Wednesday, December 25, 2013

How To Fully Exercise Your Dog Part 2

Ok, so I was doing great posting consistently every week, then the holidays hit. As of today I think it's starting to wind down, so I'll be more consistent again. Please don't hate me too much for being a slacker.
At least my excuse for the delay in posting is pretty awesome- I was making matching pajamas for all my nieces & nephews and siblings for Christmas. 18 pairs. 
That is all.
A couple weeks ago we discussed the importance of providing both physical and mental exercise for your dog, especially in the winter when nobody wants to be outside. You can refer back to that for more on why, but suffice it to say that your dog needs mental and physical stimulation on a daily basis to stay happy and healthy. And to not drive you nuts.
Today, we discuss my favorite indoor games for you and your dog. Most of them provide a combination of mental and physical stimulation, so they are great for fully exercising and they are FUN for both of you. I've referenced these when I can, others are from clients, friends and family- but I'm pretty sure that none of them are truly my original idea. I'm not trying to get credit for these- just trying to share them. If you think you came up with this idea first- awesome! I hope you don't mind me sharing it with other doggie parents :)
As with all exercise, please consult you veterinarian and maybe your breeder for advice on exercise for your specific dog.

Stairway Fetch
It's literally as simple as it sounds. And as long as you don't mind a little extra wear and tear on your stairs, it can be kept up all winter long. Toss a ball (or other fun favorite toy that won't dent your walls when it bounces) up the stairs and let your dog fetch it and bring it back down the stairs for you to fetch it again. Guess what, this game can be played the other way too- you can toss the ball down the stairs and have your dog run up and down. This is a great cardiovascular workout, and if you have get good, you can get the ball into an upstairs room and your dog has get a bonus game of hide & seek. 

Hide & Seek
Holy cow, dog LOVE this game. It's easy, provides mental and physical stimulation and works on their recall and builds your bond with your dog AND it's fun! Sneak away from your dog when she isn't paying attention and hide behind a piece of furniture, a large appliance, behind the shower curtain and call her to you. Sound happy and excited and get more so as you hear your dog coming to you. When she gets to you, give lots of praise and petting and a treat if you have it... Then do it again! This is a great game for kids too- get the whole family involved!

Find It: 
The first stage of this game should be set up with you and your dog in a room, and you "hide" a piece of treat or favorite toy. Point to the hidden goodie and say "find it", encouraging her to get the treat. As your dog improves, try hiding multiple goodies while your dog is in a stay or wait position in the room with you. As she gets the hang of this, have her wait in another room as you hide the goodies, then bring her into the room and say "find it". The first time or two, you may need to point out some of the goodies, though try not to point them all out or she may become dependent on you to do so. The goal is for her to entertain herself for a bit as she hunts for goodies. Try this in different rooms, with different goodies, and with different people hiding different goodies- this gives her more fun stuff to smell!

Shaping Basics:
Shaping is used in dog training all the time, and it's super easy to start training.
You'll need a dog (preferably your own or at least one you have permission to be working with, otherwise, volunteer at a shelter and use this to make a dog more adoptable), some treats and probably a leash so the dog doesn't wander away.
Here are the instructions, straight from my Puppy Kindergarten curriculum:

Start with your dog sitting or standing and hold your hand, palm open, in front of your dog's nose (3-5 inches away) with your fingers pointed toward the wall.


Seriously, don't move your hand and don't say anything.

Your dog WILL move to touch your hand with their nose.

As soon as they do, say “touch” and give them the treat and provide praise. (If you're using a clicker, now's a great time to use it- click as soon as he touches your hand.

Do this 25 more times or so.  

As your dog gets better with this, try putting your hand in different positions.

Mistakes your dog may make:

Approaching your hand with an open mouth:

Move your hand away, saying “oops”, then offer your hand again

 Dog shies away from your hand:

Reward any movement towards your hand. As your dog gets better, wait until they touch your hand, even if it's brief. 
 As your dog improves, try having him touch other things- the wall, your foot, a beach ball or exercise ball (NOT a medicine ball, they are way too heavy!) There is an entire sport where dogs herd those exercise balls, it's really fun to teach and I'll talk about it more in a later post, but feel free to search the interwebs yourself in the meantime (like you weren't going to anyway!). It's called Treibball.

These are just my favorites, I'll share more with you over time, I promise.

And I'll stop being such a slacker, really. 
Happy Holidays, people and pups!

