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 :)