Pawsibilities NY

Author: Erica Lieberman

The Importance of Feeding Your Pet on a Schedule

The Importance of Feeding Your Pet on a ScheduleI want to start by saying that the following does not apply if your veterinarian has given you other instructions based on your dog’s health, age and/or size. This article applies to the average, healthy, house-dog.

While you may have heard different things regarding feeding, I find it is very important to feed your dog on a set schedule, usually two feedings a day, and do not leave the food out for your dog to “free feed” or graze as she chooses. Some may tell you to feed your dog on a schedule to help prevent resource guarding, and to show that you bring the food, so you are the “boss,” or “in charge,” but the truth is those are not the best reasons for a feeding schedule.

The first reason most closely relates to my previous blog about Separation Anxiety. Again separation anxiety is probably the hardest behavioral problem to correct in dogs. Feeding on a schedule will allow you to know when your dog is most hungry. If your dog can eat all day and just eat three pieces of kibble here, and three pieces of kibble there, it will be much more difficult to pin point a time when she is hungry. If we know when our dog is hungry we can use this to our advantage in so many ways. For separation purposes we can feed our dog before we leave so she has something to look forward to, instead of something to worry about. If your dog free feeds she will likely just not eat while you are not home. Feed your dog her food, and leave your house for a little while; five minutes, and then come back in, and take the food away, even if your dog has not finished. This way she is learning that she should work on that food while you are gone, because it isn’t always around! This is a good activity for the weekends when owners tend to have more time, it is not necessary to leave each time you feed your dog.

If you are trying to house train your puppy or adult dog, having them eat on a schedule will make this process so much easier! Your dog will be on a more regular potty schedule if she is on a regular feeding schedule. Most dogs will got to the bathroom in a certain amount of time after they eat or drink, and if you are consistent with this, then your dog will be too!

When training your dog it is important to be reinforcing the training with rewards that your dog sees as high value. If your dog is eating on a schedule, you could delay the meal prior to a training session to ensure that food is an even higher reward. You can feed your dog dinner after the training is over.

If you plan to, or already have, young children, feeding on a schedule will also help during that “exploring” phase that most toddlers have. If you leave your dog’s food out all the time, then your crawling baby will likely find his way to the bowl at some point, and what he will do with it… well I won’t even try to think of all of the fun things a toddler could do with dog food, not to mention eating it—gross! If your dog eats on a schedule you can more easily monitor her while she eats so the food does not become a toy for your child.

If you have a dog that may be getting up there in years, skipping a meal can be a sign of a serious health issue, if you aren’t really sure when your dog eats, or even how much because there is always a full bowl, how will you know if she has stopped eating? It won’t be clear to you as quickly as a person who knows when their dog eats; this will make it easier to tell a vet exactly when the last time her appetite seemed normal. This could save your dog’s life! When a dog has an obstructions she often will stop eating because she is uncomfortable, and the sooner you realize this, the better the prognosis.

If you are already free feeding your dog I would recommend a gradual change over the course of a week. Choose the times you will be feeding your dog, and take away her kibble the night before you will begin. The next morning give your dog her food at the set time and let her have it for 10/15 minutes. After that time take the food away, but don’t throw it away yet. Put it somewhere she won’t smell it like the fridge. Wait another 5/10 minutes and give it back to her for 5/10 minutes. After this second try you can throw the food away. Your dog will eat when she is hungry, she may just need to build an appetite and get used to the new schedule. Repeat these steps for your dog’s second meal of the day, and as needed throughout the week.

I hope that I have convinced you, because just like it would not be good for us to eat all day long, it is not good for your dog, and feeding her on a schedule will help improve her house training, behavior and even health!

By in Training Philosophy 0

I Am a Treat Trainer

I Am a Treat TrainerWhen I was 11 my dream came true! I was in the car with my father, who is an orthopedist, so he had a cell phone, before I knew anyone else had one, but it was huge and you could always hear both sides of the conversation. Our family’s dear friend, the late Howard S. Kessler D.V.M. called my father to let him know that he had gotten his parents a corgi puppy as a gift, but they had decided after their last dog had passed, they wanted to travel. They were not eager to keep the pup if another home could be found. I couldn’t control myself, I was screaming at the top of my lungs that I was getting a Corgi puppy! A true dream come true for an 11 year old equestrian!

“Max” came to us less than a week later. He was perfect in my eyes in every way! He was a four month old Pembroke Welsh Corgi, he was fawn and white with a perfect lucky thumb print on the top of his head. I loved him from the moment I laid eyes on him! My mother told me if I wanted a dog I had to train (thank goodness she did!) So she took me to the book store and we picked out a dog training book. To this day i wish I knew exactly which one, but it was 1993, and the majority of people were training their dogs using choke chains. Somehow amongst all the other books we found one book that was a lure-reward book, and we weren’t even looking for it! We honestly just picked it because it wasn’t very long and had a lot of pictures showing how to train a dog to do specific things, while the other books were written descriptions.

I trained Max all his basic commands using his food and our bond was quite strong. He used to sleep back to back in bed with me, and I woke up every morning to walk him before I went to school. I loved him with all my heart, he was my best friend. Even though I loved him so, I still did stupid things; I was kid! I definitely put him in his crate when I was mad at him, and he definitely did not think of it as a happy place. I also thought a fun game was to chase him around my mother’s bed barking at him. I always thought he thought this was a lot of fun, but looking back I do realize it was probably quite stressful for him.

