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

HopeBenPups_9Wks_022

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/

 

 

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.

a group of service dogs prating manners in a store

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.

service dog resting under table on place mat

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.

Adventures from South Africa

By Debby Kay © 2017 All rights reserved

As our Land Cruiser slowly inched across the rocky terrain the sun began to rise to take away the evening chill.  Soon the driver stopped by a daunting cliff making like a natural rock terrace overlooking the reservoir.  This was the main water source for all the animals for miles around.  Carefully they filed in to get their fill before heading out forging.  It did not seem like there was much here to support life yet hundreds of animals, many of them quite large, called this home.

Our guide laid out a cloth, mugs of hot coffee, and tins filled with fresh baked muffins and cookies.  Even my dull sense of smell was aroused with the waifs of blueberry and warmed raisins. I was not the only one however that took interest in the feast before us.  From the crevice of a boulder emerged an elephant shrew, so named for their proboscis like extension of a nose. eshrewsmThe shrew was nervous about the human presence but we all held quite still and soon he got enough nerve to come closer to the bit of crumbs the guide had tossed on the rock. Using his “trunk” he carefully sniffed the crumbs before snatching them up then scurrying away.  As if a signal, a chorus of several different species of birds soon appeared to get whatever the shrew had found so inviting.  The parade of marauders made for pleasant entertainment during our coffee break.

After cleaning up we began to trek down through this mountain gorge to the other side to an overhand of rock about the size of a midsize sedan.  At this spot the sandstone had cleaved in such a manner that it made a curved semi cave like shelter with large boulders to either side as further protection from the wind and weather.

As I took that like step then looked up, before me was a mural of 10,000-year-old bushman cave art.  We studied the figures one by one as our guide talked about the lost culture of the nomadic hunter gathering Sans tribe of bushman.  Here was the story of a hunting party and some of the events surrounding it. These people traveled with the migrating herds and changing seasons over a large area of southern Africa. They had learned over time all the natural signals for the coming of rains, the main signal that young will be born and there will be an abundance of food.  As the tribes moved about on these migratory routes they seemingly had favorite caves they frequented where murals were left to mark their passing.img_6375

Over my limited days here I looked at other cave drawings and learned more about survival in this forsaken land of extremes. The strategies adopted by the smallest of carnivorous insects, birds, plants, even the endangered fish of the area were all evolved to fill a niche that somehow maintained a rich diversity of life in spite of the semi arid conditions.

The area where we were studying the cave drawings was also home to a preservation program for the nearly extinct and quite rare Rock Mountain Zebra.  These stunning creatures live in small family groups with one stallion and a handful of mares.  The battles between stallions can become quite brutal and we saw one fella lose a tail over his fight to keep his ladies.  These sentinel males will stay in the background always alert to danger and will run at the back of the herd as protection against any attackers.

Weaverbirds caught my attention with their lovely woven orbs of a nest decorating the trees as iimg_6362f for the holidays.  The males will spend days preparing just the right home in
hopes that a rimg_5975eceptive female will approve it and allow him to mate.  It seems the skill is learned and they will get better at it as time goes on, in the meantime a male lacking sufficient skills might be a bachelor for several seasons until he gets things right. This whole ecosystem is harsh and unforgiving, anyone who lives here fights daily for existence but they have learned to use the strengths of others to increase their chances for survival.  I spent the hours I had here watching in awe at all these dramas unfold.  As I learned and studied life both present and past in the area I was reminded how the lessons of the Bushman’s land echo the lessons of our own struggles in modern society.

I would not be true to my nature if I traveled and failed to observe and report on the indigenous dogs of the area.  I was particularly keen to learn about the native dogs of Africa where many modern breeds that I judge at shows claim as the continent of their origins.  As it turns out there is a dog here known all over the continent as the Africanis who until relatively recently was left to evolve without the muddling of the gene pool by humans.  These dogs I learned evolved from the primeval Levantine wolf stock and were untouched by human manipulation for over 7,000 years. They are what I envision as the dogs that early humans formed a hunting pact with which transformed both the canine and human’s survival to today.  I regret I was not able to go out with the local tribesmen on a hunting party however I was fortunate enough to add a rare book to my collection documenting several decades of study of the Africanis by a well-known African canologist[1].

