The benefits of using positive reinforcement training with dogs (and all animals) has long been studied and proven to be the most effective and kind way to change behaviors. I'm a firm believer in science over shock, praise over punishment and compassion over correction. When we punish dogs using physical force (shock collars, choke chains, striking, etc.), we are taking away their choices and dogs are highly capable of making good choices, when we set them up to do so.
Positive reinforcement dog training must be done correctly or you will hear "it didn't work". Timing and knowledge go a long way but, when done correctly it is the greatest force on earth.
That being said, do you find yourself saying yes or no to your dog more often? Saying Yes! (or good dog) to your dog on a regular basis has many benefits.
Some of them include:
Letting our dogs know when they’ve done something right boosts their confidence, makes them happy and can change unwanted behaviors. For example if your dog is always jumping on people and you find yourself yelling no, try saying yes, before they jump. Better yet, pair it with a treat in the beginning so the word yes has a lot more power.
Being proactive and communicating with our dogs helps them learn better behaviors and it boosts their confidence. Saying no to them does the opposite. When we say no to a dog we take away all of their choices and we expect them to simply stop what they were doing. But let’s say they were jumping on someone because they were really happy to see them. If we just say no, what is the alternative behavior we want? Sitting? Lying on a mat? Standing? We need to train something else because saying no isn’t an effective training solution. Say yes every time your dog is doing something you want them to do (or before they do something you don’t necessarily like). Say yes when the don’t jump, pull on leash or bark. Teach them other behaviors to do instead of the ones you don’t like and catch them being good. This is what training is all about. Rewarding our dogs when they are good, teaching them alternate behaviors and giving them the chance to make their own choice.
This is how positive reinforcement dog training works. We reinforce (reward) the good behaviors which causes the dog to do more and we handle the negative behaviors by developing a plan to change them into something the dog can do instead. It's about always setting our dogs up for success and building them up.
With vaccinations rolling out by the millions many of us may start leaving the house for longer periods of time or, even planning a wonderful vacation (can you imagine?). However, this brings up a serious subject - Separation Anxiety in dogs! While am delighted that so many people have brought new dogs into their homes during the pandemic, I also understand that some of these dogs haven't really had to be alone much. This may come as a BIG surprise to all when the time comes. Helping your dog with separation anxiety before it starts is the best approach. Or, if you have a dog with separation anxiety, here are some tips to help.
Before you leave your dog consider:
1. Crate/Pen training: If your dog is young or untrustworthy when left unattended (not fully house trained, destructive, anxious) you should consider implementing a crate or pen training program for them. Crate training is a great way to keep your puppy or adult safe from harm. Crate training can also help with the potty training process BUT they need to be conditioned to stay in a crate (or pen) first in order to avoid or treat Separation Anxiety. I have provided two crate training links below to give you some ideas on how to start and complete the process of crate training.
NOTE: Separation Anxiety can be complex and the term is general - if your dog already has it, please seek the help of a Positive Reinforcement or Force Free trainer before attempting crate training. Confinement training is not for every dog and it's important to understand (and honor) those dogs that do not fair well in confinement.
2. Desensitize your dog to "triggers". Your dog will find that the tasks of you putting on your shoes or jacket or grabbing your keys or purse signals you are leaving the house. Over time, these tasks could become "triggers" to your dog. For some dogs these triggers don't mean much but to others it could begin a stressful sequence. I recommend you take a few moments each day to practice these tasks without actually leaving the house. Next, leave and come back quickly (grab your keys or purse to take out the trash for example). Find ways to practice desensitizing your dog to the tasks that normally mean you are leaving the house for some time. (This will not necessarily solve a true separation anxiety problem, but there is certainly benefits to being proactive). Any time we can take a few moments to work on something before it's an issue is time well spent.
3. Music/Television. If you do need to leave, start putting on some music or television for your dog (again, try not to turn this into a "trigger" by also doing these things when you aren't leaving or a few minutes before you actually leave). Sound helps to break up the silence of your absence.
4. Keep your comings and goings boring. It's fine to say goodbye to your dog but don't make a big deal of it. When you come back home, keep it BORING. Keep your excitement inside and greet your dog casually. We want our dogs to feel safe and calm when we come and go, they are already excited so it's best not to add to it.
