Dog Parenting Done Right – Train With Baby Steps

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The phrase ‘take baby steps’ describes finishing a task or working through a problem in small increments. Rather than trying to tackle a large issue in one big gulp, you work at in in small, manageable bites.

In animal training ‘successive approximations’ are the ‘baby steps’ that make up training a complex, multi-step behavior. I describe this concept in detail in my book Dog Care and Training for the GENIUS. But there is a related training concept that complements successive approximations: systematic desensitization.

This is used in humans to treat things like anxiety and phobias. In dogs, it can help with these as well as other training situations.

And you can combine the two to teach your dog some really cool stuff. We’ve all seen those cute memes and cards that have dogs posing with props; sunglasses, clothes, bottles or well, anything really. To catch that perfect pic though is a combination of photographic and training skill.

What? You didn’t think they just slapped those glasses on the dog and took the pic, did you?

Ok, sure, some dogs are extremely tolerant from the start and can be dressed up without any fuss. Most dogs though, need some familiarity with whatever it is that is being put on or near their body. Training your dog to take those super cute pics requires that you systematically desensitize the dog to the object being on or near the dog, and approximate the dog into the desired position. I also talk about this in my post about dogs and Halloween.

While decorating for the holidays I wanted to take some fun  pictures of Xander and came up with the idea of draping lights around him and getting him to pose. But I knew he wasn’t going to just sit there and let those crazy blinky wires wrap around him unless he got to know them first.

So the first thing I asked him to do was just come up and be close to the light string.

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The Blinky Stringy Thing just lays there and does nothing, and Xander has no problem being right next to it. While this might not be a very big deal to some dogs, for others anything new in their environment is a Great Big Scary.

He’s looking at me with that big, goofy smile because he knows I’ve got yummy treats. I’ve asked him to Sit and Stay next to the new Blinky Stringy Thing, which means he has to remain in that position while I walk away. While Xander is just fine with this, for some dogs, being far away from Mama or Daddy while next to something potentially dangerous (at least in their eyes) is very stressful. Teach them to be less fearful by rewarding calm behavior as you slowly approximate them closer to a scary object while you move farther away. Baby steps!

Progressing to the next level involves Blinky Stringy Thing touching Xander.

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First, I have it just barely touching his legs and side.

 

 

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Then I drape it over his legs.

 

 

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And finally, lay it over his back.

 

 

 

At each step of the way I gave Xander treats and verbal encouragement. In between each step I released Xander so he could get up, move around and relax. This is important! Allowing Xander to relax away from Blinky String, even for a few moments can be just as rewarding as a treat. I used those moments to give Xander a good scratch and some ear rubs.

Each little step was treated as a fun, quick interaction. For Xander it wasn’t scary, it was playtime with Mama.

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Xander was fine when the BST was only loosely placed on him, but when I wrapped it a little tighter, look what happens to his attitude.

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But just a few more sessions of wrapping and unwrapping, and I had this.

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Until finally, I had him looking like this.

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All this took me maybe an hour. I did use a clicker, although in this particular instance a clicker is not a critical tool. It went quickly with Xander because he’s used to working with novel items in his environment. This was the first time I asked him to let me wrap something around him, but he handled it like a pro. He’s such a good dog!

Can you think of ways to adapt this technique to help your dog? Does your dog need to learn how to manage stressful situations? Or do you want to teach your dog how to be the next Doggie Supermodel? Tell me about it down below!

Dog Parenting Done Right – Dog Sports!

I’ve spent a decent amount of time in the dog show world. Even though I don’t compete right now, well, I never say never. I’ve got a young dog that is begging for something more to do than just walk and hike. There are a lot of ways to get out and have fun with your dog than there were when I was showing in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.

Have you thought about playing in the world of dog sports? Agility and dock diving have been featured on cable stations like ESPN and Animal Planet but those aren’t the only ways to get out and play with your dog.

