Monday, September 24, 2012

Is your Dog Stressed out?

Even the most well socialized and polite dogs can get stressed out; can you tell when your pooch has had enough? Here are some tips for identifying stress in your dog.
Dogs can become unreasonably stressed out anywhere. You could be at a local festival with people and dogs everywhere or at home where the distant sound of fireworks can send even the most confident canine over the edge. It’s important to be able to identify stress in your dog and help him/her manage it.
Here are a few signs that many dogs will demonstrate:
1. Your dog won’t eat.
This happens all the time. Fido is happily accepting treats from you or strangers and suddenly he’s full. Well your best friend might actually be too uncomfortable to eat. If your dog was previously eating and stops suddenly it’s best to assume he’s upset and take him out of the situation for a well-deserved break.
2. Your dog is no longer able to perform easy obedience cues such as Sit or Shake A Paw.
If your dog knows a cue like Sit then he/she should be able to do it. Dogs will often stop listening to cues when stressed out or over excited. We all know what over excitement looks like so if your pup is just standing stock still and unable to offer a sit then he’s probably had enough.
3. Your dog is offering appeasement signals such as yawning, looking away, lip licking and blinking. He could even be lying down or showing his tummy (not for a belly rub as often mistaken).
Make sure you are familiar with your dog’s language. If you don’t know how to spot calming signals then please take a look at Sarah Kalnajs’ “The Language of Dogs” DVD or Turid Rugaas “Calming Signals” DVD. It’s very important to be able to identify these things.
4. Your dog has frozen still and won’t move.
This one can be difficult as you need to evacuate your dog out of the situation without making him more fearful. I will often use my happy voice and find the path out with the least amount of traffic. You can try using a hand target to get your dog up again but if they’ve frozen it may not work. Depending on the dog you could try gently touching him/her or picking him/her up. Please note that a fearful dog can be dangerous and to keep your own safety in mind. If you watch body language closely you shouldn’t find yourself at this stage.
Remember that it doesn’t matter where you are. If your dog is in distress then please take him/her out of the situation ASAP this includes dog training classes and dog parks. Bites can be prevented with a little bit of knowledge.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Trying Out Tracking

Early on in my career with dogs it became apparent that these awesome little furry creatures are much more scent oriented than I had ever anticipated. I didn't pay enough attention when I was merely a dog owner/guardian but as a trainer it was a clue that we could be using scent work for much more than we do.

I started integrating scent work into private sessions with fearful or aggressive dogs as well as in my Confidence Booster Program. Scent helps dogs calm down, explore and habitualize to new things in their environment and can also be an activity that reduces stress.

More and more training schools are now offering Nosework classes or Find It classes. There are some tracking or search and rescue groups around that owners can join. Unfortunately Nosework and Find it can only take you so far and the tracking/search and rescue groups both require an enormous time commitement on the part of the owner.

Where's Your Sit will be offering a Find It class that incorporates basic nosework skills and then beginner tracking outside (including laying out a trail and teaching your dog to follow it). We're going to organize this class in a handler friendly way. One dog will participate at a time (so reactive or dog aggressive dogs can participate too) and we'll teach you how to lay your track at home for practice in your neighbourhood.

What's the goal? To teach your dog self confidence, some useful tracking skills including finding a toy in the park, and introduce both you and your dog to the world of scent work.

My friend and fellow trainer Stephanie worked very hard with her young Golden Retriever in Search and Rescue for several years. She and I have started working with her dog Willow as well as my aussie Marco and GSP Ari. All three dogs are at very different levels and have different work ethics/temperaments.

Willow obviously had the most experience and was able to hook into using her nose to follow a trail quite quickly (this is different from air scenting which is what she had previously practiced). We were actually able to remove all food lures on the 4th trail (double laid, 10 yards).

Ari the little 4 month old pointer has always been a go getter and has an amazing nose. He picked up on the activity pretty quickly although needed short tracks due to a short attention span. He was very excited to be practicing this new skill.

Marco was the most challenging. He competes in rally obedience and agility. He's also taken his herding instinct test and Canine Good Neighbour test. He is use to A LOT of help from me and tends to wait for me to encourage him on what to do. Tracking was hard for him as he wasn't sure what to do. The great thing was he figured it out! Marco has always been very worried about being wrong (this shows up in agility for us all the time) so trying out tracking is good for his self confidence and independence. I'm very excited to see how all the different dogs who come to class learn how to handle the challenge.

And the best part? Both my boys were mentally exhausted after and took a long nap.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Why Obedience Training is Integral to Living with Any Dog

My clients literally come into all shapes and sizes. I’ve worked with dogs as small as 4lbs and as large 160lbs. They have varying backgrounds; some are feral dogs from reserves while others were luckier born to breeders who loved them and nurtured them.

