Tag Archives: dog training

Puppy Versus the Vacuum Cleaner

Raise your hand if your dog hates the vacuum cleaner. I’m guessing a majority of you reading this are raising your hand and wondering “Well duh my dog hates the vacuum! It’s a loud, moving monster of a machine the dog thinks is going to eat all of us!”

Commonly, dogs hate vacuum cleaners, simply for the points you as the reader are making. They are extremely loud when running, move unpredictably (to a dog), and they are completely foreign to the common way that dogs go about their day. They see cars and people all the time, but pull the vacuum out of the closet for the weekly run through the house, and all bets are off! Dogs will run in fear of the noise, or see the vacuum as a threat and try to ‘kill’ it.

I commonly saw this with dogs when I worked in a doggie daycare. Dogs of all ages and experiences would either cower in a corner, bolt to a safe spot outside, or come streaking across the room to bark and bite at the vacuum. It was unavoidable, with one dog even getting a hold of and ripping the guard off the front of the machine!

Simply put, dogs hate vacuums.

And then there’s Pickle.

It struck me today that Pickle must not be a normal dog, one who screams and runs frightened from the ‘cleaning-machine-of-death!’ See, we had a dog stay with us this weekend, and when she left this afternoon it was time to give the house a good vacuuming. Pickle, when she hears the sound of a vacuum, decides that it’s best for her to sit close, even sometimes nosing the machine while it’s running. I don’t know why it took until today to realize that this was odd (in the best way possible), but the more I thought about it, the more I realized this was a great way to illustrate why we socialize dogs.

So I gave it some thought. I can’t stand when dogs freak out at a running vacuum (maybe it’s from all the dogs at the daycare). I don’t want to have to worry about moving Pickle from room to room just so I can run a vacuum over the carpet. To avoid the extra hassle, Kira and I committed early to getting Pickle used to loud noises. Whether it’s our NutriBullet, music in the car, what ever it is, Pickle does not get startled by loud noises anymore. She has been socialized to understand the difference between a dangerous noise and an innocent one.

Then we tackled the vacuum itself. Each time one of us pull out the vacuum, we would set treats on it to make her feel like she is being given a reward, just for approaching the machine. That extended to giving her treats while the machine was running, then slowly putting treats on the vacuum while it was on. Magically, Pickle figured out that even though the vacuum was noisy and freaked her out, it wasn’t a threat to her well being and actually something to look forward to.

Now, some people think that it’s fun to chase a dog with a vacuum. Don’t be that guy. Generating fear in a dog over something like a vacuum can manifest into a dog having issues with loud noises outside the home as well. Save yourself the trouble and don’t do it. Plus, it’s mean!

I tried to vacuum once when we were sitting for a friend’s lab mix. Soon as I hit the power button, the dog was attacking the vacuum, seeing it as a threat and trying to kill it. To those noises, the dog was not adjusted, and it came out through barking and aggression.

When you get a puppy, do yourself a favor and help it to understand the difference between safe and dangerous situations. Don’t provoke a dog to be afraid of innocent things (like chasing them with a vacuum). Though a dog may never like being around a noisy machine, they can at least know that it is safe.

Socialization people, the opportunities are everywhere!

Socialization Project: Lowe’s

Kira, Pickle and I recently started fostering a wonderful puppy, Bindi, and our experiences have been quite rewarding. Kira gets another puppy to snuggle with, Pickle gets another friend to romp around with, and I get another puppy to help train and socialize.

Which brings me to the topic of this post: socialization. Socialization is the process of getting a dog adjusted to its surroundings. This means sounds, smells, sights, textures, situations, different animals, people, etc. In order for your puppy to become a well adjusted dog, they should be familiar and comfortable with the environment around them. Up until a couple days ago, I didn’t know much about Bindi’s past before she arrived in Seattle. My goal has been to try and get her exposed to as many urban things as possible, because Seattle is where she’ll most likely be adopted (and is really scary for any dog that’s not from here!)

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Bindi helped me decide if we needed any strawberry plants for the garden.

Today’s experiment was taking her to the biggest hardware store in the neighborhood: Lowe’s. Hardware stores in general are great places to bring dogs that can handle such situations. Very few places offer such a wide array of people (ethnicities, appearances, clothing styles), smells (lumbar, gardens, paints), sounds (forklifts, paint mixers, talking and yelling) and situations (crowded aisles, waiting to checkout, people approaching, forklifts driving by, filled shopping carts passing by). For the most part, hardware stores are filled with quiet customers who are shopping, meaning a dog (and handler) don’t usually need to worry about being rushed by screaming kids or anything else unexpected.

