Saturday, May 29, 2010

Proper Pooch Potty Training Tips

Spring is the natural season when females of any species have youngins on their minds, and because nowadays most females of the human kind do not procreate each year anew, many acquire an animal baby in stead. It is the primal, subconscious longing for renewal. A new pooch can satisfy that need and make the female content - temporarily, until baby Rover piddles in unwanted places. Hygienic humans dislike nothing more than dogs that potty on the rug. Growling maybe, but the fact is that for many people the failure to house train is a deal breaker.
The good news is that dogs are clean also, and rather not pee and poop where they live. The bad news is that what living space is defined as, is not so obvious to dogs.
The distinction between inside and out is a no-brainer for a person. The dog only knows where he sleeps and eats, and considers all other areas as potential voiding places. He has no idea that all 2500 square feet of your home, minus the itty-bitty water closet room, is regarded urine-free zone by you. You have to teach him that.
Back to the good news, teaching it is easy if you do it right from the start. And by the way, below tips are not just for the wee pups, but work with dogs any age.
Take your pup out often; after each nap and playtime, after he eats or drinks, whenever he sniffs, seems restless or scratches the floor. The major mistake owners make at that point is to let the pooch in the yard on his own. Everything fascinates and distracts a puppy, and even an older dog in a new environment: sounds, smells, birds and butterflies. A bumbling bee can sidetrack him from the task at paw, and when he marches back into the house his bladder is still full. With the environmental stimuli gone, and his life boring again, he remembers and promptly empties its contents on the carpet. And because it feels good and he gets your attention, potty in the house is doubly reinforced.
Taking the pup out on a leash, and withholding all attention, allows you to control his outside fun. As soon as he’s voided, unclip him and play, or let him investigate, and you are teaching him that business comes first, and the faster he does it, the sooner the good times begin.
The second big mistake people make is failure to clean an accident up to the satisfaction of the dog’s nose. Any residual odor, and remember that even the dullest dog’s sense of smell is much better than yours, is like a Ladies sign for you in a restaurant: the socially acceptable place to eliminate. It attracts and invites her to pee, and she might go even if she doesn’t really have to yet, like we might passing the washroom on the way to the bar – “since I’m here I might as well…”
Another thing with residual smell is that its fading entices the dog to freshen it up, so that she won’t forget where the designated “inside” pee place is. That explains why you can have a few days, even a couple of weeks, accident free and then find a puddle again.
There are fantastic enzymatic cleaners available that get the stink out, but in addition use all accident spots and play with your dog, or feed her there; snuggle or nap. That way you add extra clarification that that particular area is also for living, not eliminating.

Difficult to potty train dogs should always get a veterinary check to ensure that there are no physical causes. Aside from that, dogs have accidents because they are stressed, learned to get attention that way, don’t know any better, or really have to go and nobody is there to take them out.
Delays in house training can happen if the pup’s been trained on paper, or was forced to live in a “dirty” environment; forced to pee and crap in her crate, for example. Be patient and remember that someone, maybe the breeder, has imprinted your pup during her impressionable first few weeks of life to pee IN THE HOUSE. Moving the paper incrementally closer and closer to the door, and then outside, can speed things up.
Potty training without tension and punishments is crucial, cause dogs that are stressed, anxious, or confused are even more likely to void inappropriately. Your frustration and anger might be understandable, but is counterproductive, cause if your dog learns that peeing when you are close by, or she’s on the leash, is not safe, she’ll try her best not to do it. That spoils a future “quickly get it done with” in pouring rain or when you’re rushed leaving for work.
That was the case with two of our foster dogs who likely were punished for an accident at one point, with the lasting effect that they refused to void in the vicinity of a human. One was a male Newf, and believe me, big Newf – big accidents; the other a female heeler cross who didn’t pee for two days; didn’t have an accident. It beats me where she stored it all. Kailey eventually did chance it on the leash outside; with the Newf it took me 2 ½ hours to create a safe association between urinating and humans. I sat in a lawn chair reading a book, Balou, who had a full bladder cause he drank a lot after a long walk, on a six-foot leash beside me. Eventually he had no choice but to pee, for which he got cuddled, and praised and was allowed back into the house where he wanted to be.

