Tag Archives: Dog

Puppy progress (Siggy)

Siggy is a black, Golden Doodle, 27 weeks old.      photo: J. Renzoni

Siggy has reached, 6 months,  50#s, has grown up teeth, has had a tussle with Reggie (Jack Russell) and been told off by Jazzie (heeler) and Max (shepherd). Getting to be a big boy. His jumping ability is prodigious, his speed is considerable. He’s visited the horses several times and shows reasonable care about it, although I wasn’t on-board with the last tour. His own efforts at becoming a hunter/gatherer, he’s captured and dispatched a vole and climbed into the compost bin and fetched an orange peel out of it (it’s now more thoroughly covered).

He likes carrying large things … boxes, throw rugs, branches and jumping up on things … gates, raised garden beds and perches of any kind.

photo: J. Renzoni

All of the training we began with has grown, changed, adjusted with his needs and the differences he is showing now. But much of it is just a rule we continue to do each time … like sitting at doorways or at gateways to be released on through. His training is a game of choices … he makes the right choice and gets rewarded – for laying down, heeling, going to crate, fetching, tricks, settling on dog bed, coming … etc. I just counted about 25 cues, plus there’s a bunch of things we’re working on that aren’t named yet. Training comes in layers, in stages – one piece of learning makes it possible for the next piece. And if the foundation isn’t solid, neither are the next steps. Each piece, if played with, approached from many angles becomes better and better understood.  For example: sit … if you teach it at doors, from standing, from you sitting, from lying down, in the middle of tug or before and after, beside you, in all locations … then it becomes a clearly understood cue.

The same thing is important about recalls. With his added speed, confidence and capabilities comes the increased need to practice different levels of recalls … distance recalls on walks, recalls away from other dogs or people and recalls away from fun things he likes. However, if the basic games of coming here when there isn’t distance, when there are hardly any distractions haven’t been done … then now would not be the time to test it and fail.

The recall games begin close, begin with lots of quickly given rewards, begin with fun, but without distraction and without a likelihood of failure.

Photo: J. Renzoni

Now, with Siggy, I know how good his recall is, so I know when to ask and I know when not to ask. We’re getting to the point of a really brilliant recall, at all times. Now, for us, is the time to find out when it will fail, and use that to clarify expectations.

So many things he’s been taught, building on up. Training certainly isn’t done … actually never done, but he’s becoming a great dog.

Photo: J. Renzoni

He’s been my demo puppy for two classes, in a couple of weeks we’ll start the third class he’ll be involved in. He goes as a sidelines pup to agility classes (I use it as training time with active dog distractions going on).

photo: J. Renzoni

One puppy kindergarten class with 6 sessions is just not enough…whatever kind of dog you have. It’s a great beginning, but would you be prepared for life with only the info you got in kindergarten?

This week is Westminster Dog Show, I never went to Westminster, but I did do dog showing back in the 1990s, obedience and conformation. And I know most people don’t even consider doing competition, but one of the things competition teaches is how much effort is needed to get to the level of being able to do things really well as a team (dog/person).

I think we all want to be able to do things with our dogs … in order to set that up there needs to be clarity and understanding on the part of the dog, and the person needs to know the dog’s likes, preferences, fears and strengths and play to those. We can change things for the better, it takes a persistent, fun, building-layers effort.

Don’t stop, when you’ve just begun…


Weighty problems – excess kills

barnsjan12&132013 023
-photo by J. Renzoni

Spicy was my beagle-mix. She was a 30#, brown velvet eared, lovely eyed beauty of a dog.  I took her along with me when I went to live with my Grandfather and go to college.  She was an easy dog in many ways, people friendly, and soon had the  dairy-farming neighborhood in her pocket. I assume she saved up the rolling in cow pats for her return to grandpa’s jog, because her new friends were not put off and rewarded her mightily for her visits. She gained weight and needed baths at an alarming rate.

I tried lots of things to keep her in trim, but grandpa and the neighbors were beyond my control. I was gone to college classes most of the days and grandpa freed her to go visiting. He seemed not to mind her love of manure.

