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Building a Great Foundation with Basics

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Success!

So you got through housebreaking.  You managed to survive those painfully sharp evil little puppy teeth. You even followed the suggestion of your dog trainer and you have been taking your puppy on play dates and visits with friends to socialize him properly.  Whew.  Like many owners of adolescent or older pups, you’re probably exhausted and ready to try to get your life back.

It seems there is an endless “to do” list associated with puppy and dog ownership, but taking the time in the first year to get a good foundation, will pay off in amazing ways.  Meeting the developmental deadlines to housetrain and socialize your dog, as well as mouthing management, is crucial to your puppy’s success in the home.  The next important step is to learn the basics.  Getting all of this training in the first year can be the difference between a biter or a confident, happy dog; the difference between a runner or a dog that knows to check in with you, the difference between surrendering your dog or keeping him.

Learning the basics is not just for your dog.  The basics (at least in my programs) involve learning to communicate with your dog without using force or coercion.  It is as important for the human to learn communication skills as it is for the dog.  Basic obedience exercises teach your dog to deal with frustration and to look to humans for direction.   Building a foundation of communication that does not involve force or coercion will payoff in plenty of happy and peaceful days in the future.

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Why Are Leash Manners So Rare?

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Leash Manners Take Practice

I spend alot of time in parks and I’ve noticed that it’s not only my new class participants that lack leash manners.  Let’s discuss some of the “whys” of pulling and “hows” of controlled leash walking.

* The puppy was not introduced to a leash early.  When puppies start out, they are clumsy, their vision is limited, and the owner is just the best thing in the world.  Then you wake up one day and your puppy is speeding through developmental stages and is acting like a 17 year old kid with the car keys.  Puppy’s eyes are wide open, he is confident (good for you) and the world is his!  Getting a puppy used to a leash and teaching him some impulse control EARLY will help tremendously later.

*Since the puppy did not get the impulse control and desensitized to the leash early, your awesome dog trainer suggested a humane “no-pull” head collar or body harness so your huge adolescent pup doesn’t pull you down.  You think, “WOW, this solves all of my problems!”. Well, not really.  No-pull devices are tools that are meant to be faded out, but many owners are happy to simply continue using the device for the dog’s life.  Here’s the part where I give a true confession…  Pictured above is Maddie, my dog, walking like a dream on a no-pull body harness.  Is that cheating?  Of course!  But it’s not cheating as much as using a head collar.  So, I am definitely trying to phase out the training device, but in teeny tiny steps.  There are situations where Maddie will walk nicely on a flat collar, but we need to generalize this to all situations.  If you want to do any higher level training with your dog or therapy work, no-pull devices are not allowed.  If your dog is pulling you on a training device, but doesn’t have the leverage to pull you down, you need to wait for a loose leash from your dog before you step forward.  It’s called “be a tree”.

*Unbeknownst to you, you trained your dog to pull on the leash.  Can you say retractable leash?  Scenario: dog pulls… owner releases lock and rewards the dog for pulling by giving more leash.  For those of you that are saying to yourselves that you lock the leash in one position and never move it, be honest.  As Dr. Phil says, “let’s get real”!  If you always had a retractable leash locked in one position, you would have traded it in for a regular leash long ago.  In order to fix this, you need to get a non-retractable leash and work on loose leash skills using the be a tree method.

*The dog has reactivity or aggression issues.  In my book, this does not fall under the “manners” category, but it is certainly a frustrating and sometimes frightening leash event for not only the owner but the dog too.  Leash issues in this category cannot be resolved with simple “training” because this behavior is caused by fear.  Work with a qualified dog trainer or dog behavior consultant to address the dog’s fear first.

I have read many articles about “lazy owners” and how they should require better leash manners of their dogs.  In cases where the dog is under control using a humane, no pull device, I disagree.  Normally it is a matter of priority rather than laziness.  For example, many of my clients have dogs that are aggressive to humans and other animals.  Clearly, heeling like a champ is not a priority.  The priority is to get the dog past the fear issues causing the aggression first.  It can be a long journey.  Tools like the freedom harness give owners real options for better control while they are on that journey. For those dog owners that are out and about with little or no control over their dogs, something bad is going to happen eventually.  There are humane, efficient, and effective ways to teach your dog some impulse control and leash manners.

