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Obedience Dog Training: Genetics & Dog Behavior

We’re all familiar with the age-old debate about what has more influence over us: nature or nurture. Well, the truth is, they are so interconnected that it’s not even something we can debate (although dog trainers sit around and do it for hours!). But, in obedience dog training, what we can count on is the behaviors your dog displays are genetically based.

We don’t do anything that we are not genetically programmed to do. So, when your dog licks his behind in front of company, or snags a steak off the counter, keep in mind that he’s designed to do that. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean these behaviors have to happen – a good trainer well versed in obedience dog training can help you train your dog to act in a more appropriate way.

The thing to remember is that if your dog is doing a behavior to the point that it is becoming annoying, then he probably has a biological need to do that. So, if you have a dog that loves to scavenge, maybe hiding food around the house for him to find will satisfy that need, and he won’t jump up on counters or try to open garbage containers.

Or, if you have a Dachshund and you find him digging holes in your back yard, a “legal” digging area might be just the thing. Hide good stuff in the designated area, make it conducive to digging in other ways like loosening the dirt or putting a different kind of dirt, and redirect him to that area when you see him starting to dig.

Basically, instead of just being annoyed or getting mad at your dog, think about how you can fulfill that need in a way that doesn’t disrupt your life. In the end, your dog will thank you with better behavior!

Dog Training East Valley AZ: Mental & Physical Stimulation

Dog Training East Valley, AZ

Most pet dogs lead criminally under-stimulated lives.  That’s dog training East Valley, AZ. If your dog lived in the wild he would spend the majority of his time in survival activities.  He would be hunting for his dinner.  He would have to find food and very possibly fight with other dogs to hang onto it!  He might even have to protect it from other predators, besides dogs.  That’s a lot of work!  Dogs are programmed to work — they need and want a job.  Busy dogs are happy dogs.

There are several ideas in this handout (Dog Training East Valley, AZ) which you can use to keep your dog busy.  However, your imagination is the limit — as long as it is safe and keeps your dog occupied, do it!  If you come up with a great idea, please share it with me and other dog owners.

Feeding Your Dog

Nothing For Free (NFF) Rule.  Never give your dog food without making him work for it.  It can be as simple as a “sit” or as complicated as running an agility course.  This includes treats, handouts while you’re fixing your own meal, and putting his bowl down in front of him (although I hope after reading this handout, your dog won’t be using a bowl anymore).  This also means everyone in the family.  There’s always a softie who thinks it’s mean, but in reality, it’s meaner to not make your dog work than to make him work.

 

Kongs.  Kongs are meant to be stuffed!  You can be conventional and stuff them with peanut butter or Cheez Whiz, or you can be creative and feed your dog’s dinner in the Kong and then hide it.  Following are some stuffing tips:

  • Buy 2 or more Kongs, and stuff them all at the same time. This way you will save time.
  • Peanut butter, Cheez Whiz, cream cheese, etc.
  • Canned dog food.
  • Pre-mix canned dog food with chopped hot dogs, cheese, commercial dog treats, and any other goodies and keep in your refrigerator.
  • Stuff and freeze. It will take your dog longer to get the frozen stuffing out.
  • Use a plug of white bread at the opening and then freeze.
  • Put frozen Kong in an old margarine container, wrap in several layers of old rags with complicated knots, and then hide. (You need to work up to this one — hide and show your dog, so he knows the game; initially make the wrapping not too complicated, etc..)  Hide them in the house (under couch cushions, behind doors, under beds, etc.) or hide them outside — if it’s not a problem, you can even bury them!  Always supervise when using non-edible materials!

 

Other Interactive Feeding Toys.  There are a gazillion feeding toys on the market today—for all species, not just dogs. The public, and consequently the animal market now understands the importance of enrichment and how feeding can contribute significantly to enrichment, so look in your local pet store, or search for toys on the Internet—the more, the merrier. Switching them around and adding new ones, keeps your dog interested and engaged.

Scattering.  Throw your dog’s food out on the lawn.  This way he must hunt for his dinner.  If you have more than one dog, just watch their weight to be sure they are both getting enough food.

Exercise

Remember the saying: If your dog is overweight, you aren’t getting enough exercise!

Walks.  All dogs need exercise.  A walk is great for your dog’s mental stimulation — it allows them plenty of sniff and pee time, and usually allows them to encounter other dogs and people.  However, it is not a substitute for strenuous exercise for large or active dogs.  If you exercise by jogging, bike riding, etc., take your dog with you (after consulting your vet as to your dog’s condition and capability).

