Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Q. My six-month-old whippet mix is driving me crazy. From the sweet, quiet pup I adopted, he has turned into a hellion. He now barks at me — probably for attention — and at other dogs (especially at the dog park), and even nips me during play. Is he trying to dominate me?
A. Pushy puppies, or dogs who display behavior such as nipping at people or barking at other dogs, are often thought to be displaying dominance, a frequently misunderstood concept. While dominance does exist in a dog’s world, it is not as prevalent as people have been led to believe. Dogs who have not been taught manners or how to play appropriately will often adopt their own behavioral “style” to get attention, and this style is frequently rude and pushy.
At six months of age, your puppy has entered adolescence, a phase where boundaries are tested and the “crazy” brain takes over. Rather than responding confrontationally, as is easy to do when we don’t understand a behavior, find ways to help your pup make good choices instead of bad ones. At this stage, his puppy brain is like a sponge, absorbing situations and experiences. This makes it the perfect time for positive learning to take place.
One of the best ways to teach a pup how to greet and play is by taking him to a puppy socialization and manners class. Manners training will help you understand and communicate with your pup, while socialization with other dogs will teach him how to play appropriately. A good class will show you how to teach your puppy a reliable recall, which gives you the opportunity to redirect negative behavior onto a toy or treat. This tells him that leaving play and coming to you are good things. If he ignores you, quietly remove him from the room for a time out until he is calm enough to return to playtime. If he resumes his pushy behavior once he is back in the room, repeat the sequence until he learns that making the right choice means he gets to stay where the fun is.
The same method can be used to curb his nipping behavior. If he nips during play with you, either get up and leave the room for a minute or two or have someone else hold his leash while you play and remove him from the room if he nips you. Play and your attention are rewards for keeping his mouth to himself.
While some dogs thrive on being at the dog park, others find it overwhelming. Observe your pup’s body language to see if he is barking at other dogs because he is overexcited and wants their attention, or because he wants them to stay away from him. Stop taking him to the dog park until you understand and address this behavior in class. Practice makes perfect, and rehearsal of negative behavior makes that behavior harder to change.
Choose a puppy class that utilizes positive-reinforcement methods only. Dogs who are trained this way are not only more tolerant and self-controlled, they behave much more predictably.
Positive training techniques center on working the dog’s brain in a nonconfrontational way, rewarding positive behavior, establishing rituals and predictability, training incompatible behaviors that negate the bad behavior, and lessening a dog’s anger and frustration. Because behavior is influenced without force, the dog’s trust in his person is not violated the way it can be when harsher methods are used (which they unfortunately still are by trainers who espouse outdated dominance and pack-leader theory).
Positive, however, does not mean permissive, and discipline in the form of vocal interrupters, time outs or ignoring bad behavior is used to guide the dog into making the right choices rather than suppressing negative behavior through fear or force.
Culture: Stories & Lit
Dogwise Publishing, 136 pp., 2010; $16.95
As human to a couple of large, highly prey-driven dogs, I was thrilled and relieved to learn of Clarissa von Reinhardt’s book, Chase! I had done a fair amount of research over the years on the topic but hadn’t learned much beyond the fact that good management and a fail-proof recall were in order. Until I read Chase!, that is.
Every good training program begins with a solid foundation, and Reinhardt’s is no exception. The fundamental element of the program is what Reinhardt calls “communicative walks,” which she defines as “using the walk as an opportunity to build a strong bond between you and your dog through interaction and communication,” including discovering “sausage trees” together, among other activities. (The sausage tree is one of several unique and creative training ideas.)
Reinhardt provides instructions for humanely and effectively training behaviors ranging from basic to the more unusual. She also includes a chapter on mental stimulation, in which she emphasizes the importance of play and outlines games that are appropriate and inappropriate for prey-driven dogs.
While I found everything in the book to be of use, I did not find everything of use to be in the book. Two things in particular were conspicuous in their absence: instructions for training a fail-proof recall and a serious discussion on working with dogs who have killed prey animals.
