Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Dog Park Responsibilities

Calgary has many dog parks; some are great while others leave a lot to be desired. For city living they offer our canine friends a chance to run, smell, play and explore without a restricting leash. However dog parks can be very dangerous and lead to behavior problems in dogs. Here are a few things you need to know if you are a user.

The City of Calgary has bylaws that include having your pet licensed, picking up after your dog and keeping your under control. However officers are rarely around and under control seems to mean different things to different people.

You can’t control other people or dogs but you can do a lot to protect yourself and your dog while using a park.


1.      If your dog has a history of aggression then stop using off leash parks. Contact a reliable and educated dog trainer and work on the issue instead of hoping “socialization” will solve the problem; it won’t.

2.      Make sure your dog has strong obedience skills this includes a recall away from dogs, other animals, garbage, toys and people. This isn’t a “your dog comes sometimes” but your dog comes every time skill. If your dog can’t do this then please go to a training class and stop letting Fido run free. Recall is fairly easy to train so just get to work and you’ll be enjoying the park in a much safer manner. If you call your dog and he/she doesn’t come then immediately go get him/her. Standing there and hoping your dog will change its mind will not solve the problem.

3.      Carry a device to break up a dog fight or attack. This includes an air horn (they come in a variety of sizes and you can pick one up at Canadian Tire) or spray shield. I carry these even for on leash walks and they work on coyotes as well. Only use if there’s an actual dog fight.

4.      Do not bring a dog to the park if he/she isn’t feeling well, has an injury or is in season. This isn’t fair to your dog and he/she would prefer a shorter walk or an on leash smelling adventure instead.

5.      Don’t let your dog maul other dogs. Just because your dog is a puppy and wants to wrestle or mount other dogs doesn’t mean another dog is going to appreciate that. Dogs often have a lower tolerance for this as they age and some dogs aren’t comfortable playing until they know/trust the other dog. Respect this and recall your dog.

6.      Remember to take breaks during rough and wild play sessions. Sometimes two dogs meet and they are having a great time racing around and wrestling. Wonderful. It’s still a good idea to occasionally recall your dog back to you for a few seconds break, reward them for coming and then letting them play again. This keeps your recall strong and also allows the other dog to decide if he/she still wants to play.

7.      If you are bringing children with you to the dog park it’s important to remember that not all dogs are safe and bite prevention measures need to be in place. Teach your kids how to greet dogs safely and always ask before petting. Do not allow your child to run around wildly screaming or caring toys (especially dog toys). Just because you trained your dog doesn’t mean someone else has. Keep your kids safe since they don’t know better and it’s easy for an overexcited adolescent dog to knock them over.

8.      Keep your dog close to you. If Fido is across the park you can’t do anything if something goes wrong. A good recall is great but remember you have to be nearby if your best friend gets into trouble.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Leash Aggression? But he’s fine off leash!

I’ve had a fair share of owners who are confused by their dogs on leash behavior. They often begin by telling me how much their dog likes other dogs and does great at the park playing with many strange dogs of all breeds, ages and personalities. Then they mention that their perfect pup turns into a murderous demon when the leash is on.

Alright so what’s actually going on here?

Let’s start off with what leashes do. They restrict our dogs from normal, social body language and put up a barrier to interaction. This is often for their own safety and compliance with leash laws but there are side effects. Just adding a barrier for some dogs creates a frustration response (barking, lunging, lying down) which can escalate into aggression over time.

For some dogs they are fine on leash with other dogs until their owner tries to pull them away. The feeling of their collar tightening is enough to trigger an “attack”. A dog’s response to this can be anywhere from barking, growling, stiffening to an actual bite with injury.

So now what? While this problem can be prevented through focus, heeling and a good leave it cue you’re probably not reading this because you have the perfect puppy.

1.   A good rule for most dogs is to restrict dog greetings to off leash only where your dog can have freedom of communication and movement. I expect my dogs to be working for me when they are on leash and when they are off leash I’ll tell them “Go Play” which signals they can do as they wish. This also makes handling them at busy dog shows and expos easier as they don’t think it’s play time whenever they see a dog.

2.   Walk on your dog on a harness like the Easywalk harness by Premier or Sensation harness. Even a good step in harness will improve things from a collar.

3.   Keep on leash greetings to less than 5 seconds and teach your dog to keep walking when you call his/her name which will allow you to get your dog to come when called without a tight leash.

