Why Training Is Essential

Training is not a luxury, but a key component to good animal care.

Zazous, the rescued Moluccan cockatoo with "Flat Stanley" at the Audubon Zoo
Zazous, the rescued Moluccan cockatoo with “Flat Stanley” at the Audubon Zoo

There are many reasons people choose to train an animal.  Some people train animals to avoid being bitten, attacked, or crushed by them.  Some people train animals to avoid being their next meal.  Some people train animals to make their lives easier when working with them.

Those are a few of the reasons why I started training animals, but over the years I started to appreciate other reasons for training them.

I became dedicated to training animals because we had fun together!  I enjoyed training them because it enhanced our relationship.  I looked forward to training them because it was fun challenge, where everyone would win!   I appreciated training animals because I always learned something new about them.  I became humbled when training animals because they always found a way to “train” me in the process.  Training became one of my favorite forms of communication.  Training became an essential part of my life.  Training was an essential part of their life.

Something else I learned while training animals:  If someone acquired the skills, understood the techniques, and practiced patience, they could do it, too.

I am not special.  I merely took the time to learn the techniques.  I practiced the skills.  I learned patience.  I made mistakes.  And I tried again and again.

That’s why I want to talk with you about training.  You can train animals the force-free way, too!  But before we begin, you have to understand what training really is.


What Is Training?

 

Training is “teaching”.

When we make a conscious effort to train an animal to display a particular behavior, we are training the animal.  However, sometimes we influence (train) our animal’s behavior inadvertently, without being aware that we are teaching them.  We do this through our actions, or through other stimuli present in their environment.

That’s why it’s so important that we become aware of that fact that we are always training.

Whether you are consciously aware of it or not, you influence what your animal companion learns.  You are their teacher.  As their caretaker, you are teaching the animals that you care for 24 hours a day!  Now ask yourself, what are you teaching them?

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When Menari, the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) was born, we made sure that every interaction she had with us was a positive one. She was gradually exposed to people, places, and things that would help her to feel safe and secure in our human world.

Training is all about associations.

The key to an optimal environment at home (or in captivity) is to assist an animal’s opportunity to make associations that enhance its overall well-being.   Simply put, as their guardians (or caretakers), we help animals to feel more secure, safe, and content in their environment by creating scenarios where the animal feels good about who and what they encounter every day.   As various training methods are being applied to an increasingly diverse number of species, it is important to understand what methods are appropriate (and which are not appropriate).

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Dedicated animal trainers teaching one of our giraffe that people = only Good Things!

Training is about building a relationship.

When we are training an animal using positive methods, we are building trust.  Trust is the foundation on which all relationships are built upon.   Positive-based training is one of the best ways to enhance the relationship between a person and an animal, and maintain this trust for a lifetime.  Training increases trust and builds confidence. It builds bonds that last a lifetime!  Training creates a happy, harmonious environment.

 

Reward-Based Training is how you gain the trust of animals, like our handsome Tapir, named Melon!
Reward-Based Training is how you gain the trust of animals, like our handsome Tapir, named Melon!

Trust is one of the most important aspects of any training plan.  What defines a good relationship between trainer and trainee is a strong positive reinforcement history.

 


Why Training Is Essential

Training is a key component to an animal’s well being.  Training is the key to safety, harmony, and well-being in our homes!  A home without a well trained, well behaved animal is chaotic and stressful.  Most – if not all – animal behavioral issues can be successfully managed with a formal training plan.  From trips to the vet, to trips to the park, training is at the heart of having these experiences be a positive one for everyone involved.

This Rhino learned through positive training that people are safe, which allowed our zoo guests to interact with her.
This rhino learned through positive training that people are safe, which allowed our guests to interact with her on a daily basis. She could choose if she wanted to interact with them, or not. These same methods of learning can be used on your pets at home!

 

Animals deserve the best care we can possibly provide. Training should not be considered a luxury that is only provided if there is time; it is an essential part of good animal care.  Just as one would never consider developing an animal care program without a veterinary component, a nutritional component, a social component, and an environmental component; nobody should consider caring for an animal without a behavioral management component integrated into the program. ~ Ken Ramirez

 


Every year, Ken Ramirez leads a sold-out seminar for students and professionals in the animal training field.  Ken was one of my greatest teachers as I was learning about the science of animal training.  Watch Ken’s interview, as he explains why training is essential, how we are training animals every day- whether we realize it or not, and how the laws of learning work on all species, including people!

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CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO WATCH the VIDEO!

We are limited in what we can accomplish because of preconceived notions of what is possible.  When we limit ourselves or our pets, we also limit our view of what is possible.  Of course, there are limits to what we can train.  But sometimes we don’t give our dogs credit for being capable of far more than what we see them do traditionally.  

~Ken Ramirez, Executive Vice President of Animal Care and Animal Training at the world-renowned Shedd Aquarium; Executive Vice President and Chief Training Officer at Karen Pryor Clicker Training (KPCT)


Why Training Your Pet Improves Their Life, and Yours!

In the video below, Ken Ramirez share tips on how to train your own furry friend using the same world-class training and care that endangered species receive in captivity!  He also explains why clickers and “targeting” are helpful when training pets.  Ken demonstrates these techniques with a shelter dog that was once trained for dog fighting.  See how force-free, science-based training has transformed this Fighting Fido into a Canine Companion:

My message would be simple: Training is not a luxury, but a key component to good animal care.  Everyone who has a pet should understand that basic fact.  Training is a way to enhance the quality of life for our pets.  It is far more than just teaching a dog to do a cute trick.  Training is about teaching a dog (or any animal) how to live in our world safely.  ~Ken Ramirez

 

hocus pocus
Positive, reward-based training has transformed my relationship with Hocus Pocus, and it has helped her to live in our human more safely and securely.

