Monthly Archives: December 2011

Exercising Your Dog

There’s a persistant myth that has gained popularity lately: if you exercise your dog more, it will fix any behavior problem from hyperactivity to aggression. We’ll discuss this common misconception next week.

Before we do so, I think we need to discuss normal exercise needs for dogs. All dogs need exercise. This includes both physical exercise, such as running or playing with other dogs, and mental exercise, such as training or working at a food puzzle toy. Dogs need both, and they need them regularly. If your dog is not receiving both physical and mental exercise on a regular basis, you’re very likely to run into behavior problems. Even if you don’t find yourself dealing with serious issues, your dog probably won’t be very pleasant to live with, as a bored dog will find ways to amuse himself that you may not agree with.

Dexter the Mastiff follows his buddies on an off-leash walk. Dexter is 10 years old in this picture.

So, what is normal physical exercise for a dog? Physical exercise refers to cardiovascular exercise, which is any activity that increases your dog’s heart rate and respiration. Any physical activity that makes your dog pant (with the rare exception of stress panting) is an example of cardiovascular exercise.

Read the above sentence again: activities that make your dog pant. Unless your dog is horribly obese or otherwise out of shape, leash walking is likely not appropriate physical activity. While leash walking does provide some benefit, it likely fits more in the category of mental exercise, as the dog is given the chance to look at and sniff unfamiliar things. Most dogs need much more than a walk on leash.

People sometimes tell me that they don’t need to exercise their dogs because they have a fenced-in yard. This is one of the worst traps you can fall into. Here’s the thing: dogs don’t do a very good job of self-exercising. Sure, a young dog will run around the yard. However, think of this as venting a teakettle when it’s getting close to whistling. The worst of the pressure has been released so the dog doesn’t explode, but he still has a lot of energy bottled up inside. Don’t assume that just because you have a fenced-in yard, your dog is getting enough physical exercise.

Each dog differs as to what physical exercise activities they enjoy the most. Try a variety of activities, and look for activities that the dog clearly enjoys without getting crazed and that result in a tired, contented pup after you’ve finished. Some of my dogs’ favorite activities include running alongside a bike (make sure to get a special attachment for your bike, such as a WalkyDog spring, for safety), off-leash hikes, running in the park on a long line (a 50′ leash), swimming, tug, playing with a spring pole, flirt pole work (occasionally), and playdates with doggy friends. Activities we avoid include fetch, regular/daily flirt pole work, and visits to the dog park. Layla has been trained to run on a treadmill indoors and loves to do so, but Dobby worries about the machine so we skip this activity for him. On the flip side, Dobby loves to pull weight with a special weight-pulling harness, which Layla doesn’t enjoy, so that’s his special thing.

Most young dogs need 30-60 minutes of solid physical exercise 5-6 days a week. This varies widely, but it’s a good starting point. Older dogs may need less.

In addition to physical exercise, dogs need daily mental exercise to be fulfilled. Mental exercise refers to anything that enriches your dog’s life and encourages him to use his brain. Mental exercise can be provided by letting your dog experience new smells, sights, sounds, tastes, and textures, by encouraging him to solve puzzles, and by teaching him new skills. We’ll discuss mental exercise further in later posts, but the important thing to remember here is that it’s necessary to give your dog choices and let him explore and be creative on a regular basis. Dogs have an incredibly rich olfactory world around them that we’re largely unaware of, and this is a great resource to tap into if you’d like to help your dog feel more content.

In future posts, we’ll discuss appropriate mental enrichment as well as common issues with exercise, including inappropriate arousal and the SuperDog syndrome. In the meantime, please tell us about your dog’s exercise needs in the comment section below. How do you know when s/he has gotten enough? Which is more important for your dog, physical or mental stimulation? What’s your dog’s favorite exercise activity?

[Mostly] Wordless Wednesday

My hope and wish is that one day, formal education will pay attention to what I call “education of the heart.” Just as we take for granted the need to acquire proficiency in the basic academic subjects, I am hopeful that a time will come when we can take it for granted that children will learn, as part of the curriculum, the indispensability of inner values: love, compassion, justice, and forgiveness.

-Dalai Lama

Family Holiday Pictures are so Embarrassing!

We’re taking a brief break from blogging for the holidays, so please enjoy this picture of my horrified dogs in place of a blog post today.

We’ll return to our regular M-W-F blogging schedule on December 28th.

Helping Your Dog

One of the first questions I am always asked by clients when they contact me about behavior or training issues is, “can you help us?” The answer is always an enthusiastic yes!

However, there are important considerations that every pet owner needs to make when they seek training.

I can help your dog. What I cannot do is magically fix your dog. I am not a miracle worker, nor do I carry a magic wand in my training bag.

If you are completely unwilling to change anything about the way you handle your dog or his daily routine, I cannot help you. Training involves both ends of the leash. If the techniques you were using were effective, you would not have contacted me in the first place.

If you continue to allow your dog to practice the problem behavior because you cannot be bothered to institute the easy management exercises we discuss during the first training session, I cannot help you. Practice makes perfect, and if your dog is practicing the problem behavior 6 days and 23 hours out of the week and only seeing me once a week for an hour, we are not going to make headway.

