Brought to you by the Ruff Translating team!
In celebration of Labor Day Weekend, it seems the opportune moment to discuss the work ethic of our canine companions. Yes, even your couch potato, needs to have a purpose in life.
In defining the "work" of dogs, we can discuss those specialized breeds who have specific skill sets that professionals and hobby-dog workers alike capitalize on. There are the obvious jobs- seeing eye dogs, bomb/drug sniffing canines, hunting/retrievers, the farm dogs. But every single dog will create a job for itself even if you do not train it do so.
For example, let's talk about the alarm-bell dog. Dogs who are hyper vocally reactive to outside stimulus like the mail carriers, delivery trucks, or become the unofficial neighborhood watch are often times totally bored and creating work for themselves to pass the time. Once this becomes a pattern, you can end up with a dog who basically has decided that it's primary purpose in life it so to push away intruders. That behavior is reinforced when routine postal workers/delivery drivers/kids walking home from school leave (in dog's mind, from their barking), creating a cause/response pattern that can be really challenging to change.
There are some great ways to integrate more work opportunities for the unemployed house dog. This is by no means a complete list, but let's just call it some of the available "entry level" positions for your pooch.
It has been been quite a bit of time since we announced our relocation to beautiful, sunny, warm, Tampa, Florida! We had quite the task to close down both our our businesses (the farm and the boarding component of Ruff Translating) and get our family settled, stable and ready for this next chapter in our lives. But we did it! And we are loving life here, and so are our pups, who have taken to beach life like mermaids! One of the great things about forming a strong bond with your pack and establishing consistent rules is that it can make adjusting to an entirely different world both possible AND fun. Our two working dogs require the same amount of exercise no matter where we live, so we had to adjust their routines to allow them still to get the running and structured exercise time that they needed. So far we have discovered SO many fun alternatives to our farm work, and they have so enjoyed our new times together skating on the trails, going for walks with back packs, swimming and learning new fun public socializing tasks like going to breweries consistently. Warms a trainer heart, that is for sure!
Of course, it hasn't all been beach trips and sunshine, like many pet families, we have had to work really hard to get our crew on board with life out of a 7 bedroom farmhouse and 50 acres, and into a lovely 500 square foot bungalow Florida home. But we are certainly enjoying the challenge, which leads us to our next announcement!
I have formally accepted a position working with K-9 Perceptions in Tampa! I'm still working with Lap of Love, which is an amazing organization, but am now ready to start accepting a full docket of training clients in Florida. I've joined a team so that I can update this blog with more fun dog tips/tricks and thoughts regularly, and focus on training, rather than running a full time business. This means you can expect to see many more blog posts! I will be updating the Ruff Translating site to reflect that all of my training clients will now be scheduled through K-9 Perceptions, and this will become a place fully for rants, videos, pictures, and all things dog training related outside of scheduling with me! I'm so excited for this shift on the site, and more so to meet all of the Tampa Pups!! Please feel free to share and help me spread the word that we are here, we are ready/able to help dogs and families- we are still getting to know Tampa so your votes of confidence will definitely help me reach more pups and their people.
We have big news! After years of working in the Capital District, we are taking our training program on the road! Ejay has been offered an amazing opportunity to work with Lap of Love, a veterinary hospice and in home euthanasia program that has doctors nationwide serving pets and their families. As you know, all of Ruff Translating's work has always been focused on building the familial relationships with your pets, either in our boarding program or our any of our training programs. This opportunity will offer us the training and experience to expand our skill sets and truly help families processing and planning for one of the most challenging moments in our journey together.
But wait! There's more! Ruff Translating isn't going away, rather we are headed for the Lap of Love home in Tampa, Florida! Once we are established in Tampa, we will be offering ALL of our regular training services. We are so looking forward to meeting all of the Florida pups, and continuing the good work of building relationship and offering solid solutions to training challenges. If you have a friend or family who could use our help in the Tampa Bay region- don't hesitate to send them our way! We are already getting ready to start booking training clients and we can't wait to meet you!
Love is in the air, and with that, we should discuss the type of matchmaking that ends in hair all over your clothes, suddenly talking in a cutesie voice, and midnight Amazon shopping for a car vacuum. Well, maybe that's just me- but you get the point. For many, choosing a dog is about choosing the most visually adorable features. Now, the aesthetic of a dog can tell us a lot about whether a dog would be a right match- size, strength, fur length, health needs- all of those things should impact your dog choice. But there is so much more to finding the right match. When I'm working with a client through my Adoption Counseling, I start by sending them these questions, so that I know baseline what they are looking for. These questions aren't the totality of our conversation- nor do I always rely on the initial answers. Really, the goal is for us to begin thinking about what the most important topics may be for the Adopter, so that as we meet dogs those things are in the forefront. Below I've provided a little bit more context to help understand the question and what to consider a little bit more fully so that you can use it on your own as a resource!
1. What is your time frame for adopting a dog?
A lot of folks get REALLY excited at the thought of adopting a dog, and want it to happen very quickly. I totally understand this enthusiasm- but in reality it will likely take months before you have Fido home. Yes, months. Sometimes a love at first sight connection works great, but my experience as a trainer has taught me that this is rarity. Selecting a rescue or a breeder alone may take time, plus it's important to meet a few dogs before you make a decision. And I mean, who can say no to petting more dogs?
