Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Holidays, Company and Dogs - Part 3


Old habits die hard. Once you’ve had a dog a number of years, he (and you) will have established some habits. Save yourself from the frustration that comes with retraining and manage his habits instead! In this third blog of a three-part series on surviving the holidays with your dog, we will explore a few strategies for dealing with dogs with well-established habits.

Easiest Management Option: Separation

Don’t feel badly about separating your dog from the company. Separation will make your evening much less stressful. Bottom line, separation is all about protecting your dog. If your dog isn’t uncomfortable in a situation, he will be happier being separated.

Separation can be achieved in a variety of ways: a crate, an X-pen, an outdoor kennel, a bedroom or a basement. Whatever the space is, make sure:

1.      Your dog is relatively comfortable (outside won't work in the Canadian winters with a short-coated breed)
2.      No one can enter unless you allow it (sometimes, a bedroom may be too easy for someone to walk into without your knowledge)
3.      The space is sound proof (protect your dog and your guests from excessive noise)
4.      You give him a bone (separation anxiety can be easily rectified if your dog has something else to focus on)

If such a space is not possible, consider keeping the dog with a neighbour or at a kennel.

To Separate or Not To Separate … That is the Question

Protecting your dog is the main goal. Be realistic with your expectations. No one knows your dog better than you. If your dog appears uncomfortable in a situation, get him out of it! Don’t expect your dog to “deal with it” because chances are, he will deal with it in a way that is not satisfactory to you.

Here are a couple of common occasions when you may wish to consider separating your dog:
  • when people arrive
  • if your dog is uncomfortable with people (it will depend on how many people are coming, sometimes bringing him out later in the evening might work best)
  • if your dog steals food (he only comes out after the food is put away)
  • if your dog is not great with kids (he can come out when you can pay attention, keep him close on a leash, reward lying quietly with you)

The cardinal rule for when dealing with dogs and company: Be aware of what is going on and be prepared to remove your dog from the situation

Monday, December 9, 2013

Holidays, Company and Dogs Part 2

In this second part of a three-part series on surviving the holidays with your dogs, we will explore a few strategies for dealing with puppies.

by Erika A. Photography 
Everyone loves puppies, but it's amazing how many bad habits a puppy can learn at one family gathering. Yes, you will tell everyone "don't pet him if he is jumping" or "don't feed him from the table" but company, especially family, will ignore you completely. Don't expect your company to train your dog; it never works out.

This is your opportunity to establish some great habits in your puppy or dog (no matter how old) about how to behave when there new people in your home. The ability to roam around when the company is around is a privilege, not a right. Your dog has to earn that privilege through good behaviour.

Setting the Scene

(1) Make sure the dog is well-exercised before your guests arrive.
(2) Set a timer for bathroom breaks if there's a lot going on.
(3) Contain the dog until you are able to give him your full attention (or a member of your family). Try a crate in the party area so he gets to be part of the action but not in the action to misbehave or to steal food.

Introducing your puppy to guests
by Erika A. Photography 

Before you make your rounds with your puppy, keep the following in mind:


  • Use a leash when the puppy is out of his containment area.
  • Have some good treats on you.


Now that you're equipped, wait until your puppy is calm. As you make your way around:
  1. Step on the leash at each guest to prevent jumping, rewarding any and all good behaviour.
  2. When you are done making the rounds, have a seat with a dog pillow beside it.
  3. Have him lie on it and again rewarding generously for lying there quietly.
  4. When you want to go back to enjoying the party take him out to potty and put him away.
As the dog gets older, allow a little more freedom each time. Do the rounds, sit him on his pillow and if he has settled for a few minutes, take the leash off and let him wander around. Does he behave as you had hoped? If so, leave him loose the rest of the night, always keeping an eye on him. If not, go back to basics.

Watch next week for strategies on how to deal with company and an adult dog.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Holidays, Company and Dogs Part 1

The holiday season is a joyful time full of gatherings and occasions. It’s easy to forget the effect all this can have on your dog. Everyone has the picture of the perfect dog: one who walks calmly over to the company, gets a little pet, and then lies in the corner until the company leaves. He never jumps, never steals food, and never gets uncomfortable when people touch or corner him. This is rarely the case. Let’s be realistic. If you’re busy cooking dinner and playing host, you may not have time to constantly monitor the dog with your company.

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Keeping your dog and company safe begins with protecting the dog at all times. What can your dog truly handle? Remember, your dog is used to sleeping all day. All of a sudden, everyone is home for a week and then you add company. All this activity can lead to an overtired dog which can be a recipe for disaster. Protect your dog.

This is the first of a three part series on strategies to make your holiday gatherings go smoothly. This week, we're going to prepare for the arrival of company.

Preparing for the Arrival of Company

Before the company arrives, take the dog for a huge run. The 60 minutes you spend here will make the rest of the day much more peaceful.

Have a plan for the dog when the company arrives. Here are a few tricks to try:


  1. Put the dog outside, in a crate or in a room until everyone is in and settled. This avoids the dog getting out or jumping and licking while people are trying to get their boots and coats off.
  2. Throw a handful of kibble in the backyard before you answer the door. This will keep your dog busy hunting so he doesn't bark the whole time when the guests arrive. Do this regularly enough and when the doorbell rings your dog will run to the backdoor to be let out instead of running to the front door to greet the company. 
  3. If your guests are arriving close to feeding time, feed the dog before they arrive. Not only does this get it out of the way, full dogs settle easier.
  4. Create a safe space for your dog. Make sure there is somewhere he can go when he has had enough. Keep a bedroom or a basement door open where the dog can go and be alone. This will allow your dog to make the right choice of leaving when he has had enough. Once he has left the party, respect his choice. Leave him alone.  


Remember, not everyone loves your dog like you do. You may allow your dog to do things like curl up next to you on the couch but your company may not be comfortable that. Rather than constantly harassing the dog for behaving the way he is usually allowed, give him a big juicy bone and put him away until the company leaves.

Next week, we'll explore some strategies for puppies and company.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Changing A Behaviour

Everyone has at least one behaviour that there dog does on a regular basis that drives them nuts.  No matter how often you correct the dog the dog just keeps doing it.  Some dogs get really smart and wait for you not to be paying attention or be out of the house but they still do it and now they are sneaky about it.

The first step is finding an incompatible behaviour.  If you just stop the inappropriate behaviour you are left with a vacuum and nature hates a vacuum.  For the dog the easiest thing is to go back to the behaviour that has already been heavily reinforced (any behaviour that is constantly repeated has value somewhere).  The incompatible behaviour fills that vacuum giving your dog something else to do when faced with that cue.

For an example we are going to use the dog that counter surfs the minute you leave the room.  This is the dog that is perfectly well behaved but the second you leave the kitchen they will clear the counters.  First step is to identify the cue.  The cue in this situation is you walking out of the kitchen.  Second the inappropriate behaviour that you never want to see again.  For this example I have decided to teach the dog to follow me when I leave the kitchen.  This is usually the easy question, going on the counters.  Third is the hardest question; what incompatible behaviour do you want to train.