Regardless, Chase! is definitely worthwhile if you’d like to be able to allow your prey-driven dog off leash. Reinhardt’s training philosophy is right on: “The success of anti-predation training doesn’t just depend on how well you train your dog to steer his natural tendencies in an alternative direction— toward you—but also how well you concentrate on the dog as your partner.”
As some of you know, we adopted a pair of very undersocialized pups from a shelter in Kentucky a couple of years ago. While they have made progress and are getting over their timidity and lack of self-confidence, Kit, has progressed further and faster than sister, Holly. Although we can take them to the park, Holly is still is too fearful for neighborhood walks.
The other afternoon, Cameron took Lola, our Wirehaired Pointer and Kit to the park, leaving Holly at home so I could try again to get her to walk around the ‘hood. Even with high-value chicken hotdog treats, we weren’t making much progress—she just froze and refused to budge from a spot a few feet from the front door. Not wanting our training session to end in a failure, we returned to the backyard where I put her through her sit/stay/down/let’s dance paces, all of which she aced.
I decided to try to teach her a new trick, a high-jumping one. I made a simple jump using two small buckets with a bamboo pole balanced across them. Holly wouldn’t go anywhere near this contraption, so I scattered tiny pieces of hotdog on top of the overturned buckets. Gradually she got up enough nerve to eat off of them, but there was no way to make her “go over” or even “under” that pole. Figuring it was too high, I reconstructed the jump using bricks, approaching the two-inch height was easier, and she was able to walk over, I added more bricks, and she attempted little jumps, pretty soon with more bricks, she was doing more and more “revs.” Even when she knocked the pole off, which frightened her, I reassure her and then put it back up and ask her to do it again, this went without a hitch.
It was time again for the “main-event” buckets—I stood in front of her and the vault, she was about 2 feet from it and I called to her, she slowly looked to the left and then to the right, as if thinking, “can I really do this?” Then the magic moment arrived and she sprinted forward and leapt over—without touching the pole at all! My little Fosbury leaper! I was overwhelmed with her sense (and mine) of accomplishment. I gave her an extra big piece of the hotdog and lavished praise and hugs on her.
It only took 15 minutes and one-quarter of hot dog. Can’t get any better than that!
Have you had an aha moment with your dog? Tell us about it.
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
The ABCs for your first runs together
You like to run, your dog likes to run. It seems like a no-brainer: How about the two of you running together? While you might be concerned about your dog’s ability to run a reasonable distance, the most common hindrance to sharing this passion is your dog’s ability to stay at your side.
Start with a hands-free set-up such as the Buddy System, or with a regular four- to six-foot leash that you hold while keeping your bent arm at your side in normal running position. You can also use a head halter or a harness with a front connection to help guide your dog. Whatever approach you choose, the leash should be long enough to hang in a U when you’re standing next to him. Have some kibble or small treats and, with your dog sitting at your side, give him several treats in a row until he’s in a stable sit/stay. Then, move forward at a power-walking pace so it’s clear you want him to come with you.
When he’s walking next to you and looking at you, reward him. If his feet get ahead of yours, stop before he gets to the end of the leash. If you’re holding the leash in your hand, be sure to keep your arm glued to your side rather than extending it forward. When he reaches the end of the leash, he’ll likely pull and pull. Stand stock still and wait him out. When he turns to look at you, lure him back into a sit in front of you. Give several treats in a row until he’s focused just on sitting and looking at you. When you’re ready, move forward again at a brisk pace. Repeat this every time he charges ahead, until he understands that getting in front of you causes the walk to stop, and sitting and looking at you causes the walk to resume.
Next, work on about-turns and U-turns to train him to stay by your side. For the about-turn, walk forward in a straight line, turn 180 degrees to your right so your dog is on the outside, then head back on the same line. Do this randomly when he gets even one foot ahead of yours. Make the turns more fun by jogging a few steps and then rewarding him when he catches up and looks at you.
