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, 20160 comments
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.
On October 15th Reisner Veterinary Behavior Services addressed an issue that has been of concern to me for a long time: dogs who really shouldn’t be therapy dogs. Not every dog can be molded into a dog who relishes visits with children, Alzheimer’s patients, or nursing home residents. As much as I admire someone’s desire to give light and joy to those individuals, very few dogs really have the right temperament to do this work, and those that do may well have institutions they do not like, types of people who make them uncomfortable, or days they just don’t feel like doing the job.
Or, it could be that your therapy dog is ready to retire. Our Golden Retriever, Hudson, was the dog I used for Bite Prevention workshops in schools. When he was about 7, I was invited to a first grade class to talk about dog safety. One of the things I did in these visits, was have the kids hide a stuffed Kong in the classroom and then let Huddy find it. He never failed to retrieve it and then settle down amongst the children to clean out the Kong. On this day, the kids hid the Kong, Hudson got it, and promptly walked away from the kids to settle under a desk to eat his treat. I knew right then that it was Hudson’s last day as a classroom dog because he was telling me quite clearly that he no longer enjoyed the situation, but was only tolerating it. Therapy dogs need to love their work, not just put up with it.
As Reisner puts it so very well:
Many of us see therapy work as a desirable goal, where we and our dogs can work as partners to help others less fortunate than we are. But it’s not typically our dogs’ choice to do this work; some of them just aren’t meant to do so.
Socialization, training and even ‘testing’ don’t guarantee that a particular dog will do well in an institutional or hospital setting, and with children or elderly people. Very elderly people may be stiff and fragile, or may not be able to follow instructions. Children can be impulsive, loud, and can crowd dogs. Any institution is crowded with equipment, noises, staff and smells that can intimidate dogs.
My beloved red Aussie, Zev, was Therapy Dog International certified, well socialized to a variety of human sizes, shapes and abilities and very easy-going. Neither of us was prepared when, in a nursing home, a woman with Alzheimer’s approached him very slowly, and with a direct stare, while he was in a small room visiting with someone else. Understandably, he growled; I almost growled myself. That was the day he retired from therapy work, much to his relief. And there have been dogs presented for behavior consultations because of fearful behavior in such environments.
Every therapy setting is unique, as are the temperaments of individual dogs. It pays to think twice before putting a dog in a setting that neither you nor the dog can control. Consider your dog’s temperament and, most important, his attitude and posturing in the therapy setting. Protect him from situations that might trigger fear and, if needed, be willing to walk out for his sake.
If your dog is sketchy or the setting is challenging, remember that you can choose to spend weekend afternoons visiting a nursing home and enriching the lives of its residents without your dog, while he stays home working on a frozen food-filled Kong.
Finding the right dog to do therapy work is a major challenge, especially with rescue dogs whose backgrounds and socialization maybe murky at best. That might lead you to think that purebred dogs are the answer. Not necessarily. Even well-socialized pure bred dogs, raised from puppyhood to be comfortable with a variety of people, may not have the temperament for this line of work. Challenging situations might trigger discomfort and reactivity that would put him and others at risk. This is why it is imperative to pay close attention to the signals your dog is giving you that may indicate that he is unhappy and would prefer to be doing something else. If your dog does rise to the challenge of being a therapy dog, congratulations! But, don’t feel bad if he doesn’t, just allow him to spread joy in his particular fashion.
Dogs, like people, need regular exercise to keep their waistlines trim, reduce health problems, and moderate their behavior. For people, living the sedentary life can lead to a variety of health problems, including diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, colon and breast cancer, heart disease, dementia and more.* It is no different for our dogs (and cats). According to the Dog Nutrition Center:
[R]ecent findings by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), [show] more than 45 percent of dogs and 58 percent of cats can be classified as overweight or obese. A gain of even a pound or two of additional fat on some dogs and cats can place significant stress on the body.
Some of the conditions that can occur as a result of excess weight are:
- Exercise intolerance, decreased stamina
- Respiratory compromise (breathing difficulty)
- Heat intolerance
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Diabetes or insulin resistance
- Liver disease or dysfunction
- Osteoarthritis (lameness)
- Increased surgical/anesthetic risk
- Lowered immune system function
- Increased risk of developing malignant tumors (cancer)
If these things weren’t bad enough, “overweight dogs die at a younger age than those maintained at an optimum weight.” According to a study by WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition, obesity can reduce the length of a dog’s lifespan by up to 10 months.** At particular risk are Labradors, Beagles, Shih Tzus, Goldens, and American Cocker Spaniels.
