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? 

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The 12th Annual Pooch Parade: Doggone Fun Outing This Sunday!

Summer is in full swing and what better way to get those tails waggin’ than enjoying a fun-filled day of activities and treats for the whole family to support a good cause and celebrate all things dog. This Sunday, July 19, the Ventura County non-profit group Canine Adoption and Rescue League (C.A.R.L.) is hosting the Annual Fundraising Dog Walk and Pet Expo at San Buenaventura State Beach Park  in beautiful Ventura, California.

We hope you will join us this weekend for some doggone fun – Poncho and I would love it if you’d stop by our Inquisitive Canine booth so we could personally thank you for letting us be a part of your lives. Plus it’s the paw-sitively perfect way to spend the day with your canine (and human) family and friends. 

This Sunday will be the BIG unveiling of my new PAWsitively rewarding dog training card game! It's called "Out of the Box Dog Training Game" and I have to admit, it is a fun way to train with your dog! 

This years theme is: “Wags For Wellness: Protect, Prevent, Provide” and I have to say, the C.A.R.L. group has stood by their word. For over 12 years the volunteer-run non-profit organization has placed over 3,000 abandoned, relinquished and homeless dogs in pre-screened loving and secure homes.

At this dog-friendly festival, you can dress your dog up (you know you want to!) and then enter him or her in one or more of the many contests and competitions! Don’t feel like being part of the show? Then you can sit back and watch others partake in the competitions or watch those participating in doggy demonstrations such as Agility and Flying Frisbees. 

After showing off your dog’s loose leash walking skills in the parade, be sure to reward him/her with a tour around the Pet Expo  You and your dog will have an array of pet-related exhibits and vendors to choose from, as well as the silent auction that will have many items to tempt you (which may not be such a bad thing since proceeds go to a good cause!).

Love dogs but don’t have one of your own right now? Thinking about adopting or fostering a dog? C.A.R.L., as well as other rescue groups, will be on hand to introduce you to shelter dogs looking for loving homes.

Event Details:

  • Registration begins 8:30 - 10:00 AM
  • Hours: 9:00 AM - 4 PM
  • Warm-up stretch starts 9:30 AM
  • 3-mile Walk begins at 10:00 AM!
  • Cost: $40.00 to enter Parade, Walk, Contests, Competitions.
  • FREE: to observe, walk around, visit vendors and shop, and have fun!

For additional information, please check the Canine Adoption and Rescue League Pooch Parade website!

For all of you dog lovers out there that aren’t in this area, this is the perfect time to check your own community for pet-related fundraising events. Maybe your own local shelter is having it’s own Pooch (or kitty) event where you can go with your own dog, adopt a new dog, or volunteer to help animals in need. 

We had such a great time last year, and are looking forward to enjoying ourselves again this year! 

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Being a Politically Correct Responsible Dog Trainer Has a Price: Humiliation

What a lovely weekend it's been here in Ventura. Just got home from an ocean swim with my friends Terri and Mary, along with the other great folks of the Rincon Tri Club. Nice way to start a Sunday...I thought it would be even more fun if Nolan and Poncho came down so we could practice some loose leash walking along the promenade together. Unfortunately it ended with a stranger, poor communication, and me being the target of unintended hurt feelings. 

I know my dog. I know Poncho; what triggers cause which effects. Trucks = increase predatory drive. Loud noises (e.g. fireworks) = barking. Even with the socialization exercises I've done with him, just like the ones I have my private dog training clients and puppy and adult dog training class students do, it seems sometimes tall men wearing hats and sunglasses approaching head on or "sneaking" in from behind to steal a quick pet can sometimes result in a redirected snark... But hey, if someone did this to me, I'd snark too! 

So here I was, with Poncho, standing on the bike path. Poncho was doing his doggy thing, sniffing around some grass and pole. A gentleman wearing sunglasses and a hat came walking by to cross the street and asked "Is that a Chihuahua?" "Yes, he is part Chihuahua." This stranger then started to reach out to touch Poncho, without asking first, while Poncho was still sniffing. 

Poncho didn't see this person, or at least didn't take notice of him. I mentioned that sometimes Poncho will turn around and snark if he isn't expecting it, and doesn't know the person. "So, please don't touch him. I wouldn't want you to get bitten." To me I was being very responsible, concerned with the welfare of the public, and politically correct. I even apologized for not allowing him to pet him. I certainly didn't mean to insult him. 

So off we went, while this other person went on his way. Well, the next thing you know this stranger is driving by, and yells out a phrase that was quite rude, insulting, and too offensive to post in this G-rated family friendly dog training blog. Needless to say, I was quite exasperated and downright hurt. 

By this time I've gotten over it. I do understand it's not me, but the other person. Insecurity? Poor coping skills? Would I have done anything differently? Hmm, maybe would have managed my environment by walking faster - but I didn't want to ruin Poncho's sniffing time! Obviously this person hadn't learned to ask before doing. This is one reason I include the following statement in my class policies at the inquisitive canine dog training studio:
  • Approaching and petting dogsSome dogs are not friendly toward or comfortable around people they do not know. Please do not approach or pet any other dogs in class. If your child wants to meet another dog, they may do so after obtaining permission from the dog's owner and only during non-classroom teaching time.
I always ask dog guardians if I may pet their dog BEFORE actually doing it! Not while I'm reaching out. It's always best to ask first. You never know what might trigger a dog. It's also important to read a dogs body language, and what they might be communicating. They may be "saying" please don't touch me, or "Yes, please come say hello to me." 

