Casey Puppy Training Week 3

Ok, so I was a little optimistic about Casey Puppy’s training plan for last week.  He’s still doing fabulously given the whole new exciting world he’s found himself in, but I need to take another week to let him get even better about a few basics such leash pulling and not exploding the instant he sees something exciting to a dog.

He’s come a l-o-n-g way in just 2 short weeks.  He’s about 80% of where I want him to be before we start working on serious basic obedience commands. Here’s what he’s learned and a few notes about how we’re working on that:

  • black dog in back of carHe can’t jump out of the back of the car until I say so
    • He has to wait for a minute or two until I can see that he’s just watching and not getting ready to lunge at the first exciting thing he sees
  • He can’t explode with excited joy whenever he sees a person, dog, squirrel! (ala Doug in the movie “Up”)
    • I bring him close and then slowly and calmly stroke his chest, ears, shoulders, or back until he settles down. Depending on the level of excitement, this can take a minute or two.  Patience matters here – he can’t move again until he’s settled down.
  • He can’t go through any door before me.  I can’t take credit for that one – it’s either a natural behavior on his part or his previous people worked with him on that.
    • This is a matter of simply reinforcing a behavior he already knows
  • dog coming when calledHe needs to consistently come to me when he hears, “Casey come!” This is a basic obedience command that must be obeyed always!
    • When he returns as commanded, he gets a “good boy” and some nice petting
    • When he ignores me, he gets a pop on the leash until his stubborn little butt is standing in front me. Then, after a moment’s pause, he gets his petting.
  • He’s not allowed to yip or otherwise pester me and demand play time whenever he wants it
    • yappy dogIf he’s nosing me, I push him away and ignore him until he settles down
    • If he yips (and he does have the Husky yip!), he is firmly told no with a palm’s up gesture towards him that says “forget it buddy.”  If he continues to yip, I slowly stand up and make myself big and just stare at him until he settles down. This usually involves him rolling over on his back and trying to get me to play.  This is completely ignored.

dog sit commandThere’s more that we’re working with — occasionally and randomly having him sit or lay down, and a few other basics like that.  So far, though, it hasn’t been in a formal training session.  I’m just occasionally introducing him to a new thing that we’ll work on more later once he’s just a little bit more consistent with impulse control and the things we’re already working on.

Hopefully, the ideas and approach given here will help you with your pup(s) too, and give you some ideas of things you can do or adjust to get the well behaved and happy buddy you’re wanting.

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Puppies as patience practice

The moment I’ve been waiting for has arrived!  Casey has now been with me for 2 weeks and has decided this really is his home.  What does this mean?  It’s time to test his puppy boundaries!  So, as expected, this amazingly well behaved puppy of the last 2 weeks has started become a little tester – can I get by with …?  At 10 months old, he’s decided that being a calm dog is just plain boring.  And he’s right, of course.  The impulse control training focus of the first week, especially, is really all about teaching him how to be calm and ok with boredom.  Now that we’ve reached the testing phase, this is where I get to practice even more patience, consistency, and being very very clear with what is and is not allowed.

beagle chewing shoeSo, what kind of testing is he doing?  What boundary questions is he asking? Here’s a partial list:

  • If I start yipping when I want something, will I get what I want?  Answer = no.
  • Since this is my toy box, is the box next to it with vacuum cleaner parts available, too?  Answer = no
  • Can I sneak up on the bed when no one is in the room?  Answer = no
  • When I’m feeling playful, can I nip just a little bit?  Answer = no
  • How about if I start yipping to demand play time?  Answer = no
  • If I can’t get on the sofa, can I at least put my front feet on it or on a footstool?  Answer = no
  • Can I sneak a tissue out of the waste basket?  Answer = no
  • and so on

In other words, it’s getting to the stage where he’s no longer needing to be under foot every moment.  What this means is that I have to pay very close attention when it suddenly gets quiet.  He might just be checking things out, but …

My patience practice is in having to quietly and frequently let him know what is and is not allowed – for example, these things are your toys and these other things are not.  And, at times, this is literally happening every 2-3 minutes.  To me, this is one of the many great gifts of dogs – it reminds me to be constantly aware of what’s going on while staying calm and not getting frustrated.

