Basic Obedience Outside the Box

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If I had one wish it would be that every dog owned by a human had basic obedience training. If I had two wishes it would be that every shelter could provide dogs with basic obedience training or a list of trainers to contact for training prior to the adoption of a shelter dog. Basic obedience is not just for puppies. Yes old dogs can and should learn new tricks and here’s why…

I’ve owned many huskies throughout my life.  Most Huskies do not like to come to you when they are called BUT if you have trained them to sit/stay you can yell “sit”/”stay” from a distance and walk up to them and retrieve them in many cases.

A dog trainer told a story during one of her seminars that involved an aggressive German Shepherd with a bite history. The trainer was talking to the owners while sitting in a chair with the owners holding the dog on leash. Next thing she knows the owners have dropped the leash and the shepherd now has two feet on her legs and is growling in her face. She knew the shepherd knew sit so she yelled it. He sat and the owners grabbed the leash.

Your dog loves going on walks. You feel the leash tugging behind you and look back to see your dog limping behind you. You tell your dog to sit and shake and discover a piece of glass in your dogs pad. You pull it out and your dog feels so much better.

It is late and your dogs want to go out into the backyard. You let them out and they start chasing something, you realize very quickly that it is a skunk. You have worked for over a year on a solid recall with your dogs. You yell come and they come running back into the house and you have just avoided hours of deskunking. You pat yourself on the back for teaching that recall and give the dogs cookies and lots of praise.

In 2017 make a commitment to your dog to work with a trainer on basic obedience or to practice the skills they already know but that have grown moldy and need some rejuvenation. If your dog already knows the basics consider Rally or Agility to keep their skills solid. You never know when those basic skills might come in handy.

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Basic Obedience Class Safety Tips Sheet

Recall Tips

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Have you ever:
  • Hidden the leash behind your back at the dog park and pursued your dog until you can grab them and hook the leash up to take them home?
  • Chased your dog down the street and tackled them in the neighbors yard?
  • Opened the front door for a delivery only to have the delivery person knocked off their feet by a blur that ran by and is now running happily down the street?
  • Chased you dog and had them stop and look back at you as if they are grinning and then just as you get close they bolt again?
  • Called Come over and over again and been completely ignored?

If any of these scenarios sound familiar then these tips are for you

  • Never ever call your dog when you know that they will not come, the only thing this does is reinforce your dog for not paying attention to you and you poison the cue.
  • Do call, hook up your dog to their leash and release your dog multiple times in fun zones like the dog park before finally hooking them up to bring them home.
  • Do play hide and seek (hide and call your dog) with your dog frequently. When your dog finds you reward them heavily with both treats and praise.
  • Always reward heavily in the beginning with treats and praise. You have to make yourself interesting to your dog if you want them to pay attention to you.
  • Always reward your dog for coming even if they stick their head down 10 gopher holes on the way to you they still came.
  • Always grab their collar when they come to you.  Collar grabs are the #1 cause of dog bites so prevent this by making sure your dog makes a positive connection with a collar being grabbed equaling lots of treats.

Trail Magic for PCT Through Hikers

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Tashi & PCT Hikers at The Town Baker

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Yukon waiting for hikers on the PCT

The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is 2,650 miles long and usually takes hikers about 5 months to complete it.  Northbound hikers usually start in mid-April to early May while southbound hikers start in late June through early July.  The failure rate is high, about 50% will not complete the journey.  For those who do it is an incredible achievement with a lifetime full of memories.

May 6th, 2015 I was hiking in Wrightwood, CA with my hiking body Yukon (Shepherd Mix).  Yukon is a rescue who came from the streets where we are pretty sure he had no contact with humans, to the shelter at about one year of age, to a rescue and then to me.  When I first met him he would not come to me, he was terrified.  He refused to even walk on a leash and all my dreams of him being a hiking dog seemed to disappear.  A year later with positive training and lots of controlled socialization he has become my hiking buddy.  He gets so excited when I start putting my hiking shoes on, and if I put them on in my closet he whines at the door convinced that I might go up through the attic and escape without taking him. When it comes to attention from people he is still outside of his comfort zone when they first approach but allows people to pet him and talk to him.  Afterwards he has to pull on the leash for about 30 seconds to shake off all of the adrenaline rush he gets and then he fall back beside me.  I always watch his body language during greetings and do what is best for him.  I have him continue greetings because I never want him to become fear aggressive and he does actually like people, especially if they have treats but because of his past he is always wary.

