Farewell to Whisper

WhisperBy Jamie Migdal, CEO of FetchFind

This weekend we said goodbye to my sweet collie, Whisper. My head is swirling with so many images, memories, and thoughts, yet none of them seem to have a theme, pattern, or direction.  But I want to share them with you, my pet people.

So as a way of working through my grief, I choose to reflect on how much each dog I have ever loved has changed and shaped my life. And how I have found a way to make a career, build a community, and have an impact because of those relationships. Whisper was a deeply significant part of that journey.

Whisper was my daughter’s first memory dog (we had Poodle when she was born, but Poodle died when Sadie was only 18 months old so she barely remembers her).  She was my first purebred dog and she was the first dog that didn’t come to me via being a stray, as every single one of my six previous dogs did. She was my first dog who wouldn’t jump into a car and my first dog who always preferred her space versus needing to being attached to someone. All firsts, all with Whisper.

Whisper and saide

We rescued Whisper five years ago from a very mean breeder who debarked her and let her suffer, untreated, from a variety of autoimmune diseases and abuse from other animals. With the help and support of my long-time friend and mentor, Lynn Brezina, we made the decision to take Whisper home and nurse her back to health and build her a life she deserved.  I can say, with absolute certainty, that we did exactly that.

My husband Drew, our friends, our other pets, and our entire community saw to it that Whisper had five beautiful years on this planet. And she somehow taught all us of about second chances and what it really means to be a force for good in this world despite the all the reasons not to be. In the entire five years we lived with this dog, she never – not for a single second – lifted a lip, growled, or even gave so much as a hard stare. There have been babies, dogs, cats, rats, pet sitters, cars, offices, strangers, and kids everywhere, filling every crevice and every moment of her life with us. And through all that, and in the wake of four years of abuse and neglect before we rescued her, she gave us nothing but kindness. (And the not-so-occasional stealing of food.)

Whisper was a good dog, and we loved her.

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7 ways to help your dog get through the 4th of July

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The 4th of July (otherwise known as Happy Scare the Crap Out of Your Dog Day) is looming, and it’s time for some basic management techniques to help your pets make it through the festivities.

  • Make sure your pet’s tags and microchips are up-to-date. If the ID tags have been worn smooth or haven’t been updated with current information, get out the sharpie and write your contact information on the inside of the collar.
  • Even if you normally take off your pet’s collar in the home, consider leaving it on during peak noise and activity times. The sharpie trick won’t help if the collar is hanging on a coat hook when your dog bolts out the door
  • Keep the dog inside the house, in a crate or closed off area, away from high-activity zones. If you just plan to put the dog in the back bedroom, make sure the window is secure; pets have been known to bust right through window screens – and even windows – if they panic. Tape a big piece of cardboard over the window if necessary.
  • If you have a very noise-sensitive or -phobic dog, talk to your vet about possible medications to help keep him calm during the worst of the fireworks.

For other management techniques for noise-sensitive dogs, see our post about helping your dog get through construction season.

  • Take your pup out for a long walk well before the festivities start, so that he’s tired and more inclined to sleep than panic. Make sure he has a safe place to retreat, a Thundershirt or a TTouch wrap to provide calming pressure, a stuffed Kong to keep him distracted, and a human to provide comfort and reassurance.
  • If you’re going to a fireworks show, leave the dog at home. Even well-behaved, well-socialized dogs can get easily overwhelmed in big, noisy crowds with bright lights bursting thunderously overhead.
  • After the fireworks are over, and before you let your dog out into the yard, scan the ground – firework detritus can be sharp as well as poisonous, and no one wants to spend the rest of the holiday weekend at the emergency vet.

If you have any techniques that you find particularly helpful during fireworks and thunderstorm season, tell us about them in the comments. Have a happy and safe holiday!

 

 

 

Level up your dog training skills at FetchFind Academy

By Jamie Migdal, CEO of FetchFind

We’re halfway through Essential Training Skills here at FetchFind Academy, and this was the scene in our classroom the other day:

Essentials 1
I mean, honestly – how can you not love a class staffed by Golden Retrievers?

