Friday, August 27, 2010

Ew. A puppy.

Fine. I'll admit it right here in print: I'm falling in love with Kuna. He's squirming his way in to a snuggly, fuzzy compartment of my heart and it's terrible.

You see, my two girls are enough work as it is. With Sarah always ripping through the pantry like a tyrannosaurus (she's on meds that make her do this) and Bizzle reacting to dogs, bringing Kuna in to the home has flipped our world upside down. He whines, he needs to be watched like a hawk, he's clumsy and puts my paper shredder to shame (except that my paper shredder shreds paper I don't want...)

He wakes up way too early and is learning that this really awesome (not) noise called a bark comes out of his mouth anytime he chooses! Yippee! *eye roll* Puppies are sooo much work!

It's not fair - he was supposed to be J's dog. J inherited my girls. He loves them as if they are his own but they occasionally remind him of their loyalty to me (shh...but this is secretly flattering). Therefore, Kuna was chosen by J for J, with my expert guidance of course. ;)

I tried to keep my hands out of the pot but when you're dead set on proper socializing, crate training, house breaking, leash training...sigh. It just sorta...happens.

I was carrying him in from his last potty break of the night. He was a tired little boy, every bone in his body turned to mush as he draped his head over my shoulder and let out a soft puppy coo. I looked around to see if anyone was looking (don't ask my why I felt this needed to be done in secrecy) and buried my face in his scruff, closed my eyes and took in a big breath. I was good as gone.

It's not a matter of whether or not I love dogs. Trust me, I L-O-V-E dogs. I just thought I was stronger than this. I thought the flailing paws and floppy ears were cute, but this is serious! We have major work to do and we don't have time for tantrums and late night howl sessions, nor do we have time for snuggles and falling in love. I have to maintain my professionalism.

Alas, I've failed miserably. This silly boy has taken hold of my heart. And in complete puppy fashion, he's chewing it into a million pieces on the living room floor.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

You Mess With Me, Ya Get Bit!!

I was in line the other day at the grocery store. It was pre-weekend madness on a Friday afternoon - everyone was in a rush to get whatever food they needed for whatever meals they were making. I was grumbly, irritated and just wanted to get my coffee creamer and get the hay outta there. The woman behind me was obviously not as concerned with personal space as I was: she kept reaching across me to put her items on the belt and in doing so, bumped in to me. I shot her a side glance, notifying her that she's quickly getting on my (expletive) list. I expected a "pardon me" but got nothing. So I tried to ignore it.

As she reached into her cart to continue her annoyingness, she hit me with her gargantuan duffel bag/purse/twin-sized mattress combo. This time, I shot her a more direct glare. Eye contact. That'll teach her.

Much to my surprise, even after two threatening glares, the woman kept on loading the belt. Reaching across me again, she brushes my arm with hers. Ewwww! "Excuuuuuuuse me!" I snapped. She looked at me with bewilderment and continued on her path to being the most obnoxious person in the world. Her next move sent me through the roof: lacking complete social decency, she coughed on the side of my face!!! I lost it. "Are you kidding me!?! Can you take a few steps back and just freaking wait! Stay out of this space [an area defined by my flailing arms in circles around me]!" All eyes were suddenly on me, like I was the idiot because I was making a scene. But I warned her!! I glared at her, spoke with irritation, sighed heavily, rolled my eyes...all signs that she was flat-out making me mad! Why am I the crazy one??

When people tell me they yell at or correct their dogs for growling or snapping, I feel for the dog because obviously they didn't understand their dog's message. A dog's growl is like my "excuuuuuse me!!" and before I even said anything to this woman, I was glaring at her with the stinkiest of eyes. Yet she persisted. She wasn't reading my signs.

Looking back, I know for sure that if J were there he would have seen my signs. He would have literally wedged himself in between the woman and me, thereby removing the boiling pot from the stove. That's because J's good at reading me. He knows when I'm warning someone, when I'm about to explode, and when I've had enough.

