Posted on

Help! My Dog Likes to Hide His Toys

Dog chewing toy on couch


If you’d rather not find slobbery toys in your bed, try making a designated indoor digging spot for your pup.

My dog likes to bury his toys in our bed and furniture. Can I teach him to not do this anymore?

Just like circling and digging at bedding before lying down, hiding prized possessions may be an ingrained ritual that comes naturally to some dogs. Your dog’s wild ancestors most likely buried food and other objects to keep predators from getting them, which may account for his desire to hide his toys in your sofa. While certain breeds with object-carrying and digging tendencies, like Dachshunds, may be more prone to this behavior, any dog can engage in these antics.

Your dog’s efforts to hide his toys may seem funny to you, especially if his hiding places are not all that hidden. My Pug, Bruce, had a habit of saving his favorite chews and hiding them in what he clearly thought were super secret locations — usually underneath the couch cushions or inside blankets or discarded sweatshirts. His diligent efforts to hide his treasures often seemed largely ineffective to my family: Despite frantic digging, scratching and pushing his valuables into the couch or bed, the end result was often that the item was just as visible as it was to begin with. But Bruce was undaunted and always seemed quite satisfied with his hard work — and quite confident no one would unearth his prize.

Curb the Burials

Some dogs will bury things that they are not interested in right now but might want later, while others hide prized possessions that they don’t want to share or lose. Regardless of his motivation, one solution is to offer your dog a chew or toy that he will be excited about playing with right now — a stuffed Kong, for example, or a tug toy that you can use to instigate a game.

You can also try limiting the number of toys available to your dog at any one time. This may help get him excited about playing with the toy he currently has in his possession, rather than hiding it. Routinely rounding up discarded toys and putting them away in a box or basket can help keep them exciting for your dog.

Another option is to redirect your dog away from your furniture when he wants to bury a treasure. Create an indoor digging pit for your pooch — a dog bed filled with blankets and pillows or a covered cat bed both work well. A designated burying area allows your dog to go through his digging routine and hide his treasures without inconveniencing you or endangering your furniture.

Encourage your dog to bury things in his designated area by placing the object near the furniture he currently likes to use as a hiding place (the sofa, or your bed). Teaching your dog to go to his space can also be useful in directing him to his designated digging area. The cue “go to your space” can also be used to redirect your dog if he tries to bury a toy or chew somewhere off-limits. Reward your dog with praise and favorite treats when he hides his things in the right place.

More on Vetstreet:

  • Are You Contributing to Your Dog’s bad Behavior?
  • Teach Your Dog to Put His Toys Away
  • Put a Stop to These 7 Common Bad Dog Habits
  • Help! My Dog Guards Her Food
  • How Do I Teach My Dog to Use a Food Puzzle?


Posted on

If Dogs Could Talk… 6 Myths They’d Debunk

Dog with mouth wide open


If you think your dog’s mouth is cleaner than yours, answer this one question: Do you eat out of the garbage can?

Myths about dogs have been swirling around since canines were first domesticated thousands of years ago. And while they are no doubt fascinating and intriguing animals, if given the chance, they would probably like to dispel some of the misconceptions humans have about the species.

Below, see what our dogs had to say (or, at least, what we strongly suspect they’d tell us if they could talk) about some of the most common myths out there.

Dogs Are Color Blind

This one has been making the rounds since the 1930s, when Will Judy, a big fan of all things dog and the founder of National Dog Week, claimed that we canines see only in shades of black and gray. This is far from the truth. We do have fewer color-sensitive cone receptors than humans, which means our color spectrum is slightly narrower, but, hey, at least our color perception is better than the cat’s!

A Dog’s Mouth Is Cleaner Than a Human’s

Ever see a human eat out of the garbage? Lick up unknown substances off the street? Eat cat poop? Neither have I, but we canines do those things all the time. It’s fun and we like it. (Sorry, but we’re not sorry.) Now, we do have some useful mouth qualities, like a tongue that can remove dirt from a wound and saliva that is the first line of defense against infection. But the reality is that we dogs eat some gross stuff, and we have lots of bacteria, some of it potentially harmful, in our mouths. We kind of understand if you don’t want us to kiss you. But that doesn’t mean we won’t try!

A Dog Feels Guilt

We may hang our heads or droop our eyes after we’ve chewed up your notebook or destroyed the garbage can, but that’s because you’re yelling at us! We don’t really understand that those things are inherently unacceptable in the human world. (And by the way, do you even know how boring you all are? Lighten up! Chew a shoe for once in your lives!) All we know is that you’re upset about something and we use our appeasement skills to try to placate you. Just because we look like we’re upset, it doesn’t mean that we are. We just know how to work it. Can you blame us?

