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?

Signs your dog’s diet may need help

Research has shown that, for both dogs and people, eating the same diet every day can result in missing nutrients, development of allergies, toxic kidneys and liver, and chronic health conditions.

Signs of a Nutrient-Poor Diet include:

  • Dry skin, hot spots, dull coat, dandruff, and shedding. This condition invites fleas, mites, ringworm infections and inflammatory allergies
  • Behaviors such as irritability, hyperactivity, nervousness and restlessness. When you change their diet, it can take a few weeks on the new regimen before this begins to change
  • Stools – large, loose or yellow stools can indicate an inability to digest all of the nutrients. Stools that are anything other than chocolate brown can indicate dyes, bacterial infections, chemicals in the food, or other health problems that are developing.

These all can be addressed simply by paying attention to what you feed your dog. Your dog’s nutrition is really important to keep them healthy and happy for years to come.

Even adding a small amount of more natural foods to their diets can make a big difference. There are tons of recipes available online. I will provide the easy recipe I use for my dogs in a separate post. My dogs get a mixture of kibble and raw or homemade food with every meal. Their coats shine, they’re energetic and happy, and my vet bills are small.

Things to Know about Homemade Diet Additions

There are a few things to avoid feeding your dog. Do not:

  • Never feed leftover fats or bacon grease
  • No onions grapes, raisins, or chocolate
  • No sauces or other rich foods – dogs have a simpler digestive system than we do and it may not sit well
  • No spicy, salted or fried foods
  • No sweets! The sugar is not good for them.

Here’s what you can (and should) feed them:

  • Vegetables, either fresh or cooked. (Chop fresh vegetables for easier chewing and digestion)
  • Fruits – dogs like fruit and it’s very good for them
  • Thoroughly cooked long grained rice– not instant rice
  • Proteins such as chicken or turkey
  • Culinary herbs and olive oil – Herbs such as basil, garlic and other similar herbs provide micro nutrients that may be missing from their food.  And the olive oil helps their coat shine.

You can make a big batch up and store it in the refrigerator for several days. Just warm it slightly before feeding to take the chill off.  30 seconds in a microwave is all you need.

Tip: Gradually move your dog from their existing diet to a home-made diet.  For the first two days, give 1/4 of their diet as the new diet, then do 1/2, then 3/4s and so on.

It can be a good idea to add some basic supplements just to make sure you’ve got all of the micro nutrients and the like covered – especially while you’re first converting your dog to the new diet.

Happy experimenting!  It’s fun for you and your dog will thank you!

Dog Trainer Attitudes to Avoid

Although I have been working with dogs for years, launching a dog training business is new to me.  As I’m getting up and running, I’ve been hearing stories from people about what their “trainers” have told them.  Frankly, it’s been a shock to realize how much bad and dangerous advice is being given out by supposed professionals. This post is to give you some things to look for to help you avoid disaster for you and your dog. If you talk to anyone who tells you the kind of things listed below, keep looking.  Sadly, the examples below are actual statements from “trainers” that people have been told.

Your Whippet can’t pass obedience trials because they can’t sit down like other dogs

whippetThis speaks to a trainer who knows only one method to train a dog to do a task. Dogs like Whippets and Greyhounds can’t lay down the same way other dogs can.  All this means is that you need to show the dog how to lay down in two steps, rather than just one. If anyone tells you there is only one way to train a behavior, keep looking.  There is always a way to train a behavior you want.

The only command your Border Collie needs to know is “No”

bordercollieAn attitude like this is someone who is all about authority and isn’t at all interested in the dog’s capabilities or needs.  Border Collies (and Standard Poodles) are the brightest, most capable breeds around.  Having someone like this work with your dog pretty much guarantees you’re going to have a dog with behavior issues.  Bright dogs need stimulation and direction.  With proper incentive, they love following commands – it’s a game for them.  Working breeds like this love and need to learn a wide variety of commands. Taking the time to train your dog for many tasks gives you a companion that you’ll wonder how you ever lived without.

