‘You can’t always have what you want, when you want it!’

I recently met with a client and her new puppy. The puppy, four-month-old named Daisy, weighed fifteen pounds. It was expected that Daisy would be at least forty-five pounds when fully grown.

Daisy was taken from her litter at five weeks of age and placed with a rescue. By the time she was adopted, Daisy was eight weeks old. That meant that she was missing a good bit of important social experiences that puppies are usually exposed to. Careful introduction to people, children, appropriate dogs, other puppies, places, things, sounds, sights, and novel objects was begun right away. Daisy’s adopter saw the importance of this plan and enthusiastically followed it to the letter.

When we met again to evaluate Daisy’s progress, I noticed that Daisy was happily pulling her adopter towards me while on leash. At our third session, Daisy again pulled her owner to me, this time with even more strength and gusto. I knew it was time to teach this puppy the meaning of “good things come to those who wait!”.

Because my client was so keen on socializing her puppy, she had happily allowed Daisy to pull her towards anything and everything. Her intentions were good; she wanted Daisy to feel brave and comfortable in the world by exploring anything that came to Daisy’s attention. The problem was that Daisy was also learning to pull anywhere, anytime, even if that meant dragging her human along for the ride.

Within a very short time, Daisy was going to be a sizable dog. Pulling her family members wherever she wanted to go could be a problem for obvious reasons. Not everyone welcomes forty-five pounds of dog slamming into them! If a person preferred to not meet Daisy, Daisy wouldn’t understand why she was being prevented from  approaching. This could lead to leash-induced frustration. This example is only one the many good reasons it is important to teach a puppy the meaning of “not now, dog!”

As a behavior specialist, I am always thinking ahead: how does what is happening today influence how the dog may behave in the future? An always-important aspect of dog training is to teach tolerance to frustration and to build impulse control.

I acknowledged my client for her admirable commitment to her dog’s emotional well-being and development, and then we created a plan to teach Daisy to visit people, only now, on cue!

Here was our plan:

  • We practiced various impulse control games, teaching her how to “leave it.” Daisy’s adopter practiced these games for a couple of minutes every day.
  • We practiced rewarding Daisy for walking next to her human on leash. Daisy was rewarded at her person’s side, building value for being next to her. I asked that she practice this every day when she took Daisy for a walk.
  • We carried high value treats that were sure to capture Daisy’s attention even in the face of distractions.
  • We worked on teaching Daisy to sit before greeting people, starting about 20 feet away. In the beginning, if we were any closer, Daisy was too excited to perform the behavior. Over time, we were able to decrease that distance to about 5 feet away.
  • We put greeting people on cue, using the verbal cue “Go say hi!”
  • We practiced by using people Daisy already knew before taking it on the road with new people. Much easier to ask friends and family to help train Daisy in a set-up, versus trying to train this new skill in real-time with people who may themselves be too excited to greet a happy puppy!

Using the protocols described, I am happy to report that little Daisy quickly caught on to this new game and is now much easier to manage on leash. This will be even more appreciated (by everyone!) when she reaches her full size (and weight!)


Embracing the Journey, Dog Training and Life Lessons

Sometimes when you have a dog with behavioral issues, such as reactivity, you can’t always do what you want to do…sometimes you have a picture in your mind about how you think things will go with your dog and what your life together will look like. And then your dog develops behavioral issues and that changes things.

When I adopted Marvel at 5 months, I had this vision in mind that he would be a rock star agility competitor and that all I had to focus on were skills supportive to agility, other than general manners to be part of a family. He also was friendly and social with people and other dogs–really lovely. As he matured, all this began to change–especially so in the last 4-6 months. Marvel started to charge at dogs, barking and nipping to get them to go away. He also barked at people close to him when indoors. He no longer wanted people that he didn’t know extremely well petting or handling him.

I finally embraced who Marvel had become this past March. As a result of embracing the journey and not focusing on the end goal, Marvel is teaching me so much about living with and training a dog like him for agility. I learned a LOT about Marvel at an agility seminar in April in regards to his reactivity, and continue to do so every time we attend a seminar. He improved in his impulse control and demonstrated better understanding with the training. Most of the time, our focus was working on Marvel staying with me in that environment rather than working the agility sequences. We had to skip a few exercises because it would have been too much for him to handle at that time. The result of managing his threshold throughout the workshop: a couple of smokin’ fast runs, staying with the momma, at the end of the day! 

This victory has grown into so many more positive experiences. Today, Marvel can successfully work an entire day in an seminar with people and dogs all around us. These victories spilled over into everyday life with Marvel as well. He started to become more relaxed around dogs and his reactivity significantly decreased.