2. Do you want a puppy, or an adult dog?
Adult dogs are not necessarily easier than puppies. Most people are very worried about potty training a puppy, but honestly in terms of training tasks- that is not the hardest challenge. Puppies are often times a better option for families with babies up to roughly age ten, depending on the family's ability to be available during the day or hire a dog walker. Being comfortable with children is a learned skill for all dogs, some take to it naturally and some don't. This isn't a flaw in the dogs themselves, just a personality trait we have to consider. The puppy trouble spots are not for everyone though. Teething, developmental process, and energy levels mean that puppies aren't for everyone. I find that families who have really hectic schedules, including older kids with activities may actually be more comfortable integrating an adult dog into the family. Every situation is different, be honest with yourself about what you can realistically handle.
3. Why do you want whichever you chose above?
This question is here because I often need to know what the rationalization is for a client to want a specific age dog. Sometimes their concerns make sense to me- for example, someone who has sleep issues may not want a toy breed puppy who needs several breaks at night. Other times those things are based on a misconception about dog behavior. For example, many rescue dogs do not come with "abuse issues". Sometimes it's just a simple re-home situation, because things change in folks livest that create a hardship resulting in surrendering their pet. Understanding what motivates a client helps me pick out matches, and address any underlying concerns- justified or not!
4. Is this your first dog as an "adult"?
Many folks of all ages grew up with dogs in their home. But that is a very, very different scenario than being responsible for your first dog as an adult in the world. This question helps a lot with breed recommendations. Some breeds, even crosses, are not what is sometimes called "starter dogs". Many dogs breeds become popular through the Westminster dog show or popular culture. Notably- think of Dalmations and German Shepherds. Both of these breeds are remarkable- but both present training challenges that can be overwhelming for first time dog owners. After meeting Swanson, I have some clients begging me to match them with a border collie, or border collie cross. There are exceptions, and Swanson is undeniably charming, but overall, border collies are not great house pets unless they are kept very, very busy. For active athletes who can bring their dogs to work, they may be a great match. But they have zero chill unless they are bone tired, both physically and mentally. Our lovely Australian Shepherd Rio came to us as a re-home after her previous owner realized that she had gotten in over her head. Rio was anxious, difficult, unresponsive, and prone to actual tantrums when she came to us. She is still a highly energetic dog who requires a ton of structure. For us, this is easily managed as my job and lifestyle are conducive to her needs. But otherwise she is easily a dog that could have redirected her energy into accidentally nipping a child or getting hit by a car.
5. Do you have friends or family nearby to let your dog out during the day, or a work schedule that allows you to come home? Can your dog go to work with you?
It's a big ask for dogs to be home alone, crated or loose, for 8-10 hours per day. There are dogs who can handle the responsibility and solitude of a busy work schedule. They are not in the majority however. There are many professional services which can get your dog a walk, or offer day care during the day- even a few times a week can make a huge difference in the health and behavior of your pet. Puppies will absolutely need a break every few hours, the standard rule is that they can be expected to hold their bladders for one hour for every month that they are old. So a three month old pup (12 weeks) should get a break at least every three hours. Feeding a puppy a mid-day meal really helps with potty training also, which is another incentive to hire or bribe a friend to help. Consider finding an apartment or house that is close enough to your job so that if you have an hour lunch break, so you can at least get home to give relief yourself. I know that many folks work long hours, or can't afford to hire someone. If you can't get a friend to help you out in exchange for the love of your pup- maybe consider trying to start a savings account to save up for the care you will need. Everyone deserves to have a dog in their life, but we also have the obligation to make sure that we can provide the appropriate care.
6. What breed(s) most interest you? Why?
Some folks grew up with a certain breed, or have a friend who has a dog that really appeals to them. What I'm looking for here, is to see if there are themes to the types of dogs that a client likes. Sticky-up ears? Floppy? Smooth coat? Long hair? Active? More of a couch potato? Rough size? Whether or not we go with the breed they request, or I make an alternative recommendation- start to think of breeds that you like in terms of traits, rather than just breeds.
7. Are you more interested in pure bred dogs, mixed breed pups, or open to either?
I'm not a trainer who has any qualms about responsible breeding. Some dogs are bred to do specific tasks, jobs, or give great behaviors that will end up in a dog love match. That is my ultimate goal. I want to have the conversation with my clients about breed reliability, and really talk to to them about working with a breed-specific rescue if there is a breed that's a great fit for them. For some people, they worry about health issues that are predominant in pure breed dogs, and there is some merit to that if their preferences line up with breeds that have a history of health concerns. In those cases it may be the best fit to go with a mixed breed pup. If the client is considering health insurance for their pet, this is an important consideration here too.
8. Are you 100% set on getting a rescue, and why?
Rescues are a wonderful option and a good many rescue dogs do not have trauma related behavior responses. Rescuing a dog is a wonderful thing to do- but the best goal is ALWAYS finding the right dog match. For some people, a rescue does not give the best chances of a dog match. For clients that I'm working with to train an ESA (emotional support animal), a therapy dog, or even a service dog- there are many reasons to go with a pup from a breeder- including reliability in performance or temperament. Also, some rescues do not have the resources to provide a complete behavior screening or even basic history. So if a client really wants to go the rescue route, it will be even more important for me as a trainer to be there during their meet and greets to help screen for behaviors and compatibility. I do not believe in the "Adopt Don't Shop" myth, at all. Rescues are run by humans, who are not perfect. There are missteps, confusion, and a lack of resources that can really affect an adoption experience. There is also a real value in having a pure breed dog if you need your dog to do a specific task (like move your pigs around). It is valid to find a dog that you will cherish as a member of your family no matter what.
