Train a dog to be less scared of noise - November 2016
By the time you all read this, Deepawali will be over. But if you preserve this issue of Tree Take with you, it will certainly help you and your pooch on the next Deepawali, for here you will get tips how to train a dog to be less scared of noise—crackers or thunder. Deepawali is a great festival in India. The entire country is lit up with oil lamps and the air reverberates with the sound of crackers and the sky is lit with the fireworks. It is the time of set on of the winters and air is thick. The fume of all the fireworks and crackers rents the air, making breathing difficult for the people. Still it is a festival full of mirth and happiness and tons of sweets go down the gullets while people visit friends and relations wishing them happiness for the coming year. Deepawali is also a day which marks closing of accounts books for many businessmen.
Poor dogs oblivious of the significance sulk all the time. Shivering with fear, so scared they are some times that many run out in the open street to seek a safe sound proof place and die a premature death under the wheels of a truck. While many others just run amuck in the house and injure them in the process, the stress of loud noise is so much that many stop eating a few days before and after the festival. A particular pet dog in my locality used to break away and come to my door on Deepawali nights shivering with fear. I don’t know why or how he felt safe under my sofa. In the morning after the din had subsided, he would have meals with my other dogs and go back to his house happily. When he did not show for the next Deepawali, I was apprehensive and my apprehension was right- poor thing was crushed by a vehicle, right in front of his owner’s gate.
In a nutshell what we call as a festival week is actually a torture week for the dogs. Why dogs, most other animals go through the same torture. One of the main reasons is that most animals (particularly mammals) have lesser developed mental faculties but greater powers of hearing, smell and sight. Their survival depends upon these only. A dog can sniff his pray much before it is within his reach. He can hear it approaching from a long distance and he can see it even if it is directly not in front. Similar conditions apply for a predator too. In wilderness there is no Deepawali or a celebration involving bursting of fire crackers. Yet, there are episodes of thunder and lightning which do terrify the animals. But animals like dogs, living in packs, huddled over each other and feel safe. I have myself seen wild dog in packs shivering on hearing an approaching thunder when I was at Rajaji National Park near Dehradun in Uttarakhand.
But our problem is how to make our dogs accustomed to loud noise? Like our children, some dogs are always more scared than the others. It has been found by the dog psychologists that shy dogs are most scared of noise and tend to go neurotic on hearing loud noise of thunder or crackers. And by now you must have realized that how difficult it is to teach anything to a neurotic dog. I will try to help owners of such dogs which literally run amok when scared with a noise.
This type of dogs not only get scared of crackers or thunder they even get scared if someone claps/speaks aloud/walks in thumping his feet, suddenly. Once scared their first reaction is to put their tails between their hind legs and pull their ears back and run for a cover. Putting the tail between legs is a wild trait, in order to hide their genitals from being sniffed by the enemy. The world of dogs revolves around their sense of smell. Once scared, a neurotic dog can even bite the owner in a fit of fear. Sometimes they run under the bed and attack, if pulled out forcibly. They even chew off their leash, if they can and run out like a bolt from the blue.
To cut it short, the best way to teach a dog to accept sounds of higher and higher decibels, it is best to get him accustomed. Now if you have a shy dog, the first step should be to get over his shyness, by teaching him simple commands of come and stay, followed by lots of rewards and caresses. Such dogs should never be shouted upon-but yes a firm tone is okay. Body touch is important for a shy dog but not at a time when he is in his fit of shyness. Body caress should be given only during training sessions.
I must mention here that some of the shy dogs are incorrigible and almost impossible to cure. If you have one such dog then you should consult a vet and administer pills to keep him calm always. These days herbal pills have come which have no side effect even if given continuously. Your vet knows them better. Once a neurotic dog has been calmed down he can be trained to a considerable limit.
In order to teach your dog to accept loud noises you need a recording of crackers. The best time to teach this is when a ravenously hungry dog is busy gulping his food. On day one, play the record in a separate room at the lowest volume. Observe the dog. He might be able to catch the sounds, flicker his ears, but if the volume is really low he will continue to eat. Once he finishes off his food, praise him a lot and at that time simultaneously a helper should switch off the tape.
On day two, raise the volume very slightly while the dog is having food. Mind you what is very slight for you may be high for him, therefore be careful. Don’t be in a rush. Such things are best taught very gradually. Continue at that volume for another three days, in case the dog accepts the volume. If he gets fidgety during his meals, tends to leave his meal, better reduce the volume.
