Monday, December 28, 2009

House-Training Dogs Who are Visiting Your Home

My inquisitive canine Poncho the dog was working overtime yesterday (while hubby and I were stuck in traffic) to help our friend Karen Lee Stevens of All For Animals. She had written to us about providing a few dog training tips she could use while taking care of a foster dog Tinker during the holidays.

Poncho did an excellent job of providing dog training tips on his Poncho's Prose blog, including making sure she was creating pleasant associations so Tinker would enjoy anything new &/or different - people she met, places she went or situations she encountered. Poncho also included tips that focused on house-training for dogs and how best to introduce cats and dogs, especially since Karen is the proud parent of Bella, a doggy loving kitty cat.

Karen, who is a columnist, editor and writer herself, had a follow-up question regarding the issue of house-training. Well, I thought I'd give my hard working inquisitive canine some time to relax (it is his favorite day - Garbage Truck Monday) and I've addressed it myself. The following is Karen's question to me, with my answer - hopefully Poncho will approve.

If you too have any questions, please feel free to submit them to our Dear Inquisitive Canine dog behavior advice column that can be found on both Noozhawk and Powerwomen Magazine, both online news websites.

Thank you for such a thoughtful blog, just for Tinker and I!!! She spent the first night at my house last night and I quickly discovered that she's not housetrained!! Three accidents, including one on the bed. I take her outside every two hours and she won't go, but the minute I bring her back inside, she lets loose. Do you think scented potty pads will help?!
Other than that, she and my cat are doing great together -- Miss Bella is especially interested in the new variety of food being served in the kitchen. :)
Best, Karen
Hey there Karen! As a certified professional dog trainer (and in my personal opinion), taking the extra time to teach Tinker to eliminate outside (or the #1 place you want her to go) is ideal - as opposed to allowing her to potty in multiple places. Unless you live in a high rise building or your living situation (weather/your age/your physical limits/dogs age/dogs physical limitations) doesn't allow you to take your dog outside, then I personally like to avoid pee pads. Dogs don't discriminate too easily between pee pads and a nice soft mattress :-)

So, these are a few things I'd suggest you do:
  • First thing in the morning or 30 minutes after you feed her, grab your laptop, newspaper (for reading), DS, iPod, favorite book, a snack for yourself, and a yummy treat for Tinker, put her on leash, get her outside where you want her to go, and wait...wait...wait...walk her around to sniff...wait...wait...wait...walk her around...And as soon as she goes - reward her heavily with petting, praise, and that yummy treat you've been holding in your pocket! You're basically throwing a huge potty-party! If it's safe you can take her off leash too for fun and games...(freedom is another reward).
  • The "enrichment" for yourself is so you're entertained while ignoring her. Try to refrain from saying things like "go potty honey" - because until she knows what that cue means, you'll be wasting your breath - and probably getting more frustrated.
  • If you've waited for at least 15 minutes, and she still hasn't gone to the bathroom, then bring her back in, but keep her tethered to you, or in your lap - Don't allow her to wander off on her own...Then, take her out every 20-30 minutes until she's gone! She will go, trust me! You just have to be patient.
  • Oh, and finally, once you've started the reward process, continue doing it over and over and over....we can never be thanked enough times for performing behaviors others want from us :-)
Speaking of, THANK YOU for writing to me and trusting me to help you reach your goals!

For additional house-training tips for you and Tinker, please see Poncho's blog posts on house-training dogs from a canines point of view, and my own dog training house-training tips right here.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

APDT Announces January 2010 as Official Dog Training Month!

The Association of Professional Dog Trainers has recently announced that January is "National train your dog month!" Perfect timing! What better way to begin the new year? This is one new years resolution that should be at the top of your list. For those adopting a new puppy or adult dog you might want to sign up for a dog training class or even private dog training sessions.

For those seasoned dog guardians wanting to do something different with your dog you could certainly take a fun dog training class or play the Out of the Box Dog Training Game. Either way, working with your dog in a fun and productive way will help build the behaviors you want while reaching your goals!

The holiday season is a popular adoption month for puppies and adult dogs. This could be one reason the APDT decided on January. This is certainly why I have my own dog training classes beginning on January 9th. There is the 3-session puppy class through Ventura College Community Education, and my Good Manners dog training class (the old fashioned name for this would be "dog obedience class", but I prefer "manners") at the Inquisitive Canine dog training studio here in Ventura.

For those whose schedules don't allow for dog training classes, my Out of the Box Dog Training Game is a perfect and "pawsitive" solution for working training into your busy life - whether it's in the official "National train your dog month", or anytime you and your dog want to have fun and rewarding times together.

Poncho and I wish you all the best for a rewarding 2010, and may January kick your dog training skills off on the right paw!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Help During the Grieving Process With the Loss of a Beloved Pet

My friend Colleen Mihelich is an animal lover and pet loss expert who founded Peternity - a company dedicated to helping others celebrate the life and love of their furry friends. She also has the wonderful and informative Peternity blog, where she offers heartfelt stories, along with enlightening guidance on how to cope when you do lose a beloved pet. I know I dread the day, but I am comforted knowing she will be there for me if and when that day comes.

One of her latest posts was on Pet Loss Tips for Getting Through the Holidays. A few pet loss grieving tips she talked about were:
  • How to spend your time.
  • How to help others while helping yourself grieve.
  • How to honor your pet.
  • How to deal with your emotions.
After reading through the content, I'd say one can use this information any time of the year - although, I know the holidays can be quite tough - especially since our non-human family members mean so much to us.

To read more about pet grieving tips from Colleen, please click here to see the Peternity blog post - You can also check out her Peternity website to share, heal, and help - both yourself and others.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Animal Rescue Groups Great Options for Gifts and Recognition

Whether it be a holiday celebration that unites the entire planet, or one in which we celebrate an individual person gifts are something we think about year long. What's another option for giving when you've run out of ideas, or you just want to do something different? How about donating to a special non-profit group?

For my complimentary webinars I ask attendees if they want to give back in some way that a donation to one of the above charities,or one of their own choice, is always welcomed and appreciated. Similar to paying it forward.

