Monday, January 30, 2012

Back to the Very Basics (part 3)

“My dog will not come on command to save his life,” says Somone Hicks of Riverside.  Her 5 year old bulldog, Gordo, has been ignoring her commands for years.  “I got him from the pound when he was about 8 months old.  He was a wild puppy but I excused a lot of his bad behavior because of his age.”  This is not an unfamiliar tale.  All too often the mistakes we make with our dog in the beginning wind up condemning us for the rest of that dog’s life.  In fact, this phenomenon has inspired a little saying we have all heard at least once, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.  For those of us dealing with a disobedient dog at home, we ask ourselves; are they lazy, just plain stupid, or are they simply ignoring us?

Studies show that 70% - 80% of dog owners do not care if their dog can perform tricks or exhibit special skills (like tracking or fetching), they only ask that their dog come when called, get along with other dogs (and humans), and not destroy the yard.  In the grand scheme of dog training, those are three pretty basic requests, yet they are the top three issues plaguing most dog owners.  To make matters worse, these bad habits are usually only a product of the constant struggle between dog and dog owner to see who is actually in charge (and I can tell you it most likely isn’t the owner).  So where do we go wrong and how do we correct this problem after so much time has passed?
If you have a leaky pipe, you may be able to patch the leak and call it good.  But the integrity of the pipe has been compromised.  You’ve only given it a temporary fix which is not very reliable and at some point that patch will no longer work.  Dog training is similar.  Addressing only one individual behavior may fix that behavior but it won’t be reliable because there are still bigger issues that have not been addressed.   When dogs become serious problems, you have no choice but to start from the beginning.
To symbolize your truly fresh start, try this exercise with your dog:  Take your dog for a car ride around the block.  When you get home, pretend you just adopted him.  He has no past that you know of but you were told of a couple personality traits such as he doesn’t like cats, and he tends to bark (of course, your dog may have different habits). You took a couple of What to Expect When Expecting a Dog classes and you feel pretty confident about being the pack leader to this dog (since you made so many mistakes with the last one).  When you reach the front door of the house you enter first and invite him in.  You can ask (or make) him sit at the door first before you invite him in but the important thing is to show him that it is your home.  Keep him on a leash and have him follow you around for the rest of the day.  Do not let him on the couch, or bed, or in any room you don’t want him to be in (such as the kitchen).  Even if you are ok with him on the couch or bed, he must learn that it isn’t his right to sit wherever he pleases but that he must earn his place in the pack.  The point of this exercise is to teach him that you are the pack leader and you control what he can and cannot do in your home. 
This is not an easy exercise, especially for those who let the dog run the house.  It is hard to watch your dog be unable to do what he wants or play when he wants, but this psychological shift has to happen in order for you to regain control in your home.  Once you have your symbolic fresh start underway, you can start resetting the foundation of successful training.  That means going back and perfecting the basic commands that are often taken for granted.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Back to the Very Basics (part 2)

There are a lot of things to keep in mind when training a dog, and most of them are not the same ideas of training you might have learned with your family dog when you were growing up.  But changing the way you think about your dog as well as how you think about training will help shape your training sessions and set you both up for success, not failure.   Understanding your dogs need for a purpose and respecting the fact that each dog learns at a different pace will help you both stay motivated to accomplish your goals.  Being consistent with your commands and keeping your training sessions 10 – 15 minutes long will help relieve frustration and keep your sessions a positive experience.  
Hollywood dog trainer, Mark Harden, has worked with and trained many star animals.  Working with animals on set can be a very unique challenge as the four-legged ‘actors’ must perform their command on cue, over and over again, getting it perfect every time.  Sometimes these tricks have to be done without Mark anywhere near the animal or even in sight.  He knows all of the rules we’ve discussed first hand but after all of his years of experience he has a few rules of his own to share:
1.       Be clear and simple in what you want from your dog. Start with small, basic tricks and don’t move on until you are certain that the first behaviors have been consistently mastered.
2.       Every dog is different, and different dogs are motivated by vastly different things. Have a lot of options in your tool kit, and don’t give up until you find that special reward or activity that allows you and your dog to communicate with each other.  And make sure the experience is fun!
3.       My “yin and yang” rule: when you teach any behavior, also teach the opposite of that behavior – for instance, “sit” goes with “get on your feet!”
4.       Use mixed-variable reinforcement – once the dog has the basics of the behavior you are trying to teach, don’t reward it every time, and alternate rewards, from food to praise to toys. Eventually, having successfully completed the behavior becomes a reward in itself.
5.       Be specific. Pay for what you want, not for what you don’t want.  If the dog gets only part of the behavior right, don’t reward.  Otherwise, you are teaching him to get only part of the behavior right! Let him figure out what it is he needs to do to get paid – that’s part of the challenge.
6.       Be yourself when training – your best self – and be consistent. 
Remember, your dog is eager to please you.  Be sure you are sending clear messages about what you want, reward only commands that are carried out to your expectations, and be consistent.  Not many dogs are naturally obedient, nor is the perfect canine citizen born overnight.  Be patient and persistent.  Your pup is just waiting for the opportunity to prove to you that he is worth the effort and he can make you proud.  