NOTE:  While you are training the incompatible behaviour you have to prevent the inappropriate behaviour from happening.  In this case you could use a baby gate to prevent the dog from going into the kitchen when someone else was in the kitchen.  Ideally everyone in the family would participate.  This will make the changes happen quicker and be generalized to everyone.  Make it easy keep an easily accessible bowl of treats on the way out of the kitchen.

NOTE #2:  The alternate behaviour needs to be rewarded until it becomes a habit.  Meaning the dog always follows you when you leave the kitchen.  Eventually you will stop rewarding this behaviour and it may fade but by this time you have erased the original incompatible behaviour.

Now you are ready to start the training.  At first I would call my dog as I was
leaving the training and reward her when she reached me.  After the first 3 or so repetitions I would start waiting to give her the reward somewhere away from the kitchen.  Make sure that you don't end up rewarding some other inappropriate behaviour such as jumping for the food or barking at you.  If the dog does any of these just keep walking until the behave politely and then reward.

After a few days of this you are going to do the first test.  You are going to leave the kitchen but you are not going to call you are just going to keep moving away and have the treat ready.  Will your dog choose the kitchen or choose to follow you?  If your dog chooses you awesome give her the reward as soon as she reaches you.  If your dog chooses the kitchen you are going to calmly and happily go get her in the kitchen by her collar and guide her out.  When she chooses to follow you reward.  I would then be ready to try it again as soon as my dog has gone and settled down.  If after three attempts she goes into the kitchen every time I would go back to calling her as soon as I left the kitchen for another 3 days and then try again.

You are now well on your way of teaching an incompatible behaviour.  Remember this won't get rid of counter surfing just that running into the kitchen as soon as you leave the room.  Depending on the dog this will go a long way into getting rid of counter surfing because dogs learn that when we leave the kitchen the chances of food being left around is very high.

I would keep this up for at least a month.  At that time I would start assessing the what stage my dog is at.  Does she always follow me without hesitation or does she kinda wander towards the kitchen and take a quick peek before following?  If without hesitation you can start reducing the food to about half the time and then a week later about a 1/4 of the time and so on.  If while reducing the food she starts to go back towards the kitchen you have to quickly and deliberately go and get her out of the kitchen.  Take her out let her go and see her choice.  If your dog still checks out the kitchen every time then I would continue rewarding making sure I was calling a earlier before she had a chance to check out the kitchen.  If my dog was only checking out the kitchen sometimes she would only get rewarded for the times she didn't even look at the kitchen.



Monday, October 7, 2013

What and How Much To Feed Your Dog?

Please keep in mind that I am not a vet.  This article is written from my experience and accumulated knowledge.

This is a very important question that will affect our dogs quality and length of life.  Our first step is to figure out what we want.  I want a dog who has a gleaming coat and healthy skin (no smell), who is the appropriate weight (more on that in a minute), good muscle tone and is not achy.  There is a lot of ways to reach this dog.  What might work great for one dog does not work for another.  What might work great for one dog as a young dog may not be the best thing as a senior. At the very beginning when I started searching for what to feed my dogs I received a lot of information from a lot of sources some of it contradictory.  Eventually I took all that information and made the decisions that led me where I am today.  I did a lot of experimenting through the years and am still open to change if I feel something interesting should be tried.  That's one thing about feeding you never know when a change will make your dog even better.

The first main question is do you want to feed kibble or do you want to feed a homemade diet.  There are many options on the market that allow you to pick either extreme or anything in between.

There are so many kibbles on the market that it is a bit overwhelming especially nowadays in the age of the recall.  I always recommend checking out The Whole Dog Journal.  The Whole Dog Journal rates the top foods every year.  I have faith in this list because they accept no advertisers and should therefore not be biased.
 When I talk about kibble another thing I read in The Whole Dog Journal was that you should change types of kibble every time you get a new bag.  This to me makes perfect sense.  If you only feed one thing your dog becomes only able to digest one thing.  This is how you get dogs with sensitive stomachs.  If you regularly change it up including adding things to the dogs kibble such as meat or veggies then the dog maintains the different enzymes.  Please let me be clear I did not say feed your dog meat scraps (dogs should never be given cooked bones) or feed them extras in an amount that will cause them to gain weight.  Of course all these high end foods cost a lot.  I believe that the money you spend on food will save you money at the vet in the long run.

Even in the realm of homemade feeding there are still decisions to be made.  Raw or cooked, grains or no grains.  If you have decided to make your dogs food I would suggest you start researching your different options but eventually just try one.  Commit to a diet for a month or two or four.  How does your dog's body react.  Is gas reduced, are his teeth starting to look cleaner, does his breath smell better, is his energy better (more obvious in older dogs), are his ears cleaner. After a while make some changes, do you see improvements?  No matter what the dog food commercials say I promise you your dog can thrive on a number of different diets just like we can so don't be scared to try new concepts and see how they work.

Some websites to get you started

http://www.volharddognutrition.com/
http://www.barfworld.com/
http://www.tolldenfarms.ca/home local supplier or raw food


Finally I want to end this blog on how much to feed your dog.  Let me begin by please don't read what the bag says to feed your dog, instead look at your dog.  Puppies stop growing at about 6 months (later for larger breeds) you probably need to start reducing your puppies food around that time.  With my puppies I do the ribbie check about once a week or so and adjust their food accordingly usually by about 10% up or down depending on the ribbie check.  The ribbie check is just a hands on rib check to see what their weight is like.  With my adults I try to once a month do the ribbie check and adjust accordingly.  I am constantly changing how much my dogs eat.  Let's face it nobody exercises as much in the dead of winter as they do in the spring and fall so it is really easy for my dogs to start putting on a little weight getting on top of that right away prevents it from ever becoming a problem.

Here is a great blog on how to know how your dog should feel http://www.successjustclicks.com/fit-fido-or-fat-fido/  check it out and see how your dog measures up.


Monday, September 30, 2013

Great places to walk your dog

photo by Kelly Longtin
Fall is my favorite season.  The weather is cool enough so you don't get all hot and sticky or have to worry about the dogs overheating and best of all no bugs. The other great thing is you can get some incredible pictures with all that lovely colour that is around.  We are very lucky to live in the country where we have so many places to walk our dogs very close.

Ferguson Forest Centre
Here you can find all kinds of trails and water map of all the trails.
access right in town.  Ferguson Forest is over 800 acres bordered by County Rd 44, Hwy 43, the Rideau River and the Kemptville Creek.  Usually when it is windy I walk in the forest trails and when the bugs are bad I stick to the gravel roads.  Especially on a sunny afternoon it is possible to meet some other dogs and owners walking but usually me and my dogs have it all to ourselves.  Here you can find a

Baxter Conservation Area
photo by Kelly Longtin
On the shores of the Rideau River there is over 5 km of trails and once the summer is over a great place to take your dog for a swim.  Well maintained trails with boardwalks built over the wet areas.  Baxter can be found just south of Kars off of Dilworth.

