Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Importance of Timing

 I feel that I cannot stress the importance of timing with dog training enough. You could be getting everything else wrong and still have good outcomes. In almost every post I've made I have tried to emphasize that the timing must be exact. As I was reading through one of my favorite dog training sights I came across this, which is a very good example of two very important aspects of dog training, rewarding only for good behavior and timing:

Believe it or not ...

You should NEVER reward your dog for unwanted behavior.   Instead, reward only good behavior.  Sounds simple, right?  You'd think it would be.  But most other dog training programs confuse this very straight-forward concept...
For example:
Let's say you're practicing the "Down-Stay" with your dog, around distractions.  Most other dog training programs suggest that when your dog breaks the command (when he gets up before the exercise is finished) that you go back to the dog and put him back into the down position... and then praise him?
Fact: What you're really doing is confusing your dog.  You're praising him for getting up before you've completed the exercise.  You've told him, "You've made a mistake... good boy!"  
Does that make sense to your dog?  Absolutely not.  
So, you end up having to do endless repetitions until either you quit or your dog somehow magically understands.  He might learn the exercise, but it will take 100 times longer than if you were communicating clearly with your dog.  And that's not intelligent dog training.

If you have all of your other techniques down to an art, but your timing is off, you will find that your dog is not learning to his full potential, if at all. One example I came across yesterday was when I was walking past my neighbors dog who always goes nuts when he sees our dogs. The owner was outside, preparing himself to 'correct' his dog, who was in turn getting ready to start barking.

What he did: The dog raced towards the fence and started to bark, like usual. His owner waited until that moment to rush up and give his dog a correction. The owner literally had to wrap his arms around the dog and force him to sit and clamp his mouth shut in order to stop the dog barking, once the dog was (forcibly) quiet, yet still totally focused on us, the owner praised his dog.

What he should have done: The owner should have raced forward before the dog started to bark, and distract his dog from us with toys or treats or lots of very accurately timed corrections. He should have quickly corrected his dog the moment he thought about barking, not afterwards. He should have rewarded and praised his dog only once he had his dogs full attention.

I have watched this owner and his dog struggle with the same problems for almost a year now, with no success...why? Because he has the timing all wrong.
The keys to dog training, Timing, Consistency, and Patience.

Dogs as Gifts

There may be nothing cuter than a puppy wrapped up in a bow and presented to you as a gift...BUT, there are a few things to consider before going out on a whim and buying someone a puppy.
I have personally had two experiences with giving/receiving a puppy as a gift. One time worked out great, the other not so much. Here are both experiences:
My mother's friend had been wanting a dog for months, so when his birthday rolled around, what better gift? He had never owned a dog before, so we went with an 'easier' breed, the Labrador Retriever. My mother picked out a sweet girl who was later named Stella. Now the person we were giving this puppy to was a responsible single adult with plenty of time on his hands and a willingness to learn about dogs. As you can imagine dog and owner fell in love and they are still living happily ever after. BUT, it does not always end this way, and if I were to take a guess, I would say that the majority of dogs given as gifts are given away/discarded by the age of two. Even if the dog is kept, is it in the best living conditions or only given the absolute necessities? Which brings me to my second experience.
Christmas two years ago, my dad decided to get a puppy for the kids for Christmas. They already had a Pomeranian who was well loved and taken care of, but she is an exceptionally easy dog. What my dad wasn't expecting (but he would have been if he were well educated and read my blog!) was the amount of a work a stereotypical puppy would be. This newcomer was loved by the kids for about a month before the novelty wore off. My dad was faced with a dog that screamed, and I mean screamed, in her crate, urinated and defecated all over the house, chewed everything in reach, and bit your fingers every time you went to pet her. On top of the common puppy issues he had to face, they were in a money crisis, and still to this day have not had her spayed or even updated on her shots. There is also the small problem that her and the other Pomeranian do not get along. Now, I have to give my dad some credit for making it through the rough puppy stage and not getting rid of the dog, but like most people who get puppies for gifts (especially gifts for their kids) he did not think through the responsibility of having another dog.

Lilly, the Christmas gift

This brings me to my list of reasons why is can be a very bad idea to give a puppy as a pet. 
  1. Picking the right dog for you and your family is a very personal and emotional experience. Compare getting a puppy for someone to getting a house or wedding dress for someone. You would not pick a house for your friend, because the two may not be compatible. It is the same with dogs, that emotional bond between dog and owner is something only they can pick out. 
  2. Dogs as gifts during the holidays is extremely stressful for the dog. There is a lot of chaos going on during that time, and after the initial surprise of the puppy, people will have little time to deal with the responsibility it brings.
  3. People who get dogs as gifts often do not think of the time and money it takes to properly raise a puppy, only to realized the responsibility too late. 
  4. There is an abundance of homeless dogs under the age of two at shelters. Buying puppies only adds to this problem, it is best to get a gift certificate to an animal shelter and letting someone pick out and adopt their dog. 
  5. More dogs than you may think between the ages of 7 and 14 months are brought to the Vet to be euthanized because they were not trained properly and developed behavior problems. Most puppies do not live past the age of two, either because they are euthanized by owners, hit by cars, injured in fights or taken to the shelter.
While yes, getting a puppy as a gift can work out on occasions, it is not ideal nor very smart for both dog and owner. Once the novelty of a new puppy goes away, you may realize you don't have enough time, money, knowledge or passion to raise a dog. By then it will be too late.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Dog Backpacks

  Digging in my basement for backpacking supplies, I ran across an unused dog backpack, still in it's original casing. I thought 'hey, may as well use this since I have it.' The problem was, my only dog the pack would fit on was scared of it. I could tell the moment I put it on him that he was not happy, his tail and ears were tucked, his eyes were wide and he didn't want to move. This, as it turns out, was a very easy fix for us. My dog, Koda, loves fetch, and from experience I know that a bomb could go off nearby and it wouldn't phase Koda if he were playing a game of fetch. So to get him to not only tolerate the backpack, but learn to love the pack, I showed Koda his ball like I always do before fetch, and put the pack on him. This time he hardly noticed anything was attached to him. I also put on the pack before every meal. 
Ruffwear is a great brand for dog packs

After a few days of this he would associate the pack with a game of fetch and be really excited to put it on. He was time for the walk. To start a dog walking with a backpack, don't put too much weight in it. A dog can carry up to 20% of their own weight, but start off slowly. Go for a short walk and make sure the pack isn't chaffing anywhere. 
Slowly increase the weight, I usually fill up water bottles and put them in the pack. It only took me a week to get Koda trained enough for a backpacking trip. 
Backpacks can also be a very good training tool, as they help to tire your dog out more effectively than just walks. If you go for long hikes and don't like to carry water bottles, why not let your overly energetic pooch do the job? Backpacks can also give a hard to satisfy dog a job to do, which will help balance your dog's mental stability.