Tag Archives: animal behavior

Getting the Word Out

I have no trouble understanding dogs.  Most of the time, explaining things to their owners isn’t any problem, either.  I love taking care of doggies and planning the curriculum for classes. Writing brochures and homework sheets is a breeze.  However, it’s always been a bit of trouble for me to figure out how to advertise.  How to reach people who need help with their pup without spending the big bucks?  I’ve found one answer.

THUMBTACK is an online referral service. There is no annual or monthly fee.  Signing up costs nothing, and they give you some “freebies” to see how well their service fits your needs.  In the past week, I’ve received over a dozen referrals and they only “counted” towards my trial offer, if I thought their needs were a good fit for me and choose to send a quote.  I’ve got a couple new clients and have been able to judge how to tailor my Thumbtack profile to help steer some of the “poor fits” away. I’m almost done with my “freebies” but I will only pay for the referrals I decide to quote. Seems pretty cost-effective.

Here’s my link at Thumbtack if you want to check it out.  They handle referrals for just about any service — not just dog training!

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Soothe That Not-so-Savage Beast

Playwright and Poet, William Congreve, coined the often mis-quoted phrase — “Music hath charms to soothe the savage beast.” He wasn’t (as far as I know) really talking about animals, but meant it as a metaphor. However, taking the idea literally has merits!

A friend of mine swears she tamed her skittish and hard-to-handle Arabian gelding with classical music. Many animal shelters pipe in instrumental music to help keep the animals calm. Dog experts Nichole Wilde and Patricia McConnel mention playing music as a possible soothing influence on dogs with separation anxiety.

Because of Kita’s problem in that area, I invested in a couple of CDs claiming to calm the savage beast of Separation Anxiety. Most don’t do what they claim!  However, THROUGH A DOG’S EAR, isn’t bad!  It was developed through research on how the canine nervous system responds to sound. The CD records pianist Lisa Spector playing various slowish classical pieces like Bach’s PRELUDE, with tempo and dynamic variations that psychoacoustic expert Joshua Leads determined would amplify the already-calming effect.

I’ve had pretty good results with this recording. However, I have to say that I’ve had just about the same results with recordings of the slower, lower-key pieces of Bach and Mozart. The selection of orchestra or chamber music on those two CDs were designed as background music for humans, so I suppose it’s much the same idea.

Music is no “magic wand” though! To get a dog that’s hyped up — agitated, barking and/or jumping out of his skin with excess energy — a few tinkling tunes won’t do much. For a dog that’s in full stress mode with anxiety – panting, drooling, eyes dialated,and nervously pacing – the music can’t calm her down.  However, to keep an already calm dog’s tension from escalating or persuadin well-exercised dogs that it’s time to settle down — it really helps!

Kita is really helped if music is playing when I leave the house.  Of course, I’ve had to work hard to avoid all the triggers that make her anxiety levels spike, but the music is a good tool to keep things on an even keel. It even works to keep her other fears in check – like her fear of the ice-maker in the refrigerator!  It also helps the daycare and boarding dogs – a lot!

When there’re a lot of dogs running around the yard, they are tiring each other out, but they’re also revving each other up!  (It’s just so exciting for the average, “only” dog to have so many playmates that they don’t WANT to slow down!)  However, if I don’t find a way to persuade them to take a break or two, they may get so wired that they might not continue making good social decisions!

Before we get to that point, my usual practice is to bring everyone inside, ask everyone to SIT, and hand around milk-bones or another crunchy treat .Then,  I put one of the classical CDs on, and ignore the dogs.   In less than 5 minutes, they’re all curled up in their favorite spots in or out of crates in my office.

Now, you might say they dogs are tired and eating the treat is what settles them down long enough to realize a nap sounds good. Well, that is why I feed them the treat! But, the funny thing is if I forget to turn on the music — as happened today — the dogs lie down , but only for a few minutes before they pop up again! If I add the music to the mix, then we get more like a half hour before they’re ready to rumble! It’s not a hard-and-fast rule! Any number of things — the cat peeking in the room, ice falling off the roof, a truck rumbling by — can get them excited again in an instant. Still, it does really seem to extend that nap break.

So next time you need to calm things down, try a little classical music! Not just for the dogs, but to help yourself, too! I find the music I originally put on to make the dogs subside, causes all those worrisome thoughts in my own brain to settle down. Not only do I get the quiet to write by “soothing” the doggie “beasts” with Bach or Mozart, but I get a creative and focusing boost for myself!

