Is It All In How You Raise Them?

How your raise your dog is important, but it is only one piece of the puzzle.  Dogs come with a set of built in characteristics based on their genetic history. Breed or type tendencies will of course vary from dog to dog, but due to the long history of breeding specifically for behaviour traits, there are behaviours that we are likely to see in each breed or type. No one is surprised to see a Golden Retriever who loves puddles and fetching tennis balls!

Check out Kim Brophey’s Book “Meet Your Dog” 

Multi-Dog Home

When we live with a number of dogs, having dogs that ‘speak the same language’ can help them get along. Dogs with very different natural inclinations and play styles may struggle to understand each other, mistaking play for aggression, or vice versa. Listen to our podcast episode that discusses this concept.

L.E.G.S model

Brophey’s L.E.G.S model explains that there are four components, or legs, to each dog, each just as important as the others.

‘L’earning – What is our dog’s learning history?

‘E’nvironment – What environment is our dog living in now?

‘G’enetics – What has our dog been bred to do? What feels intrinsically good to them?

‘S’elf – Who is this dog? What makes them unique?

Common characteristics in each of the 10 categories of dogs:

Food Toys and Puzzles

Food toys and puzzles come in many varieties and have different purposes. There are:

  • Snufflers
  • Bat ‘Em Arounders
  • Puzzlers
  • Chewers and Lickers

Snufflers

Snufflers are food toys such as snuffle mats/balls and are typically used with kibble or small dried treats. You can also use the grass in your yard as a natural snuffle mat. Food is accessed not by chewing or by hitting the toy around, but simply by sniffing it out. These options are excellent (perhaps the best?) choices for stressed or reactive dogs as well as for senior dogs.  You can buy snuffle mats on Amazon and at many pet supply stores. You can also make one yourself! I cut up an old fleece blanket to make one. It is a lot more work than you think to add enough fleece to achieve a dense mat.  They are generally machine washable which is a huge plus in my household.

Another great way to achieve a similar effect is to make a bug pile of cardboard and sprinkle the treats around in it.

Here’s a link on how to make one. I bought a cheaper kitchen sink liner for the base of mine.

Fill them with:

  • Kibble
  • Dried Berries/Fruits/Veggies
  • Dried Liver Bits
  • Sardine or Anchovy Bits
  • Any small dry treats

Bat ‘Em Arounders

These are toys that don’t require a lot of skill, just perseverance and enough confidence to hit a thing around making a lot of noise. You add treats or kibble, hand them to your dog, and listen as they smash them around hoping for food to fall out.

Great for:

  • Shy dogs – to build confidence providing the level of difficulty isn’t too high
  • Old or disabled dogs who cannot get out as much as we would like
  • Recovering dogs who need to expend energy

Too Difficult? Use smaller treats

Too Easy? Use larger treats

Dog Not That Interested? Add a big piece of chicken or steak

Be very cautious when these toys for dogs who are easily over stimulated. They encourage wildly hitting a thing without thinking, providing a very reinforcing intermittent rate of reinforcement. If you have a dog who is already prone to being crazy and not thoughtful, these might not be the best toys for you!   If you have a normally very active dog who isn’t able to get out, this can provide a bit of stress relief.. just be careful with how much you use them.

Puzzlers

Food puzzles come in many varieties and difficulty levels. I have 8 or 10 that I rotate in and out of my feeding routine.  The goal of a food puzzle is to teach your dog to THINK and to thoughtfully figure out how to access the food. IMO, many people use food puzzles incorrectly, treating them like Bat ‘Em Arounders. Puzzle toys will not stand up to being tossed around and pounced on and are not designed to be used this way.

Only give your dog a puzzle that they will likely to succeed at in 15 seconds or less. If you have a puppy or insecure dog, this should be 5 seconds or less.  If your dogs becomes frustrated or resorts to brute force, the puzzle you presented is too difficult.  Simplify it! Help your dog be successful and build on that.

Chewers and Lickers

These are great for many dogs in just about any circumstance. When I need a quiet morning to catch up on emails, I feed my dogs their breakfast in these. I always recommend people bring a couple of these to puppy class, or other classes if their dog will have trouble settling, and I bring a bunch of them for my dogs when I’m competing and they will spend much of the day in a crate or in the car.

Fill them with food and healthy snacks, pop them in the freezer and pop them out when you want to help your dog be calm.