 

Animal training should be about mutual respect.  The goal is to build a relationship based on trust.  When we build trust while respecting the animal’s individual needs and preferences, we enhance the bond between the animal and the human.  The results improve our life, and the life of our animal companion. ~ Conscious Companion

Coming Up Next:  How Animals Learn – It’s Not an Opinion; It’s Science!


Recommended Reading:

Thinking Beyond the Cue: Ken Ramirez Takes Animal Training to a New Level

Shedd Aquarium Participates in Beluga Conservation Research Program

Setting Aside Judgement – Focusing on Education

“Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around us in awareness.” ― James Thurber

Hocus Pocus and I teaching our local Girl Scouts how to be Canine Safety Smart this week
Our local Girl Scouts learning how to be Canine Safety Smart!  Hocus Pocus and I had the pleasure and honor of teaching and learning from these amazing youth leaders.

2014’s National Dog Bite Prevention Week is wrapping up.  It’s been a tremendously positive week with so many great messages about safety, prevention, and dog awareness being spread across the nation and world.

The goal that we educators and dog trainers are trying to reach this week is simple, but profound: educate the masses so we can change the statistics.   We can do this by teaching dog lovers to become more “Dog Aware” as Jennifer Shryock, Founder of Family Paws Parent Education, explains here.  We can change these statistics by changing the way we individually interact with, and think about dogs.  We teach our future leaders how to safely interact with dogs, and before we know it, they are teaching their community about dogs. Change begins with educating our youth.

The goal of this week is not to instill fear, to judge, or to place blame on people who unknowingly put their dog or children in precarious scenarios.  Rather, it is to help all of us become more aware of our dog, others’ dogs, children and family members, guests in our homes, people and dogs on the streets, and anywhere else you can think of that involves a dog.  This week is about educating people on how to be a more “dog aware”, and a responsible Conscious Companion to dogs everywhere, every day of the year.

Dogs are part of our families.  They are our companions, our friends. To many, they are our furry kids. But we must remember that dogs are hardwired to be dogs!  It’s in their DNA.  We must honor this fact buy allowing them to Be a Dog. When we anthropomorphize them, and when we put them on a pedestal and expect perfect, angelic behavior, we do them a great disservice.  We aren’t allowing them to be who they are – a dog, with flaws and all.

Instead of assuming that our dog is incapable of inflicting harm to another person or animal, let’s assume for a minute that they are capable of out-of-the-ordinary behavior.  What would that mean for you and your dog?  Would you begin to take more precautions around kids, other dogs, other people, and other animals?  Or would you continue to convince yourself that “my dog would never…”?

Any dog, of any breed, of any age is capable of biting.  Anything with a mouth is capable of biting! Acknowledging this fact can only help. It’s merely something to recognize and be proactive about.  We prevent dog bites through compassionate, science-based education.

If you or a family member has been bitten by a dog, it’s not something to be ashamed of, or embarrassed about.  If you have a dog that lunges at people or other dogs, don’t be ashamed or pretend that it’s not an issue.  Ask for help.  Find a qualified force-free trainer that understands your needs, and your dog’s specific needs.  There’s no need to hide and be embarrassed.  We learn from these experiences.  Sometimes our worst experiences help others.  There is a compassionate community that does care, who will not judge and condemn, and who wants to help parents and families in need, without blame and judgement.  But this does come with individual responsibility.

It’s our duty as dog guardians and parents to recognize when we need help. We must also learn how to recognize our dog’s specific canine needs, understand their subtle behaviors, know their thresholds, recognize when they have had enough, set them up for success, and to be their advocates every day.  We all “love” our dogs, but true, selfless love is doing what might not be easy or convenient to us.  We may have to move out of our comfort zone. We show love to our dogs when we take the time to educate ourselves, so we can truly understanding their nature and their needs. We show love to our dogs by learning how to read them, respecting their boundaries, training them without punishment and fear, being their advocate, and honoring them as dogs.

Dogs can be some of our greatest teachers if we allow them to be.  But we have to be willing to learn.  When we set aside fears, judgement, and blame, and we choose to focus on creating and participating in fun, compassionate education, we create a safe place for people to come and share their stories.  We create a prevention-focused, educated community.

“Over the years I’ve come to appreciate how animals enter our lives prepared to teach and far from being burdened by an inability to speak they have many different ways to communicate. It is up to us to listen more than hear, to look into more than past.” ― Nick Trout, Love Is the Best Medicine: What Two Dogs Taught One Veterinarian about Hope, Humility, and Everyday Miracles

Fortify the barriers! Be proactive instead of reactive!

dog fears

Today’s tip for ‪#‎NationalDogBitePrevention‬ Week:  Be proactive instead of reactive!

If you are expecting a certified letter or a package to be delivered to your front door, place your dog(s) in a separate room, and securely close that door before you open your front door. Dogs have been known to break through screen doors and even plate-glass windows to get to the “Stranger Danger”.

This playful video from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) demonstrates how to calmly redirect your pup from the “intruder”, and not yell at the dog, while the dog is upset:

It’s our job as dog guardians to remain calm, and be proactive.

To learn more about how to counter condition your dog to “intruders”, check out my tips, “Calming the Canine in the Castle”.

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Be PROACTIVE! Don’t allow this to happen.

It is far better to be proactive than reactive. – Che Garman

Let The Games Begin!

invitation PPG

Today is the “opening day” of a brand new, fun competition and you are invited!

Event Details

Who:  You! Your friends! Your family! Your colleagues! Your coworkers! And of course, your animal companions (pets)!

