dog training tips, helpful tidbits, and things to make life easier with your dog

What is positive training? I’ve heard it just bribes dogs with food, is this true?

Force free and positive training are science based methods that focus on how dogs learn. When a dog chooses to do something, or not do something, that behavior is much stronger than one they are forced or feel obligated to do.  By allowing a dog the freedom to perform without fear of getting it wrong, aka, getting corrected/punished , the dog willingly offers behaviors she knows earn her rewards.  As for the bribery, when positive training is conducted correctly, there is no bribery. Good trainers work to instill rewards as a lottery system, and as rewards, they are only ever produced after the correct completion of the cue. Positive training is never permissive training- we don’t ignore bad behavior, but rather work to prevent it by controlling the environment from the very beginning. This way, we set a dog up to succeed so we can pinpoint and reward it, as opposed to waiting for a mistake so  we can ‘correct’ it.

When should I have my puppy spayed/neutered?

​First, this is a question for a trusted veterinarian.  Understandably, some might not yet have such a person, and feel bullied into agreeing to an operation for their pup at a very young age. If this is the case, wait.  Visit a second veterinarian, and ask for another opinion.  Recent research is mixed, with some studies showing benefits to waiting, and others showing benefits to not waiting. A huge part of the decision will depend on your lifestyle and your pup’s activities and health. Explore all your options, especially the extra responsibilities of living with an intact dog. Bottom line: find a veterinarian you trust and can imagine caring for you and your pup for years to come.

it seems like my dog has endless energy

​While it’s true dogs need plenty of physical and mental exercise, they also need structure. When faced with endless energy, the place to start is a pup’s impulse control. Helping a pup control his emotions before he loses them during exciting things- such as attention from you or a romp in the park- will provide more opportunities for  you and your pup. Start small, asking your pup to sit calmly before he gets his leash attached, and again before you exit the home.  This is only the first step, but with hard work your pup can learn self control.

My dog looks right at me when she has an accident inside.  Is she being dominant?

​Although dominance theory is prolific, it has been thoroughly debunked.  The fact she looks at you does not mean she is staking a hierarchical claim, but is actually a good thing. It means she’s not scared of what will happen, as is common in some traditional training methods. Calmly clean up the mess with an enzymatic cleaner, and offer more timely potty breaks in the future.

When is it ok to take my puppy running with me?

​Dogs love being with their people, and having an activity both you and your pup love can only strengthen your bond.  However, young dogs are still growing, with growth plates that need to close before strenuous activity.  Save the running and jumping for after your puppy has reached at least one year of age for smaller dogs, two or even three years for large and giant breed puppies.  Pup’s joints will thank you in the long run!

I’ve heard rawhide is bad for dogs, is this true?

​Yes, and no.  Each dog has a different style of chewing, so while it is true rawhide carries risks, it might not be a huge factor with your pup.  For example, bully sticks satisfy one of my pups chewing needs, while my other pup gobbles them so fast she chokes on them.  Pup #2, a serious chewer, needs the tougher rawhide so she doesn’t choke. Pup #1 barely chews enough to get through the bully stick- the ‘safer’ option is better for her.  That said, when selecting rawhide I look for 100% USA manufactured and as organic as possible.  As an alternative, work to eat toys (Kong and Busy Buddy brands are common, but they are far from the only ones) and appropriately sized antlers are also excellent options. As with all chews, please supervise your pup, especially when giving them a new version for the first time.

My dog cries when I put him in his crate. Should I stop using the crate?

Depending on your situation, it might be better to switch to a dog-proof room.  Other situations may just need a little behavior modification or routine change.  Although separation anxiety is not the only reason for vocalizing, it is a common one. The first step is to figure out why he’s crying- is it because the crate isn’t comfortable, or maybe he needs to go out? Maybe he’s bored, or has just learned that he gets let out if he cries. If it is separation anxiety causing his discomfort, work with a behavior consultant to alleviate the fear he has when you are gone.  If your pup is hurting himself in attempts to escape his crate, change is necessary.  His separation distress needs to be addressed immediately.

When my pup has a bully stick, she growls if my toddler enters the room, even if he stays on the other side of her Xpen. What should I do? Is my son safe?

Resource guarding is very common, but yes, also potentially dangerous. I say potentially, because it’s also manageable and the pup trainable.  A regimen of force free behavior modification can help your pup learn that when she has something valuable, and your son approaches, she might just get something even better. It goes without saying, all children and dogs should be supervised when interacting, no matter how well trained the dog or how well behaved the child. Until the resource guarding can be dealt with, I highly suggest keeping your pup and your son separate, especially in the midst of valuable resources.

I’ve heard horror stories about puppy mills.  What are they?

​A puppy mill or backyard breeder is a breeding business that places the emphasis on output quantity, as opposed to quality.  That means puppies who have likely been raised as livestock- usually in cages, isolation, and away from human contact.  Responsible breeders will test the health, genetic soundness, and temperament of every single male and female they mate in order to better the breed.  Puppy mills will rarely do such assessments, and the end results can be devastating. Without the proper, hands-on care a responsible breeder provides, puppies are especially prone to having bad temperaments, genetic disorders, and life threatening illnesses and behavior issues.  If purchasing a puppy, ask to meet the mother, and if possible the father.  If the mother is not present, or the breeder refuses to allow you to see her, walk away.  If health tests suggested for the dog’s specific breed are not done, walk away. Most importantly, ask questions. The super cute puppy in the pet shop might turn out to be perfect…or more than you bargained for!

I want to let my dog run around off leash, but I’m unsure about dog parks. They seem to have a bad reputation. Any advice?

