logoOn Good Behavior LLC

Caring, professional training for dogs and their people.....

Contact Us

 

      (732) 940-0208

 

Dog Training and Behavior Articles

On Good Behavior Newsletter

Subscribe to our newsletter to receive helpful dog training tips, dog care information, upcoming obedience and agility class schedules, links to news stories, and some great dog pictures. To sign up, please click here.

DOG TRAINING AND BEHAVIOR ARTICLES FROM PREVIOUS NEWSLETTERS:

What Should I Do When.....?
Dogs Learning Words
Toenail Trimming: From Terrible to Terrific!
Building Strong Behaviors is Like Building Strong Muscles: You've Gotta Do the Reps!
Is It Just A Stage? Behaviors Your Puppy Will Outgrow.
That's Enough: Teaching your Exuberant Canine When Enough is Enough!
Keeping the Peace in a Multi-Dog Household
Will Socialization Help Your Fearful or Reactive Dog?
Preventing Aggression: Raising Your Puppy to be a Safe Dog
What is Safe at the Dog Park?
The Meaning of NO!...Using Punishment Correctly
Thunderphobia: Early Intervention Works!
Ten Uses for Leave-It
Ten Uses for a Sit-Stay
Teaching Your Dog (NOT!) to Raid the Garbage
Can You Spoil Your Dog?
Attention Please! Teaching Watch
Winter Activities: Ways to Exercise Your Dog When It’s Cold Outside
Success Off-Leash
But He Knows it at Home!
Lure, Bribes and Rewards
Teaching Hide and Seek
Puppy Priorities
Turning Tug of War Into Fetch
Why Dog Trainers Hate Retractable Leashes
Sit For Your Supper
Lost and Found Dogs
Teaching Go To Bed
Electric ‘Invisible’ Fences
Default or Automatic Behaviors: Letting the Situation Provide the Cue
Are You Ready for a Second Dog?
Relax: Teaching Your Dog How To Do Nothing
The Dog Whisperer
Doggie Doorbells: Teaching Your Dog to Ask to Go Out
The Benefits of Agility Training
Consistency: Why It Matters and Why It’s So Hard to Achieve
What You Need to Know About the Pet Food Recall
Teaching Your Dog to “Go-Away”

 

What Should I Do When.....?

Many of the questions I get from new clients fall in the catagory of: "What Should I Do When....?"

 This sentence always ends with a dog doing something that we never want to see happen: my two dogs get in a fight, my dog nips my visitor, my puppy pees on the floor, my dog chases a deer etc.
 
The one thing all of these situations have in common is that whatever you do at this point will have little effect. It's all just damage control.

That is why my usual answer is something along the lines of: "Well don't let that happen!!!!" 

Could This Fight Have Been Avoided?
Could This Fight Have Been Avoided If You Interrupted Sooner?
 
In dog training, timing is everything!

So it’s not what you do when your dog is acting out that matters, it’s what you do before! There is often a split second before your puppy squats to pee, your fearful dog decides he can’t get away and nips, your two dogs go at it etc, when you can still redirect them into more appropriate behavior. This is where training happens. Your dog learns that when he has to pee, he should run to the back door. Or when his brother is getting on his last nerve, he should sit and look at you and you’ll deal with it for him etc.

DDo you have a dog who does something completely unacceptable? Can you think of a way to re-direct him to a more appropriate behavior before he loses his mind? Sometimes you need to put in some foundation training first (stays, watch me, and leave-it etc are all useful for redirecting). Once you have a toolbox, you just need to get your timing right.

You’ll know you’ve got your timing down when your conversation with your dog goes from “What did you do?!!!” to “Don’t even think about it!’.  br>
Like On Good Behavior on Facebook!
Like http://www.facebook.com/On-Good-Behavior-LLC on Facebook

Top of page

 

 

Dogs Learning Words

Word Associations:
 Learning Names vs Learning Commands

 "If my dog knows the meaning of Walk, Dinner, Treat, Daddy's Home, Frisbee etc, why won't he listen when I tell him to Sit?!"
 
For a non-verbal species, dogs are amazingly good at learning the sounds of human words. Researchers at Wofford College recently taught a border collie the names of 1022 different toys! Typical dogs can have the vocabulary of a 2- 2 ½ year old child.

The key to your dog learning words is to use the same word (or short phrase) consistently. If sometimes it’s “Come!” other times “come-on” and other times “Come here right NOW”, your dog is going to have a much harder time learning the word.

Dogs Learning Words
Did someone say Go For A Walk?!*
 
Naming objects and activities is a much easier task than teaching your dog to follow a command.  When you are naming things, all you have to do is say “Do You Want to Go for a Walk?” every time you are about to take your dog for a walk. Or say “Dinner time” and feed your dog dinner. Your dog doesn’t have to DO anything; he is just learning that these words tell him what is going to happen next. Pretty soon, you’ll see him get excited when you say those magic words.

The useful thing about teaching the names of toys and activities is that you can then use “Do You Want to Go for a Walk?” as a reward. Call him to “Come”. When he does, praise and ask him “Do You Want to Go for a Walk”, and then take him for a walk!

Sometimes, naming things is counter productive. For example, “Time for a Bath” may not be something you want to discuss. And do you really need all the bouncing off the walls and barking you get when you yell “Daddy’s Home!”?


So if word associations are so easy to teach, why are commands so difficult?

Commands require not just that your dog understands what a word means, but that he acts on it. Unlike word associations, commands require your dog to DO something. For the dog to learn what a command means, you need the same level of consistency that you have with words like Walk or Treat. So that means that every time you say Come, for example, your dog runs towards you and sits in front of you.

So for any command you want to teach, you have to have a way to get the dog to do the behavior and then say the word a moment before he does it. In this way, the word is predicting the action in the same way that “Do You Want to go for a Walk” predicts going for a walk. Repeat this a few hundred times, and the dog will start to understand what the word means. However, if half the time when you say Come the dog goes the other direction, or, instead of getting him to come to you, you go and pick him up, he is certainly not going to learn that Come means run and sit in front of you.

The second part of teaching your dog to respond to a command is motivation. Your dog will respond consistently if he gets rewarded frequently and if you enforce the command consistently. For example, if he comes when you call him to Come, you give him a treat or take him for a walk or give him a belly rub. If he doesn't respond to Come, you put on his leash and bring him to where you called him from and have him sit.

Often, owners tell me “He knows what it means, but he doesn’t listen.” That may be true if you haven’t provided sufficient motivation. I know what you mean when you ask me to stop by tomorrow to help you load up your apartment into a moving van, but don’t count on me showing up!

*Thank-you to MaryAnne Borowski for sharing this lovely photo of Zena taken by Jennelle Kappe
Like On Good Behavior on Facebook!
Like http://www.facebook.com/On-Good-Behavior-LLC on Facebook

Top of page

 

 

Toenail Trimming: From Terrible to Terrific!

I started out trimming Cash’s toenails just like I start all of my puppies: holding him still while feeding liver and trimming just a tiny bit. With my other puppies, this has led to adult dogs who actually compete to see who can have their toenails done first. Cash was not so easily convinced. By the time he was three months old, he was screaming any time I cut a nail, refusing to eat liver or peanut butter while his nails were done, and, even with Jeff’s help, leaving me with bloody scratches all over my arms. It was time to re-evaluate things!


Terrific: Cash calmly lets me do his nails


Quick and dirty clearly wasn’t working here, so I switched to the slow and steady method of systematic desensitization and counter conditioning. Here are the steps I took to get Cash on board with nail clipping:
1. Downs with toe nail clippers present. Sit on a rug with your dog on leash. Put the clippers on the ground between you. Feed a treat. Now work on downs making sure your dog can see the clippers. Reward frequently. Stay at this step until your dog lies down and stays equally well when the clippers are present as he does without them. If your dog lays sphinx style, start using a treat to get him to shift onto one hip or onto his side.
2. Touching toes with your hands. Once again, have your dog lie down and have the clippers on the rug between you. Ask your dog to stay. Touch a paw with one finger. If he stays still, reward (I use freeze dried liver for toenails—the treats should be something wonderful that your dog doesn’t usually get). If he moves, no treat, and instead try something easier like touching his forearm.
3. Holding a paw. Now try to hold a paw with in your hand as if you were clipping the nail. At first, just hold the paw, but you will need to progress to gripping the toe and extending the nail as if you were going to cut it. As before, reward if you dog cooperates; try something easier if he moves.
4. Holding a paw AND touching toenails. As in number 3, hold the paw and extend the nail. Now touch the actual toenail with your other hand. Progress to holding the nail and then to pinching the nail hard.
5. Add the clippers. Once again, hold one paw as if you were ready to cut the nail. While holding the paw, pick up the clippers, put them down, and reward your dog. If that goes well, on the next trial you will move them a little closer to the foot. Continue until you can touch the clippers to the toenail. Remember, you still aren’t cutting the nail!
6. Cut your first nail. Once your dog will lie calmly while you pick up a paw, extend the toenail, and touch it with the clippers, you are ready to start trimming nails. Your goal for your first session should be to trim just a tiny bit, 1/8 inch, off of one toenail. Then celebrate! Tons of liver and call it a day.
It took about two weeks of working on this for ten minutes a day before we got to step six and got one nail cut. I continued to work on it daily for a couple more weeks, getting anywhere from zero to five nails cut in a session. I’m happy to report that Cash now competes with Ally to see who can get their pedicure first! He still sometimes gets worried and pulls a paw away, but he is miles better than when we started.

Now I’m gearing myself up for our next toenail adventure: The Dremel. Cash is starting his show career at six months and he needs to have perfectly manicured feet, which is usually done with a dremel—a rotary sanding tool. I’ve never used one-it sounds too much like a dentist’s drill to me! I can’t imagine Cash is going to love it right off the bat, but I’m sure we’ll get there :)

Like On Good Behavior on Facebook!
Like http://www.facebook.com/On-Good-Behavior-LLC on Facebook

Top of page

 

Building Strong Behaviors is Like Building Strong Muscles: You've Gotta Do the Reps!

For years I thought I could stay in good enough shape just through daily living. I’m a very active person, walking my own dogs, gardening, working with clients’ dogs etc. While this and good genes keep me skinny, I discovered on hitting forty that it doesn’t keep my body fit enough to hold up to chronic overuse or sudden physically stressful events—like holding on to an 80lb golden retriever who suddenly decides to chase a butterfly! After straining my lower back, getting plantar fasciitis in one foot, tweaking one shoulder so that it bothered me for months, I finally realized that my body just wasn’t standing up to the stress that my job and life put on it. It was hard to talk myself into it, but eventually I made lifting weights part of my routine.
 
It seems like a miracle that the same actions that would cause an injury when done once will make you strong enough to resist injury when done regularly in sets of ten repetitions. But it works!


Here is Ally practicing puppy push-ups (sit, down, sit, down) on an exercise peanut. We get two for one here: she is building strong physical muscles as well as stronger sits and downs.


I find myself occasionally making the same mistake with some of my dogs’ trained behaviors as I used to with my muscles. Much as I know that commands will fall apart and not hold up to stress without maintenance, there are some cues that I use a lot but rarely practice or reward. This is like lifting bags of mulch and the occasional sofa without ever doing anything to keep your back muscles in shape. Bound to cause trouble in the long run!
 
Two of these things came to a head with Ally recently: hopping up into her kennel in the car on command and coming into the house when I tell her “Inside".  With both of these, she started to get slow to respond on the first command and would often dilly-dally around until I went to get her or got frustrated and told her multiple times. Both of these commands are things I use pretty much every day and that aren’t a lot of fun for her. Jumping into a crate in the back of my SUV is physically taxing and much as she likes to come with me, she is often stuck in the car for hours while I’m teaching. Coming into the house isn’t much fun either when she could be out hunting down fallen raspberries in the garden. Of course, she'll come running if I actually tell her to "Come!", but that's a command I definitely don't want to over use and under reward!
 
So, like I always do when these problems crop up, I went back to doing sets of ten! For a few days, rather than having her jump in the truck once, I had her do it ten times, rewarding most of them. Then I stashed some dry biscuits in the back of my truck and resolved to reward her any time she jumped in quickly. I’ll plan to gradually reduce the frequency of rewards until I’m back to an occasional jackpot every 10th or 20th time. For many other behaviors, I try to use life rewards (going for a walk, throwing a toy, belly rubs, dinner) as a reward, but it’s rather difficult to do that for getting in the truck, so I’ll stick with food rewards for this one. I made a similar plan for coming into the house. And, of course, I'll continue to do sets of ten on occasion!
 
There is one other huge advantage to practicing in sets of ten rather than just doing one here and there: you can usually end with success. Just like that first push-up may have lousy form because your muscles aren’t warmed up, your dog’s first try at any command may be sloppy. If you end with that, that’s what your dog will remember. If you continue until you get a nice one, then you are imprinting the desired behavior in your dog’s head. So think of this next time a friend walks through your door and your dog breaks his stay to jump on her. Is this what you want your dog to remember? How about asking your dog loving friend to come through the door a few more times so that your dog can practice doing it correctly? Remember, it’s not practice that makes perfect, but perfect practice that makes perfect!

So if you are noticing that any of your dog’s commands are getting weak through over use and under training, make a plan to do sets of ten for a few days and watch them get whipped right back into shape!

Like On Good Behavior on Facebook!
Like http://www.facebook.com/On-Good-Behavior-LLC on Facebook

Top of page

 

Is It Just A Stage? Behaviors Your Puppy Will Outgrow.

Often clients ask me if chewing/nipping/zooming etc is just a stage. What they forget to ask is if staying in the yard/coming when called/loving everyone is also just a stage! We are quick to attribute developmental explanations to unwanted behaviors and just hope that puppies will outgrow them, but it doesn't usually occur to us that nice stuff may also be outgrown!