Essentials is where we really start to train dog trainers – everything they learned in Behavior Fundamentals Online is taken apart, examined minutely, expanded upon, and put into hands-on practice. This is where all of that theory starts to make sense in the real world, and where our students start to become professional dog trainers.

After two more months of practice and projects, our Essentials students will move on to Advanced Training Skills. This is where they will do a deep dive into working with people as well as animals, via a wide range of internships and simulated situations. At the end of four months, they’ll be ready to start their careers as highly sought-after professional dog trainers. We have FetchFind Academy graduates in the top dog training companies, social welfare/therapy/humane education organizations, and rescues/shelters in the Chicago area and beyond (including AnimalSense, Paradise 4 Paws, Anything is Pawzible, Canine Therapy Corps, Pet Partners, Soggy Paws, Hawk City K9, Chicago Animal Care and Control, Safe Humane Chicago, The Anti-Cruelty Society, ALIVE Rescue, One Tail at a Time, All Terrain Canine, and Touch Dog Training). It’s almost impossible to overstate how many doors are open for people with top quality professional education and training – you can work for established companies, join a start up, or start your own business.

Advanced Training Skills is also a fantastic stand-alone program for dog trainers who want to level up their skills and pick up CEUs.

No matter where you originally trained, it’s always a sound career investment to keep your skills sharp and up-to-date. (If you’d like to learn more about joining us for Advanced Training Skills in August, please contact Lynda Lobo at lynda@fetchfind.com.)

If you want to become a dog trainer, we recommend starting with Behavior Fundamentals Online – at only $49, it’s a great way to get your paws wet. And if you ever have any questions about how you can get started in any area of the pet industry, just shoot us an email at hello@fetchfind.com – we’re always happy to help!

 

Dog fights: do this, don’t do that

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By Nicole Stewart, CPDT-KA

In my last post where I discussed what to do when an off-leash dog comes barreling at you and your on-leash dog, I teased you with the question “What do you do if your worst thought comes to be reality: a dog fight?”

Fights can be scary, human or otherwise. However, much of the time, there is more bluster and posturing than anything else. Even those will often end before you have a chance to take action. They can be over a toy, a bowl, or just a dog drawing boundaries. (If only humans had a good way to do this without offense!)

I’ll tell you a little secret – dogs don’t go around looking for fights.

 All that canine body language that we talk about is actually a thing! It’s the way dogs talk to one another to avoid conflict. Most conflicts have been negotiated one way or the other while the dogs are still many feet apart, before we even thought they noticed one another.

However, when the right set of communication happens, or if one dog is saying one thing and the other just doesn’t have the social graces to listen to the other dog (we know people like that, right?), that is when they will bolster themselves up to fight status.

So, how do we get them apart when they aren’t doing it themselves?

Do this:

  • Grab the aggressor by the hind legs (like they are a wheelbarrow). When you get them apart, get them as far from each other as possible.
  • Get water (a hose is best, but a bucket or cup might suffice) and dump it on their heads.
  • If there’s a broom handle, long board, baby gate, or stick, use it to get in between them and get them disengaged.
  • Got an air horn? Try it.

Don’t do this:

  • Don’t get in between the sharp ends (aka, the teeth).
  • Don’t grab one of the dog’s collars (redirection happens).
  • Don’t yell like a banshee on the loose (though it’s hard not to, and I would be remiss not to admit that I’ve found myself having a horrifying out-of-body experience, looking down on myself ineffectively screaming).

Dogfights are dangerous and getting involved can be as well. Use caution. Even your own dog can redirect a bite on to you in the heat of the moment.

The best tactic is to prevent dogfights by learning about dog body language and pay attention when you are out in public with your dog (not on your cell phone).

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Nicole Stewart 250x300Nicole Stewart, CPDT-KA, is the Director of Training at AnimalSense / Paradise4Paws.  She strongly believes that dog training is as much about the people as it is about the dogs. Her favorite place to be is at home with her human family and her steady Clumber Spaniel, Finlay.

This post was originally published in the AnimalSense blog.

