Monday, August 13, 2012

Puppy Habits and Dog Training

I've had the pleasure the past couple of weeks to be working with an adolescent Boxer/Rhodesian Ridgeback mix that was adopted by a very patient senior woman. This boisterous boy was rescued from a shelter and is now adjusting to his new home.  He is very sweet, and very friendly with people, but he has a bit of a social issue.  When he gets excited and wants attention, he behaves just the way a 3-month-old puppy would, though he's now about 18 months old and 75 pounds of lean muscle. He jumps up, humps, paws, mouths and nips and tugs at clothing.

Which brings up a common misconception about behavior: "Oh, he'll grow out of it."  In some cases puppy behaviors do get less severe as they get older, even without intervention or training. But for most behaviors, owners need to take some kind of action to prevent their puppy from growing into a larger version with the same issues. Puppy classes, private lessons or other forms of training can help puppy parents learn the best ways to mold their puppies into good canine citizens.

There is good hope for this rescue dog. He now has a wonderful home with an owner who has the time and dedication to help him learn the manners he missed out on when he was younger. The training will involve some positive redirection, clear boundary setting and appropriate outlets (such as exercise and interactive toys) for his enthusiasm. I can't wait to see what a charming young man he'll turn into!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Apples and Slugs

This weekend we learned a very valuable lesson about caring for your dogs in the Pacific Northwest.  Slug bait, used in gardens to prevent the freakishly-large area slugs from consuming veggies and other plants, is highly toxic.  The main ingredient, metaldehyde (say that three times fast - or once even!) is a poison that attacks the neurological system, causing tremors, seizures, high fever, trouble breathing and eventually death.

Unaware of the deadly risks, Apple poisoned herself only inches away from me.  Saturday afternoon, after I had finished with the day's lessons, I was in the yard picking blueberries.  Lots and lots of blueberries in fact.  Apple, always on the lookout for something to eat, was following me, happily munching on the blueberries that had fallen to the ground, either over-ripe or plucked free by birds.

The blueberries had mainly landed directly below, where there is a large patch of strawberries.  Turns out slugs love strawberries as much as we do, so there was slug bait all around them.  Old slug bait, that had been sitting out in the sun and rain for months (okay, this is Oregon, mostly rain!).  Seems the stuff remains highly toxic, because a few hours later (since Apple isn't graceful or selective enough to have only eaten the blueberries themselves), my husband noticed something was amiss.

He tried calling Apple out from under the bed because she was panting very heavily.  She wouldn't come.  He tried calling her again, and just got a glassy stare and more heavy panting.  He sent for me, and while I was able to get her out from under the bed, I knew immediately that something was very wrong.  Apple was panting like she had just run up and down Mt. Hood.  As can happen when she gets worked up, her breathing wasn't just fast, but coarse and raspy, making horrible grating noises every time she drew a breath.  Which was about every second.

As she tried to walk she had a bit of a drunken look to her, not placing her feet in quite the right places, and swinging her legs wide as if even her frying brain knew she was likely to tip.  Her hind end was trembling, not the excited muscle twitches she gets when she's waiting for someone to throw the ball again, but a heading-for-seizure kind of shaking.

I made a beeline for Dove Lewis Emergency Animal Hospital,  even running a red arrow (shh, no telling!).  I promise no one was coming.  The wonderful staff there took a quick look at her and rushed her straight to the back where their ER clinic and ICU areas are.  Thank goodness for a 24 hour hospital.  Even more thanks for one of the best in the country.

The veterinarians and staff took wonderful care of Apple, bringing down her temperature (105 by the time we walked in) with cool IV fluids and wet blankets, stopping the tremors with medication, sedating her to slow the swelling that was causing her so much trouble breathing, and giving her oxygen to help her until the worst past.  It was a terrifying night.  I went home with the passenger seat empty, praying that Apple would pull through.  I had been told before I left that if her breathing didn't improve soon they would need to put her under anesthesia, put a tube in her throat and breathe for her for a period of time.  What a way to try getting some sleep - wondering if that's the path your dog is taking.

Sunday morning brought great news.  Apple had not only survived the night without anesthesia, but was eating and wagging her tail, convincing the veterinarian who had taken over her care that she would be ready to go home by the afternoon.

Today, you wouldn't even know that Apple had a brush with death, aside from the telltale shaved patch on her forearm that allowed the Dove Lewis staff to place the IV line.  Apple was running around, chasing the ball and trying to instigate games of tug.  The slug bait has been carefully removed, and once she's done pooping out all the charcoal she was given (to bind with the remaining toxins), she really will be 100% healthy.  We are a little poorer, but with Apple home to sleep on the bed and greet Ethan when he comes home from school, it doesn't really matter!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Puppy Class!

It's hard not to fall in love with those soft, brown eyes, or to coo at the tiny features of a new puppy.  Puppies melt our hearts.  They also bite our hands with their sharp little teeth, jump on our legs as we try to walk, and pee on the floor (oops!) instead of the yard. 

But that's what puppy class is for.  That, and the critical puppy-to-puppy socialization that nothing else (not even playing at home with your other dogs) offers.  We have to protect these little ones who are still on their path to becoming fully-vaccinated adults, so romping off to the dog park is a big no-no (way too many chances for disease, and also a risk of an unfriendly dog doing some serious damage).

