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Friday, October 25, 2013

Teaching My Dog to Come When Called

I am really frustrated with my dog.  Just as soon as I think I have trained him go come to me when I ask, he ignores me completely or I have to say it over and over again.  I must be missing something.  What am I doing wrong?

This is a common complaint that we hear many times when we visit our clients for the first time.  They think that their dog understands “come” if he comes to them a few times.  Now, when the dog is at the dog park or in the back yard, he completely ignores them.  The client normally gets mad and yells at the dog.

It is obvious that this method does not work.  In order to understand what will work, we have to understand how our dogs learn.  Dogs learn through repetition and consistency.  We could compare this to the same way we learned our times tables.  Every time we “flipped the card”, the same answer would be on the other side.  Eventually, we didn’t have to flip the card because we knew what was on the other side. 

To relate this to our dog’s training, we have to make sure that every time we give the command “come”, out dog will go to us.  With that said, let me explain, exactly, what you must do to assure that your dog understands and consistently obeys you when you tell him to “come”:
  • Have your dog in the house with a six foot leash.  Make sure that you are in a calm and quiet environment.  Go down low and say “come” in your regular voice.  If your dog doesn't come, give the leash a slight tug.  Once your dog comes to you, praise him in a high voice and stand up.
  • Leave the leash on your dog and just walk around the room without paying attention to him.  Next, go to the end of the leash, put your foot on it, stoop down, grab the leash, and tell your dog to “come”.
  • Repeat the above process until your dog will always come without the need to give the leash a tug.
  • Now, switch the six foot leash with a twenty foot training lead.  Use about ten feet of the lead and have the rest wrapped up.  Go down low and say “come” from ten feet in your regular voice.  If your dog doesn't come, give the lead a slight tug, repeating the tug until he comes to you. 
  • Repeat the above step until you no longer have to tug on the lead to have your dog obey you.  Extend the training lead to fifteen feet and repeat the process.
  • Extend the training lead to twenty feet and repeat the process.
  • Now, take your dog to the back yard.  Repeat everything you have done above with both the six food leash and twenty foot training lead.

Now you have your dog consistently coming to you outside.  Since you aren't tugging on the leash to get your dog to obey, it has now become unnecessary.
  • Continue telling your dog to come to you, but do not hold the leash anymore. 
  • Now, have someone unhook the leash from your dog and tell him to come.  He should come to you without the need of the leash.

What you have done is to program your dog in a consistent and repetitive manner.  You set the scene so that every time your dog heard “come”, he went to you.  You initially used the leash to assure the outcome.  As the programming took hold, the leash became superfluous and could be removed.  If you have any questions, we are always available at The Best Dog Trainers in South Florida.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Managing Your Puppy’s Play with Other Puppies

We have had our very first puppy for about a month now and I am starting to let him play with neighbor puppies and other dogs.  Sometimes it looks like they are really trying to hurt each other.  How do I know they are just playing or if something bad is happening?

Socialization is a very important part of your puppy’s life experience.  Your puppy’s play with other dogs and puppies allows him to reinforce and establish his communication skills, canine interaction, and physical well being. 

The one thing that you have to understand is that your puppy lives in a “canine world” of absolutes and clear social roles.  There is the leader and there are the followers.  There are things you can do and things you can’t do.  Everything is absolute and unambiguous.  These are the types of games that puppies play in order to build experience and understand their social experience.

Puppies play games such as:
  •  “Follow the Leader” where the leader is chased by the rest of the puppies (the pack).  Eventually the leader stops and a new leader takes over.  That puppy now takes off with a flash while the rest of the group chases him. 
  • Many times two puppies will play “Tag, You’re It!” where one chases the other until the follower jumps on the leader and sometimes gives a little nip.  The act of “tagging” exchanges roles where the leader becomes the follower and the follower becomes the leader.
  • “King of the Hill” is another game that puppies play where one puppy gets to the top of something (like a chair) and defends it by posturing, nipping, and barking.  The other puppies might challenge by getting close, but they will always back off.  Eventually the puppy on top will jump off and a new puppy will become the leader or “king”.

Even though these are all activities that demonstrate dominance or submission, they are still only games.  Just like we used to play games like Cowboys and Indians, we understood that they were just games.  Our puppies also understand that these are just games.  After about thirty or forty minutes, they will all be drinking out of the same water bowl and then fall asleep, exhausted, by each other.   

So we should encourage and let our puppies play these games.  With this said, there are a few precautions that we should take to make sure that everything stays safe:
  • Have puppies of the same size play with each other.  When a big puppy rushes up to a small puppy, it might scare and intimidate the smaller.  This could create a fearful little dog that might later become dog aggressive.
  • We suggest playing outside in an enclosed, grassy area.  This allows them the most freedom to run and not “get into trouble”.
  • If one puppy is becoming fearful (tail between legs), remove him from the main play area.  Let him watch from a safe distance and allow him to decide if and when he might want to join the group.
  • Watch the puppies very closely.  If any puppy is constantly jumping on another and the other is whining, growling, or nipping with no release, the play has escalated too far.  It is now time to separate the two for five minutes.  If they are calm after that, resume play.
  • Always have water available.  This allows for proper hydration and provides for a “quick break” in the games.

