Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Why is my dog snarling in the window?: A Breakdown of Barrier Reactivity

My Aussie Marco is a really friendly and well adjusted dog. He came to me with a great temperament at 8 weeks old and through mountains of socialization he has continued to be my most trustworthy dog around other dogs, small animals, babies and of course new people. Marco however has a secret... he use to be extremely barrier reactive. What does this mean? 


Barrier reactivity is when you put a dog behind a fence, kennel door, window, leash, etc. and they see a person or another dog or small animal. An over reaction follows that might include lunging, growling, showing of teeth, barking, snarling, etc. Marco literally went from wiggling, happy puppy to full on vampire face. Even my trainer friends thought he was aggressive until of course I opened the kennel door and poof it vanished and my happy boy was back. 


Marco had a very specific form of barrier reactivity that occurred only when he was in his kennel and saw another dog. It also had to be a dog he didn't know well (the other dogs in my house didn't elicit any sort of reaction from him). I deduced that for Marco it occurred because he was extremely frustrated that he couldn't go meet the other dogs and he would blow up like a toddler having a temper tantrum until he got his way and was allowed to play. This behaviour first appeared at 6 months (right around when adolescence kicks in) and I had solved the problem before he reached 8 months. It did take some work though. 


So now that you have a good idea of what barrier reactivity is you're probably wondering how you can solve it? Well it depends on WHY your dog is reacting. A good trainer can help you figure this one out. A dog that is overly excited is different than a dog that is fearful. Both dogs can demonstrate barrier reactivity. I would address the issues quite differently though. An over excited dog needs to learn impulse control (Marco had to wait to be quiet before I would let him out of the kennel to play so he learned quiet, calm behaviour got him what he wanted instead of growling). A scared dog (like Heidi) needed a confidence boosting program to help her learn to trust not only me but understand that people passing by aren't going to hurt her. 


The good news is that barrier reactivity is one of those issues that can be resolved within a fairly reasonable amount of time and improve the dog's (and owner's) quality of life fairly significantly. 


Where's Your Sit? offers 2 fun group classes that can help both hyper, excited dogs as well as fearful dogs. Check out our Hyper Dog Program or our Confidence Booster Program to help your pup today. We also offer private, in home training that can address this issue. 



Monday, December 26, 2011

Dog Aggression & Common Sense

The more time I spend working with people and their dogs the more apparent it becomes that sometimes common sense takes a back seat. 

Here's an example: "My dog sometimes snaps at other dogs and seems uncomfortable". I advise the client to keep their dog away from other dogs while we work on the issues (in a controlled setting). This means not visiting off leash dog parks or allowing dogs to approach yours while on leash. 


Within generally 1-7 days of the first meeting I get an email that goes something like this: "So we were at the dog park the other day and Rover bit another dog". 


So why does this happen? I've come to a few conclusions here. I believe that dog owners inherently want their dog to be social and comfortable. They also believe that exposing their dog to other dogs will alleviate the anxiety and fear their dog feels. 


Unfortunately that doesn't work very well when you aren't also working on counter conditioning to the fear and using dogs that are fairly neutral in their interactions with other dogs. 


Dogs who have anxiety, aggression or even a high arousal around other dogs should not be meeting them in dog parks or on leash as this is likely to make the situation worse. Obviously keeping your dog completely separate isn't going to make things better either so here's what I suggest:


1. Contact a positive reinforcement trainer who has experience working with dog to dog aggression. The CPDT-KA trainers would be a great place to start but many cities have positive trainers who can help you out. Ask for references and watch them teach before you sign up. 


2. Join a group class that keeps the dogs separate. Agility is NOT a good idea in this class because it increases arousal. I suggest an obedience class or rally obedience class. 


3. Take your dog for walks where he/she can see other dogs at a distance and teach him/her to check back in with you rather than fixating on them. 


4. If your dog is currently comfortable with a select dog (or dogs) then continue to let them interact in a fenced area where other stranger dogs can't join in. Do NOT introduce new dogs on your own but instead work closely with your trainer. 


5. Pick up a book on dog behaviour. A few suggestions include "Help for your Fearful Dog" by Nicole Wilde or "Fight" by Jean Donaldson. 

6. Do take your dog in for a vet check up especially if this issue is new. There are A LOT of medical reasons including pain, hypo-thyroidism and vaccine sensitivity that can create dog aggression. You'll often need to work with both a vet and a trainer to resolve it.






Please avoid taking your dog to areas where lots of dogs frequent because it can be overwhelming for your dog. This type of issue doesn't go away on it's own. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Dogs Behaving Badly...

What should you do when your best friend is just not listening? 


Well here's a few tips that can help you solve your problems or at least get you on the right path. Many dogs "act up" because they get something out of it. 


Here's an example:
You come home from a long day at work and your best buddy is overwhelmed with excitement when you come in the door. He boundless jumps all over you. For some owners this is a real problem where they can actually be injured and knocked over. 


So how would you go about teaching your beloved (and happy) pet to relax when you come home? 


A great place to start is by asking yourself "What would I want him to do instead?". Dogs can not just stop and do nothing. We have to take all that energy and excitement and direct it at another source. This is a great time to teach a good solid sit stay or even a "drop/down stay". One of my clients opted to teach her dog to go get a toy and bring it to her. This gave the dog a very specific job and a way to burn his energy. Another one of my clients decided to teach her dog to go to bed and wait for a few minutes so she could get her shoes and coat off. Once she was ready she would release the dog and he'd be allowed to offer a "hug". The choices are plentiful and can be as creative as you like. 


The key to stopping "bad" behaviour is replacing it with something more desirable. Many owners need help with this and it sure pays to have a trainer you can consult with. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Buying a Puppy or Dog from a Breeder: Some Considerations

This is my follow up to the adopting a dog post from November 14. As I mentioned in that post not all dogs need to come from adoption or rescue groups. I am not arguing that there isn't a need for homes but it's not the best choice for every family.

That being said getting a dog from a breeder does not guarantee health or temperment (or even the right personality fit). Here's some must have's that breeders should adhere to before you buy a puppy or adult dog from them.

- All breeding dogs should be health screened for common issues in the breed. Most commonly this means OFA xrays done of elbows and hips, yearly eye exams (often referred to as CERF test), hearing exams (BAER), drug sensitivites, and of course a history of cancer, diabetes, epilesy and other diseases in the lines. Health screening will vary from breed to breed so do your research and find out what tests are recommended.

