Feb 26

Dog Training – Stop the Begging!

Boxer Puppy

Boxer Puppy

Tastes among humans differ, but one thing is constant: your dog will eat just about anything off the table you give it. That may be fine when it’s just you and the family. But when you have guests over, it can be embarrassing. Here are some tips for how to get pooch to stay away during meal time.

The first step is not to start a bad habit.

Dog’s have a natural hierarchy with the alpha at the top, followed by the beta, and so on. In the wild, the alpha eats first, then food is shared by the rest – once the alpha ‘gives permission’. Permission can be denied with a growl or a snap of the teeth.

When you act as the alpha – as you should at all times where your dog is concerned – you control access to the food. But being too easy going gives the signal that it’s open season at the table. If you don’t start the habit they may start it for you, but it doesn’t pay to encourage them.

The next step is to be consistent. If you don’t want the dog to beg for food, don’t feed it sometimes, then deny it at others. The dog has no way in advance to know which times are appropriate and which aren’t. You’ll become frustrated at having to repeatedly try to make the distinction for him and order him away.

Dogs operate by scent. When they smell food, that’s a signal to approach. If you allow them to act on that, a pleasant experience (for them) becomes a bad habit (from your perspective) very quickly.

Human food is often less than ideal for dogs anyway. Most of it is digestible, but it isn’t balanced for dogs the way commercial dog food is. The ideal dog diet depends on a carefully controlled mixture of fat, protein and other categories of food. The percentages are tested and blended by commercial dog food manufacturers. There’s no way for you to duplicate that at the dinner table.

You can train your dog not to beg for food basically the same way you would train them to perform any other desired behavior. Try voice commands ‘go’, ‘sit’ and the rest. This is not the time, however, to reward obedience with a treat, since that’s counterproductive. It only reinforces the link between food and behavior at the wrong time.

If voice commands prove inadequate, you can try leash training. This may require some creativity if you are already at the table. You can wrap a leash around a sturdy pole in the dining room. As you tug on the leash toward you, if it’s wrapped around the pole, it pulls the dog away. Take care not to bruise the dog’s throat by getting carried away.

If you have help, you can sit at the table and start to eat, while another holds the dog a few feet away by the leash. As the dog starts to come toward the table, you give the command and they tug the leash. Dogs learn quickly this way to associate the verbal command with the physical restraint.

As with any training exercise, patience and persistence are essential. But sooner or later, they will respond, even when they smell food. They learn in the wild, they can learn even more easily in the home.

Feb 19

Training Your Dog Not To Bite

dog biteAccording to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), dogs bite more than 4.7 million people per year. Law suits, medical bills and sometimes dog euthanasia are common results from this unwanted – and often avoidable – behavior.

As with any dog training issue, how easy or difficult it is to train a dog not to bite will vary with the breed, age and individual temperament of the dog. But there are some common techniques that will usually help suppress biting behavior.

Wherever possible, start young. Puppies have a natural inclination to mouth and nip. Though it’s often encouraged by owners who understandably see the behavior as cute, human restraint is a prerequisite to dog restraint. Good – and bad –  habits start young.

Beyond about the age of four weeks, puppies can begin to learn simple commands. When the puppy moves his mouth to bite, a gentle, but firm ‘No!’ followed by a slight squeeze of the muzzle can help.

Be careful not to cause the puppy to bite its tongue, though. Be especially careful not to squeeze hard or too high up on the muzzle. Dogs have sensitive and delicate odor receptors high up inside the nose. You never want to damage a dog’s ability to smell.

The squeeze isn’t to punish, but to inform. The goal is to help the young dog associate the verbal command with something it can understand at that age – discomfort. Most dogs naturally dislike having their muzzles squeezed at any age.

Along with verbal discouragement and gentle physical restraint or reminders, socializing your dog – as young and often as possible – can help develop calm and confident dogs. Fearful dogs, not used to strangers (whether human or animal), are much more prone to biting behavior.

Expose the dog to other (non-aggressive) dogs. Differences in smell and looks are triggers that can cause dogs to become wary. Introducing them to variety at a young age can help discourage this territorial response.

