Saturday, July 2, 2022

Making Sense of Scents

In typical fashion my last post for my theme of the month comes a few days late.  But this is one of the most important things to think about when you start talking about scents.  As dog owners we often become creatures of habit, walking the same walks, playing the same games, using the same treats, and so forth.  This routine can have some benefits for our dogs but also cause some troubles for our dogs.  

When we walk the same walk all the time, our dogs become desensitized to the smells that are in that environment all the time learning the common smells along the route.  Now we can use that to advantage by practicing skills and manners in these common environments where our dogs have a higher chance of being able to focus on us.  These are often the best environments to work on new skills to generalize that skill in multiple places.  And these common environments also can be used to set up sessions where we are desensitizing our dogs to something that triggers a larger then life emotional response.

But what I really want to focus on is our dog's need to experience new and novel environments or the road less travelled.  Of course this need is going to be different for each individual dog based on their comfort, confidence, and previous experience exploring new environments.  A dog that has issues with fear and anxiety would need a much smaller environment to explore with less distractions.  And a dog that is overly confident may try to rush through even the busiest of environments much to quickly without taking the time to slow down and really investigate that environment. 

Azul being a country dog that lives and walks regularly in rural environments needs to take the occasional walk in more urban locations to keep up on his skills in these environments and understand what to expect.  We try to walk in downtown Iron Mountain on the city sidewalks before visiting the library in that area so that he can take a moment to explore and practice those skills.  When we visit family in Illinois we try to go on a few adventures in more urban areas to practice those skills as well.  See in the rural environments, Azul is commonly on a 10 ft leash and able to move around at will sniffing and exploring.  However in an urban environment he is typically on a 4 ft or shorter leash and needs to stay on one side of the sidewalk without zig-zags to reach the smells he wants.  Rurally we walk at his pace, stopping when he wants to stop and in urban environments we usually have another goal so he has to go at my pace, stopping at crosswalks, doorways, or waiting for other people to cross our path.  As a Service Dog who goes everywhere with me, Azul needs to practice both environments on a regular basis.  However Cam, being more anxious does best in rural environments and doesn't need to practice in urban environments often so if we do walk in downtown environments we tend to do that late at night when there is less distractions making the walk more enjoyable for him.

Recently I've had the opportunity to share my more rural environment with some "city" dogs allowing them to practice exploring more nature.  Team Betsy Ross has visited from the Illinois area multiple times now so she is becoming more and more confident in my quieter rural environment.  Team Echo lives in a much smaller city environment, but does most of her walks on sidewalks and local walking trails.  Because this was Echo's first time on my property, I want to describe our training session so you can see how you can apply this to help your dog.

  • We started in my fenced in backyard, but still used a longline for management knowing that Echo was over-excited and would most likely struggle with recall.  With management in place, we pretty much let her wander the area dragging the line and watched her do her thing while Echo's handler and I caught up.  We helped her keep the line from tangling, but other then that she was free to move around however she wanted.
  • Once we saw her relax, we walked through a few parkour stunts that I had set up in my backyard as a way to redirect Echo's focus back on her handler in this new environment.
  • Then we went back to the typical walking/training leash to help Echo know it was time to focus on training and I brought Azul out.  Both Azul and Echo are working on better handler focus around the distraction of other dogs.  This was our main mission for this training session, but we made sure to allow Echo to get totally comfortable in the environment before we actually started training.  Parkour activities were a minor part of the mission only because this is a great way to practice focus and teamwork in a way that if fun and engaging for the dog and handler both.
  • After our intense focus session, we set out on a walk on our hillside with mowed paths through a wild field of wonder for the dogs.  In this environment the dogs has so many awesome smells that they could enjoy being a dog without worrying too much about the other dog in the environment.  The goal of this walk is to decompress after the intense focus session and only keep enough focus on the handler to refrain from pulling on the leash.  Azul is well familiar with this type of walk, but this was totally new for Echo.  During this walk, Echo's handler commented on how her dog helps her to slow down and enjoy the finer things in life which is something most of us humans need to do more often.  Echo enjoyed a good roll in some smelly bear poo which brought a huge smile to her face...not so much for her owner.  LOL
  • Then to end our session, Echo went back on the longline to explore the backyard while Azul hung out on the porch allowing me to also bring Cam out on the porch to work on some training in calmness for all the dogs.  Cam being nervous around strange dogs and Echo having been attached by a GSD previously could have caused any one of the dogs to quickly go over threshold.  But since we were able to provide distance and safe spaces to each dog we were about to do some desensitization and counter conditioning for all 3 dogs for about 10 minutes.

All in all, this session with Team Echo was roughly 2 hours long.  This would be too long if we were only focusing on one activity.  But since we kept changing activities and observing dogs closely changing before they became overstimulated or tired of any one activity we were able to get the most of our session.  This is how I prefer to set up training sessions with clients and why I charge a flat rate per session instead of an hourly rate.  I'd much rather spend the extra time taking care of the dog's needs for environmental processing, providing emotional support, and creating calmness before focusing on the main training need for the session.

Now you may be asking, what does this have to do with scents?  Our dog's see the world through their sense of smell.  By recognizing that need to sniff and process the environment, we can set up better training sessions to accomplish more and help build up our dog's confidence in new and novel environments.  The more we do this, the more we can expect our dogs to be calm and confident in a wider variety of environments.  This is the one thing I try to help all my clients see, no matter what reason they have for working with a trainer.  If owners can learn how to help their dogs process the environment more effectively they will have a much higher chance of getting the dog of their dreams.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Teaching Scent Based Alerts

Medical Alert Workgroup - Scent Based Alerts

**Early Bird Price: $75 if registered before July 31st!

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 scent based indicators of a need for action.  
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 smelling a biological change in their handler.

