Where does your dog go when you have to leave him/her during the day?

22 March 2010

Clicking With Your Dog 2

A few weeks ago, I wrote an introductory post about clicker training - a popular, humane method for molding, luring, and capturing desirable behaviors from your dog. Time slipped away from me, but I am finally back to expand on that!

If your dog is not yet conditioned to associate the clicker with a reward, you must first accomplish this. If you know what motivates your dog (food is often the best), it will likely not take long for the association to take place. You simply click once, then reward your dog (and remember your timing and consistency!) After this is repeated various times, there is a great chance your dog will be really excited when he or she hears that click. Don't worry about trying to get your dog to do anything in this stage. Your main objective is to simply teach the dog that a click merits a reward. Once you have this under your belt, you can move on to teaching a command!

I will start with the very basic objective of teaching a dog to sit since that is a good place to begin with training. I mentioned a few approaches above that are commonly used to teach a dog how to pair a word with a movement. I'll talk about molding first. Molding is essentially using physical assistance to guide the dog's body to the position you are desiring. So, in this case a hand applying some gentle pressure to a standing dog's rear end would assist in guiding him or her to the sit position. This may or may not be a helpful approach, as some dogs will resist the pressure and because forcing a dog into a position is never desirable.

Luring a dog is simply using a treat or toy to guide your dog to the correct position. With the 'sit' command, it is most common to hold the reward slightly over the dog's head. This typically will cause your dog to look upward and elicit a natural response of sitting. I find that by combining both molding and luring, it provides a dog with ample guidance and successfully induces a sitting position. This would involve using one hand to hold the reward slightly above your dog's head while the other hand applies the gentle pressure on the dog's backside. Often, this combination of efforts will provoke a very successful sit!

Oh, but don't forget - the clicker ALSO needs to be in one of your hands. Because I am right-handed, I typically use my left hand to apply the pressure and hold both a treat and a clicker in my right hand. As soon as the dog successfully gets into position, click first and then reward! If you are anything like myself, you will likely feel like having four or five arms (and maybe a couple of brains) would be helpful for something as theoretically simple as this. Allow yourself some time to also get 'trained' in the art of timing, consistency, and motivation. It does get easier with practice! And, as if you aren't already thinking about enough things, you should refrain from pairing a command with the action until your dog shows signs of 'getting it'. In other words, don't set out to teach your dog a brand new command like this: 'Sit, Casey. Sit. Sittttt, Casey. Sit? Casey, sit. Ok, goooooood sit! Good sit!'

Sound familiar at all? It might look silly to read in text, but many dog owners are guilty of the above 'conversation'. While I am definitely an advocate for being encouragers to our dogs, the excessive number of times the actual command is given will unfortunately only muddy up your dog's brain. Think about it - your dog is standing and hears the word 'sit'. Your dog gets distracted by a noise outside, turns his/her head to look around, and hears the word 'sit'. Your dog hears its name and again hears the word 'sit', then finally does sit and once more hears the word 'sit'. They will be left having no idea what that 'sit' word really meant since it was paired with so many different things in the span of just a few seconds! A better approach is to rely on the molding and luring to 'communicate' with your dog initially. Dogs need time to become familiar with muscle movement before also having a foreign word paired with it. The bottom line is: wait until your pup is showing signs of sitting rather fluidly before pairing a verbal command. Then and only then, you can give the 'sit command right before they begin to move into the correct position and eliminate a lot of confusion for your dog!

Another effective way of using the clicker is to capture behaviors your dog does on its own. For example, if you come home from some errands and your dog greets you by sitting politely, you can click and reward this good behavior. Of course, not everyone cares if their dog jumps all over them when they come in the door, but for large dogs in particular, it can be very helpful to teach them to greet humans in your home properly. This is because not every person who enters your home will be a dog lover, or even if they are, they may not be able to handle the boisterous welcome clobbering that your 75 pound friend offers (i.e. small children and elderly people). If you do not start from an early age with your dog, capturing desirable behaviors may not be enough to fix a problem behavior that has already been learned. But, it can be a great additional way to reinforce good behavior as you are in training, or to start with on a puppy as soon as you bring him/her home.