Robert Graham Trail
Just south of South Mountain between County Rd 22 and County Rd 1 can be found this very peaceful 6.5km trail.  Walk through some lovely pines and enjoy the quiet.

photo by Kelly Longtin
Cardinal Waterfront
If you drive down to Cardinal and park at the legion you can walk on the point the whole time enjoying a great view of the St. Lawrence and the ships going by.  It is always fun to see the dogs reactions when a diver all of a sudden emerges from the water in full diving gear.  Usually takes a minute before dog realizes it's a person not a creature from the dark lagoon :).

I know sometimes it is so much easier to sit on the couch or deal with the million things you have to do.  Instead get up and go for a walk you and your pooch will thank you.


Monday, June 10, 2013

Have you exercised your dog today?

Dogs need exercise.  We all know this but I don't think we realize the importance not just to the dog but to us.  That time you spend in exercising which has so many benefits; you get to enjoy nature, it is good for you, you build a relationship with your dog, etc.  It also gives you a much better behaved dog in with the least amount of time and effort, so it is a win win.

I do a lot of in home work especially with puppies but I also work with older dogs.  My first question is always how much exercise does your dog get?  If you the dog is not getting regular off leash runs than that is always my first recommendation.  I realize that for some dogs, that take off this is much more challenging than for others but it still needs to happen.  Running around the back yard is exercise but not good enough.  I also find in the back yard a lot of bad behaviours get created such as digging, chewing on your deck or furniture, escaping (and once they are good at it your are done), biting at you when you are out there, etc.

When your dog is on an off leash run it is a type of relaxed exercise.  He is investigating so using his brain, smelling all sorts of wonderful things.  He is running as much as he needs to, some days my dog just wanders in front of me other days especially if he has not been fun recently he runs and plays.  He is building the bond with you he constantly is being rewarded by getting distracted and then finding you.  The sight of you becomes a reward when he finds you, how cool is that.

Most dogs who are not used to running off leash will come home and sleep soundly for at least a few hours.  This is the perfect dog asleep in your house not chewing, digging, biting, etc.  It usually takes two to three weeks of regular exercise for you to start seeing a decrease in overall energy when he is awake.  If you start this when your puppy is young he then gets into the habit of this calm behaviour is how you act in the house which is a lovely habit.  Even when life takes over and you can't get your dog out for a few days once this habit is created even when they haven't had enough exercise my dogs give me a solid week before they start to get cabin fever and honestly by then I really need the walk too.

So get out and find someplace to walk your dog off leash where it is safe.  Enjoy the walk, enjoy the peace in nature, enjoy your dog.  They will thank you for it by being better behaved.


Monday, May 27, 2013

Are You Having Fun?

The whole point of getting a dog is to make your life better.  Yes there are things to do with dogs that nobody really loves to do like cleaning up poop or cutting nails but on whole I got a dog to be a happier healthier person.

Training should be included in this.  Are you having fun when you train?  You should be laughing.  If you are not you have to take a look at what's happening and make it fun.  Laugh at your dog when he screws up and then get him to do it again.  Don't get all bent out of shape, the world will not end, the sky will not fall and at the end of the day the dog will still curl up with you for some cuddles.

I am trying to create a habit of before I start training especially if we are going to work on something we are having a hard time with to tell my dog he is wonderful and make a list of my favorite things about him.  Every one of my dogs has had a characteristic that made me smile just by looking at it; my Sibe is his little black bottom lip, my Akita was his extremely expressive eyebrows, my Border Collie is  beautiful brown eyes.  When I start getting frustrated I look at that thing and it makes me smile.  Getting frustrated or upset is not productive and let's face it our goal is to get the dog trained in the shortest time possible and then move on.

Don't forget to smile and laugh when you training.  Sometimes when we are concentrating on what we are training we get very intense, remember to smile.  Your dog is trying.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

To Shave or Not To Shave

I always feel bad for the dogs I see shaved at this time of year.  I know most of these owners are going out and spending money to have their dogs shaved because they think this will keep them cooler.  Dogs are very well designe, their coats protect them from both cold and heat.  When you shave your dog you are actually making him much more susceptible to heat issues such as heat stroke.

Here is an article with some more info on this subject

Thinking About Shaving Your Dog's Hair Coat For The Summer? Think Again.

Stay cool.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

How Not To Greet A Dog

I am regularly surprised how people treat dogs.  I am not talking about people who are cruel to animals, that is horrible and they should be shot.  I am speaking about people who love dogs but have never learned how to appropriately interact with dogs.  I would say TV is partly to blame, movies like Beethoven the
wonderful St. Bernard who thinks he is human or commercials that depict dogs in unrealistic ways.  The other part is inexperience.  Maybe a dog at home who has very little personal space or someone who likes dogs but really has never interacted with them.  Our expectations about what our dogs should put up with from complete strangers is unrealistic and very unfair to our dogs.

You should never, ever, ever put your face into a dogs face that you don't know very well in other words live with.  That includes the neighbour's dog that you say hello to a couple of times a week.  Let's put it in human terms, can you imagine meeting someone for the first time and then grabbing your cheeks and planting a big kiss on your lips, worse imagine someone doing that to your child. That would be completely inappropriate and would cause action to prevent it from continuing.  Yet with our dogs not only do we allow it we correct the dog who would dare growl or bark.  A few years ago a Shitzu was in a shopping cart at Home Depot, one of the staff ended up getting bitten in the face.  Well the Shitzu didn't jump up and bite her the person had to have bent down into her.  I agree there is a responsibility to the dog owner to not only protect the people who come into contact with the dog but also her dog.  Dog's bite out of fear why would you allow someone to scare your dog.

You should always let a dog approach you, not rush into a dog to pet it.  You don't know how comfortable that dog is with strangers.  I know it's hard to accept but not all dogs love being pet by strangers most just put up with it.  If a dog wants to be pet he will approach you and encourage you to interact, if he doesn't then why should he have to.  I am not speaking about aggression just accepting that not every dog wants your hands all over him.

It especially concerns me that we teach our children to approach strange dogs
and pet them.  Yes most of them ask as they run in to pet the dog.  I have worked with enough aggressive dogs and I have seen how hard it is for owners to admit there dog may not be comfortable being petted and stop a child.  Do you want to risk your child?  Unfortunately when children get bit a lot of times it is in the face because it's right at the height of the dogs mouth.

I remember going to a friends parents house.  I always greet the dog and say hi but I only pet dogs who ask to be pet.  They questioned that I didn't like their dog to my friend.  Their dog never once asked to be petted and was completely happy with me not touching them.  It is sad how little understanding they had of their own dog.

