Saturday, April 23, 2022

Therapy Dog Visits

 Azul and Maverick went on their first official Therapy Dog visit at the Dickinson County Library.  Both dogs are registered with the Alliance of Therapy Dogs and about to start the Bow Wow Books program where kids can practice their reading skills by reading to the dogs.

I thought I'd take a moment to clear up some confusion about Service Dogs & Therapy Dogs, as both dogs are dual trained to do both jobs.  Therapy Dogs must enjoy social experiences with strangers and be trained in basic manners that ensure they can conduct themselves safely.  Service Dogs also most be trained in basic manners that ensure they can conduct themselves safely however they also must be task trained to provide assistance to disabled individuals.  Not all Therapy Dogs are Service Dogs and not all Service Dogs are Therapy Dogs, but some dogs can do both roles.

Azul was trained as a Medical Alert Service Dog as his primary job.  He does 3 types of medical alerts and a whole ton of response tasks including retrieval tasks and light mobility tasks.  It was very apparent at a young age, that Azul loves children.  By 8 months old, he was able to ignore people in public situations according to general Service Dog standards but we often visited with friendly people in outdooor environments.  Being able to greet people with permission is a highlight is a highlight in his daily adventures.  Therefore by the time Azul was 1 year old we started working toward becoming a Therapy Dog to provide him with an opportunity to have some fun.

Maverick on the other hand has been raised and trained for Therapy Dog work as his primary role working with his handler at a Child Advocacy Center.  However as Maverick matured, he started alerting to his handler's medical conditions so we also started task training to become a Service Dog as well.

It's important to note that not all Therapy Dogs would make good Service Dogs and not all Service Dogs would make good Therapy Dogs.  Each job has a specific skill set and training standard.  But some dogs have the personality and skills to be able to manage both jobs at the same time.

It's also important to note that Therapy Dogs do not have access to public places such as Service Dogs.  The American's with Disabilities Act (ADA) states that disabled individuals shall be granted access to public places with their trained Service Dog.  (There are a few exceptions to places that must all this access.)  However Therapy Dogs are only allowed in non-pet friendly places when in invited by the owner, management, and/or staff.  Health codes prohibit places that sell open food from inviting dogs into these areas, so restaurants and grocery stores can't invite a Therapy Dog into the store to go shopping with their handler.  However hospitals, nursing homes, schools and libraries are not pet friendly establishments, but they can invite Therapy Dogs in to provide services to clients and/or staff.

The other important note of distinction between Therapy Dogs and Service Dogs is who they are trained to help and how.  Service Dogs, according to ADA, are there to support their handler by doing things that the handler can not do by themselves.  Therapy Dogs on the other hand are there to support all the people around them in a specific situation.  Often Therapy Dogs will visit hospitals and nursing homes to help spread cheer and uplift the spirits of those who might be in a stressful situation.  Therapy Dogs often visit schools, libraries, and other places where they can do educational things such as reading programs, mentoring programs and animal welfare programs.

Both Service Dogs & Therapy Dogs need to have great manners in public environments and remain under their handler control at all times.  Both dogs can be asked to leave any business if their behavior is not acceptable or gives an appearance of aggression or other safety concerns.  Dogs are not robots and sometimes make mistakes such as sniffing items that are not theirs, moving in for a kiss, or other impulsive act.  However it's the handler's responsibility for knowing their dog's weaknesses and taking appropriate measures to prevent these mistakes.  For example, if young kids often get the dog excited the handler would ask their dog to sit or lay down before allowing the children to approach so the dog doesn't accidently know the child over.  In both situations, handlers are responsible for the safety of their dog and ensuring the dog has acceptable manners for the environment they are working in.

If you'd like to learn more about Service Dogs, check out my SD Tips  page.  

If you'd like to learn more about Therapy Dogs, I suggest you visit the Alliance of Therapy Dogs website.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Reinforce & Repeat

 Reinforce + Repeat = Good Behavior!

I decided to pull in this blast from the past to address today's myth and discuss using food treats as reinforcement for good behavior!  This picture shows my granddaughter several years ago as she was learning how to use treats as reinforcement with my first Service Dog.

