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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.

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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.

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.

Shaping Exercises for Your Dog (and You)

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Shaping button pressing

Please allow me a healthy amount of geekiness for a moment. “Shaping by successive approximations involves a process of differentially rewarding some behaviors and not others.”

I introduced the Sophia Yin “box” exercise to my basic obedience students last session.  Take a look at this great video demonstration of operant conditioning.  In my basic obedience class we use luring with treats to get the dogs to do behaviors like sit.  Using treats that dogs follow closely with their noses, makes it easy to achieve results FOR SIMPLE EXERCISES.  Complex behaviors are not always well suited for luring, so my students found this frustrating and challenging.

My students were immediately challenged by having to be quiet.  Other than saying yes every time the dog successfully met a criteria, the human should not be giving cues.  For advanced behaviors, successful completion of the behavior is not usually immediate.  So if the handler says down, but the dog takes a few minutes to put his belly on the floor, the dog may not associate the word with the behavior.  For advanced behaviors, I try to get students to successfully shape the behavior and add the cue later.

My students were also frustrated by the slow process.  When shaping begins, the dog is often perplexed by what is expected.  After all he has been led around by a treat on the nose for weeks.  This process is new.  These exercises give dogs great problem solving skills and confidence.  Once you have shaped a few tricks with your dogs, he will catch on.  Next time the treat bag comes out, he will confidently offer new behaviors and explore novel items you bring to the session (like a box).

If you watch the video, you’ll notice that Dr. Yin keeps raising the criteria for which Zoey. The dog gets rewarded as she gets closer to the final desired result.  You’ll also notice that Zoey gets a little lost in the exercise after a few tries.  Dr. Yin lowers the criteria to keep Zoey engaged.  Then Zoey quickly gets back on track.

The frustrating part of this video is that I suspect Zoey has already done some shaping exercises before.  Most students and dogs that are new to this will take much longer to achieve the result than Dr. Yin and Zoey.

Shaping exercises are great fun for dogs because it allows them a stress free experience of problem solving.  The experience is free of humans  hovering over them and barking out cues repeatedly (why would anyone listen to my “say it once” advice?).   This exercise is great for handlers too.  No more repeating cues until the dog learns the cue is irrelevant.  In addition, my human students gain some much needed patience.

Dogs wow me every day with their amazing ability to work things out.  I encourage all of you to try some shaping exercises with your dogs so they can wow you.  Try Dr. Yin’s box exercise this month and let me know how it goes.

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.

How Cute Is That?

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So you have your new puppy and he’s soooo cute.  The little guy loves to jump up to greet you, pounce on you for attention, and explore the world running on leash with amazing speed and enthusiasm!  Isn’t that the cutest thing?!?!

Well, maybe it is now… but if you have a medium to large breed dog, it’s not going to be so cute in a few months.  Even if you have a smaller breed dog, I can attest to the fact that doggie nails on my shins is no walk through the park.

When bringing home the new pup, your rules and the behaviors you teach should be compatible with your expectations of the dog in 5 months, 5 years, and even 10 years.

I will discuss household manners later.  Before etiquette, there are a few priorities you need to address straight away with the pup.  Here are the developmental deadlines according to Ian Dunbar:

The 4th Developmental Deadline
Socialization with People
The Most Urgent Priority-by 12 weeks of age

The 5th Developmental Deadline
Learning Bite Inhibition
The Most Important Priority-by 18 weeks of age

The 6th Developmental Deadline
Preventing Adolescent Problems
The Most Enjoyable Priority-by five months of age

To read more about what to do After You Get Your Puppy, you can download Dr. Dunbar’s free e-book at http://www.dogstardaily.com/files/AFTER%20You%20Get%20Your%20Puppy.pdf

Now, back to household manners.  Teaching your dog a little bit of impulse control at a young age can set you up for tremendous success during adolescence and adulthood.  The best part is that it does not require any formal training or skills, it just requires some impulse control from the owner.

Many pups learn to get things by bullying their way into it.  Pup gets treats from your hands by pawing at and mauling your hands.  Pup gets attention by barking at or jumping on you.  Because it’s so cute (or you’re in pain from those pointy puppy teeth), you give in.

Rather than giving in too quickly, just wait.  Wait until the pup takes a breath from chewing on your closed hand.  Say yes and open your hand.  Wait until the pup puts all four paws on the ground before you give any attention or affection to him.  Pups pick up on this very quickly.

So please.. DO try this at home!