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How to Help Your Puppy Love Toys – August 28, 2011

People will often lament that their dog is not “into” toys. Some dogs will not innately want to play with toys but you can create the desire within them with a little work on your part. If your dog is really motivated by food and has never shown any interest in toys, an option available to you is to take the motivating toy you have chosen to work with and simmer it in a pot of liver, or chicken broth to make it more attractive to your finicky hound. BE LEERY–if you choose to go this route, be very careful your dog is never given an opportunity to be alone with this wonderful smelling toy or THEY MAY EAT IT. The key to training old Rover to play with you and your toy is that you are SINCERELY interested in playing with your dog. If you are truly not having fun, your dog will quickly realize this and will be even more reluctant to join in. So be sure that you are both enjoying yourselves.

• Choose a throwable toy–i.e. one that you can toss, but won’t roll too much, like a tug rope, or a ball in a sock or a stuffed animal.
• Attach this toy to a light line, string or lead that is about 3 meters long.
• Put the toy in a drawer in the midst of your living area–example, in the kitchen or somewhere else that is easily accessible at all times.
• Before each meal start to act a bit loony. While saying really fun things to your dog (like “oh no”, “what is it”, “do you want this”, “where’s your toy”, etc.) walk, dance, skip…basically act goofy while you make your way over to the special drawer.
• S-l-o-w-l-y open up the drawer while continuing to say nutty things to your dog.
• Stop talking momentarily (a pause for effect) and then pull the toy out of the drawer, like you just unexpectedly came across a $50 bill and run with it into the next room.
• Swing the toy above the ground while acting nutty to show the dog what a great time you are having with this fun toy.
• Dance around for a few more seconds and then toss the toy out like a lure on the end of a fishing pole.
• Drag it around but BE SURE THE DOG DOES NOT GET HIS MOUTH ON IT.
• This whole process should only take 1-2 minutes the first time you do it.
• End your fun game, which didn’t include your poor dog, by running back to the drawer, your toy in tow snatching it up and quickly putting it back in the drawer with a phrase like “oh no, it’s gone”.
• You may then proceed about your regular routine as if nothing out of the ordinary just happened.
• Re-enact this bizarre performance 2-3 times a day. After the second day, allow the dog to get his mouth on the toy if he is really keen–but only for a few seconds. Pull on the line to try and steal it from him. Once you get it away (be sure you are taking it from him in a very informal, fun way), play with it a little more by yourself before quickly putting the toy away.
• Gradually progress, letting him play with you and the toy (tog of war style) a little more each time until you have a dog who loves to see the toy come out.
• Do not allow him to play with this toy at any other time except during this routine and, when he is ready, at agility class.
• Ideally, you should remove any other toys that are lying around the house during this time. Leave out only things your dog can lie down and chew on by himself, such as his chew bones.
• Be sure during this training/play session that you never give your dog any sort of verbal for anything he might do.
• Before you know it you will have a dog who is as nutty about this toy as you apparently have been!
• This method works particularly well on new puppies.

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Tricks of the Trade – August 24, 2011

As a dog owner you may have wondered from time to time what professional trainer’s secrets are. Or you may have wondered while attending a class why some owners seem to be more successful than others. The temperament and personality of an individual dog certainly come into play but there are some “tricks of the trade” that anyone can use to achieve better training success.

1. Rate of Reinforcement
The most effective trainers nearly always have a higher rate of reinforcement during teaching new behaviors than less effective trainers. According to some informal studies successful trainers are giving reinforcement as much as five times more often than less successful trainers. This means that when training your dog something new you should reinforce the right behavior (or parts of the right behavior) very often which makes the behavior easier for your dog to understand.

2. Practice, Practice, Practice
Good trainers know that reliable response to commands is built on repetition. Your dog will need to perform new behaviors many times in all different situations before the behavior can be considered reliable. This means other than practicing at home or at class you need to “take the show on the road” and practice on walks, at parks, at pet stores and anywhere else you can think of. This helps dogs to understand that the commands will be rewarded and must be followed no matter what is going on around them.