That’s the cool thing about humans. We have the more convoluted frontal lobe and can find brainy and positive solutions for almost any problem behavior. Speaking of, I will be away for a couple of weeks – PD in Calgary; conferencing with other brainy dog experts, and having a little vacation. So, no new posts till the middle of June, and then, my dear readers, I want to chat about the really reliable recall – now that summer and hiking season is approaching.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Begging Allowed

Every dog I ever met loves people food. Even the ones that already get home-cooked food, like our two, still want what hubby Mike and I have.
Imagine mouthwatering cooking aromas permeating the living space every day. Imagine having a dog’s superb sense of smell, much better than yours. And then imagine that all you ever get is a bowl of kibble once a day.
Dogs want people food cause people food is more appealing to the nose and taste buds, and if you think that dogs don’t taste, you should watch Will spit out vegetables she detests – broccoli, carrots, tomatoes. She loves green beans.
People food smells and tastes better than kibble, but that is only one reason why dogs try to manipulate us in parting with some of Sunday’s roast.

Dogs understand that sharing food is a sign of social acceptance and inclusion, and that, next to basic physical needs and emotional safety, is most important for them.
Human rituals almost always include eating together, because it creates kinship, and kin lends a helping hand if need be, and that enhances survival during hard times. Wolves feast together on killed prey. The whole purpose of a social group is to be strong in numbers. Sharing resources guarantees both the health of the individual and the pack.
Bonded dogs share toys, a water dish, interesting sniffing spots and even food if there is enough of it. Sharing a resource with a subordinate is a sign of high status, and the attempt to manipulate someone into sharing a possession is an act in submission.
Ergo, begging for table scraps is not challenging for alpha status, but a subordinate understanding that he does not control the food, and asking the one who does to share.

When I cook dinner, I invite my dogs to join me in the kitchen. Actually, I put it on command – say “lets cook”, thereby ordering them to join me. I could also practice the “come” command, or “lets-go” and have them follow me.
And then they beg according to the rules I laid out for them. After all, I’m the boss. And the rules are:
Don’t stare at the food, but connect to me with prolonged, soft eye contact;
Don’t corral me, but keep at least a five feet distance;
Don’t bark, whine, pace or tense, but remain in a relaxed down-stay;
Take the tidbits I’m giving you softly and don’t fight over food I am tossing.
From my point of view, and I bet my dogs’ as well, begging means:
Dog is showing interest in what I am doing;
Dog is connected to me and attentive;
Dog is motivated by something I have control over.
Those are key ingredients for many behaviors I want in day-to-day life. Attention, connection and motivation I need for a reliable recall, obedience around distractions, and self-restraint in anticipation of a reward. Why wouldn’t I take every opportunity to practice that, and especially take advantage of opportunities that allow me to combine domestic duties with training.
I cook, or eat, several times per day – and my dogs practice self-control around a high valued resource several times per day. They also practice to tolerate each other’s presence, and that of an occasional canine guest, around stuff they really want. And I don’t have to scrape away extra time out of my busy schedule to train manners in staged, artificially orchestrated situations.
If your dog joins you in the kitchen, don’t punish him for offering attention and then demand it two hours later in the training class.

By permitting my “girls” to be in proximity when I cook or eat, I communicate that we belong together. So, it’s not really begging, but including - communion building. And because I control the snacks, I score extra leadership points.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Dog Behavior and the Personal Filter

The actions of others, dogs, people or whatever species, is always evaluated through one’s own filter; one’s personal emotions and experiences.
We assess our dogs’ actions based on fear and insecurity or confidence, social pressures and popular trends, knowledge or the lack of it, and expectations – regardless if they are realistic or not.
Take begging, for example. A person concerned about losing his cherished status bans the pooch from the kitchen, because he believes that whenever she eyeballs the aroma-rich people food she is contemplating to challenge for it aggressively. Others, like me, see it as an offered attention behavior, and that of an animal that feels subordinate, not equal or even superior. I’ll discuss that topic some more in my next post and you’ll see what I mean.
Not coming when called can be interpreted as:
She didn’t hear me;
She is too distracted and has tuned me out;
She is defiant;
She is overwhelmed by a stimulus and out-of-her mind startled or afraid;
She is dominant, aggressive and red-zone;
We haven’t trained the come command yet, or need more practice;
I am calling with a harsh voice that makes her nervous;
I corrected her in the past for coming and she is nervous;
I spoiled the command by not enforcing it in the past, with the result that she learned that there is an option, or is operant conditioned to NOT coming.
What I say and my body language are not cohesive and she is confused.
The filtering depends on the personality of the human, not the dog. The dog simply acts based on any of the above reasons. The problem is that as soon as we label the dog instead of the action, we see only the label: stubborn, aggressive or dumb. The risk is that once a dog is labeled as such, it becomes her identity and people generalize it to all her behaviors. And with it they give themselves justification to apply punitive consequences. After all, the dog deserves it, right?
That impacts the relationship, and not in good way, and problem behaviors often escalate.