img_6427The thing that will strike you about these dogs is the how remarkably well built they are. There are no poor gaits, any poor structure has been weeded out long ago as evidenced by the perfect, effortless trotting I watched from every dog that I saw.  There is more uniformity than you might think for a race that nature selected.  The sizes do have some range to them but that is more dependent on the region where the dogs come from and appears to be an adaptation to that local environment. As I have noticed with other breeds in colder and more mountainous environments the dogs here have shorter and heavier of bone with denser coats to ward off the cold relative to the plain dwelling dogs.  The plain dwelling dogs are normally of the racier body build with longer, thinner legs.  Ear types will vary but the large prick ear seems to be the most dominate.  If there is any pressure from humans on the selection of breeding stock at all it will be against those dogs that molest stock that the tribes might tend.  The dogs are expected to tolerate the stock and leave it alone. Their job of hunting is quite specific and any dog that persists in pestering stock is taken care of without reservation.  Food is scarce and sacred in this harsh bush country and stock is precious for survival.

The main purpose of my trip was to help a new charity get off the ground in medical alert training of dogs.  As it turns out one of the dogs that will be entering the diabetes alert program here is a rescued Africanisthumbnail_fullsizerender I think she might do quite well, her nose never quit sampling the air the whole time I was evaluating her for training.  I was able to look at several other Africanis at a local rescue shelter that I also felt had potential.  I will be very keen to learn of their progress as training proceeds with the local trainer.   My month in South Africa has been a wonderful blend of work and study with a splash of sightseeing, wine sampling and beach combing.  I’ve come away with an even stronger conviction that the dogs we so love, that help us daily with their special skills are a precious gift from nature.  They very well could have chosen to not partner with early humans and I am sure as I saw from the Africanis, they would have done quite well.  Certainly much better than humans left to their own.

[1] The Story of the African Dog by Johan Gallant, University of Natal Press, 2002

The Dog’s Gift

By Debby Kay ©all rights reserved

As I sit to write this my last blog of 2016, there are many things happening around me that have caused me to reflect on what I value most in life. There is an abundance of talk about what gift to buy Uncle Fred or so and so friend and it got me thinking what is the best gift we can give during the holidays to those who matter most to us ? As I pondered that question my Chihuahua Boo snuggled a little closer to my leg to get warmer; that was my answer.  The gift our dogs give us is the best gift we can give others.

The gift from our dog’s is really complex from my viewpoint. There is the obvious love they lavish on us regardless of our sex, age, race, financial status, mood or temperament. Beyond that though as I share hours with my dogs doing many different activities I have gleaned how patient they are. Ranger will take many minutes to carefully examine a spot on the grass trying to decipher all the wonderful smells and their meaning. It is all important to him, he does not want to miss any detail of the information left by the previous dog.  I note to myself that I need to be more attentive to all of the words in the messages left for me so I get the full meaning of what is being conveyed.
Boo will sit for long stretches of time on the front porch waiting for the seed stealing squirrels to appear at the birdfeeder in the flower bed opposite the porch. He is still as a statue. He holds his position until the squirrel is at its most vulnerable position and then he explodes forward like a heat seeking missile to its target.  After the squirrel is successfully run off he returns to me seeking my approval. He reminds me that we all need to be recognized for a task well done.

chilbrookruebanjamesI could go on with many more examples about all the finer things I have learned and observed spending a lifetime with dogs. I think however Alexandra Horowitz said it best in her new book Inside Of A Dog;

“The more we learn of animal’ abilities, the finer we have to split the hair to maintain a dividing line between humans and animals. Still, it is interesting to note that we seem to be the only species spending any time studying other species—or, at least, reading or writing books about them.  It is not necessarily to the dog’s discredit that they do not.

 What is revealing is how dogs perform on tasks that measure social abilities we thought only human beings had. The results, whether serving to show how alike or unalike dogs are to or from us, have relevance to our relationships with our dogs.  When considering what we ask of them and what we should expect from them, understanding their differences from us will serve us well.  Science’s effort to find distinctions illustrates more than anything else the one true distinction: our drive to affirm our superiority-to make comparisons and judge differences. Dogs, noble minds, do not do this. Thank goodness.”

