10 Important Dog Training Tips: Week 10 – Have Fun!

Welcome to the last blog (sniff sniff) in the series of my personal 10 Important Dog Training Tips. Over the past 9 weeks I covered the topics of no grey ares, consistency, setting attainable goals, the power of repetition, having realistic expectations, finding confidence in yourself, knowing when to take a step back , the NILF concept and knowing when to hire a professional to help you. This week, and last topic in this series, covers the most important thing to remember when training your dog…….always have fun!!

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Practicing one of Caleb’s tricks at the local park between obedience sessions.

 

Just as with any other type of training you do in your life; working out, studying, practicing an instrument, you need to have fun or you will lose the drive to want to excel. Dog training is the same way. If you don’t find yourself smiling at your dog at least 5 times during your practice session, or laughing out loud at their mistakes, you will not enjoy working on your dog’s behaviors. And if you are not having fun, it can be guaranteed that neither is your dog!

Remember, dog training, whether it be for behavior modification, perfecting known cues, learning something new, or just seeing what your dog wants to do, should always have some moments of fun mixed in with the practicing of the other behaviors. This can be by mixing in a fun trick, adding in a little play session or possibily having a “quiet” moment of bonding and rethinking what your goal is. The possibilities vary and can be countless as each partnership (handler and dog) is different from the next.

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Practicing one of Caleb’s tricks in the park between his obedience lessons.

So get some treats in your pocket or gather your dog’s favorite toy and get out there and have fun!!

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10 Important Dog Training Tips: Week 8 – the NILF concept

Welcome back to the series of my top 10 Important Dog Training Tips to remember during the training phase with any dog. The past seven blogs I covered the importance of no grey areasconsistencysetting attainable goalsrepetition, having realistic expectations and confidence in yourself, and finally, knowing when to take a step back. I’m winding down this series with this week’s blog which covers the very important topic of the concept known as Nothing in Life is Free (NILF).

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Dog training with the NILF methods simply means that your dog must work for a resource he wants. This resource could be to cuddle with you in bed, go for a walk in the neighborhood, play fetch, get a bite of your sandwich or swim in the pool. The list can go on and on and simply comes down to that the resource is anything your dog deems important and something they wish to have. Requesting that they do something first, before getting the desired resource, means you are teaching them that good dog manners are reward with “important” things versus a dog learning to be pushy to get what they want.

This is very easily achieved in your household just by asking your dog to do simple things in the beginning. Let’s say your dog wants you to throw the tennis ball. They run over to you and drop their tennis ball in your lap while you are watching t.v. Instead of just throwing the ball automatically, you would instill NILF by asking your dog to do a simple sit command, then throw the ball as the reward for sitting. Once your dog has the hang of this simple command, you would ask your dog to either sit longer, lie down, go to his bed, etc. If your dog doesn’t do what you ask him to, he doesn’t get his ball. He may start to bark, nose you, paw at you, or even try to take the ball, all of which you either have to ignore or correct him for and only reward him once he does the simple behavior you asked him to originally.

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All of these past students are doing something for what they want. Some are laying down politely as guest enter the house; sitting politely to be petted, receive a treat reward or chase the ball or just stay in one position no matter what distractions are around them to continue walking through the park.

 

The NILF concept is especially important for those dogs who show tendencies towards resource guarding and/or aggression. By instilling ground rules from the beginning that your dog can not get what he wants until he does something for you helps them to understand they are not making the rules. They are not the decision makers and in resource-guarding-squarecontrol. Any time I sign on a new client who has a dog who is growling at them when they try to sit on the couch, walk near their food bowl when they are eating, snap at them for trying to take an object away, etc., I always tell each and every one of them NILF must be started immediately. This is for everyone’s safety. At this point I believe your dog has lost their “freedom” and must now earn everything they want. They no longer respect you or your possessions therefor they must go back to NILF and earn every resource they want by doing something. They must respect you and stay out of your space. They must do everything you ask them, and in return, as you start to see their behavior changing, you can reward them with higher valued items. In the end, everyone wins! Your dog listens to you making your house copacetic again and your dog gets what he wants, all by everyone understand the rule of boundaries set by NILF.

Here is a video of my dog, Caleb, when he was 8 months old working for his food using NILF. He had to sit in one spot for 2 minutes to get what he really wanted…his kibble. These simple steps can be started at home with your dog – give it a try!

 

10 Important Dog Training Tips: Week 4 – Repetition

It’s week four of my 10 Important Dog Training Tips series! Over the past three weeks I discussed the importance of keeping things very clear through “no grey areas”, why consistency is key and creating attainable goals. Week four covers the importance of repetition during the training phase.

