puppy

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“Why are you carrying that lump of a child the whole time?” the woman asked of my friend Jessica. “He must be two if he’s a day. Where’s his pushchair?”

Jessica blushed and struggled on, hoisting her well-built two-year-old son onto her hip. She didn’t want to have to answer this sensible question. She was exhausted carrying the wriggly heavy child for hours, but she was under the thumb of her partner, who had decreed that no child of his would be put in a pushchair, and that his mother had to carry him whenever he could not walk. Apart from wearing out his mother who had no free hands for anything else, this prevented the child from interacting with his world without parental pressure. It blocked the path of discovery, self-awareness, confidence. 

This madness extended to the home, where the boy was not allowed to sleep in a cot. 

The result? Midnight mayhem. Whenever he awoke, Basil would - naturally enough - slide out of bed and start wandering. Naps were impossible if Basil decided he wasn’t sleepy enough. Result: unrested and overtired child - and all parents freeze with apprehension at the thought of that!

It’s hard enough bringing up a toddler, without both hands being tied behind your back.

Most parents would consider these attitudes lunacy - the result of Jessica’s spouse’s bullying. 

So why do people do the exact same thing with their dog?!

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I’m always surprised when I come across resistance to using a crate for a dog. 

Using a crate for a dog is just the same as using a cot for a child.

There’s no question of punishment. The crate is his bed, his own space; it has plenty of toys and chews in it; all meals are fed in it; stuffed food toys are given in it. It’s a haven where he’s safe from other dogs, cats, children, the world. All he has to do in it is r-e-l-a-x. 

Here you see Coco Poodle relaxing in his much-loved crate. It even has a handle for him to pull to open it when he wants to go in for a break. 

You should always know exactly where your dog is. If you ask him to go in his crate when you go out, you’ll know that when you come back you’ll be greeted by a smiling, stretching, cool, rested puppy, with no chewed cables or furniture, no upturned bin, and no pee on the floor. Your pleasure at seeing each other will be genuine and untrammelled by recrimination, bad temper, and frustration. 

Leaving him loose to entertain himself in the house instead of getting his valuable shut-eye, will make you bad-tempered and cross, and your puppy will have NO idea what he’s done wrong - just that you don’t like him and you may be dangerous. This is not the way to create an unbreakable bond with your dog!

So why would you resist this simple solution to so many aggravations?

Don’t labour on like Jessica did, making housetraining, chewing, and life in general much, much harder. Use the tools that are available to you, just as most parents do with their small children. 

More info on how to crate-train happily here

 

And have a look at just how I train my own puppies! in this small but perfectly formed mini-course

 

Trust your dog, don’t control him!

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Lizzie had recently retired from a responsible position. 

She lived in a spotless and perfectly-kept home in the countryside with a husband who was always out at work. She wanted a dog for companionship and pleasant country walks.

Her children were long grown so it was a good while since she’d had a young thing to look after. 

So the advent of her puppy Bracken brought up all kinds of fears and anxieties in Lizzie - she was terrified something dreadful would happen to him, but she also struggled with the disruption a puppy brought to a neat, clean, adults-only, house.

At Puppy Class, Bracken was distracted and lively - typical of his busy and active breed - not, perhaps, the best choice for a first-time dog-owner of later years. 

Lizzie got very anxious and embarrassed by his behaviour at class. 

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She felt ashamed that she couldn’t “control” this puppy, and felt he was showing her up. 

She was perplexed that her image of the perfect dog trotting at her heels across hill and dale was not matched by the reality of a puppy who seemed to be always straining to get as far away from her as possible!

So I wasn’t surprised when Lizzie got in touch with me a couple of months after her Puppy Course finished to give me a long list of problems she was having with Bracken, and to ask for help.

Enter the prison!

When I arrived at her home I found something more akin to a prison! I was ushered through an airlock of two doors at the front door (a good practice in itself) to see an excited puppy leaping up at a baby gate. Bracken was not learning how to greet people stuck behind a gate!

She had four metal playpens barricading various rooms and corridors. She had baby gates in most of the doorways - this in addition to a couple of crates. And outside she had had fencing built round the patio to prevent Bracken’s access to the garden.

