Handle Yourself! – 10 Tips for Safer, Smarter Dog Handling

Handle Yourself! – 10 Tips for Safer, Smarter Dog Handling

I have trouble keeping my posts short but this one will reign me in. I pulled my back muscles out the other day working with my own dogs and need to get back in bed with ibuprofen and the heating pad! I realized from this that sharing a Top 10 List of Handling Tips is a must. I also thought it nice for you all to see that even Professional Trainers flub up, for whatever reason, and get injured sometimes handling their own dogs. Yes, we are human too! Oh, and hey, if any of the terms here are not familiar, please let me know in the Comments. I’d love to tell you more.

So, my lovelies, here’s my Top 10 List of Handling Tips for you straight from the field… and off the top of my head. Some may seem obvious, but are rarely seen in use. Others will help you spot a Pro Trainer straight away. I’ve also added sub-entries for what the potential fallout can be if these tips are not followed. These are labeled, “Dangers.” Yes, I’ve seen them all happen. Happy Handling!

  1. Holding the Leash – If you feel you need to have a death grip on your dog’s leash to control him, let this be your incentive to do more training. A leash should only need to be held with a very light grip. One hand holds the leash loop with fingers or thumb only. Do not put your whole hand through the loop to anchor it with your wrist. You need to be able to reposition it or let go of it at a moment’s notice. Yes, ‘let go of it’ if need be. The other hand cradles the leash slack. It is not for holding your dog back or pulling him.
    • Dangers – Spraining or breaking a wrist. Creating over-excitement or reactivity in your dog from tension on the leash. Getting pulled or dragged down and injured.
  2. Leash Handling – Your leash is not a steering wheel! It is a tool for safety only. If you want to use it to communicate with your dog then utilize skills like Walking Down the Leash, Miming the Leash or Slow Stops. All of these create a dialogue with your dog to help him tune into the human on the other end of the leash without either of you stressing.
    • Dangers – Creating over-excitement or reactivity in your dog from tension on the leash. Your frustration level rising as you wonder why your dog doesn’t know how to read your mind. Your dog’s Opposition Reflex increases, which means he pulls back even harder when you pull. If the leash is attached to a collar, instead of a front-clip harness, you are doing long term, physical damage to your dog’s trachea, thyroid and spine.
  3. Proper Footing – Wear secure, closed-toe shoes in which you can get solid footing. Bend your knees to use your center of gravity if your dog moves forward creating tension on the leash. Great too for doggie play dates when a herd of pooches comes zooming by you in a full force run that grazes your kneecaps.
    • Dangers – Face plant. Pulled muscles (ask The Boyfriend). Lacerations on feet. Broken toe(s). Knee surgery, Sprained anything.
  4. Know Your Limits – If you are choosing a pet, PLEASE choose a pet that suits your ability to physically handle that pet. By this, I mean, whether from a breeder as a puppy or adopted from a rescue or shelter as an adult, keep in mind that every dog needs time to learn the rules of living in a human world. In the meantime, you need to be able to handle that pup or dog under any circumstances, no matter how large they grow and and no matter the behavioral issue they bring with them. Consider the unknown.
    • Dangers – Getting pulled or dragged down and injured. Face plant. Pulled muscles. Lacerations. Broken parts. Surgery, Sprained anything. Simply feeling overwhelmed when you realize it’s been ages since you handled an untrained pooch.
  5. Pay Attention – Every moment with your dog, one of you is training the other. It’s up to you to decide which occurs. Personally, I am humbled and happy to learn things from my pets every day. But some lessons need to be taught by the handler, you. So, get off the cell phone, and capture those moments your dog makes a great choice by praising him. This is “handling” at it’s finest.
    • Dangers – Missed opportunities to reinforce the good stuff and get more great behavior. Missed opportunities to positively interrupt the not so good stuff and decrease those behaviors.
  6. Distance is Your Friend – If your dog is having a hard time coping with anything, move away. Simple.
    • Dangers – Overexposure to stimuli. Your dog is practicing an inappropriate behavior and practice makes perfect. He is being exposed to something that makes him stressed and animals cannot learn when stress is present. Prolonged exposure to a stressor can create a fear imprint related to that stressor.
  7. Proximity is Your Friend – If your dog is not able to tune into your verbal cue. Move closer to your dog to better get his attention and try again, Lightly tap on his shoulder if need be. Simple.
    • Dangers – You are repeating yourself to no effect thereby “poisoning” a cue, reducing the value of the cue. Your dog is is practicing an inappropriate behavior and/or being exposed to something that makes him stressed when you could step in to help him.
  8. Dogs Don’t Speak English – Relax. If you must use words, keep your voice soft yet audible to your pooch. Only use verbal cues you have taught your dog. Dogs do not come hard-wired to know English. Visual cues (body language) will win almost every time over verbal cues. Dogs learn and communicate most clearly with visual cues, not language. Move with precise communication in their line of vision for full effect.
    • Dangers – Wasted time and effort. Frustration from you. A confused pup who does not understand what you want him to do. Repeating your verbal cue making it even less effective.
  9. Over-Handling – don’t pick your dog up, hold your dog back by his collar or any other part of his body. Instead, teach your dog how to Target to your hand for moments when you want him to follow you away from a potentially dangerous situation. Use the Wait skill to cue him to hold himself back at other moments; exiting vehicles, before entering a fenced area, before exiting your home.
    • Dangers – If you pick your dog up in a moment when he is overreacting or being approached by stranger dogs or people, he will feel trapped. Other dogs, if present, will see your dog as an immobile target they can hyper-focus on… and they will. Holding your dog back will encourage Opposition Reflex and increase pent up energy creating more anxiousness that could have been managed with other skills.
  10. Treat Bag Placement – Yes, you should be carrying treats on you. No, not in your pocket, a plastic bag or the product bag they came in. Yes, in an actual treat bag intended for training. Don’t understand why or disagree? That’s cool. I’ll see ya in the Comments below for a chat. Position the bag at the back of your waist away from your dog’s eyes. Some dogs will simply move to the back of you to “mug” you as I like to say. Get creative. Stand against a wall as you train for a bit until your dog realizes that mugging you is not an option. Practice your Leave It exercise until he stops circling you for the goodies without having earned them. For larger dogs who’s mugging is invasive, place the treats in a bowl or container up high and away from you both. Though it slows the process down some, use a handful of treats at a time and go back for more as needed.
    • Dangers – Your dog will be distracted by the smorgasbord of treats directly in front of him. He won’t understand how you could possibly expect hm to pay attention to you, not the treats. You will wonder why your dog is not able to focus on you. You may misinterpret his distraction for him not caring about your silly human agenda. Awww.

