Thursday, December 27, 2012

Do You Know What You Need???

I receive numerous calls and emails each week from people inquiring about training services for their puppy or dog. I offer a variety of services and quite often people are unsure about what type of training they need. It seems as though it should be fairly straight forward, unfortunately that's not always the case. There is not a one-size-fits-all when it comes to training. There is basic obedience training, puppy socialization, behavior consultations, behavior modification and play/exercise. Every situation is different and knowing what service you need depends on a variety of factors. Here are some of the calls I receive, do you know what training service you would recommend?

Our new puppy keeps biting our kids when they play with him, he chases them too.

Our Golden Retriever jumps on our guests and licks everybody.

Our 9 months old dog barks when guests enter and growls at them too.

When ever we approach our 9 week old puppy while he's eating he growls at us and tries to bite us.

Our dog is really sweet but does not listen to a word we say

Our 7 year old dog is suddenly very nervous and anxious

I'm sure some of these sound familiar :) Not all unruly dogs need behavior consults and not all puppies should be in a group class, how is that for confusing *grin*. When you find yourself in need of help to train your dog the best thing you can do is contact a professional and ask for guidance.  You want to work with someone who has credentials and experience, avoid people who offer 'quick fixes' and bargain basement prices, as you will get what you pay for. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Are you prepared for a medical emergency?

It can happen in the blink of an eye........your dog can become seriously ill, suffer an injury or have an accident requiring emergency veterinary care.   Being prepared and knowing your options can make the difference between life and death for your pet. 

Knowing what emergency services your Veterinarian offers is very important.   Start by asking them  the following questions:

  • Do they have after hours emergency services? 
  • Do they have on site x-ray and laboratory services?
  • Do they have an on call surgical team?
  • Do they have an ICU should your dog need to stay for a few days?
Having the answers to these questions will help you determine where to take your pet in the event of a medical emergency.   Most general practice Vet Clinics have very limited emergency care due to limited staffing and equipment.   While they may be able to help with basic care such as treatment for vomiting or stitching up a minor cut, they may not be able to help your pet if they should have a medical emergency after hours. 

The majority of Pet Parents rely on Emergency Vet Hospitals for after hours care.  Talk with your Veterinarian and find out where they refer to in your area.  If your pet has a chronic medical condition  makes sure your Veterinarian is available by phone to provide your pets medical history as needed.

Not all Emergency Clinics provide full service care when it comes to things like ICU services,  MRI, ultrasound, orthopedic surgeries, poisoning, just to name a few.   Once you've identified an Emergency Hospital in your area, take a few minutes to contact them and ask what services they do and DO NOT provide. 

The final step in being prepared for a medical emergency is being able to pay the bill.  The cost of emergency care can be double that of your regular Veterinarian so many Pet Parents are purchasing Pet Insurance.  There are a number of plans to chose from so do your homework.   There are plans that cover only emergency care and plans that cover everything from ear infections to foreign body surgery.   Over the years I've tried a variety of Policies and I choose to insure my dogs with Healthy Paws Pet Insurance.  The customer service is exceptional and the reimbursement is better than my own health insurance for everything from ear infections to physical therapy.  To learn more about Healthy Paws Pet Insurance, follow the link below.



Monday, August 6, 2012

Getting A Clear Picture Of Behavior Problems

When dealing with behavior problems we typically think about using a specific piece of training equipment or medication to solve the problem.  Problems ranging from housebreaking, jumping on people, on-leash reactivity, resource guarding, separation anxiety and many more,  often leave pet parents frustrated. and desperate for answers.

When I'm working with a dog with a behavior problem, big or small, the first piece of  training equipment I reach for is a video camera.   There is no better way to understand a behavior problem than to watch it as it's happening.   Ok so you're probably thinking...........duh........"why would I need to video tape something when I'm standing right next to my dog".    It's simple, quite often we are so caught up in the moment of dealing with the problem that we're not really able to see WHAT our dog is doing, HOW they are responding, WHO is participating in the problem and WHY the problem might be occurring.   Before we jump to treating a behavior problem it's important to try to properly diagnosis it.

