Author Archives: Sydney

The Art of Reward

a hand drawn illustration of a puppy with a bubble above his head. In the bubble are four activities: a ball bouncing, a dog dock diving, a puppy getting a belly rub and a squirrel under a tree. The caption to the right the puppy “Hmm... what do I LOVE?" and below that "I know - let's go shopping for a pink puppy dress!"

 

It’s a hot, sunny, summer day at the beach. Not a cloud in the sky. The waves gently lap the shore, gulls call to each other. The sun is beating on you and you’re thirsty. You’re waiting for your friend. Finally you see them walking down the beach carrying a gift bag. “Sorry I’m late!” they call. “This is for you!” In the bag is a handmade wool sweater. “I knitted it myself! It is really warm and thick.” “Thank you!” you say, as you think …wow, nice sweater, weird, but nice. I don’t really like wool… and I’m not that keen on the color blue… why wouldn’t she just show up with a cold drink for me instead?

You’re stranded on a deserted island and your food and fresh water supply is dwindling fast. A very promising looking bag has washed up on the beach. Eagerly you run to it hoping for food, fresh water or a communication device. Inside are oodles of hundred dollar bills. Drat!

Silly stories? Sure they are, but they illustrate an important point. Not all rewards are created equal. Things that are rewarding in some circumstances are not necessarily rewarding in other situations. What one person finds rewarding can be of zero interest to another. We are all different and so are our pups.

So how does this relate to us training our puppies with rewards?

When we work with rewards we need to make sure the rewards we choose are actually rewarding to the puppy. In essence this means that the puppy is the one who should be determining what we are using.

How do we do this? We need to observe our pups and learn their preferences. We need to get creative and have fun with rewards. We need to keep a variety or rewards on hand and aim to have plenty of fun surprises for our pup’s great performances! We must master the art of reward!

a hand drawn illustration of a puppy with a bubble above his head. In the bubble are four activities: a ball bouncing, a dog dock diving, a puppy getting a belly rub and a squirrel under a tree. The caption to the right the puppy “Hmm... what do I LOVE?" and below that "I know - let's go shopping for a pink puppy dress!"

Observe and Get Creative

Rewarding your pup with food is great as long as the pup loves the food. Some dogs prefer toys to food, others prefer a chance to chase something, greet a person or get a good belly rub or massage. What my dog finds reinforcing may be very different from what your dog finds reinforcing.

One of my favorite rewards for Fen is to let her chase a squirrel (as long as the squirrel has a good escape route) that I have called her away from. She has to come away beautifully twice and then on the third time she might get to chase. Not always, but sometimes.

This is an example of watching and seeing what my dog loves and using it to reward her great recalls. It’s a win for me, for Fen and for the squirrel that always gets away, although the squirrel might not agree.

Another example of observation is Fen’s response to me clapping and cheering for her when she makes a great catch while we are playing ball. Her body posture changes, it lifts and she runs back to me a bit faster and showier, she looks so happy about her accomplishment and really appears to love the cheering on. Try cheering and clapping for your puppy the next time you are playing a game with them. Do they seem to respond to the cheering in a positive way?

Variety!

What’s in your treat pouch? Our rule of thumb is a minimum of 4 different types of tasty food treats. Does your pup love the food in your treat pouch? If not it is time to experiment and see what your puppy gets excited about. Tasty pieces of cheese, turkey, hotdog or smoked duck are all usually good bets for pups that are food motivated. Kibble tossed with a tiny bit of bacon fat can be irresistible. The challenge is to get creative and have some really ‘high value’ puppy currency available for those times when you need it.

What’s in your puppy’s toy box? Is there a fun array to choose from? If the toys are always put away after play it helps keep them interesting to your puppy. It is really fun to let your puppy pick which toy she wants to play with during a play/training session. Put a few in a line on the floor and then see which one your pup picks up.

One of my students made me laugh when he told me that he buys all these nice toys but what his dog really loves to play with are old deflated balls and other things she finds in the trash. Good for him for being a keen observer of his dog’s preferences!

An Invitation!

We invite you to experiment and get creative with what you use for rewards with your pup. Have fun with it. Once you have a good sense of your dog’s reward preferences you’ll be surprised to find what a treat this is for you. Training, playing and working together becomes much more successful. You’ll both start having a blast!

We’re pleased to be participating in the #Train4Reward Blog Party. Be sure to check out all of the other great blog postings at Companion Animal Psychology!

