Thursday, June 29, 2017

Just Say Home--Boom!

At this time of year I'm of course asked about getting dogs to handle the sound of fireworks. Well, it's pretty much too late for that. It's June 29--you can't desensitize your pup now. Do try: 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 when you're home just relaxing, then take it off after an hour or two. Then do that again. 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 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 2017 Fourth of July extravaganza will be particularly long: there may be fireworks from Friday evening through Wednesday, since the holiday itself falls on a Tuesday! Yikes. Your TV or radio should be on the entire time 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 included--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.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

What to Look for in a Pet-Sitter

I just had a lovely vacation--without my dogs. I love vacations with my dogs, too, of course, but once in a while it really is good to take a break, and I took a two-week trip, which I haven't done in years. I was able to do that only because I have the most trustworthy, capable pet-sitter on the planet. It's no fun to go away and worry--but I never worry when their gal is on the job. They literally love her as much as they love me.

What do you need in a pet-sitter? You need someone you can trust to be practical and use her head in every situation. My brain goes to worst-case scenarios like earthquakes: I know that Dawn would get everyone out safely with food and water and be in touch with me as soon as possible. Tommy had a health thing going on just before I left (because they are always healthy till you're going out of town!), and though he seemed fine, he had a little relapse, and she was watching him carefully and knew to reach out to me and see if he should go to the vet--and she took him (which is no fun with him).

Your pets would love life to be as usual as possible: meals at normal times, walks as scheduled, dog beds in the regular spots, no wild parties happening while their parents are away. If they could tell you, they would ask for someone to live at your place and be a substitute mama. What can also work really well is the dog going to the sitter's place so he's still in a home situation. I could never board my dogs; it would be too big a change for them and no way would I not worry--about dog fights and canine flu and lack of attention and the foreign environment.

Pet-sitters should take a Pet First-Aid/CPR course. They should have lots of actual experience with animals! These days, there is an app for everything, but I wouldn't want someone I've never even met to walk my dogs! I've met "sitters" who let a three-pound puppy bounce around the car--and out--with no harness or collar and who don't know when and what the dog is eating! Your job, in addition, is to leave comprehensive instructions and emergency numbers to keep things as usual and safe as possible. Just knowing you say, "Wait," before going out the door with the dog can keep a dog from running away when the sitter is there!

They love you unconditionally, and they're your kids: give them the best. Do I have staff people for pet-sitting and dog walking? You bet! :-) But we book early....

Have a great trip!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Bait

Those fanny packs lots of trainer wear these days? Some call them "bait bags." I usually call them slot machines: dogs are excited to play games with humans who could give out a treat or two or even a jackpot at any moment!

When they're learning a new behavior, the "bait" delivers exact communication between human and pup--as long as the human has good timing and gives the reward within a second of the desired behavior. When you get a paycheck every week or two from your employer, you know you've been giving the company what is expected--and the promise of a future paycheck keeps you coming back for more.

But a lot of treats are boring or become boring. If Pierrot is responding to the trainer and not you, check your treats. Are you wearing a pouch so the lovely smells of liver and lamb waft over Pierrot? Are you burying your treats in your pants pocket and not only take too long to match behavior with reward but hide the great promises you hold? Are you using dry, boring biscuits that crumble, have little scent, and leave Pierrot vacuuming rather than learning? Smell that bag of treats you just bought--it shouldn't smell like fake, weird chemicals. How about carrying multiple choices to keep Pierrot pumped and excited to train? How about changing your treats this week so he has a new exciting surprise?

And guess what? "Bait" can also be a favorite toy: a tennis ball or squeaky toy Pierrot gets to tug on or chase once or twice before going back to work. Carry with you on walks that stuffed squirrel he adores and watch how his loose leash walking becomes razor focused! A clicker can also motivate dogs if you're accurate and use it correctly.

Think about your dog's top three favorite food rewards: something she doesn't get except during training. Think about your dog's favorite real-life rewards: non-food items or events that make your dog joyful, maybe a belly rub or short game of tug on the leash or just going out the front door.

You know how to motivate Pierrot better than anyone--so keep the paychecks coming and sometimes throw in an unexpected bonus! Don't be stingy with your favorite fur ball!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

"He Only Does It for Food"

Some people talk smack about positive training, that your dog needs a bribe to give the desired behavior. Of course that just shows a lack of knowledge about how positive training works. Rewards don't have to be food but are anything the dog finds motivating--food just happens to be a clear, quick communicator between you and your dog. Then, guess what? When the dog truly understands what you want and gives the behavior you're requesting, poof: the treats are quickly weaned away.

So why do humans say the dog will "only do it for a treat"? Lots of reasons, but primarily, the dog hasn't been fully trained. 

1. Is Thor really solid on "down"? Does he confuse it with "sit"? Does he know it in every circumstance and deliver? You can't take away the motivator (hot dog) yet if he's not solid.

2.  How many distractions are there? If Pirate can't FOCUS, he can't deliver. In the middle of a puppy class with five other young crazies yapping and jumping, Pirate may have a lot of difficulty giving "down" without the treat reminder.

3. Are you dangling the treat in front of your dog? "See, Coco? I have a nice treat for you if you lie down...." That's a bribe, not a reward. Her knowing you have food on you is quite different than your showing the possibility.

4. Are you letting Molly blow you off? If you ask for down and don't get it, WAIT. It's a really hard thing for humans to do, but if you think she pretty much knows what you want and she heard you, WAIT. She will provide the behavior. Again, if she gives you a "sit" instead, she's not clear or not listening, literally. Just don't repeat yourself ten times, silly, or she will listen less and wait till the tenth time before giving what you want.

