Part 2: Updates & Overviews

Hello from Norway!

I am filled to the brim with new ideas and understandings of dogs after this weekend’s symposium and the extra time I was able to spend with Turid Rugaas and Julia Robertson.

I will try to summarize the best I can, but just to be warned, Gene and I have talked for hours on the phone and I still have not been able to share all I’ve learned! For anyone who is interested, the symposium is held every year in early March – and I highly recommend a trip over as there’s no substitute for being here in person.

First, I spent two days with Turid watching her and Julia Robertson observe dogs (7 dogs, 1 hour each). They’re working on a book project which addresses the role of physical issues in behavior changes and problems. I enjoyed spending time with both of them – they have great senses of humor and have become good friends.

Needless to say, all of the dogs had physical issues which in some way contributed to the behavior issues – and the suggestions Turid and Julia gave to the owners often resembled each other too.

The symposium started the next day (Saturday) with speaker Amber Batson. She’s a veterinarian studying behavior and specifically asking why there’s such an increase in reactivity in dogs. She had some amazing concepts for us to grasp.

First, she drew our attention to a comprehensive study of street dogs in India. The study looked at dogs over a daily 18 hour period and concluded that these dogs had 0 instances of aggression towards each other or others, spent most of their time scavenging and resting in social groups with others, and out of 1800 + observations, only chased “prey” 2x (which was a calf and was unhurt…so they aren’t sure this was for fun or with intent to hurt).

The dogs’ total amount of time in excited states of play or running was around 10%/day — and they were spread throughout the day.

The amount of time they were in a more calm state was 90%, and this included eating, chewing, drinking, grooming, resting, sleeping, and puppy care. Scavenging was included in this as the dogs took their time and scavenged just walking and stopping, plus there weren’t any altercations.

Studies are showing quite a different scenario for the domestic dog — with 46% of their days being in a restful state (vs. 90% for the street dogs)….and 54% being in an aroused state (vs 10% for the street dogs).

Although some stress is good, the continual stress is bad. Scenarios which can keep stress levels high are:

1. intense play or exercise for longer than 10 minutes and especially without some calming opportunities afterwards such as slow walking and opportunities to sniff/explore.
2. being left alone so difficult to sleep in REM state
3. not having a comfortable, elevated, and warm bed to sleep on where dog can lay out flat (lying out flat is needed for REM sleep in dogs. .. can explain further if you’d like!)
4. And of course, poor food, pain (a recent study found pain in 80% of reactive dogs), negative relationships with humans (punishment, yelling, etc.), and stressful handling by humans all add up.

The 2.5 hour talk was packed full of much more interesting stuff, but the take away was provided in the rest of the symposium…how to slow down with our dogs and provide a life that is suited to who they are.

From Winkie Spears and Anne Lill Kvam:

One solution is to slow walks down and let the dog explore. Walk at around 1 step per second and stop when the dog stops. Use a long leash – at least 10 feet – with a harness that doesn’t go across the shoulders and restrict movement. If you can walk off leash, go slowly too and stop every time your dog stops. If your dog catches a scent and wants to double back, let her.

Find interesting things for your dog to explore. In urban areas, and suburban areas, people will hide pieces of chicken or hot dog in an old tree (sticking in the bark), or do treat searches where you sprinkle treats on the ground (when the snow has gone…or maybe even when there’s a smaller amount of snow). They find trash cans to smell, pieces of old newspaper,

In more wilderness areas, pack a lunch and compass and let your dog choose the route! (of course, these exercises are for dogs who are already comfortable walking on leash or off leash…but just walking slowly can really help build the confidence and interest of any dog!)

We also heard from a French couple (Aurelien and Cristina Budzinski) who decided to test a lot of these solutions by taking the pulse of dogs on a walk. They said they’ll get their data up on their website in around 3 months, but here are some interesting facts…

1. The dogs’ pulses increased the shorter the leash…in general.
2. Sniffing brought the pulse down
3. Dogs shaked after their pulse went up and the shaking brought the pulse down.
4. Dogs started chewing grass after their pulse went up (some event) and this brought their pulse back down.
5. In town, a person walking straight towards them brought the pulse up, but the second the person curved off to cross the street or avoid walking head on, the pulse
went down again.

The symposium ended with Julia Robertson’s (Galen Therapy Center in the UK) presentation about the anatomy of dogs and how muscle pain is often not diagnosed properly by some veterinarians…so under-diagnosed. Her specialty is understanding the origin of muscle pain…and how it’s often not where the pain is. For example, TMJ pain (in the jaw) can be from the hind end. Top of the hip pain can be from the knees. Dogs who are sensitive getting their nails clipped often are fine after her treatment programs. Whiplash is common – unfortunately – in dogs due to their anatomy and the fact they have less support around their neck so they can groom their hind end.

They have a great distance program that is quite reasonably priced. We’re going to enroll Laddie in it as I now understand he is experiencing pain…most likely originating in his hind end but I’ll let the therapists at Galen let me know. So, if you have any questions about this, please be in touch.

We’ll be putting up a report with photos on the website after I return home (I’ll be back Tuesday evening). And, we’ll certainly be incorporating our new knowledge into our training programs! There’s so much more as I had the opportunity to talk with some people who had presented in the past. Plus, I had one more chance for one on one time with Turid at breakfast this morning. I’m honored she took so much extra time to help me get to a deeper understanding of why she recommends what she does.

Best wishes and happy training/enjoying your animals!

Kinna Ohman-Leone from Norway