Monday, 31 January 2011

Crates (Learning by Trial and Error #1)

I don’t own any crates. I think they are pretty ugly, and they take up a lot of space. However, I may well get one at some point. I would definitely buy one if I were getting another dog, especially if it was a puppy. Something that I have learned by trial and error is that crates can really come quite in handy.

When we got our first retired racer, Eddie, having no experience of greyhounds, we didn’t really think about a crate. Interestingly, the greyhound adoption kennel that we got Eddie and Cassie from does not really advocate crates. In fact, when I was about to get Cassie, I was considering buying a crate, but was persuaded by the kennel staff that is was probably unnecessary. As it happened, Cassie turned out to settle in much easier than Eddie, so there wasn’t really a problem. With Eddie, however, I think the first weeks would have been made easier on him if he had a crate.

Ex-racing greys are used to living in kennels – that is, they spend most of their time in confined areas, including, crucially, night-time. Eddie was clearly overwhelmed and unsettled by the sheer amount of space he had at his disposal when he came to live with us (and our house isn't very big at all). There was a lot of pacing and whining going on. Indeed, nights were particularly hard for him. We sleep upstairs, where he is not allowed, besides, he doesn’t really like our stairs. So undoubtedly, alone in a new environment with unknown dangers lurking in the dark, he was stressed by having to keep an eye out over such a big area. A crate would have helped him to feel like he had a smaller, safe den.

Although I did not have a crate, I did make sure his bed was in a small area, in our utility room. It is important that dogs feel that their beds are a safe area, a haven where they can be in peace. When Cassie came along, her bed went in the living room as the utility room was too small, in a cozy corner beside the sofa. She took to it immediately, and to our surprise slept through the night without a squeak from the very first night.

At the same time I put another bed in the living room for Eddie, to give him the choice to sleep there at night, together with Cassie, if he wanted to. He always used to have a little day mat in there, but went to his “den” in the utility room at night. Actually, quite soon he started going to sleep in the living room bed, but from time to time, especially if he is under the weather, he chooses to go to his den for some peace and quiet.

I am not going to go into the ins-and-outs of crating, as I have not really used them, but I will permit myself a few observations. Although I don’t have any experience of it, it seems to me that using a crate to help housetrain a puppy is an excellent idea. Dogs are instinctively clean and won’t, if they can help it, soil the area where they sleep. Crating a puppy for a couple hours at a time will thus help it develop control over its bladder and bowels. Of course, it then has to be given reasonable opportunity to go to the toilet outdoors. In addition, crates have a calming effect, and help prepare puppies – as well as older "new" dogs, I expect – for being left alone. If they learn that they are safe in the crate when their owners move to other rooms and soon come back, they will find it less stressful when left alone at home.

I could also see how travelling with your dog is made easier if they are used to and feel safe in a crate. When we take the dogs with us to stay overnight somewhere we always take their beds. That way, they have a familiar place and understand where we like them to sleep, which is usually close to us. However, I could imagine situations where they would not be able to share our bedroom, when a crate would be very handy.

In addition, of course, if you have to leave a dog alone that for any reason, such as immaturity, anxiety or lack of exercise, is likely to get into trouble when you are not around, it is just so much safer if you can put them in a crate. I have realized in retrospect that it would have been useful to crate Cassie when her broken toe was healing. This would have given me some peace of mind that she was not damaging it, or her surroundings, while I was away. She was hardly allowed any exercise at all and was having, quite understandably, more and more moments of agitation at home (when usually she, as most greyhounds, snoozes away in her bed the vast majority of time). She even started chewing the furniture!

Even though I tried to minimize the time she had to spend home alone, she had to be left at least once every day when I took Eddie out for a walk. Luckily she didn’t get into any major mischief, some chew-marks on the TV bench excepted, and as her toe is healing well, I can now exercise her a little more. However, as you can see, I have noted my mistakes, so I may well be purchasing a crate or two sometime soon.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

We're Blog Hopping!

Being new kids on the block What Dogs Do has decided to stick our noses over the edge and join the pettastic party that is the Pet Blog Hop! Hopefully it will help us make new friends.

Thank you to the blog hop hosts Life With Dogs, Two Little Cavaliers and Confessions of the Plume.

If you'd like to participate, please follow the rules and follow your three hosts, add your blog to the Linky and copy and paste the html code.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Greyhound First Aid Kit

Greyhounds are, there is no point in trying to deny it, more accident prone than most dogs. They have very thin skins, long limbs, no protective layers of fur or fat, and run with an almost complete disregard to their surrounding if chasing pray.

I am not of the persuasion that, for their own good, retired racing greyhounds should never ever be let off the lead. I think greyhounds need to be given the chance to run for their wellbeing and enjoyment. However, this chance should be given responsibly and with an awareness of the inevitable risks. Firstly, greyhounds can and should be recall trained. They are unlikely to become perfect, but you need to know they will come back to you, at least after the chase. More about that elsewhere. Secondly, they should only be let loose in suitable environments. By my own mistakes, I have learned to always think twice before letting my greyhounds run in new places. I still make mistakes, so: Thirdly, you have to remember that no environment, not even your back garden, is entirely risk free, and you should be prepared for accidents to happen.

This is where a well stocked greyhound first aid kit (or a whole drawer in my case) comes into the picture. Here is a list of the things that I have so far found to be the most useful to have at home. I expect I will add to the list continually. (Feel free to comment if you think I have left that vital item of the greyhound first aid kit out!)

Vet Wrap – the cornerstone of doggy bandaging, comes under various brand names (Coflex, Cohesive, Powerflex and others), but is essentially a lightweight, very stretchy, self-adhesive, water-repellent bandage. Keeps dressings in place well, but care must be taken not to bandage too tight, as it is very elastic. The trick is to unwind a section from the roll first, stretching it out and rolling it back loosely before then applying the bandage. Should be used in conjunction with some padding, as it can cause blisters on thin greyhound skin.

Padding or Conforming Bandage – generally a polyester roll. I currently have the brand name Ortho-band. Goes on after the dressing, before the vet wrap. Use as necessary to pad and protect, I also stick smaller pieces between toes to prevent rubbing.

Melolin Dressing – non-adhesive dressing. Actually not entirely non-adhesive, and you may want to use a wound gel if the laceration is big (in which case you probably should be at the vet’s anyway). Melolin is especially good on scrapes. Comes in a range of sizes, and can be cut to suit.

Adhesive bandage like Elastoplast or Tensoplast, and Micropore – to make bandaging stay put on skinny greyhound legs, some kind of adhesive tape is needed. DON’T use human plaster – this is far too sticky and won't come off easily, tearing fur and leaving a nasty residue. Don’t use any adhesive tape on a large area of exposed fur or skin, only over a smallish sliver above and below bandaging enough to keep it in place, as inevitably fur does get stuck. In addition, some dogs have an allergic reaction to the adhesive, so check frequently when first used. I find the thin pink Elastoplast is less sticky than the broader white Tensoplast, but the latter is useful to add outer strength to a bandage, especially if treating a broken toe. Micropore is less sticky but isn’t very durable.

Antisceptic liquid – any kind, I find the spray ones easy to apply.

Sudocream – or any nappy cream, a mildly antisceptic barrier cream helps protect and heal small cuts and nicks, such as shredded stopper pads, but not to be used under dressings.

Cotton wool – obviously, for cleaning and wiping.

Sterile Salt Solution – to wash clean wounds or eyes.

Sharp Scissors

Tweezers - useful for removing splinters, foreign objects in the wrong places and stitches. Remember to sterilise before use. 

Styptic pencil – to stop bleeding, especially from cut nails.

Meloxidyl – Non Steroidal Anti Inflamatory Drug (NSAID), a painkiller similar to Ibuprofen. Only on prescription, but I tend to have some handy. Dosed by weight, comes with an easy dose syringe. Take veterinary advice before using.

Used Drip Bags – make fantastic hard-wearing water-proof booties that fit over big bandages. Cut in half and make holes to thread string through, to secure to foot. Ask your vet for some next time you’re there.

Epsom Salts – for antisceptic, soothing foot baths. Somewhat astringent, so helps draw out splinters and corns. Calms nerve-endings, and dull pains and aches. Can be used to make poultices to same effect.

D.A.P. (Dog Appeasing Pheromone) - comes as a spray, collar or room diffuser. It mimics the scent given off by a lactating bitch, which has the effect of calming her pups. I used it during fireworks season as Eddie was afraid and it does work well. The effect is not extreme and not sedative, but it does calm the dog. I had the spray form, which is not very long-lasting and I would only really recommend for travelling, for example spraying the car or cage if the dog is anxious. Collars and diffusers last longer and have the benefit of not being confined to one place - I sprayed Eddie's bed, but of course he was to anxious to lie down in bed, so I had to spray a bandana and tie it around his neck. Hence I think the collar is probably the best alternative, and a useful thing to have around in case your dog becomes agitated for some reason, for example after an anaesthetic.

Cone collar or Muzzle - one I am adding after a comment reminded me - my doggies are, luckily, not disposed to licking, and will stop once told off a few times. They absolutely hate the cone collars, and although they aren't overjoyed at wearing them, tolerate muzzles a lot better. Most ex-racing greyhounds will wear muzzles without too much trouble.

And last but not least a special mention to:

Thera-Paw Booties – the best dog-shoes out there for greyhounds! As greys have long, thin paws with proud, bony knuckles, most dog footwear does not fit them. Thera-Paws have been designed for greyhounds (but will fit other breeds too), specifically to treat corns, but are useful as protective boots for other small injuries or simply on rough ground. The soles are tough rubber on the outside and foam-padded inside. The boot is made of durable, breathable neoprene and fastens via two Velcro straps, and reach quite high up the ankle/wrist. Worked a miracle when Cassie had a corn. I removed the core of the corn (with help of Epsom Salt foot baths and poultices), and then she wore these every time she was out without fail for a month, and the corn did not grow back. 

A final word of warning - only administer treatments yourself if you know what you are doing and feel comfortable handling your dogs. It is always best to seek veterinary advice if you have any apprehensions whatsoever. 

Monday, 24 January 2011

Mind Work

Dogs need mental stimulation as well as physical exercise. That is one of the reasons, apart from the obvious, that some “obedience” training is beneficial for any dog. I don’t like the word obedience, neither do I like the idea of teaching your dog to do “tricks”. Training your dog is a way of enjoying your dog’s company first and foremost – both in the process of training and due to the results. It improves communication between you and your dog, strengthens your bond and establishes you as pack leader, not to say as an interesting person for the dog to be around and listen to.

Training your dog is not all about teaching it commands, then. A lot of it is about teaching your dog to do fun things. In fact, that kind of training is very beneficial to any other “obedience” training, as it allows your dog to understand that listening to you and following your instructions is rewarding and enjoyable. This is particularly important to get through to many retired racing greyhounds, as they don’t have any experience of this kind of training – more about that here.

Mental stimulation is beneficial for any dog’s welfare. Some breeds, especially working dogs like sheep dogs, must have something to do with their brains, or they will be positively unhappy. My mother used to play a game with my dachshund Bilbo every day, where she made him wait out of sight, and hid tasty morsels around the house. On her command, “Seek!” he would rush around sniffing them out – a perfect task for a tracking and ferreting dog.

Greyhounds will, to all appearances, take it or leave it when it comes to these kinds of games. I think, however, that apart from helping immensely with any training, they can add a whole new dimension of pleasure to retired greyhounds’ lives. Also, as I have found the last few weeks when Cassie has been down to minimal exercise with a broken toe, games will give injured dogs something to do. And greyhounds tend to have their fair share of injury time.

I have always made my own basic games. I hide treats in the cardboard insides of toilet paper rolls, scrunching up the ends to make it harder, and encourage my dogs to try to extract the treats. Empty egg-cartons are also good. Remember, this game often ends up with the roll or carton ripped up, so anything precious or toxic is not suitable. Another favourite is hiding treats under plastic cups. The dogs need to either push them over or lift them to get to the treats. Added interest, once they have worked it out, is to hide treats only under some cups and not others. I am yet to get them interested in the kind hide and seek that my mother played with Bilbo, though. Greys aren’t tenacious seekers, but I think once they get used to the cup game they I may be able to expand the “search area”.

With Cassie I have started to make her wait while I move into another room with a toy, then calling her to come and get it. Simple, but adds something extra for her to do when in the mood for toys. Like many greys, she likes hoarding her toys in her bed, so she will fetch the toy from me and return it the her lair. Fetching things to me is a future project!

This post was really precipitated by me finally purchasing a dog game designed by Nina Ottosson that I have had my eye on for a while. They aren’t cheap, but since Cassie has been confined indoors most of the time, I thought I’d give it a go. It really is quite good. Nina Ottosson has designed a range of dog games and puzzles, and the one I got is called “Dog Brick”. It has eight compartments with slidy lids, under which you can hide treats. To make it harder, it also comes with four bone-shaped cups that can go between the sliders. The dog then has to pick up the bone before being able to slide the compartments open. The games come with thorough, informative instructions.

After the initial wariness, Eddie and Cassie have really got into the game. At first, I needed to slide the lids open a little so they could get their noses in where it smelt nice and so slide them open. Cassie decided that turning the whole thing over would be a good idea, as perhaps the treats came out from underneath, and you can’t fault her logic. Eddie’s approach was methodical and thorough sniffing, before any force was applied. They seem to have started to get the sliding idea now, but we’re not yet up to bone level! But they are quite keen when they can smell treats and I get the game out. They certainly understand the point of it.

Whether it is because a dog is injured or simply because the weather is just to bad to go out in, it is always useful to have some tricks up one’s sleeve to entertain a bored dog. And encouraging a dog to play games which involve rewards for some thinking and tenacity lays the foundation for all kinds of training.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

The Kennels

So, I have pretensions on becoming some kind of Greyhound whisperer. Well I wish, anyway. I am far from. This blog is one little step in the right direction, recording and sharing my experiences. The other major thing I have decided to do in order to learn more about dogs and greys, is to volunteer at a greyhound rehoming kennel. I thought, if I can’t hack shoveling the shit, I should probably not pretend that I could work with animals in any other capacity than a pet owner.

Today was my first day at the Croftview Kennels in Kent, U.K. For the moment I will do a day a week to get to know their dogs and routines. Then I hope to help out a day at the weekend as well, when most adoption queries come in. My oh my. I am shattered. I’m not used to so much physical labour, and I expect I will ache tomorrow, but it is good for me.

So the day starts at 8am. Between 8am and 11am all the kennels have to be cleaned and the dogs fed, as the kennels open to the public at 11. There are forty dogs at Croftview Kennels, and they live in pairs (usually boy and girl) in twenty kennels. First they have to be taken out to the outside kennels at the back, in batches (there are only eight kennels out the back). Once a batch is out, the shit-shovel comes out. Bedding is fluffed and checked, and any wet or dirty bedding discarded. Then the kennel floors are cleared of any bedding debris, scrubbed with disinfectant, and squeegeed dry.

At the same time a member of staff is preparing the food, taking into account any dietary needs and medication. For feeding the bitches are tied to the outside of the holding kennels and the dogs left inside. This way there is minimal trouble. Once the dogs have eaten they are taken back to their kennels, and another batch of dogs come out to the outside kennels and the process of cleaning and feeding is repeated. As they come back to their sleeping kennels the dogs' coats are removed, as are some muzzles, depending on the dog. Once all dogs have been fed outside, and their kennels cleaned, the outside kennels have to be poop-a-scooped and disinfected. All of this takes a good couple of hours. Then the staff gets a break for breakfast.

Then, while the kennel is open to the public from 11am until 3pm, the dogs are rotated in the outside kennels at the back and three larger paddocks, which include larger grassy areas, at the front. At the moment not all the grassy areas are used as they are either too wet or frozen hard. However, the dogs get a couple changes of scenery and even a run-about in the field. If there are any volunteers or people interested in adopting a lucky few also get a walk.

At 2pm the “evening” routine is begun. The dogs are again taken outside to the back in batches. Some dogs get a second meal, if they don’t eat well or need extra food or medication. Their bedding is fluffed again, and the kennel floors swept. They are then returned to their kennels for the night, coated and muzzled if necessary. That, really, is the end of the dogs’ interaction with people for the day. Although there are people living on site, the kennel as such is not manned. A radio is left on all night as “company” for them.

So how did I get on? Well, the cleaning and shit-shovelling went well. Dealing with over-excited squirming dogs was harder: I was concentrating too on practicalities to use any "whispering" skills I may posses! To take the dogs from the sleeping kennels to the back ones, the experienced staff just held them by their house collars, but mine kept slipping away, bolting down the middle passage for the door (which wasn’t always closed). I’m going to use slip leads, which are used for taking the dogs outside, inside too, at least until I get used to the dogs (and figure out which ones are the escape-artists).

It was lovely working with the dogs, and I managed to learn some of their names. Of course they were all gorgeous and tugged at my heart-strings. Especially hard was the coating up at the end of the day. You have to get in the kennels with the dogs to put their coats on and most of them just wanted to play or cuddle, all excited that you were in there, but of course you can’t too spend much time with any one dog.

