Sparky, a real firecracker!

March 18, 2018

I just started a three-week board & train with Sparky - a 4-month old Beagle pup. The list of issues are, on the surface, typical puppy ones. Inconsistent with house training, not able to be left in a crate without baying (boy does he have a set of lungs on him), limited attention and focus and, absolutely (I kid you not) no impulse control. If it's on the floor, table, ground or wherever he can reach it, whatever it is is in his mouth. So we begin!


One thing we didn't know about - and neither did the owner - Sparky has no idea how to play with other puppies. He doesn't even seem to have any interest in other puppies. Personally, I think he's afraid, so the work really begins in helping him to understand how to be a puppy - how to play, how to listen and how to behave. Check in later for more and wish me luck!

We just finished Puppy Kindergarten and Sparky ran away from each of the puppies in the class, which consisted of two German Shepherds, one Golden Retriever and a Goldendoodle. It was sad, really to see just how scared he became. He actually screamed in his all too charming high pitch "bay". The good news is that his attention and focus in developing. I was able to get and keep his attention in spite of all the distractions and in the face of the fear that he clearly feels. I know this is a challenging situation, but I'm going to work especially hard with this little guy. His owner is a vet of three tours and Sparky is going to be his emotional support animal. Back to work!

Sparky poops out! Literally and figuratively!

We've finished Day 4 of Sparky's Board & Train program. The first night he bayed (in a high pitch awful and mournful way) in his crate from 10PM to 1AM until he finally stopped and went to sleep and slept until 5am when I finally gave in and put him in bed with me and he allowed me another 2 hours of much needed sleep. Trying to get him to sleep in a crate may not happen. He's probably, of all the puppies I've trained in 15 plus year, one of the most willful and indefatigable. 

What has been even more important is the house training. I really and truly understand why his poor owner gleefully handed over this 4-month old Beagle. Not only does he bay at almost any provocation, he really doesn't understand where he is supposed to eliminate. He will go outside, but if you are not watching him every second, he will come inside and do it again there. He has now pooped and peed on three of my brand new area rugs. Thankfully, I invested in a new carpet cleaner, but the seagrass rug, which is not new, is also not cleanable, so that one will need to go to the dump. Baying or not, if I cannot watch this puppy like a hawk, he's going into the crate. There will be no more accidents in the house. 2 weeks and 3 days left on Sparky's board and train. Yes, I'm counting the days. And, I still have much work to do.

He's pooped and so am I!




Sam I Am!

I just started a "boot camp" with a five month old Boston Terrier named Sam. Admittedly, I have never had a real "love affair" with Boston Terriers, but this guy is really challenging. He's super cute - has one brown eye and one blue one and his ears are huge and stand straight up. I know he's used his "good looks" to give him license to do things he shouldn't do. 


I got a long list of behaviors to work on from his owner who is away on vacation and Sam is boarding with us while she is gone. One of those things was leash walking and she wasn't kidding - he's awful. Usually, I can get most dogs walking well in one intensive session. Well, not Sam! He has two modes when he's walking. He either plants his four feet and won't budge, or he pulls like a banshee. The pulling part I can deal with using our own "walking Zen" technique to get the dog to focus on you instead of what he/she is pulling toward. The refusal to walk is another story.

I called the owner and asked if this was a typical behavior and found out that this is something Sam does when he's not in the mood to walk or a little too tired. So, I've got my work cut out for me. Another work in progress! Check in later in the week and, hopefully, I'll have made some progress.

Hatch Won't Come!

I never thought I'd say this, but after 15 years of training dogs, I finally met one that can't, or better said, "won't" come when called. His name is Hatch and he's a mini Golden Doodle. He's 9 months old, did two basic obedience classes and he quite literally will not come when called. I have had him for 10 days and have worked with him tirelessly day in and day out doing recall exercises, using a long lead and trying every trick I know.

Last night, I had a few friends over to watch the Oscars. As one came in the front door, Hatch dodged out before we could do anything to stop him. I know many of you have dealt with this panic stricken situation, but when it happens to a professional dog trainer, well, it's another thing altogether. And, to add insult to injury, this is the main reason I decided to get into this work. I actually lost a dog who was a runner and did exactly what Hatch did - ran out into traffic and was killed. So, the panic I feel is based on real life experience.

Back to Hatch! He does a thing I'm not used to. Most dogs get out and they run in the opposite direction, which is also scary and very problematic. Hatch just plays with you. He sits and waits for you to get close and then dodges around you playing with your mind - playing "keep away" and "catch me". It's infuriating! I try all the things I tell people to do to get a dog to come. I use a high happy voice, I back up or run in the opposite direction to inspire him. I get out really high value food treats and get really animated. None of this works with Hatch. He comes when he's good and ready and not a minute sooner.


