What it means to own a dog

Think about this for a minute. What it is to have a dog, another species, for a friend? A companion who will be there with you, day after day, asking little more than something to eat and a safe place to live.

I can take my dog's leash off and know that she'll return to me. She will chase critters, smell good smells, snack on fresh grass or play ball, but always with an eye on me. When she is done with her most current adventure, we'll go home together.

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Socialization: A Positive Parent’s Guide to Raising and Training Dogs and Puppies

I am often asked how we should socialize our dogs so that they will grow up as well adjusted as possible.I think the answer is both simple and intuitive: The same way you socialize your small children.

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1098 Hits

Play for Everyone!

I think playing with dogs is a really good idea.

When people play with their dogs, they like them better. They smile more. Their dogs start to look towards them more easily and frequently.

In short – it's just nice. It's nice for people and it's nice for dogs.

So. How does one play with a dog?

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1048 Hits

Clicker, Marker Word, or Cookie?!?

Which is best: a clicker, a marker word or just handing over a cookie when the dog does something which makes us proud?

Ask yourself what are the goals for the training session.

If you're working on simple classical conditioning (for example: You want the dog to feel good in a new building) then hand over free cookies. Since the dog's consciousness of their behavior is irrelevant, there's no reason to use a clicker or a marker word. You simply want your dog to enjoy the situation – classical conditioning at work.

If you're working on a trained behavior that has an element of duration, but the actual moment that you choose to hand over the cookie is not relevant, then there is also no need for a marker. Just release from the formal work, hand over free cookies with praise, and go from there.

For example, if you're working on loose leash walking and the dog has been walking for a full minute without pulling, then there really is no specific moment to mark. You're just happy with a "period of time." Since this exact second is not different than the one before, a marker can't mark anything.

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2040 Hits

Hyper Greeters: Dealing with dogs who jump up (extreme edition)

A while ago I posted a blog about teaching dogs to keep their feet on the floor and off of people. That blog included an excellent video by Chirag Patel. In my opinion, his approach will work for a high percentage of dogs, especially puppies who are started correctly. 

But some dogs are a bit different. These dogs are not showing normal, thinking behavior patterns when they are in the presence of new people, because they are "hyper greeters." In the presence of new people, they go over threshold. 

"Over threshold" simply means that the dog is no longer able to make good (rational) decisions about their behavior. And since training assumes a rational participant who is maximizing good things and minimizing bad things, training often fails on dogs that are over threshold. Sad but true. The more time a dog spends over threshold, the more easily they end up in this bad place, which starts a nasty cycle.

A hyper greeter isn't a happy dog who simply loves everyone. 

A hyper greeter is a dog with an uncontrollable need to get to people, yet the dog recognizes that their behavior is not appreciated. That leads to conflict, and conflict is bad, because dogs in conflict go over threshold easily.

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Positive Paralysis – Now what?

You're picking up after the kids in the family room when you hear sounds coming from the kitchen….where your dinner roast is cooling on the countertop. You have a sinking feeling that your dog is about to make a meal out of your dinner.

You're a "positive" trainer who doesn't use fear, intimidation, or physical force to train your dog.

You enter the kitchen to see what is happening and your worst fear is confirmed – your dog is well up on the kitchen counter and heading for your roast.

What do you do?

Wait a sec – I have to change that around a bit, because I have no idea what you do. Let's talk about what I'd do.

So, what would I do?

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2915 Hits

Positive Connections with Positive Trainers: Building Bridges with Colleagues

Yesterday I spent some time looking at the Facebook pages of other dog trainers. I saw videos that were new to me, became re-acquainted with some "oldies but goodies" and had a chance to hear different points of views on random topics. Not a bad way to spend some time!

Then I came across the Facebook wall of a trainer who shares a fundamental belief of mine; that dog training should be kind. And while we clearly take different paths from there, I'd say that's not very important. In the bigger scheme of things, we both believe in the importance of kindness to animals.

One of the first things I found on this trainer's page was a video of another trainer. There were several paragraphs of text explaining why this other trainer and her video were wrong. So of course I watched the video. Who was this person??

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Recall Training: The One Cue Every Dog Should Know

If I could teach a dog only one thing, what would it be?

To come when called. Few things are quite as frustrating as a dog that is oblivious to your futile attempts to call him back to you or worse, a dog that thrives on the game of "keep away."

A dog with a strong recall has freedom! You can take them places and get them back when you want to leave.

A dog with a strong recall has safety! You can let them off the leash without an unreasonable fear of having them run off or get hit by a car (though all decisions involve risk).

A strong recall makes you welcome with other people and dog owners!

If you have ever found yourself calling out "don't worry; my dog is friendly!" then please read the next paragraphs with great care.

Get ready because I'm going to be blunt here…. 

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8348 Hits

Simplophile or Complexophile: How you say things matters.

These two words were recently added to my vocabulary by a fellow dog trainer. In a nutshell, the idea is that people have a natural tendency to make topics either simple or complex as a personality trait.

I am a complexophilephobic. My third newest word!

And I have friends who are theoretical complexophiles with applied simplophile tendencies.

How long did it take you to read those words, break them into pieces, and then process what I was trying to say? Was it intuitive and obvious or are you still puzzling them out?

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1541 Hits

Moments of Pride: Distraction Training and Timing

Someone working through my Distraction Training Program asked me recently, "When working distraction training with pet dogs, when should the student be instructed to mark the correct behavior?"

I'll address this based on how I think and problem solve – as a relationship-based trainer.

"When should a student mark a behavior?"

Regardless of whether you use a clicker, a marker word, or just stick a cookie in the dog's mouth, the moment is always the same:

At that moment when your heart knew that your dog would succeed, mark it! When you felt pride! 

