#74: Q&A: Why Does My Dog Only Care Sometimes?

[00:00:00] Emily: If you’ve heard any of our content in the past, you will have heard us talking a lot about how behavior is not a moral enterprise. So, behaviors aren’t good or bad. It’s whether they are healthy or unhealthy, safe or unsafe, desirable or undesirable. So, the question, can my dog sleep in my bed? Is a question that only you can answer. Because the answer to that question is another question. Do you want them to? What, how does that affect your sleep? Do you sleep better or worse with your dog in your bed? How does it affect your allergies? Do your allergies get better or worse? Those are the things that you need to think about to answer your own question. 

[00:00:43] Allie: Welcome to Enrichment for the Real World, the podcast devoted to improving the quality of life of pets and their people through enrichment. We are your hosts, Allie Bender…

[00:01:00] Emily: …and I’m Emily Strong…

[00:01:02] Allie: …and we are here to challenge and expand your view of what enrichment is, what enrichment can be and what enrichment can do for you and the animals in your lives. Let’s get started.

Thank you for joining us for today’s episode of Enrichment for the Real World, and I want to thank you for rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you listen to podcasts.

In this Q& A episode, you’re going to hear Emily, Ellen, and I, answer your questions, including why does my dog react at some dogs and not others, how can I get my dog who doesn’t like his feet wiped to not leave muddy footprints in my house, and can my dog sleep in my bed?

Alright, here it is. Today’s episode, Q& A: Why Does My Dog Only Care Sometimes?

[00:01:46] Ellen: Alright, let’s kick it off with question one. Why does my dog sometimes do the lungey, barky thing at some dogs but not others?

[00:01:53] Allie: I love this question. I feel like I answered this question to pretty much every one of my clients who has a reactive dog. One of the things that’s really important to understand about triggers is that there are a lot of different facets that are involved in a particular trigger. So, it’s not that it’s ” dog” is the only part of this trigger. Its size of dog, I’ve met some dogs who care about the color, or fluffiness, or ear shape of other dogs. It’s also the body language, energy level, what the other dog is doing, the distance. There are so many different facets that go into one particular trigger. And so, when we’re looking at kind of just like the big picture, we see, “Oh, my dog yells at dogs.” But really, it’s my dog yells at this particular type of dog doing this particular type of thing from this far away.

[00:02:48] Emily: I think to add more layers to the layers that you already discussed, we have to consider what’s happening with our dog in their body internally, because we a lot of times can’t see when stress is stacking on itself because most individuals do a lot of internal coping as they get more stressed, until they reach a point that they can’t internally cope anymore, and it becomes more visible. 

And so, it’s possible that for many dogs, dogs are always a stressor for them, or whatever it is that stressful people, bikes, whatever, but sometimes they can cope with that. And other times they’ve had other stressors happen to them earlier in the day. And this is kind of the last straw, and they’re like, “You know what? I need all the dogs in the city to just leave the entire city, just go away.” Right? So, that’s one facet to consider. Another one to consider is if your dog experiences any kind of health issue or pain, and so on a day when they are not painful, they’re like, “Dogs are great.” And then on a day when they’re painful, they’re like, “Get away from me, dog. I can’t deal with you today.”

Another facet to consider is that we don’t actually know what dogs are saying to each other. Humans can get pretty good at reading the body language of other species, but I’m sure anybody who’s spent any amount of time with any species of non-human has experienced moments where you’re like, “Whoa, some really complex conversation just happened between these two animals that I do not understand. I don’t know what just happened there, but something clearly happened.”

And so, we have to take into consideration that we don’t always see the conversations that these animals are having with each other. So, there may be something about that dog in particular, who is like throwin’ shade at your dog in a way that you can’t see it or detect it. So, there’s just a lot of factors that we need to consider when we’re looking at an animal’s behavior that said, hey, Ellen. Are people just out of luck if they have a dog like that? Is it like, “Oh, well, if we can’t understand why it’s happening, we just have to live with it.” Is that, is that how that plays out. 