Bark management 101

barking-dog

By Jamie Migdal, CEO of FetchFind

Most dogs bark, and while barking can sometimes be a behavioral concern it is a natural part of doggy daily life. This is not to say that you shouldn’t worry about problem barking, or that nothing can be done to solve it. Training and management can help improve the behavior, but, unless you have a basenji, your dog may always bark.

While there are some dogs that just bark now and then, barking can become a problem when the dog barks too much, too loudly, or when the barking is accompanied by other undesirable behaviors.

Solving or troubleshooting your dog’s barking problem depends heavily on understanding just what type of barking your dog is doing. This can be done by observing the cause and characteristics of your dog’s barking.

In The Bark Stops Here, Terry Ryan groups barkers into six broad classifications:

Attention-seeking barkers: Characterized by a bark which is high in pitch and accompanied by pauses and moments when the dog looks around and listens for a response from anyone. ASBs are not picky about who they get attention from.

Territorial barkers: Characterized by a low-pitched, intense burst of barking. This kind of barking is usually startling and short lived. It is accompanied by a distinct body posture: the tail is up, the ears and the corners of the mouth are forward, the stance is tall and forward on toes, the hackles are up, and the nose is wrinkled. Territorial barkers initiate barking when a perceived threat enters into the dog’s imagined territory.  (Remember – the dog defines his territory, not you.)

Boredom barkers: Characterized by a flat boring bark with occasional howling directed at nothing. This kind of barking is repetitive in nature and is usually of medium pitch.

Fearful barkers: Characterized by sharp, high-pitched barking accompanied by a distinct body posture in which the dog’s tail is tucked between her legs, the hackles are up, the pupils are dilated, the nose is wrinkled, and the corners of the mouth are back. Barking is initiated by a perceived threat coming close to the dog. For the fearful barker, barking is designed to increase the distance between the threat and the dog. While the dog may step forward while barking, she will usually retreat as well.

Excitement barkers: Characterized by high-pitched barking, accompanied by a great deal of continuous movement, a wagging tail, and variable intensity.

Separation anxiety barkers: Characterized by high-pitched frantic barking, and accompanied by pacing, drooling, whining, scratching, chewing, and howling.

Problem solving devices and methods:

Training: a number of training options can provide help in the barking arena. You can work on “Watch me,” put barking and “Quiet” on cue (see below), and even work on certain calming signals.

Exercise: your dog might not have as much barking energy if she gets to run it off at the beach! Mental exercise is as effective as physical, so if you can’t get outside try some nosework or indoor games.

Medication: pharmaceutical intervention can be a powerful tool for helping dogs who are anxious or fearful barkers. In those cases, the barking is a symptom of something bigger, and when the bigger issue is addressed, the barking often decreases quite dramatically. If your regular vet isn’t trained in problem barking solutions, consult with a veterinary behaviorist. Look for someone who is a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists; they have the training and experience to find the best solution for the issues that are causing the barking in the first place.

Debarking: I have never recommended surgical debarking, and I never will. Many vets will refuse to perform the procedure, and it has been banned in several states and many European countries. In addition to being inhumane, debarking eliminates one of the dog’s primary methods of communication. If a dog can’t give you an effective warning bark, he’s more likely to go straight to the biting. Also, a debarked dog can still make plenty of noise; my collie, Whisper, was debarked by her previous owners, and she still barks all the time – it just sounds hoarse and painful.

A note about behavior correction collars:

Citronella bark collars: In some cases, a citronella bark collar can be a helpful tool, when used in conjunction with proper training. The CBC is designed to correct the dog for barking by administering a spray of citronella every time the dog barks. This can be effective because it works on four of the dog’s senses: she hears the spray, she sees it, she smells it, and she tastes it (and she doesn’t like it). It is immediate in its response so you won’t have to worry about your own timing.

This is a “last resort” option, and is not always the best solution, especially if your dog’s barking is related to issues of fear or anxiety. Keep in mind that citronella collars tend not to work consistently throughout the lifespan of the device, which means that the collar either won’t spray at all or will spray at random intervals. This will just confuse the dog, and may end up reinforcing other undesirable behaviors. It’s especially important to consult with a behaviorist when considering a CBC, both to be certain that you’ve exhausted all other options and to make sure that you have the right treatment plan in place.

