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K-9 Prodigy

Unleash the genius in your dog

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Should my child walk the dog alone?

Posted on 20 November, 2019 at 20:47 Comments comments (94)
A dog can be a kid's best friend. Kids tend to love dogs! And if your family has a dog, it probably won't be long before your child is asking to take the dog out alone, without adult supervision.

Think carefully about your answer on this. It's going to depend on several factors, including your child's skills, the dog's skills, and the environment. Here are some things to consider:

Size of child and size of dog. In general, a dog that's 30% or less of the handler's body weight is going to be relatively easy to control. A dog that's 50% or more is going to be difficult or impossible to control without specialized training or equipment.

Is the child the only one who's walking the dog day to day? Kids often lack the ability to do consistent leash-walking. The dog frequently ends up pulling. Over time, this will cause the dog to lose much of his loose-leash skills, and begin to pull more and more. It's a good idea for an adult to walk the dog at least a couple of times during the week to review leash skills. Of course you'll also be coaching your child on how to prevent pulling and how to respond if the dog pulls, but this is a long-term learning project for most kids!

How's your child's ability to focus? While on a walk, whoever's got the leash is who's responsible for the dog. If your child has a tendency to get distracted and forget about the dog, it might be a good idea to accompany them on walks for a while to remind the child to focus, or to take the dog when the child needs a break.

What's your dog's temperament like? Is it an easy-going dog who's unflappable around many situations? This type of dog will be easier and safer for a child than a dog who's nervous. A dog who's reactive toward people or other dogs is never a good choice for a child to walk alone.

What would your child do in a worst-case scenario? This would usually be something like the dog is pulling after a cat or squirrel and the child has lost control and is being dragged, or an off-leash dog approaches your dog and there is a fight. What is the child supposed to do in this kind of situation? There's no one-size-fits-all answer for this; it will depend on many environmental factors, so the child needs to have the ability to make quick decisions on his or her own. This is an advanced level of cognitive functioning, so younger kids may not be able to do it at all, and older kids might not make the best choices. You can talk through some potential situations and see what your child thinks; above all the child should be conscious of his or her personal safety (including dropping the leash if needed to get away from a dangerous loose dog), and also think of the dog and of other people and dogs in the environment. It's most convenient to instruct the child to simply avoid potential conflicts, turning around or moving away when he sees one, but that's not always possible. 

If you do not live in an environment that you consider safe for your child to walk the dog alone, try to think of some options that will still let your child and dog have fun and safe time together. Maybe you could take them on a hike and let them lead the way while you trail behind. Maybe you can let them walk on a path in a park while you read on a bench. Maybe they can walk the dog in the company of friends or siblings; if anything goes wrong at least they'll have some extra hands to help. Make your decisions about kids and dogs carefully, and I hope they have a lot of fun together and stay very safe!

Should my dog greet other dogs on leash?

Posted on 14 November, 2019 at 19:55 Comments comments (32)
It's pretty common for people walking dogs to let the dogs approach each other, sniff, greet, maybe play and interact. But it this always the best choice?

Be careful if you decide to let your dog meet/greet an unknown dog being walked by an unknown person. All dogs can be unpredictable, especially ones you've never met before. If your dog has a negative experience -- maybe the other dog growls or attacks -- this could have long-term effects on your dog, especially if it happens regularly.

Or maybe your dog doesn't have a negative experience -- maybe it has a great time! Although the dog's had fun, this experience can also affect its behavior on future walks. Now it sees other dogs as an opportunity for playtime, and can develop the expectation that it gets to go and say hi. Maybe now your dog is pulling on the leash and ignoring you in the presence of other dogs. And if you don't let it go say hi, frustration behaviors such as barking and leash-biting may be close behind.

The ideal situation for many dogs may be a hard-and-fast, easy to understand rule -- while your dog is on leash, he's to focus on you and not greet/interact with other dogs, and while he's off-leash he's free to meet, mingle and play.