Dog eating grass


Just because your dog noshes on grass doesn’t mean he’s sick. But it could mean something else is going on.

Dogs Only Eat Grass When They’re Sick

Don’t jump to conclusions if you catch us noshing on your lawn. Before you load us up into the car for an emergency visit to the vet, pay attention to how much grass we’re eating and whether or not we keep it down. Sometimes we just like to eat a little grass. However, if it’s a common occurrence, we’re eating tons of the stuff or we’re throwing up afterward, it is a good idea to get us to the vet. While the grass-eating doesn’t necessarily mean we’re sick, it could mean that something else is going on.

Dogs Have Naturally Bad Breath

I’ll admit, some of us do have bad dog breath, but it’s not our default state. And it’s not because of allthe stinky, gross (to humans anyway) things we eat, either. If a dog has bad breath it’s usually a sign of something slightly more serious than food stuck between our teeth. It could be a dental issue or a tummy problem. If we do have bad breath, make sure to have the vet check us out to make sure there’s not a medical issue. And maybe bone up on those tooth-brushing skills!

You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

Well, of course you can! Certainly, the older all creatures grow the more they are set in their ways, but dogs of any age can be trained — at least to some degree. In fact, training can have quite a few benefits for older dogs, like increased confidence and a strengthened bond between dog and human. The trick is for you humans to set reasonable expectations for your older pooch and understand that we may not be able to physically or mentally perform certain tricks that our younger, more spry counterparts might be able to. Be patient with us as we learn new behaviors (and possibly break some less desirable habits). Believe us, when there’s a reward involved, most of us will rise to the occasion no matter how old we are!

Just because certain concepts are passed along from dog owner to dog owner doesn’t mean they’re true. Never hesitate to ask your vet if you have a question about your dog (or dogs in general, for that matter!).

Editor’s note: We did not actually interview dogs for this article. We tried, but they were too busy digging in the trash. Oops.
More on Vetstreet:

  • 6 Ways Your Dog Shows You Love
  • Teach Your Cat to Lie Down on Cue
  • Myths Cats Would Debunk if They Could Talk
  • Why The Human-Animal Bond Is So Important
  • 10 Unexpected Ways You Could Be Hurting Your Dog or Cat


Posted on

Tips For Living With a Deaf or Hearing-Impaired Pet

Dog watching hand signal


Even if your dog isn’t deaf, it’s always a good idea to teach him hand signals in addition to verbal cues.

One of the sweetest things about my profession as a veterinarian is the opportunity to see the love shared between people and pets. What’s even more special is seeing the accommodations people make for pets with disabilities.

Deafness is a common disability in dogs and cats. Puppies and kittens can be born deaf, or pets can become hearing-impaired with advancing age. White cats and dogs with merle, piebald and white markings can be more prone to deafness. In every case, these pets have special needs when it comes to communication. Here are some tips to help you get your deaf pet’s attention and let him know what you want.

Sign Language

Whether or not your puppy or adult dog is deaf, I think it’s always a good idea to teach a dog hand signals in addition to verbal cues. You never know when you are going to need to communicate silently with your dog. Hand signals are a way to do that. They can also come in, uh, handy should your dog lose his hearing.

Cats can learn hand signals, too, and respond to the same training principles. Heck, sometimes they’re even better than dogs at picking up visual cues!

Learning hand signals for behaviors such as sit, down and come will stand your pet in good stead throughout life, ensuring that you will always be able to communicate with him. Because they are so observant, many animals respond well to hand signals, more so than to verbal cues.

Common hand signals include a raised hand for stop, a hand moving upward for sit, a hand moving down and back for down, and a hand across the throat for quiet. My daughter, dog trainer Mikkel Becker, likes to use a hand clap or a thumbs-up to give a pet the message “good job.” To confirm that you’re pleased, follow the good-job signal with a treat, petting or favorite toy.

You can even teach your dog or cat sign language. I love this video that Mikkel shared of a young girl who is hearing-impaired and taught her hearing-impaired puppy, Walter, sign language. Among the American Sign Language words Walter learned to recognize are “sit,” “water” and “food.” Another one that any dog will love to learn is the sign for “walk.” Gestures for “dinner,” “car” and “outside” can also be also useful.


