Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Stop puppy biting & nipping for good!

Does your puppy nip or bite at you in some way with those awfully sharp puppy teeth?!  Ouch! They are like shark teeth!  
First, you should know — this is very normal puppy behavior. I get many emails stating their puppy is “aggressive” and usually, it’s just puppy nipping gone a little over the top.  

Puppies use their mouths and teeth because well ... they are puppies.  Puppies aren't technically “teething” until around 16 weeks of age and then it goes on until around 7-8 months of age. This is when those uber sharp teeth start to fall out and they get their adult teeth. While canine teeth are sharp anyway, the adult teeth aren’t quite as sharp.  

There are a few reasons why puppies bite, which can be some or all of the following:
  • They are not receiving proper training & outlets for energy.
  • They are over-stimulated & need some downtime (explained below)
  • They see it as a game (usually unintentionally taught)
  • They are young puppies, it’s what they do!
First, it’s important to remember that your puppy is a clean slate of nothing. They are sponges and will absorb any and all behaviors whether you are intentionally teaching them or not!  So this is when training becomes vital because you can control your puppy’s 
behaviors with proper training and direction.

Most puppies are over-stimulated/aroused by the time the nipping/biting has gotten out of hand.  On top of that the common reaction to the biting causes it to escalate (whoops!).  So there are several things that I recommend and this will curb it dramatically, if not stop it altogether.
 Don’t allow your puppy to become over-stimulated. Free time should be in short bursts when puppies are between 8-16 weeks of age.  Each week you can increase the time they have freedom. By this I mean all time out of a crate or safe area (x-pen set up for puppy) should be short and productive.  

I like to have a puppy out for only 20 minutes at a time in the beginning (8-10 weeks of age, increase that time as puppy gets older).  In those 20 minutes I get a potty break, training session, play session, potty break and then it’s back into the safe place for nap time.  Puppies need lots and lots of sleep!  (For details on what the training session consists of stay tuned).  

When having the puppy actively engaged they cannot be finding ways to bite and chew things that aren’t appropriate.  So after potty break I work on several things — mat work, name recognition, positive interrupter, coming when called —  to start. Then I play in between with a toy — a ball, a tug rope or a puzzle toy for puppy to engage in.  Then back to potty and back to the crate for some downtime.

 When puppy does start to nip/bite, if it's gentle nipping, I simply re-direct puppy to an appropriate toy/bone. Stuffed toys rarely do the trick, I usually recommend to redirect to an antler, buffalo horn, bully stick or something else that will keep puppy occupied. The key is that what you redirect to should be able to keep puppy engaged and not have him redirect back to you.  If the latter happens then remove puppy and put him in his safe place for downtime (see next bullet point). Nylabone® makes many great chewables for puppies, you may download my puppy chew toy handout here or chewie works best as they will stay more engaged with one of these instead of redirecting back to you.

 If puppy is biting really hard (or they are feisty, spunky & over-aroused), I immediately, gently and quietly, put them away in their crate/safe area. It's important to note that you should not be saying anything but just simply pick up puppy and place him in his safe area/crate. If that isn’t possible I put myself into a room, close door behind me.  With puppies the latter could be a bit disastrous due to chewing and potty, if puppy is really young. So I prefer the first suggestion, re: putting away puppy.  It’s not a punishment and should not be used as one. It’s just putting them away to let them know you will not engage with them when they do this, as well as to put them in downtime as this is usually what is needed. Usually, I leave puppy in downtime until he’s totally relaxed and calm. Sometimes they will pass out and take a nap. So I just leave them until they wake up.

 When kids are getting bitten — parents must pro-active & actively be involved. Immediately follow the steps in the above suggestion.  You can also teach your kids to Be A Tree if they are 3+ years of age, sometimes 4+ years is better.  The child literally stands still, doesn’t move, hands to their side and head down facing the floor.  Puppies won’t engage with a tree!

 Do not play with puppy using hands, i.e. allowing puppy to chew on hands sometimes yet not at others. This teaches puppy that hands are chew toys and puppy will carry this over to all humans, not just the one doing the play this way. Puppy play should always involve a toy or appropriate chew. 

Puppies are challenging! But they can easily be trained and managed when done properly.  I highly recommend hiring a trainer to come into your home and show you and your family how to properly handle, train and manage your puppy and his antics! It is so beneficial and you’ll learn so much!

UPDATE: I have a video webinar I did on this topic with a schedule of what to do with your puppy to keep biting at a low or non-existent state! Watch my free webinar here.

Stacy Greer, CPDT-KA
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior, LLC
servicing the Dallas/Ft Worth, Texas metroplex
Copyright© 2018. All rights reserved.

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 doesn’t pull them down the street when they walk 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
Copyright© 2018. All rights reserved.