I know Max had his behavioral issues, but I can say as an educated dog trainer and behaviorist that his issues all stemmed from our lack of knowledge and using punishment as an easy solution. Unfortunately these choices had negative fall out, for example, even once Max was older and it would have been a lot easier to transport him to and from the vet in his crate, but he hated it, and it only caused more stress. Thank goodness he never had a serious injury and had to be confined. Don’t get me wrong, Max was a great dog with much more going for him, than against, but I just want to point out that our decisions on punishment had a lasting affect throughout his life, long after we used his crate for punishment.

Today I truly believe that part of the reason I am a dog trainer, besides Max, is that book. I love animals and always have, I think if I had tried training Max using forceable methods it would have upset me terribly, and I doubt he would have ever learned his commands, or I would be doing this today! There is nothing like the relationship that I built with that dog, and this is why today, I am a treat trainer; and when I work with my clients, I work to make them treat trainers too!

Too many people now a-days believe their dog is trying to “dominate” them, or they need to show him who is boss. I was 11 years old when I trained my dog, not only would it be very wrong for me to have ever tried alpha rolling Max, but it would have been incredibly dangerous. Even if you are an adult, why would you want to risk something that could potentially result in pain for both you and your dog?

Some people might think that treat training doesn’t stick with dogs, or it is an easy way out, but I can honestly say that using treats effectively is the same thing as using punishment effectively; without the negative fall out. If you train with treats properly you can, and should fade them to become sporadic life rewards as your dog knows the behaviors you are looking for. I can’t even say how many times I have seen people who use a prong collar for their dog’s entire life, or complain that their dog only behaves with their shock collar on. This is the same problem as a dog who only responds when you have food in your hands, it means training, or punishment has been used ineffectively. The difference is if you use treats ineffectively, the most serious risk you run is an obese dog, and while this not something that should be ignored it is far less serious than when punishment is misused. When punishment is misused you can teach your dog to hate children, other dogs or even their own leash. Negative associations can happen in one trial, all it takes is one choke chain jerk in the presence of a child to forever change your dog’s mind about children.

I am a treat trainer because it is a scientific fact that we can change a dog’s conditioned emotional response using food. We can follow something your dog finds unpleasant with his favorite things and hopefully through counter conditioning we can make this thing less unpleasant. So you can try your choke chains first, and then I can tell you to prepare yourself for a lifetime of treats at the ready to counter condition anything you have trained your dog to hate with your leash jerks. But that sounds like an awful lot of work! Perhaps trying the treats first isn’t so bad?

I am a treat trainer who believes that sometimes punishment is necessary, but I will say that punishment is never necessary for something you have not trained and proofed with your dog! This means that it is not ok to jerk your dog on a prong collar for pulling on leash, if you have never even taught him that you want him to walk by your side. I will never say that the use of painful punishment is necessary, so I will never condone the use of a prong collar, but sometimes punishment is necessary. Punishment should never be harmful or scary, and if you have to use the punishment more that a few times, it isn’t working. The definition of punishment is to lessen behavior, so if the behavior isn’t decreasing, than your punishment isn’t working, it is that simple. Even if you are shocking your dog every time he does something wrong, and he keeps doing it, the punishment is not effective, and really cannot be classified as punishment, it is really harassment.

I am a treat trainer who has a rescue dog who could be described as not that food motivated. Guess what? I can still find things that she is excited about! I have to be more creative than some other dog owners, but I can certainly find things she is eager to work for, such as bacon. You don’t need to jump to bacon if your dog will take treats but the point is there will be a point where your dog is hungry enough, and the reward is good enough to strike his fancy.

I am a treat trainer who has used to treats to train dogs to sit, down, stand, look, stay, come, leave it, drop it, take it, find it, heel, speak, quiet, hand target, retrieve, give paw, high five, roll over, play dead, on your side, stick ‘em up, bow, crawl, ride a skateboard, put his head in a person’s lap, walk with a wheelchair, alert a deaf owner to doorbells, and other alarms, signal a visually impaired person to safety, stay home alone comfortably, get used to his crate, not bark at the doorbell, walk nicely on leash, not be shy or anxious about strangers, to get along with other animals such as cats, to adjust to a new baby, or get used to a wobbly and unpredictable toddler, not to chase squirrels, or bark at traffic, and even counter act aggression against people, children and other animals.

I am a treat trainer and nothing will ever change my mind about that!

Teaching Your Dog a Reliable Recall

Teaching Your Dog a Reliable RecallWhat does recall mean when it pertains to dog training? Don’t worry, you don’t have to send your dog back to the factory! Recall is the fancy word dog trainers use to explain the behavior of coming when called.

Teaching your dog to come when called is very important, in fact it could be the most important cue you teach your dog. This cue could save your dog’s life, end a possible dog fight and especially bring you peace of mind when you are in an appropriate place to have your dog off leash.

How do you teach your dog to come when you call him? Remember CPR Cue, Praise, Reward; as this is always the best way to teach your dog a new cue. Choose the cue you want to use for your recall. If you aren’t sure check out our Five Rules to a Reliable Recall. I like to start indoors, with little distraction and I usually keep the dog on a 6 foot leach. Put the loop of the leash onto your wrist, or belt, and have some very tasty treats in your pocket or treat pouch close by, but not in your hands. Once you are set up this way you are ready for the warm up.

For the warm up start by getting your dog interested in you. Do this by doing some of his favorite things, be careful not to do things you love to do to your dog, these are fine for affection time, but not for our recall. You can test this out by petting and scratching your dog in different places and just see if he tends to move away from you or closer, for the areas he moves closer, these are his favorites! Once your dog is very interested in you, back up a few steps, about the length of the leash, say your recall word, only once, and if your dog is happily following along praise, and then reward with a tasty treat. If your dog doesn’t come along with you, try to stay low and make some movement such as tapping the ground. The warm up should almost seem silly because it should be that easy for your dog to get right! Do several of these short easy recalls so your dog can warm up his recall. Use your warm up anytime you are in a new environment, to ensure a
reliable recall.