The house itself was spotless, with no sign of Bracken’s toys which had all been put away. 

Her focus was entirely on containing and controlling her eager youngster.

Her list of problems included:

  • Bracken was not yet reliably housetrained

  • He’d grab anything he could find in the house and initiate a chase game

  • Outside he’d get hold of stones and slugs, which Lizzie frantically tried to get off him

  • This was leading to a Resource Guarding problem

  • He’d steal any food so everything was locked away

  • He’d race off to any dog he saw on walks, play too roughly, and refuse to come back

 

The Program

This is what made Lizzie happy!

This is what made Lizzie happy!

  • I revised with Lizzie the games she’d learnt in Puppy Class - which had all been forgotten in the new clampdown era

  • I taught her new games - particularly for focus and recall - to show her that Bracken could keep his feet on the floor and engage intelligently with her

  • We played fast games so Bracken could learn to respond even while highly excited

  • Housetraining - we went back to new puppy basics

  • She revised her matwork with Bracken so he could reliably go to his mat when asked - and stay there till released

  • She learned to swap, not to snatch or chase. This stopped the stealing and the resource guarding, and dealt with the potentially dangerous slug ingestion

  • Lizzie learned to stop caring about stolen items so that grabbing stones was no longer the prompt for a chase game for Bracken, so it just died out on its own

  • She improved Bracken’s diet, going for a grain-free option

  • She learned how to handle a long line with soft hands so she could give Bracken comparative freedom without getting too anxious herself

  • She got a Freedom Harness for control without coercion

  • These both improved her Loose Lead Walking dramatically

  • We worked on a system for greeting dogs and people with self-control

  • She polished up her Tug play from class so that it incorporated masses of impulse control along with masses of high energy fun

  • She did some work using Dr. Overall’s Relaxation Protocol to teach Bracken to self-soothe and settle

  • And she started to use impulse control at every opportunity - every time she opened the fridge, every time she opened a door, picked up a toy or Bracken’s lead

Here's a taste of the course that Bracken got - specially-selected video lessons will get you fast results!

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The result

Over the course of a month - with much reassurance that Yes, Lizzie was an excellent owner for Bracken, and Yes, she could look after him well and give him what he needed, and Yes, he would become her perfect companion over time - all the playpens, fences, and gates disappeared. 

She became able to walk him on a loose lead instead of the vice-like grip on a tight lead she had before, and she was able to let him loose on walks without panicking that he’d escape (or even want to escape). 

She had entirely stopped chasing Bracken for stolen items, with the result that he no longer bothered to steal them - he’d much rather have the offered game instead.

Housetraining? “Oh yes, he’s fine now!”

The Conclusion

Bracken was a grand little pup who was being wound up on a daily basis with constant nagging, recriminations, and control.

He was simply exhibiting puppy and early adolescent behaviours which provoked a huge over-reaction in Lizzie, owing to her anxiety that she was somehow failing the dog.

Once Lizzie learnt how to relax and release - and to stop worrying herself into a panic - everything started to run smoothly.

By relinquishing control and instead giving Bracken choices, she elicited really good responsive behaviour from him. 

It was a delight for me to see that both Lizzie and Bracken felt free to trust and enjoy each other. The journey could now begin!

 

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Is my dog a reflection of me?

 

When we first visualise adding a dog to our lives, we conjure up an image, an impression, of what life will be like. 

You may have been looking at this project being super-rational, coldly calculating, rigidly sensible … until this image washed over you -

  • of striding across a rugged landscape with your trusty friend at your heels.

  • Or perhaps it was sitting knitting in front of an open fire, with your little fluffy pet on your lap.

  • It could be that you saw yourself racing round an agility ring with your perfect pooch flying over the jumps to much applause.

  • Or maybe you had an image of your friendly dog playing endlessly with the children, and the children’s friends, and their cousins, and their dogs.

Whatever it was you imagined, this dog was destined to enhance your life, to show off your natural talents as - an outdoorsy type, a homely comfortmaker, a sporty competitor, or the quintessential earth mother.

