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How Many Lessons?

How long will it take to train my dog?  How many lessons will I need?

I get this question almost every time I meet with a new client.  And it’s a valid question – people want to know how much time and money is going to be required for their dogs to reach their goals.

My typical answer is this:  It’s up to you and your dog.

Every person is different.  Every dog is different.  Every situation is different.

And yet, I think I can say with relative certainty that those who consistently put in the time and effort and do their best to maintain good training habits typically reach their goals faster.

But it takes two to tango – and your dog is the other half of the training equation.  I had a client, now friend, who called me for help training her two dogs.  They were not related, but both were Miniature Pinschers mixes.  The same owner, using the same methods and equipment, experienced two different rates of success.  Her female dog was a pleaser and very eager to learn.  She figured out the “heel” command with a high level of consistency in just one lesson.  Her male dog was a stubborn guy and not eager to have to follow rules.  He figured out the “heel” command with some consistency after about two weeks of practice.

As the owner, your part in the equation is commitment to practice, consistency, and patience.  Some dogs/breeds will learn faster/slower than others, but no dog is going to learn quickly if the owner cannot effectively take the lead in training.

Bottom line?  Do your best, do right by your dog, and be patient in the process.

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Ellie, June 2017

Categories: Behavior, Blog, dog training, training tips | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Protecting Your Dog

You are your dog’s only true advocate.  If you won’t protect him, who will?  He will, that’s who.

Most aggression comes from a place of fear and insecurity.  Sure, there are some dogs who are just plain aggressive – but they are in the minority.

Even if your dog doesn’t show aggressive and/or fearful tendencies as a general rule, all dogs have teeth, all dogs can bite, and all dogs have a breaking point.

Part of your job, your responsibility, as a dog owner is keep your dog out of compromising positions.  Today, I’m going to address that thought by harping on dogs and alcohol.

I have spoken with multiple clients whose dogs have had poor experiences involving intoxicated humans.  In each case, the owner had chosen to take the dog to an event or place where large amounts of alcohol were present, and in each case, the owners neglected to remove the dog from the situation once things started getting tense.

In one scenario, a drunk man grabbed a dog by its head and pulled it up into his own face.  The dog tried to back away, but the man persisted in holding his head right up to his own.  The dog bit the man on the nose.  While some dogs may have been able to keep holding on to hope of rescue, this dog had clearly reached the point where he believed his only option was to try to rescue himself.  Who is at fault in this scenario?  The owner – who stood by and watched the whole thing happen.

Don’t let your dog become another bite statistic because you made the poor choice to put him in a bad situation.  Be responsible – if you take your dog to a party and things get a little more “exciting” than you anticipated, be the adult and take your dog back home.*

Show your dog you are worthy of his trust, will do your best to protect him, and really do have his best interest at heart.  

*Do not drive your dog home if you have been drinking.

Note:  I may live in a college town, and colleges may be notorious for alcohol related incidents, but the example given above did not involve a college student.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Aggressive Dogs, Behavior, Blog, Fearful dogs | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Monsters are Everywhere – When You’re a Puppy

The world can be a big and scary place if you’re a puppy!  As you’re socializing your puppy and taking him/her to new places, keep in mind that things that seem completely normal to you can be very frightening to a young pup.

If your puppy suddenly seems afraid of something, try getting down on his/her level to see if you can understand (A) what they’re actually afraid of and (B) what they find scary about it.  A statue in a park might not seem scary to you or me, but if you get down to a puppy’s level and look at it from that height, you may find it more intimidating than you realized.

Such was the case with Ellie the Warrior Princess earlier this week when I took her with me to get the car inspected.  As we were leaving, Ellie began to growl and bark towards the road.  It wasn’t immediately clear what was upsetting her, so I had to get down to her level and track her gaze.  That was when I realized that she had spotted a bright red fire hydrant way up on the hill by the road.

When your puppy is panicking over something you deem silly, it may be tempting just to walk away and avoid feeling like you’re causing a scene.  In reality, it goes a long way if you can help your puppy overcome that fear instead of just leaving it to linger in the back of his mind.

So, how does one help her puppy overcome a fear of a fire hydrant?  You walk up to it, crouch next to it, and pet it like a dog – all the while encouraging your puppy to come check it out with you.  I may have looked quite silly petting it and trying to introduce my puppy to a fire hydrant next to a four lane road that day, but it’s worth it to make sure she continues to gain confidence and overcome her fears.

