Thursday, October 20, 2011

Lex's Week

We have been making lots of positive changes to reduce Lex's stress levels and be a happy dog again.

Sunday I got up with my daughter while Lex slept in with my husband. Then he got taken outside, fed breakfast and I took him with me to a private training where he relaxed in his crate in the car for about 40 minutes, then he assisted with the training for about 15 minutes. This consisted of doing tricks, barking, running for thrown treats as he was acting as a distraction for the dog I was working with. After that I drove him to the dog park but had to park a few blocks away due to a 5K race going on. We walked down to the dog park and played chuck-it for about 20 minutes then walked back to the car. Then I put him in the bedroom where he slept in his crate for a bit until my husband decided to take a nap and allow Lex to cuddle with him on the bed for an hour. When they woke up, my husband got ready to go out and we took our daughter, Lex and Lucy (picked her up) to Heather Farms, a nice park with a large pond, garden, trails, play structures etc. We walked with the dogs on leash for an hour on the trails around the ponds, then let our daughter play for a bit. Lex relaxed some more in the bedroom when we got home and I put his thundershirt on. Later in the evening I had to go to another private training and needed to borrow my sister's dog, so Lex stayed home. While home, my husband got out the RC car that Lex loves to chase (we haven't gotten it out in over a year), and he held our daughter and let her watch while he chased it. Then I brought dinner home, baby went to bed, Lex hung out with us in the living room while we ate and watched a movie, then we went to bed! Good day for all!

Let Lex sleep in, took him and a pet sitting dog on a short potty walk, then fed them both and put Lex back in the bedroom for about 1.5 hours until we got dressed and ready for a trail walk. Had him heel to the trail, then let him off. He ran and ran and ran after squirrels and what-not and did auto-check-ins to me while I pushed the baby in the stroller on the trail. Walk lasted about 20 minutes. On the way back he jumped into a creek and I threw a stick for him about 10 times for him to retrieve. Since he stunk, I then had to hose him down (which he loves), when we got back. Put him on the back patio where there is an extra crate and beds and blankets, to dry off. He then came back in and hung out with us for a bit then my daughter wanted to chase him so I put up the bedroom gate and gave him a bone to chew on. After that he jumped over by himself and we played laser with him a little bit, then I put baby down for a nap. During her nap he choose to go back behind the gate and finish his bone, then come hang out with me for an hour or so. Then we went to my mom's for an earlier dinner and he played outside with her dog and enjoyed the backyard. Back home he followed us around while I cleaned up, gave the baby a bath and put her to bed. Then he hung out with us and went to bed when we did.

Same morning routine. Loaded him and baby up to go to my mom's while I went to work. While there he got a 20 minute leash walk while my daughter rode her tricycle on the paved trails, he played with my mom's dog, played fetch for 15 minutes, got a bully stick and had a good time. Came home and he took a nap with my husband who stayed home sick. Took an evening walk off-leash on the trail and ran into a few other dogs he ran with and another owner threw a ball for him quite a few times. Normal evening and bedtime routine.

Normal morning routine. Hung out with Elsie and I a bit. Picked up Lucy and took both dogs and baby to a park in Clayton where they can play fetch in a large grassy field without other dogs and after, Elsie can play at a nearby playground. Lots of walking and running! Brought Lucy back with us and gave them both bully sticks after much needed water. Gave them both hose baths when Tyler got home and had an awkward moment with a neighbor that watched me bathe them with her screaming 2 year old in tow. Both dogs were stressed about the crying, but I technically was in a community area with off-leash dogs, so I didn't feel like I could say anything. Took both clean dogs to work at Petco where they helped with a few demonstrations and got to play a little after closing. Got home late, fed him a late meal and went straight to bed.

Normal morning stuff. Met with a friend and her BC male for a walk. They formerly hated each other, so we set out to fix that. After riding together (crated), and a little mouthing off, hot dogs and walking, they finally accepted each other. They ended up walking comfortably close to one and other, but I still would be hesitant to let them run loose with each other. Walked for at least an hour, then picked up lunch for us to-go and headed back to my place. Crated Lex and shut the bedroom door while her dog was loose. After she left, he did a lot of sniffing of our place and had renewed interest in toys that the other dog had touched! Husband got home early from a dentist appointment and Lex went to hang out with him while baby and I left for a while. Lex threw up while I was gone (maybe the hot dogs?), so we didn't do any further activity for the night.