Puppy class allows growing dogs (ages 8 to 16 weeks) to learn lots of life skills.  It also gives their owners the opportunity to ask the burning "should he really be doing this?" and "am I handling that right?" questions.  We cover things that puppy parents may not have thought of, with the hope that every graduating puppy is well on his or her way towards becoming a well mannered adult.

Puppy class is a joy, one of the perks of being a dog trainer.  A client once asked me, towards the end of a rollicking play session where 6 adorable puppies were tumbling around on the floor, "you actually get paid to do this?!?" 

Well, yes.  It's not as bad as, say, a leash walk through cold, sleety rain with a ninety-pound dog who wants to take a chunk out of my arm.  But it all comes with the territory.  And I take pride in knowing that my puppy classes are well run.  They are jam-packed with good information, covering all the necessary topics in a fun way.  The play sessions are kept to the right length so puppies don't get too crabby with each other and so we get in plenty of "work" too. Overall, they are a joy not just for the dog trainer, but for the puppies and their owners too.

Now, don't you want to sign up?!

Next Class: Saturday, July 28th at 4:00 PM
Location: Rose City Veterinary Hospital, Portland
Cost: $140 for the 5 week course
Requirements: Puppies must be enrolled and current on their vaccines (at least one DHPP/DAP and one bordatella two weeks before the first class).  Ages 8 to 16 weeks; no more than 8 puppies per class.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Rest In Peace Snowborn's Cedar Mesa Timber

Today we said goodbye to one of our own - our Siberian husky, Timber.  Words fail me, so pictures will have to do.  We'll miss you big guy.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Children and Puppies: Handling Chasing and Biting

I have several clients right now with young puppies and young children.  It can be a precious mix, especially when the kids are just old enough to be helping feed, walk and train their new family member.  It can be an adorable, fun interaction. That is, until those kids are ready to burn off some energy and start racing around the house or yard with the puppy snapping after them like a furry little alligator. 

"How do we handle this?" the parents want to know.  It partly depends on the age and training level of the puppy, but in general, you begin with management and progress to training.  That's to say, when the puppy is very young your best bet is to manage the situation.  As puppy grows training will play more and more of a role until management is no longer an important part of the picture.

So what is management versus training?  In the case of a puppy chasing, jumping on and biting at children who are playing wildly, management will start with the use of a crate.  When the children are playing quietly they should be taught how to interact properly around the puppy, but all kids have those times where they are over-the-top with energy - this is a time to put the puppy in its crate, along with a stuffed Kong or a safe chew toy.  It's just not fair to expect your children to change their behavior (they are truly being children after all), and it's not fair to ask your puppy to ignore everything instinctual (running, chasing, tackling and biting that squealing human puppy).

As the puppy matures a little and gets some training, it's time to move onto a new phase of management.  Instead of crating your puppy when the kids are being wild, try putting the puppy on a leash and allowing them to watch, but not join in, the craziness.  Try to keep your puppy busy with some easy obedience training (don't forget your treats and clicker), games or toys.  If puppy finds it too frustrating then he or she may not be quite ready to move beyond quiet time in the crate.

Once your puppy can handle things on leash, the next step is allowing the puppy to remain loose while the children play, closely supervised by you.  Use the time to practice some recalls (coming when called).  Give lots of praise for every successful recall - that's a tough exercise!  This is also a great opportunity to work on down-stay or "settle."

Keep things fun and positive, and remember, be sure to set your puppy up for success.  These first few months are setting the stage for the behavior and relationship you get with your puppy over the next 12 or more years.  Take the time to do it right and you will be rewarded many times over!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Dog Food Recalls

Please be aware that there are several active dog food recalls at the moment.  We want to keep our pets healthy, so take a moment to review the lists.  The primary culprits are Diamond Pet Foods - involving a number of brands, including (but NOT limited to), Call of the Wild, Chicken Soup for The Pet Lover's Soul, and Diamond varieties, and other brands that have some of their food manufactured at Diamond plants:  Wellness Dry Dog Food, Canidae Dog Food, Natural Balance Dog Food, and Solid Gold.  Again, this is not a comprehensive list.  For a complete list, as well as up-to-date details, visit Dog Food Advisor or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which oversees the pet food industry. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Why Won't My Dog Listen to Me?

One of a dog owner’s greatest frustrations can be a dog that doesn’t listen to what they are told to do.  You may feel that you spend an endless amount of time calling your dog into the house, trying to keep them from jumping, or attempting to get their attention when you are out for a walk.  Or maybe there are simply times you feel your dog has very selective hearing.

All dogs can be good listeners, but they need the proper guidance and relationship with their owners to achieve this.  If your dog doesn’t listen to you, one of the following is probably the reason.

You aren’t as much fun as whatever your dog is doing.  Many of the occasions when our dogs tune us out are simply because there is something more interesting to do.  If you are trying to call your dog in from the backyard and aren’t getting any response, your dog has probably learned that there is a greater reward in ignoring you – more squirrels to chase, more time to smell the grass, etc.  Plenty of dogs listen well at home, but when they are taken out, to the park or into town, they quickly stop listening to even the simplest commands.  In any of these situations, getting upset or frustrated won’t make your dog any more likely to pay attention.  The only way to get your dog’s attention is to become more interesting than whatever they are currently doing.  Make yourself fun, make yourself interesting, and make yourself exciting!