Just like when you were learning your time tables, and you would work through flash cards night after night to remember what 2×2 and 7×7 equaled, your dog must practice commands over and over to fully retain the information.

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How many repetitions you ask? Well, this depends on how clear you are when teaching your dog what you want and how much your dog wants to do the desired behavior. I have seen some dogs learn a behavior in less than 10 repetitions while it may take another dog 30 repetitions to learn the same behavior. However, I think it important to note that repetitions are successful when there is consistency in what you are asking your dog to do as well. If you pay close enough attention to your dog, you will soon learn their body language to let you know they get it. For example, when I am teaching Caleb a new behavior, I know that once he starts wagging his tail very happily it is because the behavior clicked in his head and he now understands what I am asking of him. Almost like he’s proud of himself for figuring it out lol.

You can check out a video I made specifically for this blog where I start teaching Caleb not to forge forward when he transitions from a sit to a stand.

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Along with how many repetitions it may take your dog to learn a behavior, you then have to add in the months of practicing that behavior in all settings to ensure your dog understands he has to perform the same behavior no matter if it is in your living room, around your neighborhood or at the local park. It is important to remember that you never push your dog and expect him to perform with out any hiccups in new environments if you have not set him up for success. This means, you don’t take your dog to a high stimulation environment and practice his behaviors if you haven’t practiced them in lower stimulation environments first.

What a Handy Idea!

So, I had an idea the other day. Rather, I should say, I think I had an epiphany. It may have been too little sleep the night before or too much caffeine that day but something came to me during a common interaction with my dog. Let’s see what you think.

From petting, to grabbing leashes, door knobs and a food dish, hands do some pretty amazing things to our canine friend's perspective.
From petting, to grabbing leashes, door knobs and a food dish, hands do some pretty amazing things to our canine friend’s perspective.

As I was reaching for the door knob to let Caleb out to his run, I thought of something while I watched his actions. You see, he looked at my hand as it reached for the knob initially, then he took a quick moment to glance back at me before returning his acutely intense eyes back to my hands to study their actions. This is when I thought, what if it isn’t the simple action of touching the door knob that excites our dogs as we have always thought. What if it’s the mere idea of our dogs loving our hands so much! Think about it a moment before you label me as crazy…

Let’s make a list of the occurrences that happen almost day-to-day with our canine friends.

  1. We grab their food bowl to feed them one to three times a day depending on your household structure. We pick up the bowl with our hands, carry it to the counter, grab the food, pour it in the dish then place the dish on the ground for our dogs to enjoy their meal.
  2. We grab the collar and leash out of its resting place, put it around our dog’s neck, attach the leash and tell them “Let’s go for a walk!”
  3. We grab the car keys off the shelf, turn to our dogs and say “Wanna go for a ride?!”
  4. We open the cookie jar, grab a cookie (or two, or three), ask our dogs to do something for us then feed them the cookie(s).
  5. We pick up the ball off the floor and toss it for our dog to retrieve. Hopefully they bring it back to us, drop it at our feet at which point we pick it up and repeat the process.
  6. We grab our dog’s brush out of the basket and proceed to brush them adding in a nice massage at the end to which our dog’s melt into the floor enjoying the special attention.

The list can go on and on but I think you’re starting to get the point here. My question to you is what do you see that’s the most common item in all of these so far? Besides you doing something for you dog lol. Have you figured it out yet?? Your hands!!

Caleb must think hands are pretty amazing since they can open treat jars, play ball, grab the car keys and give him treats!
Caleb must think hands are pretty amazing since they can open treat jars, play ball, grab the car keys and give him treats!

Besides your calming, reassuring or praising voice, your hands do everything your dog loves. They are the tools that do everything extended away from our body. They are the things our dogs watch most often because they hold and do all the good things thus making our dogs incredible learners of hand signals. So why is it so hard to believe that if our dogs could talk they may say something like…”I absolutely LOVE your hands!”

Now I know some hands out there can perform unbelievably evil actions, but for the most part I think they are pretty kind and loving to our dogs. So, next time you do something with your dog I suggest you take a moment to see what you are doing and how your dog is reacting. You may not find me crazy after all (I hope).

Treat time!

Tails of a Working Dog Owner

Belgian Malinois and German Shepherds training and working.
Belgian Malinois and German Shepherds training and working.

With all the concerns going around social media regarding the movie Max, and how it will affect the Belgian Malinois breed, I thought I would share my story of owning a working dog.