- Breeding dogs should be over the age of 2 years old (both males and females) and not bred every heat cycle (females). 

- Breeders should practice socialization with their puppies from the first day. Puppies living in the home will generally be exposed to more stimuli but this does not guarantee anything. When asking questions about socialization please be considerate that the breeder is also balancing their life, keeping the puppies safe/healthy as well as exposing them to new things. This is however extremely important. 

- Parent dogs should have good temperments with no exceptions. If you are looking for a family pet then I highly recommend being able to meet both parent dogs. 

Sometimes breeders will have adult dogs looking for homes. This can happen for a variety of reasons but most commonly it is because the dog they kept isn't going to be a good addition to their breeding program (either the conformation is quite what they wanted or the dog doesn't have a certain attribute that they want). This can mean a well trained and well adjusted adult dog for a family. I highly recommend this for families with young children who want a mostly ready made dog (please still attend at least 1 obedience group class though... it's great for bonding).  

Don't be afraid to ask your breeder questions but also be polite. Remember many good breeders aren't making a living by breeding dogs. They are doing it because they love the breed and want to enhance it.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Adopting a Dog? Some Considerations

In recent years "adopting" a dog from a shelter or rescue group has become the norm. However adoption is not the only choice nor is it the best choice for every family. Personally I have "adopted" 3 adult dogs from the Calgary Humane Society, 1 adult dog from a breeder and purchased 2 puppies from breeders. There has been some significant differences in the dogs that came to me as puppies and those that showed up as adults. 

Adopting A Puppy

Puppies (4 months and under) are available through rescue. They come in a variety of mixes as well as the occasional "purebred". They tend to be adopted quickly and spend very little time sitting in a shelter or foster home. So what's different about adopting a puppy rather than seeking out one from a reputable breeder?

- Unknown history on parents including their breeds and temperaments 
- Unknown medical screening on parents
- Puppy might suffer malnutrition and lack of socialization 

A good breeder does the work before a puppy is ever born. Planning a litter should include screening both parent dogs for a variety of genetic health concerns (includes hip displaysia, blindness, skin issues, ect). Parent dogs should also have a sound temperament because behaviour problems include a genetic component.

Another concern is whether your puppy got the right start once he/she were born. This can be extremely important because what a puppy is exposed to before they are 4 months old will affect them throughout their life. Puppies need to be fed a well balanced diet and experience new people (all ages), new dogs and changes in environment. This creates a happy, confident dog as an adult.

Adopting An Adult Dog 

Adopting an adult dog can include all the challenges of adopting a puppy and more! Sometimes adult dogs are given up due to behaviour problems in the home including house soiling, biting, aggression with other dogs/pets, resource guarding or a general lack of manners. While these issues can generally be resolved with good management and a training plan they do exist. Sometimes adopters are not even aware that these issues exist at all. 

One of the most important considerations should be what you want in a dog. Make a list and screen each dog carefully. Rescues and shelters who do their due diligence should be screening all adoptable dogs with behaviour assessments. Please take these assessments seriously but consider that the dog might act different once he/she settles into the home.

A list of considerations:
- What breed(s) do I want and why? Have I researched what this type of dog was bred to do?
- What behaviour issues am I willing to work on and what is a deal breaker? 
- Do I have children and is this dog acquainted with kids? 
- Do I have time for training and integration? 
- What type of health concerns am I prepared to deal with immediately?

Choosing to rescue is indeed saving a life but it is not the right choice for everyone. Choosing a reputable breeder can be just as difficult. Dogs live between 9 and 18 years. This choice will affect you and your family for some time to come. Do not make a rushed decision and consider contacting a dog trainer to help you make that decision.

Where's Your Sit? offers pre-adoption consults where we can help assess what kind of dog would be best for you and where you should acquire your dog.

Blog entry coming next on choosing a good breeder. Not all breeders care about the future health of your dog or his/her temperament either. Screening is very important!




Friday, November 11, 2011

Health Care for Dogs

I get asked A LOT of questions about dogs particularly after someone new learns I am a dog trainer. Often enough people ask me the same ones and truth be told I'm always happy to talk about my favourite topic. I've decided to share some of these FAQ's with my blog readers for your information. 

Here's the first one: Why and how often should I take my puppy to the vet when he seems healthy?

Most Veterinarians recommend a yearly check up for all healthy pets just like humans are suppose to see their doctors once per year. Regular check ups are incredibly important for pets because they age much faster than humans and because they don't have a voice to tell you when something is wrong.

When adopting a new pet you should have a vet check preformed whether the dog is old, young, healthy or otherwise. This will give your vet an idea about what your pet's age, general body condition, weight, body temperature and other important information is when your pet is healthy. This can act as a guide to how sick your pet is when something is wrong. It also helps familiarize your pet with the vet clinic and vet him/herself when your pet feels good. This makes treating your pet when he/she is sick much easier.

Another sign for a "healthy" dog to visit the vet is a change in behaviour that is not easy to explain. This includes: accidents in the house, more frequent urination, anxiety, aggression, lethargy and loss of appetite. Many of the cases of aggression I see also include a health issue. This should make you think twice before implementing a punishment for behaviour you see as "naughty" when your dog might actually be feeling under the weather. A full vet check up including bloodwork is a must.

Your Veterinarian is a great resource and it's important you find someone that you like and trust. Personally I see 4 different vets with my dogs depending on the issue. Ask your friends and family to see who they use. Ask questions like how long have you been seeing your vet, do you like him/her, have they offered you practical advice that works? Luckily Calgary has many vets to choose from so take your time to research and find someone that is kind to you and your dog.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Solutions for Canine Anxiety

I've seen an increasing amount of clients lately who are struggling with their dog's anxiety issues. Concerns include fear of storms, strangers, other dogs, areas in the home, walks once it's dark outside and being home alone. 

While anxiety concerns in dogs can be complex here are a few solutions to help your best friend out: 

1. Create a Regular Routine
Just like kids, dogs need to be able to predict what's going happen in their day. This does not mean to live life by an exact schedule (ie. the dog eats every morning at 6am) but it does mean that your dog understands that certain events take place in order (ie. bathroom break, breakfast, walk, etc.) so they know what to expect. Dogs should also have a regular bed time and an over tired dog should get naps. 

