One plus one is 2, but two ones are 11.I remember being fascinated by this fact when I was about six.When I was in my early twenties and doing the family budgeting for myself and my first husband I learned that this mathematical truism has practical applications.Each of us alone needed a certain amount of money to survive but together, somehow or another pooling our assets and renting only one apartment felt like it didn’t work out as a more frugal alternative.There seemed to be so many things that we needed that I hadn’t felt the need for as a single person.Even simple things that seemed like they would cost less if we were buying for two often resulted in buying two brands of the same product.Two CAN live as cheaply as eleven.
The same is true of raising puppies.Raising one puppy takes a certain amount of time, effort and cost.It seems like you could only be doubling the effort if you get two dogs, right?Plus they will keep one another occupied when you have other things to take your attention, like your children, your spouse, your home, your car or your job, right?If only it were that simple.
I have lived in a multidog household for most of the past twenty years.John and I usually each have one dog of our own, and sometimes one or the other of us will have a second dog who is significantly older or younger.Realistically though, we try and space them out to a new dog every three to four years.We are coming up to the time when we will be considering adding a new addition in the next year or so.At various times for various reasons we have raised two dogs at the same time.
When Eco was a puppy, we were raising a service dog candidate; a standard poodle.They were merry friends who spent a lot of time bouncing around with one another.The poodle was about a month older than Eco and for the first six months or so, he ran the roost.He was faster, stronger and more developed.And then Eco overtook his speed, strength and agility, not to mention that Eco cared a lot more about who got things first, who ran the fastest and who controlled access to resources such as me.
When the poodle puppy came home, we enrolled him in puppy classes (all of our pups go to puppy classes, both our own and those of other schools).When Eco came home four weeks later, we enrolled him in different classes.Why not put both pups in the same class you might think.There are two reasons for not putting both pups in one class.The first is that the older puppy needed to start sooner than Eco.And the second is that jockeying for position that I mentioned above; in a class setting we might have had to restrain one pup while the other played in order to avoid the inevitable ganging up that can happen of these two closely aligned friends against all the other pups in the class!So already, even though John and I were raising two pups and there were two of us, and we both went to both sets of classes, we didn’t double up on the enrolment and put both puppies in the same class.
Then there is the whole issue of equipment; surely with two pups, we could get by with a little less equipment, right?Not so much.Even with a month between the two puppies, we needed full sets of collars and harnesses, leashes, bowls, crates and beds to accommodate both puppies.Furthermore, we had to pay for vet visits twice as often, and usually we find it is better to bring dogs separately to the vet; there is less confusion and we can focus with the vet on each dog as an individual.That means that not only did we have to pay for two veterinary appointments, we chose to attend the vet together, with each puppy on a different day.Considering that our vet is a fifteen-minute drive from home, that means that we had to allocate about an hour for each vet visit for each of us, and pay for an hour’s worth of gas in total to get both dogs to the vet.In a busy family with a company, that was really quite tough!
We had to allocate time to train each dog separately and again, we tried to make sure that each of us got in a training session each day with each dog.We also made time to walk each of the dogs separately each day.That made for more time into this project.John and I like to teach our dogs to trail walk, and for the most part we did that together, so we could cut down some of the doubling up on that front, but honestly we didn’t save much time, and the time that Eco (the BLACK German Shepherd) to Yarrow (the snow white Standard Poodle) swamp walking, we really wondered why we had any dogs at all!
Two baths.Two grooms.Two classes, two vet visits, two sets of everything.And eleven times the mess!We have found that when we compare raising one versus two puppies at a time, having pups one at a time allows us to get to know the puppies better and creates so much less chaos in our lives that when we can, we don’t try and raise 11 puppies at once!
Can your dog lie down and relax when you ask him to? I don’t mean does he lie down and relax of his own accord when you and he are just hanging out, but if you needed to pay at the veterinarian’s front desk, could you ask him to lie down and relax so that your hands were free to slide your card and enter your PIN? You have likely taught your dog to lie down and stay, so why is it that so few dogs I see can do this without behaving like a racehorse in the starting gate? You know what this looks like; the owner asks the dog to lie down and stay and he lies down, often on his chest with his haunches coiled underneath him ready to spring up and race off. He may even be shivering in anticipation.
The down stay is perhaps the single behaviour I could absolutely not live without. I can use a harness or head halter if I have to walk an unruly dog, so I don’t really need to teach my dogs to walk on a nice leash, and if they have a solid down stay that I can call upon from anywhere I can use that as brakes instead of a recall, but without the down stay I don’t think I could make it through my day. I use my down stay ALL the time. Let me give some examples!
We have horses. When they lived on the farm with us, I would often take Eco out to feed and water the horses. As a predator around prey species, it was easy for him to get them running when they first met him. All he had to do was rush to the gate and slip into the paddock and the horses would bolt to the other side of the paddock. This is a great way to teach a dog to chase horses because horses running away is fun for dogs. This is also a great way to teach horses to stay away from me, as I am always accompanied by a dog. But wait! Eco had a stellar down stay. We would leave the house and he would cavort around looking for a toy and when he realized we were heading to the horse paddock, he would start to race. I would call out “down” and he would drop. I would call out “stay” and he would stay, allowing me to get to the gate ahead of him. Then I would call him closer and ask him to down and stay again, and do my chores. In this way, he never learned to chase horses and the horses learned that he was safe. Eventually we were able to walk amongst our tiny herd without the horses bolting and without Eco trying to get them to run. Easy peasy!
