Monday, March 28, 2011

Interactive Toys

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

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!