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.