SOCIALIZATION

One of the worst things that ever happened to pet dogs was having the term “socialization” come to mean “playing with people and other dogs.” Socialization is the lifelong process of inheriting and disseminating norms, customs, values and ideologies, providing an individual with the skills and habits necessary for participating within their own society. Most of us would prefer that our dogs were a bit more calm, listened to us better, and exhibited more self control, yet most of our “socialization” efforts seem to contradict those goals. No part of your training needs to contradict any other. What socialization really amounts to is that your dog is exposed to as many things as possible. This means they see, feel, hear, smell, and taste (where appropriate) as many things as possible, and that each of those experiences end positively.

The (Unfortunate) Norm

You are walking down the street and a stranger runs up to you and gives you a chest bump, or hugs you and kisses you on the mouth. Maybe they grab your ass. You yell at them and then tag them in the mouth for being so rude. Self defense, of course. They look at you like you’re crazy and then a fight starts.

This sounds like an awful scenario, but it’s how “good” dogs ROUTINELY overstep boundaries because they were never taught that there were supposed to be boundaries. And those dogs are often responsible for creating more defensive dogs than the one odd-ball-actually-aggressive dog you might encounter.

The same thing happens with people. How often do random strangers, who would never have spoken to you otherwise, come up and interact with your dog (hopefully asking first, but that’s certainly not a given)? Would it be the “norm” for them to come up to you and mess up your hair or to even ask to touch you in any way? What about your child? Is that appropriate? People often speak of wanting their dog to have autonomy and then they take all of that away from them in favor of letting random people and dogs grope them.

We are TEACHING our dogs to behave in the EXACT ways that society is trying very hard to stop people from behaving towards each other. Not only that, but when it’s repeated often enough it becomes the EXPECTATION of other dogs and the general public that they get to interact with your dog without any concern whatsoever for whether your dog wants that interaction or not.

A Simple Concept

Everything else in this post can be summarized by the following concept:

If that person isn’t someone who you have, or would, invite to your home, they don’t need to have interaction with your dog. If that dog isn’t one that your dog will be interacting with regularly, they don’t need to have any interaction at all. From your dog’s perspective, strive to have the default behavior toward other people and dogs be to ignore them. Finally, to find success and balance with your dog, allow them to directly interact with other people, other dogs, and various other distractions only in direct proportion to their ability to ignore those things in favor of focusing on you or any task you ask them to perform. With dog-dog interaction, your ability to be polite precedes your permission to play. Even well socialized dogs can have undesired responses to things. It is common for certain breeds or types of dogs to go through protracted development periods, and to see lots of new behaviors emerge during adolescence.

Environmental

For the most part, we would like our dogs to simply ignore environmental distractions. The best way to do this is to place them in situations, appropriate to their level of training, where they are stimulated by these kinds of things, but are taught to ignore them in favor of doing something else like an obedience command, or interacting with us through play. For most dogs, desensitizing to environmental distractions simply entails keeping them in the situation long enough that they work through any excitement, anxiety, or fear. And going through that process repeatedly. Keep your dog safe by not letting random people, dogs, and stuff interact with them directly. This helps assure that even a moderately stressful situation has a positive (and controlled) outcome. And pay attention to your dog. If they are completely overwhelmed then you may need to move to a quieter or less active place to start.

Exposure To New Things

Most dogs who did not have experience with a particular thing (or had a bad experience with it) when they were going through their puppy development phases will have a default response to new things that is less than ideal. They will generally be overly cautious, either offensively or defensively. Your job when these things come up is not to baby them, or feel sorry for them, but to be their fearless leader as you show them there is nothing to be concerned about.

Exposure To Infrequent Things

Adult dogs that do not experience certain things regularly, and did not experience them when they were puppies, will likely need routine maintenance with respect to those things. A dog that has poor social skills might make amazing progress if routinely put in social situations. But if we stop maintaining those skills, they will very likely get “rusty”. This is particularly true when what we want our dog to do is counter-intuitive to their instincts. The term “instinctual drift” is used to define the tendency of an animal to revert to their instinctual behaviors absent the influence of motivation that maintains trained responses.

Other People

We want our dogs to be friendly with people, but we often allow things to happen that would make anyone uncomfortable. You would not allow a random stranger to come up and grope your spouse or your child, yet we often allow such things to happen to our dogs. Interactions between your dog and people (including all adults and children in your household) should be structured so that they are learning experiences until everyone involved shows that they are capable of acting appropriately. And they should be agreeable to all involved, including your dog. Anyone unwilling to participate in the correct training of your dog when it comes to in person interactions, should not be allowed to interact with your dog. When in doubt, please ask people not to touch, stare at, or talk to your dog, but also train to prepare your dog for those things because they will happen.

Dogs In Your Household

It is best if all dogs in the household are expected to follow the same rules. That said, there is no need to have as much structure in place for dogs that show they are capable of making good decisions on their own. Always exercise caution. Dogs, from the smallest to the largest, are still predatory animals. They solve problems with their teeth. Things like “sharing” items, allowing dogs to take things from one another, and allowing play that borders on violent are recipes for disaster. We can’t count how many times where “everything was fine…” until it wasn’t. Be proactive and avoid having significant problems.

If you are going to bring a new dog into the home, the dogs should spend a lot of time occupying the same space (like in the same room) but not able to directly interact with one another. Use crates and tethers. Do this until you are pretty sure that the dogs are bored with each other. Allowing them to play right away, interact right away, and “work it out” on their own is rarely a good idea. With dogs, boring introductions are best. You want your dogs to bond with you first, then with each other so that you maintain the role of leader, guide, and mentor.

Other Dogs

In order to have our dogs remain calm and under control in the presence of other dogs, we must teach them that that is the expected behavior. We do this two ways: through obedience, and through calm off leash interaction. For dogs that know each other well, more invigorating play is acceptable. But we recommend that this is limited to two dogs, so that no single dog gets ganged up on. Please exercise good judgement and remember that dogs are dogs. There will be disagreements and it is important that you are ready and willing to step in and advocate for your dog, or correct them, as is required by the situation. It is better to be proactive, and prevent an issue before it happens, then to try to address something that has already taken place. Again, when in doubt, do not let your dog interact with unknown dogs. As a general rule, find a few dog friends for your dog, and stay away from dog parks.

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Communication Skills

In our training programs, we communicate with our dogs most often using sounds and touch. Sounds are broken down into markers, and commands. Touches include leash/collar pressure, touching with our hands, touching with objects, and touching with stimulation from a remote collar. Simply put, we are trying to connect signals, responses, and consequences reliably.

Markers

Markers are used when/after a dog does something. It's helpful to think of markers as serving two functions

  1. They take a "picture" of the behavior you are targeting

  2. They tell the dog what consequence is coming next

We use the following markers, each with a distinct meaning:

  • "Okay" or Click - You did the right thing, and can stop to get your reward. This is followed by some tangible consequence that the dog values. This is our “reward marker”.

  • "Out" - You did a bad thing, and punishment is forthcoming. This is followed by some tangible consequence your dog finds intolerable. This is our “punishment marker”.

  • "Wrong" - You made a mistake, try again or try something else. This is followed by nothing. This is our “no reward” marker.

Praise and Petting

Praise and petting are acknowledgement and encouragement to your dog. They do not mean that they can stop doing something you've asked. It is important that we reserve specific signals that tell our dog “yes,” “no,” “stop,” and “go,” so that there is never any confusion about those actions. Praise and petting are too imprecise to serve that function, but are valuable social interaction between you and your dog. Many a dog has had trouble with stays because they think “good boy!” means “you’re done!”

Keep in mind that the way you praise and pet can affect your dog's behavior. So do your best to use them judiciously and productively. Additionally, use common sense. If you are away from your dog or you have asked them to do something which requires movement, use verbal praise. If you are near enough to your dog to touch them and they are stationary, use praise or petting, or both. 

Pressure and Release

If we only utilize rewards in our training, our dog will only do what is asked when they feel like it, or the reward we have to offer is more important to them than whatever else is going on around them. At some point we will need to compel behavior rather than simply wait for the dog to “feel like it”. In those cases we will apply physical pressure to them to motivate them to do what we want. When we do so, we are looking to use as much pressure as necessary, and as little as possible, to get compliance. When they do whatever we asked, we release that pressure. Pressure is applied through the use of physical touch or a dynamic training collar, and the removal of pressure communicates that the dog has made a good choice or completed a desired action.

Commands

Commands are used to tell the dog to do something. This is the standard list of commands that we use.

