FAIR IS NOT EQUAL

FAIR IS NOT EQUAL

I feel like “Fair is not Equal” has begin to replace “It depends” as my motto at work these days.  I have a number of cases these days where people want to give perfectly equal treatment to two dogs in the house.  On the surface of it, the idea of treating everyone the same way seems like a good idea; after all you would not want to be excluded from a party because you are the only woman, or the only tall person, or the only dog trainer in a group!  That would not be fair at all.  The problem is that when you try and give equal treatment to two people with very different needs.

When we have a baby and an older child, we often see people around us try and give equal treatment to both children.  If grandma comes to visit and she brings a toy for the baby, then she will most likely bring a toy for the older child too.  This sounds fair, right?  If you have two dogs and you bring home one special chew bone, and give it to your favourite dog, the other dog is likely going to be pretty upset about missing out.  This in fact is likely a quick way to a dog fight!  When we try and make fair equal, we can actually get into trouble though.

Little toddler boy, playing with his little brother at home
These brothers have different needs, abilities and interests. Treating them equally would not be fair to them! Instead if we engage them in activities that take advantage of their differences, they will both be happy and successful.

Consider for instance what the older child might think if grandma arrived with two rattles both designed for a child of about 6 months of age.  If the older child is two, he may or may not care, but if he is 5, he is going to care a lot.  The same is very true of our dogs.  If you have a puppy and a middle aged dog, the pup is going to be interested in very different things than is the middle aged dog.  This is the situation that prompted my blog today.

I have a client who has a 7 year old retriever with degenerative disc disease.  Her 7 year old has been her constant companion for his whole life and they have done all sorts of cool things together; from hiking in Northern Ontario to sports classes locally, and road trips across Canada, to quiet family dinners with her aging parents, my client has taken this dog on every possible dog adventure his heart could wish for.  Now that he is suffering from back pain though, he isn’t allowed to do as many things as he used to do.  The one thing that they still do together is sit on the floor with her head on her lap while she grades her high school student’s homework.  Every night after dinner, she sits down with a pile of paper on one side, and her special buddy on the other.  They have done this ritual for the past seven years, from September till June, at least five nights a week.  Recently though, this client has been missing some of the training activities she did with her 7 year old, so she brought a new puppy into the family.

This particular lady wants to be fair to both dogs, but sometimes she gets fair confused with equal.  The first way she got confused was when she signed her puppy up for puppy class.  She felt guilty that her older dog wasn’t going to training too, so she signed him up for a class as well.  The problem was that she didn’t have time to devote to two sets of classes, so some of the time she missed class with her older dog and then she felt bad about spending money on a class she didn’t attend.  Not only that but her older dog was often stiff and painful after his class, which really wasn’t fair to him at all.

The next place she got confused was leash walking her puppy.  Young pups don’t actually know how to walk on leash.  When she brought her youngster out for a leash walk with her older dog, he just got all tangled up and annoying!  No one was happy; not the lady, not the puppy and definitely not the older dog. 

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Sometimes this is what I think people think that they are aiming for when they make absolutely everything the same for two dogs in the home. Instead of trying to make everything equal, try making everything fair by taking into account what each dog needs.

My client knew that puppies need to eat more often than do adult dogs, and she wanted to be fair, so when she fed the puppy, her adult dog always got a meal too.  He got his normal two meals a day, plus a little extra at lunch time.  Her adult dog gained a few pounds, and that was hard on his joints, which meant an extra trip for him to the vet, and extra medication for pain.

Perhaps the least fair thing that this nice lady did for her two dogs was let the puppy have free run of the house with her older dog.  She just didn’t feel good about her puppy being in his crate much of the time.  The puppy took to harassing the older dog, which resulted in a grouchy adult dog, and an overtired, overstimulated puppy.  The last straw came when school started in September though; on her first day sitting on the floor grading papers with her nice sedate adult dog, her cup of tea and her whirling dervish of a puppy.  Within minutes her neatly organized evening came apart at the seams with papers strewn all over the room, her adult dog snarling at the puppy, and a hot cup of tea all over the floor.

When we met, my client said to me “I don’t remember puppyhood being so much work with my older dog!”  The thing to reflect on with a case such as this is that at the time she didn’t have another dog to compare to, so instead of trying to give her first dog exactly everything that she gave to another dog, she just gave him what he needed.  Fair, is rarely if ever equal.

So how did we resolve this?   We acknowledged that fair is not equal and she stopped trying to give everything to the puppy that she gave to her adult and vice versa.  Her adult dog does not need an extra class or a daily extra meal.  Her puppy does not need a leash walk, or freedom of the house just yet.  Once we stopped doing things that weren’t good for each of the dogs, we could really look at what each dog needed. 

In the first few months, puppies need a lot of extra attention, training and structure.  It isn’t forever, but it is important.  We stopped all leash walking and added in two ten minute training sessions each day.  Instead of wrestling a young strong dog on leash around the block with one hand, while trying to encourage her older, sedate and slightly painful older dog to keep up, all the while trying to avoid the inevitable tangling of the leash, she returned to her fifteen minute strolls around the block with her old friend.  Her young dog benefited from the extra training sessions and her older dog got the time and attention that he needed from his normal routine.  Not equal, but fair.

To address the lunchtime habit, we moved the older dog’s walk from first thing in the morning to lunch time, so that the puppy could have quiet alone time in the house with her lunch, while the older dog got what he needed.  This helped to take weight off sensibly, and avoided the issue of the older dog mooching around the pup’s food bowl.  Fair is not equal but each dog can get what they need when their needs are properly addressed.

Dog in cage. Isolated background. Happy black pug in iron box
Using a crate for meals can make room for you to address the needs of another dog while this dog is having his needs met. Fair is when both dogs get what they need, even when what they need may not be the same thing.

Finally, we addressed the issue of the pup having free run of the house with an ex-pen in the living room.  This allowed my client to have time with both dogs in the room, but without trashing her student’s assignments, spilling tea or harassing the older dog.  Over time she will be able to give the younger dog more and more freedom as long as she is minding her manners.  These few changes took the household from equal but completely unfair to not equal, but much more fair. 

I think it is easier to identify when fair is not equal when we are talking about medical issues.  My client was really trying hard to make things both equal and fair, but each dog had different needs.  When her older dog was sore from gaining weight and being too physical, she didn’t feel the need to bring the younger dog to the vet for medication; that obviously would be neither fair nor equal.  Likewise, she did not feel that she needed to revaccinate her older dog; her older dog was not due for vaccines for another 18 months, so just her puppy got vaccinated.  When it comes to medical issues, we are much more clear about fair and equal and we do what is fair.  When it comes to the rest of our dog’s lives, we are much more muddled.  We try and do the things that we do with one dog with both, even if it would not be fair.  To be fair, we have to take in the needs of the individual instead of the activities that we do with one or the other dog.

FAIR IS NOT EQUAL

FOOD

Dogs love food.  Well, mostly dogs love food.  Food is such a contentious issue.  People don’t always like to use food in training, and often even when people do use food, they either don’t use it effectively or they struggle with a dog who doesn’t want to take treats.  In the training hall we often see people making all sorts of food errors, so it is time to write a blog about how to use food.

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Most dogs really love food and spend a lot of time thinking about it. When food isn’t working in training, there are often things we can do to help!

The first issue we see is the “switcheroo”.  The switcheroo happens when a dog hits early adolescence and growth slows down.  Most families get a young puppy and are astounded at how many calories that little perpetual motion machine can suck back.  Let’s say that a pup is 3kg when he comes home, and he is eating one scoop of dog food in total each day.  Within 6 weeks that puppy is now 10kg, and eating three scoops of dog food each day!  Skip forward another two months and the puppy is 20kg and eating five scoops a day, and then 8 weeks more and he is 30kg and eating 7 scoops a day.  This brings our pupster to about 7 and a half months of age and all of a sudden Fido stops eating.  In a panic, the average family goes out and spends a pile of money on a different bag of dog food and Fido resumes eating.  A week or so later, Fido goes on strike again, and the family spends more money on a third brand of food.  Fido resumes eating and two weeks later goes on strike.  At about this point, Fido who should be 35kg is a solid 40kg, and has become a picky eater, and the client tells me in class that Fido won’t work for food.

