Very few of us started out with the perfect dog. Many dog owners experience disappointment when their new dog doesn’t meet their expectations. When imagining what sharing our home with a dog would be like, most of us picture the classic image of the dog sitting comfortably by the fireplace or snuggled at our feet. The anticipated leisurely strolls in the park, coming home to a wagging tail, and morning snuggles with a furry best friend may be what drove us to look for a dog in the first place. Maybe your dreams were shattered when your dog did anything but that. Perhaps you dreamed of having a dog that you could enter into agility or obedience trials, but your dog is too fearful or reactive. Maybe your dog drags you around the park, lunging and barking at every passerby, or you come home to a wagging tail in addition to a destroyed house. It can be devastating when your dog is nothing that you hoped he would be. These feelings of disappointment are often renewed when you see another’s dog walking calmly by his human’s side-- all the while, yours is pulling your arm out of its socket and calling attention to you both as he lunges and barks at your neighbors. It's hard to accept the realities we feel we can't change. Maybe with enough time and patient training your dog can reach that point of feeling comfortable in public, but perhaps putting in hours of training just to get your dog to calmly walk past another dog wasn't what you envisioned.
For most people, Halloween is a fun time filled with parties, elaborate costumes, and delicious treats. Our pets are such an important part of our lives, it is only natural that we find ways to include them in the festivities. Here are some tips to help you prepare your furry friend and help him or her enjoy the holiday as much as you do.
Last week, we discussed the stress that canines can experience when they are groomed or visit a veterinarian’s office. Restraint, handling, grooming, and veterinary care are all a part of keeping an animal healthy, but it doesn’t need to be stressful. By using desensitization and counter-conditioning techniques, we can help our canines not only tolerate these experiences, but even happily volunteer to be a participant in their own care!
It's not uncommon to sit in a veterinarian's office and see dog after dog walk happily up to the door then stop to a screeching halt as the pet parent attempts to gracefully scoot their dog through the door. For most of us, it's also easy to recall small dogs in carriers or on their pet parent's lap shivering and panting in fear in the waiting room of the vet's offices and grooming facilities. We routinely see dogs afraid to take a bath, get their nails trimmed, be groomed, or be restrained and handled that we think it's perfectly normal. We compare it to the unpleasant anticipation of going to the dentist or doing our taxes -- it's something we hate to do, but it has to be done. Isn't the same true for our dogs?
I grew up with dogs being a huge part of my life. As I was growing up, training methods were shifting from punishment based to more reward based - but just as today, the shift still had a long way to go. My first dog was the image of perfection. She was the perfect family pet and lived for praise and affection. She didn't really have any behavior issues. When I was a young teen, I became even more interested in dogs than before and took an interest in training. It fascinated me how animals could learn to do a behavior like "wave" that they didn't normally do. I started volunteering at the animal shelter and so desperately wanted another dog. My parents finally decided to add another dog to our family and we brought home a beautiful 9 week old Havanese mix puppy that was born at the animal shelter. It was a new experience for my whole family to raise a young puppy. We brought her home, took her to our yard to go potty before bringing her inside the house, then brought her inside......and she urinated on our carpet. We all quickly realized that it wasn't going to be half as easy as our first experience of raising a dog. We named our beautiful puppy, Lily, and started our journey together.
Happy 4th of July! While most Americans are planning a fun filled and relaxing weekend, those of us with fearful dogs are dreading this noisy holiday. Here are some tips to reduce your dog's stress (and yours!) and keep your dog safe.
Aside from stating the obvious—that punitive training methods can cause physical harm to dogs—let's look at some of the ways that positive reinforcement actually helps a dog's health.
As we often read about in health magazines or hear about in popular television shows on health, stress causes a plethora of health issues. These issues range from a compromised immune system, to joint stiffness and pain, to obesity and digestive problems, even to heart disease. This fact doesn't just apply to humans, but it applies to dogs as well. Stress doesn't just cause physiological problems, however, it also causes unpleasant psychological issues such as anxiety and depression as well—both of which further exasperate the above mentioned physiological effects.
It's that time of year again, where we look at our year in review and come up with our new year's resolutions. Many of us decide to make new year resolutions for our pets as well. Perhaps your goal is to help your dog shed a few pounds or put in more training so your dog can have more mental stimulation. Here are some helpful tips on how to stick to your resolutions and make your goals easier to attain.
It's no secret that many pet parents let their dogs share their bed with them or let them make the couch their favorite nap spot, but is this practice a good idea? I'll give you the dog trainer's favorite answer - it depends. There's no one set of rules, rather, there's many points for pet owners to consider when making the best decision for their dog and their household.
How does everyone in the family feel about letting the dogs spend time on the furniture?
