Heeling Exercises for the Weather Challenged…

Are you having trouble teaching your dog to walk nicely especially with the cold weather? Here I highlight some of the easy and fun ways to get back on track and have fun walking together.

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Ah NJ winters…a mix of slush, rain and general damp nastiness is in the forecast for today and tomorrow. And the dog is bouncing off the walls.  Maybe you are too.  Put some fun in your step and burn some calories doing indoor exercises that will tire your dog mentally and physically and help you to get things under control with your outdoor heeling.

Step one…after you have warmed up your dog with some simple sit-down-sit combinations and some attention work set up two cones or even dining room chairs and start with a nice figure eight around the dining room chairs.  Throw in a sit occasionally to keep your dog guessing, or circle one cone twice just because you feel like it.  Remember to communicate with your dog using your command, praising the good position with a YES and varying your pace.  You will remember one side will be…

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Rats! Getting Started in Barn Hunt by Dorice Stancher (c)2014

Want to get started in Barn Hunt? First you will need a “Nosey” dog that likes to track scent.

In Barn Hunt dogs must tunnel, climb and locate the rat, telling its handler where it is hiding. This takes teamwork and resolve as all dogs indicate quite differently. Some are silent and change their body posture, while others are more vocal and active.

The Barn Hunt Association, LLC (BHA) has created a sanctioned sport honoring the traditional role of dogs driving rats from their homes and properties. All dogs that can fit through an 18″ wide by 22″ high tunnel are eligible to participate and there are multiple levels of competition, from the simple Instinct Test to see if the dog has interest, to the challenging Master and Championship levels.  And as of April 1, 2013, the American Kennel Club (AKC) began recognizing the Barn Hunt Association titles.

Dogs that are “in season” may compete under special guidelines and aggressive dogs are not permitted. There are classifications based on height and difficulty.

The Instinct Test is usually the first place where owners start and we had our first experience participating at the Garden State All Terrier Club event. The area of the test is typically fenced and measures  about 300 to 400 square feet. Hay bales are arranged in a tunnel and stacked high and three PVC containers are laid in plain sight on the ground. One tube is empty while the others contain rat bedding and the actual live rat. Entering the ring, the leash is handed off to an assistant outside the ring. Dogs run “naked” without a collar or harness and the test begins with the owner and dog starting in a 4 ‘ by 4’ square and then indicating to the judge that they are ready, as the clock starts giving them only a minute to find and identify the location of the rat. The dogs are encouraged to tunnel and climb the bales but the handler cannot climb or step on or touch the bales. As the dog approaches the three canisters it is essential to keep a keen eye on the dog to see when the dog finds the live rat, and all this must happen within one minute as the handler calls “rat!” and stops the clock. Great care is taken to treat the rats humanely and once the owner has indicated to the judge where the rat is they are expected to call their dog off, re-attach the leash and leave the ring.

At first glance the Novice Class may appear to be easy, but it takes time and patience to develop skills necessary to progress and title in the sport. Dogs should know how to tunnel and climb and the basics-sit, wait and come-as these commands are also used in this sport. I would also suggest getting the dog acquainted with the smell and texture of the hay. Handlers are allowed to communicate and encourage their dogs as they hunt and it takes keen observations skills to identify the dog’s signal that indeed a real rat is present.

From a very young age I taught my Krista to find and identify odor taking her to tracking workshops with our local club and playing scenting games with her. One of our favorites is taking plastic containers and putting holes in the top to allow scent to come through. Then one is chosen and marked with an “S” for scent and used exclusively as a scent article to avoid cross-contamination. I then set up a series of arrangements having her look high and low for the hidden containers. We start indoors and then move outdoors and it is both fun and mentally stimulating for she and I. But hunting rats can offer greater challenges. Not every dog likes the smell of the hay which can also poke and scratch their faces and contain a host of other strange odors. Agility experience helps with the tunneling and climbing aspect but again transferring this skill to hay bales takes time and practice.