Myth:  You have to show the dog you are boss if you want them to listen to you!

If that were true, our dogs would not work for children!  And quite frankly, they wouldn't work for lots of people in general who are softer voiced with passive mannerisms.  I don't want my dogs doing things because they think they have to in order to please me.  Instead I want them to choose the behaviors they know will please me because that choice will lead to great things happening.  I'm not going to debate this highly debate triggering topic in this blog because it would be totally one-sided.  But I'm happy to show you the science behind positive reinforcement training if want to see it.

Instead I want to talk a little bit about being a "Cookie Pusher!"  This seems to be a common topic that some people look at using treats as reinforcement as a great thing while others would rather not use treats as reinforcement.  If you check out the February posts on Reinforcement, linked here, you can see how I use lots of different reinforcement methods in training.  So today I'm going to focus on how I use food reinforcement for various types of training.

Training New Skills

The #1 reason so many dog trainers use treats during training sessions is that it is easiest for humans to use quickly and effectively to tell a dog when they are doing something right.  When you are training something totally new, timing is everything!  Being able to mark, reinforce, and repeat rapidly can make or break your training ability.  Once your dog learns the behavior you can add in other forms of reinforcement, but food helps you get to that point.

Training Around Distractions

It's easy to use a wide variety of value in food reinforcement and adjust the value to be greater or equal to the distraction that presents itself.  This is especially important when training in public environments!  I like mix up a bag of Puppy Trail Mix before heading out to train at the local park, community event or pet friendly environments.  Then I can use this Trail Mix while training Service Dog Public Access as well.  (Directions for Trail Mix below!)

Training Around Fearful Distractions

If you're dog has a fearful response to practically anything (thunder, people, snakes...anything real or imagined!) you can use high value food reinforcement to carefully desensitize your dog to that fear, then countercondition them to believe that object is not so scary because it predicts great things are coming.  This is a very challenging process, so if your dog is fearful you want to work with a Behavior Consultant to create a training plan to work on this correctly.  Otherwise you can actually make your dog's fear worse if you attempt this incorrectly!

What treats do I use and how do I use them?

This is a question I get asked quite regularly!  So I created this list of frequently used dog treats that my dogs like and reasons that I use them.

Puppy Trail Mix

Making trail mix is really easy!  I use about 50% low value treats like kibble or small pieces of milkbones, 25% mid-value treats, and 25% high value treats.  Of course I adjust those percentages based on the training I have planned.  If I'm working a higher distraction environment or generalizing a fairly new behavior I want a higher value mix.

To use the trail mix, is dependent on the training session.  If I'm working on a concept such as checking in with me on a hike, I'm going to toss out variable treats of mixed value when my dog repeats the behavior I'm working on.  This way the dog has no idea what treat they will earn which keeps them trying and offering the behavior frequently.  If I'm not working on a specific concept by want to reinforce known behaviors, I'm going to use the lower value treats to reinforce easy behaviors and pick out the higher value for more difficult behaviors or newer behaviors.

All of my training clients know that my treat bag is typically filled with a variety of treats.  This is especially important with picky eaters or working with multiple dogs as a treat that is low value to one dog might be high value to another dog.

I hope this post helps you to learn to use your "Cookies!" more effectively in training sessions!

Monday, April 18, 2022

Myths about using Positive Reinforcement

There are many myths surrounding the basic idea of using Positive Reinforcement (R+) Dog Training.  I'm going to try to tackle several of them in one post.  However, this could be a very long post if I can't manage to keep it short.  😄  And if you know me, you know how hard it is for me to keep anything short!  But I'm going to try, so if you want more info on any of these myths let me know!

Myth #1: Positive Reinforcement Training Doesn't Work with All Dogs!

The most important aspect of R+ training is understanding what is reinforcing for the dog.  Most people find it easier to use food reinforcement during training sessions, however if you have a picky or non-food motivated dog food simply might not work well.  The trick here is to find something your dog loves which might be food, toys, sniff-a-bouts, petting, happy words....the list is endless.  Then you have to figure out how to pair that reinforcement with the behaviors you want your dog to repeat.  I do a whole series of posts on reinforcement in my February Theme of the Month: Focus on Behaviors.