What:  The International Day of Celebration for Force Free Training & Pet Care

When:  Friday, January 17, 2014 – Saturday, March 15, 2014

Where:  In your own home, in the backyard, at the beach, in the mountains, in the forest, in the wetlands, in your neighborhood, at the pool, or at the park! Anywhere you can think of! This is an International Virtual Educational Event, so they possibilities are endless!

Why:  The community of force-free pet professionals and animal guardians recognize, value, and celebrate the positive effects and power of force-free animal training and pet care! We want to share that knowledge with the world and teach others that Force-Free is the way to be!

HostThe Pet Professional Guild

All profits from this event go to the Pet Professional Guild Advocacy Fund for PPG’s advocacy goals in 2014:

The Pet Professional Guild, the Association for Force-Free Pet Professionals (The PPG or The Guild), is a nonprofit member organization headquartered in Bonifay FL, USA. The PPG represents over 1600 members around the world.  The mission of PPG World Services is “Global News & Views on Force-Free Pet Care” and will serve as an advocacy forum for force-free dog training and pet care issues. The key advocacy goal of the PPG is to facilitate an ongoing conversation with pet owners, pet care professionals and industry stakeholders aimed at moving the pet industry forward toward better informed practices, training methods, equipment use and pet care philosophies. The Guild’s message will strive to build widespread collaboration and acceptance of force-free methods and philosophies consistent with its guiding principles.

If you are wondering what all of this means, here it is very simply; Force-Free is defined as:

No shock, No pain, No choke, No fear, No physical force, No physical molding, No compulsion based methods are employed to train or care for a pet.

Animals can be trained without fear, force, or intimidation. That includes ALL pets, ALL animals, ALL species, ALL the time!  Training can and should be FUN for everyone!

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Participation in this global event is simple.  All you have to do is participate in any 30 minute Force-Free Fun Activity with your pet!  Take a walk or a jog, swim or hike, bike or skate, train and teach, but the idea is to spend 30 minutes of Force-Free Fun with your animal companion!  This can be anything and anywhere that you decide. Where do they love to go? What do they enjoy doing? What’s your favorite place to be with them?  Do it when and where it’s convenient for you!

Note: If you don’t have time to complete your chosen event all at once, you can split it up over several days.

force free fun training pet tricks

Photo Fun!

Participants are encouraged to submit photos showing what they did for their fun, chosen event. The photos will be judged on these three criteria:

  • Originality
  • Creativity
  • How much force-free fun the human and pet are having together (this one is strongly encouraged!) Fun is the key!

What’s In It For You!

Each participant will receive:

  • A special competitor medal for your companion animal!
  • A certificate to show off that you rocked the contest!
  • Entry to the fun photograph competition!
  • PRIZES!

Get a sneak peak of the awesome prize list here! And remember to check back as more goodies are added to the list!

Register today to help celebrate and educate others about this important event. Through education and celebration, we can help others learn the value and importance of force-free training and animal companion care methods.  Education and inspiration starts with you!  Won’t you join the fun, Force-Free revolution with us?

Note: The registration deadline is March 3rd. So be sure to add your name to the fun, force-free list today!

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  • We welcome and encourage you to check out the pet owner resource section of The Pet Professional Guild website! You will find tons of helpful resources! You can also listen to a few of the PPG’s free podcasts on iTunes here.
  • If you are still wondering why our Pet Professional Guild has proclaimed An International Day of Celebration for Force Free Training and Pet Care, check out this video and our news release here!  
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Please spread the word to everyone you know!  Download the event poster here and feel free to share it with your networks and community!

If you are interested in sponsoring the event or becoming involved on any level then please contact Niki Tudge at IFCC@PetProfessionalGuild.com


If you missed the event, don’t worry! We will have another event in February of 2015!!!

… Stay tuned and never miss another event by joining us at The Pet Professional Guild!

Will you become Force-Free All the time?
Will you become Force-Free All the time?

In Defense of Dogs

John Bradshaw, one of the world’s leading dog experts and director of the Anthrozoology Institute at the University of Bristol, is dedicated to studying the relationship between man and the animal world. In his book, In Defense of Dogs, he calls for a new understanding of our canine friends . This book is a compelling insight into what dogs would ask us for, if only they knew how. The dog has been mankind’s faithful companion for tens of thousands of years, yet today finds itself in a type of crisis.

If you were a dog just over 100 years ago, life would have been simple. You would likely have been gainfully employed – perhaps hunting, herding or guarding – and provided you did your job, your owners would have accepted that you were sometimes messy, loud or unpredictable. Most dogs today are never expected to work, even though they are often still tuned into functions their breed has fulfilled for thousands of years. Instead, they are expected to behave like small children, yet be as independent as adults. To make things worse, our culture is awash with myths that prevent dogs being properly understood – in particular, the enduring idea that they harbour a powerful desire to dominate their family pack. Put simply: dogs are on the brink of a crisis. And as we have put them there, it is our responsibility to help them. ~ John Bradshaw

This scholarly and passionate book shows us a new understanding of our canine friends. It’s a “stand up for dogdom” – to understand dogs as they truly are, not as we assume they are. As a canine expert and dog lover, Bradshaw discusses how our treatment of dogs is based on so many mistaken beliefs, misperceptions, and assumptions. He sets the record straight through canine science.

In Defense of Dogs shows us the science behind:

  • Why dogs need us
  • Why reward-based training works
  • Why punishment never works
  • How they experience fear, love, affection and joy, but they do not experience guilt
  • How and why our better understanding of dogs can help them thrive in our human world

Biologists now know far more about what really makes dogs tick than they did twenty years ago, but this new understanding has been slow to percolate through to owners, and has not yet made enough of a difference to the lives of the dogs themselves. This book is here to set the record straight and it’s a must-read for all dog guardians.