Or consider this; when I am serving dinner to guests at the table, Friday thinks that helping would be a good idea. She is curious and likes having guests over for dinner. This past holiday season we had a dinner guest who brought her dog who ALSO likes to help serve dinner if you let him. Now we have two friendly dogs in the house, who like to play with one another and who like to follow when you move from the kitchen to the dining room. I asked both dogs to lie down and stay while I served dinner and then asked them to continue to stay while we ate. Both dogs eventually fell asleep because both dogs understand that a down stay is not going to result in an opportunity to race out of the down stay and into play right away.
So how do we achieve this? Yes, I am a very good trainer, and so is John and so is our dinner guest, but this isn’t magic. This is the result of understanding some of the mechanics of the target behaviour and then teaching those to the dog. The first thing to understand is that with young dogs we never ever teach them that the down stay is going to result in a big explosive release. I see this over and over again, especially in dogs who are competing in agility and obedience. The handler asks for a down and stay and then at the end, they release the dog and the dog bounces up and the handler throws a party. It doesn’t take long for that dog to start to anticipate that the return of the handler is going to result in a great big hurrah and bounce, and his body needs to get ready to do that. Internally, this means that the dog learns to raise his heart rate and tense his muscles when he thinks that he is going to get up. If instead we teach the dog that he is always going to do something calm and quiet after the down stay, the dog never learns to tense up and get his heart going when the down stay is over. My goal is to teach all my dogs, and especially my young dogs to come out of their down stay calmly and quietly and in a relaxed manner.
The next aspect to understand is that when we teach the down stay, we should not teach the down stay incrementally. Teaching the dog that if they do a one second down stay they will be released sets them up to be really excited about the release at the two second mark. When I was learning to train dogs, this was how we did it. We mastered one second and moved on to two seconds. Then three, five, 7, 10, 15 and so on. By the time we had reached the pinnacle of the three minute down stay that we needed for the novice obedience test we usually had a classroom full of lunatic dogs all waiting like horses in the starting gate to leap up and race forward and play. When I think about training this way, compared to how I approach it now, I smile in recollection of the antics that often ensued and I cringe in remembrance of all the machinations we engaged in to enforce that three minute down stay. The perception was that asking the dog to lie down and stay for three minutes was incredibly difficult!
Consider the physical demands of this behaviour. I want the dog to lie down, and chill out. Relax. Not chew a bone, just wait patiently. Perhaps the world we live in today discourages us from seeing this as the easiest thing in the world to do; waiting rooms have television sets and magazines to keep us amused. And heaven forbid that we might have to wait without amusement for 20 seconds while in line at the store; there are screens and visual activities to keep us occupied there too. At home, how many of us have a television or the radio turned on from the moment we wake till the instant we drop off to sleep? How many of us have something happening in the room while we sleep? And what do we do about these distractions and busy makers? We pay to attend yoga classes or get a massage! This past year, I spent two weeks out in the bush, alone. When I came back, I visited the home a good friend who has two active kids. The day after I came out of the bush was Canada day, and she had invited family over. The house was super busy, so I decamped to the front porch to sit. One of the kids came out eventually and asked what I was doing. “Sitting” I replied. “Sitting and doing what?” she asked. “Just sitting.” Over the months since I was in the bush, I have lost that simple act of sitting and just being, but it is there in me, ready to reactivate when I choose to take the time and slow down a bit.
Our dogs are generally much better at just sitting than we are. As I write, Friday is lying on the floor in front of our wood stove. Her head is up, and she sometimes orients on me or John, or on something she hears, but generally, she is just…sitting. Incidentally, sitting doesn’t necessarily mean being in the sitting position, it means being relaxed and content with your thoughts. I have just finished my deer hunt for the year, when I go out in the bush for days on end and sit and wait for the deer to come in. This year the deer didn’t come, but I got to see many, many wild animals, just sitting. A chipmunk came and sat on my boot for about ten minutes. Just sitting and watching the world. When I shifted he was able to just move off, but while I was still, he was still too. I saw rabbits doing this and one spectacular afternoon a young bald eagle. Just sitting is a very natural activity that most mammals engage in for a good chunk of their day. Asking a dog to lie down and stay for three minutes should not be that difficult.
So what changed for my dogs? Why can they do the three minute down stay without distress now, when so many dogs struggle with this? Very simply because I START with a one hour down stay. When an 8 week old pup comes into my home, he learns sit, down and the cued take it in the first week. We work on meeting new people and other dogs, and handling and his name, but we don’t work on a lot else. Then at between 9 and 10 weeks, my puppies do their very first one hour down stay. Here is what it looks like.
We get up in the morning and I take the puppy outside to toilet. Then we come into the kitchen and I get out the pup’s breakfast and pour myself a cup of coffee. Then I sit down on the floor and ask the pup to lie down. As long as the puppy stays lying down, I feed him his breakfast one kibble at a time. If you feed a homemade diet, you would just feed a little bit of food at a time; with the rule being very, very simple. If you are lying down, I will hand you food. If you are standing up or sitting, you get nothing. I don’t keep reminding the puppy; I just wait. The first time we may not work for a whole 60 minutes; I have to judge things on if the pup needs to toilet again, but usually we work for between 45 and 60 minutes. Puppy kibble is great for this because it is smaller so there are more bites which makes for more training. After three or four days of this, my pups are pretty clear that lying down pays BIG, so they lie down a lot more often.
