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!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

House Training Products: Go or No-Go

Shopping.  A great American pastime. Some women can spend absurd amounts of time and money pawing through the racks in outlet malls or milling about at designer boutiques.  But this woman, this dog training, blue jean wearin', coupon clipping woman, can drain the bank account in only a few very special places.  Yes, bookstores will sink me.  And, now, as the proud mother of a preschooler, a toy store is also a dangerous place to shop. 

But from the time I was old enough to sign a check, my true shopping passion was pet stores.  America is with me on this one.  Recession or not, spending money on our pets continues to grow.  In 2011, that number was $50.84 Billion*.  Gulp.  That's billion, with a B.

So, as any savvy business would do, companies continue to come up with more and more products for our pampered pets.  Some of them are gold - more toys to keep dogs mentally stimulated, and foods with higher quality nutrition that will help our pets live long, healthy lives.  And some just aren't worth the space on the shelf.  Assuming you don't have an absurdly large portion of that $51 Billion in your own personal bank account, it helps to know what products are worth your hard earned money and which can be left to gather dust (or to be purchased by someone who missed out on my blog).

Here are ten of the most popular house training products:

No-go: wee pads.  These things must be a big time money maker for the companies that sell them, but I don't believe in using them to help house train a puppy.  They don't teach a puppy to hold it (to control their bladder and wait until they are taken outside - a skill they will eventually need), and they send the message that pottying inside is okay.

Go: artifical grass mats.  I don't recommend these for every client with a new puppy, but in some situations they can be helpful.  I suggest the plastic turf if a client can't get a very young puppy outside to the grass quickly enough - for example living on the 17th floor of a condo building - and in rare cases where house training has already gone awry.

No-go: dog diapers.  Unless your dog is incontinent (like our senior husky, Timber), leave diapers to the human babies, not the dog babies.

Go: crates.  Using a crate to help house train a puppy (or adult dog) is incredibly helpful.  Although metal wire crates seem to be getting more shelf space these days, I still prefer a solid plastic, airline style crate.

No-go: dog door.  Although a dog door can be a great convenience later in life, I don't recommend them for puppies or dogs that are still being house trained.  House training is about two things: learning where to go and learning to hold it until you get there.  Since dogs with a dog door have free access to their yard, they might not learn to hold it.

Go: baby gates.  Supervision is a critical part of house training.  Baby gates will help keep your dog within site and prevent them from sneaking off to leave a stinky gift in the spare bedroom.

No-go: newspaper. Unless you are buying it to read or clip coupons, don't bring a newspaper home.  The old-school method of whacking a dog on the rear whenever they had an accident in the house is severely flawed methodology.

Go: odor remover.  When cleaning up the inevitable accident, an ordinary household cleaner just won't do the job.  Dogs noses are astronomically more keen than our own.  It takes an enzymatic cleaner to get all the odor up - anything left behind is a billboard for your dog: pee here!

No-go: treats.  You may be surprised to see this on my list.  You thought I was a positive trainer, right?  Well, I am.  And offering your dog treats for going potty in the proper location won't necessarily hurt anything, but I don't think it really helps either.  In my experience, dogs don't seem to make the connection between a bodily function and a food reward.  But don't forget to pour on the praise!

Maybe: the doggy doorbell.  Teaching a dog to ring a bell as a way to ask to be let outside is a fairly new fad, and I'm not against it, but I'm not all for it either.  Owners usually start asking me about teaching their dog to "signal" when their puppy is about 3 to 4 months old - the initial angelic cuteness is wearing off and owners are frustrated with accidents.  "If only my dog would somehow just let me know when she needs to go outside, life would be so much easier!" 

Granted, a dog doorbell (commercially available as either a series of bells hung from the doorknob or an electronic doorbell that has large buttons a dog learns to step on) is preferable to other signals, such as scratching the door or barking, but be aware if you teach your dog a signal: your dog won't be learning to notify you only when they need to go out to eliminate, but will notify you any time they want to go out.  This could include wanting to go chase a squirrel, wanting to sniff the leaves, wanting to graze on the grass... do you see where this is leading?  Take comfort though.  Most puppies really are close to being fully house trained by this point.  It just takes a little more persistence and you'll be there.

*American Pet Products Association, total U.S. pet industry expenditures

Friday, February 10, 2012

Owner "Untrains" Their Dog - Coming When Called

A simple yet frustrating problem: the dog won't come in the house when called.  It's a problem that repeats itself day after day.  Sometimes the dog will come, but often it won't.  Is training with treats the problem?  Does it backfire and create these situations?  A lot of owners think so.

