Pupdate on Tesla – Part 2 – Career Training

Last week, I gave an update on Tesla’s training in the past year, detailing what we have accomplished in terms of her basic behaviors, with the simple goal of making her much easier to live with in our family environment. Here, I detail her more advanced training, and how we hope to achieve the goals of a truly competitive sports dog.

Flyball training – For those who don’t know, flyball is a competitive dog sport whereby a relay team of four dogs and handlers send their dogs over four hurdles to retrieve a ball out of a spring-loaded box, to return with the ball over the hurdles before the next dog in line goes.

Flyball Training

Flyball Training

When I got Tesla, she had absolutely no interest in the ball. She would chase it when thrown because it was moving, but had no concept of the retrieve. This was actually a good thing, since exceedingly ball-obsessed dogs are sometimes less than motivated on the return of a flyball course, since they already have their prized ball. So I took this slowly. First, I encouraged her to play lots of tug with me. Then I gradually introduced her to the ball, first chasing it, then picking it up, and eventually retrieving it, and working up to retrieving it when it was not moving. Now, she readily retrieves a ball, running full speed both outbound and on the return, which is exactly how we want it. She is bringing the ball all the way to my foot 95% of the time on the flat, though we are still working on the full retrieve to me in flyball over hurdles. With all of the distractions and added tasks, including jumping the hurdles, turning on the flyball box, and ignoring the dogs in adjacent lanes, she still has challenges with the full course.

Tesla at the Dog eRaces Tournament in May 2014

Speaking of hurdles, I got lucky with the jumping – she loves to jump, and once we lined her up in front of the hurdles (first jumping to me over 1, then 2, then 3, then 4 hurdles in a row) it has never occurred to her to go around the jumps instead of over them. The only time she’ll miss the hurdles on course is if she bobbles the ball and ends up completely off-course.

We have entered a couple of tournaments, but she was primarily only successful in warm-ups, with just two successful in-race runs at our tournament in May. Still no flyball points due to her distractibility, which I discussed last week.

Agility training – Although I originally thought she would compete in Flyball before Agility, I may be proven wrong. While she still barks at running dogs when she is waiting her turn, her focus when we are working together has improved dramatically. I am more than fortunate to have an amazing agility instructor in Sam Cohen, who not only understands that different dog/handler teams have different needs, but who also has the patience to allow a dog training colleague (me) to do what she needs to do in class for her dog to succeed. I spent many an hour in the early days of foundation courses just turning and leaving the classroom because Tesla was about to lose her mind amidst the distractions. And it has paid off! She can now perform sequence drills in class and (mostly) ignore the other working dogs, as long as I have her focused on me and working.

Agility drills

We have, thus far, entered one fun match, and it went well, after initial distractions. Not sure that we’ll be quite ready to trial before the end of this year, but by next season for certain.

As to equipment and handling, well, that has been the easy part for her, and more of a challenge for me. In private training sessions, she is wicked fast when sequencing equipment, and has forced me to work hard to improve my timing and positional cues in order not to drive this race car into a wall, so to speak. Trialing with her will be SO much fun!

Class Assistant (Demo Dog) – This is her actual “job”, if you want to call it that. Considering that, when I first got her, she was not able to stay inside a classroom with moving dogs for even a few seconds without screaming, I’m absolutely pleased with her progress up to now. The adoption of Tesla allowed my old girl, Claire, to finally take a well-earned retirement. She was ready. The best news is that Tesla seems to enjoy the work as much as Claire did when she was younger. And now Claire gets to enjoy hanging out on a blanket and being brushed, chasing her boomer ball around the yard, and playing with the occasional water spray from a hose.

Ah, but the road to Demo Dog has been a challenge! Thanks to wonderful colleagues and friends (my “village”) who worked her through my classes, gave her treats for being quiet in her crate between exercises, and took her out for Time Outs whenever she barked in class, I now have a canine training partner who vocalizes minimally, mostly when I’m working with another dog in class. (We’re working on resolving this, too, of course.)

She is learning all of the necessary behaviors to assist me in demonstrating lessons to my class students, while not reacting to the other dogs in class when they bark at her. (This is also still a work in progress, but oh so improved!)