So, armed with a pocket full of wild-rabbit chews, we got to it. Even crossing the parking lot, full of moving cars, shopping carts and people proved to be fine. Bindi was a little frightened by an automatic door, and a shopping cart rolling on the concrete floors. She did however love the attention she was getting from other customers, several of whom stopped to pet her. I did coax a couple people to give her treats, and Bindi was loving every second of it!

The only issue we had the entire visit was while waiting to get a set of house keys made. Bindi was approached head on by a man, and they both stopped in front of each other, assessing what to do next. Before I could tell him Bindi was friendly, she let out an anxious bark. When faced with an anxious puppy, it’s best to ease them away from the situation causing them problems. We circled around a display, waited long enough for Bindi to calm, and simply walked past the man again. Even the sweetest dogs can get anxious when faced with new scenarios, so be patient, and be willing to apologize once in a while. In the end, it pays huge dividends if you are willing to put in the time.

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Bindi, sticking her tongue out and making a silly face for the camera!

Something interesting to note here is that dogs cannot generalize between one situation and the next. For example, if you teach a dog to sit in your house, that does not guarantee they will sit when you are at a park. Dogs need to get used to doing a particular action in all situations, a major part of socialization. Recall is an awesome tool for dogs, but it is useless if your dog can only do it inside the house. To work on these things, it’s best to have a pocket full of treats, and wait for your dog to lose focus on you, then whisk them back with bait and have them earn their treat with a command. I can’t tell you how many weird looks I got when I would have Bindi sit while in the middle of an aisle. All in a days work!

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“What, just ’cause I made one mess you think you need a whole new, stain resistant carpet?”

By the time we had passed through lumber, plumbing, got our keys made and checked out some plants for the garden, Bindi seemed pretty comfortable with all the people and things going on. She waited in line like a little lady while I checked out, soaking up all the complements she could handle! The cashier was a sweet Vietnamese woman who couldn’t help but gush over Bindi, saying she reminder her of a dog she had back in Vietnam. It was enough to make your heart melt!

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Bindi seemed pretty comfortable in the store by the end of the trip!

Socialization is the most important step to ensuring a dog grows up to be well adjusted as an adult. My objectives with Bindi are to make sure she is a well rounded and confident dog for her new family, and they can be confident that Bindi can handle what ever the world can offer. I’ll be recapping most of our socialization sessions through this blog and track her progress, as well as eave hints and tips on how to deal with tough situations.

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What to Expect When You’re Expecting

Congratulations, you’ve finally decided that it is time to get a dog! You’ve committed yourself to putting in the time and effort to raise, care for, properly socialize, and make it the best dog it can be!

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Happy dogs come from lots of hard work!

But one question still remains: What kind of dog do you want to get? The answer to that question can be critical in building a healthy relationship between you and your new pup. Having even a brief knowledge of a dog’s traits and how they match a person’s life would ensure that thousands of dogs are properly homed and not surrendered every year. A busy owner living in a studio apartment probably shouldn’t own a Siberian Husky. Marathon runners looking to bring their dogs on long runs probably shouldn’t own an English Bulldog.

Catch my drift?

Now, there are dozens of Breed Profilers out there that help to distinguish the different characteristics of purebred dogs. But thousands of dogs are adopted from shelters and rescues, and these mix breeds are a bit more challenging to pinpoint. My focus here is about picking a handful of general characteristics that are apparent in any dog, and highlighting how they may or may not fit into your life. Then, if you walk into a shelter and see a dog, you’ll have an idea what to expect, even if you’re not sure about the breed. Sound good? Cool, let’s get started:

SIZE

Maybe more obvious when you adopt an adult dog, but something to watch for with puppies as well. A large breed (75lbs+) would be a hard dog to manage if you live in a studio apartment, don’t have a yard, or if you’re elderly, especially if the dog is young. They typically require more exercise and food, costing you both extra time and money.

Consider that toy and terrier breeds tend to be smaller in stature, but still need to be exercised and kept entertained. Some small breeds can still make great running and trail partners, and can easily be carried if they are hurt or if you’re in a hurry.

Managing a large dog in limited space can be done, but it requires a lot more effort on your part. Matching a dog’s size to your lifestyle can be important on building a healthy bond.

