Our Expectations Are Hurting Our Dogs

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Expectations play a very big role in dog training.

As a trainer, one of the biggest problems I see for today’s pet dog, is unrealistic expectations from the owner.

These unrealistic expectations are causing our rescues and shelters to fill up with perfectly lovely dogs who became victims to human ideals of what a dog should be.

It starts simply enough, we see a happy family playing in the park with their dog who is dutifully staying close to them, or we have an image of a fuzzy pooch curled up next to our feet as we read. Maybe we remember our grandparents’ dog who had no fences and never left the farm. We want that. But what we don’t see, is the work that went into it.

So we get a dog, and with no farm to work he quickly gets bored of our small city lot and decides to dig up sprinkler lines, or escape and have a walk-a-bout the neighborhood. Remember, on a farm nobody cared if dogs dug or chewed in their free time, and they didn’t have a lot of free time because they had jobs that kept them mentally and physically satisfied.

The following is just the tip of the iceberg that is unreasonable to expect from your dog without lots of time, dog knowledge, commitment, and exercise:

  • A dog that’s just hit adolescents(8-18 months) staying next to you on a busy hiking trail with tons of smells and distractions.
  • A dog who’s been in a crate for 9 hours to settle down next to your feet while you unwind from a long work day.
  • A dog to not, dig, bark, chew or escape a yard that she’s been left in with no supervision.
  • A puppy to understand how to play calmly with a toddler.
  • A new dog to mesh right into your household routine.
  • A dog to not run up to your neighbors, or other dogs, if it’s not on a leash (yes, even if you are just getting the mail).
  • A dog who never leaves the house and yard to not bolt out the front door and go for a joy run while you chase after him trying to put him back in his mundane environment.
  • A dog under two years old (or who does not get enough human-led exercise) not to destroy your house or yard while you are not home.
  • A dog to entertain himself for long periods of time, even with toys.

Don’t let yourself and your dog fall victim to unrealistic expectations. It always ends in heartache. Before you get a dog, consider if you are really willing to significantly adjust your life. You’ll have to get up earlier, work harder, lose out on some of your downtime. All of these things come with that dog you saw playing happily in the park.

I remember one time a woman stopped me on my walk with my dogs and said that if her dog walked as well as mine, she’d take them walking too.

Folks, they didn’t come that way. What she saw was the result of lots and lots of work, headaches, and early mornings. She had what I had sitting at home, waiting to be discovered!

Take the time and effort to discover the dog you have and break the expectation cycle!

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Socializing Your Puppy Made Easy

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Puppies need to have certain socialization goals met by 16 weeks of age. I’ve made this handy list you can print out and hang on your fridge. Check off each item after you have done them.

*Remember, it’s only socializing if the dog is enjoying it*

My puppy will be sixteen weeks on ______\_____

Hat day 1- wear several different hats and allow your puppy to sniff them or even eat a treat off them
People day- take your dog to a hardware store or park where he can be greeted by 5-10 friendly people. (If not fully vaccinated, carry puppy)
1x   2x   3x   4x
Doorbell day 1- ring doorbell 10x today and give a small treat each time
1x   2x
Hat day 2- introduce your puppy to someone in a hat and sunglasses

1x   2x
Thunder and fireworks day 1- use YouTube to play thunder and firework noise on a low to medium volume while you feed your puppy or play with your puppy
Kid day- find kids of varying ages to introduce puppy to
1x  2x
Dog day 1- introduce puppy to a known friendly and vaccinated small dog(s)
1x   2x   3x
Dog day 2- introduce puppy to a known friendly and vaccinated large dog(s)
1x   2x   3x
Thunder and firework day 2- use YouTube to play thunder and fireworks on a high volume while treating puppy

Out front day- spend time in front yard playing and greeting neighbors

1x   2x   3x
Wheels day- allow your pup to sniff the wheels of bikes, skateboard (etc.) and watch them roll. Use food or toys to distract your pup if they want to chase
Prey animal day- if you can, expose your pup to a cat that’s calm. Also try to allow your pup to see (but not chase) small prey animals
Different types of people:
tall
bearded
loud voice
foreign accent
different skin color from you

Check off each of the following after the dog has been positively introduced:
Bathtub
Hair dryer
Lawn mower
Vacuum cleaner
Hard/shiny floor
Raised table (like at the vets or groomers)
Nail clippers
Brush
Toothbrush
Cotton swab in ears
Water (don’t force a dog in, just let them explore)

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Dog Training: My How Times Have Changed… Or have They?

