Home
training
News: Editors
Mad Men’s Training Advice
The benefits of positive reinforcement, illustrated

For all you Mad Men fans—hope you caught “Tomorrowland,” the final episode of season 4 because I don’t want to give away the ending. But there was something in a pivotal scene that struck me as a perfect example of best practices for both child and dog raising.

  So there is Don with his two children and Megan, his lovely, young secretary/nanny, lunching somewhere near Disneyland. Sally and Bobby are arguing when Sally knocks over her milkshake. Don, with a furrowed brow looks ready to snap at the kids (like ex-wife Betty or even worse), but then as quick as you can say “positive reinforcement,” sweet Megan calmly reaches over with paper napkins to clean up the mess. She says something about it being “just a milkshake.” Don looks at her all dewy-eyed and smitten, getting it in a flash that there is an alternative approach to dealing with these messy kiddy matters.   A perfect lesson for trainers who promote “alpha assertive” and “hands-on” methods, it really is so much better for everyone—dogs, kids, parents, owners when you can accentuate the positive and forgo the negative—as Mad Men demonstrated in its “engaging” final scene.  

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Halloween Trick-Or-Treaters
Is this a good training opportunity?

It’s common for even the sweetest of dogs to be little devils when visitors come to the door. Some dogs are afraid of visitors, which can cause them to bark, lunge or even bite. Others are simply wild with excitement when people arrive, which often leads to leaping, jumping, barking, spinning and generally being out of control. Either way, it can mean that every time the doorbell rings, people cringe knowing that what’s about to happen may not be pretty.

  The day of days for doorbell ringing is, of course, Halloween. Not only are there loads of visitors, but those visitors are dressed as, among other things, lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my! There are costumes with flashing lights, giant mouths, battery-powered sound effects, and all sorts of weird colors, shapes, sizes and behavior. When dogs are not at their best with visitors anyway, trick-or-treaters are unduly challenging.   Everybody knows that for dogs who struggle to contain themselves when visitors come over, practice dealing with that very situation is a necessary part of improving it. So, I am often asked, “Should I use Halloween night as a training opportunity?” The short answer is “probably not.”   One reason for answering in the negative is that while practice is an essential part of training doors to be polite when visitors arrive, that practice must be in a situation at a level that the dog can handle. Large numbers of excited children will be beyond what most dogs can handle, which means that most dogs will just end up practicing their undesirable behavior rather than practicing the polite behavior we’d like them to exhibit.   Another reason that practicing greetings of visitors on Halloween may be ill-advised is that many dogs react badly because they are fearful of visitors. Trick-or-treaters are bound to be terrifying to dogs since people whose silhouettes are unusual seem to scare most dogs. Masks, capes, giant costumes, carrying bags and other elements of trick-or-treating fashion change people’s silhouettes are scarier to most dogs than the typical tool belts, hats, clipboards and backpacks that fearful dogs react to.   It is especially critical not to use Halloween night as a training session if there is any risk of the dog behaving aggressively to visitors. Most dogs who react badly towards visitors are merely impolite or excessively exuberant, and even that could inadvertently lead to trouble. Trick-or-treaters should not be exposed to the small minority who may actually intentionally try to hurt them.   There are a very few dogs who can benefit from training session on Halloween. Those are the dogs who have worked up to being polite when trick-or-treaters arrive by already showing great success when greeting every other type of visitor, including large groups of people, children, loud people and people dressed a bit oddly. If you’ve worked up to this Holy Grail of training with your dog, perhaps Halloween is an opportunity for you both. If you’re not sure if your dog is ready, the best course of action is to assume that he’s not.   For most people, the only way to make a dog be like Lassie on Halloween is to put him in a Rin Tin Tin costume. So unless your dog has worked up to being ready to handle these toughest types of visitors, don’t plan on training during the trick-or-treating hours. 
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Just For Fun
Tricks for kicks

A lot of training is simply teaching our dogs to be polite members of both human and canine society. Walking nicely on a leash, proper greetings, coming when called, doing sits, downs and stays on cue and letting children eat ice cream cones without helping are all useful skills that make any dog more pleasant to be around.

  Yet, it’s the fun things we teach our dogs that give many of us the most joy. Even simple tricks such as beg, crawl and rollover provide loads of fun both when we spend the time with our dogs to train them and when we get to show off their tricks to other people.   Some tricks are timeless, taught to each generation of dogs. Other tricks cycle in and out of favor, with certain tricks being popular right now. Among the “in” tricks to train dogs lately are the following:   “Aaachoo!” The dog retrieves a tissue when you sneeze.   “Leg up” To lift a leg as though urinating, but without really doing so.   “Stop, drop, roll and crawl to safety.” To stop, lie down, rollover and then crawl as a demonstration of the fire safety behavior   “Tidy up!” To put each toy into the toy box.   Does your dog have a favorite trick? Is it your favorite as well?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Training Goals on the Web
Using social media for a push

As someone who works in professional development, I always tell people that in order to reach your goals, you have to hold yourself accountable. This looks different for every person and committing can be as simple as writing your goal down on paper.

