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.
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.
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.
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!
Intern 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!
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!
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!
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”.
Years 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!)
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!
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.
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!
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 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?
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.
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.
If my last post didn’t horrify you then let’s move on!
What flavor of puppy would you like?
Have you met the breed?
Done your research to decide if this breed is a good fit for you?
Found a responsible breeder?
“What does this even mean!? I just want a puppy”
I see many puppies each year. I can definitely see the difference between someone who has done their research and one who impulsively got a puppy because it was cute, or someone once said this breed would be a good family pet. (I am going to gear this article to families looking for a pet, because that is most of my clients, but if you are looking to do a dog sport then the same principles still apply, but your criteria will be a bit different.)
When you look ahead 2 years, what does your image of life with a dog look like? What does your lifestyle actually look like right now? What sacrifices are you willing to make to ensure that your dog is getting the attention that it needs?
I brought home Cargo, my Belgian Malinois puppy in September. When I was looking for a puppy, I wanted a dog who could do dog sports, had a stable temperament, and good work ethic. I looked for higher energy breeds who need daily training and exercise because I like training and I am a fairly active person. In two years, I hope to be competing in agility and dock diving with this dog. Right now my lifestyle is fairly flexible to allow me to adjust to having a high energy dog in my life (yay self-employment!) My day now begins at 5:30am, and includes about 2 hours of devoted “dog time” to my existing dogs, and the puppy. This also includes a financial sacrifice as my puppy will also require training classes and equipment to meet these goals. (yes, the dog trainer’s dog goes to training classes!! Class is not for the human, it’s for the puppy!)
This is not a sacrifice that most people are willing to make. Keep that in mind as you look for your next breed.
As you choose your next breed, read and understand breed characteristics. There will be variation in each breed, but genetics is a very good predictor of your dog’s temperament when they get older. If the breed characteristic uses descriptive words like “strong,” “intelligent,” “trainable,” or “stubborn” then training is going to be required for the life of your dog. Getting through a 6 week puppy class will not be enough to keep these dogs happy. Make sure this is something that you are prepared to give your dog.
Once you have settled on a breed, now to find a good breeder! The Pet World at the mall is not the place to go! (Google puppy mills and pet stores for more information on that) Start on the internet, avoid places that are selling more than one breed of dog, or places who seem to always have a litter ready to go. Good breeders will require that you contact them. They will interview you to make sure their puppies are going to appropriate homes. Ask about the parent’s and grandparents temperament. Even if you are not planning to show or do a dog sport, that is a good place to start with finding a good breeder. A good breeder should be able to tell you about the puppies lineage back a few generations.
Ask if they are part of their breed club, and what sports or shows they have done with the parents. Many show litters will only have one of five puppies who are show quality. The rest will need pet homes, look for one of those puppies. The research has been done by the breeder to make sure they get the puppy they want, reap those benefits! Good breeders put a ton of time and energy into every litter, making sure they have the strongest genetics carrying the breed forward. They will also get your puppy started on the basics of potty training and crate training before they leave. Look for breeders who use puppy programs like Avidog, or Puppy Culture to raise their litters. The difference in litters who are raised with a program like this and one who is not, is truly
incredible. Do not pick up the newspaper or craigslist and find a breeder that way. Most of the time backyard breeders are only into dogs for the money, and do not put the time and effort into making sure they are breeding for the best of the breed. More often than not, these dogs do not look anything like the breed standard when they are adults, and we are usually questioning if that dog is actually the breed you chose.
If you have chosen a breeder and you arrive to conditions that are not at all what you expected, or temperament of your puppy is not what you want, WALK AWAY! Do not let all that research and money go to waste. A puppy will be with you for 10+ years and is an investment. If the “breeder” was not honest with you, then do not give them money! You are not “rescuing” this dog by paying for it. You are simply allowing the person to continue to breed poor quality dogs.
If breeding and looks don’t matter to you, then consider rescuing a puppy from a local shelter or rescue. Depending on the time of the year, you can usually find a pregnant momma or a litter of pups dropped off or picked up because someone had an “oops litter”. The shelter will do the best they can to label a breed to stray pups, but without knowing who momma and daddy were, it’s a shot in the dark. If you do get the chance to see momma then you have a good idea of temperament. Genetics doesn’t move far between parents and offspring. Training can do some temperament change, but genetics is what lands you on the spectrum. If mom is super happy and outgoing, then chances are you will also have an outgoing pup, if mom is more reserved and wary of new people, there is a good chance your pup will be aloof towards strangers and that is something you will have to be aware of for the remainder of your pups life.
There is no difference between getting a family pet from a shelter or breeder. Just make sure you are making an informed decision, and one that best fits your needs for your new companion. More often than not, disaster strikes when there is unfair expectations placed on the new pup or the family. If the dog is not a fit for the family, then usually it’s the dog that suffers the most. If you would like help evaluating a particular breed for your lifestyle, please contact me! I am happy to give you my insight and help you find the best path for you and your family!