Puppies go through a number of developmental stages, but I find the most noticeable change occurs at between 4-8 months (early in toy breeds, later in giant breeds). This is when dogs enter adolescence and go through the flight instinct period and the second fear imprint period.


During the flight instinct period, your puppy will want to run off.


In the wild (for wolves), or in the garbage dump for stray dogs around the world, this change corresponds to leaving the den for the first time. Up until around four months, young puppies are left home at the den while the adults are off hunting and scavenging for food. If the puppies were to wander off when left alone, they wouldn’t survive for long! This is why your puppy tends to stay in the yard and doesn’t want to go on walks. It’s also why your puppy up until about 16 weeks is very curious. The den is a safe area and he should be exploring his environment and making social bonds with his pack.

After four months, he would be joining in the hunting/scavenging and he is eager to go everywhere! This is known as the flight instinct period. Please don’t be surprised when your formerly reliable puppy starts to leave the yard to visit your neighbors and completely ignores you call to come. His instincts are telling him it’s time to go explore the big wide world! He may also go through a second fear period (the first one happens around eight weeks) as he is now going to be away from the den and exposed to things that may be dangerous. He is now inclined to be suspicious rather than welcoming of new things.

How can we use this knowledge?

  1. We can take advantage of the socialization period to get your puppy comfortable with everyone and everything he needs to live with. After four months, it is going to be hard to convince your puppy that new people/places/things are safe, so do it early! It’s OK for wolves and wild dogs to be suspicious of everything outside of their den and pack, but we want our pet dogs to be comfortable with lots of different people and places (You’ve heard me say this before, right?!).

  2. Use social attraction to start teaching ‘Come’ to your young puppy (associate the command with something he wants to do anyway at this age). Run away, squat down, and call your puppy. He will come running and you can reward him with food, petting and play. Just be aware that when he hits the flight period, you won’t be able to trust him for a while and you’ll need to double down on teaching that come means come. Long lines are a big help here!

  3. Be prepared for the flight period and make sure that by the time your puppy is sixteen weeks, you have your fenced yard fully escape proofed or a plan to keep your puppy on leash or in places he can safely be off leash.

Oh, and about the nipping/chewing/peeing everywhere? Yes, they are worse at the young puppy stage and will naturally improve some with age. So if you are OK with lots of these things now and less later, you can let nature take it’s course :) However, most of us aren’t OK with any biting at hands, chewing on furniture, or peeing on floors, so we will need be sure to prevent those things from happening so that they don’t become habits.


Top of page

 

That's Enough: Teaching Your Exuberant Canine When Enough is Enough!

I love it when my dogs bring me their toys, lick my face, put their heads in my lap and in other ways express their affection and zest for life. However, there are times when I’ve had enough!

So how can I communicate that their attentions are appreciated but that I’d like them to stop now? This is where I use “That’s Enough”. I find many of my clients will tell their dogs “No” in this situation, but that will make your dog less likely to take your “No” seriously in other situations. If you tell your dog “No” some of the time when he brings you a ball but other times you throw it, then why isn’t it OK for your dog to get up on the kitchen counter some of the time?

Instead, it’s helpful to have a word that means: This behavior is allowed, but not right now.  I use “That’s Enough” because it feels natural and because it comes out in the right tone of voice: Matter of fact, rather than excited or yelling.

So how can you teach this concept? Start by using “That’s Enough” in situations where you can easily end the behavior. For example, say “That’s Enough” when you end a training session by putting the leash and treats away or when you end a game of fetch by putting the ball back in the closet. To begin with, avoid using it in situations where you can’t easily end the interaction yourself.

Once you see that your dog disengages when he hears that phrase, then you can start using it in more difficult situations such as nudging for attention, barking out the window or rough housing with your other dog; just be prepared to put him on time out (on leash at your feet while you step on the leash, tether, crate, outdoors, another room, on his bed, down stay at your feet etc) if he doesn’t listen right away.

Once you have put your dog on time out, watch for him to settle down. This should take anywhere from fifteen seconds to three minutes—please don’t leave him on time out longer than this! As soon as he settles down, release him from time out with your release cue (Free! or OK!) and let him go. He will likely return to whatever he was doing and you have to be prepared to once again tell him “That’s Enough” and put him back on time out. You will be repeating this a lot at first, but after a month it will get much easier.

The key to successfully teaching your dog “That’s Enough” is to never, ever, say that phrase unless you are prepared to implement a time out if he doesn’t comply. When you are on a conference call and can't step away from the phone, yelling “That’s Enough” to your barking dog is a sure fire way to teach him to ignore you.

Please be sure to have reasonable expectations of your dog. You need to make sure his basic needs (exercise, mental stimulation, attention and opportunities to chew) have been met before you can expect him to settle down in the house.

Here’s a handy flowchart on how to use That’s Enough correctly. If you’d like a copy to print out and put on your bulletin board, send me an email!
Flow chart

Top of page

 

Keeping the Peace in a Multi-Dog Household

I was teaching puppy class recently and a client asked me how to introduce her puppy to her older dog. As I gave advice and recounted stories from my own household, I realized that with all my dog pairs I’ve had to do some careful training and management to make sure they get along well. This probably has a lot to do with owning Rottweilers—a breed that often has issues with other dogs. My beloved Sadie’s mother actually died in a dog fight, so making sure my dogs get along well with each other has always been a priority for me.

My current pair, Ally, the four year old female Vizsla, and Ranger, the ten year old male Rottweiler, get along really nicely, but I do have to keep an eye on their relationship so that Ally doesn’t push Ranger into losing his temper. More about that in a minute! But here's a photo of them waiting their turn to be petted when I get home:

 

Let’s talk about what makes bickering between household dogs likely—dogs are more likely to fight if they are:
  • The same gender
  • Of a similar age
  • Of a breed that has been bred to fight, guard things, or kill small vermin (pit bulls, working breeds, terriers). Fights are less likely among hounds and hunting breeds that are traditionally kenneled and worked together.
  • Lack of frustration tolerance:  i.e. a short fuse
  • High arousal/reactivity
  • Genetic tendencies: we all inherit some of our personality from our parents and some lines of dogs within breeds are more prone to fighting
So, Ally and Ranger have some definite points in favor of their relationship: Opposite gender, big difference in age, Ally is from a breed with less of a tendency to fight.  
 
There are various schools of thought on helping dogs within a household live peacefully together. The most popular are:
 
1. Let them work it out.
This concept has been popularized by Cesar Milan’s enormous dog pack on The Dog Whisper. If your pack has a benevolent leader, this can work out nicely. However, if your alpha dog enjoys being a bully or has a short fuse, it may not work so well. It can also be impractical to have other dogs teach your dog some manners since most of us don’t have access to a huge pack of dogs.
 
2. Support the alpha:
Nicholas Dodman, DVM (Tufts Vet School faculty, author of “Dogs Behaving Badly”) is a proponent of this idea. The challenge is that it is often hard to determine which dog is the alpha. Often the dog making all the noise is not the one that is in charge. Owners also struggle with accepting that the underdog will be bullied.
 
3. Be the alpha:
In their booklet “Feeling Outnumbered” dog behaviorists Karen London Ph.D. and Patricia McConnell Ph.D. say: "Most aggression in social groups of species like humans and dogs seems to be in “middle management”. So your responsibility as the human CEO is to make it clear to your dogs that they will never be climbing the corporate ladder. If there are no vacancies at the top, there is no reason for them to compete among themselves. This is the approach that I take with my dogs and with clients who have dogs that are bickering. If your dogs only ever get what they want by being polite instead of competing, there is no reason to fight.
 
Here’s how I apply Patricia McConnell’s rules in my house:
  • Don’t use your mouth to do anything I wouldn’t allow kids to do with their hands. Wrestling is fine. Licking ears for an hour is not.
  • Don’t take each other’s stuff. When a bone is on the floor, it’s up for grabs. When it’s in one dog’s mouth, it belongs to that dog.
  • Don’t block each other from going up stairs, through doors etc.
  • Don’t push each other out of the way to get attention. Take turns as requested. I’ll say “Ally’s Turn” and pet Ally for a bit. Then stop and say “Ranger’s Turn” and if Ally continues to pester I’ll send her to her bed or out of the room.
  • Stop rough housing when you are asked or you will get kicked out of the room or outdoors.
  • Wait for permission to go out doors rather than shoving past each other or me.
More about Ally and Ranger:
Part of the reason I chose to adopt Ranger is that he and Ally got along so well when I introduced them at the shelter. He respected her warnings not to play roughly and instead they danced around without making physical contact.  From the very beginning, I was happy with their interactions with just each other. But Ally was clearly jealous to be sharing her people. She can make Ranger back up ten feet by just giving him a quick dirty look if he comes near when I’m petting her.  If I let Ally have her way, Ranger would get no attention at all.
 
Although Ranger is very patient with Ally, he does outweigh her by 50 pounds and if he lost his temper, it could be a problem. This did happen early on: I feed my dogs in separate rooms out of long habit and I’ve always had dogs who ate at about the same rate, but Ranger is a slow and messy eater. Ally quickly figured out that there would be dropped kibble all around his bowl and when she finished eating she would sneak in and grab a few pieces. Ranger seemed unconcerned about this, but I didn’t think it was a good idea and I kept meaning to change the eating set up… However, one morning before I had a chance to change things I heard a roar, a scream, and furniture knocked over. I ran over to find Ranger standing over his bowl breathing hard with an armchair knocked over nearby. Ally was standing outside the room shaking. Luckily, no one was hurt and they continued to get along, but it was a wake up call to do a better job as dog mom to prevent this kind of nonsense. I moved Ranger’s bowl to where I could watch more carefully.
 
I certainly don’t expect my dogs (or anyone else’s!) to go through life without ever getting irritated and raising their voices (i.e. barking or growling) at each other. But I do expect them not to routinely bully each other, not to hurt each other and to act politely most of the time. They do alright on their own for the most part, but I'm careful to keep the peace by having rules in place for situations where there might otherwise be conflict. 

 

Top of page

 

Will Socialization Help Your Fearful or Reactive Dog?

Dog owners have heard a lot about the value of socialization and happily we are doing a better job socializing our puppies. Puppies age 6-16 weeks are very receptive to new experiences and need to meet lots and lots of people and go lots and lots of places to grow up to be calm, confident dogs. This is why guide dog puppies go everywhere: so that they will be comfortable guiding their charges everywhere as adults.

But what if you have an adolescent or adult dog who is not comfortable with the world? I find that when owners discover that something worries their dog, they make an effort to expose the dog more frequently to that stimulus, hoping the dog will get over it. But is this a good idea? Unfortunately, the answer is, “It depends…”.

Repeated exposure to the same stimulus can lead to either habituation or sensitization. For example, when Jeff and I lived in California, we lived 50 feet from a major commuter train line that caused our duplex to shake every time a train passed. When we first moved in, it made us a little crazy but within a few weeks we didn’t even hear the train. We had habituated, or you might say we tuned it out. However, not everyone adjusts! A neighbor moved in next door and a couple weeks later she was jittery, unable to sleep, and desperately looking for a new apartment.

What determines whether a dog or person habituates or sensitizes to a repeated noise, sight, or smell? There are several factors that make a difference:

  • Novelty: It’s easier to habituate to a new sight or sound than to something with which you have previously had bad experiences.
  • Intensity: It’s easier to get used to living three blocks from the train tracks than to living right next to them.
  • Startle Response: It’s easier to habituate to a noise that doesn’t trigger a startle response. For example, if you use your favorite radio station as your alarm, you are far more likely to sleep through the alarm than if you use a beeping siren.
  • Genetically predisposed fears: For primates, spiders and snakes are things we come primed to fear even if we’ve never seen them before.

So what should you do if your dog is afraid of something?

If it’s a brand new fear, repeated exposure might just solve it. This often works if you have a new item in your house such as a rotating fan or if your neighbors now have a boat parked in their driveway. Showing your dog the object over and over while talking happily and playing or feeding him will most likely help him get over it.

If it’s a fear that has developed over time, you will probably need to more carefully work on counter conditioning (associating the formerly scary object with something good) and desensitization. Avoid triggering a panic attack—if your dog looks more than mildly interested, you are over threshold. See if you can expose your dog to a less intense version of what he fears: traffic noises played quietly on your ipad instead of real traffic; dogs in the dog park 100 yards away rather than a dog coming towards him on the sidewalk.

Most importantly, remember that you don't want to further sensitize your dog and make the problem worse. If your dog is having a full blown panic attack, whether that looks like tucking his tail and trying to bolt or barking and lunging hysterically, you need to avoid the scary situation for now and get professional help making your dog more comfortable.

Top of page

 

Preventing Aggression: Raising Your Puppy to be a Safe Dog

No one sets out to raise an aggressive dog, but common mistakes can lead your puppy to grow up into a less than trustworthy adult. Here is my top ten list of things to do with your puppy to make sure he grows up to be as bombproof as possible:

1. Teach your dog to trade: It isn’t natural for your dog to want to give you valuable things like stolen socks or dead birds found on a walk. If you want him to happily surrender his finds, start early on trading him with treats. Yes, you eventually want to teach him to drop things on command, but right now our chief concern is that he thinks giving you stuff is awesome! One Labrador breeder tells her puppy buyers “you can’t punish a retriever for retrieving”. Punishing your dog when he has something in his mouth will make him defensive. Feel free to get mad when he is about to steal your shoe, but once it’s in his mouth, it’s his, and you need to get it back with minimal drama.

2. Socialize your puppy: He needs to meet men, children, people in uniform, people of different colors, people wearing hats etc. This is especially important if you have a herding or guarding breed or any breed with a tendency to be suspicious of strangers. It’s mandatory for your puppy to have positive experiences with at least 100 different people before the age of 16 weeks. If your puppy is shy, go at his pace so as not to overwhelm him. If he doesn’t come around quickly, get some professional help.