[00:04:58] Ellen: No. And I have one of those dogs. Griffey is wholeheartedly one of those dogs. And I think the hardest part I mean, there are a lot of hard parts about that, but some of the hard parts are going to be, you may not have exposure to the breadth of dogs that will let you see the different patterns that are happening.

So, when I take out, or when I used to be able to take out for walks, it was exceedingly rare that we would come across a dog that was smaller than him. There have been multiple times on walks where he will see a little dog. I’m paying attention to him. He sees a little dog. And all of a sudden, I see all of this affiliative body language.

He gets wiggly. And I would suspect that Laika was around, or my partner had suddenly showed up at the park, because of how friendly his body language shifted into the wiggles and the play bows and all of those things. And when I look up, it’s almost always a little teeny tiny dog. One time it was this little cute little dachshund in a jacket because it was snowing, and I just melted. So, for him, I know that those little dogs, we can close the distance because he’s shown me that he shows affiliation in those situations. 

That being said, when we have encountered a smaller dog who, as Emily just mentioned, is talking trash, and that can either be verbally talking trash, or it can be in their body language giving a lot of signals that say, “Hey! You are a threat to me. I am going to do this bluster and bluff to keep you at a distance from me.” Griffey does not get that affiliation because it is that conversation where suddenly both of us think that both of us are a threat and neither of us are a threat if both of us would just chill. But unfortunately, that’s not how threat assessment works, and so we have to take all of those things into account. 

And I also know that Griffey’s reactivity to things ebbs and flows with how he is feeling, and some of that it’s just keeping track of when things are going south. When you see that there’s more reactivity, or bigger explosions of reactivity, or the distance at which you see that reactivity is greater than before. If you go from, “I can easily cross the street” to “I can’t see a dog a block away.” Then that might indicate that there’s one of those internal processes at play. Either we’re trigger stacking and suddenly that dog that normally can pass a block away is not okay for, whatever reason that we may not get to know.

Or maybe I’m particularly ouchie today, and the idea of a dog that could possibly run up to me and hit me makes, makes it feel like a threat. So, we take into account the patterns that we see, log a little bit of information, and this can be either anecdotal, which memories are faulty, but it can be anecdotal.

“Hmm, you didn’t lose all of your marbles when you saw that dog over there. Why didn’t you have that same response to that dog over there that you have too, what I assumed was all dogs in the past?” 

[00:07:54] Emily: Yeah. And what I love about that approach is that it, it takes the pressure off of you, to, to make sure that your dog is always perfect because instead of thinking of it as behavior being perfect or imperfect, you’re thinking of it in terms of your animal’s wellbeing and you’re like, “Oh, I’m assessing that you aren’t feeling well right now, so I’m not going to put you in this situation when you’re not feeling well.” 

So, what a thing that I tell clients all the time is, it, we need to teach the skills. We know that your dog needs to learn these skills. They need to learn how to move away from stressors when they can’t handle them. They need to be able to just observe the stressors and check in with you. And then when it’s inappropriate, they need to know how to investigate those stressors. So, if we teach those skills and your dog becomes fluent at those skills, then the beauty of having those days when sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t is that we’ve got those skills in our back pocket for when we need them and on the days we don’t need them. Great. 

I call them Girl Scout rules. It’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. Can you tell I was a Girl Scout for a hot minute in elementary school? Yeah. Okay. So that’s, that’s how I talk about it with clients.

[00:09:01] Allie: And one last thing on that, I, I think to your point too, Emily, when we teach our dogs those skills, that takes some of the burden off of us and some of the onus off of us. Of if we have taught them that they’re allowed to move away from stressors. They can just do it. And we don’t have to be the ones that are constantly, hawk eyes, looking and scanning the environment to make sure that there’s no stressors. We have taught our dogs how to handle that situation. And that’s a lovely thing for a handler of a reactive dog. Yeah.