On our hike we encountered 25+ through hikers including a hiker that we gave a ride too heading into town for food and supplies.  Yukon was the highlight for the hikers.  Many stopped and asked if they could pet him saying how much they missed their own pets at home. The hiker who hitched a ride with us scratched Yukon’s head on the ride, he was so tired from our 8 mile hike that he appeared to love the head scratching.  I have another friend that lives in the town of Idyllwild, CA which is also a haven for through hikers complete with The Town Baker that is owned and operated by former through hikers who moved to Idyllwild and started the café after completion of the PCT.  Tashi’s mom meets hikers at the post office where they pick up supplies or at the The Town Baker with her dog Tashi. Many of the hiker want to pet her missing their pets back home.  It is so heartwarming that dogs can be a part of the PCT through hikers trail magic.

Do you have a dog that loves to hike and is sociable with people? You could take them on the trails or into the towns to meet the PCT thru hikers from April through about September.  This is such a great service for both the people and the dogs.  Perhaps the PCT therapy dog team will be a future endeavor.

Good luck to all of the through hikers and enjoy the journey.

Snake Aversion Training WITH Shock

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I have been a loyal subscriber to The Whole Dog Journal since 2012.  Usually the articles that they print are well researched and contain great information.  Unfortunately, I was alarmed and disappointed by the article “Snake Aversion Without Shock” in the May 2015 issue. The article states how dead snakes, remote controlled snakes and snakes that are not rattlers can all be used to train your dog to avoid snakes by allowing the dog to make a choice.  I believe that the editor Nancy Kerns allowed her personal preferences to come into play with allowing this article instead of relying on the science of how dogs think and learn.  As one of my clients put it so eloquently “While humans might have a chance at taking this kind of conceptual training into the real world, dogs have so much more sensory  awareness and are wired for input for what is real, not representational.  Silly humans.”

I am a positive reinforcement trainer.  I am clicker savvy and strongly believe that in order to train our dogs we need to connect with our dogs.  We also need to understand dog body language and how dogs think and learn.  When it comes to basic obedience commands, if we communicate clearly with our dogs, understand and are aware of the distractions around us and work with those our dogs will respond to us.  I do not recommend the use of choke collars, pinch collars or shock collars for basic commands or common behavioral issues.  My only exception is when the situation could result in death to the dog and then the dog should not have the option to make the choice.  Dogs do what works and they follow instinct. If you train a dog utilizing a dead rattler with a shock collar your dog will avoid dead rattlers but the first time they see a real rattler they will engage with it.  If you teach them to leave a Python alone utilizing a shock collar they will but since rattlers smell different they will engage the rattler.  And a remote controlled snake, well let’s just say our dogs are much smarter than that!  Erik of Natural Solutions Rattlesnake Aversion Training in Southern California states “the use of non-venomous or fake snakes as “stand-ins,” is only marginally effective at best.”

The article also discussed dogs that attack rattlesnakes instead of avoiding them following shock training.  Yes, unfortunately this can occur as a result of trainers who shock dogs at the highest level instead of taking into account the needs of each individual dog and starting at a low level shock.  Again quoting Erik of Natural Solutions “* I would also like to note that all dogs “choose” the level of intensity used with the collar during our training. The level is slowly increased until the dog responds, and under most conditions will not be elevated beyond that intensity. Good timing is far more important than a strong level of correction. We do not believe in “shutting dogs down,” but instead believe in working within the dog’s individual needs.” Therefore, selecting a trainer that is knowledgeable and humane is essential to ensure that your dog is trained to avoid rattlesnakes.  Trainers are not regulated so do your homework, this is your beloved dog make sure that you hire a trainer who is qualified and humane.

Dogs should have choices in life however playing with a rattlesnake should not be one of them.  If  a rattlesnake is encountered I want my dogs to bolt away as quickly as possible and not stop to consider their options.  The only way to ensure their safety in my professional opinion is through training with a humane qualified trainer who uses shock collars and live rattlesnakes that are humanely muzzled and native to your area.

