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Written by dawnhanna

October 16, 2014 at 6:41 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

What is dog socialization?

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Socializing Sammy

Dog trainers like me forget that we sometimes speak our own language.  Yesterday, after I kept repeating that her puppy needed socialization urgently, my client asked what that meant.  My bad.  Not everyone knows.  When I searched my usual resources to find a succinct definition, it wasn’t easy to find.  Everyone expects you to already know.  So, thanks for the great question.

Dr. Ian Dunbar, the founder of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers defines it as, “Socialization is the process of becoming familiar with all kinds of animals, people, places, and things; as well as learning how to behave in society.”

People want their dogs to feel safe and comfortable in all of the situations that they encounter in the future.  Dogs should be happy to explore new places, meet new people, and meet new dog friends.  There should be no fear associated with these encounters.

Socialization is one of the most urgent priorities of puppy owners because their is a window of time where puppies are most accepting of this process.  I have written a few articles on socialization, and I can see the need to do more.  Basically we expose puppies to new people, places, and things at an intensity where the pup is comfortable.  We also pair the experience with delightful things like toys, play, and food.  Dr. Dunbar and another one of my heroes, Dr. Sophia Yin have written many books and articles on the subject.  Stay tuned for more blogs about socialization from Oh Behave too.

Dog Outside & Unsupervised? It’s Risky!

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Fort Lauderdale Police Dept leaves gates open after searching for perpetrators

There are probably a few of you out there that leave your dog outside and unsupervised in a fenced yard, that will never have anything bad happen to your dog.  This article is not for you.  This article is for  every dog owner that has called me or will call me in the future because they leave their dog outside unsupervised in their fenced yard and something bad happens.  While I am totally opposed to dogs living outdoors, bad things can happen even when a dog is left unsupervised in a fenced yard only for a few minutes.

How many reasons do you need to NOT leave your dog outside and unsupervised, even for a few minutes, in a fenced yard?

1) The open gate.  If your gates are not locked, someone (lawn guy, pest control guy, law enforcement, etc) will leave it open when you least expect it.

2) The fence can be jumped or climbed.

3) There is a hole or another area that can be compromised with a little digging or squeezing through.

4) You cleverly put your dog on a chain or tether so she wouldn’t jump the fence, but gave her too much line.  You came back outside to a dog hanging death.

5) You tether your dog without enough lead to hang himself… BUT have made it aggressive because you did not keep him safe from things he may fear.  He is tethered so he cannot flee from frightening people or animals that are around when you are not looking.  Better lawyer up for the bite that’s in your future…

6) Bufo toads.  Click here if you don’t know about them.

7) Your dog is prey driven and will kill any animal that comes into his space.  Hey if you’re ok picking up the pieces and hiding the next door neighbor’s dead cat in your garbage bin.. rock on.

8) The great Evinrude theft of 1988.  I lived across the street from 3 dobermans and a boat with 3 Evinrude engines in South Miami.  One morning the Evinrudes disappeared and the dogs were found dead from poisoning.

9) Sicko people/sicko kids – They taunt, abuse, throw rocks at, beat, and steal unattended dogs.  Are you ok with that?  PS.  If you don’t know what happens to stolen dogs… WARNING- GRAPHIC PHOTO click here to learn about where bait dogs are obtained.

10) The next door neighbors that call animal control every time your dog makes just the smallest sound.  Have fun with those citations and interviews.

11) Poisonous plants.  Are you sure all of your plants are safe for dogs?

12) Destructive behavior – I have received countless calls about shredded outdoor furniture, ruined landscaping, and destructive digging so bad that it involved interruption of cable tv service.

13) For escape items 1-3 above… while roaming, your dog bites a child or another dog or gets caught killing a cat, another dog or a kid.  See #5  – better lawyer up and prepare to take responsibility for the death of another living creature.

14) The pool/canal.  Are you sure your dog knows how to get out safely if he falls in?  Is there a way out of your canal?  I’m not going to tell you about the condition of the bodies of dead animals that have floated to my dock because they fell off their dock and couldn’t swim to safety.

15) Other dogs and dangerous creatures.  What if an aggressive dog can get in your fence and kills your dog?  I’ve even read about a swarm of bees killing an unattended dog in the yard.

16) Stupid people (city employees from Hollywood, FL or ignorant landlords from Hollywood, FL)… they open the unlocked fence and walk into the yard and get bit.  See #5: lawyer up if you have any assets to lose.

17) Trigger happy law enforcement.  Haven’t you read the headlines?  A police officer responds to domestic violence call and kills the family pet because he went to the wrong address.

18)  Barking to be let back in the house with the family. If you are out there in the yard, your dog will have no need to bark to be with the family.  If you are ok with the barking, I hope your neighbors are ok with it too.  If not, see #10, annoying next door neighbors that call Animal Control.

19) Presents.  This is a continuation of #7, but instead of leaving the dead or maimed animal outside, your dog sneaks it back in the house.  A dead animal on your living room floor is one thing, but it gets really exciting if the animal is alive and flees somewhere in the house where you can’t find it.  It will come out and visit later.  Rats are real crowd pleasers.