Once you are getting it, you can add some distance. At this point you may want to use a fixed length long leash, 15-30 feet. These leashes are great for teaching a dog his recall, but use caution as they can be thin, you may want to consider wearing gloves when using one, or even buying a horse lunge line to use because these tend to be thicker, but are the right length. Don’t use your “stay” cue to try and increase distance, because if we ask our dog to stay and walk away and call him to come we are weakening our stay cue. Instead drop some treats on the floor, or practice with two people so one can help distract. Call your dog to come to you by saying your recall word only once and then encouraging your pup to come with fun noises, or tapping on the floor. A dog’s vision is attracted to motion so this will help, but try to make sure the movement is nice and low, don’t just clap your hands at full height because it will likely be out of the dog’s vision range.

Don’t ever chase your dog; let him learn to chase you. As you increase the distance for your recall, if your dog is dawdling to come over to you, run away a few feet, but be excited and make it a game so your dog speeds up to chase you and finishes his recall.

The final key to a great recall is to be sure you praise as soon as your dog even starts to get this right. Your praise should be very powerful to your dog at this point, especially if you have been training using CPR, because your praise is always followed by rewards. Try to think of practicing recalls like a game of hot and cold. If your dog isn’t facing you and sniffing the ground away from you: COLD, if your dog even looks your way, WARMER, so give him a little praise, as soon as he looks your way tell him “Good Boy” and see if he continues to come your way, if he does it means he is getting warmer and warmer so up your praise along with what he is doing. If at any point he veers off path, then stop praising, but as soon as he starts to get it right again praise again, and as soon as he gets to you, HOT! Shower him with rewards.

Finally don’t forget that part of your recall will usually include clipping on a leash or putting on a collar, so practice grabbing the leash and collar and clipping them on and off along with your training. This way your dog won’t come to you, but then run away when you try to put the leash on. It is always best to end with the treat, so clip on the leash and then give your dog a treat. This is the idea of the good follows the bad, if the leash is the bad because it is ending the fun, follow it with some tasty chicken and it won’t be so bad! Practice your recall every single day, and try practicing in different places adding distance and distractions. You only need to practice for five minutes, we all have a spare five minutes, and it could save your dog’s life so it will be the best five minutes you have ever spent!

Dogs and Cats: Overcoming the Myth

For me, there has only been a very short portion of my life when I did not have both cats and dogs living together in my home.  I can also say, I have never seen a dog attack a cat, in my own home.  I don’t think I am a magician or a “whisperer” I just think that the myth is quite a bit off…

First of all some dog breeds are more drive-y than others; they are bred and raised to chase and catch small, fast moving animals, and cats fit that description.  It isn’t often that a dog is specifically going for the other animal because it is a cat, but rather because it is a small, fast moving animal.  These breeds will of course make the relationship a bit more challenging, but it is still not impossible if you are committed to working on it!

When first introducing a dog and cat it can be a good idea to have the cat in a plastic crate where he is safe and can’t scratch through the bars.  We are trying to keep the cat and the dog safe, remember that cats can harm dogs too, it doesn’t only go one way!  Next I would say that it is unfair to test a declawed cat with a dog.  The cat has no way to defend itself and it also will have a harder time getting away, as jumping and grabbing onto things are much harder for declawed cats.  Of course I think that declawing is completely inhumane and unacceptable, if you happen to have a rescue who was declawed before you got him, it might be best to only have him around dogs who you know to be good with cats.

I also want to be sure there are plenty of places the cat can jump up to, to get away from the dog.  Depending on the size of the dog this will be more or less difficult; if you have small dog, having some high shelves, or a cat tree will work, but if you have a bigger, more agile dog, you might need to be sure there is higher ground that only the cat can get to.  you can do this by buying some shelves and lining them with carpet so the cat can jump up to them.

Another good tool for the introduction is a Thundershirt.  I find the Thundershirt to be very effective for dogs being introduced to new animals.  I also like Rescue Remedy and Pet Natural’s of Vermont Calming biscuits for both dogs and cats.  Don’t try to hold your cat because when he decides he wants to get away, he needs to be able to do so and he could scratch or harm you in the process.

Once you have gotten over the initial introduction, you will still want to make sure you supervise the dog and cat while they are together, and separate them when you leave.  I like to keep a pot of water handy because this will safely break up a fight if one should occur between the dog and cat, and while it might make your floor wet, it will do no other damage.  Another option is to have a Pet Corrector handy.  These are powerful air cans that make a loud and startling noise and can break up a fight.  Please do not point the Pet Corrector at your pets-ever.

If your dog is having trouble with your cat then I like to use a clicker to help the situation.  If your dog barks at or lunges at your cat then I would start by warming up the clicker (see: What Is Clicker Training?).

Next I would keep the dog and cat at a safe distance, even with a baby gate between them if you need it for safety.  You want your dog to be counter conditioned and desesnsitzed to your cat.  Desensitization happens by exposing the dog to the cat in very small, non threatening ways, so distance and gates, or even a leash can help with this.  Counter conditioning is the good following the bad; so for your dog the cat is the bad, choose her favorite treat to be the good, and anytime your dog looks at the cat and doesn’t lunge, bark or do something naughty, click and treat!  The tasty food treats should come quickly in the beginning.  Little by little you can allow the dog to look at the cat for longer periods before earning the click and treat.  If you happen to push it a little too far and your dog does react, then take a break and try again later.  We want the dog to learn that the presence of the cat earns her treats, but only if she behaves.

You could also teach your dog cues such as “leave it” and “stay” and then add the cat to these cues as a distraction.  We of course want to teach new behaviors with no distractions, and then slowly add them in, so work slowly up to being able to do these things with distractions, and eventually your cat.