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Back to the Very Basics (part 1)

In honor of National Train Your Dog Month, we will be looking at not only how to train your dog but where most people go wrong before they even start training.  Last week we talked about the importance of training puppies as soon as they come home and living in the present with our dogs.  Now that we are in a better mindset (because we have let go of our dog’s past), we want to set our dog up for success, not failure.     
1.       Needs - Let’s start with basic needs.  When a dog’s basic needs are brought up in conversation most people automatically think food, water, shelter.  And while those answers are correct, most people do not think of another basic need, which is psychological.  Dogs need a purpose.  Whether it’s hunting, giving protection, or companionship, dogs need something to focus on and succeed at.  Acknowledging that basic need and combining it with a dogs drive to please their human will result in much more successful training sessions. 
2.       Attention - As you get ready to start your training session, keep your dog’s attention span in mind.  If you want your dog to succeed, keep each training session short and sweet.  Most dogs can’t learn to (or retain the commands for) sit, shake, and rollover in the same day.  And if you want reliable obedience then you need to be repetitive and patient.  Most dogs can give you their focused attention for 10 – 15 minutes. 
3.       Abilities - Remember that all dogs are different.  Some abilities, like retrieving, may come easier to a Labrador while other abilities, like sprinting, come more naturally to a Greyhound.  The pace at which your dog learns a command does not matter.  All that matters is the end result, which should always be the mastered command. 
4.       Consistency - The key to successful training is consistency, consistency, consistency!  All too often owners get frustrated and give up on their dog’s training.   Either they stop training completely or they accept mediocrity.  This is setting your dog up for failure.  When you reward a partial sit rather than a full sit you are telling your dog that he is doing what you want.  Now you have a dog that does not give you a consistent sit on command, but you can’t blame the dog (even though you want to), because he has been taught (and reinforced with rewards) that what he is giving you is what you want.  Inconsistency is most apparent in multiple person homes.  If no one is on the same page with training then the dog is constantly receiving mixed signals about what behavior is acceptable.  If you want to turn your dog into a model citizen you must follow through and make sure everyone in the household (including guests who visit) is expecting the same behavior from the dog.  If jumping is not allowed, no one should encourage or allow jumping.  If dogs are not allowed on the couch, then they should never be allowed on the couch regardless of who is sitting with them.
Check back later this week to see what rules professional Hollywood animal trainer, Mark Harden, says every dog owner should know.   

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Training isn’t just for Puppies

Did you just adopt an older dog or do you have an older dog who just won’t listen to you?  As you may already know, it is National Train Your Dog Month, and in honor of that we would like to assure you that just because your dog didn’t come home with you as a puppy (or maybe learned a few bad habits since puppyhood) doesn’t mean that he is not just as capable of learning new tricks.
Ersula Gomez of Corona adopted her Miniature Pinscher for the Riverside animal shelter when he was already 2 years old. "He was taken from the home of a hoarder.  I give him extra love every day to reassure him that he will never have to go back to that life or the pound." Unfortunately, that extra love has led her little pup, Ace, to believe he runs the house.  "When he is with me, like on my lap, no one can touch me.  I know it's a problem when my kids are around but I just feel so bad for him after all he's been through.  He's my little baby." 