If I am working with a dog that is worried or scared of people I will work very hard to change that.  I will also work very hard on my dogs accepting people touching them and kissing them.  All this will not change the fact that out of 6 dogs I have owned only one really likes peope touching him.  A lot of this is due to breed Akitas, Siberians, and Chesapeakes are not that people friendly, or at least mine were not.  These are well socialized dogs that nothing bad has ever happened other than one Akita who was a rescue.  These are dogs that regularly did Pet Fairs and were handled by 100's of people without ever a problem.  I always respected what their wants and needs were.  For my business they had to go to pet fairs with me and get petted, I in turn rewarded heavily and gave them regular breaks.


Friday, April 26, 2013

The Perfect Correction

The other day I was having breakfast with my son and I had an epiphany.  He was eating toast with peanut butter and jam.  My son is 4 years old so you can imagine pb & j and a 4 year old equal sticky stuff everywhere.  I had given him a wet cloth to wipe his face and hands when he needed to.  We were having a conversation and he went to use his sleeve to wipe his face and I said hey, nothing harsh just a mild hey what are you doing.  He instantly stopped looked at me and smiled said "oh yeah" and used the cloth to wipe his mouth.

What do we want from a correction?  We want the dog to perform the correct behaviour in this situation.  What do we not want from a correction?  Suppression, this does not help us in any way to help our dogs understand the correct behaviour.  Fear, same as suppression, useless in training.  Avoidance, in some situations may be useful but will the dog only avoid when you are standing right next to him and is the dog just looking for ways to perform the incorrect behaviour and get away with it.

Why is this a perfect correction?  I stopped him from practicing the incorrect behaviour.  He had enough value for the correct behaviour that as soon as I made him stop for a minute he chose the correct behaviour.  The correction did not suppress him in any way, after wiping his mouth he went right back to chattering about whatever we were talking about before and didn't give it a second thought.  The next time he went to wipe his mouth he remembered and used the cloth.

What is typical and nowhere near as effective correction?  Anger, how dare the dog do the incorrect behaviour, he should know better.  Physical force, it is felt that if physical discomfort is associated with the correction the dog will remember better next time.  Repetition, corrections happen over and over for the same behaviour with no change in action from the dog.

What can be done to make our corrections more effective?  Have you built enough value for the correct behaviour.  I stop a lot of behaviours with the collar grab, so I need to have built enough value for the collar grab.  Have you overfaced your dog, meaning are you putting your dog in a situation where the chance of success are nil.  Have you allowed your dog to earn reward from continually practicing the incorrect behaviour.  If there is a huge history of the incorrect behaviour it is going to take a lot of management and value building for the dog to perform the correct behaviour.

When you are working through all of this some thoughts to keep in mind.  Do you have management tools in place to prevent the dog from earning reinforcement from the incorrect behaviour?  If your dog has made the incorrect choice three times than change something he obviously doesn't get it.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Reactive Dogs and Your Emotional State

It always amazes me how my dogs react to my emotional state.  I have always known, dogs are very sensitive to the emotions of those around them.  Every now and then my emotional state is completely out of wack, for whatever reason and my dogs reactions become obvious especially my Siberian Max.

This past week my father was rushed to the ER and thankfully is on the mend but my Border Collie is looking all sad and worried.  I am wondering how much of that is due to my fragile state and/or the fact that I have been away a lot this and he hasn't had his usual share of exercise or attention.  It doesn't take much to throw Iggy of his game and this is a double whammy.

About 6 years ago we were moving.  Anyone who has gone through the buying and selling ordeal know how it stresses a person out.  You could say it was the packing that was making him nervous but because we had not sold our original house we did not pack until the very last week and Max started acting weird 2-3 weeks before the move date.  Max has always been a reactive, high strung dog.  By this time he was 6 years old so he had mellowed and wasn't usually a problem.  In the weeks leading up to the move he start guarding things; bones, bed, etc.  Not from me or my husband just from anyone else.

The same thing happened when I was pregnant. I had a very bad cold and of course being pregnant couldn't take anything.  Again Max starting guarding   The couch, food, etc.  Just really goes to show how your emotional state affects the emotional state of your dog.

You really have to be aware of your state when dealing with a reactive dog.  When Max was very young he was extremely reactive with other dogs.  We worked through it and by the time he was 2 years old was reasonably good around other dogs.  Meaning he could go to situation with a lot of dogs in close proximity such as a dog show but still couldn't handle a dog in his face.  I was at a Walkathon and there were dogs everywhere.  Max was with me and was handling it fine.  I was having a conversation with someone and they were starting to annoy me.  We weren't arguing but there was definitely a discussion happening.  All of a sudden Max started to react at dogs 10 feet away that had been fine a few minutes earlier.


Monday, April 8, 2013

Classes vs One-on-One Training

Thanks to Ian Dunbar, the father of positive dog training, the general public now understands that training your dog is in your best interest.  The life of the pet dog has changed and with it the need for training has drastically increased.  The biggest change is probably the amount of time that dogs now spend inside the house.  It has also been drilled into our heads to socialize, socialize, socialize.  This is how the dog training class was born.  You get a puppy and you take it to puppy or beginner class.  Your job is done.

What I see in my classes is not dog's who are undersocialized but dogs that are over socialized.  Most of these dogs spend the first 4 weeks losing their minds because of all the other dogs and people in the room.  The owners spend the time just holding on.  Don't get me wrong, I think dog training classes are a great step towards having a well trained dog, I just don't think they are a first step.

In my opinion first you train your dog.  That means your dog has a clear understanding of cues.  Walking on leash, coming when called, sit, stay.  Now you add distractions that you can control.  Can you do all this with your food bowl on the floor, with a child in the room, with a child running by, with your toy nearby.  Once a dog can accomplish this then you bring him to dog class and ask him to perform in this level of distraction.  It is hard for most dogs, the brain just cannot keep it together under the onslaught of distractions.

Starting with some one-on-one lessons walks you through these steps.  This way when you step into the class you and your dog have skills to fall back on.  To me this seems a much better approach then practicing the behaviour you are there to get rid of.

Friday, April 5, 2013

With The Warm Weather Come The Ticks

Over the last few years I am amazed at the number of ticks my dogs are bringing home, I was particularly disturbed when I found out ticks can attach to people too.  I thought it would be appropriate to make sure you have good information available to you.  How to remove a tick?  What are the concerns if you find a tick?  What are the symptoms of lyme disease.

Government of Ontario paper on lyme disease
http://www.health.gov.on.ca/en/public/publications/disease/lyme.aspx

The Star - Toronto based newspaper
http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2012/06/22/ticks_that_can_carry_lyme_disease_agent_spreading.html

Public Health Agency of Canada
http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/id-mi/tickinfo-eng.php

The Ottawa Sun
http://www.ottawasun.com/2012/06/18/eastern-ontario-tick-population-on-rise

All of the article pretty well say the same thing and that is that tick numbers are on the rise and we have to at least be knowledgeable about what to look for and how to remove them.  I was happy to read that if the tick is removed within 24 hour the chance of acquiring lyme disease is almost nil and doesn't really go up until after 48 hours.  This means if you check your dogs after walks you are pretty safe.  The other nice fact is only 10% of ticks carry lyme disease.

