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!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Driveway training...

I have talked about this before but I think it bears repeating...frequently! The best way to train your dog is through the natural course of the day. Use the every day activities you do with your dog to work in a little training. I'll give you an example; I have a driveway that is about 150ft. long. This morning I needed to go out to put some letters in the mailbox that is at the end of the driveway, so I called to Jojen and we headed down the driveway. Now, I could have just let him wander around sniffing and playing in the snow but I decided to use the time to my advantage (it's difficult training one dog in the house with 2 others clamoring for your attention). I realized I had no treats with me so I used his desire to go explore as his reward for working on heeling with me. I made sure I gave him constant verbal praise as he walked close by my leg looking up at me and then I would release him with an "Ok, go play" and he would romp around and then come back on his own and we'd begin again. We did this on the way up the driveway and then again on the way down. I could have done a few more passes but I decided to end on a good note and after some pretty stellar heeling we celebrated by playing a game of chase mommy! He was thrilled and all of this took maybe 10 minutes and it was all while doing something I needed to do anyway! So maybe you don't have such a long driveway, it doesn't matter! You can make a few passes or just work a little at a time. You can use a hallway in your home or even just walk the perimeter of a room!

The training possibilities are endless too, it doesn't have to be just working on heeling or leash walking. You can practice recalls, automatic sits when you stop walking, "watch me", leave it, stays, touch, Rally obedience moves, freestyle routines, tricks, etc. You can even use this time to work with your dog if they have any fear or reactivity issues. Building their confidence in small blocks of time is optimal as they don't become overwhelmed and neither of you get frustrated.

So I'll say it again (and probably again some other time), make training part of your everyday life and it won't seem so daunting a task!

Friday, October 25, 2013

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure...

 I have had quite a few private lesson clients lately that are dealing with Separation Anxiety in one form or another. Separation Anxiety, SA, is a blanket term used to describe behaviors exhibited by a dog stemming from varying degrees of anxiety. Dogs can suffer from milder forms such as Isolation Distress (anxious when alone) all the way up to clinical SA where a dog can cause great destruction to the home and/or to themselves. Rather than go into the intensive protocol used to rehabilitate dogs suffering from SA (perhaps in a future post), I would like to address those with dogs that DON'T have SA and talk about prevention.

 One of the biggest mistakes (done with good intentions of course) many people make when adopting a new dog or bringing home a new puppy, is to spend every waking minute with the new dog (and sometimes the non awake hours too!). While it is very convenient to bring a dog or puppy home during vacation time, it can create problems that may not have been there previously. I am not saying never to bring a new dog home on vacation, but do so with the understanding that it's OK to let your dog spend some time apart from you, in fact it's recommended!

 Teaching your new dog or puppy right from the beginning that being separated from you isn't horrible, and in fact it can be awesome, will go a long way to building their self confidence as well as allow you to take a bathroom break without a four legged supervisor!

 New dogs coming into an adoptive home need an adjustment period. Some need longer than others but at the very least the first two weeks are the settling in period. Any training done at this time needs to be positive and taken at a snails' pace, with very low expectations, to allow your dog some success without becoming confused and frustrated.

Here are some quick and easy ideas to help you show your dog separation isn't the end of the world:

  • Reward your dog or puppy for calm behavior when physically separated from you. Is he sleeping in a bed across the room from you? Toss him a treat for that! Does he go explore something away from you? Toss him a treat for that! Take this gradually to more difficult steps by adding a gate in between you both, remove yourself from sight (for a second), close a door between you two. Reward all calm behavior as you progress and if your dog gets stressed at any time, decrease the difficulty a little.
  • Make all departures and returns calm and boring. You can absolutely say hi to your dog when you come home or goodbye when you leave but don't break out your Academy Award performance for them, it can increase stress in your dog.
  • Teach your dog to be ambivalent about you putting on your shoes or picking up your keys or any of the other things you do as you prepare to leave the house. You do this by randomly, throughout the day, picking up your keys and then putting them down, putting on your shoes, walking around and then taking them off again, open the door and then close it again, etc. Done over the course of time your dog will find these departure cues unimportant, thereby taking away the power they can have to induce anxiety in your dog.
 Just practicing a couple preventative measures can go a long way to making your dog or puppy comfortable being on their own when necessary and will make your life so much easier!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Real Life Rewards

  Last night in my Level 1 class there were some great questions on how to progress training and transition from relying on food. I've touched on the latter part in this post but what we discussed last night were Life Rewards.

