(This original content intended solely for COSDTC)
(This original content intended solely for COSDTC)
Train up a puppy in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.
Train up a puppy in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.
What is an Exceptional Companion Dog?
You know it when you see it. The dog that stands out from the crowd because he is so well-mannered and happy: calm, confident, curious, and connected with the owner. Adapts easily to different environments. A dog that has predictable emotions and behavior under normal circumstances. Easy to be with. A dog who exhibits impeccable manners. A go-anywhere dog!
Dogs like that don’t just happen. It takes time, maturity, experience, and training. It also takes an owner who appreciates the value of having an Exceptional Companion Dog and is willing to put in the time and effort to reach that goal.
Can any dog become an Exceptional Companion Dog? Many can, not all, but many. They can but will they? It depends on the dog’s temperament, breeding, training, and of course, the owner.
I believe a good training path looks like this:
- Puppy Kindergarten
- Advanced Puppy
- Trick Dog
- Advanced CGC
- Urban CGC
- Environmental Conditioning
- Helper Dog
The important thing to notice is that it takes time. A dog needs to learn and mature along the way. Both you and the dog are learning. With training, the more you do, the more you can do.
Throughout all these classes, you learn how to be an observant trainer. You learn how to communicate clearly and to read your dog’s body language. Our dogs tell us so much, we just need to listen with our eyes.
Connecting the dots:
Puppy Kindergarten and Advanced Puppy classes work on the basics like attention span and focus, eye contact, loose leash walking, working around other dogs, and being handled. They also build a solid foundation in your relationship with your dog. Remember, what they learn early they learn best.
Trick Dog is a good intermediate step after the puppy classes because it contributes to the dog’s learning while allowing the dog to make mistakes without corrections. We are teaching tricks! How can a mistake be made? It also teaches the dog to use its paws, chin, nose, and mouth. These skills transfer to higher learning and task training.
The CGC program teaches the dog and handler the skills needed to work successfully in different environments. The basic class teaches the foundation skills, and the higher-level classes have you apply those skills in new and novel environments. Exceptional Companion Dogs go everywhere with you, so they need to learn how to adapt to new locations, sounds, smells and surfaces (metal, grates, mesh, and moving surfaces.) Developing the dog’s emotional intelligence reduces their stress levels when faced with new situations.
Environmental Conditioning opportunities are like post-graduate work. The dogs are introduced to places and situations that wouldn't normally see. A previous student made a comment about visiting the horse stables. Since she doesn’t have horses, nor is she around horses, it didn’t seem to be relevant to her personal situation. However, while in Arizona she and her dog were walking around town and here comes a police officer on a horse. Since her dog already had an earlier introduction to horses, her dog was able to manage her response without overreacting.
The Helper Dog class applies the basics to tasks and assistance behaviors. Several of my students now use their dogs as Service Dogs. They are exceptionally trained and have successfully matured into their roles as Service Dogs. Each student trained their dog to respond to their personal needs for alerting, sensing, and comforting them during specific episodes in their lives. Such responses are so specific to an individual’s needs that they couldn’t be covered in a group class.
Students were able to use the skills they learned along the way to train these specific behaviors, such as:
- Using previously trained hand touches, nose touches, and paw touches and apply them to specific tasks.
- Knowing how to mark a desired behavior (yes, good, nice, click!) then reward.
- When to use a higher value vs. a lower value treat.
- Knowing how the proper placement of reward contributes to accelerated learning.
Several students regularly sent me videos of their training sessions for additional coaching.
Transferrable skills are shaped and developed as you followed the training path. Examples include:
- Retrieves: picking up items and delivering to hand or lap.
- Pulling off socks, sleeves, and coats
- Pulling open doors and drawers
- Pushing closed doors or drawers
- Bracing for balance and standing up
- Blocking for personal space
- Stairs, up and down, without pulling
- Tunnel under legs
- Follow behind (narrow passageways)
- Lead in front (narrow passageways)
- Send to a target (going thru security checkpoints alone)
- Stays and recalls
- Chin rests/pressure
- Accept handling/touching all over their body.
