Sunday, January 30, 2011

Moving and New Move Resolutions

The Positive Paw pack just moved from the beautiful mountains of western North Carolina to eastern North Carolina.  Like many trainers, I have a vocation (horticulture) that helps to support my avocation (dogs, horses and critters of all sorts).  When I was offered a fabulous “real job” closer to the coast, it was too great an opportunity to pass up.  So the kids and I loaded up the Uhaul and headed east.  (Just kidding, I loaded up the Uhaul with a friend and the kids mostly spectated.) 
We have been in our new home for less than 48 hours and I thought this would be a good time to discuss ways to help your pack transition better when and if you have to move:

  • Crate training really helps! 

My dogs were crated far more than usual for several days while we loaded the Uhaul (I didn’t want anyone slipping out the door and into the road!), drove (the dogs don’t ride loose in the car – see the entries on “My Not So Excellent Adventure” and “This is How We Roll”) and unloaded.  Luckily my dogs are very used to and comfortable in their crates, so this extended crate time didn’t stress them out.  In fact, in light of all the chaos going on around them being crated actually helped them to settle and relax.  It also allowed me to focus on packing and loading efficiently instead of worrying about the pups. 

Once we were unloaded in the new house, I brought the dogs in and they all ran back into their crates.  I had to laugh because this was after spending the night (while we stayed at a hotel) and most of the day in the car!!  I didn’t shut the doors, but it was great to know that after all that time crated, they came into the new house and were reassured to find their crates.  In a changing situation, they view their crates as their “safe place” and spot to relax.  Of course, you could do the same thing with a dog bed but the real advantage to the crate is that you can shut the door and have that added protection of knowing your dog is confined when you need it. 

At home, my dogs aren’t normally crated during the day but I am crating them when I go out right now.  We have moved from a very rural setting to one with neighbors.  Crating them when I leave means they can’t practice any undesirable behaviors like standing up and looking out the windows or barking at the neighbors or birds in the backyard while I am gone.  Once we are all comfortable in the new house, I’ll gradually transition back to not crating during the day.

  • Provide happy constructive activities to keep your dog busy and entertained.

Since the dogs were spending *way* more time in their crates than usual, I focused on giving them plenty of good chewing opportunities (recreational raw bones are the norm in my house but you could stuff kongs or any other treat dispensing toy).  I did a tiny bit of trick training before each meal to give each of them a little individual interaction (usually it was just a couple of repetitions behaviors they already know like sit, lie down, high five, touch, rollover).  I also sacrificed a couple of small cardboard boxes, paper towel rolls and some newspaper for the girls to run around with, tear up and destroy. 

  • Aim for as much consistency as you can. 

I tried to keep my pets’ routines as normal as possible.  For the dogs, this meant getting out for a little walk in the usual places – even if we couldn’t go as far or as long as normal.  I also tried to make time every night for the girls’ indoor playtime even though it had to be shortened (sometimes it was only a couple of minutes long).  For Ben, I made it a point not miss evening snuggle time – even if it was for just a minute or two.  For the cats, it meant leaving them in my old house for a couple of days after everything was packed even though I was staying with a friend.  This way, I wasn’t bouncing them between multiple houses. 

  • Small spaces make transitions easier for cats.

The cats were shut in a single room while we were loading the Uhaul.  My cats are indoor only at this point so they were easy to find and confine.  If you have indoor/outdoor cats though, you many need to confine them before you start packing since nervous cats may be difficult to find for days at a time.  (If Stella had access to the out of doors, I would have confined her before packing the first box since she is very flighty about any change in the routine.)

During the actual drive, the cats were confined to large dog crates with small litter boxes.  I offered them food and water at each stop (they invariably spill the water if I leave it in the kennels while driving).  This setup worked great, even when we had to stay in a hotel overnight since they had access to litter all the time, and water and food at regular intervals.

With the help of a friend, I was able to carry the crated cats right into the house and the “cat room” when we arrived.  I shut the cats in their new room overnight to help them relax.  It also helped them learn where the litter box, food and scratching posts were.  Since this house is small, I was able to quickly transition them to having run of the house.  The larger the house is though, the slower I give them access to new space.  When we moved into the big house on the mountain, I gave them a new room every couple of days. 

The speed of the transition depends largely on the personality of your cat.  A more timid cat will be reassured by a slower transition (maybe even start out confining him to a bathroom) while a bold cat may not require as much time.  (My cat Cleo is uber-confident and The Queen of Moving.  She adjusts to almost any move within a day or so but she is a *rare* exception.  This is also our sixth move together.)  Too much space at once increases anxiety and the risk that your cat will hide, mark territory, scratch inappropriate objects or have litter box issues.

  • Plan for the worst and manage, manage, manage.

If your critters have any issues, expect that the stress of the move will exacerbate them and be prepared.  This way, you are one step ahead of the problem.  If it doesn’t happen – great!  But it’s always better to be safe than sorry – especially when your pet’s safety is at risk.  No matter what your pet’s issue is (marking in the house, chewing, not coming when called, separation anxiety, etc), assume that the move will make it worse and take proactive steps to alleviate and manage the issue. 

As much as I hated to leave all of my clients and their dogs behind in the mountains, I am excited about my job opportunity here.  I will start teaching classes again after I have settled in but right now my goal is to focus on my dogs and working with them.  I have realized that over the years, I spend so much time working with other people and their dogs that I have a tendency to come home and manage my dogs rather than actively changing their behaviors.  While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, I look forward to working with and training my own dogs more.

