Saturday, March 31, 2012

Puppy Training Basics: Sit & Down

Along with potty/house training, "sit" and "down" are two really great things to start teaching your puppy. I'm going to describe in as much detail as I can the methods that worked for me, using a clicker.

This is probably the easiest of the two.
  • * Hold your clicker in one hand, (and behind your back/in your pocket if it distracts your puppy) and hold a very valuable treat inside your other hand, such as a tiny piece of hot dog, or chicken. (ball it in your fist if your puppy is crafty and good at snatching it).
  • * Show your hand holding the treat to your puppy, and slowly move it back over his head, and slightly up. His nose should follow, as he's looking for the treat, and this movement should naturally entice him into sitting.
  • * Once his butt hits the floor, click and treat.
  • * Repeat the above steps. You should notice that each time, he'll start sitting faster, until he figures out that sitting is what gets him the reward, and then he'll do it right away. At this point, you connect a word with the action of sitting.
  • * Next time you lure him into the sit, as he's in the action of sitting (not before, and not after), say "sit" (or whatever you feel like calling it), then click and treat.
  • * Repeat! After lots of repetition of this in many 5-minute training sessions, you'll have an awesome sitting puppy!
Down can be a little more difficult, because the act of lying down puts a dog in a vulnerable position. Some dogs can be nervous or scared of this, so keep that in mind while training. If they don't start downing right away, it's not out of stubbornness, but more likely out of nervousness.
  • * It's easiest to start off by putting your puppy in a sit.
  • * With your clicker in one hand and the treat balled in the other, show your puppy your treat hand, and slowly move that hand down and between his front legs. His nose should follow while he tries to get the treat. He may not lie down right away.
  • * Try moving your treat hand slowly forward from between his front paws by a few inches. This may lure him into a down, but some puppies still aren't convinced.
  • * Hold the treat, balled in your fist, down on the ground, either a few inches in front of your puppy's front paws, or just between them, and wait.
  • * If he gets up from his sit, put him back in the sit and simply repeat the above steps.
  • * Most puppies will naturally lie down and start trying to work out a way to get that treat out of your hand, which is what you want. This may take several seconds, or a few minutes. It's important to be patient. If he gets distracted just lure him back and start over. As soon as he goes into lying down to work on getting the treat out of your hand, click and treat. Repeat!
  • * As you did above with sit, once he knows what you want, connect a word to this action, by saying something like "down" or "lay down" as he is in the process of lying down (not before or after, as above). And repeat!
These methods are easy, humane and help your dog learn to work out problems, so I hope they will work for you as well as they did for me! =)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Knowing Your Vet's Methods!

Today, I was reading on one of the dog forums I visit, and somebody brought up a really good point. It is very important that you know your vet's and their techs' methods for handling struggling, scared dogs, because while most of them are well-versed in the medical aspect of pets, it doesn't mean they know ANYTHING about behavior or training. This lack of knowledge can result in your pet being abused if they think he is "misbehaving" or "being dominant."

I used to work as a tech assistant at a vet clinic, and I brought Shippo in to have blood drawn. Well, he struggled and yelped, and he had NEVER reacted like this at the vet before, but they tensed up while holding him and scared him really bad. Since they were restraining his head, his airway got cut off when he pulled back, so it caused him to snort as he tried to breathe.

Early on while I was working there, I got a feeling the techs there were all extremely dominance and punishment-based because they would actually STRIKE a dog they thought was misbehaving. It's a good thing I was in the room, because the tech who was working on my dog told the person restraining him to "punish him NOW because he's GROWLING at me!"

I had to ARGUE with her about it, because I'd had Shippo for TWO YEARS at this point and could tell by now when he was growling or snorting (he snorts frequently like a little piggy if he's stressed or excited), and this lady was trying to tell ME that I didn't know my OWN DOG. Thankfully, she backed down and I was able to prevent him from being wrongfully punished, but WOW! This got me thinking to my self, "Boy, I wonder how many vet employees have abused my dogs when I wasn't around to stop it."

