Thursday, December 30, 2010

For The Love Of A Dog 2010

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To our wonderful dogs Leo and Lafayette (Faye)  who make us smile, keep us exercised and bring endless joy to our family :)

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Ground Control--How To Stop Unwanted Jumping Up

Puppies (and many untrained adult dogs) jump-up to greet. Facial contact is an integral part of the greeting ritual and that’s why they jump, to get to your face. Behaviorally, it is the right thing for them to do when greeting and the truth is most of us reinforce it when Puppy is small and adorable and we are tolerant of anything Puppy is doing. Then, pup gets a bit older and stronger and jumps and tears our dress or pants or skin or jumps on the kids or a stranger on the street and we want it to stop, immediately. So, the training challenge is formidable, obliterate a normal, appropriate (for dog-dog greetings), compulsive behavior that has a history of being reinforced. And it can be done. Read on!

Ignore It
This means don’t look at, talk to, or give a dog that doesn’t have 4 paws on the floor, any attention. Remember the Jack Benny posture? (Upright, stiff stance, arms folded and looking away) When pup has placed all 4 paws on the floor, immediately lavish her with praise and a reward such as food, a toss of the ball, access to other dogs or the beginning of a walk. Teach her that all the good stuff happens only when she assumes the four on the floor position.

Rules to live and train by
Dogs in the air are invisible. They don’t exist. They get nothing. Dogs on the ground are beloved creatures worthy of attention, praise and rewards. Dogs on the ground go for walks, get to visit and socialize with other dogs, get to greet people, get fed, get petted, get new toys, etc.

Silent Until Sit
This means that upon arriving home after a period of separation you will remain silent and more or less disinterested in your pup until he sits for you.   Instruct friends and visitors that you are training pup and ask them to wait for a sit from pup before saying hello to him.   Once sitting reward  your pup with praise and attention.

Sit Set-ups
Recruit everyone you know (family members, friends, neighbors) to play the “sit to greet game” First, tell them the rules: Puppy only gets attention, petting or a food treat if he sits to say Hi. If he does sit, instruct them to kneel down to his level and reward him. If he doesn’t, ask them to simply ignore him and quietly move off without giving any attention. You can set this up so the people you have recruited move clockwise in a large circle and you with the puppy move counter-clockwise. Each person encountered becomes a lesson in correct greeting response. If he sits and allows the person to initiate the contact, he gets the pay-off. If he does not, he gets ignored, but always provide another chance for him to succeed with the next person.

Make Pup Sit Happy
This means that your training will emphasize Sit until it is rock solid. Sit should become your pups default position. To accomplish this, you must teach sit everywhere and always. Pup learns sit at home in all parts of the house, then in the yard, then in the neighbor’s yard, at the sidewalk, at the park, at grandmas….. you get the idea. Also, you request sit and pup must comply before you set down his dinner. Pup must sit at the door before you open it to let him out. Pup must sit to be leashed prior to going for a walk. Pup must sit before you give a new chew toy or you toss the ball or Frisbee. We’re teaching pup that sit is the switch that triggers all the good stuff in his life. Work on sit at least 20% more than other behaviors being trained.

Reward The Absence of the Unwanted Behavior
This requires self-training and is something you can always do with any behavior you don’t want. You must train yourself to notice, praise and reward pup when they are on the ground. Eventually, these bits of learning will form a clear picture of what you want from Pup and what is rewardable. Eventually, pup will begin to spend more time on the ground and less time airborne.

Don’t move for Pup
This is, as Pup barrels down on you to say hello, don’t back up for puppy. This is called ‘giving space.” The dog made you move. He has trained you that his approach is a signal for you to yield your position and that he may move you about as he pleases. Without getting into all the (mostly silly and unfounded dominance theories) it just is not a good idea to let a young, entirely dependent animal who must learn the rules of our social order push us around. We need to be the teacher in this relationship. So, DON’T GIVE UP YOUR SPACE. As Pup approaches, stand firm with your knees slightly bent and hold your position. No kicking or rough stuff. Your feet should not leave the floor. Pup will most likely gently deflect of your shins and usually after a few rounds of this pup will begin to get the idea that he can’t just have his way with you and your space. This also applies to walks. If pup cuts you off, shuffle him out of your path. Don’t get in the habit of moving for and around pup. Make him make it his business to know where you are and to stay out of your path.

MINE! Understanding, Diagnosing And Treating Resource Guarding

What is Resource Guarding?

Like humans, dogs understand the concept of possession and ownership of resources. Perhaps also like some humans, dogs can take excessive measures to guard these resources. The types of resources can be numerous, but the most common and problematic ones are usually food, objects (toys/chews etc) and particular locations such as their bed, your bed or their crate.

Where resource guarding manifests itself in dangerous aggression, you should seek the advice of a professional behaviorist who can make a comprehensive assessment of the causes and develop a detailed corrective program. This article is intended as guidance to help prevent or aid minor cases of this behavior.

Common Mistakes:

* Thinking it is OK for Fido to have a chair or a toy that is "his."
* Assuming he won't bite
* Avoiding the problem rather than dealing with it.
* Leaving toys that you know he is protective over out because "he likes them so much."
* Thinking this behavior will get better with time, especially with puppies
* Allowing denial of the problem to put other people at risk.

How can I stop FOOD guarding?

This is the most common type of resource guarding. It is usually easy to spot and occurs when a dog is aggressive (or threatens to be) when approached while eating from their food bowl. It can also occur when an owner attempts to retrieve food items snatched or found by the dog. Dogs are also known to guard their empty food bowls.

First things first, disciplining your dog for food guarding, is more likely to aggrivate the problem than cure it. Using harsh discipline often results in the dog deciding that it needs to be even more aggressive to retain this resource.

The reason a dog guards its food is the fear that the approaching person is going to take it away. So we need to remove that fear and create positive associations with people approaching its food. The best way to achieve this is to tempt your dog away from its bowl with an even tastier resource (i.e. its favorite treat). Do this in small steps and start by keeping a distance from the food bowl. Let your dog take the treat and return to its bowl. Over a number of sessions, gradually get closer to the bowl to the point were you can drop the treats into its bowl. Further develop this by offering the treats right next to the bowl while the dog is eating. Different people should carry out these exercises to avoid the positive associations only being related to one person and the dog continues to guard when others approach. Children should never work unsupervised with a resource guarding dog.

Another useful exercise, particularly to prevent food guarding, is to feed your dog in small installments. This is where you feed your dog a small amount of its food, when he’s finished touch his bowl and add more food. Repeating this 3-4 times until its meal is finished. Again, this exercise helps build positive associations as your dog soon learns that when you touch his bowl more food appears.

How can I stop TOY & OBJECT guarding?

Guarding of this nature usually relates to dog toy and dog chews, but can also relate to more obscure items such as laundry, tissues, food wrappers or objects found by the dog or have a particular smell.

As with food guarding, we need to look to building positive association around people approaching the guarded objects. We want the dog to understand that approaching people and the removal of objects means more fun, excitement or a special treat.

A good place to start is by approaching your dog while near an unguarded low value object. Pick up the object with one hand then produce a treat from behind your back with the other. Then give the object back and walk away. Repeat this, but change the angle of approach and intervals between approaches. Work on this over a number of sessions, then change the exercise so that as you offer the object back to the dog, as soon as they touch it, withdraw it then praise and treat, then give the object back.

Over time, start to carry out the exercise with higher value objects. Then move onto carrying out the exercise when the dog is more engrossed with the object. But always remember to keep it positive and that the removal of resources results in even more positive experience.

How can I stop LOCATION guarding?

A common behavioral concern of owners is aggressiveness by their dogs while in a particular location. The most common locations being their sleeping area, which could be their bed or crate, you're bed or the sofa. An interesting feature of location guarding is that the level of severity is not only tied to the value of the resource, but also to who is approaching. For example a dog may allow a child to approach but not an adult. Or perhaps a woman can approach, but not a man.

