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5 Must Do’s During Your Dog’s First Year

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Sammy loves Starbucks

1 Introduce your puppy to lots of humans
I’m not sure that it’s possible for your puppy to meet too many people in the first few months. Invite friends, family, coworkers and neighbors to your home to play with your new puppy. Introducing treats during the interaction will help your puppy associate humans with wonderful things.

A quick trip to a place like Starbucks is a great method to introduce your pup to a more diverse range of humans. Bring a friend and some treats with you. While your friend is securing your beverage order, you can socialize your puppy. I mean who can resist a puppy? If anyone even makes the slightest cute comment about your pup, ask them if they would like to give your puppy a treat. Your pup is likely to love strangers after a few of these events.

2 Arrange for play dates for your puppy
Safely introducing your puppy to other dogs and puppies is crucial to keep the from becoming dog reactive or dog aggressive later in life. If your puppy has not completed all of his puppy vaccinations, be very careful to go on play dates with dogs and puppies of good health. In addition, a young puppy should never be exposed to dogs of questionable temperament. Allow your dog to play with well mannered, “good” dogs.

3 Take a group class
Group classes are perfect for learning communication skills, making friends, and having some fun in a controlled environment. Your dog will learn to give you focus even in some very distracting conditions. You may need a private lesson or two if you are having trouble with translating what you learned in class to your behavior management issues at home.

4 Send your puppy to sleepovers with trusted friends or family
I know its tough for every pet parent to let go, but a sleepover at a friend’s home teaches puppy that “I’m going to be ok without mommy.” A dog that loves you is wonderful, a dog that is co-dependent is… not so wonderful. Even in a dog friendly world there will be times that you can’t take your dog on vacation or on business trips. Give your puppy the life skill of being ok without you. And of course… allow your friends to spoil the baby with walks, play and games to make good associations with being away from home.

5 Take overnight trips with your puppy
Whether its a dog friendly hotel, staying overnight at a friend’s, or for the really brave… a camping trip, will acclimate your puppy to changes in environment. Many of our Broward County Parks have camping facilities. Make it fun and keep it short.

Dawn’s Top 5 Dog Friendly Places & Events (Greater Fort Lauderdale & Broward County)

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#5 Boater’s Park (accessible only by boat)
North side of the Dania Cutoff Canal, west of Anglers Ave. / Ravenswood Rd., Dania Beach, FL 33312
http://www.broward.org/Parks/BoatersPark/Pages/Default.aspx
ImageBoater’s Park is one of those totally underused gems in the park system that I hate to share with the public. The park can only be accessed by boat, which keeps it quiet and clean. With shelters, electrical outlets, clean restrooms, and grills, you and your dog friends can have a perfect day under the shade trees. The iguana population tends to congregate on the seawalls of Boater’s Park, so hang on tight to leashes of prey driven dogs.  Don’t have a boat?  Club Nautico is also dog friendly.  They rent boats.

#4 Markham Park
16001 W. State Rd. 84, Sunrise, FL 33326
http://www.broward.org/Parks/MarkhamPark/Pages/Default.aspx
markhamMarkham Park has a lovely 3.5 acre off leash dog park, “Barkham atMarkham” that is usually well maintained and landscaped. Remember that visitors of off leash dog parks assume a lot of risk. Use some common sense when deciding to bring your dog. Check the area from the parking lot for aggressive or confrontational dogs. Make sure everyone is supervising their dog(s). If you are comfortable with the dogs and owners, spend some time making new friends. Try to walk the pathways and don’t wait for an incident to occur. Get in and out of there in 20 – 30 minutes. The park also has a rarely used nature trail that is great for reactive dogs. I suggest limiting your visits here to cloudy days as there is ZERO shade in this part of the park. In addition to camping facilities and just a ton of open space, you can also desensitize your dog to gun fire noise here! There is a target range at the far end of the park, so don’t let the noise catch you or your dog off guard. The biggest drawback about this park is that it is located in the evil city of Sunrise. Sunrise carries some draconian ordinances on their books regarding pit bulls. Their ordinances require that pit bulls be muzzled and kept on a six foot leash.

#3 Pine Island Ridge Nature Center
3900 S.W. 100th Ave., Davie, FL 33328
http://www.broward.org/Parks/PineIslandRidge/Pages/Default.aspx
???????????I normally access this park from Tree Tops Park. This area is the highest natural elevation in Broward County and is surrounded by the Forest Ridge community. One of my favorite elements of this park is the abundance of trees and shade. If you are not an early bird, the ridge is a good choice is you want to beat the heat of the south Florida sun. Hang on tight to your dog’s leash; you may encounter Gopher Turtles or horses and riders on the equestrian trail. This is a beautiful place, but sometimes the noise from planes on final approach to Fort Lauderdale Airport can be annoying.

