Rescue Tails #3
Mary Lou and Her Three Bears
If you see Mary Lou Gregoris arriving at the dog park, you may think at first that she is being followed by three large black bears. Mary Lou will tell you they aren’t just bears, they are very lovable teddy bears. This would be quickly confirmed to anyone who wishes to give these huge, furry creatures a hug. Two of Mary Lou’s teddy bears, Bogart and Satchmo, are Newfoundlands, while Maggie, a Flat-coated Retriever, just thinks she is one.
Mary Lou has always been fascinated with the Newfoundland breed for its loyalty and devotion to its human companions. The Newfoundland has been called “The Benevolent Dog” due to its sweet and gentle disposition and its willingness to help its human friends, even to the point of risking its own life. The Newf, as it is affectionately known, is a powerful swimmer with a double coat; the undercoat is waterproof. At one time, every fishing ship in the Maritimes kept a Newf on board. These ship dogs became legendary for rescuing people from the cold, choppy Atlantic, as well as swimming through treacherous waters to shore with lines to secure ships.
Mary Lou especially loves the story of Gander, the legendary Newf who accompanied the 1st Battalion of the Royal Rifles to defend Hong Kong against Japanese invasion in 1941. Gander bravely defended his troops by barking at and charging Japanese forces. His final act of bravery was to grab a hand grenade that was thrown into the midst of his troop and run away with it in his mouth. The grenade exploded as he ran, killing him. For his heroism, he was awarded the Dickin Medal, which is the animals’ version of the Victoria Cross.
Mary Lou got her first Newf, Satchmo, as a puppy from a breeder, but has decided that from now on she will only adopt rescue dogs. Maggie came from the Parry Sound SPCA. However, two large dogs just weren’t enough for Mary Lou. She discovered Newf Friends Newfoundland Dog Rescue on line and quickly spotted a huge and handsome 7-year-old, aptly named Bogart. She needed a dog that would get along with Satchmo and Maggie, as well as children, since she has grandchildren who visit often.
“Newf Friends is very honest about pairing the right dog with the right family,” she says. “They want it to be a forever home.” A woman from the rescue group came to interview Mary Lou and her husband at their home to ensure a good fit. It turned out to be a perfect fit. “That boy came into our house, laid down on the kitchen floor and sighed, as though he was saying, “I am home.”
Both Satchmo and Bogart are St. John’s Ambulance Therapy Dogs. They work with the elderly and with autistic children.
Many people ask Mary Lou about owning a Newf. “If you don’t like lots of dog hair, drool, gentle giants lying about the house, or dogs who will Velcro themselves to you for your companionship, then a Newf is definitely not for you! I say that’s a small price to pay for total devotion, companionship, and unconditional love.”
If you are interested in learning about adopting a Newfoundland, check the Newf-Friends website:
Rescue Tails #2
Portia -- Fastest Couch Potato in the World
Wendy and Bryan Osmar have always had a dog in the family; like a fur-child to go along with their two human ones. There was Roxie, the boxer, then Kady, the West Highland Terrier, and then Newman, the English Bulldog. But it is a bittersweet reality that dogs have much shorter lives than humans and that human children grow up and leave their parents. When Newman passed on, and both kids moved away from home, Wendy and Bryan found themselves with a very empty nest indeed. There was only one thing to do; get a new fur-baby!
In Oakville, where they live, Wendy and Bryan knew a number of people with greyhounds that were retired racing dogs. They loved the elegant look of the dog, the many coat varieties, and the docile, quiet nature of the breed. They also discovered that greyhounds, while extremely athletic, are actually couch potatoes when at home. They do need a few good walks each day, as does any dog, but are quite content to just laze about the house the rest of the time.
While greyhound racing is not illegal in Canada, it is not popular and there is only one greyhound race track, in Alberta. However, the sport is very popular in the United States and there are thousands of race tracks across the country. Greyhounds typically race only for a few years and retire between the ages of 2 – 4 years. Consequently, there are many young, healthy retired race dogs that need loving forever homes. Wendy and Bryan knew there are several rescue groups in Ontario that bring greyhounds up from the States to find homes for them in Ontario, but since they spend a lot of time at their vacation condo in Sarasota, Florida, they decided to check there. They visited the Sarasota Kennel Club and were pleasantly surprised to find an adoption agency, appropriately called “Fast Friends Greyhound Adoption”, right at the track. The woman at the agency knew all the adoptable dogs well and once she had interviewed Wendy and Bryan and had them watch a race to see what the dogs were trained to do, and decided she knew “the perfect dog” for them. She had another volunteer bring out a gorgeous red brindle whose professional name was “Maiden Star”. Although the dog was a little timid with them at first, Wendy and Bryan were quite sure she was the dog for them. They decided “Portia” would be a better name for a pet, not to mention easier to call out at the dog park!