9. What role will your dog have in your daily life? For example- do you want a cuddle bug who doesn't need a ton of exercise? Do you want an athlete? A working breed?
What always surprises me when I ask this question in person is how many people struggle to find an answer. I love to talk about what their dog ownership goals look like. Exploring the role that your new dog will have in your life really helps figure out which profiles or breeds might be a match. It's a good place to get really honest with yourself about what you need from your pet- and how much change you may be interested in pursuing. Owning herding dogs has made me a better trainer and farmer- but even I've been surprised at times with how much I need to do to challenge them and keep their behavior reliable. Sometimes even after a few hours of farm work we need several trick training sessions to keep them focused and chill. Our lives revolve around dogs, but we also need them to be really, really cuddly, which they are great at. Not all dogs are, and again- that's not a flaw. It's just a personality trait.
10. How much exercise can you say with confidence that your dog will get daily? (30 min, 15 min, 45min, 60+min)
Similarly to the last question, different dogs have different exercise requirements. A good deal of training nightmares can be totally avoided by selecting a dog that is well within your abilities to provide exercise for. And this doesn't include routine potty walks- we're talking about above and beyond, hopefully to a full pant. Often times a client may say, "Well when I get my dog, I'm going to take up running". This very well may be true, but it probably has a worse average than a New Year's Resolution. Life happens, and both owner and dog will be happier if they are an energy match from the start.
11. Are you planning to get pet insurance?
Thinking about medical care for your future dog can be kind of a bummer. But there is little more heartbreaking than when you do enter the end of life stage for your pet, and we need to plan for it now. Unfortunately, just like people, things happen unexpectedly. If you can set aside some money, or get insurance, you can focus on the care of your pet rather than feeling terrified that you can't help them. For some people, insurance isn't a cost they can afford, and that's okay too. Using great dog food, providing routine care, and saving where you can will help. It may be in your best interest to get a mixed breed dog, who have less genetic predispositions to certain conditions. Pet insurance is also it's own minefield, and finding the right company is crucial. Examine any policy thoroughly as the terms and conditions vary widely.
12. Do you need your dog to like other dogs?
Not all dogs have to be social- but some folks are social with their dogs, and their friend's dogs. This means you need your dog to be reliably not reactive, at the very least. Swanson is a non-reactive but selectively social dog. It takes constant work for me to make sure that he maintains his comfort in highly social situations. Sometimes that means setting up his travel crate, sometimes that means focusing on fetch. Swanson has never escalated beyond a growl towards another dog, but I know his body language enough to stop any escalating situation. He loves his siblings, and has many dog friends who he plays with joyfully. But he doesn't form that bond with every dog. Rio, is always, always down for a new dog. Figuring out what you need from your dog will really help you plan your adoption and training. If you plan on using the dog park as part of your main exercise or socialization, you need a dog who shows no signs of escalation, basically at all. This is not the standard for typical dog behavior. There is a misconception that all dogs should like all other dogs. This is categorically untrue, and unrealistic. All dogs should be taught self control, and to not engage to the fullest possible point. But I don't expect that I will like every person I meet, though I will be polite and respectful. I'm not going to expect more than that of any dog, and it's my job as an owner to help them get there.
13. Do you need your dog to enjoy the company of children?
When kids come to our house, Rio and Badger get crated until Rio can calm down her excitement (which can be overwhelming to any size human), and Badger stays there indefinitely. Badger is actually pretty good with kids. But he does best with kids who take verbal instructions really well, and can get anxious if toddlers grab him suddenly. He wouldn't bit necessarily, but I'm not going to put him, or a kid at risk. Not that he would ever be up for grabs- but he would be a poor placement for a house with small children. Swanson adores kids of any size, forever. He loves people, period. And he is excellent at showing exceptional control even with kids who can't walk yet. If you have children, or children in your life on a daily basis- get a dog that is Swanson level excited to hang with them. Managing a dog like Badger could get exhausting, and a mistake could end in tragedy.
14. Have you ever trained a dog before?
Dog training continues to evolve as we do further research and studies to the effectiveness of a variety of tools, as well as in dog cognition. Additionally, training one dog does not qualify us to train the next. Dog training is more of a scientifically informed art than anything else. We need a wide tool kit as a dog learns, adapts, or when a new dog comes into our life. Additionally, pure breeds show strengths is some areas more than others, and breed types will help inform a mixed breed pup too. There are dogs that require really strong leadership, both because of personality, and because of breed type. Knowing what you know, and what you really don't- should be a huge factor in deciding which dog is for you. If this is your first adult dog, definitely do not get a dog that has words like "shy with new people but warms up" in a profile (code for separation anxiety), or a dog that has a feral past. These dogs can be GREAT pets, but could easily be overwhelming for a first time trainer.
15. Do you have 30-40 min per day to work with a new dog teaching it manners and commands? If not, are you able to consider a board and train program?
Listen, we're all busy. Board and Train programs can be an excellent way to start from a secure place and get a jump on training. Finding a solid and respectable program may take some time- but ultimately it may take less time than months of putting off training that results in problem behaviors. Whenever you bring a new dog into your house, there is no grace period for rules. The work starts on that first day!