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photo by J. Renzoni

Food and exercise imbalance, with neutering thrown in to make overweight more likely is a common problem. For many there is an assumption that dog attention needs feeding, there is a delight/naughty, shame/guilt burden around the use of food to cajole and win friendship, about eating food, about sharing food, about them not having enough or feeling hungry or worried over getting food.

As a dietitian (RD), I personally have trouble with food compulsions – I think (and studies back me up on this) that personally having tried lots of diets and focused so much on external eating/satiety controls creates excessive attention on food. But I have no difficulty at all (barring Spicy) keeping my dogs at 4 – 5 on the 9 point body condition score. I believe the science that says they will live longer and better.

Here is a site with evaluation tools for identifying body composition score   http://www.pet-slimmers.com/pet-obesity/how-to-tell-if-your-pet-is-overweight.aspx

Ideal body condition looks ‘underweight.’ More and more I’ve noticed people thinking a working weight dog (close to ideal) looks underweight to them. Quick glance evaluation – look at the dog’s head compared to his body. If the head looks small, the dog is overweight. If the head looks large comparatively, then maybe he’s underweight (take the dog’s breed into account).

Sparsely coated dog? The last several ribs will be visible through their coat when they are at close to ideal weight.
Sparsely coated dog? The last several ribs will be visible through their coat when they are at close to ideal weight.
Max at 11 years old, he's 12 now and doing well. He's pretty furry so a hands on eval is needed.
Max at 11 years old, he’s 12 now and doing well. He’s pretty furry so a hands on evaluation needed. Photo by J Renzoni

From studies on overweight/obese dogs – owner factors of importance (these are not necessarily causes, the relationship could go either way or be connected to a third unidentified issue) related to obesity in dogs: duration owner observed dog eating (longer in obese dogs), interest in pet nutrition, obesity of owner, health consciousness of owner (both for pet and for themselves) and lower-income. It seems the more we concentrate on the problem (especially without adequate funds) the more difficult it is  to resolve or conversely the more difficult it is to resolve, the more we concentrate on it.

Overweight dogs are more likely fed inexpensive vs expensive food, fed more meals and snacks, fed table scraps, and be present when owner is preparing their own meal. Type of diet: prepared pet food vs homemade didn’t matter. And fiber levels had to be above 21% to have a positive effect (obviously more intake of cow pats and horse apples needed –  ya hey, free fiber and doggy perfume in one package).

In a study of free feeding (eat as much as they want) vs controlled amount feeding (25% less than the free fed ate), the energy restricted group had body condition scores closer to optimal (ave. 4.5 out of 9 vs 6.8 out of 9 for free fed dogs), lifespan averaging 2 years longer than the free fed dogs and less hip dysplasia, osteoarthritis and improved glucose tolerance.

We want to be happy.  We want our dogs to be happy. My grandfather felt Spicy should get to roam, the neighbors thought she needed rewards for her visits, Spicy thought cow poo was delicious to roll in and I thought they all were making me crazy (she was getting fat and needing baths all the time and I was worried about her getting hit by a car). My answer: I gave up and let her be grandpa’s dog. She lived to 11 out of a likely life span of 13-15 years, obesity has a price tag.

Happiness includes being comfortable in our body.

Reggie, 9 year old, neutered, JRT at near ideal body condition.
Reggie, 9 year old, neutered, JRT at near ideal body condition.  -photo J. Renzoni

It’s a short and long-term thing. Short – I want that, that is good; long – being able to do things is so fun. Imbalance can mean too many limitations either on the short-term side (being fearful of offering anything) or on the long-term side (being overweight, becoming chronically ill and having mobility problems).

To decide how much to feed I use a combination of things: printed recommendations on the food being offered, appetite, seeming too hungry (I’ll increase measure up to 25%), stool consistency/frequency and volume (too much/too loose = decrease quantity), dog appearance (are they gaining or losing weight when I want them stable?) and occasionally the veterinarian’s scale compared to the breed standard (many of them give weight ranges).

I’ve had veterinarians express concern about using food as a reward (and teaching people in class) for training – worry about too many treats.

I use many things as rewards; toys, games, praise, pats, massage, lap privileges and food. Robust appetite and enthusiasm for food is a positive indicator of health – both body and mental.

