TDInc, Here We Come!

Way back in the day, Inara was a registered therapy dog with Bright & Beautiful Therapy Dogs.  She was okay at it, however, she always struggled to keep her exuberance to a minimum at nursing homes.  And I never felt like we’d honestly earned the therapy dog “title” as the test was a farce.  The training center we took it at passed every dog, even the one that growled at a boy as he came through the doorway.  So I never felt we’d actually earned our TD or CGC titles.  Partly because of that, but mostly because it was just not working for Inara’s personality, we quit doing therapy work and didn’t renew our membership with Bright & Beautiful.

Fast forward several years.  Inara has become much better behaved and I now understand that there are more options than nursing homes for therapy work.  So my friend, Laurie, who is a CPDT-KA and CBCC-KA and owner of Side By Side Dog Training, offered a workshop to help evaluate dogs for therapy work and teach us the options that are out there.  I was a bit hesitant as I still sometimes doubt Inara’s and my skills, but signed up anyway.

So I took the day off work yesterday and drove an hour to the public library that was hosting the workshop.  The closer I got, the more jittery I got.  To the point where I almost called Laurie and cancelled when I was about a block away.  It was bad.  And ridiculous, to be frank.  But I can’t help it.  I always have horrible flashbacks of Inara turning into Cujo like she used to do.  And we were going to be in a library, where it should be quiet.  What if she barked?!?

But I put on my big girl panties, parked and made my way inside.  There was already one dog in the (small) room so Inara announced her presence loudly, mortifying me as I dragged her to her corner.  Laurie, being the wonderful trainer that she is, cheerfully told me that Inara’s bark had changed and that it was less serious now.  More of a “oh my gosh we’re dogs!” excited bark than her “I’m going to eat you if I reach you” bark.  That one little comment made a huge difference for me (sign of a good trainer – knows the perfect thing to say to get her students to relax).

After that, Inara was a dream.  She snoozed in her crate during the down times, and worked beautifully with me during the work times.  I was able to bring her out of her corner and work her within a few feet of another dog.  There were six dogs in a relatively small room, so it was kind of close quarters, but we made it work.  I was bursting with pride in Inara knowing how far she’d come.  Hell, how far WE’D come.

So near the end of the workshop, we all wandered through the library with our dogs as part of the observation process.  Of course, almost as soon as Inara and I made it into the main library part, a teenage girl made a huge scene, nearly falling over chairs, as she pretended to be terrified of Inara.  *sigh*  Whatever.  I have no doubt that she’s nervous about dogs, but the scene was unnecessarily dramatic.

Other than that though, it was great!  Inara got some good lovin’s by a couple little kids (who very politely asked if they could pet her before doing so!  Click/treat to the kids and their parents!) and she was very well-behaved.  She had a minor snark at one of the dogs whose owner allowed it to get right up in her face, but it was an appropriate correction from her and she immediately recovered.

After that we went to a nursing home.  The residents loved the dogs!  They enjoyed telling us about their own dogs, and one woman spent about two minutes telling me about how she brushes her dog’s teeth every night when he comes to visit.  She then proudly pointed out his toothbrush and toothpaste.  I asked if she wanted to brush Inara’s teeth for me and she said she was willing to give it a try.  *grin*

One woman just fell in love with Inara and wanted her in her lap.  I didn’t let her though for fear that Inara’s nails would be rough or she’d pull out her oxygen mask.  So she stayed on the floor and got some MAJOR loves, body wagging with joy.  It was really great to see.  🙂

Inara had a couple little barking episodes since a new dog had joined the group, but as Laurie pointed out to me when she saw me getting stressed over her behavior, “dogs bark.”  They do, indeed.  She again recovered and resumed working well, so it wasn’t a crisis.

So we are very close to passing all of our observations – fingers crossed!  Thank you so much to Laurie for having the confidence and faith in us that I sometimes lack.  😉

Wandering the library, looking for patrons who needed some pit bull love!
Wandering the library, looking for patrons who needed some pit bull love!
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Inara with the woman who wanted her in her lap. Look at that huge lovely full body wag!

 

The up and coming TDInc dogs!  We are on the end so I can keep Inara's head guided away from the other dog staring at her, LOL.
The up and coming TDInc dogs! We are on the end so I can keep Inara’s head guided away from the other dog staring at her, LOL.

 

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Us vs. Them? Doesn’t have to be.

Many trainers who use aversives dislike force-free trainers and, quite frankly, sometimes I don’t blame them.  So I thought I’d write about why force-free trainers can be so annoying and what we could do differently.  I’m sure some of the Posi-Nazi’s will hate me for this post, but that’s okay.  I won’t lose any sleep over their hatred.  I will also cover what balanced/compulsive trainers could do to stop being so disrespectful to FFT’s.  So, let’s begin first with some definitions (as I’m using them, not official!) so we’re all on the same page:

Aversive – Something the dog finds painful/scary.  There are trainers who tout themselves as “purely positive” because they don’t use physical punishment, but they do use intimidating body language/staredowns to get dogs to obey.  I consider those aversives as well.