2. Feed a Balanced and Healthy Diet
A poor diet can affect your dog's mood significantly. While the jury is still out on what the best food is to feed your dog here are a few recommendations; pick a high quality dog food instead of a grocery store product, consult with a nutrition expert (may or may not be a veterinarian), read a book on canine nutrition so you know what to look for and consider alternative diets such as raw or home made which can be a great solution for some dogs. Every dog is different and sometimes you have to try a few different options. My 4 dogs all eat differently: Russ gets Go Natural Salmon & Rice kibble supplemented with veggies, Heidi gets Go Natural White Fish or Wellness Core wet food with rice, veggies, yogurt, flax and vitamin C, and both Marco and Tank get a mixed raw food diet which is partially home made. Do your research and figure out what's best for your dog. 

3. Keep Your Own Anxiety Under Control
Owners that are also experiencing high levels of anxiety can affect their dogs. It's important to be as relaxed as possible especially when exposing your dog to something they worry about.  Some interesting products that can help both humans and dogs include Rescue Remedy, soothing music, exercise and plenty of sleep.

4. Contact a Trainer versed in Anxiety
Not all dog trainers know about anxiety issues in dogs. Contact a variety of trainers when looking for help. Dog trainers who have their CPDT-KA designation have passed an exam that includes an Animal Behaviour component. Or a trainer who has experienced in this field and has taken the time to attend seminars about this type of issue. Anxiety issues should never be addressed using coercive or forceful methods.

A few great products:

1. DAP collars, sprays or diffusers (stands for Dog Appeasement Pheromone) and is available through most vet clinics and the Calgary Humane Society. 

2. Thunder Shirts, now available through most pet stores including Global Pet Foods and Mungo's Books for Dog People. 

3. Through a Dog's Ear CD, available at the Calgary Humane Society, Mungo's Books for Dog People and of course online.

4. Rescue Remedy, great for people and dogs! Available at most health stores.


Here's Dexter one of Where's Your Sit?'s clients. Dexter is scared of bath time so he can be seen here getting more comfortable with the bath tub. Where's Your Sit? has a variety of classes and private training options to help anxious or fearful dogs.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Tips for a Successful Halloween

Halloween is a stressful time for some dog families. If your pooch gets wild every time the doorbell rings then Halloween can really be a nightmare. Here's a few tips to settle down fido. 

#1 - Take your pup out for a lengthy walk before the Trick or Treaters start their night. This will allow your dog to burn some energy beforehand and hopefully lower his/her arousal level. 

#2 - Secure your dog in an area of the house that is away from the door. This will keep the kids and your dog safe. No one wants your pup to accidently end up on the loose! 

#3 - A member of the household should hang out with the dog during the evening and reward all calm behaviour. If your dog is offering a sit or a down then give him/her a treat. Wait for your pooch to repeat the calm behaviour and pay again! Before long your pup might learn that doorbell = lie down. Wouldn't that be great? 

#4 - For dogs with anxiety a spray of Rescue Remedy or DAP might be the answer before the kids start to show up. A thunder shirt can also be useful. 

#5 - Worse case scenerio turn your lights off and spend your evening playing with your pooch. 



Good luck everyone! 

Monday, September 26, 2011

5 Tricks to Teach Any Dog

Not everyone wants a perfectly obedient companion but all dogs need certain essential skills to keep them and the people around them safe. Here's my suggestions for "must haves" in doggy skills:

#5 - Leave It

The all important skill of relinquishing objects or food (or anything else a dog might want to grab). This will help prevent bites, ruined possessions and keep your dog safe from consuming dangerous items left lying around. Luckily leave it as an easy skill to teach and most dogs are quite happy to trade! 

#4 - Stay

Essential for doorways, greeting visitors, a moment when you have to drop your leash, going up and down stairs. Really there's no limit to what stay can do for you. A good, full proofed stay is absolute must have for many dogs and owners. Stay takes some time and effort to teach but is well worth your while. 

#3 - Walking On Leash

A dog that walks well on leash is a dog that gets lots of walks and socialization. Walks are a crucial part of keeping both a dog and owner happy. Teaching your dog not to pull you down the street is something every dog walker can apperciate. 

#2 - Quick Down or Drop command

Having a cue word that immediately stops your dog while running or jumping can help de-escalte any situation where your dog is over excited. This one needs to be taught in small steps. 

#1 - Coming When Called

To me this is the number one skill ANY dog needs. It can be a lifesaver! 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

How Obedience Skills Are Used During Everyday Walks...



Last night I took the crew out for a run around 9pm. We chose a long stretch of grass that allows the dogs to really run and play. The grass is directly beside a road that sees moderate traffic although it was late at night. Our neighbourhood also includes rabbits, cats and the occassional coyote. 

Here's where obedience skills made our walk safe and fun. We saw a cat right after leaving the front door. A simple "watch" cue told my dogs that they should be focused on me instead. We used our loose leash walking skills to make it over to the grass and as a result I wasn't pulled or hauled around. 

Before taking the dogs off leash they were asked for a sit stay. This gives me to do a once over of the area before giving them freedom. It also gives me a chance to practice sit stay (with a real life reward of play for completing the task). 

Once off leash we needed to use "recall" aka "come" a few times when the Aussies went too far. Remember it's dark out so I wanted to make sure I could always see them. They also discovered various pieces of garbage that I didn't need to touch since they all know "leave it" means forever. 

Occassionally when I saw headlights coming it was time for everyone to offer a down stay. This keeps my dogs safely near me and away from traffic. If I had had a beginner dog with me it would have been the perfect chance to practice leash on (and then showing the dog that they can be unleashed again once the car is past which makes putting on the leash a non-issue).  My dogs are taught to hold stay until I release them verbally with an "all done".

The entire walk took about 30-40 minutes. They practiced almost all their basic obedience commands. We didn't use any additional reinforcers (aka food, toys, etc) because I had the best reward available (running free and playing with each other). Remember that obedience is a way of life and not just a class you take when your dog is young. Practice all the time and incorporate it into any activity you do with your dog. Make playing "obedience" the best game and you'll have a dog that can listen anywhere.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Thunder Storm Season

I've received a number of inquiries about dogs and storms. So I thought I would introduce a product that works really well for some dogs:

Thunder Shirts!


If your dog is suffering from severe storm anxiety (self injuring, dangerous to other, distressed) please contact a positive reinforcement trainer, behaiourist or your veterinarian for assistance.




Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Why Does My Dog Go Crazy On Leash?

Increasingly pet owners are complaining about dogs that seem to go crazy on leash when they see other dogs, people or wildlife but are fine off leash. So what's going on?


