National Train Your Dog Month

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January is a month set aside to remind people the importance of training your dog.  In some ways I would prefer socialize, educate and help your dog assimilate into modern human life over “train”, but for ease of writing let’s just stick with train.

What does that mean to you and your dog?  Maybe you don’t have very high expectations of your companion and you are perfectly happy if they hang out and at least don’t pee in the house or chew your shoes. But you are really missing out on a life enriching experience if you don’t engage further with your dog in something.  Dogs like people need to have their minds and bodies stimulated with some type of activity in order to stay healthy and vibrate. But beyond that the relationship and understanding you will develop with your pal will forever change your perspective on dogs, other animals, and even life itself.  Our dog companions are very much reflections of our lives.  How committed are we to some goal or ideal, how serious we are ourselves, how generous, friendly, happy, healthy we are is indeed reflected  by the way we interact with the dog by our side.  So take a look and be honest with yourself (and your dog) just where do you really stand on all this.

If you want to get started and have not ever done anything too much with your dog before you should start out with simple things, like a regular walking time in different places every other day, or at the least once a week.  My guys can’t wait for this time and will yip with joy when its time to go.  You can take a toy to toss for those whose dogs are retrievers or take some treats and try tossing them for your dog to find with his keen sense of smell.

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Many training centers offer trick training classes and you’d be surprised how many of the tricks learned in class can be turned into helpful things the dog can do around the house.  If you like, there are several ways you can earn titles even by doing the tricks.

 

If your dog likes to use his nose sniffing things out, sign up for a scent training class.tara head in box Almost all the training facilities are offering it now and I guarantee your dog will thank you.  Sniffing fun is for dogs of all ages and breeds and the one thing they all seem to enjoy immensely.    Its a natural act for them so you don’t need a lot of training skills in order to have fun with your dog.

Another thing a large number of dogs enjoy is dock diving. This is an activity where the owner tosses a favorite retrieve item in a pool and the dog jumps from the dock to get it. During competition they will measure the distance and titles can be earned but there are a lot of places that offer it for fun as well.  It is not difficult to get an eager retriever to jump after the toy and it is surprising the many different breeds you see that enjoy it too.

These are just a few ideas to get started, but certainly not the only things you can do.  The point is do something with your dog, get out there with your dog and engage. Your dog will benefit greatly from it and if you keep it up, his behavior will continue to improve.  Well mannered dogs just don’t happen, you have to work with them every day, interact in a meaningful way daily, and keep doing it all their lives.  You asked your dog into your life and I feel you owe it to him to make it a good life by giving him the most important thing possible-something to do with you.  Happy training!

 

 

 

 

 

Smart Phones, Smarter Dogs, and more Smart Technology

I would not call myself a techno-geek but for an old lady I do try to keep up with things as the world changes.  Technology can be wonderful in many ways to make our lives better and can even help with training our dogs, especially our service dogs.  While I find my greatest satisfaction comes from getting my hands dirty in my garden or stroking a furry critter, I do try to incorporate the technology in my dog training when I feel it is appropriate.  With this blog I would like to examine a few things in that area that can help with training you might not have tried yet.

Smart phones are a great invention and I am still learning some of the many incredible things my phone can do for me. One simple feature for people training their own service dogs can use, is the alarm feature.  Setting an alarm, a simple task, can help you stay on track with your training program.  Its easy to get distracted so just go to your calendar and set up appointments with yourself for training time with your dog and turn on the alarm reminders.  While you are on the calendar plug in all the dates your dog gets heartworm, flea prevention and when vaccines expire.  I was appalled recently when I learned a client had let heartworm and all the vaccines expire on their dog that they had brought for breeding to my stud.  There is no excuse for this if you have a smart phone.

The phone can also help with training, as it is a great source of sounds.  I use several apps to create noises to help socialize pups or desensitize older dogs. All the apps I found were free too. No reason you should have a noise sensitive dog if you have a smart phone. And while you are training you can also be taking videos from your phone that can be reviewed later by you or another trainer to help with any training situation that might come up.  This is one of the best features of smart phones in my book.

Some other technology that is really useful are the new age electronic collars that have built in lights and tracking devices.  I have a lot of black or dark colored dogs and at night when everyone goes out for the last potty walk the light on the collar really comes in handy for keeping track of dogs.  Here is a link to one of my favorite eCollars that lights up.

c92af701-dd27-4b83-83b1-d9ee92d24d35The tracking devices are super nice too, they run on an app on your smart phone. What a great invention for helping to keep track of dogs, especially in my situation where we are on a farm in the country.  They are very easy to use and very reliable too.

