May 2014 Pet of the Month Winner!

POTM MayCongratulations to Simo, winner of the May 2014 Pet of the Month contest on petconnection.ca. This months contest was a huge success and we couldn’t be happier with the results. Simo will now be eligible for a calendar spot and entered into a vote to be placed on the cover of Pet Connection Magazine. With 45 entries, competition was very fierce!

The June contest will be accepting submissions tomorrow! Keep an eye out on Facebook & Twitter for a link to enter! You can also check back on the contest home page for voting and entry status.

We want to thank everyone who participated in the May contest and wish you the best of luck if you choose to enter again in June. Enter early and share often for the best chances of winning!

Doorways and Dinnertimes

By Lisa Kerley

For the 15 years that I’ve been working with dogs, two notions have continued to be commonly held amongst dog owners, even though the model from which they came was discarded long ago. They are that people need to eat before dogs do and people must always proceed through doorways first.

These are routinely practiced with the belief that they clearly establish the human as ‘pack leader’. Knowing that this model is incorrect and has been replaced, should be reason enough to drop these tactics. Similar to using an earth-centered model to interpret and understand our world, our attitude and approach will be off base when we follow this outdated theory. We now know that naturally occurring canid groups don’t follow these rules, so what’s the point of us doing it? To an onlooker, the act of eating a cracker before feeding the dog somehow translating into supremacy in the household, probably seems pretty silly. Or the mere act of going through a door before your dog verifying your authority… Really?

The simple addition of some structure or routine will often change the way a dog ‘behaves’. Just as with kids, routines reduce stress because of the predictability they afford. They also allow expectations to remain consistent. These are both good things. And one canʼt deny that having some order around doorways and during feeding times is beneficial. There is also value in the opportunity to build
impulse control and provide things your dog really wants when they are willing to offer calm behavior and work with you.

Doorways

In the picture to the right, the person isnʼt really focused on what the dog is doing.

  1. Is the dog calm or excited?
  2. Is the dog responding to her and waiting, or is the handler (and the leash) doing all the work?

For the handler, itʼs all about taking that first step through the doorway. If she dropped the leash, there would be nothing stopping the dog from bolting through the door.

What if instead, we used the dogʼs interest in going through the door as a way to reinforce some attention and patience? In the picture below, the dog is calm and focusing on her handler. Will the dog get to go first, or the handler; perhaps theyʼll go through together. Whatʼs important is that the dog is waiting to get some direction and the ʻOK to goʼ. Not only is this a much safer protocol, it also develops some great behaviours. AND the leash isnʼt doing the work, the dog is.

 

 

Getting started at the doorway:
There are a few steps involved in teaching your dog to wait patiently at an open door. This is an easy way to begin the process. Remember that the point of this is to have the dog learn to wait without being prompted to. Instead you’ll wait for behavior you like.

Before you start, decide what behavior will ʻworkʼ for your dog to open the door. If they get excited easily and find it difficult to settle, you may want to start with just some quiet and four-on-the-floor. You may be able to hold out for a sit the first time – this will depend on your dog.

With your dog on leash stand in front of the closed door. Wait to see what your dog does. He may try a variety of behaviours, such as jumping, barking or pawing. Remain quiet until he offers the behavior you want.

As soon as he does, Voila! – the door opens and you can release him to go through – “Letʼs go!”

 

 

 

Dinner times

So youʼve probably already guessed that, as with the doorways, Iʼm going to tell you to drop the “eat something firstʼ routine. Youʼre right! A better choice is once again to help your dog develop some impulse control and offer polite behavior for things they want. Perhaps youʼre thinking proudly “My dog already does. I ask him to sit before every meal”. Thatʼs a great start, but thereʼs an important part missing. The dog offering a polite sit.