It may sound crazy, but trust me: a growl is a blessing in disguise. The dog is telling you something. Take the time to understand why they growled - discovering the problem will often help you cure the symptoms.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Kuna has been whining in his crate for 30 minutes now. "Ignore him, " I tell J. But the constant, high-pitched whine can really take a toll on your sanity. We notice we're getting irritable. "I'm trying to ignore him!! But he just won't stop!" We start questioning why we have a puppy in the first place. What made us think we could handle this responsibility? What if we put a blanket over the crate? What if we sing to him? What if we yell at him to stop? Maybe we can put him in a basket and leave him in front of a firehouse!? (I'm kidding about the last two...) You see, as a trainer, I would give my clients the same matter-of-fact advice: never reinforce behavior you don't like. Ever. I think in giving this advice, however, I've somehow implied that it's easy. It is NOT easy. Even for a dog trainer.

My dogs aren't much different than anyone else's dogs when you think about it. Sure, Sarah can literally open doors for me, pick up things that I drop and come when I call in the most distracting environments. She also eats her own poop. Bizzle can spin, sit, speak, dance, find my keys and "hallelujah" faster than I can type the words. But if I want to take her somewhere with the slightest chance another canine will be present?? Fuggetaboutit! Then there's Kuna. He was doing "sit" before he turned 7 weeks. He could "kennel" at 8 1/2 weeks and just the other day, he walked up to the door and scratched to be let out to go potty! He plays well with other dogs, loves people and has the most solid rebound from something potentially frightening that I've ever seen. And yet, here he is, screaming in his kennel as if the walls were caving in. All I have to do is open that crate and let him walk out and this will all stop. Right?

As a trainer, I've seen the future, so to speak. This is because we're usually called in to fix problems that have already taken root. I've witnessed many times the result of a puppy that was allowed to jump: they are now 80 lbs and jumping wildly on children, elderly family members and house guests. I've seen the adult version of puppies that were not properly socialized and are now afraid of light bulbs, picture frames and other seemingly normal items to us. A puppy that is let out of the crate when he whines turns in to a dog that whines even more. It is hard work. It is taxing. There is, however, a light at the end of the tunnel. As a dog trainer, I know this. As a dog owner, it's harder to convince myself of that reality.

So what gets me through all of this? Patience. It sounds all sweet and fluffy but it's truly the number one tool in my dog training toolbox. It's what got Bizz to allow another dog in the house. It is what taught me to recall my dog before she has a chance to eat poop (duh!). Here I sit at my computer, reminding myself that if I just remain patient, Kuna will eventually stop whining. He has to take a breath, drink water, or snuggle in for a puppy nap. When that happens, I will jump for joy and open his crate. It's only a matter of time...

Friday, August 13, 2010

My Snuggly Boy

Picture this. It's 2 o'clock in the morning and you're letting your dog out to do his business. You were barely coherent enough to get a leash on him! As you sleepily sit on the porch steps while he finishes up, you remember you are supposed to reinforce his going potty outside. But you didn't grab your clicker and you didn't grab your treats. What to do!?

If clicker trainers had a dime for every time someone asked, "when can I get rid of the clicker and treats?" well, we would be able to do this job for free. The science behind positive reinforcement is that you give the dog something rewarding when he's done something right to up your chances that he does that behavior again. Commonly, this is done with the clicker/treat combo. The clicker marks the thing that was right and the treat gives the dog a reason to try that behavior again.
But what are you supposed to do if the dog is still acquiring behaviors and you find yourself without clicker and treats?
 It's because of this reality I try to teach clients the importance of finding real-life reinforcers for their dogs. I say "find" because your dog knows what's reinforcing to them - you just have to discover what would be ideal for you to use. Barking is reinforcing, but that's not necessarily a behavior you want to use as reinforcement. Cuddling is reinforcing to some dogs, that would be perfect to use when you find yourself without treats!

It turns out, Kuna is a sucker for some behind-the-ear petting. He loves to shove his puppy head in your lap while you slowly rub behind his ears. I found this out while I was teaching him that biting makes me go away. He tried to bite a couple times and the third time of me getting up and leaving, he decided instead of a bite, he would put his head in my lap. I slowly, so that I didn't get him riled up again, rubbed behind his ears while talking softly to him. He practically fell asleep! So I thought, hmm...let's see if this is good enough to use as reinforcement for behaviors. "Kuna. Sit." His little butt plopped on the ground. "gooooooood booooooy...." as I massaged his ears. I asked for the behavior again, wanting to see whether the speed of his behavior increased, decreased or stayed the same now that he thinks he will get an ear rub in return. Sure enough, the "sit" was faster. So I rewarded with the ear rub. A few more reps of this told me that the ear rub was perfect reinforcement - the behavior got faster. *when you're experimenting with this and you notice their behavior response time slows, then the reinforcement is not working correctly. Try something else...

