Pawsibilities NY

Month: February 2015

The Five Rules of a Reliable Recall

The Five Rules of a Reliable RecallThere are five rules to teaching, and maintaining a reliable recall:

1. Choose the right word. “Come” may be the most popular word for this behavior, but it may not be the best choice. If your dog goes to day care, or spends time with dog walkers and other people who will say “come” to your dog too much, this can sometimes desensitize your dog to this word. If your dog hears this word all the time, but he is not required to come, then he won’t when you need him to. Another popular word is “here” because it is used far less, and for that I like this choice. A young dog trainer taught me a great option in one of our lessons, which was to use “treat” as your recall word because it has a positive association to your dog. You can teach your dog any word as long as you are consistent.

2. Never follow your recall with something your dog views as unpleasant. This is crucial to the success of your recall! I find it is even helpful to make a list of your dog’s least favorite things, this way you have a clear list of times to NOT use your recall word. Some examples include: leaving the dog park, going to the vet, being put into the crate, getting nails clipped and taking medications. Do not call your dog to come to you, and then cut his nails, or clean his ears; we want this to be a cue that your dog hears and thinks all the best things happen after this, not all his least favorite things. If you do call your dog to “come” and he comes over to you happily and then you leave the dog park, all his fun ends, it will only take a few times before he no longer comes over happily, so be careful not to un-train all your hard work!

3. Give your dog his favorite reward for coming when called. Since this cue is so important you want to reward your dog with his absolute favorite thing! For a lot of dogs you will want to try boiled chicken, bacon or cheese to earn a strong recall, but some dogs prefer a tennis ball, tug toy or even play with a real-fur dog toy, you can buy these from Know what your dog truly loves most, not what you want him to, and use it for this cue! Don’t stop rewarding your recall ever! You can eventually make rewards random, but don’t ever completely stop because it is just too important!

4. Don’t scold your dog when you do catch him! This might sound crazy, but just imagine you are in the park and it is time to go, you call your dog to come and instead he turns this opportunity into a huge game of tag! All of a sudden there are people in the park chasing your dog, trying to help you catch him, when eventually you do catch your dog, you might feel tempted to scold him and say “Bad Dog! Don’t you ever do that to me again, BAD DOG!” But unfortunately you have now followed your recall with something your dog definitely does not like; being scolded. Instead, don’t worry about all the people watching, and praise your dog like crazy, even shower him with treats and his favorite kinds of scratching or petting. This way the next time he considers engaging in a game of tag he will remember how much more rewarding it was to just come on over to you because you were fun and happy and had lots of good food to share!

5. Don’t skip the warm up! It is important to be sure your dog knows his recall word in each and every different kind of environment. Any time you are in a new place, start from the beginning and warm up your recall, this will make it much easier to get your dog to listen when you really need him to.

So now that you know the rules, learn how to train the perfect recall in my post Teaching Your Dog a Reliable Recall.

By in Training Philosophy 0

City Dog Living

City Dog LivingI was born and raised in New York City. I have had dogs here for my entire life. I also have parents who moved to Long Island with our dogs and I saw how different life was. City dog living is quite different from suburb living and it goes a lot further than just not having a yard.

House training is extremely different and difficult. Trying to get a puppy from his crate, out the door, down the hall, to the elevator and then outside can really cause a lot of extra accidents. I recommend carrying the puppy from when he comes out of his crate until he is outside on the sidewalk. If you have a large breed dog and the puppy grows too big to carry before you are finished house training, then I recommend being sure to have a strong “sit” cue and anytime you can’t be briskly walking, then have your pup sit. Most dogs will not go to the bathroom while sitting.

The whole addition of an elevator to a dog’s life is quite a lot. Without proper socialization, an elevator can be an extremely scary place for a dog. Strange people and other dogs are going to come into a very tight space and be enclosed, or even trapped that way, everyday, every time they have to go for a walk. It can be extremely scary for a lot of dogs; let’s face it some people are afraid of elevators.

City Dog LivingDon’t break leash laws! Even if you think your dog is great, when you are in an on-leash area, keep your dog on leash because it makes for unequal playing ground if your dog can be off leash while all others are on. I liken it to you having to attend a dinner party and be the only person wearing handcuffs; it simply would not be as fun. Your dog relinquishes a lot of control to you while on leash, and it is unsettling for a lot of dogs to encounter a dog off leash while they are on; show respect for your neighbors and obey leash laws!

