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Introducing the Crate to Your New Puppy or Dog – November 25, 2011

It is especially important that your new puppy love his crate so you can use the crate for keeping your puppy safe and out of trouble whne you can watch him. This is critical for houestraining success and preventing other behaviors you don’t want as you teach your puppy what you do expect of him.

In order that your puppy associate his/her crate with comfort, security and enjoyment, please follow these guidelines:

1. Occasionally throughout the day, drop small pieces of kibble or tiny treats in the crate. While investigating his new crate, the pup will discover edible treasures, thereby reinforcing his positive associations with the crate. You may also feed him in the crate to create the same effect. If the dog hesitates, it often works to feed him in front of the crate, then right inside the doorway and then, finally, in the back of the crate.

2. In the beginning, praise and pet your pup when he enters. Do not try to push, pull or force the puppy into the crate. At this early stage of introduction only inducive methods are suggested. Overnight exception: You may need to place your pup in his crate and shut the door upon retiring. (In most cases, the crate should be placed next to your bed overnight. If this is not possible, the crate can be placed in the kitchen, bathroom or living room.)

3. You may also play this enjoyable and educational game with your pup or dog: without alerting your puppy, drop a small dog biscuit into the crate. Then call your puppy and say to him, “Where’s the biscuit? It’s in your room.” Using only a friendly, encouraging voice, direct your pup toward his crate. When the puppy discovers the treat, give enthusiastic praise. The biscuit will automatically serve as a primary reward. Your pup should be free to leave its crate at all times during this game. Later on, your puppy’s toy or ball can be substituted for the treat.

4. It is advisable first to crate your pup for short periods of time while you are home with him. In fact, crate training is best accomplished while you are in the room with your dog. Getting him used to your absence from the room in which he is crated is a good first step. This prevents an association being made with the crate and your leaving him/her alone.

5. Leave the room for short periods of time when he is in the crate. Come back and praise for quiet, calm behavior. Leave for longer periods of time – then vary the times – so he’ll get used to being alone in the crate first while you are home.

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Consistency is the Key to Training – November 19, 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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Watch Me! November 13, 2011

One of the best foundation behaviors you can teach your dog is to look at you and maintain eye contact. This is especially helpful if your dog is reactive to other dogs or people. Teach your dog to look at you and maintain eye contact instead of barking and lunging. Teach your dog to look at you instead of jumping on visitors. Be aware that in your house you will be able to build up to extended eye contact with lots of praise and delaying the food reward. Outside you will only be able to get brief ‘watch me’s’ at first and you will need to deliver the food rewards at a faster rate.

Watch Me or “watch” is like sit, but you hold the treat in your hand in front of your eyes so that he’ll focus on you. If he’s not comfortable with your eyes, use your chest or some other part of your body near your face. The treat has to be great, not a biscuit. Treat has to initially go to the nose, almost in their nose. Then lure up to your face. Don’t lean forward. Stand up straight, let him do the work, then when he’s looking give him something to watch. Hold treat next to your cheek. Then praise, then pause, then treat. If you speak and move simultaneously, what happens first is that the motion will happen first, but you want him to hear the praise first, then get the treat.

The first time you teach watch you do it at home with no distractions. Remove distractions. As he becomes good at it, add distractions, ie kids playing ball in the den next door, doorbell rings, etc. No dog distractions at this time. Your kids walking past, maybe in yard with minimal distractions. Then try it with unfamiliar dogs that are a long ways away. You want to build a foundation before your dog gets too emotionally aroused and upset. Where to practice? Parks, on walks, vet clinics, Petco and PetSmart.

Four phases of watch training

1. Watch, with no distractions
2. Increasing levels of distractions
3. Introduce low level dog distractions, unfamiliar dog far away
4. Introduce dogs closer and closer, with unfamiliar dogs, nonreactive dogs

The Steps are:

1. Say WATCH or LOOK
2. As soon as dog makes eye contact, praise
3. Treat!

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Tips for Interacting with Fearful Dogs – November 6, 2011

I’ve been working with a number of fearful dogs lately. The tendency and natural instinct for us is to encourage the dog to engage with us. We try to initiate contact. We may try to use food to get the dog to come to us. While this seems logical to us, it actually puts more pressure on the dog.

It is better to ignore the dog and let the dog decide when he is comfortable enough to explore or investigate. Reward the dog for brave behavior, but toss the treats away from you to take the pressure off.

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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