Myth #2:  Once the Cookies Stop, My Dog Stops Working!

I often hear clients comment, "I don't want to have to carry dog treats with me forever!"  But here is my answer, if you do your training right you won't have too!  Now let me explain that a bit.  Some people choose to carry treats around forever, which is totally fine as most dogs continue to learn for their whole lifetime and there is always a training opportunity just around the corner so it's best to be prepared!

R+ Training is designed on the principle of using reinforcement to teach the behaviors you want and the concepts to help your dog be successful in the people world we put them in.  While reinforcement should continue throughout the dog's life, that reinforcement changes as the behaviors become more natural or routine for that dog.  The easiest way to understand this is in terms of the reinforcement schedule you use when training a new behavior.  If you're teaching your dog to sit, you reinforce each and every sit until this behavior becomes more frequent and you switch to a variable reinforcement schedule with a cookie given when your asking your puppy to sit in a more distracting environment but not necessarily every time they sit in the house.  You add another behavior after the sit such as down or a paw target like shake, so then don't specifically reinforce the sit but you do reinforce the second behavior.  Then you are teaching the pup to wait at intersections so again you reinforce the sit in this situation until the pup understands the concept of waiting before crossing the road.  And lastly you find other ways of reinforcing the sit behavior for that dog such as when they sit at the door waiting to go outside, use may use a cookie to teach this behavior but eventually the act of going outside becomes reinforcing enough and a cookie is no longer needed.

The point is, if you don't want to always have cookies on you then train other primary reinforcers to take the place of those cookies!  Azul would much rather hear one of his "happy" words such as good boy, rockstar, and awesomesauce or be able to go sniff the environment or say hi to a new friend than he would rather be given a cookie.

Myth #3: Positive Reinforcement Training is Permissive!

This is actually a two-fold myth!  Commonly people think that R+ Trainers do not set criteria that involves consequences AND that R+ Trainers ignore bad behaviors.

First, R+ Training is founded on the ABC principle.  Antecedent - Behavior - Consequence.  The antecedent is something that happens such as a new distraction enters the environment.  The behavior is what the dog does in response to that distraction.  And the consequence is what the person does in response to the dog's behavior.  

This is commonly where it starts!  A squirrel crosses your dog's path.  The dog pulls on the leash.  The person stops moving forward, thus preventing the dog from reaching the squirrel.  

This is what a R+ Trainer typically trains toward!  A squirrel crosses your dog's path.  The dog sits and looks toward their owner instead of trying to chase after the squirrel.  The person gives the dog a cookie.  And with practice, the dog learns the person is more fun than squirrel thus ignoring the squirrel.

So where does this scenario go wrong?  (Because many dogs never learn to stop chasing that squirrel!)  There are lots of room for error in R+ Training!  But most generally it boils down to the person not being consistent with training or not using reinforcement of a high enough value in the moment.  For example, if we frequently allow our dog to be unsupervised in a fenced in area or run off leash on a trail they may be reinforcing themselves by chasing the squirrel while off leash.  This becomes more and more fun meaning we have to use higher and higher value reinforcement if we want this behavior to stop.  This leads us to the second part of this myth about R+ Trainers ignoring bad behaviors.

R+ Trainers believe that dogs need time to be dogs and do natural dog behaviors!  Dogs with a huge prey drive need to chase things.  That might not be squirrels or other wildlife, but a more owner approved method of chasing things.  Azul loves his flirt pole which activates his chase drive and since he is not a high prey drive animal, that is enough for him.  Cam is a high prey drive animal and chasing tennis balls has been developed to be more reinforcing then chasing wildlife.  And since our yard is filled with trees that squirrels can easily escape in, I don't mind if they chase the squirrel in our yard as long as they don't do it when they are on leash.  

This is where the owner has to make the decision about what are the house rules when it comes to chasing squirrels.  Is that always off limits?  Is that OK in some situations and not others?  And if so, how do I teach my dog(s) when it is OK vs NOT OK.

