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Megan’s Musings: What Dog Training Needs

chihuahua leash walking city small

When most people think of dog training, they picture dogs doing long stays, walking right beside their owner looking up at them and coming when called. It is this serious area where we view the dogs as little trick producing animals that stay out of trouble. Traditionally, the focus has always been on the technical skill. Although, this is still important, our relationship with dogs has changed. They have become a loved family member that share our houses and takes part in most of our activities. We have built off-leash parks and have strict leash laws. We hear more about dog bites and talk about being their leaders.

We need to teach obedience skills, but we must apply them to real world settings and teach our dogs what is expected of them. We must take the time to socialize them and introduce them to our busy human environment. This cannot just be done in the classroom over 6-8 weeks and it cannot start in the outside world with large groups of dogs.

Obedience skills are a necessary part of training, but there is so much more that we need to be teaching our dogs. This is what we do best at dogma and what we want to see happen everywhere for our companion dogs. In this post, I am going to share how to go far beyond obedience training to develop an ideal urbanK9; a confident and well-mannered dog that excels in our urban world and human families.

Beyond Obedience Skills 
Yes, your dog needs to learn how to walk nicely on leash, to come when called and have good attention. We do recommend having at least one position cue and teaching them potential life-saving skills such as leave it. At dogma, we do not teach obedience skills to just order our dogs around. We teach them the skills so we can show them what to do instead of any behaviours we want to discourage. For example, for jumping we focus on teaching the dog to sit nicely to earn attention. Our training goes so much further and is reliable because we focus on teaching the dog what to do and show them how to gain rewards for it.

Obedience training is the foundation of manners training and helping your dog with impulse control. This means that we teach them what skill to do in a situation where they are excitable. This in turn teaches manners and helps them manage their self-control. By putting obedience skills to use in real world settings, you create more reliable and long-lasting behaviour. But our number one reason is safety. Having a good recall could prevent your dog from getting lost or being hit by a car. Having a solid sit stay may prevent your dog from running out a door. Or, your dog understanding leave it could prevent them from ingesting something fatal. Focus on what the skills teach the dog, not just about teaching the skill itself.

Socialization 
That’s right, socialization goes well beyond puppyhood. Why do we stop getting our dogs out and focusing on introducing them to the overload of new sounds, sights, objects, surroundings and activities in our busy human world? Training should always focus on getting dogs out into our urban environments throughout their lives. We get into the habit of walking them at the same places and taking them out to the same areas. This can create over-excitement when you take them to new places as everything is so new and interesting and they are not used to new situations. By ensuring you get them out and continue socializing them, you help build their confidence, lower their arousal levels and prevent over-exuberance concerns.

Socialization is also where we can start truly applying the obedience skills that we have taught them and enhancing their self-control and manners. It should also involve teaching them how to properly interact with other dogs and how to appropriately greet them. But, don’t stop there! Introduce them to other animals, a wide variety of people and children, moving objects, things that make noise and new surroundings and activities. The best part about urban training is that you get out with your dog! While you can focus on exposing them to their surroundings, you are exploring new places together and bonding.

Relationship Building 
This is the largest focus of our training program. It’s about providing you the confidence in handling your dog and building mutual trust. That’s the best part with reward-based training; it’s about having fun and enjoying the training. It’s about learning together and minimizing stress. We are focusing on what to teach the dog and how to be successful in our human world. It is not about punishing the dog for making mistakes. It is not about misinterpreting behaviour concerns with ideas that our dogs are being dominant or stubborn. It’s about working together in a productive and life-long relationship. It’s about understanding that they are part of our human world and families, but are not humans. Most of their natural behaviour is what we deem as problem behaviour. Many of our urban settings are full of potentially scary or new items for them. So, let’s go beyond obedience training and create training relationships with the goal to truly help our canine companions. Whether you have a new puppy, an excitable adolescent dog or a reactive/fearful dog, the training needs to focus on real world settings and getting them comfortable in our human world. Training and socialization should always be happening, but it should be fun for you both.

Is there anything else you think we should focus on with dog training? Is there an obedience skill that you taught your dog that came in handy in a real-world setting? Do you have any challenges that you need addressed? Comment below!

Megan’s Musings: 3 Steps for a Successful Spring

dog in pink rainboots smallSpring should be fun for your dog

Spring is a time of new growth, more sunshine, warmer temperatures and more people getting outdoors to enjoy the change in seasons. It is generally a happy time that we look forward to. However, Spring can be scary for our dogs. It begins to get busier outside with much more activity from people, animals and machinery. It is easy to forget the impact this can have on our dogs, so this month I am going to share some ideas on how to ensure your dog can enjoy the Spring season as much as you do. Follow these steps to ensure you can both be ready for a Summer full of fun activities together!

