Sunday, December 28, 2014

I Like My Expectations Low

The title doesn't refer to life in general, or living with a dog in general but training and reality. So many of my clients (and friends and family) have unrealistic expectations for their dogs. The new puppy should sit and wait at the door no matter who is on the other side; the dog who has always barked at passers-by through the window should stop after two training sessions; the dog who pulls on leash should stop after one or two practice sessions of polite leash walking.

Not to be mean to all the wonderful pet parents out there, but those kinds of expectations are crazy.

Would you expect a child to be just as calm at Disney World as they are in their own backyard? Of course not, it's a different place! When training dogs, we need to have realistic expectations of what our dog can do in a given situation. Your dog will be better in your house and in your yard than they will be at a friend's house or at the dog park, until you PRACTICE in those places.
Dogs who do Obedience Trials and Agility shows and all the other dog sports out there have practiced for months or years to get as good as they are. If you want your dog to be that well-behaved, you need to put in the time. Dogs who do cute tricks on TV have spent years practicing those cues, in that environment and all you see is a brief interaction on a 30 minute sit-com.

Please don't misunderstand me, I am not saying that your dog is not capable of learning those things. In fact, I am sure your dog is more than capable of learning them as long as you are patient and consistent, and understand a few basic principles of canine learning. I will preface this with a note: there are always dogs who will do great with all learning- quickly and with little need for repetition. These are the exception, believe me. I have met many dogs in my day and most of them need a bit of practice before they are ready for their television debut.

1. Dogs are not good a Generalizing.
     This means that dogs are not (always) understand that "sit" means "sit" no mater where it is said or who says it. Even having the pet parent change their position from standing to sitting and asking their dog to sit can cause the dog confusion. Having someone else ask your dog to sit can easily result in them not sitting. Body language is different, voice tone is different, etc. I love doing an exercise to demonstrate this in my classes- after about 4 weeks of a 6 week class, I will have pet parents switch dogs and practice some of the simple things we have been working on like 'sit', 'down' and 'look'. Most of the time, the dog is hesitant to do what is asked and pet parents are confused, saying "but he knows it!" or they offer each other tips like "we usually say it like this...". It's is a great way to demonstrate how we, as people are really good at doing things exactly the same way that got a good response from our dog the last time. Dogs are great at putting together very specific situational cues and making a connection between those and the expectation of what they are to do. This is why it is important to practice frequently, change environmental markers/cues, change your body language, and get other family members and friends to practice with your dog.

2. You need to be Patient and Fair
     To be a good pet parent, you need to be fair and give your dog time to learn at his or her own pace. To ensure your dog learns on their own, you need to give them opportunities to make mistakes and learn from them. I know this is hard, I get frustrated with my own dog sometimes because I don't feel like being patient. Let's use leash walking as an example. Here's my post on how to succeed at walking with your dog. Whenever the dog puts tension on the leash, the human does a simple turn around (no collar pops, no reprimands) so that the dog gets further away from whatever they were pulling towards. This needs to be done every time the dog pulls. Yes- every single time. This is where patience comes in- you may not get all the way around the block, but your dog will learn that pulling on leash does not pay off. By not "popping" the leash or yanking the dog around when they pull, you are being fair and creating a dog who isn't afraid of the leash or other environmental stimuli, because that can and does happen. When you punish a dog with a collar pop (or any other number or compulsion based methods), you are punishing them for being curious or excited about the environment and that's not fair. What if your boss yelled at you for being excited about the weekend- would you be motivated to keep working hard for them?

3. Motivation
This is key to all successful training. What is motivating for your dog may be different from what is motivating for my dog, and it is your job to find out what motivates your own dog. Roxie will do anything for food-to the point that it's distracting at times. She also loves to play tug, so we frequently play tug as a reward. Your dog may like tug, fetch, a frisbee, a ball, a belly rub or treats best. The only way to find out is to try out lots of potential reinforcers. Motivators can change with environmental change as well, and this is why I encourage clients to develop a tiered system for rewards and saving the best reward for the most challenging situations- say walking in through a Farmer's Market on a Saturday Morning. The better you know your dog and what motivates them, the more success you will both find in training and in life.

To get back to the title of the post: this is advice that I frequently give to clients (and friends/family). Lets assume you have successfully taught your dog to do a sit-stay with you going out of sight and they are fantastic with it at home. This does not mean your dog will be just as fantastic when you try this outside at the park or during a walk. This is where (temporarily) lowering your expectations will save you both a lot of headache and frustration. It's easy to do a sit-stay in the house because there are few (novel) distractions in that environment. Outside in the park or during a walk, there are all kinds of fun things that make that sit-stay much more challenging. By lowering your expectations and not anticipating that same long-distance out of sight stay that you get at home and rather asking for a short distance stay with you in sight, you will both succeed.

Another way to ensure success is to incorporate training into everyday life as much as possible. If it doesn't feel like work, you will both enjoy what you are doing and will improve your skills!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Choosing the Right Dog for You, Part 1: The Senior Citizen

This is the first in a series of choosing the right dog to fit you and your lifestyle, if you weren't able to discern that from the title. This is one of the services I offer my clients and I have found that choosing the right dog to fit your life can make life easier for everyone.

I decided to start with something that always makes me want to adopt immediately- senior dogs. I have no idea what kind of person could leave a 10 or 12 year old dog in a shelter because they suddenly start have incontinence issues, arthritis or a tumor that will likely be the reason they have to be put to sleep. Seriously? I would not want to be a parent of these people, or a spouse for that matter. I know money can limit what we can do for our dogs, but doggie diapers are not that expensive and pain management in dogs is honestly not that expensive. If it is too much, I love my dog enough to know that I would find her a home that could afford to give her the care she deserves I we no longer could, or make the hard decision to take that one last sad trip to the vet so she was no longer suffering.

I won't judge you if you don't adopt a senior dog, but for some people it's the perfect fit and I'm here to explain why.

Admittedly, puppies are really freakin' cute. I love them. I love working with them. You know what I don't like quite as much? Living with them. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing like getting a puppy who can fit into your hands when you bring it home and still having him there to curl up next to you at night 12 years later. Being able to socialize and train your puppy to fit well into your lifestyle makes it easy to own and love your dog. It does take a lot of work to get to that point. I see people go through it all the time. A family gets a puppy after an older dog passes away and they forget why they wanted another dog. Pee, poop, middle of the night potty breaks, waking up at dawn and earlier,  and those razor sharp puppy teeth! All this compared to their last dog- calm, quiet, alerted them when he needed to potty, could walk off leash and listen perfectly, and all he really wanted was to snuggle up and nap with his family.
I know what you are thinking, "a senior dog comes with so much baggage", 'they usually have major medical issues", "they always have serious health problems", or "what difference does it make if they are only going to live a few more years anyway?"
First of all, ALL dogs come with some kind of baggage. Some come with more or less than others. Some have more serious behavioral or medical issues. I have seen seriously aggressive 10 week old puppies. I have seen (and heard) a grade 4 heart murmur on an 8 week old puppy and hip dysplasia so bad that one hip was literally one inch higher that the other one on an 8 week old puppy (those last two were actually the same puppy and a great example of why inbreeding is terrible, but that's a story for another day). I have also seen all those things on dogs of all ages, so your excuse is not valid. Don't even get me started on the last one- "what difference does it make if it's only for a few years?". A few years or a few months is all the difference in world to a dog who is aging, arthritic, and just wants a warm place to curl up (all day). To be able to provide that and any necessary medical care is a wonderfully selfless thing. Adopting a senior dog is not the same as signing up for major medical bills for the next 1-4 years, though if it's in your budget I say "go for it". Medical issues can frequently be managed with relatively inexpensive medications.
Senior dogs can be great for someone who isn't sure they want to commit to a dog for 15 years, or someone who doesn't have the time or patience for a puppy. A lot of senior dogs are perfectly well trained and easy to live with.
What's not easy for me to live with is the idea of an old dog spending his last few years in a kennel getting minimal interaction from people and other animals (if they like that kind of thing).

