Don’t read this: Dog Training is Boring!

Yeah you read that right! Dog Training, when done correctly, is really boring. Dog Training is slow, behavior modification is even slower, and (i need a stronger word than) boring!

We got as excited as grass…

Excitement usually means something went wrong.

Let’s look at one of the cases I am working right now. We are reintroducing the household dogs together after a string of ugly fights. They have lived in different houses for 6 months now and recently they have started to be in the same place at the same time. Here we are in our giant field with the dogs on opposite ends. They see each other, and nothing happens. They continue to walk and sniff, and still nothing. No explosions, no barking, just some side eye, and hot dogs.

So boring!

When working on sport skills with my own dogs, our training schedule looks very similar week after week because our training sessions are very short, and include many of the same tasks. It’s taken me months to teach Cargo to pivot into a heel position. The tediousness comes from having to break this seemingly simple task into many different moving parts and raise her criteria so slowly that she doesn’t realize she’s doing something harder than she did a minute ago. Too big of a jump and she quits, too small of a slice and she gets bored. (All while making sure she loves working with me. Dog training is not as easy as it seems)

This is good dog training. This is good behavior modification. When something exciting happens, the train has skipped the track.

That one time I met Victoria Stillwell at a conference!

Good dog training will never have a television show because people want to see the action, and the excitement of sudden changes. Effective dog training doesn’t have the action shots or the suspense that good television has. Remember that show “It’s Me or the Dog” with Victoria Stillwell? There is a reason that was only done once.

Keep plugging along with your goals for your dog. It’s the small successes that we get the most excited about. Those little things become big things, and the next thing you know you are texting me saying “nothing happened!” and we cry and scream and get very excited!

 

Muzzle Training and the “bad dog” myth

 

Intern Jon and I had a close call this weekend. Thankfully, we know this dog had some scaredy issues with unfamiliar people and we have trained him to wear a muzzle while out in public. Jon got just a bit too close to me while I was telling my pupper friend what a great job he was doing, and pup reacted in a barking snapping way. Jon picked up his long line from the ground and turned away, effectively diffusing the situation. This pup is fine with me in his space occasionally, but new people, and fast movements raise lots of concern. We do what we have to, to keep everyone safe.

 

Now, this is a familiar situation for most people when they see a muzzle on a dog.

“Danger Will Robinson, Danger!” 

I don’t want you to assume that just because a dog is muzzled, they are a bad dog, and want to rip your arms off as soon as they see you. Sometimes dogs just make bad decisions about their environment and when dogs try to recover from those bad decisions, they use their teeth. Using teeth is not socially acceptable in our world, (can you imagine if we bit people we disagreed with?) so we have to help them make better decisions.

Sometimes we just need some help

I am currently working with a rescue dog who gets very very excited when he sees 4-legged friends. He lives with another dog, and a bunch of cats so he is not the barking, snapping type, he is the “sing the song of my people” type. When he is meeting other friends, he wears his muzzle and a long leash just to keep him and the other dogs safe. Once the initial excitement is over, the song of his people has finished and he is a pretty chill dude. Watching the beginning of the process you might think he’s a psycho mess!

I’ve also muzzle trained dogs who like to eat things on the road while they are out for a walk. Some dogs have serious gastrointestinal issues that if given the wrong food can require hospitalization. There are also those dogs who want to swallow things like rocks or sticks in much larger pieces than they should. Muzzles allow them to go out in the yard, and for walks while staying safe.

I’ll do a Facebook Live this Wednesday about training a dog to accept a muzzle. Make sure you like my facebook page so you don’t miss it!

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.