Thursday, June 23, 2011

Class Offerings

I currently offer several types of classes in multiple locations.

1. Petco: I teach 6 classes per week at the Concord Petco at various times and days. The classes offered currently are Puppy I, Puppy II, Adult I and Adult II. The cost for all the Petco classes is $110 for 6 weeks.

Puppy I: this class is designed for young puppies that have 2 sets of shots. The class focus is less on commands and more on socializing with other puppies and people, going over potty training issues and crate training and learning good puppy manners such as not mouthing, mounting, leash biting, barking for attention etc. I do teach the puppies to sit, down, do a basic leave-it, watch, stay for a food dish, sit for petting and start leash walking skills.

Puppy II: is designed for older puppies or ones that have graduated from Puppy I. The class focus is more on commands than problem solving. I make sure that the puppies can do all of the above in Puppy I and move on to a more formal stay, wait at the door, a beginning heel, polite people greetings, passing other dogs on leash nicely, more owner focus, coming when called, take-it and drop-it, toy drive, a more advanced leave-it and any other issues that may come up.

Adult I: is designed for dogs over 11 months that have had zero basic training. This class is similar to Puppy I and Puppy II rolled together. Adult dogs may have some behavior issues different from puppies or just a more severe form of the same issues such as, jumping up excessively, pulling hard on the leash, straining to see other dogs, lack of focus on owners etc. In Adult I I teach all the dogs to sit, down, sit, stand, stay, leave-it, heel, come, sit for petting and nose targeting.

Adult II: is considered to be the intermediate course. It build on Adult I and I tend to go at the pace of the dogs in the class. We strengthen previously taught behaviors and add new ones when the dogs are ready. New behaviors may include: go to mat, heel off-leash, recall past other dogs, side-by-side stays, distance downs (drop on recall), retrieval and a few fun tricks.

Every dog progresses at a different rate, so it is my philosophy to go at the rate of each dog. I don't mind if one dog isn't ready for stay and is working on other commands while I have other dogs doing stays. I like to say that I am not a cookie cutter trainer. The down side of this is that when outsiders watch my class, they sometimes are confused that all the dogs are not preforming the same behaviors. Dogs are not robots though!

2. My group classes: I used to only do private training outside of Petco, but I found a need for a different type of group class that Petco does not offer.

Park Class: I currently offer a 4 week series for $100 at Newhall Park. The class is an intense focus on 4 core commands; leave-it, heel, stay and recall. All of the dogs that I have enrolled are previous clients and I know that their dogs can already do the basic level of the commands so we don't have to waste our time with sits, downs and all the baby steps. At the end of the 4 weeks, all of the dogs thus far, have been able to leave tasty tidbits I drop like cheese or chicken treats, leave other dogs walking and joggers and leave the geese in the nearby pond! At the end all dogs have a much better on leash heel, some can do an off leash heel and all of the dogs had stellar side-by-side stays and recalls. The advantage of this class versus Petco is numerous.
- I know all of the dogs coming in so there are no surprises in temperament.
- We all start and finish at the same time without any people signing up in the middle of our series.
- There is ample space to do exercises and drills.
- We don't have to worry about shoppers interrupting us.
- We have a more "real world" feel as we are outside and have many distractions available to work with a short walk away.
- It is so nice being outside in this wonderful weather!

3. Private training: I do offer private training in your home or at a decided location. Most of my private training clients have reactive dogs or young puppies that cannot start classes yet. A few just needed a jump start on commands before being comfortable in a class setting and a few did some sessions after group classes to sharpen some of their skills. Private training can really cover whatever you want since you get to dictate the lesson! The downside of that is sometimes that can create holes in learning since we aren't following a given course. Private training is more costly. I charge $45-50 per hour.

Classes waiting to be offered
I have several classes that I want to offer, that I am awaiting interest in.

1. About Town: do you want to be able to take your dog with you down busy streets? Would you like to enjoy a lunch at an outdoor cafe and have your dog lie politely under the table? Do you want to take your dog on vacations and visits to see friends and have all go smoothly? That is what the "About Town" class is all about. It will be a 4 week series for $100 and cap at 4 dogs. Each week we will go to a different location such as a coffee shop, cafe, home depot, park for a picnic or city center. The ideal is that the dogs will learn to down-stay on a mat or towel while you eat or chat, that the dogs can heel nicely in a variety of public settings with associated distractions and be stress-free during all of the different outings. The first class will take place at a park to go over teaching the mat behavior and heeling and assessing the dogs stress level and learning how to make your dog more comfortable and picking/choosing appropriate places to take him.