So what is really happening in the “switcheroo”?  Often what is happening is that Fido has stopped growing and doesn’t need 7 scoops of dog food!  When you change dog foods, novelty will get Fido to eat again, but he doesn’t really need all the extra calories, so a week or two later, he self limits his food and you worry that he isn’t eating enough.  You switch again and the novelty entices him to eat for a bit and then he hits another point where the calories are just too much and he stops eating again. 

So what happens to food training when the old “switcheroo” is at play?  Often the dog stops wanting to work for food because he is already getting far too many calories in his bowl.  The first thing that I do is check with the family to make sure that there is nothing going on that would indicate the need for a vet visit.  I do a quick visual inspection of the dog and feel his ribs to see what his body score is.  The easy way to tell what your dog’s body score is would be to first feel your dog’s ribs and then find the part of your hand that is most similar to your dog’s ribs.  Use the pictures in this blog (http://info.drsophiayin.com/body-condition-system-poster ) to determine if your dog is overweight.  If your dog is overweight, but everything else is normal; he is drinking and exercising and toileting normally, then the first thing I would do would be to feed a bit less food in his bowl.  Dogs love to eat, but they are also usually really good at self regulating when they get overweight and then they get fussy about the treats they want for training.

Usually with an adolescent dog who has had several different foods because he has become picky, we see his appetite normalize and his willingness to work for regular food return when we remove some of the calories from the bowl.  This is the easiest situation to resolve when it comes to food and training.  Once you figure out how much your dog should be eating, take the total amount for the day and divide it by three.  Feed 1/3 at breakfast, 1/3 at dinner and save 1/3 for training class.  Let’s look at my German Shepherd Eco as an example. 

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There are so many options when it comes to feeding your dog and it can be tempting to just change foods if your dog is not eating reliably. If your dog is already eating a quality diet, consider trying decreasing the quantity of food that you are putting in the bowl before changing the diet. If your dog is not on a good diet or if they have a medical issue, you should talk to your vet before changing your dog’s diet.

When I got Eco at 7 and a half weeks of age he ate a whopping 2/3 cup of kibble each day.  Total.  By the time he was 12 weeks he was eating 1 ½ cups, and at 16 weeks he was eating 2 ½ cups.  His intake steadily increased over the weeks and months until at 7 months he was about 40kg and was eating a total of 12 cups a day divided into four meals, and he was a lean, mean fast moving doggy machine.  I remember thinking at this age that I sure hoped he would slow down soon as I was going to go broke feeding this dog!  Predictably at about 8 months he started to skip a meal.  That meant that all of a sudden, he went from eating 12 cups a day reliably to eating 9.  Whew!  That was cheaper!  I started to feed three meals a day, but instead of feeding three cups per meal, I fed 2 cups per day and kept 3 cups aside for training.  At about ten months of age, Eco started to pretty reliably skip one of his three meals each day, so I took another three cups of food out of his daily ration, which brought us down to a much more reasonable 6 cups per day, and divided that into three, making 2 cups per serving, Eco went to two regular meals and two cups set aside for school.  By the time Eco was four he was normally eating about 4 cups of food a day, and just got a few treats in class.  Mostly in class at four, he would work for play.

The next thing I have seen in class is the dog who will only work for ultra high value treats.  A number of things can be at play there.  The first of them is that when the dog is very stressed or overwhelmed, he cannot eat.  This should not be a surprise; the same happens to people too.  Consider what it might be like to be in a car accident and then have someone offer you a nice dinner.  Most of us would find that situation too stressful to allow us to enjoy eating.  The same thing can happen when the dog is extremely excited, and that is also true for us.  Most of us don’t feel like eating when we are engaged in something like riding a rollercoaster.

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Both of these ladies are really excited. One of them is happy about her excitement and the other lady is a little more concerned. Neither of these ladies would probably want to eat a sandwich if I were to offer them one, because when you are really excited, you are not really interested in food!

Other things can contribute to dogs only wanting to take high value treats too.  When your dog comes to class overweight, they are going to be really picky about what they will take as treats.  Similarly, if he comes to class right after eating a large meal, he will be willing to take dessert class treats, but not lower value treats.  One thing that people often try is to completely deprive their dogs before class.  This can backfire too; often dogs who have been deprived enough can be so deeply focused on any food at all that they cannot even think.  It is far better to feed more sensibly, and come to class with a dog who is neither overweight nor completely deprived. 

Dogs definitely have preferences, and there is a lot of value to knowing what your dogs prefers.  I have worked with dogs who do not like liver and making a dog take a treat he doesn’t want works against you as a trainer, even if it is a treat you want your dog to like or if it is a treat you think your dog will like.  I have also worked with dogs who like really unusual things like cooked squash, raw celery or blueberries.  When I have a dog with strong preferences, I often rank the treats.  When I know for instance that a dog likes liver best, and then rollover and then cheese and then bread and finally kibble.  I will sometimes take some time to teach the dog to take lower value treats.  Working in a low distraction environment I will offer the dog his lowest value item.  If he takes the treat, I reward him with the next value treat.  In this case, I will offer kibble.  If the dog takes a piece of kibble, then he gets a piece of bread.  I then offer the dog another piece of kibble.  Most dogs will look longingly at the bread.  Hold out.  If the dog takes the kibble, he gets another treat but THIS time, he gets the next level up; so I would feed him some cheese.  Next I will offer him another piece of kibble.  He will likely look out for another piece of cheese.  Hold out.  When he takes his kibble, he will get the next thing on his list; in this case the rollover.  Then offer more kibble again.  When the dog takes the kibble he gets his top value treat; in this case the liver.  I keep working with the dog offer kibble to get a better reward.  I keep working on this until the dog will willingly take a low value treat regardless of the situation, in the hopes of getting a better treat.

Perhaps the most common error I see in the training hall is reinforcing every single behaviour without any differential between good iterations and not so good iterations.  If you ask your dog to sit and he lies down, and you give him a treat because he did SOMETHING, anything, you are in fact teaching him that trying random behaviours is really valuable, but it doesn’t teach your dog that when you say sit, you mean sit, or when you say down, you mean down.  You can actually use treats very constructively to teach your dog the difference between a really, really valuable behaviour such as a fast, accurate sit, when you ask the first time, and a slow reluctant sloppy sit.  To teach the difference between a fast snappy sit and a slow casual sit, you can simply choose to reward the best sits to reward with the favourite treat, and then reward the sloppy undesired sits with a low value treat.  Dogs can learn really quickly that a good sit gets a good treat, and a poor sit gets a less preferred treat.

 

Dogs also need to learn about self control around food before you start training.  If your dog thinks that if he can see the treat, he can have the treat, then he is going to have a harder time learning to get the treats by doing something to earn them.  I like to start all training by teaching the dog to control himself around food (https://mrsbehaviour.com/2015/11/12/the-dog-controls-the-dog/ ).  Once your dog has learned not to snatch treats as soon as he sees them, you can start to use your treats much more effectively.

As with many tools, treats are a good servant but a poor master.  When used well, food is perhaps the best way that you can teach a dog.  When used poorly you can teach your dog all sorts of bad habits. 

FOOD

IF YOU DON’T HAVE TIME…

IF YOU DON’T HAVE TIME TO DO IT RIGHT….when will you have time to fix it?