Don’t leave your dog tied up outside of stores: there are just too many people and other dogs who will pass, it really puts your dog at risk. There are people who will also steal your dog. These people either take them and use them as bait dogs in illegal dog fighting rings, or flip your dog, and sell it, far away, for a lot of money.

Your dog doesn’t need to like every dog! In the city you will see a lot of dogs, don’t just let your dog run up to greet every single one, even if she is friendly. A lot of other dogs aren’t or are in training, and you could be undoing a lot of hard work. Instead teach your dog to sit to greet, it is like saying “please can I go play?” And it gives you time to ask the other dog owner if his dog is friendly. If he says “yes,” you can release the sit and let the dogs play. If he says “no,” then respect that and move on. In my opinion you should thank him for being honest because it isn’t easy to admit your dog isn’t that friendly, but it is the safe and responsible thing to do!

Barking is something that threatens my clients homes at times; in city dog living we need to end barking yesterday! I understand the urgency when I go to help people with their barking dogs, but it is important to remember dogs bark; and while it is hard to find a place that it is appropriate in the city; it is crucial to find time to let your dog be a dog.

If you live in the city and are considering getting a dog or puppy it is important to plan time to socialize that dog to the city. If your vet doesn’t want him walking on the ground, don’t just keep him in your apartment. You have until he is 16 weeks old to socialize him to the sounds, sights and smells of the city. If you are adopting an older dog it will be a good idea to be sure the dog has walked on a busy city sidewalk comfortably. If the dog has lived his life in a rural, quiet setting, he might never get used to city streets, he might be too scared to walk down the street, and eventually even leave your apartment! It is very sad, but I have seen exactly this many times. The adjustment from quiet life to city life is a transition not all dogs can make.

The last thing I am going to say might sounds silly, but pick up your dog’s poop! Come on people, he’s your dog, clean up after him! I know we have all forgotten a bag once or twice, but make a conscience effort to clean up the mess your dog leaves behind. I am an animal lover to the core, and I don’t get grossed out very easily, but even I don’t want to step in dog poop! Also a huge pet peeve of mine; snow doesn’t dissolve poop! If your dog poops on the snow banks on the curb, you still have to pick it up.

I know that there is a stereotype that people in cities aren’t as friendly, but let’s do our best to show that this isn’t true for the dog community! There are a lot more of us in a smaller space, so perhaps we all have to be a bit more courteous, but dogs are incredibly social creatures and if you live in a city with a dog there are a lot of opportunities to socialize, play and train together; take advantage!

By in Puppies & New Dogs 0

To Socialize, or Not to Socialize: This Is the Question

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks… Well not exactly, you can certainly teach an older dog a new “trick,” but you won’t likely be able to teach him to accept something he did not experience in the first 16 weeks of his life; this is your puppy’s crucial socialization period.

“…But my vet told me not to take my puppy outside…” If your vet tells you that your pup cannot leave your home until he has finished his vaccinations, then please ask questions, do not just accept this at face value. The questions you should consider asking include:

Can my puppy go outside if I carry him?

Your vet should be fine with this. Your puppy can, and should meet as many different  people as possible in his first 16 weeks of life. Carrying him around your neighborhood will help with this. Also your pup cannot catch anything from people, so if he is a breed that as a puppy will stay small enough to carry easily, this will be a great way to meet people. I find it is best to carry your pup around and look for people who notice him. Any time a person even gives me an “aww, cute puppy!” I ask if they would like to pet him. Try to find different looking people, in hats, or sunglasses, and of different races, sizes and genders. These positive experiences with people who all look different will create an adult dog who is friendly towards people of all shapes and sizes.

Can my dog play with other dogs?

To Socialize, or Not to Socialize: This Is the QuestionThis is where we have to be most careful. If you do not know the dog and owner very well, I wouldn’t risk it! It is much safer to find puppy play groups where your pup can play with other pups his age. If you choose to completely avoid dog-dog interactions until your pup has completed his shots, this can be fine, but it should be your main focus to find play groups, or make play dates for your pup right after his last shots. This is another reason to be sure you have tackled all other forms of socialization before this point. It is also important to remember that even if you have another dog, this does not count as dog-dog socialization. Give your pup a chance to understand more dogs by meeting as many possible; if you only knew your siblings you might not understand different kinds of people; the same is true for your dog.

