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!

 

 

 

 

 

Mothers and Messages

Happy Mothers Day to all the ladies who read this blog.

This Mothers Days was very special for me as my favorite Labrador, Cookie, had a picture perfect delivery of ten healthy puppies. She was kind enough to finish up about an hour before I was to catch a plane, so while I was upset at leaving her at least I did not have to worry about her delivery while I was gone. I left on time for my seminar with Natural Pets Dog Training in Lafayette Indiana. This seminar, hosted by Natural Pets Nutrition and Dog Training, was packed full of information with a series of speakers in addition to my presentation on Medical alert dogs. One of the bonuses of the weekend was a private tour of person in front of sign for Wolf ParkWolf Park about 15 minutes north of Lafayette.   This sanctuary for wolves was started by the late Purdue University researcher Dr. Erich Klinghammer, and continues today as a primary study and educational outreach center on wolves.
I was fortunate to be able to talk to Patricia Goodman, one of the senior investigators who have been at Wolf Park for over 40 years. Pat is a wealth of knowledge on the ethology of wolves and I found her discussion on this topic as well as canid behavior very enlightening. For those not familiar with the science of ethology it is considered the objective study of animal behavior under as natural conditions as possible. There is also I learned a component looking at how this helps the species in evolutionary adaptation. The main thing is ethologists do not try to interpret what the behaviors mean, they simply observe and record. These observations are collected into Ethograms and it from these records that later analysis is done.

This is different from what you find most dog trainers doing, which is behaviorism. Behaviorism looks at the same thing but the focus is on trained behaviors and in more of a controlled setting. There is no attention on evolutionary adaptation in this case.

There is great value to everyone who deals with animals of any kind in knowing what their behaviors mean. It is only through the observations of these behaviors that we learn about our animal friends. What I personally found of particular value was a story shared about an incident with a visitor and two of the wolves.

A young visiting high school student was allowed to go into the pen to visit the wolves with 2 senior staff present. The pack consisted of the alpha male and alpha female, 2 other young female wolves and three littermates who were about nine months old. These wolves had been hand raised by humans except for the two young females who avoided humans. A male came up to her and started to play. The young girl was playing back and it appeared that all was friendly as all signs of the wolf’s behavior was that of what we dog people would call a “play” bow. During this interaction one of the non-hand raised female wolves started to circle behind the young visitor when one of the senior staff noticed this and called out to the girl to watch out behind her. At that very opportune moment when she turned her attention away, the male wolf leaped up and attacked the girl, biting her in the knee. The girl turned around and faced the male who backed off and the staff was able to get her out of there. Her injury was not serious.

Does this sudden change from play to attack sound familiar to some of you dog trainers that are dealing with agadult bisongressive dogs? You think that the dogs are playing but are they really? In this case, the conclusion was that the male wolf was not playing at all, but rather was testing the young visitor and waiting for his opportunity to attack. In fact as our group toured around we discovered a herd of bison on the farm, where investigators have allowed the wolves to approach the healthy bison in order to observe hunting behaviors. Wolves do not attack healthy strong bison, this has been well documented in their wild state; they go rather for the weaker of the animals in a herd. What the ethologists have observed is the same type bowing behavior in front of the bison, as was witnessed with the young visitor in the story above. It is felt this is really indicative of a ready stance, not a “play” bow, and is more of a test of whomever the wolf is facing, to see if they are strong or weak and whether there is an opportunity to attack.

What is interesting to me is the sudden change in the wolf’s behavior from play to aggression. I have seen this in dogs but unfortunately did not have video rolling at the time as the wolf park people did (they always have a video going when people are in with the wolves) but I suspect there were probably subtle cues from the dogs as well. As I have been talking to quite a few trainers these past weeks I am hearing more about aggression issues with our dogs. This makes me wonder about the underlying causes. Could it be the same as the wolves; are the dogs testing whomever they are “play” bowing to and were not really “playing” at all?

Some people have suggested that breeders are not being as careful with the temperament considerations when breeding and there is a decline in stability of temperament due to that. This is certainly a real possibility but cannot explain all of the issues.

Others have suggested that increased stressors in our modern environment are taking their toll on the temperaments of the dogs especially the family pet. Dogs are increasingly left alone for long periods of time, have less physical exercise and outlets for their natural activities and are under more pressure to be on their best behavior all the time with less time to just be able to act like a dog. This too is a real possibility that could contribute to increased aggressive behaviors.

What the wolf project has shown, is not until behavior is properly analyzed can any interpretation be offered. Far too often dog owners and even trainers are too quick to jump to conclusions about the cause of a particular behavior of a dog, especially when it deals with aggression at any level.

So perhaps we can take a clue here and make sure we understand what signals are dogs are giving us, learn how to give cut off signals, and give clear messages ourselves to our dogs so there is no misunderstanding of our intent.