3. Avoid punishment: Try to manage your puppy’s world so that he doesn’t have opportunities to get in trouble by using crates, baby gates etc and by picking up your stuff. If you do have to punish, punishment should only be startling enough to interrupt the behavior, not to make your dog cower, and it should stop the moment the bad behavior stops. Poorly timed punishment makes dogs afraid of people and defensive. Your dog may not have the confidence to act aggressively towards you, but his belief that people can and will hurt him may lead him to act aggressively towards people perceived as threatening and weaker—often children.

4. Teach children to handle puppies gently: Children under the age of twelve should be taught not to pick puppies up as they are too likely to drop them or to carry them in a way that makes the puppy feel unsafe. Teach children to pet with one hand from collar to tail--no grabbing. Kids should learn to ask the puppy if he wants to play by calling him to them or offering a toy and to accept that sometimes the puppy may be tired or not in the mood. Children and puppies are the cutest of playmates, but it takes some careful supervision to keep fingers safe from teeth and tails safe from pulling!

5. Accustom your puppy to gentle restraint: Your puppy needs to be comfortable with being touched all over and with being gently held still. Practice gently holding him in your arms, in your lap, on his side on the floor etc. Wait for him to relax, then calmly let him up. Often, novice owners let their puppies free when they struggle—try to do the opposite, calmly hold your ground until the puppy relaxes, then let him go.

6. Recognize early warning signs of problems: Dogs who growl or snap are warning you that if pushed further they will bite. Some growling during play is normal—if the dog’s body looks relaxed and wiggly during tug for example, that can be play, but if your dog’s body is stiff, hunched over, or he is giving you the evil eye, it’s time to get help. Aggression problems are much harder to treat once the dog has reached the point of biting because he usually discovers that biting works: it makes people go away!

7. Teach your puppy self control: Dogs who have no patience are more likely to bite. So teach him to wait for his dinner, wait at the door, wait for permission to go visit with his doggie friends etc. And don’t allow endless crazy games, whether they are tug or fetch games with you or play with his friends. If he can’t listen to his name and calm down and sit for 10 seconds, he’s too over stimulated.

8. Let sleeping puppies lie: Teach children not to go in the puppy’s crate or disturb him when he is resting. Puppies need a lot of sleep and will be grumpy if they don't get it. If you need to move a sleeping dog, be polite and say his name and wake him up first. None of us like being woken up suddenly and we’d like it less if it meant suddenly being airborne!

9. Don’t let anyone tease your puppy: Teasing means inciting your dog to act aggressively such as pretending you are going to take the dog’s food, poking with a stick, approaching a dog behind a fence and then running away, bopping on the nose to get a rise out of him etc. All these are things kids are likely to find funny. The dog acts a little scary and then they leave him alone. The dog learns that acting aggressively works, so don’t be surprised when he takes it to the next level. It’s your responsibility to do something about teasing even if the culprit is your neighbor’s kid poking your dog through the fence—when the same child reaches over your fence to retrieve a ball and gets bitten, it doesn't matter whether he 'deserved it'. 

10. Let your little dog walk on his own four paws: Dogs that are carried everywhere become very insecure and possessive of their owners. If you let your little dog sit on you, sleep in your bed, hitch a ride on your shoulders etc don’t be surprised if he won’t let your husband into the bed or won’t let your kid give you a hug. He’s pretty sure he owns your lap and he doesn’t want to share.

Hope this list got you thinking! If you don't have a puppy in the house right now, please forward this newsletter along to friend who does.

Top of page

What is Safe at the Dog Park?

I used to like doggie playgroups 15 years ago when they were informal off leash gatherings at the park. Before there were fences, owners were careful to supervise their dogs and trained them well enough to be able to call them out of play if things got out of hand. Now that dog parks have fences, I agree with most other professional trainers that dog parks are largely unsafe. Too many owners sit around drinking coffee and allow their dogs to run wild without interrupting overly rough or aggressive behavior. However, if you don’t have anywhere else to let your dog run off leash, dog parks can be a necessary part of exercising your young dog. So how to keep it safe?

Dog play usually works best in groups of two or three. Once there is a pack, there is a huge potential for bullying. So try to go when things are quiet. Make plans to meet one of your dog’s preferred playmates at a less busy time. Be prepared to leave and go for a walk instead if things get crowded or anything is making you or your dog uncomfortable.

What should you watch for? Here’s Sue Sterberg’s list of Red Alert Behaviors from her new app for the iphone: Sue Sternberg’s Dog Park Assistant.

  1. Rolling: When one dog makes physical contact with another and knocks into him, causing him to tumble, somersault, or roll over.
  2. Tucked Tail: When the dog’s tail is so low that the base is pressed tight to the anus. The tip of the tail is often under the stomach.
  3. Pinning: When one or more dogs has another dog on its side or back for more than 5 seconds.
  4. Hiding or Hovering: When the dog spends more than 5 seconds underneath something or hovering near a human. Dog’s tail will be tucked or low.

If you see any of these behaviors, you need to interrupt and pull your dog out of the park. This will take some courage because there is a lot of peer pressure to “just let them work it out”. I find this a little strange when there is currently so much awareness about bullying among children and yet popular culture tells us we should just let puppies figure it out without any support. If you let your dog repeatedly have scary experiences, she will end up becoming frightened and defensive (growling, snapping), so choose your dog’s playmates with care.

The best playmates will be those who are similar in size and play style. Different breeds have different play styles: Boxers like to box, labs like to body slam and mouth wrestle, toy breeds often like to bounce around without a lot of physical contact, pointers like to chase etc. If your dog likes to bounce and chase, she may not enjoy playing with dogs who like to tackle and mouth wrestle, especially if they are three times her size and she could get hurt. Given the wide variations in size and personality, it’s unreasonable to expect that all dogs will play well together. Some dogs really are social ambassadors who enjoy playing with all comers, but if your dog is a little more shy or sensitive, please be understanding of that. Not all kids are going to love dodge ball and not all puppies are going to love the puppy bowl!

Being a good pet parent means keeping your dog safe from both physical and psychological harm while making sure his needs for exercise and socialization are met. For some dogs, the dog park will be a good option for this; for others it won't be.

Top of page

The Meaning of NO!...Using Punishment Correctly

Those of you who have worked with me know that I’m not a big fan of punishment: most things our dogs need to know can be taught without having to yell at them. However, there are times that I too find myself needing to communicate that something is forbidden.

So, how to teach our dogs what NO! means? Some dogs will instinctively respond to a loud NO!, especially coming from a person with a deep voice. Make sure to pitch your voice as low as possible and make sure your intonation is flat rather than rising. Many women say NO! in a way that makes it sound exciting. Instead, try to use the tone of voice you would use with “Knock if Off”. Or you may have better luck using a growly Uhn-uh, or Hey! Experiment to see if there is a deep, growly sound that you can make that gets your dog’s attention.

If your dog doesn’t respond to a verbal NO! by stopping what he is doing, you will need to figure out what does make him stop. Most of the time, this is going to mean that the moment you have said NO!, you are in motion to go interrupt the behavior. Yelling from across the room is not training unless your dog stops in his tracks! So, if your dog is about to jump on the counter or the couch, for example, (about to is when you need to be saying NO!), tell him NO! and then either physically interrupt (use a leash to pull off) or use a louder noise (magazine slapped on countertop) or squirt from a water bottle etc. You need to find something your dog dislikes enough to stop the behavior and yet doesn’t leave him traumatized.

Please note that I only use NO! for behaviors that are forbidden at all times and only for property crimes. I don’t want to punish overly exuberant greetings, for example, and make the dog afraid of people.

It is also only reasonable to use punishment if you can catch the dog every single time he is about to make the mistake. If half the time he gets punished as he is about to get on the sofa and the other half of the time he gets to nap for five minutes before you make him get off, he’ll keep on getting on the sofa.

So here’s a cheat sheet for using punishment correctly:

1. It must happen every time the behavior is about to happen.
2. It must be unpleasant enough to stop the behavior, but not so unpleasant as to traumatize the dog.
 3. It must happen with perfect timing so that the dog doesn’t reward himself (nap on the sofa, eat something out of the garbage) before he is punished.
4. It must diminish the behavior. Often times, what we think is punishment, the dog just finds exciting. Many dogs think yelling, shoving, etc is just rough play. If after a few repetitions the punishment isn’t working to reduce the behavior, re-evaluate your plan.

Now that we’ve looked at punishment, wouldn't it be more pleasant to manage your dog’s environment (keep the garbage can put away; put the puppy in his crate when you can't watch him etc) and teach him appropriate behaviors (lie on your bed while I’m cooking, for example) so that he isn’t getting in trouble all the time?

So, yes, I really do use the word NO! But I'm careful to stick to the above rules and I try to use it as little as possible. If I were perfect, I wouldn't need NO! at all, but I haven't gotten there yet :). 

Top of page

Thunder Phobia: Early Intervention Works!

The August that Flash was 5 ½, I noticed that he was behaving strangely during thunderstorms. He would hide under my desk, drool, and look generally miserable. It took me a few weeks to realize that this always occurred around thunderstorms, but once I put two and two together, I realized I needed to act quickly to prevent this from getting much worse. I had seen clients’ dogs who would injure themselves doing things like trying to dig through walls during storms and this was not a problem I wanted to experience.

Flash always loved squeaky toys, so I decided to get him a special thunder toy. Since he seemed primarily concerned with the noise, I decided to pair the noise with the toy. Whenever I was home during a storm, I would get out his toy and wait for a boom of thunder. Then I’d celebrate (Yipee! That was a big boomer!) , bring out the toy and play tug with Flash for a few seconds, then put it on my desk on go back to work until then next bang. This wouldn’t have worked if Flash was too stressed to play, but I’d never seen him turn down a toy.

After a few storms where he got to play with his toy after every clap of thunder, he started to make the connection. He would still be hiding under my desk, but instead of cowering when he heard thunder, he would look up to see if his toy was coming. We didn’t get in a ton of practice that year since thunderstorms were coming to an end, but I felt we were on the right track.

The next year, he still would go under my desk, but there was no drooling and he would often stay out from under the desk after playing tug in hopes of another round. We worked on it all summer and he seemed to be doing OK. Usually, this is a problem that gets steadily worse, so I was hoping we were out of the woods.

Fast forward to the following spring (now a year and a half after I first noticed the problem). First thunderstorm of the year and I wasn’t even thinking about it. Flash however was acting very excited and trying to get my attention. Finally, he ran to the hall closet door and started nosing it. Duh! He wanted his thunder toy! Of course, I happily got it out for him and played. At this point, I knew we were home free. No longer did Flash see a thunderstorm as something scary to hide from; he saw it as playtime.

I’m very thankful that I knew to intervene early and that it worked. Flash continued to want to play during storms for the rest of his life and on several occasions there were thunderstorm delays during agility trials and he happily came out and competed minutes after sheltering in the car for a storm delay.

As with many problems, early intervention is key. Mild fears of many kinds can be overcome by counter conditioning (that is, making the previously bad thing into a predictor of good things), as Flash’s story shows. Full blown phobias are much harder to treat because dogs in a true panic are not interested in toys or food so strategies other than counter conditioning must be used.

Dogs who have progressed to true thunder phobia will look panicked, drool, and whine. They may pace or try to escape through windows or walls, or they may hide in small dark places (like under my desk). They will refuse food and toys. Often medication is necessary to get them safely through storms. 

There are things that can be done for dogs with thunder phobia, but it’s so much easier to keep it from ever developing! If your dog is just a little bit afraid of thunder, consider intervening now and teaching your dog that thunderstorms are the best thing ever. If your dog is already phobic, you will probably need help from your vet and trainer to make your dog as comfortable as possible. 

Top of page

10 Uses for Leave-It

10 Uses for Leave-It 

I got lots of nice feedback from those of you who enjoyed the 10 uses for a sit stay article, so here are some thoughts on places I use "Leave-It":
1. Worst case scenario: dropped a whole bottle of ibuprofen on the floor. Looks like candy…
2. Goose poop!
3. Sniffing crotches
4. Hors d’oeuvres on a coffee table
5. Steak I didn’t plan on dropping on the kitchen floor
6. Tissue I didn’t plan on dropping on the bedroom floor
7. Rabbits, deer, squirrels, ground hogs...
8. Standing water I don’t want my dogs drinking
9. Laundry that hasn’t yet made it into the hamper (socks and underwear are Ally’s favorites).
10. A ball that is stuck under furniture where no one can reach it
Please note that if you only practice Leave-it with treats, it will only work with treats; so be sure to practice with socks, empty containers, nasty things that you walk by on walks etc.

Top of page

10 Uses for a Sit Stay

Stay is my favorite command to teach and something I find wonderfully useful. However, I find many people think of stay as a parlor trick—stay while I walk across the room and call you, stay while I put a cookie on the floor or on your nose, stay for your dinner—but don’t make good use of it in daily life.

Here are some situations where I use a sit stay:

1. Putting on shoes. As soon as I go to put on my hiking boots (good likelihood we are going for a W A L K), Ally starts trying to lick my whole face. Putting her on a sit stay a couple feet away solves the problem.
2. Putting on leashes.
3. Retrieving a towel to wipe dirty paws (Yes, I should keep one by the back door, but it's nice that the dogs will sit and stay on the mat while I go get a towel).
4. Sweeping up broken glass.
5. Taking family photos. Try taking this one without a good sit stay!


6. Picking up poop on a walk. Nice not to get tangled up in two leashes.
7. Playing hide and seek 
8. Letting guests into the house.
9. Keeping the dogs out of trouble with non-dog loving guests. Flash and Ally can be on a down stay at my feet and then they aren’t bugging anyone.
10. As a time out. If my dogs don’t stop barking, rough housing, or otherwise being rowdy when I tell them “That’s Enough”, they get put in a down stay time out. Kind of like having a little kid sit in a chair for time out.

