Since the second video appears first, I wasn’t sure if everyone would get to see the text I just thought I’d share the text accompanying the “That Was Easy #1” Video in the blog. You can watch the Special Paws Channel on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/specialpawstraining. Here’s the text:

The “Easy Button” trick is lovingly dedicated to the memory of Alfonse. Special Dark’s version of the trick was inspired by trainer and chow fancier extraordinaire Layla Loveless, whose wonderful Alfie was the king of the easy button trick and spent many happy moments pressing it in response to the question “how was your homework?”

Notice that when I ask for the “high five” my hand is already up when I start to ask for it. With any behavior, it’s always best to make sure your dog can respond to both a visual and a verbal cue. This way no matter which you use in a given situation you dog will know how to respond. Normally if you’re still in the process of teaching the cue, you might choose to get the action reliable before you add the verbal cue. Remember the usual order is: verbal cue, pause, hand signal. Why? Because dogs will respond much faster to our body language than our words, it’s what they’re looking for. So if you give a hand signal while you’re saying something to your dog, your dog will usually hone in on the body language, and discard the words as extraneous information!  When you train a new verbal cue, your dog eventually learns that your new word predicts a particular hand signal that he already understands and that once he performs that hand signal there is usually a reward. Eventually your dog will hear the words and not wait for your hand signal and skip straight to the fastest route to the reward—performing the behavior you’re asking for! And voila, he’s learned his new task, now you’re ready to face your treats.

Do you think Special seems to be responding to the hand signal or the verbal cue when I ask him for the high five? Why would both of these signals be present together in that situation? Can you tell from this clip whether Special understands both the verbal and visual signal for the high five?

 In actuality, Special will give a high five for three signals: the visual signal alone and also for two different phrases! Why? It just sort of evolved as we continued working on new things with him. Much like over time, after he learned all the cues separately, I overlapped the verbal and visual cue for this particular behavior. He only needs one cue. But because after he’s learned both a visual and verbal one, I’m used to only giving verbal cues and by the nature of this trick I must make some sort of physical gesture towards him, my human brain has merged the two! And it took making this video for me to realize that!

The key is the overlap (if there is going to be an overlap) should only come after the dog has learned all the cues separately. My overlaps only occur during high fives and paws. Why is there even an overlap at all? Only because I love to talk to him! Remember, our dogs only need one cue– and they’ll focus on the easiest to understand and disregard the rest. It’s a reminder to always be aware of what you’re signaling to your dog. What you think you’re signaling may not always be what they are understanding!

Well, now it’s easy anyway (if you haven’t had a chance to see Special Dark in action take a look at www.youtube.com/specialpawstraining). But in the beginning…

When we first brought the Staples Easy Button home a couple of years ago and pressed it for the first time, Special Dark was afraid of it. We were so busy with working on so many tricks with Special at the time that it ended up sitting on a shelf for at least a year.

Then one day during a conversation with fellow trainer and chow fancier extraordinaire, Layla Loveless; she mentioned that her pup Alfie had a new trick—to push the Easy Button! I just thought that was one of the cutest things I’d ever heard and decided to try it with Special Dark.

Given that he was quite fearful of the button, it was going to be a bit challenging.

So how did I teach him? I started by placing the button on the floor, and sitting beside it. I had a bag of chicken with me (one of the items on the very top of Special’s reward list!) Every time he came near the button or looked at it from a distance he was praised extra, extra exuberantly and got a piece of chicken!  After a while, every time I set the button down, Special got visibly excited (whole body wiggling, mouth open and all facial muscles relaxed). Then, he began offering more and more behaviors. He started coming closer and closer to the button until he started rushing towards it upon seeing it. He then started smelling the button when I set it down.  Once these new responses of approach and smelling were consistently more frequent than his older ones, I would “jackpot” these responses for him: he’d get a few pieces of chicken for approaching and smelling the button and only one piece for those times he simply approached it and just high praise if he looked at it from a distance.  