Do yourself a favor, go to your local shelter, ASPCA or Humane Society and check out some senior dogs who are in need of a good home.

Next week: picking a breed for your lifestyle!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

My (Other) Favorite Cue to Teach Dogs

Aside from the general "my dog never listens outside of our house/yard", one of my most common complaints from clients is that their puppy (or adult dog, in some cases) mouths, bites and/or nips. This is most common in puppies and herding breeds. I see a lot of Labradors who do it too.
That doesn't really matter, though. What is important is that the vast majority of these dogs are not "dominant" or "aggressive" in any way. They are usually trying to interact in hopes of play or simply to get their owner's attention.
In addition to management tips and redirection, one of the things I love to teach mouthy dogs is the Touch cue (it's also called Targeting). This cue simply teaches a dog to gently touch his or her nose to a person's hand. I'll put the training handout at the bottom here so you can teach it to your dog, too! This cue is great for dogs who like to grab hands with their mouths because it teaches them an appropriate way to interact with hands.
You know what's better than that? It it so much more flexible than that. You can teach your dog to Target with different parts of their body, like legs (yup- all four of them), paws, hips, tail or ears. You can also teach your dog to target anything at all! People, walls, toys, wall switches, etc. The list goes on.

But that's not all! In shy dogs, this can boost confidence. In dogs who have lost a limb or have vision deficiencies on one side, it can help with body awareness. Using targeting, you can teach your dog to open and close doors, turn lights off and on. In dog sports like Agility, Canine Freestyle and Rally, it teaches them to target contact zones on obstacles and lateral movement. It can be used to teach all kinds of "party tricks". It can even be used as an emergency recall!

Without further ado, here are instructions for the Touch (or Targeting) cue:


Purpose for touch:  Touch teaches your dog to interact nicely with hands, which is very helpful if you have a 'nippy' puppy! It's also a great confidence booster and a first building block in many dog sports. 
Hand signal/ visual cue: Place your hand near your dog's face, palm open 
Voice command/ verbal cue:  'Touch'
Behavior Pyramid:
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”, CT
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. 

Building the behavior:
As your dog improves this skill, remember to add in your random reinforcement schedule- only giving food rewards intermittently without a pattern. In addition, you can give food rewards for the best, quickest responses. 
Try having your dog target other things (the wall, a toy, a specific toy, a door, etc.)

Now, go out to your living room and start having fun with your dog! 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Hello There!

Ok, this week's post is going to be pretty short but sweet for three reasons:

-I found it already written out perfectly by someone else and there's no need for me to just re-write what has already been said.
-It seems like this is all I've been working with lately- dogs who are fearful or shy and stubborn strangers who think they will be the dog's best friend.
-I am super busy the rest of the week and this is honestly all I have time for. I promise I'll post something of my own next week.

Roxie tolerates hugs from Ethan, but she'd rather be chasing a bird and stealing his snacks. 

The diagrams are especially useful here in demonstrating how rude we really are to dogs at times. As canines, dogs are inherently not as comfortable with the types of greetings we as humans use. They have learned that we are not meaning to be threatening when we hug them or lean over and pat their head. It's still weird and it's even more weird when a stranger does it.
For a dog, a normal greeting means approaching at an angle (about 45 degrees or so) so that you aren't charging head on at them- this would be a threat. Avoiding direct eye contact when meeting someone for the first time is a very safe habit in the dog world- why start a fight right away?
Sniffing is the other important part. We people talk and exchange pleasantries when we meet ("where are you from?" "What do you do?", etc). Dogs can skip the small talk and smell to find out that and so much more (who they are, where they are from , where they went today, what they had for lunch, if they live with another dog or a cat, etc.). This is why it is important to allow a dog to sniff you (not force them to sniff) to gain some understanding of who you are.

Oscar does love a good ear rub from his buddy, Matt. His body is relaxed and he is leaning into his friend. 

As you can see from the date on Dr. Yin's post below, this is not terribly novel information, but I can tell you and my clients can tell you- it's important information to know.

Have you and your dog experienced a rude greeting?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Can I Have Your Attention?

I love when I see a dog walking along with their owner and glance upwards to gaze into their human's eyes. It's gorgeous.

 This is what it looks like.

Relaxed, happy, saying "hello".
You know what's better? Having a dog do it while walking off leash as a way to check-in with their person. It says that they are having fun with their person, they want to make sure their person is having fun too, and they have a super bond.

YOU can have this! I teach this to all my clients (unless they already know it). It is great for all dogs, especially those whose owner wants to master off leash walking in any manner, easily distracted or reactive dogs.

Best of all, it's super easy to teach:

Purpose- teaching this exercise will train your dog that it is more reinforcing to pay attention to you than the distractions around him.
Criteria- your dog should look at you.
Visual cue- Point to your eyes.
Verbal cue- ‘Look’
Important to remember:
Your dog is familiar with his own environment.  There are fewer distractions at home as compared to a park.  Begin all training where there are minimum distractions.  As your dog becomes more reliable with certain behaviors, gradually work your way to a more distracting environment.  DO NOT expect your dog to respond to you as well as they would at home in this new environment right away.  They will improve over time and with practice.

Start in an area with no distractions
Take a treat slowly wave it in front of your dogs nose and with your dog watching bring it to your eyes. Wait. As soon as your dog looks away from the treat and into your eyes, say “look” or “attention”, Click & Treat.
After 20 approximations at step 2, say ‘Look’ then ‘ok’ then Click & Treat
The above must be given in that order.  Your verbal ‘ok’ is their cue that they can look away.
When beginning this behavior only expect your dog to look at you for up to 2 seconds.
Repeat several times in a environment that is not distracting.  Slowly start increasing the length of time your dog looks at you.
Move to different environments that are not distracting, like different rooms in your house.
After 50 successful approximations of your dog looking at you while using the food lure, begin to fade the use of the lure.
Fading the food can be done by first asking for ‘Look’ with the treat in your hand by your eyes but CT your dog from the hand that is not by your eye. 
After 10 successful approximations, do not use a food lure, instead give both your verbal cue ‘look’ and your visual cue, point to your eyes.  Click & Treat from hand that is not by your eye.
After 10 successful approximations, randomly reinforce your dog.  Don’t forget the occasional ‘jackpots’ to encourage your dog to look at you in future exercises.
Slowly start to add more distractions for your dog.  For example, if you began training this behavior in your house move to your porch/ sidewalk outside.

Remember the importance of fading the food treats once your dog understands the new cue- random reinforcement is one of the strongest builders of any behavior!!

How else do you get your dog's attention? 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Calm Submissive State, My A%#.

My blood pressure has been rising almost exponentially lately whenever I hear about other trainers who look down on or dismiss the effectiveness of reward based training. These trainers are always spouting someone else's mantra about your dog needing to be in a "calm, submissive state". They are even right here-gasp-in my hometown. They are claiming that there is a limit to what you can do with reward based training or that after a certain age, you simply need to switch to using compulsion-based methods to get results.

