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DOG TRAINING 911

posted July 15th, 2013 by
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by Mary Green

Q.  I have two dogs, Bubba and Charlie. Charlie is my problem child. We live in an apartment complex where there are lots of dogs. Charlie is apparently barking a lot when I’m gone. I know it’s him because I didn’t have any problems with Bubba before Charlie came along. He’s a Terrier mix, about a year old we think, and I’ve had him for about three months. Does he have separation anxiety?

A.  Separation anxiety is a diagnosis that your veterinarian might make based upon Charlie’s behavior. The first thing to do is schedule an appointment with your veterinarian about Charlie’s problems. Many times, what the pet owner believes is separation anxiety is really just a situation where the dog can’t be left alone and unsupervised.

When a dog has separation anxiety, he will exhibit behaviors such as: panting, salivating, vocalizing, pacing, destructiveness, chewing on his paws, flanks or tail; he may urinate or defecate, and may not eat food left for him. The dog appears to be anxious, stressed and uncomfortable. Also, he may scratch and claw at doorways and thresholds or attempt to escape from confinement.

Dogs with “home alone” problems may do some of these same behaviors, but they don’t act anxious. They may not like being home alone and do destructive things and bark, whine or howl, but they will usually eat food that is left for them and play with their toys and whatever else they can get into! If it looks like they had a party while you were gone, they probably did!

If your dog has “home alone” problems, there are steps you can take to help him be more comfortable and calm while you’re gone.

Crate training or confinement training: Reduce the space that your dog has available and restrict him from off-limits areas. Gradually acclimate him to the crate or confinement area and use it sometimes when you are staying home.

Interactive toys: Stuffable and chewable toys, like Kong toys, are wonderful for keeping dogs entertained. Other food delivery toys that are not designed for chewing, such as the Buster cube or Kong wobbler, can provide much mental stimulation and self-reward for clever dogs.

Exercise: Be sure that your dog is getting enough exercise when you are home. Address the need for both physical and mental exercise. A tired dog will nap a bit while you’re gone!

Calming aids: Some dogs are helped by herbal calming treats, aromatherapies, classical music or talk radio. There is a product called DAP (Dog Appeasing Pheromones) that comes in an electrical outlet plug-in design or a collar that the dog wears. Discuss the use of homeopathic supplements with your veterinarian before you try something new.

Environment change: Close the curtains, open the curtains, turn on the TV or radio, or leave it off! Do something different than what you have been doing. Reposition the crate or place it in a different room. Sometimes just moving a dog closer to a heat or air vent or moving them farther away does the trick.

If your veterinarian does diagnose Charlie with separation anxiety, he or she may opt to prescribe medication. Medication alone is not the long-term solution, so behavior modification training will have to happen.

Q.  How can I teach my dog to swim?

A.  How great that you want to teach him! First, ask him if he wants to swim, and where he would like to swim. He may want to frolic at the edge of the pool, or on a step, but may not want to get his whole body in it. He may want to run into the lake or pond, where it is a gradual increase in depth, and splash around on the shore but may not want to jump off the dock or boat.

Put him in a vest! Life jackets or floatation vests for dogs have come a long way and are necessary for all but the most experienced and proficient swimmers. Prices range from around $25 to $75. If you are attempting to teach him how to swim, and he panics, he can cause harm to himself and to you. He is much less likely to panic if he has the vest on and doesn’t go under water.

Try to get him to swim to a toy that he likes. There are some great floating toys available for dogs. Most dogs tend to do better if they have a purpose for swimming! You may also have some luck getting him to swim toward a treat. I know personally that Charlee Bears dog treats float!

If you have a pool in your yard, please teach your dog how to get out of it. It’s imperative that you have a ramp or steps. You can purchase ramps specially designed for dogs that can be left in your pool all the time. Also, remember pool covers are responsible for many dog deaths each year, so don’t assume that your dog will stay off of your pool cover.

Dog Training 911

posted January 14th, 2013 by
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by Mary Green

Q We have a decent sized back yard, and our dog gets to run and play there as much as he wants. But I always hear that you should take your dog for a walk every day for exercise. Is that really necessary?

A There are a lot of reasons why walks are considered a necessary part of your dog’s behavioral wellness. If your dog just goes outside to “do his business” and doesn’t really rip and run, he may be under-exercised. If he is running the fence with neighbor dogs, he may be over stimulated. If he is left in the yard without human companionship, he is not getting necessary socialization.

The yard can become pretty boring if you aren’t adding interesting things like food delivery toys, or interactive toys on a regular basis. When he is out for a walk, your dog can learn about his neighborhood. Besides getting physical exercise, he is taking in all the sights and, more importantly, the scents of the area. A short walk can really tire him out.