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A few tips on overcoming fearful objects:

  1. Say hi to it yourself!  If you look like you don’t want to touch it or get near it, why on earth would you puppy want to do that?
  2. Do not coddle your pup.  Resist the urge to hold, cuddle, and coo to your dog as he backs away or growls.  Speak confidently and calmly, and make sure you convey to your pup that it’s really no big deal.
  3. Practice!  When you’re out and about and see something weird, encourage your pup to check it out, sniff it, and say hi even if he hasn’t actually noticed it yet.  Get ahead of the weird fears and suspicious thoughts – lead the charge and say hi first!

If your puppy encounters a fearful object and you aren’t able to work through it all in one sitting, try to return to the spot or object again later to continue practicing and working through the anxiety.  Avoid the temptation to drag your puppy up to something and try instead to encourage independent forward movement by making it look fun!

 

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Prince Tucker had to learn how to meet weird new objects all the time as a Future Leader Dog puppy, too!

Categories: Behavior, Blog, Ellie the Warrior Princess, Fearful dogs, Puppy, Puppy Socialization | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Puppy Teeth – do they all fall out?

Yes!

I go over some basic oral hygiene tips in my Puppy Preschool classes and I often find that first time puppy owners aren’t totally sure they understand those pointy little needles in their puppy’s mouth!

Yes, just like human children, your puppy has a set of “baby” teeth and yes, they will all fall out!  The good news is that your puppy will lose those sharp baby teeth much faster than a human kid.  Somewhere around four months, your pup will start replacing those baby teeth with adult teeth.  Even though the puppy teeth won’t be around long, do yourself a favor and go ahead and get in the habit of routine teeth brushing!

Dental care is extremely important for your dog, and it’s never too early to work on your dog’s tolerance for it.  Get in your practice with that awkward doggie toothbrush with teeth that will fall out anyway!

It’s also very important to remember that, just like a human kid, your puppy NEEDS to chew on things!  Make sure your pup has plenty of appropriate items for the teething stage – and don’t be overly alarmed if you see a little blood once in a while as teeth get loose or fall out.

We are currently going through the teething stage in our house – and we chew on a lot of nylabones and ice cubes!  You can check out the images below to see where Ellie has lost a few of her front teeth.  And before you ask, yes, those super sharp canine teeth are usually some of the last ones to go!

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Categories: Blog, Ellie the Warrior Princess, Puppy, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dog Parks – Good or Bad?

I get the “dog park question” quite frequently.  Is it good?  Is it bad?  Is it fun?  Is it unsafe?

In my opinion?  It can, and will at times, be all of the above.

I know dog people who swear by them and those who swear they will never set foot in one.

My two cents?  Use your best judgement and make the decision that fits you and your dog while keeping in mind the following:

  1.  Not all dogs are, or want to be, social butterflies.  Dog parks can be a great place for dogs who seem to love everybody and can think of nothing better than a field full of strange new friends.  However, for dogs who are shy, introverted, or no-nonsense, it’s probably not their idea of a good time.
  2. People are irresponsible.  It doesn’t matter how responsible you are as a dog owner, you cannot control the owners around you.  When at the dog park, your primary focus should be – you guessed it – YOUR DOG.  Dog parks are not the place to do your yoga, get lost in a good book, or take a nap on a bench.  Unfortunately, that’s exactly what a lot of folks do – at the expense of those around them.  You have to be your dog’s advocate – if you see them being bullied, go to their rescue.  And by all means, if your dog IS the bully, put a stop to it!
  3. Vaccinations are not guaranteed.  Now, if your dog park is owned/run by a humane society or other animal welfare organization, you may be required to show proof of vaccinations to gain access.  That being said, I have been told by multiple people that they share their gate code/park access credentials with friends.  While those folks no doubt believe they are doing their friends a favor, if those dogs aren’t properly vaccinated, they’re doing everyone else a disservice.
  4.  It’s a playground – accidents happen.  As you can read in this article – “How a Routine Trip to the Dog Park Ended With a Broken Hip” – it’s not just dogs who have the potential to get hurt!  Most dogs possess great athletic ability, but that doesn’t mean they never run into something!  There is also the possibility of run-ins with unfriendly dogs.  I have personally witnessed a person being backed up onto a bench by an aggressive dog – the owner was on the other side of the park and had no idea his dog was being a bully until I yelled at him.

 

After pointing out some of the shortcomings of dog parks, you might think I’m totally against them.  I’m not!  Tucker has frequented several parks and has, for the most part, had really great experiences!  That being said, I didn’t take Tucker to a dog park until he was a full blown adult – physical and mentally mature.  He was a well rounded adult with a happy go lucky personality and good manners.  Even so, we had our fair share of weird experiences and days when we left early because someone else got out of hand.

I don’t know that we’ll ever take our new German Shepherd to one, but if we do, I can tell you that I’ll be watching her, and everyone else, like a hawk – and we will leave at the first sign of trouble.

Categories: Behavior, Blog, Dog Parks | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Dog People Need Dog People

Dog people need dog people.

That may sound pretty obvious.  I mean, of course dog people like to hang out with dog people, right?

But I’m not talking about the casual, lets meet for coffee and bring our pups, kind of people.  I’m talking about the people who will go down into the trenches with you.  Crazy dog people need crazy dog people.

Let me tell you about my favorite crazy dog people: Roy and Suzie.  They started as my mentors for a project in high school a decade ago and have been my doggie mentors ever since.  This past weekend, they very graciously went above and beyond the realm of normal dog friends.

They let me bring a brand new puppy into their house.  It just so happened that we had already planned a visit to see them on the same weekend our puppy was ready to leave her litter, and since they live on the way to the breeder, we decided to go ahead and do both.

Now, let me tell you about our newest little addition – Ellie.  She is the strongest willed, most confident puppy I have ever met – and she kept everyone in the house awake until just after 4am on her first night with us.  My friends work shepherds in Search and Rescue, so they know high drive dogs – and they say she’s the highest drive little shepherd they’ve ever seen.  We were all astounded that she had the energy and lung capacity to sing us the song of her people at the highest volume imaginable almost constantly from about 10pm to 4am – and that was with plenty of potty breaks, snuggles, and playtime mixed in to try to wear her out and calm her down.

And yet, they never complained and consistently offered help and advice on what we could try to help Ellie settle in with her new people.  They sent us home with toys and collars for when she grows, and an offer to help whenever needed.  Those are the kind of crazy dog people that every crazy dog person needs in their corner.

It doesn’t matter how much you know about dogs and puppies in general – each one you meet and raise will be different from the last, and it’s always good to have people around you to offer new tips and tricks.  🙂

Below:  Roy and Suzie with Tucker the day after I picked him up from Leader Dog six years ago (top) and with Ellie this past weekend (bottom).

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Categories: Behavior, Blog, Ellie the Warrior Princess, Puppy | Leave a comment

Don’t Always Judge a Book by Its Cover – Bruno

Before reading further, take a look at the photo below and make your best guess about this dog’s breed:

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Have you guessed yet?  Don’t scroll down until you do!

 

 

 

How about now?

 

 

 

Now, the title of this post should have clued you in that the answer isn’t as obvious as it appears.  If we saw Bruno and his owner walking through the park, most of us would probably immediately think “Labrador Mix.”  And we would be wrong.

Bruno is a hound/shepherd mix.  How do we know?  Bruno’s owner has had the good fortune to meet both of the parents (who belong to friends of hers), which is something most owners of mixed breeds are unable to do.

Why does this matter?  Why am I bothering to tell you all of this?

I want you to understand that we can’t always judge a book by its cover when it comes to mixed breed dogs.  Many a qualified person has misidentified a mixed breed – it’s quite easy to do, as evidenced by the photo above.  So, as you see dogs out in public or at the shelter, try to judge them based on their character and personalities, and not solely by their fur color or head shape.  It might open the door to making a new and unique furry friend!

 

 

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A Tip from Tucker: Super Chewers

When I bring home a new toy, I get the distinct feeling that Tucker’s first thought is “challenge accepted!”

Tucker is a super chewer. His favorite thing in the world is to rip things up into tiny little pieces and leave them scattered all over the floor. And yet, even as a puppy, he only chewed one hairbrush handle and put one hole in a slipper (that I remember). I credit that track record, and today’s continued success, to consistent supervision as a puppy and the accessibility of a wide array of appropriate toys.

Dogs chew. If we don’t tell them what to chew, they will choose something on their own (and that doesn’t usually end well).

So, here are a few tips for the owners of the super chewers. (Note – this is not a product endorsement – just Tucker’s personal experiences.)

Hard Toys
> Nylabone – When it comes to hard chew toys, like bones, we buy Nylabone products almost exclusively. They last quite a while, despite Tucker’s best efforts, and I trust the materials. I’m always fearful that some of the cheaper bones will break off in large chunks that he might try to ingest. That being said, we do usually make sure to buy the bones with the highest durability rating.

Rubber Toys
> Kong – The next time you’re in a pet store, look at the labels on the Kong toys. You’ll find that different colors of rubber represent different degrees of durability. The “normal” Kong is red. Tucker laughs in the face of red Kongs. We are strictly a black Kong household. The black Kongs are the toughest and, so far, Tucker has yet to destroy one.

