Best-selling author of several excellent dog books (and ethologist) Patricia McConnell says, “Play is fun, but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s just goofy or frivolous. Play is powerful stuff, and it has a profound influence on your relationship with your dog and your dog's relationships with others of the same species.”
The game of Find It is not just an easy and exciting way to play with your dog. It also gives you a strong way to change your dog’s focus and behavior in challenging situations. A fun and familiar game provides a happy alternative to many behaviors you don’t like. Even better, it can quickly change your dog’s mood from Oh no! to Oh boy! in the presence of his triggers. And the big bonus is that your bond grows stronger the more often you and your dog play together. I’m not talking about endless rounds of throwing tennis balls.
Teaching Find It couldn’t be simpler. All you do is say Find it! excitedly, then toss a treat on the ground. Don’t speak and throw at the same time or else he won’t hear the cue. You can toss to one side of you and then the other, or behind him. After a couple of sessions, you can start hiding the treats. First, while he’s watching; later on, when he’s not watching.
When your dog experiences the thrill of chasing, sniffing out, pouncing, and eating, he’s fulfilling a natural instinct, even though it’s not exactly prey. Use soft, smelly treats so he has to employ his nose, not rely on his eyes. And be sure to toss or drop them so your dog has to move. If they bounce or roll, even better!
When you want to end the game (or any activity), always let your dog know it’s over by giving a clear signal. I hold up my empty hands and say “All done.” To prevent frustration, I then move to another location and give them something else to do.
How Find It Can Improve Behavior
1. To encourage your puppy or newly adopted dog to get into the habit of paying attention to you. When he dives for the treat and eats it, he will turn back toward you. Got any more of those? Click or mark with YES!, and then reinforce by saying Find It! and toss another one. The next step is getting eye contact. He may do this immediately or you may have to wait (silently) until he looks up at your eyes. Click that look—and immediately reward it by continuing the game.
2. To head off a behavior that you can anticipate, such as barking at a bicyclist, jogger, or another dog while on leash. How well this works will depend on how strongly your dog feels about that trigger, how far away it is and if it’s coming closer, and how delicious your treats are.
Eating turns on the parasympathetic system (rest and digest), which helps turn off the sympathetic system (fight-freeze-or-flight responses to perceived threats).
Note: For severe reactivity, please consult a credentialed positive trainer or behavior consultant.
3. To calm another dog who is reactive to yours. When your dog lowers his head to find the treats and then looks back at you, that sends a clear message to the worried dog: I’m no threat to you. I’m busy with my person. This is a perfect way to cut short the stare-down that often turns into barking, lunging, and worse.
That’s why I never walk my dogs without wearing my treat bag. Pockets just don’t work very well when you need to get your hand in and out quickly.
I recently discovered that Find It could get my dogs past a major problem on a walk: a large dog who runs back and forth in his big corner yard, barking at us furiously. My two would normally respond by leaping and barking too, and when I’m handling both of them it can be really difficult to calm them down and get around the corner. But when I started the Find It game, they immediately engaged with me, ignoring the bouncing, shouting dog. We were able to move all the way past him without an explosion. He quieted down too, since he wasn’t being riled up even more.
4. To occupy two or more dogs who may not be best friends or who may play too rough. For example, my puppy is still too pushy and rough with my 7-year-old, Scout. When I take them out in the yard, I sometimes toss treats in different directions, using their names so they are not competing for the same treasure. Foraging in the grass together engages them in a productive activity that Scout and I prefer to body slamming and wrestling.
5. To give your dog something to do on rainy or super-hot/cold days when normal outdoor activities are not possible. Using their strongest natural skill to discover hidden treats around the house is a great way for dogs to use up mental and physical energy, just like the sport of Nosework.
6. To interrupt unwanted behaviors in a positive way, instead of trying to “correct” them. (See my March 2017 post.)
Resources These classics are two of the best books on how and why to play with your dog, available from www.dogwise.com: —Play With Your Dog, by Pat Miller —Play Together, Stay Together, by Patricia McConnell and Karen London
Patricia McConnell also has a DVD: —Dog Play—Understanding Play Between Dogs and People
By Lisa Benshoff, CPDT-KA, Talbot TTouch llc, Easton
In my last post, on the positive interrupt, I recommended not using dry biscuits. That prompted a loyal reader to suggest that I write about treats this month. I liked that idea since it gives me a chance to not only recommend some healthy, tasty treats, but also to dispel a few misconceptions about using them.
First, treats are paws-down, the fastest, most effective way to train. They make it easy to get a rapid series of repetitions, to build “muscle memory.” Treats are also used to create pleasant associations with new things (classical conditioning) or things that a dog finds scary (classical counter-conditioning). If your dog loves them, you will see more eagerness for learning in general, as well as quicker training success.
Positive-reinforcement trainers often encounter people who are very stingy with treats, on the grounds that they don’t want their dog to get fat. Rubbish! I have never seen this actually happen, although it certainly could if your dog is inactive, your treats are starchy or heavily sweetened, and you’re already overfeeding.
My own dogs get from 20 to 50 treats each per day, and they are definitely on the lean side. It really matters what the treats are made of (see below) and what size they are. They should be tiny (about the size of a little fingernail) and as nutritious as their food. They should not be like doggy cookies and candy. My dogs earn them by making good choices on their own, not just for responding to cues. Many are dispensed on walks—for checking in with me; coming away from other dogs, deer, and people; and walking on a loose leash.
Show Me the Money Another misconception is that treats are just bribes. Well yes, if they appear before your dog does the desired behavior. For example, you say Come and then hold out a treat to lure him to you. Used that way, the treat becomes part of the cue. No wonder this dog waits for the food to appear before responding. Then these people will say, “He’s stubborn. He won’t do anything without food.” But that’s what happens if Come was trained that way.
Treats may be used as a lure, very briefly, to start training a brand-new behavior, but that’s quite different. Good trainers know that the treat comes after the desired behavior. That’s a reward, not a bribe.
Someone else who commented on my last post said that while the positive interrupt may work to get a pet dog to come away from barking at the window, it would simply teach a working dog to bark at the window “to con you out of a snack.” Apart from my objection to that assumption, I found it interesting that a working dog would be considered smarter (or more devious) than a pet dog. And I was dismayed by the attitude that learning to do something in the hope of getting a food reward means that your dog is trying to manipulate you.