In Defense Of Dogs John Bradshaw

You can read 2 reviews of In Defense of Dogs here and here

Calming the Canine In the Castle

One of the most challenging and frustrating behaviors that many dog guardians experience with their canine companions is when someone knocks on the front door. Dogs seems to go into some kind of medieval warrior role as if their Canine Castle was about to be invaded. God forbid the doorbell rings! And oh my word, don’t even think about letting someone waltz calmly into their home. If a dog has any “dog sense” at all, they are going to freak out a bit when a stranger arrives. They are programmed to respond and protect!

Most dogs will dash to the door in a panic while barking wildly. If you live with more than one dog it’s probably not unheard of to be literally run over by frenzied dogs while you are trying to even get to the door. And forget about even trying to open the door with a dog that’s determined to get to the Stranger Danger on the other side of their Doggie Castle!

Once the door dashing chaos has subsided and you are able to let the guest inside (without a dog escaping), then the fun really begins. The dogs are jumping up on the person as they are entering your home. Slobber is flying. Tails are whacking. You’re utterly embarrassed and equally aggravated. You find yourself yanking and yelling at the dog to “GET OFF!” your frightened and overwhelmed guest.

Well, all of that chaos can be managed and even eliminated.

In the video below, Victoria Stilwell’s teaches you how to train your canine companions to stay calm and stay put when the doorbell rings!

IMPORTANT THINGS TO NOTE:

  • Victoria never raised her voice.
  • She never became aggravated, irritated, or impatient with the dog.
  • She remained calm and patient throughout.
  • She never forced the dog to do anything.
  • She allowed the dog to have a mental break.
  • She let the dog be a willing participant.

This is how all animal training should happen. I promise you will see faster and more accurate results when you use these positive training methods.

Note: A “release cue” is how you let the dog know that it’s OK to stop doing what you’ve just commanded. For example, if you say “sit” the dog should remain sitting until you say the “release cue” word or phrase. A very common one is “OK”.

Check out more helpful dog training tips from Victoria here.

Who’s Walking Whom?

 Such short little lives our pets have to spend with us, and they spend most of it waiting for us to come home each day.  It is amazing how much love and laughter they bring into our lives and even how much closer we become with each other because of them. ― John Grogan, Marley and Me: Life and Love With the World’s Worst Dog

Dog walking human
Is this what you and your dog look like on walks together?

 

In our family, the evening walk with our dog is our “family time” together.  It’s such a great time to bond with our dog, and it’s a great time for us to talk about our day with each other.  Our dog gets to spend “happy time” with her people, and frankly, its the highlight of her day!  If you are gone all day, I can promise you that the evening walk is your dog’s most exciting time of the day.  They do look forward to it, and it’s the very least that we can do for them when they are stuck inside all day, waiting for their people to come home.

However, walks can be very stressful when we are not in sync.  One of my biggest pet peeves (no pun intended) is when a dog pulls on a leash while we are walking together.  It is incredibly frustrating, and it makes the walk very stressful.  The walk ends up being cut short because it’s not enjoyable for anyone.  This can also be dangerous for older people, or anyone with physical limitations. If a dog is pulling on the lead, you can literally be swept off your feet! (I know this for a fact.)

Here’s another problem:  Dogs need to be walked once a day – at a minimum.  Who wants to walk a dog that walks the person?!  No one does.  If walks are stressful, chaotic, or exhausting, you are probably going to be less likely to want to go on a walk with your canine companion. Avoiding walks because they are stressful is not a productive solution!

So what’s the solution?  Teach your dog how to walk politely on a leash.


dog pulling human
Does your dog walk you?

 

Dogs love to explore their outside world.  Going on a walk is the most exciting (and most stimulating!) part of their doggie day, so their desire to rush ahead of you is very strong.  It’s their nature to want to run ahead and seek out all of those incredible scents, sights, and sounds!

Unfortunately, we don’t make ideal walking partners for high energy dogs, since we only have two legs.  A dog’s natural and comfortable walking pace is much faster than ours.  When a dog has to put the breaks on their excitement by walking calmly by their person’s side, this is very hard for them, especially when the only thing our dog wants to do is RUN and EXPLORE!  Our boring, slow human pace can drive them nuts, making them want to get further away from the person that’s holding them back.

Contrary to popular belief, dogs do not pull on the leash while being walked because they want to be pack leader, top dog, alpha, or dominant over their human.  There is a much simpler explanation that does not give credence to the myth that dogs are on a quest for world domination! ~ V. Stilwell

Walking calmly next to a person while out and about on a walk, requires a great amount of impulse control.  This is often very difficult for some dogs to practice.  People often get frustrated and fed up, so they resort to punishment or tools that are downright dangerous.


Tools of the Old School Trade – What to AVOID

There are a variety of tools on the market today that claim to help with leash walking.  Be Aware: Some of these methods are outdated and downright cruel.

Choke, prong and shock collars can irreversibly damage your dog.  Learn why these collars cause hypothyroidism and other health problems:


FACT:  Modern behavioral science has proven that forceful handling such as physical punishment, using choke chains, shock collars, and leash yanking is psychologically damaging for the dog.

I invite you to do a little test: 

1. Open your hands with your thumbs touching each other. Place the thumbs at the base of the throat and with the fingers pointing back and surrounding the neck.
2. Now, take a deep breath, squeeze and pull back with all your force keeping your thumbs connected.
3. This is how many dogs feel when they are on the leash and collar and they are pulling.

If you are still keen to continue with this experiment, put a choke chain or pinch collar around your neck, attach it to a leash, and ask a friend to pull and jerk on it periodically.  Welcome to the dog world!

pinch collar choke collars

 

 


Tips for Success, and What You Need to Consider First!

