Safe Travels with your Dog

dog-barriersWe’ve all seen dogs traveling in unsafe manners, flinging themselves wildly about the back seat, resting on the drivers lap, heads way out the window or loose in the bed of a pick-up truck.  What are some of the downfalls of loose dogs?

  • Loose dogs in the car who don’t remain in place can be a dangerous distraction causing accidents
  • Drivers can be charged under Distracted Driving laws
  • Loose dogs become a flying missile in the event of a collision or hard braking situation
  • Dogs with their heads out the window or in the open bed of a pick-up are left open to injury caused by flying debris
  • Dogs with full access to windows or in truck beds may get loose while the vehicle is moving or stopped.

So what are the safest ways for our pets to travel? Using an impact tested dog crate, approved for air travel by the IATA (International Air Transport Association) is the best way to ensure safety for both them and the people in the vehicle.  Properly secured to the vehicle, your pet will be more securely protected in the event of a crash.  They will also be kept in place and will not become a dangerous projectile.  Most dogs learn to ride calmly and quietly in a crate, which ensures they are not a distraction to the driver.

Another option in an SUV or Minivan is a car barrier.  Properly installed, it will keep your pet secure in the cargo area of a vehicle.  If you have a very large dog, a barrier may provide a better option for his containment.

If you cannot afford the space a crate or barrier requires, consider a harness restraint system.  Most car harnesses buckle into your vehicle’s existing seatbelt system and keep the pet in place in the event of a crash.  They also keep your dog from roaming far from his allocated seat.

The downside to car harnesses is that they do allow your pet some motion and an untrained dog can get tangled easily.  If you are going to go the harness route, make sure you take some time to train your dog to be mostly still and calm when riding so they don’t become a distraction.

Whatever you choose to keep your pet safe, drive carefully and enjoy your travels!


Trick Tuesday: Back Up

Welcome back to Trick Tuesday!  Every Tuesday, another trick tutorial.

This week’s trick is all about fun!  We are going to teach our dogs to back up on command.  This one is for everyone!  Any dog can participate.

Our goal is to start by rewarding 1 step backward, then 2, and then ask for a bit more with each repetition.

Therefore, we’ll be capturing the behaviour we want from our dogs.

Method: Capturing
Skill Level: Intermediate
What you’ll need: Food, dog, conditioned reinforcer

Happy training!!!

Using Food in Training: Bribery VS Reward – Success in 5 Steps

5110502060_0c27f22898_zIt’s a long confused topic: how to properly use food in dog training.  The goal is simple – we want to create a well behaved dog who will listen all the time, not just in the presence of food.  This is definitely achievable, but it requires patience, repetition and most importantly, honesty!  Be honest with yourself about your dog’s current level of training and ability to contend with distractions. Often, people put their dogs into situations they aren’t ready for and get embarrassed when they don’t respond well.  The human solution is to then pull out food and “bribe” the dog into listening.  This is very superficial and although you may, in that post-bribe moment, have your dog’s attention, you are teaching them they don’t have to think in order to earn reward.  They can behave as impulsively as they want and you will bribe them into focusing when you want their attention.  What we want to do in food training is establish a reward history so that our dogs will eventually look to us for cues and information when faced with choices.

Using food in training is a quick way to achieve results with most dogs.  The majority of dogs will work happily to try to earn a morsel of food as eating speaks to their basest instinct.  In order to use food effectively, you must be aware of your dog’s success level and the distractions he is facing.  Starting to teach skills in the face of over-distraction is a sure way to fail and fall into the habit of bribery.

Steps to training successfully with food:

1 – Showing or luring our dogs – Start in a calm, quiet environment.  Dogs must be able to focus in order to learn.  We can use food to show our dogs what we want (I.e. lure) in the early stages of training only.  As soon as our dog understands what we are asking of them, we must get rid of the food as a lure.  Be sure your dog truly understands the skill you are teaching before you move on to step 2.

2 – Adding a cue – Whether it’s a verbal or a signal, a cue is the next step once your dog understands the skill.  Timing is important when adding a cue.  We want to ensure our dog hears the cue independently, then sees the lure we used in step 1.  So, give a clear cue, pause for about a second and then lure.

3 – Dropping the lure – Once you’ve established your cue, it’s time to drop the lure.  Since you’ve spent some time on step 2, your dog should understand how to perform the behaviour on a cue.  This is where you need to have a plan.  What are you going to do if the dog doesn’t respond as you expect?  You’ll need an action aside from going back to the lure.  Unfortunately, all to often, dogs will not do what they’ve been asked (usually due to distractions over-facing them) and the handler will then pull out food.  This teaches the dog that they don’t have to think or be focused.  If their handler wants something from them, they’ll wave a cookie in their face!  This is where you end up with a dog who will only do something when food is present.

