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.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Taking the Food out of Training

At some point or another if you have trained using food or treats you need to fade them out. I usually have clients ask me about this when they have a show or a PALS test coming up. Here's some key tips on how to keep your dog listening even without the good stuff in hand! 

> Use a variable reinforcement schedule so your dog never knows what will produce a food reward. With young dogs or beginners you'll need to reward more often and then slowly make them work harder. 
> Keep food or treats out of sight when training and only pull them out AFTER the dog has done what you asked. 
> Use alternate rewards! Toys, praise, petting, play, etc are all great reinforcers too. The more you use other rewards the easier it is to put the food away. 
> Practice in different locations so your dog gets use to all sorts of distractions. Remember in new places you'll need to go back a few steps to let your dog adjust. 
> Keep your dog guessing. If he/she doesn't know when a reward is coming he/she'll actually work harder in the long run to please. 
> Continue to practice with food on occasion so your dog stays motivated especially for harder skills like coming when called or loose leash walking. 

Every dog works at a different pace so don't get discouraged. A good way to start fading out food is to join a group class and ask your trainer to help you out. This often one of the harder parts of training and having a guide who knows when/how is very helpful. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Confidence Boosting for Fearful Dogs

Dogs might have fear related anxiety for numberous reasons and regardless of why they are suffering (trauma, lack of socialization, etc) there's a lot you can do to improve your pet's quality of life.

Start by making a list of things your dog is nervous or anxious about. These things can include anything from strangers to other dogs to stuff animals to vacuum cleaners. Anything your pet shows discomfort around can be on the list.

Teach your pet some fun tricks that keep him/her moving so they have a distraction when the scary thing/event is happening. I love hand targets, spin, loose leash walking, chase (dogs chases you), jumping, etc. This gives your dog something else to concentrate on.

In Where's Your Sit's Confidence Booster class we teach the dogs the tricks and then introduce low level scary stimuli like a dog across the room or a weird noise. As long as the your dog is able to keep eating and "playing" then they are learning to tolerate the scary event. Make sure to start really slowly (this is where working with a dog trainer would be helpful). 

Allow your dog to look at the scary thing and then reward with a tasty treat when he/she looks back at you. Try to keep sessions very short (less than 5 minutes) and keep your attitude upbeat (but not over the top). The more your dog is exposed to scary, new stimuli that doesn't hurt them and that is paired with something fun like games and food the quicker their confidence will increase.

Photo: Marco learning that sheep are fun!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

New Kid on the Block

I live with 2 dogs full time and then share both Tank and Russ so I wasn't planning on adding any new arrivals but along came this Frenchie... basically "Billie" was living with a foster family with Alberta Bulldog Rescue (which I sit on the Board for) and the family couldn't keep her. She had been attending my Confidence Booster Program and had really started to do well. I didn't want to lose her progress so she came to my house. Well it took all of a few hours for everyone to fall in love. So I'd like to welcome "Remi Perogie" our newest addition with her new name. 

Remi is going to be living with my boyfriend but that essentially means she's going to be around all the time. This little tyke is an older girl with some allergy issues. She's also very unsure in new situations so we'll be charting her progress on the WYS Blog so everyone can cheer her on.  

What Remi is happy about:
> couches, beds & dog beds
> loves her kennel
> enjoys other dogs as long as they aren't in her face. She's quite polite. 
> meeting people in a really quiet, non-threatening way
> going for walks but not long ones
> most small rubber dog toys and chews
> dinner time

What Remi is worried about:
> any new place
> lots of loud, excited dogs
> people who move quickly and across really strong (me too but they are in the world so we need to deal with them)
> changes to her routine/situation

Remi will finish up this round of Confidence Booster and will then possibly do another round. She'll also give the sport of Rally-O a try just because I think it'll be good for her. She's not staying on as a sporting dog but I'm a strong believer that dog sports are good for all dogs (just not necessarily being competitive about it).