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The Power of Quiet

We humans tend to talk first and think later.  Scold and then find out what the problem really was.  Yell because we’re scared/mad/anxious and then find out that maybe wasn’t the most appropriate way to react.  We’re a noisy species – probably because of that hard-wiring for language!   We think loud is the way to be heard. As the proverb proclaims — “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”  Not even going to speculate how true that might be if we’re trying to get another human to listen to us, but it’s definitely NOT the way to engage a dog’s attention!

Take one of the most common scenarios – your dog is barking.  Dixie drives you crazy with her yapping every time she hears someone walk by.  You want her to STOP – NOW!  So, you yell at her and scold and if anything Dixie gets louder.  In the dog world, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, when one dog barks, the others in the vicinity start barking, too!  A lot of experts, including Stanley Coren, think that when we yell, the dog might just think we’re joining in like all the other dogs, rather than giving a command.

Or another instance – Doug is having a good time out on your walk sniffing and looking around. (Squirrel!) He doesn’t respond when you ask him to SIT.  So, you repeat the command over and over, finding your voice getting louder, and louder, and LOUDER!  But Doug doesn’t pay more and more attention to you, does he?

How about watching Daisy dashing off into the sunset after slipping her leash?  What do we do?  Yell!  And loud!  Mostly we’re scared because she of what she could run into, but pretty soon we’re sounding like a drill sergeant and practically foaming at the mouth,  Still, it doesn’t help Daisy’s sensitive ears tune in our “dulcet” tones at all!  Funny that!

A dog’s hearing is very, very good.  We don’t need to yell to make sure the sound waves activate the proper mechanism and transmit info to their brains.  A dog can hear a cellophane wrapper being crinkled two rooms away!  Kita can hear my voice inside a client’s house while she’s parked in the car in the driveway!  Whisper the word “walk” in most households and a sleeping dog will beat you to the door!

Any trainer can tell you that the WAY we speak, speaks far louder to our dogs than do the words themselves!   If you want to get your dog excited about something (perhaps you’re trying to teach her how to fetch) you speak in a high, quick, fairly loud voice and repeat words and phrases.  Staccato!  Forte!  Whereas if you’re trying to get a dog to NOT do something (STAY for instance) we speak in a lower-pitched, softer, slower way, drawing out our words. Legato…Piano…

The change in SOUNDS helps get the message across to the dog. But beyond the acoustics, we need to speak quietly to become calm and still inside.  Dogs pick up on our energy quicker than our words.  By speaking slower and softer we slow our own respiration and probably our heart rate and blood pressure, too!  Dogs can hear and certainly pay attention to those physiological signs of stress and anxiety.  They can see the muscles in our neck and shoulders get tense.  We move differently when we’re tense and dogs are extremely sensitive to HOW we move, just like how we sound!  If their person is anxious, the dog is anxious, too!  So, take a deep breath, consciously RELAX your shoulders, neck,  jaw and arms — and speak very, very quietly (like you’re hunting wabbits!)  It’s amazing!  In short order you’ll feel much calmer and your dog will be listening.

Today has been a real test of this training technique; seven dogs — boarding and daycare doggies plus my own girl! One of the seven is sure to catch any little movement or suspicious sound outside!  When one hears a truck rumble by, or the propped-open back door bang against its prop, or a car door slam across the street, it lets loose a barrage of barks — and the rest of the pack gives voice right along side.  Instead of yelling (as I feel like doing); instead of saying a few bad words (as I’m tempted to do) I’ve taken that big calming breath, shaken my arms and neck, and breathed, “Quiet!  Quiet, puppies!”  It’s absolutely amazing how quickly they trail off and look at me as if puzzled to know what all the ruckus was about — and come over to be petted or lie down.

I don’t know if it’s the “energy” shifting from me to them.  I don’t know if they see me, as the leader, being unconcerned and so they figure there’s nothing to worry about.  I don’t know if they have to stop barking to hear me!  And I don’t really care.  It gets results!  The power of QUIET is very powerful indeed!  Also less stress on the vocal cords!

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You Get What You “Pay” For

puppy and ball

(Thanks to the German Shepherd Dog Community for this cute pic!)