Likewise, very gradually go on raising the volume till it is easily audible to you in the room where dog is having his food. If he continues to have his food without bothering about the sound, he is almost conditioned for the booming noise. Let him adjust to that level of noise for a few days and then raise it further, however the recorder should be played in the other room only. Remember, to praise the dog each time after his meals and caress him a lot too. Once he goes on eating unmindful of the sound, bring the recorder to the room where he is having food, but reduce the volume to bare audible level. A higher volume can shock him and it would be then difficult for you to win his confidence. In case he accepts the volume of sound which is just audible to you, you may start increasing the volume every day very slightly.
In about three weeks’ time, about 80% of shy dogs start accepting the sound of crackers. Please remember never try to comfort the dog in your lap, while he gets scared by the crackers. This inadvertently conveys a wrong message that you are rewarding him to be scared. Instead reward him if he has remained quiet even after a loud bang. Loud noises do disturb the dog but fortunately, quite a percentage of them shows no fear of such sounds and remains normal. But one never knows about the reactions of a puppy after he grows up. Therefore, this training of conditioning for loud noise should be given to all puppies beyond four month’s age irrespective of the breed. Hope your dog accepts the crackers and thunders before the next Deepawali!
Tales the tails tell - October 2016
As a kid, I remember reading a book, ‘Tales the letters tell!’ This book was prescribed in a private school run by a European lady, Mrs Blunt, at Bareilly where my father was posted. However, that was the pre-Independence era and the letters were composed of English alphabets only. It was as difficult for me to understand the tales in those letters, as it is for a common dog lover to understand what does the tail of his dog tell!
Imagine a dog and what do you visualize? It is the wagging tail which impresses a dog lover the most. If the tail is not waging then it could mean danger too especially for an intruder in the house. A tail of a dog carries many tales hidden in it. Why does a dog wag his tail? This is a common question. Yet another question is often asked, ‘why do we dock the tail of a dog?’ A simple answer to these could be, ‘Why do we smile?’ and ‘Why do we go for cosmetic surgery?’
Yes, tail wagging is an expression. It is part of the body language of the dog. What happens when we are happy? Our lips may be sealed but they are stretched in to a grin. On the other hand when we are unhappy there is a frown on the forehead and a fire in the eyes and the person opposite can clearly make out from the expression that all is not well. Especially, if the person happens to be a subordinate! Similarly, a dog expresses his feelings via his tail. If you observe carefully you will find that the tail is wagged differently for different occasion. For example, when the master returns home after the day’s work, the tail of his dog wags rapidly in greeting. In case the master has come home after a longer than a day’s absence then not only the tail, dog’s hind portion also dances.
A wagging tail does indicate a happy dog. But a dog will wag his tail more to the right to welcome his master than a guest. He will usually welcome the guest by wagging his tail more to the left. However, these are minute signals, often not understood by doggy people. But of course there are many other feelings that a dog’s tail expresses.
All animals with tails express their feelings through their tails. For example, a cat does not wag her tail like a dog. She raises it up like a stiff pole and may twirl the tip of the tail from side to side. This means greetings and also an invitation to play. In case of anger she slashes her tail from side to side. She is just opposite of the dog. A cow fleeing in fear gallops with her tail horizontal, in line with her body. There the tail acts like a rudder.
Many dogs too use their tails like a rudder and it is a characteristic of many dog breeds. For example, a Labrador retriever’s tail is known as an otter tail, because it resembles the tail of an Otter. It helps the Labrador while swimming. Similarly, the sweeping tail of an Irish Setter helps him in his fast actions. If you have an Irish Setter, never place costly curios within the reach of his tail. Each time your dog is happy, his fan like tail will sweep down all beautiful Swarovski, precious curios on the floor. Most of the Gun dogs work their tails a lot. This is perhaps they are genetically engineered in such a way that they bark less and indicate their happiness or otherwise through their tails. So powerful is the sweep of the tail that once a child in my house remarked “let us tie a fan on Goldy’s tail and in times of power cuts her wagging tail will keep us cool!”
While charging, many animals like cows and bulls roll their tail in to a loop. Dogs often raise their tail during a charge, with even hair of the tail raised. Most animals when scared keep their tail lowered. Dog tucks it between his hind legs. Often one finds the tip of the tail projecting from between his legs, shivering in fear. The dog may snarl his lips and bare his fangs simultaneously. It is better to maintain a distance from such dog. He may be a fear biter. Keeping the tail down or tucking it between the legs is meant to keep the genitalia covered. The adversary can always sniff the fear from that region.