Don’t Wait to Call Me!

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Maddie looks scary, but in this photo, she is just vocalizing. However, she does have a bite history and it was addressed immediately.

Dogs learn from every interaction they have with their environment, people, and other animals.  When a dog sticks her nose in the face of a cat, she may get a clawed swat on the nose.  The dog learns that it may be painful to stick her nose in the cat’s face and it may not be a good idea to repeat that behavior.  When an owner rewards a sit-stay by putting on a leash and releasing the dog so they can take a walk outside, the dog learns that sitting by the door is a great way to get the human to open the door and take him for a walk.  There are consequences both good and not so good associated with your dog’s behavior.

When your dog growls, snaps, and/or lunges at a human, it is usually fear based.  The dog is seeking space because a human is doing something to make the dog feel uncomfortable or stressed. The typical human response is to recoil and give the dog space so the human can keep his fingers, ankles, face, or whatever other part may be in danger.  What does the dog learn?  That growling, lunging and/or snapping is a good strategy to get people to give him the space he wants.  If that doesn’t get the human’s attention, the dog may move on to landing a bite.

When I talk to potential clients on the phone and at our first lesson, I get a details about the dog’s bite history.  I can’t tell you how many are on bite #3 or 4 when the owner finally seeks help.  My concern with waiting is that the dog has learned that the aggressive behavior works for him.  It’s easier to teach desirable behavior than un-teach (extinguish) undesirable behavior and then teaching a desirable behavior in its place.  Furthermore, I usually have to use more safety equipment like a muzzle to keep everyone safe.  This makes the process longer and the owner management even more complex.  I sometimes lose clients because they give up citing the behavior modification program is “too hard”, “too time consuming”, “too slow”, “too expensive”, and many other reasons.

The takeaway is, if you observe your dog exhibiting aggressive behavior toward a human or another dog, you should call a Certified Professional Dog Trainer immediately.  A skilled dog trainer can help you and your dog, without force or pain.  You want to change your dog’s emotional state when presented with humans.  Work with a qualified trainer to begin the process of trust.

Dog Bite Prevention

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All dogs with teeth can bite

I’m writing this blog a few days after Dog Bite Prevention Week.  I saw alot of great information on Facebook from my dog trainer friends, but it never seems to reach enough parents and children.  Bites still happen.  Last month, I went to a dog bite investigation seminar that was targeted for professionals in law enforcement and dog training.  To be honest, I am still shaken by some of the images I saw.

The statistics are staggering.  There are 5 million dog bites reported each year.  Based on my conversations with my clients, there are many bites that go unreported.  Some of my clients call me after several incidents and none were reported.  50% of children will be bit by a dog by the time they graduate high school.  Although fatal attacks are rare, kids are the primary victims.  76% of fatal attacks are on children 12 years old and under.

Why kids? Jim Crosby, the presenter of the dog bite investigation seminar, offered two reasons:
1) Adults, because of their size, are able to absorb a wound better than a small child.
2) Kids don’t read the warning signals from a dog as well as adults.

So how can we keep children and the rest of humanity safe from these adorable creatures that share our homes and lives?  Everyone can help whether you own a dog or not.  Please review the items below and share some of the attached resources with friends, family, teachers, and veterinarians.

For dog owners:

  • Do not buy a puppy from retail puppy store, backyard breeder, or on the internet.  Puppy mills and backyard breeders do not do temperament testing on their breeding dogs (or testing for genetic disease for that matter) and the puppy mill environment is devoid of socialization with humans.
  • If you have a puppy, socialize him early and safely.  Unsocialized dogs are more likely to bite out of fear.
  • If you have a puppy, work with a dog training professional to teach the puppy what’s called “bite inhibition”.
  • Work with a professional dog trainer to learn exercises to prevent resource guarding. Dogs that guard food or other items can be dangerous, especially to children.
  • Work with a professional trainer to teach leave it and drop it.  Bites often occur when taking an item away from a dog.
  • Do not train your dog using aversive or punishment based methods.  Dogs trained with these methods are at risk to develop aggressive behaviors.
  • Properly confine dogs indoors, in fenced areas, or on six foot leash (no retractables).  One of the really shocking photos from the seminar involved four prey driven dogs in a rural area that chased, dragged, and killed a child.
  • Provide proper supervision of dogs in fenced in yards.  Fences can be compromised when owners are not supervising.
  • Never leave babies or small children alone with dogs.