In addition to preventing obesity, regular aerobic activity has a myriad of other benefits. There is an adage among dog trainers that “a tired dog is a well-behaved dog.” Most dogs do not get enough physical exercise or mental stimulation so they get bored and restless (especially young dogs) and go looking for something to do. A well exercised dog is more likely to settle, sleep better and longer, and refrain from nuisance behaviors such as barking and destructive chewing.
Simply walking on a leash however, may not be enough exercise for some dogs, particularly among breeds who “are built to spend the entire day working outside with their owner, and they have the physical ability and energy required for constant thinking and moving for hours.” (From Decoding Your Dog, pg.179). Having your dog run and chase a ball or another dog, go running with you, go swimming, or take an agility class may provide him with the aerobic activity he needs to be a better behaved dog. Chapter 9 in Decoding Your Dog has tables of canine activities, sports, and jobs that you might consider for your pup.
To get your dog to go from crazy to calm, it is also important to provide him with mental stimulation as well as physical exercise. Figuring out the right intelligence toy as well as the right amount of exercise may require some experimentation on your part and will change with the age of your dog. (For suggestions, check out my blogs on intelligence toys.) As you find toys and games that Bowser loves, keep them interesting by picking them up after a play session. Limited access keeps them special.
One way to keep toys interesting, as well as provide some fun for both of you, is to play hide and seek with them. This was one of my dog Bingley’s favorite games and a great rainy day activity. Start by teaching your dog to sit and stay in front of you. When he can hold a stay for 10 seconds or longer, take one of his toys (be sure he sees and sniffs the toy so he know which one he is seeking) and put it behind your legs. Ask him to “Go find it!” When he gets it, make a big deal about it, give him a treat (so he releases the toy), and ask him to sit and stay again. After a round or two of this, next walk a few feet away, put the toy behind your legs and ask him to find it again. As he gets the idea of staying until told to “Go Find it,” begin to make it harder. For example, I have an island in my kitchen so I would put Bing in a sit-stay on one side of the island, walk to the other side, put the toy down, walk back to him and tell him to go find it. As your dog gets better at waiting to be released venture farther afield and get creative where you hide it. I would put the toy behind doors, under sofas or pillows, in a basket, on the stairs, etc., until it got to to the point that I could hide the toy anywhere in my house and he would seek it out.
You should find that this game is both physical as well as mental as he will run all around the house looking for his treasure. This might not be enough physical activity for an adolescent Weimaraner, but it might be for a small or elderly dog, and it certainly is plenty of mental stimulation for any age of dog.
Whatever you choose to do with your dog, remember that you’ll both feel better when you take the initiative to get involved and active with him everyday.
** An article on PetMd stated: “A recent analysis of veterinary records revealed that dogs under 20 pounds had an average lifespan of 11 years while those over 90 pounds typically lived for only 8 years. Medium and large dogs fell in the middle at around 11 years.” Therefore, depending on the life expectancy, obesity may take anywhere from 7.6 to 10.4% off of your dog’s lifespan. [If your dog is expected to live 8 years (96 months) and his obesity takes 10 months off his life, that’s a 10.4% reduction in his lifespan. If your dog’s expected life span is 11 years (132 months), and he loses 10 months due to obesity, his life span is reduced 7.6%]
***For specific instructions for getting your dog to go from crazy to calm, see: “Fun”nel of Activity!
It’s been awhile since I posted some of my favorite stories, comics, etc about dogs and other animals. So I think the time has come for a bit of fun!
Here are some comics that I have enjoyed of late:
These two are by Eric Decetis:
And, I found this on Reisner Veterinary Behavior Services Facebook page:
A favorite comic strip of mine is Rhymes with Orange, by Hillary Price. She has wonderful insights into the canine world which rarely fail to make me laugh and love dogs all the more. (Her other comics are equally amusing to me but, sadly, this is not a blog about pirates, literary mix ups, or astronauts). Here are links to a few of my favorite dog comics:
“The Practice”: http://rhymeswithorange.com/comics/september-18-2015/
“Holistic Medicine”: http://rhymeswithorange.com/comics/march-31-2016/
“The Stage Name”: http://rhymeswithorange.com/comics/september-13-2015/
“The Swab”: http://rhymeswithorange.com/comics/june-30-2015/
I’ve heard a lot about the Hungarian Family Dog Project and the interesting work they are doing, but teaching family dogs to lie still in an MRI is a truly amazing testament to the power of positive dog training, being creative with reinforcements, and using what we know about the importance of social interactions to teach dogs specific behaviors. Click here for a link to the Washington Post article.
And just to round off the post, here are some of the dogs who have crossed my path the last few years. Some are strays, some are clients, some are just my buddies, enjoy!