Food is a great reward and when I’m training I may use all of it in training, so very little gets offered in a dish, but it is still measured out for the day.  For younger dogs it is important to feed some from their bowl or they may think they only eat from my hand (which is not something I want them to think). Growing pups and mother dogs nursing pups get much attention to appetite and body composition.

Food is calming, licking food may be even more calming. Food tends to encourage thinking. Food is a good thing to use to start the process of training something new. Food doesn’t usually increase speed – if you want speed add a toy/game. Food for rewards can be kibble (high quality is preferred) or very high value to the dog, like cheese or meat. The amount is the size of one piece of kibble and for a jackpot, several pieces the size of a piece of kibble given in succession – adjust size of reward to size of dog. Dogs do know the difference in size, large being better than small, but for training, a series of small pieces, given in sequence is more effective.

“The way to his (her or its) heart is through his (her or its) stomach.”

I read a blogger’s comment about the advantages of free feeding, they did not think that being observed offering food was a significant advantage for the dog/person relationship. I believe they were unobservant. Years ago when my husband needed to get my dogs to pay attention to him I offered him the task of feeding them. It made a significant difference in a short time. In class when a student is having trouble getting their dog to focus on them and not on everyone/everything else, I ask them to hand feed all food, voila.

Food is a primary need, of course the source is important.

What about the picky dog? The one that is uninterested in food. After assuring there is no medical cause then make the food more interesting – the dog has to find it, work for it, figure out something to get it and cut back the offered quantity by 25%. Dogs, like children who are picky, are seldom actually underweight and often get significant attention and excellent tasting replacement foods for remaining picky (unfortunately the replacement foods are often lower nutritional density – ie not as good for them).

What if there’s actually a medical cause and coaxing is in order? Then offer variety, and high value foods in small frequent meals. Just like in people, having too much offered can overwhelm and discourage intake. Elderly declining dog – give them what they will eat.

Prevention and early intervention when a dog starts getting overweight is the easiest.

Many dog professionals are hesitant to say anything about the dog’s weight because just like a child’s weight, it’s a touchy subject. Of course, most dogs aren’t touchy about it at all. And if I need to decrease the amount given the most I’d cut it back by would be 25% and if they seemed to want something more I’d offer raw veggies, which are a favorite of my dogs anyway.

I’ve noticed the time likely for problems is when the pup’s growth spurt has ended and they’ve also been neutered. This combination decreases their food needs abruptly. Another time is after they’ve matured, somewhere in the 3-5 year old zone and their activity may decline with less play, decreasing food requirements, but if the same amount of food is offered most dogs will continue to eat it.  Also switching from a large chunk/disk kibble to small pieces (the small pieces fit more weight in the same volume scoop), so slow weight increase can happen, oops.

Has your dog run into a weight problem?




Bring your own rock – weird rewards in dog training

ReggieOct282013 005Hurry up! Circle the wagon and bring your own rock.

Rocks, paper, digging, kid’s toys, socks, sniffing, horse apples … there are all sorts of favorite things for which dogs will do work. Often instead of using these currencies people try to steal them or restrain the dog from them or chase the dog to get them or haphazardly keep them up away from them, only increasing their value, but missing out on the work exchange.

If the desired item has a certain work requirement to achieve it, the focus changes to the work requested … do this and then you are released to get that, OK now what will you do to have the joy of being released to find another. Also the benefit of lessening its value makes the whole interaction more reasonable, which is important since rocks, smells, digging, etc. can be found almost everywhere.

Yup, it’s true, sometimes I release my dog to go get a horse apple.

Fear of the dog swallowing an inedible? Well the more things are grabbed away without a trade, the more likely the dog is to gulp them down to keep them. It works a lot better to teach, ‘bring me’ and then praise and trade if they really can’t have whatever they had. And youngsters chasing after the puppy with a toy in his mouth – great game, not great training. Expect more stolen, chewed toys in the future.

The most popular weird fixations – paper (tissues, toilet paper), pens/pencils, Barbie dolls, remotes, and phones. These aren’t interesting things for dogs except that people overreact and value them, and so they become valuable. I think that’s interesting.