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Most things get better with time. Take medicine, or technology for example. The more our knowledge improves the better these things get.  I can still remember those old, clunky computers that lined the back of the library at my elementary school in the early 80’s.  Boy, us kids sure thought those things were great. No one had computers at home then, so we were really impressed by the fuzzy graphics on the screen and the pings and clicks those old things made.  I recall how very impressed we were that if you made a mistake all you had to do was just backspace and, BOOM, the mistake was gone. No whiteout required!

If I could get my hands on one of those old Apple computers I am certain that my children would be very unimpressed by the same machine that so impressed me. Why? Because things should and do improve with time!  Dog training really should be no different!  So why is it?

Why are so many trainers and owners holding on to out-of-date understanding of how our dogs’ brains work?  Let’s just take a really simple example: potty training.  Who remembers being told you must rub a dogs nose in their own feces in order to teach them not to go in the house? I sure remember that!  When I was in third grade my family got a dog for the first time.  She was just a small little mutt we adopted from the Humane Society. This would have been around the mid 1980’s.  When we adopted her the shelter gave us a little two paragraph sheet on potty training.  It said that there was a new way to potty train, and that the best way to do it was to confine the dog in a small space and then take her out every hour.  The flyer asked us to make sure we told her ‘Good Dog’ for going outside and said to ignore indoor accidents.  WHAT?! that couldn’t be right! We all knew you had to rub a dog’s nose in accidents, right?  Well, luckily for our little pup my parents had only grown up with outdoor dogs on a farm and had never potty trained a dog before.  They weren’t committed to the old technique of potty training because they had never done it before.  They didn’t have the voice of old Uncle So-And-So in their heads telling them this ‘new positive training junk is all hogwash’.  So, we trained our new dog the “new way”.  It worked! In fact, it worked amazingly well! Within just a few days potty training was well under way in our home! Can you believe that  30 years later people are still rubbing dogs’ noses in potty?

I am a big fan of knowledge. It is a really powerful tool that is there for anyone to use, all we have to do is seek it out!  Sometimes I think dog training has gotten stuck in a bubble.  I’m not sure why.  I suspect ego may be playing a big factor in it.  It is hard to admit that maybe there is a better way to do something, especially if you have been a promoter of a different way.  But, don’t our dogs deserve improvement every bit as much as our computers or phones?  I am not the same trainer I was when I started out.  I’m not embarrassed by that. On the contrary, I’m proud of it! I’ve improved over the years! I’ve learned new things and let go of ideas that have been proven wrong.  It is time we as trainers and owners stopped getting stuck on pride.  Our dogs deserve to have the most up-to-date science and training techniques applied to them.  I hope that in 10 years I’ll will be a different trainer than I am today because I want to continue to learn, to reach out and grab a hold of the knowledge that that is ever changing and ever improving.

I would ask trainers and owners out there to take a moment and ask yourselves if your style and techniques have changed over the last 10 years… or 5… or 2.  If they aren’t changing, are they really improving?  Dogs are not computers.  They are living, breathing, feeling creatures.  My hope is that we are as excited about new information for working with our dogs, as we are about the latest smartphone to hit the shelves, because our dogs are much more important.

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How to Get the Most Out of Training

If you have hired a trainer and are ready to start on a fun and rewarding adventure with your dog, congratulations! Here are some tips that will help you get the most out of your dog, your time and your money.

