Take Back Your “Alpha”

The word “alpha” has become one of those “don’t go there” words since it is often used to justify excessively harsh behavior, or to put forth the erroneous comparison of dogs and wolves.  But too often in an attempt to train positively, many dog parents will completely give up their position of power and rank within their dog family hierarchy.  This is not a good thing.

For me the term “alpha”  means strong and consistent leadership.  It is a person who makes rules and then sticks to them.  And when authority is challenged it is dealt with in a clear and concise manner, and without cruelty.  The best alpha is confident, has a game plan, sticks to it and when there is a need for corrections does not bite when a growl will do.  Being a strong leader takes courage. And when we step up to the challenge we can help fearful dogs gain confidence, stop dog fighting within our homes and keep our dogs well-trained.

It is a known fact that dogs thrive on consistency. In an attempt to be good pet parents, many will give in to demands or negotiate with their dogs in an attempt to win them over through bribery or accepting non-compliant behavior.  This is a mistake. Trained behaviors begin to unravel until one day it happens-your dog gets loose, is headed for the road and you can’t get them to come back.  They were allowed to make their own choices little by little, until one day they decide to take charge with potentially disastrous results.

Some frustrated owners at this point will put their dogs with a trainer who will “fix” their dog for thousands of dollars over the course of weeks, using aversive methods such as e-collars and prongs. They bar the owner from witnessing their methods, deliver a “trained” dog and over time the behavior falls apart as the owner starts to give in to the dogs demands.  And some dogs cannot handle the rough treatment.  I was savagely bitten once by a Wheaten puppy that had gone through a program like this in NJ at 6 months.  It remains on Prozac to this day and wears a muzzle in public. Being an good pet parent is a commitment and is hard work.  But it can be done in a way that builds a strong and reliable bond based on respect between the handler and the dog.

Here are 5 tips to taking back your leadership position:

  1. Set the rules early, make sure all family members are in agreement and begin training at home and in multiple settings to make certain that the dog understands that “sit” means sit no matter where they are.
  2. Once a behavior is taught through the use of reinforcement and motivators (food, praise, play, touch, free space) and understood through multiple repetitions in multiple settings,  compliance is reinforced.
  3. Behaviors are taught with distractions and in the case of multiple dogs, each dog is taught the behavior separately and then reinforced.
  4. When a dog disobeys it is held to task. A corrective word or sound marker can be used and the behavior once again reinforced, checking to see where the behavior has broken down.  When was the last time you used this command? Practice makes perfect.  And when your dog complies be sure to pay them off with one of the five motivators.
  5. Don’t give in to sloppy behavior. Many owners fall prey to the “just this time” thinking and ultimately this can lead to a breakdown in response.  Say what you say and mean what you mean. Positive training does not mean permissive.

As you are training remember that trust can be a very dangerous thing.  I can guarantee that dogs will behave like dogs almost 100% of the time and that is why when in public using a leash can be so important for controlling and re-directing behavior. Distractions and new situations can throw off even the most well-behaved canine.  I knew a dog once that was a tremendous obedience champion until one day an animal escaped from the zoo and he was gone for days following it!  When working in public the use of a long line (not a flex-lead) should be a part of your tool kit.  My next post will show you how to use SOUND to teach your dog how to be more responsive.

Copyright 2016 © Dorice Stancher/11666274_1135397353155251_7128176675293338049_nCanines Can Do, llc.  All rights reserved.

Thanksgiving Survival Guide

Happy Thanksgiving friends and family!  Here is a quick guide to surviving Thanksgiving with your dog. Yes I know your dogs are the perfect family members but sometimes things can come a little unhinged with all the food and humans coming in and out.  So here are some tips to help with the holiday…

  1. Exercise for you and your dog.  Think of a ball toss but even better is at least a nice walk.  Add in some mental exercises like waiting to cross the street, turns, etc. as mental stimulation is good for the both of you and can be tiring to your dog.
  2. Who will be the responsible human? Will it be your niece the dog-lover who wants a puppy?  Whoever it is, make sure they take your dog out for regular potty breaks.  Have a supply of stuffed Kongs or bully sticks to give your dog when they are in “quiet time”.
  3. Greet guests with your dog on leash (6 ft. or shorter) and please no flexi-leads, or have an established quiet place like their crate, away from the action. When greeting guests step on the leash and allow your dog to sit or stand but not jump.  Teach the humans to keep their hands low. Have a toy handy to give your dog as dogs usually will not jump with a toy in their mouths.
  4. Do not allow guests to feed your dog near the dinner table and monitor what is fed to your dog.
  5. Have fun and look and count your blessings.