16.What activity are you most looking forward to doing with your dog?
Get Excited! Life with a dog is better. My favorite things to do with my dogs vary with the seasons, but by far one of my favorite things is an off leash beach walk. I need my dogs to keep up with my busy lifestyle, and I love showing them off in public spaces with their excellent manners and ability to focus on me in any situation. Are you a winter sport fiend? Do you visit a grandma in a nursing home? There's definitely a dog for that, and knowing what you most want will help you get there.
17. Are you planning to crate train?
Crate training is mandatory, for so many reasons. If someone is reluctant to crate train despite ALL of the benefits it offers, I may send a few profiles of already crate trained dogs, so that the work is done and they can see the benefits first hand! Any dog, or puppy, adjusting to a new space will absolutely be more successful with correct crate training. Not to mention that your vet and your boarding facility will thank you!
Finding the right dog for you takes time and effort, but that day that you come home to a wagging tail and grab a leash for an adventure- is worth all of that process. And please, don't be afraid to ask for help, you don't have to be a dog behavior expert, there are good trainers everywhere desperate to play matchmaker for you. As a matter of fact, I would love to- and you can check that out here!
For those adding a second or third pack member, we will talk about that in a future post!
As a member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, I've set a personal goal for myself this year to participate in at least 8 continuing education webinars or courses on various dog training topics. There is always more to learn about dog cognition, behavior and developments of studies that can help me be a better trainer, or at least explain things more clearly to clients I'm working with.
Today's focus was a webinar on dog/dog reactivity and something that struck a cord with me was the role that we, all dog owners, create a hostile culture for those handlers working with a reactive dog, through our own actions.
This is something that I often try to impart to students, that even if your dog is well socialized, and enjoys the company of other dogs- you do not have a right to create an environment where dog/dog greetings are mandatory or expected. In fact, we may be harming even our friendly dogs by not allowing for a more constructive, organized, and reserved greeting.
My pup Rio, has yet to meet a dog that she doesn't immediately think is wonderful. This makes her very social- but sometimes that sociability looks to me, like an over confidence and even an unwanted behavior. She doesn't always know (or perhaps, as a herding dog she thinks she can convince otherwise) when a dog is stressed, or thinks she is coming on too strong. I've had to work hard to control her interactions, and train a very strong recall to help manage her interactions and greetings. This way, I'm keeping both dogs safe. I've also found that greeting in a dog park is way too stimulating for her, even though she seems to enjoy making so many friends. I prefer her to have a large indoor space for a greeting, as her interactions are more reliable. We're working towards expanding her best dog/dog greeting options- not because she is aggressive, or shy- but because she is very excitable and can be vocal. I see it as my obligation to help build her impulse control and create space between her interactions with other dogs by acting as an intermediary.
Swanson and Badger are both dogs who love the company of other dogs, but Badger shows some reactivity when not introduced slowly, with controls. Reactivity in a dog doesn't automatically mean aggression, though for some dogs it can lead there. Rather, it means that the dog is over stimulated and prone to making decisions that are embarrassing, dangerous, or just out of control. When any of my dogs show reactivity, for a variety of reasons, slightly different from each other- my main focus is getting their attention, and redirecting them to something as an alternative, usually a sit and eyes on me. I often use the "touch" command to get them more interested in engaging with me. I also use my body language to set a more physical barrier and presence in between myself and whatever the current distraction is. But what should our jobs be when it is not our own dog showing reactivity?
The same thing as the handler who is working the reactive dog, of course! 99% of the time, Rio and Swanson are non reactive. Badger probably averages about 85% percent, depending on what the distraction is. But that isn't something that happens automatically, no matter how much time we have spent working together. Rather, every day is still a training session, and I try to keep a dog's focus on me no matter what is happening around us. I want to be the most exciting, fun, and safe option in the room at any given time.
Recently, this was put to the test when we took a trip to the nursing home. While we were hanging out with family who were visiting our relative who lives there, and making some friends in the lobby, a full bag pipe band and group of carolers walked in. That's right, a full bag pipe band. And yes, we have done parades, loud tractors, and lots of other big prep work to lead up to situations just like this one. But I still switched into a high active mode, making both dogs face me, in a sit, and look directly at me on command while the band played on. I wanted to communicate that I wasn't at all concerned about the loud music, a particularly less familiar strain of sounds then what they are used to at home. I reinforced their attention with verbal praise and even a few treats.And they reacted beautifully, with no stumbles! My process would be same if we saw a dog who looked reactive. I don't want my dogs to escalate a problem because they feel threatened, or challenged. Rather, I want them to act as though it's not of their business, and trust I will shepherd them safely through every scenario.
I want handlers who are teaching their reactive dogs new patterns and coping strategies, the space and lessened stressful environment. So I use these guidelines for dog/dog interactions when in public, leashed spaces. This is incomplete, but it gives a baseline for rethinking how we allow for dogs to greet new dogs, or not at all.
1. First, I try not to be totally distracted when walking with my leashed dogs. Even when my head phones are on, I'm scanning the perimeter and noting my surroundings. I look for turning vehicles, on coming dogs, children, bikes etc. Along with this, like many trainers will tell you, correctly, I try to keep my dogs leashed loosely on the opposite side of whatever distraction I pass, so that I'm the first interaction between whatever the challenge is, and my dogs.