After a few weeks of this, I usually add a tether; I teach all my adolescent and adult dogs the same behaviour, but I use a tether for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that an adult dog might choose to get up and leave and I want to limit his choices. The second reason is that most dogs are going to have to be tethered at some point in their lives and I want to make sure that they can do this while relaxed.
Once the dog understands that lying down is going to keep me delivering treats, I start to move around; one step feed, two steps, feed and so on, until I can move out of sight. Then I add more distractions; dropping napkin or tea towel for instance. Then I make it more difficult; I want the dogs to look at distractions as a clue that they should settle in and relax for the duration, because you never know what Sue will present. What you do know is that if you get up, the floor show will stop and so will the treats.
Over the course of my pup’s first year, they will do a daily down stay until I can do anything and they will remain in place. Of course, along the way, I thin out the reinforcement, and with an adult dog who is very experienced, I will sometimes use activity as the reward for the down stay but ONLY if the dog is relaxed. If the dog is at all tense or distressed, I make the game easier and feed more often but don’t stop training the behaviour.
The down stay is probably the most important activity that I have to teach my young dogs, and it is the most important behaviour I use day to day with my dogs. Doing housework? The dogs are in a down stay! Watching a movie? Down stay! Dinner guests? Down stay. Bringing in the groceries? Down stay. Planting flowers in the garden? Down stay. Grooming the horses? Down stay. Playing frisbee? You got it! Down stay! I use the down stay everywhere, every day. And for my dogs it is the clue that they should settle in and relax because it is likely going to go on for at least twenty minutes. When I only need a short down stay, they are relaxed because they don’t start out with the idea that they are going to get up at any moment and race around. And when I do release my dogs from the down stay with nothing planned to do next, most of the time my dogs will take a big stretch as they would when waking form a nap and then they walk off. Racing is for racehorses. Down stay is for just sitting!
Imagine for a moment that a good friend has died. Someone you love dearly and you are close to, someone you could call at two in the morning and they would come give you gas money to get home if your wallet was stolen. Someone who has shared moments and hours and even days with you. Someone you love. In the days following your friend’s passing, you pull up pictures on your phone, and you fill the vase she gave you with flowers from your garden, and you grieve. Sometimes, you cry.
How do you feel when you go to a funeral? Do your emotions influence your behaviour? Don’t you think that your dog’s emotions might influence his? Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_kzenon’>kzenon / 123RF Stock Photo</a>
A few days later, you go to the funeral home to say your public goodbyes. There is a casket and dozens of baskets of flowers, and a picture of you and your friend, nestled in amongst so many other good warm memories shared by the community who shared your friend’s life. You are sad and there is an empty part inside of you where you used to hold your friend, and it feels like the memories aren’t enough to fill that hole. When your friend’s sister gets up to share the eulogy, she mentions you, and you start to cry.
Imagine now, that the person who is sitting beside you in the funeral home looks at you and says “Just stop it. I HATE crying. Don’t.” How does that make you feel? Sit on this reflection for a moment. How does that make you feel? Do you feel good about the person sitting beside you? Do you want to share tea and sandwiches after the service with this person? Do you want to trust your memories of your friend with this person?
Let’s rewind one paragraph now and imagine that the person beside you quietly and calmly reaches into their bag and pulls out a hankie and gently gives it to you. You reach for the hankie, and he offers you his hand to hold. With one hand, you wipe your eyes and with the other you hold hands with your friend. Deeply sad, you lean in and your seat mate puts his arm around you and holds you close. Assuming this is someone who knows you well enough for physical contact to be appropriate, how do you feel now?
I have seen hundreds of dogs in our training hall. Many of these dogs are happy, but there are a ton of dogs who come through our doors who are traumatized and fearful, and who are expressing their feelings with growls, snaps, snarls, whining and recently one poor dog who shivered and shook for an entire hour while I took a history. The thing that amazes me, day in and day out, is that these dogs keep hoping that the people they live with will see that they need help, and offer them the equivalent of a hankie and a hug.
It is well known in behaviour consulting circles that owners take a long time to seek help for their dogs. One of the biggest reasons for this is that if the behaviour problem isn’t a problem for the owner, there isn’t a lot of impetus to get help. The dog cannot dial the phone and call for help, and neither can he send me an email to describe his problems. Often the dog has been doing everything short of biting in order to get attention, but they aren’t being heard.
When people come into my training hall, they often tell me how difficult it is to live with a dog who is barking, lunging, growling, snarling, pulling, and chasing. I am often told about methods that have been tried to stop the undesired behaviour. These people really care about their dogs, but they often don’t understand that the behaviour the dogs are exhibiting means. The fact is that dogs don’t act randomly. Behaviour is always functional on some level. Consider what it might be like to behave truly randomly. If you were to randomly stop reading this paragraph, and get up out of your chair and twirl around the room and go outside and come back in and jump as high in the air as you are able and roll on the ground and pick up a pen and turn on and off your computer, how would that feel?