Posted on

Kids and Dogs Work as Teams at the Heeling House

Jolene, a 2-year-old yellow Lab, was specially bred to do therapy work.

Heeling House

Jolene, a 2-year-old yellow Lab, was specially bred to do therapy work.

At a new center in northern Virginia, special-needs children are working on everything from social skills and communication to reading and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) skills — all with the assistance of about a dozen delightful furry friends.

The Heeling House, which opened in November, offers programs for children from infancy through high school. It was founded by Kathy Benner, an experienced animal trainer. Her volunteers, along with their certified therapy dogs, have worked for years with children at therapeutic centers and in local schools on physical and occupational therapy. In fact, we told you about their work in a 2015 feature and want to update you now on the center.

Their new dedicated space is helping the nonprofit reach even more children in private and group Animal Assisted Interactions. Most of the younger children who attend the center are on the autism spectrum, while some of the older kids who are starting to go for a new youth group may be struggling socially or coping with depression or anxiety.

“We wanted to open the center so that we had a place that we would be able to explore all the different avenues — so that we would be able to have therapy dogs help our community,” Benner says. That includes the ability to work with students to do further research on how interacting with dogs can help kids.

Some of the dogs at Heeling House were bred for therapy work, while many others were adopted — but all of the dogs and their handlers have been certified by Pet Partners and continue to be trained to work safely with children.

A Proven Motivator

Including the dogs in the therapy and class sessions can lengthen a child’s attention span, break the ice and be a powerful motivator for them to try harder.

“They spend more ‘time on task’ — basically doing the things that the therapists are encouraging them to do and for longer periods of time when the dog is there,” Benner says. “They definitely spend more time engaging socially with each other, which is one of our big goals. The dog acts as a role model and kind of as motivation to speak to their peers.”

The dogs are trained to play cards and board games, and they can even do a little light bowling.

“It’s learning how to be patient when playing a game, waiting to take a turn, being patient if something doesn’t go exactly as they had planned, so the kids will practice being more flexible, because a lot of kids who have autism are fairly rigid in their thoughts,” Benner says.

Making Great Strides

The kids may also learn to give the dogs commands and guide them through an obstacle course.

“We see more sustained eye contact and focus from the kids, because we work on giving dogs commands,” Benner says. “Before they can give the dog the command, they have to look at the dog and the dog looks back at them. So, they practice being able to have that eye contact and address whoever they’re talking to directly” — a skill they can then use in social interactions with other people.

Tybee, a 3-year-old Portuguese Water Dog, can be silly and energetic or calm and docile.

Heeling House

Tybee, a 3-year-old Portuguese Water Dog, can be silly and energetic or calm and docile. Here, he joins in a game.

Just having the dog in the room while the children work with their therapist can be a comfort — and getting the chance to play with the dog can be a reward for their hard work. “If the child can finish the task or do what they’ve been asked or kind of hold it together for a certain period of time, then they’re allowed to go and play with the dog afterward,” Benner says.

Donna Merkle is Heeling House’s co-founder and has been part of the animal therapy team for 10 years, working with three dogs. Her Golden Retriever, RBI, recently passed away, and she currently volunteers with Tybee, a 3-year-old Portuguese Water Dog.

“The dogs are very attuned to the clients’ needs; I have learned to sometimes just let the interactions organically happen. Those are the most rewarding times — when you can watch this puppy you trained go into a situation and know exactly what to do,” Merkle says. “Recently, Tybee went with me to tell one of our clients about the loss of our therapy dog he had been seeing for several years. Tybee walked into the room, laid down beside the boy and put his head on the child’s lap comforting him. They immediately bonded. It was beautiful.”

“Enjoy the Warmth and Love”

Christopher, a 10-year-old boy with cerebral palsy, has worked for several years with Merkle and RBI, along with his physical therapist at the Children’s Therapy Center in Springfield, Virginia.

“RBI was a great motivator in getting Christopher to do things while being relaxed more so than [Christopher] was with his physical therapist,” his mom says. “On a few occasions, he was able to stand against the wall and play fetch with RBI, sit on a bench and brush RBI, or just sit on the floor and drink water after all their hard work. There were some behavior issues that made Christopher anxious that we were able to talk through with RBI being right by Christopher’s side. Of course, all the doggy kisses helped get Christopher to laugh and enjoy the warmth and love he received from RBI.” Christopher has always had an amazing physical therapist, his mom says, but when he has a therapy dog by his side, his willingness to work increases.