As Cesar Millan and any other trainer will tell you, dogs live in the now (the present).  They aren’t thinking about the life they use to have before you adopted them, or how they got in trouble last week for digging; all of that is in the past.  So, the first step to getting a well-behaved dog is to change the way you think about your dog. Think about your dog in the present.  What is he?  Is he a child? Is he a war veteran? Is he a nurse?  No, he is a dog.  While he may depend on you like a child, may have been rescued from an abusive home, and may stay by your side while you are sick, none of that matters in the present.  Those are experiences that have happened in the past and not the dog that stands in front of you today. 
I know a lot of pet parents do not believe that their dog’s past life does not affect him.  But I can tell you from experience, it only affects your dog because you hold on to it, not because your dog does.  If you want to see real changes in the way he behaves, you have to let go of his past and start from scratch. Sometimes dogs do become psychologically skewed (and not just from abuse) and that damage needs to be undone before you can move forward.  So, if you want your dog to become the perfect model citizen (which you should) then you have to be willing to put in the time, energy and effort it takes to go back to the basics.  Join me as I go back to the basics next week.
Hint to treating your dog like a dog: Your daily walks should not include a dog stroller.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

National Train Your Dog Month

Did you think you were off the hook for not following through on your New Year’s resolution with your dog?  Well, we aren’t giving up on you yet; so to help you stick with it the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) officially made January ‘National Train Your Dog Month’.  This means it’s time to stop making excuses and start making changes.  If you set realistic goals and be consistent in your training, by the end of the month you will not believe you are working with the same dog you started with.
The APDT says, “We selected January as the perfect month because so many dogs and puppies are adopted or purchased from breeders and brought home during the winter holidays.  Our desire is to help these new parents start off the New Year right with their newest family member.”  And it doesn’t hurt that it coincides with New Year’s resolutions as well (for those not so new pet parents that need to take a different approach on training).   
Training a dog is a very important part of responsible dog ownership.  And while we all think it’s a no brainer not many owners realize that they have replaced training with extra love and treats.  Then, when the dog does something bad, he gets screamed at and possibly punished, but the bad behavior is never corrected and he never understands what he did wrong, so the bad behavior continues.  To avoid these incidents, a dog should begin his training as soon as he comes home with you, puppies included. 

Just like children, puppies are like sponges.  They can begin learning commands and tricks as young as eight weeks old.  Cesar Millan discusses this in his book, Cesar’s Rules, and says “the socialization period – from about three weeks old to twelve weeks old – is a crucial window for learning.  During this time, social play with littermates and guidance and discipline from the mother (or human pack leader) help to shape the proper behavior of a well-behaved adult dog.”  

Renowned veterinarian and behaviorist Dr. Ian Dunbar is no stranger to California living and our love for our dogs.  In addition to his extensive education, he received his doctorate in animal behavior from the University of California in Berkley, where he spent ten years researching olfactory communication, the development of hierarchical social behavior, and aggression in domestic dogs.  He also happens to be the founder of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT).  When Dr. Dunbar was looking for a training class for his puppy, Sirius, he was told by several trainers that they did not train puppies under the age of 6 months.  Dr. Dunbar knew that was absurd and believes it is very important for puppies to start training and interacting with other dogs at a young age to help them learn dog-to-dog socialization, human socialization (being handled by different people), and more reliable off-leash obedience.  As a result, Dr. Dunbar started his own off-leash behavior class for puppies called, SIRIUS® Puppy Training.  His training classes incorporate unstructured puppy play with regular interruptions of short training sessions.  Once play is interrupted with a command, the puppy is rewarded for good behavior (carrying out the command) with “go play”.  Overall, the goal of any puppy training is (and should be) prevention. “Prevent the problem when your dog is a puppy,” says Dr. Dunbar.  

While we can all agree, teaching a dog when it’s young will make your life (and his) much easier in the long run, what about all those adopted dogs that weren’t trained as puppies?  Well, not to worry, because those old dogs can learn new tricks.  Check back this week for more.   