Some dogs bang their tail loudly on the floor, while lying flat. That is an invitation to the master to come close and caress. Tail tells a lot about the personality of a small pup. If he keeps his tail straight, while you make him lie flat and caress his belly, indicates that the pup has a normal temperament. A scared pup will always try to roll his tail towards his belly and cover his genitalia.
Each individual has a characteristic tail. The general shape of the tail may remain the same for a particular breed, yet individual tails have minute differences. A correct placement of tail at the end of the back is important. This gives an over all balance to the body. Apart from balance and beauty, the tail is the ‘smile’ of the dog.
Biologically, the tail is the distal end of the vertebral column and a tail placed high on the back means wrong angulations of the pelvis. An incorrect angle of the pelvis, in a bitch apart from her beauty can cost the lives of her puppies. As an incorrect placement indicates that the passage for the puppies to arrive in this world is not normal. Such a bitch will need a cesarean every time. In India, such facilities are available but in smaller towns it is difficult to get a cesarean section done. Moreover, post-operative care is not available in the hospitals and most of the owners can not manage on their own.
Dogs with docked tails have a different story. For a novice it is difficult to tell whether the Doberman of the neighbor is happy and welcoming him or is about to charge. The stump does wag, but one needs an eye to identify. For many breeds it is the requirement of the breed standard to dock the tail. Many tribes in India dock the tails of their dogs. They believe that by doing so their dogs become fearless. Sometimes they crop the ears too. Actually the tail and the ears of a dog tell a lot about his mental state. If the dog is scared, the tail will go between his legs and the ears will be drawn back, known as the flying ears in doggy parlance.
There used to be an English film song, ‘Lipstick on your collar, told the tale on you’. The tail on the dog also tells lots of tales. Only one needs eyes to read them.
Beware this is my territory - September 2016
Most of the animals are territorial. Families of ants fight unto death over a territory. From those pin head sized ants to highly evolved human beings, territorial disputes continue to be a major issue. Dogs are no special. They are territorial since birth and continue to mark their territory with their urine, till death. So high is the sense of territory in them that in case you already have a dog and bring home another dog, the two will fight like hell over the territory. But yes, of course if you bring home an opposite sex, which gives a respite for some time, till the bitch delivers a litter. She may not allow her mate to come within a few feet of her territory to protect her brood, and may fight viciously, with the male.
The territorial instinct of a dog is an asset and liability both. It makes him guard your property and person as he thinks that it is his property/territory. On the other hand this instinct at times becomes a liability for owners who acquire another dog without understanding this trait of a dog. Most people prefer acquiring a puppy, because they feel that a puppy can adjust better, is easy to manage and gives one the feeling of rearing a baby from infancy. Well, to some extent these feelings are correct. But if one is adopting a grown up dog for any reason whatever, what are the precautions and what are the ways to make the dog at home in the new environment are some points which need to be thrashed.
Before moving to solutions it is better to know some traits of dogs. As I already said, dogs are highly territorial, pack animals. In the matter of territory they are so finicky that if a dog sleeps on a particular mattress he would not like to share it with other dog (unless it of opposite sex, but not always). Most aggressive (dominant) dogs try to sleep on the bed of the other to show that they can occupy the other dog's territory and challenge to be thrown out. Some dominant but physically weak dogs are not able to do so; they sneak to the stronger one's bed on the sly and pee over it to prove that it is their territory. And to compound the problems of the owner the strong one, when he returns and finds that his bed has been 'soiled', takes a revenge by peeing near the bed to mark the ground and warn the intruder, 'Beware this is my territory and you dare not enter here!'
The moral of the story is that if you have a dog at home and you intend to bring another, especially an adult dog, then you must know in advance how to introduce them to each other, so that they do not fight over their territory. The thumb rule is to let them first meet in a neutral territory-say a park. But please ensure that there are no strays there. To introduce them, you need an assistant so that during the first meeting both the dogs are held on leashes by two persons. Let them sniff each other. If the dogs are even tempered, they begin to give signals, like wagging tales, sniffing deeply in to each other's neck, hind portion. Often one of them will bend its front legs wagging tail very fast and even cry out aloud. The other may be looking slightly chary, licks his lips and then gives a jerk on the leash-wanting to be freed.
If their hairs on the back &shoulders are not raised, if none of them is barring his teeth or growling, if none of them is rolling on its back and exposing its under belly, it is safe to remove the leashes. They will chase and play with each other. They have already made friends, but on a neutral ground. There too, they will pee several times to show their condition/dominance to each other. But this shows that you have already crossed one hurdle. But the main hurdle is yet to be crossed. That is of bringing the new adult home.