Another option would be for you to tell the dog upfront (immediately, upon sight of the other dog) whether he's going to be allowed to greet the dog onleash. By giving your dog early information -- and being absolutely 100% consistent, you can often prevent a lot of frustration. Pick a consistent word or phrase that you can use every time your dog orients to the other dog -- "Go say hi" and "Not today," for example. Make your decision quickly -- there should be no grey area for your dog to be wondering if he's going to get to greet or not.

If you are going to let your dog meet dogs sometimes, which dogs? A quick read of the other dog's body language will give you some helpful information. Not all dogs want to meet your dog! If the other dog is cowering behind the owner, has a stiff body or tail, or is giving your dog a hard stare, that's not a good dog to meet. If the other is overpowering its owner or dragging or lunging enthusiastically to meet, that's not a good choice either. A good dog to meet would be calm and relaxed, standing, wagging its tail, on a loose leash and making soft eye contact. Make sure to ask the owner first if the dogs can say hi; move on quickly if the answer is "No." (Also move on if the answer is hemming and hawing, or reluctance, or a long explanation of how to do it, etc.) Keep the greeting short -- about three seconds is all that's needed. (Longer greetings tend to escalate most dogs.) Then "Let's go" and move on. It's a good practice to reward your dog for compliance in moving away from the other dog, after you've moved away. Don't use food in the immediate presence of the other dog though; this could be a safety risk if one of the dogs guards food.

If your dog wants to greet other dogs on leashed walks, whether or not he gets to do that should be your choice -- not your dog's choice. Before you choose to allow it, think carefully about whether it's a good decision and if it's a helpful one, and then make sure the greeting is done in a calm way, and then move on. If your dog does not want to meet the other dog, then you should respect its choice on that, and move on without forcing interaction.

Reality Check for Rescue Dogs

Posted on 25 September, 2019 at 16:50 Comments comments (83)
I feel that many people are pushed to rescue dogs, whether it's the "Adopt, Don't Shop!" t-shirts and mantras, or the semi-shaming of dog breeders on Facebook. Unwanted and homeless pets is truly a tragedy of our society; things need to change. But if you are getting ready to acquire a dog, you should look carefully at all your options, including the option of an educated purchase of a quality puppy from a good breeder.

When you rescue a dog, you are venturing into unknown territory. Some rescued dogs come with a history and some information (early training, if they've ever bitten, if they're afraid of anything), and some come with no information at all (for example, if the dog was found as a stray), and some come with a bit of history and background, but you'll eventually discover that it was either guessed at or a deliberate falsehood (common with dogs adopted off Craigslist.) 

And yet, people really really want to rescue dogs. It can be very rewarding if the dog makes a full adjustment to his new life. And sometimes you'll find that you've lucked out with the absolute perfect dog; you've found and cultivated a true diamond in the rough. So here are some suggestions on how to stack the odds in your favor if you are going to rescue a dog.

1) Don't overestimate your training experience and skill. If you've had dogs before that's great, and it definitely puts you in a better spot when bringing in your rescue dogs. But if you've never had experience with problematic behaviors in dogs you don't really know very well, then you'll feel like a beginner again. That isn't to say you won't be able to manage and train through certain behaviors, but it does mean that you might be walking into a situation where you don't have all the answers. 

2) Decide in advance if there is anything that you simply can not live with, if it comes up. If you are willing to tackle just about anything, but can not accept or live with the risk of a dog who's (for example) aggressive to your cat, and if potentially fixing it through training isn't good enough for you, then be clear with yourself about that. It will make decisions about returning the dog to the rescue much more clearcut. 

3) Don't underestimate how much time behavior problems take to change. Behavior problems are hard. They're hard for everybody, including dog professionals. There's usually not a quick fix. Change can happen slowly, even if you're doing everything right. For serious behavior problems, you could be talking months or years, rather than days or weeks.

4) Understand that some things might not be "fixed." You'll definitely get a lot of improvement, if you're diligent. But it's likely that your severely leash-aggressive dog may always need some degree of special handling when in certain situations, and other situations may never be workable for your dog. 

