Happy New Year!! May the year 2021 bring you a lot of joy and good health!
Thank you very much for your support and encouragement throughout the year 2020!
Despite the world wide pandemic of Covid-19, we have been lucky enough not to need to maintain a social distance, thanks to all the effort everyone in the country made during the lockdowns last year.
This year I am hoping to continue to offer support and guidance to pet dog owners while learning more every day to update my skills and knowledge. This year I will try to publish more blog posts to share my experience and knowledge as well as some tips. I would appreciate it if you would let me know what you would like to read about.
As a way to make a great start in training in the new year, we are having a New Year walk on Sunday the 3rd January at Auckland Botanic Gardens from 8am. Please join us and enjoy a walk together!! I hope to see many of you there!!!
What is reactivity in dogs? What does it look like?
Reactivity is one of the most common issues that dog owners have with their dogs. Usually people ‘label’ dogs as reactive when they display unwanted behaviours such as barking, lunging, and snapping towards certain triggers such as other dogs, people, objects, and noises. When we use this ‘label’ for dogs, our judgement is merely based on observable behaviours. When we actually address those behavioural issues, we need to delve into the cause, such as fear, stress, trauma, etc.
However, what I want to discuss in this post is not how to reduce reactivity in dogs, but to highlight those equally important but often more subtle behaviours that indicate a dog is struggling and needs help.
Let me give you a couple of examples.
My dog, Jasmine, and I were recently approached by another dog that was on leash pulling towards us. The dog put its face to Jasmine’s and showed the teeth, staring at her. Then, Jasmine started barking at the dog. The other dog’s owner didn’t seem to have noticed her dog’s behaviour. Not only the dog’s owner but also all the other people around us must have thought that my dog had reacted to a friendly dog.
In another incident, in an off-leash park, I saw an off-leash dog approaching another off-leash dog, which is no problem. But, at the next moment, the approaching dog suddenly growled and snapped at the other dog who looked very friendly. If the dog had displayed the behaviour when another dog approached it, it would have been nothing unusual. In such a case, most people would simply label the dog as reactive.
However, the dog’s owner didn’t look worried about her dog at all. She just laughed it off and kept walking. After seeing the dog doing the same thing to another dog, I asked the dog’s owner to put her dog on a lead. She looked puzzled. So, I explained that her dog didn’t look comfortable around other dogs, although I wished I could have described what I saw. (I couldn’t because I didn’t want to embarrass her in front of other people.)
In both cases the dogs didn’t bark or lunged. So, from a distance, it would have looked nothing concerning. But, it was clear that both dogs were uncomfortable with such close encounters with other dogs.
In training for reactive dogs, one of the most important concepts that we try to teach the dogs is increasing the distance to their triggers helps them feel better and safer, bringing them back under their threshold. But, if a reactive dog doesn’t display obvious reactive behaviours in close encounters with his triggers, his owner may not notice the dog’s fear or stress. As a result, the dog’s owner may miss an opportunity to help the dog overcome it before the issue gets more serious.
So, watch your dog carefully especially when he is facing his likely triggers with his back toward you.
Tucker pulls and pulls the lead when he is on one. I had heard that his owner had been having trouble walking him on a lead, but I didn’t realise how bad his pulling was until I tried walking him on a lead in their front yard after a trick training session in their home. At that time he got extremely excited, as soon as he saw his lead, and dashed toward the front door. He couldn’t even step away from the door.
We had our first loose leash walking session in a park, because the footpaths along the street would have been too narrow to do things that I wanted to do. To start with, I wanted to burn his extra energy before actually practising loose leash walking. In order to do that, I let him run in circles around me on a lead so that he would pull the lead sideways, not in the direction away from me.
If you try to pull back in the opposite direction when your dog pulls, it will only encourage him to pull even stronger. But, if you gently pull sideways as you move to the side of your dog, he is likely to move sideways. Once he has started moving sideways, you can use the momentum to let him run in circles around you at the end of the lead.
While we were doing that, Tucker sometimes passed near me, so I took the opportunity and threw a piece of food in the direction he was heading, saying “Get it”. And, if he looked in my direction after eating the food, I called him and turn so that he would come from behind me. Then, I again threw food in the direction he was heading just when he was passing me. When he didn’t look at me after eating the food, I waited until he disengaged from the thing he was looking at, and invited him toward me as I praised him.
Most dogs enjoy this exercise as a game that helps them to stay focused on you.
