Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Training is for the Life of Your Dog

I don’t want to sound like Debbie Downer, but let’s face it, dogs are sentient beings who think and feel. Therefore, sometimes when new experiences are thrown at us, we are reminded of what we need to work on the next time it happens.

I learned a new training exercise for me when I took Tristan to the vet for his annual wellness exam today. He’s always been a bit shy and squeamish when it comes to shots and bloodwork, so I was prepared. I had treats for us to play a Find It game while waiting for the vet and vet tech (to get him relaxed and in a jovial mood). Plus, I brought a container with some peanut butter (natural kind of course!) to have Tristan lick from my fingers while the vet and vet tech did their business at his back end.

What I didn’t take into consideration was that I would need to pick him up to get him on the examination table. He’s a 45 lb. cat. Okay, he’s really a dog. But he’s so lean and flexible I swear he must have been raised by cats while out on the streets the first year of his life. Because he’s 45 lbs. I don’t typically lift and carry or hold him.

He was in a sit position and I bent down to pick him up and hold him like a baby, with head over shoulder. After a few seconds of that, he squirmed and contorted and eventually wiggled his way out of my arms and onto the floor. Whew! No broken legs. But, boy do ‘we’ have something to work on.

After a few moments of gently coaxing and persuasion, with heart rate down for both of us, I did it again. A whole lot quicker this time and got him on the table with a glob of peanut butter for him to start licking before he knew what was going on.

Pretty much smooth sailing after that; got him back on the floor as soon as the blood was drawn and shots given. My vet and I chatted for a bit and Tristan just lay quietly on the floor. Bygones!

Guess what I’ll be working on with Tristan (and the rest of the dogs)? Holding and picking them up, but it will be in short successful stages. The end result… to love being a baby in mom’s arms.

It will be a very similar process to what we did with Katja and nail trimming. That used to be a full week process. Now, easy peasy. Time us! I bet we can do it less than a minute AND she enjoys it.

First, we put treats around the nail trimmer and let her get used to the device. Next, we moved the trimmer next to her paws and opened and closed it. Treat! Then, when she was comfortable with the moving of the nail clipper near her feet, we trimmed one nail and treat. Tada! Session done. She lets us handle her paws, so that wasn’t so much of an issue.

Each day we would do a nail or two with lots of treats and happy talk. And end it at that, just a nail or two. From there we would build up to an entire paw. WooHoo!! We were almost home free at this point. Sure, it may have taken a month of what seemed like constant nail trimming, but this is a dog who needs her nails cut several times a month because they grow so fast.

It takes an initial investment in creating a nurturing, positive experience with stressful tasks. But, it’s well worth it when you think about it. Dogs will need their nails trimmed and bodies examined for the duration of their life. Wouldn’t it be much nicer if it was a pleasant experience for both you and your buddy?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

January is Train Your Dog Month

The number one killer of dogs isn’t cancer or other diseases, it’s euthanasia in shelters. Most shelters won’t be filled with adorable eight week old puppies. Nope, they’ll have 9 – 18 month dogs who have either been turned in by their owners for behavioral issues or found on the streets because their owners dumped them there because of behavior issues (I have one of those!).

In recognition of the newly adopted dogs over the holidays and resolutions being made, January is the perfect time to get started training your dog. You may be thinking that your dog doesn’t need training; after all, you’re not competing or showing your dog. Not so fast. Take a look at the photo below.

Katja & Nikita with Santa, 2007

Were you able to capture your dogs for that holiday photo in just a few minutes OR without getting frustrated? At the time this photo was taken, we only had Katja and Nikita for 5 months. They didn’t start learning basic signals until we adopted them at the age of 15 months.

A little background on Katja and Nikita
They were found living under a house. Best guess is they were around nine months at the time. The lady who found them, fostered them and insisted they be adopted together because of their strong bond with each other. Fast forward 6 months and here come two suckers (my husband and I) who were looking to adopt two adult dogs.

From day one, I worked with them on basic signals and a regular routine. We think they were adopted out at one point and returned. So, they had gone from who knows where, to the streets, to a home, another home, back to first home and finally to their forever home. I needed to quickly establish confidence and security in these two girls. What better way than teaching them stuff to do on cue in a safe rewarding environment?

Back to Santa Photo Shoot
So, when it came time for Santa pictures, all I had to do was tell Katja, Down --> Stay; and Nikita, Sit --> Stay. They knew what we wanted because I had been practicing (aka training!) the cues with them beforehand. We went behind the photographer. He clicked several pictures. And Bob’s your uncle! We were done in just a few minutes. Happy dogs, happy us and a very happy photographer!

The same couldn’t be said for the dogs before and after us.

So, I ask again…think you don’t need any dog training? 
How are you going to communicate to your furry companion what he should be doing (instead of focusing on what he shouldn’t be doing)?

By teaching your dog basic manners (e.g., sit, down, stay, come, leave it, let’s go), you will eliminate many behavioral issues. Because you are communicating what you want your dog to do, he’ll be less stressed and frustrated trying to figure out what you want him to do. Happy dogs, happy people!