It is always better if such introductory meetings come with a reward for both dogs. This gives the dogs an impression that the meeting was a nice experience. To make the bonds stronger, I recommend another similar meeting at the same place next day. However, if one of the dogs is shy or over dominant, then it is better to let them meet in a neutral territory for a few days, till one can see their bonds of friendship becoming stronger and then take them inside the house. Once you are sure that it is the right time to bring the new dog home, bring him. But again, never do the mistake of taking the new one to the kennel or the place where the dog at home lives. First let them meet and play for some time in the lawn. Thereafter, give them the usual reward and take them inside, led by the old dog, followed by the new dog. Barricade the living area of the old dog. Let them be free in the rest of the house. Keep an eye on them. Please ensure that the new one is not able to reach the older dog's toys, as that can lead to a war.
The same thumb rule applies if you intend to bring home a new puppy in the presence of an older dog. The ages and sizes don't matter, their instincts remain the same. I had an eight year old Chihuahua, when I got a Miniature Pincher puppy. Both were bitches. The Minpin puppy was delivered to me at a Dog Show, where the Chihuahua was being shown. I thought to let them be together in Chihuahua's box. They were normal in the show ground, but the moment I placed the box in the car, the Chihuahua started to growl. And as soon as I tried to take out the Minpin, the Chihuahua attacked my hand and the puppy. It was a job separating them. From that moment till the Chihuahua died four years later they remained sworn enemies and if they got a chance they used to fight viciously. Later, the Minpin got much stronger and she used to dominate in fights and also pee at the spots where Chihuahua used to sit. The hatred continued for years even after the Chihuahua died, the Minpin continued to mark the spots with a vengeance.
You are somewhat lucky if you do not have another dog at home, while you bring an adult dog. It is sure that the dog is going to miss his old territory, bed, bowl and toys. Therefore it is best to get his 'stuff' along, so that at least in his 'lair' he finds the same 'aroma'. The first thing he will do is to sniff around and identify his area and may even leave his mark outside his box to let other dogs know of his arrival.
If you have children up to five years old in your house then you have to ensure that they do not start touching and fondling the new dog immediately on his arrival. Let him settle down. Some dogs though exceptionally docile may behave weird with children. When Goldy the Labrador bitch landed at my place at the age of four, she did not like being touched by my three year old daughter and growled menacingly and even tried to bite her. Though, within a week's time they did become best friends, had I take some precautions the mishap on day one could have been avoided! Once the dog has settled down in his allotted space he will sniff all the new family members. Let him sniff. Do not show any extra emotions and also do not stare into his eyes. Staring is a challenge between two strange animals. Yes you all are animals (members of his pack) for the new dog. Once he is confident that the new pack is welcoming him, he will show his affection via his tail and he can be gradually caressed by all the family members.
As a precaution for a few days, children should be discouraged from entering his 'lair'. Yet another precaution to take is to find out in detail about the commands (let the previous owner use them, so that you also know the tone and tenor of the commands) and food habits. It is best to observe the dog being fed, so that you will also know about his eating speed etc. A change in eating habit sometimes indicates health problems.
An important point to remember is that some breeds like Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever and Pug are generally people friendly. They are much easier to adopt at any age. Other breeds like the Alsatian, Corgi, Rottweiler and Great Dane are very intelligent, and they need to be first made friends by at least one member of the family before being brought to a new home. To make friends ask the old owner to bring the dog outside the house in some neutral place as discussed before. You meet the dog there, caress him, offer him a tidbit and talk to him soothingly then go away. Next meeting, spend some more time with the dog, reward him and go away. Third time meet him in his house and repeat the earlier procedure. In your house, the dog will be very confident & soon become friends with everyone.
Breeds like a Spitz, Lhasa Apso, Dachshund, Miniature Pincher, Chihuahua etc. are always highly strung. They are always apprehensive of strangers. Thus before transporting them it is better to make good friends with them. Sometimes a dog is shifted within a family from one location to another. In such situation dog already knows everyone. Therefore, the problem of making friends does not matter. But yes, relocation means a change in his territory. Therefore, remember to carry his bedding box (if possible), bowl, toys and grooming tools to his new location.
Personally, I find bringing home an adult dog and rearing him far easier than rearing a puppy. But of course rearing a puppy develops a greater emotional bond between the owner and the dog. Rearing dogs is fun, but one should always keep in mind that they are lesser evolved than us and go by instincts and traits. Hence, it is better to know more about the breed you have or wish to acquire, and then rearing it is fun for you and pleasure for the dog too.