5) Make sure everyone in your household is willing and able to work with a dog of unknown history and behavior. Behavior problems can be frustrating or even scary. If a family member is nervous or uneasy of dogs, or has a short temper and low patience with them it will make things harder on the dog and possibly harder on your family life. There will likely be times when you and a family member disagree on a training method or how you are going to handle a specific problem. If your solution to a serious housebreaking problem involves baby gates and supervision, and your partner's solution involves shock collars and intimidation, think in advance about how you're going to navigate this. 

6) Understand that even if your dog does come with a "history" or a "behavior report" or "temperament test," these reports might not be accurate. Some people and shelters are very open and honest about the dog's behavioral history, but many are not. Just because your dog is reported to get along just fine with kids does not mean that you should be over-casual when it meets your own kids. The smartest thing to do is judge the dog's behavior that you see, rather than what you read on a report. 

And best of luck to you and your new rescue dog! 

Summer Parks Challenge 2019 Recap: "What I learned from the KP Parks Challenge"

Posted on 12 September, 2019 at 14:19 Comments comments (36)
The summer is over, and so is the 2019 Parks Training Challenge. If you're not familiar with the Parks Training Challenge, it's a marathon summer event with a simple premise: Take your dog to as many different city, county, state, etc parks as possible and practice training with them. It doesn't matter what you're working on, as long as you're working on something.

The Parks Challenge is addictive; I'm constantly surprised at how drawn in people get. Or maybe I shouldn't be surprised. It's fun and competitive, sure, but also: it really, really works. Dogs get trained. They get good. Handlers get good. The team gets good. A dog and handler at the end of the summer, having participated in the challenge, are going to be lightyears ahead of where they were at the start of the summer. Here's some of what I learned -- let me know what you learned!

Go in with a plan, but be ready to change it if needed. If your plan is to do longline recalls, but when you show up the park is covered in squirrels, then you might want to put the recalls on hold and work on the squirrel distraction instead. First things first; if your squirrel distraction problem is too great, your recalls will never work. So squirrel distraction needs to come first.

You'll get more fluent as you go. And more confident. Maybe you're nervous about bringing your young dog out to a new place. You bring lots of treats, you park in the very corner of the parking lot away from all the action, you hold your breath and hope for just one "sit" and a couple of steps of loose-leash walking. Your dog does fine. The next time, you're a little more confident; you push a little harder. This works also, and a trend is born. Your confidence is going up steadily.

Or maybe you're already feeling plenty confident. In fact, maybe you're a little too confident. If you're overconfident, then the challenge can help you remain realistic. Maybe you head out to your first training session, envisioning your dog doing perfect heeling just outside the dog park fence, as skateboarders whiz by and frisbees soar overhead. That scenario probably does not play out. So you revamp your training plan and start smaller. Your dog does great with your scaled-down version of the training plan, and next time you can add more difficulty.

You will build the bond. All those hours spent, and all that exploration together. Sometimes you'll get friends and family members to tag along, but often it's just the two of you. Isn't this kind of what you envisioned when you got a dog? Setting off for adventures with your dog, just the two of you? For me there were moments when I felt this was the epitome of dog ownership, just going out and doing stuff together.

You will get really good at developing training plans. Even if at the start of the summer you're sure that it's going to take literally four months to learn loose-leash walking, and that's all you're planning on working on for the challenge, you'll probably find that at some point the dog has learned loose-leash walking, and now you're getting bored and ready to try something new. So, figure it out and try something new! Maybe stays. Maybe jogging. Maybe tricks.

Our local parks in this section of Oregon are awesome. I was blown away by the beauty, richness and diversity of our parks. Forest Park is probably the biggest city park in the country, and you could spend an entire summer just exploring it. But we've also got lots of other parks that also have good hiking. There's well-kept, clean and fenced dog parks. There's cool little urban parks with sculptures and public art. There's fountains. During the summer there's free movies and concerts several times per week. There's great play structures for the kids, including some that are adaptable for special-needs kids. There's space for every kind of sport you'd like to do -- disc golf, tennis, swimming pools. The Portland Parks system is fantastic and every time I went to a new one I was reminded of just how great it is. 

