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. :)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Exercise on a cold winter's day

After much procrastination I finally got out to walk the dogs today and brave the -22 temperature.  Not long, we were only out for about 15 minutes but long enough for everybody to stretch their legs and then back to the warmth.  This got me thinking of those not lucky enough to be home during the day and therefore be able to walk with the sun out and the temp as warm as it was going to get.  So today's blog is about ideas to keep your dog from driving you nuts when you can't get them out for a good walk.

Trick Training

Using their brain can get your dog pretty tired.  Here are some websites that show you how to teach a bunch of easy tricks.

Your dog will probably know some of these but lots of great ideas to train.  Don't worry about not having a clicker just say "Yes" and give the treat your dog will pick it up pretty fast.

This is a great blog that shows how to teach a new trick every day.

Indoor Exercise

There are some options for exercising your dog and staying inside.

Using your stairs (if they are carpeted) is a great idea.  Sit at the top of the stairs and throw a toy or a piece of kibble down to the bottom of the stairs.  Send your dog to go get it and then call him back to you.  If you want to get some training in at the same time work your stay when you throw and make sure to call them when they are grabbing the toy or the kibble.  Make sure to reward coming back to you unless your dog already has a great retrieve.  If you are only rewarding going down they will stop coming all the way back.

Do you have a treadmill getting dusty in the basement?  It is easy to get your dog using the treadmill and a great way to get some exercise.  First off the treadmill needs to be at least as long as your dog is fully stretched out, just measure them when they are lying down.  I recommend getting them used to getting on the treadmill when it is turned off.  Have a 6ft leash and a flat collar on the dog and let him jump off and on.  Reward for jumping on by placing the treats where you eventually want the head to be.  When the dog gets on and stands in the right position waiting for treats it is time to turn it on.  If the dog gets off no biggie, just set it at the lowest speed and wait for him to jump on again.  If this isn't happening turn it off and go back to building value for just standing there.  Be patient it won't take long for your dog to love it.

Hope you can use some of these ideas and please let me know what you dog to keep your dog exercised and warm.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Handling Your Dog

Recently I worked with an aggressive dog.  I suggested that he be muzzled when going to the vet for everyone's safety, including the dog's.  It got me thinking that some dogs, for a variety of reasons, don't allow handling and owners just accept this and everyone goes on there merry way until something happens such as an injury to the dog and no one can get near him to help.  I have seen the dogs who get take to the groomer and have to be held down to be groomed it is a horrible experience for the dog and the groomer but it needs to be done.

I have always talked about handling in my beginner classes and my puppy privates but I don't think I have made it clear how important this is.  This also becomes a bigger problem in direct relation to the size of the dog.  Here is a simple exercise you can work on when watching TV that will greatly improve your dogs tolerance for handling.

Sit on the floor with your dog.  Your dog has to be unable to leave that means tied to something (table leg, your foot) or in a very small room like a bathroom.  Depending on the dog whether or not I use treats.  For a dog that really likes to be petted as long as it is only where they like it I will probably use petting as my reward.  For most dogs being petted is not that big a reward to you have to find something they want to reward them with, treats or even throwing a toy very short distances or tugging will work.

The biggest thing to remember is you are not going to force the dog to do anything he doesn't want to do.  This for me is always the hardest part at some point I reach the I feel I have done this enough and you should let me do _____ and then I force it.  This is the worse thing you can do it proves to the dog they were right to be worried you are not safe.  I found that watching TV keeps me a little distracted and not so goal focused.

Getting Iggy used to being handled by children
Back to the floor.  Sit next to your dog and start massaging him in his favorite place.  The difference between massaging and petting is massaging puts a lot more pressure and goes much slower.  Light fast petting will stimulate the dog, long slow firm movements will relax the dog.  If find the neck works really well as a starting point.  You cannot move forward until you feel your dog relax.  If you have worked on it for a while and your dog is still moving around or just not relaxing you will not move forward.  If your dog chooses to get up and leave that's fine because he can only go so far.  Let's say after a few days you have no improvement, you can try just sitting next to your dog and not touching him.  You can then reward him for lying next to you for increasing times.  Then you would lay a hand on him, did he leave?  If so you just sit there and continue to watch TV.   If the dog chooses to leave, for the first few times I will reward him for coming back, than only for coming back and lying down, than only for not leaving when I put my hand on him.

If you where able to massage the neck work down and massage the shoulder.  Does your dog tense up?  If so go back to the neck massage then just lay your hand on his shoulder for a few seconds then go back to massaging the neck.  After you have done this a few times try massaging the shoulder.  Then I move down to between the elbow and the shoulder.  Let the dog tell you what he is comfortable with and how far you can go.