Meanwhile, I’m still just a phone call or email away for my WNC clients.  I will still be posting on Positive Paw (and Positive Paw on Facebook too).  I will also be back in the mountains regularly to catch up with friends and hope to see some of “my puppies” then.  So please contact me if you have any questions and I’ll keep you updated on how the Positive Paw pack is doing with our transition. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Adopt and Save a Life

Or, “Why you should look to your local animal shelter for your next pet”
There are many reasons you should adopt your next pet from the local animal shelter.  Most of us are looking for companion animals, not purpose bred working dogs and millions of really great companion animals are put to sleep in animal shelters every year.   In the US alone, an estimated 5 to 7 million companion animals wind up in animal shelters every year.  Of these animals, approximately 3 to 4 million are euthanized.  The reality is that 60 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats that enter shelters each year die.

5 out of 10 dogs are euthanized simply because there aren’t people to adopt them while 7 out of 10 cats are euthanized for lack of adopters.  This means that the vast majority of these animals are put to sleep not for behavioral or health reasons but simply because there are more animals than there are people to adopt them.

How do these animals wind up in shelters?  These animals come in either as owner surrenders or strays.  Many strays are never reunited with their owners due to lack of proper identification (collar tags, microchips, tattoos).  It is estimated that 15-20% of dogs are returned to their owners while less than 2% of cats are.

While some animals are relinquished for behavioral issues, many animals are dumped in shelters for totally unrelated issues including: moving, landlord issues, cost of maintenance, lack of time, inadequate facilities, too many pets in the home, owner illness or death, and personal problems.  Many owners are unprepared or unsuited to caring for the pet.  In my experience, while challenging dogs certainly do exist, most of the “behavioral issues” that dogs are relinquished for are basic training issues.  Many owners fail to understand the time and energy that a pet will require.  Others choose to give their pets up when major life changes make pet ownership more challenging.  Even more owners simply don’t have the knowledge to train their pets effectively.

Very nice dogs and cats wind up in shelters on a regular basis through no fault of their own.  Due to the high euthanasia rate in many areas, animals with significant behavioral issues frequently never make it to the adoption floor.  (This doesn’t mean it can’t happen, but it isn’t an everyday affair.)

If you are set on having a purebred dog, it is estimated that 25% of dogs that wind up in shelters are purebred.  I even find purebred puppies in shelters.  You may need to spend a little more time looking and waiting for the right animal but it is well worth the investment of time.  If you want a specific breed, use to search for animals by breed and location.

If you are concerned that adopting a dog from a shelter is buying “damaged goods”, rest assured that I see just as many problem dogs that were raised from puppies in their own home as I do adopted dogs.  In fact, one of my clients bought a puppy expressly because she “didn’t want a dog that someone else had screwed up”.  Two years later she realized that she had “a dog I have screwed up all by myself!”  Most of us raise puppies like we drive cars – we like to think that we are way above average when we probably aren’t.

Finally, few things are as satisfying as knowing you have made a difference for a homeless animal.  I adopted all three of my current dogs from local shelters and pull great dogs out of shelters on a regular basis.  Watching these dogs learn, grow and develop to their full potential is very satisfying.       

So go ahead, get out there and check out your local shelter.  Your new best friend is waiting for you.  Adopt and save a life.

Below, you'll find some photos of just a few of the wonderful dogs I have found in shelters.

 Pip Squeak, Ben, Nellie

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Importance of Exercise

The dogs stop to pose during a hike on the Appalachian Trail.
Exercise, along with good food and training, is one of the most important things in a dog’s life.  Unfortunately, many owners fail to fully capitalize on the benefits of thoughtful exercise.  As society in general has become less active, so have our dogs.  We no longer spend as much time outdoors and many of us have realized that it is not safe (or legal in many areas) to let our dogs roam around outside unsupervised.  Luckily, appropriate exercise promotes your dog’s bond with you, increases your relevance in his life, encourages training and provides your dog with the mental and physical stimulation that will help him settle and behave the rest of the day.  A nice side effect of a thoughtful exercise program for your dog is that it can help you get in better shape too.    

There are certain types of exercise that are better than others.  Great ways to exercise your dog include:
  • Running or walking (preferably off leash if your dog is reliable and you have a safe, legal area to do this; if not, on leash)
  • Structured play with you AND rules (you and your dog play together outside, you run the game and make the rules)

There are many positive benefits to exercising with your dog.  When we train a dog, we want to be one of the most important things in his life.  For most dogs, exercising and playing outside are the biggest highlights of their day (other than mealtime).  We want to be involved in leading and directing these activities because it will make us an even more important part of their lives and help them look to us for leadership and direction.  If you put your dog outside (by himself or with another dog) or pop him on a treadmill you are missing out on this important bonding opportunity. 

Exercise through walking or running also provides important mental stimulation for your dog.  Not only is he listening to your cues (speed up, slow down, wait at the corner), he is also being exposed to new environments, sights and smells – even if this is the same route you walk most days.  These environmental stimuli will help to satisfy his natural curiousity (wearing him out mentally) while providing ongoing socialization and training opportunities and making him more confident.  New routes provide even more mental stimulation and training opportunities.

Now, walking at human speeds is admittedly a little boring for most active dogs.  Two things you can do to really improve the activity for your dog is to walk very briskly or even to run in short spurts.  Now maybe you are saying to yourself, “Hey, I’m no athlete!  I’m not a runner” and I totally understand.  Until five or six years ago, I didn’t run either.  In fact, I still can’t quite call myself a “runner”.  You don’t have to a runner to shake up your next dog walk, just include five or six 30 second jogging intervals into your walk and watch how your dog lights up.  (I’ll discuss how to start running with your dog in a future note.)  I am always amazed at the way my new foster dogs light up when I run with them for the first time.  It’s like they are realizing, “Hey, she runs too.  How cool is that!!  We must be a pack.”