Balanced trainer – I consider a balanced trainer to be one who knows how to train basic obedience without aversives.  They later add in compulsion for proofing or for training higher-level skills.

Compulsion – Synonomous with aversive.

Compulsive trainer – These are the people who slap prongs and e-collars on puppies to teach even the most basic obedience skills.  You’ll often find their dogs wearing a training collar of some type 24/7 so they don’t become “collar smart.”

Force-Free Trainer (FFT) – People who choose to train without using the positive punishment quadrant; people who avoid frightening/intimidating/causing pain to the dog during training.

Posi-Nazi – Hardcore “all positive all the time” people.  Those who feel that dogs should never be denied anything in life.  Feel that you should never hurt your dog’s feelings by turning your back on them to reduce unwanted behaviors.  These are the ones who give regular FFT’s a bad name.

 

Now, let’s start with what FFT’s need to do/not do to stop being so annoying to non-FFT’s:

1.  FFT’s claim that aversives don’t work – Really?  If they didn’t work, nobody would use them.  Far-reaching claims like this do nothing but make FFT’s look ridiculous and uneducated.  Aversives absolutely do work, and they often work quickly which makes them attractive to a lot of people.  The problem with aversives is that they need to continue being used to maintain their efficacy.  When I was using a prong on Inara, she’d walk nicely for weeks and then start pulling again so I’d have to “pop” her again, thus buying myself a few more weeks of good behavior.  But flat-out claiming that aversives don’t work is false, and FFT’s need to stop saying that.

2.  FFT’s claim that anybody who uses aversives is abusing their dog and ruining their relationship – False again, sort of.  When it comes to compulsive trainers, those who slap prongs and e-collars on puppies to train even basic behaviors, yes, I consider that abusive.  You are punishing your dog for not being able to read your mind.  Often the dogs of compulsive trainers look truly miserable – sure they’re doing an attention heel and obeying commands, but you can tell they certainly aren’t comfortable doing it.  On the other hand,  many of the balanced trainers I know have dogs that are lovely to watch and obviously adore their owners.  When I used aversives, Inara and I still had a good relationship and she only looked miserable if I gave her an unfair correction (when she should have come up the leash at me – I’m so fortunate she’s good-tempered!).  If she had “earned” a correction, she took it and shrugged it off, didn’t blink an eye.  When FFT’s claim that dogs trained with aversives are miserable all the time and don’t trust their owners, all balanced/compulsive trainers need to do is show their dog being happy and we’ve been proven wrong.  Far-reaching claims, like #1 above, don’t work.

3.  FFT’s say our methods are “science-based” and compulsion is not – False.  Compulsion is Positive Punishment (P+), hence, one of the four quadrants.  What does this make it?  Science-based.  All of the four quadrants are based on science.  Just because it is a quadrant that FFT’s choose not to use does not make it any less scientifically proven as a way of teaching.  Now, perhaps when FFT’s say “science-based” they really mean to say, “peer-reviewed studies have shown that using compulsion often has fall-out associated with it and training without compulsion has been shown to be more efficient as the learning is more permanent.”  Granted, it’s a bit wordy, but it’s much more true than saying, “science-based.”

4.  FFT’s claim that all dogs trained with force are shutdown – Not true.  Are some?  Oh absolutely without a doubt.  But many are not.  So much of it depends on the dog’s temperament.  If you have an already soft dog to begin with and then you add physical corrections, you’ve got a good chance of shutting your dog down.  But if you have a “harder” dog (temperamentally speaking), those dogs are able to take the corrections and shrug them off without any lasting issues.

5.  FFT’s can just be flat-out insulting – I’m thinking about times where we are pointing out body language of a dog to somebody else: “Oh my god, how could they NOT see that the dog is miserable?  Even a blind person can tell that at a glance.”  You know what, not everybody is trained in body language.  Should they be?  In my perfect world, absolutely.  But being rude about it isn’t going to make the person want to listen to you.  They’re going to shut you out.  Maybe try loaning them a book, or a video.  Offer them a discount to a body language seminar.

Now, on the other hand, there are a few things that balanced/compulsive trainers could quit doing that would help mend this giant rift between the training camps.

1.  Stop calling us “cookie pushers” – Believe it or not, I very rarely have treats on me when I’m out and about with Inara.  Why?  Because the beauty of FFT is that dogs learn to do things for the joy of it, and because they get life rewards.  I absolutely have no issue using huge amounts of treats when training a new behavior or doing counterconditioning, or when in a situation I know can rapidly turn into a good training session, but I don’t want to always be carrying treats and a clicker!  Sometimes you want to travel light and NOT have an odor of lamb/turkey/beef/tripe hovering around you!  Treats can be minimized once a behavior is learned.  If an FFT is a “cookie pusher” 24/7, then they haven’t learned about variable reinforcement schedules and need to do some more reading/learning.

2.  Stop saying that our dogs are not reliable at behaviors – Is your dog perfect 100% of the time?  Hell, are YOU?  Of course not.  Neither are our dogs.  However, our dogs can be trained to be just as reliable in behaviors as your dogs trained with aversives.  What you will find though is that often our priorities are different and we train for what is important to US.  So just because Inara doesn’t have a flawless recall doesn’t mean it’s because I haven’t used aversives.  It means that I’ve been lazy in teaching her a flawless recall!