1. BE HONEST

This is so extremely important. Your trainer can’t help you if you omit things or exaggerate. One of the first things I ask people is how many minutes a day does their dog gets structured exercise. I do not ask this because I want to scold or judge. I ask because it is vital to creating a training package that is going to work for your home and your dog. If you haven’t walked your dog in two months your trainer needs to know that. If, for instance, you tell your trainer that your dog goes on a thirty minute walk every day rain or shine, then the trainer may not focus on creating a doable exercise program for your home. That would be a very big mistake because if you really do not walk your dog every day, or if you do but not for a full thirty minutes, you will miss out on a crucial component of behavior and you will not get the results you want.

The same is true for other things, too. If you have used physical corrections with your dog but tell the trainer you haven’t, he or she can not show you a more effective way to stop unwanted behavior. Your trainer should not be there to judge you and read you the riot act of all the mistakes you have made. But they do need to know what has been going on so they can show you new ways that will help you more effectively work with your dog. I think being honest with yourself and your trainer is the number one way you can get the most out of your training.

2. BE WILLING TO CHANGE

Over the years, I have had a handful of clients who had an idea about their dog or their method of training immovably set in their minds. When this is the case, there really is nothing a trainer can do to help you. Most people call a professional in to help because things are not working. I remember one time, years ago, I had a client who would not change his unhealthy feeding routine. Even though he was not getting the behaviors he wanted from his dog he refused to believe that it had anything to do with how he interacted with him. Here is a secret you should know. Trainers don’t change your dog. Your dog is going to always be who he/she is. The only thing a trainer can help you do is change the way you interact with your dog. That is really the secret to training. Please be willing to set aside your ideas and emotions long enough to be receptive to another way.

Under this same category, don’t argue with your trainer. Long before your trainer gets to your door you should have done your homework on their methods and style. Once you have decided on a style and trainer you are comfortable with, be open. If you spend 30 minutes arguing with them about why you free feed and don’t intend to stop, you are not getting your money’s worth and it is not a good use of either yours or the trainer’s time. Of course, if they get there and their style is not what you thought, or you feel your dog is not in safe hands, it is completely appropriate to end the session and find a new trainer.

3. DON’T BE OFFENDED 

Good trainers should not be out to make you feel bad or guilty about yourself or your dog. That being said, there will likely be things your trainer can point out that you were not aware of. There is nothing more awkward for a trainer than seeing an issue that is sensitive to talk about. A good example of this is fighting among family members. Constant fighting in the home has a very negative effect on dogs. If during the training session your trainer notices that you and your spouse fight every few minutes about who’s fault it is that the dog pees on the rug, they need to be able to tell you what they see. Please don’t be offended by their assessment. They are there to help you and your dog. A good trainer will be willing to get past the awkwardness of addressing such situations for the good of your family.

4. DO YOUR HOMEWORK

This is so important! I only have one hour a week with my clients. That alone is not enough to change behavior. Your trainer should set up a clear and doable schedule for you  to practice the things you have learned. Progress will only happen if you stick with this. And, if for some reason you didn’t do your homework, again, be honest about it. Consider this example: If your trainer comes back and no progress has been made from your last session, your trainer might think the techniques are not working if you say you diligently worked with the dog every day. If in reality you only worked with the dog once or twice, the methods may be working just fine, but there hadn’t been enough time and practice to reflect that. Your trainer may then switch techniques, essentially starting over and losing valuable time that you are paying for.

5. DON’T FOCUS ONLY ON THE NEGATIVE

Nothing shuts down the training process faster than someone who only sees the negative. You should tell your trainer when things are not working or don’t feel right, but you should also be noticing the improvements no matter how small. We all know that person who can find the one dark cloud in an otherwise sunny sky. Talking with these people can make you quickly feel exhausted and depressed as well. Your dog is no different. If all you can see is that they don’t walk as well as the neighbor’s dog, or they don’t learn as fast as your old dog, no amount of training is going to help you. I often tell my clients that I can’t fix a bond between the human and dog. If you have called in a trainer as a last  resort and have the idea that if it doesn’t work you’re getting rid of the dog, it is likely no one can help you. More than once, I have heard someone say in the first five minutes of being in their home, “I’m just sick of this dog. If he doesn’t change we are getting rid of him.” At that point your trainer may as well just walk out and save you the money because change takes time, patience, dedication and a strong bond.