Victorious Vet Visits

Veterinarian listening to puppy's heartbeat

The veterinarian we choose should be considered a ‘partner’ in care. We’re responsible for making sure that clinic staff can safely handle our dog without risk of being bitten. It’s up to us to ensure our dog is comfortable at the vet and can tolerate routine check-ups.

The stress surrounding a waiting room can be reduced by some simple work. A robust socialisation and handling strategy is key with a puppy. This should start with the breeder or foster family and carry on with you. Doing this gives your dog a sizable life-long advantage.

Be sure that you have plenty of delicious treats for your puppy when visiting the clinic. You puppy should be getting treats throughout the visit. Starting when you enter the clinic. Then carry on during the exam. On the table and once off the table. Try tossing some treats onto the scale for fun. You want a dog that is happy to climb on for weigh-in time.

Non-Treatment Social Visits

To prevent negative associations with the vet be sure and get into the clinic for strictly social visits with your puppy.  Non treatment visits will help when done a handful of times as your dog matures. Let your dog receive treats from the reception staff. Play a quick game of tug and then off you go. Keep it short and fun.

Fear-Free Vet Visit is an excellent initiative that was created by Doctor Marty Becker.  For some tips on fear free vet visits you can watch this short video by Doctor Becker.

Thank you to Dr. Paul McCutcheon and his staff of East York Animal Clinic & Holistic Centre in allowing us to photograph Fen’s vet clinic visit. Dr. McCutcheon was operating a Fear-Free clinic long before it became popular to do so.

Game Plan to Go!

Everyone is saying it. Shelter staff, breeders, veterinarians and trainers are all throwing the word Socialization at you. But what does that mean beyond going down to the local Starbucks with your new puppy? Once you’ve had a chance for a bit of fun showing off with your friends, it’s time to think a bit more about what your puppy needs.

What all dogs need is a robust socialization game plan.

There’s nothing wrong with heading out the door and ad libbing. There are oodles of opportunities to socialize right outside. But what tends to happen is you leave the house forgetting a key piece of equipment that can undermine your success. Or worse, you keep repeating the same encounters. Constant repetition is only good if you plan to live in a bubble with your dog. That is unlikely. The whole point of a socialization plan is to experience a wide range of encounters. This will get your puppy ready for all the situations he may come across during his life.  A dog who is comfortable with a variety of circumstances is likely to be happier. He will be less stressed by the unknown and easier to train. This dog will be a better companion. Its worth the effort, so let’s add some sophistication to your game plan.

We’ve created a handy worksheet that will help you create a plan for each of your outings. Click this link field_trip_worksheet for the PDF.

 

sample of a puppy field trip worksheet

The Field Trip Worksheet is designed to work with the training pointers provided by ultimatepuppy.com. Be sure to print out the Social Schedule and use it as a guide. Your goal is to cover a wide variety of encounters. We would encourage you to focus on the highlighted section of the Worksheet where you should keep notes of your pup’s reactions to new situations.

Reminder

What to do if your puppy is uncomfortable or frightened (trying to run away, tail tucked, or attempts to bite): Jolly him up with a silly voice, a treat, or a game. If a situation is overwhelming your puppy, back away until the puppy is relaxed again. Start from this new distance to build up your pup’s confidence. Gradually get closer to the stimuli. Your ultimate goal is for your puppy to be comfortable and confident around stimuli that was previously scary to him.

This is when keeping notes is helpful, it allows you to focus on weak areas the next time you go out.

Good luck and have fun!

Decoding Your Puppy Raising Priorities

a girl and her puppy with a thought cloud above their heads

 

Congratulations on your new puppy! This little critter is soaking up his environment and everything you have on offer to teach.

Are you set with a good game plan for these coming early weeks? Have you done your homework? Are you prepared with your lessons and a good puppy coach? Do you have all the equipment and supplies you are going to need?

This new addition comes with a whole set of his own priorities and interests. Are you ready to provide this pup with all that he needs to live a well-adjusted, healthy life?

How do you wade through the piles of information available and all the well-meaning advice from everyone you know and some you don’t? When it comes to what you should be doing with your new puppy it can seem like everyone has an opinion.

Let’s break it down to some prioritizing based on a puppy’s development. This helps put things in perspective and can get you rolling with what is crucial right now.

