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Q & A with Mrs. G. – October 28, 2010

I was honered to be interviewed by a recent client and ‘puppy blogger’, Mrs. G.
Check out her website for great puppy tips and info: http://poopypuppy.com/

“Recently I met with Joanne Lekas, owner and operator of Happy Dog Behavior Training in Waltham, Massachusetts. Joanne is our “go to” trainer and worked with our family on understanding what works and what doesn’t work when training our pups.

Joanne has been at this business for a while and for her it is truly a passion. Joanne spent the better part of 30 years in Corporate America. The skills she honed there serve her well in the dog training world, such as presenting and teaching to diverse groups of people and identifying solutions to complex problems.

Many of our readers and their dogs haven’t worked directly with a trainer while some may have used a trainer along with other obedience tools.

Joanne met with me to answer some basic questions about puppy training, dog obedience and training older dogs, as well.

Mrs. G.: Joanne, why is dog training important to the dog and the owner? Joanne: Training helps provide clear communication from owner to dog and dog to owner; this is the foundation for a successful and happy relationship. Understanding each other strengthens the bond between you and your dog. Lack of understanding creates frustration and impatience for humans. This same lack of understanding can contribute to the breakdown of the relationship between dog and owner.

Not being able to get the behavior you want from your dog often results in anger, further destroying the relationship. The number one reason dogs get surrendered to shelters is due to behavioral issues.

Basic training can often prevent behavior issues from developing in the first place. Training will help ensure that all of the family has happier, rewarding lives with their dog.

Mrs. G.: When should training begin?
Joanne: As soon as your puppy comes home. A good breeder will start training puppies when they are even younger. A puppy learns by the consequence of his actions so you can start providing good consequences for any desired behavior right away.

It’s not about putting the behavior on command right away, but you can reward your new puppy every time they come to you, every time they look at you, or do other desired behaviors.

And of course housetraining starts the moment you bring your puppy home.

“Every time you are with your dog, one of you is being trained. It is better to be the trainer than the trainee.” This is one of my favorite quotes from a well-known trainer, Steve White.

Mrs. G.: What works best, individual or class training?
Joanne: There are benefits to both. Private training provides information and training tailored to the individual owners’ needs. This can be helpful for the first time puppy owner, for breed specific information, housetraining, crate training, family dynamics, etc.

Private training is also the best way to address specific behavior issues such as fear, resource guarding, reactivity to other dogs or strangers, etc. I can focus on teaching at a pace that suits the owners and family.

Puppy classes are a great addition to private training and provide added socialization to new people, places and other puppies. It also provides a structured way to practice with the added distractions in a class setting.

Mrs. G.: Can you teach an old dog new tricks?
Joanne: Absolutely. It’s a matter of teaching the dog that a new behavior is more rewarding than the old behavior. Depending on how long the ‘undesirable’ behavior has been going on, and how strongly its been inadvertently rewarded, this can take some time. Training in the new behavior will take consistency and extra rewards initially.”

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Calling Your Dog – Part 1 – October 27, 2010

Getting your dog to come to you on cue is one of the nicest things you can do for your dog. Knowing that your dog will return whenever you want her to allows you to give her freedom to play and go where she wants to — within reason. The recall, along with a solid “emergency down” may save her life one day, so it’s worth putting some time into training her to respond quickly.

So how to build this solid recall? First, choose a word for the cue. If your dog is a puppy, you can choose whatever you want, just stick to it. If your dog is a rescue, you might want to pick something out-of-the-ordinary as your cue. She might have bad associations with “come” from her previous guardian. Just test it out, and she’ll tell you. If she ignores you, that’s okay. If she runs away, that’s a sign you should use a different word.