Random behaviour is rare. When people behave truly randomly, it is usually an indication of something being wrong with them. When I took animal behaviour in university, the professor talked about an animated Bugs Bunny toy he did an experiment with. He set the toy off a thousand times, and recorded the “behaviour” of the toy. He found that 30% of the time, the toy gave a predictable “What’s up Doc”, and then there were nine other phrases that he uttered on a variable schedule. It turned out that the chip that ran this toy was set on pretty tight parameters, which gave a specific number of repetitions within a thousand repetitions. Ironically, we know that there are two things about this toy that keep kids playing with it and drive parents nuts. From the kid’s perspective, they keep triggering the toy to get the rare and uncommon response. From the parent’s perspective they have to put up with ‘What’s up Doc” 300 out of every thousand repetitions. This random behaviour is annoying and frustrating beyond the interest of animal behaviour professors who want to figure out how often a behaviour happens, and the kid who really wants to hear Bugs say something truly novel.
The other thing about random behaviour is that it is out of context; like the Bugs toy, the last response doesn’t predict the next response. Living with someone who is truly random would be really annoying. Living with a dog who is truly random would also be really annoying. Most of the dogs we meet and live with are actually very predictable. There is an easy little experiment that helps us to understand this. Spend a half an hour watching your dog. Watching Eco right now now, sleeping on the floor beside me, I can sample every minute and say what he is doing and what he is going to do. When I get up out of my chair, he will lift his head and if I leave the room he will wake up completely and follow me. When I sit back down at my computer, he will wander around the room and check out the water bowl, the toy box and the window in the door and then he will lie down again and go back to sleep. He is very predictable and that is part of what allows me to change his behaviour. His behaviour is not random and it never happens in isolation from his environment.
Knowing this, and understanding that dogs are deeply emotional animals, allows us to modify problem behaviours quite easily, but there is one more piece to the puzzle. Skills are under the direct control of the outcomes. Eco standing up and following me happens because he likes the outcome of being with me. Eco barking at the door happens when he is startled and alarmed. The barking doesn’t happen because of the outcome but rather because of the input, and the input is emotional. Could I change the barking behaviour through the application of pain? Sure. But it wouldn’t change how Eco felt about people coming to the door, so treating this as a skill might be more like being at a funeral and being told sternly to stop crying. I could also change the behaviour by getting him below threshold and pairing the situation with something pleasant. The difference being how well I understand what is going into the behaviour to begin with.
A question that is often asked is if feeding the bark will make more barking. Let’s go back to the funeral example. Which would make you cry more; someone who was supportive and brought you a cup of tea and sandwiches, or someone who told you to quit it? When barking is emotionally based (which is more often than not), then removing and feeding is going to help the dog to regain his composure and improve his behaviour. When you do this often enough, you develop in the dog a pattern of barking and then seeking you out. When this happens, the dog is moving out of the emotional state and into the operant state, or the state where he can control his behaviour. Much like at a funeral, if I can get the person who is crying to have a cup of tea, they are often able to calm down and reflect more effectively, and then they can chat comfortably, often about the very thing they may be upset about.
A common tactic when dealing with dogs who are emotional is to give them something else to do. If a dog reacts to something in his environment, then in theory, if he is busy, he won’t be worried about that thing. There are two problems with this tactic. The first of them is that if the dog is upset enough, then he is not going to be terribly compliant. In these situations people start to get pushy and demanding about their dog’s behaviour and it is for exactly this reason that many people turn to aversives in their training; they are asking more than the dog is ready to give them in a given circumstance. For instance, making a dog look you in the eyes so that he stops looking for the frightening things that can creep up on him will only make things worse; he may stop looking but he won’t stop worrying. In this particular case, you rob the dog of the ability to try behaviours other than the undesired one because he is glued on the new behaviour of looking at you, and while he is looking at you, there is always the risk that his trigger will surprise him out of the corner of his eye. This is the second issue with this tactic; you may have compliance, but the dog is still worrying about what might come out and surprise him.
When I was out and about this weekend, I met a woman who told me that her friend had been to every other trainer in town. She told me that this woman was ruining her dog by feeding it when the dog is clearly misbehaving. The popular thought is that if we use food, we can only use it as a reinforcer to get more of a particular behaviour. When you put this into the context of a funeral, and what you would do if someone was upset, it becomes really clear that much behaviour is motivated by emotion and that being clear with your learner does not only mean reinforcing, or punishing behaviours or putting them on extinction. Sometimes, perhaps even often, it means addressing the underlying emotions before even thinking about the behaviours at all.
One of the platitudes we hear over and over and over again in dog training is that a tired puppy is a happy puppy. When I think about being tired, I think about that feeling of having lots to do and not enough time to get it done, of deadlines, of the desire to do more but the inability to do so. Or I think about the end of a work out, where I just want a shower and to be left alone. I don’t think about tired when I think about content.
Don’t get me wrong. Exercise is an important component of good health for both us and our dogs. Reasonable amounts of exercise that is. Yesterday I took my horse out to exercise her and she was very full of herself. We went to a new area to her, and I got out my longe line and asked her to walk in a circle around me. This is a very common way of exercising horses and my mare is very familiar with it. In a new place though she was very spooky and nervous and when a truck rumbled by and blew its horn she took off. She galloped around me for a solid ten minutes, and that was before we even got really organized. After her spook, I worked her in the other direction so that she would not get stiff on one side, and then I walked her for about twenty minutes to make sure she would be properly cooled out. With horses we have to be very careful about keeping them properly limbered and properly warmed up and cooled out and when a spook like this happens we often end up exercising a horse more than we would prefer. At the end of her work out, Kayak was very tired.
