Monday, November 21, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving!

A HOLIDAY YOUR DOG CAN BE THANKFUL FOR!



Make sure to give your dog lots to be thankful for this November – a good home, fun training, tasty treats, plenty of play time and lots and lots of love. But also make sure to keep your fuzzy buddy safe. Here's a few important tips to follow:




FOOD
  • If you treat your dog to a bite of turkey here and there, make sure that it is well cooked. Dogs can get sick from salmonella just like us.
  • Speaking of salmonella, your dog can get it from raw batter that contains eggs. No licking the bowl clean!
  • Stick to the lean cuts – too much fat in a dog's diet can lead to pancreatitis, a life threatening condition. Your dog will be just as happy with a little white meat!
  • No turkey bones or carcass. Bird bones are especially dangerous for your dog.
  • Keep your dog away from under-cooked or raw bread dough – it can cause gas and bloating in your dog's stomach, which can be at best uncomfortable and at worst very dangerous.
  • Follow sensible precautions – keep the trash away from where your dog can get at it, and empty it as soon as possible. Watch out for decorative plants that might be dangerous. Here is a list of plants toxic to dogs. Here's one for cats.
  • If you think your pet might have eaten something toxic, call the ASPCA Point Control Hotline at 888-426-4435. Possible signs are pain, vomiting, diarrhea, sudden changes in behavior, lethargy.

                                     GUESTS

  • Is your dog nervous or shy with guests? Don't force your dog into interaction that they're not comfortable with. Give them the freedom to hang out in another room or their crate with a favorite toy or chew-bone.
  • If your dog is overly excited with guests, it can be a good idea to keep your dog in a back room for the first half hour or so after guests arrive to give them a chance to calm down before you let them out. Be sure to give them a peanut-butter stuffed Kong or bone or a bully stick while they're waiting.
  • Lots of guests means lots of comings and goings, and that means open doors your dog can escape through. Watch the doors very closely. You can also place an x-pen around doorways that your guests can move out of the way but will block your dog if necessary.
  • Make sure your dog is wearing an ID tag with your phone number on it (and I recommend having the word “Reward” as well). Micro chipping your dog can ensure that if it's picked up by animal control that it will be reunited with you.

Best Dogs Ever hopes all of your and your pets have a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Happy Halloween!


If your dog is only mildly nervous or just exuberant, you can use Halloween and trick-or-treaters to take your dog's training to a whole new level! Get a baby gate or ex-pen, leave your front door open and place the baby gate across your front doorway. Set up a bowl of treats for your dog just outside your door, and get a chair for yourself just inside. Put your dog on leash and wait for trick-or-treaters to start arriving. (Don't feed your dog dinner  make sure he's good and hungry.)


HAVE A HAPPY AND PET-SAFE HALLOWEEN

 
Trainer Amanda and her Pup Eliza on Halloween! 

Halloween is probably my favorite holiday, but the things that I love about it – happy kids, costumes and spookiness – are the same things that can make it a very stressful day for your dog. A little planning and set-up can make the night much easier, and even fun, for your best pal.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

EVERY DOG HAS THEIR (BAD) DAY

Image result for dog having a bad day


Many times when I'm working with clients through ongoing behavior issues, I'll ask how things have been progressing over the last couple of weeks since our last session, and they'll respond with something like, "We had a really terribly day Tuesday.  We were walking, and Spike saw a dog across the street and it was barking at us, and Spike just lost it, barking and lunging. None of the techniques we've been using worked!  We had to just drag him away.  And then he was just terrible the rest of the day."

"Okay," I'll reply, "That sounds intense.  How was he before that day, though?  And what about the days since then?"

"Oh, I guess he's been pretty good. Actually, he's been a lot better than when we started."

It's very easy for someone to focus on the one day when everything went wrong, but lose sight of the 13 days when things were improving!  And while we want to learn from those times that things went south, if we focus on those too much, we'll lose our enthusiasm become dejected and stop making progress.

