Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Ignoring Unwanted Behavior

My dad's dog, Harley, has a behavior that drives me nuts. He likes to scratch on the door and/or bark when he wants to be let in. He is so large and powerful that the last door he did this to was knocked off alignment and he destroys screens with one swipe of the paw. Unfortunately Harley has been reinforced for 13 years by being let in when he does this because no one likes a barking dog nor a dog that destroys screens. However, this has taught smart Harley that doing this behavior gets him what he wants. Seeing as I am home most of the day spending time with my kids in the room that has the sliding glass door where he likes to stand, Harley does this quite a bit. At first, I was taking my Dad's lead and telling him to "go lie-down" meanwhile gesticulating his lie-down hand signal. This was not working. I progressed with frustration to yelling "No!" and I thought I was getting results. All other adults in the household did the same thing. We were consistent in the corrections, so I believed our lack of fast response time in changing his behavior was due to 13 years of him being reinforced. That is until one day I finally remembered that I am a dog trainer and my dad is not! What would I do if this were a client's dog? I would tell the client to ignore their dog and not give him any attention because negative attention is still attention. So I conducted an experiment. I looked at the digital clock in the room when he began his barking scratching game again and verbally corrected him each and every time. It took him 5 minutes before he left, which he only left for about 20 seconds before he started another round of annoying behavior at the door! Again and again I noted how long it took and how long he left for and the results were very even. Then about the 5th round I did something different, I ignored him. I refused to make eye contact with him and you know what? He left after 1.5 minutes! And he left for 25 minutes before coming back! The next few days I noticed ignoring made him leave quickly and made him not come back for a while. The next part of fixing the behavior was to make sure he was only allowed inside when he wasn't being obnoxious at the door. For the most part, everyone followed that rule easily, until my husband had a few mishaps and let him in over the weekend and few times because he either forgot about re-training him or he just felt bad for him because all Harley really wants is to go lie on his couch. His love for his couch is so strong that Harley doesn't find being outside very rewarding in itself. He doesn't want to chase critters or lay in the sun or do any of the things Lucy enjoys outside. I am sure his aching bones hurt and getting up and down from the ground or even a dog bed is difficult for him. It is actually easier for him to navigate up and off the couch because of his size. I wish I could make the outdoors more rewarding for him, it would make fixing this behavior issue easier. I can't really re-direct him to do a command incompatible with scratching on the door because he can't get into any positions easily in his old age. Sit is near impossible, I don't think he could manage a back-up and I wouldn't ask him to down on the brick outside the door. It is very very difficult to ignore a behavior you don't like. It is human nature to want to fix things right away and be proactive. It is hard to not give in sometimes as well and make excuses that he is old, he just wants his couch etc. BUT he needs to be outside sometimes when there are guests over or my baby is on the floor and he is underfoot, or when he needs to potty and eat and get some sunshine. I've only been working on this with him for about a week and already I am seeing great results. Great results with a 13 year old dog that hasn't been training in a very very long time! Also, I am not using treats or any sort of instant reward. His delayed reward is getting to come in when he is a good boy. A puppy with minimum prior experience of being rewarded for an annoying behavior would probably come along a lot faster. So next time you are faced with a problem like barking or scratching or jumping or anything that requires you to do something for the dog to get what he wants, just try ignoring the behavior. Keep a log and you may be surprised that you are getting results when you didn't think you were. While writing this Harley came and scratched the office door from outside, I didn't look at him and he went away! After one scratch!

