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

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

"Can my dog sleep with me?"

You have no idea the sigh of relief clients get when I tell them that yes, their dog can sleep in bed with them. Yeah, it's pretty sad how the myth has been tossed around for decades, actually a lot longer than that, that if you're dog sleeps in your bed or sits on your couch or heaven, forbid the back of the couch ... that he's going to "not know his place in the pack".  Baloney. Hogwash. Rubbish. Bullshit.

If you want your dog to sleep in your bed, these are the rules I suggest my clients have in place:
1) the dog is comfortable with being moved manually (if you go to move the dog)
2) better yet, the dog moves when you ask her to (learns a cue to move over)
3) learns a cue to get off the bed completely when asked (I teach my dogs "off" for this cue)
4) dog doesn't growl/snap/bite/lunge (yikes!) when you get into the bed (or your partner gets into the bed)
5) doesn't pee on the bed (yeah, seriously!)
6) doesn't cause relationship issues with whomever you share the bed with (haha, ok this is on you!)

Those are my rules for bed sleeping. If your dog violates rule #4 this is the biggest issue for no-bed.  This is also a totally different situation on your hands. If your dog does this you need to hire a pro to come in and help. This is a form of resource guarding. They are either guarding the bed, the space or sometimes the human in the bed if a partner comes to the bed and this sets the dog off.  But do note, this is not dominance or anything related to that in the least.  If this does apply to your dog, until you can get some help you should have your dog sleep in a crate or another secure room or area that is not close to the bed.

Oh and for puppy owners -- they should be fully potty trained and totally reliable to sleep all night long before sleeping in bed with you. If your puppy can sleep all night in the bed and not wake to potty or get up and wander, then have at it!

So, if you want to snuggle in bed with your pooch(es) then go for it. I love sleeping with my dogs. They warm me up in the winter and snuggle with me in the mornings before I have to officially get out of bed to start the day.

Stacy Greer
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior, LLC

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Puppies: What is good socialization?

Puppy Socialization. Everyone has heard of it. Everyone knows it's important and most people attempt it.  Sadly, most people miss the mark ... and this includes incredibly savvy and knowledgeable dog people and professionals.  Yup.  This is my professional and personal belief after doing this dog behavior thing for just about 18 years now.

Over the years I've learned, the hard way, what socialization really is and what it isn't.

I've also learned that most dog owners aren't completely keyed in on the important points of what it takes to "socialize" a puppy.

I'm going to go over what I feel is the proper way to socialize a puppy to live in the world we live in.

You've likely heard this term a lot.  However, you may be asking -- what exactly is socialization anyway?!  This would likely depend on who you ask. So sadly there isn't a black and white definition of it.  However, as a professional, I'd like to discuss what I define as socialization.

My own definition of socialization is this . . .

Socialization  Exposing your puppy to things in brief, but positive ways, while keeping him/her safe, happy and making positive associations the priority without forcing or allowing over-stimulation.  It also exposes them to other people, places, noises, and inanimate things without overwhelming them; keeping body language, thresholds and early stress signals in mind at all times.

I prefer to take a puppy in the real world for socialization where the puppy is given food/treats/rewards (whatever puppy deems as highly rewarding) when puppy notices, comes near or sees a new/novel person, thing or situation.  I prefer this over "puppy class" or "socialization classes".  While I think these classes can be good as a part of the training, it shouldn't ever be the only training in the way of socialization for your puppy.

This would look like me walking through Home Depot with puppy on leash, treating with each steps puppy makes. Having puppy practice some "sits" while giving treats. When puppy looks at the strange bag of potting soil I click/treat and move on, or I may scatter treats on the ground and allow puppy to clean it up.  Potting soil bag = yummy pile of treats to forage through on the ground! Win! The association becomes potting soil bags are cool and fun to be around.

