Friday, September 2, 2022

September Theme: Struggles & Strategies


Over the last few months I've had several posts beginning with the January Theme: Setting Up for Success and moving through different topics that involve creating plans, teaching behaviors you love, setting up the environment, choosing gear, and understanding your dog's needs.  But one thing all dog owners have to face is struggles that impact their relationship with their dog or jeopardies the safety of others.  Common struggles that I work with regularly are reactive behaviors, resource guarding, motivational challenges, leash skills, dealing with big emotions from the dog and the human.  As much as each dog owner is an individual so is each dog, which creates a need for an individualized plan.  However many of the strategies involved in tackling the challenging struggles are often very similar for many of the common struggles.  Throughout September I will be doing several posts focused on one common struggle and give you some tips to help you get started with that struggle.  Keep in mind that many of these struggles take time and skill, so the posts will not be designed to solve all your problems, but should help you to get started.  I also hope to include info about how to know when you need to reach out for help and where to find that help.  

Common Behaviors & Basic Definitions

Poor Leash Manners - This is a huge topic because every owner has a different set of rules that they expect from their dog while on leash.   Often discussed is loose leash walking, training dogs to heel, preventing poor greetings on leash.

Reactivity - This is an over-reaction to a distraction often caused by fear or other strong emotions and can be linked with aggressive behaviors including barking/growling, lunging/jumping, nipping/biting or other examples of big or over-the-top behaviors.

Resource Guarding - There are 2 forms of this that are most common.  Dogs may refuse to give up items or treasures to their owner including balls, chew toys, something raided from the trash can, etc.  Dogs may chase other animals away from resources such as food, water, their main person, etc.  The first situation often starts as a game of keep away which is often an over-excitement issue while the second situation is often based on fear of that resource being limited or will disappear forever.

Super Athlete, Go-Go-Go Attitude - Some dogs seem to have never ending energy with a need for a ton of exercise before they can settle or give calm behaviors.  This is often exhausting to the owners and often stems from an issue with the dog's brain development having never learned to settle.

Attention Seeking Behaviors - When dogs struggle to settle, they can easily develop a pattern of seeking out a continuous state of engagement with their owner.  They may ask to go, come in, go out, come in, beg for cookies or petting and often will prefer negative attention to no attention at all.

Separation Anxiety - When dogs struggle to be home alone, be out of sight of their owner, or be prevented from getting to their owner due to a gate, tie out, or fence that keeps the dog and owner separate.  This often starts based on fear, but when practiced becomes more distressful to the point of trying to escape or even self harm.

Owner Based Emotional Struggles - Many dogs will feel the owners stress, anxiety, or other extreme emotions and will either mirror those emotions.  Sometimes the dog may become fearful of the same things that the owner is fearful of such as being around strangers or being outside after dark.  And sometimes this becomes a revolving circle pattern of the dog reacts when they see another dog, stressing the person out when they see another dog dog which then stresses the dog out to cause even bigger reactions in a repetitive circle.

Owner Confidence Struggles - Often owners go through stages where they believe they are messing their dog up or doing training in all the wrong ways.  This is really common among Service Dog Owners who train their own dog, but I've seen this in pet parents as well.  This can lead to the owner stopping training all together or giving up feeling helpless.  Often owners will accept any and all advice from family, friends, even strangers because they simply don't know what to do anymore.  This can lead to choosing training methods that are harsher then the owner wants but they feel as though its the only way.  Some of this stems from real or perceived judgement from others.  Other times this may stem from unrealistic expectations of what a dog should be able to do or is expected to be able to do.

There are many other issues that are common struggles and I will get to as many of them as possible.  If you'd like to suggest a struggle to address, please email me at

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Walking Your Adolescent

The challenge of walking an adolescent dog is struggle that most owners face at some point.