The universe works in interesting ways–made me chuckle today. I received a call for a new client who has a dog with the same exact issues as Marvel. I’m clearly the right dog trainer for her.

Clarity & harmony…a better way of living with your dog.

Pain & Stress Can Intensify Behavior Problems

It’s been a whirlwind these past couple of months because of my upcoming wedding. Well, it’s come and gone, was the best day of my life so far, and it’s now time to get back to focusing on dogs. I will be sure to share about our wedding experiences with the dogs in upcoming blog posts.

Many of you have been asking how Marvel is doing. Thank you so much for your concern and checking in. Between wedding planning, operating my business, medical/physical issues with first Marvel, and now Tricky, I haven’t been able to set aside time to blog and let everyone know publicly. In my last blog, I shared that after a tough few months, I had finally accepted who Marvel is. In the “good Marvel” department:  He is an awesome little dude that brings so much joy and laughter to our lives. In the “could be better Marvel” department: He also is sensitive to many different things; He barks and lunges at dogs who are in close proximity; He doesn’t want people who he doesn’t know extremely well, and trusts, to handle him; He does not want to be touched when he is resting; He guards his space and food items. All the “could be better Marvel” behaviors increase when he is in pain or under stress.

Marvel’s problem behaviors increased intensified suddenly in early January. It seemed to have intensified out of the blue, but in retrospect, I was able to track the changes in Marvel’s behavior, some more subtle than others, that have occurred over the past 6-10 months. I believe this is how dog behavior change frequently appears to their owners–the owners don’t recognize a serious problem (or problems) developing until it’s too late. That is exactly what happened to me. I was too close to the situation to be able to see the whole picture. In retrospect, Marvel’s sudden intensification in aggression opened my eyes–I’m actually grateful for it. After a thorough process of analysis and evaluation, I was able to better understand what was going on with my dog. As a result of that understanding, I was able address it sooner rather than later.

After several vet and physical therapist meetings, we figured out Marvel was sore in early January. The pain he was experiencing in early January magnified what was behaviorally already there. Perhaps it was from agility, perhaps it was from wrestling with his sister, Tricky. I also believe the three-day weekend of agility activity, with Marvel at the center of it all, put him over threshold. All of the things that trigger him stacked against him and he became overwhelmed. It probably took days for his nervous system to calm down. These physiological and physical issues likely exacerbated behavioral issues that were already developing and I was finally able to see them with sharp clarity.

Marvel is currently doing really well, both physically, mentally, and in training! In the next blog, I will write about what I have been doing to modify his behavior while managing him to minimize incidents of reactivity.

Clarity & harmony…a better way of living with your dog.

Pay it Forward

A client recently admitted to me that she has not been carrying treats with her on walks with her dog. She said it is annoying, can get messy, and she just didn’t want to deal with it.

I told her I understood–it’s definitely one more thing to remember. But, I know that she will not get the results that she expects without consistently rewarding her dog for the behavior that she wants.

I’m going to show her how she can set herself up for success with a (small) dog walking bag. It will need to have room for a house key, cell phone, poop bags, and treats, everything she needs for every walk with her dog. A great source for the bag is LeSportSac. I’m also a fan of fanny-packs–yes, we’re bringing back the 80s! Hands free treat portability with little mess!

I reviewed a very important concept in dog training and behavior modification: reinforcement builds behavior. The only way a retirement account grows is if you make investments into it and give it time for the interest to accrue. You will not see immediate returns on it. It requires patience—think marathon, not sprint. The same thing is true of dog training.  The more rewards you give your dog when teaching a behavior, the more value it has for him, the more likely he will repeat the behavior you desire. For the dog it’s very simple—it’s not about control. It’s just about what feels good for him in that moment. Dogs live moment by moment, so we make the investment by carrying treats and rewarding more of what we want in order to build the behavior that we want.

I also realized that it wasn’t just about value for the dog–the owner was not seeing a value in preparing treats in advance or  bringing them with her on walks. She believed that at this point she should have control over the dog–that’s what every dog owner wants. When I see her at our next session, I am going to remind her out how awesome her dog’s recall is at the dog park. I will explain that through the timely delivery of reward (treats) and by taking the time to build the behavior of recall, she now has off-leash, vocal control of her dog. She reinforced her dog’s behavior and now she is reaping the benefit of that work. I hope this will help her to understand how rewarding appropriate behavior on walks with treats will result in better behavior on walks by her dog.

Clarity & harmony…a better way of living with your dog.