Happy reading.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

So Simple

I was sitting at an agility seminar yesterday with my wonderful boy and I had a realization.  Sometimes it doesn't take very much effort to get a noticeable improvement but it does take some effort.

I am hoping to have a fast Border Collie and I am realistic in the fact that I won't be that fast.  Therefore there are certain skills that I will need.  One is the ability to send my dog to an obstacle far away with speed and confidence.  At a previous seminar I learned how to teach your dog to drive forward when I do a hard step in that directions.  I now teach this to all my students.  I have worked this with my dog but not to death by any means.  This comes out of my toolbox every few weeks and I send him around something.  Sometimes a tree or a car, whatever is around.  Yesterday I saw the results, he was great on his sends.  He had confidence and speed, mission accomplished.

This brought to my attention that the same thing can be accomplished with general everyday obedience with huge improvements for very little effort.  Pick one thing you would like to change.  For example jumping on company.  The spend 3 minutes a day working on this for a week.  In this case it would be sitting as they approach people.  You can practice on family members, or be really good and find some strangers on the street or a neighbour.  If nobody is around you could do this to a food bowl.  Step, sit, step sit, step, sit, etc.  Rewarding the sit every time.

Have fun with your huge results.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Doggie Manners - What is acceptable?

When I bought my first dog I had a very clear picture in my head of how I wanted my dog to behave.  Probably the biggest criteria I had set for this dog was no jumping and not on the furniture.  From the day Yukon came home he was rewarded for jumping up and immediately taken off the furniture.  It worked, as an adult dog he didn't jump and didn't get on the furniture until later in his life with  a lot of convincing.

My last dog was allowed to jump on anyone and everyone and sleeps on the bed or couch all the time.

Neither of these dogs are badly behaved they are just products of what I have allowed.  My life is not the same as it was 20 years ago when Yukon came into the picture.  Now my life is all about dogs and most of the people that come into my house are the type of people that not only allow the jumping but enjoy and encourage it.

The problem is when you want dog A some of the time but some of the time you allow dog B.  Your dog doesn't understand that he is allowed to jump on your friend coming over but when your mother-in-law walks in he should remain calm and never allow his feet to leave the ground.  He doesn't understand that it is perfectly OK to sit on someones lap when they are sitting on the couch and put his tongue in their ear sometime but not when it is the mortgage broker or insurance salesman.

Whenever I am in the situation that I want dog A, I think maybe I will work on this with the next dog or even retrain dog B (much harder to do than if done right at the beginning) to control himself with company.  Then I have someone come over who so appreciates and enjoys the tongue in the ear and I think no he is fine the way he is.

My solution for now is management.  I don't want to correct a dog for behaviour I have allowed on a regular basis.  Instead I can keep them on leash or put them behind a gate or in a crate.  This prevents the behaviour when it isn't acceptable and still allows them to love up the company when it is.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Dominance

I was at a non dog seminar this weekend.  People there knew I was a dog trainer and I did talk about dogs with a number of people.  This was a seminar about using energy work when working with people.  Most of the people were therapists, hypnotherapists, homeopaths, etc.  I would consider these people to be very big on not looking to blame, finding solutions to help people and working   with people to improve themselves.

I was shocked to listen in on a conversation and here one lady speaking about a dog she had and how she had to show her who was in charge and that she ran the house.  This woman was lovely and I am sure a supportive and helpful therapist and it saddened me that this hadn't transferred to how she dealt with her dog and was falling back on the antiquated dominance theory.  She didn't feel that training was the answer but showing her dog who was boss.  I was sad for her and her dog.

I want a relationship with my dog that is based on trust and understanding.  No that does not mean my dog should do what he wants when he wants.  This means the dog has been trained to find value in the appropriate behaviour and accept when I let him know in a kind manner that some behaviours are not acceptable. I do  not want this relationship based on fear and intimidation.

It always surprises me when this gets brought up to me by my clients.  I have to bite my tongue and remember that for whatever reason this person believes that there dog could dominate them and for their own safety they want to learn how to prevent this from happening.  The answer is training.  You have a behaviour, it has value for the dog.  You want a behaviour and your job is how to build value for what you want and prevent what the dog wants from being practiced and therefore acquiring more value.  When you take out all emotion and just look at the facts it makes life so much easier.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Is He Ignoring You On Purpose

I was talking to a friend of mine today and she mentioned how her dog had done a lot of sniffing at the agility trial this weekend while they were running courses.  I see this a lot, not just in agility but also in dogs on leash in class or outdoors.

My first comment to my friend was that she had not built enough value for agility.  She completely agreed that this was the case and then the question becomes how to fix it?

When you give your dog a cue, for example sit, and your dog starts looking around or sniffing that should tell you that you are putting too much pressure on the dog.  This means that you are asking the dog for something he is not capable of doing right now.  Could be he knows how to sit but can't do it with the distractions that are around or your cue was not as salient as you thought it was.  The worse part is if you keep putting your dog in this situation he will eventually find stuff that actually is distracting and know becomes even harder to train.

We are quick to blame the dog; he loves to sniff, he gets very distracted, he never pays attention.  If you have done a good job of building value for the behaviour and building a relationship with your dog you will be utterly amazed at what your dog can ignore.

You need to be regularly testing your dogs understanding of a cue regardless of the distractions going on around him.  Here are some suggestions on what you can work on


  • can your dog come to you away from his food bowl when you put it on the floor
  • can your dog sit after you throw his toy
  • can your dog sit when he sees another dog
  • can your dog come if there is a squirrel in the tree
If you are trying these ideas make sure you are not depending on the leash to get the behaviour.  Try if it doesn't work move further away from the distraction.  Keep moving away until it works than have a party and reward your dog.

Have fun with this, let me know what great distractions your dog can preform through.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Expectations

Our life is controlled by our expectations.  If your expectations are too high and not realistic you are in a constant state of disappointment.  If your expectations are to low diminish the potential of those around you.
“If you expect nothing from anybody, you’re never disappointed.” ― Sylvia PlathThe Bell Jar
This is also true of our relationships with our dogs.  We all have things we would like our dogs to do.  These aren't really expectations more like dreams because we don't really thinks our dogs are capable of the thing.  What if I told you they are possible.  You are a totally competent dog trainer and your dog is a great dog and together you can create almost any behaviour if you have a well thought out plan and your are consistent.

In the past few years I have observed that our expectations are probably one of the biggest stumbling blocks with limiting possibilities with dog training and with life.  I am constantly amazed at what can be accomplished if you put expectations and feelings aside and just make a plan and stick to it.  The changes I have created in my dogs and my clients' dogs are amazing.

