Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Dogs Outdoors

A woman recently asked me for advice on her dogs because they can't be apart without real separation stress. It turns out they live together outside in the yard all the time! Of course they're attached to each other. Their humans barely acknowledge their existence.

Why? If you don't have sheep for your dogs to guard, why in the world are your dogs outside all the time? Because they need training? Because they're destructive? Because you don't like dog hair on your precious rug? Because you don't care enough to have them inside?

I hear dogs barking in my neighborhood at night. Are they supposed to be guarding the house so they are outside in the backyard? If I were the burglar, I'd go in the front, then. The dogs would be better guards from invaders if they are in the house, no? And dogs want to sleep with the rest of the family at night. Not shut outside in the cold, not even in the kitchen but in the bedroom.

I hear a dog near my house crying during the afternoon when he hears me or my dogs near his backyard. He's lonely and sad because his people leave him outside all day.

There are real predators out there--and fleas and toxic things to eat. Your dog needs to spend the majority of her time in the house, not out. She needs to relax and not be on guard all the time! She is not there to serve you. If you are not going to give a dog an interesting life and let her be bonded to you and live as part of the family, don't get a dog. And don't get me started on outdoor cats. I'll just say they don't need to be outside hunting, shortening their lifespans by years. They need to curl up at home and relax and live a life of leisure.

My neighborhood app constantly has posts about lost and found dogs and cats. Many are escapees from their boring yard existences. I don't blame them. But I want them to stay safe.

Most of the time dogs don't get to choose their humans. They get who they get, and they are at our mercy, so we need to be merciful.

I needed to vent today. Thanks.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Furry Sponges Need Friends

A dog recently came to my class who had taken class almost a year ago, and he'd now forgotten that he liked other dogs during the first class. He has not had much nice on-leash socialization since that other class.

Now is the time. Wherever your dog is in her skills, wherever you are in your busy schedule, now is the time to have your dog out and about.

Sometimes we take a puppy through a great socialization class during that critical period before sixteen weeks--or even after that period--and we see how easily the pup gets along with others and isn't fazed by any of the curve balls we throw, like funny noises and people and places. Because puppies generally are so malleable when they're very young, it's easy to say, "One and done. I did my job as a pup parent." You did. Good for you. But the job continues.

One six-week class does not make a great canine citizen. Getting your dog out into the world for positive experiences as often as possible is good for both of you. Even if you have an adult dog with issues around other dogs or children or new places, the problem won't be solved by keeping her away from things that bother her. A capable positive trainer can help with those difficulties.

Staying in classes can prevent and alleviate the problems! Not every trainer wants to have reactive dogs in class with non-reactive dogs, but the reactive dog can be carefully managed--usually at a distance at first to relieve some of the pressure--so she can start to have nice experiences around other dogs to minimize her fear. Because the vast majority of the time, fear is what is behind the dog's behavior.

Your classes don't even have to be obedience classes: try a new dog sport to stay active and social!  And if your dog has a really great sit and down and recall, you need to bring those skills to another level. Now that you've got the basics down, the fun truly starts! Your dog is a sponge and capable of so much more. She thanks you and so do I!

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Stay HOME During the Worst Week of the Year

At this time of year I'm of course asked about getting dogs to handle the sound of fireworks. You could make some good strides even with only three weeks to go before the big day. Do try desensitizing and counterconditioning: put on a recording of firecracker sounds while your dog is having dinner; keep the volume low and not too close to where he's eating. If he has a bad response, pull back: let it play for just a few seconds at a time. Increasing the volume and duration gradually can sometimes help with the real thing. Add in some extra fabulous treats.

The sounds of sudden explosions sure aren't normal, so how can you make things better for Sam? Go buy a Thunder Shirt right now. Put it on your dog when you're home just relaxing, then take it off after an hour or two. Then do that again. You want to create a positive association with the Thunder Shirt--not just put on the scary shirt during scary times. Now add a little lavender oil to the shirt for added relaxation. Now try both for most of the holiday weekend. You can also add a terrific Calming Collar of synthetic pheromones that simulate a lactating female--they love Mama even as adults. Dogs who have a particularly bad response can even get a little help from your vet with a bit of medication. Have a young puppy? Now is the best time in her life to desensitize her! Give her a bone she's never had before and watch her ignore those sounds.