The difference between physically restraining your dog using a leash and having him exhibit impulse control, is pretty apparent. You may be thinking however, whatʼs the difference between asking for sits and waiting for your dog to offer them? By waiting for the dog to offer behavior:

  1. your dog has to think about whatʼs happening
  2. this will help him be in a calmer, less reactive state
  3. he will develop some impulse control – a vital skill
  4. heʼll make choices and offer behaviour to get what he wants

This is completely different than a dog that is prompted or made to do something. You and your equipment shouldn’t be making all the effort. If that’s the case, there’s no need for your dog to develop impulse control or manners. Itʼs like having a 30-year-old child that still needs to be reminded to say ʻpleaseʼ and ʻthank youʼ. Thereʼs an added bonus – the need to nag your dog will be greatly reduced too!

Want to give it a try? Hereʼs how:

Decide what you would like your dog to do at mealtimes – being quiet and fouron-the-floor, for example.

Begin your normal routine of preparing dinner, paying attention to your dog through each step. We want to show him that calm and polite behavior works right from the beginning, not just when you’re about to put the food dish on the floor.

As long as he remains calm you can continue. 

If he begins barking or jumping at any point, calmly without saying anything, cease preparation and pause until he calms down again. You may even need to leave the area to help him settle. As soon as he settles, begin again.

In the early stages, you will most likely have to stop and start a number of times. That’s OK. Your dog is having to work through the challenge of figuring out how to make you continue, along with dealing with some frustration. He’ll also be developing some impulse control, so it’s worth your time.

Once you make it to actually having food in the dish and are ready to give it to your dog, pause and WAIT for him to sit. If you’ve been asking for it at mealtimes already, it might not take long before he chooses to do it on his own. Either way, it’s important that you let him figure it out. When he does, quickly put the food down and tell him how great he is.

You can take solace in the fact that one client took 42 minutes to give their dog dinner the first time they tried this. Breakfast the next morning took 90 seconds. Your patience will pay off. Remember that the value of this lies in the dog needing to think about what to do and offering it, rather than just being told what to do.

So it’s time to dump those out-of-date habits. You can eat first, allow your dog through doorways and still have a great relationship and a well-mannered dog.

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Back To The Basics: Impulse Control

By Valerie Barry, KPA-CTP
When I think about all the dogs I meet and work with on a regular basis, there is a common basic skill that many dogs seem to be lacking – impulse control. Lacking impulse control could be defined as lacking the skill to resist the temptation for immediate reward and generally lack patience or willpower.

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Impulse control is not something that humans are born with and dogs are no different. We need to learn impulse control as we grow up and mature and we also need to teach our dogs impulse control as they grow up and mature. I think it’s an important basic skill and developing impulse control is a big focus in our puppy and early adolescent group classes. We design all of our classroom exercises to help develop impulse control in some way.
Two prominent examples where a lack of impulse control can be very evident in dogs is greeting people and walking on leash.

“How can I get my dog to quit jumping on people?” is a common question from clients. As with everything I talk about, taking a proactive approach is always the first step. If you have an untrained or rambunctious adolescent or young adult, do not put them in situations they are not yet skilled enough to handle. Don’t wait for the problem and then react to it – set your dog up for success by making the right answer an easier one. So to be proactive, don’t let your dog get close enough to people to jump on them. Keep him at a distance so he doesn’t get reinforced for behaviour you don’t like. It’s your job to be an advocate for your dog – ask people to keep their distance while you’re training your dog. If people still insist on coming closer to pet your dog, just turn and leave – they are not helping you and they are not helping your dog! Basic training 101: behaviour that continues to be reinforced randomly will get stronger.

The next step is to do some training and change that behaviour!

You can turn the approach of people into a cue for your dog to either sit and be calm or to simply be calm and keep his feet on the ground. It would be nice for your dog to learn to do this on his own without the need for constant prompting.

