Thursday, April 25, 2013

SMART x 50

Do you find that you sometimes have a hard time getting a relaxed dog in your home and they are always getting into something? In a book I recently read, Plenty in Life is Free, by Kathy Sdao talks about SMART x 50.  SMART = See, Mark and Reward Training. Those three components are the core of rewarding good behavior. The biggest one is to SEE the behavior. A lot of times I notice that owners don't pay attention when their dog is behaving nicely. It is only when they start acting up, pulling at the leash, barking, pestering the owner, that they get attention. What happens when we give our dog attention...we reward that behavior. So instead of acknowledging a quiet behaved dog we acknowledge the rowdy one thus emphasizing to our dog that is the behavior that works. SMART x 50 has you notice the behavior, make it known to the animal that is what we like, and then reward them to reinforce the behavior.
Choose a desirable behavior, whether serious or silly, that your dog makes. For example if the dog sits or lays down or if he rolls over you will mark it. Use a clicker or a word "Yes" to mark the exact moment your dog does the behavior. Follow up with a treat. Over a period of time you should notice the frequency of these particular behaviors increase. The 50 as part of the SMART x 50 is building up to capture good behavior at least 50x a day.
I think it would be a great idea to take 50 pieces of your dog's breakfast/dinner and put it in a Ziploc bag. During the day you should use those pieces of kibble to mark behavior that you see and like. By the end of the day your kibble bag should be empty. Before you know it you will have no problem seeing and marking and rewarding Good behaviors!

Meanwhile, in my personal dog life, Henry had his 4 week check up at Veazie Vet. We had a little hiccup at the 3 week point where Henry must have whacked his knee on something. He was progressing so nicely and then went back to barely toe touching with his surgery leg. After a couple days he came out of it and today at his recheck everyone was pleased with the weight he was applying. Henry has full range of motion of that leg! That means our physical therapy sessions at home get to consist more of walking, sit to stand exercises, and some spins and twirls and less stretching and cool packing!

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Fear Stage

I am currently experiencing what is known as the Fear Impact Stage with my 10 month old lab, Henry. For those that are unsure, the fear stage comes anytime from 6 months to 2 years in most cases. It is when your dog becomes fearful or unsure of something that once wasn't a problem. Most people are aware of the critical socialization period of 8-14 weeks of age for puppies. Their little brains still malleable and making positive connections with their surroundings. It is important to bring puppies to meet different people, see different places and exposing them to the world. Socializing your dog is so important for the rest of their life. Not just during this critical time.

Unfortunately with Sir Henry the last 4-5 weeks have resulted in the usual, go with me to work, come home, repeat. Limited amount of continuing socialization. Somewhere in there he had his surgery on his knee which was then followed by rest and relaxation. During this time I can't be taking him to new places and greeting new people when he is likely to get excited and potentially do damage to the newly repaired knee. Now that he is reaching a point where he is encouraged to walk 10-15 minutes I intend to take him to somewhere new at least 3-4 times a week.

We have experienced a couple of instances of uncertainty which is what indicates to me that he is in his fear stage. Within the house it was objects that were placed in odd locations, a trash bag of clothes, melted in shape to the floor, a bag placed on top of a table where it has never sat before etc. Today Henry experienced 2 young kids raking leaves and putting them into a wheel barrow. Initially he watched intrigued, tail wagging, body loose. I should have redirected him right then and moved on. I did not. He then grew uncertain of what he was watching. The only nice thing about Henry is he rebounds well. Henry did a whooing type bark from his throat and with his body low moved quickly forward. The boys, fortunately, stopped raking and stood still while Henry investigated. Within seconds we were back to a loose wagging body who was very happy to be around kids. On that note, we walked away to continue his potty run. Even at a distance Henry continued to longingly look back to the kids with loose body movements almost as to say "Do you see them? They are fun!" This was a big indicator to me that Henry was going to need remedial socialization and to get him out and exposed to the world again and forever.

A fear impact stage can be a short window or it can go for months. There is the possibility that we may go through it now and then have another one in several months. The biggest thing to do when you find your dog uncertain about objects or people is  do not force confrontation. Fortunately, Henry was still eager to approach the boys and rakes and investigate. If he hadn't, it would not have been beneficial to drag him down the road to force the greeting. Instead, I talked in a cheery voice and made it interesting. I touched the rakes which helped his confidence to sniff it. Ideally, carrying treats with you will help diffuse the situation from the beginning. Had I had my treat bag on me when we went out the door I could have been handing treats to him while he stood and stared at the boys from a distance, before he had a moment to react. I didn't, I learned from the situation, and I made the best of it that I could. 

