Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Socializing Your Dog - The Right Way

What's wonderful about socialization for dogs is that the word has gotten out there.  Decades ago, people weren't as concerned with socializing their dogs as much as they are now.  We are bringing companian animals closer and closer to urban and suburban areas, where they're more likely to come across more human stuff like bikes, people in hats, screaming kids and of course, other dogs. So, it's great that people are understanding that their dogs need socialization, but this still leaves some dog owners unsure of what that exactly entails.

The idea behind socializing your dog is exposing them to as much different stuff as you possibly can and doing so in a controlled and positive manner. A puppy living in a house with four other dogs and never getting out to have varied and positive experiences with other dogs is NOT socialized to dogs.  A dog that always sees the same visitors come over every day but never gets to meet complete strangers is NOT socialized to people.  A dog that is apprehensive of new people needs to start their socialization on a street that doesn't have more than a couple pedestrians rather than in Dupont Circle in downtown D.C.

Let's say you're one of the dog owners that didn't expose your dog to all the things you should have. (Trust me, I know from experience how to do it the wrong way - see the first example above.) That doesn't mean all hope is lost! Dust yourself off, get some treats, and get ready to socialize!

Get out of the house.
Well duh. To take your dog on their walk, you're already doing this! If you alway turn right as soon as you get out the door, go left! Take your dog on a different route. Let them smell a tree they've never smelled before. Keep the sniffing exciting and upbeat and encourage them to explore.  Seems simple, but this can go a long way. Carry some treats with you and when your dog encounters something new, give them some treats to show them that their bravery resulted in something positive.  Associating new things with food will give them confidence to explore more. If a person on a skateboard rides by, treat your dog for not barking, lunging, or running away.

Understand what your dog is telling you.
If you have a dog that is fearful of certain things, don't push it.  If your dog doesn't like other dogs approaching them, then don't allow it. Forcing your dog to interact on a level that they don't feel comfortable is not teaching them to like it, it's teaching them that they need to prevent it because you won't. Understand your dog's body language. Many people already know their dogs very well - they know when they're scared or happy or interested or mischevious.  Paying attention to these signs when your dog is encountering something new will help you socialize them. 

Dog parks are not an example of good socialization.
Look, let's be honest.  We all know the scene at dog parks. There are the dogs that are running around like maniacs because this is their only time for exercise and then there are some dogs tucked off in the corner because they don't want to play.  Fights break out, resource guarding is high and there's almost always an owner that isn't paying attention. If you've always had good experiences at a dog park, then consider yourself very, very lucky.  Chances are good, however, you've had some bad experiences and this can destroy your chances of having a well-socialized dog. Dog parks are a recipe for disaster. Many dog owners describe to me that when they're at the park, their dog just sits there and doesn't want to play or she spends the whole time trying to avoid the other dogs. This is not uncommon and your dog is trying to tell you, "Get me out of here!" They aren't having fun if they're not out there playing, so free yourself from thinking you have to go to dog parks so that your dog gets to play with other dogs.  This can still be accomplished, just in a much more organized manner.

Become a party planner.
Introduce your dog to other dogs that you know to be well-behaved. Be sure to have loose leashes when the dogs approach each other - tight leashes can cause a dog to pull and this is bad doggie body language! Pulling looks like lunging and lunging isn't a good thing to a dog.  When the dogs are sniffing, make sure one of the dogs isn't getting more sniffs than the other wants them to.  Take a break after they've smelled each other for a few seconds and if they still seem interested in the other dog, then go back to smell for another few seconds.  Then take a break and give treats to your dog for a job well done.

Plan to meet new people on walks, have them approach your dog, drop a treat and be on their way.  This will teach your dog that strangers drop food, so that must be a good thing!

Train your dog.
Ha ha ha - I think I almost heard the eye rolls.  "Well of course I train my dog! What does that have to do with socialization!?" Training your dog helpful behaviors can take you a really long way in your socializing adventures. I teach my dogs to touch my hand with their nose. We practice this like we're going to compete in the hand-touching Olympics. Why? Because when we're out and about and my dogs are getting too much stimulation, I take the pressure off by giving them something to do that they're familiar with. This takes their focus away from any stimulus and puts their focus on me.  Here are some ideas of "tricks" that can help you while out with your dog:
"Watch me" - gets your dog to look at you
"touch" - engages your dog to interact with you
The list goes on and on, really.  Any trick your dog is really good at can help you while you're out.  And when they offer the behavior you ask for, reward them with some really good treats.  This teaches them to be comfortable with new experiences. Below is a video of my dog doing "touch" (it was an impromptu video just for this blog - I had to wake Miss Thang from her afternoon nap, so she's a little groggy. lol)

Here's an older video of me running through my dog's repertoire.  I do this drill with her throughout the day - she loves it! We use this when we're out because she's really sharp with it.  It keeps her mind busy so she doesn't have time to worry about her environment.