References: Play Together, Stay Together-Happy and Healthy Play Between People and Dogs, By Patricia McConnell and Karen B. London
Credit also goes to clients and other trainers who have shared their tips and tricks with me

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

How to Fully Exercise Your Dog

Have you ever noticed how many of your neighborhood dogs seem to hibernate during the winter? Their owners hibernate too. In the spring, they emerge from their home, the dog running and jumping at the end of the leash; the owner panting and trying to keep up.  No doubt, both have put on a few extra holiday pounds.
I'm not here to berate anyone for avoiding the cold, I can't stand cold.  In fact, the only reasons I'll typically go out in the cold are to take the dog out, to go for a run or to build a snowman. That is why I had to come up with ways to exercise my own dog during the cold, long winters in upstate New York. Next week, I'll have a run-down of my favorite winter doggie games, so stay tuned!
First, lets talk about the types of exercise your dog needs. I'm not talking about weight training vs. cardio (though I try to include some of each in my games below). See, dogs need both physical and mental exercise to keep them happy and healthy. Mental exercise for dogs? Am I completely crazy? Are you supposed to get a tutor for your dog?!
No, silly. YOU will be your dog's tutor, training partner and workout buddy.
Actually, you should already be those things for your dog. He deserves it.
Before we get into what, lets find out WHY dogs need these things.
We all know that physical exercise has many health benefits- healthier weight, decreased incidence of heart disease and arthritis, as well as fewer injuries such as ACL tear. For more on this, please consult your veterinarian and listen to their advice. You have probably noticed that if your dog gets a good long walk or a game of frisbee in, he is a little more calm once you get back inside the house. If you have a dog who is of the terrier line or any kind of sporting dog, it may take something more like a 5 mile run or hike in addition to a daily walk to expend energy. Sometimes, even two runs a day or a 5 hour hike isn't enough. What is a loving dog owner to do? There is only so much time in the day! At this point, your dog has likely expended enough physical energy, and is in need of some mental exercise if either of you is to sleep anytime soon.
It's interesting, 30 years ago it was unheard of to need to exercise your dog either physically or mentally. Wanna guess why?
You got it.
Dogs used to work.
I'm not talking about hard labor or anything, just the fact that most dogs had a purpose back in the day. It may have been guarding the house, herding the livestock, babysitting the kids, or helping to catch dinner. They got up in the morning, ate breakfast (or went out to hunt their own), went to work, and came back for dinner (or found their own) and a warm place to sleep. Don't get me wrong, life is much better for dogs in many ways than it was 30+ years ago. They live longer, most get to have a cushy bed (or three, in Roxie's case), and don't have to brave the elements except to go potty- it's a pretty awesome deal, except for one little detail
Have you ever gone to bed, gotten yourself all tucked in snug and cozy, only to lay there staring at the ceiling for 3 hours? You know how your dog decides it's time to run a Nascar style race around your living room around 9:15 some nights? SAME. FREAKIN'. THING.
As you pick up the pieces of your mind that just got blown across the room, think about your poor pup. He's trying to be a good boy, he was great on the walk, didn't chase the cat, didn't beg at the table at dinner; he just needs to run around a little. Is that so wrong?! When it involves tearing around your living room as your family is just settling down for some quality time, it's a little annoying. What your dog needs just as much as physical exercise is this mental exercise I keep talking about.
Now, what you really want to know: How do you provide mental exercise for your dog? It's easy. No, really, it is. There are many ways to get your dog adequate mental exercise:

-Practice obedience cues (sit, down, stay, heel, etc)
-Practice agility skills (jumps, wave poles, hold position, chutes, tunnels, etc)
-Play games (hide & seek, fetch, treat hunt, and soooooo many more)

I'll explain these games and more next week, but lets go back to why your dog needs this type of exercise. Remember a few paragraphs ago, when I went off on a tangent about how dogs used to have jobs? This is where that becomes important again. Those jobs that dogs used to have? They have actually been bred for these jobs over many generations. They have been bred to guard a flock, herd, or home, hunt with their people for dinner, or move a flock or herd... just a few canine trades. More on that later. So, if these dogs have been bred for years to do these jobs, is it any wonder they go a little nuts when they don't get this exercise.
My favorite example is a border collie- they have been bred to solve puzzles (moving a flock of sheep around in a field, into and out of pens). Now, if he can move a flock of sheep, why wouldn't he try to solve the puzzle of how you get those tasty treats out of the cabinet?
Do your dog a favor, and think about how much or how little mental exercise they are getting and think about how you can change that. He'll really appreciate it. I promise.
Be sure to check back next week to get the games all spelled out for you!