It is made easier as Croftview Kennels have good adoption record. Several of the dogs were reserved, a whole batch to go to homes in Italy. So just as I start learning their names, a whole lot of dogs will be replaced with new ones! Although I am interested in finding out how a racing kennel is run, and how the dogs are trained, just to know what greyhounds have been through, I am happier working in a kennel where I know the dogs are not too far away from a forever home (hopefully).

Eddie and Cassie came with me, and spent some of the day in one of the kennels at the back, that had a sheltered area with bedding for them to lie in. Cassie, being Cassie, took it in her stride. Eddie, the worrier, worried a bit, although he did eventually settle down. It felt good, though, to take them home to their warm and cozy beds and indulge them in cuddles. 

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Treat or Toy?

Before I write more about my experiences of training my greyhounds I want to add a post on rewards and motivation. I learned obedience training with my dachsie Bilbo many years ago, when he was a pup. When you start training dogs early in their lives they very quickly get the idea of rewards, so it feels almost natural. However, with my two adopted retired racing greyhounds, I realized they actually had no concept of getting a reward for obedience. That is, before I even started to train them, I had to get them to understand the idea that if they did something for me, they would get a reward. It wasn’t hard, but it was key.
I have found that my greys in general are not very persistent when it comes to getting a treat. If I gave them Kongs, or other toys with hidden treats, they soon gave up with a disappointed face seemingly saying “it’s not working, this treat is broken”. I suppose they have had no real experience of doing things for rewards, whether obedience or games. Their food always has always come in bowls at feeding time. I have worked on this by playing with them, encouraging them to stick with a game or toy for a reward. Eddie has got the idea, and will now keep on trying if he is in the mood. Cassie still has a way to go, but is getting more curious and persistent.
I found that a good game to encourage them to work, mentally and physically, for a treat is hiding sausages under cups. When I first tried this, both Eddie and Cassie would be very keen on the sausage bits, but when they disappeared under the cups they would just blankly stare. I had to let them have lots of peaks. Then help them out by turning over the cups myself at the slightest touch of the nose. Eventually they got the idea: if I turn over the cup, I’ll get the sausage. Or: an action leads to a reward.
In addition, the simplest, and most essential, obedience work - teaching them their names - planted the idea of following a "command" for a reward in their minds. Neither Eddie nor Cassie – the latter who we renamed – knew their names when they came to us. This soon changed when they got a bit of sausage each time I said it. This naturally extended into recall training, more of which elsewhere. However, when it came to recall I realized another important thing about rewards. Not all dogs are equally food motivated. Eddie was, and I do all of his training with treats. However, Cassie’s interest in food seemed to wane in the big outdoors. When she is in an environment where there is a possibility of running and hunting, she scorns most treats – even sausages. Eddie also found the big outdoors too exciting for treats at first, but once he figured out the idea of a reward he started actively looking for what I wanted him to do. Cassie, who is a more independent soul, didn’t seem to care to much about what I wanted when there were fields to run in, even when she started to get the idea at home. So my recall training with her hit a bit of a snag.
Until, that is, she found the ultimate squeaky toy at a visit to my in-laws and their two dogs Millie (Border Collie) and Izzy (Tibetan Terrier). Cassie fell in love with a little orange dinosaur made out of tough rubber. She could play with it for hours, running around with it, and eventually settling down to squeak it. Incessantly. Needless to say I purchased such a toy immediately.

I know that many working dogs such as sniffer and rescue dogs, are trained using play with a toy as reward. So I tried using "dino", as he is now known, as a reward for recall instead of treats, and it worked a treat! It has the added bonus of the squeak, which will bring Cassie running back immediately (although I am careful not to replace my command with a squeak). If she comes back to me when called she gets to play with the toy for a while. Of course, if you give her the toy, she runs off with it. So most of the time I just let her mouth the toy while keeping it my hand, giving her longer to play occasionally, to keep her interested and motivated. Also, I have a back-up toy: she will always want the one she doesn’t have!
I also used the toy with her to reinforce the “down” command (more of which here) when outside where she would ignore treats. Usually, treats work indoors, if they are tasty enough, although Cassie, unlike Eddie who will eat everything he can get his paws on, has her moods when it comes to food. However, she is always keen on a squeaky. On the other hand, Eddie has virtually zero interest in the rubber squeaky. He has the ocassional play with a soft, furry squeaky toy, but even so gets bored pretty quickly. Treats is where it is at with him.
I think finding out what makes your greyhound (or any dog) tick is central to successful training – dogs do have different personalities, and are motivated by different things. That is one reason I have not used clicker training (also, when I learned obedience back in the prehistoric era, I never heard of it). However, having read the excellent Never Say Never Greyhounds blog, I am now considering trying clicker training with my two. Jennifer has trained her greyhounds to do things that greyhounds are not “meant” to be good at, such as fetch and agility, using clicker training. Clicker training usually depends on treats, though. Certainly, as Jennifer has advised, finding the right delicious treat is important, but I also wonder, since the click basically stands in for a reward, if it can’t be used with play rewards? Keep tuned for reports on how I get on.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Feeding Time