After over a year of training, including an initial three months of frustration and hard-core work with her, I can say with confidence that Tesla is becoming a really nice working dog. Of course, this didn’t happen by accident. And the lessons that I have learned while teaching her are among the best that I could have hoped for.

Finally, a dog with an “off” switch!

If you think you have a young dog like Tesla, and you are at your wit’s end with the reactivity and crazy energy, don’t despair! Contact a local force-free trainer to assist you. In the long run, it will be more than worthwhile.

How Many Sports Does It Take?

Since my last post here about Tesla’s training, I’ve had several clients ask the question: how many sports can you teach a dog simultaneously, and should I consider starting several at once?

While I have started my new pup in basic training plus 2 different sports already (and I may add a 3rd sport soon if the schedule permits), I don’t typically recommend this to the handler who has not practiced the chosen sports before. This is not because the dog can’t do it, but because it can get fairly complicated for the handler to switch gears completely from sport to sport.

When I first started herding with Claire, my heart dog, my coach told me that “those agility and flyball dogs don’t make very good herding dogs.” She was referring to the sports in which Claire and I were already competing, and suggesting that Claire would not be a good herding dog because of our multi-sport background. As it turned out, she was a great herding dog, and quickly went on to a Herding Ranch Dog title. My coach even said to me later, “she’s a great first herding dog for you.” HA! I knew it!

I couldn’t help but wonder why she would have made that original comment to me in the first place. Then, as I reflected on my personal challenges when I first started herding, I realized that it’s not typically the dogs that have the problems with cross-training, but the handlers.

To give us credit, the humans do get the harder part of the job in any dog sport. We have to memorize courses, know how to signal our dogs, know when to give certain signals, be able to read our dogs, know what to expect in different environments… not to mention consider what we’ll be doing for dinner than night and, oh yeah, what about that big report due on Monday… All that the dogs have to do is follow our signals. This is why owners are often disheartened when an instructor takes their dog for a demo and makes the dog look like a superstar. How often have I heard a student say “the dog is smarter than I am”, or “my dog would be great if she had a better handler.” OK, so I’ve said these things, too. But the fact is, we humans do have much more to think about than our dogs ever do.

So back to the question of how many dog sports to start at once: that depends on you, the handler. If you are sufficiently experienced in multiple sports as to avoid confusion for your dog, then training in them simultaneously shouldn’t be overly complicated. In fact, many dog sports have a number of training exercises in common, including restrained recalls, targeting, and focus work.

However, if you are not already very familiar with a variety of sports, then I highly recommend choosing one at a time to teach yourself and your dog. In this way, you can get your signals and communication clear, and also make a decision as to which sports you enjoy the most. Because, after all, if you are not really enjoying a particular sport, chances are that your dog will not either. Just like us, our dogs want to do what is most fun. And the most fun a dog could have is in playing with his or her human.

If you are not certain which sport to choose for your dog, check out my dog sports resources page.

And as always, Happy Training!

Claire's play bow

Claire’s invitation to play

Dog Park?

Dog parks are a popular destination for many dog owners, even those who have large yards in which to play at home. These parks allow dogs to romp, off-leash, in a fenced environment. For many owners, it is also a place to meet and connect with other dog lovers. To keep your dog safe, follow these simple rules and remain alert for signs of danger.

Dog parks offer an opportunity to let your dogs stretch out and run

Have a solid recall (come when called). This will assure that you are able to call your dog out of danger if needed. If you don’t have a solid recall, consider other alternatives to off-leash parks, such as training classes, or smaller play groups, where you can safely practice your dog’s recall before letting him play off-leash with dogs you don’t know well.

Observe the humans. If people are chatting with backs turned to the dogs, stay away. While it’s perfectly fine to chat with other dog owners, it’s more important to watch the dogs as they interact. Stand facing your dog, and talk to people at your side. If the other owners are watching their dogs, it’s a safe bet that they are looking out for their welfare.