After he ran out the front door last night he seemed to be contained in the front of house, which is unfenced. Then he saw a dog across the street and down the block and he took off barking. He does seem to have a bit of fear-based reactivity. At nine months old he came with very unrefined social skills and we did some remedial socializing to get him to a point where we could safely co-mingle him at our daycare. With the help of my well-trained daycare staff and some very patient daycare dogs, we were able to do this with great success. I was also able to get him (at 9 months of age) to start consistently "go potty" outside instead of in. The recall - a work in progress!

Last night, I was able to get him back before my heart gave out and didn't miss any important Oscar presentations. The evening was saved, but we've got a ways to go before Hatch has a decent recall.

A piece of good news though! Hatch only tore up a couple of tissues during his stay with me, unlike the pictures of him above from one day at home just before his stay with me. His owner wanted me to know exactly what I was getting myself into by letting me know what Hatch got into.


Dog Gone Jumping Dogs!

Dogs jump! It's what they do. In fact, I've almost never met one that doesn't. When dogs are puppies and then as young healthy adults, dogs jump because they get excited and it's fun to jump on their people and onto things that are readily accessible to them.

Face it folks. Many dogs are simply jumping machines. They are built to jump. To get your dog to stop jumping is at first, a daily task that, if not undertaken, will lead you to a life of yelling and correcting the action over and over - until you are sick of it or, even worse, embarrassed it when your dog knocks someone down.

If you deal with this in the beginning, it's much, much easier. I tell people that puppies are like soft pieces of clay. As they get older (like clay left out) they get harder to train. Dogs behave based on their history of reinforcement and if a dog learns it's okay to jump from years of doing it, that becomes the "reinforced" behavior. 

So, what do you do? Give the dog an alternative or "redirected" behavior to perform instead of jumping and reward that consistently. So, as the puppy or dog approaches you, tell it to "sit" before it has a chance to jump on you. Do this over and over and over until you're sick of doing it, and then do it some more. Repetition is critical in training. 

Get the redirected "sitting" behavior 100% inside your home before you start to ask the dog to do it outside. Remember, the more distractions, the more difficult it is for the dog to behave. They are so easily distracted.

Now, get started teaching your puppy or adult dog to sit instead of jumping. If the dog is older and has be eliciting this behavior for a much longer time - be patient! It will take more time to learn a new behavior, but you can teach older dogs new and better tricks!

In a few days I'll talk about how to get them to stop jumping when you are sitting down in the chair or a sofa.

Hand Shyness in Dogs

Hi folks!

It's been a while since I've blogged and part of the reason is because I was podcasting instead. Sometimes, the written word is even better, so here goes.

Many dogs have a natural shyness or fear of hands. And, I'm not talking about dogs that suffered some type of abuse. These dogs are going to be much more than hand shy. I'm talking about dogs that are simply afraid of hands - they haven't been hurt by anyone.

I believe strongly that dogs with hand shyness are suffering from a specific kind of proximity sensitivity that occurs when a person they either know or (more typically) someone they don't know approaches them with their hands extended. In general, dogs that have fear-based anxiety around humans suffer from "proximity sensitivity". These are dogs that are okay with people unless or until one gets a little too close and then they will show various signs of discomfort.

I have a dog that I'm working with right now - a West Highland Terrier that is continuously playing "keep away" and will run the other way when approached to put on a leash or harness or to simply secure from running out the door. Every time someone approaches her by bending down or walking toward her, she darts away in the opposite direction. She's fast and determined (typical of this breed) and very hard-wired, meaning it's apparently very difficult to change. The good and bad news is that this particular dog (she's about 10 months old) is still a puppy and very smart. So, there is hope that we can change the behavior. The bad news is that while I'm fighting the good fight to reverse or re-pattern the behaviors using sound counter-conditioning techniques, I'm fairly certain these techniques are not being reinforced at home. 

So, what are the techniques. Without giving away all of our tricks, there is a simple classical conditioning exercise (Pavlov, folks!) where you turn sideways and simply squat and open your hand and let the dog approach take a treat from you. You do this without looking at the dog until he or she is approaching without hesitation. Keep moving around and do this same exercise over and over from different angles and in different parts of the room. Switch rooms and start again. This is what it means to "generalize" an activity or behavior. The dog has to be able to apply what it has learned from one place and situation to another.  Skip the gym and do your squats that day by getting the dog to do this 100 times. It is said by experts who have done the research that for every time your dog has done something you want to change, you have to do 100 "trials" or have 100 opportunities to reinforce the desired behavior. So, if my Westie has run away from her owner 50 times, I have to perform 5,000 of these squatting exercises. Holy crap! That's a lot of work. Yes, it is! But it's worth it if you can get a dog that runs towards you and not away from you.

Helping dogs get over hand shyness is a labor of love and incredibly important. Before I became a trainer, I had a hand-shy, small dog (a Papillon/Chihuahua mix) that ran away from a human and right into traffic. It was heart breaking and tragic and something I want no one to go through. The lesson is to put in the time and get your dog comfortable with coming toward you and is not afraid of being touched. The end of that story is you get to have a more confident and secure dog that lives to a ripe old age.