This attitude probably stems from the seriously misguided and outdated notion that dogs should want only to please us, not to earn something for their selfish enjoyment. Oh please! Dogs—just like people—need to be motivated to perform any behavior we’d like, and let’s not forget how very important food is to animals. Using it for training doesn’t somehow cheapen your relationship. Behavior is driven by consequences. Why not use this law of behaviorism to our mutual advantage?
Mix It Up! There’s a hierarchy of reinforcers for every dog. Be aware that their value depends on the situation. So while dry treats (or kibble) may work fine for getting a Sit in the house, break out the high-value food for new training, especially in challenging environments. Outdoors, you may need to go up to bits of meat or cheese. It always depends on what you’re competing with for attention. You will know whether the value is high enough by your dog’s responses.
Some people claim their dog doesn’t care for treats. I try not to laugh, and show them how quickly and eagerly he or she will respond when offered moist treats with a captivating smell. Especially when used with a clicker. Their treats are often dry biscuits that are about as appealing as baked sawdust. A box of giant, dusty Milk Bones comes to mind. Would you be willing to work for a Saltine?
Moving Away From the Food Once a cue works anywhere and almost every time, you can “fade” the food gradually until it becomes random. But don’t stop all reinforcement or else the response will probably deteriorate. This is another law of behaviorism. People often stop reinforcing too soon, way before the behavior is well-learned and generalized.
After that, though, you can branch out and use non-food rewards. Think of other things your dog loves and will work for, and use those instead of treats: excited praise, a chest or butt scratch, toys, games, or real-life rewards like a walk, a ride in the car, opening the door to chase squirrels, etcetera. A pat on the head or Good boy is not strong enough for most dogs.
Some Recommendations You get to decide what’s healthy, but your dog gets to decide what’s delicious. You can test for preferences by holding out both hands closed, with a different treat in each one.
Here are the brands I use most frequently, that nearly always get two paws up. Most are chewy, a few are crunchy, and they come in several delicious flavors. I get them from Chewy.com, where prices are much lower than at the big pet stores. Mixing up three or four different kinds in my treat bag makes training sessions even more fun and effective.
Zuke’s, particularly Super Greens and Z-Filets (break them up)
For dogs watching their weight, Leanlix is food in a tube, also available in several yummy-sounding flavors. Grass-Fed Beef, for example, has only 1 calorie per 40 licks!
Or make your own! See below.
How to Choose Treats The Whole Dog Journal, an excellent resource for all things canine, regularly publishes articles on what to look for and what to avoid in dog foods, treats, and chews. To summarize, the fresher, fewer, and less processed the ingredients, the better. Look for treats that contain whole foods and recognizable ingredients, with natural preservatives such as Vitamins C and E (“mixed tocopherols”).
Avoid nonspecific ingredients like meat meal and animal fat, any byproducts, food coloring, chemical preservatives (like BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin), anything from China, and artificial humectants (i.e., propylene glycol).
By Lisa Benshoff, CPDT-KA, Talbot Ttouch llc, Easton
Even those who are completely on-board with adopting positive methods of training and handling their dog will ask, “But what am I supposed to do when I want him to stop doing something?” This usually comes up right after I’ve explained why I don’t like to say "No" or misuse the dog’s name to handle this situation.
I’m talking about behaviors that are fine in moderation but can become excessive—let’s take barking at noises or people outside the house. It could also apply to barking at the fence, sniffing in the grass on a walk, licking your hand or face, or playing hard, before things get too rough. This is not about behaviors you never want to see. (That’s where management and training a better behavior work very well.) It’s how to tell your dog Okay, that’s enough.
The positive interrupt can also head off an unwanted or risky behavior right before it happens, like when your dog is staring at another dog or moving towards a roadkill.
What’s Wrong with No? Scolding appears to work. But it may only startle her for a moment or two. She may go right back to it or start up again at the next opportunity. Hearing "No!" on a regular basis often leads to habituation: that is, the tendency to ignore it unless it’s followed by aversive consequences. (Note: In psychology, aversives are unpleasant stimuli that induce changes in behavior through punishment; by applying an aversive immediately following a behavior, the likelihood of the behavior occurring in the future is reduced.) If we choose not to go down that road—as has thankfully become more common—we tend to get louder, frustrated, and repeat ourselves ... not good for the relationship.
Consider that the word "No!" (without punishment) actually has no magic power; it’s the intimidating or threatening way it sounds. See how your dog responds when you say "Rutabaga" exactly the same way. Don’t even get me started on how silly and useless it is to command "No bark. No jump," and the like.
What’s more, sounding angry can cause a sensitive dog to fear you, not exactly what you want, along with other unintended fallout. What’s worse than "No!," for any dog, is hearing their name in an angry or threatening tone. We want them to look at us happily whenever they hear that name, not to think “Uh-oh” and run for cover or roll over in appeasement.
There’s a Better Way—As Usual! The positive interrupt is a sound that makes your dog instantly turn and look at you, like a special whistle or the international 'kissy' sound. I have two attention sounds: the 'kissy' one and "Thank you." ('Excuse me' would serve equally well.) When the UPS truck comes down the driveway, my Doodle Scout is right at the window in the dining room, barking furiously to let us know there’s an intruder, even though it’s usually a delivery for her. The 'kissy' sound is just not loud enough. But another reason I like to say "Thank you" is that it comes out sounding cheerful and nearly always gets her attention. Besides, thanking her for doing a good job may prevent her from making up other jobs that are less appreciated.
So I go to the cookie jar in the kitchen, calling out "Thank you!" What happens next is that she runs to the kitchen for her treat. After eating it, for as long as she chooses to stay with me, she gets another "Thank you" and another treat. She may decide to run back to the window to resume her important announcement, but it’s just one time and the barking is much less intense. And she will come away again from the window when she hears the magic words.
The bonus of the positive interrupt is that it usually changes her focus and mood. And best of all, it stops the barking without yelling at her, which can sound to a dog like you’re joining in the bark-fest. And I don’t get annoyed with her.
Training the Positive Interrupt First, experiment to see which sound has that head-turning effect on your dog when there are no distractions present. Then get a handful of yummy treats (not dry biscuits, please), and with your dog in front of you, make the sound and immediately follow up with a treat. Do not ask her to do anything, you are just making a strong positive association with the sound (or word). Sound/word = treat. Repeat 8-10 times in a row.