One subject that inevitably comes up when talking “dog” with anyone, anywhere, are those dogs that LOVE to chase a ball, stick, or Frisbee, but a) won’t bring it back, b) try to morph into TUG the instant a human lays a finger on it, c) seize the opportunity to turn FETCH into KEEP AWAY, or d) spit the object out at the human’s feet before he can take it. Actually, I’m always envious of folks with ANY of the above issues because it means their dog will at least FETCH to some degree.  Both of my GSDs, though with HIGH prey drives, preferred to chase live, furry things and seemed to think I was trying to trick them somehow with balls and Frisbees.  (You want me to do what….?)

Having lots of different dogs come to stay at DRAMA DOG TRAINING for the day or week, I’ve seen many dogs exhibiting one or more of the four issues above.  In all cases, it only took a little persuasion to convince them to play by my rules.  You see, dogs are smart!  If they can get us to play THEIR game THEIR way, then why shouldn’t they?  The pay-off for the dog, as always, is how much attention they get!  We reap the behavior we feed with the most attention – and doggie doesn’t care if we’re happy or upset as long as doggie’s getting our focus.

Consider the dog that just won’t bring the ball back.  One might think that Tucker isn’t getting to play FETCH much at all if he runs off with the ball, but who says that’s the game he wants to play?  If he runs and grabs the ball – it becomes HIS!  “Nyah, nyah!  It’s my ball and you can’t have it!” Tucker  seems to taunt as he’s dashing about the yard; a doggie grin plastered on his face!  I guarantee if you turn your back or start go in the house he’ll probably deflate like a pricked balloon.  If you don’t care he has the ball and are taking away your attention and company, most dogs will drop the toy to run after you, or bring it along (forgotten) in his mouth.  Even if Tucker DOESN’T, his fun is over because you’re not there to gloat over any more.  After a few repetitions, he’ll be looking for a game that’s more fun and FETCH might have a chance, after all!

Most dogs that instantly morph into a game of TUG have been taught to do that by their human!  We don’t MEAN to, but we do!   Joey brings the stick right back and you grab it.  Joey hasn’t been taught what “Drop it” means, so you pull on the stick trying to get it out of his mouth to throw it again.  You ARE playing FETCH, right?  Not after you’ve started TUGGING, you’re not!  That turns it into a brand new game with new rules – and you started it!  Can’t blame Joey if he joins in!  Or if ever after he thinks the two games should alternate.  HE Fetches and then YOU Tug!  That sounds fair, doesn’t it?  Not so much from our point of view!

So, when Joey tries to pull, decline to reciprocate!  You can let go of the stick, or move along with him as he TUGS.  The idea is you’re going to wait him out — until HE releases the stick.  You can wait until he drops it on his own.  As he it leaves his mouth, say, “Drop it! YES!” then pick up the stick and throw it.  If you keep hold of the stick, watch as he’s chomping to shift his grip.  When his jaws release the stick, suddenly pull it out of his mouth, saying “Out! YES!” and throw the stick.  In either case, Joey is learning a new CUE and you’re not being trapped into playing TUG!

It’s no wonder so many dogs return the Frisbee only to keep it just out of our reach.  KEEP AWAY is the game voted most-fun-to-play by 9 out of 10 dogs of all sizes, ages and breeds.  Ringo’s reactions are so much faster than ours that he gets a good doggie giggle at our fumbling attempts to grab the Frisbee.  “Sucker! You’ll never get it!”  And that’s true.  A human’s chance at winning the KEEP-AWAY game are pretty slim!

SO DON’T PLAY THAT GAME!  Instead, play FETCH with TWO objects that Ringo likes equally well.  As he’s bringing back the first one, hold up the second and waggle it enticingly.  Most dogs will drop the first without a second thought as they focus on the one in YOUR hand – that you of course THROW to keep the game of FETCH going.  Pick up the first toy as Ringo runs off, and you’ll stay in business!

I honestly used to wonder a bit at folks who thought D was a PROBLEM.  A dog that returns and spits the FETCH object out without being asked or coaxed!  Isn’t that what we WANT? But then, I encountered a high-drive Australian Shepherd!   Cooper was so intent on getting ready to go after the re-thrown ball that he would dash up, dropping the ball somewhere in my vicinity as the ran half-way out in the yard to wait for the next toss.  Stooping over to pick up a ball once or twice isn’t hard, but after 50 repetitions, it gets old.  So I refused to pick it up!

Actually, that was the final step.  The intermediate steps involved not picking up a ball that was dropped further away than the previous time.  Then I only picked up balls that were CLOSER to me, until it was consistently left at my feet.  You see, I’d only throw the ball AFTER I picked it up, so if it was too far away and I was just standing there, Cooper couldn’t stand it and would move it a little closer!  (Ha-ha!  All according to my fiendish plan! ) Finally, when Cooper was bringing the ball right to me, I’d point to the ball on the ground and say, “Gimme the ball!” and WAIT!  Cooper would get so frustrated at my stupidity that he’d pick it up and nudge my hand with it.  Grabbing it, I’d say “YES!” and throw the ball as the reward.  It only took a couple of days for Cooper to learn MY rules! That the ball got thrown again much QUICKER if he put it in my hand!

It is temporarily a bit costly in terms of time and effort to enforce OUR rules, but if we let THE DOG dictate the game, we can expect to be frustrated for the life of the dog.  The dog is out for maximum amusement and it will probably be at our expense, not its own!  The truth is that dogs will play WHATEVER “game” you play WITH them.  You’ll always get the results you’ve earned with your attention. In dog play as well as dog obedience — you get what you pay for!

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Just This Once

We humans are addicted to short-cuts. We’ll skip steps and rush through directions. I don’t like to call us lazy, but especially if we’re feeling rushed, we’ll latch on to just about any excuse to let things slide—temporarily, of course!  Giving things “a lick and a promise” as my granny used to say, we blithely assume we’ll be able to go the full distance later, tomorrow, some OTHER time.

We humans are pretty good at fooling ourselves, too!  Ever notice that tomorrow or that OTHER time, it’s even harder to make the effort and do whatever it was?  I’m not even talking about something BIG, like walking the dog.  No, it’s the little things that tend to get washed away in a flood of just-this-once!

I don’t think anyone really likes being bowled over by the dog (or dog pack) on our way outside.  There’s no reason for dogs to bowl us over because they really pick up the WAIT/OK cue at the door with amazing ease.  On high-traffic days, out of self-preservation – I make all dogs SIT, and WAIT until I get the door open and they are released with OK.  My mom thinks it’s the funniest thing in the world to see 7 or 8 bottoms hit the ground more-or-less simultaneously.  Even the first-time visiting pups get the hang of the business in just a few minutes.

So, do I make the dogs do that ALL the time?  Of course not!  I know it’s a breakdown of training!  I know making them SIT and WAIT won’t really take appreciably longer than fighting my way close enough to lean over the large jostling bodies to grab the  door handle.  I know it will be less aggravating and stressful!  I KNOW it’s safer and better and yada, yada, yada!  For some reason – call it temporary insanity – I think it’ll be easier to skip the whole WAIT business.  Even when it demonstrably takes as much time or MORE to push past the “puppies” and persuade them to move enough to let the door open.  Even as I strain to hold the door open against the onrushing wave of wolves wanting to win the “outside” race, I still think (at the time) it’ll be easier.

In my going-out-the-door example, at least the actual DANGER to anyone is relatively low.  Sure, I get jostled, but that happens outside during playtime, too.  Yes, dogs that were a bit protective of their place in the pack might get a little ornery, but I’m not tempted to skip steps when there are ornery dogs visiting.  However, I’ve seen a lot of skipping steps just-this-once that have potentially lethal consequences and leave me with sweaty palms and a pounding heartbeat!

For nearly a year, until his mom moved out of state, a lovely Basset Hound/Beagle mix came for daycare a couple of times a week, and often boarded while “mom” was away on business.  Max was a real sweetie, but he was a typical scent hound.  Let his nose point at the ground and he was off — and never looked back or even heard you calling to him.  His mom consistently – because it was easier, just from the car to the training room door – wouldn’t put his leash on.  For a while, she carried him. Well, Max was short, but no light-weight!  So soon, his mom would put him down on the ground for the last few feet, then a few more…

Well, you know what happened!  The first time he trailed a squirrel towards the road (a busy thoroughfare where cars whip by at 50 mph plus) I thought I’d have a heart attack.  We’re lucky that he heard us that time – and that the time he DIDN’T hear, he was headed off back into the shrub woodland and went slowly enough for us to catch up!  After chasing Max for 20 minutes, I determined that I would take the time to rush out with my own leash and put it on him from then on!

Obviously, not taking the MAYBE 10 seconds with a squirmy dog to clip a leash on the collar did NOT save time.  Equally obviously, clipping the leash on could very well be the only thing that would someday save Max from getting hit or lost, but his mom never did put his leash on!  And we all do this sort of thing.  I’ve done it with Kita — just going out to get in the car — even KNOWING she’s not 100% on recall if there’s any furry critters out there!

