Teach Your Dog To Retrieve His Dish !!

What could be more practical than to teach your dog to retrieve his dog dish !  Lately I seem to be gathering up dishes in the back of crates and under tables. With 6 dogs to feed I’m often in a hurry when I put down the food and don’t always have time to collect and wash the dishes right away. I usually collect them for washing a few hours later but it can be a pain trying to find them all and then have to crawl in and out of crates to get the ones that got moved to the back of the young dog’s crates.  Solution ? Teach the dogs to get their dishes and save my back from dish wrangling !  My last generation of dogs knew how to retrieve the dog dishes which was such a convenient trick I decided to teach this generation.  This week I started with my older dogs who have some experience retrieving other types of objects but soon I will add this to the the young dogs list of behaviors as well. Any dog can learn to retrieve if you have the patience to teach them and are willing to break the retrieve down into tiny steps.

The first step in teaching the dish retrieve is to shape your dog to touch the dish with his nose. I started by using a small cat dish to make it easier for the dogs since it was lighter weight and smaller than the regular size 2 quart ones we normally use for feeding. I held the dish at nose level while sitting on the floor so that it would be easy to click at the moment the dog hit the dish with his nose. I stayed at this step until the dog offered regular nose bumps and was getting reinforced on a regular basis. Then I waited for the dog to offer a nose bump on the edge of the dish rather than the middle, then I tried to wait for an open mouthed touch. At first the mouth was just slightly open and then later she was mouthing the edge of the dish. This is a tricky step, some dogs linger on this step for quite a while before they decide to grab a hold of the dish. Sometimes you need to wait it out, sometimes you need to go back and reinforce the nose touch for a bit before holding out for the grab. It really depends on the dog’s personality and how high their tolerance is for frustration and figuring things out.

Once the dog is mouthing the edge of the dish you are ready to add step 2. The second step takes a different approach to shaping the pick up by starting with the dish on the floor between the dogs paws.

Go back to reinforcing nose targeting in the center of the dish and delivering the treat in the dish. You might have to reset the dish as the dog usually moves it around a bit when he gets his treat. This steps works the same way as the first step, work on reinforcing nose touches to the center of the dish first and then hold out for touches to the rim of the dish. As the dog begins to offer those more regularly you can wait for ones where the mouth is open slightly and later for hesitation and actual grabs.  As the dog gets the hang of this be ready to reinforce more advanced steps like actually grabbing the dish and lifting it up off the floor ! Some dogs struggle with this step and others get it rather quickly.

I like to work on both shaping the grab with the dish in my hand and from the floor because it seems to help the dog figure out what I want more quickly.  I find that if I start with the dish in my hand and just lower it to the floor it’s harder for the dog to figure out what I want. If I work it in two separate steps the dog gets reinforced more frequently and is willing to stay in the game longer to figure things out.

The key to training this behavior is to do a little training at a time and practice frequently rather than trying to do too much at once.  I normally do 10-20 reps at a time, take a break and play tug and then do another set. Depending on the dog I’m working with, I might go back and do another 2 sets and then quit for the day. How much you train at once will  depend on your dog’s personality and age. Don’t be afraid to do more frequent short sessions to keep your dog wanting more and having fun.  In no time your dog will be able to retrieve his dish and save you from crawling to the back of his crate or under the table to get it yourself. How cool is that !!

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Walk This Way !

Who among us has not been nearly yanked off our feet but an over exuberant dog ! Being a dog is all about joy and getting where you are going as fast as you possibly can. If you have 4 legs why not use them ? The pathetic bi-ped holding on for dear life in your wake can just hurry along right ? Well, not so much….

If you’ve attempted to walk a high energy dog who is curious about everything in his path and attempts to drag you around the neighborhood to see the sights it might be time to teach him some leash manners ! There are not many among us who look forward to walks with a dog we can barely control and honestly the dogs aren’t all that happy either. Though they look like they are having a good time many dogs who are out of control get into all kinds of trouble on leash which causes them alot of anxiety making the problem far worse then it needs to be. This week we are going to stop the insanity !!  Time to teach your dog some leash manners.

I have good news and bad news. The good news is that it isn’t very hard to teach a dog to walk nicely on a leash.  The bad news is it isn’t very interesting or exciting work and requires a lot of practice to get good at it. However, the payoff will be a dog that walks with you on your adventures so that you enjoy rather than dread your neighborhood constitutionals.