[00:09:37] Emily: Absolutely. I super appreciate it when Brie looks out the window and gets like curious face. I have so many videos of her staring at the window, like just super curious. And then she just turns and looks at me and looks back because it tells me that she’s handling something, right? And so, then we get to do that together and be like, “What is it? What’s our threat assessment?” And then she’ll be like, “It’s just a green. We’re fine.” Or she’ll be like, “I need help mom.” And she looks at me with this like furrowed brow concern on her face, like I need help, this is concerning to me. Like, “Oh, we’re at threat level yellow. Okay.” So, it is lovely having a dog who has those skills because she can tell me when she can or can’t handle a situation.

[00:10:15] Ellen: All right, so to sum it up, no, you’re not SOL. There’s a lot of things you can do to look for patterns and identify your dog’s behavior. We can teach skills to make that easier on both you and your dog. And you’re, you’re probably accurate in your observations that sometimes your dog has a really hard time and other times it’s very easy. 

So, our next question is, it’s perfect for, well, I’m in the Pacific Northwest, so it’s pretty good for about nine months out of the year, some of you may not be relevant quite as often, but my dog has a problem with me wiping and cleaning their feet, but I don’t want them leaving muddy footprints all over the house. What can I do?

[00:10:51] Allie: That’s a great question for this time of year. My answer is dependent on what having a problem with wiping their feet actually looks like. If it’s something like, I’ve had several clients whose dogs would actually bite them if they were trying to handle their feet, or if they were trying to wipe their feet, and if that’s the answer, or if that’s the level of the problem, then my answer is work with a behavior professional so that everybody stays safe, and all of that good sort of stuff.

So, we can have that extreme, and then we can also have the where Oso pretty much is of like, “eh, I don’t wanna.” And it’s a mild annoyance for him. And then everything in between. So, the answer to the question is truly dependent on what that actually looks like of like what the problem actually looks like and how distressing it is for the animal.

But in general, there are a few different options. And like I said, if your dog is biting you because you’re trying to touch their feet. Don’t do any of these things and work with a professional behavior consultant. That’s the end of that story. 

If it’s not a safety concern, then one of the things that I do for Oso is we built predictability into that behavior. And so, when I wipe his feet, I say one and I pick up one foot and I wipe it, I put it down. I say two, I pick up the second foot, so on and so forth for all four feet. And then after that, we give a big like towel rub down over his whole body, which he loves. And so, he’s like, “Alright, you’re telling me when you’re going to pick up my foot. I know which foot you’re going to ask me to pick up. And afterwards, we get a towel rub down, which is awesome.”

So, for him, it’s one of those where like, no, it’s not his favorite things in the world. And he is okay with it. And that’s the level at which we really are fine with. 

[00:12:43] Emily: One thing that. Is worthy of consideration is that you and your environment, your dog’s coat, the quality of mud that you have in your yard, all of those things can factor into how you go about solving this problem. So, I had a client in central Texas where I’m from, I’m from, Austin, it’s really popular to have great Pyrenees Anatolian mixes. And so, they have really big, thick, shaggy fur on their feet and legs. 

And so, getting the mud off is not just a matter of like wiping it down with a towel. And so, for them, they had a mud room and it was the easiest thing to do was to put, feet baths in their mud room, just basically get cat, like the cheap square cat litter boxes or rectangular cat litter boxes and put warm soapy water in them. And then we just trained the dogs. And by, by train, I mean, we literally just lured them with food, through the, the rows of boxes. And by the time they came out the other side, their feet were wet, but they weren’t muddy. And then we just had towels down. 

So, the dogs would walk on the towels and by the time they, they hit the end of the row of towels, their feet were reasonably dry and certainly not tracking mud, just like little damp. paw prints that would evaporate. so that was a perfect solution for them. That would be a terrible first solution for a lot of other people because they don’t have a mud room and they don’t have that’s like overkill for what they need, right? 

Or they have dogs who hate water. And so, walking through water would be the worst thing ever for their dog. But that’s one solution. I’ve mud’s not as thick, the hair, the fur’s not as thick, like, Oso and Brie, who have thin coats, short haired dogs. And so, for them, it just looks like super absorbent towels or blankets walking in, and then, so we’re getting most of it off of the bottom of the feet, so they’re not tracking the mud everywhere. And then when they’re more relaxed and chilled out and the mud’s dried a little bit. We can come in and, turn petting and massage into a “Oh, by the way, I’m just going to run down your legs and knock some of this dirt off and sweep it up.”

