Category Archives: Dog Training

4 Things You Must Teach Your Dog – TODAY!

image040There are thousands of dog training articles online. But here are 4 practical things that really helped me.

1.  “On your bed!”

This has saved my sanity time and time again.

Have a place in  your living room where you dog can relax (crate or bed). Every time your dog goes to his bed, say brightly “On your bed!”. Reward with a treat. When he’s doing this consistently, increase your expectations, so that he only gets a treat if he has spent a minute on the bed.  If he tries to get up before that minute is up, redirect him (you can use a collar and leash  or interrupt him as he’s getting up with a sharp ‘Ah-ah’). Have a ‘release word’ which signifies that you’ve allowed him to come off the bed. We use ‘OK!’ but you can use any word you like.  Do this dozens of times every day.

Incrementally introduce distractions, so he learns to stay on his bed, even when you wave a toy around or when guests arrive.

2.  One great trick

Teach your dog one great trick.  Expending mental energy will improve his behaviour at home.  A dog that can do a cute trick will endear himself to your guests and reduce the fear factor. I personally love Kyra Sundance’s book, but there are thousands of youtube videos and books around. And get a clicker!

3. Recall

Charlie is very food-oriented, so we taught him to ‘Come’ to a whistle. Whistles are great, because the sound travels through long distances.  Start with using the whistle at home and encouraging your dog to come to you when he hears it. Each time he comes to you, give a treat. Slowly increase the distance.

A very famous and helpful DVD for recall training is Leslie Nelson’s “Really Reliable Recall“.

4. Walking well on a leash

There is nothing worse than walking a dog (much less two dogs) who pull on the leash.  We struggled with Charlie and Hannah for a long time.  What worked? Initially, we used a no-pull harness but it was a band-aid solution.

The only thing that helped long-term was investing in excellent dog trainers, privately rather than in a big obedience club. They taught us how to give a couple of firm corrections (rather than the infinite small corrections we were giving) and had our dogs walking gently in a matter of minutes. It was mind-blowing.   Training your dogs to walk well will motivate you to take them for walks. This, in turn, will tire them out, meaning less problem behaviours at home!  A walk with your dog can be a bonding and meditative experience.

What is your best dog training tip?  

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The Great “Dog Whisperer” Hoax

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The Myth Of The Dog Whisperer

When Charlie was a puppy, we decided to shell out hundreds of dollars for a visit from a ‘dog psychologist’.  She came, she saw, she did not conquer.  His problem behaviours were jumping, nipping at our clothes and barking.  Her solution? Keep him outside and ignore him.  I wish I was kidding.

In time, and with experience, we came to realise that Charlie’s ‘problem’ was loneliness. Keeping him outside, as per her advice, was the worst thing we could do.  A labrador thrives on  human company. “Ignoring” him only added to his sense of isolation and frustration.  This lasted a few days, until we decided to bring him indoors.  Miraculously, all his problem behaviours subsided.  Charlie has remained a happy and loving pooch.

This “dog whisperer” came with a ton of qualifications.  She presented as extremely professional.  She had great reviews on her website.  All this served to make us ignore the fact that she was just plain wrong about our dog.

The Media

There are now an abundance of TV shows which feature famed dog whisperers or dog psychologists.  Their ‘techniques’ appear so impressive on TV.  This, in addition to the trainer’s charisma, makes for compelling television.  But invariably, when the dogs are visited a few weeks later, the problems have recurred.  A one-hour visit from a dog trainer will usually not solve serious behavioural issues.

What worries me is that we take advice from these people.  People will watch these shows and try and emulate the dog trainer’s technique on their dogs at home.  This is inevitable, despite the legalese saying “Please do not try at home”.  It’s human nature.

Do not ignore your gut feeling when choosing any trainer for your dog.  Remember that often, the emperor has no clothes.

What makes a good dog trainer?

A good trainer takes time to work with your dog.  She gets to know your dog’s personality so that she doesn’t adopt a blanket training approach.  She gives you practical information that you can use and will keep you safe (NOT ‘alpha rolls’).  Most of all, she will respect the bond between you and your dog.  This means she does not subject your dog to unnecessary pain or distress, all in the name of ‘training’.

