Dog Training and Cats?

I received a call last month from a client with a new dog that was terrorizing her cats.  It was at the point where the dog was going to have to go if he couldn’t learn to live with the cats.  She asked me if dog training could fix her dog’s behavior? 

It reminded me of when my wife and I got married and she brought 2 greyhounds and a cat named Petie into the marriage.  First time my dog Boo laid eyes on Petie, all he saw was the blue plate special!  He lunged through the air, mouth wide open and stomach growling.  How embarrasing was that?  Here I am, the dog trainer and my dog’s behavior is deplorable 🙂

My wife looked at me and sweetly said, “Fix It!”  So I did, and here’s how.  Each day, as many times as possible, the behavior modification process was put into place.  We would take Petie, an awesome Persin/Tabby mix who knows no fear, and place him in a wire dog crate in the den.  I had Boo on a leash and I had a clicker and some food treats to use during the dog training session.  Boo and I were about 5 feet from the crate.  Each time Boo exhibited inappropriate dog behavior by pulling or lunging toward the crate he was firmly told NO, leah tug, required to sit.  As he sat and exhibited good dog behavior, which at that early stage was simply not lunging at Petie, I clicked and treated. 

We kept doing this dog behavior modification training each day.  Each day Boo and I got a little closer to the crate and each time Boo was required to give me a sit, down, appropriate dog behavior.  Also, during this time I made him maintain that good dog behavior longer and longer before he was treated. 

It took about 2 weeks, but Boo learned that his inappropriate dog behavior got a stern NO, while his good dog behavior, sitting quietly and not bothering the cat, got him a GOOD BOY! and a treat.  Now as many of you know, I am adamant about weaning off food treats (see my blog post on To Treat or Not to Treat, that is the Question).  By the end of the two weeks, a simple Good Boy was the reward for Boo.

Now in all fairness, part of the equation of this dog behavior modification exercise, is the fact that Petie is not the type of cat who darts through the house and is skittish.  Nope, in fact, when Petie comes in the house, he uses the dog door, strolls through the den while all the dogs are on their beds and just like in Stuart LIttle, simply says “Tell It to the Butt!”  Petie rules, Petie IS ALPHA!

Today, on any given morning, you can find Petie curled up next to Boo on Boo’s dog bed.  It took work, persistence in working on the dog behavior modification and good obedience training, but all is well in the Burwell animal kingdom.

Dog Training – Being a Foster Parent

I’m doing a seminar for foster parents of dogs with HPPL (Homeless Pet Placement League) and HOPE on how best to structure life with a foster dog to insure that adoption goes smoothly.

Folks who foster dogs have a special place in my heart.  They are kind, generous, giving and truly have a love and passion for dogs.  It’s not always easy to have a foster dog or foster DOGS in your home.  They are usually up for adoption because of some behavioral issues and it takes a lot of care and knowledge to help these dogs overcome those issues so they can be adopted.

So, if you’re someone who has a spot in your home and in your heart, I encourage you to get with a rescue group or shelter and foster a dog.  Give a dog a chance to find their forever home.  It will put a smile on your face and a tear in your eye.

Unwanted Dogs in Houston Texas lose a good friend

I read in the Houston Chronicle this week that Kent Robertson has resigned his post as Bureau Chief of BARC (Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care) effective August 22, 2008.

I’m going to miss him and what he’s done for the animals.  Because of Kent Robertson, the stray and unwanted animals of Houston Texas have a cleaner, dryer place to stay.  And, despite the budget hardships he faced, Kent connected with the community and generated donations on his own, miraculously pulling donations out of the hat as if they were rabbits. 

He managed to get new trucks, fencing for play areas for the shelter dogs and much, much more.  I worked with him on the Mayor’s Committee or Task Force to investigate making Houston a “No Kill” city and know first hand, how difficult it was to get things done.

Kent was able to make a difference in the lives of many animals.  Cooper (aka 3 legs) for one, owes so much to so many – especially Kent Robertson.  Kent assisted in his humane rescue from a serious situation.  Despite Cooper’s broken back leg he had been dragging around for a year, he had eluded capture by neighbors desperately trying to get him medical aid.  Then, Kent Robertson, with the aid of Kentucky Fried Chicken, had this little Christmas pup safe and sound at BARC within an hour.  The rest is history as seen in this link

I want to thank you Kent, for raising the bar for the next Bureau Chief and for pointing us in a good direction for the future.  You inspired me and gave me hope for the animals.  Time will tell.  Sadly, though, time does not wait for the animals.

Question on Blog Post of Problems Walking On a Leash

This past week, I received a comment from Sandy regarding my blog on Problems Walking on a Leash.  Sandy’s question was:  What is the best way to be prepared when you’re not sure if the dog will react badly to another dog even if the leash is slack.

Here’s my response:  Sandy:  you may find my answer more generic rather than specific, only because I do not have any information on your dog i.e. age of your dog, temperament of your dog, socialization history, amount of training not to mention all of the above on the “other dog” etc….but here goes.