One of the best things I have taught my dogs is to lie down and wait before they get their food. Nowadays, they are well into the routine, and have their preferred spots where they lie down – within sightline of me of course – as soon as I start preparing their food. They lie there quietly until they are told “Go on then!” (I believe M uses “Go get it!”), when they quickly but quietly go to their respective bowls. This all makes for smooth feeding times.

They have defined bowls and eating places, and are not allowed to eat out of each other’s bowl, even if one leaves their food. This allows me to feed them different things, sometimes necessary due to Eddie's sensitive stomach. Inevitably, it is Cassie that leaves some of her food. In the mornings she doesn’t seem to be very hungry, so she eats only the best bits. Then she has the leftovers for lunch. However, since I want to keep the same feeding times for both dogs, it means that we have three meals a day. Eddie always finishes his food, so at lunchtime, when Cassie is ravenous for her uneaten breakfast, he has a small snack. They both have dinner and usually finish it all. Eddie does sometimes get some of Cassie’s leftovers, but only in his own bowl. He has now learned and will not touch her abandoned food in the mornings. Even so, I do not leave the food for Cassie to graze on, proper food is given at set times only (snacks and treats are a different matter).

They follow the same routine, with some occasional hiccups, even if we are not at home. I find that as long as I indicate that they need to lie down and wait and there is an appropriate space, they will do so. In addition, and this is the real blessing of this routine, they will now lie down when they want any food they see. This means that even though they may technically be begging if we are eating out in cafes or at picnics, they do so by lying down (and staring at our food intently). They also do this when the target food is someone else’s, so they are a lot less intimidating than they could otherwise be.

I taught both of them this by starting with treats. I showed them a very delectable treat and then held it in my hand on the ground in front of the dog, while saying the command “down”. After some attempts at forcing the treats form my hand, some confused shuffling and whining, they would end up lying down. The first times they did it it was often an attempt at getting at the treat (which is on the floor), or out of sheer boredom, as I would only release the treat when they were fully down. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Every treat they got was preceded by a “down”.

Then, once they had some idea of what “down” required, I asked them to lie before they could have their dinner. Since it is more difficult to hold a bowl of food in front of a dog without it getting at the food, they had to have some idea of what was expected of them. Even so, at the beginning lying down for food could take a while. Well, there was just no food without a “down”. Soon I also expected them to wait.  I then used  the command “wait” (more on which here). If they tried to get the food before I said “go” they would be told off sharply and had to get back to lying down again. Only when they were lying down, quiet and waiting did they get to go to their dinner. I also made sure that I varied the point at which I said “Go on then”, so that they didn’t try to second-guess me and rush up as soon as the bowls were down.

These days, I have found myself doing dishes for a good few minutes, realizing that they are still lying there waiting, because I have forgot to say “Go on then!”. But the real beauty of this routine is, as I said, that they appear to be terribly well behaved when, in fact, they are not. I would guess that the principle could be applied to other behaviours, say if a dog is over-keen on greeting guests (not a problem I have with my greyhounds, they don’t even get out of bed!). If it learns that it has to lie down and wait before getting greeted and cuddled, it would ultimately do so as someone came to the door. The key is that the dog does get what it really wants, but only after it has displayed a desired behaviour, so you’re only using the dog’s own wish to do something turning it from naughty to nice.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Exercise and Lack of It

In one thing Cesar Millan is entirely right: the fundamental element in the life of a happy, well behaved dog is exercise. I marvel at the simplicity of this fact as well as at the number of dog owners who seem to be completely oblivious to this. Having had Eddie and Cassie out of action with a paw injury each for over a week now, it is becoming increasingly obvious how the lack of exercise is influencing their behaviour. Each dog's behaviour is affected in different ways, depending on their personality, but affected they are.

