Puppy 101: Recall

15 Feb

sirius_run

Puppies are clean slates of fluff. They don’t know what it is to be a good dog—ahem, an obedient dog—but they’re eager to learn and ugh, do they have to be so cute? One of the most important (perhaps the most important) commands you will teach your puppy will be recall, and it’s important to maintain a positive training regimen for your recall command throughout your dog’s life.

Archer’s new best friend, Sirius, just started puppy school a few weeks ago. Due to scheduling with the classes, and his vaccination schedule, this was the earliest he could enroll—at nearly six months old. In this time, his training has been done at home with focus given to various different commands—specifically, recall.

Being a vizsla (a Hungarian hunting dog), it was important that Sirius learned good behaviour on offleash trail walks, and Archer has made for a great teacher in this respect. As a hunting dog, we’re already seeing that he is prone to chase small game and get over-fixated on scent trails—because of this, it was crucial that he be familiar and responsive to recall.

So how do you teach a puppy good recall, and ensure they are always responsive to your cues? Well, puppy school is absolutely great for a focused training environment, but good recall should start early, with continuous training and reinforcement throughout the dog’s life.

Start Small

When first starting good recall, start your training in a quiet, distraction-less room. You want the bulk of your puppy’s attention on you. Starting brand new commands with puppies can be difficult, so it’s important to associate the exercise with nothing but positive experiences. In a quiet room, there are very few chances for your puppy to “fail” or become so distracted he doesn’t notice you. Be patient and be positive.

  1. Wait until your puppy is coming toward you on his own.
  2. When he is close (within a few feet), say the word “come” (or whatever you wish your recall word to be).
  3. Praise your puppy when he reaches you.

Regardless of how long it took for your puppy to come to you, the reward should always be the same. High praise and lots of affection. You can also up the ante with a treat, toy, getting excited, or even running away from your puppy (their instinct will be to chase after you) to help reinforce that coming back to you is a good, positive experience for them.

Reinforcing Your Recall Cue

A great way to reinforce your recall cue (the word “come,” for example) is to play a sort of game with your dog and another person. We did this in puppy school, which was always a little interesting. Some dogs became distracted by the other puppies in the class, while other dogs knew exactly what to do and charged to their owners with a full head of steam. Don’t be discouraged if your pup becomes distracted, just remember to always praise them when they eventually (even if it takes a really, really long time!) come to you.

This training exercise requires two people. Both people should be someone your puppy is familiar with and trusts.

  1. One person sits with the puppy at one end of a room (or yard, depending on how difficult/distracting you want to make this!) and the other stands or kneels a fair distance across from them.
  2. The person with the puppy holds them by the collar to prevent them from moving.
  3. The other person begins to get excited (can use toys, slap their legs to make sounds, etc.) and draws the puppy’s attention to them, without saying their name or recall cue.
  4. When the person holding the puppy is satisfied they are focused on the other person, it’s time to finally say their recall cue. For us, it would be “Archer, come.”
  5. The person with the puppy will release the puppy. With all the excitement, the puppy should run right to the other person.

This is how you reinforce your recall cue. Try 20 feet and grow the distance as your puppy gets better and better with the command. Remember: more distance means a greater risk of distraction! Start small, then gradually increase your distance. If your puppy falters and becomes distracted, close the distance and start over again.

Vocal Cue + Hand Signal

We always encourage building hand signals into your vocal commands. Dogs are visual creatures, they react to our body language more than we realize. It’s good to incorporate hand gestures in combination with vocal commands. Once your dog is familiar with their verbal recall command, you can start including a hand signal along with the verbal command in your training.

As with the verbal recall command, begin their training in a quiet, distraction-less environment and keep a short distance between you and your dog. Gradually increase the distance between you and your dog to increase the difficulty and possibility for distraction.

When you start your training, remember to use their name + recall command + hand gesture. Make sure your hand signal cannot be confused with another hand signal you’ve already used with your dog for another command.

Give Them Foolproof Opportunities

When outside and offleash (whether it’s in the yard, an offleash trail, etc.) and there are limited distractions, give a recall command when your puppy is relatively close. These are situations where he is most likely to succeed, so it helps reinforce the command in a one-on-one environment, even if though there is some wiggle room to fail.

Be patient. If he take a little time to sniff a tree before returning to you, that’s okay! If your puppy does ten things before returning to you, or takes a few minutes, just remember that one key aspect: he came back. Praise him for coming back to you, always.

You Are Not More Interesting Than Other Dogs

One recurring theme with puppy training, is that it’s easy to get discouraged. Puppies are just bubbling with excitement, and are terribly curious—which can make training difficult. Instead, remember to have patience and to embrace the distractions as they come. Use them to enhance your puppy’s learning experience.