2. As we are walking, I periodically practice eye contact ("look"), and work to maintain a close position with my dog, on a loose leash no longer than 6 feet. It's much easier to keep control and good communication on a short leash.
3. If I'm in a space where we may be asked if the dogs are "friendly", I first gauge how comfortable and confident I am with the handler requesting a greeting. If they are handling a dog that is very excited, lunging, pulling, even with a wagging tail, I automatically pass. Usually I can diffuse disappointment with something neutral like "I'm sorry, we are running late!" or "not today!".I won't compromise on this even if it feels uncomfortable, because that level of excitement is reactivity, and I don't want it to escalate at all. Also automatic turn downs are those dogs with intense glares, even non vocal.
4. Most often, it's the handlers who don't ask about greetings who we end up interacting with, and only if both dogs seem interested, completely loose leashed, and not hyper focused. It's very rare that I'm totally comfortable and interested with my leashed dogs greeting another leashed dog. I'm happier to pass by or even travel together briefly with dogs who aren't interested in my pack!
5. If I see a handler struggling to work towards resolving or preventing reactivity of any kind, I give a ton of space, including crossing a street. I don't want to make their job any harder. Furthermore, though my own pack probably doesn't need it, once I have enough space, I will use food as a reinforcement to their complete attention and move quickly away from the other handler. Once we are in the clear, I will use positive verbal reinforcement and that food reward to reinforce that I'm very pleased with their powers of impulse control, and focus!
Working together to agree that dog greetings should be the exception, not the rule can aid with dog safety, and provides a great option to help your dog build their focus and impulse control.
My wife is a dog nut. She always has been in the time that I have known her, which is lucky given my line of work, and dedication of half our house to guest pups. It doesn't seem fair that I haven't fully introduced her, so I took some time to interview her on her particular skill set and role within our business.
I am a strong advocate of crate training. Not only does it keep a dog, particularly a puppy, safe from hazards when unsupervised - but it benefits dogs when they need to stay at the vet overnight, or board someone unfamiliar. Potty training using the crate as a tool means less accidents, which helps puppies condition faster to using the bathroom outside only. Crates can be useful even in adulthood when we have guests who may have a challenging time greeting our dog friends, either because of fear, allergy, or some other condition that makes dogs greetings more complex.
Most people that I meet and work with only use a crate for when a puppy is small, and than ditch the tool when the dog is house trained well enough. Many of these dogs are "crate tolerant"- meaning that they will be crated, but could find it stressful- still make some noise, and are reluctant to enter when asked. Tolerating a crate is helpful - but what is better is having a fully crate trained dog!
Dogs that are fully crate trained are much less likely to bark or whine, even when their owners are in plain sight. Dogs that are fully trained do not rush doors or gates when being let out of their crates, and instead wait to be invited to exit. They enter the crate on command, with no resistance. Much more than that- they can often be found resting in a crate even when the door is open, or other sleeping options are available. As I write this, one of our dogs is on the couch, one is sleeping in a downstairs crate near the wood stove, and one is upstairs in the dog bedroom- a gated off area in our upstairs landing where they have beds and sleep overnight. This tells me a few things- 1. Our dogs are secure enough to rest out of sight, and know where they are allowed to do so. 2. Two of the three dogs have chosen crates or restricted smaller spaces to rest. They are comfortable and feel safe in their provided environment. While our dogs are not allowed to sleep in our bedroom (except for when it's so hot they need the air conditioning), they are not lacking in bonding with us. They are responsive, engaged, and incredibly trusting, with good recall and reliable listening skills. Many folks think that in order for their dogs to know they love them, they have to spend the majority of the time petting, cuddling, or sleeping next to their pet. While all of those things are wonderful ways to share affection with our dogs, it isn't the way in which we primarily bond.
My goal in crate training is create confidence and security in my dogs. I find that the crate also helps keep our self control training consistent. I want them to feel comfortable on their own, but not overwhelmed with the responsibility of a vast space. Rather, I want to provide a space for them where the only objective is to be calm, and quiet. We do this by super charging the crate itself with positive associations and rewards at first, and an unyielding commitment to silence being the only way puppy is allowed to exit unless they are communicating a bathroom need. Using a crate as a quiet reset can help when you are training around excitement issues such as greeting guests at the door, feeding times, visiting dogs or children. If you can create the right mindset for your dog around the crate- it can become a tool for the duration of their lives. I often times use it even when I'm doing training with my own pack, making them take turns working solo and being quietly observant in a crate. When we leave the house, our dogs, even the 7 year old, still stay crated. They are calmer this way, and it also helps us worry less that we didn't put something away that could be a mess or an accident.
Too often folks believe that dogs "outgrow" the usefulness of a crate. But when done with care, it can increase the stability of your dog, and make them more versatile from traveling, to boarding, to veterinary care. Even if you don't want to crate your dogs every time you leave, consider practicing a few times of month to keep the positive association fresh.
Even newly adopted adult dogs can be crate trained. The major thing to remember is that you have to be incremental with your crate training, and use food rewards liberally. Feed all of the meals in the crate for 3-4 months. Nothing inspires crate fondness like meals only being given there! Practice with you dog in the crate when they can see you, when they can't, and when you aren't home. A radio can help reduce stimulation and help your dog focus on a good nap. Exercise before crating practice can help associate the space with rest as well. Leave a treat as special crate-only option. Some of the favorites at our house are cow hooves, frozen pb kongs, bully sticks or pigs ears. I like to use a treat that take some time to finish, particularly one that involves chewing as it releases stress hormones. Some dogs prefer a cover, some prefer an open view. And be consistent.