And then there’s rocks, gravel and dirt. Reggie came with a fixation on rocks (mostly nice sized round ones) and Jazz, who wants anything that another dog has, briefly started carting them. She wasn’t hooked, I ignored her, so she quit. For Reggie I’ve made rock play contingent on doing control cues and the fixation has waned, but he still can get enthralled if given encouragement.

Manage your puppy to make training easy

Feeling guilty about how much time your pup is alone, confined and not out running around playing? April10Obe2013 001a

It’s true your puppy needs you, needs your time and your focus.  She needs to play and exercise and see things and do things. But it’s also true that if she is free to find her own fun, free to play with other dogs, free to chase and explore she will learn things you don’t want her to and she will bond with dogs more rapidly than she will with you. This is especially true if you have one of the smart breeds, the active breeds as opposed to a couch potato breed (but remember there is lots of variation within dog breeds). FYI if you’re not an invested dog person I suggest you avoid the smart/active breeds of dogs, they will not be a good fit for you. Smart does not mean easy, usually just the opposite.

Freedom without you means you will not be that important compared to everything else in the environment that pleases her, which then means a required leash in later life – more freedom now means less freedom in the long run. Instead of best friends you will be upset and a nag and an anchor if you’re not careful. The time to be very careful with supervision is now in these first 9 – 15 months (or much, much longer if you don’t believe in confining puppies). Rule of thumb – wait until 2 years old and reliable while you are there before leaving a young dog alone for long periods unconfined in your house.

In these first months it is more important to build your relationship and do things together, do the socialization together with your pup and not let an older dog or young kids give the fun and socialization without you. Slightly less exercise is an OK trade.

Management and prevention: Set up a potty schedule – one that makes it unlikely accidents will happen (this means frequent potty breaks outside with you to treat successes and no unmonitored household freedom). It means getting someone to give your pup potty breaks if you can’t. Use the crate and an ex-pen or gated puppy-proof room/area – if you are not interacting with the pup then they need to be confined, they do not get whole house liberty or even half-house liberty. Set up household rules – if it’s no dogs on the furniture/bed that means now and if pup is on a lap the lap needs to be sitting on the floor. Food stealing – Toddlers tend to shed food, so keep the pup confined if the toddler is eating to avoid food stealing. Garbage, keep it covered and taken out. Chewing – You don’t want non-chew toys chewed, pick things up and only have chew toys on the floor. Chasing – kids, cats or being too rough with smaller or older dogs needs to be prevented (this is not going to get better with age). Biting – redirect this to chew toys, or stop whatever movement you’re doing/child is doing, game over. Bolting out doorways/gates – doorways don’t open, or they don’t stay open if the pup moves from a sit. Very young pups can easily learn this if you’re patient and wait. Jumping up – obnoxious attention-getting behaviors are ignored, just turn away and only give attention to polite pup (sitting still), the same for attention seeking barking, whining or pawing. If attention seeking behaviors like the aforementioned are rewarded with attention (either good attention or bad attention – yelling, pushing …) they will continue and likely be more and more persistent. Pulling on leash – acclimate them to a Gentle Leader (humane but effective tool) or Easy Walker and do not go forward unless there is no tension on the lead, because no matter what the tool is they can learn to pull despite it.

Managing a puppy is work, fun work, but a lot of work. Although if you don’t manage them it can become a dog’s lifetime of trouble. If you do manage them then the cool things you want to train can be trained, otherwise you end up bogged down and upset in trying to fix the things they like to do that you don’t like them to do.

What about newly adopted adult dogs? I treat them as if they were puppies because it is unlikely they came from a well structured environment, plus I want them to know that all good things come from me. If they have too much freedom to find their own fun they will know they can find it away from and without me, which is not a lesson they need to learn, especially if liberty, advanced learning and a great dog is the goal.

What about your own unruly, poorly managed young adult dogs? Go back and manage and train. Unfortunately it will likely take at least twice as long this time around because they know how the household used to work and you likely will have trouble remembering your own new rules. Positive is not permissive, it takes much planning and thought.

What do you get from puppy kindergarten?

PuppyclassesJuly302013 046Often people are hesitant to start training their puppy … just let him be a baby and have fun, we’ll just clean up the messes, he’s too young, he loves everybody so no need to go out and meet extra people/dogs, or he’s too afraid to go out and meet people, we’re worried about him catching something … Wait a minute – whether you think you’re training or not he’s learning what to do and expect.

