10 Important Dog Training Tips: Week 7 – Take a Step Back

Welcome back to the series of my top 10 Important Dog Training Tips to remember during the training phase. The past 6 blogs I covered the importance of no grey areasconsistencysetting attainable goalsrepetition, having realistic expectations and the importance of having confidence in yourself. This week’s blog covers the importance of knowing when to take a step back in your dog’s training.

step back

We all have had a hard time learning a subject or concept in our lives and dogs can have the same difficulties and road blocks along the way. To be proper educators, we do need to watch our dogs for any hints that they are not understanding what we are asking of them during the training phase and know when it is time to take a step back in their training. This means that your dog may not have a full understanding of the previous step of the training therefor they are not excelling at the current task. To help them succeed, we must take a step back to the last task and make sure they understand before moving forward.

For instance, when I first started teaching my dog, Caleb, how to do nose work, I moved a little too quickly from the stage of having him find the odor to the stage of having him mark the odor’s location. Caleb was catching on quite quickly that his task was to search for his food which would be placed within view, no higher than his head, at the time. He seemed to be flying around the house finding his food with no problem so I decided to challenge him. The next time I hid his food I put in closed cabinets and drawers and he did exceptionally well. Where the issue came in is that when I decided to build off of Caleb’s current odor marker (sit at odor source), I didn’t work on the smaller steps to get to the final picture I wanted. In my mind, I wanted him to sit there patiently, or for longer than 15 seconds, to know that he was positive this was the location of the odor. However, to Caleb, my lack of a quick praise meant to him this must not be the location and he would get up and start searching again. Clearly this was my fault for not teaching him what I wanted him to do in a clear manner before getting to this step.

Luckily, at about this time, Caleb and I went to work with the amazing and knowledgeable Andrew Ramsey of Ramsey Nosework. Andrew immediately pointed out to me that I was doing a few things incorrectly so we took a step back in Caleb’s training to get him to understand that when he found the odor he had to mark the spot by staying still with his eyes locked on the location for several seconds before the reward came. The subsequent sessions were so much more fun for Caleb because he now had an understanding of what he was suppose to do. Since returning home from our lessons with Andrew, we have worked on Caleb’s focused alerts in the house and are almost ready to move to the outdoors with this sport he so thoroughly enjoys now that he understands his job.

So, if you feel your dog just doesn’t understand what you are asking of them, take a moment to step back to the previous step and make sure they are comfortable with that step before moving on. Example of this can be if you are asking your dog to do a 5 minute sit stay but they keep breaking at 4 minutes – take a step back to releasing your dog at 3:50 and build up from there; if you are asking your dog to do a down at a distance of 6′ from you but they don’t do it until you have asked them multiple times – take a step back to a distance where they feel comfortable and down automatically; if you are asking your dog to jump through a hoop that is 3′ off the ground but they keep running under it – take a step back to a height your dog consistently jumps through then slowly raise the hoop. Doing this will help both of you enjoy your training together!

 

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10 Important Dog Training Tips: Week 6 – Confidence

Welcome back to the series of my top 10 Important Dog Training Tips to remember during the training phase. The past 5 blogs I covered the importance of no grey areasconsistencysetting attainable goals repetition and understanding realistic expectations. This week covers the importance of having confidence in yourself.

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As with most things we do in life, being confident plays a very important factor when training your dog. I can not stress this enough to my clients as I see it affect their ability to feel comfortable training their dog. What do I mean by this?

50c950d429050f05094a9733053e8af0If you are not confident that you are doing the right thing for your dog, whether that be your worry of your timing for their reward, that you are not being clear enough or you are not doing it right, or being too mean, all these will affect the way you interact with your dog leading you down the path of self destruction. When I train a dog, whether it be my own or a clients’, I make sure that I feel wholeheartedly that I am doing the right thing and I am confident with my request for the dog, whether it be asking them to do something new or correcting them for a wrong behavior.

I had a client who was training her Labrador to be a mobility service dog and one of the cues I teach all service dogs is how to “under” which means to go under a chair, table, bench or desk to be out of way of foot traffic whether the client is at work, out to dinner, at the doctor’s office or on public transportation. This particular dog was having difficulty understanding the concept that she had to crawl under the chair and stay there. As with all lessons, I let the owner try several attempts on her own the way she wanted to do it which was bribery for a morsel in her hand. Well, this lab, as shy as she was, found out she could just put his front legs and head under the chair and be rewarded then quickly jet out from under the chair. The owner was becoming quite frustrated and saw her dog’s behavior as a sign that she did not enjoy the task and the owner wanted to give up. However, what I saw was a dog who was nervous and didn’t feel comfortable with the task. But I knew that I was not asking the dog to do anything “mean” or “abusive” and helped her out by guiding her under the chair with a treat in front of her and a gentle, soft pull of the leash and collar. And guess what……she did it on her first attempt with me!

Just a couple of pictures of Caleb practicing his “under” at 5 & 6 months old.

This is just one example of how being unsure of what you are doing to/with your dog can possibly hamper their learning abilities whereas being confident in what you are doing/asking can teach your dog (and quite possibly yourself) something new. Don’t be afraid! Stand up for yourself and your decisions that involve your dog’s training, you’ll be amazed at what you both learn!

This video does not show training, but it captured a time where I pushed Caleb to do something because I was confident he could do it. And boy is he proud when he finally picks up the tire and carries it!

 

The Amazing Starmark Training Collar

If you’ve ever met with me to address your dog’s tendency to forge while on walks, you probably already know about the amazing Starmark Pro-Training Collar. Developed by Starmark several years ago, this collar has been a true life saver for many dogs and has been my go-to training collar for dogs of all sizes.