20) Broward County Animal Care Fee Schedule.  Yes there are fines associated with your dog ending up at the shelter.  Add together an “at large” fine and the boarding fee, and then taking your dog to the veterinarian because he contracted kennel cough or something worse, it gets pretty pricey.  Oh and oops, did you forget to vaccinate or register your dog? – That’s $300 bucks!

It’s up to you what level of risk you are willing to take with your dog’s safety.  It’s important to know what can potentially happen to unsupervised dogs to make an educated decision about risk.

Written by dawnhanna

September 2, 2013 at 3:36 pm

Getting the Most From Group Classes

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Enzo, a proud recent grad

Group dog training classes are typically reasonably priced and a great opportunity to learn valuable skills.  There are so many learning opportunities and socialization opportunities involved in taking a group class.  Here are some tips to make the most of your group class experience.

*Find a class taught by a Certified Professional Dog Trainer.  There are plenty of hobbyist dog trainers giving classes.  You will be much more likely to incorporate what you learn in class into your every day life if the teacher is a professional that receives continuing education, and is up to date on the latest training methods and equipment.

*Find a class that uses positive reinforcement methods and does not allow coercive, or aversive methods in class.  The old school jerk and pull leash corrections can lead to aggression or fear aggression in some dogs.

*Make note of any prerequisites and be honest with yourself about if you meet these requirements.  For example, enrolling in my Rally class if your dog doesn’t sit or down on cue would be very frustrating for the student. 

*Follow your trainer or their company on social media.  I post tons of articles, tips, and dog friendly events on the Oh Behave Facebook page and my Twitter page.  It’s free information from reputable sources.  Why not take advantage of it?

*If the teacher and space at the facility allow for it, arrive to class a few minutes early.  It’s a great opportunity to get individual attention from the trainer if he or she is not teaching another class.  In addition, most dogs need some time to acclimate to the environment before they are ready to give you their attention and focus.

*Read your syllabus and handouts, do your homework, and come to class prepared.  Your experience in class will be frustrating if you are not using the right equipment, treats, or have not practiced.

*If space and the teacher allow it, have all adults in the family attend class.  It is best to avoid changing handlers in the middle of class, but the adults in the family should be familiar with all of the practice exercises to provide consistency at home.

*Make friends with your classmates after class.  If appropriate, making friends with other students in class is a great way to continue to socialize your dog.  Some of my students have enjoyed the company of their classmates at dog parks and other venues because they made that connection in my class.  Remember, not all dogs are appropriate for play sessions with other dogs.  Be sure to ask the owner first.

Your group class experience should be fun, informative and a great value.  Make the most of your experience.

The Harsh Truth About Your Dog’s Abilities

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Service dog performing a task

I could keep up with Dara Torres in a pool if I trained hard enough.  I could solve math problems like the one in the movie “Good Will Hunting” and probably even attend MIT if I studied more.  I’ve golfed a few times, and I’d like to take some lessons so I can compete in the Masters someday.

For many of you that don’t know me, those seem like pretty ridiculous and unrealistic statements.  For those of you that know me and may even love me, you may think I’m wonderful, or special (hopefully in a good way), but for the most part, I’m just a pretty average human.  Admittedly, with practice, hard work, discipline, and dedication, I could certainly vastly improve my skills in areas like swimming, golf, or math.  However, no matter hard I may try, I will always be limited by my abilities, talent (or lack of), aptitude, strength, and many other factors that mother nature dealt me.

So how does my harsh reality relate to your dog?  Media and the internet have given all of us access to learn about so many subjects.  We see police dogs taking down perpetrators under extreme conditions, service animals performing tasks that are amazing, and dogs participating in sports and activities that are so complex and advanced it’s fascinating.  The bottom line is that your pet dog probably will never have the abilities, talent, and aptitude to perform like dogs on television.  Many owners have profoundly unrealistic expectations about their dog’s abilities as well as the dedication it takes to work a dog in different disciplines.

Here are a few harsh truths that I have shared with clients that I would like to share with my readers:

* Your pet dog probably does not meet the criteria required to work with law enforcement.  Many police dog trainers use dogs selectively bred to be able to take harsh treatment from a perpetrator and have the aptitude to do police work.  So NO, the coercive and aversive methods and tools (like shock collars and prong collars) used by law enforcement are completely inappropriate for your pet dog.  And YES, these methods are likely to cause your dog to be fearful or aggressive or both.

* Your pet dog does not meet the criteria required to work with law enforcement and lives with your family.  Your pet dog is not a good candidate to be a protection dog.  Enlisting your dog in protection and bite work without a true commitment to controlling the dog and ensuring the dog is successful, is likely to result in a bite to a family member or guest.  So don’t do it.

* Your pet dog does not meet the criteria for complex service work.  Your pet dog that can’t even pass basic obedience and has lunged and snapped at strangers is not a good candidate to help your family member with tasks in public.

