Author: thefreckledpaw

Why it’s Absolutely Okay to Avoid the Dog Park!

Why it’s Absolutely Okay to Avoid the Dog Park!

Do you stare longingly at your pup wondering if he’s happy laying at your feet chewing on his bone?

Do you wonder if he needs more socializing in his life?

Every dog wants to play with other dogs, right?

I work with quite a few dogs who just lose it at the sight of another dog. I’m talking jumping, barking, pulling on the leash, and otherwise doing the exact opposite of what you would like them to do when this scenario comes up. (If this embarrassing scene is happening to you, contact me, or a local force free trainer in your area. We can help!)
Many of these dogs act this way because they are, in fact, afraid of the other dogs approaching them. For your dog, acting this way gets the other dog to go away, because there is absolutely no way you are going to walk over to that person to explain why your dog is loosing his $@**.

Most pet parents also have the idea in their head that dogs should have doggy friends. They should be able to be social at the dog park or doggy daycare in large groups of dogs and still keep a cool head. If you have one of those dogs, consider yourself lucky!

Here is an example I like to use when explaining this to people:
Some people like to go to the bar every weekend. Some people like to sit at home with their dogs on the weekends, and some people like to have a few close friends over to play a game or watch a movie.

Is one option better than the other? It depends on who you ask. If you ask me, I’ll be at home on Saturday night with my dogs every single time! Now, I go to the club once a year because I like my friends and I want to hang out with them, but asking me to go every weekend is going to just wear me out!

Now let’s look at your dog. If he is freaking out at one new dog from 100 yards away, I don’t think he’s going to like going to the “bar” where there are 30 dogs on top of him all at once. Your dog may learn to enjoy one or two doggy friends in his lifetime, or he might be a dog who doesn’t want friends. Both of those options are okay!

Society puts a lot of pressure on dogs to be super friendly and A-Okay 100% of the time. No one can hold up to those expectations. Take an honest look at your dog, and decide if your dog as an individual is okay with doggy friends. If your honest answer is “no” or “not right now,” that’s okay! Your dog just heaved a sigh of relief that you are not going to ask him to do something he’s not ready to do!

This concept is the root of my training philosophy. Is your dog ready and capable of making good choices in this situation? If not, then we need to train some more to get him ready, or we need to decide if this position is one that your dog needs to encounter. Then determine the best way to help your dog cope with this decision.

Find things that truly do make your dog happy, and pursue those options. Does he enjoy swimming, or playing ball with you? Make sure he gets the opportunity to have those social interactions with you, and having doggie friends becomes farther down the list of requirements for a happy life.
For more insight to my struggles with Pixie’s reactivity, check out my past blog posts!
Until next time, make good choices!

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Back to School Tips for your Dog

Back to School Tips for your Dog

September is here and that means Back to School!
If you have kids, that means packing lunches, homework time, and getting to sports practice. If you are a teacher, that means back to your normal 7am to 7pm (yes, I know that’s a 12 hour day. Teachers work a lot y’all). So what does that mean for your dog?
If you have an older pup who has gone through this routine change before, then they might be a little more prepared than if you brought home a new puppy or rescue dog this summer. That doesn’t mean you should expect them to readily adjust to a huge change in routine. Here are a few tips for helping make the transition a smooth one!

#1 Make sure your pup is ready to handle you being gone all day.
No one likes puppy surprises when they get home from being gone all day. If you have a pup who is younger than 5 months or an older dog who is used to you being home to let him out every 3 hours, then test pup on how long he is ready to “hold it.” Plan to run some errands for just a bit longer than you are normally leaving pup home alone. If pup can successfully wait until you get home then slowly make that time equal the amount of time that you will be gone for work and school. If pup is having some trouble with the extended time, plan to have a neighbor or dog walker come by for a few weeks to help with the transition. As puppy gets older, and as older dog adjusts to the new schedule, you will find that they are able to “hold it” a bit longer to meet your scheduling needs.