4.   Keep your leash loose during any and all dog interactions. Tightness in the leash will increase the chances of a problem.

5.   Participate in a group dog training class where dog social skills are worked on or an activity like rally obedience where your dog will learn to focus on you and not pull on leash around other dogs.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Secret to Dog/Human Harmoney

There’s always a debate amongst dog trainers about what is the most important thing to teach a dog. In reality there’s no blank, easy answer here as many obedience skills and manners are crucial to a dog’s ability to thrive in a home environment.
We ask a lot of our pet dogs. We want them to ignore almost everything they love to do: chew on things, urinate on things, bite things playfully or otherwise, bark, run around frantically, jump up on any living creature that is slightly taller than them, etc. And then ask them to do boring behaviours such as walk slowly on leash, sleep all the time and not touch anything that hasn’t been labeled as a dog toy (and then occasionally relinquish those to us too).
So after working with many families with a huge variety of canines I’ve come to the conclusion that even though recall is my favourite obedience command dogs need to learn impulse control more than anything else.
Impulse control means quietly simply that instead of reacting to what they want as soon as they can see they learn to wait. Oh this isn’t easy for people either!
Some skills that can help teach dogs impulse control:
1. “Leave It” cue asks the dog to not grab something and be rewarded for that.
2. “Stay” cue and this applies specifically to stays with distractions around such as dogs, toys, food, etc.
3. “Look” or the dog’s name to redirect their attention back on you.
4. “Sit” for doors, opening kennel, greeting, etc.
(Marco showing off his stay)
Dogs that have developed good impulse control will be less likely to steal your stuff, jump on you, start conflicts with other dogs, house soil, bark uncontrollably at other dogs, etc. It allows your dog to live in harmony with you and all our silly human rules.
This isn’t an easy thing to teach so I suggest working with a trainer or behaviourist if you are experiencing any behaviour problem. Remember to select someone with experience and uses positive reinforcement methods to teach impulse control NOT a shock collar, choke chain, etc. We want dogs who understand that waiting means good things are coming not a dog that is too scared to move.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Is your Dog Stressed out?

Even the most well socialized and polite dogs can get stressed out; can you tell when your pooch has had enough? Here are some tips for identifying stress in your dog.
Dogs can become unreasonably stressed out anywhere. You could be at a local festival with people and dogs everywhere or at home where the distant sound of fireworks can send even the most confident canine over the edge. It’s important to be able to identify stress in your dog and help him/her manage it.
Here are a few signs that many dogs will demonstrate:
1. Your dog won’t eat.
This happens all the time. Fido is happily accepting treats from you or strangers and suddenly he’s full. Well your best friend might actually be too uncomfortable to eat. If your dog was previously eating and stops suddenly it’s best to assume he’s upset and take him out of the situation for a well-deserved break.
2. Your dog is no longer able to perform easy obedience cues such as Sit or Shake A Paw.
If your dog knows a cue like Sit then he/she should be able to do it. Dogs will often stop listening to cues when stressed out or over excited. We all know what over excitement looks like so if your pup is just standing stock still and unable to offer a sit then he’s probably had enough.
3. Your dog is offering appeasement signals such as yawning, looking away, lip licking and blinking. He could even be lying down or showing his tummy (not for a belly rub as often mistaken).
Make sure you are familiar with your dog’s language. If you don’t know how to spot calming signals then please take a look at Sarah Kalnajs’ “The Language of Dogs” DVD or Turid Rugaas “Calming Signals” DVD. It’s very important to be able to identify these things.
4. Your dog has frozen still and won’t move.
This one can be difficult as you need to evacuate your dog out of the situation without making him more fearful. I will often use my happy voice and find the path out with the least amount of traffic. You can try using a hand target to get your dog up again but if they’ve frozen it may not work. Depending on the dog you could try gently touching him/her or picking him/her up. Please note that a fearful dog can be dangerous and to keep your own safety in mind. If you watch body language closely you shouldn’t find yourself at this stage.
Remember that it doesn’t matter where you are. If your dog is in distress then please take him/her out of the situation ASAP this includes dog training classes and dog parks. Bites can be prevented with a little bit of knowledge.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Trying Out Tracking

Early on in my career with dogs it became apparent that these awesome little furry creatures are much more scent oriented than I had ever anticipated. I didn't pay enough attention when I was merely a dog owner/guardian but as a trainer it was a clue that we could be using scent work for much more than we do.

