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How to Have a Better Behaved Dog – May 22, 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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Building Focus with Your Puppy – May 15, 2013

This tip comes courtesy of Trish King, Director of Behavior and Training at Marin Humane Society

Watch Me!

Nothing can be taught to a dog who isn’t paying attention! So use your motivator to get your dog to watch you. First, put the treat, ball or squeaky on your forehead or right in front of your eyes. Now, say the dog’s name, “PUPPY!” When you get eye contact, pop the treat into her mouth (or give her the ball or squeaky for a couple of seconds). Do it again and again, gradually increasing the amount of time you get eye contact. While she’s looking at you, praise her verbally.

Now, put the motivator behind your back, and call your dog’s name. When you get eye contact, praise her, give her the motivator. Now do it with the motivator at arm’s length. The dog must look at YOU, not the motivator, in order to receive the reward. Pretty soon you’ll have a dog that looks you right in the eye whenever you call her name. Work up to 8 to 10 seconds of attention. As your dog gets better, you can use your release word to allow her to look away.

Your dog doesn’t ALWAYS have to watch you… but she should always be aware of where you are and whether you want her around. Hide and seek (you hide, she seeks) is a great game for teaching her to be alert!

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Tips for Coming When Called- May 8, 2013

This is one of the most important things you can teach your dog or puppy and it is important to do it slowly and successfully. You want to make sure you always match the word ‘come’ with the correct behavior, vs. your dog learning the word is meaningless or that he can ignore you.

The two most important things to remember are to always praise your dog when they come to you – and set yourself up for success.

• Teach your dog that ‘Come’ means – run to me, there’s a party over here!
• Never say ‘Come’ when you think your dog may not do it
• Only call your dog to come when you KNOW you can make them, not hope that they will
• Always balance distance and distractions for level of difficulty – ie, work at a level where your dog can be successful. If there are distractions, work at a short distance away. If there are no distractions, you can be farther away
• Do not call your dog to ‘Come’ for anything she doesn’t like
• Never call your dog in anger
• Call your dog only once – and then make her come or walk away
• Always praise and reward your dog for coming to you- make sure you reward and praise a lot!! (a full 20 seconds of petting for example)
• Never punish your dog for coming to you – even if it takes awhile for him to get there.
• Never chase after your dog
• Get your dog to chase you if you don’t have control
• Practice first indoors with no distractions
• Use a food lure at dog’s nose and walk backwards to start the behavior
• Practice “Find It” and “Hide and Seek” to train the recall
• Practice calling ‘Come’ for mealtimes and for walks
• Practice 10 times on each outdoor leash walk (intersperse walking backwards and calling your dog)
• Gradually add distractions and different locations
• Practice outside on a long line –first with no distractions, then add distractions
• Use high value food rewards when practicing outside
• Don’t expect to get from kindergarten to graduate school quickly – this takes time!!
• Practice “Gotcha” so your dog is used to having its collar grabbed
• Say name first, make sure you have attention, and then call Come
• Praise your dog as they come to you
• Do NOT repeat the command
• If your dog does not come, go get him, show him the treat he missed out on and eat it yourself (make sure it is edible by you), making a huge deal over how good it was. Repeat if necessary but this should work for independent dogs.

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Housetraining Basics – May 2, 2013

With new puppy season upon us, I thought it useful to re-post some basic housetraining information.

The best way to house-train your puppy is to consistently and generously reward him for going in the right place and prevent him from going in the wrong place.

You want to teach your puppy the ‘rewarding’ place to go and to give him plenty of opportunities to eliminate there. This means pro-actively taking him out every hour or so when he’s awake, after naps, after eating and after playing, as well as first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Stay pro-active about bringing your puppy outside – don’t expect him to let you know he has to go. As you build up a consistent reward history for him going in the right spot, he will be more motivated to go there.

Make sure you bring your puppy out on leash so you can control where he walks and sniffs. Go to the elimination area and just stand there and let him walk around and sniff a bit but keep him in the general area. Be aware that any distractions will interrupt his peeing or pooping – cars, people, squirrels, etc. Watch for signs that he is about to go so you recognize them over time. A small puppy may only pause briefly to pee so you need to be very observant.

As soon as your puppy finishes, verbally praise him and give him 5-6 tiny treats in a row. If he doesn’t go, bring him back and take him out 5 minutes later. Watch him carefully when you do go back in because that may be where he is more comfortable going. Continue to go out every 5-10 minutes until your puppy goes and then lavishly praise and reward him with high value treats. Make sure you’re with him when he goes so A) you know that he went and B) to teach him that it is rewarding to ‘go’ when he is next to you.

Next, you want to start tracking your puppy’s elimination schedule so you can anticipate when you need to take him out. When inside, watch for sniffing or circling as a sign that he needs to go and ‘when in doubt, take him out’. If he does have an accident inside, calmly clean it up with a proper odor eliminator and take note of when and where the accident happened so you can be more diligent about preventing it next time.

Punishing your puppy after the fact does no good –he won’t understand why you’re yelling at him so don’t it. Just be more observant next time. The first few weeks of owning a puppy are some of the hardest and most important. Spending extra time and effort now will pay off in a big way. If your puppy has an accident inside, take a newspaper, roll it up and hit yourself in the head with it!

Once he’s going regularly in his spot, start putting this behavior on command- use whatever phrase you want but be consistent: “Hurry up”, “Do your Business”, “Do Potty”, “Potty time”, whatever. Start saying the command as your puppy starts to go. Don’t say it when you’re not sure – we want him to associate the command with the correct behavior. Eventually start saying the command earlier and it will be his cue to go. This will come in very handy on a rainy or cold night when you want him to go quickly so you can get back inside.

Finally and the most important, the only way for you to prevent your puppy from going in the wrong place is by using 100% management and supervision. This means that when you can’t watch your puppy, he’s in his crate and when he is out of his crate, he’s never out of your sight. You’ll need to gate off a small area of your kitchen or family room or have your puppy on a leash attached to your belt.

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