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Saturday, September 18, 2010

He Just Wants to Say "Hi!"

Our beagle, Daisy, is a vocal dog.  When she plays with other dogs, there is a lot of growling, grunting, barking, "aroo-ing" and other sounds coming from her.  She also gets a "mohawk" (the hair along her back stands up -- piloerection) because she is so excited.  She loves other dogs and loves to play with them.  But she likes it to go a certain way, she likes it to be on her terms.  This isn't a bad thing, it just is, and we are very aware of it.  So when she is meeting new dogs, we take care to observe the "protocol" we have learned from her.

I don't take my dog to pet-friendly pet stores very often.  Mostly because of the other people and their dogs.  Since Daisy is only about 22 pounds, little dogs tend to want to to "meet" her.  She's a little bigger, but not too much, and she is very laid back.  But if your dog is lunging toward us, growling and barking at the end of his retractable leash, I'm going to do a quick turn away from you while telling you my dog is not friendly -- please don't approach us.  For Daisy, this is not in her protocol for meeting other dogs and it is going to set her on edge, therefore setting the whole situation up for failure!

But because my dog is also being vocal and because her "mohawk" is up, other people think Daisy is being aggressive.  She's not.  She is being herself.  Excited to see a new dog, but nervous because this dog has lunged at her face.  We have learned to read our dog, to know when she is relaxed, excited, happy, nervous, fearful, hungry, tired -- the wide gamut of emotions she has.  If the other dog is too forward with Daisy, she is going to let them know.  If the other dog is polite and takes time to read the situation (as Daisy does), it will go very well.  She is a very expressive dog -- as long as the humans and the dogs are paying attention.

Letting dogs say "hi" while on leash is rarely a good idea unless the dogs already know each other.  Many dogs get very frustrated with the leash attached and meeting another dog while on leash may not be successful because of this frustration.  Dogs that are lunging at the end of a leash towards another dog -- no matter how friendly -- may be perceived as being aggressive by the dog they are trying to get to.  And some dogs just do not want to be greeted.  They may be wonderful dogs and love other dogs, but they may be working, they may be in training, they may not feel well, or many other things may be going on that make this not a good time or place to say "hi."

Please, always ask, from a reasonable distance (at least a distance where the dogs cannot make physical contact with each other) if you and your dog can greet another person and his/her dog.  If he/she says no, please respect that and be understanding.  Don't jump to conclusions or make judgments.  It could be anything or it could be they are just not in the mindset to successfully handle a greeting right at this time in this place.  If he/she says yes, he/she may share with you how it will go best for his/her dog.  If you know how it will go best for your dog, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE share that with him/her.  That way the dogs can meet successfully and start to develop a relationship.  (We strongly suggest observing your dog and learning how he/she best handles greeting new dogs, people, etc. -- that way you can be strong, knowledgeable advocate for your dog.)

Enjoying the journey is part of the joy of having a dog.  Make the journey a good experience for you, your dog, and the people and dogs you encounter along the way.

Daisy with Kendra in their last trial.  Love that attention and focus!!!

It's the Saturday Pet Blogger Hop -- we hope you can visit some of these great blogs and enjoy all they have to offer.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Coming When Called -- the Positive Reinforcement Way

Many, many dogs are surrendered to shelters, fitted with shock collars, or neglected because of behavior issues.  This is a sad, sad situation because this is something that can be fixed!!!  As trainers, our goal is to help people establish and maintain their relationship with their dogs and keep their dogs in safe, loving homes for their whole lives.  Every time we can help someone keep their dog, we have eliminated one more dog in the rescue/shelter system. 

One of the biggest complaints people have about their dogs is that the dog won't come when called.  This, of course, is an essential life-saving skill that is necessary for your dog to have.  Unfortunately many training programs do one (or both!) of two things -- either it waits until the dog is more "advanced" in her training to begin teaching it and/or they use an aversive to teach the dog that NOT coming when called will result in a painful correction.

Dogs don't speak English.  I know this may come as a shock to some people.  In order to communicate effectively with our dogs, we need to teach them "English as a second language" -- including their names!  (We also think dogs have a very sensitive intuition and understand our nonverbal communication of our emotions, our health, and who we are.  So go ahead and talk to your dog -- we do -- they are great listeners!  But when it comes to training, assume your dog is from a foreign country and doesn't speak your language.)  