Before you begin,  here are a few tips that you need to consider:

Reward:  Do you know what motivates your dog?  Is it verbal praise, toys, or treats?  Once you know what their motivation is, you can use that as a tool for training.  Find out what really excites your canine companion and what grabs their attention.  If your boss at work gave you sauerkraut when you performed well, but your favorite treat is chocolate, you probably won’t perform well again.  Make sure the reward is something that will be worth their effort.

Time Limit:  Remember that you don’t need to spend a half hour doing a training session.  5 to 10 minutes is best.  Do a training session with your dog two or three times a day.  Keep it short! Keep it FUN!

Punishment is Outdated:  Positive training is going to produce results faster and is going to last.  It’s far better to have a dog do what is asked because he or she wants to do it rather than doing it because he or she is afraid of the consequences if they do not.

Set them up for success:  Begin inside! Then you can move outside after both you and your dog have mastered indoors!  You want to start in an environment where there are few/zero distractions.  Once you have mastered that together you can move the sessions outside.  When you go outside, follow the same guidelines: zero distractions, in a boring, small area.  (ex backyard, no squirrels, people, or other dogs, etc.).  Once you master small, boring spaces, progress to moderately exiting spaces.  If that’s too much, take a few steps back, and make the environment less exciting. You want to set your dog up for success in an environment where you are way more exciting than anything else that’s happening. Then you can start to add in outside distractions.

TIP:  You will both succeed more quickly if you find a way to tire your canine companion before a training session.  Dogs pull, in part, because they’re full of excess energy.  So unless you can expend that energy, he or she will find it hard to control themselves.   Before training, play fetch in a hallway or your backyard, play a vigorous game of tug, Get crazy with a Flirt Pole, or let her play with her favorite doggie pal first!

High Note: Always end on a positive note (even if you did not see the results you wanted yet)! Ending it on a good note will help you both; your dog will want to do another session with you if she’s having fun, and you will too!

 

You will have more success during a training session if  your canine companion is relaxed and not full of hyper energy.
You’ll have more success during training sessions if your canine companion is relaxed and not full of hyper energy.

Training TRUTH:  The most successful modern training theories show that reinforcing good behavior with rewards while using constructive discipline is much more successful.   Learn more about why positive reinforcement works.

Hocus walking calmly on leash while surrounded by lots of neighborhood distractions.  She doesn't have to walk parallel to me, but we do continue to encourage calm, relaxed behavior on lead.
Hocus walking calmly on leash (while surrounded by lots of neighborhood distractions). Our Criteria: She doesn’t have to walk parallel to us, if she chooses not to, but we do continue to encourage (reinforce) calm, relaxed behavior on lead. Notice that the lead is loose, not tight, which is the criteria we have reinforced. She can walk ahead, but she has learned that it’s no longer reinforcing to pull on her leash. We never punish unwanted behavior. We REINFORCE the behavior we want to see more of!

 

 

paw prints

Behavior Bite:  We add tension and stress when we pull back on the leash.   Not only does pulling back on a dog’s leash prevent the dog from moving freely and naturally, but it creates tension in our dog.  Most dogs will resist this pressure on their necks/shoulders (that you have created) and they will pull harder!  Loosen up. It lightens the load on both you and your dog!


The videos below demonstrate easy and simple techniques that teach you how to teach your canine to walk politely on a leash.  These methods are using positive, force-free techniques:

Victoria Stillwell demonstrates how to teach Loose Leash Training – INSIDE:


Once you have successfully mastered loose leash training inside, you can train again outside:

 


Loose Leash Walking Outside  -Using Tasty Treats, Outside, with Minimal Distractions: 


 

Loose-Leash-Walking
Tip: The goal is to have a “J” shape in the leash/lead.

 

Remember:

Find their motivation.

Keep the training sessions short.

Always end on a high note.

Positive reinforcement always triumphs over negative consequences.

Set them up for success.

Make it Fun!

 

 


Training Truth + Tips for Success: See Beyond The Surface.

Not everything is what it appears to be. Most dogs who lunge on leash are highly insecure. They may look vicious, but behind many frightening Fido faces are dogs that are are experiencing frustration or FEAR.

This is why it’s never recommended to punish a dog that lunges on the leash.

When we yank, hit, yell, or jerk on the leash of a dog that is *reacting*, we are adding fuel to the fire. We are making the situation worse, AND in the process, we are teaching the dog that they should be afraid of whatever it is they are barking, growling, or lunging at.

Our job as their guardian is to do the opposite: We want to teach the dog to focus on something else, and to change they way they FEEL about the perceived threat.  Learn how to by clicking on the image below.

leash-aggression_dog barks lunges on leash

 


 

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Heading Back to School and Leaving Your Canine Companion Behind

Where did my people go?

2012

Back-to-school season has arrived!  Students of all ages are heading back to elementary, middle school or college, and teachers are going back to work.  This is a huge transition for the entire family, as parents and kids learn to adjust to an entirely new routine.  As the excitement and stress of getting the kids back to school mounts, it is also a difficult time for our animal companions.


Animals are sensitive to any change in their schedules, and they thrive on predictability.  They love routine. It makes them feel secure.  They like knowing that certain things happen at about the same time each day, and they know where they want to be when those things happen.  You have probably experienced how displeased your animal becomes when their dinner or breakfast is late, but that’s a minor disruption in their routine compared to an entire season of change.

When we head back to school or work, the play, excitement, attention, and adventures that our animal companions have known all summer long suddenly come to and end.  Suddenly they have nothing to do.  There is no one around to entertain them, so now they are forced to find entertainment for themselves often to the dismay of their human.

Think about it from their perspective: For months they have grown accustomed to being showered with attention during the summer vacation.  Someone has been around every day showering them with attention, love, and affection, and then suddenly you’re gone all day, for days!  There were family trips and adventures to parks and beaches!  Then the freedom and attention they received abruptly ends without any notice.  All of the coming and going, playing, exercising, and freedom becomes limited and human companionship lessens. Their human playmates of summer suddenly have new interests and new friends.  

This disruption in their daily routine is a huge stressor for our animal companions.  It adds uncertainty and fear and can cause a myriad of behavior problems.  This is especially true for animals that thrive on human attention and interaction.   Many become psychologically unglued. -Especially if their best friend in the household happens to be one of the kids that suddenly ‘disappears’ and goes off to college.  It definitely leaves a void in their lives.  If everyone is suddenly gone all day, both parents included, your animal companions are going to be upset, not to mention very bored.  Extremely sociable animal members will most likely begin to show undesirable behaviors as a result of boredom and anxiety.

Professor Dodman, director of the small animal behavior clinic at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, states that at least one in six dogs, along with a countless number of cats, will exhibit symptoms of separation anxiety or display increased levels if they are already prone to the condition when these sorts of lifestyle changes occur.   One study suggests that dogs left alone at home feel just as much isolation as children abandoned by their parents.


(Note: If you are a cat guardian, check out this article for insight and support.)


Signs of Stress

IMG_4039
You were gone for so long. I missed you, and I was bored. P.S. The cat told me I could do it.

Separation anxiety can come in a myriad of forms. These are behaviors that your canine companion could exhibit if he or she is not adjusting well to the new Home Alone Schedule:

  • Goes crazy when he or she sees you or the kids getting ready to leave for school or work
  • Barking or howling more often
  • Defecating or urinating in the house
  • Pacing
  • Digging
  • Trying to break out of the yard
    You left them out. They smelled like you, and I didn’t have anything else to chew on when I was stressed.
  • Chewing “unauthorized” items (shoes, clothing, etc)
  • Eating strange objects (gravel, dirt, plants, toys)
  • Raiding the garbage
  • General destructive behavior
  • Becomes frightened by loud noises or thunderstorms
  • Reduced appetite or a complete loss of appetite

If any of these behaviors suddenly occur after a big schedule change, they could be signs that your animal companion is having a difficult time adjusting to the new family schedule.  This can be very frustrating and annoying to us humans, but it is important to realize that our animal companions are just as frustrated.

Whether we want to admit it or not, animals can suffer from depression. This can lead to a depressed immune system, leading to increased susceptibility to serious health issues.

NOTE:  Some cases of separation anxiety are severe; we must recognize if a dog is suffering from true anxiety, rather than just being bored, and trying to entertain themselves during our absence.

So what can you do?  There are simple measures that we can take to help these important members of our family.


 

Prevention Is Key 

The best strategy is to prepare ahead of time and avoid an abrupt change in your schedule.  Make changes and adjustments slowly, over a period of time.

Before heading back to work or school, gradually introduce your animal companions to short periods of separation.  You can do this in several ways. Slowly reduce interaction (play, attention, treats) with your animal companion during the times when you will be at work or when the kids will be at school.  Increase interaction and exercise activities during the times when they will be home.  Mealtimes, exercise times, potty time – the timing and amount of attention can all be gradually shifted from the summer to the fall routine, over the course of a few weeks.  Although it may seem counter-intuitive to make your animal companion feel better by spending less time with him, it will help shift in routine to flow more smoothly.


Desensitize!

Start getting out the lunchboxes, backpacks, briefcases, purses, etc now. Bring out anything that your animal companion could associate with you leaving in the morning.  The idea is to desensitize them to any anxiety-producing cues prior to the schedule changing.  By doing this several times a day you can prevent nervousness and anxiety.

Set out anything that your canine companion associates with you leaving

If your family has decided to kennel your canine companion when the new routine begins, start kenneling slowly for shorter periods of time before your job or school schedule changes.  When used properly, a crate is not a punishment device; it is a safe haven or a den.  The purpose of utilizing a kennel at home is to prevent your dog from getting into trouble or injuring himself while you are away from home.  Also, the security of having one’s own space is comforting to dogs. Be sure to leave fresh water, a blanket or bed, and a favorite toy.  The ideal crate size should be just big enough for them to comfortably stand up, turn around and stretch out. Rotate the toys you leave with him in the kennel.  Use fun and SAFE yummy toys that you can stuff with treats to keep them engaged while you’re away.

** Dogs should not be left in a kennel for more than a few hours at a time.**


Practice “Home Alone” Time

If you are, (and even if you are not) using a kennel, you should still be practicing “home alone” time.  This is fairly straightforward: Leave your pup home alone for short periods.  Depending on the anxiety that your animal displays, you may need to start slowly.  You can walk to the mailbox or to the next door neighbor’s house then come back inside.  Act like your coming and going is no big deal.   Then eventually extend your “away time” by going to the store, then out to dinner, and so forth.  Ideally, you will want to practice “away time” early in the morning to simulate school time or work time.  The idea is to get them accustomed to the fact that long, fun (or lazy) summer mornings are coming to an end.

You can can give your pup something fun to focus on as you head out the door!  It reduces their stress and helps them to associate you leaving with “Good Things”! You can also play Hide & Seek for Treats as you leave.


 

Addressing Destructive or Anxious Behaviors

If an abrupt schedule change is unavoidable or already in full motion you may already be experiencing signs of separation anxiety.  If your animal companion is displaying any of the behaviors listed above, you can still address them now. Unless you have a hidden camera at home, many of these behaviors will not be discovered until you come home and find the canine crime scene.  Knowing if your animal companion is stressed or anxious can be difficult because it usually happens when you are not home to see the behavior, but there are a few signs that you can be on the look out for.  (These are mentioned below at the end of this article.)


