First Impressions Count

Socialization is the key to creating a confident dog. Here’s how to do it right.

You’ve probably witnessed the dog on walks that lunges or barks ferociously at every dog he or she sees. Or maybe you own that dog. That poor dog is stressed and fearful. One of the causes of this kind of reactivity is lack of early socialization.

Dogs see the world as safe, good, dangerous, bad, or neutral. You want your puppy to see the world as safe and good. The time in your puppies life when he is most open to novel experiences is before 18 weeks of age. This is the time to get him out there, so go! But do it right.

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Puppies, like children, need to be taught appropriate play skills. This is from our Ideal Puppy class.

Here are 3 great tips.

Tip 1: Use Great Rewards

Pair new experiences with something your puppy loves like food or play. Figure out what his favorite treats are and reserve them for creating strong positive associations.

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Puppy Bryn is having fun at the hardware store.

Tip 2: Ace The First Encounter

First impressions count. If your puppy’s first encounter with something new doesn’t go well, it takes a lot of work to change his mind. Always try to make first experiences particularly rewarding. If your puppy is not enjoying the experience, he will show it by turning away or trying to leave, tucking his tail, cowering,  pulling his ears back against his head, and/or averting his gaze. If this happens help him by giving him more distance or leaving the situation.

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This is Bryn’s first experience with goats!

Tip 3: Timing Is Everything

You should reward your puppy as soon as something new happens, but it’s important that the new thing happens first. For example:

  1. You’re out with your puppy and pass your neighbor’s house.
  2. You see your neighbor about to press the garage door opener.
  3. You wait for her to press the button.
  4. As the sound begins and your puppy’s ears perk up, you treat him with yummy food bites and use a happy, cheerful voice.

The association we want your puppy to make: Garage door noise = Good things happen.

Applying The 3 Rules

New place. Give your puppy plenty of time to explore and get comfortable. Try to get him to play with a toy, chase you, or toss some yummy treats on the floor for him to find.

New person. Ask all kinds of strangers and children to give your puppy a treat before petting him. If your puppy is shy or unsure of himself, have people toss a few treats on the ground or have them stand at a distance while you calmly feed your puppy. You can also teach your puppy to sit (or any cute trick) so you can have people ask your puppy to do something. That stops them from immediately trying to pet your puppy, which can be overwhelming for him. Once your puppy is comfortable, go ahead and let him interact with the new person at his own pace.

New dog. Not every new dog is guaranteed to play with your puppy, thereby giving your puppy a good experience. That means the reinforcement for meeting a new dog needs to come from you and the best time is directly after your puppy sees the new dog. Get in the habit of rewarding your puppy for simply looking in the direction of another dog. Not only will you create a positive association, but you will help prevent all-too-common behavior problems in adult dogs like barking at other dogs while on leash, barking at dogs (or people) when behind a fence, etc.

For how long? This is not just for baby puppies. Continue to build your dog’s confidence through social maturity, which in most cases is 2 to 3 years of age. Is your dog not a young puppy? It’s not too late to get started building more confidence.

Your puppy should be exposed, in a positive and safe way, to as many experiences as possible. Here is a scavenger hunt you can play with your dog. Please share your experiences with us.

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(Thanks, Robin Bennett!)

 

Knock Knock. Who’s There?

It’s Not a Joke When Your Dog Jumps on Your Guests

Wouldn’t it be great if your overly friendly dog could sit calmly when your guests come into your home and not jump all over them? Or you can meet your neighbor on the street and be able to have a calm conversation. This takes on added significance with the approach of the holidays so start working on it now. (For this article, we are talking about friendly, exuberant greeters, not reactive, fear-aggressive dogs that do not want to greet but will continue to growl or bark at your guests.)

Usually the reason dogs jump up on guests is to get attention, to greet, or to be petted. But every time your dog pulls to get somewhere or jumps up and gets attention he is being reinforced for the bad behavior. To change misbehavior, you must remove whatever is reinforcing his behavior. Instead you will begin reinforcing only appropriate behavior.