None of these behaviors can be done without basic obedience and lots of training and experience. By starting with a young dog or puppy you will be able to shape the dog's thoughts and behaviors into an Exceptional Companion Dog.
New puppy owners always ask “how do I stop him from biting?” Short answer: you don’t. Instead, we manage it. And truth be told, we are managing the human’s behavior as much as the puppy’s behavior.
There are certain situations that can increase a puppy’s biting behavior. For example, if you are playing tug with your puppy then you are teaching her to grab onto something with her teeth, hold on, and pull back. Puppies can’t really discern the difference between a tug toy, your sleeve, or your bare hand. Having sharp puppy teeth grab onto your thumb, dig in, and pull back is not a fun experience. My advice is to stop all tugging behaviors right away. An alternative would be to use a Flirt Pole. This is a fun game and it creates distance between your hands and the puppy’s teeth. You can Google it. Flirt Pole. (Note: if you bought this puppy to be on the World Team in Agility, then you know how to manage tugging games.)
Another situation that can increase a puppy’s biting behavior is hunger. While puppies are still young, they should be fed three times a day. Similar to a human infant, puppies need frequent small meals throughout the day because their digestive system cannot process large meals. When puppies are hungry, they tend to become very bitey.
Along the same vein, as puppies grow their need for calories increases. They need to be fed more kibble at 16 weeks old than they were fed at 8 weeks. This need for more calories can also cause the puppy to bite. They are hungry!
A very effective way to teach bite inhibition is to hand feed the puppy one of their meals each day. I typically do this for their breakfast. I scoop up a handful of kibble and let them eat out of my hand until all the food is gone. Yes, it’s messy but it is very effective in teaching the puppy to respect your hand. Here is a link that demonstrates this: https://youtu.be/aE0m9Q8m-wo
In my Puppy Kindergarten classes, I’ll oftentimes have the owners give their puppy a handful of kibble just before we start training. This can satisfy any excessive hunger and reduce biting while we go through our training exercises.
One more thing. If you have small children who run around the house and excite the puppy resulting in biting, buy the children some rubber boots that cover their lower legs. Have them wear the boots anytime they are around the puppy. So, if the puppy gets excited and bites, the puppy is biting the rubber boot and not your child’s ankles.
Let’s start with an explanation of what socialization means. Think of the five senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. A puppy needs to be gently exposed to lots of new and novel things that can be processed by the five senses. New things to see, new sounds to hear, different smells and tastes, and different things to feel like different surfaces to walk on.
Dogs live with humans and to live confidently and peacefully they need to be well socialized. Dr. Ian Dunbar says that a puppy should meet 100 new people in 100 days.
There is a critical period in the development of a puppy when the puppy needs to get as many of these socialization experiences as possible. This critical period is typically between 6 and 12 weeks. Scientists vary on defining the age range, some say it even goes to 16 weeks.
Studies have shown that during this critical period these early experiences are actually hard wired into the brain. Memories are created that last a lifetime. If the puppy isn’t adequately socialized during this period, if often results in a dog who is fearful, aggressive, growls at people, or worse.
Breeders are very aware of this critical period and do a good job ensuring their puppies get as many socialization experiences as possible before going to their new homes. New owners are usually coached as to what they need to do with the puppy regarding continued socialization. Ignoring this coaching can have a long-term negative effect on a dog’s life and will not contribute to a peaceful home life.
New puppies must be managed very carefully. On the one hand we need to provide a wide range of experiences for the puppy, and on the other hand we must be mindful of their safety, vaccinations, and overall well-being. So much of this socialization can be done in the safety of your home and yard. It’s important to talk to your vet and keep current on the puppy’s vaccinations.