I'm calling shenanigans.

Think about it in human terms, if it helps. If you are relaxed, laying on the couch reading a book, that's a "calm state" right? If someone bursts through your front door and begins to threaten you and your family, you'll switch to being in (some degree of) a frightened or submissive state. Are you still as relaxed as you were when you were relaxing on the couch reading your book?
 My point is that it is physiologically impossible to be both calm and submissive at the same time. This is true across species. When you are calm, your heart rate is at a normal, low rate and your respiration rate is even and relatively low. Muscles are relaxed and your body posture will reflect that. On the other hand, when you are feeling submissive your body will reflect that you are unsure and on edge. Your heart rate and respiration rate will be (even slightly) elevated. Say you are in this unsure, submissive state and you are then given a random, unrelated written exam or multiple choice Japanese (it's a notoriously difficult language to learn). How well are you going to do? Will you be able to focus and learn new things while in this environment? Will you retain it? Will you want to learn more from this person?
A dog who is calm is comfortable, relaxed, serene, tranquil and safe.
A dog who is submissive is unsure, anxious, meek and passive.
The two cannot exist together in the same animal at the same time.

Quick history lesson:
Compulsion based methods have been used widely since the first days of dog training in the early 1900's (military dogs during WWI) and back then, we honestly didn't know any better. Things like alpha rolls, scruff shakes, choking, etc were originally used because it was a fast effective way to get a dog's attention and slow them down to give the human the advantage.
Unfortunately, these are still fast, effective ways to get most dogs to stop demonstrating any given behavior. They are not resolutions to behavioral problems, and the dog does not suddenly respect the trainer/handler who is using these methods. The dog is likely shutting down because they are mentally overwhelmed and literally cannot respond any more (we call this "flooding")and has stopped fighting back because they feel their survival is at risk (this may or may not be rational). The dog is learning to distrust that person. Over time, dogs stop doing just about anything (even new behaviors) that may get them in trouble. This is called "learned helplessness"; the dog has learned that they can have no impact on their environment so they stop trying.
Back when dogs were first trained to do work and these methods were implemented, it was believed that any dog who did not respond well to training was simply not capable of being trained.
Using these methods, training cannot start until the dog is over 6 months of age. Ever wonder why? First of all, the physical force could do serious damage to young puppies, that's pretty obvious. The other thing is that this is after dogs have grown out of their Fear Imprint period in development and they have an understanding of what things are good and what things are bad in life.
Sure, go ahead and slap a prong collar on him- that won't be at all confusing.

What I'm trying to explain is that these 'trainers' who go on about a "calm, submissive" dog are so full of it I'm waiting for them to explode. The terms are made up. Their methods are antiquated at best and abusive at worst. Most of them don't even have an actual education beyond attending a few seminars on these methods. They have no real knowledge of Behavior, Cognition, Development or Learning Theory and they wield tools meant to cause harm.

You know why positive based training methods started being used and how clicker training developed? Marine mammals- you can't really punish a whale or a dolphin. They swim away and don't want to interact with you if you are a big jerkface. We had to come up with a way to motivate them to want to hang around and interact. Yeah, yeah that initially involves food rewards. Big deal. We ALL like rewards and food is something we can provide easily to animals when we train. Then we fade it out. Check out my post on bribery here to learn a little more about proper use of food in training.  What's wrong with that?! I'm not saying your dog gets 3 Big Macs every day, his own meals can be the reward if you're worried about weight gain. Food is a different topic entirely anyway, so I'll stop with that here.

I was recently watching a video another trainer in my area has on their website of a "before and after" of a dog who is trained using a prong collar. The "before" is a brief moment of the dog on camera reacting to another dog. The "before" dog is a dog who is excited, pulling on leash, jumping and doing a bit of barking. The tail is up a little higher than it would be for normal friendly play, and she appears to be switching between a play bow and a prey bow, so I would agree that there is some degree of over-stimulation at play and potential for trouble. The dog is not displaying outright aggression and appears to have a generally loose body (no tension, no crouching) which indicates that aggression is likely not going to be her first response. This does not mean that it is out of the realm of possibility, given her arousal level, so I would agree that this dog does need help coping with the stimulus. The "after" is after the trainer and owner have worked a few times with the prong collar on the dog so the dog understands the pressure placed on her by the collar. The dog after the prong collar training could be a different dog, and I don't mean that in a good way. She is nervous, anxious and unsure about everything. Her tail is low and almost tucked, she is completely avoiding eye contact with the other dog and is panting in an environment where the people are wearing pants and jackets. She is stressed out.
But she's submissive as she can be.
You know what she's not?
She's not "calm, submissive" because that DOESN'T EXIST.

Would you be calm if you had this around your neck?

With reward based training, I'm not going to try to change your dog's state or your state- I'm going to give you both tools to communicate and cope with challenges you will face in life together. With reward based training, the goal is to strengthen the bond between you and your dog. Pain and force are not the way to strengthen any relationship, and neither is bribery; which is why I don't use either. It's also why any trainer with an education in canine behavior, cognition and learning won't use them if they want results without dangerous side effects. I also don't just teach cute tricks to dogs using food rewards. I teach owners to communicate effectively with their dog; how to read their dog's body language so they understand their dog. I teach basic commands to help build a bond and use fun games to ensure both canine and human are having fun and thinking. You can have fun and still learn at the same time, you know. Ask a first grader about school this week. Do they have any fun during the day? Do they learn anything? Odds are, if they get to do both they are looking forward to the rest of the school year and the rest of their education in school. Why not set up a similar learning environment for your dog?

Excel-Erated Learning by Pamela Reid, PhD (Flooding- pgs 115-116; Learned Helplessness pages 98-99)
Canine Body Language; A Photographic Guide by Brenda Aloff
Reaching the Animal Mind by Karen Pryor (chapter on Fear, pages 115-132) (article on first recorded use of Military dogs in WWI)
Animal Behavior College Dog Trainer's Curriculum (Use of Military Dogs: pages 4-6)

Friday, August 8, 2014

Book Review: It Doesn't Matter, Just Scroll to the Bottom for the Name and Buy This Book

I've been slacking lately. Actually, I have been working on a couple of posts that involve a bunch of research and I have been working with actual clients a bunch lately. So maybe "busy with other things" could be subbed for "slacking".
Anyway, I figured that a book review would be a relatively quick, informative post and I have read tons of books so at least that part is done already!

The first book I'm choosing is one of my favorites (I'll say that a lot, but I REALLY mean it this time). I have read it cover to cover like a novel a few times and I recommend it to clients constantly.
The book is called Canine Body Language: A Photographic Guide, by Brenda Aloff.
The title kind of takes all the mystery out of it, but I'll do a brief discussion just for fun. The book is all about canine body language, and interpreting the emotional state of a dog. Now, there are those who frown upon us trying to determine a canine's emotional state, because that's attributing human traits to a non-human animal, etc... but I believe that dogs are just as capable of us as feeling scared, happy, sad, stressed, angry, frustrated, and everything else we feel. You can disagree with me all you want, but after living and working with different animals my entire life I'm absolutely convinced that I've seen it. I'm going to list all the main topics covered by the book, followed by an example or two from each chapter.

