"Properly trained, man can be a dog's best friend" ~ Corey Ford
Working with dog every day, no matter whether it is at the shelter or in group classes or in my private sessions, I often find that the one thing many dogs are lacking in their daily life, is ENRICHMENT!
Often we, as dog owners, are good at focusing on the physical activities with our dogs, such as playing fetch, or take them for a swim or a walk. But we tend to forget about the mental stimulation needed for our furry friends. And when we don't regularly meet the emotional and mental needs of our dogs, we oftentimes start to see an increase in behavioral issues. And dealing with behavioral issues due to unmet needs, can cause a lot of unnecessary stress on both the owners, but definitely also our dogs.
Adding enrichment to your dog's life, does not have to be expensive, which is why I started this new video series "How to make your dog happy". With these videos I am hoping to show you different ideas for enriching your dog's life, which you can easily implement in your daily routine.
Take the challenge and implement the ideas and let me know the results after you have tried it consistently for a month.
Here is the first video: "How to make your dog happy...with a snuffle mat" !
You are driving down the street with your dog on the seat next to you. You see a dog and it's handler walking on the sidewalk and you automatically tense up , waiting for your dog's reaction. You know what is about to happen. Half a second later, your dog sees the other dog as you drive by and goes into a frantic barking mode, jumping all over you while spitting drool and scratching at the window with only one thought in mind: Need to get out and harm the other dog. In a split second your sweet calm Lassie turned into Cujo!! You instantly react with yelling, pulling, pushing or even slapping your dog. Your reaction gives you a small sense of control and to be truthful, a small amount of pleasure in this otherwise embarrassing situation- you feel justified to react harshly and at least it shows the other handler that you are working on the problem...or are you? Your correction used to work - well at least it would after you had passed the other dog, but you have noticed the behavior has escalated in intensity. And even more unfortunately, your dog seems to now cover when you raise your hand.
You are walking your dog around the neighborhood, as you have done everyday for the two months after you rescued your dog. You know that exercise is important and you enjoy your daily walks with your dog. Except for one thing: Every time you walk past number 2454 on your street, your dog starts to frantically pull on the leash and soon starts to lunge and bark at the Boxer, that always comes charging at the fence. You feel embarrassed and try to hurry past this house, but you have noticed that it's getting harder and harder to pull your dog away. It is almost like he doesn't even sense, that you are on the other end of the leash anymore. What is even worse, you have noticed that your dog has started to initiate this out-of-control behavior two houses prior to house number 2454. And after passing the house, your dogs now seems to be agitated for a longer period of time. It now can take up to 10 minutes before he even is able to calm down and walk nicely on the leash again. You are at your wits end. You don't want to stop walking your dog. You have heard too many stories about dogs that are just stuck in the back yard with no real exercise or interaction with the world outside. And how dogs are being surrendered everyday stating behavioral issues or lack of time and commitment. So when you decided to adopt your dog, you swore that you would commit to make sure your dog would get his daily walks. So you keep walking, hoping things to get better.
In both scenarios, the handler is being reactive, meaning: " acting in response to a situation rather than creating or controlling it". This is what most of us do, right? React when our dogs displays an unwanted behavior. This reaction is often just a quick band aid..nothing more. In a way it gives us some sense of control in the moment we yank/pull/yell/slap, but the truth is, we often realize that our response doesn't help prevent the same scenario from happening again.
Albert Einstein is broadly credited with exclaiming “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”.
I like that quote! It really applies well to dog training and especially, when we talk about being re-active versus pro-active. If we keep doing the same thing over and over again, putting our dogs in the same situation over and over again, knowing that based on past experiences, the probability of our dogs reacting with an unwanted behavior, why do we keep on doing it? Do we truly expect a different result ? Or is it just because we simply have no idea what to do, besides a correction as a reaction?
It is an interesting humane behavior, but unfortunately in these scenarios (as in many other scenarios), it only causes more tension and often an accelerated intensity in your dog's response.
