Friday, December 19, 2014

The Tajji Diaries: Rainy Day Dogs

First, a confession: the title is misleading. Every German Shepherd Dog we’ve owned has not cared at all about rain, even Oka, who thought water on the ground was poisonous. Puddles, lakes, the ocean – not going there. But water from the sky seemed to be unworthy of notice. It is, however, noticed by the resident monkeys, who have devised utterly senseless rules regarding what must be done before entering the house.

First, the rubdown. There is no need for this from the dog’s perspective. German Shepherd Dogs have double coats: an outer coat of long hairs that form a water-repellant layer, and an inner coat of soft, fluffy fur. (When bathing the dog, it takes forever to wet the inner coat and even longer to rinse it and even longer to dry it. Fortunately, GSDs “blow their coats” – explosively shed the under layer – twice a year, so there’s no need to bathe them often.) So the dog’s skin is dry and warm while the outer coat gets covered with drops of water. Tajji sees no reason why she must be massaged with a towel, but she enjoys it anyway. Then comes the belly and inner sides of her legs, also fine. Then lower legs and paws.

When we first got her, she was paw-shy. One of her dewclaws had split down to the quick and she very much did not want that paw handled. We worked with her to desensitize touching and then holding her paws, and this was well in place by the time the rains began. Instead of just picking up a paw, I’d say “paw” and wait a second, then gently lift it and gently run the towel over her pads. The operant word is gently. I’d rather have a bit of mud tracked in and the dog come to trust that she will not be hurt if I touch her paw. Now she lifts her front paws at the signal, although she, being a girl dog, hasn’t figured out how to balance as she does the same with her rear paws. With another dog, “Yes!’ and a treat might be necessary, but Tajji does just fine with praise and petting.

The second challenge of rainy days is having to stay indoors all day. Tajji is old enough (at 10 ½, definitely a geriatric dog) that she doesn’t require hours of vigorous exercise every day, the way a young German Shepherd Dog does. She’s happy to hang out with her people and drowse. When rain goes on for days at a time, however, we all need something a bit livelier: hence, indoor dog games.

  • Fetch with soft toys. Tajji will mouth her stuffed toys but not chew on them, except for the labels, which she understands must be removed. Soft toys don’t roll under furniture or put dents into things.
  • Chew toys and non-messy treats like rawhide chews. These require monkey supervision.
  • “Where is it?” – I put Tajji in a down/stay where she can’t see the living room, walk around to leave a scent trail, and hide a treat. I come back, release her, and she gets to follow where I’ve been. Sometimes she’ll air-scent the treat. Besides being fun and good exercise for her brain, the game reinforces looking to me for signals and her self control when she’s in the down.
  • “Romp” – we began this as a way to discharge anxiety before donning her harness, but it can be a game in itself. It doesn’t last long, which is good because there’s a definite risk of collision with the furniture.
  • Obedience work. Practicing relaxation protocols like eye contact.
  • The Crate Game. We’re just learning this one. From across the room, on command, the dog races to the crate, spins around, drops into a down, and waits happily for a treat. Obviously, this requires learning and drilling very small steps (or the dog would just look at you, You want me to do what? Foundational steps include being happy in the crate, and having a solid down and stay. She goes happily into her crate, although not at a dead run, turns, and settles into a down. This is particularly useful if someone she doesn’t know comes to the door. Her crate is a safe, happy place, just like a den. Even if she’s barking at first, she’ll go into the crate and then settle. This is not only easier on the monkeys, but healthier and less stressful for her.

What are your favorite rainy day strategies for your dog?

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