This 2019 Fourth of July extravaganza will be particularly long: there may be fireworks for two weeks, since the holiday itself falls on a Thursday! Yikes. Your TV or radio should be on to disguise some of the noise. Your windows should be closed. YOU SHOULD BE HOME!! YES, YOU SHOULD SKIP THE BARBECUE! "My dog is just fine with the Fourth of July sounds." How do you know? Because you are home with her? That may be a big part of why she's fine. Indeed, lots of dogs have little issue with the noises--my own are just fine--but leaving them to listen to random "gunshots" at home by themselves is just not fair. You know what's the most unfair? Bringing them with you to the park to see the fireworks! And skip Fourth of July parades, too!  Those are crazy ideas.

Nationally animal control sees a 30 percent increase in lost pets on the Fourth, and July 5th is the busiest day at shelters! If we love our dogs, we don't want them to be afraid. So just stay home. Put another tofu dog on the grill pan inside and cuddle with Sophie. She'll love the time with you and she'll know you have her back. You can party on Labor Day.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Stay Social

How do you create a dog who doesn't prefer being on his phone to actual interaction with other dogs? We all talk about whether humans communicate effectively these days. How do you keep your dog communicating well with others?

Trainers often see fantastic puppies graduate from puppy kindergarten and then come back to class nine months later as little monsters, barking at other dogs or wanting to hide. We all say a positive puppy class is absolutely key in social development, and it is true that without it a pup can be doomed to shyness and fear. But socializing cannot stop in puppy kindergarten.

Your puppy needs to stay social. Tell her to put the phone away and say hi to those other nice dogs you know. How do you keep her consistently well behaved around other dogs? Stay in dog class! It's a commitment to keep going to class, but it should be part of your commitment to Chloe. She's always there for you, so make the time for an hour a week to have her practice her behaviors around other cute ones. After Chloe graduates from puppy class, she should immediately go to the next level class. And after that she needs to go on to the level after that. No breaks. It doesn't matter what kind of obedience skills she can demonstrate as much as that she learns to listen to you and focus around distractions--and have a positive experience around other dogs.

Some dogs who react badly especially on leash around other dogs can learn excellent manners just by being in a class situation. As long as the class doesn't add too much stress for the dog, desensitization happens and even counterconditioning: "Every time I go to this great place, I see other dogs and cheddar falls from the sky! I love dogs!"

Chloe won't stay a model citizen if she's only in your backyard with her dog brother. She wants to be out and about and spend an hour with her favorite person. Yes, you're busy, but she's worth the time.

If your dog is already too stressed around other dogs, let's work on that and then get back to class! Trainers have skills to help. Chloe says thank you!

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

How to Stop Barking 101

Barking is so natural and useful, and you’re not always home when your dog is barking—so asking your her to "Shush" on cue will take some practice. After all, sometimes you want her to alert you.

Remember, too, that some dogs bark out of anxiety, especially when you first leave home. Try a filled Kong upon departure to help, and leave on a TV or radio to mask some sounds and soothe. (If your dog has anxiety, we need to discuss more. There is a whole protocol to help.)

Dogs should announce someone on the property or at the door, but they don’t need to let you know when someone walks by on the sidewalk or when a leaf drops! Station an accomplice outside the front door or even just knock or ring the bell yourself, being careful that your dog does not go out the door, of course. As always, don’t make the exercise too difficult at first so you can set up your dog to succeed.

Knock for the first few rounds and then try the doorbell instead if you have success. After two or three good woofs, say "Shush" (or “Stop” or “Thank you”) and then waggle a tasty food treat in front of your pup’s nose. She will stop barking as soon as she sniffs the treat because she can’t sniff and woof simultaneously. Praise your dog as she sniffs quietly and then give the treat. You're not rewarding the barking but the quiet.

Repeat this routine a dozen or so times, and eventually your dog will learn to anticipate the likelihood of sniffables following your "Shush" request. You can also add a hand signal such as closing your fingers to your thumb in imitation of a closed mouth. Over repeated trials, progressively increase the length of required shush-time before offering a food reward—at first just two seconds, then three, five, eight, twelve, and twenty.

