Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Dog body language - Predicting a bite

Dog's can bite for different reasons. I'd say, the most common being fear. If a frightened dog feels that they have no means of escape, then they will defend themselves with a bite. Of course, dogs may bite because of aggression, possessiveness over a toy or food item, or perhaps by accident during rough and tumble play.

Knowing the signals and signs that a bite might be about to happen is incredibly important for what we do here at the Kennels. Often we find dogs can become nervous and unsure whilst settling in to their new environment, and this can lead them to snap at us when we try to handle them (even though it would be completely out of character at home).

We also like to exercise the dogs together. This involves an assessment of their character. During which we watch how they behave around our own dog, in order to see whether they show any signs of aggression or fear that may render them unsuitable for group play. After this assessment is passed however, we must still watch the dogs closely as they play. Even dogs that pass the assessment may decide they don't like a certain dog, or become possessive over a toy, and so we must constantly be watching them for signs that they are not happy, in order to put a stop to a potential incident before it even happens.

Signs that a bite may happen are:

1.) Stiff body and/or movements
2.) Wide eyes
3.) Sideways glances - whites of eyes showing
4.) Tail up (dominance) or tail tucked (fear)
5.) Growling or snarling, showing teeth
6.) Hackles raised
7.) Trying to get away (fear)

To be honest, making a list is not a sufficient explanation. These signs may only happen for a split second, or be very subtle, and of course in each instance of a fight or bite the context in which it occurs will be different.

I order to better explain what I mean, I have searched for videos that demonstrate how quickly a situation can change from play to aggression. These videos are what I have asked potential employees to watch, and asked them ''Would you stop the dogs playing? and at what point would you stop these dogs playing?'', to see if our answers match, and to reassure myself that they can read dog body language to a sufficient level in order to be in control of the daycare.

There isn't anything traumatic in the videos by the way! Just little flurries and spats.

1.) Ganging up

In this first video, there are three dogs involved. At first, the play is mutual. Two dogs play together nicely. When the third dog becomes involved, the tone of the play changes. It starts to become bullying, and as a result the dog who is being ganged up on starts to become defensive. Had this happened in our daycare, the play would have been halted at around the 21 second mark (and so the fight would not have happened).

After the spat between the dogs, two of them 'square up' to each other. Although in this instance a fight doesn't occur, this sort of body language can rapidly descend into a fight. Note the stiff posture, high tails, hackles raised, and sideways glances.

2.) Over boisterous/dominant play behaviour

This second video, I don't need to explain as it is well annotated and explained throughout (ignore the mention of 'pack theory' at the end). It shows a dog which is not particularly aggressive, simply under socialized and very boisterous.

I WILL say however, that the Rottweiler in the video WOULD NOT pass our assessment and be allowed into the daycare with the other dogs, even on a long line. We would never use our other day care dogs as 'training aids' in order to train or socialize another dog that could potentially hurt them. Even the slightest sign that a dog might bite, is a failure of the daycare assessment.

However, if you feel you have a dog like this, it is essential for them to be socialized and learn their 'doggie manners', and using a long line as explained is a good way to do this. Failure to address the behaviour is eventually going to lead to the dog getting bitten by a frightened playmate. If this happens more than once, your dog may make a transition from being simply boisterous, to actually becoming aggressive.

3.) High level of excitement in a group of dogs

This next video, shows a group of dogs at a 'dog park'. They are excited because a ride on lawnmower is moving next to the fence. There is a German Shepard type dog, that you can see, diving in and nipping at the other dogs. This is common behaviour (particuarly for collies) and we call it 'The Fun Police', because they are trying to control the other dog's behaviour.

In this instance, we would have put a stop to it straight away. That level of high excitement with such a big group of dogs is always going to be dangerous.

If you watch the video further, it descends into chaos. With dogs fighting and others joining in for a sneaky nip. The owners shouting and sticking their arms and hands into the midst of it (we were shaking our heads and tutting loudly at this point). This only demonstrates the owner's lack of control over the dogs, and lack of common sense!

4.) Nice play behaviour interrupted by 'The Fun Police'

This next video shows some nice play behaviour. Yes they are using teeth and wrestling, but they are soft and supple in their bodies and the play is reciprocated on both sides. Then comes the fun police! A third dog runs across and barks at them. Although nothing comes of it, we would have told the 'fun police' to leave them alone to play.