3.  “I don’t have time to train without force.”  – Do you know how often we hear that?  Do you know how ridiculous that is?  Using a clicker and treats to train new behaviors is so fast and easy if you know what you’re doing!  Do you need to proof them and continue training after it is initially learned?  Of course you do, just as you do when using force.

4.  “Dogs need to know who’s in charge.”  – Sure they do!  And you know what?  I’m the one in the household with opposable thumbs that can open up the fridge.  *wink*  What’s that saying?  “Dogs are selfish creatures and I control their things”?  It’s true.  Who decides when Inara eats?  I do.  Who decides when Inara goes outside?  I do.  Who decides where we go on walks?  I do.  Who decides who gets the best spot on the couch?  I do.  Who decides which toys are out and available?  I do.  But I certainly don’t have to use force to teach her those things.

5.  “Their dogs have no rules.”  – I cannot say this enough – POSITIVE DOES NOT EQUAL PERMISSIVE.  This kind of melds with number 4 about being in charge.  Just because I choose not to use force with my dog doesn’t mean she’s running rampant through the neighborhood, preparing to overthrow the city and start a mass revolt of dogs.  Just sayin’.

Why did I write this blog?  Because FFT’s need to remember that positive reinforcement works on PEOPLE as well as dogs.  I have many friends who are balanced trainers that I can have perfectly civil training discussions with – “Oh, you trained it that like that?  Interesting.  Here’s how I would try it.”  I actually love those discussions!  I try not to berate and belittle those who use aversives.  We are all at different points in our training and we all do what we are comfortable doing and what we see working.  The best way FFT’s can spread the word about force-free training is by using our own dogs as examples.  Get them out there competing.  Get them out there just being good dogs on walks.  Trust me, people notice.  Have civil discussions with balanced trainers, see where they’re coming from without judging them.  Perhaps even, god forbid, compliment their dog’s happiness/obedience!  Maybe if we all learned to talk to each other without derision and without overly sweeping generalizations (and yes, balanced trainers – this goes both ways) we’d get a lot further and you know what?  The dogs would benefit.  We all want the same thing – happy, healthy, well-trained dogs.  Let’s remember that.

 

Lovin's!

Lovin’s!

 

 

My Crossover Process

I’ve been asked to write about my training philosophy and how I came to adopt my force-free ways. This wasn’t an easy blog for me to write as, quite frankly, I’m horrified and appalled at some of the “training” I subjected Inara to. Honestly, I really deliberated about whether to even admit to the techniques I used. I spoke with some close friends and told them how nauseous and upset I was getting just thinking about them, and they gave me some great advice and encouragement.

A lot of force-free trainers I know have always been force-free, which is really wonderful and I envy them and thrill for their dogs. Unfortunately, I haven’t always been force-free. Though I’m not proud of that fact, and I marvel that Inara has come so far DESPITE what I did to her in the name of training, I think that my experience with aversives really allows me to see/understand why people use them and provide quality discussion, above and beyond, “it’s mean.”

I got Inara when she was 8 weeks old. Her mom, Sophie, had been confiscated from a fight ring when she was pregnant. So already there’s a good guess that Sophie wasn’t bred to a dog-friendly pit bull in the hopes of good-tempered, friendly puppies. These were puppies who were going to be used for fighting/breeding. Inara showed a propensity towards lack of concern for other dogs’ pain at an early age (9 weeks or so) when she grabbed her brother by the ear and made him scream. She didn’t let go until I wedged my thumb into her mouth and pried her little jaws open. Alright, bit concerning, but I was prepared. I’d read a ton and knew I could “socialize” it out of her. *insert eye rolling here*

I enrolled Inara in Petsmart’s Puppy Class when she was maybe 15 weeks old. It was all positive reinforcement techniques, mainly using luring. Inara did just fine and even found a playmate that we had over a few times – a young yellow Lab named Sadie. The two played together beautifully and appropriately. I was thrilled as I knew I was winning the battle against dog aggression.

After the Petsmart class, I enrolled her in a class at the Animal Protective League. Again, all positive reinforcement training. Inara excelled and we had a great time together. After that was over, I signed her up for a flyball class. She was super fast and I knew she could be an asset to a team. Her training was going so well – she was at the point where she could go over the jumps, hit the box and come back over the jumps to me. Just flying. Until the day she flew past me before I could snag her harness and ran over to the tiny Min Pin who’d been talking smack to her the entire class. Inara grabbed the Min Pin and put her entire head in her mouth. Fortunately she dropped her immediately and shockingly, the Min Pin didn’t even have a scratch. She had a slobbery head but she was uninjured. What a terrifying wakeup call. Inara was about 7 months old and could have just killed another dog with a little pressure of her jaws. We switched to private flyball lessons while I reconsidered my tactics.

The timing over the next few years is hazy, but here’s the general progression as best I remember it.