Training your dog in a sport is a fantastic way to bond with your dog. I am a huge advocate of getting out there and seeing what you and your furry buddy can do together. It does all kinds of cool things too, like:

  • Exercise! For you and your dog!
  • Socializing! Your dog learns good public manners.
  • Training! More training makes your dog more reliable.
  • Bonding! Advanced training develops a deeper relationship.

If you’re looking to do more with your dog, explore your options! There is a dog sport to suit almost any dog-human pair. Big, little, fast, slow, mixed breed or purebred. Don’t let anyone tell you “Your dog can’t do that!” I once knew a person that trained their standard poodle to herd.

Think agility is only for border collies? Check out this dog-handler team.

 

How sweet is that? You can tell he’s having a good time, and this pair have obviously spent a lot of time together. I love how he just walks through the weave poles!

I tell you about dog sports and give some helpful tips to get started in my book, Dog Care and Training for the GENIUS. Check out the My Book tab at the top for more information and a special discount coupon!

Need Help Training Your Dog? You Need This Book!

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My first book! Not my last I’m sure but there’s something special about your first. It’s been two years in the making and I am so very pleased to share Dog Care and Training for the GENIUS with you.

Training your dog, or any animal, depends upon communication. There must be a clear and open channel between you and your dog or you will both end up frustrated. And here’s a secret:  your dog already is an expert on you. He knows what it means when you pick up your keys and put on your coat. She knows it’s bedtime when you turn off the TV and get up off the couch late at night. Your dog knows everything about you because your dog excels at reading body language and facial expressions.

Here’s another secret:  Your dog is going to act and react based on what your body and face are doing. This may or may not be the same as what you tell him to do. If you don’t understand and use this secret when you train and interact with your dog you will have problems. Knowing how to read your dog and communicate with her is the key to successfully training your dog.

That is why you need this book. I’ll teach you how to open and maintain a clear communication channel between you and your dog.

You can order Dog Care and Training for the GENIUS by following this link. If you use the following coupon code:

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The publisher will give you 15% off the price! How cool is that?

I know you will love this book! I thoroughly enjoyed writing it and I am excited to share with you the secrets of dog training success.

Dog Parenting Fail – Why You Should Crate Train

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I imagine this video is worth a bit more…

Looks like Versace, Armani and Coco had a very good time! And all that mess could have easily been avoided if their Dad had restricted their access to just a room or two while he was at work. Using crates and safe zones to keep your dog confined when you’re not at home or while you’re sleeping will save you this kind of ruin.

I show you how to teach your dog to love crates and safe zones in my book Dog Care And Training For a The GENIUS to be published very soon!

Has your little fur kid created a big mess when for you when left alone?

Dog Parenting Done Right – Is Halloween Scary For Your Dog?

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Have you ever seen a dog freak out at something new in it’s environment? Sometimes introducing new items can be stressful. While we want to minimize stress in our animals, it’s unrealistic to expect to eliminate it all the time. It’s important to teach them to handle stress – so they don’t freak out at the least little thing. Teach a dog to handle stress and you’ll have a dog that will learn to be calm and resilient and look to you for guidance and support.

“Sure, easier said than done!” I hear you…believe me. It’s not like we can tell our dogs “Relax, it’s okay. See? It’s nothing to worry about.”

Except, you can. In fact, you should if you want to have a happy, well-adjusted furry companion. As a good, responsible dog parent you should know your dog well enough to anticipate something that might scare him and take steps to help him.

I decided to decorate my house this year for the holidays. I’ve felt a bit Scroog-y the last couple years and haven’t done anything. Well, this year, I’m changing that! Scrooginess just doesn’t feel good. So off to the store I went for some Halloween fun to make my living room a little more festive…

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But this guy has never seen Halloween decorations. And knowing Xander’s temperament I knew he’d need some help to not fear the Grim Reaper-ish baubles I brought home.

The new Halloween decoration elements included draping a table and some boxes with a black sheet, pumpkins, skeletal props, tinsel garland and lights. Oh yeah, and a giant, pose-able spider.

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You can see he looks less than thrilled to be there. When he first saw just the draped table he growled at it. From his perspective, a giant black blob was suddenly sitting next to the bed he likes to sleep on. I might feel a little growly too. He paced back and forth eyeing it suspiciously.