Dogs are inherently social creatures and like to investigate their world. When off leash they can determine how to approach (distance, speed, posture, if to approach at all, etc) but we add a leash to the situation and suddenly the dog has no choices at all. Add in the fact that very few humans that are aware of dog body language and social behaviour and there's disaster. Scared dogs learn that they are forced to interact with unknowns in their environment in an unpleasant way. Hyper/friendly dogs learn that they can't get access to exciting stimuli and become frustrated. 

And then leash reactivity happens. That's the behaviour where a dog is at the end of his/her leash barking/lunging/growling, etc or running around in circles with the same results. Most of the time the owners are really embarrassed and don't know what to do. 


This is definitely the time to call in a positive reinforcement trainer to help you come up with a plan. Fearful dogs will need different protocols than hyper/friendly dogs. A good dog trainer can spot the difference where most people can't. Sometimes a very scared dog looks hyper or aggressive. You won't get anywhere if you can't tell the difference. 

Many training academies will offer special classes for dogs with these issues but I highly recommend you start with private one on one training. A lot of the work can start right in the home. 


My own Miniature Schnauzer Heidi came to me as a fearful reactive dog. She would bark and have a fit at anything that moved (people, dogs, cats, birds, bikes, skateboards, leaves, etc). You wouldn't know it today. We worked slowly on desensitizing her to each environmental fear (and I mean slowly as it took well over a year) and at the same time participated in confidence building activities and fine tuned her obedience skills. Heidi now helps me work with other fearful reactive dogs as she can be a relaxing prescence. That's success! Help is out there and the longer you wait the worse it tends to get. 



Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Dog Training & Punishment

For some reason many people would rather "correct" or punish behaviour rather than simply teach an alternative. This was the way dogs were trained over 20 years ago but a lot has changed! So when is punishment approrpriate and what kind of punishment should be used? 
It's important to note that dogs have the mental capacity of an 18 month old child (all dogs) and they do not do things out of spite. They live in the moment and generally follow their instincts. A dog pees on the carpet because in that particular moment it feels good. Later on he might "look" guilty but that would be the dog offering appeasement gestures because he may have learned that when you come home then he gets in trouble. The association between house soiling and your anger is not made. 

There are times when punishment is appropriate. I highly recommend using something called "negative punishment" in dog trainer lingo. The negative stands for taking something away rather than "positive punishment" which means to do something to the dog. 
Negative punishment works by taking away what your dog wants. Here's a few examples:

#1 - your dog jumps on you then you walk away from him (taking yourself away is a form of punishment because your dog wants you).

#2 - your dog nips your child's hand while excited so you remove him from the room and give him a "time out". In this case you are removing social interaction.

#3 - as you approach the dog park your pooch goes crazy in the car. You respond by either waiting in the car and ignoring him until he settles OR driving away. Your dog learns that barking/lunging does not get him access to the park.

When training dogs my motto has always been teach them what you actually want them to do. Therefore if my dog was jumping on me then I would teach him to sit for attention/petting and use negative punishment if I needed to. The combination of teaching them what you want and taking away what they want can ensure great results and a happy, well balanced dog.
 
If your dog is having trouble learning what you want then you should contact a positive reinforcement trainer in your area for assistance. Some dogs have a hard time learning certain skills or just don't understand. 

So the next time your dog is doing something wrong ask yourself these questions:
Why is my dog doing this? (And don't answer because he's stubborn)
What do I want my dog to do instead? 
What can I take away if he doesn't offer the right behaviour? 

Please contact Where's Your Sit if you have questions about training. Remember to use a force free approach and put your creative thinking cap on to problem solve! 


Friday, June 17, 2011

Sweet Dog looking for her Forever Home

 One of my friends has been fostering a very sweet dog for a long time now. I'm hoping to help find her a home. Sadly black dogs are often overlooked when people consider adoption so please give "Dingo" a chance.



The Dingo.

Roughly 3-3.5yrs old.

Around 65lbs, lean but tall.

Up to date on shots. Spayed.

Housetrained. Crate trained, and really loves it.

Good with kids, prefers non-toddlers, though she did alright with a few she has met.

Great with other dogs, I would prefer a home with another dog for her.

Ok with dog-savy cats, took time to warm up to my cats.. but my cats already LOVE dogs (NOT tolerate dogs) and they eventually won her over with affection. Not sure how she would be around "catty" cats LOL!

Sheds twice a year really well for a couple weeks, but rest of the year she hardly sheds anything, lower shed than any of my smooth coated dogs, I loved it!

Is really good for grooming. Brushing. Furminating. Nail Trim. Ear clean. Teeth clean.

Very calm in the house. Gentle and occasionally still timid personality. Does like to get goofy though and wrestle on occasion. Likes to snuggle and get belly rubs. "Roos" when she gets excited.

Almost has a greyhound type mellow disposition, yet ALWAYS attentive and vigilante.

Many guesses to her breed. Had several people including a competitive dog sport breeder tell me she has Dutch Shepherd in her. This woman bred and competed with Dutch Shepherds and
wouldn't leave me alone about it. We don't know for sure though, we just call her The Dingo!

She has been with me over a year. Was a very very scared girl when I got her. Would hide under furniture at new noises or people. However always LOVED interacting with other dogs. Living with a posse of boisterous pits has done her good! Was at PetExpo end of March this year and LOVED all the people and commotion probably more than me truthfully. She tried out a treadmill, met countless people and dogs, and at the end of the day was still soliciting affection from strangers! Excellent!

This dog is doing really well and its time for her to find her forever home so I have time to help new needy dogs!

Please message for more info on her, or to meet her!

pitbullhugger@hotmail.com


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Raw Dog Food & Awesome Treats

My Adventure Dog class was asking me where I got my dried Lung and Tripe treats last night so I thought I would share. In Calgary we're lucky enough to have an awesome business called Back to Basics. I actually get almost all my dog food from them and a far amount of treats. They also carry raw food for cats. 

Check them out here: http://www.backtobasicsrawpetfood.com/ 

Monday, June 13, 2011

Fearful Dogs

I recently got back home from a seminar in Vancouver to see Nicole Wilde, CPDT-KA. Nicole is a very respected dog trainer with a background in wolves and wolf-dogs. Over two days we examined "Fearful Dogs" and "Creative Client Coaching". 

I wanted to share some of the information I learned about Fearful Dogs. Nicole also has a great book on this topic: Help For Your Fearful Dog. I highly recommend it for anyone who has a dog that needs help in this area.She has also written a book specifically on Separation Anxiety which is a must read for anyone dealing with that particular issue.