Before you can move on to teaching more complex tricks, it is very helpful to master the basics. In the future, I will aim to explain how some fun tricks are taught, but it is important to ensure that you have a good foundation with your dog before moving forward. Keep training sessions short and fun and frequent! It can be a lot of fun if you approach it with the right mindset. And finally, allow your dog and yourself time to make progress together! There is no 'quick fix button' with dog training, and it will take patience and repetition to see lasting results.

16 March 2010

Overview on Weight Part 2

Yesterday's post was focused on overweight dogs. Today, I will go over underweight ones.

Dogs that have a lighter frame than most include the sighthounds:

-Italian Greyhounds
-Afghan Hound
-Ibizan Hound
-Pharaoh Hound
-Scottish Deerhounds

With possibly a few exceptions, these are really the only breeds where it is not always a bad thing if you can see their ribs easily. On a Greyhound for instance, you should be able to see a little rib (1 to 3). Allowing a sighthound to gain too much weight is very unhealthy for them because their bone structure and body frames are not designed to withstand a lot of weight.

That being said, sighthounds are anything but weak. These are among the most athletic of dogs and are built for speed and endurance. Think of these guys as the jocks of the dog world. They are light on their feet but are also muscular, powerful and very fast. Whippets can run up to 40mph, and Greyhounds can reach 45mph in three strides. Some think that a fast dog must translate to an active one, but that is a misconception. Although sighthounds love the chance to run on occasion, most are actually very mellow indoors and are known for making excellent house dogs; content to lounge around. Greyhound owners say their dogs are playful and will sprint a few laps around a yard, but after that they are done. This is also something to take into consideration because even breeds built for athleticism can be low key and won't require the same amount of calories as a more active dog.
For instance, retired racing Greyhounds generally only require 2-4 cups of food a day and they weigh 60-70lbs.

Even though sighthounds are narrow, they can still become too thin.

Emaciated Greyhounds

Severely underweight Greyhound

These Greyhounds are in the proper weight.

Salukis often appear even lighter than Greyhounds, but they too can be terribly underweight.

Healthy Saluki

Dogs that require extra calories aren't limited to breeds but rather activity level.

Dogs are the same as people in the sense that how much they eat depends entirely on the individual and their activity level. In my experience, sometimes when a dog is overly hyper, it can actually be an indication that it needs more calories and is suffering from stress. For instance, have you ever been so hungry that you begin to feel anxious or shaky?
It's fairly safe to say that a dog with a daily job to do (hunting, herding, competetive sports etc.) will on average require more calories than one that simply watches TV all day with its owner. But there are many busy, active dogs that expend a great deal of energy even if they are kept in the house all day. If your dog does a lot running up and down stairs, uses your furniture as a jungle gym, gets anxious, cold, or nervous, he most likely uses more energy than an average dog and it's possible he should be fed more than a laid back dog of the same size. At the same time, it should be noted that giving an already energetic dog extra calories can create excess energy and lead to behavior issues.

When a dog isn't getting enough to eat, his focus will be on his next meal, which can make for some behavior that is annoying to us but is a desperate attempt to our dogs. Behavior such as running to the bowl every time you get up, becoming overly possessive of food, stealing food when he never used to, and obsessively licking an empty bowl are all signs that your dog may need more food. On the opposite end, these behaviors can also be seen as dominant, bad habits your dog has formed. So again, it depends on the individual dog. If you are unsure of why your dog is acting this way, get a second opinion.

Horses for example will "fret" when they aren't getting enough to eat. This means that the hungrier they are, the more they move, which is most likely a panic driven instinct to get moving and look for food. And it becomes a vicious cycle.

