Monday, June 18, 2018

Loose Leash Walking: How to stop leash pulling.

Loose Leash Walking (LLW) is where a dog walks with a loose leash, no tension, and is under control without force but by choice. Usually, I prefer the dog walking on the handler’s left but not tightly next to the handler, just with a nice relaxed leash for a leisurely walk.

Many, many, many dog owners would do anything to have a dog that didn’t pull them down the street when they walked them.

To add to this there are loads of “tools” on the market today to appeal to dog owners. These tools are marketed in such a way that makes a dog owner feel like it will be a magic trick that helps the dog stop pulling. Rarely is this true.  There are tools that definitely help with control and training but there is no tool that will magically train a dog to stop pulling.  The tool that does that is you, the dog owner. 

I won’t lie, if you are using reward-based training to train loose leash walking with your dog you’ll have to put in some work to achieve this.  This is definitely my method of training and I don’t recommend other methods as they have a huge possibility of fallout. I’ll not go into that here, but suffice it to say I don’t use metal, electronic or correction collars to train a dog to stop pulling on the leash (or anything else for that matter).  

By "you'll have to put in some work" I mean you’ll have to commit to working on this daily. I also suggest you don't walk your dog unless you're going to be training him. Set him up to succeed. If he can pull you, he will, and this will set your training back.  So, set a plan and stick to it. I laid out a plan to follow below ... keep reading ... 


1) WHY DO DOGS PULL, IS HE TRYING TO BE DOMINANT?! Dogs pull because they can, it’s rewarding (Hey! She keeps going forward, in the same direction even if I pull!), and the behavior becomes rewarded unintentionally.  
A dog that pulls isn’t trying to “be in charge” or any other silly nonsense. It’s just pulling because it’s not been trained to walk next to you when on a leash. It’s just that simple.

2) BUT SHE’S CHOKING ON HER OWN COLLAR, SHOULDN’T SHE STOP PULLING IF SHE’S CHOKING HERSELF?!  Dogs don’t care, really. The walk is rewarding enough that they will continue to move forward unless given a really good reason not to.  So, they won’t teach themselves not to pull even if they are hacking up a lung by pulling against their collar/harness/leash.

3) HE’LL STOP WHEN I JERK HIS COLLAR BUT THEN HE’LL GO BACK TO PULLING. WHY?!  This is why training your dog what to do instead of pull, rather than tell him to stop pulling, is more effective and better in the long run, than using corrections. 

4) SHE WAS WALKING REALLY WELL THEN SHE SAW ANOTHER DOG & WENT NUTS!  This is a bit of another category of loose leash. In short — more training and likely some specialized training is in order here for how to teach your dog to respond when they see distractions/triggers. So, if your dog goes beyond just needing some leash manners, please seek a qualified person to help you with any leash reactivity or over-reactivity to certain triggers.

5) WHAT IF I HAVE TWO DOGS? If you have more than one dog you have to train each dog individually in order to achieve LLW with each of them.  Yes, that's not usually what dog owners want to hear but to achieve the best results, and prevent you from losing your mind, you'll want to do all of the following with each dog you want to teach this to. 


1) BUILD ENGAGEMENT & FOCUS. This should start out inside not out on the leash where all the things in the world are for them to see and sniff.  

Start by rewarding your dog (with food) when they look at you. Have them walk next to you, all around your home and when they engage with you, or offer eye contact, reward them. Increase the criteria by then taking the dog outside and doing it there. Namely, in the backyard, then the front yard, then down the street, and so on.  Here is a small video of what I start dogs doing inside the house. — 
Also, here is a video on some of the same things in the above video but in under a minute! —
Practice time: 4-5 x day for 2-3 weeks, 2-10 minutes each time.

2) WORK ON LEASH SKILLS WITHOUT A DOG! Yup. You need to learn about leashes, equipment and the like without your dog. Then once you have this down, you can start with your dog.  I made a video going over a few leash tips and a couple of harnesses I like. It’s not extensive, in regards to the different harnesses, but it has some good leash info! — 
For more info on more harnesses to choose from read this review of harnesses from The Whole Dog Journal. —
Practice time: 1 x a day for 3 consecutive days, get a feel for the leash.