When a dog feels safe, they are more reliable with commands and expected behaviors. They are less inclined to pace, to be destructive, to have accidents. The crate mindset is one that isn't automatic just because your dog has been crated- rather it's a willingness to respect the boundaries of space, and know when being asked to settle down from an emotional high for whatever reason. The benefits are vast, and it is one of the easiest things you can do to help have a happy dog home!
One of the positions that I've held in professional pet care is as a dog walker. It's one of my favorite all time jobs and every once and awhile I still get to dust off my sneakers and see some pups about a fire hydrant. While my own pack and our boarders go on walks with regularity, I don't work as a dog walker any more, and it really is a wonderful day when I get the chance. I'm almost always accompanied by at least 2 of my own dogs, and sometimes all 3 if the schedule is light enough. That's right, I voluntarily and enthusiastically walk at least 2 extra dogs at any given time.
Now part of this, is practical. You can't have 2 herding dogs and not figure out ways to tire them out, and there is never an exception day. Both of the pups are young, and even with daily farm chores they need substantial exercise. We can walk for 6-8 miles together and still come home and have a rowdy hour field run. The other reason that I bring my little tag-along buddies is that it the communication during a structure leash walk is an excellent foundation and relationship building exercise. The point of leashing your dog is often framed as restraining it from danger or trouble, or abiding the law. But I think that leash work is attaching yourself to a hotline that runs right to your dog. You dog senses a lot by reading your body language and position, and using a leash to emphasize the right kinds of emotions and leadership can do wonders for your training journey.
The first thing in shifting your relationship to leash walks is to take a look at your leash set-up. Are you using a harness? A flexileash? A flat collar? In my opinion there is little better than a slip lead for leash walks. There are exceptions, and like all tools- used incorrectly it is ineffective and even harmful. But when you are properly trained to use one (which is not via reading a blog), it is invaluable. Whether I am walking one dog, or 10, everyone is ideally on a slip lead. If nothing else, scrap your harness. Certain front-clip harnesses can be useful to limit pulling- but the set up itself is about overpowering your dog, rather than teaching it. A dog on a front-clip harness will most likely always need to be walked on a front clip harness, it's not teaching leash manners or an automatic heel. If you are using a back clip harness, or a flexileash (the kind that are retractable) toss them in the trash. I mean it, they are useless. These tools teach dogs to pull (we give them more room when the put pressure), are unreliable, and unsafe. I'm trying to avoid a tirade here, and many other trainers have discussed just how useless these tools are. The only time for a back clip harness is if you are teaching your dog to pull- like a sled, or they have a collapsed trachea- both are uncommon so the majority of dogs do not benefit from this. Collars should be placed very high on the neck, snug but not overly tight. The same position is used for slip leads. This position allows for very little pressure to be used to asked the dog to move, versus a low hanging collar where you end up in a tug-of-war with your dog because they can generate so much strength from that position.
The next thing in considering your leash is looking at your tension. Do you have a death grip? Is the leash so tight that you could hang clothes on it? The more tension running on that leash, the more pressure you can watch build in your dog's body language. Usually you can see the tension in a too tight leash running down a dogs back, and it may be accompanied by a lunge, stiff ears and a tail so high, it almost curves inward towards the dogs back. Take a deep breath, and get that tension off. This is where a good trainer comes in, most often. Keeping a loose leash is a delicate dance of knowing when to apply gentle and clear tension in short bursts (like shoulder tap to a friend but using a leash), regaining a dog's focus on you using eye contact, and using your own confident body language to communicate that we are traveling together.
A leash walk should be your foundation to a larger relationship conversation between you and your pet. Anxious, over excited, and well practiced pups ALL benefit from leadership that focuses on the journey and communication between handler and dog. Eye contact, basic commands,and keeping pace are all wonderful things to practice in the context of a leash walk. The feeling of peace when a pack steps in line with you is incomparable, even if it's just a pack of one person and one dog! I also avoid using a "heel" command. The expectation is that the dog is loosely at my side, and we reinforce that position, while discouraging and redirecting tension up ahead. If I'm in a leash scenario where I need any of my pups to move in front of me (a nursing home visit is a great example!), I have a command for that. In this way, I'm framing the conversation that the expectation is you stay close, loose, and at my side, and it's on command to be ahead, behind, or off further away from me. This is very different then having to ask for a loose leash! The clarity in this framework allows for many more dogs to be successful at leash walking in a way that really makes you want to walk, rather than an unpleasant chore. Recently we were visiting the nursing home when an actual full band of bagpipes came blaring into the facility, and both of the dogs we had with us remained totally calm, and quiet, which is a testament to their trust in our shared leash relationship.