On Facebook recently a colleague brought up the issue of behaviour clients who when asked why they didn’t go to puppy class respond that they didn’t have time. We hear this regularly. Families get a puppy and then don’t have time for class, don’t have time to train, don’t have time to exercise and then they come to us when the puppy is about 8 months old and tell us that the dog is now a nuisance. Further these clients often tell us that they have limited time and resources to fix their issues.

Everywhere I go, I hear about the pressures of time, and how often we spend time doing things such as surfing Facebook and Twitter or doing things that are empty time fillers. I hear about how fast paced life is and how much we each have to do in such a busy society. Apparently the time saving devices such as laundry and dishwashing machines, computers, faxes and phones have in fact created situations where we have so much more to do in our lives that we are busier than ever. In the face of the pressures of busyness at work, social commitments and activities, exercise demands and the pull and push of taking care of ourselves, our family and our community commitments, then when you get a puppy, he can fall between the cracks of other demands on our time.

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The telephone and the computer have all been promoted as labour saving devices, and yet often they are just adding to the amount that we try and do! Your puppy needs your actual attention and he will learn quickly if you are not paying attention to him. Copyright: stockbroker / 123RF Stock Photo

I would like to suggest that a puppy, in all of his frenetic and exciting behaviours is an invitation to slow down for a while. To put aside the busy in your life and take the time to do it right. It doesn’t mean that you have to radically change everything you do, but it does invite some reflection on how we structure our lives around change. What you do in the first 8 to ten weeks that you have a puppy will impact the rest of his or her life. Think about that for a minute. If you get a puppy, and you don’t have time to do it right in those first 8 to ten weeks, when will you have time to fix that?

Getting a puppy can be an expensive proposition in terms of money but also in terms of time. We often hear from new puppy families that they are surprised at the costs they are facing both in terms of money and time, so if you can, it is wise to prepare ahead of time. Before a puppy comes home, carve out the time you will need to spend to help that pup develop to the fullest potential. In our experience, a new puppy requires about three hours a day most days, and five hours a day every day you go to puppy class in order to be successful. Luckily those hours don’t all fall consecutively or we would not get anything done!

In the morning, right off the start, we spend about twenty minutes toileting and feeding our pups. Later in the morning we spend half an hour to 40 minutes with the pup. We repeat this at lunch and dinner and then there are a couple of hours in the evening where the pup spends time with us; we don’t count this as time we have to carve out because we are integrating the puppy into what we do instead of carving time out for things that prevent us from doing what we would normally do.

On class days we have to do all that we normally do plus drive to class, participate in class and then drive home. Sometimes we also carve out time for play dates or to invite guests over to meet the puppy, so three hours is an estimate of a normal day, not a day where we do extras. As the puppy gets older, we shift our interactions with our pups so that they are integrated more and more into our lives, but it is important to recognize that having an adult dog is still going to take an hour out of your day each day to do things like feed, water, and exercise your dog.

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Making time for your pup and your kids, without the pressure of busyness is healthy for everyone and helps to raise your pup to be who he has the potential to be! Copyright: ilona75 / 123RF Stock Photo

If you don’t have three hours a day to devote to getting a puppy, plus a couple of hours each week to take him to puppy class wait to get a dog until you have that time. Far too often what we see are nice families who want a puppy and who get one and initially spend 6 to 8 hours a day on the pup and then drop that down to an hour a day after the first three days. Sadly you cannot pack all that a puppy needs into the first three days! Slow and steady wins the race when it comes to raising a successful puppy! On the first day home, I like things to be quiet and calm for the pup. I like things to be low key so that the pup can quietly get accustomed to living in a new home with new routines and rules. When bringing home a puppy is a big to do, a party and an intense activity, and then you don’t follow that up with the day in and day out needs of the pup for structure, supervision and training, there is terrific potential for fallout.

Puppies are a lot like human toddlers. They need guidance and help to understand the world they are learning about. When toddlers are neglected, we know that grade one is much harder for them. When toddlers don’t get their basic needs for play and social interaction with children their own age, they struggle later with making friends when they go out in the world. This is where taking the time to do it right when your dog is under 16 weeks can really matter. If you don’t teach your puppy when he is young what you want him to know then when he inevitably develops problems then solving them is going to require more time and effort than preventing them.

I personally don’t enjoy the puppy phase very much. Cute just doesn’t motivate me! Never the less, when we have a puppy I take the time out of my day and I do the work that is needed to ensure that my pup will grow up to fulfill the potential he deserves. If I don’t have time to meet the puppy’s needs means that I don’t get that particular puppy. Something I think people sometimes forget is that puppies are always going to be available, but not every time that I want a pup will I have the time to meet his needs. If I don’t have time to do it right, I keep in mind that I likely won’t have time to fix whatever problems develop later.

Getting a puppy is a time where you can reflect on the fact that in our busy lives, there is value in carving out that time to slow down and do the job right from the start. Enrol in puppy class. Give yourself a few extra minutes to meet your pup’s needs. Turn off the TV, the Wi, the Xbox, the net and take that time and repurpose it to meeting the needs of the new life you are bringing into your home. The time you take and give to your pup now will mean a world of difference to his life with you forever. If you don’t have the time to do it right, plan on the time you will need to fix it.

IF YOU DON’T HAVE TIME…

WHY TRAIN YOUR DOG?

Originally posted Tuesday, May 14, 2013

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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

WHY TRAIN YOUR DOG?

RATED R

Originally posted Sunday, May 19, 2013

My dad had a method of rating movies. G movies were good. PG movies were pretty good. R movies were Rotten. XR movies were extra rotten. And when it comes to dog behaviour one of the behaviours people often struggle with are the R rated behaviours; any sexual behaviour and especially humping. Humping seems to be the equivalent of a full frontal nudity scene in a movie; it is at that point where people seem to reliably exhibit one of two reactions; utter fascination or total revulsion. I will warn you now, that if you are squeamish and you don’t want to read about sexual behaviour in dogs, the time to stop reading is right now, because this blog is all about….humping.

Let’s start at the start with the fact that humping is a normal behaviour. Some dogs seem to do more of it than others and some dogs don’t seem to do it at all. Dogs who do it, do it regardless of if they are intact or neutered, male or female. It has nothing to do with dominance. The target can be an object, another dog or a human. Or the cat. And pet owners seem to be endlessly fascinated by it, talking about it, observing it, describing it and ascribing motives to it.

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Humping is a normal behaviour and it doesn’t matter how big or small the humper is, or the humpee!

Dominance is the term used to describe the hierarchy between two or more individuals of the same species when there is a limited resources. I have observed dogs humping in a very wide variety of contexts and I have yet to see a dog use humping to gain access over a resource. You could argue that the humper has control over the humpee, but in my experience, if the humpee doesn’t want to be humped they have very clear ways of explaining that to the humper. If the humper doesn’t listen, then other dogs will often come in to the rescue of the unwilling recipient. Not always, but often. Just this weekend, we are boarding a neutered male who spends much of his time trying to hump our intact bitch Friday. She is due to come into heat in about three months, so he isn’t trying to breed her, although neutered males will breed a bitch in heat. Furthermore, there is an intact male turned out with the neutered male and Friday, and he just doesn’t care that much. Friday will sometimes stand and allow him to hump, and the intact male will sometimes sniff the two of them if they are standing still, but most of the time, Friday uses a different tactic to keep this neutered male from bothering her. She likes to trot just fast enough to keep lover boy on his toes; just when he thinks he can get up on his hind legs, she darts out of his way. Yes, she is a flirt. Today at about three in the afternoon, she must have had enough, because she started running really fast whenever he approached, and when he tried to mount her while she was getting a drink, she turned around and pinned him to the ground. She was really clear when she was done playing the hump me game.

