Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Dogs on Paper

Nope, we're not talking today about dogs eliminating on paper.

Sometimes clients call with situations that on paper don't seem like the best scenarios. Adopting a territorial, resource-guarding dog from a shelter to live with a fifteen-year-old dog who doesn't like other dogs: sounds like a bad idea on paper until you meet the two dogs. The guarder isn't guarding now that she's out of her original home. The grouchy senior seems to find the new dog irrelevant. This might just work!

Choosing a terrier puppy to live with a senior basset hound: on paper the older dog wouldn't want to be bothered with the annoying kid jumping on his back. But the puppy has breathed new fun into the older dog's world--and they do well together as long as the pup remembers that jumping on backs is a no-no and the dogs have scheduled breaks from each other during the day.

A labradoodle puppy turned out to be eighty pounds as an adult (the breed does come in lots of sizes!)--and she lives with a petite woman of a certain age. The dog is bouncy and joyous and on paper way too much for her person to walk. But some really solid leash training and lots of fetch and games to tire out her brain make the girl a better candidate for walking. We are still using a dog walker and day care to tire her out, though; we need to keep the human from falling.

Although the internet is full of information (and misinformation) on dogs, we need to look past what is on paper--or on the screen--and see the individuals before us. How much experience does the handler have? What kind of experience? What is the individual dog really like? Many don't act like their breeds are "supposed to," after all.

Trainers need to listen and observe carefully. And we all need to be patient and give situations tweaks and lots of time. That new rescue dog could easily take eight months to show you who he really is. Truly.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Times Change

We're so lucky when dogs live long lives, and senior dogs can be the best dogs ever. It can be hard to remember how our senior was a dozen years ago. Dogs change--and dog training and dog products have changed in the past dozen years, too.

More than ever before, humans are discovering the benefits of Positive Training--for their dogs but also for their spouses and children! There are still people who haven't discovered yet that rewarding good is better training than punishing the bad, but eventually we hope everyone who has an animal in his/her home will realize that times have changed.

Food has completely changed in the past decade. We know that "by-products" can be scary and certainly not as healthy as the real deal. Lots of dogs (and cats) now find Raw Food beneficial, and treats are often just dehydrated versions of actual food. People are learning that shopping for dog food in the grocery store is not the way to find the best quality choices. A very good pet store has staff who can tell you where the food was farmed, where it was packaged, why one is better for your dog's issue than another.... Giving your dog the best food you can afford should lead to better health. Milk Bones are out. (Have you smelled them? Practically no scent at all, and you know that's what counts most for your dog.) "Treats" should just be food that is convenient to give in small form for training or a positive snack the dog receives when you leave the house.

I see far fewer dogs riding in the beds of pick-up trucks. I'd love to see no dogs doing that.... Dog guardians now realize that seat belts, carriers, booster seats, and many other contraptions keep their dogs safer in vehicles. If their dog has motion sickness or anxiety in a car, their faithful humans work on the problem and make their dog happier.

More humans realize their dog is actually a family member who wants to be indoors the majority of the time, not chained up outside. Dogs sleep in the bedrooms with their humans more and more--since they relax more with the "pack." Doesn't matter if they are on the bed or in their own dog beds as long as everyone is happy. Years ago, if we had a yard, the dog didn't get many walks. Now people realize that smelling and new environments and exercise are essential to a dog's well-being.

The pet world is constantly changing--and your fur balls thank you for staying current with the trends! I wonder where things will go in another decade....

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Think Little

A dog in my Intermediate class is teeny--about three pounds--and Adorable and Clever. He learns quickly and does all the exercises well, thanks to a mom who works a lot with him. The entire class gapes at his cuteness and obedience perfection and obvious love of the games.

He's not the first. Another lil one just graduated to the next level, and she is also attentive and intelligent and driven. She too has many fans.

They are lovely little dogs, but I think they get extra attention because people often are so surprised that of course little dogs can do what big dogs can do. We see a lot of larger breeds in formal obedience classes--without training, those dogs might take their handlers skating down the street or they might knock down their family members when the doorbell rings. People who have bigger dogs in their lives often take class after class so there is less chaos at home. But those little breeds can (and should, I would argue) be as trained as their larger cousins. Spending an hour in class weekly with dogs of every size keeps them social and keeps their neurons firing and bonds them with their people.

