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 ( 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

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 ...