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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
A few weeks ago, I used the word, “maddening,” in a blog as I confessed the near-meltdown I had when trapped at home with my pets for about a week. It was then I realized a change was needed and quick. Freedom, The Boyfriend’s stinkin’ cute Hound mix, had clearly developed into a “Demand Barker.” Freedom can’t reach a toy under the couch? He barks for a human to retrieve it. It’s time for dinner? “Get over here, an’ feed m’ belly!” he bellows. Oh and does he bellow. I’m talking about very loud, continuous baying and howling. I had (purposely I think) blocked out how piercing an adolescent Hound’s voice can be. Have I mentioned I am sound sensitive? Not a good combination.
In their defense, demand behaviors are not the end of the world and some are downright adorable. Like when your dog softly nudges your hand asking to be petted and looks up at you with sweet eyes. Who can resist? I’m not going to tell you this is the end of the world, your dog is controlling you or you need to be the boss and not allow this type of interaction. That’s up to you to decide. If you don’t like a behavior, then don’t respond to it. Otherwise, pet that puppy! To my mind, there’s only a clear problem demand behavior if it tips over into being a nuisance or stress behavior. By that I mean nuisance for the humans and stressful for the dog or humans. Make no mistake, when behaviors reach a level in which the dog cannot control his impulse, he is stressed. Some dogs look to their humans to provide blanketed attention or comfort instead of seeking ways to occupy themselves or self-soothe. That is a concern for me, when a dog has not developed impulse control and the skills to cope independently.
Building up confidence and an ability to self-comfort is crucial for any pet. Demand barking has become Freedom’s “go-to” reflex behavior when he wants something or becomes frustrated. Soon, I’ll be starting a monthly blog entry that will dive deep into this topic and others. Keep an eye out for that if you’re interested in how behaviors develop and are modified using modern training techniques. For now, let’s just focus on this ridiculously annoying behavior and how lucky Freedom is that he’s so cute.
Addressing any demand behaviors means teaching impulse control and other skills Freedom can utilize in a moment of need or desire. Instead of crying and having a temper tantrum on the floor when his beloved tennis ball becomes lodged under the couch, Freedom can go grab another tennis ball or toy. Instead of dinner time alarm barking, he could sit in front of his bowl and make eye contact with his human. I’d even be fine with him nudging a hand softly then taking a seat at his bowl. Sometimes, I too get hyper-focused on other items, needing a nudge. Again, you can define the limits of what is acceptable behavior for you and your pet’s relationship.
So, when Freedom’s Papa (The Boyfriend) asked for help, I hesitated. It can be a slippery slope helping friends or family with their pooches problems. But that’s a different blog entry. I was internally beyond elated! Testing the waters, I shared a fantastic tutorial article, “I Want It Now!” by one of my mentors, Pat Miller. From there, we had plenty of chances for real life demonstrations of the techniques Pat suggests for modifying demand barking. This was a start. We saw some mild improvement. Then I had a brilliant idea. Now to convince The Boyfriend of its brilliance. I proposed he and Freedom join my next Growl Class. “But Freedom isn’t reactive.” He said. “He’s not ever lunged or growled at another dog on or off leash. Besides would he be in any danger from the other dogs? Not sure I want to subject him to that.” Think fast, C.C. How do you unpack and present this without overwhelming him and insulting his sweet pup? Stay focused on the issue and goal.
Any dog would learn useful skills in this class. It would help “our” boy as well.
“Well, consistently dogs that enter my Growl Class have a need for improving their impulse control. Any dog would learn useful skills in this class. It would help “our” boy as well. Many of the class exercises focus on building impulse control. Plus the teamwork between the two of you would be a lot of fun. As far as his safety goes, we haven’t lost one yet [insert cheesy smile here].” Uh-oh. Losing him! “Um, seriously, the classes are kept small so we have eyes on everyone and can pay close attention to subtle behavior changes in each dog. We also have tools and skills for breaking up any skirmishes should they occur, but not a single one has ever even started. One of the keys in modifying those behaviors is to keep everyone, dogs and humans, calm and not stressed so they can all learn. We want to make the most of everyone’s time. Also, you may be surprised to hear this, but most of the dogs in class are actually somewhat fearful and only behave ‘aggressively.’ They’ve learned a growl makes things that frighten them go away so they use the growl. Smart pooches, really.”
Freedom Using His Noggin.
I see the wheels turning in his head, then a few “yes” nods. Time to seal the deal. “Besides, I could really use your feedback on the class. You know I’m always trying to improve it and your coaching experience would give me a fresh perspective.” Done!
The latest Growl Class started this past Saturday. No dogs are in attendance at Orientation other than one of my own dogs or a selected class dog for me to work with as I demonstrate the first foundation exercises. Freedom had improved so much already from The Boyfriend’s work with him that he joined me as the official “Demo Dog!” His demand barking was minimal in the hour class. That’s a very big deal for an adolescent hound with a major in demand barking and a minor in treat-lover.
Zonked After Class
Since then, Freedom runs into the room when he hears us doing any impromptu training with the other pets. Words like “Yes,” and “Find It” are now a source of focus and fun. The Boyfriend has been showing off his new found skills too with all the dogs (we’ll get him to train the cat next). I walk into the room and he’s got them each in a sit and waiting their turns to take the treats as he says their names. I’m so proud of my guys!
