Sunday, November 30, 2008

Hail to the CHIEF!

I can't tell you how excited I am about our new president elect Barack Obama! Like many, I cried tears of joy November 5th while looking at the front page of the newspaper. Now, I'm not going to use my dog training blog for political opinions beyond my excitement about change etc... but I would like to voice my sentiments regarding the ever popular "new puppy". 

I think it's wonderful that the Obama's are planning to adopt a new puppy once they move into their new home. What a perfect situation: loving family, huge fenced yard, staff to help keep puppy occupied while the kids are at school and mom and dad are at work, private plane so they can take their dog with them and not have to board them somewhere or stick 'em in cargo, financially secure to buy everything from food, toys, clothing, and health care. And hey, all those folks wearing dark sunglasses and wires in their ears are great for proper puppy socialization! 

This is what I'm a little "concerned" "conflicted" "confused" about: their daughter Malia is "allergic" to dogs yet they're going to bring one into the home because she "wants" one. Now, if she were allergic to peanuts would they give her peanut butter because she wants it? I think not. So why the dog? Here are a few questions I have for Mr. and Mrs. Obama:
  1. Is Malia really and truly "allergic" to dogs? Anaphylactic reaction: throat closes, can't breathe, heart races etc... If so, what are you thinking!!!? 
  2. Or is she "sensitive" to dogs? Doesn't have the breathing/heart rate issues, but if she plays with them (dogs) for prolonged periods her eyes itch, throat is scratchy, stuffy nose etc...maybe skin irritation. 
  3. Is it the actual dog? OR is it everything the dog rolls and plays in!!! This is probably more common. I have this issue myself. My dog Poncho rolls in grass etc... then I go play with him which results in symptoms of sensitivities. Solution: give him a bath. 
  4. Have you had your daughter allergy tested? If so, and she truly is allergic to dogs, then getting a "hypoallergenic" dog might end up creating a false sense of security, especially if she has environmental allergies too. 
My first suggestion: have your daughter tested! (if you haven't done so already). If she isn't allergic to dogs, but pollens, grasses, and other environmental triggers, then you might have more options on which type of dog to get. Also, sensitivities change as we get older. She may become more or less sensitive to certain triggers. 

Another sentiment I'd like to express is in regards to which dog to adopt: dogs are living breathing creatures that have individual personalities! They're NOT inanimate objects like furniture, cars and computers. I am NOT breed biased. I am a strong believer that dogs should be adopted based on personality- behavior and demeanor etc... when you first meet them. Not shopping through a "catalog" picking out the one you think is best because of their history of how they were bred. 

Remember, you can train/teach a dog to love or hate almost anything (I say almost because I doubt I could train Poncho to hate lamb - and why would I want to?). You can also train any animal to do anything they are physically and mentally capable of doing - unless there is a true mental issue. 

YES, dogs were bred for specific traits. So, along with their doggy DNA making them dogs, breed specifics will make that DNA a little stronger in some areas than others - terriers vs hounds vs Cavaliers etc... But, remember, they're still dogs! 

So, to the Obama family I say: if you are going to get a dog, please properly investigate which dog is best for all of you based on your needs and desired goals, not on what everyone else says to get.  Meet lots of different dogs. Keep in ming there are no guarantee's how any dog will behave under certain circumstances, after all we all have triggers and thresholds. 

Also remember that just like raising human children, raising a happy and healthy dog both mentally and physically (including the prevention of behavioral issues), is based on proper education and socialization! Educate yourselves first! 

Oh, and BTW, I vote that the pups name be "Chief" - "Hail to the Chief", get it??? ;-) 

Saturday, November 29, 2008

No gel for this dog!

Let's face it, if dogs were out in the wild, doing all their doggy things in their doggy world, calling their "hair-dresser" would not be on their "to do" list. HOWEVER, since they do live in our human world, "bath time" is indeed something that does becomes part of their routine - for some more often than others.

You've heard me say that many times we (us and our dogs) learn the same way. We enjoy similar things and situations, some things and situations more than others. Well, we're really not that much different!  This is a little list I came up with regarding "grooming" for humans:
  • Soaking in a hot tub...(many reasons we enjoy that) while making the tub experience fun: rubber duckies, boats, and SO many other toys...not just for kids, right? Bubble bath... hello? I had Mr. Bubble as a kid...too much fun!
  • Candles and/or other types of mood lighting
  • Aromatherapy including oils and/or incense to help stimulate the senses
  • "Spa Day"
  • Pedicures, manicures, etc... 
  • Hair salons...and going every few months, right? 
So why should we make bathing and grooming any less fun for our pets than we do for ourselves? I know I have it easy compared to others... I have Poncho a small, single-coated dog that is very food and toy motivated. But, that doesn't mean you can't make bathing and grooming any less fun and rewarding for your own dog. Remember, just by pairing the event with something your dog already likes will teach your dog to like that event... Which brings me to the video below. 