So consider this. The humper got nothing. Friday got a lot of exercise, but she is a very fit, young athletic dog and she wasn’t showing any signs of stress through the 36 hours or so (not continuously; she had turns in the house, and in her crate and out with her normal buddy) that the guest dog spent trying to hump her. When she had enough she explained very clearly to this dog that the game was over and interestingly, he respected that and stopped humping her. The intact male, the smallest of the three dogs didn’t care that the neutered male was humping the intact bitch, and he spent most of the time outside hunting grasshoppers and looking at the horses through the fence and sometimes playing tag with Friday and trying to get her to speed up enough to chase him. How could this be dominance, when the definition of dominance requires that there is some gain for the winner? Could it be that this interaction might possibly have simply been play? That is what I suspect it was. And often that is what I think we see; humping as a normal part of play.

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Here a spayed bitch is humping an intact bitch who is tugging with a neutered male.  This is a completely normal behaviour.  The intact bitch’s ears are pinned not because she is stressed but because she is using her jaw, head and neck muscles to tug with the neutered male.

 

Puppies may start showing this behaviour as early as 4 weeks in the litter. If mom is involved with the litter she will often teach the puppy what is an appropriate amount of humping, who and what they can hump. If the pups have been separated from their dam too early, some pups get to hump without interruption, and they can carry this behaviour further than we might like them to. If your pup is humping and in a puppy class, his classmates will help him to learn who, when and where he can hump, provided they are permitted to do so, and the humans support the humpee if he or she is asking for the humper to stop. A simple delta signal, or warning that says to change behaviour or face the music can help a lot. We say ‘that’s enough” if we feel a youngster is over doing the humping. If he stops and does something else, we allow him to continue playing. If he continues to hump in spite of the recipient asking him to stop and in spite of our warning signal, we say “too bad” and pick the pup up until he settles down and then we return him to play. In general though, the pups do a pretty good job of teaching one another when they should and should not be humping one another.

We often see this behaviour in the context of dogs who are very conflicted and aroused. When they are stressed and uncertain about what to do, we may see dogs humping one another, us or their toys. One of the easiest things to do about this is to address the underlying stresses that the dog is experiencing. This is a prime example of a situation where you really want to take care to use non confrontational training; if the dog is aroused and conflicted, then confronting the dog with an unpleasant consequence is only going to increase, not decrease the stress.

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Here is a humper who is clearly conflicted in some way; his facial expression is not relaxed and his humping is likely a response to just not being sure what to do.  Contrast his expression to that of the humpee who is fairly relaxed in his facial expression.  Photo credit:  Paul Shelbourne, Urban Dog.

There are a few dogs we have met who appear to have a sign tattooed to their hind ends that say the canine equivalent of “hump me, I’m Irish”. Like the human kiss me tee shirts, these don’t seem to be worn by the more confident outgoing dogs. We used to have a dog who boarded with us several times a year and no matter who we put him out with, or walked him with, he would get humped. The only reason he wasn’t humped in our living room is that we have a strict “take it outside” rule for humping that all of our resident dogs completely understand. This dog didn’t seem to mind, and in fact, when other dogs didn’t hump him, he would often throw his hind end into their faces. One of my assistants hypothesized that this may have been his particular way of asking other dogs to play with him. Whatever the reason, he didn’t seem to mind, and we didn’t interfere. This dog never had trouble working with any of the other dogs, including those who had humped him when loose together.

Dogs don’t just hump one another; they also hump things. About ten years ago, a veterinarian I worked with asked me to visit one of her patients in his home. At 9:00pm every evening, just after the kids went to bed, the dog was suspected of having seizures. Video cameras were much less common then, so she asked if I could drop by and observe for her and tell her what I saw. The dog lived in my neighbourhood and I was happy to oblige. I arrived at about 8:30 and the couple greeted me at the door. The kids were at a neighbour’s and we had the opportunity to watch this dog in action. The dog was a two year old neutered male maltese. I asked a bunch of questions and it turned out that this dog had a very extensive ritual that he went through before the “event”.

At 8:45, he would begin to pace and pant. He would get gradually more and more excited, and then he would start jumping against the cupboard door where one particular special toy was kept. I asked what would happen if they didn’t get the toy out. He became dangerously aggressive towards whomever was nearest. Dominance? Nope, they aren’t the same species. Let’s call this what it is; dangerous, obnoxious, rude behaviour that had been put on a reinforcement schedule. In other words, the family had taught the dog that by being aggressive he could get his toy.

At about five minutes to nine, the couple opened the door, got out a stuffed bear and gave it to the dog. The dog grabbed the toy and ran to the living room couch, jumped up and began to hump away like crazy. The husband started to get quite upset; “see”, he asked? “See, he is having a seizure!” Gently I tried to explain to them that the dog was masturbating and was very good at it. The husband turned beet red and the wife began to laugh. She was nearly hysterical with her laughter. I was left trying to “normalize” the information I had to share about normal behaviour in neutered males, but the more I explained the more the woman laughed, with tears eventually rolling down her cheeks.

About seven minutes after he started, the dog was finished and he relaxed, jumped off the couch and went to lie down in his bed and we were able to talk again. The husband was still fairly tense, but the wife kept breaking into giggles. What was so funny? Well, it turns out that at Christmas the past year, her uncle had a video camera and had taken film which he was showing around his seniors home in Florida, with the residents baffled at what the fluffy little white dog was doing to his bear.

In dozens if not hundreds of species, animal behaviourists have observed masturbating in both males and females. Kagaroos? Yes. Horses? Yes. Bonobos? It is pretty much the single most common behaviour they show, both in captivity and in the wild. And yes, domestic dogs masturbate. The solution I suggested and the family chose to take up was to do some obedience training at about twenty minutes to nine in the evening each night and then give the bear to the dog in a quiet private room. As a friend of mine told her five year old daughter-“that is something special we do by ourselves with the door closed.” As a side note, discussing this with the family it turned out that they were so afraid that the bear might be lost or damaged that they had gone to the petstore and found out where the bear was made, and special ordered twenty of them. Yes, they had a dresser drawer full of maltese terrier sized masturbation pillows.

I remember going to a John Rogerson seminar several years ago where he described collecting all the male police dogs each week in a large canine program he worked with. The image baffled the mind; ten young men and their German Shepherds, every Thursday afternoon sounds implausible, but that is what he claimed they did to prevent the dogs from spending time and energy humping things they ought not, or spending time in their crates masturbating instead of resting. I am not sure how well that worked, but according to John Rogerson, this was standard practice in this particular program.

I have also worked with bitches, both intact and spayed who have humped items as diverse as their owners, the arm of the living room couch, pillows, laundry and on one interesting case, a specific log in the yard. I have had clients who have put the behaviour on cue and brought it out as a party trick, not realizing what they have trained the dog to do. This behaviour is normal, and in my opinion the best thing to do when it happens is to redirect the dog onto an appropriate item in an appropriate place. It is important to understand that this behaviour is inherently self rewarding, and if you spend a lot of time trying to stop the dog from doing it, the dog is going to become difficult to handle. In the words of the Beatles…Let it be.

My exception to interrupting this behaviour is when the target of the dog’s affection is a non canine animal. When the target is the family cat or a child, then I intervene, immediately, with “that’s enough/too bad”. When the target is an able bodied adult, I teach them how to do this effectively. Combining this tactic with controlling arousal and opportunities to hump more appropriate opportunities usually resolves this problem very quickly.

There is some evidence that neutering before sexual maturity may decrease humping and I have seen this happen, but it doesn’t happen without behaviour modification support. Without boundaries and rules, whether imposed by people or by other dogs, the neutered dog is going to continue, for the same reason that masturbating occurs in every other species; because it feels good.

RATED R

101 REASONS THAT YOU DON’T THINK YOU NEED PUPPY CLASS

 

When people ask me what the most important thing they can do to get started on the right paw with their puppy I tell them to come to puppy class. The sad thing is that I hear 101 reasons why people don’t think they need puppy class.