And lastly, the sign at my desk:
Reisner Veterinary Behavioral Services posted this on August 20 and I think it contains important information about “safe” dogs, and that you cannot force dogs to like anyone (emphasis mine):
This news item was noted on my feed: “A dog that was being trained to be friendly with children bit an 8-year-old child in the face Sunday and will be put down after a quarantine period…A veterinarian at XYZ Animal Hospital told the officer that one of her employees took the male Shepherd mixed dog to a location “in an effort to make the dog friendly with children.” The deputy spoke to the employee, whose son was bitten, and she told the officer that everything was fine with the dog for about an hour, but when they went to leave the yard the dog attacked and bit the child on the face.
The wording of the news story is interesting: this was “an effort to make the dog friendly with children.” We can’t ‘make’ dogs be friendly to anyone. Forced social interactions with an anxious dog can make things worse.
There was a recent discussion among veterinary behavior colleagues about anecdotal stories of [large, national pet supply chain] trainers taking dogs around a store and asking children, whose parents were shopping, to give the dog food. Of course, these exercises sometimes result in snapping or biting.
It’s simply not always possible to distinguish “safe” dogs from those at risk of biting. Whether a dog is new to a family or not, there can be unforeseen bite triggers in interactions with children – who stand closer to eye level, who giggle and jump, who may try to kiss or hug, and who may be intimidating just because they’re unfamiliar. And as we’re repeatedly reminded in the news, asking an owner for permission to pet a dog does not guarantee safety, because the owner himself/herself may be unaware of those risks.
If you’re a dog owner/guardian with a mildly anxious dog, or a parent of young children, keep the two at a safe distance from each other. The dog person can counter-condition with food and reassurances without setting the dog up to fail; the parent can explain why this is the kindest and safest strategy with a nervous dog.
So, can you ever trust a dog around children? It depends on the dog, it depends on the child, and it depends on the circumstances. But, the safe answer is unfortunately “no.”
Toddlers can be very scary to dogs as they move erratically, make odd and often loud noises, and may appear threatening as they lurch toward the dog. Elementary age children run, yell, race around, and do all the things that they should do as kids, but are confusing to dogs. Children may find a dog so irresistibly cute, that they cannot resist hugging Fido, and that is not something most dogs enjoy. Babies are particularly vulnerable, so dogs should never have access to a newborn baby, unless the baby is held in an adult’s arms. (Even better, have the dog on a leash as well when around a baby.)
However, there are things you can do to make life with kids and dogs run smoothly:
- Learn what your dog’s stress signals are, so you understand when he is telling you that he is uncomfortable with the situation.
- Allow Fido to say no to meeting people. If he backs away, turns his head, averts his eyes, or does not move to meet the new person, he is clearly saying that he does not want to interact with this human. Do not let the person try to pet your dog if he says no. Letting him have a choice in who he meets will help him to be more comfortable with the world, and will reduce the chances he will growl, snap or bite.
- Make sure Fido has a safe haven to go that is his alone. Sometimes your dog will need to re-group, so give him a bed or crate in a quiet, comfortable place where he can go and not be disturbed.
- Don’t let your dog get pinned into a corner! In addition to a safe haven, make sure you dog has an escape route so he can leave a situation that has become uncomfortable.
- Teach your children how to correctly meet a dog and supervise, closely, the meeting. (See: A Parent’s Guide to Dog Bite Prevention by Colleen Pelar.)*
- Family Paws has a lot of good information for parents as well as terrific handouts that clearly define what supervision is and is not and which illustrate safety procedures that will help to keep everyone, dogs and kids, safe.
Give your dog positive attention when the kids are around, so that he learns to happily anticipate their presence. As I stated in one of my blogs: Your goal should be to have your dog not just tolerate, but actually enjoy the presence of your child. This is best accomplished by pairing the presence of the child with the presence of things the dog enjoys. Perhaps Fido gets a stuffed Kong while the baby eats, or you can scratch his ears while the baby is sleeping in a bassinet nearby, or you can toss his kibble piece by piece around the room while you sit on the couch with Junior.
You are your dog’s best advocate and the one to whom he should be able to turn for help navigating the human world. Forcing a friendship between your dog and anyone is not a good idea for either the dog or the person seeking his attention. Instead, allow your dog to have some control over his life (thereby reducing some of his anxiety or nervousness) by choosing who he wants to meet and rewarding him for making the effort to be social.
*Colleen also has a wonderful book, Living with Kids and Dogs, without losing your mind, that I recommend to all parents trying to negotiate the blend of canines and small humans.
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
- Emotional Support, Therapy, and Service Animals: What’s the difference? March 19, 2018
- The Year of the Dog February 27, 2018
- Tweets from my dog. February 13, 2018
- Toys for Tough Chewers February 2, 2018
- A few close friends… January 24, 2018