At the new center, the dogs work with children on a wide variety of issues, and Merkle and Tybee have recently been helping a young girl work through her extreme fear of dogs. “She was not able to be in the same room without becoming very nervous and visibly showing signs of stress,” Merkle says. “The child and I worked on basic dog commands, building her confidence in situations with a dog. We started Tybee on the opposite side of the room, and as she saw how calm he was and that she had control of the situation, we were able to get him closer to her and build on additional commands. We then played games together like rolling a ball back and forth and Go Fish (yes, Tybee likes to play Go Fish!). As of today, the child is walking with, petting and even giving treats to Tybee!”

Merkle and Benner see amazing developments like this every day and hope to continue to see more of them as the Heeling House grows and expands its offerings, including plans to train assistance dogs for some of their clients.

“It is so rewarding to watch the look on a child’s face when they have done something for the first time because of the motivation and confidence the dog has provided,” Merkle says.

More on Vetstreet:

  • Help! My Dog Likes to Hide His Toys
  • Can Service Dogs Detect Gluten in Foods?
  • Courthouse Dogs Empower Traumatized Victims
  • A Day in the Life of Gracie the School Comfort Dog
  • Volunteer Puppy Raisers: Secret to Guide Dog Success


Posted on

Socializing the Adult Dog: Sorting Good Advice From Bad

Pugs playing


It’s important to know which socialization techniques will work best for your dog.

One of the most common behavior problems I see among adult dogs is overly reactive or fearful behavior. People frequently think that when they see a dog that barks and lunges at other dogs or people on the leash that the dog was not properly socialized as a puppy. However, this is a common misconception. There are many owners who have put a lot of time and effort into socializing their dogs and still have animals that may cower or bark and lunge. Why would this be the case? Sometimes the socialization techniques used might not have been appropriate for these dogs. Or the dog may just have a genetic predisposition to being fearful and anxious. As most owners of these kinds of dogs soon find out, they will often receive a great deal of unsolicited advice from people when their dogs exhibit these behaviors out in public. Your best source of advice should always be your veterinarian or a local certified animal behaviorist.

Whether your dog has been fearful or reactive since he was a puppy or a youngster or you are encountering this behavior in a newly adopted adult dog, the most commonly given advice is to “socialize your dog.” You will typically hear such recommendations as:

  • Take him to the dog park
  • Take him to daycare
  • Let the dogs “work it out”

But how practical — and safe — are these suggestions?

Dog Parks

For some dogs who seem only mildly reactive, meeting other friendly dogs at the dog park can help bring them out of their shells. Some canines are less defensive or fearful when they are not on leash around other dogs. If you want to try this technique, then you must set your dog up for success. Before you take your dog to the off-leash park, make sure he is up-to-date on his vaccinations and make sure he reliably responds to a recall clue. If your dog will not return to you when called, you may not be able to retrieve him or remove him before an encounter with another dog gets out of control. If your dog responds to your call, then take him to the off-leash park during a time of day when there is the least number of dogs present. Choose a quiet area of the park and allow him to see other dogs at a distance. Work on counter-conditioning, which is offering your dog a treat when he looks at another dog and does not react. We want him to associate the sight of another dog with a positive emotion. Sometimes you giving your dog a treat will attract other dogs to you, so be discreet with your food rewards! Stay for short periods of time, such as two to five minutes or less, depending on your dog’s body language (for example, if he appears fearful with his head lowered, ears pulled to the side or tail tucked, it’s time to leave!).

This is a technique that may work for some dogs. However, for many others, the dog park may be a nightmare where they are bombarded with new sights, sounds and smells. It may be overwhelming to meet numerous new dogs and strangers in an unfamiliar environment. Owners often stay too long and do not recognize when their dogs have had enough. This may lead some dogs to become even more fearful or aggressive. For all these reasons, if your dog is exhibiting these behaviors, it is best to seek help from your veterinarian or local certified animal behaviorist first.


Posted on

7 Things New Puppy Owners May Not Realize

French Bulldog puppy


Getting a puppy? Prepare for lots of cuteness… and lots of work.

It might surprise you to learn (or maybe it won’t!) that some first-time puppy owners are shocked to find the sweet, soft, puppy-breathed angel they thought they were bringing home actually seems to be a (tiny) marauding Tyrannosaurus rex, intent on destruction and mayhem.

OK, perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but puppies often present their new owners with unexpected challenges. Here are a few things that, as a new puppy owner, you might find surprising.

1. Your puppy might try to eat anything in his path.

Puppies can be indiscriminate eaters, chowing down on items ranging from their puppy food to holiday decorations to a tissue to a live cricket. Some items are relatively harmless, but others, like hot dog skewers and lightbulbs, can cause severe intestinal damage. And even items that might not seem quite so scary at a glance, like certain household plants or cleaning products, can pose major threats. It’s important to puppy-proof your home, and whenever you’re unable to supervise your pooch, keep him in a sequestered puppy-safe area (and consider crate training!) to help ensure your little darling can’t ingest anything that could possibly harm him.

And you must be diligent when outside of the house as well. Garages, backyards, sidewalks and even dog parks can be home to plenty of harmful substances, trash and other goodies your little baby dog (or any dog for that matter!) should not be eating.

2. They go potty. A lot.

Most new owners understand that a puppy requires more trips outdoors than adult dogs do in order to avoid lots of little puddles, but you might not realize that a puppy doesn’t have great sphincter control at this early stage. So keeping all the poop off your floor requires plenty of trips out the door.

Puppies, while they are potty training, will need to go outside first thing in the morning, before they go to bed and also within 15 minutes of eating, drinking, playing, exercising or waking up from a nap. Depending on where they are during the potty-training process, they may also need to go outside during the night.

3. Puppies like routine, even if you don’t.

While establishing a routine requires some short-term effort, especially for families who didn’t adhere to a schedule in their pre-puppy days, it will pay off over the long haul for everyone. Puppies do best when they know what’s expected of them, and a simple routine will help them feel confident and secure about the household rules. Routines also make life a lot less hectic for your whole family!

4. Puppies like to chew on things. Lots of things, actually.

Just like babies, puppies go through a teething phase, which can be every bit as uncomfortable and painful for the dog as it is for a human, and chewing helps dull the pain. The best way to help keep your favorite items (and your new dog) safe is by removing them from your puppy’s reach. You can also redirect your puppy from chewing something he shouldn’t by offering him something that he can gnaw on, like an appropriate toy meant for this purpose or an edible chew. But be prepared. Chewing is going to happen.

5. Puppies come with emotional swings… for the parents.

As a new puppy parent, you’ll have moments when you’re wildly upset because your dog has just destroyed your favorite shoe (and, no, you shouldn’t have left it out, but that doesn’t help you feel better in the moment, does it?), and then a moment later, you’ll look into his big eyes and forgive him completely, and find yourself swept up in how much love you feel for the little creature — destructive though he might be. Talk about a mood swing!

It can be hard to reconcile how much love and tenderness you can feel one moment but yet how much frustration you can feel the next when it comes to your sweet little ball of fluff. Ups and downs are part of the relationship — but it’s important to remain consistent in your interactions with your puppy. Vetstreet trainer Mikkel Becker says, “Reward your puppy for the behaviors you want while redirecting him away from or managing the situation to prevent unwanted behavior.” Try not to let your emotions get the best of you when teaching your dog how you want him to behave. Calm interactions will have a greater positive effect on your puppy than angry ones.

6. A puppy’s teeth are sharp. Like, really sharp.

They might be tiny, but those teeth don’t feel so small when they latch onto your finger while you’re playing. But know that those little razor-sharp teeth are short-lived, as puppies begin to lose their sharp baby teeth at about 4 months. That might not be much comfort when those 28 little canine teeth are nipping at your hand, but at least there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. In the meantime, remember what we said earlier about finding appropriate things for your puppy to chew on? You’re gonna want to get on that.

7. Getting a puppy can be a major lifestyle adjustment.

A puppy requires more hands-on care than you might expect. Keeping your puppy healthy and happy might mean skipping happy hour to let him out or missing out on a weekend trip entirely because you don’t have a pet sitter. Yes, puppies are a lot of work, but investing time and energy into your puppy in his younger, formative years will go a long way in helping him be a good, polite member of your family as he grows bigger and older.

From eating habits to sharp teeth, puppies can certainly provide their new owners with unexpected challenges, all the while burrowing themselves into our homes and hearts. But the puppy phase goes quickly, and someday you just might find yourself looking back on it wistfully! Or… maybe you’ll just cherish the adorable pictures and be all the more thankful once your dog has outgrown that stage.

More on Vetstreet:

  • The Year’s Most Popular Puppy Names
  • Help! My Dog Likes to Hide His Toys
  • Why Does My Dog Throw Up Yellow Foam?
  • If Dogs Could Talk… 6 Myths They’d Debunk
  • 14 Common Misunderstandings About Dog Behavior