3) WORK ON LEASH SKILLS INSIDE YOUR HOME. Use your engagement exercises and practice them indoors, without distractions. As shown in one of my videos above, this one — — you should do the exercises in this video but with a leash on now.
Practice time: 3 x a day for 2 weeks, 10-15 minutes each time.

4) TAKE IT TO THE STREETS! Now step outside of your home. This might be a driveway or a sidewalk or a breezeway, depending on where you live but don’t go far, esp if your dog is highly distracted.  Start with low-level distractions, work on the engagement exercises above that you’ve now done without a leash indoors and then indoors with a leash.  Now add in a cue to tell your dog he should stick with you. I like to use "Let's go!".  This tells my dog I'm about to walk and she better be walking with me.  I start to walk and on we go. 

5) REWARD THOSE CHECK-INS & GIVE FEEDBACK! I see the most common mistake people make is rewarding too little, not enough and missing moments when to do so.  Feed, feed, feed your dog when they check in with you on a leash. Walking next to you, loose leash and then they turn to look up at you — "YES!" Now, feed, feed, feed that! In between those feedings give verbal feedback. All. The. Time. "Good boy. That's a good boy!"

6) WHAT IF HE PULLS ONCE WE ARE OUTSIDE?! So if your dog does forge ahead, just pivot and do a u-turn in the opposite direction. Wait for Fido to catch up to you on your left side, then reward as he returns to your side. I discuss this in my video above with my Beagle, Charlotte in my kitchen.  You should actually be doing a lot of turns and moving in other directions when working on leash skills. If you stay in a straight line you'll go mad.  This helps teach your dog to turn with you/when you're turning and to stay in tune with you. 

7) REWARD LIKE MAD! (Can't express this one enough.) Take a lot of great food with you. A. LOT. Once I hit the streets, or outdoors, with leash work I take boiled chicken, hot dog pieces, cubes of cheese, etc.  My dog gets some major yummy stuff for paying attention to me when on a leash in distracting environments.  Do not be stingy with the food or rewards. Maybe feed your dog only half, or less, of her normal meal that day and feed a ton when she's working with you.  

Here is a video of me with a Dobie I'm working with at my house for leash work.  Notice how much food I give him, when I reward him. I give him about 5-7 little pieces, one at a time while we are walking and while he's paying attention to me.

8) SLOW & STEADY WINS THE RACE. Take it slow. Make your sessions short and don't go far at first. Actually, I really don't go anywhere. I stick to my little cul-de-sac in front of my house then slowly move past that after the dog has gotten more reliable on a loose leash. I slowly add in goals like: tomorrow we can go 2 houses down, perhaps by the end of the week we can go 4 houses down! 

IN CONCLUSION ... FOR NOW ... Right now this is all I'm going to give you. These are just beginning steps to get your dog to walk nicely on a leash. It all starts to fall into place after you do these things but you have to start here.  For more info on how to proceed with more distractions, what to do when your dog stops paying attention to you on a leash and more troubleshooting when walking your dog ... stay tuned! 

Stacy Greer
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior, LLC
servicing the Dallas/Ft Worth, Texas metroplex

Thursday, April 12, 2018

I never give my dog human food!!

"Oh we never feed him human food!" ... I cannot tell you how often I hear this.  It's kind of an interesting thing to hear, really, if you think about it.  What exactly does it mean when someone says this?  Usually, I hear it in the context of boasting more like "oh my dog doesn't beg because we never feed human food to him, ever, never, ever!" Sometimes I hear it with a statement of disdain if I whip out some pieces of chicken to use when high-value rewards are more beneficial for our training.  Sometimes I hear it in a bragging-type tone when their dog is in good shape as if this is the reason why.  However, there are a few myths surrounding the use of "human food" with regards to giving it to our pet dogs.

Whatever the reason this is stated, I think this phrase should be explored a bit.  Let's go over some things regarding this often heard statement ...