Go Slow
On a warmer day, life outside is busy. There is a lot of energy as people are excited to be out and enjoying the weather. Nature responds the same way and the wildlife becomes more active. Along with this, skateboards, bicycles, strollers, motorbikes, lawnmowers, sprinklers and so many more machines start to appear. All of these things are normal and many of us enjoy this extra activity. However, all of this can be new and scary to your dog, who may be used to quiet walks or time outside where they may only see the odd person or dog.

Work at your dog’s pace and do not rush out to all of the busyness at first. Start by going at slower times of the day; typically earlier in the morning or late evening. Go to places with lots of space and work at a greater distance at first. Even if your dog has seen all the seasonal changes before, work on offered attention at a distance your dog is comfortable with to start. At dogma, we always encourage dog owners to be proactive versus reactive. This means ensuring your dog views all of these changes as a positive, and is still comfortable with them, before immersing them right in the middle of it all.

Pay Attention to Your Dog
In order for you to know your dog’s comfort level and to ensure you are going at their pace, you need to understand your dog’s body language and pay attention to them. As the season gets busier, and you are going out at quieter times, be sure to watch them and their reaction to the new activities and surroundings. I’ve outlined some key things to watch for below:

  • Calming signals: These can be ways for your dog to calm themselves when they are feeling unsure. Some common ones you may see during Spring are sniffing, shake offs, tongue flicks or yawning. We have a full post on calming signals that cover these in more details.
  • Signs of stress: Stress does not always have to be bad stress, but it is important to understand when your dog may be responding to the extra activity to ensure you are taking it slow. Watch for excessive panting, shedding or dander, sweaty paws and lowered body language (tail tucked, ears pinned back, weight shifted back and head down).
  • The four f’s of stress: These are signs that your dog is overwhelmed and needs some space to slow down and feel more comfortable.
    • Flight: If it is too busy, or something startles your dog like a skateboard, they may try to flee the situation.
    • Fight: This is the same as the above situation, except your dog may be on leash so they feel like they cannot escape. In this case, they may react by barking, lunging or snapping. They feel cornered and are stressed, so they need space.
    • Fool around: This can appear like your dog is distracted or behaving in a silly manner. If they are struggling with their focus and moving quickly, it is a sign that they are over-stimulated and need some space and a quiet area to gain their focus.
    • Freeze: They may move slowly or not want to move at all.

If any of these happen, you are too close and need to give your dog space. Contact a reward-based trainer or email training@dogmatraining.com for assistance. Do not hope this will go away on its own, set your dog up for success and help them feel comfortable. Be sure to attend our Dog Talk seminar if you want to learn more about your dog’s body language.

Give them breaks
Don’t keep placing your dog into the new activity every day. If you feel like it is a lot for them, it is ok if they do not get out every day. Play brain games, provide them with interactive toys or chew bones and do some extra training with them if you decide not to walk them. Ensure they are getting enough sleep and give them quiet time in between walks. As the outdoor world gets busier, it will add to your dog’s arousal levels. This elevated state will have their adrenaline levels increased and it is important you give them time to settle. This is the same for when you are out on walks with them. Give them time to smell their surroundings and keep a slower pace. Practice offered attention and work on their focus to help keep them thinking. Monitor arousal levels and keep walks short to start.

If your dog has not experienced Spring in the urban environment or if they have fearful/reactive tendencies, I would suggest that you get to classes or work with a trainer to ensure you can introduce things in a controlled environment. Our urbanK9 classes focus on ensuring your dog can be successful in our busy human world. We also have a wide range of clinics to assist with this. Summer is a time to strengthen your relationship and enjoy life with your dog. A few simple steps now can ensure it will be one of the best ones yet!

Do you have other ways you ensure Spring is a successful time for your dog? What are your favourite activities to do together in the warmer weather? Please comment below!

Megan’s Musings: Yes, I Hug my Dog

deja cover

Deja and I enjoying a moment together

Hello, my name is Megan, and yes, I hug my dog.

It may seem like a silly statement, but we are at a time when people do not want to admit this and don’t dare post a picture of themselves in an embrace with their dog. And if they do, they will likely be attacked and ridiculed for doing so.

