Training For Life!

I have been asked the question, “When will my dog be fully trained?”.   The answer, “Never”.  Just like humans, dogs learn their entire life.  They are constantly taking in information and using it to their advantage.  The other thing to consider….behavior is not static.  It is constantly changing.  We are not the same as we were 10 years ago….we may enjoy different activities than we did, we may prefer one type of exercise over another, and we may have developed an interest in another subject.

Dogs are constantly changing….but luckily, their are plenty of options out there to help keep the education moving forward.
Most places offer puppy classes, basic manners, advanced manners, and CGC (Canine Good Citizen).  These are the very least that you should provide throughout the first couple of years for your dog.
From here, there are plenty of other fun classes to consider:
Agility, Rally-O, Dock Diving, Scent Work, Trick Training, Formal Obedience, just to name a few.
You may have try several before you find a good fit:  for instance, my German Shepherd wasn’t thrilled with agility (we tried 2 classes before I called it quits), but was wonderful at Rally-O.  My Goldendoodle enjoys Therapy work …..visiting hospitals and bringing much needed joy to those who could use a hug!

Many places offer a brush up course for the basics, which is never a bad idea.  Just getting your dog into a new situation with new challenges is a great way to mentally wear them out!

The learning should never stop……the next step is up to you!

Puppy Woes!!!

Bringing a puppy home is a huge undertaking and should not be taken lightly.  As a trainer, I see many clients overwhelmed with their new house member.  I equate raising a puppy to having a toddler in your home.  The good news is that puppies grow up quickly, the bad new is….they come with all the potential destruction and exhaustion of having a toddler!

Before bringing your puppy home, ask yourself the following questions, and answer truthfully:

Why do I want a puppy?
Am I ready for the responsibility of owning a dog for 8-12 years?
What breed do I want and why?
Have I researched that breed thoroughly?
Do I have the time and resources to handle a new puppy?
Am I willing to give up some sleep, a few household items that may be chewed, a part of my home for crating and fencing, and a lot of my “free” time?
Am I getting a puppy to play with my senior dog? (Think this one over, please)
Am I getting a puppy to “replace” the dog that just passed away? (Define “replace” because no two dogs are the same.  Each is an individual, so be ready for that).
Is everyone I live with on board with getting a new puppy?

Take a few days or weeks to think these questions over.  If you find that you are truly ready to take on a puppy, then I suggest using the following books as resources:

The Puppy Primer by Patricia McConnell
Before and After Getting your Puppy by Ian Dunbar
How to Behave so your Dog Behaves by Sophia Yin
Puppy Training for Kids by Coleen Pelar
The Power of Positive Training by Pat Miller

Owning a dog is a commitment and worth some forethought.  The more prepared you are when bringing home puppy, the easier the journey will be!

History of Dog Training – a Short History

Going online to find out information on dog training can be confusing. Five different videos will tell you 5 different things. In order to understand where all of this information stems from, you need to do a bit of reading on the history of dog training and animal cognition. Below is a link to a 30 minute video that explains the ever changing understanding of our canine friends.
Short History of Training Development

Positive Training Techniques 101

One of great benefits of using positive training is that it gives an owner options when teaching a new behavior.  There are 3 main techniques that positive trainers utilize when working with dogs and creating wanted behaviors.

Luring:  This usually entails taking a treat and having your dog follow it until he reaches the “position” that you want.  For instance, for a “sit”  you would take the treat, place it in front of his nose, and pull the treat above his head causing him to sit.  Do this several times so that he has the “action”.  Then you can add the cue word “sit”.

Capturing:  This is used when your dog is already doing a behavior that you want..but you want it on a cue.  An example would be along the lines of wanting to teach “down”.  Wait until your dog is lying on the ground and simply walk up to your dog and “reward” him over and over again.  Soon you can add a cue word “down” and reward.  After that, you would  give the cue word “down” and see if your dog responds.

Shaping: This is when you break down a behavior into very small increments so that your dog can succeed.  For instance, if I was asking my dog to “down”, I may reward the dog for just bowing his head at first, then reward him for bending a bit more, and finally reward him lying all the way down.  This is the best way to train a dog when teaching difficult skills or tricks.

Positive trainers are always looking for creative and stress free ways to encourage dogs to offer behaviors. By understanding just how each techniques works, trainers are seldom at a loss on how to coach a dog through a behavior. Not all dogs take in information at the same rate, so not all techniques may work for a particular dog. With the above options, owners and trainers are able to choose the one that best suits their dog.

There are many books and articles which break down these three techniques a bit more.  The benefit of understanding how they work is that it gives an owner more “tools” in their training toolbox. The more tools, the better chance of success. And successful learning is what training is all about!