First, "human food" is subjective. I mean what exactly does this constitute? Food only "humans" eat like orange juice, Tootsie Rolls, Doritos, Fruit Loops or Thanksgiving turkey? I mean we wouldn't feed those things to our dogs, right?  But, really, what is "human food"?!  If we want to get into semantics all living animals (including humans) eat the same food, with a variation of some or all of the following: meat, plants, grains, veggies and fruits.  All living creatures eat some or all of those types of foods.  Dog food, while highly processed, has some type of protein in it and plant and/or grains/carbohydrates of some kind, usually rice or sweet potatoes -- which are "human foods", right?!

However, I get it. When people proudly state this to others they aren't really thinking of it in the way that I am.  I understand that they are often saying when they are eating their meal they don't feed it to their dog off of their plate.  I mean, usually, this is what they mean.  By not feeding a dog off of their plate they often feel like this will eliminate things such as: begging behaviors, food snatching and obesity.  I understand the desire to have a dog not beg or grab food or get overweight -- definitely goals most dog owners would love to achieve!

As a note, dogs don't beg because we feed them "human food".  They beg because of the associations they make during certain circumstances. Your dog would beg if you fed him any kind of food or treat or reward to him. The type of food is irrelevant.  What causes begging behaviors is the association your dog makes.  For example, if you feed your dog while you sit at the dinner table and eat your dinner then your dog will learn when mom eats I get food. Therefore, your dog will learn I shall sit next to mom while she eats and wait for food. If I wait long enough she'll give me a few pieces. This is classical conditioning at it's finest.  At the same time, if you sit on your bed and eat your lunch and sometimes feed Fido then your dog will learn to beg when you're sitting on your bed.  It's all the same.  But you could be feeding Saltine crackers or you could be feeding pieces of dog food or pieces of your sandwich.  It's all rewards to the dog. It's all teaching your dog that if/when they beg they will get fed. So, "human food" isn't really the problem.

As for food grabbing or stealing, this is usually just a self-taught behavior. It works the same way as the begging -- an association is made and a behavior is born. If your dog steals "human food" from say your countertops then your dog has self-rewarded and learned that the counters produce yummy things. This usually develops into a behavior we label as counter-surfing.  Again, as with begging, the type of food is irrelevant. Heck, some dogs steal pens or paper or even knives and take off with those and find this behavior so rewarding that they learn to counter-surf that way.  Sometimes the act of stealing is rewarding enough it itself and the dog will continue to do so.  Most stealing is self-rewarded so it becomes a pretty challenging habit to break.  I do have a lovely blog post on how to solve counter-surfing here.  Some dogs steal right out of trash cans or even worse -- right out of people's hands!  I see the last behavior commonly with small kids because they are easy targets.  These behaviors can be solved with training but again, "human food" isn't the issue here.

"Human food" as part of a meal or as a meal.  Honestly, this is the best move you could make for your dog.  "Human food" is a zillion times healthier than highly processed dog food. Without going into full diet discussion, adding some meat, yogurt, fish or eggs to your dog's food is hugely beneficial to your dog.  Healthwise, "human food" is good for your dog depending on what exactly you are using as "human food" to give to your dog as a diet or addition to the diet. Adding any food to your dog's diet can cause obesity if given the wrong amount.  Some foods, of course, are fattier than others, however, obesity is not caused by the type of food alone.  Overweight dogs, medical issues aside, are overfed plain and simple. So, if "human food" is a cause of concern for your dog's weight then you just need to research a little more on what and how much to feed to benefit your dog.  I do highly recommend the book "Raw & Natural Nutrition for Dogs" by Lew Olson if you'd like to learn more about canine diets.

Now, in relation to training ... "human food" can be highly valuable. Depending on what you're working on and where, high-value foods such as boiled chicken, freeze-dried liver, cheese and hot dogs can be a big help in a training program. I always recommend some type of "human food" for recall training and training in distractions.  Dogs aren't going to come to you off-leash in a park if you are offering Kibbles 'n Bits. Yuck. Fido would rather chase squirrels.  However, give your dog a big incentive like coming to tidbits of chicken and you'll strengthen your dog's recall really quickly!

