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Posts Tagged ‘dog behavior

Things To Do With Your Dog on Rainy Day

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rainy-boxIs the rainy weather keeping you and your dog indoors? Is your dog in need of activities because she is missing her daily walk? Here are some ideas to give your dog some mentally stimulating activities when the weather is bad.

1 Make a play date for indoors

Invite one of your dog’s friends and their owner over for a play date. If your dog gets along with a dog in the neighborhood, or one of your friends dogs, why not invite them over for some indoor fun? If you aren’t comfortable inviting dogs to your house, the Yellow Green Farmers Market is under cover and is dog friendly. Remember to take a towel with you to dry off upon arrival.

2 Try a shaping exercise

If you haven’t see the Sophia Yin video that demonstrates a shaping exercise, a rainy day is a good time to try it out. Shaping encourages your dog’s problem solving skills and is lots of fun once your dog catches on. Clickers are great tools for shaping behavior, but you can use the word ‘yes’ if you don’t have a clicker. Click here to see Sophia Yin’s video.

3 Try some targeting exercises

Targeting involves teaching your dog to touch a designated body part to a designated location. Nose targeting is most commonly taught. You can begin with targeting your dog’s nose to your hand, but using targeting sticks (pictured above) are also fun. In addition, targeting has many practical applications. Click here to read Pat Miller’s fabulous article on targeting.

4 Try doing Nosework (searching)

K9 Fun Nosework is one of my favorite classes to teach. It is all about encouraging your dog’s scenting abilities. The beauty of this exercise is that the dog does most of the work. It is very enriching and burns alot of energy. You don’t have to wait for my next class to try it. Jill Marie O’Brien is the founder of this fun dog sport and I had the pleasure of taking her seminar on teaching “K9 Fun Nosework”. Click here for Jill’s blog about getting started in Nosework.

5 Invest in a new interactive dog puzzle

There are tons of dog toys in pet stores. While squeaky toys and chewing toys are extremely popular, puzzle toys that encourage problem solving can be a great solution to a boring day inside. Why not pick up a puzzle toy on your next pet store visit and put it away for a rainy day?

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What is that Rescue Group Telling You?

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Maddie

“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.

Enrichment for Senior Dogs

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Judd is 15

All dogs need enrichment in their lives no matter how old they are.  By enrichment I mean exposure to interesting and novel experiences and things, mentally stimulating activities, and fun, enjoyable activities.  Senior dogs are often denied enrichment because they simply lack mobility and their health may be at risk under extreme conditions.

Fortunately, there are many options to add more enrichment to the lives of senior dogs that don’t require much mobility.

* Just enjoying the outdoors.  Dogs can smell what’s going on in the neighborhood by putting their noses in the air.  A breezy day can bring in even more scents.  Dogs don’t have to walk the whole neighborhood to get to enjoy stimulating smells.  For an added bonus, take your dog outside on garbage pickup day before the truck arrives.  Be sure to avoid extreme conditions like hot afternoons, uneven surfaces, and slippery surfaces.

* A relaxing visit from old or new friends.  Dog or human, seeing a friendly face can brighten even a tough senior day.  Nothing like a head scratch or belly scratch to help a dog feel better.  Throw in a human crotch sniff or a dog butt sniff and a great visit is made.  Try to avoid play that could cause injury or pain.  Keep visits short and sweet.

* An interactive toy or puzzle.  There are great toy choices out there!  Find something that will challenge your dog.  Puzzles are great because most do not require any mobility… just curiosity.

* A little Nosework.  Nosework is an activity that encourages your dog’s scenting ability.  It’s like hide and seek for dogs.  There are certain best practices that will help keep your dog engaged and prevent your dog from becoming an obsessive searcher.  Consult a trainer that has attended a seminar with the K9 Fun Nosework founders for some basic ground rules.

It’s hard to watch your dog get old.  Many senior dogs live with pain and discomfort.  Providing some safe enrichment could get your dog’s tail wagging again.


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.

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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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.

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.