Four Ways To Raise The Best Dog: Part II

With the right recipe you can have a happy and well adjusted dog

Welcome to the second instalment of Four Ways To Raise The Best Dog. In part one, I covered the importance of breed choice and socialisation. In this post I will be describing how appropriate play and training can turn out the best dog you have ever had.

Play

Having a puppy or young dog means that you will have to get back to your childish self again. As adults we often forget how important play is for learning. Teach your dog how to play with you constructively, through a long toy. If things get really exciting when that toy comes out you will have your dogs undivided attention.

Start playing in the back yard, play chase and tug with your dog. Allow them to win the toy and chase them around the yard, teach them to give the toy up, and then have them chase you, they love this game. Make your dogs’ tail wag. If you can start a healthy love of play with your dog they will want to stay with you, over and above other dogs and people. Play develops a strong bond with your dog, and from that will come the most amazing relationship.

Play with otherdogs is also important for your young dog. However, it should be the right kind of supervised play. Play between dogs should be fluid and have many short breaks, both of the dogs should be happy and comfortable. If one or both dogs are participating in fixed behaviour patterns and not altering their play then problems can start. If one dog is always chasing and knocking the other one over this kind of play is inappropriate. Become familiar with canine body language so that you can make an informed decision about whether or not your dog should interact with another dog.

Training

You can incorporate play in to your training sessions, and in fact it makes for the best training sessions. Both of you will be having fun so the pressure is instantly diffused and you can start rewarding your dog, with food or the toy, for any good behaviour during the play. For example if your dog is playing with you, sees another dog but decides to continue playing with you, heavily reward that with their favourite game or some food.

Enrol yourself and your dog in to a reputable dog club or puppy school so that you can get some formal guidance on basic obedience skills. Continue your formal training for at least the first three years with your dog. Going to a club will make you more accountable, and it is guaranteed time that you will spend working with your dog. The first few skills you should be taught should be ‘come’‘heel’ and ‘watch me’.

When you ask your dog to do something for you, first make sure they are in the right mind-set to listen. You and your dog make up a team, and each of you is only 50% of that team. Training is not just about you getting your dog to do something, it is about working in a partnership. Your dog is your partner, and it is your job to set them up for success.

Work your dog up to difficult distractions slowly, sometimes it can take months or years to master difficult skills, be patient. Similarly, you do not want to put your dog in a situation where they are too stressed to work with you. Pay attention to your partner and respond appropriately and you will have a huge amount of success.

Training does not have to be boring or regimented. Have some fun. Reward any behaviour you like and you will get more of it. Your dog is always learning from their environment, be vigilant about the lessons they are absorbing, and look for situations where they can learn good behaviours.

Raising a dog does require concentration for the first few years, but then you have the next several years, hopefully more, to enjoy what you have put in place.

Katarina

What Type of Puppy School?

The best puppy schools should have wide open spaces for off lead interaction, and one on one training.

Hello Katarina,

We are about to adopt a dog and have been researching the options for puppy school. What is the difference between going to the vet or pet shop for puppy school and joining a club where they offer puppy school?

Wendy

Hi Wendy,

Over recent years there has been a boom in puppy schools, where now most vets and many pet shops will offer puppy school. There are differences between puppy schools run at such places, and going to a dog club for puppy school. My preference would always be to go to a dog club that you have visited and feel comfortable with.

Pet shops and vet clinics are not designed for dog training. Their physical set up is usually small, meaning that your dog cannot escape if they are fearful. Such limited room can also create problems where dogs are too close together and are therefore too distracted to learn. Small spaces can be overwhelming for some dogs and their owners, and if this is your dogs first experience with other dogs it may not be very positive.

Limited space also means that there is limited room for socialisation. Your puppy will spend most of its time on lead and this can lead to unwanted behaviours such as barking, chewing, jumping, straining on the lead and biting. It also means that you will be unable to train your dog off lead, and if you cannot train your dog off lead you will not learn how to gain off lead control.

