Winter Dog Walking Tips

In case you are trying, like me, to avoid canine cabin fever for as long as possible, here are some tips to make sure your pup is happy and healthy during the winter walking season!

winterdogwalking

1. Paw protection

Dog paws are not impervious barriers to winter cold, chemicals and other nuisances. Snowmelt chemicals can cause paw irritation and toxicity if the dog licks their paws, and cold sidewalks can cause chaffing and cracking. Dog paw protection is a must for winter walks!

For my dogs, high quality boots were a necessity. I like the Grip Trex ($70) by Ruffwear (and am currently trying out the Summit Trex model ($60) to see if it keeps snow out of the boot better). I’ve also read many positive reviews for the Muttluk’s All Weather or Fleece-lined ($40-60) dog boots. YES, $40-70 bucks is a lot to spend on dog boots but they are a worthy investment. I’ve put my dog’s Grip Trex boots through 3 winter seasons and besides protecting my pups’ paws flawlessly, they still look brand new. Cheaper alternatives aren’t going to do the job and probably won’t last as long.

Dog boots tip #1: You’ve really got to get the right size so the boots don’t come off easily but are still comfortable. Measure your dog’s feet according to the manufacturer’s instructions several times to ensure accuracy. And definitely check out the seller’s return/exchange policy before purchasing in case you need a different size anyway!

Dog boots tip #2: As with any new pet accessory or device, you have to introduce boots slowly and positively. Not many pups are going to be overly thrilled about having boots on for the first time in their lives, but (in my experience) they forget about their footwear disdain when they discover how much more comfortable they are outdoors.

While you’re introducing your dog to the wonderful world of dog boots (or if your dog just really isn’t going for shoes), there are several things you can do to keep your pup’s paws as comfortable as possible in the meantime! First, trim the fur between your dog’s paw pads. This will keep the fur from matting and clumping around snow, ice and snowmelt chemicals. Next, use a paw salve like Musher’s Secret or petroleum jelly to moisturize and minimally protect your pup’s paws from the element. Finally, thoroughly wipe your dog’s paws with a washcloth after every outside excursions, being sure to get in between the paw pads.

2. Coat protection

Depending on how cold it gets where you live, or if you have a short-haired, elderly, young or ill dog, a dog coat is also a great investment. There are some pretty hardcore coats on the market from brands like Ruffwear or Hurtta that will set you back $40-90 and some less impervious dog sweaters from other retailers like Target or Petco for about $20. A wet coat isn’t going to do your pup much good, so if your area experiences severe weather during the winter, opt for a more expensive, waterproof winter coat. If you’re just combating the cold and can avoid rain/snow/sleet all of the time, a cheaper dog sweater might cut it.

Cold, dry winter air is as rough on your dog’s skin as it is on your skin! Ask your vet if an omega-3 supplement could help keep your dog’s skin moisturized and healthy during the winter months (and beyond!). Lastly, it’s a good idea to wipe off your dog’s legs and underbelly after walks just like paws. You may even want to bring a towel with you during walks to remove snowmelt products or snow/ice from your dog’s coat and feet immediately.

3. Keep your dog on leash with a harness

Although hazards for off-leash dogs exist in abundance year-round, winter poses some particular risks for un- or under-supervised dogs. Toxic substances like snowmelt chemicals and antifreeze abound, and if your dog is zooming around off leash, you may not notice her gulp some rock salt or take a lick of an antifreeze spill. Chucks of ice, asphalt liberated from the street by snow plows and sticks are also items your pup shouldn’t ingest but might if left to her own devices. So play it safe and keep your dog on leash.

Clipping a leash to a neck collar is not an optimal way to walk your dog at any time of year because it puts strain on the dog’s neck, leading to breathing problems and eye issues as the result of increased intracranial pressure. It’s also, like, the least efficient way to control your dog’s position in space, which can really be an issue in winter when ground conditions aren’t ideal. Opt for a front-clip harness like the Easy Walk harness and carry a small bag of dog kibble with your to keep your pup by your side during distracting events.

4. Keep it short

No amount of gear and preparation will wholly protect your pup from winter hazards, so keep walks short by breaking your usual walking time into two or three shorter components that are spaced out over the day. Monitor your dog for signs of real discomfort, frost bite or hypothermia. Frostbitten skin will most common occur on extremities like the ears, tails and toes and can look pale or red, painful or numb, and swollen. If your dog is exhibiting shallow breathing or disorientation, get your dog inside immediately and check for a slow pulse – these are all signs of hypothermia and your dog should be taken to a vet ASAP.


