Tuesday, December 21, 2010

How To Use Your "Leave It" Cue

So many dog owners are now choosing to attend a basic dog training class. They learn skills like sit, down, stay, heel, leave it and recall. Or at least they sort of learn these skills depending on how much they practice. What I have noticed is that even though dogs and their families are learning these cues they aren't sure how or when to use them. 

Let's discuss the important Leave It or Mine cue. This means that you've asked your dog to not touch and back off an object such as a treat, toy or person. Many dogs get really good at this as a party trick. I can easily line up treats on my dogs' legs as they look away waiting for a chance to earn one. However Leave It as many real world applications that could help you out. 

Here's some examples:

Situation #1
I'm walking my dog down the street and we have to pass another owner and dog. My dog starts to get excited, pull and even bark! I can ask my dog to leave it, focus on me and then heel on or leave it, focus on me and do a sit stay as they pass. So much better than yelling at my dog, yanking on the leash or allowing him to pull me over. 

Situation #2
I'm cooking some hamburgers for dinner and one falls off the plate! All four of my dogs do a mad scramble to grab these delectable entry. A good leave it means they all back off and I get my burger back.

Situation #3
My young puppy has grabbed a boot and is playing keep away. He thinks he's being so cute with it. I know that if I chase him he'll never give it up. So instead I ask him to leave it and then call him to me. The boot is left behind, forgotten until I put it away where he can't get it. 

Situation #4
I'm at the dog park and of course one of my dogs finds a dead duck sitting near the river. Well I definitely don't want to grab that out of his mouth nor do I want one of my other dogs to dart in and start a tug of war. I ask them to leave it and the finder dog promptly drops the duck and all dogs follow me away from it. I didn't even get my hands dirty and no one ate it. 

Situation #5
It's winter and one of the dogs is in the yard eating poop... yes it happens and the jury is still out why they do it. I don't care why right now; I want him to stop it. So I open the door yell out leave it and he drops the yucky stuff. 

And there's more you can do with leave it! It's one handy cue word. Leave it can be applied to anything you don't want your dogs to have (objects, people, dogs, garbage, rocks, etc). It can also stop dog fights in the home... for example if one of your dogs is guarding a toy or bone and it is about to trigger a battle. I can easily claim the object by saying leave it and removing it. It saves a lot of trouble! 

Remember that if you have a dog that guards things like bones, food or toys you will need to contact a professional trainer or behaviourist to help you. It's very important to understand dog body language when dealing a potentially threatened pet. We don't want to push our dogs to guard or bite us. There's many ways to use desensitization to change that situation around over time. 

Contact Where's Your Sit if you want more information on leave it or resource guarding issues. We would be more than happy to help!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Why Dogs Develop Aggression?

Aggression can mean a lot of different things. Most owners are describing behaviours that they feel are threatening when referring to aggression. Commonly this can be biting where there's an injury, biting where there's no injuring, growling, barking, lunging, air snapping, etc. 

Sometimes the reason for "aggressive" behaviour is clear and other times it's not. For many dogs they start with low level behaviour such as growling and progress to more serious threats when they realize that it works. Other dogs may suddenly develop "aggression". 

The first step would be to rule out medical issues. An animal in pain will not act like they usually do and might respond to touch in a dramatic fashion. When my dog Tank had a knee injury he began to shown aggressive behaviour when dogs came near that part of his body. He would snarl, growl and even air snap. This was unusual for him and a clear sign that something was wrong. 

Another cause for aggression is often fear. This can not be understated. Dogs who are scared will run or fight. We humans unwittingly trap our dogs with leashes, walls, kennels, etc and can trigger a bite when a dog really just wants to avoid. 

Dogs can be fearful of anything! Common issues include fear of strangers, kids, loss of a valuable resource (ball, sock, food) and of course other dogs. If we treat aggression (fear) with physical violence or force then we are often pushing the dog to escalate his/her own aggression. A better approach would be to use slow desensitization to the source of the fear so our dogs learn to deal with it. 