Portia was only 2 ½ years old when Wendy and Bryan got her. Wendy thinks it may have quickly become clear to her trainers at the track that she had more couch potato in her than runner. But her career as Wendy and Bryan’s fur-baby has been extremely successful. Portia loves human attention and is a very gentle dog. “She goes up to everyone to say hello. I think she likes to hang out with people more than other dogs.” Her favourite toys are fuzzy, squeaky toys. “When she gets excited she loves to grab one and squeak away.”
One of Portia’s funniest quirks is what Wendy refers to as her “reverse gear”. “If she walks into a room where the floors are very smooth or slippery, she doesn’t turn around and go out, she backs out of the room very slowly and carefully!”
If you are interested in finding out more about adopting a retired greyhound, you don’t have to go all the way to Florida! Check out the following rescue agencies online:
Greyhound Relocation & Adoption Canada www.gracanada.com
Needle-Nose Greyhound Adoption www.needlenose.ca
Greyhounds In Need of Adoption (GINA) www.meetgina.ca
Rescue Tails #1
Carol Verdurmen and her husband, Robert, gave lots of thought to getting a dog. In fact, they contemplated the idea for three years! When Carol retired in 2006, they felt the time was right and visited the Oakville Humane Society. As they walked down a corridor, Robert spotted a puppy through the window of a closed kennel door. He immediately asked if the puppy was available for adoption. Happily, it was! That was all it took for Carol and Robert to choose Ty as their new family member.
Ty had been found wandering loose in the street. He had no tags or microchip and after the required number of weeks spent waiting for an owner to claim him, he was considered abandoned and put up for adoption. The Humane Society guessed that he was about one year old and possibly part Great Dane and part Greyhound. Carol just calls him “All-Canadian”.
Although Ty was abandoned, Carol believes that someone spent time training him during his first year. He already had very good manners when they got him and excelled in the puppy training class he and Carol did together.
From day one, Ty was a very affectionate and sweet dog, although at first he was quite nervous. Carol says that the only issue Ty had was that he used to bark at strange men, especially tall ones! However, his nervousness has improved greatly and he no longer does this as much as he once did. Carol credits this to the time they spend at Lakeside leash-free park in Mississauga with other friendly dogs and dog owners. She says it is Ty’s favourite thing to do. His second favourite thing to do is stretch out on the bed with his head on Robert’s pillow and sleep.
Nine years later, Carol and Robert still consider themselves extremely lucky to have spotted that pup in the window, who turned out to be such a wonderful dog. “He has been a complete and absolute joy since becoming a member of our family,” says Carol.
Ending the Tug of War
You’ve probably seen them – those poor creatures trying to keep up as they get dragged around by the leash when they are out on their walks. They get yanked along willy-nilly at their companion’s whim. The harder they try to keep up, the more they are pulled. Yup, we’re talking about those poor humans who get taken for walks by their dogs. It’s not pretty and it’s not fun. If you recognize yourself in this scenario, you may want to train your dog not to pull on his leash. You will be rewarded with much more enjoyable walks and, if your dog is large, no more dislocated shoulders!
Dogs aren’t born knowing that when on a leash they should walk nicely beside their human companion. More often, experience has taught them that if they pull and strain against the leash, they will get where they want to go. The number one trick to training a dog not to pull on leash is to teach them that pulling does not get them anywhere. There are various good methods to train your dog not to pull on the leash. This following is a positive reinforcement method the ASPCA calls “Red Light, Green Light”.
As usual when training a new skill, start in a place with few distractions so you have your dog’s full attention. It is also a good idea to have already given your dog a potty break and a fun exercise session, just to get the calls of nature and over-excitement out of his system before training. You will also need a baggie full of small (peanut-sized is good) treats, such as wiener pieces. The traditional side for a dog to walk is on the left side, but you can choose to train your dog to walk on the right if you wish; however, be consistent once you have chosen a side to avoid confusing your dog.
Begin with your dog on leash. Have him sit calmly by your sit before setting out. Treat him for this good behaviour. Then say “Let’s go”, or whatever phrase you wish to use to signal to your dog that it is time to walk nicely at your side, and begin walking. When your dog reaches the limit of the leash and begins pulling, immediately stop walking and stand still. This is the red light. Call him back to you if he doesn’t immediately return on his own. Have him sit at your side. Say “Yes!” in an upbeat tone and give him a treat for sitting. Resume walking in your original direction. Green light! As you are walking along, continue giving a treat every few steps if your dog is continuing to walk with you leaving slack in the leash. If he goes begins pulling again, stop and repeat the red light scenario. This method teaches the dog that he doesn’t get anywhere when he is pulling on his leash; however, if he returns to your side, he gets a reward. As with other skills, you can slowly wean your dog off treats and reward him with praise instead.