Perhaps the best new thing to be tested so far is a new device that the service dogs wear on their vests.  When something happens to their owner they can pull a tag and the device will repeat, “ My owner needs help” until someone comes to help the distressed person.  There are other electronic devices being tested for dogs to activate to help a person but most of those are still in testing phases.  Dogs might not be able to speak as we do but this is one step closer to allowing them to “call” for help when they sense distress for their person.

I’ve also been doing a little digging into some research on breeding smarter dogs.  There is actually more work being done in this area than I first suspected and I find it quite fascinating. One thing that some of the research supports is that dogs that excel at a job will produce puppies that have a better than average chance of excelling at the job also. This is what has been referred to as Instinctive Intelligence. So dogs bred for example to be great sniffing dogs for many generations do this behavior on their own and require a trainer to just put a few rules to this natural drive to make it work for the partnership.  Another thing that scientists look at is what they call Adaptive Intelligence which is a quality needed for medical alert dogs as they need to learn and adapt to the changes of their person’s medical condition and solve problems presented as a result.  This is something that can vary within a given breed with some dogs having better adaptive abilities than others. This is also different than the dog’s learning ability when instructed by humans, which the scientists called Working Intelligence.  I feel that all three need to be present in a very high degree to in order to make a good service dog, especially a medical alert dog.Morgan and Ranger pups

Most breeders do not train their breeding stock to be service dogs and thus are not able to know to what degree the dogs possess these different levels of intelligence. This makes getting a puppy a very tricky proposition for a person looking for a service dog prospect.   I know one group I was asked to help with their breeding program, experienced greater success with future litters when they finally trained all their breeding stock. They were better able once doing this, to determine how to improve the breeding of future litters.  Smarter dogs are possible and are becoming more available as professionals are learning how to apply what science is discovering, to the practical world of producing better service dog prospects.

I would like to end with a favorite quote and some food for thought:

Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of intelligent effort. – John Ruskin

 

 

Being Prepared

So much of the news these past few weeks has been focused on the natural disasters happening all over the Atlantic and Gulf areas around and offshore of the US that it got me thinking about how prepared are we for the chance of a natural or nuclear disaster striking us.

 

I checked our Disaster Evacuation Kit and everything looks good, but after talking to a few experts I realized there were a couple of things I overlooked and it those things I wanted to share with everyone this month.

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Get your service dog use to seeing first responders in all types of gear.

One thing that is really helpful to include in your evacuation kit is a list of all your pets and their microchip numbers.  If you and your pets are separated, which could and does happen in spite of best efforts, then you have something that you can pass out to rescue groups and animals shelters.  These groups will be scanning recovered pets and having the information that certain numbers have a traceable owner are really helpful to them.

I never thought to check with my county officials to see if our county had a plan for evacuating pets during an emergency.  We do in fact have a plan in the county where I live and it tells me what the official plan of action will be with regard to my pets if disaster should strike.  I urge you to become familiar with your county’s plan BEFORE something happens so you know where to go with your animals, where to look for them if you are separated, and how to support you county officials handling animal rescue if you so choose to get that involved.

Another thing that cropped up in regard to the theme of this blog this past month as I put many more thousand miles on my van traveling about the country is how little time people prepare their service dogs for emergencies.  People who are self training as well as many non service dog pro trainers helping those folks seem to forget to add in the exercises I feel are a necessary part of a good service dog schooling.

One lesson every service dog should have is how to react in and around first responders, ambulances, and the not-seen-every-day equipment associated with these people.  All the first responders that I have spoken with told me that if a service animal is well mannered and cooperative they have no issue keeping the dog with its person.

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Learning to handed off to someone else.

At the first sign of trouble though they will hand the dog off to animal control as their first concern is the well-being of the person.  What this means is you need to practice doing out of sight handoffs to another person the dog is not too familiar with in multiple locations, you need to have other people walk your dog away as you lay down and fake a crisis, you need to have other people be able to tell your dog to do something and they do it willingly.  If you don’t practice this, don’t be surprised if your dog won’t do it.

Another important lesson is how to remain calm in a cage. I know a lot of people do not like cages, crates, whatever you want to call them. However, there will be times when your dog may end up in one and for that reason you should at least train them to:

  1. accept the cage
  2. willingly go into the cage on command
  3. stay there with the door open until told it is Okay to leave

This is not as difficult as it sounds.  Try tossing a treat into the cage at the same time you say a cue word for the dog to enter.  I like the word ‘kennel’ which to my dogs means “go into what I am pointing at”.   As soon as your dog enters and turns around, close the door and wait for them to sit. When they do reach in and reward with a treat.  If they move or try to get out the door closes, if they hold the position they get a treat.  Soon enough the dog figures out that going into the cage and sitting until told to do something else is the way the game works. Mine will do happily many times, I think they rather enjoy the game.