In the next session, sometime when your dog is not paying attention to you (but not watching a squirrel or someone approaching), make the sound or word and see if your dog turns her attention to you. If not, try a higher-value treat. Repeat a few times, with different not-very-exciting distractions. As always, don’t try this in the most challenging situation until you’ve done this intermediate step.
When minor distractions are working well, you’re probably ready to go for it in 'real life'. At first, go stand near your dog, armed with treats but not displaying them or trying to lure her to you. When she hears the positive interrupter, she will likely rush to you to collect a treat, then fly back to the window or door. Now move a few steps away from her and make the sound again. Repeat this sequence, as you move farther away.
As she keeps coming farther from the big distraction, it takes more and more effort to return to it. Gradually move into another room, where she cannot see whatever is provoking her. When she decides it’s more worthwhile to stay with you, praise and feed a few more treats and then switch to a favorite toy. Or ask for two or three cues she knows and loves to perform.
By now, she may have forgotten all about whatever she was watching in the first place. Or the show will be over. Win-win. Good manners work both ways.
By Lisa Benshoff, CPDT-KA, Talbot TTouch llc, Easton
The mother of all behaviors, as they say, is attention. If you can’t get your dog’s attention, you can’t expect to get the responses you want. But targeting is definitely the Swiss army knife of behaviors. When your dog can target, she has a tool with an amazing variety of terrifically useful functions. Yes, soon your dog will be able to uncork wine bottles and file her own nails! Well, almost.
Just about everyone I work with seems baffled when I introduce targeting. But what is it good for? Then I get to demonstrate how quickly their dog gets it and enjoys it—and explain how many other wonderful behaviors are easy to learn, thanks to this simple, basic skill.
Targeting is not just about making contact. It’s also teaching your dog to focus on you, or an object, or a place. It begins with a nose bump to your hand, which most dogs think is a pretty fun way to earn treats.
This is how I begin teaching or strengthening the recall. (In fact, in some situations, seeing the hand signal works better than saying Come.) It’s great for dogs who run up to you and leap into your face. And for giving confidence to dogs too shy to approach strangers. And for redirecting your dog away from doing something undesirable or dangerous, so you don’t have to yell NO. Here are some more everyday benefits:
Use Targeting to Get Your Dog to . . . So You Don’t Have to . . . Move this or that way Drag by the collar Walk next to you Pull or jerk on leash Come to you Come, Come! Come HERE! Go into the crate, car, stairs Force, lift, or lure with food Ring a bell to go out Guess when she needs to go Settle on a mat Deal with counter-surfing, etc. Get dressed Struggle to put on harness, apparel Greet politely Stop jumping up on people Stand still for vet exams* Physically restrain Plus, tricks galore!
What Experts Say Clicker trainers regard targeting as an invaluable and essential skill. Leslie McDevitt, who wrote Control Unleashed, says “[Targeting] helps a dog learn to focus on a specific object and block out distractions. It teaches distance work and reinforces attention at the same time. . . . It enables a stressed dog to move through crowds or across a classroom because he can focus on something safe.”
From Gail Fisher, author of The Thinking Dog, Crossover to Clicker Training: “Tremendously helpful for crossover dogs [those trained the old-fashioned way], targeting can be used both for improving behaviors your dog already knows and for introducing new behaviors. With nearly limitless possibilities, targeting greatly speeds learning, giving the dog a focus that helps narrow the parameters of a behavior.” She goes on to list all the competitive activities, sports, and service tasks, as well as basic manners, that benefit from target training.
“Reach Out and Touch Somebody’s Hand” --Diana Ross To get targeting started, have some treats hidden in one hand or pocket and when your dog is near, present an empty hand to the side. The motion piques her interest, and she will very likely come in for a sniff. At the moment her nose makes contact, click or say YES! and offer a treat with your other hand. Simple, right?
If your dog seems hesitant or uninterested, rub your hand with a soft treat to make it smell more interesting. If that’s not enough, put your hand behind your back, then re-present it. If a flat hand doesn’t work well, or if you already use that same signal to mean something else, try making a fist, sticking out just two fingers, or using the back of your hand. Don’t move it toward the dog; that can be off-putting. Find out which signal works for your dog, then be consistent.
Be silent during this process, so your dog can focus. Introduce the cue Touch only after you get the nose bump several times in a row. Say Touch, then present your hand—not at the same time.
Then make it a little more difficult: raise your hand, lower it, switch hands, stand up, sit down, turn your body away. When this is going well, start adding distance by backing up (without bending forward). When the dog has to travel several steps, that’s when I change the cue to Come. When things are going well with distance, go back to a couple of steps apart and begin to add distractions. If a distraction or distance is too great for your dog to be successful, make it easier.
To build a quick, reliable response, reward with a treat every single time. It doesn’t take long at all to get there if you practice often, in different locations. Once established, it’s pretty easy to transfer the touch/orientation from your hand to objects, like a door bell, mat, or crate. Paws can target too, of course.
Resources: * To see exactly how it works, have a look at these two short videos by the fabulous Emily Larlham (kikopup):
By Lisa Benshoff, CPDT-KA, Talbot TTouch llc If you just got a puppy and are stressing about all the typical problems you didn’t anticipate (or forgot about, like me), don’t despair. Like having a really cute but exhausting toddler, your life is consumed by potty training, tantrums, and trying to keep them from hurting themselves—and you. But there’s no need to resort to discipline, wait for training classes, or just hope the puppy will eventually “grow out of it.” There’s a lot you can do now to bring some quick relief—and more important, lay the foundation for a fantastic dog and a wonderful relationship.
House Training When we got our Goldendoodle, Torre, in late October at age 9 weeks, my first priority was house-training. Nature predictably calls on puppies after waking, eating, and playing. For the first month or so, I went out with her every time, giving enthusiastic praise and treats when she finished her business. (Presenting a cookie back in the house is too late and too distant.) Constant vigilance and rewards have paid off. We’re averaging two accidents a week—and just had a full week of zero accidents, despite a long road trip and three hotel stays. Woo-hoo!
