Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Desensitizing your Dog to Paw and Tail Grabbing

I'm feeding Petey in the above video by hand. My goal is to accomplish the following:

1) Condition Petey to think of me more positively.
2) Condition Petey to think of my hands very positively (kibble's coming out of my hands)
3) Condition Petey to get used to his paws, legs, tail, and bum being touched and to make him feel better about it (as he gets to eat while I do it)

(Duke's in the background behind the babygate watching)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Housetraining and Crate Training - Petey the Foster Beagle

Its been about 6 months since we helped Elmo find his forever home (he's doing well and his new family love him!). We kept a spot open for another foster dog but it had to be the right one. One that was a bit more challenging. Well we found him.

Meet Petey, a lovely 5 year old (estimated) beagle found in the woods in rural Ontario.
The shelter was expecting a quick adoption for him since he's a sweety, but unfortunately, when he gets handled roughly (too quick or too strong touches to his hind area) he warning bites. A vet was bit when he was getting poked and prodded, and as a result, the shelter could not adopt him out. If he didn't find a foster home he would have been PTS (put to sleep).

We took him into Foster via Big On Beagles (www.bigonbeagles.ca) and he'll likely be with us for a few months until we've had a chance to work on his behavioral issues. He has no training (he doesn't even know how to sit pretty to beg for food) but in the three days we've had him I can tell you he has tremendous potential - he is a VERY fast learner.

As he's a wild one we're doing all the basics. There are some basic rules of crating I'll share first:

1. Crates are never used as punishment.
2. Use food or toys to get them to go in - don't ever push their behind him. Good examples would be a Kong stuffed with treats and cheese/peanut butter, or his dinner in a bowl. If you are in a pinch and can't wait, you can pick the dog up off his legs and "toss" him in - but this way you aren't turning it into a wrestling match.
3. The dog will likely fuss and fight and bark and howl to get out once he realizes that he's "stuck". In an ideal world, you would slowly build up the amount of time from seconds to minutes so that your dog doesn't get to that point while learning how to be in the crate, but since we're potty training an adult dog, we have no choice but to leave him in there while his bladder fills and he learns to hold it.
4. So you just have to let the dog howl and cry it out. The behavior will extinguish itself when the dog realizes all the fussing in world doesn't get them out. Alternatively, if the dog howls and barks and you cave and let them out, you've basically rewarded that behavior and really set yourself back.
5. During this "cry it out" phase, it would be a good idea to place him in a quiet area without traffic. You could use the basement or garage or a small guest room and close the windows/drapes/etc. to try to make this part bearable. If you left him in the living room while doing this, the comings and goings of family members could be regarded as a reward for his fussing. So he really needs to be isolated for a while to figure this out.
6. When he's ready to be let out, make sure he's totally quiet and relaxed. That way he'll notice that the only time he ever gets let out is in that state of relaxation.
7. If you're potty training, keep the leash near the crate so that when you let him out, you can leash him up and run, don't walk to the yard. The minute he relieves himself, act like you won the lottery and give him a piece of sandwich meat or a liver or other high value treat.

Our first priority is to housetrain and crate train him and this is what we've been doing:

Day 1 (night of arrival) - Brought crate to our bedroom and threw treats in to entice Petey in. He went in and we closed the door. He howled and whined from midnight to 2am and finally we were able to sleep. Friday was a tough day at work.

Day 2 - He was crated all day for 2-3 hour shifts and only let out to pee in the yard (met with lavish praise and treats for appropriate eliminating) and also allowed in the kitchen under close supervision. He marked the sofa once and my messenger bag once by accident but since then no mistakes. When being returned to the crate, we entice with chicken or treats or his food bowl and meal, but he's hesitant to go in. We show him the food and slowly guide his nose into the crate.

Day 3 - More of the same - instead of howling for 2 hours after going in, he's progressively gotten better... first 30 minutes, then he settles, then 20, then 10 - after 10+ repetitions of this crating, he now only howls for 1-2 minutes before settling. This is encouraging since it likely means he will be a quiet crated dog, meaning he could likely be a match for a condos and apartments too.

For now when we crate during the day, we isolate him socially (upstairs) while we work downstairs, but overnight we let him crate in our bedroom. We let him roam under supervision and since the first two accidents, he's not marked, so hopefully we'll have him reliably potty trained very quickly so that we can stop using the crate for potty training (and start playing fun crating games so that he doesn't have a long-term negative association with crating).

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

On Using Food and Treats...

(Firstly... I'm pleased to announce I have launched my dog training services in Toronto under the banner of When Hounds Fly! - www.whenhoundsfly.com - Many of my posts will also appear over there in the Articles section.)

I use food and treats liberally when training dogs. 95% of dogs out there are food motivated. When I meet owners who say their dog isn't that into their food, it's normally because their kibble is, well, bland and tasteless. Put some cheese or diced sandwich meat in front of them and their food motivation surfaces.

If you talk to someone who says that using food in training is a bad idea, run, don't walk, away.

These people might also tell you that its bribery, and that dogs don't teach pups how to behave with food, and that using food can make a dog food aggressive - ask them where the science behind those statements are. They don't have an ounce of academia to back them up. Brad Pattison of "The End of My Leash" fame on Slice is the worst offender (and although I love the cute dogs on the show - he's the least qualified and worst dog trainer I can imagine - his self-taught techniques embody NONE of the benefits of positive reinforcement training and FEW of the benefits of traditional punishment training).