I started integrating scent work into private sessions with fearful or aggressive dogs as well as in my Confidence Booster Program. Scent helps dogs calm down, explore and habitualize to new things in their environment and can also be an activity that reduces stress.

More and more training schools are now offering Nosework classes or Find It classes. There are some tracking or search and rescue groups around that owners can join. Unfortunately Nosework and Find it can only take you so far and the tracking/search and rescue groups both require an enormous time commitement on the part of the owner.

Where's Your Sit will be offering a Find It class that incorporates basic nosework skills and then beginner tracking outside (including laying out a trail and teaching your dog to follow it). We're going to organize this class in a handler friendly way. One dog will participate at a time (so reactive or dog aggressive dogs can participate too) and we'll teach you how to lay your track at home for practice in your neighbourhood.

What's the goal? To teach your dog self confidence, some useful tracking skills including finding a toy in the park, and introduce both you and your dog to the world of scent work.

My friend and fellow trainer Stephanie worked very hard with her young Golden Retriever in Search and Rescue for several years. She and I have started working with her dog Willow as well as my aussie Marco and GSP Ari. All three dogs are at very different levels and have different work ethics/temperaments.

Willow obviously had the most experience and was able to hook into using her nose to follow a trail quite quickly (this is different from air scenting which is what she had previously practiced). We were actually able to remove all food lures on the 4th trail (double laid, 10 yards).

Ari the little 4 month old pointer has always been a go getter and has an amazing nose. He picked up on the activity pretty quickly although needed short tracks due to a short attention span. He was very excited to be practicing this new skill.

Marco was the most challenging. He competes in rally obedience and agility. He's also taken his herding instinct test and Canine Good Neighbour test. He is use to A LOT of help from me and tends to wait for me to encourage him on what to do. Tracking was hard for him as he wasn't sure what to do. The great thing was he figured it out! Marco has always been very worried about being wrong (this shows up in agility for us all the time) so trying out tracking is good for his self confidence and independence. I'm very excited to see how all the different dogs who come to class learn how to handle the challenge.

And the best part? Both my boys were mentally exhausted after and took a long nap.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Why Obedience Training is Integral to Living with Any Dog

My clients literally come into all shapes and sizes. I’ve worked with dogs as small as 4lbs and as large 160lbs. They have varying backgrounds; some are feral dogs from reserves while others were luckier born to breeders who loved them and nurtured them.

The size or breed or even to some degree background doesn’t matter as much as one crucial component that the owner of the dog can control. When I’m addressing a behaviour concern such as aggression, resource guarding or impulse control concerns (such as jumping up or stealing food) it is quicker and easier to “fix” the issues with dogs who have attended some sort of obedience class as a puppy.
Why is this?
Simply put because the dog was socialized to work around distractions (to varying degrees of proficiency) and the owner has a relationship with their dog that includes listening to commands (even if it’s just sit). Dogs who have had no formal training and happen to have an owner who hasn’t taught them much take a lot longer to work with.
So have a new puppy? Time to get to class. Not only are you less likely to have serious behaviour problems down the road but if they do happen it will be easier to address saving you money, stress and time in the long run.
It’s also important to remember that not all obedience classes are created equal. Puppies need to trained using positive reinforcement techniques not coercive or punishment based (no choke chains, no prong collars, no shock collars, no leash corrections using a karate chop or any other sort of hard yank, no hanging in the air, etc). Some of these classes are labeled as positive or balanced training. Puppies specifically should not be trained using harsh corrective methods and even in the “good old days” these methods were not used on dogs under 6 months.
So how do you find a good class? Well there’s a few signs of a great puppy class. You’ll want a trainer who has experience (ask where and if you do not understand the answer look it up as some dog training schools aren’t so good), has certification (CPDT-KA is a good start – that being said there are good trainers out there who do not have certification), use food when training, encourage people to come watch their classes before signing up, and can provide references. Be choosey and don’t settle on someone you don’t like. A good trainer/client relationship can help you keep small problems small throughout your dog’s life.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Don't Dogs Like Walks???

Lately I've had lots of new puppy clients signing up for private lessons and group classes. It's just that time of year. So hand in hand with nervous new fur parents are the countless questions; which I do love to answer!

The one I've been hearing the most is why does my puppy lie down on walks?

It's actually rare when I don't hear this one so please know that this is a common puppy behaviour and there's nothing to panic about. And there could be a few reasons why.