Chewing When I first caught her chewing on books and electrical cords, I blocked her access to them with pillows and furniture, which seems to have nipped that activity in the bud. Then she turned to off-duty shoes, so they all get put away in the closet and we have to remember to keep that door shut. Other temptations must be kept out of sight and out of reach, so that counter-surfing doesn’t become a habit. Because puppies (and older dogs too) really need to chew, every room she visits has toys and a Himalayan chew, and she gets a couple of hard chew treats after dinner. When she does manage to get hold of our stuff, I ask her to Drop It (trained by trading for a treat or toy) and redirect her to her stuff. Nothing has been destroyed so far.
Nipping and Scratching Those teeth and nails are tiny but really sharp! The first few weeks, Torre thought it was great fun to launch herself at my legs from behind, using all her pointy weapons to latch onto my pants. Yelping and detaching her only amped her up. She would hurl her little self at me again, harder. Boy, was that annoying! I found three ways to deal with it. 1. Stop moving and grab a stick for her to redirect her jaws onto. 2. Presenting my hand for a nose bump (hand targeting) would also change her focus and get her off my leg. 3. She had also quickly learned to Sit and look up at me as her default (by being rewarded every time she offered it), so turning around to face her (silently) prompted her to do her default. Providing her with three good alternatives ended the surprise “attacks.” Enough Energy to Power a Small City Like other healthy puppies, Torre has an astonishing and enviable amount of energy. Instead of using it for evil, as most bored young dogs do, she spends much of it racing, chasing, and wrestling with our very tolerant seven-year-old Doodle, Scout. She also gets daily TTouch for calming and bonding, 3-4 short training sessions (with Scout assisting), some toy play, two long walks, plus car rides and socialization opportunities when I go shopping. Good thing I had planned to stay home these past two months. The more time you can spend with your puppy during this stage, the better. Management She eats her meals from food toys in a crate, to make that her happy place and to keep her from interrupting Scout’s meal. She sleeps in a crate in the bedroom to prevent any wandering during the night. A baby gate and closed doors keep her in my sight most of the time. She won’t get access to the whole house until she’s completely reliable, a few months from now. No. 1 Tip: Arm Yourself! Having survived age 2-4 months, I feel a lot more empathy for other puppy parents. I’m also qualified to offer some advice that can discourage the usual bad habits from taking root, like weeds.
At all times, carry a handful of small, tasty treats (note: wearing a treat bag is cleaner than using pockets) or stashed around the home in little plastic containers with lids. Be ready to reinforce every good behavior with a bit of food your puppy loves. Some people still think that praise alone should be sufficient. At this stage, it just isn’t enough of an incentive. Learning with food rewards is far more effective. Second, instead of thinking, How can I make him stop doing that?, ask yourself, What do I want him to do instead?
Get SMART In her book Plenty in Life is Free, Kathy Sdao, a brilliant trainer, behaviorist, and teacher, proposes replacing the old NILIF approach (nothing in life is free) with a method she calls see, mark, and reward training: SMART. This is a wonderful way to cultivate good behaviors by capturing them when they happen. Each day, you count out 50 pieces of food (treats and/or kibble) and then catch your dog doing the right thing throughout the day. A clicker is the best kind of marker, but verbal markers work too. As a clicker trainer and puppy parent, I can promise you that it’s much easier to install good habits than to try to undo bad habits later on. And capturing is really the easiest training method, reducing the need for constant “commands” and the stress that causes for dogs.
Thanks to SMART, here’s what little Torre is doing reliably at age 4 months:
looking at me when she hears her name, instead of ignoring me
coming and following voluntarily, instead of ignoring or running away
settling outside the kitchen while I’m preparing meals, instead of being underfoot
settling in the bedroom while I’m drying my hair or dressing, instead of getting into trouble
amusing herself with a toy, instead of harassing Scout
sitting politely (her default), instead of jumping up to greet or grab whatever’s in my hand
happily going into her crate to get fed, instead of bothering Scout at mealtime
helping me put on her harness and leash, instead of struggling to avoid them
walking on a loose leash, instead of pulling; stopping when I stop
None of this was (or needs to be) taught formally, with cues. Yes, she has also learned to respond to many cues, but it’s more important to me that she’s learning to just do the right thing without even being asked. All I have to do is notice whenever she’s doing something I like, especially being calm and polite, then click or say YES!, and deliver a treat. With this method, your puppy will clearly learn which behaviors pay off—and which don’t (because you will ignore or redirect). So here are Five Golden Rules for low-stress puppy raising (the younger it starts, the better it works). 1. Prevent the start of bad habits
Supervise constantly. When you cannot, put your puppy in a crate or pen or behind a gate.
Put your stuff away. Don’t let your puppy learn how much fun it is to snatch something and start a game of chase.
Offer daily games, physical and mental exercise, and hard chews.
Feed meals and snacks with stuffable toys by Kong, West Paw Designs, PetSafe, etc.
Treat for keeping four feet on the floor instead of “correcting” (but not preventing) jumping.
Teach food manners (stay back until it’s offered), and practice with non-food items too.
2. Reward for calm behaviors. Sitting or lying quietly is something even puppies will do without being told. Don’t take those precious moments for granted! When you award treats for settling down, you are teaching your puppy that being calm and relaxed pays off. And you will get more of that.
3. Redirect, redirect, redirect. Biting is what puppies do, just like baby humans put everything in their mouth. Show her what IS okay to put her teeth on, because you cannot “correct” nipping hands or clothing without turning it into a conflict. Outside, puppies usually find moving sticks and pine cones pretty exciting. Inside, have a variety of toys within reach, with different textures. Offer braided rope toys for playing tug, and toys that move or squeak, like a flirt pole. 4.Handle with care. Petting that’s rough, fast, or prolonged leads to nipping. So does holding tightly. Instead of patting, use slow, light strokes down the body and tail. If that’s not tolerated, try using the back of your hand. Stop after 3 seconds and see how your puppy responds. If he remains with you, wiggles closer, sighs, stretches out, or blinks slowly, those are all good signs. Handling that causes your dog to look away, turn away, move away, or lick lips are signs that he is uncomfortable. Experiment with different pressure, speed, and locations, so you can use touch to strengthen your bond and help your puppy relax. Don’t let anyone make a “game” of pushing or wrestling with your puppy. 5. Notice and reward for good manners. You have dozens of opportunities every day to reward for voluntary attention, calmness, and cooperation—instead of trying to stop all the undesirable things your puppy could be doing.
