May client spotlight: Charlie the Labrador retriever

Congratulations to our May client spotlight, Charlie the Labrador retriever!

Charlie is a charmer!

Charlie is a total charmer but he had some issues with meeting new people and reacting to other dogs, which is why his parents contacted us. We formed a plan including TTouch and other methods to help him feel relaxed and grounded, in addition to desensitization and counterconditioning protocols to help him learn that dogs make great things happen, and how to be calm and disengage, instead of fixate and react. He’s progressing by leaps and bounds, and does great in a lot of scenarios! The most challenging is being more calm around his home environment, but he’s getting better everyday at learning that he doesn’t need to bark at the fence or window.

With the wonderful patience and consistency his parents have given to our plans and the process, Charlie is sure to continue to improve and become more confident. This week he started learning how to do nosework, which should be a great enrichment activity for him! He’s been doing great in our setups with head delightful doggy, Jasper, to practice skills, and with his next-door nemesis (wink), a dog that he finds particularly upsetting.

It’s awesome to see how much Charlie and his parents have learned and grown in this process, and we’re very proud of all of them! Thank you for enlisting our help, and for being such great clients.

Happy Training!
Owner, Delightful Doggies

Training methods matter

Methods are a hotly debated, and oftentimes controversial, topic among dog trainers. It gets even hotter when you toss in the variety of information on the Internet and media, and hobbyist trainers and dog aficionados who live and breathe for their canine companions.

I’ll admit, I’m a very passionate dog trainer. I got into this field because I love dogs, and I do love people, too, and want to see them happy together, as opposed to giving up and taking the dog to a shelter. I would be remiss if I did not cop to the deep love I have for dogs—it’s one of the strongest I have! No doubt most people get into this profession out of the same love for dogs. We have a wide variety of trainers here in Colorado, and if you go visit individual websites, you’ll see a lot of different terms, marketing jargon and labels used to define the methodologies of trainers:

  • Positive reinforcement
  • Balanced
  • Wolf pack theory
  • Natural methods
  • Traditional training
  • Force-free
  • Science-based
  • Clicker or marker training
  • Relationship-based or centered training

To most average consumers, all these labels sound pretty much okay or can mean a lot of things, depending on how you interpret them. Most people can say they want to learn how to communicate effectively with their dogs, and live in a “balanced” state or in “harmony.” But beyond these labels, how can a consumer really determine what the trainer is actually going to do to teach their dogs or solve problems they’re facing?

Dog training, and behavioral science as a whole, have made a lot of advancements in the last few decades. Karen Pryor’s Don’t Shoot the Dog is, in my opinion, one of the books that really made the case for operant conditioning techniques, and the superiority of using positive reinforcement to teach all animals new skills. On the flipside, in 2004, Cesar Millan’s Dog Whisperer TV show debuted, and the “calm-assertive energy” techniques as a pack leader to dogs began to take off. These two “schools,” if you will, and everything in between, are very much in opposition and can be not only confusing for dogs but people!

No doubt we live in a world where people are confused about how to deal with problem behaviors from dogs. I get a lot of strange looks when I tell people to just feed their reactive dogs for noticing triggers (the stimulus that causes the unwanted behavior). “But aren’t I reinforcing the (insert “bad” behavior here—i.e., barking, lunging, etc.)?” people will ask. It’s true that we always want to stay what we call “under threshold,” presenting that stimulus at a level where it will not illicit that behavior we don’t want, but sometimes we live in environments or undergo situations where that isn’t possible.

The key is understanding you can’t reinforce the emotions, and if a dog is truly upset and needs intervention to help them through something difficult, then we should do it, instead of getting frustrated and demanding something they cannot do—perform a behavior. It’s a great goal to want your dog to sit and look at you in the presence of other dogs, but if other dogs are scary for him, then it’s a VERY tough place to start for him! There is not a lot of understanding when it comes to our dogs and their emotional state, and this is probably one of the main reasons why I believe methods matter most. Time and time again, I see clients who have no idea how to make a positive association through successful desensitization and counterconditioning methods (DS/CC), even after seeing one or more other trainers or so-called behaviorists for their dog’s reactivity or aggression issues, and it’s mind-boggling!