Anyone can have a bad day - including dogs.  Sometimes there's an identifiable reason - a dog showed up unexpectedly under the threshold distance, or your dog had a stressful experience a bit earlier that put him on edge.  But I believe that sometimes, just like us, a dog can just "wake up on the wrong side of the bed" for reasons that are impossible to predict or identify. 

And that's okay!  Don't sweat the occasional bad day.  Pay attention, see if there's anything to learn from it, but then move on.  Look at trends, not specific events.  If your dog is having a bunch of bad days, then the training regimen needs to be adjusted.  But one bad day every week or two, and otherwise doing well and improving?  Then you and your dog are doing great!  Keep up the good work!

And by the way?  This applies to you, too.  You're not going to be at your best every day.  Some days you'll just be clumsy or oblivious and make a ton of mistakes working with your dog.  And sometimes, you'll be on edge yourself and end up losing your temper with your dog.  Don't beat yourself up!  At Best Dogs Ever, we don't punish our dogs for their mistakes - we help them learn and be better next time.  And that applies to the humans, too! When you lose your cool or get totally flummoxed, just take a breath, go home and call it a day, and get back on the horse after a good night's sleep. Tomorrow is a better day!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

PEE PADS A POOR PLAN FOR POTTY PRACTICE!

 I started to write a blog about potty training in general, and quickly realized that was going to be just way too much for one post, so instead I'm going to focus on one common potty training culprit that lures too many unsuspecting owners astray: pee pads (or potty pads).

                                                        

They seem like such a good idea, right?  A nice, padded absorbent place for your puppy to do their business, which can then be quickly picked up and discarded!  What could be better?



Almost anything, it turns out.  Here's the problem - puppies develop what is called a "substrate preference" by about 9 weeks of age.  In common language, this just means that they prefer to potty on the kind of surface that they've been going on up to that age.  See, puppies aren't terribly aware of being inside or outside when it comes to pottying, but they're very aware of what they're standing on when they do.

And that's why pee pads are such a problem.  Pee pads, being the soft, slightly cushion pads that they are, feel like a lot of things that we don't want puppies to pee on - rugs, blankets, bed sheets, couch upholstery, the list just goes on!
Image result for dog potty accident



Fake Grass Potty-Patch 
My recommendation, if you can't regularly get your dog outside when they need to potty, is to get a fake-grass potty patch to use indoors instead of pee pads.  (There are also companies that will bring you a box of actual grass turf and replace it every couple of weeks for you if you prefer.) Grass makes for a wonderful surface to acclimate your puppy to, mainly because it doesn't feel like anything else.              

Image result for dog real grass pad
Real Grass Potty Patch 
As an aside, this is also why, when house-training, it is SUPER important to keep an eagle on your puppy at all times and catch any and all mistakes - because if you're sloppy at the beginning and let your puppy pee in observed on your floor too many times, your floor itself may become their "substrate preference," and now you've got an even more difficult job ahead of you!

None of this means that if you've used pee pads (or let your dog potty on your floor too often) that you're out of luck.  It just means that you've got an extra challenge ahead of you in order to successfully house-training your puppy.  And given that house-training is one of the most involved, longest processes in raising a puppy, wouldn't you like to take every shortcut you can?

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Case of the Poisoned Cue

Just about the surest way to erode behavior is to punish it.  After all, that's what punishment is defined as: a consequence for behavior that makes that behavior less likely to happen in the future.

In reward based training, we emphasize avoiding punishing bad behavior whenever possible and instead focus on rewarding good behavior, for a lot of good reason that I won't go into here.  However, something that catches a lot of owners is when they end up punishing their dog for responding to a command!  They "poison" the command (or cue, in trainer parlance).

"What!?!  Why would anybody punish their dog for being good?  I would never do such a thing!"

Really?  Wouldn't you?

"No!"

Wouldn't you?

"Um... No?"

Wouldn't you?

"What do you want from me?!?  I'm a monster, aren't I?"

Okay, calm down.  But honestly, it's easier to accidentally punish a dog for good behavior than you may realize.  Here's a common one - dogs who, when playing in the backyard or the park, only hear the "Come" command when it's time to come inside or leave - so that when they come, they get punished by having their playtime end!  Before long, you end up with a dog that will absolutely ignore you in the yard or park, because it's in their own best interest to do so.  We call this a "poisoned cue" - the dog has been taught the opposite of what we really want the command to mean.