Fear of punishment.  If you correct your dog for something, you should be confident that you are addressing a behavior that you do not want repeated, and that your dog will associate the correction with that exact behavior, not something else.  For example, if your dog gets out the front door and leads you on an hour long chase through the neighborhood, chances are by the time you catch up to him you will be quite frustrated, if not outright angry.  However, if you punish your dog for finally returning home (or merely allowing themselves to be caught), your dog will associate that correction with the last action they took – coming back.  Because dogs have relatively short attention spans, they cannot make the connection between what you are frustrated with (the bolt out the door that happened an hour ago) and the punishment they are receiving now.  That means that if you correct him when he comes back, next time he won’t want to come when you call him.  Using positive methods instead of punishment based training will ensure you never make a mistake like this.

Your dog hasn’t been formally trained.  Many owners expect their dogs to respond to commands that haven’t ever been officially trained.  You may think your dog knows how to do something, but they may in fact have only gotten lucky in responding properly.  Or maybe they do have a little understanding of what you are asking, but don’t know well enough to be able to perform around distractions, when they are tired or bored or in a different situation.  Our dogs genuinely want to do the right thing, but we need to give them the tools.  If you feel your dog isn’t listening because she’s just being difficult or stubborn, consider that maybe she just doesn’t get it.  The easiest way to fix this problem is to do some formal training: go to a class, get a private lesson from a professional trainer or find a good book.  Educate yourself so you know the right way to teach your dog.

You’re speaking the wrong language – English!  Let’s face it; we are a very ego-centric species.  Without even knowing it we often expect our dogs to act the way we would.  It’s the only way most of us know how to behave.  But when we expect our dogs to understand us or act like us, we are usually asking too much.  If you’ve ever thought of your dog as your child, talked in complete sentences and sort of expected an answer, or felt like your dog was holding a grudge against you, you’re guilty.  Don’t worry – it happens to the best of us.  However, if your dog seems to be ignoring you, maybe it’s just a “language barrier” of sorts.  You speak English and she speaks canine.  And it’s not just about interpreting a bark.  Dogs are very tuned into body language.  They communicate mostly through posture, movement, eye contact…all without a single spoken word.  The next time your dog doesn’t listen to you, consider if she really understands the question.

If your dog is not listening, regardless of why, the best solution may be found through a professional dog trainer.  Good dog trainers don’t just know how to get a dog to sit, they can interpret relationships between dogs and owners and help you learn how to improve them.  That leads to a happy ending for both you and your dog, and lots more listening!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Springtime Fun

This past weekend was beautiful - sunny and warm and ideal for being outside.  We had lots of fun being in the backyard, and the dogs enjoyed it too.  Ethan had been pestering me to use his new water balloons, so I finally relented.  I sat at the hose and filled and tied, filled and tied.  It was hard to stay ahead of Ethan as he would throw the balloons just about as fast as I could fill them, but we both had a good time.

Pistol is always excited for anything involving water, especially if the hose is out.  He's also an avid ball chaser, so Ethan had some fun throwing the balloons for Pistol.  Poor Pistol would excitedly chase after the balloon, then spin in confused circles where it had landed, looking for what he had been chasing.  It felt a little cruel, but the tail kept wagging and he kept asking for more.  I think Pistol is happy to chase regardless of the outcome.  A couple times he got ahead of Ethan and actually managed to "catch" the balloon.  Not better results than chasing it - there's still nothing to bring back, except a mouthful of water!

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Successful Day

Saturday was a great day of progress for Brody. We've been working up to it the whole time he has been training, building foundation, building trust and creating meaning for the clicker.  Saturday was the culmination of everything we had worked on, and the true beginning of his counter-conditioning training.  I was worried about how Brody would react - while he's done very well so far, there are lots of things that can go wrong once all the cards are on the table and he comes face to face with his nemesis. 

I was worried that he would get stressed out and refuse to take treats, that he would start to ignore the sound of the click, or that I wouldn't be able to keep him under threshold.  Those are all common road blocks when working with a leash-reactive dog, so I had reason to be concerned.  But all our prep work (and my thoughtful planning of bringing several different kinds of treats) paid off.

The park we picked to work in on Saturday was perfect for what Brody needed.  It was busy - with a sunny, mid-70's spring day that wasn't a surprise.  Lots of kids and parents, noise and activity, but that wasn't what we were there for.  I got Brody all set up, leash clipped to his harness, my treat bag and clicker ready, and we headed to the edge of the park, by the sidewalk that ran around the perimeter.  That's where we found what we were looking for - a woman walking her dog.  The first dog we spotted was small, which was fine for a starting point. 

I got Brody to a distance that I thought was just close enough (or just far enough, depending on how you want to look at things!), then proceeded to click and treat at all the right times.  It was a fantastic exercise - textbook.  My timing was good, and I managed to keep Brody just under threshold all but one time (which I caught so quickly it didn't become an issue).  We made it by that dog without a single bark, so I gave him a little break and grabbed a few pictures.  Once I'd spotted the next dog I again set Brody up at a distance that felt right, and we again had a very successful session.

Throughout the couple hours we stayed at the park Brody got to encounter many dogs, and he continued to do very well.  If you think two hours sounds like a long time to train a dog, you're right.  It's too long.  But sometimes you have to take advantage of situations that are ripe for training, so I kept Brody from getting frazzled by mixing things up and taking lots of breaks.  A little work passing another dog, then some time to sit in the shade and relax.  A walk around the grass for sniffing and exploring, a trip over to the car to get a drink of cold water and some fresh treats, then scoping out another dog and taking up our position.