Canine Body Language starts out with a review of determining a dog's emotional state. The first section reviews relaxed/neutral, confidence, curiosity, rolling, companionship, stress signals, fear indicators, caution, anxiety, avoidance, and smiles. Let's talk about an easy one to start with. 
A 'relaxed, neutral' dog can look like, on different dogs and in different situations. In general, a 'relaxed, neutral' dog has no body tension anywhere, has a semi-open mouth, and is blinking normally.

The thing is, this (and everything) can look different on different dogs in different situations. Everybody thinks that a dog with a wagging tail is happy, and that is sometimes true. Check out my post on tails here from a few months ago. Dogs use their entire body to communicate, so to understand them we need to look at all of it. This includes, but is not limited to:
-Stance/Body Orientation
-Overall tension (or lack thereof) in the body

To get an understanding of what a dog is (likely) feeling, you need to look at all of these, and the book gives great examples of pretty much everything. That's why it's almost 400 pages long.

I also want to point out confidence. PLEASE, PLEASE, do not confuse confidence with dominance. They are not the same at all. There can be elements of confidence in an aggressive dog, or a dog who is trying to control a situation (rightly or wrongly); and there can be confidence in a dog who is performing fantastically on an agility course. Confidence usually involves the body being forward to a degree but not too far, and of course you have to look at the rest of the body (seeing a trend here?).
Section two discusses Calming and Negotiation signals. Blinking, look away, tongue flick, sniffing, shake off, stretching, yawning, paw lifts, and puppy licking. A dog who is yawning is not bored with you (probably). A dog who is yawning is a bit stressed by something in the environment. That something may be a camera taking a picture of them, or another dog who is being pretty threatening.

Section three delves into more of the neutral and friendly indicators and signals. Butt sniffing, inguinal sniffing, friendly, greetings, the "I love you" stretch, pass by and look away. The pass by is actually a good, normal way to gauge how two dogs will like each other. I call it 'going for a walk', and it involves at least two people and two dogs. The dogs are kept on leash and walked past each other, like two ships passing in the night. The third person can be useful to look at both dogs at the same time so their handlers can focus on walking. If both dogs remain relaxed during a pass by, it may be safe to try a walk together. If one or both dogs exhibit predatory or over-stimulated behaviors, that's probably not the best idea (at least not yet).

Section four highlights responses to invaded space, including aggression, alerting, targeting, corrections, warning, and guarding. Targeting is a great example from this chapter. My Roxie demonstrates this perfectly when she sees a cat, squirrel or another dog. She leans forward, lifts a paw, has a high, stiff tail, forward ears, and is very still. It's actually the beginning of a stalking behavior and recognizing it as such can be a great way for pet parents to prevent a bad situation form happening or pick out your dog's favorite toy from the floor.

Section five reviews predatory behaviors, like excitement, prey bow, stalking, and chasing. The prey bow is often confused with the play bow, and this is where a lot of dogs (and their people) get into trouble. A prey bow indicates to dogs that the 'game is afoot' and there will now be motion. There is tension in the body (noticeably absent in play bow), the body is oriented backwards but in preparation to spring forward, head and tail are up (tail is down during play bow), and the mouth is generally closed (mouth is open during a play bow)

Section six is more lighthearted and is all about play! Normal play between dogs, play biting, play bows, role changes during play, prey-predator switches in play, conflict and taking breaks, and play that is turning into something else. People ask me all the time what normal play looks like between dogs. I tell them that taking breaks, taking turns and nobody picking on someone constantly are normal and that depending on the individuals playing, it may look a little rough. Reading through this book is a great way to have an idea of what's normal.

Once you get through the book, you can take the quiz in section seven and give yourself a pat on the back for doing so well on it! If you don't, you can always read it again.

I'll say it again, I love this book. I recommend it to everyone with an aggressive dog, or an anxious dog, or anyone who takes their dog to the dog park. I recently ran into someone who refers to it as the 'dog Bible'. I kind of agree. If I could send one to everyone for the holidays, I would do that instead of a holiday card.

If you really like it, here's a few links to buy it to save you the Google search :)

Directly from the author's website:

What's your favorite dog book?

Friday, July 18, 2014

Vicious Attack Dogs

 At just 6 months, baby boy was pulling Roxie in for big kisses. 

My post this week is actually not entirely my own, though the picture above is. I'm not going to plagiarize anyone, I'm just going to share an article that really hit home with me.
This is an article about pit bulls, and how they are individuals. Each individual pit-type or bully-breed is not a representative of the entire breed, for better or worse. What people forget so often is that this is true for ALL dog breeds. Each individual dog is just that- an individual with their own story and characteristics; but not a representative for the entire breed or the population of dogs as a whole.

After reading this article I can assure you that Roxie is curled up on the couch with us, as she is welcome to do for the rest of her life. Tomorrow, she and our son will play fetch and tug together and they will inevitably share some snacks. We will take her for a walk and we will get strange looks, and some people will quickly run back into their houses. We have lived like this with Roxie for the past six years and it makes me furious and sad every time. She is a good dog. She loves people. I know she does not like many other dogs, so we are extremely cautious and courteous when we encounter any other canines.

After working as a vet tech and a trainer for the past 10 years, I have been bitten. I have been almost bitten. The times that weren't cats or hamsters were dogs. Usually Golden Retrievers, Cocker Spaniels, Dachschunds, or Chihuahuas. I'm not saying these guys are inherently dangerous breeds, but I am saying that no breed is- each dog is an individual with their own traits.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Dogs...In Heat

I'm going to tell you a story. It doesn't have a happy ending. Consider yourself warned.

You have your dog with you running errands, and decide to go into the grocery store real quick. You end up getting a few extra things and then when you get to the checkout there is one line and 8 people in front of you. But your dog is in the car. She's all alone. Will she be ok? Lets see.
A dog is left alone in a car for 30+ minutes on a hot, humid day and panting isn't working to cool her. Want to guess what happens next?
She's panting as hard as she can, is sprawled out trying to distribute her heat out across the seat to keep cool. She's drooling and her heart is racing. She's very lethargic, so there's no way she's going to stand up and bark at the person putting away groceries in the car next to her. After all, she knows you'll be back soon, you always do come back. She may have vomited a couple times by now, but that hasn't helped at all. It's just her body's natural response to overheating. If you could open the door right now and see her, her gums would be dark red and she would be unresponsive to your voice saying her name. She would be staring off into the distance with an anxious expression on her face. Pretty soon, her organs will start to shut down- liver, kidneys, heart and brain. If you were to open the door now and rush her to a veterinarian, she might be saved, but may have lingering complications. Once organs completely shut down though, it's really, really tough to start them back up again.

This is Jake- He has never died of heat stroke, because he has responsible pet parents.
He wants you to know that it's flippin' hot out there, though.

This is my first summer back on the Eastern Shore after a few years living in upstate New York and I have been recently reminded of the heat here in the summer. July is the hottest month on average, with temperatures averaging 87 degrees and humidity generally hovering at 80% or more. The hottest recorded temperature of 103 degrees was in July 2011. Humidity is important because it helps you calculate the heat index. The heat index is a measure of how hot it feels when you add in the humidity, you can check out the NOAA's website to see for yourself how much of a difference it makes. Here's a quick example though: with a temperature of 88 degrees and humidity at 80%, it feels like 106 degrees out there. It feels different because we rely on sweating to cool our bodies- sweat sits on our skin and when they evaporate, a little bit of our body heat is essentially escaping and you feel more cool. When it's humid though, the sweat can't really evaporate. Now, dogs do have a few little sweat glands to help cool them, but they mostly rely on panting to cool their bodies. By panting, they are still relying on evaporation to cool their bodies, it's just the saliva in their mouth that's evaporating and cooling their bodies. It's actually not the most effective method of cooling, but it works pretty well most of the time.