Most dogs will naturally inhibit biting when playing with litter mates. They nip, but learn early not to press hard. Take advantage of this by ‘widening’ the pack to include family members, other pets and frequent visitors.

Restrain your pet at first when introducing animals from other households. Restrain the other animal as well. Let them approach slowly and sniff or carry out other natural behavior.

Look for body tension, snarling, erect ears and other indicators of oncoming aggression. Make the dog sit, stroke its back and put out your hand to the other animal then convey the smell to your pet. Then allow them to interact.

Dogs normally learn bite inhibition by four and a half months, but don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t happen that quickly. Breeds vary and so do individuals. Older dogs, ones not trained early to suppress biting or not socialized, will naturally be harder to train.

Some dogs will never be fully trained not to want to bite. Part of training involves training people, too. Make sure any such dog is unable to reach other people or animals. And, make sure that people are informed not to try to interact with the dog.

Gradual, persistent, patient training will usually pay off in a calmer, more playful pet. Which, despite the effort involved, is better than paying off lawsuits.

 

Feb 14

Specialized Dog Training: Service Dogs

service dogAnd you thought normal dog training was difficult. Sit, stay, down, come, heel… all require weeks or more of dedicated trainer and dog effort to master. Now, consider the months or years needed to train a police, search and rescue, guide or other service dog.

Training these special animals starts with careful selection. It’s no accident that certain breeds – German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers and others – tend to be selected. Others may be just as loving as pets, but don’t usually have the physical characteristics nor temperament needed to carry out the wide range of complex behavior these working dogs perform.

Even within breeds some individuals early on display an aptitude for the rigorous training, while others are dropped from the program or moved into different areas. Assertiveness is needed, but not aggression. Except in emergencies and on command only. Confidence is essential, but not willfulness. Strength is important, but intelligence is key.

Once selected, trainers deepen the bonds needed to build trust and perform on command. Police, search and rescue and even guide dogs can easily find themselves in dangerous situations. Like humans, such individuals don’t always spontaneously put themselves in harm’s way. Some though, with proper training, will take on challenges even trained and athletic humans would think twice about undertaking.

Search and rescue dogs, for example, have been known to ford freezing rivers to snatch and extract drowning children. Others have pulled half-buried avalanche victims from otherwise certain death, while the ice cracks beneath their canine feet.

Training consists of a year or more of acclimatization in the trainer’s home or facility to learn basic commands and trust. Once the animal is certified as trainable, the real effort begins.

Depending on the job, service dogs receive from 6 to 18 months of additional training, spending hours per day in special instruction. Sometimes the behaviors taught are those you wouldn’t want your average pet to learn.

Everything from simple light switch flipping to pulling open doors to fording water, locating buried objects and more are covered. Service dogs learn to tolerate gun shots, avoid obstacles, remain calm and focused on the task in crowds. They may learn to aggressively protect the handler while being gentle with victims.

Some of these extraordinary creatures learn to tolerate smoke, run through burning buildings or even chase vehicles. Exactly what you wouldn’t want Charles the chihuahua to do.

Less dangerous, but no less important tasks are taught to other categories of service dogs.

Seeing-eye or hearing (guide) dogs assist sightless or deaf persons to carry out daily tasks safely and more conveniently. Whether guiding the blind or wheelchair bound through a shopping mall, fetching a container of food or drink, or just answering the doorbell these assistants prove their worth every day.

So, next time you see one of those working dogs at the mall or on the street, remember they ARE working. They’re carrying out needed chores for which they’ve been intensively trained. Let them carry out those important duties and just say a silent ‘thanks’ to them and their trainers for a job well done.

 

Feb 03

Training Non-neutered Dogs

Pure Happiness and JoyNot every dog gets spayed (removal of female reproductive organs) or neutered (removal of male organs). Whether through an intention to breed or other motive, many individuals leave their companions intact. Left with a full complement of nature’s hormones, these dogs can react differently than their surgically altered counterparts.