Another big example is digging...some dogs love to dig more then others.  Is it fair to force that dog that loves to dig to never enjoy digging?  As humans do we have that moral right?  I don't think we have the right to force our morals on any other human or animal.  I don't want holes in my yard and I don't want my vegetable garden or flowers dug up.  But I'm happy to have my dog dig in the tall grass of our field or in the sand at the beach or the leaf pile we find in the woods.  By providing the approved places to dig often enough to satisfy the dog's needs, they avoid digging in the unapproved places as a way to co-exist.

Myth #4: Positive Reinforcement Trainers believe that nothing bad should ever happen to their dog.

This is a hard truth for many new in the Force Free world and you'll probably find there is a wide variety of opinions on this one.  I can't speak for every R+ Trainer out there, but I can share MY opinion on this myth.

There is a whole bunch of evil in our world and most commonly humans are involved in that evil in some fashion.  Bad people do bad things to animals all the time.  There are also plenty of bad things that happen totally on accident.  I don't want to deny that bad things happen that are out of our control quite regularly.  But I don't want my dog(s) to expect bad things to come from ME!  This is why I don't believe in using aversive training tools such as shock collars, prong collars, or choke collars.  I want my dogs to trust that in all circumstances, I will do what is best and safest for everyone involved.  (I want my human connections to believe that as well!)

I also want to prepare my dog to trust me when bad things happen.  Going to Vet or getting groomed is not necessarily always going to be pleasurable but it sometimes has to happen.  When those negative or aversive things have to happen, I want me dog to feel comfortable leaning on me for support instead of feeling like they need to stop the negative activity by lashing out.  

It's very common for dogs to develop a fear of thunder and we as dog owners simply can't control mother nature, but we can control how we respond to that thunder and teach our dogs that we are there to help them through that emotionally upsetting activity.  We can't control what we has people are scared of or the phobias that often follow us are whole lifetimes.  I'm totally afraid of mice and I'm not afraid to admit it.  If I see a mouse run across my path, I'm going to scream and panic.  My sympathetic family then deals with catching and removing the mouse before I burn the house down.  As a trainer, I want to understand my dog(s) fears, whether they are rational or irrational, and be there to offer my support through that rough time.  

I can't prevent the bad from happening but I can train in a way that prepares the dog to deal with their fears in a healthier method.  Cam is extremely fearful of dogs he does not know and struggles greatly to read canine body language as he never learned to do this as a young dog.  When he came to us, Cam had been the aggressor in multiple dog fights simply because he lashes out first in hopes of preventing them from attacking him.  Our first lessons with Cam were all based on building a foundation of trust in us as his family. (Us meaning myself and my 2 teenagers at that time.)  Once we had the trust, we could work on safe exposure to other dogs at quite a huge distance away. (We started at over 200 yards away from other dogs!)  When then taught Cam through reinforcement that he would be safe if he maintained his heel on the opposite side of his person then the strange dog.  This meant absolutely no walking on trails or public spaces where other dogs might be present where we couldn't put this huge distance between us until Cam learned to have more trust.  We also taught him that sitting in that heel position or slightly behind his person was a safe place to watch strange dogs from a distance.  And eventually we were able to shrink that distance and merge the heeling and sitting behind his person into real life situations and even taking controlled walks around dogs he did not know safely.  (Note I said HE did not know, as we always work around dogs and people that I know and trust to follow my safety rules!)  Cam now has tools that he can use in situations where he sees other dogs, but he is never going to be happy and emotionally OK with greeting random dogs on hikes.  And I will always do my best to stop random dogs from entering Cam's bubble, which now is only a few feet around his head.

Myth #5: Positive Reinforcement Trainers use Punishment but Refuse to Admit It!

I think the important thing here is understanding the difference between punishment and negative reinforcement.  Everyone who has dogs uses management tools that their dog may not love.  Even clipping a leash on our dog and asking them to walk at our slow pace can be aversive to dogs that love to move at a much quick pace naturally.  Just like we can't prevent all bad or scary things from happening, we can't simply allow our dogs to run around at will, expecting them to make safe choices.  Trust me when I say I've learned this lesson the hard way!  The responsible owner uses a leash of some sorts when walking in public places.  If I have a new dog visiting my house, I use baby gates to create safe spaces for the visitor and Cam.  We use crates and fences to create safe spaces for our dogs.  As responsible owners we have to put safety first, for our dogs, other people, and ourselves!  I've never met a dog who actually enjoyed wearing a head halter, but sometimes that is the safest way to prevent that dog from injuring themselves, their owners, and other people.  I have a client that weighs less then her Great Dane yet has to walk her adolescent dog safely, so yes her management tools include a dual clip leash on a harness and a head halter.  Azul uses a dual clip leash in moderate to high distraction areas.  Of course he'd rather be off leash in those environments and management tools are then aversive to him but are necessary!

