance, which might in turn reduce emotional distance.

We also know that music can help dogs to relax in shelter type environments, thanks to studies that have been done with classical music as well as music that is psychoacoustically designed to help dogs relax, such as the Through a Dog’s Ear series. And, we know that certain types of music are more likely to make humans relax. As a general rule, classical music is more relaxing than, say, heavy metal music—unless, of course, you’re a sixteen-year-old boy. So why not pump relaxing music into the kennels? It could relax the dogs, in turn making them more adoptable, and calm the people, putting them more at ease and hopefully in a more receptive state.

There are also other senses that can be engaged to help dogs and people to relax. Smell is a dog’s primary sense. DAP—Dog Appeasing Pheromone—is a product that mimics the pheromones emitted by a lactating female dog. Turns out they’re comforting not only to puppies, but to adults as well. (There is some debate about whether this product is effective; to me, it falls into the can’t-hurt-might-help category, and I have heard plenty of anecdotal evidence where it did work.) Using DAP in kennels could well help dogs to relax. But what about humans who don’t have the vomero-nasal organ dogs have to detect those pheromones? Well, there’s aromatherapy. What about some nice, relaxing lavender?

You get the idea. We all want to stay in environments that we enjoy longer than ones in which we’re uncomfortable. (Case in point: I have walked out of more mall stores that were playing obnoxious music than I can count.) If we’re physically comfortable and feeling pleasantly relaxed, we’re a lot more likely to be in a receptive state mentally and emotionally. Again, we’re certainly aren’t aiming to “trick” anyone into adoptions. But isn’t it worth our while to do everything we can to help people be more open to considering the dogs?
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Check out Nicole’s books, seminar DVDs, and seminar schedule at http://www.nicolewilde.com and her photography at http://www.nicolewildephotography.com.


Beyond Typical Resource Guarding

January 30, 2014

bully stick 3 smallerWe’ve all heard about dogs who guard their food, or perhaps treats or toys. But there are some dogs from whom resource guarding goes beyond the norm, and seems to be an art form. Here are just a few examples:

1. Guarding people. Most dogs in this category guard their owners. At the dog park, I’ve watched dogs spend the entire time running at and fending off dogs who come anywhere in the vicinity of the owner. The owner believes he or she is doing a good thing by bringing the dog to the park for exercise and socialization. In reality, the dog is in a constant state of stressful arousal. After all, when vigilantly guarding a valued resource, who could relax? Unfortunately, some owners find this sort of behavior admirable, in a “Look, my dog is protecting me” kind of way.

I can always count on Sierra to add something strange and different to typical behavior. When I first got Sierra, I’d allow her to go greet dogs and owners in the dog park if there were only one or two inside. Here’s a typical scenario: There’s a nice Australian shepherd mix, and her owner, who is sitting on a bench. I open the gate. Sierra immediately runs up to the owner, hops up beside him, and begins her wiggly, flirtatious, pet-me routine. Fair enough. But, when the Aussie approaches Sierra guards the dog from her own owner! Needless to say, this is not something I let to continue to happen, but it certainly was interesting.

2. Guarding Other Dogs. Imagine two dogs romping happily. A third dog approaches, and suddenly a skirmish breaks out, as one of the previously romping dogs drives the interloper away. “Isn’t that nice? He’s protecting his friend,” says the owner. Not so much. If the dog could speak, he’d be saying, “Go find your own friend. This one is mine!” This dynamic isn’t uncommon when two dogs who live together come to the park, where one turns on the other to guard a valued newcomer from the housemate.

3. Guarding Locations. This isn’t all that uncommon. When there are two or more dogs in the house, often one will lie across a doorway that leads to a room or to the outdoors, in order to controlling access to the area. Before the other dog can pass, he’s got to get past the Club Canine bouncer. Some dogs will even do this with their owners. In those cases, many owners will step over their dogs, while others will get the dog out of the way by calling the dog to them. I recommend the latter, or simply teaching a “Move!” cue.

4. Guarding from Afar. This is one that sometimes goes unnoticed or is misunderstood by owners. In this case, the valued item is not even in the dog’s possession. Some dogs, for example, will stand near the kitchen table while the owners are eating, glaring at the other dog. They might well have never been fed from the table; it’s as though they’re just waiting for a tasty morsel to fall. And if it does, whose will it be? Yep.

5. Just Plain Weirdness. There are dogs who will guard their own leashes. I’ve known dogs who have resource guarded dust balls. (Good thing they don’t live at my house.) But the prize for the oddest guarding behavior goes to…Sierra! In the mornings when I make my green smoothie drink, I give them Bodhi and Sierra each a small piece of banana before it goes into the blender. Each dog will quickly eat their portion. Sierra will then walk up to Bodhi and begin to lick the remnants of banana from his lips and, if he opens up, the inside of his mouth. If he doesn’t allow it, she may growl. Yes, friends, Sierra is actually guarding the food that is in Bodhi’s mouth from him. That’s a new one on me.

Your turn: What sorts of odd things do your dogs guard?