Most puppy schools also have only one instructor available for several puppies. This ratio is not ideal when you and your dog are trying to learn something for the first time. You may find that you become lost in the crowd. Good learning theory suggests that in order to successfully learn a behaviour, distractions need to be kept to a minimum, this is difficult in a small space with only one instructor to several dogs.

There is an advantage to puppy school held at the vet, and that is your puppy (if they have enjoyed puppy school) will love going to the vet clinic. You can however do this yourself, I would advise any owner of a puppy to be visiting their vet clinic as often as possible. Put your puppy on the scales, weigh them, let the staff have a cuddle and leave. The visits only need to be short and positive for a great association to build.

Dog clubs on the other hand are set up specifically for puppy school. They are usually outdoors, have lots of space, and tend to go in to more obedience skills than you would get at the vet or pet shop.

The perfect puppy school is one that has lots of out door space, grass, trees, bushes etc. It has time for all of the puppies to interact freely off lead, and you should have your own instructor teaching you and supervising the socialisation time with you. Your lessons should consist of basic skills like sit, come, heel, watch me, drop and stay, all done on and off lead. You should also have time to work on problem areas, questions and/or concerns you may have with your new puppy. One-on-one tuition is a recipe for success.

In some ways I feel we are doing a disservice to owners and each other in the pet dog industry by offering puppy school at vets and pet shops. A disservice to the owners and dogs by not having the best possible environment for a bunch of puppies, and a disservice to each other in the pet industry by offering puppy school in spaces that were never designed for such activity. A similarity would be dog clubs taking on the immunisation of dogs, that is not our role.

In an ideal world your vet or pet shop worker should refer you on to the nearest dog club for puppy school. They could also have information nights (without puppies) on responsible dog ownership, as the information you can get at vet clinics and pet shops can be very good.

Wendy, as long as you go in to your choice informed you should not be surprised by anything. Look for lots and lots of space at puppy school, low (3:1) ratios, or one-on-one training, and supportive, encouraging instructors. Don’t forget that after completing puppy school it is important that you continue your training throughout your dogs first few years, and you will be able to do this seamlessly at a dog club.

Katarina

Your Questions: How Do Dogs Cope With Failure?

Hello Katarina,

Your site is a breath of fresh air. I just got my first dog, a 5 month old mix breed (I suspect he has a lot of Australian Cattle Dog in him, but I can’t be sure, markings seem to fit). You say to sometimes use food or not too after they first learn a action. Will not giving them the food sometimes create a sense of being cheated? It would make me pretty obstinate, of course I’m not a dog.

Charles

Hi Charles. Your questions prompted me to think of an interesting analogy that I hope will put this question in to perspective. It is the story of a food vending machine, and is a famous one in dog training circles.

Outside your place of work, is a food vending machine, and that each day you have bought food from this machine. You have learned that by placing money in the slot, and pushing the correct buttons, gives the food up for you to enjoy. You have been doing this for some weeks, each time receiving some food. All is right with the world.

Then, one day, you put your money in the slot, push the right buttons, and the machine does not respond. It spits the money back out. You take a crisp note out of your pocket, insert this and your food comes out. The next day, you put your money in the slot, push the correct buttons and the machine still is not forthcoming with the food. You try again with another note, and the food comes out. Voila, the machine has just taught you something new. It will only release the food if you give crisp, undamaged notes.

Then, let’s say, that there is another machine inside the building, that has been reliable. It has given food each day for weeks regardless of the condition of the notes, then just stops, no matter what you do it will not give the food up. You may only try one more time, and if that machine does not work again you will probably give up and never use it again.

So what have you learned? You will probably continue going to the first one, even though it is a little temperamental and may not work every time, chances are you will get the food from it more than the second machine. Sometimes you may need to simply try harder or something new to get the food.

So how does this relate to dog training? The first machine works on a schedule of intermittent reinforcement. That is, it gives food out every now and again for the correct behaviour. This is the rate of reinforcement we need our dogs to become comfortable with to improve their behaviour.

