Posts filed under training

Sage's right of passage

It's no secret that I love puppies, and one of my favorite parts about puppies is watching them grow and develop over the years. Being a part of a pack fulfills a much needed social aspect of our pups lives.

Just like high school kids, there are "cliques" within the pack. There is a general divide between the puppies and the older dogs that are too cool to put up with puppy play. One of the many milestones of a growing puppy is when an older dogs decides they are worthy of playing with. Welcome to the big kid clique, Sage.

When an older dog decides to play with a puppy, it is a reward for good behavior on the puppies part. It means that puppy has learned how to play properly, read body language and know how to play by the rules.

Gus, although still pretty much a puppy himself, wanted nothing to do with Sage when she first joined the pack. When she came charging past at turbo speed, he would tell her to slow down or get out of the way, but other than that, she was invisible to him. Yesterday, Gus engaged Sage for an awesome session of doodle dancing. I was so proud of little muppet (Sage) growing up so fast, and proud of Gus for being a patient and gentle teacher. I love nothing more than to see these relationships develop. GOOD PUPS!!!


Sticky Situations at the Dog Park

{As always, I just want to preface this post with the fact that I am not a certified dog trainer, these are just my opinions based on my experience. }

I hear many people say that they took their dog to the dog park when they were younger, and then they got attacked, so they stopped going. While from a loving parent/owner perspective, this totally makes sense, but it makes me so sad to hear. That dog doesn't deserve to miss out on the hundreds, maybe thousands, of fun times at the park and positive social interactions because of that one incident that wasn't their fault. 

I witnessed one of these incidents at the park this afternoon. A woman and her younger lab were in the big field, playing ball and wrestling with pups passing by. A guy was sitting on the table on his phone, where he had been for the last 20 minutes, as his dog ran wild in the main area of the park. There's lots to be said about that alone, but for now, just stating the facts. This guy's dog approached the lab and started circling while the lab, who had been outgoing and playful with other dogs, stuck to the woman's legs. After a few more circles, the lab got brave and stepped out to play with the other dog. Within seconds the play escalated to the other dog attacking the lab. The guy nonchalantly walks over and kicks his dog, leashes her up, and walks off. Both dogs were OK, it was more noise than anything, but clearly scary for the lab's owner. 

When Bailey was younger, and obviously so was I, I am sure I would have acted the exact same way at the lab owner. Uncomfortable but not really sure what to do, feeling very helpless. Between practically living at the dog park for the past nearly 4 years, knowing infinitely more about dogs than I used to, and being responsible for other people's dogs, I have become quiet comfortable taking charge in and trying to prevent these situations before they even begin. So, for whoever happens to stumble across this post, here are my suggestions:

  • always match dogs to their owners, as soon as you see the dog coming near. You want to know who to talk to if you need to.
  • speak up! If someone's dog is making you uncomfortable, ask the owner to get their dog! If their dog is obviously acting in appropriate, I just ask them flat out to come get their dog. If it is something that I am just uncomfortable with, or the owner is obviously oblivious, I make up an excuse that my dog has a problem with white fluffy dogs (or whatever their dog is) and ask if they will hold onto their dog while I walk away.
  • Shoo the dog away. People often hesitate to bark commands at other people's dogs, and rightly so, but when you feel threatened or like your dog may be in danger, by all means, tell that dog to go away! I am honestly surprised how often it works, I always assume if the dog doesn't know me, it won't listen, but if you use a stern tone and just "no" or "go" and point back to where they came from, they almost always go!
  • use your body language. If a dog is approaching your dog and you aren't sure about that dog, use your body to step in between your dog and the oncoming dog. If a dog is viciously charging at you and you just know it is going to bite you, I wouldn't suggest doing this, that is a whole other level I'm not prepared to address, but I will tell you that has never happened to me.
  • know appropriate play. Check out the APDT's article on Dog Park Body Language for a refresher. A couple simple guidelines: 1) both dogs should be having fun, 2) balanced play (take turns chasing, being on bottom), 3) Mutually initiate play and frequent rest breaks, and 4) no ganging up, 1:1 play is best
  • Last, but not least, if it would make you feel more comfortable, you can carry a bottle of SprayShield Animal Deterrent with you. It is forceful citronella spray that is very effective at breaking up dog fights, but completely safe for the dogs.

If you are timid, it may cause your dog to be more timid, which may make them more of a target for bully dogs. Again, I'm not a trainer, but this is something you hear a lot, and I believe it to be true from personal experience. So be confident and know that you are in charge and no dog is going to mess with your pup! Now go find the nice dogs that just want to wrestle and chase and let your pup run herself tired! 

How to not greet a dog

Being able to take your dog out and about with you is one of the great things about having a dog. The companionship, watching them explore the world with a curiosity we long forgot about, and the smiles they bring to people's faces are some of the highlights for me. These excursions are so important for your dog too, it provides socialization, mental stimulation, and bonding with you. 

One of my favorite things to do on a Sunday morning is to take Bailey to the Ballard Farmer's market. She's great in crowds; she grew up living in the Pike Place Market, going to the Bite of Seattle, UofW tailgates, etc. She has been socialized in situations like these since she was a very young pup, so she is very comfortable in crowds. Luckily, she is a typical happy and not phased by much, but I am still blown away by how people interact with dogs in crowded places. While she is on a short leash, right by my side, I will be paying for my flowers then look down and see people just grabbing at her and petting her. They have good intentions of course, but if I were Bailey, I would be pretty overwhelmed! Catch me in a bad mood and I wouldn't past me to snap at a hand in my face! Fortunately, my happy-go-lucky lab soaks up all the attention she can get, but that is not true of a lot of dogs, and I see it on their faces all the time at the market.