Understanding the challenge of walking adolescents is the first step to setting up your "Train Smarter" walk with your dog.  To understand the behaviors we often see in adolescent dogs, we have to understand a bit about how their brain is working (or not working!) at this stage.  The puppy brain is designed to stay close to their family (canine or human) processing and enjoying the world around them from the safety their family provides.  The adult dog brain is designed to think for themselves based on their basic need to survive and thrive which includes finding food, water, shelter, etc.  The adolescent brain is basically a time of transition where the brain is forming new connections as the teen learns to explore their environment more intensely to begin to seek out the skills they need to survive and thrive.  While this is how nature designed the canine brain, we ask our dogs to live in a "people world" where survival depends on how they cope in the world we put them in.  That will be a future blog, but for now I want to focus on how the brain changes impact our adolescent dogs.  Here are common struggles that adolescents go through:
  • The environment is majorly exciting to all the dog's senses which almost immediately sends the adolescent into a higher emotional state simply by entering a new environment.
  • Due to hormonal changes and the natural desire to find a mate, other dogs often become a huge distraction.  This is even true for altered dogs without hormones getting in the way as the brain is still driving this motivation.
  • With the rewiring of the brain, the dog often seems to have forgotten basic training skills that they previously new well.  This often makes it seem like they are suddenly stubborn or defiant but really they are simply experiencing a stage of forgetfulness that is pretty close to what we've come to call brain fog in humans.
  • With all the changes the dog goes through periods of higher fears and lower ability to control or self regulate their impulses.  This means they are prone to repeating the puppy behaviors of jumping, pulling, being vocal, and other habits we've been working on for months.
When you add those all together they lead to increased challenges any time we take our dogs out for an adventure.  This often discourages us as owners to the point that we start to hate our time out with our dogs because it seems like its one struggle after another.  Then the dog picks up on this they begin to hate going out on adventures too.  This is where "Train Smarter, Not Harder" comes into play because our dogs still need exercise and exposure to things that will be in their world.

When we walk with a puppy, we often follow the theory of spending 5 minutes per months old so a 3 month puppy gets 15 min walks and a 4 month old puppy gets 20 min walks.  This leads to slowly making walks longer and longer which is perfect for the puppy stage.  But if we continue this practice into adolescence we often build their stamina to a point that we humans have a hard time keeping up with.  Adolescents actually excel when we take shorter walks that focus on more on keeping their emotions and arousal level down to a more manageable state.

If you're not sure how to keep your dog under threshold check out these blogposts:

The art of going nowhere on our walks is lesson I had to learn and it has changed how I take my adolescents on their walk.  Be sure to check out my blog on Getting Started with Sniff-a-bouts.

The number one reason our dogs need to go out and about is to explore the environment and sometimes moving around makes that too challenging.  When we set out on the mindset of we need to walk a certain distance or be gone a certain amount of time or accomplish x,y,z on this walk, we set ourselves and our dogs of for failure.  The main goal of our walk should be to create a pleasant experience for both us and our dog.  The trick is how do we do that?  The simple answer is to design a walk that will help our dog explore while also helping them to stay calm and under threshold.  This is where I developed the sniff-a-bout!  

Learning to take a slower paced sniff-a-bout is a challenge to us humans because we more focused on accomplishing tasks...we go for the walk because it needs to be done without thinking about what the main purpose of the walk is which should be environmental processing for our dogs.  The video above is a great example of giving the dog time to explore the environment at their pace and a good example of how I teach myself and my dogs to do a sniff-a-bout walk.  

When you are first starting sniff-a-bouts with your adolescent dog and you've set everything up for success, add a blanket or small chair to your gear list and head out to your location.  Since we typically condition our dogs to go from one place to another on our walk, we have to then teach them to stay in one area a bit longer.  This is where the blanket comes in.  If you sit down and do something boring to your dog, they will wander nearby and begin sniffing around.  You can toss treats out and about if they are used to snuffle feeding in the grass or you can use the treats to reward when they chose to check in with you.  Eventually our dogs usually will come back to us to engage in whatever activity we want to do next.  At this point I like to have a brief training session or play a short game before ending the walk.

Now you may be thinking if we don't go anywhere, how is my dog getting exercise?  From experience I can tell you that a dog who thoroughly explores the environment for 20 minutes is typically more content to go home and nap then the dog who walked for 30 minutes non-stop.  One of the other perks that you gain from the sniff-a-bout is that you and your dog enjoy some time together without practicing the bad behaviors that they've been doing on a walk.  