Some dogs show guarding behaviors while in their bed or crate. This is usually when a person attempts to handle, caress or move them. The reasons for this may be varied, it could be they are just tired and want to be left alone or it could be that they are feeling poorly. Obviously in the later case, you should seek advice from your vet. But in all other cases you need to accustom your dog to being handled while they are in these locations. Like other forms of guarding, the best solution is to make this a positive experience. Start by offering the dog high value treats while in these locations, and then start to lure them from the location with further tid bits. Keep practicing this over a number of sessions and like food guarding, change the angle of approach, the intervals and the person who does the exercise. Over time your dog will soon learn that positive things always happen when people approach previously guard locations.

Recommendations and prevention techniques:

First of all, remove anything he may protect. If you can't remove the item (such as a bed or couch), block access to it by closing a door or putting up a gate. Keep him on lead in the house so you can more easily control him.

Teach him to "Leave It" in a positive, fun way. Do NOT make this into a battle. Make him think this command is an opportunity for a reward, not a chance to lock horns with you. Always start teaching this command with boring objects so that praise and treats will be the obvious choice.

Reward spitting things out. Much of this sort of aggression is man made. People get angry when their dog takes things, then fail to give him a way to please them. They create a situation where, once something is in their dog's mouth, there is no way for the dog to win. This can force the dog to start defending himself.

Here's the rule: Once something is in your dog's mouth, it is TOO LATE to teach him not to take it. The only thing you can teach him now is to spit it out promptly. Therefore, reward spitting it out.

Take then Give. Early on, practice "Out" with your pup. Walk up when he is chewing a toy. Say "Out" and take the toy. Praise him for his brilliance. Give him a treat. Return the toy and leave him alone. A few weeks of this once or twice a day and your dog will want you to come and take him toys.

Redirect him. If he is pawing you then keep him on lead and work his demanding self. Every time he paws you have him "Sit, down, Sit, down -- come, stay, OK" -- with little praise. He may well decide that a nap is a better idea.

Teach him to move out of the way. This will help with his understanding that you lead and he follows. If it is safe to do, simply shuffle your feet into him (no kicking) until he moves then praise him. Or leave a lead on him and guide out of the way then praise.

He owns nothing! He has no "favorite" chair or toys that are "his" -- everything in the house is yours. If he is protective over anything, a bowl or a toy, remove it until you have taught him to relinquish it willingly.

Teach him to get off things on command. Always praise him cheerfully for obeying. If need be, close off rooms and/or leave a lead on him so you can manage him more easily. Always praise him cheerfully for obeying --- that is important!

Confine him daily. Daily crating is a generally good routine for this sort of dog and keeps him out of trouble in many ways. Even if you are home with him, crate him for short periods of time. throughout the day . [Note: many behaviorists advise that it can be counter-productive to crate a dog more than 5 hours a day over the long term.]

Increase his exercise. This is a great deal of change for him. Exercise will help relieve stress and release excess energy. Be sure to play games that promote cooperation and control -- skip tug-of-war, wrestling and chasing after him.

We do NOT recommend:

Going to battle over a squeaky toy. Your dog, no matter how small, can injure you. When a dog shows he is ready to battle a human, we already know that he is misinformed and confused. We need to straighten out that confusion prior to discussing that unwanted aggression. If you attack him for threatening to attack you, you may well escalate his aggression. And, even if you "win" he may decide to fight sooner and harder next time. What he needs is education, not attack.

Anytime -- ANYTIME -- your dog threatens you, hands-on help from a qualified professional is the best next step. Aggression is complicated and, if it isn't dealt with quickly, can get worse. In the end, it can lead to the death of your dog assuredly as any disease.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

From Puppy Raiser to Placement--The Journey Of A Service Dog

Polar, a 12 week old yellow Labrador retriever, came to live with us on April 8, 2007. He was the first puppy from Service Dogs of Virginia to participate in US Airs Puppies in Flight Program, a program that transports Service Dogs at no charge within the United States.

Polar quickly became a beloved part of our family and community. We loved taking him everywhere with us and he made friends everywhere we went. He attended School Events, Church services, trumpet lessons, dance classes, marching band rehearsals, Dr. Appts and pretty much everything else we did.   Polar grew up coming to my classes and wowed everyone with his talents. I would  send weekly Pup Dates to Service Dogs of Virginia along with Video of his progress and loved sharing stories of all his antics, and there were many .

Polar has more personality than any dog I have ever raised. He went through a ‘curious’ phase and ate my sons iPod, the keys off my husbands laptop, random pieces of lawn furniture, knocked our X-Mas Tree over and it broke in half. He used to enjoy hiding in my kids bathtub and would wait for them to come in so he could jump out and surprise them. His grand finale was eating a bar of soap, I think he was finally trying to 'clean up his act'.

But for all his antics Polar was the most amazing dog to train and work with. He LOVED to work and learned things quickly. He was rock solid in public and always amazed me at how he could handle stressful or new situations. As a trainer I’ve learned to look beyond the silly behaviors as those are trainable and look more at the dogs work ethic. I knew that with time and maturity Polar would be an awesome service dog.

Being a Puppy Raiser is a labor of love and an amazing experience for myself and my family. To know that you played a part in something that has such a big impact on someones life is a blessing.

Polar returned to Charlottesville at 16 months of age and moved in with his next Foster Family who continued his advanced training and kept him out of trouble during his teenage years. His advanced training lasted approximately 1 1/2 years.  During this time the trainers at SDV were busy teaching him new skills and determining who they would place him with.

In December 2009 Polar was placed with Luke Morris, a young man who was injured in a diving accident and sustained a spinal cord injury leaving him paralyzed from the chest down.  Polar helps Luke with daily tasks such as opening doors, picking up dropped items and even assists him in getting dressed.  Along with being Lukes Service Dog, Polar is his constant companion.  Luke enjoys the outdoors and Polar is always at his side and ready to partake in any and all activities, especially Mudd Bogging which involves driving a pickup truck into a mudd pit.

On December 5, 2010 I had the honor of attending Polar and Lukes Graduation in Charlottesville Virginia.  My husband John and I spent our first day in Virginia visiting Luke and Polar. We had not seen Polar since his return to Charlottesville in March 2008.  It was a thrilling moment to see Polar after all this time, no longer a puppy but a working Service Dog.  There is so much emotion, we were so happy to see Polar, after all we raised him from a small puppy, but now he is all grown up and has a new life. 

People would often ask me how we could give him back, wouldn’t it be too hard.   Of course you grow very attached to your foster puppy but there is a bigger picture. While we enjoyed having Polar with us and loved him like he was our own dog, we knew that the person who would someday receive him as their Service Dog would have a relationship that goes beyond just a family companion. We knew that Polar would change someones life, give them more independence and become their best and most trusted friend.

Since Polar has been with Luke I have become Face Book Friends with his Mom Linda. We have communicated via Face Book for the past year sharing stories and pictures and she has always affirmed that all our hard work was worth it. When Linda speaks about Luke and Polar and the bond between them, I can hear the joy in her voice.    When I met Linda in person I felt as if we had been friends for years.   We will forever be connected to the Morris Family through the wonderful and amazing Polar.

We are now anxiously awaiting the arrival of our next Puppy from Service Dogs of Virginia :)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Winter Puppies-A Survival Guide

Like it or not, Winter is here.  It's time to break out the winter coats, gloves, boots, ear muffs, hand warmers, whatever you need to stay warm.   In Michigan we brace ourselves for 5-6 months of cold weather.  If you're a pet parent you know that being outside is a given, no hibernating until Spring.  If you're getting a puppy this Winter it's important to remember that they need playtime and socialization.  Both can be challenging as the temperatures start to dip below freezing. 