2. Tricks: I love teaching my dogs tricks, but not all owners see this as a class that they want to invest in. The class would take place at Newhall and run for 4 weeks for $100. In the class, clickers are recommended, but not required. Tricks taught will include: spin, beg-up, high-five, wave, roll-over, play dead, crawl, weave between the legs, and possibly more depending on how far we get and the physical abilities of each dog. If you have seen my dogs you know that they can do all the above plus quite a few more that I am capable of teaching to any dog that has the physical ability. Some dogs for example, cannot bounce in the air, jump into their owners arms or turn off light switches due to their size!

3. Canine Good Citizen Prep Class: the CGC test is a test offered by AKC that encompasses "what every good dog should know." The prep class is designed to make sure your dog knows all these things and can pass the test. 4 weeks, $100 at Newhall. The test itself is 10 items and costs $10 to take. People are more than welcome to simply take the test and see if they pass. Tests can be taken by appointment.

Test Items:
1. Accepting a friendly stranger: dog must not show any fear or be aggressive to a stranger approaching.
2. Sit politely for petting: dog must remain seated to be pet by said stranger.
3. Loose leash walking: dog must be able to walk nicely on a leash (without prong collar, choke chains, or no-pull harness) and make several different turns with owner.
4. Walking through a crowd: when walking past people, dog cannot show too much interest or be rude and jump/leash wrap the people.
5. Tolerating another dog: dog will pass another leashed dog and not be overly excited or display reactiveness.
6. Grooming and appearance: dog will allow me to brush and exam him as a vet or groomer would.
7. 20 foot stay with return to dog.
8. 20 foot stay with recall.
9. Reaction to a distraction such as a ball bouncing or jogger.
10. Supervised separation: I take the dog for 3 minutes without you and he cannot display any moderate or severe separation anxiety.

Why take the CGC test? It is a prerequisite to therapy dog work and some other activities. It can lower home owners and renters insurance or allow your dog into a place that may have not. My landlord did not take dogs, but he did when I told them they have their CGC and faxed their certificates! There are some places such as doggie day cares, or parks or trails that only allow CGC dogs. I personally did it because I love to have their certificates framed on the wall and I feel proud that they passed. It is a testament to our training together.

If you are interested in any of the above classes, you can e-mail me at or check out my website:

Continued Training

Today I met a new prospective client that got me thinking about how few people continue to enroll their dog in training classes. This lady had two dogs; an older certified therapy dog that had done almost 10 years of dog training classes and a brand new 2 year old shelter terrier. She told me an amazing story about how her older dog was a rescue from ARF and was reactive. After a year or so of private training she started basic group classes. She took classes at several different facilities, wanting to offer her dog a variety of experiences and distractions. After a year of basic classes, she moved on to advanced. Then she began sampling tricks classes, freestyle dance, agility and toying with the idea of having her dog become a certified therapy dog. It took many years of work, but he did become certified, which is amazing since he was originally a reactive dog.

Turns out she kept hearing my name mentioned and sought to learn more about me. Even though she has obviously had many relationships with trainers older than myself, she enrolled in one of my group classes today with her new dog. I feel so privileged to work with a dedicated owner that sees training as a life-long endeavour. I hope that I will exceed her expectations and that she will continue on with me and take all the classes I offer.

Which brings me back to the fact that an owner that views training classes as a life-time "thing" is rare. Many of my clients take a 6 week course and then venture out on their own. A good percentage do a second 6 week course, but not many go on to do anything more after 12 weeks of training.

In Oregon, when I taught flyball, I did have some of my prior clients take a few flyball courses. I noticed the same pattern. Some did the 8 weeks and decided it was "too much work," or "not for them." A very small bunch kept rolling on with classes until we stopped offering them due to me moving. One person made the commitment to find another group to practice with after I left (and that person is one of my best friends!).

I know that the majority of the dogs that just did the basic 6 weeks, never went on to take classes from another trainer because I pet sat many of them, or we stayed in contact. The point is, that never were the people unsatisfied with my training classes, they just didn't see a point in learning more when they were happy with what their dog had accomplished thus far. However, there are many reasons why it is a fantastic idea to keep doing classes!

