Monthly Archives: April 2015

Timing, timing, timing!

Everything is about timing in the dog training world and how we can help our dogs learn to live compatibly with their humans. 

Forgive the awful video quality and the cooing voice in the background (it’s me!).  The first thing I did when we let the puppies loose is lay down on my back like Gulliver and let the Puppyputians jump all over me!  My friend Suzy Houpt and fellow dog fosterer for Mostly Mutts Animal Rescue in Acworth, GA actually came up with the Gulliver’s Travels reference!

Did you know that from about age six weeks to about 12 weeks is what animal behavior scientists call the Optimal Socialization Period for a dog?  This means that you need to get those puppies exposed to as many dogs, humans, other species, etc. as possible.  I’m not saying take your baby puppy to a dog park or PetSmart to walk on the floor — you have no control over anyone bringing a sick dog to those places and you definitely don’t want your pup exposed to that until fully vaccinated — but take your puppy to meet all types of people and dogs you know are healthy and social.

What about those dreaded “accidents” in the house as you train your puppy that going potty outside is way better?  Well, if you come across a puddle and you didn’t see it happen, if you reprimand the pup he will just think you are a crazy person because they won’t put the two together.  Too much time has passed.

Now if you catch the puppy in midstream, that’s perfect timing!  Don’t wait for him to finish — yell “Hey” or clap loud and pick him up and take him outside to finish (or on the wee wee pad if you are training that way).  When the pup potties outside, I have a “Potty Party” and give lots of excited praise.  Some people give actual treats but the act of relieving oneself and some good praise should be sufficient.  You know that feeling when you really have to go…you can almost hear the “Ahhhhhh!”

The timing of giving the dog a treat when teaching basic obedience behaviors is also very relative.  You really want to time the giving of the treat with the behavior you are rewarding.  Sometimes we humans are just not fast enough so teaching these commands using a marker like a clicker or even the word, “Yes!” gives you time to get the treat ready to give.  A treat pouch is helpful but you want to make sure the dog is paying attention to the hand signal, your verbal cue and you — not the treats!  If you are doing a down/stay, you want to reward the dog for the down and the stay but if he breaks it, well then no reward!IMG_0492

When I was first learning how to teach clicker training, our instructor had us get a pile of dried beans and a paper cup.  We would click and pick a bean out of our treat bag and place it in the paper cup.  Mark and then treat.  Mark and then treat. Mark and then treat.  I think I dream about marking and treating!

To practice my timing for marking a behavior, I used my table mirror.  First I would crinkle my nose and mark it with a “Yes!” just to get the rhythm and timing down.  I can imagine anyone who walked into my room at the time would be calling for the crazy wagon! But I needed (and still need to!) practice the timing.  But it’s all about timing, timing, timing!

Do dogs seek vengeance?

dog_urine_in_houseI do it all the time…I assign my dogs complex thoughts.  I used to believe they know right or wrong. I would say things like “he knows better than to steal that wooden leg!”

I see the videos where the dog has a submissive grin when the guy asks who stole the cat treats or who got into the garbage (and the trashcan lid is around the “guilty” dog’s neck). It sure feels like they are vindictive when I’ve just taken them home from the boarding place and they look at me and pee on the carpet in the bedroom!  In Jean Donaldson’s book, The Culture Clash, she states that dogs are completely and innocently selfish.

“Although some of their behaviors are socially facilitated, there is no good evidence that they have the all-purpose Swiss Arm Knife imitation tool that humans have. Here is the important point: this does not make them stupid or any less valuable than they would be if they could think more like us.”

Assigning these very human behaviors to dogs or any other species besides humans is called anthropomorphizing.  It’s pretty easy to do when you don’t really understand how small the dog’s brain is and how they really can’t think up these complex thoughts.  In Dr. Patricia McConnell’s book, The Other End of the Leash, she tells the story of a dog owner, John, who came to her with a male Chesapeake Bay Retriever named Chester who didn’t like to be corrected.  When John said “No!”, Chester would run into the bedroom, jump on the bed, wait for his owner to come and then, staring directly at him, lift his leg and pee on the pillow.

That has to be a vengeance pee, right? Well, in a nutshell no. John had been warned that Chessies are often stubborn and willful dogs.  The breeder had advised him to yell, “NO!” at    Chester and grab him by the scruff and shake him.  John was a good student and did what was advised. Chester was freaked out frightened and flattened his ears, rolled over and peed some more.  John realized he’d gone over the top with his correction.

