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DOG TRAINING AND BEHAVIOR ARTICLES FROM PREVIOUS NEWSLETTERS:
My New Favorite Toy
But I Don't Want My Dog To Be A Robot!
Shopping List For a New Puppy
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
But He Knows it at Home!
Lure, Bribes and Rewards
Teaching Hide and Seek
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”
Many of the questions I get from new clients fall in the catagory of: "What Should I Do When....?"
Learning Names vs Learning Commands
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 :)
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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
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!
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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?
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?!).
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!
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.
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
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!
Keeping the Peace in a Multi-Dog Household
Will Socialization Help Your
Fearful or Reactive Dog?
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:
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 :).
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.
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.
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
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.
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).
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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:
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,
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.
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
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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:
Relax—Teaching Your Dog How to do
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.
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:
What he gets wrong:
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.
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!
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
If I haven't convinced you yet, here are some more good reasons:
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.
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?
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?
What can you do?
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.
What You Need to Know About the Pet
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:
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,
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.