Don’t read this: Dog Training is boring.

Don’t read this: Dog Training is boring.

Yeah you read that right! Dog Training, when done correctly, is really boring. Dog Training is slow, behavior modification is even slower, and (i need a stronger word than) boring!

Excitement usually means something went wrong.

chief field
We were as exciting as grass…

Let’s look at one of the cases I am working right now. We are reintroducing the household dogs together after a string of ugly fights. They have lived in different houses for 6 months now and recently they have started to be in the same place at the same time. Here we are in our giant field with the dogs on opposite ends. They see each other, and nothing happens. They continue to walk and sniff, and still nothing. No explosions, no barking, just some side eye, and hot dogs.

So boring!

When working on sport skills with my own dogs, our training schedule looks very similar week after week because our training sessions are very short, and include many of the same tasks. It’s taken me months to teach Cargo to pivot into a heel position. The tediousness comes from having to break this seemingly simple task into many different moving parts and raise her criteria so slowly that she doesn’t realize she’s doing something harder than she did a minute ago. Too big of a jump and she quits, too small of a slice and she gets bored. (All while making sure she loves working with me. Dog training is not as easy as it seems)

This is good dog training. This is good behavior modification. When something exciting happens, the train has skipped the track.

victoriastillwell
That one time I met Victoria Stillwell at a conference!

Good dog training will never have a television show because people want to see the action, and the excitement of sudden changes. Effective dog training doesn’t have the action shots or the suspense that good television has. Remember that show “It’s Me or the Dog” with Victoria Stillwell? There is a reason that was only done once.

Keep plugging along with your goals for your dog. It’s the small successes that we get the most excited about. Those little things become big things, and the next thing you know you are texting me saying “nothing happened!” and we cry and scream and get very excited!

Advertisements
Muzzle Training and the “bad dog” myth

Muzzle Training and the “bad dog” myth

muzzle yoda1Intern Jon and I had a close call this weekend. Thankfully, we know this dog had some scaredy issues with unfamiliar people and we have trained him to wear a muzzle while out in public. Jon got just a bit too close to me while I was telling my pupper friend what a great job he was doing, and pup reacted in a barking snapping way. Jon picked up his long line from the ground and turned away, effectively diffusing the situation. This pup is fine with me in his space occasionally, but new people, and fast movements raise lots of concern. We do what we have to, to keep everyone safe.

Now, this is a familiar situation for most people when they see a muzzle on a dog.

“Danger Will Robinson, Danger!”

I don’t want you to assume that just because a dog is muzzled, they are a bad dog, and want to rip your arms off as soon as they see you. Sometimes dogs just make bad decisions about their environment and when dogs try to recover from those bad decisions, they use their teeth. Using teeth is not socially acceptable in our world, (can you imagine if we bit people we disagreed with?) so we have to help them make better decisions.

Sometimes we just need some help

I am currently working with a rescue dog who gets very very excited when he sees 4-legged friends. He lives with another dog, and a bunch of cats so he is not the barking, snapping type, he is the “sing the song of my people” type. He is an anxious boy who was never taught how to meet other dogs politely, and was punished for wanting to visit when he was younger. This lack of vital information has created a bit of worry, and excitement when it comes to meeting other dogs. When he is meeting other friends, he wears his muzzle and a long leash just to keep him and the other dogs safe. Once the initial excitement is over, the song of his people has finished and he is a pretty chill dude. Watching the beginning of the process you might think he’s a psycho mess!

 

muzzle yoda

I’ve also muzzle trained dogs who like to eat things on the road while they are out for a walk. Some dogs have serious gastrointestinal issues that if given the wrong food can require hospitalization. There are also those dogs who want to swallow things like rocks or sticks in much larger pieces than they should. Muzzles allow them to go out in the yard, and for walks while staying safe.

I’ll do a Facebook Live this Wednesday about training a dog to accept a muzzle. Make sure you like my facebook page so you don’t miss it!

Nature Trails: The best dog training

Nature Trails: The best dog training

Those of you who have been working with me recently, know that life has been a little chaotic here at The Freckled Paw. I’ve been a little more ‘just get through’ instead of my normal ‘planning everything in advance.’

Stephen, the travelling dogs, and I just got back from a weekend in the mountains where I had a chance to recharge. There is no cell reception in West Virginia. Seriously! There was no obsessively checking emails, no listening to podcasts and wondering what my next business decision needed to be. It was just me, my dog, my husband, and the cold. (I jumped from 85* when we left to 53* in the woods, and 40* for a soccer game.)

wvcargo opie mtIt was just what I needed. I reconnected with my dogs joy of sniffing new things. Cargo got to experience a creek and bear poo for the first time. Opie climbed fallen trees and found a critter den (we had to pull him back up the side of the mountain) They got to be dogs playing in the mud, and I enjoyed every minute!
Science tells us that being in nature is good for our mental health, stress level and loads of other things. Read more here! I think its a safe assumption that our dogs benefit the same way.