As trainers, we think coming when called is so essential that we start to lay the foundation for it in our very first class by first teaching the dogs that when you hear a click, you have done something we like, and you are going to get something good for it.  Once they get this, we begin teaching them their names.  Say the dog's name (once!), the dog looks at you, click/treat.  Through all of these steps we are also teaching the dog that we may (or may not!) hold her collar, clip on the leash, play with the dog, feed the dog (along with the click/treat), or any number of other routine and/or fun items with the dog -- this teaches the dog to come whenever, wherever because you never know what great thing might happen when you do!  Then we follow a series of steps that build on this foundation -- saying the dog's name and backing up with the dog following you, playing the "round robin" game (everyone has treats and you call the dog from person to person, feeding as soon as the dog gets to you), having "lightning rounds" (Call the dog back and forth between two people as fast as you can get the dog going, treating as often as you can when the dog arrives at each person -- many dogs love this game so much they don't want/need a treat at each person -- and that's okay.  The reward is in playing the game.), and eventually adding distractions and distance to the teaching.  

We also have some "rules" we follow and teach that will help to establish and ensure that your dog will reliably come whenever you call her:  one -- whenever you call your dog to come to you, it ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS results in a positive (a treat, playtime, dinner, a toy, etc.).  No matter how many trees they sniffed, how long they took stalking the squirrel, or how slowly they responded -- when the dog gets to you, it's party time!  This is the hardest thing to do when your dog is being a dog and chasing a bunny or barking at the neighborhood kids, but it's essential.  It only takes one time for you to deliver a negative to your dog to erode the dog's willingness to come when you call.  Remember, dogs don't speak English, so you can say whatever you want, just say it in a pleasant, upbeat tone!  Two -- teach your dog that you may grab and hold their collar, clip on a leash, or otherwise restrain them when they come to you (see above).  This alleviates the "bobble-head" and "you can't catch me" syndromes.  If your dog is used to you sometimes holding them when they come to you, it will not be viewed negatively and you won't have a dog that stops just short of getting to you and won't let you get any closer to them.  Three -- don't call your dog to come to you to do something she doesn't like -- bath, nails trimmed, crate, etc.  Go get your dog and take her to where you need to be.  (For the crate we have separate and distinct cue that we have taught.)  Doing this eliminates the negative associations with the coming when called.  And four -- practice, practice, practice this for your dog's entire life!  If you want your dog to always come when called, then practice it diligently.  Integrate it into your lifestyle.  Call your dog every day for something and reward it.  If you don't use it, your dog will lose it.

We are involved with the initiative Never Shock a Puppy and we are helping to spread the word that there are alternatives to teaching dogs that are positive and pain free.  Please, if you are having issues with your dog, seek out a trainer that will help you actually teach your dog what it is she needs to learn.  Using a training collar that inflicts pain when the dog does something wrong only teaches the dog to avoid the collar and what it does -- it doesn't teach the dog what it is that you want from her.  There are an infinite number of ways to do things incorrectly, but only one way to do them correctly -- teach your dog the correct way to do things using dog and people friendly methods.

It's Pet Blogger Hop Saturday!  Enjoy these great pet blogs!!!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Never Shock a Puppy

It's an interesting situation.  You see a perfect dog being handled perfectly without any apparent tools or a leash or a fence or food.  You want to know more -- no, you want your dog to know more!  And you are willing to do what needs to be done to get a dog even half as nice as this dog you are seeing.  So you contact the training facility, talk to the trainer, and get all signed up for classes.  You find out you  have a list of things you need before class starts.  One of the things on the list is a training collar.  You wonder what it is, especially since it's so expensive!  But you want that perfect dog and you did commit to the classes, so you order all of the things the trainer told you to get.  When they arrive, you do as your new trainer told you to do and you pack them up for the first class session.  When you arrive at your first class session, your trainer explains to the class that the way the trainer's dogs have learned so much is with the help of this training collar.  Now it's time to teach your dog the same way.  You put the collar on the way you are instructed -- your dog looking at you a little funny the whole time.  You tell your dog to sit, your dog continues to look at you funny and does not sit.  So your trainer tells you to push a button on the remote device in your hand.  Your dog yelps and hides behind a chair.  So much for class tonight!  Your dog is too upset to work at all.  

Contrast this situation with another class.  The trainers' dogs in this class are just as well-behaved, just as accomplished.  The only extra equipment needed in this class is a small, plastic noisemaker and some treats.  You get to class and the first thing you do with your dog is click the noisemaker and give your dog a treat.  Pretty simple and the dog loves it!  Next your trainer tells you to click the noisemaker and give your dog a treat when she looks you in the eye.  Again, pretty simple and the dog still loves it!  Now we are going to teach our dogs what the word "sit" means.  When your dog sits, click and treat.  Light bulb time!!!  Your dog looks at you and thinks "aha! when I put my behind on the floor after she makes that sound, I get a treat!"