For the next few days, the same scenario ensued.  John would yell, “No!” and run toward Chester.  Chester would cower and urinate.  John would stop realizing it would just make the dog more anxious.  Chester learned that if he peed, John would stop his offensive movement.  Later Chester learned to combine his peeing with a game he’d been teaching John called “Tag, I’m It!” As with a lot of adolescents, it was pleasurable to be chased and to watch Dad go gaga (Chester had found the right button to push!) but the trigger to this behavior was John yelling “NO!”bedpee

The behavior was turned around with John changing his correction word from “no” to “wrong”.  Chester learned that if he stopped what he was doing when he heard “wrong,” something good happened. John and Chester lived happily ever after.

So the next time you think that puddle in your bed is a vengeance pee, think about all the things that might have led up to it.  Dogs just don’t think in terms of justice and vengeance.

A Dog Is a Dog Is a Dog: Reading Body Language and Vocalizations

Gertrude Stein may find that “…a rose is a rose is a rose” rose_1_bg_030703but in the canine world a bark is not always just a bark! We can learn a lot from how dogs are vocalizing. Paired with the visual cues a dog provides, there are some very clear messages Fido is trying to provide to a human.  We just need to recognize these signals and sounds.

In the picture below, Oscar, my foster dog, exhibiting some Fearful Barking. I wish I had some audio of this picture of Oscar because he is clearly frightened of the camera lens. IMG_2087Notice he is avoiding eye contact.  If you heard his bark I would most liken it to a fear bark.  He was barking in a high pitched, wooing noise.  The position of his ears were back on his head. After this picture was taken, he jumped off his perch (he likes to sit on the patio firepit table) and paced back and forth on the deck for as long as I had my camera with the long lens attached.  As soon as I switched to a prime lens (a short one that doesn’t move) he quieted down and was fine.  He even let me take his picture.

In Barking the Sound of a Language by Turid Rugaas, she identifies several types of barking including Excitement Bark, Warning Bark, Fear Bark, Guard Bark, Frustration Bark and Learned Bark.  The book is available through Dogwise Publishing and I highly recommend it for anyone wanting to get some more detailed information on dog vocalization and behavior.

Excitement barking also has a high frequency sound and can sound a little hysterical or constant.  The dog will be very aroused and have a higher stress level.  This is the ADD dog who can’t sit down at all or be still.  He might be jumping up and down, tail up and wagging excessively and his ears could be back or perched forward.  During an excited bark, the dog probably won’t acknowledge a command.

You might see a dog from behind a fence and hear on short, sharp “Woof.”  This is a Warning Bark and simply means that the enemy is coming.  If you hear this bark, it is wise not to attempt to pet the dog!  You might evoke the flight part of fight or flight but some dogs find it necessary to guard the homestead and defend his space.

Guard Barking is usually accompanied with growling noises and people immediately react to it as a form of aggression.  The dog will make lunging movements and has a very high stress level.  He is definitely in the defensive mode so he may “fly” or he may try to scare something or someone away by showing teeth, growling, lunging forward, air snapping and barking.  If that something or someone still doesn’t take the hint, you may see this dog bite but as a last chance effort.

Frustration Barking  is often what you hear in a shelter.  It is endless static barking with the same tone and sequence over and over. Behaviors that accompany could include digging, chewing, licking, chasing shadows or tail.  Frustration barking is often caused by long-term stress like a dog in a shelter, or chained or hungry.  This is maybe the most heartbreaking sound I can hear.

The last type of barking Rugaas discusses is Learned Barking.  It often starts out as one of the different types already described but it is something that the owner has consciously (or subconsciously) reinforced with the dog.  An example might be a dog barking at you to pet him. He won’t stop barking so you give him what he wants – you pet him.  Now he is learning that if I stand in front of Mom and bark at her, I will get something that I want or a reward. Learned barking could also be at the command, “Speak!” A reward is coming if I bark on command.  Sometimes, this is not a great idea as the dog will try to claim their rewards by barking even if you haven’t given the command!

Next time your dogs barks, stop and think about the triggers, his body language and the vocalization.  A bark is not a bark is not a bark!