I hope this finds all my friends everywhere safe and sound, in the meantime get prepared in case you do have an emergency.

Tabouli’s Traveling Tips for Flying with a Service Dog

By Debby Kay ©2017 All rights reserved

When you travel by air for the first time with a service dog there are a number of things you need to be aware of as airlines, airports and those associated with these services have many different ideas on what’s right about dogs.   To give you a first-hand view of what to expect and how to prepare, I asked one of my well-traveled service dog friends, Tabouli, for his list of things to remember for your dog.

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Tabouli likes to have his own bag with all his stuff in one place. This might mean an extra baggage charge depending on the airlines. T mat in airport

One way around all this is to have the bag sent ahead by overnight express mail. For the trip you won’t need much other than paperwork (particularly important for overseas flights) and collar, harness, and leash along with your dog’s vest if he wears one. One useful tip is to have a small TSA compliant combination slip lead with no metal on it for going through the metal detector.  Once you are through the detectors you can put on the regular gear.

Tabouli loves the window seat

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Looking out the window at 30,000 feet

because people don’t step over him and since he is a small dog that sits on his person’s lap he gets to rest his head on the arm rest.  Small dogs like small children can sit in the lap and should also be buckled into the seat belt. There are some easy to use devices available online like the EzyDog Seatbelt Restraint for under $10.

One thing Tabouli told me he didn’t like were the service dog relief areas at the airports. They are mostly indoors when available and for a well housebroken dog like him he can’t bring himself to using it.  If your dog is like him then be sure to give your dog lots of time to walk and relieve himself outside before you get to the airport. If I know a puppy is going to be traveling, then I teach them as puppies to use Piddle Pads and to evacuate on command.  To help the dog feel more comfortable you may want to restrict water and food intake to a minimum prior to the flight.

One thing Tabouli experiences a lot are really crowded trains and buses as they are moving from airport terminal to plane and parking lots. T crowded busIt helps if you practice taking your dog to crowded places before you get to the airport so as not to stress your dog out. Catch a bus or subway train as part of preparation for your trip so the dog has at least some experience before the first trip to the airport. Dogs needs are really simple when traveling, the main thing to remember is prepare them by training in places similar to airport situations as much as you can before you fly. Go for walks during rush hour at busy stations or similar places, go to crowded city stores or events, but best of all if you can get to the airport to practice before you actual travel that will go a long way towards alleviating stress for your dog’s first flight.

For more information on flying with dogs visit K9Wings.  Safe travels everyone and a special thank you to Tabouli for sharing his insights.

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Science and Dog Training.

By Debby Kay ©2017 all rights reserved

Summer, for me, is a time to enjoy a cool drink on the porch during those relentless hot afternoons that the East coast of the United States experiences. It also gives me a chance to catch up on reading books I’ve meaning to get to. I’ve noticed a trend lately where many people are now referring to science in their writings but not always in ways that do either the science or dog training justice. I am also seeing a lot more trainers advertise “science-based” training and I feel this is a topic that needs clarification.

I was educated and trained as a research scientist and worked many years in the laboratory, and later in administration of several Federal research programs. Working in this environment teaches you to observe, how to identify things that don’t make sense or work to accomplish what it is suppose do. As scientific discoveries are made, others build on those foundations and continue to move the science forward. This is not cheating or stealing others’ work, it is using knowledge of what was discovered, tested, and shown to be a true fact and moving forward and expanding upon that knowledge. That is the way it works in science.

Certainly, many things studied in the scientific community have greatly advanced dog training, dog breeding, and overall dog ownership. While this is true, there is also misuse of this information on many fronts. The biggest misuse I see is taking a work or its conclusions out of context. Scott and Fuller were two major contributors to our understanding of socialization and its impact on dog behavior among other things. So many times, I hear people say you cannot separate

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Pups chasing their mom

a mom and her puppies before the age of 49 days because that is the magic number they published. There is no problem taking puppies earlier or later depending on the circumstances and the breed involved. In fact, since that early 1960s work by these two researchers, many others have looked at the various aspects Scott and Fuller established and have elaborated on it, improving our understanding of dogs even more.[1] What has not happened is dog lovers keeping up with the changes in the science.

Many trainers are so eager to try new things regarding scent training, for example, that they don’t bother to completely test their theories out before advertising that dogs can do this, find this, or alert to this or that. So many times, I have seen trainers claim that dogs are sniffing out a medical condition in a person only to test and discover that the alerting the dogs are doing is based more on their keen observations and less on discernable scent changes. I don’t feel it is proper to claim a dog can detect something by smell if you cannot properly isolate or capture the components of the scent for the condition you are asking it to alert to. How can you prove that the dog is alerting to the smell if you can’t even prove you have the stuff he is supposed to be smelling?