The whole Force Free belief is founded on using the least intrusive, minimally aversive tools possible while setting the dog up for success by working in environments that allow them to stay under threshold emotionally.  I don't ask Cam to go on trail walks on busy trails with the possibility of repeat exposure to strange dogs.  Instead Cam walks with us in quieter locations and stays home when Azul and I are working in higher distraction environments.  In Force Free training, you have to accept your dog for who they are and plan training sessions that build their confidence with success.

I hope I addressed some of these myths in the world of Positive Reinforcement!  I'm happy to discuss these with you further if you'd like!  

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Medical Alert Workgroup - Sight Based Alerts


Yooper Paws of Love and Cindy Campbell Dog Training are again partnering to bring you another Medical Alert Workgroup to teach you how to train your Service Dog to do Medical Alerts for a wide variety of medical disabilities that present with behavior based indicators of a need for action.  This is wide range of medical conditions from seizures to psych issues and so much in between.  We will be focusing on training a specific alert behavior the dog can do to let their human know a medical issue is about to happen based on the dog seeing (or hearing) a certain triggering behavior.

This workgroup will meet for 6 Zoom based sessions beginning Monday, May 18th and taking place every other Monday night for the next 12 weeks.  It's not mandatory to participate in the Zoom meeting as each meeting will be recorded and a replay made available.  But it's definitely more beneficial for you to participate live and ask your questions during the Zoom meeting.  

We will also be using our +R SD Task group on Facebook as a platform for group communication between Zoom meetings and can start a Facebook Messenger Chat for those in the workgroup that want meeting reminders and help with the assigned homework.  Yes!  There will be homework!  After each Zoom you will have 1 or 2 actions to do with your dog in the training process.  These should take you less then 5 minutes a day, but are best if you can do them daily and why we meet every other week so you have time to build up your SD team between the Zoom Meetings.

The cost of this class is $75, which is an awesome deal considering all the information and support we offer to all the workgroup participants!  If you'd like to register, please fill out the form below.  You will receive an email with payment options once your registration has been processed and you have been approved as a participant.  For this to be successful, we must keep the Workgroup small and therefore we ask that you only participate if you have already have a Service Dog or Service Dog in Training that is at least 1 yr old or older and that you have been training together as a team for at least 6 months.

Thank you for registering!  

You will receive an email once we process your registration.  Feel free to reach out to if you have any additional questions.

Canine Yoga

 Our dogs work hard and play harder, but how do we help them unwind?

The Yoga Fad has taken the world by storm and there are plenty of videos of how people add their dogs to their yoga routine.  It can be fun to see if we can get our dogs to get into traditional yoga posses with us.  But does that benefit our dogs or us?  There are some trainers that are working to create a yoga practice that is of benefit to our dogs.  Here are some things to help you develop something that helps your dog.

Before we get started there are a few things to set up.

  1. It's important to give your dog a choice in whether to participate or not!  Do these activities in an off leash area to start such as inside your house or fenced in backyard.  You can also use a longline for safety once you move out into the environment.
  2. Be sure to have food and water available nearby that they can freely exercise.  While water is super important for hydration, many dogs will walk over to get a drink when they need a mental break then re-engage in an activity after a few seconds away.  If your dog is making frequent trips to the water bowl (more then normal) you can guess they are not real comfortable doing the action you want them to do.
  3. Set up a mat or blanket as your work area and spend a few minutes loading the mat to show your dog they are free to choose or disengage.  To load the mat, you simply provide treats and praise when your dog stands on the mat then stop when they walk off the mat.  During the yoga session we will continue to reinforce the dog's choice to come and go as they please.
Doing this style of yoga with your dog, builds with time and practice so your first sessions may be short, only doing a few things and lasting 1-3 minutes.  However, if you take it slow your dog will begin to enjoy it more and more wanting to engage in this practice with you daily.  

