Friday, May 29, 2009

Before You Adopt A Dog: Questions to ask yourself

I met with Sharon of the Canine Adoption and Rescue League (CARL) today. I wanted to discuss the possibility of offering a complementary talk for potential adopters, as well as those who have newly adopted a puppy or adult dog. Good news! She loved the idea! 

It's going to be a 75 minute talk over at the Adoption Center (behind the Ventura Pet Barn), held on the third Saturday of each month. I begin August 15th! I will be going over the ever important pre-adoptions questions surrounding the "Why?" and the post-adoption topics of "Yikes! Now what to I do?" 

These are a few of the topics I will be discussing, and inspiring people to ask themselves:
  • Why do I want a dog?
  • Is this the best time in my life to get a dog?
  • Are there any foreseeable life-changing events that may occur?
  • Can I afford to keep a dog, for it's lifetime?
  • What type of dog do I want? 
  • Am I more concerned with breed or temperament?
If you're considering adopting a dog, or know someone who is, you may want to come by on August 15th and check it out. Ask questions? Of if you've adopted a dog and need help with behavior issues, or maybe just want some general information about making life better with each other, please come by. This talk is free to the public, although donations to CARL are always welcome. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dog Trainers Need to Practice Too

Even though I'm a professional certified pet dog trainer, doesn't mean I:
  1. Have the perfect dog (sorry Poncho, but hey I'm not perfect either)
  2. Know everything there is to know about dog training
  3. Never have to practice...UGH!
You may have known from previous posts of mine, or from Poncho's posts, that we've been going to agility classes taught by our friend Margie Hanlon of the Seaside Scramblers... Margie is a real saint, I have to say, especially after reviewing my last bit of video. Wow, do I need practice. Just to prove that I'm not perfect, I am posting a little bit of our latest session. 
Fortunately I did get better after warming up, and of course my hubby did a great job of running Poncho. But I thought this time around I'd share a few laughs by showing the not-so-great footage. Good to remind myself that training of any sort is a mechanical skill. (Thank you Bob Bailey). 

Just like I tell my own dog training students, in both my Ventura College Community Education Canine College class, my manners classes at The Inquisitive Canine studio, and private clients, "If you practice, even 3 minutes a couple times a day, you get better, your dog gets better, and you get the behaviors you want!!! It's that simple...Hopefully, next week will be better - for me anyway, Poncho already knows what he's doing!  

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Impulse Control and Dogs: if dogs had any, they wouldn't be dogs, would they?

Today was session number four of my dog training Manner's Class at the inquisitive canine studio. It's one of my favorite to teach, but also one of the most intense and informative. Why? Because this session starts to bring all of the previously learned elements together, along with learning all about impulse control, and how to teach your dog to have a little!

We started with puppy push-ups, practicing the separation of verbal and visual cues (two separate languages you know), then loose leash walking part one exercises. This was a nice way for everyone - dogs and humans - to warm up their mechanical skills, and their brains. One we were all warmed up, it was time for teaching the technique of "reward removal", or, punishment!!! Yep, just because I'm a positive reinforcement, non-coercion, and non-aversive dog trainer, doesn't mean I don't use punishment. Sure I do - but it's the type that shouldn't cause the nasty side-effects the other old fashioned nasty methods do. 

Okay, so now it was time for the impulse control specific exercises:
  • Greeting nicely
  • Waiting at doors
  • Taking treats gently
The first step of any new behavior: reward what you want. I had the humans practice their first visualization exercise: paint your Norman Rockwell picture - that's what you reward! For many it was:
  • Sitting for greeting others (or four-on-the-floor) while others approach, dog gets up or lunges forward, dog doesn't get to say hello. 
  • Butt on ground makes door open, dog gets up and door closes.
  • Treat presented to dog, not dog snatching treat out of hand.
I saw many people practicing perfect skills! You can see Riley here in this photo - he learned very quickly if you sit, your own guardians give lots of treats, plus other humans say hello too. 

Jacob learned to take treats gently, and Esi figured out that sitting at the door made it open more quickly. 

As for the myth busting, we had some of that too. Not sure who came up with dogs wanting to be dominant or aggressive by going through doorways first - how silly is that? I believe it's just they're a lot more excited than we are about getting to the other side first. However, having them sit first, or at the very least waiting until you give them an "okay," is appropriate. 

Maybe we could learn a little something from our exuberant pooches. Life would be much more exciting if we humans were that happy about every little thing that happened in our daily lives...

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Dog Bully Behavior: How to help protect your dog from getting picked on

I recently wrote about this situation in my weekly doggie advice column on the Noozhawk. "Anxious in Austin" has a cocker spaniel that seemed to be terrorized by the neighbor’s "nightmare of a Pomeranian". When situations like this arise, it is important to be able to recognize appropriate dog play…

Venture to any off-leash dog arena and these are the types of behaviors you’ll likely see being displayed: 
  • dogs chasing after other dogs 
  • dogs being chased
  • mouthing
  • nipping
  • tugging
  • chest banging
  • pinning
  • wrestling
  • rolling
  • mounting 
But when it’s “play,” it’s reciprocal and consensual! Those are a couple key factors! Reciprocal and consensual! Other notable elements of proper play are:
  • Big, inefficient movements amongst all involved. Think “Three Stooges” versus Muhammad Ali. 
  • Self-interruption: One dog will stop for a second or two to take a break, others follow by taking a break as well. 
  • Good “listening” skills: If one dog no longer wants to play, they will communicate as such, and the other dog will comply and go in search of another playmate. 

