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?

Suzanne Clothier website:

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Dog Star Daily Article: