Welcome to my journey! This blog is about my adventures in dog training, pet therapy work, rescue work and life with my menagerie of animals. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Guilty dog...

Does your dog get that guilty look on his face when you find he's done something naughty? Does he lower his head and eyes and tuck his tail when signs of a potty accident are discovered or a half eaten loaf of bread stolen from the counter? Yeah, mine does too. However, being a trainer I know that really what he's responding to is my body language and/or the tone of my voice. However, being human I still have the thought "see he knows what he did was bad!" It's fleeting but it's still there.

We are creatures that are capable of complex thoughts such as "I have to pee but if I pee on the carpet, 2 hours later when my mom comes home, she's going to be really mad" Dog's however think more like this…"I have to pee, I'll pee here". That's it, that's really about as far as it goes! So when you're yelling and gesticulating with your hands or even worse, rubbing their noses in their mess, all you are teaching them is "wow, mom is really unpredictable and mad, I'd better give off all the calming signals I can to calm her down" Hence the "guilty look". I propose an experiment (and if you have the forethought and willpower to do this I commend you greatly) the next time your dog does anything naughty, try smiling and using a happy, playful voice as you reprimand him! I would be willing to bet money he shows no signs of guilt! You can say all manner of nasty, derogatory things in the most pleasant voice possible and likely your dog will wag his tail at you! They really are pretty simple and to them the world revolves around body language and tone of voice.

So just remember potty your dog before leaving the house, utilize a crate, baby gate forbidden areas, keep your counters clean and food put away and if all else fails roll up a newspaper and firmly smack yourself on the head while repeating the phrase "bad owner"!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Head butts, body slams, forehead mind melds and other displays of affection!

Beanie and I have always played rough. Yes, he's 127 lbs and could knock me over but the nice thing about a dog this big is I can see it coming and can prepare for it! I have plenty of time (if I'm watching him) to brace my legs, bend my knees and get my hip out. I've used this play as a reward in training as well as a way to expend some energy on bad weather days.

Today I took him for a walk in this wonderful 40 degree weather we are currently experiencing here in NH and he was full of it! I know he was happy because his tail was high and there was a bounce in his step! It's fun to watch him as we walk and as he takes in everything we pass through town. When he sees an approaching person his ears stand up and his chest puffs out a little, I imagine it as kind of an expectant, on guard type of posture. He loves people but also takes his guarding job seriously. When the person looks like it will completely ignore us his ears drop and he goes back to sniffing the dirt or whatever other undetectable to humans smells there are. When someone actually talks to him, usually they say, "My what a big dog you are" or my favorite "you're not a dog you're a horse", he wags his tail and gets all soft and sweet and eats up the attention.

As we came to the spot where he usually does his business he decided instead to start bouncing around in the snow and body slamming me! He wanted to play, I was laughing too hard and it was a little slippery to engage in a full throttle session but he was not discouraged, he then shoved his nose between my legs and began pushing me backwards, then bouncing back down into play bow and coming at me again. It must have been quite a sight if anyone had been watching. I'm sure it looked like I was being attacked, he really is pretty huge when he jumps up! We finished our walk with a lot more head butts into my hip for head rubs and bouncing around. We were both pretty winded by the end! Then comes the best part, he gets into the back of the car, I take off his gentle leader and we have our forehead mind meld. Our heads actually fit well together and we stay like that for a few moments while I whisper little words of love to my baby boy! Those are the ways he shows me he loves me, he thinks I'm fun enough to play with and he trusts me enough to be face to face, eye to eye. Those mind melds are magic. He makes me laugh and smile and my heart bursts with love for him. Right now he has his head resting on my arm as I try to type, he has the twinkle in his eye, I think he wants to go out and play some more, so i'm off to find his ball and play with my dog then after do some cuddling!

So how does your dog express his love for you?

My husband doing a version of the mind meld!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

So what's the big fuss about socialization??

  Let's talk about socialization. Just recently my mentor Misti Fry was on a morning TV program discussing the benefits of puppy socialization and its correlation to less behavior problems. So what exactly does socializing entail and when should it start?

  Socializing simply means exposing a puppy, or dog, to any number of environmental stimulus. These stimulus can (and should) include as many humans as possible (all shapes, sizes, colors and ages), other dogs (again in all shapes, sizes, colors and ages), environmental sounds, smells and sights; garbage trucks, traffic cones, kids on bikes, mailboxes, garbage cans, police sirens, school buses, screaming babies etc., as well as other types of animals (especially important for the higher prey drive dogs), rides in the car, walks in a park, visiting a pet store, visiting the groomer, visiting the vet…and on and on! Sounds easy enough in the busy lives of today right? Well, the catch is, this all has to happen in a very positive, happy and non threatening way, oh and the absolute best time to do this is between 6-12 weeks old! 6 WEEKS you say? Yep, but don't fret all is not lost if you have obtained your puppy after 12 weeks and/or are unsure of it's previous socialization exposure. You can still do all the same socializing exercises, you may just need to move at a slower pace depending on how confident or unsure your puppy is.

  THIS is where getting in touch with a good trainer comes in handy as well as getting your new puppy enrolled in a puppy class. It's never too early OR too late to start! They will be gently, and in a positive way, exposed to other people, other dogs and learn great new things that will help an unsure pup become more confident and help your confident pup refine it's manners! The benefits of good socialization are too numerous to count, it's common sense really, if a pup is never exposed to something in his early days he will be more fearful of it when exposed to it later on. Also if a pup is exposed to something and it is a scary or traumatic experience, the next time the pup gets exposed to that something he will have a fearful reaction and possibly even an aggressive one in an attempt to remove himself or the offending "something". This is where bites can occur, if not caught and remedied quickly these reactions can escalate and a full blown fear reaction becomes ingrained and is hard to extinguish. The leading cause of relinquishment of dogs to shelters is due to behavior problems. I am confident enough to say that likely 90% of those problems could have been alleviated or even never begun had there been positive, early socialization and training!

  So if you got a puppy over the holidays, or even an older dog from a shelter research the trainers in your area, find one that believes in positive reinforcement training (not dominance/correction based) and get your pup in as soon as possible! If you can't get into class just yet at the VERY LEAST start taking your dog places and let them meet people!! Take a bag of 100 tiny dog biscuits with you on your trips and let any number of strangers feed your puppy! You would be amazed at how quickly your pup will begin to understand that meeting new people is quite fun and rewarding! You can do the same thing when you see dogs on walks, feed your dog good stuff when they see another dog or cat or even squirrel across the street! Make the world wonderful and fun and you and your pup will be on a good solid footing to a wonderful life together!

For more technical information of the importance of socialization The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior has written a series of articles on this subject! Read HERE and HERE!

***By the way these are my favorite trainers (I am totally biased I know, but hey, they really are awesome at what they do!) Lesli Hyland in Rutland, Vermont and
  Misti Fry/Carrie Galvan in Springfield, Missouri***

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