4 – Establishing a variable reward schedule – We want to be sure that our dogs still get rewarded for working hard for us.  This will keep them keen and keep their skills sharp – after all, you wouldn’t go to work everyday without a paycheck, right?  Once the skills are set and the dog understands, we must vary our reward schedule.  We should always have a variety of rewards at our disposal.  This doesn’t mean always having a pocket full of food, rather it means being in tune with your dog and knowing what they find valuable.  After one repetition, your dog may get a scratch behind the ears or a word of praise.  Sometimes their reward may come in the form of a game and other times as a piece of food.  As long as the dog finds it valuable, you can use anything in your training toolbox.  What’s important is that we randomize the reward and ensure it comes AFTER the desired behaviour has been performed.

5 – Adding distraction – Once your dog has mastered the cue without distractions, it’s time to add them in.  Be careful to start small and build your dog up.  Refer to last week’s post, on how to proof your dog through distractions here for good information on building behaviour regardless of what your dog may face.

Remember that repetition is important to understanding.  Have fun with your training and keep honest with yourself about your dog’s progress and you’ll master food training in no time!

Happy training!

Trick Tuesday: Jumping Skills

Welcome back to Trick Tuesday!  Every Tuesday, another trick tutorial.

This week’s trick is all about fun!  We are going to teach our dogs some jumping skills.  In order to teach jumping, we need to make sure that we have a dog that is physically capable of jumping without causing himself injury.

You can make your own jumps out of household equipment.  No need to buy or make anything fancy.  A couple of boxes or pillows and a broomstick work great!

Method: Luring
Skill Level: Intermediate
What you’ll need: Food, dog, boxes or pillows, broomstick, toy (optional), Hula Hoop (optional)

Happy training!!!

Teach your dog to listen, even when distractions are high

01_06_2006A dog who’s been taught to listen well, even in the presence of distractions seems like an amazing feat.  Impossible?  No way!  It’s simply a matter of planning and learning about your dog, then using the things they find valuable to build reinforcement and value in distracting situations.

To teach your dog good listening skills in the face of distraction:

Make a list of your dogs 5 favourite reinforcers and rank them in order from highest value to lowest:
For example:
1 – steak
2 – cheese
3 – liver
4 – tug toy
5 – tennis ball

Now make a list of the dogs toughest distractions to contend with and rank them in order from toughest to easiest:
For example:
1 – other dogs
2 – kids
3 – people
4 – food
5 – open areas to run

Now match up the numbers to use in training situations.  For example, if you are headed off to dog school, you wouldn’t bring the tennis ball as it is your dog’s least favourite reinforcer.  The value of another dog will trump the value of the tennis ball.  Arm yourself with steak (1) when you are headed into a situation where you will have to deal with your dog’s toughest distraction, other dogs (1).  If you are going to pick up your child from school where there will be other kids, this still requires a strong reinforcer, but number 2 on your lists should be a good match for each other.  Arm yourself with cheese to help build reinforcement value for focusing on you despite the presence of a strong distraction like kids.

Remember that every dog is different.  You’ll have to make lists that match your dog.  Repetition builds success, so practice often and have fun!

Trick Tuesday: Jump into my arms

Welcome back to Trick Tuesday!  Every Tuesday, another trick tutorial.

This week’s trick is a flashy one!  We are going to teach the dogs to jump up into our arms.  In order to teach this trick, we need to make sure that we have a dog that is physically capable of jumping a good height and we need to ensure that the handler is strong enough to catch them!

Method: Encouraging
Skill Level: Intermediate
What you’ll need: Food, dog, conditioned reinforcer, chair or bench (optional)

Happy training!!!


Trick Tuesday: *BANG* – Play Dead

Welcome back to Trick Tuesday!  Every Tuesday, another trick tutorial.

This week’s trick is a fun one!  We are going to teach the dogs to “Play Dead.”  In order to teach this trick, we’ll be using a method called, “Back Chaining” where we start with the last behaviour and work our way backward to the first.  Our goal is that on one command, our dogs stop, lie down, flop onto their sides or back and hold position.  So, we’ll start by teaching them to hold position on their side.  Once they’ve mastered that, we’ll add in the position change.

Method: Back chaining
Skill Level: Intermediate
What you’ll need: Food, dog, conditioned reinforcer

This trick requires a good stay or wait command.  If your dog still needs to be trained to hold a position, be sure to take some time to teach that behaviour first.

Happy training!!!

CHCH Morning Live at McCanns

We had so much fun when Lori DeAngelis and her film crew come to visit us at McCanns.  What a treat!

She helped us spread our message about the importance of early and consistent training.  We entertained with agility, tricks, frisbee fun and obedience.  There was a great segment on kids and dogs as well.

Did you miss it?  Luckily, you can catch it here: