When it’s neurological, and not behaviour problem…

Mollee on her way to her new home.

Molliee, was a breeding dog rescued by VFA to be rehome. A sweet little girl who was put through force mating just for profit making. Fortunately for her, she didn’t give birth a lot, however she still suffered from mild liver problems which can be kept in control and maintain by proper diet and supplements. Thanks to the efforts of VFA, Mollee, together with many other dogs found a new home.

If you ever care for an ex-breeding dog, you will know that many of them despite developing a confusion of instincts due to being kept in a small area or overcrowded playpen for breeding, they tend to be very affectionate and easy going dogs to care for in terms of behaviour.

Mollee likes to cuddle with other dogs.

My lovely wife always wanted a poodle, but I always like medium to big dogs. So, this time round, we manage to chance upon VFA‘s rescue of breeding dogs who are looking for new homes. I went down to VFA‘s adoption drive and saw Mollee. Everyone was passing her around cause she was quiet and relaxed. I decided to select her out of the others, knowing that she will be playful, but at the same time, I know she knows how to be calm. VFA‘s volunteer shortlisted me, and the relationship of Mollee and us begin…

Mollee enjoying her long walk with my lovely wife and our first ex-breeding dog, Churro.

Mollee is a bundle of joy at home and in my shop. She plays with my dogs well, and she learns discipline well too. I decided to crate train her which works very well for breeding dogs somehow. Especially if you don’t want them to have any accidents overnight in your house.

She goes into her crate on her own without needing to coax, and she maintains quiet until next morning when we take her and our dogs out to pee and poop.

As active as she can be, she was also calm when half of the time. She loves her walks, especially the pack walks.

We got her checked and spayed one month after taking her home. After spaying, she was back to normal the next day. Enjoying her walks as usual. About a month later, I noticed that after a burst of play, she will start to walk slowly towards the wall, when her head tap on the wall, she’ll lean and use the wall for support while walking, until she taps on the wall again and change direction. I checked by crossing her legs while she stands and pointing her paws downwards to see how fast her brain response. And realized that she might have some neurological issues. It didn’t seem serious or medical, as she was still eating well, playing and being normal (only for that short time of taping on the wall).

I simply thought it could be due to her being in the breeders for too long that causes her to do such things. I guess I was wrong about it eventually.

Just right before rushing her to the vet.

On a faithful Monday afternoon, she suddenly drop to the floor and started spinning like a crocodile roll. First my staff thought she was trying to scratch her ears (some dogs who has earmites or ear infection will rub their head on the floor). But her roll was prolong and her head was slamming on the floor at the same time. I immediately rushed, sending her to my trusted family vet. The vet diagnosed and concluded that she is suffering from a neurological damage in a part of her brain that likely is caused by an infection in the past. This wasn’t noticed during her checkup, and it was believed that she might have suffered some kind of infection while she was a breeding dog. It was said that sometimes the toxic from the infection might take few weeks to few months to start noticing reaction.

Some options was told to me, e.g. doing checks to which can cost up to $4k-$5K, after which, a surgery on her liver shunt so that it’ll help her get back to a partial normal life, but yet, might not survive for long either, that will cost another $5k-$6k, and lastly, if she’s suffering too much, putting her down is one of the option. All of which are tough decisions.

Now, Mollee is fighting for her life, as her neurological damage (as confirmed and diagnose by our trusted family vet) suddenly became very bad. Spinning and slamming her head on the floor. She is now closely monitored by us, we had to force feed her very carefully for the first 2 days. Because her neck is tilted, force feeding too much water or food at a go can choke her.

She is now eating on her own, but she still can’t walk, or stand.

Keeping Mollee’s head up so that she doesn’t drown.

Because she was getting better, I decided to start water therapy for her. When I put her down in the warm water, she started to feel relax. Her heart beat slowed down. She didn’t start paddling her legs, but she just floated and rest in the water, while using my hand to support her neck.

While in the water, neck and back massage is administered to help loosen her muscle.

I gently move her around in the water, touching and massaging her body so that her legs will start moving, which it did. Keeping her head above the water, I administer a basic mild massage from her neck down to her butt area.

This therapy will go on for a week, and we’ll see how it goes.

She is now on neuro supplements and medications. We are also feeding her more natural food and herbs to help in her healing process. We will do what we can and however long it takes, as she’s not showing anymore signs of suffering. Because she can’t walk, we have to use water to help her loosen up.

I have never dealt with anything like this before. It’s heart breaking, at the same time, I was lost. If it was behaviour issue, it’ll be easy to correct and rehabilitate, but a neurological damage issue is something that I’ve never handle before.

My wife, me and my staff are hopeful that she’ll get better through herbs and water therapy.

This is what happens to a lot of dogs in local breeding farms. To make more profit, God’s creation are put through inhumane condition of living that pushes most of them to physiological trauma or worse, like Mollee, neurological damage due to untreated health infection that takes months or years to kill their brain cells in their cerebrum and hypothalamus.

I’m not against breeding in total. But I’m against inhumane forceful, non-instinctual, inter-breeding that causes not just major behaviour and physiological problems, but also neurological and health problems. I respect good quality breeders (nowhere to be found locally) that breed humanely and instinctually. These breeders usually don’t earn much despite their high price, as 80% of the cost goes to vet bills and quality diet and regular health check-ups.

Breeders that don’t show you the family line of the puppy are usually force breed and/or inter-breed, very seldom delivering naturally, but most of the time by C-section. Results of the parents can present behaviours that are odd, or worse, like Mollee. If you think puppies are fine – they carry the genes.

Apart from thinking again and again about buying puppies, why not make it your priority to ask for their certs and the family line, history, behaviour of the parents, and at how many months was the puppy separated from the mother (safest is 2-3 months). Or… why not adopt.

I will continue to update Mollee’s progress…

** I will like to thank VFA for rescuing these dogs. They did a great job. They are not to be blame for any dog’s health condition, as they are just doing their best to help and provide a better life for all this dogs.

Ezra Koh

Is my dog aggrassive?

**This picture shows a dog in a highly fixated, aggressive behaviour. (Picture taken from Google)

I just came back from a case which I thought was an aggressive case, because the dog growled and bare his teeth at the family’s friend and snapped at their son on both legs. (I won’t be showing the dog’s photo or using any names to respect the family’s privacy)

To me, safety of humans comes first, especially when there are kids present.

When I arrived at the house, the door bell triggered a territorial behaviour, which yes, it’s instinctual, however, it was excessive. This dog was from my shelter, and he has one of the most gentle behaviour. One of our volunteer brought him home for about a week after his sterilization, and he stayed in my pet shop for a couple of days too. He totally ignored door bells and whatever bells that ring or any kind of distractions.

He went to his new home, and after about a month, I received a phone call saying that he attacked their family friend, chasing her around the car. And 2 days later, they called and told me that he has bitten their son on both legs. Being in this line of work, we must never judge anyone in anyway. My first instinct is that, they might have accidentally approve of his territorial behaviour without knowing it. And this happens to many dog owners. Like I said, no one is to blame. It’s not easy trying to understand fully about dog’s behaviour just by reading or watching CM or any other programs. All this comes with practice and experience with different types of dog behaviour.

When their daughter open the gate for me, immediately I noticed that no one stop his territorial behaviour before opening the gate for me. This is one common mistake owners make. Many will just open the gate, and many will just leash up the dog while the dog is still presenting the bad behaviour. Some will stop such behaviour in a frustrated manner by shouting and tugging on the leash excessively or even spank the butt of the dog or use a newspaper to cane the dog.

While speaking to the family, I noticed that he eventually gave-in and lay down quietly and calmly at his favorite spot. After seeing and understanding his reaction, I explained to the family about his actions, why he growl and chase and why he snapped at their son.

First; he was already learning to be territorial in the house, and when their family friend rang the bell, no one follow through with the discipline when he barks. Therefore, the barking became territorial, and without redirecting that territorial behaviour, it leads to guarding his territory which took him into the flight zone, that’s where he started chasing, trying to nip the legs to chase away an “uninvited” guest.

**This picture shows a dog moving into a flight zone… You can see a shock collar being used. Something which I don’t advocate. A shock collar can take a dog to a higher level of flight zone which can be dangerous for both the dog and handler. (Picture taken from Google)

After which, no one corrected his behaviour, which leads to a classical reinforcement of that unwanted behaviour.

Second; their son was petting him and asking him to sit, because he saw how easy it was when his parents and sister asked him to sit. He tried, and he tapped lightly on his back to sit. However, he faced away and moved off from their son, but his son continued and followed him asking him to sit, which he then went into a split second of silent before he turn and nipped their son on the leg.

**This picture shows a dog going into a split second of stillness before he nips or attacks. Eyes round, jaw closed and tense, head and shoulders tense. (Picture taken from Google)

Of course, with a nipped, anyone will be scared and run off. Their son fell, and he continued to move in nipping their son’s other leg. Yes, for people who understands dog behaviour will know that that’s a sign of protecting themselves and/or chasing away unwanted visitors out of being territorial or disliking the disrespect presented by another dog or the human, not aggressive, because he did not jump up and try to attack towards the boys jugular or face. But we must always remember, most people are not equip to understand the details of dog behaviour, and they will definitely lose confidence in the dog and start fearing for the safety of everyone, especially their children.

Some of you who have talked to me before, you know that my priority is always human first. Safety of humans, especially kids. And I always advocate greeting the humans first before the dog and humans always in or out of the door first. It’s not just about pack leadership, it’s about satisfying the dog’s instinctual nature.

After hearing what happen, I was worried for their son, at the same time, kept wondering what went wrong. I was glad to hear that they decided to discuss as a family before making any final decision, at the same time, I was ready to understand their decision as well. They decided to take responsibility over him with the understanding that, even if it’s some other dog, big or small, or very super tiny dog, they might make the same mistake again causing some other unwanted behaviour if they don’t make an effort to learn and find out what went wrong.

I explained to them about the actions of their dog, as mentioned above, and we did mock-up scenarios with them to help them understand that not every behaviour can be ignored.

Scenario 1: Their sons went out of the house, and without telling us when they will come back in and ring the door bell. As they walk closer to the gate, their dog went on slight alert. When they rang the door bell, their dog went into a territorial bark. Before he could continue barking excessively, I stopped him. The method I use is non-communicative, and no touching of the dog. I went towards him, snap my fingers and gave a firm, calm ‘hey’ sound and he immediately snapped out from the territorial behaviour, walk to his favorite spot and sat down. While their sons entered, he stood up, but again, I snapped my fingers and pointed to go back to his spot. He went back, and this time, he directed the territorial behaviour towards resting calmly – he lay down and rest.

Scenario 2: Their sons went out of the house, the same thing, but this time, I told them to make a lot of noise when they ring the bell. They made more nose then I expected. The door bell rang, their dog went into the territorial state again, but he heard my fingers snapped from a distance and went directly back to his spot and sat. I then walk towards the gate to invite the boys in. While I did that, he got up, and again, I snapped my fingers; he went back to his spot, and this time, he lay flat down and relax while I invite the boys in. Seeing that behaviour, I told the daughter to give him gentle affection to reinforce that behaviour.

Scenario 3: Because their son who got bitten presents fear towards their dog, I got him to walk next to me, away from their dog, this is to protect their son as I’ll be the first person he needs to get pass. I instruct their son to take a deep breath, relax, walk together with me and don’t bother about their dog- act as if there’s no dog around. He did exactly that very very well. While we walked pass, their dog stood up, immediately when he heard my fingers snapped, he lay down flat and relax.

Both mother and daughter tried the exercise a few times and succeeded. Next, I introduced a mesh muzzle which is comfortable for dogs because they can still drink water and eat small bites through it.

**This picture shows that the dog isn’t comfortable with the muzzle. It wasn’t introduce to him positively. (Picture taken from Google)

I introduce the muzzle because it’ll help build back the confidence with the whole family. And because I instruct them to have their boys walk together with their dog to enforce leadership and gain the dog’s respect as leader of the house too. When I mean leader of the house, I meant in respect, not in dominance.

How I introduce the muzzle to him:

1. Gave him small pieces of boiled chicken meat (which from hereforth be known as treat(s)).

2. Let him smell the muzzle, then treat. I did this for several times.

3. I used the muzzle to give him affection above his head and below his chin while feeding him the treat. This helps him associate muzzle with positiveness.

4. I put the treat in the muzzle and let him eat from eat several times.

5. While he eats the treat from the muzzle, I clip the muzzle on, feed him small pieces of treat through the muzzle, then unclip the muzzle and reward him with a treat again. Did this several times as well.

6. Finally, I left the muzzle on and fed him more small pieces of treat through the muzzle.

7. He lay down and rest with the muzzle without trying to take it off.

8. Patients!!

Muzzle is foreign to dogs, therefore, when introducing anything foreign and unnatural, we must enforce positiveness.

At the end of the session. Their dog became how he use to be. Relax, calm and gentle again. I instruct them to give lesser affection for now, so that they’ll be sure that they do not enforce the wrong behaviour by accident.

Usually the safest will be 3-4 months, after-which, when your dog’s behaviour becomes ‘happy-go-lucky’ behaviour, then it’s fine, but still enforce good structured discipline so that unwanted behaviour will not turn-up in the later part of your dog’s life.

Remember, prevention is better then cure. Enforce structured discipline like how your parents did for you, or how you do for your kid(s), or how schools enforce rules.

Give affection for the behaviour you most desire, ignore the behavior that is disrespectful, and correct the behaviour that can lead to something dangerous in the future.

Lastly, consult a professional if in doubt to prevent escalation of unwanted behaviour or injury.

Ezra Koh

Singapore Specials: Escape Artist

There’s always a problem when a dog is an escape artist. Oh yes, Singapore Specials are our very own local cross breed strays, or some call them mongrel.

Knowing that your dog will run out from your house when you open the door or your house gate can be a stressful thing for any dog owners. Then… how do we eliminate this problem?

Mistakes…

The mistake most people make when bringing home a new dog or adopted dog are:-

1. Failure to take a good long walk with the dog before introducing into the home

2. Letting the dog enter the house first

3. Letting the dog roam freely around the house with no boundaries

4. Giving too much excitement and affection overstimulating the dog

5. Giving/portraying too much excitement when putting on the leash to go for walks

6. Not enforcing discipline before going out from the door for the walk

7. Letting the dog walk out from the door

8. Letting the dog lead you during the walk

9. Letting the dog tell you what he/she wants during the walk without good proper structured discipline

10. Not consistent with training and discipline

All sounds familiar?

I understand some of you will ask, ‘why restrict the dog so much, so poor thing.’ Try understanding from the dog’s point of view and understand the psychology of how dogs actually views discipline. Yes, dogs are not wolves, but their ancestors are the wolves. Somehow, they carry almost the same instincts with the ability to read, smell and sense human’s body language, scent, emotions and intention from a distance.

Canine have always carried the instinct of being in a pack, having a pack leader, seeking a structured routine, learning boundaries and working for their food. Therefore, because of their instincts, we use it to help them live a fulfilled life everyday. Not by babying them, or showering them with tones of treats and toys, but by being a pack leader to them. Being a pack leader is like being a parent. A parent disciplines the child, drawing discipline and boundaries for the child. When the child act on the discipline and boundaries well, the parent reward the child with praise, affection or buying toys/computer games. Translate it to dog terms, it’s the same. The only thing we do not do is to cane the dog or ask the dog to go to their room and reflect. Dog’s don’t rationalize, they react to the situation base on what their instinct tells them.

I’m not going to talk too much about the psychology of dogs, but I’ll talk more about being a pack leader so that your dog will always remain in the house even if you or your guest happen to leave the door or gate open by accident.

1. Always bring your new dog for a long, stimulating walk before bringing him/her home. When I talk about stimulating, I meant fast walks with disciplines which stimulate the dogs mind to follow the leader. This means, your dog MUST walk beside or behind you at all times (not applicable for search and rescue dogs, or guard dogs). Ever witnessing a pack of 19 dogs led by a pack leader (an alpha dog) – It’s amazing how all 18 dogs stay behind the pack leader. And non of them stop to mark or do their own things. They follow the leader..

