I am in a networking group that meets weekly. Attendance is as close to mandatory as one can get without a court order. Since we serve as each other’s sales force, it is important that we take the time to really understand each other’s businesses. By seeing each other every week and having coffee or lunch with another member once a month we get to “know, like, and trust” one another. It is this combination of factors that makes it possible to comfortably recommend someone’s services. It occurred to me a couple of weeks ago that my 3 part philosophy of training is very similar to this.
When talking to new owners, I tell them that my training method is based on three things: management, relationship, and training. Management means setting your dog up for success by arranging him and his environment in such a manner that he is more likely to make the right choice. For example, if you are house training your pup, I recommend that you do not give him full reign of the house, but use crates, gates, and/or tethers to keep him from making mistakes in the wrong places and to help you to recognize when he needs to do his duty. By effectively managing your dog, you get to know him better and to understand his signals, temperament, and rhythms.
Your relationship with your dog should be based on co-operation and trust. Dr. Sophia Yin described it like partners in a dance where you are the leader in the dance and your job is to clearly indicate to your dog what is happening next. You can build your relationship with your dog by hand feeding him, playing with him, and just spending time in each other’s company. As you learn more about who your dog is, your relationship will blossom. In other words, you come to like him more!
Positive reinforcement training is the natural extension of good management and a solid relationship. It is the instrument by which you develop trust that your dog will behave in a predictable way. Rewarding desirable behavior and re-directing or ignoring undesirable behavior is the way you help your dog understand that he can trust you to be consistent, reliable, and fair.
Management, Relationship, and Training, or Know, Like, and Trust represent the means by which we can best enhance the connection with our beloved dogs, and thereby obtain a lifetime of love, learning, and laughter canine style. In another blog I wrote:
A client recently told me that she has a hard time calling what she learned from me training, rather it is about relationship and has allowed her dogs to more clearly communicate to her what they need (such as having the water bowl filled, thank you), and her ability to understand and appreciate the uniqueness of each of her dogs. And that, in essence, is the purpose of family dog training: learning to love and work successfully with the unique canine who shares your hearth and home.
I am sure that it is possible to own a dog and not spend a small fortune on food, toys, treats, equipment, beds, vets, etc., but that doesn’t seem to be the way of the world in our house. I am always on the prowl for interesting, useful, or entertaining things that will improve the quality of life not only for my dogs, but for my clients by helping their dogs to be more successful members of their families. I get a fair number of dog-related catalogs and recently In The Company of Dogs arrived with some interesting items I had not noticed before.
The first thing that caught my eye was the Piddle Place Potty System. Small dogs can be very difficult to house train and I will recommend that owners consider training their petite canines to use a litter box. This potty system claims to be:
Ideal for puppy training, urban pets and older dogs, this compact, all-in-one system is a mess-free, eco-friendly alternative to disposable pads. The innovative portable potty features a super-porous, machine-washable grass mat and fully enclosed base reservoir with innovative quick-drain spout for easy emptying. Includes odor-neutralizing bio-enzyme treatment…
Moreover, this system is apparently not just for the tiniest members of the canine community as it is “for dogs up to 100 lbs.” And, it’s portable, all for $159.00
For those desiring a less expensive potty solution, they also offer the Bark Potty: the all-natural dog potty solution. This is an:
Eco-friendly “dog park in a box” features shredded tree bark that naturally absorbs urine and neutralizes odors. Perfect for urbanites, busy households and travelers, it’s convenient, easy to use, recyclable—and a cost-effective alternative to disposable pee pads. Includes a 24″-sq. waxed cardboard tray packed with bark under fine netting, pheromone spray for training, and bag dispenser with roll of bags for solid waste.
It can be used either inside or out, but the downside to this system is that it lasts only 2-4 weeks, and I don’t think it is as portable as the Piddle place. Price: $26.95.
Please note that I have not used either system so I don’t know how easy or convenient either of them are. I just thought they were intriguing products for house training. If you do try one of these systems, let me know how they work.
The catalog also has a huge assortment of dog beds in a variety of sizes, shapes, covers, and styles from nests to bolster beds to loungers to orthopedic beds. No matter how your dog prefers to sleep, they have a bed for him. A couple that caught my eye were the Bear Hug Mod Fur Bed whose “Shaggy faux fur gives this uniquely shaped bed a contemporary vibe. The ultimate in ‘creature comfort.’” Sign me up! It ranges in size from small to large and in price from $129 to $239. The Mod Fur also comes in a Nest bed that looks like a giant furry donut and is perfect for the dog who likes to curl up into a ball. (x-small to X-large, $179-$289)
There is also an entire collection of orthopedic beds (at least 8) that offer “joint relief for dogs with special needs.” Some are rectangular, some have bolsters, but all are pictured with joint challenged dogs happily lounging on their bed of choice. Sizes range from small to X-large and prices from $99.95 to $279.