Why does all this matter? 

Because you love your dog and don't want her to die. You also don't want your car broken into be local law enforcement when your car with a dog locked inside is reported. Did you know that there are only 14 states that have a law against leaving an animal unattended in a vehicle? 14 out of 50 states in this country have a law against letting your dog die in a car. Ugh.
That's not my point today.

My point today is that it gets hot in cars. After 10 minutes, the temperature in a car can be 20 degrees hotter than outside. After 20 minutes it can be 30 degrees hotter and after an hour, it can be over 40 degrees hotter in your vehicle than it is outside. That means that on a 70 degree day, it can be 110 degrees in your car. Not to mention the fact that with no airflow or at best, limited airflow from a cracked window, your dog will have a tough time cooling off by panting.

Oh, did you know that there are actually some dogs who are more predisposed to heat stroke? brachycephalic breeds (boxers, bulldogs, pugs, shih tzu's, pekingese) have more trouble cooling off anyway, so be especially careful when it's hot. Their noses are shorter, so they can't pant as effectively as other breeds. Also, especially old and especially young dogs, or any with heart or respiratory disease are more susceptible.

Check out the links where I got the numbers:

If you see a dog (or any other pet) in a car on a hot day, get the make, model and license plate and notify nearby businesses so they can page patrons, or if it seems like you don't have time- call the police or animal control. If you are within the city limits in Salisbury, animal control is under the police department, and the number is 410-548-3165 otherwise call 410-749-1070 for the county. In Ocean City. My rule is that if it seems like an emergency- canine or human- you should call 911 and if necessary they will direct you the correct animal control/humane authorities. I'm not one to condone tying up the lines for 911, but if a life is in danger... that's kind of the reason for the number.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Choose Your Friends (and Dog Trainer) Carefully

I've been doing some thinking and reading lately, and there's something I really need to get off my chest, so bear with my rambling.
I train dogs. I help with behavior modification, problem solving and simple obedience training. I don't call myself a 'dog whisperer', behaviorist, or someone who strives for 'fast, effective results'. I also do not 'guarantee training results'.
If I spent my time speaking softly to dogs, I suppose I could call myself a 'whisperer' but that's not what I do and honestly I think it sounds weird.
I do not consider myself a behaviorist because I do not (yet) have a Master's degree or a PhD. To call myself a behaviorist, I need a lot more knowledge and a lot more experience; I'm just not there yet.
I never, ever, ever, never promise fast and effective results from training. Unless the only problem you have is a stinky dog (the resolution for which is a good bath), odds are there isn't a quick fix. It's simple to teach behaviors using just about any type of training, but it's the generalizing and proofing that takes time. By the way, generalizing and proofing need to be done with any type of training, which is why it's not accurate to offer fast, effective result.
I don't guarantee training results. Not because I don't believe in my work or my methods, but because training requires lifetime maintenance. I cannot guarantee that you, the owner will keep up with training after our lessons are done. I certainly hope you will, though.

Enough about me. I want to talk about you. You and your dog. Your dog who chews up everything, who only listens when you have treats in your hand, who forgets everything you have worked so hard to train as soon as you open the freaking front door. I've been there myself. I've been there with clients and the best part of my day is when a client says "I can't believe he's listening! I never thought that would happen!" The second best part of my day is knowing I helped them achieve that without harming their dog or their relationship with their dog. I want you and your dog to get to that point even if I never get to meet you, even if another trainer is the one who gets to share that moment with you- I want you and your dog to have that because it's a great feeling.

Now, to pick a trainer...
It's tough to choose a trainer for your four legged family member. I've had to do it and luckily I got a great one on my first try. The first place you can turn to is your veterinarian. I spend a lot of time and money getting to know veterinarians and letting them get to know me. I offer free education sessions for staff members at vet clinics as well as puppy folders with information on development and early training tricks. I answer all questions they ask me, and I thank them for their referrals. I want them to know they can rely on me and trust me with all of their clients. Next, I do the same with groomers and breeders. My point is this- a good trainer, who cares about their clients, community and reputation will do this, and the names you (usually) get from other pet professionals are the folks who are putting out some effort.

You have a name from your veterinarian, now what? Seriously? You have an internet connection and the name of a stranger who you may invite into your home? Google it! Do they have a website? Email address? Phone number? Education? Credentials? Are they listed in the search of any organization devoted to training? If a trainer has an undergraduate, graduate or doctoral degree, especially in animal behavior it's typically a good sign that they will have a solid understanding of canine behavior and development. Specifically, I tell people to look for someone who has any or all of the following designations after their name: CPDT-KA, CPDT-KSA, IAABC, CBCC-KA, APDT, ACAAB, CAAB. Now, these aren't the only designations you may see, just the more common ones and the ones more frequently associated with reward based trainers. For a full list of any letters you may see after a trainer's name, check out this post from the APDT.

You can click on each of those up there for their own websites, but I'll give a quick run-down:

These are all designations granted by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers to those who have passed a standardized test that they are only allowed to sit for after approval by the Certification Council. In order to apply to sit for the test, an individual needs references from a veterinarian, a client, and a colleague in the training field. They also need at least 300 documented hours of work as the lead trainer in the three years leading up to them taking the test. Oh, and the ones with the -KSA have taken it a step further and have passed a knowledge and skills assessment, which means they take the same test, then provide video showing their capabilities working with dogs and people. The video proves that they can help train new behaviors, adjust to individuals and that they don't utilize force or any type of coercion.

The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants has different levels of membership, depending on skill level and experience. The Associate Certified Membership means that the individual has at least 300 hours experience in behavior consulting and 150 hours minimum of coursework (in these areas). The Certified Membership requires 500 hours of consulting and 400 hours of coursework at a minimum. 

The Association of Professional Dog Trainers is a professional organization for trainers who are devoted to positive methods and continuing education. The only requirement is that you pay the annual dues, but this means that the trainer is at least putting forth the effort to train in a better way than we did 15 years ago.

The Animal Behavior Society is a professional certification organization that has two levels of certification. The Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist must hold a Master's degree from an accredited college or university in a biological or behavioral science with an emphasis in animal behavior, and have completed a research based thesis. They also need to have two years experience in applied animal behavior. The Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist must have a doctoral degree from an accredited college or university in a biological or behavioral science with an emphasis on animal behavior, including five years of professional experience, or a doctorate from an accredited college or university in veterinary medicine plus two years in a university-approved residency in animal behavior and three additional years of professional experience in applied animal behavior.

I know I keep harping on the reward based training and positive reinforcement training, but only because it's really important. I'll go into more detail in a later post, but for now feel free to read the ASVAB's position on punishment in training. In short, compulsion based training methods frequently do more harm than good and can quickly deteriorate a human-canine bond. Trainers who give up on reward based training either don't understand what they are doing, don't understand animal behavior, or are simply too lazy to follow it through. Reward based training does take more time. It does take more work. Results cannot be guaranteed unless pet parents keep up the work over time (and really, this is true for any type of training).

Above all, if you don't like the trainer- don't use them! If you meet with me for a consult and you don't like my personality, that's fine. Odds are I can tell and I really prefer not to work with people who don't want to work with me anyway. It seems like a waste of both our time and a waste of your money. Remember- it's your money and your time, and it should be money and time well spent.