Goal setting is also important when it comes to our dogs because it motivates us to carve out time to train and develop our relationships with our pups.  While dog sport people may have lofty goals, like to qualify for nationals, a goal can be anything from improving your recall to making more time for walks.

In today’s age of social networking, a great way to share goals is to post them on Facebook or a blog, as well as share pictures, videos and get advice from dog lovers around the world. 

One of my agility friends is working on heeling with her new puppy, Griff. She’s been documenting their progress on her blog, Dog Nerd 101, and has decided to inspire others to work on heeling by holding a contest for Most Improved Heeler through her blog.

Many people think heeling is just for obedience, but it’s an invaluable tool for other dog sports and for everyday life. Navigating a crowded street becomes a piece of cake if you’ve trained a heel behavior. Dog Nerd 101’s contest is a great way to encourage others to practice this important skill.

How do you commit to your dog related goals?

News: Guest Posts
Blanket Lust
An (seemingly) unstoppable obsession

I am obsessed with blankets. Turns out, so is Leo. My blanket obsession began with a passion for textile design, which developed into a habit of buying any blanket, comforter or quilt that caught my eye. Leo’s blanket habit is related to mine: Whenever I bring home a gorgeous coverlet, he has to chew a gigantic hole right in the middle—as soon as he is left alone with it for more than 20 seconds.

  Sometimes I think fate must have ironically brought Leo and I together, or that maybe Leo is saving me from the fate of being crushed under an avalanche of blankets when I open the linen closet. With Leo’s blanket-munching, I recognized there were two issues that needed to be addressed. First, Leo could not be left alone with blankets until he learned chewing on them is inappropriate. Secondly, he needed a positive outlet for his chewing, such as a chew toy.   Keeping Leo away from blankets worked for like a week. His tenacity for finding unattended blankets was borderline inspiring. I’d leave the bedroom door open for a minute while I went to grab clothes from the dryer: Gigantic hole in the blanket. I’d take a catnap on the sofa: Down feathers everywhere when I awoke.   Since keeping him away from blankets wasn’t going to happen, I tried taste deterrents, like bitter spray misted onto the blankets. Apparently, the only one affected by this was me. Many a nap was rudely ended by a bitter taste. After falling asleep in a blanket cocoon on the sofa (exhausted from watching back-to-back-to-back episodes of Cake Boss), my open mouth would inevitably make contact with the surface of the blanket. It was heinously gross. Meanwhile, Leo would power through the nasty flavor. For my sake, I gave up on the bitter spray.   My plan to redirect Leo’s affection from blankets to toys has been even less successful. Even after taking Leo to training specifically to pique his interest in toys, he drifts after more than 20 seconds unless it is something he can eat (like a bully chew or a Kong toy). I see a future with a morbidly obese dog curled happily on elegant, intact quilts.   The reality is Leo and I both have issues that need to be dealt with (though I’d like to think that I can curb my blanket-purchasing habit as soon as I can curb Leo’s blanket-eating habit). What next? Do I give Leo one blanket and designate it as his? Do I continue my two years of attempting to interest him in toys? Do I concede that maybe I won’t have nice blankets ever? Any suggestions?

 

News: Guest Posts
A New Job for Pearl
Second graders illustrate book about Haiti SAR dog

Allyn Lee has volunteered for 16 years, teaching second graders about animals and the environment. In January, she was teaching Connie Forslind’s second grade class at Rancho Romero School in Alamo, Calif., about wolves—a subject, she says, always segues to dogs—when Haiti was hit by the devastating earthquake. Lee followed the coverage, in particular stories about the canine search teams, including California Task-Force 2 (CA-TF2), trained by the Search Dog Foundation. CA-TF2 saved 11 lives in Haiti and learned a great deal about saving more lives in future disasters. Lee decided she wanted to write the true story of a Pearl and her handler, Fire Captain Ron Horetski.

  When she told her students they became enthusiastic supporters and illustrators. They studied photos of Horetski and Pearl and watched Search Dog Foundation videos. Every student provided at least one image for A New Job for Pearl: A Homeless Dog Becomes A Hero, and they participate in book sales events nearby. “They are fully involved and determined to sponsor a search dog!” Lee says.    Lee and her students hope to sell 1,000 copies at $10 each to raise the $10,000 needed to sponsor the training of a search dog. To support the kids, SDF and/or to learn Pearl’s wonderful story, visit ANewJobforPearl.org.

 

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.

 

Pages