Use them for:

Filled with Dog Food and Topped with Yogurt

  • Puppy Class
  • Road Trips
  • Quiet Time
  • Visitors in the Home

Stress Bucket Analogy

How Full Is Your Dog’s Bucket?

When a dog’s Stress Bucket overflows, they can have big reactions to seemingly little things.

As the saying goes, this is a case of ‘the straw that broke the camels back’. If the bucket is full, even a drop can cause it to spill. When their Stress Bucket spills, many dogs act out in loud or aggressive displays, but other dogs will shut down, go still, or hide. Dogs display stress in many different ways; if you are unsure, consult a professional trainer with credentials and education in the field.

If water keeps being added and no water is removed, eventually the bucket will overflow. This is when we see big reactions. If the water level is kept high, we see many reactions, seemingly to small triggers. Some dogs live with their Stress Bucket near full, other dogs have very small buckets. Some dogs have Stress Buckets that drain quickly, and others drain very slowly.

Filling The Bucket

Intuitively, we understand that stressful events add water to the bucket.  Examples:

  • Vet visits,
  • Scary visitors if your dog is afraid of people,
  • Seeing other dogs if your dog is afraid of dogs
  • Chronic health issues

There is good stress and bad stress. Sometimes we unintentionally add water to the bucket, thinking we are emptying it. Examples include activities that keep your dog in a highly aroused or adrenalized state.    Common activities that add water to the Stress bucket:

  • Doggy Day Care or play dates
  • Chuck-It or other high intensity sports
  • Agility Lessons
  • Going for a run on a short leash

Dogs with small buckets or buckets that fill quickly and drain slowly often can’t handle much stress before reacting. They require a lot of decompression to stay in a good mental state. Other dogs have large buckets and seem to be able to go with the flow, no matter what is happening around them.

Draining The Bucket

Activities that promote natural movement, sniffing, and chewing can help empty the Stress Bucket.  Examples:

  • Long hikes off leash or on a long line where your dog can move naturally over longer periods of time
  • Sniffy walks
  • Eating meals from Snuffle Mats, Stuffed Kongs or Toppls
  • Scent games
  • Scatter feeding in grass or brush

Two Examples

Enzo is an 8 year old Border Collie with a large bucket that drains slowly.  He needs A LOT of free movement exercise to decompress. He can handle incredible stresses that many dogs couldn’t, but he really needs those long walks with freedom of movement to be mentally well. If he is racy on the walks, I use a long line to help him relax.  He requires a lot more of this than even my 3 year old Border Collie.

Riker is a 7 year old American Eskimo.  He has a small bucket that fills up quickly.  Riker needs a lot of quiet time resting and free movement in order to be well. I limit his trips into town for city walks or training classes to once, maybe twice a week. Any more activities, and he can’t decompress enough to empty his bucket.

How Much Is Needed?

Your dog decides what they need. We can make some guesses based on breed, age, and history, but the only way to know is to adjust the activities for a few weeks then evaluate how your dog is doing. If you are struggling with behaviour issues, I suggest you journal your dog’s activities, training sessions, how they eat their meals, etc. Watch to see if there is a change when you increase or decrease various activities over a 2 or 3 week period.

Multi-Dog Home?

What extra considerations do we have in a multi-dog home? Some dogs can spend 24×7 together and all is well. Others need breaks from their furry siblings. Watch for signs of stress such as one dog hiding under furniture or not wanting to play. Other more overt signs of stress can include resource guarding or actual fighting between dogs. Be sure that older or less confident dogs have safe spaces and breaks from more exuberant house mates, and reach out for help if you feel some of your dogs need help learning how to get along.

Welcome to Legion of Dogs

I thought I’d start off by introducing us!

Legion of Dogs is run by Christina Young (Positive Dog) and Jade Zwingli (Where’s Your Sit). We are both professional dog trainers and avid dog sport competitors. We both share our homes with a variety of dogs. Christina and Jade currently share their homes with purebred dogs from breeders and dogs adopted through rescue organizations. In addition, Jade also breeds Australian Shepherds. We aim to support both the breeder and rescue dog communities.

Living a multi-dog lifestyle – whether it be keeping pet dogs, sport dogs, working dogs, breeding dogs or having a foster or rescue dog(s) in your home can have unique challenges. We created Legion of Dogs as a resource to the dog loving community on how to navigate some of these challenges.

You’ll find most of our activity on our Facebook Page and Group as well as our YouTube channel. Make sure to join us on those forums. We will eventually have a Podcast available as well.