This is one of the biggest considerations each family must think about. If you live alone then you have an easy decision to make, but if multiple people live in the home, everyone's feelings must be considered. Does your child have allergies, does Grandma dislike your 70 pound Boxer slobbering in her face, does Mom dislike vacuuming the Husky hair off the couch everyday? Consistency is key in having a happy household with a pet. If not, arguments can ensue between the human family members in the household and resentment towards the dog can occur. Furthermore, it's confusing for your dog who gets yelled at by some family members when he jumps on the couch and cuddled by others. This ultimately leads to the dog losing trust in his humans. If one person in the family doesn't want the dog on the furniture, then no one should allow the dog on the furniture. (Later we'll discuss a happy solution to this problem).
Does your dog have resource guarding issues?
If your dog has issues with guarding spaces such as beds, couches, or other furniture then he should not be allowed to spend time on the furniture. Even a snarl or snap when you get into bed after your dog should make you seriously consider whether he should be allowed on the furniture. The risk of a bite to the face is just too great in such a circumstance. If your dog has shared your bed for years without ever showing a problem then suddenly starts exhibiting aggressive behavior, first a trip to the vet is in order before banishing Buddy from the bed. Pain can cause animals to react aggressively to protect themselves so it's important to look into the cause of the problem first. You can work through a behavior problem of resource guarding with careful management and training but if your dog starts behaving aggressively on furniture, he mustn't be allowed to practice that behavior - which means not allowing him on the furniture. If your dog acts like a perfect angel when you get into bed, but growls and snaps when your husband gets into bed then again, we need to look at consistency and consideration. If your dog acts aggressively with any member of the family on furniture then he should not be allowed there until his behavior issue is resolved.
How old is your dog?
A very important point to consider is the age of your dog. If you just adopted a new puppy, it's best not to allow him on the bed quite yet. First of all, it's hard to potty train a pooch that's not confined to a specific area and this will set your potty training back a great deal. Second, your new puppy needs to learn that it's OK to spend time alone in his own crate or bed, otherwise, you risk the chance of creating a dog who's anxious when he's apart from you - which won't be fun for either of you. If you've decided as a family that you're going to let your new dog sleep in your bed when he's older you can have cuddle sessions with your puppy on the bed or sofa - but be sure to lift him on and off the furniture. A growing puppy has open growth plates which can cause injury and damage to your puppy's growing bones with too much repetitive jumping. To be on the safe side, lift him on and off furniture until you get the all clear from your vet that your puppy's growth plates have closed.
How big is your dog?
If you have a Great Dane puppy that is just so cute and cuddly you let him spend lots of time on the couch or bed cuddling with you but don't like the idea of a full grown Great Dane on the furniture, then perhaps it would be best not to let your dog get a taste of the joys of furniture at all. Once your dog develops a habit (such as jumping up on furniture) it is much harder to break than if you never allow him to do it in the first place. Likewise, if you have a tiny Chihuahua and you or your husband is a heavy sleeper and you think your dog might be in danger sleeping with you, then start your dog off right and get him used to sleeping in his own crate.
Now to dispel any myths
It's been circulated as fact that if dogs sleep with their humans they will see them as their equal and attempt to be "pack leader". The whole "pack leader" mentality is based on faulty research and the scientists who created this theory have even stated it is untrue. This will be addressed in a separate blog post in the future but rest assured your dog is not sitting by the fire conjuring up plans to overthrow you and take over your household. That means that you can comfortably let your dog sleep in your bed or lie on your sofa if you so choose. You may wonder, "why do some dogs growl when you get into bed after them if they don't see themselves as the pack leader?". The issue has nothing to do with hierarchy, but has everything to do with value. If your dog growls when you get near him when he's on the furniture it is because he values that resource and doesn't want it taken away. You may think "but I'm not going to take it away, it's a King sized bed and he's a chihuahua!" When a dog guards a resource, he doesn't take into account its size and whether or not he has enough to share. It's a valuable resource and he aims to keep it! Another reason your dog may act aggressively when you approach him near furniture is that he's learned that you often grab his collar to pull him off the bed. In other words, he associates your approach to him when he's on furniture with something unpleasant - being removed from his comfortable spot. Animals don't automatically resort to aggression, it takes too much energy and has too many risks, so your dog has likely given you many signals that showed he was uncomfortable when you approached him near furniture before he behaved aggressively. These signals may have consisted of widening eyes or whale eye (where the dog looks out the corner of their eye), tongue flicks or lip licks, averted gaze, ears back, or stiffened body to name a few. All of these signals tell the one approaching "I'm uncomfortable with this situation". If you continue approaching, he'll have to escalate his signals to growling, snarling, snapping, and eventually biting. Don't let it reach this point, and instead use a positive way to get your dog off the furniture where he makes the choice to to get off himself instead of being forced.