  The initial example was working on loose leash walking. The owner was happy with her dogs' progress, she was getting about 10 or so steps of polite walking before the dog would nudge her for a treat. My response was "Great, but don't let her tell you when it's time for a treat! Require her to take a few more steps after the nudge and then reward her polite behavior". Also we discussed mixing up the rewards with other reinforcers. Her dog loves to tug so I suggested alternating between a food reward and a 5 second game of tug for polite leash manners. We also discussed the use of off leash freedom, intense sniffing expeditions, greeting people/other dogs, getting to a place they are really excited to be; those are all Life Rewards. How your dog earns them is up to you.

  My dog Sadie gets so very excited when I bring her to daycare, so much so that she is barking and whining and carrying on as well as pulling on leash. However, I refuse to allow her the reward of going in and playing with friends when she acts this way. I simply stand firm and don't advance toward the gate when she is carrying on. If she gets worse we walk away, when she settles we take a few steps forward. As long as she remains calm and isn't pulling we continue forward, if at any time (even right at the gate) she gets over excited I back her up and we start again. It can be a lengthy process, but eventually your dog will understand that calm behavior is the best way to get what he wants! It took Sadie about 5 minutes of back and forth for her to get to the gate and through it with calm behavior! Consistency is key, you can't make them do it one day and then let them pull you the next, doing that would actually strengthen the inappropriate behavior!

  It happens a lot in classes too, dogs are excited to see each other and so they pull their owners over to see their friend in class...guess what your dog just learned? Yep, pulling is the best way to get what I want! So last night we talked about the importance of not letting our dogs drag us to see people or other dogs, not only is it teaching your dog bad manners it can also be very dangerous both for you and your dog. Not every person or dog wants to have their space invaded by an over exuberant dog, be considerate of everyone's space and require your dog do the same.

  When utilizing a Life Reward there is often no need for food as a reward, just getting what they want is the reward, so use it to your advantage!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Those scary men...

I have had quite a few clients lately tell me their dogs love everyone...except men. Reactions to men can run the gamut to tail tucking and hiding behind the owner to growling and biting. Whatever the reaction the dog makes, you must know it all comes from a base of fear. There are many reasons dogs can be fearful of men. They could have a genetic history that predisposes them to fearful behavior, possibly their early socialization was void of a wide variety of men, during a critical socialization period they had a scary encounter with a man (this does not necessarily mean they were hit by a man, it could simply be a man using a deep, bellowing voice or moving in a certain way). It could be a combination of any of it. In general men are taller, gruffer, have deeper voices and more commanding presences than females. A man can be the sweetest, gentlest, teddy bear of a guy but to a dog that is fearful of men he is a big, loud, scary creature.

So what do you do with a dog that's fearful of men?

Keep the leash tight when a man approaches?
Avoid any and all contact with men?
Yell at your dog for being ridiculous?
None of the above.

The first thing you must do is realize, to your dog, the fear is real. No matter how ridiculous or unwarranted you may think it is, to your dog, it's real and that is all that matters. You can't reason with a dog, you can't discipline fear out of him; you need to respect his feelings and help him through it and support him in overcoming the fear. We can accomplish this through a very managed plan of action that involves counter conditioning (changing the emotional response to the man) and desensitization (this allows your dog to begin feeling comfortable in the proximity of a man). We start slow and with known men that your dog is hopefully comfortable with or at least a man that takes direction well! If you rush this process you only worsen the fear and if you force your dog to "deal with it" it could come back to bite you...or someone else!

Respect your dog and support him, that is what true love and companionship are about! Find a positive reinforcement trainer that can help you through the process and be committed to the plan of action.