  • Name - stop, look, listen

  • Here - come towards me and sit directly in front of me looking me in the face

  • Heel - walk on a loose leash with your head in line with my leg

  • Sit - sit with your backside firmly on the ground

  • Down - lay down with your elbows and belly touching the ground

  • Kennel - climb on or in an object

  • Leave It - ignore something and do not make contact with it

  • Out - stop making contact with something

  • Off - four paws on the floor

  • Quiet - be quiet

It’s important to remember that we are not teaching these skills as circus tricks. We are teaching them as cues for the dog to be responsible for completing or maintaining an action. So “heel” should tell your dog to walk at your side and don’t lunge at dogs or people, don’t sniff the ground excessively, and don’t stop to mark every tree or bush we pass. Our dog doesn’t know “heel” until they know, clearly, what it means and what it does not mean.

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Living with your dog

These suggestions are intended to provide you with ways to get reliable and predictable behavior from your dog in and around the home. Every dog may not need every part of this information but we attempted to cover every aspect of life with your dog that falls outside of what is commonly considered "formal training". Follow these guidelines to start and then adjust as your dog's behavior changes or as you see that certain things are of higher or lower importance.

Supervise Or Confine

Until your dog is reliably doing everything you want and nothing you don’t want, keep them on a leash (with you holding the other end), on a tether (with you supervising in the same room), or confined in a crate. The overwhelming majority of problems in the house are caused by the owner’s failure to control the dog effectively. If your dog chews up the leash or tether, you aren’t paying enough attention to them and they should have been confined. If your dog is able to run to the door/window when they see something, they are not adequately controlled. If they are able to pick up random items like pens, paper, socks, etc. they are not properly supervised. Ownership of these problems as ones you are creating or failing to effectively intervene in is key to resolving them.

One Set Of Rules

If each person that your dog interacts with has a different set of rules, it makes it more difficult for your dog to understand what is and is not allowed. Make sure that the whole family is on the same page with respect to what behavior is acceptable and what is not, how to respond to those behaviors, what commands are going to be used, etc. Any family member, or guest, who will not follow those rules should not be allowed to interact with the dog.

Bathroom Stuff

Scheduling Food, Water, And Bathroom Breaks

Not every dog gives tell tale signs that they need to go to the bathroom. By scheduling access to food and water, we can begin to figure out how long after they are consumed that our dog will need to be aired. Using this scheduling we can better prepare for times when we will not adhere to our normal routines such as traveling or having to stay late at work.

Bathroom Location And Expectations

Get into the habit of selecting one designated spot close to your home where your dog is expected to use the bathroom. Do you travel for extended periods of time looking for just the right place to do your business? Of course not, because a place is designated. Take your dog to the designated spot and wait there for five minutes. If they don’t go to the bathroom, take them back inside and put them in the crate for a while. Take them straight from the crate back to the bathroom spot again. Repeat this process until the dog goes to the bathroom in the designated spot, then take a walk, or play a game, or do something else fun and interactive with your dog. Over time they will learn that walks, training, and any other fun stuff does not happen until they have used the bathroom.

Exercise

Physical

Dogs have physical exercise requirements that can vary with breed, age, and for each specific dog. But we do not subscribe to the idea that “a tired dog is a good dog”. A trained dog is a good dog. But we do need to make sure we provide outlets for physical exercise. 30 minutes of walking or hiking daily, or games of fetch or tug, are usually enough for most dogs to fulfill their exercise requirements.

Mental

Some days the weather, long hours at work, or other circumstances prevent us from being able to give our dog the physical outlet they need. We can also tire them out mentally through training, or through games that require them to think. Things like training, scent work, puzzle feeders, or simply scattering kibble in the yard and letting your dog hunt for their food are all great ways to exercise the mind when you can’t exercise the body.

Using Trained Skills

The whole point of having trained skills is to make your dog’s behavior more predictable when it otherwise would not be, and to help give your dog information that will help them through situations before they have to experience a consequence from making a mistake. Think about places where you can use your obedience to proactively create the outcomes you want:

  • Use stay or kennel while you eat dinner to keep the dogs from drooling on your leg under the table.

  • Use sit stay to keep your dog still while you take equipment off or put it on.

  • Use heeling to keep your dog from charging through doorways.

  • Use stay and recall to get the dog out of the car under control.

  • Use stay and kennel to get the dog into the car under control.

  • Use recall to call your dog away from something they shouldn’t be doing/eating/interacting with.

Think of other places where you can apply your training to better help your dog understand what you need them to do. Doing these things allows us to guide our dogs through situations. Further, if we need to correct them, it provides more context as to why the correction is happening, instead of punishing them and requiring them to figure out why that happened through repetition.

Transitioning From Management To Freedom

As your dog’s training progresses, you can use less management (crates, tethers, leashes) when they have proven they are trustworthy. Allow your dog to have interaction with their environment (other people, other dogs, various distractions) in direct proportion to how well they can ignore those things when you ask them to. As an example, your dog should not meet any dog on a walk until they have shown, repeatedly, that they can ignore that dog. To be clear, this means that they are able to ignore that dog without you having to make them do so.

Further, remember that in training we are trying to handle our dogs to teach them the right thing to do. Out in the real world, we handle our dogs to avoid failures. So unless you are reasonably certain an interaction is going to go well while you are out in public, avoid it.

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Behavior Modification

All training is “behavior modification”. There is no difference between “behavior modification” and “obedience”. In all cases, we are trying to make a behavior happen (or not happen) predictably. In order to do that, we need to examine why dogs act, and what tools we have to alter those actions.

It’s important that we understand that we cannot “make” the dog do anything. We can as long as there is a leash on them, but if we can always control their behavior, there would be no need to them to learn to control themselves. Our goal is always to be working toward off leash reliability, meaning that the dog does the right thing because they know it is the right thing to do, not because we had to bribe them or make them do it. Getting there is a process, and it takes time, patience, practice, and maintenance.

Why Does My Dog Do That?

Our dogs act in order to:

  • Make something good happen.

  • Make something bad stop.

In our training, we use BOTH of these motivations because:

  • If we only use rewards (something inductive/appealing) then the dog chooses what to do and when to do it.

  • If we only use pressure (something compulsive/forcing) then the dog only works when they know you can make them.

So in our training, we will draw (pull) behavior out of the dog using rewards. And we will force (push) the dog to do the right thing using pressure. All along the way, we are trying to help the dog understand that we want them to have the reward they want, and we will teach them how to get that reward.

Three Keys To Dog Training

We utilize the following tactics to create and maintain new behavior until it becomes habit.

Motivation

The consequence that your dog experiences for doing or not doing what you ask must be meaningful as proven to you by your dog's desire to repeat or avoid that response in the future. We are either building "ignition" or "inhibition" at all times. These things must be tangible until the dog has formed a habit.

Timing

In order for your dog to connect their action to a consequence, the consequence must (at least initially) happen at the same time, or immediately after their action. Because it's sometimes difficult to time consequences that well, we use "markers" or words/sounds that can we can time more perfectly.

Consistency

In order for your dog to be able to recognize the pattern between their actions and the consequences of those actions, the pattern must be consistent. Predictable outcomes create predictable behavior. Inconsistent outcomes create inconsistent behavior, and confusion.

Environment: The “Fourth Key” To Dog Training

If there is a fourth “key” to dog training, it is controlling the environment. If we put distractions in front of the dog that are too strong, too soon, then the dog won’t be able to process the lesson we are trying to teach them. We would say that dog, in that scenario, is “over threshold”. We can help keep the dog under threshold by adjusting the following dynamics:

  • Distance: move the dog further away from something distracting

  • Duration: limit the amount of time the dog is exposed to the distraction

  • Degree of Difficulty: lower the intensity of the distraction

Alternatively, as your dog becomes more skillful, you can increase these dynamics to increase the challenge. Generally speaking, we try to increase only one dynamic at a time.

How To Create Behavior

  1. Be very specific about what “it” is you want.

  2. Your dog has to do "it" before you can name "it".

  3. Name it only when you would be willing to bet money that “it” will happen.

  4. Reward your dog for doing “it” when you ask, and pressure if they won't do “it” voluntarily.

How To Stop Behavior

  1. Identify the behavior, specifically.

  2. Administer a consequence that the dog finds intolerable.

  3. Make sure the consequence is inevitable. It happens every time the behavior happens.

  4. Make sure the consequence is inescapable. There is no way the dog can avoid the consequence after the behavior happens.

Use It Or Lose It

Just because your dog knows how to do something, or knows not to do something, doesn't mean they will always behave appropriately. You have to regularly require them to use learned skills, and remind them of things they are not allowed to do. This should be considered "regular maintenance", no different than having to put gas in your car, put air in the tires, and change the oil from time to time. The stronger your foundation, the less maintenance you'll need. The more severe issues your dog comes into training with, the more likely they will require intensive maintenance. Finally, every time you fail to follow the concepts on this page, you are un-training your dog, and you can’t blame them for that!