Aggression is one of those behaviours that needs to be treated with care. It's imperative that you seek help from a professional trainer or behaviourist and veterinarian. For more information please contact Where's Your Sit or the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT).

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Off Leash Awareness

I have 4 dogs so when we hit the off leash park it would be easy to lose track of them all... however I taught all of my dogs to watch for me too. This means that as we walk they have learned to naturally check where I am and stay close (close has a different meaning for each of the dogs... Russ thinks it means within shouting distance while the others hang out a bit more in eye sight). 

Teaching your dog to check in is easy! Once you've mastered a good recall and are ready to be off leash safely you can begin working on this one. Bring some great treats with you and randomly reward your dog for coming back to you on his/her own (you didn't call but they just came back) or making eye contact with you as you walk along. 
Over time your dog will begin to check in because it's been reinforced. This means that your dog has decided that you have value and he/she might be rewarded for paying attention rather than being lost in the dog heaven that is the off leash park. 

This is particularly important for independent breeds such as your terriers, northern breeds and many rescue dogs. While I don't continue to feed my dogs forever at the park I still continue the practice once in awhile. It's important (especially with a large group) to have dogs that care about your location. 

I have found this skill to be extremely useful when we're hiking out in the mountains or walking in a very distracting area. The check in is easy to teach and a must have for off leash walking!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Visitors & Dogs

The holidays mean that for many of us company will be coming over. For those of us with dogs this can be extremely difficult and frustrating! Every the bell rings the dog becomes more and more excited, jumps all over friends and family and just generally embarrasses you. 

Here's a few ideas for welcoming company and showing off your polite pooch:

1. Teach your dog to go to his/her kennel or bed when the bell rings. A kennel works very well because you can shut the dog inside until he/she has calmed down and guests have gotten settled in. Always reward with a treat when you dog goes to his/her "place". This gives your dog a job to do when this exciting event of company occurs. Make sure to practice A LOT when no one is actually at the door by ringing the bell yourself. 

2. Teach your dog how to settle. Begin by keeping your dog on leash near you when company is over. Whenever your dog lies down reward with a treat. Before long your pooch will have learned to chill out and handle the room full of friends and family. 

3. Teach your dog to sit when greeting people. Practice with several good friends and family members. Ask your dog for a sit/stay and have a person approach. Reward your dog for holding his/her sit. If she/he gets up then have the person back up and start over. Make this a rule for whenever your dog is greeting anyone (yourself, family, kids, strangers, etc). 

Remember our dogs want to be part of the fun but sometimes it is best if they stay in their own room or kennel when lots of people are over to celebrate. Dogs with fear or high arousal should be kept separately for their own well being. If in doubt contact a positive reinforcement trainer in your area. 

Where's Your Sit is currently offering a Holiday Manners training program to help your dog learn the skills described above. Visit www.wheresyoursit.com for more information.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Enjoy your dog; don't dominate him!

Alright I've been putting this one off but it's time to write about the dreaded "dominance" myth that has been so prevalent in Western culture as of late. 

Dominance theory is largely based on bad science... that's right folks it's not true! I'll give you a source before I carry on: http://drsophiayin.com/philosophy/dominance/ Dr. Sophia Yin explains this very well with videos to boot!

Yet everyday I see people doing things to their dogs that are not only unnecessary but potentially damaging. 

For example you take your lovely, friendly, four legged best friend to the dog park. He/she is happily playing and acting appropriately. Yet some owners feel the need to roll their dog or put them in a long stay for no real understandable reason other than control. This could actually hurt your dog's confidence.

There's no reason not to have solid obedience skills and rules but don't be a tyrant. Dogs want a calm, happy family not an owner with Napoleon syndrome. You can have a well behaved dog without acting that way I promise! 

Positive reinforcement training includes setting rules for your dog to live by. For example if you choose to let your dog on the couch then that's fine. Your family has decided dogs on furniture is alright. If you choose not to then that's fine too... just make sure you consistently enforce that rule and that all family members are following through. Rules are crucial to good pet ownership and training. Just make sure the rules are fair. 