Note: sorry about the poor video-camera action - it's difficult to dry Poncho with one hand. I would normally use my other hand to towel him or rub his fur to help dry it more quickly... but I had to play "videographer" too :-) The tripod should be delivered next week ;-) 

If you don't groom your own dog, and you have someone else doing it for you, you might want to ask the person what steps they take to make it more "fun" for your dog...Who knows, they might make it so great you'll want to switch hair-dressers too :-) 

Run like the wind!!!

What a positively reinforcing Thanksgiving! It started off with the whole family heading to the Ventura Auto Center here in town to run a 5K/1K to help benefit fellow athlete Tony Pedeferri. It was a great turnout - lots of friendly faces, lots of friends to say hi to, and lots of other dogs. Always nice when races welcome the entire family, canine and human alike. 

Nolan and I ran the 5K while Poncho rested up before the race - safe, comfy, with fresh air and water in the car - then we took Poncho on his 1K event! He did great!!! Plus, I got to play with my new toy - this little video camera that makes it easy to upload! Check out the video of me and Poncho racing along! You would think his name is "baby boy" ;-) 

Good times to be had... plus, we got to work up an appetite for our big dinner! 

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Holiday Boutique a BIG HIT!

Two paw's up for our BIG event last Sunday! The Holiday Boutique Open House Benefiting our local Humane Society of Ventura was enjoyed by many. Folks from all over showed up to help support our furry friends and The Humane Society of Ventura while getting a jump on their holiday shopping! There was a bounty of delicious food that all the generous vendors supplied, plus music and lots of good cheer! We all had such a good time and can't wait to do it again next year!

A BIG thank you to all that participated,
attended, and supported our local shelter.

Happy Holidays to all,
Your vendors of the Holiday 
Boutique Open House

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I'm NOT a chew toy!

One of my great Inquisitive Canine manners students writes: 
  • Joan, I am having a few issues with Scout being mouthy to me and others. What suggestions do you have? Thanks, Steve C, Santa Paula California 

Dear Steve,
Ugh! I'm sure it's frustrating to be treated like a giant chew or tug toy. I'll go through the "flowchart" paths of behavior, just like class
  1. Is it "normal" doggy behavior? Yep, sure is. Exploring the world with their mouth, using it as a "tool", using it to initiate fun games with others - dogs and humans. 
  2. Is it a behavior Scout wants to do more of, or is it something you want him to do or like? Hmm, I'd say he wants more of it :-) So that means it's based upon the "Consequence" path of learning. It's Scouts behavior that will earn him more or less of it happening again in the future. 
  3. Have you taught him what you want, in a way that he understands? Have you been consistent in educating him? Rewarding an undesired behavior, even once in a blue moon, will most likely reward it just enough to keep him trying again and again. (Think "Vegas"). Or, only "punishing" him once in awhile can send mixed messages too. 
So, where do you start? Simple: 
  1. FIRST: REWARD WHAT YOU WANT! Remember, positive reinforcement will make the desired behaviors happen more frequently. Whenever you or others are around him, and he is behaving in the exact manner you like, acknowledge it! Bump it up and reward with food and play! 
  2. Provide "legal outlets" for chewing and playing. Keep large tug toys around for Scout to put his mouth on. Whenever he makes the right choice, again reward what you like! Reward with both a game of tug, and yummy treats! "Yea, scout made the right choice!" 
  3. Decide what "punishment" you're going to use. The best punishment I can think of is the absolute "game over!!!" response from you (or others that are playing). Meaning, all play, all interaction, all attention stops completely! 
  4. Once you re-engage, keep up the same rules. I use the 3-strikes for something like this. 
I think the most important points: rewarding what you want and consistency in the two choices you're giving Scout. The right choice, and the other one :-)

Hope this helps Steve! Keep me posted on the outcome... 

Monday, November 10, 2008

"How long is it going to take?"