Then there are others who expect too much, too soon … want him to quit chewing, biting, be totally house-trained, know all the household rules, greet everyone appropriately, be the kids best friend and be able to have the freedom of the house. Wait a minute – he is a baby and if you expect too much you set up his failure and then where does the relationship go?

Then there’s the long term dog invested handlers who have multiple confinement systems for when they are not doing stuff with the pup (crates, gates, tethers, kennels), have an outside location for pottying and always go outside with their pup, take the vaccinated pup to lots of places to meet people, see other dogs, practice car riding, do grooming regularly at home, practice body handling (feet, ears, mouth), have chew items and prevent non-chew items from teeth damage. They know what to expect and are ready for it, often they come to puppy kindergarten, but really need no instruction. They have a long term plan of training for their puppy and have started thoughtful training from the first time they met their pup.

It actually took me a while to understand that most other people (despite them having had dogs throughout their lives) didn’t know about the critical times in development of the dog. Didn’t know that socialization and training done early makes the most difference and can alleviate shyness, anxiety, aggression with the least work by the handler or if handled badly can cement issues of fear (like sound shyness – for example; taking an 8-10 week old hunting dog to a shooting range or to the fireworks on July 4th and letting that be their first overwhelming experience of gun fire/explosions) and make them much, much harder to influence/resolve in later life.

Those critical weeks come right during the time you first get the pup from the breeder (8 – 14 weeks old). And yes, I too worry about the possibility of parvo or distemper or any of the vaccinated for diseases, but after two vaccinations the pup is reasonably safe, especially in areas where the other dogs are vaccinated. The only way they would be ‘totally’ safe is to wait until after the critical socialization period is done – but then the critical socialization period is done.

Puppy kindergarten is a positive training experience and a socialization venue. The pup gets to have regular rides in the car, gets to practice on leash walking, gets to meet different people and pups, learns to concentrate on his person despite the presence of new sights and new smells and new sounds. It is one of the best ways to prevent excessive shyness or aggression in the future.

Things that are introduced include basic obedience cues and puppy obstacles for confidence building. Reward based training is used to improve relationships. The experience is a good one and will have lasting positive effects.

But it is only a beginning of what needs to be a long learning relationship. AldoleopoldtrailOct1922012 017

Max the April snow dog

Snowy April morning, blue skies, new, clean snow, burnished fur,

Ready for the morning walk, running games, silliness,

Ready for the new scents, cat tracks, anything ….. I guess,

Twelve years old, no longer young, time passed, sentimental blur.

But ready, always ready to enjoy the day.

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Jazzie – the surprise

JazziandMaxNov2009 001Jazzie, the ACD is amazing, funny, smart, quick and very competitive. A dog I didn’t intend to obtain.

Jazzie started as Chas, shivering in the back corner of her kennel at the shelter. A 1.5-year-old blue heeler type female, full of timid reserve, surrendered by her family because they wanted to keep her sister, but not her. I was volunteering and there on a weekly basis giving recommendations for handling and key things that would benefit the dogs that came in. I was also trying to make sure people used positive reinforcement instead of the standard ol’ training.

I met her, we connected immediately, but I was resistant. I had made a pact with myself about these dogs being for other people. The next time (almost a week later) I met her again she was less happy than she had been the first time, I needed to get her out of there, so I did. I knew that the chance that she would find somebody who could build her confidence and get rid of the baggage was pretty small, she was so smart, I couldn’t let her remain, I couldn’t resist.

I knew her regaining of confidence would be a long process. She was beyond the best socialization period (8-16 weeks)  people shy, hand shy, afraid of riding in the car and lacking basic training, but she was very quick and she connected with me.

Now she’s almost 6 years old. She weighs 35 pounds, She is flexible and strong and fast, has medium brown eyes, freckles on her nose and eyelids and a speckled coat. She knows more things than any other dog I’ve ever had and shows no slowing of learning. She can go anywhere, but likes a job to do so she needn’t worry about encroaching unknown people.

