Whats in a name?

Hows your human to dog communication? Unfortunately, we humans can be incredibly unclear and inconsistent. We often assume they know what we want and many times end up  unfairly punishing the dog when they don’t behave the way we expect.

Scenario: The family is relaxing enjoying an evening of tv and popcorn when out of the blue their pup erupts into loud relentless barking. Mom yells Rover… Nothing happens. She yells again ROVER! Still nothing. The barking continues until Dad and the kids chime in almost simultaneously, ROVER!!!!! The barking continues. Soon Dad has had enough. He leaps to his feet and jerks the dog by the collar. He grabs a magazine and smacks him across the nose, pulls him to the basement door and places him in solitary confinement. At no point has he shown the dog what he wants. He has however taught the dog that when his name is called to expect punishment. Rover stops coming when he is called, cowers down when dad approaches and eventually becomes reactive and bites one of the kids when they grab his collar. All of this could have been avoided if they had taught the dog a quiet cue rather than just shouting his name over and over again. One effective way to do this is to teach him to speak. When you can get him to bark on cue, show him a treat, say quiet and when he gets quiet give him the treat. Fade showing the treat and continue practicing speak and quiet rewarding him when he stops barking. Soon you will have a clear way to communicate to the dog when you want him to be quiet. The key to a well behaved dog is teaching them our cues and being clear about what we want.ROVER

Common Toy Mistakes

toy paws

Toys can be a great way to stimulate your dogs brain and alleviate boredom; however, we tend to not put much thought into what toys to buy for them or how to best use them. Here are a few common mistakes and tips on how to get the most from your pup’s toys.

  1. Are toys even necessary?  In the above picture you see a pillow. Obviously Pillows are not toys; however, your puppy does not know that. Puppies have to chew, and by not offering appropriate chew toys, you are asking for trouble. Of course having toys does not always solve the problem, but by having toys available, you have the tools to show them what is appropriate to chew on and what is not.
  2. All toys are not created equal. There are basically two types of toys. Interactive Toys, (plush toys, tennis balls, and  tug ropes) and Chew Toys, (Kongs, rubber bones, and dental chews). The first category of toys should always be put away unless you are present, especially plush toys. Heavy chewers can destroy even the toughest toys, creating choking hazards or ingesting peaces that can get lodged in their intestines. Dental toys and Kongs are intended to be chewed on and are much safer options for keeping them occupied when your away or unable to supervise them. (Keep in mind, with any toy there are risks).
  3. Dogs do not  automatically know how to play with all toys. Many times people buy chew type toys and assume that their dogs will know what to do with it. They throw it on the floor and their dog gives it a blank stare, so they figure the dog just doesn’t like chew toys. We need to show the dogs what to do with them. Ruff up the end with sand paper to make it more appealing then rub peanut butter into the grooves. Once they start chewing it, it will become addictive. You can also wag it in their face and motivate them to take it by tapping into their prey drive. Let them tug it, then give it to them. Kong toys are intended to be filled with food. These are the easiest to get them interested in considering all dogs eat. Kongs are great for when you are unavailable for longer periods. You can use their regular kibble, peanut butter, cheese, or canned dog food. To make the food even harder to get out, put kibble in a bowl and moisten it with water or low sodium chicken stock and place it in the Kong and freeze.
  4. My dog has so many toys I can barely walk through my house. Some of us love to spoil our dogs and want to give them everything they could ever want. We assume that 24/7 access to as many toys as we can afford to by them will make them happy and keep them from chewing on furniture, shoes and pillows, but sometimes quite the opposite is true. By filling our houses with toys, it can be quite confusing to the dog. Its much easier to show them what items are ok to chew on if there are fewer of those items. By keeping most toys put away, and bringing them out a few at a time, it makes those toys more exciting and interesting. Why would I chew on that chair leg when I just got this amazing new toy? Make sure you reserve those interactive toys for when your available for play, and it will make them even more exciting for your dog. You can even use them as reinforcement for training.

Happy Playing!






The Gambler

It amazes me, the amount of time people will spend sitting in front of a slot machine. Casinos don’t interest me much, but on a rare occasion my curiosity gets the best of me, and I find myself standing in a smoke filled room, bells and sirens blaring all around me, full of people, or what may be better described as the sitting dead, gazing with blank stares at the colorful, gold and silver trimmed machines they are camped out in front of. Some of them look like they have been there for days. Sitting motionless except for the pulling of a lever extending from the side of the machine with one hand and the occasional drag off their cigarette with the other hand. We humans are odd creatures. Addictions come in many packages, and for the gambler it’s all about the possibility of the big payoff. Not in hopes for financial stability or to pay off debt, but to simply continue playing the game. I’m often asked as a dog trainer who uses treats, “but will I always have to use treats to get the dog to do what I want?” The short answer is no, primarily because when it comes to gambling, dogs are a lot like us humans. That’s right, dogs are gamblers, and when it comes to training, that’s a good thing. Or at least some times it is.