The second machine was very reliable on constant rate of reinforcement and when this stopped your behaviour of putting money in to the machine also stopped, very quickly.

Sometimes people feed their dogs for everything, and their dog comes to expect food for everything, when it does not get it once or twice, it looses heart, it may have never had this happen to them, so they give up. The importance of intermittent reinforcement is to build resilience in our dogs so that they try harder, or try something different.

If we intermittently reinforce our dogs they can expect failure, but know that if they try again, or try another behaviour they might get the food. It is also mental weightlifting, as your dog must think of what they need to do in order to gain access to the food.

Hopefully, now you can see why it is so important to move away from a constant stream of food for everything. Intermittent reinforcement creates the strongest drive and the most reliable behaviours.

Katarina

Corrections and Punishment

I have always used positive reinforcement to train dogs, even when I was young, using doggy chocs to train my Jack Russell puppy. I remember saying sit, sit, sit, over and over, and when he finally sat, I gave him a treat. It never occurred to me to physically push him to get him in to the position I wanted. I love this method of training.

Since I use positive reinforcement so much, does that mean I do not use corrections or punishments with my dogs? The answer is, no. I do not believe you can raise a dog without telling him what is unwanted sometimes. I do use corrections, but there are a few guidelines I have.

Corrections should never be painful, or harmful to your dog to have them pay attention. It can be as simple as an ‘ah, ah’ followed by what you want your dog to do. Such corrections and instructions, if well timed, can be very constructive in stopping unwanted behaviour. However, I find that these corrections only work if your dog is receptive to you, that is, that they are not too distracted or over aroused. You will have to pick and choose your times to use these corrections.

Using corrections takes timing. Your corrections should be quick, at best they should occur as you dog is considering performing the behaviour. If you wait for too long before correcting your dog they will have no idea what you are trying to correct them for. At worst, they may think that they are being corrected for ‘groveling’ to you. Your dog will have no idea why you are cross, just that you are cross about something, that is all they are reacting to.

You should only give corrections when you are calm. If you find you are giving corrections when things have already got out of hand, you are behaving reactively to a situation, when tensions may already be high. Corrections should be proactive and used sparingly. It is a myth to think that corrections need to be given when in the heat of the moment, this could be the worst time for them, as people tend to overreact when emotional, and the correction may be way too harsh for the crime.

When using corrections you should do your best to set your dog up for success. It is not about setting your dog up for a mistake, and correcting his behaviour. That is not fair, your dog may have to make too many mistakes, that you need to punish, before they find the correct behaviour. It is best to simply instruct them on what to do. For example if your dog loves to steal food off the bench a well timed ‘ah ah’ followed by ‘leave it’ or ‘sit’ or ‘on your bed’ will give them constructive direction.

An effective correction should work straight away. If you are telling your dog, ‘No!’ five times, at ever increasing volumes, you can bet your correction is not working. The consequence of this is that your corrections will have to increase in severity before your dog pays attention. Where will it end?

I use time outs with my dogs, not as punishment, but as a way of diffusing the situation quickly and easily. These time outs are not designed to make my dogs ‘think’ about what they have done, they simply give us some space from each other. Often though, it makes me think of what has occurred, and how I can stop it from occurring again. In the end the responsibility lies with me.

The key to using time out effectively is that you need to be aware of your own emotions, and the frame of mind you are in. When using time out, again, it should be carried through in a calm way, do not wait until your dog has pushed all of your buttons and you have completely lost it. All time out is, is a little bit of time and space to be separate, time to take a deep breath, and relax.

We all get angry and frustrated at times, our dogs do too, avoid using corrections at this time. Be proactive, anticipate wrong behaviour, and be instructional about what you want your dog to do for you. Later, take some time to think about what happened before you had to correct your dog, and resolve not to set them up for this again. Use your corrections sparingly, and they will be subtle and mean something to your dog. Just like ‘the look’ we all used to get from our parents.

Katarina

Your Questions: Couch Jumping?

