There no better way to ensure a happy 2013 with your dogs than making training a priority. This issue of Bay Woof offers lots of inspiration and how-to tips for doing just that. In the cluster of short articles on these pages, we hear from four in-demand trainers about ways to improve your dog’s behavior, solve specific problems, and — most important of all — improve your bond with the canine in your care. One piece of advice comes through loud and clear: don’t work at training, play at it! This simple shift in attitude is key to making 2013 a grrrr-eat year.
Off to Work I Go
By Bonnie Brown-Cali
I hear her breathing change and I know she is awake. The sun hasn’t risen yet, but that doesn’t bother me. I wake up full of energy. She tells me to turn on the light, so I jump up from my bed and stand on my back legs to paw at the wall switch until the darkness changes from black to bright. I run to her bed and wiggle as I hear her tell me what a good job I’ve done, but I know I’m not finished. I trot into the kitchen and pull the handle attached to the refrigerator. The door opens. I reach in with my mouth and grab the bag sitting on the bottom shelf that holds the medication she needs first thing in the morning. I return to her and drop the bag onto the bed. My aim is not good this morning and the bag falls to the floor. Hearing her encouraging voice, I pick the bag up, jump with my front paws onto the bed, and drop it at her side. I run back into the kitchen, leap up onto the refrigerator door and slam it shut – my favorite part. I hurry back to the bedroom as I hear her tell me I am the best thing that has ever happened to her. It’s a new day and my work has just begun.
The lives of service dogs are not easy. They must have a keen desire to work, and their work is life-changing for their human clients. Unlike a therapy or social companion dog, the job of a service dog is to bring independence to someone with a disability. But it’s a two-way street. The owner of every service dog has the ongoing job of training, motivating, and caring for the dogs daily needs, plus they must continually educate the public to not interact with the dogs.
To get a sense of the training required for service dogs, try teaching your dog to close a door. Stand next to him on one side of an open door. Smear a small dollop of peanut butter on the door and let him lick it off. As soon as the door moves a bit, tell your dog “yes” and then feed him a treat. repeat 2-3 times.
Repeat this routine over a few days until your dog pushes the door without the aid of peanut butter. This may be simple until you move to a new door, add a distraction, or try it when your dog is not hungry. A service dog must be willing to perform the behavior repeatedly, no matter what. Amazing!
It’s the end of the day. I am curled up into a ball and she is on her bed with a book on her lap. She’s dropped it on the floor a couple of times, but it’s okay. I like to retrieve. She asks me for one more task.I must turn off the light.
Bonnie Brown-Cali owns Dog Dynamics, Inc., a Bay Area dog training school that offers a wide variety of private, semiprivate, and group classes in the East Bay. For more information, please visit dogdynamics.org or email her at email@example.com.
Playing for Keeps
By Aishe Berger
My New Year’s resolution for 2013 is to play more and work less. As a puppy trainer I know how important it is to make fun and games an integral part of my curriculum. For young dogs, there is no distinction between learning and playing. Play just makes learning easier, faster, and way more fun.
In my puppy class orientations I ask everyone to share their puppies’ favorite thing in the world – next to food. Buster’s is his squeaky bunny, Jagger’s is to paddle all the water out of his bowl. Little Pants (yes, a real name!) goes nuts for her tug-toy and has learned to “drop-it” when asked.
My classes focus on fun and games that teach the human player how to outwit, outlast, and outplay their pups…if they can. I witness the growing bond that develops when the humans learn to turn the tables on their dogs by running in the opposite direction with squeaky toys. Check-mate, Buster!
Play should be high up on your puppy agenda from day one, along with socialization. Play activates the puppy mind like nothing else and has a long-term positive impact on learning capacity and social interactions. The earlier you establish a play relationship with your pup, the greater the chance she’ll grow-up up to be confident, easy-going, and well-mannered.
Games like tug, fetch, and chase are excellent ways to teach the basics using “life-rewards,” things your pup wants that depend on your interaction. If your pup regularly shoves a stuffed dinosaur in your lap when you are trying to watch TV and you habitually throw it, he controls the game (and you). On the other hand, if that favorite toy is reserved for playtime and he only gets it if he sits for 5 seconds first, watch how quickly he gets with the game. The key is for you to establish the rules, not the other way around.
Be creative. Is your pup a sniffer? Set up a scavenger hunt – or a trail of tiny treats in her crate so it gets associated with having a good-time. Play hide-and-seek throughout your home. Duck behind a door then call your pup in your silliest voice, clap, squeak a toy, until your pup can’t wait to find you. And she’s learning rocket-fast recall along the way.
Make tunnels out of boxes and mini-jumps with broom handles and stacks of books as a makeshift agility course. This builds your pup’s confidence to explore and try new things.
To train your dog to chill out, first amp her up with tug or chase – then stop suddenly. Once she begins to calm, give a slow and gentle massage – then start up the game again.
It’s important to add a puppy social to your play repertoire early on. Your pup needs to learn to play well with others as soon as possible in order to develop excellent social skills.
When you play with your pup, everyone wins. Play is the basis for a loving and trusting relationship that will enrich your life immeasurably. So here’s a new motto for 2013: Playing together means staying together!