The most important cues to teach before letting your dog spend time on furniture - UP & OFF
Grab some of your dog's favorite treats, and take him to a sofa or bed. UP and OFF can be taught together in the same training session. In fact, it's easier since you need your dog to be on a raised surface to teach OFF and needs to be on the floor to teach UP.
UP - Lure him onto the furniture with a treat, and once he jumps up, mark (use a clicker or say "Yes" or "Yip") and give him a treat. Once he gets the hang of it, tap the furniture twice with an open palm just before he jumps up and then mark and reward with a treat when he jumps. Once he reliably jumps up when you tap the bed or sofa, you're ready to add a verbal cue. Say "Up!" right before you tap the furniture and mark and reward with a treat when your dog jumps up.
OFF - With your dog on the furniture, toss a treat to the ground and mark and reward when he jumps off. Once he gets the hang of it, snap and point to the ground right before you toss the treat. Once he's doing this reliably, snap and point to the ground, mark and click when he jumps off, then give him a treat. Once he's reliably jumping off with your snap and point hand cue, you're ready to add a verbal cue. Right before your snap and point hand cue, say the verbal cue "Off" then use your hand cue and mark and reward when he jumps off. ***If your dog is the slightest bit fearful or uncomfortable with the sound of a snap, just point to the ground without a snap***
*Important tip*-Once your dog jumps off the furniture, continue giving treats until you give the cue to jump back up on the furniture, otherwise you'll end up with a ping pong dog who gets off the furniture when you ask but then gets right back up again. You want him to learn that "Off" means to stay off the couch until you tell him to jump back up again. It's best to start him off right and make it more rewarding to be on the ground. If your dog enjoys a good game of tug or fetch, use that as a reward as well for getting off the furniture. Cue your dog to get off the furniture, mark and use a few food rewards, then play a game of tug or fetch, then cue your dog to get back on the furniture and reward with one piece of food, then start the sequence over again.
Troubleshooting- If you have a dog who is reluctant to get off the furniture during your training session, try making it more exciting. Run away from the furniture playfully to entice your dog to jump off the furniture, squat down to the ground and tap your legs or clap, then treat and cuddle your dog when he jumps off. In addition, increase motivation by increasing the value of your treats - use something really enticing like salmon sticks or freeze dried beef liver or some cheese. Be sure to cut your treats into small pieces!
The Great Compromise
If some of the family members want the dog on the furniture but others do not, all hope is not lost. You can teach your dog to lie on a specific mat or small blanket, and eventually use that on the couch or bed as well. He'll learn that when his mat or blanket is on the furniture he can lie there, if not off he goes! Stationing to a mat will be covered in another blog post, but for now you can use it on furniture and invite your dog to jump up on the furniture and lie on the mat. Reward him there with lots of treats, cuddles, and praise, and if he gets off the mat and lies elsewhere on the furniture ask him to get off the furniture. This will make it very clear - the mat is where good stuff happens but lying on the furniture alone gets the furniture privilege taken away. After a few moments of your dog being on the ground you can invite him back up on the mat which is on the furniture to try again. You can even give him a stuffed Kong or chew on his mat, but make sure he keeps it there!
Here's an exercise that will help your dog understand the mat on furniture concept:
- Start with your dog on the floor and continue feeding treats while he stays on the floor with no mat on the bed or sofa
- Next, place the mat on the furniture and invite him to jump up, mark and reward
- Cue your dog off the furniture, mark and reward when he does, then promptly cue him back up again and mark and reward when he does
- Cue your dog off the furniture, mark and reward when he does, then promptly remove the mat from the furniture and keep rewarding your dog for staying on the ground
- Next, place the mat back on the furniture and cue your dog to jump back up, mark and reward when he does
- Continue this exercise and be unpredictable, vary the time you have him stay on the couch, vary the time you have him stay on the ground, vary the time he waits between treats when on the ground (but make sure it's appropriate for his skill level)
*Important tip* - If you've decided to only let your dog spend time on furniture when his mat is there, then only teach him the UP and OFF cues with the mat on the furniture otherwise you will confuse him. If your dog jumps up when the mat is not on the furniture cue him to get off but withhold the treat, otherwise he'll jump up just so you can request him to get off and he can be treated. Wait a few minutes then place the mat on the furniture and cue your dog to jump up on the mat.
In sum, allowing your dog on the furniture is your decision to make. There's no hard and fast rules, rather there's points to consider for each individual dog and each individual household. If you allow your dog to spend time on the furniture he's sure to get lots of attention and cuddles, so if you choose not to allow him to do so be sure to get down to his level often to give him lots of belly rubs and cuddles!
Dog training is not just a job, it's my passion. I have been blessed to share my life with the most amazing animals who taught me so much, and truly changed my life. However, there's one special canine soul that opened up a whole new world to me and started my love of animals.