Most well-socialized dogs rarely get into dog fights. But occasionally even a docile dog can be drawn into combat. The causes of fights are varied and many, but typically one dog is guarding a resource -- food, a toy, personal space, his owner, or himself -- and feels threatened in some way by another dog. Thankfully, most dog fights are brief and no one gets hurt. Dogs instinctively know they are capable of inflicting serious injuries on each other and, like many animals, use a variety of ritualized behaviours to avoid actually doing so. This can include growling, snarling, teeth-baring, jaw snapping, wrestling, pinning, and biting of loose neck skin. Even though it may not look like it to human observers, most of this behaviour is usually quite benign. Some dog behaviour experts refer to this as a “dog argument” rather than a dog fight, it is loud and dramatic, but lasts only seconds and there is usually no physical damage.
There are occasions however when an argument may escalate into a full-blown fight and the dogs need to be pulled apart for their own safety. For your own safety, it is important to first look at what not to do. It may be tempting to reach in and try to pull one dog away from the other by its collar, or to grab both dog collars and pull the dogs apart that way. This is a fast way to get bitten on the hand, arm or face, even by your own dog. In their heightened emotional state, the dogs won’t register the difference between the other dog and your vulnerable human flesh. They will only know that something is attacking them from behind and will crane their heads around to bite whatever is there.
Ed Frawley, who has trained police dogs for almost thirty years and has produced a large library of dog training videos (some of which are available on YouTube), recommends the hind leg pulling method. If there are two people available, each person picks up the back legs of a dog. Raise the hind legs up high and back away from the other dog as the other person does the same. Move in an arc as you back away so that the dog has to concentrate on walking on his front legs and not on reaching around to try to bite you. If you can, block the dog’s view of the other dog. If he can’t see the other dog anymore, it will help him to calm down. Once he has calmed down, you can grab him by the collar and lower his hind legs. Make sure you leash him and remove him completely from the situation, so that he does not see the other dog and try to go back to fight.
It is more difficult and dangerous to use the hind leg pulling method if you are alone, but it is possible. Grab a leash and carefully approach one of the dogs. Loop the leash under the dog’s belly in front of its hind legs and then thread it through the loop of the leash’s handle. Pull the leash tight and pull the dog back until you find something to secure the leash. The loose dog will probably follow and the dogs will continue to fight as you do this, but you have to think of your own safety first. Once the first dog has been secured, walk around behind the loose dog and lift it up wheelbarrow style by its hind legs. Walk backwards in an arc away from the first dog. From there, continue as in the first method.
Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?
You’ve probably been there. You are happily walking your dog in the dog park or along a sidewalk and he spies something interesting and hurries over to investigate. The next thing you know, you are witnessing your beloved dog, the cuddly buddy who gives you loving wet kisses on your face, joyfully scarfing down poop. Lovely. Some dogs are such poop aficionados they will follow other dogs around waiting for a fresh supply to emerge. Some dogs will eat their own poop, the cat’s poop from the litter box, and just about any other poop they can find.
The scientific term for poop-eating is coprophagia, and while it is very common in dogs, there is a lack of scientific study into the behaviour and very little consensus as to why it occurs. There are several good theories however. Mother dogs stimulate their pups to poop by licking their butts and then consume the waste in order to keep the litter’s bed clean. While this is normal and desirable behaviour, it may lead some puppies to copy the mother’s behaviour and then keep the poop-eating habit into adulthood. Other theories suggest a poop-eating dog may have a vitamin or mineral deficiency that is driving the behaviour, or that the dog is simply not getting enough protein in his diet. Another good theory is the scavenger theory. It is well known that dogs evolved as scavengers and that this included eating the poop of lots of other species in the animal kingdom. As revolting as the idea is to us, poop can have a lot of nutritional value to a scavenging animal and it made up a large part of the dog diet for many thousands of years. It could be that, even when provided with adequate amounts of proper food, the scavenger drive is still too strong in some dogs to overcome the urge to eat found poop.
While there is no consensus as to whether or not eating poop is actually unhealthy for dogs – some say no, others say yes – it can be unhealthy for the humans they live with (remember those loving kisses?) Yuck! So if you are one of the many lucky dog owners whose dog likes to eat poop, you may want to first get your pet checked by a vet to see if there an underlying medical reason, such as a vitamin or protein deficiency. Other than that, you will have to do some work to prevent the behaviour. Prevention is the key word here. The best way to do this is to train your dog to have excellent recall and “leave it!” skills. If you don’t, there is no way to stop your dog from gobbling poop unless you get to it before he does. Also, keep your yard clean of poop. If you have a cat, make sure its litter box is inaccessible to your dog. You probably don’t leave your cat’s food bowl on the floor, so don’t leave the litter box on the floor either. Too tempting!
Leave it – Further Steps
Once your dog knows that when you say “leave it!” to the treat enclosed in your fist (see the post “Leave it! A Good First Step”) he can expect a tasty treat from your other hand, it is a fairly simple process to have him shift his attention to your face instead. Practise the exercise with the biscuit in your closed fist held out in front of you and the piece of wiener in your other hand up by your forehead. Now after you have said “leave it” and your dog shifts his focus to your other hand, which is up by your face, you have his full attention. If your dog has been taught to sit in order to ask for things politely, he will most likely automatically sit at this point, which is excellent. (If your dog hasn’t been taught to sit and say please in this manner, you may want to seriously consider teaching him this before moving on to more difficult skills such as “leave it”.) Once he is sitting, give him the tasty wiener treat. You can practise having him sit for longer periods of time as well, such as five or even ten seconds.
