From the Mouths of Puppies

By Debby Kay ©2018 all rights reserved

Ask any breeder, but especially those who breed retrievers, about storied they can tell of things puppies put in their mouths and you will be in for an ear full.  It’s not a bad thing as far the dogs are concerned. It is just something they do.  Dogs can’t use their hands like we do so they use their mouths and many of the annoying (to people that is) habits or behaviors seen are best viewed from that perspective.  I would like to talk about three of the most common complaints I get from people about their puppies “mouthing’ habits.

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The first issue many people experience regardless of breed, is the one that technically is called bite inhibition.  Until a puppy learns not to bite down on everything in sight including your feet, hands, pants leg and any other body part that is handy, they think it is perfectly okay to it.  Watch a litter of puppies about 6 weeks old playing and you will see them grab each other’s ears, paws or tails as if it were a peanut butter treat. The recipient of the attack will scream loudly when this happens and the attacker will usually back off.  They are teaching each other bite inhibition.  When they go after adults, at first mom, in a likewise fashion, one of several things will happen. Many adults will just walk off and ignore the bad behavior. This is a great idea for people to follow too, since is opposite of what the pup wants-attention and someone to play with.  They learn quickly you are more likely to stay and play with them if they bring you a toy rather than grab your barefoot and chomp down.  Another thing is the mom will usually put her mouth around their muzzle and gently but firmly clamp down, the pup will squeal more from surprise than anything and the mom releases her grip and moves on. It is quick and without any further comment. To mimic the pup’s mom, I have learned to very quickly grip the muzzle in the same way and gently pinch their lip against their own teeth for a nanosecond and release. I don’t shout or say a word, like their mom, I just do it and they stop. I will then go and get one of their authorized play toys and redirect their attention to that.  I praise for the play.

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The older Chihuahua here is correcting the lab pup for biting too hard using the best grip he can get on the pups muzzle.

I rarely have to do this more than once and the pups stop biting my hands and feet. Where I see many people fail is they are always offering their fingers to the puppy to chew on. When I point that out to people to they rarely realize they are doing it. So try to be aware of this in yourself and others around the puppy, since we don’t want to set the puppy up for failure.

What about the nervous chewer? This is the dog that must grab things and shred everything they put in their mouths.  This behavior can have complex origins which make writing a simple solution for this blog a bit complicated. But for the most part what I see with puppies is chewing such as this from not knowing what to do with themselves. That indicates to me there is a lack of clear direction from the person in the dog’s life as to what the role of the dog is all about. Setting clear rules, boundaries, and engaging with the dog when you are present is the best way to control this habit. Right now I am working with 4 young puppies who at 16 weeks already are figuring out when it is work time, play time and rest time and where to do each of these things. If the people are consistent the pups are more likely to pick up on things and learn quickly what works and what does not work.

The final mouthy dog problem I see which is really dangerous is the dog that will eat anything it can get its mouth on.  I have the vet bills to prove my experience with this issue and can vouch for how expensive this can be, so it is best to stop it before it starts.  Substitution is most effective way I have found to stop unwanted eating of things. Please don’t’ ask me why a dog would eat rocks, swallow socks, or cell phones, I have no idea but they do. In fact, if you do a quick google of things dogs have swallowed you would be surprised at the list.  So when I see a pup that likes to eat what it has in its mouth, I get them to swap it out for a more interesting toy or treat.  So instead of swallowing the rock bring it to me and I will exchange it for a nice treat. Not a bad deal as far as the dog is concerned. That works most of the time.  I also teach them self-control using a game that Susan Garrett has written about called Its Your Choice. The game basically is presenting food to the dog who only gets it when they back away from it, not go for it.  Even with some really hard cases it rarely takes more than 10 minutes to get a dog showing great self-control and not going after what it wants but waiting until you tell them it is OK. This behavior of swallowing everything in sight is not an easy one to deal with but should you see a puppy developing the habit try these two things and stay on top of the pup and hopefully you can get them past it.

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Even sticks can be dangerous to a pup, maybe okay to retrieve if small and flexible like this one, but watch out for the chronic “eaters”.

 

 

Cool Tips for Hot Dogs

Summer is almost upon us and as the days heat up care needs to be taken to keep our dogs safe from summer heat hazards.  Are you prepared?  Here’s a brief run down of some cool ideas to ward off heat related maladies this summer.

  • Hydration: Never leave home with your dog unless you have water for them. There are many great carry along bottle arrangements available for dog owners today, I think I have bought nearly every one of them too. They are all great, most have some type of cap that doubles as a drinking cup. Frozen bottles of water work well too, as you hike they thaw but are still cool when you pour them out for your dog; just remember to bring along your collapsible dish if you do this. Plan the amount of water you take on the distance and time you will be out.Chi Drinking
  • Booties: Hot Beach Sand or hot pavement can cause problems for the pads of your dog’s feet. A quick test to see if it’s too hot for them to walk on is to put your hand down and hold it there for 30 seconds or more. If you can’t stand it then they probably won’t either. Make sure the booties you buy are well fitting and that you get your dog use to them before you need to use them. Ultrapaws are one of my favorites.lab booties on sand
  • Fans: If you are going to be stationary for any time you might want to have a fan set up just for your dog, particularly if you are going to crate them. Contractors I found have great portable fans that run all day on rechargeable batteries that are great for this purpose.  I added a solar back up to my set up and its stays charged all the time.
  • Shade Screens: Every dog owner should carry a reflective shade screen for their dog. These are easy to set up over a crate, over your car, as a tent over your sitting place, basically where ever you are you can have relief from the blazing sun. The reflective nature of the screens really keep it very cool for the dog and with your fan going all will be good.shadescreen over crate
  • Cool Pads and Collars: Great new items for dog lovers are the cooling beads in dog pads and collars. These work really well as I learned first hand when I was working dogs in Central America where the tropical temperatures where really high. My dogs had these in their crates as they were being transported allowing them to arrive fresh and ready to go.

 

Finally, I want to suggest to you to please PLAN your summer outing with your dog(s) in advance.  For example, I will plan on hot days to get the morning training lessons done before the sun fully rises while the temperatures are still relatively cool. I then end the session near a water source so everyone can cool off. This type of planning keeps everyone working strong and enjoying it throughout the summer. The 8 week old pups I have in training now figured out this strategy after only a few days and now I don’t have to say a word and they head straight for the water at the end of the session!

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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!

 

 

 

 

 

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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