Monday, June 28, 2010
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So, now we have arrived at the other big reason dogs bark…exercise (or lack thereof). Let’s be honest, most of us do not give our dogs enough exercise, let alone mental stimulation (boredom anyone?) If you are not walking your dog at least an hour a day, at least six days a week, you are not even going to touch their energy level! And as we stated in an earlier post, we have jobs, spouses, kids, dinner and of course the boob tube to contend with, so what do we do?
Besides us walking our own dogs, which we should all be doing anyway since it’s good for us as well, we can use doggy day care or professional dog walkers! If you own a dog and cannot afford the 10-20 bucks a day for doggy day care or professional dog walker and if you don’t have the time to exercise the dog because of the hecticness of your life, I really need to ask the question “should you own a dog?” I know that is a cruel question, but it is not fair to relegate a social animal such as a dog to solitary confinement 18-20 hours a day! This is a question you and your family must answer on your own, but unfortunately not everyone should own a dog.
Sorry… off my soapbox and back to doggy day care. Facilities such as this will not only give your dog exercise, but will allow the dog to, well, be a dog! I am a big believer in the fact if dogs are not allowed to interact with their own kind (outside of the pack they have at home) they forget how to speak dog. Doggy day cares are a great way to keep them proficient at their native tongue, while properly socializing them. It also allows dogs to spend some quality time away from Mom and Dad, realizing that being away from the family is not a bad thing, but is actually fun! It can actually help prevent, and even help in some cases of separation anxiety! This being said, doggy day care will not be a good fit for every dog, and any reputable facility will tell you if you have an anti-social dog. Dogs, like people, have different personalities, just like some people don’t like being around other people, some dogs don’t like being around other dogs. (See later post on how to choose a good doggie day care/boarding facility!)
Now you are ready to experience a worn out dog. One of the first things I teach in my classes is “A tired dog is a good dog!” This alone, with some dogs, will have a marked difference on all sorts of problem behaviors, including barking. If not, you can at least work with the dog since their attention will be more focused because of the exercise and socialization from the doggy day care facility or the exercise from other sources. Think of it this way, we have a first grade class who does not get recess, and is given 2 pounds of chocolate to eat and Mt Dew to drink! Do you want to even try to teach them arithmetic? But say we have kids who get physical exercise with 2 recesses a day, socialization with Gym class and a healthy lunch, now how about arithmetic? I’m pretty sure I would choose the second group of kids!
So the next step is to get started with some cues/commands (now that we have the edge off with exercise) that can help you get barking, and even some other problem behaviors more under control. Think about it this way…our kids have had recess & now it’s time to learn our ABC’s.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
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Excessive barking or nuisance barking is one of the most frequent issues I encounter as a trainer. The “why do dogs bark” question is easy (as you will see), but the “what can be done about it” is a lot more difficult. Dogs bark for a number of reasons including boredom, lack of exercise, protection of territory or even fear, not to mention that barking is a natural behavior for dogs. Humans (and their neighbors) have decided, albeit unfairly, that a barking dog is annoying. Unfortunately, in all of these cases, barking itself is rewarding, because it falls into the “feel good” category of helping the dog relieve stress or fear. How, you wonder? The act of barking actually releases what are known as endorphins, found in the brain, causing a feeling of increased well being. The exception to this rule is fearful or protective barking. The difference here is not only the reward of an increased feeling of well being but also that the perceived threat goes away either by intention (because Fido barked) or by accident (the UPS guy getting back in his truck and driving away). The “feel good” scenario helps explain why a dog that starts barking will sometimes continue nonstop. Since many scientists compare endorphins with opiates, it becomes very clear that convincing a dog that barking just once is trickier than we might have originally thought.
A big culprit most people never consider as a reason for barking is boredom! This, along with lack of exercise (covered in the next post), are what I believe are the two most common reasons people have dogs with barking issues. Think about it…if you were only allowed 2-3 hours a day to be part of the family, you would go a little stir crazy too! Many people with barking issues work full-time jobs (meaning out of the house 8-10 hours a day) while the dog is either in the back yard, left in the house, or crated alone. You get home and let the dog loose with the family. But by the time you cook dinner, get the kids bathed and of course sit in front of the boob tube for a couple of hours, it is time for bed. Guess what? The dog that didn’t get a walk or real interaction is once again left alone or crated, while you go to bed so you can get up and do it all again tomorrow! If this sounds even a little bit familiar, it’s no wonder our dogs require a little primal scream therapy to get through the day! (Keep in mind that some dogs will also bark to get attention, and there are a number of behaviors that are triggered by need for attention – all of which will be covered in a later blog post.)
Let’s start by debunking a huge myth right here and now…the backyard as appropriate exercise. If I had a dollar bill for every time I heard “My dog gets plenty of exercise, we have a huge backyard and he runs out there constantly,” I would be a very rich man and would be sitting on a beach in Key West right now and not writing this blog! Since there is no Margarita in my hand, I am here to tell you, outdoor time is good, but the backyard alone is by no means exercise. Think of it this way, have you ever been to a zoo? Have you noticed that some of the animals pace back and forth along the cage? (To be fair, many zoos are doing a much better job in regard to the size of the pens and access to items that provide mental stimulation.) What you need to understand is that the pacing is stress, not exercise or relaxation! Many dogs will become bored after they have thoroughly investigated their backyard (which takes all of 15 minutes, in some cases). Then they either choose barking or other destructive behaviors; chewing, digging and even fence running (sound kind of like the zoo example???) as a way to deal with the stress and boredom of being left alone in what they see as solitary confinement. Hint, hint… if your dog is a Houdini and jumps fences, then boredom is most likely your issue. Consider how many hours of alone time Fido is getting before blaming him for wanting to explore the greener grass outside of their “cage”!