From now on, I will be very cautious about who I let handle my pets behind closed doors. I will ask them about their handling methods first, and ask if they might allow me to restrain my own pet (though I ONLY recommend this to people who are experienced at restraint). It's important that your dog is getting as positive an experience as possible while at the vet, because it can effect other aspects of their training.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Mistaking Resistance and Distraction for "Dominance"

So many times, I've seen pet owners struggling with a dog or puppy, because they've misread the dog's signals.  When simple resistance is confused with dominance, it can be harmful to a dog's training and the relationship between dog and owner.  One of the most common behaviors that get misread is while training "sit" or "lie down" using force (ie. pushing down on the dog's butt or back).  Another is the dog "ignoring" the owner because he's being trained around too many distractions.

If you push down on most dogs, they have a natural instinct to resist the pressure.  Pushing on them makes them feel vulnerable and threatened, so they push back.  It doesn't mean your dog is trying to be "dominant" or rebel against you, and he shouldn't be corrected or punished for this.  I am of the opinion that if you can train a dog to do something without being physical, then more power to you!  Dogs learn to think more when they are given the opportunity to figure out how to do things on their own, rather than being pushed into doing it.

Instead of push your dog down, a better method is to lure him into the position with a treat, and reward him as soon as his little belly hits the floor.  Once he's doing it consistently, then you would start saying "down" as he performs the action.  This connects the command "down" to the now reliable action of him lying down.  So far, I have not been given a reason to push a dog into the position I want him to be in.  Sometimes you may have to just out-wait them till they realize which action gets them the treat, but they're all going to get it eventually!

Once the dog learns how to sit or down reliably in the home, often owners try to rush things, and they take him to the pet store, the dog park, or a friend's house, where he suddenly won't listen, and would rather sniff and play than even look at the owner.  This can be frustrating I know, but your dog is not ignoring you or being dominant, and it's unfair to him to punish him for giving in to distraction when he doesn't know any better.  

When a dog is suddenly put in a new environment with all kinds of interesting new smells and things to discover, he is overwhelmed and most likely will not sit when you tell him to, because although you taught him "sit" inside the house, you haven't yet taught him to sit with all these new people and bikes and other dogs around.  This is simply the next step in training.  After a dog has learned a behavior in his home, he needs to be slowly moved up to performing the behavior around lots of distractions.

If you always keep in mind that your dog is not always trying to "one-up" you, training becomes a lot easier.  I never did have any luck pushing dogs down like my parents told me to.  My outlook on training has changed a LOT since I was a kid, and I remember that my relationship with my dogs wasn't that great back then.  Once I embraced the view that my dog is not constantly trying to overthrow me by instinctually resisting me here and there, the training just fell into place, and I had happier, better behaved dogs is a result.

All articles on this blog are written by Victoria Steen unless otherwise stated. They are NOT to be redistributed.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Stop the Pulling!

Of all the bad doggy behaviors out there, I think most owners will agree that pulling on the leash is one of the most annoying. That is why I want to do my part to help as many owners as I can to teach their dogs how to walk politely on the leash. It's really very easy in most cases to literally turn your dog's behavior around. Here are two simple methods I have used for my dogs during training, and for an ex boyfriend's unruly adolescent 8-month-old American Bulldog who pulled like a freight train.

The Tree Method
With this method, you literally stand your ground like a tree. While you are walking your dog, and he begins pulling, you stop walking and don't budge at all, no matter how much he's pulling to go forward. Eventually, since he's not getting anywhere, your dog should stop and look back at you to see what's up. The moment he looks back at you, praise and treat, and continue walking. If you repeat this exercise a few times, your dog will stop pulling and turn his attention to you progressively quicker. Begin rewarding him for not only looking at you, but for leaving some slack on the leash, and then for walking closer to you instead of way out in front.

The Turn-Around Method
If the above method doesn't work for you, there is this one, which involves just turning around and walking in the other direction. Just like in the above scenario, you will walk at a normal pace until your dog starts pulling, but this time, instead of stopping, you will simply turn straight around and walk in the other direction for several steps. If your dog rushes ahead and starts pulling again, you will turn and go in another direction without warning. Eventually, your dog figures out that if he wants to get somewhere and not get pulled in the other direction, he should be paying attention to where you are going. He will begin to look at you, and at this point, you will praise and treat, and continue walking.
Both of these methods work so well, alone or in conjunction with one another, because your dog wants so badly to move forward during the walk and explore his surroundings. Many owners make the mistake of rewarding the pulling dog by giving him exactly what he wants - the act of moving forward. If we take that away and give it only when he is walking politely without pulling, then he will very quickly learn that when he walks politely, he gets to continue enjoying the walk.