Have you ever seen your dog do this? With or without the growling?

I called Xander to me, away from what was scaring him. He has a soft temperament, and is the least confident dog I’ve ever owned. But, he knows that I will take care of him, and will not ask him to do anything that is dangerous to him. He also knows I will ask him to face his fears and work through them. Together we are slowly building his confidence. But it does take work, and a certain amount of forethought on my part.

I first had to get him to realize the big black form was not going to morph into a table demon and eat us. So I went and sat next to it. I didn’t call him, I didn’t require he come over to me, I just sat there and talked to him in a soft voice. I specifically avoided the words “Good dog” and “It’s okay”. Instead I just sort of babbled: “You’re not afraid of this are you? It’s just the table. It’s nothing.”

He quickly got up the courage to approach me, although at first he carefully did not look at the table and positioned so my body was between him and it. I suppose he figured a table demon would take me first and give him time to make his escape. I reassured him by gently rubbing his face and ears, and when he actually relaxed and looked at the table normally – without giving it the side eye, or growling – I told him he was good and popped a treat in his mouth.

With some verbal encouragement and a few more treats he was soon sniffing the draped table like it was an old friend. He wandered away and came back later when I had added things! Oh no!

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Teaching Xander that the table and it’s goodies won’t hurt him took me less than a day, but I did it in tiny little bits, like maybe a minute at the most each time. I’d use treats to encourage him to sniff the different items, ask him to sit or lay down and release him before he had a chance to feel too uncomfortable. Yes, I asked him to push past his comfort barriers as you can see in the pictures, but I didn’t ask him to stay there very long. Instead, he learned that small amounts of stress are manageable.

How do you know Xander is not entirely happy in these pictures? Look at his face – tight, tense lips, folded back ears, and his muscles and body are tense and poised to spring up as soon as I say he can.

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I used “successive approximations” to teach Xander the confidence that he could see new things that made him uneasy and learn that just because it’s scary at first doesn’t mean it has to stay scary forever. By the time I was done decorating he was calm and relaxed around everything. Even meeting my centerpiece was no big deal, check it out:

Now look at how calm he is:

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In my book Dog Care And Training For The GENIUS I teach you how to devise a training plan to help your dog through tense or stressful situations. Look for it to be published next month!

Thank you for stopping by! Be sure to say hi in the comments below!

Dog Parenting Fail – Trainer Error

It happens. You forget, you overlook, or you just plain ignore it, and next thing you know you’re cleaning up a mess.

“It” being a potential issue – an object or situation – that causes your dog to act in an undesirable way. Did your darling steal food? Dash out the door? Lunge and bark at a passing person or dog? Chew up something?

Like this?

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That is a very expensive walking boot.

And this

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Is an even more expensive custom orthotic insert. You’ll notice they both have tell-tale teeth marks on them. I’m going to let you in on a training secret. Trainers make mistakes too. *gasp*

In my day job, I’m a nurse. Two careers and over 20 years of being on my feet all day (or night) on concrete floors has taken its toll on my feet and the boot is just the latest round in my on-going bout with plantar fasciitis. The new boot was literally just a day old when I forgot and left it in the kitchen overnight. Where this guy sleeps.

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Xander at just over a year and a half old is still very much a puppy in his head. While he is very good about not doing the destructo-puppy chewing thing he is not 100% reliable when he is not supervised. This is normal; teenage dogs, like teenage kids will want to test their limits, explore their boundaries and push limits. It’s up to you and me as dog parents to establish clear boundaries and maintain them. It’s also on us to ensure the dog is able to understand and follow the rules.

So the first place to look for what went wrong if your dog is misbehaving is at yourself. Because what likely happened is you made a mistake. Trainer error is one of the most common reasons for poorly trained dogs.

