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!

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: Your dog doesn’t know “sit”

Fluency in Training our dogs

Those of you who have worked with me have heard me talk about my 4 points for Behavioral Wellness. (Sarah Stremming talks about this quite a bit for those who would like to know more. Or ask me!) I find the biggest disconnect is people’s understanding of what their dog actually knows. They tell me that their dog “knows” how to sit and wait at the door to go for a walk, or when the food bowl is in your hand. Dogs are super smart, and they “get by” with very little actual information from us. If you start scooping food and your dog runs to the mat and sits, do they know a “go to mat” and “sit” or do they just know they won’t get fed until they sit on the mat? Can you ask them to sit in the living room, while watching TV and with no cookie in your hand? Do they pop into that sit or look at you blankly then sit?

Fluency

Fluency is defined as: the ability to express oneself easily and articulately. When we were in school we had to learn a foreign language. Did you consider yourself fluent after one year of that language? I certainly did not. Are you expecting your dog to be fluent after just a few repetitions? In dog training, we talk about fluency as the dogs ability to accurately comprehend what we are asking them. Is your dog trying stuff or do they really know what we are saying?

Quick Story!

I have been working on Cargo’s fluency in her “down” position since she was a tiny pup. She will quickly and confidently offer it on her own and when I ask for it. Recently, I had my fence put up and needed to leash walk her while they were out working. One of the workers needed to ask me a few questions so I asked her to down while I spoke with them. She confidently dropped right down, and stayed there as long as she needed to. (I payed her, of course, for staying there) I have never asked her to “down” while I was speaking with someone, but the history is there for plenty of other circumstances. For now, I would call her fluent in the “down” cue.

I was listening to a training podcast recently, (yes, all my free time is spent training, or learning about training or reading about training… maybe I need a new hobby) and the guest was speaking to the interviewer about the joy that your dog receives when they “know” a cue. When they confidently can offer that behavior in any location without any prompts from you, many of your behavior problems will melt away!

How this helps you

When I am working with anxious or fearful dogs, having some line of communication to let your dog know that you are in control and they are going to be safe, creates a whole different outlook for your dog. We bring them into our lives to live with our rules and constraints that really do not make any sense to a dog. Training is time consuming and sometimes difficult, but you owe it to your dog to make sure they truly understand what we are asking them. This is why I spend so much time at the beginning of training making sure your dog knows the rules for living with us and what we expect, before adding in the things that are making life so difficult for you.

She knows “sit”

I recently created a Facebook group for present and past clients to learn from my dogs and take a peek into the things I find important to communicate with them. This is a safe space to ask questions, learn from my dogs, and other clients who may be having similar struggles to yours. If you would like to join this group just shoot me a message and I will happily add you.

The one thing you should never let your dog do!

Tall fences make great neighbors.

remember this guy?

I find this saying to be very true, unless there is a barking dog on the other side of the tall fence.

Fences are a necessity for keeping your dog safe. It keeps them out of the street, away from people and dogs walking in the neighborhood, and gives you some peace of mind knowing you can open the back door and they go out to a safe space to play or potty.

Most of us have neighbors that also have dogs and enjoy the same luxury of having a fenced in area to let their dogs have some freedom.

Does your dog get his “exercise” running this tall fence with the neighbor’s dog? Does he whine at the door to go out and bark and run up and down the fence over and over again? Do you think, “Great Fido is getting his exercise for the day!”

What if I told you this creates most of the behavior problems I see?

Oops.

Running the fence line is not a healthy activity for any dog to be participating in. Why? Lets take a look at it from the dogs perspective! At first your dog goes to the fence to say hello to the neighbor’s dog, then they get excited and start bouncing up and down the fence trying to interact in normal doggy fashion. This would look like some butt sniffing, some play bows, and a rousing game of tag where each dog could chase and be chased alternatively. Now the fence is in the way. Dogs communicate primarily by body language and visual cues, so if they don’t have a clear way to communicate things get very frustrating very quickly.

Take a quick trip back in time with me to the very first cordless phones. (yes, I am old enough to remember corded phones!) They were big and clunky and if the antenna was not all the way out you couldn’t really understand the person on the other end. Imagine if that was every interaction you had with people. Only getting part of the conversation and really struggling with understanding what you could hear. So frustrating!

Science time!

(skip this if you are not super nerdy like me!) When you are frustrated, your brain releases chemicals that respond to that stress (cortisol). Cortisol puts your body in a fight or flight scenario and it takes a long time to get rid of that chemical. If your dog is frustrated about the dog next door every time he goes outside, he is building up a store of cortisol which is keeping him on edge and amped up. Symptoms of increased cortisol levels can be seen as the inability to settle down, excessive barking, lack of sleep, and my most common scenario, redirected aggression to a housemate or person in the way of the barking and running the fence.

What does this mean for you?

First, don’t let your dog fence fight with the neighbor’s dog. If you do have an issue with your dog fence fighting, then add some management to your routine. Come up with a signal system for your neighbor, letting them know when your dog is out and have them do the same to keep your dog from practicing behaviors that you don’t like. Leash walk your dog outside and reward them for paying attention to you instead of the fence. Work on a really solid recall so you can call your dog away from the fence if the other dog starts barking.
This is not one of those behaviors that will magically disappear overnight. It takes some commitment and training to get your dog to a better mental state in these situations. If you find yourself struggling with what to do next, contact a local professional to help get you on the right track. Of course, if you are in the Hampton Roads area, I am happy to help! Visit my website www.thefreckledpaw.com to schedule a consultation appointment.