Don’t set your puppy up for failure by attempting a recall command when he is clearly distracted/overwhelmed by another situation. Typically, this means playing with other dogs (or people!). Odds are, your puppy will not respond to your recall command. Does that mean your training is slipping? No! It just means that you’ve put your puppy in an almost-impossible situation where he just can’t succeed (other dogs are way cooler than you are, and you know it).

Wait for a lull in the action, then attempt a recall command when you know you can get your puppy’s attention.

This makes for a tricky but rewarding exercise for your puppy. It can be a difficult exercise to master, and in this situation, treats are a great reward.

Things to Avoid

I don’t mean to sound like a hippie with my peace, love, and happiness mentality, but it really is vital when dealing with recall. It needs to be a positive experience for your puppy, and patience is key.

  • DO NOT chase your puppy. Your dog will think it’s a game, and the inclination is to run further away from you.
  • DO NOT reprimand your puppy or be negative in any way. You want to reinforce the idea that coming back to you is always (always!) a good, positive experience. Is it annoying when your dog ignores you? Sure. But to reprimand him for being tardy in returning is sending the wrong message to your dog. Simply put: if he returns to you, no matter how long it took, he’s a good dog.

6 Reasons to Stick to Positive Reinforcement Dog Training

3 Feb

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Before starting to work with a training company, I didn’t have any particular philosophy on training styles or a preference towards techniques for figuring out how to get Topher to behave. However, one thing I knew: we would not be using any kind of force collar like choke, prong, or shock collars. Later, we updated that “not under any circumstances” list to include things like dominance rolling and hitting. Instead, we’re sticking to positive reinforcement dog training.

Though you might not expect it given his size (and his bark), Topher is a dog who shuts down at the drop of a hat. Our big oaf is eager to please, but he’s also easily scared and came to us brimming with anxieties. To work with Topher is to constantly take baby steps, making progress by overcoming these fears a bit at a time. However, even without our large dog’s equally large anxieties, the decision to stick with positive reinforcement dog training is a no brainer.

What Is Positive Reinforcement Dog Training?

Positive reinforcement training, in a nutshell, is all about rewarding your dog for behaviors that you like, so there’s a better chance of that behavior being repeated. By praising good behavior and redirecting any unwanted behaviors, you change your dog’s habits without the use of force.

The more I seek out information on dog training, the more convinced I become: we’ll stick to positive reinforcement for the long haul. Here are a few reasons why.

It Strengthens Your Dog’s Bond with You

Here’s the tricky part of positive reinforcement training: before you can begin redirecting and solving your dog’s “bad” behaviors, you must first find out the causes of those behaviors. Only then can you work on how to change them, by giving your dog opportunities to learn and act differently. By connecting with your dog and working out these problems using humane methods, you strengthen your bond through mutual trust, affection, and encouragement.

The strongest bonds between dogs and their people are based on kindness, not dominance or fear. If your dog trusts you and feels good around you, they’ll be happier, more confident, more well behaved, and more responsive to your cues in the long term.

It Helps You Understand Your Dog

To change a dog’s actions using positive reinforcement requires an understanding of life from the view of your dog. First, you have to identify why they’re doing a certain behavior. Dealing effectively with those behaviors won’t work unless you know their root cause. When you know why, you can move onto the how: what can you do to treat of change this behavior? Answering “how,” will always lead to a greater understanding of your dog—which will help you learn how to communicate with them more effectively.

It Teaches Cooperation

By building the relationship with your dog positively, you’re teaching your dog to cooperate with you instead of teaching them to be submissive or suffer the consequences. A dog whose been constantly yanked around by their leash may eventually learn that yanking and pulling means they shouldn’t pull, but it won’t mean that dog has learned to cooperate or understand what you’re asking of them—to walk beside you, or to give you their attention—they’re simply avoiding certain behaviors out of fear.

Consider this: your dog doesn’t come into your home with all the knowledge of how you want them to behave. They make it up as they go. It’s up to you to teach them what you expect of them and how to cope with any situation that may come up by framing these lessons with positive experiences. Otherwise, you’ve got a dog walking on eggshells, never knowing what they’ll be yelled at for next.

It’s Less Stressful for Your Dog

Recently, positive training methods have proven to be more beneficial to our bond with our pets, in addition to having a positive effect on animal welfare in general. A 2014 study even showed that dogs trained using forceful or aversive methods show more signs of being stressed by these encounters than their positively trained counterparts. While its the first study to have been confirmed by a trained, observing researcher, it upholds several other studies that claim positive training strengthens our bonds with our pets and significantly lowers their stress.

