Halloween and Guy Fawkes is upon us again!

With Halloween coming up it is the time to look after our pets.  Halloween is a fun time for the people but not necessarily our pets.

Humans all love the strange costumes and scary feeling when they see something unusual.  Unfortunately our pets don’t feel the same way.  All pets, not just the scared ones.

  • Bring your Dog inside
    Even if this isn’t normal for your dog to come into the house, this is an unusual time of the year and our pets need our understanding.  Not all dogs are able to cope with the hype and noise of either the children’s screams and squeals of Halloween or the screams, bangs and burning lights of Guy Fawkes.Make a dog bed in the laundry or another room and train your dog to sleep in this area prior to Halloween or Guy Fawkes.
  • Scared dogs: If your dog is scared of the people in strange costumes, the increased number of people knocking on your door or visiting or the loud noises and bangs that fireworks produce, keep them in a safe environment where they cannot escape. If people come into your property, dressed in their ‘scary’ costumes, it could upset your dog and their behaviour could be different to normal by growling, lunging or wildly trying to escape. Check that when people come to the door that your pet cannot escape from the ‘safe’ environment, or be scared by the increased number of scary people at the door.

    Take precautions of your scared dog but using a Thundershirt or making a small cave for them to feel safe in. One of mine use to hide under the duvet during thunderstorms and fireworks, so let then choose where they are most comfortable.  If you need to medicate, remember that some medications take a couple of days to work so should start taking those well before the fireworks start going off.

  • Dressing up of dogs:
    Not all dogs like to be dressed up.  If they don’t like it, don’t do it.  If they love it, make the most awesome costume that people have seen.  Keep hold of your dog on either a flat collar or harness and a leash long enough to keep everyone, including your pet, safe.Do not take your dog with you door knocking if it is not well socialised and is fearful or timid of people.

Take care over this period and keep your pets safe.

Thunder Storms and Training

How to use Thunder Storms for Training

Not everyone gets excited about thunderstorms when they have dogs.  So when thunder started rolling mid-morning I Fozzie Beargot my first indication that my youngest dog is afraid of it.

I have two small dogs, neither of which has showed excessive noise sensitivity although the young seven month old did over-react during two large fireworks displays recently held in Hamilton.  The 7 month old puppy (Fozzie Bear) has not been through a thunderstorm before so when the first roll of thunder occurred in the distance he quickly ran away from the noise whilst looking over his shoulder.  I didn’t react, talk or follow him as he ran away; I just carried on working outside clearing the lawn of his toys.  Once he had stopped running and the thunder had stopped rolling I found his ball and started throwing the ball with him.  He immediately started running after the ball and bringing it back.  Whilst playing, another roll of thunder occurred.  Although he stopped running after his ball, I quickly ran in the direction I had thrown his ball with lots of laughing and gusto to get him back on track.  After standing still for a few seconds whilst the thunder carried on rolling and seeing no negative reactions from either myself or my other dog he ran after us to carry on playing with the ball, which I had now picked up and threw again.

During the initial ball game the thunder was off in the distance so not directly over us to cause too many concerns.  However, the storm’s direction changed and it slowly moved closer to us, flashes of lightning now accompanied the louder rolls of thunder.  By this stage I was working in the garage tidying up a variety of boxes that had got wet due to the torrential rain we had had which came through the holes in the garage roof.

The thunder was amazing as it wasn’t just a clap of thunder, it was long rolls that lasted from 20 seconds to well over a minute, and the storm itself lasted from late morning to well into the late afternoon.  This was indeed a rare opportunity to do some thunderstorm work with Fozzie.

I played with Fozzie outside until I saw the first flash of lightning.  It was also becoming a lot darker as the thunderstorm moved towards us, so I moved into the garage which is crammed with boxes still yet to be unpacked since moving in.  Whilst pottering around in the garage the thunder and lightning occurred more often, both gaining force as they swept closer.  Fozzie, by this stage, would stop at the sound of a thunder roll but he was no longer running away from it – in fact he was now looking around for his ball.  When he found his ball I would throw it within the confined space of the garage, however, due to it going outside the garage doors a few times I found another toy that we could play tug with as the lightning was a little closer than I would have liked and I didn’t want to risk Fozzie getting zapped whilst chasing the ball!