In truth, it's a problem of "untraining" where what an owner does (how they respond to a dog not doing what they are told), actually makes the problem worse.  "Untraining" is the process of reinforcing the bad, unwanted behavior, instead of the good, desired behavior. It goes a little like this:

Owner Untrains Dog, by Mary Majchrowski

Scene: Dog is in the backyard.  Owner is in the house, getting ready for work.  Owner decides it is time for dog to come in the house.

"Dog!" yells Owner. "Dog, it's time to come inside! Come Dog, Come!"

Dog pricks an ear in mock interest.  Dog continues sniffing Very Interesting Leaf.

"Dog!" Owner calls again. "I need to go to work.  Let's Go!  Come on, Dog!"  Owner's voice gets louder and more desperate.  "Not today Dog, I need to get going!"

Dog leaves Very Interesting Leaf and catches a glimpse of Totally Fascinating Squirrel.

"Dog, Come!" yells Owner.

"Squirrel, Run!" barks Dog.

"Dog, Come!" Owner repeats, with a threatening tone.

"Squirrel, squirrel, squirrel," Dog barks.

"Stubborn Dog," Owner mutters, turning back into the house.  Owner goes to the pantry and gets The Box.  Owner returns to back door with The Box.  Dog turns and looks at Owner.  Owner shakes The Box.

"Dog, want a cookie?  Treat, you wanna treat?"  Dog saunters over to Owner and gets a treat from The Box.  Owner grabs the dog's collar and drags Dog into the house. 

"Bad Dog!" Owner exclaims.  "You never do what I say!"

So, there are a few issues with the scene above.  How many can you find?  Let's go through them one by one, with the appropriate responses included.
  1. Wrong Way:  Not using a single, trained cue word.  The owner in this case tells the dog come, come on, let's go and many other words.  Right Way: Practice inside the house teaching your dog a single, recognizable cue word, like "come" or "here." Train your dog to understand the cue before you expect them to respond to it, especially in distracting situations like where there are leaves and squirrels.
  2. Wrong Way: The treat is offered after the dog has disobeyed.  After repeated failed attempts at calling the dog in, the owner then goes and gets the cookie box. The treat then becomes a reward for not coming when called - the dog will learn "If I ignore my owner long enough, eventually they will go get the cookies!" Right Way: While your dog is learning, set a jar of treats near the back door.  Every time you go to bring your dog inside get a cookie for your dog, then call him or her in.
  3. Wrong Way: The owner used the treat as a bribe, not a reward.  By waiting until the dog had refused to come and then luring it in with the promise of food (shaking the cookie box), the owner bribed the dog.  Right Way:  Always pick up the treat before calling your dog.  If they initially get a treat every time they come inside, the dog will learn that they get good things for coming when called.  That is reinforcing good behavior. 
  4. Wrong Way: The dog was punished (grabbed by the collar and yelled at) once it finally did come.  The dog will eventually learn to dread responding to the "come" command if punishment is the end result.  Right Way:  Praise your dog when they come to you, even if they didn't come right away, even if you had to chase them around the neighborhood for 20 minutes first.  If the dog ultimately comes to you (or even just allows themselves to be caught), that behavior should be rewarded.  Be the "good guy," even if you are angry.  Dogs connect praise to the last thing they did, like coming to you.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Will Feeding People Food Make Your Dog Beg?

Here's the thing about "people food."  It doesn't exist.  There's no such thing.  Okay, well, obviously there is food that people eat.  But when it comes down to it, food is food.  Chicken is chicken whether it is eaten by a person or a dog.

Therefore, this concept of "If I feed my dog people food she'll learn to beg," can't be entirely true.  But if the ingredients aren't the problem, is it how they are prepared?  If you feed a dog only chicken that comes out of a bag in the form of kibble, will she never beg?  Well, if that were true it would mean that by only being fed kibble its whole life, a dog would not recognize "people food" as something worth begging for.  Not worth it?  If a whole chicken fell on the floor, would a dog walk away, thinking to herself "hmm... not kibble.  Must not be food."?  Not a chance. ("Gulp, that chicken was good!")

But there is an answer.  It's a simple one, in fact.  A dog learns to beg based on where she is fed, not what she is fed. If you eat popcorn on the couch and always toss the dog a few kernels (guilty), she'll sit by the couch and beg every time you eat popcorn.  You'll get those pleading eyes and folded back ears; the "I haven't eaten in months and I've been SO good" look.  If your kids sneak table scraps to the dog, expect some drooling during dinner.