As you prepare the last minute things for celebrating the season in your own tradition, I hope you will consider your dog for who she or he is, a dog; noble, kind, generous, patience and full of boundless joy. They are our best reminder of what the season is all about and our models for how we should treat each other.

therapyandassistancedogs

If you have time, I urge you to watch this very well done movie on one aspect of our relationship with our dogs that is often misunderstood.

Tough Love: A meditation on Dominance and Dogs

Have a safe and happy holiday!

 

 

The Dogs of Tibet

By Debby Kay copyright 2016 all rights reserved

It took me a while to fully realize that my plane had just landed in Tibet, a place that was so far from the reality of my everyday life that it almost seemed like a dream. But here I was in this mystical land of ancient customs and spiritualism not to mention some of the tallest mountains in the world.

I was in the city of Lhasa, one of the larger ones in the region. It was a wonderful mixture of old and new architecture and technology.  That is something I admire the Chinese doing far better than any other culture I have visited. They seem to have the ability to blend the two seamlessly and retain all the great points of both without compromising either.  During my trek around the area visiting monasteries, bazaars and people’s homes I was able to catch a glimpse of the local dogs, a rare sight in the big cities of the rest of China. People do have pets in China but they are a minority and you rarely see a dog on the streets in any of the towns.  Here in Lhasa, in a few stores and then on the outskirts of the city proper, you begin to see more dogs.  I thought it might be interesting to show a photo journal I took of these dogs and some of the insights I gleaned from our interactions.

The first thing that strikes you is that no dog is on leash. Not in the city or in the more rural areas.  It is just not needed.

China_2016_offleadheel

No leashes in Lhasa

These guys have had total freedom to make choices from puppyhood and it really shows in their attitude. They don’t pester people, beg, growl, or in any interfere with people. They are just there, minding their own business and observing what is going on or interacting with other dogs. I only saw one dog that belonged to a shop keeper and one other that “monitored” by a single person who seemed to be keeping track of where the dog was as they scurried along the busy bazaar street filled with people. All the other dogs appeared to belong to no one in particular. This is perhaps where the distinction between strays and feral dogs is made. In previous studies I have read on dogs, strays were defined as those dogs who were free roaming but choose to still associate with people whereas feral dogs would have nothing to do with people and choose to keep away.[1]

The dog in this photo which belonged to a shop keeper we visited and bought a painting from, did not need to be told what to do, where to stay or how to behave. He just did all those things on his own and in perfect accord with the comings and goings of people into the shop.  Does it make you wonder if what

Tibbie

The Shopkeeper’s dog and guest greeter

you are doing to raise and train a perfect canine good citizen is wrong? Just what do these people do differently that makes these dogs such a pleasure to be around.  I think the key is in allowing them to be dogs. They are not treated or thought of in any other way. They are respected as being dogs with their own culture, this is something that I saw in the people in Tibet towards other people as well.  It was clear that many of the people from very remote parts of the steppes around Lhasa who had made the long pilgrimage to the Sera Monastery we were visiting had never seen a Caucasian before.  I was looked at with great curiosity many times. One incident that stands out in my mind was sitting on a bench and having a pilgrim join me. He stared at me for a long while and then finally reached out with his hand to touch me. I smiled at him and took his hand and shook it gently telling him I was pleased to meet him. He was simply excited at the interaction; he did not try to make into anything else. This was the same with the dogs. All the interactions were simple, straightforward and nothing was made beyond what it was.  The impact this simple interaction leaves on the dogs is what I saw in the way the dogs reacted round people, in other words with the simpler interactions there was a peaceful and pleasant mellowness in the dog’s behaviors.

Think about how you, your friends, and people in general react to the presence of a dog. There is all this fussing, overly attention bestowing behaviors and certainly a lot of chatting too, every time people get around a dog or puppy. Try taking a young cute service dog in training to a public place to work and you can barely go 5 feet before being swamped by people doting on the poor thing.  Is it any wonder dogs begin at an early age to develop excitable behaviors around meeting people?  Think about the most common interactions we see on the streets of dogs meeting other dogs walking. The usual reaction I see from people is they get tense, shorten the leash, and in anything but a calming voice, try to reassure the dog that the other dog will not attack them.  Is it any wonder where dog on dog aggression comes from?