The Real Truth About Rescuing Dogs–and Wolves

January 21, 2014

Super closeup thoughtful smallWhen you bring a dog home from a shelter or adopt one from a rescue, you’re doing a noble thing. You’re taking a dog whose days might be numbered, and giving him a new lease on life. Perhaps the dog immediately takes to your family, fits right in, and never displays major behavioral problems. Good for you! But, unfortunately, that’s not the way it goes for everyone. Many of us who rescue or adopt dogs have adopted challenges along with them that must be worked through. It’s not something you’ll see on those tug-at-your-heartstrings commercials, but it’s the truth.

In addition to having been a canine behavior specialist for close to the last quarter century, I’ve always been involved in rescue. There have been the dogs I rescued personally, the ones I worked with in Los Angeles city shelters, and the wolves and wolfdogs at the rescue center I co-ran—three of whom I ended up bringing home. The road has not always been an easy one. Over the years, as I’ve dealt with various behavior issues with my own dogs, I’ve discussed them openly in my books and blogs. Dog owners and even other trainers seem to appreciate hearing about the struggles and problem solving, rather than just reading about how wonderful things are. And so, in the spirit of honest sharing, I offer a few excerpts from my latest book, Hit by a Flying Wolf: True Tales of Rescue, Rehabilitation and Real Life with Wolves and Dogs.

My husband and I rescued Bodhi, a malamute mix, and Sierra, a husky mix, from separate shelters. Not only did they each have behavior problems—and believe me, Bodhi had enough for five dogs—but at the start, there were conflicts between them:

There were periods when I’d have a few minutes or even a few hours where I felt more optimistic about Bodhi—and then something else would happen. Two weeks after we brought him home, I was taking a much-needed break from the book I was writing about separation anxiety. I was lying on the living room couch reading, with a box of peanut butter crackers wedged between my body and the back of the couch. Sierra came walking up through the narrow corridor formed by the couch and the coffee table. She sniffed the air and then the couch. I patiently explained that although peanut butter was indeed one of the world’s finest inventions, the crackers weren’t for her. Just then Bodhi approached from the opposite direction. Now the dogs were nose to nose in a very small space, with me in the middle. Before you could say “Not good,” a snarkfest broke out. Jaws clacked and snarls filled the air as the dogs lunged at each other. I wedged the book between them (now, there’s one advantage of a solid book over a Kindle) and simultaneously sprang up, employing reflexes I didn’t know I still possessed. Sierra seemed scared, while Bodhi just looked puzzled. I calmed the dogs down, put the crackers away, and made a mental note that the Fear of Clacking Jaws Diet could be quite the effective deterrent against late afternoon couch snacking.

Dogs aren’t the only ones who come with issues. For years I co-ran Villalobos Rescue Center with my friend Tia Torres—this was years before Pit Bulls & Parolees came along, when the center was dedicated to rescuing only wolves and wolfdogs. Amongst other duties, I went out on house calls to assist owners so they could keep their animals, transported wolves to the rescue, and did socialization and training with the residents. Then, for reasons explained in the book, I brought three of them home to live with me. As you might imagine, wolves aren’t exactly like dogs, and they presented some serious challenges. That they hadn’t had the best start in life didn’t make things any easier, either. Like so many rescue dogs, Heyoka, a mostly-wolf, had an intense fear of people; it took a long time for me to even be able to touch him. As you might imagine, veterinary visits weren’t the easiest….

This particular veterinary office had seen a lot of the rescue’s animals over the years. None had ever fazed the burly gang members-turned-vet-techs. These guys had wrangled huge Pit Bulls, wolves, and everything in between. But they hadn’t met Heyoka. C.C. and I watched from the waiting room as a dark-haired, twenty-something tech strode confidently toward the holding area in the back. Ten minutes later, he emerged covered in a thin film of sweat, and called for another tech to assist him. The two disappeared. Fifteen minutes later they both reappeared looking sweaty, disheveled, and with a distinct deficiency in the swagger department. “We need the catch pole,” one panted to a third tech, who looked at them and asked, “You wrestling alligators back there or what?” Three techs and thirty minutes later, Heyoka was safely back in the crate.

I don’t mean to give the impression that life with the wolves and dogs has been nothing but difficulties. The love, trust, moments of bonding and affection, and near-magical turnarounds in behavior and spirit are more than worth all of the time and effort. My goal in writing Hit by a Flying Wolf is, beyond simply offering what is hopefully a fascinating read, to inspire owners to not only feel better about the struggles they’re having with their own dogs, but to hang in there and keep trying, even when behavior problems cause disruption, frustration, and challenges. Sometimes true change can take months, or even years. But when we take animals into our homes and families, in the end, the effort is always worthwhile. Just ask Bodhi, the dog I thought I’d never bond with; he’s lying quietly by my side as I type this, and I absolutely love him. That’s the truth about rescue.


Is Lip Licking Beagle a Threat to Baby?