Eventually, he would come towards it when I had it in my hand, even before I set the button down. Since Special already knew paw and high five, I began holding the button for a few seconds in my hand. He began pawing at it! This is partly because he already knows that when I hold my hand out a certain way, it means for him to place his paw in mine (or occasionally apparently it means to exuberantly slam his hand into mine—as a woman also once found out when she tried to offer him her hand to smell! Well he recognized that hand gesture as “paw,” so he gave her one! She couldn’t stop laughing and neither could I!).

When he was consistently pawing at the button, he was rewarded with chicken only for the pawing action, and only praised for other button directed behaviors such as smelling it. I began setting the button on the floor again and he continued to paw at it once I had set it down. In time he became so excited at the site of the button he’d run over and paw at it. This pawing response was jackpotted and everything else got verbal praise. Eventually, if he attempted to paw at it while it was still in my hand, he got no chicken– chicken only came when he pawed at it when it was on the ground. When he was consistently pawing at it, I began asking “how was it?” each time before he had a chance to touch it. Next, he would only get rewarded if he pushed the button only when I asked him to by saying “how was it?” If he pushed the button for no question, there was no reward.  Before long, he understood that my asking “how was it” became the verbal signal to paw at the button.  Eventually, I left the button on the ground and whenever he heard “how was it” he’d paw at the button!

Now, I could begin to ask him to discriminate between cues, so I could ask him to do other things, like sit pretty, before asking “how was it?”

As we went on with this I began refining his button pushing too: Special is very gentle when he touches things with his paws so he wouldn’t always make the button “speak.” In fact, often his little paws would simply hover over the button like a game show contestant waiting to buzz in for the correct answer! So I began only rewarding those gorgeous responses when he’d actually make contact and only when he made the button make sound!

There are of course, many other ways to go about this. For one, you might choose not pick up the button the way I did, you could simply wait for the dog to touch the button on her own.

While this little trick is so fun and super cute, it’s also very functional. It’s one more thing Special and I can do together strengthening and deepening our bond even more. It gave him plenty of mental stimulation to learn a new trick and most importantly, it got him over a fear of something. While this is one of those things where you might ask, “so what, he’s afraid of a button?,” the way I see it, the more things in life I can show him are positive and not scary, and the more I can help him become a more confident dog, the better his life is, especially since we didn’t have him during his critical period of socialization. Whether that involves showing him he doesn’t have to be afraid of a tricycle abandoned on its side in the grass, a giant teddy bear by the dumpster in the dark or a button that makes a sound; or if it involves learning cues and tricks, every task he learns builds his confidence and gives us quality bonding time. What could be better than that?

The first step in training your puppy is finding the best fit puppy for your lifestyle!

There have been a number of really great pieces on breeders in the past few months. I just wanted to post the links to some of these excellent blogs here and a few notes of my own.

 Patricia McConnell posted a couple of wonderful blogs on breeders and rescues here:  http://www.theotherendoftheleash.com/breeders-versus-rescues/ and http://www.theotherendoftheleash.com/could-breeders-and-shelters-work-together/.   You might also take a look at some of her other posts dealing with her new puppy and the puppy she returned to the breeder.

 A few recent Examiner articles have also recently dealt with ways you can tell if you’re dealing with a reputable breeder and what you should expect from the breeder when choosing a puppy from him or her: http://www.examiner.com/x-32013-Macon-Dog-Care-Examiner~y2010m1d7-Backyard-breeders-or-reputable-breeders and http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-31922-Portland-Dog-Training-Examiner~y2010m4d9-Raising-expectations-of-puppy-breeders    .

There’s also this great article on Dog Star Daily: http://www.dogstardaily.com/training/how-select-good-breeder discussing some things you can expect from a good breeder.

These articles are all excellent, very valuable resources to assist you when choosing a puppy.  As the Examiner article by Erika Wisan mentions, one of the most important (and too often overlooked) things to take into consideration when choosing a puppy are health certifications. Make sure you do thorough research on your chosen breed’s common health certifications and look for breeders who do those tests when looking for a puppy. A quick internet search with your desired breed and the words “health clearances” will get you started. Once you’re familiar with the types of clearances that are common for your chosen breed, visit websites like the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals website at http://www.offa.org/ and the Canine Health Information Center at http://www.caninehealthinfo.org/search.html . You can do a search by breed on these sites to see which individuals of that breed have which certifications. This will help you find breeders you’d want to get in touch with about perhaps getting a puppy form them. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals website also lists some data from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation.  Be sure to thoroughly research each type of certification so you can understand what the certification results mean.  The “Disease Information” link on the left on http://www.offa.org/ explains what the disease or condition is, how the tests for the disease are performed, goes over what the results of a test associated with a particular disease is and shows examples of what each OFA report looks like.