Remember there's always another way than violence. If you're frustrated or upset with your dog chances are you didn't teach them the proper skills yet or haven't been consistent with your rules. Contact a dog friendly trainer in your area to help turn things around. 

Here's Marco in a down position while I listen to the class instructions during our Rally Novice class. Instead of having a dog that barks, jumps up or is generally annoying I just taught him to hang out. Great skill to have in any situation. (And did I mention he's off leash in a room full of dogs here?). 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Best Dog Coats

Well winter has hit and it's time for many dogs to bundle up when going outside. Both my Aussies are fine in just their heavy fur coats but my terriers are another story...

For years Russ and Heidi have been sporting Greenhawk Dog Blankets. I bought theirs a few years and they last! Russ has had the same coat for 5 years now and Heidi if she hadn't changed weights would have been in a similar situation. 

They've added some new styles over time yet this coat remains a great deal! They retail for around $30cnd and are built to last! Visit their store in SE Calgary or check out the website: www.greenhawk.net 

The coats come in a variety of colours, sizes and weights. Dog coats are needed for some of our lighter coated dogs such as terriers, pointers, most lap dogs and short coated herding breeds. Don't let your dog be cold this winter when he/she could be enjoying themselves outside.

Both Russ & Heidi give these jackets 2 paws up!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Why I Like It When Dogs Growl

Each time I teach a Puppy Socialization class there's always at least 1 puppy who is terrified to come in the door the first day. The scaredy pup might be growling, hackled or even lunge and air snap. The harried owners look apologetic or get upset with their puppy. They often reprimand their dog. 
I have a better idea... let your puppy express him or herself. We don't want to risk turning off "dog language". Growling is an important part of how dogs communicate to us that they feel threatened or scared. We need to know this! Otherwise you might end up with a dog who bites without warning. 

Dogs and puppies alike talk to us using an assortment of important body language and sounds. We need to respect those so that we don't end up with a dog that can't communicate. A dog or puppy that won't growl or show teeth is just as likely to bite as a dog that does. The only difference is the one who isn't "talking" will catch people and other dogs completely by surprise. 

Puppies come to class and adjust rather quickly. Your best bet would be to let your puppy settle in and just relax for a few minutes. Once they realize that they are safe they might venture around or actually begin to interact with the other puppies. Don't baby your pup but don't get mad at him either. 

Marco and friend Maggie demonstrate play even though it looks like they're fighting. Sometimes dogs practice "fighting" or "aggressive" behaviours in play just like small children play house or war.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Calling All Small Dogs!

Recently a friend of mine decided to open a luxury small dog bed and breakfast. This small facility caters to the discerning canine. Tiny Pawz Bed, Bark and Breakfast also offers dog daycare. 

Small dogs definitely need their own spaces to play. They have a different play style and can easily be hurt by a larger dog with the best intentions. When choosing a daycare or boarding facility for your little one it is important to consider what types of dogs they will be mixed with. 

Visit Tiny Pawz's website for more information: www.tinypawzbbb.com

Friday, November 5, 2010

5 Reasons Kennel Training is Essential

While out working with clients I often get the question "Do you kennel train your dogs?". Well the answer is of course and for these reasons. 

1. In case of medical emergency. My dog Tank recently had knee surgery and has been on kennel rest for 3 months. I can't image trying to get him comfortable with that if he hadn't already been use to staying in a kennel

2. Travel. When on the road I need a place where my dogs can stay comfortably. This means we are more likely to be accepted at friends' homes and hotels. My dogs also get to take their "room" with them and therefore ease some anxiety.

3. Dog shows. Essential for anyone competing in dog sports. My dogs need to be able to hang out quietly in their kennel so I can walk courses, grab lunch and run one dog at a time. 