Some of mine and Poncho's personal favorites for dogs and other non-human animals are:
  1. The Canine Adoption and Rescue League (C.A.R.L.) This is Ventura's local non-profit dog rescue group.
  2. Dog Adoption and Welfare Group (D.A.W.G.) A non-profit dog rescue in Santa Barbara (I see them at some of my running events - they have great teams!)
  3. Best Friends Animal Society in Utah. What an awesome group!
  4. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)
  5. The Humane of the United States
For human charities both my husband and I support the American Cancer Society. We both lost parents to cancer and like to support those who have supported us.

Thanks to all who spend the time thinking of others, and giving back in some way or another.

Monday, November 23, 2009

This Dog Trainer Can Trust Her Own Dog, and the Dog Training

We had a little incident at our home this evening. Yep, I admit, this dog trainer isn't perfect and neither are the rest of the humans in the household. However, Poncho, my inquisitive canine and trusty dog behavior advice column sidekick seemed to be spot on tonight, (although I admit my fast twitch muscle fibers were working well).

What was the issue? We had a cookie malfunction: my darling husband was carrying a cookie and half of it fell out of his hand and flew across the slippery hardwood floor like a hockey puck on the way to the goal. Needless to say, Poncho McQuikie pants was right on its tail!

I was in the other room, watching the whole thing go down, envisioning Poncho consume his entire caloric intake for the week in one bite, but before his soft warm fuzzy lips wrapped themselves around the delectable molasses chew from Trader Joes, I yelled out "Leave it!" as I was flying out of the chair and across the room, while reaching in and grabbing the mouthwatering morsel up off the floor...AND BY GOLLY PONCHO THE DOG DID IT! Poncho actually backed away from it even BEFORE my hand was near it! I was so shocked I did the happy dance, said he was a good boy, then broke off a tiny, Poncho-sized piece for his reward of leaving it alone!

The "Leave it!" behavior is one of the basic cues I teach in many of my dog training classes here in Ventura. And I guess all the practice with him as my demo dog has paid off! During this more emotional time, I allowed all the training practice to kick in and lo and behold it worked! One of my dog training class mantra's is "Train it before you need it!" or "Don't wait to need a behavior to train a behavior!" I always hope I never have to use this type of cue (usually indicates danger), but it's nice to know I have it in my arsenal just in case there is a cookie incident.

Another point I make in my dog training classes is the concept of "trust". The use of food in dog training helps dogs develop trust between themselves and whomever is working with them, or with other humans. For owners, they need to trust that their dogs are actually going to perform the behaviors they are being taught. I guess I'm the prime example of that!

Thank you my darling inquisitive canine Poncho! I hope I won't need to use that cue again, but it's nice to know you're paying attention and that I can trust you know you're stuff - and the cues! What a good boy you are!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Use of Physical Punishment in Dog Training: The Dark Half

Had a call from a wonderful dog guardian today looking for a dog training class here in Ventura that not only uses "positive reinforcement" but that avoids the use of items such as prong collars and choke chains. Whoo boy did she come to the right place!!! I was happy that this certified professional dog trainer could offer her just what she wanted! I felt like contradicting Mick and telling this person "You CAN always get what you want!"

We had a nice chat about the types of training techniques I use to teach both the dogs and dog training students. She was thankful and relieved that my dog training classes use humane methods - so much so that she has pre-registered for my January 2010 dog training Good Manners class - This is something I find reinforcing!

She then told me that the first class she took her dog to talked about using rewards, but they also used aversives such as those icky collars I mention above. That type of equipment often includes other types of coercive methods such as collar corrections and alpha rolling. Yikes!!! That's like someone slapping you then buying you flowers. Sorry - I wouldn't learn much of anything, except to be afraid for my life.

This lovely person understood why the use of inhumane compulsive methods to teach another animal doesn't make sense, but today I thought it would be useful to help educate those who are still unclear of what these intimidating, bullying, abusive methods can lead to. I have it written out very clearly in my dog training Manners Class workbook, but here is the gist:
  • What exactly is an aversive? An aversive is an event, or change in the environment that an animal finds unpleasant, and seeks to avoid.
  • Positive punishment is the start of anything the animal finds unpleasant, and negative reinforcement is the termination of anything unpleasant. In other words, something unpleasant either starts or stops. The animals motivation with either of these is prevention or cessation of something unpleasant.
For punishment to be effective, several requirements must be met:
  • Punishment must be immediate each and every time! Timing! (Gotta be Johnny on the spot!)
  • Punishment must follow each and every time the behavior occurs. Consistency! (Honestly, are you around every time to deliver the punishment for the behavior you're trying to eliminate?)
  • Punishment must be severe enough for it to work the first time. (Are you really able to deliver something that severe? It needs to be in order for it to actually work!)
  • Punishment should change the dogs behavior. (Hey, if it didn't work after one time it's not working!)
  • Punishment must me doable by the owner. (Can you? Really?)
Damaging side-effects of using aversives:
  • Dog can begin to associate the aversive with the presence of the owner (or punisher).
  • Can lead to learned helplessness - stops trying anything for fear of being punished.
  • Punishment only tells the dog what you don’t want.
  • Punishment is inappropriate for dogs with underlying fear issues.
  • Punishment might not generalize the cessation of the specific behavior. If given the opportunity to perform the behavior in areas where the dog wasn’t punished, they may do just that.
  • Punishment tends to generalize the underlying fear towards any similar environmental situations.
Although this type of punishment can work, and often provide an immediate release of anger and frustration of the person delivering the punishment (there are better coping skills), there is often only a temporary toning down of the behavior the person is initially trying to change. Plus, they only focus on what you don’t want, and not the behavior you want the animal to perform.

Why not avoid all of this nasty stuff and stick to the KISS principle of dog training? It works, it's easy, and it's fun...for both the dog and the human! Plus, you end up getting what you want!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Dangerous Outcome Could Come to Tomato Loving Labrador

My trusty sidekick Poncho and I received a dog behavior question for Dear Inquisitive Canine column about a fun-loving lab mix that enjoys eating all of the homegrown tomatoes in his yard. The dog guardian who wrote in was a little annoyed with this hunting activity, I believe more so because she didn't have any to eat herself! Hmm, that would be annoying - especially when you're craving fresh tomatoes for your evening meal, and there aren't any left!