If you mix training techniques and continue to try things that your coworkers, family, or the TV show recommend, I cannot help you. Mixing training techniques is confusing to your dog. My techniques work. They are scientifically sound and I use them because they are the fastest and most effective techniques available. You hired me for a reason, and that reason is because I am a certified professional with years of experience. Please remember that you get what you pay for, and free advice from friends and family is oftentimes worth its cost.

That said, I can help you, and together we can help your dog.

I am realistic, and I promise that, unlike popular TV shows, I will not give you impossible exercises to attempt, nor will I tell you to devote impossible amounts of time to fixing your dog’s problem. I will work with you to figure out your schedule and split exercises into simple, manageable chunks. I will never tell you to devote hours of time to daily training, but will instead help you figure out multiple quick 1-2 minute chunks during which you can accomplish your dog’s exercises.

I will never ask you to do anything that hurts or scares your dog, period. Nor will I yell at, deride, or intimidate you. I will be as kind to you as we both are to your dog, and if you are frustrated or overwhelmed I will be there to support you and help you out. I will be your coach, your cheerleader, and your advisor.

I will work with your finances. Dog training services cost what they do because I am a professional. I devote hundreds of hours to continuing education each year. I travel out of state to educational conferences, write for professional journals, and read everything that comes out. I learn about biology, ethology, learning theory, neurochemistry, and canine cognition so that you don’t have to. If you need to set up a payment plan or barter for services, ask me! I want you and your dog to succeed. I do not give my services out for free, but I am happy to work with you to make dog training or behavioral consultations doable for your budget.

So, can we solve your dog’s behavior or training issue? Absolutely! However, we need to do so together. If you are committed to making things work, you will find that I am too. I offer permanent solutions that will make your dog the enjoyable pet you’ve always wanted. Work with me, and we will help your dog together.

[Mostly] Wordless Wednesday

Happy Holidays! Thanks to Dennis B. for this great picture of one of our friendliest client dogs, Annie.

The Rules of Clicking

1. Click = Reward. Every click should be followed by a treat or some other kind of reward. Clicking without reinforcing will desensitize your dog to the clicker. Even if you click accidentally, your dog should get rewarded.

2. Click only once. If you want to show your dog that they have done something really wonderful, click once and give two, three, or more treats. Several small treats given rapidly in succession are more meaningful to your dog than one big treat. Chasing a ball, playing tug, or play with other dogs can also be used after the click if your dog particularly enjoys these activities. When you give many treats or a favorite reward this is called a JACKPOT.

3. Click means “Great Job”. Click whenever your dog is doing something that you like. This doesn’t only have to be while training. If you like that your dog is playing independently with a toy, click and play with him so that he understands that you like it when he is busy by himself.

4. Always click before reaching for the treat. The click must predict that the reward has been earned. If you reach for the treat before clicking your dog will anticipate that the reinforcement has been earned because of your hand movement. You want your dog to understand that the click is what predicts the reinforcement. If reinforcement happens before the sound of the click, the dog will quickly learn to ignore the click because the reinforcement is not contingent on hearing the sound first.

5. It is important to click and treat often in the beginning. Your dog needs lots of feedback about what behavior you like. In the first few weeks you cannot click too often. (Later on you will wean your dog off of the clicker and food treats.)

6. Click ends the behavior. When you click, the exercise is over, so the dog is free to move. Over time your dog may learn to continue offering the behavior after the click (such as continuing to heel or staying in a sit position), but this is his choice.

7. Treat for position. Where you deliver the treat can speed up training significantly. If you are training your dog to lie down, click when your dog is in the position that you like, and then (even if your dog stands up) make the effort to deliver the treat on the ground. If you are teaching your dog to walk on a loose leash, click when the leash is loose, and deliver the treat by your leg.

8. The click is not a cue. The click does not tell your dog to do something; it is a signal to the dog that he’s doing the right thing at that moment. Do not use the click to get your dog’s attention.

9. The clicker is not a Remote Control. It is not necessary or even desirable to point the clicker at your dog. The clicker will work just as well if held in your pocket or behind your back.

10. Be prepared. Be prepared for the dog to suddenly “get it” and reinforce this leap in learning with a jackpot (see Rule #2).

11. Be quiet, and speak in a normal conversational tone and volume. In the beginning stages of training, be quiet and let your dog figure things out. Once you’re ready to add a cue, remember that dogs hear much better than we do. Therefore it is not necessary to raise your voice when speaking to your dog. Furthermore, if your train your dog to respond to cues that are given loudly or harshly, you will train your dog to only listen to cues when given in this fashion. Instead train your dog to listen to your whispers.

Tuna Brownies

This is one of our favorite treat recipes. Use these treats for dogs, cats, or ferrets.

Ingredients:

  • 4 6-oz cans tuna
  • 1 c water drained from tuna
  • 12 T scrambled egg
  • 1 c cornmeal
  • 2 c whole wheat flour

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Run the tuna and egg through a food processor (or chop into very fine pieces) and combine with the water. Add cornmeal and flour and blend to form a dough. Knead into a ball and roll out to about 1/4″ thick on a cookie sheet. Set empty bowl on floor to be licked out. Bake for 20 minutes, allow to cool, then cut into bite-sized pieces with a pizza cutter. Refrigerate, freeze, or feed immediately.