Thursday, May 9, 2019

You Can't Make Me.....But You Can Teach Me

Have you ever tried to make your dog do something they didn't want to do or more likely were afraid to do?    Something that seems so simple to us,  may feel impossible for our dog.  Everytime a dog baulks, refuses or shows displeasure they tend to be labeled as difficult, dominant, strong willed, etc.  The humans immediately move into 'I'm going to make you do this' mode rather than "Let me take the time to teach you" mode.   There are things we need our dogs to do:

  • Go to the Vet
  • Get on the scale
  • Go to the Groomer
  • Get a bath
  • Have their ears examined or cleaned
  • Get their nails trimmed
  • Get in/out of the car
  • Climb stairs
  • Go into a crate

This is just a short list of some of the things dogs may struggle with.  How we handle them at the onset,  often determines the long term outcome, both good and bad.   There can be a variety of reasons why dogs put the breaks on in certain situations.    While there are MANY reasons, here is a quick overview of the big hitters!

Fear-  Many dogs hesitate or refuse to do something because they're afraid.    Depending on your dogs age or temperament, trying new things can be down-right terrifying.

Past Experiences- If they've had a negative experience in the past it's unlikely they will forget the second time around.  A perfect example of this is nail trims.........quick your dog just once and see how the second time goes! 

New Experiences- For puppies and adult dogs, many of the things we need them to do are new experiences for them,  so they've had little to no practice.  "New' can be exciting but it can also be scary as heck.

Confidence Issues - Building confidence comes thru practice and positive outcomes.  Helping our dogs build confidence should be the foundation of training.

Pain- If a dog is experiencing physical pain it may prevent them from doing even simple things.  Always talk with your Vet if your pet is displaying avoidance behaviors.

Understanding the process of shaping/capturing behaviors and classic conditioning will allow for those teachable moments.   There is nothing better than the moment your dog realizes they CAN do it.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Magic Wands and Duct Tape

There's a saying amongst dog trainers...."let me get my magic wand and fix that".    Everything from biting puppies to serious aggression...... quick fixes are in high demand!    What we can't fix with the wave of our magic wand, we can slap a little duct tape on to give the illusion of being fixed.

While we may joke about this, it's one of the most challenging parts of our job.  There's often an expectation that puppies can be trained in 1-2 sessions and behavior problems can be fixed with the push of a button.  For all the advances that have been made in dog training, the struggle is real when legitimate trainers have to compete with slick marketing campaigns in an unregulated industry. 

Just for fun, here are some Human Vs Dog Comparisons to consider:

Quit smoking in one day......Stop barking in one training session
Lose 25 lbs in 1 week......Stop wanting to chase squirrels
Learn a 2nd language in 1 day........Understand English without training
Like every person you meet........Like every dog they meet
Overcome your fear of spiders in one exposure......Overcome their fear of strangers in one exposure
Quit daydreaming........Stop enjoying GREAT smells

We should reconsider the expectations we have for training our dogs, often they are unreasonable and unattainable.   When someone tells you they can 'fix' your dog in one session, think back to the one time you were able to learn a complex skill or rid yourself of a bad habit in one day.  When asked why I don't give 'guarantees' for my services, I explain...........because I can't guarantee that clients will follow the training plan I've given them.   A trainer can give someone all the tools they need, but if they don't spend the time working with their dog, it's not the training that has failed. 

If you're looking for a trainer or certified behavior consultant, do your research, credentials DO matter.  There are legitimate organizations that train, test and certify dog professionals. 

IAABC- International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants
CPDP - Certified Pet Dog Professional
KPA- Karen Pryor Academy

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Living With The Unfixable

Raising and training dogs is like working on a puzzle.......trying to make the pieces fit........spending countless hours working on it..........enjoying the process but also feeling frustrated at times....... only to find out one of the pieces is missing and your puzzle is not going to look like the picture on the box. 

How do we deal with the frustration that comes from raising and training dogs that aren't easy to live with?   No one brings a dog into their home thinking........"I hope this is a non-stop project that frustrates the heck out of me and makes me wish I had gotten a gold fish".   I work with clients every week who feel they have taken on more than they bargained for, leaving them feeling overwhelmed and often very sad.

There will come a day when you've exhausted all your best efforts to 'fix' your dog.  When you have to learn to live with and work around their flaws and find a way to be ok with it.    I'm not saying we should ever give up trying helping our dogs, but often we need to readjust our expectations of what the 'finished product' will look like.

