Monday, July 28, 2014

Dog Training: Like A Pro Seminar Series

Have you ever wondered how dog trainers can get their dogs to listen so easily? It’s a science and an art form. In this “Like A Pro” series Professional Dog Trainer Jade Robertson will demonstrate and walk you through how she would address each training strategy.

You can apply to have your own dog trained during the session or Jade will bring one of her own. The dog chosen to participate will not be proficient at the selected skill already so you will see exactly how to do it.  

The session is 30 minutes long with a 15-minute Q&A period afterwards.
Topics will include: loose leash walking, recall, stay and keeping focus in a high distraction environment.  

Spectator Spots: $10 per person per session
Apply to have your dog trained: $80 per dog/per session

Session Dates:
Saturday, August 16 at 11am
Saturday, September 13 at 11am
Saturday, October 11 at 11am
Saturday, November 8 at 11am

The location and topic will be selected 1 week in advance. All sessions will be held in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. 

Please email to participate. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Dogs need to think twice and make better decisions…

Have you ever made a decision without really thinking it through? Have you let anxiety or fear lead you to a dangerous predicament? Most people would say yes. It happens when we’re small children, it happens when we’re teens and it happens when we are adults. It also happens to dogs.

It’s the human’s responsibility to teach their dog crucial life skills like impulse control and how to deal with fear/anxiety/predatory behavior. They are dogs and they will make bad choices if we don’t set them up for success. This is obviously easier than it sounds. Recently I’ve had a number of clients whose dogs are lovely pets but have a history of aggressive behavior due to poor impulse control or because they are missing the ability to settle themselves down.

(Ari exhibiting poor inhibition by jumping up on me for attention)

This issue can manifest in aggression towards humans (dog gets excited and begins nipping owner’s hands) or aggression towards other animals (dog attacks another family dog when he/she becomes stressed or over excited). This doesn’t mean the aggressive dog doesn’t have a bond with his/her family. What it means is that this dog is missing crucial social skills that are making him/her dangerous. The causes for this can include genetic background, training, missed socialization or a medical issue. No dog is the same but what an owner can do is to teach all their dogs (big and small, old and young) how to deal with stress and not immediately react to something exciting.

Some tips:

  • Sophia Yin has a wonderful program called the “Learn to Earn Program” where she insists dogs say please by sitting. This is a crucial skill when teaching your dog manners and also calming themselves down when something is exciting is happening. Examples include sit before going through doors, sit before petting or play, sit before greeting another human, etc.
  •  Teach your dog to handle excitement in small doses. An example would be teaching your dog a calm response to the doorbell ringing. You can practice this by first teaching your dog to sit, down or go to bed. Once your dog is very good at this behavior then you can first ring your doorbell. Doorbells are often a source of excitement for dogs so you’ll be triggering your dog to become excited and then pairing that with a calm behavior. You can then move on to using other excitement triggers such as have a friend come over and practice sitting for attention.
  • Do not reward your dog for over excited behavior. This includes taking your dog out for a walk and then leashing your dog/exiting your home while your dog is barking, lunging or acting over excited. This could also include letting your dog out of the crate while barking or scratching excitedly. Ask your dog for a sit first.

(Ari exhibiting impulse control by sitting before getting pets)

If your dog is unable to calm down when only triggered by small excitement sources then you should consult a trainer or behaviourist. If your dog exhibits over excitement or anxious behavior it is also prudent to check with your veterinarian. Remember no two dogs are the same but in order to be successful in society it is your job to teach them patience, thoughtfulness and manners.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Why Has My Dog Changed???

Well I’ll start off this blog entry by apologizing for the very long delay in entries. 2013 went out like a lion with a number of personal emergencies. Luckily life has settled down a bit and I have time to write more dog training entries!

Today I want to discuss why a dog’s behavior would change. I often see dogs around age 2 to 4. The owners will describe a change in the dog’s behavior towards other dogs and/or people. They are often confused about what happened and will attempt to pinpoint the change to one circumstance.

So what’s really going on? How can a seemingly friendly dog suddenly not like other dogs? Or a well-mannered happy go lucky pooch just start to blow off anyone he/she doesn’t know already? What has happened?

Well simply put sometimes once a dog completes adolescence they are less playful and happy go lucky just like humans. Sometimes they’ve spent the first few years of life being bullied or mishandled and they’ve had enough. More often than not there is no single occurrence that has led to this change.

This change can be a shock to the owners of any dog. And sometimes there’s not much you can do about it. Let’s talk about it from the dog’s point of view. As a puppy Ms. Golden Retrieve was very friendly. She adored playing with all types of other dogs. She went to the dog park every day and sometimes to doggy daycare too. She would play and play and play. Sometimes she played so much she would get sore. Now she’s 3 years old and her hips hurt sometimes, she still goes to dog daycare and has adolescent dogs bouncing off her and biting her ears. She wants a break. Last night at the dog park a young, large male jumped on her and hurt her hips which made her cry out. So the next time she sees a young dog bee lining her way she shows her teeth. What she’s trying to say “hey there youngster, give me some space”.