Use a prong collar (or choke chain) to leash train your 4-month old Beagle puppy

prong-collar-on-pitIf you have someone tell you that prong collars or choke chains are required for strong dogs – especially for a young puppy – you’re talking to someone who has no idea how to train a dog to walk on a leash. They think force is required.  I’m here to tell you – it’s not. Dog training, for any behavior, is never about forcing a behavior.  Ever!

Pit bulls are dangerous and can’t be trained

pit-puppyThis one made me want to scream. In fact, pit bulls are often the sweetest dogs you will ever have the joy of knowing. They are bright, capable, and love to please.  Yes, there are certain things you need to be aware of simply because of their strength – not because they are inherently any more dangerous than any other breed of dog. There is no such thing as a breed of dog that is inherently dangerous. Yes, there are breeds that need special attention or a certain type of owner. But no breed exists that should be automatically discarded because of their genetics.

Only use Positive Reinforcement, or Clicker Training (or any other single-approach training method)

clickerIf you have a trainer tell you there is only one way to train your dog, keep looking.  They may be lovely well-intentioned people who know their chosen training method well and are good at it, but there is no one training method that works for every dog.  A good trainer will be experienced with many different training approaches and will be able to select the best method or combination of methods for you and your dog. You wouldn’t believe how many people have told me their trainer said their dog wasn’t trainable.  There is no such thing as untrainable dog! Hearing this makes me crazy.

If your dog misbehaves, yell at him or hit him

yellingSadly, there is far too much of this attitude still around. If a trainer tells you this, run, don’t walk, away . If you yell at your dog or hit your dog, you will end up with either a fearful dog or an aggressive one.  For sure, you will not have the companion you’re hoping for.  They will either be miserable, unhappy, and insecure or they will become aggressive.  This approach never creates a happy, stable dog or a true bonded relationship with their person.

I could go on and on, but this list should give you an idea about what to avoid when you’re looking for that right trainer for you and pup.  A good trainer understands these things:

  • There are many effective, humane ways to teach any behavior.
  • Ultimately, dog training is about communication – how you and your dog learn to work with each other.
  • There is never a need for physical force or violence.  Using power over your dog is not how your dog learns anything. It will never create a bond that’s meaningful.
  • There is a huge difference between discipline and punishment.
  • While it’s true that different breeds have different general characteristics, ultimately they are dogs and every dog is distinct and unique.

Potty training your puppy

Bringing a puppy into your life is exciting! But, if this is your first experience, it can be sobering to realize that your time is being spent cleaning up after that cute little fur ball. You may be asking, how do I handle this? How soon can my puppy be potty trained in a humane way, and how do I do it?  This post is designed to help you understand a bit about your puppy’s development cycle, what is realistically possible, and how to manage it all.

First, it’s important to understand that your puppy is the equivalent of an infant. Their brains and bodies are evolving rapidly, but there is only so much they are capable of depending on their age.  Here are a few things to know:

  1. In general, puppies can only hold their bladders for about 1 hour per month of age.  So, for example, if you have a 3 month old puppy, they can only hold their  waste for about 3 hours on average.
  2. A young puppy’s digestive system is very, very fast. If they play a lot, just ate, or just drank water, they need to go and they need to do it within 5-10 minutes. As they get older and their systems develop, their ability to hold their waste increases.  But ideally, even for an adult dog, it’s a good idea to get them outside to do their business within 30 minutes or so of eating for health reasons.  I’ll explore this topic in a later post.

So how do you manage this?  Here is a video that summarizes what to do to potty train your puppy in a humane and loving manner. It contains some good tips on successfully training your puppy.  While the video says that it may take a few weeks to get your puppy trained, I’ve personally seen this work in as little as a week if you are watchful and consistent.  Hopefully, this will help you get off to a good start with your new buddy.

If you have stories you’d like to share about your puppy training experience, please leave a comment.  And enjoy the new puppy ownership experience!