The first yoga activity you do with your dog is to create a base position of your dog's choice.  This basic position should be something your dog loves to do and does often very naturally when they are holding still in a sit, down, or stand.  The goal is get them comfortable and relaxed in this base position for 3 big breaths.  If you do yoga yourself, you might be familiar with this concept of a relaxed hold of  simply being present in your surroundings.  You will want to start session with this position and come back to it often in your yoga session.

Once you have set up your yoga environment and created your base position you are ready to get into various other positions and exercises in your yoga session.  The particular order you do these positions in is not important.  Remember to do things that are easy for your dog to do, slowly increasing the difficulty of the activity.  If you are doing a stretching activity, you may only ask your dog to stretch an inch or less in the beginning and work your way into a longer stretch.  If you're doing a behavior that involves holding a position for a length of time, expect 1-2 seconds at first and slowly increase.  You want your dog to be successful so they choose to keep participating.  If your dog walks away disengaging make note of the last thing you did as you may have been pushing too far too fast!

Here are some of our favorite positions:

Paw Stretches:  

If you've taught your dog to shake, do High 5's or wave at friends this will be super easy for you.  You start by doing the activities your dog knows and slowly making it more difficult by raising their paw to various heights; lower, higher, slightly left, slight right.

Neck Stretches:  

This is a basic side to side movement, starting with your dog looking directly at you.  You want to be careful not lure your dog into neck stretches as you may accidently ask them to stretch farther then what is comfortable to reach the food.  

If you play the engage/disengage game, you might already be familiar with this type of action.  You can have your dog look at you then look at your hand slightly off to the side.  If you have a helper in the room, you can have them move behind you or slightly off to your dog's side.  I like to practice this with my dog standing between my legs, facing the same direction I'm facing as this allows me to extend my arms out with a toy for my dog to look at.  

You want to watch for signs of unbalanced movement here!  If our dog's spend lots of time in a heel position, it's not uncommon for their neck to turn more easily in the direction of looking up at us then then opposition direction.  If you notice they struggle or can't turn as far in the opposition direction, that can be an early sign of a neck issue!  Be sure to take it slow in doing exercises to help expand their ability to turn to the weaker side.

Shakes & Shivers:

This is not shake as in give me your paw, but more the full body shake that your dog does when they get out of the bathtub.  To make it easier to understand, I refer to this full body release as a shiver, simply because that's the cue I teach to my dogs when I'm capturing this behavior naturally.  We notice this natural position most when our dogs are wet as they release extra water with this full body movement.  But have you noticed your dog doing this other times?  Many dogs will do this behavior after a stressful event or long duration of focus.  It's not uncommon to see a Service Dog do a shiver after exiting a business as a release mechanism to help them relax.  By adding this action to our yoga routine, it gives us a chance to practice and reinforce putting the behavior on cue.  And since the shiver is most commonly taught with the capturing method of rewarding it when it happens, we can keep our eyes out for it knowing that if it's happening without a cue we are most likely pushing our dogs just a bit too far too fast or the activity we just did was a bit harder then we thought it was.  If you see your dog do the shiver behavior, be sure to capture, mark and reward it if you want to teach your dog a cue for doing it.

Full Body Stretches:

The most common full body stretch is a a bow position, having your dog move the front legs into a down position while the back legs remain in the standing position.  There are a variety of ways to teach this position.  For yoga, the idea is to have your dog move into position and hold it for 1 second, slowly increasing the time your dog can hold the position.  Don't worry if they can't hold it for long and move into a down position because that stretch they do from the front down/back up position into the all down position is great to practice.

If your dog is familiar with the bow position and you've been able to add some time holding the position moving into the bow and back up to stand then switching and moving from the bow to the down helps to develop excellent body tone and stretch out muscles your dog may not use often in normal day to day activities.  If you do yoga, this position is commonly referred to as the downward dog for good reason as it comes naturally to many of our dogs.