Maybe you have limited mobility or don’t have a good place to walk or run with your dog.  That’s okay, aim for constructive play.  Games of fetch or tug where you make and enforce consistent rules provide you dog with exercise and training opportunities at the same time.  Teach him to drop his toy on command (or have a second toy handy while he’s learning this skill), then ask him to perform a behavior like sit or lie down before you throw the toy.

NOT great ways to exercise your dog include:
  • Letting him run around outside alone – in a fenced in area or not
  • Unsupervised play with another dog
  • Boisterous play where your dog is running the game
  • Running him to “tire him out” without applying rules, structure or providing mental stimulation
  • Using a treadmill (unless recommended by a veterinarian for rehabilitation purposes of course)

Interestingly enough, dogs left alone outside may fall into one of two categories.  If the dog is not in a fenced enclosure and has the right temperament, he may run off and be gone for long periods of time.  Of course, he is at risk of being hit by a car, being shot for chasing livestock or wildlife (whether he really is or someone just thinks he might) or any number of other risks while he is gone.  On the other hand, many dogs when left outside alone don’t do much of anything.  My crew will sit outside the door and wait for me to come out.  They get very little exercise unless I am there to lead the fun and games.   

Unsupervised play with another dog increases you dog’s bond with the other dog, but not with you.  This can make training more difficult since he will be more concerned with the other dog than you.  Also, unsupervised play can lead to rough or inappropriate play that the dogs come to think of as normal.  If they then try to play the same way with other dogs, it can lead to issues.  Finally, there is always the concern that dogs, like children, may accidentally hurt each other.  Play can escalate to out of control levels or a dog may catch his teeth in another dog’s collar leading to a strangling risk.  By all means, let your dog play with other dogs but make sure you are there and supervising the fun.

Some dogs can become overstimulated by the wrong sorts of play.  If your dog gets overexcited, jumping and nipping when you try to play fetch or tug, letting him play out of control can actually make the situation worse.  If this is the case, you need to step in and make sure you are running the game.  Ignore your dog and refuse to play until he provides you with a polite behavior like sit or down.  Keep a longline on him if necessary to make sure you can take the toy back when you want it.  Teach him to drop a toy and leave it so you can control the game.  Teach him that he has to sit or lie down between throws for you to keep participating in the game.  Make sure you are starting and ending the game and put the toy away between games so it is “your toy” that you choose to share with him. 

Have you ever looked at your boisterous dog and wished you could pop him on the treadmill for 30 minutes while you watch your favorite show?  Maybe you’ve seen it done on tv and thought, “Hey, I wish I could do that with Rowdy!”  Except for rare occasions, I don’t recommend putting your dog on the treadmill.  Exercising your dog by walking, running or playing with him offers many more benefits than just wearing him out.  Popping your dog in the treadmill (or out in the back yard by himself for that matter) misses out on these benefits while carrying risks.

There are certain risks inherent to using a treadmill for dog exercise.  Treadmills require training and direct supervision during their use.  You can never walk away from a dog on a treadmill.  At this point, the two of you might as well be walking together outside and enjoy the changing scenery (the exception of course is if your dog is undergoing some form of physical therapy for which the treadmill is recommended).  Additionally, treadmills can put additional strain on your dog’s joint due to their action and the constant speed.  On a treadmill, your dog cannot speed up or slow down to a rate that is comfortable for him based on his gait or fatigue level like he can outside.  If not closely supervised, this can put excessive stress on his cardiovascular system and his joints.  Used inappropriately, treadmills can result in injury or even death of the dog.

Many people who let their dogs run loose outside or ask about putting their dog on a treadmill are looking for a way to wear out an over active dog or to exercise a dog with poor leash manners.  Unfortunately, many of these dogs aren’t just lacking exercise (which many of them are!) but they are also lacking appropriate leadership, training and direction.  For these dogs, providing additional exercise to wear them out physically without addressing the other issues present simply results in highly conditioned canine athletes.  These same dogs then require even more exercise to wear them out next time!  These dogs learn best when they have a structured exercise program and then additional training at home that helps them learn to walk politely onleash, settle and respect appropriate boundaries. 

So grab your leash and your walking shoes and head out the door for a walk and some structured playtime with your dog.  It will be good for your dog, mentally and physically, it will be good for your relationship, and it will be good for you too!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

My Favorite Things

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to try a lot of different products on a lot of different dogs.  Lots of products are okay, others are disappointing but a few stand out above the rest and become staples that I use and recommend over and over. Below are some of my favorite things.
Midwest Ultima Pro Triple Door Dog Crate:  These crates are hard to find (usually only available online) but their heavy-gauge wire is sturdy and durable and the three doors give you a multitude of options in the house or car.  They fold for carrying or storage.  I am also excited to see that Midwest is producing a 21” wide crate specifically for use as a side-by-side crate in the back of a vehicle.  These may be on my next list of favorite things.

Walk through baby gates:  I own two of these and love them.  They fit wide openings and the smaller walk through gate means it's not a hassle or health hazard to try to get through them.  I use one on my cat room and another to keep the dogs out of the basement.  They make great barriers in high traffic areas.

Lupine Collars and Leashes:  Lupine collars, harnesses and leashes come in a great range of sizes, styles and collars.  Even better, they are guaranteed for life – even if your puppy chews them!  The Combo collar (also called a martingale or greyhound style collar) is great for dogs who slip their collars.  Stewart's Mountainview Animal Hospital carries Lupine locally or you can find them online through Amazon or online petstores.

Boomerang Collar Tags (Slide On or for Adjustable Nylon Collars):  These collar tags are sturdy, durable and most importantly reduce the risk that your dog will get his collar tag stuck in something.  I have seen dogs get their collar tags stuck in crates (always remove collars from crated dogs), chainlink fences, heater grates, and most recently in a folding chair.  Dangling collar tags are a safety risk and can result in panicking, strangulation and death.