4. Problem prevention. My dogs are kenneled when I go out. This keeps them from learning/practicing destructive behaviour such as eating garbage or more valuable objects in my home. This especially important with a young dog. They simply don't get the opportunity to learn bad behaviour this way.

5. Practicality. I have 3, sometimes 4 dogs in my home. Kenneling is an excellent way of feeding with ease, giving rest time to my exuberant dogs and giving guests who might not enjoy dogs a chance to visit (important when my infant nephew comes over).

There are so many reasons to kennel train. I highly recommend it and although my dogs spend very little time in their kennels on a day to day basis it's a skill that comes in handy. Even as I write this Tank is lying in his kennel enjoying a bone with the door open. He often chooses to hang out in there.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Catch the Good Stuff!

A key ingredient in living harmoniously with our dogs is rewarding the good behaviours. It's all too easy to ignore our dogs when they are sleeping, sitting politely or simply enjoying a good chew toy. Those are the moments to pay attention!

We know that reinforced behaviour is likely to repeat itself. A good example of this is the number of dogs who will readily "sit" for a cookie. They learned long ago that sit was expected and can't give it fast enough.
Now what about making that moment about lying down so you can watch your favourite tv show or cook dinner? A good way to integrate positive reinforcement right into your daily life is to keep a few tasty treats in ziplock containers out of Fido's reach but close enough for you to easily grab. The same goes for high value toys. If you see your furry friend being good then simply throw him a small tidbit or his favourite rope to chew. Chances are he'll do it again! 

This is extremely important for puppies and adolescent dogs who still need to learn the "house hold" rules. Help them out by pointing out what they're doing right and interrupting them when they make mistakes. You'll have a well behaved canine in no time!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Cleaning Up Your Cues

 "Charles, Charles, Charles" this still gets a laugh in my house. One day my family and I were enjoying a walk at River Park off leash area when this lady started to call her little Bichon mix to come. She must have said "Charles" over a hundred times with no response from her very cute fluff ball. He never did come and she resorted eventually to following him around and continued to call "Charles, Charles, Charles" in a very nasally voice. 
The point of this little story? When humans are frustrated we tend to repeat ourselves. This happens all the time. We tend to change the tone of what we've said but generally not even the words themselves. This can be blatantly obvious when someone is speaking to another person from a different language background. The same thing goes for dogs. If they aren't responding the first time it could be because: 
  • Rover is distracted 
  • Rover doesn't understand the cue word 
  • Rover doesn't care about the cue word

Now what? Well it's time to clean up your cues. When training begin with using a consistent training cue. Sit = Sit, Down = Down, Name = Look at me, Come = Come to me all the way and let me catch you, etc. Don't say down, lie down, lay down and use down when you mean off. This confuses your dog. 

Only say your cue word 1 time when you are asking for a behaviour and then wait. So if I'm practicing sit at the curb I will state "sit", wait 10 seconds, add my hand signal and then simply wait for compliance. By not repeating myself I am making that cue word matter. It's not being lost in all that chatter that humans are so often associated with. 

It's also important to ask yourself if your dog was ready to listen and demonstrate obedience skills in the environment you're in. If you've only ever practiced down indoors then maybe asking him to do it at the busy dog park is going to be too hard. Take things in steps and remember just because you taught a cue in one situation doesn't mean your dog will understand what it means somewhere else. Be a fair leader. 

The other issue can be that we've already diluted or poisoned a cue word so the dog doesn't care about it anymore or worse has a negative association with it. This can be seen commonly with rescue dogs or dogs who have had a harsh training background. Suddenly "come" means I'm going to yell, scruff and roll you. That's a poisoned cue. When I get a new dog I'll often use a different recall word than "come". Some good options include "here", "hurry", "hustle", "let's go", etc. It doesn't matter what the word means in English as long as your dog thinks it means "BEST PARTY EVER". 

Remember to use your cue words sparingly, associate them with positive rewards and make sure you have compliance when you ask your dog for something by setting him/her up for success. Dogs don't speak English (or any other human language) so we need to go slow, be clear and mean what we say.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

More Pets Than People...