Take into consideration what you’re looking at. What is, what are your, what is your environment like? What is the mud like? What does your dog like versus hate? Like for Oso, that towel rub down was perfect. Some dogs would hate that towel rub down. So, it doesn’t have to be a big elaborate training session. It can just be leaning into the resources that you have available to you, and leaning into what your dog already likes, and finding a solution that is minimally annoying for your dog, and, and does the best job, does the trick for your home environment. 

[00:15:19] Ellen: Those various substrates really make a big difference. And like those I always called them snow burrs, but people look at me like I’m making things up. Those are ones that, can be challenging depending on where you are for a good portion of the year. The dogs really are not a fan. And those are the kinds of things that, it may not be a wiping thing. It might be, can I teach you to let me use a hairdryer? For Griffey, he aggressively, we’ve taught him to dig, so he will walk all four feet aggressively on mats, towels, his bed, anything really, which is delightful, both for nail care and for getting his tootsies clean. 

[00:15:59] Emily: Yeah. A common technique that I would use when I worked in Salt Lake and I was still seeing clients in Park City, which is about half an hour drive. I, I stopped doing that after a while, but a common technique was to get those really bristly mats. Because In Park City, what we would, we’d get those snow burs and the mud wouldn’t actually be really viscous because it would be so cold and frozen. And so, the mud would just hard clump with those snow burs. And so, those bristly mats were really good. And yeah, getting the dogs digging into those mats, we would just sprinkle some treats into the mats and put like a paper towel or something over the top. And that would get those dogs digging. 

So again, not a lot of training not too hard to get most dogs to start digging to get at food. And that was a really good solution for getting those. Like you call them snow burs and the frozen mud clumps out of their, their little toes. Yeah. 

[00:16:49] Ellen: The last thing that I usually coach pet parents to think about is, do they find the actual care of the foot aversive? Or is there something else about this that really stinks for them? So, if we think about, if we were to go to a place, to get, and like, we’re opting in to go get a pedicure, and we walked in the front door, and they came over, and grabbed our foot, and took our shoe off, and then tried to do the pedicure like that, all of us would be like, “What is happening?” 

I don’t know about you, but I would need something to brace myself. So for, if you have a dog that maybe has back issues, or has, I have a dog with back issues, they’re always in the forebrain for me, or I have a senior dog, I’m very cautious that if I’m picking up a foot, I’m asking them to compensate on those other three, so I may need to provide them a little bit of physical support.

Either by giving them something to lean on, or helping hold them up, or ask them to lay down instead. And for those of us with little dogs, we tend to loom. I’m a tall person and Laika is very small. And so, for her, her care does best when she is elevated on a surface, and it doesn’t have to be very tall. Our Klimb is what, like a foot- ish, maybe. And just having her hop up means that I don’t have to be so in her space if I’m on her level.

[00:18:04] Emily: I love that idea of thinking of it like a spa day and like, what behaviors do you do when you go to the spa to get comfortable, and ready for somebody to be all up in your grill? And how can we come up with similar arrangements for our dogs? That’s beautiful. I’m stealing that, Ellen. 

[00:18:20] Allie: And I think that’s a great point, too, of figuring out is it a problem specifically just with foot wiping or is it a problem with touching feet in general?

[00:18:29] Ellen: Because if you’ve been around Pet Harmony content for a while, you know the answer is always, “It depends.” So sorry for that. And also, can’t change it. 

[00:18:39] Emily: It’s one of the few times that I feel really comfortable using a superlative and saying, “Oh yeah, no, it is always, it’s always, we always, the answer is always, “It depends.”

[00:18:50] Ellen: All right, the last question we have for this season’s Q& A is, my partner and I can’t agree on our dog sleeping in the bed. We’re getting a lot of conflicting information, and opinions, and thoughts, and maybe unsolicited advice. Can my dog sleep in the bed? 