She remains suspicious of strangers (which is typical of Australian Cattle Dogs). People like the way she looks, but she doesn’t like them staring at her and will bark at them if she notices prolonged looks. If you wanted to meet her the best thing would be to invite a game of fetch, no snuggles from unknowns for her. She likes riding in cars when she thinks she knows the destination will be fun, loves fast games and complains occassionally when she thinks ‘reward time’ and wasn’t, but is ever so pleased when she figures it out. She has changed my rule about no dogs on furniture and asks to be on my lap for TV movie watching. She’s a great cuddler – very comfortable.

She likes toys and games better than food, but she likes food especially chicken and beef. She works for kibble. Frisbee is her favorite game, but tugging is way up there. The snow is so deep this winter that disc fetching has been difficult (see photos of snow swimming). She also likes hikes in the woods and  water swimming. She’s very competitive so whatever some other dog is doing she would like to do better.

She’s very good around horses, doesn’t trust the cat (with reason) and is good around other dogs – but won’t take any guff. She holds grudges if another dog injures her in play. She’s not the dog I could take to Aggressive Dog class and expect no reaction, she doesn’t believe in turning the other cheek, but she’s unlikely to start anything.

Jazzie has the young soul, acquisitive, impulsive, problem solving, liking attention and admiration. Very much about movement and speed. She’s disappointed if she’s not the fastest or doesn’t figure out something the quickest.

14 things to do outside with your dog

Snowshoe at East Campground Mondeaux
Snowshoe at East Campground Mondeaux

“Let’s go outside.” The words most dogs love dearly, but many dogs go out and do their own thing and their person does her own thing. Even on walks one is smelling the world near the ground and the other is looking at things and they are mostly different things.

In order to be a team it’s got to be a team effort. If the dog I’m working with isn’t actually ‘with’ me, I need to change things so I’m more ‘with’ them and invite the ‘with’ me.

So what does this dog like? Can I do it, or at least take part or be the cheering section? (Or if it’s a no-no, what is like it, but still acceptable?)

A) chasing or hunting – 1. Go game – toss food (treats or dog food or small biscuits) and send dog to get them;  2. Retrieve game – have dog sit, put down just out of reach a favorite toy, send them and run away the opposite direction – you’re aiming for a dog chasing you with the toy; 3. Find game – as soon as your dog is not looking at you run and hide (have some really great treats on you), make a weird noise and praise them and reward for finding you; 4. Runaway recalls – make noise and as soon as your dog looks at you start running away, pull out treats or tug toy when they catch you and reward with food or tug game; 5. They’ve gotten intense about squirrels or rabbits – do some control cues (like sit or down) then as soon as they’ve responded reward by helping them hunt for a little while, then do the control cues again, then another round of hunting (if they’re too excited to do the cues, move them far enough away from whatever they’re hunting to reduce excitement and do the cues and release to hunt again); 6. Hike in a place that is unknown to them and do something with them each 30-45 seconds.

B) Doing some work/help for you: 1. Add a backpack or harness so they’re doing some work for you; 2. Drop the glove games-where they find it and retrieve it for you; 3. Take me back – to the house, to the car, to the door (where you urge your dog to lead you and reward them for success); 4. Pick that up – like keys or litter (paper, pop cans); 5. targeted pottying – get your dog to go in the spot you want them to by rewarding generously the closer they get to the target.

C) Games for the sake of fun: 1. Set up an agility course (cobbled together or spiffy – your dog won’t care) and practice having fun doing obstacles; 2) Flying disc – nice tosses, rollers, frisbee tricks; 3) Drive ball  or soccer – either you directing the dog or you versus the dog.

If you’ve stood in the doorway grumbling because your dog has found something interesting to do without you, it’s time to turn the tables and get some extra enjoyment out of that furry relationship.cropped-mar2011jazziefetch-042a.jpg Or if the New Year has put that same old resolution on the list, your dog is a great exercise partner, go have some fun!

Let’s talk about faster responses to cues

Let’s talk about faster responses to cues by Jeanine Renzoni

Dog Agility Class
Dog Agility Class (Photo credit: andreaarden)

We’ve been going to an agility class weekly and having a blast.  I think the others at the class are enjoying it too, but many of the dogs aren’t moving all that fast and it sounds like they’ve been doing this a long time. Perhaps a fun game and the improved relationship was the goal. But if you are doing agility or anything else that needs more speed and wanted a faster dog, keep reading.