#1 - Your puppy could be frightened
#2 - Your puppy might not like his/her collar, leash, harness, etc.
#3 - Your puppy might be tired (walks can really cause them to crash quickly depending on the age and muscle a dog has)
#4 - Your puppy might not want to go in the direction you are going or at the speed you are walking
#5 - Your puppy might have a growth sprut and is more tired than usual or sore
#6 - And rarely but not to be ruled out: your puppy could have an injury but this is easy to rule out if he/she is walking/running around normally at home or off leash

There could be a few more reasons but those are the most likely culprits in my experience. So now that begs the question: What should you do?

First off I would like to recommend that your puppy be on a harness and not a collar (especially any device that tightens). All of my puppies without exception wear an Easywalk harness or Sensation harness. Sophia Yin has a great article on dog training equipment and her recommendations that can be found here.

Secondly it's important to take shorter walks and maybe more frequent than longer ones. The length depends on the dog, breed, outside temperature, etc. Large breed puppies like Newfoundlands will get tired very quickly.

And finally try to stay exciting when your puppy lies down. Teach him/her how to hand target or chase a toy. Get the movement going again but don't get into a tug of war with the leash as it will just increase the dog's urge to pull in the opposite direction. If your puppy is truly tired then take him/her home. If he/she is scared then spend some time in that spot, maybe share a few cookies and let your puppy assess where he/she is.

Contacting a good positive reinforcement trainer can help as well. They can provide guidance on what your individual puppy needs and can help you teach him/her.

Whatever you do don't give up on going for walks. They are a very important part of socialization and your pup does need to learn to walk on leash. Try to make your walk a relationship building experience between you and your new puppy. Don't Army march down the street but stop smell the flowers, play games and talk to your new furkid!

As a personal aside when Marco was a baby he became like a dying fish whenever I attached his collar, harness or leash. It took him 2 months to accept that these pieces of equipment were necessary! So we took really short walks for training/socialization purposes, practiced in the basement to eliminate distractions and did most of our exercising off leash in a designated park. I am happy to report that after 4 months of age he walked like a champ on leash.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Not Like on TV!

Most dog lovers have indulged in watching the various dog training shows on TV. And while the shows are entertaining and at times very dramatic they do not represent what actually goes on during in home training consults. And we certainly do not fix any problems in 30 to 60 minutes.

Many of my clients are nervous when I first go see them and they can feel guilty too. All too often they either feel they let their dog down or have been doing something very wrong. Some of the TV show hosts make a habit of humiliating or lecturing the owners of the dogs. This should NOT happen during a real life visit. Your dog trainer knows you are looking for help and how you got into this predicament doesn’t matter since you are actively trying to fix it. So it’s time to let go of the past and concentrate on what needs to be changed for the future.

Dogs can develop behaviour problems or poor manners for many reasons including medical issues, genetic predisposition, a bad experience, learned behavour in a previous home, accidental continuous reinforcement for the behavior, among other things. This is not necessarily a reflection of the owner and you shouldn’t be embarrassed or apologetic. We all make mistakes so even if it is something you’ve done you are now trying to fix it. Good job!
If you are experiencing a behaviour issue or need help with your dog please don’t be afraid to ask. The sooner the better too! Letting a behaviour concern continue can make it much harder to change.
The following issues can easily become major problems:
-          Fearful of people, dogs, loud noises, being alone, etc. Any fear behavior should be taken seriously even if you don’t think your dog will ever bite. Living in a state of fear is detrimental to the dog mentally and physically.
-          Discomfort or growling/lip lifting around dogs, adults, children, etc. This are all signals that your dog is unhappy or worried. This should be addressed right away don’t wait for an actual bite to occur.
-          House soiling; all too often this can a symptom of a medical issue or another behaviour concern.
-          Barking/Lunging at other dogs while on leash. This can lead to other concerns such as aggression or anxiety.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Update on the Traps

I posted my last blog post before ANY information was available on the leg traps. Luckily the media was quick to investigate and quite a bit has happened as a result.

Here's what has happened:

1. The traps have been removed while the City and University discuss their study methods.
2. The traps were only set between 8pm and dusk; however the park is open until midnight.
3. The traps were located in an on leash area (however in Nose Hill this can be difficult to discern)
4. The study is trying to determine the links between parasites in Coyotes and Dogs which is a very worth while endeavour.

