Friday, August 21, 2015

Puppy Socialization

First this was a list of sevens (attributed to Susan Hughes), which has since been expanded by others to a list of twelves.   I have collected from several sources and it is now even larger…

Ideally your puppy would have a positive experience with each of these things by the time they are twelve weeks old.  If your dog/puppy is older, it is still beneficial to expose him/her to these different things.  Make sure it is a positive experience and don’t push the puppy into facing something s/he isn’t ready for.  Use lots of praise anc if your puppy is concerned, go slow and increase distance until s/he shows they are ready for more.

If you need additional guidance, your dog/puppy seems more than just a little concerned, or is becoming more afraid/concerned – contact a dog trainer who uses only reward based methods for assistance.
  • Experienced 12 different surfaces: wood, woodchips, carpet, tile, cement, linoleum, grass, wet grass, dirt, mud, puddles, deep pea gravel, grates, a table (vet visits), on a chair, uneven surfaces, etc.
  • Introduced-to/played-with 12 different objects: toys (fuzzy and rubber), balls (big and small), hard toys, funny sounding toys, metal items, statues, balloons, wooden items, paper or cardboard items, milk jugs, car keys, etc.
  • Experienced 12 different locations: front yard (daily), other people’s homes, school yard, lake, pond, river, boat, basement, elevator, car, moving car, garage, laundry room, boarding kennel, shopping plazas, veterinary hospital (just to say hi & visit, lots of cookies, no vaccinations), grooming salon (just to say hi), etc.
  • Met and played with 12 new people (outside the family): children, adults (a LOT of men),  elderly adults, people in wheelchairs, walkers, people with canes, crutches, hats, uniforms, sunglasses, etc.
  • Exposed to 12 different noises (ALWAYS keep things fun and watch the puppy’s comfort level - we don’t want the puppy scared): garage door opening, doorbell, phone ringing, children playing, crying baby, big trucks, motorbikes, Harley motorcycle, skateboards, washing machine, clapping, lawnmowers, shopping carts rolling, power boat, clapping, loud singing, pan dropping, horses neighing, cow mooing, chicken clucking, vacuums, lawnmowers, birthday party, etc.
  • Exposed to 12 fast-moving objects (don’t allow them to chase!): skateboards, roller-skates, bicycles, motorcycles, cars, running people, running cats, running squirrels, running horses, running cows, scooters, vacuum not on moving, vacuum on and moving, children running, children playing, teens playing soccer, football, 
  • Experienced 12 different challenges: climb on/in/off/around a box, go through a cardboard tunnel, climb up and down steps, climb over obstacles, go in and out a doorway with a step, go through an electric sliding door, climb over a log, go into a bathtub (and bath), get in and out of a car, play hide & seek, exposed to umbrella, moving balloons, walk on a wobble board (plank of wood with a small rock or limb underneath), jump over a broom, climb over and on a log, bathtub (and bath), shower stall, etc.
  • Handled 12 different ways each week for 12 weeks (only do as much as puppy is comfortable with, slower is better): held under someone’s arm like a football, hold to chest, hold still on floor near owner, hold in lap, held between owner’s legs, handle and hold head, look in ears, look in mouth, look between toes, examine “privates”, take temperature, hold like a baby, manipulate paws as if to trim toenails, etc. Add predictability by saying what you are about to do (for example “Ears” – touch ear – treat). If the puppy moves away, you’re pushing too quickly. Back it up and work at the puppy’s pace.
  • Eaten from 12 different shaped containers: wobbly bowl, metal dish, cardboard box, paper plates/bowls, coffee cup, china, pie plate, plastic dish/container, frying pan, Kong, Treatball, Bustercube, spoon fed, paper bag, hand fed, etc.
  • Eaten in 12 different locations: back yard, front yard, crate, kitchen, basement, laundry room, bathroom, friend’s house, car, school yard, bathtub, up high (on work bench), under umbrella, etc.
  • Been left alone safely (in crate) away from family and other animals (5-45 minutes) 12 times a week
  • Been left alone safely (in crate) near family members (5-45 minutes) 12 times a week.
  • Played with 12 different puppies (or safe adult dogs) as much as possible. [This does NOT mean at the dog park.]
  • Experienced a leash and collar or leash and harness 12 different times in 12 different locations.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Stress in Dogs 201

The authors surveyed the owners of 224 dogs and their lifestyle.  The survey contained 40 questions, covering individual data, lifestyle, and stress symptoms.  Results were weighted to determine a point system of stress levels. The surveys were rated to determine average acceptable stress levels as well as stress levels that fell above and below.

