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News: JoAnna Lou
To Tug or Not to Tug?
Discovering the benefits of playing tug-o-war

A few weeks ago, I wrote about entertaining your canine crew with a variety of indoor activities, including a tugging game. One of our readers commented that they’d always heard playing tug-o-war can encourage biting, a common misconception about this game. 

I can see why tugging could be mistaken for encouraging aggressive behavior with all the pulling and growling, but the bad rap is unfortunate since this game has so many positive benefits when played properly. 

When I first got Nemo as a puppy, he naturally liked to tug, but it wasn't an activity that I fostered. It was through agility that I first saw the role of tugging as a training reward.  Since then, Nemo and I have discovered the many benefits of this interactive game while having lots of fun together.

Exercise
Tugging is great way for dogs to expend energy without needing a lot of space, like a fenced yard. It’s also perfect when you’re traveling since you can even play inside a hotel room, as long as your pup isn’t a loud tugger. And I can contest that it can be equally tiring for people as well! 

Training
Very popular in agility, tugging can be used a valuable reinforcer when teaching new behaviors or strengthening existing cues. Imagine how quickly your dog will come to you when he knows a fun game of tug is on the other end! Many dog sports enthusiasts like to use tugging as a reward, since food is not typically allowed in the competition ring, but anyone can enjoy the benefits of incorporating play into training.

Relationship-Building
Tugging is a great way to initiate your dog in play, strengthening the bond with your furry friend. Growling, when accompanied by soft, relaxed body language, is perfectly normal. Dogs often growl at each other during play, with no connection to dominance.

Self-Control
Contrary to the belief that tug-o-war can encourage dangerous behavior, tugging can actually help dogs learn self-control and give them an outlet to use their teeth appropriately. I use the following three rules when engaging my pups in the game of tug. Your dog’s personality will dictate how strict you have to be in enforcing these guidelines.

  • You control access to the toy and always initiate the game. Keep tug toys away until you want to play.
  • Start the game when your dog is sitting politely. Alternatively you can ask for another behavior or trick.
  • You decide when the game ends. Teaching your dog to drop the toy with lack of motion on your part or with a verbal cue, like the word “out” or “drop” is essential.

I like to practice pausing and re-starting several times throughout the game to teach the dogs impulse control. It’s also a great way to strengthen a “stay” cue with distracting toys.

If your pup isn’t a natural tugger, check out Susan Garrett’s tips for creating a motivating toy.

Do you tug with your dogs?

News: Karen B. London
Stay Makes Life Better
Avoid common mistakes when training this cue

If your dog can stay when asked, life is easier. It’s so wonderful to have a dog who will stay throughout dinner when guests are over, and it’s great to have a dog who can stay when needed to keep her safe. I love teaching this cue to dogs! Teaching stay takes time, especially if you want that stay to work when you really need it. The first step in training a dog to stay is teaching her what the cue means, which is to remain in place until you tell her it is okay to move somewhere else. This step is usually pretty quick. Most of the time involved in training a dog to stay is about practicing so your dog can do it even when distracted or when you are not right next to her, or when you need her to stay for a long time. In fact, trainers commonly say that the 3 Ds of stay training are distraction, distance and duration.

  Three common mistakes when training dogs to stay can easily be avoided just by knowing about them. They are: 1) Not releasing your dog from the stay, 2) Giving your dog a treat after you release her from the stay rather than while she is staying, and 3) Making the stays too hard too early on in the training process by asking your dog to stay for too long (duration), when too much is going on (distraction) or when you are too far away (distance).
News: Karen B. London
Training Your Foot Warmer
Sitting in an odd place takes practice for dogs

Previously, I wrote about using a visiting Pomeranian as a foot warmer, and I mentioned that I had to teach him to sit on top of my feet. The first time I lured him over and gave him the cue to sit, he looked a little confused and was not as quick to respond as usual. He started to lower his back end hesitantly, unlike the usually sharp way he sits on cue. I praised his initial lowering to let him know that even in this unusual context, he was doing the right thing by sitting on top of a part of my body. I then gave him a treat, though his training is usually well beyond the point of requiring a treat to reinforce the right behavior in response to a simple cue like “Sit.” For many repetitions over several days, I asked him to sit when to do so meant that he would be on top of my feet. After this work on my part and his, I could get easily get him to perform the behavior I desired—sitting on my cold feet and making them cozy warm. He seemed comfortable with the cue in this context and willingly sat when asked.