One place I don’t use stay is when I’m leaving the house: I don’t expect to come back three hours later and find my dogs sitting right where I left them, so it’s unfair to use a command that means freeze right there until I give you your release command (Free, OK, Break or whatever word you use). Personally, I teach my dogs that they are never allowed out of the house without permission (see Default Behaviors link to article), but if I’m away from home and I don’t want my dogs following me, I use the command Wait, which means don’t go any further forward.

Top of page

Teaching Your Dog (NOT!) to Raid the Garbage

You’ve probably heard me say that when you are teaching your dog something new, you want to increase the level of difficulty slowly and steadily. So how does this look for a slow and steady training plan?

One Monday, the phone rings as you are scraping plates into the garbage. You hang up the phone and find Buster, your 1 year old Lab, happily eating out of the garbage can. You yell at him and close the lid. Buster has never gotten in the garbage before and it’s been there his whole life, so you don’t think too much about it.

Tuesday, you find that Buster has knocked the lid off the trash and shredded paper towels everywhere. You put a phone book on the lid to hold it on and resolve to buy a sturdier garbage can.

Wednesday, while you are upstairs taking a shower, Buster can’t knock the lid off with his nose, so he jumps on the can and knocks the whole thing over. You come down to a gigantic mess. You run out to the store and buy a heavy metal can.

Thursday you are sure the problem is solved. Phew, a day with no mess!

Friday you don’t have time to walk Buster in the morning and he is all wound up. You leave him in the kitchen alone for just for a minute rather than putting him in his crate and Buster takes the opportunity to play kick the can with your new garbage can. The Simple Human proves no match for a determined Labrador!

Over the next week, you try bungee cords, putting the can up on the counter, putting bricks on the lid. All seem to work at first, but Buster is getting good at problem solving and he continues to find ways to help himself to table scraps, tissues, and other goodies. Besides being really frustrated by the mess, you begin to worry that Buster is going to eat something truly dangerous.

The next week, you buy a smaller can and make room for it in a locked cabinet under the kitchen sink. Problem solved. If you had started here, Buster would have forgotten about the garbage, but by presenting him with gradually more difficult challenges, you accidentally taught him to go to great lengths to raid the trash.

Often, when we are trying to teach a dog to do something (come when called, for example), we increase the level of difficulty way too quickly and the dog quits. Yet when we are trying to stop the dog from doing something (raiding the garbage, jumping over a baby gate, escaping through a gap in the fence), we make his task very gradually more difficult and the dog becomes very good at the very thing we are trying to stop.

So, keep this in mind: Dramatic changes in level of difficulty will cause your dog to quit. Whether this is a good thing or not depends on whether it’s something you want (Come) or something you don’t (garbage raiding).

Top of page

Can You Spoil Your Dog?

There have been a number of recent newspaper articles poking fun at dog owners who give their dogs massages, organic food, trips to doggie daycare etc, but are we really spoiling our dogs?

I don’t believe it is spoiling to make sure your dog is healthy, comfortable, well exercised and well fed. It is, however, spoiling to give your dog what he wants immediately just because he wants it.

I see a lot of dogs who will throw a temper tantrum whenever their wants are denied for a moment. They can’t bear to be fed five minutes late; they bark and scratch at the door if left alone even briefly; they mouth at hands if they aren’t petted the instant they want to be. Some of these dogs escalate their tantrums to the point of threatening people when they don’t get their way. Others become chronically anxious because they haven’t learned any coping skills. Spoiled dogs often end up having less rich lives because their bratty behavior makes them unwelcome in public, visiting relatives, on car rides etc.

Spoiling isn’t about what you give your dog; it’s about why and when. Just like kids, dogs become spoiled when they get everything they want the moment they want it.

From Wikipedia: Spoiled Child Syndrome is characterized by "excessive, self-centered, and immature behavior". It includes lack of consideration for other people, recurrent temper tantrums, an inability to handle the delay of gratification, demands for having one's own way, obstructiveness, and manipulation. Sound like any dogs you know?

Many dog owners treat their dogs like perpetual toddlers who will never grow up. However, dogs can become mature adults if we treat them as such. When raising children, parents are always thinking about teaching their kids to deal with the world as grown ups—they will need to learn to deal with disappointment, delayed gratification, rules that they don’t like etc. Since dogs never do grow up and leave home, there is the tendency to treat them as babies. However, treating them this way guarantees that you will be living with the equivalent of the terrible twos for the life of your dog. Wouldn’t you both be happier if your dog grew into a mature companion? He will still be the fun, cheerful buddy who loves to rip up squeaky toys, roll over for belly rubs, and welcome you home with a full body wag, he just will have the patience to deal with life’s inevitable delays and disappointments.

Here’s a checklist (http://www.diamondsintheruff.com/spoiled.html) to see if your dog is spoiled or if you are over-indulging your dog.

Top of page

Attention, Please! Teaching “Watch”

Trainer and author Brenda Aloff says that all behavior problems stem from failure to train impulse control, tolerance of body handling, or attention. I used to think that attention training was something that was only necessary for success in the obedience ring, where dogs are expected to heel next to their handlers while maintaining eye contact (Here is a YouTube video of Flash and me competing and you can see he doesn’t take his eyes off me), but more and more often I find myself teaching pet dog owners how to use focused attention to correct and prevent problems.

A dog that is looking at you is paying attention and is likely to follow your direction. He is also not staring anyone down or fixating on squirrels, cars, other dogs, bicycles etc etc. If you have trouble with your dog obsessing over any of these things, a good Watch cue will be very helpful. If you have trouble keeping your dog’s attention, Watch will teach him to stay focused.



1. Start with your dog sitting or standing in front of you. With a toy breed, you may want to kneel or sit in a chair.

2. Bring a treat from your dog’s nose directly to the bridge of your nose. Hold the treat between your thumb and finger so it is touching the space right between your eyebrows.

3. As soon as your dog makes eye contact (or cookie contact, it’s very hard at this stage to tell which!), say “Yes!”, pause, and give her the treat.

4. It’s very important that you don’t move your hand until after you’ve said Yes, otherwise you will be marking your dog for looking at the treat halfway between your face and hers. Our brains process language slower than movement, so you will have to make a conscious effort: Yes, pause, reward.
Repeat until your dog looks up at your face right away. Now start to cue “Watch” as you bring the treat up to your face.

5. Start to increase duration: praise (Good Dog!) and if she is still looking at you, Yes!, pause, reward. If she looks away when you praise, stop talking, wait for her to look back at your face, and start over with “Good Dog”—no treat until you can get through “Good Dog, Yes!” without her looking away.

6. Now, let’s get the cookie out from in front of your face. Put treats in both hands, let your dog sniff them, then bring both hands straight out to the side at shoulder height as you cue “Watch”. Most likely, your dog will look back and forth between your two hands. Be patient. As she gets frustrated, she will most likely look into your face for help. Bingo! Tell her “Yes!”, pause, and reward. Repeat until this is easy.

7. Build duration with your hands out as described in step 6.

8. Gradually (over a few repetitions) lower your hands to your sides. This will be harder since she now has to look up and away from the treats to make eye-contact.


9. Now let’s up the ante! Can she look at you while you wave a treat or toy around in the air? While another person walks in circles around you? While your kids push their noise making toys past you? If anything is too difficult, either move the distraction further away or have it move less until you are successful, then gradually increase the difficulty. You’ll know you are ready for the real thing when every new distraction causes your dog to lock in her focus on you in a determined way.

Top of page

Winter Activities

The Boxing Day snowstorm got me thinking about exercising the dogs without stepping out into the windy cold. My favorite winter weather activity is  hide and seek  link to article. Today, I have a list of ideas to keep you and your favorite canine busy indoors:

Take a walk up (and down and up and down) the stairs. Flash and I do ten sets every other day and believe me, you’ll feel it!

Play Dawn Jecs Choose to Heel Game 
Have a handful of treats ready, show them to your dog, and start walking briskly. Any time he catches up with you, give him a treat and head off in another direction. Quickly tighten up your criteria and only reward if your dog is in proper heel position (collar in line with your left pant seem). 

Teach a new trick. Roll over is a good one for laughs. Sit up and beg is a great core strength exercise for dogs. Both can easily be taught with a food lure (preferably a soft one that can be nibbled at) and some patience.

Come and Go Recalls: Show your dog a treat and toss it underhanded so that it goes past his nose and lands a few feet away. Encourage him to “Go Get It!” As soon as he picks up the treat, call him to “Come!” and reward once he is sitting in front of you. Once your dog catches on, make the game more challenging—as soon as you throw the first treat, run the other direction, wait until he has eaten his treat, and then call the dog to you. 

Puppy Push-ups: Sit, Down, Sit, Down etc. If you have a child or spouse at home, see who can get the dog to do ten push-ups fastest. If working on your own, mix up how frequently you treat and only treat the fastest responses. Once your dog is doing well, save the treats and use them as a jackpot at the end.

Kibble toss: Don’t waste your dogs dry food (kibble) by putting it in a bowl and letting him wolf it down in 30 seconds. Make him work for it! Toss a cup of kibble all over your (clean) kitchen floor for him to find or better yet scatter kibble the length of a flight of stairs. Soak kibble in water, stuff into a Kong toy, and freeze for a long leisurely meal.

For agility addicts, here’s a short list of indoor activities. Just remember to go slow! Only work on things three days per week and build reps gradually. It's easy to get carried away having fun with this when you are not the one doing push-ups!

Strength training: walking stairs, sit up and beg, stand on three legs (hold one up for ten seconds), walking on hind legs, walking on front legs, balance with front or rear legs on an exercise ball. Here's a video of Flash working on his exercise ball: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8SDDFpBvErc 

Body awareness: Walking backward, walking backward up stairs, trot through a ladder placed on the ground, place front feet on a perch and pivot in a circle, put four feet in a box or on a small platform.

Skills: Hand targeting, nose targeting, weave entries with 2 X 2s, focus forward, two on two off contact training on stairs or on an angled plank, start line stays, table practice using a piece of plywood on the floor or an ottoman.

Top of page

Success Off-Leash

Here are some dos and don’ts to successfully working with your dog off-leash, whether in your backyard, the dog park, at an agility class, or on a hiking trail.

DO reward your dog for checking in with you with praise and an occasional treat. Remember, paying attention to you is a good thing! All too often, when puppies check in, they are told to go play. This leads to an adult dog who ignores you when let off-leash.

DON’T associate the leash coming off with running away from you. Take the leash off and play with a toy, play find the cookie on the ground, or ask for a trick and reward it. When you are ready, dismiss your dog very clearly “OK, Go Play”. If necessary, have two leashes attached so that if your dog tries to bolt when you take off the first one, you can prevent it.

DO get your baby puppy used to following you off-leash. Puppies are very concerned about losing you in their first few weeks in your home (typically up to at least 12 weeks) and at this age, you can catch them pretty easily. I take my puppies hiking in farm fields or big corporate campus lawns or friends’ fenced yards at this age (places where dog germs are minimal) and just walk. Any time the puppy catches up to me, he or she gets lots of praise, petting and sometimes a treat. I don’t ever coax the puppy and periodically I’ll hide behind a tree and wait for the puppy to find me. I want them to learn that it’s their job to keep track of me, not visa versa.

DON’T chase your dog to exercise him unless you can stop the game at will with a sit or come command. If this is a challenge, put a long line on your dog, encourage him to Run, Run or use whatever your cue is for keep-away, then after a couple minutes, ask for a sit. If he doesn’t sit, walk your way up the long line and hold him on a short leash until he sits. As soon as he does, release him with “OK” followed by your keep-away cue. Repeat until you don’t ever need to get hold of the long line before you try this off-leash.

DO use a leash or long line when you need it for safety or to make sure your dog is successful in responding to your cues, but don’t use it as a crutch. All too often, when the dog is on leash, the owner is free to check out! If you aren't paying attention to your dog, he won’t pay attention to you either. To see how dependant you are on the leash, try draping it over your shoulders or tying it around your waist rather than holding it in your hand. Can you keep your dog with you without needing to touch the leash?

DO call your dog frequently when he is free in your yard, hiking, or in the dog park. Reward him with a treat, praise, or throwing a ball (only use petting if your dog really enjoys it while playing outdoors—most dogs don’t), and then immediately dismiss him to go play. If you only call your dog when you are ready to leave, he will associate being called with ending the fun.

Got you thinking? If you'd like to learn more about keeping your dog's attention off-leash, Leslie McDevitt's book "Control Unleashed"  has lots of great games and exercises aimed at teaching agility dogs to stay focused while off-leash. 

Top of page

But He Knows it at Home!

As a dog trainer, I frequently hear this lament as an embarrassed owner struggles to get his dog to sit, come or lie down. And I don’t doubt for a minute that the dog has an awesome sit in his own kitchen. Many dogs listen well at home with no visitors or distractions, but fail to follow commands when in a new place. And no, they don’t do this just to embarrass you!

Dogs don’t generalize well to new situations. Webster’s defines generalization as “the act or process whereby a response is made to a stimulus that is similar to but not identical with a reference stimulus.” The only stimulus you are trying to teach your dog is the word “Sit”, but initially the complete stimulus from your dog’s perspective may include you standing up, facing him, smiling, and holding a treat above his head in your kitchen. When we begin training, the word that is said is probably the least relevant piece of the puzzle to your dog. Dogs don’t use a verbal language—their language is primarily signal based. And us, we talk all the time and dogs learn to ignore our chatter. This is especially true when we can’t even stick to “Rover, Sit” and instead say “Come on, Rover, sit … sit-down”.

So, you’ve been working on that sit in the kitchen and now you move to the living room, sit on the couch, don’t have a treat, and grumpily ask Rover to sit. He probably will not respond at all. This situation is clearly not identical to the reference stimulus that your dog learned. You’ve changed multiple pieces of the puzzle all at once (new environment, new posture, new facial expression, and no treat to keep his focus). Sadly, many owners give up at this point and decide that their dog is either stupid or stubborn.

