Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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.
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
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).
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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
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.
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