The first 14 weeks

What happens or does not happen during the first 14 weeks of a dog’s life will have a profound impact on his entire life. What you do with your puppy during this time will determine his ability to navigate a life tightly knit with us humans and our weird and wacky ways.

A dog might be called man’s best friend but a dog’s wants and needs frequently cause havoc in households where they aren’t understood or provided for!

The first 3 1/2 months of a pup’s life are when a robust socialization and prevention strategy must be planned and executed. After this time has passed, you are playing catch up. This is not to say that great work cannot be done with a dog after this time, but it is to say that a critical period of development has passed and you will never get it back. You cannot afford to miss out on it, your dog certainly cannot!

A dog’s ability to easily acclimate with his environment stops at about 14 weeks. If he perceives things as threatening, because of a lack of early exposure, the fight or flight response kicks in. Any way you look at it there is stress involved, stress can lead to illness too.

The pup is most malleable now for us to affect his ability to peacefully live closely with us humans. He will need to get used to being alone sometimes. He will need to be able to go to the vet and be handled and to get along and be comfortable with us around his food and toys. If he doesn’t learn how to do this now we may have big problems later on with guarding and biting and stress when left alone at home.

Top priorities

With our understanding of this critical period of puppy development we know that socialization, which for our purposes means a positive encounter and or exposure to a wide variety of people, other animals, sounds, surfaces and situations and; prevention, a game plan that includes specific exercises to help prevent known, predictable, dog behaviors from becoming problematic are our top priorities. This is some seriously time sensitive business that needs your immediate attention. No waiting until the puppy is 4 months old. By then the ship has sailed!

We recommend that you ask anyone who you are potentially getting a puppy from what type of early work they will be doing with the puppy before you bring him home? If you are bringing a new pup home between 8 and 10 weeks that leaves a whole lot of precious early development days in the hands of the pup’s birthplace folks.

What are they doing to help prepare this puppy for life? If your new puppy has had early socialization and preventative work started at his birthplace he now has a sizable advantage over a puppy that has not. Now here we are and you are bringing your pup home at maybe 8 to 10 weeks of age. That only leaves you 4 to 6 weeks to get this all-important education in. It is show time!

Socialization

Print out a copy of the Ultimate Puppy Social Schedule and get to it! Get out and introduce the pup to as many new things as you can. Each new person that your puppy meets should be giving him a tiny, tasty treat. You can drive, take a boat, take the bus or carry your puppy. Take treats and water and toys. Keep the outings to a reasonable length of time. Short fun trips are best. It is not enough to simply go around the block. You have got to get out and go looking for novel stimuli.

Other dogs

Please avoid dog parks and other heavily dog-populated spots. Friendly, healthy, well socialized dogs that you know are fine for your puppy to meet and perhaps play with. Puppy socialization playgroups are the best place for your new pup to have playtime with other pups. These play times are short and monitored, the area is clean and safe and you will learn lots about dog play and body posture. If you are lucky you will work on some recall out of dog play too.

Prevention

Simple, quick, fun run-throughs that help prevent serious problem behaviors, what’s not to love!

These exercises range from basic handling of the puppy using treats, to teaching the pup to easily hop off the couch or move away from the front door or kitchen counter. They also include teaching the pup that there is no reason to stress over you leaving the house, it is just part of the flow of the day. You will also teach your puppy that he never needs to guard his precious resources like the bowl or toy or bone, if you do take it, it will always comes back better!

When a dog guards what he deems important or is not comfortable at the vets or growls at you because you ask him to move over on the couch he is not being bad or unreasonable in his dog mind, these are predictable dog behaviors. Certainly this does not make for a peaceful existence with his humans and it could lead to rehoming or worse euthanasia. This is why preventative exercises are essential with a puppy. Simple yet potentially life saving.

Getting it done!

So now you know! Socialization and prevention are your top priorities with your new puppy. This is because they are very time sensitive and will make all the difference in the quality of life your puppy will have. Puppy socialization classes are readily available and are the absolute best way to learn all about these important lessons. Puppy socialization classes are made available for pups that are under the age 16 weeks. We hope this helps you, whether in preparation for a new pup or in the early weeks of bringing a new puppy home. Enjoy this early time with your new pup and teach him everything he needs to be able to enjoy his life with you.

Barking Basics

 

Bark Basics: how to teach puppies to be calm in crate (and stop nuisance barking)

Puppies bark. The problem isn’t that they bark, the issues arise from how we deal with the barking.

