Friday, December 12, 2008

Aesop's Fables pt. 2

Well, I've written about the Aesop's Fable about The Tortoise & the Hare, and how it relates to dog training.

How about "The Little Boy who cried Wolf"?

We all know the story: The little shepherd boy wants attention, so he comes running into town, crying that there is a wolf threatening the flock. The townspeople respond by running into the hills to protect the sheep, only to find the boy didn't really mean it; he was playing a joke on them. After this happens several times, a real wolf comes along. This time when the little boy cries "Wolf!" no one in town believes him and the flock is killed.

Obviously, the human moral of this story is about being truthful. But what about the dog training moral? When applied to dog training, this lesson teaches us to say what we mean, and mean what we say to our dogs.

Very often, I see owners simply miscommunicating with their dogs. They say "come" to the dog, but don't really mean it each time.

Or they use different commands at different times. Believe me, 'sit' means something different than 'sit down' to your dog. 'Off!' means something other than 'Down!' Or at least they should. But if you mix up commands, your dog won't know what the heck you want.

Sometimes, owners are unable or unwilling to show the dog that when they say 'stay', they really DO mean it.

Dogs need true feedback to know what you want. They learn by feeling an instinct (or desire) - responding to the desire - experiencing a result of their actions - and judging whether they want to repeat that process or not. Keep that learning flow in mind when working with your dogs:

desire -> action -> consequence -> new desire based on consequence.

Are you lying to your dogs? Are you crying "wolf?"

If your dog gets a different result from you each time he does a behavior, it's unclear to him whether you like the behavior, don't care about the behavior, or don't like the behavior. Obviously, there are other factors besides how you feel about his behaviors coming into play, but if you are practicing good leadership and training methods, your dog DOES factor your responses into his next desire/action/consequence sequence.

When your dog does something, are you responding consistently, every time??? Owners sending mixed messages is the number one communication break down for dogs.

Unlike the little shepherd boy, most owners aren't doing this on purpose. But they are doing it. The end result is a confused dog and a frustrated owner.

So the next time you begin to get frustrated with a particular behavior your dog is doing, check and make sure you haven't been crying wolf...responding with so many different consequences that your dog doesn't know the truth - the truth of what you really expect. If it's you that has been inconsistent and unclear, you must go back, reteach the skill and be consistent with your feedback.

That's it from this end of the leash.

Questions? Comments? You can reach Jennifer Hime at

Friday, December 5, 2008

Choosing a Doggy Daycare

Anytime I get the same question from several different clients, I know it's time for a new blog entry!

So, how DO you choose a good Doggy Daycare? There's a lot to consider besides the obvious questions of location and cost. Remember, this is where you are planning on leaving your dog for the day or longer, if it's also a boarding kennel. Choosing a daycare that meets your needs and keeps your dog safe is as important as choosing a school for your children.

The best thing you can do is ask questions. Here are some basics (along with what the answers should sound like):

1. What is the human-to-dog ratio? (There should never be more than 11 dogs per 1 human at any one time, and there should always be at least 2 people on staff. If there is an emergency with a dog or a staff member, you need to be sure there will still be someone there with the rest of the dogs.)

2. Is there a limit to how many dogs can be in the facility at a time? (This seems obvious, but can be tricky at daycares that allow 'drop-ins.')

3. Where and how are the staff trained? (Think about this: you're going to leave your dog in the care of people other than yourself, and those people have not only your dog to worry about, but sometimes 30 or 40 other dogs, too. A facility that doesn't train or hire staff that are experienced in dog behavior is eventually going to have don't want those problems involving your dog! Daycare staff need to be more than just dog lovers, they need to be knowledgeable about canine CPR & first aid, canine social behaviors and how to introduce new dogs, how to break up fights, handle injured animals, etc.)

4. Do they have a webcam? (Most daycares have them these allows you to logon and watch how your dog is doing throughout the day. Not only does this give you warm fuzzies, it also allows you to make sure there is always someone with the dogs and that they are being treated appropriately.)

5. How do they screen their new clients? (They should require proof of vaccinations, as well as have a 'trial' day and introduction period in which they make sure each new dog is safe and acceptable in a daycare environment.)

6. Do they have an area for small, elderly, or 'mellow' dogs? (Not all dogs want to go go go go go go go play play play play play all day. Good facilities have mulitple areas where they can group dogs of similar temperaments and energy levels.)

7. Do they have an 'open door' policy? (You should be able to show up, unannounced and view the entire facility. If there are any 'off-limits' area, be suspicious. A good kennel or daycare is proud of its facility - including its staff, procedures and cleanliness.)

Last but not least, defer to your dog. If your dog is sullen, fearful, has other undesirable behavior changes after a day at daycare, it could mean several things - including that your dog just prefers to stay home. But it could mean there's a problem at that daycare. Be a good owner and work to find a daycare that works not only for you, your budget and your schedule...but for your dog.

That's it from this end of the leash.

Questions? Comments? You can reach Jennifer at