My concerns:

I would like the public to be educated about what the study is doing and the areas in the park where they are conducting the study to be CLOSED to the public for the duration of the study or the traps to be removed during the day.

Signage in the parking lot as well as restricitng the pathways in would be wonderful. Many people use this park in difficult capacities so it's important to acknowledge people might get confused about where they can and can not do certain activities. They already post signs to alert the public when coyotes have been spotted in an area so I'm sure they can accomodate this.

I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt when it comes to working with wildlife and that they are actively trying to track the coyotes and minimize the risk to them when being caught in a trap.

As an aside in reponse to some of the comments: these were not my dogs but a person's story that was sent to me. I don't have any updates on whether her dog was injured from the trap or not. However I can definitely understand how she ended up in that situation and let's not jump to the conclusion that she was irresponsible.

When traps are being placed in a public park the public should be aware that these are there. We know to look out for risks such as wild life, uneven terrain and other park users but leg traps were not expected.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Traps & Nose Hill Park Calgary

One of my clients forwarded me an email that I thought I should share with as many people as possible. Please note that I have not confirmed any of the details below but just in case it's better to get the word out.

Please note this can be just as dangerous for children as pets. Use caution when walking in the area or avoid it altogether.

Here's the email:

I was walking my dogs up at Nose hill tonight enjoying the evening when I saw a sign about 20 feet to the left off of the pathway. (Shaganappi Entrance - heading east on the pathway).

I begin reading off the sandwich board style sign - printing isn't very big so I approach the sign. The University of Calgary is conducting a "predator study - all dogs must be on leash and remain on the designated pathways". Two of my dogs had run into the trees to find the birds while I was reading. Before I could finish reading one of them is yelping! I run into the trees and realize they are caught in a leg trap!!! (the only good thing about this story is the trap doesn't have teeth - it just has bars that snap closed on the leg)!! A smaller framed dog may end up with a broken leg - or worse - be left as bait for hungry coyotes because the owner cannot find them.There are several (rusty) old traps set up in the same vicinity. A board with spikes or nails is also in there along with two cameras/videos. The boards are likely bait boards with food under them to entice the animal into the right spot for the leg trap to release.

The sign never once indicated any potential harm. The message only states you will face a fine should you not comply with the on-leash rule. Again by the time you read the sign, it may be too late - as I experienced. This is extremely irresponsible with far too many implications considering the amount of people and dogs that frequent the hill. I haven't even touched on the harm and trauma that the various wildlife will face.

I am outraged and shocked that The City and the University have moved forward with this study without warning or providing any details to the public.

I have provided photographs of the leg trap, the board with spikes and two signs.

Please forward this message to those you feel may be affected (people who take their dogs out to Nose hill who's dogs may run into the trees)!


Sign #1

Sign #2

Board with Spikes

Leg Trap

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Trouble Shooting: House Training

Whether you have a young puppy or an adult dog that uses the indoors as a bathroom it’s generally the same training techniques to solve this problem. Yet sometimes house training isn’t straight forward at all.
Please keep in mind that sudden onset of house soiling in a previously trained dog means a visit to the vet. It can also be a good idea to get an untrained dog/puppy checked out if house training isn’t progressing smoothly.
Now here are a few scenarios that I come across with my foster dogs and my clients.
#1 Fido is urinating or defecating in his kennel overnight.
This is a common occurrence in puppies in particular (especially those small breeds). There are a few reasons for this including adopting from a kennel environment where your dog learned to soil him/herself, inability to hold his/her bladder for long periods of time, etc.
Now what to do about it? Obviously we don’t want our dogs to learn to be dirty so here’s a few solutions that have worked over the years:
-          Remove bedding from the kennel (if your dog soils when there is not bedding then try another option and give him/her the bedding back).
-          Put your pup in a large kennel and create a separate bed and bathroom area (pee pads or house training pad can be used). I usually set up an Extra Large Kennel with a small kennel inside for sleeping area.
-          Set your alarm and give your pup bathroom breaks overnight. Start with every 4 hours. Make these business trips so to speak. No playing or long cuddle sessions. Just take him/her outside, give a cue to indicate it’s time to eliminate. Tell him/her they are good dog and then back to bed. Gradually increase the time between overnight bathroom breaks.