For everyone:

  • Learn about dog body language and warning signs and share the information with others.
  • Learn how to properly greet a dog and share with this information others… especially kids.
  • Learn how to prevent or stop a dog attack and share this information with others.
  • Encourage your local government to adopt and enforce strict neglect and abuse laws including anti tethering laws.  Abused, neglected and tethered dogs are more likely to bite.

Resources:

AVMA Dog Bite Prevention
How to Greet a Dog Do’s & Don’ts
Body Language of Fear in Dogs
5 Tips on Surviving a Dog Attack

Curse of the Good First “Baby”

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ImageSometimes I get accused of using too many human analogies when I discuss behavior, learning and motivation for pet dogs.  I avoid what is called “anthropomorphism”, that is, assigning human characteristics to animals.  However, all living things respond to positive reinforcement training.  In that arena, I find there are many similarities.

Sometimes it’s my clients that give me the good analogy.  I’d like to share with you the “curse of the good first baby” that a client shared with me.  I have seen episodes of Dr. Phil with similar parenting stories involving parental expectations and judgements, but hearing it first hand really amused me.

Sometimes we are just blessed with the perfect dog.  Perhaps a born follower, gentle, very attached to its owners…  This dog just doesn’t seem to need training.  He never jumps on guests (or is too small for that to be annoying), doesn’t run away, not destructive and is easily housetrained.  For those of us that have experienced “normal dogs”, this sounds almost too good to be true.  We have suffered the indignity of finding chewed up belongings, stinky messes, and begging our dogs to come to us in public when they get loose.  At Oh Behave, I don’t get a whole lot of phone calls from the owners of “perfect” dogs.

I get lots of phone calls in my line of work about the new dog that is just evil.  Of course, they tell me it’s a puppy, but it’s really already one and a half years old, not housebroken, destructive, still mouthy, runs out the door every time it’s open, and guests refuse to come to the house because of the jumping, mouthing, and incessant barking.  Just another day at Oh Behave Dog Training.

So I visited the home of one of these “evil” dogs and the owners tell me that they just can’t figure out what’s wrong with their dog. Their last dog never did any of the ridiculous behaviors like barking, jumping, running away, and peeing on the carpet.  I had to give them the doggie parent dose of reality: “most dogs will do what your current dog is doing unless you teach them to do something else.  There is nothing wrong with this dog, we just need to teach him what’s right.”  “Well what about our last dog?”, they ask.  I tell them how lucky they were to have had such a wonderful dog, but most people are not lucky enough to be blessed by the “perfect” dog twice in a row.

The dog mom starts to squirm & turn red.  She starts talking to me and her husband about her sister, brother in law,  and their children.  Evidently, the sister’s first child is an angel: as a toddler she was very sweet, never went through the terrible twos and slept through the night as a baby.  Apparently the sister and brother in law were pretty unforgiving and judgmental about the dog mom’s child parenting skills.  Dog mom would explain that her kids sometimes have tantrums, outbursts, trouble sitting still, and other normal, but not so desirable behaviors.  It’s normal. The judgements went on until the sister and brother in law had the second child.  Baby number two was colicky as a baby and was a terror through the terrible twos, and is still pretty much of a handful.  The sister thought she was such an amazing parent because her child was so amazing.  The sister thought my clients were bad parents because they had a child that just does normal childhood behaviors.  And so my clients had the doggie parent epiphany… even though their first dog was an angel, they basically sucked at dog training.

The good news is that training your dog is a skill that can be learned. My clients and their new dog all lived a much less stressful life by simply introducing some positive reinforcement training!  Now they think their current dog is an angel and I am happy to tell them what wonderful dog parents they have become!   They are truly great at training their dog.

