Earlier this week, I was the guest on Ask the Expert, a live program on AKC TV where people submit questions in real time for me to answer. Our topic was "why does my dog do that?" The questions ranged from serious ("Why is my dog growling at me?") to silly ("Why does my dog roll in goose poop?"). Check out the full episode below!
For many dogs, a routine walk just doesn’t cut it; they pull and lunge at everything that interests them on the sidewalk, and even after the walk, they seem to have plenty of energy to burn. Can you blame them? How boring it must for a dog to go around the same block, day after day, peeing on the same unfortunate shrub and getting stink-eye from the same belligerent squirrel. Rather than walk longer, it’s time to walk smarter by incorporating dog parkour into your excursions outdoors.
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When my private training clients are faced with their dog’s behavior issue, I generally recommend we do “doggie therapy.” But when does a dog need “therapy,” as opposed to regular manners training?
Do versus Feel
Typical dog training is intended to teach your dog good manners: staying on his dog bed while you eat dinner, walking on a loose leash, or sitting while you open the door for him. This kind of obedience training prepares dogs to be polite members of your household and community by teaching them what behavior is acceptable and what is not. For instance, a well-trained dog is able to sit calmly when being pet by a stranger, rather than jump up on him. In essence, training teaches your dog to do something, whether it’s a sit-stay or recall.
Then there is behavior modification, which is the technical term for doggie therapy. (I use the latter term with clients to lighten the mood and help them relate to the behavior modification protocol.) The purpose here is to encourage your dog to feel something rather than do something. But what does that mean, exactly?
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Do you walk your dog, or does he walk you? If your dog drags you from shrub to shrub, or launches himself at every dog he sees, it’s time to brush up on his leash walking skills.
It’s no wonder that leash walking problems are the number one complaint I hear from my dog training clients. To a dog, leashes are completely unnatural and unnecessary. Dogs are designed to wander in this-or-that direction, following a scent or investigating things in their environment. A six-foot leash just can’t allow such freedom. But since leashes are necessary for safety and required by law, we have to teach dogs how to walk politely while tethered to you.
Why Dogs Pull
There are numerous reasons why dogs pull. Hint: none of them have to do with dominance. Do any of these reasons apply to your pup?
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“Max coughed up two socks last night,” “Zippy’s sidewalk snacking has cost me thousands in ER vet bills,” and the horror stories go on and on. Teach you pup a reliable Drop It cue before you have a traumatizing story of your own.
Drop It instructs the dog to immediately spit out whatever is in his mouth. In extreme cases, it can mean the difference between life and death. The problem is, your dog put that half-eaten pepperoni pizza slice in his mouth for a reason -- he wants it! Once it’s firmly in his mouth, it’s really up to him whether he will drop it or not. So it’s your job to convince him that spitting out the pizza is actually more fun and rewarding than eating it.
Here are three levels of Drop It. Work your way up by increasing the difficulty in very small increments, to ensure your dog is successful at every step. In real life, do not tell your dog to “drop it” unless you are almost certain he will. If your dog is still a the beginner levels of Drop It and he picks up something delicious (to him) on your walk, use the Level 1 method to handle snacking emergencies.
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Just as kids learn life skills by playing team sports, dogs can learn everyday manners by practicing canine sports. If your pup struggles to walk politely on leash, it’s Rally Obedience to the rescue!
What exactly is Rally Obedience? Also called Rally-O or simply Rally, this low-impact canine sport involves a series of heelwork tasks, plus lots of sits, downs, stays, and other “obedience” type behaviors. At the higher levels, Rally-O involves elements of Agility and other sports, too. A Rally-O course is set up in a large ring with 12-18 signs, each indicating a task for you an your dog to perform. Your job is to navigate your dog through the course, accomplishing each task that is printed on the sign and then proceeding to the next sign. Signs might ask you to walk in a spiral pattern with your dog, have him do a Sit/Stay while you walk in a circle around him, or do a Sit-Down-Sit series. (See the signs here.) It’s easy to practice these exercises at home. If you choose to enter a Rally Trial through WRCL, AKC, or another venue, a judge will score your performance. As you get more and more qualifying scores, you can move up to higher levels.
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You love your dog, that’s a given. But do your neighbors feel the same way? Make sure your dog has neighbor etiquette both indoors and out, so he brings a smile to everyone’s face.