Dogs often make their own decisions if not helped out with the process, and sometimes they make the wrong choices!  By teaching them what you actually want: a stay or a leave it, they can actually understand the behavior you are looking for, making it much more likely they will listen.  After all your dog can’t be expected to “stay” away from the cat, or “leave it” to the cat if she has never been taught these things!

I have never had problems with cats and dogs living in harmony together, and I truly don’t believe it is because I am special, I believe it because I take some time to understand both dogs and cats, and their needs, and I do my best to provide that.  Dogs need to be shown what we are looking for, otherwise they tend to bark, jump, lunge and play; they are dogs, it’s what they do and one of the reasons we love them!  But cats don’t love this sort of behavior, especially from an animal that tends to be much bigger than them.  Cats need to be provided with a safe and easy escape, because if they have the escape they will likely use it, but if they have to fight the dog, they will do so, and trust me, sometimes the dog is the one who needs a trip to the vet after these interactions!  If you simply teach your dog how to behave around your cats, and provide your cats with safety; you will likely see your dogs and cats can live harmoniously together.

“But It’s Working…”

“But It’s Working…”

I have found that a lot of dog owners try a lot of different things to get desired behaviors. Let’s face it, we all try to figure things out for ourselves, so we might turn to a friend who’s dog behaves in a manner more like what we had hoped for when we got a dog, or you might turn to the fun exciting world of the internet search. Either way you you will likely find answers that either don’t apply to your dog, or sound good to you, but in reality aren’t actually changing the behavior.

All dogs are different; and even if your good friend’s dog did once bark when guests came in, and he was able to correct this behavior; it does not mean the method used will work for your dog, or even if it does work, it could have negative side effects. You should be very weary of quick fixes and short cuts, as they might end up causing more undesirable behaviors in place of the old one.

It is important to consider that your dog is highly intelligent and if she is behaving in a way that seems unruly, dangerous or even just annoying to you, it is important to think about what result you would like to have if you confront the problem. Are you only looking to stop an unwanted behavior, or do you actually want to confront the reason the problem exists and change your dog’s feelings about it, so that her emotions behind the behavior can also change.

“Suppressed behavior is not changed behavior…” Victoria Stilwell

If your dog barks while you are not home, your goal might only be to make your dog be quiet while you are not home, you might not even consider the deeper anxiety that is causing this barking, and you might go to the pet store and buy a citronella collar, or other anti-bark device. In some cases you might even get the result you were looking for; you put the collar on your dog and go off to work, and you don’t hear any barking, and you don’t come home to any complaints. Unfortunately you have not dealt with the core of the behavior; the anxiety, and you have now added a tool that sprays or punishes your dog while you aren’t home, you are only adding to this anxiety. If you are lucky it might end here, and you might think that anti bark device or collar really works, and now you might become that neighbor or person who freely recommends these tools. But for a lot of people this is not where this will end. Because you are not addressing the issue, the anxiety could lead to far worse things. The two specific examples I see most often will be dogs who become so anxious from this that they simply cannot hold their bowels or bladder, and as soon as you leave they go to the bathroom all over the house, crate and/or safe area. The other example I see a lot will be a dog who looks for items to chew in place of the barking and to help ease the anxiety. These dogs not only cause great damage to household items, moldings and walls, but they are also at great risk to swallow foreign objects and have an obstruction that can end up needing surgery.

If your dog pulls on leash and you go into a pet store and pick up a big strong prong collar and think to yourself; “this will work!” Then you begin to walk your dog on the collar and every time she pulls you jerk that prong collar and like magic she seems to fall right back into place by your side… for a little while, maybe 3 steps before she is out in front again, and you jerk her back and think “this is working!” I encourage you to realize that if that collar were actually training your dog to walk by your side, you should only need to use it for a few days, but if it translates to a lifetime of wearing the prong collar, it is not changing your dog’s behavior and it is basically just harassment.

While training dogs people use one or more of the four quadrants of operant conditioning: Positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment and negative punishment. The first thing to learn is that the positive and negative in these quadrants don’t apply to good and bad, but instead to adding and taking away. Reinforcement is something likely to increase behavior, while the definition of punishment is to lessen behavior. If you are using the prong collar to stop your dog from pulling, you are trying to use the prong as punishment to lessen the behavior of pulling. If everyday you wake up and have to put that collar on that dog and jerk that leash back 5, 10, 15 times while on your walk, every walk; you are not lessening the behavior of pulling. Your punishment is not working, so you should seriously consider a different method. If you want to use punishment based methods with your dog, then at least understand them; understand that if it is working the punisher should be able to be faded and the behavior should cease; otherwise it is not working; plain and simple.

Another thing to consider about punishment is the negative fall out that can come with it. Even if you are still convinced your prong collar jerks are working, you have to be very careful about what those “corrections” might accompany, and how that might change the way your dog feels about certain things. If your dog gets jerked on the prong while a child approaches him on the street, it might only take two or three times before your dog thinks the child approaching is what causes the jerk on the prong collar, and thus she might no longer like children, she might even be afraid of children now if she is afraid of the pain of the prong being accompanied with their presence, and this could result in an aggressive outburst one day. Remember punishment lessens behavior, so if your dog happily runs up to a child and punished by your prong, she will stop happily approaching children.

If your dog is showing undesirable behaviors it is important first go see your vet, and explain the problems you have been seeing. Dogs can have pain, tooth aches, or even hypothyroidism which all can be contributing to their behavior. It isn’t fair to implement any training plan unless the dog is healthy!