It's wonderful as a dog trainer to have things go well, especially when you have eager parents putting their trust in you, hoping that you will make great progress with their dog.  We still have a long way to go, but right now I'm very happy with how Brody is doing.

Have you ever had a dog that was reactive (towards dogs, people, cars or anything) when on leash?  What did you do to change their behavior, or what did you do to deal with it?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Technical Difficulties and Brody the Havanese

The good news is that the dog training is going well.  The bad news is that the video I'm trying to take of said dog training is not cooperating.  You'd think with multiple digital cameras (all with video recording capability and one with HD video), a phone (also with HD video, of course) and an actual video camera, something in my house would be able to capture the wondrous moments of my little board & train, Brody, learning to target.  But the problem, I'm finding, is that these video-recording devices want to be smarter than me.  Maybe they are.  At any rate, I am now waiting for my son's camera battery to charge (no, I don't want to hear about how I am using my five-year-old's camera to make a professional training video for my company).  Once that has completed I should be good to go and can resume working on Brody's target training.

You haven't met Brody yet.  He is a very sweet 5 1/2 year old Havanese who has an unfortunate habit of reacting (boldly and loudly) to other dogs when he is on a leash.  He's a good example of how one or two incidents can dramatically impact a dog - Brody has been attacked by another dog and has now taken on the attitude of "I'm gonna get you before you can get me!" 

On leash reactivity is a frustrating problem for many owners.  Their dog, who might be fine when meeting other dogs in a different situation, will turn into a little furry lunatic when faced with the scary prospect of seeing something that might hurt them (strange dog) when they are trapped, unable to escape (leash). 

Scared is an important part of the equation to remember.  To some owners it can be very difficult to imagine that their dog is acting out of fear.  The other dog may be posing no real threat, but reality is in the eye of the beholder.  When your dog initiates the altercation, barking and carrying on in a "Come on, you want a piece of me?!!? Bark! Bark! Growl.  I'll kick your butt!!! Bark! Bark!" fashion, how could he be afraid?  The answer, we think, is that the dog is acting in a manner that he believes will scare off the other dog, thus avoiding an actual fight. 

In many cases, without realising it, we are allowing this flawed presumption to be reinforced.  Any time the other dog leaves when your dog is reacting (even if they were just heading in the other direction any way), your dog gets to think, "Hey, all that carrying on worked!  I didn't get attacked and the other dog is leaving.  I guess I'll try that next time too."

So what do you do to prevent this very embarrassing and highly stressful situation from reoccurring every time you cross paths with another dog?  I do suggest getting professional help, as this can be a potentially dangerous situation, and your dog is showing pretty clearly that all is not right with their world.  But here are a few things you can do to keep things under control until a trainer gets you working on a specific behavior modification plan.

  1. Don't add more negative to an already scary situation.  It's likely that your dog is truly afraid and isn't displaying this unruly behavior just to irk you (dogs may poop on your rug or chew up your new shoes, but they are not capable of being vindictive - that charming trait is reserved for homo sapiens).  Correcting or punishing your dog only makes things worse, even if it appears to have a positive effect in the beginning.  Leash popping, poking, "psst'ing" or "alpha rolling" are unacceptable responses and are more likely to get you bit than they are to solve the problem.  Just because it's on TV doesn't make it true.
  2. Don't reinforce the behavior either.  Rewarding your dog, either intentionally or unintentionally gives your dog positive feedback for a reaction we don't want to continue.  Stroking him and "reassuring" him with "it's okay puppy, you're alright, you're my good boy" acts as reinforcement.  In addition, the more you fuss over the situation the more likely you are to send the message to your dog that something really is wrong - look how worked up Mom is getting!
  3. Stay below your dog's threshold whenever possible.  Threshold is a complex thing, but it's more or less the point at which your dog feels the need to react.  Going above your dog's threshold means he'll probably start barking, growling, lunging or exhibiting other "bad" behavior.  Threshold is not a static thing - it can be influenced by distance, intensity, size, gender, direction and many other factors.  Keeping your dog below threshold may simply be a matter of crossing the street when you see another dog approaching or walking your dog at a time of day that isn't as busy.
  4. Turn and walk the other way.  Remember the part about your dog thinking that his behavior chased the other dog away?  While it probably won't solve your dog's issues alone, it doesn't hurt to try to have your dog "leave" rather than letting him feel that all the barking and ugly behavior caused the other dog to go away.  If your dog does go over threshold and reacts to a dog he sees, do your best to get him turned around so you are the one that walks away.
Addressing a behavior problem like on-leash reactivity is usually a matter of combining management and behavior modification.  The right mixture will keep your dog (and those he encounters) safe during the training process, and allows the behavior modification to be as effective as possible.  There are good techniques available to counter reactivity, and Brody is getting the full experience.  Hopefully he'll continue to learn quickly, soaking up everything he needs to have him feel more comfortable around other dogs when he goes out for a walk.  His owners enjoy traveling in their RV with him, so it's important for everyone.

Are there things that your dog reacts to, either on leash or off?  Other dogs, new people or children?  The evil dog-hunting vacuum cleaner?

Ethan and Brody

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Meeting of the Minds

I had a wonderful meeting this week with Portland's own Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorist, Dr. Chris Pachel of Animal Behavior Clinic.  My expectations were high - before leaving Florida, Dr. Lisa Radosta (also a veterinary behaviorist - believe it or not they are two of only about 60 in the country) told me if we were headed to Portland, Oregon that I had to get in touch with Dr. Pachel.  She said he was an incredible behaviorist and an equally positive personality.  I had dealt with him already through a client that we shared, and hadn't been disappointed.