Now you can move on to a more challenging step. You can do this inside or outside. Before the training session (out of your dog’s sight), place an interesting object, such as a small pile of dog biscuits, or even a pile of smelly socks, where your dog will see it. You will still need enticing treats on hand for this step, such as bits of hot dog wiener. Put your dog on a leash and then walk in the vicinity of the object, close enough that he sees it but not close enough that he can reach it with his mouth as you approach. Once your dog has spied the object and is walking purposefully toward it to investigate, say “leave it”. If your dog pulls against the leash to try to get at the object, stop walking and wait for him to look back at you and sit politely. When he does, give praise and a wiener treat from your handy bag. Then continue walking forward, past the object, but still just out of range of it. It is important that your dog cannot actually reach the object at this point, for if he does manage to scoop up a biscuit or snuffle those socks, he has rewarded himself for grabbing something off the ground.
If your dog is determined to get at the object and continues to pull at the leash, ignoring your “leave it” command, walk in the opposite direction so that he must follow you. Once away from the object, have him sit politely and look at you, then give him a treat. Try walking past the obstacle once again. If he continues to pull toward the object, you may need to go back to the beginning and practise step one again.
In future posts we will take a look at even more “leave it” challenges for your dog.
“Leave it!” A Good First Step
Dogs evolved as scavengers, and even though most dogs no longer need to scavenge for food to survive, the instinct to sniff out and eat anything and everything that even vaguely resembles food remains an extremely strong doggie drive. That’s why training your dog to “leave it!” is one of the most useful skills you can teach him. Just think of the possibilities! You can stop your dog from investigating that lovely smelly dead squirrel carcass, or that tasty pile of rabbit poop. You will also be able to stop your dog from investigating potentially dangerous items, such as that chocolate icing you’ve dropped on the kitchen floor, or the glass jar that has shattered everywhere.
The trick to training your dog to “leave it” is to trump that incredibly strong scavenger impulse. The technique is similar to the one used to have him reliably come when called. You need to train your dog that when you say “Leave it!”, he will be rewarded for doing so with something even better than the item he is about to investigate with his mouth.
Have at the ready small pieces of hotdog wiener in your hand or pocket. You may want to keep these in a plastic baggie of some kind since they are greasy. Meanwhile, show your dog that you have a ‘boring’ treat, such as a piece of kibble or a dog biscuit in your other hand. Tuck this treat into your hand and hold your closed fist out toward your dog. Say “leave it!” in a firm voice, just once, and thereafter say and do nothing. Ignore all entreaties from your dog to give him the treat in your closed hand, including smelling, licking, gnawing, whining and barking. As soon as he pulls his head away from your closed fist and looks away or up at you, say “Good!” or “Yes!” and immediately give him the even better treat – a piece of hotdog wiener.
Repeat this technique until your dog is immediately backing off from your hand as soon as you say “leave it”. Most likely he will catch on to what is happening fairly quickly and immediately shift his attention to your other hand to get the wiener treat. This is a good first step. The next step will be to have him shift his attention to your face. We will look at that in the next blog.
If you have spent any time in the company of two or more dogs, you will probably have witnessed the common doggie behaviour fondly known as humping. It doesn’t matter if the dog is spayed or neutered, male or female, puppy or adult, most dogs will, at some point in their lives, mount another dog. To humans, the behaviour is often embarrassing and unfathomable, something like when dogs eat poop. Why do they do it?
Since it occurs in many different situations and can be accompanied by a wide variety of other behaviours, scientists who study canine behaviour believe there are a multitude of reasons why dogs mount each other outside of a sexual context. The behaviour cannot be attributed to any one single trigger factor. Sometimes dominance, one dog asserting his or her status over another, is the cause. However, as animal behaviourist Anne Trisko has noted in her studies of canine behaviour, mounting is more often associated with play than status-reinforcement. For example a dog may mount another dog as a way of getting its attention and trying to provoke the other dog to play with it. Related to this is Trisko’s idea that mounting can also be a “bond-testing” behaviour between dogs who play together a lot. One dog will “test” the other dog’s loyalty by mounting, as though saying, “How much will you take?” Other researchers believe that in many cases, mounting is related to overstimulation, an overload of emotion such as happiness and excitement or anxiety. This is quite evident at the dog park, where doggie emotions and doggie humping abounds.
No matter the reason, humping is, according to experts like Carolyn Walsh, a scientist with the Canine Research Unit at Memorial University in Newfoundland, “perfectly normal dog behaviour” and dog owners should not get embarrassed about it. However, just as jumping up or grabbing food from a child’s hand is normal dog behaviour, humping can be troublesome and obnoxious. Many dog owners do not appreciate other dogs humping their own dog, sometimes for very good reason, such as when their dog is elderly or has a painful hip or back leg condition. With this in mind, it is important for dog owners to be able to prevent their dogs from humping others. The best way to do this is to train your dog to have excellent recall in order to call him away from mounting another dog and redirect him to a more acceptable behaviour.