Trying to understand WHY a behavior is occurring is the first step in treating the problem.  By video taping your dog, you can learn to read their body language, a key to understanding what may be driving the problem.  Whether the problem is  fear, anxiety, over arousal, so much can be learned by watching them in action.   When I'm in the middle of an 'episode' it's easy to miss the small details which are often critical pieces in behavior modification.    When I watch a video clip I'm able to see so much more, I'm often surprised by the little details that would normally be overlooked.

I recently had a client who called me frustrated that she could not walk her dog in a busy downtown area.  She said he was constantly pulling on leash and dragging her around.  Out of frustration she purchased a Prong Collar but found that it was only making matters worse.  I suggested she have a friend tag along on her next walk (without the Prong Collar) and shoot a few minutes of video for me to watch.  What I observed from the video was that her dog was terrified of the traffic.  He was not being difficult he was down right scared of all the traffic, loud motors, etc.  As it turns out he had grown up on a farm and was never exposed to 'city life'.  When I was able to point out to her what his body language was telling us she was shocked and saddened that she had labeled him a 'difficult dog' when in fact he was scared.  We were then able to help him deal with his anxiety with the use of behavior modification and medication.

Whether the problem is occurring in front of you or while you're away, video is a great training tool.   Your next step is to have a trained professional help you analyze the video.  While well meaning friends and neighbors may have suggestions, behavior problems are complex and should be addressed by professionals who use humane training practices and understand canine behavior.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

From No-Pull Harness To Flat Collar, It Can Be Done

Today was a big day for Daphne, she graduated from walking on a no-pull harness to walking on her flat collar.

From the day I start walking my puppies on a leash it's attached to a no-pull harness.  The only reason my puppies wear a collar is to have something to attach their ID tags to.  I prefer a no-pull harness because it protects their delicate throat/airway/neck.  An untrained puppy will pull until they're chocking and gagging.  We are also tempted to apply too much leash pressure to get them to walk at our side.  All of this yanking and pulling is not good for them physically but it also starts teaching them to be immune to the feeling of something tight around their neck.  It as if we allow them to develop a callous around their neck so that after a while they don't really notice a tight collar.  By using a no-pull harness from day one, we prevent that problem and protect their delicate neck at the same time.

I'm a huge fan of the Freedom Harness and have used it for years.  I've tried numerous no-pull harnesses but have found that the Freedom fits best, therefore functions best on the majority of dogs who wear it.  If we are leaving the house I will have them wear a flat collar but I never attach a leash to it.  For safety reasons they should never wear a harness or collar in their crate or when unsupervised.

My priority when training puppies/dogs to walk on leash is not so much to teach them to 'stop pulling' but to teach them to walk calmly at my side and to redirect back to me when they are excited rather than wanting to pull towards things.  Having spent the past 10 plus years teaching students, the common mistake I see most people make is that they think puppies and dogs should automatically know how to walk on a leash.   Walking on a leash requires both the understanding of  'where' you want you puppy to walk, meaning, on your left or right side.  It also requires that they learn to ignore distractions and not lunge or pull towards them.  Both of these combined require HOURS!!!! of practice and training.   Lets not forget maturity too, we expect far too much from young puppies, give them time to mature too.

When you start a puppy on a no-pull harness you can be guaranteed that they will pull, yank and lunge.  The difference is that on the harness they will not be feeling the pressure on their neck.   It typically takes months to teach heeling and impulse control so don't be in a big hurry to get your puppy off the harness.  I think too often people feel that having their puppy on a harness is a reflection of poor training or failure on their part.  A harness is a great piece of training equipment and should be used without hesitation.