So go have fun with your new little one and introduce them to their new world! As soon as they are eligible, enroll them in a puppy kindergarten class.
Loose Leash Walking
Of all the long-term behavior issues, Loose Leash Walking is near the top of the list. Every day I see people being pulled by their dog down the sidewalk or through a park.
More often than not, the dog is most likely an adolescent… somewhere between the ages of 5- 20 months old. They are young, athletic, and full of exuberance.
Let’s look a little deeper into this problem. Dogs typically pull because they want to go somewhere, greet someone, or because they see something interesting. They are paying little attention to the person on the other end of their leash. Their behavior appears to lack self-control and impulse control.
The owner is frustrated, exhausted, and dealing with a range of emotions! This dog went to puppy classes and obedience classes and he acts like he’s never been trained at all!
Well, there is some underlying truth to all of this.
What you probably don’t know is that, in general, the canine brain is not fully developed until a dog is approximately 18 months old. Hormones, the limbic system and the pre-frontal cortex are constantly changing during a dog’s adolescence. The limbic system is the part of the brain that’s responsible for behavioral and emotional responses and the pre-frontal cortex manages impulse control. So the dog is learning what you want them to do, it’s just that they are dealing with a constantly changing biological state and sometimes biology overwhelms behavior. Think of a 16 year old boy who just got his driver’s license, he knows the rules but then there’s that biology.
The dog is overwhelmed by his own biology and inability to control his impulses. This lack of self-control plays out when he is out for a walk with his owner. There is lots of pulling and lunging. He’s acting like he’s never been trained at all.
So what can you do? First and foremost, keep training. Stay enrolled in training classes, practice leash walking outdoors where there are few distractions, and learn the proper techniques to employ when your dog pulls. There is no magic solution, just time and patience.
Most importantly you need to understand that a dog’s adolescence is a very difficult time for you and the dog. Be consistent, be kind, and provide the dog with the structure he needs to be successful in the future.
Coming When Called (a.k.a. the Recall)
The recall is one of the most important skills a dog can have. We want a reliable recall so the dog comes directly to us. To build a reliable recall this behavior needs to be trained then reinforced regularly. You may reinforce with treats or lots of happy praise.
Unfortunately, when we call our dogs it typically results in us taking away their freedom. We bring them in the house, we put them in the car, or we attach the leash. This isn’t always reinforcing for the dog and could result in the dog delaying their response to our call, moving very slowing towards us, stopping out of arms' reach, or suddenly discovering the most interesting smell that totally consumes their attention and they forget all about the recall.
Since we want the recall to be a reinforcing event, occasionally practice calling your dog to you, give them a treat and praise, then release them back to what they were doing. This is a basic check-in exercise. It is great for hikes and walks. Your dog will be doubly reinforced! They get a treat from you and they get to go back to whatever they were doing. How great is that?
We never want to call our dogs with a stern voice. Would you want to get near someone who is angry? I wouldn’t. Instead, use your happy, high-pitched silly voice to call them to you. Dogs do what is reinforcing! So, if they don’t find you to be very reinforcing, they will look for reinforcement elsewhere.
Most importantly, when your dog comes to you, gently put your hand in the collar as you deliver the treat. We want the dog to learn that when we touch the collar good things happen.
Nothing is perfect. A reliable recall takes training and practice. This is one skill you should practice throughout the lifetime of the dog. It is that important.
Distance is your friend
Top trainers across the country successfully use the distance technique when working with clients and their dogs. Some dogs tend to react rather than respond to certain triggers in the environment. Reactions appear to be emotional, whereas responses appear to be more thoughtful.
Creating distance between a dog who is reacting to a stimulus (trigger) and the stimulus itself reduces or removes the tension in a situation.
• A stimulus or trigger might be people riding bicycles, squirrels, other dogs, deer, or approaching people.
• The reaction could be anything from fear to aggression such as lunging, barking, pulling, hiding, or trying to get away.