It is also important to look at the big picture, if your dog is acting up, don’t just stop the behavior, but get to the core of the reason for the behavior, because if you do you can change the emotions behind the behavior so it doesn’t return or manifest is more difficult ways. If you find yourself using short cuts, or methods you have learned about from a friend of friend, and you think to yourself; “but it’s working…” I encourage you to strongly consider if it is actually working for your dog!

Know Your Dog’s Body Language, Know Your Dog!

It is so important to understand your dog’s body language; I can’t tell you how many people I have heard say that they have had dogs their entire life, and in the same breath say something about how the dog is wagging his tail so he must be happy.  How can you have an animal for so much of your life, and not even understand the basics of dog body language?  If you know and truly understand your dog’s body language, you will be able to help ensure the safety and well being of your dog, as well as the people around him, in all different situations.

Let’s start with the previous example; tail wagging.  When your dog wags his tail it is because of adrenaline.  Just like humans while adrenaline is coursing through your dog he can be feeling a lot of different emotions.  If we have a surge in our adrenaline it oculd be because we just won the big race, and we are feeling happy and accomplished, but we can also have this same surge if we are driving and the car in front of us slams on the breaks and we need to pull to the side to avoid an accident.  Even though it is the same adrenaline, the emotions we are feeling are very different, and this is the same for your dog while he wags his tail.  As Grisha Stewart points out on the very first page of her book The Official Ahimsa Training Manual:

“A wagging tail means that a dog is excited, that there is adrenaline coursing through the dog’s veins.  A wagging tail goes with both happy and unhappy emotions.”

Usually a spiraling tail is a happy dog, try to take note of your dog’s tail the next time you come from being gone all day; if it looks like a helicopter propeller that’s your dog’s happy tail!  A tail that is high and stiff and wagging fast, sometimes called flagging, this usually means your dog is aroused, or anxious.  Low and slow wagging can mean a weary dog, and of course a tucked non wagging tail is a scared dog.

Next I find that three of the most obvious behaviors your dog will do are often explained away by owners as being caused by something else.  Yawning, lip licking and shaking off are all three examples of appeasement behaviors, that can sometimes mean other things.  If your dog just woke up and she yawns, she probably isn’t stressed, but if a noisy scooter roars by and your dog yawns, this is likely a stress sign.  Same goes for licking her lips; if your dog is licking her lips while you prepare her dinner, probably just fine, but if she licks her lips when your little cousins give her hugs, then she is probably stressed about this.  Shaking off as if your dog were covered in water; completely normal when she is all wet, but not if is after a friend pets your dog.  You will often see your dog do the stress shake off after being examined by the vet.  I usually call it “getting the yuckies off.”  And it does exactly that; allows your dog to “shake off” some of the stress they are feeling.

If a situation is very different for your dog, a new vet, dog park or home, then it is a good idea to recognize your dog’s posture.  Is she standing confidently with her tail up?  Or she holding her body lower to the ground?  She might even be all out cowering, hold her head and over height very close to the ground.  If she is doing this, she is likely afraid and it best to try to remove her from this situation.

If your dog’s posture is fine, but you are still concerned she could be nervous, then next you should look at your dog’s face, eyes and brow.  Is she panting even though it is not hot?  Are her eye darting or avoiding you?  Is her brow furrowed and wrinkled?  All these signs may also mean your dog is feeling anxious.

Finally you should check for a piloerection which is when the hair along your dog’s spine, the hackles, stands up on end.  There are usually two levels of this, if the hair is only raised between the shoulder blades this usually means the dog is excited, and if the hair is raised all the way along the spine to the tail, the dog is likely nervous and becoming too aroused, if you see this in a dog park it is a good time to step in, or redirect your dog.

Dr. Sophia Yin has some great free downloads on her website including a poster displaying most body language signs in your dog.  I find it to be very useful tool.  You can download it here:  http://info.drsophiayin.com/free-poster-on-body-language-in-dogs/

If you want to learn more about your dog’s body language, another great rsource is Sarah Kalnajs’ “The Language of Dogs” DVD. http://www.dogwise.com/itemdetails.cfm?ID=DTB875P

It is important to know the signs that a situation might be too much for your dog, after feeling stress and anxiety is not fun for anyone, especially your dog.  Take note of how she reacts to different people and things, and something seems to cause stress for your dog, either do your best to avoid those situations or consult a local certified dog trainer to help your dog over come these anxieties.  Dogs communicate mostly through body language, so learn to be fluent in their language so that you can understand and provide your dog with what she needs.  Your dog will thank you for it with big circular tail wags!

The Importance of Choosing a Certified Dog Trainer

There are a lot of professions that exist with no formal training or certification required, and dog training is one of them.  There are several that surprise me; as a horseback rider I am often surprised there is no formal certification, or anything really, needed to call yourself a horseback riding coach, or trainer.  This profession may involve you putting someone’s 10 year old child onto a two-ton animal, and you could have no formal training or education what-so-ever.  It is a scary thought, but the same is true for therapists, and many other professions that could easily cause a great deal of emotional and physical harm and pain to the client, when mishandled.  I can’t say how often I encounter this in my own profession; dogs who have worked someone who is under-qualified and uneducated.  Not to mention, I hear of several trainers who are dishonest about their qualifications, and, consequently they have made behaviors much worse.

There are several certification boards for dog training, and the one or ones that should be important to you, depend on the kind of training you need or want.  There are also different affiliations trainers can have, that aren’t certifications, but instead show that a trainer has been accepted to participate with certain dog training groups and organizations.  These can also be helpful to let you know if a trainer keeps up with other current trainers, and education.