A Correction by Any Other Name is Painful

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Even scolding can be frightening to some dogs

Dog Training methods have evolved in the last 20 to 30 years.  Sadly, many dog trainers and dog owners have not.  I often find trainers that refer to themselves as “positive” or “reward based”, yet they still cling to punishment based techniques they call “corrections”.

Just because a trainer uses treats in their training methods, does not make them a positive reinforcement trainer.  Positive reinforcement trainers avoid using painful, aversive or coercive methods in their training programs.  If I rang your doorbell and gave you flowers when you greeted me, you would think it was a lovely random act of kindness (assuming you like flowers).  If you answered the door and I slapped you and then handed you the flowers, kindness would probably not come to mind.  Even if the slap only stung for a brief second.

Corrections come in the form of chokes, pinches, electric currents, kicks, scary noises, knees in the stomach and many other forms of abuse.  I’ve been told that these techniques “don’t hurt the dog”.  Sometimes that is actually true.  I’ve seen many dogs on prong collars happily sit there while their owners lightly tug the leash.  The dog will totally ignore all of the commands the owner is giving.. because it doesn’t hurt.  Most dogs become somewhat desensitized to low intensity aversives.  So, what that means is that to really be effective with “corrections”, they have to really hurt, scare or be very unpleasant to the dog.  I personally do not want my dog to associate anything unpleasant with training or with being with me.

For many dogs, “corrections” actually interfere with the dog’s ability to work it out.  In fact, dogs that have been trained using corrections are less likely to work to advanced behaviors because they have associated unpleasant experiences with offering behaviors.  For example, if a dog has been corrected from breaking a down stay, he is unlikely to offer that behavior when you arrive at the rally sign that reads Sit-Down-Sit-Stand.  Positive reinforcement training involves using tools like leashes and collars to prevent undesirable behaviors, not correcting them.  Instead of jerking a prong collar to punish a dog for jumping on a human, I prefer to use the leash to prevent the dog from jumping on the human using distance.  The human is not allowed to interact with the dog until he is calm or sitting.  The dog starts to work out the association that calm behavior or sitting, brings the human closer.

The most compelling reason for dropping corrections, is that it can make a dog very fearful and can actually cause aggressive behavior.  Trust is the most important part of your relationship with your dog.  Don’t let corrections jeopardize your dog’s ability to trust you, his owner.

Mind Your Manners

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ImageTeaching manners to puppies is pretty easy to do, yet many pup parents overlook this important step in puppy rearing.  The fact is that puppies are adorable no matter what they are doing.  However, many behaviors that may be cute now, are not so cute when a puppy grows to be a 75 pound monster. The way to keep your puppy from becoming that monster is to develop manners by teaching some impulse control.

When I get a 4 or five month old puppy in my group class, one of the first skills that I need to teach is a gentle mouth.  Some pups are completely unaware of the sensitive human fingers when gobbling down treats.  I’ll close my treat hand with the treats inside and let the puppy get frustrated.  He’ll bite, paw and try to bully me into releasing my hand.  The pup eventually gives up and backs away. That’s when I say yes and release my hand.

There are so many areas that impulse control can be taught at an early age: greeting guests, walking on a leash, getting out of the door, getting leashed up, coming out of the crate, waiting for the food bowl and many more.  Nobody wants to be knocked down by an exuberant dog during any of these activities.  That’s why it’s important to teach impulse control BEFORE the dog gets big enough to knock you down.

Take a look at the video at the link below of Sammy coming out of his crate.  Through several blocking techniques using the door or my arm, I prevented Sammy from barreling out of his crate. Instead, I taught him to sit and wait to be leashed.  I had already introduced a stay cue with Sammy, so the exercise was pretty simple and he caught on fast.

SAMMY EXITS CRATE WITH MANNERS

Of course it’s still possible to teach manners to an unruly 75 pound dog.  I do it all the time.  It sometimes takes tools to give a small owner more leverage and alot of patience to undo a behavior that is ingrained.  It’s oh so much easier to teach a puppy some manners from day one.