Thursday, November 17, 2011

Training your dog to ride in an elevator

I often encourage my training students to get their dogs out in public to train them in settings with a variety of distractions. Dogs should be well mannered out in public, and that means we have to train them in all kinds of different situations and environments. Tonight I went to my local outdoor mall (it was fairly quiet there) and worked with my Borzoi on a variety of skills. In this post I’m going to talk about etiquette and techniques for using an elevator when you have your dog with you.

In our mall, you can travel from one floor to another via stairs, escalator, or elevator. Never take your dog on an escalator. I know of one situation where a person had a young dog and he took him on an escalator. The pup became frightened, and crouched, and the escalator stairs caught the fur on his underside and (brace yourself) caught the dog’s penis. Never take your dog on an escalator. Use the elevator if you don’t want to use the stairs.

In fact, training your dog to use an elevator is smart because you may not always be able to use the stairs yourself. So here are the tips:

1. Keep your dog close to your side, in heel position, at all times. Don’t keep a tight leash unnecessarily—teach your dog to be at your side and have about 12” of leash, enough to allow the leash to be slightly slack if the dog stays in position.

2. You want to be very considerate of other people who may be in or around the elevator. Keep this in mind as we proceed….

3. Press the elevator button, and then turn and make a circle so you’re now about 3 feet BACK from the door and the dog is again on your left side in heel position. The purpose of this is to allow a person who may be IN the elevator to exit without being confronted (and startled!) by the presence of your dog right there at the elevator door. Be considerate—be a few feet back when the door opens.

4. Once it’s safe to enter, you need to determine if there is anyone in the elevator. If there is, if you are still in the beginning stages of training your dog, smile and say you’ll take the next one and let this one pass. You want to start out training without anyone else in the elevator.

5. OK, so assuming that no one is in the elevator, enter and turn left, guiding your dog along the wall until your dog is between you and the back wall. Pull out treats, hit your button, and start talking to your dog in a calm, slightly happy voice. Praise your dog and start feeding treats. Keep the dog close to you, but you don’t have to make him sit. The elevator jolts a bit when it starts and stops, and these sensations can scare a dog. So distract your dog with treats, especially as the elevator starts and stops moving.

6. As the door opens, pause a moment and then say “Let’s go” in a happy voice and proceed out slowly—there may be a person near the door waiting to enter, and they may be startled by seeing a dog come out. Again, and I can’t say this enough, keep your dog in heel position on your left side—don’t let your dog zoom out in front of you as you exit, for example. Imagine if a new mother had her baby in a stroller right outside the elevator and suddenly saw a dog rushing out. She’d be furious at such an unpredictable situation that would feel dangerous for her baby. Be considerate. Be considerate. Be considerate.

7. Once your dog is used to riding in the elevator with just the two of you, it is time to add the distraction of another person in the elevator. This is why we keep the dog in heel position, between us and the wall. It sort of contains our dog, and prevents him from having the full freedom of the elevator. Ideally, you want to practice this with a friend first, who will be forgiving if the dog makes a few mistakes. YOUR job is to ensure that your dog stays focused on YOU, and your treats, and doesn’t start socializing with everyone in the elevator. Riding in the elevator should be a low-key, still, sort of serious activity. It’s not the time to let your dog schmooze with other people. Why? Because you want your dog to be predictable and contained while in the elevator. It’s a very small space, and if your dog comes to assume it can visit with others in the elevator, you may create a very threatening and uncomfortable experience for someone in the elevator who isn’t entirely thrilled to have your dog there in the first place. In other words, your dog has to be extremely well mannered, and learn to stay still right next to you throughout the whole process.

8. The purpose of pausing and not moving until you say “Let’s go” is that you don’t want your dog to take the door’s opening as his signal that it’s OK to move. If there are others on the elevator, you should stay put while they exit, and your dog will have to stay still until you signal that it’s OK to move. Dogs are great at recognizing patterns and at anticipating, so you will want to vary the length of time you pause to ensure that your dog doesn’t associate the door opening as the cue to move. Also, there will be times where the door is opening to a floor different than your desired floor (another scenario to practice!)—again, you don’t want your dog suddenly springing into motion in these situations.