January 13, 2014

beagle licks lipsA veterinarian recently told me an interesting story. A woman who had brought her beagle in for vaccinations mentioned that she was very concerned about the dog’s behavior. There was a baby in the family, and it seemed that the beagle would lick his lips whenever he was in close proximity to the infant. The dog also growled when the infant made certain sounds or movements. Did this lip licking, the woman wanted to know, mean that the beagle wanted to eat the baby?

The woman’s concern is understandable. But the good news is, it’s very unlikely that the dog was looking to have the baby for lunch. Lip licking is a common, subtle stress signal in dogs. It’s often seen in anxiety-producing situations such as sitting in the vet’s waiting room, being in a training class where harsh corrections are used, or even being hugged. (There are some dogs who like or tolerate being hugged, but many don’t like it.) In this situation, it’s likely that the beagle was simply anxious around the baby. The growling further reinforces the likelihood that the beagle was stressed, since growling is a dog’s way of warning us that he’s uncomfortable. (See my previous post Why Growling is Good.)

Other subtle stress signals to watch for are yawning, scratching, sniffing the ground, scratching, turning away of the head and/or body, or averting the eyes. Of course, any of these signals, including lip licking, can be seen at other times as well; canine body language must be observed as a whole, and in context. It’s ironic that understanding these signals is absolutely crucial for dog owners, and yet they’re not commonly taught or discussed. In a situation such as the beagle-baby one, had the owner’s mind not been put at ease, the dog might have lost his home.

While lip licking and other stress signals do not indicate aggression, keep in mind that a scared dog, if pushed too far, can become dangerous. If you see any of these signals in your own dog, try to figure out why he might be nervous. If possible, remove the dog from the situation, and, at another time, work on reducing the dog’s stress in those situations. Paying attention to these subtle signals can alert us to the difference between a dog wanting to eat a child and wanting to simply be left alone—and that’s a life-changing difference for everyone involved.
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You can find my books, seminar DVDs and blog at www.nicolewilde.com. Don’t want to miss a blog post? Subscribe above and be notified by email of new posts. You can also sign up for my Training Tips Tuesdays by going to www.nicolewilde.com and clicking on Join Nicole’s Inside Scoop List. You’ll get free tips on training and behavior weekly! You can also find me on Facebook and Twitter.

 


Can Technology Offer a Shortcut to Reading Dogs’ Emotions?

January 2, 2014

cocked head smallA while back, a product called the Bowlingual claimed to translate dog barks. Is your dog happy? Sad? Frustrated? Lonely? The Bowlingual would offer a phrase to let you know. While intriguing, suffice it to say the Amazon reviews are a little sad and a lot tongue in cheek. No one seems to have as yet gotten the inside line to their dog’s thoughts by using this type of device.

Now, a small group of researchers at the Nordic Society for Invention and Discovery have come up with a newer, more technologically oriented device which they hope will offer a scientifically based glimpse into your dog’s emotions. “No More Woof” is touted as “the first device to translate animal thoughts into human language.” It consists of a headset (which I’m guessing most dogs would have to become acclimated to wearing) with an EEG sensor that reads your dog’s brainwaves and, via micro-computing and special software, translates them into human speech. Although the technology is still in development, the goal is to produce 3 levels of the product, with the price ranging from $65 to $1200. The lower end model will be able to distinguish 2-3 thought patterns, most likely “tiredness, hunger, and curiosity.” The most advanced model will allegedly program itself while in use. According to the website, “Over time this option lets your dog speak short sentences (‘I’m hungry—but I don’t like this!’).” Oh, no—I’m already imagining Bodhi’s device sounding off non-stop throughout the day: “Got anything to eat? Can we go out now? Pet me! Pet me! Pet me!” The researchers do point out that the most easily detected neural patterns are “I’m hungry,” “I’m tired,” “I’m curious, who is that?” and “I want to pee,” so maybe it wouldn’t be quite that bad.

It would be all too easy to dismiss this sort of technology as a joke; I mean, do we really not know when our dogs are hungry, curious, tired, or need to eliminate? But I do think there is merit to the concept, and that it might be helpful in specific situations. There are owners who are either not very adept at tuning in to their dogs’ emotional states, or are too distracted with their own lives and gadgets to realize their dog needs something. I can also imagine the device being helpful to a segment of the elderly population who tend to be forgetful, and might not feed their dog on time or let him out without a prompt. And while most dog owners do believe that their dog has emotions, it’s always good to “prove” it to those who keep insisting on viewing dogs as robotic little servants who live to please us. After all, it’s harder to get physically harsh with a dog when you know they’ve got feelings, too. I would love to have technology that would tell us once and for all whether a dog is enjoying training, or being stressed out by it. It would certainly settle some arguments between trainers who use different types of training tools.

The No More Woof is a project in development, and funds for the prototype are being raised. If the product moves forward, no doubt improvements will be made. For now, we’ll have to stick with the best technology we’ve got for reading our dogs’ emotional states: our eyes, our brains, and our hearts.
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Happy New Year, all! I look forward to seeing some of you at my seminars in 2014. For a full schedule, go to http://www.nicolewilde.com and click Seminars. And stay tuned for an announcement about a new book!