These databases are extremely valuable and important tools to utilize in your search for that special addition to your family.  A little extra research can go a long way!

We’re in the middle of our third snow storm in a week (and this one is huge)! It’s been a long time since we’ve had a winter like this and it would be ideal to go for lots of long walks with Special Dark (well in the 28+ inches we have today though!). Anyone who knows Special knows how much he loves treats, but playing in the snow might even top treats! Unfortunately, Special is two weeks post op from a TPLO surgery for a torn ACL and won’t be going for long walks in the snow anytime soon.

Last night as it was snowing, all he wanted to do was bounce around it. Play bow after play bow he couldn’t understand why we just stood there, not egging him on as we normally would. Why were there no snowballs flying through the air that usually transform him into a flyball or Frisbee dog!?  For 10- 12 weeks post op, Special Dark is to have to only controlled leash walks. During the first few weeks he’s to be kept quite still, only gradually lengthening his walks from a block’s worth of walking–and no stairs, running or jumping. Oh boy, that’s a long time! But it gives me an excuse to blog about one of my very favorite topics: what it means to be trained.

As my wonderful friend Layla (a super- trainer in Seattle, WA) so eloquently put it: “if your dog fits into your lifestyle as you like it, then the dog is trained.”  It breaks my heart when people think having a trained dog means that the dog does everything you say when you say it, for no reason other than just because: the dog has to be at the human’s side every second of a walk and sitting whenever human decides to stop moving, the dog cannot look at another dog (and must never ever turn his head towards another dog), etc. What is the sense in this? Training is not about creating robots! Training doesn’t mean that dog has to stop being a dog, what’s fair or logical about that? We bring their species to live with us and expect them to completely abandon everything that is natural and normal to them? No!

Training is simply showing dogs that because they live with us humans, there will be certain times when we need them to follow certain human rules and social norms. Training is showing your dog that people, places and things they thought were unsafe before can actually be safe; even wonderful! Training is about creating a strong, healthy bond based on understanding each other. This means they learn to understand what we want from them and vice versa. We learn to read what their bodies are saying the way they are already so perceptive about what ours say to them (even when we’re not so aware of what our bodies are saying to them!).

There is nothing like the feeling you get when you see the look in your dog’s eyes when they really understand what it means when you wave your hand in that one funny motion or when you say a particular word! There’s no way to know for sure of course, but I imagine the dog gets that same wonderful feeling when they finally understand that when we raise our hands in that one particular gesture we mean for them to put their rumps on the ground! I think this is part of the reason that training builds a dog’s confidence and heightens the trust they have in their person.  

Anecdotally, I can tell you I’ve seen the power of clear communication. I’ve seen many instances where a trainer will demonstrate to a class how to teach a particular cue. When the trainer works with the dog, after a few tries and is eagerly responding to the trainer. Inevitably (because we’re all human after all) there will be a few people who initially will get the mechanics wrong. Maybe they lure in the wrong direction, they don’t go low enough or they go too high.  After a few trails of trying to work with their human, the dog turns his head and looks at the trainer! This never ceases to amuse and fascinate me! How I wish I knew what the dog was thinking! If I had to guess (and we all know guessing can be dangerous– no one can know for sure what a dog is thinking), I’d guess the dog was looking for the person who could “translate” for him.

But now back to Special Dark and his TPLO surgery. This is the beauty of training: when it comes down to a situation like this, where with very little warning we were told that he would need surgery and this hike loving, constantly play bowing, bouncy chow chow would need to be immobile for such a long period of time, we knew we’d have to rely on some of things that we’ve trained him. It turns out, some of these would be cues we’ve taught him, some of them would be games we’ve played, some would be fairly new and yes, there would be even be something we overlooked!