The more softly you speak, even whispering praise, the more your dog will be inclined to pay attention and listen (and therefore, not bark). Try not to compete in the Who Is Loudest Game!

You will want to leave a bag of treats out of dog reach but near the door until she gets good at this new game. When the UPS delivery happens, you need to grab treats pretty quickly to reinforce a real example! If your dog is especially barky, you will want to change the subject, too: get her away from the window, play some fetch, etc. And don’t forget that some dogs bark just because they are bored, too, so keep life Interesting. Woof!

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Cure Cabin Fever!

Brrr! Need some inside activities during this cold, snowy, rainy winter? Pepper says, "YES, PLEASE!"

"Find It": Hide a particular toy and ask your dog to find it. Make the game easy at first! Leave it so he can see a little of it. Use the same toy each time at first so he learns there is a difference between "turtle" and "ball." "Find It" also works for dinner--measure and hide kibble under chairs and the sofa.

"Hide-and-Seek": Even if your dog doesn't have a good stay yet, have another member of your household hold her while you go hide and then call. Again, don't make it too hard at first!

"Stay": This is a good time to work on Pepper's sit-stay and down-stay, and even his stand-stay. Try for duration before building distance--then mix them up. It's easier to stay when your handler is close by, so don't rush the process. And don't say "Come" to release the stay--always return and release with a word like "dismissed" or even "OK."

"Search": Try Nose Work! You don't need a formal class to get started. Get six different empty boxes and put them out with a moist treat in one. Watch how quickly your dog's innate abilities kick in! Then put the treat in a different box. Then move the boxes around. Pepper may need to try this on leash at first, but let him do the work without your leading.

Puzzle Toys: Measure breakfast and stuff it in a Kong or multiple Kongs--even frozen! Try harder puzzle toys like those by Nina Otttosson.

"Heel": You can get a nicely focused dog if you try heeling in your hallway or around the house, back and forth. No leash required. Your dog may already do nice "loose leash walking," so now you can up her game: she is reinforced for her shoulder being right beside your leg and encouraged every time she looks at you.

"CGC": Many (not all) of the exercises that are part of the AKC Canine Good Citizen exam are quick and can be practiced indoors. https://www.akc.org/products-services/training-programs/canine-good-citizen/training-testing/

"Fetch": Whether you work with a ball or plush toy or an actual dumbbell, you can build your dog's drive to fetch. Guess what? Work closely and easily at first.

While you're at, guess who else likes most of these games? Cats! Well, probably not Heel.

Our dogs are limited only by our imagination and coaching abilities. Stuck inside can mean learning new tricks!

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Resolve for Fun!

'Tis resolution season, of course. Lots of diets are happening; yoga classes are crowded. How many people resolve to add more fun into their lives? Good idea, right? And one of the easiest ways to make your life fun is by making your dog's life fun!

Resolve to take your dog somewhere new! Take a dog vacation rather than leaving him behind. Go somewhere new locally once a week so he has lots of stimulus! Teach him a new trick once a month. Try a new dog sport. There are so many fun things to try these days: fly ball, rally, nose work, agility, urban mushing, earth dog, dock diving, lure coursing, conformation, herding, freestyle dance, and that old standby, obedience.

Tanner is about to try a nose work class. Dogs sniff around boxes and find a particular scent. It's in their DNA, but it's going to take quite a bit of training on our part. Dogs take turns, so Tanner will be crated between takes--and being quiet in a crate isn't something we have worked on in a long while. He's perfect at crating in the car, so let's hope it transfers when there are exciting dogs around him in a training facility. He's a miniature pinscher mix, and barking is in his DNA. Also, his street dog background still shows itself sometimes in his desire to mark new objects--peeing on things like boxes with scents in them. See why this will be a good class for him?

We have other resolutions at our house, too. Specific obedience cues that we could work on. But also, we're resolving to learn a new trick a month. We should have more tricks in our repertoire.

If your dog has a problem behavior or two (or three), working on those may not sound like lots of fun, but indeed it should be. If you train correctly, your dog doesn't realize that learning to stop barking is anything but a game. He stops barking and gets a piece of hot dog: sounds fun to him! And your life will be more fun when you have a calmer pup with better manners.

More cuddles, more new toys, more food games: good resolutions for all of us! Happy, healthy new year!