Wag This Way: Left or Right Offers Insight

November 4, 2013

tail wagI just got back from the Association of Professional Dog Trainers conference, where one of the seminars I presented centered on the lesser known aspects of canine body language. Among other things, I discussed a study from Bari University in Italy about tail wagging.

The study involved 30 mixed breed dogs between the ages of one and six. There were 15 intact males and 15 non-oestrus females. These were family pets, by the way, whose owners had agreed to participate. The dogs were put into narrow box-like structures with cameras that would track not only which direction their tail wagged, but the precise amplitude. There was a slat at the front of the box through which the dog could see out. (Imagine one of those movies where the character knocks on a door in a seedy neighborhood and the doorkeeper slides the slat open to ask for the password.)

Each dog was presented with a stimulus for one minute, rested 90 seconds, and then saw another stimulus. (The test lasted 25 days with 10 sessions per day.) There were four different stimuli: the owner, an unfamiliar person, a cat, and a dominant unfamiliar dog, who happened to be a large Belgian Malinois. The results were interesting, to say the least. The dogs’ tails wagged to the right for the owner (that’s the dog’s right, by the way), the unfamiliar person, and the cat. Predictably, the widest wag was for the owners, the next widest for the unfamiliar person, and the narrowest for the cat. But when presented with the Malinois, the dogs’ tails wagged to the left.

Why would that be? We know that the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body, and vice versa. The anterior of the left hemisphere is associated with feelings of love, attraction, and safety, so it makes sense that a dog’s tail would wag to the right for their owner and others for whom the dog felt positive feelings. The right anterior hemisphere, however, is associated with fear and withdrawl, among other things. When the dogs saw the dominant Malinois, those left directional tail wags were telling a tale, and it wasn’t a happy one.

The study is fascinating enough on its own, but now the researchers have published a new study in the journal Current Biology. Building on the directional wag theory, they wondered whether other dogs would be affected by a dog’s tail wagging to the right or to the left. Would they know the dog was feeling friendly, or not wanting to be approached? As it turns out, yes, they did! They found that dogs who viewed a dog wagging to the right (the warm, fuzzy, left-hemisphere activated response) would show a relaxed response. In dogs who saw a left side wag (produced by the negative/withdrawl brain function), though, there was increased anxiety and even an increased cardiac response.

The research team posits that the directional tail wags might effectively be used to advantage during vet visits or that dummies could be used to elicit positive responses from dogs. Interestingly, during the seminar where I mentioned the tail wag study, I also discussed what I call the Robodog Study, where a robotic dog was used to gauge the response of other dogs to a short or long, wagging or still tail. Canine body language is such a fascinating subject, and these studies only touch on, well, the tail end of it. You can check out the DVD of my full day seminar Talk to the Paw: Understanding What Dogs are Saying—and What We’re Saying to Them here. In the meantime, watch your dog’s tail when he meets new people and other dogs; you just might learn a little bit more about his likes and fears!


Is Your Dog Who You Thought He’d Be?

October 14, 2013

under tree limb portrait small copyLast night, in a jet lag induced bout of sleeplessness, I watched a Sex and the City marathon. Somewhere in the midst of this guilty pleasure, Carrie or one of the other girls (I can’t be sure—it was 3 a.m.) opined that we might all be better off if we didn’t bring so many expectations into our relationships. Naturally, this made me think of dogs.

In some cases, strict requirements are understandable. Nancy, a trainer, got a dog specifically to do agility. An experienced competitor, she has a high skill level and knows what types of dogs excel at the sport. Not only did the dog have to be nimble and built for speed, but he also had to have certain traits including the ability to focus and the strong motivation that’s often referred to as drive. On the other hand, Sue, a retired woman in her late sixties, spends most of her time at home and wanted a dog for company. She didn’t care much what the dog looked like, or even the breed or age. She just wanted a smallish dog who would cuddle with her at night and not need too much exercise during the day. Nancy’s final choice of a young, intense border collie would not have made Sue any happier than Sue’s eventual adoptee, a sweet, calm, mixed breed senior, would have made Nancy.

For Nancy and Sue, the dogs really did need to meet specific expectations. But most adopters, whether an individual or a family, are simply looking for a dog to fit into their homes and lives without too much trouble. They typically envision an affectionate dog who’s fairly easy to train, won’t make major demands on their lifestyle, and is friendly with the family and visitors. There’s nothing wrong with that. I mean, really, who goes looking for a dog with baggage? Who wants a long-term project? Regardless, sometimes that’s exactly what happens.

My own dogs are both shelter rescues we adopted a few months apart. You might think I wouldn’t care much whether a dog has major issues, since as a trainer and behavior specialist, I know how to fix them. Wrong! Even professionals need a break now and then. My last two dogs were much loved but had their own issues—one with fear and the other, aggression—and I longed for an easier dog. As it turned out, Sierra, who came to us at around age two, had a wicked case of separation anxiety. Bodhi, who was allegedly two but turned out to be closer to one, was steeped in the hormones and outrageous behavior of adolescence. He was a handful and a half; rowdy, destructive, reactive toward other dogs, no manners…I could go on. Suffice it to say that despite careful screening (I still believe that he walked quietly past other dogs during his in-shelter temperament test chanting, I will hold it together until I get adopted, I will…) neither dog turned out to be quite what I was expecting. Working through their issues was challenging at times, but eventually, things resolved. Are they absolutely perfect now? Nope. Who is? Still, I wouldn’t trade either of them for the world.