Meanwhile, Henry is almost back to full range of motion after 2 weeks. He is getting more and more difficult to keep quiet. Naturally a little on the mellow side anyway, he still runs the length of the house (44 feet), before I get up and intercept him on his way back. Just before his 2 week check up, Henry even jumped on our bed, which in the 10 months I have had him, he has never successfully done or attempted. Although this isn't to be encouraged, I couldn't help but be a little happy about it. He clearly is feeling strong in that leg and good about it. Here's to part way through his recovery and the days when we can go hiking together!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Complete and Balanced

Have you heard before that you should never switch your dog's diet? That it will lead to upset bellies? What if I said by rotating your dogs diet you will avoid upset bellies. When you think about it, if we give our dog an opportunity to practice digesting different ingredients, from different companies, wouldn't that make them develop a bit more of a reliable gut? A dog that has practiced digesting such a variety of foods will be less likely to have diarrhea when given something new than a dog that has eaten the same thing day in and day out for years. Your dog has had it before, the stomach has figured out how to digest it. Wouldn't switching foods keep your dog interested from one day to the next, or one month to the next? Rotating our dog's food not only keeps your dog happy and interested in eating, but it is also a good way to make sure he is getting a balance of nutrients and a variety of proteins. One company will formulate their food differently than the next and by rotating what one company is lacking another may make up for.

 We wouldn't eat the same thing daily for years, we would become malnourished. Why should our dogs be different?

See Spot Live Longer  by Steve Brown is a great introductory book to understanding our dogs diet. If you have interest in improving the quality of food your dog eats start here. Also Dr. Wysong and his book The Truth About Pet Foods.

Monday, April 8, 2013

How 5 Steps

As a trainer I am often asked how do I keep my dog from barking at other dogs or people etc.? Bessey's Positive Paws teaches you and your dog a behavior that will help greatly in any area where you want your dog to focus on you and not the distraction. It is called  "Watch Me"

What is "Watch Me"?
This is a behavior where we teach our dog that is pays off to ignore the distraction and focus on you.
We make it highly rewarding for them and when they are focusing on you they can't be stimulated by the distraction. To teach the behavior do as follows.

1. One meal a day, hand feed your dog. This means instead of putting your dogs dish down on the floor, full of food, and letting them eat without working for it, we are going to pick one meal or do half of each meal and feed them from our hands. Take a small handful of food, present it to your dog and then before giving it to your dog bring the handful of food up to your face. Once your dog looks in the general vicinity of your face you give the food. We are teaching our dog that if he wants food, or access to something, he needs to ask, and to ask he needs to focus on you.

2. Once your dog seems pronounced at the food bowl exercises proceed to this step. Take a small handful of kibble in each hand and stick your hands straight out so you are forming a T. Naturally the dog will look from one hand to the other many times. Once he makes a split second of eye contact you will give him a handful of kibble. Now we are teaching him that in the face of temptation the reward will come quicker by maintaining eye contact. Gradually, we can lengthen the amount of time we ask for eye contact before relinquishing the handful of treats.

3. Now we move to creating a hand signal to achieve eye contact. Typically this is a pointed finger near your dogs nose, brought directly up to your own face between your eyes. Having done the previous exercises your dog will follow the finger and meet your gaze. He is now giving you attention. Mark this with a word such as "Good" or "Yes" and deliver him a tasty treat.

4. After a week of practicing this in different parts of the home and outside in your yard, you may begin introducing a verbal marker such as "Watch Me". Say the word, wait a couple of moments, and then follow through with your hand signal of a pointed finger to your face. This will help teach your dog what "Watch Me" means. To your dog it is teaching them English. They hear the word and tie it in with the hand signal we introduced earlier.

5. Once you feel confident your dog understands the verbal word and hand signal you can begin increasing the level of distractions. Remember to SET YOUR DOG UP FOR SUCCESS. If people riding by on bicycles is a trigger for your dog, make sure you set it up so they are far enough away that you can regain your dog's attention.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Teaching Our Dog ESL

Did you know our dogs aren't born knowing English? Seems pretty obvious right? Though time and again, I hear owners harping on their 8 week old puppies to sit, sit, sit, SIT. We are their teachers and need to teach our dogs what we want when we say "Sit" or "Come here" or whatever may be your primary speaking language. We have the tendency to repeat ourselves and get louder the longer we go without results. If I asked something of you in Spanish, and you only understand English, and I continued to get louder and angrier it isn't going to increase the chance that you are going to do what I am asking. So if I continually tell you to come here in Spanish, and since you dont' understand me you look at me quizzically, I repeat myself, and then a bit louder, I now am no longer a friendly person but a bit scary and you aren't going to come to me

Um...I don't understand you. You want me to do what?
Using positive reinforcement, we can grab a yummy treat, lure the dog in to the sit position a few times and then give the treat to him when his hind end hits the floor. In that short span of time, we have taught our dog a general hand signal for sit. Dr. Patricia McConnell did a study that proved dogs are very visual and in tune with body language and hand signals. They do not listen to our voices that well, probably for the fact that we talk at them constantly. Once our dog has a good understanding of the hand signal, we then will tie the verbal cue Sit to it, thus teaching our dogs English as a Second Language (ESL).
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