9. The more advanced version of this would (once your dog is very experienced) to practice elevator work with another friend and dog in the same elevator at the same time. Both dogs should be quite experienced before doing this.

10. Training for elevator work during quiet times is important, as a courtesy to the shoppers at the mall. Most people don’t even know where the elevators at the mall are anyway.

11. One last point—make sure your dog has pottied before starting any of this elevator work—you do NOT want your dog getting stressed and having an accident. Keep your sessions short, and give your dog a chance to potty again after working for a few minutes. Training something new can be sort of intense for a dog, and it can trigger a need to urinate sooner than you might expect. And don’t forget to click and treat generously.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Does your dog really need that vaccine?

I just took my 3 dogs in for a checkup, and it's been 3 years since their last DHLPP vaccination (disptemper/parvo).  Rather than go ahead and revaccinate, we ran a blood test for each dog to see if the antibodies for this were still adequately present from the LAST time I vaccinated them.  They were, for all three dogs.

The "titer test", as it's called, cost about $54 per dog, and resulted in a report I can use if I need to board the dogs at a kennel that requires DHLPP vaccination (ie, I can show them that the dogs are still protected). 

Running the titer test is more expensive than simply revaccinating, but over the years I've gotten more cautious about unnecessarily stressing the immune system by vaccinating again unless there's evidence that the dog is not protected.

My dogs don't typically hang out with other large groups of dogs (we rarely go to a dog park and they have not been boarded in years).  So their risk of infection is low.

I also politely declined the dog influenza shot.  If my dogs were traveling to dog shows with tons of other dogs I might choose differently, but mine are pretty protected.  Which isn't to say we don't go out in public-- we do, as often as possible- but they don't hang out with a lot of other dogs we don't know.

I'm not a vet, but I have learned a LOT from an excellent publication, The Whole Dog Journal (I encourage you to subscribe-- I do, and you get an online subscription too which gives you access to all of their wonderful archives, including this very helpful article about titer tests and vaccines: )

Friday, September 16, 2011

How to receive email notification of dog food recalls

Have you ever wished you could receive an email notification when dog foods are recalled due to quality and safety problems? What if your brand of dog food is being recalled and you're not aware of it?

I just found a site that will update you via email (for free) when new pet foods are added to the recall list, and wanted to share it with you.

Even reputable manufacturers can have a problem now and then, so the important thing for us pet owners is quick notification.

I hope this info is helpful and that all your dogs are healthy and thriving!

Friday, August 12, 2011

When a potential client isn't a good match

I received a call the other day from a very nice woman seeking my private dog training services for her new puppy.  After talking a bit I learned that they keep the pup outside all the time and make it sleep in a crate in the garage.  It's never allowed in the house. 

I was immediately concerned, and after talking about this with her I decided to refer her to another trainer.  There's nothing criminal in her decision but this is not close enough to my philosophy about dogs to make it likely that taking her on as a client would have the kind of outcome I seek with my clients.  I was very polite about it, and referred her to another very good trainer who was delighted to get the referral. 

The truth is that there's a bit of an art in finding the right fit between training instructor and student.  My ideal client is a smart, fairly well educated person who is interested in having a very close relationship with their dog (which to me means having the dog be an integral part of the family, living in the house), and who has high aspirations for their dog's behavior. 

I think we trainers sometimes look for clients who are just like ourselves.  I know that's not realistic.  But my heart sings when I meet someone who follows through with my reading recommentations, and who catches that spark of enthusiasm about operant conditioning and what it can do for their life with their dog. 

In my case, I'm on a hiatus from teaching classes (which I'm quite sad about, but I am leading a large software implementation project and am working 13+ hours a day, so cannot commit to the time and energy it takes to run a dog training class right now the way I like to run them!).  What little time I do have for teaching is limited to private clients.  So I do have to ensure that each client is a really good fit before agreeing to start working together. 

This need to be clear on the ideal client profile is true of all professional service providers.  Physicians, attorneys, CPAs, contractors... they all have a certain profile of client that they just love working with.  These kind of partnerships literally glow with success.

