Wednesday, May 11, 2011

What the Ruff?!: The Butt Sniff

One of the most entertaining aspects of owning a dog is the fact that they have really weird, and correspondingly, really hilarious habits that are strange to us humans, but absolutely normal for canines. What the Ruff?! will be a series of strange dog behaviors decoded! The first, butt sniffing, is so prevalent and common to us dog owners that the sight of Fido's nose up another's rear end is no longer bizarre. But for those who have yet to bring a wet-nosed, silly ball of energy and crazy love into their lives...the butt sniff is still highly unusual and maybe even a little gross. The purpose of the sniff? To detail the other dog's sex, sex status, health, and temperament.

I don't mean to be too forward, but...

Contrary to popular to belief, the butt sniff isn't just to say hello. Sure, it's comparable to one of our handshakes, but the sniff along with mutual posturing conveys much more information

Hi Cyrus! :)

How? The rear end of every canine is equipped with anal glands that emit a really strong (and sometimes terrible) odor. This is why you should always opt yes when a grooming service offers gland expression. One of the reasons Fido's #2s smell so bad is because his anal glands (should) empty when he potties. But believe it or not, they do serve a purpose besides activating your gag reflex--they help communicate your dog's physiological status.

Hmm do I wanna be your friend?

Canine greetings aren't just limited to the butt sniff, though. Usually, in conjunction with the butt sniff, dogs go through a period of posturing toward each other. They may also sniff each other's muzzles. Dogs can analyze subtle changes in how high another dog holds his head or how his ears and tail are positioned to determine their status in the pecking order. It's incredible watching them size each other up before figuring out if it's okay to play.

I dunno. Do YOU wanna be MY friend?!

Thus, after a first meeting, two unacquainted dogs will figure out whether or not they want to be friends. If the other dog doesn't pass Fido's sniff test, don't worry. Not every dog wants to be friends with every other dog they meet. In this respect, dogs are a lot like us :). Trust your dog's instincts. Let him choose his own friends!

YES! Be my friend!
Let's play!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Speaking Dog: Puppy Playtime

You don't have to be a dog person to get a kick out of watching puppies or dogs play. It's just so cute, and it's a guaranteed method of eliciting a few chuckles--that is, unless you're soulless of course. ;) Thus, with exception to those who have been captured by dementors, you're likely to enjoy and devote time to A LOT of puppy playdates. :) Playtime is invaluable for puppies to learn appropriate social behavior in the canine world. Good playing enhances bite inhibition, develops communication skills, and maintains friendly responses to other dogs. However, keep an eye out for bad play behavior that can lead to adolescent aggression or serious injury. To start, here are a few basic facts:

1. Puppy play is a wonderful means of socialization. If marathons of the Dog Whisperer or the stacks of Puppy How-to's have taught us anything, it's that socialization is key. During the formative months of his life, socialization will develop Fido's character, temperament, and behavior towards other dogs and other humans. Socialization will affect how your dog will relate not only to you and your family, but also to strangers, other dogs, and his environment.

2. For dogs, the objective of their play is to give and receive as many intermittent bites and nips as possible. Weird right? For us humans, the objective of our playing is to win. We strive to assert superiority over our "playmates" when we participate in sports, board games, video games, etc. It's hard to grasp the idea that the goal of puppy play is actually give-and-take!

3. Puppies are rude. Rude, rude, rude. They are still learning the most basic of social skills. You may see them attempting to goad other dogs into play by persistently nipping at the neck and/or ears, reaching their paws over the neck of another dog, or excessively barking at another dog. Some adults are less tolerant of rudeness and may correct your puppy. Corrective action is a quick snap to the nose, where the adult bites down on the muzzle of the puppy. It's probably one of the least pleasant things you'll see or hear, so try to keep your puppy from getting into trouble by watching out for him and telling him "no" when he's getting too impertinent. If he persists, remove him from the situation. :)

4. After reaching maturity (usually 2 years), dogs tend to be less inclined to play. Not all dogs are the same, but after reaching this point, they are less likely to befriend new dogs and instead prefer to socialize among their established friends. Sounds like us humans, right? :)

Geroff me!

Good play consists of:

Balanced play where both dogs are participating and obviously having fun (as opposed to one dog attempting to force another to interact).

Mutual inviting play gestures such as bowing, tail wagging, and play pouncing.