Housetraining is going pretty well…he only makes mistakes once or twice a day!

He comes when he is called already-I don’t need to take a puppy class!

I have another dog at home-he doesn’t need more friends than that!

None of my other dogs went to puppy class and they were fine!

 

If you have thought it, I have probably heard it in answer to why you aren’t coming to puppy class. Why is it then that I am so insistent that your puppy, and my puppy and every puppy deserves puppy class? I have 101 reasons for you to come to puppy class and here are a few of them.

At one conference I attended, we heard that 80% of the dogs who die before the age of two die of preventable behaviour problems, and hundreds of thousands of dogs die before the age of two each year. You can do some simple things to ensure that your puppy won’t be one of those puppies who die of a preventable behaviour problem by coming to puppy class. Do we prevent 100% of the behaviour problems in puppy class? Of course not, but we have a pretty darned good track record, and puppy class is one of the things that has been shown to prevent a lot of behaviour problems.

Puppies are learning sponges and they are almost preprogrammed to absorb the important lessons that they will need to succeed in your home before they are about twenty weeks of age. Before a puppy is 20 weeks of age, he will learn what surfaces are legal to toilet upon, who he is permitted to greet, how to greet other dogs and people politely, what is legal to chew upon and who is the best bet in the house for fun and games. After twenty weeks, puppies are well prepared to learn to apply what they have learned in their first twenty weeks but they are not as proficient at learning the rules of your home. In puppy class you will get help and support you need to be successful. Could you teach this yourself without the support of a class? Sure, but in class you are going to learn what is new in the world of dog training and a lot of the new stuff will not have trickled down to me if I had not been taking continuing education credits all the way along-take advantage of the work your instructor does to keep current on dog training methods.

I often hear that puppies are going to the dog park to learn to interact with other dogs or that there is an adult dog in the home to teach the puppy what to do when meeting other dogs. There are a few problems with this logic. To start with, the dog park is a free for all where any dog can show up and go off leash. If you don’t have control over who your puppy meets, you have no idea if your pup is meeting the sweet older dog who is calm and confident or the bruiser who is looking to roll your puppy and take the stuffing out of him.

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These dogs look like they are having a good time, but they are all large active breed dogs. If you insert your puppy into this play group, your pup could get hurt or become the target of a larger dog. Young puppies learn great play skills and acquire bite inhibition by playing with dogs who are their own age. Copyright: maratr / 123RF Stock Photo

Adult dogs have a lot to teach puppies, but one of the things they cannot do is be a puppy themselves. Normal puppy behaviour develops best when puppies have other puppies to play with. Pups have tiny needle sharp teeth and they use these on one another during play. If one pup bites another puppy too had, the second puppy will let out a big yelp and will stop playing with the first puppy. This process of rough and tumble is an important step in teaching young dogs to modulate their bites and acquire bite inhibition. Good bite inhibition is what allows dogs to grab things with their mouths and not do damage, and that skill is fine tuned between puppies, not between puppies and adults.

Waiting to go to puppy class until after the puppy has started showing problems is a common mistake people make all the time. Before a puppy is 16 weeks of age, he will follow you around almost all the time, and if you call him he will come. This is a normal developmental stage for pups. Sometime between 14 and 20 weeks though, your puppy is going to suddenly become quite a bit more independent and the cute little guy who followed you around will suddenly become a whole lot more active and a whole lot less interested in placidly following your lead. One of the things that you get out of puppy class is a chance to teach your pup to come when called not just when he is doing that because he doesn’t have a lot of confidence to explore yet, but to come when called all the time. The more work you put into that right off the bat, in a more formal setting, the more likely it is that your pup will know what to do when he is approaching puberty and beginning to become more independent.

In puppy class we can help you to trouble shoot too; we can help you to head problems off as they develop. From house soiling to inappropriate chewing to jumping up and manners, we are the ones who can help you to develop the best in your puppy before the problems start or as soon as you see them. If your pup has been doing really well with house training and suddenly starts to have trouble, we can usually tell if this is due to how you are approaching house training or if you should go to the vet, and we are really happy to talk to you about how to tell the difference. The same is true when a puppy suddenly develops a dietary issue or if they suddenly stop sleeping through the night. Often, when a pup comes to class with a sudden change we can figure out if the problem is training, developmental or if the pup needs to see the vet.

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If your puppy’s behaviour suddenly changes, tell us. If we think it is a training issue, we can tell you what to do and if we think there is a medical issue we will send you to your vet! This is something we can help you with in puppy class! Copyright: photodeti / 123RF Stock Photo

We can also help you to see when your puppy’s behaviour is typical of his breeding or if it is something else. When families tell us that their retriever puppy is carrying shoes all over the house or that their terrier puppy is digging in the yard, we can tell you that this is pretty normal behaviour for those dogs. When a family comes in and tells us that the puppy is spinning endlessly until he falls over and then repeating that behaviour we can tell you that this is not normal and that there might be a problem. Puppy class is the chance for you to check in with a professional who can help you to understand more about your individual dog because we see so many puppies.

You may not ever have trouble with your puppy and you may in fact already know how to socialize and train a puppy, and I would still suggest puppy class. Heck, I go to puppy class with my own pups. Why? Because it is fun. Because I will get to meet the puppies who will become my dog’s friends when he is an adult. Because I will meet the people I will walk with when my pup is older. Because for 90 minutes each week, I can turn off my cell phone and just focus on everything puppy and watch my pup learn and change and grow. Because it is the first thing that my puppy and I will do as partners. For the rest of his life, what I do with my puppy before 16 weeks will impact the nature of the relationship we will have together, and it all starts in puppy class.

 

101 REASONS THAT YOU DON’T THINK YOU NEED PUPPY CLASS

BUT SHE IS BORED!

In North America, and likely in other parts of the developed world, we belong to the TV generation. If we don’t achieve a major milestone before the next commercial, then we don’t think we are successful, and we don’t think that we should continue along the route that we are already taking. In behaviour modification and training, slow and steady is almost always the key to success, and that doesn’t happen in the twelve and a half minutes that happen between network commercials. Perhaps if real dog training happened on network TV, people would have a better idea of what happens when you work on training with an animal. Wouldn’t that be a reality show? Four months of weekly installments on a puppy making great strides from time to time, interspersed with long periods of careful development of behaviours that form the foundation for more complex work.

 

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If this is the attitude you bring to your training sessions, your dog won’t be very interersted in what you are doing. Dogs are very emotional creatures and they notice if we are not paying attention or engaging in the task at hand. Attitude in training is very much a case of you get what you give! Copyright: fserega / 123RF Stock Photo

I have a couple of students in class at the moment who tell me that their dogs are bored. Let’s look at what it means to be bored. According to Wikipedia “Boredom has been defined by C. D. Fisher, in terms of its central psychological processes: “an unpleasant, transient affective state in which the individual feels a pervasive lack of interest in and difficulty concentrating on the current activity.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boredom). There is more to it than that, and the boredom article goes on to discuss types of boredom and how they impact learning. Often what I notice in training is that the dog, in theory the learner, is not bored, but the trainer may be bored. Sometimes the dogs who are described as bored are independent and don’t really have buy in to the trainer’s agenda. So what can be done to better engage the trainer and the learner in the process, so that neither one of them experiences this unpleasant, transient affective state?

 

To start with, define what you want. If you want your dog to be interested in what you want her to do, you have to know what it is you want. If you have a dog who is mostly interested in doing his own thing, happy to turn his back on you, and engage with the universe as it interests him, then you are going to need to consider if what you really want is a dog who will engage with you. If you don’t then training is going to be a lot more challenging, because you are going to be in a battling economy of what is more valuable; me and the training process or every other thing in the environment. Attempting to train by being more interesting than dirt is hard work. Engagement with you is going to be rewarding for both you and the dog if you do it right. Consider playing your dog’s game for a moment.