It’s Safer for You and Your Dog

Many pet owners may not realize that punishing your dog in a dominant or aggressive way can actually increase the chances that your dog will respond aggressively. In 2009, a study conducted on the effects of confrontational training methods found that those owners who were the most aggressive or dominant towards their dogs experienced the most returns of aggression from their dogs.

Since then, there have been several other studies confirming similar findings: attempts to “assert dominance” using aggression or force results in even more aggression from our pets. If we can teach so many different undomesticated animals to respond to cues using only positive reinforcement, certainly we can teach our own pets without the use of aggression or force.

It Doesn’t Mean Total Anarchy

There is a common misconception that positive reinforcement creates an environment where owners indulge their pets in whatever behaviors they see fit, good, bad, or even ugly! Force free training doesn’t mean becoming a door mat for your dog; however, it does mean teaching your dog how to make good decisions without bullying, force, or domination. It takes patience and hard work, but in the end positive training sets your dog up for success that is long lasting and healthier than any dominance method we’ve seen.

10 More Indoor Activities for Dogs

27 Jan

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If you live anywhere along the east coast, you might be continuing to deal with some of the fallout from winter storm Jonas. While we were nowhere near snowed in, the sudden drop in temperatures sent our little family into hibernation mode. Topher included! Considering how quickly a few days without walks can turn even our couch-potato of a dog into a whirling dervish, we’re quite lucky not to be trapped in our house or digging our yard out of a mountain of snow. For those of you who are stuck, or waiting for your dog to end their next poop strike, today we’re bringing you a bunch more indoor activities for dogs to ease your boredom.

1. Tug of War

While the game of tug of war is a hotly debated one, when played safely it can still act as a fun game for you and your dog. Playing safely means only you get to initiate tug of war: it should never begin because your dog is refusing to release a toy. The game should also be ended at your own discretion, by telling your dog to drop the toy. Use a toy designed for pulling: one that keeps your hand far away from your dog’s mouth.

A final note: don’t let your dog take over the game. If they start growling or become agitated, the game ends and they don’t get to play anymore. Dogs that already have issues with resource guarding are also not great candidates for playing tug.

2. Tag or “Go Touch”

Our most recent indoor pastime: playing games of tag! It’s a great way to encourage quick recall while tiring out your dog. To play, you’ll need a partner and a pocketful of treats for each of you. Start at opposite ends of a room or at opposite ends of a hallway. One person calls the dog then rewards them with a treat, then the other calls and rewards, rinse and repeat. Eventually, you and your partner can move farther apart, until your dog is traveling the entire length of the house to get to the other person. The more distance your dog covers, the better! The game of tag also works great outdoors for strengthening recall, so keep it in mind the next time you’re at a park where you can (legally) let your dog run free.

We use the game of tag to strengthen Topher’s greeting cue, “go touch.” His goal: to go and touch the other person’s open palm. This is a great command to teach any dog—it requires control on the dog’s part (they must only go to the person when told) and teaches calm greeting behavior.

3. Clean Up

Ever get jealous of the amazing dogs on YouTube that seem to know one hundred commands all geared towards making their humans’ lives easier? Us too. So, why not try teaching just one of those tricks at home? Teaching a dog to put their own toys away is a challenge both of you can sink your teeth into. Start by teaching your dog to “pick up” and “hold” toys. Once they have these two commands and the “drop it” command learned, you can start linking them together to teach your dog to “put it away.” Considering the number of dog toys we have, this little game could keep our dog occupied for hours!

4. Shell Game

Feeling lucky? Teach your dog to play a simple shell game, and within a few minutes you’ll either be heartily impressed at their powers of deduction, or perhaps wondering if they are just a simple dog. Place a treat under three cups, shuffle them around, and have your dog choose the correct one.

5. Dog Massage

Ahh, who doesn’t like a good massage? Even a short five minute rubdown will relax your pet, and even reduce their stress and anxiety. A daily massage can also help senior dogs or pets with arthritis by soothing those achy joints and sore legs. Here is a primer to get you started, along with a few specific massage techniques you can try at home.

6. Shape Training

Free shaping, or shape training, is a dog training technique geared towards promoting our dog’s innate problem-solving abilities. They get to make their own decisions, without direct verbal or physical input, to learn new tricks or investigate new things. Here’s a great video introduction to free shaping. Pick out a command you think you can shape with your dog, and get started!

7. Blow Bubbles

We learned very quickly that Topher is fascinated by bubbles. Your dog might be too! Don’t worry too much about going out and buying dog-safe bubbles—the bubbles currently on the market for children are also nontoxic and safe for your pet. Spend a few minutes blowing bubbles through your house and you’ll end up with one tired pup.

8. Rotate Toys

Like toddlers, dogs that have access to all their toys are less likely to pick them up and play with them. When you rotate their toys, you create a little more of a scarcity effect, and older toys feel new again after your dog hasn’t seen or interacted with them for a time. Rotating dog toys is also a great way to inspect toys, throwing away any that are too worn, and can help keep your toys cleaner, giving your more opportunities to wash them and put them away.