Today when I brought Kayak out for her daily work out, she was very subdued. She was loose and moving well, but she was obviously tired out from yesterday’s work-out. Today I worked her very lightly because although a tired horse can be an easier to handle horse, a tired horse is also a horse more prone to injuries. This is true of all athletes, horse, human and yes, dog.
Often when I talk to people about the behaviour problems they are having, an interesting pattern has developed for the dog. As a young pup, the people would see the puppy get the zoomies and thinking that their puppy needed an extra walk, they would take the puppy out for progressively longer walks. Very quickly, the zoomies move out of the realm of an emotional response to being over tired to an operant way to get more walks. It takes very little time for a dog to learn that racing around results in a walk.
As the puppy grows, so does his stamina and then next thing that often happens is that the puppy develops a lot of stamina. A young Australian Shepherd is perfectly able to run hard for most of the day, regardless of the effect on his future health. This is an active breed that was intended to move large numbers of sheep for hours on end. The race between stamina and the amount of exercise that a young dog can absorb becomes a vicious circle where the human gives the dog exercise, and then the dog is naughty and the human gives the dog more exercise. It is not just herding dogs like the Aussie either; I have seen this happen in spaniels, retrievers, and working breeds. If your dog comes from a genetic background where he needed to be active, then the more exercise you give him, the more exercise he seems to need. Furthermore, if you have been exercising your dog whenever he seems restless, you are inadvertently creating a dog who will need more and more and more exercise.
Attempting to exercise a dog into fatigue who was bred to do this for ten hours a day is an exercise in frustration for families, but likely also for their dogs. Copyright: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/profile_kitzcorner’>kitzcorner / 123RF Stock Photo</a>
Often the next stop on the journey of exercise junkie is dog day care. There are great dog day cares out there, where the dogs have structured days that include rest periods and down time, but a great many dog day cares are one revolving door of activity, activity, activity. One of my clients came in after his dog was dismissed from daycare because he was aggressive to the other dogs. The daycare would not permit a video to be made to determine what exactly was going on, however from what we can determine, the dog would arrive around 7 am and more and more dogs would arrive until about 10 in the morning. As the dogs arrived they were permitted to race into the day care and plough into the play group. From ten till about two in the afternoon, these dogs would be a more or less stable group, but any time they settled down to rest, a staffer would go out and get them moving. At two in the afternoon, dogs would start going home. By five when my client would pick up his dog, his dog was exhausted. When we added this dog to our play group, it was really clear that he didn’t mind rough play at first, but over time, as he tired, he would begin to build a bigger and bigger space bubble around him. By keeping his play sessions short and not permitting him to play when he was tired we resolved a good chunk of this dog’s problem.
The allure of the dog coming home tired is very attractive to many owners of young dogs, but if the day care doesn’t make sure that the dog gets down time and rest time, then you can be contributing to a dog becoming an exercise junkie. This leaves us with two questions. The first is “How much is enough” and the second is “When should you exercise the dog”?
The answer to how much is enough is completely dependent on how much you think you can live with. If you cannot live with a dog who needs 5 hours of hard exercise a day, then don’t start building up your dog’s exercise tolerance to that level. I have a colleague in Sudbury who is extremely active with her dogs; she does sledding and hiking and biking with her dogs, and she could live with dogs who are able to tolerate five hours a day of hard exercise. This is not typical of my students though. If you cannot tolerate this level of exercise, then don’t get your dog up to that exercise.
When a dog starts exercising stressed, he is going to also be stressed during exercise at least for the first while. Look at this guys’ rounded eyes, pulled back ears and pulled in tongue.
There is a minimum though; dogs do best with at least an hour a day of off leash hiking with their people. Not all of us have the luxury of this, but that is likely the optimal for most dogs and it is doable for more folks, so as a middle of the road guide line, an hour a day off leash is a good amount of exercise. When you cannot give your dog this, you can substitute things like walking (not bounding!) up and down stairs, training games that involve searching for specific items or treats or learning new tasks.
The second question of when to exercise your dog is an interesting one. If you exercise your dog at the same time each and every day, you will create a situation where your dog anticipates exercise and becomes difficult to handle because of that. As the moment of exercise approaches, the dog becomes increasingly aroused and excited. If you then exercise your dog he will learn that being excited and aroused predicts a walk. When nothing else is going on, he will behave in an excited manner and then you will eventually respond by giving him that walk. Although you may be planning your walk at a specific time, your dog may begin to think that his excitement is what produces the walk instead of the other way around.
On the other hand, if you walk your dog more or less randomly, he will begin to tune into your subtle cues that a walk is coming and you have exactly the same issue that you might in the event that you walk your dog at the same time every day. Putting down your reading glasses and picking up your phone means that you are going to go for that greatly anticipated walk.
To avoid these common walk problems, there are a few things to do. First, understand that puppies under 12 weeks who zoom around like small jets are probably tired and need a nap, not another walk. When you see this behaviour, call your pup, put him in his crate with a kong or other appropriate chew and let him be for a while. After twelve weeks you can start to give your puppy more exercise and start to build towards a level of stamina you can live with, while meeting his minimum needs for exercise. If you have an older dog who has the pre-walk fidgets, use that as an indicator that you need to crate him till he settles down too. When the dog is settled, you can take him out if appropriate. We find that most young dogs conk out pretty quickly and take a nap. Older dogs can learn that being silly and excited in the crate does not open the door.