1. Classes keep your dog sharp on his skills.
A dog/owner team that has to practice each week isn't going to fall into the trap of getting lazy and forgetting commands.

2. Keeps dogs socialized around dogs.
When dogs are around dogs regularly in a class setting versus a dog park setting, it teaches them that they can simply be around other dogs without having to engage with them. I have done a ton of classes and activities with my own dogs. As a result, they know that dogs are cool and that they can say hello when I tell them they can and that otherwise it is more rewarding to focus on me. A truly socialized dog doesn't mob dogs and want to "say hi," to them all, but instead acknowledges their presence and gets back to work.

3. Keeps dog social with people.
A bonus with training is that all dogs are accompanied by their owners! These owners come from all walks of life and range in age, ethnicity, frame, and personality. When exposed to strangers in a positive environment, dogs become more accepting of strange people in general. While an owner of an exuberant lab may find this unnecessary as her dog loves everyone as it is, an owner of a meek chihuahua or shy aussie greatly benefit from having these "dog people" on hand during class to help overcome any fear of strangers their dog may have. The owner of the happy lab will get practice on polite people greetings though!

4. It is fun!
Taking classes with you dog is fun. It is an opportunity to bond with your dog and teach her new things. I know I personally loved the time I used to spend herding sheep with my two. Even the hour drive there and back was enjoyable since it gave me a break from everyday life. When I took obedience classes with Lucy, I always enjoyed showing off her skills when I had worked especially hard on something.

5. Classes are mentally stimulating and tiring for your dog.
Ever heard the phrase, "A good dog is a tired dog."? Well, I can say that is true. Obedience classes require a dog to focus and learn, thus using up mental energy. There is quite a bit of literature out there that suggests mental stimulation is actually more tiring than physical exercise. 1 hour of class can have a dog beat for the night, whereas 1 hour at the park and your dog is wanting more a few hours later!

6. You can make great friends and connections.
A lot of my clients hit it off and become friends thanks to dog class. I have even had people become "clients" of one and other. One client met her future realtor via dog class, another got information from an owner about their dog breeder and later got a puppy from said breeder. I personally have made some great friends as well!

7. You will have an awesome dog.
If you continue to take classes your dog will be, well, awesome! You will be the envy of the neighborhood and your friends. Prepare yourself to hear comments like, "Wow, I wish my dog was that well behaved!" and "Hey, can you train my dog to be like yours?" You may also find places welcoming your nice dog that may not otherwise be dog friendly.

8. You will be really happy.
In the end, if your dog is happy, you are happy. Having a well behaved dog puts a smile on my face almost everyday.

It is a joy to have my dogs around and know that I can take them most anywhere, trust them with baby toys, trust them with other dogs etc. They have stayed at hotels, gone on long trips, ridden Amtrak, Lucy has been to Costco and some other stores and even a few restaurants. Flyball tournaments and agility trials go off without a hitch. I have taken them to BBQs, swim parties, and get togethers with no problems. They can run on the beach off-leash, hike and go to work with me. Having well trained dogs is awesome.

I hope that you all can see the wonderful possibilities that come with having a well trained dog. My classes are not limited to just basic and intermediate. I also offer classes at a local park and do private training. I have several classes that I am just waiting for interest in to start that offers more for the advanced dogs. I will post a description in another post.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Separation Anxiety

This is a big topic, and I hope I can do it justice without writing a novel! There are quite a few books already out there that address treating dogs with separation anxiety. Animal Behaviorist Patricia McConnell, has a book called "I'll be Home Soon" . Nicole Wilde also has a book called "Don't Leave me."

So what is separation anxiety? Well, it is basically when a dog panics when he is left alone. It can be so extreme that the dog panics when left with other people, but only wants his owner. The symptoms of this "disorder" range widely. Most experts agree that the worst happens within 30 minutes of the owner's departure. Some dogs may pace, get in the window looking for mom/dad, whine, bark, and circle. A moderate case may mean the dog salivates, destroys something trying to get out or rips up something that reminds them off the owner (usually because it is comforting, not because they are punishing their owner). A more extreme case may mean the dog defecates, urinates, vomits, and works himself up so much that he is a mess when you return home.