Stacy Greer
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior, LLC
Dallas/Ft Worth, Texas

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

I think he was abused ...

"I think he was abused ..." is one of the most common phrases I hear before or after a dog exhibits a behavior and said dog has been adopted and has an unknown or clear history.  While there are different types of abuse for dogs, most people are referring to physical abuse when they make this statement.

I need to let you in on a secret, most likely your dog wasn't physically abused. You may actually be saying, "ok, but does it really matter?"  Actually, yes, it does.  I find that most dog owners who think their dog was physically abused are either far too soft on them, don't implement proper rules and boundaries, and/or coddle the dog a lot.  Some people do all or some of those things when they think this is true and the problem is that it affects the dog dramatically.  It can affect the dog's behavior and ability to learn and develop.

First, yes, sometimes this is the case. There are definite cases of abuse. I'm not saying this is never the case ... but ... it's not usually the case when I'm seeing dogs that are labeled as such.  Also, when the dog is labeled as possibly being a victim of abuse they usually are referring to physical abuse.

The most common answer to behaviors that dogs exhibit and people associate with physical abuse is actually a lack of exposure and socialization. Dogs that are afraid of men, sounds, objects, places -- those don't necessarily mean they have been abused, but rather they have not been properly socialized and/or exposed properly to these things.

Also, genetics play a huge role in behavior. I think we often overlook this incredibly important fact. Two insanely insecure and scaredy-cat dogs that have offspring aren't going to produce confident and happy-go-lucky pups. Genetics, they can be a real bitch at times!

I like to explain this to people because there is a stigma around their dogs when they think one thing or another is a "reason for" something.  The truth is that we just need to work with the dog. These "she was abused" labels are a huge reason people start to anthropomorphize their dog — put human traits on something that isn't human.  This is where things get muddy with dog behavior ... when we can't see the forest for the trees. 

The best thing to do is find out what your dog's behavior is like right now. Is he shy? Fearful? Anxious? Aggressive? Aloof? Once you find this out then we just go from there. The protocol to help the dog through any of this is the same no matter why the dog is the way that it is.  

I use Classical Conditioning and Desensitization for most cases like this as well as Operant Conditioning.  We basically change the dog's current emotional response to something and make it a different, usually, more appropriate and acceptable response.  This usually means something like a dog that's afraid of a broom is taught that brooms are ok. We pair good things with the sight of the broom, starting at a distance where the broom doesn't cause too much stress. We go at the rate the dog is comfortable working and while we are making steady progress, so as not to see any regression, if possible.  Then it just goes from there. (If this is similar to something your dog needs help with please locate a trainer near you.)

Stay tuned for my blog post that will cover what to do with an under-socialized adult dog.


Stacy Greer
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior, LLC

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Boundaries & Freedom

I get a lot of emails about dogs that are destroying things in the home or aren't "listening" or grabbing things while the family eats ... many things that could be solved with some solid boundary-setting and training.

As humans we feel really guilty confining our dogs to a crate or an area away from us, especially when we are home with them.  Actually, most commonly when we are home with them. I often hear: "Why would I have a dog that I can't have out with me at all times, what's the point?!"  My answer: "This isn't forever. But you need to get some major boundaries and training in place before that can happen."

Many households do have dogs that are totally fine being left un-confined and do not get into any trouble.  However, I do feel all dogs should be able to be confined at times, as there may be situations where this is absolutely necessary.  See my blog post "The most important thing to teach Fido" about this specific topic.

Back to boundaries and freedom ... Think of dogs like children. When raising children you cannot allow them to run amuck with no rules or boundaries and then expect them to listen and follow rules, right? I mean why would they? No one ever set any boundaries and suddenly you want compliance?  Likely going to have some backlash from that.  Dogs do the same thing but in different ways, eh-hem, since they are obviously a different species. A dog's lack of putting in boundaries, training and rules might look like destroying your things, grabbing things off counters, running out the front door, not doing what you ask when you ask, barking ... several things show as a result of lack of training and boundary-setting.