Keep in mind that these are conclusions based on symptoms of stress and that individual results may vary.  The point is to take these factors (as well as the stress causes in part 2) into account when making decisions about our dog's life.  The more you know, the better you can make changes to allow your individual dog to live well and free of chronic stress.

Survey Results
  1. Working dogs and Nordic breeds had significantly higher than normal stress points.
  2. Neutered male dogs had higher stress points than intact male dogs – males had higher stress than females.  Spayed females were slightly higher than intact females.
  3. Dogs that slept/rested less than 17 hours a day had higher stress.
  4. Dogs left alone for more than 5 hours a day had higher stress levels.
  5. Dogs enjoy their walks, but more than 2 hour walks slightly increases stress levels and over three hours significantly increases stress levels.
  6. Dogs who have opportunities to run free and come into contact with other dogs have less stress than other dogs who run free with no contact.  Dogs who never run free, whether or not they have contact with other dogs, have a little more stress than dogs who run free and have contact with other dogs, but less than run-free-no-contact dogs.
  7. It should come as no surprise that dogs that "frequently" or "often" feel threatened showed 50% more stress than dogs that "never" or "seldom" feel threatened, regardless of whether there is an actual threat.  Feeling threatened is based on the dog's perception, not our human "reality".
  8. Surprisingly dogs who are not played with by the owner have significantly less stress than average stress and less than dogs who do play with their owner or with children.  These were mostly experienced dog owners, so it can be assumed the children were well guided/supervised.  Dogs who are played with are only a little bit more stressed than the average dog – though type and length of play periods would have a bearing.
  9. Dogs engaged in no dog sports up through two different dog sports are within the normal range.  Dogs engaged in three or more different dog sports are at higher risk of increased stress.  Owners who participate in multiple dog sports need to be sensitive to not overburdening the dog.
  10. Dogs that are frequently or often ill have 50% higher stress levels than normal.  Of the dogs reported for allergies, skin problems and digestive issues, those with frequent digestive issues or diarrhea had the highest stress levels of the group.
  11. Of the dogs with frequent or often digestive issues and higher than the group's average stress levels, the surveys were further analyzed for whether the dogs were exposed to stress causing factors. These common factors were found:
  • 78% sleep or rest less than 17 hours
  • 39% stay alone for more than 5 hours per day
  • 61% go for walks of 3 hours or more per day
  • 56% of the dogs felt frequently or often threatened
For the stress symptom list, those where owners reported the symptom was observed frequently or often – the breakdown from most reported to least reported is:
  • 39% reported Very Frequent Display of Calming Signals
  • 29% reported Frequent Barking or Whining
  • 22% reported Aggressive or Anxious Behaviors
  • 19% reported Lack of Concentration
  • 16% reported Hyperactivity
  • 16% reported Displacement Activity
  • 16% reported Very Frequent Urinating
  • 14% reported Restlessness
  • 11% reported Dog Appears "Distant"
  • 11% reported Panting
  • 8% reported Compulsive Behavior
  • 8% reported Excessive Self-Grooming
  • 6% reported Underweight
  • 5% reported Muscular Problems
  • 5% reported Destructiveness
Gimme here:  My person knows I need to play with my own kind.  She also knows that not all dogs are kind and she wants to be sure I am always safe.  So we found a special friend who can be counted on to play fair.  He and I have great fun running and playing together as often as our people can arrange it. 

Obviously there are some exceptions to a straight up application of these survey results.

As always Know Your Dog...

Friday, August 23, 2013

Stress in Dogs 102

Dogs have stress for a variety of reasons, just like we humans.  What is stressful for one dog, will be fine for another.  Its all highly individual, although there are some things that are going to be universally stressful.

Stress is unavoidable.  There are two types, eustress and distress.  Eustress is moderate or normal psychological stress interpreted as being positive for the individual.  It is not defined by the source of stress, but rather by the individual's perception of it.  Persistent stress that is not resolved through coping is distress.  The body responds in the same way to both distress or eustress, so both are equally taxing to the body and cumulative in effect. 

You will note some things on this list of causes that you might think are a good thing, especially from the dog's point of view, but that can actually become a significant source of stress for the dog.