Dogs are living breathing creatures that have their own likes and dislikes. As individuals we don't like strangers coming up to us and touching us without asking...and even if they do ask, we might not want them to. Parents of human children don't allow strangers to just reach out and touch their kids, why do we treat our dogs differently? Is it just because they're dogs they should like it? I think not. 

Situational awareness, being politically correct, respecting the safety and welfare of the public, and respecting the safety and welfare of your own dog all add up to being a responsible pet guardian! Too bad there are those times when it doesn't go over well...but that's human behavior for ya. 

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Dog's Celebrating the 4th of July Can Create An Explosive Situation

I remember when I was very young going to Echo Park every 4th of July for the fireworks show. I also recall hiding under my pink blanket, tensing up, whimpering a little, all out of fear. My parents were very cautious, keeping me and my brother safe. But it didn't matter. I guess the sound of the explosives, the crowd, and all the smoke were way too much for me. 

As I got older I certainly understood the whole concept of the celebration of this festive summertime holiday, but it doesn't mean I'm any less fearful. I've been known to enjoy watching the various shows from afar...but I'll be honest, I still get a little twinge of anxiety whenever I hear the loud explosions. Maybe it's because these "bombs" can cause damage and harm to all animals, and the environment. Especially when alcohol is involved.

Okay, my intention isn't to be a party-pooper...I'm looking forward to going out and celebrating as well...spending time with friends and whatnot. But, as a certified professional dog trainer, and dedicated dog mom to Poncho, it's my priority to keep him safe and out of harms way. 

I'm sure you're planning on protecting your pets as well, but I'd like to pass along a few safety tips for keeping dogs (and kitties) safe this holiday:

  • Manage your environment! If you're having a party, or going to be bringing your dog to a party, it might be best to have them confined to a specific out-of-harms-way area with proper enrichment such as chew bones or a stuffed food toy, or tethered to you with a leash. I've said it before and I'll say it again: If something is within reach (including jumping up or climbing on tables to get it), it’s going to be investigated! Please keep any and all food items out of our reach. This includes closing the barbeque cover. Jumping up on a hot grill isn’t very smart, but some dogs haven’t learned that yet - like when kids touch a hot stove. 
  • Food items: Although some dogs have a rock-gut stomach, many others do not. Please make sure you you stick with your dogs regular diet. And ask all of the other humans to refrain from handing out snacks, no matter how much your dog begs. Some foods aren’t good for dogs and they might not know it. You can always post a reminder sign in plain view for everyone to see. 
  • BBQ Accessories: Lighter fluid, charcoal, matches, lighters: All of these items used for the barbeque are often placed in areas where many dogs like to sniff around. Please be aware of where they are placed, and to keep them out of reach from the top dog CSI's. 
  • Alcoholic beverages: Alcohol can be poisonous to dogs so please keep all beverage containers (except our fresh water) out of reach. 
  • Decorations: Candles, tiki torches, oil lamps, and other decorative products like this can be fun to investigate. Unfortunately they can cause harm if they fall over on dogs, or are eaten. So again, if your dog is running around the house, keep these items in a safe place or put away altogether.
Fireworks: First and foremost, keep them away from all pets! Exposure can cause burns and other injuries. Plus they’re very scary to most animals. To play it safe:
  • Keep all pets inside your home where it is safe. Sometimes the explosions scare us and we like to run away. 
  • ID and License: Make sure your dog (and kitties too) are wearing a collar with license and ID tag. Just in case they take off, the authorities will have a better chance of finding you.
  • Stay home or have a pet sitter: Leave your dog at home. Fireworks shows are fun for all of you humans, but for many of us dogs they’re too overwhelming. If you aren’t able to stay home with them, consider hiring a professional pet sitter or have a friend come over to hang out and comfort your pets.
  • Medications: If the anxiety is too much for your dog or cat to handle, contact your veterinarian about the various medication options for helping to reduce noise phobia anxiety. 

Another step you’ll want to take is having phone numbers and other contact information handy.

  • Animal Poison Control: If your dog or cat ingests something they shouldn’t have, you can contact the animal poison control center 24/7
  • Pet Emergency Clinic: Know in advance where the nearest 24-hour pet emergency clinic is and the fastest way to get there. This is something I was reminded of in the Pet First Aid & CPR course I just took with Denise Fleck. The day that we had to rush Poncho to our own pet emergency clinic, VMSG, we had to think very hard of how the best way to get there was. The clinic had recently relocated, and we ended up going the wrong way - this was our own fault for not planning ahead! It's also doubly important if you are traveling with your dog and are unfamiliar with the area you're in. 

I’m not a party-pooper. Trust me, I love a barbeque and a party as much as anyone. But whatever you end up doing this weekend, please make sure you take those extra steps in keeping your pets safe so you can enjoy celebrating more holidays together!