As the months go by and I have established nice leash manners with no pulling and the puppy is easily redirected when excited, it's time to introduce walking on a flat collar.  What I typically find is that the puppy/dog is now very sensitive to feeling pressure around their neck so pulling on leash feels weird and uncomfortable so they avoid doing so. From the moment we start walking I  HIGHLY reinforce every time the puppy releases to pressure and returns to a loose leash.   It does not mean that your puppy will NEVER pull on a flat collar, but what I've seen is that they hit the end of the leash and immediately seek a way to make the pressure cease.

Over the  years I have tried this technique on all the dogs that I have raised and trained and each of  them responded very positively and were walking on flat collar by their first birthday.  During the training process there may be times when you want to use your no-pull harness, when taking groups walks with other dogs, in areas that have alot of distractions, anytime you feel your dog is too aroused and will want to pull due to over excitement.   Don't rush them off the harness and return to it as needed throughout their training.

It's also important to note that there is no reason why a dog can not walk on a no-pull harness their entire life.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Canine Unemployment Rate Keeps Rising

Is your dog unemployed or underemployed?  If you find yourself complaining about your dogs destructive behavior,  weight gain, obnoxious manners,  then the answer to the question is probably YES! 

Just like humans, dogs need jobs too.  Of course their jobs are very different from our jobs, but they need them just the same. With busy work and family schedules, many dogs are finding themselves with too much free time and not enough activity.   What's a dog to do?  They are totally dependent on their human parents to meet their needs.  If those needs aren't met, most dogs will take it upon themselves to find ways of occupying their time and WE typically don't like their choices. 

Dogs,  just like humans need physical exercise, it keeps their bodies healthy, reduces stress and anxiety and we all know that a content dog is less likely to get into mischief.   There are countless ways to meet their exercise needs, walking, playtime, swimming, dog sports, chasing tennis balls, making Therapy Dog visits,  the list is endless.  It does of course require human participation.   You should base their exercise on age and breed.  Not all dogs require or want to take a 5 mile hike everyday, some are happy with a 15 minute stroll around the neighborhood.  A young puppy should have multiple short walks that don't involve forced exercise as their developing joints can't handle the stress.  The same is true for senior dogs, they need exercise based on age and their level of physical conditioning.  Let's not forget our dogs who are battling the bulge, they REALLY need exercise but it needs to be done gradually so that they can shed pounds and not be at risk for injury.   If you're not able to meet their exercise needs,  then hire a Dog Walker, utilize a Doggie Day Care, form a Playgroup of your own.   There are many options to help get your dog the exercise they need. 

Lets not forget how important Mental Exercise is for our four legged friends. Yes, dogs like to use their brains.  One of the best ways to meet this need is through training.  It's reasonable to assume that we all have 5 minutes a day to teach our dog a new skill or just practice skills they already know.   Enroll in a group class, teach your dog tricks, try a competitive sport like K9 Nose Works or Agility.  Dogs don't read, watch TV or play video games, they use their noses, try food dispensing toys at mealtime or just for fun.  A food dispensing toy requires 'thinking' on the part of the dog and makes getting treats more interesting. 

The best part of getting your dog off the unemployment line and back to work is that you get to spend more time with them having fun!!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Can You Meet Your Breeds Needs?

Over the years I have had many different breeds of dogs, big, small, purebred and mix breed.   The past 10 years I've had Labradors. I like their personality, size and energy level. I have a young active family and need a dog that will enjoy and tolerate the faced 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.   The majority of the dogs I raise are working dogs, so choosing to work with a professional breeder to provide health clearances is part of my selection process too. 

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 commit to a puppy or would an adult dog be better?
Do you have other pets?
Do you have small children?

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 having a dog an enriching experience that changes everyones 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 standards.    Whether you choose a purebred dog or a mix breed, their breed tendencies or combination of tendencies,  if you have a mix breed, will be part of who they are.  It's important to accept your dog for 'who they are' instead of trying to change them after the fact. 

One of my favorite shows is DOGS 101 on animal planet, you can even watch previous episodes on their website. It's a great show and features 6 different breeds each episode. I also encourage people to visit different breeders, visit a dog show,  go to pet adoptions, visit your local Shelter, talk to people who own different breeds and of course ask to meet and spend time with their dog.