"How long is it going to take for my dog to be trained?" This is one of those frequently asked questions I get from many people. Unfortunately there is no standard answer, no for sure guaranteed answer, no crystal ball, and no magic wands. These are just a few questions you can ask yourself to help give you your own answer: 
  1. How badly do YOU want your dog trained? Do you want it NOW??? 
  2. What behaviors are we talking about? Are you trying to get your dog to walk nicely on leash, or dealing with biting a human or other dog?
  3. How motivated is your dog to learn? Are you providing a happy learning environment that encourages your dog to want to learn with you? 
  4. How motivated are YOU to want to teach your dog? 
I often compare dog training programs to weight-loss programs. In that, the more you put into it, the more consistent you are etc... the better the outcomes. For instance, if you're trying to lose weight and you start exercising, eating right, making better choices etc... the weight will come off. And, once you reach your short term goals, as long as you keep up some sort of maintenance regimen, you should have continued success. 

If on the other hand you join a gym or weight loss group, go to meetings, but then go out for pizza and ice-cream in between those meetings or workout sessions, then you're sort of sabotaging yourself. You never reach your goals, and if anything you just become more frustrated. 

So, I say this: if you want your dog to behave a certain way, not only do you have to teach them, but then you have to be consistent with the training program. Rewarding the behaviors you want, and doing all you can to prevent your dog from performing (and practicing) the behaviors you don't want! The more consistent you are, the better your dog will understand about making the "right choices". 

I'll address the questions I've written above:
  1. How badly do you want it? As I say in my classes: "Don't wait to need a behavior to train a behavior." I grew up in California. One of the "drills" we had in school were earthquake drills. Lots of "dress rehearsals" so to speak. Same thing with dog training. Don't wait to teach your dog to come on command when you've taken him to an off-leash park with hundreds of other dogs! Be prepared and plan ahead. 
  2. Which path of learning? Emotional (learning by association) or Rational (learning by consequence). Good Manners behaviors are usually simpler to teach, than say, dealing with a dog that has dog-dog or dog-stranger aggression issues. Fear and aggression, or as I like to say, the "emotional path" is usually a longer road to head down. 
  3. How motivated is your dog? Sorry, but how "smart" your dog is really isn't as important as how "motivated" your dog is to learn. Creating a fun learning environment for any animal leads them to want to participate with you. Encouragement, rewarding what we want with food, toys, petting, and praise enhance the relationship, while building their confidence. Threatening, yelling, or always pointing out when they're wrong doesn't do much for training the behavior your want, nor does it do anything for their well-being. 
  4. How motivated are YOU? It's best to go into your training program with a positive attitude. Make it something you enjoy doing, as opposed to a chore. Even little bits of training worked into your busy schedule can help you achieve your goals. When you see your dog performing the little bits of behaviors you've taught them, this gives you the positive reinforcement you need to keep moving forward. Just think "baby steps".
So, how long does it take? As little or as much time as you're willing to give. How long does it take us humans to learn certain skills? We don't learn math or english in one session. We don't learn to ski, ride a bike, dance, swim, play soccer, or skate in one session. Just remember to have a realistic perspective and realistic goals. 

Friday, November 7, 2008

Not the high fiber diet I wanted my dog to have!

Last Saturday morning found me and my little family off to Santa Barbara for an early morning race. It was kinda rainy, and a little windy. For those of you who know my beloved little pooch Poncho, he is not a fan of the wind! (HA! no pun intended) I'm not a big fan of the wind either, but for a different reason. Anyway, we didn't want to leave him here, so off we went on a family adventure. 

For as long as I can recall, my darling husband gives extra "rewards" to Poncho by allowing him to lick the leftover crumbs from his napkins and wrappers. And, for as long as I can remember I've asked him not to. Hmm, I guess this trainer doesn't know her animal,  since we've been having the same conversation over and over. Trust me, I've used every approach of Skinners Operant Conditioning Quadrant, mostly sticking with positive reinforcement, ("Good job honey, thanks for listening to me, thanks for giving Poncho the crumbs out of your hand instead of the napkin!) And negative punishment, (I take Poncho away from him if I see a napkin about to be presented)... Well, I guess my "animal" still hadn't learned! 

So, I'm
 out on my 1/2 marathon the meantime, my hubby has run and finished his 5K, gone to the car to get Poncho, walked him around, then proceeded to get snacks (human treats) at the post-race finish area. They greet me excitedly when I finish. I'm thrilled beyond belief to be done with it... Then, my darling hubby decides to drop the bomb...nice way to end a perfectly good race... 

  • Hubby: "Uh, honey? I gotta tell you about Poncho."   
  • Wifey: "Oh really? What did he do? Was he a good boy with all the people and dogs?"
  • H: "Has nothing to do with his behavior. Poncho is doing great with everyone."
Okay, so this is where the look on my face completely changed, you know, into the: this look I have on my face predicts nothing good for you
  • W: "Oh dear gawd what happened!?"
  • H: "Poncho ate a muffin wrapper." 
  • W: "HE WHAT??!!!" "How the......!!!!!" "WHAT THE....!" (insert multiple expletives here)
Needless to say, I finally made my point about dogs and paper products with crumbs on them! 