3. Good Timing
When you click and give rewards has a huge impact on how quickly your dog learns new behaviors. Your dog will repeat behaviors which are rewarding but if your timing is off they may not be the behaviors you were looking for! A common example of this is when teaching Sit, owners click (or treat if not using a clicker) after the dog has gotten out of position. Poor timing sends mixed messages to your pooch. Strive to click (or treat) while the behavior is happening.

4. The 80% Rule
It’s difficult for many trainers, novice and experienced alike, to know when to move on to more advanced parts of a behavior. A long time rule of thumb is you should be getting a correct response at least 80% of the time before moving on. This means if you are practicing come and your dog comes eight out of ten times from a distance of twelve feet you are ready to try a longer distance. If the correct response is under 80% however, you need to put in more practice before advancing.

5. Keep It FUN!
Dogs respond better to training when it is presented to them as a game. Don’t be afraid to get silly praising your dog. Often people get a routine and stick with it practicing the same behaviors every day in the same order. Boring! Not just for the dog but for the trainer as well. Switch it up, teach something new every couple days even if it’s just a trick. Keep training sessions short but plan on having multiples each day. Three 5 minute sessions are better than one hour long one when practicing at home one on one. Avoid training when you are in a bad mood or if you or your dog aren’t feeling well. If you find you are becoming frustrated ask your dog to do something easy and end the session on a high note.

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Three Stages of Training – August 16, 2011

It is important to progress in your training and phase out food lures and rewards. Using food to initially teach your puppy what you want is a great way to help them learn quickly. But you don’t want to be dependent on food once your puppy knows a behavior.

Here are the stages you should focus on:

1. To phase out food lures
2. To phase out food rewards and replace with life rewards
3. To increase reliability by calmly persisting and insisting

Stage One:

Teaching dogs what we want them to do. Teaching dogs ESL — English as Second Language — English words for doggy behaviors and actions.

Food Lures -> Hand-signals -> Verbal Commands
Food lures are phased out once the dog learns the meaning of hand-signals (in the very first session) and hand-signals (hand lures) are then used to teach the dog the meaning of verbal commands. .

Stage Two:

Motivating dogs to want to do what we want them to do.
Food rewards are phased out and replaced with Life Rewards.

Get More-for-less, i.e., more behaviors for fewer food rewards

Differential Reinforcement only rewarding your dog for above-average responses with better responses receiving better rewards and the best responses receiving best rewards.

Life Rewards — Food rewards are phased out entirely and replaced with Life Rewards especially the Big Two — Walking on-leash or off-leash and Playing with other dogs. Big Two Interactive Games — Fetch and Tug

Stage Three:

Even though a dog may understand the meaning of the verbal command and has been motivated to want to comply, there will be occasions when he doesn’t. However, there are infrequent occasions when absolute reliability is essential for the dog’s well being and safety. Use persistence and insistence to get behavior.

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How to Have a Better Behaved Dog – August 7, 2011

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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Home Alone for Puppies – August 3, 2011

Teaching your puppy how to be comfortable and relaxed when left alone is as important as housetraining or any other behavior you teach him.

All owners find it occasionally necessary to leave their puppy at home alone. So before leaving your puppy for long periods, you should teach him how to amuse himself appropriately when left alone, such as by chewing stuffed chewtoys, and learning how to enjoy his own company without becoming anxious or stressed. A dog is a highly social animal and therefore requires adequate preparation for spending some of his time in social isolation and solitary confinement.

To teach your puppy how to settle down calmly and quietly when you are absent, start by teaching him to settle down with a chewtoy at times when you are present. Right from the outset, make frequent quiet moments part of the puppy’s daily routine. Following the confinement schedule will help your puppy train himself to settle down. Additionally, encourage your puppy to settle down beside you for longer and longer periods. For example, when you’re watching television have your pup lie down on leash or in his crate, but release him for short play-training breaks during the commercials. For a young puppy, you can’t have too many rules.