First of all do yourself a huge favor and invest in an Easy Walk Harness by Premier. They can be found in most pet stores and though they are a little pricey they are worth every penny.  They come in small, medium, large and x large as well as in between sizes labeled Small/Medium and Medium/Large. The tweener sizes can be purchased either online or through the MSPCA in Boston or Methuen (call first to check on availability). This harness has the leash clip in the front of the chest, which helps the dog learn not to pull by changing his center of gravity. When he pulls it makes him feel off balance so he slows down a bit. Is it a miracle ? No, you will still have to teach him to walk nicely next to you but you’ll have the advantage because he won’t be pulling quite so much and you will have more opportunities to reward him.

When you start teaching your dog to walk nicely on a leash, attach the leash to either his regular collar or to the harness and start walking. As soon as you notice that your dog is next to you, even for a second, click, stop and deliver the treat right next to your leg. Be exaggerated about where he will get his reward, you want him to be coming and getting his treat right on your pant seam. This builds value for being next to you. Remember your dog has zero value for walking with you right now. It’s boring to walk so slowly and it’s not very exciting to be hanked around. Each click for walking with you and each treat delivery right on your leg will be building up a bank account of value for walking with you rather than pulling your arm off.  If your dog starts to pull, turn and walk in the opposite direction and look down, when he catches up to you click, stop and deliver the treat on your leg.  Repeat this until your dog starts to understand the game. You ‘ll know when you gets it because he won’t be pulling as much and he’ll keep looking up at you to make sure he knows where you are going next.  Feel like a ping pong ball because your dog is launching to the end of the leash over and over again ? Slow it down and click and treat him every step or two at first so that he gets lots of reinforcement for slowing down and walking with you. Don’t try to build alot of steps at once, go for just 1 or 2 at first and then mix in the longer ones sporadically so that he never knows how long he must stay with you to get you to click.

Pay attention to the environment that you are working your dog in. If you have an excitable dog you can’t start outside on the street it’s too busy and you won’t get much teaching accomplished because your dog will be too distracted. Start indoors or in an empty parking lot and build a few steps at a time. Still struggling because he wants to yank you to ever sniffing spot ? When he hits the end of the leash, freeze in place and turn away from him. Wait until he finds you by looking back at you and click, then lure him in with a treat delivered close to your leg in the new direction. Some dogs need to practice this over and over again until he isn’t interested in exploring as much as he is interested in what you have. If you use really good treats and a hungry dog this will happen sooner than you know it.

Teaching your dog to walk nicely on a leash is about patience and repetition. It’s one of those behaviors that you just have to practice over and over again so that your dog gets good at it. Hope that this entry starts you well on your way to some pleasant strolls around your neighborhood. Happy walking !

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Taming the Inner Kangeroo

Do you have a dog that jumps, leaps and mouths and nearly knocks your company flat in his exuberance to say hello ? This week I am minding a 14 wk old puppy at our house who has no clue that there are other options to leaping at people. Even a puppy this young can hurt you with sharp nails and teeth in her exuberance to be loved. In the first hour that I had her I knew that this would be my focus for the week, it’s a behavior that just has to go !

No one likes a dog that jumps on them, tears their clothing and mouths their hands. Even a very exuberant puppy can learn to inhibit his enthusiasm and sit instead of jump on people. The behavior most commonly used to replace jumping is “Sit” and for my purposes I usually require a built in stay as well. The stay helps maintain the sit so that the dog doesn’t just sit for a few seconds and then launch himself again as soon as he’s been rewarded.

Teaching Sit

Using a treat held in your fingers lure your dogs nose up and wait for his rear to hit the floor, click and treat. If he’s very bouncy and is standing on his hind legs alot, put a leash on him and put your foot on it. By stepping on the leash you will limit his options and though he will attempt to jump he won’t be successful at it. It will also make it easier to go through his options and choose sit more quickly. By limiting his options with your foot on the leash you are teaching him which behavior pays off more quickly. If you don’t have your leash with you you can ignore the jumping but it will take him longer to figure out which behavior is paying off better.  Many dogs are self reinforced with jumping and will continue to jump for quite some time before they give it up.  A foot on the leash will shorten the time he takes to figure out that it’s the sit that pays.

Building in the “Stay”

Once your dog is starting to understand and offer “Sit” instead of jump you can begin to delay the click for a few seconds once he is sitting. By making him wait a few seconds at first and gradually longer before you click and treat you will be teaching him that sometimes he must freeze in position before he gets paid.  You should mix this up a bit, sometimes clicking and treating him very closely together for holding the sit and other times delaying the click and treat by a few more seconds so that he never knows how long he must hold the sit  in order to get you to pay him.  Remember dogs are gamblers at heart and if you layer this into your sessions it will make the game more interesting and easier for him to figure out.