This is all great and wonderful, and for some of us that will have come true. 

We choose to have a dog to enrich our lives

But as any parent will know, once the much-anticipated creature (whether baby or puppy) arrives, it’s a different story! This little person has her own character, her own history, and her own opinions. Shaping a baby to become the kind of adult we’d like takes us twenty years (“Only twenty?” I hear you cry!). Fortunately it’s a lot quicker with a dog. 

I’d expect my pup to arrive at the kind of dog I’m aiming for by the age of about three or four. Up to then you’re in teaching mode. 

 

It is a truism that your dog’s behaviour is a direct reflection of your training.

 

With dogs it’s very much a case of you get out what you put in. And to get the best from your dog you need to be open to his suggestions of what works for him. To have harmony in the home, with a pet who knows his boundaries, you’ll be investing plenty of time in early training.

Don’t wait till things are going wrong! By the time your puppy is adolescent (around 6-9 months) and running wild, it is too late. That is a common age for dogs to be given up for rehoming. It’s the dog’s behaviour that will dictate how he fits in with his family - and ultimately whether he lives or dies. Many more dogs die because of poor training (failure to recall near a road, apparently aggressive behaviour because of lack of early socialisation, boisterousness, impetuousness) than from the illnesses that people are so afraid of.

 

Spending time and effort on vaccinations is pointless if you don’t put the same care into your training program!

 

Fortunately it’s becoming increasingly easier to find a force-free trainer to help you start your new dog the right way. Look for one who belongs to the APDT (UK), or the Karen Pryor Academy, and who has credentials you can look up and study. Avoid anyone who talks of “Pack Theory” “Dominance” “Keeping your dog in his place” and, of course, anyone who uses nasty equipment. If you wouldn’t use it on your small child, then no-one should have it near your dog.

Happily ever after

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This will all pay off when your dog is mature, confident, knows exactly what goes down well with his family and what is best avoided. 

By then, you’ll have found out what you really want in your partnership. You can discard the glossy magazine images that paraded before you when you were planning your dog’s arrival, and factor in your dog’s character, your own character, and the nitty-gritty of daily life. 

Maybe you do go for those bracing hill walks; maybe you’re becoming an agility star; perhaps your dog is your rock and support; maybe she’s the perfect family dog.

But maybe not.

  • Maybe she got an injury which precluded her from being a performance dog.

  • Maybe she’s made it clear she’d far rather curl up and sleep than tramp across the moors.

  • Maybe she’ s had enough of noisy children and prefers peace and quiet - that’s her choice.

And you work with the dog you have, to ensure that she has the happiest life possible. So you may have to put your hopes and plans on the back burner and give this dog a life that suits her. 

How often do you see a child from a sporty family end up as a musician, or an accountant? How about the academic family who are frustrated because their children become hippies or horse trainers?

Our dogs, like our children, are individuals. We can nurture their talents and rejoice in their creativity. The only reflection of us we need to see in our dog is the love in those big brown eyes. The rest is an adventure.

 

 

RESOURCES:

Fix everyday dog problems fast - free email course

APDT(UK)

KPA

VSPDT

IMDT

CBATI

PPG

 

Your dog has his own character

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How to choose a dog to suit your lifestyle

 

“It’s so difficult,” she went on, “he never seems to run out of energy! It’s wearing me out.”

“I guess you were expecting that, as you chose a Working Cocker Spaniel?”

“Oh no - I had no idea! Is that why he’s like he is?”

I wish I had a pound for every time this conversation gets repeated. It’s a shame, because the lady here was well-intentioned. 

Maybe she chose her puppy because she liked his looks; maybe a friend has an older, quieter, spaniel which she liked; maybe it’s because this particular breed is currently fashionable as it has royal approval.

Whatever the reason, she made a wrong choice! For her lifestyle she’d have been better off with a quieter, slower dog, one bred as a pet, not a working breed. 

Working Cockers are smashing little dogs, but they’re bred to go all day in the field, at high speed, through scrub, water - anything they’re put to. Teaching them an off-switch takes some skill. They can even be too much of a handful for some agility enthusiasts, though there’s no doubting their speed and commitment to the task. So this really is unlikely to be a good choice for a first-time puppy-owner - a complete novice with dogs.