Causes of Stress
  • Disorders Affecting the Dog's Functions – such as lack of mobility or cardiovascular or kidney problems.
  • Disorders Affecting the Dog's Senses – deafness, blindness, limited sense of touch, where the dog must constantly compensate for deficiencies.
  • Disorders Connected to Temporary or Chronic Pain – injuries, blood loss, infection, trauma, shock, arthritis, hip dysplasia, etc.
  • Hypersexuality – due to pent up sexual drive, especially when around bitches in season.
  • Female Dogs in Season – from warding off overbearing males.
  • Lack of Sleep – insufficient places to withdraw or when need for rest is not respected.  Dogs need 17 hours of rest daily.
  • State of Exhaustion – from lack of sleep, over-exertion during walks, dog sports or games.
  • Sudden Changes – such as moving or new addition to the family.
  • Grief – due to loss of their person, other animals they lived with or playmates.
  • Threat – real or imaginary, the body goes into a state of alarm.
  • Expectations Anxiety – when dog doesn't understand what is expected or cannot assess the situation.
  • Failure – dog is unsuccessful, fails at task, and is repeatedly frustrated.
  • Harsh Training Methods – can frighten and/or hurt the dog, from severe or uncomfortable training equipment, as can harshly spoken commands and stiff body postures.
  • Agility, Dog Dancing, Obedience Training – despite positive reputation, the pace and high performance pressure can stress the dog.
  • Schutzhund / Protection Work – physical strain and psychological pressure.
  • Service Dog Work – higher incidence of kidney, cardiovascular and digestive problems, common to individuals (all species) with chronic stress issues.
  • Puppy Play Groups – when inappropriately managed/supervised can cause short term stress as well as long term behavior concerns.
  • Play is Too Rough and Wild – either with other dogs or people, leads to raised arousal and in particular when the dog is not able/allowed to withdraw.
  • Violence, Anger, Irritation, and Aggression Around the Dog – arguments, stress and angry voices within his family and/or daily environment.
  • Children – unsupervised and engaging in inappropriate play, as well as wild, loud play and use of noisy toys.
  • Too Much Coming And Going at Home – a home with a constantly revolving door and ongoing selection of strangers and "friends".
  • Too Much Noise – interferes with dog's need for rest.
Gimme here:  I know many of my dog friends are afraid of loud noises, but I am not.  I'm not even afraid of a helicopter flying low a hundred feet over my head.  But that doesn't mean I'd want to listen to that racket all the time -- it would interfere with my beauty sleep.  I'm just saying...
  • Too Much Emotional Excitement – positive or negative, too many unknown situations, even when not dangerous, exploring new things and processing stimuli can be exhausting.
  • Hunting Games and Races – too much of games that simulate the prey sequence of detect prey, tracking/stalking, attack, and kill, results in release of adrenaline.  Stick and ball games result in repeated adrenaline release.
  • Un-doglike Behavior – unpredictable and unexpected behavior by others, possibly due to misunderstanding by human of dog behavior.  For instance belief the dog was "being dominant". 
  • Discomfort – hunger, thirst, cold, warmth, noise, lack of possibilities to relieve themselves.
  • Bad Weather – thunder and lightening, storms, heavy rain, hail and natural disasters.
  • Boarding Kennels – unusual surroundings, strange smells, separation of owner, and change to familiar routine.
  • Veterinary Visit – dog already feels bad, smells of fear from other animals, unpleasant past experiences, owner anxiety, staff intruding into dog's personal space, and possibly painful treatment.
  • Grooming Salon – different noises, staff intruding into dog's personal space, not enjoying grooming procedures, time spent on the table and left by owner.
  • Exhibitions / Fairs – generally chaotic environment, over-stimulation, and lengthy travel.
  • Car Journeys – many dogs find car travel stressful.
  • Reduced Possibility of Movement – time spent confined by kennel or on a chain, or only walking on leash.
  • Loneliness / Boredom – from being left alone too much.
  • Separation Anxiety – whether in strange environments or at home, many dogs find being left an anxious experience.  The test of being left with a stranger for mere minutes in the CGC test is a commonly failed exercise.
  • High Population Concentration – too many dogs in too small a space without enough opportunity to withdraw and where individual space is not respected.
  • Bad Canine Mix in One Household – dogs that are not compatible, even if just having to repeatedly get out of another dog's way.
  • Dog Suffocated By The Owner's Emotional Needs – from being treated as little humans and then ignored, a virtual hot/cold emotional shower.
  • Too Frequent or Too Little Physical Contact – little dogs get handled too much (lifted up, kissed and stroked), while others get almost no stroking or affirming touch.
  • Too Many or Almost No Rules in Daily Life – dogs that are constantly ordered around get stressed, as do dogs missing security or routine in their daily life.
  • Bad Dog-Human Suitability – poor pairings where the dog cannot fulfill human requirements and where dog's needs are not met.