You will need a strong enough bond with your dog that you can handle setbacks. I got a call a few weeks ago and the woman told me that if the dog got in the trash one more time, the husband was taking him right to the pound. I was very honest with her and said it was too late for training. Not too late for the dog, but too late for the husband. He did not like the dog, didn’t want to put money into training, and was just waiting for one more mistake to justify getting rid of him. Dogs, and humans alike, will always make mistakes. Even your trainer will make mistakes. Mistakes are part of life and if they are a deal breaker for your relationship with your dog, the best thing to do is be honest and find the dog a safe loving home that is willing to focus on the positive things.

Bonus Tip:

DON’T WAIT UNTIL IT’S TOO LATE!

This goes along with the last tip. You don’t have to have a problem to call in a trainer. My favorite cases are people who just adopted a dog and simply want to get the most out of their relationship and start their dog out on the right foot. There is no “issue” yet so we talk about troubleshooting, we play games that are bond-building and fun! We teach commands right the first time so they don’t become a battle. Please don’t wait to call a trainer until you are so frustrated with your dog that you can’t take it anymore.

Training is a fun a wonderful thing to do with your dog. I hope these tips will help you get the most out of your time and money. Go out and enjoy time with your dog today!

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Understanding Dog Body Language (Holiday Safety)

With Thanksgiving coming up, it is an important time to talk about dog body language. Whether you have kids coming over to your home meeting your dogs, or your kids are going to someone’s house to meet their dog, it is important that everyone have a safe relaxing holiday.

The first thing we have to teach our kids is that dogs cannot speak, but that does not mean they can’t communicate.

This is a great place to start!  Become a Dog Detective

This website will help you and your child navigate reading a dog’s body language. It is not as simple as you might think!

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For instance, I bet we can all tell the dog in this picture does not want to be hugged, right?

But did you also know this dog doesn’t want a hug or a pet?

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It is not as easy to tell, is it? Especially if you are a child. We must teach them to look for things like lip licking, eye brows raised, or head turning away to give us clues that the dog doesn’t want affection or attention. I see grown-ups continuing to pet a dog that has turned its head away all the time. When a dog turns its head or body away from you it wants the petting to stop but it is so subtle we miss it. I always hear people say the dog bit with no warning, but I can tell you that is almost never the case. Dogs give us warnings, we just don’t recognize them.

So, your holiday season mission, should you chose to accept it, is to sit down with your children and check out the dog detective website above. Teach them the subtle signs dogs give that mean they don’t want any attention. Explain to your children that it is nothing personal that Aunt Sally’s dog doesn’t want to give them a kiss or be petted. Dogs are just like us. Some are outgoing and some aren’t. Sometimes they want to be loved on and sometimes they want space. Learning your dog’s language is what is going to keep everyone happy and healthy this season!

Here is another graphic showing the different ways dogs tell us they want space. Please note I do not own any of these pictures, so if you know the artist, please let me know so I can give them credit. Also, please check me out on Facebook and my website: badbehaviorgooddog.com.

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George (The story of a throw-away dog)

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George was found by Fuzzy Pawz Rescue in a Salt Lake shelter. He had been passed over for adoption time and time again. I don’t know why, maybe because he is far from a purebred. His neck is too long for his body and his legs are too short. He is cute but not the kind of cute that makes people want to put a bow on him and set him under a Christmas tree. It’s hard to pin point exactly what his mix is and is likely a combination of several breeds. Maybe he was stressed and didn’t show well in a shelter or maybe the fact that not neutering him for years had created a leg lifting problem. I don’t know why he was passed over for months in a shelter or even why he was there. But, I do know that Fuzzy Pawz Rescue was the first to see potential in him. They excepted him into their rescue to keep him from being euthanized and transported him to Boise Idaho. He was placed in a foster home where he thrived and began to show his hilarious personality. He kind of acts somewhere between a cat and a dog; playful and spunky one minute, then the next he just wants to lay around in a sunny spot. The rescue and his foster mom saw something great in him, but he still had no real interest by adopters.