There are several ways to accomplish this task when guests arrive. One includes sending your dog to a mat and teaching him (or her) to stay even in the face of distractions. This is an effective long-term solution and has lots of other applications, including going to friend’s homes, taking your dog to the vet, cooking or eating dinner, going out to a restaurant with your well-trained companion, or to get a dog out from underfoot when you are doing other tasks. Watch for the article that discusses mat training. In this article, we will build other behaviors to accomplish the goal.

ATTENTION IS KEY

It’s important that your dog is giving you attention and focus on a regular basis. If not, it will be hard to get his attention when something very distracting happens, such guests arriving. Begin by rewarding your dog every time he looks at you. Remember, behaviors that are rewarded increase in frequency. When he is doing this well, add minor distractions and wait quietly for eye contact. A distraction could be taking him to a different area in your house, then in the backyard, the front yard, on the sidewalk in front of your home, down the road, etc. If your dog is unable to give you any attention, the distraction may be too intense for him now; move further away or find another way to lower the intensity.

Most owners are not patient. They make noise, they nag their dog, or they yank on the leash. Give your dog time to think and adjust. Just wait your dog out, even if it takes a minute or more, and be ready to mark the behavior of him orienting toward you (by clicking or using a verbal marker such as “Yes!”) and then treating. The bigger the distraction, the higher value the reward should be.

Build up the focus in small steps. First reward just turning toward you. Later you’ll wait for eye contact.

SIT HAPPENS

An effective way to accomplish your goal of your dog not jumping on your guests is to teach your dog a solid sit and then build in distractions. If your dog is sitting, what is he not doing? That’s right; he is not jumping up. Begin by asking your dog to sit for all interactions. Does your dog want a treat, dinner, a toy, a belly rub, to jump on the couch and cuddle with you, play with a toy, go out the door, get on or off his leash? Guess what? Your dog can begin to work for these things that you are now giving away for free by sitting first.

Start with asking for a sit. Don’t keep repeating the cue, simply wait. If you need to, leash your dog first so he does not go looking for something easier to do. He will eventually sit and when he does, reward him with a treat. (If you use a clicker or marker word such as “Yes!”, you will mark the behavior as soon as it occurs and then treat.) Eventually, he will begin to sit automatically and the reinforcement will become the thing he wants (such as going out the door) instead of a treat. Build duration by withholding the treat for a second or two at first, and then longer and longer.

Here are the steps to polite greeting. Be sure to start in an area with low distractions, and build your dog’s behavior slowly. Your dog may be at a kindergarten level right now. Don’t expect college level results by setting him up to fail with distractions that are too great (such as with guests) until you have built up solid behavior. Be sure to train with an upbeat, positive attitude because your dog will feed off this and want to work with you.

Step 1. Practice in a distraction-free zone getting your dog to sit/stay at your side. Be sure to reward frequently with treats and enthusiastic praise to reinforce this behavior. He should also be offering eye contact while sitting. (This should be easy because you have just spent lots of time rewarding it, right?)

When he’s good at this you can add distractions (step 2).

Step 2. Start with your dog on leash at least 20 feet or more away from the distraction and ask for an immediate sit (eventually the sit should become automatic). Immediately reward. If he can’t sit calmly at this distance, increase it until he can. Your dog should not only be sitting, but also maintaining eye contact with you. Distractions can include a bowl with some treats, or a toy placed on the floor. These should be lower value at first (something your dog wants but is not overly crazy about), and increase the value as your dog improves.

Keep his attention by rewarding him frequently in the sit using treats and happy praise. (See video #1)

Step 3. After a moment, if he is still sitting, you can move a little closer and repeat the above steps. In the beginning of the training, only take one or two steps at a time before asking or waiting for a sit.

If your dog pulls at any time, he gets penalty yards. Move far enough away from the distraction to the point where he can again pay attention to you and choose the correct behaviors.