It was me in the example above: there I was, practically falling asleep on the porch when I realized: uh-oh! he just
1) didnt go pee in the house
2) told me he had to pee outside
3) successfully eliminated outside.
I need to reward this big time!! So I went over to my little love bug and rewarded him with a little snuggle and an ear rub. His tail told me this was exactly what he was looking for!

Try this out with your dog! Use toys, praise, happy voice...all of these things can be reinforcers. You can also try pairing praise with a treat so that your dog begins to associate your words of encouragement with tasty morsels of food. That will make your praise worth much more!


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Please Don't Call Me That...

When people first meet me and hear that I am a dog trainer, they immediately say, "You're like the Dog Whisperer!" which sends chills down my spine. A million things run through my mind - I want to retaliate, I want to flip through tons of position statements from rescues, veterinarians, behaviorists, ethologists, researchers - all shunning the concept of training that is employed by The Dog Whisperer. But that would just be weird. People would think I am crazy and end up not listening anyway. So, instead, I just kindly smile and say, "well, we have different views about dog training."

There was a time when "whispering" meant being in-tune emotionally and spiritually. A time when "whispering" was a hands-off approach and required the "whisperer" to reach deep into their inner spirit in order to connect with their subject. The phrase has changed and it now means, to the general public, that I am a dog trainer that performs miracles by being Alpha and not allowing dogs to dominate me. What I actually do is so completely opposite that it actually hurts to hear people compare "whisperers" with me.

I won't go in to the details of the quadrants of operant conditioning. I will spare you the scientific babble that happens to make the behavior nerd in me giddy with joy. What I will ask is this: what does a trainer like myself have to say to convince someone that is using punitive, correction-based, whisper-training to stop? Because, let's face it. No one likes an activist unless you're already on their side. And by then, I'm just preachin' to the choir. How do I reach out and explain to people that there is no need to force, dominate, yell, scream, say "NO!", push, yank (how many more verbs can I throw in here??) in order to achieve a well-trained, obedient (and dare I say...happier!??) dog?

The interesting thing is: many people don't know the damage they are doing to their dogs because, bless their hearts, some dogs can be VERY resilient. Additionally, the owners aren't always doing it to terrorize their dogs. Owners are training this way, well, because that's the way people have done it for years! It's just how it's done. For example, the age old remedy for a dog that pees in the house is to take him to the spot (often WAY to long after the fact) put his nose in it and say "NO!", followed sometimes by a swat on the nose. What owners don't understand is that this actually teaches the dog that pee is bad, not the ACT of peeing in the house. It tells them you, as their owner, do not like pee. So what do they do? They hide it! They go in corners, they go behind the couch...just to spare you the icky pee that you clearly do not like. Aren't they so thoughtful??

Teaching your dog that you are the master isn't necessary, either. If you do it right, they'll figure it out (if you feel that that's even necessary - personally, I do not...) If you provide the shelter, food, water, guidance and exercise you will be seen as very valuable to your dog. That's when you have the decision: either command that your dog listen via force, etc. or teach your dog to trust you via proper positive-reinforcement training. That final piece is what contributes to the relationship you will have with your dog. And it's the relationship that determines whether the dog looks to you for true guidance.

So, instead of me getting on a soapbox every time someone refers to me as the Dog Whisperer, how would you suggest I tactfully and politely decline this title?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Kuna's Intro to the Dremmel

Please excuse the background noise...LOL...the kids were watching TV. What better distracting environment than a 5 and 3 year old??

First, I started with the dremmel off. Then, I turned it on and just had it near him. Finally, I turned it back off and got him used to it touching his paws. The video is false advertising: this is NOT Kuna's first go-round with the dremmel. We had been working on it the day prior...

Lots of treats were involved in the making of this video!