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.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.