Training Tips

Let's Talk About... The "Wild Child"

The "Wild Child" is the dog that jumps on everyone, mouths everyone, refuses to listen or comply, pushes you out of the way, embarrasses you in public and all that other good stuff.

They will almost always bring out the frustration in you, which unfortunately feeds their wildness. I've had a wild child and I believe she came into my life to teach me patience. The more aggravated I would get the worse she would behave.

Often the wild child is very intelligent and when bored acts out in order to engage you. Mental exercise can be much more important that physical. Teaching your dog new tricks/commands, running them through all the things they know in a fast pace for several minutes a couple of times a day, taking them somewhere new to experience new sights, sounds and smells can be very effective in tiring your dog.

Think of your wild child dog like they are a product of the foster care system and have had no consistency, security, structure while in the system. If you were to be a foster parent to a toddler like that you would establish rules and boundaries pretty quickly (you wouldn't let that toddler go through your house opening drawers roaming around unsupervised, or eat marshmallows for dinner, or shove you out of the way to get out a door, or punch a guest in your home).

So, here are some thoughts on dealing with a wild child:
*Establish, maintain and reinforce structure/rules 24/7. Some of my dog's rules are down/wait until released to eat, door opens you look to me for what you should do, car door opens you do nothing until I tell you what to do, no pushing past me, crate on command, and several more
*Be consistent. Don't cave in or give up on a rule, boundary or requirement because the dog is acting out.
*When you ask your dog to do something the whole world stops until they comply, and when they do comply you need to acknowledge the accomplishment and avoid having a "I'm not giving you anything because you took too long" state of mind.
*Dog works for every single thing they get--food, affection, play, car rides, everything they consider of value
*Control space and movement: Use body blocking/bumping to control space and movement. You can leave a leash on the dog at all times so if they manage to shove past you can take the leash, turn around and walk them back to where they were and try again.
*More patience
*Teach your dog the 'place' or 'on your mat' command. 
*Keep training sessions short and fun. Avoid working 'sit', 'down', etc. over and over and over. Do 2 or 3 and end it.
* And finally.... Patience! 


Let's talk about.... Dog/dog greetings

First, there's no rule that says your dog has to meet every dog they come across. But, they should learn to maintain their composure in proximity to other dogs.

If on leash and you choose to let your dog greet another dog the leashes MUST remain loose. If you have 
tension on the leash you could accidentally create a body language posture your dog did not intend--head up, body tense and leaning forward, etc.--and the other dog could misunderstand. How many times have you seen 2 dogs meet on leash and everything seems ok, then an owner pulls on the leash to leave and the dogs suddenly snark at each other? Count to 2 or 3 and then coax your dog to walk away with you. If you wait too much longer one of the dogs may make the decision, "Yep, I could totally take you". 

DO NOT pull the leash while standing still--same reason as above. Do a little "Ok Skippy let's go" as you hold the leash low and walk away.

Try to avoid nose to nose greetings. Walk your dog in a curve up to the other dog, or walk to the side to form a T, or walk your dog around to let their rear get to the other dog's head (also known as 'free butt sniff').

If there is anything about the other dog's body language that just doesn't feel right avoid the greeting all together. It's better to have your dog skip the greeting than have a negative experience.


Let's talk about... Body language: head turns

Head turns can indicate a couple of things depending on the situation. We'll talk about head turns as it relates to someone wanting to greet your dog. Here's the scenario:

You're out somewhere, hanging out. Someone approaches you and asks to pet your dog. You say "sure" and as they get closer, or reach out their hand, your dog turns their head away from the human as if there is something really interesting over their shoulder (some dogs will turn their whole body away). Your dog is yelling "Please don't! I'm uncomfortable". Tell the person you're sorry but they cannot pet him/her right now. Come up with an excuse if you're uncomfortable just saying no. Something like: "I'm sorry but he/she just had surgery recently and isn't feeling up to meeting people after all, but thank you for asking", but do not let them come closer. If the human doesn't walk away you should.  Your dog will thank you for it 

Your dog will tell you everything you need to know if you learn their language.


Let's Talk About... The Premack Principle

Many people follow the Premack Principle everyday. They do this by going to work at a job they don't particular like but they do it to get a paycheck. Dogs follow this principle too. For example, my Lab had frequent ear infections and had to get his ears cleaned and medicated all the time. In the beginning he would avoid me, refuse to move, etc. After many ear sessions where he got a crazy, high value reward after the cleaning things changed.

The definition of the Premack principle, "Developed by David Premack the concept that a more-preferred activity (eating cheese) can be used to reinforce a less-preferred activity (cleaning ears)". It's a form of operant conditioning. After my dog married the 2 behaviors he would see the medication and would come to me without being asked (albeit slowly with his head down and body low) and submit to the cleaning and the second we were done he would bolt to the refrigerator because that was the only time he got cheese which he love-love-loved.