Premier EasyWalk or Softouch Sensation or Sensible Harnesses:  These harnesses are a great tool for dogs that pull.  They are easy to put on, adjust and they work instantly.  Because the leash attaches to the center of the chest, your dog is redirected back towards you when he pulls.  Dogs accept them quickly without fighting or fussing.

Kong and Busy Buddy Squirrel Dude:  These toys can be filled or stuffed with treats to provide your dog with interactive fun and lots and lots of chewing.  Great for pups that love to chew as well as a tool for crate training and separation anxiety.  Put them in the dishwasher for easy cleaning.

Zanies Dog Toys (especially the Bungee Gecko):  These sturdy toys are lots of fun with a squeaker in both ends.  The Bungee Gecko is pack tested.  After a year, Nellie and Pip have had so much fun playing and tossing them that they haven’t surgically removed the squeakers or any other part of it (squeakers, ears, feet and eyes go quickly in our house).  And they are cheap!  You can get them at Mitchell County Animal Rescue or online for just $3-4.

Chuckit Ball Launcher:  This toy will make even the weeniest tennis-ball tosser (that would be me) a hero in the eyes of their dog.  And you won’t have to bend down to pick up nasty, slobbery, muddy tennis balls ever again.  Pick up some Chuckit glow balls or a 2.5 inch Sergeant’s Buddy’s Glow ball while you are at it.  Normal tennis balls have silicone in the nap to make them sturdier.  The silicone along with dirt that gets trapped in the fibers may abrade your dog’s teeth over time.  For this reason, I prefer to use a smooth surfaced ball for dogs that play fetch regularly.

Furminator:  I *love* my Furminator!  It strips the soft, dense undercoat out of Nellie and Pip Squeak’s coats like nothing else.  This product seems to work best on animals with thick undercoats.  I also use it on my cats.

Semi-moist Dog Food Rolls:  Made by several different companies, semi-moist dog food rolls make high value, nutritionally complete treats for training.  Natural Balance and Pet Botanics are two brands to look for.  Dog food rolls are especially good treats for small dogs, dogs with weight problems or sensitive stomachs.  Remember to substitute the dog food roll for a comparable amount of their normal food.

Anything by Patricia McConnell:  Patricia McConnell is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) and has her PhD in Zoology (she researched dog behavior and communication between professional trainers and working domestic animals).  I recommend her books and pamphlets frequently.  She has several small, affordable pamphlets humanely addressing a range of issues from housetraining to separation anxiety to managing a multi-dog household.  These pamphlets are also available on Amazon.

Spot Shot:  Great for getting pet messes out of carpet.  The spray penetrates the carpet and helps lift residue to the surface.  It will also break down and remove old stains, blood and bile stains.  I always have some in my cupboard just in case.  You can find it in most grocery stores in the cleaning aisle.  Carries lots of great products including many of the items listed here.

Standard Measuring Cup:  For measuring your dog’s food.  Many people eyeball their dog’s food or use a scoop of unknown size.  If you use a standard measuring cup, it will be a lot easier to manage your dog’s food intake to maintain a healthy body weight.  Available in any grocery store.

Greenies Pill Pocket Treat:  These soft, moist treats have a pocket that make hiding a pill inside quick and easy.  Yes, you can do the same thing with peanut butter or American cheese but pill pockets are neater and easier to use.  I especially love them for giving pills to cats.  They come in several sizes and flavors.  Available at most pet stores and many vet offices.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Snow Day Activities

We’ve been snowed in three times this winter and it isn’t even the middle of January.  This weekend, the snow is deeper than Pip Squeak and the day time highs are only in the 20s.  This is making walks and other outdoor activities challenging and unappealing to say the least.  The dogs always weather the first day or two stuck indoors patiently but after that the boredom in the house becomes palpable.  Yesterday I was sitting on the couch reading and noticed the dogs watching me intently.  Although they were being perfectly well behaved, I got the feeling that they were plotting something.  That is when I started making a mental inventory of all the things I could do to relieve the boredom on a snow day.

  • Interactive toys
Any option that makes a dog work for his food or treats is good for passing time and making the dog think.  Good options include Kongs, the Busy Buddy Squirrel Dude, Tug-a-Jugs and the like.  There are many interactive toys available online or in pet stores.  If your dog isn’t a very aggressive chewer, you can make your own toy by putting treats in a plastic soda bottle (make sure you supervise) or stuffing an old empty marrow bone.

  • Working for food
There is no reason that meals have to come out of a dish.  Pip Squeak can consume her dinner in about 30 seconds if presented in a traditional dog dish.  She uses a Brake-fast bowl on regular mornings.  On slow mornings, I will make her work for her kibble (she gets a piece or two as a reward for performing old tricks or while learning new ones).  This morning we worked on her wave and her lie down (which she resents sometimes).  Sometimes I sprinkle her food around the living room so she has to run around and collect each piece.  This morning she worked for the first half of breakfast and then I scattered the rest.

If your dog has a good nose, you can build on this idea – put some of his food in a lidded container or an interactive toy and hide it.  When he finds it, open the container for him or let him use the interactive toy himself.  Start with easy hiding places (in plain sight or where he can see you hide it) and gradually build up to more difficult locations (hiding it while he is in another room).  You can split up his meal into smaller portions so he has several opportunities to search for it.

  • Recreational raw bones
Any chewing option is going to help entertain your dog and the process of chewing actually releases endorphins which will help him to relax.  Raw bones are great because they will help clean his teeth and provide him with high quality protein at the same time.  If your dog isn’t used to getting raw bones, start with just a little bit at a time (let him chew on a frozen bone for 5 or 10 minutes or so before taking it away) to prevent gastrointestinal upset.  A good frozen bone can keep a dog happily occupied for half an hour or more.  When he is done, he should be fairly content and relaxed.