The first certification that is helpful to most dog owners seeking a trainer is the CCPDT; the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers.  They do offer two certifications, the CPDT: Certified Pet Dog Trainer, and the CBCC: the Certified Behavior Consultant-Canine.  These each have two sub sets, the KA and the KSA the KA is the Knowledge Assessed, meaning to earn this you had to, among other things, take a written test.  The KSA is the Knowledge and Skills Assessed, meaning that you have completed the KA requirements, and also sent in videos of your dog training to be analyzed by a grading committee.

The next certification that is helpful if you are seeking training for behavior modification is the IAABC: The International Association for Animal Behavior Consultants.  This certification requires a long application and essay testing portion.  This requires knowledge of the science of how dogs learn, and how best to modify behaviors such aggression, fear and anxiety.  The certification process require a certain amount of hours wokring specifically on behavioral cases, as well as 5 written case studies.  If you are looking to work on something a bit more serious than obedience; this is an important certification.

Another great option is the VSPDT: Victoria Stilwell’s Positively Dog Trainer.  This is a great certification because you can be sure you are working with a licensed, insured company that will only employ force-free, pain-free, positive methods.  Victoria’s certification requires proof of insurance, 8 references, training videos, and an interview with Victoria Stilwell.  There are are other reputable trainers who offer certifications for people who complete training work shops with them, and various other requirements.  Some of these include Karen Pryor training certifications, Pat Miller certifications, and even the SPCA of San Francisco has a very reputable program for dog trainers.   Some of these are very specific to a technique, such as grisha Stewart’s CBATI: Certified Behavior Adjustment Training Instructor, which would be a very helpful certificaion if you are struggling with leash reactivity, or fear and anxiety issues.  All of these are a bit more specific, but show that the trainer is continue his or her education inna responsible manner!

Some of the group affiliations that can be helpful for your dog trainer to have include being an AKC CGC: American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen Evaluator, as well as the PPG: Pet Professionals Guild Professional Member.  These have less strong stipulations to join, as far as testing, but still show a dog trainer who is participating in the community and is likely to be more up to date on the newest training methods and learning theory.  PPG is very strict to only allow force free trainers into their group so it is a great resource to find trainers, groomers, vets and boarding.

APDT Professional Member: The APDT is the Association for Professional Dog Trainers, is a group that tries to bring professional dog trainers together.  Since there is no one required certification, there are so many others that are reputable, and responsible.  To be a professional member of the APDT one must hold his or her CPDT.  The APDT has also compiled this list of the different certifications: http://apdt.com/petowners/choose/certifications.aspx.

Be Cautious of certifications that are given from dog training schools. It is important to look into the methods that are taught at these schools.  A certification could be given to a person for punishment, non-science based, old methods, and these are the exact certifications to avoid.  Most of the time a certification such as “Master Dog Trainer” is not a person who will employ the most up-to-date, force-free methods to train your dog, but instead will be a punishment-based trainer.  These are the people who often still believe that your sweet old King Charles Spaniel is sleeping on your couch because he is trying to dominate you, when really it is simply because there is no other comfortable spot!  We really do know better these days… well some of us do!  Certifications should have clickable links to follow so the trainer is easily showing you where that certification comes from.  If it says the trainer is certified in the bio, but there is no higher certification board listed, be very cautious of this!

So what does all this mean?  This means that if you choose a person from one of these many well respected certification boards, you are getting someone who is held to a higher standard.  These certifications all require continuing education units, so you know that the trainer you are working with is pursuing his or her education, knowledge and skills.  With something as serious and important as the well being and training of your dog, you shouldn’t trust just anyone.  Don’t be afraid to ask someone for his or her credentials before entrusting them with your beloved pet.  I hope this helps you to choose wisely!

Why Is Doing Nothing, So Difficult?

“Don’t worry, dogs love me!”  …Have you heard this before?  It really gets on my nerves when people say things like this.  First, to be completely candid, in my experience the people who say this are always the most clueless about dog behavior and body language, and second, because no one loves everyone, dogs included!

If your dog is fearful of people coming into your home, or new people on the street, some outsiders looking in might see this as abnormal dog behavior, but let’s face it; it’s not.  Especially today with how many people are rescuing dogs, which is wonderful, but it is simply unfair to expect these dogs will be friendly with everyone in all situations.  If you adopted your dog as adult, as I did, you really can’t be sure of what socialization she received, if any.  New people, places and things could be difficult, and when a nervous dog is faced with a know-it-all stranger, the situation can simply be too much.

As a dog trainer, I find myself telling the owners of these dogs that the best thing is to encourage guests to ignore the dog while they come in.  What I find is that people often think ignoring the dog means not to touch it, or maybe not to talk to it, but then the person still stares intensely at the dog, which can also set off a shy dog.  I find, trying to get people to do nothing, is much harder than trying to teach a dog to do something!  I have to say that it is harder to get people to follow this rule, than to teach an old dog a new trick!

If you are a guest going into someone else’s home, whether you have dogs, have had dogs your entire life, or feel that all dogs love you; if the home owner requests you ignore his dog, then please listen.  No one is going to tell you to ignore a perfectly friendly, happy and confident dog; the owner is asking you to do this for a reason and it is usually the well being of the dog, and you!  Do not walk into someone’s home and believe you will be the magic person who changes his dog’s behavior.  If it happens that the dog does love you and begs for your attention, then I am sure the owner will take note of this and give you new instructions.

