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Teaching vs. Training – December 26, 2011

We all use the phrase dog training but I encourage owners to think instead of ‘teaching’ your dog.

I had a client the other day who told me her family didn’t think their 2 year old dog needed any ‘training’ because the dog was good. I asked if her kids stopped going to school at age 5 or 10 or 15? Dogs are always learning and its up to us to teach them good manners and continue to teach them the behavior we want vs. the behavior we don’t want.

Its also important to remember that dogs are dogs. Dogs bite, chew, dig, bark, run, steal, etc. These are their natural behaviors and we need to teach them how to live with us humans and how to control these natural impulses.

One of the best ways to teach your dog is to incorporate training into your every day interactions. Before giving your dog access to anything (or at least most things) that he wants or needs, ask for a simple behavior – sit, eye contact, wait, before giving your dog his dinner, letting him outside, letting him on the couch, etc.

Ongoing teaching for your dog requires desire – whatever you want from your dog has to be imporant enough for you to take the time to teach them. It also requires focus and understanding. Understand that your dog’s ability to learn is like grade levels – distance and distractions are the key factors of difficulty that determine these grade levels and you need to help your dog learn one grade at a time.

Another common problem is specific undesirable behavior that gets owners frustrated. Narrow down your focus to:

-Know what undesirable behavior you want to change
-Identify the circumstances under which the behavior occurs
-Have a desirable behavior that you wish your dog to do instead

Remember that just telling your dog NO! does not teach him what TO DO. If your dog is jumping, tell him to sit and make sitting more rewarding than jumping. With certain reactive behavior, it is not always that simple and you need to control the environment and use food rewards to help your dog ‘get it right’.

Feel free to contact me for more information on any issues or questions you may have.

Happy Holidays!

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The Cookie Thief – December 22, 2011

While this poem does not relate to directly to dog training, it does say a lot about communication and initial perceptions. Someone sent it to me and I wanted to share it with you.

A woman was waiting at an airport one night, with several long hours before her flight. She hunted for a book in the airport shops, bought a bag of cookies and found a place to drop.

She was engrossed in her book but happened to see, that the man sitting beside her, as bold as could be. . .grabbed a cookie or two from the bag in between, which she tried to ignore to avoid a scene.

So she munched the cookies and watched the clock, as the gutsy cookie thief diminished her stock. She was getting more irritated as the minutes ticked by, thinking, “If I wasn’t so nice, I would blacken his eye.”

With each cookie she took, he took one too, when only one was left, she wondered what he would do. With a smile on his face, and a nervous laugh, he took the last cookie and broke it in half.

He offered her half, as he ate the other, she snatched it from him and thought… oooh, brother. This guy has some nerve and he’s also rude, why he didn’t even show any gratitude!

She had never known when she had been so galled, and sighed with relief when her flight was called. She gathered her belongings and headed to the gate, refusing to look back at the thieving ingrate.

She boarded the plane, and sank in her seat, then she sought her book, which was almost complete. As she reached in her baggage, she gasped with surprise, there was her bag of cookies, in front of her eyes.

If mine are here, she moaned in despair, the others were his, and he tried to share. Too late to apologize, she realized with grief, that she was the rude one, the ingrate, the thief.

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The Importance of Teaching Your Puppy to be Home Alone – December 16, 2011

Home Alone

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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The Importance of “Proofing” Behavior – December 10, 2011

Proofing behavior means making your dog’s response solid in all situations.

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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Stay Calm to Train – December 4, 2011

You know most of us nowadays have WAY too much to do in life in general. I don’t know about you but it seems like if I get to sit down and do nothing for even just a little while it’s a luxury!

You have a job and/or a family or maybe you have another business or volunteer work or you are active in your community or church. Or maybe you just have an active social life.

Anyway sometimes you can be so busy that you wish the dog was just EASIER to deal with! “I don’t have time for all of this right now!”

Have you ever said this? Maybe your dog is starting to “act up” or misbehave and you feel like, “I don’t need this right now!”

Once you start feeling or thinking this you need to go on high alert! You may be about to lose your patience!

A couple of things to remember: First, if your patience is thin, don’t even think about training your dog or trying to fix any behavior problems. Now is not the time to train!

Take a deep breath and get through the situation, whatever it is, without “losing it” and remember: Whatever is going on with your dog you can begin to make changes almost immediately but not if you’re pushed for time or impatient. Your dog will feel your tension and will also feel tense. This will make the situation worse!

Second, remember that one of the keys to getting your dog to behave is for you to be the leader. In the dog world the leader doesn’t “lose it”. The leader is calm and composed.

When you get tired or impatient or pushed for time by your circumstances it’s easy to be frustrated when your dog doesn’t respond like you want.

So if you are having one of those frustrating moments or days when your dog is just not behaving well, don’t lose your patience. When you lose that then you’re not acting like a leader!

Get through the situation by reminding yourself that it can be fixed, but today is not the day. Wait until you have more time or your situation is more convenient to begin the training.

Be patient and be the leader!

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