Your statement brings up a couple of concerns:

  1. Have you not had your dog in social situations enough to really know how your dog will react?  You should/must know how your dog will react.
  2. You may not know how to read dog body language enough to discern play from aggression – some dogs do play rough.

Interpretation of the situation is a key ingredient here unless it is very obvious that your dog is dog aggressive.  If you are walking your dog on leash, the situation is controllable, at the very least, by taking your dog out of the situation (turn around and walk away, move to the other side of the street etc.) unless, of course, the other dog in not on a leash.

With so many unknowns about your hypothetical scenario, the bottom line is:  dog training, dog training, dog training!

IF  your dog is well trained on walking on leash around other dogs, people etc. you could:

  1. Ask the other dog owner if their dog is friendly and if so, let them interact.
  2. Keep on walking and pass the dog by.
  3. Put your dog in the obedience command of a sit/stay at a far enough distance while the other dog passes.
  4. Take the opportunity to train your dog around other dogs (assuming that the environment was controlled with no dogs or people in harms way).
  5. You could begin to reward your dog for neutral or positive behavior around other dogs.  Anything short of good behavior requires a stern “OFF”, call your dog to you, get a sit, then send your dog back to interact once more.
  6. Repetition is the key.  If your dog won’t come or sit around other dogs or distractions, see a positive reinforcement trainer in your area and work on distraction training.

There is a book on the market by Emma Parsons entitled “Click to Calm” relating her aggressive dog experience where her dog immediately pulls towards other dogs at first sighting.  Knowing that under this stressful situation she would not be able to control her big dog, she taught her dog to stop, sit and make eye contact with her and wait for another command at the first sense of the leash going tight.

You might find this helpful.  Thanks for reading my blog and asking questions, that’s why I’m here.

Dog Bites – A potentially serious threat

A 7 month old Rottie was doing some serious resource guarding of food bowls, couches, dog toys etc.  The owners, who got him at 8 weeks felt that apparently since birth this dog had been very assertive.

With no structure for the dog in the home for 7 months straight, both the dog and the family were headed down the wrong path of life with the potential for some serous harm. 

What finally had them call me is that when the wife tried to remove a bone from his space, the dog bit her.

So, how did we fix it?

  • Structure:  We put the dog on what I call the “learn-to-earn” program.  The dog was required to do the obedience commands of sit and down for everything he got i.e. food, articles of play, space and most importantly, love and affection.
  • Dog behavior modification for guarding:  We began a gradual desensitization of the dog to allow family members and other people to come around his food bowl, his chew bones and his space.  He was rewarded for acting appropriately.
  • Dog behavior modification at the front door: We taught him the obedience command “go to your place”.  We then expanded this obedience command to become “go to your place” when he heard the doorbell ring.  This fixed the charging of the front door.

The key to our success?  The owner’s 110% commitment to working their dog on the behavior modification program and dog obedience commands.  I am always so proud of my clients who recognize that only a serious commitment to working the dog behavior plan will turn their dog around – and it has!

Trust me on this.  Consistency and repetition will begin to breed habit in your dog, so keeping structure in his life and your expectations of his behavior high, will be the key.

Tell me what you think!

Dog Training in a Dog Obedience Group Class

I’ve taught group obedience classes for about 15 years.  I hadn’t taught for over a year, since selling out of Rover Oaks Pet Resort.  My client base kept asking, “When are you going to start teaching group obedience class again?”  

I loved and missed the people, the dogs and the energy of my group obedience classes.  I especially enjoyed the “playtime” before class and I know the dogs and owners enjoyed it as well.  This prompted me to really start thinking about doing classes again and so “I’m back!”  My first and second obedience classes were sold out quickly.  As fast as I could get the word out, everyone signed up.  It is good for you, good for your dog and I get a real kick out of teaching group.

This got me to thinking about the benefits of group obedience so I thought I would list a few of the benefits for you.  Group obedience class IS mainly for the owners.  It’s an economical way to show owners how to work with their dogs which allows them to take that information home and practice with their dogs in the home environment.  Admittedly, group obedience class is probably not the best learning environment for dogs and puppies with the level of distraction; although, playtime before class, surely calms the pups down for a better focused class.  Each week we see meaningful progress with both owners and dogs – if the work is done in between class.

Here’s some of the benefits of a group obedience class:

  • Great socialization for your dog in group obedience class (not every group class instructor allows group play.)
  • Helps your dog begin to learn obedience commands in a real life environment – an environment with distractions.
  • The chance to learn in-home practical ways to work with your dog at home where his dog behavior is the concern.  A good group obedience class is not just sits and downs.

