Is your dog stressed?

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Your dog may not have a 9-to-5, relationship issues or financial worries, but stress in dogs is real, and can have real implications on your dog’s ability to behave appropriately.

4PawsUniversity has a handy visual guide to Stress Signs in Dogs, which can help you read your dog’s signals before a bark, growl or bite happens. Pay particular attention to the avoidance signs. These are warning signs that your dog is not enjoying the interaction! Think of avoidance as a stop sign. When you see it, stop what you are doing and change tactics, or remove your dog from the environment that’s creating the avoidance behavior. There are a number of reasons a dog could be avoiding a particular person, dog or other scenario, but in any case it is a signal that should not be ignored.

If your dog is continually stressed by specific events or situations, behavior modification can help your dog learn to cope with stressful events before a bite, bolt or other unwanted behavior occurs.

How a shelter dog is made

Ian Dunbar talks about how dogs become shelter dogs.

The message in this short video is vital for anyone who is getting or has a puppy, works with shelter or rescue dogs, or anyone considering adopting a shelter or rescue dog.

Creative Commons License (Photo credit: bk2000)

Why Puppy Kindergarten is vital for your dog

KesselCookiesDo you have a puppy between eight weeks and three months old? Then there’s not a minute to lose: enroll your new friend in Puppy Kindergarten!

The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior recently released a position statement recommending puppy socialization classes for puppies three months of age and younger. This recommendation is an exciting acknowledgment of what dog trainers and behaviorists have known for years — the first three months of a puppy’s life are too critical to ignore.

“Enrolling in puppy classes prior to three months of age can be an excellent means of improving training, strengthening the human-animal bond, and socializing puppies in an environment where risk of illness can be minimized,” according to the report. “Puppy socialization classes can offer a safe and organized means of socializing puppies and more quickly improve their responsiveness to commands.”

Our puppy classes cover basic obedience commands such as sit, down, stay, come when called; address issues such as chewing, jumping up, mouthing and pulling on leash; and also provide a supervised, controlled environment for continued socialization with other puppies and introductions to new people.

Enroll today and take the first step in a lifetime of enrichment for your puppy. To download your copy of the AVSAB report, click here.

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The 15-minute feeding schedule

Kibble faceWhat is the 15-minute feeding schedule?

It’s the simplest way to alter the way your dog interacts with you, with the least effort on your part.

If your dog is already on the 15-minute feeding schedule, pat yourself on the back, go grab some kibble and a clicker, and get to work on Charging The Clicker. If your dog turns up his nose at the idea of dinner as a reward, the 15-minute feeding schedule will work wonders.

What to do:
1. Check with your vet about feeding requirements. Most dogs will survive on the low end of the bag of kibble’s feeding recommendations with no ill effects, but if in doubt, ask your veterinarian. If you’re feeding substantially more than the low end suggestion, and your vet says it’s OK, cut back to the recommended amount over a period of days.
2. Pick up your dog’s food bowl. The days of filling the bowl in the morning and leaving it out all day are over. (“But he likes to eat overnight/while I’m gone/etc.!” Exactly… your dog is determining the food’s value, not you.)
3. Set a timer… for 15 minutes! (Or 20, if you’re feeling guilty.) Then, set out the normal portion for that meal. Whatever is still there after 15 minutes is picked up and returned to the bag. Do NOT save the uneaten portion for the next meal. The regular portion is set out at the next meal.

That’s it! Your dog may not eat at first, but soon he’ll realize there’s an expiration date on the food bowl, and it’s determined by YOU.

Soon you’ll see a happy, engaged response when you reach for the food bag, indicating that your dog views his kibble as a valuable resource. And once you control the resources, you can control the dog.

Creative Commons License photo credit: mrdorkesq

Roundup: Your adolescent dog

A roundup of articles to help you and your pup sail through the choppy waters of adolescent months.

Creative Commons License photo credit: lindyireland

Three simple strategies for training your dog not to jump up

Day 2 of 365: Furry FriendTeaching your dog not to jump up on you or your guests may seem like an impossible task, especially if you have a dog who loves people (and people who love dogs)! How many times have your guests been greeted at the door by your overenthusiastic canine’s nose and front feet, while you haplessly shout “No! Down! Stop it!” in the background? Or you meet a friend while walking your dog, your dog jumps up, and your friend praises and pets the dog, and says, “Oh, it’s OK, I love dogs!”?