Well-behaved dogs are made, not born. To ensure your dog is a pleasure for everyone in the neighborhood to be around, a little training and management will go a long way to prevent bad habits from forming. Here are some ways to get started.
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(Photo by constantism.com. Check him out!)
If your neighborhood is anything like mine, it's littered with dangerously delicious "treats": chicken bones, garbage bags awaiting pickup, food wrappers, and more. Teaching your dog a reliable Leave It is essential for his safety.
I teach several levels of Leave It, which allows the dog to develop impulse control first in simple situations, then in moderately difficult ones, and finally in very challenging food-on-the-sidewalk scenarios. To execute it correctly, use both the video below and the detailed steps in the BKLN Manners™ book to guide you.
The video follows a training session with Gritz, a Badass Brooklyn Animal Rescue pup and friend of Doggie Academy. He had learned Leave It but needed a refresher at each level. Though our session all took place the same day, a dog learning this behavior for the first time may need weeks to get a reliable Leave It.
As if the release of the BKLN Manners™ book wasn't enough excitement for one week, we just got word that a segment Sarah Westcott and I did for a Japanese TV series has aired. (It's almost entirely in English.) Watch it here!
The segment, which begins at the four-minute mark, gives you a glimpse of how to teach polite leash walking, not jumping on people, recall, a trick, and agility. In addition to Sarah's dogs Hank and Fever and my dog Batman, our wonderful client Margaret and her dog Grace volunteered to take part in the filming. Grace picked up hand targeting and jumping through a hoop with lightning speed.
On a personal note, Japan is a country close to my heart, where I have both family and friends. But dog training there isn't as robust as it is in the States, at least not yet. (However, excellent trainers like Miki Saito are changing that!) Therefore, I couldn't be happier to share what we do at Brooklyn Dog Training Center to a Japanese audience!
Does your dog know how to sit, stay, and come in the house? What about in the park? If that second question makes you cringe, you’re not alone.
A dog’s inability to respond to cues outdoors is a common problem, but there’s hope! Some patience and methodical training can help you teach your dog that “sit” means “sit,” no matter where you are.
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Bored with the same old walk around the block? Turn your surroundings into a doggie playground! Parkour is a fun way to to burn your dog’s energy and teach polite leash walking skills. Read my full article here at petguide.com to learn what Dog Parkour is all about and how to get started.
Dog Parkour is a sport I've just started to dabble in with my two Chihuahua-ish mixes, Batman and Beans. For me, the appeal of Parkour is its flexibility. While other sports require a large open space and/or specific equipment (for instance, Agility jumps and tunnels), Parkour can be done anywhere, even in your living room, and the equipment consists of the "environmental features" that naturally occur there. The two Dog Parkour titling organizations allow you to earn titles by submitting videos of your dog performing certain exercises with these environmental features, such as putting two paws on a tree stump or jumping inside a cardboard box. That means no traveling to trials, plus as many do-overs as you want until you get just the right take. The organization All Dogs Parkour has very flexible requirements for earning titles, so even a 14-year-old tiny tyrant like Batman can find enough exercises that fit his abilities. The other, more established (meaning, created in 2014) organization is International Dog Parkour Association, which has stricter criteria for titling submissions.
Below are two videos. The first is Batman's Level 1 submission for All Dogs Parkour. You can see how easy it is. (Please don't judge too harshly... this was the first time we'd tried these exercises!) The second video is a Level 5 Grand Champion submission by trainer Kristine Hammar and her fantastic dog Tessa. You'll see that, even at the highest levels, Dog Parkour is all about interacting with the environment safely.
If you’re a dog owner, you’ve probably been there countless times. You’re taking Sadie for a walk down the sidewalk and an oncoming dog, also on leash, is approaching you. What should you do? Should you let Sadie greet the other dog when it reaches you, or is it better to just keep walking?
I recommend you avoid greeting the other dog if:
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Pet parents have heard this one many times: “It’s okay, I love dogs!” Guess what – it’s not okay! Here’s how to deal with friendly strangers who undo your training.