The Many Faces of "Training"

I recently read this article; http://unexamineddog.com/2012/07/15/hey-have-you-heard-the-one-about-cli... and posted it to my business facebook page. It was very good timing for me because yesterday I spent about 2.5 hours at a park that has plentiful walking trails as well as a fenced in dog park. I was there hosting/teaching one of my group classes and then had a private session with a client and her reactive dog that is doing so awesome we needed to find a new location with more "eye-candy." During the time I spent at the park I noticed a lot of things in relation to dogs, that made me sad or angry. While there were a few things that made me smile, unfortunately, the bad weighed out the good. It seems I may be in a small niche of people that hone in on these things. My husband doesn't ever notice the atrocities to do with dogs and their owners that I point out to him. Once I do point things out, it usually rolls off his back as no big deal, or not his problem. However, when out with a fellow dog trainer, dog buff friend, breeder friend or dog rescuer, usually this topic comes up. What did I see that made me so upset? I saw dogs on prong collars, dogs on choke chains, dogs on flexi leads attached to choke chains! I saw a few owners walking too many dogs into the dog park and as such, unable to handle them all or supervise them all and one got in a scuffle while she was reprimanding the other for barking. I saw a man with a portly lab without a leash, bouncing and bobbing along on the path while his owner bribed him with his chuck-it ball thrower. I saw many overweight pets and pets that were overheated or stressed. The worst "error" I saw was a man with two ill behaved german shepherds running amok and barking at the park who let his 1 year old son run around in the dog park! Later, I saw the same man attach his dogs to a leash coupler and let them drag him and his son to their pick-up where the dogs rode in the back of the bed unteethered. There was some good things sprinkled in with the bad. I noticed quite a few front-clip harnesses. Most people had their dogs on 4 foot leashes (the flexis were far and in between). Nearly all the dogs were friendly and I didn't witness any full blown dog fights at the park. Another thing to add is that these dogs are out and about because their owners love them. They want to spend time and do right by their dog. I'm afraid it is that fact that makes the negatives so upsetting. It is pure misinformation that is causing these loving, well-meaning pet owners to use inappropriate walking equipment, feed their dogs too much food and use improper training techniques and judgment. Before he met me, my husband and many of my friends, did not know that certain dog training and walking equipment wasn't good for their dog. It seems many people don't. Choke chains and prong collars are not appropriate walking devices and recently, I decided that I didn't want to walk my dog on anything touching her neck. http://www.clicktreat.blogspot.com/2012/06/is-it-harmful-to-attach-aleas... is a great article to read if you need convincing about the dangers of neck walking devices. Flexi leashes are also one of those things that get under my skin. I will be honest, I own two flexi leashes! I didn't buy them myself (they were gifts) and I rarely use them. The most use they got was when my husband and I lived in a tiny apartment in Oregon and our dogs had to eliminate outside on a grass area next to our unit. It was much easier for us to have them go potty on a long line where we stood on the sidewalk rather than walk with them on the wet lawn, or into the brush or behind the dumpster. I never hooked those up to the dogs to take a real walk. I usually tell my clients the only use I can see for them is for people who don't trust their dogs off-leash and are in a potential off-leash situation (such as on a hike or at the beach). http://oldtownalexandria.patch.com/articles/theres-one-kind-of-leash-im-... is an article with some examples of how flexis are misused. The off-leash dog on the walking trail was only frustrating to me at the moment as I was working with a reactive dog who would not have been happy if the lab would have broken his bumbling ball trance and came over to us. It is one thing to have a well behaved dog heeling off-leash and under control, and quite another to have a dog that is being lured to walk with the owner. It is a respect issue as well because what if a jogger was running that had a mild fear of dogs had to pass that off-leash dog? A mother with small children in tow? Thankfully, the lab did not come charging at my client and I, though we were about 100 yards away off the path in the shade of a tree. My hope is that if enough people speak out about improper training devices and techniques, that things will finally catch fire and drown out the "noise" generated by the general public that has little knowledge of how dogs learn and what devices are appropriate. The article cited in the first paragraph mentions some of the great dog trainers and behaviorists of our time. These people (Dunbar, Donaldson, McConnell) are active in teaching seminars, working with clients, writing books, e-books. They have facebook pages, they have blogs, these people are internationally recognized and have best sellers! Why is it that more people have heard of Milan than the people that really matter? The people that are scholars, have PhDs and can back up positive dog training with science! It is heartbreaking for me at times the sheer amount of ignorance that comes with raising a dog. The literature is out there, the TRUTH is out there. People just need to seek it out! I know I can't change everybody or inform every dog owner in my town even, but perhaps someone will take the time to read this and the articles cited in this and they will change their opinion of how they treat their dog. Perhaps that person or persons will tell their mother or their best friend to not use a choke chain or maybe that person will tell a stranger at the park that throwing their dog on their back after a fight isn't teaching that dog anything. Just maybe..........maybe I can help a few dogs and people have a better relationship.