 

It’s Time to “Do More With Your Dog”!

Trick Training Helps to Keep Dogs in their Forever Homes
by Dorice Stancher, MBA, CPDT-KA, CTDI ©2015 Dorice Stancher, All rights reserved.

Dancing with your dog is another form of trick training and fun for the both of you!

Dancing with your dog is another form of trick training and fun for the both of you!

Want to get pet owners to train those new puppies right into adulthood? The answer may be simply introducing them to the “Do More With Your Dog” program created by famous Hollywood trainer and AKC Competitor, Kyra Sundance. This goal-oriented program creates a solid foundation of obedience in the format of simple “tricks” which owners track and apply to titles. Many of the behaviors recognized can actually be found in parallel tests such as the AKC STAR puppy program and the AKC Canine Good Citizen program. And there are also more complex behaviors that can possibly land a movie role.

Dr. Cindy Otto, Executive Director and Founder of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center credits the program with saving her relationship with her dog, a Bichon mix that had flunked obedience. She feels that this program is less stressful than obedience tasks, yet keeps dogs learning. “The component of failure is not there,” she said. “ Older dogs, young dogs are engaged and vibrant and the pedestal training helps with veterinary exams too,” said Otto. She is certified as a trick trainer with the program and recently held a workshop for pet owners. As the DMWYD program grows globally it is only a matter of time before we see more Wheaten Terriers listed on the website’s “wall of champions”.

There is no compulsion or aversive training here. The accent is on fun and positive reinforcement to create drive for both the human and canine partner. The behaviors are applicable to many AKC competitive venues including conformation, obedience, agility and more. But the best part is that owners can access learning videos and be a part of an online community of fellow tricksters for free.

The SPARK teams found on Facebook start the first of every month and guide participants through a list of behaviors to title at one of several levels. Each week new videos are posted and participants are encouraged to “strutt their stuff” and earn titles. By reducing the barriers to training, including accessibility and cost, and encouraging creativity and training in all settings, people of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds worldwide have embraced the program. And it continues to grow and benefit all types of dogs. Senior dogs needing mental stimulation can work with modified skills and dogs with anxiety thrive and develop confidence as they build a relationship based on trust, praise and having a good time learning.
Most recently I have incorporated trick training into not only my classes and private training, but with training my very own Wheaten Terriers and have found it to be quite addictive. Once you see what the breed is capable of as mastery reveals amazing feats, it is enticing and a little addictive to venture on and experiment pushing things further. Here’s to having more fun and embracing the joys and adventures of training!

FMI on classes in Northern NJ please visit http://www.caninescando.com

For more information on the program visit: http://domorewithyourdog.com

My Dog Is Reactive-5 Simple Tips To Save Your Dog and Your Peace of Mind

©2015 Dorice Stancher, Canines Can Do, llc. All rights reserved. Yes all of them/

Is your dog reactive?  Does he bark and lunge and pull your arm out of the socket?  Have walks become a bit of a struggle?  Here are some simple and easy tips to turn things around and make walking fun again.