Stress in Dogs 101

Dogs suffer from stress just like humans do and chronic stress results in all the same medical issues for dogs as it does for people.  We each need to observe our dogs for signs of stress and then address the sources in their lives.  Of course, some stress is unavoidable, but keeping it to acceptable levels is essential for all species.  This first post in the series addresses the signs of stress, so we can watch our dogs and know what to watch for.  Each dog responds with their own combination of signs.

Gimme here: I have a very busy schedule and my person is always watching to make sure I don't have too much stress.  As the Cutest Puppy on the Planet, I want to be involved in everything.  Sometimes my person has to remind me that I've done more than my fair share.  She loves me and takes care of me, even sometimes saying "no". 

Signs of Stress
Its important to note that many of these signs show up when a dog isn’t stressed, so consider the signs in context, how often and how intense.  In particular noting changes in these respects is a strong indicator.

  • Nervousness – dog easily startled.
  • Restlessness – dog fidgets, difficulty relaxing, can’t calm down.
  • Overreaction – especially when in same conditions he’d be normally relaxed.
  • Calming Signals – dog shows calming signals. 
  • Freeze – lack of calming signals in appropriate situations.
  • Defecation and Urination – release of adrenaline activates sympathetic nervous system that signals rectum to empty and shifts in water balance may cause diarrhea and more frequent need to urinate.
  • Unsheathing Penis in Males –
  • Mounting – often occurs in mixed groups of dogs and may be mistaken for dominance.  May occur with humans.
  • Hypersexuality/Hyposexuality – excessive libido or complete loss of sexual drive.
  • Altered Sexual Cycle – changes in usual cycle of seasons for females, including cessation of seasons.
  • Exaggerated Self-Grooming – can lead to self-inflicted wounds called lick granulomas.  Open or swollen wounds cause the body to release endorphins (happy hormones).
  • Destroying Objects – especially when left alone is a serious stress signal.
  • Exaggerated Noise Making – continuous barking, whining and howling.
  • Disorders of the Digestive System – diarrhea and vomiting are among the most common.
  • Allergies – to food, mites, flea bites, pollen, grass, insecticides, etc. can be stress induced, since chronic stress suppresses the immune system.
  • Appetite Loss – including inability to eat treats may indicate either short or long term stress.
  • Over-Eating – gulping down anything and everything, edible or not (called "pica"). 
  • Unpleasant Body Odor and Bad Breath – stress raises the secretion of gastrointestinal acids that create bad breath and can affect body smell.
  • Whiskers – when they become stiff or tremble.
  • Raised Hackles – stiffening of the hairs on the back and neck occurs whenever a dog is aroused and often when stressed, feels insecure, is very happy, and other emotionally charged situations.
  • Tense Muscles – dogs need to move to relax their muscles, so movement is essential when a dog is stressed.
  • Dandruff – like that seen on a veterinary exam table.
  • Sudden Molting – like that seen on a veterinary exam table and also observed at shows/trials. 
  • Bad Coat Conditioning and Heavy Molting – over a long period of time can result in bald patches.
  • Unhealthy Appearance – along with symptoms listed above, their eyes can seem dull and sunken, posture sagging and crouching and tail hanging limp.
  • Skin Problems – such as eczema, itchiness and open wounds.
  • Eye Color Changes – unclear why this happens.  Also eyes can appear blood-shot due to high blood pressure.
  • Panting – unrelated to warm temperatures or exertion. 
  • Dripping Nose – from increased nasal fluid production.
  • Sweaty Paws – usually noticed because of damp paw prints on floors.
  • Trembling – when muscle contraction occurs during stress, the body tries to loosen the muscles by moving them.
  • Frantic Teeth Snapping – air snapping that is not directed toward the thing that concerns the dog.  Deliberate, off-target and usually audible.
  • Startled Eyes / Flickering Gaze – extreme strain can cause uncontrolled eye movements.
  • Staring Intensely at Things That Are Worrisome – inability to look away from what worries them.
  • Compulsive Behavior – behavior that is repeated over time with no obvious reason.
  • Biting or Snapping at Leash – can include tugging at the leash.  Can seem to be a game until you notice patterns regarding when it occurs.
  • Poor Concentration – slow and absent responses to cues or training.
  • Forgetfulness – seeming to forget things they normally know well.
  • Re-Directed Behavior / Displacement Activity – behavior that seems to be unrelated to what worries the dog.  Sometimes calming signals.
  • Staring Intensely at Unrelated Things – such as flies or beams of light.
  • Passivity – quiet, withdrawn, or learned helplessness.
  • Shaking – dogs “shake it off” when they realize that something isn’t threatening, so this usually follows stress.
Remember, many of these symptoms are normal in certain situations, while some are never normal.