Yep!  My only explanation is temporary insanity.  It’s not like we don’t REMEMBER what happened the last time.  It’s not like we really expect things to be different the NEXT time! (And if we do, that’s more evidence of incipient lunacy!)  What is it with the human brain that it doesn’t recognize that making a LITTLE effort “just this once!” will save us time and aggravation – and perhaps tragedy – in the long run?

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Terrible “Twos”

puppy chewing

Jerry Seinfeld jokes that “having a 2-yr-old is like having a blender without a lid!” I laughed out loud when I heard that one, but I have to admit I was mostly laughing because I immediately applied the thought to the doggie world. (Yes, almost everything I see or hear goes through that filter.) Just think about it — replace “2-yr-old” with “puppy” and those of us who’ve raised a young canine know that makes the joke even funnier!

Both first-time “puppy parents” and those who’ve just adopted a new puppy after years with an adult dog often marvel at how those little critters get into EVERYTHING!  In class the other day, a client told how she likes to fold laundry on the floor.  She thought she’d be fine since the puppy was napping, but as soon as the piles were starting to get neat, the puppy woke up!  Puppy saw Disneyland spread out before her.  She dashed through, delighting in causing chaos and stealing socks.  I imagine it looked very much as though the clothes had been through a blender after the lid came off!

That’s hilarious — if you’re not the one dealing with the mess!  I laughed, but tried to do so kindly.  However, I wonder why folks don’t think that sort of thing will happen?  It’s a puppy.  They see everything in the world in one of three ways:  Can I sleep on it?  Can I eat/chew it?  Can I play with it?  And sometimes objects and/or people fit in more than one category!  Simultaneously!

Folks have called me a “half-empty glass” sort of thinker all my life, because I usually look ahead and try to anticipate what could go wrong.  I call it being practical!  But you’d be surprised how many people don’t even think about “puppy-proofing” their house.  If I bring it up in class, I usually get a lot of startled looks, sheepish grins and remarks like, “Sort of…”

Here I go again on one of my favorite sayings, but “Management is easier than Training!”  There’s only so much you can instantly teach a little fur-ball.  Teaching requires TIME.  Even if you had the time for training non-stop in the first 24 hours after adopting a puppy, it’s STILL easier to put the shoes in a closet than try to convince a baby (that NEEDS to chew) to leave them alone.  Of all the tempting items in the house, those that smell and taste like YOU – shoes and underwear — will always be favorite chew items.  It’s a compliment, really, but one we can do without!

Even before bringing puppy home, it’s best to lie face down on the floor and look around.  Any fabric dangling within reach?  Any cords that are just asking to be chewed or get tangled up in? Any paper items temptingly close to the edge of a coffee table?  How about wastebaskets?  Whether it’s paper, crinkly plastic, or actual wonderfully-enticingly-smelly garbage, no puppy can resist!  What about shoes, purses, socks, remote controls, books, tablets, DVD cases…The likelihood of you training a young puppy to leave any of those things alone is approximately nil!

Another thing that many folks don’t consider is that the puppy ISN’T housetrained.  “What?” you say!  “How can folks forget THAT?”  It’s not so much that they forget the fact as forget what it MEANS.  It means that the puppy is likely to lose bladder control at unpredictable intervals!  So, giving puppy full run of the entire house is not the best plan.  But you’d be surprised how many people don’t think of restricting their new addition’s access around the house until after there’s been lot of “accidents!”  If the puppy is sneaking off to a corner of the hallway or a bedroom to do its business, she’s trying to do the right thing – in dog terms.  It’s up to us to teach her the human terms – that the whole house is off-limits – by limiting the possibilities for her to make a mistake until she learns the difference between inside and outside.

Obviously, there’s a lot of things to be considered when adopting any new dog, but especially when that dog is just a baby.  It’s not the puppy’s fault that she does what comes naturally.  If we haven’t “done our homework” – part of which includes getting the house ready to receive the new “bundle of joy” — we can’t expect everything to be joyful all the time!  Don’t just bring the little blender home and hope for the best!  Put a lid on it!