In the time we had before the surgery, we began heavily relying on a cue we taught him for fun: “scoop.” Scoop means we’re about to hold our arms out and pick him up. We knew we might need it one day. With this injury he would need to be picked up and carried up and down stairs for a long time, it’s important that he feel comfortable with it. 

We already use “leave it” for a lot of things, so we knew this would come in handy for when he goes to lick the incision.

The handout from the surgeon said that due to the level of pain a dog might feel during physical therapy, they advise the use of a muzzle. Check. We’ve got Special D so happy to wear a muzzle that when he sees it, he wags his tail and even before I can finish unfolding it, he’s pushing his nose into it!

With no long walks in our future, we had to be ready to keep Special mentally busy with our usual indoor games and toys, as well as add a few new ones. “Find it” is exactly what it sounds like. We hide treats under clothes, in a pile of toys, etc. We added a new spin on it and hide them under paper cups and he has to sniff out which ones they’re under. He’s working on his tricks too: things like having treats placed on his paws and waiting until we tell him which order he can take them in. He’s also working on touching various items on cue (stay tuned for this one, there will eventually be a video).

We have a few new puzzle feeder toys for him too. Two Nina Ottoson toys that he can work while he’s stationary. Each of them are challenging to use, even teaching him how to use them wore him out and has been great enrichment for him. Here’s a picture I took of him playing with the “Dog Tornado.” (Sorry about the quality, I took it with my cell phone!).                                                           


Special also has a stellar “stay” so it’s time to play with that again: long stays, stays where I disappear from view, stays where I walk around him, etc.

So in all our preparations from making sure he’s comfortable with all the places he’ll need to be touched to making a list of all his usual tricks and games to searching the internet for new ideas of tricks and games to occupy him, did we get it all? Nope. We forgot to get him used to wearing an e collar (better known to the world as “the cone of shame” as seen in the movie Up)! The first day was okay because he was too tired to care, but once the grogginess went away, he was clearly unhappy with wearing it. So we started to work on getting him used to that too through desensitization and counter-conditioning, plus we went out and got an inflatable one which we did the same thing with. We now have options for that too!

This is what trained means to me: working together with your dog to get through whatever life throws at you through the use of things you two have done during training. When you have the ability to effectively communicate with your dog, the two of you can get through anything! You can build on things they already know and add new behaviors, etc. It’s the real life application of the wonderful things you’ve done together (from the basic cues to games and tricks) that strengthen your bond! This is communicating with your dog when it counts. There’s no need to ask your dog to heel on every walk, to ask him to sit every 5 minutes just because you can.  That’s not what training is about, training is about the end result of being able to communicate when you need too and it’s about the journey of getting there. It’s about all the fun BOTH of you can have learning cues and playing games and learning tricks. Even though it breaks my heart to think that I cannot explain to Special Dark why his leg is so hurt, it makes me so happy that I can communicate to him the things he can do to help him through this scary and painful time for him. This is the “magic” and beauty of training- there’s no secret energy, no secret tips- it’s just this ability to communicate effectively with your dog that gives both of you the ability to fit into each other’s lifestyle! Whether that lifestyle includes competing in dog sports, therapy work or whether you just want to walk down a crowded street with your dog, learning how to effectively and humanely train your dog will get you there!

After much delay, here is the last installment in the “dog training and behavior myths” series of posts. I’m attaching a warning and apology here: unfortunately it ended up being a long post!

16. “It’s okay to roll a dog on his back to pet him.”

Even though your intentions are good, rolling a dog on his back can actually send a very scary message to the dog. Forcing a dog into this position will very often result in defensive or fear aggression.

Another common mistake we tend to make is thinking that when a dog rolls over on his own, he always wants his belly scratched. This isn’t always the case! Dogs will roll over to signal appeasement or to create distance between themselves and a human! While our instinct is to pet the dog on his tummy when he rolls over thinking he’s signaling “please move closer,” he’s actually signaling “please move away!” Not at all a pleasant situation to be in. When dogs roll over in this way, to help build their confidence, it’s best to encourage them upright and then interact with them.