Thankfully more breeders are starting to do some great early work with their pups. This means that the first time the puppy is separated from his mom and littermates isn’t when you bring him home. This means that the first time the puppy goes into a crate isn’t when you introduce him to one. If your new pup is experiencing all these things for the first time know that this is stressful. You may experience different degrees of whining, crying and barking. How you handle it is what counts.

 

The Game Plan

The early crating and structure that you provide for your new puppy as well as prepping him for alone time go hand in hand with helping to prevent problem barking. Other priorities for the puppy include age-appropriate physical and mental exercise, playtime, socialization trips and lots of preventative exercises. It is advantageous to you and the puppy to get into a well-run puppy socialization class and gain the guidance and support of a great coach.

 

Puppy crate training, puppy structure and boundaries, building a desire in puppy to go into crate - all in aid of stopping the barking in puppies

Crate Training Tip

Make the crate a happy place for your new puppy. Build up his desire to want to go into the crate. Hide a trail of delicious treats that leads to the crate and inside the crate place a super high-value prize such as a raw knucklebone or a kong stuffed with steak and cheese. Place this prize just inside the door and don’t let the puppy get to it. Build up a little frustration in your pup by preventing him from getting to the prize. Let him in for just a few seconds then bring him out and close the door again. Repeat this game a few times. Toss delicious treats into the back of the crate, repeat as pup comes out – treats for going in, no treats for coming out. As you toss the treat in, use the phrase, go in or in your crate.

Request Barking

Request barking may start with a puppy barking because he wants out of the crate or to go outside. New starry-eyed puppy parents don’t know what they are getting themselves into. A common but unfortunate scenario you want to avoid is thinking, ‘My puppy is so smart, he is already telling me when he wants to go outside!’ Tread very carefully here! Turn this around; you should be the one who decides when your puppy is going out for bathroom breaks and for playtime. Get to him before he starts barking and provide plenty of opportunity for him to get out of the crate and engage in training, play, cuddles or bathroom breaks. Avoid taking your pup out of the crate if he is barking. If you must let him out try and get at least 30 seconds of quiet first.

Request barking is just that, the puppy is barking at you because he wants something. He wants to go out, he wants to play, he wants you to give him attention, or he wants food. And on it goes, once it starts it will spread to lots of different requests and it can drive new puppy parents crazy. 

Structure At Home

Frequently puppies that bark in their crates are not crated when their people are at home and awake. Too much freedom is given and when folks try and crate the puppy he complains about this new plan by barking. Hey, who likes change! A puppy should be calm and comfortable in their crate for different stretches of time while you are at home and awake going about your regular routine. You need to be the one to teach your puppy this. Always serve up safe and tasty chew things for your pup to enjoy in his crate.

If the puppy is out of his crate, you should be attending to him or he should be anchored somewhere safe and be provided with something appropriate to chew on. Avoid letting your puppy wander unattended around the house. Structure and boundaries now are going to help condition a dog that is calm and trustworthy in the house later. Short cuts make for long journeys.

Alone Time

A lot of the undesirable barking from new puppies is stress or frustration from being left alone or from being crated or sequestered in another part of the house from you or from family activity.

Most dogs will have to spend time alone. It’s our job to prepare our pups to be able to deal with our absences. If you teach your puppy from day one that this is no big deal you should have smooth sailing over the course of his life.

Avoid big goodbyes and emotional hellos when coming and going from your house. Play it cool! This helps to keep your puppy calm.

* Your puppy should always get a delicious kong when you leave (or other safe food stuffing toy) filled with fabulous food that he is interesting in eating and works to get at. Stockpile some and pop one in the crate just before you leave the house.

Your dog’s vocalizing shouldn’t be an annoying aspect of life. A fun part of raising a puppy is learning the different nuances of their voice. Some dogs use their voices when they are happy and playful. Some dogs have a distinct distress call when they must get outside for bathroom quickly. Other dogs are very vocal about their contentment as they get a good tummy rub. Most of us will learn when to speak and when we probably are better off being quiet. Our dogs are no exception. We need to teach them this important life skill.

* Stuffing kongs and other food stuffing toys might take a little time to master but it is well worth the effort. It takes some patience and experimenting to find out what your puppy loves to chew on. You need to stuff the toy just right, not so hard that the pup gives up and not so easy that it comes out in 30 seconds. Be sure and keep your food stuffing toys clean and in good condition. Check out kongcompany.com for some great recipes.