• Lowering the tension by increasing distance gives the dog the ability to respond rather than react to a trigger in the environment.
• Creating distance from a trigger gives the dog the space and time to think. Distance from the trigger can be reduced when the dog exhibits a calm and relaxed body.
• Creating distance at the first signs of reactivity or stress gives the dog the space he needs to regroup and assess a situation.
• Read your dog’s body language carefully. The dog will tell you when he’s ready to move closer.
• Do not reduce distance to the trigger if the dog is displaying signs of stress such as yawning, lip licking, whale eye, stiffness of muscles and posture, leaning (forward or backward), pulling, or hard stares.
• Instead, look for calming signals: sniffing the ground, parallel movement (walking parallel to the stimulus), a loose leash, a balanced posture (not leaning forward or away), head turns or body turns away from the stimulus.
• The calmer you are the calmer the dog will be.
Teaching a dog to respond rather than react to triggers takes time and patience. Give the dog the time he or she needs. Remember, distance is your friend.
Barking is a method of communication for a dog. Before we judge the dog’s behavior, we must first listen to what the dog is telling us.
To understand why a dog is barking, look at his body language.
- What is it telling you?
- Is the dog moving away from the trigger or toward it?
- Is the dog afraid, frustrated, or just plain excited? Are his hackles up or is he wiggling with excitement?
- When the hackles are up, barking means “Go away!” When the dog wiggles with excitement, barking means “Come on in!”
Look around at the environment. What stimuli are in the surrounding area?
- Kids, bicycles, squirrels, deer, cats, the letter carrier or garbage truck? These can be triggers for barking.
- Is there a particular area of the house or yard where the barking is a problem?
- Is there a particular time of day when the barking occurs?
The easiest and first step to control barking is environmental management.
Environmental management ideas:
- Only let the dog in the backyard when you are home and can interrupt (redirect) undesirable or untimely barking. Bring the dog in the house for treats or give the dog a bone to keep his mouth busy chewing rather than barking.
- Create special play times during the day when you and your dog go into the backyard to play. The dog can fetch toys, play with other dogs, or just run around the yard.
- Barking during these play sessions is allowed and possibly encouraged.
- Get it out of his system! Do this before you leave for work to tire the dog; it might help him nap for several hours.
- End the play session with you and your dog going back into the house together with lots of praise and petting.
Dogs sometimes bark at things outside the windows of your home (children, bicycles, other dogs, squirrels, etc.) There are several ways to manage this.
- Use baby gates to limit your dog to rooms in the house that do not have access to windows facing the street.
- Put opaque window film on the lower portion of the window so the dog can’t see out.
- Keep the dog in another room when guests arrive, UPS arrives, or the garbage trucks come to your street.
- Give the dog a Kong stuffed with treats to keep him entertained.
In addition to management, training can also help. Barking can be put on a cue or can be reduced by teaching other behaviors in place of barking.
Moving slowly with your dog has several advantages. It gives the dog time to process the surrounding environment without overreacting, it contributes to loose-leash walking, and it increases the dog’s focus on the owner. This technique produces results quickly… in minutes, not sessions.
Many owners find this technique difficult to employ. Oftentimes owners are moving forward without even looking at their dog or they might have been told to speed up in an obedience class. Either way, much of the focus here is to instruct owners to slow down and pay attention to their dog.
If the owner is moving too quickly, the dog doesn’t have time to think nor does the owner have time to read their dog. Slowing down gives the owner time to read their dog’s body language. Is the dog showing signs of stress such as panting, lip licking, moon eye, whining, a furrowed brow, or sides of the mouth pulled back tightly? Is the dog showing signs of aggression such as facing another dog directly and staring, a closed mouth, ears pointing forward, stiff body and leaning forward? These signs are important information for the owner and could be missed if moving too quickly.