Gates are another specialty item and they have some lovely ways to contain your pet. A couple of my favorites are the Wood Swirl Pet Gate and the Arched Gate with door.* Both are solid wood, fold flat and are really attractive. Each comes in two heights (24″ and 32″ for the Swirl, 24″ or 36″ in the Arched) and vary in the number of panels (2-5) so you can get just the right height and width for your home and dog. If you have a dog that pushes against the gate, they also sell support feet for the Arched gate.** Beauty is not cheap however, so be prepared to spend $99.95 up to $329 to artfully cordon off your beast.
In addition to In the Company of Dogs, I have other favorite dog sites/catalogs. If you are looking for good prices, great customer service, and the convenience of autoship for food, treats, whatever, check out Chewy.com. I get both raw and dry food from them; treats for training; and calming aids such as D.A.P. collars, spray, and diffusers.*** They always let me know a week or more before my autoship so I can modify or reschedule as needed. I have never had a shipment take more than 2 days to reach me, nor have I had to return anything. When you call, the people who answer the phone are cheerful and helpful. It is customer service the way it ought to be.
Of course, here in Granville, we are very lucky to have the Village Pet Market (222 S. Main St.) as well as Bath and Biscuits (1616 Columbus Rd). Both of these boutiques offer excellent choices in food, treats, equipment and service.
*See also Cats are not small dogs, part 2 for another gate option. Not as attractive, but functional and sturdy.
**These gates do not attach to the wall, so if your dog charges gates these might not work for you, as I am not sure how steady the feet make the gate.
***DAP (or Dog Appeasing Pheromone) aids in helping a dog to relax and be more comfortable with situations that cause anxiety. This pheromone imitates the smell of a lactating female dog and is very comforting to most dogs. For situational anxiety, I recommend you spray it on a bandana 10 minutes or so before the stressful event. It should last about an hour, and you can re-spritz the bandana as needed. It is very important that you get either the Adaptil or Comfort Zone spray (same company, different name for the same product) as this is the only one with the patented pheromone. It also comes in a diffuser and a collar.
What does your dog love?
Knowing what motivates your dog will make your training easier and more effective. In my beginning class, I ask the owners to make a list of 5 things their dogs love.* I encourage them to be both broad and specific. Broad in the sense of looking at what your dog loves to do, places he likes to go, things he likes to eat. Specific within those categories: if she is play motivated, what games does she like, and is there a hierarchy of games? For example, your dog might see play this way: “Tug trumps chase; hide and seek with a toy is better than Tug; hide and seek with my person is better yet; and Fetch! is the gold standard for all things diverting me from chewing shoes.”
While I am a proud cookie pusher and advocate the use of food rewards when training your dog, especially in the beginning, I also encourage owners to look at other things that could be used as rewards for desired behavior. If your dog, for instance, loves to go outside and races out the door, nearly knocking you over, use the act of opening the door (which she loves) as a reward for the calmer behavior of sitting before the door is opened. In this way, you are using something she loves (access to the great outdoors) as a reward for something you love (calm behavior at the door). Likewise, use play as a reward for other behaviors. If you want to teach a quick sit, have your dog sit before you toss the ball. If the launching of the ball depends on sitting, then sit will happen pretty quickly!
Another thing to look at is how motivated is your dog by physical contact, your voice, and food.** When helping clients learn what motivates their dogs to stay with them, I will have them do the following:
Start with your dog next to you. If your dog is on a leash, then either drop the leash, or keep it very loose. You want to see if your dog will stay with you by choice, not by tether.
1) Using only your voice (no touching your dog, no using your hands in any way, and no dispensing treats), try to keep your dog with you and focused on you for 10 seconds.
2) Using only your hands (no vocalizations of any kind, no holding your dog in place by his collar or any other part of him, and no food), try to keep your dog with your for 10 seconds.
3) Using only food (no touching, no talking or cooing), try to keep your dog with you for 10 seconds.
Now, rate them from most to least effective. Which one made it really easy for your dog to stay with you? Which was the least effective? There is no right or wrong answer here, just valuable information on what your dog likes.