9. Change the View

Just like people, dogs can get stuck in routines, day in and day out. Maybe they’re used to looking out the same windows, or going out to do the same activities at the same times of day. Change up your dog’s routine or the locations of their favorite pillows, and see if that boosts your dog’s energy or mood. Or if you’re feeling really bold, change the view for the both of you by rearranging some furniture or changing up your decor!

10. Take A Nap

Topher can never resist a good snuggle and a nap on the couch. And sometimes when you’re snowed in, that’s the best kind of activity to pursue.

Lucy & Topher’s Winter Dog Training Goals

5 Jan

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Winter might be my least favorite thing about owning a dog. It’s too cold, it gets too dark too early, and there’s less time and the same amount of training to be done, when it comes to Topher. With our active pup, there’s no hiding under a blanket and just waiting until the seasons change. Over the last six months, we’ve kept our training routine pretty standard: Topher goes to day camp at our trainer’s house twice a month, and once a week we attend group reactive classes to work on loose leash walking, people approach, and dog approach.

However, in winter, the classes are less effective because of the earlier sunsets, if they’re not cancelled altogether due to holidays or bad weather. As we brace for the coldest months ahead, it’s more important than ever to set some reasonable winter dog training goals, to keep us honest and moving in the right direction.

While Topher has made great strides forward in day camp, in group classes his progress continues to be slow or non-existent. There are great class days and there are terrible class days—it’s hard to tell which type of day it will be until we arrive. The likely reason for this: class is simply still too stressful for Topher—too many dogs and too much happening all at once—and there’s no way for him to get comfortable enough to work or change his usual behaviors in that scenario.

With that in mind, and a new year beginning, I have new “resolutions” for Topher’s training. Here’s what we’ll be working on this winter, come rain, sleet, or snow!

More Manners & Less Fear

Weighing in at ninety pounds now, Topher is a big dog—bigger than we’d expected him to be. It’s important to us that he not excitedly charge people when they enter our house, or bark incessantly until they give him attention—two bad habits he’s developed over time. This is especially important now that some of our close friends have children; Topher’s house manners still leave a lot to be desired and we don’t want that to prevent our friends from being able to visit our house.

To add another wrinkle, Topher’s become more fearful towards new visitors and friends we don’t see often. We’re still working out how to address these two issues, but it will certainly be accomplished by degrees—through working on our dog’s ability to calm himself down, and by working on more socialization in these safe, comfortable environments, so he’s less fearful overall.

Keep Walking & Start Running

If winter is hard on training, it’s even harder on daily walking. Winter in georgia is rainy and cold, but not cold enough for snow. Instead of the adventures in Narnia, we get adventures in frosty mud—not especially appealing when it comes to early morning walks. But spending all day on the couch turns Topher into a pushy, bad-mannered, whiny velcro dog. Daily exercise keeps us all sane and happy, even though I might moan and groan about the weather right until we cross that threshold to the outside world.

What’s working for us is to create multiple opportunities to get a walk into our day. If I don’t get out from under the covers to walk Topher in the mornings, I make a point of going out at lunch.

This year I’m also going to be training for a 5k and then a 10k. I’ll be doing some of that running with Topher—as a big energetic dog, alternating running and walking for our daily outings will help him burn off a little extra energy, since walking every day doesn’t guarantee the same stimulation all on its own. After a few runs here and there with Topher, I’m convinced he can grow into a good running partner over the next few months. However, I definitely need to invest in the right gear if we’re going to run regularly.

As you can see, our goals are a little less concrete this season. Much as I love a good to-do list, over the last few years I’ve come to learn that working with Topher is a give and take process. Instead of items to check off, I’m working on creating a shift in our daily life that will make Topher, and the rest of our family, a little healthier, happier, and hopefully less fearful in the new year.

Are there any training goals you’re working on? Let us know what you’re planning to tackle in the new year.

2 Methods For Teaching Loose Leash Walking

8 Jul

loose-leash-walking-exercises

Sometimes while Topher and I are at reactive training class, there will be a moment where I’m nearly pulled off my feet by the force of my dog’s pull (and yes, sometimes I’ve even ended up on my butt). Usually, another owner and their dog has gotten too close without my seeing, and then I’m caught off guard by his sudden charge forward to defend himself. Once everyone’s dogs are back under control and calm, the other dog owner will usually apologize (it’s not necessarily anyone’s fault, but all of us in reactive class seem conditioned to constantly say sorry for our animal’s behavior) or say something to the effect of, “he must be a terror on walks!”