There's an old proverb that says (this is my paraphrase), "give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime."  Using positive reinforcement clicker training, we are teaching both ourselves and our dogs to fish!  Once we know how to communicate with our dogs AND our dogs know how to communicate with us, think, and learn -- we have set up our dogs to continue learning and growing throughout their entire lives.

That's why we support the initiative to "Never Shock A Puppy."  Through this campaign, monies will be raised to purchase dog-friendly collars and harnesses for dogs in Colorado during their "No Choke Challenge" in November 2010.  But it's not all about the money.  It's about spreading the word that training shouldn't hurt, shouldn't result in a dog hiding behind a chair, or being forced to do something.  It's about telling people that training is about relationship, about building the bond, about learning together.  

I know there are many people who use training collars.  This is not about arguing training methods.  You use yours and I will use mine.  This is about showing dog families that there are ways to train dogs that do not involve force or pain or special equipment.  Will your dog behave the same way with or without his training collar?  If not, then can you truly say your dog is trained?  I have well-trained, social, engaging dogs who have amassed many accomplishments (and will do it all on any collar, harness, or "naked").  Those aren't important here. What I am most proud of is that I have thinking dogs -- dogs who work out problems for themselves, dogs who offer to help in their training by showing me different behaviors, dogs who want to work day after day because it's fun and it's rewarding.  I have been there and done that -- I have trained with training collars and I will never do it again.  The results I see from positive reinforcement clicker training are far too good and my dog's well being is far too precious to ever go back.

If you feel compelled to do so, please support this cause (and not only through donations -- there are lots of ways to help) and Be the Change for Animals!


Saturday, September 4, 2010

Why train?

Why train your dog?  My question is why not?  Spending time training your dog has so many benefits for you, your dog, and your relationship.  Training establishes relationship, enhances relationship, builds relationship, opens the lines of communication, teaches both you and your dog how to communicate with each other, helps you and your dog learn to focus and pay attention, shows the world that you care enough about your dog to expect certain things.  

I often compare and contrast dogs and children.  It's not necessarily a fair comparison as they are very different and should be treated in very different ways.  But, for us as humans, it's an easy way to learn about training our dogs and interacting with our dogs.  What comes into your mind when you see children misbehaving, throwing a temper tantrum, or wreaking havoc?  Most of us look to the parents -- the parents have not done something they should have or have done something they shouldn't have.  It should be the same with dogs.  If they are tearing up the yard, barking incessantly, or chewing on your furniture, we should be looking at ourselves and our relationship with our dogs.  We can love our dogs without limit, but we need to set limits on our dogs to show them, and the world, how much we love them.

Training your dog helps your dog to know what it is you want and expect from him.  There are an infinite number of ways to do things incorrectly, but only one way to do things the right way.  Using positive reinforcement clicker training, we can teach our dogs the one right way to do things and as a result, will find ourselves saying "no" much, much less.  If you pair positive reinforcement with absolutely no attention when your dog does something you don't want repeated, the results will be quick, long-lasting, and understood by your dog.

For example, does your dog jump on you or on guests?  Teach them what you would prefer them to do.  Get some yummy treats, your clicker, and your dog with his collar and leash on.  If you are alone, secure your dog to a banister or a table or something that will be solid; if you can get someone to help you, have them "be a tree" -- they will hold the loop of the leash tight to their waist, stand still, and do nothing at all.  Walk up to your dog, if he doesn't jump on you, click and treat.  If he jumps on you, immediately turn your back and walk away for a few seconds.  Return to your dog, repeat the sequence.  You don't need to say anything at all!!!  If you would like to praise your dog for good behavior, go ahead, but otherwise, you don't need to say anything.  Once your dog has figured out that jumping gets him nothing and keeping all four feet on the floor gets him a yummy treat, you can start teaching an "incompatible" behavior, like sitting when people come into the house.  If your dog is sitting, he can't be jumping.  Using the same sequence, we cue the dog to sit before clicking and treating.  At first, just wait for your dog to sit, click and treat.  When he's doing that, add a physical cue and last, add the verbal cue.  Ta-da!!!  Your dog is no longer jumping on people!!!  It really is that simple.  Train for a minute or two, three to five times per day and you will see definite results in a very short amount of time.  (Don't train for more than a few minutes at a time -- science tells us that most dogs learn best in short, frequent training sessions.)

We encourage people to seek out and utilize positive reinforcement professional dog trainers.  Even if you don't take a training class, their resources and knowledge are invaluable to you and your dog.  We (personally) are always happy to help people over the phone or via email -- our goal is to help people establish and maintain a positive relationship with their dogs.

Why train?  Because it's good for both you and your dog.  Today, teach your dog the right way to do something!  Happy Clicking and Happy Saturday Pet Blogger Hop!!!