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171 Labs rehomed in 2010

52 Labs rehomed since 1 Jan 2011

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31 January 2010

Play Bows - The Punctuation in Play

I took a short video of our Brittany girl, Kaeli, playing with our new foster puppies

There was a lot of play bowing so I thought I'd also post an article on Play Bows :-)

This is one of many dog ownership tips I'd like to share with you under the name 'Paws for Thought' written by a friend at work who is passionate about dogs and is happy to share and discuss what she has learnt. Posted here with her permission. Please note: She is not a dog expert but a dog lover learning more each day.

The play bow and the wagging tail are probably the two most commonly recognised dog communication signals.  The wagging tail is often misread - so what do we know about the play bow?

The classic play bow position is recognised as:

* bum up.

* elbows touching or nearing the ground.

* ears up and alert (or sometimes back in what can be known as aeroplance ears).

* tail usually lowered or down but can sometimes be wagging.

* mouth partially open to fully open, lips relaxed.

* eyes focusing the same way as the nose is oriented.

They are usually seen as part of a series of bounds, chases and mock attacks.  For video clips showing the behaviour check out the listing at the end of this post.

It appears that plays bows are used:

* to intiate /invite play.

* to interrupt play when it comes too intense (Remember we are playing! This is not for real!) and to calm down.

* as part of possession games where the tail can tend to be up and the bow is down over the article. But this is not serious guarding which other dogs can obviously tell as they happily invade the space and continue the game.

* to signal the swapping of roles of chaser and chased during play.

* to show fiendly intentions, particularly as part of an introduction.

* to nullify what might be interpreted as an over-assertive approach (meant or not).

* as part of courtship behaviours.

Why is the play bow important? Because of its role as punctuation in making a dogs intentions clear during play. Play itself is a serious business for both puppies (who learn about themselves, others, prey, their environment, their strengths and weaknesses, dog communication and social rules through play) and adult dogs (who can use play to test themselves, try alternate behaviours that would otherwise be risky and practice communication and social rules while passing them onto the next generation/s and to get to know new dogs and their responses).

The play bow is not used randomly but with a purpose - as part of a set of social rules that must be followed. The play bow is a metasignal used to maintain social play when actions borrowed from other contexts (sex, aggression, prey killing etc) appear in play might be misinterpreted.

These other actions might include bites, particularly with rapid side to side movements and shaking of the head. Therefore the play bow often appears just before and again just after behaviour that could be misinterpreted - watch for them next time you see dogs playing together.

Puppies seem to learn the use of the play bow quickly as they grow and the response to it seems to be innate.

Dogs will offer these signals to humans in attempts to get them to play or sometimes when asking them to calm down or other interactions become too intense (such as trying to corner or chase down a dog with something in their mouth that you want or trying to grab them to get them back on lead when they don't want to come to your call).

People can also mimic the play bow to their dog. You can do this by:

* Getting down on all fours and sticking your bum up while lowering your shoulders and touching the ground with your elbows quickly and then leaping sideways in an invite to play.

* Bowing right down to your dog with your arms out in front, freezing their briefly and then dodging quickly left and right before moving on to play.

I hope you've learnt something more about this commonly recognised signal.

I certainly did in putting this post together. It also started me wondering about the comments of two particular dog owners (one of a Siberian Husky and the other of a German Shepherd Dog) who over the past year or so have talked to me about their concerns with their dogs and what people seem to take as play bows. Both dogs have a history of reactivity to other dogs, and in case aggression.

Both owners report that their dogs will focus intently on a particular breed or colour and size of dog and drop into a bow - but they both insisted that it was not a play bow.

People of course took it for one and thought their dogs were safe to interact and in fact then went on to force interaction which often ended with shock and horror. Both owners were beside themselves with frustration at other people not listening to them when they warned them off but insisting that they knew what a play bow was and what it meant.

Then lo and behold I got to see what they were talking about just last week at a park. The dog responsible certainly seemed to fall into a play bow position but there was an intensity to it that you do not see in a play bow - even from a distance it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I am now a believer - there is something else going on here.

So while putting this post together I checked my references and did a web search. The closest thing I found was a reference to something called a prey bow and that reference was about this particular bow's use in play - as a pre-cursor to a pounce. More research required here methinks but in the meantime if you have a funny feeling about your dog (or any dog's) bow in a given situation or if another owner warns you off despite their dog giving what looks to you like a play bow - please heed the warning and move on.


Barbara Handelman, Canine Behaviour. A Photo Illustrated Handbook.

Brenda Aloff, Canine Body Language. A Photographic Guide. Interpreting the Native Language of the Domestic Dog.

Susie Green. Talk to Your Dog. How To Communicate With Your Pet.

David Alderton. How to Talk With Your Dog.

Roger Abrantes. Dog Language. An Encyclopedia of Canine Behaviour.

Sophie Collins. Tail Talk. Understanding the Secret Language of Dogs.

Trevor Warner. Dog Body Language Phrasebook. 100 Ways to Read their Signals.

Marc Bekoff. The Emotional Lives of Animals.

Videos to check out from home:-

* The play bow in dog to dog play

* Puppy trying unsucecessfully to engage another (unhappy) dog to play -

* Putting play bow on cue -

* Teaching play bow from a down as a hindquarters strengthening exercise - note the bow itself can be used as a stretching exercise before sport or play -


The 5 F's

This is one of many dog ownership tips I'd like to share with you under the name 'Paws for Thought' written by a friend at work who is passionate about dogs and is happy to share and discuss what she has learnt. Posted here with her permission. Please note: She is not a dog expert but a dog lover learning more each day.

In later posts we’ll look at the subtle signs that a dog is not comfortable in a situation. But this post is about the five reactions that should shout to you that something is not right. These are commonly referred to as the five F’s. The first two being the commonly recognised ‘flight’ or ‘fight’ responses.

* Flight – To flee from a perceived threat (death, injury etc) is generally the first instinctive response.

* Fight – Fight usually kicks in when flight is prevented.

The other three less commonly known responses are:

* Freeze – The dog stands still. There is a fixed look to his eye and he is rigid throughout his body, even appearing to hold his breath. I’ve seen two types of freeze and they’ve both given me very different feelings.