My family and I recently moved from Concord to Walnut Creek. It wasn't far, but it was a drastic change as we moved from a townhouse to a large house and combined households with my father and his senior dog. This was a new home for both our families as my father left his house as well. The way each of our dogs handled the move was polar opposites of each other! I believe that has to do with how we each prepped our dog and what we each did the day of the move etc. My dad has a very old Great Dane Lab cross. Honestly, it is a wonder this dog is alive and doing well at that! He is 13 years old and is probably close to a lean 120 lbs. This dog's head reaches my chest when he is standing relaxed. Harley absolutely adores Lucy and relies on her for comfort quite a bit unfortunately. He missed her from living with her for a year, as I took her back a few months before our big move. Harley had been living in the same home with my dad since he adopted him from the pound at 9 months old. Lucy is 9.5 years old right now and has always been a dog to roll with the punches. She has moved quite a bit in her life and is a very emotionally solid dog. The day of the move, I made the choice to take Lucy and my kids to my mother's house. We hung out in her backyard, had lunch, played with her puppies and spent the whole day there. Meanwhile my husband and father, along with the movers, were emptying out both our residences. Arriving at my dad's house, my husband tells me Harley was loose in the house as the movers loaded boxes, furniture etc. Harley is quite attached to my dad's leather couch that he uses as his giant dog bed. As soon as that couch left the house, Harley began shaking and drooling and pacing. Even with the large truck, multiple loads had to be made. Harley was left in the partially empty house with a dog bed, water and a new bone. His howls and moans could be heard down the street as they drove away to unload the truck at the new place. For the next few days as we unpacked boxes, moved furniture around and turned the house into a home, Lucy stayed on "vacation" at my mom's house. Harley was placed in our new large and amazing backyard where he scratched the screen, barked and carried on miserably. My dad kept begging me to bring Lucy back from my mom's in the hopes Harley would calm down. I waited till I felt the house was in good enough order to bring her over. I didn't want her to be stressed and as sad as it was to see Harley upset, it isn't fair to Lucy to be "used" as a comfort object at her expense. When she came over, Harley was beyond thrilled. Most of his stress dissipated when he was allowed to lounge on his couch again. For a few weeks I was training him to stay off of the couch, but my dad felt bad about it and let him on it again. Lucy showed zero stress. Furniture was in place, there were minimal boxes and all of her items were around. I believe that if a family is moving and it is possible for their dog to be somewhere else for a few days, that is the best situation to avoid moving related stress. We have been here now a little over a month and most of the "bumps" from combining households center around the dogs. As I am home most of the time, outside of training, with my two little ones, the brunt of the dog issues fall upon me. Harley's dependence on Lucy drives me a little nuts. She doesn't share the sentiment. He cannot be alone outside OR inside. While that doesn't bug me so much, his bullying tendencies do. I cannot even toss a toy for Lucy to get without him storming in and whopping her with his giant foot to take it away. If he is playing fetch, all she wants to do is herd him, which earns her a correction from Harley that is sometimes overdone on his part and needs human assistance to end it. She no longer wants to play with toys, eat a bone or tug at all since she is now associating that he will either come and take it away, or I will begin to verbally redirect him and that causes her stress. Forget about locking him inside or outside to play with her separately. That just causes him to scratch doors and bark and become destructive. With her lack of play outlets, I wouldn't say she is depressed. She is a senior dog as well, but she is now obsessing over a flower bed that probably has lizards or maybe a rodent in it. When Lucy (or any herding dog) doesn't have outlets, they tend to make their own, however strange they may be. My only solution to this issue so far has been to take her on walks and take her to training classes with me. With the kids, it is difficult to take Lucy to dog parks or hiking trails or places to play fetch. With the weather being hot, it hasn't been possible to even walk to a park with Lucy or the kids. The other problem we have had is sleeping arrangements for Lucy. Our new bedroom has hardwood flooring. Out of respect for the owners, we don't want her scratching up the floor. Prior to moving we made a choice (as did my dad) to not have dog's sleeping in our bedroom anymore due to my allergies and asthma. We had successfully moved Lex out of our room, and Lucy slept in the living room at my dad's. However, we let her sleep in our room the few months she was back at our apartment because I felt bad about it. At first, I tried getting her to stay downstairs with Harley. She was not a fan and kept coming up the stairs. Then my dad thought he would be extra nice and let her sleep in his room. She however, hates it when he coughs and he coughs a lot, so she was miserable in there and kept hiding in his adjoining bathroom. After that, we bunked her with my brother, who she loves, but she wasn't happy with that either. Tried the kid's rooms, even set up a crate downstairs in a spare room and did that for a while, but other household members kept sabotaging that. Currently, she sleeps in the carpeted hall outside our bedroom door and is happy with that. The downside is I am afraid her shifting and dog noises are waking up my 6 month old in the bedroom across from ours! I don't get much sleep as it is, with him waking up every few hours and if she is waking him as well, that just isn't going to work! I am uncertain if she is waking him, so last night I shut her in our large bathroom that is carpeted and tiled. She felt neutral about this. Moving is hard on everyone, dogs and people! I hope that we work the kinks out of things. All and all I am very happy with our move and hopefully we won't have to do it again for a while!