Keeping Four Paws on the Ground
Jumping up on people is a natural behaviour for all puppies and dogs. They want to get closer to us to get our attention. It is very hard to resist rewarding a dog for this behaviour by giving him that attention, especially a cute little puppy. But when you do, you are reinforcing the jumping behaviour. Now you have a puppy or dog who thinks jumping up is good behaviour. But a jumping dog can be very annoying or even dangerous. On the annoying side, you’ll have a dog who feels perfectly fine wiping his muddy paws all over on your clean pants (or shirt, if he is a large dog!); at the dangerous end of the spectrum, you have a dog who will jump up on toddlers, the elderly, or anyone else he feels like greeting exuberantly.
When it comes to jumping up, prevention is always the best medicine. As expert dog trainer Brian Kilcommons says, “Don’t encourage your puppy to do anything you don’t want your adult dog to do.” Begin training your pup not to jump up as soon as you can; however, if it’s too late for prevention, the following strategies work with both puppies and adult dogs.
When your puppy or dog jumps up on you (or your legs when you are sitting down) you must resist the urge to interact with the puppy in any way. Pull your arms in against your body, then stay still and ignore him completely. Don’t speak or look at him. If you are standing, you can even turn away from him and then stay still. When your dog has backed off, immediately reward him with attention and treats. Many trainers refer to this as teaching the dog that he must keep all four paws on the ground if he wants your attention.
If your dog gets excited at the praise and starts jumping up again, repeat the ignoring technique, but tone down the excitement of your praise. Pet him calmly or keep giving treats for as long as he keeps all four paws on the ground.
If your dog persists in jumping on you even if you are ignoring him, try the following technique. Take a few quick steps forward so that he has to back up to get out of your way. He will have to put all four paws on the ground to do this, and when he does, immediately but calmly praise him or give him treats. Then stand up and walk away. If he starts jumping up again, repeat the ignoring technique above. If needed, add in the quick steps forward to force him back down.
Training your dog or puppy not to jump up is even easier if he is already master of the “sit” command and – wonder of wonders -- gives you the ability to stop your dog from jumping up on other people! If he jumps up on someone, say “sit” in a calm and commanding tone. As soon as he sits, reward him with treats and praise. Repeat as needed and soon you’ll feel like Jim Carrey in Bruce Almighty singing “I’ve got the Power”!
Total Recall - Part II
Many dog owners find that their dogs are pretty good at coming when called when they are at home, but when they get out to the dog park, their dogs suddenly become deaf to their calls. This is because at home, you are usually the most interesting thing in the immediate area – at least until you open the door and a cat runs by. When something else peaks your dog’s interest, you immediately experience your dog’s true recall ability; or rather, your ability to be more interesting to your dog than anything else. In this second part of training total recall using Dr. Yin’s method, you will train your dog to come when called even when there are tantalizing distractions around.
Keep your dog on the leash. Have your treats ready. Now practise the same “Come!” command as in part one, but this time turn and run, making a chasing game out of it. After you’ve run a few metres or so, stop and turn to face him. Once he has settled into the sitting position, give him his treat. During the running part, you can add in some whoops and arm movements to make things even more interesting. This should be very enticing to your dog. It is a fun game and he gets a reward for playing! What could be better?
Once your dog is proficient at the chase game, add some minor distractions nearby. You could use small toys or even treats. Toss the toy or treat nearby, but out of reach of your dog. Begin moving toward the distraction but then suddenly move the other way, launching into the chase game once again. Cheer and praise and give the treat so he knows this is more fun than whatever that was over on the floor. If he is not sitting, or looking back at the distraction, or straining at the leash to get back to it, keep moving in quickly and spontaneously other direction, so that he remembers he wants to play that fun chasing game. Once his focus is back on you and he is seated in front, do the whole cheering, praising and treating routine. Be careful that you do not keep repeating “Fido, Come!” ad nauseum during this routine. If you do, your dog may learn that he only has to come to you after you have yelled the command fifty times; or, even worse, your dog will learn that your voice is simply white noise blabbering in the background like those teachers in the Charlie Brown cartoons. When you say a word to your dog, you want that word to trigger him into a specific action.
As your dog becomes more reliable, add in more difficult distractions. For example, if you can recruit family members or friends to help, have them do something that could be very interesting to your dog, such as jumping up and down or dancing around. If you can get your dog to immediately run to you while such a spectacle is occurring, you are doing very well indeed.
As you go about your daily routine with your dog, test out the chase game in various situations, such as when you are going for a walk, or even just in the house, for practise. This will teach your dog that he’d better keep his focus on you because at any moment you may start a fun and rewarding game that he doesn’t want to miss.
Stay tuned for part three!