We all want to be good “doggie parents” and to allow our puppies to become well socialized.  Allowing our puppies to play together is a large part of the equation.  Unfortunately the line between exuberant, healthy play and aggressive bullying is quite fine.  If you are ever unsure about a situation, remove your puppy and let things start again.  If you have any questions, please contact us at The Best Dog Trainers in South Florida.

Friday, October 11, 2013

What You Need to Know Before Starting to Train Your Dog

I am trying to teach my dog commands and to be a good dog, but nothing seems to be working.  He isn’t staying when I tell him to stay and it will be a cold day in “you know where” when he would ever come to me when I ask.  I am just totally at a standstill!  What is going wrong?

As dog trainers, we have heard this complaint from dog owners time and time again.  It is normally an issue with first time dog owners.  Before you can even get to the point of training your dog, you need to understand a few, basic concepts.
  • Dogs need consistency.  They do not understand complicated or logical situations.  Every time they hear a specific sound (like SIT), they will put their rear on the ground.  They know they can never jump on people.  When things begin to get complicated, like you allow them to jump on you but not your guests, they have no idea how to respond.  So make sure that when you give them commands or expect specific behavior, the result will always be the same. 
  • You must understand what your dog has the ability to currently learn.  Another way of expressing this is that you need to know your dog’s current skill set.  If you can’t get your dog to consistently sit, you will never get him to stay.  If you are calling your dog to come to you from across the yard and he doesn’t, yelling at him over and over again isn’t going to do any good.  He just doesn’t understand what you want.  With this said, you need to figure out what your dog can do and start there with your teaching program.  Just like a tennis player, you learn and improve by playing with someone just a little better than you. 
  • You must be in control when you are teaching your dog.  Remember, you are the teacher and need the focus and respect from your dog in order to teach.  If you give your dog a SIT command and he runs out the door, that really isn’t a good “teaching moment”.  The best way to make sure that you have control is to have your dog leashed when you are training him.  If you tell him to SIT, he can’t run away and you can use the leash as a tool to help and guide him into the SIT.  If you tell your dog to COME and he doesn’t, you can give the leash a little tug to direct him towards you.

These are just three little concepts that you need to keep in mind when teaching your dog.  I know that they sound simple, but dogs crave the simple.  What you have done is to create an environment where they are prepared to learn.  If you ever have any questions, please contact us at The Best Dog Trainers in South Florida.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Walking a Very Strong, Big Dog

I have a very big, head strong German Sheppard who pulls and lunges like crazy when I walk him.  I have tried all the tricks of walking on a short leash, using a Holt and Gentle Leader, walking at different times; he still pulls and lunges.  What can I try next?

I had this exact situation with a client and his Sheppard on a training visit earlier this week.  He said that walking was next to impossible with the dog.  With that said, I asked him to take the dog out on a short leash and walk down the street.  (By the way, the street was nice and quiet… no cars, people, kids, squirrels, etc.)  The walking was a disaster.  It was a constant tug of war between the client and the dog.  It was a stalemate where nobody was winning and nothing was being taught.

This is where I introduced a slightly different method that is not for everybody.  I asked for the leash and simply held the leash by the handle.  There was six feet of loose leash between me and this 90 lb., 2 year old, rambunctious Sheppard. 

He looked at me and then began to run out to the end of the leash.  As soon as he got there and began to pull, I gave a good tug on the leash and directed him back to me.  During this entire time, I continued to walk and did not make a big deal of the redirection back to me.  The Sheppard gave me a quick look and slowly began to walk out to the end again.  I corrected him again, but this time I didn’t have to give such a tug to get him to look back and slow down.

After several repetitions of this process, that Sheppard was walking right around me and never encroached on the 6 foot limit of the leash.  Kids and animals would pass by and he still would stay right around me.  Dogs will be dogs, so I still needed to give him slight corrections as we continued and completed the walk.  Also, I want to make it quite clear that I never chocked the dog or hurt him in any way.  I was simply giving him very clear signals that “you can’t go that way”.  

Sometimes dogs need a little more room to “move around” when walking.  I noticed this immediately when I asked the owner to walk the dog.  All I did was to give the dog a little more “walking room” with the clear rule that he still needed to stay around me and to be mindful of my presence.  I simply put the Sheppard in a situation where he could clearly understand my rule and that I had the ability to let him understand what was right and wrong.

Please remember that this technique isn’t for everybody.  The client was able to handle the dog if he lunged, had a clear grasp of the technique I was displaying, and was able to successfully apply it, if needed.  If you have further questions, please contact us at Best Dog Trainers in South Florida.