Thursday, December 19, 2013

You're Hired!

I write this post because a few things have come up in some online groups I'm on regarding dog training and online advice/help.  As many of you follow this blog you notice I give out tips and advice.  If you follow my Facebook business page you'll see I post many articles, tips, advice and even a "Free Advice Friday" piece where I offer up free advice on certain Fridays at a certain hour for those with questions.  However, I want to clear up a few things. ...

First and foremost, if you are having challenges with your dog regarding training and/or behavior you should never try to solve it all on your own via advice online or even a book.  Nothing is more helpful and invaluable than hiring a qualified, educated and trained professional to come help you*.  This especially holds true if you have any behavior challenges with your dog -- regardless of age, puppies and dogs can be trained at any age!

In today's world everything is online. Everything. I'm sure that the medical community is one of the worst for things like this.  People don't want to go see a doctor unless they have to.  So, hey why not just Google your symptoms and see what that brings up?!  Well, that can be dangerous, if not sometimes deadly.  Sadly, the same can hold true for dog training.  Sure, you may just have a dog that barks out the window at passers-by, so you think -- but we just have a barking problem, we can find info on how to solve that online or from a book or ...  However, what you don't realize is that often small things that seem like "just a (fill in the blank) problem" are symptoms of a much larger problem that needs to be addressed by a professional.  

Also, don't assume that because your friendly neighbor has successfully trained his dog, or maybe multiple dogs, that he's a qualified trainer or behavior expert.  The truth is that anyone can train a dog but it doesn't immediately make them knowledgeable about behavior, training and problem solving.  If your neighbor is a qualified and educated dog trainer and/or behavior consultant then great! But if not, be sure you have asked the right questions before taking his advice.  

Back to online advice ...  this may seem like a bit of a hypocritical post from me since I do give out online advice. However, I can tell from the info given when a person needs a professional to step in.  I often and frequently tell people -- You really need to get someone to come into your home and help you out*.  I know when this needs to happen.  Yes, I'll give advice on potty training, some barking issues but when more info is given and I realize that there is probably a bigger issue I will always, always tell them they need a professional to help them.  And if the person is near me I'll offer to come in, if not I'll try to help them find a qualified professional to help them.  Click here for an excellent post on the who-what-when of hiring a dog trainer or behavior consultant.

Sadly I've had many times where someone, at least to me, obviously needs me to come in and yet I never get that call back.  I know that hiring a trainer may be hard. It may be a financial issue or a scheduling issue or just a "I can do this myself" type issue.  However, hiring someone to help you and sticking to the advice and homework given will be less stress in all those areas in the long run.  It's worth the expense, scheduling and stress when you do it and hire the right person to help you with your dog.

Take home message: Don't try to train  your dog without the help of a professional.  Often this can lead to more problems, and it is so worth it to hire someone that is qualified and well-educated in dog behavior.  There are a wealth of dog trainers to choose from; if you need help finding one let me know where you live and I can help you.  If you live in the Dallas/Fort Worth Texas area let me know and I'll gladly help!

*Click here for an excellent post on the who-what-when of hiring a dog trainer or behavior consultant.
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Sunday, December 8, 2013

Ouch! That's my finger!

"Why do some dogs grab treats so hard, and how can I teach him to be gentle?" This is a very common question that many people ask and it's a great question.
First, all dogs should be taught how to gently take food/treats from hands/fingers.  Some dogs are naturally soft and take food gently.  Dogs like this need no prior training for this.  But others take it very much in a manner that can be downright painful!  

After a dog is taught how to take food gently if there is a situation where he takes it not-so-gently you need to consider why this would be happening.  With dogs, I always say, everything happens for a reason we just have to find the reason!

Here are a few reasons why a dog would take food in a less than gentle manner:

1) Competition.  If you are serving food (or treats) with other dogs around, especially in close proximity, some dogs will snatch the food quickly acting in a normal competitive doggie fashion.  Dogs aren't wired to be natural sharing creatures.  With resources around dogs will often start to grab things quickly when other dogs are  around so that they can get what is "theirs" quickly before the other dog does -- this would be the thought process of the dog snatching the food.

2) Stress.  Many dogs will grab food out of your hand very harshly and/or quickly when in a stressful situation.  Remember what is stressful for your dog will be different for the next dog.  A common place that I see "grabby" dogs is in group classes.  Classes can be stressful. Other dogs all around, all dogs are asked to perform one thing or another.  It can be stressful and therefore some dogs will become pretty grabby with the food.

3) It's been trained. Usually this doesn't happen on purpose but it happens. The dog has learned to do this and gets the treat anyway, therefore he continues to do this. If you pull your hand away quickly when the dog goes to grab you'll likely teach the dog to grab faster and hold on once he gets it too!

If your dog fits any of the three reasons above, and now you're asking --  now what?  Here is what.  
Train your dog to take food gently from your hand from day one. This means if you have gotten a new puppy start the puppy with this training. If you have a newly acquired adult dog do the same.  It's never too early or too late to train any dog!

This skill should first be taught starting in a low-key, non-distracting environment without other dogs around. You may increase criteria, distractions, etc. as the dog progresses successfully. Here is an excellent video on teaching a dog some impulse control and how to take food gently without just snatching it out of the hand. And another video here.

If your dog does this out of competition due to a multiple dog household, teach each dog individually this skill and then you may teach each dog to wait its turn before getting something. Basically teaching a dog impulse control around other dogs.  This will prove useful for many other things too.  Here is a great read on how to work with multiple dogs and train them to do things one at a time.  Here is yet another on multiple dogs and their training.

If your dog does this when stressed you need to decrease the stress. Find out what is stressing the dog, work through that -- whether that's a whole other training protocol or whatever it is -- then move forward.  If your dog does become stressed and grabby, I'd end that training session. Most dogs at this stage are not learning or are only taking bits and pieces.  Go back, reduce/get rid of the stress, then start over.

What you should not do when a dog gets grabby:

- Move your hand away, especially quickly.  Stay still. Don't move.  And go to step one. Train this behavior.
- Don't correct the dog. If the dog is stressed getting angry will only increase stress and make things worse.
- Repeat something like, "easy, easy, easy", or some other verbal cue. You want the dog to know not to grab the food, not have to do it when you tell it to.

Now go get goin' ... I know you have something you learned here that can apply to your household! ...

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