I thought I needed to up the ante and I obviously had a potential issue on my hands, so I thought I needed to find some training that was a bit firmer. The Dog Whisperer was one of my favorite shows at the time, so I knew I needed somebody to show me how to be a pack leader. Somehow I found a local trainer, M., who had a strong training history and trained with Cesar’s methods. Perfect. I took Inara for an “evaluation” and found out that she thought she was above me in the pack and that’s why she wasn’t perfect. So I signed on for lessons with M. He required a prong collar for Inara, so I dutifully bought one and carefully and properly fitted it. He then showed me the “technique” he wanted me to do. If Inara took one step in front of me at any point, or if she looked at another dog, I was to give her three level 10 corrections, while saying no with each one, as I did a u-turn. So it worked out that because I was turning while correcting and saying no, Inara would catch back up and be in heel position usually in time for the final yank/no. He said that when she yelped, it was because of surprise, not pain, even though I was putting my body weight into these corrections. I didn’t realize at the time just how asinine that was. Then, also during the first lesson, we worked on stays outside a local pet store. A rather busy one. He had me actually leaving Inara in a sit stay outside the door of the store while I went around the corner. With a parking lot right there. He was probably 20 feet away from her watching. Again, looking back, I shudder. But I did one more session with M. We did the same thing as last time, but this time, when Inara saw M., she hit the ground. He said, “good, she respects me!” Even back then in all my stupidity, I knew something was off, so I quit going to M. I didn’t tell him why because I was too chicken – I just didn’t schedule another appointment.

That turned me off to prong collars for quite a while. I briefly picked up a clicker but Inara ran the first time I clicked it, so I gave up on it. So no clickers, no prong collars. What next? How about an e-collar? Sure! I knew lots of people who used them and they had great dogs. So I needed one. While waiting on it to arrive, I started hunting for a good trainer to show me how to use it. First I contacted S.M.S., a national franchise who trains only with e-collars. The “trainer” knew he was coming out to help me with dog aggression, so what happens? He pulls up, opens his car door, and out bounds two off-leash dogs that come running right up to me and Inara. Oddly, I didn’t send him away. I invited him inside and he started doing his spiel. He strapped one of the special S.M.S. e-collars on Inara and promptly showed me how to make her cower do a recall. Once again, he was thrilled that my dog was hitting the floor – “look how quickly she’s getting it!” Instead of booting him out for being an idiot, I let him finish his spiel and then choked when he mentioned pricing. Negative, ghostrider.

I got a recommendation for a trainer in Michigan who did a lot with e-collars so I made a weekend trip. We had a really great trip and Inara was very responsive to the collar, which was on level 8 out of 120. I was thrilled. I’d found my “cure”! I left that weekend feeling confident, but got home and lost my confidence. I worked with it for a few weeks, but I realized that I was uncomfortable doing so without guidance. And then I thought, “if I’m not comfortable using this without ‘adult supervision,’ why am I using it on my dog?” So I dumped the e-collar.

I still was leery of the prong from my experience with M., so I thought I’d try a slip collar. I tried both nylon and choke, in case it made a difference. I not only used it to pop her when she forged, but if she started reacting to another dog, I lifted her up off her front feet until she stopped barking. That’s right, I hung my dog. It worked momentarily, but then she’d be worse next time. I couldn’t keep doing it, so I lost the slip collar.

So I went back to the prong. This time it seemed to be helping. And by “helping,” I mean that Inara would have a hellacious reaction (snarling and lunging at other dogs) for about 30 seconds and then I’d punish her into quiet. Her pulling on walks was minimal because she’d get a swift, heavy correction if she pulled. I had what looked like a fairly obedient dog.

While all of this was going on, I also tried alpha rolling Inara and pinning her down until she stopped reacting to dogs. I tried swinging my leash in a pinwheel in front of me so that if she forged while heeling she’d get smacked in the nose. I was very well-rounded in my techniques. *insert rolling eyes*

I honestly don’t know at one point I said, “I can no longer do this to my dog.” When she was good, she was very good, but when she was bad, she was VERY bad. Something had to give. I went to a seminar with Brenda Aloff (who is pretty darned fabulous) and she helped me see that positive reinforcement COULD actually work with Inara. She wasn’t a special snowflake, not an exception to the rule. Just like every other animal on the planet, she responded to all four quadrants of learning, not just positive punishment. After I got home from working Inara with Brenda, I searched for positive reinforcement trainers in my area. I came across Ginger Alpine of Fortunate Fido.

Ginger, without any exaggeration, is the absolute best thing to ever happen to Inara and I and our relationship. She is my goddess of a dog trainer. She showed me how quickly the clicker can be used to teach behaviors. Inara was a genius! And best of all – she was finally enjoying training, as was I. We’ve been taking classes and private lessons with Ginger for about three years now. Through those lessons, I’ve learned how powerful positive reinforcement can be. I learned it’s not all touchy-feely – there are still rules. There are still expectations. There are still “punishments.” But they are more creative and effective now that I don’t resort to pain and fear. Inara has truly blossomed in the three years that I’ve been working with Ginger. My dog who used to not be able to be within probably 500 feet of another dog without lashing out can now compete in close quarters with other dogs. She is now sometimes (sometimes! She’s not perfect yet!) able to be the calm dog for reactive dogs to be around, which completely warms my heart. We are truly a team now and I get told that we just look happy together and work well together. She happily works on a flat collar during competitions, and a harness for basic walks. Though she passed her therapy dog test once before, we’re going to take it again so she can start working with people in an official manner.

