How to Have a Better Behaved Dog – January 30, 2013

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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Have Fun with Your Dog – January 23, 2013

Dogs do not come with an owner’s manual. It’s lamentable, since most of us would probably find it helpful to have instructions on how to operate a canine in four-paw drive. How do you make it go? Does it have more than one speed? Most important, how on earth do you make it stop?!

Too often, we’re left to our own devices when it comes to living with or shaping the behavior of another creature (and that includes spouses and children), yet some people do it incredibly well. What’s their secret? Couples who have been together a long time will tell you it has a lot to do with trust, respect, and reasonable expectations of each other. But they’ll also tell you that keeping a good sense of humor and having fun together was critical in sustaining the relationship over the long haul. If they could, I think our dogs would give these observations a definite “thumbs up,” to let us know that living with and training a dog should also be about trust, respect, realistic expectations – and having some fun.

Like humans, dogs tend to be healthier and happier when they get regular exercise, and most dogs are only too happy to accompany you on a walk around the neighborhood. A half hour walk provides plenty of practice time for recalls, heeling, socialization and sits. If you walk your dog on a long line, you may log in three miles while your dog puts in six. When the dog is at the end of the leash you can call him back, provide a treat for coming and send him on his way again. When bikers, runners, or kids-on-wheels approach, call the dog to you and practice precision heeling, or put your dog on a sit/stay and focus on attention work. When traffic has cleared, reward your dog with his kibble or a special treat for a job well done.

At home, you can play hide and seek games with your dog while practicing recalls. One person holds the dog while the other person hides. The person-in-hiding calls the dog. When the dog locates the hidden owner, the prize can be a cookie, the dog’s favorite toy – or an animated game of “chase.” This activity not only reinforces recalls, but encourages the dog to think and use his senses. Friends and family can take turns calling the dog back and forth in the yard or up and down carpeted stairs. The dog’s recalls will improve and he’ll be well exercised.

Teaching a dog to stay can be a useful skill around the house and is easy to incorporate in a daily routine. Ask the dog to stay while you place his food bowl on the floor. If he gets up, the food bowl is removed. Once the dog returns to sitting, the food bowl returns to the floor and becomes the reward. When your dog wants to go outside, ask him to sit and stay first. Access to the great outdoors becomes the reward in this instance. Using tricks to train the dog is also fun and never fails to impress your friends and neighbors. The old “bone on the nose” trick is a great way to teach a dog to hold still and to develop a little self-control in the process.

Does your dog become a tornado on paws when the doorbell rings? That’s because it usually predicts an intruder on the premises. Teach the dog that the doorbell means something else, by having a friend or family member press the bell several times during a twenty-minute training session. During this time, no one enters the house. Once the dog realizes that the bell no longer predicts intruders, it should become less meaningful and his reactions to it will decrease. When you get to this point, have someone ring the doorbell again. This is your cue to produce the most desirable food you can think of in his room, crate or bed. Does the name Pavlov sound familiar? Soon, the doorbell will predict a feast instead of an intruder, and the dog will go running to his crate to find it, eliminating the frenzy at the front door when someone comes to visit.

Dogs who greet people by launching themselves to breath-taking altitudes, need to learn “sit” as their default mode. When someone approaches they should ask the dog to sit. Only when he is sitting will he receive praise, petting or treats. Family and friends can practice this exercise by randomly calling the dog back and forth. Each time he comes to a new person, he must sit before receiving a reward, and before moving on to a new person. If your dog likes to greet friends at the door, insist that they ask for a sit before interacting with the dog. As is often the case in dog training, sometimes you have to train the people before you can train the dog.

Training your dog is an art and a science, and if you find a way to make it fun and entertaining, you’re more likely to do it on a regular basis. It’s a good first step on the journey of building a life long relationship with a well-behaved dog who adores you.

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Walking You Dog – January 16, 2013

Make walking by your side a positive experience. Screaming “heel” or “no pull” at your dog does not work and is certainly not fun. Instead, randomly reward your dog with a yummie treat when he’s by your side as you reinforce his behavior with the word “close.” Don’t use the phrase “good dog” — because your dog has no idea what he did that was good, so how can he repeat it? Instead, acknowledge the behavior by naming and rewarding it. Once your dog is consistently walking close to you, you can begin to give him “jackpots” — where you randomly reward him with a quick series of 5-6-7 treats, one after the other. He can always have “dinner on the go,” with you feeding him his treats along the way for walking correctly. You can also bring his favorite toy along and walk to the dog park: His reward for walking correctly, once you arrive, is that he gets to play with it and you!

Eliminate choke chains. I believe devices that cause a dog pain, such as choke chains and prong collars do not belong in dog training. Using painful tactics only teaches a dog to be fearful of our causing her pain rather than strengthening our relationship. There are better and more effective ways to communicate with her. We want our dog to want to be with us by our side — because we give her clear boundaries as well as constant praise and reward for the desired behavior. Instead, use a flat collar and follow my method to ensure a stress and pain-free way to teach your dog to walk with you, all the while creating a deeper bond between you. Using a No Pull Harness or Gentle Leader can help a strong puller and make your training easier.

Keep the same length of leash at all times. To keep your dog from pulling on his leash, you must teach him that he only has a certain length of leash available and that you’re in control of it. It’s a mistake to use a retractable leash in the teaching phase, giving him a longer leash anytime he wants it. Save the retractable leash for the everyday phase of walking, once he has learned how to walk correctly by your side and not pull you down the street.
When you hold the leash with your hand, it’s easy for your dog to pull away by forcing you to extend your arm. It’s also important that both your hands are free, assisting you in planting your body when he’s pulling. So wear a sturdy belt, slip the loop end of the leash around it, and fasten it snugly around your waist. As your dog walks correctly down the street with you, remember to repeat the word “walk,” reinforcing his behavior.

Hold your ground when your dog pulls on the leash. When your dog begins to pull on her leash, stop, plant your feet, lower your center of gravity and hold your ground like a sumo wrestler. She must learn that the walk (what she wants) will only continue (her reward) if she is not pulling on her leash and on you. Call your dog back to your side before you starting walking again. Another method is to turn and go the other way each time your dog pulls ahead. If your dog is a serious puller, start walking by a railing or fence that you can grab onto as you stop. Resume walking only after your dog stops pulling on the leash. As soon as she backs up — even a little bit — creating some slack on the leash, resume the walk with the phrase “let’s walk.” The minute she starts to pull on the leash again, you must hold your ground as before, continuing only once she backs up and creates slack on the leash.

Constantly talk to and praise your dog along the way. This is a great way to keep him in tune with you and your pace. Just like a child, if you don’t pay attention to your dog, the message you give him is that he’s on his own and can do whatever he pleases. And when you ignore your dog as he’s walking correctly, and only give him attention when he’s walking incorrectly, he’ll be more prone to continue the unwanted behavior just so you’ll notice him! So stay focused on your dog during the walk and make calls on your cell phone at another time. Most dogs respond very quickly to this method, and you will find that if you and everyone that walks your dog (don’t forget about the other family members and the dog walker) are consistent, you’ll soon look forward to the fun you’ll have on your walks together.

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Tips for Your New Puppy – January 9, 2013

Happy New Year Everyone! Start the year off with good habits for your new (or older) puppy!

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 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!

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.

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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