Monthly Archives: December 2015

What to do about pet odors in the home

You wash your dog weekly, you vacuum daily and mop at least a couple of times a week, but you can’t seem to get rid of that pervasive doggie odor in your house.

Well, suck it up, you’re the proud companion to a smelly beast!

image ‘a smelly dog’ by land3

Actually, there are a few ways you can minimize the odor without banning your furbeast to the garden.

  1. Bathe the dog less frequently. Okay, this goes against your natural inclination to keep your house clean and smelling fresh. But bathing your dog weekly can increase pet odors. Your dog’s coats natural oils will help protect his coat and skin and should, if left to their own devices, keep the house from smelling too much like dog. Additionally, frequent shampooing can lead to dry, flaky skin which will add to the scents in your home. Much of the ‘pet odor’ comes from dander (flaked off skin particles) and so over-washing may actually increase the amount of dander shed by your dog. Depending on the breed, you should usually only be washing them between once a month and once every three months. Ask your vet or professional groomer about your specific breed.
  2. Use a proprietary shampoo. That is, use a shampoo for dogs. Using people shampoo, baby shampoo, bar soap or shower gel can mess with the pH balance of your dog’s skin, leading again to dry, flaky skin, and increased household odor.
  3. Brush more often. Brushing daily or every other day will help distribute those oils, remove dry skin and hair, dislodge dirt, grass, and other such things your dog’s coat has picked up on the daily walk. Brushing for just 5 – 10 minutes per day will keep it low stress for both of you. You can rotate areas on your dog’s body if you can’t get the whole thing done in that time. If your dog has gotten mucky, allow him to air-dry then brush off the mud/dirt/fox poo and then spot-clean any smelly bits with water wipes or dry shampoo for dogs. Brush outside or on a towel or old sheet to minimize the spread of shed hair and skin.
  4. Deodorize. You can get doggie deodorant from most pet shops, some vets and TK Maxx or other pet departments. These will merely mask odor and will not clean your dog or treat underlying conditions.
  5. Look at diet. If you notice a yeasty smell or your dog smells particularly bad, you might look at what you are feeding. Some dogs do not tolerate grains well or may have allergies to certain foods and this can be reflected in their skin.
  6. Talk to your vet. If you dog’s skin is red, flaky, peeling or has a yeasty odor, talk to your vet. Your dog may have a yeast infection which will require medical treatment. Mucky or infected ears may add to unwanted odors on your pet and again, should be checked regularly and treated appropriately. Gum disease and liver problems may lead to bad breath or other odd smells and again, need to be diagnosed and treated by your veterinarian.
  7. Change how you clean. I vacuumed yesterday. Today, I dampened my carpet with Febreeze(tm) and then with water in a spray bottle. If you prefer a more natural approach, you can use diluted white vinegar instead, or just plain water. I then took a standard window squeegee (although you can use something like the Vileda rubber brush/squeegee shown in the photo) to the carpet and you can see the results in the picture. There was still quite a lot of hair stuck to the carpet. Even with regular vacuuming with a good vacuum, you may not be getting up all the hair and dander. I would suggest squeegeeing around once a month to keep your carpets clear of hair (more if your dog is a heavy shedder).IMG_0703
  8. Change your cleaning products. Before expecting visitors, I sprinkle bicarbonate of soda on all carpeted areas, leave for 2 hours (or overnight), then vacuum. This removes most of the lingering odors.  Steam cleaners can also help get the carpets that little bit cleaner which results in fewer smells.  If you have a young puppy or an older dog who may have incontinence problems, you can remove potty odors with biological laundry soap. Simply pour liquid straight from the bottle onto the stain or make up a thin paste of bio powder and water. Leave soak for at least 15 minutes before blotting and rinsing. Don’t use bleach or other disinfectants to clean potty messes as this may not remove the scent for the dog. Adding a capful of bio or white vinegar to your mop bucket may help with general pet odors too.
  9. Use scent destroying/masking products. I personally don’t like electric plug in air fresheners for safety reasons, but the gel-pack ones can be placed anywhere. Look on the packaging for one that claims to destroy rather than cover up odors or just pick a scented candle you like (good ones give off scent even when not lit). Oil burners, sachets of lavender or other herbs, or bowls with bicarbonate of soda left in inconspicuous spots all may help mask or eliminate household owners. Anything involving fire needs to be kept well out of reach of curious noses, paws and waggy tails!
  10. Live with it! Once you know your pets and your house are clean (enough), don’t stress too much about your pet odors. It’s probably not as pronounced as you think. And, trust me, your house doesn’t just smell like pets. It smells like you, your family, and what you ate and drank in the last few days. If someone cannot bear to be in your home because you have pets, then you can go visit them instead.

What happens when Nothing Happens?

We all talk about training behaviours into or out of our dogs. We talk about teaching the dog to come when called, or not to jump up to greet. Once these behaviours have been taught to the point where the dog performs them (or doesn’t as the case may be), owners tend to stop reinforcing the correct response.

We spend time, money, and calories to teach our dog what to do. We purchase training aids, treats, toys, special leads and harnesses, sometimes treat pouches, ball chuckers and more. We teach the dog to sit when asked, come back when called, walk nicely on the lead. Then months later, the dog seems to ‘forget’ everything we taught him in those weeks of intensive training. Some might say the dog is ‘stubborn’ or that he is trying to ‘be dominant’ or stage some sort of household coup. Some might say the dog is ‘acting out’ from spite or boredom. However, it usually is just down to nothing happening.

We might offer the occasional ‘good dog’ or a scratch behind the ears when we have asked for a sit, and clearly if we use punishment to eliminate unwanted behaviour, there is no need to punish what doesn’t happen. But long-term, how do we ensure that those taught behaviours keep happening and prevent the unwanted ones from coming back?

Because, you see, when nothing happens, the dog decides whether the action (or lack of action) is reinforcing enough to do it again and again and again without any external reward. Sitting calmly at the front door instead of mauling you when you bring in the groceries might not press his buttons when you blow past him for the 50th time without so much as a glance or a word of praise. Coming back when called might not be very enticing when every single time you call you put him back on the lead to end the walk.

Over time, when ‘nothing happens’, something happens. The dog starts choosing behaviours and scenarios that are more reinforcing for him. Blowing off recall to say ‘hi’ to an interesting person or chase leaves, jumping on you when you come in from work to get your attention instead of sitting quietly waiting for a greeting that doesn’t happen (or doesn’t happen fast enough); pulling on the lead to get to another dog instead of walking nicely with you until you reach it and give him the go-ahead.

brown dog with leash

So, what’s the solution? Feed your dog every single time he does something we have taught? Yell or knee the dog in the chest when he starts jumping up again? NO. All you need to do is occasionally and randomly reinforce the behaviours you like with real rewards. Food, play, attention. When you come home from work and your hands aren’t full of groceries, stop and scratch behind his ears when he is sitting to greet! Call him back on your walk just for a biscuit and then release him to go back to doing doggie things (yes, the release is part of the reward!). Hand him a couple of bits of food out of his bowl when you have asked him to sit and wait for his meal. If you reward your dog at least 1 out of every 10 times he performs the things you like (whether you have asked for them or not), he will continue to repeat them and stop looking for other things that will work better.

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