If you live in a city I find it best to bring your puppy to a noisy street corner, and just sit; a bus stop can be a great place for this. If your pup gets scared, and you are not, you can comfort your dog and let him know that the noises won’t hurt him. He can accept this much more quickly and easily during his crucial socialization period. This is the time to expose him to anything and everything he may need to tolerate during his lifetime. Some common things include; car rides, different people, babies, children, different homes, other animals in the house, and even plane rides. If you can fit in the time to  practice these things with your pup early on, you will find these situations much easier when he is an adult dog. Socialization is crucial for your dog, and it can be done safely and still be effective, so don’t be so quick to just take your veterinarians advice without asking more about this very important time in your puppy’s life.

If I haven’t convinced you, then I strongly encourage you to speak to your friends with dogs. Ask them what they did, and how it has affected their pup’s behavior, training, and life. Try to find at least one friend who listened to the vet, and kept his pup locked away for four months, and try to find someone who did safe socialization. It can also be helpful to try to find people with the same or similar breeds as your pup.

As time passes and more studies are done about dogs, we as people should continue to evolve our opinions based on this research. If your vet simply cannot accept that dogs have a crucial socialization period, which on average is the first sixteen weeks of their life, then I would consider finding a vet who can accept this and reflects our current understanding of dogs. This may sound harsh, but unsocialized dogs take a lifetime of training and conditioning to catch up to the socialized puppies, it can be done safely and effectively without risking your puppies health, and it should be!!

What Is Clicker Training?

What Is Clicker Training?You may have heard of clicker training, and you may not be quite certain what it is. Is it right for me? Is it right for my dog? Do I always need the clicker? Where did Clicker Training come from? As a force free dog trainer I find clicker training extremely useful, but perhaps not in the way some of you are accustomed, or perhaps in a way you haven’t heard of; I like to use it for capturing.

In clicker training, the click is a marker for the moment the animal has shown us a desired behavior. To teach the dog this we start by warming up the clicker, simply by clicking and feeding a treat after we click. At first you can click anytime, as long as your dog isn’t doing something naughty. We teach the dog to understand that that sound predicts good things coming. It is the same idea as Pavlov’s Dogs who learned the sound of the bell meant their food was coming, and thus the bell made the dogs’ mouths to water in anticipation of what follows. This is exactly what we want our dog to learn about the click.

After warming up the clicker with the reward immediately following, we want to vary the amount of time between the marker (click) and the reward, this way we can still use the marker when our dog is far away, because he has learned that sometimes the rewards take a bit longer following the marker. Once we have finished warming up the clicker, we can start to use it for training. Trainers use the clicker for everything from basic obedience, to shaping. Shaping is when we decide a desired behavior, let’s say a spin, and then we will start with very low criteria for the dog to earn clicks, so we may click and treat when the dog simply turns her head. Then once the dog is offering us a head turn, we may only click if the dog turns her head at least a quarter of the way around, and so on until the full spin is the only behavior that earns the click.

I personally love to use clickers for capturing. Capturing is when we don’t ask our dog for a specific behavior, but simply wait for her to offer us the behavior on her own, and then I capture this with a click and treat! For example, if your dog barks at the doorbell, I love the clicker to help teach quiet. Dogs mimic our behaviors, so when they are barking, any talking from us is likely to make the barking worse. Especially the yelling match that sometimes happens: BARK, “QUIET,” BARK, “QUIET,” which came first? I find it much better to ring the doorbell, let your dog bark, and wait for the quiet, as soon as your dog offers you some quiet, click and treat! Remember the example of the spin, criteria should change, so when you first start this your dog should earn a click for even a moment of quiet, but as you train you can change the criteria to two seconds of quiet, then four, and so on.

Another good example is using the clicker to train your dog not jump using capturing. Allow your dog to jump, and as soon as she stops, click and treat. After a while, if you notice that she looks like she wants to jump, but holds herself back, click and treat for this and even jackpot her with 3 small treats in a row for making such good choices!  I love to use clickers for capturing because dogs think they are training us to click by offering us nice behaviors. Even if you don’t think you will need a clicker I think it is best to warm up the clicker to your dog so that if you need it, she already knows what it means, and the best news is, it is never too early, or too late to start clicker training! If you are interested in clicker training, please go to our ‘Contact Us‘ Page and fill in your information, include a note about the clicker blog, and your favorite colors, and I will happily send you a Pawsibilities Clicker to get started!