 

What to Avoid

Please realize that scolding or punishing your animal companion’s unwanted behavior will make the situation worse, so be patient.

Scolding or punishing the animal will make the situation worse.
Scolding or punishing the animal will make the situation worse.

Remember, our animal companions get nervous, upset, anxious and lonely just like we do, except they don’t have the benefit of knowing that you’ll be back when you leave.  It’s up to you and your kids to make your pets feel secure in ways they understand. Would you scream or punish your child if he or she acted out because they thought you had abandoned them?   Then why treat your animal companion differently?

 

 WHAT YOU CAN DO!


 

Alternatives to Home Alone

Dog daycare facilities provide socialization and exercise for your canine companion

When we head back to school or work, our canine companion’s excitement and adventures don’t have to end.  Doggy day care is a very important option to consider, even if it’s only once or twice a week.  Not only does it encourage socialization, but it provides adequate exercise and stimulation.  Even a half day of playcare will exhaust them enough to spend the rest of the day relaxed at home alone.  Doggie day care also gives them something to look forward to each week.  I guarantee they will learn the days of the week once they are on a regular doggie playcare schedule.  Just ask any dog that goes to playcare on a regular basis.  If you skip a day, they will be sure to remind their human what day it is.

If you have a geriatric dog, or one with medical conditions, doggie day care might not be the best option.  Pet sitters are a calmer, safer alternative.  You can hire a pet sitter to stop by the house once a day.  Ask your friends or veterinarian to see if anyone has any recommendations in your area.  If you cannot afford either of those options, ask a neighbor to stop by once or twice a day.  Ask the neighbor come over ahead of time to get to know your animal companion first.  The last thing you want is a strange human coming over unannounced and freaking out your animals.

If you are not comfortable asking any of your neighbors to come over, then ask them to listen for any unusual howling or barking.  Remember that your canine companion may exhibit these behaviors while you are gone, so having others keep an ear and eye out for you will help tremendously.


 

Soothing Sounds and Scents

Leave soothing music playing low whenever your canine companion is left alone.  The sound of human voices and nature sounds can calm them.  Music to Calm Your Canine Companion has been shown to reduce stress levels considerably in dogs of all ages.

There are also non-prescription or holistic remedies that may help reduce anxiety.  Rescue Remedy, valerian, melatonin, SAM-e, fish oil, dog-appeasing pheromone (DAP) a calming synthetic pheromone spray, can help animals to relax in their home environment.  Other natural products such as Bach Flower Remedies may help some dogs.  Aromatherapy can also be useful.  Discuss holistic options with your veterinarian about how to reduce your animal companion’s anxiety.

If you are seeing signs of severe separation anxiety, you will need to seek help from a qualified professional who specializes in dog separation anxiety.


 

Proper Exercise

Exercise is an absolute necessity.  One of the reasons that animals exhibit destructive behavior while you gone is simply because they have the energy to do so (which makes the anxiety even worse).  

 

Make sure your dog has enough daily exercise!   But please remember to make sure they are not becoming overheated, just for the sake of “exercise”. Studies have shown that increasing aerobic activity to as little as 30 minutes a day reduces the signs of separation anxiety in dogs.  Make some effort and get up a bit earlier to take your canine companion for a short walk.   It’s the least you can do before you leave them home alone for eight or nine hours.  

Remember that you and your kids may have had a very busy day, but your canine companion has done virtually nothing all day, unless there is evidence to the contrary – as in a shredded or chewed up sofa.  By providing your dog with healthy play each day after work or school, this will help them burn up their pent-up energy.  This is also a great time to bond with your companion.  Invest the energy and time.  They deserve it, and it will pay off.


Create a Home Environment Full of Toys and Fun

Did you know …? Mental enrichment is actually far more effective at times than hard-core canine playtime.  You can check out some mental enrichment ideas here.

🔸Why we focus on providing enrichment EVERY day in our home:
– Promotes natural behaviors
– Stimulates the mind
– Increases physical activity
– Reduces stress
– Promotes overall health
– Increases an animal’s perception of control over their environment
– Occupies time in a meaningful way
– Builds Bonds between species

🔸
Environmental enrichment , when used properly, can positively address many behavioral issues: “rowdiness,” cognitive dysfunction, storm and noise phobias, separation anxiety, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, and behaviors that result from the all too common problem in homes: boredom and/or frustration.

Enriching the environment with a constantly rotating selection of interesting and interactive toys is incredibly helpful in making your animal companion feel relaxed at home when he or she is alone.  Keep them busy with things to do, appropriate things to chew, and things to smell!  One clever human designed an interactive toy to keep his canine companion occupied for hours!

Even if you aren’t a crafty mechanical engineer, you can still provide hours of entertainment through a number of fun options.  Set up a bird feeder outside a window that will attract both birds and squirrels.

Hiding treats in boxes is great enrichment

If your canine enjoys watching TV, there are dog movies and Dog TV designed to keep them entertained.  Enrichment like this offers both audio and visual entertainment.  Remember to not leave it too loud though.  You want it just loud enough for your dog to hear it, but not too loud as to over excite him or her.

There are so many things to choose from today.  You can find anything from high tech laser toys,  puzzle toys and Hide a Squirrel.  Stuffing a Kong with food provides stimulation as well.  You can even make your own homemade puzzles by hiding toys, balls, or treats into a closed cardboard box.  Leave the box and let them discover how to get the treats out on their own. The possibilities are endless!

Whether your dog is contained in his/her kennel, or running about the house all day, you need to provide toys and enrichment to help occupy their time alone.


You can learn more about Proper Canine Enrichment HERE.