Severely underweight dogs are sick in more ways than one. They aren't getting the proper nutrition to keep everything functioning properly and it's only a matter of time before they begin suffering from health ailments. They are also not in a proper mental or emotional state and will begin to rely on their survival instincts more and more.

Dogs also put weight on differently depending on their age. A 6 month - 1 year old puppy is going to be lankier, whereas a 4-5 year old is going to appear more "filled out". But neither are necessarily underweight or overweight for their age.

If you feel that you are feeding your dog plenty and he/she is still not putting on weight, there could be an underlying health problem such as parasites, bad teeth, diabetes or the brand of food you are feeding may not be right for your dog. Consult a veterinarian if this is the case.

Picture examples:

Healthy Vizsla. Vizslas have a thinner than average body type, but notice how this dog's ribs are not showing and the muscles are visible.

Severely underweight Dalmatian.

For dogs with long hair or thick coats, it can be hard to tell just by looking if they are underweight. So if you have a breed like that, make sure you can feel the ribs easily through a thin layer of fat and make sure hip and back bones are not protuding. This Malamute mix is unfortunately past the point of not knowing.

Underweight Boxer

Boxer in excellent condition

Underweight Italian Greyhound

Healthy Iggy (as their owners often refer to them :) )

I honestly don't know very many dog owners who don't want the best for their dog. The problem clearly doesn't always lie in uncaring owners but rather owners who are unaware, for whatever reason, that their dog is too thin or too heavy.

When deciding if you need to cut back on food or be more generous with it, it's extremely important to not just go off of what you read, but to get the opinion of your vet or someone who knows your dog personally.

Lastly, here is a weight chart by Purina to compare your dog to.

Dog Weight Chart

Thanks for reading!

(I do not take credit for any photos used in this post!)

15 March 2010

Overview on Weight Part 1

As if weight isn't discussed enough in the human world, it can be a pretty hot topic in the dog one too. People seem to take their dog's weight personally. For some of us, it's insulting if someone says our dog is too fat or too thin. I can understand why. Dogs depend entirely on us for everything, and food is no exception. Which means their weight is most often a direct reflection of us. And since they do rely on us for food, it is up to us not to take it personally when we're told our dogs are too fat or too skinny. Being underweight or overweight is just as unhealthy for dogs as it is for humans, in some cases more so. But sometimes it is hard to tell if they are at the proper weight!

I want to talk a little about which breeds are most prone to obesity, which breeds should never get overweight, which breeds are meant to appear thin and which breeds require extra calories on average. I also want to use some examples of what a healthy weight looks like. Of course, every dog in its breed can be an exception. So my best advice is to know your dog and be honest in your evaluation. After all, your dog doesn't know if he's too fat or too skinny. All he knows is if he feels his best or not -- and an overweight or underweight dog is not feeling his best.

Obese Lab compared to healthy Lab

Overweight dogs are more likely to develop a variety of issues including:

-High blood pressure
-Skin problems
-Decreased immune function
-Digestive disorders
-Heat intolerance

...and almost all of these will shorten the lifespan.

Breeds that are prone to obesity include but are not limited to:

-Golden Retrievers
-Lhasa Apsos
-Shih Tzus
-Cocker Spaniels

Most of these breeds are prone to obesity due to a combination of healthy appetites and the way their bodies naturally store fat. I bet it also has to do with these dogs being pretty cute beggers that their owners simply can't say no to! But most dogs will eat when they aren't hungry at all. They eat for a variety of reasons including instincts to preserve, instincts to horde, and instincts to put anything that entices their noses into their mouths.

If you have a dog that seems like a bottomless pit, and is gaining excess weight because of it, don't buy into feeling sorry for him or think he must not be getting enough to eat. A lot of people feel that feeding their dog is a way to show love, which is also a misconception and a bad habit to form. Don't try to buy your dog's love by giving him a million options, either. Laying out a variety of treats that your dog can eat any time he wants or switching your dog's food every so often will usually create a finicky, picky eater, not to mention cause stomach upset.
We give food to our friends to express emotions. Pies for the new neighbors, dinners for those who are mourning, cakes for birthdays. But honestly, a walk with your dog or a training session would mean more to him emotionally than a cookie!