Working with reactive dog and trying to change their unwanted response (barking, lunging, whining, and so on) to stimulus in the environment to a more appropriate response (such as staying calm, ignoring other dogs ) is a great learning experience for most owners. It gives me a chance to teach them about body language (see a great video here) and more importantly about behavioral threshold. A dog's behavioral threshold is when your dog crosses from one emotional state to another. I am not going to spend a lot of time talking about it here, but please read this excellent article "Across a Threshold" to help explain this concept. An article I consider a must read for all dog owners. Which brings me to the next step: how to be pro-active instead of re-active.
Consider scenario 1 again. You know your dog is reactive to all dogs he sees when driving. But when walking on a leash, he only occasionally will react. So that is where your training will start: where the probability of your dog being successful (as in not barking) is most likely.
Take him for a walk. Everytime he sees another dog, give him a nice piece of boiled chicken or hotdog. Something really yummy. Keep your distance (under threshold) so your dog can stay connected and focused on you. Repeat this behavior until your dog voluntarily looks at you expecting a reward when another dog approaches. Slowly see if you can get closer and closer to other dogs.
Next step. Now sit in your parked car and practice the same thing: Your dog sees a dog, he gets a yummy reward. We are trying to change your dog's emotional response - instead of feeling the need to react based on arousal, insecurity, worry or whatever might cause his initial reaction, his reaction is now looking at you and staying calm. BINGO. When your dog is a rockstar and can keep calm in your parked car, it is time to start driving. In this case I would highly recommend that a friend is driving, so you can focus on your dog. Driving makes any stimulus appear faster and therefore we often see an increase in the emotional response from our dogs. Just start slow, if possible. Repeat repeat. IF you get too close to what your dog can handle (over threshold) and he reacts with the unwanted behavior, just add distance as fast as possible and get your dog to calm down before proceeding. This is you being PRO-ACTIVE: Controlling the situation and environment, so your dog does not feel the need to change his emotional state while teaching him the behavior you would like to see instead. Such as looking at you and staying calm. Is this a quick fix? Nope, it takes time and repetition. But the reward is a dog that feels safe and that can better handle dog in his environment. That is a win-win situation for both you and your dog.
Scenario 2: Same thing. Walk your dog the same route until he tenses up. This is your cue that your dog is starting to anticipate the charging boxer two houses up and he is beginning to change his emotions, from feeling safe to worried. Stop there and work on rewarding him for staying calm. You can even toss a few treats in the grass for him to find and help redirect his focus from worrying about boxer to "yum, where is the treat?". Slowly work your way a bit closer, but constantly check in with your tension (take some deep breaths to relax) and your dog's stress and arousal levels. As long as your dog can stay connected with you and take treats from you, you are still under threshold. Only work a few steps closer towards the "issue" house and then walk away. Look at is as "pressure on, pressure on, pressure on, pressure off!" Walk away with your dog feeling safe and you will be able to build up on this experience next time, where you can get a bit closer. Repeat, repeat. Your dog will let you know when he is ready to go closer, which is why learning to read your dog's body language is so important.
Being proactive means take charge of the situation, prepare a plan and look at it as a training exercise. You are your dog's teacher in life, so help him, guide him and teach him.
And never ever underestimate the power of "just hanging out" with your dog to help calm him down. Letting him acclimate to new surroundings or in settings, which usually creates a tense reaction in your dog and then pairing it up with yummy treats, will give your dog the skills to handle himself better.
Watch this great video by Suzanne Clothier where she explains this very concept " Threshold, threshold and doing nothing".
Be pro-active and be a teacher for your dog. The process will make you a better handler!
Just the other day I was called out to do an in-home evaluation on a 5 months old dog, who was causing a bit disturbance in the house. This dog was a bit insecure and would bark and react to most things - especially people coming to the door, such as me - but the bigger issue was the jumping on the young daughter.
When I come to a house, I gather a lot of information as soon as I even approach the door: how the dog reacts to the knock/doorbell; How the owner handles the dog; If aroused, how long does it take the dog to calm down; etc. etc.