If you are the owner of a dog who you think this could help, here are some pointers:

  1. Before a guest comes into your home, explain to them that your dog is nervous and in training.  I find it is best to tell your guests they can help with the training if they can follow a few quick rules: Take a brief moment to again explain this is for your guests’ safety and the well being of your dog.  Let your guests know that by complying they are really helping your training, and hard work, so thank them for cooperating, before you even enter your home.
    • Please do not touch my dog at all.
    • Please do not stare at, or talk to my dog.
    • If my dog comes up to you and begs for attention, by slipping her head under your hand, or nestling up next to you, you may begin to show her attention, but please completely ignore her until then.
  2. Do not allow them to come into your home until they acknowledge and verbally say that they agree to these rules.
  3. If for any reason there is a person who simply cannot follow the rules, a child for example, but you feel the situation could be safe for that child to enter your home; then either meet outside with your dog and go for a walk, and then have everyone enter your home together, or better yet, keep your dog behind a baby gate or on leash to ensure no one gets hurt.

If you are a person who truly feels he “gets” dogs, and a lot of dogs really like you; then you are truly the perfect person to help your friends’ dogs overcome this fear, but you must do so on the dog owner’s terms.  A dog who is fearful of guests will overcome this fear much more quickly if strangers don’t keep walking into her home and trying to be her best friend!  Let the dog come to you, and certainly don’t take offense to a dog who keeps her distance.  Remember dogs form their opinions based on bad experience, or no experience.  Perhaps you are a man with a beard and the dog was never socialized to men with beards; this is clearly nothing personal, so rather than getting upset, try to show the dog that men with beards aren’t threatening, or imposing on the dog’s space, but instead are completely calm and play hard to get.  All I can ask is that you give this a try; if you have a friend whose dog barks at you at a lot, and you have been asked to just ignore him, next time, try it!  Playing hard to get works with romance, and dogs too!  Make doing nothing easy, by just listening to the dog owner and leaving the dog alone.  I think you will find that even more dogs love you with this approach!

Should You Try Medication for Your Dog?

If you have a dog who is reactive, aggressive, anxious or fearful and you have met with a vet, trainer, or both, regarding this, then the matter of medication may have come up.  There are a lot of different medications out there today, similar to what humans take for these issues.  So how do you decide if it is worth trying one of these medications for your dog?

I have come up with 5 questions that I find are helpful to my clients while they are deciding whether or not to try medication for you their dogs:

1. Has your dog been cleared medically of any, and all, possible health concerns associated with these behavioral issues?  And is he healthy enough to take medication?

There are some health conditions that can cause behavior problems.  Hypothyroidism is one for example, but the best thing to do when you notice behavior changes in your dog is to bring him to the vet.  Don’t just let your vet do his normal check-up, but instead explain the behaviors you have seen, with as much detail as possible.  When did the behavior change, has it worsened, and are there other symptoms you are noticing such as loss of appetite or irregular bowel movements?

2. Are you working with a trainer who understands, and is certified in dog behavior, and are you committed to your training and behavior modification program?

Medication will not cure a behavior issue on it’s own especially if your dog has gotten the chance to practice and rehearse this behavior, even if it was started by anxiety, once you cure the anxiety, the issue may still be a habit for your dog.  The example I find is most easy to understand is that people can sometimes start biting their nails because they are nervous, but then after a while, they will bite their nails even when they are not nervous, simply out of habit.  Changing habits is hard!  You will need to be prepared to work to change your dog’s habits each and everyday he is on the medication, other wise it is really pointless.  It will also be important to be working with a trainer who works with science based methods, and is certified to handle behavior modification.  The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) is a great organization that certifies animal behavior consultants for dogs, cats, horses and even birds.  If you are considering starting you dog on medication perhaps consider reaching out to one of the trainers in your area, you can search on their site.  (https://iaabc.org/consultants)

3. Do you have support from a veterinarian who can prescribe behavioral meds?

You will of course want the support of a veterinarian.  Putting your dog on medication is not a small matter, and while it is sometimes necessary, it is vital to be sure you are checking your dog’s blood work regularly and making sure the medication is not adversely affecting his health.

4. Does the behavioral issue affect your life everyday, at least once?

Is the issue so bad that you see it everyday?  If it is lunging and barking at other dogs, does it happen on every walk?  Do you find you don’t want to walk your dog because of this?  If it is anxiety, does your dog deal with this anxiety daily?  Is he stressed when you leave, and you have to leave him 5 days a week to face this stress?  If this is the situation you are facing, then medication could really help both you and your dog to feel better.  If you are facing this problem every single day, then give your dog and yourself some relief!  Think about how quickly many people take a Xanax before getting on a plane, and barely even think twice about it.  If we can offer our dogs, and ourselves, some relief, then why not at least give it a try?

5. Have you received complaints from neighbors, your building, or other threats to your place of residence, due to your dog’s behavior?

If you are at risk of being evicted, or even fined for a noise complaint, than it is really a no brainer.  There is simply no reason not to give medication a try if it is going to make your living situation more pleasant and less at risk.  Especially if you have answered “yes” to questions 1 through 3, then you are set up well to give medication a try.

Just like people who truly need them, these medications really work.  Dogs are complex, highly intelligent creatures, and because of this they can also be highly sensitive.  Some dogs have complicated pasts, and we don’t even always know the extent, if we rescued the dog later in life.  Behavioral medications such as Prozac, Clomicalm, and Anipryl have all been proven to be affective in dogs when paired with a behavior modification program.  If you have been living with a dog who suffers from behavioral issues and you have felt like medication is not necessary, but you answered “yes” to at least 4 out of the 5 questions, then I hope you will reconsider.  There is no reason to feel badly, or responsible, a lot of dogs, and people need medication, if it will help improve your quality of life, it is well worth a try!  Please contact a certified trainer in your area if you need help with this.

What Is Science Based Dog Training?

When I say “science based” dog training I mean that the training is based on the study of the dog, it’s behaviors, and how it learns. Something can be considered scientific if it is directly observable. Directly observable means that we can see something happen with our own eyes, and recreate this scenario to see again and again. If you ever studied psychology, then a lot of the concepts below will sound familiar.