#2 Create a new routine for Rover too!
Since pooch is going to be waiting around all day for you to get home. Add him into your morning routine. A nice long walk early in the morning allows pup to know that you have not forgotten about him in all the shuffle, and he gets to burn off some energy. If you are not a morning person then an evening walk is fine, just make sure it doesn’t get shadowed by homework or sports practices. Most people find that waking up just a few minutes earlier to get the pup out is not that bad and they actually look forward to it. Science says exercise is good for our productivity too! Rover is tired, and we get more done. Win win situation!

#3 Invest in some new toys.

IMG_20170324_090704_143I know, one more thing to spend money on! The kids got new backpacks and lunch boxes, why not spend some money on the pup too! A new puzzle toy or game for Spot to work on when you leave will spare you his ideas of remodeling your kitchen. A frozen kong or bully stick wrapped in a paper bag allows your pup the opportunity to do something constructive while you are gone. It also has the added benefit of reducing stress in your pup by allowing him to forage. This allows him to use different areas of his brain that we have inadvertently shut off by offering food in a bowl. Scavenger activities for dogs is like taking a relaxing bubble bath for us!

Little things will make a big difference for your pup this September. If you find that your pup is having a hard time with the life changes of back to school, schedule a vet visit as soon as you notice the change. Often behavior changes are linked to health problems that are masked until something stressful happens. If all checks out well and you are still having some trouble, look for a certified trainer who is knowledgeable in behavior modification and separation anxiety. There are lots of things we can do to help you out, but we need to address it sooner rather than later!

Just a reminder to my local clients: I am quickly counting down the days to my Wedding! Things are moving along smoothly so far! Make sure you get your appointments scheduled so I can see you before all the chaos really begins! If you are interested in scheduling a consultation with me, please contact me soon! I will be limiting the number of new clients I see in October so I can give you the attention you and your pup deserve!
Until next time!

Is frustration affecting your dog walking?

Is frustration affecting your dog walking?

I want to touch on the idea of giving your dog a choice. Is your dog ready to go for a walk? Are they actually capable of listening to you in the moment you are speaking? Sometimes the answer is no.

Most of the time your dog does not respond to the cue given because their brain is elsewhere. You know the look I am talking about, the one where their nose is twitching and their head is on a swivel. They have no idea you actually exist in that moment. They are looking off to the hills, and have forgotten about the leash and the walk that you are ready to go on. From a training point of view, that is a problem!

Many traditional trainers teach that the dog should obey what you say no matter what, and that level of sharp obedience is what you strive for. If you are not getting the result you want, then a sharp pop of the collar to remind the dog what he is supposed to be doing will help him get there. If this is how you were taught to train your dog then one of two things are happening. (I was also taught this way originally, so I know your frustration) One, you are now constantly popping the collar and giving cues that your dog is ignoring. Two, your dog is giving you a half-hearted sit when you collar pop but still no actual focus to do what you ask. A very frustrating problem.

A story: Pixie loves dock diving. Her favorite thing in the whole world is jumping from the dock into the pool and going for a swim. She loves it so much however, that she leaves her brain in the car when we get to the pool. All of last year I struggled with her staying on the dock. I could see in her face that there was no brain in her head. The more training I did on the dock the more frustrated I got because I could not get any thought processes while near the pool. So I stopped going to the pool to let her jump. The first time we went to the pool this year, she didn’t get anywhere near the dock. I just let her sniff. We sniffed in the parking lot, and the fence line. We sniffed the parked cars, and watched the dogs go into the vet clinic. Any time she offered me some eye contact, I would reward, and move her a little closer to the pool. Thoughtfulness, gets you closer to what you want.

What would happen if you just gave your dog a few minutes to sniff? Hang out on the porch, and let your pup get all the sniffing out of his system before you asked him to move forward. I’m not saying let your dog drag you all over the yard to sniff every blade of grass, you stay in one space, giving your dog as much room to sniff as the leash will allow and just wait. Let me know how this goes, and the difference you see in your walks with your pup!

4 Tips for an Effortless Dog Walking Experience

4 Tips for an Effortless Dog Walking Experience

Most of us live in neighborhoods where a nice evening stroll to the park or by the water is something we could easily do with our dogs, and most of us with dogs, want to make that part of our daily life. When we got our dogs, we also envisioned an exercise partner who was ready to wander the beach with us in the spring, and walks in the park on a nice loose leash.