 

If your dog is standing on the end of the leash gazing longingly out at the wall opposite you, yearning for the opportunity to explore it, then DO THAT. If you want your dog to engage with you, then engage with her. If you are all about training on your terms only, then you can try something else, but if you want your dog to engage with you on your agenda then at some point you need to meet her half way. Once you start engaging with your dog on his or her own terms, it is much easier to start to get your dog to engage with you. Engaging with your dog can be as simple as opening a bag of dog treats and helping your dog to explore that. Open the bag as you might for a young child. Look in. Offer it to the dog to look in. Before he can shove his whole head in to take everything, pull it away, reach in and get a treat out to share with him. If you use a bag of cheezies, you can give him one and then have one yourself. Sharing is a big part of engaging with your dog.

 

Once you and your dog are engaged with one another, then teaching skills is much easier. If you want to teach your dog to walk on a leash without dragging you along, you can take your dog on leash to a location where you have control over the stuff she wants. Then wait. If you are engaged with your dog, you will notice subtle shifts and changes in how she experiences the world. If she is standing there longing for the wall, wait. Now it is your turn. If you disengage from attending to your dog, then you won’t catch that moment when she turns to you and asks you what you are doing. She is only going to ask once, so if you miss that chance to share your treats with your dog the moment that she tries to engage the tiniest bit with you, then that chance is gone and the next time she offers to attend to you, she is going to offer you less not more attention. If you catch her asking to join in your game you can offer her something that you both find interesting.

 

What I observe time and again is that trainers don’t remain engaged long enough to actually get the engagement they want from their dogs. Beginner trainers often stand with their backs to their dogs, looking around at anything other than the dog they have come to train. If you cannot attend to your dog long enough to catch her when she attends to you, then why would you think that your dog will have any more attention than you do? If you cannot give your dog more than thirty seconds to disengage from whatever has caught her eye, then why would your dog stay engaged in what interests you, especially if it is difficult or needs a lot of concentration, as leash walking does?

 

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Training should be a two way street. This trainer is taking advantage of her pup’s interest in the toy to establish a relationship so that later on when she asks the pup to do something she wants to do, the puppy will be more likely to share her game! Copyright: toonartist / 123RF Stock Photo

Dogs are not automatons. They think, they breathe, they have interests of their own and they have their own agendas. We also have our own interests, drives and desires. Often, in order to have a dog, the dog ends up having to accommodate our interests more than we accommodate what they need. The dog’s priorities are her own, and if we are not going to share in what she is interested in, then why do we think she will share in what we are interested in? Most often we choose to get the dog, instead of the dog choosing to live with us, so if the dog is bored, especially in training class it is up to us to determine what she is interested in and use that as part of the training process.

 

 

BUT SHE IS BORED!

DON’T LET HIM DO THAT!

Lately we have had a pile of puppy owners asking us how to prevent their pups from misbehaving. In exasperation, one day John replied “Don’t let him do that!” and the client looked at him completely baffled. One important part of our way of puppy raising is to let the puppies learn through experience what happens if they do certain things. In our house that means that puppies who pick up shoes get put in their crates. Puppies who jump up on me get put in their crates. Puppies who sit nicely get let out of their crates. Puppies who sit and stay get their dinner. Puppies who bark in their crates get to stay right where they are. Puppies who cry in the night get taken outside to pee. The list goes on and on and on as our puppies learn what happens when they do various things. There are some things however that our puppies don’t get the chance to do.

 

When clients ask us how to stop their pups from toileting in the house, we tell them, don’t let him do that! We don’t allow our puppies out of our sight in the house until they have shown us that they won’t toilet indoors over a long period of time. To start with, our puppies don’t get to explore the house unattended. We don’t let them toilet indoors by making sure that they have lots of chances to toilet outdoors, and we control when they eat so that we know when they will need to go. When they are outside of their crates, they are supervised, 100% of the time and if it looks like they need to go, we gently pick them up and take them out to toilet where we want them to go. We just don’t let them toilet indoors.

 

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This puppy is doing a few things I would prefer he didn’t. If this was my puppy, and he was meeting this lady for the first time, I would not let him hold his leash or climb the lady and the lady wouldn’t be allowed to get this close until my pup was calmer and ready to behave the way I want him to when meeting a new person. In short I wouldn’t let him grab his leash or climb the lady! Copyright: dusanzidar / 123RF Stock Photo

When we are asked how to stop puppies from jumping up on guests, we don’t let them do that either; when guests come to the house, we prepare by having our pups in their crates as the guests arrive, and then we bring them to the guests on leash. We know that pups need to learn what to do when meeting a guest, so we don’t just let our pups meet guests and hope for the best; we don’t let them do that. For clarity, what we usually do is to allow the guest in, and then get them seated. Then we bring the puppy in on leash and we work with the puppy, clicking and treating behaviours that he already knows. When he is calm and engaged with someone he knows then we introduce him to the guest, again using the clicker to mark behaviours we like, such as sitting for attention. And we don’t let the guest do our training for us either! We don’t ask our guests to treat the puppy for good behaviour; we know what we want the pup to learn and we don’t leave that to chance.

 

Often people will ask what to do about pulling on leash and again, we point out that we don’t let puppies pull on leash. Sometimes in training we have to do what is called a work around. In the case of pulling on leash, the work around we use is called the magic collar system; we have one collar that is magic; we only use it for training loose leash behaviour. The rest of the time we use a different collar, harness or head halter to differentiate what we are working on and we teach the pup that the rules are looser in that situation. We work around puppies pulling by teaching that one collar is magic and allows pulling and the other collar is a different kind of magic and doesn’t allow pulling!

 

How about getting into the garbage? Again, we just don’t let puppies do that! We keep garbage behind gates and doors so that pups cannot get into things. The same is true for almost everything that we do. Getting in the front seat of a moving vehicle? Don’t let your puppy do that by putting him in a crate in the vehicle when travelling. Harassing the older dog in the home? Keep them separate except for training time. Chewing up personal items? Put things away pre-emptively. The key is to think ahead about what behaviours you want your puppy to engage in and what behaviours you don’t want your puppy to engage in, and then preventing your pup from having the chance to do things you don’t want him to do.

 

The thing to remember about young dogs is that they come without experience. If you are going to expect a young dog to interact with something new in his life, and you don’t structure that interaction to begin with, you are training him to guess and often, being a young animal with an exuberant temperament, he is going to make the wrong choice. When your pup makes the wrong choice, you can do one of any number of things. You can be harsh and punitive and unpleasant and hope he doesn’t repeat the error. Not a good idea but something to think about. You can be gentle but interrupt the puppy; a better alternative, but still not ideal. You can remove the pup and allow him to try again; still better than the last alternative, but still not the best kind of training you can do for a puppy. The gold standard in training is to set your pup up to succeed in the first place by preventing the undesired behaviour from happening.

 

Perhaps the most confusing to students but common situation is what to do on the street when the puppy meets new people. Our clients usually don’t want their young puppies to learn to jump up to greet, but they also don’t want to not introduce their new addition to the neighbourhood. In this case, we can prevent our dogs from doing things we don’t want by controlling distance. When you are approaching a friend, regardless of if they have another dog or not, there is going to be a point at which your dog begins to get excited. That point, or threshold, is where you need to stop approaching and take a break. Doing this teaches young dogs that they cannot bounce around and be silly when they are meeting and greeting people. By only moving forward when your pup is calm, he learns that self control gets him what he wants.