Managing a multi-pet home can be challenging and I can definitely relate. I share my home with at minimum 3 dogs at a time and generally we will have an extra dog and one or two cats hanging around too. Here's some practical tips on how to live in harmony when the pets outnumber the people... 

The most important first step is making each and every single dog has attended at least 1 obedience class. This allows you to bond one on one with your dog without the other pets competing for attention. It also allows you to create a basic foundation of training with your pet. All dogs should learn their name, sit, down, stay, how to walk on leash and recall. A good obedience class will give you those foundation skills in a rather short order. 

It's also important to realize that training is a lifelong process for dogs. My own dogs attend classes regularly to enhance our bond, practice new skills in a distracting setting and to enjoy dog sports. If you're not a training addict like me that's alright but remember you will still need to spend time polishing your basic skills with each dog individually. 

Karen London, PhD and Patricia McConnell, PhD also recommend giving your dogs a "group" name. This allows you to address your dogs all at once if need be. This comes in handy when you're at the park and need everyone to come at once. It can also be helpful when your dogs start to misbehave and you want their attention. A group name can be something as simple as "puppies" or "kids". I use "aussies" to address my boys. Heidi is rarely in on the action with them and generally just needs her individual name. 

Remember when dealing with a home with dogs of a different breeds, ages, sizes, genders that the rules for one dog might not be the same for another. That's alright! My pint size Schnauzer is definitely allowed to do things that my 60lb Aussies are not.  My puppy also has different rules than my trustworthy adult dogs and that's alright too. He'll have his chance to earn the same privileges. My puppy tends to get more training time and exercise time to make up for his extra rules. Life isn't always fair and that's alright! 

If you're experiencing any aggression type issue with multiple dogs in the house make sure to contact a qualified positive reinforcement trainer to give you some guidance. 

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Urban Dog

Not too long ago I ran into a young woman who had recently purchased a Rottweiler puppy. Of course being me I couldn't help but share some advice and bring my dogs out for some socialization. Her pup was fearful of both dogs and people. The owner had also been struggling to walk her on leash and to eliminate pulling she had tied to the leash around the puppy's waist to create discomfort when she pulled (this confused the puppy and caused anxiety). 
I showed her how to use a balance leash (re: tellington touch) and gave the little one some treats that I always seem to have on hand. She settled down and eventually played with my crew a bit. The owner admitted she didn't know what she was doing and thanked me for my leash advice.

My suggestion that she attend a puppy socialization class was met with utter disbelief on her part. She stated that her previous dogs did not attend training class and were great pets furthermore she didn't have the money since she had already paid for the puppy and a vet exam. 
This kind of thing boggles my mind. Clearly the obvious benefits to puppy socialization classes are not common sense so I thought I would outline them.

We expect dogs today to interact appropriately in a busy urban setting and remain polite and calm around children, bikes, skateboard, joggers, motorcyclists, etc. It's clearly not fair to expect all these things without first giving them a chance to learn. 
Puppy socialization will:
  • help your puppy learn that strangers (men, women, children) are friends and at the very least not a threat to be barked at or growled at
  • help your puppy learn key dog skills that you can not teach your puppy (the more dogs/puppies the better)
  • the window for socialization closes at 4 months so it's important that puppies are safely introduced to a variety of new things before then
  • your puppy will learn the beginning of obedience skills that he/she will need throughout their life 
  • your puppy will be able to cope with stress a lot better

The urban dog today needs lots of preparation for city living. Please give your puppy a shot at this by ensuring they attend a puppy socialization class that uses positive reinforcement. I'd be more than happy to recommend you to one near you in Calgary and area. 

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

How To Get Your Dog To Behave At The Dog Park

I can't begin to count the amount of times I've seen well meaning dog owners take their best friend to the off leash park only to leave in anger when their fun loving pooch doesn't listen. A trip to the dog park takes prep work with obedience skills and requires a great deal of control without a leash.