This is geared toward the following alerts:
  • Migraine Alerts
  • Diabetic Alerts
  • Cardiac Alerts
This workgroup will meet for 6 Zoom based sessions beginning Wednesday, September 4th  and taking place every other Wednesday 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.

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.

The cost of this class is $125, 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.  
**Scholarships are available, please fill out the registration form selecting the scholarship option.

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.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Scents & Loose Leash Walking

Scents & Loose Leash Walking...What do they have in common?

One of the most common things I hear as a dog trainer is how can I stop my dog from pulling me all over the place on our walks.  Sometimes people don't like my answer!

In a world where tools have become the way to control and correct our dogs when they do a behavior we don't like, often people what an easy answer to this question.  But an easy answer simply does not exist.  A dog's natural pace is much faster then the slow pace of us humans.  Dogs also find a quick pace moving back and forth to more enjoyable and self reinforcing then if they are asked to walk in a straight line at a snails pace.  So here are the bullet points of my answer:
  • Meet your dog's needs of sniffing, running, chasing, playing first!
  • Add value for walking next to you or near you!
  • Choose your walking rules wisely!

Meeting your dog's needs

Depending on the age and breed of your dog, needs vary from dog to dog.  But all dogs have basic needs beyond that of food, water, and shelter.  We tend to forget to take those needs into account before we set out on a walk because we get so focused on the thought that my dog needs exercise, my dog needs to potty, my dog needs to see the world, etc.  But if we explore those thoughts a bit more, we often realize that instead of exercise, they need mental stimulation or instead of seeing the world, they need to smell the world.

When it comes to exercise vs mental stimulation, there isn't an exact recipe for how much of each a dog needs.  There is kind of a rule of thumb with puppies, that is 5 minutes of exercise per month old.  However as dogs grow past 1 yr old, that really doesn't apply any more.  Adolescent dogs between the ages of 1-2 seem to have unending energy and would go all day if let them, but that's not necessarily healthy for them and can easily turn them into super athletes.  Check out this blog post from May to help you determine if your dog needs more or less exercise: MAYbe My Dog Needs More Exercise.  Mental stimulation is just as important, if not more important, than physical exercise.  Adolescent dogs need more mental stimulation in the form of simple training, games, and teamwork skills.  Check out my February blogposts on enrichment and reinforcement to learn more about mental stimulation for your dog.

We often talk about Puppy Socialization as buzz words in the dog training world, but it's important to understand that socialization doesn't end when a puppy grows up and it's not just about meeting new people or other dogs.  Socialization is really about processing new or noval experiences.  We, as people, think in terms of seeing things or watching things.  However our dogs process the world around them with their nose, sniffing things in the environment.  The dog's nose is their strongest organ and capable of detecting things that we can only begin to understand.  Yet we often don't embrace that and help them to learn to understand what they are smelling.  If I can only get one message to my clients struggling with adolescent dogs, that's to embrace the sniff-a-bout walk and learn to do it well.

A sniff-a-bout, often called a free walk, is all about allowing a dog to go at their pace in an environment.  Unless you have lots of access to fenced areas in your community, you often need to use a longline of 15+ feet to do a sniff-a-bout correctly.  When using a longline you need to have your line attached to a back clip on a harness for safety and not on the front harness clip or a flat collar.  I have resources for learning how to do this type of walk in my Crazy Adolescents Classroom if your dealing with a teenager.  I can also teach you how to do sniff-a-bouts successfully in private sessions.  

How Sniffing the Environment affects Leash Walking Skills

The key to doing a sniff-a-bout is that your dog learns to take their time, savoring the moment and hunting for those smells that are buried under the surface.  

Often in our attempts to exercise our dog enough, we teach them to do some quick sniffing as they go-go-go.  They then develop a habit of going faster to smell more things or may learn to bounce back and forth from side to side racing from one tree to the next or pulling to reach that person/dog on the trail.  Somewhere along our mission to provide exercise for our dogs, we accidently teach our dogs to pull to what they want the most.  Then we allow them to practice this behavior as adolescents as we make our walks longer and longer in an attempt to help our dogs be calm at home.  This is often when I get called in to help.

There is a learning process for both people and dog when we make the change away from walks focused on exercise towards walks focused on sniffing.  To make it easier for people, especially owners of adolescents, I suggest that they spend some time learning how to work together as a team using a longline.  The first step generally involves the person sitting in a chair or on a blanket and allowing the dog to walk circles around them.  This helps the dog to realize that the goal is not to rush forward.  Once the dog begins to see that we are not going anywhere they will typically start smelling the ground and things in the environment that they can reach.  And eventually they look back to us wondering what we are doing just sitting here.  That's when you capture their desire to engage with you and either throw a treat party or produce their favorite toy!  I like to toss some treats out into the environment to see if they go back to sniffing after they've found the treats or turn back to you for more.  Once they get the hang of this you can work on calling them back to you when they get near the end of the line so they are instantly racing to the end of the line.  Then slowly with time and practice you can add in moving through the environment together without racing and pulling on the leash.

Once you can navigate longline walks together as a team, you can slowly add leash walks where you are actually covering some distance together as a team.  This will help you fine tune your leash skills allowing for sniffing in appropriate places and loose leash walking between sniffing places.  Then you can also expand this slower paced, environmental processing to other aspects of life with your dog.

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...