The thunder was now rolling a lot more frequently, louder and longer and although Fozzie was at this stage stopping at the sound of thunder he was no longer reacting by fleeing.  In fact, he wandered around the garage until he found a box with some old dog blankets in and curled up and went to sleep.  At one stage the thunder was directly above us as it clapped loudly shaking the windows and was followed by a particularly heavy downpour of rain and quite rightly Fozzie sat bolt upright.  He looked at me and then at Ollie, my other dog, before he curled up again and went back to sleep.

After this particular roll of thunder I decided that once the rain had stopped pelting down I would close up the garage and return to the house.  It took about 10 minutes for the rain to subside enough for us all to run into the safety of the house..

Fozzie & OllieOnce in the house, although we were better protected from the storm I started by playing a game of tug with Fozzie (an attempt at generalising the learning he was doing).  With the next roll of thunder Fozzie, who was playing a good game of tug with Ollie, didn’t release the tug toy, but moved his eyes to look around and gently tugged on the toy in different directions to check everything was okay.  Once he had carried out this check he appeared settled enough to continue playing the game of tug.  Ollie and Fozzie played this game on and off for 20 minutes. After the training sessions and games of tug, and whilst the storm was still overhead, Fozzie spent the rest of his time sleeping.  The thunder rolls were happening less frequently as the storm slowly moved away from our location.

But what will happen next time?  I don’t know, but today I used Counter Conditioning to reduce Fozzie’s ‘flight’ response when he heard the rolling of thunder (aversive stimulus) by playing ball with him and remained calm and unconcerned as each clap or roll of thunder occurred.This whole process was worked on throughout the period of the stormy.  It was a unique opportunity as I cannot remember a thunder storm that lasted 5 or 6 hours, whilst moving extremely slowly over the city.

Throughout this process I watched Fozzie’s reactions to check that no undue pressure (getting him to complete something that he didn’t want to do whilst the thunder was rolling) or stress (making him more anxious) was placed on him throughout the storm and either applied pressure by eliciting play by throwing the ball or removing it by pottering around doing my own thing.

It was fortunate that Fozzie’s reaction to thunder was not excessive and through many  short, but positive, training sessions throughout the day his behaviour indicated that he became less anxious of the sound of thunder.

I carried out a similar process with my English Pointer Rupert Bear, and the spin cycle of my washing machine, but that’s another story…


Why teach your dog to sit (or another strong behaviour)?

Whenever I train a new dog, I always place great emphasis on one behaviour over any other…and that is the Sit.  I work really hard to get the dog to sit in-front, behind, at the side, away from me, with duration, and have the ability to sit anywhere that I ask on the first request and fast.

But why is this so important.  I believe that when you have a dog, you should always have safety at the back of your mind. Safety for both of you, not just yourself.  So here are some of the many reasons why I train dogs to have a really strong sit:

Sit at the doorway

  • To allow you to enter or exit the doorway either first or last (your choice).  If they are sitting at the doorway, it means that if you have your hands full, you can walk through the doorway safely without having a dog trip you over halfway through.
  • If you have multiple dogs that are sitting at the door waiting to go out, it allows you to release them individually when you say their name…this one takes a bit of practice
  • If you have friends coming round, you don’t want a dog to be jumping up on them, so ask the dog to sit at the doorway and allow your friends to enter before you release your dog

Sit before exiting the car:

  • If the leash is not already attached to the dog, asking the dog to sit allows you to attach the leash
  • A training opportunity where the dog doesn’t get out of the car before it has presented you with a really strong sit…there is a really strong and exciting reward outside of the car (unless you are at the vets but that’s another blog)

Sit anywhere:

  • Practice the sitting both on and off leash everywhere that you go.  Do this is small chunks though, do not go from the lounge to the local park and expect your dog to sit the same as it does at home
  • Practice in the kitchen, lounge, balcony, back and front garden, etc. and get them consistent in each of those places
  • Practice the sit in different rooms in the house, then ask for the sit whilst you are not in the room.  Use someone else or a camera to check that they are sitting, but only try this exercise once the dog is working well
Most importantly, if you have a strong sit (or other behaviour) it means that you have the ability to stop your dog in its tracks and prevent it from running across a road and being hit or causing an accident, or chasing animals…don’t let this happen to you….Fenton

Dog Training Classes…

Dog Training Classes…

Were you given a puppy or did you go to the local pound or SPCA and adopted a dog, or two, recently and now second guessing that decision or wondering what happens next?