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They Also Serve

dog vet memorial

Happy K9 Veterans Day! There’s been a fair bit of buzz lately about our soldiers in fur. Animal Planet aired their documentary, GLORY HOUNDS, about Military Working Dogs and their handlers in mid-February. On January 1, a Rose Bowl Parade float, sponsored by Dick Van Patten’s Natural Dog Food, honored the canines who serve with our armed forces. And the Senate, led by John McCain, watered down a bill that would have changed the official status of our MWD’s from “equipment” to “canine members of the Armed Forces,” and be assured of a ticket home and an honorable retirement with medical care.

The bill was passed in the House and was also passed in the Senate, but it did not contain those three very important stipulations. MWDs are still considered equipment. According to the Senate’s version of the bill (which the President later signed into law) the military commanders have the option to send dogs home, and a COMMITTEE has been authorized to look into raising funds to take care of retired dogs, as long as no Federal Funds are used for that purpose. Nice reward for soldiers who daily risked their lives to protect us, huh?

It may be argued that dogs are only behaving as they are trained and ordered to do by their handlers, and have no conception of what they are risking. True, dogs live in the moment to a great extent – they can teach us a thing or two about that! Also true — they certainly are working in partnership with a handler. I’m sure it’s equally true that a MWD’s willingness to engage in dangerous maneuvers is motivated to a great degree by his love of and trust in his partner. Still, that doesn’t mean the dog is insensible of the danger he’s facing — especially after serving for a few months.

Come on! Dogs aren’t dumb! If they were, soldiers wouldn’t trust the dogs with their safety and lives as they do. Though dogs live in the moment, it’s been demonstrated that a dog’s mental stability depends on being able to predict what’s going to happen next, so MWDs certainly know that their jobs risk a lot of noise and danger! Even if the dog doesn’t fret about the danger as a human might, he knows the soldiers he’s patrolling with are anxious, on edge – and when they’re frightened. And, as trainers say, “emotions go right down the leash!” so what the handler feels, the dog does, too.

To me, the point isn’t that Military Working Dogs serve in exactly the same way as human soldiers. After all, they are specialists. You don’t see a human being asked to sniff out explosives, any more than you’d ask a dog to shoot a rifle. Of course dogs have specific talents which are different than those of their human comrades-in-arms! The point is that they go through intensive training, just like human soldiers. They live in primitive conditions for months and years, daily using their training in situations that put them in mortal danger. They often are killed, injured, or rendered incapable of doing their duty in the pursuit of it.

The difference is that a wounded human soldier will be flown home, cared for and given an honorable retirement. The injured canine soldier, unless his handler (on a soldier’s pay) can afford to send him home. If his handler can’t afford to adopt the dog and his medical bills, the Military Working Dog may in all likelihood be killed by his own military. Disposed of – as just another useless piece of equipment.

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Puppies Want to Please

sad puppyI have a PUPPY MANNERS class starting tonight — and I’m thrilled!  It’s always exciting and makes me very happy when folks don’t put off formal training with a young puppy. They grow up so fast and you never get back those first impressionable months.

A puppy is “pre-programmed” to eagerly accept new experiences between about 7 and 16 weeks.  That’s the age where, in the wild, the pups would first emerge from the den to meet and bond with their social unit — the pack.  After that age, a more cautious phase sets in to discourage the growing pups from wandering too far afield and bonding with members of other packs, or prey animals.  Domestic dogs have the same built-in learning periods as those in the wild.  So, our best time to teach Toby to accept people, dogs, other animals, and new places and situations is while he is still in that early formative period – less than 4 months old!

Too many times, we bring a puppy home and either because of busy schedules or fear of infection for that pup just starting vaccinations, Toby scarcely leaves home again until months have gone by.  He’s never exposed to new people, dogs or even other places – except the Vet!   And a trip to the Vet is scary!  So, it’s really no wonder that, at 6 or 8 months, Toby starts showing fear and/or aggression towards a lot of people and places his adopters really want him to like and accept.  Poor Toby was never introduced to them when it would make the best impression, so now teaching him will be much more difficult!

This is similar to language acquisition in humans.  A child’s developing brain swiftly makes new connections and assimilates words, grammar and syntax without even trying.  An adult’s brain can’t do that, and we learn language much more slowly and with a lot more effort!  There’s no going back to that more plastic brain just because we’d like to.  We’re dealing with hard-wiring.  Can’t just load up the newest software!  And neither can a “teenaged” puppy.  Toby has learned  that his home and those few people in it are his pack and territory and everyone else and all places outside that are “other” and not to be trusted.