But do you know what the funny thing is? Topher is a loose leash walking champ during our morning walks. He walks sedately by our sides, rarely charging ahead—even squirrels must pass within a foot of his nose for Topher to give any kind of chase. Topher is the most polite dog I’ve had the pleasure of walking with…unless there are other dogs around. Hence, why we’re still working on that aspect.

Teaching a dog to walk on a loose leash doesn’t have to be a monumental struggle, and it’s one thing that every dog can and should learn how to do. Here are two methods for teaching loose leash walking on your daily walks.

The Stop & Go Method

Dogs often equate pulling on a leash with positive behavior because we inadvertently reinforce it: we allow the dog to get where they want to go when they pull.

Whenever your dog pulls on your leash, change this behavior by stopping and standing completely still. Do not move until your dog either takes a step back, relaxing the leash, or giving you their focus. When the leash relaxes, continue your walk. Repeat this as necessary.

When you’re just starting out, this method will probably have you stopping and starting every few feet. However, if you stick with it, your dog will learn what’s expected of them while on a leash.

This method is also ideal for more than just the daily walk. If your dog has a bad habit of pulling you towards people when they want to greet (ahem, Topher) you can use this technique to teach your dog how to calmly approach on your terms. The goal is always the same: don’t let your dog pull you down the street!

The Direction Change Method

When your dog begins to pull, cue them by saying “let’s go,” and turn away, walking off in another direction. Avoid yanking on the leash—entice your dog to follow by acting very excited to go in the new direction, both with your verbal cue and body language, to get their attention.

When your dog is following you with the leash relaxed, continue on your walk. Repeat if your dog begins to pull again. You may turn around a lot during your first few sessions, but this technique teaches that pulling is once again not being reinforced with forward movement—your dog only gets where they want to go by walking calmly beside you, or slightly in front of you with a loose leash.

Reinforce your dog’s decision to walk next to you by giving treats when they are by your side. The better you make your dog feel when they’re walking next to you and being attentive to you, the more they will want to behave that way!

We use both of these methods in our daily walks and in other training sessions, and while we have a ways to go with walking him around other dogs, they’ve both made a marked improvement in how Topher is responding while on a leash. These two positive leash training methods are a great place to start for anyone looking for a way to teach their dog to walk on a loose leash.

Dog Training Using Hand Signals

17 Jun

Dogs are very visually oriented creatures by nature. Ever notice how your dog always seem to find the squirrels, dogs, and people in your neighborhood before you even see them? And because dogs are visually oriented, they can more easily understand our body language than our spoken cues to them.

When we started out training Topher, we found he responded to hand signals more consistently than spoken commands. Don’t worry, Topher’s not hard of hearing! However, we decided to build hand signals into our dog training repertoire to strengthen our ability to communicate with our dog. Training your dog using hand signals is also an important tool to use when training deaf dogs, or if working on training for obedience competitions where verbal commands are not allowed.

Although there are no “official” commonly recognized dog training hand signals, here are some we use for our basic commands, that you can easily modify to suit you and your dog.

How To Train With Hand Signals

To teach your dog a coordinating hand signal with a command, first, you make the hand signal. Immediately after, you’ll give the verbal command (that your dog already knows). Mark and reward your dog’s response, and repeat! After you’ve done this several time, try the hand signal without the verbal cue. If your dog responds, reward them! If not, be patient, and repeat the first exercise with the verbal command before trying again.

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Sit

Our hand signal for sit morphed out of how we lured Topher into a sitting position. Start with your palm up facing you, and then bring your fingers up for the “sit” command. If your dog needs more of a visual, try bringing your entire hand up, as if to touch your shoulder.

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Down

We point at the floor for our down command. Another recognized cue is to position your open palm facing the floor, then push straight down.

Stay

Probably the easiest hand signal command to recognize—it’s the universal sign for stop!

Wait / Heel

This is a great signal for any dog to know on walks. The wait command is similar to stay, but your open palm should be in front of your dog as he’s moving forward. If your dog already knows the command to heel, you can use this to bring him into a heel without a spoken command.

Watch Me

The watch me command is a great tool for keeping your dog’s focus in more active situations. We use this a lot in class to get Topher’s attention back on us and off of the other lovely dogs around us.

The Reactive Dog: Setting Training Goals

10 Jun

While I’ve written small updates about how we’ve been in training with Topher for a year, I’ve been a little bit hesitant to write much more about our progress in reactive training. The truth of the matter is we haven’t made a lot of progress on our main goal: help Topher resolve his leash reactivity towards other dogs. Who is to blame for that? Well, it’s a little bit of everyone.

Summer is a difficult season for dog training. We go out more, we vacation, and our consistency in training falters. There are also more dogs (and people and other distractions) out and about, which makes walks harder on Topher. When there’s a dog, a runner, or a loud car around every corner, keeping track of reactive triggers gets much more difficult.