For those men out there that are slighted by some dogs they meet, my advice to you is don't take it personally! If you are faced with a dog that is afraid of men, the best thing you can do is give that dog space, no direct eye contact, sideways body posture and if you happen to have anything yummy in your hand slowly and gently toss it to the dog (as long as the owner says it's ok) otherwise completely ignore the dog and don't make any sudden movements. You will go a long way in helping that dog succeed in overcoming his fears and his owner will be so grateful as well!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Confessions of a Dog Trainer

So, I often hear "It's nice to know trainers have to deal with the same issues we do" and I often also hear "of course your dog can do it, you're a trainer"

Well let me fill you in on a secret: many trainers have very naughty, misbehaving, issue ridden dogs! The reason for this isn't that we are "bad" trainers (although that could be the case in a few scenarios), it's often that as trainers we take on the "challenging" dogs or we have so many dogs and only so little time. In short...we are just like the average pet owner. We struggle with time management, setting priorities and goals and being guilty of lazy pet parenting!

So in the interest of full disclosure I have three dogs with many issues; some serious, some not so serious. Here they are in all their glory!

Sadie: Barking/jumping in excitement
           Difficult to settle down in social settings/over arousal
           Mild resource guarding with other dogs and occasionally people
           Needs further work on basic obedience manners

Jojen: Terrible jumper for attention
          overly motivated by food (difficult to use food to train with as he gets too wound up)
          Goes from 0-60 with not much in between (he has no real calm setting!)

Beanie: Reactive on leash walks
             Barks at EVERY SINGLE THING (real or imagined)

There are of course other little things they do that are naughty or undesirable, but these behaviors are the ones that I will work on, most everything else can be handled through management (closing bedroom doors to ward off puppy chewers, keep counters clean of food, etc.)

So the next time you look at your dog and think you are the only one with a crazy, misbehaving dog, just remember, your trainer probably does too and because of that is in a great position to empathize and help you through it!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Does your dog know "sit"?

In my classes I teach students to make sure their dogs can get into any position (sit,down,stand) from any position; in other words their dog will do a down from a stand, a sit from a down, a stand from a sit, etc. The idea is to keep their dog from developing a pattern of sit, down, stand; which can lead to lack of stimulus control.

Stimulus control is defined as your dogs ability to sit (or whatever cue you give) when you ask, not to sit when you don't ask, not to sit when you ask for something different and not to give you a different response when asked to sit. Confusing? Basically it means if you ask your dog to "sit" he won't lie down and if you ask your dog to "down" he won't sit.

If your dog has been taught to sit before a down, If you ask for a down, it's highly likely he will sit first rather than get into a down immediately. What this means is he hasn't actually learned what "down" means, he's learned the pattern and that's not the same thing. You want your dog to know each individual cue and be able to perform it regardless of what cue came first.

Try this experiment: with your dog in front of you and BEFORE he has the chance to sit, ask him for a down, using whatever verbal or hand signal you use for that command. What does he do? If he sits then you can be pretty sure he's learned the pattern and not the actual behavior. If he just stares at you...you both need more training! =)

If your dog just stares at you, you want to look at the cue itself. Is it clear and concise? Do you execute it the same every time? Does your dog sit on the third cue? If your verbal or hand signal is not clear to your dog, he's basically left guessing as to what you want him to do.

With regards to verbal signals, impatience is our biggest culprit. We say the cue "sit, Sit, SIT" before our dog has had a chance to process and think! So what happens is the cue actually becomes the word "sit" said three times in successive volume! Go back to asking for the sit once and then zip your lips and let him think. Reward him when he responds and then repeat. The more you do this, the faster his response will become until you have a dog that sits the FIRST time you ask not the third!

With hand signals, if you have loose, flowing or variable hand movements when you ask for sit (or any behavior), your dog can get very confused and both of you will get frustrated with each other! Your hand signal should be clear, precise and consistent every time. Figure out what feels more natural to you, or better yet, see which one your dog actually responds to, and use that!

Make sure to pair the verbal signal with the hand signal so your dog understands they mean the same thing. That way, either command can be used separately when necessary. An example might be, you come home with groceries in both hands and you don't want your dog jumping all over you, if your dog understands the verbal signal you can cue him to sit verbally and he will comply, leaving you able to walk in and put the groceries down unencumbered. Or imagine you had Laryngitis or oral surgery and couldn't speak. If your dog understands hand signals you can still get compliance from him even though your voice is out of commission.