So, if there is a behavior you need your dog to do that may not be preferable to them marry the conclusion of that behavior with something preferable.


Let's talk about... Leashes

Leashes are a safety device only. They keep your dog from running into the street or darting over to a dog or human. The most important thing about a leash is NOT to use it to control your dog--pulling them to you or away from something, repositioning them, or yanking them so they pay attention to you while you're standing still can teach your dog that the leash is what needs to be listened to and not you.  They know it's all about the leash because they're moving and you're standing still.  You could also teach your dog to resent a leash.

When holding a leash, whether standing, sitting or walking, keep it in one spot so that your dog cannot move you, or your arm, even an inch. Hold the leash in one spot (use the 'belly button hold' position) and if you want your dog to move then you move or use your voice. Show your dog that pulling gets them absolutely nothing and they need to stay with you so they know where they're going. Make it all about you and not the leash. Use sound (kissy noises, tongue clicking, etc.) to get your dog's attention instead of pulling them to you.

The easiest way to NOT over use a leash is to go to For Paws in 5 Points on Wellman in Five points and get a waist leash! Hands free walking is amazing! You'll never go back to a regular leash. If you tell them you heard about a waist leash here they'll know which one you need.

Remember, it needs to be about you and not the leash.


Let's talk about... Adopting a dog

When you adopt a dog the first thing you should do when you get home is take them for a long walk. A lonnng walk.  There can be tremendous stress on the dog and walking helps them get rid of some of this anxiety, and it familiarizes them with their new 'neighborhood. If they will be joining an existing pack have the other dog(s) meet you in the street and take them all for that initial walk, then walk them into the backyard and drop the leashes.

Relegate them to one room/area of your house for a few days before you give them access to more of the house. This way they aren't overwhelmed, and you can keep an eye on them.  When you bring them into the house essentially ignore them. Putting social pressure on them to be petted, come to you over and over, or constant eye contact and sound can add to the stress. Let them come to you when they want to, give them a little calm petting and let them settle down.

The first 2 weeks or so is the time to establish rules and boundaries--sit/wait to eat, wait to go outside, etc. They use this time to figure out where they fit in the family and what are their rights, privileges and responsibilities. They tend to be on their best behavior initially because they are the new kid so it's the perfect time to set up that structure.

I can't tell you how many times I've met with someone to work on behavior issues where the conversation starts with, "He was so good the first few weeks and then he started to....". Many times this is because the rules weren't established and with the lack of structure the dog went down a bad path.

Most importantly, thank you for adopting a dog. You saved a life and that's good for everyone.


Let's talk about... Bite inhibition in puppies

Question:  How many of you have bought a puppy from a breeder, or adopted a puppy from a rescue and been given that puppy at 6 weeks of age and had nipping/biting problems that leave you bruised and bleeding? If not addressed this behavior can get completely out of control.

If you get a puppy from a breeder tell them you'll pick the puppy up at 8 weeks.  Please, please, please only take a puppy that has been with their litter for at least 8 weeks.  If they say 'no' then keep looking.  You will save yourself frustration and pain.  Trainers wish breeders were required by law to keep puppies that long.  Until recently it was uncommon for breeders to give up puppies under 8 weeks.  Now some breeders are giving puppies away as early as 5 weeks. Those 2 or 3 weeks are when a puppy learns bite inhibition from their litter mates and mother.  

So, now you have this cute little 6 week old puppy who becomes a piranha.  What do you do?  Here are a couple of techniques that can be very effective.

Remove yourself:  One thing to try first is to simulate what their litter mates would do.  If you watch a bunch of young puppies play you'll see examples of "You bit me too hard!  I refuse to play you!".  The puppy will give a short, sharp sound and walk away.  Therefore teaching the biter that nipping equals no more play.  If you're interacting with the puppy and teeth touch skin give a short sharp sound and leave the area for 20 or 30 seconds.  Come back and re-start the activity.  Repeat this over and over so puppy puts 'A' (teeth on skin) and 'B' (everything stops) together.  

Don't use your hands as toys:  Rough-housing with a puppy by batting at their face tells them your hands are toys and they can nip at them when they are near his/her face, then you yell at them which makes you a confusing human.

Redirecting:  Giving the puppy a chew toy when they start nipping at you can work.  Be careful of the timing because puppy can learn, "I nip you and I get a toy! Whee!"  Redirecting works better when the puppy is chewing on something they shouldn't be chewing.