Let’s assume that your recall cue is “come.” You want this to be one of the best words your dog knows. It means, “run to me, there’s a party over here!” The idea is to never let your dog know that there is something better than coming to you. So never say “come” when you think your dog may not do it. The second thing to be sure that you do not do is doing something scary after your dog comes to you. When your dog comes when you call her, do not do anything that she does not like. That includes nail-clipping, putting the leash to leave the park, or yelling at her for pouncing on the neighbor’s cat. The last thing she did was come to you — you don’t want to punish that, you should reward it! You’ll have to be satisfied with telling her, in a nice, upbeat voice, what a rotten dog she is. Finally, the last bit of negative advice is to never chase after your dog. You do not want her to think that running away from you is a fun game. Whether she has a sock, you need to take her out of the park, or you just think its fun, chasing is not the answer.

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Tips for Interacting with a Fearful Dog – October 25, 2010

When dealing with a fearful dog, our tendency is to want to get close and encourage the dog to come to us or interact with us. In fact, you should do the exact opposite to help the dog get comfortable that much sooner.

The following tips on human body language are especially important when dealing with a fearful dog:

1. Let the dog come to you. If your dog is frightened, she must be allowed to decide whether or not to approach. Don’t restrain your dog and force her to accept contact from others. Remember the “fight or flight” response; if you take away the opportunity for flight, your dog’s choices are limited.

2. Turn to the side. Facing a dog directly is more confrontational than keeping your body turned partially or completely to the side; even turning your head to the side will make a frightened dog feel less anxious.

3. No staring, please ! A direct stare is a threat in the animal kingdom (and on New York City subways!). It is perfectly fine to look at your dog; just soften your expression and don’t “hard stare” directly into her eyes. Do not allow children to put their faces near your dog’s face or to stare into her eyes.

4. Don’t hover. Leaning over a dog can cause the dog to become afraid and possibly defensive. The one time I was bitten while working in a Los Angeles city animal shelter happened when I went to return an adorable, fluffy white dog to her pen. While placing her on the ground, I inadvertently reached over her equally adorable little pen mate who jumped up and bit me in the face.

5. Pet appropriately. Approaching dogs by patting them on the head is ill-advised. Envision the interaction from the dog’s point of view; a palm approaching from above can be alarming. Demonstrate with kids to teach them how to pet dogs properly. The child plays the role of the dog; tell the child that you will pet him in two different ways, and he is to tell me which is nicer. First, reach your hand slowly toward the child’s cheek and stroke it, smiling and softly saying, “Good dog!” Next, bring your hand brusquely palm-down over the child’s head repeatedly, while loudly saying, “Good dog, good dog!” Kids almost invariably like the first method better. If dogs could answer for themselves, nine out of ten dogs would vote for the first method as well! It’s not that dogs should never be petted on top of the head, but that head-patting (or petting over the dog’s shoulders, back, or rump) should not be used as an initial approach. It is wiser to make a fist, hold it under the dog’s nose to allow her to sniff, then pet the dog on the chest, moving gradually to the sides of the face and other body parts, assuming the dog is comfortable. Likewise, a hand moving in quickly to grab for a dog’s collar is more potentially fear-inducing than a hand moving slowly to a dog’s chest, scratching it, then moving up to take hold of the collar.

6. Stoop, don’t swoop. Small dogs in particular are often swooped down upon when people want to pick them up. Fast, direct, overhead movements are much more frightening than slow, indirect ones. To lift a small dog, crouch down, pet the dog for a moment, then gently slip your hands under her belly and chest, and lift.

7. Watch your smile. While humans interpret a smile as friendly, a dog might not be as fond of seeing your pearly whites. A show of teeth is, after all, a threat in the animal kingdom. Smile at canines with a closed mouth.