* Your pet dog is fearful and snappy with anyone that is not a member of your immediate family.  Your pet dog will not allow a stranger to touch his paws without biting them.  You can work with a professional dog trainer to modify these behaviors by getting the dog to trust strangers and manage the environment so your dog feels safe.  However, your dog will probably NEVER be predictable enough to be a therapy dog.

* Your pet dog is incredibly distracted in public and may never really be a great trick dog.  But if you and your dog enjoy practicing and being out with other dogs and people showing off your stuff, THEN DO IT.  Enjoy the fun of just being what you and your dog can be.  Don’t worry about what someone else can do with their dog.

Information about criteria and testing for service and other activities:

Therapy dog test items from TDI
CARAT Assessment to predict success in service work

How To Handle a Bad Day

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2013 Walk for the Animals

Another Walk for the Animals has come and gone.  It’s a great feeling to have the support of friends and family, generously donating to a cause that I love.  The weather couldn’t have been better; nice and cold so we didn’t have to worry about heat stroke.  How could anything about this day be bad?  Well my walk partner Maddie had more than the usual number of reactive outbursts which was frustrating and disappointing.

The day was not a total write off.  We were able to sit for our pack photo without incident.  I had a few conversations with friends accompanied by their dogs without any reaction.  While I lamented over several reactions with small dogs and dogs running in the FunZone, we recovered with a nice walk along the river just the two of us.  When we were done, we said our goodbyes to our friends without incident and called it a day rather than pushing our luck.

Ironically, when I came home, I read a Facebook post from a fellow dog trainer proclaiming she was “guilty of bad dog training”.  I actually laughed out loud because I know she is an outstanding dog trainer.  The reason I’m sharing my setbacks with everyone is because we all have room for improvement (even dog trainers).  We all can do things better.  We all have good days and bad days.  The good thing about positive reinforcement training is that although your cues, markers, timing, rewards, etc. may be way off, you are not going to do anything to ruin, traumatize, or hurt your dog.  My fellow dog training friend is going back to foundation work for her sport with her dog, and I will go back to some threshold work with Maddie.

People often ask me how Maddie could have possibly earned a Canine Good Citizen Award with her reactivity issues.  I always smile and tell them that it only represented a thin slice of time and everything just happened to fall into place that day.  So if you encounter a bad day when things fall apart, remember that it only represents a thin slice of time in your dog’s life.   There will be better days.  On this day, with the help of my friends and family, we raised over $1,500 for the Humane Society of Broward County.  That’s a victory by any standards!

Shaping Exercises for Your Dog (and You)

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Shaping button pressing

Please allow me a healthy amount of geekiness for a moment. “Shaping by successive approximations involves a process of differentially rewarding some behaviors and not others.”

I introduced the Sophia Yin “box” exercise to my basic obedience students last session.  Take a look at this great video demonstration of operant conditioning.  In my basic obedience class we use luring with treats to get the dogs to do behaviors like sit.  Using treats that dogs follow closely with their noses, makes it easy to achieve results FOR SIMPLE EXERCISES.  Complex behaviors are not always well suited for luring, so my students found this frustrating and challenging.

My students were immediately challenged by having to be quiet.  Other than saying yes every time the dog successfully met a criteria, the human should not be giving cues.  For advanced behaviors, successful completion of the behavior is not usually immediate.  So if the handler says down, but the dog takes a few minutes to put his belly on the floor, the dog may not associate the word with the behavior.  For advanced behaviors, I try to get students to successfully shape the behavior and add the cue later.

My students were also frustrated by the slow process.  When shaping begins, the dog is often perplexed by what is expected.  After all he has been led around by a treat on the nose for weeks.  This process is new.  These exercises give dogs great problem solving skills and confidence.  Once you have shaped a few tricks with your dogs, he will catch on.  Next time the treat bag comes out, he will confidently offer new behaviors and explore novel items you bring to the session (like a box).

If you watch the video, you’ll notice that Dr. Yin keeps raising the criteria for which Zoey. The dog gets rewarded as she gets closer to the final desired result.  You’ll also notice that Zoey gets a little lost in the exercise after a few tries.  Dr. Yin lowers the criteria to keep Zoey engaged.  Then Zoey quickly gets back on track.

The frustrating part of this video is that I suspect Zoey has already done some shaping exercises before.  Most students and dogs that are new to this will take much longer to achieve the result than Dr. Yin and Zoey.

Shaping exercises are great fun for dogs because it allows them a stress free experience of problem solving.  The experience is free of humans  hovering over them and barking out cues repeatedly (why would anyone listen to my “say it once” advice?).   This exercise is great for handlers too.  No more repeating cues until the dog learns the cue is irrelevant.  In addition, my human students gain some much needed patience.

Dogs wow me every day with their amazing ability to work things out.  I encourage all of you to try some shaping exercises with your dogs so they can wow you.  Try Dr. Yin’s box exercise this month and let me know how it goes.