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Calling Your Dog

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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Adolescent Dogs

A dog leaves puppyhood and enters adolescence at about the age of 6 months, and doesn’t leave it until it is 2 and a half or 3 years old. The most challenging age is usually between 9 and 18 months (which is when most dogs are surrendered to shelters). Some dogs pass through the phase with little trouble, but most drive their owners crazy! During this phase, it can be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Adolescent dogs have insatiable curiosity about the world, which they explore through all their senses, including taste. They have no idea what things are supposed to look like, or how much they cost. They don’t know what cars can do to them, or that people on bicycles are really people – to the dog, they can be moving objects, and moving objects were put there to be chased and nipped. Other bad behaviors can include:

Digging – this is when they’re on their way to China by way of your lawn.
Chewing – a brand new set of molars needs exercise, and furniture seems like a good place to start.
Jumping up – many adolescents are extremely rough – they greet and play with you and each other as though both of you are made of steel.
Running away – remember when your three month old puppy stuck to you like glue? Well, no more – this dog has places to go and people to jump on.
Growling or snarling – some dogs figure this is as good a time as any to challenge authority – you.
Obedience – Obedience? They’ve never heard of the word and don’t understand the concept.
Not doing homework, taking your car, dying their hair – oops, that’s teenage people! However, dogs go through the same thing, in their own way.

So…what do you do about it? Wring your hands, clean up the mess…and MANAGE YOUR DOG.
Start by thinking of your dog as a phenomenally active two-year-old child. Parents expect to have to childproof their home against the damage a little-one can do; multiply it by ten and you have some of the damage that can be inflicted by your dog.

Here are some rules you might want to set to help keep your house (and sanity) intact.

1. Earn the right to roam. Many people crate train their puppies to help housetrain them. Continue to use your crate for sleeping purposes, and to put your dog in when you need some time to yourself. But don’t stop there. Limit your dog’s space in the house to a manageable size until you are pretty sure he’s trustworthy – a kitchen, or family room blocked by baby gates is one alternative. Then you can CATCH him as he begins to chew on that table-leg. And you can take ALL potentially attractive items off low tables – or even high ones if he’s a big dog!
Though many people use a doggie door, it’s usually not a good idea to let the dog have complete in and out privileges, certainly not at night. That gives him a very large space to protect, and encourages such behaviors as barking and fence fighting. Instead, let him use his doggie door when you are home, and confine him when you’re gone. Give him more space as he proves himself worth it.

2. Learn to play politely. If he has a habit of jumping on guests, even if he’s just overly friendly, take away his greeting privileges. Many – if not most – people don’t like to be greeted by paws on their chest. Set up a tie-down – a short leash attached to an immovable object – and when guests arrive ask them to wait a couple of minutes while you attach the dog to his tie-down. When he’s quiet and they’ve settled in, you can let him off his tie-down (though you may wish to leave a leash on for control), and he can socialize. This is better than putting him outside, where he will feel ostracized and may whine and bark, which you certainly can’t control while you’re entertaining your guests. If he whines or barks on the tie-down, say “quiet” and squirt water on him, or use a can filled with pennies to intimidate him.

If he jumps on you, try this method to discourage the behavior: REPLACE the behavior with a more
acceptable one, and only reinforce that. For instance, if you come home from work and he’s jumping all
over the place, stay calm, protect your body (!), tell him to sit (once! does no good at all to repeat the
command to an excited dog) and when he backs off and sits, pet and praise him. Many of the other
techniques we use teach the dog what NOT to do, not what TO do…and they need to learn what we want.
To help you with that, ask him to sit before petting him ever…before throwing the ball…before giving food.
It should be his way of saying “please.”

3. Control that mouth. If your dog chews on you, it’s called “mouthing,” and you should treat it as a serious
problem. It’s an instant signal that playtime is over. If a dog is under three months of age, you can squeal
like another puppy and stop playing for a few seconds… but for any dogs over three months, make sure
they know it’s serious. Stop playing abruptly, freeze and growl “NO” (one of the few times you should say
that word, which loses its value the more it’s over-used). When the dog backs off, smile and begin playing
again. If the dog continues to mouth, go through the whole thing again, then walk away. Alternatively,
freeze, place your hand around the dog’s mouth, hold it gently and apply pressure downwards (this is not
violent or hard – it’s just a sign that you are displeased).

Your dog should learn that though he shouldn’t play roughly with you, he can play roughly with OBJECTS.
So the same time you teach him not to mess with your skin (or any other human’s), teach him to play tug
of war with a toy he likes. The tug part is easy (!) – teaching him to drop it can also be easy. You just
have some treats handy, and while the dog is tugging, you say, “drop it,” and push a treat in the side of the
dog’s mouth. As he tastes the food, he’ll let the toy go. Praise him, and start the game over again. Within
minutes, he’ll be tugging and letting go at your command – after all, this is a win-win situation!