Your dog walked past a tempting cookie on the ground and completed the recall instead. Did you feel pride? Great; that's the timing you want!

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Minimalist Training: Incompatible Behaviors

Incompatible behaviors are things that our dogs do that are incompatible with other behaviors; both cannot happen at the same time. Here are some examples:Lying down is incompatible with jumping up – they cannot both be happening at the same time.Pulling on a leash is incompatible with looking at the handler.A toy in a dog's mouth is incompatible w...
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1661 Hits

Dog to Child Greetings: Teaching Them How to Interact Wisely

In last week's blog post I introduced the idea of dog to child interactions – how to get the pair in the same space! Now let's look at what to do when the dog and child are interacting.

Dogs generally don't appreciate having anyone reach over them to pet the top of their heads. Instead, teach the child to pet the dog's chest, shoulders or side of the neck. If the dog is barely looking at the child's face and is just thrilled to be there with a happy, wagging body, then all is well and it isn't likely to matter what the child pets.

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2967 Hits

Dog to Child Greetings: The Power of Giving the Dog a Choice

 Years ago, I learned from Madeline Gabriel that children should be instructed to ask THE DOG for permission to visit. How clever is that? Yes, we all know about asking the dog's owner, but what about the dog??!! I'm sure each person has a different way of doing it, but here's how I have the child ask the dog:

Child stands or sits still, and calls to the dog. "Brito, do you want to be petted?" The child can bend over, pat their legs, make "pup pup pup!" sounds, etc. 

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Can you truly teach a dog to be calm?

My perspective on helping dogs behave in a calm fashion may be different than how others address it.

That's because, in my opinion, the emotion of "calm" is not something you teach operantly (dog is aware that they are learning) as much as "acquire" through classical conditioning and specific environmental associations.

"Calm" is an emotional state that results naturally from several things:

  1. Providing your dog with adequate physical exercise to satiate the body
  2. Providing your dog with adequate mental stimulation to satiate the brain
  3. A temperament that is stable and unstressed
  4. Classically conditioning your dog to feel the emotion of "calm" in various places

For example, how I "feel" in a church is different than how I feel at a rock concert, because I have developed different associations with those two places. Your dog needs to see your house as more of a church while the backyard might remain the favored rock concert.

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6770 Hits

It's a Puppy, Not a Problem

Left to their own devices, what do puppies like to do?

They like to bark, play, run through the house (sometimes with muddy feet), jump on people, put things in their mouths and chew on them, eat tasty foods, explore, sniff things, dig holes in mud and sand and dirt, and a host of other things that I don't have time to mention. They do these things because they are baby dogs. Fortunately we can train our dogs to show more appropriate behaviors, but it takes time and the natural outcome of maturity. Puppies are a challenge.

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Understanding Hyperawareness: What Happened When I Showered with a Spider

Today I took a shower with a spider.

It wasn't like I volunteered for this; I hopped in and was well along in the process of getting clean before I saw it in the shower pan. And this wasn't a tiny spider – it was a big one. I'd' say 3″ around or so.

Ok. Maybe it was closer to 1″, including the legs. But it FELT like 3″ when I realized that I was not alone.

I'm not afraid of spiders but I also do not choose to take showers with them. I was particularly unthrilled about the thought of one crawling on me when I shut my eyes to rinse my hair. But I could manage, and anyone watching would not have been aware of the turmoil going on inside of my mind as I kept half an eye on that spider and the rest of my brain on getting done with my shower.

And then my husband unexpectedly opened the bathroom door. I startled, screamed, and am quite lucky I didn't go through the glass.

What happened?

My husband has seen me shower before- after 20 years we're well past any issues there. And I had been showering with that spider for a couple of minutes already so that wouldn't have caused my reaction. But in my hyper aware state I seriously overreacted, likely risking my health a good deal more than anything that spider could have thought up to do to me.

When we are agitated, we are hyper aware. That internal state of awareness may or may not show on the outside, but the effort to continue on in a normal fashion absorbs most of our capacity.

Now let's talk about dogs.

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Management, Training and Maintenance, Part 2

In part 1 of this blog post, I discussed management, training and the intersection of the two. Now let's turn our attention to the concept of maintenance.

Behaviors that I am maintaining are well trained, well understood, and have moved into the realm of habit.

Here's how that works:

After I have called my puppy into the house hundreds of times, and I have backed up her good responses with a cookie and my genuine praise, then I will stop rewarding most of her responses with a cookie and I'll offer only praise or a life reward (to be discussed in a further blog post). People often ask me how I know when it's time to start reducing reinforcement and the answer is relatively simple:

When I am no longer impressed by the good behavior. 

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1857 Hits

Management, Training and Maintenance Part 1

I'll refer to these terms over time, so it might help if you have some idea what I'm talking about.

When I talk about management, I'm talking about preventing your puppy or dog from rehearsing bad behaviors, either while you decide to start training or until she outgrows whatever misbehavior is currently expressing itself or….forever, if that is your choice.

Management may involve applying external controls to the dog, or it may mean structuring the environment.

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2349 Hits

Teaching Better Greetings: What to do if Your Dog is Jumping on People

Let's talk about jumping up on people.

First, let's consider the dog's point of view. If your dog does manage to keep four feet on the floor, they might not be noticed! They cannot express their excitement at your presence! In contrast, if they jump on you, they will get noticed, whether you appreciate that or not. Sometimes any attention is better than no attention at all, so let this be a generic piece of advice: train your eye (and your response) to notice what goes right with your dog rather than focusing on what goes wrong.

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Is Silence Disconnect? Introducing Silence to Obedience Work

 A student recently asked how to introduce silence into her obedience work without her dog feeling punished. As a long-time obedience competitor, I do not consider silence to be punishing, but it does appear that some people see it that way. Where is the confusion coming from?

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