It's fall now, and the happy memories of the summer of 2019 will be more and more distant each day, but the lessons learned will stay. And for those of you who didn't participate in the challenge this year, it will repeat in 2020! In fact, there are lots of new things planned for next year, including new awards categories and other fun activities. See you next summer!

Summer Parks Challenge!

Posted on 22 May, 2019 at 15:53 Comments comments (61)
It's official; the annual Summer Parks Challenge 2019 has begun on May 1 and will run all the way through the end of summer!

Training in novel locations is so so so helpful! You can add distractions, you can increase difficulty, you can practice in real-life settings and more. And with the part of Oregon that we're so lucky to live in, you've got lots of cool places to choose from!

Here's the assignment: Pick a pack. It could be an easy park, a hard park, big or small, in Portland or wherever. It could be nearby or far away. It could be somewhere that you're familiar with (a good idea) or somewhere you've never been before (more challenging for the handler.) Once you've got your park in mind, decide what you want to practice. Loose-leash walking and attention work is always good for novice dogs; for more advanced dogs you could do some obedience such as stays, settles or recalls. Of course distraction training is always available -- squirrels, other dogs, people, bikes and more are almost always present. Head out for your training adventure and have a good time. Take a photo of your dog posing by the park sign and then send it to the Facebook page or Instagram with #kpparks2019 and that's all you have to do!

After your outing, think about how you've done -- keeping a written training log to go along with your fun photos is helpful here. What did your dog do well with, and what needs improvement? Maybe obedience went great and your dog was very responsive to cues when asked, but was otherwise pulling and sniffing around in an uncontrolled manner. Or maybe your dogs leash skills were good and relaxed, but he didn't seem to remember any obedience cues at all or his "stay" seemed rusty. Whatever the weak spots are, they should be practiced at home and then tried again the next time you head out.

Things to keep in mind for your next park outing: As the summer gets warmer, bring water for your dog (and probably yourself.) Remember that a park is an uncontrolled training environment, and you'll have to watch for things like loose dogs, loose children, wildlife, etc that may distract your dog. If your dog is reactive to any specific triggers (such as lunging or barking at dogs, it's a good idea to scout out your parks in advance so you know your dog will be successful at the location you choose (for example, dog-reactive dogs tend to do poorly in parks with unfenced offleash areas, though working at a distance from a fenced offleash area can be a very good, helpful practice. Make sure your leash and all equipment is in good shape. Make sure to wear comfortable clothes and shoes that won't slip even if the ground is wet or muddy. Then, go and have a good time! And remember to take a photo and #kpparks2019!

Low Motivation

Posted on 2 May, 2019 at 15:24 Comments comments (35)
What does it mean if your dog has "low motivation?"

It's not the end of the world if you hear a trainer say that about your dog! Unlike a child whose "low motivation" might predict years of difficulty and poor performance in schools, dogs with low motivation are often very successful at being great pets, and behaving just fine.

Dogs who have high motivation are usually the ones who pull on the leash, steal food, and jump all over you for attention. They want stuff, and they're not afraid to go and get it, even if this means getting in trouble or going against the wishes of their owners.

Dogs with low motivation may enjoy a snack or a sniff, but they're not willing to expend too much energy to get it. If they want something, it's not too hard to convince them otherwise; a quiet "no" usually does the trick just fine. They are frequently calm and compliant in everyday life; this is the type of dog who does not seem to "need" training -- they already behave pretty well. They're not motivated to get anywhere fast, so they rarely pull on the leash. They're not super-motivated to get food, so they stay off the kitchen counters; they like attention just fine but won't jump all over you in order to get it. Nice dogs, right?

Many trainers, high-level competitors and more active/advanced owners, however, feel that dogs with higher motivation are easier to train and will often intentionally seek out a "naughtier" dog, searching for a naturally energetic companion who will enough internal drive and motivation to work hard to earn rewards. If you want the type of dog with this kind of motivation, but don't have it, there are some things you can do to improve motivation. 