I'm happy to refer clients to other trainers when I'm either too busy to help them or if I suspect we may not be the best fit for each other.  My priority is to ensure that they are still referred to a competent clicker training instructor, not someone who's going to recommend a choke chain or prong collar. 

I cherish my clients, and literally consider myself their lifelong dog coach.  I pour myself into them, and get a sense of joy and satisfaction from their success that is difficult to describe. 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

What you need to know about classical conditioning

Classical conditioning is a basic concept in training so let's look at it for a few minutes.

Below is a rather humorous video showing a college psychology student demonstrating the use of classical conditioning on his roomate. He is using it DIFFERENTLY than we are, he is using it to establish that a sound means that the roomate is about to be shot with an air pellet. Warped, I know. But the demo is clear.

Classical conditioning happens in our world (and our dog's world) whether we like it or not. It answers the question, "What is predictable in my world?". When we pick up the leash, it means we're going for a walk. When we open the container where we keep the dog food, it means its supper time. These are all associations the dog makes through repetition. We present a neutral or meaningless signal (the click) prior to the delivery of the treat, and after enough reps of this the dog comes to expect the treat as soon as he hears the click. See how the sequence is important? First the click and then the treat.

You know how your dog learns to anticipate things? You pick up your car keys and he runs to the front door? This is classical conditioning. He's come to associate your keys with the door opening.

With clicker training, we click, and then we deliver a reward.  The "conditioned response" on the part of the dog is the EXPECTATION of the reward arriving, and the happy feeling that goes with that.  The response we conditioned there was one of anticipation of the reward.  (In Pavlov's dogs, the anticipation of that reward also resulted in an automatic salivating response, so in their case the salivating also became part of the conditioned response).

This is useful in that we can click at the moment of good behavior, and instantly elicit that feeling of "reward coming!" in the dog.  THEN we give the reward.  This allows us to tie that happy feeling with the exact moment of good behavior, which then allows us to work at a distance from our dog.  In other words, it buys us a moment or two before we have to actually pay up!  But it still cemented that FEELING of the reward with the exact moment of good behavior.  This kind of laser-beam timing helps us shape behaviors very specifically.

Different behaviors or "conditioned responses" take different amounts of time (and repetitions) to condition.  Some happen quickly with just a few reps, and some take hundreds of reps.  It helps to create a nondistracting environment when you intentional create a classically conditioned response-- that way the signal and the event that happens next are easily identified and connected in the subject's mind. 

Imagine if you were at a noisy dance club, and suddenly you felt a drop of water on your forehead.  What happened right before that?  Was it a particular note of music?  A particular dance move nearby?  A flashing light in the club?  Who knows?  There's too much going on.  But if you were in a quiet empty dance club and a light flashed and then you felt the drop of water, and that happened 5 times in a row, you'd understand the connection much faster.  You have to be able to identify those two events in connection with each other.  If the environment is too distracting, it's hard to isolate the events in your mind enough to identify them as being connected.

Think of this when you're trying to give your dog a cue.  Pay close attention to your body language-- beginner trainers often have (unintentionally!) sloppy body language and they THINK they are giving a clear cue but their cue is inconsistent.  (This is where it really helps to have a trained eye watching you and giving you feedback-- or videotape yourself on your digital camera and play it back to see what you're REALLY doing). 

It can be a little stressful for an animal (or a human) when they suspect there is a pattern but they are having trouble identifying what it is.  It is a relief and a comfort when we make classical conditioning easy by making the first and the second event very clear and very easy to connect. 

One very cool application of classical conditioning happened with a young girl who was gravely ill.  The last resort for her was a very toxic drug, and they wanted to see if they could "train" her immune system to respond as though the drug were present, without having to actually keep GIVING the drug.  They paired the drug with a strong smell and strong taste each time they gave it.  The smell and the taste were very distinct,  and were not commonly found in the child's life up to that point.  After a few reps, they gave the smell and taste again, but secretly withheld the drug.  Her immune system responded again (favorably) as though they had administered the drug.  This showed that our immune systems can be conditioned to respond favorably (or unfavorably) to external stimuli.  VERY interesting implications. (I learned of this case on PBS). 