10 Training Tips for Success!

 Everyone can use a bit of help now and then when it comes to training their canine friends!  Below are a few tips to help make things a little easier!
1. Train your dog when he is hungry.
2. Make training sessions short and sweet!
3. If your dog gets something wrong several times in a row, make the criteria a little easier for awhile, then try it again.
4. Give one cue at a time (and only one time). 
5. Make sure that your dog is paying attention to you before you ask a command.
6. Build difficulty slowly over time….add distractions a little at a time. 
7. Change the rewards and how often you reward as soon as your dog has the command down.
8. Change locations when teaching your dog.  Help him generalize the behavior.
9. For advanced training, try changing your position when asking for a behavior (sit in a chair, or lay on the couch and give the cue.)
10. Training should be enjoyable for you and your dog.  If you’re not having fun, take a break for awhile.
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Counter Conditioning 101

Counter Conditioning….What is it?

Counter Conditioning is one of the main tools used in behavior modification. It is often mistaken for “just feeding the dog” or ‘bribing”.  When used correctly, it can actually change the way a dog perceives something.  It is often used with reactivity, aggression, fear based issues, separation anxiety, and fearfulness of new people, dogs, or situations.

The plus side of counter conditioning is that there are no side affects to using this process and you are truly changing the way the dog feels about something.  This is not a ‘band aid” on a situation, this helps get to the route of the problem and fix it.  Counter conditioning is not usually a “quick fix”.  It takes time to change an animal’s mind about something, especially when fear is involved.  How long would it take you to learn to like something that you fear?  It probably depends on the level of fear involved.  The same goes for the animals.  Below is a great example of Counter conditioning in action. It is amazing to watch the transformation!

Counter Conditioning in Action!

4th of July Woes…….

July 4th Woes:

The 4th of July has to be the worst day of the year for most dogs across the USA.  It can sound like a war is going on and many dogs have a difficult time handling the loud festivities.

Do your dog a favor and plan ahead:

Find a nice quiet room in your house as far away from the noises as possible.

Turn on the television or play calming music to help mask the noise.

Provide something wonderful for the dogs to chew on during the fireworks…Kongs filled with peanut butter, bully sticks, etc.   Pull out the really good stuff.

Make sure that your dog gets plenty of exercise before the fireworks begin.  It may or may not help the anxiety, but a tired dog may just “sleep” through the night.  Exercise releases plenty of endorphins which can also help with mood.

Use calming plug- ins or sprays to help. There are many aromatheric items  on the market created to help with anxiety.

There are over the counter calming agents which may help a slightly nervous dog.  However, if your dog is one that becomes severely anxious over loud noises, you may need to ask your vet for something a bit stronger to administer to your dog.

If your dog is not bothered by fireworks, I suggest protecting him from the noise anyway. You don’t want him to  wake up on July 5th with a new fear.  Remember that fears develop and behavior changes. One horrific experience can set your dog up for a lifetime of issues with noises.

Plan ahead and protect your dog.  Help him to have as happy and relaxing 4th of July as possible.

Click on the link below for additional information regarding noise phobias.

https://positively.com/victorias-blog/dealing-with-fireworks-anxiety/

Good Pet Owners?

Most pet owners have a pretty good idea of what it takes to be considered a good pet owner! The list generally includes: proper vet care, appropriate licensing, providing food and housing needs, basic training, picking up after your pet in public places, and providing plenty of mental and physical exercise for your pet. And while this is a great list of must do’s when it comes to owning a pet, things are not always so simple when it comes to problem behaviors.

As a trainer who works with behavioral issues, I see plenty of dogs that need a little more help than just learning how to “sit” or “not jump”. Many of these dogs have severe fears: of strangers, novel experiences, thunderstorms, being left alone. Other dogs have developed aggression due to issues with leash reactivity, resource guarding, or fence fighting. If your dog struggles with any of these issues, your list of “being a good pet owner” becomes a bit more difficult.

With any type of behavioral issue, the first item on the list is always proper and safe management. This is to ensure that anyone who may encounter your dog will be safe and your dog will be safe from anyone who encounters him. Crates, gates, closed doors, and puppy pens all provide safe measures to ensure limited and controlled access while in your home.  Appropriate leashing when outside: Easy Walk Harnesses, Head Harnesses, a muzzle, multiple leashes, and proper holding of leashes for security, will provide management when in public.

Beyond proper management an owner must make certain that their dog’s life is not one of excessive stress. Many dogs are nervous around new situations or strangers.  If you have a dog with this type of issue, you should have a plan set in place when someone new comes into your home. Have you set your dog up for successful interactions? Are you able to practice these interactions when you can control the environment?  Desensitizing and counterconditioning a dog to scary things can help immensely.  However, changing a dog’s mind about something takes time, patience, and practice.

If your dog has severe anxiety or stress, have you contacted a trainer who works with behavior or a veterinarian behaviorist? Your pet may need additional medication to help relieve severe stress along with behavioral modification. Living with acute stress and anxiety takes its toll on the body……this is true for our 4 legged friends as well. Finding answers and solutions to your dog’s stress is the first step in behavioral modification.