Shock collars: Don’t be fooled by language that says the dog receives a “harmless electronic stimulus” from the collar. Shock collars hurt, and the likelihood that it will end up reinforcing other, more dangerous behaviors is pretty high. If your dog receives a shock every time he barks at someone walking into the house, he will quickly learn to associate pain with visitors, which can result in aggression towards humans.  There is no guarantee that pain is going to be a deterrent, either; some dogs have a higher pain tolerance than others, and their need to bark may override the pain inflicted by the collar. In some cases the constant shocks may make the barking worse.

How to teach “Quiet” by putting barking on cue:

Some dog owners find success in managing barking by training a pair of behaviors: Speak & Quiet. Here’s how!

  1. Initiate barking by using a controlled bark trigger, like the doorbell rung by your training partner or a knock at the door. You have to be able to control this trigger and make it happen a number of times. Remember, training dogs is repetitive!
  2. When your dog starts barking say, “Bark, yes, good bark!” or “Speak, yes, good speak!”
  3. Take a tasty & smelly treat and put it in front of your dog’s nose and say “Shhh” or “Quiet.” Do not give the treat if your dog continues to bark.
  4. Most dogs will stop barking to take the treat, and when he does this say, “Yes, good quiet!” and give the treat.
  5. Repeat!

Keep the individual sessions short (10-15 minutes), and schedule several sessions throughout the day. Once your dog has learned a good, solid “Quiet”, make sure you reinforce it regularly (two or three times a week). If a new barking trigger presents itself, start over with step 1.  You can find apps with sound effects like sirens, children’s voices, or other barking dogs to use as trigger noises.

 

Pet sitter stories: that night I slept on the bathroom floor with an Angel guarding the door

chow

By Jamie Migdal, CEO of FetchFind

The year was 1996. I owned a pet sitting and dog walking company and loved doing visits. Even though I had several dozen dog walkers and pet sitters on my staff, there were a few pets for whom only I was able to provide care.

Enter Angel, the 6 year old chow chow. She wasn’t a dog who took to strangers readily, but over the years I took care of her, she became, well, okay with me. Never thrilled., but always willing to allow me to do things like let her in the yard and give her food.

I mostly took care of her on occasions where her owners went out of town, with an overnight here and there. I never loved the assignment but it was my duty and no chow was gonna keep a good petsitter down.

Although, I did learn that a chow could keep a good petsitter in the bathroom all night.

Yes, you read that right. I locked myself in the bathroom all night as a means of protecting myself.

So let’s get the conditions straight. The family just had a baby, and to make things really juicy…they had just moved into a new home.

Let’s remember that this is before I became a dog trainer and I was still a wide-eyed and super-optimistic dog lover. That’s not to say that I wasn’t realistic; I always took precautions, but I certainly never thought I’d find myself in position in which I truly feared for my safety. Had I known then what I so clearly know now, I can’t imagine I would’ve taken on that job with such gusto.

Angel let me in the house with no problem and I went about my business. I let her in the backyard, I refreshed her water, and I gave her food. It was as I made my move to leave the house that she became ferocious – barking, growling, and lunging. It was as though she was a possessed chow. And if you know anything about chows, well…I’ll leave it at that.

I made a move for the bathroom and shut the door as quickly as possible. Unfortunately this was pre-cell phones and pre-dog training career, so I had no handy-dandy treats in my pocket and no way to call for help. Basically, I was screwed.

I slept on the bathroom floor that night, and all the while Angel prowled outside, growling and scratching at the door. I would characterize it as a slightly unpleasant experience.

Her owners came home midmorning to find my Jeep in the driveway and their petsitter hiding in the bathroom. I wouldn’t say they were upset so much as confused. I, however, was not confused at all. Angel wanted to eat me.

What is the moral of the story, you ask? There really isn’t one, unless you take this as a cautionary tale that working with animals requires more than love, it requires education and quick thinking (and, sometimes, a willingness to sleep on a bathroom floor).

