And How Does That Make You Feel?

K9infocus's Blog

And How Does That Make You Feel?

By Deborah Jones, Ph.D.

The phrase “and how does that make you feel?” is pretty much a stereotypic response that you’d expect from a therapist.  But as a dog trainer you probably don’t use that phrase very often.  It’s particularly unlikely you’d address it to your dog.  But that’s exactly what we should be doing; keeping a close eye not only on what our dogs are doing, but more importantly, on how they are feeling.

Dog trainers spend countless hours working on training specific and precise behaviors.  They obsess endlessly over small details, plan out session after session, and troubleshoot solutions when problems arise.  They understand and implement training plans based on operant conditioning principles, splitting behaviors into small parts and providing appropriate reinforcement.  And yet, for all that care and attention, things still go wrong.  The dog doesn’t learn the desired behavior…

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Keep those experiences positive

We all get told to do it, but just how do we do it correctly?

What am I talking about? Socialising your puppy of course.

24826216_1747354428670420_1879317993_oWith having a new puppy myself, I’m back to going through this process with my puppy. So let’s take a look at what socialisation is all about. Basically, it means exposing your puppy to everything that it is likely to meet as an adult, so that your puppy isn’t frightened by those things in later life. Sounds all fine so far, and we’ve all seen those checklists where we tick off that our puppy has met x number of people this week and x number of dogs and heard x number of sounds and so on.

 

Checklists are great as a basic, but they do tend to shift your focus onto completing the checklist rather than the actual process of socialisation and what it means to the puppy. Socialisation is the process of allowing a puppy to become familiar with something, whether that is a person, and object, a sound or another animal. It is a process of habituation (becoming familiar with) and it should be a positive experience (nice things happen) or neutral (nothing pleasant or scary happens).  Given a choice, I prefer to make every experience that a pup has, a pleasant one. It sets the pup up for being a well rounded, confident dog that can take a few emotional knock-backs because it has a host of positive experiences to fall back onto.

If we become focused on just ticking the boxes on a checklist, we can forget to make these experiences pleasant or neutral for the pup. What can happen is that a pup is put into a situation and then feels overwhelmed. This is not a positive association for the pup, nor is it neutral; it is a negative (scary) situation for the pup and continual experiences like this will create a pup that doesn’t like certain people, dogs or situations or could even become a nervous dog altogether.

If someone wants to say hello to your puppy, ask them to ask the puppy if it wants to say hello. If the puppy puts its tail done, turns its head away or moves away from that person, then the puppy is quite clearly saying that it doesn’t want to say hello. Respect the puppy’s decision and just ask the person to stand there and leave the pup alone. What you don’t want to do is pick the puppy up and thrust it into that person’s arms as now you have just taught your puppy that you won’t protect it when it is frightened (you are no longer a safe place) and you have just made that person and that experience (other people approaching) a very scary thing. You also don’t want to drag the puppy by the lead to ‘say hello’ or allow the person to keep approaching until the puppy can’t escape and has to submit to being touched. These situations will end up being very scary for the puppy and they can learn quite quickly, to be scared of people (or even a specific type of person, such as men, women, children, babies, etc.) and try to run away or to drive the scary person away by barking and lunging. What we have just done is the direct opposite of socialisation! We actually made people scary!

The same can happen when your puppy meets another dog or puppy. Allow them the chance to decide whether they want to interact or not. There is little point is pushing your pup into interacting  with another dog or puppy that is going to be aggressive or bullying with them. A poorly run puppy play session, whether it is at a training class or a dog creche, can do untold damage to your pup and make them worried by other dogs approaching, so that they react by barking and lunging or these play sessions can teach your puppy to be a bully. Neither of these scenarios are good or appropriate socialisation.

DSC_1656Pups do not need to play with every dog they meet or every person they meet in order to become sociable around them. All they need to do is be able to see them and have wonderful things happen whilst dogs, people, vehicles etc. are present. If the puppy wants to approach closer, then fine, but do be guided by your pup’s body language, not by an arbitrary check list that says your puppy MUST meet 10 people this week. Yes to the meet, and be prepared to say no to the interact.

Of course, depending on your pup’s innate personality, it is entirely possible to over-socialise your pup. What do I mean by this? Well, your pup can have so much fun saying hello to other people and dogs that it has little interest in you and all that it wants to do is drag you over to say hello to other dogs and people or it clears off to see them as soon as the lead comes off and has little interest in being with you. You’ve basically become your pup’s social manager and little else. Your puppy needs controlled exposure so that it learns that responding to you is still important and you should most certainly work on teaching your puppy to come away from another dog (not all dogs are friendly) and from people (not everyone likes dogs)

DSC_2108Being able to take your dog anywhere and have your dog continue to do as it is told, is just fabulous and opens up so many opportunities for you and your pup to go on social walks with your dog. Socialisation is something that every pups needs to experience in a positive way. Note that I say it is something that the pup needs to experience; their choice. It is not something that we just expose a pup to, as that it when it is likely to go wrong and we end up turning what was a confident pup into a shrinking violet that finds the World a very scary place.