Today's lesson:
Be sure to research your trainer, ask questions, ask for references, and ask about methods.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

It That a Silver Fox in Your House, or Are You Just Happy to See Me?

I was listening to NPR the other day, specifically to RadioLab, one of my favorite shows. I was only barely listening to it since I was cozy on the couch with Roxie while working on client notes and updating some handouts, so I didn't realize what they were talking about right away. Then, I heard a name that was familiar to me- Dmitri Belyaev.

  Not My Picture, but this guy: Matt Knoth

You probably don't know who he was, but I do, so I'll share. He was a geneticist in Russia in the mid 1950's who studied (among other things) the Silver Fox. Now, this was actually under the guise of canine physiology because Stalin had outlawed further research into Mendelian genetics, and Dmitri's older brother had been exiled to a labor camp after it was discovered that they were still conducting these experiments. He was interested in how modern domesticated dogs, who were so diverse, had all come from a common ancestor- the undomesticated wolf. Naturally, there must be something *gasp* genetic that explained it all. He said he was working on new types of fur for coats (I don't like it any more than you do, but it happened and it's in the past so don't get mad at me for mentioning it- it's not like I OWN a fur coat) but he was really gathering all the friendliest silver foxes from fur farms for a little social experiment. He bred only the friendly foxes- that was the only selective trait that he was trying to keep. In 1964, they were four generations into this experiment and something really interesting was happening. The foxes were becoming friendly- like wagging tails and approaching people. Some would even jump into the researchers arms! Even more amazing- one was taken home for a time as a pet and it walked very well off leash (like a well trained dog) and came when called!

But wait,

There's more...

They began to change in appearance too. The traditional sought after silver-black coat began to retain white spots, their tails curled up after just a few generations and their ears began to flop over. They began to vocalize differently. They were becoming more juvenile or rather, they were staying juvenile.
It turns out that's what's so endearing to us about domestic dogs- they are juvenile in appearance and behavior. Compared to the wolf, they are clumsy and careless in many actions, not unlike an human child.


It gets better.

Like any good, curious scientists, they wanted to see what happened if they bred the aggressive foxes only to each other. Naturally, they became more aggressive with each generation, as the friendly ones became more tame with each generation. As an example a kit (baby fox), who was more aggressive than it's mother was raised by a tame mother for the sake of the experiment. This fox was still quite aggressive towards people, which points more towards nature than nurture for aggression at this level at least.

Now, Belyaev died in 1985, but his experiment has been going ever since and after 50 years, has helped us to gather some new insights about domestication in general. For one thing, we have learned that things like aggression, ear position, tail position and coat color may be linked genetically. Not only that, but they figured out in the early 2000's that the foxes were more capable and willing to interact and do problem solving with people, and read human cues easily- as easily as domesticated canine puppies. The thing is, it's taken domestic canines thousands of years to do this but the foxes, bred only for the single trait of friendliness towards people had become strikingly similar to domestic dogs in only 10 generations- on appearance and attitude.

If you want more, listen to the episode of RadioLab or read about it on National Geographic's website. They break it down really well in the RadioLab eposide, then discuss how humans may have inadvertently bred themselves in a similar way. There's even a NOVA documentary that discusses the experiment and implications for domesticated dogs.


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 I hope you have enjoyed this one, I'm going to bury my nose in a genetics book until my son wakes up from his nap.

What's your favorite dog trait? Waggy tails and floppy ears? Uncontrollable drool and fun splotchy coats?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Fetch It, Fetch It Good.

Munson absolutely LOVES sticks! Guess what his go-to fetch toy is..

We went to the beach over the weekend and in addition to swimming, sandcastles and surburn, we got to see lots of dogs on the beach. They were playing with their owners, swimming, digging and playing fetch. Did you know that some people never play fetch with their dogs?! I guess some people just don't like throwing things for their dog to bring back, but others just don't think their dog can do it. The more you play fetch with your dog, the more she wants to play it with you- it's a wonderful cycle of reinforcement for you both!!
Dude. Dogs like to run. They like to grab things. They like to share things that they grab with their people. Fetch is a perfect game for you both! Fetch is a great combination of physical and mental exercise ("where did it go?!") so it's a fantastic way to tire your dog out. As I always say, a tired dog is a good dog.
"But my don't won't fetch, I've tried!"
Really-have you tried, or have you tossed a ball, saying 'fetch' to your pooch while she was dozing off or watching squirrels?
Quick reminder- you speak English and your dog speaks human body language, dog language and the cues you TEACH her. English is a language that is not a first language for many dogs. That's why we TEACH them our (spoken) language (they are pretty good with the unspoken one already).

Without further ado, I want to help you and your dog learn fetch. I have outlined two methods below, both of which I have used with success. The first one is for dogs who already have an interest in chasing things and need help honing that skill on the correct things so it can turn into an enjoyable game for you both. The second is for those dogs who watch balls and sticks fly by with little interest. Believe me, it is completely possible to teach any dog (with a heartbeat and legs) how to fetch.

Oh, one more thing: try to figure out what types of things your dog likes to fetch, because the world is full of fetch-able things (balls, frisbees, sticks, stuffed animals, floating toys for water fetching...the list goes on). Once you find out that magical thing your dog loves, fetch will be more fun for you both.

Fetch (Option #1)
Why: It's so much fun!  Fetch is one of the best games you can play with your dog, it helps them to burn off energy, gives them a task to do and reinforces them returning to you!

What: You toss a toy, your dog retrieves it and brings it back, repeated until your dog is thoroughly tired! 

-pocket/pouch full of treats
-hungry dog
-15-20 foot leash, attached to a collar or harness
-quiet, comfortable area with room to toss a ball
-ball or other toy that can be tossed by you and carried easily by your dog

    1.    Start with a toy you know your dog loves and your dog on leash next to or in front of you.
    2.    Be sure the dog is focused on the toy- wave it in front of his/her face, if it has a squeaker, make it squeak.  Once the dog is focused on the toy, toss it a few feet away from both of you.
    3.    If the dog goes and retrieves it, say “fetch” as they grab it and encourage them to return to you.
    4.    Once they return to you, trade the toy for a small, tasty treat by holding a treat in front of their nose- once they drop the toy say “drop it”, click and treat.
    5.    If your dog does not chase after the toy, you should chase after it, making it seem like such a fun game so that your dog wants to mimic you.  It may take a few tries, but your dog will get the hang of it and chase the toy while you stand still.
    6.    Repeat, gradually increase the distance you toss the toy.
    7.    As your dog is consistently trading the toy for a treat, with “drop it” begin to give treats randomly.

-You have your dog on leash when first working this behavior in case they do not want to return to you, if they do not want to bring the toy back, give a gentle tug and encourage him/her to return to you.
-Even dogs who do not retrieve naturally can be taught to play fetch, it just takes patience and time from you!

-As your dog improves and consistently returns the toy and drops it, you can remove the leash and increase the distance you throw it.
-Once you are ready to go outdoors with this activity, keep the dog on leash until he/she is consistently performing in the new distracting environment.

Fetch (Option #2)*
Why: It's so much fun!  Fetch is one of the best games you can play with your dog, it helps them to burn off energy, gives them a task to do and reinforces them returning to you!

What: You toss a toy, your dog retrieves it and brings it back, repeated until your dog is thoroughly tired! 

-pocket/pouch full of treats
-hungry dog
-15-20 foot leash, attached to a collar or harness
-quiet, comfortable area with room to toss a ball
-ball or other toy that can be tossed by you and carried easily by your dog

    1.    Hold a toy (that your dog likes) up to your his/her mouth and encourage him/her to take it.
    2.    Once he/she takes in in their mouth, hold your hand with a treat enclosed in front of their nose. The smell of the treat should cause him/her to drop the toy. Once they do, say 'drop it',  give a treat and grab the toy.
    3.    Repeat steps 1-2 until your dog quickly drops the treat at the sight of your hand in front of their nose.
    4.    Next, toss the toy a couple of feet away from you (and your dog!) and encourage them to go get it!
    5.    Once they get it, encourage them to come back to you. It should be relatively easy since you are keeping everything so close right now.
    6.    As your dog gets better, toss the toy further and further away and encourage your dog to cone back. Since they know you have treats, they will be willing to return to you and trade the toy for a treat.
    7.    Once they get into the habit of running to get the toy and bringing it back to you and dropping it in exchange for a treat, begin to only reward with a treat every other or every 3-4 times. The ultimate goal is to have the game of fetch be the reward!

-You have your dog on leash when first working this behavior in case they do not want to return to you, if they do not want to bring the toy back, give a gentle tug and encourage him/her to return to you.
-Even dogs who do not retrieve naturally can be taught to play fetch, it just takes patience and time from you!
-If your dog is reluctant to chase after the toy, set an example! Go after the toy yourself and encourage your dog to come along.

-As your dog improves and consistently returns the toy and drops it, you can remove the leash and increase the distance you throw it.
-Once you are ready to go outdoors with this activity, keep the dog on leash until he/she is consistently performing in the new distracting environment.

*Disclaimer: Option Number Two is actually not a method I developed myself, I learned about it from Renowned Behaviorist Sue Sternberg. I believe it was a video I picked up at one of her workshops when I lived up in NY but either way, she deserves the credit for developing this method for dogs who aren't fetch-prone out of the gate. She does a lot more than come up with innovative ways to train tricks; she has developed training and assessment tools for shelter dogs and helps dogs and their humans all over the country.

Now get out there and teach your dog something new!! 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Tight Leashed

It seems as though spring is (finally) here and easing right into summer and that means long walks with your dog. Or, if you're anything like the folks I saw today walking their two dogs down the street, it means a daily walking game of tug-o-war. As much fun as it may seem, this type of game is no good for your shoulder or your dog's neck.
I'm going to do something special here. I'm going to share my secrets for successful leash walking. But only because it's so pretty outside today. And because you're reading my blog. All both of you. I really appreciate it.

There are 10 simple steps for successful leash walking:
1. Buy your dog a harness, preferably a front attaching harness like the Easy Walk, Sense-ation or other similar harness. There are probably others out there that I don't know about but these are the ones I've worked with personally (honestly, and harness with a D or O shaped metal ring at the chest should work). They each have pros and cons, and they each work better for different dogs. The Easy Walk fits most dogs and is comfortable loose around the front of their chest, but dogs who jump a lot or for short-legged breeds, I've seen a lot of stepping out of it. This can usually be remedied by putting it on upside down so the strap across the chest is a bit higher up. The Sense-ation works well for many dogs, but I do see more dogs who shy away from it since it's a little more snug fitting. The advantages of it are that dogs can't really step out of it and it seems to fit more breeds well- so it's safer for more dogs and easier for more humans. The reason these front attaching harnesses are good tools for improving walking skills is that they redirect your dog back to you whenever he pulls. Most harnesses attach at the back, which is really great for developing chest muscle, not necessarily for stopping pulling. I will admit that there is some controversy out there regarding these front attaching harnesses and how they affect a dog's gait and it seems to be focused on the lower-sitting Easy Walk type. Here's an article from the Whole Dog Journal outlining some of the concerns. I will say that I prefer front attaching harnesses for daily walking as opposed to running or hiking, but maybe that's because I don't mind my dog helping to pull me along during a run or hike if I'm slacking. We have a traditional back-attaching harness for Roxie for running and hiking and an Easy Walk (worn upside down) for walks since she didn't like the Sense-ation harness (she thought she couldn't walk anymore). I would like to reiterate that this is a tool, and just part of a program to help your dog understand the concept of leash walking as understood by people, and if you work on the other parts of leash walking you won't need it ALL the time. Roxie only needs the front attaching harness when she's in a new place or when there may be other dogs around and she will (likely) get over-excited. She walks just fine, doesn't have any injuries and has worn it for years now (that first year was pretty much daily, too).
2. The leash should be relatively loose. I like to see a "U" shape in the leash between where the owner is holding the leash and where it attaches to their dog's harness/collar. The reason is that I want your dog to have the opportunity to make mistakes. If you are walking around with the leash wrapped all the way around your hand, you will: a. get a broken finger one of these days and/or b. your dog will continue to try pulling all the time because he doesn't know any better. You know why most dogs pull on leash? They don't know any better! It's up to you, the silly human, to teach him a few manners and let him understand the difference between pulling and not pulling. By allowing them to make the mistake of pulling, and showing them that there is a consequence (not a painful one, of course) he can begin to put the pieces together and make the decision on his own that he shouldn't pull.
3. This one is really, really, REALLY important- so pay attention. Whenever you take your dog out for a walk, or just outside on leash and he pulls, I want you to stop walking, turn around (away from your dog but still holding the leash) and call his name, encouraging him to come with you. This is where that front attaching harness comes in handy- he'll turn around automatically when he pulls. Once he catches back up to you, tell him what a good boy he is and continue walking in your original direction.
4. Repeat.
5. Repeat.
6. Repeat
7. I mean it. Every time your dog pulls, you redirect him and go in the opposite direction.
8. Every single time.
9. Look for something really cool (to your dog) like a fire hydrant or a tree or phone pole or a rock and once you can finally walk there together, point it out and have lots of fun sniffing it together. It's ok, nobody's looking at you. 

I don't want any arguing about this. I actually know what I'm doing, even if it sounds like madness. See, your dog wants to go places and see and smell things. By redirecting and turning him around, you are letting him know that he's not going to get there by dragging you along. You will both get there eventually and pulling will only make it take longer to get there. The first few (or fifteen) times you do this, you may not make it out of your driveway or down your block. That's the point. Your dog wants to see things, and he can if he does so politely. If you point out fun things on your walk, your dog will pay attention to YOU on walks, not just the squirrels!

10. Please don't expect your dog to heel all the way through a walk. That's no fun for anybody. It's like taking a kid to Disney and walking through the park but not going on any rides or eating any sugary treats. Neither of you will have fun and you will probably like each other less at the end of the day. Heel done properly is like a coreographed dance move and it's exhausting to do for an entire walk. It's handy for over stimulating environments or dangerous parts of the environment and it's great mental exercise, just don't over-do it, ok?

So get out there and walk your dog! If you end up walking in circles in your driveway for half an hour, that's fine- it's still a 30 minute walk! 

(P.S. I would like to apologize for the over-use of parentheses in this post. I don't know what's gotten into me. I won't even get started on the commas. I think I need more coffee)

Saturday, May 10, 2014

He Will Have Everything and Love It!