For some breeds, being overweight is especially a health hazard. Aside from the normal complications that can come along with extra weight, these breeds have certain physical characteristics that make being overweight very dangerous for them.

Breeds that are especially in danger if overweight include:

-Basset Hounds
-Lhasa Apsos
-French Bulldogs
-Boston Terriers
-Cavalier King Charles Spaniels

Dachshunds, Corgis and Bassets for example are "achondroplastic" or "dwarf" dogs, meaning they have the skeletal frame of a larger dog on short legs. They have elongated bodies and broad chests for their size. For these breeds, even being 5-10lbs overweight is a massive amount. Put simply, extra weight means extra stress on their already sometimes fragile backs and joints. Really, it is self explanatory to see why a dog of this stature should never be overweight. Most of these breeds are already prone to inter-vertebral disc disease (a spinal condition that can often lead to paralysis) and carrying extra pounds makes them much more likely to have problems with IVDD. Some breeds that aren't dwarfs are also at risk for IVDD including Beagles, Pomeranians, Cocker Spaniels, Bulldogs, Lhasa Apsos and Pekingese.

Not sure about all breeds, but I do know that for Dachshunds, 1 in 5 end up with IVDD and statistics show that being overweight is a contributing factor. Also, being muscular and in shape can help prevent and also heal the problem should it arise.

Pugs, Boston Terriers, Lhasa Apsos, Boxers and Pekingese for example are "brachycephalic" or short nosed breeds. Difficulty breathing is probably the most common health problem for breeds such as these. Heat stroke and hyperthermia can occur much quicker for a dog with a flat face than it can for a dog with a regular or long muzzle. Being overweight will certainly increase the risk of breathing complications and restrictions and will most definitely cause your dog to be much more uncomfortable than is necessary.

For dogs that are flat faced and have "cobby" bodies, (such as Pugs and Bulldogs) it is important to remember that you should still be able to see a waistline when looking at your dog from above and the ribs should be felt easily. Many adult dogs of breeds that are prone to weight gain will need to be fed lower calorie diets.

Here are some picture examples of overweight and healthy dogs.

Obese Bulldog

Bulldog at the correct weight

Overweight Jack Russell Terrier

Healthy and fit Jack Russell Terrier

Morbidly obese Dachshund

Dachshund in ideal shape

Obese Beagle

Healthy Beagle!

Tomorrow I will go over underweight dogs, so check back!

(I do not take credit for any photos used in this post!)

11 March 2010

Meet Bam Bam

Bam Bam is my latest foster puppy. She is about 11 weeks old and appears to be a Lab mix, possibly with Boxer. She's been great to have around! While she does have a set of lungs that she utilizes to the max whenever I have to leave her in her crate, she has slept very well through the night and is one of the most easy-going puppies I've hosted. Gabe likes to play with her and she's reciprocated that despite their size difference! It is my hope that she will go to a home that will help her build confidence. She has probably not been exposed to many life experiences, so cars, strangers, and even geese have frightened her a little. Still, she quickly warms up once she feels comfortable. She is up for adoption this Saturday along with her sister and many other puppies!

07 March 2010

Snow and Tell

Some friends and I spent the weekend in Winter Park, Colorado. Gabe got to come with us, so that made things pretty much perfect! We took a hike in fresh snow and Gabe did his best to cover his entire body in it. Just sharing a few photos I took...


03 March 2010

Clicking With Your Dog

For some dog owners,'positive reinforcement' training methods are a relatively new concept. Long-gone are the days of using a rolled up newspaper or shoving a dog's nose in its own excrement to try and punish an undesirable behavior (and for this I am very thankful, as are dogs everywhere). Positive reinforcement training takes a different approach to shaping dogs' behaviors: simply presenting your pup with a reward immediately following a good and desired behavior.