 

What breed is right for me?

There’s no “right breed”. While you can make a general description of a breed’s temperament, there can be huge variation in individuals. The UK Kennel Club has a breed-finder tool which may give you a start. 

There are, of course, crossbred puppies you’ll find in family homes or in shelters. Then there are the “designer dogs” bred for money. See this article on designer dogs to get an idea of what you may expect there. Don’t get confused over the allergy thing either. If a dog is a cross with a non-shedding breed, there is no guarantee that your puppy will not shed, and may do so plentifully! While these crosses may sound attractive (largely because of their cute names) they may be a mixture of two breeds, neither of which are suitable for your home! Mixing them together is not going to diminish their behavioural characteristics. 

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So before you start looking for a breeder for your new dog, you must narrow down the breed or type to fit your requirements. You need to be scrupulously honest about this! Dreaming about 10-mile hikes over the hills, when the last time you walked more than a hundred yards was when the shopping centre car park was particularly full, is unrealistic.

Start from where you are. List what you do now, and what you’d like to do with your dog, and make sure the lists match. If you are particularly houseproud, for instance, it’s important that you choose a dog that doesn’t shed year-round, or fling strings of saliva across the room whenever they shake their head. If your house is tiny, perhaps a tiny dog would be a good option. If you have small children you need a dog with an excellent temperament and an off-switch. While being calm can be taught - there's a book here to take you through the steps - it does help to be working with a puppy whose ancestry allows him to calm down.

If you have a hankering to do agility with your dog - then visit some agility events and talk to the people there. Explain you’re a beginner. You’ll get some very useful advice, and you’ll learn a lot from what you see. You don’t start your car-driving career with a Ferrari, so start with something a bit more biddable and you can grade up to a more energetic individual as you become more skilled.

Whatever puppy you choose, you won’t be doing any of those 10-mile walks for a year or so anyway. Babies need to grow their bones and strengthen their joints and muscles with play and light exercise before building up a training regime.

And, of course, all of this doesn’t only apply to Working Cocker Spaniels! They are a delightful little dog, but like all dogs, they need to be in the right home. 

 

Homework time

High-energy puppies!

High-energy puppies!

The key message here is to “do your homework”! It’s not fair to your new puppy or dog to have to try and fit into a totally unsuitable home. This will lead to frustration all round. And you may find yourself doubting your decision to get a dog for a companion, which would be very sad. 

By all means go for a rangy working dog that needs a lot of exercise and mental stimulation, if you are able to furnish that. But whatever you choose, do keep in mind that the dog looks as it does because of what it’s been bred to do - through many generations.

There is a splendid sculpture on the hills near my home, of two buzzards landing - claws forward - possibly on their prey. A passer-by said to me, “I don’t like that sculpture - they look too vicious.” No doubt to their prey they do look vicious, but it’s because of their purpose that they look as magnificent as they do to us. They are efficient hunters and killers, and everything about them is designed to make that work. 

Your dog has been bred for purpose. So that efficiency is represented in his shape and behaviour. If you don’t want to bother to train a recall, then avoid a dog that can cover 200 yards in 12 seconds! (Only kidding, you need to train a recall with any dog.)

Superb online Puppy Training Course for you - everything you need with daily video lessons! 

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A dog fit for purpose

And while you’re looking at a dog of any breed, be sure to check up on its parents’ health record. Breed societies and national kennel clubs have stringent guidelines for health assessments for breeding animals. Since the appalling scandal in the UK when it was shown that the majority of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are affected by a distressing and painful degenerative brain disease, the UK Kennel Club has focussed more on this. See their breed health guidelines here

So some breeds have particular problems with, say, Patella Luxation, Hip Dysplasia, maybe Progressive Retinal Atrophy or other eye problems. You need to have sight of the certificates showing their score on the relevant tests, and know how to understand that score. These tests are not cheap, and breeders who can show you evidence of going to this trouble and expense are demonstrating their care for the animals in their charge. 

