Wednesday, March 25, 2015


I know that Cetaceans have nothing to do with dogs, but recently I have taken a fascination to the minds of Dolphins and whales. Their cognitive and emotional abilities are a match for us, and taking into account how little we know about them, they may surpass us in some aspects of intelligence.
Image result for dolphin brainFor example, recent scans of dolphin brains has led to the discovery that a portion of their brain has extended far beyond what we humans have, This part, connected to the limbic system (which for all you people who don't spend their spare time reading about brains, largely controls emotion, learning and memory) is hypothesized to hold a place for more extreme, and more highly controlled emotions than we humans can even imagine. This means dolphins may very well have even deeper emotional lives than humans do, yet can control and rationalize their emotions better as well.
Dolphins are highly social animals. They work together like never before seen, acting as one unit at times. It is thought that maybe, just possibly, a dolphins sense of self is extended to the other members of its pod.

Another amazing thing about dolphins, especially Orcas (yes, Orcas are a dolphin) is that they have, at least to some extent, language. Orcas are particularly fascinating because each family has a different dialect than the other. They use this difference of language to prevent inbreeding. The language of an orca pod is passed down each generation, as their family units are extremely stable and the offspring stay with their mother their entire lives. Different pods who share some calls indicate that there was a common ancestor a few generations back.
In captivity, dolphins learn to read hand cues from their human trainers to preform tricks. They can understand complex hand signals, and even strings of sign language that would form a sentence. Such as ' Go touch the ball, swim around the hoop then jump through it.' Not only can they understand and execute multiple commands at a time, but they know the importance of the sequence of cues given and do them in order. 
An experiment was done to test the level of creativity in dolphins. While I will not go into details here, the results went like this: it took about the same number of tries for a dolphin to understand that they needed to come up with a new behavior in order to get rewarded, as it did for the human to realize the same thing. 
Another test showed that dolphins have the same self awareness as apes and humans do. So far it doesn't seem that humans are capable of many cognitive skills that dolphins are not. 
With that being said, a dolphin in captivity is not much different than a human in captivity. So what justifies it?
On this subject is a movie that I recently watched and enjoyed, and would recommend to anyone who has ever visited Seaworld or is interested in the subject. 
 Image result for blackfish

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Barrier Training part 2

Proofing your barrier:
Once your dog recognizes and respects the barrier you have set for him, it is time to start proofing your dog. This means temping your dog to cross the barrier with many desirable items and situations, and rewarding him with something even more desirable when he doesn't cross the barrier. As with everything in dog training, starting slow is very important. Throw low value treats, like dry kibble, over the boarder while you feed your dog something of higher value like fresh meat. I would highly advise not using kibble as a reward, as this is usually not very motivating and you will have a harder time being successful with your dog.
After your dog understands what you are asking of him, start throwing a different variety of objects over the barrier. Toys, higher value treats, anything that might temp your dog, all the while clicking and rewarding your dog for doing the right thing.
If your dog does happen to cross the barrier, simply call him back and reward him for coming to the right side of the boarder. If your dog is persistent about crossing the barrier, you may try a different approach and correct him with a no before making him come back, or call him back but do not reward until he tries the previous behavior again and succeeds.
Remember to always set your dog up for success, go slow and only test him when you know he can succeed.
Over time you should be able to work towards being able to stimulate and excite your dog and have him still respect the barrier.For example, with a game of fetch you get your dog focused on the ball, and throw it over the barrier. After many training sessions and building up to this moment, your dog should be able to stop in his tracks at the boarder and wait for further instruction from you,
Here is part 2 of video tutorials explaining, much better than I ever could, how to teach this slightly more complex concept to your dog.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Barrier Training Part 1

Nothing will make you more proud of your dog than the day you accidentally leave the front door wide open at the same time that a cat runs by, chasing a squirrel, the neighbor starts her daily walk with her automatic tennis ball launcher, a bomb explodes next door, it starts raining bacon, and throughout all of this, your dog has still not set foot out the door. This is a very proud day for you as a dog owner. Despite all these everyday distractions tempting your dog out, he has respected the boundaries you worked so hard to set.
Teaching your dog to stay withing a boundary is actually pretty easy. It consists of many small steps, and can be achieved through many techniques. The techniques I will not be talking about are the ones that include E-collars, shock collars, or any other form of negative association. You want your dog to want to stay in the boundary because when he does good things happens, that way, no matter what the scenario is, your dog will always prefer to stay within the boundary you set.
Some boundaries are harder to teach than others. For one of my dogs, all it took was a few times of him stepping out of the front door and me saying no for him to get the point. But for that same dog it took weeks of training to get him to stay in the yard when I threw a Frisbee into the road.
For me clicker training was the best method to teach this concept to your dog. As with all things, start small and reward for small victories. Stay within the boundary, say a room right by the restricted room in your house, or the front yard, and reward your dog for moving around the area within the boundary. Continue doing this as you step out of the barrier and put more and more distance between you and your dog. If your dog crossed the barrier, you can correct him with a 'no' and guide him back where he should be.
Once your dog has an idea of where the barrier is and consistently stays behind it, start having your dog walk along side you to the barrier, stop, and treat him when he stops as well. Increase the difficulty and treat him just as he reaches the barrier, while you keep walking. Then walk across the barrier and withhold treating him for increased increments of time. Soon you can walk anywhere you like and your dog will stop at the barrier every time your cross.
Here is a fantastic video that helped set me up for success. It does a way better job explaining what to do than words ever could.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Dog Weight Loss

It is becoming increasingly hard to find dogs that are in shape and a healthy weight as more and more dogs are becoming obese in this day and age. But the truth is, it's better on a dogs health if it is malnourished than to be obese. So all the do good owners that give their dogs that extra table scrap and don't provide daily excersice are putting their dog at risk for serious health problems. Let's face it, fat dogs do not live as long as a healthy dog. All that extra weight puts more stress on bones and joints, over 25% of overweight dogs have bone and joint problems. Just like in humans, overweight dogs are more susceptible to high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. These, along with many other health risks, are why it's very important to keep your dog at a healthy weight. In a previous blog I talked about how to determine what a Healthy weight looks like, and how to tell if your dog needs to lose a few pounds. 
Once you make the decision that your dog needs to lose some weight, you can make a few simple life changes for your dog, and add a few happy years to his life. 

Just like with humans, and virtually every other animal, weight gain is caused by excess food and not enough excercise. You may be feeding your dog too much, or feeding him a food that is too rich in carbs and not enough protien or fiber. There are many diet foods that you can put your dog on, so that he feels just as full but isn't getting as many calories. If your dog is on a high quality food already, you should probably cut down on how much you feed him. There are many guidelines on the dog food bags or online that you can follow. Another healthy trick that I particularly like is to substitute half of your dogs food with raw green beans, which are very filling, high in fiber and extremely low in calories. Your dog will get half the calories as usual without feeling starved. Also hold back from giving extra treats and table scraps when your dog is dieting. 
Excercise is the second key to weight loss. If I could give only one guideline to new dog owners it would be to set up a daily excercise routine and stick with it your dogs entire life. Plenty of excercise is a vital part of your dogs life, it is important for his health, both mental and physical, and makes training them ten times easier.
Depending on the dog, you may only need to provide two twenty mintute walks a day at a minimum, or for high energy dogs you may need to provide hours of high intensity actives such as swimming, fetch, running etc. 
if you do not have time to give proper exercise, find a local dog walker, play some quick fetch, or get a treadmill. Just make sure you start slow and don't push your dog too hard to quickly. 
Changing your dogs lifestyle can also help you become happier and healthier, and can add up to five happy years to your dogs life.