So why are we not walking in the woods?
As dog owners, we forget that dogs are not people and we try to make their lives as easy as possible to help make our lives as easy as possible. We scoop kibble into a bowl for feeding times, forgetting that dogs are scavengers by nature. There is no scavenging for that kibble in a bowl that is set down in the same place every day. In the woods dogs get to use their nose to track, and collect information like they would if they were out on their own.

Now,our dogs have been domesticated enough to know that they are not wolves and should not be chasing bunnies in your yard for dinner. Allowing them to do some normal doggy things in the woods allows some of that instinct to be expressed in an appropriate setting.

I had forgotten how much I enjoy being in the woods with my dogs. I think the dogs have missed their time in nature too. We got carried away with life this summer and our weekly walks turned into monthly walks, into no woodland walks at all.

That changes today!WV cargo opie

This week I will be getting back into the habit of walking in the woods every week. I am going to challenge you to do the same thing, and see what benefits you start to see as we get closer to the new year. Keep up with the challenge on my Facebook page. Show me where you are walking every week.

3 things to keep in mind when bringing home a new pup!

3 things to keep in mind when bringing home a new pup!

We recently had a “clear the shelter” event in our area. It was widely successful and many great pets found wonderful new homes. Many of you know I am a huge supporter of our animal shelters and the staff and volunteers there. They work extremely hard for a thankless and never ending job of finding these animals new homes. Now that these pets have been at home for a few weeks, the shelters are now starting to see the return of the animals who did not get set up for success from the beginning. Lets touch on some of the things that can help smooth out the transition for those of you who are thinking of a new furry family member.

Barriers are your friend!
Many people do the quick meet and greet at the shelter and then think everything will be peachy when they get home. Your pet doesn’t know that this friend they are meeting in a strange place, will be their new best friend and part of their life forever. Give everyone some safe space to adapt to this new normal and take it very slow.

Barriers like baby gates and crates are going to allow your new pup to slowly explore its new home while not allowing them to get into trouble. Give your new pup some freedom in your main living area first, then over the course of a few days or week allow them to explore the rest of the house.

Decompression is a must!
The shelter is an extremely stressful place for dogs. We all know it, and there is not a whole lot we can do about it. When you bring home your pup, allow them to have a few “easy” days to take it all in and slowly decompress from all that built up stress of their life changing! Give them a variety of things to chew, a few boxes to shred, some easy puzzles like a slow feeder bowl. Don’t try to show them all the great things that their life will have in the first 3 days they are there. No beach or park trips for a little while, let them get to know you.

Start training right away!

A little basic training goes a long way. Find a good basic training class just to see what your pup knows. Teach them that you are full of great and wonderful things by rewarding the things that you like. Don’t wait for the bad behaviors to pop up to address them. Reward anything you like right from the beginning so you don’t have to re-do the wrong things. If things start to go sideways call in a professional as soon as you notice you are out of your realm. Bad behaviors are much harder to fix if they stick around for awhile. Practice makes perfect!

As always, slow and steady is the way to go. You have your dog’s whole life to do all the fun stuff you want to do. There is no reason to do it all right at the beginning. Spend some time enjoying your new dog, and developing a relationship with them. That will keep all those crazy behavior problems at bay later on!

Here it is: the answer to most of your dog training questions!

Here it is: the answer to most of your dog training questions!

I had a lovely client, with a lovely dog tell me that they had a question for me while they were out walking with their lovely dog. Unfortunately, they could not remember their question. (This happens to me all the time! I have lists and notes for everything!)
Knowing this lovely dog, I said the answer to your question was probably going to be “give her cookies”.

baracks treatsYears ago, I probably could have come up with some scenario where cookies were not appropriate. Now that I have been doing this for a while, I cannot think of a single place where cookies are not a good idea.

There might be those situations where your dog can’t eat those cookies, but that still gives you information and those cookies were still a good idea.

Let’s explore some options that may have been presented to the lovely clients in this story!

A dog showed up! If your pup has some feelings about this dog that showed up then using cookies to keep them under threshold by luring away or tossing some cookies in the grass to allow some sniffing and decompressing are both great options.

The bag of leaves in the street suddenly required some boofing and caution!Well that’s okay, those leaves are not going to cause you any harm, can you take this cookie from me while we move away?” “Feeling brave and want to investigate, well that’s awesome, can you take this one cookie from the ground as you move closer? Oh you moved all the way to the bag? Oh look how brave, here is a shower of cookies to show how proud of you I am!“ Remember, you can’t reinforce fear! (Fear is an emotion not an action!) signals in dogs

Overzealous Neighbor! This is especially important if you have a shy or fearful dog. As you eye roll on neighbors high pitched squeaky approach of you and your dog, start dropping cookies near you. This will keep your dog occupied while the chaos ensues. If your dog is acting fearful or you know has a history of being fearful in these situations, then do not give the neighbor the cookies! You continue to drop those cookies until your dog is confident enough to approach the neighbor on his own. If your dog is not approaching or in full body wiggles approaching the neighbor, do not let the neighbor pet your dog. He’s not ready, and all the cookies in the world from her is going to make that situation okay for your dog! Instead, have neighbor ignore your dog while he investigates on his own, without any pressure. You continue to give cookies for any good response. (any response is a good response for a shy and fearful dog)

Dog’s brain has melted! Increase your rate of reinforcement to keep your dog engaged and focused until you can get their brain between their ears. Keep those high value treats in front of them until they have moved far enough away from the thing that they can focus on you again. Or end your session. This is especially true for adolescent pups. (6 to 18 months) They have puppy brain and sometimes things are just hard when you are an adolescent. Work with what they give you and I promise it gets better. (Cargo is 13 months at this point and some days are better than others. Last night’s agility class, was a little rough!)