Rules of the road
Keeping your dog hydrated
Knowing when to stop
So, that’s the recipe for creating a great canine running partner: Start with training, maintain good manners, follow the rules of the road, stay alert to your dog’s condition and, when in doubt, take a break. Now, get out there and run!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Awkward, embarrassing and dangerous
Watching a neighbor walk a couple of dogs by my house recently, it appeared more as though the group was attempting a complicated macramé pattern than going on a brisk walk. These sweet dogs were weaving in and out, twisting around my neighbor, their leashes, and each other. One word came to mind: chaos.
I’m not picking on the person—just empathizing. I’ve had my share of leash mishaps, and performed the leaping-over-the-leash-and-spin-to-untwist dance. In fact, I’ve acquired enough experience to achieve a high level of skill at it.
Once, my dog and I walked on opposite sides of a tree and when I reversed to go onto his side (because were working on loose leash walking and he’d been doing so well I didn’t want to make him come back), he kept going and followed me around the tree. In the sort of absurd comedy or errors that all friends experience from time to time, we walked around that ill-placed tree, switching directions, several times such that an observer might have thought it was the maypole, not a maple. It was the dog walking equivalent of getting wedged in a doorway like The Three Stooges. Usually, we were quite adept at coming around a pole or tree, but on this one occasion, it was far from smooth.
I’ve never been injured by silly leash antics, but I know not everyone has been so lucky. Many people have been knocked over, jolted enough to hurt their backs, or even broken fingers when they got tangled up and the dog pulled on the leash. The trainer in me cannot help but point out that this is yet another reason to teach dogs to walk nicely on leash without pulling, though I’m well aware that sometimes bad luck is more a factor than a lack of training.
Please share your experience with leash acrobatics.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Going the distance
I should have realized right away that something special was going on in a group dog-training session last spring. When I asked the participants to call their dogs to come and then run away, they all did, and with Whippet-like speed. Most people need lots of encouragement to run, and even then — looking sheepish — they tend to take a few half-hearted jogging steps at most. This was no ordinary group, but rather, some of the world’s best distance runners, athletes so good they are sponsored by the likes of Adidas, New Balance, Nike, Mizuno, Brooks and Reebok. They’re living and training in Flagstaff, Ariz., in pursuit of their Olympic dreams because this mountain town’s high altitude, abundant trails and sunny weather provide the perfect conditions for distance running.
Since that day, I’ve worked with other local elite runners, helping them teach their dogs to conquer fears of unfamiliar people, cars and leashes; stop chasing bikes; greet visitors politely at the door; walk nicely on leash; perform tricks like crawl, high-five, shake, spin and roll over; and continue running rather than be distracted by other dogs. The successes they have as trainers have everything to do with their success as athletes: they take what they already know about training to be world-class runners and apply it to training their dogs. The following principles apply equally to dog training and running.
Value consistent practice.
It’s not how fast you run in training, it’s more a consistency, those back-to-back 100-mile weeks.
Recognize that progress is incremental.
In dog training, there can be 100 steps from the starting point to the end point. Step one in recall work may be calling your dog to come when you’re standing in your distraction-free living room holding cooked chicken. Step 100 is calling your dog to come when he is chasing a rabbit with his best canine buddy. Small changes over time lead to success — a familiar concept for runners, who take years to build the fitness, technique and strategy required to race successfully at the international level.
Each workout seems to be building on the last.
Be goal oriented.
I often ask clients what they think success would look like. Do they want to be able to walk their reactive dog on leash through the neighborhood, or are they hoping to turn their little firecracker into a therapy dog? Do they want their dog to do a downstay when people enter the house, or is any behavior that involves keeping all four paws on the floor acceptable? Runners set goals, whether it’s running a personal-best time, following their race plan or winning an Olympic medal.
Setting an ultimate goal and stepping- stone goals help you to commit and make the ultimate goal tangible in your mind, which reflects in your daily actions, leading to success.
Welcome coaching and ideas for improvement.