[00:19:05] Emily: We both, we both inhaled at the same time. 

[00:19:08] Allie: It depends. 

[00:19:10] Emily: Yep, exactly. It depends. So, again, like Ellen said, if you’ve heard any of our content in the past, you will have heard us talking a lot about how behavior is not a moral enterprise. So, behaviors aren’t good or bad. It’s whether they are healthy or unhealthy, safe or unsafe, desirable or undesirable. 

So, the question, can my dog sleep in my bed? Is a question that only you can answer. Because the answer to that question is another question. Do you want them to What, how does that affect your sleep? Do you sleep better or worse with your dog in your bed? How does it affect your allergies? Do your allergies get better or worse? Those are the things that you need to think about to answer your own question. And for me personally, I sleep better with my dogs in my bed. Brie is my little spoon. I mean, I’ve always had animals in my bed since I was a weebab. So, for me, like having an animal curled up next to me is a cue for my body to go to sleep. So, for me, the answer is an unqualified yes, but that’s not true for everybody. 

So, so those are some things you have to ask yourself. Do you sleep better? Does your animal sleep better? Do your allergies act up? Do you have space for everybody in your bed? So yeah, it’s up, it’s up to you.

[00:20:29] Allie: Oso sleeps in our bed, and as he’s gotten older, he has been coming up in bed progressively earlier. So, when we first got him, it was that he had to sleep on his own bed, or wherever, I don’t care where, just not our bed. Uh, For the majority of the night, and then in the morning, we would let him up onto our bed. He’s an 85-pound dog, we have a queen size bed. That’s a lot of, of individuals.

But as he’s gotten older, and we’ve gotten softer, then, he comes up in bed with me, usually, when I go to bed, and just stays there the whole night. And we deal because we only have, realistically, a few more years with him, and I’m gonna spend those years snuggling my dog. So, I’m just, I’ve become a softie in his old age.

He also has not completely, but for the most part, we’ve all figured out how to claim our parts of the bed and the blankets. So, we have also figured out how to all sleep in the bed together, that makes sense and gives us some modicum of sleep. 

Yeah, so same, Oso also sleeps in my bed, but I definitely have situations where I have clients who they don’t have that option, at least in the beginning. And I’m thinking about several kiddos where, I’ve had several clients where if the dog goes to bed when the first person goes to bed, then they will guard from whoever is the second person that goes to bed, so they’ll lunge, growl, air snap, sometimes bite, if the second person comes to bed and for those kiddos it’s like, okay, this is not an option. Or for them, it’s, they can come up into bed once all the humans are in there. Sometimes we have that option, sometimes we don’t, depending on what’s happening.

I’ve also had kiddos, and a lot of times, this has ended up being a pain thing, but not always, who if they were if somebody moved in their sleep, which we can’t control, then the dog would wake up and bite whoever it was that was closest, realistically. They don’t actually know who moved, usually. So, that’s a situation where unfortunately, we can’t have that kiddo sleep in the bed. So, there are also going to be situations like that where maybe you would like that, but it’s not realistic right now based off of your dog’s behavior.

[00:22:57] Ellen: Griffey is one of those kiddos. So, our dogs also have slept in the bed since we got them. And then one night I woke up standing on the other side of the room because Griffey was growling in his sleep. And I have a very well attuned body. My body, non-consciously can respond to that appropriately. And that was the point where we’re like, something’s wrong.

He was immediate vet visit because that was not something he had ever done before, and that’s how we found out he had back problems. And that was the exact same thing. I can’t control what I do in the nighttime. So, if I’m going to hurt you, and I’m not intending to, but if this is a possibility, you can’t sleep here anymore because I’m sorry, little man, you’re 24 pounds, I’m a grown adult, I have very limited sleeping options, we have a lot for you.

So, for him, because I don’t, I’m not a nice person if I’m sleep deprived, I’m just going to come out, say it, not pleasant, don’t want to do that to anybody in my life. It was a big goal for us to transition him in a way that didn’t interrupt our sleep, which is often a really big pain point when we have a dog that is accustomed to something, particularly a very comfortable, cozy, wonderful something.