So what can you do if your dog turns out to be very different than what you were hoping? First, unless you’re an experienced trainer yourself, hire one. (The Association of Professional Dog Trainers’ website is a great place to start your search.) Unless there’s an issue such as major aggression toward a child or some other deal-breaker, be patient and work at it. In the end, sometimes the best course is to change what you can, and then accept and appreciate the being for who he is. I’m sure Carrie Bradshaw would agree.


How to Find a Lost Dog: Tried & True Methods, and Some You Haven’t Considered

September 24, 2013

lost dog istockphoto2NOTE: The original version of this post was from 2013. I’ve added a lot more info and resources to this updated version. If you’re missing a dog, please read thoroughly.

This week’s post is a follow-up to Five Things to do Now, Before Your Dog is Lost. If your dog isn’t currently lost, check out that blog, then come back and print out the tips that follow for future reference. Some of these are standard procedure, and others are a product of my years working with dogs in shelters, rescue, and training. My sincere hope is that you’ll never need them.

Search your neighborhood:

Search area: Draw a circle on a map with your home at the center. Extend the radius out a few miles so you can cover the area in a comprehensive, methodical way. You will cover the paths where you normally walk your dog, and then move gradually and methodically out to surrounding areas. Dogs are crepuscular, meaning they’re most active at dawn and dusk. You’ll want to search at other times as well, but focus on those two time periods.

Walking search: Grab a leash and take along some super-stinky, yummy food you know your dog loves, such as sardines, hot dogs, or fresh pieces of roasted chicken. The other thing that should be super-stinky is you, in the form of a carried well-worn shirt or other article of clothing that has your scent on it–your dog may pick up the scent as you pass. If your dog has a favorite toy, bring it along. Toys that make noise, such as ones that squeak or jingle, are best. If you have another dog, bring that dog along, too. If your dog is an only dog but you have access to another yours is friendly with, ask the owner to walk with you.

Call out your dog’s name in a happy voice as you go, jingle the toy, and keep the stinky food and clothing exposed to the air. In addition to calling your dog’s name, yell “Cookies!” or whatever word you use for treats. (If your dog isn’t food-motivated, yell, “Let’s go for a ride! or whatever else floats his boat.) Do visual sweeps, paying careful attention to places such as bushes, the undersides of cars, and other areas your dog might take cover if he’s sleeping, injured, or frightened. Brainstorm about local places your dog might venture, such as the local dog park, woods, or fields where rabbits or other wildlife are found; or, in a more urban environment, perhaps your dog might head for a neighbor’s house where a canine friend lives.

Driving search: If possible, have someone else drive so you can focus on searching and calling out your dog’s name. If you’re alone, drive slowly and keep your eyes on the road as you do intermittent visual sweeps of the area. Keep the windows rolled down and call out your dog’s name as you go. If your dog knows, “Wanna go for a ride?” call his name followed by the phrase, uttered in the same happy tone you’d normally use. Whether you are searching by car or on foot, if your dog knows a recall cue, use his name and call him to come to you. Even though you’re understandably stressed out, remember the happy voice!

Photograph: Bring a few recent photos along, preferably one head shot and a few full body photos. Show them to everyone you encounter. If your dog is currently wearing a different collar, harness, or other “clothing” than what’s shown in the photos, say so. Ask whether anyone’s seen your dog, and give them a way to contact you.

Get the word out:

Inform your neighbors: If you feel it’s safe, knock on doors and explain, and/or leave flyers. If your dog is not people-friendly, don’t expect people to attempt contact. Instead, supply them with the phone number of your local animal control agency along with your cell number, and ask them to call both if they spot your dog. Even if your dog is friendly, ask people not to chase him, but to turn their body to the side (and even crouch down with body turned sideways if they’re willing and able) and clap gently, using a high-pitched, happy voice to lure your dog to them. If they have a yard or other potential containment area, ask them to coax your dog inside, close the door/gate, and then call you. Let people know too whether your dog is dog-friendly, in case they have a dog of their own.

Post “Lost” flyers around your neighborhood, using your targeted map as a guide. Keep these flyers brightly colored with large text, and don’t cram in too much–you want people to spot and read these quickly. Include a clear photo, preferably in color. The word “REWARD” should appear prominently. (Positive reinforcement works for people, too!) Now, I know some will disagree with this, but I also recommend printing “NEEDS MEDICATION,” whether the dog does or not, as it helps to dissuade those who believe in a “Finders, Keepers” policy from keeping your dog. And, I would add “DO NOT CHASE” because a well-meaning rescuer may chase your dog into traffic. (This goes double if you have a fearful dog.) Create small tear-off tags at the bottom of the page with your phone number so the tags get removed and the flyer remains in place.