5.) Boisterous play reciprocated

In this next video, the little white fluffy dog starts playing a little over boisterously, but after a short while, despite looking a bit fed up with him at first, the Yorkie decides to give it back and they have some fun together. The Yorkie is a nice little dog and I imagine will gently teach his new playmate some manners if they play together more often.

As you can see, it may not always be obvious when a bite is about to occur. So although working in our Doggie Daycare is a wonderful job, it is not something that anyone could do. It does take a special sort of skill. The ability to read the subtleties of dog body language, assess a situation rapidly, and have full control over fifteen dogs at a time is something quite rare. We also pride ourselves on the strictness of our temperament assessments. Not to mention, that it's important to allow the dogs to play - there is no point of a daycare where the dogs aren't allowed to wrestle and play with each other. So knowing when to stop play, and when NOT to stop play, is very important.

Having skilled staff and a strict policy on temperament in order to take part, means that our daycare is as safe as it can be, whilst also being a fun environment.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Important Information about Vaccinations

Now, this may seem rather a boring topic, but if you are at all unclear about vaccinations and wish to kennel your dog any time soon then I'd urge you to read on.

It doesn't happen often but there has been times where we have to turn dogs away because their vaccinations are not up to date. We're not being awkward we promise - but it's a legal requirement and the most important part of our licence conditions, not to mention a requirement of our insurance. We simply cannot take un-vaccinated dogs.

The poor owner will have their holiday all planned and arranged, and all of a sudden they will have to beg a friend or relative to take care of the dog, and they can't just go to another kennels either. In the UK all boarding kennels can only board vaccinated dogs - any kennels who takes in an unvaccinated dog is breaking their Kennel Licence conditions, not to mention putting the health of the dog and their other boarders at risk.

As part of our Boarding Kennel Licence conditions it is a requirement that all dogs staying here are vaccinated against Canine Distemper, Infectious Canine Hepatitis, Leptospirosis and Canine Parvovirus and other relevant diseases. These are covered by the normal vaccination injections your vet usually recommends.

Most dogs are vaccinated as puppies. The primary vaccination consists of 2 injections given 2 weeks apart. The dog is then covered for a year (starting from the 2nd vaccination) and will simply need a booster injection once a year to keep up the protection.

It is important that, when kenneling your dog, these vaccinations do not overrun whilst the dog is in kennels. For example, if your dog was last vaccinated on the 1st May 2014, and you have a stay booked from 30th April to 2nd May 2015, this means the dog must be taken for the booster vaccinations before they come in for boarding. In reality, your vet would not consider the dog to have truly 'missed' their vaccinations for up to a couple of weeks after the date, but with regards to boarding kennels, our records must show all dogs to be vaccinated, so even a day overrun is not acceptable.

If your dog has missed a booster vaccination (ie they were due in May and you didn't remember until July) they will need to start from the beginning again with the primary vaccination and they won't be able to stay in kennels until they have had the 2nd vaccination of the set. This means it will be a couple of weeks before they can board, so don't leave it until last minute before checking!

At Woodland View Kennels we also require all dogs to be vaccinated for Kennel Cough (I personally dislike the name 'kennel cough'. The truth is, your dog can catch kennel cough from anywhere, training classes, doggie daycare, or the local park). Now, be careful, because some owners presume kennel cough is covered in the normal vaccines mentioned above - it isn't! It is something you have to ask your vet to do in addition to their yearly booster vaccines.

The kennel cough vaccine is given via a little squirt up the nostril. It covers them for a year and so we always recommend doing both the normal vaccines and the kennel cough together at the same time. Not only do you only have to remember one date when you do this, but often vets give a discount for both done together.

When your dog has been vaccinated, your vet should give you a small record booklet. In which he/she will record the type of vaccine given, and the date it was given. When your dog comes to kennels we will ask to see this card as proof that your dog is up to date with their vaccines, and we will photocopy it for our records. Make sure your vet remembers to update the card with every vaccination given.

If you ever lose your vaccine card, don't panic! Your vet will have all your dog's medical history saved on their computer system and will be able to check on there that they are up to date, and can give you a new card and sign it confirming the date they were vaccinated last.