Total Recall -- Teaching a Dog to Come When Called
Teaching your dog to come when called, every time, might be the most important thing you ever teach him. Imagine a dog owner opens her front door to go in or out. Her dog spies a squirrel running across the street. Dog gives chase and...well, there are a few possible endings to this scenario. If the owner has trained her dog to come when called, the ending will be a happy one; if not, the ending may not be so happy. This is just one scenario in which total recall could save a dog’s life. There are countless other everyday moments in which a dog can get itself, not to mention its owner, into trouble if it does not reliably come when called. Total recall also makes life with a dog infinitely more pleasant. Just think how great it would be if your dog returned immediately to you when called, instead of chowing down on that aromatic pile of poop, or rolling in those enticing dead rodent entrails.
Despite the utter fabulousness of this one little skill, you need only spend a few minutes at a dog park to see that very few dogs have total recall. How many times have you seen an owner call and call, louder and more insistently each time until the dog saunters back...or not. According to animal behaviourist and vet, Dr. Sophia Yin, it is very easy for trainers to get the training of this skill wrong. Let’s take a look at Dr. Yin’s method and see what we should and should not be doing in order to get it right.
Dr. Yin says the key is to make yourself more interesting to your dog than whatever is distracting him, be it another dog, a squirrel, or a pile of poop. Begin with your dog on leash in a distraction-free area and give him some of those tasty tidbits you keep handy for training purposes. Already you are the most interesting thing in the vicinity! Have another treat ready and suddenly run backwards a few steps as you say “Fido, come!” in an enthusiastic tone. Your dog will think it is play time and run to catch up. As he does, reward him with the treat. Hold the treat at his nose level so that he doesn’t have to jump up to reach it. You don’t want to reward him for jumping up.
Dr. Yin stresses that it is important to say the “Come!” command only once. This is where many trainers make their first big mistake. As humans, we have an almost irresistible urge to repeat the command over and over, getting louder and more frustrated each time. If you want your dog to obey the first time you call, this repetition isn’t going to cut it.
Once your dog is coming promptly each time you practise, add a sit into the equation. When your dog reaches you, use the treat to guide your dog’s nose up, automatically making his back end lower, until he is sitting. You do not need to say “sit”, or anything for that matter. Practise this until your dog is running to you and immediately sitting.
Okay, we’re off to a good start! “What? We’re not done yet?” Nope. In the next post, we will up the ante and add distractions to put your dog to the test. Remember, total recall takes work, but it is absolutely worth it.
Teaching an Adult Dog to Sit
There are many reasons why an adult dog might need to be trained, or retrained, to sit. It could be that the owner didn’t train the dog as a puppy, not seeing it as necessary; however, now that the cute little puppy is a larger and more assertive version of its former self, its inability to sit on command has become a problem for the owner. More often, however, retraining is required because an adult dog has come into a new owner’s life as a rescue from a shelter. This is a wonderful thing, but the new owner must be prepared to train the dog from scratch if necessary.
As when training a puppy, begin in a space where the dog feels safe and comfortable, and in which there are a minimum of other distractions – such as a quiet room in your home. Distractions are very important to training, but not until the dog has fully grasped the basic command without them. That will be covered in another post.
Years of ingrained undesirable behaviour and bad habits may make it necessary to begin training your dog on a leash. This will give you an additional dimension of control you may need. Also, keep a small baggie of treat rewards somewhere on your person, such as attached to a belt loop, to have them handy. You may need to use them during the training session if your dog requires something to overcome shyness, to refocus a hyperactive or overexcited dog, or if he is resisting the hand positioning method described here.
Gather up most of the leash in one hand, leaving only a bit of slack between you and your dog. Have the dog standing on the opposite side of you from the hand that is holding the leash, so that the leash is across the front of your body and the hand closest to your dog is free. With this free hand, gently press down on your dog’s lower back, just above the hips, while saying “sit” in a firm but calm tone. Don’t force or squeeze, as the dog will instinctively resist force or pain. Be gentle. At the same time, you must be aware of what your other hand, the one holding the leash, is doing. Try to keep an even tension on the leash, even a bit of slack if possible. Do not pull your dog’s head upward in order to force him to sit. This might teach him that he only has to sit when you pull upwards on the leash with force, and this is definitely not what you want him to learn.
Once your dog has lowered his back end, even if it is only for a second, give him lots of verbal and physical praise. He may pop back up immediately, but that is okay. End the praise and begin the steps again. As you practise, try to use less and less guidance on his back with your free hand, until he is sitting without your hand touching his back. Be patient and do not scold your dog. Depending on the dog’s background, it may take days or even weeks of work to succeed.
If your dog is absolutely resisting the gentle downward pressure on his lower back, you may need to try using treats as an added incentive. Readjust how you are holding the leash so that you can also hold a tidbit between your thumb and forefinger of that hand. Go through the steps again while holding the treat near your dog’s nose. You will need to use your free hand to apply the gentle pressure to his back. Once you feel your dog’s back end lowering, give the treat and lots of praise. If you are finding it too difficult to manage the treat and the leash together, remove the leash and try again without it.