 

The biggest error we see at puppy school is the puppy owner who gets a young dog and then allows her to roam free through the house from the first day on. Often things go well at first; for the first few days, while the puppy is novel, family members attend to the puppy and notice when he is getting into things and they intervene. Over time however, the puppy begins to become familiar with the home, and wanders away from supervision. When this happens, you cannot prevent problems and then you have to solve them; not an ideal situation. Next, the family wants to take the puppy out in the neighbourhood, and they start to run into even bigger problems because they don’t have any plans to avoid problems. The puppy learns to pull on leash, jump on people and grab trash and dropped items to play with or eat. In medicine, it is common to say that prevention is the best cure, and this is true of training as well. We need to prevent these problems from starting and start by teaching our pups what we want them to do. The best way to do that involves planning and supervision. It really isn’t difficult but it does mean being aware of what you are doing.

 

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When you teach your dog what to do and how to behave when he is a youngster, then when he grows up he will be the kind of dog you can trust to be kind to a child. This is what a mannerly dog looks like! Copyright: yuliang11 / 123RF Stock Photo

Good planning and supervision means that you know what you want your pup to learn and you set up situations where he can learn what we want him to learn, and then you supervise what is happening to make that happen. One of the best things you can do to make planning and supervision work for you is to join a good puppy class. In class you will likely get a list of behaviours to work on and that can serve as a good guideline to help you to determine what your pup should be doing and at what age. It also provides you with a support group to help you to make your plan work. We even take our own pups to puppy class!

 

DON’T LET HIM DO THAT!

PLAN B

Originally posted July 2013

When we get a puppy, we are happy and looking forward.  We look forward to the times we will spend in the company of our adult dog, and all things we will do and all the fun we will do together.  We realize that there will be work along the way, including taking the dog to the vet, training and cleaning up after him, not to mention the dust bunnies and other household reminders he will leave in his wake.  What we often don’t think about is Plan B.

Plan B is what we intend to do in the event of an unexpected tragedy.  How will we deal with an unexpected surgery?  How about when the gate gets left open, and the dog gets out?  What about your own health; who is going to feed, walk and water your dog when you are ill?  What if you die?  When we get a puppy, it is a good idea to have a Plan B for all the things we can think about that the dog might encounter through his life that we wish he didn’t.

I encourage everyone to spend some time planning for medical emergencies, and who will care for your dog in the event that you are incapacitated or if you pass away.  Everyone should think about who will take care of your animals in the event that you cannot.  Our animals cannot care for themselves without our help and if they are presented with a situation where they cannot get the care they need, they could end up in a rescue or at the humane society.  Beyond your animals’ basic care though, there are a lot of things that we can do to help our pets to be successful and not get into trouble.

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Teaching your dog to sit when the door opens could save his life.  Just keep in mind that if you are depending on prompting your dog, then it will only work when you are there to prompt him.  I would encourage this person to use putting his hand on the door as the cue to sit instead of his pointed finger!  Image credit: alexeys / 123RF Stock Photo

Let’s start with sitting at the door.  If your dog is accustomed to sitting before going out of your house then if the door is accidentally thrown open, your dog isn’t going to bolt out and into the street.  Making sitting at the door a priority also prevents your dog from bolting out in the event that you have to bring things into the house or a guest inadvertently opens the door for you.  On the flip side, don’t make your dog sit to come in.  Make coming in the house a really rewarding and valuable experience.  I had a dog who used to enjoy jumping our back fence.  To keep that dog safe, I taught him to come to the front door if he escaped the back yard.  He thought this was a great game.  Once he understood to come to the front door if he escaped the fence, then I dog proofed the fence and made it very difficult for him to jump the fence.  Why did I not just fix the fence to begin with?  Simply because that might fail and I wanted a set of behavioural suspenders to go with the belt that fixing the fence was.  I wanted my dog to have a Plan B should he ever get out again.

Another very important behaviour is for your dog to really enjoy having his collar grabbed, by anyone, anytime.  There is a dog who has been missing in Guelph for over a month now, and I regularly get emails and Facebook notes that a dog is missing and has been sighted.  Often these posters come with a note about not grabbing the dog because he is timid.  The best favour you can do for your dog if he is lost is to teach him that being caught and grabbed is a great and exciting thing to do.  It is really easy to do this.  Walk up to your dog with a treat, grab his collar and give him a treat.  Let go and repeat.  Get everyone in the house to do this.  If your dog is timid, work slowly and gently until you can grab any part of his body without warning and make it fun for your dog.  The fact is that if your dog is timid and gets loose, then someone is going to try and grab him, and probably by whatever is the closest body part.

Teach your dog to automatically leave things that they find.  Having a leave it on cue is not as important a behaviour as being able to walk past something that your dog wants and having him just automatically leave it alone.  Consider what might happen for instance if your dog is alone at home and you have left a grocery bag on the floor with a box of baker’s chocolate inside.  Would your dog automatically leave it, or would he only leave it if you had identified that the bag was off limits?  At Dogs in the Park, we teach the dogs that nothing is theirs unless we identify it to them.  The broader implication of this is that if my dog walks down the street and there is something that he should not have on the ground, I don’t have to be on alert to notice it first.  This has so many applications.  One of my colleagues’ mother came to visit once.  Her mom takes a very heavy duty medication and dropped a pill in the house.  Her older dog didn’t eat the pill, but her young puppy did and was very sick because of that.  I cannot count how often I have dropped my own medications, and my dogs all look up not down when that happens.

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Here a dog learns to come over a pile of toys and treats.  This prepares him to be able to cope with things that don’t belong to him falling in front of him, and he won’t touch them even if he wants them.  Asking first is a great tool for teaching dogs to leave things that don’t belong to them.  Photo Credit:  Sue Alexander

Teach your dog that it is safe to come when called to whomever calls.  Playing lots of recall games helps a lot with keeping dogs safe in the event that they ever get away from you.  Playing games with your dog in fact builds trust and bonds and helps dogs to understand that they are able to come when called no matter who calls them.  Periodically, I have a client who wants to teach their dog cues in a different language.  I do this for Schutzhund, where we do most of our cues in German.  My dogs also know the common English equivalent.  I want to make sure that if something happened and someone else needed to help my dog, he could come when called.

All my dogs learn to wear muzzles when they are puppies and we practice periodically throughout their lives.  My dogs don’t live in boxes; they do stuff.  They will likely get hurt.  They will need veterinary attention, and using a muzzle keeps them and the vet safe while the vet does things that hurt.  Muzzles are perhaps the best tool invented to keep people safe and we need to keep in mind that if your dog needs to wear one, that is not a slight against your dog.  That is the veterinarian taking reasonable steps to keep everyone safe.  When your dog is in pain, he is not likely going to behave the way that he might when he is not in pain.  There is no glory in having a dog who doesn’t need a muzzle and there is a lot of glory in keeping your vet safe.

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D’fer had a very serious cut pad that needed medical attention including some surgery to clean it out and stitch it up.  You can see that he is relaxed and concerned when the vet is looking at his foot.  Why should we muzzle a dog who is tolerating this?  Because we want to keep the veterinarian safe and even though D’fer is a real gentleman of a dog who has never ever tried to bite anyone, we don’t feel the need to take any risks with our veterinarian.  Photo Credit:  Sue Alexander

Perhaps the most important thing I can do to help my dog have a good Plan B is to make sure that he is well socialized to begin with.  If I am working with an adult dog who is timid it is a very high priority to teach him that he can trust people not to harm him.  This is sometimes difficult when you are working with a dog who was not properly socialized or who has been traumatized, but if something goes wrong, I want my dog to know that he is not going to come to harm if someone tries to help him.  If I am ever in a car accident with my dogs on board, or if I am injured on the trail and a search party is trying to find me, I want my dog to accept that help, no matter what the person looks like or what they are wearing or doing.

Plan B is something we don’t talk enough about.  Years ago, we didn’t talk about fire drills either, but we know they save lives.  The best thing we can do to help our dogs live long healthy and safe lives is to think about Plan B long before we need it.

PLAN B

YOU HAVE EIGHT WEEKS AND THEN YOU DON’T!