Part of my job as a dog trainer and canine behaviorist is coaching — suggesting ways skills can be improved. I remind people to say a cue only once, help them with their timing, instruct them on modulating the pitch of their voice and guide them on giving clear visual signals. Coaches also give advice on modifications of everything from running form and breathing to when to make a move in a race. Athletes are accustomed to responding to their coaches, so they easily respond to my coaching, too.
Having a coach makes all the difference in the world, to offer outside advice with inside knowledge.
Know that little things matter.
Attention to detail, making sure to do all the little things right, is at a premium.
Understand that every situation is different.
Training Lucy is a lot like training for a big race that doesn’t quite work out. Training her one-on-one always goes really smoothly, like running a workout I’ve done a dozen times. In practice, everything goes fine, but race day can be a different story.
Accept setbacks as part of the process.
Progress is not always smooth. Setbacks teach us what we need to do to move forward. Accepting this as part of achieving goals is a trait these runners carry with them from their professional lives into their other pursuits, including dog training.
Setbacks are bound to happen, but if you approach it properly, I think you can come away much stronger and much smarter.
Elite runners love to win and hate to lose. In dog training, as in all endeavors, actively pursuing success makes its achievement more likely.
Times are nice, but I want that first place, that gold medal!
It’s a joy to associate with people who are so talented and willing to sacrifice so much in pursuit of their Olympic dreams. Yet, what I love most about working with elite runners is what I love about working with all of my clients: they love their dogs. “Many of the athletes and all of the coaches have dogs that we love like children,” says Trina Painter, assistant coach of Team USA Arizona, which includes many of these athletes. “They protect us, love us when we’re happy and sad, greet us with licks whether we’re sweaty or clean. They run with us and play with us. They keep us laughing with their silly faces and tricks and speak to us with their expressive eyes and body language. They are, for many of the runners, their best friend and source of unconditional love each day, and a wonderful warm and furry positive distraction from running.”
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Don't leave me!
Q Charley, a rescued three year- old Lab who’d spent his entire life in an outdoor kennel, was scared of everything when we first got him. He’s been with us for eight months and now, he panics when we leave him alone. We have two crates, one in our house and one in our car. He goes into the home crate and stays there for about an hour. I’ve been gradually closing the door and even leaving the house, and when I come back, he’s fine. However, when we leave him in his car crate, he just loses it, so distraught that he’s destroyed a crate bed and a quilt. Is this separation anxiety? We adore him and want to help him, but what can we do?
A Charley is obviously suffering from a form of separation distress, which is not uncommon for a dog who has spent so much of his life in relative isolation. Fear of abandonment and the desire to seek reattachment are what drive some dogs into a panic when left alone, and the resulting destructive behavior is a manifestation of this desperate feeling.
Extensive research has shown that dogs suffer from the same kinds of fears, phobias and anxieties as do humans, even experiencing the canine equivalent of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It would not surprise me if Charley were suffering from a version of PTSD, which could be triggered by being left alone in novel places, even in a car that he knows. Dogs who become distressed when left alone typically do not do well in confined spaces such as crates, and in Charley’s case, it’s obvious that his anxiety is a result of his previous confinement.
You seem to have made good progress desensitizing Charley to the crate in your home, and a similar routine needs to be adopted for the crate in your car. Until he is completely comfortable being in the car without you, it’s better for him to stay at home, where he feels secure. If you try leaving him in the car too early in the process, he will revert to his former behavior, so it is vital that the following training steps be implemented slowly.
To begin with, show Charley that being in the car is a good thing. At various times during the day, walk him to where your car is parked and either feed him his favorite food in the car or play his favorite game around it. Open the doors and sit next to him while he is in his crate, with the crate door open so he can leave if he wants. Allowing him the freedom to make choices will help increase his confidence. Give him a durable rubber toy stuffed with food to chew when he’s in the crate. If, however, he decides to leave, gently take the toy from him and place it in the crate again, showing him that’s where he gets the nice stuff!
If Charley is comfortable in the crate while you drive, take him to a variety of places and repeat the exercise, which will help him learn that being in the car with you in different environments is a good thing. Only when you see that Charley is eager to be in the car crate with the door open should you start closing the door for short periods while you sit with him. Gradually increase the length of time the door is closed.
