Nature Trails: the best dog training

Those of you who have been working with me recently, know that life has been a little chaotic here at The Freckled Paw. I’ve been a little more ‘just get through’ instead of my normal ‘planning everything in advance.’

Stephen, the travelling dogs, and I just got back from a weekend in the mountains where I had a chance to recharge. There is no cell reception in West Virginia. Seriously! There was no obsessively checking emails, no listening to podcasts and wondering what my next business decision needed to be. It was just me, my dog, my husband, and the cold. (I jumped from 85* when we left to 53* in the woods, and 40* for a soccer game.)

It was just what I needed. I reconnected with my dogs joy of sniffing new things. Cargo got to experience a creek and bear poo for the first time. Opie climbed fallen trees and found a critter den (we had to pull him back up the side of the mountain) They got to be dogs playing in the mud, and I enjoyed every minute!

Finding poo in the clearing

Science tells us that being in nature is good for our mental health, stress level and loads of other things. Read more here! I think its a safe assumption that our dogs benefit the same way.

 

So why are we not walking in the woods?

As dog owners, we forget that dogs are not people and we try to make their lives as easy as possible to help make our lives as easy as possible. We scoop kibble into a bowl for feeding times, forgetting that dogs are scavengers by nature. There is no scavenging for that kibble in a bowl that is set down in the same place every day. In the woods dogs get to use their nose to track, and collect information like they would if they were out on their own.

Now,

our dogs have been domesticated enough to know that they are not wolves and should not be chasing bunnies in your yard for dinner. Allowing them to

do some normal doggy things in the woods allows some of that instinct to be expressed in an appropriate setting.

 

I had forgotten how much I enjoy being in the woods with my dogs. I think the dogs have missed their time in nature too. We got carried away with life this summer and our weekly walks turned into monthly walks, into no woodland walks at all.

That changes today!

Climbing and sniffing

This week I will be getting back into the habit of walking in the woods every week. I am going to challenge you to do the same thing, and see what benefits you start to see as we get closer to the new year. Keep up with the challenge on my Facebook page. Show me where you are walking every week.

3 things to keep in mind when bringing home a new pup!

We recently had a “clear the shelter” event in our area. It was widely successful and many great pets found wonderful new homes. Many of you know I am a huge supporter of our animal shelters and the staff and volunteers there. They work extremely hard for a thankless and never ending job of finding these animals new homes. Now that these pets have been at home for a few weeks, the shelters are now starting to see the return of the animals who did not get set up for success from the beginning. Lets touch on some of the things that can help smooth out the transition for those of you who are thinking of a new furry family member.

Barriers are your friend!

Many people do the quick meet and greet at the shelter and then think everything will be peachy when they get home. Your pet doesn’t know that this friend they are meeting in a strange place, will be their new best friend and part of their life forever. Give everyone some safe space to adapt to this new normal and take it very slow.

x-pens are great for giving your puppy a play area while you get some work done

Barriers like baby gates and crates are going to allow your new pup to slowly explore its new home while not allowing them to get into trouble. Give your new pup some freedom in your main living area first, then over the course of a few days or week allow them to explore the rest of the house.

Decompression is a must!

The shelter is an extremely stressful place for dogs. We all know it, and there is not a whole lot we can do about it. When you bring home your pup, allow them to have a few “easy” days to take it all in and slowly decompress from all that built up stress of their life changing! Give them a variety of things to chew, a few boxes to shred, some easy puzzles like a slow feeder bowl. Don’t try to show them all the great things that their life will have in the first 3 days they are there. No beach or park trips for a little while, let them get to know you.

Start training right away!

Developing a relationship is so important!

A little basic training goes a long way. Find a good basic training class just to see what your pup knows. Teach them that you are full of great and wonderful things by rewarding the things that you like. Don’t wait for the bad behaviors to pop up to address them. Reward anything you like right from the beginning so you don’t have to re-do the wrong things. If things start to go sideways call in a professional as soon as you notice you are out of your realm. Bad behaviors are much harder to fix if they stick around for awhile. Practice makes perfect!

As always, slow and steady is the way to go. You have your dog’s whole life to do all the fun stuff you want to do. There is no reason to do it all right at the beginning. Spend some time enjoying your new dog, and developing a relationship with them. That will keep all those crazy behavior problems at bay later on!

Medicine and Behavior: The two go hand in hand

Puppy’s brain melted!

Every so often I meet clients who believe that their dog is “stubborn” or has “selective hearing” when given cues. Sometimes the issue is lack of training, which I addressed in a previous blog: here! Occasionally there is also an underlying medical issue that also contributes to the “selective hearing” process. Since your dog can not tell you that something hurts, or that a task is too difficult, we just have to use our context clues to figure it out. Thankfully, your dog has both you and me to help navigate those areas of uncertainty between you and your vet. Let’s explore some of the routine areas where I ask the vet to get involved in training.

Pain
This is the number one most discussed trip to the vet. Dog suddenly doesn’t want to be picked up or petted? Sudden snarkiness with other dogs, in an otherwise friendly individual? Dogs reluctant to sit or stand from a down position? A dog that is throwing their weight around when asked to sit?

I start all these with a vet visit to discuss some pain management. Dogs are incredibly stoic and will not show outward signs of pain until they feel really bad. (Ask anyone with a sport dog!)

There are many different pain management options these days, and many of those options are safer than they have been in the past for long term use. There are also different options depending on your dogs medical history. I keep a stash of Deramaxx in my house for those days when my pups worked too hard and just need a doggy ibuprofen. When Scooter (my big dachshund) got old, he was on 3 different pain medications to make sure he could still go up and down the stairs daily. Discuss these options with your vet to find the right one for your pup.