There are some things to consider when you have a Winter puppy.   Unlike Spring/Summer/Fall,  there are fewer opportunities to properly socialize puppies in the Winter months.  Here's a short list of some things you're not likely to see during the Winter months:

  • Kids on bikes
  • Lawn Mowers
  • Weed Wackers
  • Joggers
  • Baby Strollers
  • Swimming
  • Ducks/Birds
  • Kids on Playgrounds
  • Outdoor Sporting Events
  • Other Dogs
The list could go on and on but you get the picture.    When you think about the limited time frame for socialization for puppies, birth thru 18 weeks of age, it's easy to see how a Winter Puppy can be more challenging.   Don't despair, there are things you can do during the cold Winter months.

Sign up for a Group Puppy Class
All puppies need training and what place is better than a group class.  A class provides not only obedience instruction but opportunities to meet people and other puppies. 

Find a Puppy Playgroup
Even in the dead of Winter puppies need playtime and socialization with other puppies/dogs.  Invite friends, neighbors, classmates and their well socialized dogs  or puppies over for playtime.    A young puppy needs to have positive play experiences during the critical socialization period, don't put this off until Spring!

If You Don't Have Kids, You Better Go Find Some
It is critical  that puppies spend time with small children during their young life but it can be down right impossible to find small kids playing outside when the temps are cold.  Be creative, go visit a friend who has kids, invite a few kids and their parents, of course, over to your house for a visit.   I've been know to make short visits to a local pre school and meet and greet a few kids or pay a special visit to my Church Nursery on Sunday morning.    Try to do this as often as you can, your puppy needs to meet more than 1 or 2 children, shoot for 20 over a 1 month period of time. 

Get Outside And Find Activity And Noise
Look for any outdoor activity you can find, ice skaters, hockey games, kids building snowmen, cross country skiers, parades.   Our town holds an annual Holiday of Lights Parade complete with floats and a Marching Band.  I was recently asked by someone if taking a puppy to a Parade was a good idea.  My answer is YES!!!   You do of course want to place yourself in a position that allows your puppy to not feel scared or overwhelmed.  If your puppy is sound sensitive then standing at a distance would be best.  So many Winter puppies are poorly socialized and end up with a lifetime of issues, don't let your puppy be one of them!

Buy Warm Clothing, You're Going To Need It
You should invest in a warm coat, boots, gloves, and Under Armor,  my all time favorite.  There is no escaping the cold, you need to be outside with you puppy helping them explore the world.    All too often I receive calls in the Spring from families whose puppy has 'issues' related to lack of proper socialization.   The majority of people were not told how important those first few months are for their puppies development and thought they could put off training and socialization until Spring.  

So pull on your boots, zip up your coat, get out side and have some fun!!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Be Part Of The Solution Not Part Of The Problem

I recently had a conversation with a woman whose dog is very dog aggressive.  They adopted her when she was  2 years old and over the past few years her behavior has gotten worse.  They can no longer walk her outside and she only gets quick bathroom breaks outdoors because she will attack any dog she sees, so exercise is not an option.   To prevent her from bolting outside and chasing after other dogs a friend advised them to use a shock collar.  They have watched a few episodes of a dog training show and tried some of the techniques recommended but found that it made her more aggressive.  While the woman felt bad about the problem she concluded that there isn't any point in trying to change her behavior. 

I shared with her that when dealing with a behavior problem we are either 'part of the solution' or 'part of the problem'.  She seemed a little surprised by my response and said 'so you think that her behavior problems are our fault'?   I explained that while they clearly didnt' have any control over their dogs early socialization and training, which most likely contributed to the problem,  they do have control over dealing with the problem now.  By not seeking professional help,  their dogs behavior has gotten worse, so yes, you are now part of the problem.  

It's common for families to ignore behavior problems, even dangerous aggression issues because they don't realize how serious they are or because they hope the problem will go away on its own.    In reality,  few behavior problems go away without professional intervention.   The consequences of ignoring the problem impact the family and the dog so it's a losing situation for everyone involved. 

How do we become part of the problem?
  • Ignoring fearful, reactive or aggressive behavior, especially in young puppies
  • Assuming behavior problems of any kind will go away as the dog gets older
  • Believing that our dogs behavior problems are 'his way of getting even with us or trying to dominate us'
  • Using punishment to correct the problem
  • Taking advice from unqualified persons
  •  Re homing the dog in the hopes someone else with figure it out
How do we become part of the solution?
  • Socialize and train puppies, help them get off to a great start in life
  • At the first sign of behavior problems seek professional help from your Vet or a qualified Behavior Consultant.
  • Educate yourself about dogs and dog behavior
  • Don't rely on Television Shows to solve your dogs problems, work with a professional
  • Don't resort to 'quick fix' approaches
  • Be patient, behavior problems are complex and take time to resolve

Monday, November 8, 2010

Is Your Dog Ready For the Holidays?

The Holidays are upon us and with them come house guests, parties, travel, decorations and much more.  With all the preparation and excitement we tend to forget how the Holidays impact our dog.  There are a number of things you can do to help prepare your dog for the Holiday Season.

Teach Your Dog A Proper Greeting With House guests
Many a dog is banished to their crate or backroom when house guests arrive because they go CRAZY jumping, barking and mugging everyone in their path.    If your dog does not know how to greet guests in a calm manner don't wait until company has arrived to start working on this skill.   The majority of people assume that dogs should instinctively know to keep four on the floor, which of course is not true.  It's also common for people to encourage dogs to jump by petting them and working them into a frenzy every time they greet a dog.    So start practicing with your dog now before the Holiday rush begins.  I receive many phone calls in early December for Private Lessons to address this very issue. 

Calm Dogs Get To Hang With the Gang
Not only does your dog need to learn a polite greeting, they need to be able to settle and relax around guests.  This is a skill most dogs struggle with and needs to be taught.   We have a number of training videos on our Face Book page on teaching your dog to 'Settle' and relax.  We highly recommend the Fido Refined DVD by Virginia Broitman and the book Chill Out Fido by Nan Arthur.

Help Your Dog Learn To LOVE Their Crate
If you're going to be traveling or there will be times when your dog needs to be in their crate at home,  make sure they are comfortable and able to relax when crated.  If it's been a long time since your dog has been crated don't wait until the last minute to find out that they no longer can tolerate being confined.  It can be extremely stressful for a dog to be crated for long periods of time if they're not used to it so prepare them ahead of time with short periods of time in their crate every day.   If you pair being in the crate with a wonderful frozen Kong, your Dog will quickly learn to 'enjoy' being in their crate.

Pick The Best Pet Care For Your Dog When You Travel
If you need to board your dog take the time to visit the boarding facility prior to leaving your dog there.  Ask questions and tour the facility to ensure that it is well run and safe.  If your dog has any behavioral or medical issues be sure that the staff are trained and equipped to deal with them properly.    You will also want to check with your Vet to be sure your dog is up to date on all their vaccinations.

If your dog can not tolerate being crated or has other special needs it may make boarding them difficult so consider having a Dog Sitter stay at your home.    In Home Pet Care is a great alternative for puppies and elderly dogs who need a little TLC. 

Deck The Halls
Holiday decorations are REALLY fun to chew on, tear apart, pull off trees and knock over.   If this is the first Holiday Season with your dog assume they are going to have fun 'undecorating' your house.  Many Christmas tress are pulled down, knocked over, peed on or dismantled by unsupervised puppies and dogs.  All of these new sights and smells are amazing to your dog and they have no idea they're off limits especially if you place them at nose level.  Take time to plan where you will place your tree and decorations.  If you have a puppy or exuberant dog bring out the baby gates or keep doors closed during your absence.  Teach your dog "Leave It' and practice daily.   To encourage your dog to leave your things alone buy them a few new exciting chews or toys such as food dispensing toys.