Teaching a Puppy to Sit – Food Reward Method
It is fantastic if you can train your puppy to sit on command using only voice and physical contact rewards; it means that you do not have to go through the process of weaning the puppy off food rewards. However, on the broad spectrum of puppy emotional states, many puppies are on the extreme ends; they are either too enthusiastic and over-excited or too shy and anxious to concentrate on what you want them to do. They need something to help them overcome their emotional state. Food usually does the trick quite nicely! With a food reward, you will immediately have your puppy’s attention.
What type of food should you use? There are many brands of prepared food rewards available in pet food stores, but you can also use “people” foods that are particularly enticing to dogs, such as cheese or hot dog wieners. Vet and animal behaviourist Dr. Sophia Yin has a unique approach to food rewards she calls “Learn to Earn” in which the puppy earns his regular daily meals throughout the day during training sessions. But whatever type of food reward you use, make sure the bits are small bite-sized pieced according to the size of your puppy. You need larger bits for a Great Dane puppy for example, and much smaller bits for a Yorkshire Terrier. Use your puppy’s kibble bits as a size guide.
You can make access to the treat rewards easier and faster If you attach a small cloth bag full of the tidbits to yourself somehow, such as on a belt loop or in a pocket.
Get down to your pup’s level. Hold a treat between your thumb and forefinger in front of your pup’s nose so he can smell it. It’s okay if he licks at it.
Lift the tidbit up and over his head slightly. His nose and mouth should follow this movement. As you are doing this, say “Sit” in a firm tone. Don’t lift it so high that the pup has to jump up to get to it, just high enough so that his bottom end automatically lowers, while his head goes up. You don’t want to teach him to jump for a treat.
When his bottom lowers, praise him enthusiastically and give him the treat. If his bottom doesn’t lower, use your free hand to gently press it down. Then give him the praise and treat.
As with the praise only method, your pup is likely to leap back up out of the sit position when being praised. That’s okay. You can refocus his attention again very quickly once you bring out the next tidbit.
Eventually, your pup will sit on command. In fact, after a few sessions, he will probably sit his little butt down as soon as he sees your hand reaching for the next treat, before you have even said a word! This is good. Say “sit” anyway and give him the treat and enthusiastic praise. It is time to wean him off treat rewards. That will be covered on another post.
Teaching a Puppy to Sit – Praise Only Method
Dogs, like children, are not born knowing how to behave appropriately. The good news is that whether you have a new puppy, a new-to-you adult dog, or the same old dog you’ve had for years that desperately needs to be taught new tricks, almost any dog can learn good manners and leave bad manners behind; however, it is up to you to put in the time and effort it takes to civilize your dog.
In this and the next few posts, we will be looking at the basic good manners every dog should learn, beginning with sit. The sit command is a great place to start because it is so versatile; it can be used in many situations and it is the foundation for more complicated commands. It is probably the command you will use most often with your dog.
This post focuses on training a puppy to sit using only praise as the reward. Try this method first with your puppy. If it works, you will not need to wean your puppy off treat rewards. However, some puppies are too hyperactive to focus without the incentive of a food reward. The next post will cover that method, and later posts will look at training or retraining the older dog to sit.
- Squat or kneel down beside your pup and place one hand on his chest and one behind his back legs.
- Hold the pup steady with the hand on the chest while pushing gently behind his knees with the other hand to get him into a sitting position. At the same time, use a commanding tone and say “Sit.”
- Once in the sitting position, praise him with scratches and rubs and tell him how good he is. Be enthusiastic, as this will make an impression upon him. Keep the praise session very short at first, because the pup is likely to leap back up out of the sit position when being praised and you want to reserve the praise only for the sitting part so he connects the action with the reward. You may need to make several attempts before you get the pup into the sitting position long enough to praise him for it.
- Note: Be careful not to reward your pup for jumping up on you while you are in the squatting position. If he does jump up, turn your back to him for a few seconds -- no words, no touching, which the pup will interpret as praise – then face him again and try to position him into sit once again.
- Work for a few minutes at a time whenever you interact with your pup during the day. Get him to “work” for your praise or any other rewards you give him during the day by having him sit. For example, before you put his dinner bowl down on the floor, practice the sit command. Remember that your puppy learns from you with every interaction you have with him.
- Be patient. It may take a few days for him to make the connection between the action and the praise. Be upbeat and enthusiastic whenever training and your pup will enjoy his training sessions.
Methods of Dog Training
Lead with force or lead with finesse?
A generation ago, it was acceptable for parents and teachers to discipline children with corporal punishment. The theory was that if you didn’t correct bad behaviour with physical pain, a child would not learn proper behaviour, hence the saying “Spare the rod, spoil the child”. We now understand that using aggression stops the inappropriate behaviour in the short term, but does not teach appropriate behaviour, and worse, leads to emotional and behavioural problems, such as fear, anxiety, low-self esteem, and even aggression. We now know that rewarding desirable behaviour and not rewarding undesirable behaviour is a gentler, more effective method of teaching children how to behave. There is currently a similar change occurring in the world of dog training.