It's important to give yourself breaks, remember training is a marathon not a sprint, pace yourself or you'll surely burn out.  Try setting realistic goals so you can see progress, no matter how small those steps may be.

Start by having a clear picture of who your dog is both good and bad.   You'll need to be realistic about their strengths and limitations so you can build a life for them that allows both of you to thrive.  If you find yourself spending countless hours trying to 'fix them' it's probably not healthy for either of you. 

Often the first step is to take a break from rigorous training routines, this gives both of you downtime and the opportunity to relax.  Years ago I was living with a dog who had terrible on-leash reactivity, our walks literally were making both of us lose our minds.   I put both of us on a 1 month break from walks, instead we just played in the yard.   During that time I saw a new dog emerge, he was happy, playful and relaxed.  I felt much the same way because the daily stress of dealing with his behavior had taken it's toll on my mental and physical health.   What I came to realize is that he really did not enjoy going on walks, he was much happier playing in his yard, which provided him with more than enough exercise.   In my attempts to 'fix' him I was actually making things worse. 

From establishing new routines to using management strategies, you can start to see positive changes.   Get up every day and find one thing you can enjoy doing with your dog from playing fetch in the yard to cuddling on the couch.  Find a dog professional who can help you bring out the best in your dog!

**I was never able to finish this puzzle because Marshall ate a few pieces.......clearly he was sending me a message**

Monday, February 25, 2019

Who's Cueing Who?

A verbal cue is a word we use to get our dog to do something such as 'sit'...'down'...leave-it'.  Our dogs also learn how to cue us......barking to be let outside......hovering over their water dish waiting for a refill.....dropping their tennis ball at your feet in the yard to initiate a game of fetch. 

I love when my dogs develop clear cues or signals to let me know when they need something.  It can however become a problem if it turns into demanding behavior.......barking for attention or stealing things to initiate a game of 'chase me'.    Without even realizing what they're doing, our dogs start cueing us to get us to do something, because practice makes perfect, the more we respond to these cues the stronger the behavior will become.  Dogs don't become demanding because they think they are top dog, they repeat behaviors because we respond in a way that works for them. 

  • You're talking on the phone and your pup stands in front of you barking, you get into a bantering war with them or end the conversation.  Your pup has learned that barking is an effective cue to get your attention. 
  • You're relaxing on the couch when your pup steals the remote and takes off running, you jump up and chase him.........pretty effective cue to engage you in a game of 'chase me' 
  • Your pup barks when crated and you quickly go let them out, even though you know they have just eaten, had a drink and used the bathroom.  They quickly learn that barking is a cue that makes the crate door open.

We're quick learners.......most people respond to their dogs cues quickly which establishes a learned behavior.   It's helpful to decide early on which cues you want to respond to and which ones you will ignore.   It's a personal decision how you choose to respond, just don't allow behaviors to develop that you don't want sticking around for 10-15 years.   By ignoring demanding behaviors and redirecting your dog to do something else, you can prevent unwanted cues.


When I'm raising and training my puppies it's a three part process.  

  • Training - When we train we are teaching a puppy to speak english by pairing a single behavior with a single word, such as 'sit' means put your tail on the floor.......'come' means run towards me.   Training is not waiting for them to do something wrong so you can  correct them, it's about teaching them what you want them to do and reinforcing those behaviors.  A well trained dog is not one who only avoids punishment, but one who knows what's being asked of them.   Training builds confidence in puppies and reduces frustration for humans.   
  • Management - If left to their own devices puppies will rip, tear, shred, jump, steal, dig and basically act like a dog :)  Instead of following them around screaming 'No', prevent them from doing these things by managing their environment.  This is accomplished by using crates, gates, xpens, closing doors, blocking access to free run of your home.   Using management techniques is not the same thing as training.   If I don't want my puppy jumping on the kitchen counter while I'm cooking, he needs to be kept out of the kitchen, either by having him wait in his crate or gaiting off the kitchen.  If Fido is chewing on shoes......why are shoes laying around with easy access????........they should be put away in closets.  The rule in my home is,  if you place value on something, put it away :)    Have an arsenal of 'legal toys' for your puppy to provide them with mental stimulation.   Make sure they are getting adequate exercise, most puppies are 'underemployed'.   
  •  Supervision -  Puppies need 100% supervision when not confined.  This means if you can't give them all of your attention they should be confined in a safe place.  I had a client whose puppy was counter surfing while she was cooking, there are many problems with this scenario, but the first is you can't be focused on two things at once.   Supervision requires management but they are not the same thing.   I can gate my puppy into my office while I work, but if I'm not paying attention to him he will likely get into trouble.  
If you approach training as a three part process you will see better results and have fewer problems.  The good news is as your puppy matures they will have developed wonderful house manners and graduate to having more freedom in your home.  