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Here’s a simple beginning exercise we teach in our classes:“4 on the Floor”

  • Tether your dog by his leash to a tether spot or have a helper hang on to the end of his leash.
  • Cue your dog that you are about to start working: “Ready?!”
  • Approach your dog at a fairly slow speed, stop beyond his reach and wait for him to calm down and have 4 feet on the ground. Click and toss him a treat.
  • Repeat this many times until he is easily able to remain calm while you approach.
  • Once he is has mastered this, begin to change your approach in some way – (1) approach from a different angle, (2) approach at different speeds, (3) come in a bit closer, (4) add some enthusiastic chatter, etc.
  • Practice this exercise with everyone in the family taking a turn approaching your dog.
  • The next step is to practice this with you holding the leash and standing beside your dog while other people approach. Start with family and people familiar to your dog to make the initial training easier.
  • Make sure you end each exercise by letting your dog know you are finished working together: “All Done!”

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My goal is to have my dog calmly sitting beside me while I chat with someone I’ve met on the street. If my dog likes people and someone is interested in petting him, that can happen after he remains calm and keeps his feet on the ground and I’ve given the ok!

One rule I have for people I encounter on the street – I do not allow people to feed or offer food to my dog. You should be the only one offering the treat when you’re working on your dog’s be- haviour. It does not help create a friendly dog when you have strangers offer them food. It can be scary for dogs who are shy or worried about people, and you simply do not want your dog to think that everyone carries food for him. You can easily create a bigger problem than you have now!

Another clear display of a lack of impulse control is poor leash walking skills.
What defines poor leash walking skills? Dogs who are pulling, barking and lunging at dogs or people, darting in front or behind you to chase a squirrel, endlessly sniffing, and often ignoring most if not all of your attempts to change their behaviour!
While there are a lot of tools on the market that are designed to make it easier to walk a dog, it is our job to teach our dogs how to properly walk on leash without the need for lifetime assis- tance. Training tools like no-pull harnesses are great but are designed to help control the for- ward momentum of a strong dog until you are able to teach them how to walk politely on leash. Then the tool should no longer be necessary and a comfortable, well-fitting body harness can ideally be used. Dogs who learn to walk nicely on leash are dogs who are doing a job – the job of polite leash walking. They are thinking, and keeping one part of their brain on what they’re doing and one part on what you’re doing – are you turning, are you slowing down or speeding up? Dogs who are doing their jobs are calmer, more confident, less aroused and much more engaged with their leash walking partners – that would be you, at the other end of the leash!Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 2.53.02 PM

Dogs seem to think that pulling gets them somewhere and indeed it does – if you let it! The easiest and most profound consequence you can apply is to simply stop moving. Proactively, there are many things you can do to teach your dog that the presence of the leash does not mean “move as fast as you can until something stops you”. It would be better if the presence of the leash meant “stay close to me” or “no pressure”.

Here’s a simple exercise that we often recommend as a good starting point to change how your dogs walks on leash:

  • In your living room or another quiet room in your house, have ready a clicker (or use a verbal marker) and some very tiny, very yummy treats.
  • Get your dog’s attention, pick up his leash and hold it loosely in your hand but do not attach it to your dog.
  • Give him a cue that you are about to begin working – “Ready?!”.
  • Begin clicking (or marking) and treating your dog rapidly for simply remaining with you while you stand still holding his leash in one hand.
  • After about 10 clicks and treats, take a few steps and continue clicking and treating while your dog remains with you.
  • Move slowly about the room and continue to click and treat rapidly as long as your dog re- mains with you.
  • After about 10 minutes end the session – give your dog a release cue – “All Done!” And put down your leash.

Do this same exercise in other parts of your house, yard or other confined areas and see if you can keep your dog with you without having his leash attached.You can make the exercise more fun for your dog by changing speeds and directions frequently.
Our goal is for the leash to become a cue to “stay with me” – not just a physical tether he is un- able to get away from.

How do you think your dog’s impulse control is? Are there some areas that you could improve upon? Do you find yourself saying “Down!”, “Off!”, “No!” a lot?! As you move forward in your training with your dog, focus on areas where your dog can learn some new skills to help him be more polite and pleasant to hang out with. As always, keep it positive and keep it fun!