Once you have broken the cycle of being excited and aroused before the walk, establish a routine before your walk. Start out by teaching your dog to lie down. Lying down is a calm and controlled position. When your dog is down, feed him treats, one by one and then work on being able to move around the room, while he stays. If he breaks the stay, just re-cue him and work with him on staying in a down position for ten minutes. At about the ten minute point (sometimes 9, sometimes 10, or even 11 minutes), call your dog out of the down position and go get ready for your walk. Work up to being able to get ready for the walk while your dog is down. If he gets tense or excited (you will notice ears and eyes perking up), then keep working on the stay, continuously feeding as you move things around and get ready to go. When your dog is relaxed, actually calm, that is when walks will start.
This dog is ready to go for a walk. He is calm and he is showing us that his face and body are relaxed.
If you work on this regularly and reliably, then what you will get is a dog who is calm before walks. If you only walk your dog when he is aroused and excited then you are only going to have a dog who is aroused and excited, and that is not much fun to live with. A tired dog is a tired dog. A calm dog is usually a happy dog.
One of the important things that I do when I work with any dog is to include him in my daily routine. My dog isn’t just an inhabitant of my home; he is my partner in pretty much everything I do. This morning for instance, I included Eco in my ironing; I am working on a craft project that requires ironing, and so when I got the iron and ironing board out, I included Eco in the activity. How might that look? It probably doesn’t look very interesting, but when I opened the closet door, Eco poked his head in and then when I reached for the iron and board, I asked him to back up and he backed out of my way. While I was setting it all up, I asked him to lie down and pointed to where I wanted him to go. I didn’t ask him to stay so when I go out the fabric that I wanted to iron, he got up and took a look at what I had in my hand. When I asked him to go back and lie down, he did. After I was done ironing, I needed to get access to my craft table and he was in the way, so I was able to ask him to change his resting place to another point across the room. When I was done with that part of my project, I need to go downstairs to get some water for the steamer in the iron and I asked Eco to heel beside me down the stairs, which he did. We worked together to get the task done. Was it strictly necessary to have 48kg of black carnivore supervising my activities? Did he contribute? Not really. But we do things together and this morning I was ironing.
Sometimes I do things he likes; when I take my daily morning walk, for instance, I throw his feed pan. As a big strong dog, he needed a big strong toy and the thing that worked best for him was a rubber livestock feed pan. It makes a lousy frisbee but he likes it, and he will bring it to me and suggest that I throw it for him. On a good day I can throw it about 20 metres. He includes me in his games and activities because although he doesn’t need a great big primate to amuse him, it is part of how he and I relate.
The bottom line for me is that we share our activities with one another and we each bring skills to the table that the other can ask for and respond to. This is the gift that good reciprocal training gives to me. When Eco was a baby, I did more things that he found interesting than things that I found interesting with him. I spent many hours sitting on the floor playing tug and touch, fetch and search games. As we got to know one another, I began to teach him the words for the behaviours I wanted him to do. This in my opinion is the best kind of teaching to do with a puppy; I didn’t spend so much time at that age formally asking for or prompting sit or down, but sometimes in the course of our interactions, if he offered me a behaviour I was interested in keeping, I might respond by naming the behaviour and then playing a game that Eco wanted to play. It didn’t take long for him to figure out that the names for the behaviours corresponded to what he was doing and that if he did them when I asked, I might do something he would find enjoyable.
A sad tale for me is the story of so many dogs who are not really “one of the gang”. Many of these dogs are well loved and well cared for, but they are not yet partners with their people. The people and their dogs share space and activities in parallel instead of in partnership. The thing to understand about partnership is that it is a two way street, and deep partnership involves more than simply co-habitating and ensuring that your dog has enough to eat and drink. Deep partnership means that we should be aware of one another and respond to one another in a meaningful way. That is probably the biggest reason that I train my dog.
Dog training is the way that I develop a language to use when I am talking to my dog. I do a lot of informal training when I include my dog in my daily activities, but I also need to develop a language that we can share to do more complex things together. If I want to take my dog into the bush and go camping with me, I need him to be able to come when called, lie down and stay off leash, go around obstacles or over them as is necessary and I need him to connect with me so that if there is a challenge we can overcome it together. This is where teaching my dog in a formal setting can really jumpstart what we do together. Sometimes exercises in a class can seem disconnected from what we do informally, but if you start to look for opportunities to incorporate your formal training into your daily life, you not only improve your dog’s overall performance in those exercises, at the same time that you create a better bond with your dog.
If you go back to my ironing exercise, consider all the times when my formal training was integrated into that informal activity. The behaviours that I used during my ironing included backing up on cue, lying down, going to place, moving from one place to another place and heeling so he wouldn’t trip me on the stairs. These are all behaviours that I taught formally in obedience classes. I think that it is interesting that when I use behaviours in context I rarely need reinforcers to maintain them. If my canine partner thinks he is doing something important to both of us, he rarely asks to be paid to work, and I think this is an important clue to successful training. When your dog feels that they are an important part of what you are doing, they are often willing to participate in the activity, and if they have learned the skills to participate, reinforcement is rarely needed.
I am very fortunate to see a good many dogs in my day to day life, but not all of them are normal. There is for instance, my own very intense, military lines German Shepherd. Nice guy. Not really normal. Or my Chessie. Another nice guy. Also not normal. I have an intern with me these days; nice lady, with a very normal Keshond. In fact he is pretty much the only normal dog I know at the moment. I also have a six month old lab and a four month old German Shepherd in the house who aren’t normal either.