Observe the dogs. Look out for dogs that challenge others, stand over or mount others or bully others. If you see such a dog, you might consider leaving rather than risking your dog’s involvement in a scuffle. Keep in mind, also, that many dog owners do not understand dog body language, so they may not even be aware that their dog is being a bully or an impolite brat. Rather than argue with the owner who insists that his or her dog is “friendly”, it is often better to just leave the park if you are uncomfortable with the interactions between your dog and another. Your top priority is to respect your dog’s needs, so if he doesn’t appear to be enjoying the time, you should honor that.

Consider alternatives. Remember that, like people, every dog should not be expected to get along with every other dog. Have you gotten along with every single person you’ve ever met? Have you never had an argument? Personalities can clash and, in a park full of strangers, this likelihood increases. To avoid this, try meeting at a local park with friends whose dogs are known to get along with yours. Or if you still prefer the dog park, go at times when there are fewer dogs. I recommend groups of 8 or fewer, ideally. (Although doggy day cares have larger groups, they are typically managed by more experienced professionals, and for the most part, these dogs have gotten to know each other much better.)

Dog sports are another great option. A wide variety of sports are available including Agility, Flyball, Rally Obedience, Canine Freestyle (dancing), Dock Diving, Tracking, Herding, Disc Dogs (Frisbee) and many others. Dog sports encourage better relationships between you and your dog, allow your dog to play off-leash in a more controlled and fun environment, and teach dogs that playing with you is more fun than playing with other dogs – an invaluable lesson in case you need emergency obedience some day.

Happy playing!!

Oh no! You’re leaving?

Does your dog panic when you leave him behind?

We love our dogs. This is why we take them hiking, hire dog walkers, take them to doggie day care, participate in dog sports and buy them gifts. Unfortunately, we can’t always take them along when we go out. While it can be tough to leave your dog behind, it’s important not to make a fuss about your arrivals and departures, as this can create problems for your pooch. And as the holiday season is upon us, this will be particularly important if we will be forced to leave our pups behind to go visit relatives or attend holiday parties.

Leaving pooch behind

Unfortunately, not everyone gets to take their dog to work.

When leaving for the day, many loving owners start to leave, turn back and see their dog watching them then return for “one last goodbye”. While I have to confess that I’ve been guilty of this with my niece and nephew when I visit, I make it a point not to do this with my dogs (or my kid), as it can cause anxiety and other problems.

While there are many causes, separation anxiety, may be exacerbated by lengthy goodbye’s and overly exuberant hello’s. When you leave for the day, the dog knows that you are going.  If you behave as if it’s not a big deal, the dog will be more likely to believe that all is well. If, however, you make a fuss, he’ll wonder why you are behaving in such a manner. Over time, this could lead to increased levels of anxiety every time that you leave without him. The same is true if you make a fuss when you return, as he’ll get excited at the prospect of your return, and in this excitement may become destructive or anxious.

It is important to note that not all destructiveness is separation anxiety; some dogs simply need more to do, so they destroy things out of sheer boredom when left alone. Typically, separation anxiety also involves stress-related behaviors such as hyper-salivation (you’ll notice wetness below the chin, and sometimes down the dog’s chest), inappropriate elimination (urination or defecation) typically near entryways, and much destruction around entry/exit points such as door jams and window sills. Some dogs will even end up injuring themselves in their desperation to find their people. I know of one dog that jumped through a second story window due to her anxiety when left alone.

Resting until Mom returns
Don’t worry about us – we’ll be fine!

 Assuming your dog doesn’t already exhibit separation anxiety, what is the best way to leave? Say goodbye in a cheerful voice and walk away. Resist the temptation to look back or to return for one last ear scratch goodbye. When returning home, give a quiet hello as you walk in; ask for a sit or down prior to petting. Save the exuberant greetings for when he does something really great, such as coming when called away from a major distraction.

If you have done all of these things and your dog still suffers from what you feel may be separation anxiety, or even just destructiveness when you are away, contact your local trainer for assistance.


When asked about what is important for a dog to learn, I often list four items that I consider to be “life or death commands.” These are: Leave it, Drop it, Come when called, and Stay. These cues can make an important safety difference for a family dog, and they become particularly crucial at busy times of the year such as the holiday season. While most people expect dogs to come when called and leave or drop things that they should not have, people often underestimate the value of a solid “Stay”.