A sense of carefree inhibition exhibited by relaxed/loose bodies that look inefficient and silly. :)

Chase! This is Leo's favorite game. Chasing is a manifestation of sharing and give-and-take play so long as one of the dogs isn't running scared or into hiding. If the latter occurs, interrupt the play.

Inappropriate play consists of:

Ganging up on another dog

Neck biting/collar grabbing

Mounting another dog. This is the easiest way to start a fight.

Body slamming


Placing the head over the shoulders of another dog. This is a direct challenge to fight.

Possessiveness or aggression during tug-of-war. Otherwise, this is completely appropriate and fun!

If your dog is showing signs of inappropriate play behavior, interrupt play by rapping him on the head and saying "no" firmly. If he doesn't get the point after four or five times, remove him from the situation to avoid any potential conflict.

Have fun! If you have any cute pictures of your dog playing that you would like to share, please send them to me at! I'll be sure to include them in another post! :)

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Dog Days of Summer

Summer's finally upon us! While you're busy dusting off the barbecue and breaking out the bathing suits, don't forget that summer is also the best time for your dog to learn to swim! Swimming is the easiest and most effective way for Fido to beat the heat, so he'll be a lot more willing to get into the water. Many people (including myself initially) mistakenly assume that all dogs are naturally predispositioned to swim and that once they get in the water, they'll do it and enjoy it. Unfortunately, that's not always the case, and simply tossing your dog into a pool or a lake will likely make him hate the water forever. It took Leo almost a month to discover that he really really loves to swim. We hope this post will help your dog discover his love for the water, too!

Can I get in yet?
For this post, we documented one of Leo's friends, Amadeus, in his quest to conquer the water. Deus (day-us) is a scrappy 3.5 month old Siberian Husky male who is always keeping Leo on his toes. :)


Hi, friend!

  • It's much easier to get Fido into the water when he sees other dogs swimming around. Dogs don't like to be left out of fun, either!
  • If your dog is nervous, wading into the water with him will make him feel less frightened. You're his security blanket, after all! But whether you elect to join him is entirely up to you. 
  • Some dogs take to the water REALLY quickly. Others take a lot longer. Your dog's breed combined with the level of his desire to cool off in the water will dictate how long it takes him to get comfortable with the idea of don't give up too soon! :)
The following steps most likely aren't all necessary for your pooch. Leo was pretty nervous at first, which is why it took him so long. The following summarizes the month it took to teach him to swim...but it only took Deus a day!!

1. It's easiest to start at a lake or a pond, where there is an incline into the water so that your dog can gradually wade in. Be sure your dog has had all his shots before getting into the water. Stairs leading down to water (like a pool), are much more intimidating, and you'll be less likely to achieve your goal: a happy filthy wet dog.

Zoolander's got nothin' on me!

2. Initially, your dog might shy away from the water, or gingerly stretch his head to take a drink while ensuring that his paws stay dry (the coward!). At this point, you should already be in the water facing him. Say his name, pet him...anything to make him feel like you being in the water is normal and that him being near the water with you is no cause for concern.

3. If he is still really anxious, don't force it. Tell him what a good boy he is, get out of the water, and continue on your way. You can come back another day!

4. Only when you see him start pacing back and forth along the edge of the water (maybe whining) should you consider getting your dog into the water. Keep in mind, there's a difference between fear and nervousness. If his ears are pulled back and his tail is tucked, do NOT force your dog into the water. If he is standing by the edge of the water, and he seems like he wants to get in, then that's your cue to help him out.

5. Gently take his front two paws and place them into the water. He'll immediately back away, but if he doesn't run away and comes back to the edge, try it again. If he does run away, chalk it up to a good effort, and come back some other time! :)

6. After he gets comfortable with standing in water, you can start encouraging him to venture into deeper areas. Do so by finding a stick that's lying around somewhere. As mean as it sounds, start taunting him with it until he really really wants it. Toss the stick a couple of feet from the edge of the water. If he goes to it, he'll likely bring it back so he can chew on it. Take the stick and throw it a little further than before. If he doesn't go after it, no problem! Just find another one and don't throw it as far.

7.  Keep throwing the stick out further and further until he it reaches a point in the lake where he cannot stand, and he has to start paddling. Once he comes back to shore, toss the stick again...and hopefully he'll know to swim after it! :)

Swim buddies

Getting wet is a really great way to keep your dog from overheating in the summer. Deus and Leo both have double coats, which makes them incredibly heat sensitive and far more prone to heat stroke. On hot days, always be sure your dog has access to water to drink (and swim in!) and shade to chill under.