I encourage puppy to climb on new surfaces and objects. I don't force it. I simply lay a pile of treats on the pallet of rocks in the landscape section and let him go get the treats.  He may stretch really far to get the food because he's a little unsure. That's ok. I do nothing. I say nothing. I simply let him figure it out on his own.  If he's too uneasy I start by putting the food on the ground near the rocks but not on them.  Then slowly move him to the rocks.  Then if he explores them on his own I reward heavily and then move to the next thing.  I change up things. I might take some of the pavers off the pallet and lay them on the ground and do the same thing.  This all lasts all of 30-60 seconds.

This can also happen at playgrounds (at times where they are not full of loud, boisterous kids!) I do this on a school day in the mornings when no one is usually there.  Lots of surfaces to explore. Again, I force nothing. I simply give food to make associations and my own body language and behavior is relaxed, calm and I'm rarely saying anything.  I don't say "Oh, go on, go on, that's good, look at this! Oh, look Rover!"  I let the puppy do all the thinking and learning on her own. I'm providing the rewards to make the associations.

I will take puppy only a couple times a week to different places and feed while puppy explores, sees new things and people.  Each look towards something new=food.  I will also be using really high-value food.

BOTTOM LINE: 3-5 x a week, expose to new places, things & surfaces for short periods (10-15 minutes).

I also take into account that puppy should be meeting and seeing new people. However, this is where I differ with socialization from what a lot of "the books" and other trainers may suggest.  I don't want people coming over to swoon and pet all over my puppy when I'm out with him.  Does this mean people aren't allowed to pet my puppy?!  No. It means I'm going to control how this happens and allow puppy to make choices that are respected while also forming a great association with people.

The second I notice a person  whether approaching us or just when puppy sees the person — I will begin feeding her treats continually (one treat at a time, right after the other). I will continue to treat while I'm conversing with this stranger if they approach. This makes puppy see people approach and then make the association that when people approach and we are chatting good things happen.  So hopefully I'm building a behavior that she looks forward to people approaching. She will also do this without jumping because I'm rewarding while she's sitting and watching me interact with this person.

If the person wants to pet my puppy it would go like this ... "Oh! Can I pet your puppy?!"  Me: "You can help me socialize him, that's what we are doing right now. Could you wait for him to sit, then put your hand under his chin and let him nibble these treats from your hand? [I put treats in person's hand] If you want to pet please do so under his chin and just for a count of 3... 1-2-3. ... Thank you!"  Then I say thank you and move on by calling puppy to come along with me and then moving to the next thing.

I would also only allow a few people to actually pet her too much in one session, as this can be quite overwhelming to a puppy.  So I'd likely only allow a maximum of 2-3 people to do this during that one outing.  I'd prefer to just walk around and let her see people and reward her when we do see others but not encourage physical interaction unless brief and okayed by puppy.

The problem with greeting tons of people is that it can backfire. I think it's been drilled into our heads about socializing puppies that the more people they meet, the merrier. I don't find this to be true most of the time. Instead, it should be taken into account how puppy feels and reacts around the person.  I'd put puppy down and have person make puppy sounds to invite interaction, "Hey! Pup! Pup! Pup!" (in a slightly high-pitched tone) or "kissy sounds".  If puppy responds and goes to the stranger then I'd have stranger immediately begin to give rewards to puppy.  If puppy doesn't immediately go to the stranger I'd practice sit and reward puppy for looking at stranger to make the connection that stranger=yummy food, but puppy doesn't have to go to stranger. This doesn't force the puppy to interact when they don't want to but will build a good association with people and likely teach puppy people are a-ok.  They will then possibly decide to approach people on their own and more often OR maybe not. If not, that's ok. The goal is to at least make them ok with people around even if they don't necessarily want to interact with them. Not all dogs need to love everyone, but they shouldn't be afraid of them or become wary or anxious around them either.