Fetch.  Teach your dog fetch.  It’s a great way for you to remain a couch potato but still give your dog good exercise.  You can come home after a hard day’s work, veg out on the chaise with a cool drink and exercise your throwing arm.  Commune with nature while exercising your dog!!  Frisbee!!  Most dogs love Frisbee.

Tug-of-War.  Tug is a great energy burner, and it also burns their predatory energy.  Too often, people would like to ignore the fact that dogs are predators, or, even worse, try to eradicate their predatory drive.  This is a big mistake.  Dogs are predators!  We will never change that, and instead of ignoring it and hoping it goes away, let’s channel it into useful activities.  If you play Tug, just be sure you follow some simple ground rules:

  • Use a specific toy for tug, and this is your toy, not the dog’s. When not playing tug, the toy goes up, out of the dog’s reach
  • Use a specific cue for beginning and continuing the tug game, such as “tug.”
  • Your dog must “drop it” on cue. Teach this with food treats, and do not play tug until he has the cue down pat.  Then gradually build him up.  Teaching a half-hearted “drop it” cue and then expecting your dog to “drop it” in the middle of a heated game of tug is asking too much.  If he fails to “drop it” on cue, the game immediately stops for a time-out penalty (about 1 minute should do it).  To resume the game, give your “tug” cue.  If the dog again will not “drop it,” stop that play session and put the toy away.  Most dogs love to play tug, and will soon learn the rules.
  • Use the tug game as an opportunity to improve your dog’s obedience. Give him a “drop it” cue, make him down, roll over, or whatever, and then resume the game.  Chances are he’ll eventually roll over so quick you’ll hardly see it, because he wants to get back to that tug game.
  • If the dog grabs the toy without invitation, have a time-out penalty or end the game.
  • The dog must never touch you with his teeth. That should be an immediate end of game.  Even if you offer him your hand, he should go out of his way to avoid it.  Dogs are extremely quick with their mouths, much quicker than we are with our hands.  Don’t ever assume that he touched your with his teeth “by accident.”  Make no exceptions to this rule.

Most dogs really love to play tug, and you can use this as a reward for good behavior, or exceptional performance. You can also use it to keep your dog’s attention when in public. There are many opportunities for outdoor dog training East Valley, AZ:

Parks and Dog-Dog Interactions.  If your dog has a reliable recall, take him to an off-leash park and let him run and play.  If he doesn’t have a reliable recall, teach him one.  Find a dog park in your town.  Set up play-dates with other dogs.  There’s nothing better for dogs than playing with other dogs.  It gives them good exercise,  increases their social skills and problem solving abilities, and is great exercise. Just make sure you understand your dog’s body language and help him out when necessary. It’s easy to mistake bullying for playing.

Dog Sports.  There are a lot of dog sports out there which are fun for you and your dog.  You can participate at the level you choose — you can do it just for fun, or you can become competitive.  Dogs love sports any way they can get them.  Take into consideration your dog’s breed, his personality and temperament, and where you live.  If you live in Alaska and have a Malamute, you might want to consider dog sledding or carting!  Or, if you live in Texas and have a Border Collie, you’ll certainly want to consider agility or fly-ball (or herding!).  Any dog can compete in any sport, but some dogs are more suited to some sports than others.  Following are a list of sports (not comprehensive by any means): obedience competition, agility, fly-ball, water rescue, scent work, carting, working trials, field trials, etc.  The list goes on and on.  Figure out what is involved in participating in a particular sport — how much time and equipment is required, how far do you have to travel, what would you and your dog enjoy — and go from there. Make it a family activity.

Obedience.  Obedience training is great mental exercise for your dog.  You should institute the NFF rule and begin making your dog do something before he gets food.  When he becomes good at one thing, start making him give you two-fers (i.e., a sit and a down) before he gets the food.  This will help him really distinguish between the cues.  Often dogs are just guessing as to what it is you want.

Toys 

Balls.  There are various balls your dog can entertain himself with.  Activity balls are another stuffing toy, Wiggly Giggly balls make noise when the dog moves it, plain old balls can be lots of fun.

Chews.  You should always make sure your dog has plenty of chew toys.  They need to chew to keep their jaw muscles and teeth in good shape.  Chewing is not simply a “puppy thing,” adults also need to chew.  You might need to experiment to find out what kind of chew toys your dog prefers, but make sure he has plenty around.  This will also keep him from chewing things he shouldn’t be chewing.