HAIR

Long hair? Short hair? It all comes down to how much work you want to put in. Long hair means lots of brushing (to remove excess hair and tangles) and lots of trips to the groomer. Shorter hair means less brushing, easier clean ups, and dogs that can cool easier in warm weather. Trust me, I used to be a grooming assistant, and musing your way through matted Collie hair is not a good way to spend a Thursday afternoon if you’re not prepared for it!

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Chesapeake Bay Retrievers have special oils in their fur to help repel water and dirt, making them perfect for afternoons at the beach!

NOSE

Bet you didn’t think about your dog’s nose as a crucial trait. If you are an active person looking to have an active dog, then pay attention. Smushed nosed dogs (Pugs, Bulldogs, Boxers, etc) have a more difficult time getting air into their systems through their shorter noses. These dogs are brachycephalic breeds (short nosed), and hot, humid weather can make life difficult when put under stress, and even become a health risk. This means that it only takes a little bit of strenuous activity to wear them out. Now this could be a good thing, I mean bulldogs that I’ve worked with only require one good walk a day and turn into couch potatoes. I wouldn’t recommend doing any marathon training with a French Bulldog, however.

A longer nose allows for working class dogs to have higher endurance, and make it easier for them to breathe in hot and humid conditions. Athletic breeds are typically equipped with a longer muzzle to allow airflow to their systems. But don’t be fooled, even Boxers have a long history of being service dogs.

BREED BACKGROUND

Regardless of whether you end up with a purebred or a mixed breed, dogs will always display certain characteristics that reflect the instincts bred into them. Shelters can typically give you an idea on the breeds when you are adopting a rescue, and it is your responsibility to know what to expect. For example, Hound breeds are trackers, bred to follow the scent of a trail. They will be looking for lots of mental stimulation and will not be happy to be let inside (and they’ll let you hear about it). You’ll need to set up simulated games (like hiding treats for them to find) to keep their minds and bodies active.

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Cattle dog breeds, like this mix, were bred to herd cattle over long distances of rough terrain. Doesn’t sound like a dog that wants to be cooped up inside all day!

If you have any idea of the breed of the dog you are adopting, do your due diligence to research what they are all about.

Breed traits are a great way to sift through the countless adoption options you have. Remember that age and temperament also play factor. I wish this went without saying, but puppies are a ton of work. They require more frequent potty breaks and a lot more time and focused energy. I’ve heard trainers and owners say that “puppies are cute as a survival tactic.” Honestly, if people saw puppies as ugly, they probably wouldn’t take on such a monumental task.

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Vizslas, bred as bird dogs, are typically very active. Luckily they like to kick back and relax sometimes!

Adult dogs are typically easier to gauge, and they have a history to help support if they are a good fit for your home. Rescuing an adult dog can be a risk, as they could be from an abusive home and need some serious training and attention to get back on track. Work with a shelter worker, or with a trainer to test the temperament of a dog at any age. Look for confident, curious and welcoming dogs, unless you are willing to work with dogs that are not as open to attention. Do justice by the dog, you don’t want them to be surrendered again.

Of course, dogs don’t always fit a perfect mold, but if you keep these things in mind, you should have a very happy relationship with your new dog!

If you are looking for a new pet, please consider adopting through a local shelter or rescue!

Misconceptions of Puppy Socialization

I’ve explained before that socialization is a crucial piece of a dogs development. Properly introducing your dog the world around us will lead to your dog being a well-balanced, confident, relaxed dog and will create a healthy and long-lasting bond with you, the owner.

New puppy owners commonly become to focused not the idea that socialization is only about interacting well with people and other dogs. This a huge mistake and an unfortunate misconception of socialization. Socializing a puppy is about getting them used to the world around them, and the other dogs and people you interact with are only a small piece of the world they live in. Puppy owners must remember to acquaint their pups with the environment around them as well as the living things within it.

What do I mean by ‘the environment’? Think about your current living situation. If you live in a small apartment in a major city, you are surrounded by noisy cars, buses, shouting, music, construction, doors and windows opening and closing in neighboring apartments, you name it. If you don’t live on the first floor of your building, you have stairs, elevators, delivery workers, carpets, perhaps even hardwood or concrete floors.

Now look inside your apartment. Maybe you own a blender to make morning smoothies, or you like to watch the football game and jump and scream. Vacuum cleaners, slamming doors, water running in the sink, even the coat rack in the corner.