The above would also apply to people entering your home to meet the new puppy.  Have treats ready, stranger should somewhat ignore puppy and if puppy initiates greeting or bounds happily over then they can begin to feed puppy treats.  They can ask puppy for a sit, if he knows this cue at the time, and then reward.  If person wants to pet puppy they should go under the chin and give scratches there; and on their backside if they enjoy that.

After about 10-15 minutes I'd end the session and go home.  You'll notice how exhausting this is for a puppy because your puppy will likely sleep well after these little "socialization" sessions. It's mentally draining, which is good ... when done in brief, positive sessions with a few days between each.

BOTTOM LINE: 3-5 x a week, expose to new people, dogs & other animals for very brief periods (10-15 minutes). Each session should be positive, short-lived & take puppy's body language & feelings into consideration.

Some of you may have just scrolled down to this topic. It's a popular question with puppies  how do I get my puppy socialized to other dogs?!  This is also, as you have noticed by now, not addressed [by me] the same as most socialization ideas/techniques/whatever-you-call-it that you'll read or be told by others.

Here is the first shock you'll hear me say: puppy classes/socialization classes (at least the classes I've seen) aren't socializing your puppy and teaching them how to socialize with other dogs.

The best way to socialize your puppy to other dogs is to have them meet and hang around adult dogs that tolerate, play and/or properly correct puppies as needed.  Puppies don't teach puppies how adult dogs act or how to act as an adult dog.  Having puppies play with puppies of the same age is like having your toddler play with toddlers and assume they'll learn how to do independent and adult things from those toddlers.  Yeah, nope.

So, on that note don't go out and toss your puppy in a dog park either  I mean there are lots of adult dogs there, right?! Nopety, nope. No dog parks. Actually, if you ask me, I say no dog parks for any age dog but at the very least never ever take a puppy to a dog park.

Find friends, family, neighbors with adult dogs that are 2+ years old and appropriate with puppies. I actually recommend you find a trainer that can help you with this process if you're not sure. Finding an appropriately tempered dog is vital to this as well. Some dogs over the age of 2 don't tolerate puppies well and become agitated, annoyed quickly or flat out aggressive towards puppies.

You are going to be looking for a dog that will possibly play with the puppy appropriately, i.e., play bows, bouncy/loose body language, running happily (not out of fear), chasing (preferably one chases, then the other chases, not one-sided), and a few others. Here is an excellent read on appropriate play between dogs and reading body language from iSpeakDog.

It's also ok if the adult dog snarks at the puppy and corrects her appropriately. The key word is appropriately. If the dog loses its cool and really lays into your puppy (read: attacks puppy or bites puppy much heavier than a correction) that's not a good correction, that's over-reacting.  This is a video of a proper correction given to a puppy.* Please note in this video the older dog is not wanting the puppy playing with him. He gives an appropriate correction and nothing over-the-top.
*It should be noted that I do not condone the full interaction demonstrated in the linked video above. The puppy is allowed to pester the adult dog for too long. I simply want to use it to show what a proper correction from an adult dog to a puppy looks like. The video in its entirety isn't one I'd use to show how a puppy should interact with another dog. 

When dogs give appropriate corrections humans shouldn't ever get onto the corrector or do anything. This is why it's also important to know what is appropriate and what is not, as well as if a dog will do the former or the latter.  Don't test the waters if you don't know, it could have ill and lasting effects on your puppy!  This is why a trained eye for this would be very imperative!

So, after you have chosen some appropriate dogs for puppy to play with then set up a time to meet in a big enough space for each of the dogs to get up and move around and away from one another as well as chase and run.  Only set up these "play dates" once or twice a week for short periods  about 10-15 minutes.  If you want to have it last longer, give lots of breaks (I'd recommend puppy goes to his crate for rest and then plays some more).  But each interactive session should be short and sweet.

Other than these play dates I highly recommend getting into a group class to have puppy learn how to learn and cooperate when around other dogs.  The class should not include playing and rough-housing amongst the other dogs.  It should only involve learning.  This concept goes along with how I have puppy learn to act and behave around other people, as listed above.  Puppy should learn to work around other puppies/dogs and make great associations when around them but not necessarily go to them and interact with them.