As with all my other training methods, I only practice these on a regular flat buckle or martingale collar, especially since this training involves your dog's delicate neck. No choke collars!

All articles on this blog are written by Victoria Steen unless otherwise stated. They are NOT to be redistributed.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Crate - A Positive How-To

Out of all the training tools you can provide for your dog, I believe the crate is one of the most important. The crate, if properly introduced, provides a safe haven for your dog, and prevention from accidents and getting into things during house training. Dogs are naturally denning animals, and most take to the crate in a matter of days with no problems. You should begin crate training as soon as you bring a new puppy home (provided that the pup is the proper age of 8-12 weeks).

Selecting a crate is very simple. Most crates have a size and weight limit on their tag at the store, which provides a guideline. A crate should be only large enough for the dog to stand up, turn around, and lie down in. If you have a puppy, you can buy adult-size crates that have dividers, so you can adjust your pup's space as he grows. There are two types of crates for training - an airline crate, which is the plastic, enclosed crate with the metal door, or a wire crate which is simply made of metal wire. Certain people and certain dogs tend to prefer one over the other.

Introducing your dog to the crate is an important step. You want your dog to associate the crate with positive things, so that he sees it as his den - his safe place. Set your crate up in a place in your house where you spend a lot of time, that way your dog still feels like he's part of the family/pack. Leave the door open for a period of time, get your dog's attention, and begin tossing treats inside (make sure they are extra tasty treats, like pieces of hot dog or chicken!). Usually, a dog will venture into the crate for the treats. If, after a while, he does not, you can try guiding him in gently by his collar, or putting him in, for short amounts of time with the door open. Continue with the treats.

Once your dog appears to be comfortable being in the crate with the door open, try closing it for a VERY short period of time (1-5 seconds). Praise and treat, and open the door back up before the dog has a chance to become uncomfortable and make noise. Slowly increase the time that the crate door is closed (5 seconds, 10 seconds, 20 seconds, 30 seconds, etc). This may take several sessions a day, over the course of a couple of days. The time taken usually depends on your individual dog.

When the dog has become comfortable with the crate door closed, you can begin feeding him and giving him special toys, such as food-stuffed Kongs, only in his crate. At night, you might put an old article of your clothing that smells like you in with him. During the day, you might play soothing music or leave the TV on for him while he is in the crate. All this helps to make the crate a positive place to be.

NEVER use a crate as punishment. Your dog's crate is his safe place.
ALWAYS wait until your dog is quiet to let him out of the crate. This reinforces the calm behavior that you want.

If you are also using the crate in conjunction with potty training, please refer to my Potty Training Article.

All articles on this blog are written by Victoria Steen unless otherwise stated. They are NOT to be redistributed.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Emergency Homecooked Concoctions

Since my last blog, many things have changed in my life, one of which was the recent loss of my job. During this time, about a week ago, I ran completely out of dog food and had no money to get more. Luckily, I had several things in my kitchen that I was able to mix together into a concoction - my first ever attempt at home cooking for my pets. It was very successful, and got the OK from a few people I know, who also know their food stuff, so I figured I'd post it for my next emergency, and to help others out who might run out of kibble and need an emergency meal for their dogs.

1-2 cups rice (white or brown)
6 turkey necks
1 cup whole chicken hearts and gizzards
2-3 eggs
Fish or Canola oil
Vitamin E (If available)

Put rice in rice cooker, or boil on stove until done. Put turkey necks and whole chicken gizzards and hearts on a baking pan, and cook in the oven at 250-300. Check often. Remove gizzards and hearts when done and leave turkey necks to bake until cooked through. Chop gizzards and hearts into cubes, and strip meat off the turkey necks. Set aside the turkey bones. Grind up the eggs, shell and all, in a blender and cook in a pan until done. Break into little pieces. Add the turkey meat, organs, and eggs to the rice and put desired amount in food bowls. Add about 1/2 tablespoon of canola oil and some vitamin E to each food bowl, mix it up, and serve. Be sure to read the measurements on the vitamin E container before dosing.