Often even on the same day dogs and handlers will opt to enter the Novice Barn Hunt which allows two minutes to find and identify the rat, but comes with additional challenges. The start box now faces a straight tunnel that is no shorter than the width of two bales and no longer than the width of three bales. In places the bales are stacked at least two high. And the dog is required to not only tunnel on this course but climb as well, and in two minutes or less, identify the location of the rat which is hidden under straw or within a bale making the challenge more difficult than the instinct test. For this test there are again three canisters; one is empty, another contains bedding and the third has the rat.

As owners move up in class the challenges increase with more tubes being hidden, more rats to identify, higher hay bales and more difficult tunnels with twists and turns. It is a real thing of beauty to watch these dogs do what they were naturally bred to do. And the classes of Senior, Master and Champion continue to challenge and test the dogs and handlers, with more challenge for them both physically and mentally, taxing their endurance and revealing the bond of communication forged from years of training.

Barn Hunting has been a hit among dog fanciers and are a great spectator sport too. For more information on how to get started and for events in your local area visit http://www.barnhunt.com

Real Estate and “The Dog Test”

Let your dog take the lead when choosing a new home!

You may want to take a walk with your dog before signing those mortgage papers…
One of the most important things for me as a dog trainer and animal-lover when buying a home is finding a neighborhood with good walking routes and dog-friendly neighbors. You would be surprised how much the “dog people” can tell you about a neighborhood. And it makes sense since most of us are up super-early if housebreaking a puppy, and to fit in our daily walks before work. For that moment we stop, look and listen seeing the world through our dog’s eyes and slow down just long enough to take in our environment.

After a recent visit to an Open House I returned to walk the neighborhood. I not only met my prospective new neighbors and their dogs but also learned about great walking routes, where to not walk (a grumpy neighbor that disliked dogs), the history of the home, and even purchased Girl Scout cookies. And in the process I came to realize that this location would be perfect.

When sizing up a real estate purchase I also like to check to see there is fencing and that the neighbor does not have a dog that stalks and becomes aggressive at the fence. If this is the case it is necessary to add-in the cost of landscaping to prevent this behavior and keep the peace. Invisible fencing although popular is not my preferred choice as animals can come in and bother your dog and in some cases the shock of the collar from launching at the perimeter can build up aggressive tendencies in some dogs. I recently had a customer whose dog was trapped between two electric fields and was shocked repeatedly until the owner noted what was happening. Using these fences takes proper installation and caution.

Another consideration is open use of park and school grounds as some towns (Wyckoff) do not allow dogs in their parks but have larger backyards while Glen Rock and Ridgewood have compact downtown areas to stroll and great parks to walk. No matter what your preference, keeping your dog in mind may be one of the best decisions you will make for your lifestyle. When comparing homes that meet your needs, finding great neighbors and a lifestyle that suits you and your dog’s activities can be priceless!

Let’s Get Social…

Part of the fun of having a dog is getting out and having fun!
Part of the fun of having a dog is getting out and having fun!

In the next few articles we will provide tips on how to get your dog to be your best outdoor buddy. Often after a long winter dogs have trouble making the adjustment from couch potato to social butterfly. And leash walking can be a real pain for the owner’s shoulders with pulling, lunging and sometimes even downright frightening reactivity to sights and sounds. What is an owner to do? We will discuss equipment, training suggestions and ways to get your dog to be a pleasure to be around in public.

Today’s topic is walking and the types of collars and harnesses we recommend and use. Our go-to item for teaching nice walking is the Easy Walk harness and the Gentle Leader. These both require the proper fit so when sizing it helps to have your dog present. There is also a video on fit and use by the manufacturer on the Internet. The reason we like this equipment is that it makes it easier for the owner to communicate to their dogs by this gentle pressure method which will not harm the dog’s trachea. Besides these two owners of rescues and greyhounds have found the Martingale to be helpful as it prevents dogs from pulling their heads out of the collar and running free. Some chain models often serve as a warning that the collar is closing, but these are not meant to choke the dog. Other collars including the slip or choke and prong are not recommended by this trainer for pet owners as they should only be used with expert guidance and supervision because of their potential for harm.