What happens when the dog has other ideas? We tell ourselves walking the dog is something we need to work on, and we will take care of that tomorrow. We come home from work exhausted and don’t feel like having the dog drag us down the street. Then days go by and weeks, and no one is going for a walk. (I’ve been there!)

Here are my 4 tips for getting you and your pup back outside and enjoying your time together!

  1. Help your dog focus!

Dogs see the world much differently than we do. They use their sense of smell to analyze things before their other senses even begin registering what’s happening. If you are opening the door and Rocky is off like a rocket, then practice your focus before you leave the house. Start with a leashed dog at the door you usually take them out to walk. Ask for a “sit” and wait until you have a seated pooch. Reward that sit and begin to open the door. If they get up then take your hand off the door and wait for them to sit back down. Wait to see what decision they make before you immediately prompt another sit.

Once you have begun to open the door do you see a dog whose nose is now twitching 100 miles an hour? Rocky is now smelling all the smells that he can get through his nose from that tiny crack in the door. Your job right now is to let him sniff!!

  1. Wait until your dog is ready!

When your pup has done all his sniffing at the door, he will most likely look up at you to say “hey, why aren’t we going anywhere” Reward that eye contact! The more time you give your dog to sniff the birds, bees, grass, cars, people, temperature, dogs who have walked down the street, rode by in the car, bicycles, wildlife… (you get the idea) the quicker they will begin to recover, and offer that eye contact. Giving your pup time to analyze where he is and where he is going will make the walk more enjoyable for both of you because pup will not be distracted by all the sniffs and be able to pay better attention to you. Be patient!

  1. Reward what you like!

Reward your dog while he still has his brain in his head to learn. Most of the time, when dogs start to pull at the leash they have run out of brain space to remember you at the other end of the leash. Remember all those smells your dog was sniffing when we got to the door? They change as you get farther from the door! If you are getting close to the mailbox, and Rocky is pulling, turn around and go back to the house and start over. Rewarding what you like will keep your dog checking in with you until the smells take over. Check out this video of Duke learning how to walk with a nice loose leash.

Duke Golden

  1. Set a timer not a distance!

Most of our frustration with walking our dog comes from not getting anywhere. All of our cell phones, have a timer on them. Set the timer for a length of time you are comfortable with. 5 to 15 minutes is usually my goal for any training sessions.  In those 5 minutes, you get as far as you can, then pack up and go home. If you sit at the back door sniffing for your 5 minutes, well then, that was your “walk” today. Congratulate yourself for training the dog!

With time and practice you will begin to get farther and farther down the driveway and into the neighborhood. It will also take your dog less time to check in with you when he does lose his brain.

If you liked these tips, and would like to work on enjoying your walks with your pup, contact me through my website http://www.thefreckledpaw.com

Check out more tips and cute pups on Facebook and Instagram

The Secret Club of Dog Owners

The Secret Club of Dog Owners

Tragedy struck this week in our area. An elderly woman was killed by a dog who was recently adopted from a local rescue. My heart goes out to the family who is now dealing with this unbelievable heartbreak. For more information on the story, you can take a look at the Virginian Pilot, I will not post the story here, as that is not the point of my post.

There is a divide between the people who have only lost dogs due to medical issues or old age, and those people who have had to make that decision based on a behavior issue. The latter folks, do not talk about the heart wrenching decision they had to make because they know they will be judged for it. Someone somewhere will say, “you didn’t do enough” or, “what did you do to make that dog act that way.” Know that you are not alone, and plenty of people stand behind your decision.

Being one of the only positive reinforcement trainers who will see aggression cases in this area, I have spent many hours being a therapist for these owners. The conversation begins with history, and I have heard everything from this started at 7 weeks when I brought the puppy home, to we began seeing issues around 2 years old, to the aggressive behavior has gotten worse quickly. These dogs are from breeders, or rescues, they are large and small, young and old.  In each of these situations, there was nothing that the owners did except love their dog, and do the best for them that they knew how.

My heart breaks each time I think about the families who have to make the decision to euthanize their dog because of aggression issues. (If any of those families are reading this, know that I think about you and your dogs, all the time, even if we only met once) Working with dogs means you are not only in it for the dogs, but for the people first and foremost. I really do not look forward to the conversations about euthanasia that I have, but I am glad I get to be that shoulder for people who are truly looking to do what is right.

