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Calling Your Dog – October 29, 2011

One of the most common complaints that owners have is – “My dog does not come when called”. It is important to practice this behavior at gradually increasing levels of difficulty to ‘proof’ the behavior and make it strong.

Here are a few examples of recall games that you can play with your dog:

(LOW distraction) Have a friend make noise to attract your dog over to him. After she runs over, call your dog: “Puppy, come.” The friend then shuts down and becomes the most boring human that Puppy knows, so she will eventually run over to you, the interesting one.

(HIGHER distraction) Have a friend make noise with a squeaky toy to attract your dog over to him. After she runs over, call your dog: “Puppy, come.” The friend then shuts down and holds the toy to his chest, again becoming the most boring human that Puppy knows, so she will eventually run over to you, the interesting one. Then you give him a treat and run back over to the friend, who presents him with the toy and a fun game.

(possibly HIGHER distraction) Have a friend hold a container of extra-good treats and attract your dog over to him in some way. After she runs over, call your dog: “Puppy, come.” The friend then shuts down and holds the treats above dog level, yet again becoming the most boring human that Puppy knows, so she will eventually run over to you, the interesting one. Then you give him a treat and run back over to the friend, who presents him with the even better treats. Puppy learns that coming to you is the way to get what she wants.

(EVEN HIGHER distraction) When Puppy is playing with dogs, look for a break in the game and call her over to you. Give her a yummy treat and send her back into the fray.

(WAY HIGHER distraction) When Puppy is playing with dogs, call her over to you (the difference here is that she is actively playing). Give her a yummy treat and send her back into the fray. Be careful not to go past what she is ready for. You don’t want her learning that she can say “in a minute” and go back to playing.

(SUPER distraction) Squirrels. You may never get to the level where Puppy will come running to you if you call her during a squirrel chase. There is a possibility that you can teach her to drop on cue so well that she will do that during a chase. Then you can get her to calm down and, after a minute, call her to you. Consult a professional.

Chase — chase is fine, as long as you are the one running away. Call your dog, then sprint away as fast as you can. She will catch you. Turn and run a different direction. She’ll catch you again. Ask for a sit and give her a treat. You don’t necessarily have to treat this one — chase is rewarding in and of itself.

Hide-and-seek. Hide in a closet in the house and call your dog. You may have to make a noise so she can find you, but don’t make it too easy for her. Give her a nice reward when she finds you, maybe even a 30-second party. You can play this at the park, too, when she’s ready for it.

Two-dog recall. If you have multiple dogs, give a treat to the first one who shows up. This also helps speed up responses to other cues. Treat the first one to sit, lie down, etc.
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How to Have a Better Behaved Dog – October 24, 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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General Training Guidelines – October 17, 2011

Here are some general tips for puppies and dogs of all ages!

Attitude

• Act the way you want your puppy to act
• Make all interactions fun
• Stay calm, relaxed and confident

Socialization

• Play “Check it out”- bring puppy to new thing and treat
• Watch for any signs of fear and happily remove puppy from situation
• Continue to expose to people, kids, dogs, noises, traffic, etc.

Training a new behavior

• Use lure to get behavior
• Give it a name only when you are SURE you’ll get the behavior
• Fade lure quickly – use reward, not bribe
• Reward while puppy is still doing desired behavior, not after he moves
• Make it fun
• Make it harder – different places, distractions, duration
• Practice Release word – OK, All Done!!
• Don’t over use puppy’s name

Leadership

• No ‘free lunch’
• No ‘free feeding’/ pick up food bowl after 20 minutes
• Sit/Wait for everything they want
• Apply to games, attention, walks, feeding

Taking Treats Nicely

Do NOT feed/treat puppy if he grabs for treat. Practice at home with no distractions, then outside. Puppy may get grabby in new environment or when over excited. See me for various techniques.

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Coming When Called – October 10, 2011

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.

The major steps in teaching the recall are to introduce the cue and then practice in a huge number of different circumstances. Vary how far away you are from the dog and how many distractions there are. When you make one aspect harder, make the other one easier. You might use a long line for safety or as a gentle reminder of your existence, but don’t use it to tug your dog to you. If you need the line very often, you are pushing her too fast. Set your dog up for success.

1. Introduce the cue to your dog. Do this somewhere where you know the dog will come to you. Have a treat handy, behind your back, for example. Have your dog about two or three feet away. In a friendly voice (not a command or a question, but an invitation), say “Puppy, come” (the dog’s name here is Puppy). Then show her the treat and take a step backward. Lean away from her, not into her. Leaning in is doggish for “stop.” Puppy runs over, gets clicked for showing up, and gets her treat. Not just one treat, but several, one at a time (only one click). Make it a real party. If she likes to be petted, now is a good time. But be careful — she may often like petting, but maybe not all the time. Watch what she does. If she ducks away from your hand, now is not a good time.

2. Practice from further away. Do the same activity from 6 feet away. You say “Puppy, come,” then get her to come to you somehow. She doesn’t fully know the cue yet, so you want to make sure that she comes to you. Legal moves on your part are: waving the food in front of her face and running away; making kissy noises; clucking with your tongue; clapping your hands, etc. Illegal moves: walking over and grabbing her by the scruff of the neck or in some other way making “come” a scary word.