Classical Conditioning

Ivan Pavlov was the first person to say that classical conditioning applies to animals as well as humans. An unconditional stimulus produces an unconditional response, and a conditioned stimulus produces a conditioned response. The classic example of Pavlov’s dog; he experimented with dogs by pairing a bell with tasty meat powder. Since the meat powder would cause the dogs to salivate in anticipation of the meat, he would ring a bell just before the addition of the meat powder, and guess what? The dogs eventually salivated at the sound of the bell without the pairing of the good smelling meat powder. In the beginning it is easy to understand why the dog is salivating; meat powder tastes good! But it is a learned response for the dog to salivate at the sound of the bell. The pairing of a unconditioned or neutral stimuli (the bell) with something we already have a conditioned response to; food that smells good, so we salivate; we can teach the neutral stimuli to have the same response, the bell to cause us to salivate.

Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning is a concept that was developed by B.F. Skinner. As the father of operant conditioning, Skinner introduced the concept of reinforcement: a behavior that is reinforced increases in frequency, while a behavior that is not, decreases.

The Four Quadrants

The four quadrants of operant conditioning refers to Positive Reinforcement (+R), Negative Reinforcement (-R), Positive Punishment (+P), Negative Punishment (-P). The first important thing to understand is that the positive and negative do not refer to good and bad, but instead addition and subtraction, or removal. Reinforcement is something that is going to increase the likelihood of a behavior, while punishment will the decrease the likelihood of a behavior.

Positive Reinforcement is the addition of something that is likely to increase a desired behavior. A great example is feeding a treat if your dog sits; the addition of the food reward increases the likelihood that your dog will sit again.

Negative Reinforcement is the removal of something that will increase a desired behavior. A great example of negative reinforcement is the beeping seat belts in cars now; the beeping is removed, or stops, as soon as you buckle your seat belt, so you are more likely to buckle your seat belt increase in desired behavior) to subtract the annoying beeping.

Positive Punishment is the addition of something that will lessen an undesired behavior. If you shock a dog for barking, this is positive punishment; you are adding the shock to lessen the undesired behavior of barking.

Negative Punishment is the removal of something that will decrease a behavior. If your dog jumps up on you and you turn your back, this is negative punishment. You are removing yourself, and your attention to decrease the behavior of jumping.

We often use more than one quadrant. Even a lot of the above examples use more that one quadrant as the entire situation is playing out. The seat belt is a good example because at it’s onset: the moment the alarm begins to beep at you for not buckling your seat belt, this is positive punishment, as it continues to beep, the only way to stop it is by buckling your seat belt, it moves to negative reinforcement. A similar example is using a shock collar to train a dog to come when called; you call your dog to come, and if she does not, you begin to press the button on your remote which elicits a shock. The addition of the shock to lessen the behavior of not coming right away; positive punishment, but as your hold the button down, until your dog begins to come to you, this switches to negative reinforcement. The shock only stops, or is removed, when the behavior of coming to you is happening to increase the likelihood of this behavior. I have found that there are humane, non-painful or scary ways to use three out of the four quadrants; but I see no place for positive punishment!

Counter Conditioning

Counter conditioning is used to change one’s condition response to a stimuli. By pairing stimuli that evoke opposite responses we can change the negative response to become positive. For example, if your dog hates having her nails clipped, and as soon as she sees the nail trimmer she runs and hides; then the nail trimmer already elicits a negative response. But if your dog absolutely LOVES roast beef, and anytime you even touch the roast beef bag in the fridge, she comes running as fast as she can, then roast beef elicits a positive response. If we remember the good follows the bad, we can help our dog to change their response. So if the good is roast beef and the bad is the nail trimmer, we want to show our dog the nail trimmer and then follow it with some tasty roast beef. If we can do this enough and with good enough timing we can teach our dog that the nail trimmer means we are going to go to the fridge and get roast beef, then we can change our dg’s response to the nail trimmer to be her response to roast beef!

Desensitization

The basic definition of desensitization is to make less sensitive. We can desensitize a dog to something by exposing her to a stimuli in a very non threatening manner. So perhaps we want to desensitize our dog to strollers. We might start byt having a toy stroller for a doll, very far away from the dog. We have made the stimuli smaller and farther away. Little by little as the dog gets used to the small stroller at a far distance, we might work to slowly move the stroller closer. We want to continue exposure as long a fear response is not triggered. Once the dog is used to the small doll stroller near her, we might try a larger stroller, but we would likely add the distance back and start with the large stroller far away. Again the idea is to avoid a fear response being triggered. Usually desensitization and counter conditioning are used together to help dogs overcome many fears and behavioral issues that result.

Primary vs. secondary Reinforcers

If you are going to understand the four quadrants, and understand that we apply at least one of the quadrants when we are working to change behaviors, it is important to understand the difference between primary and secondary reinforcers. Primary reinforcers are those things we need biologically; food, drink and sex. Secondary, or learned reinforcers through association, such as money and praise. If you are working to truly change a response and see the desired response only, you need to use primary reinforcers in your dog training. This means using food! Your praise and affection are wonderful, but they are secondary reinforcers and may not be strong enough when the behavior problem is deeply embedded. If you hope to make changes while counter conditioning you will also need to use primary reinforces.

I hope this has shown you that there is a lot of thought, study and preparation that goes along with science based dog training. It is not just a catchy phrase, but instead tells you that the trainer you have chosen, understands your dogs behavior in a way that has been studied, and tested. Science based dog trainers do not take their methods from TV shows, or because they “have had dogs their entire life…” It is a personal choice, and you should do what is best for you, but if you were facing a traumatic experience and you wanted to best recover, would you go to a life coach, or a psychiatrist?