Weird phenomenon: Almost always after dogs get wet, you'll notice that they will have a sudden burst of energy...and playtime is on!

Swimming Pools

A lot of people wonder whether swimming pools are safe for their dogs to splash around in. The answer is...YES! So long as the chlorine levels of the pool are regulated and you hose off your dog thoroughly after his swim, pools are GREAT alternatives to lakes. Chlorine can cause itchiness that can lead to hot spots (skin infections) only if you fail to rinse off your dog. As for ingesting the water, do not worry about chlorine poisoning. The amount of chemical in the pool will not make your dog ill. But don't just take my word for it! We've asked a couple of vets and other dog owners. Check with your vet, too!

Good luck! Doggie swimming is SO MUCH FUN! We hope you have a blast this summer with your pooch. :)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Barks & Recreation: Red Bud Isle

HAHA yesssss! Red Bud!!
Dog parks. They get a bad rep from behaviorists and vets, but from Leo's many, many, many experiences, dog park days are the best days! Before taking him to the park, however, there are a few things to keep in mind. After all, there has to be a reason why some experts are a little wary of the whole idea.

Dog parks are a lot like playgrounds. They're buzzing with unadulterated joy and excitement, but rife with germs, and not always bully-free. However, so long as you are informed and alert during your time there, dog parks are a wonderful, fun, and often hilarious outlet for Leo's energy. NEVER take your puppy to a dog park if he has not received all of his shots. Also, puppies under 4 months tend to have a harder time at dog parks, as they are still learning the polite social norms of dog-on-dog interaction. Adults with less tolerance for rudeness will correct your puppy, and seeing that won't be the most pleasant experience. If you do bring a young puppy, be sure to keep him on a leash so he won't get into any trouble!

RED BUD ISLE - 3401 Red Bud Trail Austin, TX 78703

Red Bud is a gorgeous off-leash dog park off of Red Bud Trail and Scenic. Seriously. It's as if a fairy dogmother swooped down to make every dog's dream come true. There's water, shade, room to run, squirrels to harass (Leo's favorite hobby), and plenty of doggie playmates to meet and befriend. Even better? It's a peninsula, so it's completely surrounded by water...and you can rest assured Fido will not be running off. The only con is parking. Weekends are really hectic, but weekday mornings are great for mellow romps around the park!

You'll know you're in the right place when you see the giant Scoop the Poop shovel.
The park itself is beautiful. There are a lot of trees that provide shade during the summer and a lot of access points to Lady Bird Lake where dogs can swim. Leo actually learned how to swim here! The best places to learn are the first few access points from the parking lot. The first opening on the west side (the right) when you enter the park is perfect. Your dog can slowly inch his way into the water, and you can walk in with him. There's also an area on the east side. It will be the first on the left from the parking lot (behind the Scoop the Poop shovel). It's a little harder to see, but there's a rocky trail leading to the water. There will be another post later discussing teaching your dog to swim! :)

Red Bud isn't too big or small in my opinion. We usually take 3 laps around (with frequent stops to meet and chase/be chased by new friends). There's a little enclave further into the park where most dogs play. I have yet to meet a dog or owner who wasn't really friendly. At any dog park, I think it's important to understand that no dog is going to be best friend with every other dog they meet. Most owners are pretty responsible about keeping an eye on their pets. Not every dog is perfectly behaved, but the point of a dog park is to let dogs be dogs! They're free spirits, and they should be allowed to be themselves for a little bit so they can be on their best behavior back at home. :)

Let's play!
Chase buddy! 
Red Bud also has numerous little trails that you can discover with your dog. Many of them are in the shaded wooded areas that are full of squirrel-chasing potential.

Must...get...that bug!!!

Toward the end of the trail are some open swimming areas. You'll find a lot of wet dogs here! These access points are for dogs who truly truly love swimming. The stairs leading down to the water are pretty steep, so if your dog's okay with jumping into the water rather than wading in, then this is the place for him!

The trail ends at a rather eroded area, where the roots of the trees holding the peninsula together are clearly visible. Be careful around here! There are usually people fishing who do NOT like to be bothered by dogs. Also, the bait and hooks lying around are tempting items for dog's to put in their mouths, and that's a huge safety issue. If you see people fishing, save yourself some trouble and turn around.

Camouflage is my middle name!

After reaching the end, you can start looping back. There are a lot of other little trails and shortcuts that offer other places to wade/swim, dig, and meet new friends as you make your way back. Or if you're not in the mood to explore, just retrace the path you originally took!