Here’s a checklist for you to help you choose a good group class

  • Make sure the instructor you choose uses positive reinforcement – no harsh corrections.  Check references if you can.
  • Make sure the class size is not more than 12 dogs per instructor.  This allows the instructor to spend time with you and your dog.
  • Ask if you can audit a class to confirm the instructor spends adequate time with each person and their dog
  • A good training facility is designed with space that meets the needs of the owner and dog i.e. adequate space with minimal extraneous distractions.
  • Price should by no means be the determining factor in choosing a group class.
  • Most instructors will stay after class for questions and assistance.

Here’s a little video of some playtime before one of my group classes.

Playtime in Jim Burwell\’s Group Class

Puppy Potty Training

I’ve had a couple of lessons with a very nice client who has, to say the least, more than a handful of small puppies in her house.  You literally can’t count them all on one hand.  Her biggest complaint was house soiling.  Prior to my helping her, there had been no training and no structure for the puppies.  They were allowed to roam anywhere they wanted, and they were also allowed to free feed – food was left down for them to eat whenever they wanted.  So what she had was lots of peeing and pooping accidents everywhere.  The puppies would sneak off to a quiet area and “do their business” where it was safe.

First thing we did was to end the free feeding.  They were fed 3 times a day, the food was left down for 10 minutes and then picked up.  She could then determine the exact amount of food eaten so she would know when it was potty time.

We also started adding structure.  We set a 3 minute egg timer so we could begin short training sessions one dog at a time.  We used their dog kibble for training treats BUT, we used a training treat with a much higher value to the dog for really good sits and downs.  I reminded her, as I always do, that it is important to wean off food treats, as I explained in an earlier post.

The next thing we did was to confine the puppies to an “x’ pen when they absolutely could not be watched.

So what did all of this accomplish?  Well, in 2 weeks her “puppy house soiling accidents” have decreased by 50%.  We are headed for 100%.

The other thing we instituted is that now that the puppies knew “sit”, each puppy is required to give my client a sit before they get love and affection from her.  It’s a dog way of saying “please”.  Earning the love and affection helps the puppy understand who is in control and that love and affection and other rewards are not something they demand, but instead learn correct behavior to earn.

Everyone is a lot happier and a lot less stressed.  So it was a good day!

Dog Training Using the Gentle Leader

What I’ve experienced in my years of dog training, is that the Gentle Leader is a great dog training tool when you need to control large unruly dogs and/or aggressive dogs – regardless of size.

The key to using the Gentle Leader in dog training is persistence – desensitizing your dog to wearing the Gentle Leader.

In dog training, the Gentle Leader can significantly reduce arousal and anxiety in many dogs.  I’ve noticed that about 50% of dogs who use a Gentle Leader, accept it.  However, in the other 50% of the dogs, there is a wide range of non-acceptance and in some dogs there can be a high agitation factor.

When training your dog on the Gentle Leader, associate positive things like food treats with the Gentle Leader.  When you’re training your dog, require your dog to wear the Gentle Leader when eating meals.

If used correctly in the course of your dog training, the Gentle Leader can provide you with pleasurable walks once again.  I always recommend purchasing the product in the case that comes with a very informative DVD.

Your dog's not stupid

The other day I had a training session with a client and her Beagle.  He is a highly distracted dog with his nose always to the ground and she was having difficulty getting a reliable recall or “come” command.

I remember someone asking me one time, “Why do some dogs do better in obedience than others?”  Here is something to think about.  Some breeds are just easier to train.  The traits for which dogs were originally bred influence the ease or difficulty of training, how readily the training will generalize and how often a command has to be reinforced.

For example, it may be easier to teach a retriever to come when called in comparison to a scent hound whose natural trait is to keep their nose to the ground.  Just because a dog has a difficult time learning an exercise, does not mean he is stupid.  The ease or difficulty of training your dog on some commands is determind by the extent to which the task is in harmony or disharmony with his natural born instincts.

Tug Of War

Tug of War With Your Dog – Good or Bad—depends

Is playing tug of war a good game to engage in with your dog?  It depends on who does it, and how the game is played.

Tug Of War

Every dog has, to a greater or lesser degree, predatory instincts or prey drive.  Prey drive includes such behaviors as:  running, chasing, biting and chewing.

Before you start it will also be important to teach your dog to: sit, take it and drop it, to make sure the game goes as planned.  Your leadership is consistently being reinforced as you work on these commands.

There are advantages to playing this game with your puppy or dog.  Playing tug helps your puppy or dog burn energy similar to natural activities, like running or walking.  A good time to play tug is right before you crate or leave your puppy or dog for a period of time.  Winning the game also helps to teach your dog respect of your leadership, if played in the proper way.

How you play the game is important.  When not playing, always keep the interactive toys up and away from your pup or dog.  This helps them to understand that you control the toys.  Require a sit first.  Then say “Take it!”  Then play the game.  When it’s time to stop, say “Sit”, then “Drop It” and take the toy and put it away until the next game time.

Who gets to play the game is also important.  Only those who can always win the game should be allowed to play.

Most importantly, have fun, teach and train your puppy or dog every day and continuously set boundaries and expectation.