If you are not too sure that you are reading your pup’s body langauge correctly, then please seek help and advice from a reward based dogs training (avoid anyone that tells you that your pup needs to ‘face up to its fears’). You could also take an online course in Canine Communication.

Have aread of our other article on socialising dogs. Sociable or Socialised?

 

Engagement: Why the Extremes?

Denise Fenzi

I watch people train dogs for a living.

One thing I see is people silently staring at their dogs, handing over cookies for behaviors they like and withholding cookies for error.  The currency is cookies.

If you use food as your primary commodity for developing a relationship, then you might find your relationship feels very…hollow.  And if I ask you about your lack of sincere interaction, you might tell me that your dog is independent or doesn’t care about you so you don’t bother with it.  That’s certainly possible.  The other possibility is that how you are choosing to interact is creating that disengaged dynamic.

How about starting and ending each training session with some sincere form of interaction that your dog enjoys? It could be a belly rub.  It could be a game of chase.  It could just be happy talk and pleasant eye contact.  Connect.  Not with cookies…

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Got Focus?

excellent article

K9infocus's Blog

Got Focus?

By Deborah Jones, Ph.D.

As a dog trainer there often comes a point in your work with any particular dog where you realize that focus is a real thing and you don’t have it.  You have behaviors on cue and you have a dog that will work for food and/or toys, but you still have a problem.  A BIG problem.  It feels like you are doing 90% of the work to keep your dog in the game with you.  You may resort to bribing and begging and cajoling and cheerleading and acting like a clown on crack to keep your dog interested in training.  At this point you need an intervention.  A focus intervention.  You’ve neglected a key component of your working relationship with your dog, and now you are seeing the fallout.  Luckily, it’s never too late to develop focus.  

Focus is one of the cornerstones…

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Lara’s Progress

Lara is now 15 weeks of age and has been here almost 3 weeks. Time flies when you have a puppy! She’s getting huge now and is almost as tall as tallest Springer Beau and bigger than Rush (cockerpoo).

She’s not just got bigger, her character has change, she’s no longer than quiet shy puppy; she is a thug! She’s bitier, noisier and more active, but on the up side, she does settle down whilst I’m working (she’s currently asleep at my feet) and she’s still go a great appetite.

Her appetite has led to some frustration when trying to feed her using a slow feeding bowl as she just couldn’t get the food out as fast as she needed to. I have changed her diet from one that had over 50% rice and only 16% meat in it (expensive food as well!) to one that contains 30% meat and 30% rice and that appears to be filling her up better (she doesn’t bolt her food as fast now, always a concern with a breed that is prone to bloat). She can now also cope with a slow feeding bowl, but in the early days, she had half her meal in an ordinary bowl to take the edge of her hunger and then the rest in the slow feeding bowl. When I saw that she was happy to tackle the slow feeding bowl first, rather than the open bowl, I knew she was ready for a full meal from the slow feeding bowl. No more frustration now when she has her food in a slow feeding bowl.

She’s continuing her education with regards on self control around food, which is much easier now that she isn’t so hungry and with recall games (luckily I’m a member of Susan Garrett’s Recallers programme, so lots of games to play). I do need to go back and revisit the collar grab game as we’re going through a bit of a blip with regards to that.

We’re having loads of fun playing tug games with various tug toys, but work is needed on getting her to bring items back. Normal enough stage for a puppy.

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She is bitey, and will be started to change her teeth soon. When she gets bitey, she is given an appropriate object to chew one. As with most puppies, squealing like  a puppy just makes her bite harder, so re-direction onto an appropriate chew toy is important. I need to find some old towels to moisten and freeze, so that she has a cooling chew toy for when those gums are sore.

We’ve had a couple of days where Lara has had a bit of an upset tum; not bad enough for a vet visit, but enough that she’s had to wake me up several times overnight to go out. She is good as she does let me know when she needs to go out and her house training is coming on fabulously, but I could have done with a bit more sleep. I have definitely had ‘puppy brain’ for the last couple of days and have gone through the ‘why did I get this puppy/’ ‘This was a mistake’ stage. Funny how things improve when you get a good night’s sleep as I did last night.