4. Puzzle feeder/Kong. It's often advised to leave your dog with a food feeder to keep them busy when you leave. This may work well for some dogs and that is great, but, for others it can begin to represent time alone and they may not touch it. Start offering your dog such things now, have them enjoy it in your presence and try leaving the room momentarily to see if they continue eating or stop to look for you. This can be a subtle indicator of trouble to come (but don't panic, it doesn't mean you will have a big problem). Although there are some dogs that simply don't eat unless their human is around but they don't have separation anxiety so it's best to be understand and be aware of our own dog's preferences.
5. Video. Setting up a video (or old phone) can help you to see how your dog feels when you leave. Do they pace? whine? stare out the window? scratch at the door? It's a good idea to find out how your dog feels when you leave. A video camera will help you to check to see how long the reactions are so you can work backwards from the time they remained comfortable. I like this one from Amazon. It's affordable, has two way audio and you can rotate it from your phone to see where your dog is in the room! Video camera for pets:
Here are some FREE crate (or confinement) training videos and tips to help you transition your dog to spending time alone. You can apply the same methods to leaving your dog in a room, a pen or in general, alone in the house.
Video One (first steps): https://vimeo.com/466376781/132b8363c9
Video Two (extended crate time): https://vimeo.com/466376720/7b5f074444
It's important to learn how your dog feels about you leaving - even if it's just the room. If their reaction is subtle, practice leaving in very short bursts of time, only building up when your dog is comfortable. If it's extreme start proactive training now!
I meet a lot of people that say “my dog will only come or stay if I have a treat”. My answer to that is: “You may be using the treats incorrectly!”. For the most part, when you’re training come and stay, the treat should not be present. Treats should be in a pouch, in a closed fist and/or behind your back. It should be about the BEHAVIOR of the dog, not the reward. The reward comes later, as a reinforcer. The only time a treat should be visually present is when you are luring (see notes below for definition of lure) a dog into their first sits, downs and during leash training for heel work. For the sit and down, the treat should be replaced by a hand signal ASAP. Other than that, the dog shouldn’t see your treats on a regular basis. Obviously they know you have them but, if you’re using the treat to get your dog to come or stay, I urge you to change that by surprising them instead. For come you have to ask yourself “What can I do to get my dog to come to me?” This means: Am I EXCITING enough, positive and fun? Or am I simply standing still and saying their name? That’s not very enticing. Move your body, say their name in a happy voice and make coming to you FUN. Mix up your rewards between food, toys, praise and petting (surprise your dog with ALL once in a while).
Because food is a Primary Reinforcer for dogs training your dog using treats is a very effective way to change behaviors. Some dogs will even train with their dry food (kibble) which can be a great way to utilize their mealtimes for training. You can also try mixing their kibble half-and-half with treats. If you aren't using your dog's meal for training, be sure you deduct the same amount from their next meal so they don't become overweight.
Here are some ways treats are used in training:
With all of this being said, it’s important to be aware of WHERE the treat is during the training. If you aren’t using it as a lure (see #1 above), it shouldn’t be in plain sight.
If you'd like to see the video that goes with this post, you can do so here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ti6ASuZvjTA
I strongly believe in TRAINING a dog to stop pulling on leash rather than relying on a device; be it a collar, harness or other equipment. I do not recommend prong or choke collars, they take away from our connection with our dogs and I believe that training is all about connection. I would also like to add that it’s important to separate training from walking. If you plan to do an “exercise” walk while training, please don’t. Training shouldn't have any expectations of distance, this will only create frustration for you and your dog.
There are several methods you can use to teach your dog to stop pulling on leash. I will cover three here. Personally, I just like a nice, loose leash but some want their dog beside them at times so if that’s you, #3 will be your best choice. I encourage you to try everything and decide what you like.
Before you begin remember:
To start leash training. Have some of your dog’s favorite treats ready but please note: Let’s make the reward the WALK, not the treats. We will use the treats to reinforce the dog’s position but they should see or work to the food. Keep them out of sight in a pouch or pocket and only use them as recommended below.
When I say “reward” I mean verbal praise AND treats. This is called “pairing”. The goal is to say the praise while offering the treat so we “load” the praise. This way, we can taper out the treats and the word still has good meaning to the dog going forward.
I use three methods for teaching loose leash walking - I suggest you try all three and choose one to use consistently.
1. Turn around. When your dog pulls on leash say “uh oh’ and turn around. Take a few steps and say “good dog” the MOMENT they are beside you (they will naturally have to get beside you because you just turned around). Reward them with a treat when you say good dog. Repeat, repeat, repeat. If you are turning around constantly try to walk faster and be SURE you are catching all of the moments your dog is in the right place. You cannot over reward your dog being next to you, let them know how much you like it and they will do more!