Originally published May 2013

I just got an email from a lady who described her 4 year old dog as a puppy, and she wondered if he was old enough to start coming to school because he was driving her crazy.  The problem is that her dog is not a puppy.  The term puppy is roughly equivalent to the human term infant or baby.  Puppyhood is one of the most interesting periods of development of a dog.  A puppy, technically speaking is a dog under about 16 to 20 weeks.  After that he is a young adolescent.

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This is NOT a puppy.  This is an adult dog and it is too late to do puppy classes or puppy socialization.

The neonatal stage is when puppies are just born and lasts until they are about 13 days of age.  From 1 to 3 days, you can start dramatically improve a puppy’s chance to be a stable, resilient adult dog with a great immune system, but it must start in the earliest days.  The process for doing this takes the first couple of weeks and is called Early Neurological Stimulation.  If you are going to invest in a puppy, make sure whomever whelped the litter you are interested in is doing this because we know that this will improve the likelihood of your puppy having a successful adult life.  If your breeder has no idea what you are talking about, you can direct them to http://tinyurl.com/a8clbhwI am willing to pay more for a puppy who has had the benefit of this procedure because the science on this is very clear; it develops brains that are as much as ten percent larger and immune systems that are significantly healthier, as well as better resilience.  Better resilience means that your pup will tolerate handling better, will tolerate frightening situations better and will come back to baseline faster when frightened.  They also learn more effectively in my experience.

At about thirteen days to twenty days, the puppies are in a stage called the transitional stage.  At this stage, they start opening their eyes and ears and they start to be able to learn about their world.  Pups at this age need lots of different footing, and objects to investigate but they really aren’t doing things yet.  They don’t walk, although they do begin to creep and crawl in a more organized way.  At this stage the breeder should be handling them a lot; several times a day, the breeder can get into the litter box and cuddle and tickle the pups and restrain them.  Doing this prepares them to be handled when they are older.  Quiet visitors can come in provided they are wearing clean clothes.  If you are buying a puppy, you should be able to begin meeting the litter towards the end of this stage.  You won’t be choosing a puppy though; you are helping to raise a confident happy adult dog by helping the breeder to gently handle those pups.

Around about 21 to 23 days is a really interesting “blip” in development where the pups have a sudden sensory development period.  This stage is called the awareness period and it is during this period that the puppies start to waddle around a lot more and begin forming social relationships with the other pups and their dam.  Puppies in pairs can start to be introduced to different rooms in the house, and a variety of different surfaces.

The canine socialization period occurs between three and seven weeks of age; this is the age where pups learn the most about being a dog.  They learn that if they bite too hard, their littermates will squeal and mom may interrupt them and make them stop playing.  Mom has a very important role to play in this stage and if she is removed from the puppies at this age, they may always have a little bit of trouble with dog to dog interactions.  This is perhaps the most important time for bite inhibition and lays the foundations for pups to learn about how to use their mouths appropriately.  When pups are separated from their littermates and mom during this stage, big problems can evolve.  We have recently been seeing rescues that remove pups from litters of feral dogs in this window and we often see these dogs develop significant problems later on.  If you are considering a puppy from a rescue, ensure that the rescue has kept the litter together until at least seven weeks.

The next big stage that comes along is the human socialization period from seven to twelve weeks.  In my experience the advantage of the breeder keeping the puppies for a week into this stage is that the puppies have a solid start with a knowledgeable handler and you can use that week between seven and 8 weeks to visit the litter and get to know the pups.  At seven weeks, your puppy can come home, and there is going to be little harm in doing so, but in my opinion and experience that extra week with the breeder can really help.

From 8 to 12 weeks more or less is the time when puppies learn about people and how to live with them.  Everything you do during that time frame will impact how your pup sees and meets people in adulthood.  If you overwhelm and frighten your puppy while meeting someone during this time, he will store that information for future reference, so you need to make certain that puppies have a lot of really positive, happy experiences with a wide variety of people.  Concurrent with this phase, puppies may go through a period where they are suddenly afraid of things they may have encountered in the past.  Often called a fear period, this developmental phase is about learning about things that are dangerous.  It might be better to call this a sensitive period, when the puppy is sensitive to new experiences.  This works really well for things like understanding that jumping off a cliff or throwing yourself into a raging river might be dangerous, but it works less well for a puppy living in a relatively safe environment in our homes.  Puppies can develop weird fears such as the fear of their water bowl, or fear of the blender in the kitchen.  If you notice your puppy suddenly afraid of normal things in his world, don’t worry; this is very normal; you just need to expose your puppy to these things slowly and carefully to ensure that they learn what is actually safe, and what is actually dangerous.

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These puppies are learning about being handled by strangers in puppy class.  When they are 24 weeks, the socialization window will be completely closed and you will never again be able to access the flexibility of acceptance that they have at this stage in their lives.

At about twelve weeks, your socialization window starts to close, and by the time your puppy is 16 weeks, it is mostly shut.  Occasionally that window will remain open as late at 20 weeks, but the lions share of the work of exposing your puppy to people, places and things must be completed by the time that your pup is 16 weeks of age.  If you got your puppy at 8 weeks, that means that you have 8 more weeks to do great socialization.  Once that socialization period is over, it is over.  At 16 weeks, when the window closes, you are finished.  You have 8 weeks, and then, you are done.

More and more often we are seeing puppies coming home later than 8 weeks; some dogs are being advertized by breeders and rescues as puppies as late as 24 weeks, well into early adolescence.  These young dogs can no longer be easily socialized to things that are new, and if the puppy’s breeder or rescue hasn’t done the things they should have done to help the dog to learn about the world around him, then you are behind the eight ball and the longer you delay addressing the problem, the more difficult your job will be.

The socialization window doesn’t slam shut at 16 weeks, so you CAN insert some experiences in and still have an effect, but the longer you delay, the more difficult it will be to help your dog to integrate the experiences in a positive effective way, and sadly your dog is well past the time when you can benefit from going to puppy class.  This is why most puppy classes ensure that dogs must register in time for puppies to complete puppy class by the time they have reached 24 weeks, when that window is really closed tight.

Another issue we are seeing more and more of in puppy classes is families who come to puppy class for the first few weeks, and then skip a few weeks and then return when the puppy is smack dab in the middle of their sensitive or fear period.  Then the puppy owner wonders why their pup is not succeeding in puppy class.  That eight week period that immediately follows coming home is the most important time in your relationship with your dog.

Families are busy people and often they have other things they need to do.  Kids play hockey and soccer, and parents are involved with choirs and volunteer as youth leaders and coaches.  Families want to add dogs to their lives in the hopes of improving their lives.  Motivations for getting a family pet vary from family to family, but very few people get a dog in the hope of having an animal who lunges and barks at strangers and who is afraid of the garbage truck and the mailman.  If your goal is to have a great pet, then you have to take that eight week period seriously.  During the eight weeks after your dog arrives home, putting the time into his training should be a big priority.

Some families try and shoehorn in their puppy’s needs and skip puppy classes when other commitments get in the way.  On the other hand, we have had families develop very sophisticated schedules in order to meet their puppy’s needs for class and for out of class socialization.  We have seen families arrange for the kids to get car pool rides to lessons and then join the class part way through.  We have seen families who have put commitments to choirs and volunteer work on hold for the eight weeks that they are involved in puppy class.  We don’t want families to completely shut down their lives during their puppy’s socialization period, but we do hope they will understand that this eight week period is special, and if you miss it, it is gone.

The take home message here is that puppyhood is important and it only happens once.  If you don’t have time to socialize and do the early training that you want your pup to have as an adult, if you cannot carve out the opportunities to carefully and thoughtfully expose your puppy to the things that you want him to cope with as an adult, you may want to hold out on getting your pup until you have the time.

YOU HAVE EIGHT WEEKS AND THEN YOU DON’T!