Illustration by Lili Chin – click for a larger view

At Delightful Doggies, we choose to strive for situations where we can create a positive association for dogs with those items they find challenging, scary or overly exciting, and then we can get and reinforce the behavior we want. This means setting up the dog for success (so presenting that trigger in a very gradual, non-threatening way), making that association, and then getting a behavior because the dog has not gone over threshold, and sees the trigger as a good thing: It makes chicken happen!

On the flipside, there are others out there who will go too far too fast, or do not employ proper DS/CC protocols, and when the dog does have the reaction the person doesn’t want, the dog is punished. That usually ends up doing the opposite—it makes the trigger even scarier, and can make reactions worse—or suppress them. While the dog may not bark once you’ve used your punishment (making the handler think they’ve “fixed” it), they’re still a bundle of nerves underneath it all, and this training may break down. It may also cause your dog to enter a state of learned helplessness, even if they act the way they want you to moving forward. This isn’t fair to the dog, or help him feel confident and comfortable in the world in which we’ve asked him to live.

I recently shared a post from Sarah Stremming at Cognitive Canine (GREAT blog to follow!): “Why Positive Reinforcement ALWAYS Works.” So many times I have heard others say training didn’t work (regardless of the methods used). This blog makes the very valid point that it’s not the method, but the application of the method, that fails. If we set up appropriate plans and stick to them, they should work—even if it’s a punitive method! It’s very important to remind ourselves that our ability to see things through, to appropriately plan for and execute the training, is at the core of it all. Handler error and misunderstanding, poor timing, inadequate motivation/reward, etc., are all likely to blame than the method itself.

There have been trainers who used to be dedicated to more force-free, positive-reinforcement based methods who have gone over to incorporating more punishment. I have always been blown away by this because I came from the other end; I used to use a blend and was taught a more “balanced” way of training, until I found clicker methods and it totally changed my world. When I hear these trainers talk about how “positive reinforcement failed,” I often wonder why it did for them—and where their skill level is with the techniques. To me, methods matter a LOT. I want my dogs and their people to be happy, healthy and confident, rather than suppressing emotions for the sake of a behavior they may be able to perform, but not comfortably and due to the fear of being punished.

At Delightful Doggies, we are committed to staying away from punitive methods and honing our skills in using successful DS/CC and positive reinforcement to ease the dog’s emotional state, help them be calm and confident, and getting and reinforcing behaviors we do want. If we do this effectively, we have no need for punishment, and we believe the same for any dog, trainer or handler out there. It’s also proven to be safer to use these techniques over punishment. Don’t we owe it to our dogs, and ourselves, to be safe and happy together? We want to contribute to building a world full of people who can harness the power of the positive, to give dogs the ability to choose and make the best choices, and understand dog emotions and the power of a well-thought-out DS/CC plan. We hope you will join us!

Happy training,
Owner, Delightful Doggies

April 2017 clients

April has been a pretty challenging month, as I took a fall in my new home on April Fool’s Day, fittingly, and badly sprained (possibly fractured–the doctors kept going back-and-forth on that) my left ankle. I really appreciate all the support and patience my clients and partner, Courtney, have given me (and my husband at home)! All of you have been phenomenal, and I am extremely lucky to have such a great assortment of people in my life. I feel very lucky, even in the face of the ways having such an injury limits me. By the middle of May I should get another evaluation with a physical therapist and another brace to wear, and more information on a prognosis. Thank you all for your understanding!

By clicking on the below photo icons, you will be taken to our April 2017 clients Flickr album. By clicking on the slideshow button (top right computer/play icon), you can view all the photos in a fun slideshow format. You can also join us on our Facebook page to see even more photos of client dogs, great articles, news items and blog posts, and we also have an Instagram account.

Luna Mac June Freddie Mr. Magoo Betty Bear Tater Avanti Loo Charlie Samson Goose Lola Carly Snoop Dogg Hunter Misty Ginger Rylee Bodhi Boris Gryffen Roxy Ranier and Riley Quincy

Have a wonderful weekend,
Owner, Delightful Doggies

April client spotlight: Luna the Rhodesian Ridgeback mix

Congratulations to our April client spotlight, Luna the Rhodesian Ridgeback mix!

