Posts Tagged ‘Dog Star Daily’

Imagine you’re walking along on the street when all of a sudden someone yells “No!” What is your reaction? If you’re like most people, you’ll startle. You’ll stop in your tracks and probably start to look around to see what’s going on. Were you stepping off the curb? Did they want you to stop? Were you going the wrong way? What in the world could be happening?

What will you do next? Most likely you’ll stop where you are and try to figure out what could be happening. You’ll look around, but will that tell you what to do? Or what not to do? No, not in the least.

This is the situation your dog finds herself in every time you say “No!” Think of how often this occurs in your house. She may try to jump up on someone and you say “no!” She may try to take something that doesn’t belong to her. Maybe she’s darting out the front door. Maybe you asked her to “stay” and she’s walking away. 

Why not provide more useful information? Think of what behavior you might like in place those that make you say “no!” Instead of saying “no” when she jumps, why not ask her to “sit” instead? Or teach her to go lie down somewhere when visitors come? If she tries to pick up a sock that doesn’t belong to her, why not ask her to “leave it” instead? If she darts out the door, make sure she has a solid recall, teach her the “wait” cue instead. If she gets up to walk away from a “stay” go back and practice “stay” until she understands she’s not supposed to get up until you come back to release her.  Tell your dog exactly what you need from her, don’t leave her to do the guess work.

Often saying “no” may startle your dog, but it won’t tell her what you need instead. She’ll be left to her devices to decide. Imagine if you’re out in the garden and you see her grab a tomato off the vine, if you say “no!” she may leave it there, but now what? She may pick up a pepper instead, or a different tomato or she may simply pause and then keep running with it. Is it her fault? No! You haven’t told her what you want! Now imagine that same dog picking up a tomato. How would the situation be different if she knew the “leave it” cue and you asked her to do so and then handed her a ball instead and said “take it?” Would this be easier on both human and canine?

Think of how many times a day you say “no” to your dog. What could you substitute in place of “no” to communicate more clearly with your dog? Try to count how many times you use “no” in your house, make a list of when you do it and come up with things you could say instead. For every time you say “no” there is something else you could say or another activity you could redirect your dog to. Start implementing these things and do a new count. Both your frustration level and that of your dog’s will be much lower!

We can maybe afford to use “no” once or twice every few years for those rare emergencies when we simply can’t think of anything else, but there’s no other need really. You should work through training exercises so that the first things that pop into your mind (even in an emergency) are “leave it,” “sit,” “down,” “come,” etc. Both you and your dog should be used to this! If you are out and out about and your dog leans down to pick up a chicken bone and you say “no!” in horror, you haven’t practiced “leave it” enough! It should be just as reflexive to you when you say it as it should be reflexive to your dog to do it.

Think of it this way: how many times a day so you say “no” to another human when you want them to do something for you? If they reach for a cup of coffee to hand you but you wanted tea, would you say “no!?” Or something more like “could I have tea instead?” If they go right and you want them to go left, wouldn’t you say “go left” instead of saying “no!” Think about how much more useful information in the form of directions we give other human beings. Shouldn’t we do the same for our dogs?

I challenge all of you to rid your home of the word “no” in the next year! Once you start, you’ll begin noticing how many times people around say it to their dogs and how much non-information it actually carries.

For some really fantastic takes on the uses of “no” and what a poor form of communication this word really is, as well as other ways we’re sometimes ineffective in communicating with our dogs, take a look at Ian Dunbar demonstrating with a fellow human at this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHNV_og7AG4&feature=player_embedded  or the same video can be seen on the Dog Star Daily website with many other fabulous videos at http://www.dogstardaily.com/dogstars/videos/training/newest?filter0=31. And of course, my favorite example is from Jean Donaldson’s The Culture Clash (pages  95 to 97) for her fabulous Planet Gorn analogy.


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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!

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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!

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Almost a year after Alex (the world famous African Grey parrot) died, Patricia McConnell wrote an article for Bark magazine (March/April 2008 No. 47, pg. 46-49) about what dogs understand. Can dogs understand concepts such as smaller vs. bigger? Can our dogs understand that the words we say to them can represent objects and actions?

The article was amazing as usual, but it wasn’t any of these questions that stuck with me. It was the end of one particular paragraph where she describes Alex’s first trip to the vet. Alex had to stay at the vet alone and as Irene Pepperberg (renowned scientist and Alex’s human) was leaving him, he said to her quietly “I’m sorry. I love you. I’m sorry.” Can anything be more heart wrenching?

Reading the story still gives me goose bumps. I always hate seeing Special Dark confused or afraid of anything. I always wonder in particular about what rescue dogs in particular think about certain situations when they’ve just gone to their new homes. The first time Special Dark went to the vet was the day after we adopted him (believe me, this was only because it was absolutely necessary!), and among other things he was feeling, I wondered if he thought this family was done with him too.