Before I write too much more, I must start with two disclaimers. First off, I had no idea this was going to be such a hot topic this month. I presented this subject at an APDT Conference a few years ago and have been meaning to do a blog post on it ever since. There was an article published this month that reminded me of it. I had no idea this story was going to happen and we would see as much discussion as we are seeing now. There are many flaws in the study referenced, but I primarily have concerns with us assuming a dog’s emotional state by seeing a quick snapshot. I have many pictures of my dogs looking terrified, stressed, tired or happy in situations where they were not. This is the same for humans. We just had a family get together and all laughed at a photo of my brother-in-law that looked like he was having the worst time of his life. We need to stop making these assumptions from a picture that just captures an instant.

Secondly, and I will repeat this numerous times throughout here, I am not condoning hugging or not respecting the space of a dog, especially strange dogs. I do not want anyone doing anything that would cause unnecessary stress for a dog or risk them getting bit by a dog. We do need to educate the public on the proper handling of dogs, but at the same time, let’s work to prepare our dogs for all of the inappropriate things that many people do.

I currently share my home with four wonderful dogs who all enjoy receiving hugs from me. How do I know this? Because they will actively seek them from me. They will come in close for a snuggle, lean in and stay close for an embrace. I do not force it, end it when they move away and never do this with a strange dog. Not one of my dogs enjoyed a hug at first or wanted to be embraced. I worked with them to enjoy it for two reasons: because I love hugs with them and because I wanted to ensure they were comfortable interacting with people.  It has now become a special bonding moment between us and I cherish each hug I share with my dogs.

Guinniss

Guinniss

Guinniss was my first dog and came to me as a frightened boy who was terrified in our human world. He was unsure of new people and would bark and lunge at anyone who came too close. It was very scary, but I knew the sweet and affectionate boy I experienced at home could learn that the world was safe and new people were his friends. I worked hard on his handling to teach him to first calmly accept touch from myself, then from people he knew well, to people he was familiar with, and finally up to strangers. We often joke that I may have overdone it as he became a dog who craves attention and actively seeks out affection from anyone!

I carefully managed this process to ensure Guinniss was comfortable. I could have just avoided it entirely and decided it may be too stressful for him and that he just shouldn’t be handled. I could blame and get angry at anyone who may want to approach him and say hello. But, how fair is that to Guinniss? What would that have meant instead? It would have led to a life full of stress as he would have never learned that people mean good things for him and to enjoy interacting with them. I would have had to keep him sheltered from many things that he loves to do. And the worst part is that if I did not teach him to enjoy handling, I would actually be putting people at a high risk of getting bitten by him. Why? Because you betcha that at some point in Guinniss’s life, someone would need to handle him. The vet would need to be able to handle him. And what if something happened to me? He would need to be okay with interactions from a stranger.

And we’ve been tested. I had a young girl rush up to him and give him a big bear hug. I never thought this could happen and it caught me completely off guard. I remember just looking down at him, trying to keep my voice calm and steady and providing him with verbal praise. How fortunate was I that I had spent the time preparing him for this? I politely asked the girl to stand up, gave her some treats to give him and took the time to explain how to properly greet a dog, and also chat with her about how much she loves dogs. We have become a society that are so judgemental and hard on each other. I did not fault her and did not want to embarrass her for wanting to show affection. I actually saw someone comment this past week about how she didn’t care how many people she offended as she told them how to properly interact with a dog at a pet show. She saw it as education. We need to be kinder to everyone and realize people are not being jerks by wanting to show affection to dogs.

guinniss kris

Guinniss and Kris in an embrace while enjoying the beach

We are making great progress, and in an ideal world, it would be wonderful if everyone knew how to properly approach and greet a dog. However, we still have a very long road ahead. But, let’s not take this to such an extreme that we say to never hug our dogs! We love our time with our dogs and need to learn how to ensure our dogs are comfortable and enjoying our affection as well. So, what are some key points to help us achieve this?

  1. Never hug a strange dog. Better yet, never approach a dog and just start handling it. Approach it by curving towards it, watch for any calming signals, lower yourself down sideways and see if the dog wants to approach. Let it seek affection from you first. If it does not approach, that is fine and is the dog’s choice. Accept this and move on your way.
  2. Teach your children to respect the dog’s space and do not allow them to lie, sit or stand on your dog. Even if your dog is comfortable with this, you are teaching them that’s how they interact with dogs and they are likely to do this to a strange dog. Demonstrate how to properly interact with your dog to ensure your dog is comfortable and to keep your child safe. Work with a trainer on this and take a look at this excellent infographic for more information.
  3. Work on teaching your dog to calmly accept touch and that handling is a good thing. This will help them interact well with people and make vet and grooming visits much less stressful and enjoyable for all!
  4. Love your dog. Show them affection that they are comfortable with. If they move away, let them. Watch for calming signals and work to ensure they are comfortable and enjoying it. Do not be afraid to hug your dog, but take the time to ensure they enjoy it as well.

