Oh Behave™ Dog Training Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘behavior modification

What is that Rescue Group Telling You?

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“She’s just a little shy.”
“This dog just needs some training.”
“Once he’s adopted he’ll be better.”
“These puppies are bonded and shouldn’t be separated.”

Rescue groups and shelters truly do amazing work to find loving homes for surrendered animals.  This article is not intended to bash or undermine their work in any way.  Most shelters and rescue groups do the best they can with the limited resources they have.  I appreciate their efforts!

If a rescue group, foster family, or shelter worker gives you advice about training or behavior, please consider the source.  Does this person have professional experience and training in behavior and dog training skills?  Just having been around alot of dogs and hearing alot of stories is not enough.  Some shelters like the Humane Society of Broward County have amazing behavior experts and trainers either on staff, working as volunteers, or working as contractors.  However, they may not be the ones working on the adoption room floor.

So what’s the harm with taking a little anecdotal advice from a well intentioned rescue worker?  Well if you are truly devoted to the animal, have LOTS of control over your environment, and have tons of resources (cash and time); there is not much risk of harm.  You are devoted and have the means and resources to make a great life for your dog.  You are my perfect client!

But when reality sets in… many adopters realize that they have lives that are not compatible with a special needs dog.  They have commitments and responsibilities and they are tired and have no time.  The really sad stories are the families with children that adopt dogs that are not a good fit.  Children do not fully understand consequences.  When your dog has a bite history, and your beautiful little girl goes for a big dog hug and gets bit on the face, that’s completely irresponsible parenting.  Children should not have access to dogs that bite unless strictly supervised, and using safety equipment when needed.

Last year, I received an email from a shelter that I support.  They wanted me to talk to a family that recently adopted 2 German Shepherd puppies… from the same litter. Click on this link to the article on why adopting more than 1 puppy from the same litter is a bad idea (unless you have super human powers).  Let me give you some insider info: I’m a dog trainer.  Training comes easy and complimentary (that’s free) to me.  I would never WILLINGLY AND OF SOUND MIND take on 2 pups at the same time.  It’s too much work.  Hey if its too much work for a dog trainer, ya think that may be a clue not to take this on?  So what was the problem with the adopters?  Well, on top of all the usual complaints about puppies, the family had a special needs child.  The shelter should have never allowed the family to take both puppies.  I’m not denying anyone the right to a dog because they have a child with special needs, but dogs have needs too.  If your dogs needs are not compatible with your family needs, you are asking for trouble.  Call me before you make a decision that you regret.  And by the way, those pups were real cute and controllable when they were adopted.  By the time they were surrendered, the pups were so big and uncontrollable, that I can’t imagine that they would be adoptable.  I have no information if they had a happy ending or if they were just another euthanasia statistic.

Sadly, this is just one story of the many stories I hear from clients that I work with, as well as potential clients that couldn’t commit the resources to manage the behavior.  Obedience training will help you communicate with your dog, but it won’t help your dog with intense fearful reactions to other dogs or people.  Fear, stress and anxiety related behaviors need to be managed with behavior modification.  Behavior modification is usually a tedious process and requires private lessons.

I will confess, that I too have adopted a dog with my heart and not my head.  Maddie’s rescue group certainly worked the emotional side of adoption (I was emotionally raw and broken hearted from the death of my beloved Liesel).  Fortunately, because I am a dog trainer, I had the resources to do the behavior modification (I didn’t charge myself).  My journey with Maddie is in its 7th year.  For some people, taking on a dog with special needs is truly wonderful.  For others, that may have taken dog behavior advice from a bad source, it could be a nightmare.


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.

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.

Moving Out of Your Dog’s Comfort Zone

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Confidence Building Exercises

Doesn’t it feel great to take on a new and fun challenge?  I know I love getting out of my comfort zone and trying something new… especially with a little support and camaraderie from friends.

Thirteen years ago, I received a black belt rank in karate.  When I first stepped into the dojo, I knew no one there and had no idea what to expect.  I was never athletic and I was lucky to find a a school that was incredibly supportive and encouraging even with my lack of coordination and balance.  It took me ten years to work my way through the ranks.  It took some discipline to go to class after some long days at Ryder and even while I was working on my MBA.  All ten years were really rewarding and challenging and gave me great confidence.  Karate was one of the most amazing experiences of my life because it was so completely out of my comfort zone.  It made meeting each challenge just that much sweeter!