The interesting thing is, the little kids are always the ones who ask to pet her, which of course I say yes, but the adults always just reach and grab. Not even putting a hand out to sniff first. Number 1 rule: ask to pet someone's dog. Believe me, I know that sometimes a dog is so freakin cute you just have to pet them immediately, but you just don't know when the feeling may not be mutual. We have to respect the dogs space just as we expect them to respect ours. The image below has wonderful information thanks to Doggie Drawings.  Please share this info! 

New Years Resolution update 1

As a part of my New Years resolution to teach all of my park dogs to ride in the back of the truck, Achilles and I had our first lesson today. Achilles is a 2yr old, 150lb Great Dane with a lot of spirit and a hint of a stubborn streak. He is bigger than me in size and weight and so far I've been happy to get him in the truck any way I can. If I try to push/pull him he throws a fit like a bucking bronco and after successfully staying on my end of the leash, we have to take a few laps to settle down before trying again.

Considering the scenario I just described is just to get him in the back seat, I thought I had my work cut out for me today. To prepare, I brought a nice selection and Trader Joe's cheese and prosciutto. Random, but it's easy to cut, easy on the stomach, and something I knew he couldn't resist.

Much to my surprise, Achilles didn't even hesitate to jump in the truck on the first try for that cheese. We practiced several times and then I turned on the truck and started closing the tailgate and letting him get comfortable with that. He decided that was as far as our lesson would go today, but I am so very proud of him!

Next step is to try the Trader Joe's magic cheese while another dog is in the truck. I do believe there will be a day when I don't have Dane slobber on top of my head (he rests his head on mine while I drive - endearing and gross). Stayed tuned and wish me luck!


Honeymoon at the dog park

Every new dog park pup that I've taken has what I call a "honeymoon" period. At first they are calm, sweet, responsive, just perfect angels. It usually takes about 3 weeks for them to fully adjust, be comfortable, and come out of their shell. This is when their true colors shine and I see what kind of pup they really are. I love to see a new pup starting to play more, beat the other dogs to get the ball and just generally having fun! Here is Heidi on her first day:


Here is Heidi 3 weeks later:



Tricks of the trade: follow the leader

Some of my avid readers (if such thing exists) may recall a blog I wrote months ago about when a puppy reaches the teenage phase. If you haven't, you can read the blog here, but this pretty much sums it up:

It’s that moment when the “teenager” stops a few paces short of the gate and stares at me that I realize he’s grown up. He realizes that he actually has a choice whether he follows me or not. It’s when he actually considers the fact that there might be better things in the world than the scraps of treat left in my coat pocket.

Sound familiar? Have you ever found yourself standing at the front of the dog park, ready to leave, hopelessly calling your dog who is essentially giving you the middle finger while running victory laps around the park? Have you yelled "Ok, Bye Fido, see you later...." hoping for a response? Well I have a little secret for you... they're on to you! They know your routine and they know it's time to go and they don't want to!

I've been very fortunate to have had so many puppy clients and been able to help raise and train them. Inevitably, puppies will turn into defiant teenagers, and well trained adult dogs will have a stubborn streak. It's all a part of the fun! I'm sure you can imagine what a mess it would be if all 8 of my dogs protested leaving the park at once (it's happened), so I have a few tricks to avoid this debacle that you can use on your own pup.

Always keep them guessing. I never walk in the direction at the park. Some days I walk straight to the water then come back to water bowls in front, then to the big field, then to the side field, then out the gate. Sometimes we go to the side field first, then the water, then the side field again, then the big field then the gate. You get the picture... I don't have an order of the way we walk the park, that way, just because we are playing close to the gate to leave, doesn't mean we are leaving. When I decide it's time to leave, I can start leashing up some of the ones who I know will protest, and then start walking to the gate with the rest.

Check in. I always like to work on recall with my dogs, even the older well trained ones, just to have them check in with me and know that I'm watching them. I often call them over and have them sit and wait for a treat. I pet them, touch their collars, and hold on to them just to get them used to it. This way, when I want to put them on leash, they aren't expecting it and are less likely to put up a fight (not literal fight, stubborn fight).

After party. When the dogs get to the gate and are ready to leave, I give them a treat (not everyone, just the ones who are new to the routine or having a hard time remembering why I am so convincing) and lots of over-the-top cheerleading praise. Leaving the park is just as much fun as going to the park, RIGHT!??!

Leash 'em up. If you have any doubt that you are going to be able to get your pup out of the park incident-free, just leash 'em up. Once they experience the thrill of the chase and the anger in your face, there is no going back, they will want to make it a regular thing. Once you've had enough successful exits and cheerleader praise, and you feel that you trust him a little bit more, you can try and get closer and closer to the gate before you put the leash on.

Some dogs this is never a problem for and some dogs this is such a problem that their owners never take them to the dog park and never let them off leash. That's no way for a city dog to live, in my opinion! I hope this helps! Remember, you always win! 

Tricks of the trade: drop the ball!

ImageOne question that I am constantly asked is "how do you handle 7 dogs at once?", and like every dogwalker, we have our secrets. In this series of blog posts, "tricks of the trade", I will be sharing a few of my secrets that you may be able to use with your pup at the park! Drop the ball! 

If you're pup is anything like Bailey, or any other ball-obsessed lab for that matter, who refuses to drop the ball, try this trick:

blow softly into their ear. keep blowing. It will mess up their pressure and make them start moving their jaw to pop their ears, just like we do on a plane. While moving their jaw, they are bound to drop the ball! The key here is to be very patient and gentle.

*I learned this wonderful trick from my fellow dogwalker, Gretchen Jannenga, and this trick has made getting Bailey in the truck ball-free possible on numerous occasions! 

{of course, the ideal scenario would be to teach your pup to drop the ball properly in the first place... I'll talk about that in a future post!}