I addressed this inquisitive dog guardian by outlining key management steps such as: Sturdier fencing, barricades, and yard location that would deter (and protect) her dog, while protecting the plants and her morsels of deliciousness. I also included some simple dog training tips including:
  • Rewarding her dog whenever he ignored the plants
  • Encouraging her to provide other enrichment activities that would redirect him away from the plants, while allowing him to "hunt". Something along the lines of a scavenger hunt for his kibble, or a tomato/kibble stuffed food toy would be fantastic.
Along with the above management and training, there is something even more important about this tomato hunting dilemma: the tomato plant is toxic to dogs! (cats and horses too). The fruit seems to be fine for this dog to eat, and many other dogs, but the leaves and plant itself have been know to cause many health problems.

According to the ASPCA, signs and symptoms of tomato plant toxicity include: Hypersalivation, inappetence, severe gastrointestinal upset, diarrhea, drowsiness, CNS depression, confusion, behavioral change, weakness, dilated pupils, and slow heart rate. For more information on tomato plant toxicity, as well as other common poisonous plants, click here to access the ASPCA website.

To read the full post, please check out our Dear Inquisitive Canine dog behavior advice column - the tomato loving lab will be featured on November 13th 2009 on the Noozhawk website.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Getting All Choked Up Over the Use of Coercion in Dog Training

Maybe it's the latest applied behavior analysis class I've just taken, maybe it's the decongestant and antihistamine stupor I'm in, but it occurred to me, just now, that maybe I need to try a new approach when speaking to those who still prefer to use choke, prong and Citronella collars to train their dogs.

Being of the positive reinforcement, humane, least intrusive approach to training dogs type of dog trainer, this means when I hear or see people go to the dark side, I try to get them to come on over to my camp, usually by explaining and demonstrating all of the wonderful and simple techniques such as shaping, lure and reward, with or without the use of a clicker. This is what I teach in my dog training classes, private dog training clients, and of course all throughout my dog training game!

But sometimes humans don't want to listen; I guess they might find it to be punishing. So instead of all of that, how about if I ask them this: How does it make you feel, deep down inside, when you choke, yank, coerce, yell at, berate, or cause harm to your dog just to get them to do what you want? Do you find it to be fulfilling and reinforcing to yourself? Or, as when one person called me today, do you feel bad inside about doing things like that to your dog?

If you feel bad about it, then I encourage you to dump the aversive techniques and try something different! Simple steps such as:
  • Reward behaviors you like and want! Praise, belly rubs, games of fetch and tug, or giving your dog a part of their meal - all will send a message of "I love when you do that!" And you'll get more of that behavior.
  • Manage your dogs environment so they're less likely to perform those undesired behaviors.
  • Provide outlets for your dog to let all of those doggy behaviors out!
Trust me, these three simple steps will help anyone achieve baby steps to their final goals. If you know someone who prefers the dark side, you might want to take that first step and forward them this information - who knows, you might find helping others to be reinforcing.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Are Dog Breed Biases Really History Repeating Itself?

As a society, isn't it time people use their critical thinking skills and take the time to get educated? The dog picture is of a Pit Bull Terrier - before all of the body altering. Remember: nature, nurture, and above all, a product of our environment. Violence begets violence! Banning breeds isn't going to make people smarter - just more fearful. It's time to educate in order to help prevent fear and ignorance from driving our decision making.

For more information on Pit Bull's including rescue information and how you can help, please visit Pit Bull Rescue website.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Are We Breeding Shelter Dogs?

I've been up in Oakland at the APDT annual conference for the past few days. Yesterdays Fear and Anxiety in Dogs symposium had some good information, but one topic I'm quite passionate about is the issues with dogs ending up in shelters. Whose fault is it? In my professional certified dog trainer opinion, it's certainly not the dogs.

I don't believe it's anyones intention for dogs to end up in shelters, even breeders. Just like when parents have children, I'm sure it's never their intention to breed criminals - but it happens. Unlike humans though, dogs often aren't provided an environment where they can make choices we want them to make. They're left to fend for themselves, then get blamed and in trouble for acting like a dog - humans get frustrated, then they take the dog to the shelter attaching labels like "My dog it aggressive and dominant, I can't deal with him (or her) any more."

What can be done? Prevention and Socialization!!! Sure, puppy training classes and basic dog training classes are great, but it needs to go beyond the basic 6-session dog obedience class. Just like humans go through a multitude of developmental stages, so do our dogs. It doesn't stop at just one class.
  • Teach dogs behaviors they need to exist in our human world. And continue reinforcing those skills learned.
  • What items to chew on and when.
  • How to be alone and entertain themselves through enrichment programs designed for dogs.
  • Meet and greet hundreds of humans while they're young pups, and again continue allowing them to meet new people, in different places and in different situations.
  • CONTINUE socialization during adolescence so they can continue learning and adapting to their environment.
  • Understand what normal behaviors are for dogs.
For many of these dogs it's the environment they are born into, and are raised in, that is often the cause for the issues that land them in the shelters - so again this falls back onto the shoulders of the humans that have the most influence over them and their quality of life. I only wish that some day there are universal training protocols, "Gold Standards" if you will, for dog training. Until then it's wise to be critical thinkers, use common sense, and plan for how to raise a healthy and happy dog in order to keep them out of the shelter.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Holiday Gift Boutique a Benefiting Ventura Humane Society Sunday November 15th

The Inquisitive Canine is happy to report that we will be hosting our second annual Holiday Gift Boutique benefiting our local Ventura County Humane Society. It was such a success last year, we've decided to have it again!

A few details of the event:
Each vendor will be donating a percentage of their sales to the Ventura County Humane Society. Participants include:
The Inquisitive Canine store items will also be on sale for this event - great time to purchase holiday gifts for your canine companions! We look forward to seeing you there!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Not All Domestic Dogs Enjoy Being Bathing Beauties

Throughout the summer, and even heading into our warm-weathered Fall, Poncho and I have received a few questions through our Dear Inquisitive Canine dog behavior advice column from dog guardians regarding their dogs "freaking out" when it came to swimming pools. The dogs either didn't want to go anywhere near it, or would bark and patrol the area when their human family members splashed about in the water. Even if the dog would jump in and out of the pool on their own, playing and going after toys, their reaction would often change when people would all of a sudden "disappear" underneath the water.