We’ve also started playing with teaching her to put her front feet on objects (only low ones) and she’s learning to search the living room for hidden treats (easy searches to start with). She still has little meanders on lead whilst the big dogs runabout, and she’s finally started to play with the other dogs, but that is supervised.

We are now having an issue with her coming in from outside. She’s getting a bit big to pick up and fetch in (she really is a big puppy for her age!) and  have fallen into the bad habit of luring her in through the back door (bad trainer) and so she has started holding out to see what is offered,k before she decides whether to come in or not. It’s cold and  I really don’t want to stand there with the door open for several minute whilst she decides to come in, so a new strategy was needed.

She now gets about 30 seconds to decide whether she is coming in or not. There is no food in view and I’m not luring her. If she decides to come in the door, that behaviour is marked and then a food reward is produced and given. If she decides that she isn’t going to come in, the door is closed and I’ll open it a minute or two later and try again. I think it took six attempts the first time I tried this, we are now down to just two attempts on the last go. Something I need to keep working on until it is cracked.

Apart from these minor problems and a bit of redesigning of the leather suite, Lara’s ast 3 weeks have been progressing in the right direction.

Her microchip is registered in my name, but I do need to change her KC registration over to my name.

I do need to get some more photos of her though!

Socialised or Sociable

Is there a difference? or do they both mean the same thing?

We all love to be able to go for walks with our dogs and now the sunny days and school holidays are upon us, there are more and more dog walkers about. It is lovely to walk with our friends and to have our dogs get along (the image above shows dogs from 3 different families enjoying a walk together) and that is what being sociable is all about. The dogs are free to interact or not as they wish as the owners walk and chat.

Technically, sociable means that the dog is comfortable and relaxed around other dogs, even if they don’t actually want to play with them.

Socialisation means that we get the dog used to the world around it and that the dog has a neutral or positive association with every day objects, people and other animals. we do this from puppyhood (but dogs can be socialised as adults) so that they don’t become fearful of any of these things.

Somehow, socialisation seems be to being interpretedby incorrectly by dogs owners and they seem to think that in order to socialise their dog, it has to play with every dog it meets. Now, in principle, this doesn’t sound like a bad idea, but it does have the potential for disaster if you they haven’t taught their dog a recall or if their dog is a bully or aggressive and if they haven’t actually taught their dog to come back or to want to come back. and, in many instances, the owners don’t even check that the dog they are letting their dog charge over to socialise with, is actually comfortable with this or whether it is aggressive, fearful or infirm.  This can be a recipe for disaster and isn’t socialising your dog; this is allowing your dog to be a bully and a pest (and technically, if you can’t call the dog back, it can be classed as dangerously out of control).

When did things change? Why have things changed? What do we really want or expect from our dogs? We know that dogs are a social species, but they are just as happy interacting with their human family as well as playing with other dogs. They can fulfill all their needs for play by playing with their owner. The occasional play date can be arranged with a sociable dog as a treat, but it shouldn’t become more important that wanting to  with their  owner, otherwise you end up with a dog that just disappears into the distance on a walk and goes and plays (read bullies) every other dog in the park (whether these dogs actually want to socialise or not,; they get no choice in the matter).

If you want your dog to play with other dogs, then let him go to a well managed doggy day care centre once or twice a week. That will be sufficient to meet his play needs.  Then when you go out and about on your walks, it should be you that is interacting with your dog by playing some retrieve games, some recall games, some hide and seek games, some searching games and many other games that you can play. Your dog will love to hang around with you and play games with you and will not be quite so dog obsessed.

When I’m out and about with my dogs, they are playing with each other and playing games with me. They aren’t allowed to go off and annoy other dogs (it’s not fair on those other dogs who are just bumbling along minding their own business). If I let all of mine charge over to another dog, they may frighten that poor dog and the experience may be scary rather than pleasant and the result

Muzzle Types

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Please do not use this cloth/tight fitting of muzzle on your dog for anything other than a routine vet check. If you have a dog that you think might bite, then please use a basket muzzle (and insist on a basket muzzle even if the pet shop recommends one of these restrictive cloth muzzles). Basket muzzles shown below;

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The cloth type muzzles will cause your dog to overheat rapidly because they are unable to pant effectively – dogs can only lose heat by panting (they don’t sweat) so if they can’t get their mouths open and their tongues out, they are in danger of overheating.

They also cannot drink effectively. On a warm day, they can get very distressed on a hot day (above 20C), they can rapidly become so hot that they can collapse and die! Please do not use the cloth muzzle when walking your dog on a warm day and definitely NOT on a hot day; you run the risk of killing your dog!

The basket type muzzles (images above) are much better as the dog can pant effectively, can drink effectively and can be given treat rewards easily so that you can reward your dog for good behaviour.

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