For more information read:
Stress in Dogs: Learn how dogs show stress and what you can do to help,  by Martina Scholz and Clarissa von Reinhardt.
On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals, by Turid Rugaas.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Clean Clicker Techniques

In the beginning it was not as important to focus on specific technique or what is known as "clean training". All you needed to know was get behavior-click-reward. As your goals become more advanced, you will want to clean up your technique.  Follow these rules and you will be a better trainer in no time:

Basic Clicker Training Rules

  • Zenith popularized the saying "Quality goes in before the name goes on". In dog training this means we get the behavior exactly the way we want it before we attach a cue to it. So know your goal for the behavior before you start training.
  • Remember, the click always means a treat is coming – even if you clicked mistakenly. It is important to protect that association, so your dog can rely on the training promise. You can always clarify what you wanted with later clicks.
  • If your dog is distracted by a new environment or challenging conditions, "prime the pump" by doing 10-20 rapid fire click-n-treats. It does not matter what your dog is doing – this is about getting his/her brain in the game. This is the only time you can have treats in your hands as you click.
Clean Techniques
  • Keep food in your treat bag or a container while you are training. Food in your hands may be "handy", but it also encourages your dog to watch your hands.
  • Keep the treat bag out of sight when you are training (turn it around to the side or your back), so it is not an obvious cue to the dog. You should also wear the treat bag at times when you are not training so the dog is not overly aroused by its presence. 
  • Keep your hands in a neutral position until AFTER you click. Reaching for a treat as you are about to click will cause your dog to focus on your hands. If you click when your dog is focused on your hands, you are saying that is what you want and it may interfere with the behavior you are actually trying to teach. 
Gimme here: I usually don't like having my person do anything without me, but in this case I know its been helpful.  Its important for my person to have good skills in our training games, so I can win easily and consistently.  After all, that's what its all about.
  • Practice clicker training techniques without your dog:
    • Click & Deliver – Starting with your hands in neutral position, you will click, reach and get a treat from your bag, place the treat in a cup, then return your hand to neutral. Time this and see how many times you can do the sequence in sixty seconds. It can be challenging to do this rapidly and it takes practice. Have someone observe you for technique or videotape yourself so you aren’t unintentionally reaching for the treat too soon. Fifteen repetitions in sixty seconds is a decent score; twenty repetitions is excellent.
    • Clicker Timing – Have someone bounce a ball or toss a ball in the air for you. Your goal is to click when the ball reaches its highest point. You can also watch TV and click every time a tennis ball or basketball bounces. You can even click every time the newscaster says a common word like "and".

Friday, June 1, 2012

Loose Leash Walking, Part 3

Loose Leash as a Lifestyle
Dogs that learn to exercise self control and keep the leash loose get more walks, are welcome in more places and have better quality of life. LLW is not hard to teach, but humans are notoriously inconsistent. Sometimes humans are focused and do a good job maintaining the criteria. Sometimes humans get distracted or forget what they are doing and then the dog gets rewarded for pulling on the leash by getting to go where he wants. Sometimes he gets rewarded and sometimes he doesn't, so pulling is on a variable schedule of reinforcement. Behaviors on a variable schedule are the strongest behaviors of all (i.e. the hardest behaviors to change).