When watching all the strays around the monastery

however, what you saw instead was dogs sleeping peacefully out of the path of the people, you saw dogs meeting other dogs with no aggression what so ever and you also saw that these dogs recognized certain individuals that would periodically offer them scraps of food. In one case I was observing 5 strays that were napping on one another in a pile when a familiar food source person walked by behind them about 8 feet away. The dog on top of the pile lifted their nose towards the person and in a split second the whole group was up and sitting politely by the old lady who produced a bag of scraps.  No one fought for the scrapes either, each dog waited their turn patiently for the bit handed to them. When the bag was empty the dogs disappeared. Not a word was ever spoken by the old woman. In another part of the monastery courtyard I saw a young woman feeding a mom and her pups and again witnessed patience and manners from all.

These dogs knew their place, had rules they followed, and exhibited a great degree of self-control. No one taught them those things, they were able to work it out themselves.  It is amazing to me the degree to which dogs can problem solve and learn when they are put in an enriched environment and allowed to make their own decisions. Seeing what these dogs were doing I am more convinced than ever that we often micro-manage our own dogs far too much and don’t allow them to just be dogs and to make dog decisions.  I know when the bestselling book Merle’s Door by Ted Kerasote came out and he extolled the virtues of dogs having free choices to roam as they choose in his village of Kelly, Wyoming a lot of people were taken aghast.  But the more I see how the freedom of choice allows dogs to develop the depth of personality I was seeing in these street dogs of Tibet, the more I am convinced that we are often doing a great injustice to our dogs with the overabundance of restraints we put on them. China_2016_terrier in bazaar.JPG I realize we can’t let our dogs all roam free here but we can certainly take a hint from these guys and make some adjustments to how we interact and manage our relationship with our canine companions to increase their happiness.

Here are some take always I got from my interactions with the Dogs of Tibet to consider:

  • Allow pups to follow you without a lead in as many places as possible while they are growing up. The idea is to have a relationship with the dog that makes the dog want to be with you because you are a cool person to hang with not because he is tethered to you with a line.
  • When raising a puppy allow them to make their own choices without you interfering, for example, if they want to crawl over a log and it looks like them might fall off the other side, let them. Don’t say anything, let them experience things on their own.
  • Work on the relationship with your dog without bribes such as treats.
  • Try not talking so much to your dog, rather watch and learn their body language and learn how they talk to each other without words.
  • Quit petting your dog so much, I’m convinced dogs don’t like that as much as people think they do.
  • Don’t micromanage your dog or make your dog so dependent on you to make their decisions that it creates an unbalanced relationship
  • Install a dog door if you have a fenced yard so your dog can go there when they want. It’s not the same as being able to wander a wider territory but it will help to empower them to think and act in ways you don’t see when the dogs are dependent on the humans for everything including elimination habits.

I still can see the image of the puppy I met who was establishing his own routine and

allowed me to photograph him with nothing more than a glance.  He was full of confidence, knew what he wanted and yet was respectful of his co-existence with the humans of the village. He may not of had a fancy collar, soft bed to sleep in, or expensive handcrafted dog food to eat, but this was one happy puppy. Perhaps there is something to what the Buddhists here say about happiness.

[1] “Population Biology and Ecology of Feral Dogs in Central Italy“: L. Boitano, F. Francisci, P. Ciucci and G. Andreoli; in The Domestic Dog, Editor James Serpell; Cambridge University Press, 1995, 217-244

The Super Sniffer® Puppy Program: The Importance of PLAY

I have gotten a lot of comments recently on the good behavior of puppies coming out of my Super Sniffer® puppy program. These comments are usually followed by the same question—How do you do it? How can you get pups that are 16 weeks old to pass an AKC Canine Good Citizen evaluation with flying colors, regardless of the breed of dog? I felt it might be of inter

6 week airedale pup

Proper socialization and early training will help a pup reach their full potential

est to explore the program in sections over the next few blogs to give readers some ideas that they can use while raising their own puppies. This month I would like to focus on PLAY.