The first is the freeze that happens for just a split second and makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Miss this warning or continue to push the situation and you are a likely candidate for dog bite. If you miss the subtle signals and you end up with a ‘freeze’ from an animal step back quickly and calmly and give them space and time and then change something about the situation (your approach or the environment) to lower their stress level. But beware if you’ve gotten to this level then the bite might occur before you can act. If this is the case then blame yourself for missing the signals, not the dog for a natural reaction to a stressful situation.  And no getting your dog to this point is not a game nor funny - despite a number of postings of videos on the web that claim this.

The second type of freeze you can often see labeled as stubborn or willful. In this case the dog can just plain refuse to move – to continue walking, to get into the car or to meet a particular person. If you push this then you can also end up with aggression because the dog has nowhere else to go (for instance if it is on lead) or us stupid humans keep chasing them down (in effect cornering them behind chairs or under beds) just asking for a bite.

You can also see this second type of freeze being mistaken for a dog that’s just relaxed and happy because it isn’t doing anything – wrong. Look closely the body language – tension, eyes, breathing etc will show you that the dog is pretty much overwhelmed and feeling threatened by the situation but just not sure how to respond (yet).

* Faint – This is a rare response but can happen. You see a real faint rarely (but sometimes associated with medical conditions) but you can see a more pronounced version of the second type of freeze described above where the dog drops belly down to the ground and refuses to move or interact. Again sometimes this seems to be mistaken for being stubborn or difficult instead of overwhelmed and extremely stressed - or even being good because it is doing nothing.

* Fool around (or fidget or fiddle) –Dogs that rush about, jump up and down, mouth, become rough or over the top, who can’t sit still, who lick you constantly or who drop into a roll to show their bellies everytime someone approaches or touches them can fall into this category. They use this behaviour as a coping strategy. This can even happen during training sessions with a dog or puppy, and definitely happened with my boy whenever we were in a competition situation – where he fed off my stress levels and couldn’t flee being on a leash so went for fool around instead. This is no more or less serious a warning though than any of the other five F’s. The dog is overloaded and stressed and we (the humans) need to let off the valve by changing the situation somehow.

Remember that the dog is not thinking 'oh wow, stressful situation, I'm in fool around, or freeze, or fight and need to do something about it'.  They are reacting naturally to a certain situation and the feelings/response it creates in them whether that be fear, confusion, anxiety etc etc.   We're the ones with the bigger more complex brain and the theories about behaviour.  We're the only ones who can change the situation (for the better or worse) many times.  However if you watch dogs with great dog communication and social skills you'll often see them making those changes (often really subtle) that relieve the pressure.  More on this in future postings.

The puppies reacted to the stress of being moved by shutting down (perhaps the Faint response) so were popped into a pool of water to both cool them down after a long trip on a hot day and to help stimulate them to respond to their new surroundings.

29 January 2010

Key Puppy Priorities

This is one of many dog ownership tips I'd like to share with you under the name 'Paws for Thought' written by a friend at work who is passionate about dogs and is happy to share and discuss what she has learnt. Posted here with her permission. Please note: She is not a dog expert but a dog lover learning more each day.

When you get a new puppy they are sooooo cute and adorable that it is easy to just spend your time cuddling, playing and watching them sleep.  However those first few months up to 12 to 18 weeks is critical to their development and the best opportunity you can get to solve potential issues (barking, chewing, house soiling, digging, separation issues etc) before they occur.  Most importantly it is really the only opportunity to ensure that your dog develops bite inhibition which is the thing that most drastically reduces the chances of them causing serious injury to others (dogs and people) throughout their life - so it's not an opportunity you want to miss. 

Thinking about this I checked out just a couple of my references for the top priorities for puppy development and this is what I came up with:

Dr Ian Dunbar who started off the world wide phenomenon of puppy classes identifies 6 priorities for those of you with new puppies to concentrate on.  They are:

1. Household etiquette including housetraining, chew toy training, teaching alternatives to barking and more as these problems are the #1 reason that dogs are put down or rehomed around the world.

2. Home Alone training so that your pet is comfortable if not happy to see you go is the aim. You want a dog that is comfortable being on his own and able to occupy himself appropriately (by your standards not his).   So many pups come home to lots of attention and time with the family and then the holidays end and the pup is deserted for 8 - 12 hours with no warning and no preparation. Hardly surprising they get into things we don't want them to or develop anxiety about being left alone.

3. Socialisation with people - particularly but not only before 12 weeks of age. You want a confident and friendly family pet don't you?

4. Dog to dog socialisation - between three months and eighteen weeks of age to establish reliable bite inhibition and forever after to maintain friendliness to other dogs.

5. Sit and settle down commands - these cues mean you can ask your pup to do something simple that stops them from getting up to all sorts of mischief instead of just yelling no after they've started.

6. Bite Inhibition - a priority.  This develops by about eighteen weeks of age. A soft mouth is the single most important quality for any dog. Hopefully, your dog will never bite or fight, but if he does, well-established bite inhibition ensures that your dog causes little if any damage. This is really the only chance in his life to establish this - so don't miss the opportunity.


Just to check out what others say I pulled Robyn Archer and Bill Gorton's book '1000 of the Best Dog Training Secrets' off my book shelf.  They identified their puppy developmental priorities as ensuring:

* Confidence in the environment.

* Confidence in themselves.

* Confidence in leadership (that's you).

* Acceptance of new objects.

* Accepting new challenges.

* Acceptance of crate and boundaries.

* Learning to fly solo (that's spending time comfortably alone)

* Learning to chew on the proper toys.

* Learning the concept of housebreaking.

Future posts will go into how to deal with a range of the issues identified in this post.  In meantime I highly recommend that new and prospective puppy owners check out DogStarDaily at and particularly the Training Textbook.  You can also download (for free) copies of Dr Ian Dunbar's two original books 'Before You GetYour Puppy' and 'After You Get Your Puppy' from the site - which if I can only get people to read two books are the two I would recommend without hesitation.

Whitley is a great young Lab cross looking for a new family to love.

Puppies Soon

The puppies arrived into Lab Rescue's care today, I get to pick them up tomorrow. They have been vet checked, microchipped, vaccinated and wormed this evening. They are only 6 weeks old so will have to stay with us for at least 2 weeks. There are two yellow girls with chocolate noses and one yellow boy with a black nose. The girls are difficult to tell apart so one has had her ear coloured in with pink fluoro pen :-). This time it's the boy who is skinnier than the two girls, with our last three pups the girl was skinnier than the two boys! We'll have to feed them separately to see if we can bring the boy up to a healthier weight. They are cowering from people standing over them but warm up to people who get down low and act playful, so will need some good socialisation with people over the coming weeks. They seem fine with other dogs so far. Photos to follow tomorrow.