When dogs aren't exhibiting healthy dog play behaviors, there are several things you, as a responsibly aware dog guardian can do. 

The goal: to help your dog build trust and self-confidence. You can easily do this by rewarding your dog for being brave. EX: your dog looks at, approaches gently, or investigates another dog, he or she gets a yummy food reward, and lots of "cheerleading happy talk". You can also reward with food and praise if another dog approaches your dog to say *hi*. This is similar to encouraging young children to make new friends. As humans we use encouraging verbal language and praise to help children deal with shyness and novel experiences. We can do the same for our pet dogs too. Through food, your dog learns to trust, while making positive associations with other dogs they meet. 

Additional techniques that may come in handy…
  • Manage your environment or “avoid” if necessary: This is for when you don’t have the right kind of rewards handy, you don’t have the time to train, or you just don’t feel like dealing with the situation. 
  • Come up with your best “spin”: “I’m so sorry, I’m running late today and don’t have time to stop. How about another time?” “Oh geez, wouldn’t you know it, I’ve only got a couple of minutes to get my dog exercise, so I’m gonna have to take a rain check. Thanks though!” 
  • And with the convenience of modern gadgets, you can always be tied up on the phone, or even pretend to be on the phone - just make sure the ringers off so you don’t get a call while you’re faking it. I know, it’s a white lie, not very ethical. But hey, you’re doing it to protect your family and your sanity! 
  • In the case with "Austin", maintain a friendly relationship between you and your neighbor: You can use some of the same techniques with your neighbor’s dog too. Bring a basket of muffins for your neighbor, and treats for both dogs. You can reward the Pom for being nice towards your dog, while continuing the treat plan with your Cocker. If the Pom begins to “act up” the rewards stop, and you suddenly remember you have to leave. You can also explain to your neighbor that you’re trying to help your dog overcome her shyness. Many people love to help and feel needed, so it’s a good time to fill her in on your plan and ask for assistance.
  • Dog training classes and doggy socials: even for dogs that are already trained, getting into classes helps build up or maintain trained skills, but also helps to keep dogs socialized. Sometimes classes are the only time dogs get to be around other dogs. 
It’s important to be consistent when helping your dog learn to successfully conquer difficult situations. With a little patience, understanding, and time, even the shyest of dogs can make new friends, eventually leading to lots of play-dates!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Dog Behavior and Discrimination: how come my dog listens to my husband but not me?

I know, nowadays the word "discrimination" can be a negative thing. As socially conscious humans we're not supposed to discriminate - at least when we're talking about certain human characteristics. But trust me, we discriminate all the time - and it's a good thing, as you'll see below. How does discrimination relate to dog training? First a general definition of discrimination: 
  • the recognition and understanding of the difference between one thing and another: discrimination between right and wrong | young children have difficulties in making fine discriminations.
  • the ability to distinguish between different stimuli : [as adj. ] discrimination learning.
With consistency, and precise timing, we can actively teach dogs to discriminate. Check out the video of me and Poncho the dog. I'm teaching him to discriminate when to jump through my legs. Turning my right leg out is the cue for him to jump through. Turning my left leg out, he isn't supposed to. He got his reward for staying put. 

Poncho learned pretty quickly that: right leg turned out = jump through = gets rewarded. Left leg turned out = stay = gets rewarded. If he didn't jump when he was supposed to, or jumped when I didn't want him to, then I'd give him a "too bad", which is the cue for "no reward". The punishment is he doesn't get a food reward, and he has to wait to try again. 

Another human world example:
  • Green light = "go", Red light = Stop, Yellow light = "slow down in preparation of stopping" (although some folks define the yellow as "speed up and get through the intersection"). 
In this example we, as humans, discriminate between the different colors of the traffic signal, and based on what we've learned, we know what to do for each one. I don't know about you, but when I was a child, I quickly learned which parent to go to for what, and when to ask. This is example of "discriminative learning".

As a certified pet dog trainer, I often hear comments or get questions, either from my manners class students or my Noozhawk advice column about "Why does a dog do one thing for one person and not another? Why does my dog pull on leash with me, but not my spouse?" Well, the simple explanation is: One person is more consistent with teaching and rewarding what they want and/or punishing out what they don't want. In a case like this, the dog in question has been able to discriminate which parent to go to for what! 

Dogs, just like small children, don't have the mental capacity to distinguish between right and wrong. They aren't born with the section of the brain that is wired for it, and they never really develop it. However, they are very good at differentiating between safe and dangerous. Along with discriminating between safe or dangerous stimuli, they are masters at discriminating between finite cues - provided passively or actively. For example:
  • Passive cue: sneakers = going for walkies, dress shoes = dog stays home while human goes to work. 
  • Active cue: human places specific blanket (environmental cue) on couch = dog gets to hang out on couch. No blanky on couch, doggy isn't allowed on couch.
So, if your dog is behaving differently for you than they are for someone else, ask yourself: 
  • What am I rewarding or not rewarding my dog for?
  • Am I being consistent?
  • What cues am I giving my dog?
Then, once you've answered yourself, you can then fix the problem, if there is one.