Agility is an off-leash speed sport, but it’s also an obstacle and directional handling sport. It is generally considered a “no” corrections in training activity, but actually clarifications are done by withholding rewards for incorrect actions, if the dog doesn’t jump = no reward, goes into tunnel instead of up the A-frame gets returned to try again with no reward/no comment in between. This concept is important since an unsure dog will not be fast to try to follow your directions – they are more likely to pace themselves with you or slightly behind you. All your training needs to aim for willingness to try and try again and confidence on different surfaces and different locals.

Food is used often as a reward and as a lure. And food is a great reward, especially on the contact pieces of equipment (the equipment where touching a certain area is required or brief stays are required). Food is calming and mostly universally liked. Food tends to keep the dog with you, which is a good thing generally.

However the topic of this post is faster responses to cues. To do this:

  • Shape behaviors or capture them but banish luring – luring is bribing and bribing is prone to not being good enough. Luring also often puts you into the position of needing to be just ahead which is not reasonable unless you can run faster than your dog.
  • Offer surprise rewards and base them on the value of what you’ve gotten and the preferences of your dog (great response gets great reward). Be generous.
  • Timing is key – get the reward there when the dog is doing what you wanted. Preparation to reward is key here. Being late will mean losing the dog’s understanding of what was rewarded.
  • Use games like tug to charge up the drive and raise the arousal for the game. Exciting games are more fun. Agility is more fun if it’s exciting. Aim for drive first then control.
  • Reward only if the response was average for your dog or better. If you reward for less then less is what you’ll get because it’s easier. Less is slower and sloppier and not improving.
  • If your dog doesn’t want to work with you – leaves work to go sniff then improve your value – better treats, better toys and you need to control the environment so you’re the best thing in it. And then watch for them to make the choices you like and reward them quickly and generously for it.
  • Practice speed off the equipment. In order to have a fast dog they need to practice bursts of speed – play fetch or Frisbee or recalls with you running away when they begin coming and then playing tug (reward) when they catch you.Snowdogs,StB,Max, Jazzie 019 In order to be fast they need to be physically capable.
  • Faster is also flow, a dog can only flow if they really, really know what the cues mean, which is daily, fun practice on basics like sit, down, come, stand, right, left, go, here, get it, side, close… Using doggy meal times for practice works exceptionally well.
  • The reward should not be dangled (lure) or otherwise used to produce speed itself, speed is gotten based on the dog’s choice and then your prompt rewarding reaction. The dog becomes aware that the faster they do something you want the better the potential reward.
  • After first using high value rewards, start trading and persisting until your dog will happily accept whatever reward you offer – food or game, best liked food or everyday item, make more things become ‘the best thing.’
  • It’s important to let the dog make mistakes and then figure out what is the path/the way to get rewarded. Exception is if the mistake is rewarding in itself then there needs to be a verbal marker of ‘non’ reward for that.

Well those are the things I can attest to making speedy, willing, joyful dogs. Do you have any that you think I should include?

How many dogs do you have?

How many dogs do you have and what are you training them now?

I asked this question of a group recently when I was doing a people training session. And you know what, nobody had less than two.  Several years ago I did a job explanation to students program for high school and asked a similar question and most of their families had three or more dogs.

I got to thinking about this after the program was done. Mostly everything is written as if you only have one dog, but maybe that isn’t the case. Personally that isn’t the case, we have three dogs and a cat in the house. Sometimes it’s hectic, especially since adding the new (8 yr old) Jack Russell.

On the what are you training them now question. Most people were working on sit and lie down for their young dogs, some mentioned coming, not jumping up or staying off of things and teaching the pup its name. The old dogs? Well they mostly weren’t getting any learning or maybe a little sit and down. Nobody mentioned any games and the only hunting was mentioned as something the older dogs had already been trained to do.