This is gorgeous George another of our past fosters, the little girls will probably look a bit like him.

28 January 2010

Whoa - help!

Can you believe it, there are 9 Labs coming into Lab Rescue care this weekend, 6 to Canberra and 3 to Sydney! We have just enough room with foster carers for all of these Labs (including three seven week old puppies which are coming to me so you'll see some stories and photos soon!) but will be crossing fingers that no more need to come in before we re-home some of our presently fostered Labs. There's no more room at the inn!!

Please let us know if you can help with foster care :-).

Cuddly 9 month old Buddy is coming to visit me for the day on Saturday, he's looking for a lovely new home.

27 January 2010

Trampoline Sam

Trampoline Sam has been our only fostered Lab so far who has ventured onto the trampoline and he seemed to really enjoy it!!  I picked him up from the Canberra pound one lunch time at the same time as another volunteer picked up Roxxi the 'tank' (read her adoption story here). He seemed aggressive with Roxxi in the foyer of the pound and the ranger told me to watch out for him! I popped him in a crate at home with a note for the kids not to let him out when they got home from school.

I was very careful introducing him to my dogs at home, and was quite worried when they initially attacked each other through the screen door. This can be a bit of bravado when the dogs know they don't have access to each other so I spent time alternating them from the crate to having freedom and they calmed down to the point where I felt it was safe to have them out together. Well I was surprised at his friendliness and easy going nature. He and my dogs hit it off almost straightaway, phew!

Sam was amazingly athletic, he would jump up and down at hip level when excited, thankfully without throwing himself at anyone. I remember having grandparents and a toddler niece come to celebrate Melbourne Cup lunch with us, and warning them that we had a really bouncy Lab staying with us. Boy oh boy did Sam show us what he was made of, he was as gentle as a lamb around them. He sat down quietly next to my niece looking at me with the biggest grin on his face as if to say 'see I'm really a very good boy'.

While cleaning up after the lunch I turned around to find him standing on the table 'helping' clean up the left overs, he sure was an athletic boy, and a cheeky one!

We loved to give him a butt rub. It was hilarious to watch his eyes glaze over and his tongue hang out in ecstasy, LOL!

26 January 2010

Fear of Thunderstorms

This is one of many training tips I'd like to share with you under the name 'Paws for Thought' written by a friend at work who is passionate about dogs and is happy to share and discuss what she has learnt. Posted here with her permission. Please note: She is not a dog expert but a dog lover learning more each day.

I promised someone some info on dealing with fear of thunderstorms quite some time ago and so when I finally got my act together. I thought I'd make it a posting in Paws for Thought.  I hope some of you find it useful.

Why does it occur?

Dr Nancy Dreschel, a vet who conducted a study into storm anxiety in dogs identified that between 15% to 30% of dogs are affected by fear of thunderstorms.  Interestingly in the study Dr Dreschel tested phobic dogs with listening to just a CD of thunderstorms and measuring their cortisol levels.  With just the CDs phobic dog's cortisol levels increased by up to 200%.  To put this into perspective a 40% increase in children's cortisol levels is considering a big increase.  Cortisol is a hormone that is essential to proper body function. It is produced by the adrenal cortex in the adrenal gland and is one of the primary factors in the body’s stress response. So much so that it is often referred to as the stress hormone because it raises the blood pressure during times of stress - in other words not something you want a lot of, or high levels of for long period of times.

The obvious answer to why some dogs fear thunderstorms is the sound of the thunder however there are a lot of other events that happen before and during storms including lightning, dark skies, wind, rain, sudden atmospheric changes (for instance in barometric or air pressure and static electric fields) and even smells.  For some dogs it seems that the noise is the cause of the fear but for many others it appears to be combination of all these factors (and possibly more).  This might go at least some way to explaining why desensitising a dog to the sound of Thunder using CDs etc does not often appear to solve the issue - it is but one factor.

Why does a particular dog develop a fear (or in extreme cases a phobia) of thunderstorms?  Many factors come into play here.  Fear may well be learnt.  For instance a dog or puppy may have received a static electric shock to the nose or was frightened by an overhead clap of thunder during a storm.  From then on a coming storm may be associated with pain or shock.  The anticipation then can become worse than the actual event.

What are the signs?

* trembling
* panting
* whining
* drooling
* hiding
* pacing
* urinating
* defecating
* not eating
* dilated pupils
* vocalizing (barking or growling)
* not listening to commands
* not being able to settle - moving from place to place like trying to find a safe spot
* relentlessly seeking attention
* destruction, which migh include:
   * tearing up furniture
   * breaking windowns
   * clawing doors and fences
* escaping
* causing themselves harm (licking, chewing, biting at themselves)

Are some breeds more likely to have it than others?

A July/Aug 2001 article in the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association talks about an internet survey of owners of storm-phobic dogs.  Sporting and working dogs, including herding dogs and hounds, seemed to be more likely to develop a storm phobia than other dogs.  The study suggested that genetics may play a part in this, with for instance herding dogs being bred to react quickly to stimuli but repress (not respond to) their strong predatory drive - which in itself creates stress.  They also however identified that rescue dogs (dogs adopted from shelters or rescue organisations) also appeared more likely to develop storm phobias.  They suggested that this may be because they do not feel safe and secure, because of a lack of exposure to a wide variety of situations or negative early life experiences. 

Link between anxiety and dog bites - another reason to take this seriously

In 2007 researchers from the Behaviour Clinic of the Matthew J Ryan Vet Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania did some research into why the majority of dog bites are to children.  They studied dog bites covering a three year period and ended up with 103 dogs in the study.  The reason why this is mentioned under this topic is that a spin off of their research was the finding that an amazing 77% of the dogs that had bitten children had also displayed some form of anxiety, such as inappropriate attention seeking behvariuos, significant noise or thunderstorm anxiety, separation anxiety of generalised anxiety.  A compelling reason to take anxiety seriously and treat it.

Can it be treated?