There are indoor games as well that help alleviate boredom and give your dog mental exercise. Toys that deliver food are wonderful. There is a wide array from Kong toys, to Buster Cubes, to Kibble Nibble. Some food delivery toys are also chew-toys, but some are not. There are interactive puzzle toys in which the dog has to problem solve in order to get the treats. Any game that encourages a dog to use his nose is another great way to exercise your dog.

Q I have a puppy that is about 5 months old. This is not the first puppy that I’ve raised, and I’ve never had a pup this difficult. I’ve always trained them on my own at home, but I feel this one is more than I can handle. Should I take him to obedience classes?

A Puppies, like children, are as different as night and day. Your previous puppies may have been of a different breed. Your current puppy could be the same breed as you’ve had before, but could be atypical (or maybe your last puppy was atypical for the breed). And, as we get older we are perhaps less tolerant of puppy behavior. Difficult is hard to define. A pup could be difficult to house-train but easy to take for a walk. He could be difficult on a car ride but easily crate-trained.

Training classes are a great first step toward forging a better relationship with your pet. K9 Manners & More classes are full of people who are on their way to having that well mannered pet that is a real part of the family. There is also a social aspect of being in a class with other people who are going through your same challenges. It’s fun to see your friends in class whether you’re a dog or a person! Ask your veterinarian for a referral to a training class, and do your homework to find the class that is right for you.

Q Can dogs and cats ever get along?

A Sure! If the dog and the cat are both members of the family, it can take some work to get along, but it can work. The first step is careful introduction of the new pet to the established family pet. Say, for example, you are bringing home a dog that you don’t know is cat-safe or not. You must first ensure the safety of the cat. Be sure that the dog does not have any opportunity to chase the cat. He can be confined in a crate when supervision isn’t possible, and be carefully supervised—on leash— when introductions are being made. If the cat bolts, and the dog chases… it’s game on! Prevent the dog from being able to do chase.

Cats that are outdoors are particularly at risk of being attacked by dogs. Dogs view them as intruders the same as squirrels. And dogs outside tend to pack-up on cats, even if individually they seem to get along. 

Dog Training 411

posted July 15th, 2012 by
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by Mary Green

Q Is there any way I can stop my dog from barking at everyone and ev­erything that goes down my street? I like to leave my solid door open and the storm door closed, but Lacey spends the day barking. She doesn’t charge the door, thank goodness, but the barking needs to stop.

A It’s hard to completely extinguish barking, and perhaps that’s not what we want to do. One benefit of hav­ing dogs, even small ones, is that they can sound the alarm to warn you of a threat. It is possible, though, to teach a dog to stop barking when you tell her and maybe help her discriminate be­tween what is and isn’t bark-worthy.

You might start by covering the storm door with a decorative window film available at home improvement stores. There are lots of patterns avail­able, and you could select one that is opaque enough that she can’t see out, but the light comes through. Of course, you may only need to apply it to the lower portion of the door.

The most effective training option may be to teach Lacey the meaning of “that’s enough” or a similar signal. To do this, sit with her at the door, and when she barks, tell her, “That’s enough,” and give her a treat. It may feel like you’re rewarding her for barking—that’s OK, because at least for the second she is eating the treat, she isn’t barking. You can continue to give her treats until the person (distraction) is out of her sight. Pretty soon, she is barking one time and coming to you for her treat!

Teaching an alternate behavior is an­other option. When Lacey starts to bark at the door, call her to you and give her a toy, preferably something that squeaks and have her hold or carry it. When Parker, my Boxer, was a little guy, he would be so excited that he would grab whatever was handy, which often was a sock. We could say, “Parker, put a sock in it!” and he would grab a toy, bone or sock. To this day, nine years later, Parker still greets everyone with something in his mouth. At least the barking was muffled!

You might teach Lacey to go away from the door. At K9 Manners & More, we teach a “go to mat” skill that comes in very handy for this type of problem. By having Lacey go and lie down on her mat or dog bed, she is removing herself from the excitement of the door and us­ing self-control.

Q Are little dogs harder to train than regular size dogs?

A I’m not sure what you consider “regular size dogs” to be, since dogs come in all sizes! From toy and small dogs, such as Yorkshire Terriers or Chihuahuas to giant breeds like the Newfoundland and the Irish Wolfhound, the size of the dog’s brain will change, but the manner in which they learn is the same. There are perhaps notable differences in trainability.

In 1994, Stanley Coren, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, wrote a book on dog intelligence, “The Intelligence of Dogs.” The book explains Coren’s theories about the differences in intel­ligence between different breeds of dogs. Coren published a second edition in 2006. He defines three aspects of dog intelligence in the book. Instinctive intelligence refers to a dog’s ability to perform the tasks it was bred for, such as herding, pointing, retrieving, guard­ing or supplying companionship. Adap­tive intelligence refers to a dog’s ability to solve problems on his own. Working and obedience intelligence refers to a dog’s ability to learn from humans.