There are certain questions Professional Trainers hear with some frequency. “How in the world will I find time to train my dog?” is muttered often, and usually accompanied by a deep sigh. I feel you here…. Oh, do I feel you here! Trainers are known for not “finding time” to train their own dogs. Yep. There it is. Secret revealed! In the rare times Trainers get together to exchange stories and training methodologies, we often lament the lack of dedication we have to our own dogs’ advancement in the art of training. “A cobblers shoes are always worn,” is the analogy I share with my clients as a sympathetic nod to their feelings of frustration when they wonder how they will fit one more item into their very busy schedules. It’s a no-brainer that, as a Professional Trainer, I deeply feel training a pet is just as important as regular vet visits, mental and physical exercise and even right up there with basic care of feeding and shelter. How in the world then could we Trainers not carve out time to build our own dogs’ skills?! I’ve recently had an epiphany.
“It ends up, peer pressure can be a very good thing.”
“Finding time,” isn’t what’s standing in our way. Scheduling and committing to actually executing it is the answer. Like a diamond of clarity shot to my brain, my business coach put it very succinctly just this morning. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to be for an hour or even thirty minutes. It just has to be done. “Don’t ruin good with perfect” was also imparted to me years ago by a wise counsel. Want to start meditating? Need to get back to working out? Want to teach your dog a new skill or help him modify a not so pretty behavior he’s developed? Commit and execute. Start simple. Dedicate five minutes. The feeling of accomplishment and the positive results from that execution will motivate you to do it again. A very big part of my work is motivating people and teaching them how to motivate their pets.
Now, I am choosing to eat my own dog food. To take the same concepts I’ve fed others for years and “walk the walk.” I’ve been training animals for a very long time. I naturally stay motivated to gobble up the latest research and techniques around modern dog and cat behavior and training. No planning, commitment or execution issues there, thank you very much. I reach people through my Private Training, Day Training and Growl Classes to impart what I’ve learned and get immense joy from helping my clients and their pets. It’s not enough. This Trainer needs more. This Trainer has been slacking. This Trainer is making a change!
I’m not a routine type of person. Oh, sure, I brush my teeth every morning, make coffee, walk the dogs, feed them, check email. I can even keep my scheduled appointments like an adult. But purposely creating a new ritual or routine and sticking to it (Hear me giggling with a twisted sound of fear in that laugh)? Just take a look here at the dates on my very old former attempt at blogging regularly. Add to that, the fact that I have several new routines and goals I want to implement into my daily life, and now imagine me looking like a deer in the headlights.
This will take immense dedication on my part. I’m nervous I will fail. I’m afraid I will let my pets down, let myself down and disappoint you. BUT, I’m diving in! And I’m doing it very publicly. EEK! It ends up, peer pressure can be a very good thing. We use it in training sometimes. It’s known as Social Facilitation. So, I’ve scheduled out my new routines into the week and am inviting you along for the ride as I sore to new heights, stumble, succeed and even pull the curtain back on training secrets (Hint: there’s no big secret to training. It just takes a willingness to learn, a bit of patience and to actually train). Drum roll! My New Rituals:
- Train each of my three pets for 10 minutes a day three days a week in total.
- Share this journey here in hopes of motivating, educating and making you laugh to learn trainers are humans too.
- Self Care – To bed early and to rise early and working out 3 days a week.
- Stay motivated and pat myself on the back with every win.
Let’s do this!
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?
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.
Kong, Kong, Kong: all Kong toys rock! Blue are for puppies with softer teeth, Red are for normal, adult chewers, Black are for adult, extreme chewers. Buy a whole bunch of them in different shapes and sizes. Fill with treats like kibble topped off with peanut butter or even plug one end with peanut butter and fill with water and freeze for a cool chewing treat in the summer. Great recipes here.
Chuck-It: Indispensable for any dog that fetches! It is a long curved piece of plastic for flinging a ball. You can pick the ball up without getting slimed. The curved shape also allows for further throwing and your arm won’t tire as quickly. See it here.
Busy Buddy: This product line is invaluable at enriching your Dog’s life. Many people who have more than one Dog must separate them when it’s feeding time to prevent resource guarding or one Dog stealing the food of another. We simply place about a 1/4 cup of Rocco’s kibble in one of the cone shaped toys for him to play with after he finishes his main meal. He goes to it immediately when done at his bowl and rolls the toy around with his nose and paws to release the extra kibble inside. It is the perfect item to occupy him while V finishes his meal in peace. Times when we forgotten to put it on the floor after filling it, Rocco stares at us until we place it on the floor for him to enjoy. He gets very excited to play with it.
Everlasting Treat Ball: Amazing! This was first recommended by a vet behaviorist who specializes in dog anxiety as a tool to use in separation anxiety counter conditioning. We use it when we need to get our dog, Rocco, seriously focused on something other than activities that make him anxious, like my husband and I departing the house. It’s great for any dog whenever you want to keep them happy, occupied, and settled down, like when you have several guests over for a visit. Some extremely strong chewers can tear the rubber on this toy apart. For those dogs, I recommend stuffing a black kong instead.