Repeat the 10 second experiment using various combinations of these three things to see if there is any increase in the value of your reward. For example, If you don’t have any treats, use your happy voice and rub her ears, or talk to her while you give her a series of 3-5 treats, especially if she has done something wonderful. Adding rewards together, should increase their value to your dog and you should find that it is easier for her to ignore distractions and stay focused on you.
So, the bottom line is: Look at your rewards. If she is not paying attention to you, then what you are using to reward her is simply not valuable enough. Moreover, if your dog seems to take forever to learn something new, then you need to step up to the challenge of finding the reward that is equal to (or exceeds) the value of the distractions that make this new behavior so hard to learn. When you know what she truly loves (ear scratches, playing ball, banana bread, and string cheese, for example), it will be much easier to ignore or prevent any unwanted behavior, and efficiently and effectively reward the desired behavior.
*In a recent Your Family Dog podcast, my podcast partner, Colleen Pelar, and I discuss how words matter when you describe your dog’s behavior. Colleen talks specifically about listing your dog’s favorite things and prioritizing their value. You can catch (and subscribe to) our podcasts, by the way, on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, on Podbean, or on our podcast website, Your Family Dog Podcast.
** You can also do this experiment with toys to see if you can keep your dog focused on you for 10 seconds with only a toy.
I was staring at my computer trying to come up with an idea for a blog post when, in an attempt to circumvent writer’s bloc, find an inspiration, and just plain procrastinate, I checked my email for anything that might require immediate attention. Lo and behold, there in my inbox sat an email from The Whole Dog Journal with this opening line:
Looking for an idea for a blog post, I just looked through my oldest posts, wondering just how long I have been doing this. The answer stunned me: since mid-2010. I got lost for a bit, reading through musings from years past.
I came across one written at precisely this time of year in 2011, about making new year’s resolutions for our dogs.
“Great” I thought, “this is just what I need!” So I read the article and, disappointingly, it did not give me a wonderful (and of course totally achievable) list of New Year’s resolutions for canines. She did, however, say this:
I made a couple of resolutions at that time, and here’s another stunner (sarcasm alert): In the past six years, I absolutely haven’t done the two things I said I was going to try to do.
It’s probably smart to make small, achievable goals, instead of the big ones like “I’m going to make my dog’s food and compete in a new sport.”
Keeping in mind that it is hard to change old habits and that big changes like making your dog’s food* are hard to start (much less consistently maintain), I have come up with some “more likely to be achieved” goals for Zuzu and me. Maybe some of them will work for you too.
- Get outside with Zuzu everyday to walk, play or hike up the hill next door.
- Make sure she has mental stimulation every day in the form of intelligence toys, training, or problem solving games. (Note, I didn’t promise to do all three, though that would be ideal…).
- Clean her ears 1-2 times per month. (I have put this on my calendar for the 1st and 15th of every month. Not sure this will do anything other than cause anxiety and guilt twice a month, but it’s worth a try!).
- Learn a new trick or skill every month. (You’d think this would be easy for a trainer, but alas, I am a lazy owner. I’m hoping that by publicly declaring my intentions I will be forced to live up to them. First trick starts today. Hey, maybe this could be double duty with #2! That’s not cheating, right?)
These are specific goals for my dog and me, but there are many things you could try to add to your routine that would enhance the quality of life for you and your dog. Here are some ideas that come to mind, but let me know what you want to achieve this year with your dog.
- Take a class other than obedience, perhaps a tricks class, beginning agility or Rally-O.
- Add an extra walk every week.
- Take your dog for a canine massage.
- Sign up for Barkbox or another pet toy/treat delivery service.
- Change out your dog’s toys. Gather up all of Bowser’s toys and throw out the ones he no longer plays with, are decaying or old, or unused (or gift the unused to another dog). Wash the soft ones, and put half of them aside to bring out later. (When I have washed the dog toys, my guys have responded as if they are brand new! I will put the toys in a laundry basket and let them pick out several, then put the other ones in a cupboard to bring out when a dog is bored or needs a special reward.)
- Look at his diet and see if there is something you can improve about it. Perhaps your dog needs a change of pace, or reduced fat, grain free, or higher protein. Chat with your vet about your dog’s nutritional needs for her particular stage of life.
- Spend 5 minutes each day utterly and completely focused on your dog: Give her a good ear or belly rub; play chase, tug, or fetch; hand feed her a meal; play hide and seek. It doesn’t matter what you do, just be all in when you do it.
When I read these resolutions to Zuzu she nodded in agreement (except for the ear cleaning one, where she put her ears back and looked at me as if I had totally betrayed her). I asked her if she had any of her own resolutions. She replied, “Just one.”
“And, what is that?” I queried.