I once believed that any dog could flourish in a home as long as there was clear direction, consistency and a balanced relationship between owner and dog. I believed that no matter the breed, it could be done by anyone. Over the past few months I have quickly realized that this can be quite a fantasy. I have shared my life and home with different breeds of shelter dogs, most mutts of unknown origins and they all lived well-balanced lives. Once I started my career in dog training and behavior, learning the facets that contribute to how dogs learn and develop, it became clear to me that dogs, much like humans, are pretty similar from one breed to the next. Several years later when I dipped into the world of dog rescue and became a dog foster mom I started feeling empathy for all these “unwanted” dogs. I would say, “If they just had an owner that taught them right from wrong from the very beginning.” “If they just had an owner who understood dogs they wouldn’t be here.” I truly believed that no matter the dog’s breed they could survive in any pet home as long as the simple rules of consistency were followed.

Today, my views have changed.

Caleb dressed up as a dinosaur for his first Halloween...I should have known he'd be a handful lol
Caleb dressed up as a dinosaur for his first Halloween…I should have known he’d be a handful lol

I am now the proud owner of a true “working dog” who drains me of my mental and physical energy on a daily basis. I am not stating this as a complaint but as a fact. I knew when I decided to purchase Caleb that I was purchasing a type of dogthat required daily mental stimulation, exercise and challenging activities to keep him out of trouble. I thought I could handle it with no problem being my background as a dog trainer, knowing the ins and outs of keeping dogs mentally and emotionally healthy. Well I am here to say that owning a working dog is not as easy as it looks and I now understand why so many dogs end up at the shelter, left in back yards, or worse, euthanized. Owning a working dog is a serious commitment that must be looked at with a completely open mind, and heart.

These dogs excel at so many activities because they are truly incredibly intelligent creatures. Their lineage comes from years and years of cross-breeding individual Border Collies workingdogs who each have the desire and drive to work to their maximum capability and then even further when asked. Take the border collies who have been bred to herd sheep. If you purchased a puppy from a breeder who has been breeding Border Collies to work a ranch 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and you take that puppy home to your apartment in the city, work 8 hours a day and just take him for walks, you will soon have a monster on your hands because you are not allowing the dog to do what he is bred to do. You are essentially keeping a tiger caged.

And the movies and television shows we watch with the perfectly scripted characters of Lassie, Benji and Rin Tin Tin (to name a few) don’t help the general public understand the intensity some of these dogs require with daily training. And I’m sure my love and respect for the German Shepherd Dog stemmed from watching them star in movies like K-9, Rin Tin Tin and others. But we have to remember these dogs are trained to perform these acts and more than likely have a trainer behind the scenes that spends countless hours and minutes every day training them.

I am now the proud owner of an extremely intelligent German Shepherd from Belgium working lines. This means Caleb is the offspring of specific breedings to produce dogs  that will excel at Schutzhund, French Ring, PSA or any other Bite Work Trainingprotection work, obedience, search and rescue, agility, etc. With that said, the flip side is that these dogs typically do not flourish in a home with little stimulation. They must have regular opportunities to challenge themselves, learn new behaviors, fail at attempts and recover from those fails ready to try again. Your average “pet dog” does not have this same drive. They are quite content to sit at home until the family returns, have a play session, possibly a nightly walk, then sit down and relax as an entire family. A working dog reaches this point only after working.

A great example of this is something I have learned with Caleb and his desire to

This is Caleb's first time, since he was 9 weeks old, learning all about balance on a boogie board. He wants to learn to do this, I am not making him.
This is Caleb’s first time, since he was 9 weeks old, learning all about balance on a boogie board. He wants to learn to do this, I am not making him.

learn new things. If Caleb attempts something new, let’s say climbing a wall, and he falls off ultimately failing in his attempt, Caleb will actually pull me back to the very beginning and try it all over again on his own. He does not accept failure in his life. And when he does accomplish something that he considers to be a task we should all be proud of, like jumping up on to a high surface for the first time, he will bark a couple of times as if he is congratulating himself. I also find Caleb actively seeking out new obstacles, such as ladders or big boulders to climb, just to do it.

It may seem like I am bragging about my amazing dog but I am sharing because these are things one rarely encounter with a “pet” dog. These are occurrences that are typical for a working dog and I feel strongly in sharing that every person must thoroughly consider if they can provide a mentally rewarding home for such a dog.  If you’ve read my past blogs, or watched any YouTube videos, you have heard me say over and over how important mental stimulation is to any dog, it is absolutely critical for a working dog.

Please understand this blog is not to scare you away from owning a beautifully smart working dog, it is simply here to warn you to do your due diligence before deciding on what breed and breeder. I love Caleb with all my heart and he amazes me each and every day with his intelligence and bravery. He has learned more in these past 10 months than any of my previous dogs ever learned. I know I will have more fun with him than I ever expected simply because he will challenge me to think of new things to do with him, challenge me to learn new training techniques and games and challenge me to stay active and mentally healthy.