In the first few years of my life, the only pets I had were fish. I was afraid of animals. I wasn't that kid at the petting zoo that was filled with wonder and excitement. Instead, I was the kid who would shrink back in terror when a dog came near. Nothing bad ever happened to make me feel this way, I just saw danger in almost every furry thing. Yet, oddly enough I liked pigs. I was determined to have a pet pig and begged my parents for one. I believe it was the story Charlotte's Web that gave me a fascination of pigs. Naturally, I was not allowed to own a pet pig, but my parents felt it was time to add a dog to our family. We visited several animal shelters and one family member or another wanted this dog or that, but there was never a unanimous vote or the perfect fit, so we continued our search.
One day, as a family, we visited the Inland Valley Humane Society & S.P.C.A. in Pomona. I was five years old. We went through the small dog ward and we peered into each cage. There were many wagging tails and soulful eyes, but none of them seemed to be the right one. My sister went ahead of my parents and I, and stopped in front of a kennel with a pile of sleeping black terrier mix puppies inside. Once the puppies noticed her, they hurried to the front of the kennel to see her. As they stepped off of each other one by one, my sister quickly noticed something and called us to come see. We hurried over, looked in. and saw a dirty, scared, sad, black and white dog. She was at the bottom of the pile being squished by a pile of puppies larger than her. She calmly awoke and glanced over at us. Then, slowly walked over to come see us. All the black puppies were exuberantly trying to get our attention and kept shoving the little dirty black and white dog away from the door. She had the most loyal brown eyes and we all knew she was the one. We were told by the kennel staff that she was found in the wheel well of a car. They also told us she was a 6 months old Lhasa Apso/ terrier mix. They informed us that she was not available for adoption yet, but we could come back at 8:00 the following morning. My Mom took us the morning of her availability and we were told that another family wanted her too. She had many people interested in her, but they had to work and couldn't stay. We had to put in tickets and they were going to draw a name to see who would get her. My Mom told my sister and I, "just say a prayer, and if she's meant for us we'll get her". We did just that, and a few moments later, they called our name. I was excited and nervous at the same time. I always thought dogs were scary, but looking into her beautiful brown eyes I didn't feel fear. I felt like she was someone special and any fear I had went away.
We brought her home and my Mom and Grandma quickly got to the task of bathing her. She was very dirty and they didn't want my sister or I to touch her until she was clean. Once bathed, she was brought inside the house to meet my sister and I. After exuberantly greeting us, she laid down next to me with her back against my leg as I sat on the floor. I stroked her until she fell asleep. I felt so much love flow out of this little dog, and I couldn't believe how much love a little furry being could have. My heart was instantly bonded to her. We named her Rosie and we became the best of friends. I was home schooled, and when I'd practice my reading and spelling lessons I'd read it to her, and teach her what I was learning. She'd lay facing me, and acted interested in everything I tried to teach her. My sister and I would make a certificate for her every year we'd get promoted to the next grade so that she too graduated with us. She was truly the first "Home Schooled Hound." She was so special to us that my sister and I even sewed a quilt for her with the help of a family friend and it won a blue ribbon at the county fair. It's like Rosie knew that quilt was special and she treated it with such care. She was eager to please and learned things so fast. She had a special love for my sister and I, even if my parents were the ones who fed her. We always said she saw my sister and I as her "puppies." She protected us, licked our tears, and always stood by us. She was such a loyal companion. When she first came to us she was terrified of men and sticks. My Dad couldn't get near her when we first adopted her, but eventually she trusted him and enjoyed his company as much as ours. People who didn't even like dogs said they wanted a dog just like Rosie. She had a special intuition and even saved me from drowning by frantically alerting my Dad. As I got older I enjoyed training her. That light in her eyes that occurred when she "got" what I was teaching her was inspiring to me and I loved it.
She was with us for 14 years before her heart failed and she passed away at home. During the last 2 years of her life she suffered various health problems including a brain tumor and seizures, but always took the time to put a smile on my face despite what she was going through. Rosie lived to bring our family joy - it truly seemed like that brought her happiness. She would do things on purpose that she knew made me laugh or smile but always made sure I was watching first. It's been 7 years and I still miss her terribly, but she touched my heart so deeply and her memory is always with me. She showed me how wonderful animals are and how much love they have. After adding her to our family a whole new world opened up to me. Animals became my passion and I started volunteering with various animal organizations a few years after that. Rosie helped me start this amazing journey toward working with animals and although she is no longer by my side to take this journey with me, she is in my heart and her memory inspires me.
I am a passionate animal lover, rescuer and trainer. Kindness is my goal. I never want an animal to feel intimidated or threatened. Training should be fun for both the dog and human, so the training methods I use reflect my goal of helping the animal to feel safe so they can learn and have fun. I desire the same for the human client as well. Life is too short to spend time training an animal in a fashion that is anything less than fun!