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Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Helping One Another
Homeless dogs help injured soldiers learn a new vocation

The Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. is on the forefront of using the human-canine bond to help soldiers. Previously, I wrote about research being done on the effects of service dogs on post traumatic stress disorder, but recently I found about Dog Tags, a partnership between the Walter Reed and its neighbor, the Washington Humane Society. 

Developed by the Humane Society, Dog Tags is a program that teaches soldiers the basics of dog training, while providing homeless dogs with training and socialization. Dog Tags gives soldiers the opportunity to pursue a future career in the field of animal training, care and welfare while increasing the dogs’ adoption rate and retention in their new homes.

Participation in the program is voluntary and requires the solders to come across the street to the Washington Humane Society’s Behavior & Learning Center twice a week. The certificate based program has three tiers, each lasting eight weeks. Even better, the certificate based educational curriculum uses all humane, motivational training methods.

I saw a presentation last year at ClickerExpo about a similar vocational program done in prisons. Listening to some of the participants, it was amazing to hear the life transformations they had from working with dogs and caring for another living being. The inmates learned compassion and empathy, while developing an optimistic outlook on life. Learning a career skill is only a small part of what participants receive from these types of programs. I can only imagine the benefits Dog Tags has for soldiers who have gone through so much trauma in their lives.

To learn more about Dog Tags or to donate, visit the Washington Humane Society website. The program is entirely funded by the Humane Society. 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Zoom Room
New franchise brings pet lovers together with dog sports

Animals have always been a part of Jaime Van Wye’s life, so it’s only natural that she would grow up to become a dog trainer. Through her work, she’s trained dogs in search and rescue, bomb and drug detection, criminal apprehension, tracking and even taught a Labrador how to pee in a urinal—and flush. 

Through her interactions with people and their pets, Van Wye identified the need for greater training opportunities in Los Angeles, but also the need for a place where pet lovers could connect. As a result, in 2007, Van Wye founded Zoom Room, the first indoor agility training center in the area. 

But Zoom Room offers much more than just agility. The company’s mission is to develop the bond between pets and their people by offering classes and activities in a modern, social environment. Visitors to Zoom Room train their pups in obedience, therapy work, scent tracking, Pup-lates and skateboarding. 

The venture was so successful that Van Wye turned the business into a franchise last year. This year, two more locations are set to open in Austin, Tex., and Hollywood, Calif. Locations are also underway in Colorado and Florida.

Besides working with my pups, my favorite thing about participating in dog sports is the community. I’m usually wary of franchises, especially when they involve animals, but it sounds like Zoom Room has a great mission: To encourage pet lovers to become more active with their pets, while meeting like-minded people.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs at the Farmer’s Market
Handling dogs and crowds

In my town, Flagstaff, Ariz., dogs are welcome in many places, and one of the hot spots for dogs is the Sunday morning Farmer’s Market. It’s great to see people and dogs out enjoying the beautiful weather and the purchase of fresh foods. Regrettably, what’s not always so great is seeing people frustrated or angry with one another because of the dogs.

  Sometimes people, especially kids, pet dogs without asking permission first, or dogs jump up on people or lick them while a guardian is busy picking out heirloom tomatoes or the perfect bunch of basil. I regularly see many dogs who are stressed out in the crowd at the event or dogs greeting each other in a tense way that makes me concerned that the interaction might escalate into trouble.   When dogs and people are interacting at any sort of community event, following a few guidelines can make the difference between a positive experience for everybody and a situation full of tension and bad feelings. My top tips for people who want to take their dogs to such places include: 1) Crowded situations are not for every dog, so if your dog is not at his best in such situations, don’t put him in them. 2) Don’t let your dog jump on people or lick them unless you know they are okay with that. 3) Know the signs of stress in dogs. Watch for any indications that your dog is no longer having a good time, and if that happens, be willing to leave even if you’d rather stay a bit longer. 4) Don’t let dogs greet each other unless both guardians have agreed that it’s okay.   If you like to take your dog to various events about town, how do you make it work for both you and your dog?  