In the realm of training, most hear “handling” and think “leash ‘handling’ skills,” but you can see how we “handle” our dogs in many other ways. Every one of these interactions affects their behavior and our own. I hope this helps you all make great choices improves the dialogue with your dog and keeps you both safe.

Landlocked in a Trainer’s Nightmare!

Landlocked in a Trainer’s Nightmare!

Oh, sure, they look calm here, but the cycle of dog and cat crazy zoomies repeated itself several times a day while we weathered the snow storm here in Charleston, South Carolina this past week. Locked together in an apartment with no escape other than the occasional trudge through the ice and snow for relief was… OK, I’ll say it, “maddening!” If you came here to read the pretty picture of a Trainer’s life with pets, and how she saw this as the opportunity of a lifetime, to have dedicated time to be with her dogs and cat, switch channels, my friend. Ear muffs if you want perfection or pulled punches. This is a tale of real horror!

Last week, I told you I’d pull back the curtain on real life training, sharing with you my refreshed commitment to enriching my pets’ lives and my own with training them regularly, “Ten minutes minimum, three times a week for each pet” I proclaimed. A no-brainer. Easy, right? …Ehem. It should be made even easier when locked indoors with them. What better way to channel all that excess energy they had from limited physical exercise. My clients hear me preach ad nauseam about the benefits of, even the crucial need for, mental stimulation for our pets. Just like us, they need to work their brains every day to stay healthy and happy. Added benefit, it can be even more tiring than physical exercise! “So, C.C., tell us what kind of training program did you put together for them?! In between training sessions, did you opt for up-cycled items from around the house for enrichment or go with interactive toys for keeping the critters engaged and exercised?” FAIL! No plan. No purposeful execution.

Mamma C.C. was flat in bed with a cold turned bronchitis! Yea! WOOHOO! Party at my house of autoimmune collapse. No, pity, please. Cheers and adulation, instead, for The Boyfriend and his six month old Hound mix, “Freedom.” The Boyfriend kept us all from poking our eyes out, taking the kids out for regular walks and making sure we didn’t starve. I wanted to cry from the mess of shredded dog toy stuffing smashed into every nook and cranny of the house, dogs jumping on me for attention and head ringing from Freedom’s bellowing howl during play and fits of misbehavior. My youngest, 3 year old Jasper, was all too eager to revert to his obnoxious teenage ways partying with Freedom while I was down for the count. Still, I had to admit, he was happily occupied, and Valentino and Annie, my older dog and cat, were relieved to be relieved of their usual sibling duties of keeping Jasper in line.