Yes, Poncho was being rewarded with the opportunity to lick the muffin wrapper that was so generously given by my husband - When my hubby tried to take it away, Poncho decided it was quite delicious and didn't want to give it up - "guarding it" if you will, which hubby and I know is not only "normal" in dogs, but very strong in our dog - at least with food. 

Was I concerned? Yes, you bet. Did hubby at least call the vets office? Yes, you bet. They confirmed that Poncho should be okay, and to watch his behavior: breathing normal? Check! still eating? Check-check-check! Still energetic? Check! Peeing? Check! He even pooped too! Normal all we decided not to rush him off to the vet emergency. We would observe for any changes, and take him in if things got bad or we got worried. 

So, after I calmed down (now my heart rate was up because of the wrapper incident), I actually said "thank you" to my hubby for being truthful (want to reinforce those behaviors we like and never want to punish him telling the truth, right?), and for taking action by calling the vets office. Then we went about our day, while keeping a close eye on Poncho...the happy ending? Five hours later it passed :-) Phew... 

Which brings me to the topic of dogs and consuming anything that isn't nailed down! Check out the photo op of Sir Poncho the Graduate chewing up his latest Manner Class certificate... Fortunately, it was for the pleasure of chewing and not consuming. 

Let's revisit what dogs are: scavengers, predators, and omnivores! >>> they'll eat anything at any time, and it's more fun
 if it's moving! They are also chewers! And they chew for a variety of reasons.... Put it all together, they'll eat anything! Sometimes they just chew it, sometimes they eat it, and sometimes they'll even "guard" it so you won't take it from them! Hello? This is normal 
behavior, and it's hard-wired into their doggy DNA - it's one characteristic that makes dogs dogs!

I recall during my training up at the San Francisco SPCA there was one particular dog (Freddy, see pic of the handsome shepherd mix) that was very clever at grabbing the trainers treat bags
 off their waistband, removing the ziploc baggy of treats from inside of it, and ingesting the entire thing! I wasn't there either time, but the first time he was rushed to the vets, the second time the trainers rolled their eyeand remembered not to use a treat bag when working with him. Live and learn, right? You would think dogs would learn too, but alas, it seems the ingesting of something, even some innate object, is usually more motivating than the punishment of aftermath. 

One other comforting thought was when my dear friend Emilia emailed me on Monday saying she was swamped the entire weekend because her dog Nellie had eaten a highlighter! Emilia 
and her hubby realized this after seeing all the ink on Nellie's rear end. They spent their weekend observing Nellie for "odd" behavior...(odder than usual I guess?) :-) Check out Nellie's pic on the left... I guess she was considering interior decorating as a new career. Fortunately mom and dad have provided many new legal outlets for her, and the pillows are no longer an appealing choice. 

Well, I guess if Nellie can tolerate a highlighter, then Poncho and his extra fiber would be okay...although, I would never ever ever add something like that into his diet intentionally, nor would I risk leaving something like that around - As we have come to learn, dogs sometimes don't have the best judgement when it comes to meal planning. 

Another few things I'd like to add about dogs and chewing/ingesting anything is:
  1. If your dog does, or you think your dog did ingest something that could harm them TAKE YOUR DOG TO THE VET! (or at least call your vets office) It's not our job to evaluate our dogs health if we're not a professional veterinarian. 
  2. Determine WHY your dog is chewing, destroying, or eating things they should be chewing, destroying or eating! Is it boredom? Is it because of isolation distress or separation anxiety? Is it because they're teething? There are many reasons why dogs do any of those things. First determine "the why", then you can make plans on what to do about it, if in fact you need to change your dogs behavior. 
  3. Supply your dog with "legal" items, then reward them when they're making the better choice. Check out the picture of Poncho and his "legal" items. 
For more intriguing anecdotes on items that dogs eat, check out this great Web site that Matt Goodman and his dog Watson have developed called: Things My Dog Ate! After looking at his site, I can honestly say Poncho ain't that bad when it comes to ingesting the non-food items... we'll just keep the wrappers away, and count our blessings.

If you have questions about chewing, ingesting, or guarding, or want to teach your dog some training exercises that would help with any of these issues, please contact me. My classes and workshops at the inquisitive canine studio and Ventura College Community Education, and of course privates can help you and your dog. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Helping out our local Humane Society

Kick off your holiday shopping season in a fun stress-free environment. No traffic, plenty of parking and best of all you can find unique items for everyone on your list!