All of the “not normal” dogs I have really ARE normal, in the context of what I do. Eco, my GSD, works his behind off for me doing sport. He would be equally happy as a police or military dog. He would be a menace as a house pet. D’fer, my chessie works hard taking care of me as a service dog. Similar to Eco, he would not make a very good pet. He is altogether too intense and active to make a good house dog. Unless you would like to know when you are anxious, and when you should take your meds and when you should get up in the morning. These dogs have responsibilities, and they thrive on their work.
Widget the six month old lab is a service dog in training. He does pretty intense training on a day to day basis, and he is also doing public access training regularly. He is a pretty responsible guy all things considered. He might make a good pet for someone who desires to have brains and enough energy to run a nuclear submarine in one loving package of chocolate Labrador. Friday is also a service dog in training; she is 16 weeks old and keeps us on our toes. She has just started doing public access visits too. I don’t think she would be happy as a pet though; just not enough structure or training or exercise for her taste.
All my dogs are pretty far off of normal. That is just fine for me as I know that each has strengths and weaknesses, and I play to their strengths and avoid their weaknesses. That does not always work out for my clients. My clients in the Good Dog program come to me with dogs who are not normal too; often though, the people they live with don’t recognize that their version of not normal needs some special handling. One of the most important questions that I ask myself as a behaviour consultant is “Where would this dog be “normal”. Today I met a sweet little dog who would be very normal as an only dog on a quiet mountain farm where she did not have to meet anyone new, or any new dogs, or climb any stairs. Preferably in an open concept house. The dog currently lives in a busy two story home in the middle of town. My job is to make the compromises so that this dog can find a peaceful way to live in an environment that is alien to what he would like to live in.
In my mid twenties I worked for the federal government. I was an agriculture inspector. I was not a very good agriculture inspector and I didn’t like the work. In fact I hated the job, and in that job I was extremely NOT normal. I ended up on stress leave and when I got back, the federal government did me a huge favour. They fired me. They decided that I was just not the right person for that job. I feel very lucky that they fired me; I didn’t want to do the job, I wasn’t good at it and I didn’t know enough about myself at that point to do something other than that job. I felt stuck, like I didn’t have any choices.
For many of the dogs I meet, they grow up understanding one reality, and end up plonked down into another. They may have the genetics to do one job, and be stuck in another. When we look at what “normal” is for a particular dog, we can often figure out what compromises we can make to make the situation “normal” for that dog. Unlike me, they are unlikely to get fired and end up in a better situation. When we start to look at what would be “normal” for our abnormal dogs, we start to be able to find middle ground where we can start from.
Where we can make the biggest difference in the lives of dogs is to think about what “normal” looks like in your life before you choose your dog. Does your normal include a lot of people? Because if it does, then no matter how much you like that guarding breed, his “normal” isn’t going to be the same as yours. If your normal includes lots of hunting and fishing and camping, and you love the look of a greyhound, you and the greyhound are going to each have to make some serious adjustments to make that work out. The greyhound is not going to enjoy river rafting even if you do get a life jacket on him. And you are not going to enjoy hanging out indoors when it gets cold and rainy. Your normal is the best place to start when you are thinking about what kind of a dog is going to fit into your life.
My intern’s Keshond is an interesting example of normal. He is normal at the moment. In Canada. In the fall. At home, in the southern United States, he really is not normal. There, for nine months out of 12, he is not normal. He is hot and uncomfortable in that incredible coat. In order to live there, his people keep the air conditioning turned down as low as they can tolerate it and they walk him only at night. And interestingly, her most recent dog is not a Keshond.
I often encounter people in the general public who are interested in having a well behaved dog but they don’t want to come to class. I also encounter colleagues on a regular basis who are professional trainers who still pay to take their dogs to classes. Why is there such a disparity? Could it be how people see dog training?
The main reason that people come to my classes in my experience is that they are having a problem of some sort. Really, that is too bad. That is kind of like only going grocery shopping when you are out of food and hungry. You don’t always make great choices then; often you are so hungry and annoyed that you grab the first thing that appeals to you and you forget all about your goals and objectives when eating healthy home cooked food.
Ideally, you would plan what you want to eat before you got hungry and before you went to the grocery store, and you would only buy things that you actually want to eat. Having a dog should be a little bit like that; you should start out with goals in mind and then decide how you want to achieve those goals, and include a training class and a trainer in the planning process. I love when clients call me BEFORE they get their pups and talk to me about their plans for training. It is a lot like making a very exciting grocery list.
There are several reasons that I personally have for training my dog. To begin with, I can avoid a lot of problems by training my dog what I want him to do instead of going back later and fixing problems that have developed. One of the first things I like teaching puppies is to keep four paws on the floor when they are greeting. It is so easy to do with a young pup and it is so much fun. Far better to teach a puppy what you want him to do instead of what you want him to stop doing after he has practiced and gotten really good at the behaviour I don’t like.
This young puppy is learning that having his collar grabbed is fun and that kids bring good things in an early puppy class.
I can also change behaviours that I don’t like and make them into behaviours I do like. I had one dog who would greet people by bouncing at about nose height. He never put his feet on you, but he sure did like to see you up close and personal. That drove many of us a little crazy. It was a behaviour we worked on often till he was about two and gave it up. I want to be clear; he didn’t out grow it-we changed it. We morphed his lovely bounce and turned it into a flying swing finish. Very snazzy! This taught him a behaviour that could earn him treats and toys and because we asked for it in a number of different contexts while teaching him to do other things when he met people, he developed the skills we wanted him to instead of continuing an annoying behaviour.