There is no guarantee that fear of thunderstorms can be totally resolved (particularly if it has gotten to the point of a phobia - which only a vet can diagnose).  However in most cases the fear can be effectively managed.  How effectively depends on the severity of the fear, how long the dog has hadit, whether it is ongoing or unpredictable and the amount of time and effort that you as the owner are willing to commit to addressing the issue.

Approaches to dealing with the issue

Research came up with a range of options, some of which might be worth a try on their own or in combination.  But if your dog is showing more than just a little discomfort with storms please speak to your vet and/or a veterinary behaviourist.

* Wraps and shirts - I've heard great things about these - particulary about the new Thundershirt.

- TTouch wraps – part of the Tellington Touch (TTouch) toolbox this approach uses ACE or elastic bandages to provide light to moderate contact in a calming and centering way. Believe it – I’ve seen it in action and it works for dogs with different issues.
To find out how to use them check out:

- "Storm Defender" cape for storm phobic dogs.  This cape was designed with an anti-static lining to prevent dogs from acquiring a static charge during a storm.  It was reported to be getting up to 70% success and then someone decided to test whether the anti-static lining made the difference. Some dogs were duly provided a cape with the anti-static lining and others without.  They were suprised to find that they got the same 70% success rate reported regardless of which cape was worn ..... mmmm .... more research required here perhaps.  Check out the cape at

- Anxiety Wrap does much the same as the wraps and appears to have been one of the earlier options on the market for those who didn’t want their dogs to wear elastic bandages or tshirts (although you generally don’t have to use them in public. For more info check out

- Thundershirt.  A pressure wrap that applies gentle, constant pressure on a dog's torso.  It appears that this pressure has a calming effect on the nervous system.  Easy to fit and comes in multiple sizes.  An ideal addition to a behaviour modification program.  Check it out at – it’s the one I would recommend

Oh and a note – I’ve seen dogs totally unable to cope with wraps but settle immediately in stressful situations with a Thundershirt – and vice versa. It seems our dogs are individuals with individual needs and preferences too.

* Create a safe place (inside) or a safe house (outside).  When scared by sounds that they can't orient to, dogs often seem to prefer small enclosed areas (and many dogs have been known to choose the bathtub or the shower base for this purpose).  This might be a crate or somewhere else your dog can go and feel safe during a storm (remember though that it has to be somewhere they feel safe - not just where you know they are safe.  Sometimes making a real hidey hole with a cover and dark spot can make the difference to a spots attractiveness.  Sometimes having more than one safe spot on offer helps.

And in the vein of perhaps static being part of the issue I came across the following interesting suggestion.  Put a light spray conditioner (dog one of course) onto your dog, rub it in and then put your dog in a crate (to which they have been previously introduced and are happy to enter).  Put two layers of aluminium foil ove the crate and cover with towels or blankets so that the space looks like a cave.  Not something I'd probably try straight off - but if your dog suffers then you're probably going to be willing to try anything.  And if so - you don't need a crate to create a cave.

* Crate training - Covered crates seem to work best.  If you have an open wire crate drape a blanket or sheet over it.  However during storms do not close the crate door - as losing the ability to escape can make the fear worse

* If possible keep the windows and curtains closed.

* Consider providing escape routes - a doggy door to get into a house or garage/shed. 

* Distraction.  This method works best if your dog is just starting to show any reaction to a storm.  Engage them in a game or some other activity that is fun and rewarding.  Lots of rewards and attention while playing should help distract him from the storm that had piqued his interest.  Some people though have tried making the approach of a storm into a super special play time with their dogs - and while at first got very little reaction from their dog, found that the fear lessened over time and even that the dog would come looking for the special time at the first signs (or before the humans got any signs) of a storm.  I'd suggest that these were dogs with fear of storms though rather than a phobia.

* Sound therapy - CDs that play music for dogs are available.  One of which is Through a Dog's Ear.  Music to Calm Your Canine Companion.  This is most effective if you play the music well before storms and at a time when the dog is already calm, peaceful and relaxed (maybe during massage and petting time or any other chill out time such as calmly chewing on a stuffed kong).  If this is done consistently then the dog will eventually associate the music with the feeling of calm.  Once this relationship is firmly established then you can start the music an hour or two before the storm (or as far ahead of a storm hitting as you can) and continue to play the music after the storm.  It doesn't have to be loud to be effective but particular types of music will calm, while others have the opposite action.  For more info on this particular CD check out

* Controlling your own reactions.  If a storm makes you nervous then your dog may well be feeding off your fear.  Ignore the storm as best you can and carry on with your normal routine.

* Alternative therapies  
- Bach Flower Essences:
- Add Rescue Remedy or Natures' Remedy to the dog's water on days when storms are forecast or you can put drops (approx 4) on the dog's tongue or side of the mouth.  Dose may be repeated 4 - 5 times an hour.
- Use Rock Rose specifically for the terror when storms are actually occuring.  Do this by placing drops on the tongue or mixing with purified water and misting in the dog's face.
- Malatonin - may be more effective in some dogs than Rescue Remedy. 
- Other homeopathic remedies - seek professional advice on dosage and handling:
   - Phosphorus HPUS 30C
   - Aconitum Napellus 30C
- Aromatherapy - lavender for instance

* Pheromone therapy - Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) which is an artificial version of the pheromone produced between the mammary glands of a lactating bitch.  It is species-specific (so dogs will only react to the dog pheromone) and has no detectable odour.  It works to stop or prevent fear and relieve stressful situations.  You can buy it in Australia as a plug in.  Follow the instructions rather than just plugging in before or during storms.

* Masking the noise.  Some pet owners report that having soothing music or a television on high volume to mask the storm noises sometimes help.  The use of 'white noise' such as running a fan or air conditioner has also been used.

* Accupuncture/Acupressure - may be worth checking out with your vet or behaviourist.

* Increase vigorous exercise - Your dog should receive vigorous exercise every day (depending on age and health status).  Increasing the amount of exercise given on a day that a storm is due may help tire the animal, both mentally and physically, and may make him less reactive to the noise.  It can also have the effect of raising the natural seratonin levels which can act as a sedative.

Note also that some dogs just seem better able to cope if they are moving and if this is the case for your dog then any level of restraint or even containment may increase their stress levels and make things worse not better.