What can you see from Oscar’s body language here and what do you think he’s communicating?


Meet some of my new friends…

The first week of my six-week training adventure is almost over.  I’m over the moon with the class and what I’m learning.  I’m an experienced dog handler but there is so much more to the science around dog training.  Plus, what a great advantage we have being on the beautiful campus of St. Hubert’s Animal Sanctuary. We’ve had the pleasure of working with some very cool and interesting dogs here.IMG_0413

Pictured to left is Shamrock, a hound mix who is a happy-go-lucky dude.  Next to him is JR, a black retriever mix.  I’m happy to say that JR was adopted today.  I’d like to think some of the activities we did with him this week helped to get him adopted.  Although we’ve been studying behavior and not really teaching any commands, I think the socialization and attention does help.  That is one of the major reasons shelters need volunteers.  Often the staff is focused on the day-to-day efforts of running a shelter.  You don’t always get to play with dogs and cats and other companion animals when you are worried about cleanliness of the kennels, fiduciary responsibility or building projects!  If you can’t adopt, foster. If you can’t foster, volunteer.  If you can’t volunteer, donate!

IMG_0408Nami is a beautiful young terrier who came from a fighting ring somewhere down in the south.  New Jersey and many of the other northern states often get imports of dogs from the south. Nami spent a lot of time with the SPCA group who works out of St. Hubert’s getting rehabilitated.  She’s still a little shy around people but she seems to love interacting with other dogs and playing!  Today was day two that she met us and seemed a lot more comfortable around the class then she was yesterday.  Plus we were inside in the training ring rather than outside enjoying the beautiful sunshine like today.  Lot’s of environmental stimulus can affect the way a dog behaves.  Clearly Nami was more at home in the play area outside then in the training ring surrounded by strangers!IMG_0404

This black and white beauty is Lita.  She is a little clown and never failed to make me laugh at her antics!  IMG_0400The handsome seal-colored man is Adonis.  You wouldn’t be able to tell but he’s a senior dog.  What you can tell about him is that he loved playing tug with that toy!!!

This is just a few of the dogs we’ve been working with at St. Hubert’s.  There are great companions like these guys in shelters all over the country and the world.  If you have a place in your home for another companion animal, please consider going to a shelter or rescue!

Day 1 and I’m still here!

st. Elizabeth home-backgroundDay one of class was fun! We got to meet each other and find out a little bit about each other. St. Hubert’s is beautiful and they do such good work there. Our classroom also holds about 35 bunnies that the Sanctuary is putting up. They are evidence in a lawsuit so I can’t take pictures or show you the set up. There were volunteers in and out cleaning cages, feeding and watering. Even when had some of the rescue dogs in the room with us, the bunnies didn’t make a peep!

We worked with 10 dogs today — mainly just observing and trying to guess what their genetic make up is.  Most of them were obvious pit mixes but unless we do a DNA test, it is anyone’s best guess.  One of my favorites from today was a white pit mix with brindle patches on his ears named Caesar.  There was definitely something else in there, maybe lab.  Another fav was Tiger who looked like a mastiff/boxer mix.  He was brindle and lived up to his name as he had tiger stripes.

My first dog we took out was named Faith.  She was a seal colored pit lady who looked like she had just had some puppies.  This girl was so sweet but was very anxious around the rabbits.  My partner and I were able to calm her a bit by taking her into a hallway away from the rabbits.  After a little head and neck massage, she calmed down enough to lay on the cool tile floor.  It was then that I knew I was in the right place at the right time.

Up until that moment, I must say I’ve been a little dubious.  St. Elizabeth’s campus is beautiful and has a college as well as a convent.  Dorm life is, well, different.  There is a reason why the young go away to college and not 50 year-old ladies.  First of all, I had to go to Target and buy a step stool to get up on the bed.  I’m deathly afraid of turning over and falling out of the bed.  No TV, no mini fridge…not even a curtain!  But I have an air conditioner, wifi, a bed and a desk and chair.  I also have a sink and vanity so I don’t have to go anywhere to brush my teeth.  I do have to walk across the hall the the showers and the toilet and the kitchen (not all in one place).

dorm roomYou don’t realize how plushy life is until you change your surroundings.  I’m grateful for the opportunity to do this and I know it will change my life!