There are different types of fears: anxiety, fears and phobias. Anxiety is not dependent on a specific trigger or cause. My own Miniature Schnauzer has anxiety which makes her fears worse. A fear is a response to a specific trigger such as a dog who is scared of men. Phobias are a profound reaction (out of proportion) to an actual threat. Learned fears are the easiest to undo while anxiety and phobias are much more difficult. 

Root causes of fearful behaviour include genetics, lack of early socialization, abuse, traumatic experience, learned or associative fears and pain/illness. It's important to note that even if we can't pinpoint what might have caused the fear initially there's still help. 

When training your own dog you need to be aware of how he/she is feeling and responding. It's not uncommon for dogs in group classes to be displaying fearful/anxious behaviour and the owner misinterprets it as stubborn or aggressive. Many dogs who are fearful will actually shut down and just stop moving/offering any behaviour. If your dog is fearful or anxious then he/she will not be able to learn. I highly recommend private training or a fearful dog class for dogs with these issues. 

When Heidi first arrived in my life we spent 6 weeks in a group class where she hid under my chair the entire time. I decided to ride it out with her and offered her treats (which took until class #5 for her to accept). We eventually graduated with 0 new obedience skills but at least she would come out from under the chair. I opted to enroll her in agility after that and she did great with time, encouragement and positive reinforcement. I never force Heidi to do anything since that is more likely to increase her fearful behaviour. She was never being stubborn but was simply too fearful to work. Even to this day if we're at an agility trial or a new class if she gives me signals that she isn't feeling alright then we either head home or move to a quiet space to chill out. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Importance of Motivation

Last night my Adventure Dog class got to see how much MOTIVATION matters in dog training (well really in training anyone including people). I'd love to say that this one type of treat works for every dog in every situation but of course motivation is based on individual preferance, environmental context and of course other factors such as whether your dog is full, tired, thirsty, etc.

When working with your dog try to have a few different types of reinforcers with you. I generally bring some kibble, some higher value treats (Zuke's Minis, Rollover, Dried Liver, Drive Tripe), a ball (Chuck It ball works great), tug toy (Skinneezz work great too especially the rabbit for some reason) and of course my own happy energy level. It's also a good idea to make water available as a thirsty dog really isn't too interested in much else at that point. 

Using the right reinforcer can change your entire training session. It can make the difference between a distracted dog that won't listen and a star student. Make reinforcement random so your dog doesn't get bored (or worse expectant) and change it up.

You can make yourself the reward by teaching your dog hand targets, tricks that he/she loves to preform, praise, petting, running with your pup and more. Having a good attitude and energy level will keep your dog happily working for you. Sometimes patience is hard to find and that's when I would end a training session.

Keep training sessions short with lots of breaks for play and running. This keeps your dog interested and wanting to work. If I do a down stay for 3 minutes and then reward my dog he's going to want to do it again even if it's sometimes boring like a down stay BUT we'll generally do something else first to keep the energy and enthusiasm up. This will allow you to train anywhere and without food and toys once your dog gets it.

I worked with aussies Tank and Marco during an off leash walk last night surronded by other dogs. We practiced 1 down stay, 1 sit stay, 1 off leash heeling (just Marco), 2 left finishes and 1 front. All for the chance to run around with me and jump in the air for hand targets. I kept it fun and they were attentive as a result. They were able to do this surronded by a million fun things like dogs, people, smelling, squirrels and it didn't matter because the training session was fun not arduous.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Dog Bite Prevention Week

It's Dog Bite Prevention Week and statistics show that the majority of bites are from a known dog and the victim tends to be a child more often than not. Many dog bites are entirely preventable. 

So that brings us into our first topic: Safety Tips for Kids!

#1 - Teach your children about canine body language. They need to know when a dog is friendly and relaxed, when he/she is exhibiting anxiety or is on the offensive. Some dogs are harder to read and it's the parent's responsibility to supervise children with any dogs. A great video on body language is Sarah Kalnajs' Language of Dogs.

#2 - When greeting a strange dog children should ask the owner if it's alright. If the owner gives consent the child should hold still and let the dog come to the child on his/her own. If a child runs right up to even a very friendly canine it can trigger an anxiety response or an excited arousal response. Both should be prevented. Letting the dog approaches allows the dog to make the decision and keeps the greeting "polite" in dog language. If the dog is hyper or excited then the child should not meet the dog.

#3 - Teach your kids how to pet a dog. Hugs are NEVER appropriate even with the family dog. Most dogs hate hugs and it puts your child's face right in bite range. Hugging is also considered to be a confrontational posture to most dogs.

#4 - If you and your kids frequent areas where dogs are allowed to run off leash then teach your child to play the "Be a Tree" game. Arms need to come right against the body and eye contact should avoided. Screaming needs to be avoided since it can heighten arousal significantly. Also discourage running when a strange dog is approaching as it can excite a chase response.

In an ideal world dogs would be highly socialized to children and have obedience skills such as "come", "off" and "leave it" but sadly not all owners spend the time teaching their dogs. Parents need to make sure they keep their children safe by teaching them how to be dogwise whether you have your own dog or not. Dogs are still animals and are not always predictable.

The best solution to dog bites is educating both Parents, Kids and Dogs. If everyone does their part then bites can be significantly reduced.

Where's Your Sit runs socialization and training classes for dogs of all temperments and backgrounds. We also offer a class for kids to take on bite prevention, reading canine body language and which dogs to pet. Dogs can be a valuable part of any child's life teaching empathy, compassion and giving them a friend who will always listen and keep their secrets. Let's keep everyone safe.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Train with Toys!

So when most people think about positive reinforcement training they think food and praise BUT really it can be anything your dog considers good and every dog is different so the list varies. One of the best reinforcers can be play. 

Most dog owners who train for dog sports like Obedience or Agility discover training with toys early on but many regular pet owners miss the boat using exlusively treats or praise. So you ask how do you train with toys? It's easy and we'll go over some concepts now. 

Recall - Teaching Your Dog to Come
1. Start in your yard or home. Use a toy that your dog really likes. Some of my favourites are chuck-it balls or skinneez (stuff animals with squeakers but no stuffing). The toy you pick for training should only be available to your dog during the training session. As soon as your done put it away so it maintains a high value for your dog. 
2. Call your dog "come" and run away from your dog. When he/she catches you pull out the toy and either throw the ball or play tug with your dog. The more exciting you can be the better. 
3. If you've thrown the ball reward your dog with a treat if he/she brings it back. Don't focus on the retrieve part since you are practicing recall at this moment. 