#2 SunTrust Sunday Jazz Brunch and Riverwalk Linear Park
20 N. New River Drive, Fort Lauderdale, FLangelina
First Sunday of the month, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
http://www.fortlauderdale.gov/events/jazzbrunch/jazzbrunch.htm
Riverwalk Park, Fort Lauderdale
Whether you are setting up a canopy and chairs (get there early), docking your boat (get there earlier), or just walking through, this event has it all. There are 4 stages, each featuring musical performers. There are food and drink vendors, although many people choose to bring their own picnic or grill. This dog friendly event has plenty of space and shady park areas if you need a quiet space too. The pathways near the stages often get crowded, so be careful. This is a great event to visit with your friends or to meet new dog and human friends. The linear park is a great place to walk your dog on any day of the month, and ends at Las Olas Boulevard where you can grab a bite to eat at a dog friendly outdoor café.

#1 Plantation Heritage Park
1100 S. Fig Tree Lane, Plantation, FL 33317
http://www.broward.org/Parks/PlantationHeritagePark/Pages/Default.aspx
ph maddieAside from the fact that this park is just minutes from my house and is the park where I teach group dog training classes, this park is my favorite. With a large fishpond and fruit trees, this county park has a neighborhood feel to it. There are people that walk and socialize their dogs at Plantation Heritage daily. For dog owners with reactive dogs, there is a nature trail that is rarely visited, and there are only a few blind corners on the walking paths. There are plenty of ducks and geese to entertain your dog (beware of the poop on the pathway). On Tuesday evenings, the park does a food truck event that is family and dog friendly. There are no off leash areas in this park, but it is a short car ride to Happy Tails Park. One drawback, a disc golf course was recently constructed at this park. If your dog is a Frisbee fan, this may pose a big challenge for you.

What are you waiting for?  Get out there with your dog!!

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.

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.

Curse of the Good First “Baby”

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ImageSometimes I get accused of using too many human analogies when I discuss behavior, learning and motivation for pet dogs.  I avoid what is called “anthropomorphism”, that is, assigning human characteristics to animals.  However, all living things respond to positive reinforcement training.  In that arena, I find there are many similarities.

Sometimes it’s my clients that give me the good analogy.  I’d like to share with you the “curse of the good first baby” that a client shared with me.  I have seen episodes of Dr. Phil with similar parenting stories involving parental expectations and judgements, but hearing it first hand really amused me.

Sometimes we are just blessed with the perfect dog.  Perhaps a born follower, gentle, very attached to its owners…  This dog just doesn’t seem to need training.  He never jumps on guests (or is too small for that to be annoying), doesn’t run away, not destructive and is easily housetrained.  For those of us that have experienced “normal dogs”, this sounds almost too good to be true.  We have suffered the indignity of finding chewed up belongings, stinky messes, and begging our dogs to come to us in public when they get loose.  At Oh Behave, I don’t get a whole lot of phone calls from the owners of “perfect” dogs.

I get lots of phone calls in my line of work about the new dog that is just evil.  Of course, they tell me it’s a puppy, but it’s really already one and a half years old, not housebroken, destructive, still mouthy, runs out the door every time it’s open, and guests refuse to come to the house because of the jumping, mouthing, and incessant barking.  Just another day at Oh Behave Dog Training.

So I visited the home of one of these “evil” dogs and the owners tell me that they just can’t figure out what’s wrong with their dog. Their last dog never did any of the ridiculous behaviors like barking, jumping, running away, and peeing on the carpet.  I had to give them the doggie parent dose of reality: “most dogs will do what your current dog is doing unless you teach them to do something else.  There is nothing wrong with this dog, we just need to teach him what’s right.”  “Well what about our last dog?”, they ask.  I tell them how lucky they were to have had such a wonderful dog, but most people are not lucky enough to be blessed by the “perfect” dog twice in a row.

The dog mom starts to squirm & turn red.  She starts talking to me and her husband about her sister, brother in law,  and their children.  Evidently, the sister’s first child is an angel: as a toddler she was very sweet, never went through the terrible twos and slept through the night as a baby.  Apparently the sister and brother in law were pretty unforgiving and judgmental about the dog mom’s child parenting skills.  Dog mom would explain that her kids sometimes have tantrums, outbursts, trouble sitting still, and other normal, but not so desirable behaviors.  It’s normal. The judgements went on until the sister and brother in law had the second child.  Baby number two was colicky as a baby and was a terror through the terrible twos, and is still pretty much of a handful.  The sister thought she was such an amazing parent because her child was so amazing.  The sister thought my clients were bad parents because they had a child that just does normal childhood behaviors.  And so my clients had the doggie parent epiphany… even though their first dog was an angel, they basically sucked at dog training.

The good news is that training your dog is a skill that can be learned. My clients and their new dog all lived a much less stressful life by simply introducing some positive reinforcement training!  Now they think their current dog is an angel and I am happy to tell them what wonderful dog parents they have become!   They are truly great at training their dog.

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.