It was a great meeting.  Dr. Pachel is very down-to-earth, which means that even though he has incredible education and experience, he is easy to relate to.  I appreciate his approach to behavior and medicine.  It will be hard to know until we interact more, but I feel like his methods are very similar to mine, which will make it easy to refer my clients when they need his help, as well as to work with referrals of his patients to help them with follow through and moving their dog's behavior in a positive direction.

It's fantastic to know that I have a resource in Dr. Pachel.  For those of you that don't know, his position is why I never refer to myself as a "behaviorist."  Trainers that do are using the word inappropriately, because unlike dog training, there is a medical degree that makes someone officially a "behaviorist."  What's the difference? 

Dog trainers can work on a variety of things, including socializing puppies, house training, obedience training (like teaching sit,down, stay, come, heel, etc.) and changing problem behaviors like jumping up, bolting through doors or barking at squirrels in the yard.  A dog trainer may also choose to handle some behavior cases, if they have the education and experience to do so.  Those may include mild cases of separation anxiety, house training problems in grown dogs, or a dog who is afraid of the vacuum cleaner. Some trainers handle aggression and some don't - if you are looking for help with aggression make sure you find someone who is qualified and who uses positive methods. 

A veterinary behaviorist isn't likely to be much help for acclimating your new puppy to playing well with other puppies, or for teaching your dog to sit for meeting visitors.  But a veterinary behaviorist may be the right resource for a dog that has extreme fears or compulsions, or for a dog that is so intense in guarding his toys that he has bitten family members in the process.  A veterinary behaviorist can rule out medical causes, can create a behavior modification plan that is appropriate for a dog with complex training needs, and can prescribe medication if that is something that will be helpful in the animal's recovery.

We are fortunate to have a veterinary behaviorist in the Northwest, and even luckier that it is someone as caring and personable as Dr. Chris Pachel!                                                                              

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Clicker 101 - Part One

Have you heard about clicker training, but don't know what it is?  How it got started?  Why they are used?  What all the fuss is about?  And, hey, are they worth it, or is the clicker just another gizmo you'd be forced to juggle, as if the dog, leash, treats and poop bags weren't enough?!

I'll start with some of the history of clicker training, and what it does, and then (in the interest of brevity, so this post stays short enough for you to read and me to write) I'll go into more detail in follow up posts.  Like how to use a clicker, and common concerns about clicker training.  I'll probably throw in a video at the end, so you can see clicker training in action and decide for yourself what you think of it (though I think trying it with your dog for a few weeks is the best way to give it a true trial).

So, where did clicker training begin? The concept originated around the time of WWII with Marian Kruse and Keller Breland, students of the famous B. F. Skinner.  They used clicker training to teach a wide animals including pigeons, cats and dolphins.  Its use in training marine mammals took off (instead of a click trainers use the high pitched whistle we now associate with Flipper and Shamu, but the concept is the same), but clicker training still hadn't really made it to dogs.

One behavior expert was using clicker training with dogs though, and in 1992 Karen Pryor put on a seminar in San Diego, California that would change the face of dog training forever.  Along with her book, Don't Shoot the Dog, Pryor began to spread awareness of clicker training and the fantastic results it could bring when teaching obedience commands or modifying behavior.

The basic principles of clicker training are quite simple.  The "click," that sound made by the clicker, becomes what is known as a conditioned reinforcer.  It is a sound that initially means nothing to a dog; it is quite literally just a click.  But, after repeated pairings with food rewards, the click begins to take on meaning.  It starts to mean "Yes! You got it right!"  It means food is coming, even if you can't see it yet.  And it means "All done!" that whatever behavior they have been working on is complete.

How does one sound come to mean so much to a dog?  That's where the "conditioned" part of conditioned reinforcer comes in.  Let's use dolphins as an example.  It's one of my favorites, as you know if you've learned clicker training with me.  Training a dolphin offers some unique challenges.  You can't put a choke collar on a dolphin and make it mind.  You can't flip it over and pin it to the ground, exerting your "dominance" over him, the way some famous "trainers" would. (Since we can't express sarcasms well in the written word, let me just insert that here. I do not advocate choke collars or dominating your dog, or any creature for that matter.  Sarcastic sneer noted.)

Dolphins also swim much better than we do, which makes it hard for us to be near them when they are performing tricks.  Training dogs is starting to sound pretty easy, right? Clicker training (or "marker training" - a more general term that can include other types of sounds like the whistle that marine mammal trainers are likely to use) helps with dolphin training in many ways.  First, by giving the dolphins a consistent, easy to recognize cue that means the dolphin has done something right, we improve communication and thus speed up training.  Marking the exact moment a dolphin performs also allows the trainer to reward for increments of behavior, not just the final product. 