Once your class is over you should take it upon yourself to get puppy out in the real world and training around other people, dogs, places, etc.  It will look like this: puppy is out on leash, walking through town and a person with a dog walks by, you ask your puppy to sit and reward her.  Then you keep walking while rewarding her for looking at and possibly passing by this dog.  No interactions should occur and should actually be avoided.  Advocate for your puppy when out and explain that you're in training and not allowing your puppy to greet other dogs when on leash at that time.

At some point you can set up a friend to meet you out and about with their dog on leash and you can train with leash greetings with other dogs. I'd also hire a trainer to help you with this. Actually I'd hire a trainer to help you through the entire dog-dog socialization process. Also, your trainer should be able to teach you how to read your dog, and other dogs', body language during all this work. This will be critical information to have for the life of your dog in just about any scenario and situation you can think of.  Body language skills will save your life as a dog owner.

BOTTOM LINE: Hire a trainer to help you through the dog socialization process for best results and skills for real-world information you can use when on your own later down the road.

So, as you can see socializing your puppy is no easy task.  However, when done properly it will pay tenfold for the life of your dog regardless of the environment and situation your dog is put into.

Also, all of the above should begin as soon as you get  your puppy (no earlier than 8 weeks of age). Vaccinations can be a factor for many but you can adjust your outings to be safe and still get your training and socialization in with your puppy.  Don't wait to start past the age of 10-11 weeks on most of these exercises.  If your puppy has had a recent set of vaccines wait 5-7 days to take puppy out but do some make-shift work while puppy rides in shopping carts or is able to be carried, etc.  Choose locations wisely and playmates wisely as well.

If your veterinarian is suggesting waiting for full vaccines I encourage you to share the AVSAB (American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior) position statement on puppy socialization with them.

Please note that the AVSAB statement I've listed above doesn't align with all the socialization techniques I've described above (not 100%) but I like to share the paper for their stance of when to start socialization with regards to vaccinations.

This blog post are my opinions and statements alone. These techniques and protocols are mine and what I find are most effective and beneficial to puppies. Please move forward with training and socialization as you feel is best for you and your puppy.

Stacy Greer
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior, LLC

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Training is mostly silent . . .

Do you ever talk to your dogs?  I know I do. I talk to them often . . . I tell them they are cute and ask them where my keys are, I know they know. They saw me put those keys somewhere!  However, when I'm training my dogs to do something I don't say much.  I wait for the offered (wanted) behavior and I then give feedback.

I've noticed lately that dog owners talk too much to their dogs.  Sometimes even when not training when they are speaking to their dog I notice the dog is becoming either annoyed, agitated or shut down due to all the babble.  Sometimes we just need to stop talking!

When training feedback is given in overabundance because we are humans with voices.  Our first response when a dog doesn't "get it" is to say it again or give a lot of verbal feedback.  Most of the time, if not all of the time, this impacts the training process in a negative way.  The dog usually becomes confused or non-compliant.  When this happens the labels and blame-game starts flying around  "My dog is so stubborn!" "Oh, he knows what to do, he just won't do it!" "She's doing this on purpose!" "He doesn't listen to me ..."

This is where training gets super muddy. This is also why so many people fall back on punishments when the dog isn't "getting it" and seemingly "not listening" or "being stubborn".  The reality is that we are giving too much feedback at the wrong time.  We are causing the dog's confusion and lack of understanding ... which is then mislabeled as "stubborn" or "non-compliant".

So, when you are training your dog follow these rules in your head, I call it WAGS.

1. Wait for processing
2. Allow for concepts to form
3. Give feedback when a tiny behavior in the right direction occurs
4. Start making progress in your desired outcome

Before training ask yourself these things:
1. Does your dog know what you want him to do?
2. Have you taught your dog the behavior that goes with the cue (sit = butt on the floor)
3. Have you rewarded that behavior so that it's repeated?
4. Have you added a verbal cue to a behavior at the appropriate time so that dog understands the connection? (Remember: Dogs don't know English, we have to put behaviors first, then words to those behaviors!)