Leash training doesn't happen overnight. While dogs have incredible emotional genius- they can read our mood often better than we can- the physical world is a bit more challenging. We have to think about what the dog is experiencing, when they pull or lunge on a leash. They do not necessarily grasp that the string we are holding is applying unpleasant force to our hands when they rail against it. It's more like- "YAY! squirrel!! I'm going!!"- The trick is to work within that framework. We have to send clear signals that we are going to provide a really fun, safe, exciting experience- but we as the leash-holder are going to be the ones who decide where we move, and how. So we have to work together to get the dog to rewire a bit, and think something more like "YAY! Pigeon! We're going past it! This human says we just get to walk by! I'll get to sniff all the things at a stop!". Now, I'm not a dog mind reader- but this is the closest I can explain to what I've seen over years of observation and training. But I think it's really helpful to remember that your dog doesn't actually intentionally want to drag you through the mud- they are just reacting on impulse. And our job is to help them form more impulse control, check in with us, and then we can go together to do all the fun things. When you think about it this way- of course good leash works provides SO many benefits! Teaching impulse control means that your pet can also be less likely to get into your stuff, steal your socks, meet dogs with patience, etc etc. Spend the 6 months working really, really hard to get the leash manners you want- and watch years of benefits unfold. And ask for help. There is no shame in not knowing how to teach a dog to leash walk by yourself!
I spend the majority of my time with dogs, not people. My days are a systematic arrangement of total chaos. I'm up early, getting boarders outside for potty break, then I scrub floors, change bedding, prepare meals, poop scoop etc. Then we start our exercise routines, or load up the car for dog chauffeuring. I will admit that while hanging with dogs, I often will chat with them about what is going to happen next, usually in a completely conversational tone. "Well Rio, I guess we'd better do a load of dog laundry and get it on the line." "Ok Swanson, time to get playgroups started and you're going to have to be patient because fetch isn't the game right now." "Badger, you go make my coffee, will you?" But mostly, these snippets are just for me, and because I'm prone to narrating to myself anyway, embarrassingly enough. However, if I am actually trying to communicate to my dogs in a way that requires them to act, I have to change my entire tone, strip down the words, and wait.
One of the major issues almost all dog trainers will tell you about is clients repeating commands in a rapid fire way, giving no time for the dog to hear, process and translate in the information. Our instant gratification button seems to be in overdrive- "sit, sit, SIT!" we cry, while a squirmy pup bites his tail, jumps up and down and generally ignores us until the last, loud yell. But it's not the volume that is actually communicating the command to the dog more effectively- it's the silence after the exaggeration. To effectively communicate with one's dog- you have to be patient, stubborn and quiet. The more times that you repeat a command, the less impact it has. The command becomes "Down, Down, Down, Down" as opposed to "Down". But it's not just that you are changing the command to need to be given several times- it's that you're overriding the dog's ability to think clearly and focus.
In a recent training session a client commented that I must be the most patient person on the planet. This couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, I'm terribly impatient and have a tendency to impulsive. Maybe that's why I find dog training so rewarding- it forces me to not rely on those habits. When teaching a dog something new, you have to repeat a pattern multiple times, in incremental steps, and reward each step until you form a full command. You're vastly better off avoiding assigning a verbal command until the dog has completely formed the proper behavior. For an easy example, consider "sit". If you follow the same luring process as almost all trainers, you would hold a cookie above the dogs head, and push it backwards, so that the dog, following it with their nose, automatically drops their butt to the floor. Then you reward. But do not add the word "sit" at this point. Instead, practice the pattern over and over, until a simple lifting of your hand (the first cue) causes the dog to drop their butt. Body language is a dog's first language, so starting with a hand signal is vastly clearer for the dog, and furthermore- it teaches you to be quiet. Once the dogs pattern is perfected, you then can start to add the word "sit" while offering the hand motion. Over time and practice, the verbal cue takes on the meaning of the hand signal, and you can use them in combination or interchangeably. But because the dog first associated the hand signal with the food reward and clear pattern- you can just have the word "sit" rather than verbal buckshot.
This same process works for nearly every command, basic to advanced. You don't want to leave your dog without any cues, however. Using clear, consistent verbal markers is equally important. When a dog is offering me a behavior, if it's incorrect, I usually will communicate a "uh, uh" rather than a "no"- because "no" is a the word I rely on for more severe transgressions- not the learning process. At the same time- even if the command doesn't have a verbal cue yet- I will say "Yes!" in an overly enthusiastic tone when the dog has performed what I've asked- to help them understand that they have made the correct connection. Otherwise, I remain quiet, and do not repeat the dog's name multiple times. Usually, for my dogs, their name is basically synonymous for "look at me", and occasionally for "come" but my dogs usually just stop and look at me, awaiting further instruction. If they are out of sight, their name will often mean they need to return for the next command- but fortunately it seems that they almost inherently know this. But if they are within eye-sight, their name indicates there is another word, or set of words, as short as possible, that will tell them what I need next. And when I receive that eye contact, I often pause, make sure our connection is good (like testing a phone line, I want full clear lines of communication, which means sustained eye contact) and then issue the next step. It is because I create this "quiet" space in between the dog's name, and the next step that they are more likely to respond as I hope. And if they do not perform the request, I then follow up with either of the verbal corrections "no" for doing something completely opposite (like running away) or "uh, uh" like coming close but then veering off when asked to "come" completely to me.