* Behaviour modification (aspects of which relate to some of the other dot points)

- Counter-conditioning (recommended my many as the first step - usually effective in mild to moderate cases)
Your aim is to associate the coming storm with something he loves so that from now on his response to an oncoming storm becomes 'oh yay' rather than 'no way!'   So you might have an extra special treat, toy, game or whatever (something that is absolutely top value to him) and he only gets it just prior to and during a thunderstorm.  After a while the dog comes to associate the oncoming storm with his favourite thing happening.

- Desensitisation
 In this process your dog is exposed to what they fear or react to at very low levels which are gradually increased as the dog learns to be calm at each level.  Of course this can be really difficult with something from nature you can't control like thunder but there are things that have worked (at least to some level) for people and their dogs.  

Ideally you don't want the dog to experience the fearful thing at full blast during the desensitisation process so this is an approach that is best done before storm season starts.

One way to desensitise a dog to thunderstorms might be to:

- Obtain a CD of a storm in action (or tape record one yourself but commercial products tend to work better due to sound quality).  Play the recording at normal volume to see if you get a fear response (even a lessened one than the real thunderstorm is something that you can work with - as each small candle you blow out means that fear can lessen.).  If not try a different recording before giving up.  Some people have also added darkened rooms and strobing lights to the CD to get a response - but not something I'd recommend without professional assistance.  If you get an big response to even the lowest volume - definitely seek assistance.

- At another time play the recording  a a volume so low that your dog is aware of the sound but does not show any fearful response.  If unsure start at the lowest level possible on your machine.  Now engage your dog in some activity they enjoy.  A training session with treats.  A game.  Massage and happy time or whatever.  Even give them a chewtoy or feed them their meal.  You want to stop the session before any signs of fear occur but you also want to aim for a session of about 20 minutes.

- If your dog didn't show any fear response for session 1 then turn up the volume just slightly and repeat.  Continue with each session if things go well.  

- If your dog showed a response then decrease the volume and increase the pleasure of the activity - and if that doesn't work then seek professional help.

- If you're not sure whether your dog reacted or not then repeat the next session at the same level of volume before considering moving on.

- When your dog doesn't show a reaction when the CD is played at loud volume then try it with you in other rooms for short periods, then with the dog alone for short periods and eventually when you've actually left the house (but again only for short periods).

- Sessions 1 or more times a day are often recommended and every day until the dog shows no fear reaction to the CD at full blast for short periods when you're not there (use a timer for the CD and video-camera to see what happens).  Then sessions can be topped, up maybe even weekly before and during storm season and depending on severity maybe for life.  And during an actual storm you use the same activities and rewards that you've been training.

* Medication.  Your vet may prescribe medications - and in many cases it might be needed, but it is also not usually prescribed without other interventions such as some of those listed here.  Please see a vet and/or veterinary behaviourist if your dog has a thunderstorm or noise phobia - life must be hell for them but also remember what appears to be an increased risk of dog bites from dogs with such fears.

* Make sure that your dog is clearly identified just in case they do escape - name tags, properly fitted collar, microchip etc.

* Calm reassurance.  Here people are split:

- Do not cuddle and reassure them because:
   - this rewards their fearful behavour or 
   - convinces them that there was something to worry about in the first place.

- Or the one that increasingly makes more sense to me.  Be neutral.  Allow the dog to enter your space and seek contact etc but do not interact or push away.  After all if you've ever been really afraid of something you would know that being shunned or feeling like there was no one to turn to makes it worse - why would it be any different for our dogs?

* TTouch and it's spin offs

There is so much here that seems to help dogs in ways we really don’t understand that I would certainly recommend people exploring it – and not by just reading books or watching videos but you only get a real feel for it by attending a workshop… more info on TTouch and opportunities to learn more to come over the next month or so.

What not to do

* Fear is a powerful emotion and cannot be helped by yelling at, punishing or restraining a terrified dog.  These actions will only serve to increase his fears and possibly include you in them. 

* Leave fear untreated - as it usually escalates rather than getting better.

 Other interesting things to note

* A Penn State University study measuring cortisol levels (a stress hormone) in storm phobic dogs seemed to indicate that dogs in multiple dogs households were less fearful than those in one dog households.  

How to avoid your puppy developing this fear

There are no guarantees but there are some things that a new puppy owner can do to minimise the likelihood of their dog developing fear of thunderstorms and they include:

- Using a CD of loud noises and storm noises and playing them for your puppy using the techniques described under behaviour modification above.

- Not reacting to storms yourself and when your pup checks in just act normally and keep doing what you’re doing or engage them in something fun.

Or you might be lucky as I was with my Merlin. He was born and spent his formative 8 weeks with his mum and litter mates in the Hunter region during thunderstorm season – and his mum didn’t react and so the pups seem to be chilled about loud and startling noises generally. As for Merlin he’s so chilled that when some smart alec teenagers threw firecrackers immediately behind him when we were out walking when he was about a year old – I jumped he just turned and checked them out. They ran : )


* Why do dogs bite children?  Blog by Eric Goebelbecker -

* Not every cape has (or needs) a silver lining.  Blog by Dr Nicholas H. Dodman -

* Thunderstorm Phobia in Dogs -

* Thunderstorm Phobia in Dogs:  Helping the Dog Who is Afraid of Storms -

* Tipsheet: Fear of Thunder -

* Thunderstorm Phobia in Dogs.  Advice by Patricia McConnell -

* Dogs and Thunderstorm Phobia -

* Storm and Noise Phobias -

* Thunderstorm Phobia -

* How to Help Your Dog Overcome Fear of Thunderstorms, Fireworks and Other Noises -

* Pet Thunder Phobia aka Noise Phobia -

* How Can I Help My Dog Weather Thunderstorm Phobia?  -

Nearly one year old Brumby is looking for a lovely new family.

25 January 2010

A Satisfying Day

Our foster dog Mr P has gone to his new home today! I'm not sad, just feeling satisfied at a wonderful outcome for him.  He came to Lab Rescue on 3 Dec 09 in very poor condition as shown here, skeletal with very little hair on his back end. He was also found to have arthritic changes to one front leg and one back leg. We found it very difficult to believe that he was only 8 1/2 years old.

Mr P came to be fostered with our family on 21 Dec as incompatible dogs in foster care needed to be shuffled around.  We already had sweet little 8 month old Riley.  Mr P and Riley had fallen for eachother while in their first foster home together so were a great pair of fosters to have. They were like little lovebirds, even lying down in synch!