I tend to feed beef marrow bones (they have a lot of fat so start slowly), beef ribs (more meat, less fat and the dog may consume some of the bone) and chicken legs (the uncooked bone will be consumed and digested) most frequently.  Raw bones may not be a good option for dogs with suppressed immune systems, those on a low protein or low fat diet and those that have had pancreatitis.  If you have any concerns, please discuss them with your vet before offering your dog raw bones.

  • Modify outdoor games for indoor use
I play fetch and tug indoors with my girls.  If you dog isn’t too big and bouncy, play these usually outside games with indoor rules.  The girls aren’t allowed to be as rambunctious and wild as they are when we play outside.  Each dog has to wait their turn and play with their own toy.  I frequently ask them to sit or lie down between turns to prevent collisions and keep them from getting too wound up.

When playing fetch, I roll the ball along the floor rather than throwing it.  Practice asking your dog to stay while you roll the ball and only release him after the ball has come to a stop.  This will help make your dog’s stay more solid while also teaching him to follow a “dead ball” (one that isn’t moving) and keep him from driving too hard to the ball and knocking over the coffee table in the process.  I like to mix things up like rolling the ball so it will bounce off a wall and out of sight into another room.  This makes the girls think harder and encourages them to retrieve a ball that is out of sight.

If you have multiple dogs, work on sending each dog independently after their own toy.  Send them in opposite directions if possible.  This will make it easier for them to determine when it is their turn and reduce the temptation to take off after the other dog’s toy.

Obviously, indoor fetch may never be an option for some dogs due to size or excitement level or if one of your dog resource guards their toy (the enclosed space will exacerbate this issue).

  • New toy/recycle an old toy
I’ll admit to being an impulse toy buyer.  I love to buy toys for the girls and frequently stash new toys for use as a special reward or for a snow day.  New toys are always more exciting than old toys.  Of course, old toys that have been buried on the bottom of the toy bin are almost as good as new toys.  So dig down deep and find a new old toy (or is that old new toy?) for playtime.

  • Destructibles
My girls always enjoy it when I give them something they are allowed to destroy.  Cardboard boxes, oatmeal tubes, paper bags, the inner tubes from paper towels or toilet paper, and the like are all fair game.  Yes, it makes for a little bit of cleanup on my part but their enjoyment makes it worthwhile.  Ben likes crunching on plastic soda bottles.  Of course, you want to supervise and destructibles probably aren’t the best choice for dogs that tend to chew off and eat chunks of things.

  • Trick training
In my experience, ten or fifteen minutes of trick training will help satisfy your dog far better than the same amount of exercise will.  Teach any silly trick you like including rollover, crawl, or shake.  Break out the clicker and teach your dog to wave good bye.  The possibilities are endless.  Be silly and have fun – that’s the most important thing to your dog.

  • Targeting
Teach your dog to target (your hand or an object like a stick or a small plastic disk like a can lid).  Start with your dog onleash in a quiet area.  Present the target object (your open hand, the stick or disk) and wait.  If you are patient, the dog should eventually sniff the target object.  Mark and reward any initial interaction with the target (say yes or click and treat).  I like to put the treat on the target object itself to help reduce confusion initially.  As your dog gets the hang of the exercise, add a verbal cue and gradually increase the distance between him and the target until he is moving to touch the target.

You can use different targets to achieve different goals.  A hand or stick target can be useful in teaching your dog to heel.  A disk target is great for training your dog to go out on command (like in agility training) or to go to his place (teaching him to go to a particular spot in the house).

I keep thinking I should teach Pip Squeak to target my cell phone and Nellie my car keys.  Maybe they can keep up with them better than I do.  If I’m snowed in long enough, I might get around to doing that.

  • Grooming 
Grooming frequently gets put off in my house.  I tend to brush when Ben is getting matted or Nellie has clumps falling off her.  However, I have no excuse on a snow day.  Nellie and Ben don’t like to be groomed so 10 minutes of brushing has them ready to go hide in the closet.  Pip Squeak loves being groomed so 10 minutes of brushing gives her the concentrated hands-on attention she craves.  Either way, it’s an easy constructive way to give your dog some direct attention (desired or not!).

If your dog doesn’t like having his toenails trimmed, work on desensitizing him by making a positive association with touching his feet (pick up his foot, squeeze it slightly, give him a treat and put it down.  Work up to building a positive association with the trimmers (trimmers touch my nail, no clip and I get a treat – okay!).  Then work up to trimming just one or two nails at a time (following each nail or two with a treat).  Wait an hour or two and do a couple more.  It may take all day but heck, you’ve got time.  How nervous your dog is will determine how quickly you can work.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Nothing in Life is Free - NILIF

In our previous note, we mentioned "Nothing in Life is Free" (NILIF) as a tool to help your anxious dog but NILIF is appropriate and helpful for ALL dogs.  Nothing in Life is Free is just that, your dog works for each thing he wants.  He sits before you fix his dinner, he waits before you open the door.  This technique teaches good manners and help generalize training.  If your dog is used to working for everything he wants, he won't just blow you off because he knows you don't have cookies in your pocket today.  NILIF also helps your dog understand just where he fits within his pack because a higher status pack member (you) controls access to resources (toys, games, food, etcs) of a lower status pack member (your dog).  This happens in a humane, stress-free way that teaches your dog patience, frustration tolerance and good manners. 

Please read the link below to learn more about NILIF:
Nothing in Life is Free - NILIF

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Preventing and Treating Separation Anxiety

We discussed the symptoms of separation anxiety in a previous post.  There are many steps and techniques that can be used in treating separation anxiety.  We will not discuss all of them here.  Instead, I will talk about the steps that apply to the widest range of dogs and significantly help most dogs with moderate separation anxiety.

