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.

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

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. 

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.