Home
training
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Agility Favorites
What obstacle does your dog prefer?

I had a dog whose favorite part of an agility course was the table. My theory is that it made the most sense to him. It was the first piece of equipment that he learned how to negotiate correctly, and it seemed as though he always knew what to do with it, unlike some other obstacles, which periodically confused him. I loved this dog, but he was, hmm, how best to say it—not the brightest dog I have known. He enjoyed the things in his life that were straightforward, and that’s why I think he liked the table.

Does your dog have a favorite agility obstacle, and if so, what do you think that tells you about your dog?

 

News: Guest Posts
First Chomper
New York’s governor hires a trainer for his testy Maltese.

Why is it that when small dogs are aggressive and biting it’s treated as a joke? Take New York Governor David Paterson’s Maltese, Cheerio--a full-time tough guy with at least two bites to his credit. Imagine if those teeth belonged to a bigger dog with a tougher reputation living in the home someone with a lot less clout. I’m just glad the governor finally recognized that a pint-sized troublemaker is still a troublemaker and deserves a trainer. Good luck, Cheerio!
 

News: Guest Posts
The Problem of Celebrity
Some veterinarians and behaviorists decry Merial’s partnership with Cesar Millan.

Earlier this month, the executive board of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) issued a statement that it was “deeply troubled” by the Merial’s decision to partner with Cesar Millan to promote their products. Merial is a huge animal-health company and the maker of Frontline and Heartgard. As part of the promotion, the company is offering veterinary clinics a free Cesar Millan DVD titled “Mastering Leadership!” for any client who purchases either Frontline or Heartgard this summer.

“Merial’s executives may not be aware of the fact that the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB), the AVSAB, and the Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians (SVBT) have uniformly spoken out against the coercive, ‘dominance’-based techniques employed by Mr. Millan on his television show ‘The Dog Whisperer.’”

The AVSAB statement continues, “At best, the show is entertaining but misleading to pet owners. At worst, Mr. Millan’s techniques and misinformation have contributed to increased aggression and anxiety or resulted in physical injury to the pet and/or pet owner. As practicing veterinarians, we all unfortunately have seen many cases of the latter. Merial claims to ‘enhance the health, well-being, and performance of animals.’ Asking veterinarians to recommend that their clients seek behavior information from Mr. Millan speaks otherwise.”
 
Bark columnist Patricia McConnell supports AVSAB’s criticism of Merial and offers her own seasoned and thoughtful perspective on the problem of The Dog Whisperer on her blog, The Other End of the Leash.

In general, I’m inclined against this promotion even without Millan. I’m skeptical about direct-to-the-consumer appeals by pharmaceutical companies. It’s not that I think doctors or veterinarians should be the only ones with information, but advertising and promotion (a free training video, for example?) is rarely about meaningful education. On top of that, there’s reasonable debate over Millan's approach. Do veterinarians—with our trust vested in them—really want to be seen as promoting his ideals?

News: Guest Posts
A Service Dog Who Bites?
Poor training is not fair to the dog.

A story in the San Francisco Weekly ("Service with A Snarl") describes Tita, a Chihuahua service dog who helps a man named Charles Esler deal with bipolar disorder. A happy, feel-good story, except for one thing: Tita bites. Tita regularly chases and lunges after people in public parks. She snarled and barked at a guard at the Social Security Administration. She bit Esler’s primary care provider. And during SF Weekly’s interview with Esler? She bit the reporter.

 

"'She’s vicious,' Esler says with a smile, cradling the dog, which licks his face with abandon. 'If you were to approach a guide dog without acknowledging yourself, I’m sure a guide dog would bark, too.'"

 

Actually, no. In her recent article for Bark, "The Making of a Guide Dog," Jane Brackman explains that  puppies who can’t learn appropriate ways to deal with stress do not get placed as guide dogs.

“All dogs are born with default positions that they revert to when stressed. The reaction can be anything from anxious whining to more serious issues such as biting. The higher the stress, the more pressure on the trigger. Puppy socialization programs provide an opportunity to identify environmental stressors and modify the reaction, or failing that, release the dog from the program to a companion home.”

Poor Tita! Training proper behavior is as much for the dog’s comfort as for the human who will eventually work with that dog. It seems inhumane to expect an untrained dog to feel relaxed and confident in public situations such as large crowds, public transportation, and all the normal places we humans don’t think twice about. Seeing Eye puppies are gradually introduced to all kinds of these things and carefully socialized from birth. This way, when they finally go out with a blind person, it’s no big deal to hop on a train, take a bus, be in a stadium full of screaming fans, or be around other dogs and new people. They’ve done it all and seen it all by then. Nothing bothers them. And if it does, they are rejected from the program and placed where they belong: in a companion home.

News: Guest Posts
Help Prevent Dog Bites
Learn a few simple tips this Dog Bite Prevention Week.

Yesterday I walked through a crowded Central Park in New York with an old friend and his dog Tracy (as in Spencer Tracy). Tracy is a buttery, 106-pound Golden Retriever, who at six-years-old exhibits the irresistible jauntiness of a puppy. Children are drawn to him like flies to a fly strip, and all around us, they zoomed in on the dog, many of them without warning. I was astounded and relieved by Tracy’s amiability. And I wondered, how would my dogs handle this kid fest? The experience made me realize that I’m so rarely around young children and toddlers, especially in numbers, that I don’t know the answer and that it’s a disservice to my dogs that I haven’t provided the opportunity for them to feel comfortable in this sort of environment.