Finally, the whistle acts as a bridge (lots of fancy terms this time!).  A bridge (in normal-person language) is a way to increase the amount of time between when the behavior is performed and when the reward is received, without ruining the animal's understanding of why they are being rewarded.  Think of a dolphin learning to jump up and touch a ball suspended 20 feet above the pool. (I have no idea about dolphin training, and it's been a while since I've seen a show, so forgive me if my example is totally inaccurate.)  It would be nearly impossible to get a fish to the dolphin at the exact moment that he touches the ball, since the dolphin is way out in the middle of the pool (and 20 feet in the air!) and the trainer is stuck on their little platform.  If the dolphin doesn't get his fish within a few seconds of performing the behavior, he won't connect the two.  Enter marker training (clicker training if you missed all the bouncing around with terminology)!  Because the dolphin has been conditioned to know that the whistle means a fish is coming, the trainer blows the whistle at the exact moment the dolphin touches the ball and, bingo!  Dolphin makes the connection and learns the new behavior.  And you and your friends pay an arm and a leg to see his show.

What does all this mean for you and your dog?  Clicker training isn't just a gimmick, but an effective method based on scientific learning principles.  Using a clicker allows you to be clear and consistent in your communication about when your dog has done something right, and also allows you to break a behavior into smaller parts as they are learning.  And once your dog is conditioned to the clicker, you can afford more time between the time the dog does a behavior and the time your get the reward to him.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

And the Winner Is...

My husband and I had a wonderful time tonight at the Pilgrim Lutheran School fundraising auction and dinner.  Bravo Dog Training raised some money for the school with a dog training basket - full of great toys, treats and more, plus a certificate for either a board and train program or private lessons.  I didn't see the final bid, but I know we raised about $400 for Ethan's school.  Thanks to everyone who bid!

Here's Ethan with me, ready to head out to the auction.  It was a country-western theme, hence the blue jeans.  Yes, I do wear pants other than blue jeans; it has been known to happen.  Once or twice.  Ethan played with the other kids in a babysitting room, so Mom and Dad got to enjoy the night like proper grown ups.  It was a fun event.

Earlier today I had an initial session with a wonderful couple from our church, Cedar Hills United Church of Christ.  They have a very enthusiastic 2-year-old Lab who will be a ton of fun to train.  The family has been through a couple other trainers that they weren't happy with, but after our session today they asked to schedule 6 additional sessions!  I think it will be a good match, and I'm happy that they have found a trainer that can work with them to mold their zealous (okay, cover your ears puppy, obnoxious) Labrador into a model citizen.  Oh, and I'm happy that trainer is me!  I do love the wild and crazy dogs.  It is so much fun to take all that energy and redirect it to positive, useful behaviors.

One problem that we got to work on right away was the dog's habit of darting out the front door and playing a joyous (for the dog, let me be clear. Owners, not-so-joyous) game of catch-me-if-you-can.  Let's be honest, even for an Olympic level sprinter (which no one in this family is, to my knowledge), catching a long-legged 90 lb lean-mean-Labrador-running-machine is hopeless for us bumbling 2 legged humans.  I wrote a piece not long ago on "un-training" a dog to come when called.  Their dog was a good example of this.  The solution?  Going back to square one and training the dog to come using my "hidden food" recall method, teaching "wait" at the front door (and when coming out of the crate, just for extra training opportunities), and a strict ban on any chances to get out the front door until he is fully trained.

Do you know a dog that doesn't come when called?  Even a dog that comes 90% of the time isn't trained well enough - that 10% can be anything from frustrating to fatal.  But it is a fixable problem!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Sick as a Dog

What a way to turn over a new leaf.  From my death bed.  Okay, I'm probably being a bit dramatic there, but I do feel terrible today.  Yesterday, at a post-surgical doctor's appointment, they did the routine blood pressure, pulse and temperature, and, surprise to me, I had a fever.  I felt fine, but by the evening it was starting to become apparent.  I woke this morning with terrible fever-sweats and have fought a sour stomach all day.  I just hate feeling sick - there's always too much to do. Moms and entrepreneurs never get to take a day off.

Hopefully this will go as quick as it came on.  I have two lessons tomorrow, with an existing client and her aggressive Aussie/Chow/Brown-Dog-That-Hopped-the-Fence Mix, and with a new client and their very boisterous "I'm too cute to listen" Labrador.  The day is set to end with Ethan's school's big fundraising event. It's an auction and I have donated a "dog training" basket (including a 10-day board & train or 7 private lessons) which I hope will bring the school enough money to make it worth my while.  And to not hurt my pride.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

I Will Try To Be Better

I have been neglectful in my blogging.  As is normally the case, I've tried to do too much and ended up with nothing at all.  So, long, insightful articles pushed aside, I will try to do what a writer should do.  Write.  Just make it happen, no matter what.  There is plenty going on. 

I have a dog who is drinking so much (gallons) and peeing so much that he has been banished to an outdoor kennel during the day.  A posh, comfy kennel, but an outdoor kennel all the same.  I've never had an outdoor dog. 

I have a new board & train dog starting next week - a little Havanese that is aggressive towards other dogs when on leash.  It will be fun to work with him.  Hopefully I can improve his outlook and help make life easier for him and his loving owners.

I had a wonderful conversation today with Dr. Chris Pachel, the area veterinary behaviorist.  I like his style and look forward to meeting him next Tuesday. 

We had a full blown hail storm tonight, with an icy accumulation and enough lightning and thunder to send Timber into a panting, pacing tizzy.  Watch out Tim, that thunder might get you!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Happy Dog Gone Easter

The Easter bunny was good to us this year. And, after all the fun inside, we took the dogs out to the front yard to find what the Easter bunny had left for them. All across the lawn were brightly colored plastic eggs filled with dog treats. Ethan couldn't resist the fun and helped the dogs find and open the eggs. Happy Easter!