If dogs could talk…

Have you ever wished your dog could talk or that the collar that Dug the dog wore in the animated movie, Up, was real?  Working with a lot of foster dogs, I often don’t have any clues as to why they act the way they do.  Most often, we see pups who are fearful at first – and who wouldn’t be picked up as a stray or worse, turned in from a nice family home to a barking, awful cacophony of cages.

Going into any shelter, no matter how nice it is, is an assault of the senses for us humans. Can you imagine how a dog feels?  Visually, they now have lots of eyes staring them down.  The stare down is usually a sign of aggression when dogs meet naturally.  A new resident in a shelter is sort of like Sean Penn doing the Dead Man Walking walk to the electric chair.

From an auditory sense, a madly barking shelter is like sticking your head in the Liberty Bell and someone ringing it.  While humans hear 12 Hz to 20 KHz (less as you get older!), dogs have an auditory perception ranging from 40 Hz to 60 kHz.  While their range is about 3X that of a human, they also have 16 different muscles in their ears to help them more precisely locate a sound.

How scared would you be basically going to jail with lots of scary prisoners who were yelling all the time?  The thought actually makes me pee a little so I really empathize when we get a new dog in the program coming into our shelter at Mostly Mutts.

How do I make a foster more comfortable in the Litt Palace of Puppy Love?  For me, the first step is to get a pup to start to trust. Once introduction to the pack is done (always do dog to dog intros on neutral space with no snout to snout contact) I like to take the newbie in a room by ourselves and I lay on the floor.  The new pup is not pressured to do anything. He can smell me, play with me, lay next to me, cautiously wait across the room.  I don’t call them or even acknowledge them as this is about them figuring me out.

I may have a few, super delectable treats in my treat pouch that I will reward them with if they initiate contact. I do all of this on the dog’s comfort level.  For more nervous dogs, it may take a couple of sessions.  It is also very helpful to have a happy and confident dog in your pack who can help a scared one gain some confidence through play, walks together, etc.

I talked to a fellow foster mama this morning (which is what initiated this article) who has a new foster. He’s coming directly from animal control into her home.  He’s very sensitive and still scared after a few days in her home.  Marilyn feel like he wants to trust her — he’s just not there yet.  Everytime she calls him, he cowers.  When she pets him, it takes a while for him to relax.

Since we don’t have Dug the Dog collars yet and we don’t know what these guys have gone through, our only remedy is to wait and let them get used to a loving home. You can’t force a scared dog to become unafraid but through patience and understanding and some very yummy treats you can reward your scaredy dog to confidence!

I’m driving in a Kia Soul…to the wilds of New Jersey

The title above should be sung to Leaving on a Jet Plane by the formidable John Denver.  Today, I’m embarking on my drive to dog training school!  I’ve made a list and checked it 1.5 times…I didn’t make it through the second check because a squirrel walked by while I was reviewing it!  Six weeks of classroom and hands-on training in New Jersey hosted at St. Hubert’s Animal Sanctuary.  I can’t wait to meet the dogs we are helping!



So Dirk and I are about to depart.  He’s loaded to the sunroof!  I’m staying in a dorm at St. Elizabeth’s College in Madison.  It’s a dry dorm.  But having only spent a single night in a dorm before getting an off-campus apartment in my college years, I’m just not sure what to expect! I have to bring my own linens and towels.  I packed every single pair of underwear I own!

I’m going to be six weeks without my own dogs…it will be ok during the day when I’m working with the shelter dogs but what about at night when I’m all snuggled in with everyone having to touch at least a part of me?  How am I going to sleep on a twin bed????

Maybe I’ll just lay the seats back in Dirk and sleep in the familiar with the sunroof open under the stars of…New Jersey?  New Jersey gets a bum rap but it is actually a very nice state.  i’ll be in central Jersey that has some very nice communities. I’m pretty sure I won’t see a lot.  I just got 11 emails from Amazon for all the books included in this course!

Last night I sat in the middle of piles of clean laundry and just didn’t know what to pack.  If I pack for cooler weather, it will be hot.  If I pack for GA weather, I’ll freeze. I know I’m just going to Jersey and they have stores there but I was having a major panic attack!  Of course, I feel this way anyway when I jump into the unknown.

More to come on the Adventures of a Dog Trainer in Jersey to come…today I just want to get at least half way there!