Friday, December 22, 2017

Wait! Your Paws are Muddy!

This fall has been a bit extended, and with the constant freezing and thawing, there's been a lot of mud. Never fear, your furry pal can be taught to help you out by wiping his or her feet at the door before coming in!

This can often be taught quickly with some well-placed treats and a clicker (or marker word like “good” or “yes”). Steps:
  1. Get out your towel or mat and have your dog sit-stay while he watches you place a few treats under the mat. 
  2. Release your dog to go get the treats.  Many dogs will quickly start pawing at the mat to get at the treats. 
  3. As soon as your dog starts pawing, mark (click or say your marker word) and reward with another treat on top of the mat. 
  4. After a few trials, stop putting treats under the mat and see if your dog will still try to paw at the mat. 
  5. Start adding a verbal cue like “wipe” before your dog starts pawing.
 Practice, practice, practice for many repetitions! Pretty soon you can ask your dog to wipe when coming in from outside! Not only do you get to let your dog do all the work, but it’s also a cool trick to show off to friends and family.

If your dog just won't paw at the mat or you don't have time to train this skill (it will take a lot of repetition so in the meantime you might need a way to clean his or her feet more thoroughly), consider helping your pup associate positive thoughts with getting their feet wiped if your dog doesn't particularly enjoy this event. After coming inside, wipe one paw at a time and feed a small treat before and after wiping your dog's foot. Soon your dog will learn to love to have his or her paws cleaned! 

 Happy Training!

Fear Free Veterinary Care

I worked for several years as a veterinary technician, and sometimes I would take my dogs to work with me. They were always very excited to go along and would race inside when we arrived, quite likely because they got lots of treats from my coworkers and sometimes the clinic cats hadn’t finished their food - the dogs were very eager to help with that. But occasionally I brought them along because they needed medical attention. Finley was very wise to this game – the lobby was fun, the kennel area was okay, but if I asked her to come into the treatment area, that meant something bad was about to happen, and she would flatten her ears, tuck her tail and try to go back to the kennel.
Many dogs are fearful at the vet’s office and often those fears are confirmed because we do something painful or uncomfortable like draw blood, trim nails or express anal glands (a major concern for Finley). At times, it can seem best to just get things done as fast as possible. Multiple people may restrain the struggling dog to complete the necessary task, leaving the dog even more wary the next time. Luckily there are more and more resources available for veterinary staff to take a more fear free approach. Actually, there is a whole Fear Free Certification program that covers canine and feline body language, restraint techniques, desensitization and counter-conditioning (teaching pets to accept and even enjoy handling), and medications for fearful patients. Recently the Fear Free folks launched a new initiative – Fear Free Happy Homes. You can join for free and get access to helpful information and products to make your pet’s vet visit as stress free as possible.
As our pets grow older we tend to make more frequent vet visits, and possibly need to provide extra care for certain ailments. For example, Finley recently developed some laryngeal paralysis, making her more susceptible to over-heating. I got her a cooling collar to help with this, and while she doesn’t mind it at all, some dogs may find having this put over their head aversive. A little bit of training can go a long way to making your older pet enjoy a new care routine – check out Finley learning to put her collar on herself, and having fun doing it!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Head Games

Training tricks is a great way to provide mental exercise and enrichment for our dogs.  In the rainy spring season, it can be hard to get outside as much as we (and our dogs) would like, so doing short training sessions on a new trick can be an outlet for some of your dog’s excess energy.  But maybe you’ve already hit the classics – shake, roll over, speak – and need something new to work your dog’s brain.  

Capturing different head movements can be the source of several new tricks.  For your dog, turning his head left or right, moving it up or down or lowering it to the floor can all be put on different cues.  It’s also an interesting challenge for you as the trainer.  If you want to improve your timing of marking your dog (Yes! Good dog! Click!), watching for the initial tiny movements of your dog’s head can help.  And of course, improving your timing and observation skills will help with any other training you’re doing with your dog - plus you can get some adorable tricks on cue to impress your friends!  Check out Australian Shepherd Payton and Husky Mix Finley working on some head tricks!

If you would be interested in a class to learn to train some of these fun skills, let us know! We'd love to set something up to offer some fun ideas to help you and your pup have more fun together. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Teacher's Pet - Parkour for Dogs

Parkour for dogs? Yes, it’s a thing! 

In human parkour, athletes run, climb, jump, swing and roll, using the features of the environment to get from point A to point B quickly and efficiently. While parkour for dogs is not exactly the same, it shares the idea of looking at the things in your environment differently and having your dog interact with them in new ways.

There are several organizations that offer guidelines and titles in this new dog sport, such as the International Dog Parkour Association and All Dogs Parkour . You can find lists of different ways you can train your dog to interact with obstacles (and obstacles can be anything you can find in the space you’re working in), as well as safety guidelines. For example, dogs must be wearing a harness with leash attached when performing skills where they could potentially fall off an obstacle. There are also modifications to many exercises for senior dogs or dogs with physical challenges, so any dog can participate.

Parkour can be a great way to make walks and hikes more interesting for you and your dog, and it can also help build confidence. If your dog is nervous about certain things, teaching your dog to interact with things in the environment can help them associate possibly scary things with a chance to earn some yummy treats instead.

And even when you can’t get outside, working on parkour skills indoors with household items is a great place to start. You can work on teaching your dog fundamental skills, like put two paws up on something. Practice this inside on chairs, footstools, etc. Then when better weather hits, take it outside and ask for two paws up on a tree stump, a bench or a fire hydrant. Here are some examples of Level 1 All Dogs Parkour entries:

Pepper, showing off her skills!

Payton's turn! 

If this interests you, visit the websites of the organizations previously listed, or contact us for tips on how to train fun tricks such as these! We're always happy to hear from you. Happy training!