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 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!

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.