A Dog's Tail Never Lies
October 2013 Newsletter
With the heat behind us, I find myself getting more calls about families wanting to work on polite walking and bad manners in public. I do a lot of my sessions out on trails and in town. I wanted to share a few of my favorite spots to go with my furry friends. Here are some other great spots.
My Favorite Dog-Friendly Hiking Spots:
Real Life Training
I often hear complaints from potential clients about how their dog will only "preform" tasks such as sit when they have treat. We may have to lure a dog into a position a few times (placing a treat right above the dog's nose to get a sit) but once the dog starts to understand the behavior we want we take the lure out of the hand and use is as a reward. A reward is not a bribe. A bribe would be asking your dog to sit and they don't sit, you pull out a treat and then they sit and you treat them. A reward is asking your dog to sit with no treats in your hand, they sit, then they get a reward. Rewards can be treats, kibble, praise, petting, toys, playtime.
If you find yourself with a dog that will only do what you ask when you have a treat, try using daily activities such as feeding time, walks, etc as a time to practice good behavior. Ask Fluffy to sit before you feed her dinner, have her sit before going outside or before putting the leash on. Have them give paw before you pet her or rub her belly. Adding simple good behaviors before every day activities helps build a habit and dog who will offer these behaviors without having to pull out the treat bags.
I am lucky enough to be involved in Project Underdog. Our goal is to help the hard-to-adopt dogs find their forever homes. Our current PU is Butch. He is 9 month old lab mix being fostered with Labs4Rescue. You would think a young dog must get adopted quickly, but Butch has a few things going against him. He is a black lab mix and black dogs have a harder time being adopted. He also has some insecurities. He came into Labs4Rescue at 5 weeks old with a litter of puppies from the South. He was the last one to be transported up North and the experience was tough for him. The good news is he has made tremendous progress.
April 2013: When I first met with Judy, Butch's foster mom, she was reaching out for help because he was so fearful. Butch would bark at everything and growl at everyone. The first day I met him he wouldn't even come close to me and barked and growled the entire time. Her fear was no one would consider a dog who feared most people.
June 2013: Butch has truly come a long way. He warms up to strangers a lot faster, he has become a more confident dog who loves other dogs and loves playing. Once he bonds with you he is your shadow, he loves being where you are and his inner puppy comes out. He loves belly rubs, chewing on bones, cleaning out kongs, and he loves other dogs. Other dogs bring out is confidence and his playfulness.
He is ready to find his forever home. With that in mind there will be an adjustment period and his owners will have to spend sometime getting him to trust them, but once he does he will love you forever!
There are a few myths associated with positive “reward based” training. Too often I see dogs that will only do what their owners ask once a treat is presented or a dog that will only come when they hear the treat bag. This is NOT what positive training is about. When we first teach a behavior we may have to lure a dog into understanding what we are looking for. Luring typically means using a treat in hand and enticing the dog into the position desired. The goal is to take the lure out of the equation as soon as possible so food is the reward, not the enticement. For instance, when asking a dog to sit they should sit whether or not you have treat knowing that he will then be rewarded. The reward can be something as simple as a “good boy” or a quick pet. What shouldn’t happen is you asking for a sit and the dog does not comply until you pull out a treat. Positive training does not mean the reward is always treats or food. Rewards should vary and some examples are: petting, praising, mealtime, walks, toys, play time, sniffing, etc.
I find that one of the best ways to reinforce good behavior is by incorporating it into your dog’s daily schedule. You can do this by having your dog sit and wait before feeding them, before putting on the leash to go out the door or before getting a new toy. It is important not to only pay attention to the bad behaviors, but to reinforce the ones we like. Even negative attention is attention and for a dog that craves interaction. They will surely take negative attention (ex: pushing a dog down from jumping) over no attention at all.
We live in a world where we expect instant gratification. Always upgrading our electronics to the latest trend. Drive-thrus aren’t just for food anymore. We have drive-thru pharmacies, dry cleaning, etc. We don’t have to leave our house to shop anymore. Everything always seems to be a click or drive-thru away. Not that I don’t enjoy using these services but I find myself explaining time and time again that dogs don’t come with a remote. There is no fast forward, pause or mute button. We can’t just shut them off when they are bothering us or pause them when we are preoccupied with other things. Some people think I’m crazy for using this analogy but just as we send our kids to school to be taught, we still need to put in the time at home to ensure they are doing homework and continuing to learn. It is the same with dogs and puppies. It is not enough to just train once a week for an hour, you need to put in time everyday. Sessions of five to fifteen minutes of training throughout the day will really pay off in the long run. I realize life is busy and there are not enough hours in the day. But use the times when you feed your dog or when you take them out to reinforce the behavior you are looking for. You and your dog will benefit from you taking time in the beginning to teach your dog the right behaviors. Don’t wait until it becomes an issue, try to be proactive. We don’t wait until we run out of oil to get an oil change (or at least you shouldn’t), we go every 3 months or 3,000 miles to be proactive and make sure we take good care of the engine.
Once we train our dogs, it is important to maintain the behavior as well. It is a good idea to freshen up what your dog knows, especially any recall they know. Teach them new tricks or introduce something new like agility. Training is a great way to bond and build a wonderful relationship with our animals. That’s why I love using positive training. I see how much my doggie clients love to work and the owners start enjoying it too. I’ll be the first to admit, it is not always easy. Sometimes the dog is just not cooperating at the time. Maybe they’re distracted or not feeling well. It happens to us as well. Just take a break and try again later.
If you are thinking about getting a dog, be realistic with the time you can commit to them. There is not fast track to the perfect dog. If you want a puppy that is great, but realize they will need to go out to potty every hour to few hours, they will need to be trained not to jump, chew, and nip. They will need physical and mental stimulation. And dogs can live up to 18+ years. That is a major commitment! The number 1 reason for dogs to be given up to a shelter or abandoned is because of behavioral issues. NUMBER 1! We can no longer just blame the pet shops and backyard breeders for our overpopulation in shelters. We need to look at ourselves and see if we really did put all of our effort into making our dogs a well rounded animal.