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!

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!