Instead, you need to repeat to yourself “Dogs don’t generalize well!” and only change the stimulus in one small way at a time. You could practice in the kitchen as before, but this time, sit in a chair. Got it? Great! Now try it without a treat in your hand but making the same hand gesture. Got it—good, be sure to grab a treat from your pocket or the counter for your dog so he doesn’t learn no cookie in your hand equals no reward. (See the article on Lures, Bribes and Rewards in the Winter 10 newsletter for a discussion of how to fade the lure and move to using rewards). Next turn sideways from your dog, ask for a sit while you are moving, lying on the floor etc. Going well in the kitchen? Move to the living room again but this time make it easy to start with—Stand up, face your dog, give a signal. Try to only change one piece of the picture at a time.

Remember, dogs don’t generalize well, so you need to practice in a wide variety of circumstances. Things to vary systematically:

  • Your body position: sitting, standing, lying, turned away, looming over
  • The surface: tile, carpet, grass, concrete
  • The sound: whisper, yell, sound irritated or rushed
  • The person: if only one person trains the dog, he may not listen to others. If you want your dog to listen to the whole family, they will have to practice.
  • The location: different rooms inside your house, garage, back deck, front yard, sidewalk, park, dog park
  • The distractions: other people, doggy friends, squirrels, noises, smells

Even small changes to the picture can make it harder for your dog to understand you. A recent study showed that dogs follow commands better if the owner is facing them and less well if the owner is wearing sunglasses (M. Fukuzawa et al, Applied Animal Behavior Science, 91, 129-141.)

Next time you have trouble getting your dog to respond, stop right where you are and look at your body position, the environment etc and try to figure out what might be confusing your dog.

And here is a training challenge for you: Teach a trick you’ve never worked on before (spin, hand touch, high five etc) and carefully generalize it to new locations, body positions etc. You’ll be amazed at how resilient a behavior can be when it has been truly and carefully generalized.

Top of page

Lures, Bribes and Rewards

I love the simplicity of lure and reward training, but I have found that there is one major drawback to this method: it encourages owners to bribe their dogs.

What is a bribe? A bribe is something offered in hopes of getting what you want. The person (or dog) being bribed can then decide if it is worth his while. He may cooperate or he may just keep the bribe without doing what you wanted. Think about situations where we use bribes with people—sketchy border crossings, corrupt public officials etc. If you think about it, we use bribes in situations where service is terrible, and lo and behold, service continues to get worse. You wouldn’t think of bribing a border guard if things were going smoothly and you were being passed right through. It’s only when you are kept waiting for a long time and put through many hoops that it occurs to you that perhaps in this country a bribe would help. (I think I once paid a bribe to get into Guatemala, but then again maybe it was a legitimate fee…).

The moral of this story is that bribing always rewards inaction and inattention. If you have asked your dog to do something and he fails to comply, the worst thing you can do at that moment is to offer him food (or a toy or a car ride). This is paying your dog for refusing to listen. Quite quickly he will start to wait to see what is on offer before complying. Susan Garrett has a funny story about bribes in the mode of a Far Side cartoon on her blog http://susangarrettdogagility.com/2009/09/whos-shaping-who.html

What is a lure? A lure is a toy or treat used to show the dog how to do the desired behavior. For example, a treat is held in front of the dog’s nose and then drawn between his front legs. When he lies down, he is given the treat, which has now become a reward. When luring is used correctly, it is a quick and effective training method. However, there are two keys to using lures correctly: don’t use a lure to get your dog’s attention and stop using a lure as quickly as possible.

You should only use a lure during a training session where you already have the dog’s attention and you are working as a team. If the dog is distracted and you put a treat in front of his nose (or squeak a toy), then you are teaching him that ignoring you pays off. So get his attention first or move to a less distracting environment, then go ahead and teach a behavior by luring.

Once the dog will readily perform the behavior for a treat, you must fade the lure so that the dog learns to respond to a verbal or hand signal. If you continue to use the lure, the dog will become overly dependent on it and see the lure as part of the cue. To fade the lure, give a verbal command first, follow with the exact same hand gesture without the lure in your hand, then reward from your other hand or a pocket.

What is a reward? A reward is something given as a thank-you after the behavior has occurred. Tipping a waiter is a reward. Rewards increase the chance that the desired behavior will happen again—that waiter is likely to provide good service if you return to the restaurant.

I find that most people tend to lure for too long and then reward too stingily, which leads to a dog who wants proof that he is going to be paid. Try thinking of the process this way:

  • Luring: 10-100 times until the dog is smoothly executing the behavior.
  • Acquisition: Dog is still learning what the word/ hand signal mean. Practice in a wide variety of locations and with distractions. Reward each correct response, but don’t show the reward in advance. The reward stays in your pocket or on the counter until is has been earned. Make sure to vary the reward and use life rewards. Expect to stay at this stage for a couple thousand repetitions or a few months. 
  • Polishing: Reward only the better responses—faster, straighter, around more difficult distractions etc. This teaches your dog to try harder. Often, you will be at the polishing stage at home, but still at the acquisition stage in public.
  • Maintenance: Jackpot excellent responses occasionally. Turn your dog into a gambler. Use a wide variety of rewards including life rewards (walks, car rides etc).

And then there is the 20,000 dollar question: What if my dog doesn’t listen and I’m tempted to bribe?

First of all, I really try to avoid asking more of my dogs than they are capable of doing at their current level of training. I don’t want to be giving an eight year-old kid a calculus test. So prior to giving a command, please do ask yourself if it is reasonable to expect your dog to understand what you are asking.

However, there will be times that either I misjudge their level of understanding or they understand just fine but would rather do something else. If this is the case, I can either wait them out (if you don’t sit, I’m not putting your leash on) or physically assist (gently place the dog in a sit, go get them if they didn’t come etc). If neither of these is an option, I'll be very careful not to get stuck in the same situation again as this is how dogs learn to ignore commands.

Top of page

Hide and Seek

Hide and Seek is one of my favorite rainy day dog games. With very little effort on my part, I can keep both dogs busy running around the house for five or ten minutes at a stretch searching for a hidden toy. Hide and seek can be played with hidden children (visiting pre-schoolers are perfect!), biscuits, balls, or toys. I like to play with squeaky toys because then I can hear when the dogs have found them. Of course, the item has to be valuable enough that your dog will want to find it, so give the kids some special treats or use a toy that is normally kept in the closet.

A solid sit or down stay is a pre-requisite for hide and seek. Do a test—can your dog hold a stay while you place a treat on the floor a few feet in front of him? If so, you are good to go. If not, revisit your dog’s stay training and gradually work up to this—can he stay while you hold a cookie at nose height two feet away for a count of one? Yes! and reward. Now hold the treat six inches lower—if he reaches for it, pull the treat up and away and remind him to sit and stay. Keep at it until the stay is solid.

To start teaching hide and seek, ask your dog to stay and place a toy in plain sight a few feet away, then release him to find it (OK! Find it!). Do this a few times in a row each time with the toy a little further away. Next, set up your dog in a stay facing a doorway. Step into the doorway and let him watch you place the toy just out of sight—he can see your arm placing the toy on the ground but can’t quite see the toy. Once again, release him to find it. Please don’t help! If he doesn’t find it within a few minutes or loses interest, pick the toy up yourself but don’t give it to him. Put him back on a stay and try again, but make it a little easier.

Once you can place the toy out of sight and your dog can easily find it, start hiding it a little further away or in a different direction. There is a balancing act here—you want him to have to work a little, but you don’t want to make the challenge to be so hard that your dog gives up. Sounds a lot like training in general, doesn’t it!

Pretty soon, you can get creative. Some of my favorite hiding places are in the bathtub, at the top of the attic stairs where no one goes, behind radiators, under piles of dirty laundry, on a chair pulled up to the dining table—you get the idea! Just don’t hide things where your dogs aren’t allowed to go. I don’t put toys on tables or counters since my dogs aren’t allowed to take things from those places.

Please don’t let your dog cheat! Ally is learning this game and it’s very cute to watch her and Flash sitting side by side in the kitchen waiting to be released for the search. She is still learning, though, and occasionally she gets up without permission. When that happens, I lead her back to her spot and remind her to stay, then we try again. If she makes a mistake again, I end the game and put stay practice on our to do list.

Top of page

Puppy Priorities

I have a new puppy! Ally was born April 20th, 2009 and joined the household on June 17th. She is a Vizsla. My clients have been very curious about what I’m doing with Ally, so here are my priorities for eight to sixteen weeks:

  • Socialization: Ally’s breeder did an awesome job socializing this litter and Ally is very excited to meet new people including men and kids. Nonetheless, I don’t want to take this for granted. We tend to have a quiet household, so we’ve made point of regularly having people over for dinner, having my agility students come in the house to meet her etc. I also try to walk her in a busy neighborhood like downtown Princeton or Rocky Hill every other day.
  • Play with your own stuff: I want Ally to be able to have run of the house as soon as possible, so I was very careful in the first few weeks to keep all shoes put away, kitchen towels up on the counters rather than hanging from the refrigerator door etc. I also used gates, an ex-pen and a leash to restrict her access so that whenever she was out of her crate, the only things within reach were her bones and toys. I made sure she got lots of attention for chewing on her own stuff. After a month, she is starting to seek out dog toys to play with and mostly ignoring other items--except socks!
  • Play with me: Most puppies love to play tug with their owners, but lots of adult dogs lose interest in playing with their people. We play tug multiple times a day and are now working on playing tug in lots of new places. I want her to be able to focus on playing with me despite distractions. 
  • Sit to say hi: Ally is a very bouncy, pawsy puppy. Often, owners tolerate this when the puppy is small, but get angry when paws are muddy or the dog gets big. Ally’s rule is that her butt has to be on the ground to visit. If she jumps, I either turn away or slip a thumb in her collar and gently lift her off of me with no comment and no eye contact. At this point, she very rarely jumps on me, but she has a long way to go with other people! Of course, training the other people is by far the hardest part.
  • Control yourself: Ally’s rules already include sit while I fix dinner, sit to have your leash put on, sit to come out of your crate, sit before I’ll throw a toy. All of these rules are easy to enforce—if she won’t sit, I won’t cooperate!
  • Come: I started teaching an emergency recall cue (I use Come) as soon as Ally could sit. We started with yelling Come as she sat in front of me and I fed her lots of treats. Then with her sitting in front, I would take one step back, lure her to come towards me and sit again, and feed her lots of treats. Gradually, we built distance and faded out the lure, but she still gets rewarded generously every time she comes. I’m also careful not to use my emergency Come! for everyday situations when I need her to come along—that’s Let’s Go.
  • Explore new objects: As a future agility star, I want Ally to love walking on new things. I’ve been using a clicker and shaping her to climb on a box, wobble board, plank, log etc etc.
  • Hold still: Dogs need to learn to be still and tolerate restraint for grooming, vet visits, pulling off ticks etc. There have been lots of protests about this, but Ally spends a little time restrained in a sit, stand and/or a down every day.
  • Settle in a crate: This was the hardest one for Ally. Initially, she screamed her head off unless I was right next to her. She was having full panic attacks and wouldn’t eat when in her crate. It took most of our first two weeks together for her to learn to relax when separated from people. This required patiently waiting out the screaming and going back to reward any quiet. At first, she wouldn’t eat the treats I would drop through the door for quiet moments, but eventually she started eating and stopped screaming. It’s important for puppies to learn to relax in crates both when home alone and also while people are home but busy. You never know when you will need to confine your dog for a repairman, scared child, or because the dog needs rest after surgery.

Top of page

Turning Tug Into Fetch

Almost all puppies will play tug with very little encouragement, but getting them to retrieve can be a bit more of a challenge. While I enjoy tug and I don’t believe it causes behavior problems, it isn’t nearly as good exercise as fetch and with my big dogs I’ve found it rather hard on my shoulders. So teaching a good retrieve is a priority for me.

New puppy owners make a lot of mistakes when trying to teach their dogs to fetch: they chase after the puppies, teaching keep-away; they coax and thus unintentionally praise their puppies whenever the pups loose interest in the game; and they insist on stealing the toy whenever the puppy brings it to them.

Here’s how I like to teach fetch. I find a narrow space like a hallway or small room and set myself up sitting on a dog bed in the doorway. I start by teasing the puppy with a toy, and when I’m sure she’s focused on it, I throw it a short distance underhanded. When the puppy picks up the toy, there is nowhere else to go other than back towards me—so now I can praise my pup for retrieving. When she gets to me, I praise her some more and start a game of tug. At this point, I want the game to be 90% tug and 10% fetch, so we tug for a while. When I want the toy back, I stop tugging and gently hold the puppy still either in my arms or by her collar until she chooses to drop it, then I immediately bring the toy back to life and throw it again. With a baby puppy, I only throw the toy four or five times, and then we stop before she can loose interest.

If the puppy isn’t interested in chasing the toy but likes to tug, I can start the game by tugging the puppy into the narrow space, letting go of the toy, and backing up. Once again, the puppy has no where to go other than to bring it back to me and I get to tell her what a great job she is doing.

So set your puppy up for success! If you start to teach fetch in a small narrow space, she’ll never learn to run off with the toy. Ally is just starting to graduate to playing fetch in a long hallway, but I’m guessing is will be another month or two before we try playing fetch in an open room or outdoors. For now, we play lots of tug outside, but I only work on fetch when I’m sure she will be successful.

Top of page

Why Dog Trainers Hate Retractable Leashes

Retractable leashes (often called by their brand name, Flexi) are very popular with the general public, but most trainers are not fans and ban them from classes. Why? We’ve learned the hard way of all the problems these leashes can cause.