Where have all the ‘plug and play’ dogs gone where they knew how to sit, play with other dogs, down and were house trained when you got them?  Unfortunately…they never existed, and what’s more you, the owner, needs to put in a lot of time into training of the dog so it becomes a polite member of the family.

How can you train them?
Well usually it becomes the responsibility of someone within the family to train the dog the basics (house training, sit, down, come back when called, no biting to start with), but where do you go to learn how to train your puppy or dog these behaviours?

There are numerous trainers around NZ that can help you with the training of your puppy or dog, from your local vet clinic through to professional dog trainers and dog behaviourists…but which one is best for your family and dog?

Find a Local Class that suits you and your Family

Get a Referral: Ask friends and family who have a dog where they took their dog to and what they liked about their classes.

Search for trainers in your area: Go through the Yellow Pages or Surf the internet to find dog clubs, trainers or classes in your area.

Once you have found the classes in your area, contact them and find out when their classes start and go and watch them teaching a class.  If they won’t let you watch a class, then ask yourself, what do they have to hide?

When watching the class:

  • how many trainers do they have to class members, a good gauge is 1 trainer to 6, max of 8 attendees with dogs
  • Is all the family included in the training classes?  Having young and older children in the class gives more training opportunities to everyone with their dogs
  • Are they teaching the class about dogs’ body language and how to read and understand it?
    Miscommunication is one of the major causes of ‘dogs behaving badly’.  We may have taught them the wrong behaviour, or the dogs don’t understand what is being asked of them
  • Do they give the class attendees information at the end of the class with further information on what they have learned during the class?
  • Is the class run ‘on’ or ‘off” leash? Do they ask for the dogs to have a flat collar or a choke chain?  Do they have ‘controlled’ off leash sessions for the puppies, so they don’t get out of hand?
  • Do they use touch to apply pressure to the dog for it to learn how behaviours such as Sit and Down, or do they use food as a lure, or clicker training?
  • And most importantly do the people at the course look like they are having fun and enjoying themselves and can you talk to some of them to get an their opinion of the classes and how they are run?

These are all questions that you can ask yourself whilst watching or when you contact the training facility.  The main question you have to answer is: Does this training class use training methods that fit with your family and going to help us have a safe and friendly dog?

There is no fast and easy solution to training your dog, but with a good dog training class and lots of practice, both you and your dog will grow a happy and long partnership. 

Crate Training Opportunities

Making Crate Training Fun

Last night I had a friends dog stay with me overnight.   Not one for letting unknown dogs run loose in the house, I decided to use the show crate that I have to keep him safe overnight.

What a great opportunity to do some crate training and crate games.  The unfortunate side was that I didn’t capture the work on camera to show you!

Anyway, Tramp hadn’t been crated before, so seeing the show trolley for the first time was very overwhelming for him.  So as he took each tentative step towards the show trolley he got a click and treat.  When he walked off he got nothing.   I spent a short time repeating this and then stopped for a break.

After the short break, I started the process again, but increased the approximations (I expected more from Tramp than previously) bit by bit and he got closer and closer until he jumped into the crate.  JACKPOT!

Whilst in the crate I gave several click & treats, and then clicked and threw the food outside the crate.  Tramp duly ran out of the crate, grabbed the food and then rushed back into the crate!  BINGO…what a great result after a few short session.  Over the next few hours, we did several short training sessions, where he was rewarded for being in the crate, including extending the length of time within.

Eventually at bedtime, Tramp was let outside for his last pee of the night, and on his return asked to go into the crate, where he had a chew toy.  Tramp was quiet throughout the night and didn’t have any accidents, which was good, but I still play some Crate games with him occasionally.

What games do you play with your dogs to get them comfortable with staying in a crate?