This week, pay attention to classical conditioning and where you see it in action in your life and the lives of those around you.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Training your dog to come, using a whistle

My students use my detailed 4-page "Come" training plan to train their dogs to come to them using the cue "come".  It's very helpful to ALSO train this same behavior using a whistle.  Why?  Because if you're like me, your dog goes with you to the beach, or to run in fields, or to a large dog park, where you would have to really yell your verbal cue in order for your dog to hear it.  So having 2 cues for the same "come"  behavior, one of which is handy to use in noisy, windy, surf environments, is very helpful.

Remember that it's OK to have two separate cues that mean the SAME thing.  That is not confusing to your dog if you train the cues to the behavior the same way.  In our own language, we understand "stop" and "halt" to mean the same thing.  What is confusing is when we accidentally let one cue mean two DIFFERENT things to the poor dog.  If "down" sometimes means "belly on the ground, please" and other times means "put your paws on the ground", that's confusing.  That's why in my house, "down" means "belly on the ground" and "off" means "put all 4 of your paws on the ground".   Each cue should only mean one thing, but it's OK to have multiple cues mean the SAME thing.  Make sense?

OK.  So get yourself a whistle.  If you are one of those fortunate people who know how to whistle really loud, and you can still do that in wind, you don't need a separate whistle.  I have a few whistles because I cannot whistle loudly on my own.

Get some HIGH VALUE treats, and play the backup recall game with your dog, where you hold a treat at their nose level, and backup quickly as you toot the whistle.  The dog follows you, and you release the treat.  If you can handle it, CLICK with a clicker and then release the treat.  So the whistle stays in your mouth the whole time.  You back up again, tooting the whistle, dog follows, you click and give the treat.  Do this about 25 times.  Quit.

Next time, pick a moment when your dog is about 10 feet away sniffing something, and (having the high value treat ready), toot the whistle, and click/treat when the dog comes to you.  Slowly build distance, and in other situations reduce distance and slowly build the dog's ability to do this is slightly distracting environments.  Raise the "bar" of distance and distraction separately.  And when out in public working on this, use a long line.

Never ever stop practicing your dog's recall.  Keep it happy, reward it generously, and keep it fluent.

I bought about 3 whistles on sale recently for $2 each.   The model I bought normally costs $9 at a major pet supply store (they were on sale).  I jumped at the chance to buy them when I saw their price.  I know I'll need them over time, and I'll keep one in my car, one in my dog-treat fanny pack, and one at home.  You don't have to spend a lot on these.   I have also used a little combo compass and whistle (for hiking and emergencies) that I got at REI one year.  It's got a great little whistle. 

Happy training!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Mommy Time

Tonight I was walking one of my three dogs down the street when a neighbor asked why I was only walking just one.  I explained that sometimes I just like to have some one-on-one time with each dog, because (aside from the fact that walking 3 dogs at once is a different experience than walking just one) it helps each dog keep a close bond with me and, I hope, lets each one know how special he or she is to me.

When you have a multi-dog household, keep in mind that they don't always have to do everything as a pack.  It's important to get them each out and train them individually, socialize them, and have that deep bonding time.

I call it "Mommy time".  I want each dog to have a certain amount of individual "Mommy time".  It's good for them, and it's good for me too.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Tips for living with dogs

Dogs need to live in the home with us, not out in the yard (this is essential for their socialization, manners, and ability to bond and integrate with the humans in their household). I've come across a great book review of a book that provides some wonderful tips for living elegantly with dogs in the house.

See the entire review here.

