Get Connected With Your Dog

When Victoria Craig adopted her dog Weaver, the 18-month-old, black-and-white border collie had already developed a host of obsessive-compulsive behaviors. Highly reactive with zero impulse control, Weaver would go into a spinning frenzy whenever something as seemingly insignificant as a person walking across a room disrupted his usual routine.

On the positive side, it was clear Weaver was a smart, sensitive and loving dog. “I thought he was gorgeous and could see such potential in him,” says Craig, who lives in River Glade, New Brunswick, Canada. “But he hardly noticed me at all, even when I was trying my best to interact with him. He refused my treats and looked away each time I tried to talk to him.” Traditional training methods produced some results, but it was professional dog trainer Brenda Aloff’s Get Connected training philosophy that put Craig and her collie on the path to developing a strong and stable relationship.

The Get Connected Philosophy
Aloff’s training method, which is detailed in her book Get Connected With Your Dog: Emphasizing the Relationship While Training Your Dog (Dogwise Publishing 2008), promotes improved communication. “Get Connected is a program I developed to help humans understand dogs and help dogs understand their humans,” explains Aloff. “Better communication, mutual understanding and clear interactions always enhance a relationship, and this is what Get Connected is all about.”

Tapping Into the Magic Switch
Getting connected helps you find what Aloff refers to as the “magic switch.” This is a doggie state of awareness that’s at the heart of why canines do what they do, according to Aloff. When Weaver goes from calm to manic in a nanosecond, it is just reacting instinctively. Dogs in this mental state are so hyped up, they can’t think as they normally would. They are not in a state of mind to learn or comprehend anything, even a relatively simple command, such as “Come,” “Stay” or “No barking.”

When dogs are in a more conscious frame of mind, and not merely acting on instinct, they can learn. Understanding the different emotional states, and which one your dog is in at any given moment, is an important part of getting connected. Grasping this concept improves your awareness of your dog, and an improved awareness can help you teach your dog how to switch from an aroused state to thinking and responding logically. Doing so, however, requires a mini-primer on the basic ins and outs of canine communication.

Decoding Canine Body Language
Dogs are savvy communicators and rely heavily upon body language to tell you what they are thinking and feeling. The placement of your dog’s head, ears, eyes and tail will tell you if it is relaxed, stressed, frightened, curious, eager to play or getting ready to bite. Here are a few common cues you are likely to see your dog displaying:

  • If its ears are up, its eyes are bright, and its tail is wagging, this usually means “I’m happy” or “Come on -- let’s play.”
  • If its ears are back, its lips are curled, and its tail is down, it usually indicates anger, fear, or stress. The dog is likely saying, “Stay back and leave me alone,” or, “Pull on my tail one more time and you’ll be sorry.”
  • If your dog is sniffing the ground, it could just be exploring an enticing smell or looking for a place to relieve itself, but dogs also sniff the ground when they are worried or ill at ease, explains Aloff. A dog that’s doing this may be telling another approaching dog, “I see you. Calm down. I’m minding my own business. I don’t want any trouble.”
  • Panting, yawning or drooling can sometimes indicate stress that, depending on your dog’s temperament, can be triggered by unfamiliar surroundings, isolation, crowds, strange or loud noises, other animals or your demeanor. 

Mind Your Own Body Language
Dogs have the uncanny ability to zero in on your body language, too. What you say verbally, and what your body language says visually, can send conflicting messages to your dog. The slightest shift in your breathing can tell your dog if you are nervous, happy, angry or worried. How your dog behaves is a direct reflection of what your body language tells it. By projecting a calm demeanor -- controlling your breathing, body posture, tone of voice -- you can calm your frightened or nervous dog. In the dog’s mind, it is thinking, “My owner is calm. She has everything under control. I do not need to worry.” On the other hand, if you are anxious or apprehensive, your nervous dog will sense this, and it will become even more nervous.

Analyzing Your Dog’s Personality
Figuring out your dog’s individual personality will help you to improve the human-canine relationship by fostering a better understanding between yourself and your dog. Is your pet pushy, bossy, cheeky, nervous, anxious, bold, confident, dominant or aggressive? “If I am sweet and overly tolerant with a strong, assertive dog, he will take advantage of me,” explains Aloff. “If I come on too strong with a timid dog, I will frighten him.” Either way, misjudging your dog’s personality can interfere with the learning process.