Dominance theories

I’m not a big fan of the ‘dominance’ theories or pack theories.  They feel outdated, and much damage has been done to dogs in the name of these theories.  There has been a huge amount of research into dog behaviours since these archaic theories were formulated.  There are more humane ways of training your dog.

What you can do

One thing I found very helpful is educating myself on dog behaviour and training.  I read tons of books. I visited dog forums.  I became obsessive about knowing things for myself, rather than blindly trusting the experts.  That way, I was armed with more information when meeting a trainer and I knew what I would find unacceptable in training.

I have personally found Dr Sophia Yin’s website very helpful.  She’s got lovely, positive methods of training dogs and writes great articles.

But make up your own mind. Whatever you do, stay educated on what’s best for your dog.

What are your thoughts on dog whisperers? Have you had any bad training experiences? What’s worked for you and what hasn’t?

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How To Tire Out Your High-Maintenance Dog

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Ask me how I know. 

All day, I had dreamed about sitting down with a cup of tea, reading a book and just winding down after work. But alas, ’twas not to be.   Charlie was “ON”.  He wanted to play, he was restless, he was nudging me with his nose every two seconds, then he started licking my hands, and on and on it went.  It is at these moments when a girl wants an easygoing cat, or a rabbit, or some diamonds (in case someone rich is reading).

Luckily, I have faced this situation many times before. So here’s my toolkit for tiring out your dog, so that you can have that cup of tea and have a happy dog (the number one thing is a good walk, of course, but I’m assuming you already did that):

1.   The ‘Find It’ Game 

I haven’t invented this.  But OMG it really works.  Put your dog in a sit and make him wait whilst you scatter some treats (preferably low-calorie but something he loves) around.  Make the treats a little hard to find so he has to work his nose muscles (?) to find them. When you’re ready, say ‘Find it’ and watch them run around finding the treats. 10 minutes of this works wonders.

2.  Tug-of-war, with home-made tug toys!

I used to spend a fortune on tug toys, then I learnt to make my own.  Go to your local Spotlight/fabric store, buy 2 metres of ‘fleece’, 1 metre in each color. Cut them up in long strips, then knot two strips together, and keep knotting up these two strips until you have a fleecy tug toy.

3.  The Old Faithful: “Fetch”

I have never mastered teaching my dogs to fetch.  I know, it’s sad.  So I have to have more creative ways of tiring them out. But if your dog loves playing ball, you’re lucky.

4.  Teach a trick or two

Sometimes mental exercise tires them out more than the physical.  Get a clicker and read up on ‘shaping’ for tricks and clicker-training.

One cute trick I have taught Charlie is how to get me a tissue when I sneeze. Essentially, I have a box of tissues in front of me.  I encourage him to touch the box with his nose. As soon as his nose touches the box, I click my clicker and give him a tiny treat.  Rinse and repeat.  Then up the ante.  So now he has to mouth the tissue to get the treat.  Once he’s able to do this consistently, up the ante to get him to actually take the tissue out the box.  Eventually, move the box further and further away from you.  You can also associate a word with the trick, so he knows to get the tissue for you when you ask.  For us, it’s ‘Atchoo!’

My favorite is the ‘Trick Medley’ –  in quick-fire succession, I will ask for ‘Sit, down, roll over, up, shake hands, ‘speak’, bow down, walk backwards’.  Charlie LOOOVES this and it’s hilarious to watch him do this.  I’m not kidding, he literally lives for this game.

What have you found that works for your dog? I would love to add to this list!

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Dogs

IMG_0504“It’s difficult to decide whether growing pains are something teenagers have – or are.”

Adolescence is a difficult time – for both canines and humans.  There has been research that has found actual brain changes in a teenager’s brain; it’s not a big leap to imagine the same occurs in dogs.

An adolescent dog (typically between 8 months and 3 years) is most at risk of being turned in to the dog shelters.   This is because this is the age where most ‘problem behaviours’ become apparent.  You may find your dog more stubborn, pulling on the leash, jumping on guests, testing you, or not obeying the commands he always used to obey.  The perfect dog you had is suddenly a mutant dog!

If you have a an adolescent dog, please don’t give up at this stage.  Get all the help you need.  Take your dog for obedience training.   Exercise your dog adequately to tire him out.  If you have not neutered your dog, do so.  Research “Nothing In Life is Free” (see link below). For serious behavioural issues, you need the help of a good dog trainer.