Luna gives us a big, beautiful smile!

Luna has been doing a blend of services, working with both Courtney and myself on being calm around other dogs and building body awareness, as well as with me solo on honing her manners and other skills to eventually be able to accompany her mother at work. She’s been slaying Dr. Karen Overall’s Relaxation Protocol and Leslie McDevitt’s Look At That technique.

The most challenging part for Luna is containing herself when we come over but she’s getting better at understanding that we do not prefer being jumped at. Using her harness and leash to prevent the jumping and only give attention and rewards when she is sitting or standing consistently is helping her learn better ways of greeting others. We are also working on Relax on a Mat to help with this and overall learning how to better relax herself. Life is exciting, after all!

Luna is a rescue dog and we love working with rescue dogs. All our personal dogs have been adopted from different shelters and as some of you know, I found another dog that I’ve added to my family after searching for weeks for her people. Being able to work with dogs who may have not had the best start, or who would have otherwise been passed along the system or worse, is very enriching for all of us. We love working with dogs with Luna whose winning personalities coupled with great positive reinforcement training; they are our greatest “ambassadogs.” 🙂

Thank you to Luna and her parents for entrusting with us, and for all their hard work and commitment to her. She is lucky to have them, and they her!

Happy Training!
Owner, Delightful Doggies

Biting versus nipping: Is my puppy being aggressive?

It’s National Dog Bite Prevention Week, and I thought I’d take the opportunity to talk about the differences between aggressive biting and normal puppy mouthing and nipping, as it seems there can be some confusion for people in these realms, as well as how to address and teach puppies proper bite inhibition.

Throughout my career training dogs, I’ve had inquiries come in from new puppy parents concerned about their puppy’s mouthing, even going as far as to say their puppy is being aggressive. It is very unusual for young puppies to display aggressive behaviors; when I hear these complaints, one of my first questions to the person is, “Have you talked about this with your vet?” Aggressive displays at a young age always send off the alarm that there could be an underlying medical reason; however, in most cases, they’re actually experiencing normal puppy mouthing and nipping, and just need a little guidance to understand and deal with it.

Puppies are a lot like human babies—they put EVERYTHING into their mouths! It’s how they investigate the world, relieve boredom and teething pain, and learn how to actually inhibit their bite. Puppies are also very new to the world and do not have self-control so when they are aroused, excited and playful, it is very normal for them to get nippy. They will find your hands, limbs and clothing with those little sharp teeth, too! Sometimes they may even seem to be relentless, which is why some view their puppy as potentially aggressive.

Chew on this, Desmond! :)
Chew on this, Desmond! 🙂

It’s important for puppies to learn bite inhibition—VERY important. If your puppy learns this and is well-socialized, he will be set up for a life of success with little risk of biting others. Patience is key as puppies do teeth and it takes time for them to learn to control their impulses. A common mistake people make is pushing the dog away–using your hands like that is indicating to the dog, from their perspective, that you WANT to play, so do not use that as it will only work against you. Here are some tips for dealing with those adorable “puppy piranhas.”