The steps outlined below will help prevent and treat separation anxiety for most dogs:

  • When you first bring a puppy or new dog into the house, practice building positive associations with a crate or small, dog-proof space that you can leave him in when you are gone (read the post on crate training for detailed suggestions). 

  • Practice consistently confining your dog in his crate or area when you are at home so he doesn’t learn that being in that space predicts that you will leave him home alone (practice several times a day for short periods of time).

  • Practice leaving him in his crate or space while you leave the house for short periods of time (ideally starting with several minutes at a time and work up from there) from the first day.

  • Most dogs and puppies are fairly stressed and shut down when they first come in to your home.  Setting up a consistent routine involving confinement and separation from the first day will help them adapt better than if they spend the first several days with you all the time and then you have to turn around and leave them alone when you go back to work. 

  • Keep your coming and goings very low key.  Of course you love your dog but you don’t need to make a big deal of it when you leave the house or come home.  Being overly emotional will encourage your dog to be overly emotional.  Walk in the door, spend a couple of minutes doing other things, quietly greet the dog and then take him straight out to potty.  You can be more excited and rambunctious later when he comes back inside.  

  • Follow a Nothing in Life is Free (NILIF) program (search online or look for a future post) and exercise your dog well before you leave him alone.  These two things alone won’t fix separation anxiety but they can help.  NILIF allows dogs to be more relaxed and confident while a tired dog is more likely to go to sleep and less likely to engage in destructive behavior.   

  • Make sure you have a well defined program for housetraining and teaching your dog not to chew.  Dogs may develop separation anxiety after being repeatedly punished when their owner has come home to housetraining or other accidents.

If there has been an accident, chewing or destructive behavior while you were gone – ignore it.  Punishing the dog when you get home won’t teach him that the behavior is wrong, it will only cause him to be more anxious when you come home.

  • Dogs with separation anxiety tend to fall into one of two categories – some dogs are more relaxed if they are crated; other dogs panic more if crated.  If your dog becomes more anxious when crated, you may need to find another way to confine him in the house – shutting him in the kitchen or a large bathroom is a common solution.  If housetraining isn’t an issue, you may confine him to a bedroom or other larger room.

  • Generally, keeping the dog in a part of the house that he is used to and normally spends time in is better.

  • Try to protect the dog from outside stimuli – he doesn’t need to see traffic, pedestrians or other dogs outside the window.  This sort of stimulation usually only makes the situation worse.  You may want to cover or block windows if you can’t prevent his access to them.

  • Help him feel good about being alone.  Provide high value, constructive chewing options when you confine him in his space (Kongs, marrow bones and interactive treat dispensing toys are all good options).

Remember, these dogs frequently will not eat if left home alone so start by making it really yummy, really easy to eat and practice putting him in his space with a great chewing options when you are home.  Gradually, work up to leaving the room and finally leaving the house while he is chewing.

If you have the time, you can initially only leave him alone for a short period time.  Return before he is done with his goodie and take it away from him.  This will cause him to think “Hey, I wasn’t done with that!  Go away so I can finish!”  Obviously, do not do this if your dog guards food or toys.

  • Dogs with severe separation anxiety may need additional work including a desensitization program and possibly anti-anxiety medication.  If your dog has severe separation anxiety, talk to your vet or trainer to develop a personalized treatment plan for your dog.  

  • For more information on separation anxiety including a detailed explanation for desensitizing your dog, check out Patricia McConnell’s pamphlet "I’ll be Home Soon!"  It is available online and at 

Separation Anxiety

Do you and your dog worry when it comes time to leave him home alone?  Do you worry about what you will come home to – housetraining accidents, chewed baseboards and complaints about doggy screaming from your neighbors?  Does your dog worry and pace when you start to pick up your coat and car keys?  Separation anxiety is a serious issue for the dogs and people affected by it.

Separation anxiety involves a variety of behaviors that are a result of a dog’s inability to relax and be comfortable while you are gone.  These dogs are acting out of a feeling of panic, fear or anxiety that has to do with being left home alone.  Symptoms of separation anxiety may include some or all the following behaviors when left home alone:
  • Eliminating in the house. 
  • Pacing, panting or drooling.
  • Chewing and digging.
  • Sucking, kneading or chewing soft objects like blankets or pillows.
  • Excessive vocalizing – whining, barking or howling.

Separation anxiety isn’t the only reason for misbehavior when dogs are left home alone.  I frequently see dogs that potty in the house, chew inappropriately and whine or bark during the day for other perfectly normal reasons.  They may not be fully housetrained, they may be teething or bored, they make lack “frustration tolerance” or they may be overstimulated by things they see going on outside the window (wildlife, passersby, vehicles, etc).

It is important to analyze the situation and determine whether the behavior is caused by a basic training issue or separation anxiety.  It may require the input of a vet or trainer to distinguish between the two situations however, dogs with separation anxiety will frequently:
  • Eliminate even if left alone for only a short period of time; bowel movements are frequently soft or liquid and may be spread about the house.
  • Chewing and digging are frequently targeted towards doors and baseboards.
  • May harm themselves in the process of trying to chew out or escape.
  • Not eat when left alone.
  • Vocalize as soon as they are left alone and may continue repetitively for long periods of time.

To manage and treat separation anxiety, we need to change the dog’s emotional reaction to being left alone.  We will discuss techniques for preventing and managing separation anxiety in a future post.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Training a Deaf Dog

Megan "checks in" by looking at her people frequently.  This behavior is helpful since she is deaf and "checking in" allows her to respond to physical cues from a distance.
The basic concepts behind training a deaf dog are no different than training a hearing dog – the basic process of teaching a behavior is still the same (refer to the previous note for the basics on teaching a behavior).  However deaf dogs have special needs and there are some important considerations that need to be taken into account. 