When I hear of dogs that "don't listen" or "get into trouble a lot" (get into trash, stealing things, grabbing things off counters, pestering while humans have mealtime, potty troubles, etc.) then I immediately see a common trend. The trend is these dogs have a lack of clear boundaries and little to no training in place (and sadly sometimes the wrong type of training  leash jerks, not teaching alternate behaviors, lots of punishments for poor behavior, etc.). Often this is a dog that isn't crated or confined, management isn't in place and/or the dog is allowed too much freedom with little to no rules along with that ... and to top all that off often they have only be told what not to do, as opposed to trained what to do instead.
Read: "No! Get off! Stop jumping!" Trainer brain: "So what has the dog been trained to do instead of jump? What do you want him to do instead so he can make that choice?"

Confinement isn't punishment, and isn't intended to be.  This isn't boundary training if it's used as I'm-mad-at-you-and-I-failed-at-management-so-now-you-have-to-be-tossed-into-your-crate!  Boundary training, when done properly, yields great results while also helping your dog learn to be confined and remain calm and relaxed while doing so.

We often do follow boundary training with puppies because we know if we let a puppy run around on it's own it will usually potty somewhere or chew something inappropriate.  However, with adult dogs we don't think in this manner as we often assume adult dogs shouldn't be doing these types of behaviors.  Afterall, they are adult dogs! So, we end up getting frustrated and labeling instead of manageing and training. "Fido is so bad! He just steals my socks all the time!"  "Fluffy is about to find a new place to live! I'm so done with her taking my kids toys!"  "Fido is getting on my last nerve with his destructive behavior when I'm gone!" 

The truth is that a lot of problem behaviors can be solved with a simple plan of boundary setting, impulse control exercises and training.

So what does that look like?!
Boundaries  Dog is crated or put in x-pen/safe confinement area when she cannot be supervised or you are busy.
  • Need to do a thousand things around the house but worried Fido will get into things? Put him in his crate. 
  • Need to shower but don't trust Fluffy while you're out of sight for that long? Put her in her confinement area.
  • Fido annoyingly bothers you while you eat, or worse, grabs food from your plate! Put him in is crate while you eat.
  • Fluffy is destructive when you leave the house, even if just one magazine (or an entire window covering!).  Crate instead!
  • Fido is running crazy around the living room and won't settle down, driving you crazy.  Crate him. Give him a "chill out time".  
Boundaries are really a type of management. (Read my blog post on management in dog training here.)  While boundaries don't train your dog to stop doing unwanted behaviors, they prevent them from happening which is actually a huge part of successful training. Every time a dog gets to do an unwanted behavior that behavior is being reinforced. Those behaviors are fun for the dog, therefore, they will do it again (this is the definition of reinforcement and it happens whether we reinforce it or they do it themselves!).

Training  This must go hand-in-hand with boundary setting. If you aren't training and you're only confining your dog to get him out of our hair then you're not really doing much boundary setting.  You're likely frustrated when that's happening and that becomes a slippery slope.
  • Train Fluffy what to do while you are cooking dinner instead of being a crazy pup jumping or counter-surfing or whatever is going on.  This can alleviate the need to crate her and allow her to hang out, while she makes good choices.   This is where I find mat training to be the best thing ever. Train your dog to lie on a mat while you are busy around the kitchen, eating at the table or making food.
  • Train Fido to wait to go out the door by sitting then going out when given permission. This is a great impulse control exercise that helps alleviate door-darting and also has the dog wait to do as asked instead of making choices on his own [that could be dangerous]. 
  • Train Fido to make good choices.  This could mean a lot of things. The best course of action is to hire a trainer that comes into your home so that you can address your dog's specific needs.
Training is really a critical part of owning a dog. Sure, I say that because I'm a trainer and would never own an un-trained dog, but .... it's absolutely true. Trained dogs are easier to live with. This doesn't even have to mean advanced level training. Training can involve things as simple as just sitting at the door before going out to coming when called or as advanced as you want to go  like agility, advanced obedience, Canine Good Citizen, therapy dog training, etc.  Training possibilities are endless.  But home manners and basics are a must, in my professional and personal opinion, if you want to live peacefully with your dog.

Stacy Greer
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior, LLC