Dogs don’t tend to generalize well. If you think your dog knows how to sit on cue, you may be right, but if you think he knows how to sit in all contexts to that cue, there’s a good chance you are mistaken unless you have specifically trained him to respond in a variety of contexts. To many dogs, the cue “Sit” means to do what they were taught in training class—to sit in front of you while you stand there.

Many dogs know how to sit when asked in their own living room, at training class, or when on a leash in the backyard and the person who gives the cue is standing up. Change any part of that context, and your dog may not respond. So, if you ask your dog to sit when you are lying down in bed, when you are not facing your dog, when there are visitors at the door, or a cat is visible out the window, he may not do what you ask. The fact that he does not respond is more likely to mean that he hasn’t been trained to respond to your cue in that context than that he is disobedient or being stubborn. Dogs need to be trained to respond to cues in different contexts if we expect them to do what we ask. I think this is one of the big secrets known by experienced dog trainers, but not by people who are novices in the field: Teaching the dog what the cue means is the easy part. The hard part is getting them to respond to the cue no matter what is going on and no matter where you are. This is especially true of difficult behaviors such as heel and come compared with a simple behavior such as sitting.

I had never trained a dog specifically to sit on my feet before so it was a bit of a learning exercise for both of us. (I have had dogs sit on my feet when I was just asking for a normal sit, but who hasn’t had that happen?) However, we had the advantage of my knowing that it might pose a challenge for Tyson so I knew to take it slow with him, helping him out by reinforcing his efforts and not expecting too much too soon.

News: Guest Posts
“We Need to Get Rid of Him”
For me, this phrase is a call to arms

This evening, I received an urgent phone message from a woman whose name sounded familiar. She mentioned her young dog and it all came back to me. She had called this past summer to ask if I taught a puppy class. I did not, but told her I was available for in-home lessons to get him started off on the right paw.

I discussed my positive training philosophy and how I encourage dogs to think and learn instead of being forced to do what they're told. She said she'd talk about it with her husband and let me know. I did’t hear back from her until today, seven months later. In her words, “We need to get rid of him. He bites.”

What happened during the intervening months? I immediately returned her call and shared contact info for a local rescue that specializes in that breed. I also offered to forward his photo and information to my students, friends and family via email. I suggested she post flyers at her vet.

Not once did she thank me. She also made it clear that taking a photo and downloading it on the computer would be a pain. Throughout our conversation, she would say, “Well, we paid $1,200 for him,” and "He's actually quite a precious dog” and “We didn't do anything wrong.” Oh, really? I truly hate to be rude, but I cut her off at every turn. I didn’t want to hear her excuses. What’s worse is that when I inquired as to whether the breeder would take him back--any responsible breeder would --she replied, “No, can you believe it? And they won’t give us back half our money, either!” That’s what worried her? The money?  

Finally, I had to ask, “When you contacted me about training over the summer, why didn’t you follow through?”  She informed me that they found a local puppy class and were satisfied with it until something bad happened. He had had the audacity to get up from a down-stay. She told me that the instructor threw the puppy to the ground with such force that he cried out and “you could hear a pin drop in the room.” All of the other students just stared. I asked where they took him and as she told me the name of the training school, my heart sank.

Two years ago, one of my clients came to me because of how her dog was treated at that same place. The instructor’s response to dogs who were “stubborn” or “dominant” was to throw them to the ground in what is known as an alpha roll advocated by old-fashioned aversive trainers a la Cesar Milan.

When her dog “refused” to stay in the heel position, this trainer threw her to the ground. After the dog “acted up” a second time, the trainer angrily grabbed the dog, said “I’ll teach you how to listen!” took her outside the room and my client heard her dog cry. She said she would never forgive herself for taking her dog there and trusting this person. After attempting to help her with the dog, my husband and I decided to adopt her, knowing that the damage caused could be undone, but it would require a commitment of time, energy and know how that this poor woman did not have.