“Spend more time with you.”
I think she summed up nicely what all of us really desire: more time with the ones who matter most to us.
*I did, for a time, make my dogs’ food and I too want to get back to that. As an interim step, I have added some raw food to Zuzu’s diet. Time alone will tell whether I get back to this ambitious goal..
This week Reisner Veterinary Behavior Services had a Facebook post about choosing a dog trainer, which links to an article in Companion Animal Psychology titled, How to Choose a Dog Trainer. It is a great article, clearly written, with good advice as to what to look for in a trainer, and what questions you should ask the trainer. Remember, this is your dog and you get to decide how it will be treated and to require that your trainer be committed to humane, dog-friendly training techniques.
When choosing a dog trainer, the most important thing is to find a trainer who uses reward-based dog training methods, which they might call positive reinforcement, force-free, or humane training methods.
You want to look for someone who uses a reward based method of training, meaning that the trainer uses rewards (primarily food) to make a behavior more likely to reoccur, and withholding a reward to lessen a behavior. For example, when your dog’s bottom hits the ground after you say “Sit,” reward with a tasty treat. If your dog jumps, turn your back on him (withholding the attention he seeks) and wait for his bottom to touch the ground. When it does, reward with affection and food!
In practice, the reward that works best is food. It is possible to use other types of reward, such as play, but food is more efficient because it’s faster to deliver; it’s better for most dog training scenarios (for example, if you’re teaching a dog to sit-stay, play will encourage your dog to jump out of the sit); and all dogs love food.
So in other words, you want a dog trainer who will use food to train your dog.
Many people fear that if they use food to train their dog, the dog will only listen when the food is present. A good trainer will also teach you how to: 1) use your dog’s food (so you are not always dependent on treats); 2) reduce the amount of food as training progresses and; 3) add in other rewards for desired behaviors.
The article goes on to talk about certification for trainers, professional memberships, and continuing education. Most professional organizations require continuing education, so check and see if the trainer you are considering pursues further education, and with whom!
There are certain names that are a very good sign. For example, if someone has attended training with the likes of Jean Donaldson, Karen Pryor, Kathy Sdao, Chirag Patel, Ken Ramirez, Ian Dunbar, or Bob Bailey, that’s very promising, because these are all important names in science-based dog training.
Check out the trainer’s website and Facebook page to get an idea of what they do when they train and the methods they employ. Do they blog or podcast? Looking at their writings or listening to them talk about dogs will give you a clearer idea of how they approach training. Also, look for customer reviews (not only on their websites, but other forums such as Angie’s list or Thumbtack), and ask for references. And, to really get a good idea of what training will look like with a particular trainer, ask the following three questions:
What, exactly, will happen to my dog if she gets it right?
What, exactly, will happen to her if she gets it wrong?
Are there any less invasive alternatives to what you propose?
If you are uncomfortable with the answers to any of these questions, keep looking.
The article also discusses the advantage of group versus private lessons, what to do if there isn’t a trainer in your area, and who to call if your dog has a behavior problem. This comprehensive article is well worth reading and will help you to make the right decision concerning the training and well being of your dog. Remember, you are your dog’s best and only advocate, do not settle for less than the best for your best friend.
Care and management or living together in harmony Decisions, decisions, decisions! General General Philosophy of training or "Why be positive?" Training or "Why, Why, WHY?" Your new dog or puppyDec 23rd, 2016
This year has been a challenge for me and my family as we lost 2 dogs to cancer and one dog to a seizure disorder. I wasn’t sure my heart could take any more sorrow and I was a bit hesitant to risk it on another dog, as Bingley was my canine soulmate. But, if I have learned anything, it’s that loving a dog with everything you have makes it nearly impossible to live without one, and it is that love of a great dog which propels you forward into another canine experiment.
So meet Zuzu, my newest pooch. She, like Bingley, is a flat-coated retriever, and true to her breed, is one of the happiest dogs on the planet. At 16 months she is a teenager who is unlikely to grow out of her teenage enthusiasm anytime soon. Channeling her inexhaustible energy into constructive activities and teaching her to focus on the task at hand are my immediate goals for her. To do this, I have decided to enlist the aid of a book I recently discovered: Fun & Games for a Smarter Dog, 50 Great Brain Games to Engage your Dog, by Sophie Collins.
