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!!