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

How Much is That Doggy in the Window: What to Know When Getting a Dog

Honestly, the biggest problem I see when training dogs (and their owners!) isn't jumping up, running away or housetraining.  By far, the biggest issue is people getting a dog that wasn't a good match for their family. The article Getting a Dog addresses the important qualities to consider before selecting your next dog.

Learn when the perfect time is to bring a new dog into your home, based on your living situation, the time of year and more. Look at the pros and cons of getting a puppy, young adult or senior dog, as well as which is a better match for you - purebred or mixed breed.

Once you've determined that the time is right and you've closely considered what type of dog fits your life, it's time to examine your options of where to get your new dog. Learn more about well-run animal shelters and rescue groups and how to identify and avoid rescue groups that don't act with the dog's best interest at heart. If you decide to purchase a dog from a breeder you'll have lots of research to do, but our Selecting a Good Breeder article will help you ask all the right questions.

Lastly, learn why it is so important NEVER to buy a puppy (or anything else) from a pet store or a backyard breeder.

Once you've read about how to select a dog that's a good match for you and your family, you might find you still need some help. If that's the case, please don't hesitate to ask!  Email me or call me at 503.686.5890. The most important decision you make about your new dog happens before you even bring him/her home!

Friday, March 23, 2012

To Blog or Not to Blog

I'd like a little feedback, from the people who have started to read my blog.  What would you like to read here?  I've been at this for a few months now, and have a small number of readers (thank you), but I'd like to have more.  What would keep you coming back, hungering for more?  Is it articles and how-to's on dog behavior and training?  Or is that too much work, too much like studying?

Maybe you'd be excited to read more about what I do as a dog trainer - how I spend my days, what my cases are like, the strange things that happen when you train dogs for a living (yes, there are some weird things...), and what I do to make a living with this career.  Or possibly it's more postings about my family of dogs (and kid)?

Maybe you want a mixture of these topics, or maybe something all together different.  Well, here's your chance.  Post a comment, send me an email or send up a message with a sky-writing airplane pilot.  Let me know, because the whole point of writing something is to have people enjoy reading it.

Thank you!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Double Trouble: Dori and Apple

We have a visitor, Dori, a one-year-old Staffordshire Bull Terrier (she's the one in the red collar).  In between training and sleeping has been playing - lots and lots of playing!  Dori gets along well with all our dogs (and Ethan), but it is especially cute to see her playing with Apple.  They are quite a sight together!  Here are some of the moments I've captured. (For larger, higher quality images click on a photo.)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Why Yawns Are Contagious: Calming Signals in Dogs and How We Can Use Them

We all know that dogs can’t talk (whether or not we care to admit it is another thing altogether).  What they do rely on is body language – lots and lots of body language.  While we might approach a stranger and say, “Hey, I’m new here. It’s nice to meet you,” a dog might walk up to another dog in an arc with a slow, circular wagging tail, its ears back and drop into a butt-up, front down stretch.  They are both ways to express “I’m friendly and mean no harm.”

Calming signals are just what they sound like.  They are behaviors offered by a dog in an attempt to keep a situation calm.  We aren’t completely sure if they are used by one dog solely to calm another dog, solely to calm themselves, or a combination of both.  My feeling is that the latter is true, especially since calming signals are often both offered and returned.  We can help our dogs feel comfortable by learning what their calming signals are and respecting them, and even by responding in kind, repeating their gesture as best we can (tail wagging obviously excluded).

Before getting into what calming signals can be, I want to emphasize that context is important.  Think of how a person telling another “you fool!” can be issued as an insult or an expression of teasing affection.  Context is important, regardless of species.  For example, ears held back on a dog’s head can be a calming signal, a sign of fear, or even just the physical nature of the breed. 

You may or may not notice calming signals with your own dog.  Unless you recently adopted your dog or have a new puppy, chances are your relationship is fairly established.  Your dog may not feel the need to offer these signals on a regular or frequent basis.  Unfortunately we can also extinguish calming signals in our pets, even without intention.  If a dog offers calming signals that are repeatedly ignored or corrected, eventually they will stop trying.  Think about people – if your partner brought you flowers after a fight and you always responded with snide comments about wasting money or stinking up the house, chances are your partner would stop buying flowers – at least for you!  Since we are frequently our dog’s entire world, our response (or lack thereof) to their behavior is critically important.

Calming signals may include:

·         “Look aways” (turning the head to the side, away from the other dog or person)
·         Yawning
·         Sniffing (becoming very interested in not much of anything)
·         Paw raises (raising one of the front paws off the ground)
·         Shake offs (can be a slight shake off or entire body, as if wet)
·         Scratching (like they are itchy – a sudden case of “fleas”)
·         Blinking
·         Lip licking (or nose licking)
·         Moving in an arc (approaching or leaving in a semi-circle, not a direct path)
·         Sitting or lying down
·         Stretching (particularly into a play bow position, though not quite the same behavior)
·         Making a “soft face” – ears back, soft eyes, etc.

There are a few signals that you may want to try, either with your dog or a dog you are just meeting.*  They can help a dog feel more comfortable, and may even be offered back to you.

Blinking is pretty universal between species – go for slow, deliberate blinks (not fast fluttering). Lip licking is also simple to duplicate.  Again, make it slow and obvious. You can actually lick your lips or even just stick your tongue out a few times.  “Look aways” involve turning your head to either side, away from the dog. You may then look back, without making eye contact, then look away again.  A paw lift is a little more difficult (largely since we don’t have paws and walk on two legs, not four).  But if you are feeling daring you can try it with one arm, holding it as if you were imitating a hurt paw. 