We had a wonderful family almost straightaway very keen to adopt him, even in such a bad state his beautiful temperament shone through. Everyone who meets him falls in love! Their sponsorship of him covered all the vet care required throughout his time with Lab Rescue, they even sent him Christmas presents! Unfortunately he was not good with cats so could not join their family after all but they have continued to support him. They were going to name him Mr Peabody, so he became Mr P to us in honour of their support :-). Sponsorship for individual dogs or for Lab Rescue as a whole is another much appreciated way to help us rescue and re-home more labs in need.

Another perfect family came forward after recently losing their beloved yellow Lab at the grand old age of 16. He had hip displaysia from the age of 2 so the family were happy to manage Mr P's needs. He even has a pool to swim in, ideal exercise for arthritic joints!

I just had to spoil him before he left us so arranged for him to have a therapeutic massage to help manage his arthritis. Deb from Natural Animal Therapies came to our place, evaluated him and massaged his shoulders, down his back bone and back legs. He was particularly sensitive to having his back left leg massaged. You could see his eyes glaze over as she applied photonic acupressure therapy. He was sitting much more comfortably afterwards and was bouncing around like a puppy the next morning, almost keeping up with our crazy Brittany (and that is saying something!). So glad we had the extra money from sponsorship to be able to treat him in this special way :-). Thank you also to Deb for the discount you were able to offer us.

Doesn't he look happy to be going home! He's even going to keep the name Mr P.

Thank you !

Preparing Your Dog for a New Baby

This is one of many training tips I'd like to share with you under the name 'Paws for Thought' written by a friend at work who is passionate about dogs and is happy to share and discuss what she has learnt. Posted here with her permission. Please note: She is not a dog expert but a dog lover learning more each day.

Having a new arrival, particularly but not only the first baby in a household, is a major change for everyone concerned - including your dog.  You can however do things to help prepare your dog for the new arrival and try and make things easier on both you and the dog - for instance teaching him or her how you want them to walk beside a pram well before you just expect them to do it with a baby crying in it, you stressed to the max and shopping bags on your arms.  You can also start very early on so that any changes in your dog's routine and experience occur well before the baby arrives and therefore are not linked to the event.

Some suggestions for preparing yourself and your dog include:

* Taking a good serious look at your dog and they interact with every existing member of the family - two and four legged.  Is his behaviour appropriate now?  Does he follow basic cues/commands like sit, down, leave it, come and walk nicely on lead, give things up when asked, wait at doorways, not get underfoot, go outside without complaint, not steal food, not bark or demand attention excessively etc.  Does he behave appropriately around people, food and lots of excitement?  

- If so then you're in a good place to work on ensuring that he can do this in situations where you and other family members are otherwise occupied (attention wise), have your arms full, etc in preparation for the realities of having to do this with a baby in the mix.

- If not then you need to start here - and you need to start fast.  Some professional help may well be required to get you all up to speed ASAP. 

* If your dog doesn't know how to settle and calm down then this is something I'd definitely be working on

* Think about the rules and routines that you currently have in the house and how they will change.  Will the dog be getting the same level of attention and at the same times, from the same people?  Will you be feeding him at the same time?  Will he still be allowed into all of the places in the house that he currently has access?  Will you be playing games the same way with him?  Will he be expected to spend longer periods settled on a mat or in a crate or outside?  If so then start thinking about making those changes before your baby arrives.  Set those rules up now and start getting the dog used to them.  You may choose to set up barriers to the babies room (and people have used baby gates, barn type gates where the bottom half and top half close independently or even mesh screen doors for safey) or you can teach your dog not to enter the room or not to enter without invitation - but you need to start the training well before you have the baby to worry about, and reinforce it once the baby arrives.  Just a word of caution here though. A friend decided that their dog would not be allowed to enter their new babies room but one night she did and came back and made a great fuss and seemed quite distressed - so fortunately the friend checked on bub only to find that he was at high risk of suffocation due to his position in the cot.  So sometimes breaking a rule may be justified - and I don't want to imagine what would have happened if the dog was just punished for entering the room, without someone checking on the bub.

* What new things will he experience or be expected to do as you get closer to the birth or once the baby arrives?  For instance will he be expected to walk beside a stroller or pram, sit in a different place in the car?  Will he know how to act when baby food, toys and other unmentionables hit the floor?  You set yourself and him up for success if you teach him what you expect in each situation before you put it all together on the day you come home from the hospital, and for the weeks and months thereafter.

* Start gradually introducing the new scents, sounds and sights that your dog will experience with a new baby in the house - introduce new scents, sounds and sights that your dog will experience with a new baby in the house - introduce baby powder, baby food smells, milk etc around without making a fuss of them and do itfairly often.  With shounds there are some gret CDs available and the one I am most familiar with and have recommneded is called 'Sounds Soothing' which has crying babies, screaming etc etc and comes with a booklet of how to use it but also other tips for preparing for baby.  The ideas is to sart with sounds low and build up, put them in different rooms and monitor your dogs response - but do not get too intense or focused on the dog, just act normally.  If your dog does react then you can take the appropriate steps now (as defined on the CD or I'd recommend with professional assistance).  By the way I've found that it's often the pregnant mums and dads that can't cope with the CD more than many dogs.  Also try turning up the TV, putting louder music on and making noises that are likely to happen when you have a bub in the house - including dropping things (but with the dog far enough away from the noise that it doesn't upset them).  If your dog reacts badly to these then again seek professional help.  As the day gets closer set out the baby stuff, clothes, beds, prams, high chairs etc before you need to use them so that your dog gets used to their presence and you can train appropriate (by your definition) behaviour in regards to them. 

* Socialise your dog with pregnant women (at all stages), babies of all ages, toddlers and small children now - ensuring everyone's safety and stuffing your dog full of roast chicken for just being around them and not even having to interact with them.  If kids scream or run around the dog gets more chicken and even the skin.  You can choose to reward the just being there calmly with no interaction.  Just being there is what's going to happen for much of the first months home with bub anyway so interaction may not be what you want to reinforce.  You want calm controlled (self-controlled) behaviour.  But remember - any signs of fear or aggression before now or now means you should really seek professional assistance to keep everyone safe.

* Practice things like carrying around a baby like doll (particularly one with noises and covered with baby powder and/or spilled milk and check that your dog won't jump up on you or behave inappropriately with that level of distraction.  Practice entering and exiting doors, bending over, sitting down and even getting on the floor with the dummy baby.  If all goes well you might even find a friend to see how your dog goes with them and their baby (with you able to intervene) and with you holding and walking, sitting and playing with their baby - but remember safety comes first at all times.

