Thursday, October 7, 2010

Responsible Pet Ownership- Part III- A Few More Training Tips

The Puppy Redirect
One useful trick to ensure good behavior, especially with young dogs and puppies, is to redirect an undesirable action into something good. This eliminates having to punish the “bad” behavior at all, and makes everyone feel good. Two examples of this from my own recent puppy training are: redirecting mouthing and redirecting trash shredding. When teething, and during occasional naughty periods, Sadie gets mouthy- meaning she wants to hold onto my arm, shirt, whatever with her mouth when we play. I HATE it. And I don’t want to encourage any behavior that even resembles biting. To redirect her, I grab the first toy I see and stick it in her mouth. This gives her something to chew on, encourages her to chew on HER things, and stops the undesirable behavior- without a harsh word. She also LOVES to pick up trash- in the house or not. She will gather any shred or scrap of paper or plastic from receipts to wrappers to lids and carry it around. If you leave her along with the object long enough, she gleefully makes confetti. However, early on in noticing this behavior, I realized that I could make a game out of it for her, and get a helper for trash pickup in the process. I’d go outside with her and a pocketful of treats and a toy and every time she picked up a piece of trash, I’d ask her to bring it to me and “trade” the trash for some petting, a treat or her toy, along with a healthy dose of praise. She quickly caught on and now will still come straight to me when she finds a piece of trash- very proud that she is bringing me such a wonderful thing. No more messes, I don’t have to worry that she’ll find something dangerous in the trash and eat it, and I have less trash to pick up. I LOVE it.

Keep it Simple, Stupid
You can work on teaching more than one behavior or ‘trick” during the same time period, but keep in mind that trying to teach too much at once will only confuse your dog and frustrate you when no progress is made. Try to focus on teaching one thing at a time, and build on previous lessons as you go forward. An example of this is teaching your dog to “sit” and making sure they are really good with that command, then using “sit” to help teach your dog to “lay down”. When in a sit, they are already halfway there!

Keep it Short!
Getting frustrated and losing your cool or your temper will only make your training take a step backward. Keep sessions short and fun for both you and your dog, and not only will you both enjoy them much more, but your dog will be motivated to learn faster

There is almost no limit to the number of ways that training can make your life easier. You can teach your dog to help you with a huge variety of tasks, even things you wouldn’t think of having a dog do. They can help you take the dirty laundry to the washroom, tidy up, get you a bottle of water from the fridge, a tissue when you sneeze, just about anything. Service dogs are frequently trained to do a multitude of similar tasks, so why shouldn’t your dog know the same things? Even if you don’t want to go so far as “service” types of “tricks” (although who wouldn’t? How great would it be to have your dog grab you a juice box from the fridge when you’re sick?), you can still teach your dogs some handy things that will make your lift a little more pleasant. One example of this is that it is actually quite easy to teach your dog to follow the direction of your pointed finger. I use this to send dogs upstairs or downstairs, or more frequently- out of a given room. Out of the kitchen when I’m cooking (I can’t stand underfoot pets) and out of the living room when I’m eating (I don’t like begging either). Do those consistently for a couple of weeks and your dogs will automatically leave the dining area when they hear plates rattle. I’m not terribly picky about where they go when they leave the room- as long as they’re far enough away to not be a bother, and they don’t’ make eye contact, I’m fine with them laying in the hall. Once again, sending your dog out of the kitchen when you’re cooking could be a boon to both your safety and that of the dog- no risk of tripping and falling, spilling boiling water, etc. I solved the problem of having a dozen separate commands for places I want my dogs to go by just teaching them to look or go in the direction that I point. If I want them to look I just point, if I want them to go that direction, I repeat the motion several times and tell them “out of the kitchen”, etc. This way, even if we’re at someone else’s house, I can still use the command. It also works when a toy gets lost (point in the direction they should look for it), if you want to send them anywhere for any reason, really.