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Learn how to speak dog with Behavior Fundamentals Online! It might just keep YOU from spending the night on the bathroom floor. 🙂

Give your rescue dog a sound beginning

old yellow lab

By Jamie Migdal, CEO of FetchFind

A lot of people wait until summer officially kicks off to bring home a new dog, because the kids are out of school, vacation time is coming, and it’s so much nicer to potty train a new pup when the weather is warm. 

Taking some time off to help get your dog acclimated is a great idea, but many newly adopted dogs need more, and that’s where A Sound Beginning comes in. The goal of this truly excellent program is to reduce the stress that is normally part of the transition period from shelter/rescue to living in a home. It not only helps dogs to become adoptable, but also helps to keep them from being returned.   

This isn’t basic obedience training, but rather a comprehensive program that focuses on creating a trusting relationship between a dog and his new human(s). The classes teach essential life skills to both ends of the leash – the humans learn how to prevent, manage, and train, and the dogs learn good behavior, polite manners, and how to cope with unfamiliar situations.

A side note to anyone who plans on bringing home a rescue pet this weekend – have your summer barbecues at someone else’s house for a couple of months.  All the noise and strangers and tempting foods can be difficult even for long-time resident dogs to handle with equanimity, let alone one that has recently experienced major life changes.

One of the many great things about this program is that the support continues outside of class, via books, videos, phone consultations, handouts, sound therapy, and optional in-home training. In-person classes are open admission, and are available throughout the Chicago area. If you’re out of state or can’t travel, you can order the book + CD for step-by-step instructions or sign up for a webinar package.

So if you’re planning on bringing home a new canine companion this summer, sign up for A Sound Beginning. It’s the best way to set the right tone for your newly adopted friend.

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Many thanks to the wonderful Terri Klimek for her work with A Sound Beginning and her help writing this post. In addition to owning Training Tails with Terri, she is an instructor for FetchFind Academy and has worked with As Good As Gold Golden Retriever Rescue of Illinois. 

Walking reactive dogs: distraction to the rescue!

beagle

By Beck Rothke, former FetchFind Academy and dog*tec Dog Walking Academy instructor 

When I think about working with reactive dogs, I often think about the use of comic relief for intense moments. Essentially, I know that a door out or away from an intense or possibly intense moment is to find a distraction powerful enough to turn the dog’s attention to something else. It’s the same concept as a moment of comic relief and it serves the same purpose.

As a child of the 80’s, I grew up watching sitcoms. What I loved about sitcoms as a kid was seeing people going through hard and emotional experiences, but at the most critical moments, there would be a bit of humor to offset the drama of the hard stuff. By no means did it minimize the impact of the emotional moment, but it did make the moment a bit easier to digest. Incorporating comic relief in to my everyday interactions with other humans – making jokes when the tension is too high or finding humor in less than humorous situations – lessens the tension of the moment and serves to help us throughout our personal and professional lives. While we still experience the intense emotion of the moment, we do so in a more regulated way, allowing us to keep our true focus where it needs to be. It doesn’t ruin our day. The comedy distracts us and we move on. As dog walkers, we all know how well distractions can work and are familiar with the idea of using them to our advantage!

Let’s take a look at using distraction techniques to avoid or get out of hot moments.

Knowing your dogs – Making use of distractions to relieve a reactive dog from an intense situation relies on a full understanding of two important concepts for the dog: (1) what he is bothered by (or is reactive to) and (2) what he loves or is interested in (if the former isn’t too intense). For instance, when we work with dogs who are reactive towards other dogs, we can work to avoid running into other dogs to a certain extent, but not fully. Knowing a dog’s triggers (both the ones to be worried about and the ones that we can use to our advantage) can help immensely when negative interactions cannot be avoided.

Distraction tools – One reliable “go-to” as a distraction for dogs is treats. Most dogs like them and they are easy to have on hand. But what if the dog isn’t interested in the treats you have or is generally unmotivated by them? Indeed, sometimes the dog’s emotional state may render treats completely uninteresting. Well, it’s not as easy, but knowing the dog’s favorite motivators can help provide the right and appropriate level of distraction. One item I always carry with me is a squeaker from an old toy. I put mine in the side pocket of my treat pouch. It’s easy to access this way by just hitting the side of my pouch to squeak the squeaker. Some dogs are very tuned into the sound of crinkling. For this you can use an empty bag of chips in your pocket. Another good distraction might be simply the sound of your voice. Experiment with different pitches and volumes to see what the dog you are walking is most easily attracted to. Use of verbal praise or cues is quite effective in distracting a dog from tempting stimuli as well.