The most recent one is with my 12 year old Siberian Husky, Max.  Like most Siberians, Max loves to run not necessarily with me around.  Even though we have done a lot of off leash experiences such as agility and search and rescue classes I was never content with his off leash behaviour when I did not keep him focused.  He would come back but you might not see him for 15 minutes at a time.  Therefore he only got a run once in a while when I was relatively confident he would be safe.  In the past year I have been walking him on a flexi when I take Iggy for a run.  Max is going deaf and is getting old and I just wasn't comfortable letting him off leash anymore.  While he was on the flexi I did piles of recalls and I rewarded him as soon as we got back to the yard since I do this with Iggy because I wanted him to always beat me back in to the yard.  Over the last few months I have started to take the leash of Max.  At first it was only about 10 feet from the gate but we have slowly worked up to about 500 feet.  While he is running I can recall him and if he gets too far ahead he will stop an wait for me.  this doesn't sound like a big deal but this was a dog who when let off leash without direction he would just run.  Really goes to show that building the value for the appropriate response does work.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Hugs and Kisses

Last week I took my Border Collie Iggy to be groomed, at Algonquin College where he gets all buffed up by the students.  He came home with the new name of Romeo because he spent the entire time giving love.  I am still amazed how much Iggy loves everyone, his favorite thing in the whole world is just a line up of people waiting to be hugged and kissed.  I often wonder how his tongue doesn't get tired.  He is such a love bug and even at home regularly needs affection and is OK with lying on top of you.

I think why this is so astonishing to me is that I have had 4 dogs before him and all so couldn't care less about people.  My first dog was an Akita named Yukon, as a puppy he liked people and would pull like a truck toward them.  Knowing what I know now most of that was just really bad training.  Once he got there he would wait to be petted and that would be that.  By the time he was 2 years old he didn't even do that and people where nice but not exciting.  My next three dogs couldn't have cared less about people, all where comfortable with people but felt no urge to encourage petting or attention from strangers.  Even with us they were't particularly cuddly which works great because we aren't either.

To this day my Siberian, Max still turns to me for a treat whenever someone pets him on leash.  This comes from doing pet fests where a lot of people would come over and pet him.  I wanted this to be a positive experience and knew if I didn't build some value it would soon turn to a negative experience.  Easily solved you get petted and you get a cookie, kept everyone happy.

In fact I found in much harder to train Iggy because everyone was so wonderful it was much harder for me to build value for working with me.  The more I got upset because he would rather be with anyone the harder he worked to get to everyone.  I am truly thankful he has taught me to be a much better dog trainer because everywhere we went the distraction level was so high.

It is amazing how different dog's personalities are.  Some of this can be predicted by breed but some is individual characteristics.  We can work on changing some of them but hard wiring is hard to change.  Instead we have to accept our dogs quirks and love them for them.


Monday, February 25, 2013

Free Play in Puppy Class

In the interest of socializing most dog training schools offer puppy classes with free play sessions.  The goal of this free play is to socialize your dog to other dogs.  Years ago I stopped offering this feature because I was unhappy with the results.

What my goals are when I get a puppy or for my students puppies when it comes to other dogs, in order or priority

  1. walk by and walk up to other dogs on a loose leash
  2. be comfortable when other dogs approach 
  3. be comfortable in an off leash environment with other dogs
  4. if they are playing with another dog behave, play appropriately
Notice that no where do I say love to play with other dogs.  Some dogs love to play with other dogs some dogs don't.  There are many factors that affect this such as age and breed.  Dogs that love to play at a year old are really not that crazy about it at 5 years old.  That doesn't mean that some dogs have their buddies who they love to play with their entire lives.

What I found when we had free play in classes is that you rarely had a good mix. Most times you had a bully or overly friendly puppy and at the opposite end of the spectrum the worried scared dog that just wanted to hide.  Neither of these dogs are learning skills that will help me achieve my goals.  If fact they are learning skills that will hinder me achieving my goals.

Ideally the way to introduce dogs to play is outside where the footing is good and they aren't sliding around.  The owners should be walking not standing still.  This allows the dogs to interact while at the same time keeping an eye on the owners because they keep moving.  This builds you into the play and prevents the dog forgetting you exist as soon as he sees another dog.

In the perfect world you are able to pick a dog or puppy who is the appropriate size and temperament to play with your puppy.  Most people don't have that many options so what I recommend is the large off leash parks where you can walk along trails.  As you walk along the tails, your dog is allowed the opportunity to approach, greet other dogs and then choose to follow you.  This is the perfect scenario your dog learns greeting skills while constantly being reinforced for choosing to follow you over playing with another dog.  I also like this scenario because if you are not happy with how the play is going (your dog being bullied or your dog being the bully) you can just keep going and the play ends.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Always more to learn

Anyone who has been dog training for a number of years has traveled a journey to reach where they are today.  I started with my first dog years ago.  I had so much to learn and took everything the instructor said as truth.  As the years progressed I learned more and more and started making training choices on what I would and would not do.  Of course this was driven by what I wanted to accomplish.  There are many ways to train a dog, they all work or nobody would use them.  My goal, the same as any dog trainer, is to find the method that works best and supports my beliefs on what is the ethical treatment of animals.

I have gone to many seminar; Ian Dunbar, Cheryl Smith, Janet R. Lewis, Terry Arnold, Chris Bach, Sue Sternberg....  I have read endless books and attended endless class.  Each moved me further along my journey.  At this time I have focused my energies on what Susan Garrett (http://susangarrettdogagility.com/) is teaching.  I have taken many e-courses from her and was lucky enough to go to her seminar at her location.  Her training is totally respectful of the dog while still accomplishes awesome feats with her dogs and uses science based techniques.  This women and her staff has opened my eyes to a whole new world.  I am very thankful that she is available to me to make me a better dog trainer to be able to help my students achieve their goals.

Today Susan has rolled our her newest course The Five Minute Formula For a Brilliant Recall.  I took the original Recallers and was very impressed on the course content, the quality and support. Check out her free webinar to get you started http://r4.brilliantrecalls.com/fe/42301-managing-vs-inspiring-your-dogs-behaviour

Monday, February 18, 2013

Kids and Dogs - Part 4

A lot of new dog owners with your children have the picture in their heads of the dog and the kids playing together.  The dog watching over the children and always being gentle and a great friend.  This can happen if you manage to pick the right dog for your family.  I have met a Newf that totally fit this image right from 8 weeks old, just lied there and watched the kids play.  Most dogs will need some help to reach this level.

On a whole I find girls tend to be overly loving, some dogs will put up with this and even enjoy it.  Some dogs will hate this and start to become so uncomfortable that even the child approaching will cause them to growl.  You can go a long way to helping your dog learn to at least put up with and maybe even grow to enjoy this handling.  Start with everyone calmly sitting on the floor, make sure the dog is on leash, well exercised and wait until he has settled down.  Play the game of one pet means one treat.  As your dog learns to enjoy the game you can start slowly raising the number of pets per treat.  Make sure to keep it random and slowly raise the average number.  Always be aware that the dog is not becoming obnoxious for the food, if he start reaching for the bowl or grabbing at the hand feeding the game stops until he calms himself down.  What I am looking for is the dog to look forward to these petting sessions, he shouldn't be trying to leave, if he is you are pushing to hard or possibly need to use higher value rewards.