Aishe Berger, CTC, is owner and director of training at SF Puppy Prep, a training center specializing in young puppy socialization. SF Puppy Prep won a Beast of the Bay award in 2011 for best puppy social. You can find out more at sfpuppyprep.com.
Silence Is Golden
By Paul Klein
Dog training abounds with claims about the newest and best thing. We’re told we must become better pack leaders, choose this but not that puppy school, use a clicker, not use a clicker, and be careful about operant conditioning because it turns people into zombies. That’s just the short list. The fact is, however, what we really need to know to train a dog has been well understood for nearly a century. There’s more to be learned, but acknowledging that does not mean we must accept the self-promotion of dog training gurus.
Wanting to get it right, dog owners can be gullible about training. Dogs get misled, too, because they’re easily fooled. If a dog is afraid of baths, we put on a happy face, sweetly call him to us, and commence the soapy torture. If a dog doesn’t like strangers, we put him in a crate, tell him everything will be fine, and welcome creepy people through the door. If dogs could speak human for a few seconds, they’d ask: “Why do you lie to me?”
Among the many people with whom I work, owners of deaf dogs are uniquely situated to recognize training fallacies. More importantly, so are their dogs. They can’t hear the “zzz-zzz” sound that television celebrity makes, so the real meaning of “be a better pack leader” is revealed in short order: “Use physical force.” They could care less about clickers. And whispering sweet nothings to lure a deaf dog to the bathtub is wonderfully absurd. From the canine perspective, contrary to human opinion, the fact that it is harder to influence the autonomy of deaf dogs makes them “fully-abled,” while hearing dogs are “disabled” because they’re so manipulable.
Owners of hearing dogs can engage in an experiment to reflect upon the ways they do and don’t influence their dogs’ behavior: say nothing to the dog for a month, and keep a tally of “this is what I wanted the dog to do” and “this is what the dog did.” Dogs that display fear and aggression during physical exams will visit the vet, and be calmed or not by owners who aren’t allowed to speak. Dogs will be walked on leash through crowded streets and splendid forests, with the expectation they not pull away from their owner’s side (cinching collars are forbidden). Dogs will be allowed off leash and expected to return to their owners from play, squirrel hunting, and so on. With all these and more as our goals, deprived of making a sound or using physical force, what do dogs tell us about training?
They tell us about ourselves. All dogs do, but deaf ones might be best at it. To train them, we must earn their trust. Lies undermine the relationship. A smile, an ear scritch, a yummy treat, and maybe even love are required. Finally, please don’t forget a sense of humor about the endless errors of our ways, but do forget what the training gurus say.
Paul Klein trains dogs in the San Francisco Bay Area, and welcomes correspondence from deaf dog owners to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Loving Your High-Energy Dog
By Jennifer Marie Joyce
You love your high-energy dog. Your high-energy dog is also driving you bonkers. It’s not your fault that you adopted that brain-meltingly cute Border Collie-Boxer mix from the shelter; after all, he was looking at you. You are not alone. This happened to me, not once, but twice.
The New Year is upon us, and with it comes the season of unrealized resolutions. I could wield some serious dog trainer guilt to get you to work with your dog more, but haven’t you experienced enough of that? You don’t need a lecture. The relationship between you and your dog should be peaceful, loving, and fun. That’s it. You don’t need to worry about being the pack leader, or trying to live up to anyone else’s standards. This relationship is between you and your dog, no one else.
I’m not suggesting a haphazard life, without structure. I am suggesting that the process of achieving structure doesn’t have to be such a big, hairy deal. Get to know each other. The better you know who your dog really is – his likes and dislikes, his unique personal style – the more of a team you will be. Become a team and he will pause more frequently and look to you for instructions. He will also look to you more often because you’re so damn cool.
Retire your food bowl forever. Start paying attention to the positive behaviors that your dog offers throughout the day and hand feed him every chance you get. Give him more opportunities to do the right thing and generally engage with him more. Make more eye contact with him, talk to him, and tell him that you love him every day, all the time.
As a complement to all this relationship-building, give your dog a legal outlet for his infinite energy. There are endless options out there that can provide mental and physical exercise for Sergeant Spazzpantz. Choose one or more of the following activities: obedience classes (ranging from puppy basic to competition), Canine Good Citizen, impulse control class, circus school, Agility, Flyball, Rally-o, Trieball, Nosework, Freestyle, tricks, search and rescue, animal assisted therapy, herding, hiking, running, walking. And don’t forget all manner of puzzle toys and chewies, or playing hide-and-seek, tug, fetch, and Frisbee.
Engage your dog in one-on-one activities that suit you both, rather than relying on stressful social interactions with unknown dogs at dog parks. Your dog will appreciate this.
My New Year wish in a nutshell is that you be kind to yourself, patient with your dog, and creative about finding mutually enjoyable activities that strengthen your relationship. Seek out things you love to do together and you will love your high-energy dog more and more each day.
Jennifer Marie Joyce is a certified behavior counselor and pet dog trainer. A former San Franciscan Bay Arean, she now lives in Portland, Oregon with her two seemingly caffeinated canine muses, Merlin and Stevie Nicks. To learn more or contact her: dynamitedoggies.com; 503-862-8550.
Main article photo by: Angela Mae