The point of a sniff-a-bout is to meander here and there with no end destination in mind. You walk at the dog's pace and the direction they want. When Azul goes too fast, pulling on the leash, I stop walking until he can check in and put slack in the leash. Having high value treats to teach the release of leash pressure helps. For Azul, I used treats when he was younger but then I conditioned him to use the smell he previously pulled to as his reward for releasing the leash pressure. Near the end of this video, you can see his reaction to seeing a dog quite far away causing him to pull on the leash. At this point he is beginning to be too excited so I need to move away from the distractions until his excitement can come down to a more manageable level. It's also important that we choose our tools carefully on walks to keep us all safe. This is why Azul wears a harness with a dual clip leash! Most of the time I'm holding the leash with pressure on the back clip. But the front clip prevents Azul from pulling me off my feet if he hits the end of his leash suddenly. We have to be aware of trigger stacking on our sniff-a-bouts. In the video, Azul was still fairly excited from seeing a little dog in the road when another dog charged the fence a few feet away. You can see how the dual clip setup helps me to maintain control and calmly give Azul a chance to refocus in my direction. A very light pressure on the back clip is used to help lead him back to me when he's a bit too close to the fence. The issue with trigger stacking is that if we have too many unexpected distractions in the environment we are walking in, our dog will have more extreme reactions to each trigger as their self-regulation ability decreases with their emotional reactions increasing. The whole goal of the sniff-a-bout is to stay calm and avoid triggers so we have to slowly build up to more distracting environments. Leash manners do not happen overnight! It takes time and patience with a ton of practice for both person and dog. By taking more sniff-a-bouts and less focused walks with our adolescents we prevent them from practicing the behaviors we don't want such as pulling, barking or lunging at a time in their life when their brain is changing so rapidly that they simply can't control themselves. That doesn't mean you shouldn't work on training heel and loose leash walking with your adolescent. That means you need to keep those training sessions short and in environments where you know you have a greater chance for success. Make your exercise walks be about the dog and your training sessions about training without mixing the two together for an exercise walk. Check out this post by Crazy2Calm Canine Coach, Elliot Brooks to learn about improving your heel training for working dogs and anyone who wants to take their dog with them into pet friendly public places.

For more help with training your adolescent dog, check out our Crazy Canine Adolescents Classroom.

Taking A Sniff-a-bout

How do you set up for a sniff-a-bout?

**Safety First**
Only allow off leash sniffing (especially for teen dogs and older dogs each spring) in controlled areas where your dog can't wander away and unfamiliar dogs can't enter unexpectedly.

If you don't have a fenced area, use a longline attached to a back clip harness.
Stay with your dog to supervise! 
To make sniffing enrichment, you need to be present to "enjoy" it with your dog.

**Safety First means knowing your dog's abilities, your abilities as a guide, and your environment and making any adjustments you need to stay safe!

Train Smarter, Not Harder with Sniff-a-bouts

Here are some tips to help you get started on your sniff-about walks.
  • Notice the gear used in this walk is a harness and longline and the environment we are in is a large open yard where distractions are somewhat predictable.  Gear designed for giving the dog freedom while maintaining safety is essential to all sniff-a-bouts.  Longlines are great for giving the dog freedom to make choices and move at a pace that is natural to them in the moment.
  • Choose the right location!  When you're first starting out, try a large open field where there are few things to get tangled on and you can possible triggering distractions before they come close.  Very early on, I want to take my dog away from any triggers to prevent them from going over threshold but as your teamwork skills improve on sniff-a-bouts you can slowly add in distractions at a distance and slowly decrease the distance as your dog becomes more comfortable around that trigger.
  • Time of day is super important!  Not so much per your routine in your household, but the routine of the distractions in the environment you will be doing the sniff-a-bout in.  Avoid the busiest times of day for any environment avoiding popular dog walking trails early in the morning and later in the evening when more people are walking the dogs.  If you are doing the sniff-a-bout near a playground, go during the school day when there are less kids playing.

Until you're very comfortable using a longline, practice sniff-a-bouts in a large field or open area at a park. The fewer things to get wrapped around or tangled in the better. Allow your dog to engage with the environment, going in any direction they choose unless their choice leads to a hazard such as a pond, sidewalk, parking lot, or anything that is dangerous.

Walk with your dog or sit down and relax depending on how quickly they move from spot to spot. Walk peacefully, only giving cues that are necessary that guide your dog down the path of making good choices. For example: if my dog gets near the opposite end of the longline, I'll cue "This Way" to get them moving back in my direction without fully recalling them.