Boys on the other hand tend to run around a lot and drive most dogs crazy especially those of the herding variety.  Yes everyone running together is a great idea but most dogs quickly start to nip, jump, and take the children down.  I start with the dog learning to watch the child (I would start this game with one child and build up to multiples) running around and work up to them all playing together or at least in the same area such as a backyard.  Have some very good treats or a tug toy and the dog on leash.  Have the child walk by the dog and reward the dog (with a treat or a game of tug).  Repeat this having the child walk by faster and faster until he can run by screaming and the dog doesn't care.  Start adding difficulty but asking the dog to perform a cue such as sit or come when the child approaches.  Leaving the dog still on leash, drop the leash and have the child aimlessly walk around, can the dog deal with that?  Can you call the dog and he responds immediately?  Continue to increase speed and excitement of child until your dog can handle it.

Please keep in mind that no matter how much training you have done or have wonderful your dog is kids are kids and dogs are dogs.  There should always be supervision to prevent things from going badly.  Also please be honest about your dogs capabilities and protect him.  If your dog guards do not put him in situations where this might happen.  For example my Siberian has been known to guard food.  I have worked on this and I wouldn't think twice about taking something from him if I had to but my child has clear instructions that if something falls off his plate onto the floor he shouldn't try to race Max for it but let Max have it.  I am 95% sure Max wouldn't do anything but if something happened it would happen so quickly that by the time I got there no matter how close I was it would be too late.

Yes your dog and children can have the relationship you are picturing but it will probably take some work.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Kids and Dogs - Part 3

With children come toys.  At the beginning are the baby's first, soft and fluffy.  As the child gets older the toys get more numerous and smaller.  If you have a dog that is constantly stealing, chewing and eating things this will be a huge problem for you once you have children.

The topic of today's blog is the dog learning what he is allowed to play with and what he isn't allowed to play with.  Not only is the habit of picking stuff up really costly as you replace your child's toys.  It can also be extremely costly if your dog gets an obstruction or eats something poisonous.  Another side effect is aggression, as the child gets older and starts to try and get his stuff back your dog may respond by guarding which can escalate to biting.

Remember you want to reward good behaviour not just correct bad behaviour.  Set your dog up.  Have your dog on leash and allow him to go into an area that has something he would usually pick up; shoe, toy, kleenex.  Interact with the dog.  You can have him do recalls (coming when called) start far away from the toy until your dog will race over the toy to get to you.  Have him do some sits and downs, tricks are also good if you have any.  Even start to train a trick.

Repeat the above until your dog couldn't care less about the item.  If this is a behaviour that has been heavily practiced this might take a few repetitions   Meanwhile make sure the dog does not get the opportunity to access the item when not training.

When your dog couldn't care less about the item, set the situation up again only this time you are going to let him walk into the room on his own ahead of you.  What does your dog do?  Does he drive straight at the item =>  calmly walk over take it out of his mouth put it back and the floor and with the leash leave the room.  Your dog is just telling you that he is not ready for this challenge.

Does your dog go straight to the item but when you approach drop it and come towards you?  Then go ahead and play some games, do some recalls, work on some cues.  Yes we would prefer he not have grabbed the item but still a giant step better than the grab and run.

Does your dog ignore the item completely and just pay attention to you?  Time to start making it harder.  Spend a couple of minutes interacting and then have a seat, ignore the dog.  Does your dog lie quietly waiting for something to happen? If so, reward that is a really nice behaviour.  Does your dog jump and bark at you to continue the game?  If so ignore him until he behaves in a manner you would like and then reward or if he persists leave the room (taking the item with you).  Does your dog go to the item as soon as he realizes you aren't playing with him anymore?  If so calmly approach take the item out of his mouth put it back on the floor and go back to your chair.  If after a couple of repetitions he still is grabbing the toy when he is ignored stand on the leash where you are sitting, this takes away the opportunity to go after the item.

Once you have reached the dog ignoring the item in various places throughout the house.  You have built value for the appropriate behaviour.  The more items you do this with the more your dog will generalize to not touch your's or your child's stuff.


Monday, February 11, 2013

Kids and Dogs - Part 2

Now baby is moving.  You and your dog have to deal with whole new level of child.  The concern at this stage is the child is extremely unsteady and completely unaware of how to control his grip.  If you have a dog who has never loved being roughly handled management is going to be an important part of your everyday life.  Keep in mind this stage doesn't last that long, you will not have to manage forever.

Some dogs are going to be completely comfortable with a child who occasionally lands on them or grabs them hard and some are not.  I would spend some time before my child reaches this stage helping the dog get used to some rough handling.  For example grab an ear feed a cookie.  At first start gently but work up to pretty hard.  Of course you are never going to allow your child to abuse your dog, this is something I will address in the next part.  No matter how cautious you are not always going to be right there preventing your child from grabbing the dog.  Get your dog used to being asleep and being awoken harshly.  At first I just nudge the dog then reward them working up to pushing them when they are sleeping and rewarding them.  Not all dogs will learn to tolerate this, some dogs will always wake up snapping when startled and you will probably not be able to change this.  If you have one of these dogs you have to gauge the startle is it a lot of noise but nothing else or has the dog put teeth on you.  If the dog has put teeth on you some serious management has to be in effect.

One of my dogs was very uncomfortable with my child when he would crawl toward her.  At first we managed by preventing the child from reaching her.  I soon realized that I wasn't teaching her anything good.  She was learning that we would remove the stress by removing the baby.  That means that if we weren't there to remove the baby she might be put in a fight or flight position, I wanted to make sure she always chose flight.  Whenever the baby would crawl towards her and she would get that panicked look we would call her and she would get rewarded for coming.  She was learning to leave when the baby made her uncomfortable, this is exactly what I was looking for.  Within a few weeks she lost the look of panic when the baby approached her and eventually she would lick the baby on the way by.  This behaviour was labeled the tongue take down because she would usually knock him over :), don't worry he enjoyed being licked and didn't mind being knocked over.

Young babies grab hard, they just don't have the manual dexterity to control that.   Sit on the ground with the child, the dog and a bowl of treats.  Every time the child touches the dog, reward.  Work with the child to pet not grab but regardless how gentle every time the child touches the dog, reward.  Soon your dog will love these sessions of getting petted by the child regardless of how rough the child grabs.  If the dog chooses to leave, let him, next time try a shorter session to leave the dog wanting more.  Really good treats may also help your dog to want to stay longer.  If you are doing this with multiple dogs I would start with just one and put everyone else away.

Next part:  Teaching your dog to leave the child's toys alone and not to eat the child's food.



