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!
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!
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
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!
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.
I 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!
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!