References: Play Together, Stay Together-Happy and Healthy Play Between People and Dogs, By Patricia McConnell and Karen B. London

Monday, November 25, 2013

Why Dogs Are So Good at Training Us

Could you say "no" to this cute face?!
a puppy that I dubbed the chocolate chip puppy- he looks like a cookie!

I hear it all the time from clients, friends and family- "My dog has me trained- it happened so fast!" My favorite is when I'm being told this about a 12 week old puppy- it's not any less true, but it is exponentially more hilarious. Dogs training humans is a phenomenon that has been occurring for thousands of years, way back to the first time a dog used those puppy dog eyes for a scrap of food. Research shows that dogs and humans first started living in close quarters based on a common need- food. Initially, wolves (very likely the ancestors of modern domesticated canines- more on that later) hung around for scraps of large kills after the people took all they could use. Over time, they probably helped with the hunt and then became guardians of the home. My point is this- dogs like food and we like food. We are both a social species. And dogs are generally pretty darn cute. And they use that to their advantage at every opportunity they have. Most dogs are almost as manipulative as my Irish-Catholic grandmother (may she rest in peace).
I'll go into canine domestication in a later post (or series of posts), so save your coffee for a later date.

If you examine canine interaction, especially if you observe wolves, you will see that they give very subtle but very clear signals of communication. It's how they communicate- dogs primarily communicate through body language and use vocalizations as a secondary method. All canines communicate quickly and subtly- a small tail twitch or tongue flick can be the difference in a fight or friendly play, and most dogs are fluent in this language. You know what other language they are fluent in? Humans. That's right. Domesticated dogs have a PhD in human communication. All this time I thought undergrad Organic Chemistry was tough- at least I haven't spent most of my life trying to decode the people I live with. Dogs can see every little twitch that we make, they can tell if we had a bad day at work and need a hug (what, you've never had a dog hug? my condolences.), they know when we are mad about the horrible traffic coming home (Roxie has been know to look at one of us after a long day of work or traffic and tuck tail as she runs to her bed). Dogs can smell when a diabetic's blood sugar is too high, they can alert us before their epileptic owner is about to have a seizure- they know us better than we know ourselves.
In that case, should it be any challenge for your Yorkie to learn that when she barks and jumps long enough, you pick her up or give her a treat? All it takes is once- you give in one time and they are hooked. This is operant conditioning at its best, and a principle I remind clients of frequently-  

any behavior that is rewarded will be repeated. 

 I'm not saying this is always a bad thing, sometimes your dog learns that if she sits nicely, she gets a treat or toy- that's good for both of you! What you don't want is a dog who barks at the door because she wants to go chase a squirrel (though I think my father would pay good money to have someone else chase the squirrels away from the bird feeders...).

So, how do you keep your dog from developing these not so fun for you habits?

It's really easy.

It's something that doesn't require any special tools or fancy tricks.

You're going to be mad at me now.

Don't give in when your dog is doing something annoying. Try it out at Thanksgiving dinner (if you don't celebrate Thanksgiving, we'll just call it Thursday). When your dog sits by the table, whining, jumping up or simply sitting there with sweet puppy dog eyes and Niagara Falls leaking from her mouth (all of those except the drooling are begging by the way), I want you to do nothing. Ok, you can ask her to sit or lay down and to stay. Beyond that, don't say anything. Dogs LOVE attention, and saying "No, no, you're being a bad dog begging at the table like that!" is still attention. Once your dog gives up and breaks eye contact with you and your plate, you reward with praise. If they stay relaxed and not begging through the rest of the meal, they can have a small treat after dinner... not directly from the table! Put it in her dish, or at least make her sit or shake paws with you first, for goodness sake.

I'm not saying your dog can't have table food (please consult your veterinarian about that), I'm saying they probably shouldn't beg for your food, or bark incessantly when there is a leaf blowing around outside. If you want your dog to do these things, feel free to ignore everything I've written here- no hard feelings, I promise.


The Other End of the Leash by Patricia McConnell, PhD. Pages 20-64

Saturday, November 23, 2013

How I Ended Up a Dog Trainer

My name is Amanda, and I am a professional dog trainer. I own my own training business and do private lessons, group classes and behavior modification. I decided to do a blog because, honestly, I think my husband and all of our friends have tired of my dog-related rants. Seriously, it doesn't take much sometimes to get me going on a lecture about behavior or ethology or canine development or canine domestication (don't you worry, curious reader, I'll explain it all in due time). 
I figured I would start with how I ended up a dog trainer and a small business owner. Only one of those has always been a dream of mine. 

