Puppy Playground

Puppy and Kitten Training

“Puppy training and behaviour consulting.

A safe place to love and learn!”


What's happening at Puppy Playground
  • Separation distress in dogs

    As a companion animal behaviour practitioner I am often called in to work with dogs that are suffering from separation distress. It seems like cases of separation distress are increasing despite the number of people attending puppy schools, so I spent a lot of time wondering why this was the case. I have come up with several possibilities. These include: . Puppies are not being taught effectively how to be alone. . We expect a lot from our dogs in terms of how they have to behave around us and other dogs, but we seldom focus on teaching them how to manage being in their own company. . People are opting for smaller properties and fewer animals so dogs are learning to rely solely on their people. . Littermate syndrome is still a reality and dog owners are pressured into taking two dogs from a shelter or breeder and then if anything happens to the sibling the remaining dog does not know how to cope. Even short separations like taking one dog to the vet can result in the remaining dog suffering from serious separation distress. . There are many more pro-life shelters where dogs are kennelled for long periods of time, so being alone becomes an aversive state for them. . Dogs are not being allowed to be dogs! They are kept in small spaces with very little interaction with the outside world, and never develop any coping skills or innate confidence that helps them with alone time. . Traditional methods of punishment and management are still being widely used, and so puppies are encouraged to just “cry it out” when they show distress, and the owner tends to ignore them and leave them to their own devices which could lead to a full blown separation distress issue. Abandoning a puppy at these key stages of psychological development can have serious fall out. . Puppies are being homed way too early. It is really important that owner’s spend some time focusing on how to prevent separation distress. Every instructor will have a different way of teaching dogs and their owner’s how to be alone, but here are some of my favourites: .  Create a lovely den area or room for their puppy where puppy has access to chews, games and of course food and water. Put puppy in this area and initially stand by the area but do not interact with your puppy. Gradually increase the length of time puppy is in the den area, until you can start leaving the room for very short periods of time, and slowly build up the length of time you leave the room. It is important to stress that puppies should be comfortable and show absolutely no distress throughout this process. If your puppy does start to whine or cry or look panicked, you should reassure your puppy by taking him out for a short play session or walk. You need to make sure that the time puppy is alone will not conflict with house training; if puppy needs to urinate, you need to make sure you are around to reassure puppy that you are there to take care of his basic needs. . Arrive home and leave with as little fuss as possible. Some owners have long dramatic good-byes, because they are worried about puppy being left alone. This may inadvertently create anxiety for puppy as well as reinforce separation distress. . It is also very important that puppy learns how to be away from other dogs or siblings. Most owner’s forget this part, and then if they lose a dog, the other dog cannot cope. Puppies have to learn how to be away from feline and canine friends. This is especially important for siblings. . If you have two puppies, bring them separately to puppy classes. Leave lot’s of chews and enrichment for the puppy that is being left at home, so that he learns that being home alone is a fantastic thing! . It is important to generalise their ability to be alone; dogs should cope with being alone in different areas at different times. If we manage to teach dogs how to cope with being alone effectively, I do hope that my days of endless consults for separation distress will be numbered!

  • Can you snap a dog out of a behaviour?

    Interesting questions I am frequently asked!

    “I saw a behaviourist show someone how to ‘correct’ his dog and ‘pull him’ out of excitement or aggression by firmly gabbing him between the ribs and the groin using his foot. Does it work? It sounds painful! Isn’t there a better way?
    “What you saw on television is very common, but you are 100% right, it is painful and there are certainly better ways to work with your dogs. This kind of training uses force, coercion, or physical
    corrections in order to change an animal’s behaviour. Some punishments are seemingly innocuous, such as squirting a dog with water when it jumps on a counter or shouting “no” when your pet misbehaves. Other punishments, such as jerking a choke chain or pinch collar to stop a dog from pulling, throwing a dog down on its back in an alpha roll when it nips, tightening a collar around a dog’s neck and cutting off its air supply until it submits, or using an electronic collar to stop a dog from barking are more severe. These are unfortunately also very common. It is important to remember that what you see on Television is edited so that you see what they want you to see and you don’t get to see the fall out that inevitably results from using these methods. It looks like it really works on television because the dog suddenly stops what it is doing. The dog you are seeing is what trained behaviourists would call in a state of “learned helplessness” or they are “shut down”, this is what happens when you are confronted with something that is causing you fear or pain and you are not in a position to do anything about it. The dog will avoid eye contact; show stiffened body language, the body language of the dog will not be relaxed and happy. The problem with these methods is it does not teach the dog what it should be doing but rather is suppresses the behaviour temporarily, and this behaviour can re-emerge at a later stage and the behaviour can be worse than it was before! In fact many studies have showed us that the use of these methods actually leads to an increase in aggression. I work with many clients that have aggressive dogs that were made aggressive by the use of punishment, even something as seemingly innocent as a spray bottle. It is also important to note that your dog may react to punishment immediately by stopping the behaviour when they are pinched or a loud sound is made, but they may soon become used to the punishment, and the behaviour will continue. You then have to constantly raise the intensity and frequency of the punishment, and then you really could be doing a lot of physical and psychological damage to your dog. This damage can sometimes be irreversible. The key to training a dog and addressing a behaviour problem lies in having a good relationship with your dog and using training methods that are fun for you and your dog, and build a happy relationship with your dog. These include clicker training, or any force-free training that uses positive reinforcement. This way you win and your dogs win because they are happy to sit or stay or walk on a loose-lead for you, and you enjoy training your dog because you are not hurting them.

  • Cat Scratching

    Interesting questions I am frequently asked…Part 2

    “Why does my cat scratch my new couch and what can I do to stop this behaviour?”

    Cats scratch furniture for various reasons. It is an important form of communication for them, as it signals to other cats who they are and what they get up to, and is also very important in terms of encouraging other cats to keep their distance. They will choose areas that are at the right height and location so that they are clearly visible to other cats. They also tend to return to mark those areas. Scratching may also be used to stretch and exercise their muscles and paws, sharpen their claws and it can also be a way to get attention from their people. It is important to figure out why your cat is scratching, because if they are scratching as a form of scent marking to warn off other cats, you may have to stop cats from coming onto your property to help ease your cats anxiety and thereby your cat’s need to scratch. If it is a way to get your attention you need to stop giving them attention when they are scratching (attention can mean yelling at them to stop scratching too!) and rather spend some time playing with them and offering them stimulation when they are not scratching. Once you have figured out why your cat is scratching and hopefully eliminated some of the causes, you can put the following action plan in place: 1. You need to have several different cat scratching posts in your home. Make sure that the fabric and texture of the scratching post appeals to your cat and make note of whether your cat prefers a vertical or horizontal scratching post or both. 2. It is important to place a scratching post directly in the area where your cat is accustomed to scratching. 3. If you see your cat scratching something he should not be scratching, pick him up, do not say anything and put him by the scratching post. Do not force him to use the scratching post because he may develop and aversion to it, rather use toys that dangle near the post to encourage him to use it, or use catnip to get him interested in the scratching post. 4. It is sometimes useful in a long established scratching habit to make the area they scratch inaccessible by putting double sided tape on this area as a deterrent, but remember you have to put all the other points mentioned in place at the same time, or they will just find another inappropriate scratching spot. Declawing your cat should never ever be an option to deal with a scratching problem. If you declaw a cat, the original reason for the cat scratching is not being addressed so your cat will find other ways to communicate. In the absence of claws this could mean that they resort to spraying or vocalising or inappropriate elimination. It may not solve the problem and could actually make it worse in the long term.

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