I am astounded that I have such a solid dog after everything I put Inara through. She should have bitten me so many times throughout our past for the things I was doing to her. But never once did she redirect, or even look at me in anything less than a sad way. I truly get nauseous and horrified when I think about what I subjected her to. My heart breaks when I realize, “she’s come so far in three years – imagine how far she could have come since I got her at 8 weeks old???” There truly aren’t words to convey my regret. I still apologize to her, even though I know she’s moved on and forgiven me. But I haven’t forgiven myself. Three years, and I still can’t forgive myself. I mean seriously – who can hang their dog and sleep peacefully at night? I was able to, and that sickens me.

Do I think this blog is going to change anybody’s mind about using force/pain/fear in training? No. People will come to force-free training when they are ready for it. But maybe it’ll put a doubt in somebody’s mind. Do I judge those who use aversives? 99% of the time, no. The only ones I judge are those who are incapable of even putting a basic foundation on a dog without pain and fear, or who slap training collars (prongs or e-collars) on puppies less than 6 months old who don’t even know better.

This was long, and painful for me to relive and write. I ask that you not judge me for my actions towards my dog in the past, but look at how we work now, how we’ve grown and become partners in training, not adversaries.

If you have a story you’d like to share, please do so in the comments. If you’re not comfortable sharing it in the comments, then just post a comment asking me to contact you – your email address is visible to me and I will email you. If you have questions, please ask.

Love and respect your dogs, my friends. They tolerate so much from us and ask for so little in return.

Inara, the poster dog for force-free training.
Inara, the poster dog for force-free training.

Pack Leader

Every time I hear the term “pack leader,” I get that 60’s song “Leader of the Pack” stuck in my head. I can’t help it.

Cheesy songs aside, let’s discuss what being a pack leader is and is not. To do that, we need to define “pack.” According to dictionary.com, pack is defined as:

pack1 [pak]
noun

5. a group of certain animals of the same kind, especially predatory ones: a pack of wolves.

There are about 45 other definitions, but this one seems to be the most commonly used when talking about dogs. Already we’re kinda at an impasse. “A group of certain animals OF THE SAME KIND…” Hmmm. How can I be a pack leader if I’m a different species? Doesn’t my dog know that I’m not a dog?

Let’s go back a bit (yep, bouncing around all over the place in this posting!) and briefly talk about where idea of dogs needing a pack leader came from. Dogs are commonly thought to be descended from wolves, and wolves run in packs and have a pack leader, hence, dogs need a pack leader. And that wolf pack leader led by force and intimidation, and always got all the resources first, so I have to do that as my dog’s pack leader. If not, she will stage a coup and overthrow the household, possibly the world. Disaster would ensue.

But wait. All these wolf pack studies were done on captive wolves who were forced to live together. Let’s look at wild wolf packs. Do you know what their packs consist of? FAMILY. The “alpha male and female” are the sire and dam. The rest of the pack is their offspring. Order is maintained through respect of the parents, not fear and intimidation. Are there squabbles? Of course there are – don’t you ever argue with your family?

So, do your parents insist upon eating first? Do they go through doorways first? Do they shove you out of the way instead of going around you? Do they make you walk beside them? Of course not, that’s ridiculous. Because parents care for their offspring. Parents (both wolf and human) feed their offspring FIRST. They don’t care if they run around and have fun while on the move as long as they check in and stay out of trouble. They take an extra second and step around them instead of forcing them to move.

That being said, parents (both wolf and human) set rules and boundaries that need to be followed for the sake of safety and peace in the household/den. Teach your dog a cue that tells them to get their hineys off the furniture when you want to use it. Teach them to wait patiently instead of lunging for their food as soon as it hits the ground. Teach them not to jump on guests and mob them.

Be a leader for your dog. But think of your relationship with your dog as that between a dance team – there is give and take, but one person has to be the leader. But that leader leads with compassion and kindness, asking instead of forcing, teaching instead of punishing. Dance teams work together for the joy of it, not out of fear.

So, pack leader? The term will always make me cringe. Pet parent? Makes me cringe, too. I’m an owner/leader, and Inara respects me for that because I respect HER in return. Leadership doesn’t have to equal fear and pain, nor should it ever. Leadership and respect can be demanded/forced, but I’d prefer to earn it. Wouldn’t you?

My name is Liz, and I don't need to be a pack leader to gain my dog's respect.
My name is Liz, and I don’t need to be a pack leader to gain my dog’s respect.

Close Encounters of the Unpleasant Kind

Off leash dogs seem to be a big issue for a lot of my friends, but they are especially horrible for those of us with reactive dogs.  I was asked to write about ways to avoid them/fend them off.  Ask and ye shall receive, my friends!