Being a dog mom myself I can surely attest to this. Poncho is definitely not a water dog. He's
really not into going into any body of water. (Although, he does seem to enjoy bath-time; probably has more to do with the snackies).

I've also witnessed my friends lab Chief jumping in and out of the water, playing and fetching his tennis ball. But as soon as his human family members dive under water, he begins barking and patrolling. What's he thinking? Who knows. I'm not a mind reader. Why is he doing what he's doing? Hmm, my best guess is that pools are just weird to dogs. And some dogs adapt more easily than others.

What's the solution? Simple. Condition (teach) these dogs to adapt to these bizarre surroundings, watch for the behaviors you do like, even the smallest ones, and reward him or her for their "bravery" of being around pools. Keep in mind that it is always important to gauge a dogs comfort level, which you can do by reading their body language. And always take care in not pushing him or her beyond their “threshold.” Meaning, small steps to help get them used to being around a pool. Making it enjoyable for them, so they can build their confidence. Just like the old fashioned way of teaching us humans to swim by throwing us into the deep end has taken a long walk off a short pier, it's not the best approach to teaching our dogs either.

For the complete article on the german shepherd being afraid of the swimming pool, please see our Noozhawk Dear Inquisitive Canine column. The following are additional training tips for helping your dog in stressful situations. In addition to the above suggestions, you'll want to:
  • Gauge your dogs comfort level by seeing how easily s/he engages in the play activities, and if s/he is taking food rewards. Few animals eat when they’re scared and stressed. If they are eating tidbits of steak or chicken then use these items to reward him or her being near the pool. No pool, no high value treats. In this case it's not punishment. Your dog is clearing letting you know they're uncomfortable.
  • If s/he is not staying focused on you when near the pool, and not eating, this can be interpreted as being beyond his or her level of comfort, also known as his “threshold”. We all have a breaking point. It’s best to keep your dog below his or her level of stress so they can build their confidence and comfort level around the pool.
  • To help the process move along even more rapidly, you can begin the “pool = good stuff for your dog" training plan by introducing him/her to it slowly. Start out with just the two of you, sitting poolside, enjoying the sunshine. Play, have snacks, cuddle, then go inside - stop all rewards and attention. Do this a few times before making it more difficult for him or her. You can then sit with your feet in the pool, but not go all the way in. Those times when s/he chooses on their own to go lie in the water to cool off, go in with them, but wade in the area s/he is in, again providing all rewards that your dog responds well to.
So, if Poncho isn't a water dog, why did I go to the trouble of trying to get him in? Well, I wanted him to practice getting out of the pool. In case there was ever a time that he fell in a pool (we don't have one, but we have friends that do), he might be less scared. Yes I was hoping that he would enjoy it. But nope, even steak, chicken, and his tennis ball didn't change his mind. Sure I could take the time to condition him to love the pool. But since we don't have a pool, and it's not a huge concern for us, and not a big priority, I'd rather spend my time teaching him things that are more important for our lifestyle such as discrimination and agility. If I want to go swimming with dogs I have plenty of my friends dogs to choose from.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Using the Term Aggression to Label Domestic Dogs is Just Name Calling!

I hear the phrase "my dog is aggressive" or "my dog is being dominant" all too often. Before jumping to conclusions and "diagnosing" the dog, it's my job, as a certified professional dog trainer, to sift through the subjectiveness and labels that go along with what the human is trying to describe. I want to know what the dog is actually doing, not what he or she might be thinking.

I know there are folks out there claiming to be pet psychics - well, I'm not one of them. I don't read minds, of humans or of dogs, so I like to rely on good old fashioned science for developing a dog training plan. Is this a "cold" approach? Hmm, that's subjective too. I like to think of it more as a realistic, simple approach that can get the job done!

You want behaviors changed right? You want your dog to be or act a certain way, right? So why not get there the easiest way possible? This way, you can have more time playing and having fun with your dog, versus trying to figure out if they're trying to take over the world. How can it be done? Simple:
  1. What is your dog doing now? Describe it! Paint a picture.
  2. What would you rather have your dog do instead? Describe it!
  3. What do you need to do to their environment to help get them there? Set your dog up for success, not failure!
  4. How do you need to let your dog know she or he made the right choice? Reward your dog for the desired behavior!
See how simple it can be? Sure you do! Now, go out there and do it! Even for fun, just practice with one behavior your dog already knows, but train him or her to perform that behavior in a different place.

Dog Training Tips For Prevention and Training of "Aggression"

All too often I hear "my dog is aggressive". Although this is a subjective term, I do take this matter of dog aggression seriously. As a professional certified dog trainer I feel it's important to not only be able to train and educate the dog and the family, like the students who attend my Ventura dog training classes, but to help prevent such situations from occurring in the first place.

Just like we have preventative medicine for humans, we need to be more thoughtful with "aggression prevention" in our pet dogs. These are a few dog training tips that we can take to help with current, and prevention, of dog aggression issues:

  • Training "aggressive" dogs is important for a few important reasons.
    • "Aggression" based behaviors often get worse if not treated. It’s similar to humans that suffer emotional problems. They often don't resolve on their own. You must change the dog’s environment either through training to teach them ways to enjoy their surroundings or by removing them from the stressful situation.
    • It’s important to curb these behaviors to protect the dog. Since aggression issues can often get worse, dogs are more likely to be euthanized.
    • It’s also important to protect the public. Aggression that is untreated can result in dogs getting worse and responding in ways that are "normal" for dogs - biting and causing injury to humans or other dogs.
  • Are there dog breeds that are more prone to aggressive behaviors.
    • Dogs are animals. Dogs have specific traits that include predatory behavior. Dogs are able to "grab, shake and kill" (and ingest) other animals. Just like humans, if provoked in the right way, we will fight back or become more aggressive. Like us, dogs are a product of their environment.
    • Are certain breeds bred for more of the aggressive elements of the predatory sequence? Yes. But I would look more closely at how the dog was raised, their current environment, and how they are currently treated, along with socialization as a pup.
    • As for aggressive behaviors "popping up" when you least expect it - I feel this is often due to the irresponsibility of the humans to not take notice of their dogs’ behaviors and reactions to certain situations. Be aware of the dogs environment! This is often the cause of dogs behaving in undesired ways.
  • Where does aggression stem from?