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How dogs learn

The main difference between how we learn and how dogs learn is that dogs don't understand things "in theory". They can't think through a problem without it being presented to them in real life. They must do, or experience it in real life in order to learn it. This means that we cannot say our dog "knows" something until they can prove to us that they know it through their actions.

Recalling Pictures

Dogs seem to recall pictures. We can teach them concepts that they can fall back on, so long as the “picture” of the situation looks similar enough to what they have encountered in the past. When the picture changes too much, we have to teach them again. We often hear that our clients’ dogs are obedient in the house, but not outside. This is not the dog being stubborn, just very literal. This is the dog not recognizing that though the picture has changed, the behavior we ask of them has not.

Discovering Patterns

Overwhelmingly, dogs learn through the discovery of patterns in the world around them. They connect actions to consequences and recognize the connections between events if those connections are consistent. If there is a knock at the door, your dog knows a person is on the other side of the door because they have experienced that enough times to recognize the pattern. If you generally feed your dog shortly after you come home from work, your dog might behave in ways that show you they are anticipating being fed, again because of their ability to pick up on the pattern that you come home and then they get to eat.

Experiencing Feelings

In addition to associating behaviors with their consequences, dogs also associate certain activities with their feelings while engaged with those activities. If a dog feels good, relative to a situation going on around them, they will tend to proactively feel that way in that situation in the future. If a dog feels bad, relative to a situation going on around them, they will tend to proactively feel that way in that situation in the future. It’s important to know that this “emotional conditioning” is involuntary to the dog. It just happens. And that can be a powerful tool that helps or harms us in training.

Your dog’s learning process

Action >>> Result >>> Memory

Any action that your dog takes, which creates a favorable result, will form a memory for them that they should repeat that action when presented with a similar scenario in the future.

Any action that your dog takes, which creates an unfavorable result, will form a memory for them that they should avoid that action when presented with a similar scenario in the future.

And don’t forget that all three things are happening at the same time, all the time: pictures, patterns, feelings. Your dog is ALWAYS learning, whether you intend to be teaching or not.

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Physical Handling Drill

This is the physical handling "protocol" we teach for increased predictably at the vet, groomer, etc.

As you handle each body part, you are feeling for resistance. You do not move on, or stop the exercise, until you feel relaxation. It’s best to go through in a predictable order. We go over every part of the dog. Generally a dog will have four feet and legs, a tail, a belly, a back, a head, eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. Don’t miss spots. Definitely don’t skip the parts they have issues with. The whole point of this exercise is to work through those issues.

The dog is rewarded by ending the exercise. For most adult dogs, practiced already in objecting to handling, that is the biggest reward to them anyway.

If needed, one person holds the collar and another performs the handling. A proper collar hold and arm perpendicular to the dog's neck puts you behind the sharp parts. A safety muzzle (leash around face) puts your hand behind the head, still away from the sharp parts. If you have to do that, this is probably still a 2 person job.

Over time, the collar hold creates a conditioned response of relaxing (if the rest of the exercise is performed correctly).

You screw this exercise up by letting go or stopping at the wrong times. By doing the handing in a forceful way. By being anything but emotionally neutral.

If you need to, muzzle or safety muzzle. If the dog is big, you build scaffolding to further restrict movement while working this exercise, and do enough training prior that doing so isn't a ridiculous proposition. If you have a dog that will end up very large, don’t be foolish and start this as a puppy so it's a non-issue by adulthood.

I don't use food or any other extrinsic reward until we're well practiced, and then only when the exercise is completely over. I don't want to condition arousal as part of this picture. This is also the reason you want to find a vet and techs who can be quiet and just do their work. They are not paid to try to make friends (and actually make things worse for the dogs who have trouble with this)… they are paid to do their job, which is rendering medical care.

Once this is taught, the collar hold is used for whatever procedures are to be done, until the dog has enough self control and obedience that they aren't necessary.

My new puppy

I wrote this back in June of last year and never published it. Anja is just over a year old now, passed her first breed club test with a very nice score, and has become a fantastic can-go-anywhere companion, and a solid hunter, despite bursting at the seams with energy.

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I brought Anja home a little more than a month ago. She is a Deutsch-Drahthaar, or German Wirehair, from parents who were tested and bred through the FCI affiliate breed club, the Verein Deutsch-Drahthaar, Group North America. She's being raised and trained as a hunting companion dog, meaning a working dog that I live with. This post is going to be a long catch up post covering a lot of things from her development and training so far.

Picking a puppy

Once I settled on a breed of dog, I began attending training days and tests to make sure that the decision I was making was the right one. For about a year I attended events held by both NAVHDA and the VDD-GNA. Two organizations who focus on versatile hunting dogs (the former a general group, and the latter breed specific). I watched how the dogs were trained, interacted with the folks who were there, and tried to either be helpful, or stay out of the way. When you are getting a dog to do the sorts of things that Anja is bred for, it takes a team and a group effort to get the training done. So it's helpful to know if you like the folks you'll be working with. Luckily for me, I find hunters as a whole a great group of friendly people. Hunting dog people were no exception.

I finally settled on a breed, and breeding, after watching a number of dogs work who were out of a particular sire, and then getting to see the dam of the litter both in the field/water, as well as at home. 

I chose to get a drahthaar puppy because performance (work/functionality) testing, and health/structure testing are required for every dog that is to be used for breeding. And the particular pairing that I chose was above and beyond the requirements in terms of both performance and health testing. Both dogs were tested through utility level (the highest performance test in the breed club), were high scoring dogs at the breed invitational, and had additional health screenings or scores that went above and beyond what was required (highest rated hips, elbow and shoulder dysplasia free, high scoring conformation, etc.). This, by the way, is what we mean when we talk about "REPUTABLE BREEDERS/BREEDING". Health, temperament, and performance testing, and limited availability only to suitable homes. And above all that, I liked the guys that owned the dogs, and I liked what I saw in terms of how the dogs conducted themselves in the field and around the home.

I met the dam of the litter on at least three occasions spread out over a year, and about three more between when the puppies were born and when I brought Anja home.

Bringing pup home, and managing her in the home

I picked Anja up at 7 weeks old. She cried in the crate the entire way home, and we spent about a month working on her crate behavior. From her perspective, she had lived her entire life with her mother and litter mates, then she was uprooted, lonely, and basically at the mercy of a stranger. There were no familiar sights or sounds or smells. That's quite a lot for her to get over. I saw that she was settling in and bonding with me well, but we were still having some issues with crying in the crate. At this point it was clear to me that it was learned behavior (puppies cry because they need to go to the bathroom, and they get taken out of the crate) because she had adequate food, water, had recently been to the bathroom, wasn't injured... Deductive reasoning and all that. So I had to spend some time providing rewards in the crate while also correcting that behavior that would prove to be incompatible with my lifestyle. I live in a townhouse. So hollering in the crate is not going to go over well with the neighbors. 

With that done, the next behavioral adjustment task was to curtail her biting of hands and feet, another very common learned behavior in puppies. This cleaned up relatively quickly. She's still a very young pup so exploring things with her mouth is part of the deal. But most of her launching for feet and hands and pant legs is behind us. These kinds of behaviors were appropriately (for her age) punished.

"Dogs don't grow out of behaviors, they grow INTO them." - Linda Kaim

So intelligently punishing these sorts of things, if done correctly, leaves no lasting negative effects, and is the most effective way to make sure that they go away for good. Puppies never forget what they learn when they are very young, so taking crate yodeling and attacking body parts off the table now will pay dividends for the rest of my time with Anja. Fixing these things now means we won't have to revisit them later.

I made sure that I followed two very simple rules without question: Supervise and Confine, and Schedule. I set up a schedule for Anja in terms of her access to food and water, and subsequently bathroom breaks. I was able to quickly learn how long after food and water she needed to eliminate, and also note how that changed as she aged. Any time I was not able to supervise her directly, she was crated. When she was out, she was either in an ex-pen learning to relax in the house on a bed with a bone, or on leash. This allowed me to begin to condition things that are important to me: the ability to calm in the house, that you can't ever grab something and run away with it, and so on. It also allowed me to interrupt any and all behaviors that I didn't want her to practice: chewing on a wide variety of things that she aught not, jumping on people and furniture, running around too much in the house, and more.

When we were outside, I let her drag a very light line with the handle cut off. This allows me to still maintain control if I need, but I want to work on her staying with me while "off leash" from day one, get her out and exploring, and get her comfortable with a line dragging since I'll need to check cord her during some of our training later on. By the time the check cord comes into play, she'll already be desensitized to it. 