Friday, January 6, 2012

This Weekend

With everyone recovering from the holidays, January is off to a slow start.  When it comes to things to do this weekend the official events are few and far between (literally).  But that doesn’t mean you have to stay cooped up with you pup.  Here are a few things to do this weekend…
Dog Beach
Even if your dog doesn’t like getting a bath he may be like my dogs and love the beach.  Going to the dog beach is a great opportunity to let your pup run, play, socialize with other pups, and get his energy out.  This is an activity for the whole family too!  Bring some lawn chairs, towels, and lunch and make a day of it. 

Huntington Dog Beach is located in Huntington Beach, Ca, off Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), between Seapoint Ave. and 21st Street.  You will have to find street parking across the street from the beach. 
Long Beach Dog Beach (Officially renamed Rosie’s Dog Beach) is located between Roycroft and Argonne avenues in Belmont Shore, Long Beach (zip 90803). It is a few blocks east of the Belmont Pier and Olympic pool. You can park in the parking lot on Bennett Ave.
Ocean Beach Dog Beach is located at 4933 Voltaire Street, San Diego (zip 92107).  The Dog beach can be found at the northern end of Ocean beach and you can park in the parking lot off West Point Loma Blvd.
Every dog beach requires that owners be responsible and pick up after their dog but some beaches have more/different rules so be sure to know them before you visit.  There are also several public beaches that allow dogs, even if they aren’t specifically a dog beach.  If you plan on visiting a beach that is not specifically a dog beach, check their website to be sure that dogs are allowed.  The beach may only allow dogs during off-peak times of the day, especially during the summer months. 
Dogs love to explore, and what better way to do that then take your pup for a hike.  Living in California affords us the luxury of living near many different mountain ranges.  Cooler weather is a great time to take a little day trip to the mountains since larger animals (like mountain lions and bears) are not likely to be seen and smaller creatures (like snakes and ticks) are not high in numbers.  Just remember to take plenty of water for you and your pup and always take a first-aid kit with you on any hike.

Southern California is littered with hiking trails, from the Newport marshes and Carbon Canyon to the Cleveland National Forest and San Bernardino mountains.  Check out to find trails in any zip code (also lists the length of the hike as well) to find the best hike for you and your pup.
Get out and enjoy the beautiful weather we’ve been having and turn a boring weekend into a great little getaway for you and your dog.  We live in a world full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” - Jawaharlal Nehru         

Thursday, January 5, 2012

New Year’s Resolutions

Do you have a resolution this year? 
Eileen Santos of Norco says, “To lose weight.”  Emily Fischer of Riverside says, “To become debt free.”  Tanya Cisneros of Riverside says, “To stop biting my nails.”  Whether it’s to stop biting your nails or to buy a house this year, we typically only think about resolutions as a human thing and not about our dogs.  Even if you decided not to have a resolution this year, you might want to consider one for your dog; especially if he has a few extra pounds or a few bad habits to kick. 

Believe it or not, a lot of dogs deal with weight and behavioral issues because they don’t get enough daily exercise.  Dogs were born and bred to work, so without regular exercise and mental stimulus they are known to be more destructive and ill-behaved due to boredom.  And unlike humans, dogs cannot substitute the benefits they get from being active with other hobbies (like reading or painting).
Benefits of Regular Exercise Include:
·         Strengthens the immune system
·         Increases blood circulation
·         Reduces the risk of heart disease and other illnesses
·         Reduces or eliminates digestive problems
·         Reduces susceptibility to urinary infections
·         Reduces stress and the likelihood of depression
·         Keeps dog from becoming obese which could result in depression and/or diabetes
·         Reduces the chance of arthritis in senior years
·         Reduces boredom and therefore bad behavior such as chewing, digging, and excessive barking
·         Helps to build confidence
·         Reduces anxiety which may cause a dog to become aggressive or territorial
·         Calms hyperactive dogs
It is recommended that smaller breeds get a daily workout of about 20 – 30 minutes and 2 -3 walks per day.  Larger Breeds are recommended to get 40 minutes of an intense cardio workout per day.  