I don't believe there is one specific area or reason. I believe it is usually the result of multiple factors.

    • Improper socialization.
    • Improper training methods - aversive and coercive type methods usually train in aggressive behaviors, and often make them worse.
    • "Abuse" can definitely lead to aggression in dogs. Violence begets violence.
    • Illness can definitely cause a dog (or any animal) to behave in a more aggressive manner.
  • I would recommend seeking help from a qualified and reputable vet, behaviorist or trainer immediately. However, it is important to make sure this person uses techniques that actually help the dog get better, not make them worse.
  • To help prevent aggression from starting:
    • Proper socialization as a puppy is important. 6 - 13 weeks of age is the prime socialization period for a dog - however, it's never too early to start, nor too late. This way, dogs adapt to their surroundings much more easily than they would as adults. Whatever you want them doing as adults, get them used to it when they are young. Just like us humans, it's easier to relocate, make friends, learn a sport when we are young versus when we are adults and set in our ways.
    • Understanding canine behavior is also important to preventing aggression. This includes understanding what is normal and what you can do to teach them to live in our human world. Mouthing, jumping up to greet, barking, not knowing how to walk on a leash are all normal canine behaviors - however, these are often interpreted as dogs being "dominant," then dogs get in trouble for these behaviors.
    • Teaching proper bite inhibition can help discourage aggressive behavior. Dogs use their mouths to explore their world and to play. Again, it's often misinterpreted as aggression, and not normal play behavior. Best to provide "legal" outlets for them.
    • Teaching resource guarding prevention exercises can curb aggressive behaviors from starting. Guarding objects is a normal behavior so it’s important to teach them it's okay to have humans touch their stuff.
    • It also helps to socialize them with other dogs. If they never learn how to play and be around other dogs, they become social misfits.
    • Additionally, it’s key to use training methods that reward and motivate the dog (and the human). Coercive and aversive techniques can inadvertently train aggression into dogs, making matters worse.
Final notes: Aggression is a construct. A label. A very subjective term. It's often misunderstood and misinterpreted. We, as a society wouldn't think it was right to yell at someone for being upset or depressed. Telling someone their emotional feelings aren't valid and that they're bad for feeling a certain way isn't acceptable. Plus it doesn't help them feel any better. It is completely unfair of us to subject dogs to certain situations, then label them, then blame them for behaving in a way we think is wrong. Their feelings are valid too. It is up to us to take responsibility for what is far too often our fault to begin with.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Savvy Dog Owners Make Dog Training Class Rewarding

I LOVE my "job"! Being a certified professional dog trainer has so many rewarding elements. I get to:
  • Work with dogs
  • Work with dog guardians
  • Help the human-canine relationship through better bonding.
  • Help problems be resolved through fun and rewarding techniques.
I really appreciate people taking the time to be inquisitive. Just last night at my Canine College dog training class over at Ventura College Community Education a couple of students stayed after asking about some dog behavior issues they're having. I find questions quite rewarding, especially when the answers really help dog guardians see a solution, instead of just the problem.

It seems that "dog aggression" is still a hot topic - and one that many dog owners all too often misunderstand. This family was concerned with their dogs behavior towards other dogs. Their dog would bark, lunge, growl at other dogs while on leash. They wanted to know how to "correct" their dogs behavior. I went through my little check list, taking a brief history and explained a little about normal dog behavior, and the fact that us as humans are really not much different. In brief, this is what I went over:
  • "Aggression" is a very subjective term. A "construct" in the applied behavior analysis world. We often tend to try and figure out what the dog is thinking, versus what they are doing (or not doing) when we use labels like this. So I tend to stay away from them whenever possible.
  • Barking, lunging and growling are normal ways for dogs to express themselves. Just like us talking, screaming, crying... With dogs, this type of behavior is often a result of "fear". Whether it be fear of something specific, fear of the unknown or fear of not being able to get away from something they don't like, or fear of not being able to defend themselves - leashes can get in the way of dogs expressing themselves through their body language.
  • Distance: it sounded like this dog had what are known as "proximity issues". He only responded in this way when other dogs were at a specific distance to him. Otherwise he was fine - personal space is important, and each animal, human and non-human has their own specific personal space. Being on leash he might feel he cannot escape or get away from something (or someone or another dog), so he reacts in order to move whatever is near him away.
  • Dogs have feelings and they are valid! This means, if their dog is upset, then telling him he's wrong to feel a certain way and that he is a "bad dog" for being upset would be like me telling these folks that they shouldn't be upset, and that they're wrong for ever being upset about something. We all agreed that being told our feelings aren't valid would NOT make us less upset - it would more than likely make the person even angrier, or more upset! I saw the lightbulb go on over their was lovely!
So, what's the solution? Simple:
  • Give their dog something else to do!
  • Determine what behavior they want their dog doing, and reward them for that!
  • Whenever their dog behaves the way they want around other dogs, acknowledge that and reward him!
  • Throw a steak or chicken party whenever another dog is around - but only when other dogs are around. With time and consistency, their beloved four legged friend will begin to associate other dogs with fabulous things for himself - then he'll want other dogs to be near him all of the time.
Training your dog doesn't need to be complicated. The simpler we make it, and the better we understand our dogs, the faster we can get to our goals!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Training Your Dog Using the KISS Principle

I often say to my dog training class students and private dog training clients there is more than one way to train a dog. It's nice to have choices. As a certified professional dog trainer, and one whose techniques are rooted in the science camp of animal training, I say "keep it simple!" Why make things harder on yourself? You'll just end up making it harder for your dog too.
Einstein said: "Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex...It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction."

Using this thought pattern for training our pet dogs is perfect for getting the behaviors you want, while keeping the frustration level low.
  1. Reward what you want! You'll get more of it.
  2. Pay attention to what you want. Keep your eyes and ears open. Catch your dog in the act of doing what you want and reward them for it!
  3. Set your dog (and you) up for success! Help prevent your dog from performing behaviors you don't want, while creating an environment where they will thrive, and in turn make better choices.
Let's start the week off on the right paw by creating a dog training plan you can use over and over again! Pay attention to what your dog is doing, reward them for that.