* You might also think of getting a mat or blanket (or three) and teaching your dog that when this mat is spread out on the floor they have stay off it or go directly to their mat (both for great treats and rewards).  This way when you put your practice baby (doll) on it and reinforce there is some chance that you can reinforce this behaviour so that the mat/blanket becomes a place where your dog does not feel that they can encroach when you are on the floor with bub....but as with people there are no guarantees.

* Get a pram and start teaching your dog to walk nicely beside it before you can't do it easily.  Then put your practice baby (doll) in it and if someone with a youngster is happy to try you can even get to that point before your own baby arrives.  Consider using an appropriately fitted head halter to make walking your dog with pram, baby and traffic less stressful for you - but it needs to be fitted properly and you need to be taught to use it effectively and safely.

* Give your dog a mat or dog crate or some other spaces in the family room and even somewhere near or in the babies room that is his place and he goes there for great things and to watch you and eventually the baby, but also to escape from the noises and sights if he needs to (so for many dogs an enclosed crate or space might be a good idea).  Putting mats out in a number of places and teaching your dog to ues them means he has somewhere to be while you are with the baby in different spaces without getting underfoot.

* Think about what new things (or old favourites) you can add to the dogs life when the baby comes home to provide him with sufficient mental stimulation, physical exercise and joy in his life without necessarily being totally reliant on you and your time - you're going to have other things to focus on.  For this you could start with work on teaching your dog to enjoy and focus on chewtoys if they don't already see this as a great reward.  Check out for tips.

* Ensure that you get a full vet check on the dog before the baby comes home - and don't forget regular worming.

* If your dog hasn't spent time in a kennel situation then you might want to get him used to idea and even a one night stay can help with that.  Then he'll know you're coming back for him if you get into a situation where you do need to kennel him - maybe even while you're in hospital, for the first week or so or as the crowds descend.  It can just reduce your stress knowing that if you need to put him in kennels that he is happy to go.

* When baby does arrive you will probably have people of all ages and sizes coming to visit, parties, coffee and presents. If possible get your dog used to these scenarios before you add the baby to the mix.

* Think about teaching him that open doors to the outside are not invitations to do a runner if he doesn't already know this.  This includes open car doors.  With lots of people visiting, with your baby in your arms and lots of distractions you don't want to be worrying about him escaping.

* Nappies have a unique and interesting smell and feel for many dogs even before the baby adds spills and bodily functions to them.  Buy some and have them in places where your dog can be taught to ignore them and that they are not toys.

* Think about what is likely to get your dog in trouble and either
a) teach them what you want and highly reinforce it and/or
b) set yourself up to manage the situation.
What are are you going to do about dirty nappies, baby spew and spills?  What is it reasonable to expect your dog to do?  Have you taught him that?  and in terms of management - sealed bins, closed doors and barriers all have their place.  

* Perhaps even think about blocking off a space in your yard for your dog to use rather than having the full run of the yard.  Him having his own space and being taught to be happy there with you in the area and when you're not around can help.  But you need to teach him about this before baby arrives - but once taught and reinforced regularly - it gives you the potential for you and baby to be outside and together without worrying about the dog, putting washing out without something else to worry about etc.

* Work at teaching your dog to rev up and calm down quickly so that if he gets to a point of super excitement you and he already have the skills to calm things down quickly and pleasantly for you both.  Check out for tips.

* Plan for what you are going to do when baby comes home.  Options may include: 

- You can kennel out your dog when you go into hospital until you come home so that he is safe, happy and you don't need to worry about him.  My suggestion would be that you get him used to kennels if he isn't already.  When he is collected you can try collecting him without the baby in the car but with the baby smells.  He will be highly excited to be home and to see you (unless he is one of those dogs that snubs you for a day or two after kennels) so you could have the baby in the babies room and spend time with the dog outside and then in another part of the house, then letting him get used to the smell etc (through the baby gate, on loose lead or whatever) and reinforcing calm behaviour.

- You could have a family member (living there or not) take on the role of 24/7 dog minder during the time you are in hospital and immediately after you and the baby come home.  They would be responsible for feeding, lots of exercise, training etc. for mental stimulation and watching and reinforcing appropriate calm behaviour around you and the baby.

- You could have someone bring home the baby smells (dirty clothes or even wet nappy) and look after the dog while you are in hospital.  Then before you come home ensure that the dog gets a big exercise as you want a tired dog.  You can either walk in and ignore the dog (get him used to this routine first though) and then take baby to its room and close the baby gate.  Then play with, reinforce and give you and the dog time to catch up (someone may need to take care of the bub for a few minutes). 

* At all opportunities reward/reinforce behaviour you like - lying down, not barking, chewing on a chew toy, walking nicely, moving out of the way, staying just a slight distance from the baby or sniffing gently.  Do it regularly and reward highly. 

* If your dog really isn't sure about the baby you can consider feeding and playing with your dog only when the baby is in the room. But this can be hard to manage and I'd recommend getting professional help.  

There are a couple of other things for you:

* Some enthusiastic and athletic dogs have no problems jumping over baby gates and some people have had a flyscreen/metal security type door installed over the door to a baby's room so that both the baby and the dog are safe.

* Some dogs have only miminal reactions to babies but increase their attentions once the baby becomes mobile - so don't think it's all going to be great just because at this early stage your dog is not fussed.  Things change - and rapidly.

* There are three golden rules for children and dogs:

1. Supervise

2. Supervise

3. Supervise. 

Almost all of the advice given here is about getting your dog used to as much as you can, one thing at a time, before it all comes together in a high emotion/ high stress situation full of new and potentially scary or dangerous situations at a time when you are least emotionally, physically and mentally able to deal with it.  I know it all seems a little overwhelming but if you sit down and plan it is achievable and if you are in doubt (given your baby and dogs lives may be at risk) then please seek professional advice and support.

Resources to get you started on the web

and this really is only a start....

24 January 2010


Sam (Affectionately known as Thumper!)

Our third fostered Lab was Sam a yellow boy who we nick-named 'Thumper' because he often thumped the ground with his tail when wagging it :-). 

Sam used to lie on his belly with his legs out behind him in what we call a frog leg position. Always nice to see a dog that is able to do this as it often means there is no problems with their hips!