Let’s work on changing that scene with three simple strategies for training your dog not to jump on people. You’ll have the most success with your dog if you use these approaches in combination with one another.

Strategy Number One: Ignore the jumping. Unless your dog weighs more than 60 lbs. or is using his mouth when he jumps, ignoring jumping up is the fastest way to permanently make it go away. Dogs jump up to get your attention — so stop giving it to them! Pushing your dog down, yelling “No!”, kneeing him in the chest, stepping on his back toes, bopping him on the head or any other interaction you can think of are a “score” in the needy dog’s book, and make him even more likely to jump next time. (After all, if a dog wants something, what’s the first thing he has to get? Your attention.) To instruct others on how to completely ignore your jumping dog, ask them to turn their backs, cross their arms and look up at the ceiling until all four of your dog’s feet are on the floor.

Strategy Number Two: Manage the behavior (of both people AND dogs). The doorbell rings — where is your dog? Rushing, barking, to the door, waiting to pounce the minute it’s opened? Before you answer the door, grab a leash and put it on your dog. Then use the leash to keep the dog out of jumping up range, even tethering your dog in a secure location if necessary. This strategy is a must if your dog is big, your guests don’t like dogs, or your dog mouths and bites when he or she jumps. On the street, keep enough distance between your dog and anyone unlikely to follow your rules so the jumping isn’t reinforced (and follow Strategy Number Three).

Strategy Number Three: Teach your dog an incompatible behavior. A sitting dog isn’t jumping up — simple as that. Work on improving your dog’s sit or down at the door while no guests are there, and on walks while no one’s around. Then you can ask for and reward a sit or down during progressively more difficult trials: You ring the doorbell, you pretend to greet a guest, enlist a friend or family member to play the guest’s part, etc. When the time comes, have really great treats handy and either you or your guest can ask your dog to sit or down BEFORE the dog jumps. Ask people not to pet your dog unless he is sitting or lying down.

Like everything else in dog training, consistency is key. Teach everyone in your family these strategies, and soon your pup will have one more feather in his good manners cap.

photo by: tentwo.teneight

How old should my puppy be before I start training?

“How old does my puppy have to be before I can begin training?”

This is a question I am asked often. The puppy in this video is 10 weeks old; but you don’t even have to wait that long! “Training” starts the day you bring your new dog or puppy home to live with you — dogs are learning all the time. This is why it is easier to prevent problems and bad habits than to solve them later.

(Check out our Puppy Kindergarten class in Athens!)

But what most people mean when they ask this question is, “How soon can I expect my puppy to start performing tricks and basic obedience behaviors?” Happily, the answer is the same — immediately. Clicker training is an easy and fun way to accomplish this.

Your agility dog: Building focus and drive (Part One)

HMKC Spring 2007 Agility TrialIn agility or other dog sports, we often hear about a dog’s drive. Maybe someone has said your dog has a lot of drive, or could use more drive.

What is “drive”?

Sometimes you’ll hear people talk about different types of drive in dogs, such as fight drive, play drive or prey drive. For our purposes, we’ll lump these together under the description, “the dog’s desire to perform certain behavior.”

Drive is important because it’s what makes the dog go! We can channel a dog’s drive to play with a toy into prerequisites for playing with that toy, such as a sit or down. Dogs who perform with speed and enthusiasm on the agility course are often said to have a lot of drive.

Drive versus arousal

We handlers and trainers love drive, especially in a working dog. However, there is a difference between drive and arousal.

Arousal in dogs means “an excited mental state.” Arousal, while useful in many situations in which dogs are asked to perform, also can be dangerous. Dog bites take place when a dog is aroused. Besides sometimes leading to aggressive behavior towards humans, arousal can also lead to fights between dogs. Leashed dogs that bark at other dogs during walks are often demonstrating arousal as a result of frustration.

Watch the two videos below to see the difference between drive and arousal.

So, if drive requires the dog to be aroused, how do we ensure what we have is drive, and not simply arousal? Answer: We want controllable, focused arousal.

Controllable, focused arousal = drive

By “focused,” we mean “attentive to the handler.” After all, dogs can focus on many things — cats, birds, other dogs — without ever acknowledging the handler’s existence!

How to get drive

Let’s get started on few exercises to enhance your dog’s focus and drive.