These simple steps are the basis of my Out of the Box dog training game. Small digestible, easy-to-do training steps that will help you reach your dog training goals.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Interactive Dog Training Game That’s Fun and Rewarding for Both Owner and Dog - A Pawsitive Solution for Dog Training!

I'm off to a trade show in Las Vegas today, but I first had to share my latest press release. I've been blogging about my new interactive dog training game and how it's great for dogs of all ages and skill levels - not to mention it's fun for both you and your dog

So please check out my our new press release and feel free to pass it along to anyone you think might be interested in this positive solution to dog training!

Inquisitive Canine’s Interactive Dog Training Game is Fun and Rewarding for Both Owner and Dog

Developed by distinguished dog trainer Joan Mayer, the Out of the Box Dog Training Game is an easy, simple and enjoyable way for you and your dog to play your way to canine good manners!

Ventura, CA - With 39% of U.S. households owning at least one dog, the common reality for many people today is that they just don’t have the time, money, or energy to invest in dog training or coaching their dogs to develop and maintain good manners.

The Out of the Box Dog Training Game was developed by acclaimed dog trainer and behavior coach Joan Mayer as a practical and affordable way for pet owners to positively reinforce real-world manners in their dogs while helping them create stronger bonds with their dogs for life.

This positive dog training solution was designed to go beyond traditional dog obedience training by emphasizing the importance of understanding canine behavior so that dog owners can successfully reinforce the behaviors they want, while limiting and preventing inappropriate habits.

“This interactive dog training game is highly effective because it employs established dog training techniques that reward and motivate both owner and dog,” said Mayer, founder of The Inquisitive Canine in Ventura. “I’ve created this pawsitive dog training solution as an easy, simple, and enjoyable way for dog lovers to raise a healthy and happy pet. By making dog training fun, you and your dog are learning - and you don’t even know it!”

The Out of the Box Dog Training Game includes:
  • 56 activity cards that address real world manners such as loose leash walking, doorbell etiquette, techniques for building confidence and enhancing socialization, and activities that fulfill a dog’s innate needs while helping them adapt to our human environment
  • An 18-page Guide Booklet that includes everything from dog training technique instructions to tips on which rewards will best motivate your dog to learn
  • Scorecard to help you and your dog play your way to canine good manners

“The game is designed for dogs of all ages and can be played just about anywhere and at anytime that works in your daily routine - making dog training less overwhelming and more enjoyable,“ said Mayer, who also authors the dog advice column Dear Inquisitive Canine. "Since each dog training activity can be customized for specific needs and adapted to different learner levels to help advance your dog’s skills, the game is different every time you play!”

The Out of the Box Dog Training Game can be purchased online at

The Inquisitive Canine is dedicated to empowering dog owners with a rewarding education that will help them further develop and enhance their everyday relationships with their dogs. The Inquisitive Canine specializes in dog training methods that focus on understanding canine behavior and teaching dogs through techniques that reward and motivate. For more information on private dog training, group classes, virtual dog training or the Out of the Box Dog Training Game, please visit or call (805) 650-8500.

Also, please visit our web site to check out more news from the Inquisitive Canine.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Walking Your Dog on Leash Doesn't Have to Be a Huge Production

"My dog pulls like a maniac when I walk him on leash!" "My dog barks at everything when we're out walking." "My dog wants to pull me down the street whenever she sees something run by - even a leaf!"

These comments are just a few examples of what I hear every day from various dog owners. Whether it be attendee's in my dog training classes, my private dog training clients, or those who have written in to the dog behavior advice column Poncho and I write for, everyone seems to be in the same leash-pulling-boat.

As I've said in other posts about walking dogs on leash: "Dogs weren't born knowing how to walk on leash. And us humans weren't born knowing how to use one." Then why is it we think we can just leash up our dogs and head right out the door into a world that, to our pet dogs, is probably more like an amusement park than anything else, and think they would understand exactly what we want? To me, a certified professional dog trainer, this is one of those "unrealistic expectations" kinda moments. Leash walking is an art, a science, and definitely an act that requires practice! And just like any new skill, it's best to start out slow and simple, and then build as you (and your dog) progress along.

I like to break down the leash walking behavior I teach my dog training students into three sections.

  • First and foremost: Reward what you want!!!! If you want your dog walking next to you, then reward him or her with yummy treats while they are next to you. Lure your dog into position and reward them. It's that simple.
  • STOP! If and when your dog does pull, stop dead in your tracks! They will soon learn that pulling gets them nowhere, but walking next to you gets them yummy treats and walkies.
  • Use your dogs environmental motivators as rewards! Okay, remember, our dog's walkies should be about them, and not always about us. They want to sniff? Mark? Say hello to another person or dog? Roll in something dead? Well shoot, use that to your advantage. Ask for a "sit" or "Watch me", then allow them to go and do their doggy thing. It doesn't always have to be about food.
Establishing boundaries to avoid doing a face-plant into the sidewalk makes for a nice outing, for both you and your dog.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Shaping Your Dogs Behavior: Stop, Look, Listen, and Maybe Change Your Own Behavior First

When it comes to getting our dogs to change their behavior, sometimes it's best to change our own behavior first. As a certified professional dog trainer, and loving dog mom to Poncho the dog, one element of communication that I've learned is more important than many others is the art of listening. And with our pet dogs, listening also means observing since body language is a dogs first language.

One of our latest Dear Inquisitive Canine advice questions came from a woman who mentioned her dog Colby developed behavior issues after a family vacation. To read the entire column, you can click on the Noozhawk Dog Behavior Advice Column link. In addition to the information in the advice column I'd also like to address two other topics of canine body language and what they might be communicating.