You’ve sunk hundreds of dollars into obedience classes for your dog and spent countless hours teaching him not to jump on people. And all your efforts seem to wash away as soon as an overly enthusiastic dog lover crosses your path–arms flailing, baby voice squealing, exclamations of “It’s okay, I love dogs!” as your pup covers the person’s chest in muddy paw prints.
While there’s not much you can do to train the human in this scenario, you have some options to keep your dog under control during a greeting.
If it takes your dog an hour to walk around the block, a simple training technique can help get his motor running.
At Doggie Academy, owners sometimes contact us because their dogs refuse to walk on leash. It’s most common with puppies, though occasionally it happens with older dogs, including new rescues who are unaccustomed to walking on a sidewalk. In many of these cases, particularly with puppies, the dog is on sensory overload. He’s taking in so much information that he can’t focus on the actual walking. In other cases, the dog might be overwhelmed or anxious in an urban environment, making him unwilling to venture further from home. Or, perhaps, the dog is just perfectly comfortable sitting there on the sidewalk, taking in a sunbeam or watching people pass by.
Allow me to introduce my all-time favorite training behavior: the subtle but mighty Hand Target! While one of the lesser-used techniques among owners, Hand Targeting has so many practical applications that it is well worth teaching it to your dog. Rather than explain it in writing, watch this video to see Hand Targeting in action.
Hand Targeting teaches your dog to touch his nose to your outstretched hand. “Why on earth would I want to do such a thing,” you ask? Once your dog can come to you and “boop” your hand, the possibilities for polite indoor and outdoor behavior are endless. For instance:
Having introduced the Emergency Recall in the previous blog post, now it’s time to practice it in a variety of real-life situations, so your dog will come back to you even if he spots a squirrel or slips from his collar. Click "Read More" to see the video of Beans learning Emergency Recall. The more you practice this, the more ingrained the “kiss-and-treat” sequence becomes in your dog’s mind, and the more easily he will be able to come back to you, no matter what.
When you start practicing Emergency Recall outside, choose a relatively quiet location. Make your kissy (or other unique) noise, and reach down to give your dog a treat regardless of what he’s doing. Once your dog clearly understands this sequence, you can start to add other elements.
For the typical urban dog owner, nothing is scarier than the thought of your dog slipping out of his collar and taking off down (or worse, across) the street. The first thing I teach my own new rescue dogs is an Emergency Recall -- a cue that will get my dog to come back to me, regardless of the situation. It’s incredibly simple to teach and can be a building block to more advanced training, like loose leash walking and “leave it.” I’ve only had to use Emergency Recall in a real emergency once, when Beans’s leash slipped out of my hand and she darted towards a squirrel in the middle of the street. Because we’d been practicing the recall regularly, as soon as she heard the cue, she she stopped in her tracks, spun around and raced back to me.
Emergency Recall simply pairs a unique sound you make -- in my case, a kissy noise -- with a delicious treat. In the dog’s mind, this sound comes to mean “cookie time!” So naturally, he will stop whatever he is doing and come galloping to you. In fact, your dog doesn’t have to actually “do” anything to get the treat. You’re simply teaching him that a kissy noise is followed by a treat, regardless of what he does. Though you are not overtly teaching the dog to come, by making this very strong association of “kissy noise = treat,” the end result is a solid, enthusiastic recall.
There is one catch. Because we are using classical conditioning, you will never fade out treats. Think Pavlov’s dogs and the bell; the bell only triggered salivation because it predicted food. Take away the food, and over time the bell becomes meaningless. Same goes for the kissy noise. Before you complain, “But I don’t want to give my dog a treat every time I practice this,” ask yourself, “Do I want my dog to come back if he gets off leash?” This is for emergencies, after all. While you can certainly use other training techniques for recall, the strength of this classically conditioned association makes it worth the extra treat or two per day.
Though I practiced Emergency Recall constantly when I first adopted my dogs, I now do it on a “maintenance” level: one kiss-and-treat per day while we’re on walks. This keeps it fresh in the dog’s mind.
The video below shows what the sequence looks like. To see how Emergency Recall can be a building block to more advanced training, especially when outdoors, check back here for future posts and keep an eye out for the BKLN Manners™ book coming in early 2018!
Kate is a certified dog behavior consultant, certified dog trainer, certified dog parkour instructor, and award-winning author in Brooklyn, NY with Doggie Academy and in Southbury, CT.