WAITING IS SO HARD TO DO

Isn't that the truth!

We seem to live a lifestyle in this society that makes it very hard to practice patience. It's in every facet of our lives. We are anxious for the light to turn green. We are impatient for the walk sign to signal us to cross the street (so we keep hitting the button thinking that will speed things up)......I know I'm guilty of that!

This same problem shows itself when we are working with our dogs. We want them to master everything we teach them quickly and completely. Once we think we have taught them a new command (or even working on an old one) we want them to respond quickly and here is where things go awry. If they are slow to respond we start repeating the command over and over (often getting louder) as if that will speed things up. But it usually doesn't and in fact can actually slow things down.

This is what it looks like. You say "Rover sit." Rover just looks at you even though you gave him a hand signal and you know he heard you. So you repeat "Rover sit, sit, Rover sit" and so on. Maybe Rover does respond on the fourth time. But what has happened is that either you are teaching him to wait until fourth time (cuz that's when he gets the treat) or you are doing all the mental work for him, or he actually thinks the command is "sit, sit, sit."

To get a faster response it's better to say "Rover sit" (again using hand signal and making sure he heard you) and then just WAIT. Give him a couple seconds to comply and if he doesn't merely say "oh too bad" and walk away for 30 seconds or so. Repeat again and mostly likely by the third time you will find your dog is not only paying more attention to you but is responding more quickly. NOW you have a thinking dog that is more engaged with you in general (because that pays off well as he gets no treat when he is slow or unresponsive).

Give it a try. It's hard not to give in to your impatience but well worth it in the long run.

Good Training!!

THIS THING CALLED DOMINANCE

Today, in the world of dog training, it is truly confusing in that there are so many opinions as to what is true or not true when it comes to the behavior of our beloved dogs. Many recommendations are based on the model of wolf pack observations 10-20 years ago. It is easy to accept all of these teachings as our domesticated dogs have undeniable genetic ties and similarities to wolves. However….they are NOT wolves.

Many think of dominance as it pertains to the wolf pack as an individual or individuals who are overbearing and ruthless in order to maintain control. While they may be ruthless when it comes to protecting their pack from potential threats, there are in fact relatively few outbreaks of physical violence as that would jeopardize the members and put the whole pack at risk.

When we look at our pet dogs we are often told or led to believe that they are forever looking for their chance to “take control” of the family “pack” that they live in. This is in reality almost never the case.

True, the family dog feels it is a member of the family pack. True, by their very nature the family dog generally feels most secure and happy when there is structure and predictable behavior from their humans. However, most dogs are more than happy to hand over leadership to the humans without a fight or even ambivalence as long as the human leadership proves to meet their needs and is fair and consistent. 

Most problems in this area show up when there are no clear rules to be followed by the pup and/or they are unfair and worse yet inconsistent.

Canines are brilliant in their ability to peel away all the extraneous layers and discover “what works” in terms of providing them with their needs (actual or perceived.) They are fast to figure out that when mom is on the phone and they bark for attention that in “that” situation the rules of not barking at you don’t seem to apply. They are quick to pick up on the fact that if they bark at or nudge us for attention that they “might” get the attention they are seeking. Again, it is up to US, the humans, to make sure we are consistent in how we reinforce our rules and not confuse our dogs with “mixed messages” as it were.

One of the easiest, and by the way the most non-confrontational way to establish yourself as the benevolent leader of your dog is to simply have control of ALL the resources that your dog wants and needs. If you make yourself the gateway to all things that your dog wants and needs then by simple default YOU, the human, naturally is seen and accepted as the leader. Asking for simple behaviors before the dog receives what it wants or needs goes a long way toward establishing your leadership status. This could be a sit before going outside or coming inside, a down or sit before throwing a toy, etc.

