Little Things

Some of the best lessons I have learned about dog training came from my days working with pros in the field with hunting dogs.  The first lesson I learned from my father who kept and ran hounds was to work the dogs daily even if only for short times.  Most of a dog’s day is spent resting or passing the time chewing on a bone while waiting for their person to initiate some type of activity.  However small that time together is, that dog, my dad would say, will wait all day for and will cherish every moment. They will think about the time together with their person while waiting for the next occaision. Another lesson I learned from the field IMG_7185was to always plan out your training time ahead of time.  Go to training time with your dog, with your goal in mind. A little bit of preplanning on your part will have great payoffs in the long run.  Your training sessions should be building on each other, allowing the dog to progress and develop the skills needed for the ultimate task the dog is being trained for. To build you need a blueprint to keep you on task and accomplishing what you aim for.

For example, if my goal is train a puppy for someone as a service dog with public access skills, I know I have to ultimately have a dog that is solid on all aspects of obedience under all conditions. I can build the skills the dog will need to handle all conditions they might IMG_0295encounter in public by starting with small lessons at home. Each lesson I present to the dog is designed to prepare it for more difficult lessons later on as the puppy matures and learns the basics.  These lessons do not have to be long initially. Here is one example.

Yesterday my husband Sam and I each took a 10 week old puppy to the local feed store.  It’s a small store in our town, has cement floors, sliding doors, many different smells and not too many people. This is a perfect place for the pups first time inside a building other than our house.  Before the went into the store however, we made sure they were good at riding in the car, going “potty” on command, walking well on a loose leash and knowing the sit command to be petted.  Those lessons were taught at home on a daily basis for several weeks.  At the store, the first thing we did was “potty” the pups before we went inside. Once inside the building, we each walked our respective pup around to get familiar them with the smells. I never stop a puppy from smelling but I do required them to keep up with me as we walk around the store.  Their noses never stopped but that’s OK as they are pups and this was a first exposure.  When we met a person, the pup had to sit before being petted. Each puppy met at least 6 people and I am pleased they did not try to jump on anyone.   After about 15 minutes we were all back in the car and on our way home. For pups this age, I feel this an appropriate lesson in both content and time.IMG_2292

As these pups grow and mature those lessons will increase in difficulty and the length of time we are out but that is down the road. For now, all the lessons are kept short and as positive as possible.  I get excellent results with this approach I think for several reasons. First, there is a clear objective.  In the example above the objective was to continue to build on the loose leash walking but this time with higher distractions like moving doors, people walking around, and many new and interesting smells. Second, the length of the session is short enough it does not overwhelm the puppy. They are back in their crate with a bit of down time to “think about” what we just did and hopefully retain more of it because of that down time.

Last, there is plenty of in and between training times for the puppy to play and do puppy things on their own time.  All the programs I have set up for other schools and organizations have always included a healthy portion of exercise and play time. Not only does it keep the body fit but allows the dog to decompress from any stress or anxiety from the lessons.  I believe that not all dogs show their stress when training and those that tend to hide the telltale signs of it will often play the hardest and with the most intensity. In any case, I have observed that the play time keeps my canine students happy and willing.

For those reading this who are training their own service dog that last aspect of my program might be difficult to incorporate into your training. That is a problem I am often asked about and many people think it is not as important as I am making it sound. Perhaps so, but think about this. When people bring me their service dogs to help fix problem areas with the training or to try and determine why the dog has quit working or has slacked off in their performance one of the first things I do is let them have some free time with other dogs playing in the exercise fields we have on our farm.  That one act alone has changed the attitude of many of the dogs that have come here. The rest of the issues resolve very quickly, rarely do I run into what I would call major issues.  My point here is often without the balance of down time, training time, and free time dogs will get with bored, too tired or too stressed.  When we ask them to work for us in any type of service capacity we need to always remember that it is a blessing they are willing to share their remarkable talents with us and as a result we need to respect their need for balance in their lives.  Too often in today’s society people work far too much, spend far too little time relaxing in healthy ways, and little balance in their life between work, rest, and socializing.  I can see how easy it would be to drag the service dog into that scenario. Be aware and be proactive in keeping your dog on track.  Paying attention to those little things can be your key to success.