Play is a central part of my program. Play teaches a puppy all about dog language, about their body, how to think on their feet, to be tolerant, to be patient, and also to master the rules of engagement. All of this is an important part of shaping and developing the personality and potential of your puppy, but it must be done in a thoughtful and controlled manner to be effective.

YpupsonBricksOne of the first things I added to the puppy play area was a wide variety of obstacles, textures, and visuals for the pups to get a taste of many things the world has to offer. We know from research that puppy brains expand with all the new things they experience during the first couple of months after birth. Starting at 5 weeks, I bring the pups to the play area and encourage them to walk over all the surfaces we have there. They include bricks, gravel, bark mulch, dry leaves, sand, cement, plastic, and fabrics of various kinds, to name a few. The list has endless possibilities depending on what you have available to include. There are also many different things for the pups to climb over or crawl under. You never know what will strike their fancy on any given outing and I have often been surprised at the places I have found them. One obstacle that takes most pups several weeks to master is a deliberately off level tunnel arrangement that teaches how to walk on non level surface with different visuals and egress at either end. I can see big difference in breeds and bloodlines on how the pups handle this one. It appears simple to the human mind but is truly challenging to the puppy in learning mode.

Teeters and elevated walks are great for building confidence. I use my trained older Chihuahua “Boo” to help teach the pups

dog showing pup how to go up ramp

Boo is teaching pups to use the ramp

these skills. He is very patient and loves to work with the young pups that are about his size. I’m always nearby to make sure no one gets hurt but allow them to slip off a ramp up or down if its not too far from the ground as part of the learning experience. As the pups get older and I take them through more of the formal obedience I will continue to teach exercise so they learn to be more aware of their legs. This will help them feel comfortable getting into tight spaces, climbing but also keep them safe while being active. The more formal training is done with FitPaws™ products and is something I learned from studying Dr. Chris Zink’s work on canine fitness[1]. It has been a real positive since I have added this element to the program. By 8 weeks of age, all the pups here have a good command of the obstacles and items in the play area.

Good play vs. bad play

It is now time to introduce the pups to the older dogs and expand the pack dynamics beyond mom and littermates. As a breeder, I have access to my own pack, which makes this part easy. I know the dogs in my pack and know how they act with puppies. More importantly, I know they are not going to teach the pups any undesirable habits. If you don’t have your own pack or know a breeder who will allow you to run your puppy with their pack, then it might be a challenge to find a group of dogs that would be suitable. The key to this step is getting the right group of dogs together. Dogs with bad habits, even small bad habits, will influence the puppy in a negative way. When the pups are introduced to the pack you want them to learn how to play politely with other dogs, to play quietly, to share toys and not show signs of resource guarding—all important things that will make for a better canine citizen.

Pups learning from another dog

Pups learning from another dog

With the right “teaching” dogs in the pack, the pups will learn how and when to engage in play as the older dogs patiently teach the pups the rules. It’s fascinating to watch them learn too. Again all this builds character, so don’t interfere much here. Let the dogs do the teaching while you take notes.

From my notes on this activity, I will structure the training exercises for the future lessons. If a pup is not very patient or not showing good self-control, then I will use games designed to enhance this skill as we move on with the formal obedience. You can also see learning patterns with the pups during these times as well which can help you choose how to set your pup for success during obedience lessons. If your pup is very visual then you should have training exercises that make allowance for that trait.

One last way in which I also use play when raising the pups is as a stress reliever when the situation calls for it. If you are teaching the puppy something that is very stressful or causes some anxiety, to interject a brief play time can help turn a potentially negative experience into a positive one for your puppy. When I am testing pups during obedience training around increasingly higher distractions, I will often see signs of stress as they are trying to do the right thing in face of something else they want to do more. So after they successfully complete the exercise I will break off into a brief play session to not just reinforce the reward and praise for a good job but to relieve the tension. When stress levels are high, learning is low and retention of the lesson is not as good. This is something to keep in mind as you move on with your pups training. Be carful not to overdo this type of play as the smart pup will soon be running the show, manipulating the situation to their advantage.

pups climbing bricksPlay has its place in the raising of a well-balanced puppy if it is done properly, safely, and for all the right reasons. Remember that good play stimulates the brain, offers positive learning experiences that will help the pup relate to other things in their future, and it strengthens the body too.