And just because you’re getting a crossbreed, with some extra hybrid vigour thrown in, don’t think you can skip these tests! If one parent has poor hips, there will be a high chance of your puppy developing such a condition. Not when he’s old - maybe in his first year.

 

We owe it to our new charge to ensure the best start possible for him.

 

There is a dog out there that is perfect for you and your family! Research has never been easier. Spend some time in the planning of your new puppy and that will pay you back for the rest of your dog’s life.

 

And once you have chosen your new puppy, you can avail of all the resources to help you start right. Check out the other posts under the  Puppies & Dogs tab above, and be sure to start following the free email course for new dog-owners.

 

How to choose the right dog for your family

I have a new puppy: will I ever get any sleep again?

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It’s a frequent cry from new puppy-owners. You bring home your cuddly fluffpup - you are overflowing with parental emotions for this little scrap and determined to do the best for her. 

Trouble is, that cuddly fluffpup turns into a screeching monster as soon as you put your head on your pillow. So you go down to see what’s wrong - is she hungry? is she cold? does she need a wee? By the time you’ve exhausted all these possibilities, both you and your puppy are well and truly awake. The puppy is now refreshed and ready to start the day. But it’s half past midnight and you have to be at work tomorrow morning!

This seems to be the stage when one of the pup’s new owners fetches the duvet downstairs and tries to sleep on the sofa. In no time it’s 4 a.m., the puppy is refreshed and you are not. 

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Next night you eschew your comfy double bed and start out on the sofa. You wake up hearing chewing and crunching noises as your puppy discovers the interesting textures of your computer cables. And being awake and mobile, she now needs to relieve herself - this bit of carpet will do …

As you stagger into work on the fourth or fifth day you realise that This Is Not Working! That’s when I get a phone call. The caller is usually desperate: sleep-deprived, anxious, guilty, worried, their work is being affected, they see no light at the end of this tunnel. Some people actually return the puppy to the breeder at this stage: really!

 

So what’s going wrong?

I often find they have a crate for their dog, but haven’t used it, or they’ve tried using it but won’t shut the door, or it’s in the wrong part of the house. They may think it’s cruel to confine the puppy to a crate - but I can assure you that the breeder confined the puppies (3? 6? 10 of them?) at night! 

Most people are comfortable putting their baby in a cot - for their own peace of mind as well as the babe’s safety. What’s the difference?

The next thing I learn is, “I don’t want the dog in the bedroom”.  

As they are usually at the stage where they are actually paying me to give them a night’s sleep, this is particularly shortsighted.

Your puppy is used to snuggling up with those 3, 6, or 10 warm, furry, littermates - suddenly being alone is a loss and causes fear. 

They’ve also perhaps been making this common mistake, which one desperate terrier-owner told me about: “I come straight downstairs, knock on the door, and tell her to be quiet.” 

Your puppy is not barmy - she’s able to work out that if she barks and wails long enough, someone will respond. Now you’ve told her she just has to keep going for as long as it takes! You’ve made things worse

Blissful, peaceful sleep

My own puppies sleep through the night from the day they arrive. They quickly get into a pattern and will be clean and dry by night from anything between 7 and 9 weeks. 

I’ve given my sleep recipe to anyone who has difficulty settling their new pup, and get responses like these:

 

“Got a whole night’s sleep last night! Thank you!!” Vizsla puppy 9 weeks

 

“Good morning Beverley, Just had to let you know that I followed your guidance re settling Gertie at night and we had a peaceful sleep with no crying and no mess in her bed, a very big thank you.” Miniature Dachshund pup 11 weeks

 

“Your suggestion about the size of the crate worked wonders! No mess in crate this morning.” Labrador pup 14 weeks

Get started with this Puppy Training Mini-Course with video lessons for speedy learning! 

Click here for details

 

Want to know what the secret is?