References

ASPCA’s Cold Weather Tips

ASPCA’s Winter Skin & Paw Health Tips

VetStreet Article on Winter Dog Walking

Dr. Marty Becker on the necessity of dog coats and sweaters

Ruffwear’s Blog on the Dog Boot Dance

Science-Based vs. Dominance-Based Dog Training: Part 2

In this first part of this essay, I discussed why dominance-based training methods like those popularized by Cesar Milan and other dog training professionals are outmoded, inefficient and potentially dangerous. In this part, I will discuss why science-based training methods like positive reinforcement are superior training techniques and finally, discuss the implications of the training methods you choose to use with your dog.

If you have questions about any of the terminology used here, please see the Let’s Talk Vocab page.


 

3. Dominance-based training rarely tells your dog what to do

Let’s face it, if your dog lived with only other dogs, would it really be a problem if the trash was raided every night? Do you think another dog would mind if there was a designated potty spot in the corner of the spare bed room? Would another dog be opposed to barking at the delivery person until he or she went away? The answer is no: the only reason getting into the trash, going to the bathroom a spare room and barking at people who approach the house are “problem behaviors” is because we, as humans, have a problem with them!

The mentality behind dominance-based training methods is that your dog is constantly training to upstage you as the owner and obtain mastery of the house. This is just a baseless assertion: there is no evidence that dogs engage in hierarchy-building with humans [13] and even a cursory understanding the domestication of dogs suggests that dogs evolved as food scavengers, not power usurpers [5]. Furthermore, attempts to tell your dog, “I’m the ALPHA of the house!” don’t tell your dog, “I really want you to sleep on your dog bed, not my bed,” and the many other directions your dog needs to get along with you and other humans .

Dogs are incredibly human-social creatures – they want our attention, food or toys – and we can capitalize on that disposition by providing dogs with clear instructions about how we’d like to interact with them. Positive reinforcement and science-based training methods focus on telling your dog what you want them to do, because most of those things are contrary to a dog’s natural instincts, and they work because dogs want to get rewards like treats, affection and playtime from humans.

4. Your dog does not live in a vacuum

In some ways, the choice to avoid or use aversive training techniques and subscribe to the dominance-based training theories is a moral or personal decision. It is your dog and it is your choice to take the available information about dog training and reduce your dog’s exposure to stressful training techniques. It is your decision to look at your relationship with your dog and decide if “lovable scavenger” or “Et tu, Brute?” best describes those exchanges.

In a lot of other ways, however, it is a public health issue if you choose to train your dog with aversive techniques. A fearful, aggressive dog poses a real bite risk to your veterinarian, a person walking past your house and anyone else with which your dog interacts.

Given what researchers are discovering about aversive training techniques and the stress they cause in dogs, in addition to the scientific evaluation of positive-reinforcement training techniques as equally effective and efficient in achieving desired behaviors [17], I believe that aversive training techniques and dominance-based training methods should be considered at best inhumane. I also believe that the dog training tide is turning this way, and I hope it continues!


 

 

References (for Science-Based vs. Dominance-Based Dog Training: Parts 1 and 2)

[1] Mech, L. David, and Luigi Boitani, eds. Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation. University of Chicago Press, 2010.

[2] Schenkel, Rudolf. “Submission: its features and function in the wolf and dog.”American Zoologist 7.2 (1967): 319-329.

[3] Davis, Lauren. “Why Everything You Know about Wolf Packs Is Wrong.” Io9.com, 05 Dec. 2013. Web. 30 Sept. 2014.

[4] Cooperation, Evolution of. With Matthew R. Zimmerman and Richard McElreath. In: Sourcebook in Theoretical Ecology (Eds: Hastings, A., Gross, L.). UC Press, Berkeley (pp.155-162). 2012.

[5] Savolainen, Peter. “Domestication of dogs.” The Behavioural Biology of Dogs(2007): 21.

[6] Cooper, Jonathan J., et al. “Clever hounds: social cognition in the domestic dog (Canis familiaris).” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 81.3 (2003): 229-244.

[7] Hare, Brian, et al. “The domestication of social cognition in dogs.” Science298.5598 (2002): 1634-1636.

[8] Beerda, Bonne, et al. “Behavioural, saliva cortisol and heart rate responses to different types of stimuli in dogs.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 58.3 (1998): 365-381.

[9] Herron, Meghan E., Frances S. Shofer, and Ilana R. Reisner. “Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 117.1 (2009): 47-54.

[10] Beerda, Bonne, et al. “Manifestations of chronic and acute stress in dogs.”Applied Animal Behaviour Science 52.3 (1997): 307-319.