This dog is not aggressive. She’s getting slightly older, she’s less playful and she has an undiagnosed medical issue. Her behavior has changed. So what should her family do?

- Get a vet examine and if possible visit an Osteopath or Physio as well. This will rule out lameness issues. Anytime your dog’s behavior changes drastically you need to rule out medical causes. Dogs can’t tell you that they are sore and will often hide it.

- Respect that your dog might not want young dogs bouncing off of her anymore. Find play solutions with appropriate friends for your dog’s play style. If necessary STOP going to the dog park and daycare. Instead take her for leisurely hikes where she can sniff and run around without fear of being knocked over.

- Take your dog to environment where dog interaction is more controlled. A Rally Obedience class where all the dogs are in control and having fun bonding with their owners is a great option. 

That’s just one example of what I see on a daily basis working with clients. All of our dogs are different and as they mature they will change. They are not puppies forever (for better and worse). And please remember behavior changes should not be ignored as they can be a symptom of anxiety or illness.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

When the worst happens...

This past weekend a good friend and fellow positive dog trainer Charlotte of Diamond Dogs was out walking her rescued Doberman pinscher with her family in Kananaskis. Her dog isn’t an ordinary dog either; his name is Aspen and he had a really hard start in life. Aspen came from a breeder who crops ears. He was placed in a home where he suffered severe neglect including malnutrition and the tissue around his ears died. Aspen came into rescue underweight and missing both his outer ear tissue. He also missed out on crucial socialization and training due to this neglect. His story is unfortunately a common one however he had the good fortune of finding a one in a million home where he was nurtured back to health, trained and socialized.

(Aspen when he first came into rescue as a puppy with no ears and very thin)
For Charlotte he is not only her pet and companion but also a key member of her dog training team. Aspen helps fearful and reactive dogs find confidence and relax. His temperament is wonderful and she had worked hard to develop these skills in him.

She takes him everywhere so an on leash hike in the back country is a regular event. You can hike with your dogs in Kananaskis but they have to be on leash by law. Hikers are also advised to carry bear spray, make lots of noise and watch out for wildlife. Charlotte was fully prepared and took all the necessary supplies to keep herself, family and dog safe on what should have been an enjoyable trip out in nature.
(Aspen after training and at a much better weight)
As they were hiking they spotted two extremely large off leash dogs. The dogs were running towards them so Charlotte called out to the woman walking them to put them on leash. Unfortunately she could not call her dogs back and had no control over them. The dogs attacked Aspen. Charlotte tried using hiking poles to hit the dogs and make them let go. Another family member used the bear spray on the dogs. The attack was so vicious that one of the dogs was sprayed three times before he let go. Aspen had done nothing to provoke this attack and even offered calming signals to these dogs to avoid a conflict. Aspen is not a fighter.  

The owner of the off leash dogs only had 1 leash with her and was unable to contain the dogs even after the attack had stopped. She did leave her information however that’s little consolation to a family that has been traumatized by seeing their dog attacked. Poor Aspen has a long road ahead of him that included surgery to have a drain put in and stitches. He will also need at minimum months of rehab for physiological damage. He’s a young dog and is quite sensitive; only time will tell if he will be able to work again.
(Aspen's injuries)
This attack devastated this family and their dog as well as the countless dogs that Aspen could have helped. And the worst part is that this isn’t an isolated case that rarely happens. Dog attacks occur regularly. I’m not trying to scare anyone as I love dogs and want them to be immersed in our society but this comes with work. Good dog owners will keep their pets on leash in on leash areas and will maintain control in off leash areas. They should have adequate equipment to control their dogs at all times. Aggressive dogs should never be off leash even in the back country where you think you might be alone. Large breed dogs come with the added responsibility of knowing what you can handle. Owners should never take out two large dogs that weigh more than them and have aggressive tendencies and even really nice, easy going dogs should be able to be contained at all times. It is the owner’s responsibility to ensure safety. All dogs should have training that allows the owner to recall them back and remove them from an unsafe scene.

Rules to live by:

1.      Train your dog well (not just a 6 week course and he sort of listens sometimes)
2.      Keep everyone safe by having appropriate equipment for your dog
3.      Do not take aggressive animals off leash even if they are muzzled
4.      Only take a dog that you can handle and remember that walking more than one dog at a time is a challenge
5.      Always carry safety equipment whether it is bear spray or an air horn with you

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Choosing a dog training class to meet your goals

As a professional dog trainer I try to offer a variety of options to my clients. Let’s discuss what works, what doesn’t and how to get the best results for your family.

Dog training is a skill that most people don’t have. Professional trainers have spent thousands of dollars and years of their lives learning this art and science so it’s important to consult a professional.

Now you’ve managed to find a number of positive reinforcement and experienced professionals to choose from. In the Calgary area there are so many. Now what class should you take?