Socialization

All along the way, socialization was a top priority. I had trust in Anja's breeding and her abilities to do the things she's meant to do, even if I couldn't see all of those things in great detail yet. So what I was more concerned with was making sure she was comfortable with the rest of the world around her. Socialization is effectively exposing a puppy to everything that they are likely to encounter for the rest of their life. And you really only have until 12 - 16 weeks of age to do that. So I have made a point to take her as many different places and expose her to as many different things as possible early on, and still continue to do so now. And that will never stop, but I won't get as much bang for my buck once she's past the four month old mark. 

So she's been in rural, suburban, and urban settings. She's been exposed to a variety of surfaces walk on. She's climbed over things and under things. Seen big trucks, other dogs, people of all different races/shapes/sizes, people wearing hats/glasses/sunglasses, people in wheel chairs and other mobility aides. She's been inside stores, to restaurants, spent hours riding in the car while crated. She's been in fields with grass taller than her, in the water, in the forest. She's seen various cars, bikes, motorcycles, big trucks. She's been exposed to various types of game that she will hunt: rabbits, ducks, chukar. She's been exposed to gunfire. I'm sure there's a ton of things that I didn't specifically seek out that she was exposed to. And she's been around a large number of dogs, both puppies (heavily supervised and refereed) and socially stable adult dogs. 

The amount of time she gets to directly interact with other dogs and people is in direct proportion to how well she is able to maintain attention and focus on me around those same things.

Key points for socialization are that we are looking for EXPOSURE and not always INTERACTION. I don't want her dragging me over to people just because they are oogling at her and making noises (funny how that sort of thing is unacceptable if it was a person, but with a dog it seems to be ok?). I don't want her thinking she gets to make contact with every random dog she sees while we're out (again, funny how it's supposed to be ok for dogs, but if just walked up to you and put my hands on you, it wouldn't be ok). I want her to be comfortable with the world, all of it, passing around her, and her being able to stay comfortably and confidently calm. I want to make it so that nothing gets her highly excited except for the things that I really want her to be excited about. And all of this comes down to structured, tactful exposure, and paying attention to Anja to know when something is a bit too much for her. 

This part of raising a puppy, when you're really trying to do it right, is enough to make you hate people. Everyone wants to pet the puppy. Everyone thinks every dog should meet every other dog. Even a simple rule like, "if any of her feet come off the floor while you are touching her, you need to stop and stand up," can't be heeded. And so, the general public is generally awful at helping you raise a calm and polite dog. Because of this, most of her direct interaction with people has been with long time clients. Read: people who know how to follow directions. 

So far, I've made one kid cry because I wouldn't let them pet Anja. I've hollered at a few parents when I hear them say, "Go ask if you can pet the puppy," that, "No... we're not petting puppies today." I've shoved my booted foot in a few dogs' faces when their owners were unwilling or unable to control them. The bottom line... I don't care about anyone, or anyone's dog, or anyone's feelings as much as I care about the appropriate upbringing of my puppy. Because the random person that you meet out on the street certainly isn't thinking about you and your needs. They want to squeek and squawk, fondle and fuss at, get their puppy fix and move on. Yeah... no.

Your Training Partners

Not everyone has a breed club, or task/event specific training group, or training clients to help them raise their puppy. But generally, everyone does have family and friends and coworkers that can make or break the critical puppy development time you have. Here's the not so short list of people and ways that it "takes a village" to raise Anja:

  • she attends many of my training classes, usually tethered, getting non-interactive exposure to lots of people and dogs
  • she goes to Linda Kaim's training facility on Wednesdays with Gretchen for off leash dog socialization
  • also while at Linda's she gets physically handled by Linda, an important interaction when she goes for conformation evaluations with the breed club in the future
  • my training club clients have helped me with a variety of training exercises
  • my colleagues at work have allowed me to extend my lunch, and make that time up at the end of the day, so that I can get home mid-day for bathroom breaks to support housebreaking
  • members of NAVHDA and VDD-GNA assist with training days, bring game, set up training scenarios, and more
  • my vet, Scott Lindle, who allows me to handle Anja while she's being examined which helps create a routine that my little pup can count on to be predictable even when some things are happening that make her uncomfortable

You may not need some or all of these things. But I know I would have a lot of trouble getting it done without these folks. Not listed here... the general public. The general public is usually terrible at being helpful in raising your puppy. To the best of your ability, they should become background noise to your puppy.

Training Timeline

Though I put my hands on more dogs in a day than most folks will have in their lifetime, doesn't mean that I don't suffer from the same kinds of things that everyone else does. Most notably, putting too much pressure on my puppy in the form of expectations that are way too high. People should know that from taking a puppy home until about 2 years of age, constant management, supervision, and training is needed to make a solid companion in a dog. Perhaps these standards are a little different from other folks, but I want a dog who:

  • is calm in the house
  • has work ethic in training
  • is reasonably social with other dogs and people (this mostly means outgoing, friendly, and polite... not a falling-over-themselves-attention-seeker)
  • keeps their mouth off my things
  • responds reliably to commands with little need for enforcement of them on my part
  • shows emotional control in stressful situations that sometimes aren't fun (like the vet)
  • allows me to handle their body/feet/ears/eyes/mouth without protest
  • knows not to go to the bathroom indoors

That alone is quite a list for a dog! But on top of all these things that I need to have in a companion, Anja has a whole separate set of skills that she needs to develop. She has a job. Her hunting job will require her to learn to use her nose, her body, and her mouth in specific ways. Some of these I can teach, and some I simply need to provide enough exposure to the right circumstances for her to develop them on her own. 

And so I find that I am routinely reminding myself that she's just 3 months old right now, that I've signed on for what will be a minimum of constant and progressive training for a variety of things that are sometimes in direct contradiction with one another:

  • be a drivey monster while hunting but be calm, quiet, and relaxed everywhere else
  • keep your nose on the ground when you are tracking, but keep your head up and air scent when you are field searching
  • show reservation on feathered game but pursue furred game with reckless abandon
  • be independent but be cooperative

These things take time. And I find myself constantly battling internal demons when she's showing a little too much of one of the things I want (but maybe in a setting where I don't want it) or a not enough of something when I really want her to do more of it. 

The thing I just keep trying to remind myself is to try to make sure we're both having fun. When that stops happening, for either of us, that's when training ends and we spend some time apart. I'd like to say that all of our training is "play" to Anja right now, but that wouldn't be true. There's a few behaviors that I've had to punish early on. She takes some things very seriously. Retrieving bumpers and other non-game items is fun. When she has something furred or feathered within scent, sight, or in her mouth, she is not playing. It's something deeper, something more serious to her, but still something "good." So right now our field work is all about exposure. She can't really do anything wrong there. I don't ask much of her, perhaps a recall once in a while. Other than that I try to stay out of it and let her figure things out, and cheer her on when she does something awesome, which happens with regularity! 

Separate from out in the field we work on basic obedience, mostly using food and toys as rewards, and minimal pressure. We're working on static commands (sit, down, stand), recall, and directional movement. We do play retreives during very short sessions where I'll throw items, release her to get them, and she brings them back so that I throw the next item. I'm not extracting anything from her mouth during play retrieving. I just tease her with a new item until she drops the one she has, then throw. Or I pick her up and she drops the item after a short time. This is helping her not want to play keep away. We'll start shaping a hold and deliver (that I can back-chain a formal retrieve off of later) when she's holding static positions just a little bit better... and when I find something that isn't so much fun to play with (which is hard when your dog naturally picks up everything, including metal objects). 

We also spend a short time, about 5 minutes a day, doing physical handling exercises. I go through a patter of touching every part of her body: feet, toes, belly, tail, eyes, ears, mouth. We go through this work to help her understand that she has to allow me to inspect her. And I trim/dremel nails about twice a week. Getting through any protest related to these activities now, assures that I (and the vet, and the breed club judges) are not wrestling with rancorous 60 pound animal later on. We teach appropriate behavior in this situation now, when she's tiny pounds and easy to handle. We don't wait until the dog is fully grown and then try to fix it.

And in the house we're working on "don't touch that, you can't have that, stop that" and "relax, chew this instead, you can have that when you do what I asked".

Oh... and she really likes watching TV.
 

