Oh Behave™ Dog Training Blog

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Finding Time To Maintain Your Training

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Play with me!

Working training into your daily schedule doesn’t have to be a chore.  As a dog trainer that completely understands the busy lives of her clients, part of my job is to help my clients find time to make training a part of their daily life.  Admittedly, when you get your new puppy or a dog that is new to you and your home, a lot of time has to be devoted to housetraining, socialization, bite inhibition training, basic obedience, and addressing special needs of rescues if needed.  Teaching your new dog or puppy how to get a long in your life takes a lot of up-front time and dedication.  For those of you that have trained with me, thanks for making that commitment to your new family member.  I know it was sometimes frustrating and emotional, but I’m sure most of you will agree it was worth it.  So what happens after all of this exhausting work during the first year?   Well, a few (very few) will get the training bug and go on to intermediate or advanced levels, competitive activities, or therapy work.  But most dog owners forget to maintain their new found skills and then find themselves in embarrassing situations at dog friendly events or out in public when they least expect their skills to fail them.

The key to maintaining your basic skills is to practice them often and in different environments. My best advice about remembering to practice and finding time for it is… MAKE IT FUN!  First think about some of the fun things you do with your dog.  A quick training session can take place in or near the parking lot of your favorite venue.  Some of Maddie’s favorites are:  a county park, a nature trail at a county park, dog friendly events, Sunday morning Jazzfest, or a quick trip to Starbucks.  Keep your practice session short.  The reward is getting to do whatever activity you came to do, once your dog completes a couple of quick cues.  Start with something easy.  Hopefully you’re not so woefully out of touch that your dog forgot ‘sit’ or ‘watch me’.  If you are in that category, you’re going to need a few remedial trainings at home in a distraction free environment first.  What else do you do for fun?  How about playtime in the backyard?  There’s no rule that says that playtime can’t include some practice too.  Why not incorporate a ‘down stay’ in exchange for throwing the ball?  How about a ‘drop it’ in exchange for a tug game.  Most dogs consider walks to be pretty fun.  Why not try some snazzy heeling in the driveway in exchange for a brisker than usual pace on the walk, or trying a new and previously unsmelled route?

I will leave you with my personal favorite for finding time every day to practice with Maddie:  training while multitasking.   Maddie has figured out that while I blow dry my hair is a great time to drop a toy at my feet and give me that pathetic look so I’ll kick it to her.  Currently, I am working on ‘back up’ in exchange for me to kick a toy.  There are no rules against multitasking while training.  You can also incorporate this into your TV watching rituals and cooking tasks.  Be creative and have fun!!


Building a Great Foundation with Basics

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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.

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 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