If you are struggling to teach your dog anything at all- try this exercise. Ask for all of the basics that the dog knows already- but do it in a very intentional way. Grab some treats and do a little calibration. Begin with the most reliable command, let the dog know that there is food available as a reward- you want the dog to do these things easily. Practice each command by only saying it one time, and then wait. Use verbal cues if behavior is offered, even the incorrect one. Count to 25 AT LEAST, before issuing the command a second time, with a hand signal. If the dog can't perform anything that you think they know with this process- start teaching that command over. Seriously. Slow down and assign full meaning to that command. If they are able to do everything you expect- with no additional prompting- the command is solid and their success will boost them to try again at the new concept. Go slow, be quiet, and marvel as your dog starts to trust your word's meaning in ways you hand't seen previously. It's not magic, its just clarity. And in interspecies communication- there is nothing more important.
We are, arguably, in the golden era of dog adoration on the internet. You can’t scroll through any feed, or page, likely without a mention of the internet slang created around the culture of dogs- be it “doggo”, “pupper”, or many of the other commonplace terms- even entire legitimate news sources have jumped on- dedicating resources to explain the phenomenon.
I love this whole scene, in theory. I unabashedly think that dogs are a miracle of evolution. Not just that, but in a culture increasingly infatuated with dogs, I’m selfishly guaranteed job security. Boarding them at our farm, training them, getting to spend time with as many as I possibly can is nothing short of a dream. But still, I worry we aren’t doing our best to actually love dogs. They are funny, adorable, boundlessly affectionate, and full of personality. But they are also living, breathing creatures with needs and requirements to lead a complete life.
That sounds straight forward enough, but unfortunately, I think the practice of loving dogs has a long way to go. I work with a lot of families who adopt a pup without realizing that their lives are going to have to drastically adjust. And I’m not just talking about potty training.
Loving a dog means that when it’s pouring raining, you put those rain boots on and still go for a nice long walk (or pay a walker to do it for you!).
Loving a dog means that even though it would be easier to ignore the bold behavior like barking at a window, you take the time to move them away and work on retraining.
Loving a dog means that even though you hate it, you poop scoop the yard regularly, replace trashed bedding for the 800th time, call out from work for vet appointments etc.
It’s really not just about routine care where I think the greatest breakdown lies, but the routine care is as good a place to start as any. Exercise is a critical part of routine care and usually the first thing to be cast aside. Even dogs who receive excellent routine care, often are neglected when it comes to our most precious resources- time and focused attention. We come home tired, we have a million obligations, finances- etc. And here is a cold wet nose, a wiggling tail, and a critter that has been just waiting for your return. We can’t just repay that devotion with a quick pat and kibble in a bowl. We have agreed that we are going to give this animal more- a rewarding life experience with the richness that give us just by existing. Recently, Jon Katz tackled the emotional neglect of pet dogs in a beautiful piece that really resonated with me.
It used to be simpler, our relationship (I'm not talking about veterinary care or even training methodoolgy) with canines. We had them for specific tasks, and they were bred with those ideal traits in mind. Culture in the states has moved very far away from a partnership with animals- notably dogs, and having an agricultural business has emphasized this in a lot of ways for me. It feels like dogs have moved from a co-worker and partner to a helpless infant and funny accessory. This sells them short of their full potential, and more than that- it turns a relationship that benefited us both into something that now needs modern reforming. Of course, many folks still use their dogs as tools for a variety of jobs (myself included) but it has become more of an exception than the norm.
I worry that our love of dogs smacks of superficiality. We don’t make time to put in the work it takes to thoughtfully train a dog, and we also don’t acknowledge that there are limitations on each dog’s skill set. Not every dog is going to wear goggles and clear birds off a runway, and I’ve found that sometimes that translates to folks not taking the time to train them at all-- even on basics like leash manners or simple commands. So the relationship becomes this circle of resentment about dog’s behavior, and an over emphasis on the parts of the dog that seem to jive best- like letting the dog sleep in one’s bed. Now, I’m not saying it’s always wrong for a dog to sleep in your bed, but if you can’t stand your dog except when it involves cuddling, that’s kind of an unbalanced relationship to have, don’t ya think?
I would love to see the celebration of dogs go beyond internet admiration, but not further into the anthropomorphizing of canines. I want to see more spaces where families bring their dogs with them. And when those families bring pups, they need to focus on helping them reach their potential and fulfillment through constructive training and clear rules. I want more patios with dogs hanging out with their owners and stores that are dog friendly. I understand and respect that there are folks who are fearful of dogs, or have some kind of allergies. But I still think there is a lot of space in current life to make more room for those of us who have dogs to be able to do a bit more with them. Of course those ‘public space’ dogs also have to know how to ‘do public’. Even I can’t stand a ceaseless barking, jumping, or lunging pup. It’s a skill or a set of skills to be able to bring your dog with you.
Some dogs won’t have the skills right away to jump into public- but there is so much you can do at home to bring those dogs further from ‘accessory’ status into full fledged family member. Funny tricks, fetch, games, all of these things are worth your time. Run with your dog, even if it’s messy and both you get tired after 15 minutes. Go for an evening walk even if you don’t get very far because leash manners are a work in progress. Get that pupper a new tug toy and go nuts. Spend time with that cuddle monster building a relationship. Make “doggo” a term of endearment for a buddy who gets to be more than the ultimate source of mess and chaos.
You can still love the memes and silly videos--click that thumbs up for all it’s worth- but then turn, look at your pup, and ask yourself- How Can I Love You Better, Doggo? I promise it’s worth it, and more than that- it’s upholding the commitment made when that dog came home. We owe them that, if for nothing else, than for the hours of joy they provide to the internet.