The Basics - Part 2 - Schedule

Pretty much every dog we see that has a problem with house breaking really has an owner with a problem with scheduling. In addition to bathroom related troubles, keeping your dog on a schedule helps add an element of predictability in your dog's life. We are all about predictability whenever possible. It helps you and your dog know what to expect, which reduces anxiety and increases clarity for everyone involved. Keeping your dog on a schedule comes down to a few key areas:

  • periods of confinement
  • access to food and water
  • bathroom breaks
  • training
  • having both active and passive time with your dog

Confinement

An appropriately sized crate will generally help dogs learn to hold their bladder and bowels because most normal/healthy dogs (other than puppy mill dogs or other dogs who were essentially taught that they have to go to the bathroom in their living/sleeping quarters) do not want to soil where they sleep/eat. For all the gross things dogs do they are generally clean in this regard. An "appropriately sized" crate for the purposes of helping a dog learn to hold it would be one that is large enough for the dog to turn around in, but not so large that they could ever pee or poop and then avoid having to lay in it. If you have a mansion of a crate where your dog can go to the bathroom on one side and then sleep comfortably on the other... that is half your problem with bathroom related training. 

We also use confinement to create contrast with other events that I want to be, by comparison, fun or exciting. Crating a dog for an hour prior to a training session will immediately make that training session far more engaging than it otherwise would be.

Lastly, crating your dog while you are home is the first step to resolving crate related problems when you are gone. While you are home, you are able to intervene when your dog is doing things that are undesirable, and you are able to reward your dog for calm behavior while confined. If your dog is only ever put in their crate right before you leave or go to bed, it becomes very easy for them to pick up on that pattern and form a negative association with the crate because it indicates those other events are going to happen.

Food and water

Feed and water your dog at scheduled times. Generally speaking if your dog is eating the same food every day, you can begin to predict how long after eating they will need to go to the bathroom. This is especially true if you make the minor effort of keeping a little log of feeding and bathroom times. We can then anticipate our dog's needs better and get them outside in advance of accidents. 

I know lots of places tell you that your dog needs access to water at all times. But if your dog is in a climate controlled house, I don't really agree. You should make sure that they are getting enough water each day (1 oz per pound of body weight seems to be good) but they don't need to have access to it around the clock. 

Every dog we've ever worked with that had problems with housebreaking had free access to food and water, and/or were not kept on a leash when they were out of confinement.

Bathroom

Since we are scheduling food and water, in a short time we will be better able to schedule bathroom breaks. When we take a dog out to use the bathroom, we do so on leash. This helps dogs learn to go to the bathroom while... on a leash... which is helpful if you ever travel with your dog and don't want to wait around at the rest stop for 45 minutes until they finally decide to go (because they are used to being turned loose in the backyard).

Another thing that helps teach them to make haste when making waste? Teach them that nothing else happens until you go to the bathroom. Lots of people use walks as bathroom time. Many then complain the dog will go for a long walk and then go to the bathroom in the house after it is over. Instead, take them out to the nearest bathroom spot. Give them the full 6 feet of leash while you stand still and be boring. Give them 5 minutes to go to the bathroom. If they do not, they go back in the crate for a while. We'll then take them out of the crate and straight outside to use the bathroom again. And we'll repeat as necessary until they go to the bathroom. Only after that will we go for a walk, allow them liberty/play time, or do some training. 

Having just returned from a road trip to North Carolina, I can tell you that it is very convenient having a dog who you can let out at a rest area, tell them to "hurry up" (my cue for "go to the bathroom), have them produce in 5 minutes or less, and be back on the road. And like all other things, we have that ability because we made a point to practice it.

It takes most dogs a week of this routine or less to understand that "nothing fun happens till I poop." If you have a puppy (6 months or younger) consider that activity and excitement get things moving, and that they will likely have to go after any period of rest. So puppy owners should take their dogs out to use the bathroom:

  • after being crated
  • after waking up
  • after training, or playing
  • after anything that they find exciting
  • before being put back into the crate

Training

Training only works if you do it. And if you don't use it, you lose it. The two easiest ways to make sure that your dog gets some routine training are to: use meal times (and the meal) as training rewards or to use it a little bit throughout the day. 

In the morning and evening you can spend 10 or 15 minutes training your dog and using small handfuls of their food as rewards. Whatever isn't used up during training can then be given to them in a bowl. Alternatively, and my personal preference, is to build it into all of your everyday activities:

  • lay down and be quiet to be let out of your crate
  • sit to have your leash and collar put on
  • sit and wait to go out the door
  • alternating between heeling and freely moving on walks
  • waiting for your food
  • sitting politely while being petted
  • hang out on your bed while I vacuum or eat
  • down stay in the dining room while I cook

Active vs. Passive

Your dog needs active time and passive time. They need exercise and play and training that teaches them TO DO things. They also need lots of time learning to just be, to allow the world to move around them without having to respond to everything that goes on. These start out as separate "events" or training sessions. Over time, we want our dogs to be able to discriminate when it is appropriate to do so and be able to move from an aroused state to a calmer one (something fancy-pants dog trainers call "drive switching"):

  • You can chase this ball but not that squirrel.
  • You can bark when someone comes to the door, but you need to stop when I tell you.
  • When you are off leash in the yard you can interact with the other dogs present but when on leash and walking through the city, ignore them.
  • We just got done playing, now I need you to lay down quietly while I have coffee with a friend.

Dogs generally enjoy and are predisposed to want to be active and engage with things in their environment. So we have to spend a lot of time teaching them to be passive. One of the best ways to do that is to teach them that passive behavior is rewarded with opportunity for active behavior.

The school analogy

We don't give it much thought, but think for a moment all of the training and social conditioning your went through while in school. Your day was broken up into many hours of highly structured socialization and education where rules were enforced, you were expected to respond in appropriate ways, and you were around others but not allowed to directly engage with them in at that time. Then you'd have some time to be a bit more creative but still in a structured format (music and art class). You'd also have a little bit of very active time where you focused on team building in again... a structured manner (gym class). And then every day you got about an hour to cut loose where the only rules were to make sure nobody was bloody, on fire, or had bones sticking out (recess). 

And you followed that process, every day, for years. This is why most of us are reasonably well adjusted and socialized people. Contrast that with the average dog who does one of two things: either sits in a crate/room all day or goes to dog daycare (also typically called lord of the flies, mosh pit place where dogs go to learn that there is no such thing as boundaries or appropriate social behavior). And then they have a very abridged, maybe, version of the above school analogy. And this is why most of them are good dogs, but struggle a little bit with things they shouldn't: not enough practice at the right things, and/or lots of practice at the wrong things.

The Basics - Part 1 - Confinement and Supervision

This is the first post in a series of fundamentals that we teach at Baltimore Dogworks with every dog that we see for training, puppy or adult.

Control your dog or control your dog's environment

When we're in the process of training our dogs, and for as long as is needed for them to prove to us that they are ready for more freedom in any given situation, our rule is supervise or confine. We make this rule very simple by explaining to owners that, at all times until they are 100% happy with their dog's behavior, their dog should be:

  1. On leash
  2. Tethered
  3. In a crate

On leash

When you are able to directly supervise AND directly interact with your dog, they should be on a 6ft leash (the implication is that you are holding the other end). If you are truly paying attention to your dog during this time, there should be no opportunity for them to engage in undesirable behavior without you having the ability to intervene using the leash and training collar. When your dog is outside in the yard, we instruct clients that they can switch to a 15 or 20 foot long line. This allows the dog more freedom of movement, but if we do need to stop the dog from doing something, extract something from their mouth, or otherwise get control of them, it's as simple as walking up the long line.

Tethered

When you are able to directly supervise but not directly interact with your dog, tethering can be a good option. Examples of times when this is a good option would be while you are cooking, eating, folding laundry or doing yard work. Your dog should be tethered to some immovable object and there should be nothing within reach of the dog that they could chew on or grab hold of that you don't specifically want them to. Providing them with a pacification toy like a nylabone is optional. Never leave your dog unattended while tethered. They should always be within eyesight. Tethering also has the added benefit of "leash breaking" a dog, meaning they learn that it is more comfortable not to pull against the tether than to lean into it.

In a crate

If you are unable to directly supervise and interact with your dog, put them in their crate. I like to leave a very large pacification toy (solid nylabone or raw marrow bone), big enough that the dog can only scrape it with their teeth (not close their whole mouth around it) in the crate. I also often feed my dogs in the crate. These things help to occupy their time while kenneled and also assist in helping them form a positive association with the crate. Crating keeps your dog out of trouble. It disables their ability to engage in any undesirable behavior while you are not there to intervene. To this day, if I am not home, my dogs are kenneled/crated. This way I never have to wonder if they grabbed that sock on the floor, or the pen on the table, or the bread off the counter. I don't have to wonder if they are barking at people passing by the house, peeing and pooping on my couch, and so on.

Your only 3 options

The only three options you ever have in training are;

  1. Remove the stimulus/distraction/opportunity from the dog
  2. Remove the dog from the stimulus/distraction/opportunity
  3. Change the dog's response to the stimulus/distraction/opportunity

Following the rules outlined above assures that options 1 and 2 are handled. They don't have the opportunity to do things you don't want. We work on option 3 when we are prepared to train our dog. And as we do that, we stop having to do 1 and 2 so much. It's a process, and the only short cut is doing it correctly from the beginning.