Impaired Vision, hearing
This one is hard to diagnose in dogs because they can’t tell you if they can’t see their periphery or can’t hear those high pitched sounds. Usually, these clients come to me with wild rambunctious puppies or adolescents that just can’t seem to figure out what is being asked. I usually get to tell them that what they are experiencing is not normal At that point I can give them ways to adjust their lifestyle to help their dog be successful. I get to see lots of normal puppies so I can pick out “not normal” pretty quickly. Unfortunately, there is not much you can do for lack of vision or hearing in dogs except to have it confirmed by the vet and adjust how you interact with your pup. Thankfully, dogs are fairly resilient and figure out how to live with an impairment just fine. As an owner, you need to remember that your dog can’t see you when you call him to you!

Aggression and Separation Anxiety

He got up there all by himself!

I can go down a rabbit hole with this one but I will try to keep it on track. Sudden onset aggression, or behavior that is deteriorating instead of getting better might require some prescription help to allow the client to meet the goals that they have for their dog. Just to be clear, medication does not fix the problem, but can allow the dog to be in a better brain space to learn what is being taught. Anti-anxiety medications in dogs also need to be used with a behavior modification plan and have a plan to wean the dog off the medication. Some dogs do better on medications for the rest of their lives, but most dogs can be successfully taken off medication at some point.

And at the end of it all, be your dog’s advocate. If your vet doesn’t believe you or won’t listen to your concerns, then find a new vet! You are the one who is responsible for keeping your dog happy and healthy! Take a few moments to  listen to what your dog is telling you when they ‘can’t’ comply with what you are asking.

Here it is: The one answer to all your dog training questions!

I had a lovely client, with a lovely dog tell me that they had a question for me while they were out walking with their lovely dog. Unfortunately, they could not remember their question. (This happens to me all the time! I have lists and notes for everything!)
Knowing this lovely dog, I said the answer to your question was probably going to be “give her cookies”.

Years ago, I probably could have come up with some scenario where cookies were not appropriate. Now that I have been doing this for a while, I cannot think of a single place where cookies are not a good idea.

There might be those situations where your dog can’t eat those cookies, but that still gives you information and those cookies were still a good idea.

Let’s explore some options that may have been presented to the lovely clients in this story!

A dog showed up! If your pup has some feelings about this dog that showed up then using cookies to keep them under threshold by luring away or tossing some cookies in the grass to allow some sniffing and decompressing are both great options.

The bag of leaves in the street suddenly required some boofing and caution!Well that’s okay, those leaves are not going to cause you any harm, can you take this cookie from me while we move away?” “Feeling brave and want to investigate, well that’s awesome, can you take this one cookie from the ground as you move closer? Oh you moved all the way to the bag? Oh look how brave, here is a shower of cookies to show how proud of you I am!“ Remember, you can’t reinforce fear! (Fear is an emotion not an action!)

 

Overzealous Neighbor! This is especially important if you have a shy or fearful dog. As you eye roll on neighbors high pitched squeaky approach of you and your dog, start dropping cookies near you. This will keep your dog occupied while the chaos ensues. If your dog is acting fearful or you know has a history of being fearful in these situations, then do not give the neighbor the cookies! You continue to drop those cookies until your dog is confident enough to approach the neighbor on his own. If your dog is not approaching or in full body wiggles approaching the neighbor, do not let the neighbor pet your dog. He’s not ready, and all the cookies in the world from her is going to make that situation okay for your dog! Instead, have neighbor ignore your dog while he investigates on his own, without any pressure. You continue to give cookies for any good response. (any response is a good response for a shy and fearful dog)

Dog’s brain has melted! Increase your rate of reinforcement to keep your dog engaged and focused until you can get their brain between their ears. Keep those high value treats in front of them until they have moved far enough away from the thing that they can focus on you again. Or end your session. This is especially true for adolescent pups. (6 to 18 months) They have puppy brain and sometimes things are just hard when you are an adolescent. Work with what they give you and I promise it gets better. (Cargo is 13 months at this point and some days are better than others. Last night’s agility class, was a little rough!)

That one situation that you had no idea would ever happen but it just did! Throw a handful of cookies for your dog while you make a decision on how to keep your dog safe.

Tell me what you think! Can you come up with a time that simply giving cookies was a good idea? Share here or on Facebook!

Fluency in Training: Does your dog know “sit”?

So how do you know if your dog knows stuff?

In my last post I talked about your dog actually knowing stuff, or just getting by with environmental cues. Read that here! If you are concerned that maybe there are some holes in your training, then don’t worry, I’ll go into that here.

So how do you test your dog’s level of knowledge in certain situations?

This is assuming that your dog is successful with these cues 80% of the time in your “training” location. This might be your kitchen, living room, or wherever you typically practice with your dog.
Here are a few options to test what your dog does, and doesn’t know.
Can they be successful without you holding the leash?

Many dogs only comply to cues because of the inevitable leash pressure that is associated with the cues. “sit,” pull up on leash, dog complies because they know that will release the pressure on their collar. This is a throwback to more traditional training, where leash corrections were popular, and the only way to communicate with your dog. (We know better now, thank goodness!)

Can they be successful without a cookie in your hand?

Are you in the habit of bribing your dog? “hey pup look I have a cookie, don’t you want to sit so we can go?” If this is you, then your dog doesn’t know sit. Put that cookie in your pocket or on the counter and see what happens.

What if your cookies were on the ground in a container? Is your dog totally obsessed with the container, or can they focus on you? If your friend has left you to investigate the container of cookies, then let him get his sniffs out of the way and then see if he can comply.
I hope these tips help you and your furry friend communicate a little better. Let me know where your struggles are in this exercise and maybe I will do another Facebook Live to help you out!