The good news is that seasons are only temporary—the distractions will diminish in autumn. However, that doesn’t mean we’ll give up on training for the summer. Giving up would only allow Topher extra time to regress. Consistency in his training is key. But I’ve realized that as important as major dog training goals are—those pie in the sky dreams we’re constantly striving for—it’s just as important to set smaller, bite sized goals for the time in between. Especially for the summer months, where the tiny pieces of progress feel like a tiny drop in a giant bucket.

So here are some goals I’ve decided to set for us, to work on over the summer!

Celebrate Every Victory

Currently, in his day camp training sessions, Topher is able to play with our trainer’s dogs off leash, without a muzzle! This is a huge milestone for us…but it hasn’t exactly translated into a decline in Topher’s leash reactivity outside of camp sessions. However, I need to remind myself that we need to celebrate our wins, even if they don’t add up to the final goal. It’s great for Topher to be learning to play politely, even if it’s just in a very specific setting.

Keep Working On Recall

Calling Topher away from his triggers is very important in his training process, and we could be doing more to strengthen that recall behavior. We can set ourselves up for more success in class by taking time during our walks to work on the “Let’s Go” command, which is Topher’s cue to turn away from an object or person and towards us.

Reinforce Older Commands

Similar to our recall situation, the best way to keep Topher responsive with commands is to practice them at home! We practice a little bit, but there are some commands that Topher has a slow response time with—both in the home and out.

Teach Topher One New Trick!

Topher knows some great “party” tricks—shake, high five, hug, etc. We teach these tricks to Topher because he’s very food motivated and loves working out what we’re asking him to do for that sweet, sweet reward! It’s much more motivating to work on commands when you’ve got something new in the rotation, for both human and dog.

Commit To Daily Walks

You’d think I’d be better at walks in the summer than in the winter, since I love the season so much more. But summer brings everyone out of the house, and the challenge of dealing with all that can get to be too much to deal with. There’s also the heat: as a brachycephalic dog, we have to watch Topher closely to make sure he’s not getting overheated, on walks or in classes. Still, we can commit to taking short walks with Topher, especially in the mornings, to give him the socialization time out of the house and the exercise he needs.

There’s about twenty more small steps I could add to this list for us to work on with Topher. However, I think it’s best to focus on just a few goals, to really reinforce some behaviors and see progress in those areas. We’ll see how it goes! Reactive dog training is a process, and we’re right in the middle of it.

What training goals can you set for your dog this summer?

5 Ways to Make Your Walks More Exciting

8 Jun

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Archer and I usually get our daily exercise in on the trails by our home or with a few good hikes, but in recent weeks the mosquitoes have taken over our usual haunts, and we’ve been reduced to leashed walks in our neighbourhood. That’s all well and good, but unlike trail walks, there’s fewer opportunities to explore and offer mental stimulation in addition to the physical aspect of our walks.

I began thinking of ways to make the walks more exciting for the both of us, but mostly more fun for her.

1. Change Your Route

Your daily walking route can get boring in a hurry. It’s the same smells, and the same houses with the same dogs that you pass over and over again. If your routes are limited, trying just doing your regular route backwards. Offer something that is unexpected. Do an extra block, or explore somewhere you haven’t before. It’s a nice way to really get to know the neighbourhood you live in, exploring with your pup at your side.

Bonus: Change the pace, too! Jog for 30 seconds at a pace both you and your dog are comfortable with, then resume your walk. Add in little changes to your speed here and there, and it will pull your dog’s attention back to you and get their legs really moving!

2. Make Stops and Encourage Sniffing

Sometimes it’s easy to get frustrated when a dog stops every 5-feet to check out a new smell, but considering how powerful their sense of smell is, this is a big deal to them. Stopping to allow your dog to smell offers mental stimulation, but also gives them a break. Maintaining a good pace on walks is great, but consider making some stops and letting your pup smell the roses (or fire hydrants, etc.)

3. Invite a Friend

If you have a friend with a dog that gets along well with your pup, why not invite them along? End the walk with a play session at an dog park or even the yard at your home. Give them something to get excited about.

Bonus: Having another dog around means you need to do less work to tire your own pup out. They usually manage to achieve that well enough on their own, chasing each other.

4. Incorporate Obedience & Training Exercises

There are loads of training exercises you can focus on while on a walk. Good leash work, heel, sit before crossing the road (at stop lights), etc. Bring treats for rewards to make it more enticing to your dog, but also to keep their attention on you during training exercises.

If you have a chance to work offleash, consider the training exercises Maria and Ody do to help with Ody’s love for agility exercises. All you need is a willing pup and some creativity, and you can make almost any urban environment into a stimulating training ground for your dog.