While on a recent trip to California to learn more about some bacteria that is causing concern with farmers, one of the first things I ask is can we get a good source of the bacteria? Will it be consistent with what is causing the problem? Also, I need to be assured before I start any new scent detection project that the sniffing will not harm the dog. I hope to be able to obtain some grant money to continue researching the effectiveness of dogs in helping to isolate this bacteria. In the meantime, I will continue to learn as much as I can about it before I ever begin to teach a dog to sniff for it.

I know the average person does not want to spend time reading through very long, dry, and often complex scientific papers to extract a few pearls of facts to use to improve their dogs’ lives and training. However, you can take away from science a few things when training your dog, regardless of what you are training for.

  1. Scientists are good observers and look at all angles of their subject. Watch your dog and observe what he does on his own. What makes him happy? How does he entertain himself? How is it different when you are in the picture?
  2. Don’t keep doing things that don’t work. If you are in a training program and your dog’s behavior is getting worse or he is extremely unhappy, stop and re-assess.
  3. Don’t be afraid to test a theory out, but get all your facts first. Ask for help from more knowledgeable people if you are out of your comfort zone.
  4. Show respect for the work of others, but keep things in context. Not all methods of training work with all dogs or breeds—and you have to keep that in mind. Most trainers are honest and will tell you they don’t work with certain breeds or with dogs that are not, for example, food motivated. Also don’t mix methods and expect good results.
  5. Build on the work of others, but remember to share what you discover so the process can continue to grow for the good of our dogs.

Enjoy your summer with your dog(s) and remember to watch for signs of dehydration and heat stroke. Stay cool!

Arthur Jr sleeping

[1]Just one example recently published is: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/dog-spies/is-dog-training-scientific/

 

 

3 Tips to Manage Summer with Your Service Dog

By Debby Kay ©2017 all rights reserved

 

Summer can spell disaster for a service dog if you don’t take a few precautions to insure their safety and well-being.  Heat and Hydration are two huge issues that many people over look for themselves so I want to bring these to attention first.   Even short coated dogs are still wearing a fur coat and all dogs “sweat” through their feet and tongues. So when you are walking on a sidewalk and see wet doggy footprints and your dog’s tongue is hanging fully out of his mouth and is bright red, you have a dog that is overheating. It never ceases to amaze me how many times I have stopped people with dogs to point this out and they seem oblivious to such obvious signs.  Should you see these signs, stop walking, seek shade or a cool place, and get your dog cool – not cold- water.

SS_WV_July2016_ - 219Hot sun on black pavement can create a situation where your dog’s pads can get burnt.    The same for very hot sand at the beach.  If you have to walk your dog out in these places you may want to try protective boots for their feet.  I carry an umbrella to protect me and my dog from the sun too, if you do this make sure to have one big enough to cover you both.  Also if you put boots on the dog don’t forget to take them off as soon as you can. Remember that dog’s sweat through their feet and the boots will not allow for cooling.

About water during the summer, the key is to keep it cool and not ice cold.  I remember one person at a dog show on a very hot day feeding their dog ice cubes and icy cold water to keep him cool and the dog was very sick that night.  They will be panting very hard but cool them gradually and don’t force ice down them. It is much better to put cool towels over their neck to bring the temperature back to normal.

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Try to walk in shady areas when you can.

Many people forget to swap out their winter service vest with a cooler lighter one for the summer.  I suggest a harness with straps rather than a cape that will trap heat.  If you like the cape look and want to keep it, try a cape made of mesh material instead.  Depending on your dog’s tolerance of heat you may just opt for collar tags and no vest. Remember the ADA does not require a service dog to wear a vest.

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Be aware of pavement temperatures!

A few other suggestions are to keep your outside walking errands to early morning, early evening after the sun goes down or of very short duration.  Avoid things like outdoor concerts or events that are in full sun with no shade or on hot streets.  If you must go, try and plan breaks where the dog can cool down before you continue.

I let me dogs spend a good deal of time outside at home so they acclimate to the weather outside. They have access to shade but learn to adapt to the temperatures with less stress.  By keeping them fit and trim they can also deal better with the heat.  Fat overweight dogs of any breed or age cannot deal with the temperatures outside as easily as a lean fit dog.

This summer promises to be a hot one, take care with your dog, whether service or companion, so you both can enjoy the time you have together.

