Saturday, December 3, 2022

FAD Introducing New Dogs Slowly

It's super important to introduce dogs that have never met very slowly, helping both dogs to have a great experience. Sometimes we decide to bring new dogs into our home to live with us. Sometimes we are going to a family member's house for a holiday. We as humans tend to think, "Oh my dog gets along with everyone!" But that is not true, some dogs simply don't like dogs that (insert behavior here). Azul has a pretty hard stare that lots of dogs do not like. Azul doesn't like strange dogs jumping with paws to his face. Several of the younger puppies we've met recently have be been over-excited, jumpy, obnoxious little monsters. LOL Typical puppy behavior, but I limit Azul's exposure to this so that he doesn't feel the need to get grumpy with hyper puppies. All dogs, just like people have things they like and dislike. For some, making new friends is easy but for others it's hard.

I have a set of exercises that I like to do to help dog's greet and I finally had the change to record some of the work involved yesterday with a client's dog and my Yooper Paws Assistant Faith.


Willow, an adolescent of 9-10 months old, has never met my Service Dog & Demo Dog, Azul. Since Willow's human is unable to work on outdoor training and exercise, my Yooper Paws Assistant, Faith joined me for a "tag team" training session.

Since Willow had never met Faith, Faith started out walking Azul while I led Willow away from her house to walk her neighborhood. This part isn't in the video because running a camera with a dog in this situation would have been too much. But to start with we used natural things in the neighborhood (trees, poles, vehicles, houses) as visual blockers so only 1 dog was looking at the other dog at a time. When Willow was focusing on me doing training exercises, Faith allowed Azul to watch. Then we switched with Faith doing exercises with Azul. And we made sure to maintain a safe distance apart where both dogs could be comfortable and focus on their handler. The video starts with a short clip to show how over excited Willow starts at the beginning of the session with Azul at 50+ ft away.
The next part shows Faith and Willow doing some easy focus and walking work to get to know each other and build a relationship since they had never met before this session. They are doing this at far distance of 60-70 ft away from Azul so that Azul is not a distraction while they build up some team work.
Once they develop some teamwork, Faith starts slowly shrinking the distance between Willow and the fence that separates the dogs. You can see how Azul is attached to my car on a 20 ft longline so he can move freely around the area choosing to be close to the fence or backing off. Willow is also working on a longline that was 10 ft long.
There is a section of the video where Faith and Willow are walking straight at the fence and Azul, being the distraction at the fence. This is demonstrate how easily a dog can become over-excited or stressed when approaching head on. I don't advice having greetings this way. You can see that Faith stops the moment Willow goes from happy to over-excited and hangs out there for a moment while I work with Azul to stop staring at Willow and move away from his side of the fence. Not in the video, but after this demo Willow and Azul were allowed to meet and sniff through the fence. At one point in this video, Willow was beginning to get over-excited and Faith used some steps as a visual blocker by moving on the other side of the blocker and do some relaxation sniffing, then they did some parkour practice at the bottom of the steps before returning to walking back and forth, slowly getting closer to Azul and I. When both dogs were comfortable at 10-12 ft away from each other we went for a "group walk" by going back to neighborhood style walking. We started on opposite sides of the road, relaxing and letting the dogs sniff. We always made sure the dogs were not in line with one another. One dog was always behind with the other dog out in front and switched places when the one in front stopped to sniff.
We slowly moved the dogs closer shrinking the distance between us, bringing the dogs closer to each, and walking next to each other for very short periods and moving away again. The final part of the video shows how we did this. While Willow and Azul got along just fine by the end of the walk, I still wouldn't walk them together by myself but Willow's energy would annoy Azul. We also agreed that playing would not be a good idea for these dogs at the moment. They will need a bit more work around each other before they are totally comfortable enough for high excitement activities such as playing.