And then we asked them to do something that is, not a fair trade in their opinion. And so, for him, we investigated giving him like a co sleeper. It is an elevated bed next to our bed where he can sleep in there. He’s on the same level as us. It’s as cushy as our bed and he has his own space. And that transition went really smoothly for us, especially when we made sure that it was nice and warm because he’s a kid that runs cold and all of those things. So, we were able to keep him in that middle ground and that was a safe middle ground for all of us and didn’t disrupt my sleep too much in the process of like, you can’t sleep in the bed anymore because I don’t want to roll over on you and hurt you when I don’t want to hurt you too. I don’t want you to hurt me, you know, two way. 

The other part of that is realizing that there’s not on the bed off the bed, like so many other things we’ve talked about. I’ve had people that use, myself included, Laika has a dog bed on the bed. She sleeps on the bed, but she sleeps in her dog bed so that she is contained because I got tired of getting pushed out of bed. It’s just honest. It’s all about me. And so, you might be able to say, you’re welcome to sleep on the bed with us, we have enough space, but I’d like you to contain into this area. And that way you have that, that break in a thing. And then also do you run hot? Do you run cold? I’ve had some dogs that get their own blankie because they run cold, and their people don’t.

[00:25:28] Emily: Yeah, and I think another thing too, about the guarding situations in the bed is that it sometimes is helpful to assess what they’re guarding or why they’re guarding. And sometimes it is possible to reintegrate dogs into your bed. When we first got Brie, she didn’t show any guarding behaviors towards us, but she was incredibly guardy towards Copper, which is very much in alignment with a lot of the desert dogs that I’ve worked with.

I think, if you grew up in a place where resources are in short supply, you may want to make sure that all the other dogs in the area stay away from your stash, right? So, for Brie, she was not letting Copper onto the bed, and we were like, “Well, this is a problem, my girl, because Copper’s been around since before you and we’re not gonna let you kick him off his own bed.” And what we learned is that she was guarding specifically, the, the space at my tummy where she wanted to sleep. So, if we let her get on the bed first, and I would get in bed, and lift the blanket, and she could curl up and be my little spoon, she was totally fine with Copper getting on the bed.

So, we just had to find a routine that worked so that the guarding went away. And what’s interesting is that now that we have had her for almost 10 years, no, in, we have had her for 10 years and now in that, in that decade that Copper and Brie have lived together, now she’ll totally tolerate him stealing her spot and she’ll just curl up somewhere else on the bed.

So, that’s something to keep in mind too, is that guarding doesn’t necessarily automatically mean getting kicked off the bed. It’s really like what Allie and Ellen were saying, if there’s a risk of harm happening, either to the dog because, like, Griffey with back issues, or to the person because the dog, the dog’s startle response coming out of a sleep is to bite, something like that. That’s where we make that assessment. But sometimes we can work through the guarding and, and have a shared bed still.

[00:27:23] Allie: This episode marks the end of Season 6! Oh, my goodness. Thank you as always for hanging out with us, and we’ll see you for Season 7 in a few months. And y’all, we are going to take a little shift in Season 7. Up until this point, we’ve been primarily talking about enrichment for non-human animals. Dogs, cats, birds, horses, reptiles, birds, etc.

In Season 7, we’re going to start incorporating the human animal as well because we are an important part of our enrichment strategies for our pets, and for those of you who are professionals, for the clients that you are working with as well. So, we will be also incorporating the human animal more starting Season 7. So, I hope you’re as excited about that as we are, and we will see you then.

Thank you for listening. You can find us at petharmonytraining.com and @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram, and also @petharmonypro on Instagram for those of you who are behavioral professionals. As always links to everything we discussed in this episode are in the show notes and a reminder to please rate, review and subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts a special thank you to Ellen Yoakum for editing this episode, our intro music is from Penguin Music on Pixabay.

Thank you for listening and happy training.

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