Not Everything Is Edible
Whether it's an ornament on the tree or a holiday plant, beware of hidden dangers in your home.  A small ornament can become a choke hazard.  There are some holiday plants that can be poisonous so check with your Vet or the ASPCA Poison Control  Department when in doubt.  

Brush Up On Your Training Or Take A Class
You still have time to brush up on your dogs training, just a few minutes each day can make a huge difference.   If you have not taken a class with your dog or it's been a while consider enrolling in a group class or working with a trainer one-on-one.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Degree Of Difficulty

This is one of my favorite pictures, Cali, a 16 month old Labrador Retriever, winning the Best Trick Contest at Bark For Life this past June.  I'm sure Cali and Judy had practiced this trick (crawling)  MANY times prior to the contest.   In the early stages of training Judy would Click/Treat the smallest pieces of the behavior, an elbow bent, a small crouch, the slightest movement forward, etc.  Once the behavior was taking shape, Judy gave it a name, CRAWL, and continued to reinforce Cali for correct responses.  From there they practiced in a variety of locations so training would generalize.  When Judy was able to cue Cali to CRAWL in multiple locations she was on her way to having a nice solid behavior.  The day of the contest was the ultimate challenge for Cali, responding to a cue in a strange place, in front of  cheering strangers and with many dogs nearby distracting her.  She performed her CRAWL like a champ and walked away with the Blue Ribbon!

Last week I was talking with a friend about the proper use of Food Rewards in training, when to treat, when to fade out the treats, what comes after the treats, etc.  I think many people become confused about the proper use of using food rewards in training.  There are 4 simple rules to clicker training:

1. Get the Behavior through shaping and capturing
2. Reinforce it steadily, lots of Clicks and Treats,  so that it increases in frequency
3. When it’s offered regularly and with ease, ADD A CUE
4. When the behavior is well trained, fade the use of the Clicker and treats.

It sounds so simple doesn't it, but for the average dog handler it's complicated.  In the early stages of training we are using continuous reinforcement, LOTS of Clicks and Treats to strengthen behaviors.    We want to teach Fido to SIT in a variety of environments, at home, at the park, at the Vet, in Class, when he's excited and when he would rather be doing something else.    When progress is being made we then want to start fading out the Clicker and Treats.  This is where it gets tricky!!  A dog may have a wonderful SIT at home but at the Park he seems to have forgotten all his training.   The handler is frustrated because at home they have already faded the Clicker and Treats for SITS but Fido still needs help when working in public.  This is where I use the Degree of Difficulty program.   I start by assessing my dogs current level of training to determine which behaviors are fluent.  For example, Fido has a great Sit at home and in Class, but when we go to the Vet or the Park he does not respond to the Sit cue.  It's safe to say that Fido needs more practice working in areas with high levels of distraction.  When he is at home or in class he is comfortable and relaxed, but when he goes to strange places the Degree of Difficulty increases, therefore making it harder for him to perform the cued behavior.  He may no longer need Clicks and Treats for SIT at home but he does still need reinforcement for SITS in other locations.  When the Degree of Difficulty increases those are times when reinforcement is still needed.  As the dog gets more practice in multiple environments and situations the Degree of Difficulty will decrease and allow you to fade the Clicker and Treats completely.

It's important to look at your dogs entire training program and break it down into pieces, it gives you a better gauge of your dogs level of training.  My dogs have "Piece of Cake" behaviors, this means it's a no brainer for Faye to Sit, Down, Come, Stay and much more when we are at home or in an environment she has had alot of exposure to.  It is VERY difficult for  her to perform at this same level in a strange environment or one that is full of distractions.  While I may fade the clicker at home I will still use it in other environments until each skill is fluent..   When a dog has become fluent in a skill it's time to replace the Click and Treat with a life reward such at verbal praise, petting, toys, rides in the car, walks, etc.  A Life Reward is something your dog enjoys and finds rewarding.   We will also make the dog work harder by asking for multiple behaviors for a single Click and Treat.  When using this technique it's best to chain together a few beahviors that your dogs knows only Clicking and Treating the last behavior cued.

It is important to note that there is not a 'one size fits all' approach to training, each dog learns at their own pace.  We must also take into account the amount of time we have spent working with our dog and keep our expectations reasonable.   If you only spend a few minutes each week training your dog, don't expect them to perform like a champ.   I often hear people complain that their dog 'should know this stuff, after all we took a class'.   It's not the class that teaches a dog, it's the handler, so practice is important.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Puppies As Gifts For Children, Things To Consider.

It's that time of year........the Holidays are approaching and people are thinking about giving a puppy as a gift.    I've already received a few phone calls and emails from families wanting to surprise their children with a Christmas Puppy.    There are so many things to consider when adding a puppy to your family. 

Do you have time for a puppy?

Puppies are cute and cuddly and they need ALOT of time and attention.  Puppies need someone to care for them 24/7 the first few weeks as they settle into their new home and to establish a housebreaking routine.  You will need to get up with them at night for bathroom breaks until their are able to sleep through the night, this varies by breed and age so it could be anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.   They need to be fed on a regular schedule so having someone home or able to care for them mid day is very important the first few months.

A puppy needs to learn how to live in a human home so training is a top priority.  Do you have time to attend a puppy class?   Contrary to what people may tell you,  puppies do not train themselves, even the REALLY smart ones *grin*.   A young puppy needs to be walked and socialized on a daily basis, this is something that can not be overlooked or it will impact  their development.  A puppy will go through many developmental stages not entering adulthood until around 2 years of age.   During this time you will need to be diligent in supervising all interaction between your puppy and small children.    It's important that families look at their schedules and determine if they will have the time needed to properly raise and care for a puppy.   

Does a puppy fit into your budget?

Whether you purchase your puppy from a breeder, a rescue group or get one for free, there are many costs associated with raising a puppy.  You will have Veterinarian bills, food, fencing,  equipment, training and property loss.  Yes, you will loose things due to chewing, that just comes with the territory. 

Do children make good pet parents?

Most families get a dog for the children, assuming they will be actively involved in their care, but in reality we, the adults, are the primary caretakers for our puppies and dogs.    I have yet to hear of any 3 or 4 year old child waking up at night to take their puppy outside to go to the bathroom.  I've seen few 5 year olds cleaning up poop out of the yard even though they vowed to do this and many other puppy related jobs.  As a professional trainer and mother of 3 I have alot of experience in this area.  I have great kids who love our dogs, but they are kids with busy lives.  They are also learning responsibility, emphasis on the LEARNING so the supervisory position falls on the parents.  Many a well meaning parent surprises their children with a puppy only to find out after a few weeks that the kids have very little interest in the day-to-day care of a puppy.

It's also important to remember that children typically have little if any understanding of animal behavior and find normal puppy behavior annoying and or scary.  A young puppy has razor sharp teeth much to the dismay of small children.  While we'd like to imagine our kids curled up cuddling with their puppy a more realistic picture is of the children crying when little Fido sinks his puppy teeth into their hands, grabs their hair, rips their clothing, etc.   A few days of this and most kids have little if any interest in interacting with their puppy.   This often results in the puppy being banished to their crate or receiving punishment for normal puppy behavior.

I often suggest that parents assess their childrens ability to care for a puppy based on the childs age and temperament.  I encourage parents to consider whether or not they would allow their 5, 6 or 7 year old child to babysit for another child.    I know puppies are not humans but they do require a responsible and competent caregiver, able to meet the needs of a living creature.   A caregiver needs to be patient, calm, a good leader and a problem solver.  It's doubtful that many children would meet these requirements, so they are going to need adult supervision and LOTS of it.