Here are some ideas to help you try to balance the little things in your dog’s life:

  • For every hour of training have at least the same amount of play time.
  • If walking, running or swimming a dog for exercise is a real challenge for you consider getting a doggy treadmilland use it on a regular basis.
  • Don’t be afraid to use your dog’s crate (their private space) to your and their advantage. Let them rest here for 30 minutes after any training session if possible. Science has shown this does help them to retain the lesson better.
  • Brush your dog regularly whether he/she needs it or not. The connection and stress reduction effect is amazing.
  • If you don’t have a training planlook for one that is already made up for you and follow it.

 

 

Choosing a Medical Alert Pup for Training

by Debby Kay  ©2018  All rights reserved.

Last week I started doing scent detection training with a couple of eight week old Labrador puppies.  What is striking about the pups is the ease which they have grasped the training.  It is clear after working many other breeds of dogs the difference it makes when you have a puppy who is first, from a working breeding of dog and second, purposefully bred for a job such as these puppies.

People ask me all the time how do you choose a puppy for the medical alert work and I thought writing a little about these pups might help people who are looking to get one themselves.

I try to always choose a puppy from parents who are either doing the job I want the puppy to do or have at least been trained to do it and can demonstrate their ability.  With the medical alert work that might not always be possible but the parents could have abilities that demonstrate related skill sets.  For example, they could have tracking degrees, search and rescue certifications or scent detection titles. If the breeder you are dealing with can’t show any of their dogs with these titles, and especially the parents, then I would walk away. Thinking they can do the work and proving it by actually earning tittles or certifications are very different things and make a difference when you get your dog for such an important purpose. For the medical alert dogs, I want some evidence of good social skills so I look for parents with good citizen titles or obedience titles.  This will be helpful in narrowing your choices especially if you are not an experienced dog person, to puppies from parents with proven abilities.

Being able to focus on the job and the person they are working with is another trait that makes training a puppy for medical work much easier.  This trait is tricky to judge in little pups under 4 months as pups at this age have short attention spans.  I will bait a room with 1-3 smelly things such as fishy cat treats and just watch how a puppy reacts when they come in the room.  A pup from parents who are bred to use their noses will go over the space thoroughly sniffing every nook and will find all the treats.   When I sit down with a treat hidden in my pocket, the pup I want will be the one who almost immediately follows its nose to the pocket with the treat. I have done this test with breeds that are not necessarily food driven as well and it is a pretty good indicator for sorting out the pups that will be easy to train for scent work.

Madison is one of the pups I am training now. Madison’s dam is a diabetic alert dog who took time off from her duties to whelp a litter of pups with me.  Her sire is an explosives detection dog who has sired many working medical alert and other detection dogs.  On the first day of her introduction to the diabetic sample, Madison sniffed and stayed with it. By the end of the session she already adding in the paw alert signal on her own.  Her focus was for short periods but she repeatedly sniffed and pawed at the sample until her little tummy was willed with treats.

It was easy to get 25-30 repetitions of the scent training exercise per training session with her. Compared to some of the others pups I have worked with over the years at the same age that is really very good for the first week.  That is not to say a pup won’t learn if you only get 5-10 repetitions at a session. It means it will take longer for that less focused pup to build up a good scent memory of the odor that is central to their job.  Dogs learn by repetition so I am keen to give them as many repetitions as I can at every session.  For my money (and time) I really don’t want a pup doing life-saving work that does not have the natural desire.

Madison is also learning games of self-control and things to teach her about body awareness at this age.  These are two important parts of a service dog’s education also.  Here is a short video of one of her training sessions.  She has a lot to learn but is off to a good start.

For anyone interested in learning more about all inner workings of canine olfaction I am hosting a 2-day workshop in April by the world renown expert in the field Dr. Adee Schoon from the Netherlands.   She brings the science and practical aspects of scent work all together in a manner that is easy to understand and motivating at the same time.  Hope you can join use for this rare opportunity to learn from such a gifted knowledgeable person. Click here for details.

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/