Busy day for me and my daughter and we were gone till the afternoon. By then it was too hot to do much with Lex. He seemed happy and I didn't end up needing the baby gate till later in the evening. He chased a fly for a while, got a little obsessed with it and I had to re-direct him with a bone behind the gate. When he came out he had forgotten about the fly, that is, until my husband that had gotten home told him to "get the bug!" Picked up Lucy and took him and her to another group class I teach. He was a little stressed since it is as a vet office where he got a dental done and he still is never sure if I am leaving him there for medical treatment. I played some games with him and Lucy (treat tossing, puppy push-ups, side-by-side stays) and did some tricks then I put them in an adjacent unused room while I did a thorough cleaning of the room and then we went back to my dad's and I put his dog away so L&L could play together in his living room.

I went to work and Tyler attempted to do good by Lex and take him on the off-leash trail we like to walk on with the stroller. However, Lex did not come back when he called him (first time ever in his life!) and continued to run up the hill looking for squirrels. It was only after my husband reached the end of the trail to turn around that Lex did a check-in and he leashed him up. He assured me he didn't yell or say anything to him since he did actually come back on his own, but he didn't want to let him off again for a repeat performance. Apparently, the rest of their day was "normal." I had another class at the vet clinic after I returned home from work and took him and Lucy. Even though I provided him with a doggie bed in the adjacent room and he seemed more relaxed upon entry, he was not himself when I brought him out for a demo. He barked at one of the students (I am assuming since it was a tall african american man with a hat and Lex has zero history with other ethnic groups), he showed his teeth at a bumbling puppy and he did his "demo" with whale eye! Lucy was a gem and totally relaxed and did everything I needed her to do happily. Took her home and then had a quiet evening with Lex and went to bed early.

Normal morning stuff, except Lex was interested in the tug-a-jug, so I put his breakfast in there. He didn't eat it in his crate, so when the baby went down for an early nap I brought it out to the living room where he did eat it. Then we went to the zoo and Lex was home for the rest of the day alone. Bedtime routine was normal.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


It seems that the problems that crop up in relation to having a toddler and dog(s) never end! You may have read the saga of Lucy and my baby that led to Lucy being relocated to my dad's house. She is very happy there and we have worked out a good system so that she is still "my dog." What ultimately led me to relocating her was that her stress levels were so high, she became physically ill. I didn't think I had to worry about Lex since he has been in love with my daughter from the day we brought her home. Apparently, things change........

Now that my daughter is a full-fledged toddler, she does things that may seem odd to a dog. Her movement is unsteady, her mood is ever changing, she wants up, she wants down. She can climb and she can throw! She also enjoys chase games and "sharing" her food. Lex has taken most things in stride. He never stressed over crying or crawling or even toy throwing. What really gets him though is when Elsie starts to follow him around. It is quite harmless really. She wants to see him, she walks up to him and he licks her and she laughs and then he gets up because he is a gentleman and moves aside to let her pass. Except she doesn't want to pass him. She wants to hang out with him. So when he walks away, she follows him. Then he gets that stressed look on his face like "what is happening?" and she thinks they are playing a a great game and is just laughing, following him around. She isn't grabbing him or actually touching him at all. My dilemma starts in how to actually deal with this.

I can't let it just go, I can see that Lex needs me to intervene since this freaks him out. When I stop her physically or verbally, she throws a mini tantrum and then my sensitive dog high-tails it to his crate as if it were all his fault! If I try to re-direct him to our newly made safe-zone, he seems confused and thinks he is being banished/punished. If I get treats out to reiterate to him that he is not being punished, he doesn't seem to make the connection and simply takes the treats and either continues to look stressed OR goes into training mode and becomes an intense obsessive border collie that had no recollection that a toddler was chasing him!

I will say, we have made a little bit of progress. My goal is that when he feels insecure, that he seeks out the "safe-zone" on his own without prompting, and comes back when he wants to. The "safe-zone" is a baby gate in our bedroom doorway. In the bedroom is his open crate. The progress I have made in the last 48 hours is that he is now coming out of the room without prompting, but I still have to tell him to go over the gate when I see he is getting stressed. He seems to have chosen the spot behind the rocking chair in Elsie's room as his second "crate" which isn't what I want, since I am not going to gate my daughter out of her room. At least he is choosing to leave completely rather than just walking in circles and then I can intervene and redirect the baby.

It makes me a bit sad. Here I was naively thinking my toddler and dog were the best of friends, but in reality I don't think it is possible for a dog and toddler to be friends! To co-exist, yes, but to actually have a relationship in which both parties benefit, no. I have successfully taught her to be gentle, to not share her food, to not throw things, to be sweet to him and now I have to teach her to basically ignore him. This will not be an easy task! I will not re-home Lex. With Lucy, the cards just fell into place and her issue was much more severe. It is times like these that I think if I were not a dog trainer, I wouldn't even notice that he was displaying stress signals. How wonderful it must be to be ignorant of such things! Thankfully I am aware though, because I can prevent a potential bite to my child and keep my dog happy.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Training Mechanics

There are plenty of people out there that never seek out professional training for their dog. Perhaps they have an "easy" dog, or maybe an older rescue with no issues, but I have a feeling that most people that don't at least take a basic obedience class with their dog, refuse to do so because they think they can do it themselves just fine at home. While I am not denying that there are those out there with wonderfully trained dogs that did it all themselves at home, I see many "home-trained" dogs that aren't very well behaved. The owners missed out what is really taught in classes; training mechanics.