Continue this process until your dog is moving next to you, sitting immediately when you stop, and giving eye contact. The leash should always be loose. You need to give your dog a chance to choose the correct behavior, otherwise how will he learn? If he chooses incorrectly and pulls toward the distraction, the consequence will be to remove the potential reinforcement of or getting the treats or toy (or eventually getting to greet) by moving him further away before trying again. (See the article, “It’s Your Choice”.)

Step 4. When you are about 4 feet away from the distraction, stop. The leash should be shorter than this distance so your dog can’t self-reward and pull toward the distraction before you can control him by turning away; but it should always be loose. If your dog is calmly sitting, release him to go and get the toy, eat the treats in the bowl, or, eventually, greet.

ADDING A PERSON

Step 5. Start over at Step 1 and practice with a friend or neighbor who can stand still and not talk to your dog. That is a distraction that you will add later. You can speak with your friend/neighbor but don’t lose your connection with your dog. (Watch video #2)

If you get to Step 4 and your dog has not pulled or gotten up from the sit, you can release him and tell him to “go say hi”. If your dog begins to pull or jump, immediately turn and walk away to a point where he is able to focus on you.

Step 6. Within 3 seconds of the greeting, call your dog or lure him away with a treat so he does not have the opportunity to get over excited and jump up. Do not allow him to practice bad behaviors.

Remember to decrease the distance between your dog and the other person slowly. Your dog needs to be able to sit politely and pay attention before decreasing the distance to the distraction or the thing he wants.

Step 7. As he learns to sit calmly you will begin to increase the amount of time between treats and go closer before stopping and waiting for a sit. Eventually the reward is the greeting and no treats will be needed. You will also build in the added distraction of your friend speaking to your dog, first in a calm voice and then in a more excited tone.

Now that your dog can pay attention to you when he wants to greet, add in the sound of the doorbell or knocking, and then the person coming into the home. Alternatively, you should consider putting your dog in a comfortable room with a stuffed Kong until all your guests are settled, and then bring him out on leash, practicing his calm walking, sitting, and calm attention to you. When you and he are ready, give him permission for an abridged greeting to keep his arousal level low. If your dog is behaving calmly with your guests, you can either drop the leash (it’s there to step on if he starts acting too excited), or release him if you are confident of his behavior.

Enjoy your nice, calm companion! What a perfect gift for the holidays, or any time of year.

Tug-of-War: Do it right and keep it fun

Tug can build impulse control and awesome obedience skills!

First, forget the myth

For decades, dog owners have been told never to play tug-of-war with their dogs because it increases aggression in the dog. This isn’t true—every study done refutes the notion. Playing tug-of-war doesn’t turn your dog into a predator; he already is one. The game simply provides a safe and enjoyable outlet for the behavior.

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Why it’s a good idea

Tug-of-war is:

  • A tremendous cardio workout and brainteaser for your dog.
  • A great way to teach your dog to listen to commands even when excited and distracted.
  • Exercise that can happen indoors, outdoors, in short sessions, and with little space.
  • Likely to lessen any behavior problems resulting from under-stimulation and boredom.
  • A potent motivator for snappy obedience.

The caveat

Tug-of-war, however, should be correctly trained and always played by the rules. Remember: Control the game and you control the dog. Follow the method and rules laid out here, and you are in for a great time with your dog:

If your dog hoards the tug toy, show zero interest. If, when your dog “wins,” i.e. you let go of the tug toy, he leaves and hoards the toy, play hard to get. Never chase your dog or get into a battle involving speed or agility. You won’t win and psych-outs work much better, so pretend you couldn’t care less.

Notice and reward steps in the right direction. If your dog tries to re-engage you in the game by dropping the toy in front of you, praise him and try again. The goal is for your dog to learn that the tug toy is infinitely more fun when brought to life by you than when dead. Patience is key here, especially with inveterate hoarders.