#2 Fido sneaks off to eliminate in the house unseen (even after being walked!)
This is another common problem. Sometimes when a dog is exercised it will stimulate his/her digestive system and they need to go to the bathroom. Dogs can be nervous (or over excited) to go to the bathroom while on a walk so take a short detour into the backyard where it is quiet after walking.
In the house you may need to settle up an exercise pen or blocked off section where you can supervise your dog. Barricade any spots where your dog routinely goes to the bathroom.
Set your dog up on a bathroom schedule where he/she goes out regularly and praise for going outside. Gradually increase the time in between bathroom breaks. If your dog isn’t timid then you can tell interrupt them if they start to go inside and head out (don’t be angry or intimidating as it can make the problem worse).
Another option would be to tether your dog to you. This can be difficult to live and you’ll need a long leash (over 6 feet). It will allow you to keep your eyes on Fido.
Looking for more house training help? Check out Way to Go by Patricia McConnell.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Every Puppy is Different

So as some of you know I brought home a new German Shorthair Pointer pup on July 1 from Peregrine German Shorthair Pointers in Grande Prairie. His name is “Ari” and more information will be coming up about him for the blog and website. Ari is now 15 weeks old and has been living with me and my family (human and canine) for the past month and a half.

Having a new pup around has been fun and also challenging. It’s easy to forget the obstacles I faced when I’ve brought home previous fur babies. Marco is now 2.5 years old and by all accounts one of the easier puppies I’ve had.
What is becoming the most obvious is that you can NOT compare one puppy to another. I’ve had puppies of various breeds and from every background imaginable. This little guy has come from an excellent breeder and luckily has an amazing little temperament. However he is distinctly different from the other furballs that have joined the family.
It would be so easy to get caught up in well Russ was house trained by now or Marco wasn’t vocalizing in his kennel anymore at this age. But really that wouldn’t be fair. All of these puppies are so intrinsically different. Russ came from a breeder who started the whole litter on house training at 5 weeks old. Thanks Sandy & Denise for that! Russ is still the only puppy I know who house trained in 3 days and he also came home to us at 10 weeks of age not 8 weeks. In the case of Marco well the little guy was from a more independent environment and preferred dogs to people. So of course being kenneled next to Tank his Uncle was no problem. Comparing Ari the extremely people focused pup to Marco would not be fair.
I often have clients who compare their new arrival to a dog that they had for years and years. It’s easy to forget just how challenging puppies can be especially after living with a well-adjusted adult dog for so many years. All new puppy parents need to give their puppy a chance to develop at his/her own speed. There are no hard and fast rules about when a puppy will be house trained as it depends on so many factors. The same goes for training a puppy or an adult dog anything. Just like people they all learn at their own rate.
So my new baby is a great reminder for what my guys are experiencing and also not to compare. By the way did I mention Ari is already the most focused puppy I’ve ever had! He’s a smart kid and he’s bound to pick up the rest in no time.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

Marco my 2.5 year old Australian Shepherd is not a natural toy dog. In fact I had to teach him out to pick up a ball, chase it and bring it back all separately. This even took a few weeks. Since then however he is ball crazy which is a good thing. I routinely use his ball as a reward when we’re practicing obedience or agility.
During the spring the idea of playing Frisbee with Marco came up and I thought it’d be easy. I’d throw a Frisbee, he’d catch it and bring it back. It isn’t even so different from playing fetch with a ball. Well I was wrong!
I soon discovered that not only could I not throw a Frisbee like I had pictured in my imagination but Marco didn’t know how to chase or catch it either! Luckily I’m not easily deterred so we got to work.
The first thing I had to learn to do was throw a Frisbee. So I practiced that sans-dog. It’s still a work in progress and my partner is infinitely better at it then me so at least Marco has a throwing partner.
The next step was teaching Marco how to grab a Frisbee. He tried several different tactics including hitting it with his muzzle, watching it crash and then pouncing on it and getting hit in the teeth a bunch. So we practice with me just holding the Frisbee about a foot above his head and getting him to jump up and take it from my hand. He learned how to put it in his mouth. We also tried a few different Frisbee types including the chuck-it flying squirrel which was great when we started since it was soft.
Once we had that out of the way I changed the height distance and also taught some short throws (1-2 feet away). He caught onto to that and it’s still part of our warm up today. I also use this game at shows to help pump him up before going into the ring. He’s an Aussie and they love to bounce (think Disney’s Tigger).
From there I started putting him in a sit about 7-10 feet away so he was under where the Frisbee would fly and wouldn’t have to coordinate running and jumping. This allowed him to practice watching the Frisbee and perfecting his leap into the air for a good catch.
So now it was time to add the running element. Not so easy! After watching a number of You Tube videos on Disc Dog and their distance event it was clear that Marco would need to do a right finish to get acceleration before the throw took off. Luckily Marco has a right finish or a “go around” for obedience and rally so it wasn’t a new skill. We did have to speed it up though.
From a “front” position Marco is cued to go around. As he runs behind the thrower he picks up speed. By the time the Frisbee starts its flight he’s at full speed and right under it. Marco can now do distance catches with all 4 paws off the ground. He’s getting really good and catches more than he misses.
I’ve also learned that playing Frisbee is tiring! More so than ball, tug, agility or just plain running around with other dogs. Marco can do about 10 throws at full speed before he’s ready to take it easy. We keep the sessions short so they’re exciting and interchange it with other games. It’s good exercise, great bonding and cool to watch.
The moral of the story? Even playing a simple game of Frisbee can take time to train. Please don’t expect your dog to inherently know how to pee outside, walk on leash, come when called and other tough skills without training. Training takes time, patience and above all else problem solving. If something isn’t working break it into smaller steps and give your dog a fighting chance. Also train “fun” things so you can hone your own skills and play with your dog.
Dogs with fear and aggression issues have shown massive improvement when their owners teach them tricks and play with them. It increases confidence and focus. I highly encourage every dog owner to train their dog to do something new several times per year.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