Be Consistent With Expectations
Dogs can’t understand the rules if the rules keep changing. If your dog is allowed on the couch every day of the week and then gets yelled at when he jumps on the couch with dirty feet, this is an unrealistic expectation that confuses your dog and derails the human-canine relationship. He doesn’t know that having dirty feet should pose a problem.

With their own communication system, dogs learn differently than humans do. Aloff hopes owners can “close the gap between what they intend their dogs to learn and what the dog actually learns.” In doing so, it becomes much easier for you to integrate dog training into your daily routine. In return, your dog will be better-behaved and more likely to be included in your family and friends’ day-to-day activities. Owners are happy. Dogs are happy. Everyone wins, because a well-trained dog means the human-canine possibilities are endless.

Dog and Owner Success
Admittedly, results didn’t happen overnight for Craig and her hyped-up border collie. Success came through gradual steps over time. After several months, Weaver began to trust his new owner. He stopped biting. He began to relax and enjoy himself. There were numerous setbacks, but nearly three years after the manic border collie’s rescue, Craig and Weaver are competing and winning in agility competitions at a national level.

“Brenda’s Get Connected protocol changed our lives,” says Craig. “Weaver now enjoys being touched. He is more focused, less reactive, better able to concentrate and is a much happier dog. Looking back, I am amazed we have come this far. We are definitely more of a team now.”

Amazing Stories of Lost and Found Dogs

In February, Alfredo Fulleda's mother let his dog, Pepito, outside in the yard along with the family's three other miniature dachshunds. The other three came back inside; Pepito did not. An 18-month-old dog, Pepito was lost for two days -- until a friend discovered an Internet posting about a dachshund found in their city.

"He was scared when I finally got to him," says Fulleda. "He had lost some weight, and the bottoms of his paws were chapped. He had walked over a mile and had crossed major intersections."

Pepito's saga of how a lost dog was found is repeated around the country each year. Consider, for example, JoJo of San Francisco.  

JoJo’s Lost and Found Story
JoJo's return to the Gaffney family in San Francisco underscores the need to make sure a dog has identification in case it gets lost -- or in JoJo's case, stolen. His family tied up the 5-year-old mixed breed dog in front of a supermarket, but when they came back, someone had taken JoJo, with the abduction caught on the store's security cameras.

Owner Nick Gaffney says the family plastered the neighborhood with "lost dog" posters, contacted dog walkers, hired a dog tracker and even a pet psychic, and had their story picked up by the local news. More than $800 and a week later, JoJo's implanted microchip saved the day. The dog was turned in to a nearby veterinarian who scanned the chip.

"If he wasn’t chipped, we never would have gotten him home," says Gaffney.

In addition to microchipping, other forms of pet identification are collars, tags and tattoos. "We think external collars and tags save more lives and prompt more returns than anything else," says John Snyder, vice president of the companion animal section of the Humane Society of the United States.

Preventive Lost Dog Measures
The best insurance policy against losing your dog is to make sure the dog doesn't get loose. Here are steps the HSUS recommends:

  • Keep dogs indoors, especially when you're not home
  • Teach your dog to walk on a leash
  • Fence your yard and padlock gates
  • Don't let your pet roam free or be visible from the street
  • Never leave pets in a car or outside a store to wait for you
  • Train your dogs to come when called

Network and Use the Internet
As the stories of Pepito and JoJo demonstrate, alerting a network of people in the community can help in the immediate aftermath of a disappearance. Here’s what you can do if your dog goes missing:

  • Put up fliers in your neighborhood with a recent photo of your dog
  • Use neighborhood email distribution lists to alert neighbors
  • Contact local animal shelters and dog rescue organizations
  • Tap into networks of dog walkers to spread the word
  • Use Craigslist.org and FidoFinder.com to post information about lost or found dogs

"The sooner you can get the information out to animal welfare, the humane society and neighbors, the better your changes are at finding your dog," says Snyder.

The Internet helped lead Fulleda to Pepito. Fulleda had posted pictures of Pepito on his Facebook page along with a caption: "We need you to come home." High school friend Erin Mallon saw the posting and wanted to help. "It popped into my head to do an Internet search," she says. "I typed into a search engine 'found dachshund' and the name of their city." A link to the FidoFinder.com came up, where someone had already posted a note about a black dachshund seen in the area.

Fulleda believes that Pepito, who was unneutered, had wandered off in search of a female dog. He's now going to neuter Pepito and train him to stay in the yard.