Moving slowly is imperative when working with a reactive or fearful dog. When working with a reactive dog who “goes over threshold,” it is critical to the dog’s success to slow things down. Moving slowly in a big box store or other retail establishment gives a dog time to process the sounds, smells, lights, and activity.
Eventually, a dog will indicate when he is ready to increase the pace by his (relaxed) behavior. The owner doesn’t decide this, the dog does. Give the dog the opportunity to learn at his own speed.
Moving slowly tends to minimize a tight leash. The owner can reinforce the dog for maintaining a left- or right-side position and can reinforce for smaller increments of forward movement.
When moving slowing, it is easier for the dog to focus on the owner. The dog is able to process the environment and still focus on the owner.
Take advantage of all the positive things that can result from moving slowly. Give your dog the opportunity to learn and grow at his own pace.
Right side heeling
When I ask students to work the dog on their right side, gasps fill the room. Why are we so brainwashed into believing that dogs should only work on the left side? Do you know how it started? Let’s look at history.
One of the origins of this practice comes from hunting dogs. Most people are right-handed so weapons (spears, swords, knives, guns) were typically carried in the right hand. Putting the dog on the left side allowed the handler to use his right hand to move the weapon unimpeded without impacting the dog.
Guide dogs are trained to work on the left side, mainly to establish consistency for the handler. A blind handler must have a consistent place for the dog, and the dog must always know where to be. Program trained service dogs of all types are typically trained to work on the left side.
Training police dogs and counter-terrorism dogs is handler-specific. If the officer is right-handed then the weapon is carried on the right side so the dog is trained to work on the left side. If the officer is left-handed then the weapon is carried on their left side and the dog is trained to work on the right side.
In Calgary, Alberta, the city ordinance is that dogs walk on the right. This prevents dogs from coming face-to-face with each other when walking on park walkways. In Agility, dogs must be able to work on both sides of the handler. Competition obedience dogs do traditional left-side heeling.
When moving with your dog in public settings, the position of the dog is determined by the surrounding environment and what is best for the dog.
• While on a busy street, walking your dog on the left side works fine if you are walking against the flow of traffic. You are between the dog and moving vehicles.
• When walking with the flow of traffic, put the dog on your right side to lessen exposure to moving vehicles.
• Situational awareness and being able to move with your dog on either side can contribute to a successful outing, particularly in crowded spaces.
Introducing the dog to right side heeling initially requires a high rate of reinforcement. Once the dog understands the concept, a verbal cue can be added and reinforcers can be reduced. This should happen within a few sessions.
Regarding a verbal cue, the right side of the handler is a position just like the left. Assign a separate verbal cue for each side. Here are some examples for the left side position: heel, here, close, or place. For the right side position some people use: side, right, or post. Select words that work for you. Our goal is to give clear instructions to the dog.
Take advantage of opportunities to practice working your dog on both sides. Be patient, be consistent, and have fun!
Prepare for the unexpected
Let’s say it’s a beautiful day and you are driving down the road with your dog in the car. As you go through an intersection another car runs a red light and hits your car. Next thing you know you wake up in the hospital.
Let’s go back to that moment in the intersection and look at a few different scenarios of what could have happened with your dog.
- Emergency personnel approach your car but your dog won’t let them near you. That’s not in your best interest at the moment because you need immediate medical attention.
- The dog is thrown from the car and runs away.
- The dog is injured and needs help.
- The dog is safe in his crate… but now what happens to him? Where are they taking him?
Most importantly, having your dog secured in the car is important in so many ways. The dog remains as safe as possible and medical personnel are able to give you the assistance you need without the dog interfering.
If the dog is thrown from the car and runs away, it is in your best interest to make sure the dog is wearing a collar with tags and has been micro chipped. Make sure that the information on the chip is current. If you recently moved, did you update the information on the chip?
If the dog is injured, emergency personnel have procedures for this. Please remember that you will be responsible for paying the dog’s medical bills.