Deaf dogs have special requirements that fall into three basic categories:
  • There are certain behaviors that are more important for deaf dogs to learn. 
  • Deaf dogs may require different cues, signals and markers during training. 
  • Deaf dogs do require more effort and management on you part.

For hearing dogs, probably the most important behavior they need to learn is the recall (coming when called).  Because a deaf dog cannot respond unless they are looking at you, the most important behavior to build is for you deaf dog to “check in” with you frequently.  To do this, reward any time that your deaf dog checks in with you.  You can reward with a treat, toy, game or cuddling (choose the options that most motivate your dog).  Treat checking in just like you would your recall – never do anything unpleasant when your dog checks in. 

Once he learns that checking in a pleasurable and rewarding behavior, he will naturally start to check in more frequently.  This gives you more opportunities to communicate with him by signaling without you having to go to him. 

There are several things you can do to get your deaf dog’s attention while he is at a distance from you.  In the house you can try flashing the lights of the room you are in or stomping your foot.  Many dogs will respond to the vibrations of a foot stomp even though they can’t hear the noise.  If you are outside at night, try flashing the porch light or a flashlight.  You can use any of these behaviors as a cue for your dog to check in or recall.  

Some people use a vibrating collar or a shock collar (set on vibrate or the lowest stimulation setting) and train their dog to recall or check in response to the collar.  This works for some dogs but may be too aversive for sensitive dogs.  I have heard that some dogs actually find the vibrating collars more offensive than a shock collar set on the lowest stimulation setting.  Although I have worked with several deaf dogs, I have never used either type of collar and think the success of either type of collar would depend highly on the individual dog.  Since I am not a fan of shock collar use in general, I would encourage anyone thinking about using a vibrating or shock collar as a recall cue to work directly with a skilled trainer to make sure you are not doing more harm than good. 

These collars aren’t a quick fix – they just become a remote tap on the shoulder for your dog.  You still need to train and proof the recall just like you would with a hearing pup.  Also, remember that if your dog is out of sight, the collar does not provide any clue about your location to your dog so he may have a much harder time finding you than a hearing dog would.  Don’t let the collar lure you into a false sense of security.

There is a good introduction on how to train a deaf dog to respond to a vibrating collar here:

Deaf dogs are particularly prone to being startled especially when they are asleep, feeding or looking away from you.  Practice desensitizing the dog to these situations and carefully manage to prevent accidents.  Make it a point to stomp before approaching a sleeping or eating deaf dog to give them warning.  Also, practice waking the sleeping dog up gently and offering him a treat so he learns to associate being woken up with good things happening. 

Deaf dogs require different cues, signals and markers than hearing dogs do.  The training process is the same but once you can initiate the behavior consistently (through luring, shaping or a combination of the two) you need to put a physical cue or hand signal on the behavior rather than a verbal cue.  There are no right or wrong hand signals, it’s just important that you choose signals you are comfortable with and will use consistently.  For basic obedience behaviors, you can use the same hand signals that would typically be used in an obedience class.  However, you may need additional signals to communicate more fully with your dog.  Some people use American Sign Language (ASL) or a modified one handed version.  Honestly, I’ve never used ASL and couldn’t see myself doing it.  Instead, I simply develop a hand signal that is a natural progression to the physical cue I used to lure the behavior during the training process. 

During training, it is important to have a marker that indicates “good dog” and a “no reward/try again” marker.  When training hearing dogs, we frequently say “yes”, “good dog” or click a clicker to mark desirable behavior.  Make sure you condition your dog to a physical cue that indicates he’s doing the right thing or making progress in the right direction.  Many people clap their hands to indicate “yes!”  Some deaf dog trainers use a small pen light in place of a clicker – a quick flash of the light takes the place of the clicker for marking the correct behavior.  If you are going to use a pen light, you would need to follow all the same rules you do for clicker training including ‘loading’ the light as you would a clicker.  (We’ll talk more about clicker training in future note.)

It is also important to have a no reward marker.  Most of us naturally say “ah ah”, “oops” or “try again” when our hearing dog makes a mistake or is headed in the wrong direction during a training exercise.  You can use a head shake, closed fist (no cookie for you) or slight turning away of your head as your no reward marker for your deaf dog.  The more consistent you are with your markers, the easier it will be for your deaf dog to understand what you are trying to communicate to him. 

Finally, deaf dogs do require more effort on your part.  You cannot rely on your voice to bring your deaf dog back to you, get him out of trouble, etc.  There will be many cases when you simply have to go get your deaf dog.  There will be many times when it will not be safe to let your deaf dog off-leash.  For many deaf dogs in urban settings, they will need to always be on-leash outside of safely enclosed areas like baseball fields or dog parks.  For deaf dogs in rural settings, only let your dog off leash if you are sure that the dog is familiar with his surrounding and will be safe if he looses sight of you or ignores your recall.  Dogs that go deaf with age generally require more in the way of management and less training while pups that are born deaf require a great deal of both. 
A great resource for living with and training deaf dogs is the Deaf Dog Education Action Fund.  Check out their website here:

Especially their page on training:

There is also a Deaf Dogs List (Yahoo Group).  This is a good place to get direct feedback from a group of people dealing with similar issues:

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Teaching a Behavior

Teaching any behavior starts with the same basic process.  If you understand and master this process, you can teach any behavior you like.  The basic steps are outlined below.

First, you need to be able to make the behavior happen.  Once you can make the behavior happen consistently, you can add verbal cues and hand signals before the behavior.  Then you need to generalize the behavior to new areas and proof it in the face of increasing distraction.