It goes without saying that a dog should never be left in a car when the weather’s warm (or very cold). In direct sunlight, a car can heat up within minutes, even on relatively cool days. If you know that you will be running errands or going to dinner, leave Charley at home.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A simple approach is often effective
“I’ve been putting my hand in his food while he’s eating since he was a puppy, so he’s never growled at me over his food.” This sort of comment sets my teeth on edge because repeatedly bothering a dog who is eating is actually an effective technique for teaching dogs to behave aggressively around food, NOT a great way to prevent it. Many such dogs start to growl, snap, or bite when someone comes near their food. It’s like they’re saying, “Enough already. Leave me alone!” If a dog is constantly bothered while eating but never displays food bowl aggression, it shows that he’s a great dog, not that harassing him was a good idea.
The natural response of many dogs when you approach, reach for, or take away their food is some canine version of, “Hey! It’s mine! Back off!” Creating a response that’s the canine equivalent of, “Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, here she comes!” is a great way to prevent dogs from developing food bowl aggression.
You want your dog to feel happy when you approach him while he’s eating, and even when you reach toward his bowl or take it away. Dogs who are happy about your approach are not going to growl or snap to get you to leave.
If you regularly walk by a dog who is eating and toss a treat to him, you are teaching him to anticipate a treat whenever you approach him at his food bowl. Once he learns that your approach predicts something good, he’ll be happy to see you coming.
To begin, walk by your dog as he eats and toss a treat without stopping. Do this only 1-2 times during any feeding session and don’t do it every time your dog is eating. Overdoing it can cause a dog to feel irritable, the same way many people feel in a restaurant when a waiter refills the water glass after every sip.
If your dog begins to look up in anticipation when you approach, he is ready for the next step, which is to walk towards him, stop, toss the treat, and then walk away. The step after that is to reach towards the bowl, toss a treat and then walk away, and the last step is to pick up the bowl, put a few extra treats into it, and then give it back to your dog before walking away. It usually takes a few days to several weeks to work through each successive step.
This technique can prevent food bowl aggression. If your dog is already behaving aggressively around his food, or if at any point in this process your dog shows signs of aggression or tension (such as stiffening, growling, eating faster, hovering over the bowl, snapping, or showing his teeth), stop and seek help from a qualified trainer or behaviorist.
The result of this process is a sentiment that’s a joy for me to hear: “My dog doesn’t growl over his food because I taught him to love it when I come near him while he’s eating!”
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Cue ’em in
Trainers spend a dog’s lifetime teaching new cues and behaviors, but there are a few worth teaching every dog sooner rather than later.
Learning these cues and behaviors allows your dog to reap the benefits of being a well-mannered member of society. Education is never a waste!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Mental exercise improves quality of life
I love this video of a dog going performing a series of tricks and tasks. (It helps that this dog is so cute it hurts!)
The first thing I notice when I look at this video is an adorable dog performing tricks. But I also see the benefits of a dog who has had ample mental exercise. This dog looks incredibly happy as she goes through her repertoire.
Everybody knows that dogs need physical exercise but the fact that mental exercise improves dogs’ quality of life is sometimes overlooked. The joy that is so evident in the dog in this video makes her the poster child for the importance of providing dogs with lots of activities. It’s so wise to supply dogs with ample stimulation so that they are not bored, and many of us have lifestyles that make that a significant challenge. Training dogs to perform tricks is one way to accomplish this, and there are many advantages.
1. Dogs can be trained at home so there is no need to drive anywhere.
2. Tricks can be taught and practiced by working a few minutes here and a few minutes there each day, so it is easier to work into daily life than many other activities.
3. Training dogs to do tricks is often a light-hearted activity. That makes it easy to be happy and have fun while doing so, which is good for the relationship between people and dogs.
4. Dogs often receive a great deal of positive attention when practicing or performing their tricks, which makes them feel good.
5. You can post videos of your dog doing tricks on YouTube and spread the happiness around.
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