Hi Katarina,

We have a three month old Bernese Mountain Dog, Como, and now that she has grown a bit she is starting to try to get up on the couch a lot more, we are pretty good at stopping her but sometimes she beats us to it. When we catch her and stop her she continues to try and get up there, even when we sit down on the ground and try to engage/distract her with her toys she keeps trying. Do you have any suggestions on how we can stop her climbing on the couch? She we keep some fresh meat and to reward her if we can get her to come down? Sometimes when she goes to climb up and I jump down on the ground I can call her down to me. Do we need to reward that with food to try to reinforce?

Daniel and Anna

Hi Daniel and Anna, congratulations on your new puppy. It’s amazing to hear that a three month old puppy could get on the couch, welcome to the world of living with a large breed dog.

Contrary to what TV and movies would tell us, dogs do not come knowing the rules of human home living. They need to be taught the rules unique to each of our homes, often this can include the couch being off limits to the dog.

Before you start training Como to remain on the floor, you could take her for a stimulating walk so that she is tired when you arrive home. Alternatively, choose a day and time that she is likely to be tired, and resolve to do some ‘floor’ training then.

You will need to be ready for training when you sit on the couch. This means that you need to be in the right mind-set, and prepared for Como to jump on the couch. You also need a plan about how you are going to keep her on the floor, and what you are going to when she tries to jump on the couch. Get some treats ready, you can use dried liver treats for in-home training, and set her mat up at your feet.

Before you sit down on the couch, ask Como to ‘sit’ and reward her when she does so. Then you can take your seat on the couch. If Como has remained there (as you have sat down) give her a ‘good girl’ and reinforce her with a treat. Keep reinforcing her as she relaxes, such as, when she lays down, leans on the couch, or gets in to another settling down position. Remember you do not want to reinforce her for looking at you, no one wants a dog staring at them the whole time while trying to relax. Give her some low key attention when she is on the floor and calm.

If, and when, Como try to put a paw up on the couch, signal her ‘off’, and point towards the ground. She should follow your finger and put all feet back on the floor again, then praise her. Try not to give her a treat for this as you do not want her to connect putting her paws up on the couch with ‘off’ and a treat. Treat her when she is relaxed. If you are too late and she has already got up on to the couch (this is a mistake on your part), stand up and leave the room calling her as you go, then set her up again, and pay attention to her while she is on the floor.

With some dogs, training floor time takes effort. Sometimes you will not feel like doing it, and it is during these times that you should use your confinement areas. You will need to be proactive in recognising that you do not feel like training Como, and confine her before she engages in this unwanted behaviour. The less opportunities she has a to practice jumping on the couch, the less likely she is to jump on the couch.

So what are the main points? Your job will be much easier the more tired she is. Also, be prepared to train Como to remain on the floor, and if you are not in the mood to train, confine her. All the best, she is a delight.

Katarina

Dog Park Etiquette

Most dog owners are aware of dog ownership laws when out and about with a dog. There are the obvious rules such as picking up after your dog and walking off lead in off lead areas etc. What I want to discuss today are the more subtle rules, or dog park etiquette.

Perhaps one of the most important, but less obvious rules is that your dog should not ‘rush’ at other dogs or people, particularly if the other dog is on lead. Dogs that rush tend to approach people and dogs with as much speed as possible. It can scare owners and their dogs. If your dog has a tendency to rush, you will need to work on recall, and be vigilant about your environment, you must see the distraction before your dog does so that they do not continue this behaviour. Your dog might be the most friendly dog but other people and dogs may not know this.

Dogs that rush at other dogs are usually deficient in their social skills. You can manage this by teaching heeling, asking your dog to heel towards another dog will allow for a much calmer, more controlled greeting. Usually, for dogs who rush, once they get close to another dog they are OK, provided the other dog is also calm. Once you have heeled up to another dog you can release your dog and allow them to interact freely. It’s just about managing the greeting.