I hope that this has covered the basics of what can be a confusing subject. Please ring us or your own vet if you have any other questions about vaccinations.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Exercise in kennels

It's one of the first questions any potential customer asks us, and in my opinion, the most important thing we can do to ensure that stress levels are kept to a minimum. Exercise.

But I often wonder whether customers really think about the logistics of exercising 20 dogs every day. It's quite a challenge.

Dogs are born with a need to work. Most breeds came about with a particular use in mind, be it herding, hunting, or protection. This drive is always present, and it's strong. So this is why exercise and mental stimulation is important. A sedentary lifestyle is not good for their health or their mental state. Often, devoid of exercise, a dog will turn to destructive or 'naughty' behaviours, in order to satisfy their needs. 

Mila showing off her natural herding instincts 

Where the kennels are concerned, this need for exercise and stimulation becomes even more important. Each dog is away from their families, perhaps feeling a little worried, and although here each kennel is above the standard size and has it's own outside run, it is still a comparatively small space when they usually have a whole house to roam in. This is why, in many kennels, you are greeted by a barrage of manic barking and dogs pacing the floors. They're full of stress and pent up energy and it has to come out somehow. Of course, a kennels full of stressed out dogs is the last thing we want. Therefore we really need do to make their playtime count. 

However, running a kennels and caring for so many dogs places some big constraints on us. In an ideal world we would have twice as many staff and a few acres of secure land, as well as a couple of extra hours in the day! But alas, we have to run a business and work with what we have - which at the moment is a kennels that is only half built. In the (hopefully near) future, there are plans for a secure outside play area and to fence and drain the woodlands so it can be walked through with the dogs, but at the present, we only have the daycare building and a small outside paddock to work with, and for insurance purposes, we can't exercise the dogs off the premises. So, faced with very limited exercise facilities, how do we do it? 

Well, our big secret is... socialisation. We let the dogs exercise each other! This came about by necessity at first. Think about it - twenty dogs in fourteen kennels. If each kennel was exercised separately for one hour per day, that equals fourteen hours of work! and don't forget we also have to clean the kennels two or three times each day, feed the dogs twice, answer the phone and e-mails, and speak to our customers. It just wasn't possible. 

Socialisation is an excellent way to exercise the dogs

So, we began to exercise some of the dogs together in groups, assessing their temperaments first using our own dogs to make sure that they were friendly. The dogs loved it. Meeting and greeting new friends is excellent mental stimulation, and once they are confident with each other, playing, chasing and wrestling is excellent exercise. This is an efficient use of our time, and means that the dogs get sufficient and stimulating exercise and go back to their kennels after a couple of hours, tired and satisfied. 

Exercising most of the dogs together also means that any dogs who are not friendly with others, get more individual playtime, as we have more time spare to give them. These dogs are usually exercised on a different routine, or in the paddock, away from the other dogs. We make sure they get plenty of human company, we let them play with toys, play fetch, and wear them out that way.

Some dogs prefer to sit on the sofa rather than run around or wrestle!

Each dog's exercise needs are different. Some are highly strung and energetic, and these types perhaps stay out longer or get brought out to exercise a few times a day. Others, especially old dogs, may not want to run around and burn off energy, but prefer to pootle round and have a sniff, and then sit on someone's knee having their ears scratched. We have to be sensitive to each dog's needs to ensure that their exercise time is pleasurable. 

Another added benefit to exercising the dogs sufficiently, is that they all toilet whilst they are out. Actually, the first hour of playtime is often spent cleaning up everyone's poo! But as long as they're doing it whilst they're out, it means they're not doing it in the kennels and messing up their sleeping environment. 

As a result of placing such importance on the issue of exercise, the kennels environment here at Woodland View is a pleasant one. Minimal barking, cleaner, more relaxed. The dog's stress is reduced, they eat better, they sleep better, they are happier - and happy dogs are the secret to a successful kennels! 

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Important - Price changes starting July 2015

Starting from 1st July 2015, our prices will be as follows.

Boarding Kennels

£16.50 per day for a single dog

£8.50 for a second dog sharing the same kennel

Doggie Daycare

£15 for a single dog

£10 for a second dog from the same household