  • Have PLENTY of alternatives for your dog to chew. When you get your new puppy, besides having food bowls, beds, crates, leashes and such, make sure you have myriad approved chew items. Dental chews, bully sticks and other all-natural animal-based chews (we tend to stay away from rawhide), Kongs and other treat-dispensing/fillable items, and a variety of tug toys of appropriate sizes can be your life saver! Remember to always supervise first, and never leave items alone with your puppy that could be a choking hazard (such as rope toys). Frozen Kongs can be a very wonderful alternative as the cold can help soothe the mouths of those puppies who are teething. You cannot have too many of these, and use them often to prevent and redirect your puppy’s teeth from inappropriate to appropriate outlets.
  • Teach your puppy to be gentle. You will not be able to prevent each time your dog puts his mouth on you, and it’s not a bad thing to have soft mouthing occur, as this helps teach proper bite inhibition. However, if you’re getting teeth—remove your hand or whatever those teeth are on, and redirect to an appropriate chew toy! If I’m handling a puppy and they are mouthing at me gently, that’s fine, but once I feel those teeth, I end that situation. If I’m consistent, the puppy will learn that a soft mouth is okay, but a hard mouth is not! I don’t squeal or make any noise, but I make sure I have a treat, toy or chew at hand to substitute for my hand or whatever the puppy may be mouthing, especially if the puppy is very excited, as it can be hard for them to turn their excitement off. Then I can trade my shirt for an appropriate chew item, for instance. Having an alternative ready is important.
  • Teach calm behavior. In addition to having clear signals about what is appropriate and not, teaching your dog to be calm when your hand approaches or around other triggers that may excite and cause him to nip at you or your clothing is important. For instance, if my pants are very loose and my puppy wants to chase and nip at them, I will have lots of treats on me and walk very slowly, rewarding my puppy for not nipping as they walk beside/around me. In this way, they’ll learn that it’s much better to be calmly walking with me while I have those pants on, rather than to nip and possibly tear them. Over time I will increase how quickly I am walking, and therefore increase the excitement level. If the puppy gets too excited, then I need to lower my criteria and be less exciting so I can get the behavior I want and reinforce it, and build from there. I love this video from Emily Larlham that teaches such techniques.
  • Use crates, Xpens and other management. Crate training and using gates, Xpens, etc., to help manage your puppy and teach them how to find that “off” switch are also important. These should never be used in a punitive way, but if you’re busy and your dog has had adequate activity and you don’t want to deal with the nipping, you can place your dog in one of these areas with a safe chew alternative to prevent them from nipping at you, and to help them calm on their own. I view this as very similar to human children–going to your room for a break to unwind!
  • Teaching settle behavior. Doing mat work is invaluable, and I teach this to a lot of clients very often. The mat itself is a cue to relax, and if you do this effectively, can be a tool you can take with you anywhere to help foster calm and focus. A simple door mat suffices; a non-slip backing and flat top will be best, and it doesn’t have to be extremely large (even if you own a Great Dane). It’s not meant to be a bed, but when the mat is there, the dog should be reinforced for first stepping on it and focusing on it, not you, then for sitting, lying down, and then being even more relaxed, like rocking onto the hip, having a calm tail, softer eyes, resting the chin. If you time treats to mark these behaviors, your dog will get it, and learn a good default settle on the mat. There are many protocols out there for teaching going to the mat, etc., but one of my very favorites is that of Nan Arthur, who wrote a great book called Chill Out Fido; I also love this video from Emily Larlham on capturing calmness in dogs.

Aggressive biting is very different from normal puppy mouthing and nipping. Most aggression I have seen, and most bite cases I have worked on, stem from fear or the inability to control impulses coupled with never having learned appropriate bite inhibition. Fearful dogs usually show other signs of discomfort before they escalate to a bite and it’s important to learn how to read body language; this is a great guide on learning more about signs to understand.

If you truly believe your dog is being aggressive, or shows signs of fear, anxiety and overarousal/inability to control their impulses, you should consult a professional well-versed in using desensitization and counterconditioning protocols and teaching calm using positive, rewards-based methods. You should NEVER punish the dog, restrain him forcefully or roll him, or grab the muzzle or scruff. These are confrontational methods that will confuse and possibly upset the dog and make things worse. The earlier you intervene, the greater your chances of long-term success. There is no substitute for getting help from a caring, knowledgeable trainer/dog behavior consultant!

Let us know how we can help,
Owner, Delightful Doggies

March 2017 clients

We’ve officially moved to Lakewood, the Sun Valley neighborhood, and the change has been amazing, stressful, wonderful and crazy! This is the first time I’ve lived in a suburban area, and it was almost too quiet the first night, lol. I am so used to the traffic in Denver, and living just off south Broadway, so being here has been quite the (welcome) adjustment! Thanks to all of you for your support and understanding amongst the chaos this change has elicited.

March’s clients were amazing! You can click on the below photo icons to visit our March 2017 clients Flickr album, and if you click on the slideshow button on that web page (top right computer/play icon), you can view them in a fun slideshow format. Don’t forget to LIKE and follow our Facebook page to see even more photos of client dogs, great articles, news items and blog posts. We also have an Instagram account you can check out and follow!