Starmark Pro-Training Collars

For those not familiar, let me tell you a little about this remarkable training tool. The Starmark collar is constructed of durable plastic that is comfortable for your dog to wear all day. The material makes it light weight yet quick to respond to leash pressure allowing a quick and painless correction to be given to your dog if needed. Starmark combined the martingale and prong collar to create this gentle tool allowing sensitive owners to communicate with their dogs should they be pulling.

Notice the proper snug fit of the collar around the dog's neck.
Notice the proper snug fit of the collar around the dog’s neck.

This collar works best when fit high on your dog’s neck and snug enough to not allow any rotation or slippage. The collar is made to be opened, then placed around your dog’s neck, then securely closed. It is NOT to be slipped over your dog’s head. Doing this can possibly cause harm to your dog’s eyes should they be scratched accidentally in the process as well as it leaves the collar sitting too loosely around the neck. The added benefit of this collar is the ability to add or remove links to make the collar fit your dog’s specific neck size. You don’t have that option with a lot of other training collars which makes this quite ideal in the dog training world. You can start using this collar on your young dog and simply add links as he grows and matures.

Transitioning your dog to a Starmark Martingale collar will allow you to give less corrections and protect your dog’s neck from constant pressure and/or stricture from other collars they pull in to like buckle or chain collars. Typically my clients see results within minutes of transitioning to this wonderful collar and are so pleased they are truly smiling by the end of the first lesson.

A snap is added to this Starmark to allow quick operation by the owner.
A snap is added to this Starmark to allow quick operation by the owner.

As I mention in the video (see link at bottom of page), this collar can be quite difficult for elderly or those with weak hands to open and close. Luckily there are a couple of companies, Pawmark being one, that have attached quick releases to the strap. I highly recommend you look for these specific collars to make your life easier should you fall into either of these categories. I also suggest you keep the collar one link too large while practicing putting the collar on your dog, especially if they have a longer coat, until you get the hang of it. Don’t worry, this usually takes only a few attempts! Once you’re comfortable with the process, remove that extra link and you are all set.

If you think your dog would benefit from this training collar, I strongly urge you to consult a knowledgeable dog trainer in your area to help you fit the collar and train your dog to walk on a loose leash with you. You can also “heel” on over to my YouTube channel to view my recent tutorial video on the Starmark collar including how to open and close the collar while on or off of your dog.

The Difference Between Service & Therapy Dogs

A therapy dog, pictured on left, visiting a hospitalized patient while a service dog, pictured on right, helping his handler.
A therapy dog, pictured on left, visiting a hospitalized patient while a service dog, pictured on right, helping his handler.

Which is which? What makes a Service Dog different than a Therapy Dog? Well, I thought I’d discuss this question in a little bit of detail in this week’s blog because I know it can be quite confusing looking at all the dogs out there with capes and tags, vests with patches, dogs riding on public transportation or visiting people in hospitals. Don’t worry! I am here to help decode all of this for you!
A Service Dog is a dog that is specifically trained to help an individual with tasks they are not able to perform on their own without great difficulty. To name just a few, Service Dogs can be trained to help hearing impaired individuals, assist an individual with limited mobility issues, help guide the visually impaired, alert an individual with a medical condition such as seizures or diabetes to an oncoming episode, help those suffering from Traumatic Brain Injuries and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and children with Autism. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), only dogs are recognized as service animals and there unfortunately isn’t any required testing for said title. However, the best organization that is trying to oversee the training and qualifications of service dogs is Assistance Dogs International (ADI). They have created guidelines and assessment tests for all service dogs being trained and placed by accredited organizations.  The ADA states that service dogs must be allowed in most places the handler goes with very few exceptions (i.e. surgery rooms). There is a great page on Facebook, The ProBoneO,  that allows anyone to post a question regarding service dog laws and requirements that I encourage you to check out should you have access issues with rental agencies, business establishments, etc. Also, if you are paired with  a service dog, I recommend checking out International Association of Assistance Dog Partners.

For those of you who knew Lasher, you know he was a Service Dog and provided mobility support for me for several years. He past the ADI Access Test and was trained to perform a few cues that enabled me to stand when my leg became unsteady, to get up off the floor if there wasn’t a person or chair around, and to help me walk when the pain in my leg was unbearable. Lasher would either wear a vest that clearly labeled him as a service dog or a leather brace (mobility support) with an identifying I.D. tag. I also carried these cards (pictured below) on me to explain how Lasher assisted me and the laws of the ADA should I be stopped by a business owner or curious citizen. I rarely had any difficulties taking him anywhere even though he was a 90 lb, pure white, German Shepherd because he was very obedient, quiet, calm and acted as a service dog should – never known they’re there until they are seen.

Cards I carried to describe what Lasher was and my rights to have him accompany me.
Cards I carried to describe what Lasher was and my rights to have him accompany me.

Therapy dogs are NOT service dogs and do not have the same rights. Therapy dogs provide a service to many people by visiting hospitals, convalescent homes, children’s libraries, assisting in children’s court cases and more. I think the most important fact to share is therapy dogs do not have the same public access right as service dogs. They are not allowed in stores, restaurants, doctor’s offices, etc. If you are interested in having your dog evaluated for this great program, I recommend contacting a local Love on a Leash chapter. It is so rewarding to see your dog bring a smile to a stranger’s face and brighten their day just by walking in to the room or being able to run their hands over your dog’s fur. I participated in this program with Lasher for a little bit and I can’t tell you how great I felt after visiting the convalescent home down the street from my house. Especially after we would perform our weekly “tricks” for the Alzheimer ward.

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