There are reasons why one might think little dogs are harder to train. Training little dogs may be physically hard on a person because of the need to bend over more than with a me­dium or large dog. A small dog’s tum­my fills up quickly on treats, making a training session very brief. Small dogs often are afraid of being stepped on or picked up, so they may stay out of arms’ reach. They also have a compara­tively small bladder, and housetraining may be more challenging than with a larger dog.

One thing is for certain in dogs… One size does not fit all!

Training 411

posted March 15th, 2011 by
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Q&A by Mary Green

Q.

My dog Henry is a 35lb fox Hound  mix that can make a running leap  to the top of our 6 ft high privacy fence,  which is made of 3″ cedar boards.  from  the top he jumps to the other side and  roams the neighborhood for about 30  minutes and then jumps back into the  backyard. I am afraid he may get hit by  a car or picked up by animal control on  one of these sojourns. Do you have any  training methods to break this habit? I don’t like the idea of using an electric  fence wire to detour him.

A.

  You’re absolutely right; Henry could  be very much endangered because  of this behavior.  The electric fence (hot wire) is a pretty harsh deterrent, so I am happy to  suggest some less aversive ideas.

It would help to know why Henry is leaving the  yard.  Initially, I would ask you if he is neutered.   If he is intact, he may be leaving the yard to  go looking for love. Next, I would ask if he has  enough to do in the yard. If he is spending a  lot of time outside alone, he may be rather  bored.  Are you doing any sort of enrichment for  him? You can create an interesting backyard  environment by using some of the food delivery toys.  A trip to the pet supply store will give you  some ideas of things such as Buster Cube,  Kibble Nibble, Kong toys, etc. If he can hunt in  his own yard, which provides some nice activity,  he may be less likely to wander. Are you taking  Henry for walks in his neighborhood?  He may  need the exercise and mental stimulation that a  walk can provide.  

There is a product called Coyote Roller, which  is a fence topper that rolls so an animal cannot  get a grip and propel himself over the fence.   Check their website at www.coyoteroller.com.  I  suspect you could fashion a similar design out  of PVC pipe!

There are some  anti-jumping  harnesses on the market.  My experience has been that a pet  owner will put the harness on the dog, and  still leave him unattended in the yard. He then  proceeds to chew the harness up!

How about providing Henry a window to the  neighborhood?  Cut out a small section of your  fence, place screen or other wire in it, and make  a frame around it.  Having a small place to look  through is much more comforting than looking  between the slats of the privacy fence!

Q.

My little dog, Zula has decided  that if she doesn’t want to go  outside she will play hide behind the  couch. She also will not come when called  from outside (unless it’s freezing).  I know  that I have spoiled her and it’s my fault for  always having a cookie when I call her. She will only come if she thinks I have  food now. I was thinking about leaving  the leash on her and giving it a pop if she  doesn’t come. Do you have any ideas?  I’m  afraid to do more harm than good!

A.

You’re right – a pop on the leash does  not generally inspire the dog to come  when you call her. Punishment like that can  make a dog very wary of coming to an angry  owner. Our approach would be to play some  games to get her to come when you call her. At K9 Manners & More, we call this one “Catch & Release”.  Pick a time to practice when Zula  does not need to go out, or come in.  Have some  treats in your pocket, or otherwise hidden from  the dog. Call Zula, and as soon as she looks  toward you – toss her a treat! If she comes all  the way to you, she gets the treat. You praise  her, pet her, and let her go about her business.

When she gets interested in  something else, call her again. If she  doesn’t come all the way to you, toss the treat – gradually getting it close enough for you to  touch her.  Don’t require the dog to sit or do  any other behavior – just a treat for coming. Practice multiple times/day. Catch – release. After about 3 days, do the same thing in the  yard. Periodically go ahead and send Zula  outside when you call her, but only about one  third of the time.  

We also play “Hide and Seek.”  It’s pretty simple – you hide and then call your dog.   She has to  find you to get the treat. If her stay is solid, you  can put her on a stay while you go hide.  If not,  ask a family member to distract or restrain the  dog while you hide. If you can, practice inside  and outside – if you are out of sight, the dog  becomes curious about where you are and will  find you!

Another strategy is to leave the leash on Zula  inside and outside. If she hides, ducks away, or  darts, you can snag her with the leash. If you  have a plain old slip leash from the vet, these  work well. Just loop it through her collar.  You  need to be carefully supervising, though, so  she cannot become snagged on something or  entangled and injured!