Another dog park etiquette rule, that perhaps only the most dog savvy people know, is to not stand still for too long. I see this at dog parks all the time, what tends to happen is when people stand still for too long, their dog becomes bored and often will engage in unwanted behaviour. Such behaviour includes, rough play, bullying, barking, digging, humping, stealing toys and jumping.

Standing still for too long can also lead to tension between dogs, they may start out playing nicely but someone gets hurt because there is no break in the play. I would often go to the ‘standing around’ area of the dog park but I would only stay long enough for Ben to meet and greet some dogs, then we would go off on our walk. Often, after an hour or so, I would come back to the ‘standing around area’ and the same people would still be there. Dont get lazy with your walk, keep moving with your dog to keep them busy.

Often people that stand around too much also have problems recalling their dogs. You are just not that interesting if you are standing still for too long. Keep your dogs’ focus on you by moving, become your dogs most interesting thing at the park and they will never want to leave you. This takes energy and preparation but it is worth it in the end.

If you are the most interesting thing at the park, your dog is less likely to engage in behaviours such as humping, jumping and stealing other dogs toys. If any of these are a problem for you do not put your dog in a position to practice these behaviours. Keep moving, take some food and toys to the park, play with your dog and anticipate and redirect to change behaviour. Again, this requires effort and vigilance, but the less likely your dog is engaging in these behaviours the less likely they will do it in the future.

You should always take food to the park with you for your own dog. However, you will find that you may have other dogs coming up to you too. Never feed a strangers dog at the dog park. I made the mistake of feeding someone else’s dog once (after having been given permission to do so), as I lowered my hand down to feed the dog it attacked (nothing serious) the dog next to it! Since then I have never fed a dog at the park again.

Dogs playing at the park can also cause concern for some people. Generally, if both dogs are happy and relaxed in their play it can continue. Become familiar with canine body language so you can intervene as needed. Again, by continuing to move with your dog you will reduce the likelihood of play escalating to aggression or bullying behaviour. The etiquette is that should your dog be the one creating discomfort for others they should be removed from the situation.

Play is constructive if the dogs’ behaviours are changing. If one dog is fixed in only one behaviour pattern such as pushing, body slamming or chasing, without any break or change of behaviour, the play can become antisocial. Always actively supervise your dogs’ play and watch for any anxiety or fixed behaviour pattern in either dog.

People at the dog park love their dogs, being mindful of the how your dogs’ behaviour is impacting on others is respectful. Supervise your dog actively, and move around the park to keep your dog out of mischief. The dog park can be a great bonding opportunity for you and your dog. Play, laugh and train there together.

Katarina

Your Questions: Traveling With Your Dog?

Dear Katarina
During the school holidays, we are planning on driving to visit friends in Northern NSW. It is a two day drive and we are taking our special four legged boy Obi. He is a pretty good car traveller, however we have not done many long haul drives with him, other than a couple of hours here and there. We fully intend on breaking the drive every couple of hours so he and the boys can run around and stretch their legs. I have been thinking about giving Obi a series of chew toys and perhaps some treats for the trip but I don’t want to be continually feeding him for two days (don’t want to risk him being sick in the car), but I am wondering if you have any other tricks for entertaining him for long periods in the car?

Jennie

Hi Jennie,

You are on the right track by taking regular breaks, and also taking some ‘chews’ with you on the trip. If you do these things you will probably find that Obi sleeps most of the trip. However, be prepared for a busy dog once you arrive. It might be a good idea to allocate someone to walk him as soon as you get to your destination as he will be full of beans from such a long car ride.

Jennie, you have raised a good point with regards to travelling with dogs in cars. I’m so glad to hear that you want to take Obi with you. So, I thought I would take it further and discuss some of the more general things people need to consider to make such holidays a success.

Good preparation, like a few strong obedience skills, are a large part of making holidaying with your dog a success. Other practicalities to think about include, becoming familiar with the area you are travelling to. This means that you should have a good idea of the accommodation and the area you are staying at. Things like, can your dog be inside with you? Will it be fenced so your dog can be outside? Where is the local vet? And where are the off lead areas? Other considerations include, risks in the area such as ticks and snakes. Doing your homework before you leave will help avoid any surprises when you arrive. You might also like to update your dogs’ ID tags so they are clear and easily read, and don’t forget to contact your microchip company to make sure your details are up to date.