The size or breed or even to some degree background doesn’t matter as much as one crucial component that the owner of the dog can control. When I’m addressing a behaviour concern such as aggression, resource guarding or impulse control concerns (such as jumping up or stealing food) it is quicker and easier to “fix” the issues with dogs who have attended some sort of obedience class as a puppy.
Why is this?
Simply put because the dog was socialized to work around distractions (to varying degrees of proficiency) and the owner has a relationship with their dog that includes listening to commands (even if it’s just sit). Dogs who have had no formal training and happen to have an owner who hasn’t taught them much take a lot longer to work with.
So have a new puppy? Time to get to class. Not only are you less likely to have serious behaviour problems down the road but if they do happen it will be easier to address saving you money, stress and time in the long run.
It’s also important to remember that not all obedience classes are created equal. Puppies need to trained using positive reinforcement techniques not coercive or punishment based (no choke chains, no prong collars, no shock collars, no leash corrections using a karate chop or any other sort of hard yank, no hanging in the air, etc). Some of these classes are labeled as positive or balanced training. Puppies specifically should not be trained using harsh corrective methods and even in the “good old days” these methods were not used on dogs under 6 months.
So how do you find a good class? Well there’s a few signs of a great puppy class. You’ll want a trainer who has experience (ask where and if you do not understand the answer look it up as some dog training schools aren’t so good), has certification (CPDT-KA is a good start – that being said there are good trainers out there who do not have certification), use food when training, encourage people to come watch their classes before signing up, and can provide references. Be choosey and don’t settle on someone you don’t like. A good trainer/client relationship can help you keep small problems small throughout your dog’s life.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Don't Dogs Like Walks???

Lately I've had lots of new puppy clients signing up for private lessons and group classes. It's just that time of year. So hand in hand with nervous new fur parents are the countless questions; which I do love to answer!

The one I've been hearing the most is why does my puppy lie down on walks?

It's actually rare when I don't hear this one so please know that this is a common puppy behaviour and there's nothing to panic about. And there could be a few reasons why.

#1 - Your puppy could be frightened
#2 - Your puppy might not like his/her collar, leash, harness, etc.
#3 - Your puppy might be tired (walks can really cause them to crash quickly depending on the age and muscle a dog has)
#4 - Your puppy might not want to go in the direction you are going or at the speed you are walking
#5 - Your puppy might have a growth sprut and is more tired than usual or sore
#6 - And rarely but not to be ruled out: your puppy could have an injury but this is easy to rule out if he/she is walking/running around normally at home or off leash

There could be a few more reasons but those are the most likely culprits in my experience. So now that begs the question: What should you do?

First off I would like to recommend that your puppy be on a harness and not a collar (especially any device that tightens). All of my puppies without exception wear an Easywalk harness or Sensation harness. Sophia Yin has a great article on dog training equipment and her recommendations that can be found here.

Secondly it's important to take shorter walks and maybe more frequent than longer ones. The length depends on the dog, breed, outside temperature, etc. Large breed puppies like Newfoundlands will get tired very quickly.

And finally try to stay exciting when your puppy lies down. Teach him/her how to hand target or chase a toy. Get the movement going again but don't get into a tug of war with the leash as it will just increase the dog's urge to pull in the opposite direction. If your puppy is truly tired then take him/her home. If he/she is scared then spend some time in that spot, maybe share a few cookies and let your puppy assess where he/she is.

Contacting a good positive reinforcement trainer can help as well. They can provide guidance on what your individual puppy needs and can help you teach him/her.

Whatever you do don't give up on going for walks. They are a very important part of socialization and your pup does need to learn to walk on leash. Try to make your walk a relationship building experience between you and your new puppy. Don't Army march down the street but stop smell the flowers, play games and talk to your new furkid!

As a personal aside when Marco was a baby he became like a dying fish whenever I attached his collar, harness or leash. It took him 2 months to accept that these pieces of equipment were necessary! So we took really short walks for training/socialization purposes, practiced in the basement to eliminate distractions and did most of our exercising off leash in a designated park. I am happy to report that after 4 months of age he walked like a champ on leash.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Not Like on TV!

Most dog lovers have indulged in watching the various dog training shows on TV. And while the shows are entertaining and at times very dramatic they do not represent what actually goes on during in home training consults. And we certainly do not fix any problems in 30 to 60 minutes.

Many of my clients are nervous when I first go see them and they can feel guilty too. All too often they either feel they let their dog down or have been doing something very wrong. Some of the TV show hosts make a habit of humiliating or lecturing the owners of the dogs. This should NOT happen during a real life visit. Your dog trainer knows you are looking for help and how you got into this predicament doesn’t matter since you are actively trying to fix it. So it’s time to let go of the past and concentrate on what needs to be changed for the future.

Dogs can develop behaviour problems or poor manners for many reasons including medical issues, genetic predisposition, a bad experience, learned behavour in a previous home, accidental continuous reinforcement for the behavior, among other things. This is not necessarily a reflection of the owner and you shouldn’t be embarrassed or apologetic. We all make mistakes so even if it is something you’ve done you are now trying to fix it. Good job!
If you are experiencing a behaviour issue or need help with your dog please don’t be afraid to ask. The sooner the better too! Letting a behaviour concern continue can make it much harder to change.
The following issues can easily become major problems:
-          Fearful of people, dogs, loud noises, being alone, etc. Any fear behavior should be taken seriously even if you don’t think your dog will ever bite. Living in a state of fear is detrimental to the dog mentally and physically.
-          Discomfort or growling/lip lifting around dogs, adults, children, etc. This are all signals that your dog is unhappy or worried. This should be addressed right away don’t wait for an actual bite to occur.
-          House soiling; all too often this can a symptom of a medical issue or another behaviour concern.
-          Barking/Lunging at other dogs while on leash. This can lead to other concerns such as aggression or anxiety.