Injuries: Cuts, rope burns, and scarily amputations. Imagine what would happen if your finger was caught up in the cord when your dog took off after a squirrel. There is also potential for the snap to break, releasing your dog and then whipping back into your face as the spring recoils. This has led to eye injuries and broken teeth.

Here is an ABC news report on injuries. And here is a link to a long list of warnings on the Flexi website:

Bolting dogs: If the plastic box is pulled out of the owner's hand, now the dog is being chased by a scary, noisy object. A trainer friend of mine had a client who dropped her Golden’s retractable--the dog panicked, bolted into traffic, and was killed by a car.

Tangled dogs: If two dogs start to play, they are quite likely to get tangled in the cord, which can lead to fights and injuries.

Broken and dropped retractable leashes: It is darn hard to hold onto that plastic box if even a medium sized dog hits the end of the leash full tilt. Even if you do hold on, the cord is held to the handle inside by plastic components that will break under stress.

Lack of control: If your dog is 16 feet in front of you and a squirrel runs in front of him and into the street, you can’t stop him from running into traffic. There is also no way to easily bring your dog closer if he is trying to pull toward something. 

So, would I ever use a retractable? Sure. I’ve used one when potty training a young puppy when I didn’t have a fenced yard. It’s convenient to be able to sit on the back steps and drink my tea while the puppy wanders around and finds a spot to go. And I will use one on hiking trails with a well trained adult dog who I would otherwise have off leash if the law allowed it (note that most NJ parks require a 6 foot leash).

Top of page

Sit For Your Supper

Mealtimes are an exciting time for most dogs, but some dogs overdo the celebration making feeding time an unpleasant chore. Does your dog bark, spin, nip at you, knock the bowl out of your hand or otherwise make dinnertime unpleasant? Here’s how to calm things down.

First, remember that any behavior that comes before dinner will be rewarded when you feed your dog. Many dogs superstitiously believe that the barking, jumping etc is what speeds you up and makes dinner happen. From their perspective, they bark; you feed them, so barking must be the best way to get dinner.

So from here on out, rude behavior makes the feeding process stop. On days when you don’t have time to work on this, put your dog outside or in another room while you prepare dinner and put it down. Only then let your dog into the room.

We will start by teaching your dog to sit politely while you place his bowl on the floor and release him to eat. Prepare a bowl with ¼ of your dog’s meal (put him outside if necessary while doing this). Show your dog the bowl, hold it over his head, and ask him once to sit. Now wait. Presuming he knows what sit means, he will eventually sit, although he may spend a minute or two barking first. When he sits, take one piece of kibble out of the bowl and reward him. From here on out, you will say nothing; your actions will tell your dog what to do.

As long as he is still sitting, lower the bowl a couple of inches. If he gets up, immediately raise the bowl back up and wait for a sit. Then try lowering it again. If you can lower it two inches and he is still sitting, reach for a piece of kibble out of the bowl and reward him. Now lower it another couple of inches, give him another piece. Continue like this lowering the bowl, rewarding from the bowl, and lifting the bowl back up any time he moves.

Over the course of 10 minutes, you should be able to get the bowl close to the floor. Don’t quit now! Try touching the bowl to the floor, but be prepared to immediately pick it up out of reach if he moves. If he stays sitting, give him three treats, one at a time, by hand from the bowl. Still sitting? Now is the time to give your release cue (Free! OK! or whatever) and let him eat.

Repeat the whole exercise with another ¼ of his dinner. If more than one person feeds the dog, then each person should try this.

Troubleshooting: If the dog keeps sitting too close to the bowl making it hard to lower it without letting him take a bite, either put your body between the dog and the bowl (lower bowl with left hand, feed with right with dog on your right, for example) or you could tether him to something to keep him in one place.

Be sure you are waiting to reach for the kibble to reward your dog until he has earned it. Don’t have a piece of kibble in your hand when you are lowering the bowl.

Real Life:

Ideally, work on this at each meal. Usually for the first few days it takes a while, but after that it goes very quickly. If you are in a hurry, fix the meal and put it down while your dog is outside or in a crate, then let him into the kitchen to eat. This way he can’t practice his old ways.

Meal Preparation:

For many dogs, the craziness starts long before you go to put the food down. If this is the case, for the first week, crate your dog or put him outside while fixing the meal then proceed as above. Once you are making progress on sitting for dinner, start working on calm behavior during meal prep: Pick up your dog’s bowl and head for the pantry. At any sign of rude behavior (jumping, barking, nipping etc), put the bowl on a counter and walk away. Spend a couple of minutes doing dishes, reading the paper or whatever, then try again. Be ready to interrupt the feeding process any time there is rude behavior. The first couple of days, this can take quite some time, but if you stick to your guns the problem is usually solved in a week.

Top of page

Lost and Found Dogs

I recently had the good fortune to join a friend in her hunt for her lost dog at just the right moment. On our first pass through the neighborhood, Bonnie and I were yelling Mariah! over and over when suddenly there was rustling in the bushes and out trotted a very tired and bedraggled Cocker Spaniel. What a joyous moment! The other teams out searching in an adjacent neighborhood heard our screams and soon we were all fussing over Mariah and exchanging teary hugs.

Finding Mariah was no coincidence, however. Bonnie and her friends had put in hours worth of footwork and followed all the advice of experts over a two day search before I showed up on day two to join the search.

It all started Thursday morning when Bonnie was off at a herding lesson with her other dog and Mariah was home with Bonnie’s husband. He went out the back gate to take out the trash and left it open for a minute while he was out. Usually, Mariah wouldn’t think to leave the yard, but just then the neighbor’s lawn care service came by with a leaf blower and Mariah took off in a panic and was out of sight in an instant.

So began two days of intensive searching. Bonnie started by walking familiar routes with her other dogs in tow and calling and calling. After a few hours of searching, she spoke with the local mail carrier, called the police station, animal control and the local vet to report her lost dog. Then she went home, created a “lost dog” flyer on her PC, and posted some near her home and by the local shopping center in front of the grocery store and drug store. By late afternoon, she realized this wasn’t going to be over quickly and she got in touch with lots of friends in the dog community to organize a search for the next morning. Fortuitously, Bonnie’s friend Carol called with a tip to check out FindToto.com. Bonnie did and quickly decided to use the site’s service to have all her neighbors within a mile notified. In short order, several calls came in reporting sightings in a development a mile from home, but Bonnie was unable to find Mariah there and she went home for the night. The next day, more posters went up and friends in teams of two combed the neighborhood passing out flyers to neighbors jogging, walking their dogs, driving to work, and to children waiting for school buses. Calls went out to schools bus drivers, and follow up calls to police, animal control, vets etc, etc.. Bonnie’s cell phone kept ringing with more calls of Mariah sightings, leading the search to new areas. The searchers were beginning to get rather dispirited by the time I arrived for the relief shift late Friday afternoon, but persistence paid off and we found Mariah in the bushes along an old railroad track running behind a house half a block from her last reported sighting.

We all know there are things we should do to keep our dogs safe, but sometimes it takes something close to home to give us that push. Both my dogs are microchipped and have current licenses on, but Lexi lost her ID tag sometime this year. Time to order a new one! And while I always keep rabies certificates in my car, now I’ve added current pictures as well. Here are some things you can do to keep your dog from becoming a lost dog and tips in case you ever find yourself looking for a lost dog.

Prevention:

ID tag with address and phone number as well as NJ license tag. Personally, I have returned half a dozen lost dogs that have had ID to their owners. If the dog doesn’t have ID, I just call animal control.

Microchip: if your dog does get to a shelter, it will be scanned. Be sure that you have paid to register the chip and that you keep your address and phone number up to date with the registry.

Photos: Have a good close up photo of your dog ready to use. If you travel with your dog, keep a photo as well as current rabies certificate in your glove compartment.

Gates: Put a padlock on your gate or, if you don't want to lock it, put a clip through the latch to keep it from accidentally unlatching.

Holidays/Thunder etc: Animal shelters are always crowded on July 5th because many dogs panic and take off when they hear fireworks. Be aware of things that frighten your dog and keep him safe indoors.

What You Should Keep Updated and Readily Available:

Phone numbers:

  • Local police department (non-emergency number)
  • Names / phone numbers of local schools
  • Post Office – to contact mail carriers
  • School bus company
  • Animal control / local shelters
  • Local vets


Information:

  • Microchip number / phone number of service (Avid, Home Again)
  •  If you are not PC-savvy, know where there is a copy center that can make flyers for you quickly


If Your Dog is Lost:

Thoroughly check your own property. If your dog was frightened, he may be hiding under your deck, for example.

Walk your normal walking route. Dogs are creatures of habit and when they get out of a gate, they are likely to head in the same direction you usually take them. As you walk, be sure to keep calling their name and then pause to see if you hear anything. You can also use a squeaky toy or a clicker (if your dog is familiar with it) to make noise. Be sure to carry a leash, treats, a water bottle and throat lozenges, as this is not the time to lose your voice. Wear clothes, especially shoes, that ‘smell like you’. Also carry a flashlight for looking under cars, storage sheds etc. Injured dogs will likely be hiding.

Ask everyone you meet if they have seen your dog. Kids are often eager to help. Be sure to give them your cell phone number in case they see your dog. Bring pens and paper to write your number down.

If you don’t find your dog on your first circuit, stop to make up flyers. Use a good, close-up photo and be sure to list breed, color, weight, sex, and age, but keep the description general – Mariah is buff, but most people understood blonde. Also the color of the collar is very helpful. Give the date the dog was lost and your cell phone number, but for safety leave off your address. Also hold back one or two details of your dog’s description so that you can tell that the person calling really has seen your dog. Post as many flyers as possible within a l mile radius of where your pet was lost. When you post the flyers, post them low enough to be read by children and drivers. Also post them at the local stores, post office and train station. Flyers are how most lost pets are found.

Visit your local Animal Control or Animal Shelter. Contact your township to find out where stray animals are held and then make sure to go there and look. Asking on the phone is not sufficient since your description of the dog may not match theirs. Be sure to leave a flyer and keep checking back. In New Jersey, stray dogs must be held for seven days before being adopted out or euthanized.

Contact local veterinarians and emergency vets to see if any dogs have been brought in that have been hit by cars. Again, leave a flyer there, and keep checking back.

Find out what agency picks up dogs that have been hit by cars (usually either animal control or department of transportation) and contact them.

Make use of technology. There are lots of websites devoted to lost and found ads and services to help you find your lost dog. Find Toto was the key to finding Mariah. They will autodial neighbors within a given radius and leave an automated message describing your dog and leaving your phone number. There is a charge for this service, but Bonnie received a dozen calls that allowed her to pinpoint the neighborhood that Mariah was in and focus her search efforts there.  Our local tracking club has a useful page with hints for finding lost dogs and links to many web services.

Don't give up hope--stay positive that you will find your dog. Mariah’s search teams met many strangers who were genuinely concerned and offered to help look for her. People who had called reporting “Mariah sightings” called back later, hoping to hear that she had been found.

Mariah’s story has a happy ending because Bonnie took action quickly and had lots of help from both friends and strangers. Happily, Mariah was none the worse for wear after crossing several very busy roads and spending the night outdoors alone. She just really wanted dinner!

Top of page

Teaching Go To Bed

Sending your dog to his bed is a convenient way to prevent him from pestering guests, running off with the game pieces when your kids are playing on the living room floor, begging or stealing food while you are cooking, etc. Lying on his bed allows your dog to remain in the room while keeping him from getting in trouble. While it would be unreasonable to expect your dog to hold a sit or down stay for 30 minutes without moving, asking him to remain on his bed while allowing him to change position is perfectly fair.

Getting started: First we are going to teach your dog that his bed is a wonderful place, then we will teach him to go there and stay there. Make sure to have lots of treats available. I prefer to use dry dog food kibble for this, which your dog should be willing to work for if he isn’t being overfed. Just subtract the kibble used for training from his next meal.

  1. Lure your dog onto his bed. Once he is on the bed, drop kibble on the bed every few seconds for a solid minute. Use a leash and body blocking to prevent your dog from leaving the bed. Be sure to vary your body position.
  2. Release your dog from the bed with Free! or OK! and lead him a couple steps away with the leash. Wait and see what happens. If your dog looks at the bed or takes a step towards it, Yes! or Click and start to drop treats on the bed again.
  3. Gradually increase the distance you lead your dog away after releasing him from the bed. When he starts to eagerly run back to the bed once you let go of his collar, you can start to name this behavior (Go to Bed, Place, Mat, or when Lexi was a young pest, it was GO TO YOUR ROOM!).
  4. Separately from working on building distance, you will want to work on building duration. Start to gradually wait longer between treats. In early training sessions, treats will practically be raining down, but as your dog gets hooked on running to his bed, start to increase and vary the time between treats. So it might look like 2 seconds, 10 seconds, 5 seconds, 20 seconds, 2 seconds, 15 seconds, 30 seconds, 5 seconds and then release your dog. If your dog starts to leave the bed, either block him with your body or use the leash to prevent him from leaving. Once your dog is patiently waiting 30 seconds between treats, you can start to really increase the time between rewards and start to alternate returning to pet your dog with returning with a treat. Over the course of a few weeks of practice, you can switch to primarily petting and praise rewards with occasional treats. 
  5. Pitfalls: Be careful your dog doesn’t learn that it pays better to leave the bed and go back then just to stay there. If your dog makes a mistake, don’t immediately reward him for fixing it. Wait to reward until he has been back on the bed for a few seconds. You also want to be sure your dog learns that calm behavior on the bed is the best way to get rewarded. So be sure to offer petting and treats when your dog is lying quietly, rather than fidgeting. Personally, I permit any position on the bed, but I reward more for lying down with head on paws, since that is what I like best.Voilà, now you have a dog who will run to his bed when asked and remain there until you have released him. Now see how many ways you can put it to use! 