The good:

The key is to get them addicted, not to the food, but to the game. When we humans first step into a casino, we have high hopes but are nervous about blowing our money all at once, so we search out the games that are cheap to play. Although we know we are not going to have a huge payoff, we know there is a better chance of getting something. And since those payoffs are relatively often, no matter how small, we are reinforced for playing the game. When we get hooked on the the excitement of playing the game, we move to more challenging ones, knowing the payoff is not going to be as frequent, but also knowing the possibility of a larger payoff is possible. In the beginning stages of training a dog, his payoff should be often. After he is past the initial learning stage, you can make the payoff more random, paying for every three or four behaviors then back to every one or two. Make it as unpredictable as possible, getting him hooked on the game. As he gets better at it you should up the criteria by asking for more difficult behaviors before paying him. Occasionally let him hit the jackpot (a bigger, better reward). He will continue attempting more and more difficult tasks in anticipation of a big payoff. Soon rewards are much less frequent as he has become addicted to the game. This is not to say that we should be cheap and not pay our dogs well for the hard work they do while trying their best to fit into our society – especially considering that they didn’t ask to be a part of it. We should be as generous as possible, because, in my opinion, there is no jackpot equal to the unconditional love they give us.

The bad:

We all know addiction to gambling can be devastating. Families have lost everything they own to gambling. Their homes, cars, jobs, and each other. A gambling addiction can be nearly impossible to break, because all it takes is one win at something as small as a scratch card at a gas station, or finding $20 on the ground, and the rush of adrenaline has you right back in the game. “My dog keeps jumping on me,” said Judy, a weary client of mine and owner of a massive Great Dane, (a serious gambling addict). When she got Marmeduke, he was the sweetest ten-pound bundle of legs she had ever seen. He was cute and cuddly, and when he raised his front paws up against her jeans to greet her, it melted her heart. How adorable! He wants to come up and give me a doggy kiss. Marmeduke is a year old now, and weighs about 130 pounds. He is still the sweetest bundle of legs she has ever seen, but along with a giant head and massive torso. He still loves to put his paws up on her and give her a great big slobbery kiss, but instead of melting her heart, he topples her over under his weight, knocking her to the floor then landing on top of her. She tells me, “I tried yelling at him, kneeing him, pushing him off but nothing works.” I asked, “Did you try ignoring him?” She said, “Yes, and he just keeps jumping up.” I asked her if she was consistently ignoring him, and she said, “I try, but sometimes I just get fed up.” Dogs are social animals, they love attention and love to greet us at the face. Most of us love it when they are puppies and are manageable, but by allowing them to jump up and give us sweet puppy kisses, we are saying to them that this is appropriate behavior. And every time they are allowed to jump up, we are reinforcing that behavior. Ignoring them when they jump up shows the dog that jumping up gets them the opposite of what they are looking for. It is not reinforcing for the dog to jump up, so the jumping stops, in theory. It’s like sitting in front of a broken slot machine. Where we fail is not being consistent. If the dog jumps up on you 9 times, and on the 10th time you respond, he just hit the jackpot! Remember the people sitting in front of the slot machines that look like they’ve been camping out there for days? They are just waiting for that 10th, time, 15th time, or 20th time. Gambling is a powerful addiction and one that is hard to break, but when it comes to training your dog to function in a human society, maybe we don’t need to ban gambling. We just need to show our dogs what games are worth playing.

Teaching the Place Command

Teaching a dog to lay on a mat is a very useful command. It’s great for when guests come over or when your cooking or other activities where you need your dog to be  still. This video is the beginning of this type of training. Once your dog learns the place command and is reliably going to the mat, start putting the treats on the mat while she is in a down position  and work on duration waiting longer and longer between reinforcements. Soon you will have a dog who enjoys his down time on his Matt.

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Learning to walk with distractions

​​This is Dallas, he is great on leash in his yard and his Naighborhood so we move​​d to the park. His owner is doing a great job of breaking his gaze on distractions and bringing his focus back on her. Teach your dog a good “Leave It” and you will have better success walking him in distracting environments.​​

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Loose-Leash Walking with Havoc

This is Havoc. He is beginning to walk on a loose leash. In this video, his owner is having him follow her. When he gets ahead, and to the end of the leash, she redirects him in the opposite direction. This teaches him that he needs to focus on her to know which way to go, and that his forward progress ends when he pulls on the leash.

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Loose-Leash Walking Miss Daisy

This is Daisy the wonder dog. Some may mistake her for a sled dog on leash. She loves to pull you down the path darting from side to side. I have been working with her a little in her yard and today we went to the park. This video is after working with her about 10 minutes in the park. Notice we are walking next to a barrier. This is to keep her in position so I can work on the pulling. Next session we will start there and gradually move away from the fence. I am still working on getting her to focus on me more but I think she’s doing great!

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Training Kalia to Come When Called, Heel, and Focus, with Distractions 

Kalia is a 11 week old black lab. She is great at her basic commands indoors. In these pics we are working on coming when called and focusing on me in a more enticing environment. Notice I have her on a very long training leash so she has more freedom but I can still have some control on where she can go.

Any time you add distractions you should take a step back in your training and allow her to generalize the behaviors before moving forward.