Dogs are social animals and must be allowed to be such. Getting a dog and keeping them outside all of the time not only could be causing most of your problem behaviors, it is just plain cruel! They need to be around their pack! Ask a first grade teacher how their day goes when it is raining and the kids don’t get an outdoor recess. This example should shed some light on how too much pent-up energy can trigger barking or any problem behavior, for that matter.
The next blog post will focus on lack of exercise as a reason for barking, as well as what can be done. “Why do dogs bark & what can be done about it? Part 2”
Tuesday, June 01, 2010
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Once you get Fido reliably going to bed on cue, we can now begin to work on Park It, a command that is very handy in dealing with problem behaviors such as barking, charging doors, begging at the dinner table and bothering new visitors to your home. This one might be a little more challenging than teaching go to bed, but the results will be far more advantageous! The goal here is to condition the dog that the snap of your fingers and a point to the location where you want your dog to park (your hand signal) and/or the words park it (your verbal cue) will tell the dog to go to a particular place and lie down and settle. The simplest way to think of park it is as an advanced level go to bed, and yes, the way you teach this command is somewhat similar to the method we used to teach go to bed. The technique will be a little different though. First and what is most difficult, you need to be able to snap you fingers Now that we have that task down, we then begin by shaping this behavior. First pick a spot in the room where you spend the most time, the den or living room (the room with the boob tube in it!) Next, get a bed of some kind, it could be a blanket, a fancy bed from the pet mart, or if you are mean you can even pick just a spot on the floor. So we have a cue - snapping fingers, a location, now all we need is a way to get the dog on that spot! Enter the treats! First, call your dog to the location (snapping your fingers and pointing to the spot,) then lure the dog onto the spot with the treat and ask for a sit. As you are reading this you are probably thinking to yourself, he said the dog needed to be lying down and settled, didn’t he? Yes I did, and we will get there, but just as always it will take patience. Early on as I started training, I did lure the dog into a down and attempt to work on stay while they were in the park it. But I quickly found that because down is a submissive position for a dog (that will come in a future post) they constantly tried to get up and move because they were uncomfortable, or I, as the trainer, was not patient enough and moved training too fast (even a trainer needs to know when they screwed up ) So I found another way around the same problem! I simply asked for a sit and was patient this time, waiting for the dog to get tired during the stay and guess what, they laid down on their own.
Let me warn you now, don’t get in a hurry on this one. The distractions under which you will be working will make this command very hard to achieve with reliability. Think about it, you will use park it in situations such as dinner, new people and barking, so if you expect Fido to learn fast YOU WILL FAIL! Let me illustrate this with a story…When I started teaching my dogs park it, it was because the family was tired of having six eyes staring at us during dinner! Here’s the bad news, it took me six weeks to get them kinda reliable, let me repeat KINDA! I SPENT SIX WEEKS EATING, STANDING UP IN THE DOORWAY OF THE KITCHEN RE-PARKING MY DOGS EVERY 5 MINUTES! But then it was every 7 minutes then 9 and so on…I am happy to say that now my family can, for the most part, eat without interruptions, but there are still times where we have to do some reminding! This being said, remember to take it slow and build up to reliability. One final note on this command, do not use it on problem behaviors until the command is at least at an 80% reliability with at least 10 minutes of duration. We will cover how to use park it for specific problem behaviors in future posts.
- Mike Deathe
Being able to train “any dog” is really not the question to ask. As far as I am concerned, training people is a much more effective way of solving problem behaviors in dogs. What I do is nothing new or magical. I use basic behavior theory, and positive reinforcement techniques to change behavior or teach proper ones to begin with. There are many ways to train a dog and if done right, none are any better than the other. I want all of my students to understand that positive reinforcement is, in my opinion, the best and fastest way to teach a dog. Please take the time to go to my website www.muttzrus.com and look at my blog (keep it simple stupid pet blog) and decide for yourself. You should not make training decisions based off of a brochure; talk to at least three trainers; check out blogs and get references; then make your choice. I hope that in the end you will choose me as your trainer
Mike Deathe is a stay-at-home dad who found his passion as a dog trainer in 2008. He enjoys identifying unique and useful “muttz” related products. He is the author of Keep It Simple Stupid (K.I.S.S.) Pet Blog. Mike has had dogs since he was four years old and there are currently four dogs and two cats living in his home! As an avid pet lover, he regularly sees the number of dogs and cats that never find a home. In 2009, he and his wife Kate founded Muttz “R” Us, a t-shirt and pet product company with a philanthropic motto of “Adopt a Pet, Save a Life.” In 2010 Muttz “R” Us also launched KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID DOG TRAINING! Visit us at facebook or twitter or follow the blog @http://muttzmembers.blogspot.
com/or check out the website @www.muttzrus.com for more details.