Have some treats available to reward your dog for making good choices along the walk. Sometimes I even take my dog's meal and scatter it along the ground for them to enjoy hunting for it. At the end of your sniff-a-bout be sure to reward your dog for re-engaging with you as you walk back home or to the car.

Be sure to reward yourself too! Taking a snack, beverage or other treat for you can make this slower paced walk more enjoyable which in turn makes you want to repeat it more often.

The more often you go on sniff-a-bouts and practice using the longline together as a team, the more distracting environments you can enjoy together! You can even add in some doggy parkour to your sniff-a-bouts to make them more fun!

You can watch lots of videos of Azul taking a sniff-a-bout on a longline on this playlist on our YouTube Channel. 

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Walking with a Service Dog

How do I take a morning walk with my Service Dog Azul?

Very much like any other dog and human would do. You see, some SD Handlers believe that a dog can't learn the difference between a working heel and a free sniff-a-bout kind of walk where the dog is allowed to walk in front, behind, beside you...where ever they want. This video is to demonstrate that dogs can generalize these cues to the environments you train them in.

The key is consistency in your set up.

Here are my simple criteria that tells Azul what to expect. Azul always wears a harness and a short traffic lead attached to his harness no matter what type of walk we are doing. Some handlers will use different gear, an exercise harness for sniffing and a working harness for heeling and increased focus. There is nothing wrong with that, in fact I do this with my younger dogs. But I hate switching gear out so I end up phasing out that gear change.

My walking style predictor is the leash I use, or more specifically the length of leash I use. Places where Azul is free to sniff around I use a 6 ft or longer leash, quite often my homemade 10 ft leash. Places where I want Azul in work mode, I use a leash that is 4 ft or shorter, often an 18-24 inch traffic lead. And no matter where we are walking, my leash is almost always attached to a waist belt or shoulder strap as my hands would frequently drop the leash. The other set of criteria that I train is environmental. Most often outdoors walks are meant for Azul's enrichment and he is free to sniff, while indoor walks are meant for work and he should stay close in his loose heel. There are a few exceptions to this rule. Outdoor places such as exhibit space at an arboretum, conservatory, or memorial garden are working environments with a short traffic leash and heel required. There are also a few pet friendly stores such as the pet store where our main goal is to allow Azul to smell, so here we use a 4-6 ft leash and I follow Azul around unless I need to ask him to avoid a certain aisle or animal. Azul also knows that he has lots of friends at Tractor Supply, Home Depot, and our local library so the chances of me giving him permission to socialize is much higher in these locations then other places. So you see, I'm pretty far from having exact established criteria for walking. I make exceptions all the time! For the most part Azul knows those exceptions in our local environments. But that is also where verbal cues and hand signals come in to play. If I need Azul to do something other then what the leash predicts, a simple cue tells him what I need from him in that moment. Because Azul is a Medical Alert & Response Service Dog, he has to be ready to work pretty much 24/7 no matter what environment we are in. Azul is trained for some light mobility tasks including forward momentum and counterbalance to help prevent me from falling. Due to multiple issues with my disability I fall often which can lead to further complications and his tasks help to reduce that risk.

In this video you can see how he helps me walking down a hill and pulling me a hill. This takes place during our normal morning walk which I would not be able to do without his support. So here he is working for a short period of HIS sniff-a-bout and exploration walk.

Azul has learned to switch back and forth from work mode to play mode at a moments notice. On average he works less then an accumulation of 2 hrs a day but he's always ready. Often the work Azul does goes unnoticed by those around us. That is by design! It's important to me that Azul and I work as a team to take care of each other. That means that I watch out for his needs to explore the environment by planning to spend more time sniffing and looking around in new environments. Azul watches out for my needs by frequently checking in with me to see how I feel and what I need. Often he knows I'm going to need help long before I know I need help.

We are still working to increase those check in's in high distracting environments such as when we are walking with friends or working with clients but as Azul gets older this becomes easier. Adolescence is a long and trying time for both handler and dog. My next blog will focus on using environmental processing to help your adolescent dog be more successful.

July Party Schedule

Announcing our Summer Session Special! We are starting with an altered scheduled for July 1st -3rd Monday, July 1st, all of our Group Walker...