During the holidays, there are numerous uses for a good “stay” in place. Suppose you have guests visit, and they are nervous around dogs; a solid “stay” across the room could go a long way to easing their anxiety. And how about when the front door is open and you don’t want your dog to run off? A variation of “stay”, where a dog “stays at his place” on his bed or mat can also be tremendously beneficial during a holiday dinner, or while you are preparing for a gathering, to keep your pooch out from underfoot.


Stay Dogs

A Solid “Stay” x4
Photo courtesy Tonya Jensen

The most common mistake that I see people make in teaching the stay is to increase the difficulty level too quickly. To begin, have your dog sit or down and tell him “stay”, then very quickly reward and then release him from the stay. Initially, the stay should be no more than a second or two (even less for young puppies) and without moving away from the dog at all. The release can be a simple “OK” or a less commonly used word such as “release”, but should always follow the stay command and the reward in order to assure that the dog does not learn to just get up from stay whenever he wants.

To teach a truly reliable stay, it’s important to have patience and remember the variables or “4 D’s” of stay: Duration (how long he stays), Distance (how far away you are), Distraction (anything that distracts your dog), and Direction (where you are relative to your dog, including out of sight). Work on only one D variable at a time at first. Then, gradually add D’s together, one at a time. So, when adding distance, reduce duration. Then add distractions, and reduce distance and duration. As each D becomes stronger, try mixing and matching them, first 2 at a time, then 3 at a time, until your dog is able to handle all 4 D’s together. Always take baby steps with each new D, whether you are just starting to teach it, or adding it to other D’s.

Another common mistake that I see with “stay” is what many people refer to as “Einstein’s definition of insanity“: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. If you have asked your dog to stay and he breaks the stay, do not re-try it with the same parameters! Instead, change at least one variable before trying again.

The first variable to work on should be Duration. Very gradually build up from a short, 1-2 second stay, to 30 seconds, 1 minute and longer, without moving away from your dog. Next, work on the distance stay by itself, stepping back from the dog after giving the stay command, with minimal duration. Once the duration and distance have been built up individually, you can begin to add them together, reducing both at first.

It can be really tempting to say, “I wonder if he can do this?” and push him past his limit. Remember not to “go insane”, as this can be counterproductive, and may result in a much longer learning curve. Instead, be sure to reward then release before he breaks each time, and you will achieve a much faster learning process. Strive for success, rather than pushing the dog to the point of breaking the stay each time. The best way to get successful stays is to get successful stays and reward them, then build upon them.

With patience and perseverance, you can teach your dog to have a really solid and reliable stay regardless of the location and distractions present.

Don’t Touch That Turkey!


While most people teach their dogs to sit, down, stay and come, some may overlook two of the most important commands that assure a dog’s safety and well being: the “leave it” and “drop it” commands. Both of these gain particular importance during the holiday season, when we not only have all kinds of particularly yummy food out, but also guests who may take our attention away from more closely supervising our pooches.

Shadow is tempted

Seriously… don’t touch that turkey!

First, it’s important to note that Leave it and Drop it are different, not just in application, but in the way they are perceived by the dog. For this reason, I like to use different cues for them, and teach them somewhat differently.

Leave It: The dog has not yet taken possession of the item. This means that he is looking at something and thinking about approaching or taking it. “Leave it” means he should forget about it and look back to his owner. Note that Leave It may also be used to call a dog off of items that will not be taken by mouth, including other dogs, cats, and even people who may not want the dog to bother them.

Drop It: This is more difficult because the dog is to let go of something that is already in his mouth. This is often called “give”. The important thing about “drop it” is that the meaning for a dog is different: he ­already has possession so, in his mind, he already owns it. If you try to take it from him, he may growl, bite or run away to defend something that his instinct tells him is rightfully his. This makes “drop it” more complicated to teach, but just as important. What if he’s picked up something that is going to make him sick like that box of homemade fudge or walnut brownies?