In my opinion the most harmful and actually ineffectual way to establish yourself as the “leader or dominant” one in the family unit, is to choose physical ways to that end. In the past, antics such as alpha rolls, rubbing a dog’s nose in excrement, yelling and scolding when discovering a dumped trash can, and holding and squeezing a pup’s mouth for mouthing or barking are a REALLY good and fast way to establish mistrust of you or your hands and make establishing a working relationship with your dog MUCH harder. Resorting to those types of “dominance displays” on your part only serves to establish that you are to be feared, mistrusted, and sometimes avoided. Is that what we want to relay to this creature we wanted to be “best friends” with? I think not.

This is not a dissertation on “dominance theory” but merely some ideas to hopefully provide another viewpoint and shed light on the fact that dominance displays from the human are not NEEDED nor PREFERRED in order for our beloved dogs to perceive us as their leaders.

Just something to think about.

 

WHY ENERGY LEVELS ARE IMPORTANT WHEN DEALING WITH DOG BEHAVIOR

We all want our dogs to be happy. But there is a lot of confusion between “being happy” and “being excited.’

Even if you only have one dog, if he/she is excited at any given time, it is harder for them to control themselves. This often rears its ugly head with a puppy being wildly excited and jumping and/or grabbing you or guests. This behavior may or may not decrease with age but in the meantime our dogs are learning that this behavior is acceptable when they are seeking attention. 

Instead we should be teaching them that they NEVER get what they want with actions like that. Same goes for pulling on leash or bolting out the door. 

True, it takes forethought and consistency in teaching them behavior that does away with the troubling habits. Certainly the easiest way is to use a tag line or leash in the house to reinforce sit instead of jumping. Outside on leash we should teach them that pulling will never get them to their goal. Instead focus on us and walking under control is what gets them to where they want to go. Teaching the wait command forces the dog to practice self-control instead of flying through an open door or gate. 

When our dogs learn to be calm in order to get attention and affection it is a win win for everyone. AND if there is more than one dog in the household maintaining a general calm will go a long way toward preventing over excited interactions that can easily topple over into fights. 

Another huge benefit of our dogs remaining calm is that they can learn much more readily and retain what we teach them. 

Sooooo calm is a very beneficial goal to work toward with our fur kids!

DOES YOUR DOG GUARD THE FOOD BOWL?

This is actually a quite common problem and there are differing opinions on how to address it.

First, what does food bowl guarding look like? There are several stages or levels if you will.

  1. Dog is given food in bowl. When approached the dog will quicken the pace of eating.

  2. The dog is eating. If you approach the dog may stop eating and virtually freeze.

  3. The dog is eating and all of the above may happen or only the freeze. But now the dog may look sideways at you and emit a low growl.

  4. The dog is eating. The dog may present with any or all of the above but now an air snap or lunge is added. Now you have a full-blown guarding behavior and it can be quite dangerous, especially for children.

The long-standing preferred recommendation for this issue is to place your hands in the bowl of your eating dog from day one so they get used to it.

I personally do not recommend nor practice the above. Instead I prefer to keep my dog/puppy from ever practicing this behavior. First because I do not allow it but more importantly because I make sure the dog has no reason to feel it has to guard its food. Other dogs are not allowed to approach an eating dog not do I pressure the dog by being too close. I have found that this way of dealing with potential guarding slowly lets the dog relax as it doesn’t feel threatened. At some point even if another dog approaches it is usually not an issue as the dog has not been practicing guarding and is much more relaxed. Having had multiple dogs for many years I found this method very effective in keeping the peace and keeping everyone safe.

Of course dogs can guard many things including toys, resting places, people, and even some very strange things like patches of grass or rocks. Each type of guarding has a different solution of course.