I'm often asked by new clients, especially ones that have been brainwashed by shows like The End of My Leash or people that have never worked with a knowledgeable positive reinforcement trainer the following questions:

"If I use food, doesn't that mean I'll have to use and have food all the time, or else Spot won't behave?"

"Will he respect me if I'm just a pez dispenser?"

"Won't he get fat?"

Here's a few points that explain how food SHOULD be used for training.

There are at least three functions of food. Firstly, it can be used as a LURE. An example of this is if you are trying to teach your dog to climb a ramp, keeping a piece of cheese in between your index finger and thumb, and guiding the dog's nose up the ramp can get him there. Secondly, it is used as a REWARD. Once the dog has reached the top of the ramp, he's accomplished the desired behavior. You can give him the cheese. Thirdly, it can be used as a bribe in the case of an emergency. A classic example I've seen at the dog park is when a dog who hasn't learned a recall is collected. The owner reaches into a pocket and pulls out a treat and calls their dogs' name fifty times and waves the juicy treat in the air, hoping and praying that their dog will come back.

Lures are used early on in teaching a new behavior, but only initially. This is when the dog really doesn't know the behavior and its not natural. Rewards are used liberally at first, but over time, phased out, and eventually eliminated. For example, you might give a 5 year old a reward for spelling their name right or answering 2+2, but that behavior is expected once they're 7. Lastly, a bribe as I've described is probably the biggest reason why food training has a bad rep. This is simply a case of a useful tool being totally misused by an unqualified handler - like a tennis racket being used to pound nails.

Regarding respect - a dog ultimately respects the person or thing that has control of the resources. Resources in a dog's world include food, water, shelter, access to play, access to rest, toys, and affection (and probably more). Using food in the ways I've described is a respect-neutral behavior. Conversely, using punishment (hitting your dog, yelling at your dog, choking your dog) is a respect-neutral behavior too. However, how do you think your dog's confidence and your dog's bond with you is affected?

Lastly, you're in control of your dog's caloric intake. Every calorie of food should be worked for - a bowl full of food given for nothing is a waste of a training opportunity. If you are hell bent on building a relationship based on respect, then demanding a behavior for every morsel of food is something you should build into every day. For example, when working on the behavior of not rushing the door when the doorbell rings, why not use meal time as an opportunity to practice running into the crate when the doorbell rings? A bowl full of food can be used both as a lure (after you or someone else ring the doorbell, you take the bowl of food and throw it into the crate) and a reward (after going in the crate, your dog is rewarded by a satisfying meal). It won't take long for your dog to learn that the doorbell means its time to go into the crate. You've made your dog work for it, helped shape a desirable behavior, and stimulated your dog both mentally and physically.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Dear New Dog Owner...

Dear New Dog Owner...

(If time travel existed, this is the letter I'd send to myself when I first became a new dog owner.)

Congratulations! Right now you are fascinated, anxious, and excited that there is a living, breathing dog in your condo. There's a whole world of fun ahead of you and tons of emotional growth you'll experience over time. You have no idea how good it'll be and how your life will change.

I have to warn you though - there are many things about dogs that aren't common sense and you really should know now on day one.

1. Dog socializing is not forcing your dog to meet every dog on the sidewalk, every dog at the park, or any dog tied up outside the supermarket. You wouldn't allow a 10 year old child to "go play" with all the kids standing around the corner store, so why would you do that to your dog? Socializing your dog is about making him feel comfortable just being in the company of other dogs, which may or may not mean a meet and greet. In fact, two dogs meeting on leash on a narrow sidewalk is a very tense situation - kind of like when the mafia and the yakuza meet in a warehouse for a drug deal. There's a good chance somebody will get nervous and accidentally pull the trigger, setting off a big kerfuffle.

2. The books about dog behavior stocked at your local bookstore are generally garbage - save your money. Start by reading Patricia McConnell's "The Other End of the Leash". If you pick up a book that talks about Wolf packs or Dominance, put it down.

3. Ditto with the programs on TV. I admit, I do watch Dog Whisperer and End of my Leash, but mainly because I think the dogs are cute. The training is abusive - you won't be able to tell at this point, but the dogs being "trained" there are under intense psychological stress and trauma. If you are lucky enough to get Animal Planet, do watch Victoria Stillwell's "It's Me or the Dog" though.

4. Don't be in such a rush to let your new dog off leash. Off leash is a privilege for both YOU and your dog - one that must be earned with work.

5. You'd think a dog park is exactly where your dog would want to play. You'd be surprised though, I think he'd rather be playing with YOU somewhere quiet. But you need to learn how to play with your dog and be interesting to him. Start with Tug of War and Fetch.

6. This may be a lot to ask early on, but kibble is terrible for him. For now, can you just add some table scraps on top of his food bowl each night? Just no onions or grapes.

7. Get pet insurance. You will spend more each year than the premium.

8. Work with a private dog trainer that uses positive reinforcement NOW - don't wait. An ounce of prevention is a pound of cure.


Me in the Future

PS. You know when he's doing that - he's rolling around in poop or rotten food.