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Walking without Pulling – October 22, 2010

Every time your dog pulls and you walk forward, your dog is getting ‘rewarded’ for pulling. So this behavior will continue unless you teach your dog that is is more rewarding to stay by your side. Try using these steps:

Warm up your puppy by teaching him to stay with you on a loose leash
• With the leash held in your right hand and your puppy facing you, walk backwards and place a treat by your left foot.
• Repeat this 3-4 times and the 4th time, stop as your puppy takes the food and start walking forward.
• As your puppy looks up at you, immediately praise and reward.
• Take a few steps forward with your puppy next to you, praising and rewarding.
• Then repeat the walking backwards exercise a few more times and walk forward a little more each time.

Walking with your dog
• Start by holding the leash in your right hand staying very relaxed and take up any slack in the leash.
• Have food available in your left hand so you can reward your dog when he is paying attention to you and walking nicely by your left side.
• Be consistent with your training walks by stopping any time your dog moves ahead of you.
• When this happens, lure your dog back to your left side, almost behind your left foot so when you start walking forward your dog is in the proper position.
• Walk with your head high and shoulders facing forward
• Praise your dog any time he looks at you and give him a treat when he is walking next to you.
• You may need to reward for every step initially but then you can build up to longer walking between rewards
• Try to catch your dog with praise and rewards BEFORE he gets ahead of you
• Teach your dog to stop and sit next to you every time you stop.
• If your dog criss-crosses in front or behind you, lure him back into position – don’t you move to accommodate your dog.
• If your dog lags behind, energize him with praise to move him forward.

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Guidelines for Your Puppy – October 20, 2010

Don’t Expect Your Pup To Understand Sentences
It’s okay to babble along to your pup as you care for it, just don’t expect it to understand anything you’re saying. It will only understand the tone of your address. Dogs can learn a number of word cues (“commands”) – even hundreds of them – but they are just that, word cues. A pup can and should be taught at least a few words of human language. In English, “Sit!” and “Dinner!” are a couple that might be useful on occasion. But if you tell the dog, “Sit in your Dinner”, the meaning is lost. Dogs do not have a language center in their brains like humans do, and they cannot fathom syntax. Use one-word commands when communicating. Say the word clearly. Say it only once. And say it with importance. Reward the desired response immediately. Do not use the pup’s name when addressing it (unless the pup is at a distance). Do not repeat commands. Dogs hear even better than we do. Their “deafness” is usually not attributable to poor hearing. It is selective – they choose not to obey. Remember that if a dog does not respond to a verbal cue it should not be punished. The opposite of reward is not punishment – it is no reward.

Don’t Allow Young Children (Under 6 Years Old) To Interact With Your Pup Unsupervised
It comes as a surprise to many people to learn that children and puppies, though both cute, cannot be trusted alone together. Bad things can happen. Children are naturally curious. Often a child will do “something bad” to the pup by way of experimentation. In one case, a dog bit a child and the dog had to be euthanatized. On post-mortem it was found that the child had jammed a pencil into the dog’s ear, snapping the end off after penetrating the dog’s ear drum. If accidents like this are to be avoided, complete supervision is necessary. It’s not usually the dog that starts the trouble, it’s the child. If you can child-proof your dog, there should be no cause for concern.

Do Not Feed It Human Food: Do Not Feed It From The Table.
Puppy food is best for pups (AAFCO approved, is most desirable). Adding an assortment of human foods in who-knows-what quantities will not only detract from the optimal (proprietary) food but will encourage fussiness. Also, if the human food is fed from the table, you will wind up with a dog that mooches around the table at mealtimes, always begging for food. Start out the way you intend to continue. Set limits and be firm about them. Make sure that you feed your pup a good quality food. This is essential to his good health.

Do Not Expect Love And Attention To Substitute For Good Puppy Parenting .
Young pups are so adorable that it is very tempting to always give them all of the love and attention you possible can. But it is also important to set limits of acceptable behavior. This is especially important as they go through the canine equivalent of “the terrible twos” at about 4-5 months of age. Bad behavior, like excessive or hard nipping, should be punished by immediate withdrawal of attention (following sharp exclamation of a word like “Ouch” or “No-bite”). This is how puppies communicate their likes and dislikes to each other. Spare the “Ouch” and spoil the dog!