When teaching the Drop it command, it is important NOT to force a dog to give something up (i.e. pry it from his jaws) as this could actually increase the likelihood of the dog “resource guarding” and becoming more unwilling to give the item up. (Of course, in an emergency, you may be tempted to force it, but bear in mind that you may be bitten!) Remember that resource guarding is not about rank or status, but about defending what they believe to be rightfully theirs – it is a basic survival instinct.

For dogs who already have resource guarding issues, I recommend taking it one step back, and teaching the word “drop it” without anything in the dog’s mouth. Simply say “drop it”, and then toss treats to the floor, pointing out the treats. Over time, you will work up to the dog having things in his mouth, starting with very low value items, and very gradually working up to higher value items. For a detailed demonstration of the process, described by noted trainer, Chirag Patel, check out this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ndTiVOCNY4M

With both Leave it and Drop it, it is important to reward the dog in order to make leaving or dropping an item worthwhile. Simply taking something from a dog or forcing him to leave it by pulling on a leash may work with low value items, or when he’s on a leash, but often not otherwise. By trading for yummier treats, in both cases, the dog will learn that it’s worth obeying the commands.

If you have any problems in teaching these commands, particularly if your dog is exhibiting any amount of aggression, contact a qualified dog behavior counselor for additional advice.

Have a safe and enjoyable holiday season with your pooches!

That Ever Elusive “Reliable Recall”

Does your dog ignore you when you call him to you? Or does he have selective hearing, only coming when he knows you have a cookie, or if there is nothing more interesting going on? A solid “recall”, or come on cue, is one of the most important things that your dog can know, both for safety and convenience. And yet, it seems to be one of the most challenging of the cues to really master.

To teach a reliable recall, the first thing to keep in mind is that dogs do what works for them. If a behavior results in something pleasant, they’ll repeat the action; if it results in something unpleasant or boring, they’re unlikely to repeat it. Thus, if you call your dog to reprimand him – regardless of what he did prior to your calling – he won’t want to come running the next time you call. By contrast, if you call and reward him with a treat, you’ll improve the likelihood of him come running the next time.

Calling Claire

The recall is a key element in many dog sports, including flyball.

The best way to teach a dog to come reliably is to practice often, beginning with very low levels of distractions. Start in your living room or backyard, with nothing else going on, and call your dog’s name. When he turns toward you, give him a delicious tidbit. As he becomes more consistent, gradually increase the distraction level, rewarding each time.

As the level of difficulty and distractions increases, you will need to increase your level of rewards. When working in your living room or backyard, for instance, without distractions, you may use kibble or simple dog biscuits; at a local park, your dog is unlikely to respond to anything less than cheese, cooked meat, or smelly soft treats. And when your dog manages a very challenging recall away from a high distraction, consider giving a “jackpot”: this is 5-10 small treats in a row, given one by one just like the coins from a casino jackpot.

Once your dog is becoming reliable around lower level distractions, practice calling him in a variety of tones of voice, similar to the different situations you may encounter in real life. Be sure to tell him how good he is as soon as he turns toward you, and then reward profusely as soon as he gets to you.

When practicing the recall, keep in mind the following rules:

  1. Always reward the dog when he comes when called, whether it’s with a yummy treat or a scratch behind the ear. The reward should increase with the level of difficulty. There are a variety of ways of increasing a reward for your dog, including offering a jackpot of treats, offering a better treat (i.e. hot dog instead of kibble) or offering the treat with more enthusiasm.
  2. Never call your dog from a situation that you know he won’t come away from if you are not able to enforce it. For example, if your dog has chased a squirrel up a tree and he’s off leash, it’s better to go get him than to try to call him in vain. Otherwise, he will learn that hearing his name does not have that much importance.
  3. Never reprimand your dog when he comes to you. Whether you called him or not, if he approaches you and you reprimand him, he may not want to approach you next time. So, if he is in trouble, go to him to reprimand – don’t call him. And actually, nothing bad should ever happen when you have called your dog to you and he has come. This includes such things as nail trimmings (which most dogs hate) and other such unpleasant things. And remember that leaving a park can also be considered “bad” if the dog was still having fun! So if you frequent dog parks or other types of parks, be sure to call your dog often to reward him, then call him and divert his attention with a play session prior to actually leaving the park.