As the owner of a dog-reactive dog, I often joke that basic trips outside even to go potty are like military operations.  Just for a 2 minute potty break, I put a sturdy collar on Inara; open the door while blocking Inara and look up and down the street to see who/what is moving; snap her cable (the Beast or Monster one that’s made for half-ton dogs) onto her collar and do a quick double-check of the street; release her and then stand on the porch shivering my hiney off as she sashays around the yard looking for the PERFECT place to poop.  And walks?  Oh lord, talk about a mission!  I time them for when there should be less dogs out on the street or in their yards.  I know which yards are more likely to have dogs out.  I know which houses have dogs that sound like they’re going to bust through a window to get to us.  I’m constantly scanning (while acting relaxed for Inara’s sake) for off-leash dogs.  It’s a mission.

But even people without reactive dogs often worry about off-leash dogs.  You have a split second to determine the other dog’s intent and decide how you’re going to deal with it.  What are some options?

  • Avoidance – If the dog is far enough away, turn and go the opposite direction.  Why subject yourself to drama if you can avoid it?
  • Emergency U-Turn – This is similar to avoidance, but generally happens when the dog is closer and you need to make a quick escape.  This is simply a cue for your dog that means, “let’s do a 180 and dash!”  You want to make the cue word for this a word that is likely to automatically come spewing out of your mouth when you turn the corner and see a dog right in your face.  Yes, swear words make excellent Emergency U-Turns cues!

These next few are for when things are going downhill in a big way.  The other dog either kept coming after you turned, or it came out of nowhere and you have no chance to escape.  Some of these options you run the risk of getting injured by placing yourself in between the oncoming dog and your own, so you need to decide which ones you are actually comfortable doing.

  • Throw treats – I’ve never tried this one, but Patricia McConnell recommends throwing a handful of treats at an oncoming dog to distract them and allow you and your dog to slip away.  This might work for a friendly dog – worth a try.  One downside is that the dog may then follow you for more treats.
  • Sit/Stay/Stop – Put your dog a in sit/stay, take a step in front of them and put your hand up in the universal signal for stop, all while bellowing “stop” directly at the dog.  Oftentimes they’ll be so surprised that they actually do stop, allowing you to back away.
  • Distractions/Intimidation – This is where you consider using the citronella spray (Direct Stop is one brand name) or an airhorn or other item to dissuade the oncoming dog.  Like the treats, citronella spray may work for a rude yet friendly dog, but just be sure the wind is not going to blow it back on to you and your dog.  An airhorn will scare the bejeezus out of everybody in the neighborhood, including you and your dog.  Other items?  An umbrella that flys open at the touch of a button.  Point it at the oncoming dog and hit the button.  Good chance of frightening the oncoming dog, and if that doesn’t work, you now have something to try to fend it off with.  A walking stick raised over your head and waved in a threatening manner may ward off a dog.  If you are going to use an umbrella or other physical deterrent, make sure your dog is conditioned to it so he doesn’t freak out, too.  Disclaimer: If the other dog’s clueless owner is in the vicinity, he or she is likely to get very angry at you for these actions because, as we all know, “he’s friendly and just wants to say hi!”  *rolling eyes*
  • VOG – Breaking out the Voice Of God (you know that voice, the one that comes from deep within you where you sound possessed and every living creature in the vicinity flees in terror?  Yeah, that one) and yelling at the other dog to “GO HOME” or something alone those lines.  This works for me 99% of the time and is my go-to move.  Disclaimer:  If the other dog is aggressive, it may anger them more if you become confrontational.
  • The Straddle – This is useful if the other dog is just cluelessly dumb and friendly but rude and your dog will just not handle that well.  Straddle your dog with your legs behind their belly, in front of their haunches, and hold onto the collar or harness.  Keep spinning your dog in a circle so their side (protected by your leg) is closest to the dog.  This keeps the dog out of your dog’s face while still allowing you to keep an eye on what the dog is doing.  You are also able to swipe one of your legs out at the dog to shoo it away if it gets too close.
  • The Ninja – This is the last resort, and this is one where you do risk injury to yourself.  Strongarm your dog behind you on a short leash so they can’t get past you and kick with all your might at the oncoming dog while yelling at it in the VOG.  Yes, you may actually make contact with the dog, though most are quite nimble at avoiding you.  Do this until the dog goes away or somebody comes to help you.

To add insult to injury, so often the idiot owner will be sauntering behind their dog calling out, “it’s okay, he’s friendly!”  Oh my, there are so many responses to this.  The easiest is, “mine’s not!”  You can also try, “my dog is contagious!”  Or on occasion I’ve resorted to, “my dog will eat your dog!”  Subtle?  No, but the guy kicked it into high gear to get his dog.  And yes, they will inevitably get angry at YOU.  Which blows my mind.  Just make sure you know the leash laws in your town so that you can tell them exactly how many laws they are breaking and that you’d be happy to call the police.