Males with the normal amount of testosterone tend to be prone to seek alpha (leader) status, and when exposed to a female in heat will often ignore commands. Licking behavior increases, the male will gently head butt a female in the neck, and eventually try to mount.

Separated from the female, they’ll exhibit rapid breathing and pacing, often going without eating for two days or more. They’ll often even refuse water after hours of not drinking.

Females left unaltered will experience a menstrual cycle about twice per year. During that roughly three week interval, there’s an increased tendency to wander and a greater willingness to accept the attention of strange dogs. Previously passive females will dig under a fence and display their hind parts with tails lifted to males of almost any breed.

Getting compliance to commands during these times is difficult, but not always impossible. If you’ve consistently retained the alpha (leader) role in the ‘pack’, you have a say in who mates who when. You’ll need to be especially assertive during these times, but even excited males will obey up to a point.

Even outside of mating periods, unneutered males will typically exhibit a stronger push toward dominance, especially in the first year or two. The counter for this is simply a refusal to accept anything less than alpha status. But far from being harsh, there are several alternatives.

Most dogs love to play. Distracting that assertive male with a tennis ball, a short rope or other favorite toy decreases tension on both sides of the equation. You control the ball, you hand out or take away the toy, and you ensure compliance with your wishes by leash, treat and firm voice command. All these help remind the dog that you’re in charge.

When leash training or walking, these assertive males will have a stronger tendency to pull ahead. To counter this, keep the leash a couple of inches BEHIND you. If the dog strains at the leash, initiate a sharp, firm jerk to the right (NOT back) accompanied by a strong ‘HEEL’. That assumes the dog walks on your left and the leash is held in your left hand, as is usually the case. Reverse directions as needed.

Unless your dog is very small this won’t injure them. Dogs have very strong neck muscles. The goal is to put them off balance and to control, not to punish.

Untreated dogs require extra patience – as if the normal amount weren’t already enormous. But they’re also less likely to be fearful in stressful situations and more willing to take risks. For people with certain lifestyles who enjoy taking their friend with them, that can be a big plus.

 

Jan 17

Dog Training – Tips for Large and Small Dogs

Greater Mountain Swiss Dog

Greater Mountain Swiss Dog

No project, apart from raising a child, requires more patience than dog training. All breeds have different attributes that present challenges. Some are intelligent, but boisterous and easily distracted. Some are eager to please, but dim-witted. But special considerations are required for size.

Small dogs are easily transported, providing more choices for a training area around the home or away from it. But they tend to bark more readily and are often either too fearful or too bold. Extra effort directed toward bark suppression is often required.

As with any training regimen, start young and train regularly. Be sure to establish early on your ‘alpha’ (leader of the pack) status. Respond firmly to any challenge. Don’t give in to ‘cuteness’.

When leash training a smaller dog be especially careful to correct sideways on the neck (by jerk, tug or restraint) rather than back. When the dog pulls forward, jerk sideways to correct and inform, not to punish. Even a small dog has strong neck muscles, but also has an easily bruised throat.

Be careful not to apply excessive pressure on the hindquarters when encouraging a sit. Small dogs are sturdy, but the size difference between it and you makes it too easy to force when you want to direct.

Large dogs, too, come with inherent challenges. As the weight/strength ratio between trainer and dog tips in favor of the dog, several considerations come into play.

The first is – always be alert. A small dog that tugs on the leash unexpectedly can be annoying, a large one can be dangerous. If a German Shepherd, Rottweiler, Rhodesian Ridgeback, or even a larger breed chooses to jet after a cat you need to be prepared to resist.

Select at least an inch thick leash of good nylon or leather. Make sure his collar is wide and equipped with quality fasteners that won’t break under tension. When walking, grasp the loop at the end of the leash in your right hand and insert your thumb through the loop.

Then take a few inches of the leash to your left and fold and drape them over your left palm. Insert your left hand’s thumb through the little loop formed. Clamp the leash across your left palm. (For right handed people, walking with the dog on the left. Reverse directions as needed.)