Crate training will also make your holiday more enjoyable with your dog. If your dog is crate trained you can take their crate with you, it can become their mobile kennel. Having your crate handy means that you will have somewhere to contain your dog. It may make the travelling easier too. If your trip involves taking an aeroplane your dog will need to be comfortable with the crate, as this is where they will be spending most of their time while in transit. Even if you are driving with your dog you should have them in their crate, or harnessed to the seat belt, for everyone’s safety.

Taking your dog on holidays also means packing their goods with them. Taking their mat or bed will help your dog recognise their designated resting areas. Take some of your dogs’ toys with you and some interactive food toys and chew toys. Things like pigs ears, raw hide chews, and knot bones would be great. You can also purchase raw beef/lamb bones to keep your dog occupied while you do some non-doggie activities.

Exercise will be a big part of keeping stress levels low while on holidays. Taking your dog for a walk each day, sometimes two, will mean that they will be calm and content when you get back to your holiday home. Allowing your dog to socialise and play with other dogs will also help tire your dog out. The more tired they are, the less likely they will display unruly behaviour.

We are spoilt for choice in Australia with pet friendly accommodation. Life Be In It updates a book each year that displays the best places to visit with your dog. However, word of mouth is probably the best way to find a pet friendly destination. As a general rule, dogs are not allowed in National Parks, but are allowed in State Forests, so if camping is your thing, perhaps a visit to a State Forest would suit you.

Ensuring that you are prepared and are adequately exercising your dog while you are away, increases your chances of enjoying your break with your dog. It gives your dog a break from the same-old, same-old, and everyone will come home feeling content and well rested.

Katarina

On Lead Greetings

Loose leads allow room for your dog to move if they feel worried

On lead greetings with other dogs can be very restrictive for both of the dogs involved. The following is an example of what often occurs between two dogs and their people when there is an on lead greeting. You are walking down the street with your dog on a loose lead and spot another dog and person coming towards you. Both dogs’ stop and stare for a second or two, the owners grab hold of the lead further  down towards their dogs’ collar and both dogs’ have to strain against the lead, sometimes rearing up, in order to greet each other.

The kind of on lead greeting above is something that I see daily. The problem with it is that when dogs’ are restricted they tend to become more anxious, more excitable, and more reactive. Tense, on lead greetings, also send the wrong kind of message to the other dog. If one dog is rearing up, or straining because they are on such a tight lead, how is the other dog going to interpret this?

When dogs’ meet they cannot use anything else to communicate as effectively as their body, and if their movements are being restricted it is shutting down this primary form of communication. Then, the dogs’ must resort to other methods of communication such as barking and growling to get their message across. But there is a better way to handle on lead dog meetings.

A major part of making the on lead greeting process a smoother one is to appropriately socialise your dog off lead as much as you can with unfamiliar dogs. This off lead socialisation will teach your dog how to communicate with other dogs’ without any restriction placed on them. It will also allow your dog to be more settled around other dogs, thereby reducing the excitement factor when they meet another dog on lead. Much of the straining when dogs meet is due to excitement, as many dogs do not have ample (ample being, daily) opportunity to interact with other dogs off lead.

Once a dog is appropriately socialised, they will be aware of certain greeting etiquette when they meet a strange dog. In a natural scenario two dogs that are approaching will greet each other in a curved manner, bending their heads inwards towards the other dogs’ nose or backside. After engaging in a bit of polite sniffing, either play will be instigated, or they will simply move on.

This polite sniffing is essential information gathering, the dogs’ are determining age, sex and emotion of the other dog. They need this information to form the basis of near future interactions. Without this polite sniffing, signals can be misinterpreted, and misunderstandings can occur.

