Thursday, March 23, 2023

Does your dog have Spring Fever?

What is Spring Fever & how does it affect our dogs?

While this training is mostly focused around adolescent dogs, it’s important to remember that dogs of any age can have a momentary “setback” in training which commonly happens in the spring especially when older dogs almost act like a puppy for a short time. Spring Fever most definitely affects our adolescent dogs heavily, but it’s great info to remember for future reference for older dogs as well.


The Wikipedia definition of Spring fever is any of a number of mood, physical, or behavioral changes, which may be experienced coinciding with the arrival of spring, particularly restlessness, laziness, and even amorousness.

According to Scientific American, Spring Fever begins as a rapid and yet unpredictable fluctuating mood and energy state that contrasts with the relative low of the winter months that precede it.
For most creatures, spring means more warmth and more daylight, and these two elements have major effects on animal behavior.



What about changes in sex drive? 

Historically, conception rates for humans have peaked in the spring -- and so do those of deer mice and hares. A study of more than 400 breeding dogs, likewise, found that canine reproductive cycles were most active between February to May. "Studies show that sexual behavior in mammals follows a seasonal pattern, one that promotes survival." (Mammalian Reproductive Biology by biologist Frank Bronson of the University of Texas).

After the recent Covid Quarantine, many of us suffered from Cabin Fever!

"Cabin fever refers to the distressing claustrophobic irritability or restlessness experienced when a person, or group, is stuck at an isolated location or in confined quarters for an extended time." (Wikipedia)

Where I live, in rural Northern Michigan, social distancing was a way of life before the Covid shutdowns. People who live in our area enjoy being out in nature or being one with nature more than being around lots of people. But Cabin Fever drives most of us out to explore the trails after a long winter hibernation. With Covid-19, many more people are seeking outdoor entertainment as a safe way to get out of the house. Now it seems everyone takes every opportunity they can to get out on the trails as trails seem to be busier then ever. Even if we are not seeing more people on our favorite trails, our dogs are smelling them.

As dog people, we tend to take on training new skills in the nicer weather of spring and summer. Most of us slack in training and consistency in the winter. Then add in the increase of distractions in the spring and our dogs seem as though they've never had any training. Don't worry, we will be discussing tips and tricks for common problem areas in later units as well.


Here are basic links that will give you additional information about Spring Fever

Bark Post: Spring is in the Air
Scientific America Fact or Fiction: Is Spring Fever Real?

This post is taken from the Crazy Canine Adolescents Class!

Monday, March 20, 2023

Conversations with Your Dog 3

 

Simple Connection Based Conversations With Your Dog

This is #3 in the series, "Conversations with Your Dog!" and where we take a moment to look at conversations we might have with our dogs during training sessions and in day to day activities with our dogs.

Take a look at Azul in this picture. What might he be saying in this moment? 

To me, he's saying, "What's Next?" or "What would you like me to do now?" Let me set the scene a bit for you. Azul and I are in the Paws & Relax Room at the Yooper Paws Training Center and he's been playing some Find It games with treats scattered in places around the room. The last treat he found was on the couch. Now over the last month we've been doing down/stays on this bed while other dogs were working in the training room and Azul and I were practicing our hold and release cues. So while I didn't ask Azul to stay on the bed, he is pausing to wait to for a release cue or prompt to do what's next. In this particular instance, I choose to ask him to continue the hold so I could get a picture then I released him to continue on his search for hidden treasures.
So what does this have to do with conversations? To me it demonstrates that conversations need to be 2 way communication between all involved. The more people and/or dogs we add to the conversation, the more challenging it can be to stay focused or on topic. The more rapidly the topics change, the harder it is for anyone to follow, especially those who might be new to the group and do not have a previous background history with the conversation in hand. Putting this in a Canine Coach perspective, I might be able to have one conversation about training methods to my fellow dog training nerds, but often need to slow the conversation down for dog owners who haven't heard or read all the previous nerdy science talk that has been going on over the last few years. Similar to a mother might have one conversation with a teenager, then break it down in smaller chunks with easier to understand words for a younger child. It seems to come naturally to us humans to break things down for younger people, yet we often forget to do that with our dogs.

Communication that goes both ways.

Humans tend to communicate with their mouth and sometimes their hands that might be moving about wildly. Dogs tend to communicate with body language and the emotional connections we've previously discussed. This can lead to gaps in understanding the conversation unless we are both speaking very clearly in an attempt to help the other person understand. 

I've been told multiple times in life that I'm good at figuring out a way to help people relate to or understand whatever the topic might be. I suppose that is part of the reason I'm good at what I do to help build up human/dog teams. Some of us might find this type of communication easy or natural to do, while others might really struggle with 2 way communication.

The goal in training sessions and day-to-day life with our dogs is to keep the communication lines open and flowing in ways that are working for all individuals involved. That means verbally, with body movements, and emotionally so that everyone in the room can keep up. That also means listening with our ears, watching with our eyes, and being emotionally available to feel the input that is being given. 