You see, if you’re not FORMALLY training the puppy — Toby’s learning anyway!  We can’t put Toby on hold until we’ve got enough time to teach him.  Babies pick up whatever their environment presents, because their little brains are BIG sponges.  It’s not a matter of teaching Toby or not, just if we want to be in conscious control of what he’s learning or are content to leave it all to chance.

Another reason to get puppies into formal training ASAP is that a young dog is so eager to please!  Baby Toby probably drives his new family crazy following them and constantly getting underfoot –because he’s trying so hard to be noticed and loved.  This attention-seeking drive of a puppy is beyond price!  At that young age they will do ANYTHING to get our attention and approval!  And he’s probably doing a lot of very annoying things trying to get it, too!  So substitute lessons, make him EARN that attention, and the limits of Toby’s learning is the limits of our time to teach and ability to explain what we want!

Recall?  Ha!  Try getting far enough away to call Toby to you!  Praise that pup every time he wanders your way, called or not.  Never call him over for “bad” things like clipping nails or getting a bath, or punishment, and Toby will zip to your side every time you say his name!  Play recall games consistently before the pup is 4 months old and you’re forming a HABIT of returning to you.  Early habits are very hard to erase, and Toby won’t even try!

Walking on leash?  Puppies are FOLLOWERS!  Introduce Toby slowly and gently with lots of treats and praise to his collar and leash.  Instead of dragging him around when he hesitates, pretend to RUN AWAY calling his name and let Toby chase you!  Then PRAISE him when he catches up!  That’s all good leash-manners are – following the leader!

Don’t wait until your dog becomes a teenager to start training!  Just like in humans, doggie teenagers are learning to become independent and are not so intent upon following or gaining our approval.  If we’ve carefully taught Toby good habits while he was a baby, it won’t take much to keep him “in practice” as he’s growing up, or to build on those early lessons.  If we’ve put off the training, all is not lost.  Old dogs (and “teenaged” dogs) most certainly can learn new tricks!  However, Toby will never so readily, so easily, so joyfully pick up any instruction, nor work so hard to learn — just to please us.

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Ignoring Speaks Louder than Language

I know my clients, friends, and family undoubtedly get tired of hearing me advise: “IGNORE the behavior you DON’T want to see repeated and PAY ATTENTION to ANYTHING you want your dog to keep doing!”  I know I often sound like a broken record to myself!  For everyone’s sake, I’ve got to think of other ways of getting that point across because, to me, it is training in a nutshell. Everything else is just techniques and strategies to help you accomplish those two things.

As humans, we are so terribly tempted to TALK all the time in training, thinking that will help the dog learn faster. But dogs don’t automatically understand what we’re saying.  They don’t have a natural predisposition for verbal language like humans, so they’re not even listening for verbal cues.  I saw a cartoon once with a lady talking to her dog.  The “speaking” balloon coming from her mouth said something like, “You know better than that, Fido, but you just had to do it anyway!”  The “thinking” balloon coming from the dog’s head looked like this – “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah FIDO! blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…”  you get the point.

Dogs watch what we DO far more than listen to what we SAY. It takes many, many, many repetitions for most dogs to correctly connect the sounds coming out of our mouths with specific actions or situations.  They pay a little more attention to tone of voice, but it still doesn’t help them as much as we think it should.  My mentor, Humane Society of West Michigan’s behaviorist Namiko Ota-Noveskey, says that she can tell when she’s being an effective trainer because she’s not saying much!   Then, she knows she’s focusing on the dog’s body language and using her own to teach the dog!

Something happened in my backyard today that really illustrates how effective IGNORING a dog can be!  My GSD mix, Kita, is 9 years old and never was one to play a lot even in her youth.  A new Daycare client is a Black Lab/St. Bernard mix named Sheba.  She’s only 9 months old and already as big as Kita.  Sheba also LOVES to play and spends HOURS trying to persuade Kita to join her.  Sometimes Kita does – actually to my surprise!  However, today wasn’t one of those days.

