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.