Do Not Supply All the Good Things in Life for Free
One simple rule is to make the pup work for food and treats. “What’s work?” you ask. It’s having the pup “Sit” or “Down” in order to receive food and treats (like Grace). This will make sure that the pup always views you as its true (resource rich) provider and, therefore, leader. Problems of owner-directed aggression downstream can be all but completely addressed by this simple measure. Don’t give everything away. Insist on good puppy manners: Manners maketh the pup.

Do Not Ever Get Angry with Your Pup
Work hard to remind yourself, whatever happens, that this is a baby you are dealing with. If you lose your cool, you will act incorrectly, your puppy will think you have gone crazy, and you will lose its respect and trust. Be a good puppy parent. Think cool.

Following these simple rules of what NOT to do can help create the dog of your dreams as opposed to a canine nightmare. The basics are the same as in child raising. Be fun, be fair, but be firm (the 3 F’s) and set limits. Children are happier when their parents are obviously at the helm, and so are dogs. Dogs need strong leaders if they are to be model canine citizens.

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Tug of War Rules – October 18, 2010

Playing with your dog is a great way to bond and train. People often hear that they should not play Tug with their dog. This is actually a great way to play and train, if played by the following rules:

1. Never leave the ‘tug of war’ toy lying around. Keep it put away so you initiate and end play
2. Make sure that the game only starts when you invite your dog to play by saying ‘take it’ and letting the dog grab one end of the toy
3. Teach your dog to drop the toy by saying ‘drop it’ while playing tug of war. Trade with a treat to start
4. Once your dog is hooked on the tug of war game, you can institute the 3 ‘fouls’. The 3 fouls occur when your dog:
• Tries to take the toy before you say ‘take it’
• Any mouthing of your skin, clothing or hair in the dog’s excitement to get the toy
• Not dropping the toy when asked
The foul is a brief 30 second to 2 minute ‘time out’ meaning your stop playing the game by saying ‘too bad’, and put the toy out of reach and ignore the dog
5. Always end up with possession of the toy
6. Start throwing in obedience exercise before inviting the dog to ‘take it’ or after ‘drop it’ – Commands you may practice include:
• Sit
• Down
• Stand
• Wait-you can toss the toy and have the dog wait until you give the release “OK” for them to go get it. This is also a good way to start the ‘fetch’ command, as most likely your dog will bring it back to you to continue the game.

Always have the session end when the dog still wants to play – initially just play for a couple of minutes.

Also, only keep a few of your dog’s other toys out for play and rotate in different toys each week.

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Adding Difficulty as You Train – October 13, 2010

As you start to teach your puppy good manners, you need to be aware of his ability to learn in different situations. You want to think in terms of teaching your puppy each behavior first at Kindergarten level and working up very gradually to college level. The factors that determine these grade levels – or degrees of difficulty- are location, distractions and distance.

When in a familiar or room, it’s easy for your puppy to learn. When there are no distractions, it’s easy for your puppy to focus on you. When you’re close to your puppy, it’s easier for him to pay attention. If any one of these things changes, you’ve just skipped a grade or two. So, if you move into a new room in the house, you’ve just increased the difficulty. If you’re in the familiar room but there are toys on the floor (distractions), then you’ve just made it harder for your puppy. And if you move 5 feet way, its now tougher for your puppy to focus on you.

Be aware of these things as you teach your puppy any new behavior and always set up your training to allow your puppy to be successful. Then move gradually from Kindergarten to College by changing just one variable at a time.