My mistake was that I tucked my boot out of sight so I wouldn’t trip over it as I was working in the kitchen last night. I forgot I left it there and didn’t see it when I went to bed and gated Xander in the kitchen for the night. The kitchen is Xander’s safe zone; it functions like a giant crate, keeping him safely contained so he can’t get to things that are easily destroyed, like couches or pillows. In his safe zone he can move, stretch and sleep. He knows that if it’s on the floor in the kitchen he can chew it. So he figured I’d just left him a brand new chew toy.

No one to blame but myself. I was just very very lucky he wasn’t too excited by it and gave up after just a little mouthing, both are still fully functional. He could have completely destroyed both.

What did I do when I saw the damage? Nothing. He would not have connected any scolding or punishment with the act of chewing up the boot because too much time had already passed. Xander did nothing wrong. I did.

Too often owners blame the dog for bad behavior that is entirely preventable. As responsible dog parents we need to think ahead of our dogs and set them up to succeed. In Xander’s case, he simply needs a little more time, and a little more maturity to be able to direct his chewing behavior on appropriate toys at all times. I knew I should have moved the darn boot. But it was out of sight, out of mind. If you’re going to have a dog, you have to take responsibility for the dog’s behavior, good and bad.

Trainer error is going to happen. So you need to be present and pay attention to your dog and your surroundings so you can minimize the times your dog presents inappropriate behaviors. Think ahead of your dog. Pick up, put away, or remove tempting objects your dog could chew. Restrict your dog’s access to just one or two rooms to prevent chewing or eliminating behaviors that happen out of your direct line of sight.

I cover this and more training techniques in my book Dog Care and Training For The GENIUS. In it I’ll show you how to teach your dog your rules and your boundaries. Look for it to be released in the next month or so.

Has your dog chewed or destroyed something he wasn’t supposed to? How did you react? What could you have done to prevent it?

Dogs + Kids = Bites! Yikes!

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The kids playing with the family dog is a classic scene, it evokes warm fuzzy feelings. Sadly the warm fuzzies are replaced with fear and pain if the family dog bites a child. In today’s world a dog that bites is very often a dog that is surrendered to a shelter. A dog with a bite history is extremely unlikely to be adopted and are among the first to be euthanized.

Which is a tragedy because most dog bites are preventable. An animal will almost always give you a warning that a bite is imminent if you know what to look for.

If you’re a dog parent that has your dog around children it is your responsibility to know your dog’s behavior clues that indicate stress or anxiety and reduce or eliminate those stressors. This isn’t always easy today when we are literally bombarded by images of animals on social media. The images form the basis of funny jokes or memes that make us laugh, or are labeled cute and elicit the “Awwwww” response. So we see something that we have a positive emotional reaction to and in our hearts and minds we assume the dog is also having a good time.

This is very far from being true. But because we think the dog is okay with being squeezed or kissed or held up in midair we miss the dog’s cues that they aren’t happy. And when we miss early warning signs, dogs move on to the one you can’t miss:  a bite. If you’re lucky it’s a quick growl and a snap that doesn’t make contact, but even that is pushing your dog too far.

I found this video recently. It’s important enough that I want to share it as far and wide as possible. Everyone with a kid and a dog should watch.

I’ve raised and trained lots of different kids of animals but I have nearly zero experience with one very important kind of critter – children. I don’t have any of my own and I’ll be blunt here I’m not very good with them. So I have never had to integrate dogs and kids into a family unit. The first time I watched that video I cried because none of the dogs in that video are happy, at best they are uncomfortably tolerant. At worst they are in pain or even afraid. But most people will only see the adorable kids and their beaming faces and assume it’s all good.

Watch it again, but now pay attention to the expressions on the dogs faces. Instead of thinking “oh that’s funny” I want you look at how tense the dog’s eyes and mouths are, how they flatten their ears or turn their heads away from being smooched. As it says in the video they are trying to be good but you should not let your dog get pushed into any situation that puts such a look on its face.

I found this video on this website. It’s called Stop the 77 because their data shows that 77% of dog bites are either the family dog or a friend’s dog. They have put together a program to help you learn how to teach your kids how to safely interact with dogs. I really love it. If you have kids and you have dogs you need to go there and check it out. Fun videos and educational materials make it super easy to teach your kids to be safe around dogs.