So no wonder this dog bites. He doesn’t trust people and I can’t say I blame him. Perhaps if she had worked with me instead, things would be different. At least I can try to help him now by finding a home for him with someone who is far more dog savvy.  Someone who can teach him that people can be kind, thoughtful and patient. I hope that person is out there.

News: JoAnna Lou
Hungarian Super Pups
A training method that focuses on the whole dog.

You may have already seen the viral You Tube video of a group of dogs decorating a Christmas tree, or the recently posted sequel of the same pack setting up a beach scene. 

These incredible videos have been leaving many animal lovers wondering who trained these dogs, particularly if you don’t speak Hungarian.

The group behind these well-trained pups is dog club, Népszigeti Kutyaiskola. The trainers and their dogs are promoting the club’s training technique, the Mirror Method, which is actually more like a philosophy. 

The Mirror Method takes a holistic approach, reaching beyond traditional training. Teaching the tricks in the videos is just a small part of their three-part system.

The Mirror Method consists of relationship, training, and lifestyle.

Relationship.  Dogs reflect their human’s personality and actions. In order to change your dog’s behavior, you must first change your own. If you want your dog to be calm, you must be calm. Learning to read your dog’s body language will help you achieve a good relationship. The group also mentions developing a hierarchy and creating respect, but stresses that you don’t need force to maintain rules and boundaries.

Training. The group teaches the behaviors seen in the video with clicker training and back chaining, which develops motivated dogs that are happy to learn.

Lifestyle. Dogs have a need for more than just food and a walk around the block. This instinctual need must be fulfilled in order to create the conditions for learning and good behavior. The group mentions taking breed into consideration. For example, a Labrador might thrive with hikes in the forest and a Bloodhound might benefit from participating in tracking work.

It may seem like you need to be a superstar trainer to balance this system and recreate the behaviors seen in the videos, but all of these trainers started as beginners at their dog club, many of them performing with their first dog. Their achievements are a testament to how anyone can find success by remembering to develop a good relationship and to maintain an active lifestyle, along with training.

News: Karen B. London
January 2010 Is for the Dogs
It’s National Train Your Dog Month!

They say every dog has its day, but soon they will actually have their own month! The Association for Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) has proclaimed January to be National Train Your Dog Month. This new annual event promotes the benefits of socialization and positive training, which include enhanced and healthier relationships between people and dogs. January is the perfect month for emphasizing training because it is a time for new goals and because so many dogs have just joined new families over the holidays.

  Training is a great way to interact with your dog and to have fun together. It is also essential for keeping your dog (and your home!) safe. Well-trained dogs have better, happier lives because they can be allowed more freedom such as being off leash and getting to go more places. Most of us try new things in January, and training your dog more, or even getting started with training is a great way to kick off the year.

 

News: Guest Posts
People’s (and Pups’) Choice
Victoria Stilwell coming to Bark in 2010.

Has canine supernanny Victoria Stilwell steered her shiny black convertible into your heart yet? She’s the dog trainer who brings positive strategies to some gnarly behavior challenges with effective aplomb on Animal Planet’s It’s Me or the Dog. No television, you say? That’s not a problem anymore. Starting in February, Ms. Stilwell will write an exclusive column on training for every issue of Bark in 2010, beginning in February. In each column, she’ll answer a single question in depth.

In the meantime, already converted Stilwell fans can show their love by casting a vote for her brand of patient, peaceful intervention with a vote for It’s Me or the Dog, which has been nominated for a People’s Choice Award! (Last day of voting is December 8, 2009.)

News: JoAnna Lou
Anything But A Border Collie
What happens when a dog is too good at something?

Last weekend I watched the online broadcast of the United States Dog Agility Association’s Cynosport World Games. As usual, the finals for the top jump heights (above 20”) were dominated by Border Collies. 

I have to admit, I love watching the powerful black and white blurs fly through an agility course, but it is refreshing to see a variety of breeds compete, which doesn’t happen very often at the top levels of competition.