We noticed and reported behaviours that indicated that he was exhibiting dominance aggression, so sadly he left our home early and was returned to the head honcho in Lab Rescue.

Foster Carers Desperately Needed

We've just had a number of foster carers let us know that they need a break after the Christmas rush of fostering. There are still a number of Labs out there we're keeping an eye on in pounds, like the ones pictured here. Cross fingers, not all of them will need to come to us but it would be lovely to know we have room in foster care for them, rather than see them put down.

If you're in the Canberra region or in Sydney please consider fostering a dog in need and contact us as soon as you can.  You can foster once or many times. You can offer assistance at certain times of the year, a time more convenient for you. You can volunteer to foster only a certain age group or gender. Please contact us to find out more about fostering and how you may be able to help.

Foster carers:
* provide food, water and shelter for the dog (we can assist with food if necessary)
* provide exercise - both on leash and off leash if possible
* carry out basic training, eg. toilet training, inside manners, walking on lead, sit, not to jump up
* take the dog to the vet for any vet work required (Lab rescue will pay the vet fees)
* provide photos of the dog and an accurate description of the dog as you get to know it.
* need to be contactable by both us and the dog's potential home as referred by Lab Rescue.
* and last but not least give the dog time with you, Labs love to be with their people.

Lab Rescue will:
* pay for any vet work required and intestinal worming, heartworm and flea treatments
* find a suitable home for the dog and process the adoption
* provide advice and support to foster carers whenever needed

23 January 2010

Tips For Greeting Strange Dogs

This is one of many training tips I'd like to share with you under the name 'Paws for Thought' written by a friend at work who is passionate about dogs and is happy to share and discuss what she has learnt. Posted here with her permission. Please note: She is not a dog expert but a dog lover learning more each day.


We've all heard about asking before greeting someone else's dog but here are three great steps that you might want to teach your kids - and use yourself.  The steps are:

1. Ask the owner

2. Ask the dog

3. Pet the dog

In more detail

1. Ask the Owner

Never rush towards a dog. Stop about about a metre away and ask the owner if you can pet the dog. If the owner says no, then please accept that and just stay and talk or say thank you and walk on. If the owner says yes then move onto step 2.

2. Ask the Dog

Don't use words to ask the dog - use body language. You can make a fist with your palm pointed down and then slowly extend your arm towards the dog and let them sniff it if they want to. Curling your fingers into the fist means they can't get nipped if the dog gets a shock. When you put out your hand watch what the dog does. Another way to ask the dog is just to stand, side on to him without looking directly at him and wait to see if he comes to say hello.

* If he comes forward with a waggy tail and open mouth then he's saying yes you can say hello.

* If he leans forward for a quick sniff and seems comfortable then he's probably saying yes but be sure to be nice and gentle with him.

* If he turns his head away, backs off, hides behind his owner, looks unhappy, ducks his head or growls then this means no - even if his owner says he's okay.

If the dog says yes then move onto step 3.

3. - Petting the dog

Dog's generally don't like hugs or having you pat them on the top of their head. They also might not be comfortable with you bending over them. If you've asked the owner about where the dog likes being petted then follow their advice (unless you feel the dog isn't happy - then back off)

Approaching the dog from the side rather than the front and stroking the side of his neck, rubbing under his chin, scratching his chest and petting his back are all usually good ideas. Do it slowly and gently but no so slowly that its freaky and not so gently that it tickles.

Important note: Pet a little bit and then stop - let the dog tell you if he's happy and wants you to continue (by moving towards you, looking towards you with an open mouth and happy tail) or stop (moving away from you).

We'll talk more about dog body language, human body language and how to touch a dog for a lot more benefit than just petting (for both human and animal) in future installments of Paws for Thought. Keep tuned.


The basis for these useful tips comes from a book by Colleen Pelar called 'Living with Kids and Dogs Without Losing Your Mind.'

Active one year old Jack is looking for a wonderful new home

The Things People Will Do For Us!

We rang a few possible homes to tell them about Karl and one couple jumped at the chance to meet him. It was a fortunate coincidence that they were actually travelling to Canberra, from Sydney, the very next day for a weekend cycling activity!  So we arranged a couple of meet and greets during the weekend and they fell in love with Karl, of course :-).

Well they wanted to trial him and asked if we could look after him for one more week so that they could come back the following weekend as the car was full of cycling gear. I knew there were incoming dogs needing to be fostered and asked if they could possibly fit him in the car this weekend. Guess what, I was thrilled when they let me know they had decided to leave the bikes here and take Karl, and return for the bikes the following weekend!!

Thank you

22 January 2010

Teaching, Changing or Recharging a Dog's Name

This is one of many training tips I'd like to share with you under the name 'Paws for Thought' written by a friend at work who is passionate about dogs and is happy to share and discuss what she has learnt. Posted here with her permission. Please note: She is not a dog expert but a dog lover learning more each day.


The following training tip can be used to:

Teach a new puppy it's name.

Change the name of a puppy or adult dog (no matter the age) such as when you rehome a dog.

Recharge your dog's name when your dog has taken to ignoring you when you say it's name.


You will need:

Your dog just hanging around but not doing anything you don't like at the time

Some really yummy food (not it's normal meal - but some roast chicken or liver treats or something unusual but highly attractive).

Just a few minutes of your time, a few times a day for anywhere between 1 day and a week.

Preferably somewhere quiet to start with.

The steps:

1. Say the dog's new name (or the one you are recharging).

2. Immediately give the dog a piece of the yummy food - regardless of what the dog is doing.

3. Repeat 3 to 5 times and stop the session.

4. Repeat session 3 to 5 times a day

5. Repeat for at for least one day and up to a week. 

The end result you are looking for:

Your dog turning it's attention to you immediately and joyfully when you say it's name.

To maintain the behaviour:

* Frequently reward your dog when he does respond - praise, pet, game, toy, food or whatever he or she enjoys.

* Sometimes give a super reward (bonus) for a great response or even just randomly as long as you get the response you want.

* Do not keep saying your dogs name in conversation and ignoring him when he responds.

* Do not call his name then do anything he doesn't like to him if you can avoid it (sometimes you just can't - but then up the rewards for a while afterwards to return to the desired performance level).

Sprite is a 1 yo Lab x Great Dane looking for a lovely new home.