Using “Sit “in real life

Dogs don’t generalize well and so though they may understand a behavior in one context they can’t always compare it to another context and be as good at performing the behavior. This means that though your dog may have mastered “Sit” to say hello around the house he may not be very good at it outside on walks, at the pet store or when new people come to the house. The way to work with this is to bring him new places and around new people so that he can learn that no matter who he is greeting and where he must perform the “Sit” quickly in order to get paid.  One way I help dogs learn this concept is through a process I call “teaching your dog to think”.  First I give the verbal cue “Sit”, then I wait 10 seconds with my foot on the leash for  him to figure out what I want. If there are a lot of distractions I might start a good distance away at first and then gradually move closer as he is able to perform the behavior quickly.  If he responds correctly in 10 seconds or less I click and reward him, if he doesn’t I use a hand gesture or a treat in my hand to lure him into position.  This “teaching a dog to think” lesson will help your dog learn to filter distractions and hone in on what’s important YOU !  You won’t beg or nag him to sit, you’ll say it once and wait. If he can’t do it because he’s too distracted you’ll give him 10 seconds to figure it out and then help him with a treat. Over time you will have to help less and less and he will learn what parts of his environment are important and which can be ignored.

Remember it’s a Work in Progress

Dogs that have been jumping and acting out of control won’t give up that behavior overnight. It’s been working for them for a long time and it ‘s going to take quite a bit of repetition to convince them that there is an alternate behavior that pays better.  Be patient, set your dog up for success by having your foot on the leash and making sure that he can’t reward himself for jumping more than you can reward him for sitting and soon you will see how brilliantly he replaces all that jumping with sitting calmly.

Well I’m off to train our guest puppy to sit so we can surprise her Mom when she comes to pick her up on Sunday !

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52 behaviors in 52 weeks !!

I spent some time this week trying to figure out how to be more consistent with a training blog and what would give my readers the most motivation to work with their own dogs and follow along with us each week.  After watching the movie Julie and Julia in which Julie blogs about cooking a different dish every night I thought why not do that with my blog.  So here goes…. 52 behaviors in 52 weeks has launched enjoy !!

This weeks behavior is Go To Your Bed. This is a really useful behavior to teach any dog and can be used at home and while visiting and traveling. A dog that has a Go to Your Bed cue can be part of the family festivities during holidays and visits from family and friends. This behavior can replace begging at the table, or door dashing when you have a delivery person at the door. You can use it to manage a dog that barks at people and dogs passing by the house to for a dog that begs from company. Teach your dog to be flexible about where it’s bed is and you’ll be able to have your dog use your coat or sweatshirt at a friends house or when you are on a picnic or at a barbecue. Imagine how much nicer it will be to enjoy having your dog with you when you have a behavior in place that ensures he will keep all the good dog manners you’ve taught him !

To start with the first goal is to build value for the bed or mat. Start by standing about a foot from the bed and wait for your dog to look at it, step toward it or sniff it. When he does click and toss the treat right on the mat. Repeat by clicking and treating any interest in the mat until your dog is repeatedly interacting with the mat. Withhold the click every once in a while until he puts more than just a paw on it or sniffs it. Wait for him to offer putting both front feet for instance or walking across it. As you build value for interacting with the mat your dog will want to get on the mat more often but it may be hard to tell after a while if he’s aware that he is getting rewarded for being on the mat all the way. To help him understand that he needs to put his whole body on the mat once he is hanging out on the mat more than not instead of tossing the treat on the mat click for him getting on the mat but toss the treat away so he has to get off the mat to get it. When he gets his treat be patient and wait, click any effort to get back on the mat on his own without prompting from you.

This is a tricky step for most dogs and some get stuck a bit. They might approach the mat but not get on. They might sniff it briefly and then walk away. Be patient, click any effort to interact with the mat and toss the treat on the mat again. This will jog the dog’s memory that the mat does indeed have value and it will pay to make an effort to get on it. If your dog stares at you don’t look directly at him but instead look at the mat and wait. Once your dog figures out this part he will be really enthusiastic about getting on the mat with his whole body and you will see him purposely put all four feet on it.