For the warmup exercises explained above, I used a 180 cm lead. But, if you use a long line, you could stay in the centre of his running circle without moving much. Also, for these exercises, I put the lead on the back hook although Tucker was wearing a harness with a front hook.
When he had settled enough, I moved the lead from the back hook to the front hook and started practising loose leash walking. I kept talking to him to stay connected with him. I changed directions frequently to maintain his attention on me. I asked him to sit sometimes too, which he responded to very well.
Because Tucker is short, the lead can get under his body easily when the lead is on the front hook. So, I made sure that the lead was kept off the ground.
If you have a dog who keeps pulling the lead, please practise above exercises. If your dog pulls but is calmer, you may skip one or both of the warmup exercises. Hope it helps!!
This is one of the most frequently asked questions about K9 Trickstas tricks classes/workshops. So, I would like to explain them briefly for you.
Beginners Classes/Workshops are aimed to teach your dog Novice and Intermediate tricks such as:
touch my hand
spin (360 degree turn) / circle (circle around you)
take a bow
leg weaves/figure 8’s
paws up on an object/arm
jump over a bar
Click here for other examples of Novice and Intermediate tricks.
In addition to how to teach specific tricks in those levels, you will learn:
How to get your dog focused on you so that you can your dog can start working
How to mark and reward for correct behaviours (clicker training)
Simple methods of teaching your dog new behaviours, such as luring
Effective use of reinforcers/motivators, such as food and toys
The Prerequisite to attend our Beginners classes/workshops is that your dog can work in a group without interfering with other dogs. Please let us know in advance if your dog can be nervous around other dogs. Nervous dogs can attend our classes/workshops as long as they are not threatening to other dogs. Also, your dog needs to be up to date with vaccinations.
AdvancedClasses/Workshops are aimed to teach your dog Advanced and Expert tricks such as:
say your players
cross your paws
shy (cover your eyes)
limp (walk with front leg lifted)
roll a barrel
wipe your paws
Click here for other examples of Intermediate, Advanced, and Expert tricks.
In addition to how to teach specific tricks in those levels, you will learn:
How to reduce the use of food as a lure
How to get the duration/distance in behaviours
Advanced methods of teaching your dog new behaviours, such as shaping
The Prerequisite to attend our Advanced classes/workshops is that your dog has some understanding of clickers and/or marker words. Please let us know in advance if your dog can be nervous around other dogs. Nervous dogs can attend our classes/workshops as long as they are not threatening to other dogs. Also, your dog needs to be up to date with vaccinations
Over a month ago, I was stopped by a man when I was about to leave a park with my dogs. The man had been watching me playing with the dogs, practising some heelwork and dance moves. He said “Very impressive! Can you help train my daughter’s dogs?” At that time I took it as a polite compliment but gave him my business card just in case. Then, the next day his wife sent me a text message inquiring about my services as a dog trainer. Their dogs didn’t have any serious behavioural issues but the family, except for the husband who had experience in dog training, were having trouble keeping their dogs under control.
Since then, we have been training at their home once a week. This morning we had our fifth session. The older of their two dogs in particular has made a significant improvement in the last one month since our first session.
His name is Tucker. 6 years old. He had never been to classes. When I first met him, he was unable to lie down on cue even with luring. But, within a month, in addition to some behaviours he had already, he has learned: down, hand touch, follow a finger, spin & circle, shake hands, leg weaves & figure 8’s, fetch & drop, peekaboo, paws up on an object, hoop/bar/baton jump, high five, wave, chin rest, food refusal, go around, ring a call bell, stay, bow, and more. No wonder he was a maniac chewer. Despite being so clever, he didn’t have a job.
A month ago he was hard to keep under control. But, now that he gets to work with his family twice or more every day, he is a pleasure for his family to live with, and more importantly he is much happier!!!
Don’t you think that we see more dogs wearing a muzzle on their walks than we used to? Yes, one of the reasons (here in Auckland, New Zealand) is the council’s regulation that requires all dogs identified as menace to wear a muzzle. But some dogs are wearing one for other reasons, such as a precaution for a reactive dog or a scavenging dog.
I don’t put a muzzle on my dogs on our walks but sometimes I need to put one on Cinnamon who can get nippy when she is being examined closely at the vet.
Last week a student in a tricks class asked me about muzzle training. Her dog was able to put her nose to the end of her muzzle to earn treats, but she was unable to sustain the contact.