First, and this should hopefully be a given, make sure that your dog is in good health. Things like sore muscles, bone/joint problems, poor nutrition and obesity can cause what looks like low motivation. If you are in any way suspicious that some of your dog's unwillingness to work may be caused by something physical, then check with a vet.

If your dog's healthy, one way to help build motivation is to be more reserved about allowing your dog to access "free" rewards. Dogs who are free-fed (food constantly in a bowl that they're allowed to eat of whenever they want) for example, are usually not very motivated to work for food, because food is free and always available. Regular meals, where the dog is conscious that you're the one giving the food, can help. You can also start asking the dog to do something vefore you give it a toy or initiate play -- a "sit" before you throw a ball can go a long way in raising a dog's motivation.

Slowly, over time, many dogs motivation improves if you simply continue to work at it. Even if a dog doesn't particularly care about treats, if you make it about more than just food -- the interaction with you, the praise, the "earning" something -- gradually the dog will start to enjoy it more and more, and motivation should improve. You can also try blending treats with play (tossing treats, etc) or with verbal praise/petting/interaction, to see if that helps.

Increasing a dog's motivation can take a while, but it's usually doable!

Calming Down Nosework Alerts Part III

Posted on 17 April, 2019 at 15:28 Comments comments (36)
This is the last post in the "overexcited nosework alert" series; here are two more suggestions that might help in calming your dogs overexciteable behaviors while maintaining correct alerts.

You could try revisiting the the very early "imprinting" exercises that involve you holding a tin or container in your hand. Be prepared for the dog to knock into this hand, maybe even claw it or mouth it. No matter what your dog does though, hang on and keep the container as steady as possible until the dog quiets and does the alert you want. Do this for many sessions, then go back and try another container search (containers on the ground.) Is there any improvement?

You could try walking the dog on a leash into your search area. For some dogs, the presence of a leash will repress behavior somewhat, since (hopefully) they're used to slowing down and walking politely when the leash is on. Make sure your body language suggests a casual walking style other than a more formal one, so the dog understands it's free to focus forward and move around a bit, rather than be in a strict leash position. If all goes well, the dog will be slowed down enough to do a calmer alert, but not so slow that it doesn't see or pay attention to the boxes at all. A few rounds of this should get the dog a little slower; then try again off-leash and see if there has been a change.

In the long run, an enthusiastic dog will be easier to work with than a slower, less motivated one. So keep working at it, and let me know if you need help!

Overexcited Nosework Alerts Part II: How to Calm Them Down

Posted on 8 April, 2019 at 16:12 Comments comments (20)
In the last post, you read about the problem/not-problem of overenthusiastic nosework alerts. You want the dog to be enthusiastic, but not to the point of smashing boxes or crashing around your search area like a bull in a china shop! Here are some ways of calming the dog down:

You can try introducing a heavier container, or weighing down the container you have with rocks or sand. If you do this, just keep a couple of things in mind: 1) Make sure that all your containers have the same filler in it, and change the fillers randomly or you might be accidentally training your dog to alert to rocks or sand. 2) Make sure that you're actually addressing the problem behavior here (the wild alerts) instead of just physically preventing the dog from doing it. If more than a few sessions go by and he's still trying to hit, paw or chew the boxes, your problem isn't really being solved -- just masked. Move on and try something else.

Consider introducing simple vertical interior hides. Interior hides are normally introduced after the dog can do a complete container search, can do blind searches, and often has even passed a basic odor recognition test. But it's possible to modify this order a little, and introduce an interior hide. Try hiding the odor (using tape or magnets to the tin, or a little tube of odor) at about dog head height, and in a very obvious location such as right in the dogs path as he enters the room. Because the odor is higher and secured to furniture, the dog will likely not do any knocking around, and you can quickly move in to shape that nice, quieter alert.

Stay tuned for the next post to find out a couple of other ways of slowing down your overenthusiastic alerts!