The best prevention for SA is to not set a new dog/puppy up that you will be home all the time. So many owners get their new pup during a holiday or vacation time to spend ample time pottying training etc. When the owner returns to work the following week, the pup is confused and upset, and this often results in the beginnings of SA. Of course, when getting an adult shelter dog, they may already have SA, so prevention may be too late. I still recommend owners of shelter dogs not set themselves up by staying home the first 48 hours with the dog. Go out, get something to eat, go to the grocery store. The new dog needs to know that people leaving is perfectly normal.

Why do dogs develop SA in the first place? Dogs are social creatures and we all know that dogs have an exaggerated view of time. Most dogs don't really have a life outside of their owner(s) if you think about it. They rely on us for food, water, shelter, fun, socialization etc. When we leave, some dogs simply don't know what to do with themselves. Normal, adjusted dogs, generally sleep when their owners are gone. Some dogs play with a stuffed food toy or their dog toys. Some dogs play with each other. If you want to know what your dog does when you are gone, set up a web cam. It is quite interesting to see what they do in your absence!

Depending on the level of SA, treatment ranges. First step is learning how to read your dog's anxiety level. This is important because you need to determine if he gets anxious when you are preparing to leave. Does he start to whine, pace, drool, look wide-eyed when you pick up your keys and put your shoes on? If so, then you need to desensitize him to leaving rituals.

Leaving Rituals
We all do certain tasks before we leave the house. Grab keys, shoes, wallet, purse or bag, maybe shut off some doors, say good-bye to others in the house or the dog. If the dog starts to get upset with these signals, the owner basically needs to make those signals mean nothing. This means picking up the keys, and setting them down numerous times per day without leaving. Putting your shoes on and going out the door only to come right back in. Make it so the dog doesn't see those tasks as a predictor of you leaving him behind.

Next step is finding out what he does when you are gone. Some dogs don't have SA, they are just young puppies that are destructive and bored and having a party while you are gone. How do you tell the difference then? If your dog doesn't seem to care when you leave and is in fine condition when you get home minus a destuffed couch, it probably isn't SA. In that case, I would recommend confining the little destructo to a crate or pen until he grows out of that phase. Setting up a web cam is very helpful in determining to what extent the dog is panicking (if at all). You probably don't need a web cam if your dog is frantic when you leave and when you come home he is soiled and stressed to know that he has SA.

Where you leave the dog is important. Some dogs with SA get more upset when they see their owner leave and have access to the door/window. These dogs are safer and happier when crated or penned elsewhere. On the flip-side, some dogs freak out at the notion of being contained and do better when left out. You need to experiment to see what works best for your dog.

One of the best ways to combat SA is with distractions. Giving your dog food stuffed toys, brain toys etc. are a great way to get his mind off the fact that you are gone. If you find the food toys untouched when you get home, then he is too stressed to eat and you will need to do some training as well before the distraction will help.

Similar to the desensitizing to the leaving rituals, many families that have SA dogs need to practice leaving their dogs for very very short periods of time and returning promptly. This means you start by going out the door for 30 seconds or less, then come back in. You gradually work up to 30 mins, then add 30 min segments at a time. This is a slow process, don't rush it. If you cannot be home during the week to do this, then you need to work on it every weekend. With time, your weeks will get better as well.

Returning home
Most books will tell you to keep the comings and goings very low-key. I know it is fun to come home and rush your dog as he goes bonkers to see you, but dogs with SA are so worked up to see their owner again that this can exacerbate the situation. The owner needs to be relaxed and relay that feeling to the dog that it was no big deal that he left.

Some dogs may need medication. Don't feel ashamed if this happens to you. Before using pharmaceuticals, there is a wide range of homeopathic drugs and products to try such as L-Theanine, Rescue Remedy, Pet Naturals of Vermont Calming Aid, a Calming cap, anxiety wrap or thunder shirt.

There are many people out there that use a dog walker, or doggie day care because their dog has SA. Some owners have great jobs that their dogs can come with them to work. Very very rarely I have heard of a dog being re-homed to another home where someone is home at all times.

Hopefully that was a general guide and starting point for those dealing with separation anxiety. If you need further assistance, don't hesitate to contact me for a session or e-mail consult. Remember to never punish a dog for having SA. He doesn't have it by choice and he needs help to realize you leaving isn't the end of the world!