How to find a good dog trainer

jamie-with-dogs

By Jamie Migdal, CEO of FetchFind

Whether you want to teach your new puppy basic commands or help a rescue dog become more comfortable in his new home, it pays to do your research before hiring a trainer. With so many options out there –  big box stores,  boot camps, boutique trainers – trying to make that decision can make your head spin!  Here are some tips to help make the process easier:

Evaluate. What kind of dog do you have? A 10 week old Lab puppy will have different needs than a 10 year old rescue Chihuahua.

Start googling. Find trainers or training companies near you and see what they have to offer. Keep in mind that in-home trainers, whether they are independent or affiliated with a company, have specific service areas and if you’re too far away you probably won’t be able to book sessions.

If you’re feeling confused by the different types of training philosophies, such as positive, balanced, clicker, etc., click here for more information.

Check the qualifications. Most reputable dog trainers will have formal education and official certification. If you see CPDT-KA after their name, you know they’ve put in the hours to become a respected professional.

Get reviews. Once you’ve narrowed down your list of candidates, start checking the online reviews and social media outlets; you should also ask your friends for their recommendations or for references from the trainer.

Trust your gut. If you’ve done all of your homework and you just don’t like the trainer after you’ve met them, move on. If your dog shows unusual signs of stress or fear, take his word for it and find a new trainer.

Enjoy the process! Learning with your pooch is a lot of fun, and it’s a great way to strengthen the bond between you and your best pal.

Winter activities, part 1: Agility

agility

By Erin Schneider, CPDT-KA

Winter is going to be here for real before we know it. I don’t know about you, but I did not enjoy walking my dog, Bailey, in the freezing cold. Of course I did it, but I liked to keep it short.

She, on the other hand, could stay out in the cold all day. She loved the cold weather. Since I am not covered in fur, I had to find ways to exercise my dog without freezing to death. That is when I came across indoor sports.

In this multi-part series, I am going to discuss the magical world of indoor dog sports, which are especially great during the cold months.

I’ll begin by talking about agility. Agility is one of my favorite sports. It has really picked up enthusiasm over the years, so it is pretty easy to find a facility that offers classes in your area.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with agility, Wikipedia defines it as “a dog sport in which a handler directs a dog through an obstacle course in a race for both time and accuracy.” Some of the obstacles consist of the following: A-frame, weave poles, tire jump, jumps, tunnel, dog walk, seesaw, pause table, etc.

Agility is a great way to tire your dog out. It requires a lot of running and mental stimulation. You, the handler, also do some running, so it is best if you are physically able. You can either take agility classes for fun or if you get serious about it, for competition. I only participated with Bailey for fun. She wasn’t the best at it (she got distracted very easily), but she loved the treats and extra attention at the end of each course.

For those of you that decide to compete, you will have to work at it. There are rules to follow and time to keep perfecting. But competitions are a lot of fun. There is a great atmosphere and a lot of camaraderie. If you are interested in competing, take a look at the Agility Rule Book and website from the AKC.

No matter what you decide to do, agility is a great way to bond with your dog and get some exercise for both you and your four-legged companion. And it will keep you out of the cold for an evening, which is reason enough for me.

Have you tried agility? What was your experience?

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Erin with baileyErin Schneider, CPDT-KA and owner of Touch Dog Training, is a certified professional dog trainer who employs positive reinforcement behavior modification techniques intended to deliver results while building stronger bonds between dogs and their owners. Erin practiced her craft in Chicago for many years as a Senior Trainer for AnimalSense Canine Training & Behavior. There she taught dog training classes and also conducted private, in-home lessons with pets and their owners. In March 2015, Erin relocated to Colorado and is excited to share her knowledge and expertise with dog owners in the Denver/Boulder metro area.

 

 

 

Help – I have to leave my dog home alone all day while I’m at work!

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By Jamie Migdal, CEO of FetchFind

I see it happen all the time – people who have worked from home for years end up getting office jobs, and immediately start stressing about how their beloved pups are going to handle being home alone for 8+ hours a day.

Before I give you some tips on helping your dog with that transition, I’ll let you in on a little secret – there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll miss your dog more than she’ll miss you. 🙂

With that having been said, here are some tips to help you acclimate your dog to lengthy absences.

Crate training

If your dog isn’t already crate trained, or needs a refresher, now is the time to work on that. Crate training is a great tool for creating boundaries and security for both of you. I know people sometimes balk at the idea of having their dogs crated for extended periods of time, but keep in mind that the average dog sleeps 16-18 hours a day. As long as the crate is appropriately sized — allowing room to stand up, stretch, get a drink of water, and move about a bit before going back to sleep — it’s a great tool.

Keeping your dog crated while you are gone also mitigates any destructive tendencies; it also provides a safe environment for other people who may need to enter your home while you are gone, like the dog walker, maintenance personnel, housecleaners, etc.