We are sending the wrong message out when we say do not hug your dog. It is unfair of us to attack people online who have pictures of themselves or their children embracing their dog. We cannot just assume the dog is stressed by a snapshot of the interaction. We do need to better educate everyone on how to properly interact and greet dogs, but our responsibility as trainers and dog owners it to also prepare our dogs for handling and make them comfortable with it. Our urbanK9 and Reactive urbanK9 training programs both focus on handling to ensure our dogs are successful in our human world. We also offer a Handling Clinic that runs over the Fall/Winter seasons to help teach you how to properly handle your dog and prepare them for it. If you ever have questions, please email us at training@dogmatraining.com!

Megan’s Musings: What the Easter Bunny Taught us about Dog Training

easter bunny

We held our fifth annual Easter Egg Scavenger Hunt in April and we were blown away again by what everyone accomplished! Over 10 days, participants took their dogs out and around Calgary to complete a variety of tasks. These ranged from obedience tasks that could be performed at home, photo ops with the Easter Bunny, unique picture sessions at Calgary landmarks and supporting local participating businesses. There were over 30 registrants and the competition was fierce!

There were so many laughs and smiles! We thank you all for demonstrating exactly what dogma is all about; our dogs are part of our family, training should be fun and time together can be full of joy when you take the time to let them participate. I was proud of everyone and began thinking about the invaluable lessons this event taught us all.

fun dog training
Farley, the grand prize winner!

Training should be fun
You just need to browse through the event page for a brief moment to understand how much fun everyone had with their dogs. There were many giggles over the 10 days and I loved seeing how much everyone was enjoying their time with their dogs. Each time they were out with their dogs, training was happening, and it was fun!

It’s amazing how something as simple as adding bunny ears to the dog while performing a skill changed how we approach the training. We forgot about the seriousness, had some fun while training to capture the shot, and in turn, we were successful. I don’t doubt that if we focused more on enjoying our time together with the training, we would see better results. Remember this when training: have fun!

george4George excited about the market!

Include your dog in more
We run a unique membership training program called urbanK9. This program starts with foundation obedience and moves through levels to our final Real World level. The goal is to create urbanK9s; confident, well-mannered dogs that you can take anywhere with you.

We designed our hunt around many of the activities we do in the classes, and to encourage the participants to take their dog out and around the city of Calgary. And did they ever do this! They took them to indoor locations such as Rona, the vet and Sunnyside Garden Center. And they covered so much of the city by going to Millennium Skate Park, all over the downtown core and a variety of parks.

Many of these dog owners had not taken their dogs out to these places for fear of them embarrassing them or misbehaving. And you know what? They did great! This was one of the most important lessons, as it taught us that we can include our dog in so much more. We should allow them the opportunity to see more of our world and provide them ideal socialization by taking them to more places. The benefits are tremendous, as the socialization and training helps you to create an ideal urbanK9.

reactive group class dog training
Reactive urbanK9 class meeting the Easter Bunny!

They will never do it, if you never try it
The human world is busy, full of unknowns and confusing to dogs. They need to learn how to behave and be exposed to things in order to be well-mannered and confident dogs. Every dog is likely to behave like an excitable dog at first, so it is our responsibility to provide them the guidance to be successful in our human world.

I am sure most of the participants of the Easter Egg Scavenger Hunt would tell you that they would not have taken their dog to many of the places we listed for the hunt. And, to top it off, they often had the option to perform a skill for even more points such as taking a picture of their dog in a sit with a Rona employee, shaking hands with a stranger, or riding in the cart at Sunnyside. And so many of them did this and had fun while doing it!

We had a large group of dogs from our Reactive urbanK9 program participate as well. In Reactive urbanK9 we focus on getting our fearful and reactive dogs out into the real world in this program as well. We need will never help them overcome their fears/reactivity if we don’t expose them and work them through it. Words cannot express how proud I was of each of them for getting out and accomplishing some tasks I know they would have thought were impossible even a few short months ago.

You always want to ensure your dog is comfortable and not overwhelmed, but the Easter Bunny showed us that with gradual exposure, trust and just having the courage to attempt these tasks, that you can accomplish great things! Be patient with your dogs, ensure you reward them for good behaviour, include them and have fun! Thank you to everyone who took part and we look forward to more events like this in the future!