5. Plan a Destination

A walk for the sake of a walk can get boring regardless. If you can, try including a brief destination into your walk. Maybe it’s a short visit with a friend who lives nearby, maybe it’s some time at the offleash dog park for a game of fetch.

You may not always be able to incorporate a stop somewhere with each walk, but it’s certainly a nice change-up for your pup when you can. Even a brief stint in a park is exciting—it doesn’t have to be an hour. Whatever works for you!

Dog Bite Prevention: 10 Things Dog Owners Can Do

21 May

In honor of National Dog Bite Prevention Week, we wanted to talk a little bit about how we, as dog owners, can make sure we’re doing our very best to prevent dog bites from happening. Many, many dog bites are preventable. However, prevention starts by having a thorough understanding of your dog, their behavior, and an understanding of what situations can lead a dog to bite.

So, how do you avoid getting bit by a dog? Respect the personal space of all dogs! Preventing dog bites is never, ever a dominance game, and usually leads to further injury. Never approach an unfamiliar dog, especially one who’s tied or confined behind a fence or in a car. Do not disturb a dog while they are sleeping, eating, chewing on a toy, or caring for their puppies. Be cautious around strange dogs. Always assume that a dog who doesn’t know you may see you as an intruder or a threat, and do not pet a dog without letting them see you and sniff you first.

With that in mind, here are some other ways that dog owners specifically can do to help prevent dog bites.

Before You Get A Dog

1. Educate yourself. Learn about dog care, raising a puppy, and humane, reward-based training methods. The more you know about caring for your dog, the more you’ll know about interacting with others’ and how to move forward past any challenges in a positive way.

2. Support legitimate rescues and breeders. Avoid purchasing your new dog at a pet store. Most pet store puppies come from puppy mills: large-scale commercial breeding kennels that often house dogs in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, without adequate veterinary care, food, water, and human companionship or socialization. The dog you end up with may be poorly socialized to people and other animals, which can lead to aggressive behavior.

The same is true of backyard breeders. Avoid purchasing dogs through classified ads in newspapers, or through the internet. Many puppy mills and backyard breeders sell their dogs through these kinds of ads. A backyard breeder is an unlicensed pet owner who breeds the dogs they own, or who allows dogs to mate on their own. Backyard breeders usually have little to no knowledge about breed standards, genetics, or proper puppy-rearing, and socialization.

Instead, adopt a dog from a well-managed animal shelter or rescue group whose staff and volunteers can fill you in on the dog’s background, their personality, and their behavior in the shelter. Or, if you’re looking for a specific breed, find a small-scale, reputable breeder who sells only one breed, and allows you to visit his or her home and kennel. The breeder should show you the mother and relatives of the puppy and provide a clean, loving home environment for them, including lots of handling, play, and interaction with different people of all ages.

3. Make sure a dog is the right fit for your family. If you have young children, consider waiting until they are older. Many more dog bites happen to young children than any other age group, so waiting until they are at least ten years old is recommended. Regardless of age, before introducing a dog into the home, all children need to be taught how to treat the dog gently and with respect, giving them their own space, and plenty of opportunities to rest.

After Getting A Dog

4. Spay or neuter your dogs. A spayed or neutered dog is typically more laid back then intact dogs, and may be less likely to lash out or display territorial aggression.

5. Make sure your dog is well socialized. An ounce of prevention in the form of puppy socialization is worth a pound of cure—trying to fix behavior problems in adulthood can be extremely difficult. An under-socialized dog is a risk to their owners and to others because they can be easily frightened by everyday things.

Fearful dogs are more likely to aggress or bite. They tend to fight with other dogs. They have trouble adapting to new situations, and routine outings (like to the vet’s office) become difficult for them and everyone involved. Socializing is the opposite of isolating. It means to let puppies meet, greet, and enjoy a variety of people, animals, places and things. Done properly, socializing helps puppies feel comfortable and friendly in many situations and around all kinds of people and animals. The main rule for effective socializing is to let your dog progress at her own pace and never force her to be around someone or something when she’s clearly fearful or uncomfortable.

6. Invest in proper training. Take your dog to humane, reward-based training classes—the earlier the better. Early training opens a window of communication between you and your dog that will help you consistently and effectively teach them what you expect of them.

More importantly: don’t wait for a serious accident to happen. The first time your dog shows aggressive behavior toward anybody, even if no injury occurs, seek professional services and work to correct the behavior early. Err on the safe side.

7. Don’t isolate your dog. Your dog is a part of the family. Don’t chain or tie them outside, and don’t leave them unsupervised for long blocks of time—even in a fenced yard. A tied-out dog can quickly become frustrated, or feel defenseless in an open yard tied to the end of a lead, and they’re nearly three times more likely to bite than dogs that aren’t restrained this way.