When your dog is convinced that the mat pays off when he puts all four feet on it, you can add in the down cue. If your dog doesn’t lie down on his own teach him to lie down separately before adding this step.  Instead of clicking when your dog gets all four feet on the mat, ask for “down” and when he complies click and treat him by handing the treat right to him. If he stays in position click and treat him every 2-3 seconds and then toss a treat away to restart the behavior again. When this step is complete the dog will see the mat, put all four feet on and then lie down. Once your dog gets this part you can rename the entire behavior chain “Go to Bed” as he is on his way to the mat. If he doesn’t immediately lie down wait 5 seconds and then give your down cue. Over time as he gets better at this you’ll be able to wait longer to help him and he’ll begin to guess that you are going to cue him to lie down and start offering it before you have a chance to ask him.  Later as he gets better at this you can send him from greater distances, change what you ask him to lie on and vary your position relative to his.

Once your teach this behavior and start using it to prevent begging at the table, running out the door, jumping on company, or managing your food delivery you are going to wonder how you ever lived without it. It’s such an easy behavior to teach with so many benefits you won’t know how you lived without it !

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Fitness Training For Dogs !

Keeping your dog in shape in the winter months can be challenging but if you are a little creative you can find ways to keep your pup in tip top shape. There have been several research studies in recent years that have found that dogs who are close to their ideal weight live up to 3 yrs longer than their overweight counterparts. When you think about the short life span of dogs, (9-10yrs ) it’s amazing that you could extend their life by a third of their lifespan just by simply keeping them fit !

Believe it or not teaching your dog some fun tricks is actually a great way to improve flexibility and help your dog stay in great shape. The more flexible and strong he is the less likely he will be to get injured or suffer from arthritis and the normal limitations of aging.

Rollover Rover

Roll Over is a great trick to teach your dog. It’s a wonderful confidence builder and actually helps stretch out the spine and keep it flexible. Use a treat to get your dog to lie down and then move the treat from his nose to his shoulder slowly so that he rolls onto his side. Once he is comfortable with this you can get him to follow the treat a little further so that he rolls onto his back and then when he is comfortable you can use the treat to get him all the way over. Most dogs don’t follow the treat all the way on the first try. Being on their backs is a little scary for some dogs so be patient and don’t be afraid to start from the beginning and lure your dog only as far as he’ll go willingly, multiple times before you ask him to go further. If you go slow he will trust you and be willing to offer more than he normally would.

Spin

Spin is another great stretching exercise that will keep your dog flexible even as he ages. Most dogs are right or left handed so you may find he turns one way more easily than another. It’s fine to start with the direction your dog turns more easily, but later when he’s good at turning one way, you should teach him to also turn in the other. Start with a really yummy handful of treats. Lure your dog in one direction as far as he is comfortable going and click and treat. Repeat from the start so that your dog gets some momentum. This will give him incentive to go a little further each time until he is comfortable following the treat all the way around in a circle. The trick to getting your dog to follow the treat all the way around is to keep the treat low, hip height or lower as you make your circle. I always tell my students to aim for under the dogs tail. This gives the dog a chance to follow the treat in a circle instead of backing up to look at it. If you hold it too high you’ll know because your dog will back up with his head up instead of turn in a circle. Once your dog is easily following the treat, time your click for when he is at the half way point but deliver the treat when he completes the circle. By clicking at the halfway point you will speed up the spin because your dog will hurry the rest of the way around in order to get his goodie.

Hind end workout

This is an excellent way to strengthen your dogs back end and help him learn to move it independently from the front end. Most dogs don’t use their back ends as well as they do their front ends nor are they very aware of them. This can be problematic as dogs age because the weaker the back end is the more prone they are to breaking down and having mobility issues. Even if a dog has hip dysplasia he can live a relatively comfortable life if he is kept the right weight and exercised appropriately to build up his rear end muscles. The better shape your dog is in the more mobile and flexible he will stay well into old age.

My favorite way to work on hind end strength is to teach the dog to put his front paws up on a foot stool or hassock and move in a circle around the stool by moving his hind feet. Some dogs are a little resistant at first so take your time and use a treat to lure him up on the stool. Work on getting him on and off the stool multiple times until he is doing it willingly. Once he’s got this part start clicking and treating for him keeping his front feet still on the stool. Next, use your treat and the motion of your body stepping away from him around the stool to get him to move his rear feet in a circle around the stool. Time your click for any rear foot movement at first and then later waiting until your dog takes a full step and then several. In no time your dog will be circling around the stool on his hind legs like a circus dog.  Once he’ll follow you as you move around the stool, try taking a step sideways toward him and click him for moving his rear feet away from you. This requires a little more coordination on your dogs part so be patient and click and treat the slightest movement. Once your dog masters these two moves, moving with you and moving away from you around the stool, he will be well on his way to a great workout.

Next time you think it’s a little too cold to go out to play try a trick session instead. Your dog will love spending time with you and he’ll be building his flexibility and strength at the same time.

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