If your dog is pulling on the leash - its not his fault. If its not his fault - then it must be yours. When you change what you are doing and are consistent about it, then your dog will learn to walk with a loose leash. So from right this minute, you must commit to the:

Dogs that pull on the leash never get to go in the
direction they are pulling. Never, never, not ever.

There is one other problem that deserves mention. Dogs often get used to the sensation of a tight leash, even though its uncomfortable.  Likewise, humans get used to the feel of a tight leash, even though they don't want to live with a leash-pulling dog. Chances are, if you and the dog are standing still and the leash is tight - its you keeping it tight. So, its important for you to be very aware of whether YOU are the one keeping the leash tight, part of the time or all of the time. If you are, stop that right away.

Now six simple rules to remember about teaching loose leash walking:

  1. There is no verbal cue for LLW. The fact that the leash is attached to the collar is the only cue your dog needs. Its his job to keep it loose.  You can teach a verbal cue, but its really not necessary since the presence of the leash attached to the collar is the only cue the dog needs.
  2. Dogs that keep the leash loose get to go forward - which dogs instinctively like to do and find rewarding.  You don't have to give your dog food rewards to teach LLW, because being allowed to get going is a natural reward to the dog.  However, having said that, you can certainly give treats for especially good efforts, such as walking politely by a big distraction.  Sometimes treats given randomly for polite walking can make teaching your dog go faster.
  3. Dogs that pull in ANY direction, are immediately and firmly moved by the leash in the opposite direction.
  4. Dogs on leash are allowed to sniff and investigate stuff as long as they ask for and receive permission first. The owner decides which things are safe and okay to investigate.
  5. Dogs that are sniffing, must move with the owner when the owner cues them that sniffing time is up. I use my dog's name to let her know its time to move along.
  6. Dogs that don't respond by leaving the thing they are sniffing will be immediately and firmly moved away by the leash.
Some Things to Consider
Its good training to pick a place for your first training sessions where the dog won't be overwhelmed with distractions. I started in my living room, using the hallway and other rooms as places to go as I was moving around. After a couple sessions, I moved outside into my back yard. The front yard has more distracting things to see, so I saved that for later sessions.

Remember, if you must walk in a place that is too distracting for your dog's level of understanding - use a management tool so your dog isn't learning things you don't want and practicing pulling.

If your dog has never moved around on leash before, you should be doing Walking With a Goal - not what I'm describing here.

If your dog is unfit and can't keep up with you, you will need to walk slower and keep your sessions shorter until he builds stamina and can keep up. You don't think its fun to have your dog dragging you down the sidewalk; your dog won't think walking is any fun if YOU are dragging HIM down the sidewalk. So work into this gradually.

Step 1:
Make sure you are using the leash you prepared with the knot in the right place. Before putting the leash on the dog, take a moment to practice how you will hold the leash. Hold the handle of the leash with your right hand. With your left arm hanging comfortably at your side, slip the leash between your middle and ring fingers and gently curl your fingers around the knot.

Step 2:
Remind yourself of the definition of a loose leash. That is, a leash with the snap dangling and pointed toward the floor and the leash having a curve to it. With your left hand gently curled around the knot, if the leash is loose, your left arm hangs comfortably at your side. If the leash is tight, your left arm/hand will be pulled away from your body.

Step 3:
Attach the leash to the dog's collar and wait a moment for the dog to check in (look at you).

Step 4:
When the dog checks in, simply begin walking slowly across your training space. As long as the dog is keeping a loose leash, you can keep moving. From time to time, pause in place and wait for the dog to check in. When she does, walk again. Because you are in a boring place, chances are your dog will mostly move along with you.

If the leash gets tight (your hand is moved away from your side), then you will move in the opposite direction. This is called "opposite walking". Any time the leash is tightened - it should be like a switch turning on your opposite walking motor:
  • If your dog pulls forward, you start walking backward.
  • If your dog pulls left, you side-step to the right.
  • If the dog crosses in front of you and moves to the right, you side-step to the left.
  • If your dog lags behind, you continue forward, picking up the pace a little.
Keep in mind the idea is not to give the dog a leash correction, you don't want to jerk on his neck. In the beginning of this training, you can let go of the knot and say your dog's name as you stop before starting to move backward, to keep from jerking on his neck and to help him understand you are changing direction. After awhile your dog will be paying close attention to you and won't need that extra help.

If you are walking in a place where you can't keep going in the direction that opposite walking calls for you to go - you can modify the technique, by taking one step in the opposite direction, then turning a quarter turn and continuing to move until the dog gets back in position.

For example, you are walking down the sidewalk next to a busy street and your dog pulls to the right. Opposite walking would mean you'd need to side step left, which would put you moving into the street and into traffic. So, to stay safe, take one side step left, turn a quarter turn to the left and now continue side stepping to the left until your dog can get back into position. Then you would make a quarter turn to the right and resume walking down the sidewalk.

When the dog gets back into a loose leash position (make sure you aren't the one keeping the leash tight), then you can resume moving in the direction you were going before you started opposite walking. If your dog had pulled to the right, you might have to guide the dog back into the right position by your left leg, until he learns to find it on his own.

Step 5:
Repeat step 4 as much as you need to through out the training session. When your dog realizes he can only move when he's close to you and keeping the leash loose, he will do just that. Gradually make it more difficult by training in more normal environments where there are distractions. Don't make the change too difficult, the key is gradual.

Step 6:
Now that your dog understands the basics, its time to teach him how to tell you he wants to go smell or investigate something. You will wait until he pulls toward something that is safe and okay to snoop. The moment he pulls, you start opposite walking. When your dog gets back into position, start walking more or less toward the interesting thing that first distracted him from his job (or at least walk so you will pass it). You'll want to stop far enough away so he can be successful and because he's used to checking in (looking up at you) whenever you stop, he will probably look up at you. The moment he does, move directly to the spot he wanted to sniff and let him have at it. Let him have some time to investigate it and then say his name and move on.

Watch for opportunities to include sniffing moments in your walk. If you consistently maintain the rules here, your dog will put two and two together and start offering you check-ins when he wants to sniff something. He'll probably look at the interesting thing, then back at you and then at it and then back to you. Dogs can be quite funny in how "obvious" they make asking permission, so watch for it. As long as he's not pulling toward it and its safe to investigate, reward his asking permission by letting him check it out.

Over time you'll develop your own walking style with your dog. You can use cues that tell your dog this won't be one of the things he gets to sniff. I say, "not now" followed by my dog's name. Because I am not a dictator and let my dog snoop when we have time and its safe to do so, she has learned to accept the times I have to say, "not now".

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Loose Leash Walking, Part 2

First Things First
If your puppy doesn't know about leashes yet, start slowly. Skip to step 3 with a more experienced dog.

Step 1:
Put the collar on, and let her get used to it. You can give her treats or play with her to take her mind off the collar. Once she gets used to the collar its time to move to the next step.

Step 2:
Attach a short lightweight leash to her collar and let her drag it around. Watch that the leash doesn't get caught on anything. Do what you did before, giving her treats or playing with her to take her mind off the leash.

Step 3:

Once she no longer paying attention to the leash, put a very light pressure on the leash. You don't want to scare her, so the pressure must be truly light. Then call her to you, using a toy or treats or smoochy noises, so that she chooses to come to you. Her natural response is to pull, so you are teaching her that she can remove collar pressure by moving toward you. Repeat this until you are sure she understands to move toward you when she feels collar pressure.

Walking With A Goal game
The purpose of Walking With A Goal is to teach your dog how to keep the leash loose, in the context of a fun game. You begin teaching this game in a familiar low distraction place, like your living room. There you can control all the variables, so your dog learns how easy it is to win, keeping it fun for her. When your dog is winning consistently, then you gradually increase the difficulty, in preparation for getting ready to train LLW in the "real world".

You want your dog to understand that pulling on the leash never works. If pulling on the leash is never rewarded AND keeping the leash loose is rewarded by letting the dog go forward... no sane dog would keep pulling. Dogs DO what WORKS for dogs. If it doesn't work, they won't keep doing it. Look at this as the first day of the rest of your dog's life. From this moment on a tight leash will never be rewarded. And remember, use management when you need to.

To begin the game you will need space enough to move about 25 feet in a straight line. At one end of that line will be something your dog wants to get to. The idea is to train in a place that is both familiar and not distracting, so your dog can focus on the goodies at the finish line. I usually use a dish with yummy and smelly treats. The starting place for the game is the other end of the line.

Prepare Your Leash
You'll decide for yourself where you want your dog to walk and you should have a picture in your mind of what loose leash walking looks and feels like. Most medium to large dogs do best walking beside and just a little in front of their owner - with the dog's side or hips even with the owner's hips, making it easy to see the dog with your peripheral vision. For smaller dogs, you may want them farther ahead of you, so they are easier to see and less likely to get stepped on if you misstep.