If you aren't using this stuff... You should be! (Part 2)

Long time, no blog! I figured I'd ease back into giving the blog some more love by doing an updated list of the tools, equipment, and various other accoutrements that I'm using now. I did another post like this a while ago, and still stand by those recommendations too. 

Nail Clippers

Last time, I recommended Millers Forge nail clippers, but they make another model that has become my go-to favorite. These are their small nail clippers but I use them on every dog. They come so sharp, you don't even hear a "click" when you clip a nail. Simply switching to these clippers, because of how sharp they are, resolved a lot of protest from quite a number of dogs who didn't like to have their nails cut. Their small size allows you to really get in there and shape around the quick for larger dogs, and they are small enough to use easily on puppies as well. Best of all... they're really cheap!

Treats

I've been using these Red Barn Food Rolls as treats for a little while now. Last time I recommended the Stewarts Freeze Dried Beef Liver, and I still like them as a really long lasting, never goes bad treat. But these food rolls are a bit stinkier, and they're soft. I cut about 1cm discs off the log, and then cut that into 1cm x 1cm chunks to use as treats. All the dogs love them, they don't crumble or squish in your pocket or treat pouch, and the roll does not have to be refrigerated until it's opened. I recommend buying the 2lb rolls in bulk, or buy the 4lb roll, cut it into discs, and then freeze discs until you're ready to use them. I think a 4lb roll yields more treats than a large bucket of Stewarts, so it seems to be a bit more cost effective but not quite as non-perishable.

Crate Pads

For a long time I didn't have any bedding in my dogs' crates. They would usually be fine but every once in a while they'd start chewing on their bedding. To avoid a potential situation where the bedding was ingested and possibly caused a bowel obstruction, they simply went without. But as Marc is in his golden years, Czar (now 6 years old!!!) on his heels, and with a new large breed puppy that was already beginning to develop some hygromas on her back hocks I figured it was time to revisit the crate bedding thing. 

I've outfitted all three dogs' home crates with Primo Pads. These pads are closed cell foam that are wrapped in heat sealed vinyl. The result is a thin and supportive pad that is also waterproof, easy to clean, and as chew proof as anything I've found. To further help make sure dogs don't start gnawing on the pads, you can purchase them with a tie down kit that consists of reusable zip ties to secure the edges of the pad to the bottom of a wire crate. The only down side is that you have to remove the crate pan. This was fine with me and I now have the pans on top of the crates, which provides a flat surface to hold each dog's collars, bowls, any medication they are taking, etc.  So far, the pads are holding up well. They are super easy to clean (just wipe them down with the cleaner of your choice, or pull them out and hose them off). And my dogs love them.

My new puppy is a sporting breed and regularly goes out for field training. She's all over the place in the field, forest, and the water. In between exercises, she's crated while other dogs are having a go at training exercises. I wanted something for her crate in my vehicle, but I didn't want her sitting in water if she had just come from a water exercise. These WetMutt mats have holes in them that allow water to drain through. They come in a variety of sizes and I purchased one that was sized to fit the Rough Tuff kennels that I use in my van.

Creating a Framework... The underlying principles of a good method

In the dog training world there are a lot of techniques, tools, protocols, ideas, theories... and a lot of nonsense as well. The tenured trainer is likely able to move seamlessly through all of these things to find the quickest and easiest way (for them, the owner, and the dog) to complete training. For most of us, though, it may serve our purposes better to have a clear and consistent plan for how to address any and everything, and some rock solid rules of thumb for how to apply our work regardless of what our challenge is with our dog.

"As to methods, there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble." - Harrington Emmerson

And this is why our training follows principles laid out in the Koehler Method. It is, simply put, the only methodology I know of that can offer, unaltered, as near 100% success as possible to the end user who applies it skillfully and tactfully. And it also allows the user to understand the underlying principles that allow additional flexibility if desired. In short, here is the process:

Teaching Skills

  1. Teach the dog what IT is you want (a basic skill)
  2. Give IT a name
  3. Praise the dog when they get IT right, and make it impossible for the dog to get IT wrong
  4. Only after the dog demonstrates clearly that they understand what IT is, correct them to help them keep IT right

Between the last two steps begin incorporating distractions the deepen the dogs understanding and responsibility, as well as their commitment to right action. In order to make sure that the dog experiences as much success as possible, while also ensuring that they have the opportunity to overcome failure (the true confidence builder for an animal still very much governed by instincts and a survivalist mindset), we make sure that we follow the Pareto Principle for proofing (increasing reliability against distractions):

The Pareto Principle

If your dog gets IT right at least 80% of the time, increase the difficulty (distraction level) by 20%. If your dog gets IT right less than 80% of the time, decrease the difficulty by 20%.

This assures that we are always being fair. And that our dog is always being challenged to progress. Overcoming failure is the key to progress, and you will see that we try to keep that to about 20% of our work, while the rest of the time, we bank successes and allow the dog to relax into the work as their understanding increases

When we correct or praise the dog to help them understand and work through a situation, we look to a well known fairy tale for guidance.

The Goldilocks Principle

Too Cold (not enough) - may not produce the desired outcome
Too Hot (too much) - may produce some undesired outcome
Just Right - produces the desired outcome

A note on corrections: The trainer with a good hand on a dog knows that "correction" means "to make correct". It is not a "punishment". If your correction (however it is made) does not have the result of creating the correct outcome, it was improperly administered. And if our correction does result in "right action", then that means every attempt the dog makes is praise worthy. There is time and place for "punishment". That is outside of the scope of this writing. 

A level deeper

Know that the sequencing of the exercises is important as well. Each week's work is not a separate lesson, but a continuance of building upon the foundation laid in earlier work. Specific to the Koehler Method, you will find that the work pays forward both week to week, and in 2-3 week increments. There's some numerology going on here that I know my buddy Bow Wow Bill appreciates. Here's an example:

The longe line work of week 1, informs the dog of their responsibility during the heeling work for week 2, and also prepares the handler to understand their responsibility for week 2, at least on gross aspect: move linearly... and when needed, in opposition to the dog.

The longe line work of week 1 also serves as a preconditioning exercise for the recall, introduced in week 4: move toward the handler.

Further, each lesson is meant to impart additional understanding to the dog at a cognitive level. 

For the trainer or owner who has completed the core work, we are now ready to move forward with problem solving. Again, there are faster and easier ways to do, well, just about everything. But none as sound, in my opinion, as this. With any issue, we need to discern the source of pressure (stimuli that is motivating ill response from the dog) and begin formulating a plan to use the skills the dog knows to change their response to that source of pressure. After all, we only have three options when it comes to these situations:

The Handler's Three Options

  1. Remove the stimulus from the dog (management, avoidance)
  2. Remove the dog from the stimulus (management, avoidance)
  3. Change the dog's response to the stimulus (training)

Some level of management/avoidance is required as we work through helping our dog become more comfortable. After all, if we are to maintain the Pareto Principle of Proofing, repeatedly putting our dog in a situation where they fail will prove counter-productive at best, and detrimental at worst.

But sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes an unforeseen situation comes up and we have to recover from a bad experience, and sometimes we simply do not have the luxury to work in a sterile environment and so we are left to work "what is" since we cannot work "what should be". And in those times, we provide recovery areas and experiences. We assure that we have an area of low distraction to escape to should we need to backwash our training so that our dog can bank some successes. We started our session there, with something relatively easy, to remind the dog how well they are capable of doing. We also go back to the last point of success (perhaps a different exercise, or a different point in the training process of an exercise) to help the dog remember how easy it is to be right. Primacy and Recency.  

So how might we apply the skills our dog knows to find resolution to some problem that is seemingly not tied to "obedience"? Let's look at two examples where often psychotropic drugs are usually the first line of treatment:

Separation anxiety is defined as "a form of anxiety experienced by a young child and caused by separation from a significant nurturant figure". And therein lies an important detail. The dog has incorrectly framed (likely due to the actions of the owner) the relationship between themselves and the owner as one where confidence and comfort is predicated on the proximity of one another. You see this in human relationships too: the notion of "you complete me" vs. "you compliment me". And so we work our benching, long down, walk away stays, and out of sight stays to reframe this relationship in two ways:

1. Your relaxation is what ends this exercise
2. My return to you does not always signify "relief". In fact, if you are not relaxed while I am returning, my return indicates corrective action and continuance of the exercise

Confinement anxiety (claustrophobia), is often confused with separation anxiety. But it is the fear of being confined, not left. And we may see both disorders present in the same dog, with potentially varying eliciting thresholds. For making the dog accustom to the crate, perhaps our approach would be to use the long down (typically performed on a training table, and probably conditioned there in advance of this work) and do it in crate, with the door wide open. Now the battle in the dog's mind is purely mental/emotional. There is no physical barrier. And so we work the long down in the crate until we reach not an extended duration, but noticeably quicker relaxation into the exercise ("conditioned" relaxation). And then we work our Pareto Principle, closing the door bit by bit, assuring we remain at a reasonable expectation with no more than 2 corrective actions required on the part of the handler, out of every 10 trials. Again, at this point we are not concerned with time in the crate. We are concerned with time to relax. Once we are able to have the door closed, now we can work on duration.