If your dog is over-weight, exercise may not be his only problem.  Take a step back and look at what he is eating on a regular basis.  Does he get spoiled with treats? Are his meal portions too large? What is in the dog food he eats?  A lot of dog treats and kibble on the market are made up of fillers and products that were never in your dog’s natural diet.  This and over feeding (especially with treats) can cause your dog to gain weight, just like when humans over eat and eat things that aren’t healthy.  
Behavioral issues will be reduced with regular exercise but they won’t disappear.  Bad habits like chewing, jumping, digging, and excessive barking take regular training sessions as well as exercise.  While many behavioral issues are similar, every dog is unique and every circumstance is different, so if you need help ask a professional dog trainer for advice on where to start.  Of course, there are tons of free resources online to help you get your dog into behavioral shape.  Just remember, it takes patience and consistency, but it is worth every minute.
It’s time to get serious about turning your dog into a shining model canine citizen.  Talk to your veterinarian about the best place to start with your dog.  Does he need a new diet?  What is the best exercise regime for him and your family’s lifestyle?  And if your vet can’t answer your questions, well then you may want to make another New Year’s resolution to find a new vet.  

Monday, January 2, 2012

‘Paws’ to Look Back on 2011 (Part 3)


Another year is quickly coming to an end.  This is the time when most people sit and reflect on the year’s progress, setbacks, and accomplishments.  We’ve seen dogs raising funds and awareness for The American Cancer Society, work to change the way we travel, and win the title for “Fastest Wienie in the West”. It’s been a spectacular year for canines so far; let’s see how the rest of the year turned out. 

Ten years have passed since one ordinary day became the day that changed the world.  This year we observed the 10th anniversary of September 11th and we focused on celebrating the lives of our loved ones and the brave souls who risked their lives to help others.  Of those brave souls, we cannot forget the brave dogs who served as well.  This year the American Humane Association did a six month search where hundreds of dogs from all 50 states were nominated for the title of American Hero Dog of 2011. While there were deserving nominees from all walks of life, the winner was Roselle, the 9/11 Guide Dog.  Roselle was recognized for her heroism in guiding her blind master safely down 78 flights of stairs following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.  She was truly an amazing dog and we owe a debt of gratitude to her and all the search and rescue dogs that worked endlessly after the attacks to help find people in the wreckage. 
The 11th annual Haute Dog Howl’oween Parade and Adoption Fair was held in Long Beach, California (as it is every year).  This dog Halloween event is already the world’s largest Halloween event for dogs, but this year they went a step further and broke a world record for having the most costumed dogs in a parade.  With over 600 costumed dog participants, this year’s parade not only broke the record, it demolished it.   The event is put on each year to help raise funds for local spay/neuter programs, local rescue groups, Operation Santa Paws (collecting toys and blankets for homeless pets in local shelters) and local service projects.  While the money raised t the event does go toward a good cause, the dogs who participate in the parade are also competing for prizes.  The costume contests include Best Costume, Best Float, Best human Costume, and Best group.  Check out to see this year’s winners.
December was a month of giving as thousands of people came together and made donations to the needy homeless animals in shelters around Southern California.  While there are always a handful of groups collecting blankets, food, and toys for animal shelters in need, two donation drives stood out this year.  Presents for Paws drive and Operation Santa Paws collected a Fur-nominal amount of needed supplies for many animal shelters and rescue groups in Los Angeles, Orange County, and beyond.   The Desperate Paws of Orange County dog club started their 2nd annual Presents for Paws donation drive in November, seeking blankets and toys for homeless pets.  They organized 17 drop-off locations throughout Orange County and coordinated a handful of volunteers to help collect and sort the thousands of donations they received.  Justin Rudd (founder of the organization Haute Dogs) started Operation Santa Paws in 2001. The 10th year running, this donation drive started in the beginning of December and had 37 drop-off locations in Los Angeles, 22 drop-off locations in Orange County, and 9 various drop-off locations scattered around California.  They also had 21 other states participating, from Arizona to Maine.  Both groups distributed the donations on December 17th to the Long Beach Animal Care Services, Long Beach spcaLA, Seal Beach Animal Care Center, and Orange County Animal Care Services; giving hundreds of needy homeless pets a toy, a treat, or a nice cozy blanket to curl up with.          
What a year it turned out to be.  I hope the achievements of this year will inspire someone to exceed our expectations next year and continue to better our community and enrich the lives of dogs everywhere.  Wishing you and your pack a very happy New Year!