2. In a dog’s world, the pack leader enters first. Therefore, your dog should be sited outside until invited in (of course you’ll have to tie your leash to the gate for a start), or you leading your dog into the house behind you. I will always advocate sitting the dog down outside first, so that the line is drawn clearer for the dog.

3. Never let the dog roam freely around the house. This is to enforce boundaries and structure for the dog to help prevent future behaviour problems and, the dog will learn that there is a leader in the house whom he/she can respect and feel safe because their is discipline and boundaries in their instinctual mind.

4. You can give affection to your dog, but over doing it can cause an adverse effect on your dog resulting in unwanted behaviour. Always, very often, dogs try communicating with humans by showing us certain body language telling us it’s enough. But understandably, most won’t know how to read it. There are many actions a dog can communicate through which I won’t cover here. The safest is not to create too much excitement giving too much affection that the dog jumps or walk away from you. It’s tough not to cuddle and hug your dog tight, but we want their good behaviour to be present for the long haul. You will notice, dogs to dogs don’t go licking one another excessively or hugging another dog. They lick another dog to show affection, but never prolong period of time. Majority of dogs shows affection to one another with a silent presence of approval being around one another. This works for human to dog too..

5. Some people tell me that their dog get over-excited when they take the leash out. From taking the leash to putting it on will determine how the discipline will be at the door and the walk. Leash should represent calmness and discipline for the dog. A little excitement but controlled is fine, but you must know when to stop the excitement. So the safest will be to wait until the dog calms down (easier said then done- takes patience). I will only put the leash on the dog when he/she sits and remains calm. After putting the leash on, the dog must still be calm and wait for my invitation to move-on. This is a lead-up to helping your dog understand the leadership structure around the door area and going out. It enforces a discipline for the dog to always wait and look upon you for an invitation to exit out from the door.

6. Enforcing discipline and calmness at the door is very important as it’ll determine your walk with your dog. Always get your dog to sit and wait. Again, this takes patience initially. Once your dog sits and wait, you exit your door first.

7. When you exit your door, your dog shouldn’t rush out with you. You invite your dog out. When your dog is out of the house with you, sit your dog down before moving off. This will help enforce calmness and respect for you, the leader at the door.

8. When walking your dog, your dog MUST be beside or behind you. Having them beside or behind doesn’t mean they don’t have freedom. Whats freedom to us humans is not to them. Again, I repeat – dogs nature, they need to be led by a pack leader who can lay down structure and boundaries for them like a real alpha dog will do. Therefore, having them walk beside or behind you is their form of respect to you, the leader. This is how dog trainers are able to train dogs to walk off-leash.

9. Always let your dog pee and poop before the walk, never during. Dogs travel for miles before hunting for food and resting. With the same concept, being a pack leader, we let them pee and poop before we start traveling so that the walk will be focus. Dogs are always waiting for a pack leader to take them on a focus walk. Importantly, YOU must enjoy the walk FIRST, and your dog will enjoy the walk feeling fulfilled and trusting you more and more as his/her pack leader. This will aid in the training process of them not running of of the house but always waiting for your invitation.

10. Lastly, everything for a dog is about consistency in the discipline. Even if it’s so difficult, consult a professional and take a deep breath and continue on the training. Patience is the key to consistency and success for a fulfilled and happy dog.

I look forward to lesser lost dogs and more pack leaders in Singapore!

* I talked about alpha dog and pack leader, but I don’t mean pinning down your dog to a submissive position if your dog takes a longer time to understand what you want him/her to do at the door.

** Consult a professional if you face difficulty understanding why your dog takes longer with the discipline.

*** You can use a slip leash, semi-slip collar or a collar to help enforce the discipline, but be very careful not to injure your dog. Consult a professional if you have doubts about the various training aids.

**** You can use reward base training to enforce positiveness in the behaviour. Again, consult a professional if unsure, as you don’t want to reward the wrong behaviour by accident.

Ezra Koh