Tater Porter Betty Luna Goose and Lola Bodhi Gulliver Koda June Mac Carly Cannon Fitz and Gretel Mr. Magoo Max Lucy Charlie Freddie Samson

Happy Spring!
Owner, Delightful Doggies

Seven strategies for stopping off-leash dogs

Spring has sprung, and the chances of being rushed by a too-friendly or possibly aggressive off-leash dog are higher; I cannot tell you how many times I am asked by clients and others how to cope when being rushed by such dogs, especially when a lot of my clients have dogs that need space and don’t want to meet all other dogs. Here are some strategies I’ve compiled.OffleashDogTrainingDenver

  1. Toss a big handful of treats away from you and your dog. If the dog is friendly, the best way to cope is by tossing a huge handful of treats as far away from you as possible, and then move quickly away in an opposite direction. In this way, you’re very peacefully diffusing the situation and giving the other dog something way better to do, especially if those treats are scrumptious! This is the kindest way to deal with the situation, which is why it’s at the top of our list.
  2. Assume the “authority” stance. Stand in between your dog and the approaching dog, nice and tall, and put out your palm like a cross guard while standing nice and tall. Say NO, STOP or STAY in a firm, low voice. For some dogs, this is enough to stop them in their tracks.
  3. Pick up your dog if needed, or let go of his leash. For those with small dogs who can be picked up, we recommend doing so, to keep them safe. However, this means you will be likely to be bitten yourself, and you should be careful to pick up your dog quickly and turn away so the approaching dog won’t be able to jump and bite at your dog. You could also try to move him into a car, truck bed or behind another barrier like a fence, if you can. If your dog is too large to be picked up, you might want to let go of the leash to let him get away, if necessary.
  4. Use a pop-up umbrella. This is one of my favorite strategies, especially if you’re worried the dog will not be persuaded by your treats to move away, or stop for you. It’s a great, easy barrier to carry as you can find many small umbrellas that are easy to carry along, and with the push of a button, will pop up and can be used to not only startle the oncoming dog, but be a barrier between you and your dog, and the accosting dog. It’s important to get your own dog used to this, though, before using it in real life. By bringing out the umbrella and letting your own dog sniff at it, while you give treats, and then eventually pop it up and use it as you would in real life. Pairing it with really high-value food treats before a situation arises will make your dog view it as a good thing instead of also getting startled in the moment(s) you may end up having to use it!
  5. Carry Bang Snaps. Bang snaps are a novelty noisemaker firework; they come in small boxes and snap as you toss them down on the ground. These can definitely help startle and keep another dog away but again, you’ll want to use it around your own dog, pairing with very high-value treats in a gradual way so they’ll get used to the noise before you would ever have to use it in a real-life scenario.
  6. Some sprays can work too. There are a few commercial deterrent sprays that could be helpful as well, but you’d also want to get your dog used to these options as well before you use them against dogs who are rushing you:
    1. Pet Corrector. This product emits a hiss sound that is very loud and most animals find unpleasant. It’s marketed a lot for barking (which we do not advocate; we DO NOT advocate using punishment to correct problem behaviors).
    2. SprayShield. This deterrent is a citronella-based spray; most dogs find this smell unpleasant, but it not harmful for anyone in its path in terms of physical pain.
    3. Halt! This spray is the last on our list because it does have capsicum, a natural pepper extract. I do not advocate this except as a LAST RESORT ONLY for when you are not walking your own dog, and worry about the possibility of an aggressive dog approaching you. Pepper sprays and mace really aren’t the best options as they can also shift with wind to possibly hurt YOU as well!
  7. Carry a cane. Again, this is not at the top of our list because we do not advocate for harming dogs, but if you do worry about the potential of being hurt by an off-leash aggressive dog, carrying something like a cane to use if absolutely necessary can be another tactic; if nothing else, it can help those who have been traumatized by a dog attack to feel a little more comfort having such a “weapon.” There are also other self-defense sticks out on the market, but you should check your local laws to ensure you aren’t breaking any by having these on your person.

If you have recurring issues with off-leash dogs, CALL ANIMAL CONTROL. Yes, it sucks to be the “bad guy,” but leash laws exist for a reason, and violators should be reported for everyone’s safety!

Thank you for reading, and have a safe spring!
Owner, Delightful Doggies