2. Back step. When your dog pulls on leash or get further ahead then you want take two to three steps backward (but don’t turn around). Watch your footing, you will be facing forward but moving backwards. Keep the leash anchored and steady against your body so you aren’t using it to pull your dog back. Anchoring it makes the dog have to follow you. When they arrive at you, proceed forward again. Here the walk is the reward. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Reward your dog for all of the steps you take WITHOUT them pulling or being ahead of you.
3. Bring back: When your dog pulls on leash say their name and start walking backwards. Bend over slightly to “lure” them towards you. (You will now be face to face). Once they come all the way to you, turn your body around clockwise (RIGHT) and they will end up in the perfect heel position on your left. Don’t turn RIGHT until they have connected with your (I prefer eye contact but that might be too much for your dog – try it and see). Next, take a step and reward them QUICKLY by saying “good heel” and treat (taper treat later). Feel free to continue feeding treats to keep them there, for several steps for the first week or two. Try holding a treat by your side and “luring” them for a while too (keep them interested but don’t give it to them for several steps). If they go ahead or pull repeat, repeat, repeat. This means you may have to walk backwards for several steps so be sure you have clearance behind you. Every time you turn around, your dog will be in heel position and the more you reward that, the longer they will stay there.
Having trouble? Work on building eye contact and name response with your dog, this will come in handy during leash training. If they pull, say “watch me” (once trained) or their name to get their attention and to stop pulling.
Have fun and use loads of happy, verbal praise and delicious treats at first. Walks should be fun for both of you. This training will be worth it, stick to it and watch your dog start to naturally get into place and try to please you.
It’s normal and necessary for puppies to bite. Sometimes, they bite anything and everything. Teething is serious business and biting feels SO GOOD to a puppy. It’s important that we address biting properly so that your puppy won’t cause harm and also ensure that their need to bite is addressed and satisfied. Many people wonder what to do when a puppy bites. Here are some pointers.
Tips and tricks for biting puppies:
Satisfying items for teething puppies:
My preferred toys for teething puppies are small rope toys tied on each end – they are also available in fleece varieties. You can even store them in the freezer which will feel so good for a teething puppy. Plush toys are great for chewing (be sure they don’t eat any pieces. A Kong stuffed with goodies can be frozen as well. Other teething type toys for puppies are available at pet stores and many of them can also be frozen. Having a great VARIETY of toys will always help when you are trying to take the interest away from your puppy biting you and on to a toy instead. You might consider rotating toys or hiding special ones for times when your puppy is really biting. This way the toy is “new” and more interesting and likely to be chosen over an arm or shoe. Please be a partner to your puppy and work to figure our solutions rather than punishing them for normal behavior that they are doing to fill their needs.
Deciding what to do about puppy biting is important for many reasons. How we handing puppy biting can shape the way they react to us in the future. If your puppy bites, be sure to handle it with patience and love so you don't make it worse.
**ALWAYS SUPERVISE YOUR PUPPY WHEN THEY ARE CHEWING ON ANYTHING!**
Keep your dog busy (and out of trouble) this Summer with these great tips:
#1 - Purchase small "kiddie" pool. Fill it with water for the dogs that like it, sand for the those that prefer to dig.
For WATER (skip if your dog loves water and hops right in):
For SAND (skip step one if your dog already loves sand):
#2 - Frozen treats.
#3 - Flirt pole - Flirt poles are a fun way to keep puppies busy. You can use one to tire them out a little before a training session, send the kids outside to play with them and to teach "drop it".
#4 - Mental Stimulation - too hot for a walk? Try using mental games to wear your dog out.
Written by Christine Durrant, Professional Dog Trainer and Pet Care Consultant
I understand that leash pulling is one of the most frustrating challenges many of you face. I happen to LOVE teaching it so I am going to try to explain it from my point of view.
It's important to think about WHY you dog is pulling. This can vary many times during a walk. Is it to sniff a bush, get to another dog or to move faster? Once you define the reason, it's easier to figure out the solution.
Let's say there’s a dog across the way and your dog is pulling to meet them. In this case, no matter what your dog is wearing (any type of collar or harness) they will probably STILL PULL. Greeting or reacting to other dogs is one of the main reasons a dog will pull hard on leash. The solution? Teach a really solid "Leave It". This will solve the problem and knowing leave it is an excellent skill for any dog regardless.