Keepin' Cool
New friend??! 

After coming back to the park area, you and Fido can chill out in the park area. Here, there are benches where you can sit and plenty of sticks for him to chew on!

Yum. Stick-y...

Oh and don't come here wearing anything too fancy...the dogs get dirty, and they take sadistic pleasure in standing next to people when they shake off water and dirt.

Parking can be a hassle, as spaces are pretty limited, but usually people are coming and going, so you won't have to wait too long!! Hopefully you'll fall as much in love with Red Bud as Leo and I have. Happy playtime!!!!! :) :)

Off to another adventure!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Speaking Dog: The "Lie Down" Command

Among the most basic commands to teach your dog (sit, stay, lie down, come, leave it), the title for Most Essential has long been a point of contention among behaviorists, owners, and trainers. Personally, I believe "lie down" is most important. This post will discuss the significance of this particular command and include a general guideline for training your dog to execute it. Hope it helps! :)

But before we start, for those wondering why teaching Fido basic commands is important, the simple answer is this: Training him to understand and listen to commands is necessary in promoting not only obedience, but also good behavior. Moreover, it will guarantee his future safety. The process of learning these commands is also such a fun means of mental stimulation for your dog. This in turn translates into some awesome bonding time! Trust me--it's the best feeling when Leo learns something new. We both get so excited and happy when he figures out what he's supposed to do!! I've never seen Leo wag his tail so fast as when he learns a new trick.

"Lie Down" - It's Natural!

What makes "lie down" a basic command is the fact that the position itself occurs naturally and often for dogs, whether they're resting, napping, playing, or chewing on something like a rawhide. To me, "down" is most important because this is the position dogs assume when they submit to canines and humans alike. Having your dog obey this command in any environment or circumstance when you give it demonstrates and reinforces the pecking order you've established in your household (where you are the alpha and your dog, the beta). "Lie down" is particularly useful if, for some reason, your dog misbehaves in an environment outside of your home. Say he runs off to meet another dog he sees at the park despite your command to stay. After you catch up with him, tell him "NO" very firmly and rap him on the head once or twice. Then tell him to lie down. Once he does so, he is essentially submitting to you and thus reinforcing your place as head of the pack. These consistent little reminders regarding his subordinate position relative to yours will continue bolstering good behavior and obedience in the long run.

Think I'm cute? Check me out (more!) on my blog, Hints of Basil!

Bosom Buddies

Posin' Pretty

GESTURE AND ORAL COMMAND: Point to the ground and say "down."

**Note** It's best to attempt this command after your dog has had his daily amount of exercise. Excess energy can make this training session unproductive and frustrating.

$6/6oz at local petstores (not Petco or Petsmart)

To start, invest in some wet or stinky treats. The smell and taste of them will make your dog work harder to earn them. Zuke's Mini Naturals are pretty good, but a little pricey. Try food rolls for a better value.
  1. Cup the treat in your palm while pointing down towards the ground. Hold your hand in front of your dog's nose so that he can smell the treat and slowly move your hand toward the floor.
  2. His head will likely bend down, but his body won't hit the floor. Once this happens, gradually move your hand away from him and toward your body so that he has to reach. 
  3. Once his elbows and belly touch the ground, say "down." And PRAISE! Smile, use a higher pitched tone of voice, and give a good rub. And as ridiculous as it sounds, try not to praise him so much that it overexcites him, as this can lead to loss in concentration.  
  4. Don't be discouraged if you are initially unsuccessful. That's to be expected (it took Leo a while to get the hang of it). Keep a low and calm tone of voice, and repeat the initial steps. Try to keep frustration and disappointment out of your voice. Your puppy will only get confused, and you'll most likely have to deal with his heartbreakingly sad puppy eyes. If, after 10 minutes he still isn't getting it, take a break and try again after an hour or so.
  5. Practice this until your puppy can execute "down" three times in a row. Then it's recess and playtime! Forcing him to practice a command over and over after he's gotten it three times without mistake is unfair and comparable to exhaustive mental drilling. Don't overwork him.
  6. Practice daily!
Having trouble? If you find that your dog still does not understand what you are asking of him, try catching him while he's in his lie down position and say "down" while pointing to the ground. If he remains in that position, reward him with tons of praise and a treat. Do this a couple of times and after a while, he'll associate his position with your command. Then try steps 1-7 again!

Good luck, and have fun!! :)