The methods of dog training fall into two main categories: the dominance method and the positive reinforcement method: The dominance method adheres to the idea that the dog owner must physically dominate the dog, and the dog must submit to the owner, much as wolves submit to an alpha leader in the wild. Undesired behaviour is punished with the infliction of pain or discomfort; or it is suppressed with the use of physical force. An example of this method would be using a choke collar to cut off a dog’s air supply if it strains against its leash.
The positive reinforcement involves shaping a dog’s behaviour by rewarding desired behaviour and not rewarding undesired behaviour. The reward can be a small treat, a toy, or praise. There is no shouting or yelling; no use of devices to inflict pain or discomfort. Once the dog has learned the behaviour and consistently performs it when asked, the reward can be reduced and eventually the dog will perform without the reward.
The dominance method has recently fallen out of favour with many animal behaviour scientists for several reasons.
The dominance theory holds that physical aggression is used by wolves in the wild to achieve leader status so it should work for the human-dog relationship. However, the theory is not so easily translated into practise. A dog owner does not have the wolf’s sophisticated array of stances, looks, postures, and sounds which it can use to warn a lower ranking wolf that it is behaving inappropriately, before resorting to physical aggression. Furthermore, wolf biologists now believe that wolves in the wild do not fight their way to the top of a pack; rather, the hierarchy is actually created much less violently through family units. A female and male wolf and their cubs generally form a pack with mother and father wolf as leaders and cubs their followers.
Another argument against this method is that using force or pain might stop the unwanted behaviour in the short term, but it does not guarantee that the behaviour won’t happen again; in fact, it could create worse behaviour in the long-run. For example, forcing a fearful dog to undergo a nail trim by restraining it will allow you to trim the dog’s nails, but it will likely make the dog’s behaviour more extreme and unpredictable the next time the nail trimmers come out. Many animal behaviourists now prefer the positive reinforcement method of training. In fact, in light of what wolf biologists now know, it may actually correspond more readily to how wolves behave in the wild than the traditional dominance method.
Of the two different methods, veterinarian and animal behaviourist Dr. Sophia Yin says: “You can lead by force, like dictator Muammar Gaddafi, or you can lead with finesse, like Mahatma Gandhi.”
What kind of leader would you rather be?
Be the Leader of Your Pack
It’s only natural to want to be best friends with your dog; after all, companionship is the number one reason to have a dog. But this desire to be friends often causes dog owners to treat their dogs as they would a human friend. They avoid taking on the role of master because it makes them feel guilty to assert authority and control over their furry buddies. You wouldn’t demand that your human friend stay off the bed would you? However, dogs do not think or reason in the same way humans do, and it is a mistake to think of your canine companion in human terms.
All dogs, even cute little lap dogs, are descended from wolves and still maintain the thinking and behaviour patterns of wolves. They are pack animals. Your dog thinks of you (and any other humans it lives with) as its pack. That’s part of what makes them such great companions. They want to be with the pack at all times. But they also want and instinctively need a leader -- in wolf terms an “alpha”— who they know is in charge of the pack in all situations. What happens when you, or the other human members of your family, do not consistently and assertively assume this role? The dog becomes anxious and confused and will opt to take control itself. This can have undesirable consequences.
Let’s consider answering the door as an example. This is an everyday situation that causes problems for dog owners who have not trained their dogs the see them as the leader of the pack. When the doorbell rings, it signals to the dog that a stranger is about to enter the pack’s territory. A dog which does not have a clear alpha will immediately be on alert. It has no idea what is about to enter its territory or if the pack is in danger, nor can it rely on its owner to tell it how it should react in this situation. The dog must take it upon itself to react in whatever way it sees fit. For many dogs, this creates immense anxiety. Some dogs will become so nervous they will hide under furniture or pee on the floor. Other dogs will circle about, growling or snapping menacingly at the intruder. Others will charge the door barking uncontrollably in an attempt to warn off the intruder and protect its pack from danger. You may know someone who has to drag their flailing dog away from the door by the collar in order to keep them from attacking the visitor.
You do not want your dog to go through this anxiety; nor do you want to deal with the frustrating and sometimes dangerous consequences. If your dog understands that you are the leader of the pack, it will always look to you for guidance. Nervous dogs can be trained to stay calm. Assertive dogs can be trained to give a few barks of warning (if you want them to), and then quietly stand beside you while you answer the door, awaiting further instruction, calm in the knowledge that you know what is best for the pack.
It is very important that you assume the alpha role with your dog. Dogs who know their owner is the leader of the pack are much calmer and happier than dogs who never know when they will need to assert their own authority. You will be much happier as well, because you will no longer have to deal with the undesirable behaviour. Don’t worry, your dog will still love you!