Here’s what I’m thinking (this is from my own experience especially when I was a “traditional method” dog trainer and from observing others):

  1. Get a new dog or puppy and it’s novel, funny, cute, and a new thing to play with, so there’s a bunch of initial attention.
  2. New dog/puppy and all these wild, uncivilized behaviors demand a response, so there’s initial focus on ‘don’t do that’ training, which, if done the usual way, reduces the dog’s desire for more training and adds some toxicity to the relationship on both sides.
  3. Time goes by (whoopee) and the puppy/dog becomes less novel, funny, cute and many of things he does get suppressed or the habit of managing him becomes ingrained. We love him but adjust our expectations downward or disappointment sets in about the abilities or temperament of this dog, or somehow the puppy-hood phase is fondly remembered and so another puppy joins in. Or the current dog is so wild that a buddy is the proposed solution to exercise and doggy entertainment. Or one person in the family wants their own puppy, not just a share of the family dog. Or someone tells us of their plight and we agree to take in another dog.
  4. Now there’s two dogs and they magnify each other, especially the barking, running, chasing, and protection aspects. Two is more than one plus one in this case. But competition can be used (carefully) to get higher levels of good behavior and faster games. I think, the more dogs you have the more they need to know how to be calm and controlled and there’s a couple of ways to do it – the most common is to get them suppressed, fat and lazy so they don’t have much capability, the other is do quite a bit of positive training, games and socializing that is fun for all involved.

Here’s a little of what I do with my three, plus one feline, 8 yrs, (morning training can take as little as 30 minutes or upward to an hour). Morning is all dogs out at once to potty and a quick run around the large country yard.Reggieandhydrangeassept202013 011 Then Reggie gets confined to eat a small amount while I play Frisbee games with Jazz and Max. Max gets done first (he’s a shepherd who is 10+) and he gets some brief training on different cues – sit, down, back, twirl, spin, get the dog dish, catch,  paw, pretty or whatever before he gets to eat all the food in his dish. Jazzie, 5 yrs, gets extra Frisbee runs with more control added – wait before release, go around, figure 8, directionals  then she gets the majority of her food in the game Cube so she needs to work to get it delivered. I do extra stuff with her, later.april13fencedogsroad2013-009.jpg

Then it’s Reggie’s turn. He has trouble releasing fetched items, so we’ve rewarded for release. Now he’s starting to drop the item early, so its back to encouraging holding it with a re-up of the tug game and then release. I shortened the toss and added a run-away on my part. He’s getting a lot better at catching the Frisbee in mid-air, he’s learned to go around me without trying to steal the Frisbee and mostly he’s not stopping to play push-the-Frisbee-around games with himself.

Several rounds and then off to feed the horses. Reggie found some half-grown rodents in the hay, so he’s thrilled there might be more. Back to the house, depending on weather two dogs might stay outside in kennel runs for a while or come in with Reggie (they end up confined inside while the Reggie education continues). I hand feed him the rest of his meal for doing stuff – we always play some crate games, we’re working on distance cues (about 6 feet away at this point), always rewarding seeing the cat and not chasing him. After our games he’s confined to his crate for a couple of hours and the other dogs are free to lounge near me while I work on other things.

He'll jump through the hoop or over a dog.
He’ll jump through the hoop or over a dog.

(FYI the cat gets to do some cat tricks for treats every morning, usually while I’m making my breakfast). Key training for Max – scent gamesSnowydayMay22013 005 and for Jazz I want to be able to interrupt her chase runs (ball, Frisbee…) for a sit or down – we’re still at the near me phase of that. (Breakthrough today, I threw the black ball w/tail, sent her to get it, three-fourths there I called her back and presented Frisbee to tug … very fast response – of course the Frisbee is much preferred over the black ball w/tail).

So it’s a combination of some group time where I check my ability to recall each dog and the group from a distance or from close interesting things (I have treats and tug in my pockets) and separate training for each, depending on what I notice they need most at the current time or what we’re preparing for, i.e., Monday night agility classes. What happens is that each dog remains novel and interesting for their whole life. They don’t hit a mid-life, fat and lazy slump of dullness. The draw of puppy newness is still a back-of-the-mind thought, just because puppies are puppies and a new, almost blank slate of possibilities.

If this is so, why do I have three? Well the two extra ones seemed to need me, I wasn’t actually looking to add.

Why do you have extra dogs?