So how do you know when to pet your dog when he’s on his back? Look for relaxed muscles throughout the dog’s body, open mouths (often with tongues hanging out to the side) and general “wiggliness”- dogs tend to roll over in this way during play.  If your dog rolls over and you see any or all of these signs: tense muscles, furrowed brow, closed mouth, tucked tail- it’s best for the dog if you encourage him  to roll upright before interacting with him.

Dogs convey and understand intent very differently than we do. Even though dogs will roll over (or roll each other over) as part of play, prior to executing a rough and tumble move they’ve displayed other signals (such as play bows) to let their play partners know that what they’re doing is play. Don’t forget that a lot of what we think of as polite or comforting in our interactions with other people including facing each other during conversation, leaning in to get closer to a another person etc. all convey very different meanings to our dogs. If you happen to make a faux pas, it’s much easier explaining your intentions to another human than to your pup!

There are many sources available that discuss all aspects of dogs rolling on their backs including what it means when your dog rolls over, when it’s okay to pet your dog while he’s on his back, and the “alpha roll.” Patricia McConnell’s The Other End of the Leash discusses many of the topics in this blog and has great information on alpha rolls.  

17. “It’s best to take a dog that is fearful of other dogs to the dog park or to a dog class to get over that fear.”

Placing a dog into the situation the dog is afraid of at high intensities (including training classes if your dog is afraid of other dogs!) will most often make the situation worse. Your dog could very easily become overwhelmed to the point of shutting down, (essentially paralyzed in fear) not wanting to do anything but be near you and/or may end up biting out of fear.

Instead, speak to a trainer or veterinary behaviorist about how to desensitize and counter-condition your dog to other dogs or whatever they’re afraid of. Games such as tug of war (with rules properly in place), teaching tricks and even things as plain as working on basic cues with positive reinforcement techniques will also help to build your dogs confidence! 

For more information on fearful dogs, visit www.fearfuldogs.com and take a look at Patricia McConnell’s The Cautious Canine and Nicole Wilde’s Help For Your Fearful Canine.

 18. “You should be able to take things out of your dog’s mouth.”

Teach your dog “drop it” instead. “Drop it” and “leave it” can be life savers. Imagine looking across the lawn and seeing some sort of carcass hanging from your dog’s mouth! Wouldn’t you like to be able to just say “drop it” without having to race over there?

Trying to physically remove objects from a dog’s mouth whether they are food items, tissues, toys, socks, etc. can be very problematic at best and dangerous at worst.  You could actually inadvertently cause resource guarding through taking things away! Dogs should be taught that human hands are not a bad thing around their food bowls, around treasured toys, around favorite treats, that human hands come by their favorite things to give, not to take.

Speak to a trainer or veterinary behaviorist who can walk you through all the steps including ow to teach “drop it” by playing tug (see Dog Training and Behavior Myths Part II). Also, take a look at Jean Donaldson’s “Canine Fear, Aggression and Play” seminar handouts for preventing resource guarding and Jean Donaldson’s Mine! A Practical Guide to Resource Guarding in Dogs for help if you suspect your dog may be guarding anything. 

19. “Dogs should be punished when they growl.”

This is a very dangerous myth. When dogs growl, they are signaling that they are uncomfortable with something. It’s a warning that if we don’t pay attention to the dog’s level of discomfort, it could escalate to a bite.  If we punish for growling the dog may feel the need to escalate right then, possibly to a bite, depending on the situation. Punishing growls could also have long-term effects- if we punish a dog for growling the next time a similar situation arises, he may not growl at all, instead he may go straight to a bite!

While we would of course prefer not to hear growls, the reality is that they are a perfectly normal means of canine communication and it’s very important for us to accept them as such. Every dog will most likely growl at something during his or her life. It’s the equivalent of us raising our voices. Who can honestly say they’ve never done that?

I’m absolutely not saying that if a dog growls, we should just shrug and say “okay, that’s normal.” What we need to do, is to find out exactly what is making the dog uncomfortable and work to change that perception of “this thing is not safe and I will now growl at it” to one where the dog sees the person, place, item, etc as safe. This can be done through desensitization and counter conditioning.