 

 Potty Time Is Important!

If you are going to be gone for more than four hours, you should have someone come over to let him out to potty and stretch, play, or walk.

Keeping them confined for hours on end is not ideal, especially for younger dogs that require more activity.  Just because a dog is capable of holding their urine and feces all day long doesn’t mean that they should. Dr. Marcela Salas, of Animal Kind Veterinary Hospital, explains that holding urine for long periods can lead to urinary tract infections.  And the highly concentrated urine a dog produces during a long wait can increase the likelihood of crystal formation and cystitis.  Why make them hold it all day when you can put forth a little effort to help your canine companion.


 

Make Time for Quality Time

Quality time is essential.  Be sure to make the most of the time you have with your animal companions when you are not at school or work.  You can do this through grooming, long walks or runs, playing together, lounging around on the couch, or whatever it takes to re-connect at the end of a busy week. If your child has a set time to do homework or read, that’s an excellent time for your dog to curl up next to your child and “help” with studying.  Ask your children to think of other ways to include their animal companion in their routines.  Get them actively involved in creating solutions!  This will help everyone make a much smoother “back to school” transition.   Remember that even though your animal companion wasn’t at work or school all day, he or she still needs time to unwind.  Find time to enjoy the unique relationship that you have. Although you can’t replace human companionship and human attention completely, you can find alternatives to help your animal companion with boredom, loneliness and frustration.  By enriching the home environment, providing adequate exercise and stimulation for their minds, you are helping them to transition to a lifestyle that contrasts to what has been happening all summer long.

 

 

It’s a Family Affair

Hocus Pocus and Jenny

It is important to recognize that this is a family matter.  If you have kids, this is a great opportunity for your children to take more responsibility for the care of your family’s companions.  Sit down together and discuss the fact that their animal companions are going to miss them when they’re gone all day.  Discuss what they can do to help them.  Create a plan together.  Be a responsible human.  Help your kids to succeed with their animal companions.  There are steps that you and your family can create and implement to set your animal companions up for success.

 



Sit Down with Your Family and Ask Important Questions.

Ask:  Has anyone noticed new or odd behaviors?

Your child may have noticed something that you have overlooked. You may have noticed something that your partner has not.

Ask:  Has your canine companion become very clingy when he or she had not been before? Are they showing an excessive attachment to you, one of your kids, or to your partner?

These are signs that he or she may be experiencing separation anxiety.

Ask:  Have you come home to find things disturbed or moved, or any signs of destruction?

If so, your canine companion could be venting. New behaviors such as overly exuberant greetings or a dejected look in the morning are also signals that they are not happy with this new schedule and need a bit of encouragement.

Ask:  How do you all leave the house each day? Are you making it a dramatic goodbye?

Your kids may feel sorry for their animal buddy and do a long goodbye.  This only reinforces your pet’s fears and builds up their anxiety.  It’s better to make the goodbye upbeat and brief.  All you need to do is a quick, “See ya later!” and head out the door.  The brief but happy goodbye should happen before your canine companion gets upset.  If she is stressing out, absolutely do not reward her with anything.  Get her to calm and settle down.  A simple “sit” command will work for this.  Then reward with attention and telling her she’s ok, only once she is calm.

It is important to not make a big deal about your leaving.  If you get emotional about leaving your friend behind, she will pick up on it and become anxious, too.  If your canine is used to lots of lovin’ in the morning, give it to her when you first wake up, then taper off the attention leading up to your departure.  Give them a very exciting, highly rewarding treat every time you leave the house.  This will help them develop positive feelings about being alone.  You leaving means that it’s Treat Time!

Ask:  Are there times when your canine companion becomes more anxious?

If he becomes upset just by seeing the backpacks, purses, or car keys being picked up, then pick those items up and walk around the house with them several times a day, but don’t leave. This will help him to learn to not associate those items with the impending “doom” of you leaving.

Another tool you can use is “The Fake Out”. Every so often, pretend you are leaving, but don’t.  Pick up your bag, go out the door, and then come back and sit down.  She will never know when you’re really leaving and will learn to relax when you are getting ready to leave.

Leave out purses, briefcases, and backpacks at various times – not just when you are about to leave.
Leave out purses, briefcases, and backpacks at various times – not just when you are about to leave.

Ask:  How do you treat your canine companion when you come home from work or school? Do you make it a huge celebration?

The key is to not to get them excited upon your return. Remember that you coming home is no big deal. Change clothes or do something else until they settle down. Then, after they are calm, take a few minutes to interact with them. Give them your undivided attention. Do this before you read the mail, start dinner, watch TV, or get into your evening routine. Spend a few minutes focused only on them. This will do wonders for their stress levels. But remember to do this when they are calm. Calm behavior gets rewarded with their favorite reward-YOU!

Ask:  Could there be a medical issue causing these new or destructive behaviors?

It is important to mention that medical issues may cause behavior problems in our animal companions.  If you or anyone in your family notices a sudden change in your animal companion’s behavior or a behavior that you can’t seem to explain, it is important to investigate.  Don’t assume that your animal companion is just acting out or “misbehaving” because of your absence.  A visit to your veterinarian may be in order.  Remember to explore all of your options before coming to any conclusion.   Be open to any possibilities for new or unexplained behaviors.


 

– What do you do to keep your animal companions entertained while you are away at work or school?

– What kind of destruction have you come home to find?  How did you address it?

– What kind of preventative and creative measures is your family using to help your pup to transition smoothly?

This is part one of a three part series.  

Part two discusses our feline friends.  

Part three discusses our bird buddies.  


 

Heading Back to School or Work — How to Help Our Feline Family Members


If your family could use support with this back-to- school transition, Conscious Companion is here to help! Contact us to learn how.