A dog park can be fantastic, but it can also be a nightmare.  Not all dogs should be in a dog park, nor will all dogs enjoy being in such an environment.  Here are a few (of many) things to consider before visiting your local run:

How is my pup around strange dogs and people?
Can I call her away from a situation if I need to?
Do I understand what constitutes appropriate play, and know when I should step in?
If my pup is being bullied, can I recognize her signs of discomfort and confidently step in?
If my pup is the bully, do I know how to positively manage that situation?

It is also advisable to visit the dog park in question by yourself before bringing your pup. Talk to some of the other pup parents, and get a feel for how things are managed. Find one that works for you, but if your pup doesn’t seem to enjoy it, don’t push it. Dog parks are perfect for some, and perfectly avoidable for others!

Does positive reinforcement training mean I will always need to carry treats with me? What if my pup just isn’t food motivated?

Professional trainers dedicated to pain free training methods understand the plethora of activities, foods, smells, and other things that can function as rewards so they can avoid the use of aversive methods. Positive does not mean always carrying food; anything your dog finds enjoyable can function as a reward. If sniffing a hydrant is what your pup really wants, sniffing the hydrant is the most valuable reward at that time. Maybe its saying hello to another pup or a person. Asking for a desired behavior, such as sit, allows you to turn that everyday greeting into a reward, strengthening your pup’s reliability with sit, and lessening the likelihood he’ll pull or lunge toward other dogs. Quality force free trainers will be able to name rewards other than food or toys, and work with you to find the things that work best for you and your pup.

Aren’t rescue dogs all damaged in some way?

​No, most certainly not.  Its true that some are, in the same way its true some purebred dogs are ‘damaged.’  Rescues and shelters take in so many dogs from different backgrounds (including purebred pups from breeders) for so many varied reasons that to say all rescue dogs are somehow damaged is a huge misnomer.  The level of ‘damaged’ versus ‘undamaged’ dogs can be greatly mitigated by adopting through a rescue, which will often house their dogs in foster homes and thus have a better understanding of each dog’s quirks and needs.  Find a rescue you feel is reliable, and ask to meet a few dogs. Most will have staff or volunteers who will assist in finding the perfect canine pal for you, even if they don’t currently have such a pup in their rescue.

What are some of your favorite doggie websites?

Dog sites are all over the internets, but some are worth spending your valuable time on.  Here are a few of our favorite, and please let us know of any awesome sites you think we might like!

  • Dogster posts interesting dog news, care tips, cute puppies, and more
  • Looking for reviews on dog food? The Dog Food Advisor might be for you
  • Want the academic version of interesting dog news? Visit Science Daily for the latest research in canine behavior and health
  •  The Whole Dog Journal is an amazing publication for all things dog

Can I teach my 5 year old pup not to guard his food?

Yes! Older dogs have been practicing their ‘bad’ habits for years, so it can take some time to teach alternative behaviors. Training and training games, while thought of as a puppy necessity, are an amazing way to bond with your pup while working on those bad habits.  It is essential to not just take away the undesired behavior, say guarding food, but to also replace it with a desired behavior, for instance calmly sitting in return for a handful of food.

Whats the best way to keep my puppy safe before she has all her puppy shots?

While it is essential to prevent puppies from exposure to parvo, distemper, rabies and other illnesses before they have the necessary vaccines, it is equally important to introduce a puppy to the world before their crucial socialization window closes.  Between birth and approximately 4 months of age, all pups have the opportunity to learn crucial canine social skills, that bikes, skateboards, and noisy busses aren’t bad, and much, much more. Proper socialization during this window builds a solid foundation for stable mental, emotional, and behavior health. Carefully select puppy-friendly, vaccinated and healthy dogs of all sizes for your pup to interact with in a safe, clean environment. Avoid areas with dogs of unknown vaccination status, such as dog parks or hydrants (i.e., where dogs like to eliminate). Carry your pup with you so she can see, hear, and smell all the crazy things that go on in our world. Let her say hello to every size, type, age, gender, body type, mobility-abled person you can find.

The most important thing is to keep all of these interactions positive and fun (or neutral at worst). The goal is for your pup to see a strange dog or person, or encounter a new situation, and think ‘hey, they mean good things happen!’ and not ‘what is that? will it hurt me? I think I’m scared…maybe I should hide, or bark?!? ‘  Consult both your veterinarian and a certified trainer about the best way to keep your pup safe during this vital period of socialization and antibody development.

Check out what the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) has to say:

I trained my last dog using traditional methods, and he turned out just fine.  Why should I train my new pup with a different method?

Quite simply, now we know better.  Our understanding of canine cognition has exploded in the last couple decades, but the training world has lagged behind.  Traditional training methods always involve the use of pain, no matter what words are used to describe what a correction produces (nic, stim, pressure, pinch, etc).

What we know now is that dogs (and humans) learn better when they are rewarded for doing something right, and thrive when given appropriate, alternative behaviors.  We understand that dogs do, in fact, feel pain and that it can cause emotional and behavioral fallout. Using traditional methods is taking a gamble with a pup’s life and wellbeing, one that we don’t need to take. We firmly believe intentionally causing pain- even in the name of training- is unethical and inhumane.  As such, we take seriously our responsibility to master force free methods, so that we can pass on to the next generation of pet owners and trainers a better way of doing things.

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Complimentary dog training advice for everyday doggy queries

  • Pulling on leash
  • Not coming when called
  • House training tips
  • Destructive chewing and other unwanted behaviors
  • Jumping to greet
  • Excessive or inappropriate barking
  • Dog anxiety

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