As with small dogs, perform corrections by jerking sideways, not back. Their throats, too, can be bruised by excessive force. Just jerk and release. It also helps put them momentarily off balance.

Large dogs, even socialized ones, will sometimes go after small children. Whether they see them as prey or as someone their size to play with it’s sometimes hard to tell. Take care not to allow jumping. Always be prepared with leash corrections, until training reaches the stage where they will reliably respond to pure voice commands.

Large dogs can much more easily jump fences, and just as often fail to clear one cleanly. When they clear it, you have a potential lawsuit, when they don’t you may have a vet bill. They’ll rarely break a bone this way, but it’s common to get scrapes on the belly which the dog will turn into hot spots – raw patches of skin – requiring treatment.

In either case, make sure that barriers are high and sturdy. Even the best trained dog will sometimes respond to instinct and go after a cat or other dog.

Both large and small dogs need daily training to learn and reinforce guidelines about what is or isn’t acceptable behavior. But in both cases the rewards are safer and more loving pets. Dogs like clear, consistent rules and need to know who is the leader and who the follower. You should be the first, the dog the latter.

Jan 01

Dog Training Devices, Tools Not Substitutes

Dog Walk

Dog Walk

The creativity of trainers and those who supply them with additional tools is never-ending. To the new or casual trainer there appears a dizzying array of devices. Though many are useful, they shouldn’t be viewed as substitutes for training knowledge.

Before using any of the tools discussed below, be sure your dog is in good health. Even the gentlest of collars or training regimes can do harm if the dog has a skin sore or twisted dew claw.

Clickers

An excellent attention-getting device, the clicker is a palm-sized, hand-held plastic and metal unit which emits a loud ‘click-clack’ noise when pressed and released. It can save a lot of wear on the trainers voice and is distinctive and readily audible, even against common background noise.

The trainer can use a clicker to draw the attention of a distracted dog. It’s more commonly used, though, as a reward or ‘begin’ sound when the animal exhibits desired behavior or to start a behavior.

Leashes and Collars

The variety of leashes available is astounding, running the gamut from two-foot control leashes, usually of nylon or leather, to the 30-foot extendable-retractable nylon cord type.

For near work, such as training ‘sit’, ‘stay’ (for example, ‘don’t run after the cat’ or ‘don’t go out the door before me’) the two to four foot leash is an excellent tool. The extendable leash is useful only by trainers who want to obey their dog. The human (whether male or female) should always be the ‘alpha male’ of the pack and the alpha always leads.

Collars come in a variety of buckle, snap, nylon, leather combinations. Provided the snaps and nylon are good quality they can be fully strong enough for even large dogs. They should be adjusted carefully, though, so they don’t slip off easily when the dog moves a head toward the ground and away to escape.

This trainer is adamantly opposed to spike collars – which can easily damage a smaller dog and tend to engender fear even in larger ones. Similarly, choke collars are discouraged. Dogs have very strong neck muscles, but a sharp tug on the front of the throat can bruise or even collapse a trachea. Also, too often choke collars are put on backwards (an easy mistake to make), which makes them counter-productive and dangerous.

Vests

Similar to leashes, chest halter leashes and even full vests can help to strengthen the trainers advantage while avoiding excessive pressure on the dog’s throat.

The potential downside is that the animal experiences no discomfort from pulling, so this limits training completely to positive re-enforcement. Originally designed to be used with seeing-eye and other aid dogs, the chest-halter can encourage pulling – the opposite of the usual goal.

Nevertheless, for those who need extra control over a strong dog or when regular collars and leashes won’t serve they’re valuable.

Muzzles

For short-term barking and biting control muzzles may sometimes be helpful or even necessary. The downside to using one is the dog never learns through other means to suppress barking. The muzzle becomes a substitute for the more difficult, long-term solution of obeying ‘no-bark’ commands.

There are dozens of other dog-related items: no-bark collars, electric fences, chemical sprays, head collars, etc. But these are as much control devices as training tools.

And, of course, there are the training tools that remain perpetual and highly effective favorites: love and respect. Treat your dog as you would a loving companion and it will be much easier to produce desired behavior.