Heeling
1. Same concept as recall. Use a special toy only for training and otherwise put it away. 
2. You can start by holding the toy on the side you wish your dog to walk on and get him/her to focus on it while moving forward.
3. When your dog takes a few steps in heel position stop and play. 
4. Stop the game, get your dog to take more steps and then stop and play again. 
A ball can be held in your arm pit and occassionally dropped for your dog to grab. A tug toy can be easily held in your hand or pocket and brought out spontaneously. 



Any skill you teach with food or praise can also be taught by playing. Remember it's important to teach your dog "leave it" so you can get the toy back in order to keep practicing. 

I'll upload some YouTube videos shortly using toys as rewards so you can get a better concept of the idea. In all the classes at Where's Your Sit we suggest using toy rewards along with food, praise and petting. One of my dogs prefers toys as his BEST reward even over really good treats.

Look forward to our next entry on how to create "toy drive" in a dog that doesn't play naturally.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

CARO Trial & CGN Results

Jade had a great weekend with both Russ and Marco at the CARO Trial and CGN test at Hyper Hounds. 

Russ earned his Canine Good Neighbour title with great focus and finess. It took me awhile to get him tested due to scheduling and training but once tested he proved what I knew all along... he's a good neighbour! Our next goal will be to get in some rally practice so he can try his paws in the ring.


Marco earned his Canine Good Neighbour and Rally Novice title this weekend. He's only 16 months old and this was his first time in the preformance ring (only conformation classes before this). While we had a few "puppy" moments he tried hard and pulled out some great scores for us. He showed his great work ethic and most of all his willingness to please. We'll be heading to some CKC shows in the future and try out rally in that venue before tackling any Advanced courses. Marco continues to train for both formal obedience and agility.


This was my first rally trial too and while a little nerve racking at first it was a great learning experience. I learned a lot about how I want my dogs to work with me and what I can polish with my puppy. Getting in the ring isn't an easy thing to do but was completely worth while. There's no better feeling than working as a team with your dog (even with a few mistakes in there!).  

I highly recommend taking a few rally classes before hitting up a show. We have some fantastic training facilities in Calgary where you can take lessons and get familiar with the signs. I highly recommend Hyper Hounds and All Bright Dogs for lessons. Both head trainers compete themselves and have been involved with the sport for many years (they're also judges). 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Local Dog Trainer Earns Certification As Certified Professional Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed

Calgary, Alberta (April 15, 2011) - Local dog trainer, Jade Robertson, BA CPDT-KA of Calgary, Alberta has earned certification through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT). Jade joins nearly 2000 Certificants worldwide.



Until the creation of the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers in 2001, there was no true certification process for canine professionals. Many schools teach dog trainers and offer certifications for their specific programs. These certificates, therefore, reflect the teachings and quality of a specific school. Other organizations offer take-home tests for "certification". These canine professionals are not monitored to ensure they are completing the test without any assistance or collaboration nor is the testing process standardized.

This unprecedented process was originally implemented by the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT), the largest association of dog trainers in the world, founded by noted veterinarian, behaviourist and author Dr. Ian Dunbar. A task force of approximately 20 internationally known dog training professionals and behaviourists worked for three years to research and develop the first comprehensive examination. Professional Testing Corporation (PTC) was hired to ensure the process met professional testing standards. APDT then created a separate, indepdent council -- The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers -- to manage the accreditation and pursue future development.

Candidates who pass the exam earn the title of Certified Professional Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed and may use the designation "CPDT-KA" after their names. All certified trainers must earn continuing education credits to maintain their designations or take the examination again in three years. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

What's Rally Obedience?

Marco and I have entered our first Rally Obedience Trial this weekend. It takes place at Hyper Hounds Dog Training (Okotoks, AB) and runs on both Saturday and Sunday.



Many of my students have asked what is Rally Obedience? And then why I should consider doing it with me dog?

Rally Obedience (often referred to as Rally O) is a relatively new sport for dogs. It has been around for about 10 years now. The sport was developed by the Association of Pet Dog Trainers and has spread to other organizations including AKC, CKC and CARO (Canadian Association of Rally Obedience).  The sport is a mix of formal obedience moves (heeling, turns, sits, downs, stays, etc.) but uses the fun of agility by creating courses. There are about 20 signs on a course that an owner and dog need to complete. Dogs of all breeds and ages may take part.

Now why should you consider taking a Rally O class with your dog?
Simply put it's a fun way to learn obedience skills that you need. The most critical skill is heeling and rally participants spend a lot of time working on that. You'll also develop quicker response to commands, enhance your bond with your dog and learn to tackle distractions. It's also a great start before taking on an agility class.

Also in CARO and APDT trials owners are allowed to use food rewards on course. This makes it a great place to get dog some ring experience and learn to build up focus. 

So come out and watch the trial this weekend. If you have questions please let me know.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Interactive Toys

Kong posted a great YouTube video on how to use their toys.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZjtDgVy7E1A

Other great toys include:
Buster Cube
Tricky Treat Balls
Treat Stick
Busy Buddies

Sunday, March 20, 2011

But He Knows This! Why dogs forget training and what to do about it.

All the students have arrived at class and we begin working on a sit stay exercise. The students ask their dogs to sit and then tell them to stay. We wait 10 seconds and then reward and release the dogs. Should be fairly easy for an advanced class right? Well not always. Sometimes a dog just doesn’t stay or worse yet seems to have forgotten what sit means! So what’s happening? 

A couple of different scenarios might be going on. My first guess would be that the dog isn’t motivated. Clearly he/she knows what sit means and probably at this point what stay means but is choosing not to perform the expected behaviour. It doesn’t mean the dog has forgotten the commands. Pamela Reid Ph.D. explains this as learning/performance distinction. She states that a “whether or not a behaviour is performed depends on a lot of things: opportunity, motivation, physical abilities, and learning”1. This means that just because a dog doesn’t do what he/she is told doesn’t mean that he/she doesn’t know how to do it. 

A crucial part of training is maintaining a behaviour/command. This means you have to practice, use reinforcers that matter to your dog at that moment in time and you back up any command with getting the desired behaviour. All too often owners expect the dogs to hear sit, sit, sit all day long without reinforcement (or even actually getting the dog to sit at all) which tells the dog that this command doesn’t matter. 