If you are confident that your dog will accept your schedule change without needing the crate, then you can simply apply the schedule framework as outlined above and let her be free-range while you are away. Generally speaking, this isn’t an option I would recommend for puppies or younger dogs. Another option is to put your dog into a single area of the house, such as a kitchen or mudroom, that can be blocked off from the rest of the house. Just make sure you dog-proof the room by securing cabinets and putting food or hazardous substances well out of reach.

Keep a consistent schedule. Once the crate training is well underway, start working on a very consistent schedule for your dog. Make sure she gets her first walk within the same half hour every morning. Then, take her out again in the afternoon during the same time period and for the same duration that a dog walker will be walking her. Figure out the most likely time that you will get home from work, and walk her within approximately that same half hour every day. What you’re doing here is creating consistent expectations for interaction and for bladder/bowel control, which will provide a reliable framework for your dog’s days.

Extend the crate time. While you are working on the consistent walk/potty schedule, gradually start crating your dog for longer and longer periods during the day. I find that it’s easier for dogs to get used to crating if they can still see you (which is why I prefer wire crates over plastic travel crates). Then, start going out for longer blocks of time when she is crated – 10 minutes the first day, 15 minutes the second, 20 minutes the third, etc. If she is prone to separation anxiety when you leave the house, distract her with a stuffed Kong right before you leave, and have the crate positioned or partially covered so that she can’t see you walking out the door.

No fussing! Don’t make a big deal of leaving the house. Put your dog in the crate, give her the Kong if necessary, and go out. Don’t stage an emotional scene every time you leave or come back; it’s disruptive to the dog, and will set her up for failure. If it’s not a big deal to you, it won’t be a big deal to her.

Consistency is key. The key to an easy transition is consistency and calm behavior on your part. I almost always find that the humans have a much harder time in this situation than the dogs. However, if your dog doesn’t seem to be adjusting to the new situation within a reasonable amount of time (say, a couple of weeks), or if you feel that her behavior is getting worse, schedule an appointment with a highly regarded trainer or your vet (who may refer you to a veterinary behaviorist). Some dogs just naturally have more anxiety than others, and it’s always best to consult with a professional to make sure you are aware of all of your medical and behavioral treatment options.

Service providers

Unless you have a dog that is completely trained to use indoor pee pads, you’ll want to find a good dog walker. Ask your friends and neighbors for recommendations, call to ask about staff training and education, and set up a couple of trial walks. It’s important for your dog to have a chance to get used to this strange person, and you’ll want enough time to make sure that the walker and the company are the right fit for you as well as your dog.

If you absolutely hate the idea of leaving your dog home alone all day, then consider doggy daycare. This is another area where you’ll want to give yourself ample time to find the perfect situation for your pup. Every daycare/boarding facility has a different vibe and clientele mix, and taking your shy elderly shih tzu to a place that specializes in day-long puppy playgroups is going to backfire. Ask about their professional affiliations (such as FetchFind Approved, IBPSA, NAPPS, and PSI) and accreditations, and don’t be afraid to try out a few different places before making a commitment.

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FetchFind Approved Badge copyDid you know that the best service providers are the ones that make staff training and education a priority? To see some of the things that every professional dog care specialist should know, check out the curriculum on FetchFind Monthly Pro!

Renewal isn’t always about new

rosh hashanah

Hey Jamie… What’s with that weird pic of strangers, an array of sweets, and a Golden Retriever? 

Good question. 

It was a few snapshots I took last week at Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year and season of reflection and renewal) dinner. I meant to get a few better ones, but by the time we drank a couple glasses of wine, and consumed waaaaay too much brisket and kugel, I was too tired. But here’s the thing… see that cute dog? That’s Charlie Bear, my cousin’s 1.5 year old Golden. She’s a beauty, and has her family wrapped around her four not-so-little paws. So much so that walking her has become a bit of a nightmare for them. My cousin Kiki shared that she’d tried everything from the Gentle Leader to a prong collar and nothing worked. Sitting on her counter, I saw a brand new fuchsia colored Sensation Harness just screaming to be opened and fit on Charlie.

Slightly buzzed, brisket-engorged dog trainer be damned. 

Fifteen minutes later I had Charlie Bear walking nicely next to me on her new harness. 

Moral(s) of the story? 

  1. Once a dog trainer, always a dog trainer. 
  2. Renewal isn’t always about new. 

Happy Autumn. Celebrate the turn of seasons and do something this week that makes you feel renewed. It will feel amazing. I promise. 

Jamie Sig Trans - First Only

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And speaking of new beginnings – a huge welcome to all of the new friends we made at the Pet Sitters International Conference in New Orleans last week! (And a big shout out to our Education Director, Lynda Lobo, who wrangled that event single-handedly.)

High fives to our contest winners as well:

Where do I begin? Launching your successful career with animals

pet careers

By Betsy Lane, MA, Education and FetchFind Academy Instructor

You want a career working with animals, but how do you make that happen? What training do you need, and where can you get it? Where do you even begin?