This morning this fact struck me as I was walking Eddie. Eddie cut his paw pretty badly running on a Devon beach on Boxing Day. He had to have sixteen stitches put in under general anesthetic. For the first ten days he was on minimal exercise, a very short walk to the little park we like to call the "poo park" to do what is done there and back again. Not much more than twenty minutes of walkies a day. On a leash of course. The last few days I have increased the walks, and today he had his stitches out. Indeed, he got to go for a whole forty-five minute walk. The longest walk he has had for two weeks, but still on the leash. No running for another week or so to let the scar tissue get stronger.

Normally I walk my greyhounds a fair bit. You often hear the statement: "People think greyhounds need a lot of exercise, but actually they are 45mph couch potatoes". Yes, it is true that compared to other breeds, greyhounds do not need a huge amount of exercise, and they are capable to sleep a whole lot, with some gusto. They certainly don't need to run every day. However, they are large dogs, with bodies built for speed and for their wellbeing they need decent walks and should be given the opportunity to have a good run now and again. In my experience the more often the better, but a couple of times a week is enough. Some dogs, especially older dogs, loose the urge to run quite so much, of course, but a short runabout always seems to please a greyhound. They are sprinters, so they have no particular wish to continue running for too long, unless they are hunting (more of which elsewhere). So although many greyhound adoption organisations claim two 20 minute walks a day is enough for a greyhound, I prefer to give mine more, much more. They have a short walk, about twenty minutes, before breakfast, a long one to two-hour walk in the middle of the day, and another short walk in the evening, either before or an hour or so after their dinner. In the summers when the days are longer, the shorter walks get extended. In total the dogs have between two and three hours exercise on a normal day. It keeps them calm, relaxed, and happy at home (not to mention sufficiently toileted). It also keeps them "well-behaved" as we humans see it: quiet, non-aggressive, obedient.

So Eddie's drastically cut exercise regime is a big change for him, not only is he under-stimulated, but he is also unhappy about the disruption to his routine. As a result here has been the expected restlessness, mainly manifesting itself as pacing and following me around. He is quite a clingy dog these days anyway and he needs to get his kicks somehow: there is always the possibility I may be doing something interesting so shadowing me keeps his mind busy. In addition, however, and this is, I think, where people often fail to make the connection between lack of exercise and behaviour, his aggression levels have also risen. Being on the lead all the time is, of course, likely to increase tension and protective aggression when meeting dogs, and Eddie likes to assert himself over other dogs, especially small ones that run about, at the best of times. But he has also started barking - very clearly a bark alerting to possible danger - at imaginary foes when no dogs are in sight. Instead the targets have been people, something very unusual for Eddie, who I have never seen displaying aggression to humans. Saying that, they have been "funny looking" people - a lady with a big skirt and another with a shopper trolley. Perhaps they looked like they had large dogs near them. The first one was in a place where he had encountered the recent scent of his arch-enemy Blue the evening before. Perhaps Blue had been there that evening too.

Blue is the only dog which elicits full-blown aggression in Eddie, even at some distance. Having been attacked by Blue several times, some attacks drawing blood, Eddie now pre-emptively growls and barks at Blue, neck hair raised, chest out. I am not sure, but he seems intent on attacking first this time around. Needless to say we avoid encounters with Blue. I'll comment on Blue's behaviour in another post.

To return to Eddie's lack of exercise, he has been quicker to bark in general, at the things he usually barks at: prey (squirrels, cats, foxes) and other dogs running and playing, but these instances when he has barked at people have been very different, especially since he has virtually no guarding or protecting instinct (greyhounds don't). These odd cases, then, appear caused by the fact that he is under-stimulated, whether it is because his mind is over-active, because he is looking for trouble in general as entertainment, or because his anxiety levels are raised. It is the sort of behaviour which appears to me, in a fairly placid dog like Eddie, to be in a large part determined by levels of exercise. I assume that in dogs in which aggression to people or other dogs has other causes (fear, stress and so on) these underlying causes also have to be addressed if the aggressive behaviour is to be addressed, but giving the dog sufficient stimulation would, I am in no doubt, make that task much easier. I definitively subscribe to the notion that "a tired dog is a good dog" - a well exercised dog simply hasn't got the energy to get into mischief.