This book is great on so many levels beginning with the introduction and a part on playing safely with your dog which includes a very important section on playing with children.* Take the time to read the section on play and training before you plunge into the individual games, as it will set you up to better use the games to your particular dog’s advantage and is a wonderful reminder that training and play can happily overlap. After all, “there’s no reason you can’t teach your dog by playing with him.” She also has sections on dog personalities, toys, and clicker training.** And, be sure to read the “About You, What You Need To Do” as it reminds us that we can be part of the problem when our dogs are not “getting it.” Subsequent chapters divide the games into categories: Basic Games, Bonding Games, Brain Games, Fitness Games, Figuring it out, and Getting Along.
She starts with the basics of Sit, Down, Wait, and Let’s Go (which you have likely taught your dog already, but perhaps used different names for these behaviors). She makes the point that, “It is better to make sure that your pet stays responsible and reacts promptly to key commands instead of moving on to other exercises at the expense of the basics.” So, she goes over these core behaviors in detail so that you can be sure that you are clearly communicating to your dog, and he clearly understands what is expected of him. This section is a good place to begin as it really does help you to pay attention to your words and your body language so you can more effectively communicate with your dog. Moreover, the rest of the games will be easier for you and your dog if you have figured out how to work with one another.
As you work through the various exercises in the book (and you can easily pick and choose those that are most appealing to you and your dog) she continues to provide clear instructions as well as explaining what he is learning and why this behavior is useful. Almost every game has a note that will enhance the learning experience or give you an extra challenge. When playing Hide-and-Seek with your dog she suggests that you, “Try hiding at different levels: going up a level, for example, perching on a bunk bed because dogs don’t automatically look above eye level when they’re searching for something but instead rely on their noses.”
In addition to Clicker Training, she also has sections explaining positive reinforcement training and the Dominance myth. Her easy to read and understand instructions, coupled with her explanations of the science of learning and play, will broaden and enhance your understanding of how dogs think and learn. But mostly, this wonderfully accessible book will convince you that playing with your dog is a great way to live, learn, and love together for a lifetime.
Above: Zuzu and I practice some fetch, sit, and give, 3 days after picking her up. Playing games is a great way to establish a strong bond with your new dog.
*Having kids play with dogs is great, but should never be done without the direct supervision of an adult. Colleen Pelar and I talk about Simple Games for Kids and Dogs in our podcast airing 12/20/16, and see my other blogs on kids and dogs: Forced Friendship and And Baby Makes Four.
** See also our podcast, Why Be Positive?
Reisner Veterinary Services posted a link on their Facebook page on November 19, showing a video of three different dogs, two of which are being hugged by small children. For those of us who work with dogs this is a very scary video as the first two dogs are clearly stressed by what is happening and the third dog is being put into a situation that can quickly escalate into a bite to the child’s face. Here is a link to the page they reference (the post is dated 11/10/16 and titled, “Do you have a child who likes to hug the dog”):
And here are Reisner’s thoughts on the videos:
1. Hugging is NOT a positive interaction for many, many dogs. If an individual dog does seem to enjoy it, it is usually a learned behavior, and may be tolerated from only certain people. Generally speaking, children are less tolerated than adults. If you look closely at a dog’s face while being hugged, you’re more likely to see stress than pleasure.
2. It’s clear from videos like this that knowledge about dog safety is lacking. It’s doubtful that this is a deliberate attempt to put toddlers at risk. We need to press on and educate the public. I also need to remind myself that the great majority of parents are not connected to progressive dog groups and pages on Facebook, and have absolutely no idea of the risk.
3. Most dog bite injuries that end up in emergency rooms are to young children, in the head, face and neck. It’s very easy to see why.
Just because a dog IS tolerant and patient doesn’t mean the dog needs to be confronted with such aversive interactions (including the infant tapping a toy on the dog’s head). The dogs here are just being set up to fail. Why tempt fate?
I couldn’t agree more with Reisner’s comments. I would add that there are plenty of good sites online that educate parents about appropriate interactions between kids and dogs. Here are some of my blogs as well as my favorite online sites:
And here are some great websites with terrific advice and resources for parents:
Kids and dogs can live harmoniously, but it requires supervision of small people, an understanding of stress signals in dogs, and respect for the needs of both children and canines.
Blog Posts by Category
- Training or “Why, Why, WHY?”
- Behavior or “What the heck?”
- Informational or Doggie Demographics
- Care and management or living together in harmony
- Philosophy of training or “Why be positive?”
- Toy Box or stuff that doesn’t fit neatly elsewhere
- Affection knows no bounds. May 15, 2018
- Positive Reinforcement works for people too! May 1, 2018
- Why Family Dog Training? April 20, 2018
- “Clicker Training 101” April 3, 2018
- Emotional Support, Therapy, and Service Animals: What’s the difference? March 19, 2018