If possible and it is safe to do so, try to get a video of the off-leash dog on your cell phone.  This can be helpful as proof when the police are called because you were threatening their widdle fwuffy poopsy doopsy that just wanted to say hi.  If you know which house the dog came from, make a mental note of that for animal control.  “Is it really necessary to call animal control, Liz?”  Yes, it is.  Because if nobody does so the problem is going to keep happening, and the next person may not be as lucky or skilled as you.

There are several options above.  None of them are perfect, and none of them are perfect for every situation.  You need to quickly assess and decide on a course of action.  And you need to decide on a course of action that YOU are comfortable with.  If you aren’t physically capable/willing to put yourself in the midst of it, DON’T.  Figure out what works for you.

Feel free to leave other techniques that have worked for you in the comments section!

On a happier note, I’ll leave you with a photo:

Can't remember where we were going or why she was up front, but she was happy and cute!
Can’t remember where we were going or why she was up front, but she was happy and cute!

Back From Hiatus/Crate Training Tips

Long time no write!  I apologize for my prolonged absence.  I have no excuse.  But I am going to pick up where I left off!

So much has gone on – we competed in our first off-leash competition this past summer and actually got first place!  It was petrifying but exhiliarating, and very good for my faith in our abilities.  Sometimes you need to push yourself and your dog to see what you’re truly capable of.  You may find you surprise yourself.  Here is the video of us competing – it was at the Dog Sports Open in MI, which is not your typical obedience event!

Now, with the newly renovated blog, I’m going to be posting both updates on Inara and I as well as training articles.  I have a few in mind and am open to suggestions if there is something you are interested in reading.  I’m going to start with crate training as I get a lot of questions about the best way to do it.

The main thing to remember with crate training is that you should NEVER use the crate as punishment.  NEVER.  The crate is always to be a place of good things.  Even if you are putting your dog in as a timeout, make it a good thing for them.  Now that that’s out of the way, let’s look at the process.

First you need to choose the crate.  There are two main styles that are appropriate for full-time use – wire and plastic “airline” type crates. Some dogs have a preference of one over the other, but most will be just fine with either as long as you properly acclimate them to it.  Size-wise, if your dog isn’t house-trained yet, it is recommended to start with a small crate that is just large enough for your pup to stand up, turn around and lie down in.  Not being able to escape a mess will sometimes encourage dogs to hold it.  That being said, it is your absolute, no excuses, responsibility to get the pup out as often as necessary so they are not forced to mess in their crate and lie in it.

If your dog is already housetrained then feel free to get a larger crate.  Inara’s is quite spacious as she does have to spend quite a while in there.  I wanted her to have room to sprawl out if she desired, and I like it to be big enough for her to have a bowl of water and lots of bedding.

How do you start crate training?  The easiest way is to be gin by feeding their meals in it.  If your dog is afraid to go all the way in then set the bowl of food right outside the crate, door open, and then over time move it further inside the crate, keeping the door open.  When your dog is happily bounding into the crate at meal time, begin to shut the door as they eat and immediately open it when they are done eating so they can come out.  As your dog shows that they are comfortable with this process, begin leaving them in the crate for a few minutes extra after they are finished.  Feel free to drop a random treat in as you pass by the crate if they are being good.

Alright, is Fido nice and relaxed?  We want to take this slow – patience is DEFINITELY a virtue when it comes to crate training.  If Fido is content relaxing in the crate after a meal, start putting him in it at random times throughout the day, always with kind words and treats and fun.  At this point, any time he’s going to get a really good treat (marrow bone, Kong, etc) feed it in the crate to reinforce the fact that Crates = Very Good Things.  At first, once the treat is gone, let Fido out, but eventually start leaving him in several minutes afterwards like you did with meals.

Now that Fido is happily chilling in his crate at random times when you are home, you’re going to up the ante.  Get a really good treat ready that will take him some time to finish – a deer leg, a tightly-stuffed frozen Kong, a frozen marrow bone, etc.  Put Fido in his crate, give him the treat and just quietly leave.  Come back before you think he’ll be finished with it.  As with every step before, you’ll slowly start leaving him in for a bit longer than it will take him to finish his treats.  As long as when you come back he’s still nice and relaxed, you’re doing great and can keep increasing the time.

This seems like a ton of steps, I know.  But I can’t repeat it enough – baby steps are crucial when it comes to crate training.

Troubleshooting help:

1.  Fido won’t stop barking in his crate:  Alright, what kind of barking is it?  Is Fido annoyed and demanding to call his attorney? (thank you, Greta, for that phrase!)  Or is Fido truly panicking?  If he is simply demanding to phone his attorney, ignore him until he is quiet for at least 3 seconds and then praise him and let him out.  And then back up in your training as you went too fast.  If Fido is panicked, LET HIM OUT.  It is cruel to keep a truly panicked dog in a crate.  Let them out and go back to absolute step one.

2.  Fido is pottying in his crate:  Make sure he is not being kept in there for too long.  If he isn’t, make a vet visit to rule out a urinary tract infection.  If that isn’t it, try changing the bedding type and make sure all smells of his accidents are out of the crate (use an enzymatic cleaner).  If that doesn’t work, stick something solid in his crate to reduce the size of it so he doesn’t have room to potty at one end and nap in the other.  Also, keep feeding meals in there – dogs will very rarely go to the bathroom where they eat.