It’s all about timing – As is true with comic relief, one very important factor in implementing distractions is timing. If you are too early, the dog might be attracted to the distraction, but it might not understand why, and worse, it may become bored with the distraction before you have a chance to make use of it. If you are too late, you may unintentionally reinforce behavior (if it’s operant/ learned) or miss the chance to make a difference (if it’s classical/ emotional). So how do we determine the appropriate timing? Take note of each dog’s trigger zone (i.e. where the scary or concerning stimuli is okay as opposed to not okay) and implement the distraction right before the point that is not ok. Practice makes perfect. Use your eyes and ears to determine the dog’s body language or any vocalizations that tell you the interaction (or stimuli) is not okay. Implement your distraction before the dog shows any signs of distress and you’re sure to be on time!

Walking dogs is exciting and rewarding. You can make it even more rewarding for all involved through purposeful, well-timed distractions to set everyone up for success.

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http://dogtec.org/dogwalkingacademy.php

Troubleshooting during training

down dog
A proper “down.”

By Bill Mayeroff

The first time I tried to publicly teach a dog “down,” I bombed horribly.

It was before I graduated from FetchFind. Class that night was hands-on. Each student was assigned a couple concepts or behaviors to teach to a group of dogs and their owners that had gathered to simulate a group class environment. One of my assigned behaviors was down.

That night, each of us got a chance to teach in front of two groups. One group came at the beginning of class and the second came a bit later. I wasn’t supposed to teach down until the second group, but an owner in the first group asked about it. So I, being the enthusiastic student, jumped in and said “Hey, I can talk about down!” And my teachers called my bluff and gave me the go-ahead. Confidently, I dove into my demo.

Technically, I did pretty much everything right. I got the dog into a sit. I held a treat to their nose. I slowly pulled it down and then out, hoping the dog would follow it to the ground. When that didn’t work, I pulled the treat down and slowly pushed it in toward the dog’s chest, hoping the pup would kind of settle backwards to the ground.

The dog was having none of it. That dog just would not put their belly on the ground. It was a blow to the ego, to be sure, especially since I had been so confident and sure of myself going in.

But it was so much more than that. In fact, that incident taught me what has become one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my short time as a professional trainer:

At some point during a class or training session, everything that can go wrong will go wrong.

You can’t prevent those moments. They’re going to happen when you least expect them. Everything can be going great when you’re teaching and all of a sudden, you have a dog that won’t respond to you or a group of dogs that won’t stop barking or something else entirely.

What matters is how you handle those moments. You can’t let them disrupt you or the flow of your class. You just have to roll with them, keep the class moving and make it work.

If that sounds overly simple, it’s because it is. But the strategy works. I’m living proof. Just a few weeks back, I was teaching down to another class. But this time, it wasn’t a mock class. It was a real, honest-to-goodness class of dogs and their owners.

I was using a big, beautiful pittie mix as my demo dog and I was going through the motions of teaching down. And just as before, the dog wasn’t buying what I was selling. He would get close, but he just wouldn’t put his body on the ground. But instead of getting flustered, I just went with it. I acknowledged that it wasn’t working (as I kept trying to make it work) while still explaining how it should work.

And much to my surprise and delight, the dog eventually responded. That’s right, folks. I got the dog to go down. And the class loved it.

Whether you’re a seasoned pro trainer or a first-time dog owner, at some point during the training process, stuff will go wrong. But as long as you don’t let it frustrate you and are able to troubleshoot on the fly, those little setbacks can easily be overcome.

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Look at these two handsome gents.

After five years as a newspaper reporter in western Illinois and two more as a freelancer in Chicago, Bill Mayeroff‘s life has gone to the dogs in the best way possible. These days, Bill lives in Chicago with his terrier mix, Chester, and works at a small, no-kill animal shelter. He recently graduated from FetchFind Academy and is a Junior Trainer at AnimalSense Canine Training & Behavior. Bill also blogs about his two favorite things – dogs and beer – at Pints and Pups. 