Practicing often and rewarding a lot are the best ways to build a reliable recall in your dog.  Before you know it, you’ll be able to take him everywhere, confident that he’ll come when called instead of running off.

Resource Guarding – The Misunderstood Problem

What is wrong with my dog?

Recently, there has been much discussion about resource guarding, particularly since a certain famous self-proclaimed dog trainer incited a dog to bite him while guarding her food dish. There are many misconceptions about what dog experts call “resource guarding”, that is, the act of guarding something that a dog considers of value. This could include food, treats, toys and even people and other companion animals. The most common type of resource guarding, and the most misunderstood, is that involving food.

While there are various ideas among dog lovers as to why a dog might guard his food, the main reason is simply instinct. Guarding of resources is an innate survival impulse.  According to the natural law of animals, “what is in my mouth or between my paws is mine.” There is no disputing this. If you try to take something from the dog that he doesn’t wish to part with, he will often feel that it is his “right” to guard it. This has nothing to do with status seeking; instinct tells animals that if they don’t guard their food, they may starve to death. Can you imagine a non-resource guarding dog in the wild? It would not survive.

For a more human perspective, think about U.S. law: it states that a search without a warrant is unlawful. If the police show up without one and you lock your doors, you are not defying authority; you are exercising your rights under the law as you understand it. So it is with dogs. A dog that guards food or toys is not defying your authority. He is simply asserting his rights under his perception of the natural law.

This is MINE… stay away!

One of the reasons that many people have a hard time understanding this is that we have bred the resource guarding instinct out of a lot of dogs over the centuries, so they simply won’t do it. Think of the majority of Labradors and Golden Retrievers – not only have they lost their instinct to resource guard, but they and many other dogs actively seek to bring you things!

So, how do you teach your dog to give up a cherished resource?  If you are fortunate enough to begin with a puppy, teaching a “drop it” command is an easy first step. Start by giving the pup a toy that he considers low in value.  When it’s firmly in his mouth, tell him “drop it” as you wave a tasty treat in front of his nose. As soon as he lets go of the toy, give him the treat. Then return the toy to him.  By receiving the toy back, the pup will learn that responding to “drop it” is always worthwhile.  Otherwise, a smart pup may actually begin to weigh options: “do I prefer this or that?” As the “drop it” response improves, work with gradually higher value items, until you can tell him to drop a meaty bone, give him a treat, and return the bone to him.

With a puppy at the food bowl, walk nearby while he’s eating. As you go by, toss a yummier morsel into the bowl, such as a piece of hotdog or cheese.  As the pup becomes comfortable with your being closer, slowly work up to picking up the bowl, dropping in the treat, and setting it back down. This teaches the pup that good things come when someone takes your food bowl. Eventually, the pup will be happy to have you nearby when he’s eating.

Hand-feeding is also easy to incorporate into your puppy’s routine – there is no rule that meals must be served in a bowl. By hand-feeding your dog, you have the opportunity to further improve your relationship, remind him that you are the source of good things, and emphasize that having you around while he is eating is a positive thing. This is particularly beneficial with puppies, but can be incorporated with adult dogs as well.

What if you have an adult dog that is already resource guarding? The process in this case must proceed much more slowly. You can start by simply teaching the dog that “drop it” means there are tidbits of food on the floor, as in the video by Domesticated Manners. Over time, you can eventually move to the point where the dog will actively drop items in his mouth when he hears the words “drop it.”

If your dog is a serious resource guarder, to the point of being dangerous, or if he displays resource guarding around people or companion animals, talk to a professional behavior counselor or trainer for assistance, and make sure they are using the most modern methods. Note the completely different techniques and vastly superior results in this video from my colleague, Lisa Mullinax, as she teaches a dog not to guard a food bowl.

Most importantly, remember the natural law and try not to break it outright. With patience and consistency, you can teach your dog that it is to his benefit to give up the things that you ask for and thus he won’t feel the need to guard them from you.

Quiet Please!