The third reason I train my dogs and go to training classes is that it is a ton of fun. Every week, or in my case, every day, I get to go and meet people I like and work at an activity with my dog that we both enjoy. Often I hear people complain that they wish that there was a place they could bring their dogs and do things with them; well there is! Training class is just about the only place I know of that is designed to permit you to bring your dog and do stuff with him. My dogs have tried a wide variety of sports from obedience and rally to tracking and protection. Structured activities that I can do with my dog are held several times a day and they are designed to help me have more fun with my dog. If you are going to a training class and the goal seems to be to see who can make you feel the most miserable about what you are doing with your dog, then you really need to re-examine what you are doing and why. There are tons of people friendly classes out there and if your class isn’t making you happy, then look for another one.
Tugging with rules is safe and fun for people and dogs and we do this in our Levels Classes on a regular basis!
Training acts as a form of communication with your dog. You develop a language that helps your dog to understand what you want and you to understand when your dog needs something. You can even teach your dog a basic language to express his needs. Teach a dog to ring a bell and then ask him to do it before you take him out to toilet and it doesn’t take long for most dogs to learn to ask to go out in a polite socially acceptable manner. Teach your dog that barking will result in a trip to his crate for a period of time and it doesn’t take long for your dog to stop asking to be separated from the family. When your dog understands both what you mean when you ask him to do something and the consequences, both desired and undesired of his behaviour.
There is a saying in the music world that “perfect practice makes perfect performance” and it is equally true in dog training. When you go to training classes you get a second set of eyes to look at what you are doing and help you to practice as perfectly as possible. Little things count. Things like how you hold your leash, or where you present your treats or how you use your body are things that you might not notice, so in order to get perfect practice, you need feedback from someone who can watch you. When I am getting ready to compete in obedience or rally I always book a lesson with my coach to clean up any handling details; if it is good for the professionals, why not for the amateurs too? I think that having a coach in a class is one of the best reasons to come to a training class.
If you have never been to a training class, perhaps you don’t know about the wide variety of classes available. There are puppy classes for dogs under 16 weeks; if you start later than 16 weeks, you are heading into adolescence so you are not going to puppy class any longer. Lately we have been seeing a variety of classes popping up for puppies; pre-sport classes for people who want to try a dog sport and work on the skills necessary to develop a great sports dog. We also see early puppy classes such as our Every Puppy Deserves Puppy Class that is designed solely for dogs under the age of 12 weeks. Some schools are offering senior puppy classes for dogs between 16 and thirty weeks-they are very popular.
Puppy class! Organized chaos and loads of fun for puppies and people.
For adults we have family obedience classes that focus on the skills needed for a family pet; sitting, lying down and staying; going to place, coming when called and walking on a loose leash are behaviours that are often covered in these classes. Schools are now offering classes and workshops that focus exclusively on specific behaviours that people are interested in. We offer two workshops like this; one called Loose leash which is a full day about leash manners and one called Instant Recall which is all about coming when called. Family dog classes are really important in order to help develop behaviours that make dogs into better canine citizens. A well trained family dog is a joy to take to the local soccer game or family picnic.
Leash skills workshops are becoming very common for people who want to learn a very specific skill.
There are also all kinds of sports classes for dogs; obedience is a formal sport much like ballroom dancing; it is precise and choreographed (no music mind you!) where teams of people and their dogs compete against one another to determine who is the most accurate to the test with their dogs. There is an offshoot competition called Rally Obedience which consists of a series of exercises set into a course that you follow and you compete on accuracy and time. Both sports can be a ton of fun, especially if you have someone to practice with and later compete with.
Agility is a well known sport that is great for building connection and responsiveness to you. I find that a lot of people want to try agility but few people understand the degree of commitment that it takes to be successful. Teaching the equipment is easy; you can teach most dogs all the equipment in less than a day. What you cannot do is teach accuracy, speed, responsiveness and handling in a day; that is what takes time and effort and that is what attracts so many people to the sport; the intricacies of the training.
D’fer works on targetting the yellow part of the teeter in agility. Agility is loads of fun and can require a very high level of training with lots of dedication that yeilds a great connection and responsiveness!
There is also flyball, Treibball, tracking, herding, carting, protection, nose work, and recreational search and rescue. The advantage of training for sports is that you have a goal to achieve with your dog. You also get to meet cool dog people, and learn more about yourself, your dog, how to change behaviour and what dog body language means. Top that off with internet chat groups, facebook pages and endless blogs about your favourite sports and you can fill every hour of the day with dog sport information.
Eco and I loved playing treibball!
Finally there are courses, seminars and workshops dedicated to work that your dog can do such as assisting you with a disability or delivering therapy programs. These programs focus on the manners your dog needs to have in order to visit public places that dogs don’t normally attend. These courses address issues such as leaving items that they come across on the floor, keeping their leashes loose, staying in one place for long periods of time and allowing everyone to handle them with dignity and calm.
If you have a dog and you have not taken a training class I challenge you to give one a try. Most of us in the training business love to help people to learn about our passion and we are interested in learning about your goals for your dog and helping you get there. And if you have taken a class but you aren’t taking one at the moment, consider revisiting class and trying something new. There is nothing I can recommend more highly to make your relationship with your dog better, while having a great time.