Equally as important is working on getting your dog’s attention and teaching them to walk properly. We will discuss this in our next article. Don’t forget-JB Pet in Hawthorne, NJ, The Madison Dog Resort in Waldwick, NJ and Canines Can Do will help you and your dog get off to the right start with proper equipment and lessons. FMI visit http://www.caninescando.com for more information.

Is Your Dog Ready for Therapy Work?

The simple connection of petting a dog reduces stress and promotes healing
The simple connection of petting a dog reduces stress and promotes healing

If your dog is a social butterfly and likes making new friends you may want to consider having him certified for therapy work. Therapy dogs come in all shapes and sizes, and while not every dog is cut out for this type of work, most friendly dogs have a very good chance at being certified. What else is required? Good canine manners are required in order to pass the therapy test. given by the various organizations. The AKC Star Puppy program and later the Canine Good Citizen® or CGC are great places to start especially since the latter is a foundation for many of the evaluating tests of the different approved organizations. What makes therapy work testing different is the observation of both dog and handler, working as a team and interacting with others. When testing, evaluators look to see not only if the dog is sociable, but also to see if the owner handles their dog in a way that minimizes risk, if they are able to “control” the visit, and interact appropriately with those they visit.

When introducing dogs to the various pieces of medical equipment in a training setting, care should be taken to keep things positive. Trainers will often lure dogs to approach the strange item, whether it be a wheelchair, walker, four-footed cane, or crutches, then click and treat. The goal is to build confidence around these items so that the dog is relaxed and can do the job it was meant to do. Also a firm grasp of the “leave it” command can be a lifesaver since pills and other foreign objects may appear on a hospital or nursing home floor.

While it takes time to train and certify a dog for this work, it is well worth the effort to see the smiles on the faces of those you meet. There is nothing quite like it.

Is Your Dog a Bully?

Is Your Dog a Bully?

It’s all fun until someone gets hurt. Remember when your Mom would say that to you. Well it’s not that different with pushy dogs. Take a hard look at your pet’s behavior with you. Does he paw you to initiate play? Barks for attention? Gets the best of everything including sleeping with you, the couch, food and cuddles simply for being so darn adorable? Sigh. It’s time for a little “tough love” of your own.

Start by some simple everyday obedience and limit setting. From today forward your dog must so the equivalent of “please” before getting all those wonderful things you lavish him with. And “please” means earning that reward by doing something. You can ask for a basic sit, down or touch, or kick it up a notch with a trick. Time for dinner? Make him wait until you put that bowl down and then release with “okay”. Time for a walk? How about a nice sit and wait before venturing out. By doing these behaviors we are “demoting” his rank in the family. It is also advisable to work on attention control. I like playing the Name Game and the Rebound Recall. If you have been following my posts you know what this is. But if you need me to explain I can re-post.

Part two of getting control is taking that attention that you have worked so hard to build at home outside. How about doing some obedience exercise outside the dog run at a distance for control before going inside? And I never let my dogs in the dog run unless I have trained for a Recall and a Gotcha that is, getting my dog to leave the distraction and return and letting me grasp his collar. Ian Dunbar has some nice training information on this at Dog Star Daily. Remember before things get out of hand it’s time to go home. After all, there should always be consequences for actions-even your dog’s.

If you live in NJ I am available for training consultations on this topics and others. If you live elsewhere please consult your local trainer and make certain they are a nationally certified CPDT-KA and positive reinforcement professional.

How to find the perfect dog trainer

It seems almost anyone can become a dog trainer…Being a dog trainer is a “hot” profession right now. Celebrity trainers have made the profession sexy and appealing, and  there is no required schooling, although there are plenty of correspondence schools of questionable integrity.  Licensing is unheard of, and this service business is also not taxable unless involving the sale of material goods.

In a flailing economy where jobs are scarce and pet ownership on the rise, it makes sense that dog training would be a natural draw for the jobless and those seeking a career change. A love of dogs is not necessarily the primary motivator.