When you say too many words to your dog it's usually because you are trying to get the dog to understand something.  For example, I so very often see people request that their dog "sit".  The dog may or may not really and truly understand this cue to mean put your butt on the ground until told to do something else.  So the dog will often stand there for a second and when they don't comply immediately the dog owner then states it again, "SIT!", usually with a tad more gusto. 

This isn't actually teaching the dog anything and it's diluting the sit cue.  Saying it over and over doesn't make the dog understand it better.  Often the dog may sit after the 2nd or 3rd request.  This doesn't mean they were "stubborn" the first time you asked it means they were confused and unsure what you meant.  They did it the 2nd time maybe because they just decided to sit, or they offered something that has worked for them in the past or they've been rewarded for sitting on the 2nd request and so they assume the cue is "sit, SIT!"

So, when training something that is new to your dog try to remember to only focus on the behavior.  The behavior has to be reliable before you can put a verbal cue to that behavior so that the dog makes the association with the behavior and the cue.  All the feedback in between can be muddying the whole process since our dogs don't understand verbal language as we do.

If I'm quiet then how does my dog know what I want?!
Great question! I knew you were wondering ... Well,  you reward the behavior(s) your dog offers that lead up to the behavior you desire.  This is actually a technique called "shaping".  It's quite effective in getting reliable behaviors without luring or physical prompting. I do lure some behaviors, however, I don't ever physically prompt a behavior (this would be like pushing a dog's rump down physically to make it sit).

So what does that look like?  Let's say you're teaching your dog to lie down on cue. She's never learned this.  She does know "sit" but "down" is a bit different.  So you could shape it by marking each little behavior that is in the direction leading up to a "down".  This might be the dog looking down to the ground. If you are using a clicker, then you click the second the dog looks down and toss the treat. You say nothing. Zip. Just click and treat.  Then you might do that about 4-5 times. Then you will say -- to yourself internally -- hmmm, I'm not going to click you for looking down now I want you to do something else that is leading to you lying down.  So you might sit there for some time because you're saying nothing. You are simply waiting for your dog to offer a behavior. It might be a paw stretched out some or shoulder blades going down.  Anything.  You're still saying nothing. You are only clicking and treating as each behavior you like occurs.

Now, if you're not savvy with a clicker or shaping you might be thinking right now -- good grief! This sounds tedious and long-winded just to do a lie-down cue!  Why can't I just put my dog into the down position and reward him then?  Or can't I just lure the dog down with a treat and reward him when he goes down?  The answer to the first one (physically prompting) is no, the second one (luring) is yes.  It really depends on the way you teach.  However, my bigger takeaway is that you aren't saying anything while you're teaching this ... unless you are using a "Yes!" as a verbal marker (which would replace a clicker). 

This really gets your dog's brain in high gear. This allows your dog to think. To make decisions on his own.  It has him being what we call "operant".  They will start to offer behaviors when training. It will make your training soooo much easier and quicker. While the above scenario of teaching a "down" cue sounds long and tedious when it's actually done it's not.  Maybe a few minutes? 

Without saying anything during this process, and only allowing your dog to think on her own, we are getting a behavior more reliable because the moments we do give feedback are the moments we want repeated.  It also alleviates all confusion.  If in between all the times I was trying to get the dog to lie down I said "No, down!" or something else, I'd be throwing out too many things at this non-verbal creature.  The poor thing would be utterly confused. And when done too often we can see a dog that really wants no part of training.  These are the dogs I see very, very often labeled as "stubborn".

Now go try it.  Report back. Did your dog respond better when you only gave the appropriately timed feedback? Did you notice how difficult it was to be quiet?!  Let me know, I want to hear your experiences!

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