Re-homing a dog

I haven't posted a new blog article in quite some time. Partly because having two children (2 year old and 5 month old), keeps me very busy! I also feel that I have covered most dog training related topics via blog articles. However, my situation with my own dogs has inspired me to create a new post. How do you know when to re-home a dog and how do you make sure it all turns out for all the parties involved? Some of you may know the saga of Lex and Lucy and how drastically their lives changed when I had kids. A year ago when my daughter started crawling, Lucy made herself physically sick due to the stress. Border Collies are known for having space issues; they don't like their space invaded by dogs or people. Having the constraints of being a good dog and not being able to "correct" the baby, Lucy internalized it all. I temporarily relocated her to my dad's house. I visited her there (as he lives only 15 minutes away) and "dog-napped" her from time to time. After I had my son, I brought Lucy home for a while and she never left! I can only guess why she is alright now with the kids. Perhaps since my daughter is now two and gives her the space she needs, Lucy no longer feels stressed. Perhaps Lucy decided she would rather be home with me and kids all day than be alone at my dad's while he worked all day. Either way, she is a changed dog. She eats her food, she plays, and loves on both kids. While Lucy was gone on her "vacation," Lex remained normal until my daughter went from crawling to walking to running. Suddenly she was quick and unpredictable in her movement. We worked very hard to teach Lex to go to a quiet place when he was stressed and tried to give him more exercise and attention as well as teach our daughter to leave him be. While we were successful, things changed after my son was born. I could no longer exercise him daily as my hands were full with two little ones. We didn't have any "alone" time without kids and Lex began to spend most of his time in his quiet place. As my daughter became fascinated with role playing and taking care of baby dolls etc, she began to dote on Lex by insisting she feed him his dog food, bringing him treats, attempting to share her tippy cup with him. He was NOT comfortable with this and began to show very clear warning signals to her (showing his teeth). No matter how many times I talked to her about dog's having sharp teeth and showing her pictures of snarling dogs and even giving her time-outs when she disobeyed me and tried once again to get Lex to lick her or play with her doll, she just didn't understand the magnitude of the situation. How could she? She was 23 months old! My husband and I began talking about our fear that we didn't know how long Lex's "fuse" was before he would go from warning to biting. Lex has corrected many puppies in his life and doesn't have the most inhibited bite (as he made some of them bleed). This lack of bite inhibition scared me and even though I was managing the situation I knew something had to change. I kept thinking how sad it was that he slept away most of his days, rarely seemed happy anymore and the fear I had that he would lash out at my daughter. It is a horrible feeling to love two creatures that can't co-exist together under your current circumstances. Luckily for me I had/have a dear friend, although 500 miles away in Oregon, that had offered time and time again to take Lex for a vacation or for good. This friend however, was about to purchase a puppy, meaning my window for her taking Lex would close forever. My husband and I talked about it for a while and finally decided that even though we love our dog, we love our children more and that everyone would be happier if we re-homed Lex to my friend. A week later my friend and her husband made the long trek to come get Lex. He was a little stressed at first, but took the long ride in stride. My friend tells me that he slept on their bed the first night, and still does 3 weeks later! He plays with their Border Collie, goes to their horse barn daily to take care of the horses, goes to work with my friend (as she is a groomer) and he started playing flyball again! She can leave him un-crated in their house and he chills on the couch till she gets home. He chows his food down and barks for more. She sends me pictures and texts of what he is up to and I see more pictures on facebook each week. My heart is so happy for him! Our home is much happier as well. I didn't realize how much responsibility it was each day to make sure nothing bad happened to my toddler in reference to Lex. Lucy doesn't seemed phased that he left and is enjoying going everywhere with us. Now that she is a senior dog and slowed down, it is not a burden to take her to the park with the kids or have her with us at a family member's house. I could never take Lex to a kid's park and taking him to a family member's house was never too much fun either as some of the dogs in my family never got along well with him. Sometimes everything lines up and re-homing a dog is the wisest choice for a family. I know there are some people that hold onto dogs till the end of the dog's life (no matter what the conditions or circumstances) because they feel that they made a commitment to the dog for life. I am a believer that if someone can give your dog a better life than you can, you are not a failure for making the difficult choice to re-home the dog.