Before playing tug-of-war

Put the release on command.

Decide on a release command such as “Out,” “Give,” or “Drop.” Before getting your dog excited about playing tug for the first time, practice some low-key exchanges with him. The sequence is:

  1. Give the cue to release
  2. Your dog releases
  3. Give a food reward
  4. Give the cue to re-take the toy

Teach this: Start by trading for a treat. Give your release cue first and then hold a treat at your dog’s nose; when your dog releases the toy he gets the treat. After enough repetitions, your dog will begin to release the toy after you have cued his release and before you have brought out the treat. Immediately reward this great behavior! At first the reward will be the treat, but over time the reward will be another fun game of tug.

Every game has penalties.

During actual tug-of-war games, apply the following penalties:

A 30-second time out. For any failure to release the tug toy, stop play and leave the room for 30 seconds.

End the game. For a game misconduct like grabbing your clothes or your hand with his mouth, stop the game altogether. Don’t make the mistake of thinking this was an accident. Dogs can have exquisite control and I don’t believe that mistakes happen often.

When your dog knows, loves, and is hooked on tug-of-war, ending the game abruptly is by far the most potent motivator against rule breaking.

The 4 tug-of-war rules.

1. Your dog has to release the tug toy on command.  Of course, you have thoroughly trained the release command, so any failure to  comply should result in a stop play penalty.

2. The game only happens when your dog is sitting and you say so. Designate a tug toy as the one-and-only tug toy, reserved for this game only. Decide on a take command such as “get it!”  Then teach your dog that he has to sit before being given permission to get the toy.

The easiest way to train this rule is to practice it while playing. Wait for or ask for a sit. Show your dog the toy. If your dog gets up or goes for the toy before you have released him with his “take it” cue, the toy goes out of his reach or behind your back. Stand neutrally, quietly and calmly and wait for him to sit again. Once he has, release him to get the toy and have a short fun tugging game. When he gets good at the game, add additional time he has to wait before he’s released to get it, and then add distractions, such as waving the toy near him or slapping it on the floor while he remains in the sit and waits patiently with anticipation and excitement.

This rule infraction is extremely common in tug-of-war games, so don’t sweep it under the rug. If your dog continually goes for another retake before being invited, or is extremely aroused and is jumping all over you instead of sitting and waiting, end the game for a short period of time.

Building impulse control, where your dog is reinforced for making a good choice, is   an important part of the “It’s Your Choice” lifetime program for your dog.  (Check out this previous blog article).

3. The game stops often for obedience breaks and calm behavior. Tug-of-war is one of the great recyclable rewards for obedience training. Alternate back and forth between the tug game and obedience to spot-check your control over your dog during the game and to teach him obedience when he is excited and distracted. This also teaches him to go from high arousal to a calmer behavior, which is an important concept for dogs to learn. Every initiation of the tug game is a potent reward you can use to select a particularly nice obedience response. Your dog will try fanatically hard to improve his obedience to get you to restart the game. For example, try using it as a valuable reinforcer for exercises such as coming when  called. What’s more, through repeated association over time, the two activities will blur in your dog’s mind, eventually making him love obedience training.

4. Zero tolerance of sloppy jaw control. Your dog will sometimes make contact with your hand or other part of you. Sometimes he might even latch on to you or your clothing as though you were a tug toy. Don’t let this go unnoticed. Screech “Ouch!” even if it didn’t hurt and abruptly end the game. This is game misconduct every time. Dogs can control their jaws with great precision if given a reason to do so. (Don’t use the loud “Ouch!” if it excites your dog more.)  With this rule you not only remind your dog of the sensitivity of human skin and the great necessity to keep his jaws off people at all times, you have also trained this while he is excited.

That’s it. Now have fun with it.

If your dog isn’t breaking any of the rules, let him get as excited as he wants. This includes head shaking, strong tugging, and growling. But maintain the rules through constant practice and testing.