Alright, so why does it matter?  Is people food good for your dog?  Should you change your routine and start offering dinner scraps (or just eliminate the guilt if you already are)?  If "people food" and "dog food" is all just food, are there things that are good for your dog?  Not good for her?  Yes, and you should stay tuned to find out!


Friday, February 3, 2012

Ethan and Apple: A Boy and His Dog

Ethan, 4 1/2 years old
Apple, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, 4 1/2 years old

Don't be Cruel

This poor dog is riding in the wrong end of the pick-up truck.  Although it's a beautiful day out (yes, sunny and mild in Portland, Oregon!), dogs should never ride like this in the open back of a truck.  If a dog must be transported in the back, they should be in an airplane-style plastic crate that has been carefully secured to the bed of the truck. 

You may notice from the photo that he is tied with a red and white leash.  In some cases that could be considered an acceptable manner of securing the dog, but the tie down needs to be very short and fixed to the middle of the truck bed, not one side or the other as is the case with this dog.  Tying a dog with a leash that is too long, or too close to the edge of the truck is actually more dangerous than leaving him loose.  If the dog were to jump or fall, he would come up short and could be dragged or repeatedly run over.  Not something for man's best friend!

In most states, including Oregon, transporting a dog this way is actually against the law, generally falling under animal cruelty statutes.  Unfortunately catching people for the offense is difficult, but it can be done.  Hopefully the owners of this handsome dog will come to their senses and let him ride where he should be - shotgun!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Introducing Dogs and Babies, Part Two

Welcome to the world, Alex Nolasco!  Your mom and dad wanted some tips for introducing your dog, Linda, to you for the first time.  They want your meeting to be peaceful, so here are some things they can try:
  • Don't feel the need to introduce Linda and Alex the instant Linda comes back to the house.  Let Linda get used to being home, let her smell and hear baby Alex crying and making all the strange noises a little person makes.  Allowing Linda time to take that in before the introduction will make things less stressful and should make the initial meeting of baby and dog less of a "big deal" for your dog.
  • Practice "leave it" in as many different situations as you can.  Work on having Linda leave toys, food, trash, sticks, clothes - anything you can pick up and show her, anything she might possibly want.  Work on having Linda "leave it" in all different rooms of the house, outside in the back yard, standing in the kitchen, running down the hall - anywhere and anyway you can imagine.
  • Keep the dog & baby times short and sweet.  When you do introduce Linda and Alex, separate them after a minute or less.  The same goes for the next time they meet, and the time after that.  When you do separate them, always take Linda away from the baby, not baby away from Linda.  This is especially important if Linda has gotten overly excited or pushy, or if she is not reacting well.
  • Practice "Off," the command that means "4 On The Floor," or don't jump up on anything (people, couches, counters, etc.).  Some people tell their dogs "down" for this, but if you use the command "down" to mean "lie down," then there should be a separate command for not jumping up.
  • Practice "Down Stay."  Focus on improving Linda's ability to stay in a down position with greater distance, duration and distractions.  This will be very useful as baby Alex grows, and even now.  Having a dog that you can "park" on a dog bed and know she'll stay put is a great convenience!  Keep it fun and successful for her though, "down stay" can be a boring and frustrating exercise for a dog unless it is taught slowly and with a lot of patience and praise.
  • Consider teaching Linda to stay off the couches and beds, if you haven't already.  Boundaries are important to a dog, and knowing that she won't accidentally jump directly onto a sleeping baby that she didn't see is good piece of mind.
  • Make sure Linda gets plenty of exercise, mental stimulation and positive training.  Take moments during the day to spend a few minutes throwing the ball, practicing some obedience training, giving her a stuffed Kong, or taking her for a leisurely "sniff all you want to" walk.  This will help keep her in a good frame of mind, and reduce some of the stress she will feel from all the changes at home.  Daddy, this is a good place for you to be involved!
  • Don't allow Linda to pick up or play with any of baby Alex's toys, clothes, pacifiers or any other baby things.  Dog toys are for the dog, everything else is for the people.  It's about respect, safety and consistency.
  • Practice "Out."  This command means leave the room or the area.  It's pretty useful if your dog is encroaching on your space, begging, or just getting in the way.  It sounds kind of rude, but if she is trained to it well Linda won't be offended, and with a new baby there are just some times that having a dog under your feet is not what you want.
Enjoy your puppy baby Alex!  I hope that you have many wonderful years of a boy and his dog - it's a magical bond that I am excited for you to have.