Post flyers at veterinary offices, emergency clinics, shelters, humane societies, groomers, pet supply stores, kennels, other dog-related businesses, and dog parks. Anywhere you can, actually talk to the staff and show photos so they’re aware of the situation instead of just posting the flyer. Post too at laundromats, supermarkets, community bulletin boards, and anywhere else that will allow it.

Create “on the road” flyers on large, fluorescent-colored cardboard with a huge “REWARD-LOST DOG” that will catch drivers’ eyes. Post these strategically so motorists passing in both directions can spot them; be sure to post at traffic signals, stop signs, and intersections. Here is a Youtube video that shows you how.

Distribute flyers to your local postal workers, delivery drivers, sanitation workers, and other local service providers. They’re the ones who cover your neighborhood in a comprehensive way daily, and have the best chance of spotting your dog. Give flyers to kids who are playing or hanging out on the street and let them know there’s a reward. Alert local dog walkers, since they are not only out and about in the community regularly, but will have other dogs with them who might attract your dog. Other people to hand flyers to include bus drivers, taxi drivers, highway workers, utility workers—you get the idea. Give ‘em to anyone who’s spending time in your neighborhood and is willing to help.

Door hangers are harder to ignore and get the word out in a more targeted way than flyers. Make door hangers featuring your dog’s photo and place them around your neighborhood.

Alert local trainers and groomers in case someone decides to keep your dog and engages their services. Let local rescue groups know, too. A rescue group might have been called by someone who found your dog or, if your dog went to a shelter, the rescue group might have pulled him. If your dog is a purebred, alert the breed rescue, even if it’s not in your immediate area. Even if your dog is a mixed breed, alert the breed rescue for his predominant breed, as well as mixed-breed rescues. If your dog is microchipped, alert the chip company. If your dog originally came from a rescue, and his tags still have the rescue’s contact info, let the rescue know as well.

Spread the word online. Post information and photos on social media. On Facebook, see if there is a lost and found pets group for your area. If not (or in addition), search for any pet-related groups local to your area. If you’re not sure or not on social media, consider Pawboost , a service that will post to the Facebook groups for your area free of charge. Post on Twitter, Instagram, and any other social media you are on as well. Anywhere you post, ask that it be shared. Post to Nextdoor (sign up if you’re not already a member), which focuses on your own neighborhood and is free to join. If you have Ring, post on their boards. If not and you have a friend who’s a member, ask them to post for you.

Place “Lost dog” ads in your local and surrounding newspapers, and on Craigslist. Also, look through ads for people adopting out or selling dogs, as someone might be trying to rehome your dog.

Search Shelters and Humane Societies:

Search shelters in your area, and any surrounding shelters as well, since people will sometimes drop a dog off on there way to somewhere else, where it’s more convenient for them. Depending on where you live, strays may be euthanized after just a few days of not being claimed. Don’t just call—you must show up in person. Often the office staffer who answers the phone will not know what dogs are in the actual facility. Also, your dog might have been marked down as the wrong breed upon intake.

Look through the Found flyers (most shelters have a bulletin board or book of them) and leave a Lost flyer there. Be sure to search each and every run, even those reserved for the opposite sex (every now and then a mistake is made as to gender). And don’t skip the medical area! If your dog was hit by a car or otherwise injured, that’s where he’ll be. Ask a shelter staffer whether you’re allowed inside; if not, give them a few photos and ask them to take a look. Also, ask in the main office where to locate the Found postings. And talk to the volunteers. Often they’re the ones who interact most with the dogs and are a great resource. Hopefully they can keep an eye out for your dog.

Miscellaneous:

If you have a local pizza place, ask if they’re willing to post a flyer on every box that goes out.

If your dog is a purebred or a mostly-purebred, keep a vigilant watch on the website of any local groups who specialize in that breed. Check the websites too of any local mixed-breed rescue groups.

If you’ve got a GPS tracker on your dog, use it. Be sure you know how wide of a geographical range the product covers.

This is sad, but contacting your local sanitation company will let you know whether your dog was killed by a vehicle.

If you live in a home with a front lawn or other prominent place, construct a large poster board and place it where passersby can see it.

You can turn your car into a mobile billboard as well. Get some car glass markers (Missing Animal Response recommends the 1/2″ tip neon Neon Glass Car Markers from Neoplex (https://amzn.to/2lR5GRG). Not to worry, this stuff comes off with window cleaner. Just be sure your lettering is large (at least 3 or 4 inches tall) and include a large photo of your dog. To see an example, click here: https://www.missinganimalresponse.com/tag-your-car/

There are companies that will, for a fee, help search for your dog by generating flyers and employing a voluminous contact list. This can be especially helpful if you work full-time or are otherwise too busy or unable to conduct a full-on search on your own. Depending on the state you live in, there may even be services available where a bloodhound or other breed can help to track your dog.