Training class really isn't about how many things we can teach your dog to do, it is about teaching owners how to be effective teachers! There are plenty of bonuses that come with attending a group class; socialization to people, dogs and a new environment, learning new things, bonding, motivation to practice etc.

I can take a dog that isn't listening to his owner and get him to perform a new or known command for me. I know where to place my lure, when to be quiet and when to speak up, when to praise and when to redirect. My goal is to teach the owner to do all these things that come naturally to me from training so many dogs. This is why board and train does not work except for very specific circumstances!

Biggest training faux pas:
1. Repeating the command over and over.
2. Commanding the dog when she doesn't actually know the command.
3. Luring incorrectly.
4. Forcing the dog physically to perform the command.
5. Towering over the dog menacingly.
6. Using a harsh tone.
7. Not rewarding enough.
8. Not using a high enough value reward.
9. Expecting the dog to preform at too high a distraction level.
10. Giving mixed signals physically or verbally.

With that being said, how would I go about teaching a novice dog to sit?

Sit: novice dog would be on a 4 foot leash and I would be stepping on the very end of the leash. That way my hands are free and the dog isn't going anywhere, but isn't glued to me unable to move. In a class situation, I would be at least 6 feet away from other dogs, perhaps further, maybe even behind a visual barrier if novice dog was too distracted. I would have something very very yummy, like natural balance food roll in my treat bag and take a pea sized chunk and slowly place it almost on novice dog's nose while simultaneously moving it backwards toward his tail. If I move slowly enough and keep his interest, his bottom will touch the floor and I will say "good sit!" and pop the treat into his mouth. I am not commanding him to sit, nor am I pushing him or moving the food too fast or dancing it out of his reach. After doing this a few more times, if he is keen on it, I can start telling him to sit when it is highly likely he will do it and I can start introducing a hand signal and omit the lure and start giving him only hidden rewards. If he gets confused, I will go back a step and help him. After about 10 reps, he would probably need a break and we would move onto another exercise. If I was to use a clicker, the process would be slightly different, as I would mark his bottom touching the ground with a click versus a word marker "good" or "yes."

For a dog that already knows how to sit, but does not do so without multiple commands or help or forcing on the owner's part, the mechanics would look a little different.

I would tell average dog to sit and assuming he does not, I would get out a yummy morsel and show it to him, then ask him again. If he immediately sits, he would get the treat. That scenario tells me that average dog does not understand how to do a command without seeing the reward first and he needs some "fake-outs." Meaning I will show him a treat, tell him to sit, he sits, he gets it. Next rep I pretend I have a treat in my hand, he sits, he gets a hidden treat, and I go back and forth between fake-out treat and real treat until I am doing more fake-outs than real and eventually showing him my hands are empty and asking him to sit. After so many positive reps, he should sit with seeing empty hands and I will give him a big jack-pot of hidden treats! The trick with this is to not now go to empty hands all the time, but switch between visual treat and empty hands and slowly the dog will start to do a command without seeing a reward. It is also helpful to use life-rewards with a dog that does this. My post on Value is very helpful when it comes to this problem.

If average dog will sit without a treat but only on the second command and does so slowly, then a game is in order! I tell average dog to sit, he does not, I show him what morsel he missed out on and walk away for a second and come back. I tell him to sit again, he does. Jack-pot! Then we run around together and I stop, ask for a sit and if it is quick, he gets a goody, and if it is slow, I walk away and we try again. I am only rewarding what I want; quick sits on the first command and I am ignoring what I don't want and showing him that he missed out. Hopefully what I have is exciting enough that he wants to work for it.

If average dog will only sit if pushed into a sit, then he never was taught properly and must go through the novice dog steps.

Command Rules

1. Only say a command 2 times!
2. After the second time, help your dog! This means going back to baby steps and most likely luring your dog.
3. Assess if what your asking is too much.
4. Assess if your dog cannot preform due to too high a distraction.
5. Make sure you are using an even, nice tone of voice and aren't yelling at your dog.

Do you have a specific question on how to teach or clean up a certain command? Comments are always welcome! I teach classes and offer privates in the East Bay area of California.