Really. I mean it. You need to visit this website. The information there could make the difference between having a much loved famity member for life or getting rid of your dog.

Dogs and Cats Living Together! Mass Hysteria!

Who said that? Oh, yeah, Bill Murray in this classic scene:

Have you been wanting to get a furry companion to your first fur kid but thought that dogs and cats were mortal enemies? I love Ghostbusters, but I’m happy to say, Peter Venkman is wrong. Cats and dogs live together quite happily and form lasting bonds of friendship.

Meet Sage.

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“I do what I want.”

Sage is my patriarch. At 19 years old he really does do whatever he feels like. While the dogs have to display their best manners when we’re eating dinner, Sage just comes right up and inspects the plate. And gets a handout. Don’t judge. He’s 19. When a kitty reaches that age in my house he’s earned extra special treatment. And a taste of chicken. Or bacon. Especially bacon.

Sage is also the unquestioned ruler of the couch, the pillows, the dog beds and even the dogs. It all started, well, 19 years ago. I brought Sage home as tiny kitten and my Belgian sheepdog, Pagan immediately appointed himself Kitten Guard and Personal Groomer. Sage learned from the very beginning that dogs will comfort you, clean you and cuddle you. That’s pretty much been his expectation with every other dog in my house. Of course from Sage’s point of view, they’re his dogs.

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Nothing like a warm, soft dog pillow on those frosty winter nights. In Sage’s world, dogs must be cuddled and dogs must be cleaned.

The bonding that can happen between pets is heartwarming and can be incredibly strong. If you’ve been wondering if your fur kid could use a companion, here are some things to consider:

  • Dogs and cats can experience stress, fear and anxiety when they are all alone in our homes. Having another furry friend eliminates this.
  • Bringing in a second pet, while ultimately rewarding for you and your current fur kid, will require some effort on your part to ensure a smooth integration into the family.

Think about how your pet reacts right now to other animals or visitors in your home. If you have a dog, do they enjoy other dogs? How do they react when they see another animal? With excitement? Interest? Or fear? Have you had other animals in your home?

Consider a trial run if your pet has never seen another dog or cat and you’re thinking of expanding your household. Enlist a friend to bring their (well-socialized!) pet over for a visit – for a few hours or even volunteer to pet sit for a day or two to get your fur kid used to the idea of other animals in the house.

As you can see from my household, I have pets in multiples. They keep each other company while my husband and I are at our day jobs. Indeed, most pets will benefit from having a full-time friend. It can help reduce anxiety and loneliness. Of course before you bring in a second (or third!) pet be sure you can devote the time, energy and finances to giving your new fur kid the same love and attention as the first.

Do you have a single fur kid? Have you thought about adding another but weren’t sure it would work? Tell me how your fur kids get along! And take a look at this adorable compilation of dog-cat buddies.

Dog Parenting Fail!

 

I love animal videos! Every day I see something that showcases the beauty, the empathy, the intelligence of the animals that share our planet and our homes.

And then, I see this…

 

i’m dead …. Epic Vines

This is a dog parenting fail. An Epic one. Poor pug probably knows he has crazy for a mama, but to use the little guy as some sort of bludgeoning weapon is just all kinds of wrong.

Ok, ok, go ahead and laugh. I’ll grant that it looks humorous. But then take another look at the poor lil’ guy’s rigid limbs and try to understand the fear he’s feeling. Not to mention the pain and potential damage being done to his neck and body from the jerk and impact. Then the further pain of being dragged off with his front feet high off the ground. I would not be surprised if this pug sustained damage to his windpipe at the very least.

Not quite so funny now?

We are conditioned by the TV and movies we watch to think of cartoon like violence being, well, a cartoon – not real. Except, it has very real consequences for that pug.

I’m not asking for a campaign against these sorts of videos. Just next time you see a video that shows animals in situations like this one, look past the pratfall laugh and consider what the animal is feeling.

But I would not want to leave you on such a downer note so here’s a bit of cuteness to brighten it up a bit.