Rules to Follow When Introducing New Dogs

  1. Get dogs together in a neutral area that doesn't belong to either dog. We used a park in the neighborhood of the younger dog to help her feel more comfortable.
  2. Start a long way away from each other.
  3. Use things in the environment as visual blockers to allow dogs to see it each other but avoiding long term staring.
  4. If either dog struggles with over-excitement or reactive behavior, you're too close and need to move further away. Work at the dog's emotional speed without rushing it!
  5. Move closer when one dog is distracted, looking the other direction. Do not walk straight at each other with both dogs looking at each other!
  6. Practice well known behaviors such as getting focus, u-turns, hand targets & heelwork games. This encourages the dogs to focus more on their person then the other dog.
  7. Use high value rewards for engaging with their person, ignoring the other dog.
  8. Parallel walks with lots of distance between in an open field or on opposite sides of the street can be a great way to get dogs moving in the same direction without invading each other's space.
  9. Use the longest leash or longline that is safest for the dog you have and the environment you are in. This allows for a loser leash giving the dog the choice to move closer to the distraction or further away, which ever makes them feel safest. Then the handler only moves forward when their dog is focused on them.
  10. Always do the first nose to nose greeting through a barrier of some sorts: Confident dog in a crate, new dog exploring near the crate. A fence at the park with lots of distance on both sides. Baby gates in the house to divide rooms. Be Safe! Use safety measures until dogs have shown that they can co-exist calmly before allowing them to be together in more exciting times.


Thursday, December 1, 2022

December Theme

December Theme of the Month
Things to Do With Your Dog in December

This month I decided to keep things easy! We all tend to get busy during the holidays and sometimes that means we leave our dogs out. I want to encourage all our Yooper Paws friends to think about ways to include their dog in the holiday season.  Here is a list of ideas to get you started!

  1. Review Holiday Things that Safe/Harmful for Dogs

  2. Letter to Santa Paws

  3. Tree Lighting Ceremony

  4. Create a Homemade Gift for your Dog Azul's new penguin mat.

  5. Puppy Playdate with a Friend

  6. String Dog Bone Treats for a Christmas Countdown (I guess I missed this one.)

  7. Make a Puppy Christmas Card

  8. Sing Christmas Carols to Your Dog (This happens in the car almost daily!)

  9. Make Holiday Dog Treats

  10. Christmas Lights Drive/Sniff-a-bout

  11. Start a New Holiday Tradition

  12. Make a Puppy Ornament

  13. Share a Treat By the Fire

  14. Donate a Dog Toy

  15. Walk with a Friend (This is going to have to wait till after Christmas due to the cold temps!)

  16. Watch a Holiday Movie 

  17. Hang a Paw Print Decoration on Your Door (yep missed it!)

  18. Hang a Stocking for your Dog

  19. Pause and Reflect About the Past Year With Your Dog

  20. Dance with Your Dog

  21. Read a Book to Your Dog

  22. Play in the Snow

  23. Dress Up Together

  24. Have a Gift Exchange with Another Dog Owner (Jen & Betsy exchanged gifts with us.)

  25. Donate Dog Food 

  26. Wrap a Present For Your Dog (Coming Soon)

  27. Make Cookies for Santa Paws

  28. Take Photo in Front of the Christmas Tree

  29. Make a Training List/Plan (Coming Soon)

  30. Prepare Treat Bags for Puppy Friends (Coming Soon)

  31. Share a Bit of Extra Love Together

  32. Spruce Up Your Dog’s Bed (Azul got a new pillow top for his raised bed on Black Friday)


Throughout the month, there were will be additional posts on as many of these items as we can get to with directions on how to do these things with your dog. BOLD means we've done it but don't have pictures or a post about it.

Please be smart and do all the things you and your dog can have fun doing together as a team!
It's important that you consider your dog's individual needs when you look at this list! If your dog doesn't like to dress up, skip list items that suggest that or keep it really simple like a new holiday collar. If your dog doesn't like crowds, you wouldn't take them to a Christmas tree lighting or parade.

If you want to share pictures of your activities with your dogs, email them to yooperpaws@gmail.com or send them to via messenger and I will post them on the Yooper Paws Facebook page and possibly even include them in a blog on that list item.

Have fun & Merry Christmas!



 

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Noticing Trainer Mistakes 2


 I want to continue on from a previous blog to talk about some common mistakes we make with our dogs. And when I say "WE" that does follow the one finger pointing at you with 3 fingers pointing back at me. Even with all my experience I still make mistakes and any trainer that tells you otherwise is lying to themselves. But before you get into this blog, make sure you have read Noticing Trainer Mistakes #1.