THREE CRITICAL THINGS YOU SHOULD TEACH YOUR DOG

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There are many commands that are useful in terms of making life easier and more enjoyable for you AND your dog……but if I had to choose only three they would be the following and why:

• Come when called – No real explanation necessary here. If your dog has not/does not learn to come when you call in EVERY situation then not only are you setting yourself up for GREAT frustration but also you are essentially putting your dog at risk of losing its life. No great imagination is needed to understand that the dog that runs/strays away from its owner may very well bolt into the street and into oncoming traffic and we ALL have heard the horror stories about that. Aside from that situation….what if your dog decides to take off and run toward another dog? Well, your dog’s intentions may be innocent (albeit totally unacceptable) but your dog may be oblivious to the warning signs the target dog may be throwing. Your dog may very well be wanting to “play” with the dog in his sights but THAT dog may very well have other intentions (anything from not being interested in your dog’s attention to considering ending your dog’s life for his transgressions.) Some dogs that one might run into out in the world may SEEM very well-behaved and certainly the owner may have understood how potentially dangerous their dog was and trained him to a “T” so that their dog seems to be the model citizen. But put into the horrendous situation of a dog charging into their space off leash and totally out of control?...........all training can very quickly go out the window and understandably so. In this day and age where off-leash exercise is essentially illegal except in fenced areas (dog parks mostly which are often a nightmare in themselves) it is no wonder that people get bit, dogs get hit by cars, dogs run away and disappear and people get sued for the transgressions of the dog in their charge. I personally think it very sad that our society has come to this where it concerns our beloved dogs but honestly I can’t really blame the powers that be for the leash laws. TOO many owners are irresponsible with the training (or rather lack of training) of their best friend…..their dog. So now we are faced with EVERYBODY having to be restrained on a leash to keep us ALL safe. So, even though it is not LEGAL for your dog to be off leash in the neighborhood….that should not keep you from training a VERY solid “COME” in all situations (from no distractions to high distractions.) Hence the long line work that we will stress in class over and over and over again. There is no other way to be “safe” (that is for YOUR dog as well as other people and dogs) in working on this command and there are very concise steps to achieving that illustrious rock solid “COME.” We will go over this again and again in class.

• Walking on a loose leash – This is actually one of the hardest things for owners to teach their dog. It is hard for the dog to learn and harder for the owner to learn. It really doesn’t matter what “tool” you use on your dog at this point (what collar or harness) the rule is still the same…….you are aiming toward ZERO tension on the leash as it is connected to the dog and you move along. Sounds easy doesn’t it? IT ISN’T…..and it takes a lot of work and following are the concepts involved to achieve this: your dog must be aware that you are even with them/care that you are with them, your dog must keep track of where YOU are going so they can follow without pulling you in another direction, and most importantly…you dog must NEVER get to where it wants to go IF it is pulling you (if it does so then it is being “rewarded” each and every time it succeeds and will continue that behavior…..remember DOGS DO WHAT WORKS!) Again we will use a combination of the long line and short leash to help your dog learn to walk on a loose leash. My rule of thumb is…when your dog is walking on a loose leash you essentially should be able to close your eyes and not even FEEL your dog on the leash (our minds can trick us when we aren’t being careful.) Of course we can’t walk around with our eyes closed without a disaster but on a straight path for a couple of steps try closing your eyes and see if you feel your dog (be careful you aren’t going to trip of course.) Another great way to START this concept is by standing still and doing nothing with your dog on leash next to you. You should start by asking that there be NO tension on the leash in that situation as well. The dog can move around but not PULL on you. You stop this by giving a tug when the leash is starting to tighten and praise and/or treat when it is loose. Sounds pretty easy doesn’t it? Try it…..it is pretty astounding how that can do wonders. After all if the dog has learned to pull against you when you are standing still how can you expect him to NOT pull when you start moving?

• Down-Stay – I can’t imagine raising a dog without a solid down-stay. It is so beneficial both to the dog as well as the humans in the home. Why do I say that? Down-stay teaches self-control which is the cornerstone of impulse control. It can keep a dog out of trouble without having to be confined. It can teach the dog to “calm” itself, which can benefit all facets of the dog’s life. It enables the owner to take the dog so many more places (outdoor eating/coffee establishments and over to a friend’s house to name only a couple). It also establishes and reinforces the owner as the benevolent leader, which is always advisable. In my opinion it is well worth the effort to teach it correctly and step by step (something we do in class).

In order to be fair and successful it is important to teach each new concept (each new command) in steps and move forward slowly as it is clear your dog understands.

Good Luck and Great Training!