Is your dog a fence fighter or nuisance barker in the back yard? Have you researched ways to diffuse these issues before they become dangerous or before a neighbor decides to contact animal services?

If your dog is an escape artist, have you invested in whatever it takes to keep him safe and in your care. Proper fencing (not electric), enough mental and physical stimulus, and proper human management (redirecting him and/or bringing him inside) when needed, are the actions of a responsible owner.

Pet ownership can prove to be time consuming, expensive, and emotionally taxing. However, there is help available and many of these problem behaviors can be fixed with the proper direction and a little time. Good pet owners  find that taking those extra steps can help solve problem behaviors, or at the very least,  find solutions to help their pet find comfort in difficult situations. Not all answers to problem behaviors are simple, and they are not usually quick fixes. However, every great pet owner knows that the end result will be worth the work. After all, a happy dog equals a happy owner!

Canine Barking 101

Barking…..it is communication, pure and simple.  It can be cute, scary, helpful and obnoxious.  It can also be difficult to control if it becomes a habit.  The first trick to barking (if it becomes problematic) is to find out WHY your dog is barking.  A good trainer tries to find out the reason for the barking before they try to fix it. As the dog’s owner, you can help find answers. Think about the following:

What does your dog gain from the barking? Is it your attention?  Or does your dog require distance from something it fears?  What does the barking sound like?  How long does it go on? What makes it start and what makes it stop?  Are your dog’s mental and physical needs being met?

Trainer Turid Rugrass breaks down the “sound” of barking into the following:

Excitement:  high frequency, hysterical, pretty consistent and the dog can’t physically stay still.

Guarding: shorter, deeper, growling

Fear: high pitched, long series of barks

Frustration: endless rows of “static” barking

Learned: the dog barks, takes a break and looks around.

Alert:  one “woof”, listens

This breakdown seems pretty accurate. She also specifies how to deal with each type of barking problem.

First and foremost, always make sure that your dog’s needs are being met. She suggests using redirection, basic obedience commands, teaching the dog to do something else instead of barking, and management. Fear and Guarding require a bit of desensitizing and counter conditioning. Frustration barking usually requires “impulse control” building exercises. Each type of problem barking has its own protocol, and needs to be addressed appropriately. Once the reason for the barking is understood, then a plan of action can be made and progress to get it under control can begin!

Barking is a behavior that can take time to fix.  Changing a habit is seldom done overnight….so be patient. The use of short cuts and quick fixes (however great they sound) seldom end well. The idea of using shock collars is one such “short cut” that may inadvertently create severe problems down the road, so don’t use pain to fix this problem.  Prevention is best, but if barking is already a problem,  there IS help available!

For more information,Turid Rugrass’s book “Barking” is a great resource!  You can find it and more on her website:

Turid Rugrass Website

Before You Adopt Your Next Dog…….

Looking for the perfect canine companion is an exciting endeavor.  And while there is no way to guarantee behavior in a dog, there are considerations when picking a pet that can help increase the chances of a successful adoption.

Prior to adopting a pet, take some time to consider the following:

  1. Every dog is different.  Research the breed that interests you. The better informed you are regarding the physical and mental demands of the breed, the less surprises you will have down the road.  Check out the breed’s temperament, potential health issues, and  exercise requirements prior to adoption.
  2. Time management: Do you have the time for a dog? Realistically, you will be changing your schedule and daily routine around your new dog’s needs.  You may need to come home for lunch, hire a pet sitter or drop your dog at a doggie daycare.  And age matters.  Puppies require much more supervision than an older dog.  Puppies are a full time job! Are you ready and able to provide the needed time.
  3. Money: Dog’s cost money. Grooming, vet bills, monthly heartworm pills, food, treats and training.  It all adds up.
  4. Grooming:    Long hair, short hair, no hair?  Decide ahead of time if you can live with the hair and if you can, how much hair can you live with. Most dogs shed, it just comes with the territory. Many dogs require professional grooming. Are you able to provide that for your dog?
  5. Size Matters:  All puppies are cute and those pesky behaviors of “jumping, running around the house, and pulling on the leash” are usually acceptable with dogs under 20 pounds.  However, it is a different story when it comes in a 50-100lb package.  Consider the size of the dog PRIOR to adopting.
  6. Household dynamics:  Is everyone in the house on board with the dog’s adoption?  Parents can expect the kids to be excited about the new puppy/dog for about 2 weeks and then the honeymoon will wear off. So don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are adopting a dog for your kids.   Is everyone excited and prepared and capable of helping? Are there elderly, young children or senior dogs living in the house? Will the new dog bring additional, unnecessary stress on household members?  Timing is everything. Ask yourself if this is really the best time for an addition to the family. 

 Adopting a pet should not be a casual decision. The more educated your decision when adopting a dog, the easier the transition into dog ownership will be. Research, preparation, and timing are all important factors in a successful pet adoption.  A little bit of knowledge can go a long way in helping to provide the right home for the right dog. And the right home for the right dog is a forever home!