 

News: Guest Posts
Extreme Pet-Proofing
Beyond bitter spray and baby gates

Before adopting my first dog, I did what any soon-to-be dog parent would do, I pet-proofed my home. I was vigilant. Exposed electrical cords were tucked out of sight, my favorite white shag rug was Scotchgarded and put in a room where my dog would never go without supervision, and I bought a baby gate for confining him in the kitchen when I was out. I felt extremely satisfied with my preparation, and thought about what an excellent dog parent I would be. Perhaps it was hubris, but God or the universe or whoever decided that no matter how hard I tried to pet-proof my home, I would be given a dog that would constantly prove me wrong.

  My first dog, Skipper, was a breeze to pet-proof for, although he did show me he could easily jump over the 3-foot baby gate. Then came Leo. Problems that had never seen imaginable suddenly needed to be addressed immediately, such as the fact that Leo can scale vertical chain-link fences like Spiderman. Or the reality that even though my fence goes several feet underground, Leo will dig like he’s Tim Robbins in the Shawshank Redemption until he is free. Containing Leo has been like plugging a cartoon water leak: Once one rupture is stopped, another pops up out of nowhere, then another, and I’m left scrambling to fix them all at once.   Leo seemed to know no limits or bounds, until finally he went too far. One rainy afternoon, he tried to follow me outside and down the stairs leading to the garage. I closed the wooden gate at the top of the stairs, and told him to stay. When I got into my car, Leo was in the backyard and I assumed he would use the dog door to go back into the house. Instead, he scaled the gate (with his aforementioned Spiderman abilities), slipped and fell down the flight of stairs. I returned home an hour later, entering through the front door and not immediately seeing Leo. It seemed strange. I couldn’t find him anywhere in the house, so I panicked and went to the backyard, imagining he had escaped. Then, I spotted him. Leo was at the bottom of the stairway to the garage, shivering. My heart broke. I felt that in spite of my efforts, I had failed. Though Leo wasn’t seriously injured, he sprained three ankles and scraped the front of his face. We were lucky, as his injuries could have been much worse. After taking him to the vet and confirming he would make a full recovery, Leo spent the next few days curled up in a ball on the couch, seeming to consider what he had done.   Though it’s been challenging to pet-proof my home, I think we’ve finally reached an understanding. For me, pet-proofing is not about creating impossible challenges for the dogs to defeat (because my dogs have proved time and again that nothing is impossible for them) and it’s not really about protecting my property (no matter how much I love that rug), but instead it’s about ensuring the protection of what is truly important—my dogs. And they seem to recognize I put in place to keep them safe and comfortable, even if one of them had to learn this the hard way.

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Trainers, Vets, Behaviorists—Together
American Humane creates new committee

The Animal Behavior and Training Advisory Committee has been set up for many purposes, one of which is to foster collaboration and cooperation. The members of the committee include trainers, veterinarians and behaviorists that are all well respected experts in their particular areas.

  The committee will offer guidance in areas as diverse as pet dog training summits, content of American Humane’s Animal Behavior Resources Institute Online, their Human-Animal Interactions program and their principles and position statements.   I love the idea of putting together a diverse group of individuals who are all concerned with training and behavior and their considerable impact on animals and people. Good things tend to happen when expertise and teamwork come together.      

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Visual Versus Vocal Cues
Dogs watch us and we talk to them

There’s a little list in my mind of information that dog trainers know and that they wish everyone knew. At the top of that list is the fact that dogs primarily communicate with visual signals whereas humans most often express themselves vocally. This difference explains so much of the confusion between our otherwise largely compatible species.

 

Dogs often pick up on visual cues that we use, inadvertently or not, when training them. So, if during training, we use a hand gesture while saying "sit," most dogs will learn that the hand gesture means to put their bottom on the ground long before they figure out that the word "Sit" means to do the same thing.