Now this particular dog was definitely insecure, would easily get aroused and would continue to bark bark bark at me even though I ignored her, until........MAGIC!! Yes, I am a dog trainer, who runs around with magic pixie dust in my pocket to throw at the dog...the only thing that works! Seriously !! However. you might know it under a different name: Treats! Yep - that simple. Treats! After tossing a few treats towards this barking fluff ball, she soon decided to activate her brain and now I could even look at her before tossing her a treat - without any barking. My point here is this:
if your dog is insecure about something, then help your dog change it's emotional state of worry to something more pleasant, by creating a positive association using food! The point is to make the dog still feel safe, which is why I tossed the treat to the dog - yes even behind the dog . This allowed the dog to make its own decision, when to come see me. But until ready, I was still this awesome lady with awesome treats who didn't impose a threat ....(FYI: This exercise works wonders. )
Now this particular dog had had no training, been to no class , had really no skills, but she was (and still is !) very food motivated, so within a few minutes , she had learned to offer a sit for attention, come in to sit, laying down, nose touches and follow me game. This dog was ready to WORK! She loved the attention, the interaction and was super eager to learn!! Such a firecracker and every trainer's dream: Great drive, focus and willingness to offer behavior. Within a short time, both owners were really impressed with her and could see how ready this little fluff ball was to get some training. Which really leads me to the purpose of this blog post:
Just because your dog might be small, don't underestimate your dog's eagerness (and need!) to learn. Through training , not only do we teach them skills, but also confidence in themselves, so they can handle the surrounding world much better. Just think how overwhelming the world must be for a 5 lbs chihuahua or a 7 lbs yorkie? Build your dog up to be the best they can be. And get ready to be amazed by how much they will teach you in the process. A small dog might be small in size, but mighty at heart.
Let the training begin.....or continue :)
After several days with rain, snow and cold wind, I think it is safe to say that fall is here and soon winter too...which of course can mean anything from dry heat, to rain to heavy snowfall - all within one day (which is one of the many reasons I love Montana).
This change in weather also often means, that we take our dogs out less. However, with less physical exercise, it is even more important that we keep up - or even increase - the indoor activities. If not, you might be coming home to chewed up shoes, curtains on the floor and new bite marks in your wooden furniture...just saying !!
So to save you the frustration of buying a new coffee table, I have decided to write down a few fun indoor games and activities for your and your dog.
Enjoy and remember to always have fun with it.
The Three Cup Game
One step up from the which hand game this game is also commonly referred to as the shell game. You place a treat under one of 3 cups and have your dog choose the correct one. Once they get the hang of it you can start mixing up the cups so they’re not just relying on visuals.
Play Hide and Seek With Your Dog
Have your dog sit and wait while you (or your child) go find a hiding spot. Call your dog once when you’re hidden and praise them enthusiastically when they find you.
Make a Scavenger Hunt or Play Find The Treats
Grab some smelly treats and have your dog stay while you go hide them around the house. Start with some easy hiding spots first - maybe just a few feet away, to help encourage your dog to "Find them". Slowly work your way up to more difficult hiding places, once your dog is accustomed to using his nose and understand the concept of this new fun game.
Get Some Puzzle Toys For Your Dog
Keep your dog mentally stimulated by giving them a puzzle to solve. There are a ton of dog puzzle toys available, as well as treat dispensing toys like the Kong Wobbler. (see my old dog enjoy his Kong Wobbler here )
There’s also a ton of great DIY toys out there you can make. I love the simple muffin tin game – if you have a muffin tin and some tennis balls you’re ready to play.
Teach Your Dog the “Go To Mat” Command
Does your dog know how to go to the couch or to his mat This trick is simple to teach and it’s helpful when you’re making dinner or having guests over. If you tell your dog to go to his spot while you’re making dinner enough times it will become a habit. No dog in the kitchen while cooking means you won’t be finding dog hair in your dinner as often. Please see this video by Nancy Tanner, Paws&People explaining how to teach your dog "Go to Mat"
Teach Your Dog The Names of Their Toys
Have you seen Chaser the Border Collie? She knows over 1,000 words and can pick out any given toy among 800 just by it’s name. We can’t all be overachievers like Chaser, but we can teach our dogs the names of their toys.