You may have figured out now how yawning can be contagious.  Offered as a calming signal between dogs, or even from dog to human (and human to dog), a yawn is much more than feeling sleepy.  It can be offered back and forth, and maybe that's why we feel the urge to yawn when someone near us yawns.

For additional information on calming signals, read On Talking Terms with Dogs by Turid Rugaas.  Rugaas is an internationally acclaimed dog trainer from Norway who has done extensive studies on calming signals in dogs.  You can visit her website at .  A good visual example of using calming signals with dogs can be found in KikoPup’s collection of YouTube videos ( ).  While you’re there check out her other videos – Emily has produced a goldmine of how-to videos on clicker training everything from cool tricks to problem behaviors.

 Video: KikoPup's How To Communicate With Dogs in Their Own Language

* Offering calming signals doesn’t make it safe to approach an aggressive dog.  When in doubt, keep your distance.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Staffordshire Bull Terrier - Can't Get Enough

Usually black dogs are hard to photograph.  I'm not sure if they don't contrast well, or if it is just something in the color of their hair that reacts, but they are notoriously challenging.  However, Apple, my nearly-five-year-old Staffordshire Bull Terrier, is a dream to take photos of.   She's cute, she's fun and she's not afraid of the camera in the slightest.  She's a ham.  I'm not sure who enjoys the picture taking more, but the end result is my computer jammed full of Apple pictures.  Fortunately her dark black coat of hair doesn't usually pose a problem.  Here are a few photos from this afternoon: working on an antler chew and keeping Ethan company on the couch (he's running a slight fever so was spending the end of his day watching a movie). To view with better image quality, click on a picture.

('Cause being so cute is hard work!)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

New Age Pet Tags

It seems like everything these days revolves around our smart phones.  Don't expect our pets to be left behind.  Some things are very high tech (and expensive!), like GPS tracking that can give you the exact location of your dog - or at least his collar - if he gets lost.  But there's a new one that's a little more realistic for the average pet owner.

Pet Hub, a Washington based company, offers dog and cat ID tags with a QR code - that funky square barcode that can be read by your smart phone.  When someone scans the code they are taken to your dog's very own web page.  You keep this page updated with their current information.

The individual web page gives you room for a lot more information than would fit on a tag.  You can list the typical name, address and phone number, and also your veterinarian, any medications, allergies, important behavior issues (like "can climb fences!" or "doesn't like cats"), reward info and even photographs.  Update the information anytime you want - if you move, if their medications change or anything else - you are in charge.  The Pet Hub tag also features a unique web address that can be manually entered, in case your pet is found by someone less technically inclined. 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Why I Have The Best Job In The World

10. My work is flexible.  I can be returning phone calls at 9 AM in my PJs, then off to the grocery store, then home again before a private lesson.  It allows me to work in doctor's appointments, time with friends and preschool events.

9. I make a comfortable income.  Not long ago I applied to Petsmart for an open dog trainer position.  I thought it would be easier than starting my business over again in a whole new community.  They offered me the job, but for what they would have paid me I'd need to work an entire day to make what I currently bring in for one hour-long private lesson.  I won't buy a luxury vacation home on my income, but it works for us.

8. I get to work with an endless variety of different dogs.  All different breeds, ages, personalities and problems and successes.

7. My dogs get to be part of my day, all the time.  Even better than "take your dog to work day," I get to involve my dogs in my work.

6. My work is varied.  I do marketing, customer service, accounting, continuing education, networking... there's always something different to do.

5. Puppy breath.  Need I say more?

4. I meet wonderful people.  I am welcomed into my client's homes and their lives.  Many of my clients have become close friends and have provided support for me when I've needed it.  It wouldn't be the same without all the amazing clients.

3. I am my own boss.  It's just so cool to be in charge of yourself.

2. My job allows me to be, in some ways, both a stay-at-home mom and a working mom at the same time.  It's always a precarious balance, but I love the way my job lets me be close to my son and to be far more involved in his life than I would be if I spent 8 hours a day in a cubicle somewhere.

1. Dog training is my passion.  I'd do it for free (but sorry guys, the utility companies, the grocery store and the landlord don't feel the same way!).  What more could you ask for in life?
Mary Majchrowski and her son, Ethan at Mount Hood, OR
February, 2012

Old Drawings

Friday, February 24, 2012

How Comfy is Your Best Chair?

Photo (c) 2012 Faith Hague

Leo, a Spinone Italiano mix, has learned to behave well when he's in a comfy spot, thanks to resource guarding behavior modification training through Bravo Dog Training (boy, that's a mouthful!).  Resource guarding is a natural behavior that occurs when a dog wants to protect something he finds valuable - like a great sleeping spot or a rawhide bone.  Dogs can resource guard any number of objects, including food, toys, beds, bones and even people.

Changing the behavior is about changing the dog's perception of our approach and interaction when the dog has something he feels is worth guarding.  Contrary to long held beliefs, the best way to stop resouce guarding behavior in dogs is not to challenge the dog and "put him in his place," but to make him see our presence as a good, safe thing.  Does Leo look like he feels safe?

For additional information on resource guarding, check out the January 2011 issue of The Bravo Bark: Thanks to Faith Hague of Camden, Maine for the great photo!