That is where I came in. I am a Canine Behavior Specialist and Trainer and a little over two years ago I contacted the rescue’s founder and told her I was in need of a small dog that could be used as my working dog. This dog needed to be calm and stable enough to be used with dogs who were everything from under socialized to extremely dog aggressive. Up until then I had been using my own dogs but neither dog enjoyed the work and the intensity of it was hard for them. I needed a dog that was born for it. The rescue’s director sent me information on several dogs she thought might work but noted she saw something special in George (who was called Timmy at the time).

We brought George home first as a foster to see if the job would work for him. It is not an easy job for a dog and can at times be stressful. I did not know what to expect or really even know fully what I wanted from him. As George and I began our work together it quickly became apparent that not only could George handle the intensity of the job, he thrived in it. We learned each others signals and developed a kind of rhythm of trust while on a case. The more I paid attention the more I saw helpful ques George was giving me about dogs. When he wouldn’t make eye contact with a dog it meant he felt the dog was unstable. When he pawed my legs it meant I was rushing it and the other dog was not ready to move so fast. When he’d take the lead and walk right up to a dog it meant the dog was in a mentally healthy place. When he’d give his back to the dog but stay in close proximity it meant he was helping calm the other dog’s nerves before moving on. Day by day, case by case, George and I have developed a relationship of trust and communication that has helped hundreds of dogs!

This little dog that no one wanted has proven over and over again how skilled he is at his job and has helped so many dogs move past anxiety and fear. Recently he showed his endurance and skill by standing perfectly still for an hour while I, inch by inch, moved an extremely reactive dog closer to him. He kept a calm, collected manner about him that slowly seeped into the other dog and by the end of the session the dogs were able to walk side by side in harmony.

George is an exceptional dog, but so are all dogs. There was no sign above his kennel that spelled out what he was capable of when Fuzzy Pawz Rescue found him. The only reason it was discovered at all is because he was given a chance. Shelter dogs all over the country with their own unique gifts and talents are just waiting to be given that same chance. If George could talk I think he’d ask that other dogs like him be given the attention and respect they deserve. Had I decided I needed a working dog and gone to a breeder for a puppy I could “raise up the way I want” (a phrase I hear a lot) I would not have the amazing work companion I do now. You see, what George does is not something you can train. It is as much apart of him as his ridiculously long neck. Please don’t pass over shelter or rescue dogs, or ignore a dog that doesn’t look the way you imagined your dog would look. Please don’t think you have to get a puppy to get exactly what you want (believe me, I see lots of unruly dogs that came to their owners as a puppy). You may be passing over the best friend you’ll ever have, and exactly the dog you need. All these “throw away” dogs need is a chance!

Please visit my website at badbehaviorgooddog.com

Off Leash Dogs (A tale of two owners)

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Picture this. Someone is on a nice evening walk with their furry friend. The street is quiet, the weather is perfect and they couldn’t feel better about being out in nature and enjoying the walk. They round the corner and see someone talking to a neighbor in the front yard. The next thing they see is that neighbor’s dog come running at them and their pet. We all know how it goes from here. The owner of the off leash dog starts shouting “No Fido! Come Fido! Stop!” and then when that doesn’t work the owner shouts “He’s friendly!”

Of course by this time the off leash dog has made it to the on-leash dog and is barking in his face and generally just being unpleasant. The leashed dog may be barking back by this time, or wrapping up his owner in the leash to avoid the rude dog. Maybe the owner of the on-leash dog tries to get her dog sit and be calm. Inevitably the other owner comes running in shouting things that make no sense like, “naughty Fido, you know better,” which of course is not true at all because if the dog did know better he wouldn’t have done it. By the end, everyone is frustrated and no one is enjoying the pleasant evening anymore.