While we're on the subject, I'll share some of my own tips:
  1. Teach "go to your spot" (or mat) and have mats in a few places that are discreet and unobstrusive, to help your dogs be with you but not underfoot.  For example, one of the mats our dogs are trained to go to is under the kitchen table.  When we're in the kitchen, "go to your mat" moves them under the table where they can watch the cooking action, but stay out of harm's way (hmmm, did I just imply that my cooking is harmful?)
  2. Washable dog beds.  Never buy a dog bed that doesn't have a zip-off, washable cover.  Wash them often-- it prevents dog smell.
  3. Slipcovered furniture.  If you allow your dogs on the furniture with you (and we do), it's great to be able to wash those slipcovers.  Consider not allowing dogs on furniture that isn't slipcovered, or require them to lay on a blanket (which is starting to look... unelegant).  It's OK to have rules about which furniture a dog is allowed to lay on-- they are totally capable of learning this.  You just have to be there to control their access, and be consistent about the rules.
  4. Change your furnace filters religiously.  Dogs in the house usually mean shedding, and this will get into your furnace intake filter-- so be more conscientious than most people about changing it.
  5. I'm a huge advocate of crating.  I think dogs should sleep in the bedroom with you, and if they still need to sleep in a crate, incorportate it into the bedroom as a side table to the bed or something-- put a table top on top of the crate, for example.  You can also raise the crate onto a small platform to make it the right height for your room. 
  6. Discreet tethers in the baseboards to keep your dog in place in "company" rooms like the living room.  This allows your dog to hang out with you all without being a pest and mugging your guests.  I really dislike being mauled (even in a friendly way) by dogs when I am visiting someone's home.  For a deeper discussion of tethering dogs indoors, click here
  7. The best tip for living elegantly with your dogs is to continually train and tune up your dogs' manners.  There is no substitute for a well mannered dog.  Even a large dog brings peace and calm to a small space if that dog is well mannered.
We live with three dogs in our house, ranging in size from a giant breed (Borzoi) to medium sized (a small Lab and an oversized Sheltie).  We love every minute of it. What tips do you have for living elegantly with dogs?  Share them with us in the comment section please!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A tribute to one of my favorite trainers, Emily Larlham

One of southern California's most gifted clicker trainers, Emily Larlham, is moving to Sweden. What a boon for them, and what a loss for us. Thankfully, Emily is active in digital media and has posted a generous series of training videos on YouTube.

I frequently send my students links to her videos-- her ability to simplify things for her learners (both human and canine) is wonderful.

Emily, we are going to miss you very much and we wish you the best in your new adventure. Tell those Swedes we said they're darn lucky to have you.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Dogs in the yard

I'm really sad.

Angry, sad, frustrated. Irresponsible dog owners have resulted in the unnecessary death of two wonderful dogs.

A family in my community has (had) 2 beautiful dogs (whom I've met). The various family members for several years allowed a situation to exist where their two dogs repeatedly escaped their yard and would run around the community creating havoc. The dogs and the family got a reputation.

Despite knowing about dog crating, and despite having done so when the dogs were pups, the owners did not crate them, or kennel them when they could not be directly supervised. Instead, they rebuilt a fence (which the dogs still found a way to escape).

To make a long and tragic story short, the dogs killed an elderly cat, the owners were warned, the dogs got out and did it again, and the dogs were held and turned over to the authorities and will be euthanized.

I'm so angry about this I don't even know where to begin.

So let me say this. If there is a lesson out of this it is that if you have ONE situation where your dog gets out, you MUST take immediate and effective action to prevent that from happening again. This family had literally dozens of cases where their dog got out.

People's reluctance to crate train their dogs can be deadly for their dog. It was in this case.

People, crate train your dogs. It's humane, it's safe, and it's a great fall-back if for whatever reason your dog likes to escape your yard. It's almost impossible to create a back yard that will contain a dog who is determined to escape and go have some fun (and once that happens once, it's very positively reinforcing so it's very likely to happen again and again).

The owners in this case are personally responsible -- 100% responsible -- for the senseless death of their two beloved dogs. These were really nice dogs. And these were really annoying owners. I'm heartbroken by this situation, and I'm angry.

Please, everyone, crate train your dogs. Use crating as necessary. But use it. Don't let a situation escalate like this. If a dog escapes even once, take it very seriously and jump on it. If you're unwilling to confine your dog with a crate, buy an enclosed kennel for the yard.

Denial kills.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Tie a yellow ribbon 'round your Borzoi's neck...

I hate flea control products.  I hate them, but I use them and I need them.