In order for this polite greeting to take place both of the leads must be loose. A loose lead allows your dog to move their body in the appropriate way to communicate with the other dog. Never underestimate your dogs’ ability to speak ‘dog’. This loose lead greeting requires you to have trust in your dog and the only way that can happen, is with lots and lots of appropriate off lead greetings.

You have two tools you can use for approaching another dog- heeling and loose lead walking. Both of these will have to be practiced enough so that your dog is able to apply them even when they are feeling emotional. You might even like to practice these tools with known, low excitable dogs first.

After a polite greeting the dogs may become tangled, if the dogs are moving slowly it shouldn’t be too much of a concern to detangle them. However, when two dogs’ are excited the leads can become a mess. At this point you have two options, if you are in a safe area and you have time, allow the dogs to play off lead. Dogs’ that play on lead run the risk of becoming tangled and injuring themselves or their people. If you cannot allow the dogs’ to play (and this is OK) simply lure, or call your dog to you in a happy voice, and move on. If the dogs’ seem to hit it off, arrange to meet at the park some time in the future, nothing weird about that, many dog people do it.

With all of this said, there is no rule that says you must meet every dog you pass. Until you master loose lead greetings using the above strategies, you can simply cross the street when you see another dog coming. Don’t make a big deal of it, just ask your dog to come ‘this way’ in a happy voice and hot-tail it to the nearest smelly bush so they are distracted. You may even like to get them to heel with you while you pass the dog on the other side of the road. Once your dog becomes excellent at heeling you will even be able to ask them to heel right past another dog. This will eliminate any straining on the lead, minimising the risk of reactive barking if they cannot greet another dog for whatever reason.

Lets not forget about the humans involved in this interaction either. You can always ask the person you are approaching if it is alright for the dogs to say hello. I do it all the time. Some people say ‘yes’ and that’s great, you will probably notice an instant relaxation of both leads in this instance. Other people say ‘no’, and in this case I simply ask Ben to sit in front of me while they pass, or I heel him past the other dog. No big deal. Good heeling will get you out of many sticky situations.

Maintaining a loose lead during greetings also ensures that if your dog is feeling frightened they can move away. If your dog is backing away from another dog or person, always back off with them. You may find that your dog needs some approach and retreat time before finally making contact with the other dog. Giving your dog this kind of ‘space’ means that they will never feel trapped, and reduces the likelihood of them resorting to aggressive behaviours to defend themselves from a perceived threat.

The lead that you use will also influence on lead greetings. Most people have a five foot lead, I always use a six foot lead. A longer lead will give your dog more room to move and means that he does not get used to pulling on the lead. Most dogs’ who have been walked on a short lead tend to become very used to pulling because they have to pull in order to even lower their heads to the ground for a sniff. If you walk your dog on a retractable lead always lock it in place (with about 6 foot of lead) when you greet another dog. Retractable leads can become dangerous if your dog decides to run around other people and dogs.

Loose lead greetings can be a wonderful opportunity for your dog to meet lots of other dogs for a brief encounter, in this time they will practice polite greetings many times over. It is an insurance policy that develops confidence, and guards against having a dog that strains, barks, growls and intimidates other dogs on lead. It will also allow you  space to be able to enjoy your on lead walks, take in some fresh air, and spend relaxing time with your dog.

Katarina

Leroy the Pig and Clicker Training

A number of months ago I was approached to train a pet piglet, named Leroy. I saw this as an amazing opportunity to ‘test’ the method of training I use on dogs, on another species. I had heard that pigs are very intelligent and that they can be trained to perform many different behaviours.

To begin, I wanted to teach Leroy to push a soccer ball around with his nose. In order to do this, I knew I had to use a training tool called a ‘clicker’. Clickers are small hand held tools, with a button or stiff strip of metal that once pushed, it makes a distinct ‘click’ sound. You may have recieved one as a child in a party bag.

When you begin using the clicker you need to ‘charge’ it by clicking and offering your dog (or pig) a bit of food. By repeating this process several times your dog will begin to anticipate the click with food. Having ‘charged’ the clicker you can now begin to shape behaviours by marking them with the clicker, then offering the food.