First, we’ll teach our dogs to focus on us, even when something they want is at stake, using the Doggie Zen exercise. This exercise teaches our dogs to perform a required behavior (in this case, paying attention to us), before receiving a treat or other reward.

Second, we’ll show our dogs the benefits of allowing us to control their drive with the “Go Wild and Freeze” game. To play the game, grab some treats and a clicker and get your dog a bit riled — nothing crazy, your typical excited praise should be enough. Then, once the dog is excited, suddenly stop moving, avert your eyes and give your “quit” command (“That’s enough,” “Settle,” or “Take a break”). Click and treat as soon as your dog shows signs of settling. (If the treats rile your dog again, use lower-value rewards or replace them with soft praise and petting.) Then repeat, seeing how quickly you can get your dog riled and how fast he or she will respond to your “stop” request.

Third, we’ll add the “1-2-3 Game” to help lower-drive dogs get excited, and higher-drive dogs to contain themselves! Hold a treat just out of your dog’s reach and count slowly to three. If your dog attempts to jump or grab for the treat, remove your hand, then put it a little farther from his or her nose and start counting again from one. If your dog remains in place and doesn’t try to grab the treat, encourage him to “come get it” using “Go!” or another release cue after counting to three. “One… Two… Three… Go!” Some dogs will need the treat to be quite far from their noses at first.

In Part 2 next week, we’ll look at ways to increase your dog’s focus, as well as how to build your dog’s drive, and make your dog’s drive even more controllable.

Want a smarter dog? Try target training

Kessel targetingAn easy way to add to your dog’s repertoire of tricks or commands is to teach her how to target objects.

Targeting (or “target training”) means your dog pays attention to, and then performs an action based on, a particular stimulus (usually an object such as your hand, or a target stick). A dog putting his paw on an object on command, or bumping your hand with his nose upon request, is targeting. Targeting is a super-quick behavior to teach and has a variety of uses.

“Go to your mat” is one handy result of target training. We first teach the dog to “target” his mat, add the cue “Go to your mat,” and then place in a location of our choosing. Agility trainers use targeting quite often to teach their dogs not to skip contact zones while climbing or dismounting obstacles. Service dog trainers use targeting to teach dogs to open doors, turn lights on and off, and more.

Teaching hand targeting

Targeting your hand is an easy behavior for most dogs to learn. Follow the steps below to get started. You’ll need a clicker, a bunch of small, tasty, easy-to-swallow treats, and a leash (if your dogs needs a reason to stick around).

  1. Remember to always offer your dog a reward after you click, even if you have made an error.
  2. Offer your dog your hand, palm facing the tip of her nose (you can hold your hand in whatever position is most comfortable). Most dogs will sniff or lick your hand out of curiosity. As soon as she touches your hand, click and offer a treat. If your dog does not attempt to touch your hand, put it behind your back for a second or two, then try again. If your dog is having trouble finding your palm, hold it closer to her face. Click only when she reaches and touches your palm with her nose.
  3. Timing is everything! Be sure you are clicking as the dog’s nose touches your hand, not after. Otherwise, she won’t understand which behavior is earning a treat.
  4. Add the word “touch” or “target” just as your dog touches your hand. As your dog becomes more fluent, begin asking your dog to touch your palm, using the command.
  5. Raise and lower the target hand so that your dog has to take several steps to reach it. Have you moved it closer and closer to the ground, and up high so she has to stand up on her hind legs to reach it? Have you moved across the floor and had her follow you, nose to the target, as if her nose was magnetized?
  6. Begin asking your dog to target other objects with her nose, such as small container lids, pieces of cloth, the end of a stick, etc. You can also vary the length of time the dog must keep her nose on your hand or target object before she gets her click and treat.

Of course, you can teach your dog to target any number of objects, whether portable or not. The most portable object I ever used to teach target training was a sticker, which could then be placed anywhere, including unmovable places like walls!

See hand targeting in action:

Dog chases squirrel: Predatory arousal and calming signals

This dog gives us an excellent look at arousal; in this case, predatory arousal. Note her dilated pupils and wide-mouthed panting. Watch during the first five seconds of the video as she licks her lips — this is a calming signal asking the person with the camera to please “back off.” Keep an eye on her tail position and movement. Do you think she wants to make friends with the squirrel?

There are at least two additional warning/calming signals in this video. Can you spot them? (Hint: Watching with the volume off helps.)