But I use them sparingly.  My dog had started itching lately, and I chalked it up to seasonal allergies (which they do get), and did look for fleas (and found none).  But yesterday I gave my Borzoi a thorough bath and to my total shock, I was suddenly seeing drenched and dying fleas show up in her white fur.  Not a ton of them, but enough to know that I had missed it, and she was having a flea bite allergy.

Many dogs, when bitten by a flea, will erupt in intense itching that is an indirect allergy to the flea bite.  So we have to eliminate the fleas and also treat the allergy in order to keep it from escalating (because the dog is chewing the area) to a full blown infected "hot spot" (open sore). 

Step one, kill those icky fleas.  After her bath, I carefully applied Frontline, which kills fleas and ticks.  But it's also toxic stuff, which is why I don't dose her with it monthly.  I use it sparingly.  Too sparingly, apparently, which is why she got fleas.  Where she got them from, I have no idea.

I'm also vacuuming the house every day to ensure we get any fleas that may have gotten into the carpet.  No problem there.

But the Frontline is toxic, as I mentioned.  So to remind our household not to touch Bella anywhere on her back (because I apply the liquid between her shoulder blades AND on her spine by her hips) I tie a bright yellow ribbon around her neck and leave it on as a visiual "no touch" reminder for 3-4 days.  It would be awful to get any of that stuff on your finger, and then accidentally touch your eye or your lip.

I treat the allergy by giving my dog Benedryl, 1mg per pound of body weight, up to 3 times a day, for a few days.  

Now I'm off to bathe and "Frontline" the other two dogs too.  Pass the yellow ribbon, please.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Dominance and dog training

Many people I meet have read books by Cesar Milan or have watched his TV show, and he talks a lot about dogs trying to dominate their people.  Dog trainers who are actually educated in the behavioral sciences have a very different view of this.  I'd like to share a bit of that view with you in the form of a position statement on "dominance" from the Association of  Pet Dog Trainers, of which I am a professional member.

While dominance is a valid scientific concept, the term "dominance" itself is widely misunderstood, such as when it is used to describe the temperament of a particular dog. Dominance is not a personality trait but a description of a relationship between two or more animals and is related to which animal has access to valued resources such as food, mates, etc. It should not be used in any way to support the belief that dogs are out to "dominate" us, especially as that misunderstanding causes some people to respond with force and aggression. This only serves to create an adversarial relationship filled with miscommunication and even more misunderstanding. The unfortunate result is often anxiety, stress and fear in both dogs and humans towards each other. The use of techniques such as the "alpha roll" on dogs, which is based on these mistaken beliefs about dogs and wolves, has no place in modern dog training and behavior modification. Dogs often respond to this perceived threat with increased fear and aggression, which may serve to make a behavior problem worse and ruin the dog-owner relationship.     Read the whole statement (about a page long) here.

Tethering your dog indoors

While settling in a newly-adopted dog, or training a puppy, it can be tremendously helpful to utilize tethers in multiple locations in your home to give some structure to where your dog can go.  This is in addition to having a crate in the house.  But this way, you don't have to have a crate in every room.

When we adopted our Borzoi, she was 3 years old.  She had never lived in a house, and she is so tall that counter surfing would be very easy and very tempting for her.  So we drilled a small hole into the baseboard in a corner in the kitchen, where we wanted to park her on a regular basis.  We screwed in a small eye-bolt and then attached a light 5 foot nylon leash.  We put a comfy mat there for her.  Each time we'd enter the room, I'd immediately escort her to that spot (with treats already in my pocket), clip her to the leash, click, and drop the treat on her mat.  I'd lure her into a "down", and click and drop 5 treats on the mat between her feet.  I made being in that spot, and being on her mat, a very happy thing.  Now I was free to cook, have dinner, etc without having to try to control what my dog did and where she was.  By setting her up for success from the beginning, I completely avoided having to correct her a million times (which is annoying for everyone). 

