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, 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!