If you want your dog to clearly understand what a loose leash is, then it has to be distinctly different from "not loose". Some people aren't bothered by a little tension in the leash, but a distinction between a "little tension" and "too much tension" is harder to understand for the dog and an unclear criteria for the owner to train. To make training smoother and easier to understand, the distinction between loose and not loose needs to be clear. Therefore I recommend your loose leash definition include a snap that hangs down and a leash with a gentle curve to it.

Step 1:
Prepare your leash by tying a knot in the right place. Usually a six foot leash is the right size, but if you are very tall and your dog is very small, you could need a longer leash. With the dog standing where you want him to walk, attach the leash to his collar. Hold the handle of the leash with your right hand. With your left arm hanging comfortably at your side and the leash snap hanging down from the dog's collar and then curving up toward you, slip the leash between your middle and ring fingers and grasp it. That is where you want to tie the knot.

Step 2:
You will hold the loop of the leash in your right hand and the knot will be in your left hand, with the leash going between your middle and ring fingers. Your left hand should be gently curled around the knot. If the leash is loose, your left arm hangs comfortably at your side. If the leash is tight, your left arm/hand will be pulled away from your body. Depending on the length of your leash, the size of your dog, and where you want your dog to walk, you may have to take up a loop of extra leash in your right hand.

Step 3:
Place your hand in your dog's collar and walk toward the dish. When you get there, while holding the dog back with one hand, put yummy and smelly treats in the dish with the other hand. You want your dog to be able to a-l-m-o-s-t reach the treats and certainly able to smell them. The idea is for your dog to have a strong desire to get to those treats. Now, with your hand still in your dog's collar, walk to the other end of the line where the start is.

Step 4:
Get your hands situated on the leash and when you are ready walk slowly toward the dish. If/when your dog gets all the way to the dish with a loose leash, she can have all the goodies there - that's the goal - get to and gobble up all the goodies. That's how the dog wins.
If the leash is tight at any time, i.e. the leash is straight or your hand is pulled away from your body, you will back up all the way to the beginning. Yes, you must back up and all the way to the starting point. Then start again. Any time the leash is tightened - it should be like a switch turning on your back-up motor. Keep in mind the idea is not to give the dog a leash correction, you don't want to jerk on his neck. In the beginning of this training, you can let go of the knot and say your dog's name as you stop before starting to move backward, to keep from jerking on his neck and to help him understand you are changing direction. After a short while your dog will be paying close attention to you and won't need that extra help.

Step 5:
Repeat Steps 3 and 4 over and over again. When your dog is very good at getting all way to the treats, five times in a row, without any tight leash on the way, its time to up the ante.

Step 6:
Upping the ante is all about making the task harder in small increments, so your dog has a chance to win and yet is still learning. There are many ways to up the ante and the more of them you work through, the more solid your dog's understanding of the rules will be. Pick one and play Walking With a Goal until your dog is very good at getting all way to the treats, five times in a row, without any tight leash on the way. Some ways to increase the difficulty include:
  • increasing the distance between the start and the treat dish
  • use even more wonderful treats in the dish
  • practice this game when your dog hasn't had a meal yet and is hungrier than usual
  • use your dog's meal at the end of the line
  • if your dog is toy motivated, place his ball or toy in the dish and when he wins by getting there on a loose leash, play with him before starting over
  • walk normal speed
  • walk at a faster speed
  • rev your dog up at the start line so he's really jazzed to go
  • practice this game when your dog is well rested and ready to go
  • even use a person your dog loves as the goal
  • get creative and have something special as the goal

Gimme here: My person takes me to a great place where I get to run and play off leash. There are many special smells because wild animals live in the woods. Since I know to always come when called, its completely safe for me there. I have always been let out of the car to start running and playing right away. Then one day my person put the leash on me before I got out of the car. I was used to playing and running free, so I pulled a lot when we started walking. Every time I pulled, my person backed all the way to the car. I thought she was broken! That day I learned I must Walking With a loose leash before I can run free. It took me awhile to figure out this new rule and it was HARD. Of course, I did figure it out and then I got what I wanted - the leash came off and I had a really great play fest. I'm glad I'm so smart. I'm just saying...