Let’s get started by checking out three great options for very different animal-related careers: PetSmart Grooming Academy (for groomers), the Penn-Foster Career School (for veterinary assistants), and FetchFind Academy (for dog trainers).

If your ultimate goal is to be a dog groomer, be sure to check out the PetSmart Grooming Academy. The in-person training offered in this industry-leading program is rigorous and thorough, virtually guaranteeing you’ll graduate feeling prepared and confident as a groomer—whether you’re launching your first career or making a career change. Students and teachers alike have high praise for the program’s curriculum, its focus on safety, and the supportive training environment. (See this blog’s earlier posts for interviews with a trainer and two students.)

Maybe you aspire to working as a veterinary assistant. If so, don’t miss the Penn-Foster Career School’s online veterinary assistant program—one of just three such programs approved by the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA). Why does that matter? Because a whopping 87% of employers reported being more likely to hire a graduate of a NAVTA-approved Veterinary Assistant program! Penn-Foster offers an award-winning staff and a convenient combination of self-paced online training and hands-on training at the veterinary clinic of your choice.

If you’ve set your sights on becoming a dog trainer—either teaching group classes, training dogs in a shelter or daycare environment, or working one-on-one with private clients—you need to know about FetchFind. Providing both online and in-person courses, FetchFind’s curriculum was developed by professional dog trainers working in diverse dog-training settings. You’ll build a strong foundation in FetchFind’s online Behavior Fundamentals course, then increase your skills and expertise via in-person courses such as Essential Training Skills and Advanced Academy. The program provides a thorough education in theories and techniques supported by current animal behavior research—and proven through decades of experience among FetchFind’s faculty and staff.

Ready to begin? Just pick a path, do some research, and start your journey today! Your dream career is out there. Go fetch it!

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https://jobs.petsmart.com/salon
Learn more at https://jobs.petsmart.com/salon

 

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!

 

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.

 

The most important command you can teach your dog

Josh Feeney photography

By Jamie Migdal, CEO of FetchFind

Every day I see a handful of lost dog posts pop up on my various newsfeeds, and one of the things I’ve noticed is how many of those notices will say something like “don’t approach or try to call, he will run away”. Most dogs are going to be skittish and fearful in situations like this, but the lack of a recall command will make getting the dog out of a dangerous situation and back to his home even more difficult than it already is.  

So with that in mind, I’m going to give you the basics of teaching your dog a good solid recall. The premise for a recall is for your dog to choose to come to you over all the seemingly better available options: trash on the ground, kids playing with balls, or a dog across a busy street. Once your dog is able to respond reliably to you, you can reduce the likelihood that he will run off in the first place, and it will make it easier for others to approach and leash your dog if he does escape the yard when you aren’t looking.

The components of recall
  • Your dog becomes cognitively aware of your call.
  • His head turns towards you.
  • He makes eye contact.
  • He takes one step toward you (and another, and another).
  • He gets halfway to you.
  • He is almost there!
  • Your dog arrives and stays with you! Yay!
How to teach the recall
  • Have your dog on long leash.
  • Call your dog (“Fido, come!”).
  • Reward after each component of the recall.  Use praise for components like eye contact.

Each time you call your dog, you will reward him. Remember, you want your dog to choose to come to you. This will set your dog up for success by making running away seem like a much less attractive option, and it will also prevent you from having to use force to make your dog come to you.

If your dog still won’t come to you, try the following ideas. Remember that not every tactic will work for every dog, so you may have to try a few different techniques before you find one that works.

  • Run backwards.
  • Make interesting noises like whistles, handclaps, and high-pitched gibberish.
  • Turn around and walk away.
  • Gently reel them in with your leash.
  • Be more interesting and more fun than the environment. If the distraction level goes up, your effort and treat quality must also go up.
  • Use body language like crouching down, turning sideways, and averting your eyes.
  • Practice “watch me.” “Watch me” commands are like mini-recalls, and will keep your dog from getting distracted by interesting things across the street like squirrels, birds, and other dogs.

For example: Your dog is barking and digging outside. You call your dog to come inside the house, and he does! As hard as it may be to offer a reward for digging or barking, in the current moment, when your dog comes, you must reward for the recall. When your dog crosses the threshold of the door, all is forgiven and treats appear. (Make a mental note to train “quiet” on a future date.) Very important: always keep treats near the door.

Remember the basics
  • Reward: The reward must be extra special for recall.
  • Encourage: Verbally reward your dog many times during each component of the recall.
  • Communication: Give lots of feedback and use your knowledge of canine body language.
  • Always good: Recall should ALWAYS end as something good.
  • Lots of praise: It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it!
  • Leash: Use your leash as training wheels to ensure success and rewards.

Keep the sessions short at first, to avoid frustration on both sides. Keep the initial training components to 5 or 10 minutes at a time, and make sure those rewards are high value and utterly compelling.

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Photo courtesy of Josh Feeney (www.joshfeeneyphotography.com).

Want to learn more about teaching your dog basic behaviors? Subscribe to FetchFind Monthly Pro – only $59/month!

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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