If you look at the picture above you might see Azul moving in to nip at Cam. While I trust these boys to communicate with each other and this was a small way to communicate that would not escalate, it is my mistake that led up to this. I had tossed treats off in the distance for Cam to find so I could have a few minutes with only Azul and I failed to see Cam coming back into our training zone. Cam, who is loosing his eye sight, didn't realize how close Azul was or that I was about give Azul a treat. If I had seen this coming I could have redirected Cam or asked him to stop without invading Azul's space.

Here are a few other common mistakes that I see far too often!

Making training sessions too long

This can be pushing our dog's attention span too far or trying to build duration a bit too rapidly. I see puppy owners trying to do long 1 hour sessions with a puppy who can only handle 1-3 minutes of extreme focus and no more than 20 minutes (often less) in a session that lots of different behaviors that are happening. We also tend to rush things when we are training something like down/stays because we think the dog can stay for 5 minutes however often the few times they stayed that long previously was more coincidence then training. As dog owners, we need to watch our dog's behavior even when we are training simple things the dog already understands to make sure we see their subtle signs that tell us it's time to end a session or a longer duration behavior.

Delivering treats too slowly and/or misplacing treats.

When we are using food as reinforcement, the value gets added to the last behavior the dog actually did. So if ask our dog to sit, they do and we struggle to get the treat fast enough so the dog then lays down. We still deliver the treat so our dog associates that reinforcement with laying down. This is OK if you don't care if your dog moves from a sit to down automatically. I let Azul do this all the time because he prefers laying down. However if you are working on a competition style sit that you want to be perfect, you muddy the behavior often causing confusion because your reinforcement was miss-timed. 

I see this all the time in more complex behaviors such as getting a check-in or eye contact while out on a walk. Our goal might be to reinforce the moment the dog looks up at us, but we could easily mess the timing up rewarding the dog for going back to sniffing. This can also be where misplacing treat delivery can apply. If our dog is pulling to get to a smell and we ask them to look up at us, then toss treats back on the ground we are actually reinforcing the sniffing of the ground. I toss treats on the ground all the time because I want my dog to enjoy sniffing the ground, especially if I'm trying to distract them from a nearby trigger. However I don't want to deliver reinforcement that prompts more sniffing if the original issue was caused by sniffing. In the example of a check-in due to pulling to sniff, I want to reward for first looking at me, then returning to the heel position to take the treat out of my hand. These are both behaviors that reduce the pulling to sniff instead of encouraging more pulling.

If you are struggling to modify a behavior that you don't want repeated such as pulling, barking, lunging, nipping, etc; consider the timing and delivery method of the reward!

Punishing desirable behavior.

A popular method of teaching dogs to do the behaviors we love is to reinforce the behavior when it naturally occurs...aka capturing the behavior. But a common behavior mistake is accidently punishing a desired behavior. Perhaps we have been working on training proximity or recall so we've been reinforcing our dog for these behaviors in our training sessions. Yet when we are not focused on the training session we often ignore or punish the dog when they follow us from room to room or put a leash on them when they choose to stop playing and come back to us on their own. We may accidently get annoyed at them following us everywhere and yell at them from time to time, which is a punishment based on our emotions in that moment. 

Sometimes we don't even realize that what we are doing is punishing! Azul for example has been reinforced heavily for simply being calm, laying down near me. Then we step into the backyard to play and when he chooses to lay down near me I decide he's done playing and take him inside.

Cam can also be used as a good example of punishing behaviors that was not intentional. With puppies who chew on everything, we might punish them for picking up items that do not belong to them by taking away those items and sometimes adding in physical or verbal punishment as well. Cam was likely punished for this before he came our way, but this impacted his ability to learn how to retrieve because he was not willing to put his mouth on anything except his ball. When we take treasures away, we teach our dog that running away with the treasure or guarding the treasure is more reinforcing. But if we trade up to a different option that is reinforcing for our dog, we still keep our items safe and reward our dog for not chewing them up or running off with them.

Reinforcing unwanted behavior. 