  1. Socialize your puppy…Yes I know the vet says you cannot take them out until they have had all their shots.  But does that mean that your puppy has to be like Rapunzel in the tower, locked away from human contact?  Notice I said human contact.  Pick up your little pooch and after he has gone to the bathroom at your “safe” place at home take him out with you to visit. You want to hold your little cutie and like any good parent bring some wipes so the humans have clean hands and in case there is a little “mistake”.  Bring some tasty treats that are soft for your puppy so they associate these experiences as being positive and fun.  Be sure to have proper identification and have fun!
  2. Add positive reward-based obedience to the picture…Nothing gets your dog’s attention quicker and builds confidence faster than getting those basics under control and then heading outside to make sure your dog understands the commands there as well.  My dogs work for EVERYTHING and so should yours.  And tricks training is really just another form of behaviors put in cue so don’t let anyone tell you that doing tricks isn’t “real” training.  We are looking to build attention, drive and bonding folks.
  3. Exercise is the anti-anxiety drug of choice for humans and their dogs.  But what to do if the outside world is just a bit scary?  Try some agility and tricks at home in your backyard before doing your public training and walks.  Taking the edge off is good for the both of you. Often owners of reactive dogs anticipate the worst and it makes them nervous which the dog will feed off of. It goes from your brain, down the leash and into their little noggins.  Instead breathe deeply, relax and remember that today is a new day.
  4. Have a plan and stick with it. Prepare ahead of time with your treat pouch. There is not time to fumble with plastic bags and you need your hands free to signal and reward your dog.  Be sure to visit the clips attached from Dr. Sophia Yin, one of the foremost experts of our time on dog reactivity.  You want to have some practice defensive moves in your tool kit. Circling, U-Turns and Back Up Recalls help your dog to focus on you and avoid trouble.
  5. Practice at a farther distance and gradually counter-condition so you do not overwhelm your dog or yourself.  Think about how far away you are before your dog reacts.  We want to keep this in mind as we gradually counter-condition our dogs.  A game I like to play is “Surprise Party” where I give my dog lots of attention and yummy treats as she works for me when the dog is present or when she sees another dog.  Then when there is no dog present it is ho-um boring.

When practicing in public if you have a dog that has the potential to bite I recommend a muzzle that is a cage type so you can feed your dog and he can breathe normally. And I love the Gentle Leader as it seems reassuring to both dogs and owners that we are guiding the dog from up front which gives greater control and eye contact.  Keep practicing and visit my Facebook page Canines Can Do Dog Training for more helpful tips.

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Link to great Reactive Strategy by Dr. Yin…DSC_0288

Training with our Canines Can Do Walking Club part of MEETUP…

http://drsophiayin.com/blog/entry/reactive-dog-moving-past-distractions

Dog Tricks are the Key to Getting Your Kids Involved in Training

Please note: this article applies to happy, friendly dogs that do not have problems with aggression or other serious behavior issues. For these types of problems it is suggested to call a certified CPDT-KA or contact your veterinarian.

Did you know that almost 80% of family dogs in this country are usually trained by moms? What starts off as a good idea–getting a dog for the family–often ends up being the responsibility of mom.  Want to get your kids back in the picture and have them involved in training?  The answer may be as simple as adding some trick training to the repertoire.

Here are some pointers to keep in mind when starting any training program with your dog. All dogs respond better to training when they earn all of their rewards including food and treats, petting and play.  There are no freebies. When I work with families I usually suggest a plan of leadership with all family members school age and beyond repeating the same consistent behaviors with the family pet; all learning to speak “dog”.  Of course all interactions between children and dogs should be supervised. And even well-meaning friends can behave inappropriately with the family pet leading to safety issues.  By getting everyone on board early to understand how to stay safe and have fun, training becomes a part of everyday living.

One program that really gets kids excited about working with their dogs is Trick Training.  One of the foremost authors on the subject is Kyra Sundance has published more than 15 books on the topic.  Her books are richly illustrated and geared toward making your dog into a little circus performer.  But the best part is as the dog is taught the behaviors, they improve in their relationship with the family. They begin to understand and respond to commands.  And your children can earn national titles with their pets all in the comfort of their home with her “Do More With Your Dog Program”.

When introducing trick training adults should supervise the interaction between child and dog to offer encouragement and to make sure interaction is appropriate.  Training should be kept fun and positive, with praise and treats for good behavior.  It is far easier to start where there are little distractions such as indoors before attempting to train outdoors.  When working outdoors care should be taken to be in a “safe” area such as a fenced yard and it is often easier to gain the dog’s attention after they have had a some exercise and not after eating a big meal.  This usually makes them sleepy or unresponsive.