Dogs too can benefit from getting out of their comfort zones and experiencing new challenges and experiences.   Getting your dog out and about and trying new skills is very enriching.  Advanced, intermediate, and competitive activities provide opportunities to enhance your dog’s life.  By challenging your dog, he will learn to deal with frustration – some activities and skills just aren’t a piece of cake.  Face it, life isn’t a piece of cake, even for dogs.  Learning how to deal with frustrating situations and getting great rewards  for patience is a valuable skill in a dog’s life.  Dogs also gain lots confidence from being out of their comfort zone and getting rewards and enriching experiences in return.

So what’s a dog owner to do after basic obedience?  As I write this, my window is open and I am enjoying the sunny 73 degree weather.  If you live in South Florida, you could not pick a better time to get out there and have some fun with your dog.  In February, Oh Behave will be offering K9 Fun Nosework and an Intermediate class so you and your dog can learn some snazzy skills and benefit from spending time with your best buddy!

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.

Nosework is Amazing!

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Duke taking a break

I began offering K9 Fun Nosework classes in 2011.  I have seen amazing positive changes in some of my students that I would not have believed were possible one year ago.  K9 Fun Nosework is a class and sport that is increasing in popularity because it appeals to a wider range of dogs and owners than many other dog training classes and sports.  Nosework focuses on encouraging and developing your dog’s natural scenting abilities by using their desire to hunt and their love of toys, food and exercise.  Originally, my thought was to offer this class to provide dog owners that were unable to participate in more traditional obedience sports and classes, another option to enjoy working with their dogs in a safe and social environment.  What I learned is that participating in Nosework has had profoundly positive effects on many of my students.  I’d like to share some of our success stories.



Lexie – I first met Lexie in a private session.  She was apprehensive with me and uncomfortable with my presence in her house.  Sharee, her owner, indicated that she was fearful around children, men, strollers and stressed by certain situations.  After suggesting some behavior modification exercises, I also suggested she try my Nosework class to work on Lexie’s confidence.  During searches, Lexie really excelled.  She was even able to find treats that I had overlooked from previous searches.  Lexie’s confidence improved tremendously from the search exercises and the behavior modification she and Sharee practiced during class when Lexie was not searching.  Lexie’s body language during most of class was that of a relaxed and happy dog.  Sharee and Lexie are working on extending Lexie’s confidence to other situations in her daily life.



Harley – Debbie came to Nosework to address her dog Harley’s  reactive behavior around other dogs.  While working our first class, I realized that we would need to work on his confidence as well.  I inadvertently caused Harley some stress while rushing to him to reward a find.  Harley also excelled at searches and was able to search for birch scent without being paired with meat. To make it fun we had him search for keys with birch scent.  Harley became much more relaxed around people.  Although he had some reactions to other dogs, his threshold improved and his demeanor around the dogs in class was much more relaxed.  Debbie continues doing Nosework searches with Harley at her truck maintenance facility where Harley searches for birch scented truck keys.  You can read more about their fun on our Testimonials Page.

Duke (pictured above) – I have been working with Duke in private training sessions with his owner, Jamie.  We are lucky to have her big yard with lots of hiding places where we can work off leash.  Jamie’s goal with Duke was to have a constructive outlet for his energy.  His history includes some other behavior issues that the family has been managing successfully. Duke is not really enthusiastic about fetching or going on walks, but he sure is excited about Nosework!  We started indoors hiding meat in boxes and under other objects. We worked our way through pairing meat with birch scent and now, birch scent only.  Jamie will wait with Duke inside while I hide a business card scented with birch oil out in the landscaping.  I’m careful not to encourage digging or any undesirable behaviors.  Typically, Duke takes less than 5 minutes to find the scented card.  He works hard, and is very excited about his search job.  An interesting side note: while searching outside, the next door neighbor’s yard crew was working close to the fence line.  Jamie indicated that normally, Duke would display reactive behavior barking at the activity next door.  While searching, Duke was not at all distracted by the yard crew.



Maddie – We recently took Maddie on vacation to Key West.  She takes a while to warm up to new places and has been known to whine incessantly or nip at any strangers that comes close during the adjustment period.  So, to take Maddie’s focus off of the adjustment, we did some Nosework upon arrival at our B&B.  Before Maddie entered our room, I set up some boxes and treats for her to do a little search exercise.  She began to focus on the search rather than our unpacking activities and the stress of a new environment.
Since Nosework is so new to everyone, it seems that we are all discovering new applications and amazing successes from participating in this fun sport.  The class has no prerequisites and is suitable for a wide range of dogs.

For details on K9 Fun Nosework, visit our website.  Nosework will be offered in Fall 2012 on Saturday mornings.  Stay tuned for dates!  Check out our videos below!