One of the many reasons positive training is a great choice for pet owners is because the focus is teaching your dog to listen without any contact! I don't have to correct my dogs with a snap of the leash to get them to sit, down, stay, come, etc so when their leashes are off I still have the same control. 
Nothing will replace taking working directly with a trainer to get your dog off leash ready but here's a few tips to help out the wonderful dog owners who want to give their dogs freedom and some play time. 

Teach your recall word on leash to start:  practice calling your dog clearly in the house. "Rover come" or "Rover here" and reward with an awesome treat. Back up a few steps and start again. What you're doing is building a positive association with your recall word. You need to start in a place with no distractions and practice over and over. Do not repeat your word. If your dog doesn't come try running backwards, clapping your hands or squeaking a toy. The idea is to teach your dog to come when you say the word the first time. 

Up the Ante: Grab a leash or long line (a piece of rope about 20 feet long with a secure clip) and head out to a small, non-busy park. Practice your recall word and make it fun. Use toys, great treats and lots of praise. Slowly incorporate practice sessions to busier and busier locales. 

Ready for Off Leash? Try off leash practice in a small, fenced park to start. Baseball diamonds work well! Also invite your friends to come and practice with their dogs to add distractions. Once you have a dog that is responding quickly and reliably try taking your dog to the dog park. Time your recall for moments when you know he/she will be successful. If your dog is ignoring snap the leash on and head home. 

Key tips for long term success:
1. Always ensure that recall is something fun for your dog and reward it!
2. Never call your dog when the fun is over (aka only calling when you leave the park or for bath time, etc)
3. Bring tasty treats with you but also incorporate toys and games so your dog learns that you are also fun
4. Don't forget to keep practicing, this skill is too important to not keep fresh and reliable

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The True Value of Obedience Skills

I've always thought of obedience training as crucial to having a polite, well mannered family dog. As a dog sports competitor obedience is also a set of skills that dogs need to master to a very specific criteria. This month however, obedience skills had another use in my home.

Tank, my 4 year old Australian Shepherd has been suffering from a slight tear in his cruciate ligament. After months of osteopathy and kennel rest it became apparent that he needed surgery to recovery from this injury. After several weeks of preparation (DAP, setting up "stations" around the house for him and getting rid of some excess weight) Tank was ready for his big day. He came through the surgery without cause for concern but we still had an arduous journey ahead of us.

Our wonderful vet, Dr.Barlow from Okotoks Animal Clinic told us bluntly from that start that he was responsible for 30% of the success but the other 70% comes from rest, physio and proper management of his recovery. Tank began 3 months of kennel rest with limited exercise and no contact with our 2 other dogs.

Limited exercise meant that Tank needed to spend his days in an exercise pen or kennel. Thanks to kennel training throughout his life he was able to adjust to this without pause. He has always associated his kennel and pen with a nice bed, good toys and wonderful treats. It also meant that on Tank's short 3 to 5 minute walks he needed to be under control. Of course a formal heel comes into play here. This high energy, happy go lucky dog was no longer getting off leash time so he was a bundle of excitement on walks. We used the formal heel to keep focus on the handler, ignore distractions such as other dogs, squirrels and rabbits as well as to keep him from putting excess pressure on his healing knee.

The work didn't stop there. Tank gets regular cuddle sessions throughout the day to ease his mind and of course keep him happy. The dog can't get enough love to save his life! So Tank began to get "special" treatment. He was allowed to have one on one time on the couch or the bed while I enjoyed a book or tv show. This meant that Tank needed a stay so that he wouldn't jump off the furniture and injure himself. This stay included distractions such as family members coming home, doorbells and strange noises. Luckily Tank has long ago mastered the stay and could safely hang out on the couch or bed without cause for concern.

Never doubt the benefits of obedience training. You never know when you will need these skills in real life. Tank's handle-ability also allowed for x-rays to be taken without him having to be sedated. There are numerous uses for obedience and I can't imagine going through this surgery and recovery without these skills.