What is the role of the Trainer?

The role of a Trainer is to teach a family how to care for and train their puppy.  I try to incorporate all family members into the process but the majority of work falls on the parents.  I receive many phone calls from frustrated parents who are surprised to find that their children want very little to do with training the new family puppy.  Training a puppy is time consuming and at times frustrating.   Sometimes families opt to send their puppy to live with a trainer who has offered to return to them a 'trained puppy'.   There are a few problems with this scenario.  It takes more than a few weeks to train a puppy, so a few weeks of Board and Train is just skimming the surface.  As trainers we are training you, the humans, to train your dog, removing you from the process is not going to help you develop the skills you need.   A skilled trainer can teach a young puppy basic obedience skills but quite often when the puppy returns home things unravel and the family it back to square one. 

How does a Family make the right choice?

It's safe to say that if you have children under 12 years of age the majority of the puppy rearing will be yours.
If you have the time and it's your hearts desire to raise a puppy then go for it, if not,  then consider an older dog.  The shelters are full of wonderful dogs looking for their forever homes.  You can also find breeders who have adult dogs that are being released from their breeding program.  These dogs are typically 12-18 months old and much easier to integrate in to a busy family or one with small children.

Basing your decision to get a dog on solid information can help make owning a dog an enriching experience that changes your life for the better.   Adding a dog to the family for all the wrong reasons or buying the wrong dog can lead to heartache.  Before you bring your dog or puppy home, let us help you determine if adding a dog/puppy to your family is right for you.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Change Is Ruff

Over the years I have raised ALOT of dogs, almost too many to count.   I am still amazed at how different they are, after all they're indivuduals, each with different personalities, quirks and tempraments.   The first 2 years are a rollercoaster ride, full of never ending changes, some good some bad, but all very interesting. 

There are numerous developmental stages that  puppies go through on their way to adulthood.   To help your puppy mature into a confident, well adjusted adult dog it's important to know what these are and be actively involved in helping them through the process. 

The following chart is a great resource to help understand a puppies development from birth through age 2.

So help your puppy get off to a great start and be an active participant in their ever changing world.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Lets Play!

It's been a busy Fall Session, classes are up and running and there are so many new doggie faces.  I'm excited to be working with so many great families.  Aside from teaching obedience skills I will be helping people learn how to properly interact with their puppies/dogs and this includes play.  I'm often asked 'What Is Normal Play Supposed To Look Like'?     I love answering this question and spend alot of time speaking to this at every class I teach. 

The average pet parent is unsure of what consitutes good play vs bad play.   I often witness people or children playing with dogs in very inappropriate ways, that can and often does encourage bad manners or aggressive behavior.   It's not uncommon for people to wrestle, tease, taunt, chase and torment their puppy/dog thinking it's 'play'.  What typically starts out as a 'game' often ends up with someone being hurt and the puppy/dog being confused about appropriate boundaries when playing with humans.   We want to discourage any type of rough play with young puppies, it teaches them to use their mouths too roughly, to grab, chase and basically treat us as if we were a toy.

A young puppy or untrained dog has little if any impulse control, so whipping them into a frenzy rarely has a good outcome.  What starts out as 'fun' often ends up with the puppy/dog being repremanded for hurting someone. 

There are  so many things you can do to play with your puppy/dog that don't include rough stuff.  A game of hide-n-seek is an all time favorite with most kids and dogs.   Make an agility course in your backyard and teach your puppy to run through a tunnel or weave in and out of poles.  Hide food treats around the house and let pup hunt for them.    Teach fun tricks and wow your friends and family.  Buy an arsenal of toys and play fetch.    Playing with your dog is a great way to teach obedience skills too.

For more ideas on building a better relationship with your dog through play, check out Patricia McConnells book Play Together Stay Together available on

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Oh Where Oh Where Did My Little Faye Go??

Where does the time go, Faye is now 8 months old. It seems like just yesterday we brought her home. She is growing like a weed, 54 lbs and counting. The puppy teeth are gone, replaced by big pearly white choppers. Her puppy fuzz is now replaced with a beautiful black shinny coat. The puppy gates are down and she is free to roam on the first floor of our house. The upstairs is still a little too tempting, lots of treasures up there :) She no longer has to ride in her crate in my Van, she is a great traveler. She keeps four on the floor when greeting people, has yet to meet a dog she doesn't like, will do anything for a piece of cheese and is great at keeping the chipmunks out of our yard. While I am completely in love with my little Faye I know that there is still work to be done. The next year will be a wild ride through her teenage years, stay tuned:)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Why I Love Clicker Training

Today while on a walk with Faye I was once again reminded why I love Clicker Training. We were at the Metro Park enjoying the beautful Fall weather. One of Fayes training goals is to walk calmly on leash especially when we encounter other dogs. I use a variety of techniques to acheive this goal.

Clicking and Treating Faye for looking at dogs in a calm manner.
Clicking and Treating Faye for choosing to look away from a dog and look at me.
Clicking and Treating Faye for responding to LEAVE IT.
Playing "Where's The Dog", Clicking and Treating for looking at a dog on cue in a calm and quiet manner.

The end result is that Faye has learned to associate seeing other dogs as a GOOD thing. She has the opportunity to look at other dogs and does so without frustration, barking, lunging or fearfulness. She never receives leash corrections, verbal repremands or physical restraint for being curious or friendly towards strange dogs.

While Faye has learned to enjoy her walks we saw many dogs today who unfortunately don't feel the same way. We were strolling along the trail today when a couple headed towards us with their bouncy lab mix. As they approached us the dog became very excited and started pulling towards Faye. The owner immediately pulled hard on the leash tightening the choke chain collar the dog was wearing. The dog became more aggitated which in turn made the owner pull harded on his choke chain. When this didin't calm his dog he tried verbal repremands, "NO", "STOP". This only made the dog more frantic. When all his attempts to 'calm' his dog failed he abruptly turned and dragged the dog away. I couldn't help but notice how stressed both owner and dog looked.

My husband turned to me and said "wow, Faye just ignored that dog, that Clicker stuff really works". I smiled and said 'yes it sure does' and went on to explain why. When we stop using punishment as a means of controlling our dog and replace it with positive reinforment our dog learns the behaviors we find acceptable. They are rewarded for remaining calm, not barking, paying attention to their handler. Our dogs can learn that seeing other dogs is a good thing, not a predictor of pain and frustraion. Using Clicker Training allows our dog to learn without stress, fear or pain.

So today was another reminder of why I LOVE Clicker Training and I think my dogs feel the same way :)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Teach Your Dog To Speak English

When my daughter was in college she studied abroad in Korea for a semester.   Prior to going she spent a few years learning to read, write and speak the language.   As part of a Studies Abroad Program, many of the students did not speak or understand the language.  I was curious how they would navigate a country where English was a second language?   How would they find their way around, ask questions, order in restaurants and just plain communicate with people? Thinking about the language barrier made me realize once again, this is what it's like for our dogs when they enter our homes. After all, dogs don't speak english, it's a second language for them.

You're probably wondering how do we teach a dog to speak english? The answer is quite simple, through training. We teach a dog to pair together a single word (cue) with a single behavior. They can quickly learn that putting their rear end on the ground is SIT and laying their body on the floor is DOWN and running towards us is COME. By using positive reinforcement methods we reward the appropriate behavior, making it more likely that the dog will repeat it. There is no need for punishment, that only stresses out the dog and teaches nothing in the process. Would you like to be dropped in a foreign country seeking guidance and when you fail to respond properly to a request or question a hand reaches out and gives you a physical correction or you get a harsh verbal reprimand. It's doubtful that this technique would improve your ability to communicate and would most likely make you less likely to want to communicate with anyone else.

