Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Back to School...

Dog Trainer Adam Katz of South Bay K9 Academy says there are three simple secrets to dog training:

1. Timing (Consequences - rewards and corrections - must be timed correctly so that the dog understands your communication.) Using Katz's own example: If you got a speeding ticket 6 weeks after you were speeding (especially if the ticket were in a foreign language), it might not carry much weight with you. Timing your communications with your dogs properly makes all the difference in the world.

2. Consistency - Consequences must be consistent so that the dog understands there is a predictable pattern to the consequences related to the dog's behavior.

3. Motivation - Consequences must make the dog want to repeat an action (the dog must care about the treat, toy, praise, etc. in rewards); or the consequence (correction) needs to be motivational enough for the dog to NOT want to repeat the behavior.

While I agree wholeheartedly with all of the above. I must say, there is a definite - and most important - 4th Secret to dog training.

Drum roll, please...

... and the 4th Secret to Dog Training is...

... Maintenance!

As with a lot of my blog posts, this one stems from personal experience. As many of you know, my whippet girls have been in season for the past 4 weeks - meaning the whippet boys have been coming to work with me instead of the girls.

This means a month of 'vacation' time for the girls. Training has been at a minimum for them - no recalls, no stays, no downs, no sits to speak of - for a whole month! "Woohoo!" say my girls..."We can do whatever we want!"

Of course, this mentality quickly leaked into everyday life. The girls have developed selective hearing. Even Miss Lizzie, my Obedience titled whippet and the #5 Ranked Rally-Obedience Novice whippet in the country for 2010, was looking at me blankly when I gave a command.

Are you kidding me?!

Meanwhile, the boys...Jett, Feynman, Fermi, and Timmy...always known for their boyish, goofy, lack-a-daisical attitudes about obedience and being the demo dogs: Well, all I can say is that last Saturday, Jett (yes, you read that right, JETT) was even up volunteering to be the demo dog during classes. This is the same Jett that I normally have to crawl into the kennel and beg to come out and work.

The boys' recalls were beautiful, their heeling sublime (for whippets), their sits automatic, and their stays - well, their stays were truly something to write home about!

How did this happen?!

Well, of course, we all know how it happened. See above...Dog Training Secret #4.

Maintenance - even just a few minutes of training and enforcing and rewarding commands every day - is vital to continued results with your dog. Even dogs who 'know' their obedience commands need daily maintenance.

The good news is, maintaining a dog's training doesn't take nearly as much time and effort as the initial teaching part of training takes. Once the dog knows the skills, it takes but a few repetitions a day to keep the skills fresh. But skipping out on maintenance exercises is a recipe for headaches for any dog owner.

Some tips for keeping your dogs' obedience skills in tip-top shape:

1. Don't set yourself up for failure - forcing dog training time into an already packed personal schedule just doesn't work. Much like working out (unless you're really into it), you'll do it religiously a few times, but soon that favorite T.V. show, video game, or pressure to get a blog post done will take precedence. Next thing you know, it's been 3 days since you trained the dog, and well, he's just not being 'bad' so why bother?

Remember, it takes time to train, and it takes time for the dog to 'forget'...neither will happen overnight.

Instead of aiming for the lofty goal of doing 20 to 40 minutes straight of training, do your maintenance work in small bits throughout the day - 2 minutes here, 5 minutes there, when you'd be interacting with your dog anyway (practices sits and waits before going in and out of any door; 'leave its' before meal times; sit/stays when putting leashes on or taking them off, etc.)

2. In the same spirit, 'schedule' your training times for moments in your own schedule where life gives you little moments - do 2 to 5 minutes of training during TV commercials and at routine breaks in your schedule (after your shower, before your coffee...or after you've gotten home, but before you've sorted the mail, etc.). Training in this way allows you and the dog lots of maintenance training, plus supplies the added benefit of reminding the dog that obedience is expected any where, any time - not just during 20 minute drilling sessions.

3. Last but not least, remember that if you are teaching any NEW skill, then it doesn't fall into maintenance training and extended sessions and repetitions will be needed until the dog masters the new skill, then you can incorporate it into the maintenance routine.

The whippet girls' story has a happy ending. They are all out of season (and hopefully two will soon be mama dogs) and so they can come to work with me again and not drive all of my clients' boy dogs insane. :)

Today was Lizzie, Bella, and Polliwog's first day back to school. I managed to get 10 minutes of maintenance training time in with each of them (and also with Fermi and wonder dog Siobhan). Imagine that...they were delighted with the chance to work with me AND their everyday obedience attitudes came right back!

That's it from this end of the leash...

Jennifer Hime is the head trainer/behaviorist at Front Range K9 Academy & Horsetooth Whippets. She can be reached at

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Leash Aggression - Really???