Let's see more of those miniature breeds move beyond the basics! They too can learn two hundred words! They should compete in obedience and agility trials and become Canine Good Citizens Extraordinaire. The tiny dogs in my classes should be the rule, not the exception--though they are exceptionally CUTE!

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Be Nice!

Your dog is the nicest being in the world, isn't he? Unconditional love, cuddles for free, kisses upon request. Let's all try to be as nice to dogs as they are to us.

You don't need to use a spray bottle of water to get your pup to stop barking. That's just not nice. It's not the technique you'd use on your young child, I'm guessing, so why try it on Aubrey? Will spraying her hurt her? Not physically. But it erodes trust. I wouldn't trust someone who sprayed me for reasons I don't really understand.

A choke chain doesn't really "choke" your dog when you use it "correctly." It keeps your dog walking nicely beside you?  If you "correct" her often enough, you'll be able to see--because her fur will become worn away where the chain cuts. It's mean to yank on your dog because she doesn't listen. A prong collar is supposed to pinch your dog so she listens. She will listen better if she believes you're really on her side. Watch how carrying great treats can mean good walking--so much nicer.

We can all get frustrated, but if you yell at your dog, she is more likely to think you're unpredictable and to feel nervous around her "guardian." She just doesn't understand what you want--so calmly teach her what to do instead of what not to do. She's not being stubborn; she just hasn't learned fully yet.

If Sadie is shy, don't keep trying to introduce her to that neighbor dog she is afraid of. She doesn't want to be put in an unnerving situation. You don't like all people, and she will tell you which dogs she likes. Good enough.

Balancing biscuits on your dog's nose and saying "leave it" until he drools isn't nice. You wouldn't like it if I waved freshly baked chocolate chip cookies at you but said "leave it."

Bringing your dog to places that make her uncomfortable isn't nice either. She may not want to "deal with" a crowded outdoor festival or a busy dog park. What does she really enjoy instead?

My name is Robin and I'm a dog-aholic. Dogs are the best sunshine in this nutty world and better beings than most humans. Let's be nice to them. Put yourself in their paws before listening to the advice of your know-it-all friend....

I know you do. You're always your dog's advocate--and the best dog guardian ever. Dogs are simple if you use common sense--and I'm here to help.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Ouch! Puppies Bite!

They're so cute at this age, but they can be impossibly bitey! And the nips hurt, and they don't stop! Puppies can be a bit of an endurance test, and their biting is the worst. But this too shall pass. Their adult teeth arrive at between four and six months, depending on the breed--longest for smaller dogs, usually--and then life will be better.

In the meantime, those puppy needle teeth are teaching Tallulah bite inhibition so she doesn't bite down when playing as an adult. Your puppy is using you to learn some control while playing so she has a nice soft mouth when she's older. Ideally, she'd be using another puppy for that--in a great puppy socialization class with off-leash play ( Other pups have fur to protect from those needles, but they also yelp if another puppy bites.

So you need to be the other puppy! When Tallulah plays too rough and nips, you need to say, "OW!" with a high-pitched yelp sound. She should look startled for a second, so then you ask for "kiss" and give her a great treat if she does. That means you should work on "kiss" when she's in a calm phase, too, and not playing. Most puppies are lickaholics anyhow: when she licks you--hands or face or anywhere--say the word "kiss" so she learns what the cue means. If you need to practice it more, put a little peanut butter on your hand.

So: "OW!" then "kiss" then treat. Then give her an appropriate chew toy that isn't your arm. That means having treats at the ready--which is pretty essential for puppy training anyway, having a bag of treats in every room out of puppy reach. She will probably try again because she wants to play. Repeat: "OW!" then "kiss" then treat then trade for a toy. You will want to have lots of toys of different sizes and textures and good chews like Kongs with food inside. Repeat a third time if needed, but if she's still too annoying, she may need a timeout. She needs to learn that when her behavior is that bitey, the play stops. She goes in her pen or crate or gated kitchen--anywhere away from you. (Just don't use the ruin the word "come" to bring her to a timeout.) With some puppies you can just walk away and ignore them and they understand the play has stopped--and some will just go for your ankles.

More mental stimulation helps! Obedience cues, puzzle toys, new sights and sounds. More exercise helps! Lots of walks if she's had her shots and lots of fetch inside if she hasn't (most pups come with fetch preinstalled but it can be learned if not). Much more contact with other dogs helps! If you want a dog who doesn't bark at other dogs when older, now is the prime time to get some nice dogs to play with anyhow. Off-leash play in your yard or home with nice dogs you know are vaccinated.