She chewed through a few tethers, but that's OK-- they're cheap and quick to replace.  (These light leashes cost about $6 each).  This is a normal part of her dealing with a bit of confusion and a bit of frustration with not being able to follow me around the kitchen.  She could SEE me, but could not be underfoot.  Being underfoot in a kitchen is very dangerous for everyone, dog included.  I never got angry when she chewed through her tether, I just made sure it didn't pay off for her-- I quickly replaced it. I also made sure that, initially, every few minutes I would click and treat her for just being good, for calmly hanging out on her mat.

We also have a tether for her in the living room, again discreetly attached to an eyebolt in the baseboard.  It's next to a huge soft bed we put there, as her "spot".  "Spot" has become our cue to go to her mat (in the kitchen) or her bed in the living room (depending on which room we're in).  We don't bother saying "Go to your spot", we just say "spot" and she now knows what to do.  We didn't add that cue immediately, we actually waited until she would automatically go to that spot when we entered the room.  Then we added the cue. 

We are babysitting a 3 month old pup this week, and this morning I had my 3 dogs and this pup in the kitchen.  I could not tether her to Bella's spot, since Bella was IN her spot, so I took another leash and looped the handle around the leg of a HEAVY piece of furniture in the kitchen, and threaded the clip end through that to attach it to the furniture.  Voila-- now I had another tether in the right place.  I tethered the pup, gave everyone a chewy to enjoy, and had a peaceful time getting breakfast together.

I recommend using tethers through your home to give your dog/pup some structure until its training is sufficient to allow more freedom without mistakes.  Every doorknob is a potential tether-attachment-spot.  You can keep your dog on leash in the house with you and move it from room to room with you, attaching it to various tether-spots so you can get some work done but your dog can still be with you without requiring your 100% attention.

A few tips:
  1. Don't leave a young dog or a dog who is new to tethering unattended-- they may get up and get all tangled up, which will really upset them.  Worse, they could wrap the tether around their neck.  If you need to have your FULL attention on something else, crate your dog for a bit.
  2. If your dog chews through a light nylon leash tether, cut off the clip and save it for future use.  You can even make your own replacement tethers with some appropriate nylon webbing or ribbon.
  3. Obviously, don't tether your dog to something lightweight that will be knocked over if they pull.  They will pull at times, if they want to reach you.  
  4. Remember to reward often for good, calm, settled behavior.
  5. If your dog does get tangled, be calm, go in and unclip the leash, and while holding the dog's collar, gently untangle him.  Then reclip him.  Don't try to put his body through gyrations while you try to untangle him.  Remember, being tethered needs to be nontraumatic.
Share your experiences with this in our comments section.  Happy training!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Reba the beautiful Borzoi still needs a home-- 3 yr old female

Age (approx): 2-3 years
Gender: Female

Child Safe?: Unknown
Small animal safe?: yes
Reba is a 2 to 3 year old spayed very small female who is heart worm negative, current on all vaccinations and is microchipped.  Reba is starting to take biscuits from her foster mom’s hand but really loves to be petted and loved on.  She is small dog safe and is currently being fostered in a home with pomeranians, salukis and borzoi without issues. 

This very sweet girl is looking for a home with a soft bed, warm heart, kind hands and lots of love.  If you are interested in adopting Reba, please fill out our adoption application and email it to Carol Backers at

Beautiful, purebred Borzoi needs a home (3 yrs old, female)

Age (approx): 3 years
Gender: Female
Special Needs:
Child Safe?: yes
Small animal safe?: yes
Delilah is a 3 year old spayed female who is heart worm negative, current on all vaccinations and is microchipped.  She is very out going, can be a bit stubborn when asked to do something she thinks she shouldn’t have to do but will do very well with a little bit of attention and work.  She has lived with small children, cats and small dogs and gets along with well with all.  She is an owner turn in due to financial issues within the household.  I will provide free coaching and training to anyone in the South Bay who adopts this beautiful dog.  As a Borzoi owner, I have a special place in my heart for this breed (and it's a wonderful breed).  She is currently being fostered out of state, but don't let that stop you.  We can work with that.