That one situation that you had no idea would ever happen but it just did! Throw a handful of cookies for your dog while you make a decision on how to keep your dog safe.

Tell me what you think! Can you come up with a time that simply giving cookies was a good idea? Share here or on Facebook!

Fluency in Training: Does your dog know sit?

Fluency in Training: Does your dog know sit?

So how do you know if your dog knows stuff?dog in training sophie

In my last post I talked about your dog actually knowing stuff, or just getting by with environmental cues. Read that here! If you are concerned that maybe there are some holes in your training, then don’t worry, I’ll go into that here.
So how do you test your dog’s level of knowledge in certain situations? This is assuming that your dog is successful with these cues 80% of the time in your “training” location. This might be your kitchen, living room, or wherever you typically practice with your dog.
Here are a few options to test what your dog does, and doesn’t know.
Can they be successful without you holding the leash? Many dogs only comply to cues because of the inevitable leash pressure that is associated with the cues. “sit,” pull up on leash, dog complies because they know that will release the pressure on their collar. This is a throwback to more traditional training, where leash corrections were popular, and the only way to communicate with your dog. (We know better now, thank goodness!)
Can they be successful without a cookie in your hand? Are you in the habit of bribing your dog? “hey pup look I have a cookie, don’t you want to sit so we can go?” If this is you, then your dog doesn’t know sit. Put that cookie in your pocket or on the counter and see what happens.

2015-06-18 09.13.18

What if your cookies were on the ground in a container? Is your dog totally obsessed with the container, or can they focus on you? If your friend has left you to investigate the container of cookies, then let him get his sniffs out of the way and then see if he can comply.
I hope these tips help you and your furry friend communicate a little better. Let me know where your struggles are in this exercise and maybe I will do another Facebook Live to help you out!

Fluency in Training: Your dog doesn’t know “sit”

Fluency in Training our dogs

Those of you who have worked with me have heard me talk about my 4 points for Behavioral Wellness. (Sarah Stremming talks about this quite a bit for those who would like to know more. Or ask me!) I find the biggest disconnect is people’s understanding of what their dog actually knows. They tell me that their dog “knows” how to sit and wait at the door to go for a walk, or when the food bowl is in your hand. Dogs are super smart, and they “get by” with very little actual information from us. If you start scooping food and your dog runs to the mat and sits, do they know a “go to mat” and “sit” or do they just know they won’t get fed until they sit on the mat? Can you ask them to sit in the living room, while watching TV and with no cookie in your hand? Do they pop into that sit or look at you blankly then sit?

Fluency

Fluency is defined as: the ability to express oneself easily and articulately. When we were in school we had to learn a foreign language. Did you consider yourself fluent after one year of that language? I certainly did not. Are you expecting your dog to be fluent after just a few repetitions? In dog training, we talk about fluency as the dogs ability to accurately comprehend what we are asking them. Is your dog trying stuff or do they really know what we are saying?

Quick Story!

I have been working on Cargo’s fluency in her “down” position since she was a tiny pup. She will quickly and confidently offer it on her own and when I ask for it. Recently, I had my fence put up and needed to leash walk her while they were out working. One of the workers needed to ask me a few questions so I asked her to down while I spoke with them. She confidently dropped right down, and stayed there as long as she needed to. (I payed her, of course, for staying there) I have never asked her to “down” while I was speaking with someone, but the history is there for plenty of other circumstances. For now, I would call her fluent in the “down” cue.

I was listening to a training podcast recently, (yes, all my free time is spent training, or learning about training or reading about training… maybe I need a new hobby) and the guest was speaking to the interviewer about the joy that your dog receives when they “know” a cue. When they confidently can offer that behavior in any location without any prompts from you, many of your behavior problems will melt away!

How this helps you

When I am working with anxious or fearful dogs, having some line of communication to let your dog know that you are in control and they are going to be safe, creates a whole different outlook for your dog. We bring them into our lives to live with our rules and constraints that really do not make any sense to a dog. Training is time consuming and sometimes difficult, but you owe it to your dog to make sure they truly understand what we are asking them. This is why I spend so much time at the beginning of training making sure your dog knows the rules for living with us and what we expect, before adding in the things that are making life so difficult for you.

She knows “sit”

I recently created a Facebook group for present and past clients to learn from my dogs and take a peek into the things I find important to communicate with them. This is a safe space to ask questions, learn from my dogs, and other clients who may be having similar struggles to yours. If you would like to join this group just shoot me a message and I will happily add you.