Speak to a trainer or veterinary behaviorist if your dog is growling for any reason.  Take a look at Janis Bradley’s Dog’s Bite But Balloons and Slippers Are More Dangerous for an eye opening, informative and witty look at aggression in canines.

20. “Dogs who growl in places like a vet’s office  or grooming parlor are being difficult”

A lot of times veterinarians, their staff and groomers get to see a side of our dogs that we never see elsewhere. For some dogs the poking and prodding, need sticks, etc. are no problem, but for many dogs these are two of the scariest places to be.  Some dogs a) become so overwhelmed and shut down that they just stand, sit or flop over and can be manipulated every which way (and are usually touted as “good dogs”) while others b) squirm to get away, growl or snap when handled.

Regardless of which of these categories a dog falls into, she is not being “difficult,” “stubborn” or “dominant.” Neither “a” nor “b” are good for pup, both situations indicate fear.  

What do we do? We can do our best to desensitize and counter condition our dogs to these places, people, instruments and techniques. This will involve multiple visits when the dog is not being groomed or going in for shots, etc.  A trainer or veterinary behaviorist can help you do this.

These are just some of the myths out there concerning dog training and behavior. While they may seem trivial to us, a lot of them have very serious meaning to our dogs. These are not by any means the only myths out there: from the notion that dogs love to be hugged (another very common myth) to the notion that it’s great for dogs to be carried to the notion that when two dogs meet they should be restrained to the idea that when an off-leash dog runs up to your on-leash dog there will be no problems.

Dog training and dog behavior aren’t the only topics surrounded by myths. They persist in every field, in every aspect of life. For example, a friend of mine who is a personal trainer told me that many people believe they are doing the right thing by their bodies when they hit the sidewalk for a jog or a run (think of how many you see out there each day). Yet sidewalks are the worst surface to run or jog on because they cause shin splints!

Despite scientific (or medical, as in the example above) evidence to the contrary there are many reasons for why some of these myths have such staying power. It’s our job to be as educated as possible about what is myth and what is fact. Research and question everything you can to make educated and informed decisions concerning your dog. It’s the best way we can make sure they stay safe, healthy and happy.

If there are any myths that weren’t addressed in this series of posts and you’d like to share, please post them here!


Here are a few more common myths surrounding dog behavior and training.

6. “A growl is always a warning, even during play.”

Dogs actually may also growl when they play bow, when they play with other dogs, when they play with their toys, etc.

Again, it’s important to look at the context of the behavior and pay attention to what the whole body is telling you, not just one specific signal. Look for signs of play: loose body movements, play bows, elf-handicapping  etc. to accompany growling.

When two dogs are playing, it can look quite scary to us with lots of teeth visible, chasing and wrestling all accompanying the growling. Look for dogs taking turns chasing each other; for wrestlers to take turns being on top; bouts of chasing, wresting, etc to be punctuated by play bows, etc. Often dogs will chase each other in a bounding, silly looking way and veer off at the last moment.

For more on what play looks like, take a look at Patricia McConnell’s “Dog Play” DVD (http://www.patriciamcconnell.com/product/dog-play-). For a bit more advanced and in-depth look, Jean Donaldson’s “Canine Fear, Aggression and Play” is a fantastic source (http://www.tawzerdogvideos.com/Jean-Donaldson.htm).

7.  “If a dog walks ahead of you on a walk or goes out of the door ahead of you, he is being dominant.”

Without getting into a lengthy discussion of dominance, you guessed it, this one’s another myth. These behaviors have nothing to do with dominance. Dogs just want to get out there to explore. They’re following their noses to get to the source of all those interesting, meaningful smells… smells that we can’t even smell, the same smells that they can already smell from far away!

There is no reason that a dog should be walking behind or beside you all the time.  She can be a polite walker and still wander ahead, to the side or wherever she wants to be. Remember that a walk where dogs are allowed to sniff provides a lot of the mental stimulation that they need.  

8. “Your dog should not sleep on your bed because this teaches the dog to be aggressive towards their owners.”

There is no evidence to suggest that there is a relationship between dogs sleeping on your bed with you and aggression directed towards their humans.