Here are some invaluable resources:
Mission Reunite has extensive information on search techniques and even has missing animal consultants to help.
Missing Animal Response‘s website not only has lots of invaluable information, but has a listing of “pet detectives” you can hire.
Pet Harbor allows you to enter your zip code and search and keep track of dogs in local shelters. They also offer an option to mail postcards to your neighbors.
Lost My Doggie will, free of charge, send 25 faxes/emails to your local vets and shelters, do a listing in a lost and found section, and print lost and found flyers. They have other paid options that scale up from there.

If you spot your dog:

Hopefully, you’ll soon spot your dog. Although you’ll be thrilled to see him, since the outside world is one big Doggie Disneyland, he might not be inclined to run directly to you. If that happens, try to get him to chase you instead. If you’re near your home, have him chase you all the way into the yard, then close the gate; if not, try to maneuver to where you can grab him gently. Another trick you can try is to fall down and pretend to cry. Use a high-pitched, distressed tone. Many dogs will run to their owners in that situation.

If someone else spots your dog:

First, be sure it’s actually your dog and not one who looks similar. Ask if there are any identifying marks. If the person is close enough, ask them to take a photo and text it to you.

If someone sees your dog but does not have possession of him, ask the person NOT to chase, but to keep you aware of the dog’s location. The optimum scenario would be for them to remain on the phone with you as you drive there and they keep an eye on the dog, but at the least, you’ll have a better defined area to search. If your dog is friendly and the person can easily coax your dog into their yard, ask them to keep him contained until you can get there. (Before suggesting this, is your dog dog-friendly? If not, ask if they have a dog first. Even if your dog is dog-friendly, ask if they have a dog and whether he is as well. The ideal would be to keep the dogs separated either way.)

It’s terrible that this has to be said, but if someone claims to have your dog (and it does sound like an accurate description), meet them at a public place rather than going to their home. In front of a police station is best. If someone has nefarious intentions, this suggestion alone may put them off. If you’ve offered a reward, bring the cash to pay them.

The most important thing:

Think positive. Visualize your dog home safe and sound. Most importantly, don’t give up hope! I know of a few cases where a dog was lost and someone took him in (this is all too common) for a few months and then gave the dog up to a shelter. Keep looking, keep spreading the word, and stay strong. Here’s to your dog getting home safe and sound.

Print this Checklist:

____ On a map, circle a radius with your residence as the mid-point.
____ When searching, take: treats, toys, your other dog, a stinky T-shirt, a familiar dog.
____ Create a “Lost Dog” flyer. Photo, large text, tear-off contact info.
____ Post flyers at:
– traffic lights, stop signs, intersections
– veterinary offices
– groomers
– kennels
– shelters
– dog parks
– pet supply stores
– non-pet-related stores
____ Give flyers to:
– passersby
– kids hanging out/playing in street
– bus drivers
– delivery drivers (e.g., UPS, FedEx), sanitation workers, postal workers
____ Inform:
– local rescues (breed-specific if applicable, too)
– trainers
– groomers
– boarding kennels
____ Post online to social media and other groups.
____ Place ads in local newspapers and on Craig’s List.
____ Search shelters thoroughly and regularly.
____ Monitor local rescue websites, especially if your dog’s a purebred.

Again, never give up. My heart goes out to you, and I hope you find your dog safe, sound, and soon.
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You can find all of Nicole’s books, seminar DVDs and products at http://www.nicolewilde.com. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.


Is Reacting Really Reactive?

August 20, 2013

Sierra snarl smallThis past Saturday, I took Bodhi and Sierra for an early morning walk. As we navigated the hills and pathways of our local park, we passed a few regulars. It was encouraging to see how far their dogs had come. There was the woman with two Chihuahua mixes, one of whom used to lunge and snarl each time we passed. Between her good handling skills and my own dogs’ improved behavior, encounters are now much less stressful. Another positive pass-by with a gentleman and his poodle mix, and I was feeling pretty good—that is, until we passed the man with the Akita.

The Akita was on leash, and the pair was headed in our direction. There was plenty of room for us to pass each other on the paved walkway. The man veered toward one side, while Sierra, Bodhi and I kept to the other. Things were going well until Sierra lunged and barked at the dog. Now, I’ve worked long and hard to modify this habit, and for the most part, Sierra’s done very well. So when she erupted, no one was more surprised than me—except, perhaps, the Akita. The dog reacted in kind, and the man instantly gave the dog a hard correction by roughly jerking the choke chain. I cringed as the dog did the same, and I told the man, “You know, it really wasn’t his fault. I’m sorry, but it was actually my dog’s fault.” He mumbled something under his breath about it not being okay that his dog had behaved like that, and continued on his way.

Was it really so wrong for the Akita to react to a dog who was lunging and barking at him? What if a total stranger ran up to you and yelled in your face? Should you be expected to stand there and behave politely? Of course not. And yet some of us hold dogs to the impossible standard of never barking, never lunging, never…being dogs. Our knee-jerk reaction to barking and growling is understandable. It’s jarring, it can be frightening, and it can certainly portend trouble. But those behaviors are also perfectly natural, and in some cases, totally appropriate.