Think about it. If you were given an unexpected bonus at work simply for doing a good job, wouldn't you be more prone to keep up the good work in hopes that another bonus may be granted further down the road? I would surely stay with a company that treated me in this fashion as opposed to one that was constantly nagging me for what I didn't do well or scared me into maintaining a certain performance. In a similar fashion, a dog trained with positive reinforcement methods will trust its owner more and even desire to please more. Some dogs become so savvy in this method of training that they will begin to offer behaviors without even being asked. It is for these reasons that positive reinforcement is a most humane, effective training philosophy.

Perhaps the most well-known tool for aiding in positive reinforcement training is the clicker. Chances are you've seen (or probably heard) clickers if you have ever been in a pet supply store. Their name is not misleading - clickers are a small, hand-held tool that produce a clicking noise when the button is compressed. Some dog owners scratch their heads in wonder at these little contraptions, wondering how in the world a clicker will get their dog to perform (as if it is some sort of remote control for magically controlling a dog). In actuality, the sound of the click is not an inherent stimulus to a dog. Rather, it must be paired with something the dog is very motivated by (i.e. food, a toy, or physical affection) to be effective. With enough time and repetition, the clicker itself can become like a reward and you can cut back on the other reinforcement. But, you should always sporadically use different forms of motivation to keep it interesting for your dog.

All of the above may lead many of you to wonder: 'why not just use my voice?' The reason the clicker is preferable is because it is so consistent. When you talk to your dog, any number of things can vary - the volume of your voice, the inflection you speak with, the words you use, etc. Dogs are certainly not born understanding the human language, so the clicker is a more simple way of communicating. On a similar note, be sure that every person in your household agrees on which commands to use when training. If one person says 'down' and one person says 'lay' and one person says 'lay down' and all three of those people expect the same action from the dog, you can see how confusing it could get for your pup. Once a dog understands that with a click comes a positive reward and it follows a certain action paired with a certain word, they will definitely be tuned in.

Another important thing to keep in mind with clicker training is that timing is crucial. Think of a clicker like a camera. When you see a behavior you like, the click can be likened to 'taking a picture' of that behavior. It takes dogs less than 2 seconds to associate cause and effect. Meaning, if your dog sits on command and you need to reinforce him for it, you better have that treat (and clicker!) ready so he receives it within seconds. Otherwise, your 'picture' is off and you are not able to capture the exact moment that you wanted to. In this case, if your dog breaks the sit command and rises to stand, you have now captured that behavior instead.

In summary, the most important things to remember when clicker training are timing, consistency, and motivation. In future weeks, I will expand on more specifics regarding the use of clickers and plan on demonstrating these techniques with my own dog, Gabe. So check back!

01 March 2010

Penny-Lane is in my ears and in my eyes

As you might've noticed, the picture at the top of our blog has changed. Meet the new dog of March, "Penny-Lane", owned by Sarah Orzechowski!

Each month we will be featuring a new dog on our blog as "dog of the month".

I think this picture is great. What can I say? I'm a sucker for high quality photos, abnormally cute puppies...and dog tongues. So naturally this photo was a winner. And Becca agreed.

Here is a little interview with Sarah about the adorable Penny-Lane. (Love that name!)


(Photo credit goes to Shane Vald├ęs for taking this fantastically awesome photo.)

Age: 6 months old

Breed: Boston Terrier

Where did you get Penny-Lane? We got her in Arcadia, CA...bought her from a crazy breeder lady.

What made you choose her? We chose her because I loved her markings, and she had the sweetest face! It was also because we needed to find a partner in crime for my bf's Jack Russell that would be able to keep up with him and his enormous amount of energy. She was the perfect size and breed to become his new best friend!

How did you name her? Named her after one of our favorite Beatles songs.

Describe Penny-Lane in 3 words: She is extremely lovable, playful, and pretty sneaky.

Thanks again Sarah and Shane for letting us look at Penny-Lane for the next 31 days!