For more information on myths 7 and 8, see Jean Donaldson’s The Culture Clash and

Goodloe, Linda P; Borchelt, Peter L.  Companion dog temperament traits. 
Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science.  1998  Vol.1(4): 303-338 (available at: http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/978989331-53455308/content~content=a783706513~db=all~order=page)

9. “Dogs that don’t do what we ask are stubborn.”

They’re really not stubborn, they just either a) don’t know what you want them to do or b) he isn’t motivated.

Often, we think our dogs know a cue when they really don’t.

On the third trail of very first day that we day teach a cue, we may think “oh he’s got it!” He might, but it could be that he’s guessing because the behavior has worked in the past! It takes time to learn something new. Think back to your school days, how long did it take you to master calculus? What about something you had to commit to memory, like the periodic table of elements or lines from “Romeo and Juliet?”

Now, let’s say we’re convinced we’ve taught him to come: on day 1 we say “Fido, come,” day 2 we say “Fido, over here” and on day 3 ”Fido.” Which one of these is your verbal cue? Be consistent!

Once we have a cue that he’s responding to consistently, does he know that it means the same thing in the kitchen, in the living room and at the dog park with 50 other dogs? If we do 50 “sits” in the living room where the dog is in front of us, often we expect that the dog will automatically understand sit when we call them while standing 20 feet away from our dogs playing in the dog park! It’s all different to them initially- you didn’t have to complete an exercise in calculus the day after you learned how to add and subtract, right? We have to teach them it does indeed mean the same thing in all locations.

Is there a hand signal? Are there other body cues (are your arms out, are you bent down)? How does he know what to follow and when? Be very consistent about what you say and be aware of what signals your body is sending at the same time. Remember it’s much easier for dogs to understand our body language than our words so if you’re body says something at the same time as your voice does, your dog responds to the visual information and tunes out the verbal information.

If he isn’t motivated it could mean a few things. If it’s still during the training phase, are you using great treats? Good treats are deemed “great” by your pup, not us. Did you fade the treats out so that the anticipation for a treat remains? During your training, did you call your dog to come to you when you were angry for him destroying your flowers such that he is now afraid to come? You want your pup to keep on thinking that cues are fun, responding to cues should start to become reflexive to you pup.  Even so, there are some things I still like to reward for, at least on occasion. 

10. “As long as someone tells you ‘it’s okay’ when their dog meets yours, it really is okay.”

For me, this usually raises a red flag right away.

Remember, you should always, always be looking at what the other dog’s body language is telling you before you allow the greeting to take place. A signal that you are able to read as a warning from the approaching dog, the owner may say “oh, he’s just excited,” etc. You’d be surprised at how many people will say this when their dogs have their hackles up, are making direct eye contact and growling!

The other point here is that when someone tells you their dog is “great with other dogs,” they probably are. But dogs are no different than humans- they don’t have to like everyone.  And they won’t like everyone. And that’s okay.

I never ask anything about the dog. If everything goes well as we get closer, the only thing I ask is if the owner is okay with our dogs meeting. If we are walking along and someone calls “it’s okay, he’s friendly” and I get the feeling he’s really not, I just smile politely but keep going.

It’s our job to always be on alert to interpret what other dogs are saying to our dogs, it’s the best way to keep them safe.

Part III, the final installment of Dog Training and Behavior Myths, will be coming soon!

Why not start the New Year off with just a few of the common myths surrounding dog behavior and training? Here is a hodge-podge of topics ranging from puppy socialization to dogs sleeping on your bed to wagging tails. How many of them did you already know are only myths?   

1.  “A dog wagging his tail is safe to pet.”

Not necessarily… a dog’s tail wagging indicates arousal. For example, a dog barking to keep you away may often also be wagging his tail! See if you can spot all the different circumstances that your dog wags his tail in! 

The best way to be sure a dog is inviting you to pet him? Always make sure you look at what the entire body is telling you:  are the muscles relaxed or is the dog stiff, etc.

Consider ordering Patricia McConnell’s “Reading Between the Lines” DVD for some excellent visuals of dog communication signals.

 2. “A puppy shouldn’t be trained until he’s at least 16 weeks old or he shouldn’t be trained until he’s had all of his shots because the risk for disease is too great.”