A lot of times, the solution is simple.  Start getting into the habit of calling your dog to several times when they're in the yard or park, reward them for coming to you, and then send them right back out to play!  When it's time to actually go, you can either call them, reward them and then take them away/inside, or you can just go walk to them and leash them up without using the Come command.  Either way, most of the time they hear the Come command, it will be purely positive - a reward followed by even more playtime.  Which will pay off when there is actual danger and you need your dog to come to you now.
(Sometimes, though, the cue has been so "poisoned" that it's become unsalvageable.  Owners who see their dog digging up the roses, call them over with "Come", and then yell at or swat them may find that no amount of rewarding "Come" later will ever get it up to a good level again.  In that case, we just start training a new command that will mean the same time, but making sure we leave all potential punishments out of it this time around.)

A more subtle and even more common example, though, is that a lot of owners just love to reach down and scrub their dog's head when they're happy with them.  "Good job, Max!" they say as they rub their hand all over Max's head like he was a precocious toddler.  Here's the thing, though - most dogs hate that.  It's like the aunt who would pinch your cheeks at family get-togethers.  Sure, you loved her and she loved you, but you didn't want to walk up to her, did you?

It's the same thing with the head scrub. When your dog gives you a nice prompt Sit, and you reach down and scrub their head in a manner they find deeply annoying and offensive, you've just punished them for behaving.  Do it a few times, and pretty soon your dog will be very reluctant to sit for you on command.  Even if you're using treats as rewards, at best you're just creating a conflicted dog, torn between annoyance and appetite.

And I gotta tell you, it is HARD for owners to break themselves of that habit, even when it finally clicks and they realize how much it's been eroding their dog's obedience.  So if you recognize yourself in this example?  Just strive to do better and recognize that you'll probably screw up a few dozen times and keep reaching down to scrub that head, but if you keep at it eventually you can stop yourself.  And in the meantime, use that awareness of how difficult it is for you to stop doing such a simple act to gain a little appreciation of how hard it can be for your dog to control their behavior sometimes, yes?

Monday, August 25, 2014

Manners vs. Obedience

MANNERS VS OBEDIENCE

Most training can be broken down into Manners versus Obedience. Obedience is when you ask your dog to do something, and she does it. Sit, Down, Here, Stay, Drop It, Spin, Beg... these are all examples of Obedience.

Manners are all the things you want your dog to do without you having to ask for it. Mostly, this is a list of "Don'ts": Don't chew on the furniture. Don't jump on guests. Don't pee in the house. Don't bark to get your way.

The irony is that while most owners think they want their dog to be obedient (and most trainers offer “Obedience Classes”), what they really want is for their dog to have good manners. Give 99% of people a dog that never chews on furniture or shoes, is calms when guests come over, is housebroken, and is never pushy or barky to get its way, and they'll be thrilled – even if it never learns a decent Down or Stay.

Teaching Obedience is relatively simple. A few minutes of good reward-based training a few times a day will train a dog to understand a command. Of course, you then need to “proof” the command for increasing levels of distraction, but ultimately, that's still a fairly straightforward task. My Day Training option – where I train a client's dog for them directly, and then “transfer” the behavior over to the client – is best suited to Obedience: I teach the dog to do X when someone gives the command.

Manners, on the other hand, is a very different approach. With Obedience, you're just focusing on the training a little bit at a time a few times a day, and in between you're not worrying about it. Manners, though, requires A) always being there to interrupt bad behavior when it happens and redirect to a better option, and B) managing your dog's environment so that it can't practice the bad behavior during those times when you can't be on top of it. 
"We had to destroy your wine-in-a-box.  It was gauche."
Manners, in other words, is a full time job compared to Obedience's part time work. But don't worry. Manners might be full time, but it's also just a temp gig. Most dogs can pick up good manners in just a few weeks of consistent behavior from their owners.

(Obedience, on the other hand, should really be a permanent part-time gig – never stop training your dog, and you'll have a happy dog forever.)