3.  Fido is destroying his bedding: This can be a tough one.  Some dogs will just destroy bedding no matter what you do.  You have options here – if Fido is shredding but not ingesting (and you are 110% positive of this), you can buy cheap towels and sheets to throw in there that you won’t mind having destroyed.  If there is even the SLIGHTEST chance that Fido is ingesting, fabric bedding is a no go or you risk an impaction.  In that case, try a Kuranda (or equivalent) bed.  That way they are still off the hard plastic/metal/wires, but there’s nothing really to chew.  If Fido persists upon trying to eat his Kuranda, he has thus lost all bedding privileges.  Will this break your heart and make you feel like a horrible person?  Probably, but it won’t kill Fido, whereas him ingesting bedding might.

I’m a firm proponent of crate training.  Even if you don’t plan on crating your dog when you leave (and I could give you tons of reasons why doing so is a good idea!), you never know when Fido may have to spend time at the vet in a kennel or crate and you don’t want him panicking.  Or what if YOU get sick and Fido has to be kenneled or stay at a friend’s house?  Having a crate-trained dog opens so many doors and just allows you to relax a bit.  Let me know if you have any questions!

Liz

P.S. I adopted a kitty several weeks ago and he and Inara are starting to get to know each other.  I can’t help but leave you with a pic that makes me smile:

Inara and Malcolm ALMOST snuggling in bed.
Inara and Malcolm ALMOST snuggling in bed.

Nosework and Flea-pocalypse

Hello to both my faithful long-time readers and any new readers who may be popping in!  Welcome!

So Inara’s nosework has been going fabulously.  We transitioned away from sniffing out food and are now sniffing out a plastic container with clove oil scent in it.  I was a little nervous that Inara may have trouble with the transition, but nope!  She acted like she’s been finding clove oil her whole life!  This girl is just blowing my mind!  I’m going to have her assessed to see if she has the potential to become an actual detection dog.  Not sure what I’d want her to detect though – bombs?  Drugs?  Bedbugs???

I’m having a hard time finding places to hide the scent in my living room now, so I think it’s time for us to move on to other rooms/locations.  My only issue is that I can’t put out a row of boxes for her to sniff down because she’ll do the beautiful search, but when she finds the right box she pounces on it and I don’t want her to learn that behavior.  She’s “normal” in class, but at home she goes into search and destroy mode, LOL.

Now, Flea-pocoalypse.  *grrrrr*  Apparently I came home from somebody’s house 2 weekends ago with some hitchhikers.  Biting hitchhikers.  Last week I saw just a couple on Inara so I did the routine of:

  1. Bathe both girls in Chagrin Valley Soap’s Cedar & Lavendar Dog Shampoo.
  2. Wash all bedding – mine and Inara’s.
  3. Vacuum everything well.

In the past that has been sufficient.  But this time was different.  The fleas disappeared for a couple days, lulling me into a false sense of security.  In actuality, what they were doing was GATHERING REINFORCEMENTS.  They came back with a vengeance.  Inara was scratching.  The Piss was scratching.  I was scratching.  And I was angry.  I don’t get fleas.  My animals are clean, my house is clean.  I’m not one of THOSE PEOPLE who has fleas.

So I did some research and took Tuesday off work to wage war on the house and yard:

  1. Pretty much any piece of fabric that was small enough to fit into the washing machine was washed that day in hot water, with lots of Borax.
  2. Area rugs and throw rugs were intensely vacuumed or washed and then pulled.  They won’t be put back down until I’m sure the little nasties are gone.
  3. The Dyson has a flea collar in its canister to kill anything that gets sucked up.
  4. Both girls have Revolution on them.  Yes, it killed me to do this and I deliberated and stressed over it.  I don’t like putting that poison on them, but I knew these fleas were different and needed the big guns.  They’ll get another dose next month.
  5. The house was Vacuumed, with a capital V.  I spent about 45 minutes on just the couch, and then spent a ridiculous amount of time Vacuuming (still with a capital V) the rest of the house, getting every nook and cranny with the attachments.
  6. I mopped with a mixture of white vinegar and water.
  7. I treated the yard with Seven Dust.
  8. I closed the windows and turned the AC on as fleas need a certain humidity and temperature to hatch.  Not sure if my little window unit can reduce the humidity and temp enough, but it’s worth a try.
  9. The girls (and I, I’m embarrassed to admit) are getting spritzed thrice daily with a 50/50 mixture of water and organic apple cider vinegar (ACV).  Inara also gets spritzed on her legs and belly before she goes out, every single time.
  10. I’m vacuuming every single day and doing laundry every two days.

I’m exhausted.  Every time I see a black speck I go all Rambo-like and fly at it to snatch it and kill it if it’s a flea.  I stare obsessively at Inara, watching for any nasties.  If I have a normal itch I get all paranoid.  I DREAM about fleas.  So fingers crossed that my suburban warfare was effective and they disappear.

One of my new fave pics of the pupper
One of my new fave pics of the pupper