Puppies have a big job figuring out how to live in our world and learn our language and rules. It’s our job, I believe, to teach them with clarity, consistency, kindness, and plenty of positive reinforcement. You will be making an excellent investment in creating a dog who is calm, polite, and generally well-behaved!
Plenty in Life is Free: Reflections on Dogs, Training, and Finding Grace, by Kathy Sdao, ACAAB. Available at www.dogwise.com.
December is a stressful time for our furry friends AND our two-legged buddies. Baywater’s animal expert and blogger, TalbotTouch’s Lisa Benshoff shares an article on reducing pet and guest stress. The key … educating humans!
While Debra focuses on dogs, this blog is definitely applicable to the human component for cat friendly homes! As cat lovers know, cats expect us to read their minds and can appear (in fact, cats LOVE appearing) a bit standoffish.
The holidays are upon us and it’s too late to train your dog before Aunt Mabel arrives. Even if you have trained your dog, the holidays present a whole new set of challenges. Your dog is excited (or stressed). You are excited (or stressed) and have less time for your dog. There are all sorts of distractions (including food). Be patient. This too shall pass.
Don’t assume that everyone likes dogs (even yours). Be sure to ask your guests ahead of time. It's not fair to your dog or your guests if you allow your dog around people who are afraid of dogs. Your guests will feel uncomfortable all night, and your dog will get in trouble for simply being himself around the wrong person.
If you have a timid, anxious or reactive dog, don't force him to be part of the activities. It's best to allow your dog to spend "guest time" in his crate or in a separate room with the door shut and something super yummy to chew. Be sure to do this before your guests arrive. Your dog would rather be in a safe place than around all those “scary” people.
Teach your guests, both adults and children, how to interact with your dog. It's a hectic time; so, if your dog joins your guests, either you or someone else responsible should have your dog's leash and keep your dog feeling safe. When people approach dogs head-on, look them directly in the eye, reach over them, pat them on the head or lean over them, dogs feel threatened. So, ask your guests to angle sideways and pet your dog under his chin or on his chest. If your dog looks away or backs up, respect your dog’s wishes. He is not comfortable and would rather not meet and greet.
Being around young children is stressful for most dogs. Kids have high-pitched voices, move quickly and are unpredictable. Don’t let children crowd your dog, chase him, pick him up, hug him or get their face in your dog’s face. Let your dog go somewhere safe, where he won’t be bothered by children’s antics. Even a good dog will bite when he has had enough.
If you have a small dog, don’t hold him when people approach. Small dogs may feel trapped and become growly if held during greetings.
Your dog may be excited when guests first arrive. When the doorbell rings, we rush to the door, talk with enthusiasm, hug. Obviously, the doorbell means that something exciting is happening. Before your guests are due to arrive, put your dog in another room or crate with a safe toy or stuffed Kong. Once your friends and relatives are in and settled, you can bring your dog out to greet everyone.
Your dog should be on leash when greeting your guests. This will help keep your dog from jumping and running around. It's is more pleasant for your dog than being yelled at for saying "hello" the way that dogs say "hello".
Ask your guests NOT to feed your dog. The emergency vet offices are full during the holidays with dogs that have had too much "holiday cheer". Well-meaning friends may not know that raisins are bad for dogs or that macadamia nuts (think cookies) could kill your dog. Instead, have some of your dog's healthy treats around for your guests to offer your dog.
If you don’t want your dog to eat off the kitchen counter or beg at the dinner table, keep him out of those rooms. Put up a baby gate, or put your dog in a crate or room with a special treat – like a Kong stuffed with goodies or an interactive toy that will drop kibble if moved the right way. Don’t feel guilty: Your dog will get plenty later when he helps you clean up by eating all the crumbs.
Don’t tempt fate. Even the most well-behaved dog will be tempted to commit "a crime of opportunity". If you're planning to leave your dishes out, so you can watch the game or move to another room for dessert and coffee, make sure your dog comes (and stays) with you. If your dog does get something such as a turkey bone, offer your dog something yummy in exchange, instead of trying to reach into his mouth to get it.
WATCH THOSE DOORS! Just as you should have your dog in another room/in a crate/on leash when your guests arrive, you need to do the same when your guests are leaving. People will be hugging, getting their left-overs to take home, and putting their coats on. No one will be paying attention to how wide the front door is held open or for how long. It only takes a second for your dog to bolt out that door or to follow a guest out and keep going!
Prepare ahead. Around the holidays, more pets get lost or sick than usual. It's hectic, and you may not be closely watching your dog. Get your dog micro-chipped NOW and register the number. For a membership fee of $20/year, you can join Home Again, a site that provides lost pet registration for any brand microchip; rapid lost pet alerts; and a pet medical emergency hotline. Want to help others with lost pets? Think about joining Home Again's lost pet network as a volunteer pet rescuer, and ask your vet and local shelter to join the network too!
Confused about training methods? It’s no wonder, given the vast differences between the ways we grew up with; what we have seen on TV (“the dog whisperer” vs. Victoria Stilwell); and what we’ve learned in obedience classes, from books, and from amateurs and experts on the Internet, not to mention friends and relatives.
In case you think all trainers are on the same page, be aware that there is a huge divide between those who practice positive-reinforcement and those who are still training the military way, with commands, reprimands, and compulsion. Some call their method balanced, which I believe means they are basically old-school but will use treats.
Old-school trainers were taught to compel obedience with force and intimidation. Decades ago, that was the only way—and more dogs were bred to do a job than to be a pet. When the radically different positive philosophy and method was introduced, around 1990, a sea change occurred. Hundreds, then more and more “crossed over.” It’s very easy to be convinced when you see how joyfully and quickly dogs (all species, actually) respond to positive training—and when you experience the amazing relationship benefits. That doesn’t happen when a dog is taught to obey . . . or else.
Thankfully, the punishment-based method has been dying out, yet plenty of trainers, breeders, and vets continue to give outdated advice to owners about being “alpha,” and making your dog behave with sometimes harsh techniques and tools. “Whatever works” seems to be their attitude. And “he can’t get away with THAT.”
Over the past 25 years or so, the modern method and ethical standards have greatly evolved and become widespread, thanks to the dedicated expert trainers, behaviorists, ethologists, and organizations that educate the rest of us. They share their deep knowledge, experience, and skills through seminars, workshops, webinars, books, articles, blogs, DVDs, and more. These are available to everyone!