Making behavior a win-win

dog sun

By Erin Taylor, Vancouver BC Canada Dog Walking Academy Instructor and Owner of Pawsitive Connection Dog Training

It’s easy to forget that dogs operate in very simple ways: Does it work for me? Does it not work for me? Is it safe? Is it dangerous?

Unfortunately, what works for dogs often is not what works for us dog pros: jumping up on us when we pick them up for their walk, deciding to roll in a stinky dead fish right before it’s time to head back inside, chasing the cat/squirrel/bicycle/crow instead of coming when we call, dragging us down the driveway to the car…the list goes on.

As human beings we often believe that, because other dogs have “understood” what we wanted, because we’ve shown this dog what we prefer once or twice, or even because he got it right in the past, he understands what we want, and any behavior contrary to that is “stubborn” or “willful” or “blowing us off.”

But dogs are honest. Their behavior very clearly shows us what they do and don’t understand. They aren’t built with the capacity to be stubborn or to blow us off. If they aren’t doing what we’ve asked them to do, it’s because we haven’t successfully shown them that it works for them to do it. Getting mad at a puppy for peeing in the house because “he knows better” is the equivalent of getting mad at a toddler for having a potty training accident. The understanding just isn’t quite there yet, requiring us to be better teachers and to manage the situation to set the dog (or child) up for success.

Unfortunately dogs don’t read minds, and we can’t make them understand what we’ve tried to teach them simply because we desire it or other dogs have gotten it. This way of thinking sets the dogs up for failure, sets our relationships with dogs up for conflict, and sets us up for irritation, anger, and frustration on the job.

Next time you’re feeling frustrated with a dog who “should know better,” try a different viewpoint.

It’s a matter of helping the dog understand what you want by making what you want work for the dog. Manage the dog’s space, time, and access to anything she wants to set her up for success, and then consistently reward the resulting desired behavior. For example, if you’d like your canine charge to sit while you converse with her owner, ask for or lure the sit and then reward it. Lean your body towards her to help her remain sitting and continue to reward her as long as she holds her position. By identifying what you want, helping the dog to do it, and rewarding the results, you set the dog up for success. This line of thinking and action removes conflict, pressure, and irritation for dog and the walker both.

Here are some questions that can help when you’re facing a training challenge on your walks: How can I help the dog understand? How can I make this more rewarding? How can I teach him that doing what I ask yields the biggest, best, most fun, most rewarding experience, so he sees that doing what I ask works best for him? These questions can help create a more pleasant outing for walker and dog alike, help maintain the bond and trust we can have with our dogs, and ensure we’re helping our charges really and truly understand the precise behaviors that we might be asking of them in that specific environment, in that specific moment and on that particular day.

Here’s another example: Say you’ve got a dedicated leash puller on your hands. Every day this dog strains your shoulders and back trying to get to all his favorite sniff spots. He wants to get to that great pee-mail bush on the corner. You want him to walk nicely alongside you. How can you make doing so more rewarding? How can you get him to see that walking alongside you works? One strategy would be to head toward the bush while he’s not pulling and to turn around in the opposite direction when he does. Take a few steps away from his desired object, then turn around and try again, rewarding with forward progress toward the bush and, if you want to up the ante, treats, too. It may take a few minutes to get to that bush for a few days, but eventually he’ll realize that it works to walk patiently with you to get where he wants to go. This way works for everyone—you get what you want, the dog gets what he wants, and your back probably feels a lot better, too.

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erin-taylorErin Taylor qualified as a dog trainer in South Africa in 2004. She wanted to expand her experience working with positive reinforcement with dogs and moved to Canada in 2007 to do so. She owned and operated a successful dog walking business for a number of years. She currently owns and operates Pawsitive Connection Dog Training & Services where she is very excited to offer the dog*tec Dog Walking Academy, Dogsafe Canine First Aid classes and both puppy and adult dog training classes. She has a passion for helping to connect people (both pet parents and dog professionals) with their dogs to develop strong bonds and relationships, positively.