Most importantly, just ride it out.  Because if you can get past this time, you can have a beautiful and loving dog on your hands.

As well as looking at your dog’s behaviours, look at the environment in which your dog lives. Are you and your partner constantly fighting? Does your dog get little in the way of exercise or stimulation?  These sort of factors contribute to and exacerbate adolescent issues as the dog becomes more anxious.

Here are some links which might help:

http://www.dogstardaily.com/blogs/it’s-all-about-adolescence

  http://shibashake.com/dog/nothing-in-life-is-free-dog-training

(another way to think about Nothing In Life Is Free is that it is teaching your dog to ‘say please’).

Did you have any challenges when your dog became an adolescent? What do you think helped?

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To Wee or Not to Wee : How to House-Train Your Dog in 7 Steps

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Toilet training is not sexy or glamorous, I’ll give you that.

 So why should you care? Because thousands of dogs are given up to the pound by exasperated owners, who can’t cope with their ‘inability’ to be toilet trained.  So here is my cheat-sheet to toilet training dogs.

1.  Be realistic and adjust your expectations.

I was very disheartened when one of my dogs was not toilet trained after a month.  It is only after a lot of reading that I realised that some dogs take much longer, up to six months.  Give it time.

2.  Bring your dog inside, if at all possible.

 You may find that your dog’s ‘problem behaviours’ improve dramatically by this simple measure.  A dog that spends most of it’s time outside learns to toilet anywhere and everywhere, and at any time of his choosing.  It is very difficult for the dog to understand that the rules are different in the house, if it spends only limited periods inside.

3.  When your dog is inside, watch him very, very carefully.  Not all dogs have the same body language when they need to toilet.  Some will start sniffing the ground.  Some will turn in circles.  Often this happens so quickly you may not have time to react.  Get to know your dog’s special signals.  If you happen to catch him just before the act, say sharply ‘nah-ah-ah’ to interrupt him, and then quickly redirect him outside to the designated spot of your choosing.

4.  Immediately as he toilets, say clearly a ‘keyword’ that he will eventually come to associate with having to go.

 Try to choose something you’re not too embarrassed about saying in public and which is short and sweet  (“be-quick!” = good; “Hunny-snuggles-come-and-do-a-little-poopoo-for-mama” = bad). Take your dog out regularly so that you have the opportunity to prevent accidents and to use your new keyword.

5. Timing is everything.

There are certain key times when your dog is likely to do his business –  eg after vigorous play, after meals, after drinking water.  At these times, make sure you take him out and give him a chance.  Try not to play with him at these times.  If he doesn’t go after 10 minutes, come back in and try again a little later. Use your keyword only when he starts to do his business, rather than’be quick boy, be quick, be quick,’ for ages, as then the words lose their meaning.  Remember to praise, praise, praise, when he’s finished; you can even offer a small treat.

6.  Consider investing in a crate.

 Crates can be a useful tool – if your dog sleeps in a crate, he will be less inclined to want to soil it, as it is his ‘space’.  It can be particularly helpful in training the dog to go through the night without toileting.  However, in the early days, it is your responsibility to make sure that you take your dog out at least every few hours in the night to give it an opportunity to void.  I will write more posts on crate training further down the track.

7.  Don’t scold your dog.

This will only teach him to be afraid of you or do his business on the sly.  If you come home and see your dog has made an accident, there is no point whatsoever in admonishing him after the fact.  He won’t know what you’re referring to and no amount of pointing the poo out to him will clarify things.

There used to be an awful myth that you need to poke your dog’s nose in the mess he made and growl at him so he knows he did a bad thing.  These sort of tactics don’t work and will just damage your relationship with your dog.

Shelter dogs
If you’ve adopted your dog from a shelter, please give it a little more time to settle in.  Shelter dogs can be understandably anxious in their new environments, and this can lead to more frequent voiding.  They can also have urinary tract infections due to inconsistent voiding schedules in the past.  See a vet if toilet training is particularly difficult.

That’s my personal cheat sheet, and it works.  Use it for yourself or send it to a friend who may need help with their dog.  You might just prevent another dog from being sent to the pound.

Do you have any tips that I might have missed?

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