Top of page

Electric Fences:

I’m often asked by new puppy owners what I think of “invisible” fences. The short answer is: I’m not a fan. However, there are clearly pros and cons to installing an electronic containment system (ECS). Note that Invisible Fence® is a brand of ECS.

Pros:

  • First and foremost, fences save dogs from being hit by cars. Both real and invisible fences can accomplish this goal.
  • ECS is significantly cheaper than installing real fence around the same acreage.
  • Some homeowners’ associations prohibit real fences but allow ECS.
  • ECS doesn’t block your view and allows people to freely come and go.


Cons:

  • Electric fences work because they are very painful. Don’t kid yourself about this. Yes, it is the same kind of sensation as a static shock from carpet, but multiplied many times over.
  • Your dog may become afraid to be in your yard at all. Many dogs trained on ECS only feel safe within a couple of feet of the house or on the deck. Obviously, this can lead to housetraining problems, problems exercising your dog, and of course this defeats the purpose of having a fenced yard.
  • Your dog may become fearful or aggressive towards people or animals on the other side of the fence because he associates them with the beep or shock.
  • ECS won’t contain all dogs. Some dogs with very high pain thresholds or a strong desire to run and chase will chose to “take the shock”.
  • ECS does not keep people out. If you have a cute, friendly dog, you risk having him stolen. If your dog is afraid of children, you risk having him bite a neighbor's child who chases him.
  • Many breeds of dogs have been bred at least in part to guard property. This behavior usually doesn’t show up until 1 ½-3 years, so your puppy may be fine with people when you put him on ECS, but a year later he bites an intruder. Putting a guard breed in a yard alone and expecting him to know the difference between friend and foe is unrealistic and dangerous. This doesn’t just apply to my breed (Rottweilers), but also Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, Chows, and many other breeds with guarding tendencies.
  • ECS also doesn’t keep your dog safe from passing dogs. One of my clients complains that a couple of her neighbors let their dogs off leash to play with her dog when it is out on ECS and that she has never met them or approved this. Yikes!
  • Dogs whose boundaries are close to the road often get in the habit of chasing cars/bikes/kids etc. Once they have developed these habits behind an ECS, they will exhibit same behavior then when you are walking them or if they get loose.
  • ECS can fail. Batteries die, shaved patches on longhaired dogs grow back so that the contacts don’t work, and some systems can be affected by rain or by interference from other electronic devices.

Alternatives:

Let’s face it; real fencing is expensive. However, you really don’t need to fence your whole yard. How about fencing a 10 x 30 stretch of the side yard that you never use anyway? This gives you the option in bad weather of letting the dog out to potty without having to stay out there and gives you enough room to play fetch. Provided there is shade, you now also have somewhere safe to leave your dog while repairmen are working or allergic relatives visit. Another nice benefit is that now the poop is confined to one area and you can safely walk in your own back yard.

Another option is a dog trolley or runner. This is a cable run between two trees with a leash attached that allows your dog to run but keeps him from getting tangled.

Finally, you can simply keep your dog with you outside, either by training a solid recall or by using a long line so that your dog can safely run and play.


And if you do decide to install ECS:

Please wait until your dog is at least six months old and housetrained.

Consider installing a figure 8 pattern, so that your dog has access to the front yard only if let out the front door. Most dogs don’t need constant access to the front yard and they are likely to get in more trouble there.

Don’t leave your dog outside unsupervised.

When your dog gets shocked, don’t baby him and don’t let him go back in the house for 30 minutes. Continue to walk the perimeter so that he understands that it is just crossing the boundary is unsafe, not the whole yard.

Personally, I wouldn’t ever install an electronic containment system, but they do work out well for many people and dogs. Please just think about it seriously and consider your dog and your neighborhood and whether it is appropriate and necessary.

Top of page

Default or Automatic Behaviors: When the environment provides the cue

As a dog trainer, I spend a lot of time teaching dogs commands, but there are also situations where I want my dogs to just know what they are supposed to do without a command. For example, I want them to automatically wait to come out of the car, their crates or the front door of the house. I want my puppies to learn to automatically sit to greet people and to sit to have their leashes put on. For agility, I want an automatic down on the pause table.

Why don’t I use a command? Mostly because I don’t want the behavior to be dependant on my presence. I still want my dogs to greet people politely even if I’m out of the room. I want them to wait to exit the car even if someone else opens the door or the door pops open because I failed to latch it properly. 

In these examples, the environment itself becomes the cue for the behavior: an open gate is a cue to wait, the leash is a cue to sit etc. This is actually easier than teaching verbal commands since dogs don’t naturally pay much attention to language but they are very aware of changes in the environment. By far the hardest part is remembering not to say anything! 

So it’s worth considering in a variety of situations whether you want to use a command or have the situation itself be the command. If you are going to teach a default behavior, it’s just as important to be consistent as it is with a verbal command. That means every time you take the dog out the door, you enforce an automatic wait—if your dog starts to go through the door without permission, you use a leash, the door, or body blocking to stop them. You will also need to reward the automatic wait some of the time. If you are going to release your dog from the default behavior (allow him out the door or off the pause table, for example), be sure to use the same release cue that you do from a stay (Free! or OK!).


And it works!

I recently had reason to be glad that I teach boundaries at my house as default behaviors. My dad was visiting and had been out in the garden in the morning and must not have closed the back gate off my deck properly. We left to go to Home Depot and came back an hour later to find the gate wide open. From inside the house, I couldn’t see Lexi (who had access to the deck through a dog door), but when I ran outside I found her lying inside the open gate watching wildlife. What a relief! What a good dog!

Top of page

Are You Ready For A Second Dog?

I often see clients who have done everything right with puppy number one--puppy classes, training, socialization, regular exercise etc. However, when they add a second dog, they make the assumption that the puppy will be socialized by their existing dog and learn good manners by osmosis. And since it is much harder to walk two dogs or travel with two (or three or four) dogs, this puppy mostly stays home with the older dog. All to often, the new dog turns out to be a pest and never lives up to his potential. He looks to the other dog for direction rather than listening to his owners. On his rare walks, he barks and lunges at every dog he sees since he hasn't had the opportunity to learn how to behave appropriately. Sadly, his owners wonder why they ever got a second dog. But it doesn't have to be this way!

There are good reasons and bad reasons to add a second (or third or fourth) dog to your household. The best reason: you adore dogs and one is just not enough. If you and your spouse and the kids compete over the dog, now there will be enough dog to go around. You'll get to enjoy watching dogs interact daily which will teach you how to better communicate with your dogs. If your first dog has lovely house manners, your puppy will have a great role model. And yes, if you are busy, they will get some exercise playing with each other. 

On the other hand, if you are getting a second dog primarily as a companion for your first dog, I wouldn't do it. Remember, this is like an arranged marriage--you can do your best to make it work, but you can't know in advance that your dog will appreciate his new companion. Having another dog in the house to play with won't necessarily mean that your dog will want less of your attention--he may be jealous and want more. If you are hoping that two dogs will be less work than one, I think you will be in for a shock. A second dog will also need training classes, vet visits, regular walks and all the things your first dog needs. Most dogs will not get enough exercise just running in the yard together--you will find that they need you there to get a game going.

For the dog who loves other dogs and isn't getting enough exercise, doggie daycare a couple of days per week may be your best answer. It really is cheaper and less work (although also less fun!) than a second dog.


How To Successfully Add A Second Dog:

  1. Make sure you are happy with dog number one's training before you add a second one. You may be able to hold one dog at the door while letting visitors in, but two untrained dogs and a doorknob require more hands than you have! Everything from chewing on furniture to barking out the window at passersby to pulling on leash becomes more of a problem when it is two dogs rather than one.
  2. Make sure your first dog likes other dogs. Does he have regular playmates and enjoy the dog park? He should have a history of getting along with most dogs. 
  3. Choose the right dog for your household:
    Sex: Dogs are most likely to fight with a dog of the same sex. This is especially true of terriers and guarding breeds, but you always improve your chances of dogs getting along well by choosing a dog of the opposite sex. 

    Age: Within a household, dogs get along best with other dogs that are younger or older. Fighting is most common between young adults who are competing for dominance. It's best to wait until your first dog is at least two before adding a second dog—either a puppy or an older adult. 

    Size: Size also matters--if you have an elderly toy poodle, a rambunctious Lab puppy may not be the best choice unless you are willing to supervise them at all times. Large dogs can hurt smaller ones accidentally while playing. 
  4. Introduce the two dogs (or dog and puppy) on neutral territory. A friend’s fenced yard where they can both be off leash is ideal. If you are adopting an adult dog, most rescue groups will insist that you bring your dog to meet the new dog before the adoption is finalized.
  5. Socialize your new puppy/dog just like you did the first one. Puppies need to get out and meet other dogs and people on their own without an older dog present. Many times, a second dog learns to be confident with the older dog there, but if taken out by himself he is fearful. Your new puppy will also need to learn how to be home alone by himself without the older dog for company. Both dogs will need one on one time with you so that they learn to function independently of each other and to maintain their relationship with you.
  6. Train the new puppy just like you did the first one. Yes, there are a few things your puppy will learn from dog number one--namely good places to pee, where the squirrels hide, and any bad habits you are hoping that he won't pick up on! However, puppies rarely learn the things you want them to learn. Monkey see/Monkey do is a primate thing--dogs don't learn much from watching other dogs. Often they appear to copy, but they aren't learning what you think they are. They will chase back and forth after an older dog playing fetch, but never learn to play fetch themselves, for example. When dogs do copy other dogs, they often fail to learn our commands. Instead of sitting because you said "Sit", they sit because they saw Max sit. When Max isn't there, they have no idea what sit means. 

    Living with a group of dogs who enjoy each other's company and look to you as the pack leader is a wonderful experience. If you take the time to choose the right dogs and train and socialize them well, you will have all of the joys of living with the 'only family members you get to choose'.

Top of page

Relax—Teaching Your Dog How to do Nothing!

When your dog is getting on your nerves you probably wish for a way to tell her to just relax. Believe it or not, calm behavior can be taught. We often reward dogs for pestering us by interacting with them (even if that interaction is yelling) but ignore them when they are lying quietly or chewing on a toy. In this exercise, you will be intentionally rewarding your dog for being calm.

This is a deceptively simple exercise. I assign it as homework in my obedience classes, but I find that from reading the description, people think "Oh yeah, I get it" but they don't actually practice. It's like reading about meditation--reading about it just doesn't accomplish anything! With my private clients, this is something we actually work on during lessons and when practiced daily for a couple of weeks it works wonders.

Choose a time when you are watching reruns on TV or reading. Put your dog on leash and tie the leash to a doorknob or heavy piece of furniture so that you can reach your dog, but she can't reach you. Make sure there is nothing for her to get into within reach. Now, sit down in your chair and ignore your dog. Initially, she will be excited and may bark or whine because she thinks the leash means you are doing something. Just ignore her. Wait for her to get bored and sit or lie down. This may take a while! When she does, pet her with three or four long, calm strokes, then ignore her again. If she gets up while you are petting her, stop petting immediately. Gradually wait for longer periods of lying down before you pet and praise her. Be sure to be rewarding calm lying down and/or chewing on a toy and not whining or pestering for attention. Continue for fifteen minutes. If things go well, by that time your dog will be snoozing! Wake her up, tell her Free! (or OK) and let her off leash.

If you want to add a command to this, you can tell her "Good Relax" when she is lying down calmly.

Practice "Relax" regularly with dogs that are very busy or needy and always getting into something. Please recognize that this exercise will only work in conjunction with regular exercise and attention. If you dog's needs are not being met, she won't be able to calm down.

Once your dog understands this exercise, you can also use tethering your dog as a consequence if she is being a pest. If she keeps asking for attention after you have asked her to Relax, tether her in her Relax location until she has calmed down. Please be careful to never leave your dog tied up for a second when you are not there to supervise--dogs can easily injure a leg or hang themselves.

Top of page

The Dog Whisperer

National Geographic’s "The Dog Whisperer" has become quite a phenomenon. "What do you think about The Dog Whisperer?" has become my least favorite cocktail party question—Impossible to give a simple answer! So here's a complex one.

What he gets right:

  1. Positive Reinforcement for people. He’s nice! He smiles at people and praises their smallest effort. This is something all trainers should emulate.
  2. Exercise, then Discipline, then Affection. Bingo! This is definitely the order in which to think of your dog’s needs. No, you can’t make up for lack of exercise and discipline with an extra helping of affection:)
  3. Don’t share affection with an anxious or aggressive dog. This is important not because praising a growling dog will make him growl more (he isn't growling to win your approval, but to make something go away), but because when people try to soothe an anxious dog, they often contribute to the anxiety. If you were waiting for surgery, would it make you feel better to have someone with you who was repeating over and over in a high pitched voice "It's okay, It's okay, It's okay" and rapidly patting your arm?
  4. Calm, Assertive. He teaches people to walk confidently, hold the leash confidently, etc. To be a successful trainer for your dog, you must act the part!


What he gets wrong:

  1. Flooding. Flooding is putting an animal in a situation it is afraid of and forcing them to deal with it. Flooding can work, but it can has the potential to backfire big time and make the problem dramatically worse. Think twice before forcing your dog to deal with his fears. Systematic desensitization (think one snake in a jar the other side of the room rather than a room full of snakes) is the more accepted approach.
  2. Calm, submissive body language. Cesar tends to describe a wide array of canine body language as calm, submissive. Some of the dogs he describes this way really are calm and submissive, but more of them are clearly anxious, afraid, and trying to avoid the situation. I wouldn’t ever want to see one of my dogs look like this.
  3. The Alpha Roll. The Alpha roll was popularized by the Monk’s of New Skete’s 1978 book "How To Be Your Dog’s Best Friend". The lead author, Job Michael Evens, later expressed his regret at including this and the newer edition does not include an alpha roll. Yes, I believe we should teach puppies to tolerate being restrained, but this should be done gradually beginning at a young age. Forcefully pinning an adult dog to the ground by his neck is a great way to get yourself bitten.
  4. Transfer to owners. Sure, Cesar can get any dog to listen to him. Like most dog trainers, he has a gift with dogs. But can he get the dog to listen to it’s owners? All too often, we don’t even see the owners try his techniques, let alone succeed with them. This is because his techniques rely on a great deal of confidence and physical strength, which are not things he can easily get owners to replicate. Be aware that much of Cesar's success is due to who he is rather than what he does.

