Saturday, April 29, 2017

Socialization......Behavior Modification.......Are Not the Same Thing

When students enroll in class they often say they are enrolling in a group class to socialize their puppy/dog.    On my Intake Form I ask a number of questions, many related to your dogs social history.  Recently I had someone contact me wanting to socialize her 18 month old dog who has been attacking other dogs on walks.  The dog recently escaped from their home and attacked a neighbors dog requiring Veterinary care.   The owner felt that bringing her dog to a class would help him learn to 'like' other dogs.   Another person emailed asking to enroll his 2 year old dog who 'needs to learn to calm down around other dogs'.  Apparently his dog comes unglued when they see another dog on walks.....barking....lunging....spinning in the air.   The owner said he felt being in a class would teach his dog to behave around other dogs and help socialize him.

The common theme here is that most people do not understand what 'Socialization' is and that there is a specific time in a puppies life for optimal socialization.  From birth thru 16 weeks is when puppies are forming life long opinions of the world around them.  Everything they experience during this time is critical to their development.  The reason trainers strongly encourage ALL puppies attend a reward based class is to make the most of this critical developmental time in their life.  This is not to say that there is not some level of ongoing socialization thru out your dogs life, but true socialization happens during the first 16 weeks.   When puppies do not have proper socialization they are more at risk for problematic behaviors later in life.

By the time I meet an 18 month old dog who is reactive on leash...afraid of strangers and/or dogs....sound sensitive.......we are no longer talking about socialization we are talking about using behavior modification as a way to treat or manage  problem behaviors.   This can be a difficult conversation to have with clients as people don't always understand their dog is not suitable for a group class and needs a Behavior Consultation.    When I work with clients one-on-one we talk about the possibility of working towards a group class but we first have to lay a solid foundation for the handler and dog to prepare them to participate in a group class.  We also have to determine is the dog really wants to be in a group class, if their stress level is too high,  they are not benefiting and it may do more harm than good.  As an instructor I also have to take into account the other 5 people in class who may not appreciate having a dog bark the entire time, which is stressful to the other dogs and makes it hard for others to participate in class.

A qualified Obedience Instructor will have a good vetting process for group classes so that owners can make the most of their training time and the best use of the money.  Not all Trainers have experience or credentials to handle behavior related problems so be sure to work with someone who has legitimate credentials.

There are no short cuts or  fast tracking when raising and training dogs.  The time and training you put in during the early weeks will have life long benefits.  If your dog joins your family later in their life and already has established problems, don't loose heart, just understand that your training path will be different.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Things My Dogs Have Taught Me

This year marks my 17th year working with dogs......just a few things they've taught me. 
Stepping on a partially chewed Nylabone hurts almost as much as having an Elk Antler dropped on your bare foot
Slipping in dog drool on the ceramic tile floor will not end well
Tripping over the dog in the dark because he decided to sleep next to your bed instead of on his bed results in some profanity
Coming in too fast and getting a black eye instead of a dog kiss
Realizing your arm really does not bend ‘that way’ when your dog pulls on leash
Throwing too many bumpers at the lake will result in months of Physical Therapy
Having your phone fall out of your pocket and onto the ground, breaking the screen, because your puppy got into the laundry and chewed a hole in your shorts because you always have treats in your pocket
Seeing all the warning lights on your dashboard light up because the dog was not sleeping in the back seat he was chewing thru all the wiring under your seat
Seeing how far into the air you can fly when the dog hits you full steam from behind in the back yard
Learning that ‘bend at the knees’ is not a dance move it’s a survival technique during playtime
Wishing you had spent less money at the Pet Store and more money on the ‘better’ steam cleaner
The moment you realize you got Giardia from your dogs
Realizing your potential as a sprinter as you rush to get your dog off the carpet and onto the tile floor as their puking
Knowing I wouldn't change a thing

Friday, February 17, 2017

H.A. L. T.

HALT, this is the term I use when I work with Clients. Often puppies have been labeled with undesirable behavior without really understanding what's motivating the behavior. Here is a helpful way to "Halt' and assess your puppies behavior.

H is for Hungry: Is your puppy getting enough to eat? In our attempt to avoid overfeeding, which is a serious problem with some dogs, we tend to not feed our puppies the amount of food they need to keep up with their growing bodies. A hungry puppy will be more likely to scavenge, counter surf, eat non-food objects (PICA) and inhale their food. A puppies daily food ration should be based on their activity level not the chart on the dog food bag. It will also change from week to week as they grow so adjustments need to be made thru the first year of life.

A is for Anxious: Anxiety is often overlooked in puppies or misdiagnosed as being 'unruly' behavior. An anxious puppy can be timid, fearful of people/sounds/other animals, tremble, hide, reactive/aggressive, overly excited/aroused, mouthy, afraid of handling. Anxiety is often complex and needs to be assessed by a professional. There are many new supplements available to help decrease anxiety, L-Theanine, Composure, Adaptil, Solliquin. With the help of your Veterinarian and a qualified Behavior Consultant, you can help you're puppy overcome or cope with their anxiety.

L is for Lonely: Puppies are social animals, they do not thrive being isolated for long periods of time. They need mental stimulation every day, this can be training, playing, walks or just spending time with family. They don't need 24/7 attention, but leaving a puppy alone for extended periods of time is often stressful and can create a variety of behavior issues from excessive barking to separation anxiety.

T is for Tired: Puppies need on average, 18-20 hours of sleep per day. The belief that 'a tired puppy is a happy puppy' is not always true. How 'happy' are you when you've not had enough sleep?? A tired puppy will often exhibit behaviors such as excessive biting, barking, destructive behavior, rough play, humping, just to name a few. As the puppy fatigues their coping skills go right out the window and things tend to fall apart. *Refer to a previous post on the benefits of Crating*

Rarely do puppies solve their own behavior problems, they need our help. If you find yourself frustrated with your puppy........HALT.......and make sure their needs are being met