Performing a Sit Stay in class:
  • Have you given your dog a chance to respond before double commanding, asking for a sit before you have focus or physically putting your dog in a sit ?
  • Why should your dog sit/stay? What’s in it for them? And don’t say because he/she loves me.
  • Is my dog injured, sick or anxious? I found out that my dog Tank stopped sitting because of a knee injury, good thing I didn’t jump into punishment mode on him!
  • Have I taught my dog how to sit and stay in this environment? Should I go back a few steps?
The same thing can happen with house training. It snows out and the dog suddenly starts peeing in the house. The dog is no longer motivated to go outside since most owners stop rewarding house training fairly quickly by sending their dog outside alone and further more we add some unpleasant conditions .The rug starts to look like an ideal bathroom. Now what do you do? Go back to the basics and head outside with your dog. Occasionally reward them for going outside with praise, petting, treats or games. This will provide the motivation for your dog to go outside (even in the cold), do their business and keep you happy. 

Performing Eliminating Outside:
  • Has your dog had the opportunity to go out regularly or did you leave it too long?
  • Is your dog motivated to go to the bathroom outside or have you completely stopped rewarding it?
  • Is your dog sick?My dog Heidi started peeing in her sleep and we discovered it was from a hormone imbalance. Once she was on Estrogen she no longer peed inside.
  • Have you properly trained your dog where to go to the bathroom? Confusion ensues if you switch between indoor bathroom areas/outdoor bathroom areas?
So you can see how regression occurs and why dogs sometimes don’t perform behaviours we previously thought were rock solid. This happens to everyone! Don’t get upset just take a breath and ask yourself why this might be happening? Go through whether you gave the dog the right opportunities to do what you want, is your dog motivated or physically unable to do what you want and have you trained/maintained your dog to continue to do this behaviour?

1 Reid, Pamela J. Ph.D., Excel-erated Learning: Explaining how dogs learn and how best to teach them. James & Kenneth Publishers, 1996. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Vaccines, Puppies & Socialization

Since spring is on the way and many of my clients are getting puppies it's time to have a post about puppy vaccines and socialization. 



Many breeders choose to give the first vaccine between 6 and 8 weeks. Generally families choose to continue a 2nd or 3rd set of shots. This means that your puppy is only fully vaccinated after their window of socialization closes! Puppies who are kept away from other dogs and people during this time increases their risk of developing serious behaviour issues.

So what's a good puppy parent to do? Well it depends on who you ask. I chose to take my puppy Marco to many places throughout the city before he had finished his vaccine protocol (chosen by my vet and myself). Marco went to an off leash park in an area of the city that's not too busy and not associated with diseases such as Parvo or Distemper. It was a calculated risk. We also went to pet stores, transit stations, banks, friends' homes and on leash walks. I made sure to keep him away from feces. 


If you want to be a bit more cautious then attending puppy parties where all attendees have had their first set of shots at least 1 week before can be a great option. You can also call friends' with vaccinated dogs to come visit and take your puppy to them too. 

Also don't forget about the many puppy socialization classes in Calgary! Veternarians Margaret M. Duxbury DVM, DACVB and R.K. Anderson DVM, DACVPM, DACVB did a study over 3 years that included data from across the United States. This study showed that no cases of parvo-distemper dises in puppies attending specific early socialization classes. The puppies completed 22,147 weeks of puppy class exposure with no associated illness. So there`s no excuse not to get your puppy out there!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Good Behaviour for Dog Owners at Off Leash Parks

Alright everyone I had a pretty unpleasant experience at the off leash park yesterday and as a result I thought I would do a post on what dog owners should know about these parks; sometimes what I consider common sense doesn't seem to be so common. 


#1 Don't take your dog off leash if you can't control him/her (a good recall is imperative)

#2 Don't take your dog off leash if he/she has a history of aggression with dogs or people 
            >> try using empty fenced ball parks for runs or go to a large, empty area such as Nose Hill on a weekday to give your dog a good run.

#3 Watch your dog and the other dogs around your dog, if the play is looking a little "iffy" then recall your dog

#4 Dogs in season should NEVER go to the off leash park. It's highly dangerous so take your pretty lady for a good, on leash walk in a designated on leash area. If you are not familiar with proper responisble care of an intact dog please spay/neuter.

#5 Pick up after your dog so that everyone can enjoy the park

#6 Don't let your dog chase kids, bicycles or joggers. We need to share off leash zones safely. 

#7 Don't bring dog toys if your dog doesn't share; go somewhere else to play ball if this is the case. Definitely don't bring dog toys with food in them!

#8 Teach your dog how to greet people by sitting so he/she doesn't jump up on other park users.

#9 Remember that not all dogs get along and that's alright. Make sure your large dog isn't jumping all over a timid small one or your young dog might be harassing an older dog. Simply recall your dog and walk the other way. 

#10 Don't take your dog off leash in on leash areas. Just because your dog is friendly doesn't mean everyone else's is. There's nothing more frigtening for an owner of a dog who is aggressive to see an off leash dog running towards them (and calling out that your dog is friendly doesn't help!).

All breeds, ages and genders of dogs should be able to use off leash areas if they are social with dogs and people. Not all dogs are. Please make sure your dog will be safe in that type of environment.


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Give Up The Food Bowls!

It's cold out there and you need to keep your dog busy since long walks are clearly not an option! 

One of the first things I tell all my training clients is to give up their dog food bowls. They need things to do and simply putting their food in a dish does a disservice to you and your dog! There's loads of products out there that can make meal times interactive. Some of my favourites include Kong, Buster Cube and Tricky Treat Ball. 

Start your day by splitting your dog's food into two portions. One half should be used for interactive toys which your dog can play with while you're at work. Imagine he/she is getting mental stimulation while you're not even home! Interactive toys are to dogs what books and puzzles are for people. The other half of their food should be used for training. Remember training doesn't have to be all stays and sits it can also be tricks like roll over and play dead. There are so many options out there when it comes to what you can train your pet to do. 

Use their food to your advantage and have a happier, healthier dog as a result! 

Friday, February 11, 2011

Sit For Greeting

Have a dog that jumps up on everyone he/she meets? Learn how to teach a sit for greeting.



The first thing you need to ask yourself is: has my dog been reinforced for jumping up? Do you pat your dog when he/she jumps up? Do other people? Do you push your dog off of you and reprimand? Have you used your knees or legs to kick him/her? Have other people?