To teach a dog to speak english we need to keep it simple, use one word cues, mark the correct response as it's happening so that the dog knows exactly what he is being rewarded for. For those of us who use Clicker Training we use the CLICK to mark the correct response followed by a small food reward. While food tends to be a dogs highest value reward, toys, play, petting and praise can be used too.

I routinely hear the following complaints from frustrated families:

"Fido doesn't pay attention"
"Fido won't come when called"
"Fido knows what he should do but chooses to ignore us"
"Fido doesn't listen to spite us, he's such a hard head"
"He Knows what SIT means, he did it last week"

Teaching a dog to speak english takes ALOT of training and repetition, could you learn a foreign language in a few sessions, I know I couldn't. We have to practice each word/skill in a variety of locations so that the dog can generalize. We need to allow our dog time to learn and yes make mistakes without fear of repremand.

The next time you're feeling frustrated with your dogs ability to listen to you, ask yourself a few questions:

Have I taught my dog what this cue/word means?
Have we practiced a few hundred times?
Have I rewarded correct responses?

Before you write your dog off as a hard head or lost cause sign up for a group class. With the help of your interpretor/trainer you'll be communicating with your dog in no time.

I've realized that my daughter and I have the same job, we both teach ESL, English As A Second Language, we just have different students :)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Leo Enjoying A Pupsicle!

I am a big fan of Premier Pet Products and an all time favorite at our house is the Kool Dogz Ice Treat Maker. We fill it with lots of yummy treats, apple, carrotts, pineapple, kibble, etc. It's a great treat for a hot summer day

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Well On Her Way To Adulthood

Faye has just turned 7 months old and she continues to be an amazing puppy. Of course at 7 months of age she is slowly leaving puppyhood and entering adolescence. This is a wonderful time when your sweet wonderful puppy becomes more independent, curious, mischevious and yes at times down right annoying.

Can You Hear Me Now!
These past few weeks Faye found her voice and boy does she like to use it. She decided that barking in her crate was a sure fire way to get peoples attention but she quickly learned that the consequence was that we ignore her so that behavior may be short lived. She also found that her voice echoes outside and that there are many things to bark at such as birds, kids on bikes, other dogs and joggers. She quickly found that this barking always results in being brought back into the house. It was amazing how quickly she learned that quiet dogs get more attention and freedom.

Catch Me If You Can!
My family continues to learn the importance of putting their valuables away. A young adolescent dog enjoys chewing just about anything they can sink their teeth into and Faye is no exception. For a young dog there is nothing more enjoyable than a game of 'chase me' especially if the human is waving their arms, jumping up and down and screaching as they attempt to catch you. I've raised ALOT of dogs and every single one of them has gone through this phase. Fortunately we know that there are great alternatives such as not being a participant, asking for an alternative behavior such as Leave It or Come and most importantly PUTTING AWAY VALUABLE ITEMS :) There is a rule in my home for all the humans, If you place value on something, put it away!

What's A Girl To Do?
Just when when we think Faye is tired and ready for a nap, she gets her second wind. There seems to be no end to her boundless energy. The good news is we have alot of dog friends and have seen alot of them lately. We've also taken advantage of the many lakes in our area and swim a few times each week. Along with physical exercise we've increased her training to allow for mental stimulation. There is nothing worse than a bored dog, they tend to do things that make us CRAZY.

So in a nutshell, Faye is just like every other puppy. There are no shortcuts to adulthood, no magic wands to stop bad behavior, no perfect puppies:) We have to manage her environment, continue with obedience training, LOTS of exercise and a good sense of humor is especially helpful.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

This week is National Assistance Dog Week.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Socialization---A Marathon Not A Sprint

All dogs benefit from socialization and exposure. Whether you have a young puppy or have adopted an adult dog, socialization should be an ongoing process their entire life. We should continue to provide our dog with a variety experiences to enrich their lives from puppyhood through adulthood. A young puppy who has limited exposure to the outside world, meets few if any strangers, etc., will NOT grow up to be a confident, well adjusted adult dog. He will most likely be fearful of new situations, strange people, strange dogs, loud noises, etc. The following information will give you some guidelines to following while your puppy is young to build his confidence and help him feel comfortable and confident in his ever changing world.

Socializing Puppies

Most people are unaware of how important early socialization is for their young puppy. The first 18 weeks of your puppies life are the time when critical first impressions are made. If your puppy has a positive experience he will remember it always, unfortunately the same can be true for negative experiences. We want our puppy to meet a variety of people, visit a lot of different environments, walk on many different surfaces, etc. We do, however, want to use caution with our young puppy, so as not to overwhelm them in our attempt to “Socialize” them. The key to success is working at a pace that allows your puppy to feel safe and comfortable. You never want to force your puppy into a situation that makes him feel anxious or fearful. When taking your puppy out and about, keep it short and sweet. A young puppy can not handle a marathon outing of being dragged from place to place, meeting tons of people, being over handled by strangers, etc. Your outings should be based on your puppies age and temperament. For young puppies 8-12 weeks 10-15 minutes a few times per week should suffice. If your puppy seems fearful or apprehensive, back off and try again another day. If he is having a wonderful time, still stop at 10-15 minutes, call it a day, and head home. Being able to end your outings on a “High Note” is the best way to ensure success.

Here are some suggestions for ways to expose your puppy to new situations:

- Walk your puppy in a new environment and offer treats, he will associate the treat with the new situation
- Ask people to CALMLY greet your puppy and offer him a treat
- Walk your puppy on a variety of surfaces and offer treats as he moves about. You can even drop small treats on the ground for him to pick up as he walks.
- For situations that may make your puppy nervous, stand a good distance away, allow him to observe as you offer him treats. NEVER force him to approach something that makes him nervous or fearful. You may have to work him at a distance for a few sessions until he feels ready to approach someone or something. As his confidence builds allow him to approach when he is ready. Praise and reward him for being brave!

Who should your puppy meet?

You’ll want your puppy to meet a variety of people during the Socialization period. This includes, adults, children, seniors, men with beards, women wearing glasses, kids on bikes, boys on rollerblades, girls wearing hats, people from different ethnic backgrounds, etc. Do not encourage strangers to pick up your puppy, rather wait for your puppy to sit or at least keep all four paws on the ground and then offer a treat and some gentle petting. If everyone who greets your puppy does so in an exuberant fashion, encouraging your puppy to jump up, lick, bark, etc, this will set the stage for a lifetime of rude greeting behavior. It is always best to explain to people that you’re training your puppy and would like their help in doing so, but ask that they follow your guidelines for proper greeting behavior.

How do I Socialize my puppy with other dogs?

We do want our puppy to play with a variety of other dogs and puppies to help them develop appropriate play skills. Try to find playmates that have a solid socialization history of their own. This means puppies or dogs who enjoy dog-to-dog play, have a history of appropriate play, have never had a negative incident during play such as injuring another dog or fighting. It is cruel to turn your innocent puppy loose with a dog that plays too rough or has the potential to injure or scare your puppy. All play should be fun, productive and safe. While dog parks are the way of the future, they can be a terrifying place for a young inexperienced puppy. Do not buy into the belief that puppies need to be “toughened up” in the name of socialization, this is just not true. If you visit a Dog Park and find that the play is too rough, unsupervised, etc., do your puppy a favor and leave. One bad incident with another dog can result in reactive, fearful aggressive behavior that could last a lifetime. On the other hand, having countless positive play experiences with other dogs will help junior grow up to be the dog everyone else wants their puppy to play with!

What if your Puppy is Fearful and Anxious?

It is not uncommon for young puppies to be fearful of new situations or people, but you’ll want to start to see improvement after a few sessions. If you find that you’ve tried a few times and continue to see little improvement, seek the assistance of a Professional Dog Behavior Consultant. A fearful puppy will rarely improve without intervention and the sooner the better.