By day four I was vertical again and something unexpected happened. “Guerrilla Training,” as I like to call it, came into play. Much like “guerrilla warfare” it is the use of hit-and-run training tactics by small, mobile groups of irregular forces operating in territory controlled by a hostile, regular force. See photo above. Surviving in the hostile conditions of my home required Stealth Timing, Capturing Behavior and outwitting Extinction Bursts. I ended up eating my own dog food and training way more than the minimum promised!

It’s been said many different ways, but I was pointedly reminded by these circumstance that with our pets, training is taking place in every interaction. Either your dog is training you, or you are training your dog. Once the fog in my head began to clear, I mustered up the energy to embrace this truth and make the most of all the cuckoo that was unfolding before me. Instead of reacting by pulling the covers over my head and moaning, “Guys, stop!” as they chose to play (of all places in the apartment) on my head, I sat up, softly asked Jasper to “Settle (a skill he knows)” and gently took hold of each dog’s collar with my arms far enough apart for me to keep them from interacting further. Any stillness from either of them was praised heavily, again with a calming voice. Soft, slow belly rubs for a bit followed. Continued calm behavior on the bed was reinforced by letting them enjoy snuggle time. Any return to rowdiness, they were immediately removed.

Quick, real-life training scenario, yes? In that moment, I was glad I had previously dedicated time to teaching Jasper that “Settle” means to toggle his own off switch and relax. Management via separation of the two rascals was key and knowing proper handling skills to not increase excitement or create tension between the dogs or between me and either dog was important. Raising my voice would have simply activated them further. Pushing them away would encourage play. I wanted calm, so I had to be calm, ask for calm and focus on getting that response from the dog who knew how to give me that behavior on cue. Through the “Social Facilitation” I’ve mentioned previously, Jasper and I were able to show Freedom that settling down would be rewarding for him as well. Years ago, Pat Miller pointed  out to me that head petting is far more activating to a dog than softly stroking the body. That tiny difference in how I chose to interact with the guys that afternoon, added up to a big communication win in directing the outcome I was desperately looking for. Thanks again, Pat! Lastly, if and when… oh who are we kidding, when the dogs did eventually start playing again about an hour later, they were removed from the room to show them that their behavior of being rowdy on the bed made them lose access to good stuff, the bed and me.

So, my friends, we are all training our dogs. It’s our choice of what we want them to learn from us. Stay calm, guide them, reinforce (reward) the behaviors you want to see more of. Do not reward behaviors that drive you batty.

Here’s another commonly asked about behavior example. Does your dog Demand Bark? What is Demand Barking? It is when your dog barks at you asking you emphatically to do something. This is the type of extreme barking that can make you develop an embarrassing twitch. Your dog is demanding a response from you, and the vocalizing does usually makes something happen, right? Don’t reward him by engaging with him (facing him, eye contact, talking to him). Make a different choice which will result in what you want him to learn, less barking, more quiet. Turn away the moment he barks at you. Go out of the room if need be and close a door between you. He offers a moment of silence, even the briefest moment, turn back toward him and praise softly. Do detective work next time to be able to predict when he might demand bark again. Set him up for success next time with a pre-planned training scenario. Train him to sit when he wants something instead. Occupy him with something to pre-empt another demand barking episode. Help him get more energy out to avoid boredom; more mental or physical exercise or both. Figure out what is going on ahead of time and decide your plan of response so you will not be reacting in the moment. It’s all choices!

Hope this was helpful!
C.C.

 

Holiday Guests? Pets Trained?

Holiday Guests? Pets Trained?

As you hurry to ready the house for guests this holiday season, have you said to yourself quietly, “I hope the Pets behave themselves when everyone is here.”  Maybe wishing you had brushed up on their Basic Manners skills a bit with a few training exercises?

Don’t panic.  You’ve got this.  It’s great that you are aware of the potential for chaos and possibility of calm.  With this awareness, some minor prep and a few guidelines, you and your Pets will be successful this holiday.  Please re-commit to your Pets that you will help them improve certain skills once the guests leave.  Otherwise, pat yourself on the back for taking a few moments to sort this out and enjoy your holidays.

Now is not the time to insist you and your Pet master whichever Basic Manners are rusty or not refined.  This is the time to come up with a clear management plan to prevent stress, also known as Mr. Buzz Kill, from attending your party.