Vendors are gathering to provide you with lots of wonderful choices for holiday gifts, while benefiting our local animal shelter. Companies include:
  • Arbonne skin care - Jennifer Foster
  • Suzanne Soprano - Suzanne Soprano
  • Mary Kay cosmetics - Heather Balaam
  • Painted Gourds - Heather Rowe
  • Jewelry and Chimes - Cyndy Treutelaar
  • Party Lites - Barbara Connelly
  • The Pampered Chef - Julie Wilson
  • Planetjill custom photo jewelry - Joan Mayer
  • The Ribbon gift cards - Elizabeth Isnec
  • Silpada jewelry - Aimee French 
  • and more! 
There will be refreshments and lots of laughs. Stop by, browse and enjoy your holiday shopping experience with us!

Best wishes to all,
Your friends and supporters of The Humane Society

WHAT: Holiday Boutique Open Housebenefiting the Humane Society of Ventura
WHEN: Sunday November 23, 2008
TIME: 1:00 PM - 4:00 PM
WHERE: THE INQUISITIVE CANINE Training and Education Studio
2159 Palma Drive, Suite D
Ventura, California 93003
Phone: 805.650.8500

Monday, November 3, 2008

Puppy and Dog Problem Behaviors: Whose "PROBLEM" is it?

A friend and colleague writes: "I need pet experts to offer me their top tips on treating the common problems of cats and dogs at home for a chapter in a 'pet problems' book being revised. Care to submit something?" Well shoot! Of course I do... I'm always willing to offer up my opinion, especially if it can help others.

The following are some of the more common issues that come my way, regarding dog behavior:
  • House-training: Dogs come with a pre-wired, instinctual set of elimination behaviors. It's up to us to teach them where and when to go in our human world. A few key things are:
  1. Consistency! Teaching them to "go potty" in a multitude of areas can be confusing. Stick with one general place (outside) and reward them for it!
  2. Timing! Reward them when they go it the desired place!
  3. Refrain from punishment of any kind. This doesn't teach your dog what you want - it only teaches them to be afraid of you and to not eliminate in front of you. Or if it's after the fact, then they don't put it together. You may end up punishing something completely unrelated - like coming to you.
  • "My dog is afraid of ": Socialization is key. Whatever you want your dog doing as an adult, begin to get them used to it as a puppy - small, baby steps. New smells, sights, sounds, textures, and situations. This doesn't mean you should be taking them to places that could cause harm, but you can still get them used to, and exposed to "novel" things when they're young.
  • Note: Dogs learn the same way we learn. So for adult dogs, even if you've missed the prime socialization period (6 - 13 weeks), you can still teach them to love or hate almost anything. Pairing something they already love (or hate) with anything else, will teach (condition) them to love or hate the "anything" else. Think Pavlov.
  • "My dog chews up/destroys anything and everything." Let's recap what dogs are: predators, omnivores, scavengers. They chew for a variety of reasons. They're also "individuals" in that they have their particulars about what they like to chew. Experiment with different "legal" chew items. Determine which one(s) your dog likes the best. Then, when s/he makes the right choice, reward extra for making that choice!
  • "My dog barks all the time!" Okay, first off they're dogs. Remember "Old MacDonald"? Dogs bark for a variety of reasons, just like we humans talk/yell/scream (dare I say whisper) for a variety of reasons... First determine "why" your dog is barking, then figure out what to do about it. Fear and separation anxiety is a completely different path of learning than play or attention seeking, as well as alert/predatory/play/territory barking. In a very tiny nutshell:
  1. Fear-based: longer process to teach your dog that being alone is "fun", and that they can trust it's going to be okay. Be boring coming and going, short absences working up to longer periods, exercise beforehand so they're tired and want to rest, pet sitters, day care, play-dates, enrichment.
  2. Boredom: Enrichment! Give them something to do! Exercise them so they're tired.
  3. Attention seeking: Ask them to do something else. Interactive games (enrichment). Reward when they're quiet! Time-out if necessary.
  4. Alert!: If there is a burglar on the premises you better thank them for doing their job! If it's a friend visiting, or the delivery person, thank your dog for letting you know, then ask them for another behavior (instead of continuous barking). Reward for quiet, time-out for making the wrong choice.
I think one of the more important steps any dog guardian should take is learning what they can about dogs in general. Know your animal! What makes them dogs? Why do they do what they do? Understanding them better can help set yourself and the dog up for success, while avoiding those "problems" people complain about.