This week is Dog Bite Prevention Week, and agencies and organizations around the country are spreading the gospel of dog bite prevention. Truth is, while you can’t guarantee a dog won’t bite (remember, even President Bush’s dog snapped at a reporter last year), you can take very specific steps to make it much less likely. Socializing your pup so that he or she is comfortable in a variety of settings, especially with other dogs and wee humans, can be one way to avoid a situation where your dog bites out of fear or anxiety. Other strategies include spaying and neutering your dog and taking a training class with your dog.

Although the Centers for Disease Control estimates that more than 800,000 people seek medical attention for dog bites every year, the CDC considers the problem to be largely preventable. This week, take some time to learn what you can do to protect yourself and your dog.

News: Guest Posts
AKC Announces Mixed-Breed Program
Mutt lovers question the new “separate but equal” designation.

After 125 years as an advocate for (select) purebred dogs, the American Kennel Club (AKC) announced its new mixed-breed program last week. For the past several years, rumors abounded that AKC was on the cusp of allowing mixed breeds to participate in activities, such as agility, obedience and rally. Some folks claimed AKC was growing enlightened, while others claimed it was simply trying to shore up its bottom line. (Obedience entries are down and other venues, such as USDAA and APDT, welcome mixed breeds in their agility and rally programs, respectively.)

Mixed breeds may be registered with AKC as of October 1, 2009, and be eligible for agility, obedience and rally competition on April 1, 2010. No doubt this is a step in the right direction, but I do have mixed feelings (no pun intended) about some conditions of the program. For example, mutts may participate in agility, obedience and rally competitions, however, they will be in a separate class and not allowed to compete head to head against purebred dogs. Are we mixed-breed lovers really expected to support a “separate but equal” class? Why this special designation?

Offering separate classes will create more work for the hosting club’s members and volunteers. Since the inclusion of a mixed-breed class is optional, clubs might simply choose not to offer it at their event. Another rule states that mixed breeds will not be allowed to participate if the agility, obedience or rally events are held in conjunction with a conformation show. So what good is a mixed-breed program and registering your mutt with the AKC if you can rarely participate in events?

What about people who have a rare purebred dog, such as a Catahoula Leopard Dog or McNab? They do not fit either class since they’re neither AKC-recognized breeds nor mixes. Not to mention, the mixed-breed program requires proof of spay/neuter and some rare purebred dogs might be part of a responsible breeding program with another registry, such as UKC.
 
In an old AKC PowerPoint presentation, “Why Explore Mixed Breed Dog Listing” (that until recently was posted on the AKC website), one rationale was: “Exposing mixed breed dog owners to AKC and encouraging them to make their next dog a purebred by showing that purebreds consistently outperform mixed breeds (Purebreds consistently score better than mixed breeds in head-to-head competition. The U.S. Dog Agility Association has given 63 lifetime achievement awards for outstanding performance, and only three of those have gone to mixed breed dogs.)”

Aside from the fact that the AKC misrepresented USDAA’s statistics in order to support the superiority of the purebred dog, I find it rather sad and disappointing that AKC even felt the need to reassure its members that their purebred dogs would remain top dog. Was this just a tactic in order to get all AKC members on board? Or will this attitude persist even after mixes are supposedly “welcomed” into the group?

Currently, I compete in AKC agility with two rescue Dalmatians and am training my youngest dog, a mixed breed, to compete in USDAA and NADAC agility. Despite its flaws, I think the AKC mixed-breed program is a step in the right direction and I will likely support it. But I am prepared to hear cries of protest from fellow mutt lovers who disagree with my decision.

This topic continues to be hotly debated between dog lovers both in person and in cyberspace. Some people think the program will only improve if mixed-breed owners support it right from the start and lend their voices to its evolution. Others find it insulting and want nothing to do it with it. What do you think about AKC’s new mixed-breed program? If you have a mutt, will you consider participating in AKC events? Why or why not?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Training Tips for The First Dog
Advice from professional trainers

With the eyes of the nation on the Obamas’ new dog Bo, many people are interested in what training methods the first family will use. Positive techniques have become increasingly common in recent years, and there is no better way to get the message of their benefits to more people than through the actions of the President and his family with Bo. Most professional dog trainers are hopeful that the Obamas will use these methods, which are more effective and result in a better relationship between people and their dogs than old-fashioned coercion-based techniques. The Association of Pet Dog Trainers has posted training advice for the new first dog, which applies, of course, to any new dog.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
An Award Show Fit for A Dog
Winners announced for the 2009 Canis Film Festival.

These days, there seems to be a film festival and award show for just about everything. So it’s about time we dog lovers got a piece of the pie.

Last weekend the winners of the 2009 Canis Film Festival were announced at ClickerExpo in Providence, R.I. Although there were no swag bags or paparazzi, the films starred talented and furry actors showcasing dog training at its best.

The Grand Prize went to Chaos, a Border Collie whose owner taught him to blow bubbles in his water bowl. Not only is this trick just plain cute, it’s refreshing to see training that has no set agenda. Often times I get caught up in training only “useful” behaviors, such as heeling or waiting at the door. But this video inspired me to remember the fun of dog training, particularly with shaping. 

The runner-up was a film on using positive methods to get a dog to use a treadmill and the second Runner-up, my personal favorite, was a touching story on the life changing effects of clicker training from the point of view of an adopted shelter dog.

Conceived by Karen Pryor Clicker Training, the Canis Film Festival showcases the art of animal training. The entries, all less than seven minutes, are judged for clarity of instruction, innovation, entertainment value, positive methods, usefulness and production quality. 

Feeling inspired to feature your dog in a winning film? Details will be posted shortly on the festival’s web site for 2010 submissions. Fire up your camcorders!

Pages