The personal filter has an especially profound influence when it comes to aggression.
If we fear teeth, then growling has a much deeper impact than if we are confident that we have things under control, or if we are knowledgeable enough to understand that a growl is a natural part of dogs’ communication and a warning – intended to avoid injury, not cause it.
Someone who was bitten by a German shepherd will be more frightened by a German shepherd’s growl than that of a golden retriever, even if the retriever is very tense and still. Society fears pit bulls and loves Labradors, and so we act differently around a pit bull, which can instill suspicion or nervousness in her, which increases the likelihood for her to react. In addition, the breed society hates becomes an attractive one for people that hate society. Thugs see the world through their filter also; raise and keep their dogs according to it.
Again, that has nothing to do with the dog, and everything to do with human character.
It is not the dog’s problem, nor is he capable to change how we feel. The onus is on the person. Even Millan got that figured out when he says that he trains people – yet he continues to correct the dog.
I get it. Some people are more emotional and less informed than others. That is normal, and it is difficult to ignore how one feels about something or someone.
Difficult perhaps, but not impossible. It really doesn’t take hyper-rational brainpower to evaluate a dog’s behavior factually, just some willingness to learn and a little self-awareness. And it is well worth it cause clearing the view allows falling in love with the dog again, and settling ones subjective fears and insecurities. That makes for much more successful problem behavior solving, and that opens the door to an authentic companion relationship; a partnership between two species sharing a life together for a while. And that is what dogs deserve – and their humans.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Carpe Diem

Seize The Day – is a motto I live by, or try to anyway. Davie and Will, like all dogs, are masters in living in the NOW, but even though they demonstrate daily how it’s done, sometimes I get entangled in life’s many trivial things. And then something happens that catapults me back on the trail that matters.
Yesterday morning I received an early call from my friend Susan Weinstein’s partner Jan. She told me that Susan had passed away.

Susan Weinstein was a friend for a very short time. She contacted me about a year ago from her home in Ontario, because she needed to clarify a few things about dog behavior for a book she co-authored - “The New Holistic Way for Dogs and Cats” (I wrote a post about in January). We discovered right away that we have a lot in common – the way we feel about dogs, the human/dog relationship and how dogs deserve to be treated. Our friendship began almost instantly. Susan joined my clients’ exclusive google group and occasionally commented on my blog posts, and she came for a short visit in October. Susan lived in Ontario, but loved Nova Scotia very much and had visited often in the past.
Her book was published in November last year, and shortly afterwards she was diagnosed with lymphoma. Susan truly believed in natural, holistic healing and chose that route to deal with her own sickness, but sadly lost her battle yesterday. I am so glad Susan, Jan and I scraped away some time that wasn’t really there when I was in Guelph last month, and met for lunch.

Yesterday morning, Mike left for a short vacation in Calgary. We walked hand in hand till he had to board his flight. Then I took Davie and Will to Point Pleasant Park and breathed the fresh air a little more consciously, and almost hoped to feel raindrops. I made a point to really connect to my dogs. I tried extra hard to make every minute count during a follow-up session at Long Lake with a client. I paused to enjoy the dandelion carpet in our driveway before unloading the car, and the leftover supper tasted deliciously. Things I should be doing every day, I did yesterday. I seized the day.