 

Research has shown that dogs learn visual signals faster than vocal signals. Therefore, it is most likely that if your dog is sitting when presented with both cues, he already knows the visual cue on its own. To check for sure, you can experiment by giving just the visual cue and see if your dog sits.

 

We often think our dogs are responding to what we are saying, but often they are actually responding to what we are doing. Dogs are watching us and we are talking to them. Dogs can't figure out what their humans are trying to convey and we can't figure out why our dogs aren't listening.

 

Simply being aware of this difference between dogs and people helps avoid the problems that often result. For more information, check out this short article I wrote for my local paper about visual versus vocal cues.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Leave It
The best cue for showing off with your dog

If a piece of hot dog or other delicious treat is on the ground and you tell your dog to “Leave It,” will your dog do as you ask or will he run to the food and snarf it up? If the answer is that your dog will eat the food, that is a shame for two main reasons: 1) If the food was spoiled, poisonous to dogs or simply fattening, you missed an opportunity to protect your dog from harm; 2) “Leave It” is easy to teach, yet one of those impressive cues that makes any dog look well trained.

 

I like having a dog who knows the cue “Leave It” because I can prevent my dog from eating something that could hurt him, because I enjoy having a dog who can do things that make other people think well of him, and because if I happen to drop something (like a whole steak!) while I am cooking, I don’t want to have to go the grocery store again just because I have a dog.

 

Here’s a video of Tyson, a Pomeranian who visits our family from time to time when his family travels. (They are a military family and sometimes duty calls on short notice.) When told to “Leave It,” Tyson does not go for the cheese I have put on the floor, even though that is one of his favorite treats. (He does, however, receive cheese from my hand to reinforce him for making the right choice.) He is showing how well he can “Leave It” after just a few lessons.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Finding Time to Train
One minute here, one minute there

Many people struggle to find the time to train their dogs, and with today’s busy lifestyles, I am very sympathetic to the problem. (Between my work with dogs, my writing, teaching at the university, being a wife and mom, coaching soccer and my running, I am always strapped for time. In fact, lately I have adopted a policy of, “If it’s not on fire, I’m not putting it out yet.”) And yet, I think it’s possible to find time to train our dogs. It’s a matter of squeezing in a minute here, a minute there, rather than trying to find those elusive big blocks of time. Of course, I’m in favor of more training over less, but it’s better to incorporate a little training into daily life than to do no training at all.

  Just like flossing your teeth or working your abs for just a few minutes when you watch TV or a movie, dog training can be worked in little by little. Here are some ways to incorporate dog training into the day in a way that won’t take away from everything else you need to be doing.  
  • Do a couple of repetitions of sit and down each time a commercial comes on TV. (For people with TiVo, it is still possible to work in a sit or two while you are skipping past the commercials.)
  • Ask your dog for a stay each morning while you are brushing your teeth.
  • Have your dog wait at the door each time you go outside, even when if you are just going out to get the paper or out for a walk together.
  • Practice a trick or two while you are out on a walk.
  • Do a minute of heeling practice when you are in the back yard for any reason such as to water the flowers, dump your compost, or to have a cup of coffee on the back porch.
  • Call your dog to come when you are about to go on a walk. (It’s one of the easiest ways to teach your dog that good things happen when he responds to the cue “come!”)
  • Have your dog heel with you each time you head to the bathroom.
The basic idea is to work little training moments into your life in ways that don’t take time away from other activities. Sure, it’s great to spend a lot of time training your dog, and I wish that everyone would do so. But if training seems to be eluding you despite your best intentions, try considering little ways to work in training moments every day. Even 10 minutes a day in little bouts of 15-60 seconds can make a tremendous difference. You’ll reap the benefits of a better trained dog, losing that feeling of guilt for not training more, and having more time to do what you really want, which hopefully includes exercising with and playing with your dog.   How do you work training your dogs into daily life?

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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).

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