Casey in a calm moment

Casey in a calm moment

As I often say, dogs can teach us so much if we let them!

As I wrote that last sentence, he came out of a bedroom dragging a headset….  And so it continues.

Casey Puppy Training Week 2

In one short week, Casey has come an amazing distance.  The dog training plan is coming along nicely. Focusing on creating a calm dog and on name recognition this past week has made all the difference in the world.  He’s much better about not leash pulling, and he’s reached a point where he is responding to his name and returning to me when called.  So, now that I have his attention more reliably, what’s the next step?

This week’s dog training plan will focus on refining what he already knows and on hand targeting and the basic commands of sit, stay, down, and leave it.

You may be asking what dog hand targeting is.  Dogs are the only beings other than humans (found so far, anyway) that understand a human gesture. They instinctively watch our hand and arm motions and respond to them much as people do.  Hand targeting is a way of telling your dog where you want them to be without having to say anything.  You need this whenever your dog is off leash – whether he’s in a different room in your house or off leash outside somewhere.

Here is a video that demonstrates the first steps in training your dog in hand targeting. While she is a clicker trainer, you don’t need to use a clicker to make this work.  Every time the dog touches your hand, you can quietly say “good” or make a clucking sound – whatever works for you.  You just need a quiet sound that indicates approval made the instant your dog’s face touches your hand. Enjoy!

Casey Puppy Training Week 1

If you read my previous post about my new puppy Casey, you’ll know that he is starting from ground zero in terms of knowing anything.  So, where do you start?  From my perspective, he can’t learn anything at all until he learns to relax instead of instantly reacting to something new, and begins to focus on me when asked.  Dogs needs to be calm before they can learn anything. That’s where we’re starting with him.  And adding in tiny introductions to a bit of this and a bit of that as we go along.

jumping dogSo how do you begin to teach an excited 10-month old high energy dog to calm down, relax, and focus on you when their entire world is brand new and exciting?  How do you even begin to get their attention?  Casey does exactly what the dog in this picture does when he sees a person, a bird, a squirrel, or anything that moves.  It’s an instantaneous leap straight into the air with squeals of delight.

It’s easier to demonstrate than explain, but here’s how I’m doing it with Casey.

  • stroking beagleHe’s on an adjustable 4-6 foot leash with a martingale collar. We start with the 4 foot length so he’s within easy reach.
  • He can’t get out of the car until he’s calm. We just stand there with him in the car until he relaxes. Doing this sets him up to be less instantly reactive when he sees that next new thing
  • We start walking slowly.
  • The instant he starts to pull, I get his attention and bring him close, and then slowly and calmly stroke his chest, ears, chin, or back with slow strokes until he relaxes. I repeat the word “settle” to him so that he begins to learn that settle means relax. Eventually, I’ll be able to just say “settle” to him and he’ll calm down.
  • Then we move again and repeat as needed (which is very, very often at first)

It can take a long time to go for a walk doing it this way for the first few days, but it’s important to take the time right out of the gate.  Already, in two days, there is far less leash pulling and we can go a little bit farther every walk before something triggers for him.

Black-dog-on-loose-green-leashTo illustrate how well this works, consider this:  He knew nothing about being on a leash, has never been in an urban environment, and is puppy excited about everything new.  On the first day, he was lunging, leaping, running in circles, and had the attention span of a flea.  By today, a mere 3 days later, he is much calmer, less reactive, and is spending less time frustrated because he can’t go explore that shiny new thing. He is slowly learning to calmly observe something without the need to race towards it.

We’re a long way from where he needs to be, but he has already come a long way.

Adopting a high energy older puppy

Over the weekend I adopted a new puppy – a 10 month old black lab and husky mix (maybe) who has TONS of puppy energy and strength and weighs around 55-60 pounds.  It dawned on me that sharing the training experience might be helpful for folks who have high energy, out of control dogs.

Meet my new puppy Casey:

Casey's reaction in a new environment

Casey’s reaction in a new environment

Casey’s story

Casey’s previous people were a lovely young family that gave him up for all of the right reasons.  Like too many families, they had a 1 year old baby and thought getting a puppy was a great idea.  Unfortunately the baby, now 2, is at the age of getting into everything and Casey, at 10 months, is hitting the next high energy, into everything, and out of control stage.  They simply didn’t have the time, energy, or resources to handle both.  I’m grateful that they realized they weren’t giving him what he needs and decided to find another home for him.  Enter me.