Does this sound familiar? Which part? Are you the one walking the dog on leash or the one chasing the dog who is supposed to know better? Well, which ever you are, stay tuned and let’s see if we can smooth this whole thing out.

First, I have to make my plea to dog owners who take their dogs off leash knowing their dog won’t stay by them when they see another dog. To you I say, STOP! Stop taking your dog out without a leash just to grab the mail. Stop hoping nothing goes by that catches your dog’s attention. Stop saying “He’s friendly!” Stop making excuses! You know your dog will bolt to bark at other dogs and humans, so be proactive. Use a leash! Even if your dog does just want to go say hi and play when he sees another dog, the other dog and owner don’t know that. Don’t let your dog go up to anyone without that person’s permission. It is the responsible thing to do. In my line of work I see dog-friendly dogs turn into reactive monsters on a leash because of owners who continue to not use a leash when they know their dog is not reliable to voice command. It only takes one or two times of being rushed by an off-leash dog before dogs learn they are not safe on a leash when they see another dog. They know that when they see another dog across the street, it may not stay across the street and so they begin to treat every dog they see as a threat. They whine, pull, or growl the moment a dog comes into view. They want to put up a good offense  because they have had to put up defense in the past. You as an owner have a responsibility to keep your dog on your property and away from passers-by. A leash is cheap and available everywhere. Use it and stop setting your dog and other dogs up to fail.

Now, for those of us who have been bum rushed by an off-leash dog more times than we can count, there is hope. First of all, we have to get past this idea that your on leash dog should sit down and be calm while this is happening. Asking your dog to sit as another dog rushes him is like asking someone to sit and be calm while a mugger mugs them. It is rude behavior. It is stressful to your dog and your dog should not be expected to “take it.”

What your dog needs is to see that you can stop that other dog from getting to him in the first place. This may be easier than you think. I have found that almost all dogs will stop coming into my space if I stand very tall with my head up and chest out, and then say with a firm voice (not angry or hysterical) “OUT.” When I do this, I make a motion with my hand like I am shooing away a fly. Most of the time, the offensive dog will turn around and go home or at very least stay about 10 feet away while it barks. This won’t make you popular with the owner who will be insisting that her dog just wanted to play, but it will go a long way in showing your dog you can protect your space. You must protect your dog. It is more important than not offending the neighbor. If you do not stop that dog from rushing you, your dog will have no choice but to become the one to set the rules and boundaries on the walk and they will do this by reacting to all dogs whether they are on leash or not.

Now once in a while the above method won’t stop an approaching dog. When that happens, there are some other options. First, and most important, stay calm. Always keep your cool so that your dog will do the same. Some people like to carry a small air horn or whistle with them to blow if a dog is invading their space. I think this is fine but I do not recommend mace. Mace can easily backfire and harm you and your dog, leaving you much more vulnerable than you already were. The air horn is a safer way to go.

If the dog does make it to you and there is a fight (this is rare so don’t dwell on it) drop the leash. Your dog needs to be able to protect himself if he gets attacked and you need to be able to step back so you don’t get hurt. Again, this is rare.

Just remember if the dog does make it to you, stay calm. At this point it is also best to stay quiet and relaxed on the leash. Most likely all that will happen is that the dogs will exchange a few barks and or lunges and then it will be over but you must stay calm so as not to escalate the encounter. I also recommend letting Animal Control know about it after the fact. A warning or a ticket serves as a good reminder to owners to leash up their dogs.

And finally, learn to let things go. After you have had a bad encounter it is tempting to let it ruin your walk. Try hard not to let it. Try to deal with the situation in the moment and then let it go and go back to bonding with your dog. The less of an issue you make out of things like this that come up, the less important they will seem to your dog. So after everything is said and done, take a deep breath, pet your pooch and move on.

Please visit my website at badbehaviorgooddog.com