These are things that many people tend to take for granted because we are around them everyday. But they are brand new to a puppy, and the sound of rushing water or a running fan can be quite alarming when heard for the first time. The environment you live in is full of foreign sights and sounds that a puppy must be introduced to in a slow, positive way. They must be socialized to become familiar and comfortable with them.

So how in the world are you supposed to socialize your puppy to everything in the environment? Take advantage of the fact that you live within that environment. You will have the chance to introduce your dog to hundreds of different things every time you leave for a walk, and it’s your job as the owner to take advantage.

Here are some things to remember when socializing your dog:

Keep it Positive: Remember to keep every new experience positive for your puppy. Get treats that drive your dog crazy and praise them when they are relaxed with new situations. Read your puppies body language carefully. If they are cowering, hanging their heads or tucking their tails then take a step back and give your pup space. Follow every socialization session with games, lots of praise and loads of delicious treats!

Textures: Think about everywhere your puppy will walk. Concrete, grass, sand, asphalt, hardwood, tile, carpet, your dogs need to be socialized to all these surfaces. Dogs can become uncomfortable on new surfaces and properly socializing them can limit any anxieties.

Visuals & Sounds: Busy crowds, festivals, fireworks, traffic, wheelchairs, skateboards, bicycles, door bells, all these are fair game. A major city has lots of firetrucks, garbage trucks and street music. Rural areas have livestock and wildlife. Depending on your neighborhood, your puppy could be facing lots of stressful situations.

Places: Hardware stores, playgrounds, parks, pet shops, vet offices, construction sites, dog friendly bars. Take them anywhere they are happy and comfortable.

Maneuverability: Moving a dog through elevators or up and down stairs can be tough. Exposing them to as many places as possible will make them more confident when navigating new situations.

Socialization is a long and windy road, but the hard work you put in now will pay huge dividends to your puppy becoming a respectful, confident, well-adjusted dog. Remember that socialization goes far beyond the interactions with other dogs and people, and though those are important, exposing your puppy to the environment will make their lives less stressful, and your life much easier!

Understanding Challenging Puppy Behaviors

A trainer friend of mine joined me for a cup of coffee earlier this week, and we got to chat about all kinds of doggy things.

During our conversation, we started talking about challenging dog behaviors. She shared a story that I’m sure many of you could relate to, I know I did.

In a nutshell, her two dogs were enjoying some backyard time when they came across a possum playing dead in the backyard. As my friend tried to shoo her dogs away, she had to figure out a way to rid of the possum. Her older dog ventured back into the house, and her younger pooch, being little more hesitant, eventually complied. My friend then grabbed a shovel and removed the possum from her yard, safely removing the little animal and keeping her dogs from attacking it. All seemed well, and my friend felt content she had solved the situation. That is, until she walked back into the house. The younger dog was standing over her down jacket, the stuffing spread all over the living room. The dog had shred the jacket, and stood over it proudly, stuffing still stuck to his lips. My friend had every reason to be upset, but as a trainer, she realized that the torn jacket was mostly her fault.

How can that possibly be, you ask. Well, she realized that her dog had built up an urge to tear apart the possum in the backyard. When he was taken away and ushered back into the house, the possum was gone, but not the urge. He had to scratch that itch, so he took it out on my friend’s jacket. My friend hadn’t helped her dog to meet that urge, and he found a way to do it himself. What’s the take away here? Dogs have urges, and even if we don’t like those urges, they will find a way to satisfy them. Whether we like it or not, dogs will chew, dig, chase, tear things apart, and hump. These urges are biological and a dog’s brain is hard-wired to meet those needs. IMG_20141012_094742_resized I wonder now how many dogs are deemed as troubled or are labeled as having behavior issues because us humans are not doing our part to help them meet their natural urges. You know what sucks? Having your slippers or nice pair of leather boots chewed up by your puppy. Know what doesn’t suck? Giving your dog a chew stick (bully sticks, approved toys). Seems simple, right? Yet when we see a dog humping a person’s leg we get angry. I know if Pickle starts humping another dog, I get pretty embarrassed, even though I know it’s just an urge. How else is she supposed to get it out?

I also know Pickle loves to tear things apart, especially boxes and papers. She doesn’t eat the pieces, so when we get a package in the mail we give her the empty box. It wears her out mentally and physically, and she is satisfying a need in a safe way that keeps us happy. IMG_20141205_100915_resized And digging, let’s not get started on digging. If Pickle had it her way she’d be doing it any time she set foot on a soft surface. But that was bound to lead to her tearing up the carpet (which wouldn’t be so great with our landlords). How do I solve that? Well, don’t tell, but anytime we see a pile of mulch or dirt in someones yard, I sick Pickle on it. She digs until she’s tired, tries to sprint off, and we walk away. Addressing a need.

