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Posts Tagged ‘dog trainer

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.


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.

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!

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!


There’s More Than One Way to Teach Your Dog to Sit

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When I visit my clients or teach a class, I carry a bag full of training tools.  The bag contains items like leashes, harnesses, squeaky toys, kongs, treats, and clickers.  More important than the literal toolkit I carry is the figurative toolkit that I carry in my head.  This kit contains tools to change behavior, teach behavior, or modify behavior, and because of the infinite possibilities of how to teach something, the toolkit is infinitely large.

This is good news for dog owners that have “tried everything”.  My clients are so relieved when they call me as a last resort to find that yes, there is hope.  A good dog trainer won’t necessarily abandon the tried and true usual methods.  A thorough interview should take place to verify that everything the family has tried was implemented properly and enough time and consistency was given to the method.  Also crucial to the success of any program is the likelihood that the family will implement it.  I advise dog owners to be really honest with their dog trainers about their schedules so the trainer does not over commit them.

So back to my toolkit… there are endless ways to teach a behavior.  For dogs that don’t respond to the usual methods, this gives a trainer an opportunity to personalize a plan for you and your dog.  For anyone that feels like there isn’t anything that will work for your dog, try something different!  In the words of Mark Twain, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always got.

Written by dawnhanna

September 27, 2011 at 2:28 pm

Posted in Dog Training

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