We've already looked at this in a few situations where either our timing or delivery was off, but we can also accidently reinforce unwanted behavior without meaning to deliver reinforcement. I had this discussion with a client today. Their young puppy was developing the habit of mouthing hands as an attention seeking behavior when the puppy was over-excited. Puppies naturally mouth things, yet we dislike this behavior because it hurts and easily gets carried away becoming a bad habit. Most generally we want to redirect puppy biting by giving them a toy to mouth instead of our hands. But in this situation, the puppy already had pretty amazing bite inhibition (a really gentle mouth) so his mouthing wasn't painful and his whole goal was to get attention. By redirecting to a toy we would be giving him the attention he wanted. By yipping or telling him to stop biting we would also be giving him attention. Even negative attention is sometimes more rewarding then no attention at all. So in this particular case of puppy mouthing I suggest the owner totally ignore the behavior by either holding their hands still so hands became less exciting or putting hands in pockets so they were no longer accessible. I chose to simply hold still and let puppy mouth my hand while I ignored them because A- it wasn't hurting in the slightest & B- the puppy soon got bored, laying down beside me and I was able to reward the calm behavior the owner was after instead of the mouthing.

Failing to teach a dog to generalize. 

If you're not familiar with the term "generalize" this means teaching a behavior in multiple environments until you reach the point where the dog can do that behavior in almost any environment. Teaching our dogs to lay calmly at our feet comes to mind here! We often do this in the house where we want to be calm, then take puppy to go visit a friend's house and the puppy turns into the energizer bunny, unable to lay down and relax. While this may start simply because the new environment is exciting, but some puppies really struggle to with calmness. My son's puppy Finn is a great example of that, even if it's a bit backwards to the way it typically works. Finn lives in a very busy house filled with action, but when he goes outside with my son they are usually doing calm activities. Finn is amazingly calm outside for his age, happy to simply follow my son around the farm. But inside where the kids are, Finn is a total spaz unless taken to nap in his crate. He has learned to lay down and relax outside while my son does farm work. But he hasn't learned to lay down inside where there is always at least one person moving around the room doing something. Azul on the other hand was totally opposite as puppy, easily settling in the house and a total spaz outside the house. We need to practice all behaviors we want our dogs to repeat in a wide variety of environments until they understand that behavior and can easily do it in multiple settings before we start adding in additional distractions.

Using only treats as a reinforcement. 

This is a huge one for me and also for many trainers! Food is the easiest reinforcement for us humans to learn how to use correctly with good timing and treat delivery. We can then apply these mechanics to training multiple behaviors rather easily. Most dogs are also very responsive to food reinforcement making a Go-To reinforcement for many trainers. However there are some issues that come up when you only use food motivators. 

What do you do when you run out of food? How about when your dog is full? What about if they are not feeling well? A dog in fight, flight, or freeze mode will stop digesting and therefore becomes temporarily unable to take treats but you still might need to get them away from something dangerous. 

For a dog who is not food motivated, offering treats can actually become punishing or discourage behaviors you want repeated simply because the dog is tired of you shoving food in their face.

While it's harder to learn to use toys, games, and environmental reinforcers for behaviors, it's much easier in the long run if you've added some of these to your reinforcement options. When Azul had tummy issues at 8 months old, I basically lost all opportunities to reinforce anything. That's when I learned to use other methods of reinforcement. His tummy issues are gone, but now he loves still loves environmental reinforcers way more than food. Plus I'm a much better trainer for being pushed to think outside of the box and learn what was really motivating to my dog.

Being inconsistent with cues

This one is still an issue for me! With my brain fog, a common issue is mixing up words saying one thing while I mean something entirely different. While most people do not have that issue with verbal cues, it's much more common for people to deliver inconsistent body language cues. Often that's simply because we don't think about what we are doing with our body when we are training. Remember the mouthy puppy? He was over-excited because I just showed up at his house, then here I was moving my hands around "talking with hand gestures" without paying attention to it therefore prompting him unconsciously to mouth my hands.

Since dogs often speak & understand body language long before they understand verbal cues, we allow inconsistent cues by not paying attention to what our body is doing. We want our dog to lay down so one time we might point to the floor, another time we might put a flat hand on the floor, and another time we might tap the floor. Each time we do something different with our body, yet continue to think that since we are using the same word consistently that our dog will understand what we want. You may have heard a force free training using the phrase, "Name it when you love it!" This is because we often learn to train giving the verbal cue first then doing whatever body language seems to work in that moment. However we can use much clearer communication if we focus on body language first and add the verbal cue later. This is especially true if more then one person sometimes gives cues to the dog. I train a ton of hand signals, but if other family members are using different hand signals the dog easily becomes confused. Words are easier for most humans and signals are easier for most dogs. Consistency is key!

Stay tuned for another post in the near future with some videos with some pretty obvious mistakes!

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