Many people live with and around dogs that bark too much. If you have a high drive dog, then barking could be particularly challenging. Barking can be a nuisance.  And if a neighbor complains it can also become a legal issue. But before your dog’s – or your neighbor’s dog’s – barking issues can be addressed, it helps to understand why he or she is barking. Dogs bark for a variety of reasons. Following is a list of possible triggers, and how they might be handled:

Barking for attention

A bored dog may not have anything more interesting to do than to bark.  Yelling at him to be quiet will typically only make matters worse, as he’ll consider this attention, and thus rewarding. Just like children, bad attention is better than no attention at all. If your dog is bored, he needs an outlet for his energy. Consider getting up earlier to walk or play ball with him, and give him more mental exercise. Additionally, giving him toys or chew treats may keep him occupied while you’re away.

Barking at prey animals

If a dog is prey driven – as so many are – he may not be able to resist chasing critters that run by. In this case, teaching the dog to re-direct attention to a toy or game is helpful when you are around to reinforce the new behavior. When you are away, keep the dog separated from areas where squirrels play. As an alternative, a motion detector sprinkler can be a great way to keep small animals away from the yard.

Barking at perceived intruders

Known as alarm barking, most people want their dogs to bark at intruders this way. It’s their job!  However, excessive barking can be a problem. Here again, yelling at the dog to be quiet seldom works.  Instead, first acknowledge the “intruder” by looking directly at him/her/it and then praising the dog. (“Good watch dog.”)  Next, tell the dog “quiet now” and lure him away with a treat. Tell him to sit, down or some other trick and give him the treat. If he attempts to go back to barking at the “intruder”, call him away with an “ah-ah” and ask for additional tricks in exchange for treats.  Over time, the long process won’t be necessary and a simple “Good watch dog, quiet now” will suffice to quiet him down. If your dog is a persistent barker, you may add a “time out” – 30 seconds to 2 minutes of isolation – whenever he goes back to bark at something after you have praised him and called him away the first time.

Barking when left alone

Some dogs bark when left alone for extended periods of time. If your dog does this, it could be due to boredom or it could potentially be separation anxiety. If your dog is bored, then increasing his mental stimulation, as described under “attention barking” above, could help to alleviate this. However, if your dog has separation anxiety, then it is important to treat this very challenging condition with the help of a professional behavior counselor and/or veterinary behaviorist. Some helpful management tactics include doggy day care, or getting a sitter to spend time with your dog during the day. Please note that separation anxiety is also best diagnosed by a professional, so when in doubt, consider calling one.

If you have a serious barking dog challenge, contact your local dog trainer. He or she can help you to teach your dog to be more polite. Telling your neighbors that you are working with the trainer for the barking can also go a long way to build rapport and keep them from taking legal action against you.

Crate Rest and the High Drive Dog

Some years ago, Claire, my Border collie, was injured and required to “crate rest” for 10 days. As I was leaving the vet office, I told my vet that she was a working dog, to which he answered “it’s time for a vacation.” Clearly, he didn’t understand about working dogs!

If you have a high drive dog, and find yourself in this unenviable position of having to keep her quiet due to some sort of injury or illness, you know how challenging it can be. Following are some options for keeping your pooch mentally stimulated while limiting physical activity. In this manner, your dog may be (at least somewhat) less restless during convalescence.

Poor poor Buzz hurt his foot

NOTE: Not all of these exercises may be suitable for all dogs. Please consult with your veterinarian to determine which exercises would be best suited for working around your dog’s specific malady.

Find it: Start with teaching a simple “find it” by tossing kibble or treats to the ground where your dog can easily see them land then move to eat them. As she starts to understand, proceed to dropping a treat while she’s looking in another direction, and then tell her to find it. Once she is proficient at doing this, then you can take the treats and roll them into folds of a towel or old blanket. Put the blanket into your dog’s crate and encourage her to “find it” using her nose and digging into the blanket.

A related game is to hide the treats under cups.  Set out three cups, with a treat under one of them. Ask your dog to “find it”, and see how long it takes her to choose the correct cup. When she finds it, give her a jackpot of additional treats. As she gets better at choosing the appropriate cup, start to reward her extra only when she chooses the correct cup on the second try or better, then eventually only give her extra treats when she chooses the correct cup on the first try.