Thursday, February 7, 2013

Kids and Dogs - Part 1




Having a 4 year old son and a 3 year old Border Collie has made me really aware of what skills will keep these two active boys interacting in a matter that I find appropriate.  At the time my son was born I had a 10 year old Akita, an 8 year old Siberian Husky and an 5 year old Chesapeake.

If I had to pick a perfect age for a dog to bring a baby home I would say between 5 and 8 years old.  Old enough that they have a lot of their yayas out and are settled but not so old that they are starting to show their age; hearing and eyesight declines, they are sore and really just want to lie quietly and sleep which is not always possible with little children running around :).

This is going to be a 4 part series on what skills your dog needs before the baby comes home and then as the children get older.

Starting at the beginning are the skills your dog will need before you bring your baby home.

  1. Crate trained or gate trained.  There will be times when the best place for your dog is away.  Make sure your dog is capable of doing this QUIETLY and calmly before you bring your new bundle home.
  2. Long down.  Every baby has to spend time on the floor to develop strength and coordination, at first you don't want  your dog to inadvertently step on the baby so a long down or stay on your bed works great.
  3. You can sit on the couch and the dog does not have to be on top of you.  When you bring a baby home you spend a lot of time sitting on the couch feeding or rocking the baby.  Your dog cannot be on you or sooner or later it will sit on or scratch the baby.
You want to include your dog in the goings on so that he doesn't get all bent out of shape.  When I would give my baby floor time I would have the dogs all lie around me and get rewarded for staying in their downs.  Reward the dog for lying quietly at your feet or next to you on the couch while you are feeding, this will come in really handy when the baby starts spitting up and your dog discovers that babies are always covered in food.

Make sure you have scheduled enough exercise for the dog.  That could be something simple like throwing kibble to the bottom of the stairs and calling the dog back up to do it again.  This will give you a dog that can settle instead of a dog that is bouncing off the walls.

The biggest thing is RELAX.  If you are not comfortable take your dog out of the situation but at the same time remember you know your dog and what he is capable of.  That being said don't get over confident, if the baby is on the floor you are sitting next to the baby if the dogs are in the room.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Formula for Problem Solving

Yesterday was our second of our Dog Chat Series 2013.  When I come up with the titles every year I really try to find ideas that most dogs and of course owners need help with.  I really enjoy spending two hours on one subject and really breaking it down so the owners can go home and step by step put it into practice.

When I design the course I use a formula.  I use this formula for every problem that I deal with with dogs and slightly modified with life.  Any problem can be defined (a bit part of the issue) and solved using this plan.

First define the problem.  Remember you cannot teach a dog not to do something and you have to be realistic in your expectations.

Problem:  Horrible door manners!!!

What does that mean?  Is the behaviour only horrible when your frail mother-in-law comes over but is rewarded by everyone else who walks in the house including yourself?  What would you like to see happen instead?

There are four options that are all solutions.  Some require more effort some almost no effort.

1.  Ignore the problem.  Some problems you just have to accept.  You can change them but that will require effort you are not willing to expend to solve this problem so the solution is acceptance.  No yelling, not getting all upset, smile and accept.  You know the saying

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference. 
This is the serenity part.
2.  Manage the problem.  I will give you an example.  I have a 12 year old Siberian, I find as dogs start to hit serious old age they obsess about food.  I think they have nothing else to do, chasing stuff is no longer that exciting, running around is exhausting, etc.  About 2 hours before meal time if you approach the kitchen Max is underfoot, always in the way.  Especially in the morning when I am trying to get breakfast and lunches ready and I keep bumping into him.  My solution was pure management.  In the morning when I walk into the kitchen Max gets put in his crate (where he eats breakfast), that way he doesn't drive me nuts and I can get to his breakfast when I get to it.  I am happy because I have stopped having to constantly say "Get out of the kitchen".

3.  Train.  Definitely the most work intensive of the solutions, but that being said most problems take about 2-5 minutes once or twice a day to be solved within a few weeks to a month.  This is really not that much work.  I think for most people they don't know where to start so this is not an option.  The easiest way is to train the new dog as soon as they come into your home so that the wrong choices never happen.

4.  Get rid of the dog.  I know most of you are thinking "I would never do that" but you have to admit this is an option and sometimes it is a very good option but usually one of the first three will work much better.

There it is the formula to solve all your dog problems.  Every time I become frustrated and discouraged I think of all the incredible things animals have been trained to do; circus animals, animals in the military, police dogs, marine animals, etc.  If they can train a dog to drive a car I am pretty sure I can train my dog to ...

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Joys of Shoveling Snow

There is nothing Iggy enjoys more than shoveling snow, he will do this all day until his back legs are shaking from exertion.

As I shoveled the wonderful fluffy snow yesterday it got me thinking about what Iggy had to learn so he could continue to enjoy the snow.   This post is about letting your dog do what he enjoys with some rules so it doesn't become dangerous for you or the dog.

I have been taking courses for a couple of years now with Susan Garrett and I have to say my understanding of using the concept of building value instead of corrections to have been one of the most enlightening things I have learned, not just with dog training but child rearing and life.  I have been what would be considered a positive dog trainer for about 14 years but am still learning how to become more respectful of the dog while still creating a dog that is a joy to live with.


This is what we started with.  Iggy would attack the shovel every time you brought it up in the air to throw the snow.  He would bite at my hands when I was getting the snow into the shovel.

My goal was, he was allowed to jump at the snow once it left the shovel not when it was on the shovel because I was worried he would break a tooth and he kept knocking the snow off so we weren't getting anywhere with the shoveling and of course absolutely no biting of the hands EVER.

With anything like this you have to be willing to try something see if the dog changes his behaviour and then move on if you don't get the results you are looking for.  The skill comes with knowing what to try and knowing how long to wait before moving on to something else.  The longer the dog has practiced the behaviour the longer it will take to see a result.

First step was I would put the snow on the shovel and lift it an inch off the ground if Iggy did not move forward I would quickly throw it, if he moved forward I would put it back on the ground.  After a few repetitions of this I waited until he backed up before I would throw it.  So the behaviour now looked like this.  When the shovel came up into the air he should be backing up.  At any time if he didn't back up I would just wait and he would remember himself and back up.

The next step was to deal with the biting of my hands.  If at any time he came towards my hands I would lay the shovel on the ground and tie my boot.  This is what would be called response cost, biting at my hands makes me throwing the snow take longer so very quickly disappears.  If the behaviour hadn't disappeared then I would have had to come up with a bigger response cost.

I was very pleased.  With no yelling or bitching we accomplished my goals.  Think about behaviours that your dog does that you can work on changing with positive methods.

Have a great day and enjoy your dogs.


P.S.:  Just a note, like everything else this game has pros and cons.  Shoveling dirt  (or anything else) in the summer that you don't want him to swallow is a problem.  Since I don't do a lot of this we usually just practice our down stays so he doesn't end up eating a lot of dirt. :)