Our progress is based on scientific studies that help us understand more than we ever knew before about how dogs think, feel, learn, problem solve, and perceive their world. Science has also dispelled the old myths about why dogs do what they do, such as the long-debunked theory of dominance.
Food Is a Means to an End: Reinforcing Good Choices
Bottom line: Positive-reinforcement training is not all about food, as some may believe. It’s really about providing motivation and being very clear. As important as rewards are, so are the use of a marker (clicker) and proper mechanics, techniques, and timing. Together, positive trainers and owners are engaging dogs’ minds and quickly teaching new skills and concepts, how to accept veterinary treatments, how to provide services to the disabled, and much more.
Positive training is—or should be—primarily about teaching dogs to make good choices. Giving a sense of empowerment and control produces a behaviorally healthy animal, preventing or resolving many behavior issues. And the side effects are more confidence (i.e., less fear), trust, and closer bonds.
Educated professional trainers put a high value on the relationship—to create a partnership, not to be master or “alpha.” We focus on getting desirable behaviors, to avoid or replace undesirable ones. We use food, toys, play, and real-life rewards—whatever the individual is willing to work for.
The aim is to get your dog’s willing attention and cooperation. Here are the main principles, as I see them.
Behaviors that are reinforced are strengthened. To install good habits, notice and reinforce all behaviors you like, whether offered or asked for.
Manage (change) the environment to make the right choices easy and the wrong ones difficult.
To stop a behavior, teach your dog what to do instead. Example: keep four feet on the floor instead of jumping up.
Techniques to get behavior started include capturing, luring, and shaping.
Get the behavior first, before attaching the cue. That’s how to make the connection clear.
Using your body language and hand signals is easier for dogs to understand than words.
Help your dog to always be successful at training. Begin with no distractions, short distance, and short duration. Change locations and other variables to generalize cues.
If your dog doesn’t respond to a known cue, she may be confused or distracted.
Prevent future fears in puppies by socializing or familiarizing before the end of puppy vaccinations. Don’t just expose to new things but ensure that all encounters with novelty are perceived as safe and pleasant.
Make sure you are meeting the dog’s needs for proper medical care, food, water, shelter, proper nutrition, companionship, exercise, and mental stimulation.
Learn how to read canine body language, especially signals for stress, so you can respond before things escalate.
Give your dog safe choices. Your dog gets to decide what’s scary, but this perception can be changed if done correctly.
Medical issues, fears, and anxiety are the source of many behavior problems. Consult a vet to rule out the first cause, then consult a certified trainer or behavior consultant.
For reliable, up-to-date information on training, behavior, finding a professional trainer, and more, please review our Resources: Positive Training. And to understand what’s wrong with the old ways and attitudes, please see the Position Statements of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior.
Pulling is a very common complaint—and it comes from both ends of the leash. Yes, dogs would rather walk on a loose leash too! When pulling causes annoyance, frustration, pain, and fear of falling, “pully” dogs often get shorter and fewer walks. And then, inadequate exercise and exploration time can give rise to new behavior issues.
Many people (including some trainers) believe the answer is more physical control by jerking (“corrections”) and/or maintaining a tight leash. Some try to make their dog heel obediently and Watch Me. After seven years of TTouch and other expert training, plus experience, I say Heel no! Being tightly restricted, especially on the throat, simply makes a dog feel uncomfortable, unsafe, and more edgy. That’s why the command-and-control approach can make things even worse.
The solution is to help your dog control himself by using these tools and principles—which conveniently all begin with C:
Comfortable Harness: pressure goes to the chest instead of the throat
Calmness and Balance: balance is key to feeling safe, calm, and able to respond
Clear Communication: verbal and nonverbal signals
Connection: walking together as companions, not hauling each other around
Consistency: pressure means Stop; no pressure means Go
Here’s what’s missing from the usual approach to pulling.
Balance = Safety and Calm Being balanced makes dogs feel safe, which is their first priority. Physiology links balance to calmness and thinking, so then they become less inclined to pull, more able to pay attention and respond to you.
Picture a dog who is throwing his weight forward, struggling against the pressure of the leash, muscles straining, maybe gasping for breath. The dog—and probably the handler too—is way off balance and full of physical and mental tension. What’s more, they are in conflict with each other.
In dogs, tension and imbalance quickly lead to over-arousal, especially in the presence of his triggers. (See my April 2016 post on reactivity on leash). And consider that a tight leash also communicates that YOU are tense, escalating your dog’s stress.
Contrast that picture with this one: The leash hangs (dips) between dog and handler. There is no tension, no pressure to resist. Both immediately feel calmer and more relaxed because they are now able to stand in balance and walk naturally. They are walking together in a connected way.
Some say that they tried a harness and it “didn’t work.” Balance is a function of how the harness fits and how you use the leash. A well-designed harness fits above the shoulders, below the throat, and does not cut into the armpits.
The most effective harness for a strong or chronic puller has two leash rings: on the front of the chest and on top of the shoulders, providing two points of contact. Dogs who are heavier and stronger than their owners may also benefit from a Calming Band or head halter.
Using two points of contact—with either two leashes or a double-clip leash (a clip at each end)—makes it much easier to keep your dog balanced, calm, and able to focus more on you and less on the environment.
Connection = Calm and Focus Dogs who chronically pull are paying no attention at all to the person at the other end of the leash. This is partly because they are off balance, but also too full of energy, excited, fearful, or over-stimulated by the environment. It is absolutely not because they are “blowing you off,” trying to control the walk or control you.
Having a mental connection with each other means your dog is always aware of your presence and frequently checking in (making eye contact). He cannot do that if he is choking on a tight collar or 15-20 feet ahead of you on a retractable leash. But he is very likely to do so if you reinforce that desirable behavior with smiles, praise, and a treat whenever he does look at you.
You can start getting this behavior by practicing walking together, starting indoors or in your yard, and using a sound that immediately snaps your dog’s head around to look up at you, like the kissy sound or a whistle. (Rapid tongue clicks, which some people use to get attention, was found by noted ethologist and author Patricia McConnell) to encourage horses and dogs to speed up!) The more you reinforce that look, the more he will do it voluntarily.
Changing what your dog wears, focusing on physical balance and mental connection, and practicing a gentle brake-and-release may be all you need to make leash walks a pleasure instead of a chore.
Here’s what’s going wrong with leash walks that actually cause or contribute to pulling.