As humans we like to talk to our dogs verbally, but we often do not like it when our dogs talk back! So if we don't like them to communicate verbally, how will we then know what they are trying to tell us? Simple answer; body language and behaviors. Without giving the dog a chance to participate in the conversation, we can't know if what we are saying is making sense. That is one of the major differences between "old school" dog training where a dog was expected to listen no matter what the human was saying even if it was something the dog did not want to do. Thankfully we are now using much more kind and gentle ways of asking dogs to consent to the things we need them to do and reinforcing the behaviors we want them to repeat so we see those behaviors more often. Sure there might be times that I need my dog to do something because it's going to be mutually beneficial to the big picture, but I never want to force my dog to do something they are not comfortable doing. This means that I need to listen to my dog and sometimes adjust what I'm asking them to do or how I'm communicating my desires more clearly or the reinforcement I'm willing to offer for the behavior I'm asking for in the moment I'm asking.

Going back up to the picture of Azul on the bed, he's asking "What's next?" because I haven't given clear communication on what I want him to do next. I was able to reply with the cue to Find It so he could continue his treasure hunt. But how did I know that he needed more clarity? He put his paws on the edge of the bed which is the communication I've taught him to show me when he needs something. Most generally the paw on furniture or my leg means he either wants to go outside or he wants to go lay in bed for some belly rubs but it always means he has a need and if I follow him, Azul will show me what that need is. In this moment his need was simply to know if he should stay or he should go. This would not have made sense to me if I had not been a part of our previous conversations.


If you'd like help with determining what your dog's behavior is telling you,
I offer a virtual Behaviors Package that includes 3 zoom sessions to discuss behavior 
and create a plan to modify the behavior in necessary.

Putting Clarity in Conversations

While we might be more familiar with using verbal cues, our dogs are generally better at learning physical cues. This doesn't necessarily mean we need to switch all training to hand signals. However if confusion is slipping into the conversation, we want to look at how we can be a bit more clear and often that involves body language. That is one of the many reasons that I teach all my clients how to do use simple hand targets with their dog! Once our dog learns the desired outcome is their nose touching our hand and/or their eyes following our hand, we open the world to an almost endless supply of ways we can communicate with each other. Hand targets, although easy to learn, are not natural to both dog or human which often means that we can develop them to mean anything we want them to mean. Sometimes we develop body language and hand signals based on what we've observed others doing. Let's face it we all learn what the middle finger means at a pretty young age! But since hand targets are fairly new in dog training for most owners, they find it easy to find specific ways that work best for them without looking at what everyone else in the world is doing.

Humans who find verbal communication to be easy, often will build in confusion by using too many words, saying those words too often, or thinking the dog understands the word before the behavior and therefore uses the word too early in the training. Yes, I speak in sentences to my dog! But I also understand that he is only understanding the key words in that sentence that I've previously taught him. Still, I use sentences because that can help convey the emotions and/or intensity that I want to add in that moment. Having long conversations with your dog should be more about that emotional connection and less about the words you use. When you're trying to give your dog a verbal cue to a behavior that you would like them to do, then short and clear communication based on prior training is best.

The most challenging part of using clear communication is teaching the cue words in association to the behavior we are after, then not using that cue excessively. You may have heard the "name it when you love it" saying in training sessions. This basically means that instead of starting to train with a verbal cue and then luring the desired behavior, we should get the behavior first then use the cue. If you are teaching sit, you shouldn't use the cue "sit" until you can get your dog to sit 3 or more times with either luring or hand signals. And then you only start sliding the cue word in here and there after the behavior is already done. When you are seeing signs that your dog is easily doing the behavior and perhaps understanding the cue, you start backing up your timing so instead of saying the cue after the behavior you are slowly working toward being able to say the cue before the behavior to get results. You'll notice that first class or session with your dog, I barely say anything other than your dog's name and yet I manage to get all kinds of behaviors. That's because I've had thousands of hours of practice fine tuning my body language to convey my message to your dog! I've learned to communicate in their natural ways. Then I will teach you how to communicate better with your dog and teach your dog how to communicate better with you. WIN-WIN!

Check out this video of Maverick and Azul playing with stations. The only words I used in this whole session were simple words like paws up, stay/wait, and come. I've previously taught both dogs the simple words I used and then I used body language to convey the words I didn't want to use.


This video is a great example of Shaping Games which is a training technique that involves very little communication with your dog, simply observing and waiting for them to do even the smallest bit of behavior that you want to capture with reinforcement. In the video I'm inviting Mav to touch the step because I'm holding the reinforcement he wants in a way that he needs to step on the step in order to reach the treat. So yes, I'm combining luring with shaping in a way to make it super simple for Maverick to understand. Then we are taking baby steps in trying to get not just one but all four feet on the box, then turn on the box, hold position, and step from box to box. Shaping involves baby steps and can be used to teach almost any behavior you want your dog to learn.

For more on shaping, check out these posts:
Check out my Shaping Plan Template for some simple shaping exercises you can do including teaching hand targets.

More in the series "Conversations With Your Dog!" will be coming soon! Next up: Building a Conversation History.

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...