If your pup just can't seem to stop biting, she may just be bored. Bring out a new toy and move it around and show how fun it is--and she may enjoy it more than flesh. Using "leave it" also helps when she's after your pant leg or long hair. (Ask me how to teach it if you don't have that in your toolbox yet.) You can also add some lemon juice to your hands if she's really bad. Again, treat for the appropriate behavior, which is licking.

If you're a having a particularly bad time, you can also measure out Tallulah's meals and feed her by hand. She literally learns not to bite the hand that feeds her. Teaching "touch" so she touches her nose to your flat palm can also serve you--it's fun for her and teaches better contact especially with small humans.

Tallulah is normal. Very few puppies have actual aggression to worry about, but if your pup seems to respond to human touch by going to bite or actually bites down or even seems to respond to your asking her for behaviors by biting, you will want to have a trainer look at her. But most puppies have this bitey behavior, and I promise it will pass! Hang in there! Good dog parent!

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Toddler Test

Puppies sure develop quickly, much more quickly than human young'uns. They have teeth very early, they walk not long after they're born, and they are independently eating far sooner. Eventually our human babies pass right by puppies, of course, learning so many more things our dogs will not.

No matter how old or smart your dog is (and your dog is the smartest dog you've even met, of course!), she will still never have learning skills that are any better than those of a human toddler. So speaking in simple words and being extra clear with training are important. Though your dog may be an adult, her natural instincts will not keep her any safer than a toddler, either.

Are you asking your dog for too much? Try the Toddler Test for your choices. While you bring in groceries from the car, would you leave your toddler alone in the house with the front door wide open to traffic? Even with good training, dogs can't make the good choice to stay inside your doorway--so don't trust them. Should your child sit on your lap while you're driving, or should he hang out the car window? Your dog isn't smarter than a toddler--and I've personally known two dogs in my neighborhood who died jumping out the car window. Your child is secured safely in the back seat and so should be your pooch. You don't walk down a busy street without holding the hand of a toddler, and you shouldn't try an unleashed dog toddler in the same situation.

When you're teaching your dog something new, are you expecting him to understand what you want without showing him? Break down the task to toddler levels: he doesn't know what sit is until you take a treat and show him that, when his rump is on the ground, he is rewarded. Saying the word louder isn't getting you results until he has a concept of what the word might mean. You wouldn't teach your toddler to sit by yanking on his neck till he does it. You wouldn't swat him on the nose with a newspaper for peeing inappropriately.

You're doing great. Just take training at the speed of your doggie toddler and keep him safe! Woof!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Patience with Fear

So many dogs are happy-go-lucky and confident and up for adventures. Lately, I'm meeting quite a few fearful pups--and we can do a lot to make them feel better.

Some humans are tempted to rush the process, but fear can dissipate only when the dog is ready. If, for example, your dog has moderate separation anxiety--perhaps chewing things especially at exit routes and maybe peeing when you're not home--you've got to make the time to help him through desensitization and counterconditioning. (Ask me for more info!) You may have to use doggy day care or have friends stay at your place or take your dog to your job as you work on getting him used to being on his own. Any time he spends by himself in the meantime can just fuel his anxiety. Patience is crucial--and kind.

Even some puppies are fearful right from the beginning, sometimes thanks to genetics or bad experiences even before they are eight weeks old. They need to adjust to scary environments or strangers or other dogs at their own speed. Why rush it?

If you were afraid of snakes, I wouldn't bring you into a room crawling with them. We'd start by maybe letting you see one asleep in a secure tank. If you ate chocolate chip cookies while admiring the snake from across the room, you would probably sign up to visit Sammy the Snake again very soon.

Short sessions at the pace of the dog. Lots of great rewards the dog enjoys--food or otherwise--and patience will pay off. Taking your time with fear doesn't mean it takes a long time to deal with fear--often just the opposite--but it takes however long it takes.

And even after things seem pretty good, reinforcing the positive is still necessary sometimes so the dog doesn't backslide. Your dog's separation anxiety seems to have gone away--so once in a while, use some of the same tools you used to solve the issue just so he stays secure. Go out and come right back. Pick up your keys for no reason so the cue isn't so important. Don't make a fuss when you come home. Give a treat when you leave. Keep the TV on for company. Let's keep fear under control if we can!