What you need to know about reinforcement is that good or bad reinforcement can encourage a behaviour. So it doesn't matter whether I'm petting my dog for jumping up or pushing him/her off of me. My dog is still being reinforced for jumping.  Makes things harder doesn't it?

Alright here's a few steps to get you on the right track and remember practice makes perfect!

Step #1 - teach your dog to sit on voice command or hand signal but without touching your dog. It's crucial that you have this basic obedience command down pat.

Step #2 - begin to practice sit around more and more distractions. Ask for sit and then as soon as that butt hits the floor reward. Practice this at doorways, on walks, in the park, around friends, etc.

Step #3 - when you come home from being out don't make eye contact or speak to your dog until he/she sits (without a command). As soon as your best friend is sitting then shower with praise, toy, pets, food, etc. If he/she jumps go back to ignoring. For those really high energy dogs keep your vocal praise low key so you don't trigger the jumping up again from excitement.

Step #4 - start to add friends/family to training session. Have your dog take a sit position before the person even becomes visible. Reinforce continually to keep your dog sitting (meaning giving a kibble or treat every few seconds). As long as the dog is sitting the person can come closer. If the dog gets up then the person immediately needs to back up and leave.  You then start again. Eventually the person will be standing beside the dog while the dog is sitting. You can then have your friend/family member give the dog a treat for sitting. Practice until this is easy.

Step #5 - slowly fade out the food reward until you can do this without food. Meaning over the course of several training sessions use less and less food. If the dog regresses then go back to the basics.

Step #6 - begin to ask your dog for a sit whenever a person comes into view. Over time your dog will learn that he/she is expected to sit when greeting a human. Once your dog is reliable on leash then move to practicing off leash.

If your dog does jump on someone unexpected have the person become a "tree" and if they need to they can turn around so their back is to the dog. This works great for kids. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Separation Anxiety & Why It's So Hard To Fix

Separation Anxiety is a term used to describe a condition where a dog becomes emotionally distraught when separated from a specific person or persons, or when he/she is left alone (1). This can be mild, moderate or so severe that a dog self injures. I've personally lived with two dogs who had severe separation anxiety and I can't even begin to describe the heart ache that it causes the family and the dog.

Prevention is always the best medicine when it comes to behaviour problems. Some simple steps to keep in mind are not making a big deal out of your coming and going from the home. Your dog shouldn't think that this is a big deal but simply a matter of course on a daily basis. Leave your dog something to do like an interactive toy to play with (stuffed Kong, Tricky Treat Ball or Buster Cube). And exercise your dog before a prolonged period of time away.

A great read on preventing separation anxiety is I'll Be Home Soon by Patricia McConnell. You can order this book from Dogwise Publishing. It has steps for treating separation anxiety as well and can be useful to those of you dealing with the mild form of this issue.

Dogs suffering from moderate to severe anxiety will present with house soiling, uncontrollable barking/howling, destructive behaviour,  drooling, panting, pacing, self injuring, etc. It is important to get advice from a professional about whether your dog has separation anxiety or is merely bored when left alone. This behaviour issue is often misdiagnosed by owners when a dog destroys objects in the house or amuses himself/herself by barking. A video camera or web camera can help show the true story about what goes on when you're away.

If you are experiencing separation anxiety then it's important to contact an Animal Behaviourist (if possible) or a Dog Trainer with experience resolving this issue. You will also need to consult your Veterinarian as dogs suffering from this issue often need medication while behaviour modification is taking place.

A newly released book by Certified Pet Dog Trainer Nicole Wilde called Don't Leave Me! is a great resource for dog owners who are struggling with this issue. It is also available through Dogwise Publishing. This book outlines how to create a custom plan for your dog and put it in action.

Sadly separation anxiety isn't always curable so plans should be made for petsitters, dog daycare and friends/family who can help. It can take months to years to get your dog to a healthy state even with assistance from a professional. Dogs with this issue need to slowly be desensitized to being alone which takes a large commitment from the owner. Don't be disheartened as many dogs do improve with positive reinforcement, love and patience.

Please be aware that adding another dog to the home often does not help with this issue. Sometimes the anxiety can even be passed over to the new dog.

Some great products that can help with separation anxiety include:
- Through A Dog's Ear CD
- Thunder Shirt
- Interactive Toys such as Kong, Tricky Treat Ball & Buster Cube
- Dog Appeasement Pheromone Collar or Spray (Available from your Veterinarian)

Resources:
1. Wilde, Nicole. Don't Leave Me: Step by Step Help For Your Dog's Separation Anxiety. Phantom Publishing, 2010.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Why Does Touching My Dog Make Him Hyper?

Here's the test: begin petting your dog with mid-range pressure. Does he/she do one of the following:
A) Solicit more petting by climbing on you
B) Roll over belly up, lick lips, yawn or look away
C) Energy increases and begins jumping off you
D) Moves Away
E) Some of all the above

Well then your dog probably has some touch sensitivity. Many dogs have touch sensitivity; far more often than people would think. 



So one of the things we practice in puppy class and beginner class is touching your dog while feeding him/her. Many people do this exercise once in class and then forget about it. They usually concentrate on stay or leave it or loose leash walking. While all those obedience skills are important they definitely don't outrank having a dog that not only accepts touch but enjoys it. 

If your dog enjoys touch you'll find him/her easier to praise/reward, spend time with, handle for grooming, handle for exams, handle in general, accept children who touch harder and inappropriately, and less likely to bite when in pain or taken  by surprise. All of those things are crucial for pet dogs. 


The good news is you can teach dogs of all ages to enjoy touch more than they already do. Take their breakfast or dinner and use it to teach handling. Get your dog eating out of your hand at a reasonable pace and then add touch. Make sure the dog continues to eat. The moment he/she stops eating take your hand off their body. Start with gentle touch using the back of your hand and then work up to pressure and specific handling (think picking up paws). As long as the dog continues to eat then continue to handle. 


This is what we would call Classic Conditioning to teach an animal to accept something they might not like. You combine their food (basic necessity) with a small level of something new or not enjoyable and then slowly increase over time. If you were handle then feed you wouldn't get the same result. 




Try this exercise a few times a week for several months and watch the changes in your dog. Once your dog accepts touch readily you can start to combine it with a down stay or sit stay. Remember that if your dog has a history of aggression related to touch then you need to seek out a Veterinarian to rule out medical issues and an experienced, positive reinforcement trainer to help you out.