I was grabbing a coffee the other day from my favorite place-incoming shameless plug for the best coffee on the shore- Rise Up on Riverside Drive in Salisbury. I had a few minutes of extra time between lessons, so I skipped the drive through and went inside. Noticing my shirt embroidered with my logo, one of the cool dudes (I really feel like a douche typing barista, so I'm sticking with cool dude; they have cool dudes and cool gals there who make the coffee) asked me if I am a dog trainer. I said, "yes, I am!" He replied, "I have this Boston Terrier, he's really sweet. I've used the Montessori method with him so he gets to do everything he wants.." I said, matter-of-factly, "hahaha, that's great, if that works for you, it works!" A few of his co-workers chimed in about the dog jumping and barking happily most of the day and we all had a good laugh.

This got me thinking. First of all, I Googled Montessori and learned what I could about it within a 30 minute window while my husband was bathing our son that night. I'll give you the advice to look around yourself, and check out this link to the American Montessori Society website- it seems pretty reputable, and isn't Wikipedia. In short, this method of educating children allows (reasonable and safe) freedom to develop and learn from their environment with children younger and older than them. They are supervised, but not directed towards specific activities (again, unless safety becomes an issue). I'm sure there are elements I'm missing, but I hope I've got the gist- feel free to leave comments below if there is something really important I missed. Anyway, this guy has adapted a similar method with his dog- free reign within reason to explore the environment and learn with little interruption or direction. Some may argue that it's not truly Montessori, or that it is and it's terribly irresponsible. I really don't care. He loves his dog, his dog is happy, he is able to have friends and family over for a visit without anyone getting mauled. If we were talking about a mastiff, it might be a different story, but we're not, are we?

I'm trying not be be too long winded with this because it's almost bedtime, but I really want to try and make a point.

My point is that I don't just feel this way about Boston Terrier who lives with a cool dude who makes coffee at a swell coffee place. I feel this way about dogs who live with my friends, family and clients. I always ask my clients what their expectations are for their dog and from me. I always ask what they want from training and I do everything I can to ensure that they get just that. Personally, I prefer a dog who knows a few basic commands at a minimum, who listens well in all situations and comes when called. Luckily for me, that's what a lot of dog owners want. This takes work and time and patience. And proofing. And generalizing. I'll go into those later on someday. Some people just want to hang out with their dog and not worry about all this training nonsense.
I'm ok with that as long as they are, even if that never changes.

I'll only say this once (today): Dog training is like quitting cigarettes- until you are committed to it, it's not going to go well for you and you won't be happy with it.

That's all- train your dog or don't train your dog, but be happy and treat them well either way, alright?

Friday, May 2, 2014

Bribery Won't Work

First, I DO have a point to the rambling that is about to occur, and I have a little secret too. 
I get this all the time from new clients, "Aren't those treats just a bribe? That will never work."
In truth they are right about one thing- bribery is not a dependable way to train, as it will only work as long as the dog knows you have the reward. I had a client once who wanted to work on training a reliable recall with their dog. I asked how they currently responded to their dog's refusal to come inside when called and they explained that they would call him, he would run away and eventually they would go inside to grab a bag of treats. They would run back outside with the bag of treats and shake it up and down to get his attention. It worked like a charm...every time they had a bag of treats. In reality, I know about three people who are capable of remembering to have treats on them at ALL TIMES to ensure their dog is paying attention. Two of them are really more 'cat people' than 'dog people' anyway.
My point is this: if you want to use bribery to train your dog, you'll have to put in a lot of work. A lot. Every day, every time you go anywhere or do anything with your dog and you want her to listen, you'll need plenty of treats at the ready. Don't drop any, or run out, because that's when your pup will get into real trouble.
I'm not saying that reward based training is not work, or that I don't think you are capable of doing work, I just know that you would probably prefer to do less work to obtain a better outcome. That's what you get with reward based training done correctly- a well trained dog who likes you and you don't need to constantly have treats.
The difference between bribery and reward based training (done right) is that with bribery, the dog only works for the treat (or any reward), and has no motivation to do so without the reward. With reward based training (done right), the dog does work for food- I won't lie and say that food is not a motivator because it is. It's a really fantastic motivator too. The food isn't the only thing that a dog works for in this type of training, however. They also work for attention from their human, playtime, toys, interaction with other dogs, and anything else they consider rewarding. I start with these "real life rewards" right away with my clients and make sure we determine what things are rewarding for each individual dog. Some dogs will do anything for a frisbee or tennis ball and turn their nose up to the most savory treat. I knew one dog who would not take any treats or toys but absolutely loved other dogs. Guess what his reward was? Brief playtime with other dogs in class!
In addition to the real life rewards, I teach all my clients how to successfully wean off the food treats. Weaning is important for both the dog and her human- I don't want either one to become dependent on the treats! If the human is dependent on having treats, they won't believe their dog will perform without them and will (unaware of it, because this is largely subconscious) not behave the same way they do when they have treats. The dog, being an expert in human body language, will notice something is different and will not react as she normally would to the cues given. If a dog is used to only performing when she sees treats, she will see no point in performing without them- would you go to work if you knew your boss couldn't pay you? The two things that we do to help start weaning are random reinforcement and rewarding best behaviors. Random Reinforcement is just that- you reward your dog randomly, with absolutely no pattern when they comply with the cues you ask for. With this, your dog learns that there is sometimes a reward and sometimes a non-edible reward...and always praise and attention! I know what you're thinking, if they only get a reward sometimes, why will they even bother? Because of the other half of weaning- Rewarding Best Behaviors. When your dog does great, I mean great- sat down before you even finished saying it while there was a squirrel running by- give a GREAT treat. If they take their time sitting down or ignore you, they get no treat, but still always get verbal praise. With this, your dog learns that they always get a great treat for responding fast and will strive for that. Coupled with random reinforcement and adding in real life rewards, your dog will not only pay attention to you, but she will want to do what you ask of her because she will always have fun and will always get at least attention from you. Attention is a wonderful motivator and reward for (most) dogs, as they are social creatures just like we humans.
Now, I will briefly touch on the lure used in training- and this is probably one of the big ways training with rewards is not bribery. The lure is initially comprised of a treat hidden in your fist, then you place your hand in front of your dog's nose for them to follow. Now that you essentially have control of her head, you can get her into just about any position with no force at all- YAY!! As your dog gets better at getting into position, you use a hand with no treat and they will still follow this lure. When combined with a verbal cue, the hand signal is how you communicate with your dog and both are equally important. I like to say that the hand signal is so your dog knows what you want her to do and the verbal cue is to remind you what you are asking of your dog. Again, the difference between a lure and a bribe is that a bribe is that treat or treat bag that you bring out to get compliance and a lure is to direct your dog into position and sometimes also contains a reward.

Oh, you wanted to know that secret I told you about in the first sentence? Ok, here it is- I do sometimes use bribes in training. I know- I'm a big, fat, unreliable hypocrite. The thing is, sometimes we really, really need a dog to do or not do something. Like when your puppy decides to play in traffic or run into the woods in search of a fox, or decides it's a great idea to take on that big scary dog down the street who barks every time a leaf blows by their really just need to get your dog back to safety at this point so we do what we know will work. If it's a matter of using a bribe or someone getting hurt, I'm going to use a bribe to keep everyone safe. The important thing is that I make sure this doesn't become a chronic occurrence. If it does, things need to change in the environment and the management in this dog's life needs to be stepped up. Management and environment are issues for another post and another day, so I'll stop here. 

Have you used bribery with your dog? How long did it last?
What is your dog's favorite reward?

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