Susan, I should tell you to rest in peace, but I know that you, like I, believed in reincarnation. You also told me you want to write more, continue to advocate for dogs. My feeling is you might not want to rest too long, but get back at it in another life. So, I’ll say “So Long, Dear Friend”.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Dogs Correcting Dogs

Follow that thought process with me, will you? Imagine one of your relatives adopted a two-year-old, uncoordinated toddler three times your size who gets a kick out of pulling your hair or ears, and likes nothing more than to use you as a trampoline. The new parents, who never asked if it was okay for them to visit, don’t interfere cause he’s just such an adorable young child. How would you feel? And what would you do?
That was the position a recent client’s dog found himself in when he, a small-medium size adult, was expected to accept, and be nice to, his new canine cousin - a klutzy puppy of a very exuberant and much larger breed.
The older dog was overwhelmed, growled and snapped without prevail, from an increasingly farther distance, was subsequently labeled aggressive and that’s when I was called to help.

Turid Rugaas, the amazing and world-renowned Norwegian behavior expert, said at a seminar I attended, that if dogs raise dogs they get it right. And that is true in a world where dogs are similar in size, not stressed and anxious, not manipulated by people, and where litters always stay together for 10-12 weeks amidst a bunch of older dogs, so that in the end everyone is fluent in doggish; speak the same “language”.
That world exists with feral dogs, the ones not owned by humans.
The dogs we live with in our homes and communities come in all shapes, sizes and backgrounds. Not all have good dog-communication skills and their humans have I different expectations, knowledge and tolerance levels - and dogs raising dogs becomes much more complicated.

I am all for allowing an older dog to correct a puppy or rude juvenile. In fact, in my opinion ideally every puppy socializing class should include a couple of older dogs that mingle during free play to split, or correct a pup that’s out of line. But it takes a special dog who is able to do that right.
For starters, he has to like the puppies and dogs he is with – the ones he cohabitates with in an intimate social group, and the ones he is presented with regularly or occasionally at day care, the training facility or dog park. Being confronted with incompatible dog(s), yet expected to control and educate, creates stress.
If a dog feels overwhelmed by others in his proximity, the intent changes. An appropriate dog-dog correction is meant to teach rude Rover manners. If the corrector is anxious beyond momentary annoyance, the motivation switches from teaching a lesson to wanting to get rid of the dog – in distance or altogether. That’s not something I want my dog to have an opportunity to practice. Every dog has the right to personal space, but that doesn’t mean that I want him to take matters into his own paws. If a dog experiences that he can control his environment successfully with aggression, that is what he will do in the future.
If the perceived opponent doesn’t back off, the corrector is ineffective and that increases frustration. He might turn it up a notch and a fight could ensue.
And some dogs are hard to impress. That boisterous pup mentioned in the beginning of this post accidentally had his tail stepped on, for a few seconds before the person realized why he was squealing. It really must have hurt. Yet, the moment the foot was off the tail he was right back to his bouncy little self. It’d be difficult for a dog to correct a pup who shrugs off pain like that. It’ll be difficult for the owner also to bring about a lasting effect using corrections, and I hope he will opt for positive reinforcement training.

There is more to dogs correcting properly than the popular belief that they’ll work it out just because they belong to the same species. The correcting dog has to know when to correct and with what intensity. A pup corrected too harshly will become fearful and/or aggressive. And if the adult is too lenient he’s as ineffective as an old nag. The corrector has to be able to adjust corrections to each pup and situation. It is a big job and dogs that can do it good, without getting stressed themselves, are not many. If there is one who’s skilled, my advice is to trust him in his judgment and execution, even if the pup he corrects yelps.
Still, always observe both the corrector and correctee. A correction is warranted when the pup or adolescent is space rude, or too aroused and out of control. A correction is successful when the corrected dog backs off and calms down, but is still interested to interact and approaches in a more polite, self-restrained fashion. If the pup fearfully stays away for good, or continues to pester, it is time for the humans to take charge in a way that is in the interest of both dogs. That can mean to leash the obnoxious one, create distance, remove one dog or the other, and create a bonding, cooperative relationship if the dogs are expected to live in the same environment.
Adult dogs can be great helpers, but the responsibility to create a stress-free environment and raise a well-behaved pooch is always the person's. It is false to assume that dogs, just by virtue of being dogs, wish to interfere or even like to be around their own kind. Some have great social skills with other dogs, and some are edgy and intolerant and prefer human companionship.
Dogs often don’t get corrections right, and humans typically mess it up even more. That’s why my advice always is to manage and redirect instead - and to keep an astute eye on dog-dog interactions and interfere when necessary.