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Why Dogs Need Time To Learn

Dogs don't generalize well.........In dog traininggeneralization means that your dog can apply a concept to many situations; he knows that “Sit!” means he should sit whether he's home, on a loud, crowded sidewalk in the rain, or in a grassy park with squirrels chattering in the trees.  Dogs don't 'shift gears' easily when they are in training and the smallest change can throw them for a loop.   

Examples of puppies and dogs who have not generalized their training: 

  • Your puppy always sits on cue at home but when you take him to the Vet he acts as if he has not clue what the word sit means
  • Your dog only listens to one family member 
  • You ask a friend to work with your well trained dog and it's as if they have no training
  • You've always trained your dog indoors and they're a rock star, when you take them outside things fall apart
I was recently out with one of my young dogs when someone approached and starting asking him to 'sit'.......over and over and over again.  My dog just stood there staring at them.  They then said, 'oh he doesn't know how to sit'......I replied....'no he doesn't know you' :)    

Quite often people assume a puppy or dog is being difficult or is untrained, when in fact they're just unclear of what to do.   A huge part of the training process is helping our puppies and dogs generalize their training, this takes time and exposure to a variety of environments and distractions.  It's also important to have all family members work with the puppy/dog.   When I'm raising a puppy I recruit friends to bring my puppy to class and be their handler, so that they can learn to work for someone other than just me.  

So lets give our four legged friends a break and stop assuming they are lazy or disobedient, what they probably need is more practice. 

Monday, May 7, 2018

Your Off-Leash Dog Is Ruining My Walk

Lately it seems there aren't many places I can walk with my dogs that we don't encounter off-leash dogs.   Most cities have leash laws requiring that dogs be on-leash in public places,  parks, neighborhoods, etc.  If your dog is not on your property, it's safe to assume they should be on a leash.  This seems to be difficult for many people to understand because everywhere I go lately I'm being chased by loose dogs.   I don't think people understand that dogs running into the street, charging at on-leash dogs and wandering into other peoples yards is NOT ok!  

It's hard enough walking past the dogs who are charging their 'fence line' barking and growling, add to that the dogs who charge you in the street while their owners are no where to be found or quite frankly don't care.   It's no surprise there are so many reactive/fearful dogs, all it takes is one negative experience.  

When I'm walking with my dogs, we want to have a relaxing walk.  I don't enjoy walking the gauntlet, never knowing when we'll be ambushed.  I don't enjoy turning my walk into your dogs training session as I'm forced to deal with them, catch them, bring them home, or figure out how to get away from them! 

Here are a few things to consider when you choose to let your dog run loose:

  • You're not following leash laws!
  • Your dog has the freedom to roam on your property.......your property does not extend into the street, other peoples yards or any public area
  • The on-leash dog is trapped and will often respond very defensively
  • All our hard work can go right down the drain if my dog is scared or injured by your dog
  • The on-leash dog can be recovering from an injury or surgery, the last thing they need is to be jumped by another dog
  • The on-leash dog may not be friendly towards other dogs
  • Your dog can be hit by a car
  • I'm stuck trying to manage chaos when all I wanted to do was walk with my dog
  • You're taking away my freedom to safely walk my dog in public

I understand that occasionally dogs get loose, those aren't the dogs I'm referring to,  I'm talking about the dogs who are running loose all the time.  Most people don't realize that there are fines, up to $200 if your dog is running loose.  The fine can be even higher if your dog is not licensed.......which many dogs aren't.  

So why does this bother me so much..........ten years ago while walking my dog in my neighborhood, I was attacked by a loose  dog.  He had a long history of chasing people and biting them, yet nothing was done about it.  On my walk he charged us in the street, pulled me down, dragged me, attacked my dog, it was absolutely terrifying.   I spent years in Physical Therapy and had to have multiple surgeries to repair both my shoulders.  My dog was never the same after that, he never again enjoyed walking on-leash.   

I've witnessed horrible fights between dogs, watched owners being dragged on the ground because an off-leash dog was chasing them and I work with MANY clients whose dogs are struggling with stress and anxiety due to dog-to-dog issues from negative experiences on their walks.  

Please think about the fall out that comes from thinking it's no big deal to let your pup run loose.