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!