Sheba tried every ploy in the book!  Huge play-bows right in front of Kita, front legs spread wide and chest on the ground, rear and tail wiggling madly.  Then, Sheba tried lying down head between paws to give Kita the ole sad-puppy dog eyes with some begging-whines!  After that didn’t work, came the bouncing all around from every angle in play-bows — barking all the while.  Through all that Kita continued sniffing the ground and the air without so much as a glance in Sheba’s direction.  So, Sheba started dashing right up to Kita, nose to nose and then would run away in the “butt on fire” gait of a dog that’s expecting to be chased.  Kita looked in the other direction.  Now being a bit of a distance away, Sheba charged, in huge gallumphing strides directly at Kita looking for all the world as if she was going to bowl her over.  Kita calmly lifted her nose a bit and gazed off at the horizon.  As a last-ditch effort, Sheba tried some deliberately provocative actions:  nudging Kita’s nose and face repeatedly, then “T-ing” (putting her head over Kita’s back.)  Kita remained unimpressed.  Sheba at last acknowledged defeat and looked for a stick to chew.

Kita never once lost her cool.  She stood her ground, but never made eye contact.  She never wrinkled a lip or made a vocalization, even when the “puppy” was in her face and being a bit of a brat!  Now, T-ing is a form of jockeying for dominance, and Kita does not take kindly to being so challenged.  Sheba clearly was trying that to get ANY reaction out of Kita – even a negative one!  I think Kita knew just what the puppy was doing and wasn’t going to give her the satisfaction – the ATTENTION!

Sheba didn’t give up easily!  Her behavior got worse before it got better!  Kita didn’t have human language skills to help her, but she didn’t even use a dog’s limited repertoire of vocalizations to “say” anything.  She didn’t even need to take any direct action to get HER point across to Sheba!  I’m not too proud to learn a lesson from my dog!  She’s not the most patient animal I’ve ever met, and probably wouldn’t have taken all that from an adult dog.  But Kita today gave me a textbook example of how to teach a puppy some manners!

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Mothers and Four-pawed Kids

kids have4 paws

This picture was posted for a (very) short time on FB today. By the time I saw it and tried to comment, it had been “retracted” probably due to some negative comments. I found it fascinating that the only folks objecting were male. Actually, I think that’s pretty significant, especially since the women who posted something all agreed and had some anecdote to share about how true it was in their own lives.

One man posted, “sorry dog owner isnt a mother people.” Though his lack of punctuation makes his exact meaning imprecise, I don’t think he was apologizing to the dog owners reading it. Another fellow had this to say — “No wonder the world is a mess. Comparing motherhood to owning a dog. That’s actually quite sick.” No wondering about what HE means, is there?

Isn’t it INTERESTING how both used some conjugation of the verb “to own?” Probably it was in reaction to the language in the picture, but I’m sure it was also a deliberate strategy to underscore their points. Emphasizing that word says a lot about how they view the world.

You can only “own” property — THINGS. To call something ALIVE “property” means you regard those living being as things, too. According to law, animals — even household pets — are still listed as property. The US military still classifies Military Working Dogs as “equipment.”  However the soldiers who work with the dogs regard them as partners and fellow warriors. Most folks who share their home with an animal usually regard and speak of them as members of the family. I would imagine these two guys are not among those “most folks.”

As men, they can never be mothers, themselves, so they can’t be objecting to the lady’s posting on that basis. At first glance it seems that the two “gentlemen” are standing up for the women in their lives.  I wish I could believe that’s all that’s going down.  Their reactions are not objective disagreements with the etymology of the word “motherhood.”  No, their comments are coming from gut-reactions and that means emotions which are connected to core beliefs.  No 21st century American would openly talk of owning his wife or kids, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they truly, deep down, consider the women and children in their lives as being extensions of themselves.

Didn’t mean to get so far off my usual “doggie” topics, here.   It just struck me that if these guys considered that post to smirch the beauty and sanctity of motherhood, then they must have pretty low opinions of dogs – as property.  Perhaps they were offended that a human woman would WANT to “mother” a beast. They certainly showed that they considered the opinion put forth in the picture to be just plain wrong for society as a whole!

I’m sorry for those men and anyone else who objects to this post, and here’s why – YOU ARE MISSING THE POINT!  The point is that not having biological (or adopted human) children of one’s own does not mean that a woman has no “motherlove.”  Nor does it mean she puts it a box and buries it!  She instead lavishes that nurturing spirit on others, including her “pets.”  She is not denying children anything.  She is not cheapening a mother’s love (or father’s) for their own children.  “Mothering” a dog or cat just means a woman’s heart is too big to restrict her caring to her own species.  Out of empathy, she cares for an animal without expectation of gaining anything in return.  And isn’t that what being a mother is all about?  Grow some empathy, guys!  It’s LACK of it that’s the reason the world is in such a mess, not because women call their 4-pawed pet, “kids!”

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