[11]”New Releases.” Understanding the Stress Response. Harvard Health Publications, Mar. 2011. Web. 02 Nov. 2014. http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Mental_Health_Letter/2011/March/understanding-the-stress-response

[12] de Quervain DJ, Roozendaal B, McGaugh JL; Roozendaal; McGaugh (August 1998). “Stress and glucocorticoids impair retrieval of long-term spatial memory”. Nature 394 (6695): 787–90. doi:10.1038/29542.PMID 9723618.

[13] Herron, Meghan E., Frances S. Shofer, and Ilana R. Reisner. “Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 117.1 (2009): 47-54.

[14] Rooney, Nicola Jane, and Sarah Cowan. “Training methods and owner–dog interactions: Links with dog behaviour and learning ability.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 132.3 (2011): 169-177.

[15] Blackwell, Emily J., et al. “The relationship between training methods and the occurrence of behavior problems, as reported by owners, in a population of domestic dogs.” Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research 3.5 (2008): 207-217.

[16] Kathy Sdao. “Forget About Being Alpha in Your Pack.” Bright Spot Dog Training. N.p., 2008. Web. 05 Nov. 2014. http://www.kathysdao.com/articles/Forget_About_Being_Alpha_in_Your_Pack.html

[17] Cooper, Jonathan J., et al. “The Welfare Consequences and Efficacy of Training Pet Dogs with Remote Electronic Training Collars in Comparison to Reward Based Training.” PloS one 9.9 (2014): e102722.

Science-Based vs. Dominance-Based Dog Training: Part 1

Dog training is a somewhat divided profession. On one side, there are dominance-based training methods like those popularized by Cesar Milan and also reiterated by dog training professionals throughout the U.S. The opposing faction consists of the viewpoints of veterinary behaviorists and science-literate dog trainers who promote the use of positive reinforcement based training techniques. If you hadn’t guessed already, I do not subscribe to dominance-based training methods and this post is to illustrate why.

This first entry about why I have determined that science-based training methods are superior to dominance-based techniques will discuss how the theories behind dominance-based training methods have been debunked in recent history and the physiological and behavioral implications of using such methods with your dog.

If you have questions about any of the terminology used here, please see the Let’s Talk Vocab page.

1. Dominance-based training techniques are based on incorrect and outmoded wolf pack research. 

In the mid to late 1900s, publications by animal behaviorist such as David Mech [1] and Rudolph Schenkel [2] on the dynamics of wolf packs suggested these animals had an “alpha wolf” societal structure in which competition-based hierarchies ruled to pack. Schenkel in particular paralleled is studies of wolf pack behavior to that of domestic canines, a behavior mindset that pervaded American vernacular. Unfortunately, these studies were conducted on captive wolf packs (in zoos or wildlife preservations). Further ecologic study of wolves in their natural habit, including work done by Mech, have shown that the behaviors exhibited by resource-strapped wolves held in unnatural environments are not normal wolf behaviors. [3] Natural wolf behavior is much more complex than the “alpha wolf” concept an involves family-based packs and cooperation. [4]

Even if a competition-based social structure was true for wolves, however, it still wouldn’t necessarily be applicable for domesticated dogs. There are likely 15,000 years of selection by humans between wolves and dogs. [5] Because humans selected for social behaviors as well as appearance, dogs are not only distinct from their wolfish ancestors, they even look utterly different from one breed to another. From a scientific point of view, it does not make sense to apply behavior patterns from wolves to dogs on the basis of their shared lineage alone because they are clearly discrete populations.

2. Dominance-based training methods impede learning and cause aggressive behavior in dogs 

Anyone who says that dominance-based training methods don’t work are lying. Dominance-based training methods “work” because anything you to do a dog will impact its behavior because dogs are incredibly cognizant of human social cues. [6, 7] The problem with dominance-based training methods arise from these techniques causing stress in dogs that impedes learning and can result in aggression and fear in dogs.

Let’s take that sentence apart for clarity’s sake. Do aversive techniques cause stress in dogs? Frankly, yes. Researchers have long been able to link physiological and behavioral signs of stress in dogs during and after training sessions that included aversive techniques. [8, 9, 10 and many more]

Does stress impede with learning? Every mammal has an autonomic nervous system, which is made up of the parasympathetic nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system. A stressful stimuli acts on the sympathetic nervous system, which kicks on the fight-or-flight response. Physiological changes include the acceleration the heart rate, increased muscle tension and the inhibition of immediately unnecessary bodily functions, like digestion. After the stressful stimuli passes, the parasympathetic nervous system calms the body back down and returns to normal bodily processes. [11]

Under conditions of chronic stress – i.e. the stressful stimuli doesn’t disappear or continuously reappears, the body starts producing cortisol to replace the energy stores depleted during the initial sympathetic nervous system response. Long-term exposure to the stress hormone cortisol has many negative physiological effects, including damage to hippocampus cells leading to impaired learning ability and the inhibition of memory retrieval. [12] So, yes – stress impedes learning.