And our dog was prepared for these lessons all along. From the time we first placed them physically into a sit, we were teaching them to seek comfort through relaxation. First from physical tension, and now from emotional/mental. We see that happen over time with each exercise during the core work, as the process moves from resistance, to understanding, to physical relaxation, to emotional relaxation. And we make sure that the dog is rewarded for every success, appropriate to the level we are working, both with the primary (innate, unlearned) reward of comfort, and secondarily with our verbal and physical praise.

People often remark that the Koehler trained dog doesn't look "happy". My response is that most dogs we term "happy" are overly aroused. They've never met dog with a stoic "disposition" (trained... vs. "temperament" which is inborn), they likely follow hedonism, and unfortunately they have projected that philosophical belief onto their dog... who is, again, still governed by a survivalist mentality despite being domesticated (a natural stoic, if you will). Couple this with the understanding of hedonic adaptation, and you should be able to easily put the pieces together as to why a hedonistic lifestyle does far greater disservice to our dogs than it does to us. I hesitate to even make that statement... What with the national savings rate somewhere around 5%, and "lifestyle inflation" being a thing. More and better is never enough, all it does is create the same baseline with ever increasing requirements to maintain that baseline. 

I understand the penchant for instant gratification nowadays. I get that we like excitement. People watch NASCAR for the crashes, fights for the knockouts, go to concerts where showmanship trumps musicianship. And if that's your gig, that's fine. Me? I'll take Beck over Beyonce, a corner bar on a weeknight over a mega club on the weekend, a mountain or wooded retreat over South Beach. I also understand the movement for some to seek out support or the appearance of resolution for their problems rather than resolution of their problems. And there are folks all too willing to sell that to you. We live in a world now, where "life coach" is actually a profession. And one where carrying mortgage debt, a car note, and student loans essentially into perpetuity... is normal.

My hope with this essay was to provide not necessarily an endorsement for my chosen methodology of dog training, but to illustrate how the principles behind it provide a framework for dog owners and trainers to work within that provides clear steps to take to teach their dog and to solve problems, using a well designed method as an example. It takes time, it takes effort, it takes skillful implementation. None of us have enough of the first, any worthwhile task is deserving of the second, and only practice can provide the third. But a dog in your care, for whom you are wholly responsible, is entitled to all three.

The Crux of the Matter

A facebook friend, Amy, who is a (kick a$$) hairstylist wrote this on facebook earlier today:

Hairstylists are magical creatures that can listen attentively, care about you and make your hair fabulous, however, these are things we can't necessarily do:
1. I can't actually turn you into Meg Ryan or Heidi Klum. I can give you Hollywood hair but I can't cut 35lbs off of you with your hair or employ a fulltime trainer and personal stylist team for you. 
2. I can't ensure that your hair will look as styled as it does when you leave the salon if you insist on using crappy Pantene, don't want to touch a styling product that we used and think your hair will style itself by sleeping on wet hair. 
3. I can make your hair look polished and professional but can't actually make someone hire you. Joint effort required here.
4. I will happily share my infinite hair wisdom with you and always try to make your day a little brighter but if you take my "infinite hair wisdom" and run with it.. With scissors you picked up at walgreens... And "tweak" your own hair and wind up with a pseudo mullet... That is not my fault.
4. I can't make you take my advice. But if we look at pictures, obsess over swatches for almost a half hour and I make your hair look just like the pictures we agreed upon and you call me two weeks later saying you look nothing like Meg Ryan because you are unhappily (and self admittedly) 40 lbs overweight, out of work, and refuse to style your hair at all then again, not really my fault. I must have lost those super powers along the way somehow.

I've been wanting to write this blog post for some time, but couldn't think of the proper context and then here it is, staring me in the face. In any vocation (a job that requires skilled physical labor) there are a few key elements:

Skill (which comes from intentional and correct understanding and practice)

Quality equipment

Realistic expectations

This is why we include equipment with all of our training programs. Webbed cotton or biothane for long lines, and leather or biothane leashes... Herm Sprenger branded slip collars or prong collars... remote collars from one of the big names, not a $59 special from Amazon. People who are serious about what they do use appropriate equipment.

This is why we don't care for single session programs where we give someone a "plan" and wish 'em well. To develop the necessary skill to effect change in, and manage, another living being's behavior, it takes time. And then, even with a measured amount of that skill, the onus is upon the end user to actually DO what is taught. This is an area where even many trainers fall victim. Having a theoretical understanding of something, but lacking the skill to execute it in practical application, can have detrimental effects at worst or leave the situation unchanged at best. If you think differently, I invite you to view proof of my statement.

And finally, setting realistic expectations... Trainers can create massive changes in behavior, make the fearful dog more brave, the boisterous dog more reserved. But we cannot make a German Shepherd into a Labrador Retriever, a Pit Bull into a Pointer (though Marc and Zwei do act an awful lot alike)... Or completely account for missed developmental opportunities for a puppy pulled from it's litter at 4 weeks of age, or make a current dog into a beloved past dog. We are working with animals that have personalities, emotions, innate predispositions and drives, and certain biological imperatives that are frankly... what make them dogs. We also cannot make a dog a person. Our job is to help you live a safer, more enjoyable, more communicative, and more fulfilling life with your dog.  That takes some give-and-take at both ends of the leash. 

It also comes as no surprise that the products of most vocations require maintenance. Hair requires washing and styling and other appropriate care. Houses and cars require things to be replaced or repaired from time to time. Flush Q-tips and paper towels down your toilet and it will stop working properly. So when we get questions like "How long do I have to do this for?" and the answer is "Until you don't have to anymore." or "Until you do it correctly," it's not us being abrupt. It's us providing concise and honest feedback. I'll never tell a client that the solution to their problem is management, rather than training, unless I really feel that is the only option. But if they find my solution disagreeable, I may have limited options. So if Amy's client doesn't want to buy the right products, sleep on wet hair, and  scissor their own hair with Walgreen's shears... her only option might be to tell them to put on a hat.

My First Trip to a Holistic Vet

On Monday I took my dog, Marc, to a holistic vet. I'd heard Dr. Sanderson's name come up numerous times over the past few years and generally wrote off the idea of holistic veterinary care. I also did the same thing with raw feeding, and many other things. Hazards of being a natural skeptic I suppose.  But in the four and a half years that I have had Marc, though overall a hearty dog, he has had some lingering allergy issues that have caused him significant enough discomfort that I felt compelled to try to resolve them.

If You Aren't Using This Stuff... You Should Be! (Part Two)

Back in August we did a post about dog related products that we use and recommend here at Baltimore Dogworks. As with the last post, I don't get any affiliate marketing credit for this stuff or anything like that. I just want to share good stuff with you good people! You can click on any picture to be taken to an external site where you can purchase the item.  

10 Rules for Training Your Dog

A quick internet search will produce about a million different tips, tricks, and opinions on how to train and get better behavior from your dog. I'd wager that just about all of them have worked for someone, and for some dog, at some time. Rather than tell you, "This is how you teach a dog to... xyz," here are ten rules that should be ubiquitous across any training methodology:

If you aren't using this stuff... YOU SHOULD BE!

Proper equipment is one of the most overlooked aspects of dog training. Low quality equipment never works as well and it shows in the handling performance of the person and the performance of the dog. I thought I'd take a moment to make some recommendations on equipment that we use here at Baltimore Dogworks. You can click on any of the images in this post to be taken to a page where you can purchase the item. I don't do any affiliate programs or anything like that. I just want to recommend good stuff.

Leashes and Lines

We use two main types of training leads for the vast majority of the training we do. The first is the 15 foot longe line, and the second is the 6 foot leash.

Long lines drag on the ground often, and for the most out of control dogs, need to be strong enough to hold up to their shenanigans. The only long line you should ever look at is the Signature K9 Biothane Long Line. The 5/8in width is good for most dogs but the 3/8 inch width is best for dogs under 20lbs or so. For really small dogs, I just make my own long line out of paracord and a swivel snap from the hardware store. But the SK9 long lines don't tangle, they can drag on pavement forever and still look like new, and they can be wiped down with a rag (I throw mine right in the washing machine in a delicates bag). Heavy brass swivel snaps round out this reliable line.