I want to thank the owners of these dogs for making that difficult decision. They were responsible enough to put the safety of their family, and the general public over that of a dog that they loved.  They were kind enough to recognize the demons that their dog was living with, and end their suffering. They were smart enough to realize their dog was not capable of living in our world, and by our rules.

I also want to thank the responsible rescues who refuse to put any owner through this heart wrenching process. There are thousands of healthy stable dogs in shelters and rescues, waiting to be that fantastic family pet that you envision living your life with. Responsible organizations, have no problem understanding the liability behind a dangerous dog, and the thought of “rehabilitation” never crosses their minds.

So to the owners of the dogs who left us because they were truly broken, you are a stronger person than the people who run this “rescue.” To Luke, Raj, Bella, Ranger, Fenton and the others, run free at the Rainbow Bridge where you are safe from your demons. We think of you often!

The One Most Important thing to do when Training your Dog!

The One Most Important thing to do when Training your Dog!

You have a dog.

You have a behavior that you don’t like.

You have a goal for your dog.

What now?

This is where many people lose their momentum in training their pups. I’ve been there so I’m not judging you. You sit down, think “hey I should work with the dog on something”

Or you end up with a face like this…IMG_20170414_170531030

What do you work on?

Well there is the door manners, but I don’t have anyone to knock on the door.

That counter surfing needs some work, but it’s not that bad…

10 minutes later, you are still sitting on the couch looking at the dog and nothing is getting done. You now feel overwhelmed and instead of doing something you are doing nothing, and no progress is being made.

SO what is the ONE thing that you can do to help overcome that endless cycle of thinking about it and doing nothing?

START TAKING NOTES

I started Bullet Journaling in October of last year. I saw someone talk about it in a facebook group and looked into it.

More about Bullet Journal here!

Now some of those journals are crazy. Mine does not have any colors or symbols, but it does give me a place to quickly write down things I need to remember or notes to add about clients, in a place that I can quickly refer back to as I need to.  (And as much as I like to color code things, I don’t have the time for all that nonsense.)  Once I figured out a way to make the journal work for my stream of consciousness, I thought perhaps it would work for my dog’s training as well.

I started adding the dogs training into my personal journal, but notes were getting convoluted, and I was having a hard time separating personal things from dog training things.

Both of my competing dogs now have a journal of their own. At the beginning of the month I take a look at what we are competing in that month, and what skills we need to work on to be successful. It gives me a short list of ideas and goals for right now, instead of all the “hopefully one day” things that I tend to add in on a whim.  We don’t have an Index page, or a Future log since all their competitions are also in my journal, that’s where I need them to plan my own life. My dogs journal is just their day to day stuff.

On the Month Log, I write a general idea of what we accomplished that day so I quickly know how often we are working on each skill. I also know at a glance how often we take days off.  All the days are on one page, and they say things like “conditioning” “work” or “park.” If they are competing, then it says “dock dogs” or “barn hunt” and nothing more!

In the Daily Log, I write a quick recap of the training session. What we did, how it felt, what I think we need to work on at the next session. I try to do this as soon as the session is over while it is still fresh in my mind. It also helps when, later, I remember to train my dog, I can go back and read what I thought of the last session and go from there. (It’s really helpful when I write down what I think the next session should be)

Here is a picture of Pixie’s journal. You can see it’s not terribly detailed or long, but it gives me something to go back to. I saw that on March 19 we did a few weaves around cones, which was fun. It’s a good shoulder workout so maybe we will add that into our training tomorrow. Conditioning plan done! See how easy that is!

training journal

 

It seems daunting and over kill for training your dog, but I promise you that having a plan will allow you to meet those goals that you have. It also helps to see how far you have come when you begin to get frustrated by your progress or lack thereof.

This also helps reduce the amount of time that you are choosing Facebook over your dog.

If you need help developing a training journal that works for you, let me know! Everyone organizes things differently in their brain, so what works for me might not be perfect for you! Together I am sure we can come up with something to get you started!