Here you go:

 

1. Use a crate

It doesn’t need to be the size of a ballroom - only big enough for the puppy to get up, turn around, and lie down again. It’s a bed, not a playroom. If you’ve bought a large one because your pup is a large breed but is currently still tiny, you can either buy a crate divider - or simply fill the extra space with cardboard boxes to make a smaller sleeping area. No problem if he chews the boxes. A well-reared puppy will not normally soil his sleeping area (unless very distressed) so this helps with your housetraining program. If you have a whippet, earthdog or other tunnelling breed, provide masses of blankets your pup can burrow into like a hamster, rather than a flat single piece of bedding which will better suit a hot dog like a border collie or a golden retriever.

 

2. Shut the crate door

Shut the crate for every nap, every sleep, every meal. Never open the crate door if your dog is hollering, “I’m going to get my lawyer if you don’t let me out of here!” Only calm and silence will get that door opened. (Genuine distress is something else, and needs attention - you should be able to distinguish between annoyance and distress with ease.) Darken the room and/or partially cover the crate - this makes it a cosy den. For naps, leave the room and shut the door.

 

3. Put the crate by your bed at night

Your puppy will hear you breathing and moving, sighing and snoozing. If she wakes up anxious, you can just reach a hand out to touch her through the bars so she is reassured she’s not alone. You’ll hear if she’s genuinely agitated and needs a wee. If you don’t want your dog to sleep in your bedroom, you can move her out again once a pattern is established and she feels confident in her new home and routine.

 

4. Once pup is in crate, there’s no talk, no interaction

The crate is a quiet area for s-l-e-e-p-i-n-g. And chewing chew toys, and eating meals. It’s not a chatty place. 

 

Imagine the crate is soundproof - both ways!

 

 

You have now taught your dog to relax and settle anywhere she finds her crate. This is invaluable training for the rest of your lives together! No separation anxiety, no pacing and worrying when you holiday in a new place, no danger of damaging the carpets or cables when visiting friends. When your dog goes into her crate, she lies down and sleeps!

 

Let me know in the comments below how you’re getting on!

 

And for more force-free solutions to everyday puppy problems, get your free e-course here.

If you want a step-by-step guide to everything about your new puppy, get New Puppy! Dog series.

 

Once your puppy is about 9 weeks old and has settled in with you, you can start working through the Brilliant Family Dog series of how-to e-books. Everything is broken down for you into little steps - and what’s more, the first book in the series is free! Go get it now.

 

And here's your free guide to getting a full night's sleep with your new puppy, from the first night!

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Is your new puppy keeping you awake all night?

Puppy dogs' tails tell their own story

Wouldn’t it be great if we had tails!

Dogs’ tails are so expressive. You can see what they’re thinking when you’re behind them, beside them, at a distance. There is a whole chapter in the Dog Body Language Primer on Tails. You may not have heard of this volume, but all dogs get it downloaded into their brains at birth - it’s how they naturally express themselves.

And we - people - tend to dismiss it. “Oh, he’s wagging his tail - he must be happy.”

Some of the time he’s wagging his tail - yes, he’s happy. But some of the time he wags his tail out of anxiety, anger, anticipation. Many a person has been bitten by a dog with a wagging tail!

It’s how they are wagging it that’s important

Did you know, for instance, that when a dog is greeting someone he knows and loves, he’ll wag his tail to the right? Sometimes, when really delighted to see his person, the whole back-end will wag to the right. Your dog will be in a kind of banana-shape as he runs towards you, tail a-wag on his right side, ecstatic grin on his face.

You can see some great info in this article by Stanley Coren which tells you about some of the finer points of tail carriage and movement. But if you just realise that your dog is speaking to you through his tail, you’ll learn an awful lot of his lingo by just tail-watching. 

The skeleton all being connected, it’s impossible, of course, for the tail to go a particular way without affecting the whole body posture. A terrier standing with tail stiff and erect will also have a stiff and erect body, stiff face, closed mouth, and unblinking eyes. A spaniel in full pleasurable wiggle will have trouble keeping any part of himself still - he’ll stay close to the ground, wriggling in a blur.

And a gundog on point will do just that - stand as still as a statue, every fibre pointing towards his prey, foreleg poised, neck stretched forward, tail stretching straight back: one big arrow pointing at the bird.

So you need to look at the whole dog when you decide whether this dog is friendly or not. His body - and especially his tail - will tell you more than just a bland “He’s happy”.

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