Top Five Mistakes
1. Using the wrong equipment a. attaching the leash to the collar b. poorly designed harness c. retractable leash d. choke and prong collars
d. These are designed to cause pain to reduce pulling, but many dogs learn to override the pain, causing terrible injuries. Prong or pinch collars are outlawed in some countries. Also, the pain becomes associated with whatever he is focused on when he feels it.
2. Going out the door in an over-aroused state of mind Starting out with calmness and connection (meaning able to stand quietly and look around, then look at you) can improve the walk dramatically. Don’t nag, just wait for your dog to disengage and reconnect with you. You may need to sit down just outside the door, to let your dog know nothing is happening until he calms down. This is an important life lesson.
3. Inconsistent Reinforcement and Cues a. sometimes (or always!) following when the dog drags their person along b. keeping pressure on constantly, giving the dog a very mixed message c. nagging or unclear cues
a. Pulling is reinforced when the dog gets to go faster or reach something interesting
b. Think of tightening the leash as braking—and don’t drive with the brakes on. After stopping, let out a bit of slack so the dog can stand in balance. Exhale. Then either (1) wait for him to look back at you, (2) encourage him back to your side before proceeding, or (3) turn in the opposite direction and offer a treat when he catches up with you.
c. Clear, consistent cues work better.
Let’s Go (not Come) means We are walking forward together.
This Way means we are turning together. Also useful for when he’s heading off in the wrong direction (instead of NO).
Always face the direction you want to go, giving your dog a big green arrow. Facing your dog and leaning forward is like a stop sign.
To slow him down, let the leash slide out through your second hand.
To speed him up, slide one or both hands up the leash, and make rapid tongue clicks.
Wait (paired with your release cue) and Leave It are also very helpful.
4. Rough and unsafe leash handling a. pulling to steer or yanking on it b. dog is stopped suddenly by hitting end of leash, causing whiplash effect c. holding leash arm fully extended, like a water skier d. winding the whole leash around one hand to get the dog at your side (uh-oh!)
If using a regular 6-ft. leash, hold it in both hands. Let’s assume you are right-handed and walk your dog on your left side. Put the loop over the right wrist and close that hand down on the leash. Now hold the leash loosely in your left hand, palm up, so it can slide through to signal Slow Down. If your harness has a top-of-shoulders attachment, just lift that hand to apply light pressure, signaling Stop. Ease off the pressure after stopping. A big exhale at this point will likely get your dog’s attention and help both of you relax. Your posture and breathing affect your dog, positively and negatively.
5. Ignoring when the dog does walk on a loose leash and reconnects with you Always take small, tempting treats with you, and be prepared to notice and reward for these desirable behaviors! I promise, you will get more of both and therefore less pulling. Some dogs would be rather be rewarded by permission to Go Sniff or Go Say Hi to a friend. Just go with him so the leash remains loose.
If you need extra help to learn and teach your dog to walk nicely, find a positive trainer who knows several gentle methods. Don’t listen to anyone (even a trainer) who tells you to jerk the leash or use aversive equipment to control your dog.
Calming Band—goes on the face, no leash attachment
I also love the Harness Lead. It does not have two attachments, but the pressure falls on the same place: the deep part of the chest. It’s a soft, strong rope with a clever configuration that eliminates a separate leash. No buckles, easy adjustments.
Most of these tools are available from the online store at TTouch.com, including double-clip leashes and sliding handles. And I have most of this equipment in most sizes.
I’m not a fan of head halters because nearly every model has the clip hanging under the dog’s face, because most dogs hate them at first, and because it can hurt the neck if the handler pulls on the leash to steer or stop the dog. It’s safer and gentler to also use a body harness. One model that’s different is the Perfect Pace by Bold Lead Designs, but I am still testing it.
Dear Readers, This month, I am taking a different approach for our blog. While we consider all animals at Baywater Animal Rescue to be very special, we have a unique and wonderful, loving adult English Bulldog mix who is deaf. All who have met, cared for and played with this precious dog have been rewarded with tail wags, kisses, and ‘smiles’. Thena enjoyed time with a foster family, which allowed us an opportunity to learn more about her needs and abilities, such as how quickly she learned sign language and her preference for a home without other animals. The following is an interview with Thena’s foster friend (FF=Foster Friend).
LB: Why did you decide to foster a dog who was deaf?
FF: It was only after we met Thena that we learned she was deaf. This did not change our mind about fostering because we knew we would learn to communicate with her one way or another.
LB: What did you do to prepare for her to come home--or did you adapt as challenges arose?
FF: We brought Thena home the night we met her. During the first few days, we noticed Thena would experience anxiety around objects or situations that could be minimized by us. One example was objects that would cast reflections onto walls or ceilings--we would do our best to eliminate them: switch lights off, use different lighting, anything to prevent a reflection. Another anxiety trigger was anything that flies, such as insects, birds, passing shadows. We learned to manage these triggers as much as possible.
LB: How did you keep her from being startled by things she can’t hear?
FF: For the most part, Thena did not startle easily. For instance, when we would have to wake her, in the beginning we would put one hand near her nose and gently caress her rear end. We hoped she would smell us and not be frightened when waking up. She would eagerly jump up, wiggling all over and showering us with affection. Sometimes she might roll over for a belly rub first. She would always respond positively to our touch, no matter the time of day or night.
LB: How did you learn to communicate with her?
FF: We decided to use hand signals. The first couple of days, we began using a signal for her name, and then taught her others for come, sit, stay, etc. Every day, I would work on her signals and she learned so quickly. It was very rewarding for all of us to see her excelling and how excited she would get each time she learned something new. I had looked online for information on signing for dogs, but ended up using American Sign Language. We had to take into consideration that if we were outside with her on leash, we might have only one free hand to perform the signal. It helped that the books we consulted had illustrations and hints about what to think of when you're giving the signal, to make them easier to remember and execute properly. Soon I could just wave my hand and Thena would know I'm trying to get her attention, When I gave the sign for her name, she would focus on me until I gave another command, even if she was playing with another dog.
And when we gave verbal commands to our other two dogs, we began using the hand signals too, to help her understand and mimic their behavior. We also gave her lots of affection. She loves hugs and kisses. She would make little noises or sometimes move her mouth without any sound, like she's trying to talk back to us.
LB: Did your two other dogs seem to notice that she could not hear?