Let's say your dog is pulling to sniff a bush - you could use leave it OR, as I would recommend, use it as a reward. So, if I am walking a dog and they start to pull towards something like a bush or plant I will say "let's go", turn around and then make a conscious effort to get the dog back to the bush with a loose leash (even if I have to pick up my pace for a moment) as the reward. If you are consistent with this method your dog will learn that they never get what they want when the pull but they do get it when the leash is loose.
Sometimes, dogs simply have a faster pace than we do. In this case you can teach "easy" by saying it and rewarding the dog when they slow down and "hurry" by teaching them to step up their pace on command (maybe I should do a video on this!). This way you teach the dog when and where it's necessary for them to slow down but you also speed up for them as a reward too.
If your dog pulls on leash simply to forge ahead, that is simple to teach – stop following them. Stop, wait for them to stop pulling into the leash and only move forward when they take the pressure off. If they pull again, turn around, reward the moment they catch up to your side and continue. The first few walks will be frustrating – if you let them be. Otherwise, breathe and laugh thinking “Oh ya! you are just being a happy dog”. Remember, your dog isn’t pulling to make you mad. They are pulling because they have places to be, people to see and lots of things to sniff (so use all of those things as the reward).
You can also teach heel and release the dog with an “ok” when they can sniff. I prefer loose leash walking personally but some would rather have their dog closer in. I am happy as long as I’m not being pulled so I reward the times the dog is not pulling, stop or turn around when they are and it ALWAYS resolves. Each dog is different so it may take a couple of walks or a few weeks, depending on the rate at which the dog learns, my commitment to the training and the time we put in.
I believe every interaction with a dog should be in the best interest of all involved. I always think about the reasons the dog is "misbehaving" (although to the dog it's not so) and work with that in a way that solves the problem and also supports the dog's well-being.
The one thing you will need most of all for this training is patience but once you get the hang of it, you will find it rewarding and fun for both of you. My leash training videos are packed full of tips and tricks to help you and your dog get out and enjoy some great walks together.
Guest Blog By Nick Burton, Our Best Doggo
Are you the proud parent of a senior pup? Whether you raised your canine companion from his youth or recently adopted an oldie-but-goodie, there are plenty of ways you can ensure your friend’s golden years are wrapped in love, joy, and comfort. Read on for terrific tips to help you and your older dog make every moment count.
Health and Wellness
Aging dogs, just like aging people, tend to experience a decline in health. Sometimes, it happens very gradually, and other times it can occur quite suddenly. For example, older dogs frequently experience what is termed vestibular disease. This issue can quickly impair your dog’s balance, leaving him staggering and disoriented. Sometimes, dogs recover, but other times the effects linger for the rest of your dog’s life.
Another common concern is dementia. Your dog might experience symptoms like losing track of where he is in familiar places or more anxiety than in the past, or he might not interact with other pets or people as much as before. There are supplements and behavioral therapies that can help support senior dogs experiencing cognitive issues like dementia, so it’s important to talk with your vet if you suspect your older pup is showing symptoms.
These are just a few of the health issues that can affect older dogs. Your veterinarian can diagnose problems as they come along, and will often notice changes in routine exams. With that in mind, it’s important to schedule visits with your vet at least twice a year. The Grey Muzzle Organization explains senior dog exams might include things like diagnostic blood work, vaccines, and dental checks.
Senior-Friendly Equipment Ideas
Beyond veterinary and medical care, how you support your dog during his golden years can extend into everyday life, such as when your dog has mobility concerns. Equipment can make all the difference in allowing your dog to continue enjoying an active role in family life. For instance, dogs with severe mobility concerns might need a wheelchair. These devices are typically designed to fit your dog’s size and can assist front, back, or both sets of legs.
More commonly, dogs with arthritis use dog ramps or steps to climb onto furniture, laps, or into cars. Pet Life Today notes these helpful pieces of equipment come in lightweight, portable options, as well as more substantial styles to leave in place. Just be sure to examine the size and design to match it to your dog’s needs and the space where it will be used.
Another concern parents of senior pups experience is how to lift Fido without hurting him. Even if he is normally a floor type of guy, you might need to help him get in and out of the car or up and down steps if he becomes ill or injured. There are lifting harnesses you can purchase to keep on hand, or you can DIY a lifter from a shopping tote in a pinch. Just cut off the two narrow ends and loop the handled sections under your pup’s belly so it supports him fully.
