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!
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.)
It 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!
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.
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!
My Malinois puppy at 10 weeks old. She’s a nutcase and everything I wanted in a puppy!
The holidays are a popular time to get a puppy, or adopt a new four- legged member of the family. Puppies are really cute, and super fun for the whole family to take responsibility of. Their floppy ears, and wonky legs make everyone laugh and post a million pictures on Instagram.
Getting a puppy means once you get through the puppy stage, everything is perfect right? You get that wonderful dog that hangs out in the front yard, and can be walked easily around the neighborhood, never bothering anyone, or causing a problem. Yep, get a puppy, and you can raise it how you want it and everything will be grand!
Haha! I wish it was that easy!
Over the next few weeks I will be offering puppy tips to make sure you are looking for the right puppy for your family, and are prepared to set puppy up for success when you bring him home. I will cover many of the things that people often contact me about, when they bring puppy home and then feel the puppy paralysis of “what have I done?!” and then “what do I do about this?!”
If at the end of the series, I have totally talked you out of a puppy, I will go over what to look for in an adult dog, and how to navigate the overwhelm of the shelter environment, or find a reputable rescue to adopt your pup from.
A dog joining your family is a 10+ year commitment. Make sure you can look ahead and your pup can cope with any life altering situations over the next 10 years. Marriage, having kids, moving, changing jobs are all big changes for people! Living near the largest military base on the east coast, I can’t tell you how many times “deploying” shows up on the surrender form at the shelter. Craigslist is full of pets needing a place to go because the person planning to keep the pups for 6 to 10 months suddenly can’t commit to that time frame any longer. If you are military or have job that requires travelling more than occasionally, make sure you plan the cost of boarding or petsitter into the cost of your pup.
If one of these situations might be in your future, fostering for a reputable rescue might be a better option. Reputable rescues have a network of people willing to watch your pup while you travel or will cover the cost of boarding for your trip. They will also cover medical care and food while you are housing the pup. You provide the love and they spend the money. It’s a win win win situation for you, the dog, and the rescue!
I have fostered 7(ish) dogs in my lifetime, and only kept one. (Pixie is the worst, and I am the only one that would put up with her crap) I cry each time they leave, even if I am really excited to see them go. The satisfaction of knowing that I have helped them on their journey to a forever home, keeps me in the game. Each of the dogs I have fostered, would have done terribly in a shelter situation, or I pulled them from the shelter, to give the other dogs there a better chance at adoption. Shelters do a great job of housing the pets in their care, but the door never closes. There is always another dog coming in the door, and if I can help get one out, then I have done my small part.
If a puppy is part of your plan for 2018, then stay tuned! I will offer all of my tips and plan for getting you started off on the right track and make sure you have set your family up for success, and planned for every possible outcome before puppy comes home!
October was a crazy month! Most of you know I got married on the 14th, and weddings take up a ton of time. The day was perfect, but it took a ton of planning and coordinating to make that happen. With Cargo at home, I also had to make sure that she was not missing out on the socializing that is so important with a young puppy. Anytime there was a training opportunity to get some errands run, and play with the puppy, I took advantage. Visit one of my bridesmaids at the barn? We met the pony and the chickens while we were there. Vendor is near the park, 20 mins playing on the trails built into that trip! Walk through at the venue, yep puppy tagged along. We managed to make it to one Puppy class locally, so she got to play with a few puppies and work on her focus for a little bit. Even with those little trips I still feel like she was still getting the exposure to things that she needed during that critical time.
At home, my monster puppy did not understand that it was not playtime 24/7! I had to get some stuff done, so I planned out each of her 3 meals to be something that was mentally stimulating. This helped give her something to do, and keep her quiet while I was making phone calls or writing emails. Thankfully, puppies also sleep quite a bit at 12 weeks old so I took full advantage of that as well! Slow feeder for breakfast meant that the meal took about 15 minutes to finish, and all that effort usually gave me an hour of her napping afterwards. Lunch was usually a frozen Kong, zogoflex (west paw toy) or busy buddy (petsafe) that she would work on for a bit in her kennel if I was gone for appointments or running errands. Dinner was a wobbler or kibble in a box. She learned pretty quickly to knock the wobbler around to get the food out, and if you have ever watched a pup play with the wobbler, you can hear them scratching on it while they are playing with it. That meant I could get our dinner made while listening to her play with her dinner for a good 15 minutes. Those of you with puppies understand how amazing 15 minutes of occupied puppy can be!
We also played a bit between these sessions. Cargo learned how to fetch the ball, target her tug toy and not my hand, play with the thing that I am playing with, go into her kennel willingly, and most importantly, her name. Each of these were done in 5 to 10 minute sessions, and would wear out her brain and let her sleep a little more soundly.
These lessons were also applied to my older dogs. I felt guilty that the little bit of time I did have, was spent with the puppy, so they also rotated playing with the wobblers, food in boxes, or kongs while I was getting things done. Now that the wedding is done, and I have a little more time back, I am still applying these things to make sure my dogs are getting the mental work that they need.
The busy holiday season is upon us, so I want to challenge you this month to add in a few enrichment games to your dog’s day. Get creative and post your dog playing on my Facebook page! There will be a winner in December for the person with the most posts! Winner will be announced December 18!
If you are not already following my Facebook Page, check it out here: Facebook
Thanksgiving reminds us to be thankful for all that we have. Your friends have started with the social media challenges to post something they are grateful for each day. Today I want you to be grateful for your dog training journey. Even if you have never needed a professional trainer, or you think you have never taught your dog anything (you have, I promise!), be grateful for the journey you and your canine pal have embarked.
Think about the one thing that your dog has taught you. Reflect on past companions too. Opal taught me that I love training and behavior modification, and sent me on this crazy business journey. Max, my first dog, taught me to do things on my own. I was the kid who needed to know someone before I went to the party, or walked around the mall. With Max, he needed to go to the park, and sometimes there was no one to go with me. He taught me to just go do what I want, when I want.
Pixie continues to teach me things every day. We won’t even touch on the training skills she has forced me to learn. She reminds me that it’s not my fault that her personality is not what I expected, and that no one can make me feel bad about that. She reminds me that “behavior is just behavior” and that there is no emotional tie behind it. So what if she flipped out on a dog that got too close. I use that as information, and try not to let it happen again.
Take a few minutes today, and reflect on the things that your dog has taught you, and your dog training journey! If you feel so inclined, share your thoughts with us!