So test your dog and yourself and see if your dog really does know "sit" and if not, help him learn! =)

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

How often do you train your dog?

This is not a judgmental question, believe me. I have always been the type of training student that worked really hard in class but rarely found time outside of class to work with my dog. Now that I have three dogs, two young children and teaching obligations, time is even more scarce!

I finally started taking my own advice and now I train my dogs all day long! I know that sounds crazy but really it works; here's how:

Waking up: They must be calm in their crate before I open the door to let them out.

Leaving the bedroom to go downstairs: They must back up from the door and let me get it open before heading through it

Going out into the yard: Again, back up from the door and go out calmly

Coming inside from the yard: They need to stand or sit calmly, after letting me know they need to come back inside (usually with a paw scratch or little bark)

Breakfast: They need to wait calmly, not jump on me or the cabinets (Jojen is working on this) while I mix up their breakfast THEN they need to sit and wait until I release them to eat (the time varies every meal and sometimes there is no wait at all)

Throughout the day: 

            1)If I am in the kitchen making lunch, they need to wait outside the kitchen calmly and not be underfoot. 

            2)Randomly throughout the day I call them to me and reward them with whatever food I may have available or some good old fashioned lovin'. 

            3)When they bark at something outside, we work on quiet.

            4)When the girls come home from school, and when my husband comes home from work, we work on calm greetings (really hard for Sadie!)

            5)When we sit down to eat dinner they need to be calm/quiet on the other side of the gate or lie calmly on their bed in the living area NO BEGGING! =)

            6)The door behavior is repeated throughout the day and into the night up until their last outing for the night.

Bedtime: They get in their crates calmly and quietly and go to sleep!

If we manage to eek out some extra time for walks, other outings or formal training session then that's great, but to me, working on their behaviors in the home is most important as that is where we spend most of our time and I want it to be enjoyable for all involved!

So if you feel like you just don't have the time to train your dog, think again, every interaction you have with your dog is a potential learning opportunity!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

To bribe or not to bribe...AKA "my dog only listens when I have a treat"

    One of the greatest complaints most people have with training with food, or rewards of any kind, is that their dog will only perform when they have said treat or reward. It's a legitimate complaint because most people (and this would be the fault of their trainer) never learn how to fade the treat properly.

    When we first are teaching a dog a new behavior or trick the fastest way to achieve proficiency and solid learning is with a continuous rate of reinforcement, they get a cookie every single time they respond correctly. So when we first teach our dogs to sit, every time they sit they get reinforcement, usually with food, as it's the quickest way to create a good association between the cue and the response.

     However we then need to start requiring a little more from the dog. Perhaps we ask them to sit but only reward after a few seconds, which will help with stability in the position and not create a dog that pops his butt up immediately after sitting, this is called a Duration Schedule of reinforcement. Then when we have taught our dogs to have some duration in the position, perhaps we only reward the really fast responses, this is called Differential Reinforcement of Excellent behavior. Another way we could fade the treat is to require a certain number of behaviors to be performed before the reward is given, that is a Random Ratio or Variable Ratio.

     Another way to fade the treat is to start substituting the food reward with some other reward such as petting, a game of fetch, tug or freedom off leash. I would venture to say off leash time is just as reinforcing, if not more for some dogs, as food is. Off leash time is a very powerful reinforcer. A classic example of this is sitting at the door to go for a walk; in the beginning we ask for a sit at the door, give a food reward and then walk out the door. But as your dog progresses you can start to expect more. Ask for the sit BEFORE you even leash him, this requires him to practice his sit duration while you attach the leash, then you can ask him to wait as you open the door and when he is successful the reward is going out for a nice walk or to play fetch in the yard.

     What I see a lot of in class is this:
Owner: "Fluffy Sit"
Fluffy doesn't sit just stares blankly at owner (even though she has been thoroughly taught what sit is)
Owner "FLUFFY, SIT" (a little more loudly)
Fluffy continues to stand and stare
Owner reaches into their treat bag, pulls out a treat and says "SIT" and...Fluffy sits!!

