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One of the most frequent requests I receive is about training your own service dog. The ADA covers Service Dogs but NOT Service Dogs In Training (SDiT). SDiTs are regulated by most states. Some states, such as California, mimics federal SD law with either a trainer or disabled handler. Others states may have much tighter laws on who can train and what, if any, access rights the dogs have.
Dogs wear muzzles for many different reasons, not just aggression.
Why is it a good practice to teach a dog to wear a muzzle? Putting a dog into a situation where they are already uncomfortable and then adding the never-before-worn muzzle adds even more stress to the situation. This means their next experience with training, at the vet or groomers will be even more stressful.
My dogs are all muzzle trained. Over the past couple of years our Desi has had a lot of vet visits due to skin issues. As the vets and vet techs are climbing over this 150 pound Great Dane to examine and obtain scrapings and biopsies they need to feel safe in order to give him the best care. I am not offended and actually offer to muzzle him. I want to make sure he's getting the best care but I don't want him stressed out, either, since that can make his issues worse.
We start muzzle training early. We show them the muzzle, let them sniff and check it out, giving them treats. Then we put treats in the muzzle so they can put their faces in to get the treats. Once they are consistently putting their snouts in by their own choice we add the strap. Then we secure it, very briefly, with a high value squirt of spray cheese added. Gradually they wear it for longer and longer periods of time, adding activities such as going outside or for walks, always keeping it fun with high value treats.
Pets should not be surprises. If you are thinking about a holiday gift I recommend doing a "gift certificate" instead. Parents can encourage and demonstrate responsible ownership by doing a certificate that says "after we have researched species, breeds, needs and training we can choose a pet that will best fit our family". It then becomes a great family project.
During a dog's second year they go thru fear phases as well as cement their personalities. Building on the foundation of socialization and good manners of the first year should be a priority in helping your dog be the best family member they can be.
seHow does basic obedience work?
Well, first, it takes a commitment to your dog and family to do what it takes to make it work. It's not magic, it is work.
Second, you need to understand who you've hired, what their philosophy is, what protocols will be put in place and be comfortable following thru. If you aren't comfortable following thru and, with some research into it still feel that way, then it might be best to look for a trainer who's philosophy more aligns with yours. Everyone needs to be on the same page for it to work. This is not to say one trainer is right and another is wrong but a matter of which one is right for you.
Third, you have to understand that it starts with baby steps, in the very beginning, at the simplest point in order to capture and keep the dog's attention, establish communication and trust. Each following behavior is added in a specific order so that it reinforces the previous behavior while adding the new behavior. Each step has to be climbed in order to get to the landing. You can't skip a step without losing progress. And sometimes, if we move too fast, we go backwards a little bit to make sure we don't leave anyone behind.
As the behaviors come together, working with each other, and the dog learns when to provide these different behaviors we have success. We have a well mannered dog that knows how to listen, what to provide and can continue to learn new, even more exciting, behaviors.
Above you see Henley. Henley has learned his basics thru AKC STAR Puppy and CGC classes. He can provide these basics in different environments with different distractions. But it all started with the first step. Each behavior leads to the next behavior. Your commitment to the training to follow thru. It's not magic, it's work. And a sense of accomplishment when you get the end.
Don't forget to bring your dog's vet and adoption records (if you have them) with you. When you arrive I ask that you not try to restrain the dog (unless there is a danger of biting, of course) or correct the dog's behavior. If he wants to sniff and explore his environment, let him. If he wants to hide behind you, that is fine. I need to see their behavior and reactions. I will watch how the dog comes into the studio, their body language. level of curiosity, watching their body language I let the dog choose to approach me. This helps build their confidence and trust.
We start with paperwork then we move on to questions about the dog's history, family dynamics and schedules. I watch the dog closely to read his body language and reactions. Where does he sleep? Is he crated? What does his outside area look like? What kind of toys does he have? What is her regular feed? Is she spayed? Is he neutered? Last vet visit and what was it for? Does he travel? Has she had a litter? Have you moved/married/divorced/had a baby recently? New pets? Lost a pet? Deployment? Sudden schedule change? And more... I will offer the dog treats. The higher the anxiety the less likely the dog is to take treats. If he takes the treats or when he settles enough to take them tells me a lot. Information gathered is for our use in setting up the best treatment plan for your dog. I do not share it unless directed to, such as if you change trainers or want me to provide it to your vet.
The more information I have the better we can figure out what direction we need to take and to set up that treatment plan. Then I go over with you what my plan of action is, how we will address and manage the behaviors while creating a way to get new, desired behaviors. We'll discuss counter conditioning when needed. We'll go over the cost of each session, how many sessions, how often we will meet and set up our first appointment. Payment is per session and can be cash, check or credit card. The consultation itself takes about an hour and a half and unless there are special circumstances that we discuss first, each session should last between 45 minutes and an hour.