Dissecting.  Stuffed toys, like tug, help release a dog’s predatory energy.  If you watch your dog, you’ll notice that his dissection of stuffed toys is very ritualized — this is what he would do if he had caught a prey animal.  Usually, they hold it down with their feet, and dissect the middle (stomach) of the toy.  This is excellent play for a dog.  These toys can be expensive, so I go around to garage sales and get cheap stuffed animals.  Be sure you cut off anything that can be harmful, such as button eyes, voice boxes, etc.  Also, supervise when your dog is dissecting a toy, because you don’t really want him to eat the innards — they aren’t particularly good for them.  Dissecting should be a special treat, not an all day, every day kind of activity.  If your dog is really into dissecting, you can use this as a reward for good behavior, or exceptional performance.

This list is only the beginning of ways to keep your dog mentally and physically stimulated.  Use your imagination.  The only criteria should be that you cause no harm — to your dog or to others.  Have fun with your dog!!

GIVE YOUR DOG A JOB!

One of the best things you can do for your dog is give him a regular job.  Dogs need and love to work.  Whether it’s fetching the newspaper or bringing you a tissue when you sneeze, give your dog chores, just like you would your kids. Give us a call if you need dog training in East Valley, AZ.

In Home Dog Training: Aggression

IN HOME DOG TRAINING

The Good

The good news is that the three most common forms of aggression in pet dogs are also the three easiest types of aggression to resolve! They are: 1) on-leash reactivity, 2) resource guarding, and 3) handling issues.

If you think about these three issues, they actually make a lot of sense and are things that people do as well – which means it’s a normal, survival behavior. Let’s take them one at a time and see if we can normalize them a bit.

On-leash reactivity. Actually, this is the one behavior we don’t see a lot in humans, but maybe that’s because we are rarely confined in the ways that dogs are. On-leash reactivity is when your dog reacts to other dogs, or sometimes people (we’re just going to refer to dogs, but everything applies equally to people), when they are on leash. The reactivity comes from the fight or flight response—when a dog is on leash, he only has one option, and that’s fight. If he were off leash and unsure about the approaching dog, he would normally move away and avoid any possible problems. But when he’s on leash, this option is not available to him, so he opts for the “best defense is a good offense” tactic.

Another type of on-leash reactivity is about simple excitement. The dog is excited about seeing dogs, but isn’t able to greet them in a normal fashion, so a combination of excitement and lack of impulse control results in obnoxious leash behavior.

Regardless of the origin of the behavior (fear or excitement), a knowledgeable dog trainer (with in home dog training experience) can help you get the behavior under control.

Resource guarding. Now this is absolutely a behavior humans engage in. Parents are very familiar with the constant refrain to their small children, “you have to share.” They are teaching their kids that they can’t hoard and never share their toys. It is perfectly normal to protect your stuff—we wouldn’t survive if we didn’t. Dogs are no different; they protect their food, their toys, their beds, their owners, and on and on. Again, normal behavior—but it can be problematic.

Handling. Another common behavior in all species. None of us like people grabbing, touching, and physically manipulating us without our permission. In fact, in our human society, it can be criminal behavior—even if no harm comes from it. Our body is our most precious and valuable property, and having others manhandle us is not pleasant. We don’t really even like it when we do give permission—think of some of the indignities we suffer at the hands of doctors, personal trainers, and beauticians. Eek!

So, it’s normal behavior in dogs, as well. Most dogs do not like having their mouth, feet, tail, or genital areas handled. If a dog has been well-socialized, they tolerate it, but that doesn’t mean they like it. For dogs with less socialization, it can be intolerable and they may act aggressively when touched in what they consider an inappropriate manner.

Another thing to keep in mind is that resource guarding and handling issues often go hand-in-hand. If your dog is a resource guarder, it’s not at all unusual for him to also have problems with handling—and vice versa.

The Bad

On-leash reactivity. Unfortunately, when a dog reacts aggressively on leash, owners often think they have “an aggressive” dog–and they never let their dog interact with other dogs. This couldn’t be further from the truth—most dogs that react on leash are not aggressive and simply need to learn an alternative way to behave. Unfortunately, these dogs never get to meet and play with other dogs, and their behavior tends to get worse. So, proper in home dog training requires that the dog spend time out of the home as well.