Supplements and So Forth
One of the many ways dog owners can help their furry friends is with supportive supplements. As VetStreet explains, many of the vitamins, minerals, and other supplements available for senior dogs are potentially helpful, such as probiotics, fatty acids, and glucosamine with chondroitin sulfate. Before you add something to your dog’s health regimen, check in with your vet to ensure the supplement won’t interfere with other therapies.
As the proud parent of a senior pup, ensuring your friend’s health and happiness is a top priority. Make sure your dog is getting his medical needs met, check into assistive equipment, and think about supplements that could give him a boost. With your thoughtful choices, your beloved companion will enjoy the love, joy, and comfort he so deserves.
Written by Christine Durrant, Professional Dog Trainer and Pet Care Consultant
Teaching a dog to come when called requires a good connection between the dog and the human. If your dog is not trained to sit, lay down or stay, I highly recommend you start on those first. Come is more advanced and works best if you have formed a bond through positive reinforcement training ahead of time.
NEVER say the word “come” unless you are 100% sure your dog will succeed. You must train them in a controlled environment, building up to distractions and relishing in all success. If you find yourself saying the command regularly and your dog ignores you, you have basically “ruined” the word and should start with a new one (we recommend “Here”). During training, do not use the word until you have your dog’s attention and are working on it.
For the purpose of this blog, I will assume you have not ruined the command and use “Come”.
GAME: Here’s a fun game to play with your dog to reinforce Come. Gather a handful of your dog’s regular kibble. Also gather a small handful of cooked chicken, hot dog or cheese (tiny pieces). Have them together in a bowl. Toss a piece of kibble for your dog. As soon as they return to you give them a piece of the higher value (chicken, hot dog, cheese). This will teach your dog that coming to you is WAY better than leaving. This is a fun game you can play anytime. As your dog is more reliable you can add in the words “good Come!” while they are running back to you. This will help them understand what “Come” means.
Being positive and having exceptional rewards will help your dog to learn and understand that coming to you is wonderful! You want your dog to always feel great about coming when called.
NEVER punish your dog after calling them to come to you, even if you are mad. This will damage the command and the last thing you want is a dog that refuses to come when called because they are afraid of the consequence.
Written by Christine Durrant, Professional Dog Trainer and Pet Care Consultant
I am a big believer in hands-free use when it comes to dogs. The hands-free feature is no doubt convenient and there are many different styles on the market (including ours) that have wonderful reviews and experiences behind them. I have walked and trained dogs this way for years, and find it very beneficial. In this blog, I want to discuss the pros and cons of using a hands-free belt when training, walking, hiking, or jogging with your dog(s). I also want to address some safety concerns.
Hands-free eliminates the urge to jerk on the leash (which I wholeheartedly support), allows the handler to relax both physically and on leash tension, greatly reduces the pressure on the handlers shoulders and back, and frees up our hands for offering rewards, picking up waste, petting our dogs, etc. Having your dog or puppy attached to you is also a great way to work on potty training (which we will cover that in detail in one of our upcoming videos). There are many great reasons to consider hands-free!
There has been some debate about the safety of this feature. I understand and completely appreciate this and there are certainly precautions and common sense the MUST be used to avoid problems. Some say that if the dog is attached and pulls hard or quickly, there is a chance you can be pulled off of your feet and possibly even sustain an injury to your back. My personal experience does not support this. I have had major shoulder injuries with hand-held leashes from dogs pulling suddenly, but to date, have not experienced any shoulder or back problems from using hands-free. It seems, for me, that my hips are better able to absorb impact than my arms and shoulders. Also, I am very careful and use common sense anytime I am working with or walking a dog hands-free. I am in no way indicating that it is impossible to become injured if a dog lunges while using hands-free, I am just offering my experience and urging the use of common sense.
If your dog is large and/or very strong, lunges, or pulls hard, I would not recommend using a hands-free system. I also wouldn't recommend walking a dog at all if it is pulling or reacting to that degree. Injury is quite possible with these types of dog behaviors, no matter what you are using to walk them. Use our training methods to work with the dog first to eliminate this behavior prior to considering the hands-free feature. That way, you can enjoy your walks and eliminate the risk of injury of any kind whether it be from using a basic leash or hands-free belt. Lunging and pulling dogs present a risk no matter what method you are using.
If you have a dog that is small or a larger dog that is trained to not pull hard or lunge quickly and want to enjoy the hands-free experience, here are my recommendations:
Christine Durrant, CPDT-KA Professional Dog Trainer and Pet Care Consultant