Every dog is different and we adjust our approach to the individual dogs. This is important and it may result in shifting our plan to make sure the dog is progressing.
You may be advised to make a vet appointment. If there is a physical cause for the behavior we cannot make progress without it being addressed.
Responsible dog owners do their best to prepare their fur babies for the new human baby coming. Getting them used to the new gadgets, noises, smells and even carrying things in your arms. Reinforcing those old standby behaviors of sits, downs, stays... Sometimes bringing in a trainer to help or going the self-help route, trying to cover everything we can think of.
Recently, tho, I read an article in Whole Dog Journal by Tiffany Lovell, CPDT-KA, called When A Baby Changes Everything. It addressed Postpartum Depression and the consequences for the family dog.
This got me to thinking about how often I see the "Must Rehome My Dog" ads that mention new babies and no time for the dog. With the stigma we see about PPD and how a new baby is supposed to be a blessing, a happy time, a wonderful experience, I am now wondering how many of these "must rehome" ads are really a reflection of PPD.
One symptom of PPD can be a hair trigger temper. Everything can set you off, including any noise. Dogs are noisy. Not just their barking but the crunching, squeaking, slurping, thumping noises that we may not even notice under normal circumstances. Add PPD and a finally sleeping baby and these noises might just set you over the edge. Then there is that moment you finally get to yourself only to have the dog right there, in your face and in your space.
Maybe the only thing they can think of doing is rehoming the dog. This might not be 'just because they don't have time' but because they are trying to reduce their triggers. Trying to find that quiet, not just environmentally but emotionally, to focus on themselves and the baby and getting thru a very tough journey. And they don't want to tell the entire world, especially strangers, what is really going on.
There is help out there. Address the Postpartum Depressing by talking to the doctor. Think about doggy daycare or asking a friend to foster for a few weeks. Talk to a trainer to help address environmental and behavior issues.
Frustration does not make for good training. If you are working on a new behavior or trying to advance a known behavior and it is not going well then stop. Take a breath. Look at the dog's body language. Are the ears going back, eyes showing whites, is their lip licking? Is he tensing up? If so then its time to take a break. He is frustrated at not understanding what you want and he knows you are frustrated with what he is giving you. Ask for a well known command, usually a sit or focus, and end the session. Start fresh tomorrow when you are both in a better place.
Education not intimidation. Utilizing science backed reward based training rather than unproven theories we create a learning experience that uses no intimidation, domination, punitive measures or aversives. This respectful method of training have been proven to create long term success integrating our beloved dogs into our family lifestyle and reducing the risk of behavior issues.
The tools we use are clickers, flat buckle collars, harnesses (front clip recommended) or head halters for assistance in training heavy pullers. Aversives such as prong collars, choke/check chains or electric collars are not allowed as they do not teach the dog the behavior we want and may actually cause a dog to become increasingly reactive if they associate the correction with their environment. Studies have shown these methods are likely to result in long term behavior challenges.
As we start training we use the dog's first method of communication, body language. We utilize mostly hand cues with body language. Verbal cues are added after the behavior is performed correctly so that there are fewer chances for miscues. Eventually you will be able to ask for behaviors with either hand signals or verbal cues with consistent results.
We start by luring the dog into the behavior we are asking for. Depending upon the dog and the requested behavior this may be done in increments. With each successful request we "mark" the behavior by either a click or one simple word, such as "yes" or "good". The "mark" is best given at the exact moment the behavior is performed correctly, like taking a picture of that moment. This becomes something the dog listens for to know when they successful. We then follow that "mark" with a reward.
Reward simply means that something good that will follow an asked for behavior, similar to a human expecting a paycheck for doing their job. This reward is not always a treat although initially high value treats are recommended. Toys, life rewards (i.e., going outside, eating dinner, enjoying family life) and positive attention are other types of rewards and very important for maintaining these behaviors.
We then incorporate these behaviors into our everyday life by asking for them when the dog might otherwise offer an unwanted behavior. As an example, if the dog ignore the jumping itself, even turning away to remove any attention which can be misconstrued by the dog as a reward. We then ask for the wanted behavior, such as a sit or down, and reward that with positive attention such as praise and petting.
Spending a few minutes each day randomly asking for these new behaviors in different environments will help generalize them so that they become second nature to the handler as well as the dog. It is not recommended to due this when feeling frustrated or having a bad day as the dog will also become frustrated.
Remember, in all of this, that dogs are very forgiving. When there is a goof we just back up and start again. The dog will follow our lead. With these tips we will be able to forge an amazing and life long relationship with our dogs.