If your dog carefully chews up any bones you give him, you may give him a turkey neck bone. However, if he gulps his food and any chew toys, throw away the turkey bones when you are done taking the meat off them.

This recipe was meant to feed both a 40 lb dog and a 27 lb dog for 2-3 days, so the amount of food it will make for your individual dog will vary, and you may need to cook more. It was eaten by both my dogs with great success, and no stomach upset, and is great for emergencies. Enjoy!

All articles on this blog are written by Victoria Steen unless otherwise stated. They are NOT to be redistributed.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Uncivilized Behavior - Who's Really the Animal Here?

Having owned dogs my whole life, and learning so much about their behavior, I was bound to notice that there are people who truely do not understand how a dog is feeling by its behavior. I've seen people scare the life out of their dogs, and all the while, the dog is performing appeasement gestures left and right out of fear, all of which are completely ignored by said owner. There have been times when I've told people, "The dog is scared," and they've denied it, because they were completely unaware of the signs.

The most recent instance of uncivilized behavior toward dogs has been toward my own dogs, which finally inspired this article. A person close to me has lately been acting unpredictably toward my dogs, which finally made me uncomfortable enough to let them know - probably not in the best way - by snapping at them, "Don't DO that!" They don't seem to understand that dogs do NOT like having random objects mock-thrown or swung at them out of jest. Dogs do NOT like being randomly jumped at or barked loudly at, and especially not a combination of the two! They do NOT like being randomly tapped roughly on the hindquarters when they're not expecting it, even if it was meant to be playful. Do these things to the wrong dog, and you're likely to have your face bitten off. In order to put this into perspective, I am going to offer a scenario, from my corgi's point of view:

You are a dog and you're a foot tall, and have grown up with giant, two-legged creatures who speak a gibberish you cannot comprehend. You are staying at a strange house with some giants you don't know very well. Suddenly, one of those giants starts swinging objects at you, tapping you roughly on your hindquarters (which to you is one of your most vulnerable spots), or jumping at you, making loud noises that you don't understand. This giant gives you NO WARNING what is about to happen. You see this as an attack. Frightened out of your mind, you run and hide under the coffee table so the giant will stop attacking you.

For the rest of the day, you are very cautious around this particular giant, walking low to the floor, holding your ears down, and giving appeasement gestures (turning your head to look away, yawning, licking your nose) in an attempt to calm this giant so maybe they will not attack you again. Suddenly, one of the times you have to walk past this giant, they randomly throw a huge shoe at you! Frightened, you duck out of the way and immediately run to hide under the coffee table, since that thwarted this giant during the last attack.

Today, at this strange giant's house, you have learned that the giant who lives here is completely unpredictable, that you should be extremely cautious at all times at this house, and that you should hide from and avoid this giant any time you can. Since your guard has been raised at this house from the stress of being attacked constantly, if you cannot escape the next attack, biting might be your best option.

If you were a dog, with such a different language and behavior setup, wouldn't you be scared to be around that particular giant if you never knew how they'd act toward you next? I sure would be! So I am writing this article in an attempt to get people to understand better that dogs view the world differently than we do. What we may think is funny or playful toward each other might scare the daylights out of a dog.

Dogs are scared by things that fly unexpectedly toward them, sudden loud noises, or people or other animals who are seemingly lunging toward them. The best way to handle a dog is GENTLY, using a normal voice. If you are holding something in your hand, it is best to refrain from suddenly swinging it toward the dog, as this scares many dogs. Even if you are playing, the dog may not think so. Suddenly tapping a dog roughly on the hindquarters is not only rude and unacceptable from the dog's point of view, but it can also be dangerous when done to a dog with a low bite threshold. It's best to call the dog to you and pet it GENTLY, when the dog is expecting it, rather than be unpredictable.

I know many people simply don't realize how rough they are being, so I hope others will read this and pass it on, for the sake of all the dogs who are being inadvertently treated in an uncivilized manner.

All articles on this blog are written by Victoria Steen unless otherwise stated. They are NOT to be redistributed.