Isolation:  Another technique involves isolation.  Have a leash on the puppy at all times.  Teeth touch skin, give the objection sound, calmly and quietly (no huffing and puffing, lecturing, etc.) pick up the leash and walk the puppy to the isolation room (puppy-proofed, boring bathroom, laundry room but never their crate), put them in by themselves, close the door, wait 20 or 30 seconds, bring the puppy out and do the exact same activity again. Repeating the "time out" every time teeth touch skin.

Exercise:  Tired puppies are good puppies.  They're less likely to get bored or amped up and want to get you to interact with them using any means necessary.

Physical punishment: Muzzle grabs, jaw squeezing, etc. can be ineffective.  We're not dogs so we don't know exactly where to grab, for exactly the right length of time with the exact amount of pressure.  We tend to over do because we're angry, or under do because we think we're hurting the puppy.  Either of those sends the wrong message and can cause your puppy to fear you or laugh at you.

Teaching a puppy that should have learned this from litter mates takes lots of patience and consistency.  No teeth on skin means no teeth on skin. At all.  Under any circumstances.

Play with your puppies often, but with rules and boundaries.


Let's talk about... Socialization

A lot of people think 'Socialization' is dogs playing together. This is just a very small piece of socializing your puppy/dog. Socialization is the exposure to new sights, sounds, smells. Basically, it's giving your dog new experiences.

The prime period is a dog's life for socializing is 8weeks-16weeks. Take your puppy someplace new frequently. You can go to a store parking lot and stand outside your car with your puppy to let them see, smell everything going on. You don't have to be in the thick of it--park way back from the store entrance.  If your puppy is overwhelmed then give more distance or even a break.  Introductions to new things can be intimidating for many puppies so go slow, give lots of distance and watch to see how your particular puppy acts.  This can help you going forward with training and additional socialization.

Always remember that just like humans every puppy is different.  Some may be social butterflies and some may be homebodies.  Both are absolutely ok and you should avoid trying to 'make' your puppy something they're not.

Vets may say "Don't take your puppy anywhere until they've had all the rounds of shots" but they don't mean keep your dog in the house. Avoid dog parks and other places where there may be unvaccinated dogs, but DO take them out and about for the exposure to new things. Friends, family, neighbors with vaccinated dogs are a great resource for the dog-dog socializing.

Click HERE for a fantastic socialization chart and HERE for the AVSAB position on socialization.

Give your puppy a leg (or paw) up by socializing them and you may avoid difficult behavior issues later.


Let's Talk About... "Crazy gets you nothing"

If your dog wigs out when you pick up the leash, bounces off the wall when you get the food bowl, you can correct this behavior by adopting a "Crazy gets you nothing. Calm will get you stuff" attitude.

This is amazingly simple in that you do nothing at all. Completely and totally ignore this behavior. That being said, you need to have patience. Lots of patience. Your dog needs to learn that you are more patient than they are crazy.

Example: You pick up the leash to go for a walk and your dog goes bonkers. Drop the leash on the floor and walk away saying absolutely nothing. Dog calms down a bit go back to pick up the leash. Dog goes bonkers walk away. Repeat until your dog is slightly better. At that point attach the leash , and the dog goes nuts. Drop the leash and walk away. Dog calms down go back and pick up the leash. See that pattern here? You don't need to wait until your dog is completely mellow but wait until there is noticeable, calmer behavior before you proceed. You will show them that calm will get them what they want.

The first time you do this is the hardest. The second time they're only crazy for 2 minutes instead of 20. The third time they're vibrating with excitement but maintaining their composure.

Patience is your very best friend when working this behavior.


Let's talk about... Treats

Treats are the most common training motivator. Soft, easily chewed treats are best so your dog doesn't have to stop and chew up a crunchy one.

Size - treats need to be about the size of a pea (my Pyr gets even smaller ones). Dogs don't speak English but they know a jackpot when they get one! If you use tiny bits of soft treats you can deliver 3 or 4 treats for a rockstar down many times and not have to worry about turning your dog into a sausage girl or boy.

Amount - If you use tiny bits of treat you may only use the equivalent of 1 or 2 treats for entire training session. Be sure to deduct from their meal the amount of treats they've been given (see sausage dog mentioned above).

IMPORTANT: Treats are for teaching. Once your dog has been able to perform the command successfully 5 or 6 times start fading them out by giving a treat occasionally, or treat when they've performed it faster/better/more accurately. Don't stop treats cold turkey. Avoid giving a treat if you had to wait for compliance--you don't want to accidentally reward reluctance--but praise them when they finally comply.

Availability - Have little bits of treats in different rooms so if your dog does something you absolutely love you can quickly reward it. When in public I always have a few treats in my pocket in case I have to be sure to have my dog's attention, or want to jackpot an exceptional performance.

Treat boredom - Dogs can get tired of a particular treat just like we can get tired of a particular food (except perhaps chocolate!) so feel free to have a variety. 

Training Tips