Meet & Greets

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If you have been following my blogs, newsletters and facebook page you know that one of the biggest training issues I work with is leash reactivity with dogs.  In order to try and prevent this issue on my end as a trainer I have introduced controlled meet and greets into my Basic Obedience classes.  These meet and greets primarily help my clients to read and understand canine body language.  They also build confidence in the owners and confidence in the dogs so we have win-win situation when it comes to the real world.  I always control the approaching dog and the meet and greet is very controlled and safe at all times.  After I go over the body language of each dog with all of my class.  In this way I am doing my part to create a better world for our dogs.

I always remind clients to keep in mind that not all dogs will like each other and as humans we cannot get upset at them for that unless we can honestly say that we like all people.  So respect yours dogs boundaries and keep everyone safe.

A few weeks ago in class I did a meet and greet with a leash reactive dog that I have been working with privately.  He did okay when he was paired with the puppies in the class.  Next he was paired with a teenage dog and this was one of those time I wish I had, had a video camera rolling.  Frankie was the reactive dog and he went up to Max and stopped and sniffed clearly saying I’m not going any closer to you.  Max who is usually exuberant for meet and greets stayed back and gave Frankie his space.  Then Frankie looked at me and said I’m done.  No growls, no lunging just two dogs having a conversation and the humans understanding and letting the dog go their separate ways.  It was amazing and reminded me why I love this job so much.

Come on out and join us on Wednesday nights for ourbasic class and learn all about dog body language.  Together we can and will make all dogs feel secure by giving each individual dog what they need.

The Art of Falconry and How it Relates to Dog Training

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A few weeks ago my family and I attended the Renaissance Fair and had the pleasure of watching two of the falconry shows by a non profit organization.  They had a red tailed hawk, a Eurasian Eagle Owl, a Lanner Falcon, a Vulture, and 3 Harris Hawks.  Falconry like dog training is an art that requires hours of training, devotion, finesse, skill and most importantly positive training.  As the falconer stated “we will never force the birds to do something we do not want them too all of our training involves positive reinforcement.  This became evident during the shows.  For the first show they showed us their latest edition, a red tailed hawk.  He was still connected to a line because he had not yet been trained not to leave.  However, he still chose when and where he wanted to fly for the treats.  Next up was the owl and during the first show the owl screeched at them and refused to exit the kennel.  Later in the day when we returned he had decided to entertain and flew over our heads for lots of treats.  During the first show they also experimented by allowing all 3 Harris Hawks out and it was hilarious towards the end when they wanted them to go back to their house the birds were flying everywhere but in their house, the falconers were well trained providing treats every step of the way.  All ended well with all birds accounted for and happily treated.

After the shows I could not help but think how this all related to dog training except that our dogs can’t fly away, but they can run!  Dogs like these birds are very intelligent and they base their decisions on what works.  If I go back into the kennel the treats stop. If I Iand on that perch I get a treat.  If I fly up into the tree the audience laughs (okay may be pushing it a bit on that one) but you get the point.  If the falconers did not use positive reinforcement they would never be able to get these bird to do anything.  That is the same with our dogs.  Bonds and trust are key to dog training and if you don’t build that through positive reinforcement your will not be able to count on your dog when you need them to listen to you.  Also, sometimes dogs just don’t listen because they are dogs.  For example in the outtakes on the movie “Against the Wild” the husky makes a mad dash through the woods and the trainers are seen chasing him.  My well trained dog Yukon became a two legged walking dog when we met up with the volunteer crews on the Vivian Creek Trail and they were sawing a tree and throwing the debris down the side of the mountain.  He thought they were critters and he was going to get them no matter what his silly owner said or requested.  In both of these cases dogs were being dogs.  Just like the birds were being birds.  Especially when the vulture steals peoples food during the show who do not put it away.

I think that dog trainers and owners could learn a lot from falconers.  Mainly I think we could learn that our dogs make mistakes, they do what works, and we have to be patient and build a strong bond with them and understand each dog like each bird is different.