Start by playing with one specific toy and giving it a name while you do. After some practice & praise your dog will assign that verbal name with the chosen toy . Once your dog has learned that specific toys name you can test their skills by seeing if they can pick it out among their other toys.
Puppy Push Ups
Teach your dog to sit, down and stand. You can now play "Puppy Push Up" going from stand, to sit, to down, to sit, to down, to stand and so on. Make sure to change the order of the behaviors so your dog can't guess what comes next.
See this video I made with Blue at the Yellowstone Valley Animal shelter
Teach your dog a new trick
Most dogs love to learn new tricks. And not only will you teach them a new skill, but also giving your dog a positive and focused interaction with you , which is a great added bonus. Plus , most dogs love to show off their tricks, so make sure to show it to friends and family. This YouTube channel is filled with fun tricks video that will ensure hours of fun for you and your dog.
I hope this will give you some great ideas for hours of indoor fun. Remember, if you are running out of ideas, you can always sign up for a class or a private session to keep you and your dog going.
When I've been called out to dog owners (puppies, adolescents, newly adopted), I often hear the words " he is out of control", "he pulls, so we stopped walking", "he is not listening", he is stubborn" and so on. You get the picture.
First off, I would like to say, that I don't believe in stubborn dogs. I do believe that many owners have yet to figure out how to motivate and engage their dogs, so they will stay focused on the owner. And I do believe in lack of structure and in unfair expectations put on the dogs. Remember, "You can't blame him, if you haven't taught him" ( I even have a t-shirt with that quote...!)
This post today, is about the main two mistakes I see, that when corrected by owner, often will help take care of those above quoted issues.
First one is the fact that the dog food is served in a bowl. That might sound odd, because where else should you serve the food??? You have always used a food bowl for your previous dogs without any issues and isn't the usage of them, the very reason why pet stores sell them...even in cute designs???
My point is, that you are missing out on a huge opportunity to make this food work better for you and your dog. Instead of "just" putting in a bowl and serve it , to see it be gone within 10 - 55 seconds, I am now telling you, that you can use this food more efficiently and to your advantage. Many dogs are labeled "out of control", "stubborn" and "not listening" simply because they are bored, under stimulated, and still haven't seen the value in listening to you. But that is on you - and not the dog. So I ask you to pick up your cute food bowl and put it in your cupboard for a while.
Instead I want you to take the portion of your dog's breakfast in your hand and think of ways to make him work for it. Maybe use half of it to train sit, down, come, spin, through legs, leave it and other valuable and fun exercises (see this link for some of my videos on training technique and more ). And after working your dog for 5-10 minutes, now take the rest of the food and either spread it out on the lawn for your dog to find or put it in an activity toy or kong toy, so your dog has to work to get the food. This change in your morning and evening routine will only take an additional 20 minutes a day and the benefits exceed the "inconvenience" of this new daily routine. TRUST ME!
When working with your dog, you are not only teaching your dog new skills, but you are also showing your dog the value of working with you. This will help create a stronger bond and relationship between you, you both learn to work and communicate together and you now have a dog that willingly will listen to you.
Furthermore, your dog is now using his brain and his nose to get the food, which all helps get him tired. And we all now , a tired dog has a happy life and family.
Meeting your dog's mental and physical needs , will often help eliminate a lot of the behavioral issues you are experiencing in the home. Don't underestimate the intelligence of your dog and the need of a job. Never!