If the dog is safe in a crate or secured with a seat harness, then the El Paso County Animal Control will be called to retrieve the dog and take him to the Humane Society. Again, it is imperative that he has his collar and tags and current information on his chip.
Here are some additional tips for preparing for the unexpected.
First and foremost, go to the website for Colorado Department of Motor Vehicles and update your emergency contacts. That way emergency personnel can reach out to your contacts to see if someone can retrieve your dog from the accident scene, emergency clinic, or humane society.
Second, make sure the dog’s leash is attached to the crate. That makes transferring the dog much easier.
Finally, attach a card to the dog’s crate with emergency contact information. Do everything you can to set up the dog for success in an unfortunate situation
What is the difference between a trainer and a behaviorist?
Knowing who to call, and why, will save you a great deal of time and avoid frustration.
The field of animal behaviorists is rather new. The leading organization is the International Association of Applied Behavior Consultants, or IAABC. The IAABC was founded in 2004 and brought together many different specialties to focus on companion animal behavior problems. Behaviorists work with veterinarians, animal trainers, shelters, and academics. They focus on biology and behavior.
Behaviorists work on problem behaviors that are beyond the ability of the owner to solve. There are behavior consultants for dogs, cats, horses, birds, and exotic animals.
Examples of behavior problems include: aggression, separation issues, elimination disorders, destructive behaviors, fears and phobias, cognitive dysfunction, self-injury, and more.
These problem behaviors can be found in almost any species: from feather damaging behavior in birds to complex aggression issues in dogs and self-injury in horses.
A true behaviorist is certified and has undergone intense education and testing. They develop comprehensive case studies and prepare behavior resolution plans.
Trainers on the other hand work with dogs and their owners to develop fluency in a set of skills. Some trainers focus on pet dog manners and other trainers specialize in a competitive sport like agility, obedience, or tracking. Trainers work with the dog to build a set of skills from the simple to complex. Good examples of complex skill sets would be those used by a guide dog for the blind or a service dog.
Outside of the dog world, we have trainers who train birds for the bird shows at zoos and aquariums, train marine animals, and train horses for a wide variety of sports. The list goes on.
So, before you reach for the phone to get help for your pet, take a moment to analyze the situation. Do you have problem behaviors that are a cause for concern? Or, does your dog just need some basic training?
What's up with all this dog training? We never did that when we were kids!
Up until the late 1970s or so, dogs were only given specialized training if they were going into police work or if they were guide dogs. Pet dogs were typically confined to backyards or permitted to freely roam the neighborhoods.
I have one student who remembers when she was a child her mother would feed the dog in the morning, open the back door and let the dog out to roam the town all day. At dinner time, she’d stand on the back porch and hit a metal pot with a spoon and call the dog until she saw him coming down the road. She’d feed the dog, then he’d fall asleep in front of the fireplace for the night. The next morning, the same thing would happen again.
When the dog was out roaming around town, he learned to avoid cars, cats, and unfriendly dogs. He learned to avoid certain people, places, and barnyard animals. He learned by consequences. If the consequence was bad, he’d avoid that situation in the future. If the consequence was good, it was a green light to do it again.
Those were the good ole days. Dogs basically socialized themselves. They exposed themselves to new sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touch.
But now things are different. We live in large towns with congested neighborhoods and busy roads. Urban and suburban dogs are no longer free to explore the world on their own. Their opportunities to learn from experience have been reduced to little or nothing.
Another complicating factor is that in many households, both adults work full-time and the dogs don’t get the attention and training they need to be well-mannered family dogs.
Hence the need for dog training schools. Today we are responsible for socializing and training our dogs. For introducing them to the world of sights and sounds, for their emotional development, and for their ability to get along with humans and other dogs.
Our society has also changed and we want our dogs to go more places with us. To do so successfully, they must be well-socialized and well-trained. The dog training centers play an important role in all of this. Don’t let your dog miss out on the opportunity of going to school. It will help your dog and enhance the relationship you have with him.