Take a History
With paper and pen in hand, walk around your home and visually remember which interactions with visitors your Pets have had difficulty with in the past and at which locations in your home.  Record all of them even if your Pet has done better with this behavior outside of the home since then.  Success in some locations does not guarantee success in another.

Dare to Dream
Now turn those memories on their heads and picture a video playing of your Dog or Cat behaving how you want them to in each scenario.  Actually picture the body movements.  Instead of, “I just don’t want her to jump on Grandma again” see your furry girl in a calm Sit as Grandma reaches under her chin to scratch her and say, “Hello, Sweetie.”  This will greatly inform and empower your strategy.  How you ask?

Strategize
Next to each interaction in your list, rate from 1 to 3 which behaviors your Pet has experienced the most and least difficulty.  1 denotes “Little Difficulty” and 3 represents “Extreme Difficulty.”  This is where your plan takes shape.  Let’s use the behavioral issue of a Dog who jumps when greeting as our working example.

Put It on Lock Down – For the 3s on your list, it is your mission to not let this behavioral interaction happen at all using prevention.  Why stress you, your Pet or your guests. Using our above example, a 3 would indicate that a Polite Greeting is not yet possible for our pooch.  One option is to place your Pet in the room furthest away from the front door with no direct view of the door to remove visual and audio stimulus of people entering your home.  Unlock your front doors and place a note outside which tells guests “Please come right in!” so they don’t knock or ring the doorbell (assuming your needed safety and comfort levels for doing this are in place).  This will help minimize stimulation further.  Let your Dog enjoy a quiet room with a frozen, stuffed Kong you give her before anyone arrives.  Have a second one loaded and ready for her should the need arise.  There will be no need to feed her a regular meal at dinner time, she will be quite happy with this fun treat and have a nice nap afterwards from all the yummy Kong-cicle she just enjoyed.

Manage Heavy – For behaviors numbered 2, perhaps you have worked on Polite Greetings but have hit a roadblock.  Your Pet recovers well after the greeting has happened (behaves calm after the initial presentation of this interaction) but gets jumpy when people first arrive in your home. Let’s use the same scenario with your Dog in the designated room with her stuffed toy.  One option to consider is to allow all of your guests to arrive then bring her out on a lead tethered to you to greet everyone.  To tether, attach the lead handle to a belt loop with a carabiner or loop the leash around your waist and through the handle then attach it to her collar.  This frees up your hands but allows you to keep her on a short lead to prevent jumping on guests.  She will have had time to enjoy her Kong and work out some of that extra energy she has from hearing visitors’ voices and footsteps.  This gives you the opportunity to create a structured experience in which you help her succeed with minimal strife to anyone present.  Once she has had a chance to take everyone in with a sniff or petting in a relatively calm manner and displays calm behavior, then remove the lead and return to your fun.  If not possible, then simply return her to the back room with that extra stuffed Kong you were smart to prep.

Manage Light – Our 1s on the list allow us to practice the Polite Greeting skill our girl has almost mastered, but has not yet perfected.  We are going to use a management tool to allow our Dog to be present when merry makers arrive.  As in the above example, tether her lead to you or another adult family member who is the official greeter.  Keep a bowl of training treats just inside the front door or in a bait bag attached to you.  If you are asking guests to enter on their own you may handle greetings one of two ways; find a comfortable place in the main room inside the front door where you stand with her as guests arrive or you could simply go about your socializing in any part of the house and instead have people greet you as they enter.  Either way, ask your Dog for a Sit when each person is saying hello to you.  If this is not likely to be successful, don’t ask for the Sit but use your management tool, the lead, to prevent jumping.  If we ask for a Sit over and over without the proper response being given by the Dog, we will poison the cue and lessen our chance of success later where we do have a chance at practicing this skill in a more controlled environment.

If able to work on Sit, treat for the initial Sit and treat again if she remains in a Sit for greetings.  Remember, people don’t have to actually pet your dog.  The goal is simply to prevent jumping and enable a Sit.  In this scenario, it may actually be preferred to ask people, “Please don’t greet/pet her today since we’re working on Sit.”  Most people are very happy to be a part of the progress.  You can ask them to “Step back if she breaks her Sit.”

There are many ways to use Management in training, but hopefully these ideas will get your creativity brimming with other ways to prevent unwanted behaviors from being practiced and help minimize stress until you can practice in a low stimulation environment.  Knowing from experience which social situations are difficult for your Pet can arm you both with an informed strategy for the holiday’s festivities and further your bond.  Your Pet will appreciate your support and you will understand her needs better too.

 

 

 

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