Head Down or Chin Rest Stretches

Teaching a chin rest target can have some great rewards for both us and our dogs.  Many Service Dog Handlers use the chin rest target for various skills we train our dogs to do.  I teach this to all dogs because it's an easy way to spend some time reinforcing calm behaviors.  The basic way to train the chin rest is start with using your hand as a target so you can easily position your hand slightly below your dog's chin and reward your dog for the slight movement that involves touching your hand.  Now to add that to your canine yoga practice you can move the target your dog is doing the chin rest in in slow proximations.  So if your just starting out, you simply move your hand slightly up, down, left, right, forward as your dog matches the movement to place their chin on your hand.

If your dog is familiar with doing a chin rest, you can add in various targets such as your lap, your foot, your back, or my favorite is my neck or shoulder area.  As you change up the location of where you are asking your dog to place their chin, you can slowly get them to move or stretch slightly more and more during your yoga sessions.  

Standing Steps

The goal of this exercise is to encourage our dogs to stand still and move just one or two legs at a time in the direction we are asking them.  If you are just starting out, you may simply focus on getting movement in the direction you are asking and not pay attention to how many feet are moving.  Practice moving 1 step forward, 1 step backwards and maybe even 1 step to the side.

If you teach foot targets, this is an easy way to add it movement of one foot at a time.  Not only is this a great rainy day mental activity but helps develop coordination and muscle tone which can prevent future injuries.  You're goal during yoga sessions should be controlled (by the dog, not you) slow movements that involve thought and intentional placement instead of simple reactionary movement.

You can add in targets of various heights, sizes, and textures to make this even more challenging for more advanced dogs.  Remember, the whole goal of yoga is to help your dog relax and increase their ability to move fluidly so don't push them to reach targets that are too challenging!

Slow Turns & Weaves

Again there are many ways to teach this skill, but my favorite is by doing a figure 8 pattern around my legs.  This is perfect for a dog that loves to play tug, but since yoga is supposed to be calming don't use a tug toy if will amp them up to much.  The key here is slow turns in a controlled (by dog) pattern.  

I start in my default position of having my dog between my legs.  Then I can ask my dog to go around either my left or my right leg, moving back into the position between my legs.  If you are using food as a reward, you may want to reward each step forward as your dog makes the tighter turn around your legs.  If you are using a toy they will often simply follow the toy till it gets back to the center position.  

A few things to remember!

Watch for off center actions!  If your dog can turn to the left easier then they can turn to the right (or vise versa) this may be indication of pain in a specific muscle or joint.  If you're concerned, be sure to see your Vet.  It could also be an indication that your dog does more actions in that direction throughout your day to day activity, therefore you can be more conscious to work on moving the opposite direction in your yoga, games and training sessions to help strengthen the muscles on that side.

Like anything else, it's important to start small and build up naturally and in slow increments.  My end goal is to be able to spend 20 minutes in doggie yoga a day.  I'm no where near there yet!  I do most of these activities throughout my day to day with my dogs.  But there is something about bringing it all together that helps us make the activities more a of a calming adventure we can do together.  And that is my final goal, to be able to use yoga as a method to help bring us down after a hectic, busy or stressful day.

Choose your location wisely!  Starting at home in a slow distraction environment is always best.  Another goal of mine is to be able to take this on the road so that we can set up and do this in practically any of the wonderful nature environments that surround us in Northern Michigan.  Imagine being able to chill and do yoga with your dog as you listen to the rushing waterfall or bubbling spring not too far away.

It's also important to think about the gear your dog is wearing!  If they are home, you might be able to do this totally naked.  (I mean with YOUR DOG totally naked!  But you do what you are most comfortable with.)  If you're doing this in more public environments, you may need to use a harness and longline, so be sure the harness your dog is wearing is not restricting their movement in any way.  If they easily move into a bow at home, but won't do it in their harness it might be time to look for a better fitting harness.  You want your dog to be able to move all parts of their body freely and choose to engage or disengage in your yoga practice.

Adding More Enrichment

As dog owners, we use reinforcement to reward our dogs for the behaviors we like. Enrichment is often confused as being an extra great or j...