If you have any more questions about socializing your dog, contact Kahuna's K9s!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

My Dog's An eTrader and Your's Is Too!!

It’s a joke around the house that when I leave, Sarah hops on to the computer and spends her day eTrading. I guess the joke came from the fact that Sarah probably does nothing but sleep all day…or at least that’s what she wants us to think. Here I am thinking she needs mental stimulation when I get home, but really she’s involved in heavy stock trading and screaming in to the phone at her broker while I’m away!

What’s actually true about this joke is:
dogs calculate opportunity and risk every day.

I’m in school right now; along with my professional obligations, this is taking quite a toll on my personal life. I haven’t had a moment to relax in a loooooong time but it’s worth it because in the end, I will have something to show for my hard work: my degree. I know this and I trust in this not just because someone told me so, but because my university has a proven history of graduates before me. They have credibility and I know that I will get what I want out of it.

Sarah knows that if she does something she doesn’t particularly like, I will pay her handsomely. I’ve built this trust with her. She hates wearing her jacket – I’m sure if it was up to her, she’d throw out all housebreaking rules and use her jacket as a pee pad. So why does she wear it? Because I’ve paired it with a very valuable thing: FOOD! Sarah likes food way more than she hates her jacket!! The risk: wearing the stupid jacket. The payoff: getting treats!

If your dog doesn’t like something, you can work on conditioning that BAD something with a really GOOD something. This will build up your credibility and make your dog more likely to cooperate with you! Build it up so strong that eventually, they will weigh their options: do something I don’t like but get something I really do like. Hmmm…which would YOU choose!?

Happy eTrading!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Anyone looking to hire a trainer in about 14 years??

My (almost) two year old niece is like a sponge - soaking up everything in her environment.  It's fascinating to watch because she's extremely accurate in her mimicry. 

Once a week, I babysit Abee after work.  This is my favorite time because it's just the two of us and we get to learn a lot of cool stuff without distractions.  Last week, we worked on tying her shoes.  Using TAGteach, we progressed pretty well.  She is now putting on her shoes placing the laces in a position so that I can help with the knot, and then pulling the strings tight herself. Then, she can take them off by grabbing the shoelace at the plastic end and pulling the knot out. All in one afternoon's session! I couldn't have been more proud until yesterday...

My dogs have patiently allowed me to focus on other things going on in life, so I owed it to them to have some special one-on-one training with each dog. I asked Abee if she wanted to watch me train them and she said "OK!" As I took my seat on the coffee table to work on "touch" with Sarah as a warm-up, I look back to see my niece put out her hand to Sarah and say "touch!" I was amazed! I never taught her that - she saw me do it enough times to know that's how we start the training session. Sarah went for her hand with her nose and as soon as Sarah's nose hit her tiny little hand, she clapped her hands and said "YEAH! good girl Sawah!" So not only is my niece understanding the "tricks" I ask my dogs to perform, but she's understanding the reinforcement side as well!!

Truly fascinating!!


Wow - it's already Thursday and I haven't even touched on the crazy weekend we had!

This weekend was monumental - there were two more kids visiting the house, bringing the grand total of human beings in one household up to six! My dogs are used to adults, but kids??? Since the arrival of my niece two and a half months ago, they've adapted remarkably well. So here I go, inviting two more kids over to play with my niece. And these kids are much more loud and squealy because they are a couple years older.

Sarah is such an old girl.  She's a no-fuss kind of dog. If she were to have a human job, she'd be a hall monitor - the strictest one you've ever met. No running, no squealing, no playing, no wrestling, no squealing. You! Put down that vase! Don't touch that! No, we're not watching T.V. at that volume and for heaven's sake - someone stop that kid from squealing!! It was quite a lot for me to ask her to accept the chaos that swept through the house in a size 2T and 4T. But she performed remarkably and I'm so very proud. She hung out long enough to determine she'd rather be napping, so she retired early to her sun spot upstairs.

As an icebreaker, I taught the kids a really "cool" game - toss treats to B.  B loves to catch food - she's a fast little piranha when it comes to flying food. The kids were too scared to offer food from their little hands and B is a little creeped out by kids.  So, to keep everyone at a comfortable distance, I introduced the game "Toss-the-treat-as-fast-as-you-can-and-see-if-she'll-catch-it" (I'm working on the name...that one isn't catchy enough). Within minutes, B was thrilled that the kids were there. Because they weren't giving her food from their hands, she was smartly sitting before every food toss instead of mauling their fingers. The kids got more comfortable with crazy B - she has a tendency to move so fast, it freaks kids out. Everyone loved this game and got to know each other at the same time. I was feeling rather proud!

If you're introducing dogs to kids and vice versa, take it slow but keep it fun and interesting.  Watch your dogs body language and remember: your dog depends on you to run interference.  If the kids are getting too rambunctious or too handsy, have every one take a little break.  If things go well on the break, you can return to interacting at a level that makes everyone comfortable - and never fault a dog for wanting to leave the situation, just let them go in peace.