This of course leads me to the second mistake, well maybe misconception is a better word here: Walks are for exercise. This is a bit tricky , because yes, walking your dog is a great way to exercise both your dog and yourself. However, many owners have failed to teach their dog HOW to properly walk on a leash. A dog's natural instinct will be to go exactly where the nice smell is coming from - regardless whether you are attached to the other end of the leash. Walking a dog that pulls is a very unpleasant experience for both owner and dog, right? And what usually happens when a dog pulls is that he gets less walks, which then often increase the issues in the home. So yes, walks are necessary but here is the misconception: That dogs already know how to walk on a leash! They don't. Walking nicely on a leash is a learned behavior, meaning YOU have to teach your dog this behavior.
Now you might think, "How do I teach my dog?" Let me help you.
Start inside your home where there is a minimum amount of distractions and train your dog to follow you on either your left or right side. (Doesn't matter which, just pick a side and be consistent). No leash on dog yet, so use your voice to encourage him to go with you. This will help break your bad habit of pulling on the leash.
Have treats in the hand which side he is on and treat him every step he is with you. Show him how rewarding it is to walk with you and to stay by you. Start practicing walking in your hallway, where it is nice and straight with the walls helping your puppy stay with you. When he gets the concept, you can now start treating every 3-4 steps and so on. Eventually start walking all over your house, so he learns to walk by your side, even when you turn right, left , around and stops. When you think your puppy is a rockstar and "gets it!", it is time to go practice in your yard. If you have a fenced-in yard, please still have him off leash, so you will learn the skills needed to stay connected with him. Important skill for any handler to learn. Often it is a good idea to use the higher value treats due to the increased distractions in the environment. High value treats are the type of treats that will make your dog so focused, that he will forget about squirrels, birds, neighbor dog and so on. Whether those treats are carrots, green beans, liver,cheese or chicken, I don't know. But your dog does, and so should you! ifd not sure - test different types in different environments.
Work and walk in your yard just as you did inside. I often recommend handlers to set up two cones, planters, chairs or what they can find to help practice a figure 8 pattern. This pattern will teach the dog to walk with you both on the outside and on the inside of a turn. Incorporate stop, sit and down as well in your walking training - both with and without leash. If he pulls, go opposite direction and encourage him to come with you with your voice, while your body is moving away from him. And remember to reward the s*** out of your dog, when he is next to you and when he looks at you. You have to understand, that when walking outside, you have to be more interesting that dirt. And that is harder than you should think ! So unless you have added some value to walking with you, you will lose to the deer poop smell in the grass outside your yard.
FInally you feel ready and confident to take this exercise on the road, so to speak. This is where I really need to remind you, that walking your dog is still a training exercise - not a way to exercise your dog. So before going outside the yard, I want you to get your dog tired first. "WHAT?? Get him tired BEFORE the walk??" Yep.
Play fetch to help relieve your dog of some of his energy. And after playing fetch, make him use his brain with some mental exercises, so the excitement from playing fetch, decreases and he calms down. Now you are ready for your walk outside. Bring high value treats and get ready to walk for maybe only 5 minutes! This walk is about teaching the dog to stay with you, no matter the distractions, so the first many walks will most likely not be in a very straight line. You will turn right,left, stop and so on, to help stay connected with him, so you can reward him for making good choices. Should your dog be allowed to sniff the grass on walks? Absolutely. That is how he gets information about the environment and who has walked by the last few days. But sniffing while pulling is a big fat NO! Then the walk stops or takes a new direction until he is by your side again.
If you stay consistent, slowly you will be working your way up to actually walk your dog for exercise....and now it will be a pleasure for the both of you.
However, If these "training steps to teach a loose leash walk" seem overwhelming for you, imagine how overwhelming and unfair it is for your dog to be expected to walk nicely on a leash outside with all the yummy and smelly distractions without ever being taught how!
Set your dog up for success and he will learn faster.
When working with our dogs, it is important that we always are realistic in our expectations in order to set our dogs up for success. And in order for us to be realistic in our expectations, we need to look at HOW our dogs learn and what might interfere in their learning process and their ability to perform successfully when asked.
As a dog trainer and animal lover, my wish is to help educate the owners, so they can have a harmonious relationship with the animal(s) in their lives. A relationship based on knowledge, trust and respect.