You don’t have to have a party every time now, but at least twice a day, take a full 30 seconds to reward her for coming to you. Continue that procedure for a long time, at least a few months. On times when you just give one treat, you can practice a few times in a row. To get her to go away from you, throw a treat and make sure she sees it fly. Then you can call her again.

3. Practice not luring her to you. When your dog has a clue about what “come” means, start calling her without waving food around or making smoochy noises, from the same distance as before, or closer. If she doesn’t start coming to you in a few seconds, make noise or get her attention and run away. Toss the treat to make her leave you, then call her as soon as she’s gulped it down.

4. Practice as part of living. Call her to you whenever you are about to do something good to her or for her. Feeding time is a great example. If you want to take her for a walk or let her out into the yard, those are good times, too. If she knows sit, then call her to you, ask for a sit, then give her dinner, let her out, or clip on the leash. Remember, only call her for the fun stuff, so don’t call her to give her a bath!

5. Practice from even further away. Work up to ten feet, or fifteen, if she’ll do it. All indoors, with low distractions. Reward generously.

6. Practice with distractions, closer in. Now make it harder for her by increasing the distraction level. We don’t want to make it too hard, so have her closer to you, say 5 feet away. Keep increasing the level of distraction and the distance until you have the recall you want. Make sure that any time you call her, you are willing to do what it takes to get her to come to you. This may mean running away (one of my favorites) or running up to her, showing the treat, and then running away (safer method). It may mean waiting her out, if she’s not entertaining herself by not coming. When she doesn’t come when you call her, you are simply moving beyond what she is ready for. Simply make it easier for her in some way and build reliability slowly.

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Help for Hand Shy Dogs – October 5, 2011

Some dogs and puppies flinch or back up as you reach for them. Many owners do not even notice this but it is important to address. If your dog is uncomfortable with hands reaching towards his head or neck, then he will stop coming when called – if every time he comes and you reach for him, coming to you will not be rewarding.

This exercise will help hand shy dogs become more comfortable with being touched. It is important to begin practicing with familiar and accepted adults first. Again, keep in mind that your objective is not for the dog to merely tolerate, but rather to remain relaxed and enjoy the process, and that an inexperienced helper can get bitten if you proceed too quickly without making sure that the dog is truly accepting rather than merely tolerating the touching.

Goal 1: Relaxed Dog will accept face touch from owner and/or helper.
1. Reach toward dog, stop 6 in. from side of dog’s face, treat from other hand.
2. Repeat reach toward dog, stopping 3 inches from face, treat from other hand.
3. Repeat reach, stopping 2 inches from face, then repeat stopping 1 inch from face.
4. Lightly touch the side of dog’s face.
5. Repeat toward chin.

GO SLOWLY THROUGH THESE STEPS – ONLY MOVE ON TO CLOSER OR FASTER TOUCHING WHEN DOG IS HAPPY AND RELAXED.

SAY ‘GOTCHA’ AS YOU REACH TOWARD DOG TO MAKE IT FUN

Goal 2: Relaxed dog will accept collar and body touch from owner and/or helper.
1. As you feed the treat with one hand, touch the dog’s head with the other.
2. As you feed the treat with one hand, touch the dog under the ear and on the ear.
3. As you feed the treat with one hand, touch the side of the dog’s neck.
4. As you feed the dog with one hand, touch the collar.
5. As you feed with one hand, touch the dog’s chest, front legs, back, lower back, belly, down the back legs, the tail, and finally the paws.
6. Progress to touching from different positions and at different speeds.

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Consistency is the Key to Training – October 2, 2011

We all have our weaknesses: those soulful brown eyes pleading for just one morsel from your plate, the warm head on your lap while you tap away on computer, heavy with the weight of hope and expectation for a game of fetch or at the very least an ear scratch, or the more-empty-than-usual bed when a spouse is out of town that leads letting her sleep with you “just this once”.

Let’s face it, we love our dogs and sometimes that love, our need for connection, our and desire to give back some of the happiness they’ve given us causes us to cave in situations where we’d all be better served by sticking to our guns.

The thing is, dogs don’t do “exceptions”. Instead, they are constantly collecting and evaluating the feedback/consequences to their actions and if something they do works to get them something they really want, chances are they are going to try it again. Period.

If the “rules” you’ve outlined are occasionally (or routinely) broken, they really won’t be viewed as rules through a dog’s eyes. We may be able to comprehend the concept of special occasions but inconsistency in our responses causes confusion in a dog’s mind, sets them up to make mistakes, and causes us to become frustrated or angry because “he knows better”. Guess what? He doesn’t. He just knows that sometimes when he jumps up on the couch he gets to stay, and he hasn’t worked out quite yet why it’s okay with you sometimes and not others. And the occasional reprimand from you is worth it for even the possibility of one more evening curled up next to you in comfort rather than across the room on his bed.

So be clear and consistent when interacting with your dog, determine your house rules in advance, and then take the time to teach your dog what is expected of him rather than just punish him for mistakes (or for not following a rule he’s never been properly clued-in on in the first place).

Boundary training is an excellent place to start your new crystal clear communication. Not only does this make life easier when you are trying to come and go, but also it keeps dogs safe.

Teaching dogs to pause at thresholds rather than push past you and bum-rush the door is another great habit to teach your dog, and NOT because he may take over the world if he goes through the doorways before you. Rather, “Sit” as the default setting at doorways saves lives. It also gives you a marvelous opportunity to reinforce a polite sit and impulse control with a very powerful life reward – “let’s go for a walk”!

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