Well truth be told there’s no perfect answer for this. You have to take a look at a few factors:

  1. Can your family commit to a weekly time/day for at least 6 weeks? Most group classes require participants to come every week for that period of time. Missing a class makes it very hard for you to get the full understanding of basic skills.
  2. Does your dog handler suffer from any disabilities that would make a class environment overwhelming or hard? (examples would be anxiety, hear impairment, etc).
  3. Is there someone to watch the kids and a person to handle the dog? Most group classes need at least 2 adults to accommodate children being there. Don’t try to watch the kids and train your dog. It rarely works out for the dog or yourself.
  4. Does your dog suffer from fear, aggression, hyper activity? A private training session should always be your first step.
  5. How old is your dog? Some young puppies do a lot better with training at home and going to puppy play classes to socialize. A combination can work wonders.
  6. How much experience do you have when it comes to dogs? If you have questions about everything than a private training session can bring you the answer you need. Most instructors have a limited ability to cover material outside of the curriculum in a group environment.

Those are just a few factors that can impact your success with training your dog. Let’s look at the options:

Indoor group class
Russ practicing heeling at a rally practice indoors.

This is the route that the majority of families choose for dogs or puppies without severe behavior concerns. It can be an excellent way to train your dog but you must practice outside of class times. You need to make sure you set aside 10-20 minutes daily to practice (minimum). It’s also a good idea to find out the size of a group class beforehand; 6 dogs is a good amount but more than that can be overwhelming for a beginner and the instructor will have limited time for questions. Indoor group classes can also limit how well your dog listens to you outside or at home. This is where the practice everywhere mantra needs to play in. Be strict with yourself and take your dog out and about to practice what you’re learning in class. It’s important to note that even professional trainers won’t have a perfect dog after only 6 weeks in a group class. Training is a lifelong commitment and many families need more than 1 set of classes.

Outdoor group class
Outdoor class at the C Train station.

This option works great for families who love to be outside with their dogs and have the patience to handle distraction training. I recommend taking an indoor class first OR having a few private sessions under your belt. The exception to this is that many puppies (4 months and under) can do exceptionally well outside as they are still very owner focused at that age. Make sure your dog is up to date on vaccines before you start. Considerations for group classes outdoor include checking class size and making sure you have time to practice.

I offer an outdoor group class that has two times a week and is run on a drop in style. This can work well for people on shift work, vacation plans, and need some flexibility. The commitment to practice is still required though.

In Home Training or Private Training
Two awesome jack russels who have enjoyed private training with Where's Your Sit.

For many of my clients private training delivers the best results. It’s flexible, can accommodate families and moves at your own pace. In home training also allows serious behavior problems like aggression or fear to be addressed. It’s down side is that it is definitely pricier.

The benefits are huge as the trainer is focused only on you and your dog’s needs and goals. You’ll learn what’s relevant for your lifestyle and move through the steps at your dog’s pace instead of rushing through it in just six weeks.

Some dogs benefit from having both in home and group classes. The combination of both allows your dog and you to learn the skills first and then practice around other dogs.

Board and Train
This little Goldendoodle had both private, in home training and some pet sitting where she polished up her skills.

This is the option where you send your dog away for a period of time and in theory he comes home completely trained for you. Board and train can work in certain circumstances but to be honest it’s less than ideal. It works well for people who cannot develop the mechanical skills necessary to train a dog (in home training can be a solution for this though). It rarely works for people who are simply “too busy” as your dog will return home and the routine of daily training will be gone.  Your dog would definitely need to be gone for an extended period of time and you need to commit a good amount of time and follow up with the trainer and your dog to ensure a smooth transition. A better option for be for the trainer to come you several times a week and train your dog while you are there watching and learning.

Which option for you?

Well truth be told there isn’t a magic formula. The best behaved dogs belong to owners who are committed to training them and spend time learning about their dog. When I’m working with my own dogs I follow this line of though:

  • What’s currently available for group classes (types of classes, times, length, instructors). If there’s a class that will benefit my dog and I can fit it in then I attend. An example of this would be when Marco was a puppy I didn’t need to take him to class to learn how to train him but I did want him to be exposed to a class environment. I enrolled us both in a Canine Good Neighbour class with a trainer I admired. This allowed him to practice his obedience in a new place.
  • What does my dog need? When I adopted Remi she was really scared so a busy group class would be overwhelming for her. Luckily enough I could take care of the in home training myself. In addition to working on confidence boosting at home I also found a small sized fearful dog class for her to attend. The combination of these efforts worked great.
  • What would I like to achieve? When Marco was a puppy I knew I wanted him to compete in dog sports. My goals were Rally Obedience and Agility. Because these goals were important to me I selected group classes that would advance that desire such as Canine Good Neighbour, Formal Obedience, Intro to Agility, etc. If you want your dog to participate in dog sports than research what’s available for puppies or young dogs in the beginner level. If your goals include having your dog do volunteer work with you than at bare minimum you need a beginner obedience class followed up by a Canine Good Neighbour class.
  • How can I practice in as many places as possible? My dogs take classes with numerous trainers in Calgary. WHY? Because it exposes us both to new places and new ideas. I highly recommend expanding your practice base outside of just 1 building.
Hopefully this will help you explore your class options. Another way to check things out is to call or email the trainer you’d like to work with, explain your goals and ask their opinions. Trainers should always be open to letting you watch them teach a class or giving you references.