Like most little girls who grow up on a farm surrounded by chickens, dogs, horses, pigs, and cats; I had decided by the age of 4 that I wanted to be a veterinarian. I spent countless hours caring for my stuffed animals, doing exams, giving vaccines (empty syringes without needles of course) and applying bandages to wounds only I could see. Fast forward to sometime in high school when I finally got a job working for a local veterinarian, I was so excited that I didn't care that my first week of work consisted of cleaning cages and wiping down tables. I worked for Dr. McAllister for about 4 years, through the rest of high school and then during winter and summer breaks from college. Four years of classes including animal science, diseases, anatomy and physiology, livestock management, nutrition, animal husbandry, genetics plus all those core classes like physics and organic chemistry and I had made it to graduation. I had worked diligently for 4 years taking all the required classes plus any extras I could squeeze in, all while balancing extra-curricular activities, clubs and two jobs. See, for vet school they won't even look at your application unless you are heavily involved in activities outside of class and getting great grades the whole time. There I was, senior year and I was applying for vet school- I can't begin to describe the stress of that time- all I will say is that it is a wonder I am still friends with anyone I encountered that year. Here's a fun fact: when I was applying there were about 22 vet schools in the entire US and my B+ average was only good enough for about 5 of them. I did it anyway, I knew my grades weren't good enough. Did you know there are vet schools in the Caribbean? Dude, THAT was my backup plan. One of these days I'll go into more detail about it all and why undergrad and the application process alone is why I respect veterinarians, but until then I'll quote a friend "Do whatever you have to so you get in, straight A's and president of every club on campus, no sleeping- once you get in you can have a C average and coast." So I applied to the schools I had the best shot at getting into, and I got wait-listed. You know what that means? It means that I was almost good enough for this school, and if that school isn't quite good enough for another student that they accepted, I may be next in line for their spot. Oh, when you get wait-listed and then accepted they can accept you as late as a week into classes. But it's living the dream, man. That's what I was going for.

Then, the unthinkable happened. 

I got accepted...

Holy Shit. Me. Accepted to vet school in sunny California.  

You know what I did?

I told them "no, thanks"

Funny story- I was on lunch break at work (a vet clinic of course) and I had to let them know right there on the spot or at the latest by the end of the day. I had to decide if I was going to find a $500 deposit to hold my spot and move across the country for the first day of classes next week.. meanwhile I was eating leftover pizza from the staff meeting 4 days ago for my lunch. Oh, and I was working a late shift so there was no way I'd get back to them by the end of the day even with the time difference. 

So I said "No, give my spot to someone else." 

See, I had already kind of decided this months ago after not getting accepted during the first round of acceptance letters. I didn't want to be in debt until I was 80 years old. I didn't want to spend 4 more years of my life in school only to have people not think I was an actual doctor. One of the vets at the clinic where I was working at the time said goodnight to her kids over the phone 4 nights a week.. jeez. Now that I was actually thinking about someday having a family, it was a little depressing to see. 
Meanwhile, my boyfriend (now husband) was in the Navy and was getting assigned to a submarine in Hawaii. I liked the idea of fleeting off to an island for a few years with my sailor.. maybe finding a different career option that would still allow me to work with animals. 
That's the one thing I knew- I had to work with animals. 

I've always believed that everything happens for a reason. Maybe it's the optimist in me, but I really feel like I ended up in Hawaii right when I was supposed to. A few weeks after we moved, a sweet pit bull was brought into the clinic where I was working. She was malnourished and had a pretty bad case of mastitis. One of the other techs found her a foster home and within a month we ended up adopting her. Roxie, and a lingering interest in behavior from a few courses in college was what got me into dog behavior and training. The story of Roxie will have to wait until another day, but I will sum up with stating that her behavior was what got me where I am today. She was my first dog-dog aggression case. 

I completed a dog training program with Animal Behavior College, including an 8 month externship with a fantastic trainer (whom I still talk to when I'm stumped) and graduated with honors. I joined the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and opened my own business in upstate New York (my husband's new duty station for a few years). I took continuing education classes, went to conferences and seminars, and gained the experience and knowledge necessary to sit for the CPDT-KA test (more on that later too). Then, we moved back to our hometown in Maryland and I got to start my business up all over again. In my downtime, I thought I would start this blog to help educate people and try to explain some of the misinformation out there.

Oh, and I always wanted to own my own business, I just thought it would be a vet clinic... turns out being a trainer has much lower overhead cost and I get to make my own hours. That rocks hard.