So think of it from your dog’s point of view. Imagine something that is so wonderful, so enticing, so hard-wired into your brain that you just had to do it no matter what anyone told you. You would find an outlet, right? Then why do we hold our dogs to a different standard?

It is up to us as owners to understand our dogs needs and to address them in a way that’s suitable to both man and beast. If you are concerned your dog is having too many issues getting these urges out, contact a trainer or consider getting some extra socialization help. A little bit of work can go a long way to making your pup a happy pup!

Book Review: Animals Make us Human

Animals Make Us Human
Creating the best life for our animals 
By Temple Grandin & Catherine Johnson
(Amazon, $13.24)

I received this book as a Christmas present and couldn’t resist sharing it and raving about the information inside!

Temple Grandin, who has a PhD in animal science and is a professor at Colorado State, has a unique perspective about animals. Writing as a person with autism, Grandin has taken her position as a scientist with autism to create several works about animals and how they interact with humans.

Animals Make Us Human is a great, in depth view on how we humans can strive to maximize the happiness of our animal companions. Using years of scientific data and citing dozens of experiments, Grandin dives into everything from keeping a lion in a zoo from pacing in its cage to keeping a dog happy when you leave home.

Of course, this is a dog blog, and I was totally engage with the ideas around dog training and behavior management. Grandin challenges the traditional approach of training dogs in which humans are taught to become the “dominant”, or “alpha” figure in their dogs life.  According to numerous studies cited in the book, dogs don’t quite act like wolves in the way we once thought. Grandin takes the “Cesar Milan” approach and spins it into a new light, agreeing that even though some situations (doggie daycare, for example) may warrant having an alpha presence, these strategies aren’t necessary in everyday training.

The problem occurred with studies done on wolves in captivity, taken away from their natural setting and put in “forced packs”. These dogs, unstable and insecure, created a pack pecking order to maintain structure. This resulted in more fights and lashing out then with normal, natural wolf families. The change in environment and familiarity with their mates caused drastic changes in the way they interacted.

As a former daycare worker and as a dog owner, I loved that Grandin was able to compare two opposing sides of methodology without completely denouncing either. She respectfully presents both sides of the coin and tries to help the reader understand that old methods are born from old understanding, and as we become more knowledgable, the methods change.

Gardin dives deeper into the idea that as dogs become further removed genetically from their wolf brethren, they lose their ability to express submissive behaviors, resulting in more aggressive communication between dogs. The escalation of emotion leads to more fights between unfamiliar dogs. For example, malamutes, who are genetically much like their wolf descendants, exhibited all the submissive signs that wolves do when they greeted another dog. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, which are clearly very much removed from a wolf, exhibit none of these traits, and are thus more feisty (putting it mildly, that is).

Understanding the ideas behind dominance and submission are crucial when training a dog, but so are understanding there particular drive behaviors. Finding an outlet for a dog’s seeking and play drives, and learning how to handle their fear, rage and panic emotional triggers, are critical to developing a dogs well being.

The best way to handle all these drives, according to Grandin, is through proper socialization (and I obviously agree). I loved the quote Grandin used, from Patricia McConnell, “Socialization is not the same as enrichment. You need both.” I couldn’t agree more! And proper socialization can be the preventative cure to all kinds of later life issues. What I didn’t know about was a second socialization stage, between 18 and 36 months, when a dog becomes socially mature. This is a great opportunity to have your pup around positive adult-dog influences to steer them into the right direction through their teen years.

There is so much information about dogs in this book that I can get carried away. I’d also miss out on mentioning how Gardin talks about creating happy lives for your cats, for pigs, horses, birds, and captive animals in zoos. She talks about ways to stimulate their deepest instincts to help give even a caged lion a happy and content life. Believe it or not, an animal raised in the wild, yet put into captivity, tends to react better to being behind the glass in a zoo. You’ll have to read to find out why!

I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in animal science and animal psychology. Scratch that, I would recommend this book to anyone who has ever cared for an animal and wants to better understand the way they think. Not every animal is dealt the best hand, but with a little help from us humans, we can totally give them the happy and content life they need. Grab your copy today to find out how!