Make Your Dog a Part of Your Wedding

One of the most important decisions to make when planning a wedding is who to invite. Couples often spend days mulling over lists of friends, colleagues and family members. As you wrote, our pets are definitely part of our families, so you are good to consider your dog.

These days, almost anything goes at weddings. If you are planning the festivities yourself, your nuptials could consist of anything from a barefoot-on-the-beach ceremony to a more formal church service. For the latter, your dog would have to be very well-socialized so that it would not become anxious in a crowd or react (such as by bolting) to sudden noises, like hand-clapping or loud music. You don’t want to be saying “I do” while your dog is running for its life! Also, be sure to ask in advance about permissions, since some venues do not allow dogs. A lot of pet clothing manufacturers now make cute bridal gowns and tuxes for dogs.

You can also arrange for a pet wedding package. Purr’n Pooch of New Jersey, for example, can assist you with training your dog to be on its best behavior when walking down the aisle. The luxury pet boarders even send your dog on its own honeymoon while you and your better half go on yours. The dog honeymoon package includes daily day care, time to swim in the pool and massage therapy. Your dog will stay in a suite with DIRECTV, leather and foam memory couches made for dogs, classical music and more. Each dog guest additionally receives a Berber sleeping blanket along with spring water. With all of that, your dog will probably hope that you renew your wedding vows on a regular basis!

The idea for the dog wedding deal came when owner Dick Palazzo and his family were planning the marriage of one of their daughters in 2002. She wanted to include the family dog on her special day, and from this lightning-bolt moment came the start of the Purr’n Pooch special wedding package.

Dog-friendly Games for the Whole Family

A yard, your family and friends, plus at least one dog equal a recipe for ultimate summer fun. Alison Smith, author of the book 101 Fun Things to Do With Your Dog, has a whole section on games that you and your family can play with your dog. Here are two enjoyable ones for a summer afternoon:

Doggy Baseball
For this game, you need at least three human players, a Wiffle-type ball and your dog. You also need to set up bases, which can be easily done with any kind of colorful objects, such as upside-down buckets. One person is a batter, while another pitches. Everyone else -- including your dog -- is a fielder. “The aim of the game is for the batter to hit the ball as far as he can and try to get ’round all of the bases without being out,” explains Smith.

Your additional job is to encourage your dog to go after the ball and bring it back to you. Most dogs instinctively do this, but you might have to work a bit to get your dog to return the ball to you. Yelling “Fetch” and bringing along treats can help.

Tag for Dogs
Just like the human game of tag, someone has to be “it,” giving other players -- including your dog -- a 10- to 15-second head start to run away before “it” can begin to chase others in a defined area. The first player tagged then becomes “it.” “Part of the fun is darting around and avoiding the dreaded ‘tag’: the point at which the person chasing touches another person or dog, making them ‘it’ in turn,” says Smith. Time the game in one-minute sessions, stopping play by yelling or blowing a whistle. The “it” individual at that point “must sit out until a new game starts,” she instructs. “The aim is to have one winner at the end of all the games.”

Be sure to have plenty of cool water for all players. For dog tag, Smith also says having more than one dog can up the fun. The dogs may never completely figure out what’s going on, but everyone will have a good time anyway.

What Your Dog’s Eyes Reveal

All mammals communicate information with their eyes. In any given moment, we humans are just not that consciously aware of it, even though we are taking it in. For example, you might notice that someone looks angry or sad even though you haven’t really analyzed why. Looking into a person’s eyes helps reveal how that individual feels.

In their book Good Dog!: Kids Teach Kids About Dog Behavior and Training, Evelyn Pang and Hilary Louie share how dogs can communicate with their eyes too. Here are some common emotions and how your dog shows them with its eyes:

Happy Your dog looks at you but does not stare. Your pal’s eyes will look relaxed yet not sleepy.

Scared A frightened dog will tend to look away, shielding its eyes from the person, the other dog or the object that is causing the fear.

Angry Just like a mad person, a mad dog will look at you right in the eyes and stare in a glaring manner.

Really Angry Pang and Louie warn against what they call “the half moon.” This is when the whites of your dog’s eyes take on a half-moon shape. If you see this, be prepared for trouble. Dogs often display this look when they are about to bite or attack someone, according to the authors.

Your dog’s tail, ears, mouth, nose, fur and more can also communicate how your dog is feeling. Pay attention to the visual details and you can better understand your pet’s mood.