    So let's treat the Dog Whisper as what it is--great reality TV entertainment. And as the warning says, please don’t try this at home!

Top of page

Doggie Doorbells

Wouldn't it be convenient if your dog would clearly let you know when he needed to go out to potty? Some dogs easily figure out ways to let you know--they bark or paw at the door, pace, nudge, whine, or otherwise communicate their discomfort. But some dogs just suffer quietly. Worse, some dogs relieve themselves on your favorite rug if you don't notice that they need to go out.

One solution is to teach your dog to ring a bell when they need to go out. You can use a string of bells (like Christmas bells or buy loose bells at a craft store and string them together or for very cute ones try http://www.thebellpeople.com/index.shtml) or you can use a wireless remote doorbell. In my house, the dogs can usually use the dog door. However, in cold, windy weather I have to close the dog door and they ring a remote doorbell on the dog door cover that plays the bugle call to the post (my husband and I are horse racing fans:) ).

Sometimes people do have success teaching their dogs to ring a bell by bumping the dog's nose or paw into the bell each time they take the dog out. If this works, great! But it can backfire and make the dog afraid of the bells and they may never get it. Below is a slower but very reliable way to teaching your dog to ring a bell.

  1. Start with your string of bells in one hand and ten treats in the other hand behind your back. Lower the bells towards your dog's nose. When he investigates (looks at, sniffs, licks, touches) the bells in any way, Yes! and remove the bells while delivering a treat with your other hand. Repeat 5-10 times.
  2. Three times a day, do ten repetitions of the above. Keep the bells put away when not in use.
  3. Once your dog is eagerly touching the bells whenever they are offered, switch to only rewarding harder touches. Aim to reward the loudest 50% of the touches in each session. Stay at this step until your dog eagerly and loudly rings the bells whenever they are offered.
  4. Find a place to hang the bells near the door that you use for potty breaks. Ideally, this should be a different door than the one you use to leave for walks. As described above, teach your dog how to ring the bells while they are hanging by the door. Put the bells away between training sessions.
  5. The above steps should take 3-10 days. Once your dog is eagerly hitting the bells so that they make noise whenever he has the opportunity, you will start to connect ringing the bells with going out to potty. Each time you plan to take your dog out for a potty break, hang the bells in their spot, wait for your dog to ring them, reward with a treat, and take your dog outside. Be sure to do this for every trip out to potty for a week and be sure to put the bells away when not in use.
  6. Now we will see if your dog has made the connection. Choose a day when you are hanging out at home with not a lot to do. Hang the bells in their place by the door and see what happens. Any time your dog rings the bells, you will take your dog out on leash to his potty area. However, there will be no treats, walks, or playtime involved. You want your dog to learn that he can always ask if he does need to go, but that asking to go out will not result in any other fun. The first day, you may very well make twenty trips out, but this should die down over the next couple of days. 

If your dog doesn't ask to go out, crate him for a bit, then let him out of the crate and walk towards the door with the bells. See if he will ask with the help of you standing nearby. If this doesn't work, you may need to do another week at step 5 and then try again.

Be careful that ringing the bells only every results in a quick potty break. Otherwise, you may end up wearing one of those T-shirts that reads: Agenda For The Day: Let Dog Out, Let Dog In, Let Dog Out, Let Dog In, Let Dog Out... But at least you won't need to buy Nature's Miracle by the gallon!

Top of page

The Benefits of Agility Training

If you enjoyed training your puppy, but now find working on that same old sit, stay, come stuff a bit boring, agility is a great way to bring the fun back into your training. Agility provides lots of exciting physical and mental challenges for you and your dog. And you'll find that your dog's basic obedience improves as a natural byproduct of agility training.

If I haven't convinced you yet, here are some more good reasons:

  1. It's Fun! Everyone gets a kick out of watching dogs run through tunnels and leap over jumps. Agility is all about finding ways for your dog to have more fun--for dogs to run fast, they have to be having a blast!
  2. Better relationship with your dog. Marriage counselors recommend learning something new with your spouse to put the spark back in your relationship--the same holds true for your relationship with your dog. Doing something new and fun together will strengthen your bond.
  3. Build confidence. I started doing agility with Lexi because she would stress and shut down when we tried to do competition obedience in unfamiliar or noisy places. Agility allowed her to work through her fears.
  4. It's great exercise--for the both of you! 

    Here's a nice video showing a wide variety of dogs playing the agility game: www.youtube.com/watch?v=3hHx_D2TIWQ

    For more information about classes, see the new agility page on my website www.ongoodbehavior.com/agility.html

Top of page

Consistency: Why It Matters and Why It's So Hard To Achieve

One of the biggest differences between professional dog trainers and new pet owners is that trainers are very consistent. They use the same command and hand signal each time they ask a dog to do something. They also have consistent expectations and rules for their dogs.

Consistent Commands:

Why does it matter?
Dogs can only learn a limited number of word sounds. It's easiest for them to learn one syllable words that always sound the same.
As the classic Far Side cartoon points out, what they mostly hear is "Blah, blah, blah, Ginger, blah, blah, blah." Think how you feel in a country where you don't know the language--you're very happy when everyone uses the same greeting and you are quickly thrown off if someone breaks the pattern by saying "Nice day, isn't it" instead of just the usual "Good morning". 

Why is it so hard for us to use a single word and only say it once?

We value complexity in language and use synonyms to avoid repeating ourselves. So initially it feels very silly to speak this way. Just remember, if your dog doesn't respond to "Come", he's no more likely to respond to "Come Here", "This Way", "Over Here", Come Here NOW" etc.

What can you do to use commands more consistently?

  1. Make a list of commands and hand signals that you use and share it with your household.
  2. Watch yourself in the mirror when you give hand signals. Is your palm up or down? Open or closed? Are you bending over?
  3. Don't repeat yourself or chatter at your dog. Make sure you have your dog's attention before you give a command and then say it once. If you always say "Sit, Sit, Sit" then your dog will understand that the command is "Sit, Sit, Sit".
  4. Control your own emotions and behavior. Good dog trainers are good actors. It takes practice to be aware and in control of how you look and sound to your dog. You need to make sure that your body language says the same thing as your voice says. For example, if you want your dog to sit, a calm, firm voice, and quiet body language will get the job done. Sit! Sit! Sit! while your vocal pitch goes up and you gesture furiously will just wind your dog up. So use a calm voice and body language for stationary commands and an upbeat tone and active body language when you want your dog to come running.


Consistent Expectations: 

Why does it matter?
In addition to using simple, consistent commands, it's important to be consistent in your rules and expectations. There may be some rules that matter more to you than others; however, if you let the little things slide, you will start to have problems in other areas. For example, in agility, dogs are required to stay at the start line, on the pause table, and at the end of the contacts. Handlers who allow their dogs to get away with breaking their start line stays soon find that their dog also starts challenging the rules about staying on the table and contacts. Just like kids, when dogs realize that some of the rules don't always apply they will start testing other rules.


Why do we give commands and then let it slide?

  1. Social pressure. Telling your dog to sit when he is bothering someone makes you seem like you are doing something, even when there is no chance your dog is going to listen.
  2. Distraction--you ask your dog to sit, but then fail to notice that he doesn't because you are doing something else.
  3. It didn't really matter--You ask your dog to sit so that you can put his leash on, but instead he comes and stands still next to you which allows you to put the leash on. So, since you didn't really need the sit, you fail to enforce it.
  4. You feel bad enforcing the command. I found myself in this situation on a walk this morning. Out hiking with Flash, I had just crossed a stream and didn't see where he was. I called out "Flash, Come!" then turned around and saw him lying in the stream cooling off. Honestly, it wouldn't have mattered if he lounged in the stream for a couple minutes and then caught up with me, but since I had called him, I told him "No" and reminded him to come. He hopped out of the stream and came along as asked. Coming out of the stream wasn't an emergency, but some day when there is one I'll be glad he knows that I always expect a response.

What can you do?

  1. Only make rules that you are willing and able to enforce. 
  2. If you know your dog is going to do something anyway, make it seem like your idea. When I have a puppy in the house and I see him going for something on the floor and I know I'm not going to be able to stop it, I'll tell him "OK, Get it!"
  3. Try to pause and think before issuing a command.
  4. Only give a command if you have a reasonable expectation that your dog will follow it or if you have a way to make it happen--either by physically enforcing it or by withholding something the dog wants.

Good luck with your plans to become a more consistent trainer! You'll find that training yourself to be consistent is a much bigger challenge than teaching your dog a new command, but it really does pay off.

Top of page

What You Need to Know About the Pet Food Recall

Beginning in March, 2007 over 100 brands of dog and cat food were recalled due to melamine contamination. Initially, just "cuts and gravy" type wet foods were affected. More recently, rice protein used in a number of dry foods was also found to be contaminated. Many of the affected brands were grocery store brands, but some mainstream foods such as Eukanuba Chunks and Gravy, Mighty Dog, and Sensible Choice Chicken and Rice Adult were also recalled. A list of recalled foods is available at the Food and Drug Administration website. New foods were added to the list as recently as May 12th, so it's important to keep checking either this list or your pet food manufacturer's website.

It's unknown how many dogs and cats have died or suffered kidney failure from eating contaminated foods--estimates range from Menu Foods reported 26 deaths to around 5000 on self reported web lists. Signs of illness include loss of appetite, lethargy, depression, vomiting, diarrhea, sudden changes in water consumption, or changes in the frequency or amount of urination.

What you can do:

  1. Keep checking the list--the information keeps changing.
  2. Know what you are feeding your dog. I'm often surprised when meeting with clients to find that they don't know what brand of dog food they are feeding. Whenever there is a recall, you will need to know not just the brand but also the lot number. Therefore, it's important to keep the bag. Better yet, keep the food in the bag that it came in. The bag itself is designed to help preserve the food. If you pour the food into a container with the remains of the previous bag, you are likely to have problems with spoilage.
  3. Trust your nose and eyes. If a new bag of food looks or smells funny, don't feed it. The most common cause of pet food recalls in the past have been toxins caused by molds.
  4. Listen to your dog. If your dog is normally a good eater but turns up his nose at a new batch of food, don't try to get him to eat it by adding cheese or gravy. There may be something wrong with the food.
  5. Read the ingredient list. Foods made from whole, minimally processed ingredients are less likely to have things go wrong than foods made from fragments (such as wheat gluten) and by-products. Compare the ingredient list for Innova Adult Dog Food with that for Purina Beneful Original Chicken:

    Innova: Turkey, Chicken, Chicken Meal, Barley, Brown Rice, Potatoes, Natural Flavors, Rice, Chicken Fat, Herring, Apples, Carrots, Cottage Cheese, Sunflower Oil etc

    Purina Beneful: Ground yellow corn, chicken by-product meal, corn gluten meal, whole wheat flour, beef tallow preserved with mixed-tocopherols (source of Vitamin E), rice flour, beef, soy flour, sugar, sorbitol, tricalcium phosphate, water, animal digest, salt, etc.

    For more information about the recall, visit the American Veterinary Medical Association website.

Top of page

Teaching Your Dog To "Go Away"

Do you often wish that you could use the bathroom in private or ask your dog to leave the kitchen while you are cooking or washing the floor? Teaching your dog to leave a room that you are in is actually fairly simple. This command makes sense to dogs: they don't ever tell each other to "come here" but they certainly do say "this is my space, get out".

Initially, teach this in a room with just one doorway and a clear threshold (or you can mark the threshold with tape on the floor). Have your dog drag a leash in case he tries to dart past you. And have a good supply of treats that you can throw on the floor. For most dogs, dry kibble (dog food) will work fine.

Stand in the room with your dog. Now, tell him "Out" or "Go Away" and walk towards him. Always use your legs rather than your hands to 'herd' your dog. Keep your dog between you and the exit and walk into his space. Be sure to stand tall and move confidently. If your dog tries to go around you instead of moving out of your way, use the leash to stop this. 

As soon as your dog is on the other side of the threshold, tell him "Yes!" and toss him a cookie. If he remains there, continue to throw treats for him. If he tries to step across the threshold, move briskly and confidently into his space, once again backing him up across the threshold. Don't immediately reward--you don't want to pay him for making mistakes and fixing them, you want to pay him for continuing to stay "Out".

Gradually build the amount of time between treats. Now, when you reward, try throwing the treat behind your dog. If he eats it, walks back, and stops at the threshold, reward again. If he starts to cross the threshold, block his way. 

In addition to building the time between rewards, you will also want to start increasing your distance from the threshold. Start to walk around the kitchen, put dishes away etc. Periodically praise and/or reward your dog.

Remember to let your dog back into the room using his release word (Free or OK) when you are done. If your dog chooses to wander off and go do something else, that's fine! He doesn't need to stay at the threshold, he just isn't allowed in the room once you have asked him to leave.

This will take a week or two to train, but you'll be delighted at how convenient it is to be able to ask your dog to leave the room. I use "Out" to keep my dogs out of the dining room when we have company, to kick them out of the kitchen when I'm cleaning, or to send them out of my office when they decide to have a wrestling match under my desk. I’m sure you'll find lots of uses for it too.


Add your tagline, information or pictures here

Contact Us

(732) 940-0208

Find Us Here

icon icon icon

Calendar

calendar