Trick training is “real” obedience because it teaches your dog to give attention when asked, to understand and perform a specific behavior, to enjoy working with their owners, and to adapt to new environments. Some favorite tricks of my students includes teaching their dogs to “say their prayers”, to jump through hoops and dance with them.  But my favorite part is having their children get excited when I arrive for a lesson to show me what they have trained their dog to do this week. In order to get the dog to understand that they must listen to their young trainers, parents should take an active role getting things started by modeling the behavior and then having their child follow accordingly.

And not surprisingly, many of the children that took an interest in their dogs early on are now active doing community service with their dogs as therapy teams and visit local hospitals and nursing homes. Some have even gone on to earn titles with their pets in obedience, rally and agility or had the thrill of entertaining their scouting friends and classmates as they work toward their badges.  It is a great lesson in patience, perseverance and success!

Want to get started?  Here are some links to find out more information about trick training.  And of course consulting a local  Certified Pet Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA) that is certified for trick training is a great start too.

For more information on trick training here are some handy resources:

http://domorewithyourdog.com/pages/spark.html

http://www.caninescando.com

Written by award-winning writer and trainer Dorice Stancher, MBA, CPDT-KA owner of Canines Can Do, llc. Her dogs are multiple titled in conformation, obedience/rally, trick training, and enjoy kayaking, surfing, skijoring and dog sledding.

Feeling Jumpy?

There are two types of jumping.  There is good jumping as in I want my dog to jump over an obstacle in an agility run or dock-diving event, or to jump and climb a tree for a trick as I did here with my dog, Duffy; and there is the jumping that interferes and is unacceptable in the home and in public.  Interestingly, one can help the other. Making sure your dog has enough daily exercise through walking and free play is a great way to tone down the overly energetic dog, but then comes the important second act–training to NOT jump. And this includes training the HUMANS that allow it to happen and even encourage it in the first place.

Here are three great ways to get the jumping to stop. Remember patience is the key along with repetition in multiple environments both in and out of your home. I do not recommend the “knee to the chest method” since it not only can hurt your dog, but also does not help your dog understand he cannot jump on others.

1. Examine your behavior and those of your family members.  Is the dog being acknowledged and petted when his feet are on you when your are standing or sitting?  If so, stand up and walk away ignoring until the exact moment…wait for it…when your dog has four feet on the floor.  I mark the behavior with an enthusiastic “yes” and bend over to pet my dog.  But if the feet are up I fold my arms and ignore my dog until the feet are on the floor again.

2. The Advance and Retreat method is best illustrated by these young ladies in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=csuMGROvvVU  There are many variations on this method of training including when you are alone…tethering your dog and then having you approach in a similar manner. At no time should the dog be on a choke or prong collar. I like the use of a flat buckled collar, martingale or harness. Another method is to give the dog a 30 second time out on the tether and then reuniting with them to show that jumping loses attention and inclusion.

3. Teaching your dog an alternative behavior. I love teaching dogs to “go to their mat” when guests arrive at the home.  It takes persistence, especially when linking this behavior to the sound of the doorbell but totally worth it.  Another approach used by many trainers is stepping on the leash with two feet and having the dog self correct.  Even Ian Dunbar has advocated taking a break mid-walk and teaching the dog to “settle” which is a terrific idea.  First we jazz the dog up and then we quickly ask for a DOWN.  In public places remember to use something of high value as a reward such as chicken or steak pieces.  Initially we start with this high value food and gradually wean them off. http://www.dogstardaily.com/videos/jazz-settle-down-–-sirius-adult-dog-training

Usually it is a combination of methods that gets the job done.  When training your dog it is handy to bring a log to class and take notes, then once training at home keep a record of your progress.  Dogs learn every moment they are with us, so we need to be aware of what we are saying to them through our interactions with them.

©2015 Dorice Stancher; All rights reserved.

Dorice Stancher, MBA, CPDT-KA has certified thousands of dogs for the AKC Canine Good Citizen and pet therapy wit the Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs.  She is an award-winning trainer and journalist, and a regular contributor to AKC Family Dog, AKC Gazette, and WebVet. 

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.

Canines Can Do

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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