You want to be very aware of constantly increasing the behaviour for the rewards.  That way you are progressing towards your final goal of your dog lying there while you clean his ears or cut his nails.  I always allow a little backslide when I start a new session.  Ideally keep track of each session and jot down your goals and accomplishments every day.  This exercise will only be effective if practiced regularly.  Every day is ideal or even short sessions multiple times a day, once a week will not change the behaviour.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

It's all in the details

I help my clients train a lot of dogs.  Over the years of observing I have discovered some tiny details that when performed correctly have huge results.

Let's look at a simple skill like teaching a dog his name.

You know you want the dog to come when he hears his name.  There are the common pitfalls of don't use his name as a correction, don't set him up for failure unless you have management in place and don't say his name unless you are prepared to make sure he responds.  I have clients who are following all these rules and yet their "Name Game" is not improving how I and they hoped it would .

Here are some details that will have a huge impact.

The "Name Game' is a game of movement, I want to reward movement.  This means I will continue to move backwards as I reward the dog.  I will not have the dog sit and then reward the dog because then I would be building value for the sit and not the movement.

If your dog has not got value for having his collar grabbed do not call him and then grab his collar, you are correcting him every time he comes.  Work on the collar grab separately.

Never, ever, ever move towards the dog.  You are teaching coming therefore the dog always has to move towards you to get the reward.  I have seen so many clients call their dogs and the dog very nicely turns their head towards the client and the client steps in and rewards.  This all looks good but you are teaching the dog that turning your head is all that is expected, not any movement.  Now picture your dog in a field and you call his name and he turns and looks at you.  In the dogs eyes he is doing exactly what he has been trained to do but I have heard many an owner say my dog is being stubborn or dominant.

It doesn't matter what the cue is; the dogs name or come or here or whatever be aware of how it is used and when.  I regularly see people say come and then drag the dog along on their leash.  All the dog is learning is the "come" cue means I am about to get pulled so they plant themselves, not at all conducive to come.

Don't allow your dog to practice failure on a regular basis.  Your dog is out in the field and you yell "come" and your dog ignores you completely or worse heads in the other direction.  Sure if you think maybe he didn't hear you try it one more time but after that all your doing is associating the word "come" with either ignore you or go the other way.  Get the dog back without calling him; go get him, walk away, give treats to your other dog, pretend there is something very interesting on the ground (gets them every time).  When the dog comes put him on leash, go home and realize you have to do some work on building the value for coming when called.

Your recall is one of the most important skills I dog needs.  A dog that comes when called gets more exercise therefore ends up being better behaved.  Have fun teaching your dog to love to come to you.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Welcome to 2013

Deb and Spirit do skijoring to stay active
For me the New Year brings such a sense of purpose.  A sense of hope and promise.  For the last few years I have dabbled with goal setting.  Last year I got a little more serious and wrote my goals down.  I am happy to report both of my primary goals where accomplished.  Maybe there is something to this goal setting stuff.  One of the biggest points when doing goal setting is to write your goals down and give them a completion date.  Make the goals easy to quantify so that you are sure when you have accomplished them.  The other big part of goal setting is to have a completely open mind, the sky is the limit and no fear of failure.

What does this have to do with dog training?  When you get a puppy everyone comes out of the gate with goals for this new puppy.  The puppy gets lots of exercise, attention and training.  Slowly real life takes over and the dog takes a back seat to other priorities.  Hopefully by this time you have achieved a relatively trained dog who is a active part of our family.  I know there are always things that you would like to improve on but overall you are pretty happy with the dog.

But what about the dog.  Yes, you provide exercise, food and toys but what about mental stimulation.  What about active interaction where you are present mentally and physically.  A dog's daily life consists of the same old same old and being told not to do something.  Even when being walked both you and the dog are off in your own worlds and not really interacting.  I am always overjoyed when someone brings an adult dog for training and they are so excited in the changes in relationship with their dogs even after a few weeks of training.

Here are some easy ideas of how to incorporate training into your everyday hectic life

  1. Bathroom training - every time you go to the bathroom work on a command; sit, down, stand.  Just have a bowl of kibble in there and before you walk out call your dog over and spend 10 kibble training.
  2. On your walks - take his dinner with you and practice different commands or even just his recall.
  3. While waiting for the water to boil - this is 5 minutes of prime training time.  Call your dog over and do some training.
Here are some ideas of what you can train in those couple of minutes
  1. Sit or down - the cue or the stay.
  2. Sit pretty - great core building exercise
  3. Shake a paw - each paw on a cue and both paws together, shake or wave
  4. Retrieve - a small room is perfect for this.
I just had a friend lend me a great book called "10-Minute Dog Training Games" by Kyra Sundance.  I am loving it for great new ideas for training my dogs.

Go out get training and watch your dog blossom.