I remember more than a few training appointments over the years where a mother would complain that each time her child entered a room, the dog would slink away. It turned out in all of those cases that the child had been doing something the dog had found unpleasant. Hugging or petting in a less than gentle way was often the issue. Little girls in particular love to hug dogs, while dogs view hugging as restraint. So what’s a dog to do? He could growl a warning, which in dog-ese is perfectly polite, but would likely elicit an, “Oh, no! The dog is growling at my child!” True, growling at a child is cause for alarm, but that’s frequently where the thought process ends. The next step, which is to figure out why it happened, is frequently overlooked. Alternately, the hugged/offended dog could do the least violent thing by simply leaving the area. But active avoidance doesn’t seem to be an acceptable reaction to many people, either, as they want the dog and child to interact.

I’ve also been called in to a number of training appointments where the issue was aggression between two dogs who lived in the home. It was interesting to see the number of cases where it was assumed that one dog was starting the skirmishes when, in fact, it was the other. The first dog would give a hard stare or other signal that went unnoticed by the owners—all they’d see was the second dog reacting, which was interpreted as starting a fight. Again, the dog was simply reacting appropriately, given the situation.

Whether it’s reacting to another dog’s actions or those of a human, dogs use what they’ve got: body language and vocalizations and, sometimes, their teeth. If we can calmly assess a situation where a dog is being “reactive,” we will be much better able to respond appropriately and address the root cause of the dog’s behavior, rather than overreacting ourselves.

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Please visit http://www.nicolewilde.com for my books, DVDs and seminar schedule!


Peer Pressure? Bite Me!

July 9, 2013

Here’s a pop quiz:

1. What should you do when your trainer uses harsh training methods?
2. What should you do if your veterinarian slams your dog on his back to show him who’s boss?
3. What should you do if your dog is scared of people, but someone insists on petting him anyway?

This is the easiest quiz ever, because all of the answers are the same: You stand up for your dog!

We’re taught early on in life to be polite. Women especially have the importance of courtesy and manners drilled into them from a very young age. We also learn to respect authority, and in most cases, that’s a good thing. But when someone is mistreating your dog, all bets are off.

I had a client once who came to me after attending a group class with another trainer. On the first day of class, this “trainer” (and I use the term loosely) showed the owners how to teach the dog what the word “no” meant, even before the dog had done anything wrong. This “training technique” consisted of whacking the dog over the nose with a rubber hose while screaming, “No!” The woman was mortified. She stood up in front of the entire class and informed the trainer that she would never do that to her dog. She then left.

The woman who walked out on that training class is a hero. She did two very difficult things: she stood up to someone in authority, and she did it in front of a room full of people. Don’t underestimate the power of group dynamics; many times a person will go along with something just because everyone else is doing it. No one wants to be ostracized.

Many years ago I attended a seminar given by a well-known behaviorist. A demonstration was conducted to show how a dog’s nails could be trimmed, even if the dog was scared or reactive. The dog was lying on his belly in a suspended sling contraption, with his legs dangling loosely down. I remember the terrified look on the dog’s face. I remember all too clearly the dog’s screams. The behaviorist trimmed the helpless dog’s nails anyway. I don’t know what this was supposed to show; it certainly wouldn’t make nail trims any easier the next time. But the scene made a lasting impression on me. I don’t have many regrets in this life, but I regret to this day that I didn’t stand up, said what I thought, and walk out. Upon speaking with other attendees later on, I discovered that many of them had felt the same way, but we were all too intimidated to say anything at the time.

I do better nowadays. When we first adopted Sierra, we learned that she’d been brought in as a stray, and had been impounded at the shelter four times. At home, we quickly discovered that she had the escape talents of Houdini. We extended our fencing and practiced vigilance. On the morning walks we’d take around the local park, I fell in with a group of dog owners who allowed their dogs to romp and run around the surrounding hillsides.
“Let her off leash,” one woman suggested. I explained why that wouldn’t be a good idea.
“Come on, you’ve got to let her have some fun,” another chimed in. I suggested that Sierra becoming lost in the hills and ending up back at the shelter probably wouldn’t be all that much fun for either of us.
“You’re a trainer, can’t you just train her to be okay off leash?” a man challenged. Sure. But I’d only had Sierra a few weeks, not a few years, and our bond and her training weren’t rock solid yet. Those well-meaning folks persisted week after week, until I finally told them gently but firmly to please stop asking, if they wanted us to continue walking with them. Looking back years later, being all too familiar with Sierra’s extremely strong prey drive, it’s a good thing I never gave in to that peer pressure. She’d have been one bunny away from disappearing over the mountains and far away.

Peer pressure, and pressure from authority figures, can be intense. People can be judgmental and condescending. Standing up to it can be difficult, and may mean risking social ostracism. You could be disinvited from a social group, or dropped as a client. But you are your dog’s advocate, the only thing standing between him and the big, bad world. You’re the one who understands his temperament, knows his behavior, and can predict better than anyone what will scare him or cause him to become aggressive. You are the one person he trusts completely, and looks to for safety. Hey, everyone’s got an opinion, and they’re welcome to it. My response to unrelenting peer pressure? Bite me! My dog is infinitely more important than what you or anyone else might think of me.