FF: I don't believe the older one ever realized it, but the younger one did. Thena would lie next to him with some part of her body touching his. I believe it was so she would be alerted when he got up. If he did manage to sneak away while she was sleeping and something would get his attention, like us arriving home or coming into the house, he would run over to her and nose her to wake her up. They were very connected to each other.
LB: Do you think she looks for information from them as much as she looked to you?
FF: In our absence, yes, I believe she relied on the younger dog to let her know when something was going on. But whenever we were home, she was relying on us. She didn't sleep nearly as much as our other two, so she would sometimes alert them more than the other way around. She would also position herself so if someone would be leaving or entering a room, she would feel it. For example, she might lie directly in front of the door I went out. Or she might lie against a different door that she could watch from, that would also vibrate if another door in the house were opened. She's very resourceful on her own.
LB: Did anything turn out to be easier than you anticipated?
FF: Learning to communicate was challenging but even more rewarding. We looked at the training times as bonding experiences, gaining her trust, giving her the one-on-one attention that she needs. We were fearful that if she ever got off her leash, we would have no way to get her attention. On the rare occasions when she was off leash, she stayed within a few feet of us and would continuously turn to make eye contact.
One upside of her deafness was that she didn’t notice loud noises that were scary to my other dogs. It also strengthened her other senses, particularly her sight. As an example, when my other two dogs go outside, they focus on what is right in front of them. When Thena goes outside, she's taking in everything. She looks ahead, to the side, up in the air, into the trees. It almost looked like she was on a special ops mission, the way she would be scoping out her surroundings. Something could come out of nowhere and surprise my two boys, but Thena would already be aware of it.
LB: Would you consider fostering another special-needs dog?
FF: Yes, in a heartbeat and without a doubt. Overcoming the challenges with Thena empowered us. Even though it was a lot of hard work, every bit was completely worth it. We don’t view her in terms of her disability, we just see her as a great, loving dog. After this experience, I would consider a special-needs pet over one without special needs. And remember that many pets eventually develop a special need. Just like people, they can lose their sight or hearing over time. That's life; you have to adapt.
What was much harder for us was handling the reactions we got from some people, many of which were very hurtful. I show off pictures of my dogs all the time, and while some people would say how pretty she was, others would make fun of her severe under-bite and crooked teeth. Some lectured us about how deafness is just a death sentence for a dog or that we should be using what we view as cruel methods to get her attention. They didn't see her as a normal dog. Others took pity on us for having a "disabled" dog. This caused me to question my faith in humanity and to have an even stronger faith in my furry companions.
LB: What advice would you give to someone considering adopting a sight- or hearing-impaired pet?
FF: Above all, I would suggest keeping an open mind about apparent limitations because the dog doesn't realize it has a limitation and otherwise is a ‘normal dog’. It does require the humans to be more tuned-in to the dog's feelings and needs. Owning a pet is a huge responsibility and commitment, regardless of the individual's capabilities, so you need to make sure you are willing and able to spend the extra time that a special pet needs. It’s not always going to be easy, but few good things in life are!
Getting to know and train your new special-needs friend can be such an enjoyable experience--and gives you more opportunities to bond. They'll likely impress you with their determination to please you. And spending extra time together means you will both benefit from additional exercise, playtime, and snuggle time. The strong bond you develop will more than repay all your time and effort.
Many factors can make a pet seem “less adoptable” including ‘disabilities’ (or ‘differently-abled’), age, or color. PetFinder’s research indicates that these animals wait for a home nearly four times longer than the average adoptable pet does … sometimes more than two years. In fact PetFinder's survey of shelter and rescue group members found that have the hardest time finding homes for:
PetFinder has designated the third week of September as “Adopt-A-Less-Adoptable-Pet Week”. Help us celebrate an animal’s uniqueness. Come in for a visit with our amazing animals. You may fall in love!
By Lisa Benshoff, CPDT-KA, Talbot TTouch llc, Easton Did you know that working a dog’s brain is as important as physical exercise—and has even greater pay-offs? Training is important (I would say essential), but that’s not the only way to exercise the little gray cells. Giving dogs a challenge that’s instinctive—working for their food—is not just amusing to watch, it keeps them busy, lets them engage safely with an object in a productive way, and helps them learn how to solve problems.
Don’t worry that this is somehow being cruel! Studies have demonstrated that dogs and many other species offered a choice between food in a bowl and food stuffed in an object actually choose the food that takes some effort.
If you’ve never presented your dog with a Kong or other enrichment toy, you may be amazed by how much fun it can be for them. I’ve seen my own dogs turn away from their bowls without taking a single bite—and then excitedly engage with a toy that I stuffed with the same food. (Then I switched to a new food because I believe everyone should enjoy their meals and have variety.)
Using food toys for meals teaches puppies and adults with little training to learn that they can make good stuff happen, which is also a powerful principle of positive-reinforcement training. And you may be surprised to learn that this simple form of mental enrichment can prevent or resolve many behavior issues. But wait, there’s much more!
Satisfies the basic instinct to forage
Slows down eating by wolfers and plumper pets, by feeding less (if necessary), aiding digestion, and reducing the risk of bloat
Encourages picky eaters by making meals more interesting (putting an end to free feeding)
Provides an energy outlet when you are too busy or the weather is too hot/cold/rainy to do walks and outdoor exercise
Avoids boredom when your dog is recovering from injury or illness, or has limited mobility
Clearly provides happiness and a sense of accomplishment, like a productive workday Provides a better alternative to barking, digging, destructive chewing, and other undesirable activities
May improve some behavior issues by helping to relieve stress and anxiety
Where to Start?
Start simple. For dogs who are new to this activity, make it easy for the kibble to fall out by widening the opening(s) and showing the dog how it works. Soon, you can make it more challenging by adding soft food, freezing it, and (with certain toys) making the opening(s) smaller.
Look for toys made from non-toxic material.
Supervise, at least in the beginning, to make sure your dog isn’t chewing on the toy—and to come to the rescue in case it gets stuck where he can’t reach it.
Add variety by rotating toys that require different actions: licking, rolling, bouncing, pushing over.
Turn your dog (or cat) into a problem-solver by adding puzzles, starting with the lowest level of difficulty. Food is hidden in compartments that have to be opened by lifting, sliding, spinning, pulling, or pushing with paw or nose.