After giving the student some advice, I decided to muzzle train Cinnamon, as I knew that she had not been comfortable wearing a muzzle when she needed to.
Present a muzzle in front of your dog.
Mark and reward for touching the muzzle with the nose.
Repeat Step 2 many times.
If your dog looks comfortable doing it, start delaying the mark and reward.
Although I have seen some dog trainers giving treats through a muzzle, I think that you need to be careful so that your dog doesn’t start comparing the fear of the muzzle and the value of the treats. Even if you are intending to reinforce the behaviour positively with treats, the treats can enhance the fear for some dogs. So, if your dog is very scared of a muzzle, I advise you to think twice before luring your dog with food into the muzzle.
At the end of the above video I tied the strap and quickly untied it. However, she didn’t look comfortable about it. So, next time I might try “tying and untying the strap behind the neck” without putting the muzzle on her.
If you progress slowly so that your dog doesn’t get stressed, you can do this training as just another fun trick. So, enjoy “muzzle training” with your dog!! I will with Cinnamon!
When I am walking my dogs, I occasionally get asked if I am “still” training my senior dogs. To me it is nothing unusual. Is that because my dogs are naughty? Well, yes perhaps… Is that because I am not a good trainer so that I haven’t been able to train my dogs well enough? Well, yes maybe…
A couple of days ago a dog owner told me with a frowning face that her three-year-old dog had started failing recalls. So, I asked what she was doing to reinforce her recalls when she actually came back. Then, she looked puzzled and said “Penny used to always come when called. But, now she chases rabbits and doesn’t come back when I call her.” I asked again if she ever gave her dog a reward when the dog chose her over distractions and came. Then, she said “Do I need to carry food when I walk her? I never needed treats as she always came back.”
Dogs are not robots. They have their own mind. You cannot program how they respond to your cues correctly every time by writing lines of code. They make their own decisions. They make decisions to suit themselves. They choose an option that is likely to result in something they like. If they think that a certain option will results in something they don’t like, they will learn not to choose the option.
When it comes to dogs’ recalls, some dogs may choose to come when called, even if they aren’t taught to do so. For example, some dogs, especially young ones, do so because they feel safe being close to their owners. But, as they develop more confidence in various environments, their need to stick to their owners may decrease. So, they are likely to learn to choose it over their owners when when they find something more interesting than their owners
If you want reliable recalls from your dog, you need to reinforce his choice to come back to you by rewarding him for his successful recalls. The reward doesn’t need to food. It can be toys, interactions with you, or other activities he likes, such as sniffing the ground or even running free! If you praise and give him a reward every time he comes, it becomes a reason for your dog to come back every time he is called. Also, when you give him a reward, whether it is food or not, for his successful recall, he doesn’t only get the reward but also learns what it feels like to come and get rewarded. If he learns that he feels good when he comes back, it will be a reason for coming back whether he gets rewarded or not.
If the case of the dog owner who I mentioned earlier, she might need to retrain her dog from scratch, because the dog has practised to ignore her calls so many times, which means that the dog’s choice to ignore her owner’s calls has been reinforced. There are various ways to teach a dog recalls strategically, but that will require a separate post.
Even if now you think that your dog has highly reliable recalls, you never know what kind of competitions for your dog’s attention can appear in the future. So, be prepared to compete with them by reinforcing your dog’s recalls from time to time, if not always!!
Does your dog walk nicely on a leash? Or, are you struggling to stop your dog from pulling on a leash? In case of the latter, have you got any advice from your friend with experience in training dogs or a professional dog trainer? What did you say?
When I first got my first Beagle, available tools that help train dogs to walk on a loose leash were limited. Some people had started using so-called head halters (such as Halti Headcollar) as a humane training tool, but a majority were still using a choke chain. Also, back then, people who didn’t know head halters could misunderstand them as they looked like muzzles for aggressive dogs.
Several years later people found another humane training tool, a special type of harnesses that help dogs stop pulling on a leash through the use of a front hook, such as Easy Walk Harness (Here is my review on the product that I wrote ten years ago). If you attach a leash on a front hook, your dog naturally faces you when he pulls on a leash.
Then, several years later people who cared about their dogs’ physical fitness realised that many of those “no-pull” harnesses tended to interfere with the movement of shoulder blades and muscles, which could cause shoulder injuries.