This is a myth that could actually cause a great deal of harm to your pup. Keep in mind that by 8 weeks of age (the age at which most new doggie parents often acquire their new addition), the sensitive period for socialization is about 2/3 OVER! This critical socialization period occurs between the ages of 3 to 12 weeks. This is your best change to have your puppy engage in as many positive encounters as possible (not just to dogs but to all types of people, locations and situations) to ensure that your pup becomes a confident, socially polite adult. Once this period is gone, it’s gone.  If your puppy is not well-socialized, there is a great chance that he you will have behavioral concerns arise in the future: anything from fear issues to barking at a trash can in your neighbor’s  yard, etc , etc. This list is too great to mention.

The benefits far outweigh the risks. When I taught group puppy classes I required the first DHPP vaccine, which was to have taken place at least a week before classes started. The risk of a puppy getting sick in a clean puppy class with this first shot in place is very small. The key is it to make sure that wherever you take your puppy, accidents must be cleaned up and disinfected immediately. Also, avoid placing your puppy on the ground in common areas that harbor germs (the grass in front of your local pet food store, for instance).   

For more on this, see: http://www.avsabonline.org/avsabonline/images/stories/Media/veterinary%20medicine%20roundtable%20ps.pdf, http://www.apdt.com/petowners/articles/docs/RKAndersonLetter.pdf, the works of Dr. Ian Dunbar or visit Dog Star Daily at www. Dogstardaily.com

 3. “Dogs that live with other dogs don’t need to interact with dogs outside of the home during the socialization period of their development.”

 This is another big one. It’s important that your dog meets and interacts with many dogs, not just the ones he sees every day. Imagine if you only ever interacted with one or two people, when you met person #3, how would you interact with them if their personalities were different? Would you know how? (See the info on socialization in Myth #2).

 4. “If a dog cowers when he meets new people, dogs or goes to new places, he must’ve been abused.”

He may have. Many people take these signs of fear to mean that a dog was abused, but in a great many cases the truth is the dog was not properly socialized.

Yes, numbers 2,3 and 4 all have to do with socialization. It’s such an important topic and so easy to go wrong with. It is quite common for dogs not exposed positively to people, other animals (including, but certainly not limited to other dogs), places and situations to show varying levels of fear.

Dogs can be afraid of anything from other dogs, to people, to tricycles, to dishwashers, to microwaves to giant stuffed animals to strollers- all things that you or I would think are strange to be afraid of. Why would we think it odd to be afraid of these things? Because we’ve been introduced to them, we’re familiar with them, to a dog who has never seen a tricycle, there’s no telling what type of torture device it might be!

If you think that in 7 years you might maybe perhaps (even if there’s only a 1% chance) get a yacht and go sailing, you need to expose your pup to the dock and expose him to sights, sounds and smells of the dock before he is 12 weeks old.  No one expects you to think of everything. We’ll always miss something no matter how hard we try, but why not try to cover as many bases as possible? Sit down and create a list. It’s much easier to get a pup to form an opinion of something as “safe” or even “wonderful” during this critical period in their development, than to go back later and show them tricycles, dishwashers, microwaves, giant stuffed animals and strollers are “safe” later on.  And I can tell you that fear of these types of things do happen, because when we adopted Special Dark we discovered this collection of items was on his list of unfamiliar and unsafe items!

 5. “Dogs that have a huge backyard to play in don’t need walks.”

It is essential for dogs to get out on a walk, even if they have a big backyard to play in. Walks not only give our dogs the physical exercise they need, but they give our dogs lots of mental stimulation. Their noses are so much more powerful than ours that it is often said that if a human were able to posses the powerful sense of smell that dogs for have for just one day, we’d be so exhausted we’d be asleep for a week!

Some people argue that their dogs get enough exercise in the backyard, but if you spend time watching them, take a look to see just how much time they actually spend running around, or for that matter, even walking around the backyard. It’s not very much, most likely the majority of the time they lie about!

Keeping your dog in the backyard and not taking him for varied walks is also a great way to start a fence barking problem!

Stay tuned for part II!