I received the following email last week from a client, and the timing for a discussion on this issue couldn't be better:

Hi Jennifer

I attended training about a year ago with my Red Heeler pup, Aspen. He's now a wonderful dog, off leash trained and does great with other dogs. With one exception of course. He's become aggressive towards other dogs when he's leashed. If we're on a walk and he's healing, a dog will come hear us and he'll fluff up his back hair, growl and lunge aggressively at the other dog. He did recently bit a little Beagle's ear on our neighborhood while on a walk though didn't hurt the dog. Each time he does it, I get in front of him and scold him but it doesn't seem to be getting any better. When he's off the leash and we meet another dog, he is GREAT and typically runs away with his tail between his legs.

Any suggestions?


This is a very common issue. The leash increases agitation in MANY dogs...and
most of the problem comes from the owners - not the dogs!

This is because dogs ranging in age from about 1 to 3 years become much more selective about who they actually want physical contact with.

We humans don't keep up with this change in social development, and continue to let our dogs 'meet' every dog out there, thinking "He's so social. He looooves dogs."

In essence, we're trapping them into adolescent behavior without allowing them to mature and limit their social contacts as they would in the wild as they grew up. Just because your dog was very social as a puppy doesn't mean that will continue into adulthood.

I like to look at the very obvious similarities between humans and dogs when it comes to proper socialization.

Some humans and some dogs do stay more social throughout life. But really, think about it:

You're social...but do you looooove every human you meet? Just like dogs, as we age, we begin to shrink our social circles - or at least we have fewer people we want to be
socially intimate with.

Imagine if I tied you up and placed you on a bench outside the grocery store. Then I let every stranger coming and going from the store come up and touch you. Then, if you got upset when a stranger groped you, I slapped
you instead of the stranger.

It might seem extreme, but this is the equivalent of most leash-to-leash meetings for dogs.

They can't escape; they can't take things slowly or at their own pace; they feel restrained, so they panic and tell the other dog to get away from them the only way they know how: Growling, snapping, etc.

But when dogs do this, they get punished by their owners!

This only worsens the problem, as your dog has no way out. What you are telling the dog is that any dog can tickle, fondle, sniff or downright dominate, molest, or intimidate them and they just have to take it. Would you do the same to your child if they were being bullied?

I know this sounds radical to some...but I'm on a roll, so bear with me. With the warmer weather and a slew of dogs hitting this 1 to 3 year age range, these face-to-face, leash-to-leash meetings are more common and dogs who are forced into these situations generally become worse and worse, and expand the aggression to even off-leash situations.

To make matters even MORE complicated, the general public perpetuates the problem by continuing to push the myth of 'all dogs like each other.' (I bet we ALL can think of a family member, neighbor, or friend who subscribes to this INCORRECT view of canine socialization.)

So...what to do?

AVOID leashed greetings. If you are walking your dog and another person walking theirs is pressing for a meeting, politely hold up a hand and cross the street. Or put your dog in a stay behind you and block the other dog's access to yours. Or find any other way out of the situation.

(NOTE - you may have to be downright rude about this with some people. So be it. That stranger & strange dog on the street are just that - strangers. You owe them no loyalty and will spend maybe 30 seconds of your life around them. You will spend the next 10 to 15 years with your dog.)

Don't be the stranger listed up above in item #1. As your dog ages, it very likely doesn't WANT to meet the other dogs on the street anymore than you want to shake hands with every single person you encounter at the grocery store!

Supervise off-leash contacts and limit them to dogs that your dog knows and will have a relationship with. (Again - referring to item #1 - beyond the puppy stages, dogs tend to become much more selective of who they WANT a long term relationship with, and how intimate they wish to be with those other dogs...they are pack animals after all...and packs tend to be small.)

Keep in mind what GOOD leashed dog-to-dog interactions should look like. In essence they should look exactly like you at a grocery store, or other place where you and other humans are tightly packed. They should look NEUTRAL. If the other dog is being too hyper, too forward, too dominant, too anything, your dog will NOT be able to maintain control, just as you wouldn't be able to maintain control if someone were doing those things to you in a grocery store. If your dog needs more work at being neutral around other dogs (remember to keep good distance between your dog and the strange dog), then it's back to the practice field for TONS of distraction-proofing of your stays. (Shameless plug here - we TEACH these skills specifically in our Level 2 Obedience program!)

Last but not least, spread the word! Let family, friends, and yes - even strangers - know that you are working on teaching your dog appropriate dog-to-dog manners and that you need their help and respect in not allowing other dogs (or people, for that matter) to fondle, caress, or otherwise molest the dog without your permission!

Yes, I'm on a soapbox here, only because this issue is at pandemic levels in our city!!!! Do your part and promote good dog-to-dog social behavior - your dog will thank you for it.

That's it from this end of the leash.

Jennifer Hime is the head trainer & behaviorist at Front Range K9 Academy in Wheat Ridge, CO. She can be contacted at