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[1] Canine Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation by M. Christine Zink and Janet Van Dyke available at Caninesports.com

3 Common Communication Mistakes Dog Handlers Make

 

I was beginning to think I was the only one noticing, until a friend mentioned that she noticed that people are not communicating with each other as much these days. I know that might seem like an odd statement with all of us connected via social media, texting, and emailing all the time, but it really does seem that something is being lost in today’s media rich-world with personal communication. When communications break down between people, it can lead to hurt feelings, fights, distrust, and eventual disengagement between the parties. Not surprisingly, this also happens between our dogs and between our dogs and us. In this blog, I want to look at some examples of how to communicate better with each other and with our dogs.

As a trainer and instructor, I am in a position where I must be clear with my clients and students as to what I need them to do with their dogs in order to be successful in either handling the dogs or training them. What is more important in my mind is that we are clear in communicating to the dog what we want or need them to do for us.

One common mistake I see is that the leash handling is telling the dog one thing while the human is saying something opposite of the intent of the leash handling. When teaching the dog to walk on a loose leash what I most often see is people with a death grip on the leash and so much tension the poor dog is sure there is something wrong. When I mention this to people they realize the dog’s leash is taunt in their hands and give some slack only to wrap the remainder of the lead around their hand! If the lead is not totally loose and held in a relaxed manner the dog will not learn to walk on a loose lead. To show people what I mean I will take the lead from them, gently drape it over my fingers with my arm very relaxed by my side and take off walking. Many of the previously tugging dogs will simply go along and follow me, some might take off in which case I can grip the end of the lead before they jerk it out of my hand and turn around and walk off in the opposite direction from which they were headed. After 4 or 5 minutes of this, almost all dogs will begin to walk beside me with the leash very casually draped over my fingers. No tension (person) = no tension (dog).

Another common miscommunication I see is with the word DOWN.

BooDown

Boo showing the “Down”

 

English is a difficult language for humans, let alone dogs that are trying to learn it. You need to establish one meaning for the word and STICK TO IT! I have to emphasize that last point, as this is where the problems really occur, if you teach it to mean one thing then start adding in nuances that you want the dog to understand. They just don’t well with things like that so keep it simple. I like to teach “DOWN = go into a position where your body is lying down on the ground.” I use OFF instead of DOWN for “get off the furniture or off me,” etc.

The last common miscommunication I see is people not reading their dogs correctly. With the medical alert dog training a key part of the training is to teach the dog to give a very clear signal that an “event” is happening with their person. For a diabetes alert dog this would be a change in blood glucose, for example. This alert needs to be clear and unmistakably related to the event the dog is trained to alert to. What often happens however is the dog is trying to tell the person what is happening and the person is not paying attention. If, for example, your dog never bugs you about anything and all of sudden starts to pester you, your first thought should be he/she is trying to tell you something. Many people miss this and believe the dog is trying to be a pest. I see this all the time with housebreaking issues with puppies but it is particularly critical with the medical alert dogs. To overcome this situation, start from the beginning of training to set limits on how and when the dog can touch you. You would not want an alert dog to have a trick of “give me your paw,” or a cue to go outside to relieve themselves by pawing at you. In training the medical alert dogs, save any bodily contact with you for their work. If this rule is adhered to, you can be assured if the dog then comes to you he is telling you something is not normal.

TabouliHeadstudyRecently I got a message from a trainer in my program about a diabetes alert dog. The message relayed that the dog jumped up on her person’s bed (which she is not allowed to sleep on) and started licking the mouth of her person and pawing at him to wake him up. He did not get up, but the commotion woke up someone else in the house who did get the person up. When the glucose level was checked, it was quite low. This was good communication on the part of the dog, clearly not the dog’s normal behavior, and easily recognized, as being a signal that something is wrong. This behavior was well rewarded and hopefully will continue as the dog transitions from training to living with her diabetic person.

If you have not taken the time to read up on dog body language andGolden_Doodle_Running signals, I urge you to browse some titles at the local dog book store or check out some videos on You Tube so you can become familiar with what the dog is saying to you. They certainly take the time to learn all the nuances of our body language, we owe it to them to try and learn theirs.