What if your Puppy acts like Tarzan?

If your puppy appears to have no fear and charges up to everyone and everything he sees, it’s time to enroll in an obedience class. While we all want a confident and social puppy, rude pushy puppies grow up to be obnoxious out of control dogs. It’s one thing to have an adorable 8 week old Labrador jump up for kisses, it’s another to have a 90 lbs Labrador knock you over. We need to teach our puppies how to interact appropriately with people and how to behave in public.   It's recommended to enroll in a group puppy class as early as 10 weeks of age. 

And finally, remember that Socialization is a marathon not a sprint, pace yourself. It will takes months to properly socialize your puppy so take your time and have fun!

There are many wonderful books listed in the Recommended Resources section of the K9 Home Schooling website on raising and training dogs.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Cue Tip

For verbal cues, it’s best to use a single word and to say it only once. It’s called “nagging” when the cue is repeated multiple times and it has the effect of reducing the power and usefulness of the cue to capture Pup’s attention and get a correct response. Pup learns to ignore the cue. This also happens to us when the same information is repeated over and over. We too, soon learn it is without relevance and we block it and attend to something else.
For verbal cues, it’s best to use a single word and to say it only once. It’s called “nagging” when the cue is repeated multiple times and it has the effect of reducing the power and usefulness of the cue to capture Pup’s attention and get a correct response. Pup learns to ignore the cue. This also happens to us when the same information is repeated over and over. We too, soon learn it is without relevance and we block it and attend to something else.
For verbal cues, it’s best to use a single word and to say it only once. It’s called “nagging” when the cue is repeated multiple times and it has the effect of reducing the power and usefulness of the cue to capture Pup’s attention and get a correct response. Pup learns to ignore the cue. This also happens to us when the same information is repeated over and over. We too, soon learn it is without relevance and we block it and attend to something else.
For verbal cues, it’s best to use a single word and to say it only once. It’s called “nagging” when the cue is repeated multiple times and it has the effect of reducing the power and usefulness of the cue to capture Pup’s attention and get a correct response. Pup learns to ignore the cue. This also happens to us when the same information is repeated over and over. We too, soon learn it is without relevance and we block it and attend to something else.
For verbal cues, it’s best to use a single word and to say it only once. It’s called “nagging” when the cue is repeated multiple times and it has the effect of reducing the power and usefulness of the cue to capture Pup’s attention and get a correct response. Pup learns to ignore the cue. This also happens to us when the same information is repeated over and over. We too, soon learn it is without relevance and we block it and attend to something else.
For verbal cues, it’s best to use a single word and to say it only once. It’s called “nagging” when the cue is repeated multiple times and it has the effect of reducing the power and usefulness of the cue to capture Pup’s attention and get a correct response. Pup learns to ignore the cue. This also happens to us when the same information is repeated over and over. We too, soon learn it is without relevance and we block it and attend to something else.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Exercise Your Dog Before Leash Walking.......WHAT????

We all want to enjoy a nice leasurely walk with our dog, right? Well thats not always how things play out. You get up in the morning, throw on your walking shoes, grab the collar and leash, and head out for a walk. The only problem is your 4 legged friend is so charged up it ends up being more of a drag around the neighborhood, barking, leaping, sniffing, you get the picture. Then as if you're not frustrated enough, you ask me, the dog trainer, how to make Fido walk 'nicer' on leash. My response is "have you tried exercising your dog before you walk him". It sounds like a crazy idea, isn't the walk exercise?

Some dogs, especially young puppies or high energy dogs benefit from 10-15 minutes of off leash play in the yard before being leashed up and taken on a walk. A short game of fetch or just romping around the yard can help burn off some steam and make walking on leash a much more reasonable request.

I often encourage students to exercise their dogs before coming to a group class or working on leash walking.  This does not mean run your puppy or dog into the ground, it means 10-15 minutes of off leash romping in a safe contained area.    If you don't have a fenced yard then let them play with a food dispensing toy indoors for 10 minutes, the brain power required to work the toy is good exercise too.

So next time you want to take your dog on a relaxing walk, exercise them first :)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Making Your Pets Recovery Time Less Stressful

In just 2 days Faye will be restriction free after her Spay and able to resume her normal puppy life. It's been a REALLY long 10 days for her, no running, jumping, doggie playdates, swimming, etc. To restrict her activity she had to spend extended periods of time in her crate. Faye has always been very comfortable in her crate but I wanted to be sure that this extended crate time didn't change her 'feelings' about being confined.

For starters I made sure that when she has to spend time in her crate she has a frozen cheese kong to keep her company. Lock down is made a little bit easier when you have a yummy treat to keep you busy.

Her exercise is restricted to leash walks only so I've adjusted my schedule to make sure she is getting 3-4 walks per day. A tired puppy is more likely to rest in their crate.

She'a been eating her meals out of food dispending toys to make meal time last longer.

Yesterday we made a quick drop in visit to the Vet office so she could get treats and hugs from the staff instead of shots and surgery:)

The past few days I've been teaching her new skills, paw targeting, hold/give, spin, bow and a few other fun tricks.

Even though Faye has been a wonderful patient, I know she will be thrilled when Friday arrives and she can bust loose.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Think Outisde The Bowl!

I recently had a discussion with a friend about using food in training and/or behavior modification without adding extra pounds to our dogs waistline. Whether we're teaching new obedience skills, redirecting behaviors, training in public or using frozen kongs/bones for recreational chewing, calories can add up quickly. The average dog LOVES food and will rarely turn down the opportunity to eat so it's our job to manage those calories. If your dog is currently in training and you're using food rewards it's immportant to keep track of how much food they're eating each day. I start by measuring out their daily amount of dry kibble and placing it into a zip lock bag each morning. If you're doing alot of training and want to use special treats you can withhold a small portion of their daily food to account for those added calories. Adult dogs and puppies need a balanced diet so do not replace too much of their food with high fat or empty calorie treats. It's easy to overfeed so monitoring daily calories is important. By premeasuring food you'll be able to keep track of eactly how much food your dog is eating each day.

Keep in mind that there is no rule that says your dog has to eat all their food out of their bowl. You can divide it and dispense it a number of ways.

Place it in food dispensing toys
In the morning while you're getting ready for work, place your dogs breakfast into a food dispensing toy such as a Tug-A-Jug, Kibble Nibble or Fayes favorite The Tornado!

Feed them out of your treat bag during training sessions or on walks
You can pour some of their meal into your treatbag and use it for training or feed them breakfast/dinner while you walk them.

Hand Feeding, especially for puppies
Hand feed your dog their kibble a few pieces at a time, especially helpful for puppies to prevent any food bowl/resource guarding issues.

Not only can we use these techniques during training but they can be especially helpful for a dog recovering from illness, injury or surgery. Tomorrow Faye is going to be spayed and she will be restricted from her normal exercise routine for 10-14 days. During her recovery she will be eating meals out of her Tornado or Tug-A-Jug.   The only outdoor exercise she can have is leash walks so she'll be eating many of her meals on the go as we walk. We will also take this time to learn a few new obedience skills or tricks.

So when it comes to feeding your dog, Think Outside The Bowl, the possibilities are endless!!

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Life And Times Of Leo The Therapy Dog

I am in a new phase of life with Leo who recently retired from his 8 year run as a Therapy Dog. For the past year he has suffered with chronic orthopedic issues so I made the decision to retire him and let him enjoy his golden years. It was a difficult decision because we have worked as a team for so many years. As I look back I am in awe of all that we have done, the places we've visited, the people we've met and the friends we've made.