Calming Down Nosework Alerts

Posted on 25 March, 2019 at 18:53 Comments comments (422)
During the early stages of training Nosework to your dog, you're either holding the scent or it's on the ground right in front of you. You slowly build the dog's love for the scent and work it through the food distraction exercises and make sure it's going right for the scent and staying there. You're building up the dog's love for the scent! Soon he really-really-really loves it and can not stay away from it! And just like that you're up for your first simple search!

If all goes well, you'll set up the simple search exercise (usually just a single box) and your dog will trundle on in, find the scent, and stand there with his nose pointing at it, maybe waving his tail expectantly.

But sometimes, the thrill of the search is just too exciting, and the dog will run in and "chase" the box around, knocking it across the room; sometimes the dog will start digging and pawing frantically at it; sometimes they'll just grab the entire box and run around triumphantly!

We looooooove the enthusiasm, but.... need to take it down a notch or two or ten!

If your dog has an overenthusiastic alert, there are a few things you can do to help. Stay tuned for the next post in this series!

Controlling Resources

Posted on 27 February, 2019 at 16:24 Comments comments (33)
A lot of still-common, but old-fashioned training advice these days comes from some studies that were done on captive wolves back in the 1980's. Videos of these groups of unrelated wolves placed artificially in "packs" showed the wolves frequently fighting and struggling for physical control and social dominance. A pack-based theory of dog training emerged from this, promoting the idea that the basic relationship dogs have with others is an often physical fight for dominance. 

We know now that the study was mostly wrong. Wolves in true packs are family, and the wolves are much more on getting along and cooperating in order to get their needs met. It's very rare for a wolf to actually alpha-roll another wolf; if it does it's usually in a fighting context that may involve in one of the wolves actually being killed -- not just a routine thing that's done to remind everybody who the boss is. Leader wolves did not spend their time and risk their health fighting for rank or alpha rolling others. Instead, leader wolves controlled resources.They controlled the best spots for sleeping and the best parts of the food. Other wolves would demonstrate appeasement behaviors (rolling over, face-licking) and then would be allowed to participate.

Controlling resources is something that humans are very, very good at. In fact, you control just about every resource that could possibly be important to your dog. You control the door out to the backyard, the can opener, whether or not food is in the bowl; you control car rides, the length and distance of dog walks, and if your dog gets to meet other people or not. You can control not only which toys you buy for your dog, but when and if he plays with them. 

Because you control these resources, you can use them to maintain a strong leadership and sharp sense of discipline in your dog. You control whether or not the door opens, so the dog learns to sit and stay to get the door open (because that's the only behavior you'll accept; otherwise that door is staying closed! All the jumping and barking in the world isn't going to work.) Your dog is highly motivated to get at these resources, so he'll quickly learn that the best way to get at them is to listen to you and be obedient.

If you're just getting started, a good practice to get into is to withhold things of value from your dog until it performs an obedience request of your choice. It could be something as big as some heeling followed by sits and downs before his food bowl is placed onto the ground, or as small as a polite pause and checkin before you invite him onto the sofa. To make things very clear for your dog, you'll want some kind of cue that means he's been successful and can now access the resource: "Okay!" or "Get it!" is fine.

Doling out treats during structured training sessions is also, when you think about it, doling out resources. You give a cue, your dog responds, you reward by giving a reward/resource. Over time, with continued training and practice, your dog will learn that it's in his best interest to listen to your obedience requests and please you. And this will be in effect all the time, not just if you have rewards available.

Outside of regular training sessions, you can also experiment with making resources magically "happen." This is especially good for things like weaning off treats and making sure the dog will listen to you whether or not there's anything in it for him. Prep for this by planting food or toys somewhere they wouldn't normally be (don't let your dog see you doing this!) Then, completely out of context of normal training, randomly ask for some obedience (make it an easy request, if you're not sure if the dog will respond without seeing the food up front), and when the dog does it, praise like normal but also run to your secret stash of rewards and play/feed away! This will create a dog who will respond immediately whatever/wherever you are.

When you think about it, you've got control of almost every resource your dog could ever want or need. Start using that to your advantage, and your dogs behavior and obedience will immediately improve!

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