A few things could be happening here;
1)The owner could have inadvertently taught fluffy that the cue for sit is actually reaching into her treat bag
2)The owner hasn't worked on proofing the behavior without treats yet, fading the treat
3)The dog is just being the opportunistic/intelligent creature it is and they have figured out that not responding brings out the treat! In essence Fluffy has trained her owner!

So the next time you ask your dog to sit and they refuse...walk away! See what happens then; if they follow you, ask them to sit again. If they respond give them verbal praise and petting or play a game of tug. Continuing to require "more" from your dog and refusing to resort to bribes, for behaviors you know they have been taught, will go a long way in getting better response to your cues.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Bark is MUCH worse than the bite!

  So our little foster dog Sadie has this super fun (insert sarcasm here) bark that she gets carried away with when she is excited or alerting to some sound (or if Beanie has alerted to a sound she has to join in). It's the kind of bark that goes up your spine and if left to continue on it's incessant path has the potential to make your ears bleed!

  I have begun working on her with this using a combination of body blocking and rewarding quiet behavior. I have had the most success so far in keeping her quiet when she is on the other side of the gate from us while we are eating. At dinner time I take a tupperware dish with kibble or broken pieces of biscuit and every few seconds, if she's been quiet, i'll toss her a piece. I have been able to progress with this pretty quickly to every few minutes tossing her a piece of food and dinner time is blissfully quiet again!

  To help her regain composure when she sees something out the window, I use body blocks to remover her from the window and when she is quiet I reward her. I also give her something else to concentrate on like a rope toy or simply a handful of food tossed on the floor! Whatever keeps her quiet and occupied! This is proving a little more difficult as visual stimulus is more difficult for her and Beanie can be an instigator!

  Today when I had Little Bear's mom come pick him up I took a baggie of dog kibble out with me and while I was talking to her I would toss a small handful of kibble up onto the deck where Sadie was watching us from, as long as she was quiet. She did really well and settled down wonderfully. She's a smart little girl and will be quick to learn. She may always alarm bark but my goal is to make her easy to shut off with a simple "quiet" or "enough" command. After all It's nice to have dogs that let you know something or someone is outside!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

“Good” mourning

Isn’t that title an oxymoron, also possibly offensive? Yes, I suppose it could be perceived this way but I truly believe good can come form mourning.

In recent months, myself and some close to me, have had many reasons to mourn. I have mourned for my friends and their struggles and they have mourned for me and mine as well. There are lots of things one can mourn for, the passing of youth (you bet I’m mourning that), the growing up of our children, the loss of blissful ignorance (I am dealing with this as well in my eating habits!) and the loss of someone close to us.

Currently, I am mourning the loss of a beautiful dream I have had, since bringing Jojen home, of competing in all manner of dog sports with him. There were no limits in my imagination to all we could do together. Then…puppy strangles, then…a broken wrist, then…abdominal surgery, then…constant lameness on his previously broken leg, then…a grade three luxating patella; the last two of which will require surgery. He is 11 months old and already has a good amount of arthritis in the elbow of his previously broken leg. He is scheduled to have his knee surgically repaired next week. The elbow will be next, once the coffers have been replenished. I have sadly, but with a twinge of optimism, resigned myself to the fact that agility competition is probably out of our future. I love it and he loves it but the amount of pain it could cause him is not worth it to me. There are other sports that require less physicality but still require precision training and fun and I will try to focus on those. Rally Obedience is one as is the new sport of Rally FrEe. I still plan on getting his trick dog titles and perhaps even being able to do some freestyle routines and drill team routines.

My lesson in all this rests in his little red body that harbors no resentment, no sadness and no blame. He loves life still, even limping on two legs, he takes it all in and never lets it get him down. That is where my “good” mourning comes from.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

We Don’t Always Have To Like Everyone

Sometimes in life there are people that just get under your skin, push your buttons and plain old make you mad. We try our best to avoid these people, and when we can’t we try really hard to keep our cool and diffuse any tension, we avert eye contact, try to ignore their goading and bite our tongue (really hard sometimes) but often it just becomes too much and you want to yell “SHUT UP”. Well, canines are no different. They have personalities that run the gamut from goofy to serious to crabby to shy and everything in between, so suffice it to say there are dogs that know how to push other dogs buttons!