This very sweet girl is looking for a home with a soft bed, warm heart, kind hands, and lots of love.  If you are interested in adopting Delilah, please fill out our adoption application and email it to Carol Backers at 



Friday, January 28, 2011

Smart reinforcement

I spent last weekend studying animal behavior with the best trainers in the world, who convened in Newport Beach for Clicker Expo 2011.  Fellow trainer and friend Stacy Braslau-Schneck and I attended several seminars by Ken Ramirez, one of which discussed the nuances of reinforcement and how to use it to its fullest potential (to help our dogs reach THEIR fullest potential!).  It was wonderful, and I was delighted to see that Stacy later summarized the session.  Here is a short excerpt:

All animals have some interest in the “primary” reinforcers that ensure survival and comfort: food, water, air, shelter, and mating opportunities. These are so powerful that many trainers just rely on them (mostly food), and never bother trying to introduce newer forms of rewards. However, there can be a huge advantage to having a variety of rewards. It adds variability to your training, keeping it more interesting; it is also there as a fallback when your animal is not interested in one of those primaries (for example, if your dog is sick or even just full, and not interested in food) or they are not available to you

Read the whole post (it's good!) here

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Cage muzzles may look fierce, but they are wonderful safety tools for a dog that is unpredictable in certain circumstances.  They allow the dog to breathe normally, drink easily, and get food treats easily.  They also allow the owner to relax!

Here is a post about cage muzzles that I recommend reading. 

This weekend a new student's dog (recently neutered male, about 2 years old) was at my home with two other dogs. He seemed comfortable but as he was starting to interact with the other two dogs he suddenly and without provocation started to attack one of the dogs (an unneutered male).  We broke it up quickly, but it surprised everyone, including the owner.

So we learned something about this dog-- at least in this highly-stimulating environment, he became so agitated that he became aggressive to another dog.  Hmmm.  A group class can be a highly stimulating environment, too, and 

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

"Bella" is the top dog name of 2010

Call it the "Twilight Effect." In 2010 "Bella" retained its position as the most popular dog name for the second year in a row. Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. (VPI), the nation's oldest and largest provider of pet health insurance, sorted its database of more than 485,000 insured pets to determine last year's most popular pet names. Here's the top ten for dogs:

1. Bella
2. Bailey
3. Max
4. Lucy
5. Molly
6. Buddy
7. Maggie
8. Daisy
9. Charlie
10. Sophie

Of the nearly half a million pets insured by VPI, only 13 were named "Fido," reflecting the current trend of owners giving their pets human names. Nearly every dog name on VPI's Top Ten Pet Names list doubles as a popular human name.  But some where truly wacky.  Here is the list of their top 50 whacky dog names (I laughed pretty hard).

Saturday, January 1, 2011

I guess I need a "Tell Bell" after all....

I love this little "service counter bell" that one of my clients has, which her dog would ring in order to ask to be taken outside to potty.  (My dogs were taught to ring some jingle bells).  The bell sits on the floor by the door, which avoids the issue of the jingle bells ringing every time the door is opened or shut.  I cleverly thought I could avoid the roughly $25 cost of the "Tell Bell" by buying a $5 service bell from Office Depot and super-gluing a fabric button onto it to give the dog a larger spot for his paw to hit (the normal service bell has a very small button to push and I suspected my dogs would object to pressing it with their paws). 

After much struggling with it, I have given up because the surface area of the little button isn't large enough for me to get the glue to stick.  The Tell Bell has been made with a larger button to push (and it has a cute paw on it).  So I am recommending it for my clients who would like to teach their dogs to ring something to ask for a human to open the door.

You can teach this behavior using "target training".  You teach the dog to ring the bell to get a treat.  Then you can use "back chaining" to create the sequence of  (ring bell) (human opens door) (run to potty area and do your business) (click/treat).

The toughest part of this sequence is getting the dog to not ring the bell just to be able to engage you in training.  In other words, they sometimes lie and make you go through the routine even when they don't have to go outside.  If I feel I've been faked out, I just calmly go back inside (ie, no click/treat).  But I'm generous in nurturing the behavior until it's very solid-- in other words, I allow myself to be taken advantage of until the very advanced stage.  I'd rather err on the side of being asked to open the door than have to clean up an accident.