Monday, December 24, 2007

Natural Dog Training techniques

I recently stumbled (somewhat randomly, by reading book reviews) upon a lesser-known dog training author named Kevin Behan who wrote the book Natural Dog Training back in 2001. I recently bought and read the book and want to share this with everyone.

So, just as a bit of background, we are strong proponents of positive training methods. The behaviorist who helped us turn Duke around got us focused on classical counter-conditioning and positive training methods such as treat-based rewards. It's worked really well.

The great thing about learning about Natural Dog Training is that as a philosophy or approach to dog training, it doesn't directly contradict positive method or clicker training whatsoever. The approach can actually strengthen and improve your results (it has for us!).

The basic tenant of Natural Dog Training is that all dogs have an innate desire to make prey, chase prey, and bite. In the wild, dogs work in groups to hunt down animals that are much larger and stronger than they are - dogs are most satisfied and content as they work together and ultimately get to sink their teeth into the moose or deer or whatever they're going after.

Duke used to have that opportunity as he was actually a working hunting beagle. Now that he's a family dog living in the city, he doesn't have the opportunity anymore. Natural dog training is all about providing healthy, appropriate avenues for dogs to exercise that need to hunt and bite prey. Examples might be:

- Playing fetch with their owner (and returning the ball!)
- Playing tug with their owner (and winning)
- Playing hide and seek with their owner
- Practicing long sit or down-stays followed with enthusiastic come/chases with their owner
- Playing "push" with their owner (this is a game best explained through another resource I'll reference later on)

The key here is "with their owner". By offering and engaging activities like fetch, tug of war, hide and seek, "push", and sit/stay games, and rewarding Duke with praise, food, and an object to bite (in our case, a squeeky toy), we've strengthened our relationship with Duke in just a couple of weeks. The most noticeable change is Duke's recall! In the past, we had almost zero recall. The only way to pull him back towards us was to bribe him with a squeeky toy. Now, just calling him gets him to run towards us with full enthusiasm!

In contrast, how many times have you seen a dog owner try to get their dog to recall, only to switch to an angry sounding voice, get frustrated, and then start to chase after their dog to try to grab them and go home? The dog's natural instinct is to run away from the owner. The opposite is to teach your dog that you are in fact, the most interesting thing in the world to chase:

(our friend Chuck instinctively being the most interesting thing at the park!)

As a book, Natural Dog Training has a few shortcomings. Firstly, it's editing is weak and there are grammatical/spelling errors that I do overlook. Secondly, in some places, its wordy and difficult to follow. Thirdly, Behan advocates both positive (treat based rewards) as well as negative punishment (choke/prong collars). Lastly, and related to the third shortcoming - the ideal audience for this book is someone who has had a fair amount of hands on obedience training experience (ie. you're already somewhat competent at dog training) - for the uninitiated, the instructions would be difficult to visualize and execute. On that note, Behan advocates the use of a pinch collar to refocus a dog - too many ignorant dog owners abuse those training tools - the margin for error is too large, especially without hands on expert supervision.

Want to give it a shot? There are four fun games you can start incorporating into your daily outings with your dog. Check out by Neil Sattin. Here are the specific articles that describe the fun games you can play starting tomorrow!

Tug of war


Hide and Seek (the most amazing way to train your dog to recall)


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Exercise, Diet, Mental Stimulation, and Rest

Recently, Duke chewed up his Ikea dog bed and we weren't able to repair or replace it in time. Last night we had him sleep on a towel instead of his regular dog bed and he ended up waking up once every hour all through the night.

Tonight after coming home from work, I had a very bad walking experience with Duke. He was highly distracted (or focused on sniffing snow and grass) and non responsive to my voice. He was extremely dog reactive and howled ballastically at everything.

When I was coming home, I was trying to figure out what it was. Lack of exercise? Change in environment? (It recently snowed 30cm, which has changed the landscape of our neighborhood quite a bit) Something to do with snow? (It was last year when it started snowing that Duke's on-leash aggression became its worst).

Hyedie suggested that the lack of sleep could be a huge reason for his sensitivity today. Last year, Duke had kennel cough when I was away on a business trip and because of this, both of them were up all night as Duke would wake himself up frequently as he coughed and gagged. The next day, he was impossible to walk.

So for now we are going to make sure he gets solid shuteye every night!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Duke at Big on Beagles 2007 Fundraiser

It's a little late, but I wanted to share some photos and a video of the 2nd Annual Big on Beagle's Bash for Cash fundraiser that we attended.

Duke is always most comfortable around other Beagles. He never shows any leash aggression when we meet new Beagles on the street and always finds a playmate at Big on Beagle's events! Take a look at Duke showing his signature spin move:

We can't wait for the next Big on Beagle's event so we can show our support again. And I'm sure Duke can't wait to have a howling good time and meet up with his friends again!