Dog owners need to remember that despite claims, there are no quick fixes to training. Training takes time, consistency and patience. The major question all owners should ask themselves is “What will this trainer do to my dog to get the desired behavior?”

Owners should familiarize themselves with positive and humane training and understand what it is and is not.  This method of training relies on the principles of earning all rewards which may consist of food, praise, play or freedom to enjoy an activity or item.

Positive reinforcement training is preferred by veterinarians and scientifically proven.  It developed in the 1950’s and has been used successfully to train many species of mammals, starting with marine life and more recently with dogs.  The dog works for all rewards including praise, play and treats, as owners learn to communicate and establish a relationship with their dogs based on trust, respect and patience.

The newest buzzword is “balanced” training which basically means even though a trainer may use positive methods sometimes, they may also use heavy-handed approaches as well.

Beware “balanced” trainers that often advocate showing the dog who is boss through positive punishment and lots of correction.  These trainers promise fast results but often leave behind timid, submissive nervous dogs that are often more prone to aggression or in “shut down” robot mode.  The dog may be corrected or punished for a behavior it has not been taught, or did not understand.  Instead of focusing on training the dog for the behavior, and training the human to give the correct cue, the dog is punished for attempting the behavior even if it doesn’t understand.

What do corrections do?  For people it gives them the thrill of having power. They jerk the neck and the behavior stops. But what is it doing to the poor dog?  In a few months owners may wonder why their dog seems so sad and listless. 

How can you be sure that your trainer is perfect for you and your dog?  If you are comparing local trainers ask to see their group classes. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about how they feel about the methods of training described here.   Does the trainer have you perform the activity with your dog so that you can practice on your own? Is everyone in your family involved with the training?

In general, if a trainer claims to have experience in an area, I like to see that they have either earned a title or have competed. For instance, if they are teaching obedience how advanced are their own dogs?  What activities do they do for fun?  Do they participate as volunteers on therapy visits or merely teach therapy classes in order to make money? I will only train others in areas that I myself have excelled and have experience in. For fun I do tracking, sheep herding, skijoring, paddle boarding, kayaking and hiking with my dogs. And they go everywhere with me in public. They have ridden subways and elevators and have dined out with me on many an occasion.

What kind of fun do you imagine having with your dog?  Why shouldn’t your times together including training, be stress-free and fun? And why can’t old dogs learn new tricks.  We learn every day don’t we?  For me, training take place every moment I am with my dog.  Their lives are short, and their innocent, kind natures beg for patient and intelligent training based on humane scientific methods.

Heeling Exercises for the Weather Challenged…

Ah NJ winters…a mix of slush, rain and general damp nastiness is in the forecast for today and tomorrow. And the dog is bouncing off the walls.  Maybe you are too.  Put some fun in your step and burn some calories doing indoor exercises that will tire your dog mentally and physically and help you to get things under control with your outdoor heeling.

Step one…after you have warmed up your dog with some simple sit-down-sit combinations and some attention work set up two cones or even dining room chairs and start with a nice figure eight around the dining room chairs.  Throw in a sit occasionally to keep your dog guessing, or circle one cone twice just because you feel like it.  Remember to communicate with your dog using your command, praising the good position with a YES and varying your pace.  You will remember one side will be easier than the other. Have a long hallway?  How about some linear heeling forward and maybe even backwards? Or you can back up facing your dog and praise for a loose leash then turn into your dog so that she is on your left.  You turn right and she is on the left.  Simple with practice.  Put on a Samba, and Irish Jig or whatever and prance around the house.  Add some WAITS and STAYS at different times and connecting it all some hand targeting.  Now you are ready to put on a show.  Have some hula hoops?  Lure and encourage your dog to walk through.  Or put your feet or a broom across a chair and do some indoor jumping, starting low and gradually raising.  For more tips and games please read my preceding post on Bored Dogs.  Have a great day training and remember this will all pay off when those nice Spring days return and you want to go for some walking and dining with your dog!