Dog Training as a lifestyle

I became a dog trainer because I want to help people with their dog’s behavior problems.

Originally, I was seeing so many doggo’s being surrendered to shelters or rescue groups because of frustrating behaviors that can easily be fixed. I started trying to help these people and well, the rest his history.

Today, I love training. I love all things behavior, all things dog. Where the two meet, I am in heaven! (Note: I try very hard to not get really nerdy with my clients. Most of them do not care at all about Pavlov, operant conditioning or contrafreeloading. They just want me to fix their dog.)

Summertime for me means dog sports. I spend my weekends off getting up at 5:30am and driving sometimes a few hours, to a large fairground or other training facility where I hang out in my car until I get to throw a toy in a pool or have a dog hunt some rats for about 5 minutes at a time.

I train dogs all day long, why do I want to train more dogs?

First, training is important for your dog’s overall mental health.

I want my dogs to be as healthy as they can be for as long as they can be and training is a huge part of that. (read again, training is a necessity not a luxury) Does Cargo need to know how to run around a cone or follow a toy into a pool? No. Does it make me unnaturally happy to be doing these things with my dog? Yes. The small amount of time that I spend with my dogs, teaching them to do these silly things, improves their relationship with me. I become their safe space and when things go wrong, they look to me for information on how to make it right. Training is how we communicate with each other.

Second, I enjoy watching my dogs figure things out.

They like being successful. I get to watch your dogs figure things out every day, why wouldn’t I want my own dogs experiencing that joy? My dogs love working with me, and we have a good enough relationship that they agree to do these silly things that make me happy. In turn I agree to only do the things that make them happy. This is why Pixie stays at home. She is not happy in the show environment and I owe it to her to listen to that request. The other two love their jobs and they are happy to comply when I ask Opie to find the rats, or Cargo to do anything at all.

Lastly, the mental challenge helps me help you.

As I grow as a dog trainer for my own dogs, I develop better ways to relate to your dog, which helps you reach your goals faster. If my dog’s didn’t challenge me as a dog owner, I would not know half the stuff I do now! (I’m looking at you, Pixie!) I used to think that dog sports had nothing to do with being a good dog trainer, but over the years I have seen that the trainers who can relate to their clients the best, are always pushing themselves to learn new techniques and try new things with their dog. Dog sports give that parameter for the pushing to do new things.

When the day comes and I am all that is left of our team, each of those ribbons that we win together will bring with it a memory. A memory that I will forever cherish.

Practically Perfect “Pixie” RN CGC Dock Diving Big Air PB 19’6″  SR 4.998

Stephen’s “Opie” RATI RATS

Whiplash’s All The Places You’ll Go “Cargo” RATI RATO

Practice Patience and Consistency

Today it’s really cold outside.

I am supposed to be working on my IAABC application, but instead I am doing some displacement sniffing. (Comment if you know what displacement sniffing is!)

Practice Patience and Consistency!

I have been recording my training sessions with Cargo since she was a tiny baby. Most of our training up to this point has been online or by myself. We have taken a handful of classes, she has a few barn hunt titles and done some private sessions. But a majority of training is at home and alone.

The perk of this is that I have hundreds of hours of video on my computer that I can go back and look at when I need to. The downside is that none of these videos are labeled, categorized or have any distinguishing features besides the tiny thumbnail they give me.

Enter displacement sniffing. I am going through all the videos to identify which of my dogs are actually in the video and what in the heck we are working on! I have a solid year of video to go through. Lord help me!

(Again, I should be working on an application)

My plan is to go through the videos and find all the places where I have been practicing with Cargo and show you the progression of some of our exercises.

I may just have to talk about them instead. (hundreds of hours of video y’all)

I will say my favorite part of recording my training sessions is that when I think I am not progressing I can (occasionally) go back a few videos and see where we came from and what the behavior looks like at this point.  Last week it was our “back ups.” Took a look at last weeks video and well that doesn’t look so bad. We carry on.

That’s the point I am trying to make here. WE carry on! We keep working toward that final goal.

What is your final goal for your dog?

What are you doing to get there? Are you on the right track?

Does it look better than it did last month? Last week?

Keep practicing and keep pushing along. With dogs, it’s the journey, not necessarily the destination.

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.

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!