When in doubt talk to a professional trainer or Vet.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Top Dog Or Untrained Dog???

From 'trainers'.....dominance and alpha dog labels are still widely used when describing puppies and dogs.    Most of the stories make me smile, some make me cringe, but most of all it makes me more aware of how important it is for humans to understand dog behavior.

Here are some of the common beliefs people have about their dogs behavior and my attempt to clear up the confusion.  

My dog runs out doors ahead of me, he thinks he is Alpha.
Dogs run out of doors to get outside!!  They are excited, great things are outside, they have fun outside and clearly no one has trained them to 'wait' at doors until released to exit. 

My dog wants to eat human food and begs at the table, he thinks he is Alpha.
This is purely human error, if you feed your dog from the table, your plate, etc, you will establish a habit of begging for food, after all if they beg and you give it to them, then begging works.   Dogs repeat what works :)

My dog wants to sleep on my bed, he thinks he is Alpha
Dogs sleep in our beds because we let them, our beds are warm and comfortable.  Having a dog sleep in your bed is not right or wrong, it's a personal decision.  If your dog is housebroken and safe to be free in your home and you WANT to share your bed with them, then go for it.  If you would prefer they not sleep in your bed, then buy them a dog bed of their own and place it in your room on the floor.  

My dog does not play well with other dogs, he thinks he is Alpha
If your dog does not play well with other dogs, it is most likely due to lack of proper socialization with other dogs during puppy hood.  It's also important to note that not all dogs like playing with every dog they meet and that's alright.  

My dog barks/growls when someone comes to the door, he thinks he is Alpha
This is probably more fear or anxiety of strangers, especially if the dog has a limited socialization history.   **There are cases of  Dominance or Territorial Aggression,  this is rare and often misdiagnosed and should be evaluated and treated by a qualified professional such as a Vet Behaviorist.** 

My dog takes our personal belongings and chews on them, he thinks he is Alpha
This is most likely a bored or unsupervised dog who has access to your personal belongings.  The rule in my house is 'If you place value on something, put it away', especially with a young puppy or untrained dog in the house.  You should also provide your puppy/dog with an assortment of 'legal' chew toys.

My dog guards his toys, he thinks he is Alpha
A dog who guards possessions, food, a location, etc is typically an anxious dog who has not learned to feel comfortable with humans near him when he has a possession.  Resource Guarding is an anxiety driven behavior, not a dog seeking higher status in your home.

My dog does not listen to me, he thinks he is Alpha
A dog can't listen if he has never been taught to speak our language, after all English is a second language for dogs.  If a dog is not listening they most likely have limited or no training.   Training classes are fun and a great way to bond with your puppy or dog.  

My dog does not like to be handled, he thinks he is Alpha
Not all dogs enjoy being handled, it's not right or wrong, it's just an individual preference.  We can help our puppy or dog accept human handling by using positive/gentle techniques.  If you have a 'sensitive' puppy or dog make handling exercises part of your daily training routine.

My dog chases my kids and bites them and knocks them down, he thinks he is Alpha
We need to teach our puppies and dogs how to play with humans.  The humans need to play appropriately with puppies and dogs, no wrestling, teasing, chasing, etc.   It's unfair to whip your puppy into a frenzy and then scold them for playing too rough.  We need to teach them bite inhibition, provide them with daily exercise, refrain from rough handling or punishment and teach them through appropriate play that humans are not chew toys. 

My dog humps people, he thinks he is Alpha
I often refer to this as 'mounting tension'.  When a puppy or dog becomes overly excited they can mount people or other random objects.  This is rarely an attempt to take over the house, just a dog who is too excited and needs to be redirected. 

If you think your dogs behavior is an attempt to gain higher status in your home I would highly recommend reading Dominance In Dogs, Fact or Fiction?  by Barry Eaton. 

The following are articles on the subject of Dominance.