Resource guarding. Some households can manage this behavior. If you are a single adult, you know the triggers, and can set up the environment to work around the behavior, everything’s good. But, if you have kids or elderly parents in the house, it can be much more dangerous. Other animals will usually learn to adjust, but I have known of serious altercations and even death resulting from guarding behavior.

Handling. As with resource guarding, if the owner is aware of the problem and able to work around it, there’s no problem. But again, children and the elderly are at risk. Additionally, strangers (including family friends and relatives that don’t live with the dog) and other animal professionals such as vets and groomers are at risk with this behavior. Of course, vets and groomers see this behavior all the time, but they usually handle it by restraining the dog, which makes the dog all the more convinced that he doesn’t like being handled!

The Ugly

On-leash reactivity. As with most undesired behaviors, if it isn’t addressed, it gets worse! And on-leash reactivity is no different. If the behavior is aggression (rather than excitement), this means the aggression becomes worse and this can sometimes result in injury to the owner. The frustration from the aggression and unfulfilled needs can result in what dog trainers call “redirected aggression.” Redirected aggression is when the dog, in his frenzy, attacks the nearest moving object—that can be you, the other family dog, the cat, or even a stranger walking by. This is when things really do become a problem. You now have a dog that has bitten, and that can never be reversed.

Resource guarding. As with any behavior, if allowed to happen, it will get worse. Most dogs have specific things they guard, but some dogs will generalize their guarding behavior and begin guarding more and more items. This leads to unpredictability and dangerous situations. I’ve known of people who let their dogs sleep on their bed, get up during the night, then can’t get back in their bed because the dog is guarding it. I’ve known of couples that can’t show affection because the dog is guarding one of them. And it just goes on.

Handling. Again, this is very similar to resource guarding. If the behavior is allowed to happen, it will get worse. These types of problems don’t resolve themselves. As long as people who interact with the dog are aware, it can be managed, but it’s rare for a dog to never encounter an unaware stranger. And all too often, that stranger assumes that dogs love to be petted.

 

In summation, these are normal behaviors, survival behaviors, and shouldn’t be considered aberrations. But, the good news is that all of these behaviors can be successfully worked with, so if you have a dog with one or more of these problems, consult a professional who does comprehensive in home dog training!

Susan Smith, CPDT-KA, is a dog trainer in San Tan Valley, AZ, specializing in pet dog training—from obedience behaviors to serious problems such as aggression. She can be contacted at sue@raisingcanine.com.

Dog Training San Tan Valley AZ : There’s a New Dog Trainer in Town!

I’m writing this post to introduce myself to San Tan Valley dog lovers. I just moved to the greater Phoenix, AZ region a year ago, and am starting up my dog training business after living in Texas for the last 35 years! As the name implies, I offer dog training San Tan Valley, AZ.

A little history, first. I grew up in Alaska then moved to Texas to get an idea how the “Lower 48” lived. I did a three year stint in upstate New York (my time in Seattle was so short, it’s not worth mentioning!), running a sanctuary for unadoptable dogs (read aggressive), then moved back to Texas because my mother was ill. Now I’ve moved to Arizona and expect to be here for the foreseeable future.

I am a professional dog trainer and have been in the industry for over twenty years. In addition to my own dog trainer business, I also provide on-going education for professional dog trainers and other animal trainers. If you’d like to check out my other business, go to www.raisingcanine.com. There are lots of educational offerings there, many of which are appropriate for owners. As an educator, I specialize in how animals learn – the theoretical underpinnings of learning and behavior.

I work with basic obedience, common behavior problems such as house training and barking, as well as more serious behavior problems such as aggression. I come to your home and help you and your pet learn to live together harmoniously.

In my training business, I work primarily with pet dogs, although I can work with working dogs, as well as other species, depending on the issues. I have done some cat and parrot behavior, as well as training a variety of other species – horses, pigs, raptors, chickens, guinea pigs, and others. All animals that live with us are prone to behavior problems, so if you have a cat or parrot that is having problems, let me know – maybe I can help. I may also be able to help with basic husbandry problems such as trailer-loading of horses. If I can’t help, I can steer you in the right direction.

Okay, enough about me. Future blogs will address training and behavior problems, so stay tuned.

Susan Smith, CPDT-KA, is a dog trainer in San Tan Valley (East Valley), specializing in pet dog training—from obedience behaviors to serious problems such as aggression. For Dog Training San Tan Valley, AZ she can be contacted at sue@raisingcanine.com.