Nowadays there are a wide variety of non-pull harnesses with a font hook in New Zealand, such as Easy Walk Harness (mentioned above), Halti Harness (similar to Easy Walk Harness), Ruffwear Front Range Harness (popular among people who do Agility or other dog sports), Blue 9 Balance Harness (the idea is similar to that of Ruffwear Harness but lighter), and so on.
When you ask your friend for advice on how to stop your dog’s pulling, some might say that “You can’t control your dog with a harness, because harnesses are for pulling” because they don’t know those with a front hook. Some others might recommend those harnesses that have a front hook but could interfere with the shoulder movement, because they don’t know the risk of shoulder injuries.
When you choose a dog harness for the purpose of stop your dog’s pulling, please make sure that it doesn’t cut across the shoulders. In fact those harnesses that don’t interfere with the shoulder movement are harder to slip off than those that do.
In our tricks class at Manukau Dog Training Club, I got a very interesting question from a student.
In the class I had been emphasizing on how to get and keep your dog focused on you. But, the student said “When I read your article, I thought that what you do for the focus might be too much for the dogs”. “Article” means that a piece of paper I give to our students each week, explaining what we have done in the class that week. I thought that she meant that dogs in the class would be too exhausted by playing my focus games to actually practise tricks, which we usually do after the focus games. But, then she added “I understand that the focus is important, but some dogs are always focused on their handlers and keep offering behaviours, such as Border Collies and Malinois.”
Yes, she is right. There are dogs who don’t need to learn to focus on their handlers because they do it naturally. Well, as is the case with any type of training or learning, you may need to teach different dogs different things. Thus, in case of dogs who tend to get hyped up by offering behaviours to engage their handlers, we need to teach them something different. Although it again depends on each dog, things that you could teach those dogs may include: 1) how to calm down and 2) how to wait for the handler’s cue.
Making your dog to do a behaviour that has duration could help him calm down, while your dog needs to be vigilant to prepare for the next cue if you give your dog a cue for a different behaviour each time.
As always, when you train your dog, you need to think about how to help your dog, the dog in front of you.
I am in love with one of the tricks in the list of “Easy” tricks by Do More With Your Dog!, the world’s leading trick dog program. In the list the trick is named “touch my hand/target stick.”
In fact it was the first trick I taught my dogs using a clicker. At that time I had no idea about the potential of this simple exercise.
For example, when you want your dog to turn to a certain direction, what would you do? If your dog knows cues for Left, Right, Front, Back, Up, Down, and so on, you could direct your dog with verbal cues. But, few dogs have so much vocabulary. Would you hold your dog and move him as you like? Then, what? Would your dog stay in that position? Wouldn’t he wiggle, refusing to face away from you?
Here the Hand Touch (“touch my hand”) comes in handy. All you have to do is place your hand in a position where you want your dog to place his nose. Yes! So easy! If you don’t want to bend to reach your small dog’s height, you can use a target stick and make him touch the target. If you can’t reach your dog’s nose because your dog is too long, again you can use a target stick.
Now I think that you can imagine how useful this simple trick is in trick training and other types of dog training. If you want your dog to go through between legs to do the leg weaves or figure eight’s, you can simply place a hand on the other side of the legs from your dog, tell him to touch your hand, and repeat it. When you want your dog to heel, you can place your hand in a position that your dog’s nose would have to come when he is in the heel position.
Also, I find this trick very useful when I recall my dogs. If you say to your dog “Come!”, he might come close to you. But, if he has a target to touch, the picture in his mind becomes much clearer and he thinks “Ok, I will touch that hand.”
In addition, I am finding the “touch my hand/target stick” trick useful on our activities as therapy pets volunteers. For people who have difficulty in reaching my therapy dog, Mint, or don’t feel confident with touching a dog, I hand them my target stick so that they can interact with Mint without sitting up from a recliner or actually touching Mint.
Although it may take a while to teach your dog to do sustained hand touch, he would learn to touch your hand quickly. Dogs are naturally curious and touch your hand if it is presented before them, trying to investigate what it is. When your dog touches your hand, say “Yes” and give him a treat. If he licks your hand, say “Yes” a little earlier, just before the actual contact with the hand. Once he’s got the behaviour, you can introduce the command “Touch”. Say “Touch” and place your hand before him.
This is a video from my dog Mint’s training last week. I was using the Hand Touch to reinforce his head position while doing the heelwork.
Hope you enjoy teaching your dog the Hand Touch if you haven’t already! It’s so easy to teach and easy to use!