 

 

 

Confessions of a Dog Trainer

Confessions of a Dog Trainer

I have found this topic to come up on my personal Facebook feed and in other blogs often in the last few months, and I feel like I have to set the record straight.
I am a positive reinforcement trainer. (Technically I am a crossover trainer, but that’s a blog for another day) I go through training treats like most businesses go through paper clips. I have to keep my finger nails short because I get dog cookie goo stuck underneath them on a regular basis and that’s just gross. More often than not, I am seen at the grocery store with my treat pouch still on my waist. (It’s a good day if there is also a tug in my back pocket) This is just the beginning of the thought process though.

Nerdy Stuff

Time to get science-y! (Don’t worry this is just a very simple overview of what is going on in my brain when i explain what we are doing) The basis of learning is defined through operant and classical conditioning. Every experience you have can be traced back to these two concepts. Through Operant conditioning all stimulus in the environment is paired with either a negative or positive experience. Simple examples: the stove is hot, and you burn your finger when you touch it. Next time you go near the stove you remember that it might be hot. Classical conditioning is where a previously neutral stimulus is paired with a consequence. Pavlov’s dogs and the dinner bell. In your house it’s probably the sound of the food hitting the food bowl. The bowl itself had no meaning to your dog until he learned that it provided his dinner. TA DA! Classical conditioning!

Diving deeper!

Don’t lose me quite yet! Operant conditioning breaks behavior changes into 4 main parts to achieve the results you are looking for. Keeping in mind for this example we want to encourage a behavior. Positive reinforcement adds a pleasant stimulus for a correct behavior, like a cookie. Positive punishment adds a negative stimulus for an incorrect behavior, like a loud noise. Negative Reinforcement takes away a pleasant stimulus, removing access to the cookie. Negative punishment, takes away the negative stimulus, letting up pressure on the collar.

Positive Reinforcement Positive Punishment
Negative Reinforcement Negative Punishment

Now, any good trainer has a very strong grasp of these concepts. (thankfully, I have a degree in Psychology so you don’t have to get one!) A good positive reinforcement trainer knows how to use these concepts in a way that does not cause pain or fear to get the results you are looking for.

It does not mean that we only use Positive Reinforcement!

My dogs have to sit before I open the crate door. If they see coming out of their crate as reinforcement, then not opening the door can be seen as Positive Punishment. I am removing the ability to gain reinforcement by closing the crate door. No fear, no pain. Just consequence.

The Misconception!

There seems to be this misconception that you cannot train difficult behaviors, or aggression from dogs using this method. That my friends, blows my mind! I am racking my brain trying to figure out what I am missing! Clients, do you agree with me that my method is definitely getting you closer to your goals?

It seems that people who do not truly understand what Positive Reinforcement training is, think that we let dogs run amuck until we can find a behavior that we like to reinforce. I know my clients can attest to the fact that no one is running amuck when I am around! The dogs have rules and consequences that are doled out when needed, but the consequences are not based on adding fear or applying pain.

Pixie is scared of new people. She was a scared little puppy in the shelter and that’s the temperament I have to work with. Instead of correcting her every time she barked at something, we took time to understand the why behind the behavior and by using Positive Reinforcement, we are working to make the presence of new people not so scary.
Did I let her sit on the corner and bark at people until she decided it was time to take a cookie? HAHA! Definitely not. If she was over threshold, then I removed her from the aversive stimulus. (Negative punishment, see how that works!) She then began to pair the presence of new people with something good (cookies) in situations where she was able to think and process what was going on. Pixie rarely barks at people these days. (Unless they are super sketchy and I get nervous, then I’m usually okay if she stares or barks a bit) And if you see her at the dock you wonder what the heck I am talking about.

Final Thought

Now, I am not bashing anyone’s preferred method of training. I have many friends who walk their dogs on a prong collar and that is just fine for them and me. I know the proper way to fit and use a prong collar, and a slip lead, from days past, and I have chosen different methods based on the results I see, and  the results my clients see. My clients are enjoying progress and seeing changes in their dogs that they could not imagine when they started training. Happy clients and happy dogs, are enough reason for me to continue using the methods I have chosen.  I don’t think I would have happy clients, if what I was doing wasn’t working!