  • Dog Communication and Warning Signals: Our beloved canines have a wonderful way of communicating with body language. It’s their first language and one us humans need to pay better attention to. There’s an old joke: “What do you say to a growling dog?” Answer: “Thank you!” They’ve just told you they aren’t happy about something.
  • Growling Leading to Biting: The “I’m upset” escalation scale for dogs is: freeze-growl-snarl-snap-bite, bite harder, bite even harder - bite harder again… Dogs will continue to progress up this ladder if 1) they feel they are being ignored (“No one is listening to me! Next time I better speak up louder by biting!”), and 2) What they are “saying” is being punished out (“The last time I told my humans I was upset by snapping at them I got in trouble. I guess I’ll have to “‘speak up” louder the next time, which means I’ll need to bite! Maybe then they’ll listen.”)
Remember my dear human (and maybe canine) friends out there: the art of being a good communicator is not just talking - it's also about listening, or in the case of listening to our dogs, the art of good observational skills.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Controversy in Management Route For Dog Aggression

The July 24th 2009 L.A. Times story about a dog named Cotton whose guardian treated his aggression situation with a medical procedure called "Canine Disarming" (filing down of teeth to help prevent bite damage). She had initially tried some behavior modification, even went to the self-proclaimed Dog Whisperer. But it was the dental procedure that stirred up a lot of controversy, at least according to Craig Nakano, the journalist whose follow-up article in today's L.A. Times Home and Garden section has stated. 

When the article first came out, of course I had my two cents to add. This treatment is used as a "management tool", as opposed to behavior modification. (As a certified professional dog trainer I would have used a plastic basket muzzle and behavior mod that Cotton's guardians could easily follow). 

I wrote to the editor not expecting to hear anything back. But what do ya know, Craig contacted me yesterday. He said out of all of the emails they received, mine was one that stood out from the others because I remained more "neutral". I think "neutral" in the sense that I didn't completely berate Cotton's guardian. Hey folks, isn't this similar to castrating a rapist? Ruh-roh, now I'm gonna stir up my own controversy. 

Anyway, although I do not agree with this treatment, and I would have completely gone a different route had she contacted me for private dog training services, I think berating her would have been too punishing, and that is not in my nature. I also believe that:
  1. They still love Cotton.
  2. The family probably felt this was their last resort.
  3. They wanted to protect the public at all costs.
  4. They didn't want to unload Cotton's issues onto anyone else - which seems to be more the norm in our society, and I commend them for that. (I received three emails alone this week of people looking to get rid of their dogs because they didn't want to deal with them any longer...including one situation where one person in the household wanted for the dog to sleep outside, and the other said inside, so instead they're going to re-home the dog! UGH, but that's a whole different post...)
I'm hoping a situation like this will prompt the powers in charge to develop laws and protocols that protect our domestic pets, not only for situations if a dog end up like this, but in hopes of preventing these behavior issues from happening in the first place. Hmm, how about making it mandatory that:
  • Breeding dogs MUST be an actual professional legitimate business. Not breeding out of their backyard just because the dog is cute or they need the money.
  • Breeders pay a higher fee for breeding since they are contributing to the increased pet population. What, you don't think purebred dogs get dumped at shelters? HA! 
  • Breeder and dog guardians MUST BE required to socialize dogs properly to our human environment so they can adapt more easily and reduce the risk of developing aggressive tendencies in the first place!!!
  • Dog guardians MUST BE required to enroll their young dogs into dog training classes that adhere to humane methods of teaching. And, they must continue their dogs education (and their own, right?) with dog training classes, workshops, sports like agility or Rally-O so everyone can keep up their skills - especially their socialization skills. 
  • And finally, if I may so bold: mandatory spay/neuter... Ruh-roh, more controversy! 
It would also be nice to have more dog-friendly places to take our dogs. Instead of having to either take them to the same places over and over again, or resorting to leave them at home all of the time, and not allowing them to be exposed to people and situations that we all of a sudden want them to be used to. 

Okay, now that I've stirred up my own controversy I'm gonna take Poncho out for some socialization, then have him help me set up for our Canine Circuit Training class tomorrow, while you write in with your comments. 

Friday, August 7, 2009

Making Dog Walking Outings More Fun For Your Dog & You

As Poncho and I were on our evening stroll today here in Ventura, we played our "let's say hi to our neighbor dogs as we walk by" game, which made it a lot more fun - for the both of us!  

Every time we walked by a house where the dogs started barking, I'd say *Hi!*, mention their names (there's Mookie, Zorro, Nick, Guinness and Waylon, red house dog, blue and white house dog, and Heather), and give Poncho a little piece of leftover chicken.  

This is a fun game - Poncho loves it! And of course now, thanks to learning by association, he loves when other dogs bark too...

This is a really simple and fun activity - it's actually one of the activity cards found in my Out of the Box Dog Training Game.

What are you doing to make your dog walk outings more fun? For your dog and for yourself?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Violence Begets Violence in Pet Dogs Too - Yippee For Dog Behavior Studies!

"Do unto others" I say - especially when it comes to teaching my dog training classes and private dog training clients. The last thing I would ever want when learning a knew skill or being taught how to "behave" is to be yelled at or smacked! So why is this acceptable with our pets? In the dog training classes and other dog training services I offer, it's not! That's one reason people come to me in the first place.

It seems that there are some provocative dog training methods out there that have become quite popular due to the media and television. Unlike the Food Network and all of the cooking shows, some of the dog training methods being shown don't seem to be as "user friendly" - for both dogs and the humans...unless of course you're the star of the show. 

Yes, there is more than one way to train a dog, just like there is more than one way to make a meatloaf. But using physical force, coercive methods, and a "it's my way or the highway" attitude often doesn't get you as far as teaching an animal what you want in a way they understand. By taking a "I hold myself accountable" friendly, understanding and "have patience" approach, you can not only teach your dog the behavior you want, but you teach it in such a way they end up thinking for themselves, wanting to make the better choice because it:
  1. Works for them 
  2. They develop positive associations with whatever is happening at the time 
  3. They're not afraid of being hurt or getting in trouble! 
I came across this great study on how Aggression Begets Aggression in our pet dogs from the Applied Animal Behavior Science completed by Herron, Shofer and Reisner. They talk about the use of these popularized dog training methods and how they often lead to an increase of the behavioral issue. Same as humans being raised in a hostile violent environment often end up behaving the same way ~ violence begets violence. 

Thank goodness for those who take the time to study and publish this wonderful doggy data! THERE'S a television show I'd watch! Hmm, how about it Science Channel??? 

Monday, July 27, 2009

Out of the Box Dog Training Game: All About Skill Level

The following is a most excellent question from one of my wonderful inquisitive canine students - thought I'd share it with everyone, just in case you have the same question.