5. Try asking for the behavior with less distractions and where you think you will succeed. Mixing in training throughout the dog's day leads to better listening than just finding ten-minute segments of training time. Sure, Loki is good when he knows you're doing that training thing the two of you do. But offering real-life rewards throughout the day leads to a better-trained pup. "Down" before he goes out the door to the yard. "Down" before you play tug with his fave rope toy. It's way easier for him to focus in your kitchen than in the dog park....

6. Stand up straight, speak with confidence, use hand signals, and EXPECT. If you expect your dog will offer the behavior, he will. 

7. PRAISE more. Hot dogs are communication devices--but so is "Good boy!" in a high enthusiastic voice. Pairing the praise with the treats when teaching something new will make it easy to delete the treats quickly.

8. Keep things FUN! That's why you have each other anyhow, right? Lucky puppy: you're reading a blog about dog behavior!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

To Succeed or Not to Succeed

Dogs who take class have two very different complaints.

I hear, "My human did it so well at home! You should see him there: he's perfect at home. He just can't seem to do it in class."

But I also hear, "My lady is great in class. When we're doing the exercises there, she's great, but at home she couldn't care less."

OK, I don't really hear dogs saying these things, but I'm not far off about what they think when we make similar statements. I'm positive they roll their eyes at us when our backs are turned.

How can two such opposite views both be true? As usual, it depends. Let's start with the dog who doesn't perform as well in class as she does at home. Soooo common! For most dogs, class is extra challenging. Their skills are not so solid anyhow, and then we put them in a really stimulating environment and ask them to succeed. If your dog can focus in a class setting, you're a pretty awesome trainer. Some pups are nervous around other dogs and strangers; the environment itself can be distracting if it's new or it can be too exciting if it's where all the fun happens each week.

Here's something to remember: it doesn't matter a BIT if Mugsy does any exercise successfully in class! Let's treat dog class like yoga class: you both do what you can at the level you can and just HAVE FUN. No one is judging. Seriously. (If they are, you're in the wrong class.) Everyone is really busy watching her own dog and her own performance. Most of the real learning happens in your kitchen anyhow. We totally believe you if Mugsy does a five-minute stay at home! Yay for you and yay for Mugsy!

Now for the flip side. Why does your dog only come when we're in class doing the fun Monkey in the Middle game? Well, partly: it's FUN and it's a GAME! Are you keeping the home training fun? You may need to up the stakes and reward only for the higher stakes: Coco needs to EARN those treats. And how often are you calling Coco when you're not doing an exercise? Coco knows when the treats are out and you're going to that Training Thing so of course she's good. Now call her when she doesn't expect it and throw a HUGE party when she does--and TREAT. Mixing in obedience more often in your day makes Coco a much better listener--and makes you the coolest dad on the planet.

Be interesting! Be fun! Be surprising! And give your dog a kiss from me. The best part is that you're doing something fun with your dog regardless of the outcome. Ommmmm . . .


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Thanks Giving

DeAnne Wood's photo.
Woof! Arf! Yap, yap!

Your dog would like to give YOU thanks for being you. On behalf of Sophie and Charlie and Max and Fluffy, I'd like to thank you for being a GREAT dog person! You're reading a Dog Blog right now! See how great you are?

You give your dog the best quality food and the most motivating treats. You give her mental stimulation through food toys and games and obedience work. You take her on the kinds of walks she enjoys most, visiting new places if she likes them, avoiding your cell phone so you can focus on her. You take classes and try new doggie activities. You hire the most attentive dog walker. You have a pet-sitter move into your home when you have to go out of town because Sammy prefers staying home to living in a strange kennel.

Gunther gets to go on vacations with you sometimes! Twice a month he hikes a nearby trail. He goes to lunch with you at your local bistro. He has the best of everything: two dog beds, two dozen toys, a frozen marrow bone once a week, regular vet visits (with lots of accompanying treats!), and doggie friends he loves. He plays fetch with you, has a doggie seat belt in the back seat of the car, and has a blanket to crawl under on the sofa.

He's very grateful for all you do for him. It should be "a dog's life" we all want--especially because we don't have our furry friends forever no matter how much we 'd like to. They cherish every moment with you and know you never take them for granted either.

Thank you very much to the best dog family ever! You're the greatest!

Woof!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Social Butterflies

"How long do I socialize my pup?" "How do I know when I've socialized enough?" Ahh, questions that should perhaps be asked more often. Because socializing is so important.

Yes, young puppies need to have great experiences with different people, dogs, environments, noises, and surfaces (it's a long list that I can give you), but your job really isn't done ever. Of course your older puppy still needs to see a woman with a walker and to receive treats at the vet and meet new dogs. And your adult dog does, too. Socializing never really stops. It doesn't have to be as constant as with puppies under four months old, but if you don't keep the new experiences coming, your dog could become a wallflower.

There are adult dogs who have had bad experiences with new things or just not had enough socialization when pups, and those dogs may feel very uncomfortable being around children or skateboards or the ocean. It's not easy to get some dogs out and about. But a trainer can help. Not every fear needs to be faced, but we have to be careful not to cloister a dog because of difficulty with a certain issue. A little dog may have a problem relaxing around larger dogs, but he should still get to hang out at a cafe with you. Your poodle may really dislike kids, so she doesn't want to watch the soccer game in the field up the street--but she would enjoy taking a walk around the park.

Keep your dog active and provide the mental stimulation she needs. Agility class or obedience or nose work or just finding breakfast kibble around the living room! Keep life interesting for your so interesting doggie!