Following the games, there’s been a lot of talk about wanting the USDAA to create an Anything but Border Collie (ABC) championship, a class that already exists in the United Kingdom.

The numbers certainly support the fact that Border Collies are in a class of their own. Take a look at the finals at three championships this year.

The American Kennel Club’s national competition in March: All 18 dogs in the 20”, 24”, and 26” height groups in the finals were Border Collies. There were even two small Border Collies in the 16” height group.

The European Open’s international competition in July: 58 of 67 Large dogs in the final were Border Collies.

USDAA Cynosport World Games: 31 of 32 dogs in the 22” and 26” height groups in the Steeplechase Finals and 38 of 40 dogs in the Grand Prix Finals were Border Collies.

Do Border Collies’ super canine genes give them an unfair advantage? Getting a Border Collie isn’t an instant ticket to success. As individuals, each dog, regardless of breed, has their own challenges, strengths, and weaknesses. Nonetheless, it’s apparent that Border Collies dominate the sport.

My Sheltie, Nemo, measures a whopping 19.5” at the withers and has to compete against the big dogs. He’ll never keep up with the Border Collies in terms of speed and we only place if it’s a technical course where faster dogs knock bars or run off course. Still, I can’t imagine not having the thrill of competing alongside these amazing dogs.

And while it’s not common, I’d like to think that non-Border Collies can be competitive, even at the highest levels. At the USDAA’s Cynosport World Games this year, that one non-Border Collie in Steeplechase Finals, a Belgian Tervuren, ended up winning the championship. 

When it comes down to it, I’m conflicted. I do think that having more opportunities to showcase non-Border Collies would encourage more people to participate in competition, but on the other hand if a team is talented enough to make it to the top levels, don’t they deserve to be there, regardless of breed?

What do you think about creating more opportunities for non-Border Collies in dog sports?

News: Karen B. London
Teaching My Dog To Stay
I did it for the ice cream.

Well-trained dogs are a joy to be around and they are more likely to stay safe. Additionally, they often have a better quality of life due to the fact that they get to accompany people to more events since their behavior is trustworthy. These are all worthy reasons to train our dogs, but I must say I am often just as motivated by my own quality of life. Specifically, I needed my dog to have a rock solid stay so that I had the freedom to eat ice cream.

I wanted to be able to cue him to stay so that I could go inside the local Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shop. This goal involved a high level stay since he had to deal with distractions and with me being away from him, though still in sight through the store window. It took me a couple of months, but I got to the point where I could tell him to sit and to stay, then go inside, buy my ice cream and come back outside to a dog who was staying without stress just outside the door where he could see me.

This occurred in Hanover, New Hampshire, which is a small and very friendly dog town. Most places I have lived, I would not leave my dog outside a store even in my sight because I would be worried that someone would either harass my dog or take him away. Hanover is ridiculously safe so that the risk of any harm coming to my dog was miniscule. It was also a town where dogs were allowed almost everywhere.

In such a town as this where dogs are allowed to be in so many places, a good stay is just part of what a dog needs to be able to do. They also need to walk politely either on or off leash and they need to come when they are called. These are the minimum core skills that dogs must be able to perform in order for them to be polite members of society. And in my case, my dog’s stay was the most important because I need my regular doses of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream in order for me to be a polite member of society.

News: Karen B. London
I Love “Wait”
It’s my favorite training cue.

I am so fond of the cue “Wait” that I wrote a column called An Ode to ‘Wait’ to express my enthusiasm about it. This cue tells a dog to pause and not to move forward until given permission to do so. It can literally be a lifesaver at doors to both houses and cars because it can prevent bolting out into traffic. Additionally, it can be a sanity-saver when heading out for a walk because it stops the chaos that naturally results from dogs who are so eager to go out for a walk that they act like they are out of their minds.

Here’s a video of Tyson

, a Pomeranian who stayed with us for a few days when his family was out of town. The video was taken after just one session of teaching Tyson to “wait.” He got better at it over the next couple of days. It was much more fun to take him out for walks when he was calm than when he was leaping and spinning around.

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