Dog Manners Matter– 5 Tips to Improve Your Public Appearances

By Debby Kay ©2017 all rights reserved

I am seeing more and more so called service dogs appearing in public with very poor manners and feel the image they are giving service dogs is not a positive one. So I felt for this month’s blog I would offer up 5 tips for making the image you portray in public a little more positive.

One issue for many dogs living in our urban culture is controlling the urge to rush over and greet another of their species when they pass on the street.  Dogs are sociable and they love to greet new dogs, sniff butts and get the latest scoop on where the other guy has been.  Humans often handle these urges in the wrong manner causing their dog to become more dog reactive in many cases.  For service dogs in particular, they need to stay focused on their job and must exhibit exemplary manners at all times so there can be no interaction with other dogs in public while “on the job”.   To teach your dog to be less reactive you need to practice around other dogs.

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Practicing in public with other dogs is important

The best way to do this is pick a dog friendly store, such as a pet shop, and find a few willing friends with dogs to help.  Everyone goes into the store at different times and mills around, passing each other often as they go up and down isles.  I have my students periodically sit their dogs while they pretend to shop and the other dog passes by.  The SD should not move or attempt to interact with the passing dog. If the SD tries to interact, the handler should try to preempt the move by asking the dog to “watch me”.   If the dog is properly trained to look up at the handler on this cue, then they should look up thus missing the dog walking by and maintaining the sit stay.  If your timing is not too good it might take a bit of practice on your part to get this down but it is one worth practicing.  Soon when your dog sees another dog approaching he will be looking at you and not the other dog.

Eating out with a dog can be a challenge too. When you go to a restaurant or bar try to find a table out of the way or in a corner so the dog can relax without being near a lot of foot traffic.  Some people carry mats so their dogs can have a “place” to stay on. This is great for several reasons; it reminds the dog not to move from the defined place but also keeps him clean from dirty floors. Training for this can be done then at home by putting the mat in various places in the house and practicing longer and longer stays on it.  If the dog moves off the mat, replace them there firmly but with no anger and no second command. Start out with short stays and work up to longer stays, always vary the amount of time when training.

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showing a good stay on his place mat.

Shopping carts seem to be an issue with many dogs I witness in public. First off I don’t believe the dogs should be riding in the cart. Even my Chihuahua Boo when we go shopping at the nursery for plants does not ride in the cart. He maintains his position by me as we peruse the isle for new additions to the garden.  This is just an exercise you need to practice and that practice should be in public.  I find stores with cart collection spots outside in the parking area, go by and grab one and practice in the parking area as well as on the sidewalks outside the store.  It might take several weeks of practice before the dog gets comfortable walking with the cart but with repetition, praise and an occasional treat for a job well done they will soon get the idea.

Walking in crowds where people have shopping bags swinging about is a situation where I have seen dogs bolt, bark or worse snap at the offending shopper and their bags.  Training a dog to be non-reactive in this situation is a matter of conditioning.  I will start with many shopping bags on the ground spaced just far enough apart that we can walk through them. I will weave around while having the dog heel beside me but will also practice stops where the dog has to sit with the bag actually touching them.  When they are confident with this I will have friends come by and pick up the bags and now walk about the area as I weave with the dog between them.  As the dog becomes more confident I will add in the final test and that is to have all my friends and myself and the dog squeeze into a small space about the size of an elevator.  You can make that space with barriers if you don’t have an empty closet to practice in or an elevator handy.  The idea is the dog is just go with you and not be bothered by people and shopping bags.

brown dog sitting next to shopping cart

Learning to be clam around carts takes practice

The final tip for those seeking to polish their SD performance in public concerns jumping on people. I know everyone is proud of their dog and it is great that the public wants to pet your dog but once you allow this your dog will expect to be the center of attention in public. That is opposite of what we want and need from a SD. A well trained SD should be ignoring the public and focusing on their person. They have a job to do and cannot do it if they are greeting the public.  Be firm with people not petting your dog; explain he is working and needs to focus on his job.  During training I use every situation I can think of to set the dog up with people distractions.  This might include children at the playground, people calling the dog, people rushing up to the dog and speaking in an excited high pitched voice.  I ask my helpers that if the dog gets to them before I can divert him, they should turn around and ignore the dog as soon as he approaches. At that point I call the dog back to heel and ask for a “watch me”.  This is another point of manners training that just takes a lot of repetition to get the dog to ignore whatever the other people are doing while he is on duty.

Service dogs are allowed special access where other dogs cannot go and feel if that is the case they should have exemplary manners above and beyond the annoying untrained pet dog. I hope if you are training or have a SD you will continue to train all the time perfecting those manners so everyone admires your team and you set the example for others to follow.