Hi Joan - I have a question regarding your new Out of the Box Dog Training Game

When practicing with my dogs Ady & Ashley, I'll want to take them from beginner to intermediate (and eventually to advanced) for certain behaviors, BUT I can't remember what differentiated one level to the next, like the descriptions on the canine circuit training class posters. Are the cards detailed like the circuit posters? Thanks - Ady and Ashley's mom

This is a great question, as I'm sure there are other inquisitive canine folks out there wondering the same thing. I'd be more than happy to answer this, and describe how I teach my inquisitive canine students in the various dog training classes I offer, as well as private dog training clients to make the behaviors easier or more difficult for his or her dog(s). 

The concept I teach and often refer to is "3-D Training" - Distance, Duration and Distractions. Adjusting each element on it's own will make a behavior easier or more difficult for your dog to perform. 

When teaching your dog a new behavior, you'll want to make it easier and increase only one "D" at a time. You'll then either lower the other two ''D's" or keep them the same level. To make it more difficult, or to advance your dogs skills, increase one "D" at a time. For those truly advanced dogs out there you can increase two "D's" at a time while lowering or keeping the third one the same.  

I describe each "D" in the following way:
  • Distance: the distance between you and your dog, or your dog and the object/person you want them to go to or target. 
  • Duration: the amount of time you want your dog to hold a position. 
  • Distractions: anything, and I mean ANYTHING in the environment that your dog can be triggered or motivated by - this includes anything that can stimulate at least one of his or her senses in some way. 
A few examples related to skill level would include:
  • Distance using Recall (coming when called): Beginner level: Inside your home, no distractions, no other behaviors like sit-stay, from 5 feet away. Advanced level: 30 yards away outside at off leash dog park with a mid-way "stop and stay". 
  • Duration using Waiting At Doors: Beginner level: Have your dog sit before being let outside, give release cue then immediately open door to let him or her outside. Advanced level, ask for sit-stay at door, open door, dog has to wait 5-10 seconds before release cue is given, allowing them to go outside. 
  • Distractions using walking on Loose Leash: Beginner level: inside home. Advanced level is walking outside with every distraction in the world. 
As a gentle reminder, remember to reward everything you want, and to increase the value of the motivator when you're advancing those skill levels. (Motivation is another topic I bring up in the Guide Booklet" and throughout my dog training classes and private dog training sessions). 

This information can be found in the Guide Booklet of my newly developed Out of the Box Dog Training Game. It's also part of my various dog training class welcome packets and workbooks. The great thing about understanding this concept is it makes it easy for anyone to play the game, plus you'll be able to play it over and over, all you have to do is to adjust the skill level as you go. 

Happy training to you and your dogs, and thanks again for the question! I love when people are as inquisitive as their canines. 

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Dog Breeding: DIY or a Real Profession

As many of you know, this dog lover and certified professional dog trainer is a huge supporter of all things animal rescue. However, I know that many folks, even some of my great inquisitive canine students prefer purebred dogs and would rather buy their four-legged friend from a breeder rather than adopt from a rescue or shelter. Check out the photo - there are mutts, mixed breeds from shelters, from private rescues, and top dollar dogs from breeders....can you tell the difference? I didn't think so...unless you know them personally.

Well, I say that's fine, as the choice is yours, but please make sure the breeder is reputable, professional, respects the profession and has clear-cut meaningful intentions for their contributing to the increased pet population. I came across a disturbing story in the local Ventura County Star newspaper about a local breeding kennel here in Ventura County. The allegations included they had over 100 animals and were using aversive training techniques. This is quite upsetting as it seems these folks do not have the animals welfare as top priority. 

The American Kennel Club has posted some guidelines on their website about choosing a breeder. As a professional certified dog trainer, who works with all sorts of dogs from all sorts of backgrounds, the following are some of the highlights I'd like to touch on, based on what I think are important when forming this dog-human relationship. 

Responsible Dog Breeders
  • Make the dogs welfare their top priority. 
  • Produce healthy, well-socialized puppies.
  • Consider physical health and the mental well-being of the animal.
  • Are aware of overall health issues, temperament and genetic screening. 
  • Examine the home of which the puppy will be placed. 
  • ABide by the federal Animal Welfare Act, including state and local regulations.
As a human, I would be allowed to carry another persons child for monetary compensation. But wait, I'd have to do this legally, otherwise I'd be in big trouble. (Don't worry, I have no intention of doing this - I just wanted to use it as an example). There is paperwork, fees, money changing hands etc...and not everyone is allowed to do this, right? And who knows what the child would turn out like? I'm a nice person but I'm certainly not perfect, and who knows what kind of DNA misfiring could occur. 

So why is it okay for anyone to breed a dogs and sell them! Is it because dogs are "owned"? Is it because the government is too busy running this country into a deeper deficit to care? Purebred dogs certainly end up in shelters - but does the attitude then change? Would someone wanting to purchase a purebred dog feel comfortable "buying" one from a shelter or rescue group? 

Allow me to bring up one other topic of breeding. The AKC mentions they want breeders to breed to preserve the breeds characteristics. This to me is a slippery slope. Why? Because our domestic dogs were initially bred for behaviors that many humans now complain about - including watchdog behaviors (barking, fear and aggression towards strangers), hunting (including the "grab-shake-kill" sequence of predatory behavior), water dogs (can't keep 'em out of bodies of water including the pool), retrievers (put everything they can find in their mouths)...and the list goes on. 

So what SHOULD we be breeding for? Well, I look at the human-canine relationship as more of an emotional relationship - similar to how we choose our friends and mates. Meaning, if I were to play "mutt-matchmaker" I would set someone up with a dog that fit his or her personality, versus looks or nondescript subjective breed characteristics. I love helping people find their true canine match. As a matter of fact I offer a complimentary monthly public talk on "Before and After You Adopt". The "before" part is helping folks decided on which animal is best for them. The next session at the inquisitive canine studio is August 23, 2009.

Dogs are animals. They are individuals. They each have their own personality, likes, dislikes etc... I've said this many times, including this post on dog breed discrimination. Isn't time we ask that the breeder profession be taken more seriously? I would think those that follow the rules would prefer there be more rules, including laws and regulation of the instituted laws. 

If I'm not legally allowed to manufacture and sell anything I want, then why are humans allowed to breed animals and sell them whenever, wherever, and to whomever they want?