Casey was raised with one adult dog on a farm.  This means that entering an urban environment is over stimulating to the max.  Everything is new!  He had never been in a car, never seen groups of people and, especially, had never seen groups of dogs.  Or deer. Or people running.  Or traffic. Or bikes. Or heard the sound of neighbors. Or watched people walk by. Or, or, or.  Name it and it’s new to him.

What Casey needs to learn

The good news is that he is a curious guy who is fascinated by everything.  The bad news is that he has absolutely no impulse control, which means he’s attracted by every shiny new object that passes his vision – which is pretty much everything. Here’s what else he doesn’t know:

  • How to control his impulses
  • How to get into a car
  • How to walk on a leash
  • That he can’t just run up to people and jump on them
  • Basic commands such as sit, stay, down, heel, come, etc.

In other words, Casey is a clean slate and doesn’t really know much of anything except that life is exciting. He’s open, curious, and wants to explore it all.  This is good news.  It means that, with proper direction, he is willing and eager to face this new and strange world he finds himself in.

My work is cut out for me.  And I’m really looking forward to it.  As an aside, I will definitely get in shape having an active guy like this around!

The Dark Side of Extreme Positive Dog Training

Before talking about the dark side of extreme positive dog training methods, I want to stress that I am primarily a positive dog trainer.  What this means is that I firmly believe that changing behavior is always more effective when using a positive reward-based approach than using punitive measures.  However, if a dog is knowingly misbehaving, I believe there must be consequences – and withholding a treat doesn’t cut it on those occasions.

Let me define what I mean by “extreme” positive dog training.  There are folks who sincerely believe that one should never ever correct a dog. Ever. While I admire their good intentions and desire to do no harm, I believe they sometimes take it to a degree that is not only unhelpful but can actually be harmful.

dog-diggingFor example, an extreme positive dog trainer believes that withholding treats from a misbehaving dog is an example of a consequence that comes from not doing what you want.  However, if your puppy is digging a hole, he doesn’t care in the least that he’s not getting a treat.  He’s doing exactly what he wants! He might be sad that he doesn’t get the treat, but he had such a good time digging that it really isn’t all that important to him.  In other words, he has learned absolutely nothing.

fearful-border-colliesExtreme positive dog trainers believe that you should never ever disapprove of your dog’s actions.  My issue with this is that it doesn’t reflect the realities of life or the fact that dogs and people learn from complex (and sometimes stressful) situations where decisions need to be made.  Frankly, it breaks my heart to see extremely bright and intelligent dogs like Border Collies who have had a trainer like this.  Too often they become velcro dogs – they cling to you. And it’s not out of love, but out of insecurity.  They are bright, intelligent and curious dogs who are completely unprepared for anything unexpected and curl up in fear when faced with something they don’t know how to deal with.  Bright dogs love being challenged. They need it to feel good about themselves and safe in the world they inhabit.

I have spoken to people who won’t even make a noise like “aah!” at a misbehaving dog. How in the world is the dog supposed to know that what they’re doing is not ok if you don’t tell them??  No wonder they get insecure – or aggressive! They can’t figure out the rules – and like us, dogs need clearly understood rules to feel safe.

dog-testDogs, like us, need to be challenged.  They need to know, without question, when something they do is not ok.  That’s how they learn. If they don’t get that from you, they can easily become insecure and I doubt that’s what you want for your dog.  Dogs like having rules they can clearly understand.  It makes them feel safe and much more willing to try new things because they trust you and know you’ll tell them if it’s not ok.

You can make a disapproving noise, pop their leash, walk over and shoo them away, or take any of a number of different actions that are not harmful in any way but are clear messages about what is and is not ok. This helps your dog know the rules and goes a long way to creating an amazing bond between you. Setting clearly communicated boundaries is the single biggest thing you can do to create that bond of trust between you. Isn’t that really what you want? A happy, active, curious 4-legged friend who trusts and listens to you?