Do aversive, stressful training techniques cause aggression and fear in dogs? Recent work that has largely relied on surveys of owners has indicated that this is the case. [13, 14, 15] There are many potential root causes behind these connections: aversive training may make a dog less trusting of humans, owners who use aversive training techniques may report aggressive behaviors in their dogs for some yet-unknown reason, or something else entirely. A highly likely possibility is that aversive training techniques must be applied in a way that the dog successfully connects the aversive stimuli with the desired behavior, which involves precise timing in application and removal.

If done incorrectly, the dog won’t understand why an aversive stimuli is being applied and those painful stimuli will appear to be happen at random. At the risk of anthropomorphizing, wouldn’t you be edgy if someone yelled at you at random all the time? Or worse, the dog will connect the aversive stimuli to an unintended object or behavior: the often-cited example of a dog receiving a shock from an electric fence because the dog ran to the perimeter of the fence due to an approaching pedestrian and attributing the shock to the pedestrian, rather than the dog’s position in yard. Now the dog barks and lunges at all pedestrians near the yard because, in the dog’s mind, the pedestrian’s proximity means the dog will receive a painful shock.


 

Tomorrow’s post will be the final part of why I think science-based training methods such as positive reinforcement are appropriate for all dogs and dominance-based training methods should be avoided. Stay tuned!

 


 

 

References (for Science-Based vs. Dominance-Based Dog Training: Parts 1 and 2)

[1] Mech, L. David, and Luigi Boitani, eds. Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation. University of Chicago Press, 2010.

[2] Schenkel, Rudolf. “Submission: its features and function in the wolf and dog.”American Zoologist 7.2 (1967): 319-329.

[3] Davis, Lauren. “Why Everything You Know about Wolf Packs Is Wrong.” Io9.com, 05 Dec. 2013. Web. 30 Sept. 2014.

[4] Cooperation, Evolution of. With Matthew R. Zimmerman and Richard McElreath. In: Sourcebook in Theoretical Ecology (Eds: Hastings, A., Gross, L.). UC Press, Berkeley (pp.155-162). 2012.

[5] Savolainen, Peter. “Domestication of dogs.” The Behavioural Biology of Dogs(2007): 21.

[6] Cooper, Jonathan J., et al. “Clever hounds: social cognition in the domestic dog (Canis familiaris).” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 81.3 (2003): 229-244.

[7] Hare, Brian, et al. “The domestication of social cognition in dogs.” Science298.5598 (2002): 1634-1636.

[8] Beerda, Bonne, et al. “Behavioural, saliva cortisol and heart rate responses to different types of stimuli in dogs.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 58.3 (1998): 365-381.

[9] Herron, Meghan E., Frances S. Shofer, and Ilana R. Reisner. “Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 117.1 (2009): 47-54.

[10] Beerda, Bonne, et al. “Manifestations of chronic and acute stress in dogs.”Applied Animal Behaviour Science 52.3 (1997): 307-319.

[11]”New Releases.” Understanding the Stress Response. Harvard Health Publications, Mar. 2011. Web. 02 Nov. 2014. http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Mental_Health_Letter/2011/March/understanding-the-stress-response

[12] de Quervain DJ, Roozendaal B, McGaugh JL; Roozendaal; McGaugh (August 1998). “Stress and glucocorticoids impair retrieval of long-term spatial memory”. Nature 394 (6695): 787–90. doi:10.1038/29542.PMID 9723618.

[13] Herron, Meghan E., Frances S. Shofer, and Ilana R. Reisner. “Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 117.1 (2009): 47-54.

[14] Rooney, Nicola Jane, and Sarah Cowan. “Training methods and owner–dog interactions: Links with dog behaviour and learning ability.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 132.3 (2011): 169-177.

[15] Blackwell, Emily J., et al. “The relationship between training methods and the occurrence of behavior problems, as reported by owners, in a population of domestic dogs.” Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research 3.5 (2008): 207-217.

[16] Kathy Sdao. “Forget About Being Alpha in Your Pack.” Bright Spot Dog Training. N.p., 2008. Web. 05 Nov. 2014. http://www.kathysdao.com/articles/Forget_About_Being_Alpha_in_Your_Pack.html

[17] Cooper, Jonathan J., et al. “The Welfare Consequences and Efficacy of Training Pet Dogs with Remote Electronic Training Collars in Comparison to Reward Based Training.” PloS one 9.9 (2014): e102722.