> West Paw – This company makes a toy called a Tux, which we affectionately called “Freezer Toy” in our house. West Paw is so confident in this toy’s durability that they will actually replace it once if it’s destroyed. We have bought, and replaced, two Tux toys. The Tux is rated 5/5 on their website, and while it did last a decent amount of time, it was still no match for Tucker in the end.

> Planet Dog – We are currently on our third Orbee-Tuff Orbee Ball. Again, while these balls are rated 5/5 and have lasted a decent amount of time with a chewer like Tucker, they all eventually come to an end. We also recently tried an Orbee-Tuff Eggplant which has a 4/5 rating. It was dead within 30 minutes and we utilized Planet Dog’s replacement policy to try a different 5/5 ball.

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> GoughNuts – This is a new company we were turned on to by friends who work German Shepherds in search and rescue. Tucker has one of the GoughNuts sticks, and so far, so good, though he really hasn’t laid into it too hard yet. Similar to Kong, GoughNuts uses different colors of rubber to represent different levels of durability. Given our track record, we decided to start with black. This company will replace a damaged toy as soon as any part of the red core, a stop indicator, is exposed.

Curious what Tucker might pick for squeaky, stuffed, fabric, rope, or leather toys?

Ha! You’re funny. There is a reason the only two categories on this page are “hard” and “rubber:” nothing else survives longer than an hour around Tucker. If you need/want to utilize those types of toys with your dog, make sure it is during supervised play and that the toy is taken away before they begin trying to destroy it. Tucker doesn’t tend to ingest the items he destroys, but if your dog does, a damaged toy could pose a major health concern.

Happy toy shopping!

Categories: Behavior, Blog, Prince Tucker Problems, Toys | Leave a comment

The Prince and the Pea

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I often affectionately refer to my faithful Labrador Retriever as “Prince” Tucker. Why? Because he seems to believe he should be treated like royalty and he’s extremely picky.

While Tucker may not be quite as sensitive as the princess in the fairytale, “The Princess and the Pea,” who is able to feel one pea through twenty mattresses and twenty feather beds, he is still quite princely.

Several weeks ago, my very obedient Tucker suddenly started balking at the idea of going to bed. Tucker has slept in the same crate since he was a puppy (almost six years), and up until this point, had never had an issue with it. Our routine has always been pretty much the same – he goes outside for a break, comes inside to get his nightly pills and evening snack, and goes to bed. All of a sudden one day, he started sneaking back to his bed in the living room after his snack instead of going to his crate. When my husband or I would ask him to go to his crate, he would hang his head sadly, and, slowly but surely, plod over to his crate.

We were both quite perplexed for a while until one day when I decided to wash the mat in his crate. As I pulled it out, I realized just how thin it had become.

And that’s when it hit me: the Prince had decided he preferred the very fluffy bed in the living room over the worn out old mat in his crate.

The next weekend, I bought a new fluffy bed and laid it on top of the old mat.

And guess who doesn’t balk at going to bed anymore!

The lesson is this – sometimes, it’s necessary to apply what you know about your dog’s personality when you’re trying to figure out what’s causing a certain behavior.  Remember that dogs, like people, all see the world a little differently.

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Happy as a clam now that he has extra padding.

Categories: Behavior, Blog, Prince Tucker Problems | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Old Dogs CAN Learn New Tricks

“At what age is a dog too old to learn new tricks?”

A woman stopped me on my way into Chick-fil-a this weekend to ask this question.

My brief, simplified answer (on my way towards a delicious chicken sandwich) was this – there is no official age at which a dog stops learning, so long as they are not actually suffering from doggy dementia.

There are, however, caveats to that statement.

1. Physical limitations – don’t ask your senior dog to do something he/she is realistically unable to do, or that would cause him/her pain. If you’ve noticed your dog is slow to get up, or your vet has already confirmed some age related joint problems, shy away from teaching physically demanding tricks or tasks. If your dog’s hips are painful for him, don’t teach him a new trick that involves jumping.  Gauge your training and your “workouts” on your dog’s abilities and the reactions you observe.  Like people, some senior dogs are capable of much more than others.

2. Old habits die hard – don’t expect your older dog to easily give up habits that have been lifelong. If you’ve allowed him on the couch from puppyhood, don’t expect to teach him new furniture boundaries overnight. Remember that patience and consistency are key when trying to change a current behavior.

On your quest to teach your old dog new tricks, remember to set practical goals that are attainable for your senior dog and his/her physical/mental state.

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This is Dingo – our family dog from 1996 to 2012.  While she was definitely okay with jumping up on things (as seen here) as a younger dog, her hips began to degrade around middle age.  As a senior, we put her on medications to help with the arthritis, didn’t encourage such “dancing” or jumping, and bought a small set of stairs to help her into the car.

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