When playing with your pup, have him settle down for frequent short interludes every one or two minutes. Initially have the pup lie still for a few seconds before letting him play again. After a minute, interrupt the play session once more with a three-second settle-down. Then try for four seconds, then five, eight, ten, and so on. Although being yo-yoed between the commands “Settle down” and “Let’s play” is difficult at first, the puppy soon learns to settle down quickly and happily. Your puppy will learn that being asked to settle down is not the end of the world, nor is it necessarily the end of the play session, but instead that “Settle down” signals a short timeout and reward break before he is allowed to resume playing. If you teach your puppy to be calm and controlled when told, you will have years of fun and excitement ahead. Once your puppy has learned to settle down and shush on cue, there is so much more your dog can enjoy with you. Until you have trained your puppy to enjoy spending much of his day at home alone, you might recruit a puppy sitter who has time to spend with him.

Separation Anxiety

Maintaining your puppy’s confinement schedule when you are at home prepares your puppy to be calm when you are gone. Allowing a young puppy unrestricted access to you when you are at home quickly encourages him to become overly dependent, and overdependence is the most common reason why dogs become anxious when left at home alone. Try your best to teach your puppy to enjoy his own company, to develop self-confidence, and to stand on his own four paws.

Once your puppy is confident and relaxed on his own, he may enjoy all of his time with you when you are at home. When leaving your puppy for hourly sessions in his short term confinement area (dog crate), make a point to check how he fares when left in another room. For example, periodically confine your puppy to his crate in the dining room while you prepare food in the kitchen, then keep the pup in his crate in the kitchen while the family eats dinner in the dining room.

Most importantly, when you are at home, make certain to familiarize your puppy with his long-term confinement area (puppy playroom). Confining your pup when you’re home enables you to monitor his behavior during confinement and check in on him at irregular intervals, quietly rewarding him for being quiet. Thus your pup will not necessarily associate his confinement area with your absence, but rather he will learn to look forward to time spent in his playroom with his special toys.

Give your puppy plenty of toys whenever leaving him on his own. Ideal chewtoys are indestructible and hollow (such as Kong products), as they may be conveniently stuffed with kibble and occasional treats which periodically fall out and reward the pup for chewing his toy. If your puppy is gainfully occupied with his chewtoy, he will fret less over your absence. Additionally, leave a radio playing. The sound will provide white noise to mask outside disturbances. The sound of a radio is also reassuring, since it is normally associated with your presence.

When Leaving Home

Make sure to stuff a number of chewtoys with kibble and treats. Make sure to stuff a piece of freeze-dried liver into the tiny hole of each Kong, or deep into the marrow cavity of each bone. Place the tastily stuffed chewtoys in your puppy’s long-term confinement area and shut the door . . . with your puppy on the outside! When your puppy begs you to open the door, let him in and shut the door, turn on the radio or television, and leave quietly. Your puppy’s chewing will be regularly reinforced by each piece of kibble which falls out of the chewtoy. Your puppy will continue to chew in an attempt to extract the freeze-dried liver. Eventually your puppy will fall asleep..

Home Alone

Dogs are quite happy to sleep all day and all night. They have two activity peaks, at dawn and dusk. Thus, most chewing and barking activity is likely to occur right after you leave your pup in the morning and just before you return in the evening. Leaving your puppy with freshly stuffed chewtoys and offering the unextracted treats when you return prompts your puppy to seek out his chewtoys at times of peak activity.

Jekyll-and-Hyde Behavior

Smothering your puppy with attention and affection when you are home primes the pup to really miss you when you are gone. A Jekyll-and-Hyde environment (lots of attention when you are there, and none when you are gone) quickly creates a Jekyll-and- Hyde puppy which is completely confident when you are there, but falls apart and panics when you are gone. If you allow your puppy to become dependent upon your presence, he will be anxious in your absence. When stressed, dogs are more likely to indulge in bad habits, such as housesoiling, chewing, digging, and barking. During your puppy’s first few weeks at home, frequent confinement with stuffed chewtoys is essential for your pup to develop confidence and independence. Once your puppy is quite happy busying himself with his chewtoys whenever left alone, you may safely allow your now wellbehaved and confident pup to enjoy as much time with you as he likes, without the fear that he will become anxious in your absence.

Wonderful Weekends and Worrisome Weekdays

Whereas weekend attention and affection is wonderful, it primes your new puppy to miss the family on Monday morning when the parents go to work and the children leave for school. By all means, play with and train your puppy lots during the weekend, but also have lots of quiet moments to prepare your puppy for lonely weekdays.

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