For 6 foot leashes, I prefer leather, but you can get leashes from SK9 out of the same biothane material as the longe lines. Width recommendations are generally the same for a dog in training. Once a dog is reliably walking nicely on leash though, I prefer the thinnest leash that is comfortable, particularly if I'm walking multiple dogs at once. Trying to hold multiple 3/4 or 1 inch wide leashes at the same time is a nightmare. The best combination of quality and price that I've found are the leashes from Bridgeport Equipment. They are pretty soft when brand new, but they turn into butter after repeated use and a little saddle soap when they get dirty.

Training Collars

We use a variety of training collars depending on the class, and more particularly, the dog. The goal is to use whatever collar helps the dog learn to turn pressure off most easily. That is the foundation of all of our training. 

Chain slip collars are generally our go to for our on leash group classes. They are versatile, and effective when used correctly. But for some dogs, they do not provide enough of the pressure sensation, without having to really be forceful with the dog (which we don't want to do). We recommend Herm Sprenger brand slip collars exclusively. Simply put, when appropriately sized and used, I've never had a failure... ever. Slip collars like these should be just large enough to slip over the dog's head, with a little effort, and you should use the heaviest (thickest) links you can in the size that fits your dog. I like the 3mm (heavy) collars whenever possible. They provide great sliding action which is what you need in a slip collar. The 4mm (extra heavy) links are shaped differently and do not slide nearly as well.

For dogs that need a bit more help, we typically recommend a prong style collar. These aren't intended to be punative. Instead, they act as an "amplifier". Think about a person that needs to speak over a crowd. They can yell, which changes the tone of the conversation. Or they could use a loudspeaker (amplify their voice) and keep the same "tone" but better cut through the background noise. These collars aren't meant to be jerked. They are used to apply pressure, and then have that pressure released. Properly used, despite the way they look, they are probably the safest collar to use. We use the smallest size of prong collar (for all but the largest dogs, and then we use medium) and add links as needed. Using the smaller size allows for a more exact fit, and if you're worried about the dainty looking collar breaking, it's probably not being used correctly. We do recommend a back up collar when using the prong collar since they can pop open sometimes. Again, Herm Sprenger is the only brand we recommend. They are sturdy, the tips are blunt and rounded (some lesser quality collars are just cut, leaving sharp edges), and the plates (those flat pieces) keep the collar from getting tangled up.

For folks that need to use a prong style collar but don't like the looks they get from some people, or for dogs who need a bit of the "amplifier" effect but the prong collar is a bit too much for them, I like to use the Starmark Collar. It looks more like a flat collar and offers about 50% of the "amplifier" effect of the prong collar. These collars come in two sizes and extra links are available to get the proper fit. Generally, dogs up to 35lbs can use the smaller collar, and larger dogs would be better served by the larger version.

Remote Collars

Remote collars are great tools for dogs who have been desensitized to other training tools, for reliable off leash training and recall, and for a variety of behavior modification scenarios. They make the often difficult issues of appropriately timing information that you give to your dog much easier as well. We use E-Collar Technologies remote collars exclusively at Baltimore Dogworks. Greg Van Curen, the owner of the company, is known to answer many emails from customers himself. Their collars have a great warranty, are waterproof, dustproof, shockproof, and user serviceable. They are also assembled in America. The only other brand we can really endorse for most training applications are collars from Dogtra. But the amazing customer service experience with E-Collar Technologies makes them the go-to remote collars for us.

Nail Clippers

I struggled to find a good quality pair of nail clippers for a long time. Then Linda Kaim, of Lionheart K9, recommended a pair made by Millers Forge. These nail clippers cut through nails cleanly and quickly, unlike lesser quality brands that tend to crush the nail. That poor cutting quality is what causes many dogs to hate getting their nails clipped. Since I switched to these clippers, my dogs are much more agreeable to grooming time.

Treats

We blow through a ton of treats while training. No matter what other kinds of food rewards I try, I seem to always come back to Stewart Freeze Dried Liver Treats. It's the rare dog that doesn't like them, and they last forever. They are also pretty cost effective when bought in the large buckets. These treats have no fillers or anything artificial in them. Liver is very rich though, so I do break them into smaller pieces for training. 

The Tipping Point

When we're teaching our dogs new things, it's best to do so with limited distraction. The reason you went to the library or some other quiet place to study holds true when your dog is studying as well. But at some point we need to start challenging the dog's reliability and response under increasingly distracting circumstances. I think we take how this process was done in our own lives for granted. In school, you learned to count before learning arithmetic, and then algebra, and then calculus, with multiple intermediate steps in between. Your dog needs that same kind of methodical approach if you want them to be reliable in terms of behavior and obedience out in public.

This idea, what trainers call "proofing", requires the handler to find the dog's "threshold", or tipping point, of response. When you're out walking your dog and they notice something, we typically see a few key indicators of arousal in our dogs: tail goes up, brow is wrinkled, ears are forward, mouth closes. Any combination of these indicators lets you know that you've reached the "tipping point" or "threshold". Continue to move closer to whatever stimulus is present will result in your dog reaching a point where exhibiting self control is not only difficult, but sometimes impossible. Your job if you have a reactive or fearful dog, or are trying to increase the reliability of obedience, is to work at that tipping point (right where they take notice but are still able to exert self control) until your dog shows that they are able to stay calm. The next time you work, you may find you can move a bit closer, and the time after, even closer. 

It's important to note that your dog's threshold will change based on what distractions you are working against. Just because your dog can respond reliably with a person walking by 5 feet away, doesn't mean they can do the same thing with a dog walking by 5 feet away. And just because your dog was able to do something yesterday, doesn't mean they won't have difficulty doing the same thing today. Read your dog, adjust accordingly, and work with what you have in front of you. You will never go wrong if you pay attention to your dog, let them tell you when they are at their tipping point, and then work there. And if they do have trouble, move to a quieter place or ask them to do something easier to remind them how easy it is to be successful. When instead, we work on what "should be" (what we think they should be able to do), instead of "what is" (what the dog is telling us themselves), that's when we run into problems. So pay attention to your dog. They never lie.

Problems? Or Opportunities?

When you are out on a walk with your dog, do they have little quirks that seem to come out? For one of my dogs, Arya, it was any change in the surface we were walking on, particularly metal. Every time we would come up to a metal grate or manhole cover on the sidewalk, she would make an extra effort to avoid walking over the surface. This is a confidence issue, plain and simple. Further, it indicates a scenario where the dog would rather transition to being defensive, instead of comfortable, where we ideally want them to be.  

In order to teach her to be accepting of the surface, I restricted her options every time we were met with a metal surface on our walks. As we would move toward the grate or metal cover, I would shorten the leash and apply gentle pressure to her collar to restrict the directions she could move.  I didn't drag or force her. I just calmly and gently confirmed for her that to move forward, her only option was over the grate. At first, just putting one foot on the grate was enough for me to release the tension on the leash and then we'd move around. After a few reps, she was going over these grate hurriedly but completely. On the next walk and with a bit of review, we were able to walk over them calmly.  And lastly, we started practicing sit-stays for short periods of time.

Running into a situation like this while you are out with your dog might not seem like a big deal.  But these little moments add up.  Every time you allow your dog to take the easy route, you are limiting an opportunity to build trust with you and self-confidence in the dog.  As with everything else in training, follow through is the number one most important factor in your relationship with your dog.  You have to be believable.  If surface changes are nothing to worry about, Arya needed to believe me, and that meant showing her that we could walk over them together. It's creating a mild stressor, that the dog can overcome, and continually building on that success until it's no longer a problem.

We do this in our own lives too. We allow ourselves to just side step small things, avoiding a task (however minimal), uncomfortable conversation, etc., until we have a much larger issue. For me, it's diet. I know what I should eat, but don't, even though the amount of effort it would take to make that change is relatively small on a daily basis. I don't even have to cook, just make a better choice.

So if there is that one house with the barking dog in the window that sets your dog on fire, that one bush that always has a bird in it that the dog wants to hunt... Take some extra time to work through those moments.  Be careful to go in bite sized chunks, treat genuine effort as success, and not to over pressure your dog.  But take the time.  A 10 minute walk and 20 minutes working on an issue like this does your dog FAR more good than mindless trucking down the street for a half hour. These moments... they are not problems.  They are opportunities to resolve behavior issues, solidify obedience, build trust and self-confidence, and show your dog that you are every bit of the leader, teacher, advocate, and cheerleader that they need in their life. All those little wins add up to better habits and better self-esteem.