When teaching any behavior, a trainer has four basic options to make the behavior happen.  We can lure, shape, capture or mold a behavior. 
  • In the case of luring, we use a treat to guide the dog into the desired behavior so we can reward it. 
  • In shaping, we wait and reward steps towards the desired behavior, slowly raising our criterion along the way.  Think of playing the game “hot and cold” as a child, you aren’t guiding the dog into the desired behavior but rather waiting for offered moves in the desired direction.  Shaping is most easily accomplished with a clicker to mark the behavior.  (Some people combine aspects of shaping and luring to acquire behaviors more quickly.)
  • Capturing can be used to train behaviors that a dog naturally engages in.  The handler waits until the dog performs the behavior and then marks and rewards the behavior as it naturally happens. 
  • Finally, molding involves actually placing the dog in the desired position through physical manipulation (like pulling up on his collar and pushing down on his butt to make him sit). 

I much prefer to lure, shape or capture a behavior rather than mold it.  For one thing, in molding the dog isn’t actually performing the behavior himself.  Instead, you are forcing the behavior on him.  Molding can be a valuable tool when a trained dog blows off a known command but is not the best way to initially teach most behaviors.  So for teaching new behaviors, I strongly recommend luring, shaping or capturing.  I frequently use luring in my group classes because it is generally the easiest training technique for handlers to pick up and become proficient at quickly.  For handlers and dogs that are comfortable using a clicker, I highly recommend shaping and, when appropriate, capturing.  We’ll talk more about clicker training in a later note.

Whichever technique I am using, when teaching a new behavior I don’t start using my verbal cue until I can consistently predict that the behavior will happen.  If I repeat my cue (“sit” or “down”) without the behavior happening, the dog will simply learn that the cue word has no meaning.  Alternately, if I repeat the word multiple times before he performs the behavior, he may learn that “sit, sit, SIT!” is the cue rather than “sit”.  For these reasons, I like to make sure that I can predict the behavior will happen with 90% confidence (9 times out of 10) before I add the verbal cue for the behavior.  Once I am consistently predicting the desired behavior, I add my verbal cue about one second before the behavior is initiated. 

In the case of luring a sit, I initially place a treat in front of the puppy’s nose and push it in a line towards the back of his head.  This will cause his nose to rock up and back and his butt will sink towards the ground.  When his butt hits the ground, I mark (either by saying, “Yes!” or with a click) and then I reward him with a treat while he is sitting.  Timing is everything.  You want to reward your dog while he is performing the correct behavior – not after he has gotten up to do something else.  (Clicker trainers have a little more leeway since the click effectively marks the moment in time that the dog is being rewarded for.) 

Your dog may not perform the entire behavior all at once.  If that’s the case, you will need to break the behavior down into smaller steps that you can reward along the way.  In the case of sit, you may initially reward the head rocking back and the butt tucking down just an inch or two.  Once the pup is comfortable, reward the butt tucking three or four inches, adding distance an inch or two at a time until the dog’s butt finally hits the floor.

Once the puppy is consistently sitting when I put the treat in front of him and start to move my hand back, I will start to fade the treat out as a lure and simply make it a reward.  At this point, I’ll do several repetitions luring with the treat before switching and making the same luring movement with an empty hand.  When the dog performs the desired behavior, I will mark it and reward with a treat from my treat pouch.  During this process, I want the dog to learn to follow the empty hand in anticipation of an as-yet-unseen reward.  It is really important at this point to reward 100% of the time when the dog follows an empty hand.  You don’t want him to learn that he has to see a treat in order to get a treat.

Once the dog is following an empty hand consistently, I introduce the use of the verbal cue “sit” just before I present the hand and start to move it.  The verbal cue needs to come before any movement on my part so the pup learns that the word predicts that I will cue the behavior with my hand and body next.  If I add the verbal cue while moving my body, the dog will continue to rely on the physical cues rather than just the word.  The first time the puppy responds to the verbal cue, before I use the hand/body cues, I mark the behavior and give him a jackpot reward (4 or 5 small treats fed in a row).  The jackpot reward makes a powerful impression on the puppy and increases the likelihood that he will offer the behavior (in this case sitting when he hears the word “sit” rather than waiting for my hand to move) again. 

I like to wait until the pup is following an empty hand before adding the verbal cue, some people add the verbal cue before luring with an empty hand.  I like my technique because the verbal cue is not associated with following a food lure but you can choose whichever technique works best for you and your dog.

Once he consistently follows the verbal cue, you can start to train a formal hand signal.  Simply use your new formal hand signal about a second before the verbal cue.  Jackpot reward the first couple of times that the dog responds to the hand signal before you say the verbal cue.  You can decide whether you want to train the formal hand signal or verbal cue for the behavior first but most people do the verbal first. 

While I used sit – probably the easiest behavior to teach – in this example, the progression holds true for teaching all sorts of behaviors.  Figure out how to lure, capture or shape the behavior consistently before putting it on the cue of your choice.  Once it is on cue, you can start to gradually generalize it to new environments and proof it in the presence of distractions. 

Remember that this progression is not a straight climb up a ladder.  There will be days when your dog is less motivated or more easily distracted and you need to lower your expectations so he can succeed.  If you move to an area with higher distractions, make sure you start back at the beginning and practice your baby steps before moving up through the process.  Realize that you will need to retrain each behavior several times in different locations before your dog generalizes the behavior to new areas.  If your dog is consistently failing to perform, evaluate whether you are moving too fast or have increased the distraction level too quickly and adjust your approach so he can succeed.  He needs to practice success and desirable behaviors, not failure, even if that means moving away from other dogs in a group setting or going back to baby steps on a behavior that he “knows” at home but cannot perform consistently in a more distracting environment.
Happy New Year from our pack to yours!!