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How to Have a Better Behaved Dog – October 11, 2010

We all want wonderfully behaved dogs, but it doesn’t happen on its own just because we wish it. It takes time and effort to create the kind of dog and relationship you want. Here are some basic principles that can help you have a better behaved dog.
• Have realistic expectations about your dog. No matter how good your dog is, things will get peed on, chewed or scratched/dug up. Barking / meowing, door dashing and/or pulling on the leash can happen with even the best animal. Accept the fact that dogs are living beings and not china dolls to sit in the corner. If you have a dog, some time during his/her life, you will loose something of value.
• To change behavior you have to be patient and persistent. Change will not happen over night. Sometimes it can take weeks or months to change behavior. The more time you spend and the more often you work with your dog the quicker the change. Despite what some books say, most puppies can’t be housetrained in 7 days.
• Recognize and meet your dog’s behavioral needs. Dogs have needs for exercise, social contact with people and other animals and mental stimulation. Problem-solving toys, can provide mental stimulation. Games such as ‘find the hidden object’ and events such as agility can provide all three.
• Make it easy for your dog to do the right thing. Arrange the environment so that the behavior you want is easily produced. The more often desirable behavior happens the stronger it becomes. For example, minimize distractions when you’re trying to teach your dog something new. Put scratching posts where they are easy for your cat to find and use.
• Make it difficult for your dog to do the wrong thing. Arrange the environment so it is hard for your dog to make mistakes. The more often unwanted behavior happens the harder it is to change. Close the blinds to keep your dog from barking at those that pass by. Scoop out your cats’ litter boxes every day.
• Realize that animals don’t do things out of spite, for revenge or just to make your life miserable. They do what works – that is, what meets their behavioral needs, gets them rewards or allows them to escape or avoid bad things. They sometimes do some things because they are ill. Dogs counter surf because they occasionally hit the jackpot of a sandwich or chicken leg. Cats sometimes pee out of the box because they are sick even when they don’t act sick.

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Dog-Dog Introductions – October 8, 2010

When introducing new dogs to each other, it is important to do it outside, especially if a new dog is coming into an existing dog’s home. Follow the simple steps below to get started on the right paw!

• Dogs are walked on a sidewalk, one in front of the other (the calmer dog in front first).

• The dog in the back is allowed to come close and smell the dog in the front while walking

• A quick u-turn and positions are reversed

• Again the dog in the back smells dog in the front

• If the dogs are happy , parallel walk and dogs can smell together on the ground.

• No eye contact and dogs are handled by people with loose-leash skills.

• If possible, use a clicker to reinforce good behaviors.

• If everything goes well, dogs can meet and play off leash but closely supervised.

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Phasing Out Food Rewards – October 6, 2010

An important part of training is phasing out food lures and food rewards. Once your puppy knows a behavior, don’t reward every response with a treat.

Why Use Food to Train?

Dogs need food to survive, therefore, food can be a good motivator for all dogs. (Dogs on special diets, those with sensitivities, and non-food motivated dogs can work for all or part of their daily meals)
Food can be delivered and consumed quickly and effortlessly (many other rewards can take too much time to deliver or may get some dogs too aroused taking time away from the actual training)

Dogs can be easily lured into various positions using food lures. This allows us to teach without forcing them into position, which can be threatening to some dogs.

Food can be easily phased out by combining and replacing it with non-food rewards.

Food tends to promote a positive state of mind, making training sessions enjoyable and exciting for the dog

Phasing Out Food Rewards

– Once the dog knows a cue and responds to it reliably, you can begin to phase out the food.

– Make a list of as many non-food rewards as you can think of (rewards can be anything your dog wants or needs)

– Ask for more behaviors for fewer rewards (get a sit and a down for one reward or a sit, down, sit for one reward)

– Vary the rewards – sometimes reward with a treat, other times reward with a non-food reward

– Gradually offer fewer treats replacing them with non-food rewards

– Take advantage of the many opportunities that arise during your every day activities to have your dog work for all the things he wants

Examples of Non-Food Rewards:

• praise/petting/affection
• butt scratches/ear rubs
• play/games/toys
• access to beds/couches
• access through doors (leading into or out of the yard, car, front door for a walk)

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