In Recent Local News...

This week in Calgary a young girl was mauled by a Husky that had escaped from its yard.

Unfortunately this entire situation was preventable with some owner education. Here's some key points that every dog owner of any dog breed or mix needs to follow:

  • Make sure your dog is secured. Many breeds of dogs are great climbers/jumpers. This includes small guys too! For our large, athletic breeds it is especially important that your fence is not only tall but potentially slanted inwards to keep dogs in. If your dog is a great climber or a known escape artist also consider a tether to secure him/her and don't leave your dog unattended!
  • An obedience class can do wonders for keeping your dog at home. It will help you teach your dog recall and owner focus. Both of these can prevent escapes.
  • Make sure your dog is spayed/neutered and is adequately exercised. This will decrease roaming.
  • Certain breeds are more independent and have a tendency to roam. Making sure you are educated on what type of pet you are purchasing and assess whether you can keep this animal secure. Where's Your Sit offers owners pre-puppy consultations to help with this type of decision making. Very few homes are capable of keeping dogs like Huskies in the city. This breed has huge exercise needs and are great at escaping! If you are set on a Husky make sure you attend classes. These dogs can be hard to motivate but with the right trainer they can learn to listen to you.
  • It is also important to socialize your dog to children and other dogs even if you don't have any at home. Dogs do sometimes escape and it's very important that if this happens they do not pose a threat to people or pets living in your area. Keeping a dangerous or possibly dangerous dog is unethical and could land you in hot water legally.

Keeping your pets safe as well as neighbours is everyone's responsibility. Please make sure to take the time to learn about dog socialization, husbandry and training.

Friday, May 25, 2012

How to use Punishment in Dog Training

Dog Training has a variety of methodologies and I sit firmly in the positive reinforcement camp. However there has been numerous newspaper articles and tv shows that tell people that position trainers do NOT use punishment and that our dogs are poorly trained, we don't get real results and that when push comes to shove our way just doesn't work. 

Well it's time to explain how positive reinforcement training works and how we use punishment safely and humanely. 

Positive reinforcement training is exactly that: we reinforce a behaviour that we want the dog to repeat. This does not mean that it is permissive training and the dog should get away with bad behaviour like jumping up on people. 

The important thing to know is that there are different types of punishment. Correction based trainers generally use something called Positive Punishment. Positive punishment means to do something to the dog that he/she doesn't like. An example would be using a choke chain and cutting off air to correct the dog for jumping up. 

The majority of positive trainers use something called Negative Punishment (confused yet?). Negative punishment means to take something away from the dog that he/she wants. So if my dog was excited to see a new person and went to jump up I would ask the person to walk away therefore taking away what my dog wants until he/she can stay sitting. This can sometimes take a bit longer but in my opinion is more effective in the long run as most people don't want to be applying corrections forever. 