There are many times when I’m gushing over Special Dark, talking to him for long periods of time about how I adore him. I know that while I’m doing this he’s looking at me wondering what I want, scanning for words he already knows (sit, down, stay, walk, treat, etc). A prime example of this is when I’m gathering my things to get ready to go out. When I talk to him during these times, I see a mixture of anticipation and confusion as he listens for me to say “come on” or “you’re staying.” He’s searching for the words that have contextual meaning to him in a sea of the “useless” extraneous human words that have no immediate consequence: “I love you, you’re the cutest, aw, look how little you are.” All the words that I, as a human, feel so good saying to him all the while he’s patiently waiting for the punch line! (That’s not to say that these words are all meaningless all the time, I have been known to float a treat just for cuteness!)

You might be wondering what this overly sentimental post has to do with training, here it is: Whether or not dogs feel love, empathy, sorrow or even whether they might offer the above words as an appeasement signal to a human if they could (all topics for another blog), two things are certain:

  1. Dogs experience fear.
  2. Clear communication is essential to any dog-human relationship.

 Dogs can be fearful of other dogs, food bowls, people, wheelchairs, substrates, thunder, etc. The list is endless. Dogs, like every other living thing on the planet, are afraid of pain (think fight or flight). Animals have to be afraid of pain, or the threat of pain, to live long enough to pass on their genetic information.

Aversive training methods suggest to your dog that fear, pain or death could be a consequence of a behavior.  Shock collars, prong collars, choke collars, alpha rolls or pinning dogs down all result in fear and pain. I’ve often had people tell me that these things “don’t hurt.”  I once spoke to the owner of a chihuahua who was wearing a shock collar because he pulled on his leash and he barked too much. They told me that their trainer explained to them that the if the dog shakes and yelps, the collar is working properly. If there is no shaking or yelping, the voltage needs to be increased. The justification for the use of these tools is always “don’t worry, they’re painless.” I ask them, if it’s not through fear or pain, how or why do these items work? They have no answer for me. I can tell them that positive reinforcement methods work because the dog is excited to earn a treat, he is using his mind to solve a puzzle and his solution will result in a yummy bit of food, a toy or a walk, etc., and a wrong answer doesn’t result in fear or pain. When the dog is wearing a prong collar and the collar is popped and then released, is the dog excited about anything? What results will his compliance produce for him?

This is one reason why effective, clear communication between you and your dog is so important to master. It’s hard enough communicating with members of our own species (think about how many misunderstandings or confusing conversations you have had this week)! Now we have to figure out what our dogs are trying to communicate to us and our poor dogs get to try to figure out what we’re trying to communicate to them!

It’s important to learn what they are trying to communicate to us, so we can effectively communicate with them. It’s not important just for training, but to avoid “misunderstandings.” Knowing when your dog is overwhelmed will help you avoid a dog bite to yourself, friends, or strangers. It will help you prevent behavioral concerns from becoming serious. Know the signs of stress or fear. Realize that a closed mouth; dilated pupils; an unmoving body; a yawn; rapid lip-licking can be signs of stress. There are many others too. When people would have you believe that your dog is “calm, submissive,” know that in reality, your dog is fearful and has likely shut-down. 

Being aware of what you are communicating to your dog verbally, as well as with your body language, is also essential. Did you now that simply by leaning over to yell, you are conveying that you are out of control and you might kill him? Your dog now has to wonder which of these times that you’ve lost control you’ll finally carry out that threat! Even though that’s not at all the message you intended to convey, it is the message your dog receives.

It’s the same when you give a verbal cue. When you say “sit,” is it really the word your dog is responding too? Or is it the way your hand moved? Do you always lift an eyebrow or take a step closer to your dog when you say “sit?” For a fabulous discussion on this topic, see Erica Young’s blog on the Dog Star Daily website http://www.dogstardaily.com/blogs/antecedent-intervention.

Likewise, when you say “no,” what does that mean to your dog? If someone says “no” to you right now, what in the world does that mean? Does it give you any information besides possibly getting your attention?

Here’s a really common example: you’re walking down the street and your dog starts veering off to say hello to the dog passing you. You say “no!” “No” what exactly? No, don’t look at that dog, no don’t veer to the right, no don’t turn your head? How should the dog know which one you mean? Tell him what you want from him instead. How about “leave it” or “let’s go?”  Or teach him to look up at you every time he sees a dog until you signal to him to approach the other dog. You could teach him something like “say hello” so when he hears that cue, he knows it’s okay to say hello, when he doesn’t hear it he keeps walking along or looks up at you.

Communicate to your dog when you do like something, not just when you don’t. Reward her for sitting politely while strangers pet her, especially if you didn’t even ask her to!

When I left Special Dark at the vet that day, I could see that he was fearful. I wish I could have communicated to him somehow that we would be back for him. I wish that he could understand what all the procedures and shots are and that no one would ever hurt him on purpose. I try to think about Alex’s experience, and Special’s experience and do my best in the situations that I can control to ensure that there is no fear, no confusion. There are actually very few times when we don’t have control over the messages we are communicating to our dogs. And there are a myriad of things we can do to keep them from being fearful or stressed (including during trips to the vet!). The most important, basic and easy of these is to train and communicate with them in such a way that we are clear about what behaviors we like, to teach them behaviors we would like in place of ones we don’t, and make sure they don’t ever experience the fear that if they perform the wrong behavior, they might be subjected to pain. It’s that easy. You’ll have that well behaved dog you’re seeking, your bond will be stronger, and your dog will be happy.

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