So what do you do when you have a friend that has a dog that just pushes your dog over the edge? I have two clients in just such a situation. When I observe these two puppies (that came from the same breeder, different litters, at the same time) I can see such vast differences in their personality that I am 99% sure most of it is their nature. That is not to say that positive and consistent dog training can’t make them tolerate and even learn better communication, in fact I believe it can, that is where the nurture comes in. I do think however that their interactions will likely always need to be monitored and supervised to avoid the squabbles they seem to regularly and easily get into. One is the antagonizer and the other is the reactor, however once it escalates neither one wants to be the one to back down.

So what kind of dog training would be beneficial for these pups? In my opinion the first thing they need is a great amount of self-control. They need to learn to relax and have more relaxed interactions. I have been instructing both owners to work on calming sits; basically mandatory relaxation and body handling. It helps settle and ground the puppy when they just lose their marbles. The next will be rewarding
self-interruption behaviors as well as calm interaction behaviors. The owners will also have to increase mental and physical stimulation as well! These are high energy dogs with quick triggers, this process will be slow and on-going but they are both super smart and pick things up easily, they’ll get it.

So just remember your wicked good dog doesn’t always have to like every dog and you should be understanding and willing to give him the tools he needs to deal with those pesky antagonizers, as well as help him make a clean get away when it’s needed!

Monday, February 18, 2013

It’s puppy season…Do you have what it takes??

In my years of training dogs and working in animal shelters I have heard countless (and I seriously mean countless) times the excuse of “we just don’t have the time he needs…”. It is a sad fact of life that people go about bringing a puppy into their family in a completely backwards fashion. It is usually all based on looks, bravado, fluffiness or a false sense of their own life reality. I have seen it time and time again, someone gets a high energy puppy with the thought “Oh THIS will make me get in shape” or “I want to do agility with him” (when they’ve never even stepped into a training class) Or they get a guardian breed dog and never socialize him and wonder why he growls and tries to bite strangers. Now, that is not to say that these scenarios can’t work and create some fantastic relationships and impart much wisdom and humility on people, unfortunately though that is the exception and not the rule.

The first thing (and I mean even before you start looking at dogs) you should do is write down your families schedule for one week, including impromptu visits from friends, trips to the store, library, school functions, etc. and then sit down at the end of the week and take a look at it. Is there time for a puppy in there? If someone is not home most of the day, (an 8-12 week old puppy shouldn’t be only for more than 3-4 hours max.), do you have the means to hire someone to come and exercise and let your puppy out to potty? Asking friends is great but someone you pay is often more reliable. Is your home easily set up to be puppy proofed? Gated off rooms, no small toys lying around, shoes and laundry off the floor, trash inaccessible, etc. A puppy needs plentiful and positive socialization and play time; do you have time to take your puppy in the car multiple times a day and expose him to lots of people and places and take him for walks in new neighborhoods? Are you able to supervise your puppy 100% of the time, especially during the potty training phase? Puppies need to potty at least every hour and almost immediately after they wake from a nap, play or eat/drink. Are you prepared to take your pup to proper training every week at least through his first two years of life? Yes, that’s right AT LEAST two years! One puppy class isn’t going to cut it. By the time the pup is between 6-9 months they hit adolescence and all training goes out the window, you wonder what alien has taken over your previously sweet and well behaved puppy! It happens again around 18months!

Am I making it sound like having a puppy is hard? You bet your life it is! It is constant work and supervision and mistakes and being on the ball! You have taken responsibility for another living being and that should never be taken lightly. Having a puppy in the home is like having an infant...do you have time for that? If you can answer all of my questions in the affirmative and you have done your research and talked with your family and figured out schedules and training classes and puppy proofed your home than I encourage you to go find the puppy of your dreams. Having a dog in your family is a great joy, just remember it is also a big responsibility and not something easily taken back once taken on.