Leo came to our family at 8 weeks of age and immediately won the hearts of everyone he met. At the time my kids were in elementary school where I would pick them up daily so he quickly became a local celebrity as he was always at my side. The first year was filled with socialization outings, training, playdates and family time. I was so excited to have a dog so eager to work and I loved the learning experience of teaching him higher level skills. We went through formal Therapy Dog Testing when he was 2 years old and he passed with flying colors. Within a few weeks he became a R.E.A.D. dog too. At the time I knew very little about Therapy Visits so it was a learning process for us both. What I quickly found out was that there is no shortage of places wanting a Therapy Dog to visit. I also realized how many ways a Therapy Dog could be utilized in patient care or rehabilitation. I thought it would be fun to teach him some higher level skills and hopefully utilize them on visits. And utilize them we did, we found our calling working at numerous hospitals in their OT/PT departments with rehab patients. At our weekly visits the Therapists would include Leo in their patients treatment be it rolling a ball back on command, picking something up, playing balloon volleyball or using Leo for balancing while walking. The opportunities to learn new skills were endless and much of this we were learning as we went along so it was alot of fun for me too. Every visit was a new adventure and Leo and I loved the challenge. Along with our Hospital visits we worked at local libraries and schools as a R.E.A.D team. Leo and I started the R.E.A.D. Programs at the Chelsea District Library and Ann Arbor District Library as well as helping other cities and schools launch their own programs. We made alot of public appearances to talk about Therapy Dogs and helped others develop programs and promoted the benefits of positive based training........always have to get that plug in *GRIN*

To the best of my recollection here are the places we have visited over the years:

Silver Maples Retirement Center
Chelsea Retirement Center
St Joesph Hospital
University of Michigan Hospital
Eisenhower Place Rehabilitation Center
St. Louis Boys Center
Towsley Center
Hartland Center
Ann Arbor Public Library
Chelsea District Library
Dexter Library
Chelsea Community Hospital
Pierece Lake Elementary
South Meadows Elementary
Cornerstone Elementary
Rainbow Rehabilitation Center

So what is retired life like, pretty darn good :) There are no more early morning visits, fewer baths, more licking of faces and various other doggie type behaviors. While I have enjoyed sharing Leo with so many people over the years I can honestly say it's been nice having him all to myself.

Of course there is always something new on the horizon, that would be Faye. She is 6 months old and shows great promise as a future Therapy Dog. She is going to be attending Therapy Dog Prep School Graduation this week, she's been a great student. As one career ends another one begins.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Fayes Firsts

Faye will be turning 6 months old this week, the time is passing so quickly. I can't remember when I have had so much fun raising a puppy. She is calm, confident, playful and loves to train. Since her arrival I've been working through my Puppy Socialization Check List. So many places to go and people to meet, she has done wonderfully every step of the way.

This past week Faye graduated from small puppy restrictions to earning a little more freedom. For starters she is now able to ride in my Van outside of her crate. If I need to leave her in the Van I will still crate her, but for tooling around town with me she is free and loving it. She has also had a few opportunities to be left free on the first floor of our home while I was upstairs. She was more than happy to just hang out with Leo. She still has ner moments of mischief so total freedom is not an option this early in the game, but we are gradually working towards it.

She experienced her first Fireworks this week, loud, obnoxiious boomers and took it all in stride.

The most exciting turn of events has been her wonderful behavior when we have guests in our home. We have ALOT of people come and go through our home so she has had alot of practice. Faye was quite the jumper and nipper in the early weeks but now will keep all four on the floor and mouth closed when greeting guests. I'm sure the sign I had posted on my front door directing visitors to ignore her until she kept four on the floor helped ALOT.

As the weeks and months go by there will be many more firsts for Faye.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Riding Out A Storm With Your Pet

It's that time of year again, storm season, and Michigan has already had a number of dangerous storms.  All this wild weather is stressful for humans and their four legged friends.

Those of us who have grown up in Michigan know the importance of being prepared for tornados, floods, thunder and lightening, etc. We know to have flashlights, candles, bottled water, radio, cell phone, designated shelter in our home such as a basement or interior hallway. When the weather man says 'take cover' we know just what to do, grab the family and take cover, this includes our pets too!

We want to be sure that our pets are indoors as the storms start rolling in, especially if there is lightening. In the event that you could become separated from your pet make sure they're wearing collars with Identification. When ever our family is under the threat of severe weather I not only collar my dogs, I also have them on drag lines, leashes, to ensure that I can keep them with us. A dog can panic during a storm causing them to want to run and hide and we want to be sure they don't escape or become separated from us. Have an assortment of chew toys to give your dog something to do. It's helpful to distract your dog with a fun game of fetch or run through their list of obedience skills, anything to keep them occupied. If your dog is most comfortable in a crate, be sure to provide that safe place for them to rest and relax. With a youngter in our home we are quick to redirect him during storms and try to keep the mood light. Even when we are hunkered down in our basement we try to play with him, offer him treats anything that will help him not feel fearful or stressed. At 6 months  of age Bolt rarely notices thunder or lightening and can sleep through just about anything. I think living in a home with 3 teenagers has pretty much desensitized him to noise *grin*.

For dogs who are fearful or anxious during storms,  it's an especially stressful time. If your dog is experiencing fear and anxiety during storms, speak with your Vet. There are things you can do to help your dog be more comfortable such as using DAP products and if necessary prescription medication. A dog with storm phobia  rarely will improve without medical and behavioral intervention, so seek help.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Can You Meet Your Breeds Needs?

Over the years I have had many different breeds of dogs. The past 10 years I've had Labradors. I like their personality, size and energy level. I have a young active family and wanted a dog that would enjoy and tolerate the fast paced and often chaotic lifestyle of my home. I have a BIG fenced yard, enjoy being outside, love to walk and spend time at the water so the Labrador is a great fit for our family.

When people ask me 'whats a good breed of dog' I'm quick to start firing off a list of questions for them to consider:

How big of a dog do you want?
Do you care about shedding or have allergies?
Do you have a fenced yard?
How much time do you spend away from your home each day?
Do you have the time to committ to a puppy or would an adult dog be better?
Do you have other pets?

These are just some of the questions I ask people. There is so much to consider when adding a pet to your family. Most people research the purchase of a new car longer than they do the decision to add a dog to their home. True a car may cost more, but most people only have their cars 5 years and a dog lives an average of 12-15 years. Basing your decision to get a dog on solid information can help make owning a dog an enriching experience that changes your life for the better.

I often work with families who are not prepared to meet the needs that their particular breed of dog requires. A young lab, pointer, shepard for example will need daily vigorous exercise for years. All dogs need training, supervision, companionship and socialization. The average terrier LOVES to dig and without appropriate outlets for this behavior can make your backyard look like a scene from Caddy Shack. You have your herding breeds, yes they DO love to chase and herd things, even children. You have your hunting dogs with powerful noses ready and willing to follow a scent. The toys breeds tend to need less exercise and are popular with people who live in apartments or condos but are typically slower to housebreak. All dog breeds have unique needs. It's unrealistic to think that a dog will conform to our lifestyle, they are after all animals and are genetically hardwired to live up to their breed tendencies.

It is also important to note that mix breed dogs are true to ALL their breed tendencies so as best you can try to know their genetic makeup. 

Monday, May 31, 2010

Fayes Firsts

When you have a new puppy there are so many 'firsts', especially during the socialization period, birth--20 weeks. We checked 2 more off our list this weekend, swimming and a Parade. Faye took to the water like a fish, or labrador *grin*. It's always fun to watch a puppy swim for the first time, lots of splashing around until they figure out how to make those webbed feet work. After a fun day of swimming we were on to our next adventure a Parade on Memorial Day. There were marching bands, fire trucks, lots of kids, tons of dogs and a ceremony complete with a military gun salute. I was so proud of Faye, she was calm and relaxed the entire time. She met alot of new people and ignored alot of obnoxious dogs. As Faye approaches 5 months of age I'm amazed at her progress, she is such a wonderful puppy.