Negative punishment is essentially the same idea as time outs for kids versus spanking. We know both work but the decision on which to use is based on ethics and beliefs. I believe in violence free training so I do not hit, scream, shock, throw things or cut off my dogs' airways. I don't advise my clients to do this either. 

Applying negative punishment means you have to use your brain to figure out the following:
1. What is my dog getting out of this? (ie. what is reinforcing this behaviour)
2. What do I want my dog to do instead? (ie. teach sit stay instead of jumping on people)
3. How do I train my dog to do what I want? (a trainer can be very helpful here). 

It's also important to know that dogs have a similar mental capacity to an 18 month old child only they don't speak ANY english, will react to physical corrections with a fight or flight response and have weapons. Why teach our dogs to bite, flee or shut down when we can teach them what we want in a humane manner? There are now professionals in ALL types of dog training that successfully train their dogs without force. I challenge you to do the same. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Bulldogs for Bullies

Last night Where's Your Sit? was proud to be a part of the Bulldogs for Bullies fundraiser for Alberta Bulldog Rescue. 

Jade Robertson sits on the Board of Directors for the rescue as the Vice President and takes an active role in event planning, behaviour assessments and training for all of the bulldogs currently in care and after they have been adopted. 

The fundraiser came at a crucial time for the rescue because we have two very sick bulldogs in care currently. Goose, an English Bulldog needs a surgery to remove a tumour and Angel, a little Frenchie is suffering from issues with her pancreas. 

Rescue takes a lot of time and can be exceptionally difficult at times but it's well worth while. It's really important for dogs in rescue to be provided with training and a behaviour assessment. I strongly discourage families from adopting when this has not been provided. 

Behaviour assessments are important because they help fit the dog into the right foster home as well as the right adoptive home for him/her to improve and work on key issues. I check dogs for concerns with handling, strangers, collar grabs, resource guarding (food and toys) and meeting dogs. When a dog has a "red flag" or a concern we know that this particular dog needs to work on that before being adopted. Just like a vet should check whether the dog is healthy or not and medical concerns should be addressesd before being adopted. 

Alberta Bulldog Rescue also enrolls our foster dogs in training classes and when necessary private training. We work on an assortment of skills including:
  • Focus around distractions
  • Basic obedience skills including sit, down, stand, leave it, stay, walking on leash and recall
  • Confidence Boosting around strangers, dogs, new things
  • Socialization and playing appropriately with other dogs
  • House and crate training

These skills are crucial to an adoptive dog staying in his/her new home. 

Bulldogs for Bullies was a huge success and I strongly encourage everyone to check out Alberta Bulldog Rescue if they are considering a bulldog or would like to volunteer their time.

Friday, March 23, 2012

New Classes for Spring!

Where's Your Sit is pleased to be offering some great new classes for spring:

For dogs with excitement, barking and general arousal concerns:
 "The Hyper Dog Program"

For those scaredy dogs who need help with a variety of phobias:
"Confidence Booster Program"

Just need a good beginner and socialization class?
"See Spot Start"

Does your dog come back when you call? If not try:
"Ready to Recall"

For those advanced dogs who want to practice their obedience skills around town:
"Out & About"

And finally love the dog park? Want your dog to listen there?
"Adventure Dog Program"

Visit today for more information! 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Practice Everywhere!

What's the most commonly ignored but incredibly important part of training your dog? Taking the show on the road! If you only practice inside a class room, your home or in your neighbourhood then your dog isn't learning to listen around enough distractions. It's as simple as that. 

Practicing in new environments is something people who compete in dog sports are well aware of but often the average pet owner just doesn't think about. Whether you have a new puppy or an older dog it's important to proof new skills everywhere. 

Here's a list of some of my favourite places to practice:
> The house (all NEW skills start here)
> My neighbourhood
> My 5 parks close to the house
> Nose Hill off leash area
> Southland off leash area
> Edworthy off leash area
> The pathway system (anywhere)
> Pet stores across the city
> Horse arenas
> Friends & Clients homes
> Other dog classes that I sign up for! 
> Camping 
> Other towns like Canmore & Bragg Creek
> The train station
> Stores that allow dogs inside (I use to use movie stores a lot but I've had to get more creative... banks are usually good)

Be creative and get out there! Where's Your Sit offers classes all over the city including dog parks, indoors at a community hall, dog parks and the c train station. If you want to join our group and get out to practice then give me a shout! Feel free to share your practice ideas in the comments section.