Object discrimination: This is learning to distinguish between the names of different objects, usually toys. Start with a single toy, and ask your dog to take it, i.e. “take the ball”. Proceed to hand her the toy. If your dog doesn’t like to take things in her mouth, you can simply accept a nose touch to the item. Reward with a treat, and repeat. When she is readily taking the ball on cue, switch to another toy, i.e. “take the bone”. (Be sure the words you use are sufficiently different! Note that words like Phone and Bone may not be distinguishable to some dogs.) Use only the bone for a few days. Once your dog is proficient at taking the bone, try with both items – one in each hand – and tell her to take one specifically. At first, say the cue then move the correct item toward her a little bit to give her the hint. Be sure to move the item AFTER saying the cue so she doesn’t ignore the verbal cue and just take what you hand to her. Soon, you may stop moving and let her choose the toy. If she chooses correctly, she either gets the toy to play, or a treat. If she chooses incorrectly, take both toys away and just say “oops”. If she is incorrect, return to giving her the hint by moving the correct item toward her after giving the cue.

Puzzle Toys: Interactive puzzle toys are a great way to mentally stimulate your dog without quite so much work, for those days when additional training time is just not part of your schedule. These work by allowing your dog to use her brain to solve puzzles in order to find the food and/or treats hidden within. Most of these do require a bit of training at first to help the dog determine what is to be done, but once they learn the process, then they will go on to puzzle solving on their own, and you can take the puzzles to a higher level of difficulty. Find many puzzle toys at the Clicker Training Store online.

Tricks: There are a wide variety of stationary tricks that may be taught to a crate-resting dog. Here are just a few.

Left and Right turns – useful in a variety of sports, left and right turns are also a very easy, in-position trick to teach a dog.  Start by facing toward your dog, remembering that your right is her left and vice versa. Practice left and right turns separately (i.e. left turns in one session, right turns in another session) by tossing treats for your dog to see. Ask for a “watch me” and then release the dog with a “right” or “left” cue followed by your release or “take it” cue. As the dog starts to understand the directions, begin dropping the treat while the dog is looking in another direction, then release with the directional cue.  Remember to only practice one direction in any given practice session for at least the first several days, until the dog is consistently turning in the correct direction.

If your dog is severely restricted in terms of movement, this exercise can be practiced in place, with the dog lying down, and setting the treats to the side of the dog instead of tossing them. NOTE: the left and right turns are simply head turns of approximately 90 degrees. Once the dog understands turns, then her body will naturally follow where her head is looking once she is in motion.

Left paw / right paw – This is simply a paw shake with either paw. Many people call this “Paw” and “Other Paw”. If your dog already knows it, it can be practiced from lying down as simply a forward extension of her paw. At first, make it easy by putting your hand near the paw that you are requesting. Over time, ask for the paw without the physical cue, but give her the hint if she don’t get it on the verbal cue.

Shake head yes/no – Easily lured (side-to-side or up-and-down) these can also be shaped using clicker training. The cues could be “say yes” and “say no”, or you could choose clever questions to which your dog could respond, such as “do you want a cookie” (nod yes) and “how about a bath” (nod no).

Touch body parts – if your dog is able to move physically, but just not allowed to jump and play, then this could be another good option.  If you have clicker trained your dog, you can free-shape this with simple head turns. If not, you can lure her to touch certain body parts with her nose. For example, to touch her tail, lure her nose to her tail, then mark and reward. When she is readily moving her nose to her tail, you can start to put the cue of “tail” (or “find your tail”) before guiding her to touching her tail. Once she is proficient at this trick, you can add more body parts that are easily accessible to your dog’s nose, such as her hips, front and rear feet, etc.

Crate rest is no fun

Like people, most dogs need mental as well as physical exercise on a regular basis to remain well-adjusted and content. High energy, intelligent dogs, can become particularly distressed when they are not able to work at all. Giving them at least some mental exercise on a daily basis may substantially reduce their stress, and thus improve the healing process.