The clicker is a learing tool only, once your dog has learned the behaviour, you wont need to click for it anymore. However, each time you click, you MUST feed, even if you click by accident. This is what gives the clicker its meaning to your dog.

The beauty of the clicker is that it pin-points a behaviour, much like taking a photo of exactly what you want your dog to do. The clicker is much more precise than offering food- by the time you offer the food your dog may be doing a completly different behaviour.

If you decide to use a clicker you will need to be clear on the goal behaviour you have in mind and the steps your dog needs to make towards that goal, that’s what you will begin clicking. Sometimes the clicker can make things more complicated as it is another thing to think about, so start with some easy, fun behaviours first.

I knew the clicker would work well with Leroy, as pigs’ hearing is very good, and I knew we had to be exact in reinforcing the correct behaviour so that Leroy could make the connection between his behaviour and the food. We used fresh fruit and vegitables to reinforce Leroy.

I have posted a short video on YouTube of Leroy pushing the ball around. You will notice that the click comes when Leroy pushes the ball. We began (in an earlier session) by clicking when Leroy simply touched the ball with his nose. Once that was happening consitantly we started to click when he would push the ball. As time progresses we need to teach Leroy that he has to push the ball more than once to get the click. This is how you can shape your dogs’ behaviour. Start with something easy first, then work up to your goal step, by step.

You will notice that when Leroy hears the click he goes in to get the food. He knows that pushing the ball will elicit a click and then food will be offered. Very smart indeed!

I hope you enjoy watching this short video, some of the clicker timing is not perfect, but Leroy doesnt care, and most importantly we were enjoying this.

Katarina

Training Single Behaviours

This is an example of a reliable sit, stay and leave. Work on one skill at a time, then put them together.

Dogs live in our world, a world that mainly relies on spoken word and lots of rules that differ between individuals. I always marvel at how dogs have been able to adapt to the restrictions we have placed upon them. Behaviours that often fly in the face of what they were born to do. Things like, don’t jump up and lick faces, don’t smell other dogs’ bums, don’t chase that bird into the pond, etc…. ??How would you feel if you suddenly found yourself in another world, where you only had your human behaviours to rely on? You wouldn’t understand the language, social norms or rules. Wouldn’t it be great if someone took you by the hand and lead you through the confusion. This teacher would have to be pretty certain about what the rules were, and would have to be consistent and kind to make sure you felt most comfortable to try all of these new behaviours.

You can be that teacher.?? Start by thinking about the single behaviour you would like to teach your dog. Write it down if you need to. The single behaviour needs to be practiced and reinforced on its own. For example, if you want to teach your dog to come- teach and reinforce come, not come and sit together. Each behaviour will need to go through the following phases to become reliable, then they can be put together.

Teaching Phase

The teaching phase is characterised by using food in your hand to lure your dog in to the position you want. You then give the food up as soon as you get the behaviour you need. At first you may also give the food half way during a behaviour to encourage your dog that they are on the right track. This phase is best done in a non-distracting environment.

Proofing

Now you can take the food lure away and reinforce the behaviour after offering a hand and verbal signal. Hand and verbal signals need to be unique to each behaviour. You can begin reinforcing better and better efforts of the desired behaviour. You can also work on the behaviour in different environments, start with spaces that are easy for you and your dog. Work up to being able to practice the behaviour where you will eventually use it. Most of your time should be spent in this phase. Set your dog up for success. Set yourself up for success too.

Performing

This is where you use the behaviour in the situation you intended it to be used. Little time should be spent in this phase, this is where all of your hard proofing is put to the test. For example, if you have been teaching and proofing heeling, this is where you heel past that dead bird, spilled rubbish, or poo that your dog loves to eat or roll in (yes, it is normal)!

Think of dog training behaviours as building a house…..?If you start with a solid foundation, when you start adding pressure, the behaviour will hold firm.

Katarina