8. Know your dog’s triggers. Be aware of the most common triggers of aggression: pain, injury or sickness, the approach of strangers or strange dogs, the approach of people in uniforms, costumes or unusual attire, unexpected touching, unfamiliar places, crowds, and loud noises like thunder, wind, construction, fireworks and appliances.

If possible, avoid exposing your dog to these triggers in an uncontrollable environment until you know they’re properly able to cope with more stressful situations. If they are stressed or panicked in crowds, leave them at home when you go to the market. If they overreacts to visitors or delivery personnel, keep them in another room when they come to your house. Work with a qualified behavior and training professional to help your dog become more comfortable with these situations.

9. Care for your dog. This sounds basic, but you’d be surprised how many dog owners can’t seem to follow even this simple rule. You should always be fulfilling all basic animal-care responsibilities. License your dog as required by the laws in your area, and provide regular veterinary care, including rabies vaccinations.

10. Make sure your dog is properly supervised. This is one of my biggest pet peeves: do not allow your dog to roam alone—it can pose a major danger to both you and your dog. You have no idea what triggers your dog may encounter while outside unsupervised, and even the most well trained dog may find cause to bite if they feel significantly threatened.

Always supervise children and dogs, as well. Never leave a baby or child younger than ten years old alone with a dog. It’s important to teach your children how to treat dogs well, but your supervision acts as a fallback—an adult who knows the dog will always be more observant of a dog’s behavior than a child.

The Retractable Leash: A Danger To You & Your Dog

14 May

I’m not usually a person with strong feelings on what supplies you need to have when it comes to owning a dog. However, when it comes to leashes, there’s one type I am 100% always against: the retractable leash. Flexi or retractable leashes drive me nuts, and for good reason. Retractable leashes are dangerous—to dogs and to people, they’re unreliable, and they can breed bad habits in both dogs and their owners. Still not convinced? Here are a few more reasons why you should dump the retractable leash like a bad habit.

They Give Dangerous Amounts of Freedom

How far does a retractable leash go? Far enough for your dog to get into serious trouble. Some retractable leashes can extend up to 25 feet, allowing your dog to get far enough away from you to get into situations that could quickly become dangerous. A dog on a retractable leash can run into the middle of a street without warning, or approach another dog without being invited.

In these scenarios, it would be nearly impossible for an owner at the end of a retractable leash to get control of the situation if needed. It’s much easier to control or protect a dog that’s on a standard flat leash than a dog who’s at the end of what is essentially an extra thin piece of cord.

They Cause Serious Injuries—to People and Dogs

If an owner attempts to grab the cord of a retractable leash (something advised against by the product itself) to try and reel their dog in, it’s likely to result in injury. These can range from minor to severe: bruises, burns, cuts, broken bones, or even amputation. It’s also easy for an owner to get pulled right off their feet by a dog that reaches the end of such a long lead and keeps going.

A dog at the end of a retractable leash is also susceptible to injuries. A sudden jerk after reaching the end of a leash can result in bruising, lacerated tracheas, and injuries to the spine. The cord of a retractable leash can also get tangled around the dog’s legs or tail, cut off circulation, or sometimes cause amputation.

Their Malfunctions Can Cause Your Dog to Panic

The thin cord of a retractable leash can break, especially when a powerful dog is on the other end of it. And believe me, I’ve seen more than my fair share of 50+ pound dogs at the end of these thin leashes! If a strong, good-sized dog takes off at full speed, the cord can snap. Not only can that put the dog and the person at the other end of the leash at risk for injury, but also put you directly into a runaway dog scenario—one where the chance of grabbing the broken leash cord is slim to none.

Even if the retractable leash doesn’t break, the pull of your dog could jerk the leash handle straight out of the hands of the owner. Retractable leash handles are bulky, and the clattering sound of the handle hitting the ground could spook even the most even-tempered dogs and cause them to bolt. Then, making matters worse, the object of your dog’s fear is now chasing them as they try to outrun it, unable to escape. While it’s possible to escape a scenario like this without having any physical harm done to your pet, it could instill in them a fear of leashes, or of being walked at all.

They Instill Bad Habits That Are Difficult To Correct

For dogs who haven’t been trained to walk properly on a fixed lead, retractable leashes are an especially bad idea. By their nature, retractable leads teach your dog to pull on the leash, because by pulling they are able to extend the lead on their own. It removes a level of control from you as the owner. In switching back to a fixed length leash, you will most certainly have to take time to train your dog not to pull on the leash—a process that can take a fair amount of time, depending on how soon you start.

We’ll be sticking with our good old six-foot leash when we’re on walks. For your pet’s safety, we hope you will, too.