Crate Training
Crate training is yet another way to make your life easier. Giving a puppy a crate is giving him security. Dogs like to “den” naturally, and their crate functions as their den. It is a quiet spot where they can go to get away from another pet, a new person that makes them uncomfortable, really anything. The crate is his “safe place.” Conveniently, the crate also serves as his bed, a way to keep him out of trouble, time out, and a sick ward. Putting your pet in their crate when you are away from home will keep them out of mischief as well as keep them safe. Dogs are not inclined to soil their bed, so they will try very hard to not have an “accident’ while in their crate. Also while in there, they can’t get into the trash can, the dirty laundry or the cat litter box- or anywhere else they might like to go. They are very limited as to what they can chew up as well. Same goes for nighttime while you are asleep. Certainly as your dog gets older, you will probably be able to leave them out of the crate while you are gone, or perhaps you want your pet to sleep with you. Once they learn the house rules, and you can trust them to be alone and not get into trouble, then you may not need to keep them crated with any frequency at all. However, when traveling, it is safer for your pet to be crated. If you should have to stop suddenly, or take other evasive action, your pet might be injured if thrown off the seat or around the cabin of the car. Better to keep them in a crate, or if they are a larger dog, buckled into a safety harness. If you are in an accident or some other situation arises where someone other than you might have to handle your dog, it will be safer for the dog and the handler for the dog to be crated. When dogs are injured or scared sometimes they don’t recognize a friend when they see one and may bite. That can be bad news for your precious pooch if you’re being whisked away to the ER and puppy has to go somewhere else with a stranger. Far better to have them crated, so they feel some modicum of security even in a scary situation, and then they can’t get in any trouble for biting out of fear. Also, any random person is a lot more likely to rescue a pet if they are contained and not “dangerous”, not to mention that your pet may run from rescuing if frightened. (It should go without saying that your dog should have proper identification at all times. My dogs wear a collar at all times with their vaccination tag, microchip tag, and information tag. In case the collar should somehow come off, they are also microchipped so that they have the best chance to come back to me if we are separated. If you rely on tags, make sure that you replace them when they wear. Tags don’t do your pet any good if no one can read them to find you.)

Training your dog to go into their crate is pretty simple really. If your new addition is a pup, just place them into the crate at the times you want them there- when you leave the house and at night for example, and tell them "crate" or "crate time." Or whatever you want to call it...some other words for crate are "kennel" or "bed". At our house there is a separate "bed" that is a cushion in the living room that is for pet use, so we just call it a crate. As your pup grows, toss a biscuit in the crate as you give the command, just to reinforce the action. Soon enough, your pup will go into his crate pretty much automatically when you get ready for bed or pick up your keys. After your dog is going into the crate on command regularly, you can reduce the frequency of the biscuits. We usually give a biscuit reward at bedtime and when we leave for work in the morning, but certainly you wouldn't have to do that if you don't want to. We make sure that we adjust our dogs' daily food to take extras like those treats into account and to make sure that they're getting proper nutrition. If your dog is older when they come to live with you, or if you wish to crate train an older dog who has never been crated, just work up to it slow. Leave the crate door open and put the crate where you will want it to be stored for day to day use. Or in a higher traffic area if your crates will be stashed out of the way. Let your dog investigate, and try to coax them into the crate with offers of treats for ducking their head into the crate and once they go all the way in. Once they will go in and out willingly, close the door for a few minutes and give lots of praise. Gradually increase the amount of time you leave the dog in the crate with the door shut. Soon enough you'll be able to leave your pet for as long as you need. We leave the doors to the crates open when we're around so the dogs can go in the crate to get out of the way (and if they are under foot we can send them to their crate), to get away from visitors if they're not feeling social, or just to grab a quiet nap. It's especially useful if you need your dog out of your way for a bit if you're moving furniture, or cooking or if a friend comes to call that isn't so keen on pets. Asking your dog to stay in their crate at those times isn't a punishment by any means, it's just keeping them out of harm's way, and your way, for a little while. Usually dogs will go into their crate when asked without much fuss as long as you reinforce it periodically. Even if you don't crate regularly, it's a good idea to do it once in a while just to remind your dog what you're wanting and that they get a treat out of the deal. I have really never run into someone refusing to crate- sometimes Tyke will drag his feet a bit and he always relents in the end, even if grudgingly, once a little tidbit enters the equation. If you get a refusal, a couple of sessions of retraining should do the trick. In general, your dog will see the crate as their "bed", and will go into it willingly when asked. You can use the crate as a "time out" for punishment but NEVER pull your dog from the crate when they do not want to leave- unless it is a serious emergency. Your dog sees the crate as their "safe place" and that may include being safe from you, or from the prying, pestering hands of a little one. Your dog needs a sanctuary and I encourage everyone to respect their space. If they have shot into the crate to avoid something you are set on, get the dog to come out on their own. They'll come- tempt them out with a treat. If it's bathtime, avoid trouble by shutting the crate door BEFORE you announce the bath! LOL But it is important to not violate their "safe spot" or it won't seem safe to them anymore and it will be useless as a training aid. Make sure that everyone knows to not "invade" puppy's space in the crate as well.

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