4. Sharing is good. Ever try to take something from a toddler when they don’t want you to? Expect a battle –
it can be hard! Same with adolescent dogs. In the dog world, what’s mine is MINE, and they need to
learn that food and objects are really yours – but you’re very generous with them. With food, as your dog
finishes eating, walk up to him, tell him to sit, and offer him better food. Put a bit in his mouth, and a bit in
his bowl. You don’t need to take food away from him if you play this game a lot.

5. Exercise is essential. The only good adolescent is a tired adolescent. Two long runs a day are good.
Dogs were designed by nature to be active in the morning and evening hours, and we can help that by
exercising them at that time, and encouraging rest in between.

6. Learn to say please. Teach your dog to sit before he gets anything he wants – food, attention, petting,
whatever. Better yet, take him to school¸ where he can learn how to behave in a civilized manner.
Obedience classes often improve a rocky relationship, and can be fun for both owner and dog.

The best news is that things will get better with your management, time, and age, and by the time your dog is 3
or 4 years old, you’ll have the dog you always wanted.

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Teaching “Drop It”

Playing regularly with your puppy will help you form a strong bond. The purpose of play is to develop skills that will be useful throughout their lives, such as impulse control. The more games you play with your puppy, the more he will consider you to be the most interesting thing in his world. Encouraging puppies to play with toys provides a good outlet for their physical and mental energies.

First we want to develop interest in the toy. Rather than just offer your puppy a new toy, take it out, play with it yourself, or play catch with another family member and act like you’re having fun. Then put the toy away. Repeat this until your puppy is chomping at the bit to join in the play. Keep the toy moving/wiggling along the ground. Build enthusiasm for play first, then put in controls like sit and wait later. Keep the games fun!!

Playing Tug is an excellent way to teach your puppy to Take it and Drop it Start by wiggling the toy along the floor to get your puppy excited. Let him get the toy and then gently tug for 2-3 seconds. Then say DROP IT, and put a treat to his nose. Praise him for dropping the toy and repeat the game. As your puppy gets better at the game, start asking him SIT before letting him get the toy and tell him TAKE IT. This helps him learn to wait patiently for the things he wants. Keep your tug sessions short so your puppy does not get over-stimulated.

Ideally, your puppy should have two sets of toys: toys that he can play with by himself and ‘interactive toys’ that he can only play with you. Keep the interactive toys put away so you initiate play and this keeps you and the toys interesting to your puppy.

You never want to grab something out of your dog’s mouth (unless its dangerous). This will only make your puppy want it more and want to keep away from you. You want to be able to approach your puppy and tell him DROP IT. Playing with toys is a great way to teach this since he gets the toy back.

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Puppy Biting and Nipping

Puppies explore with their mouths just like babies explore with their hands. Puppies have sharp teeth and weak jaws – so this is the time to teach them to bite gently – and then not at all – before they develop the strong jaws of an adolescent dog. It is important to teach your puppy to reduce both the force and frequency of his biting.

To do this, play with your puppy. Sit on the floor and purposely put your hands near your puppy’s mouth. If you feel a hard bite, say Ouch! And stop playing. If your puppy stops biting, lure him into a sit and reward and start playing again. If your puppy ignores the ‘ouch’, and continues to bite, say OOOWWW and leave the room. Come back after a 20 second time out and do a little sit/down training before starting to play again.

An excellent way to practice this is to tether your puppy in an area where he can’t have any fun except with you. Sit on the floor and play with your puppy and when you feel hard bite, say Ouch! Then get up and leave the area for 20 seconds. Repeat this 10 times in a row twice a day. You should be able to play longer and longer between hard bites. Then start reacting to the softer bites as well. If you have children, each person should practice this exercise separately, starting with the adults.

Another way to teach your puppy to have a ‘gentle mouth’ is to hand feed him. Your puppy only gets the food when being gentle – and not grabby. If your puppy likes to bite and grab pant legs, stop moving immediately and interrupt him. Call his name and then ask him to do something else such as Sit.

Be aware that when your puppy is excited, he’ll be more mouthy and bitey. So first practice when he’s calm. When he is calm, you can do a lot of gentle petting and give him a nice belly rub. If he bites, then all petting stops for 20 seconds. Another consequence to biting is 30 second time out in his crate. Don’t do this in anger – it’s just a neutral consequence to his biting – “Oops – time out – in your crate.”

If you don’t see an improvement in reduced biting, consult a Certified Professional Dog Trainer in your area.

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